US ‘spied on Israeli prime minister’ during Iran nuclear talks

Netanyahu and ObamaAmerican intelligence agencies spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the negotiations between the United States and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, according to officials. Tehran entered a deal, referred to as ‘the Geneva pact’, following drawn-out negotiations with a group of nations that came to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The government of Israel, however, strongly criticized the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu called the pact a “historic mistake” that would enable “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Israel’s strong reaction, which included open criticism of US President Barack Obama, caused some in the US to accuse Tel Aviv of trying to “manipulate American institutions”, while the White House did not hide its frustration with the Israeli leader.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal said in a leading article that the Obama administration spied systematically on Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom it suspected of actively trying to kill the Geneva pact. Citing interviews with “over two dozen past and present US officials”, The Journal claimed that the National Security Agency, America’s leading signals-intelligence collector, intercepted the communications between the Israeli prime minister and his senior advisors. The main purpose of the spy program was to find out whether the government of Israel was considering launching military strikes on Iran without first notifying Washington. Such a possibility was eventually ruled out. But in the process the NSA was able to listen in to private conversations between a number of senior Israeli government officials and American lawmakers. The latter were critical of the White House’s efforts to strike a deal with Iran, and were specifically asked by Israeli officials whether Israel could count on them to vote against the Geneva pact in Congress.

The NSA was also able to intercept conversations between Israeli leaders and American members of pro-Israel groups operating in the US. The newspaper implies that the Israeli leaders coached the Americans on how to campaign against the Geneva pact. Ironically, the NSA intercepts showed that Israel was itself spying on America in an effort to access inside information on the negotiations with Iran. The paper said that the Israelis would then regularly leak the information they acquired through espionage, in an effort to sabotage a possible deal. The Journal said it contacted the US National Security Council for a comment, and was told by a media representative that the US does “not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike”, said the spokesman, refusing to elaborate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2016 | Permalink

US spy for Israel ‘may be released’ as part of Iran nuclear deal

Jonathan PollardA United States Navy intelligence analyst, who is serving a life sentence for spying on America for Israel, may soon be set free in an effort by Washington to quieten Israeli criticism of a recently struck international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, have been pressuring the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. He has so far served nearly 30 years of his life sentence.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on Friday suggesting that the Obama administration was “preparing to release” Pollard. Citing unnamed US officials, the paper said Washington hoped that the move would “smooth [America’s] relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal”. The latter was signed earlier this month between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The New York Times added to the speculation on Saturday with a detailed front-page article, which confirmed that “some in Washington appear to be highlighting” Pollard’s upcoming 30-year parole hearing, which is set to take place in November. It added that the White House was contemplating using Pollard’s release to appease, not only Tel Aviv, but also pro-Israel supporters in Congress, many of whom have campaigned for years in favor of Pollard’s release.

But the paper also cautioned that linking a possible release of the jailed American spy with the Iranian nuclear deal was risky and could in fact provoke a serious backlash. It quoted Israeli and American analysts who said that, although Israel was in the past prepared to accept Pollard’s release in exchange for minor concessions in its conflict with the Palestinians, the coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers the nuclear agreement with Iran to be “too serious a threat” to concede to, no matter what the trade-off is from Washington. Some Israeli commentators used strong words to describe Washington’s alleged plan to release Pollard as a way of appeasing Israel, describing it as “cynical, cheap and misguided”.

The Times said it contacted the US National Security Council on Friday and was told by a spokesman that there was “absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/27/01-1743/

Israel denies using computer virus to spy on Iran nuclear deal

Duqu 2.0The Israeli government rejected reports yesterday that its spy agencies were behind a virus found on the computers of three European hotels, which hosted American and other diplomats during secret negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said on Wednesday that it first discovered the malware, which it dubbed “Duqu 2.0”, in its own systems. The Moscow-based firm said the sophisticated and highly aggressive virus had been designed to spy on its internal research-related processes. Once they detected the malicious software in their own systems, Kaspersky technicians set out to map Duqu’s other targets. They found that the virus had infected computers in several Western countries, in the Middle East, as well as in Asia. According to Kaspersky, the malware was also used in a cyberattack in 2011 that resembled Stuxnet, the elaborate virus that was found to have sabotaged parts of Iran’s nuclear program in 2010.

However, Kaspersky said that among the more recent targets of the virus were “three luxury European hotels”, which appear to have been carefully selected among the thousands of prestigious hotels in Europe. The three appear to have only one thing in common: all had been patronized by diplomats engaged in the ongoing secret negotiations with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Kaspersky was referring to the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, who lead ‘the Geneva pact’. Israel has condemned the negotiations and has repeatedly expressed anger at reports that the Geneva pact is about to strike an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program.

However, Israel’s deputy foreign minister flatly rejected Kaspersky’s allegations on Wednesday, calling them “pure nonsense”. Speaking on Israel Radio, Eli Ben-Dahan said Israel had “many far more effective ways” of gathering foreign intelligence and that it did not need to resort to computer hacking in order to meet its intelligence quotas. Israeli government spokespeople refused to comment on the allegations when asked late Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/11/01-1713/

CIA chief paid secret visit to Israel ahead of Iran nuclear deal

John BrennanThe director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency visited Israel in secret last week to discuss the Jewish state’s refusal to endorse an emerging deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Citing “two senior Israeli officials”, the Tel Aviv-based Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Tuesday that CIA Director John Brennan arrived in Israel last Thursday. Although he was officially hosted by Tamir Pardo, director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Brennan used the opportunity to hold secret meetings with several senior Israeli officials, said Haaretz. Among them were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, as well as Major General Hartzl Halevi, who heads Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

According to Haaretz, Brennan’s visit to Israel had been planned “long ahead of time”, and should not be interpreted as a sudden diplomatic move from Washington. However, it came just weeks ahead of a deadline for a far-reaching settlement next month between Iran and six world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. If successful, the much-heralded deal will mark the conclusion of ongoing negotiations between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Israel, however, has strongly criticized the negotiations, referred to as ‘the Geneva pact’. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake” that would enable “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”.

It is not known whether Brennan brought with him a message from US President Barack Obama addressed to the Israeli Prime Minister, said Haaretz. On Monday, just 72 hours after Brennan’s departure, another senior American official landed in Tel Aviv —openly this time. It was General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was hosted by his Israeli counterpart, General Gadi Eisenkot. Like Brennan before him, General Dempsey met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon. Haaretz contacted the CIA about Brennan’s secret visit to Israel, but an Agency spokesperson refused to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/10/01-1712/

Israel, Saudi Arabia, acknowledge holding secret talks on Iran

Dore Gold and Anwar Majed EshkiRepresentatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have publicly admitted for the first time that they met secretly to discuss their common foe Iran, even though Saudi Arabia does not officially acknowledge Israel’s existence. The admission was made at a symposium held on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign-policy think tank based in Washington, DC.

According to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, who covered the event, it featured speeches by Saudi General (ret.) Anwar Majed Eshki, and Israeli career diplomat Dore Gold. Eskhi is a former adviser to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and is currently seen as a strong candidate to lead Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lake notes that Eshki gave his speech in Arabic, Gold gave his in English, and that no questions were taken from the audience.

At least five meetings appear to have taken place between senior Israeli and Saudi officials since early 2014, in secret venues located in Italy, India and the Czech Republic. The main purpose of the clandestine meetings was to discuss what Tel Aviv and Riyadh see as Iran’s increasingly powerful role in Middle Eastern affairs, and to explore ways of stopping Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

The admission of the secret meetings between Israeli and Saudi diplomats will not come as a surprise to seasoned Middle East observers. Many have suspected that the two countries, who have historically been bitter enemies, have sought to collaborate behind the scenes against Iran. However, as Lake correctly points out, this week’s acknowledgement is the first time that this collaboration has been openly admitted by the two sides. He quotes one participant at Thursday’s symposium, Israeli General (ret.) Shimon Shapira, who says that Tel Aviv and Riyadh have also discussed “political and economic” means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This admission, however, does not mean that the Saudis are about to recognize Israel, or that the Israelis are any closer to accepting the Saudis’ 2002 Arab-Israeli peace plan, which Tel Aviv has flatly rejected, says Lake. Admittedly, the rising power of Iran can only do so much to bring Israelis and Arabs closer.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/05/01-1709/

Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

‘Gloves are coming off’ in US-Israel clash over Iran, says intel insider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An American former intelligence operative has called the latest revelations of Israeli spying against the United States “appalling” and warned that “the gloves are coming off” in the clash between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran. The unnamed former operative, described as having “long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations”, told Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that he was not surprised to find out Israel has been spying on the closed-door talks between the US and the Islamic Republic.

He was referring to The Wall Street Journal’s leading article on Monday, which alleged that the Jewish state’s intelligence services have been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The paper said the spy operation against the US forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which aim to bridge the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Newsweek has reported before allegations about aggressive Israeli espionage against the US. Last year, Stein elicited a strong reaction from the Israeli government when he quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal American secrets. According to Stein, intelligence representatives had briefed members of Congress about Israeli spy operations against US interests that were “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan.

This time, however, says Stein, Israeli actions “mark a new frontier” in the intelligence rivalry between Washington and Tel Aviv. He quotes an American former intelligence insider who condemns Israeli efforts to sabotage US-Iranian talks as “manipulation of our institutions” and blasts American lawmakers siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “useful idiots” who “sacrifice the US national interest for a foreign ideology”, namely “Likud rightwing Zionism”. The unnamed source added that the controlled leaks about the widening rift in US-Israeli relations reveal the anger currently being felt in Washington against the Israeli government. Behind closed doors, officials in the White House, the foreign-policy and intelligence communities “are prepared to act on that anger”, he concluded.

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