The National Security Agency has an agreement to share raw data with Israel's equivalent intelligence gathering operation, according to an Edward Snowden-leaked document obtained by the Guardian.
The document is a memorandum of understanding detailing the "protection of U.S. persons" as it applies to the agreement between the NSA and the Israeli SIGINT (signals intelligence) National Unit (ISNU).
The document's purpose is to make sure data provided to the Israeli unit by the NSA is treated in a manner that protects the "rights of U.S. persons under the Fourth Amendment and United States Constitution." The NSA had found the ISNU needed "more formalized training" to protect the information about Americans it was receiving.
This Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md. (AP)
According to the document, NSA "routinely" sends Israel some of the raw data it collects in a "mutually agreed upon exchange," which has been "beneficial to both the NSA's and the ISNU's mission and intelligence requirements."
Although the document details what the ISNU may and may not do with the data it receives -- and the Israelis agreed to not target Americans included in the data -- the Guardian pointed out the rules appear to hold little legal assurances.
"This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law," the document states.
If a U.S. person is identified in the data, the NSA requests Israel let the agency know, but still allows ISNU to maintain the data for up to a year. In contrast, Israel is directed to "destroy upon recognition" any data involving "officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments and independent agencies), the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the U.S. federal court system (including, but not limited to, the Supreme Court)."
The Guardian has more from the NSA regarding these revelations:
In a statement to the Guardian, an NSA spokesperson did not deny that personal data about Americans was included in raw intelligence data shared with the Israelis. But the agency insisted that the shared intelligence complied with all rules governing privacy.
"Any US person information that is acquired as a result of NSA'ssurveillance activities is handled under procedures that are designed to protect privacy rights," the spokesperson said.
The NSA declined to answer specific questions about the agreement, including whether permission had been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court for handing over such material.
In its statement, the NSA said: "We are not going to comment on any specific information sharing arrangements, or the authority under which any such information is collected. The fact that intelligence services work together under specific and regulated conditions mutually strengthens the security of both nations.
"NSA cannot, however, use these relationships to circumvent US legal restrictions. Whenever we share intelligence information, we comply with all applicable rules, including the rules to protect US person information."
One safeguard the NSA has in place is a regular review of sample "files transferred to ISNU to validate the absence of US persons' identities."
The Guardian reported another document saying Israel is a sound SIGINT partner, but also at times has been known to target the U.S. "to learn our positions on Middle East problems."
This report by the Guardian, one of many that have emerged since it unleashed the first of admitted whistleblower Snowden's documents in June, comes on the heels of other documents revealing a judge in 2009 found the government accessed domestic phone records for nearly three years without “reasonable, articulate suspicion."
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said at the time he was“deeply troubled by the incidents."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.