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The NSA is spying on Tel Aviv through the U.S. Embassy, says Israeli intelligence analyst

by Simone Wilson

October 30, 2013 | 4:00 am

Can you hear me now?

Totally regretting that massive drug deal I made at the nightclub across from the U.S. Embassy last weekend.

In a report on IsraelDefense.com yesterday, Israeli intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon revealed that while examining aerial photographs of various U.S. embassies around the world, he discovered "completely identical devices" to the spy box in Berlin, recently outed by German newspaper De Spiegel, "on the roofs of embassies in many more countries, including in Tel Aviv."

Der Spiegel originally reported that the "Special Collection Service" (SCS), a unit within America's now-infamous National Security Agency (NSA), has been utilizing sketchy infrastructure atop the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to tap into signals passing by or through the embassy. Ex-NSA superstar Edward Snowden provided the paper documents showing that "the SCS operates its own sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication."

Here's how Der Spiegel described the spy box:

From the roof of the embassy, a special unit of the CIA and NSA can apparently monitor a large part of cellphone communication in the government quarter. ... The necessary equipment is usually installed on the upper floors of the embassy buildings or on rooftops where the technology is covered with screens or Potemkin-like structures that protect it from prying eyes.

Hilariously, the best photo of Tel Aviv's own (underwhelming) version comes courtesy of Ali Mansouri, that gooby 55-year-old in short-shorts jailed last month for allegedly spying on Israel for Iran. Authorities claimed he snapped multiple photos of Ben Gurion Airport and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. This gem was apparently taken from the "Isrotel" monstrosity next door to the embassy, and inexplicably released to the press by the Israel Security Agency after Mansouri was caught:

But don't expect any outraged government press statements or street riots 'round these parts.

A common misconception around the world is that Israelis will be offended when they learn their No. 1 ally/mama bird/butt buddy is spying on them. On the contrary, Israel invented this game. They're probably even in on it. Not only did Israeli companies supply the technology behind the NSA spying, but recent reports indicate Israeli authorities could have access to much of the agency's loot. French newspaper Le Monde, for one, recently accused the Israeli Mossad of helping hack into the phone of former French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that many former Israeli intelligence officers are of the educated opinion that "Israel knows it is a victim, lives with it as 'part of the game' in intelligence, does all it can to limit NSA spying and believes the Europeans are overreacting." Solomon related much of the same: "The assumption in Israel is that the U.S. listens in on all of the conversations taking place in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, especially if they are unencrypted," he wrote in his report.

In fact, Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad, told Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv last week:

“I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel... not necessarily in [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. The US doesn’t really care about anyone [but itself] and the Americans are vehemently denying the incidents. It could very well be that these things [monitoring calls] are happening here [in Israel] too. When the Americans think they need to listen in on someone, they’ll do just that.”

The general population in Israel, too, is likely to greet the news with a big fat yawn.

As I previously noted when Israel launched the Western world's single most invasive biometric ID system this summer, the average (Jewish) Israeli is far more concerned with his security than his privacy rights. And if that means a few spy cams and wire-tappings, so be it. "I think we know that all our phones/computers are already (and for a while) are being monitored for security reasons," a friend told me on Facebook.

One could even say that some Israelis like being spied on, in a way — because at least then they know the "bad guys" are getting the same treatment. We'll just make sure to take our MDMA orders around the corner from Hayarkon Street next time.

Update, 7:20 a.m.: In a phone interview with Solomon, who is commonly used as a source by Israeli newspapers, he told me that rumors have been circulating about "something happening on the roof" at the U.S. Embassy for some time now. "So when this story exploded," he said, "I knew where to look." Below is a graphic he created of similar-looking devices on the rooftops of 12 different U.S. embassies around the world.

Solomon said he does believe the Iranian spy was onto something when he took that photo from the Isrotel: "I think he was looking for counterintelligence," said the Israeli analyst. "He photographed the same devices on the roof of the U.S. Embassy that I'm looking at."

The Israeli government would have to be completely clueless to just be finding out about this activity now, he added.

As recently revealed in another Snowden-Guardian bombshell, the NSA is very intimately partnered with the Israeli army's 8200 unit (Israel's version of the NSA). It was this same collaboration, reported the Guardian, which revealed the Syrian regime's alleged involvement in the August chemical weapons attack heard around the world. "So I don’t believe that Israelis are not clever enough to know what [the U.S. is] putting on their roof," said Solomon.

Still, he said, Israeli officials may not be aware of the extent to which the Americans are using the technology. "We know that [former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister] Ehud Barack was using his mobile phone when he was living in Tel Aviv, within a few kilometers of the U.S. Embassy," said Solomon, adding: "When we are speaking about a friend, if you want trust, you must keep his privacy."

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