(JNi.media) In 2011 and 2012, according to a Wall Street Journal revelation Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama were in sharp conflict over what to do about Iran’s emerging nuclear program. Netanyahu was preparing to take a page out of his predecessor, Menachem Begin’s play book on the Iraqi nuclear plant–although striking in Iran would have been far more formidable–while Obama was engaged in secret talks with the Iranians, and by secret we mean without letting Israel know.
According to the WSJ report, the White House was petrified that Netanyahu would blitz Iran without alerting the Americans, thus bringing down the house on the negotiations that were still at their most tender phase. And so US spy agencies enhanced their surveillance of Israeli political targets, for which they had approval from congressional intelligence committees.
After a few years of this, the NSA was fairly certain there was not going to be a repeat of the 1981 Operation Opera, that took out the Osirak reactor in Iraq. Except that by then the American Administration had a new reason to keep tapping Bibi: they wanted to make sure Israel was not aware of the secret talks with the Iranians, because if those became known to the Israelis, they would have sounded the alarm and the fragile negotiations could go bust. So they kept on tapping.
According to the WSJ report, after the Edward Snowden scandal had erupted and it turned out the NSA was tapping all of America’s friends, including heads of state, when President Obama promised to behave better and stop tapping everyone, that’s not what he really meant. The NSA hadn’t spent decades bugging phone and Internet networks around the world to just cut them off all of a sudden. How would they spy on everyone in the future if they needed to? So, instead, they just stopped eavesdropping. The taps stayed in place, but silent.
Except for one particular trouble spot, right around wherever Bibi happened to be at the moment. Apparently, not tapping our friendliest nation, Israel, didn’t enter anyone’s mind over at the NSA. “Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn’t do that,” a senior US official told the WSJ.
And so, the NSA was certain last year that Israel was spying on the Iran negotiations in Europe, and by late 2014 they knew Mr. Netanyahu wanted to block the nuclear deal but didn’t have a strategy yet. On January 8 this year, the strategy was hatched by then Republican House Speaker John Boehner and the new Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: they invited Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. They contacted Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who told Bibi, who grabbed the offer.
At which point, the NSA started yet another one of their famous walks on legal thin ice, because, according to US law, there’s a huge difference between tapping foreigners, even very friendly ones, like Netanyahu, and tapping US elected officials without their knowledge. If you’re going to tap Speaker Boehner chatting with PM Netanyahu, you must disclose this to the appropriate Congressional committees. Also, an NSA directive dating back to 2011 says that direct communications between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress should be destroyed when they are intercepted, and only the NSA director can decide otherwise regarding “significant foreign intelligence.”
The NSA is allowed to tap communications between US lawmakers after, as an example, an ambassador tells his government back home about a meeting with said lawmakers. So this is how the NSA, working for the Democrat in the White House, could spy on the conversations of the Congressional leadership, that happened to be Republican.