Israel heavily relied on US intelligence during the 2006 Lebanon War, and made repeated requests for help in locating Hezbollah operatives for targeted assassinations, according to the latest classified documents leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The two documents released on Wednesday revealed that even though the National Security Agency was legally prohibited from sharing surveillance data for targeted killings, Israeli pressure led to the creation of a new framework to facilitate intelligence-sharing between the two countries.
One of the documents released this week and published by The Intercept was a 2006 article featured in the NSA’s internal newsletter, SIDToday, by an unnamed NSA official in Tel Aviv who liaised with Israeli military officials during the 2006 conflict.
The other was an internal NSA presentation summarizing the US-Israeli intelligence sharing during that time.
In the SIDToday article, the liaison officer indicated that relations between the Israeli and US intelligence agencies became strained due to the repeated requests for help from Israel’s SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), a military intelligence squad known as Unit 8200.
It said the 2006 war pushed ISNU to its “technical and resource limits,” and Israeli officials turned to their American counterparts at the NSA for a great deal of support and information on Hezbollah targets.
“ISNU’s reliance on NSA was equally demanding and centered on requests for time sensitive tasking, threat warning, including tactical [electronic intelligence] and receipt of geo-location information on Hezbollah elements,” the US officer wrote in October 2006.
“The latter request was particularly problematic and I had several late-night, sometimes tense, discussions with ISNU detailing NSA’s legal prohibition on providing information that could be used in targeted killings,” the summary said.
The officer noted that “even with his full understanding of the US statutes, [acting ISNU chief Dani] Harari sought assistance from NSA for an exemption to this legal policy.” He said Israel viewed the ban as “contrary not only to supporting Israel in its fight against Hezbollah but overall, to support the US Global War on Terrorism.”
The document said that ultimately, the NSA decided to create a new framework to facilitate information-sharing between the two countries during war-time that would not violate US legal prohibitions. The workaround came from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Cabinet-level office that overseas US intelligence efforts abroad.
Neither of the documents released this week detailed the new arrangement from the ODNI.
In the internal NSA presentation dated April 2007, the agency summarized its information-sharing with Israel during the war.
On one of the slides, the NSA noted that Israeli officials were experiencing “high anxiety” during the fighting and were heavily reliant on the NSA for support.
Another slide titled “What Did ISNU Want? Everything!!!” showed that Israel sought information from the US on captured Israeli soldiers, specifically if Iran had a role in the kidnappings, and any relevant geolocational data.
A handwritten note on the margins of that slide described Israel’s request for geo-data a “problem area.”
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is wanted by the United States on espionage charges after leaking a mass of secret NSA documents.
The 35-year-old fugitive has claimed asylum in Russia, where he has been granted a three-year residency that allows him to travel abroad.
Other top-secret, collaborative operations between Israel and the US have been exposed by Snowden’s leaks of NSA activities. He has charged that the Stuxnet virus, known for sabotaging Iranian computers linked to the country’s nuclear program, was the byproduct of an American and Israeli spy agency project.