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Did Snowden blow the whistle because of the US special relationship with Israel?

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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.

About James North and Philip Weiss

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41 Responses

  1. just
    September 19, 2014, 10:56 am

    Thanks for this.

    It comes as no surprise to me at all “that Snowden chose to take his “momentous step” in some measure because of the US-Israel special relationship.”

    I do believe that it would make any good person recoil if they knew the full truth. (heck, even a smidgeon of it!!) This ‘special relationship’ puts our citizens and our nation at risk.

    Snowden is a patriot. Bamford continues to do our country a great service with his superb journalism.

    • Krauss
      September 19, 2014, 12:48 pm

      I agree, this is an amazing disclosure.

      But equally important to consider: would the Times’ have even run his Op-Ed 10 years ago?

      • CloakAndDagger
        September 20, 2014, 2:22 pm

        I find it hard to believe. The Snowden releases were remarkable in their absence of any mention of Israel as were the wiki leaks before them. Limited hangout comes to mind.

  2. Annie Robbins
    September 19, 2014, 11:01 am

    and they would never consider collaborating in this same fashion (blackmail) against political adversaries (ei: who didn’t demonstrate loyalty to israel or for any other reason) thank goodness!

    also, greenwald wrote about this same topic last year.

  3. charlesfrith
    September 19, 2014, 11:21 am

    Why is it impossible to tweet or Facebook share Mondoweiss with an accurate headline?

  4. surewin
    September 19, 2014, 12:05 pm

    This is what needs to be added to the refrain about the influence of AIPAC and the lobby in general. It is not just about campaign funding. And adding media influence to campaign money also does not explain the phenomenon. It goes beyond those things, to information and blackmail. NSA is one source of the information in question, but not the only one, not by a long shot.

  5. American
    September 19, 2014, 12:35 pm

    I dont know if Snowden was motivated because it ‘was Israel in particular’—– but I do think Bamford has long been motivated by the Israeli threat to the US….to his credit.
    I am motivated against Israel by its threat to the US in addition to its
    war and crimes against Palestine.
    If you understand even partly what Isr has done in the US AND Palestine you have to oppose it.
    imo Israel is Enemy No 1 to the US, not ISIS or Russia or anyone offshore……its destroying us from within.

    • Clif Brown
      September 20, 2014, 12:05 am

      amen to your last sentence…but I think the basic problem is our completely corrupt system of campaign financing that has created a democracy of lobbies. Israel is only taking advantage of the system that we have, one that all lobbies would unite to preserve.

      • American
        September 20, 2014, 10:02 pm

        @ Cliff

        Well yes, political corruption is ultimately responsible –that let the enemies thru the gates.
        The guards at the gates were bribed.

    • CloakAndDagger
      September 20, 2014, 2:30 pm

      @ American

      100% in agreement. I suspect that ISIS is a CIA/Mossad creation. Note how Israel is not attacked by them as neither by Al-Qaida. This is a perpetuation of a constant state of fear to distract us.

  6. Citizen
    September 19, 2014, 12:59 pm

    I guess the lesson for mondoweissers is don’t visit any porn sites and watch what you say in your private emails and phone conversations. It’s amazing that this America of what, 320 million people, has produced only one Snowden and one Rachel Corrie. But there’s no end to AIPAC ‘s civilian grunts and officers, so to speak.

    • Danaa
      September 19, 2014, 4:38 pm

      I second your warning, Citizen. This information sharing is hardly confined to Arab Americans.

      In fact, we might as well assume that every single commenter and visitor to the Mondoweiss site, along with the blog editors are followed electronically everywhere else they go. Furthermore, portfolios are no doubt constructed that cross correlate said visitors with other metrics, such as other sites visited, activism, effectiveness, work background, travel patterns and who knows what personal information. This compiled information is no doubt shared – if not originated with – Israel.

      I believe that almost every single individual in the US who is in any way active politically has a dossier. This is kept as insurance to make sure that “when the time comes” there will be a complete “information awareness” about any and all that could present threats to the status quo.

      Inside israel, that such information is compiled is not even a secret – it’s more like posted out there for all to see. We will never know what blackmail has already been brought against israeli activists to either silence them, get them to collaborate or just blunt their effectiveness.

      In the meantime, yes, it’s a good idea to limit one’s extracurricular (ie, other than MW plus other political, news or work related sites) online visits to the Amazon philosophy bookstore shelves and sudoku workshops.

      • Danaa
        September 19, 2014, 4:42 pm

        OK, I guess visits to Macy’s and Nordstrom are OK too, but stick to fashion browsing! no excessive shopping for exotic perfumes now – those could be tell tale signs of “radicalization”!

      • Abierno
        September 19, 2014, 7:48 pm

        @Citizen and Danaa. We know from other sources that NSA is scooping up phone/email/communications of our senators, congress people and potential political candidates. We also know, from California operations against AIPAC several years ago, that AIPAC maintains files on most politicians for purposes of assisting them in “seeing the light”
        toward slavish support for all Israeli requests large and small. We also know from media commentators that our politicians deeply fear AIPAC – but when you connect all these dots,
        it would seem that its not only financial fear, but also just as with the Palestinians, they keep track of who is sexually transgressing from stated norms, who has family problems, whose kids are in trouble, who has financial problems, who has strayed into gray areas of the law or behavior that can be exploited. Could Snowden be aware of this? If you read between the lines is this something that might cross Bamford’s mind, but would, of course, not be publishable anywhere in the US. Does this not strike at the heart of any possibility of democracy in this country?

      • American
        September 20, 2014, 2:15 pm

        ‘….has a dossier”

        We’re keeping a dossier on them too. LOL.

      • American
        September 20, 2014, 2:41 pm

        September 19, 2014, 4:38 pm

        “I second your warning, Citizen. “”

        No,no,no…….now is not the time for us to capitulate to authority and threats!
        The natives are restless, we need them to have even more reason to be angry.

        Exclusive: Angry with Washington, 1 in 4 Americans open to secession

      • American
        September 20, 2014, 3:15 pm

        We need more citizen uproar and protest, more challenges to Israeli-ness in the US.
        One area to bring more attention to damaging to democracy Israeli infiltration would be our police and law enforcement which we all know is out of control in their violence against citizens.

        The black community who is most often on the receiving end of this unnecessary violence needs to know where it comes from.
        I want to see signs at protest the next time a cop shoots a unarmed black man in the chest six times saying –> US Cops, Trained by Israelis to Kill American Citizens.


        ” The militarization of American police forces hasn’t been paid for by just the federal government. Pro-Israel groups in the U.S. have also played a role by financing trips for hundreds of law enforcement officers to travel to the Middle East for counterterrorism training, according to Ali Winston, a contributor to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

        Monies provided by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have made it possible for “at least 300 high-ranking sheriffs and police from agencies large and small – from New York and Maine to Orange County and Oakland, California” to attend privately funded seminars in Israel since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Winston discovered.

        There, they have learned how Israeli security forces deal with demonstrators and armed threats by terrorists. The seminars include field trips to such sites as military installations, surveillance outposts, and checkpoints at the West Bank and the Israeli-Egyptian border. The training includes spending time observing operations conducted by Israel’s Border Patrol, Defense Forces, national police and intelligence services.

        U.S. police officials who have undergone such training have come from the Los Angeles and New York police departments, the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association. The fact that the former chief of Missouri’s St. Louis County Police Department trained in Israel in 2011 recently came to light following the well-armed police response to protestors in St. Louis-based Ferguson.

        Israeli training of U.S. police has also influenced the type of equipment being used. Security forces from both countries are now using some identical gear, including stun and tear gas grenades manufactured by the same U.S. companies—Combined Systems Inc. and Defense Technology Corp. A long-range “sound rifle” that emits ear-shattering noise to disperse crowds, which was used against 2005 West Bank protestors, was also used in the recent police action against protestors in Ferguson.”

      • ckg
        September 20, 2014, 10:11 pm

        We also know that Israel intends to use it security apparatus, including Mossad, to fight BDS.

    • Robert
      September 20, 2014, 9:58 pm

      Uh oh. Too late.

  7. Kay24
    September 19, 2014, 1:17 pm

    We need a few more honest Americans like this, who will have the courage to spill the beans about the sickening relationship between Israel and the US. Subtle hints do not work anymore.

    This report about gay Palestinians being blackmailed is really ugly, but then Israel is known to stoop to ugly and devious means to achieve their objectives, pity the US is always complicit.

  8. ckg
    September 19, 2014, 1:18 pm

    One 8200 veteran told how they learned and memorized all the Arabic words for ‘gay’ as part of their efforts to identify potential blackmail victims. No wonder a supporter of Israel would lament the lack of Grindr in Hebron. It would make work easy for 8200.

    • Citizen
      September 19, 2014, 5:31 pm

      I didn’t know what Grindr was. For other ignorant folks like me, it’s an iPhone app for gay casual sex and may be specific for any local the gay fellow is in–apparently now the inventor has also made a similar app for straights, thinking they might like easy access to casual sex with other volunteer adults (?) too.

      • Citizen
        September 19, 2014, 5:46 pm

        Grindr, now Blendr & lots of other match up apps…can’t even imagine what’s next:

      • ckg
        September 19, 2014, 8:40 pm

        @Citizen–I probably should have been more explicit but I was posting from my cell phone. The obscure reference is to this delightful MW post by Max Blumenthal: Grindr in Hebron: A dispatch from the last debate. At a debate Max participated in, a pro-Israel student activist in the audience complained that when he logged onto Grindr in Hebron he could not find any available men. The student found this outrageous.

        The point I am making is that if Palestinian men were to participate in Grindr they would be making themselves easy targets for 8200.

  9. bilal a
    September 19, 2014, 1:35 pm

    I dont know why, but it seems the reporters are dodging the actual story of where this information is being used, even JTA gets it, but they left out the Council on Foreign Relations Greenberg criminal syndicate.

    Mark Brener, the alleged pimp at the center of the prostitution scandal engulfing Spitzer, is an Israeli.

    Spitzer, once seen as a strong candidate to be the first Jewish president, built his career as an anti-crime, anti-corruption crusader. Most of his cases were high-profile Wall Street targets, but during his eight-year stint as state attorney general, Spitzer’s office also investigated at least two Jewish organizations, the National Council of Young Israel and the World Jewish Congress.

    In both cases, Spitzer’s office found what it deemed examples of misused funds and reached an agreement limiting the future involvement of a longtime leader of the organization in question.

    Read more:

    Eliot Spitzer Sued By Hank Greenberg, Former AIG CEO, For Defamation

    Launch of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies with Vice President Dick Cheney

    • American
      September 20, 2014, 2:23 pm

      I remember a bit about that but never saw these articles…thanks.

  10. just charles keating
    September 19, 2014, 5:18 pm

    what an intriguing story! Thank you for bringing to our attention. I look forward to updates.

  11. Citizen
    September 19, 2014, 5:47 pm

    Wonder if Snowden ever had many women interested in him for–for just being him?

    • Annie Robbins
      September 19, 2014, 10:26 pm

      probably. he’s handsome and sexy and seems like somewhat of a reclusive personality. women like all those things. plus, he’s really smart, moral, what’s not to like?

  12. DICKERSON3870
    September 19, 2014, 8:14 pm

    RE: “Weiss has always pointed to the pile of human wreckage in the U.S. created by the special relationship.” ~ James North and Philip Weiss

    MY COMMENT: On occasion, I have also had a thing or two to say about the wreckage in the U.S. created by the special relationship. For instance, when it comes to speech regarding Israel, AIPAC, ADL, CAMERA, ZOA, The Israel Project, Stand With Us, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, etc. are unabashedly opposed to the constitutionally protected “right of free speech” here in the U.S. This 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”]! ! !
    “Down, down, down we [the U.S.] go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.”

    SEE: “The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics”, by David Theo Goldberg & Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    [EXCERPT] . . . It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”
    There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .


  13. Keith
    September 20, 2014, 7:15 pm

    I have mixed emotions about this article. While I appreciate highlighting governmental surveillance and all that it implies, I am disturbed by the extent to which the article implies that this problem is caused primarily by the US “special relationship” with Israel. The US information shares with most of the Western governments, frequently obtaining information on US citizens from foreign sources when domestic laws prohibit domestic gathering. The problem is a mostly inevitable consequence of neoliberal globalization utilizing new technologies for more effective social control of the 99% by the 1%. Over the last 50 years, technological advances have vastly increased the power of our global empire to control a fragmented global society. Now our relationship with Israel may be more accommodating than with other countries, however, if Israel was to suddenly disappear, the situation would remain little changed.

    This, of course, brings up past Mondo infatuation with the internet as the great liberator of the common man from the clutches of the mass media. As I said at the time, while the internet has certainly been a boon to me personally, it is a powerful tool for social control. It should be noted that most of the NSA ‘surveillance’ is in fact simply gathering up information freely provided by those surveilled. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc, is the source for much of the personal information gathered. And don’t think for a minute that folks like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Eric Schmidt are your friends. They are not. Image notwithstanding, they are part of the upper 1% of the 1%, and their interests lie with empire. I conclude with a linked quote from Julian Assange.

    “In the last 15 years Google has been growing inside the internet like a parasite. Web browsing, social networks, maps, satellites, drones. Google is inside your phone, on your desktop, it is invading every aspect of people’s lives: the personal relationships and the commercial relationships. At this point Google has real power over all people who use the Internet: basically everyone in modern life. At the same time as Google was getting big, it was also getting bad. I show in the book how Google is now aligned with US foreign policy. This means that Google can intervene on behalf of US interests, for example, it can end up compromising the privacy of billions of people, it can use its advertising power for propaganda.”

    • CloakAndDagger
      September 21, 2014, 3:25 am

      @ Keith

      Your comments about the growing power of Google are indisputable. However, I disagree with your statement that if Israel were to disappear, nothing would change wit the elite control of society. Bear in mind, that through Amdocs and others, the vast majority of phone call interception and other collection of data from us, is done by Israel, some of which may or may not be provided back to our government. This is what gives them the ability to blackmail our politicians. If Israel disappears, that stops – at least until a replacement emerges.

  14. Brewer
    September 22, 2014, 3:32 pm

    I wonder how many of you are aware of what has been going on down in li’l ole Noo Zeeland:

    “The biggest roar of the night greeted the arrival on the big screen of Snowden, white earphones dangling from his ears. His contribution, the most compelling of the night, began with a new piece of information: the NSA had a facility somewhere in Auckland, and another further north.

    As to Key’s denials, Snowden detected a “careful parsing of words”. His own experience as an NSA analyst, he said, left him with no doubt that New Zealanders’ communications were swept up by the XKeyScore mass surveillance programme.”

  15. Pixel
    October 4, 2014, 4:30 pm

    Did Snowden blow the whistle because of the US special relationship with Israel?

    We can only hope.

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