Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implied that a former strategist for Barack Obama currently working for the Blue and White party in Israel was behind a Politico report claiming the U.S. government concluded that Israel was “most likely” behind the placement of cellphone snooping devices purportedly found in the vicinity of the White House.
Politico’s anonymously sourced article, which claims Israeli intelligence under Netanyahu’s administration spied on the Trump administration, was released just days before a critical election in Israel.
The wild claim does not cite any U.S. government agency but instead relies upon “three former senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter” who purport to know that the “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.”
The Israeli government has strongly denied the allegations. A senior U.S. official was quoted as saying the Politico story “is completely false. Absolutely false. I checked.” President Trump himself said of the story: “I find that hard to believe.” Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Trump further said, “I don’t believe that. No, I don’t believe that the Israelis are spying on us.”
On Friday, Netanyahu released a campaign ad promoting a Fox News segment from last week in which radio star and weekend cable host Mark Levin said Joel Benenson was behind the Politico piece. Benenson was a strategist for Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and served as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign. He is currently advising Netanyahu’s main opponent, Benny Gantz, and Gantz’s Blue and White party.
“Yesterday you heard the lies that Israel tried to spy on the White House, a complete lie,” Netanyahu began in the Hebrew-language campaign video.
Netanyahu cited Levin as saying “this is exactly like the tricks carried out by Joel Benenson. He was an adviser to Obama and now he is the adviser to [Blue and White leaders Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid.”
“For them everything is kosher,” added Netanyahu. “They are willing to do anything and don’t care if they damage this valuable asset, our relationship with the United States and my relationship with the president.”
“Everything is kosher to garner an extra few votes and bring in a left-wing government. Don’t believe these lies,” Netanyahu stated.
Blue and White co-founder Yair Lapid strongly rejected the charge about Benenson and claimed that Netanyahu had “gone off the rails.”
“Yesterday we supported Bibi over the eavesdropping allegation, today he said we instigated it. Never mind being a liar, what about some national responsibility? The man has gone off the rails,” tweeted Lapid.
Breitbart’s Aaron Klein took a closer look at the Politico story, writing that the alleged plot “reveals glaring red flags.”
The Politico story by Daniel Lippman charges:
The miniature surveillance devices, colloquially known as “StingRays,” mimic regular cell towers to fool cellphones into giving them their locations and identity information. Formally called international mobile subscriber identity-catchers or IMSI-catchers, they also can capture the contents of calls and data use.
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.
Klein noted that a reader needs to scroll down a full 28 paragraphs to arrive at the detail that such IMSI-catchers can also be made by “sophisticated hobbyists” or those willing to pay more than $150,000 for each device.
IMSI-catchers, which are often used by local police agencies to surveil criminals, can also be made by sophisticated hobbyists or by the Harris Corp., the manufacturer of StingRays, which cost more than $150,000 each, according to Vice News.
Writes Klein: “So we are to believe that technology behemoth Israel, with some of the most capable and proven minds in high-tech, risked blowing up its relationship with its closest and most important ally by recklessly planting physical spying devices near the White House that “can also be made by sophisticated hobbyists.” A simple Google search under ‘IMSI catcher’ turns up less sophisticated devices for as low as $249.95 and countless websites describing how to make IMSIs.”
“The improbable plot gets even more absurd,” continued Klein.
The Breitbart Jerusalem bureau chief pointed to a story from September 2014 in which CNBC first exclusively reported about a technology company that discovered “as many as 15 cellphone interception devices secretly operating in the nation’s capital, capable of illicitly identifying the movements of prominent people, recording audio from mobile phones, listening to calls and reading email.”
CNBC reported on the IMSI-catchers and even spent an afternoon driving around Washington with experts “whose devices registered several malicious attempts to probe the phones.”
The news agency related that they contacted the FBI and Department of Justice to seek comment on the discovery of the devices.
The CNBC reporter who authored the story, Eamon Javers, tweeted on Thursday that Politico’s Lippman “provides a likely answer to a mystery I first reported on back in 2014 – Who’s hacking DC’s cell phones?”
Lippman himself retweeted Javers’ tweet linking his 2014 article on IMSI-catchers in D.C. to Politico’s story citing former officials as claiming that Israel was operating such devices in America’s capital to spy on Trump.
So we are to believe that Israel risked spying on the Trump administration using devices that were not only planted in the open but similar to or even the same as the IMSI-catchers in D.C. first reported in the news media five years ago.
And, according to this outlandish narrative, Israel continued to deploy such easily discoverable devices for years even after CNBC revealed those attempts and publicly reported that it alerted the FBI about the IMSI-catchers. We are to further believe that Israel has been spying in D.C. using devices so unsophisticated that civilian experts cited by CNBC in 2014 discovered similar snooping attempts with just one afternoon drive around the Capital. Color me skeptical.