International Affairs

Does Israel Have a Backdoor to US Intelligence?

June 12, 2013

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Does Israel Have a Backdoor to US Intelligence?

Edward Snowden’s leaks about the spying capabilities of the US government and Silicon Valley have ignited speculation about what the emerging “surveillance society” portends. Still, we’ve long endured many varieties of spying and tracking, and some lessons can be learned from the past.

The news last week that the US government had collected Verizon’s “metadata” on who had called whom when and from where was widely seen as a stunning revelation. Timothy B. Lee of the Washington Post warned:

For example, having the calling records of every member of Congress would likely reveal which members kept mistresses, which could be used to blackmail members of Congress into supporting a future president’s agenda. Calling records could also provide valuable political intelligence, such as how frequently members of Congress were talking to various interest groups.

Likewise, Jane Mayer reported for The New Yorker:

…in the world of business, a pattern of phone calls from key executives can reveal impending corporate takeovers.

And yet informed observers have assumed for most of this century that American telephone metadata may well already be available to a foreign military-intelligence complex via hypothesized “backdoors” coded into complex commercial software.

In December 2001, Fox News’ chief political correspondent Carl Cameron delivered a four-part series on Israel’s surveillance of American targets. For unexplained reasons, Fox disappeared Cameron’s series down the memory hole later that month, although copies of the episodes survive on the Internet.

“It apparently hasn’t hurt Israel that so many Washington and Wall Street insiders assume that Israel knows their secrets.”

Cameron drew attention to Israel’s strategic initiative to dominate communications software. For example, Amdocs is “the market leader in Telecommunication Billing Services.” This firm is publicly traded and registered in the tax haven of Guernsey.

It sounds dull, yet the CEO from 2002 to 2010 was Dov Baharav. In 2011, Israel’s formidable defense minister Ehud Barak appointed Baharav the new chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., the government-owned arsenal that builds fighter jets. In other words, the boring-sounding billing guy may be connected.

Cameron reported for Fox back in 2001:

Amdocs has contracts with the 25 biggest phone companies in America, and more worldwide. The White House and other secure government phone lines are protected, but it is virtually impossible to make a call on normal phones without generating an Amdocs record of it.…But sources tell Fox News that in 1999, the super secret National Security Agency, headquartered in northern Maryland, issued what’s called a Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmentalized Information report, TS/SCI, warning that records of calls in the United States were getting into foreign hands – in Israel, in particular. Investigators don’t believe calls are being listened to, but the data about who is calling whom and when is plenty valuable in itself.

Cameron assured viewers:

US intelligence does not believe the Israeli government is involved in a misuse of information, and Amdocs insists that its data is secure.

But that was false for American tech companies. Why should we assume that Israeli-run firms would be less cooperative with their own nation’s intelligence community? Indeed, Israel’s booming high-tech sector appears to be intimately related to its spy works, just as Silicon Valley emerged out of America’s Cold War efforts.

In 2012, James Bamford reported in Wired:

According to a former Verizon employee briefed on the program, Verint, owned by Comverse Technology, taps the communication lines at Verizon, which I first reported in my book The Shadow Factory in 2008.…At AT&T the wiretapping rooms are powered by software and hardware from Narus, now owned by Boeing, a discovery made by A&T whistleblower Mark Klein in 2004.

What is especially troubling is that both companies have had extensive ties to Israel, as well as links to that country’s intelligence service, a country with a long and aggressive history of spying on the U.S.

Forbes reported in 2007 that many Israeli high-tech firms are founded by alumni of Unit 8200:

Unit 8200 is the technology intel unit of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Intelligence Corps. And one thing about it is clear to all—Israel’s high-tech world is “flooded” with Unit alumni, as entrepreneurs and company founders or junior and senior executives.

American whistle-blower William Binney, who resigned from the National Security Administration to protest its Orwellian trajectory, told Bamford:

In fact, according to Binney, the advanced analytical and data mining software the NSA had developed for both its worldwide and international eavesdropping operations was secretly passed to Israel by a mid-level employee, apparently with close connections to the country….


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