Former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A classified document leaked by US National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden reveals information about the cooperative intelligence- gathering efforts of the US, UK and Israel against Iranian targets.
Previous Snowden documents revealed a number of details of the inner workings of the intelligence relationships between the US and Israel and with the other members of the “Five Eyes” in general, which also includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand and England.
But a newly leaked document, from April 2013 and marked top secret, highlights specifically the intelligence successes against Iran of the US and the British, the growing regional and cyber threat that Iran constitutes, and reluctance to have an overarching intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel.
The document was published earlier this month on the website The Intercept, the platform created by journalist Glenn Greenwald to report on documents provided by Snowden without being arrested, but the Israel-Iran related dimension started to receive extra attention on Sunday.
The NSA document details “multiple high-priority surges” with GCHQ (Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters), including intelligence gathering surrounding the 2011 storming of the British Embassy in Tehran, the Iranian discovery of FLAME, a computer virus meant to slow Iranian nuclear efforts, and “support to policy-makers” during nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers.
It is possible that these joint activities could have included sharing of data from eavesdropping on the Iranians during these periods, though the document does not give specifics in that regard.
“NSA has seen Iran further extending its influence across the Middle East over the last year,” the document warns, citing in particular Iran’s efforts to launch cyber attacks against US financial institutions.
The document discusses trilateral cooperation between the NSA, GCHQ and the ISNU, the IDF’s 8200 signal intelligence unit. The document reports on a first-ever video conference taking place between elements of the three agencies.
“The trilateral relationship is limited to the topic of [redacted] and will serve as proof of concept of this kind of engagement,” the document reads.
Marked under the heading “Potential Landmine,” the final section of the document states that Britain’s GCHQ has long advocated that it work with the NSA and Unit 8200 in a trilateral arrangement “to prosecute the Iranian target.” However, the document adds that the NSA signal intelligence chief “has been opposed to such a blanket arrangement.”
It concludes that the NSA and GCHQ agreed to share information gleaned from the respective bilateral relationships with Israel’s Unit 8200.
Previous revelations regarding Israel, mostly in 2013, involved the NSA eavesdropping on some top Israeli officials and possible Israeli cooperation with the NSA to eavesdrop on other mutual allies of the two countries.
Another revelation indicated that the NSA may have greater authority to check communications with US citizens living in foreign countries, such as Israel, while yet another revealed that the US may sometimes cooperate with Unit 8200 to review metadata on behalf of the NSA that the NSA itself cannot review under US law.
In November 2014, the US Senate held a procedural vote of 58-42 to repeal the NSA’s power to collect telephone metadata, but the vote had required 60 votes to pass.
The US Congress must, by June 2015, amend the law regarding extra NSA powers regarding collecting telephone, email and other metadata that substantially expanded after the September 11, 2001, attacks, or all of the authorities will expire.
Snowden is both vilified as a traitor and revered as the whistle-blower who altered the playing field on the issue, putting the NSA on the defensive.