- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2019

The U.S. government assessed that Israel was likely responsible for cellphone surveillance devices discovered operating near the White House in 2017, a report said Thursday.

Citing three former senior U.S. officials, Politico reported that federal agencies including the FBI determined that Israeli agents had placed around D.C. the devices, commonly referred to as “StingRays,” presumably to spy on President Trump and his top aides and associates.

StingRays, also known as international mobile subscriber identity-catchers, or IMSI-catchers, essentially emulate cell towers to glean information about mobile phones within range. Their capabilities can range from identifying the approximate location of a cellphone to outright capturing sensitive data including the contents of calls.

Christopher Krebs, a top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, revealed in June 2018 that federal officials conducting a pilot project within the nation’s capital uncovered “anomalous activity that appeared consistent with IMSI catcher technology,” including at locations “in proximity to potentially sensitive facilities like the White House.”

“Based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other agencies working on the case felt confident that Israeli agents had placed the devices, according to the former officials, several of whom served in top intelligence and national security posts,” Politico subsequently reported this week.

It was not clear if the StingRays successfully captured any information of interest to its operators, the report said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied Israel was responsible for the surveillance devices, and a senior administration official told Politico that the White House does not “comment on matters related to security or intelligence,” the outlet reported.

The FBI declined to comment about Politico’s reporting. The White House and DHS did not immediately return messages requesting comment.

Speaking to journalists following publication of the Politico report, Mr. Netanyahu insisted Israel adheres to an agreement not to conduct intelligence gathering operations within the U.S., one of its closest allies.

“We have a directive, I have a directive: No intelligence work in the United States, no spies,” Mr. Netanyahu said, calling the Politico report “a complete fabrication.”

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