Meet the Israeli-linked firm that sold Big Brother machines to Mubarak, Qaddafi – and Washington

prism slide 2
A slide from the National Security Agency powerpoint presentation on the PRISM program. (Image: Washington Post)

The recent exposure of National Security Agency monitoring of Americans’ emails, live voice communications and stored data cast suspicion once again on private surveillance contractors linked to Israeli intelligence services. One firm called Narus has provided the NSA with technology for almost a decade that enabled it to obtain and analyze at least 80 percent of communications made by Americans over online and telecom channels. What was Narus’ role in the latest scandal, and how far back does its history of spying go?

Deep Packet Inspection

Back in 2011, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attempted to quell the Tahrir Square uprising by ordering telecommunications companies to shut down the Internet, the Obama administration slammed his regime, demanding that it immediately open up social media channels. The US also took the opportunity to promote the State Department’s $30 million Internet freedom project, which was aimed at providing dissidents with technology to stifle online surveillance in repressive states.

Tim Karr, the campaign director for the online freedom advocacy group Free Press, wondered what tools the Mubarak regime was using to target online dissidents. He discovered that Egypt had purchased Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology from Narus, a Silicon Valley-based high tech firm.

DPI is a computer network packet filtering system that allows administrators to collect any data that passes through an inspection point. Governments around the world rely on it to conduct spying and data mining on a massive level. “[DPI] is often called dual use because it can be used for legitimate purposes, by cops to ID terrorists, or for commercial purposes,” Karr told me. “But in the wrong hands it can be a tool that can be used to suppress online dissent, identify dissidents and even hunt them down.”

The information about Narus’ sales to Egypt was not hard to find; Karr discovered it right on the company’s website. Narus has also boasted about sales of DPI technology to serial human rights violators like the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and telecom subsidiaries of the Chinese government. Through a third party reseller, Narus was in negotiations to provide spying devices to the Qaddafi regime, but the deal fell through when Qaddafi was overthrown by the very people he had sought to monitor.

nss
A diagram from a Narus demo showing its network management product, which can be used to manage network traffic or provide surveillance over all network activity.
(Image: The Berkman Center for Internet & Society)

The exposure this month of the US National Security Agency’s Prism program, which uses DPI technology to monitor the phone and online communications of American citizens, eroded the credibility of US calls for Internet freedom abroad. “The Obama administration has tried to play both sides of this equation and the rhetoric it used during Arab Spring doesn’t square with our practices domestically in spying on our own citizenry,” Karr remarked. “There seems to be a double standard here.”

He added, “When people fear that their communications are being monitored, there is a chilling effect. So this is not just about privacy, it’s a freedom speech issue.”

Room 641A

In 2006, an AT&T technician named Mark Klein discovered a secret room inside the company’s windowless “Folsom Street Facility” in downtown San Francisco that was bristling with Narus machines. The now notorious Room 641A was controlled by the NSA, which was using it to collect AT&T customer data for data mining and real-time analysis. Thanks to the powerful NarusInsight system, the NSA was able to monitor 108 billion emails from AT&T customers per day.

att micurs ccsa 20
AT&T’s windowless Folsom Street Facility in downtown
San Francisco, the home of Room 641A where the NSA
used Narus machines to spy on millions of Americans.

The revelations set off a national scandal, confirming that the US government was spying on millions of citizens, and that major telecom and service providers were complicit. But no one was held accountable. Following a lawsuit filed against AT&T by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in July 2008, giving retroactive immunity to telecom corporations that assisted the NSA, and relieving them of any consequences for spying on Americans.

Cass Sunstein, an informal advisor to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who now heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and who has urged federal law enforcement to “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups, was an outspoken supporter of the retroactive immunity bill. With Sunstein by his side, Obama reversed his initial objections to the NSA’s domestic spying operations, voting as a Senator for retroactive immunity.

The vote allowed the NSA to expand its domestic spying operations, clearing the legal hurdles obstructing the creation of PRISM. The stage was set for the second term scandal that would leave Obama reeling.

“You have to demonize the source”

Well before Edward Snowden was a household name, there was William Binney, a high level NSA official who resigned in protest on October 31, 2001 after learning of the birth of a massive, post-9/11 domestic spying operation. I spoke to Binney three days after Snowden revealed himself as the latest NSA whistleblower.

“I couldn’t stay there [at the NSA] and be a party to that collecting data and spying on American citizens,” Binney told me. “And that court order from Verizon [that revealed the PRISM program] is a continuation of that.”

Like Snowden, who has been roundly demonized by pundits and Obama supporters, and may face an extradition order, Binney encountered a severe backlash when he resigned. “They want to avoid facing up to what the government was doing so you have to demonize the source,” Binney said. “We [NSA whistleblowers past and present] were all attacked. They attempted to indict us and frame us, they raided us with the FBI, they attempted to discredit us with all the standard tactics they use. It went nowhere but it allowed them continue doing what they were doing. And that’s the problem – they refused to recognize there even was a problem and now we won’t solve it.”

Binney told me that throughout the United States there are currently as many as 20 NSA black sites like Room 641A. Narus devices, he said, have been placed at fiber-optic convergence points, allowing the NSA to retrieve about 80 percent of data carried through telecom and online service providers. Binney emphasized that the devices do not only retrieve so-called metadata, which only offers general records of data, but that they gather the actual content of emails and calls. (“We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on; we can reconstruct their (Voice Over Internet) calls,” said Steve Bannerman, the marketing director of Narus).

Thanks to PRISM, the NSA bas been able to “fill in the gaps,” Binney explained, gathering bulk data from communications the NSA might have missed with the NarusInsight system, especially those made between Americans and foreign countries.

The Israeli Connection

Binney told me that while he worked at the NSA in 1998, a freebooting agency colleague with pronounced pro-Israel views “shared” DPI technology with Israeli intelligence agencies. At the time, Binney was the chairman of the NSA’s Foreign Relations Advisory Council (FRAC), a board charged with reviewing the transfer of technology to foreign allies. To his chagrin, he was only made aware of the transfer to Israel after the fact.

“Usually when you share things you discuss them and have approval from FRAC – you have an agreement,” Binney said. “I was supposed to know about all the sharing that goes on. So when I found out about this I said, ‘Hey, if we’re gonna share it with Israel we should share it with other allies too and save them the money of having to develop it on their own. I didn’t have a problem with it, and I don’t know how he did it, but we had a process and he circumvented it.”

Enter Narus, the company named for the Latin word for “all knowing.” Founded in the Silicon Valley in 1997 by Israeli expatriates with alleged ties to Israel’s intelligence services, Ori Cohen and Stas Khirman, Narus has been shrouded in mystery since its inception.

A 2006 investigation by Haaretz into Cohen’s background was unable to establish a clear portrait of its subject, concluding that he was “hard to pin down.” Khirman, according to journalist James Bamford, worked in the past for Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries that specialized in advanced eavesdropping systems for Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus. (In 2010, Narus was sold to the Boeing Company, a multinational defense corporation that clearly saw a future in the online surveillance industry).

Sometime around 2002, Narus pioneered state-of-the-art DPI devices. “The timeline shows [DPI technology] was shared with Israel about five years before Narus came out with its devices,” Binney commented. “It certainly was a suspicious timing sequence.”

Another Israeli-linked tech company, Verint, is a subsidiary of the Israeli firm Comverse, which boasts a reputation as “the world’s leading provider… of communications intercept and analysis” technology. Among the many Comverse executives plucked from the ranks of Israeli army intelligence is the company’s founder, Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, an ex-Israeli intelligence agent who cashed in through Israel’s high-tech surveillance industry. Alexander’s lucrative career collapsed in dramatic fashion when he was arrested for fraud in Namibia in 2006 after an international manhunt, and wound up handing over bank accounts worth $46 million to US authorities.

Just as AT&T relied on Narus systems, Verint’s DPI devices have been used to fulfill NSA requests for data from Verizon’s subscribers. And as Bamford explained in his 2008 book on the NSA, “Shadow Factory,” much of the data Verint and other private Israeli contractors gather from can be remotely accessed from Israel. “The greatest potential beneficiaries of this marriage between the Israeli eavesdroppers and America’s increasingly centralized telecom grid are Israel’s intelligence agencies,” Bamford wrote.

Journalist Christopher Ketcham speculated in a 2008 article that Israeli-linked firms like Verint and Narus could have implanted Trojan spy technology into their devices, providing Israeli intelligence services with a backdoor means of reviewing and analyzing data stored in secure NSA systems. Boaz Guttmann, an Israeli national police cybercrimes investigator, told Ketcham, “Trojan horse espionage is part of the way of life of companies in Israel. It’s a culture of spying.”

However, Binney dismissed the possibility of backdoor Trojan spying. “With any foreign equipment we bought we would make sure that there wasn’t anything planted in it like backdoors,” he told me. “I don’t think backdoors are a problem since they don’t have the bandwidth capacity and if it started happening it would have immediately showed up in service providers records.”

But no matter how much control the NSA exerts over the spying technology it procures from private contractors, there is little guarantee it can control the thousands of people who work in their offices. To understand how acute the problem could be, look no further than Edward Snowden.

About Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Middle East, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics, War on Terror | Tagged

{ 27 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Thanks for the story Max, i follow you on Twitter also.

    This is the thorny War of the Roses.

    My favorite Narus/Comverse technologies story was the one on Fox news right after 9/11 by Carl Cameron it is just sweeeeet.

    The second part of the report by Carl Cameron explains the call monitoring by Amdocs ltd at the 5:30 minute mark on the video.

    “That CIA considers Israel to be the number-one spy threat in the Middle East is a revelation only to neophytes. Counterintelligence officers for decades have been aware of the extent of Israeli espionage against the U.S., at home and abroad, though politicos are customarily wise enough to never mention it. Indeed, CI experts for years have spoken of the Big Four threats to the USG: Russia, China, Cuba, and Israel.”

    link to 20committee.com

    • radii says:

      whew – the very first comment … never forget indeed

      … israel has been spying on ALL U.S. electronic communication since the 90s

      our most dangerous frenemy now has tricked us into paying them to do the Big Brother stuff openly

      beyond disgusting

  2. gingershot says:

    Let’s all watch the Israeli Lobby-shills Diane Feinstein, John McCain, Lindsey Grahman and Rep Peter King, David Brooks, Richard Cohen, Tom Friedman all try to move heaven and earth to shield Israel from being outed in these NSA revelations.

    It’s all Israel all the time – we have become a surveillance-police state/warfare state FOR Israel

    1- Provocation of 911 with decades of ‘Pro-Israeli’ policy
    2- Immediate ‘Shock Doctrine-style’ Post-911 dovetail of American Foreign Policy into the Neocon/Israeli Clean Break Plan
    3- Creation of the Police State for Israel (Patriot Act, TSA, NSA-metastasis (using Israeli companies), Dept of Homeland Sec, etc )
    4- Hoax of US into Iraq by the Neocons (Michael Ledeen/Mossad, Doug Feith, Wolfowitz) for the Neocons/Israel
    5- Complete co-opt of Congress with 99-0 votes for Israel and FOR EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING ISRAEL WANTS – like ‘Homeland Securtiy’, the NSA-expansions, etc
    6- Attempts to criminalize criticism and BDS of Israel with lawfare
    7- Hoax of US into Lybia, Syria. Media hiding of Israeli/Neocon pressures
    8- Ongoing Neocon/Israeli attempts to either hoax or mousetrap the US into a war with Iran
    9- Defense of NSA by the Neocons/Israeli Lobby after Snowden’s revelations

    We are completely sewn up by Israel and her Neocons – this will not end until Apartheid Israel is dismantled and the Israeli Lobby running the US are overthrown

    The solution is not MORE security – the solution is to stop acting in thrall to Israel which only guarantees MORE 911-style blowback and MORE ‘security state’ farce to try to control the expected blowback from such insanity

    The solution is not participating in further Neocon ‘Clean Break Plans’ against Syria or Iran – the solution is dismantling Israeli Apartheid and overthrowing US Neocons and AIPAC
    ==

    Here are my Links to the Israeli connection so far – many from Haaretz:

    ‘Shady Companies With Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA’

    link to wired.com

    ‘DID YOU KNOW?: Two Secretive Israeli Companies Reportedly Bugged The US Telecommunications Grid For The NSA’

    link to businessinsider.com

    Haaretz article:

    ‘What was the Israeli involvement in collecting U.S. communications intel for NSA?’

    link to haaretz.com

    Democracy Now! – James Bamford on the NSA

    ‘Exposed: Inside the NSA’s Largest and Most Expansive Secret Domestic Spy Center in Bluffdale, Utah’
    link to democracynow.org

    This is the Goldmine article below

    ‘In U.S. snooping affair, Israeli firms at risk’
    from Haaretz early on
    link to 74.6.116.71;.intl=us&sig=rxkQ_x2RiIEhpPwh7yO5VQ–

    This is the Israeli/Neocon Agenda: Constant Warfare

  3. gingershot says:

    NOTE: Cass Sunstein (raised by Jewish parents though I don’t know his political leanings towards Neocon-ism or Israel, or if he is himself religious or Zionist) is married to teary-eyed Samantha Power, our new UN Ambassador

    Max writes:
    “Cass Sunstein, an informal advisor to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who now heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and who has urged federal law enforcement to “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups, was an outspoken supporter of the retroactive immunity bill. With Sunstein by his side, Obama reversed his initial objections to the NSA’s domestic spying operations, voting as a Senator for retroactive immunity”

    • shachalnur says:

      Try Sunstein’s books “Ecoscience”or “Nudge” and you’ll understand where he comes from.

      • gingershot says:

        Fair’s fair – I’ll take a look at some of the abstracts of his work.

        The part of Max’s references to him that caught my eye was this;

        ‘With Sunstein by his side, Obama reversed his initial objections to the NSA’s domestic spying operations, voting as a Senator for retroactive immunity”’

      • MRW says:

        I consider him an American traitor.

  4. Hostage says:

    Binney emphasized that the devices do not only retrieve so-called metadata, which only offers general records of data, . . .

    Well even in that area an Israeli company, Amdocs, has been processing billing data (i.e. metadata) for almost every phone company in the US for many years now.

    US telecoms have simply out-sourced that task to Israeli firms.

  5. RE: “Meet the Israeli-linked firm that sold Big Brother machines to Mubarak, Qaddafi – and Washington”

    MY COMMENT: The migration of these types of “Big Brother” eavesdropping\spying technologies from Israel to the U.S. is yet another reason I fear that Revisionist Zionism and Likudnik Israel (specifically by virtue of their inordinate sway over the U.S.) might very well be an “existential threat” to the values of The Enlightenment [like the "right of free speech" and the "freedom of association"] ! ! !
    “Down, down, down we [the U.S.] go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.”

    OTHER EXAMPLES OF ISRAEL’S VALUES TRUMPING (OVERRIDING) THE VALUES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT HERE IN THE U.S.
    “How We Became Israel”, By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, 9/10/12
    LINK – link to theamericanconservative.com
    “America Adopts the Israel Paradigm”, by Philip Ghiraldi, Antiwar.com, 7/05/12
    LINK – link to original.antiwar.com
    “Report: Israeli model underlies militarization of U.S. police”, By Muriel Kane, Raw Story, 12/04/11
    LINK – link to rawstory.com
    From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification of American Domestic Security, By Max Blumenthal, Al-akhbar, 12/02/11
    LINK – link to english.al-akhbar.com OR link to informationclearinghouse.info
    • NRA PUSHES PLAN IMPORTED FROM ISRAEL TO PUT POLICE IN ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS – NRA President’s Report: David Keene on the Push to Protect Our Children [VIDEO, 12:10] – link to youtube.com
    “Two Secretive Israeli Companies Reportedly Bugged The US Telecommunications Grid For The NSA”, By Michael Kelley, Business Insider, 6/07/13
    LINK – link to businessinsider.com
    “IDF Unit 8200 Cyberwar Veterans Developed NSA Snooping Technology”, By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 6/07/13
    LINK – link to richardsilverstein.com
    “Meet the Israeli-linked firm that sold Big Brother machines to Mubarak, Qaddafi – and Washington”, by Max Blumenthal, Mondoweiss, 6/15/13
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “What was the Israeli Involvement in Collecting U.S. Communications Intel for NSA? ~ By Haaretz, The Associated Press and Reuters, informationclearinghouse.info, 6/08/13
    LINK – link to informationclearinghouse.info
    “The Second Battle of Gaza: Israel’s Undermining Of International Law”, by Jeff Halper, mrzine.monthlyreview.org, 02/26/10
    LINK – link to mrzine.monthlyreview.org
    “The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics”, by David Theo Goldberg & Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009
    LINK – link to tikkun.org
    “Brooklyn College’s academic freedom increasingly threatened over Israel event”, by Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 2/02/13
    LINK – link to guardian.co.uk
    “Peter ‘Powder Keg’ Beinart is disinvited from gig at Atlanta Jewish book festival”, by Annie Robbins, Mondoweiss, 11/05/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    ‘Israelis are helping write US laws, fund US campaigns, craft US war policy’, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 6/30/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “David Yerushalmi, Islam-Hating White Supremacist Inspires Anti-Sharia Bills Sweeping Tea Party Nation”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 3/02/11
    LINK – link to richardsilverstein.com
    “Boston airport security program rife with racial profiling has Israeli links”, by Alex Kane, Mondoweiss, 8/14/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza”, By Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 11/15/12
    LINK – link to guardian.co.uk

  6. calm says:

    I sort of follow this topic rather closely

    How Israel Helps Eavesdrop On U.S. Citizens
    Articles and Commentaries by various writers and media pundits.
    March 09, 2006 — June 08, 2013
    http://www.dotandcalm.com/calm-archive/US-Terrorism-HowIsraelHelpsEavesdropOnUSCitizens-March09-2006–June08-2013.html

    Calm

    • gingershot says:

      from your link:
      ‘“The fact of the vulnerability of our telecom backbone (re: Israel) is indisputable,” says a high level U.S. intelligence officer who has monitored the fears among federal agents. “How it came to pass, why nothing has been done, who has done what – these are the INCENDIARY QUESTIONS (re: Israel) ”

      1- I am watching the Israeli Lobby line up to make sure these ‘ incendiary questions’ of complete ‘full spectrum dominance’ Israeli penetration of the US population itself as far as knowing everything the NSA knows about individual Americans
      2 – let alone the ‘Israeli/Neocon/AIPAC full spectrum dominance’ of 99-0 Pro-Israel Senate Votes
      3- let alone the ‘Israeli/Neocon/AIPAC full spectrum dominance’ of the American Media that will even INFORM the American people that this is the current reality

      Just watch the Diane Feinsteins, Jeffrey Toobins, John McCains, Joe Liebermans, Chuck Schumers, Peter Kings, Lindsey Grahams, TOM FRIEDMANS, Roger Cohens and EVERY OTHER ISRAELI LOBBY/NEOCON shill ALL line up to say that there’s nothing to be worried about with the NSA or the Israeli/Neocons up to the NSA’s eyeballs right underneath the NSA, as soon as you scratch the surface

      Israelis and Neocons WANT Israel to have this penetration of America – these are THEIR PEOPLE and they will defend Israel, at American expense and disadvantage, before they give a hoot about America

      I am not an ‘nationalist for America’ or anything like that – I do object to the destruction of America and being used as Israel’s b***h, however

  7. pabelmont says:

    Urging Egypt (or any other gov’t) NOT to shut down communications services [during uprisings] is entirely different from urging them not to spy on those same communications.

    Presumably, USA was able to track the Egyptian revolution here at home, at least to the extent that the traffic came through USA.

    So, USA banking system “sees” and controls world-wide banking (so Iran, for instance, cannot do much banking during banking sanctions); and USA communications spying does a similar and very valuable service for world-wide communications.

    Gives a more comprehensive reading to the phrase “Big Brother”. Thank you, 1984!

  8. Obsidian says:

    Narus, an American company, was acquired in 2010 by the Boeing Corporation, making the slender ‘Israeli connection’ even less tenable.

    • Elliot says:

      Obsidian – read Max’s article again. The key revelations date back to 2006, 2001 and 1998. And he shows an American mindset that favors breaking the rules on Israel’s behalf.
      If you want to show that this long history of close collaboration and institutional bias suddenly ended three years ago, please provide the evidence.

    • MRW says:

      Narus, an American company, was acquired in 2010 by the Boeing Corporation, making the slender ‘Israeli connection’ even less tenable.

      There is NOTHING slender about it. Israel has robbed US call data records by keeping copies, and does to this day because it creates US billing (Amdocs), and used its NARUS machines to vacuum clean all US communication off the trunk cables.

      Israel is America’s enemy, dishonest and a thief.

  9. gingershot says:

    Here’s the question I would most like to ask Snowden (are you listening Greenwald?-haha):

    ‘Are you aware of Israeli penetration of the NSA and it’s programs and what are your thoughts about it’

    Hmmm – how come a nameless fear immediately surfaces that I think that Snowden might not live to answer that question or that that answer would never openly reach the public?

    If/or once Greenwald goes into THIS LAYER of the ‘scandal’ – that is when a whole new level of Armageddon starts, if in fact Snowden really knows/understands the Israeli angle

    I think Israel/the Neocons are at the ROOT of the whole Clean Break/War on Terror – and that their control of the NSA and American Security State is an important part (currently and going forward into the future) of how they exercise and continue a full spectrum dominance of the American ‘security’/military/political/foreign policy/media spheres

  10. Henry Norr says:

    One minor correction/update to Max’s story: Sunstein no longer heads Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – he resigned last August. He’s currently a professor at Harvard Law School.

    link to nytimes.com

  11. seafoid says:

    Greenwald in the Guardian says one of the main results of Obama’s election has been the Dem buy in to the security state set up by the GOP post 911.
    link to guardian.co.uk

    This is from 2011 but still very much on the money

    link to truthdig.com

    “Those who chase the glittering rainbows of the consumer society, who buy into the perverted ideology of consumer culture, become, as Dante knew, moral cowards. They are indoctrinated by our corporate systems of information and remain passive as our legislative, executive and judicial branches of government—tools of the corporate state—strip us of the capacity to resist. Democrat or Republican. Liberal or conservative. It makes no difference. Barack Obama serves corporate interests as assiduously as did George W. Bush. And to place our faith in any party or established institution as a mechanism for reform is to be entranced by the celluloid shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave.”

  12. Les says:

    In one of his books about spying, James Bamford warned that Israeli companies were major owners of US telecom pipelines that tapped into everything on the internet. He also wrote that an Israeli company owned the telephone system of the House of Representatives whose members assumed all their calls were being tapped into by Israel so they were careful in how they used those phones. I asked him why they did not do anything, Bambford said the Congressmen did not care. The real point is that Congress bows to the Israel Lobby out of fear rather than do the patriotic thing.

  13. Israeli companies apparently can monitor almost all telephone calls made in the US, as to number called, duration, etc.

  14. giladg says:

    I think that all BDS supporters should stop using phones in protest.

  15. Kathleen says:

    Great digging Max. This is the issue not even whispered about in the MSM what foreign countries and foreign private contractors have access to the majority of U.S. phone calls. Fox News Carl Cameron was the first reporter to bring the issue of data mining, foreign access, Israeli based communication companies etc. One of the key issues Cameron brought up in his four part report is how these private Israeli based communication companies systems had been infiltrated by another foreign government besides Israel