After more than a year on defense over allies snooping on allies, the US might have some reason to go on offense. Der Spiegel claimed yesterday that Israeli intelligence listened in on conversations between Secretary of State John Kerry and other entities last year while Kerry attempted to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Der Spiegel’s sources, Israel wasn’t the only country snooping on Kerry’s calls, either:
SPIEGEL has learned from reliable sources that Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on US Secretary of State John Kerry during Middle East peace negotiations. In addition to the Israelis, at least one other intelligence service also listened in as Kerry mediated last year between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states, several intelligence service sources told SPIEGEL. Revelations of the eavesdropping could further damage already tense relations between the US government and Israel.
The US might have cause to be angry … except that Kerry apparently made it pretty easy for snoopers to snoop:
During the peak stage of peace talks last year, Kerry spoke regularly with high-ranking negotiating partners in the Middle East. At the time, some of these calls were not made on encrypted equipment, but instead on normal telephones, with the conversations transmitted by satellite. Intelligence agencies intercepted some of those calls. The government in Jerusalem then used the information obtained in international negotiations aiming to reach a diplomatic solution in the Middle East.
In other words, this isn’t quite the same as the NSA penetrating the cell phone of Angela Merkel, or at least not as it pertains to unsecured communications. If the US Secretary of State uses unsecured communications for sensitive talks, then that reflects more on the US than it does on whoever else listened in on those conversations. After all, the unspoken truth in the international dust-up over the NSA’s operations is that all countries gather intelligence, even on their friends, just to make sure they are remaining friendly if for no other reason. Some, like the French, snoop to gain commercial advantage, but most snoop to ensure that they don’t get any unpleasant surprises from enemies or friends.
Besides, the US has a pretty narrow platform on which to express anger over surveillance of their top officials after the Merkel wiretap embarrassment. The current administration has even less after Kerry’s poor performance in this latest crisis, in which he attempted to appease Hamas via Turkey and Qatar in order to get a cease-fire agreement. Kerry managed to claim that he had succeeded in getting a 72-hour humanitarian stoppage only to have Hamas double-cross him and attempt to use their tunnels to abduct an IDF soldier. That ended the cease fire after 90 minutes and resulted in Benjamin Netanyahu scolding Kerry and warning him “not to ever second guess me again.”
Netanyahu didn’t deny making that remark, although yesterday he did try to put a more positive spin on it:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not deny a report that he told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro “not to ever second guess me again” on how to deal with Hamas, though he said the report did not reflect the general “tone and substance” of the calls. …
In his news conference Saturday night, Netanyahu attempted to lump in the Associated Press report, which neither American nor Israeli officials have denied, with a supposed transcript of a phone call between Obama and Netanyahu that has been widely rejected as bogus by officials in both governments.
“There is a lot of support and we deeply appreciate it, and that is the substance of our relationship, that’s the tone of our relationship, which gets to the question of these reports that are not only of my conversation with Ambassador Shapiro but also with the President that are full of incorrections, full of distortions and are wrong in both tone and substance.”
In other words, Netanyahu may have intended that as friendly advice. Perhaps he could have offered more in the same vein, such as: You may want to think about hardening your comms security, old sport.
So who was the other intelligence agency that penetrated Kerry’s calls? Der Spiegel doesn’t say, but don’t be surprised if the contents start leaking in Russian, tovarishch.