April 26, 2008
The elderly New Jersey man arrested last week on charges of spying for Israel years ago was probably still working for the Jewish state’s espionage service in tandem with another, as yet unidentified spy, former American intelligence officials say.
Ben-Ami Kadish, now 84, was employed as a mechanical engineer at a U.S. Army weapons center in New Jersey when he allegedly supplied his Israeli handler with classified military documents, according to charges filed last week.
The handler was named only as “CC-1,” or co-conspirator 1, in the criminal complaint. But its description of him as the same man who was handling the notorious Israeli mole Jonathan Pollard all but identified him as Yosef Yagur, formerly the consul for scientific affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York.
Pollard, who gave Yagur thousands of highly classified documents while working as a navy intelligence analyst in the 1980s, is in the 21st year of a life sentence for espionage.
Kadish, who worked at the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, N.J., from 1963 to 1990, could also spend the waning years of his life in jail if he is convicted.
A former senior CIA counterintelligence operative believes the case “will never go to trial, because of all the ugly stuff that would come out” about Israeli activities in the United States.
Indeed, Justice Department attorneys have fought to keep “ugly stuff” from emerging in the trial of two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, charged with accepting classified documents from Pentagon official Larry Franklin.
But the federal judge in the case has indicated he might not go along with their strategy. Last month Judge Thomas Ellis III indefinitely postponed the trial of AIPAC officials Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, which was scheduled to open next week.
Neither the United States nor Israel, strategic allies struggling with Middle East terrorism, the war in Iraq and the rising threat of Iran, can afford a breech in relations triggered by either case.
The Justice Department said Kadish brought home briefcases full of classified documents, which “CC-1” photographed in his basement. Among the documents was “restricted data” on nuclear weapons, classified information on a modified F-15 fighter that was sold to an unnamed foreign country (most likely Saudi Arabia), and a document relating to the Patriot anti-missile system, which the United States deployed to Israel during the first Gulf War in 1990.
Yagur fled New York in 1985 as U.S. counterintelligence agents closed in on Pollard. He has not been back since, U.S. officials believe.
They thought that was the end of his espionage operations here.
But Yagur evidently kept in touch with Kadish, exchanging e-mails and telephone calls with him long after he returned to Israel. Kadish went to Israel in 2004 and met with his former spy master, authorities said.
Just last month, on March 20, “CC-1” told Kadish to lie to FBI agents who had questioned him about the documents, according to a wiretap transcript produced by federal prosecutors.
“Don’t say anything. Let them say whatever they want. You didn’t do anything,” CC-1 told Kadish. “What happened 25 years ago? You didn’t remember anything.”
Ron Olive, the navy investigator in charge of the Pollard case, said he was shocked when he heard about Kadish’s arrest.
The description of CC-1 as Pollard’s handler meant that “it has to be” Yagur, he said by telephone from Arizona, where he was giving a counterintelligence lecture to federal officials.
“I was like, ‘holy cow, this is unbelievable,’” he said.
Olive said the arrest meant that Kadish was still working for Israeli intelligence.
“It means Israel still has an agent in place in the U.S. who can ferret out someone who has access to information they want,” Olive said.
One role Kadish could play was as a “spotter,” who could size up possible recruits for Israeli intelligence, even while living in a retirement community in Monroe Township, N.J., said Olive and another former federal agent.
“That jumped out at me,” said Harry B. “Skip” Brandon, a former deputy assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI.
“It is very unusual for a former agent handler and his former agent to remain friends. And it’s dangerous for both,” he added. Any communication between the two, no matter how innocent, raises the risk of detection and exposure.
Other aspects of the case suggest that Jerusalem has at least one, and maybe several more spies embedded in U.S. military services or intelligence agencies: As with Pollard, the Israelis asked Kadish for specific documents, indicating they knew what they were looking for, supplied by another spy.
“You know, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit,” said Olive, who in 2006 published a memoir about the case, “Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice”.
Olive said Pollard stole “360 cubic feet” of classified documents during his six years as an Israeli mole.
“It was the most devastating spy case I ever saw.”
There have long been rumors of a “Mr. X,” Olive said, “another unknown government employee who had access to information that the Israelis could use.”
Israeli intelligence had a spy, code-named MEGA, high up in the Reagan administration at the same time Pollard, and now allegedly Kadish, were stealing documents, according to a Washington Post story years ago that has never been confirmed.
In fact, according to past and present U.S. counterintelligence officials, Israeli agents were so aggressive even after the Pollard case that an FBI counterintelligence boss in the late 1990s, David Szady, summoned Mossad’s top official for a tongue lashing.
“Knock it off,” Szady said, according to a reliable source on condition of anonymity.
Szady has been pilloried in pro-Israel circles for pursuing the AIPAC case, which many critics say amounts to trumping up espionage charges against officials who were merely engaging in the kind of transaction officials and journalists conduct every day.
But the Israelis here have never stopped practicing the “world’s second oldest profession,” as espionage is sometimes dubbed, despite years of rote denials, many officials say.
“I guarantee you the same thing is happening now,” said Olive, who trains Department of Energy security officials on detecting signs of espionage.
One effective espionage tool is forming joint partnerships with U.S. companies to supply software and other technology products to U.S. government agencies, intelligence officials say.
But Brandon, who retired in the mid-1990s but retains many intelligence contacts for his global security consulting business, says the Israelis are interested in commercial as much as military secrets. They have a muscular technology sector themselves.
“They are always looking for a leg up,” he said.
Congress is a major target, too, Brandon said.
“God, they would work the Hill, ” he said. “They really worked the Hill. They were not necessarily interested in collection [of information] so much as they were in influence.”
Influencing Congress is usually the domain of foreign diplomats, he said, but in Israel’s case there was “very little distinction between Mossad and the diplomats.”
“They were very sharp,” he added. “Their best and brightest.”
Mossad agents also scout for people to help them in the Jewish-American community, he said, based on their religious and political commonality. It’s a vast community of potential “spotters,” who can point them to other Jewish Americans in government, law, finance and banking who might be susceptible to recruitment, as is the case with potential Chinese and Cuban recruits.
Or just useful conversation. Israeli agents, Brandon said, are skilled at eliciting information from unwary Jewish Americans in strategically important positions.
“They make you feel good, feel important,” he said. “They don’t even realize they’re giving up something” sensitive, or even classified — until it’s too late.
At the same time, U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials have worked hand in glove on numerous fronts since 1948, when the Jewish state was founded.
Mossad had access to Russian Jews who supplied the West with Soviet military, scientific and technical secrets. American and Israel intelligence have always worked closely in counterterrorism.
But they don’t tell each other everything, which is why the relationship sometimes veers from friendship to competition.
“They were never, ever allowed in our facilities,” says a former CIA officer who was sometimes assigned a liaison role with Israeli counterterrorism agents.
Likewise, when CIA or other U.S. intelligence operatives visited Israel, Israeli security agents would “toss their room,” he said, “just to show who’s in charge.”
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