On Tuesday, September 11, the Guardian published a previously undisclosed document which revealed top-secret policies in place since 2009 that are used to share personal phone and Internet data pertaining to United States citizens with American ally Israel.
The document, a five-page memorandum authorized by the National Security Agency near the beginning of US President Barack Obama's first administration, outlines a deal between the NSA and Israel's SIGINT National Unit, or ISNU.
"This agreement," the memo begins, "prescribes procedures and responsibilities for ensuring" privacy safeguards are implemented to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of US citizens with regards to the direct sharing of raw intelligence collected by the NSA with its Israeli counterpart.
That data, the document later explains, includes raw traffic picked up by the American spy office such as "unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence (DNI) metadata and content" which is never necessarily scrutinized by US officials before sent to Israeli agents.
"Seems the only info actually being 'minimized' is the info #NSA shares with the American public," American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer tweeted following publication of the Guardian piece. "NSA is really good at minimizing that."
The Guardian notes, however, that other leaked documents uncovered as of late indicate that the US intelligence community may have reservations nonetheless with sharing info with even an ally as tried and true as Israel.
"On the one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good Sigint partners for us, but on the other, they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems," a senior NSA official says in a 2008 NSA document seen by the Guardian but not published in Wednesday's piece. "A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US."
According to Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, a NSA spokesperson pressed for comment wouldn't deny the validity of the leaked document's contents, but assured the British newspaper that "Any US person information that is acquired as a result of NSA's surveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights."
The latest leak comes on the 12-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that many high-ranking US officials have used to justify the surveillance measures enacted in the decade-plus since. It also marks just more than three months since the Guardian first began published leaked NSA documents attributed to Snowden, a 30-year-old former intelligence contractor who has since relocated to Russia where he was granted asylum while avoiding espionage charges in the US.