May 21 2000 UNITED STATES
Business as usual: Clinton with Barak. They meet this week despite claims of Israeli spying
Photograph: Ralph Alswang
Israeli spies tapped Clinton e-mail
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
MORE than 20 years of Israeli spying operations in Washington culminated in the interception of e-mails from President Bill Clinton, intelligence sources claimed last week.
The revelations come at a sensitive time as Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, is ex-pected to fly to Washington today for talks with Clinton about the Middle East peace process.
The latest spying operation is said to have taken place in 1998 while Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel's prime minister. According to the sources, it entailed hacking into White House computer systems during intense speculation about the direction of the peace process.
Sources in Israel say intelligence agents infiltrated Telrad, a company that had been subcontracted by Nortel, America's largest telecommunications conglomerate, to help develop a communications system for the White House.
Company managers were said to have been unaware that virtually undetectable chips installed during manufacture made it possible for outside agents to tap into the flow of data from the White House.
Information being sent from the president to his senior staff in the National Security Council and outside government departments could be copied into a secret Israeli computer in Washington, the sources said. It was transferred to Tel Aviv two or three times a week.
One opportunity for Israeli agents to mount the operation arose when Nortel, Telrad and another firm won a £33m contract to replace communications equipment for the Israeli air force. Members of the air force were allowed access to manufacturing areas as a result.
Company and White House Officials last week denied any knowledge of the intelligence operation. "We have no information that our phone system has been compromised," said Jake Siewert, the deputy White House press secretary.
An Israeli government official said that Mossad, the country's intelligence service, was banned from conducting illicit surveillance in America. "Spying on the US is out of the question," he said.
However, the FBI has conducted a highly classified investigation into previous claims that Israeli intelligence has breached White House security.
The inquiry was revealed earlier this month by the Washington Times Insight magazine, which reported that Israeli agents used a software company in Missouri to intercept telephone conversations from the White House, State Department and other departments.
The FBI inquiry began some years ago after an investigation by the State Department led to suspicions that Israel might have the technology to overhear the conversations of American officials in their offices.
It shifted to the White House in September 1998 when Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor, reported that the Israelis may have listened to amorous conversations between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the White House trainee with whom he had an affair. The allegation was denied by both Israel and the United States.
Both countries have been wary of the harm that could be caused by Israeli intelligence operations since Jonathan Pollard, a former American navy analyst, was jailed for spying for Israel in 1986.
Sources familiar with past operations, however, said penetration of the White House was considered so secret that even some members of Mossad's hierarchy were not informed.
They cited at least three occasions on which Israel had monitored the White House, starting shortly after Gerald Ford became president in 1974.
A source who participated in the infiltration of Ford's White House said the Israelis were interested in American plans to sell the Awacs early warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia, a prospect that would have allowed the desert kingdom to monitor Israeli air force activity throughout the Middle East.
During the Carter administration, agents targeted Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser, who was considered anti-Israeli. This operation is said to have been conducted by a Mossad burglary unit known as Keshet (Arrow).
A third operation straddled President Ronald Reagan's second term and the early years of his successor, George Bush. The target was James Baker, the former White House chief of staff and secretary of state who was considered pro-Arab.
Additional reporting: Tom Rhodes, New York