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.”
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).
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.
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Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.