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NSA Maintains Secret “Five Eyes” Satellite Facility in Israel

In the Midrash, Jerusalem is called the navel of the world.  The Talmudic text says that Israel is the center of the world, Jerusalem is the center of Israel, and the Beyt Ha’Mikdash is the center of Jerusalem.  It appears the NSA has made a similar discovery.  Due to the city’s height (2,600 feet above sea level) and its commanding position relative to the surrounding terrain, it is an auspicious location for an NSA “listening station” that can pick up the signals from U.S. satellites located in a large portion of the overhead skies.  That’s why, in this interview Ronen Bergman recorded for Israel’s Channel 10, he alludes to this Talmudic tradition updated for the modern age of spies, satellites and drones.  By the way, once the story was aired on live TV, it was removed from the video version of the news program available online.  Presumably, either the censor wanted to enable Israelis to hear this news, but not anyone else; or else the station got it on air before the censor discovered it.  Thankfully, my Israeli source located the 40 second YouTube version of the segment preserved for posterity.

The shocking aspect of this is that Israel secretly permitted the U.S. to erect such an array of satellite receivers in Israel’s second largest city (I haven’t been able to identify where specifically the facility is located yet).  Though, it’s already known that the U.S. maintains another listening facility in the Negev, on Mt. Keren, that engages in land-based spying on Iran using radar, Ronen Bergman has exposed this new facility for the first time.

There are differences between the two. The Negev base, according to this Time article (written by the somewhat reliable duo of Karl Vick and Aaron Klein) is designed to pick up the possible launch of Iranian missiles targeted at Israel.  This facility has a two-fold purpose.  It is meant to reassure Israel that the U.S. will use its most advanced tracking technology to enable Israel to defend itself.  It will also presumably prevent Israel from launching a surprise attack on Iran that the U.S. would be unaware of.

The Jerusalem spy station serves an entirely different purpose.  Its satellite dishes track U.S. satellites around the world and presumably up and download information from them that can be relayed to other facilities where the data can be analyzed.  A second Israeli source informs me that this facility is part of Israel’s participation in what has been called ‘Five Eyes,’ but which, if true, should now be called ‘Six Eyes.’  Here is what I wrote about this in an earlier post, in which I reported that Israel had launched a satellite meant to spy on Iran:

My source added that Israel is the 6th – unofficial and undeclared – member of Five Eyes.  This means that the original trusted members of the intelligence alliance–the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK–decided to open their ranks to Israel, a nation not known particularly to play by the rules when it comes to intelligence matters.

I should add that one U.S. reporter and one analyst, both with intelligence expertise, had not heard of any such Israeli role.  So what I can say is that both Yossi Melman (Hebrew) and my own source have confirmed Israel’s membership in Five Eyes.  Either they are tooting Israel’s horn undeservedly; or the U.S. wants this protocol kept secret and refuses to allow a murmur about it to seep out.

Allowing the placement of such a base on Israeli soil is a major gift from the Israeli people, since it allows no other country anything remotely similar.  Further, Israel has allowed the NSA access to the omphalos of the universe, it’s holy city (at least in Israel’s eyes).  But there is the payoff that the data collected by the NSA is shared with Israel’s Unit 8200.  Add to this the news released some time ago that the NSA shares unredacted intelligence that includes raw data from and about U.S. citizens, and you can understand just how wide open is the pipeline between the spy agencies of the two countries.  This alarms the hell out of me.  I don’t trust unregulated spooks to exercise any restraint in the exploitation of such data.  This entire process should simply never have existed and be stopped immediately.

There is a earlier history of such wide open intelligence collaboration between the Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies.  In the 1950s, the CIA funneled funding to U.S. labor unions which was transmitted to the Israeli Histradut (national workers union).  Yossi Melman writes:

Secret funding from the United States Central Intelligence Agency was channeled by American trade unions to the Histadrut labor federation, and from the Israeli union to Africa to finance various activities. Among other things the money was used to post an impressive array of Mossad agents in the African states. Many young intelligence officers, such as David Kimche…spent their early working years in Africa.

Like Five Eyes cooperation, the African project advanced both U.S. and Israeli interests in Africa.  There, Israel was viewed as a fellow colonial state that had thrown off the yoke of British rule.  Africans were much more receptive to Israel than they would be to the U.S.  Hence Israelis could move more freely and report back to the Americans what they’d learned about the liberation movements seeking to overthrow their colonial rulers.

Now, of course Israel’s image has turned about as ugly as that of the former Ugly American.  Israeli intelligence and military operatives harvest cash by the bushel load, rigging elections, offering lethal weapons to dictatorial regimes, and ripping blood diamonds from African earth.

There is another important question to answer: why now?  Why reveal this story now?  Ronen Bergman doesn’t create these stories ex nihilo.  He has Israeli intelligence sources who provide them to him.  Why did those sources decide now was the right time to tell the world about this formerly secret base.

I maintain that it’s clearly connected to the U.S. brokered peace talks with the Palestinians.  John Kerry is, presumably, exerting enormous pressure on the far-right government to be more responsive to Palestinian interests.  Bibi naturally doesn’t want to respond favorably to such pressure.  What better way, though not a very effective one in my opinion, than by both reminding the Americans, and revealing to the world how responsive Israel has been to U.S. needs by allowing this facility on Israeli soil.  It serves as a reminder: what Israel gives it can take away.  Further it says: you have some nerve demanding that we compromise on matters of existential import regarding the Palestinians when we’re so good to you in all these other ways.

If this is the message, it’s not being broadcast in a way that will find a receptive ear in Washington.  American spooks don’t like their cover blown, no matter the reason or motivation.  If Bibi thought this would make a positive impression on the Obama administration, he’s naïve.  But my guess is that this isn’t intended for Obama’s ears.  It’s intended as ammunition for the Lobby in making its case both about Iran sanctions and the Kerry peace talks.  Members on Capitol Hill can use this new development as grist for the pro-Israel mill in their future Israel-related legislative deliberations.

This is yet another example of how out of synch Israel is with the U.S. administration.  Bibi speaks over Obama’s head instead of directly to him.  There is no direct communication.  No point of common contact.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Nicodemus February 9, 2014, 12:32 AM

    Great insights and scoops here, Richard. You added to the overall picture.

    Israel’s large role in the NSA surveillance apparatus, its erection, supervision, and maintenance has been well-documented in the public domain, which corroborates your story as well. In fact, most of what Snowden has supposedly revealed is less than what was actually already out there.

    For instance, Israel’s wiretapping of the US for the NSA was known well before Snowden as reported both by Fox here in 2002 by Carl Cameron in a series called, “Israeli spies in America” and clearly indicates the Israelis were reviewing all of the collected data (they’ve definitely looked at all of your conversations, Richard): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k43_NKYs50

    And by Wired Magazine in 2012, “Shady Companies with Ties to Israel Wiretap the US for the NSA”: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/04/shady-companies-nsa/all/

    And by BusinessInsider in Jan 2013: http://www.businessinsider.com/israelis-bugged-the-us-for-the-nsa-2013-6

    As you can see, a majority of this was already known before Snowden. Further, stuff Snowden has supposedly revealed doesn’t seem fresh upon view of what was already known. Snowden, in fact, leaves out the most crucial part, the Israeli criminals at the top of the NSA. Maybe the reasoning is, however, that Snowden is scared of the group that, as you said, doesn’t really play by any rules.

    It’s becoming more and more apparent the NSA apparatus wasn’t a reactive measure, but proactive. It didn’t just spring up overnight after 9/11.

  • Oui February 9, 2014, 1:13 AM

    Excellent article and I understood the installation was on the Golan Heights. The press talks about the “Five Eyes” but in recent revelations it’s clear there are “Nine Eyes” around the world and part of Echelon. The Dutch satellite discs are located in the rural area of Burem, intelligence agency is called National Sigint Organisation (NSO). Amsterdam and The Netherlands play a major role not only in Echelon, but also in NSA snooping of Internet [major hub] and telecom. The Dutch have Israel’s Verint as official corporation to register “official” telephone taps. I have written about its illegality before.

    In a recent Al Jazeera documentary about the failed Mossad assassination in Jordan, it was revealed a major Mossad intelligence hub was located in Amsterdam. The Israeli Mossad has a Free Zone in El Al hangars at Schiphol airport, see the crash of Boeing 747 freightliner El Al flight LY1862 with sarin gas precursors in 1992.

    From the Snowden papers, NSA “feeds” raw data to Israëli intelligence. Would that be Unit 8200 in conjunction with another spy agency? The NSA feeding raw data to Unit 8200, may have fed the mobile phone bug in the Ukraine. Israel was keen on releasing the data because of EU and US support for fascists and neo-nazi parties in opposition. The press release of Nuland’s bug in the social media was through an organizition using the Anonymous logo with their website hosting located in New York FWIW.

  • Oui February 9, 2014, 1:36 AM

    Info about Dutch satellite station in Burum, part of Echelon. This coming week a few political heads may roll …
    Dutch government, not NSA involved in snooping

    My earlier report about Dutch phone taps – Dutch with 42k Internet/Phone Taps per Year by Verint.

  • Oui February 9, 2014, 1:37 AM

    I had missed this event completely …

    Greece scandal: phone-tapping Olympics via US Embassy – 2006

    John Brady Kiesling is a former American diplomat who distinguished himself by becoming one of the very few US diplomats of notable rank, who resigned ahead of the US invasion of Iraq.

  • Oui February 9, 2014, 2:56 AM

    Corr. not Mt. Hermon, but indeed the Negev desert …

    Israel’s most important SIGINT station at Urim base by New Zealand’s Nicky Hager

    Israel’s Urim base in the Negev desert is among the most important and powerful intelligence gathering sites in the world. Yet, until now, its eavesdropping has gone entirely unmentioned.

    Israel’s powerful position in the Middle East is often associated with its armed forces, nuclear weapons arsenal or covert (Mossad) operatives. But just as important is its intelligence gathering – monitoring governments, international organisations, foreign companies, political organisations and individuals. Most of this happens at the installation in the Negev a couple of kilometres to the north of the kibbutz of Urim. Our sources, close to Israeli intelligence, know the base first-hand. They describe lines of satellite dishes of different sizes, and barracks and operations buildings on both sides of the road (the 2333) that leads to the base. High security gates, fences and dogs protect the facility. As you can see on the internet, the satellite images of the base are quite clear. A practised eye easily discerns the signs of an electronic surveillance base. A large circle in the farmland shows the site of a direction-finding antenna (HF/DF) for monitoring shipping.

    The Urim base was established decades ago to monitor Intelsat satellites that relay phone calls between countries. It expanded to cover maritime communications (Inmarsat), then rapidly targeted ever more numerous regional satellites. As such, says intelligence specialist Duncan Campbell, it is “akin to the UK-USA pact’s Echelon satellite interception ground stations”. The Echelon system is a network of interception stations around the world, set up in 1996 by the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Satellite phones used by the Gaza-bound aid ships were easy targets for this hi-tech equipment.

    Our Israeli sources described how the computers are “programmed to detect words and phone numbers of interest” from intercepted phone calls, emails etc, then transferred to Unit 8200 – the headquarters of Israeli signals intelligence – in the city of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. There they are translated and passed on to other agencies, including the army and Mossad.

    [See also website of Nicky Hager]

  • Oui February 9, 2014, 4:41 AM

    Interesting to watch, I hope it is available outside The Nethelands …

    Dutch interview Ronen Bergman and Danny Yatom [8:22 min]

    The two Israeli corporations are Verint (since 2013 Comverse) and Narus (since 2010 a Boeing subsidiary) have a joint cooperation with NSA to intercept telephone and other communication channels, and as supplier of hardware and software. Both Verint and Narus possess in-house technology developed by the Israeli Army (IDF). Verint was founded by former intelligence officers and have direct ties with the government. [Both companies have R&D with NSA and are closely involved with building and operations of the new data center for the NSA in the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch Range]

    Close ties

    The intelligence network has close ties especially between Israel and the US. Most likely Mossad exchanges intelligence with NSA on a global scale. The Israeli intelligence has a ‘backdoor’ to NSA material: raw espionage data that includes intelligence on US citizens exploited by the ISNU, Israel’s Sigint National Unit.

    Shady Companies With Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA

  • Renfro February 9, 2014, 8:46 AM

    ”I maintain that it’s clearly connected to the U.S. brokered peace talks with the Palestinians.”…RS

    I believe you are onto something there.
    Kerry made the statement recently that Israel would not have to ‘rely’ on keeping the IDF in certain territories for ‘security’ because the use of a high tech survallience system could do that job —-I took this to be Kerry’s answer or attempted answer to Israeli demands to keep military control in some areas.
    Then shortly after that I saw an announcement in the news that Lockheed was ‘investing’ in Israel and going to set up shop there to take advantage of Israeli IT in creating ‘ survalliance security systems”. That didn’t ring exactly right with me. For one thing Lockheed (thur defense sharing) is where Israel has gotten and “cloned” a major portion of their weapons high tech. I cant see Israel being as advanced as Lockheed in that area. Another reason is Lockheed and Israel have butted heads for long time on Israeli ‘cloning” of their tech for Isr weapons sales to other countries.

    Could be wrong, but this made me wonder if this investment story wasnt a cover for the US putting Lockheed in Israel to create even more Israeli security as part of I/P possible deal.

  • goose February 9, 2014, 9:41 AM

    ”Allowing the placement of such a base on Israeli soil is a major gift from the Israeli people, since it allows no other country anything remotely similar.”

    RU Serious? Major gift? They get unlimited nsa raw data, at no cost. I mean at ‘major gift’ cost.

    • Oui February 9, 2014, 12:32 PM

      The intelligence community of Echelon act autonomously, the responsible minister of smaller entities have no knowledge of the surveillance level as we have repeatedly witnessed in EU countries and especially minister Plasterk who has come under fire in The Netherlands.

      The partners in Echelon have an agreement to collect and distribute signals to the network without limitations. The original UKUSA bilateral agreement of 1955 has been declassified and can be downloaded here.

      In 1956 the three additional three Commonwealth nations were added. In my estimation, the US has additional and close relationships with the UK and Israel. Intelligence gathering is reciprocal, a state needs to collect data and be secure pf top secrecy or it will be banned, cut out of the loop. The IC community is now putting strong pressure on The Netherlands.

  • The Polemicist February 10, 2014, 3:36 PM

    As Nicodemus says, information about Israel’s close connection to the NSA has been floating around for years. Israeli companies have been at the heart of surveillance of Americans for at least the last twelve years. Israeli equipment is still at the heart of surveillance of Americans within America’s most secret spy agency.

    More than that a “strong supporter of Israel,” “with close connections to the country.” passed “advanced analytical and data mining software” to Israel. When that espionage was discovered that, the NSA decided not just to ignore, but to ratify it, and to ask Israel for “access to communications terminals” in return. No prosecution under the Espionage Act, as for senior American NSA agents, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden (and maybe Glenn Greenwald) — none of whom actually committed espionage.

    And none of this is covered by the American media. See the detailed post at: “Just One More Detail”:American Surveillance And The Unanswered Question of Israel

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