Don't gloat fellow Israelis: 50 companies admit cooperating with NSA but it's much worse here
PJ Media is now reporting that some 50 US companies have admitted to cooperating with the National Security Agency.
Analysts at the National Security Agency can now secretly access real-time user data provided by as many as 50 American companies, ranging from credit rating agencies to internet service providers, two government officials familiar with the arrangements said.
Several of the companies have provided records continuously since 2006, while others have given the agency sporadic access, these officials said. These officials disclosed the number of participating companies in order to provide context for a series of disclosures about the NSA’s domestic collection policies. The officials, contacted independently, repeatedly said that “domestic collection” does not mean that the target is based in the U.S. or is a U.S. citizen; rather, it refers only to the origin of the data.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that U.S. credit card companies had also provided customer information. The officials would not disclose the names of the companies because, they said, doing so would provide U.S. enemies with a list of companies to avoid. They declined to confirm the list of participants in an internet monitoring program revealed by the Washington Post and the Guardian, but both confirmed that the program existed.
“The idea is to create a mosaic. We get a tip. We vet it. Then we mine the data for intelligence,” one of the officials said.Rumor has it that at least some of the 50 companies involved in 'data collection' are Israeli.
What is especially troubling is that both companies have had extensive ties to Israel, as well as links to that country’s intelligence service, a country with a long and aggressive history of spying on the U.S.
In fact, according to Binney, the advanced analytical and data mining software the NSA had developed for both its worldwide and international eavesdropping operations was secretly passed to Israel by a mid-level employee, apparently with close connections to the country. The employee, a technical director in the Operations Directorate, “who was a very strong supporter of Israel,” said Binney, “gave, unbeknownst to us, he gave the software that we had, doing these fast rates, to the Israelis.”
Because of his position, it was something Binney should have been alerted to, but wasn’t.
“In addition to being the technical director,” he said, “I was the chair of the TAP, it’s the Technical Advisory Panel, the foreign relations council. We’re supposed to know what all these foreign countries, technically what they’re doing…. They didn’t do this that way, it was under the table.” After discovering the secret transfer of the technology, Binney argued that the agency simply pass it to them officially, and in that way get something in return, such as access to communications terminals. “So we gave it to them for switches,” he said. “For access.”
But Binney now suspects that Israeli intelligence in turn passed the technology on to Israeli companies who operate in countries around the world, including the U.S. In return, the companies could act as extensions of Israeli intelligence and pass critical military, economic and diplomatic information back to them. “And then five years later, four or five years later, you see a Narus device,” he said. “I think there’s a connection there, we don’t know for sure.”
Narus was formed in Israel in November 1997 by six Israelis with much of its money coming from Walden Israel, an Israeli venture capital company. Its founder and former chairman, Ori Cohen, once told Israel’s Fortune Magazine that his partners have done technology work for Israeli intelligence. And among the five founders was Stanislav Khirman, a husky, bearded Russian who had previously worked for Elta Systems, Inc. A division of Israel Aerospace Industries, Ltd., Elta specializes in developing advanced eavesdropping systems for Israeli defense and intelligence organizations. At Narus, Khirman became the chief technology officer.
A few years ago, Narus boasted that it is “known for its ability to capture and collect data from the largest networks around the world.” The company says its equipment is capable of “providing unparalleled monitoring and intercept capabilities to service providers and government organizations around the world” and that “Anything that comes through [an Internet protocol network], we can record. We can reconstruct all of their e-mails, along with attachments, see what Web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their [Voice over Internet Protocol] calls.”
Like Narus, Verint was founded by in Israel by Israelis, including Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, a former Israeli intelligence officer. Some 800 employees work for Verint, including 350 who are based in Israel, primarily working in research and development and operations, according to the Jerusalem Post. Among its products is STAR-GATE, which according to the company’s sales literature, lets “service providers … access communications on virtually any type of network, retain communication data for as long as required, and query and deliver content and data …” and was “[d]esigned to manage vast numbers of targets, concurrent sessions, call data records, and communications.”
In a rare and candid admission to Forbes, Retired Brig. Gen. Hanan Gefen, a former commander of the highly secret Unit 8200, Israel’s NSA, noted his former organization’s influence on Comverse, which owns Verint, as well as other Israeli companies that dominate the U.S. eavesdropping and surveillance market. “Take NICE, Comverse and Check Point for example, three of the largest high-tech companies, which were all directly influenced by 8200 technology,” said Gefen. “Check Point was founded by Unit alumni. Comverse’s main product, the Logger, is based on the Unit’s technology.”
According to a former chief of Unit 8200, both the veterans of the group and much of the high-tech intelligence equipment they developed are now employed in high-tech firms around the world. “Cautious estimates indicate that in the past few years,” he told a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Ha’artez in 2000, “Unit 8200 veterans have set up some 30 to 40 high-tech companies, including 5 to 10 that were floated on Wall Street.” Referred to only as “Brigadier General B,” he added, “This correlation between serving in the intelligence Unit 8200 and starting successful high-tech companies is not coincidental: Many of the technologies in use around the world and developed in Israel were originally military technologies and were developed and improved by Unit veterans.”
Equally troubling is the issue of corruption. Kobi Alexander, the founder and former chairman of Verint, is now a fugitive, wanted by the FBI on nearly three dozen charges of fraud, theft, lying, bribery, money laundering and other crimes. And two of his top associates at Comverse, Chief Financial Officer David Kreinberg and former General Counsel William F. Sorin, were also indicted in the scheme and later pleaded guilty, with both serving time in prison and paying millions of dollars in fines and penalties.
When asked about these contractors, the NSA declined to “verify the allegations made.”And if they're doing this sort of thing in the US, you can bet that they're practicing it in Israel.
And whether or not the two companies that are being cited did indeed work with the US government to gather information, Israel would have been a perfect “sandbox” (virtual practice zone) for the companies to perfect their technology surveillance, according to attorney Jonathan Klinger. That is because the laws regarding privacy on the Internet and electronic communications in Israel are much more “liberal” — for the security agencies, that is – than they are in many other democracies, notably the US. Indeed, Israelis can only envy the uproar among Americans over the PRISM program, says Klinger, an internet privacy expert.
Compared to the extremely wide powers of Israeli police and security organizations over electronic data, “the powers of the American agencies are a joke.”
According to the reports, the US government’s PRISM data-gathering program (which, according to James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, is not aimed at Americans, but against foreigners, and only to prevent terror attacks) is facilitated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is specifically aimed at gathering intelligence on enemy agents or terrorists who are not US citizens. The government must show probable cause of security concerns to the organizations from which it is requesting the information.
That is apparently not the case in Israel, Klinger wrote in a blog post, “giving my two cents on Prism. Over the past decade, Israel has enacted a number of surveillance laws that allow unrestrained use of personal information of citizens for routine investigations, not only for the prevention of terrorism.
Among those laws is one ratified by the Knesset in 2007 allowing police and other agencies to request – and get – information about individuals under investigation, even without the requirement to get a warrant from a judge. Companies are required to supply information on individuals who may be connected — even circumstantially — to a crime. For example, if police suspect that a murder took place at a certain time and a specific location, they can request location data on customers from cellphone service providers, in order to identify those who were in the area when the crime was committed, said Klinger.
In 2009, police filed 9,000 requests for information from cellphone and Internet companies, including 2,000 for offenses relating to “public order” — offenses which, Klinger said, often had political overtones, aimed at leaders of protest groups and movements.
In fact, Klinger said, many of the activists who led protests over high prices and monopolization in the Israeli economy over the past several years have reported to him that their e-mail accounts (often Google Mail accounts) were hacked, as was Klinger’s own account several months ago. Google, in fact, has supplied police in Israel with information about hundreds of users over the past several years, and it’s likely other companies have done so as well. The difference is that “we know about Google, because they report the requests made by police. The other companies do not make such reports.”
In 2008, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a lawsuit against police and other security organizations, as well as against communications companies like Bezeq, cellphone service providers Cellcom and Pelephone, Internet service providers Netvision and Hot, and many others, claiming that police and security agencies, in collusion with the communications companies, had gone way beyond their authorities in demanding information about customers.
The courts dismissed the case. Apparently emboldened, said Klinger, the government asked the Knesset to expand the number of agencies that could request data, to include tax authorities, the Agriculture and Environment Ministries, and even the Parks and Nature Authority.
As things stand today, all those agencies, and more, can request information from communications companies without having to present a warrant. Companies that refuse to comply may be hauled into court to justify why they refused. In such cases, said Klinger, the courts invariably rule for the government.