WASHINGTON – The National Security Agency shares raw surveillance data with Israel without first removing information about US citizens, according to a document leaked to the Guardian by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The arrangement is described in a memorandum between the two countries that allows the NSA to pass signals intelligence — phone calls, faxes and other data scooped up in eavesdropping — to Israeli intelligence services, reported the British daily, which posted the document online.
According to the memorandum, the intelligence data being shared would not be filtered in advance by the NSA to filter out US communications or details about American citizens caught in the dragnet.
“NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, the memorandum states.
President Barack Obama has insisted that sweeping surveillance activity by the NSA is conducted under strict rules that respect the privacy of American citizens. And intelligence officials say the NSA protects privacy rights through what it calls “minimization,” restricting what data is examined by agency analysts.
But the five-page, undated memorandum refers to unminimized, raw data flowing to Israel.
Asked about the report, the NSA did not deny the existence of the document but said the spy agency always protects privacy rights when it enters into intelligence sharing arrangements.
“We are not going to comment on any specific information sharing arrangements, or the authority under which any such information is collected,” the agency said in a statement. But the NSA does not use these intelligence sharing agreements “to circumvent US legal restrictions” or breach privacy protections, it said.
“Any US person information that is acquired as a result of NSA’s surveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights,” it said.
Throughout the memorandum, there are repeated references to upholding Americans’ privacy rights and that Israeli spy services are obliged to respect those rights.
Under US law, the NSA cannot eavesdrop on Americans unless they are in contact with a terror suspect or other foreign intelligence “target,” but recent revelations from documents leaked by Snowden have shown the agency has often breached privacy rules.
It was unclear if the court that oversees NSA spying, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, approved the provisions of the agreement with Israel.
The memorandum allows Israel to retain data with the identities of Americans for up to one year, but requires any communication involving US government officials to be destroyed immediately.
Although Israel is a close ally of Washington, it is not part of an inner circle of partners that share intelligence with the United States. The group, including Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, is known as “Five Eyes.”