The US National Security Agency routinely passed private, unedited communications of American citizens to Israel, an expert on the intelligence agency said Wednesday citing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
James Bamford, writing in the New York Times’ Op-Ed section, said Snowden told him the intercepts included communications of Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the information.
“It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen,” Bamford quoted Snowden as saying.
Snowden said the material was routinely transferred to Unit 8200, a top Israeli intelligence division of the military, which acts as the Israeli counterpart to the NSA.
Bamford cited a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and 8200 outlining transfers that have occurred since 2009.
Leaked by Snowden and first reported by the British newspaper the Guardian, the material included “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.”
The memorandum indicates the data is routinely sent in raw form, without editing out names or other personally identifiable information, Bamford said.
He noted allegations in Israel by 43 veterans of Unit 8200, who in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, accused the unit of using information it collects to maintain control over West Bank civilians. They expressed their refusal to continue taking part in such activity.
The missive stressed that, in the opinion of the reservists, such information was often used as a tool to exert control over innocent Palestinian civilians and to turn the residents of the West Bank against each other. The reservists added that the unit’s methods of information-gathering unjustly invaded the privacy of Palestinian civilians.
The data gathered by the unit included “Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce them into becoming collaborators,” Bamford wrote.
Other members of the intelligence group, however, refuted the allegations by the dissenting reservists, claiming that a large portion of information in the letter was false.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is wanted by the United States on espionage charges after leaking a mass of secret NSA documents.
The 31-year-old fugitive has claimed asylum in Russia, where he has been granted a three-year residency that allows him to travel abroad.
Bamford, an author of several books on the NSA who specializes in electronic espionage and codebreaking, interviewed Snowden over a three-week period in Moscow for Wired magazine.