from the a-huge-mess dept
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.James Bamford, the long-time NSA watcher and chronicler, has a new article in the NY Times, where he now connects that free and unencumbered data sharing with revelations of abuse by the very Israeli military intelligence unit the data went to. Bamford notes that, when he interviewed Snowden over the summer, Snowden had called out the data sharing with Israel as one of the most shocking finds:
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.
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.And, indeed, Bamford notes, it's now been more or less confirmed that the information that NSA was sharing was used to persecute innocent Palestinians. This is only coming out now because dozens of veterans of the unit publicly called out the abuses and refused to continue to participate in the process:
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.Everything about this is disturbing. There have long been concerns about the NSA and other intelligence agencies using the information they have access to try to coerce innocent people, threatening to embarrass them or reveal secrets. Other Snowden documents have revealed that the NSA in fact had plans on how to do something similar, using things like the porn surfing habits of people they didn't like to embarrass and discredit them -- even if they weren't part of any terrorist organization. While the NSA insisted it never did such things, this latest revelation suggests that the NSA clearly enabled the Israelis to do exactly that -- often using communications and metadata of Americans, handed over willy-nilly to the Israelis to do just that.
Meanwhile, kudos to the Israeli veterans for blowing the whistle on this kind of activity.