Washington: The US government has concluded within the past two years that Israel has been placing surveillance devices near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, DC, according to a US media outlet.
In contrast to other instances of foreign spying, however, President Donald Trump’s administration has not rebuked Israel, and there were no consequences for the regime’s behavior, Politico reported on Thursday, citing three former senior US officials with knowledge of the matter.
The phone eavesdropping devices, called IMSI-catcher, or stingrays, are essentially a “fake” mobile towers used for intercepting mobile phone traffic and tracking location data of mobile phone users.
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.
Trump is reputed to be lax in observing White House security protocols. POLITICO reported in May 2018 that the president often used an insufficiently secured cell phone to communicate with friends and confidants.
The New York Times subsequently reported in October 2018 that “Chinese spies are often listening” to Trump’s cell-phone calls, prompting the president to slam the story as “so incorrect I do not have time here to correct it.”
The report said that in May 2018, officials at the US Department of Homeland Security discovered evidence of the surveillance devices around the US capital, but weren’t able to attribute the devices to specific entities.
However, based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other intelligence agencies working on the case felt confident that Israeli agents had placed the devices, according to the report.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement on the report, calling the accusation “a blatant lie.”
A spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, also denied that Israel placed the devices. “These allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period,” he said.
But former US officials with deep experience dealing with intelligence matters scoff at the Israeli claim.
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.