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MIDDLE EAST: Spy games

April 23, 2008 |  7:32 am


Two blockbuster Middle East espionage tales emerged from Washington today.

First, a scoop by Los Angeles Times diplomatic reporter Paul Richter and intelligence reporter Greg Miller: The CIA plans to brief key lawmakers in a closed-door session about the mysterious Syrian site that was the target of an Israeli air raid in September.

The report cites anonymous Beltway officials. Here's an excerpt:

The CIA officials will tell lawmakers that they believe the reactor would have been capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons but was destroyed before it could do so, the U.S. official said, apparently referring to a suspicious installation in Syria that was bombed last year by Israeli warplanes. The CIA officials also will say that though U.S. officials have had concerns for years about ties between North Korea and Syria, it was not until last year that new intelligence convinced them that the suspicious facility under construction in a remote area of Syria was a nuclear reactor....

Curiously, the officials say the reactor was meant to produce plutonium, which is easier to manufacture than enriched uranium but much harder to make into a bomb — probably way more.

Also in today's paper came word of the arrest of an octogenarian engineer (say that quickly five times) on charges of handing sensitive American nuclear secrets to Israel during the 1980s.

Ben-ami Kadi, an 84-year-old retired Army engineer, is accused of working for the same Israeli spy master as Jonathan Jay Pollard, the disgraced former U.S. Navy spook who has languished in an American prison for 20 years on charges of spying for the Jewish state.

Kadish reportedly confessed to handing his Israeli handler dozens of  documents related to American nuclear weapons, fighter jets and missiles. According to investigators. Kadish didn't demand a fat Swiss bank account or even a lot of pampering for his clandestine services:

Kadish told FBI agents last month that he believed providing classified documents to the agent would help Israel. Kadish told the FBI that he received no money for obtaining the documents, the filing says, and he said the agent gave him small gifts and occasionally bought dinner for him and his family at a restaurant in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Ben-ami Kadish, right, is escorted to a car after leaving federal court Tuesday, April 22, 2008, in New York. Kadish faces four counts of conspiracy, including allegations that he conspired to disclose U.S. national defense documents to Israel and that he acted as an agent of the Israeli government. Credit: Frank Franklin II / Associated Press