Middle East Newsline - September 1, 2004
WASHINGTON [MENL] -- The U.S. intelligence community has reduced its cooperation withIsrael.
Israeli and U.S. officials said the CIA has dampened its intelligence exchange with Israel's Mossad over the last 16 months in wake of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Both sides said the reduction in intelligence cooperation stemmed from distrust over the use of the information as well as U.S. concern of an Arab backlash.
The reduction in CIA-Mossad ties could affect the entire spectrum of Israeli-U.S. intelligence cooperation. The director of the CIA has been deemed interim national intelligence director in a move that grants him authority to determine intelligence collection priorities, manage collection, and resolve disputes in the tasking of national collection assets.
The disclosure of the reduction in the Israeli-U.S. intelligence exchange has belied frequent assertions by senior officials in Jerusalem and Washington regarding the unprecedented level of strategic relations between the two countries. Officials said Israel and the United States maintain a high level of cooperation regarding Iraq, but said this has not been reflected in other areas.
Officials appear to agree that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was the trigger for a decrease in CIA cooperation with the Mossad. They said CIA director George Tenet was dismayed by what he felt was the high level of Israeli influence in U.S. intelligence assessments regarding the Saddam Hussein regime and its survival.
President George Bush has nominated Rep. Porter Goss, a former CIA officer, as the next director of the agency. Goss, a Republican from Florida, was said to share Tenet's view regarding the limits of the intelligence cooperation with Israel.
"The CIA view is that intelligence cooperation with Israel must be limited and depend on whether the agency can obtain the same or equivalent information from other U.S. allies," an official said.
Officials said a key source of friction between the intelligence communities of Israel and the United States was that Mossad assessments on Iraq and Iran were often seen in Congress and in Pentagon circles as more authoritative than those of the CIA. This attitude was said to have angered Tenet and led to friction with the Israeli intelligence community.
By late 2003, officials said, Tenet began expressing concern that information from U.S. reconnaissance satellites were being processed and analyzed by Israeli intelligence ahead of the CIA. The result was that on several occasions Tenet made caustic remarks to his Israeli interlocutors that the Mossad had planted an agent high up in the administration.
"The Israelis chuckled the first time they heard this, pretending this was a joke," an official said. "The second time, there was less laughter, and by the third time, the Israelis knew Tenet was serious. Finally, one of the Israelis said, 'If you're so sure that we have a spy, then find this person.' After that, Tenet began to reduce his meetings with Mossad chiefs."
Israeli officials said the CIA has withheld information from the Mossad on a range of subjects. They said CIA reports on Iranian intermediate-range missile and nuclear weapons programs became vague and that Washington shelved Israeli requests for information on missile production programs in Pakistan and North Korea, key suppliers to Teheran.
In 2003, the officials said, the CIA also refused to relay information on Libya's nuclear weapons and missile program. The CIA move was said to have angered Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a keen consumer of intelligence, who regarded Tripoli as an emerging threat to the Jewish state.
"At the time, we told ourselves that it was because the CIA felt we couldn't keep a secret," an Israeli official said. "There was some truth to this. But it later became apparent that the CIA did not want us to use this information, particularly in dealing with Congress and the White House."
By late 2003, officials from both countries said, the CIA was blocking information from Israel on Al Qaida's network in Asia and the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the CIA refused to respond to an Israeli offer to search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, believed shipped abroad on the eve of the U.S.-led war against Baghdad.
Israeli officials said they believed Tenet reduced such cooperation to avoid revisions in U.S. foreign policy. They said the CIA did not want to bolster Israel's argument that Iran was accelerating its nuclear weapons program and approaching the point of indigenous capability, an assertion adopted by Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the key administration official on nonproliferation. Tenet viewed the Mossad reports on Iran as an Israeli attempt to pressure the administration to consider U.S. military measures against Teheran.
Tenet also wanted to ensure that Arab states would not be harmed by CIA information to the Mossad, officials said. Tenet as well as the State Department cited Israeli pressure for the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Damascus in May 2004.
Officials said Tenet also sought to prevent any Arab backlash connected to the U.S.-Israeli intelligence exchange. Officials said an increasing amount of intelligence on Al Qaida was coming from Saudi Arabia and Syria, who insisted that the information not be shared with Israel.
By 2004, the Mossad began to retaliate and withheld information from the CIA, officials said. This was said to have angered Tenet, who thought Israel was sharing information on Iran with pro-Israeli circles in the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. Tenet was said to have suspected that Israel was creating a lobby within the U.S. intelligence and military community for a U.S.-Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Over the last six months, Israel has quietly complained that its intelligence exchange with the United States has been lopsided, officials said. They said in areas where the U.S. military required information -- such as Iraq -- Washington has cooperated with Israeli military intelligence. But they said that regarding Iran, Libya and Al Qaida -- key areas for the Mossad -- the CIA has withheld significant intelligence.
The question of Israeli-U.S. intelligence cooperation comes as the FBI has been investigating a range of Pentagon officials regarding their contacts with Israel. The FBI has been questioning the senior Iran analyst at the Pentagon, Larry Franklin, on suspicion that he relayed a classified document to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. So far, no arrests have been reported.