Former US military intelligence agent casts skeptical eye on latest NSA revelations

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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A new report alleging the intelligence sharing practices between the National Security Agency and the Israeli government infringe upon American privacy rights has drawn fire for potentially misleading readers.The new Guardian report is the latest revelation gleaned from the secret intelligence documents former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided to media outlets.

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with the Israeli government’s signal intelligence agency, the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), the Guardian reported on Wednesday. That data, the publication reports, is presumed to include information about U.S. persons, including American citizens.

The report is misleading, drawing its conclusions from a potentially outdated document, contends freelance journalist Joshua Foust.

Foust — a former U.S. military intelligence analyst, civilian advisor for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and political analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency in Yemen — is one of the few writers following the stories about the NSA revelations who has cast a skeptical eye towards the reporting of the series’ lead journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Foust draws from a previous report by the Guardian explaining that four months after the Israelis allegedly obtained the data in July 2009, the minimization rules, which govern how the NSA strips personally-identifiable data from the collected information of U.S. persons, were dramatically tightened.

Even supposedly non-identifying metadata such as phone numbers and IP addresses, however, can be used to gain immense insight about a person.

The document, taken out of context, also raises a number of other questions for Foust, including whether the policy changed after July 2009, how much American data was passed along and what the data-sharing program between the U.S. and Israeli governments actually looked like.

While intelligence-sharing between allies is not a new or rare development, the undated memorandum states that in March 2009 ISNU “agreed, in principle to protect U.S. person information.” The memorandum also only featured the signature of an Israeli official, lacking the signature of a U.S. official.

By reporting on a potentially outdated policy as if it is current, the Guardian leads its readers to believe that the NSA has been careless in its intelligence sharing with U.S. allies. Foust argues that this is not the case.

“If anything, this document shows the NSA made it a point, judging by word count, to do a reasonable job protecting any data collected on Americans, to the extent of seemingly pausing implementation of this MOU until they could reliably minimize that data,” writes Foust.

The policy document states that the agreement is neither legally binding nor an international agreement.

As Snowden warned in his June interview with Greenwald, practices adhered to within the intelligence community are generally dictated by bureaucratic policy, a claim senior U.S. intelligence officials have worked hard to counter.

Policy is how an executive branch agency interprets the mandates of the legislative branch.

Snowden’s disclosures prompted serious discussion about the security response to the terror attacks against the nation 12 years ago.

The disclosures have also raised immense concerns from lawmakers and intelligence community leaders about the damage the leaks have caused to the national security of the U.S. and its allies.

The memorandum also serves to illustrate the complex relationship between nations, as well as their intelligence agencies.

The CIA, for example, considers Israel the top counterintelligence threat to its Near East division.

In a 2008 intelligence document obtained by the Guardian, a National Intelligence Estimate ranked Israel as “the third most aggressive intelligence service against the U.S.”

Foust called out the Guardian piece on Twitter, stating that he believed that the story was “Israel-trolling of the first degree.”

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