Israel planted surveillance devices targeting Trump, claims report

White HouseThe intelligence services of Israel planted surveillance devices around the White House in an attempt to spy on United States President Donald Trump and his senior advisors, according to a report published on Thursday. The report, authored by Politico’s Daniel Lippman, cited three former US officials with knowledge on the matter, “several of whom served in top intelligence and national security posts”, it said.

According to Politico, the Israelis planted International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers —known in technical-surveillance lingo as “StingRays” after a leading hardware brand. StingRay devices are designed to simulate the activity of legitimate cell towers in order to trick cell phones into communicating with them. That allows StingRay users to monitor the physical whereabouts of targeted cell phones. Some of the more expensive Stingray models can intercept the actual content of telephone conversations and can even plant Trojans on the compromised phones of unsuspecting users.

Politico said that the StingRays found around the White House were of the highest technical sophistication, and were “likely intended” to spy on President Trump, his senior advisers and other close associates. Politico said it had no information on whether the attempt was successful. The spy devices were detected by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2017 and acknowledged by US government officials in 2018. Senior American intelligence officials allegedly told Politico that an exhaustive two-year investigation into the matter showed “with confidence [that] the Israelis were responsible” for the StingRays.

The investigation was led by the counterintelligence division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the help of the DHS and the Secret Service. The National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency are also known to assist such counterintelligence investigations. The devices were disassembled and their technical specifications were carefully inspected to assess their history and origins. Investigators reportedly concluded that very few countries have the technical and financial capabilities to build and plant such devices in the US, and that Israel was the most likely culprit.

Politico also said that some intelligence officials are unhappy about the Trump administration’s lack of response to the alleged spying by Israel. According to the officials, the White House did not file a protest —either publicly or privately— with the Israeli government, and “there were no consequences for Israel’s behavior”.  On Thursday afternoon, the US president voiced skepticism when asked by reporters about the Politico report: “I really would find that hard to believe”, said Trump, adding that his “relationship with Israel has been great”. Meanwhile the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the Politico report as “a blatant lie” and noted that Israel’s spy services had “a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2019 | Permalink

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Why is the US federal tax agency using phone interception devices?

Internal Revenue ServiceDocuments acquired by a newspaper show that the Internal Revenue Service, which is the United States government’s agency responsible for collecting taxes, has purchased devices used to intercept cell phone messages. Founded in 1862, the IRS is the revenue service of the US state, and operates as a bureau of the Department of the Treasury. But it also maintains a number investigative components, including the Criminal Investigation Division. The latter consists of between 3,000 and 4,000 personnel and is tasked with investigating and helping build cases for the prosecution relating to tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Historically, the Criminal Investigation Division’s scope and tactics have been limited and rarely relied on telecommunications interceptions. But according to British newspaper The Guardian, the IRS purchased a number of Stingray devices in 2009 and 2012. Known also as IMSI catchers, Stingrays are portable communications-interception devices, which mimic the operation of cell phone towers. They gather data, including the phone numbers dialed, duration of phone calls and location of users, from cell phones that communicate with them. Some Stingray models are said to be able to intercept the content of telephone calls made by unsuspecting cell phone users.

According to The Guardian, the IRS made an initial order to purchase Stingray equipment in 2009 and repeated the request in 2012. At least 12 US federal agencies and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies use Stingrays for communications-interception purposes. But the London-based paper says this is the first time that the IRS has been found to be using the devices. It is unclear, however, what the IRS uses the Stingrays for. The Guardian said it contacted an IRS spokesman who refused to respond to questions on the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 October 2015 | Permalink