According to a memorandum leaked to The Guardian by Edward Snowden, the United States shares raw intelligence with Israel's intelligence agency — including possible information about Americans. This despite concerns about the trustworthiness of the Israeli agency.
The memo, dated two months after President Obama was first inaugurated, outlines the manner in which the National Security Agency will provide Israel with data it collects from its surveillance operations. That intelligence includes some information that is not "minimized" — that is, hasn't necessarily been screened to remove any data collected about Americans. Or, more precisely, "U.S. persons," a term the document describes in detail — in part to establish the guidelines for what Israel can and can't do with the information.
The Guardian summarizes what's contained in the sharing.
The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies "pertaining to the protection of US persons", repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.
But this is undermined by the disclosure that 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."
Further evidence that the information includes data on Americans is a specific stipulation demanding that Israel delete any data pertaining to American government officials.
This is almost certainly intended to establish a legal line in the unlikely event that the NSA accidentally collects and then accidentally shares any such information.
But it's made more perplexing given that the Israeli agency — ISNU, or Isreali Sigint National Unit — isn't included in the group of "Five Eyes" nations, the countries (the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) cleared for much more access to American intelligence than the rest of the world. According to other documents obtained by The Guardian, the government has frequently had concerns about trust during its relationship with Israel. One excerpt, not offered in full context by the paper, suggests American concerns that the intelligence-sharing relationship has shifted strongly in Israel's favor.
"Balancing the Sigint exchange equally between US and Israeli needs has been a constant challenge," states the report, titled 'History of the US – Israel Sigint Relationship, Post-1992'. "In the last decade, it arguably tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns. 9/11 came, and went, with NSA's only true Third Party [counter-terrorism] relationship being driven almost totally by the needs of the partner."
"Nevertheless," the excerpt continues in a screenshot on The Guardian's site, "the survival of the state of Israel is a paramount goal of US Middle East policy."
Photo: Obama and Israel's Netanyahu. (AP)