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Secret NSA Satellite Facility Located at IDF Base in Occupied East Jerusalem

NSA facility in Israel

Secret NSA facility on Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus  (Essa Grayeb)

It’s common to hear when Israeli prime ministers travel to the White House that there isn’t ‘an inch of daylight’ between Israel and the U.S.  That’s how damn close we are.  It’s one thing (and troubling enough) to say this about political issues.  But now it appears that our respective intelligence operations are increasingly coordinated and overlapping.  Of course, there continues to be intensive spying by Israeli agents within the U.S. (Pollard and others agents exposed over the years following testify to this).   But increasingly there appears to be no reason for Israel to attempt to penetrate U.S. security as we’re willing to give it to give them the store.

Yesterday, I reported that Israeli security correspondent Ronen Bergman had revealed the NSA maintained a secret facility in Jerusalem that monitored all U.S. satellites.  I also reported something not in Bergman’s interview: that this base was part of another secret agreement allowing Israel to share in all intelligence information produced as part of the Five Eyes network.  In effect, Israel has become the Sixth Eye.

Working with an Israeli researcher, I’m publishing the first known picture of the facility, which is located on Martin Buber Street near the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus.  This is one of the highest points in Jerusalem and would offer the best vantage point to receive and transmit signals to space satellites.  The NSA facility is located within an IDF SIGINT base called Ofrit, which intercepts telecommunications throughout the West Bank.  Frankly, I’ve never heard of a U.S. intelligence facility housed within an Israeli military base.  This brings home even more strongly how little separation there now is between Israeli and American intelligence operations.  Or to paraphrase Lennon-McCartney: I am you and “you are me and we are all together.”

nsa jerusalem base

Secret NSA satellite base on Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus (running along Armistice Line towards upper right corner)

You can see the photo of the Ofrit base above, which was labeled by the photographer as Galey Tzahal (Army Radio).  An official government map of the area displayed below shows the site censored (blurred).  Ironically, Israel doesn’t trust its own citizens to be able to see information which Google thinks its users are mature enough to be able to handle.  Thankfully, it hasn’t joined the censorship brigade (yet).

Note, in the uncensored image that the facility is located across the Green Line in Palestinian territory, which makes it in effect a U.S. partner in the Occupation.  Also note that we officially disapprove of the Occupation (supposedly).

For any Israeli security officials reading this, the photographer clearly didn’t know what he was photographing, nor did he approach me or have any contact with me, and shouldn’t be blamed for violating any Israeli secrecy regimen (if there is one).

israel map censoring nsa base

Israeli government map censoring NSA facility

In my earlier post about this facility, I spoke in detail about the Five Eyes intelligence sharing regime of which Israel has become a quasi-official member.  A reporter to whom I sent this story pointed out another reason why the U.S. may feel it advantageous to include Israel in such protocols.  Readers will recall that during the 1967 War, when Israel and the U.S. had no such agreements, we sent the U.S.S. Liberty to monitor Egyptian and Israeli communications traffic from the battlefield.  This was the best and only way we had for knowing what each side was doing or planning.  Apparently, the Israelis didn’t appreciate our efforts and attacked the ship, killing many U.S. sailors and presumably intelligence officers.  It’s very possible that this mishap influenced future policymakers to map out a data-sharing arrangement so that we don’t need to jeopardize our own personnel in monitoring each other’s strategic goals and intentions.

It is, of course, ironic that the base is located on a street named for Martin Buber.  He was one of the co-founders of the Brit Shalom movement, and would’ve detested everything that this base, and overall government surveillance represents.  It’s also ironic the base sits next to one of Israel’s leading institutions of higher learning.  Imagine a secret NSA base located next door to Harvard or Radcliffe (though I do realize stranger things have happened).  But then again, this is Israel and not the Ivy League!

I’ve attempted to get a comment from the State Department and White House press offices about this story.  So far, they haven’t responded.  Perhaps this story will encourage them.

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Anton February 10, 2014, 2:51 PM

    Just one small correction, this is not the highest point in Jerusalem. Even the Har-ha-Tzofim Campus of Hebrew University is higher. The highest point in Jerusalem is Gilo.

    • Richard Silverstein February 10, 2014, 6:23 PM

      This base is right next door to the Mt. Scopus campus, so I think it should either be the highest or one of the highest pts in Jerusalem.

    • K. February 13, 2014, 1:07 AM

      Didn’t know Gilo was in Israel. I seem to remember it is a settlement.

  • Davey February 10, 2014, 9:57 PM

    So, the US Government is also occupying the West Bank. This could be huge. Americans would be interested to know that the US is both the occupier and the “honest broker” in peace talks! Language and thought simply cannot contain or comprehend the realities of our time.

    • markus February 22, 2014, 6:55 PM

      You *really* think that “Americans would be interested to know that the US is both the occupier and the “honest broker” in peace talks”? I don’t think Americans are interested in much of anything unless it has something to do with sports, shopping, or “reality” television.

  • Oui February 10, 2014, 11:29 PM

    Not all intercept stations fulfill the role in the NSA Echelon network. Look at the profound differences of either communications intercept towres, relay stations, ground station for reception espionage satellite intelligence and the X-band radar of Mt. Keren in the Negev desert. I will follow-up shortly.

    14-Eyes are 3rd Party partners forming the SIGINT Seniors Europe

    On December 11, the Swedish public television channel SVT published a range of new NSA-documents from the Snowden-collection. One is a text which for the first time proves that intelligence agencies of nine European countries are 3rd Party partners of NSA.

    These countries are: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Earlier, these nations were identified as forming the 14-Eyes group, for which we now also have a real name: SIGINT Seniors Europe or SSEUR.

    • Oui February 11, 2014, 12:27 AM

      This article is a good starting point to explain interception capabilities of Echelon and COMINT, the basis of “Five Eyes” network which has been expanded.

    • Oui February 11, 2014, 12:28 AM

      GCHQ ground station at Menwith-Hill has all satellite discs hidden under domes. The station at Bude, the diversity of satellite receivers can be seen with an explanation of frequencies intercepted.

      Echelon and controversy of political and industrial espionage

  • Bob Reynolds February 11, 2014, 2:50 AM

    The Liberty was 50 miles offshore and flying our flag. Israel maintained that it was all a mistake and various excuses have been made for the “mistake”. Googling “USS Liberty” will provide more than enough information on what really happened.
    Clearly it was intended that there would be no survivors. Our government recalled the planes launched to help the Liberty
    Despite this the crew saved the ship and performed in the highest traditions of the US Navy. Its Captain was
    awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, but rather than being presented at the White House it was done in
    a warehouse on a Naval facility. The men of the Liberty have been branded anti-semites for maintaining that the attack
    was deliberate. The Navy has annual ceremonies honoring other ships that have been attacked, but never the Liberty.

  • Fred Plester February 11, 2014, 7:50 AM

    Not everything the NSA does is “eavesdropping” or “codebreaking”.

    Now, as in WW2, some of the most important intelligence is not the content of messages, but where recognizable transmitters have moved to. Each transmitter has a distinctive “static” signature if you look at it hard enough, and if you can track the physical movements of a transmitter, you are tracking the unit which owns it.

    A lot of these small sites are simply recognizing transmitters and plotting their location. It can be taken a stage further these days, by recognizing a voice and seeing where that person goes to, but this, too, was accomplished in WW2 by one means or another. Bletchley Park had didn’t have enormous success with Japanese codes until the last year of WW2, but they were still able to predict where the Japanese were planning or expecting trouble, because they could recognize messages generated by key personnel even if they struggled to know what they were saying.

    Israel probably isn’t going to decrypt (at least not in real time) messages from Russian naval vessels, but recognizing the signatures of some of the dozens of radio devices aboard will allow them to know pretty much where they are. And “radio silence” is very difficult to achieve when so much equipment generates an RF signature when working, including things which aren’t thought of as being communications devices. Recognizing and tracking a particular electric motor is by no means implausible these days.

    The troubling thought, though, is that the NSA may be sharing information with Israel without necessarily obtaining the consent of the allies who provide that information.

    There’s no need for a listening station to be at a huge height; anything that raises it above the local clutter will do. Dollis Hill police station in London was home, from the twenties onwards, of a listening operation to detect covert transmitters in Southern England.

    I would have thought that the top of the BT tower in London would be high enough to hear most signals generated in western Europe, and this is almost certainly why it was built.

    And if you’re going by height and location, the Bishop of Norwich probably has a better Sigint operation than most….
    link to commons.wikimedia.org

  • Brian Cohen February 11, 2014, 7:59 AM

    So – where’s my comment from earlier today?

    • Richard Silverstein February 11, 2014, 12:41 PM

      @ Brian Cohen: Try writing a comment that isn’t composed purely of snark and it will be published. Your comments will be moderated till you’ve proved you respect the comment rules.

  • Brian Cohen February 11, 2014, 11:21 PM

    Sir – I question your entire thesis if you base your alleged “findings” when you state “This is one of the highest points in Jerusalem and would offer the best vantage point to receive and transmit signals to space satellites.”

    Transmitting to/from satellites does not require altitude at all, but simply a clear line of site. Ergo, locating a facility there has nothing to do with placement for satellite communications.

    On the other hand, that site is indeed known as an anti-aircraft radar installation because of its topological location overlooking the Jordan Valley towards the east…where air attacks have come in the past.

    • Richard Silverstein February 12, 2014, 1:57 AM

      This is what Ronen Bergman said during his TV interview. If you have a problem with it I suggest you take it up with him. Oh & I trust Ronen Bergman’s expertise on this matter far more than yours.

    • Fred Plester February 12, 2014, 8:30 AM

      The published picture doesn’t look like any sort of air defence radar to me, and you wouldn’t want that much electronic clutter nearby, so I really doubt that there’s an air defence radar just out of shot.

    • Brian Cohen February 12, 2014, 11:53 PM

      So it seems that your bottom line is that you don’t want the US and Israeli intelligence agencies cooperating. I’m curious – do you think the NSA should sever all ties with Israel and establish close working relationships with the neighbors? In this case that means Fatah and Hamas (you can’t say “the PA” because reality is different than the term), Jordan (they probably already have close ties), Lebanon, Syria and Egypt?

      Do you feel that the US shares basic values with those more than they do with Israel? Would you be as upset if the NSA had listening posts in Jordan and Saudi Arabia? My guess is that you wouldn’t care, nor would you make it an issue.

      • Richard Silverstein February 13, 2014, 12:08 AM

        @ Brian Cohen: Don’t “guess” about my views. You’ll inevitably be wrong. And you are. I’ve written hundreds of posts about Israeli & U.S. intelligence. You should read a few of them before you think you know what I believe on the subject.

  • Brian Cohen February 12, 2014, 6:22 AM

    No, what he said is “the geography of Jerusalem allows, if you put your receiving dishes in the right place, you find yourself in the overlapping circle of beams of several central satellites that cover most of the area of the planet.”
    If you look at any topo map (link to amudanan.co.il) you see that the location of that particular station is not the best, since the view to the west is blocked by Mt Scopus.
    Don’t believe me? Here’s the google map link and you can switch to street view on the bus stop symbol on Buber St. You’ll find yourself smack in front of the entrance gat to the army base. Swing the view around to the west and you see the side of the mountain blocking your view. Best location is obviously at the top of Mt Scopus, but the base location has half of the sky blocked off and simply cannot have the lines of sight needed.
    Bergman is wrong in this case, or is giving a fluffly explanation to cover up something else.

    • Richard Silverstein February 12, 2014, 1:46 PM

      So what you’re saying is that your quarrel is with Ronen Bergman’s characterization of the choice for the site, which is what I said to you. If there is a mistake, it wasn’t mine.

      Further, the location of the base may’ve been dictated by the fact that it had to be placed within an IDF base and this was the best option available.

  • Fred Plester February 12, 2014, 8:47 AM

    Most of what is visible is for sending data out of the site via microwave links: a couple aimed at different geostationary satellites and some “buttons” which are line of sight microwave comms links. A lot of the actual listening will be to much longer wavelengths which are often emitted accidentally, so the aerials in question won’t catch the eye of the casual observer because they are not dish-like.

    It is possible that one or more “buttons” is aimed at someone else’s cellphone tower and is capable of convincing that tower that it’s part of the same network.

    The geostationary satellites the fixed dishes point to, will be quite some distance apart, probably as if speaking to American relay satellites over both Atlantic and Indian ocean. If someone familiar with the location were to provide a directional reference, they could fairly easily work it out.

    The satellite dishes don’t appear to be pointing up, but due to the location of the actual receiver relative to the focal point of the dish, they are. The mini-golf ball is covering a dish capable of (perhaps rapid) movement, but not an air defence radar that close to the ground and surrounded by other junk. That will communicate directly with a spy satellite in a low orbit, which by definition cannot be geostationary. It will only work while the satellite is passing somewhere above the horizon. Judging by the way they’d hemmed it in with other stuff, they are only using it for something well over the horizon, which means it could be in the valley and still work.

    It may be that the site earwiggs local communications via the cellphone network, and relays signals of interest either back to the USA via the geostationary satellites, or passes the suspect signal directly to a low-orbit spy satellite which can find the exact source and collect more of the original signal and all others from the same origin, which the listening post might not be able to capture.

    That sort of satellite has an antennae which unfolds in space to over thirty metres across, which allows it to pick up far more than any ground based listening post. But it can’t be overhead everywhere, all the time, and it needs some sort of cue as to where the signals of interest are coming from.

  • Oui February 13, 2014, 2:27 PM

    The Mt. Scopus Slopes National Park

    (Jan. 2012) – The planned park will sit on lands belonging to the Issawiya and A-Tur neighborhoods. For the residents of A-Tur, this means significant damage to land reserves intended for future development, and for Issawiya, the plan completely eliminates the last reserve of land set aside for future growth.

    Using national parks to dispossess the Palestinian population of its land is not a new phenomenon. The exact mechanism was also used within Israeli territory where national parks were established in areas where the Palestinian population is dense (as in the Galilee). A similar act was carried out in the Occupied Territories in 1986 when the residents of the village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills were expelled from their caves, and on the ruins of their village the Susiya National Park was created.

    Potentially the most political park in the world: Mt. Scopus Slopes will bisect West Bank

    New demolitions in East Jerusalem’s A-Tor are occurring because they are in the path of the planned Mt. Scopus Slopes Park, which opponents say will bisect West Bank.

    A follow-up Haaretz article: “Caught on tape ‖ Recording reveals East Jerusalem park is about politics, not environment.”

    In October 2013, Israel freezes plan to build Jerusalem park encroaching on Palestinian neighborhoods.

  • It's Me February 13, 2014, 7:18 PM

    One thing I was taught in amateur radio, is location, location, location. its important for the communication devices to see each other on a electronic bases, if you can’t get the site you want try to get the next best site. I have found in my years of amateur radio some sweet spots in which I got my communication to go where I wanted. In WWII on the eve of Peal Harbor, with the radar in not quite the ideal site, we still could see the Japanese plains coming in, we misinterpret who’s plains there were.

  • Genie February 17, 2014, 7:49 PM

    Thank you for this, Richard.
    I first heard about it a couple of days ago on: link to presstv.ir where a commentator mentioned your article.

    Not surprising that it exists, however, it was good to hear more details; the intel chips in all computers was a ‘red flag’ that Israel is the biggest snoop in the spying ‘business’ – since all intel chips are made in Israel.

    The fact that it’s in Occupied East Jerusalem, is not surprising either, although, naturally, it is very disturbing – because the USA vetos all UN Security Council Resolutions — including their pretentious ‘objections’ to the Illegal Settlements. If, the USA were to really objected – they would not veto the UN Security Council Security Resolutions to cease and desist all building in the Occupied Territories.

  • Genie February 17, 2014, 8:00 PM

    To clarify: The USA vetos all UN Security Council Resolutions concerning Israel’s violations of International Law.
    I did not make that clear, my assumption was that people already know that – fact is, most people don’t know that.

    Also, typo correction: If, the USA were to really object – they would not veto the UN Security Council Security Resolutions to cease and desist all building in the Occupied Territories.

  • Genie February 18, 2014, 1:19 PM

    http://www.presstv.ir has a link today to the commentator speaking about your article:
    US intelligence compromised with Israel: Analyst
    link to presstv.ir

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