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NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans' data with Israel Printer friendly page Print This
By Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian
Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013

Editor's Note: We are indebted to Edward Snowden for revealing this secret document and many others. All US citizens who value their privacy should find it deeply disturbing, if not outrageous that this agreement between the US and Israel exists at all.  Moreover, the memorandum's brief paragraph under "Oversight" (2:1) doesn't is less than comforting:

ISNU agrees to put in place appropriate management controls to ensure adherence to the above policies. and to provide NSA with an annual report describing these controls and enumerating any and all

It strikes us as absurd for anyone to actually believe that Israelis will 'follow the rules' or abide by the restrictions laid out in the document and the safeguard is doubly laughable that "appropriate management will "ensure adherence" reporting to the NSA once a year.

- Les Blough, Editor
Axis of Logic

  • Secret deal places no legal limits on use of data by Israeli

  • Only official US government communications protected

  • Agency insists it complies with rules governing privacy

  • Read the NSA and Israel's 'memorandum of understanding'1

The agreement for the US to provide raw intelligence data to Israel was reached in principle in March 2009, the document shows.
Photograph: James Emery

The agreement for the US to provide raw intelligence data to Israel was reached in principle in March 2009, the document shows. Photograph: James Emery

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian1 by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process "minimization", but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

The deal was reached in principle in March 2009, according to the undated memorandum1, which lays out the ground rules for the intelligence sharing.

The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies "pertaining to the protection of US persons", repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.

But this is undermined by the disclosure that Israel is allowed to receive "raw Sigint" – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: "Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata2 and content."

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA3 analysts to remove US communications. "NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection", it says.

Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations.

"This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law," the document says.

In a statement to the Guardian, an NSA spokesperson did not deny that personal data about Americans was included in raw intelligence data shared with the Israelis. But the agency insisted that the shared intelligence complied with all rules governing privacy.

"Any US person4 information that is acquired as a result of NSA's surveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights," the spokesperson said.

The NSA declined to answer specific questions about the agreement, including whether permission had been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa)5 court for handing over such material.

The memorandum of understanding1, which the Guardian is publishing in full, allows Israel to retain "any files containing the identities of US persons" for up to a year. The agreement requests only that the Israelis should consult the NSA's special liaison adviser when such data is found.

Notably, a much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to "destroy upon recognition" any communication "that is either to or from an official of the US government". Such communications included those of "officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)".

It is not clear whether any communications involving members of US Congress or the federal courts have been included in the raw data provided by the NSA, nor is it clear how or why the NSA would be in possession of such communications. In 2009, however, the New York Times reported on "the agency's attempt to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip".

The NSA is required by law to target only non-US persons without an individual warrant, but it can collect the content and metadata2 of Americans' emails and calls without a warrant when such communication is with a foreign target. US persons are defined in surveillance legislation as US citizens, permanent residents and anyone located on US soil at the time of the interception, unless it has been positively established that they are not a citizen or permanent resident.

Moreover, with much of the world's internet traffic passing through US networks, large numbers of purely domestic communications also get scooped up incidentally by the agency's surveillance programs.

The document mentions only one check carried out by the NSA on the raw intelligence, saying the agency will "regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of US persons' identities". It also requests that the Israelis limit access only to personnel with a "strict need to know".

Israeli intelligence is allowed "to disseminate foreign intelligence information concerning US persons derived from raw Sigint by NSA" on condition that it does so "in a manner that does not identify the US person"4. The agreement also allows Israel to release US person identities to "outside parties, including all INSU customers" with the NSA's written permission.

Although Israel is one of America's closest allies, it is not one of the inner core of countries involved in surveillance sharing with the US - Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This group is collectively known as Five Eyes.

The relationship between the US and Israel has been strained at times, both diplomatically and in terms of intelligence. In the top-secret 2013 intelligence community budget request, details of which were disclosed by the Washington Post, Israel is identified alongside Iran and China as a target for US cyberattacks.

While NSA documents tout the mutually beneficial relationship of Sigint sharing, another report, marked top secret and dated September 2007, states that the relationship, while central to US strategy, has become overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of Israel.

"Balancing the Sigint exchange equally between US and Israeli needs has been a constant challenge," states the report, titled 'History of the US – Israel Sigint Relationship, Post-1992'. "In the last decade, it arguably tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns. 9/11 came, and went, with NSA's only true Third Party [counter-terrorism] relationship being driven almost totally by the needs of the partner."

In another top-secret document seen by the Guardian, dated 2008, a senior NSA official points out that Israel aggressively spies on the US. "On the one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good Sigint partners for us, but on the other, they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems," the official says. "A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US."

Later in the document, the official is quoted as saying: "One of NSA's biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended."

The memorandum of understanding also contains hints that there had been tensions in the intelligence-sharing relationship with Israel. At a meeting in March 2009 between the two agencies, according to the document, it was agreed that the sharing of raw data required a new framework and further training for Israeli personnel to protect US person information.

It is not clear whether or not this was because there had been problems up to that point in the handling of intelligence that was found to contain Americans' data.

However, an earlier US document obtained by Snowden, which discusses co-operating on a military intelligence program, bluntly lists under the cons: "Trust issues which revolve around previous ISR [Israel] operations."

The Guardian asked the Obama administration how many times US data had been found in the raw intelligence, either by the Israelis or when the NSA reviewed a sample of the files, but officials declined to provide this information. Nor would they disclose how many other countries the NSA shared raw data with, or whether the Fisa court5, which is meant to oversee NSA surveillance programs and the procedures to handle US information, had signed off the agreement with Israel.

In its statement, the NSA said: "We are not going to comment on any specific information sharing arrangements, or the authority under which any such information is collected. The fact that intelligence services work together under specific and regulated conditions mutually strengthens the security of both nations.

"NSA cannot, however, use these relationships to circumvent US legal restrictions. Whenever we share intelligence information, we comply with all applicable rules, including the rules to protect US person information."

Source: The Guardian


[1] Please see full document presented below.

[2] The "envelope" of a phone call or internet communication. For a phone call this could include the duration of a phone call, the numbers it was between, and when it happened. For an email it would include the sender and recipient, time, but not the subject or content. In both cases it could include location information.

[3] The National Security Agency, the largest intelligence agency in the US, which is responsible for collecting and analysing communications and signals intelligence, plus cybersecurity.

[4] US Person. Defined as a US citizen, or any person on US soil.

[5] FISA. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a 1978 law governing physical and electronic surveillance against foreign powers and their agents. Updated and amended by the FAA.

(1) TOP SECRET TO USA. ISR. (Please note that the misspellings and grammatical errors are reproduced here without editing. - Axis of Logic

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This agreement between NSA and The Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU) prescribes procedures and responsibilities for ensuring that ISNU handling of materials provided by NSA -- including, but not limited to. Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) technology and equipment and raw SIGINT data signals intelligence information that has not been reviewed for foreign intelligence purposes or minimized) -- is consistent with the requirements placed upon NSA by U.S. law and Executive Order to establish safeguards protecting the rights of U.S. persons under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This agreement will apply to any SIGINT raw traffic, technology, or enabling that NSA may provide to ISNU. This agreement applies only to materials provided by NSA and shall not be construed to apply to materials collected independently by ISNU.

ISNU also recognizes that NSA has agreements with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom that require it to protect information associated with UK. persons, Australian persons, Canadian persons and New Zealand persons using procedures and safeguards similar to those applied for U.S. persons. For this reason, in all uses of raw material provided by NSA, ISNU agrees to apply the procedures outlined in this agreement to persons of these countries.

(U) This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an intemational agreement or a legally binding instrument according to intemational law.


REL) Raw SIGINT is any SIGINT acquired either as a result of search and development, or targeted collection operations against a particular foreign intelligence target before the information has been evaluated for foreign intelligence and minimized. Raw SIGINT includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists. facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence (DNI) metadata and content. -

Minimization is the process used to determine whether U.S. person information encountered in raw SIGINT is essential to assess or understand the significance of the foreign intelligence. The NSA Special US Liaison Advisor Israel (SUSLAIS) should be consulted any time U.S. person information is found in raw SIGINT data supplied by NSA.

(U) A U.S. Person is: l) (U) a citizen of the United States;

2) (U) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States (informally referred to as a "green card" holder);

(U) an unincorporated group or association. a substantial number of the members of which constitute (1) or (2) above: or

4) (U) a company incorporated within the United States, including U.S.--flagged non-governmental aircraft or vessels. but not including those entities which are openly acknowledged by a foreign government or to be directed and controlled by them.

5) (U) Additionally, a person known to be currently in the United States will be treated as a person" unless that person is reasonably identified as an alien who has not been admitted for permanent residence. or if the nature of the person's communications or other information in the contents or circumstances of such communications give rise to a reasonable belief that such person is not a U.S. person. Any person located outside the United States will be treated  a non-U.S. person unless there is a reasonable belief that such person is a U.S. person.


a. NSA routinely sends ISNU minimized and unminimized raw collection associated with selectors from multiple Target Office Primary Interest (TOPI) offices in Analysis and Production, S2 as part of the SIGINT relationship between the two organizations. This mutually agreed upon exchange has been beneficial to both NSA's and mission and intelligence requirements.

b. NSA and ISNU have previously discussed the protection of U.S. Person information, in relation to tasking joint collection operations. and agreed in principle to not task communications of U.S. citizens. The proposal to share unminimized raw collection requires additional procedures to meet formal requirements.

In March 2009. ISNU was given an overview briefing during the Raw Material conference and agreed. in principal to protect U.S. Person information. It was determined that more formalized training is needed. The date of this training is TBD.

IV. (U) RESPONSIBILITIES a. (U) NSA shall: 1) Provide an annual review and training of these procedures with ISNU.

2) Regularly review a sample of files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of U.S. Persons identities.

b. (U) ISNU shall:

1) Not use any technology or equipment that is furnished under the accommodation procurement process to intentionally target communications to, from, or about U.S. Persons anywhere in the world or intentionally target any person meeting the definition ofa U.S. Person provided in Section II above.

Not use any infonnation provided by NSA. as raw material or otherwise, to intentionally intercept the communications to, from or about a LI .S. person. "lntercept" means the use of words or phrases. such as a name, tclex number or answerback. address. telephone number, email address or any combination of such terms, to acquire non--public communications. It applies to both electronic and manual acquisition, including follow-on queries of stored communications.

Strictly limit access to storage Systems containing raw SIGINT provided by NSA exclusively to properly cleared ISNU personnel and to properly cleared members of Israeli lntelligence services who ISNU has determined have a strict need to know. Access will be limited to those individuals who have been trained in the aforementioned procedures.

Disseminate foreign intelligence information concerning U.S. persons derived from raw SIGINT provided by NSA -- to include any release outside ISNU in the form of reports, transcripts. gists. memoranda, or any other fomi of written or oral document or transmission only in a manner that does not identify the U.S. person. ISNU agrees that it will shield the identities of persons both by name and by context. i.e. its disseminations shall be in such a way that a reasonably person cannot identify the .S. person from the other contents of the dissemination.

Ensure that any files containing the identities of US. persons withheld from dissemination are retained for no more than one year.

Ensure that any requests from outside parties, including all ISNU customers, for release ofsuch identities are referred to NSA. and that same is not released without written permission from NSA.

(U Destroy upon recognition any communication contained in raw SIGINT provided by NSA that is either to or from an official of the U.S. Government. Government officials" include officials of the Executive Branch (including the White House, Cabinet Departments. and independent agencies); the House of Representatives and Senate (members and staff); and the U.S. Federal Court system (including, but not limited to. the Supreme Court). "Officials" include civilian and military members and employees performing the official business of these branches of govemment, and is independent of seniority or position.

Process only for purposes unrelated to intelligence against the U.S any communications contained in raw SIGINT provided by NSA that include references to activities. policies, and views of U.S. officials.



ISNU must inform NSA iiriinediately upon detection, via the SUSLAIS. when the identity ofa US. person is found in the raw SIGINT provided to ISNU. Additionally, ISNU must provide a written report. via the SUSLAIS and CHIPPEWA on a quarterly basis. detailing the circumstances ofthose instances.

ISNU must inform NSA immediately upon via the SUSLAIS. of inadvertent intercept of U.S. person communications where a selector that is believed to belong to a valid foreign target is subsequently found to belong to a US. person. ISNU further agrees to detask any and all such selectors. and to destroy any intercept collected as a result of such selectors. whether processed or not.



ISNU agrees to put in place appropriate management controls to ensure adherence to the above policies. and to provide NSA with an annual report describing these controls and enumerating any and all



l\lI I l\f.L

violations of the above policies regarding access. collection, and dissemination. This report will be filed with the SUSLAIS. who will send it to NSA HQS Office General and ISNU Oversight and Compliance.

NSA agrees to assist with the implementation of appropriate management controls. NSA will also provide an annual review and training ofthese procedures to ISNU.


(U) This MOU is effective immediately upon execution and shall remain valid until modified or rescinded by mutual agreement. It may be terminated unilaterally upon written notice by either party to the other.

(U) The terms and conditions of this MOU shall be reviewed at least every two years or upon request by any of the parties.

Amendments to this MOU will be in writing, mutually agreed to by both Parties. and executed by authorized delegates for the Israeli and US. Government. A copy of all amendments will be appended to each copy ofthis document. dated, and consecutively numbered.

(U) Any disputes or disagreements with regard to the interpretation of this MOU will be resolved through discussion by all parties. The parties agree that they will not attempt to enforce the terms of the MOLZ in any domestic. third party. or international court or tribunal.


This agreement is executed in the English language.


(U) Except as provided herein, this agreement does not sanction the transfer or exchange of appropriated funds or authorized manpower between the parties.

(U) No appropriated funds are obligated by this agreement. Funding is subject to availability of appropriated funds. and must comply with the Anti-Deficiency Act, 21 1341 and l5l7.



The NSA HQS point of contact for this MOU is the Country Desk Officer (CDO) for Israel, Foreign Affairs Directorate.

The NSA representative to Israel is the Special US. Special Liaison Advisor Israel

The ISNU point of contact is the Head of ISNU Foreign Relations.


For the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU)


l\ll .'l\l\ll l\ll l\7\


Title: ('ommundeiz Israel" . '.1tit>nz11 Unit

Date ot Signature; For the Government of the linited States of America National Security Security Service


Title: Director. National Security

Date ot'Signature:




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