Snowden Reveal Makes Israeli Spies' Protest An American Issue : The Two-Way Forty-three veterans of Unit 8200, Israel's secretive surveillance organization, say they were directed to spy indiscriminately on Palestinians. Were they using intelligence gathered by the NSA?
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Snowden Reveal Makes Israeli Spies' Protest An American Issue

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Snowden Reveal Makes Israeli Spies' Protest An American Issue

Snowden Reveal Makes Israeli Spies' Protest An American Issue

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

You don't typically hear of spies taking a public stand. But earlier this month, 43 veterans of an Israeli spy agency, known as Unit 8,200, signed an open letter of protest. They accuse the spy agency of targeting innocent Palestinians and collecting data for political purposes, not national security.

The Israeli military is investigating the allegations, but says it may discipline the veterans who signed the letter. What makes this of more than passing interest to Americans is this - under an agreement reached in 2009, the National Security Agency has been routinely sharing information with Unit 8,200. That's according to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Journalist James Bamford has been writing about the NSA for over 30 years. This summer, he interviewed Edward Snowden in Moscow for Wired. Bamford says Snowden was eager to discuss this unique relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, he was very adamant that the public should get an understanding of the fact that the NSA sends to Israel a lot of the data it picks up in the United States. And virtually all of it is unredacted. In other words, they leave the names and personal identifying information of Americans in the data, which is extremely unusual. They don't even do that with their closest partners like the British.

RATH: Is this data sharing still going on or has it ended? Do we have any idea?

BAMFORD: Well, as far as I know, it's still going on. It was signed in 2009. And the information that was leaked by Snowden was just last year. So I didn't see that there was any indication that this had stopped.

RATH: Now, there are terrorist groups that target both Israel and the U.S. Is this sharing about targeting those people and covering plots like that?

BAMFORD: Well, according to the agreement, it doesn't specify any particular reason. It just says the U.S. will share with Israel all the information it picks up in terms of its collection. It doesn't say for this particular reason.

And as a matter of fact, the veterans who basically said they weren't going to do this anymore last week - 43 veterans at Unit 8,200 said there was virtually no supervision. And that was the problem - that this information is being used by Unit 8,200 for things like looking for sexual activity, indiscretions and so forth and then using that to blackmail - basically to coerce innocent Palestinians into working for Israel.

RATH: Do we know that that is information that came from United States sources - from NSA data?

BAMFORD: Well, we don't know. What normally happens is information from the U.S. gets co-mingled with information that Israel picks up. And there didn't seem to be any indication that there was a segregation of U.S. communications.

So it seems like whatever the U.S. was sending to Israel was accessible to any of the analysts, like the 43 who decided that they were going to become whistleblowers. And what they said was that the information wasn't being used for the defense of Israel. A lot of it was simply being used for political reasons. It was given to politicians for their individual use. So that was another thing that they complained about was the fact that they felt that they were involved in political operations as opposed to defense operations.

RATH: What do you see as the broader implications for this revelation when it comes to the NSA's data collection on American citizens?

BAMFORD: Well, the broad implication is the NSA is simply not trustworthy to handle this information because they are required to protect the American public not expose them to foreign intelligence service. And the problem here is that you have a lot of Palestinian-Americans who happen to live in the United States.

And if their private communications with relatives in Israel and occupied Palestine - then that puts them at great risk - puts their relatives at great risk if they talk about confidential things in an e-mail or in a telephone call. What right does the U.S. government have to give that information to a government that's basically hostile to them?

RATH: That's James Bamford. He's a journalist and author of many books about U.S. intelligence, including "The Shadow Factory." James, thanks very much.

BAMFORD: My pleasure.

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