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.
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.”