Britain’s GCHQ intelligence-gathering apparatus defined Israel as ‘a true threat’ to the Middle East


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An Internet commenter wrote:

GCHQ developed under the control of the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office has always had strong Arab sympathisers employed in it, so it isn’t really surprising. Also, GCHQ has a much bigger budget than MI5 and SIS (MI6) so there is rivalry over budgets.


New documents from the archives of Edward Snowden given by the former NSA consultant to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, seen by Le Monde in collaboration with The Intercept, reveal the extent of the surveillance by the GCHQ in respect of the Israeli interests. The British have spied on Israeli diplomacy both in Jerusalem and abroad. They have also targeted private firms in the defence sector, State agencies responsible for international cooperation and university research centres known for their excellence in scientific matters. These targets appear in the form of email addresses or telephone numbers in the interception reports of the GCHQ technicians, pleased to demonstrate that they had succeeded in identifying them in the flow of satellite telephone communications between the African continent and the rest of the world. At the end of each report, ithey state that the collection of this data can now become automatic.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal showed that the NSA could both support its Israeli partner, the ISNU (Israeli Sigint National Unit or Unit 8200) and monitor the telephone calls of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahou. In 2013, the German daily Der Spiegel observed that in January 2009 the email addresses of the then Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Minister for Defence, Ehud Barak, had both been spied on by the GCHQ.

Diplomats were targeted

According to our information, the spies cast their nets much more widely. Their aim is the State services and, in particular, its diplomats. Among this user account information we thus find the telephone number of the second in command of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry or the email addresses of the current ambassadors in Nairobi, Kenya, andAbuja, Nigeria. These capitals, considered to be strategic by the Israelis are also considered by the British to be their backyard since they are former colonies.
One of the defence firms under surveillance, Ophir Optronics, set up in 1976 in Israel, is known to be one of the outstanding firms in optic fibre and laser, two key elements in modern armaments and leading industries. Another email address, to which is appended the key word ‘Israeli UAV’ – the English acronym for drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) – is a reminder that the Israelis were amongst the forerunners in the production of planes and other pilot-less vehicles in the world. Along with the United States, they are the leading exporters of this expertise in civil and military fields and the British would, it seems, like to know all the secrets.
The surveillance of Israeli interests by the GCHQ has also extended to the MASHAV – the Israeli state agency responsible for international cooperation and development. Suspected by the British of playing a double game by supporting weak countries to consolidate the influence of Israel, this agency is established and operates all over the world. Finally, the British secret services have concentrated their attention on the work of certain advanced research centres in the top-level Hebrew University of Jerusalem They have also targeted the Racah Institute for Physics where theoretical and practical research is carried out in highly sensitive areas, in particular in nuclear physics.
This is a paradox which illustrates the nature of the relationship between allies, even those who are very close. The GCHQ was cooperating very closely with Israel in 2009, at the very time when Israel launched a new attack against Hamas in the Gaza Strip; at the same time, the GCHQ stepped up its espionage operations on the Hebrew State. In its top-secret internal newsletters, the GCHQ congratulates itself on its good relations with the ISNU, the Israeli technical secret service. One can actually read that the British have spied on email addresses and telephone numbers at the request of the Israelis: ‘They thanked us on many occasions.’

Ups-and-downs in the collaboration

This does not exclude humiliations. In March 2009, the GCHQ noted: ‘Problems with Ruffle (the code name for the ISNU). Ruffle cancels work sessions at the last minute. Requests for apologies made at the highest level are not answered.’ In July 2009, on the other hand, the British observe: ‘Excellent cooperation throughout the Iranian election crisis (…). We are trying to arrange a meeting in August but there is no answer to our messages.’
Nevertheless summer 2009 witnessed for the first time the organisation of a meeting of four people, at the head office of the GCHQ ‘with the NSA, the CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) and Ruffle’ for a sharing of information, in particular on Iran and the Palestinians. This sharing was not without its difficulties, because Israel is not a member of the very closed circle, the ‘Five Eyes’, which includes only the English-speaking services (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). At the end of August 2009, the GCHQ even observed that these meetings were ‘ a real nightmare in terms of confidentiality and logistics’.
When confronted with the two contradictory faces of the GCHQ, it is not easy to define the true position of London vis-à-vis the Israeli partner. To get closer we should perhaps resort to this analysis which appears in another top secret GCHQ document in 2008: ‘The Israelis remain a real threat to the stability of the region, in particular because of the position of this country with respect to the Iranian dossier’. Contacted by Le Monde, the Israeli government did not wish to comment.

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