How massive surveillance leads to blackmail and extortion

The Guardian reports that 43 members of Unit 8200, Israel’s equivalent of the US’s NSA or UK’s GCHQ, have refused to take part in what they see as surveillance of innocent Palestinians that was leading to blackmail and extortion and serving the personal agendas of Israeli politicians..

Forty-three veterans of one of Israel’s most secretive military intelligence units – many of them still active reservists – have signed a public letter refusing to serve in operations involving the occupied Palestinian territories because of the widespread surveillance of innocent residents.

The signatories include officers, former instructors and senior NCOs from the country’s equivalent of America’s NSA or Britain’s GCHQ, known as Unit 8200 – or in Hebrew as Yehida Shmoneh-Matayim.

They allege that the “all-encompassing” intelligence the unit gathers on Palestinians – much of it concerning innocent people – is used for “political persecution” and to create divisions in Palestinian society.

The largest intelligence unit in the Israeli military, Unit 8200 intercepts electronic communications including email, phone calls and social media in addition to targeting military and diplomatic traffic.

The signatories say, however, that a large part of their work was unrelated to Israel’s security or defence, but appeared designed to perpetuate the occupation by “infiltrating” and “controlling” all aspects of Palestinian life.

Written in uncompromising language the letter states: “We, veterans of Unit 8200, reserve soldiers both past and present, declare that we refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as tools in deepening the military control over the Occupied Territories.”

They add: “The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed.”

This surveillance was aided by the NSA giving the Israelis unprecedented levels of unfiltered information about Arab-Americans and Palestinian-Americans, as revealed by James Bamford following his recent interview with Edward Snowden.

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom. [My emphasis-MS]

Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

The fact that the NSA was able to pass along the contents of communications as well as the metadata supports the argument by Marcus Ranum and others that the NSA’s claim that they were collecting only metadata is a lie.

As anyone could have predicted, this kind of information is not used exclusively for security purposes but also for blackmail and to pursue the agendas of politicians. As the Guardian article says:

  • Personnel were instructed to keep any damaging details of Palestinians’ lives they came across, including information on sexual preferences, infidelities, financial problems or family illnesses that could be “used to extort/blackmail the person and turn them into a collaborator”.
  • Former members claim some intelligence gathered by the unit was not collected in the service of the Israeli state but in pursuit of the “agendas” of individual Israeli politicians. In one incident, for which no details have been provided, one signatory recalls: “Regarding one project in particular, many of us were shocked as we were exposed to it. Clearly it was not something we as soldiers were supposed to do. The information was almost directly transferred to political players and not to other sections of the security system.”

Can anyone doubt that part of the purpose of this kind of sweeping collection of information on people is to have the option of using it as blackmail against political enemies? And from there, it is but a short step to some of the people who have access to this information using it enrich themselves.


  1. says

    David Petraeus — how did the FBI get his emails going back years?
    Eliot Spitzner -- how did te FBI get his credit card purchases going back over a year?

    This information is already being used in political “hits” in the US.


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