NEW YORK - US spying programmes scooped up communications between members of Congress and Israeli leaders, giving the White House insight into Israel’s lobbying of American lawmakers against the Iran nuclear deal, current and former US officials told The Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper said that the US continued to spy on select leaders of allied nations despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to curb such surveillance two years ago, and that it was a top priority to maintain spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
As part of that continued surveillance, the National Security Agency also swept up communication showing Israeli officials trying to turn lawmakers against the international deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the article said. According to the report, Obama administration officials thought the information it uncovered could potentially counteract Netanyahu’s crusade to stop the nuclear deal. But rather than make a formal request to the NSA for the back-and-forth, an official said, the White House opted to allow the NSA to decide on its own - without leaving a paper trail by submitting a formal request.
“We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’” a senior US official told the newspaper. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’” The report said the NSA removed the names of the lawmakers and personal information, as well as “trash talk” about the White House. Officials said Obama insisted that keeping tabs on Netanyahu served a “compelling national security purpose.” In a speech, Obama alluded to an exception for certain leaders but didn’t name any specific individuals.
Behind closed doors, the White House agreed on which allied leaders would be exempt from surveillance, such as French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders, the report said. But the administration still allowed the NSA to target their advisers, officials told the Journal, as well as other allies, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Wall Street Journal conducted interviews with more than two dozen current and former US intelligence officials. Government officials representing Israel, Germany and France all declined to comment to the Journal. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA also declined. The National Security Agency has also swept up communication showing Israeli officials trying to turn lawmakers against the international deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear capabilities, report article said. One senior administration official, according to the Journal, described the discovery of the swept-up communication as an “Oh moment” and feared that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.
But the president argued otherwise, and by avoiding direct interoffice communications, the administration gave a green light to the operation by doing nothing more. The agency’s goal was “to give us an accurate illustrative picture of what [the Israelis] were doing,” a senior US official told the Journal. At the time, administration officials hoped that some of the information it uncovered could potentially counteract Netanyahu’s crusade to stop the nuclear deal. But trying not to meddle, the White House opted to allow the NSA to decide on its own to avoid leaving a paper trail by submitting a formal request.

“We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’” a senior US official told the Journal. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’”
The report said the NSA removed the names of the lawmakers and personal information, as well as “trash talk” about the White House. The Journal reports that Obama insisted that keeping tabs on Netanyahu served a “compelling national security purpose.” In one speech, Obama alluded to an exception for certain leaders but didn’t name any specific individuals.
The White House did not deny the report, which cites several serving and former US officials, but stressed the importance of its ongoing close ties with Israel. The Israeli embassy refused to comment.
The US administration decided not to remove or disable the “cyber-implants” it had secreted on foreign communications systems, as they would be hard to replace. Instead, the report says, Obama ordered that some of the hacked systems used by close allies would not be routinely monitored by the NSA, while others would continue to be mined for intelligence.
“Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn’t do that,” one senior US official told the Journal. In Netanyahu’s case, Washington was concerned that Israel was itself monitoring US negotiations with Iran and might try to derail the effort to reach a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme. “Intelligence professionals have a saying: There are no friendly intelligence services,” Mike Rogers, former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told the Journal.