september 12, 2013 by Joseph Fitsanakis
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence without first deleting information pertaining to American citizens, according to a leaked document. British newspaper The Guardian published on Wednesday an informal memorandum of understanding between the NSA and the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU). The five-page document was supplied to the newspaper by Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA who defected to Russia this past summer. It outlines an agreement reached in 2009 between the NSA and the ISNU, under which the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The memorandum describes this type intelligence sharing as a “routine” aspect of a broader “SIGINT relationship between the two organizations”.
SIGINT refers to signals intelligence, a term used in the intelligence community to describe the interception of communications data or content. Additionally, the document specifically mentions that the data shared with the Israelis is “raw” or “unminimized”, meaning it has not been subjected to the process of extracting and deleting information that identifies US citizens or residents —known as “US persons”. By law, the NSA is not permitted to spy on US persons and is required to ‘minimize’ intercepted data so that the communications of US persons remain private, unless they are absolutely indispensible in understanding a piece of foreign intelligence.
The memorandum describes a number of restrictions on the use of this information by Israeli intelligence, stating that the ISNU is forbidden from using it in order to target US persons. It also states that the ISNU must shield the identities of US persons when sharing the information with other Israeli government agencies. The SIGINT sharing arrangement is described in the document as “beneficial to both the NSA’s and ISNU’s mission and […] requirements”.
It implies, however, that the agreement has been a source of tension between the two allies, due to the Israeli personnel’s lack of adequate precautions in protecting information belonging to US persons. Another NSA document given to The Guardian describes the sharing agreement as “a challenge” for the American side because it is allegedly “tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns”. The British paper spoke to an NSA spokesperson who insisted that the Agency’s shared intelligence agreement with Israel “complies with all rules governing privacy”.