Trump, Netanyahu Deny Report Israel Planted ‘Spy Devices’ Near White House
“I don’t think the Israelis were spying on us. My relationship with Israel has been great…Anything is possible, but I don’t believe it.”
On Thursday, Politico reported that the U.S. government determined Israel likely planted devices that were found near the White House in Washington D.C. and other “sensitive areas.” If true, the discovery could raise serious questions for the Trump administration and Washington politicians regarding the future of Israel and the United States’ so-called “special relationship.”
According to Politico, American officials concluded sometime within the last two years that Israel had planted mobile subscriber identity catchers, or IMSI-catchers known as Stingrays in the White House and nearby locations intended, most likely, to track President Donald Trump and his close aides.
However, it was unknown whether the spying attempt proved fruitful or not, one of the unnamed officials told Politico.
The devices imitate cell phone towers and trick cellphones into sending their locations and identity information to recipients as well as the contents of a call and data usage information.
Officials first shared the discovery of the spying devices with relevant federal agencies in May of 2018. After further analysis, officials became confident the devices were tied to Israel. Politico’s report explains:
“Based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other agencies working on the case felt confident that Israeli agents had placed the devices, according to the former officials, several of whom served in top intelligence and national security posts.
“That analysis, one of the former officials said, is typically led by the FBI’s counterintelligence division and involves examining the devices so that they “tell you a little about their history, where the parts and pieces come from, how old are they, who had access to them, and that will help get you to what the origins are.” For these types of investigations, the bureau often leans on the National Security Agency and sometimes the CIA (DHS and the Secret Service played a supporting role in this specific investigation).
“‘It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,’ said a former senior intelligence official.”
Trump and Netanyahu Deny Report
Trump reacted to Politico’s report by telling reporters he would find it “hard to believe” that the Israelis had placed the devices.
“I don’t think the Israelis were spying on us,” Trump said. “My relationship with Israel has been great…Anything is possible but I don’t believe it.”
The FBI, DHS and Secret Service also declined to comment to Politico on their report while a Trump administration official said the administration doesn’t “comment on matters related to security or intelligence.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Trump’s statement, calling the allegations false.
“A blatant lie. There is a longstanding commitment and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the U.S. This directive is strictly enforced without exception,” Netanyahu’ s office said in a statement quoted by Haaretz.
Netanyahu went as far as to proclaim a theory that his Israeli rival for prime minister, Benny Gantz, was behind the Israel spying story and leaked the information to Politico in hopes of influencing Israel’s elections next week.
“For them everything is kosher,” said Netanyahu without offering any proof that Gantz or his party was behind the story. “They are willing to do anything and don’t care if they damage this valuable asset, our relationship with the United States and my relationship with the president.”
“Everything is kosher to garner an extra few votes and bring in a left-wing government. Don’t believe these lies,” Netanyahu said.
Spying on US Wouldn’t be a First For Isreal
Perhaps the most well-known spy was Jonathan Pollard who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for violating the Espionage Act by passing classified information to Israel. Pollard had served as a senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. government.
Israel was also suspected of spying on the U.S. around the time of 9/11. A report on Fox News, which later censored the report but is still viewable online at IfAmericansKnew.org, broadcast just months after the tragedy of 9/11 reported that over 60 Israeli had been detained by the U.S. and questioned about spying activities on the U.S. According to the report, officials believed Israel had collected intelligence about the attacks in advance but did not share it.
“Numerous classified documents obtained by Fox News indicate that even prior to September 11, as many as 140 other Israelis had been detained or arrested in a secretive and sprawling investigation into suspected espionage by Israelis in the United States,” said the Fox News report.