The US and UK have reportedly been spying on Israel for the past 18 years, watching for a potential strike on Iran and keeping tabs on Israel’s drone technology.
US and British intelligence “secretly tapped into live video feeds from Israeli drones and fighter jets, monitoring military operations in Gaza, watching for a potential strike against Iran, and keeping tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world,” The Intercept revealed in a breaking news feature on Friday.
Under a classified program code-named “Anarchist,” Israeli drones were systematically targeted by the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) together with the US National Security Agency (NSA) from a mountaintop in Cyprus.
“GCHQ files provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden include a series of ‘Anarchist snapshots’ — thumbnail images from videos recorded by drone cameras. The files also show location data mapping the flight paths of the aircraft. In essence, US and British agencies stole a bird’s-eye view from the drones,” the article says.
This activity has been ongoing since 1998. GCHQ documents state that analysts first collected encrypted video signals at Troodos in 1998, and also describe efforts against drones used by Syria and by Hezbollah in Lebanon,” according to the report.
The snapshots include, for example, a subset collected in 2009 and 2010, apparently showing drones carrying missiles, although they aren’t clear enough to be conclusive, The Intercept explains. They do, however, “offer rare visual evidence to support reports that Israel flies attack drones.”
“There’s a good chance that we are looking at the first images of an armed Israeli drone in the public domain,” said Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, a history of drone warfare. “They’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress information on weaponized drones.”
“This access is indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations and thus an insight to possible future developments in the region,” a GCHQ report from 2008 enthused. “In times of crisis this access is critical and one of the only avenues to provide up to the minute information and support to U.S. and Allied operations in the area.”
According to The Intercept, this activity “highlights the conflicted relationship” between the US and Israel. “Although they are close counter-terrorism partners and have a memorandum of understanding, dating back to 2009, that allows Israel access to raw communications data collected by the NSA. Yet they are nonetheless constantly engaged in a game of spy versus spy.”
GCHQ and the Israeli Defense Forces declined to comment, The Intercept said, adding that the NSA acknowledged receipt of an inquiry but did not respond to questions by the time of publication.
In March 2015, American Intelligence claimed that Israel spied on the US in order to obtain details on the Iran nuclear negotiations. Israel denied the allegations, which included the claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed sensitive information during his address to Congress.
The Obama administration began limiting information-sharing with Israel after the latter objected publicly to the concessions made by the P5+1.
“It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy,” a senior American official told the Wall Street Journal. According to the report, US intelligence agencies concluded that Israel was spying on them after their own spies noticed information in Israeli intelligence communications that could have been discovered only through espionage.
Nonetheless, Israel claims that its information did not come from direct espionage on the US, but from monitoring communications with other parties, including Iran. An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said, “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”
Despite promises to keep Israel fully apprised of progress in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the US admitted to concealing information.