In a scandalous “gotcha” moment, it has been revealed that despite Barack Obama’s promise to stop spying on allies, the US continued its espionage on Israel – thus displaying perhaps its true feelings about its “closest ally in the Middle East”. Perhaps we’re not so close and not such an ally to the US after all.
More importantly it has been revealed that this massive espionage has swept up the contents of private conversations of members of Congress – something that is sure to cause scandal and outrage.
Adam Entous and Danny Yadron writing in the Wall Street Journal tell us about the US Spy Net on Israel:
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 National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.
White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign. They also recognized that asking for it was politically risky. So, wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ ” a senior U.S. official said. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”
Privately, Mr. Obama maintained the monitoring of Mr. Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a “compelling national security purpose,” according to current and former U.S. officials. Mr. Obama mentioned the exception in his speech but kept secret the leaders it would apply to.
Michael Hayden, who led the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency during the George W. Bush administration, described the intelligence relationship between the U.S. and Israel as “the most combustible mixture of intimacy and caution that we have.”
The NSA helped Israel expand its electronic spy apparatus—known as signals intelligence—in the late 1970s. The arrangement gave Israel access to the communications of its regional enemies, information shared with the U.S. Israel’s spy chiefs later suspected the NSA was tapping into their systems.
When Mr. Obama took office, the NSA and its Israeli counterpart, Unit 8200, worked together against shared threats, including a campaign to sabotage centrifuges for Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies targeted one another, stoking tensions.
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.
This exposé also shows how the Administration still labours under the misapprehension that American Jews are guilty of dual loyalty. Even after the trauma of Jonathan Pollard and the disgusting terms of his release, the US Administration cannot let go of its antisemitic suspicions. I am sure that they wouldn’t dare admit to such careful monitoring of its Muslim population.
The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.
“These allegations are total nonsense,” said a spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in Washington.
The entire story reads like thriller fiction from Spy vs. Spy, and it is clear that the Administration’s efforts focused on Netanyahu because they feared he would manage to sway Congress’s vote on the Iran deal.
… NSA intelligence reports helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential U.S. briefings. When confronted by the U.S., Israel denied passing on the briefing materials.
The agency’s goal was “to give us an accurate illustrative picture of what [the Israelis] were doing,” a senior U.S. official said.
Just before Mr. Netanyahu’s address to Congress in March, the NSA swept up Israeli messages that raised alarms at the White House: Mr. Netanyahu’s office wanted details from Israeli intelligence officials about the latest U.S. positions in the Iran talks, U.S. officials said.
A day before the speech, Secretary of State John Kerry made an unusual disclosure. Speaking to reporters in Switzerland, Mr. Kerry said he was concerned Mr. Netanyahu would divulge “selective details of the ongoing negotiations.”
The State Department said Mr. Kerry was responding to Israeli media reports that Mr. Netanyahu wanted to use his speech to make sure U.S. lawmakers knew the terms of the Iran deal.
Well, if the Administration weren’t going to make the terms clear, then someone had to do it!
A related Wall Street Journal article reports that the phone call that upended US-Israel relations came from two Congressmen, and not from Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer as he had been accused:
It started off as a routine call between then-House Speaker John Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, about ways Republicans in Congress could put the brakes on the nuclear pact President Barack Obama was negotiating with Iran.
Then Messrs. Boehner and McConnell had a light-bulb moment: They could undercut Mr. Obama by extending an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress opposing the emerging deal.
The initiative set in motion by Messrs. Boehner and McConnell during the Jan. 8 phone call not only would inflame hostilities between the White House and Republicans in Congress but exacerbate the biggest breakdown in relations between U.S. and Israeli heads of state in decades, as detailed in this Wall Street Journal piece.
Senior officials demanded answers from their Israeli counterparts. Administration officials thought the idea was cooked up by Messrs. Dermer and Netanyahu, and then proposed to the Republicans in Congress. In fact, it was the other way around, congressional officials said.
Mr. Dermer told his American counterparts it was his impression the speaker’s office would “take care of” informing the White House, according to a former U.S. official.
And in the final irony, precisely at the point where the NSA should have found the information, it failed:
The National Security Agency was spying on Israeli communications but administration officials say they didn’t learn about the invitation until just before the Jan. 21 announcement.
It’s good that this scandal is going to be investigated, though I’m sure the buck will stop way before the cotton-wool-wrapped President:
Besides the supposedly privileged communications between politicians, journalists too are now working on the assumption that their communications were swept up in the NSA espionage on Israel:
I find it beyond pathetic that this imbecilic Administration would expend so much effort on spying on one of its allies rather than on the Iranians who are to this day planning and manufacturing nuclear weapons and facilities. In fact their efforts against Israel, and their negligence of Iran’s ambitions, are dangerous to the highest degree.
And just to prove how well that nuclear deal is working out, an emboldened Iran test-fired several rockets near US warships in the Straits of Hormuz:
The Iranian navy test fired several rockets near three Western warships including the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier last week, a US military official said Tuesday.
Though the rockets were not fired toward any ship, their proximity to the warships — and several commercial vessels — sparked concern.
“We look at this firing so close to the ships as highly provocative,” said the military official, who was not immediately authorized to be named.
The official confirmed details of an NBC News report that said one rocket came within about 1,500 yards (meters) of the USS Truman as it transited the Strait of Hormuz.
“Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law,” Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a U.S. Central Command spokesman reiterated.
Seriously, what did the Americans think would happen once they eased the sanctions and signed a one-sided deal with the murderous Iranian regime? Obama and his “Jayvee” team of incompetents are hardly competent to fight their way out of a paper bag, let alone lead the free world.
What a terrifying world they have created in their incompetence.