Israel and the NSA: Partners in Crime
Documents hint Israelis behind attempt to eavesdrop on France – but America takes the blame
It wasn’t the US government breaking into the private communications of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to top secret documents unearthed by Edward Snowden and published in Le Monde – it was the Israelis.
A four-page internal précis regarding a visit to Washington by two top French intelligence officials denies the NSA or any US intelligence agency was behind the May 2012 attempted break-in – which sought to implant a monitoring device inside the Elysee Palace’s communications system – but instead fingers the Israelis, albeit indirectly:
The visit by Barnard Barbier, head of the DGSE’s technical division, and Patrick Pailloux, a top official with France’s National Information Systems Security, was intended to elicit an explanation for the break-in, which the French media blamed on the Americans. The NSA’s inquiries to the British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and other US allies all turned up negative. However, one such close ally wasn’t asked.
As Glenn Greenwald and Jacques Follorou, citing the NSA document, put it in their Le Monde piece: the NSA "’intentionally did not ask either the Mossad or the ISNU (the technical administration of the Israeli services) whether they were involved’ in this espionage operation against the head of the French government."
An interesting omission, to say the least, one justified by the author of the memo with some odd phraseology: "France is not an approved target for joint discussion by Israel and the United States." Meaning – exactly what? This is a job for Marcy Wheeler! But I’ll hazard a guess: the US is well aware of Israeli spying on France and wants nothing to do with it, and/or the author of the memo is simply invoking some obscure protocol in order to justify going any farther.
In any case, the Israeli connection to the NSA’s global spying network – including its all-pervasive surveillance inside the US – has been well-established by Greenwald’s previous reporting on the subject: a September 11 article detailing how the NSA shares raw intercepts from its data-dragnet with Israeli intelligence, scooping up purloined emails and other data – in effect giving the Mossad a "back door" into a treasure trove of information on the private lives and activities of American citizens.
The Guardian published a five-page memorandum of understanding between Tel Aviv and Washington, provided to Greenwald by Snowden: rife with references to the legal and constitutional constraints "pertaining to the protection of US persons," it goes on to state forthrightly that the Israelis are permitted access to "raw Sigint" – unredacted and unreviewed transcripts, Internet metadata, and the content of emails and telephonic communications. While the Israelis supposedly solemnly swear to not "deliberately" target any American citizen, the agreement explicitly rules out a legal obligation on the part of the Israelis to follow the rules:
"This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law."
The Israelis are allowed to retain raw NSA data on American citizens for up to a year, as long as they inform the NSA, but when it comes to US government communications – those must be destroyed "upon recognition." This interdict presumably covers the internal communications of our law enforcement officers, but as both James Bamford and Fox News’s Carl Cameron have reported, Israeli penetration of this vital sector is already an accomplished fact.
In his book, The Shadow Factory, and a 2012 Wired piece, Bamford details the NSA’s connections to "secretive contractors with questionable histories and little oversight" which were used "to do the actual bugging of the entire U.S. telecommunications network."
According to Bamford, who cites a former Verizon employee, Verint/Comverse Technology – a company with direct ties to the Israeli government and founded by former Israeli intelligence officers – "taps the communication lines at Verizon." Over at AT&T, "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." As Bamford puts it:
"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 US.
In short, much of the surveillance technology in use by the NSA originated in Israel, and was developed by Israeli companies with ties – direct subsidies, board memberships, etc. – to the Israeli government, and specifically its intelligence services. This would make is easy for the Israelis to construct a “back door” that would give them access to the system. For one early example, the eavesdropping software that allows US law enforcement to wiretap reportedly has just such a "back door," as reported by Fox’s Carl Cameron, one that has enabled Israeli Mafia and others to shield themselves from surveillance. The problem became so bad that, in October 2001 a group of law enforcement officials sent a letter to then Attorney General John Ashcroft warning that the system had been compromised. Cameron reports that the suspects in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks may have taken advantage of the system’s vulnerabilities: "On a number of cases," says Cameron, "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."
The agreement between the NSA and the Israelis, then, merely made official what was already operationally true: the Israelis can directly tap into the NSA’s data dragnet, and indeed have been doing so for years. And it looks like Snowden wasn’t the only ex-employee to reveal the NSA’s secrets: according to Bill Binney, a former NSA official cited by Bamford, a "mid level" NSA official "who was a very strong supporter of Israel" turned over the NSA’s "advanced analytical and data mining software" to the Israelis. The big difference, however, is that Snowden didn’t hand it over to a foreign country – he handed it over to us.
In the case of the attempt to penetrate the communications system of the French President, what’s interesting is that Washington said nothing in public about its strong suspicions the Israelis were behind it, even as anti-American sentiment over the incident reached a fever pitch in Paris. US officials were and are willing to sit silently while their country is excoriated, letting Uncle Sam take the heat for our "allies" in Tel Aviv.
Not only that, but the unbalanced relationship between the US and Israel when it comes to intelligence sharing is openly acknowledged by NSA officials in top secret documents unearthed by Snowden and reported by the Greenwald-Poitras-Guardian team:
"On the one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good Sigint partners for us, but on the other, they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems. A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.”
Both Bamford and Cameron have reported that it is "career suicide" for anyone inside the US government to question the one-sided "special relationship" between Israel and the US when it comes to intelligence gathering. The reason for this is the political power of the Israel lobby, and its ability to target and destroy opposition within the national security bureaucracy. No doubt their unlimited access to our communications has much to do with this: I wonder how many dark secrets they have on our politicians? Anyone who thinks the Israelis would hesitate to use this information, handed over to them so eagerly by the supine US authorities, is being willfully blind.
This is one aspect of the NSA scandal we are hearing very little about, yet the Israel connection may be key to seeing the big picture. So let’s step back, then, and look at the portrait of the Panopticon as painted by the Snowden documents, and reported on by Greenwald and others.
The US has constructed this global system of interception, which monitors, records, and stores virtually all electronic and telephonic communications. It’s an elaborate apparatus, requiring tremendous resources and complex systems that sort, file, and organize this vast databank so as to make it readily available to an analyst sitting in his cubicle at an NSA facility. Sitting in the center of this vast spiderweb, with access to all its manifold threads and extensions, is not only the US government, but, standing behind them, the Israelis – who are spying on us, as well.
The Israel lobby and its amen corner continually carp about how any attempt to negotiate with Iran – or any of their other perceived enemies – is "appeasement." Yet the real appeasers are those in our government who allow Israel to walk all over us, in public and in private – even to the extent of handing them the keys to our entire communications system. I wonder if any of the politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who are now making noises about the NSA’s surveillance have the courage to buck the Israel lobby and bring up this matter in a public forum. Where is the congressional investigation into this serious breach of US national security? Where are the hearings?
I’m not holding my breath on this one, and neither should you. But let’s just put it out there, for the public record.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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- Coup in Kiev – February 23rd, 2014