US Capitol building in Washington DC 390.
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
WASHINGTON -- The State Department declined to refute reports that Israel regularly spies on the United States, and has for decades, after claims of expansive intelligence activity surfaced in the press last week.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post to confirm or contextualize the allegations, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki only said that Israel and the US work to foster a healthy relationship between their intelligence communities.
"We don't comment on intelligence matters," Psaki said. "We have a close intelligence partnership with Israel, and value our cooperation with them in this field because it serves our mutual interests."
A US official told the Post
that the Obama administration does not want to make a habit of confirming or denying such claims.
But other unnamed US officials asserted the extent of Israeli spying on the US was "unrivaled and unseemly," according to a report featured in Newsweek magazine last week.
Israeli leaders sought an official US response to the reports over the weekend.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who holds the intelligence portfolio in the Netanyahu government, accused “someone of trying to maliciously and intentionally harm relations between Israel and the United States" on Saturday.
Steinitz "unequivocally" denied the report as having "no basis" in fact. But the initial report was proceeded by a second, which detailed alleged US efforts to "cover up" Israel 's spying on Vice President Al Gore in 1998.
The report claimed that the US Secret Service caught an Israeli "agent" in an air duct in the process of bugging the vice president's hotel room.
Since National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden leaked classified documents on American intelligence tactics, US President Barack Obama has suggested that the US spies on its allies— with the tacit understanding that the practice is mutual.
Publicly, Obama has drawn the line at spying on foreign leaders, after revelations that the US had tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the US president has said that foreign allies would conduct greater surveillance if they had the capability to do so.