... refer him to the long history of American spying on Israel, starting with this little item, "American sub spied on Israel," from Aaron Lerner at the Independent Media Review Analysis:
Israel Television Channel Two military affairs correspondent Ronnie Daniel revealed this evening that the submarine Israel chased from its territorial waters last November was an American spy sub. The vessel was identified by the Israeli Navy 18 kilometers from shore near Haifa, and fled shortly after discovery. IDF commanders admitted it wasn't the first time a Western submarine had been intercepted spying on Israel. Daniel indicated that Israel does not know what the spy sub was focusing on. (June 5, 2005)
May 8, 2007 update: Gregory Levey, Israel's United Nations speechwriter and a senior foreign communications coordinator for Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, has this to say in an article titled "Spy Games: America's efforts to spy on Israel."
While Israel has certainly spied on the United States in the past (and likely continues to do so), it may actually be the United States that is the nosier country—and the one that enjoys far more license in such covert activities. If one party should be paranoid about prying eyes—and I'm not sure either should—it should be the Israel.
Levey then tells a personal anecdote and quotes an Israeli counterintelligence agent whether Israelis are much concerned about American espionage. "Definitely," he nodded gravely. "They're trying to spy on us all the time—every way they can." A former U.S. intelligence official then replied to the question, whether the United States spies on Israel: "As an American, I would certainly hope so." There is "definitely an inordinate amount of focus" on Israel in U.S. intelligence. Are there people in the Israeli government and military who feed information to the United States, reverse Jonathan Pollards, he replied "It wouldn't surprise me at all." Levey gives one specific example, the 1986 case of Yosef Amit.
Amit was a major in Israeli military intelligence. At one point, he worked in the secretive "Unit 504," which is responsible for coordinating spies in Arab countries neighboring Israel, and he also had close contacts in the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency. In the mid-'80s, Amit was recruited by Tom Waltz, a Jewish CIA officer based in the CIA's station in Tel Aviv. And, until his arrest, he furnished the CIA with classified information about Israel's troop movements and its plans in both the occupied territories and Lebanon.
Apr. 24, 2008 update: Reacting to the arrest of 84-year-old Ben-Ami Kadish on charges of spying for Israel that date back 25 years, Caroline Glick offers policy advice for Israel in her Jerusalem Post column:
as the late Yitzhak Rabin once noted, every few years Israel discovers another US agent committing espionage against the state. Rather than make a big deal about it, and in spite of the fact that some of the information being stolen is deeply damaging to Israel's national security, out of a sense of comity with Washington, Israel keeps the scandals quiet and generally deports the spies.
By arresting an 84-year-old World War II veteran ..., the US is sadly showing Israel once again that nice guys finish last. If Israel wants to be treated with respect by the US, the lesson of the Kadish affair, of the Syrian raid and of the Pollard affair is that Israel had better start pushing back.
The first thing it should do is arrest officials suspected of transferring classified materials to the US without authorization. It should then publish the names and details of US spies whom Israel previously caught and treated with kid gloves. Then it should publicly demand that Bush release Pollard from the prison where he rots, while the likes of Hizbullah agent Nada Prouty - who penetrated both the FBI and the CIA - is expected to receive a six-month prison sentence for her crimes.
Dec. 10, 2008 update: A Reuters reporter, Dan Williams, got a look at a new official history of Israel's intelligence services due out later this month that contains new evidence of U.S. spying on Israel. Titled in English "Masterpiece: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence," it is as official a document as can be, with prefaces by the chiefs of Israel's military intelligence, Shin Bet, and Mossad and the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center as publisher.
Williams found that "American spy agencies use technologies like electronic eavesdropping, and trained staff from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, for 'methodical intelligence gathering'."
Barak Ben-Zur, a retired Shin Bet internal security service officer, wrote in the volume that "The United States has been after Israel's non-conventional capabilities and what goes on at the decision-making echelons." Asked by Reuters for operational details on U.S. spying efforts, Ben-Zur declined. But he described the American efforts as largely benign, given close defense ties between Israel and the Bush administration. "At the end of the day," he said, "the United States does not want to be surprised. Even by us."
Nov. 29, 2010 update: Israel's ambassador to Washington in 1993-96, Itamar Rabinovich, has revealed that the U.S. government broke an Israeli code and tapped its secure phone embassy line. He did not specify the time period but it appears to have been after his ambassadorial tenure and went undiscovered for years, reports Yossi Melman in Ha'aretz.
After the Americans broke the code, Israel's deepest policy secrets were apparently exposed. "Every 'juicy' telegram was in danger of being leaked," Rabinovich told Army Radio's Razi Barkai. "We sent very few of them. Sometimes I came to Israel to deliver reports orally. The Americans were certainly tapping the regular phone lines, and it became clear that in later years they were also listening to the secure line."
The Americans have also used their military attaches to gather information. Israel believes that over the years, U.S. intelligence services have been listening - or at least attempting to listen - to conversations between key people in Israel and staff at its missions around the world. For that reason, diplomats going abroad are instructed by the Shin Bet security service to treat every conversation as if it is being tapped and to make sure not to reveal secret information.
Jan. 19, 2011 update: WikiLeaks reveals, Reuters reports, a secret U.S. Department of State memorandum dated Oct. 31, 2008, signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Details:
Citing the needs of U.S. analysts, the cable presented envoys in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and several Arab states with an exhaustive and prioritized list of data regarding the "Palestinian Issues" being brokered by Washington.
These included "evidence of Government of Israel support for or opposition to actions to limit and/or reduce settlement and outpost growth" on occupied land where Palestinians want to establish a state. ...the cable sought "details on Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations underway or planned" against Palestinian militants, "including targeted assassinations and tactics/techniques used by ground and air units." Diplomats were asked for a comprehensive overview of Israel's high-tech communications, from Internet and cellphones to state-run "information repositories associated with radio frequency identification (RFID)-enabled systems used for passports, government badges, and transportation systems." The cable [also] sought updates on the movements and private contact details of Israeli civilian and military officials.
Sep. 5, 2011 update: Scott Shane of The New York Times describes evidence of U.S. government spying on Israeli secure telephone lines in "Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel."
Shamai K. Leibowitz, 40, an FBI Hebrew-to-English translator who once legally represented the Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, passed on U.S. transcripts of Israeli embassy conversations to an extreme anti-Israel blogger, Richard Silverstein. He did so in the hopes that Silverstein would use the information to counter Israeli influence on the U.S. Congress and public opinion. Note what Leibowitz was translating: U.S. eavesdrops of Israeli government communications.
Shane adds that "Former counterintelligence officials describe Israeli intelligence operations in the United States as quite extensive, ranking just below those of China and Russia." He quotes Matthew M. Aid, author of the forthcoming Intel Wars, that Washington "started spying on Israel even before the state of Israel was formally founded in 1948, and Israel has always spied on us," adding that "Israeli intercepts have always been one of the most sensitive categories."
Aug. 7, 2012 update: I collect this information in an article today at "Spy vs. Spy, America vs. Israel."
July 1, 2013 update: Barack Obama responded to allegations of U.S. government spying on allies in the European Union and in the process exonerated Pollard:
we should stipulate that every intelligence service -- not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there's an intelligence service -- here's one thing that they're going to be doing: they're going to be trying to understand the world better and what's going on in world capitals around the world from sources that aren't available through the New York Times or NBC News; that they are seeking additional insight beyond what's available through open sources. And if that weren't the case, then there would be no use for an intelligence service. And I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That's how intelligence services operate.
Comment: Dry Bones can take it from here:
August 29, 2013 update: In a summary of a document called the "black budget," released by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post, the public for the first time has some understanding of the funding of the U.S. government's vast spy network. Among a very large body of important information, one reads that U.S. counterintelligence operations "are strategically focused against priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel."
Comment: This list confirms the obsession of U.S. counterintelligence agents that Israel ranks with enemies and rivals in spying on Americans.
Sep. 17, 2013 update: After all this mutual suspicion, how surprising to learn that the National Security Agency turns over raw intelligence date, including that of Americans, to Israel. Drawing on a 5-page, top-secret memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart released by Edward Snowden, the Guardian explains:
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 deal was reached in principle in March 2009, according to the undated memorandum, which lays out the ground rules for the intelligence sharing. ... Israel is allowed to receive "raw Sigint" – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: "Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content."
According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. "NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection", it says. Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations. "This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law," the document says.
Oct. 25, 2013 update: The Snowden revelations have now led to specific information about American spying on the heads of state of 35 allied countries in 2006, including Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, and Spain, and leading to outrage in all those countries and prompting the U.S. government to fall back on an "everyone does it" plea. Indeed, everyone does do it. Getting caught seems to be the outrage.
As concerns U.S. espionage versus Israel, Danny Yatom, the head of Mossad in 1996-98, confirmed that this too takes place. The Times of Israel reports:
"I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel," Yatom said, and "not necessarily in [Benjamin] Netanyahu's tenure" as prime minister.
As for listening on government leaders,
"It could very well be that these things [monitoring calls] are happening here [in Israel] too. When the Americans think they need to listen in on someone, they'll do just that."
Yatom noted the two issues of special interest to Washington: negotiations with Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear program.
"It is important for them to know what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really thinks... They have interests here because they want to be able to contend with Israeli claims that arise when talking about these issues," the ex-Mossad chief said. Yatom also stressed that the US seeks to obtain information on Israel's "real" position vis-a-vis-negotiations and what obstacles stand in the way of advancing peace talks.
Oct. 27, 2013 update: Amir Oren writes approvingly in Ha'aretz about American spying on Israel's current prime minister:
Netanyahu has been a U.S. intelligence target since the 1980s, during his stints as deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington and as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, and possible even earlier, during his student days in Boston in the '70s. Now he cannot possibly be less of a concern to Obama than Merkel is - she is Europe's de facto leader, but she isn't capable of igniting the entire world. If the White House is monitoring two dozen or so international leaders, it's unreasonable to think the prime minister of Israel isn't on the list. Netanyahu's bargaining positions vis-a-vis Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas affect how much attention Obama decides to devote to the Palestinian issue, but the main objective is to head off an Israeli surprise attack on Iran. When Netanyahu knows that Obama knows, and will act to stop him, it eliminates the chance of rash military action.
Oct. 30, 2013 update: Israeli intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon states that the U.S. government maintains a hidden rooftop spying unit at the Tel Aviv embassy, just as it does at embassies in Peking, Dubai, Moscow, and Madrid. Unnamed Israeli security officials say this news does not surprise them.
Nov. 3, 2013 updates: (1) In a major review of National Security Agency documents made available by Edward Snowden, the New York Times reports about its two-way relationship with Israel:
in a delicate spy-versus-spy dance, sharing takes place even with governments that are themselves important N.S.A. targets, notably Israel. The documents describe collaboration with the Israel Sigint National Unit, which gets raw N.S.A. eavesdropping material and provides it in return, but they also mention the agency's tracking of "high priority Israeli military targets," including drone aircraft and the Black Sparrow missile system.
(2) A survey of Israeli reactions to the most recent Snowden revelations, by Batsheva Sobelman in the Los Angeles Times:
"This doesn't surprise me," energy minister Silvan Shalom told local media Sunday. Shalom, a former foreign minister, said that upon taking public office, he was advised to assume "the whole world was listening" and that his phone was monitored constantly. "This was the basic working assumption," Shalom said.
"Everyone listens to everyone else all the time," Dov Weissglass, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Israel Radio. Anyone in relevant circles knows that "sensitive issues are not to be communicated by electronic means," he said.
She also notes the complex intel relationship between the United States and Israel:
The leaked NSA documents show its tight relations with Israeli counterparts to be a two-way street. While the Israelis are "extraordinarily good SIG-INT [the interception of communications—signals intelligence] partners ... they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems," an NSA official said, adding that Israel's intelligence services were ranked "third most aggressive against the U.S."
Presumably, Russia and China rank first and second.
Dec. 20, 2013 update: New NSA and GCHQ documents dating from 2008-11 leaked by Edward Snowden point to yet further U.S. espionage on Israel. From "N.S.A. Dragnet Included Allies, Aid Groups and Business Elite," in the New York Times by James Glanz and Andrew W. Lehren:
The reports show that spies monitored the email traffic of several Israeli officials, including one target identified as "Israeli prime minister," followed by an email address. The prime minister at the time of the interception, in January 2009, was Ehud Olmert. The following month, spies intercepted the email traffic of the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, according to another report. Two Israeli embassies also appear on the target lists.
Mr. Olmert said in a telephone interview Friday that the email address was used for correspondence with his office, which he said staff members often handled. He added that it was unlikely that any secrets could have been compromised. "This was an unimpressive target," Mr. Olmert said. He noted, for example, that his most sensitive discussions with President George W. Bush took place in private. "I would be surprised if there was any attempt by American intelligence in Israel to listen to the prime minister's lines," he said.
Mr. Barak, who declined to comment, has said publicly that he used to take it for granted that he was under surveillance. ...
The interception of Mr. Olmert's office email occurred while he was dealing with fallout from Israel's military response to rocket attacks from Gaza, but also at a particularly tense time in relations with the United States. The two countries were simultaneously at odds on Israeli preparations to attack Iran's nuclear program and cooperating on a wave of cyberattacks on Iran's major nuclear enrichment facility.
A year before the interception of Mr. Olmert's office email, the documents listed another target, the Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an internationally recognized center for research in atomic and nuclear physics.
- Uses "gestures" in sensitive discussions
- Holds the most important conversations in Mossad offices
- Has no private phone, no computer in his office, and does not use e-mail.
Also this, from a Times of Israel account: "Netanyahu's aides will tell you that he sometimes 'speaks in codes' during discussions ... and that even when it's not entirely clear what he means by the 'code' name for this or that official, they can't ask him because he won't tell them."
Dec. 22, 2013 update: More news of U.S. spying on Israel and more reactions from Israel.
On the spying activities: Israel Hayom reports that
in June 2007, shortly after Barak became defense minister, Israeli security personnel noticed the U.S. had rented an apartment on the same street as Barak's Tel Aviv residence (the apartment had a direct view of the windows of Barak's high-rise residence). The U.S. said there was no connection, but a sizable amount of electronic equipment was witnessed being brought into the apartment. The U.S. told Israel at the time that the apartment was being used by a member of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv's security team.
After years of supine acceptance of unfettered American spying, Israelis are responding to the Snowden leaks with anger and with calls for Jonathan Pollard's release from prison.
Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said, "We are extremely careful and take into account that not only Arab countries, but also superpowers, are listening to us." Steinitz said that Israel was engaged in nearly complete cooperation with the U.S., the U.K. and Germany on intelligence matters. "We share everything with them," said Steinitz. "Under these conditions, it is unacceptable to behave this way." Steinitz hopes the "rules will become clear" and the sides will commit to "mutual understanding about spying on allies." ... Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel said on Israel Radio he expected the U.S. to admit wrongdoing.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau called the pattern "quite embarrassing between countries who are allies. It's this moment more than any other moment that Jonathan Pollard [should] be released."
Nachman Shai of the parliamentary foreign affairs and defense committee, called for a "full report about what we know, what we have done, and just to find out," adding that he was "really surprised that my government, which is very easily responsive on any given issue, on this we keep silent, which is not the right policy and right behavior."
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz joined in.
The secret is out. The US is systematically spying on the defense and diplomatic leadership here in Israel. Is this how friends treat each other? Pollard was arrested for much less. I plan on proposing in today's cabinet meeting that Israel demand an American statement vowing to put an end to the surveillance and to immediately release Pollard in light of the most recent revelations.
Ayelet Shaked, head of the parliamentary lobby devoted to Pollard's release, said that
the most recent revelations about spying and surveillance by the US against its ally needs to light a red light of morality for any logical person. There needs to be reciprocity in any relationship between countries. It is inconceivable that while Pollard has been rotting in an American prison for decades for spying, which was considered an unforgivable crime by the American government, we are now informed that the US has been spying against Israel, and this is just swept under the rug.
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein went further, assailing the U.S. government for "hypocrisy" and warning of damage to bilateral relations.
This is a severe case and I hope this is the iceberg rather than the tip of the iceberg. Otherwise, this case is liable to do damage to our relations with the US. For 28 years, the US administration has been preaching to Israel about the danger and the lack of trust that results from spying on allies and today it turns out the shoe is on the other foot. There is no other way to characterize it other than hypocrisy.
Dec. 23, 2013 update: Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he asked the U.S. government for "clarifications" about American spying on Israel, adding: "In the close relationship between Israel and the United States, there are things which are forbidden to do, that are unacceptable to us."
Dec. 25, 2013 update: The Snowden revelations have prompted a stunning 106 out of 120 members of the Israeli parliament to appeal to Barack Obama to release Jonathan Pollard after 28 years of incarceration. Given that several members of the Knesset, such as the prime minister, the defense minister, and the culture & sport minister, could not sign, this not only is one of the largest majorities in the country's history but it approaches unanimity. Some Arab members joined in as a way to send a message to the Israeli government about long incarcerations. A letter will go to Obama via the U.S. ambassador.
"I've asked them a million times to release Pollard, but that Obama just doesn't listen." From the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Dec.25, 2013.
Jan. 7, 2014 update: Edward Snowden has more U.S.-Israel secrets to expose according to the journalist working with him, Glenn Greenwald: "There definitely are stories left that involve the Middle East, that involve Israel. The reporting is going to continue at roughly the same pace that has been happening." Greenwald also commented on the Pollard connection: "I think you are absolutely right to contrast the Jonathan Pollard case with revelations of American spying on their closest allies within the Israeli government, because it does underlie, underscore exactly the hypocrisy that lies at the center of so much of what the US government does."
June 30, 2014 update: A Washington Post article by Ellen Nakashima and Barton Gellman, "Court gave NSA broad leeway in surveillance, documents show," has significant implications for U.S. spying on Israel. Drawing on a classified 2010 legal certification and other documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the authors conclude that the National Security Agency is "authorized to intercept information 'concerning' all but four countries," those being Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand. The document indicates that "the NSA has been given a far more elastic authority than previously known, one that allows it to intercept through U.S. companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well." It lists 193 countries that are of valid interest for U.S. intelligence as well as such organizations as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
July 13, 2014 update: Additional context for the Pollard affair, as explained in an editorial from Hamodia, "A Spy Scandal and Scandalous Hypocrisy":
In the span of approximately a year, U.S. intelligence agencies were caught spying on Germany not only once — but twice. First, the NSA scandal broke, which revealed that the U.S. was snooping on Chancellor Merkel's Nokia cell phone. Now, in the latest blunder, Germany alleges that two German security agents were working for American intelligence, handing over top-secret documents. In retaliation for the espionage, Germany expelled the CIA station chief. ...
This latest intelligence disaster in Germany points to the U.S. government hypocrisy about how friends who spy on friends expect to be treated:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted to the eavesdropping operation on Merkel, but has said that the U.S. would never agree to sign an agreement that would renounce spying on its allies; that it was standard operating procedure.
The editorial concludes:
Such a stance reveals the double standard that Israel and Jonathan Pollard have had to endure. While the U.S. remains unapologetic in its espionage activities against its allies, it has berated Israel and punished Pollard excessively for his spying on behalf of an ally. In the 30 years since the Pollard case broke, Israel hasn't been implicated in any espionage cases on American soil. Pollard has been imprisoned for more than 28 years for passing classified information to Israel about Saddam Hussein's WMD program — information that the U.S. had promised to provide but never did.
Dec. 22, 2014 update: WikiLeaks has published a manual dated September 2011 and titled "CIA Assessment on Surviving Secondary Screening at Airports While Maintaining Cover," which as good as states that American intelligence agencies actively spy on Israel in Israel. Excerpts from an article for operatives using false identities by Tamar Pileggi in the Times of Israel:
It singles out Ben Gurion as an airport with particularly thorough security procedures. "Security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, commonly refer military-aged males traveling alone with backpacks to secondary screening, regardless of their nationality or skin color," the report explains. "Israel's security personnel focus on frequent travel to Islamic countries."
The document warns CIA operatives to avoid secondary screenings at all costs by maintaining a consistent and well-rehearsed cover story. "Referral to secondary screening can occur if irregularities or questions arise during any stage of airport processing — immigration, customs, or security — and regardless of whether the traveler is arriving, in transit, or departing. Officials may also randomly select travelers."
It also includes a detailed description of Ben Gurion's screening room, saying that it "contains trace-detection equipment for explosive residue; tools for dismantling passengers' personal items for inspection, particularly items unfamiliar to security officers; and a disrobing area, divided by privacy curtains, to conduct strip searches of individuals, if necessary."
According to the document, the advice is based on intelligence reports and first-hand testimonies of CIA operatives, and assures agents that, with the exception of Ben Gurion (and several others), most immigration inspectors lack the time and tools to conduct a thorough background check.
Mar. 24, 2015 update: Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal broke a story yesterday under the headline "Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S. Ally's snooping upset White House because information was used to lobby Congress to try to sink a deal." It differs from the usual story along these lines by not focusing on the spying as such but on its American consumers:
The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.
The espionage didn't upset the White House as much as Israel's sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran's nuclear program, current and former officials said. "It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
Outrageous, no? But then, ask yourself how the U.S. government came to know about this spying. Well, the Wall Street Journal kindly provided this information today:
U.S. officials said they learned Israel was spying on the talks because U.S. agencies were also spying on Israel. Those U.S. agencies intercepted communications in which Israeli officials referred to information which the U.S. believes could only have come from the parties in the negotiations.
Oh well, guess the moral outrage needs to subside a bit.
Oct. 22, 2015 update: Entous of the Wall Street Journal has more in "Spy vs. Spy: Inside the Fraying U.S.-Israel Ties: Distrust set allies to snoop on each other after split over Iran nuclear deal; each kept secrets." He sums up the complex story thus:
The U.S. closely monitored Israel's military bases and eavesdropped on secret communications in 2012, fearing its longtime ally might try to carry out a strike on Fordow, Iran's most heavily fortified nuclear facility.
In early 2012, U.S. spy agencies told the White House about a flurry of meetings that Mr. Netanyahu convened with top security advisers. The meetings covered everything from mission logistics to the political implications of a military strike, Israeli officials said.
U.S. spy agencies stepped up satellite surveillance of Israeli aircraft movements. They detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for an attack. They watched the Israelis practice strike missions and learned they were probing Iran's air defenses, looking for ways to fly in undetected, U.S. officials said.
New intelligence poured in every day, much of it fragmentary or so highly classified that few U.S. officials had a complete picture. Officials now say many jumped to the mistaken conclusion that the Israelis had made a dry run.
Comment: This episode took American spying on Israel to a whole new level.
Nov. 1, 2015 update: The CIA seems to recruiting spies from the Israeli military:
Over the weekend, the IDF's intelligence branch sent a letters to all officers and soldiers, warning them against foreign attempts to enlist spies from among the IDF's ranks. Channel 2 reports that the message, entitled "enlistment of ex-special forces soldiers to an organization," included a clipping from daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot which told the story of a 2012 attempt by the CIA to turn Israeli soldiers into spies for the US. It then instructed the recipients to report any suspicious activity to their commanders.
That 2012 attempt "involved recently-released soldiers who had served in sensitive positions and were traveling to the United States. US officials questioned the veterans for several hours, then asked them to serve as informants."
Dec. 29, 2015 update: A scoop by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron in the Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress," subtitled "National Security Agency's targeting of Israeli leaders also swept up the content of private conversations with U.S. lawmakers," reveals much about U.S. spying on Israel. It starts thus:
President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs. But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.
The information proved useful:
Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations—learned through Israeli spying operations—to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes.
The program goes back to the origins of U.S.-Israel differences over the Iranian nuclear program:
In 2011 and 2012, the aims of Messrs. Netanyahu and Obama diverged over Iran. Mr. Netanyahu prepared for a possible strike against an Iranian nuclear facility, as Mr. Obama pursued secret talks with Tehran without telling Israel.
Convinced Mr. Netanyahu would attack Iran without warning the White House, U.S. spy agencies ramped up their surveillance, with the assent of Democratic and Republican lawmakers serving on congressional intelligence committees.
By 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies determined Mr. Netanyahu wasn't going to strike Iran. But they had another reason to keep watch. The White House wanted to know if Israel had learned of the secret negotiations. U.S. officials feared Iran would bolt the talks and pursue an atomic bomb if news leaked.
How it was done:
The NSA had, in some cases, spent decades placing electronic implants in networks around the world to collect phone calls, text messages and emails. Removing them or turning them off in the wake of the Snowden revelations would make it difficult, if not impossible, to re-establish access in the future, U.S. intelligence officials warned the White House.
Instead of removing the implants, Mr. Obama decided to shut off the NSA's monitoring of phone numbers and email addresses of certain allied leaders—a move that could be reversed by the president or his successor. There was little debate over Israel. "Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn't do that," a senior U.S. official said, using Mr. Netanyahu's nickname.
One tool was a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister's office. Given the appetite for information about Mr. Netanyahu's intentions during the U.S.-Iran negotiations, the NSA tried to send updates to U.S. policy makers quickly, often in less than six hours after a notable communication was intercepted.
Jan. 30, 2016 update: in what one senior intelligence Israeli official quoted by Ronen Bergman called an "earth shattering" development and "the most serious leak in the history of Israeli intelligence," information derived from Edward Snowden's stolen materials indicate that American and British knew basically everything from engineering to intelligence scoops about Israeli drones from 1998 until the present. For the original article, click here.
Comments: (1) There is so much detail to this story and it contains so many implications that no mere blog entry can to it justice. (2) This makes the American farce of outrage over Pollard's actions in the early 1980s (which amounted to providing information about common enemies to an ally) ever more surreal.
Dec. 7, 2016 update: New documents from Edward Snowden's dump and published by Le Monde reveal UK spying on Israel.
The British have spied on Israeli diplomacy both in Jerusalem and abroad. They have also targeted private firms in the defence sector, State agencies responsible for international cooperation and university research centres known for their excellence in scientific matters. These targets appear in the form of email addresses or telephone numbers in the interception reports of the GCHQ technicians, pleased to demonstrate that they had succeeded in identifying them in the flow of satellite telephone communications between the African continent and the rest of the world. At the end of each report, they state that the collection of this data can now become automatic.