AS ISRAEL AND the Lebanese militia Hezbollah exchanged blows during their short-lived but devastating 2006 war, Israeli military officials used private channels to pressure their American counterparts in the National Security Agency for intelligence to help assassinate Hezbollah operatives, according to a pair of top-secret NSA documents. The NSA was legally restricted from providing such information but, after Israeli officials asked for an exemption, U.S. intelligence officials decided on a new framework for information-sharing.
The documents, published on an NSA internal news site called SIDtoday and provided by agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, provide a glimpse into the intelligence relationship between two countries during the 2006 conflict.
They form a two-part SIDtoday article titled “The Israel-Hizballah Crisis — Perspectives from an Acting SLO Tel Aviv,” the personal account of a Tel Aviv-based NSA official — a signals intelligence liaison officer, who is tasked with managing relations with foreign partners — and their experience with their Israeli counterparts during the war. By their account, the NSA relationship with Israel during the 2006 war was strained. The NSA liaison officer recounted disputes that occurred with the Israelis over intelligence requests made by the Israeli SIGINT National Unit, or ISNU, the elite Israeli counterpart to the NSA.
“ISNU’s reliance on NSA was equally demanding and centered on requests for time sensitive tasking, threat warning, including tactical ELINT” — electronic intelligence — “and receipt of geolocational information on Hizballah elements,” the NSA official wrote. “The latter request was particularly problematic and I had several late-night, sometimes tense, discussions with ISNU detailing NSA’s legal prohibition on providing information that could be used in targeted killings.”
“Even with his full understanding of the US statutes, [ISNU Commander] BG Harari sought assistance from NSA for an exemption to this legal policy. To ISNU, this prohibition was contrary not only to supporting Israel in its fight against Hizballah but overall, to support the US Global War on Terrorism.”
The account goes on to suggest that the NSA ultimately reached a compromise with its Israeli counterpart by working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, the cabinet-level office that oversees U.S. intelligence efforts. “In the end,” the article states, “a framework was decided upon by ODNI that defined the parameters and methods of what could and could not be shared with the Israelis.” The documents do not give details of this framework…