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 May 2000 - Return to Complete Index    MiddleEast.Org         5/18/00
News, Information & Analysis that Governments, Interest
Groups, and the Corporate Media Don't Want You to Know! 
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 "This should be front-page news... This is one
 of the most important intelligence stories to
 come along in years and nobody is paying any
 attention to it!"
                     High-ranking U.S.government official

MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 5/16:
     The U.S. media, like so many in the Congress and in official Washington, usually does what it can to overlook or play down what the Israelis do that could have  serious negative reverbations for the Jewish state.
     Be it arms sales to China or even bugging of the Oval Office and Pentagon, Washington is usually taken in by, or scared off by, or infiltrated by the Israelis.
No other country has this kind of "watch out for me" relationship with the world's superpower.
     In the major media as well as the government here, there are key personalities at the most senior levels who are especially close to if not connected with the Israelis, and they bend over backwards not to call the Israelis to task for what they do and to help them through any problems that arise.
     Be it the atrocious bombing of the refugees at the U.N. base in Lebanon a few years ago, the unprecedented slaughter of thousands at the Sabra and Chattila refugee camps before that, the apartheid-like restrictions imposed on the Palestinians, or Israel's massive nuclear weapons program...don't count on the Ted Koppels, Larry Kings, and Wolf Blitzers of the American media to invite guests to speak up about honestly and forcefully about these matters.  And don't count on the New York Times, Washington Post, or L.A. Times to do their job and accurately and objectively cover such major scandals when the perpetrator is Israel.
     And that's why what should be on the front pages and talk shows, Israel's long
ongoing plot (what else are we to call it?) to infiltrate, bug and blackmail officials of the U.S. government and military, has not taken root.  True, sparks have been flying about this story for many days now, but so far it has yet to ignite.
     Bottom line?  The Israeli-oriented and Israeli-infiltrated establishment American media is not going to do the job on this one.  In this particular case it's up to the foreign press to do so.
     The one magazine that has investigated and reported this story in detail so far is Insight Magazine, a weekly spun off by Washington's second and most conservative newspaper, The Washington Times.  This commentary about the whole situation appears in the latest issue of the magazine from the managing editor.

            ISRAELI SPY SCANDAL Investigative Update

 "FBI Parsing on Probe of Suspected Spying by Israel
       Sounds Like Definition of What the Word ĎIsí Is"

Now that the FBI has confirmed the outline of an Insight exclusive -- that its famed Division 5 counterintelligence group was probing suspected eavesdropping by Israeli agents on top-level U.S. government telecommunications traffic -- why hasnít the rest of the press followed?

Especially since the FBI also has confirmed that this is still an open investigation - even though, according to an Associated Press story, insufficient details had been confirmed to support the allegation. So what has the FBI been probing for nearly 3 years?

"This should be front-page news," exclaimed a high-level U.S. government source familiar with the details of Insightís exclusive report. "This is one of the most important intelligence stories to come along in years and nobody is paying any attention to it!"  Indeed. Particularly when one considers that, since the story came out about the previously unknown FBI probe, intelligence and federal law-enforcement officials at the highest levels of government still wonít talk about the matter on the record.

Variations of "I canít talk to you about" or "Itís too sensitive" or "Itís still an open investigation" ring hollow if, as the FBI has told other news outlets, it couldnít confirm the allegation (actually allegations) but still is suspicious.
And consider why that is so:

** Few people in U.S. government even knew the counterintelligence
   operation existed.
** Fewer still knew any details.
** The story involves Israel, always a radioactive subject, especially
   on intelligence matters.
** The FBI artfully downplayed the story by denying that hard proof had
   yet been found to support an allegation (which one remains a mystery though
   and reminds one of Al Goreís infamous "no controlling legal authority").

The FBI is embarrassed on two fronts: 1) its probe was exposed, and 2) its exposure also revealed that the hunted were, allegedly, capable of tracking the hunters.

Also of interest is this: The FBI was fully aware of Insightís developing story and, despite repeated requests for official comment, declined to do so notwithstanding assurances from a spokesman and higher ups that such a statement would be provided to the magazine.

Moreover, knowing the political sensitivity of the issue, the FBI leadership decided not only not to give Insight a statement (as is usual), it also decided against informing others in federal government that the magazine was preparing a report on what had been, up to then, one of the best-kept secrets in counterintelligence circles.

"Itís as if they wanted the story to come out so they could vent frustrations about not being able to break the case," suggested a senior government official.

"They wanted to embarrass the White House, plain and simple," suggested a second high-ranking U.S. official briefed on the case behind the Insight story. "You guys got it right," is all this official would say when asked to comment. "There are some things you havenít got yet but what you did was accurate." It was a "bullseye," said a third U.S. source familiar with details of the hush-hush probe.

As usual, how the government responds to a developing story is a story unto itself.

Official Israeli response to the Insight story centered on complaints that it was a timed leak by the Clinton administration to charge Israel with spying to punish the Jewish state for selling an AWACS plane to Communist China. Responses ranged from the implausible - an Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington flatly told AP, "Israel does not spy on the United States" - to the equivocal. The authoritative Middle East Newsline, or MENL, reported: "In Jerusalem, Israeli officials were unsure of what to say. ĎAn essential reaction to the report is problematic,í Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said."

Top FBI officials declined to comment on the impending story, even to urge the magazineís editors to pull it for national-security reasons and/or to provide guidance on any aspect of it -- such as to note, as has been claimed anonymously, that the probe found no hard facts and thus was moved to an inactive status pending further developments. (Normally, such things are done -- in fact, they are routine when it comes to big crime cases and particularly on espionage matters with national-security implications.)

News organizations respond on a case-by-case basis, but generally they work with government officials to help get facts straight and give. Insight and most other media do not allow censorship or government involvement in shaping a story but do consider arguments and counter-arguments prior to publication concerning matters that might be incorporated in investigative reports. Exculpation, so to speak.

But the FBI did not respond normally. In fact, while some of its own large and extended family in intelligence circles confirmed large portions of Insightís story in the weeks before publication, none in the Bureauís press office ever offered a public statement. Why?

Nor did the FBIís top brass bother to inform the top leadership of Congress prior to publication of the Insight story -- knowing that questions would be asked, if only privately, after the story was released.

Which returns to an important point: Israeli officials have made considerable noise about the timing of the story. "I agree that this is not coincidental," former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Itmar Rabinovich told MENL in Jerusalem. "There are circles in the [U.S.] intelligence community and defense industry that amid the controversy over an Israeli spy plane to China feel free and motivated to either take things from the archive or make up things about Israel."

This theory is understandable but, concerning the Insight story, absolutely wrong. Insight had been working on the story for over a year and decided to publish because secrecy of the magazineís investigation was beginning to leak and other news organizations had started asking questions involving the Division 5 probe, the allegations that a U.S. telecommunications company with business ties to Israel was involved and that a suspect working for a local telephone company was believed involved. All such information was closely guarded by potential leakers until the Insight story was moving into final preparation.  Why?

Whether the White House and other government officials in the know about the FBI counterintelligence case were given a heads-up and/or were included in the decision not to comment on the story before publication is anybodyís guess. But based on a comment by a spokesman for the National Security Council, or NSC, it appears that was not the case. At least as far as the NSC, which would be the logical venue for White House communications on such matters. "This is the first Iíve heard of it," NSC spokesman Dave Stockwell told Insight. "That doesnít mean it doesnít exist or that someone else doesnít know."

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart and his group also professed ignorance of the allegations reported by Insight, which further suggests that they, too, were not given a heads-up. Which brings us back to the FBI: Why would it fail to respond to Insight after so many calls and conversations unless it wanted the story released as is? And for what purpose?

Louis Freeh, the FBI chief, has not commented publicly, nor was he asked about the Insight story in a question-and-answer session after a speech to an important Jewish group on May 8. We certainly would have wanted to know what the FBI chief had to say about this story were we in the audience.

While Insight prides itself on having sources and contacts others donít, this doesnít mean that other venerable institutions such as the New York Times and the Washington Post donít have good sources and contacts. In fact, several reporters at those papers, as well as ABC News and Fox News Network, have been pursuing the Insight exclusive and have been told much the same story that was published by this magazine. Yet apart from Fox News, these outlets have run not a word other than the initial wire or staff stories repeating bland comments by the FBI.

That is, except the New York Times, which reported some inaccurate information as it pertained to the Insight story. And the reporting of that error significantly changed the tenor of the followup story that others were (and still are) chasing.

Specifically, the newspaper reported that Insight claimed there was a security breach within the White House telecommunications systems -- something Insight never reported, nor did it so much as report that the FBI knew the origin of any such breach. What Insight reported was that the FBI was conducting a secret counterintelligence probe into allegations and that the FBI had suspicions of a breach.

Insight also reported that the FBI believed there was little chance that the White House systems had been penetrated directly and that its agents were tracking leads involving other departments as possible sites for what the Bureau thought was a strong possibility that, somehow, Israeli agents figured out a way to tap or monitor high-level conversations of government officials.

In other words, the main Insight story (there were sidebars too) was about an FBI probe nobody knew about involving allegations of such a serious nature that agents had conducted a nearly three-year interagency probe. What prompted such a hunt? If there were no facts to confirm the allegations, what was the foundation for such fears and why werenít the relevant intelligence chiefs and civilian officials kept informed?

Insight has been told that prior to publication of the main story, senior government officials only had been briefed on the serious allegations and FBI frustrations about not being able to nail down the specifics. "We were unaware as far as I know that the case had been moved to an inactive status," a senior U.S. government official familiar with such briefings told Insight.

This raises interesting questions, such as: Since when is it not news that the FBI has an "open" counterintelligence investigation involving suspected Israeli spying at the White House and other secure government facilities? Since when is it not news that the FBI has confirmed it conducted just such an investigation, and that its agents were unable to prove or disprove allegations of such a serious nature that they prompted the probe in the first place? And what were the underlying issues that continued to feed a nearly three-year probe? Something must have been pretty solid for such a clandestine operation over so long a period.

Apparently, however, such questions donít rise to the level of news reporting that one has come to expect in recent times. Consider the Wen Ho Lee case: Never has so much reporting been done with so few facts and so much speculation. Thatís news - but an even larger counterintelligence operation by the FBI into suspected spying on the State Department and the White House isnít?

Maybe itís easier to write stories about suspected enemies than about friends acting suspiciously. Our take on all this is simple: Report the news straight, report it accurately and do so in context. Oh yes, report it regardless of where the chips may fall and inform readers of what is found, and what isnít, once a story has been published.

Maybe thereís something the FBI wants the world to know without saying it directly. Congressional leaders now getting back to Capitol Hill and hearing about the Insight story are beginning to ask questions. One such line of questions might involve those FBI "black" numbers that reportedly were found where they should not have been. Whoever obtained these numbers, shouldnít the FBI be more careful about where it leaves such things? And shouldnít Congress be worried about any such security lapses?

There are lots of stories lately about security at the State Department. Maybe there ought to be some inquiries about security at the FBI. And while weíre at it, why not look at our operational judgment in the national-security community?  Some Congressional questions to experts about how Insight was able to get access to so many secret phone numbers at the White House and elsewhere in government might be useful, too, from a national-security perspective. (Though certainly not from the perspective of undermining the right of the press to obtain such information.)

Maybe that secret direct line to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lottís office from the White House might be a good place to start making calls on such issues. Like the alleged T-1 line used by those under scrutiny by the FBI to provide alleged real-time audio feeds back to Tel Aviv (the FBI reportedly couldnít manage to capture the traffic on that line and prove its case), the White Houseís direct line to the senator should be secure enough for such conversations.

Weíll keep you posted on the latest developments on this ongoing story. Apparently there are some new angles yet to be exposed in this strange tale of an FBI probe in which the Bureau could show a foreign country had the motive and the ability to wage a high-tech spy operation against U.S. leaders, but was missing some last pieces of the puzzle.

From the bunker, Iím your newsman in Washington.

 Paul M. Rodriguez - Managing Editor - Insight Magazine - 5/10

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