Over the last 2 years, Israeli spies may have planted cell phone eavesdropping devices near the White House and other “sensitive locations” around Washington, DC, according to a recent explosive report. The Israeli PM denies this.
The devices – commonly known as ‘StingRays’ – were first discovered by the Department of Homeland Security in 2018, Politico reports. They can trick cell phone towers into revealing location data and other identifying information, as well as the content of phone calls.
They were likely planted to listen in on the communications of President Donald Trump and his closest aides, a former official told Politico.
While it isn’t clear whether the eavesdropping operation was successful, a former senior intelligence official said it was “pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible.”
The revelation is far from the first of its kind: Israeli spying operations targeting the United States have been a constant nuisance for American intelligence agencies over the decades, with Washington even naming the country as a top espionage threat, according to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Perhaps the highest-profile US-Israeli spying scandal is that of Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst who was convicted under the Espionage Act in 1987 for passing classified material to the Israeli government and sentenced to life in prison. Due to federal guidelines in place at the time of his sentencing, however, Pollard was freed on parole after spending nearly 30 years behind bars, but his case endures as one of the few times Israeli snooping was punished.
In the late 1990s, the Israelis also listened in on sensitive diplomatic talks between US President Bill Clinton and Syrian leader Hafez Assad, according to British-Israeli author Ahron Bregman, who obtained transcripts of the confidential conversations.
In one comical, if not disconcerting, episode during Clinton’s reign – recounted by Newsweek’s Jeff Stein – a Secret Service agent on then-Vice President Al Gore’s security detail said that during a sweep of the VP’s hotel room, he heard a “metallic scraping sound” coming from the ceiling. To his shock, a man soon came crawling out of a heating duct into the hotel room – an Israeli spy.
“He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents,” the agent told Stein, adding that while he thought the incident “crossed the line” for behavior befitting allies, the Israelis faced no consequences.
More recently, Israeli agents set their sights on the Barack Obama administration’s closed-door Iran deal negotiations, according to a 2015 report in the Wall Street Journal, helping Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government obtain the terms of the accord before they were made public.
Much like virtually every previous spying revelation, Netanyahu denied the Politico report unequivocally on Thursday, suggesting it was ‘fake news’, in so many words.
“We have a directive, I have a directive: No intelligence work in the United States, no spies,” he told a crowd of reporters in Russia. “And it’s vigorously implemented, without any exception. [The report] is a complete fabrication, a complete fabrication.”