Yet Another Israeli Spy Scandal?

Many of you will have been drawn to open this article by virtue of the headline. After all, spying affairs with a dash of Israeli involvement makes big news. But what about an Israeli spy scandal that actually involves no Israelis?

A former US government scientist has confessed to attempted espionage after he sought to sell American secrets for personal profit. Stewart Nozette was caught after an FBI sting operation where an undercover agent posed as an Israeli intelligence officer.

According to the BBC, however:

The Department of Justice said none of the charges alleged that any US laws were broken by the government of Israel or anyone working on its behalf.

So why then is the same BBC report headlined:

But the BBC wasn’t the only media outlet that used the Israel link in the headline to pique reader interest. Some did not even bother to distinguish that Nozette was guilty of attempted espionage, instead portraying Israel itself as guilty by association (despite there being no association).

Who at Australia’s Herald Sun came up with this misleading headline?

Herald Sun

The New York Times and Daily Telegraph were slightly less explicit but still made sure that Israel was portrayed as a guilty party:

New York Times

Daily Telegraph

Only slightly less egregious, remembering to mention the “attempted” part of the crime, were ABC News and Reuters:

ABC News


At least many other media outlets decided to use correct and more neutral headlines to present the story, choosing to focus upon the attempted espionage charge rather than Israel. For example:

  • Washington Post: Chevy Chase scientist Stewart Nozette pleads guilty to attempted espionage
  • Boston Globe: Scientist pleads guilty to trying to sell US secrets
  • LA Times: Former government scientist pleads guilty to attempted espionage
  • CNN: Accused NASA spy pleads guilty to attempted espionage
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The Guardian also ran with a neutral headline:

  • US scientist Stewart Nozette pleads guilty to attempted espionage

However, it omitted the key information from the text of the article that the Department of Justice had stated that Israel itself was not accused of any crime, a detail also absent from AFP’s report.

Particularly for Guardian readers, many of whom are already comfortable with the paper’s regular attacks on Israel, this sin of omission and vital context is misleading and leaves Israel at the receiving end of a negative story that it actually has no direct involvement in.

Spy stories with an Israel element tend to appeal to some of the media’s basest instincts, drawing upon the almost mythological image of the Mossad as well as the timeless charge of “dual loyalty” leveled at Jews wherever they live.

While anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists need little more than the Stewart Nozette story to peddle their wares, it is incumbent upon the mainstream media to present such a story accurately and without the sensationalist aspect that seems to send so many into a frenzy whenever Israel happens to be mentioned.

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