Glenn Greenwald has published in LeMonde, yet another eye-popping story about the NSA. But in this case, it turns out the NSA was not the culprit. Look no farther than the Mossad for the presumably guilty party. In 2012, during the French presidential elections, which Nicolas Sarkozy would go on to lose to Francois Hollande, French counter-intelligence discovered that a foreign intelligence agency had penetrated the computer systems of the Elysee Palace, the French White House. A French magazine blared that it was an NSA job. French intelligence apparently believed this and took the NSA to the woodshed. Relations were very tense between these otherwise strong allies.
But given Snowden’s recent revelations about the all-seeing NSA, this case was different. The NSA began investigating and discovered that none of its operatives had been responsible (at least in this particular case). Because the case threatened to endanger relations with a U.S. ally, they went so far as to query the intelligence agencies of twenty U.S. allies, who all professed ignorance of the operation. In meetings with their French counterparts, NSA officials revealed all this and swore they were not the culprits. But they tellingly noted that among the nations they had not queried was Israel because, in their words, discussion of matters related to France was not within the purview of the NSA-Mossad relationship. This is the equivalent of what Monty Python called, “Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.”
What specifically did Unit 8200 want to learn about French policy from such an intrusion? According to my own Israeli source, there was no specific mission. Spying was indiscriminate and opportunistic. He would not speaking directly to this particular incident because he did not want to expose a specific operation if there was one. But he would say this:
Unit 8200 and Mossad hack everyone they technically can. You can never know what interesting intelligence will come from a phone call/email of any foreign leader or official – so they spy on anyone possible.
In other words, Israeli intelligence has no restraints, unlike (we hope) spy agencies of other western nations. Where the NSA got into trouble (after Snowden’s revelations were published) was that it was operating as if it were Unit 8200, rather than an American agency restrained by American laws and constitutional practice. At least until recently, the NSA and Israeli cyber-intelligence could’ve been twins.
That is why the recently revealed agreement between the NSA and Unit 8200 to share intelligence (even about U.S. citizens) was no surprise at all. And what 8200 didn’t learn directly from data supplied to them by the NSA it could derive from its own intelligence operations here in the U.S., where the FBI finds Israel to the be the third-most active spy operation of all foreign countries active here.
Mossad’s intelligence method of “flooding the zone” to get whatever information it can from whatever sources it can, further cements the notion that it is not an agency of a truly democratic nation with checks and balances and protections for citizens and non-citizens. There are, or should be, things that allies just don’t do to each other. But for Israel, there is no such thing as an ally. There are nations that further its interests (known in most other countries as ‘allies’) and nations which oppose its interests (enemies). Israel spies on its greatest ally (as we’ve seen) and its greatest enemy. There is hardly a distinction made except that the nature of the information sought is different.