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Snowden Documents Detail Spying Partnership Between US, Israel That Enables Occupation of Palestine

Documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to journalist Glenn Greenwald reveal specific details on the close relationship between the NSA and Israeli spy agencies and how cooperation enables military operations, such as the assault that has been ongoing in Gaza and has now killed over 1,800 Palestinians.

Previously, Greenwald reported in September 2013 on a “memorandum of understanding” between the NSA and Israeli intelligence from Snowden, which showed the NSA shared “raw intelligence” including the data of Americans with Israel. It also noted a document that stated, “The survival of the state of Israel is a paramount goal of US Middle East policy.”

In his most recent report for The Intercept, Greenwald describes an information paper dated April 19, 2013, which was marked “top secret.” It indicates, “NSA maintains a far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the Israeli SIGINT [signals intelligence] National Unit (ISNU) sharing information on access, intercept, targeting, language, analysis and reporting.” This relationship has brought about a stronger intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel and “prompted an expansion to include other Israeli and US intelligence organizations such as CIA, Mossad and the Special Operation Division (SOD),” which is a division of Israeli Defense Intelligence.

One of the key “success stories” involves joint operations to target “Palestinian terrorism” as well as to spy on “Iranian nuclear development,” “Syrian nuclear efforts,” “Lebanese Hizballah plans and intentions” and “Global Jihad.” And, “NSA’s cyber partnerships [have] expanded beyond ISNU to include Israeli Defense Intelligence’s SOD and Mossad, resulting in unprecedented access and collection breakthroughs that all sides acknowledge would not have been possible to achieve without the others.”

“The mutually agreed upon geographic targets include the countries of North Africa, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Unions,” according to the information paper. “A dedicated communications line between NSA and ISNU supports the exchange of raw material, as well as daily analytic and technical correspondence.”

It specifically indicates that a key benefit of this relationship is that it gives the country’s intelligence services “expanded geographic access to world-class NSA cryptanalytic and SIGINT engineering expertise and also gains controlled access to advanced US technology and equipment via accommodation buys and foreign military sales.”

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt actually introduced the “Updated US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act” on July 28, which would require the Obama administration to move to allow Israel to “be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain US technologies and products.” It would further enhance the close relationship between US and Israeli intelligence.

Other documents highlighted in Greenwald’s report show that the British spy agency, GCHQ, and Canadian spy agency, CSEC, work with the NSA and ISNU to collect intelligence on Palestinians. In early 2009, GCHQ on emails and phone numbers ISNU requested the agency spy upon and ISNU “thanked” the agency “many times over.”

The US-supported Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) have been “induced” to provide surveillance and intelligence on Arab groups, according to one July 2008 GCHQ document which reads:

…Since the Gaza Strip is the center of the HAMAS organizations popularity and the site of frequent clashes between HAMAS and FATAH supporters, Israeli forces and Palestinian militants as well as fighting between the security force organizations, this collection is of critical importance. The PASF organizations are not themselves a military or terrorist threat to either the US or its allies; however, the groups the PASF personnel report on include many groups classified as terrorist organizations by the US government. Now that the Israeli military has withdrawn from Gaza, the PASF are often our best look at the violence in the region…

Furthermore, as part of a relationship that goes back to the 1980s, the NSA collects data on Palestinians from the Jordanian Electronic Warfare Directorate and they work together to collect intelligence on high-priority targets including the Palestinian Security Forces. This directorate is a “sole contributor to a large body of NSA’s reporting” on Palestinian Security Forces and, though not stated in any documents, this information can be forwarded to Israeli intelligence for their own operations.

The close relationship empowers Israel to act in an even more aggressive manner than it could if it did not enjoy robust support from the NSA. A top secret planning document from GCHQ states that “policy makers remain deeply concerned over the potential threat that Israel poses to a peaceful resolution of the IRan problem, and to some of Israel’s less desirable activities in the region.” (“Less desirable” is apparently not defined in the document.)

According to a 2007 Strategic Mission List from NSA, Israel’s “WMD and missile proliferation activities” were of concern, particularly their use of “cruise missiles.” Israel is viewed as a threat to the financial/banking system. It also is considered to pose a great threat because it engages in “espionage/intelligence operations and manipulation/influence operations coordinated by foreign intelligence sources directed against US government, military, science and technology and the intelligence community.”

Officials in the US government are well-aware that Israel engages in espionage operations against the US, however, virtually no officials are willing to publicly challenge Israel over these operations.

Jeff Stein of Newsweek reported in May that Israel had been engaged in stealing US secrets “under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts” that have “crossed red lines,” according to classified briefings on legislation to “lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens.” Officials would only speak to Stein anonymously, but what they said was Israel engages in “industrial espionage,” meaning individuals come over on “trade missions or with Israeli companies working in collaboration with American companies.” Sometimes they are “intelligence operatives being run directly by the government.”

Israel does not believe it should have to answer for this conduct nor do US officials want to try and publicly confront the country either. As Stein described in a follow-up report, former intelligence officials see the Israel lobby, “the network of Israel’s friends in Congress, industry and successive administrations, Republican and Democratic,” as being “ready to protest any perceived slight on the part of US security officials. A former counterintelligence specialist told Newsweek he risked Israel’s wrath merely by providing routine security briefings to American officials, businessmen and scientists heading to Israel for meetings and conferences.”

Most recently, it was reported by Der Spiegel on August 3 that Secretary of State John Kerry was spied on by Israeli intelligence while working on “peace negotiations” between Israel and Palestinians. The US State Department maintained silence and issued no press release on this widely distributed report. It is hard to imagine the State Department would have remained silent if it had been any other country.


While the documents obtained do not apparently define how this intelligence is being used, various US diplomatic cables provided to WikiLeaks by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning show the United States has been fully aware of what Israel is likely to do with any intelligence shared.

A 2008 diplomatic cable quotes Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot pledging to employ the “Dahiya doctrine” in Lebanon if the conflict resumed. He indicated “Israel will use disproportionate force upon any village that fires upon Israel, ‘causing great damage and destruction.'” He also made it clear “this is not a recommendation, but an already approved plan—from the Israeli perspective, these are ‘not civilian villages, they are military bases.'” The “Dahiya doctrine” refers to the “Dahiya quarter in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006” that was leveled and there is no reason to think that Israel has not approached the assault on Gaza with the same barbaric zeal.

Another cable from 2009 strikes a cavalier attitude on Israel’s effort to navigate the “treacherous minefields of international law” when engaging in military operations. Yet, it acknowledges that an Israeli organization, Breaking the Silence, produced a report on Operation Cast Lead with powerful testimony from 26 unnamed Israeli soldiers.

“All of the soldiers had been involved in Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, and testified to instances where Gazans were used as human shields, incendiary phosphorous shells were fired over civilian population areas and other examples of excessive firepower that caused unnecessary fatalities and destruction of property.”

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) conducted raids on several homes in the Palestinian village of Bil’in on August 3, 2009, and nongovernment organizations maintained that this raid, one of a series of IDF nighttime raids, were intended to intimidate and bring demonstrations against the separation wall to a halt. Israeli interrogators would coerce detained youths into providing more information on the demonstrations that could be used as “corroborated testimony” for arrests of peaceful activists.

Yet another US diplomatic cable from 2008 indicate describes, “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to econoffs [Embassy’s economics office] on multiple occasions they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”

The US government’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority Security Forces likely implicates officials in torture and even the deaths of prisoners. For example, in 2009, “four Hamas-affiliated detainees” died in Palestinian Authority custody while in detention. The PA claimed two of the deaths were “suicides by hanging.” One of the deaths was a result of “heart failure.” The fourth, Haitham Amre, died “following severe beatings” from General Intelligence.

Attorney General Ahmed Mughani said, “The prisons in Ramallah and Bethlehem are not suitable for animals,” especially because the Bethlehem facility was nearby a sewage treatment plant. “There is no intent to torture,” he asserted, “but these places are torturing prisoners.”

There is a context that must not be omitted from discussion of these revelations: In January 2006, President George W. Bush pushed for legislative elections in the Palestinian territories, and, according to Vanity Fair, was warned that Fatah was not ready for the elections. Hamas was democratically elected. The Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams proceeded to “provoke a civil war.” The US sought to arm Fatah to remove Hamas from power.

When GCHQ referred to “clashes” among Hamas and Fatah supporters, that was violence being incited and/or instigated by the US government’s effort to foment a violent revolution against Hamas. It was, with Abrams involved, a kind of “Iran-Contra 2.0.”

There is no way the US government can reasonably claim it is a dispassionate observer with no ability to impose any control on the situation. Like Henry Siegman, former national director of the American Jewish Congress, recently said on “Democracy Now!”, “The United States remains absolutely essential in terms of Israel’s security, to its continued success and survival.” If it made collaboration and support contingent on ending the inhumanity, much of the worst aspects of Israeli occupation would have to come to an end.

Overall, the US national security state is cooperative and complicit in all the bloodshed and devastation caused by Israel against Palestinians. They are responsible for enabling military operations to achieve political objectives based on racist aims of protecting the Jewish Israeli demographic in the country. The closeness turns a blind eye to the illegal settlements, the economic blockade that strangulates Gaza and other policies of apartheid.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."