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VOL. 44


No. 1
P. 265
Documents and Source Material: United States

In June 2013, then-NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of internal NSA documents to several international journalists, including Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Greenwald proceeded to report on those documents, releasing some of them to the public, initially for the Guardian and then for the Intercept, an online news site launched by French-Iranian-American billionaire Pierre Omidyar in February 2014.

On 4 August, Greenwald published an article on the Intercept titled “Cash, Weapons, and Surveillance: The U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack” alongside two Snowden-leaked documents on U.S.-Israeli intelligence cooperation. Taken together, the article and documents showed that although the Obama administration largely acted as a bystander throughout the Israeli assault in July and August 2014, the U.S. was directly complicit in Israel’s action.

Reproduced below is the full text of one of the documents Greenwald published, a 19 April 2013 internal NSA assessment of the agency’s relationship with its Israeli counterpart, the SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), as well as broader U.S.-Israeli intelligence cooperation. The other document, an agreement made between the NSA and the ISNU in 1993, is available at http://www.firstlook.org/theintercept/. Greenwald’s article is available in the Press section of this issue.




NSA maintains a far-reaching technical and analytical relationship with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (INSU) sharing information on access, intercept, targeting, language, analysis and reporting. This SIGINT relationship has increasingly been the catalyst for a broader intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel. Significant changes in the way NSA and ISNU have traditionally approached SIGINT have prompted an expansion to include other Israeli and U.S. intelligence organizations such as CIA, Mossad, and Special Operation Division (SOD).


Key Issues


The single largest exchange between NSA and ISNU is on targets in the Middle East which constitute strategic threats to U.S. and Israeli interests. Building upon a robust analytic exchange, NSA and ISNU also have explored and executed unique opportunities to gain access to high priority targets. The mutually agreed upon geographic targets include the countries of North Africa, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union. Within that set of countries, cooperation covers the exploitation of internal governmental, military, civil, and diplomatic communications; and external transnational target set. A dedicated communications line between NSA and ISNU supports the exchange of raw material, as well as daily analytic and technical correspondence. Both NSA and ISNU have liaison   officers, who conduct foreign relations functions, stationed at their respective embassies.


What NSA Provides to ISNU


The Israeli side enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic access to world-class NSA cryptanalytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and also gains controlled access to advanced U.S. technology and equipment via accommodation buys and foreign military sales.


What ISNU Provides to NSA


Benefits to the U.S. include expanded geographic access to high priority SIGINT targets, access to world-class Israeli cryptanalytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and access to a large pool of highly qualified analysts.


Success Stories


A key priority for ISNU is the Iranian nuclear development program, followed b Syrian nuclear efforts, Lebanese Hizballah plans and intentions, Palestinian terrorism, and Global Jihad. Several recent and successful joint operations between NSA and ISNU have broadened both organizations’ ability to target and exploit Iranian nuclear efforts. In addition, a robust and dynamic cryptanalytic relationship has enabled breakthroughs on high priority Iranian targets.


NSA and ISNU continue to initiate joint targeting of Syrian and Iranian leadership and nuclear development programs with CIA, ISNU, SOD and Mossad. This exchange has been particularly important as unrest in Syria continues, and both sides work together to identify threats to regional stability. NSA’s cyber partnerships expanded beyond ISNU to include Israeli Defense Intelligence’s SOD and Mossad, resulting in unprecedented access and collection breakthroughs that all sides acknowledge would not have been possible to achieve without the others.


In July 2012, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) provided guidance for expanding sharing with the GOI (Government of Israel) on Egypt. This approval has allowed NSA to task for ISNU on select strategic issues, specifically terrorist elements in Sinai.


Beyond the traditional SIGINT relationship, NSA and ISNU signed a MOU in September 2011 providing for Information Assurance/Computer Network Defense collaboration. NSA’s information Assurance Deputy Director attended an IA/CND conference in Tel Aviv in January 2012 during which NSA and ISNU established objectives for the relationship. NSA intends to focus the collaboration on cyber threats from Iran, Hizballah, and other regional actors and may provide limited, focused support on specific Russian and Chinese cyber threats. Conferences to further develop this partnership were held in May 2012 and December 2012.


NSA and ISNU led their communities in the establishment of U.S.-Israeli Intelligence Community VTC connectivity that allows both sides to broaden and accelerate the pace of collaboration against targets’ use of advanced telecommunications. Target sets include, but are not limited to Iran Nuclear, Syrian Foreign Fighter movements, Lebanese Hizballah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps activities. Dialogue is ongoing, with each potential new intelligence or technology initiative considered for approval individually.




The three most common concerns raised by ISNU regarding the partnership with NSA is NSA’s reluctance to share on technology that is not directly related to a specific target, ISNU’s perceived reduction in the amount and degree of cooperation in certain areas, and the length of time NSA takes to decide on ISNU proposals. Efforts in these three areas have been addressed with the partner and NSA continues to work to increase cooperation with ISNU, where appropriate and mindful of U.S. policy and equity concerns.