Breaking the Taboo on Israel's Spying Efforts on the United States
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Fast-forward a quarter century, and the vow has proven empty. In 2004, the authoritative Jane's Intelligence Group noted that Israel's intelligence organizations "have been spying on the U.S. and running clandestine operations since Israel was established." The former deputy director of counterintelligence at FBI, Harry B. Brandon, last year told Congressional Quarterly magazine that "the Israelis are interested in commercial as much as military secrets. They have a muscular technology sector themselves." According to CQ, "One effective espionage tool is forming joint partnerships with U.S. companies to supply software and other technology products to U.S. government agencies."
Best-selling author James Bamford now adds another twist in this history of infiltration in a book published last October, "The Shadow Factory," which forms the latest installment in his trilogy of investigations into the super-secret National Security Agency. Bamford is regarded among journalists and intelligence officers as the nation’s expert on the workings of the NSA, whose inner sanctums he first exposed to the public in 1982. (So precise is his reporting that NSA officers once threw him a book party, despite the fact that he continually reveals their secrets.) The agency has come a long way in the half-century since its founding in 1952. Armed with digital technology and handed vast new funding and an almost limitless mandate in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Bamford writes, the NSA has today "become the largest, most costly, and most technologically sophisticated spy organization the world has ever known." The NSA touches on every facet of U.S. communications, its mega-computers secretly filtering "millions of phone calls and e-mails" every hour of operation. For those who have followed the revelations of the NSA’s "warrantless wiretapping" program in the New York Times in 2005 and the Wall Street Journal last year, what Bamford unveils in "The Shadow Factory" is only confirmation of the worst fears: "There is now the capacity," he writes of the NSA’s tentacular reach into the private lives of Americans, "to make tyranny total."
Much less has been reported about the high-tech Israeli wiretapping firms that service U.S. telecommunications companies, primarily AT&T and Verizon, whose networks serve as the chief conduits for NSA surveillance. Even less is known about the links between those Israeli companies and the Israeli intelligence services. But what Bamford suggests in his book accords with the history of Israeli spying in the U.S.: Through joint partnerships with U.S. telecoms, Israel may be a shadow arm of surveillance among the tentacles of the NSA. In other words, when the NSA violates constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure to vacuum up the contents of your telephone conversations and e-mail traffic, the Israeli intelligence services may be gathering it up too -- a kind of mirror tap that is effectively a two-government-in-one violation.
On its face, the overseas outsourcing of high-tech services would seem de rigueur in a competitive globalized marketplace. Equipment and services from Israel’s telecom sector are among the country’s prime exports, courtesy of Israeli entrepreneurs who have helped pioneer wireless telephony, voicemail and voice recognition software, instant messaging, phone billing software, and, not least, "communications interception solutions." Israeli telecom interception hardware and software is appraised as some of the best in the world.
By the mid-1990s, Israeli wiretap firms would arrive in the U.S. in a big way. The key to the kingdom was the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which was Congress’ solution for wiretapping in the digital age. Gone are the days when wiretaps were conducted through on-site tinkering with copper switches. CALEA mandated that telephonic surveillance operate through computers linked directly into the routers and hubs of telecom companies -- a spyware apparatus matched in real-time, all the time, to American telephones and modems. CALEA effectively made spy equipment an inextricable ligature in telephonic life. Without CALEA, the NSA in its spectacular surveillance exploits could not have succeeded.