In a bombshell revelation, the US National Security Agency (NSA), under direction of US President Barack Obama, has been eavesdropping on phone conversations between top Israeli officials and American-Jewish groups and US lawmakers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Citing current and former US officials as sources, the Obama administration is believed to have intercepted classified information on Israel’s stance against the Iran nuclear deal to be used against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Among various tactics used by the NSA, spying on Jerusalem included “a cyber implant in Israeli networks,” which would open up access to information in Netanyahu’s office.
According to the report, the NSA informed the White House of Netanyahu’s strategy to leak certain details, which were gathered through Israeli espionage operations, of the US-Iran negotiations that could ultimately put Israel in great peril.
NSA reports, delivered to top Obama administration officials, allowed the White House to gain insider information on Israeli lobbying efforts in Congress to turn away support from the nuclear deal.
The Journal described how Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer coached pro-Israel groups on how to formulate their arguments in opposition of the Iran agreement when meeting with US lawmakers. An Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington told the Journal that this was “total nonsense.”
In January 2014, Obama declared that the US would limit its foreign eavesdropping operations on allies following espionage revelations by former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
According to the Journal, while a number of friendly leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were declared off-limits, Obama cited “compelling national security purpose” to continue monitoring Netanyahu.
“Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn’t do that,” a senior US administration officials told the Journal.
Following Israel’s launch of lobbying efforts against the Iran deal on Capitol Hill, the report stated that Obama administration and intelligence officials quickly realized the NSA was gathering the content of conversations between Israel and US lawmakers.
While a 2011 NSA directive stated communications between members of Congress and foreign intelligence targets must be destroyed upon interception, the NSA director can issue a waiver if he determines “significant foreign intelligence” is contained in the communications.
The report revealed that during Israel’s lobbying efforts in Congress, the NSA removed the name of lawmakers from their reports on Israel but passed them on to Obama officials.
When asked by the newspaper for a comment, a White House National Security Council spokesman stated: “We do not conduct any foreign intelligence activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.”
In Israel, Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz stated Wednesday that Israel does not spy on the US and expects any administration to do the same.
“Israel does not spy on the US, and we expect that our great friend, the US, will treat us in a similar fashion,” Katz told Ynet news. “If the information on the subject turns out to be true, Israel must file a formal protest with the American government and demand it stop all activities of this kind.”
Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror told Army Radio that claims of the US spying on Israel are unsurprising.
“The US listens in on everyone, we don’t need to get excited about it. Everyone knows — it’s a fact,” he said. “Israel is careful not to carry out any spying operations in the United States, not even a little bit.”