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NSA Memo Shows US Gives Israel Access to 'Raw' Spy Data

Leaked document 'contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration'

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

The National Security Agency openly shares unfiltered intelligence files with the Israeli government, according to a classified document leaked to the Guardian newspaper by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

As the Guardian reports Wednesday, the NSA memorandum details an "intelligence-sharing agreement" between the two countries and shows that the "US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens" to Israeli intelligence.

According to the Guardian, the agreement places "no legally binding limits" on how Israel could explore or handle the data.

"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," writes Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewan MacAskill, the team of journalists behind the report. "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 Guardian published the NSA memorandum in full here.

According to the document, raw files shared with Israel come from the NSA's collection of "signals intelligence" or Sigint—which includes both electronic and telephonic metadata swept up in any number of NSA surveillance programs.

That data, according to the Guardian, includes, but is not limited to, "unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content." Much of this unfiltered data, the Guardian suggests, contains detailed information belonging to unsuspecting U.S. citizens whose communications have been caught up in the NSA's extensive surveillance dragnet.

The reporting continues:

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA 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.


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Responding to the new revelations on Twitter, the ACLU's deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer thought these three questions should be among the first to be asked:

And commenting dryly on the fact Israel has seemingly been given more access to NSA surveillance data than even questioning members of Congress or the American people, Jaffer added:

When questioned by the Guardian, the Obama administration refused to discuss how many other countries the NSA shares raw data with or whether the FISA court, designed to act as a check on NSA overreach, approved the agreement.


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