Revealed: US and UK broke Israeli encryption codes, have been spying on Israel for past 18 years

January 29, 2016

It was revealed today that America and Britain broke (almost impossible to break) Israeli encryption codes and have been spying on Israeli planes and drones for the past 18 years.

The information was leaked to “The Intercept” magazine, and was based on documents and photos taken by U.S. intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

It is not known who leaked this information to The Intercept or why, but Snowden is now based in Moscow and many of his materials may be in the hands of the Russians. Other informed persons speculated that Israel has been aware of the spying for some time and today’s leak stems from internal disputes between senior security officials in Israel. -- Tom Gross



[Note by Tom Gross]

* Israeli security official to Yediot Ahronot: “This is the worst leak in the history of Israeli intelligence.”


In a massive intelligence operation, the U.S. and U.K. have reportedly broken Israeli encryption technology and have been spying on Israel for the past 18 years.

Under a classified program code-named “Anarchist,” Israeli drones were targeted by Britain’s spy agency GCHQ working together with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The two agencies set up a base on a British Royal Air Force installation on a mountaintop, the highest point in Cyprus, the Mediterranean island near Israel that has historic ties to Britain.

You can read the full exclusive report from “The Intercept” magazine here: Spies In The Sky Israeli Drone Feeds Hacked By British and American Intelligence. It was published earlier today.

The Intercept reported that U.S. and British intelligence “secretly tapped into live video feeds from Israeli drones and fighter jets.” It added: “GCHQ files provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden include a series of ‘Anarchist snapshots’ – thumbnail images from videos recorded by drone cameras. The files also show location data mapping the flight paths of the aircraft. In essence, US and British agencies stole a bird’s-eye view from the drones.”

This US and UK spying activity has been carried out since 1998, and was ordered by President Bill Clinton and British PM Tony Blair.

“There’s a good chance that we are looking at the first images of an armed Israeli drone in the public domain,” Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, a history of drone warfare, told The intercept. “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to suppress information on weaponized drones.”

“This access is indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations and thus an insight to possible future developments in the region,” a leaked GCHQ report from 2008 said.

The Intercept said that this activity “highlights the conflicted relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. “Although they are close counter-terrorism partners and have a memorandum of understanding, dating back to 2009, that allows Israel access to raw communications data collected by the NSA. Yet they are nonetheless constantly engaged in a game of spy versus spy.”

An anonymous senior Israeli security source told the online version of the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot this morning: “This is an earthquake. It means that they have forcibly stripped us, and, no less important, that probably none of our encrypted systems are safe from them. This is the worst leak in the history of Israeli intelligence.”

In more recent years, the Americans and British were said to be watching for a potential strike on Iran and monitoring video feeds on Israel’s drone technology over Gaza, Syria and elsewhere.

Twenty snapshots identified by The Intercept in the documents include several video stills taken from Israeli drones, between February 2009 and June 2010, and were said to be ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, President Obama, even after he announced two years ago that he would limit spying on friendly heads of state (following protests about American spying from Germany and others), asked the NSA to keep watch on the Israeli prime minister and other senior Israeli officials.

Yuval Steinitz, who until last year served as Israel’s Intelligence Minister (and remains close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) said today that he was not surprised by the exposé, because Israel is aware that “the Americans spy on the whole world, and also on us, also on their friends.”

“But still it is disappointing because, going back decades already, we have not spied nor collected intelligence nor hacked encryptions in the United States.”


* A reader writes: It appears that the British were so impressed by the Israeli drones that they were spying on, that they decided they would like some of their own, and in 2005 they invited Elbit to set up drone manufacturing plants in Britain.


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.