Here’s a shocking story we’ve missed that deserves to be up in lights. Intelligence reporter James Bamford had a piece on the New York Times op-ed page two days back relaying conversations with Edward Snowden in Russia in which the 31-year-old whistle-blower suggests that the U.S. special relationship with Israel was a central motivator for him in leaving the country so as to blow the cover on US surveillance of its citizens. There is even the suggestion here that Snowden was aware that secrets the U.S. shared with Israel were being used to sexually blackmail gay Palestinians to collaborate; you may recall that the sexual blackmail story broke last week in the Israeli and English press (and the Times described the sexual information as “tidbits,” diminishing its significance).
First, from Bamford’s opening:
I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200…
So Bamford is implying that Snowden chose to take his “momentous step” in some measure because of the US-Israel special relationship. How many others in our country have been radicalized by this combination?
Now let’s get to the substance of some of that transfer of secrets.
Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”…
Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.
The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.
It should trouble the American public that some or much of the information in question — intended not for national security purposes but simply to pursue political agendas — may have come directly from the N.S.A.’s domestic dragnet. According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden and reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the N.S.A. has been sending intelligence to Israel since at least March 2009.
The memorandum of agreement between the N.S.A. and its Israeli counterpart… indicates that the N.S.A. does not filter out American communications before delivery to Israel; indeed, the agency “routinely sends” unminimized data.
And the Israeli arts of coercion may be coming here, Bamford says
It should also trouble Americans that the N.S.A. could head down a similar path in this country. Indeed, there is some indication, from a top-secret 2012 document from Mr. Snowden’s leaked files that I saw last year, that it already is. The document, from Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then the director of the N.S.A., notes that the agency had been compiling records of visits to pornographic websites and proposes using that information to damage the reputations of people whom the agency considers “radicalizers” — not necessarily terrorists, but those attempting, through the use of incendiary speech, to radicalize others. (The Huffington Post has published a redacted version of the document.)
Weiss has always pointed to the pile of human wreckage in the U.S. created by the special relationship. That includes many careers, and also a number of lives. The failure of our politics to address these costs only serves to radicalize others. Roland Nikles has a biting commentary on the Unit 8200 leaks here.