Insight into the Grappel Affair: U.S. Uses Foreigners For Arab Spring Ops

Middle East Newsline - January 28, 2012

[Originally posted by MENL - Dec. 2, 2011]

WASHINGTON [MENL] -- The United States, in an effort to reduce the chance of exposure, has been using foreign and dual nationals to monitor unrest in the Arab world.

Western diplomatic sources said the U.S. intelligence community, particularly the CIA, has been using foreign and dual nationals in such countries as Egypt, Lebanon and Libya in 2011. They cited the fear of arrest by American agents as well as exposure of unauthorized intelligence operations by Congress.

"The idea of an American being arrested for spying could be very embarrassing, not to mention damaging," a diplomatic source said. "So, the intelligence community prefers to bolster its current assets with non-U.S. citizens."

The sources, familiar with U.S. intelligence methods, said the CIA in cooperation with the State Department recruited scores of foreign and dual nationals in 2011 to monitor the revolts in the Arab world. They said the foreigners came mostly from Australia, Britain and Germany, countries with good relations with Arab states.

There has been no confirmation of foreign or dual national operatives employed by the CIA. In June 2011, an American law student who served in the Israel Army, identified as Ilan Grappel, was arrested in Egypt and charged with being a spy.

Grappel, who speaks Arabic and arrived in Cairo on a U.S. passport, was said to have been sent to Egypt as part of his law studies at Emory University, which works closely with former President Jimmy Carter. The Carter Center, in cooperation with the State Department, sends students to the Middle East and other Third World regions to monitor regimes and elections.

"They have an assignment," Daniel Grappel, Ilan's father, said. "Every year they go to a different country, and this year he was sent to Cairo. He was sent to Egypt because he speaks Arabic."

Grappel, also linked to senior members of the administration of President Barack Obama, was released in October after two visits to Egypt by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Under U.S. pressure, the sources said, Israel agreed to release 25 Egyptian prisoners as well as pledge not to oppose a U.S. sale of F-16 aircraft to Cairo.

"The White House stage-managed the release to make it appear that Grappel was an Israeli and that's why he was arrested," the second diplomat said.

On Nov. 21, Egyptian police arrested three American students on charges of throwing firebombs toward Tahrir Square. Gregory Porter, Luke Gates, and Derrik Sweeney, all students at the American University of Cairo were arrested soon after they were seen on Arab and Western television channels.Within a week, they were released and returned to the United States.

"They were accused of throwing firebombs from on top of the AUC building," Interior Ministry spokesman Adel Said said.

The sources said the U.S. intelligence community would bolster its program to use foreign nationals in the Middle East. They cited the arrest of more than 10 CIA operatives in Iran and Lebanon in 2011.

"Beirut station is out of business," a source told the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 21.