Last week, Glenn Greenwald published (article) a new document from the Snowden trove, which describes a 2013 meeting between GCHQ, UK’s spy agency and the NSA. The agenda involved a discussion of the monitoring of Iranian intelligence and cyber-warfare activity. Among the past successful efforts mentioned are the Iranian attack on the British embassy in Tehran, Iran’s exposure of the Israeli-created Flame virus, and the P5+1 nuclear negotiations. Though Greenwald doesn’t note this, the latter indicates (at least to me) that both American and UK spies were monitoring the negotiations. My strong suspicion is that they were spying on the Iranian delegation so they would know what its positions would be, thus getting a leg up on the Iranians. The NSA has already been exposed in previous stories as performing such a function involving U.S. international trade negotiations. Since the stakes are infinitely higher in the Iran talks, it would be even more critical for us to know what Iran’s bargaining points would be.
Most interesting to me in the secret document is something Greenwald never touched at all (I’ll explain why a bit later). In today’s Haaretz, Amir Oren writes about this part of the memo. It notes the first-ever “trilateral analytic workshop” held in January 2013, between NSA, GCHQ, and Unit 8200 (referred to here as ISNU, Israeli SIGINT National Unit), which reviewed the intelligence-gathering efforts regarding the Iranian leadership. The published memo redacts the portion which indicates the specific purpose of the meeting. But one can assume that they were analyzing the various leaders, their strengths and weaknesses, and how best to take advantage of them for the interests of the three specific countries.
The memo also practically boasts about the good relations among the three agencies and indicates that each of them see such cooperation as advancing the political, military and intelligence interests of their respective countries. But it also indicates that the reason such cooperation hadn’t happen prior to this was the opposition of “SID,” which presumably refers to the Signals Intelligence Directorate, the largest unit within the NSA, to working together with the Israelis. The memo calls such opposition a “potential landmine” and clarifies that the workshop shouldn’t be considered a violation of this understanding.
I’m guessing Greenwald didn’t mention Unit 8200 in his report is that he has an agreement with Haaretz to publish the portions of the Snowden files dealing with Israel. Thus, reporting on this fell to Amir Oren.
The memo also acknowledges that not only did Iran prepare and execute its own counter-attack against U.S. and Israeli cyber-attacks on its nuclear installations, but it learned directly from these attacks how to defend against them and use them in its own offensive attacks. It implicitly warns that Iran could be expected to exploit any attacks against it in ways that in future may be far more damaging than anything it had mounted thus far. I warned against precisely this possibility in this post.