In August, secret National Security Agency documents revealed from the cache leaked by Edward Snowden to journalist Glenn Greenwald once again addressed Israel.
The documents give further insight into what Newsweek’s security and intelligence reporter Jeff Stein called “the schizoid relationship between the US and Israel”.
As I’ve detailed in this column before, despite massive diplomatic, political and military-financial support for Israel, the relationship between the intelligence services of the two countries is a contradictory one.
These latests documents showed once again how closely the NSA works with Unit 8200 – Israel’s analogous spy agency which specialises in monitoring, intercepting and recording phone calls, emails and all other forms of communication. This support includes large bundles of cash – one of the documents was a receipt for $500,000 in cash handed over to the Israelis from the US Department of Defence.
The alliance is deep and multifaceted. And it also extends to other oppressive states in the region.
One document published on Greenwald’s website The Intercept details how closely the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ work with the spy agencies of regional dictatorships – including the Jordanian monarch and the Palestinian Authority. “The PASF [Palestinian Authority Security Forces] are often our best look at the violence in the region,” one GCHQ document states.
But the documents also reveal deep concerns with Israeli spying on its American allies. NSA documents previously revealed in The Guardian stated that “one of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Another document said Israel was the number-three most aggressive spy agency acting against the US.
One of the newly revealed documents, from GCHQ, concurred with this view. From 2008, the document stated that: “policy makers remain deeply concerned over the potential threat that Israel poses to a peaceful resolution of the Iran problem, and to some of Israel’s less desirable activities in the region.”
So with Israel’s spy agencies considered rogue and aggressive even by some of its closest allies in the world, it was little surprise to learn earlier this month details of how Unit 8200 systematically spies on and blackmails innocent Palestinians.
A letter signed by 43 veterans of Unit 8200 stated that the former and current reservists would refuse to serve in operations involving the occupied West Bank and Gaza, because of the oppressive, arbitrary and blanket fashion of the spying. The letter was published in the Israeli press and soon after reported on by The Guardian who apparently had access to the refusing Israeli spies, who disguise their real identities in the press, and often talk only in generalities about what they got up to – both in order to avoid prosecution.
The Guardian stated that the signatories “allege that the ‘all-encompassing’ intelligence the unit gathers on Palestinians – much of it concerning innocent people – is used for ‘political persecution’ and to create divisions in Palestinian society.”
Sensitive personal information, such as sexuality and infidelities, is routinely collected as a tool to use against Palestinians and to blackmail them into becoming informants or collaborators.
One former spy told The Guardian that the sheer scale of their operations reminded him of the film The Lives of Others – about the Stasi run by the former East German regime: “On the one hand, I felt solidarity with the victims, with the oppressed people who were denied such basic rights as I take for granted to be mine. On the other hand, I realised that the job I had done during my military service was that of the oppressor.”
While American spies may be legitimately worried about Israeli spying on US intelligence and financial targets, this pales in comparison to the way Israeli spies contribute towards the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Israel’s spy agencies are ruthless operators who kill at will and spy on innocent Palestinians as it suits their whims. Any country claims to be “civilised” should cut all relations the the spy agencies of this oppressive regime.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.