Does NSA share raw domestic data with Israelis?

posted at 12:01 pm on September 11, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Just how much intel do we share with the Israelis?  According to the Guardian and based on more of the Edward Snowden cache, plenty — and not just from foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT).  A memorandum from the NSA’s files states that the Israelis can access the entire trawl of data produced by the NSA, before the “minimization” that eliminates domestic American communications data:

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process “minimization”, but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

The deal was reached in principle in March 2009, according to the undated memorandum, which lays out the ground rules for the intelligence sharing.

The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies “pertaining to the protection of US persons”, repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.

But this is undermined by the disclosure that Israel is allowed to receive “raw Sigint” – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: “Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadataand content.”

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, it says.

Most of the recent revelations have been either irrelevancies or malicious damage to American foreign intelligence collection, but this would put the story back in the arguably-whistleblowing column — if true.  And it is true that paragraph Ia agrees to share intel that “has not been reviewed for foreign intelligence purposes or minimized,” presumably to give Israelis the best possible raw data for their own analysts to use.  However, reading down to paragraph Ic, there seems to be a very large caveat, emphasis mine:

ISNU also recognizes that NSA has agreements with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom that require it to protect information associated with U.K. persons, Australian persons, Canadian persons and New Zealand persons using procedures and safeguards similar to those applied for U.S. persons. For this reason, in all uses of raw material provided by NSA, ISNU agrees to apply the procedures outlined in this agreement to persons of those countries.

That raises two questions. First, can we trust the Israelis to screen for all of these restrictions?  And second, why not do it ourselves first?  The memo doesn’t answer the second question, but it does note that the NSA has an audit process in paragraph IVa(2) to make sure ISNU complies with Ic:

[The NSA shall:] Regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of U.S. Persons identities.

The agreement also requires ISNU to not use any data that should be minimized, in paragraph IVb(2):

[ISNU shall:] Not use any information provided by NSA, as raw material or otherwise, to intentionally intercept the communications to, from, or about a U.S. person.

Again, this still doesn’t answer the second question, which is why we don’t perform minimization first. It could be argued that the delay might make the SIGINT a lot less useful, but that would also be true for the US as well.  Does ISNU and/or the NSA use the pre-minimized data and then minimize it after its use, or do both minimize first?

The agreement also contains this codicil in IVb(7):

Destroy upon recognition any communication contained in raw SIGINT provided by NSA that is either to or from an official of the U.S. Government.

I’m sure they find that helpful.

This certainly raises some curious questions about the security and privacy of American domestic communications, questions that the NSA should answer. However, the memorandum itself shows that the Guardian’s assertion that “the agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis” is actually untrue, and that the agreement bars them from using the data in significant ways, and not just for US persons, either. Whether or not the NSA enforces it and ISNU abides by it are additional questions that need answers, though.

Update: A few points of feedback from Twitter. Glenn Greenwald says I’m wrong in the conclusion, in that the document itself claims it’s not binding on the participants:

I think we’re a bit into the semantic weeds here, but I’ll stipulate that the Guardian is literally correct. However, agreements of any kind between two intel services are hardly going to be binding under international law anyway, since much of what they do arguably violates international law (or falls within its gray areas, at best). Clearly, though, the NSA document not only envisioned putting limits on what the Israelis could do with the data, it included audits to make sure they complied, which is a little different than what the tone of the article suggested. Still, I should have written my point that way rather than write that it was categorically false.

Next, Joshua Foust pokes a few holes in the story, the biggest of which is that the Guardian used a draft document that the NSA didn’t sign:

For starters, the MOU is dated, in some way, in March of 2009 (there is no date on the document and the Guardian does not say when it was drafted). It is only signed by an Israeli official, and not by any U.S. official, so we do not know if this is the final MOU that frames the intel sharing agreement. But there’s more: this past June, the Guardian reported that in July of 2009 the minimization procedures governing US person information were dramatically tightened. From the Guardian:

The Guardian is publishing in full two documents submitted to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the Fisa court), signed by Attorney General Eric Holder and stamped 29 July 2009. They detail the procedures the NSA is required to follow to target “non-US persons” under its foreign intelligence powers and what the agency does to minimize data collected on US citizens and residents in the course of that surveillance…

The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

So four months after this MOU was first saved to someone’s sharedrive (which is how Edward Snowden downloaded his documents), the rules that govern how American information collected by the NSA can be use were changed, apparently dramatically. So we don’t know if or how those new rules may have changed the terms of this MOU for sharing intelligence with Israel.

To recap so far: we don’t know if this is the final version of the MOU, because it does not bear the signature or approval of any U.S. official; and we do not know if its terms changed after rules altered the nature of collection on U.S. persons. Most importantly, there is no statement suggesting the frequency of sharing even though the Guardian printed that US personal information is “routinely shared” anyway. But, alas, there’s more.

The “more” also includes the points I made in the original post and re-addressed in the above update, plus other issues with the interpretation of the MOU.  Be sure to read it all.


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Americans are the only ones kept in the dark…

PatriotRider on September 11, 2013 at 12:06 PM

All y’all are suspects in an ongoing criminal investigation.

Had enough yet?

beatcanvas on September 11, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Jonathan Pollard could not be reached for comment presumably.

MTF on September 11, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Holy crap.

WitchDoctor on September 11, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Jenna Lee just made Joe Manchin shard himself.

batterup on September 11, 2013 at 12:10 PM

There once was, not all that long ago, a general prohibition against sharing ANY intelligence information on US citizens to ANY foreign intelligence or security service without have express approval from the DCI and DoJ…and DIRNSA…if it involved a SIGINT product. derogatory information had a whole set of locked gates and deep chasms to leap before one could get an approval.

UK? They are a senior SIGINT partner…even with the occasional mole at Chealtonham.

Germany? Used to be a major partner.

Israel?

NSA sharing data?

Once I would have said, unlikely.

Today?

Have to say, probably…that prohibition described above slipped the skids a few years ago.

My question is is NAS sharing info on swarthy Arabic or Pasto speaking hot heads engaged in activities not consistent with their visas in the United States…like those two misunbderstood boys in Boston were…

Or is this information being shared with Israel entail lists of Christians to be sure to give “Cast Iron” coverage to when they go to Israel to be Baptized in the Jordan, or walk the Via DellaRosa?

Got to keep tabs on those Christians. The Pentagon says so. NSA is part of the Pentagon.

coldwarrior on September 11, 2013 at 12:14 PM

National. Security.

I believe they better rename this agency.

Maybe National Extortion Agency.

Who here doesn’t think that OFA has access to or copies of this raw data?

They have phone logs, Google searches, chats, emails, and fingerprints of the GOP, donors, Tea Party members, lobbyists, etc.

faraway on September 11, 2013 at 12:16 PM

It’s the NSA sharing the intel with our domestic law enforcement that really worries me.

rbj on September 11, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Treasonous if true. Is there anything that AIPAC money can’t buy?!?!

abobo on September 11, 2013 at 12:18 PM

I expect the DNC can get anything they want from the NSA as well. If you can imagine it, they are doing it.

slickwillie2001 on September 11, 2013 at 12:23 PM

First, can we trust the Israelis to screen for all of these restrictions?

I trust the Israelis far more than I trust Obama apparatchiks. We know for a fact that Obama uses leaks of confidential personal information and selective enforcement of the law as tools to punish his political enemies. Even if the Israelis do the same, their agenda is extremely narrow–defend Israel–whereas Obama’s political agenda extends to every nook and cranny of your life.

Fabozz on September 11, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Israeli company provided the hardware for the system.

Ben Hur on September 11, 2013 at 12:25 PM

The FISA court sure has been lax on all of this. Every single FISA judge should be immediately disbarred and have their names made public for good measure. I’m sick of the NSA/FISA crowd acting outside the law like some sort of star chamber.

Happy Nomad on September 11, 2013 at 12:29 PM

BTW, raw domestic data? Were we not told by Obama that the United States does not have a domestic spying program? Could it be that he lied?

Happy Nomad on September 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Just how much intel do we share with the Israelis?

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Well, know you know the answer to that question; you are, of course going to ask the next logical question, aren’t you?
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(reading post)
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Apparently not – stunning lack of curiousity, Ed.

How much intel do the Israelis share with us?

Current legal rulings place NO RESTRICTIONS on the scope or use of information obtained cooperatively or non-cooperatively by American intelligence agencies regardless of whether the information is directly about the activities of American citizens and would require a court ordered warrant to be obtained directly by American intelligence agencies.

Wasn’t there some government official quoted a few days ago saying something about the Israelis spying on America?

Hmmmmmmmmmmm, that sounds like an equitable distribution of information, doesn’t it?

Does snuggling up to your lack of curiousity make you sleep better at night, Ed?

PolAgnostic on September 11, 2013 at 12:40 PM

To me Snowden has always been a whistleblower. It took a lot of courage to do what he did.

Maybe the Hotair’s thinking heads were OK with the US government storing all your telephone metadata and all your electronic data/metadata “just in case” they need it. Or maybe you were fine OK with the NSA activities undermining encryption standards. I never was. It seems that this sharing of raw data is the last straw for you, but believe me, for those of us conservatives whose heads are not clouded by partisanship, we never gave a shit whether the thing was started by Bush. We saw the whole thing wrong since the first revelations were made public. We don’t trust the government whether it’s Bush’s government or Obama’s government.

p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM

As I recall, our tax returns can be shared with foreign govts, so…

Hell, we “share” $3billion a year with “Israel,” why not our phone records and emails? It’s not like Mossad has ever eliminated any enemies overseas or anything like that.

Akzed on September 11, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Who doesn’t the NSA share the data with is probably a better question. Pretty sure Obama and Holder can access anything they want whenever they want. What about all of Obama’s corporate allies? Probably. Nigerian scammers? Who knows.

besser tot als rot on September 11, 2013 at 12:51 PM


We don’t trust the government whether it’s Bush’s government or Obama’s government. p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Akzed on September 11, 2013 at 12:51 PM

I trust the Israelis far more than I trust Obama apparatchiks. We know for a fact that Obama uses leaks of confidential personal information and selective enforcement of the law as tools to punish his political enemies. Even if the Israelis do the same, their agenda is extremely narrow–defend Israel–whereas Obama’s political agenda extends to every nook and cranny of your life.

Fabozz on September 11, 2013 at 12:23 PM

slickwillie2001 on September 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM

To me Snowden has always been a whistleblower. It took a lot of courage to do what he did.

p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM

I agree – to the extent that it has to do with domestic spying. To the extent that it has to do with spying on foreign governments and peoples, I totally disagree.

besser tot als rot on September 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM

I agree – to the extent that it has to do with domestic spying. To the extent that it has to do with spying on foreign governments and peoples, I totally disagree.

besser tot als rot on September 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM

That the US spied foreign governments was a given. No foreign government was surprised by the revelations even though they did a “public showing of outrage” to mollify their populations. Why? Because those foreign governments do the same with other governments. It’s like saying, wow, it turns out that we have an army, who could have told?

Let’s be clear that Snowden was demonized in conservative quarters only because he uncovered domestic spying programs that were initiated by Bush, and that the Obama administration agreed to continue. These CINO species, of which there are many at Fox and here at Hotair, put always partisanship ahead of conservative values. They were delighted that Obama had made his a Bush initiative. Only it was a rotten initiative, regardless of who initiated it.

p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Let’s be clear that Snowden was demonized in conservative quarters only because he uncovered domestic spying programs that were initiated by Bush, and that the Obama administration agreed to continue. These CINO species, of which there are many at Fox and here at Hotair, put always partisanship ahead of conservative values.

Bingo. There is a huge number of so-called “conservatives” who would be absolutely fine with Bush or any other Republican president doing all the things they are now wringing their hands about Obama doing.

Armin Tamzarian on September 11, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Bingo. There is a huge number of so-called “conservatives” who would be absolutely fine with Bush or any other Republican president doing all the things they are now wringing their hands about Obama doing.

Armin Tamzarian on September 11, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Indeed, and then these CINO species were surprised that many us stayed home last November because we were not fine with the RINO’s choice for POTUS.

From what I see coming from the GOP, they are again positioning the GOP for another outstanding defeat in 2016.

p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Not commenting on whether this is a good thing or bad thing, but you don’t just hate it when for once Anti-Semite bigots finally have something stick with all the feces they throw?

Israel, of all countries.

Not Canada

Not Great Britain

Not Japan

Oy vey! :)

hadsil on September 11, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Treasonous if true. Is there anything that AIPAC money can’t buy?!?!

abobo on September 11, 2013 at 12:18 PM

Abozo blathers.

Shy Guy on September 11, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Israel, of all countries.

Not Canada

Not Great Britain

Not Japan

Oy vey! :)

hadsil on September 11, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Hi from Jerusalem. No, I have no piles of data on you – or on me, for that matter.

My guess is obviously Israel. I assume Israel has some of the best antennas in the region and when cross-referencing US data and Israeli data with regard to bad guys, there’s a lot for both sides to garner and benefit.

No, I am not approving of this total breech of privacy of US citizens. I’m one, too! Just explaining what Israel likely has that Canada and Japan do not.

Shy Guy on September 11, 2013 at 1:43 PM

We don’t trust the government whether it’s Bush’s government or Obama’s government.

p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM

oryguncon on September 11, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Israeli company provided the hardware for the system.

Ben Hur on September 11, 2013 at 12:25 PM

That’s what I was thinking. No other way for NSA to “share” anything with anyone. “We’ll help you build this on one condition…”

riddick on September 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Guys, Greenwald has a special hatred for Israel, so I would wait and see before making any assumptions on this article.

Lance Murdock on September 11, 2013 at 2:24 PM

They were delighted that Obama had made his a Bush initiative. Only it was a rotten initiative, regardless of who initiated it.

p_incorrect on September 11, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Agreed. It is similar to Romney saying that he’d issue an EO exempting everyone from Obamacare. As much as we hate it, Obamacare is a duly enacted law and was upheld (erroneously) by SCOTUS. A President Romney would have no power or authority to issue an EO exempting everyone, just as Obama doesn’t have he authority to exempt anyone.

That said, my understanding of this is that Obama expanded what Bush was doing. And the debate when Bush was in office had to do with spying on foreigners, generally. Which spying only touched potential domestic correspondence when a spied upon foreigner contacted someone domestically.

Finally, regarding Snowden revealing foreign targets – I don’t agree with you. Everyone knows that I have dirty laundry. But, they don’t know what it looks like. And I certainly don’t want it hanging out there for everyone to see. (And, in the case of intelligence, exposing intelligence inherently exposes intelligence techniques – which can be foreclosed as a result.)

besser tot als rot on September 11, 2013 at 2:26 PM