Council for the National Interest

It’s time to reveal the Israeli role in the US surveillance machine

Apr 14 2014 / 8:58 pm

By Nancy Murray.

Mondoweiss – If the Israeli government has indeed ordered its spies “to dig up intelligence” showing links between the supporters of BDS and “terrorists and enemy states” as reported in the February 11, 2014 London Times, it may find that it already has as much information as it needs in its data banks.

As described in the UK Guardian by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, a 2008 document obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden states that “one of the 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.”

Nevertheless, in the following year the NSA and the Israeli SIGINT National Unit drafted a top-secret memorandum of understanding (MOU) dated March 2009 under which the NSA would provide raw intelligence to Israel, including on American citizens. The MOU requested Israeli intelligence to “destroy upon recognition” communications going to and from “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)” as well as communications of civilian and military personnel on official business of government.

It is not clear if the MOU revealed by Snowden was ever implemented.  But if it was, Israeli intelligence services might be receiving little data that they don’t already possess — including communications of US government officials and Members of Congress.

This will not be news to readers of Mondoweiss, which last June, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s PRISM program, featured a piece by Max Blumenthal on the critical role played by such Israeli-linked high tech companies as Narus and Verint in intercepting all forms of network communications for the NSA.

Thanks to the investigative work done by pioneering analyst of the NSA James Bamford in his book The Shadow Factory and numerous articles, journalists Christopher Ketcham and Carl Cameron in his Fox News four-part report on Israeli spying in the US soon after 9/11, we know that the products of several Israel-originated companies with alleged ties to Israel intelligence (especially its secretive version of the NSA, Unit 8200) and military services appear to have been embedded in US communications systems well before 9/11 and, in the words of former commander of Unit 8200, “dominate the U.S. eavesdropping and surveillance market.”

Christopher Ketcham in Counterpunch in September 2008 made a persuasive case speculating that “Israeli Backdoor Technology Penetrated the U.S. Government’s Telecom System and Compromised National Security” in the 1990s. When Congress in 1994 passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act requiring telephone networks to install equipment that would enable the government to conduct wiretaps, the Israeli company Comverse Infosys–now Verint Systems–had the technology to do the job of ‘lawful interception.’

Verint soon had contracts with a wide range of US government agencies including the NSA and law enforcement as well as major telecommunications companies like Verizon to handle ‘electronic interception’ or wiretaps (Narus handled interceptions at AT&T), while the Israeli company Amdocs Ltd collected the metadata from all US call and billing records, including the White House and FBI — information that might have been funneled to Israeli intelligence.

Ketcham quoted former CIA case officer David Steele: “Israeli penetration of the entire US telecommunications system means that NSA’s warrantless wiretapping actually means Israeli warrantless wiretapping.”

Is this really the case?

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the dimensions and intrusiveness of the US national security surveillance state, you might have expected this question to get the kind of mainstream attention that would eventually produce some hard proof, one way or the other. But it hasn’t–in the US at any rate.

Interestingly, when Ryan Gallagher writing for Slate’s ‘Future Tense’ invited readers to “Meet the American Company helping Governments Spy on ‘Billions of Communications’” he described Verint as headquartered in Melville, NY and never mentions its Israeli connection — except when listing Israel as one of the many countries in which its 16 offices were based.

But in Israel, there has been little effort to keep the matter under wraps. “In US snooping affair, Israeli firms at risk” was one headline in Ha’aretz, which described the involvement of Israeli companies in the US spying machine and spelled out the concern “that the manufacturers themselves have the ability to spy from afar.”

And on the Israeli website– which describes itself as “Israel’s Homeland Security Home” — Ami Dor-On lays out what is known about the Israeli Intelligence Unit 8200′s involvement with high tech surveillance in the US and cites testimony by NSA chief Keith Alexander about two companies with ties to Israel secretly eavesdropping on American internal communications.

So is there anything we can we do to force a discussion of Israeli’s role in the national security surveillance state onto the public agenda here in the US?

The time certainly appears ripe for such action.  A recent poll indicates that the majority of Americans now consider Edward Snowden a whistleblower and think his disclosures about dragnet surveillance are good for the country. The NSA is on the defensive, with serious pushback not just from people who care about privacy and the Constitution, but from the high tech business community and within Congress.

We now have the opportunity to build valuable alliances with groups concerned to roll back the components of the police state that NSA whistleblower William Binney fears we have already become.

One potential hook for raising pertinent questions is the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced on October 29, 2013 in the House by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (who now regrets many of the powers he put in the USA PATRIOT ACT) and the Senate by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. It would implement reforms described here. It has 143 co-sponsors in the House, including Reps. Capuano, Clark, Keating, Lynch, McGovern, Neal and Tierney from Massachusetts and 21 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Senators Markey and Warren.

If your elected officials are co-sponsoring the USA FREEDOM Act, you can contact them and thank them for their support of this important legislation. And then you can ask them if they would be willing to investigate the possible role played by Israel-linked high tech companies in the mass surveillance of Americans–which would include Members of Congress.  You can help educate them by sending them a copy of Blumenthal’s article in Mondoweiss.

If you do get a written response or have an interesting phone conversation, please let me know about it by emailing so it can be incorporated in a future blog posting.

Posted by on Apr 14 2014 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Spying . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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