Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should summon Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer over Israel’s alleged surveillance of the White House.
The United States is confident that Israel is responsible for a number of “StingRay” tower-like surveillance devices that were found near the White House in 2018, as Politico‘s Daniel Lippman reports on Thursday. StingRays trick cell phones and other devices into a connection under the software’s expectation that it is actually connecting with a legitimate cell phone tower. This allows the StingRay to steal location, usage, and content data.
The Israeli government strongly denies the accusations. I believe it is lying.
First, as I noted in October 2018, there are four major actors who have the “operational presence, scaled capability, and intent to target U.S. presidential communications [in Washington, D.C.] — China, France, Israel, Russia.” I also noted that targeting Trump associates’ calls allows “allies who spy on the U.S. government (mainly the French and Israelis) … a lower likelihood of blowback in the event of being caught.”
Israeli intelligence services, though often critical American allies, have repeatedly been tasked to target U.S. executive branch officials. While the U.S. National Security Agency does the same thing in Israel, the StingRay situation is different. The decision to scatter physical collection devices in proximity to the White House shows extraordinary arrogance.
The Israelis knew the StingRays would eventually be detected. The Israelis would also have known that the U.S. government would likely link those devices back to them. But as with their efforts to recruit human agents inside the U.S. government (unique in ambition and effort among U.S. allies), the Israelis simply didn’t care.
But that’s America’s fault, not Israel’s.
After all, the Trump administration doesn’t appear to care very much about the spying. Lippman reports that the U.S. did not even issue a protest to the Israeli embassy. Considering Pompeo’s unique deference to Israel’s enabling of Chinese technical capabilities, I am confident that Lippman’s reporting is accurate.
That must now change. Pompeo should summon Ambassador Dermer and explain that this must not happen again.