Creating new perspectives since 2009

Buyer beware: Israeli spy tools may be spying right back

January 15, 2016 at 9:30 am

Last month I wrote about Israel’s high-tech industry and how integrated it is with with state intelligence and military agencies. Top figures in the same agencies that systematically spy on and persecute Palestinian civilians often later go on to work in the private sector.

One reader of that article altered me to another such “revolving door” figure. Matan Caspy, the co-founder and head of operations at the firm which sells the Wifi spy boxes I wrote about listed on his LinkedIn page that he was for eight years a “special operation agent and team leader” with the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police.

Four years after he left he would found the firm, Rayzone. Is the idea that he and his friends and colleagues at the Shin Bet do not still stay in touch and share information the least bit credible? Of course not.

Caspy boasting about his links to Israeli spooks might not seem the brightest thing to do for a former spy. But apparently, high-tech investors and buyers seems to love the idea that their spy gear is made by an ex-Israeli spy. (Since I wrote that last article on Rayzone, his LinkedIn has been deleted. But I made copies, so you can still read it here.)

But revelations in the Wall Street Journal last month suggest an intriguing possibility: what if the Rayzone “InterApp Interception System” (designed to spy on Wifi connections within range of a small box) also clandestinely spies on the foreign state agencies it is marketed to?

The new revelations show there is a precedent.

The WSJ article details the story of how the NSA, under the Obama Whitehouse, kept a close watch on Israeli government communications during the period in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was agitating against the then-prospective six-power agreement with Iran (which ultimately limited its nuclear energy programme). Netanyahu, for his part, was spying on the US, to try to find out details of the negotiations. And, due to the fact that Netanyahu’s people were briefing his allies in the US on how best to combat the deal, NSA monitoring of Israeli communications also picked up the communications of US citizens.

Despite the faux outrage of some US legislators to the revelations in the WSJ report, it’s no surprise that US intelligence agencies should consider Israel a primary worry. In fact, instead of the NSA’s disgraceful practice of mass-snooping on private citizens (as the Snowden revelations showed they do), countering the Israeli spy threat against the US sounds like exactly the sort of thing the NSA should be doing.

As whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed to The Washington Post in 2013, US intelligence services privately consider Israel to be one of the top global spy threats against America. US counter-intelligence operations are “strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel,” the Post reported.

Even after this information entered the public domain, it did not stop them from spying on the US, and the US president and Congress have only coddled and rewarded Israel for its nefarious activities.

The WSJ reported that this pattern has been ongoing for a long time: “Early in the Obama presidency, for example, Unit 8200 [the Israeli equivalent to the NSA] gave the NSA a hacking tool the NSA later discovered also told Israel how the Americans used it. It wasn’t the only time the NSA caught Unit 8200 poking around restricted US networks. Israel would say intrusions were accidental, one former US official said, and the NSA would respond, ‘Don’t worry. We make mistakes, too.'”

This seems to be a habit of Israeli spy agencies: spy on its own supposed allies. Which very much suggests the possibility that Israeli corporations flogging high-tech spy products to state agencies abroad (Rayzone is a case in point) may be doing the same sort of thing.

Especially considering the fact that so many of the leaders and founders of these companies are current and former members of Israeli spy agencies, it would seem to be a fairly simple thing for them to insert backdoors into these products which could then be used to spy on these very same foreign police forces, and other state agencies.

Are Rayzone doing such a thing? It’s hard to know for sure of course, especially since they refuse to even explain how their products work in the first place.

Rayzone did not reply to an email asking what assurances they could give their customers that the InterApp box is not spying on its own customers too.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.