Is the NSA spying on senior Israeli government officials?

Israeli Heron UAVBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A series of hard-hitting revelations by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the United States National Security Agency, have tested America’s relationship with a host of allied nations in recent months. Last week, Malaysia and Indonesia were added to the list of countries whose leaders were allegedly spied on by the US agency tasked with communications interception. Germany, Brazil, France and Greece, all of them American allies, are also said to be included on the list of NSA targets. One US partner, however, has been markedly absent from Snowden’s revelations: Israel. The Jewish state, which is routinely described as America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, has rarely been mentioned in Snowden’s sensational leaks. This changed slightly last weekend, when The New York Times published a lengthy piece describing Israel as “an important NSA target”. Based on information provided by the self-styled American whistleblower, who has been offered political asylum in Russia, the paper said Washington’s intelligence relationship with Tel Aviv is complex. The Times confirmed previous reports, which suggest that the NSA shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence. According to a 2009 agreement between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart, the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The Israelis probably do the same in return, though one document seen by British newspaper The Guardian alleges that the sharing agreement as is “tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns”. At the same time, while the NSA and ISNU collaborate, they also spy on each other. The Times noted that the American signals intelligence agency is tracking a host of “high priority Israeli military targets” on a routine basis. These include Israel’s drone aircraft systems (see photo), as well as the Jewish state’s Black Sparrow medium-range air-launched ballistic missile system. Is it true that the US spies on what is ostensibly its closest ally in the Middle East? Yes, according to Danny Yatom, former Director of Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad. “I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel”, Yatom told The Times of Israel. And he added: “when the Americans think they need to listen in on someone, they’ll do just that”. Dov Weissglass, who advised Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, displayed a similar dose of pragmatism while speaking on Israeli radio. He said during an interview that all Israeli government officials know that their communications are being listened to by the United States. Naturally, therefore, senior Israeli government officials are aware that “sensitive issues are not to be communicated by electronic means”, he added, lest they be shared with by Washington. There were no comments from the White House on this issue.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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