It Was Bibi! Or What Did Jared Know and When Did He Know It?

Back in May 2018 I did a post about how foreign intelligence services appeared to have been trying to collect Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) by capturing the unsecured cell phone conversations from the President’s and other elected and appointed officials in DC’s unsecured cell phones. My post was the result of reporting from Wired that DHS had confirmed that unauthorized cell-site simulators, commonly known as stingrays, had been found around DC. Politico had also just reported that the President was using two unsecured cell phones, one for calls with his friends and outside advisors and the other for posting tweets. According to Politico’s reporting from May 2018, neither phone is equipped with “sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials – a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance”.

And now, thanks to new reporting from Politico we know who was behind this: Israel! (emphasis mine)

he U.S. government concluded within the past two years that Israel was most likely behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, according to three former senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter.

But unlike most other occasions when flagrant incidents of foreign spying have been discovered on American soil, the Trump administration did not rebuke the Israeli government, and there were no consequences for Israel’s behavior, one of the former officials said.

The devices were likely intended to spy on President Donald Trump, one of the former officials said, as well as his top aides and closest associates — though it’s not clear whether the Israeli efforts were successful.

Based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other agencies working on the case felt confident that Israeli agents had placed the devices, according to the former officials, several of whom served in top intelligence and national security posts.

That analysis, one of the former officials said, is typically led by the FBI’s counterintelligence division and involves examining the devices so that they “tell you a little about their history, where the parts and pieces come from, how old are they, who had access to them, and that will help get you to what the origins are.” For these types of investigations, the bureau often leans on the National Security Agency and sometimes the CIA (DHS and the Secret Service played a supporting role in this specific investigation).

“It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,” said a former senior intelligence official.

There are two parts to this operational security breakdown and counterintelligence nightmare. The first is a President who refuses to follow even the most basic rules for maintaining operational security and the second is a client state, Israel, which treats its patron, the US, as if it is a hostile foreign power. The Israelis, of course, are denying that they did this (emphasis mine):

An Israeli Embassy spokesperson, Elad Strohmayer, denied that Israel placed the devices and said: “These allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period.”

After this story was published, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied that Israel was behind the devices. “We have a directive, I have a directive: No intelligence work in the United States, no spies,” he said in a gaggle with reporters. “And it’s vigorously implemented, without any exception. It [the report] is a complete fabrication, a complete fabrication.”

But former officials with deep experience dealing with intelligence matters scoff at the Israeli claim — a pro forma denial Israeli officials are also known to make in private to skeptical U.S. counterparts.

One former senior intelligence official noted that after the FBI and other agencies concluded that the Israelis were most likely responsible for the devices, the Trump administration took no action to punish or even privately scold the Israeli government.

“The reaction … was very different than it would have been in the last administration,” this person said. “With the current administration, there are a different set of calculations in regard to addressing this.”

The former senior intelligence official criticized how the administration handled the matter, remarking on the striking difference from past administrations, which likely would have at a very minimum issued a démarche, or formal diplomatic reprimand, to the foreign government condemning its actions.

“I’m not aware of any accountability at all,” the former official said.

The administration’s failure to hold the Israelis accountable for this SIGINT collection operation only encourages them, as well as other foreign actors – from allies and partners to hostile competitors – to conduct similar operations in the future. It also places others at risk. Anyone who is in contact with the subjects of the collection themselves become targets for collection. So all those people the President is talking to on the phone at night in the residence or who he meets with for golf or other social events at his properties every weekend and all the people in professional and personal contact with the people around the President in and out of government who can influence him on issues pertaining to Israel and Israel’s interests become targets. You may not know where Rudy Giuliani or Lou Dobbs or whomever the President had lunch with at his golf club last Sunday are right now, but the Israelis definitely do. They also know who they’ve been talking to on the phone, having dinner with, etc. The same goes for all of Jared and Ivanka’s friends and those of everyone else in the White House and the Executive Office of the President who may be working on something of interest to Israel or just close to the President.

The administration’s encouragement of Bibi’s bad behavior, as well as going all in on Bibi’s and Ron Dermer’s, his senior political advisor and ambassador the the US, strategy to make Israel a partisan issue in the US may continue to provide short term gain for Bibi and Israel. In the long term, however, it makes it inevitable that a future Democratic president is going to have to put Bibi and Israel back in their place. Given Bibi’s attempts to write the vast majority of Jewish Americans out of Judaism, aided and abetted by some American and Israeli Jews who are now making the argument that there are religious Jews (the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox) and then there are the “born” Jews who aren’t really Jewish*, Bibi and Israel won’t be able to count on the majority of Jewish Americans to come to his and Israel’s defense when the reckoning comes. Bibi has once again sown the wind, the question is whether he will ever reap the whirlwind.

Open thread!

* This has to be the dumbest argument regarding who is and isn’t Jewish ever. Even more so since it is being made by Jews. It takes the worst portions of the anti-Semitic arguments that Jews are a race or ethno-nationality apart from all others and pushes all Jews who aren’t as devout ,or devout in a way that the person making the argument approves of, into the racial/ethno-national category. Jews who are devout, or devout in the way that the person making the argument approves of, count as actual Jews because they’re religious. So the good Jews are Jewish because Judaism is a religion and the good Jews are observing it correctly and that is the only thing that sets them apart from non-Jews. The bad Jews are Jews who aren’t really Jewish because Judaism is a race or ethno-nationality, the bad Jews are either not observing the religion correctly or at all, and therefore because they are racially Jewish they are set apart from everyone including Jews who are Jews because they are observant of Judaism, which is a religion.

I now have a headache!

Rise And Kill First! Israel Strikes Iranian Military and Militia Targets in Syria

If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth

Rise and kill first is adapted from a saying in The Babylonian Talmud, quoted above, that provides the self defense justification if someone breaks into one’s home to kill them. It is also considered to be an unofficial motto, at least, of Israel’s security services, specifically its assassination teams. Which is also the focus and title of Ronen Bergman’s excellent history of Israel’s targeted assassination program. So it should be no surprise that Bibi quotes it in his tweet from earlier today announcing Israeli strikes against Iran’s Quds Force, other Iranian military and militia elements, and, based on some reports, Hezbullah militia elements. It is Bibi’s way of trying to ground what he is doing in Judaic law, which lends an element of religious warfare to today’s strikes, as well as within Israel’s history of striking before it can be struck. And I have no doubt that the Iranians received both of the messages Bibi was transmitting with the final sentence in that tweet.

The closeness of today’s strike to Israel’s upcoming election has not gone unnoticed by Bibi’s unauthorized biographer Anshel Pfeffer.

I’ve seen references on social media that Israeli drones have been brought down over Beirut by Hezbullah, but it isn’t a trusted source so take it as RUMINT for the time being. Noga Tarnopolsky has reported that the Israeli Air Force is flying extended/extra combat air patrols and that the Iron Dome missile defense system has been activated in the north of Israel, including the Golan Heights.

As was the case the last several times that Netanyahu ordered strikes, remember he is both the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, the question will be whether for the time being these are one and done strikes or they begin a pattern of either Iranian-Israeli tit for tat and escalation or if cooler heads prevail. Given that Bibi is fighting not just for his political life, but to be able to leverage his control of the Israeli government to make the investigations into him and the charges against him go away, I would expect to see more strikes. Especially because the Iranians know this. And they know they can provoke him into attacking to prove he’s the best choice in the upcoming Israeli elections to keep Israel safe. The Quds Force commander, Major General Qassem Suleimani, is the best strategist indigenous to the region. I think he’s trying to goad Bibi into overreacting. Into doing something so over the top, so strategically risky that it backfires and blows back not just on Bibi, but also on Israel and Bibi’s US patron: the President. If this is, indeed, Suleimani’s strategy, then it is a risky one. But also one for the potential for great reward.

This could, and likely will, get much worse before it gets better.

Open thread.

The President Has Thoughts! They’re Not Coherent Thoughts, They’re anti-Semitic Thoughts, But They’re Thoughts

Oy vey!

I realize that when the President and his surrogates are called out to explain or respond to this, the answer will be that he’s just retweeting something complimentary that Wayne Allen Root said and/or wrote about him. And that it is part of him counter-punching and punching back at those, especially the Jewish Americans, pushing back against his statements yesterday about loyalty and disloyalty. But the level of sycophancy in Root’s comments about the President and delusion in the President’s repackaging those comments and blasting them out to the world are just astounding.

Here’s some quick background on Root, who is a conspiracist.

Also, on a semi-related matter, if you’re wondering why the President cancelled his Denmark trip, methinks this might have had something to do with it.

Open thread!


Pew’s News About American Jews Or 42% of American Jews Agree With Congresswoman Omar About Israel

Pew is out with new survey data regarding American attitudes towards Israel and the President’s positions and actions towards Israel.

While U.S. Jews have a strong attachment to Israel, they are divided in their assessment of Trump’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Roughly four-in-ten (42%) say they think Trump is favoring the Israelis too much, while a similar share (47%) say he is striking the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians. The rest either say he is favoring the Palestinians too much (6%) or they don’t know (4%).

As I’ve written about here many times, American Jews are far less supportive of the President’s actions towards Israel than American Christians, especially white Evangelical Christians (Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Fundamentalists).

By comparison, Christians in the United States are more likely to say Trump is striking the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians (59%) than to say Trump favors the Israelis too much (26%). Among evangelical Protestants, 72% say they think Trump strikes the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians, and just 15% say Trump favors the Israelis too much.

The difference between evangelicals and Jews on this question partly reflects partisan divisions. Most evangelical Protestants describe themselves as Republican or say they lean toward the Republican Party, while most Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Overall, Republicans mostly think Trump has struck the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians, while 53% of Democrats think Trump favors the Israelis too much.

The none affiliated and those with no religion are closer in their views with American Jews than American Christians.

Partisanship also may be a factor when it comes to the views of religiously unaffiliated Americans (sometimes referred to as “nones”), who, like Jews, largely lean Democratic. Nearly half (47%) of the unaffiliated – those who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religion –  say they think Trump favors the Israelis too much.

Finally, and as one would expect, there are significant partisan and intra-religious divides in attitudes towards the President’s positions and actions regarding Israel.

The survey also shows that roughly eight-in-ten evangelical Protestants (79%) have a favorable view of the Israeli people, as do seven-in-ten mainline Protestants and about two-thirds of Catholics. People in all three groups are far more likely to say they have a favorable view of the Israeli people than they are to say the same of the Palestinian people.

By contrast, religiously unaffiliated people and those in the historically black Protestant tradition are more ambivalent toward Israelis. Those in both of these groups feel about as warmly toward the Palestinian people as they do toward the Israeli people. (The survey did not include enough interviews with Jews to analyze their views on these questions, because the questions were only asked of half the sample.)

I’ll close by once again belaboring the point that being opposed to Israel, its current government and governing coalition, and/or specific Israeli actions IS NOT THE SAME thing as being anti-Semitic! And that making claims of anti-Semitism by white Christian elected and appointed Republican officials, as well as elite and noted conservatives, for political purposes that equate Israel with Judaism are bullshit. The current Republican and conservative racism in defense of Judaism equated with Israel and Jewishness equated with Israeli is actually anti-Semitism. It defines American Jews as less American and more Israelis in waiting. It is a classic example of othering American Jews, of defining them outside of their nationality as Americans by equating Judaism, which is a religion, with Israel, which is a nation-state. It makes American Jews a fifth column that is not fully American because their allegiance is somehow to Israel. You can’t get more anti-Semitic than that.

Open thread!