New Leak Shows NSA Shares Raw Domestic Communications Data With Israeli Intelligence

from the who's-'oversharing'-now? dept

The Guardian has posted another leaked document that exposes more of the NSA’s cozy relationship with foreign intelligence agencies. In this case, it’s Israel benefitting from the NSA’s data hauls. As we’ve seen before, many European countries have a quid pro quo arrangement with the NSA, often exchanging access points for data.

The main difference here is that Israel is receiving raw (unminimized) intelligence data from the NSA. Anything the agency has swept up — including data on American citizens — is being handed over to Israel’s intelligence, restriction-free.

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.

This deal with the NSA’s Israeli counterpart commenced in 2009. The memorandum continually stresses the privacy protections afforded to American data caught in the dragnet, but the program itself undermines these warnings by providing Israel’s intelligence officers with raw data. Nothing in the document implies any sort of legal repercussions for any abuse of American data, which gives the program the appearance of a gentlemen’s agreement. Considering intelligence work isn’t really the best fit for honorable “gentlemen,” the lack of any enforcement measures implicitly allows Israeli intelligence free rein to handle data on American citizens however it pleases.

The NSA doesn’t deny it hands over raw data to Israel (how could it at this point?) but the unnamed spokesperson again makes the (unsupported) claim that the data is handled responsibly and protected from abuse.

“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.

Right, because the NSA has done such a bang-up job up to this point handling US citizens’ information in a way that protects privacy rights. And that’s just the data it still has complete control over. Expecting us to believe that foreign intelligence agencies haven’t treated this data with the same level of casual abuse the NSA has would require a leap of credulity even the agency’s staunchest supporters would be hesitant to make.

Not only that, but the spokesperson refused to answer further questions about the legality of this program.

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.

This agreement also allows Israel to hold onto any US person’s data for up to a year, provided it makes a courtesy call to the NSA liaison once the data is discovered. The pointlessness of this provision can’t be emphasized enough. The NSA isn’t auditing Israel’s use of the data (other than a minimal pre-screen of random samples — nothing post-delivery) so it’s relying on its counterpart to give it a ring if it comes across anything it shouldn’t necessarily have. If it doesn’t, no one would know and the NSA would presumably be secure in the knowledge that no contact = no US person data.

But not all Americans are created equal. There are much more stringent policies in place to protect any US government data swept up and delivered to Israeli 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)”.

One would expect US government communications to be a bit more sensitive, but this seems less about protecting the government from prying eyes and more about keeping a legally-dubious NSA program from drawing unwanted attention from its “oversight.” Less government data exposure means fewer chances someone in the US government might be apprised of the situation.

Not only is plenty of raw communications data being given to Israel, but the NSA itself expresses concern in one of the Black Budget docs that the mutually beneficial data-sharing program is trending towards something more one-sided.

“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…

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 NSA is “oversharing” in order to maintain a relationship with one of the only “friendlies” in the Middle East. It suspects it’s being taken advantage of, but can’t seem to extricate itself from the questionable data exchange it initiated. The Guardian also points to a worrying statement from a previous Snowden leak that refers to “trust issues” resulting from previous Israeli operations.

The NSA grabs more than it needs and shares this largesse with Israeli intelligence (and other nations), offering only minimal restrictions which are largely unenforceable. And it continues to do this despite “trust issues” and a declining return-on-investment. Furthermore, it allows Israeli intelligence to share this data with “outside parties” (with written permission from the NSA), provided it strips out personally-identifiable information. Again, this agreement to strip out identifiable info relies on trust rather than enforcement procedures, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence considering the NSA’s on-record complaint about “trust issues.”

This is more evidence the NSA just simply doesn’t care about the American citizens whose data it sweeps up. It’s more than happy to “ship” it around the world with only the most minute amount of oversight or limitations. To the NSA, data exists solely to be collected and examined, and if legal safeguards need to be undermined, so be it.

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Comments on “New Leak Shows NSA Shares Raw Domestic Communications Data With Israeli Intelligence”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Minor edit required

Let’s change the headline as follows:

New Leak Shows NSA Shares Raw Domestic Communications Data With Israeli Intelligence and thus, by extension, with any third party that’s managed to penetrate Israel’s intelligence community.

Pop quiz, boys and girls: can you think of any nations out there that (a) have very large piles of money to spend and (b) would happily, cheerfully, readily spend it on getting people well-positioned inside Israeli intelligence?

Michael (profile) says:

The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government”

Once again, PLEASE stop calling the NSA an “intelligence” agency.

Seriously? Here Israel. Take this huge pile of communications. Oh, and if you find anything sensitive to or from any of our government officials, please destroy it right away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m surprised that nobody has pointed out how HUGE this is.

Apparently, the NSA is giving confidential communications from within our own government to a foreign power. This data presumably includes things like members of Congress discussing our foreign policy towards the Middle East. The only oversight is telling the Israelis to delete it, if they’re reading it and happen to notice who it’s from.

This policy is fundamentally insane. If a foreign agency was caught collecting internal government communications at this level, it would be the single biggest intelligence failure in the history of this country. And the NSA is apparently handing the data over, without filtering, and their security is ASKING NICELY that the Israelis don’t abuse it?

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: Mortimer Snerd manages sensitive data?

Oh sure, we give ’em the data, but you bet they handle it good yes they do, yup, yup, yup. First they scrub all the bits with a handy dandy bit-scrubber that gets ’em sqeeeky clean. Then when they’re done looking at those shiny bits they carefully place every single one in a big ol’ bit bucket they keep in a locked janitor’s closet. By golly, those little thingies don’t even exist any more, you can be real sure of that you can. They told us they empty their bit bucket every single day, and I for one believe ’em ’cause they showed me the empty bucket, yup, yup, yup, yup.

—-

All mockery aside I’m sure there are some very, very smart people in the NSA. Unfortunately, incompetent, corrupt, and arrogant management coupled with an opaque culture makes this into a scenario akin to letting a spoiled child play with explosives.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re:

Has anyone missed the fact that the opportunities for blackmail are effing HUGE?! And they’re hoping the Israelis will simply look but not touch?

Who in their right mind would turn down an opportunity to seek out possible resistance to a policy in the country that arms and aids them, then dig up some dirt to cause the offending official to “spend more time with his family?” or otherwise remove him? What, for the sake of mutual trust and a gentleman’s agreement? Are they nuts?

Those questions are rhetorical. We all know what the answers are.

arcane (profile) says:

Has anyone considered that this data exchange could be a creative way to get around the limitations on spying on Americans:

1) collect massive data on Americans, but don’t read it due to FISA restrictions.
2) give giant block of data to Israel
3) 1 week later, Israel gives us back a giant block of data…which includes what we gave them.

Now the data on Americans is laundered to look like something the Israel intelligence collected. Would that be outside FISA’s control?

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: "Israel is receiving raw (unminimized) intelligence data from the NSA"

“Isn’t this called TREASON?”

sure it is, if you’re a mere citizen…

besides, where are you going to get the two witnesses to the act of treason ? ? ?
from the cia/nsa ? ? ?

bwa ha ha ha haaaaaaa
we are so-o-o-o fucked…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy
eof

Anonymous Coward says:

You can’t make this shit up! If it wasn’t coming from Guardian, I would not even believe it. US handing out its own citizen’s data with their tax dollars to Israel to spy on themselves. What a deal ! At this point probably every western nation can sift through the data of US citizens without restrictions except the US authorities themselves.

out_of_the_blue says:

Once again, the "Sponsored Post" obscured a good one.

Guess Mike is trying to train us to scan the whole page every time for longer time-on-page stats.

Anyway, this laid out against usuaally untouchable and unementionable Israel is another sign that slightly tips me toward thinking the “leak” is real or at least gone out of control, but again, until people are actually being tossed in jail for these undisputed crimes, it’s just another internet kerfluffle, good only for page views.

Anonymous Coward says:

We have a US spy agency that can wholesale give foriegn governments data just about without strings. Those few strings that are there are unenforceable and put there for show.

By the definition that the US is now using for espionage, that pretty well fits it. Yet as usual, the criminals don’t pay the price, only those that blow the whistle on such acts pay the price. This again demonstrating a two level justice system where the poor pay the price, the rich and guilty are able to walk.

Is there any wonder at this point why the citizens of the US have lost faith in their government? This whole business of trying whistle blowers is nothing but a kangaroo court and stage show using our tax dollars to pay for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

From what I’ve read he’s got some 15,000 documents, so I think we’re still just getting started. If so, and my math is correct, it would take about 41 years to release them all at a pace of one a day and they’ve only been coming at a pace of a couple a week. With that said I think they should come a little quicker to up the pressure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rupert, Dear Rupert

This particular leak is getting very little attention in the MS media.

As someone outside of the Union of Security States of Rupertland, and a non-tweeter, are you regular visitors to Techdirt using tweeter to help get the word out to the public about the the leaks which are Murdoch-ed out of the American media?

I see the cute little tweeter button up top but do you guys use it? Seems to me that more people will wake up to this horseshit with a little nudging from informed persons such as yourselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

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WHAT ABOUT MY DUTY IN DATA COLLECTIONS ABOUT MY INDIAN SOCIAL WELFARE DEPT.
WHEN
WE ALSO NEED SO FAR AS FOR OUR NEW NET POSITION FROM OUR INDIA GOV.
TO BE BY DIRECT FROM OUR GOV. ENGINEERING OFFICE AND DEPT.
SO AS I SIGN IN MY RAILWAY DEPT. AND GET IT BY MY
MD FROM FOREIGN NATION AS IN PHONE CALL

MEET ME IN TWEETER

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