Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WSJ: Israel Spied on U.S.–Iran Talks & Shared the Results with Republicans


Looking down the rabbit hole of U.S. domestic politics,
where everything you thought you knew, you don't;
click to enlarge (source)

by Gaius Publius

There are more ways to think about this news than I can count, so I'm just going to present it with more questions than comment afterward. According to a Wall Street Journal article (subscription or login required), the Israeli government spied on U.S. communications in talks between the U.S. and Iran, and then passed what they learned to the President's political opponents in Congress to help those opponents derail the negotiations.

The Journal (my emphasis everywhere):
Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Ally’s snooping upset White House because information was used to lobby Congress to try to sink a deal

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The rest of the article notes that U.S. intelligence officials figured it out when their own spying on Israel revealed that the Israelis had information that only Israeli spying on U.S.–Iran negotiations could discover. Another part of the piece notes that, "[u]sing levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and [Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Ron] Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal."

One of those "levers unique to Israel" has to have been U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is widely seen as one of the hands behind Netanyahu's speech to Congress, if not the hand.

There's quite a bit of she-said, he-said in the article, with Israel denying everything, from the source of their information to how much was revealed to Republicans in Congress. It's an interesting read. After much good reporting about the aftermath of the Republican invitation to speak — Dermer meets with Joe Manchin, Dermer meets with Dianne Feinstein, and the like — the article closes:
“If you’re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes,” a senior U.S. official said. “These things leave scars.” 
Again, there's good reporting in the article; it's worth a read if this is your area of interest. As bad as the WSJ editorial page is, the reporting is often excellent. The writer of this piece is Adam Entous.

Who Is the Writer's Main Source and What Does That Question Tell Us?

The first question to ask in any piece like this is — Who are the sources and what are their goals? In this case, the primary sources are identified this way:
current and former U.S. officials said
At another point, the attribution is:
said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter
The second category could easily include the first. At a third point we learn:
“People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said.
Note the word "senior." Does this mean the Journal was pitched this story by the White House via a "senior" official as a "designated" leak to punish Netanyahu further? Or did Adam Entous discover all this by himself — against U.S. government wishes — and thus put himself at risk for leaking classified information on his own say-so? I don't know for sure, obviously, but my guess is the former.

Are We Being Interfered With the Way We've Interfered With Others?

That explains the writer's perspective on this story (or at least examines it), and suggests what the White House perspective might be. The article makes clear, says explicitly, that the spying itself is not troubling to the U.S., but sharing the results with Republicans as part of partisan domestic politics is.

Now the second question: If the Israelis are guilty of spying on the U.S. government in order to aid the party out of power — and the Obama administration certainly thinks they are — are we getting payback (or blowback) for what we've done so many times in the past? I won't "go long" here, but the list is almost exhausting — to name just a few, Mosaddegh, Guatemala, Chile, on and on, even to the failed "revolt" in Venezuela. Is at least one nation (Israel) using its espionage service to control our own internal politics?

If Israel is doing to us what we did to so many others — what are the implications of that for U.S. voters and their beliefs about our political processes?

Are Republicans Using a Foreign Spy Service to Obstruct the U.S. Government?

Now look at this from a Republican perspective. Are Republicans using the espionage services of a foreign government to advance their own party-first, party-in-opposition agenda? If true, what are the limits to what they would do (or are doing)? If there are no limits, what are those implications for U.S. voters?

If the Republicans are, in effect, subcontracting their espionage to a foreign power and getting away with it — and at this point the Obama administration is only complaining, not taking more forceful action — what's next for us?

See what I mean? More ways to think about this than I can count. I'll say one thing though. If an American political party is using a foreign government's espionage service for partisan gain, we're in a different world from the one we thought we were in. Hello, Alice.


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At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's explore corruption and destroy the Constitution even further: if Deep State is vacuuming up everything, the Administration should consider a deal with NSA for whatever they have on Adelson, AIPAC, Boehner, and all the rest of the usual suspects. If the AG can't make treason or sedition charges stick, I'm sure there's something that can bring them down.


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