The Obama administration shares with Israeli intelligence the vast data dumps the National Security Agency vacuums up from the Internet without removing private information about Americans, even though Israel is one of the nations that spy most aggressively on the United States, according to leaked documents.
A copy of a top-secret deal inked in 2009 between the NSA and the Israeli Signals-intelligence National Unit (ISNU) was provided by NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden to the Guardian newspaper, which posted it Wednesday.
It reveals that the NSA “routinely” passed to its Israeli counterpart “raw” signals intelligence, referred to as “Sigint,” including the vast swathes of digital data traffic that the agency gathers under secret court authority from U.S. Internet providers.
So sensitive is this data that even before being disseminated to other U.S. agencies, the NSA has to subject it to a court-mandated process called minimization, under which the names of any Americans are removed unless they are essential for foreign intelligence interest.
But the U.S.-Israeli agreement states that the data shared with Israel “includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”
“NSA routinely sends ISNU minimized and unminimized raw collection,” it states.
The agreement states that Israeli personnel must respect U.S. rules for handling information about Americans and provides for training for them. But there is no enforcement or oversight mechanism from the U.S. side to ensure this is done.
“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,” it states.
NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other documents leaked by Mr. Snowden reveal that Israel was one of the nations that spy most aggressively against the United States.
In 2008, a formal evaluation by the top U.S. intelligence analysts from every agency, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, concluded that Israel was “the third most aggressive intelligence service against the United States,” according to one document reported but not posted online by the Guardian on Wednesday.
“On the one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good Sigint partners for us, but on the other, they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems,” the document states.
“One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended.”