Israel unmoved by reports that US, UK intelligence spied on Olmert, Barak in 2009

‘The Guardian’ and ‘The New York Times’ cite British intelligence document indicating that surveillance was conducted against Israeli leaders, other allies.

Israel has refused to issue an official reaction to the revelations made public by The Guardian on Friday regarding American and British surveillance of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and ex-defense minister Ehud Barak in 2009.

Unnamed officials in Jerusalem, however, told Channel 2 on Friday that they “did not fall off their chairs” when hearing the news, which was first reported by The Guardian and The New York Times, that British and American intelligence agents were tracking the emails of Olmert and Barak.

The British and American newspapers reported that the Government Communications Headquarters, working in concert with the US National Security Agency, kept track of electronic mail records belonging to Olmert in addition to an email account used to send messages between Barak and one of his top aides.

The Guardian and the Times cited a top-secret document produced by the GCHQ in January 2009. It is one of a slew of documents leaked by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden. If the allegations are true, it would be the latest in a string of embarrassments for Washington, which was caught conducting espionage on allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

According to the GCHQ document cited by The Guardian, the British and US agencies also conducted surveillance of the head of the European Union’s competition commission, a number of German government buildings in Berlin and abroad, and the heads of humanitarian institutions devoted to easing poverty in Africa.

According to The New York Times, which shared information revealed by Snowden with The Guardian as well as the prestigious Germany daily Der Spiegel, two Israeli embassies were also targeted for spying.

Olmert told The New York Times that the email which was hacked into just after Operation Cast Lead “was an unimpressive target.”

The former prime minister told the newspaper that the most sensitive information that he shared with the Americans was revealed in private, face-to-face conversations with then-president George W. Bush.

“I would be surprised if there was any attempt by American intelligence in Israel to listen to the prime minister’s lines,” Olmert told the Times.

According to the leaked documents, the NSA and GCHQ also intercepted the emails of Hebrew University’s Institute of Physics, which is regarded worldwide as a leading center of atomic and nuclear research.

Snowden has shone a light on widespread surveillance by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ, the alleged extent of which has upset many US allies and fuelled a heated debate about the balance between privacy and security. He is living in Russia under temporary asylum.

Other targets were said to include the United Nations Children’s Fund, French aid organization Médecins du Monde, French oil and gas firm Total, and French defense company Thales Group.

Joaquin Almunia, the European competition commissioner who oversees anti-monopoly investigations and has been involved in a long-running case involving Google, was another to appear in GCHQ documents, although it was not clear who ordered the surveillance.

An NSA spokeswoman said the agency did not use espionage to help US businesses.

“We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” the spokeswoman said.

“The intelligence community’s efforts to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities, are critical to providing policy-makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security.”

However, the European Commission said if it was true one of its senior officials had been targeted it would be “unacceptable.”

“This piece of news follows a series of other revelations which, as we clearly stated in the past, if proven true, are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation,” a spokesman said.

“This is not the type of behavior that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states.”

By The Jerusalem Post

 

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