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May 20, 2014 6:34 pm

What Newsweek’s Story Proves About U.S. Intelligence

avatar by Michael Widlanski


Former Vice President Al Gore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A magazine charge – supposedly based on “U.S. intelligence sources” – that Israel spied on then-Vice President Al Gore tells us a very important story – but one that is much different from the story the magazine intended.

Newsweek magazine, which failed commercially and now appears on-line, claimed Israel put a mole inside the air conditioning system of the hotel in which Vice President Gore stayed during his 1998 visit to Israel.

The magazine story does not describe the hot information Israel was hoping to find in the air conditioning ducts, but parts of  the account were vetted by Paul Pillar, a prominent ex-Central Intelligence Agency official guilty of some of the worst errors of intelligence and analysis in the history of the American intelligence community.

Pillar, ex-deputy director of the CIA’s counter-terror unit (CTC) and also assistant to CIA director George Tenet, has a long list of embarrassing and dangerous gaffes:

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  • In late 2000, Pillar claimed the danger of a terror strike on America was more remote than a person being struck by lightning or drowning in the bath tub.
  • Pillar made light of the danger posed by Arab-Islamic terrorists and referred to the 1993 bombers of New York’s World Trade Center as ‘ad hoc terrorists.’
  • Pillar asserted that Iran was more moderate than most people realized, and in a 2006-7 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Pillar claimed that Iran was not seeking to make nuclear bombs.

Then, in 2010, Pillar urged the Obama Administration to work closely with Syria’s Assad regime, asserting America could “do business” with Assad.

“Only a fraction of Islamic terrorism today can be blamed even indirectly on Iran,” wrote Pillar at the time about the world’s worst sponsor of state terror, which has sent terror squads to Asia, Africa and South America to attack Israelis, and which also planned a possible assault in Washington on the Saudi ambassador.

Some of Iran’s agents were caught in the act, but Pillar never recanted his analysis. So, using Pillar as a source to vet a wild claim about an Israeli mole in the AC ducts of the King David Hotel is about as reliable as using an air conditioner salesman to do field reports on Islamic radicals.

Pillar was never a field agent, and he does NOT speak any Mid-East languages – much like the infamous Michael Scheuer, once head of the CIA’s “Bin-Laden Unit,” who was similarly unqualified but similarly hostile to Israel. For details on both men, see my book on terror, which is cited below.

Pillar has supported an academic boycott of Israel, and he has highlighted Israel as an “occupier” in his writings. Scheuer has accused American Jews of being a “Fifth Column” like the “Copperheads” who worked against Abraham Lincoln and the Union during the Civil War.

“There is indeed an identifiable fifth column of pro-Israel U.S. citizens — I have described them here and elsewhere as Israel-Firsters – who have consciously made Israel’s survival and protection their first priority, and who see worth in America only to the extent that its resources and manpower can be exploited to protect and further the interests of Israel in its religious war-to-the-death with the Arabs,” wrote Scheuer.

“These are disloyal citizens in much the same sense that the Civil War’s disloyal northern ‘Copperheads’ sought to help the Confederates destroy the Union.” [See this, filed by Scheuer on blog site at March 16, 2009 10:40 AM.]

Questioning the loyalty or decency of Israel or those who back Israel is not unusual in the U.S. intelligence community.

Pillar has used a similarly smarmy tone in questioning the loyalty of American Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson, who supports a strong Israel and a non-nuclear Iran, after Adelson, who was a U.S. soldier, made an off-hand remark wishing that he had also served as an Israeli soldier (which his children have). [See Adelson’s remarks.]

“Nor is the United States Adelson’s first love among countries,” wrote Pillar in one of his diatribes. [See Pillar’s comments here and see analysis here.

Using unnamed and tendentious “intelligence sources” for a wild story does indeed prove something.

  • It proves that  Newsweek’s U.S. “intelligence sources” are not  sources of information, but actually sources of easily disprovable propaganda.
  • It shows that some senior people in U.S. intelligence are habitually wrong in their analysis and comments on Middle Eastern affairs.
  • It supports the judgment of millions of American who no longer trust Newsweek as a source for news and analysis.

It also validates the view that  top people in U.S. intelligence are not so intelligent. Indeed, “U.S. intelligence” may be a kind of oxymoron.

Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, published by Threshold/ Simon and Schuster. He teaches at Bar-Ilan University, was strategic affairs advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security, and is the Schusterman visiting professor at University of California, Irvine for 2013-14.

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