NSA tracked Israeli drones, missiles, papers show

Documents seen by The New York Times also reveal sharing of raw intelligence between Washington and Jerusalem

The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)
The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)

US spies shared information garnered through eavesdropping with Jerusalem, but also secretly tracked Israeli military actions, new papers on the breadth of Washington’s intelligence gathering activities revealed Sunday morning.

The documents from Washington’s National Security Agency, leaked to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published in The New York Times, reveal how American agents have spied on leaders from Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

And for the first time, the papers also reveal that Israel, along with nearly every other country on the planet, has been the target of NSA spying.

According to the papers, thousands of which were leaked by Snowden, the NSA has tracked “high priority Israeli military targets.”

These include unmanned aerial vehicles and the Black Sparrow missile system, a ballistic missile used as target practice for the Arrow missile-defense system.

Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio he was not surprised to hear that the US had been spying on Israel, and that defense officials knew as well. He said he was warned not to discuss sensitive matters on the phone when he became a minister, under the assumption that his calls were being listened to.

In late October, former Mossad head Danny Yatom told the Maariv daily the US had spied on Israel in the past.

“I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel,” Yatom said, and “not necessarily in [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s tenure” as prime minister.

The NSA documents also confirm that the US shared intelligence information with Israel’s signal intelligence unit, known as Unit 8200, which received raw materials from the Americans.

The Guardian had originally reported on this revelation in early September, also based on documents leaked by Snowden.

“Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content,” the British paper quoted a 2009 memorandum of understanding between Israel and the US reading.

An NSA document leaked by Snowden in late August listed Israel as one of several “priority targets,” including Cuba, China, Russia and Iran.

Revelations over NSA spying have served to strain relations with the US and allies around the world, especially amid revelations that leaders’ phones were tapped, along with those of millions of foreign citizens.

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrives in the region on Sunday, have been trying to quell international anger over disclosures of classified information by former National Security Agency contractor Snowden. Longer term, Snowden’s revelations about NSA tactics — that allegedly include tapping up to 35 world leaders’ cellphones — threaten to undermine US foreign policy in a host of areas.

Spying among allies is not new. Madeleine Albright, secretary of state during the Clinton administration, recently recalled being at the United Nations and having the French ambassador ask her why she said something in a private conversation that the French had apparently intercepted. The French government protested revelations this week that the NSA had collected 70.3 million French-based telephone and electronic message records in a 30-day period.

Albright said Snowden’s disclosures have been very damaging to US policymakers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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