WASHINGTON – The homes of several CIA agents residing in Israel have been broken into recently and according to the United States government, it is likely that Israeli intelligence is linked to the cases.
In the most recent case, the CIA station chief stationed in Tel Aviv discovered that sensitive equipment he used to communicate with CIA headquarters in Virginia was tampered with it. He sent word to his superiors about the break-in.
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The incident might have been dismissed as just another cloak-and-dagger incident in the world of international espionage, except that the same thing had happened to the previous station chief in Israel.
It was a not-so-subtle reminder that, even in a country friendly to the United States, the CIA was itself being watched.
Such meddling underscores what is widely known but rarely discussed outside intelligence circles: Despite inarguable ties between the US and its closest ally in the Middle East and despite statements from US politicians trumpeting the friendship, US national security officials consider Israel to be, at times, a frustrating ally and a genuine counterintelligence threat.
In addition to what the former US officials described as intrusions in homes in the past decade, Israel has been implicated in US criminal espionage cases and disciplinary proceedings against CIA officers and blamed in the presumed death of an important spy in Syria for the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The CIA considers Israel its No. 1 counterintelligence threat in the agency's Near East Division, the group that oversees spying across the Middle East, according to current and former officials.
Counterintelligence is the art of protecting national secrets from spies. This means the CIA believes that US national secrets are safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.
Israel employs highly sophisticated, professional spy services that rival American agencies in technical capability and recruiting human sources. Unlike Iran or Syria, for example, Israel as a steadfast US ally enjoys access to the highest levels of the US government in military and intelligence circles.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about the sensitive intelligence and diplomatic issues between the two countries.
"It's a complicated a relationship," said Joseph Wippl, a former senior CIA clandestine officer and head of the agency's office of congressional affairs. "They have their interests. We have our interests. For the US, it's a balancing act."
"They are our partners in confronting many mutual challenges. Any suggestion otherwise is baseless and contrary to the spirit and practice of the security cooperation between our two countries."
The CIA declined comment.
The Prime Minister's Office denied the report.
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