Former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US National Security Agency gave Israeli military intelligence information about Arabs and Palestinian-Americans in the states who had maintained communications with Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, an intelligence analyst revealed in The New York Times on Wednesday.
According to James Bamford, the NSA handed over records of telephone calls and e-mail correspondences between Palestinians and their relatives in the US to Unit 8200, the army's intelligence outfit which has generated headlines in recent days in Israel after a number of its reservist officers signed a letter protesting its methods of information-gathering in the territories.
The revelations came to light thanks to the documents leaked to the press by Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst wanted by American authorities who is now in Moscow under diplomatic asylum.
Last weekend, the IDF rejected claims made by the 43 reservists serving in Unit 8200 who published a letter declaring their refusal to serve due to what they said were a series of breaches of proper conduct in the unit’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza.
The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, and the head of the IDF’s intelligence branch, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, decried “the main function of 8200 in the territories, which is to control another nation.”
“The intelligence that is gathered [in the West Bank] harms innocent people and is used for the purposes of political persecution and violating the privacy of Palestinians,” the letter, which commented only on the unit’s activities in Judea and Samaria, read.
“We are conscientiously incapable of continuing to serve this system.”
Writing in the New York Times
, Bamford said that the information provided by the NSA to Unit 8200 is unique in that the American agency did not attempt to conceal the identities of those reported to have engaged in the communications, a practice which is normally done whenever information of this nature is shared with a foreign country.
Unit 8200 is the military’s primary signal-intelligence body. The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in a statement: “Unit 8200 has been working daily since its founding to gather intelligence, which allows the IDF and security bodies to carry out their duties. It assists in the defense of Israeli civilians every day.”
“The Unit operates through a range of means and in many arenas, while activating techniques and rules for intelligence purposes only. Those who serve in the unit are trained, after a lengthy and meticulous process, and undergo a program that has no equivalent in any other intelligence community in Israel or the world. During the training, a special emphasis is placed on the field of ethics, morality and working rules. These are applied throughout the service of the soldiers and officers in the unit, who are continuously monitored by commanders of various ranks.”
The spokesman’s office said that “concrete claims” made by some of those who signed the protest letter, which were brought up in an interview published on Friday by Ynet, “are not known to the Military Intelligence Directorate.”
The fact that those who wrote the letter spoke to the media “before speaking to their commanders or to the relevant officers in the IDF, is strange and raises doubts about the seriousness of the claims,” the statement continued.
“Throughout the years, and in recent years especially, the unit has received daily evaluations, which sometimes result in citations and Israel security prizes. Regarding claims that innocents are harmed, the process of authorizing targets in the IDF is long and meticulous, and takes into account the issue of noncombatants.”