Spy vs. Spy: Espionage and the U.S.-Israel Rift

If more evidence was needed to show that the relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama has morphed from tragedy to farce, it came late Monday with the revelation that Israel had spied on the nuclear talks between the United States and Iran.

“The White House discovered the operation,” according to the blockbuster account by Adam Entous in The Wall Street Journal, “when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.”

Talk about spy vs. spy, the old Mad magazine trope featuring two pointy-nosed, masked cartoon creatures. The National Security Agency, eavesdropping on Israeli officials (as usual, according to the revelations of Edward Snowden), overheard them discussing intelligence their own spies had gathered by spying on U.S. officials talking about the Iran negotiations.

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This was a whole new level of gamesmanship between the two bickering allies.

“It’s one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” an unnamed “senior U.S. official” told the Journal.

Officials in Jerusalem issued emphatic denials, as they did last year when Newsweek reported on Israeli espionage against the U.S., saying that “Israel does not spy on the United States, period, exclamation mark,’’ as Yuval Steinitz, minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, told Israel Radio on Tuesday.

Of course, Israel does spy on the U.S., and vice versa. In the age of cyberwar, electronic spying runs on autopilot, with state-of-the-art Pac-Mans zooming around the Internet gobbling up anything with the right keyword. Anybody with an antenna (or a keyboard) spies on whoever is seen as the remotest threat, including friends. Or as the Journal put it, “While U.S. officials may not be direct targets…Israeli intelligence agencies sweep up communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran.”

And how did the Israelis intercept conversations between officials in Tehran and Washington? In another comedic dimension to this latest spy flap, it turns out that “U.S. intelligence agencies helped the Israelis build a system to listen in on high-level Iranian communications,” the Journal reported.

In part, it’s an old story. Israel’s clandestine operations to steal U.S. scientific, technical, industrial and financial secrets are so commonplace here that officials in the Pentagon and FBI periodically verge into open revolt.

Last year, U.S. intelligence officials trooped up to Capitol Hill to tell U.S. lawmakers considering visa waivers for Israelis that Jerusalem’s spying here had “crossed red lines.” One congressional staffer who attended the behind-closed-doors briefings called the information “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Another staffer called it “damaging.”

“We used to call the Israelis on the carpet once a year to tell them to cut it out, when a particular stunt was just too outrageous ” says a former top FBI counterintelligence official. “They’d make all the right noises and then go right back at it through another door.” But since Israel is such an important strategic ally of the U.S., it was a sin that could not be named. The standing order has always been to just suck it up.

Until this week. The accusations by the unnamed Obama administration officials marked a new frontier in calling out the Israelis—or at least Netanyahu’s right-wing administration.

Netanyahu had crossed some sort of red line again when, according to the Journal, his man in Washington began quietly sharing Israeli intelligence about the U.S. negotiating position with members of Congress, hoping to shore up support for its rejection of any deal with the Iranians short of a total nuclear capitulation on their part. But what seems to have pushed Obama officials over the edge was that Ambassador Ron Dermer, a former Republican operative who holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, was wildly exaggerating what the U.S. position was, according to the Journal, making it sound like the White House had given away the store to the Iranians in a desperate effort to ink a deal.

Republican Representative Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated he had indeed gotten a different view on Iran from sources outside the administration.

“As good as our intelligence community is, a lot of times we don’t even know what the Iranians are up to,” he told CNN. “So we were shocked at the disclosures that have come forward of the size and scope of the Iranian program even in the most recent years.”

One former U.S. intelligence operative with long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations called the revelation “appalling but not surprising,” especially under Netanyahu, whose governing coalition depends on the support of far-right Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parties with a stake in the West Bank settlements.

“The fact that there is such manipulation of our institutions by a so-called ally must be exposed, and the ‘useful idiots’ in [the U.S.] government who toe the Likud line will someday be looked back upon as men and women who sacrificed the U.S. national interest for a foreign ideology—Likud right-wing Zionism,” the operative said, on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“We know publicly that the administration is seething,” he added, “but I can assure you that behind closed doors the gloves are coming off. Bibi is in the administration’s crosshairs. If this is what is being allowed to leak publicly, you can bet that, behind the scenes, folks both in the White House and the foreign policy-intel community [are prepared to] act on that anger.”

This is not the end of it, he predicted. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which critics say has morphed from a powerful “pro-Israel” lobby to a powerful pro-Likud lobby over the years, will be Obama officials’ next target.

“I’m betting there are going to be some willing leakers now about stories such as AIPAC’s operations against Congress,” the former operative said.

Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has no doubt that Obama administration officials made a calculated decision to call out Netanyahu, who has long been at odds with the White House on the Middle East peace process, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Iranian nuclear talks.

“I think y’all all understand what’s happening here,” he told reporters. “I mean, you understand who’s pushing this out.”

But if Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, is any barometer, the Israelis have little to worry about.

“I just don’t look at that as spying,” Kaine said of the Journal’s allegations. “Their deep existential interest in such a deal, that they would try to figure out anything that they could, that they would have an opinion on it…I don’t find any of that that controversial.”

Jeff Stein writes SpyTalk from Washington, D.C. He can be reached more or less confidentially via spytalker@hushmail.com.

BY JEFF STEIN 3/25/15 AT 12:23 PM

Find this story at 25 March 2015

© 2015 NEWSWEEK LLC

NETANYAHU’S SPYING DENIALS CONTRADICTED BY SECRET NSA DOCUMENTS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vehemently denied a Wall Street Journal report, leaked by the Obama White House, that Israel spied on U.S. negotiations with Iran and then fed the intelligence to Congressional Republicans. His office’s denial was categorical and absolute, extending beyond this specific story to U.S.-targeted spying generally, claiming: “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”

Israel’s claim is not only incredible on its face. It is also squarely contradicted by top-secret NSA documents, which state that Israel targets the U.S. government for invasive electronic surveillance, and does so more aggressively and threateningly than almost any other country in the world. Indeed, so concerted and aggressive are Israeli efforts against the U.S. that some key U.S. government documents — including the top secret 2013 intelligence budget — list Israel among the U.S.’s most threatening cyber-adversaries and as a “hostile” foreign intelligence service.

One top-secret 2008 document features an interview with the NSA’s Global Capabilities Manager for Countering Foreign Intelligence, entitled “Which Foreign Intelligence Service Is the Biggest Threat to the US?” He repeatedly names Israel as one of the key threats.

While noting that Russia and China do the most effective spying on U.S., he says that “Israel also targets us.” He explains that “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked [Israel] as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.” While praising the surveillance relationship with Israel as highly valuable, he added: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Specifically, the Israelis “target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems.”

Other NSA documents voice the grievance that Israel gets far more out of the intelligence-sharing relationship than the U.S. does. One top-secret 2007 document, entitled “History of the US – Israel SIGINT Relationship, post 1992,” describes the cooperation that takes place as highly productive and valuable, and, indeed, top-secret documents previously reported by The Intercept and the Guardian leave no doubt about the very active intelligence-sharing relationship that takes place between the two countries. Yet that same document complains that the relationship even after 9/11 was almost entirely one-sided in favor of serving Israeli rather than U.S. interests:

The U.S. perception of Israel as a threat as much as an ally is also evidenced by the so-called “black budget” of 2013, previously referenced by The Washington Post, which lists Israel in multiple places as a key intelligence “target” and even a “hostile foreign intelligence service” among several other countries typically thought of as the U.S.’s most entrenched adversaries:

The same budget document reveals that the CIA regards Israel — along with Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Cuba — as a “priority threat country,” one against which it “conduct[s] offensive [counter-intelligence] operations in collaboration with DoD”:

One particular source of concern for U.S. intelligence are the means used by Israel to “influence anti-regime elements in Iran,” including its use of “propaganda and other active measures”:

What is most striking about all of this is the massive gap between (a) how American national security officials talk privately about the Israelis and (b) how they have talked for decades about the Israelis for public consumption — at least until the recent change in public rhetoric from Obama officials about Israel, which merely brings publicly expressed American views more in line with how U.S. government officials have long privately regarded their “ally.” The NSA refused to comment for this article.

Previously reported stories on Israeli spying, by themselves, leave no doubt how false Netanyahu’s statement is. A Der Spiegel article from last fall revealed that “Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on US Secretary of State John Kerry during Middle East peace negotiations.” A Le Monde article described how NSA documents strongly suggest that a massive computer hack of the French presidential palace in 2012 was likely carried about by the Israelis. A 2014 article from Newsweek’s Jeff Stein revealed that when it comes to surveillance, “the Jewish state’s primary target” is “America’s industrial and technical secrets” and that “Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and unseemly.”

All of these stories, along with these new documents, leave no doubt that, at least as the NSA and other parts of the U.S. National Security State see it, Netanyahu’s denials are entirely false: The Israelis engage in active and aggressive espionage against the U.S., even as the U.S. feeds the Israelis billions of dollars every year in U.S. taxpayer funds and protects every Israeli action at the U.N. Because of the U.S. perception of Israel as a “threat” and even a “hostile” foreign intelligence service — facts they discuss only privately, never publicly — the U.S. targets Israel for all sorts of espionage as well.

Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman
Mar. 25 2015, 8:06 p.m.

Find this story at 25 March 2015

Copyright https://firstlook.org/theintercept/

Israeli TV Says US Has Stopped Sharing Intelligence About Iranian Nuclear Program With Israel

Report: Obama Administration Has Stopped Sharing Intelligence With Israel on Iran’s Nuclear Program

The Obama administration has “unilaterally” and “completely” stopped sharing intelligence with Israel over Iran’s nuclear development program due to its anger over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday address to Congress, Israel’s Channel 10 reported, a charge the White House flatly denied.

“The U.S. unilaterally stopped all of its joint activity with Israel regarding the nuclearization of Iran,” the news show reported Monday night. This freeze in intelligence sharing was attributed to the “American anger” at Netanyahu.

White House national security spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told TheBlaze in an email, “the report is completely false.”

In this Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, a worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

On Sunday, one day before the Channel 10 report, Secretary of State John Kerry touted the close security relationship with Israel in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”

“We have a closer relationship with Israel right now, in terms of security, than at anytime in history,” Kerry said.

To make up for the gap, Israel is cooperating with other countries, not the U.S., to collect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. Past joint efforts by American and Israeli intelligence have helped the International Atomic Energy Agency monitor Iran’s nuclear progress, which is suspected of ultimately being aimed at the development of weapons.

Those IAEA reports raising suspicions about the objectives of Iran’s nuclear program have been the cornerstone of the case to convince the international community to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu was in Washington to warn lawmakers of the dangers of the emerging deal currently being negotiated between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S. Media reports have said the framework being worked out would monitor Iranian nuclear progress for only 10 years.

An unnamed senior aide to Netanyahu told reporters traveling on Netanyahu’s plane Sunday that the Obama administration was not fully sharing details with Congress about the negotiations.

The State Department on Monday warned Netanyahu against disclosing those details to Congress.

“We’ve continuously provided detailed classified briefings to Israeli officials to keep them updated and to provide context for how we are approaching getting to a good deal, because we’ve been very clear we will not accept a bad deal,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “So any release of any kind of information like that would, of course, betray that trust.”

Channel 10 also reported that in addition to refusing to meet the Israeli leader, Obama had no plans to phone him while he’s in town either.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the prime minister’s office would not comment on the Channel 10 report.

Sharona Schwartz
The Blaze
March 3, 2015

Find this story at 3 March 2015

Copyright http://www.matthewaid.com/

Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal

WASHINGTON — IN Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.

Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

It appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.

The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.

It should trouble the American public that some or much of the information in question — intended not for national security purposes but simply to pursue political agendas — may have come directly from the N.S.A.’s domestic dragnet. According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden and reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the N.S.A. has been sending intelligence to Israel since at least March 2009.

The memorandum of agreement between the N.S.A. and its Israeli counterpart covers virtually all forms of communication, including but not limited to “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.” The memo also indicates that the N.S.A. does not filter out American communications before delivery to Israel; indeed, the agency “routinely sends” unminimized data.

Although the memo emphasizes that Israel should make use of the intercepts in accordance with United States law, it also notes that the agreement is legally unenforceable. “This agreement,” it reads, “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.”

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What type of information could be used against a palestinian to force him/her to collaborate? Homosexuality? Adultery? Premarital sex?…
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Very romantic to ignore that ugly breeds ugly, especially from a journalist of Mr Bamford’s age and experience. If anything, only…
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It should also trouble Americans that the N.S.A. could head down a similar path in this country. Indeed, there is some indication, from a top-secret 2012 document from Mr. Snowden’s leaked files that I saw last year, that it already is. The document, from Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then the director of the N.S.A., notes that the agency had been compiling records of visits to pornographic websites and proposes using that information to damage the reputations of people whom the agency considers “radicalizers” — not necessarily terrorists, but those attempting, through the use of incendiary speech, to radicalize others. (The Huffington Post has published a redacted version of the document.)

In Moscow, Mr. Snowden told me that the document reminded him of the F.B.I.’s overreach during the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when the bureau abused its powers to monitor and harass political activists. “It’s much like how the F.B.I. tried to use Martin Luther King’s infidelity to talk him into killing himself,” he said. “We said those kinds of things were inappropriate back in the ’60s. Why are we doing that now? Why are we getting involved in this again?”

It’s a question that American and Israeli citizens should be asking themselves.

James Bamford is the author of three books on the National Security Agency, including “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret N.S.A. from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.”

By JAMES BAMFORDSEPT. 16, 2014

Find this story at 16 September 2014

© 2015 The New York Times Company

Israel Eavesdropped on John Kerry in Mideast Talks

New information indicates that Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on telephone conversations by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Sources told SPIEGEL the government then used the information obtained from the calls during negotiations in the Mideast conflict.

SPIEGEL has learned from reliable sources that Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on US Secretary of State John Kerry during Middle East peace negotiations. In addition to the Israelis, at least one other intelligence service also listened in as Kerry mediated last year between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states, several intelligence service sources told SPIEGEL. Revelations of the eavesdropping could further damage already tense relations between the US government and Israel.

During the peak stage of peace talks last year, Kerry spoke regularly with high-ranking negotiating partners in the Middle East. At the time, some of these calls were not made on encrypted equipment, but instead on normal telephones, with the conversations transmitted by satellite. Intelligence agencies intercepted some of those calls. The government in Jerusalem then used the information obtained in international negotiations aiming to reach a diplomatic solution in the Middle East.

In the current Gaza conflict, the Israelis have massively criticized Kerry, with a few ministers indirectly calling on him to withdraw from peace talks. Both the US State Department and the Israeli authorities declined to comment.

Only one week ago, Kerry flew to Israel to mediate between the conflict parties, but the Israelis brusquely rejected a draft proposal for a cease-fire. The plan reportedly didn’t include any language demanding that Hamas abandon its rocket arsenal and destroy its tunnel system. Last year, Kerry undertook intensive diplomatic efforts to seek a solution in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they ultimately failed. Since those talks, relations between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been tense.

Still, there are no doubts about fundamental support for Israel on the part of the United States. On Friday, the US Congress voted to help fund Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system to the tune of $225 million (around €168 million).

Find this story at 3 August 2014

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2014

(TS//REL TO USA, ISR) Subject: NSA Intelligence Relationship with Israel

(U) Introduction
(TS//N F) NSA maintains a far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the
Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU) sharing information on access, intercept, targeting,
language, analysis and reporting. This SIGINT relationship has increasingly been the
catalyst for a broader intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel.
Significant changes in the way NSA and ISNU have traditionally approached SIGINT
have prompted an expansion to include other Israeli and U.s. intelligence organizations
such as CIA, Mossad, and Special Operation Division (SOD).
(U) Key Issues
(TS//SI//N F) The single largest exchange between N SA and ISN U is on targets in the
Middle East which constitute strategic threats to U.s. and Israeli interests. Building
upon a robust analytic exchange, NSA and ISNU also have explored and executed
unique opportunities to gain access to high priority targets. The mutually agreed upon
geographic targets include the countries of North Africa, the Middle East, the Persian
Gulf, South Asia, and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union. Within that set of
countries, cooperation covers the exploitation of internal governmental, military, civil,
and diplomatic communications; and external security/intelligence organizations.
Regional Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and “Stateless”/lnternational
Terrorism comprise the exchanged transnational target set. A dedicated
communications line between NSA and ISN U supports the exchange of raw material, as
well as daily analytic and technical correspondence. Both N SA and ISN U have liaison
officers, who conduct foreign relations functions, stationed at their respective
embassies.
(TS//REL TO USA, ISR) What NSA Provides to ISNU
(TS//SI//REL TO USA, ISR) The Israeli side enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic
access to world-class NSA cryptanalytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and also
gains controlled access to advanced U.s. technology and equipment via
accommodation buys and foreign military sales.
(TS//REL TO USA, ISR) What ISNU Provides to NSA
(TS//SI//RE L TO USA, ISR) Benefits to the U.s. include expanded geographic access to
high priority SIGINT targets, access to world-class Israeli cryptanalytic and SIGINT
engineering expertise, and access to a large pool of highly qualified analysts.
Derived From: NSA/CSSM 1-52
Dated: 20070108
Declassify On: 20371101
TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN
TOP SECRET//SII/NOFORN
(U) Success Stories _
(TS//SI//REL TO USA, ISR) A key priority for ISN U is the Iranian nuclear development
program, followed by Syrian nuclear efforts, Lebanese Hizballah plans and intentions,
Palestinian terrorism, and Global Jihad. Several recent and successful joint operations
between N SA and IS N U have broadened both organizations’ ability to target and exploit
Iranian nuclear efforts. In addition, a robust and dynamic cryptanalytic relationship has
enabled breakthroughs on high priority Iranian targets.
(TS//REL TO USA, ISR) NSA and ISNU continue to initiate joint targeting of Syrian and
Iranian leadership and nuclear development programs with CIA, ISNU, SOD and
Massad. This exchange has been particularly important as unrest in Syria continues,
and both sides work together to identify threats to regional stability. N SA’s cyber
partnerships expanded beyond IS N U to include Israeli Defense Intelligence’s soD and
Massad, resulting in unprecedented access and collection breakthroughs that all sides
acknowledge would not have been possible to achieve without the others.
(TS//SI//N F) In July 2012, the Office of the Director of N ationallntelligence (ODN I)
provided guidance for expanded sharing with the GOI (Government of Israel) on Egypt.
This approval has allowed N SA to task for ISN U on select strategic issues, specifically
terrorist elements in the Sinai.
(S//N F) Beyond the traditional SIGI NT relationship, N SA and ISN U signed a M 0 U in
September 2011 providing for Information Assurance/Computer Network Defense
collaboration. N SA’s Information Assurance Deputy Director anended an lAIC N D
conference in Tel Aviv in January 2012 during which N SA and ISN U established
objectives for the relationship. NSA intends to focus the collaboration on cyber threats
from Iran, H izballah and other regional actors and may provide limited, focused support
on specific Russian and Chinese cyber threats. Conferences to further develop this
partnership were held in May 2012 and December 2012.
(TS//SI//REL TO USA, ISR) NSA and ISNU led their communities in the establishment
of U.s. – Israeli Intelligence Community VTC connectivity that allows both sides to
broaden and accelerate the pace of collaboration against targets’ use of advanced
telecommunications. Target sets include, but are not limited to Iran Nuclear, Syrian
Foreign Fighter movements, Lebanese Hizballah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps activities. Dialogue is ongoing, with each potential new intelligence or technology
initiative considered for approval individually.
(U) Problems/Challenges
(TS//N F) The three most common concerns raised by ISN U regarding the partnership
with NSA is NSA’s reluctance to share on technology that is not directly related to a
specific target, ISN U’s perceived reduction in the amount and degree of cooperation in
certain areas, and the length of time NSA takes to decide on ISN U proposals. Efforts in
these three areas have been addressed with the partner and NSA continues to work to
TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN 2
TOP SECRET//SII/NOFORN
increase cooperation with IS N U, where appropriate and mindful of U.s. policy and
equity concerns.
(U//FOUO) Updated by:
Country Desk Officer
Fo n Affairs Directorate

view the file at

NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans’ data with Israel

• Secret deal places no legal limits on use of data by Israelis
• Only official US government communications protected
• Agency insists it complies with rules governing privacy
• Read the NSA and Israel’s ‘memorandum of understanding’

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process “minimization”, but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

The deal was reached in principle in March 2009, according to the undated memorandum, which lays out the ground rules for the intelligence sharing.

The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies “pertaining to the protection of US persons”, repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.

But this is undermined by the disclosure that Israel is allowed to receive “raw Sigint” – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: “Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, it says.

Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations.

“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 document says.

In a statement to the Guardian, an NSA spokesperson did not deny that personal data about Americans was included in raw intelligence data shared with the Israelis. But the agency insisted that the shared intelligence complied with all rules governing privacy.

“Any US person information that is acquired as a result of NSA’s surveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights,” the spokesperson said.

The NSA declined to answer specific questions about the agreement, including whether permission had been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court for handing over such material.

The memorandum of understanding, which the Guardian is publishing in full, allows Israel to retain “any files containing the identities of US persons” for up to a year. The agreement requests only that the Israelis should consult the NSA’s special liaison adviser when such data is found.

Notably, a much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government”. Such communications included those of “officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)”.

It is not clear whether any communications involving members of US Congress or the federal courts have been included in the raw data provided by the NSA, nor is it clear how or why the NSA would be in possession of such communications. In 2009, however, the New York Times reported on “the agency’s attempt to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip”.

The NSA is required by law to target only non-US persons without an individual warrant, but it can collect the content and metadata of Americans’ emails and calls without a warrant when such communication is with a foreign target. US persons are defined in surveillance legislation as US citizens, permanent residents and anyone located on US soil at the time of the interception, unless it has been positively established that they are not a citizen or permanent resident.

Moreover, with much of the world’s internet traffic passing through US networks, large numbers of purely domestic communications also get scooped up incidentally by the agency’s surveillance programs.

The document mentions only one check carried out by the NSA on the raw intelligence, saying the agency will “regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of US persons’ identities”. It also requests that the Israelis limit access only to personnel with a “strict need to know”.

Israeli intelligence is allowed “to disseminate foreign intelligence information concerning US persons derived from raw Sigint by NSA” on condition that it does so “in a manner that does not identify the US person”. The agreement also allows Israel to release US person identities to “outside parties, including all INSU customers” with the NSA’s written permission.

Although Israel is one of America’s closest allies, it is not one of the inner core of countries involved in surveillance sharing with the US – Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This group is collectively known as Five Eyes.

The relationship between the US and Israel has been strained at times, both diplomatically and in terms of intelligence. In the top-secret 2013 intelligence community budget request, details of which were disclosed by the Washington Post, Israel is identified alongside Iran and China as a target for US cyberattacks.

While NSA documents tout the mutually beneficial relationship of Sigint sharing, another report, marked top secret and dated September 2007, states that the relationship, while central to US strategy, has become overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of Israel.

“Balancing the Sigint exchange equally between US and Israeli needs has been a constant challenge,” states the report, titled ‘History of the US – Israel Sigint Relationship, Post-1992′. “In the last decade, it arguably tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns. 9/11 came, and went, with NSA’s only true Third Party [counter-terrorism] relationship being driven almost totally by the needs of the partner.”

newtear3

In another top-secret document seen by the Guardian, dated 2008, a senior NSA official points out that Israel aggressively spies on the US. “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,” the official says. “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.”

Later in the document, the official is quoted as saying: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended.”

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The memorandum of understanding also contains hints that there had been tensions in the intelligence-sharing relationship with Israel. At a meeting in March 2009 between the two agencies, according to the document, it was agreed that the sharing of raw data required a new framework and further training for Israeli personnel to protect US person information.

It is not clear whether or not this was because there had been problems up to that point in the handling of intelligence that was found to contain Americans’ data.

However, an earlier US document obtained by Snowden, which discusses co-operating on a military intelligence program, bluntly lists under the cons: “Trust issues which revolve around previous ISR [Israel] operations.”

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The Guardian asked the Obama administration how many times US data had been found in the raw intelligence, either by the Israelis or when the NSA reviewed a sample of the files, but officials declined to provide this information. Nor would they disclose how many other countries the NSA shared raw data with, or whether the Fisa court, which is meant to oversee NSA surveillance programs and the procedures to handle US information, had signed off the agreement with Israel.

In its statement, the NSA said: “We are not going to comment on any specific information sharing arrangements, or the authority under which any such information is collected. The fact that intelligence services work together under specific and regulated conditions mutually strengthens the security of both nations.

“NSA cannot, however, use these relationships to circumvent US legal restrictions. Whenever we share intelligence information, we comply with all applicable rules, including the rules to protect US person information.”

Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 September 2013 15.40 BST

Find this story at 11 September 2013

Memorandum of understanding

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

No Morsel Too Minuscule for All-Consuming N.S.A.

When Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, sat down with President Obama at the White House in April to discuss Syrian chemical weapons, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and climate change, it was a cordial, routine exchange.

The National Security Agency nonetheless went to work in advance and intercepted Mr. Ban’s talking points for the meeting, a feat the agency later reported as an “operational highlight” in a weekly internal brag sheet. It is hard to imagine what edge this could have given Mr. Obama in a friendly chat, if he even saw the N.S.A.’s modest scoop. (The White House won’t say.)

But it was emblematic of an agency that for decades has operated on the principle that any eavesdropping that can be done on a foreign target of any conceivable interest — now or in the future — should be done. After all, American intelligence officials reasoned, who’s going to find out?

From thousands of classified documents, the National Security Agency emerges as an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations. It spies routinely on friends as well as foes, as has become obvious in recent weeks; the agency’s official mission list includes using its surveillance powers to achieve “diplomatic advantage” over such allies as France and Germany and “economic advantage” over Japan and Brazil, among other countries.

Mr. Obama found himself in September standing uncomfortably beside the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who was furious at being named as a target of N.S.A. eavesdropping. Since then, there has been a parade of such protests, from the European Union, Mexico, France, Germany and Spain. Chagrined American officials joke that soon there will be complaints from foreign leaders feeling slighted because the agency had not targeted them.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has repeatedly dismissed such objections as brazen hypocrisy from countries that do their own share of spying. But in a recent interview, he acknowledged that the scale of eavesdropping by the N.S.A., with 35,000 workers and $10.8 billion a year, sets it apart. “There’s no question that from a capability standpoint we probably dwarf everybody on the planet, just about, with perhaps the exception of Russia and China,” he said.

Since Edward J. Snowden began releasing the agency’s documents in June, the unrelenting stream of disclosures has opened the most extended debate on the agency’s mission since its creation in 1952. The scrutiny has ignited a crisis of purpose and legitimacy for the N.S.A., the nation’s largest intelligence agency, and the White House has ordered a review of both its domestic and its foreign intelligence collection. While much of the focus has been on whether the agency violates Americans’ privacy, an issue under examination by Congress and two review panels, the anger expressed around the world about American surveillance has prompted far broader questions.

If secrecy can no longer be taken for granted, when does the political risk of eavesdropping overseas outweigh its intelligence benefits? Should foreign citizens, many of whom now rely on American companies for email and Internet services, have any privacy protections from the N.S.A.? Will the American Internet giants’ collaboration with the agency, voluntary or otherwise, damage them in international markets? And are the agency’s clandestine efforts to weaken encryption making the Internet less secure for everyone?

Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian and author of a 2009 book on the N.S.A., said there is no precedent for the hostile questions coming at the agency from all directions.

“From N.S.A.’s point of view, it’s a disaster,” Mr. Aid said. “Every new disclosure reinforces the notion that the agency needs to be reined in. There are political consequences, and there will be operational consequences.”

A review of classified agency documents obtained by Mr. Snowden and shared with The New York Times by The Guardian, offers a rich sampling of the agency’s global operations and culture. (At the agency’s request, The Times is withholding some details that officials said could compromise intelligence operations.) The N.S.A. seems to be listening everywhere in the world, gathering every stray electron that might add, however minutely, to the United States government’s knowledge of the world. To some Americans, that may be a comfort. To others, and to people overseas, that may suggest an agency out of control.

The C.I.A. dispatches undercover officers overseas to gather intelligence today roughly the same way spies operated in biblical times. But the N.S.A., born when the long-distance call was a bit exotic, has seen its potential targets explode in number with the advent of personal computers, the Internet and cellphones. Today’s N.S.A. is the Amazon of intelligence agencies, as different from the 1950s agency as that online behemoth is from a mom-and-pop bookstore. It sucks the contents from fiber-optic cables, sits on telephone switches and Internet hubs, digitally burglarizes laptops and plants bugs on smartphones around the globe.

Mr. Obama and top intelligence officials have defended the agency’s role in preventing terrorist attacks. But as the documents make clear, the focus on counterterrorism is a misleadingly narrow sales pitch for an agency with an almost unlimited agenda. Its scale and aggressiveness are breathtaking.

The agency’s Dishfire database — nothing happens without a code word at the N.S.A. — stores years of text messages from around the world, just in case. Its Tracfin collection accumulates gigabytes of credit card purchases. The fellow pretending to send a text message at an Internet cafe in Jordan may be using an N.S.A. technique code-named Polarbreeze to tap into nearby computers. The Russian businessman who is socially active on the web might just become food for Snacks, the acronym-mad agency’s Social Network Analysis Collaboration Knowledge Services, which figures out the personnel hierarchies of organizations from texts.

The spy agency’s station in Texas intercepted 478 emails while helping to foil a jihadist plot to kill a Swedish artist who had drawn pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. N.S.A. analysts delivered to authorities at Kennedy International Airport the names and flight numbers of workers dispatched by a Chinese human smuggling ring.

The agency’s eavesdropping gear, aboard a Defense Department plane flying 60,000 feet over Colombia, fed the location and plans of FARC rebels to the Colombian Army. In the Orlandocard operation, N.S.A. technicians set up what they called a “honeypot” computer on the web that attracted visits from 77,413 foreign computers and planted spyware on more than 1,000 that the agency deemed of potential future interest.

The Global Phone Book

No investment seems too great if it adds to the agency’s global phone book. After mounting a major eavesdropping effort focused on a climate change conference in Bali in 2007, agency analysts stationed in Australia’s outback were especially thrilled by one catch: the cellphone number of Bali’s police chief.

“Our mission,” says the agency’s current five-year plan, which has not been officially scheduled for declassification until 2032, “is to answer questions about threatening activities that others mean to keep hidden.”

The aspirations are grandiose: to “utterly master” foreign intelligence carried on communications networks. The language is corporate: “Our business processes need to promote data-driven decision-making.” But the tone is also strikingly moralistic for a government bureaucracy. Perhaps to counter any notion that eavesdropping is a shady enterprise, signals intelligence, or Sigint, the term of art for electronic intercepts, is presented as the noblest of callings.

“Sigint professionals must hold the moral high ground, even as terrorists or dictators seek to exploit our freedoms,” the plan declares. “Some of our adversaries will say or do anything to advance their cause; we will not.”

The N.S.A. documents taken by Mr. Snowden and shared with The Times, numbering in the thousands and mostly dating from 2007 to 2012, are part of a collection of about 50,000 items that focus mainly on its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters or G.C.H.Q.

While far from comprehensive, the documents give a sense of the agency’s reach and abilities, from the Navy ships snapping up radio transmissions as they cruise off the coast of China, to the satellite dishes at Fort Meade in Maryland ingesting worldwide banking transactions, to the rooftops of 80 American embassies and consulates around the world from which the agency’s Special Collection Service aims its antennas.

The agency and its many defenders among senior government officials who have relied on its top secret reports say it is crucial to American security and status in the world, pointing to terrorist plots disrupted, nuclear proliferation tracked and diplomats kept informed.

But the documents released by Mr. Snowden sometimes also seem to underscore the limits of what even the most intensive intelligence collection can achieve by itself. Blanket N.S.A. eavesdropping in Afghanistan, described in the documents as covering government offices and the hide-outs of second-tier Taliban militants alike, has failed to produce a clear victory against a low-tech enemy. The agency kept track as Syria amassed its arsenal of chemical weapons — but that knowledge did nothing to prevent the gruesome slaughter outside Damascus in August.

The documents are skewed toward celebration of the agency’s self-described successes, as underlings brag in PowerPoints to their bosses about their triumphs and the managers lay out grand plans. But they do not entirely omit the agency’s flubs and foibles: flood tides of intelligence gathered at huge cost that goes unexamined; intercepts that cannot be read for lack of language skills; and computers that — even at the N.S.A. — go haywire in all the usual ways.

Mapping Message Trails

In May 2009, analysts at the agency learned that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was to make a rare trip to Kurdistan Province in the country’s mountainous northwest. The agency immediately organized a high-tech espionage mission, part of a continuing project focused on Ayatollah Khamenei called Operation Dreadnought.

Working closely with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which handles satellite photography, as well as G.C.H.Q., the N.S.A. team studied the Iranian leader’s entourage, its vehicles and its weaponry from satellites, and intercepted air traffic messages as planes and helicopters took off and landed.

They heard Ayatollah Khamenei’s aides fretting about finding a crane to load an ambulance and fire truck onto trucks for the journey. They listened as he addressed a crowd, segregated by gender, in a soccer field.

They studied Iranian air defense radar stations and recorded the travelers’ rich communications trail, including Iranian satellite coordinates collected by an N.S.A. program called Ghosthunter. The point was not so much to catch the Iranian leader’s words, but to gather the data for blanket eavesdropping on Iran in the event of a crisis.

This “communications fingerprinting,” as a document called it, is the key to what the N.S.A. does. It allows the agency’s computers to scan the stream of international communications and pluck out messages tied to the supreme leader. In a crisis — say, a showdown over Iran’s nuclear program — the ability to tap into the communications of leaders, generals and scientists might give a crucial advantage.

On a more modest scale, the same kind of effort, what N.S.A. calls “Sigint development,” was captured in a document the agency obtained in 2009 from Somalia — whether from a human source or an electronic break-in was not noted. It contained email addresses and other contact details for 117 selected customers of a Mogadishu Internet service, Globalsom.

While most on the list were Somali officials or citizens, presumably including some suspected of militancy, the document also included emails for a United Nations political officer in Mogadishu and a local representative for the charity World Vision, among other international institutions. All, it appeared, were considered fair game for monitoring.

This huge investment in collection is driven by pressure from the agency’s “customers,” in government jargon, not only at the White House, Pentagon, F.B.I. and C.I.A., but also spread across the Departments of State and Energy, Homeland Security and Commerce, and the United States Trade Representative.

By many accounts, the agency provides more than half of the intelligence nuggets delivered to the White House early each morning in the President’s Daily Brief — a measure of success for American spies. (One document boasts that listening in on Nigerian State Security had provided items for the briefing “nearly two dozen” times.) In every international crisis, American policy makers look to the N.S.A. for inside information.

Pressure to Get Everything

That creates intense pressure not to miss anything. When that is combined with an ample budget and near-invisibility to the public, the result is aggressive surveillance of the kind that has sometimes gotten the agency in trouble with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a United States federal court that polices its programs for breaches of Americans’ privacy.

In the funding boom that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency expanded and decentralized far beyond its Fort Meade headquarters in Maryland, building or expanding major facilities in Georgia, Texas, Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington State and Utah. Its officers also operate out of major overseas stations in England, Australia, South Korea and Japan, at overseas military bases, and from locked rooms housing the Special Collection Service inside American missions abroad.

The agency, using a combination of jawboning, stealth and legal force, has turned the nation’s Internet and telecommunications companies into collection partners, installing filters in their facilities, serving them with court orders, building back doors into their software and acquiring keys to break their encryption.

But even that vast American-run web is only part of the story. For decades, the N.S.A. has shared eavesdropping duties with the rest of the so-called Five Eyes, the Sigint agencies of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. More limited cooperation occurs with many more countries, including formal arrangements called Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes and Nacsi, an alliance of the agencies of 26 NATO countries.

The extent of Sigint sharing can be surprising: “N.S.A. may pursue a relationship with Vietnam,” one 2009 G.C.H.Q. document reported. But a recent G.C.H.Q. training document suggests that not everything is shared, even between the United States and Britain. “Economic well-being reporting,” it says, referring to intelligence gathered to aid the British economy, “cannot be shared with any foreign partner.”

As at the school lunch table, decisions on who gets left out can cause hurt feelings: “Germans were a little grumpy at not being invited to join the 9-Eyes group,” one 2009 document remarks. And in a delicate spy-versus-spy dance, sharing takes place even with governments that are themselves important N.S.A. targets, notably Israel.

The documents describe collaboration with the Israel Sigint National Unit, which gets raw N.S.A. eavesdropping material and provides it in return, but they also mention the agency’s tracking of “high priority Israeli military targets,” including drone aircraft and the Black Sparrow missile system.

The alliances, and the need for stealth, can get complicated. At one highly valued overseas listening post, the very presence of American N.S.A. personnel violates a treaty agreed to by the agency’s foreign host. Even though much of the eavesdropping is run remotely from N.S.A.’s base at Fort Gordon, Ga., Americans who visit the site must pose as contractors, carry fake business cards and are warned: “Don’t dress as typical Americans.”

“Know your cover legend,” a PowerPoint security briefing admonishes the N.S.A. staff members headed to the overseas station, directing them to “sanitize personal effects,” send no postcards home and buy no identifiably local souvenirs. (“An option might be jewelry. Most jewelry does not have any markings” showing its place of origin.)

Bypassing Security

In the agency’s early years, its brainy staff members — it remains the largest employer of mathematicians in the country — played an important role in the development of the first computers, then largely a tool for code breaking.

Today, with personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones in most homes and government offices in the developed world, hacking has become the agency’s growth area.

Some of Mr. Snowden’s documents describe the exploits of Tailored Access Operations, the prim name for the N.S.A. division that breaks into computers around the world to steal the data inside, and sometimes to leave spy software behind. T.A.O. is increasingly important in part because it allows the agency to bypass encryption by capturing messages as they are written or read, when they are not encoded.

In Baghdad, T.A.O. collected messages left in draft form in email accounts maintained by leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant group. Under a program called Spinaltap, the division’s hackers identified 24 unique Internet Protocol addresses identifying computers used by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, making it possible to snatch Hezbollah messages from the flood of global communications sifted by the agency.

The N.S.A.’s elite Transgression Branch, created in 2009 to “discover, understand, evaluate and exploit” foreign hackers’ work, quietly piggybacks on others’ incursions into computers of interest, like thieves who follow other housebreakers around and go through the windows they have left ajar.

In one 2010 hacking operation code-named Ironavenger, for instance, the N.S.A. spied simultaneously on an ally and an adversary. Analysts spotted suspicious emails being sent to a government office of great intelligence interest in a hostile country and realized that an American ally was “spear-phishing” — sending official-looking emails that, when opened, planted malware that let hackers inside.

The Americans silently followed the foreign hackers, collecting documents and passwords from computers in the hostile country, an elusive target. They got a look inside that government and simultaneously got a close-up look at the ally’s cyberskills, the kind of intelligence twofer that is the unit’s specialty.

In many other ways, advances in computer and communications technology have been a boon for the agency. N.S.A. analysts tracked the electronic trail left by a top leader of Al Qaeda in Africa each time he stopped to use a computer on his travels. They correctly predicted his next stop, and the police were there to arrest him.

And at the big N.S.A. station at Fort Gordon, technicians developed an automated service called “Where’s My Node?” that sent an email to an analyst every time a target overseas moved from one cell tower to another. Without lifting a finger, an analyst could follow his quarry’s every move.

The Limits of Spying

The techniques described in the Snowden documents can make the N.S.A. seem omniscient, and nowhere in the world is that impression stronger than in Afghanistan. But the agency’s capabilities at the tactical level have not been nearly enough to produce clear-cut strategic success there, in the United States’ longest war.

A single daily report from June 2011 from the N.S.A.’s station in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the heart of Taliban country, illustrates the intensity of eavesdropping coverage, requiring 15 pages to describe a day’s work.

The agency listened while insurgents from the Haqqani network mounted an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul, overhearing the attackers talking to their bosses in Pakistan’s tribal area and recording events minute by minute. “Ruhullah claimed he was on the third floor and had already inflicted one casualty,” the report said in a typical entry. “He also indicated that Hafiz was located on a different floor.”

N.S.A. officers listened as two Afghan Foreign Ministry officials prepared for a meeting between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Iranian officials, assuring them that relations with the United States “would in no way threaten the interests of Iran,” which they decided Mr. Karzai should describe as a “brotherly country.”

The N.S.A. eavesdropped as the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, consulted his European Union counterpart, Vygaudas Usackas, about how to respond to an Afghan court’s decision to overturn the election of 62 members of Parliament.

And the agency was a fly on the wall for a long-running land dispute between the mayor of Kandahar and a prominent local man known as the Keeper of the Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad, with President Karzai’s late brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, as a mediator.

The agency discovered a Taliban claim to have killed five police officers at a checkpoint by giving them poisoned yogurt, and heard a provincial governor tell an aide that a district police chief was verbally abusing women and clergymen.

A Taliban figure, Mullah Rahimullah Akhund, known on the United States military’s kill-or-capture list by the code name Objective Squiz Incinerator, was overheard instructing an associate to buy suicide vests and a Japanese motorbike, according to the documents.

And N.S.A. listened in as a Saudi extremist, Abu Mughira, called his mother to report that he and his fellow fighters had entered Afghanistan and “done victorious operations.”

Such reports flowed from the agency’s Kandahar station day after day, year after year, and surely strengthened the American campaign against the Taliban. But they also suggest the limits of intelligence against a complex political and military challenge. The N.S.A. recorded the hotel attack, but it had not prevented it. It tracked Mr. Karzai’s government, but he remained a difficult and volatile partner. Its surveillance was crucial in the capture or killing of many enemy fighters, but not nearly enough to remove the Taliban’s ominous shadow from Afghanistan’s future.

Mining All the Tidbits

In the Afghan reports and many others, a striking paradox is the odd intimacy of a sprawling, technology-driven agency with its targets. It is the one-way intimacy of the eavesdropper, as N.S.A. employees virtually enter the office cubicles of obscure government officials and the Spartan hide-outs of drug traffickers and militants around the world.

Venezuela, for instance, was one of six “enduring targets” in N.S.A.’s official mission list from 2007, along with China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Russia. The United States viewed itself in a contest for influence in Latin America with Venezuela’s leader then, the leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez, who allied himself with Cuba, and one agency goal was “preventing Venezuela from achieving its regional leadership objectives and pursuing policies that negatively impact U.S. global interests.”

A glimpse of what this meant in practice comes in a brief PowerPoint presentation from August 2010 on “Development of the Venezuelan Economic Mission.” The N.S.A. was tracking billions of dollars flowing to Caracas in loans from China (radar systems and oil drilling), Russia (MIG fighter planes and shoulder-fired missiles) and Iran (a factory to manufacture drone aircraft).

But it was also getting up-close and personal with Venezuela’s Ministry of Planning and Finance, monitoring the government and personal emails of the top 10 Venezuelan economic officials. An N.S.A. officer in Texas, in other words, was paid each day to peruse the private messages of obscure Venezuelan bureaucrats, hunting for tidbits that might offer some tiny policy edge.

In a counterdrug operation in late 2011, the agency’s officers seemed to know more about relations within a sprawling narcotics network than the drug dealers themselves. They listened to “Ricketts,” a Jamaican drug supplier based in Ecuador, struggling to keep his cocaine and marijuana smuggling business going after an associate, “Gordo,” claimed he had paid $250,000 and received nothing in return.

The N.S.A., a report said, was on top of not just their cellphones, but also those of the whole network of “buyers, transporters, suppliers, and middlemen” stretching from the Netherlands and Nova Scotia to Panama City and Bogotá, Colombia. The documents do not say whether arrests resulted from all that eavesdropping.

Even with terrorists, N.S.A. units can form a strangely personal relationship. The N.S.A.-G.C.H.Q. wiki, a top secret group blog that Mr. Snowden downloaded, lists 14 specialists scattered in various stations assigned to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terrorist group that carried out the bloody attack on Mumbai in 2008, with titles including “Pakistan Access Pursuit Team” and “Techniques Discovery Branch.” Under the code name Treaclebeta, N.S.A.’s hackers at Tailored Access Operations also played a role.

In the wiki’s casual atmosphere, American and British eavesdroppers exchange the peculiar shoptalk of the secret world. “I don’t normally use Heretic to scan the fax traffic, I use Nucleon,” one user writes, describing technical tools for searching intercepted documents.

But most striking are the one-on-one pairings of spies and militants; Bryan is assigned to listen in on a man named Haroon, and Paul keeps an ear on Fazl.

A Flood of Details

One N.S.A. officer on the Lashkar-e-Taiba beat let slip that some of his eavesdropping turned out to be largely pointless, perhaps because of the agency’s chronic shortage of skilled linguists. He “ran some queries” to read intercepted communications of certain Lashkar-e-Taiba members, he wrote in the wiki, but added: “Most of it is in Arabic or Farsi, so I can’t make much of it.”

It is a glimpse of the unsurprising fact that sometimes the agency’s expensive and expansive efforts accomplish little. Despite the agency’s embrace of corporate jargon on goal-setting and evaluation, it operates without public oversight in an arena in which achievements are hard to measure.

In a world of ballooning communications, the agency is sometimes simply overwhelmed. In 2008, the N.S.A.’s Middle East and North Africa group set about updating its Sigint collection capabilities. The “ambitious scrub” of selectors — essentially search terms — cut the number of terms automatically searched from 21,177 to 7,795 and the number of messages added to the agency’s Pinwale database from 850,000 a day to 450,000 a day.

The reduction in volume was treated as a major achievement, opening the way for new collection on Iranian leadership and Saudi and Syrian diplomats, the report said.

And in a note that may comfort computer novices, the N.S.A. Middle East analysts discovered major glitches in their search software: The computer was searching for the names of targets but not their email addresses, a rather fundamental flaw. “Over 500 messages in one week did not come in,” the report said about one target.

Those are daily course corrections. Whether the Snowden disclosures will result in deeper change is uncertain. Joel F. Brenner, the agency’s former inspector general, says much of the criticism is unfair, reflecting a naïveté about the realpolitik of spying. “The agency is being browbeaten for doing too well the things it’s supposed to do,” he said.

But Mr. Brenner added that he believes “technology has outrun policy” at the N.S.A., and that in an era in which spying may well be exposed, “routine targeting of close allies is bad politics and is foolish.”

Another former insider worries less about foreign leaders’ sensitivities than the potential danger the sprawling agency poses at home. William E. Binney, a former senior N.S.A. official who has become an outspoken critic, says he has no problem with spying on foreign targets like Brazil’s president or the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. “That’s pretty much what every government does,” he said. “It’s the foundation of diplomacy.” But Mr. Binney said that without new leadership, new laws and top-to-bottom reform, the agency will represent a threat of “turnkey totalitarianism” — the capability to turn its awesome power, now directed mainly against other countries, on the American public.

“I think it’s already starting to happen,” he said. “That’s what we have to stop.”

Whatever reforms may come, Bobby R. Inman, who weathered his own turbulent period as N.S.A. director from 1977 to 1981, offers his hyper-secret former agency a radical suggestion for right now. “My advice would be to take everything you think Snowden has and get it out yourself,” he said. “It would certainly be a shock to the agency. But bad news doesn’t get better with age. The sooner they get it out and put it behind them, the faster they can begin to rebuild.”

November 2, 2013
By SCOTT SHANE

Find this story at 2 November 2013

© 2013 The New York Times Company

NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans’ data with Israel

• Secret deal places no legal limits on use of data by Israelis
• Only official US government communications protected
• Agency insists it complies with rules governing privacy
• Read the NSA and Israel’s ‘memorandum of understanding’

The agreement for the US to provide raw intelligence data to Israel was reached in principle in March 2009, the document shows. Photograph: James Emery

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process “minimization”, but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

The deal was reached in principle in March 2009, according to the undated memorandum, which lays out the ground rules for the intelligence sharing.

The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies “pertaining to the protection of US persons”, repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.

But this is undermined by the disclosure that Israel is allowed to receive “raw Sigint” – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: “Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, it says.

Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations.

“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 document says.

In a statement to the Guardian, an NSA spokesperson did not deny that personal data about Americans was included in raw intelligence data shared with the Israelis. But the agency insisted that the shared intelligence complied with all rules governing privacy.

“Any US person information that is acquired as a result of NSA’s surveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights,” the spokesperson said.

The NSA declined to answer specific questions about the agreement, including whether permission had been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court for handing over such material.

The memorandum of understanding, which the Guardian is publishing in full, allows Israel to retain “any files containing the identities of US persons” for up to a year. The agreement requests only that the Israelis should consult the NSA’s special liaison adviser when such data is found.

Notably, a much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government”. Such communications included those of “officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)”.

It is not clear whether any communications involving members of US Congress or the federal courts have been included in the raw data provided by the NSA, nor is it clear how or why the NSA would be in possession of such communications. In 2009, however, the New York Times reported on “the agency’s attempt to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip”.

The NSA is required by law to target only non-US persons without an individual warrant, but it can collect the content and metadata of Americans’ emails and calls without a warrant when such communication is with a foreign target. US persons are defined in surveillance legislation as US citizens, permanent residents and anyone located on US soil at the time of the interception, unless it has been positively established that they are not a citizen or permanent resident.

Moreover, with much of the world’s internet traffic passing through US networks, large numbers of purely domestic communications also get scooped up incidentally by the agency’s surveillance programs.

The document mentions only one check carried out by the NSA on the raw intelligence, saying the agency will “regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of US persons’ identities”. It also requests that the Israelis limit access only to personnel with a “strict need to know”.

Israeli intelligence is allowed “to disseminate foreign intelligence information concerning US persons derived from raw Sigint by NSA” on condition that it does so “in a manner that does not identify the US person”. The agreement also allows Israel to release US person identities to “outside parties, including all INSU customers” with the NSA’s written permission.

Although Israel is one of America’s closest allies, it is not one of the inner core of countries involved in surveillance sharing with the US – Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This group is collectively known as Five Eyes.

The relationship between the US and Israel has been strained at times, both diplomatically and in terms of intelligence. In the top-secret 2013 intelligence community budget request, details of which were disclosed by the Washington Post, Israel is identified alongside Iran and China as a target for US cyberattacks.

While NSA documents tout the mutually beneficial relationship of Sigint sharing, another report, marked top secret and dated September 2007, states that the relationship, while central to US strategy, has become overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of Israel.

“Balancing the Sigint exchange equally between US and Israeli needs has been a constant challenge,” states the report, titled ‘History of the US – Israel Sigint Relationship, Post-1992′. “In the last decade, it arguably tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns. 9/11 came, and went, with NSA’s only true Third Party [counter-terrorism] relationship being driven almost totally by the needs of the partner.”

In another top-secret document seen by the Guardian, dated 2008, a senior NSA official points out that Israel aggressively spies on the US. “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,” the official says. “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.”

Later in the document, the official is quoted as saying: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended.”

The memorandum of understanding also contains hints that there had been tensions in the intelligence-sharing relationship with Israel. At a meeting in March 2009 between the two agencies, according to the document, it was agreed that the sharing of raw data required a new framework and further training for Israeli personnel to protect US person information.

It is not clear whether or not this was because there had been problems up to that point in the handling of intelligence that was found to contain Americans’ data.

However, an earlier US document obtained by Snowden, which discusses co-operating on a military intelligence program, bluntly lists under the cons: “Trust issues which revolve around previous ISR [Israel] operations.”

The Guardian asked the Obama administration how many times US data had been found in the raw intelligence, either by the Israelis or when the NSA reviewed a sample of the files, but officials declined to provide this information. Nor would they disclose how many other countries the NSA shared raw data with, or whether the Fisa court, which is meant to oversee NSA surveillance programs and the procedures to handle US information, had signed off the agreement with Israel.

In its statement, the NSA said: “We are not going to comment on any specific information sharing arrangements, or the authority under which any such information is collected. The fact that intelligence services work together under specific and regulated conditions mutually strengthens the security of both nations.

“NSA cannot, however, use these relationships to circumvent US legal restrictions. Whenever we share intelligence information, we comply with all applicable rules, including the rules to protect US person information.”

Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 September 2013 15.40 BST

Find this story at 11 September 2013


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