Spying on the Spies

Outsourcing intelligence-gathering to the Israelis imperils national security

by , April 04, 2012

Stewart Nozette, a brilliant scientist whose work was instrumental in advancing the US space program, was convicted last year of attempting to spy on behalf of Israel, and this month was sentenced to 13 years in prison and a substantial fine. Under investigation for over-charging the government for various services performed by his nonprofit, Nozette was found to be in possession of classified documents – and, in the course of their inquiry, FBI agents discovered an email written by him threatening to turn over classified information to the Israelis if the government pursued its fraud case.

In the indictment [.pdf], prosecutors went out of their way to absolve the Israeli government of any fault, since agents had snared their prey by conducting a sting operation. Nozette was approached by an FBI agent who claimed to be a Mossad agent, and asked to hand over classified documents in return for money. As the prosecutors put it: “The indictment does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offense under U.S. laws in this case.”

However, Nozette worked as a consultant for Israel Aerospace Industries, an Israeli government-funded company with strong links to Israeli intelligence, from 1989 to 2009, during which time he had a “Q” security clearance which gave him access to our most closely guarded secrets. It’s worth noting that when the FBI agent masquerading as an Israeli intelligence operative first approached Nozette with the proposal that he work for the Mossad, the sneaky space scientist replied: “I thought I was working for you already,” and said he had handed over sensitive intelligence to the Israelis in the past.

Israeli spying in the US is a topic the government, and the news media, don’t like to talk about, and yet the GAO has stated [.pdf] the Israelis run the “most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally” and that “classified military information and sensitive military technologies are high-priority targets for the intelligence agencies of this country.”

In view of this, a new Wired report that Israeli companies are a key link in the government’s top secret high-tech spying operation, code-named “Stellar Wind,” is sure to raise eyebrows. Intelligence expert James Bamford relates:

In addition to constructing the Stellar Wind center, and then running the operation, secretive contractors with questionable histories and little oversight were also used to do the actual bugging of the entire U.S. telecommunications network. According to a former Verizon employee briefed on the program, Verint, owned by Comverse Technology, taps the communication lines at Verizon, which I first reported in my book The Shadow Factory in 2008. Verint did not return a call seeking comment, while Verizon said it does not comment on such matters.

At AT&T the wiretapping rooms are powered by software and hardware from Narus, now owned by Boeing, a discovery made by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein in 2004. Narus did not return a call seeking comment. What is especially troubling is that both companies have had extensive ties to Israel, as well as links to that country’s intelligence service, a country with a long and aggressive history of spying on the U.S.”

Paranoia? Anti-Israel Derangement Syndrome? After all, Israel is one of our closest allies – right? Why should we be leery of out-sourcing intelligence-gathering to them? But it isn’t paranoia, as Bamford goes on to relate:

In fact, according to [former National Security Agency official Bill] Binney, the advanced analytical and data mining software the NSA had developed for both its worldwide and international eavesdropping operations was secretly passed to Israel by a mid-level employee, apparently with close connections to the country. The employee, a technical director in the Operations Directorate, ‘who was a very strong supporter of Israel,’ said Binney, ‘gave, unbeknownst to us, he gave the software that we had, doing these fast rates, to the Israelis.’”

There has been no prosecution, and this incident has never been made public: why is that? If someone high up in the NSA has been handing over sensitive technology to a foreign government, doesn’t this qualify as a criminal act – or even news? Yet this is the first anyone has heard of it.

According to Bamford, Binney suspects “Israeli intelligence in turn passed the technology on to Israeli companies who operate in countries around the world, including the U.S. In return, the companies could act as extensions of Israeli intelligence and pass critical military, economic and diplomatic information back to them. And then five years later, four or five years later, you see a Narus device,’ he said. ‘I think there’s a connection there, we don’t know for sure.’”

Don’t we? All’s fair in love, war, and espionage – which is nothing but war conducted covertly.

When we unpack the boxes within boxes within boxes of Israeli front companies, we find the foot soldiers of Israel’s undercover army inside an electronic Trojan horse. Narus, an Israeli company which boasts its spying capabilities are second to none, has had a working relationship with Israeli intelligence, according to founder and former chairman Ori Cohen. Another Narus founder, chief technology officer Stanislav Khirman, previously worked for our old friend, Israel Aerospace Industries – the company Nozette assumed was a Mossad front.

Verint, formerly Comverse/Infosys, is another familiar name to longtime readers of this column. Back in 2001, Carl Cameron of Fox News reported Israeli agents in the US had been tracking Mohammed Atta and his terrorist team prior to the 9/11 attacks, and may have had foreknowledge of the event. One leg of this steadfastly ignored four-part series detailed the Israeli government’s intimate connection to a company with the exclusive contract to work on the technical aspects of our eavesdropping operations: Comverse-Infosys, now known as Verint.

Verint makes customized computers and software designed to cut into the system of circuits and switches that make up the nation’s phone system in order to capture, store, and record wiretapped conversations, simultaneously sending them to government agents. The problem, however, is that the producers of this valuable tool have constant access to the computers and the information contained therein for “maintenance” purposes. This amounts to what many in law enforcement regard as a “back door” left wide open. What this means, in practice, is that the entire system has been compromised, as a letter from 15 law enforcement officials to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft asserted. Cameron concluded his report with these words:

What troubles investigators most, particularly in New York, in the counter terrorism investigation of the World Trade Center attack, is that on a number of cases, suspects that they had sought to wiretap and survey immediately changed their telecommunications processes. They started acting much differently as soon as those supposedly secret wiretaps went into place.”

Fox News has never retracted this story, which was broadcast in the first half of December, 2001. Although the smoke had barely cleared from the skies over Manhattan, they erased it from their web site three days after its release. A few honest journalists [.pdf] followed up the story, but it soon went down the Memory Hole and was never heard from again – until now, when a tentacle of the octopus surfaces for a moment, only to sink back down into the miasma of major media indifference, and official complicity.

The implications of this story – the pervasive penetration of America’s secure communications networks by Israeli intelligence and a possible connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks – are too hot to handle for the “mainstream” news media. Indeed, even reportage on matters such as Nozette’s trial is rare to nonexistent: we only heard about the duplicitous space scientist on two occasions – when he was arrested, and when he was sentenced.

Appended to most of these stories was the prosecutors’ contention that the Israeli government was not in any way involved. Nozette’s long association with a “company,” Israel Aerospace, that for all practical purposes is an adjunct of the Israeli government, makes nonsense of this claim, as does Nozette’s surprise at being double-recruited by the Mossad. “I thought I was working for you already”!

Why is the government not prosecuting whoever handed the NSA’s software over to the Israelis? Why does Washington deny or deflect all questions dealing with Israel’s extensive covert operations in the US?

When it came to light the FBI had issued a memo instructing local offices to conduct surveillance on Antiwar.com and its employees, the item that brought us to their attention and caused so much ire on their part revolved around this issue of the Israeli connection to the events of 9/11. While we are still going through the long and involved legal process of discovering just what the extent of that surveillance was, what is clear at this point is the peculiar sensitivity of the authorities whenever this subject comes up. It is as if someone had probed an old injury, or subjected them to an electric shock: the response is automatic and emphatic.

What are they so afraid of?

No, it’s not the vaunted power of the Israel lobby, or, at least, not only that. After all, what we’re talking about here is an Israeli “back door” into our most sensitive government communications, a penetration so complete that it places the security of the nation in mortal danger – and puts the privacy and civil liberties of all US citizens at risk. In Britain, they are proposing legislation that would allow real-time snooping on every sort of communication device, giving the government access to everyone’s phone conversations, emails, and web-surfing habits. We have the technology to do this, and no doubt are already doing it: that’s what operation “Stellar Wind” is all about.

If the Israelis have access to this comprehensive monitoring system, via an electronic “back door,” this means personal information could be readily passed around and used to discredit Israel’s perceived enemies in the US. Can fear be a big part of the explanation for the free pass given to Israel’s covert activities – fear of blackmail?

Oh, so you’re a vocal opponent of Israel’s policies in Palestine? Listen buddy, do we have a thick dossier on you! You’d better shut up – or else. What will your wife say when she sees that email – complete with lurid attachment – you sent the other night?

It’s the alleged function of government to protect us from foreign invaders, bad guys from overseas who would do us harm. In this instance, however, they haven’t just failed – they’ve shirked their sworn duty. This may be one of the biggest stories since September 11, 2001 – which is why you won’t hear a word about it from the legacy media and their online imitators. Kudos to Wired for breaking this latest aspect of an ongoing story. How long, I wonder, before they’re darkly accused of spreading pernicious “conspiracy theories”? Place your bets below, in the comments section.

Read more by Justin Raimondo