Looks like Angela Merkel has more company. Over the weekend, another release from the Edward Snowden cache of stolen NSA material showed that the US and UK actively spied on Israel, tapping communications at the highest levels, and did the same with foreign NGOs and commercial enterprises as well. The British and American efforts included taps on former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak:
Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, heads of international aid organizations, foreign energy companies and a European Union official involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses.
While the names of some political and diplomatic leaders have previously emerged as targets, the newly disclosed intelligence documents provide a much fuller portrait of the spies’ sweeping interests in more than 60 countries.
Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, working closely with the National Security Agency, monitored the communications of senior European Union officials, foreign leaders including African heads of state and sometimes their family members, directors of United Nations and other relief programs, and officials overseeing oil and finance ministries, according to the documents. In addition to Israel, some targets involved close allies like France and Germany, where tensions have already erupted over recent revelations about spying by the N.S.A. …
The reports show that spies monitored the email traffic of several Israeli officials, including one target identified as “Israeli prime minister,” followed by an email address. The prime minister at the time, in January 2009, was Ehud Olmert. The next month, spies intercepted the email traffic of the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, according to another report. Two Israeli embassies also appear on the target lists.
Neither Olmert nor Barak gave any public indication of being terribly impressed by the news. Barak declined to comment on the revelation, but the New York Times notes that he has publicly commented on his continuing assumption of being monitored at all times. Olmert called the e-mail account “an unimpressive target,” and said it wasn’t used for any sensitive communications.
That doesn’t mean that Israel is shrugging off the news entirely. They publicly dressed down the US yesterday:
“The tracking after prime ministers and defense ministers is not legitimate and not acceptable to us,” the spokesman of Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said, according to a CNN translation. “There is an intelligence alliance between (the United States and Israel) at an unprecedented level, and we are sharing the most sensitive (intelligence) material.”
That may not be the end of it, either. Israel has tried for many years to get the US to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, and officials in Jerusalem see this embarrassment as a new opening:
Revelations that U.S. and British spy agencies intercepted e-mails and tapped the phone lines of an Israeli prime minister and other top officials caused a stir here Sunday, with some legislators using the disclosures to draw attention to the case of a Jewish American who has been held in a U.S. prison for more than 26 years, convicted of spying on the United States for Israel. …
“This is a severe case, and I hope this is the iceberg rather than the tip of the iceberg,” said Yuli Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset, the Jerusalem Post reported. “Otherwise, this case is liable to do damage to our relations with the U.S.”
Ayelet Shaked, who chairs the Knesset caucus that lobbies for Pollard’s release, said, “It is completely unfathomable that the United States, a most trusted ally and friend of Israel, would hold to such a blatant double standard by continuing to keep Jonathan Pollard in prison while at the same time conducting systematic espionage against Israeli officials.”
The truth is friends spy on friends, it is only a big deal when it gets exposed publicly, but now that it has been exposed publicly, its time for Israel and friends of Israel to demand the release of Jonathan Pollard.
Pollards imprisonment was justified, like Edward Snowden he deserved to go to prison because he illegally passed along classified information, but after 29 years in prison he has more than served his time. …
Pollard is eligible for parole from his life sentence in 2015, but its time to let him go now. No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally only Jonathan Pollard. To put it in perspective, Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for passing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks. It is believed that some of Manning’s revelations led to deaths of American sources across the world. The has never been evidence that the secrets Pollard handed to Israel were ever made public or used against the United States in any manner.
Now that it’s been revealed that the United States spied on Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister, the United States has no moral excuse to do anything else, it’s time to release Jonathan Pollard who is serving a life sentence for giving Israel information that the U.S. already committed to give her.
I’m not quite as sanguine about this idea as Jeff. For one thing, I’d argue that Manning’s sentence was far too light, and use Pollard as a reference point. Having had clearances myself (lower level than anyone mentioned in this argument — by far), I’d also argue that they all knew full well what they were doing and the consequences for those actions. The material they took did not belong to them, and they violated a trust that damaged not just their own lives, but the safety and security of hundreds of millions of Americans. Those actions have to have grave consequences in order to serve as an example to others who might otherwise decide to abuse the trust placed in them to conduct their own foreign policy or form their own transparency squad.
However, Pollard has been imprisoned already for more than a quarter-century, and the circumstances are changed now. It’s difficult to argue for continuing his imprisonment after these revelations, and it’s going to be doubly difficult for the intelligence establishment to stand on principle to demand his continued incarceration. Pollard’s release might smooth over the momentary contretemps, while his value as a cautionary tale is questionable now anyway.