The U.S. government has long lavished overwhelming aid on Israel, providing cash, weapons and surveillance technology that play a crucial role in Israel’s attacks on its neighbors. But top secret documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shed substantial new light on how the U.S. and its partners directly enable Israel’s military assaults – such as the one on Gaza.
Over the last decade, 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.
The relationship has, on at least one occasion, entailed the covert payment of a large amount of cash to Israeli operatives. Beyond their own surveillance programs, the American and British surveillance agencies 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.
The new documents underscore the indispensable, direct involvement of the U.S. government and its key allies in Israeli aggression against its neighbors. That covert support is squarely at odds with the posture of helpless detachment typically adopted by Obama officials and their supporters.
Last September, the Guardian revealed that the NSA “routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens.” The paper published the full top secret Memoranadum of Understanding between the two agencies governing that sharing. But the NSA/ISNU relationship extends far beyond that.
One newly disclosed top secret NSA document, dated April 13, 2013 and published today by the Intercept, recounts that the “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.”
The cooperation between the NSA and ISNU began decades ago. A top secret agreement between the two agencies from July 1999 recounts that the first formal intelligence-sharing agreement was entered into in 1968 between U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and informally began in the 1950s. But the relationship has grown rapidly in the last decade.
In 2003 and 2004, the Israelis were pressuring the NSA to agree to a massively expanded intelligence-sharing relationship called “Gladiator.” As part of that process, Israel wanted the Americans to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Israeli activities. The specific proposed “Gladiator” agreement appears never to have been consummated, derailed by Israeli demands that the U.S. bear the full cost, but documents in the Snowden archive pertaining to those negotiations contain what appear to be two receipts for one or more payments of $500,000 in cash to Israeli officials for unspecified purposes:
The surveillance-sharing relationship with Israel has expanded to include the NSA’s British and Canadian counterparts, GCHQ and CSEC, both of which actively participate in feeding the Israelis selected communications data they have collected. Several documents from early 2009, at the height of the Israeli attack on Gaza called “Cast Lead” that left more than 1,000 people dead, detail some of this cooperation.
One top secret 2009 GCHQ project named “YESTERNIGHT” involved “Ruffle,” the British agency’s code name for ISNU. According to the document, the project involved a “trilateral (GCHQ, NSA and Third Party RUFFLE) targeting exchange agreement covering respective COMSAT accesses.” One of the “specific intelligence topics” shared between the parties was “Palestinians”, although the GCHQ document states that “due to the sensitivities” of Israeli involvement, that particular program does not include direct targeting of Palestinians and Israelis themselves. Another GCHQ document from February, 2009, describes “a quadrilateral meeting for RUFFLE, NSA, CSEC and GCHQ.”
The British agency noted in early 2009 that it had been spying on emails and telephone numbers specifically requested by ISNU, “and they have thanked us many times over.”
The NSA and GCHQ receive intelligence about the Palestinians from many sources. The agencies have even succeeded in inducing the U.S.-supported Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) to provide them with surveillance and intelligence about other Arab groups in the region. One July 2008 GCHQ document states:
Jordan also feeds surveillance data about the Palestinians to the NSA. One classified NSA document from 2013 describes how “NSA’s partnership with EWD [the Jordanian Electronic Warfare Directorate] is a well established, long-standing and trusted relationship dating back to the early 1980’s.” Specifically, the two agencies “cooperate on high-priority SIGINT targets of mutual interest” that includes the Palestinian Security Forces.