Israel Flagged as Top Spy Threat to U.S. in New Snowden/NSA Document

Israel
An Israeli soldier rides an armored personnel carrier toward a staging area near the Gaza Strip border on August 4, 2014. Baz Ratner/Reuters

Israel was singled out in 2007 as a top espionage threat against the U.S. government, including its intelligence services, in a newly published National Security Agency (NSA) document obtained by fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, according to a news report Monday.

The document also identified Israel, along with North Korea, Cuba and India, as a “leading threat” to the infrastructure of U.S. financial and banking institutions.

The threats were listed in the NSA’s 2007 Strategic Mission List, according to the document obtained by journalist/activist Glenn Greenwald, a founding editor of The Intercept, an online magazine that has a close relationship with Snowden, a former NSA and CIA contractor who fled the U.S. with thousands of top-secret documents last year.

In this new document, Israel was identified by the NSA as a security threat in several areas, including “the threat of development of weapons of mass destruction” and “delivery methods (particularly ballistic and nuclear-capable cruise missiles).” The NSA also flagged Israel’s “WMD and missile proliferation activities” and “cruise missiles” as threats.

In a section of the document headed “Foreign Intelligence, Counterintelligence; Denial & Deception Activities: Countering Foreign Intelligence Threats,” Israel was listed as a leading perpetrator of “espionage/intelligence collection operations and manipulation/influence operations…against U.S. government, military, science & technology and Intelligence Community” organs.

The term “manipulation/influence operations” refers to covert attempts by Israel to sway U.S. public opinion in its favor. In this, Israel has dubious company, according to the NSA: Other leading threats were listed as China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, France, Venezuela and South Korea.

Israel has similar company in threats against U.S. infrastructure, according to the NSA document. Under a section headed “Mastering Cyberspace and Preventing an Attack on U.S. Critical Information Systems,” Israel, India, North Korea and Cuba are identified as “FIS [financial/banking system] threats.” Israel also appears on the list of countries believed by the NSA to be “enabling” electronic warfare “producers/proliferators.”

The new document again underscores the schizoid relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which cooperate closely in military and intelligence operations but also aggressively spy on each other. A previously released Snowden document said that “one of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Another revealed that a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate ranked Israel as “the third most aggressive intelligence service against the U.S.,” behind only China and Russia.

In a series of articles last May, Newsweek reported that “Israel has been caught carrying out aggressive espionage operations against American targets for decades,” an allegation vociferously denied by Israeli officials, who insisted that Jerusalem stopped spying on the U.S. after the late 1980s arrest and conviction of its secret agent Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst. Over the weekend, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Israel eavesdropped on Secretary of State John Kerry’s cellphone conversations during Middle East peace talks in 2013. (According to a July 20, 2014, piece in The New Republic, “The Kerry team spoke more carefully over cell phones, believing the Israelis might be listening.”)

The State Department had no comment on the Der Spiegel allegations.

Washington’s protective relationship toward Israel is heavily influenced by its close cooperation in intelligence operations against common Middle Eastern threats, such as Iran, Syria, terrorist groups and the Palestinians.

Citing NSA documents, Greenwald’s piece in The Intercept says, “The relationship has, on at least one occasion, entailed the covert payment of a large amount of cash to Israeli operatives.” The NSA and its British counterpart also “rely on U.S.-supported Arab regimes, including the Jordanian monarchy and even the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, to provide vital spying services regarding Palestinian targets.

“Over the last decade,” Greenwald added, “the NSA has significantly increased the surveillance assistance it provides to its Israeli counterpart, the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU; also known as Unit 8200), including data used to monitor and target Palestinians. In many cases, the NSA and ISNU work cooperatively with the British and Canadian spy agencies, the GCHQ and CSEC.”

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