Greenwald says Israel is ‘absolutely right’ to link NSA spying to Pollard case

On Monday evening Glenn Greenwald was interviewed on Israel’s Channel 10 television. The interview was conducted in English. (It is preceded by a commercial and then interrupted half-way through with another commercial.)

The NSA intercepts communications by Israeli politicians, so why should the U.S. take issue with Israel gaining access to U.S. intelligence provided to them by Jonathan Pollard?

That appears to be Greenwald’s line of reasoning.

The fact that Pollard was a U.S. citizen employed by the government; that in return for the intelligence he was providing the Israelis he expected to get paid half a million dollars; that it is widely believed that Israel used this intelligence as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Soviet Union — are these just pesky little details that have little bearing on the principles?

What Greenwald calls ‘hypocrisy’ — for the U.S. to spy on its ‘close ally’ Israel — is in the eyes of many others, good judgement.

Officials are loath to talk publicly about it, but spying on allies is a fact of life: the United States invests billions annually to monitor the communications of its friends. Many American embassies around the world contain a clandestine intercept facility that targets diplomatic communications. The goal is not only to know the military and diplomatic plans of our friends but also to learn what intelligence they may be receiving and with whom they share information.

That doesn’t come from a report on the Snowden revelations. It comes from Seymour Hersh’s report on Pollard written for the New Yorker in 1999.

If Israel was about to launch a unilateral attack on Iran without consulting the U.S., would it be desirable for the U.S. to gain advance warning of such a plan? You bet!

And how would such intelligence be gathered? By trying to recruit Israelis willing to spy on their own government? Fat chance.

Even if they are limited, this is in fact one of the useful services of the NSA: spying on America’s most dangerous ally.

What Pollard did was provide Israel with the means to launch an attack without tipping off the NSA in advance.

Hersh reported:

Israel made dramatic use of the Pollard material on October 1, 1985, seven weeks before his arrest, when its Air Force bombed the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunisia, killing at least sixty-seven people. The United States, which was surprised by the operation, eventually concluded that the Israeli planners had synergistically combined the day-to-day insights of the SIGINT Requirements List with the strategic intelligence of the FOSIF reports and other data that Pollard provided to completely outwit our government’s huge collection apparatus in the Middle East. Even Pollard himself, the senior official told me, “had no idea what he gave away.”

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3 thoughts on “Greenwald says Israel is ‘absolutely right’ to link NSA spying to Pollard case

  1. pabelmont

    Israel always has the right to demand anything from the USA. (So does anyone else.) So why not demand Pollard? The USam, for its part, has the right to refuse to meet the demands of anyone else. time we started doing it. Well, I guess we don’t meet Cuba’s demands. But we did start a lot of very expensive wars (expensive in many ways including nearly bankrupting the USA) seemingly in large part to satisfy Israel’s demands.

    some think we never do anything just because Israel demands. Think about iran where Obama is making a show of refusing (a rare showing!) Israel’s demands. And watch the senate in the next weeks. We’ll see if the Senate refuses Israel’s demands. My Senator Schumer among others seems intent on acting the part of a Senator from Israel. Probably ask that Pollard be released, too why not?

    And what’s NSA got to do with any of this?

  2. rackstraw

    The main difference between Pollard and Snowdon seems to be that Pollard betrayed secrets to a foreign power (for a cool half million in 1980 dollars, according to Greenwald); whereas Snowdon was a spy for the American people; but as usual, the powers that be act as if their primary enemies were the American people. Given how the government acts, they probably are.

    “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed and made known.”

    Transparency, anyone?

  3. Paul Woodward

    “for a cool half million in 1980 dollars, according to Greenwald” — actually, that’s according to Seymour Hersh, not Greenwald.

    As far as I can tell, Greenwald doesn’t know as much about Pollard as he should. Otherwise he would have made the effort to resist attempts being made by Israelis who are eager to exploit the NSA story to Pollard’s advantage.

    Moreover, any American who appears on Israeli television and refers to Israel as one of America’s “close allies” may be saying something that while factually accurate, should not gain uncritical reinforcement through repetition.

    Everyone in Washington knows that Israel probably ranks as the U.S.’s least trustworthy ally even if that’s a truth that no elected official dare utter.

    If the Snowden revelations result in there being a reduction in the level of U.S. covert surveillance of Israel, that’s nothing to celebrate — unless you happen to support Israel’s unrestrained right to engage in military adventurism.

    While it is broadly true that transparency is a good thing and secrecy is not, if this then gets turned into a dogma, it can be no less boneheaded than any other ideology.

    Consider, for instance, negotiations going on between the U.S. and Iran. Anyone who thinks that progress in these talks will be increased by greater transparency is simply deluded about the political realities that are at play. The only predictable outcome of greater transparency in this case is that each side more easily becomes captive by their own intransigent elements — transparency would empower the Republican Guard and the Israel lobby.

    What the deal-makers want to do is sidestep their opponents, forge an agreement, and then sell this to a wider constituency thereby disempowering those who will create obstacles wherever they find opportunities. To this end, lack of transparency serves a worthy goal.

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