On Sept. 11, the Guardian released a 5-page memorandum from Edward Snowden's treasure trove of top secret documents. The form details secret arrangements between U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies, which contradicts previous official narratives and further emphasizes the dissemination of Americans' private data.
Since Snowden first leaked the classified material revealing the scope of the U.S. domestic spy state, President Obama and National Security Agency officials have assured the American people secret but reliable checks and balances concerning the protection and integrity of domestic information. They claim when data is "inadvertently" retained, it is strictly protected to prevent abuse.
This memorandum further discredits their promises. Raw data "including but not limited to" phone calls, emails, Internet metadata, and content have been handed over to Israeli spies since 2009. According to the document, there is no data "minimization" performed to safeguard citizen privacy, only a friendly request that Israel's spies abide by U.S. laws.
The evasive language and broad terminology pay lip service to constitutional protections, but Israeli spies are not beholden to any meaningful restrictions. Data of private citizens can be retained for up to one year, though the agency is advised to notify the NSA's special liaison adviser. Since a federal agency cannot unilaterally enter legal agreements with foreign nations, the permissive guidelines have no legal teeth.
In fact, it seems the NSA is only concerned with protecting the privacy of America's protected bureaucratic class. The memorandum effectively establishes separate rules for the powerful and powerless by requesting "any data that is either to or from an official of the U.S. government" be destroyed as soon as it is recognized.
Some argue this revelation is not news because international surveillance arrangements have likely existed for some time. Many critics suspect that when the U.S. government respected domestic spying laws, reciprocal spy agreements existed between the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Allegedly, these nations spied on U.S. citizens when loopholes were necessary.
So, it's not surprising the U.S. would provide such sweeping information to another close ally. The U.S. and Israel share bilateral national security interests and fight a common enemy: Islamic extremists. Israel remains a valuable friend and steadfast bulwark against radical forces in the Middle East.
But Israel is also a sovereign nation that will act unilaterally to defend its interests. It shouldn't be expected to behave otherwise. Israel is not a client state, but rather an independent nation. In pursuing its interests, Israel is routinely caught engaging in exfiltration tactics to access highly classified, corporate secrets.
Secret U.S. intelligence documents leaked by Snowden last month reveal government officials list Israel with China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba as among the most aggressive countries spying on America. The Guardian declined to publish additional documents, but comments indicate agreements providing clandestine Israeli agencies with unfettered access to such sensitive information concerned U.S. officials.
"One of NSA's biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel," according to an unnamed NSA official. "There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended."
This revelation elicits many questions: If American citizens are spied on domestically, why dump massive amounts of private data into the hands of foreign agents? Why is the NSA not reviewing or redacting the sensitive, private data of presumably innocent, unwitting American citizens before transferring it to the unchecked control of any ally?
If the NSA violates its own rules possibly seven or more times daily, why would foreign governments respect sensitive data more than our own agencies? Is support for Israel's mutual foreign policy goals justification for allowing them such unrestricted access without assurances so the access will not be abused?
Regardless of which government the NSA shares illegally obtained information with, this wanton disregard for the privacy of the very citizens it claims to protect is dangerous and unlawful.
Obama argues that checks and balances are in place so that citizens can trust that secret processes do not disclose their data from being disclosed to unauthorized parties. He also admits receiving most of the data from leaked media reports. Who is controlling the National Security Agency? The time for straight answers has passed. Americans need to demand defunding, or robust congressional oversight in this regard.