Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Snowden: NSA Shares Americans’ Private Communications with Israeli Intelligence

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The US National Security Agency routinely intercepts Americans’ private communications and shares them with Israeli intelligence, according to the latest revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Writing in the New York Times, bestselling author and journalist James Bamford claims Snowden, who is exiled in Russia, told him that NSA operatives were passing along Americans’ private conversations to Unit 8200, an elite Israeli military signal intelligence (SIGINT) corps.

Last week, 43 current and former members of Unit 8200 made headlines by accusing the elite corps of what Bamford called “startling abuses.” Among the allegations of the 43, who are refusing to participate in spying operations against Palestinians, is that Israel uses information gleaned by spying on innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.”

In video testimonies, the dissenting intelligence officers said they collected data about Palestinians’ sexual orientation, marital infidelities, financial difficulties, personal and family medical issues and other private information that could be used to force targets to collaborate with Israel’s illegal and widely condemned occupation and repression of Palestine.

The dissenting Israelis cited a “moral duty” to refuse to “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.”

The NSA intercept transfers to Israel included not only metadata, but also the contents of the communications, Bamford claims.

“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,” wrote Bamford. “But when sharing with Israel, the NSA evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.”

“It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen,” Snowden reportedly told Bamford.

A memorandum of agreement between the NSA and Israel “covers virtually all forms of communication,” including but not limited to “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.” The memorandum confirms Snowden’s claim that the NSA sends unfiltered and unminimized data to Israel.

According to classified US documents previously leaked by Snowden, the NSA has been providing Israel with intelligence since at least March 2009.

Another Snowden leak revealed the NSA listed Israel among a handful of nations considered the “greatest threat” for espionage. The leaked 2007 NSA mission list states Israel is a threat in numerous areas, including “combating the threat of development of weapons of mass destruction” and “delivery methods (particularly ballistic and nuclear-capable cruise missiles).”

The NSA also considers Israel a leading perpetrator of “espionage/intelligence collection operations and manipulation/influence operations… against US government, military, science and technology and [the] intelligence community.”

“Manipulation/influence operations” refers to covert Israeli efforts to influence US public perception in Israel’s favor.

Other nations considered top threats in this area include friends and foes alike: China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, France, Venezuela and South Korea are all listed along with Israel.

Snowden, 31, remains exiled in Russia, which granted him a three-year residency permit that allows him to travel abroad.

Bamford is the author of several books, including the best-selling The Shadow Factory, part of a trilogy focusing on NSA surveillance. He has also been a distinguished visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He won the National Magazine Award for his Rolling Stone article, “The Man Who Sold The War.”

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