The United States National Security Agency’s (NSA) eavesdropping scandal includes phone conversations between top Israeli officials, US lawmakers and American-Jewish groups, current and former US officials said on Tuesday.
According to unnamed officials cited by Reuters, the White House believed that the acquired information could be effective in countering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign against the nuclear deal with Iran.
The NSA's eavesdropping reportedly discovered that Netanyahu and his advisers leaked details which they acquired by Israeli spying operations aimed at the US-Iran negotiations.
The information allowed Obama administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn the US Congress against the deal.
Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, was believed to have coached unnamed Jewish-American groups on lines of argument to use with US lawmakers, while Israeli officials reportedly pressed lawmakers to oppose the deal.
"We do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike," White House National Security Council spokesman said.
After former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the agency’s spying operations, US President Barack Obama announced on January 2014 that his country would curb its eavesdropping of "friendly" world leaders.
Some figures such as French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were declared as off-limits to US eavesdropping. However, US intelligence monitored Netanyahu on the grounds it served a "compelling national security purpose."
Soon after Israel’s lobbying efforts against the Iran nuclear deal failed in Capitol Hill, administration and intelligence officials realised the NSA acquired the content of conversations with American lawmakers.
A 2011 NSA directive said that direct conversations between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress should have been destroyed when they were collected. However, NSA director can now issue a waiver if he supposes the conversations include “significant foreign intelligence.”
Before the nuclear deal cleared US Congress in September, the NSA removed the names of lawmakers from intelligence reports and weeded out personal information during Israel’s lobbying campaign.