Tag Archives: White House

Drug War Debate Divides Latin America, U.S. at OAS Summit

Latin American governments traditionally allied with the U.S. on anti-drug efforts are increasingly divided as countries from Costa Rica to Colombia seek a debate over legalization at a regional summit.

Officials from the 35 members of the Organization of American States are meeting in Guatemala City today in a special session called a year ago to address counter-narcotics policies.

Continue reading Drug War Debate Divides Latin America, U.S. at OAS Summit

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Never-before-seen pictures inside the White House on September 11, 2001

Taking it in: Then-Vice President Dick Cheney rests his feet on his desk as he watches a live TV news report of the 9/11 attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001. The first plane hit the WTC's North Tower at 8.46am. A second jet struck the South Tower at 9.03am
Taking it in: Then-Vice President Dick Cheney rests his feet on his desk as he watches a live TV news report of the 9/11 attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001. The first plane hit the WTC’s North Tower at 8.46am. A second jet struck the South Tower at 9.03am

In one photo, then-Vice President Dick Cheney rests his feet on his desk as he watches a live TV news report of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Shocked: With his glasses off, Cheney stares to his left after he was frog-marched by agents to a secure basement in the White House
Shocked: With his glasses off, Cheney stares to his left after he was frog-marched by agents to a secure basement in the White House

In another, he sits beside his wife after they were both frog-marched by Secret Service agents to a secure basement in the White House. 

The never-before-seen images capture Cheney's reaction to the attacks, which saw four hijacked passenger planes crash in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001

And in a later shot, he takes his glasses off and clasps his hands together before he and his spouse are flown to an undisclosed location.

Aftermath: Cheney, now 78, leans backward and yawns in one of the photos, released following a Freedom of Information Act request
Aftermath: Cheney, now 78, leans backward and yawns in one of the photos, released following a Freedom of Information Act request

These never-before-seen images capture Cheney’s reaction to the attacks, which saw two hijacked passenger planes crash into the World Trade Center in New York, another jet strike the Pentagon and a fourth crash in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, killing 2,996 people.

The then-Vice President takes a call in the basement
Crisis: : The never-before-seen images capture Cheney’s reaction to the attacks, which saw four hijacked passenger planes crash in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. Above, the then-Vice President holds his head (left) and takes a call (right)

They also show the horror felt by other senior government officials, including then-President George Bush and his wife Laura, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, Cheney’s top lawyer, David Addington, and Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Tense talks: In the images, Bush (far right) looks tense as he confers with Cheney (far left), Chief of Staff Andrew Card (second left), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (center) and other officials in the President's Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)
Tense talks: In the images, Bush (far right) looks tense as he confers with Cheney (far left), Chief of Staff Andrew Card (second left), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (center) and other officials in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)

In the photos, Bush looks tense and even bites his lip as he confers with officials in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a highly-secure underground bunker below the White House’s East Wing that can withstand nuclear hits and other devastating attacks.

Emergency response: The PEOC is a secure underground bunker below the White House's East Wing that can withstand nuclear hits
Emergency response: The PEOC is a secure underground bunker below the White House’s East Wing that can withstand nuclear hit

The then-President would shortly address the nation about the day’s atrocities, which were aired live on TV screens across the world.

In charge: On the day of the attacks, Cheney was in charge at the White House. The President was visiting a school in Sarasota, Florida
In charge: On the day of the attacks, Cheney was in charge at the White House. The President was visiting a school in Sarasota, Florida

The same evening, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were flown via Marine Two to a secret destination, revealed in the photos to be Camp David.They were later moved to other undisclosed sites as thousands of rescue workers descended on the wreckage of the WTC towers.

Advice: Cheney holds his hand to chin as his top lawyer, David Addington (seen kneeling), starts to secure the legal authority response
Advice: Cheney holds his hand to chin as his top lawyer, David Addington (seen kneeling), starts to secure the legal authority response

On the day of the attacks, Cheney, now 74, was in charge at the White House, with Bush visiting a school in Sarasota, Florida, at the time.

Looking worried: Rice bites her lip as she sits beside Cheney in the PEOC. While the officials were inside the underground bunker, first built for President Franklin Roosevelt in World War Two, there were reports of more hijacked planes heading toward the White House
Looking worried: Rice bites her lip as she sits beside Cheney in the PEOC. While the officials were inside the underground bunker, first built for President Franklin Roosevelt in World War Two, there were reports of more hijacked planes heading toward the White House

Cheney has since defended the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the wake of the plane attacks, which included the waterboarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a total of 183 times, declaring that he ‘would do it again in a minute’.  

Preparation: Bush speaks to Cheney, Rice and Card as he prepares address the nation about the day's atrocities, seen across the world
Preparation: Bush speaks to Cheney, Rice and Card as he prepares address the nation about the day’s atrocities, seen across the world

The newly-released images of Cheney and other officials’ reactions to 9/11 were captured by Cheny’s staff photographer, according to PBS.

Secure room: Cheney, his wife and then-First Lady Laura Bush (center) all look visibly tense as they stand in the PEOC during the crisis
Secure room: Cheney, his wife and then-First Lady Laura Bush (center) all look visibly tense as they stand in the PEOC during the crisis

 The photos were released by the National Archives following a FOIA request by FRONTLINE filmmaker Colette Neirouz Hanna.

Top officials: Cheney speaks to Bush in the PEOC on the evening of the attacks. Bush arrived at the bunker at around 7pm, it is reported
Top officials: Cheney speaks to Bush in the PEOC on the evening of the attacks. Bush arrived at the bunker at around 7pm, it is reported

Spouse: Cheney’s wife, Lynne (left), was also brought to PEOC for security reasons. She and her husband were later flown to safety

Spouse: Cheney’s wife, Lynne (left), was also brought to PEOC for security reasons. She and her husband were later flown to safety

Never-before-seen: The striking pictures of Cheney and other officials' reactions to 9/11 were captured by Cheny's staff photographer

Never-before-seen: The striking pictures of Cheney and other officials’ reactions to 9/11 were captured by Cheny’s staff photographer

Communications: Cheney (pictured speaking on the phone on the day of the attacks) has defended the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the wake of the attacks, which included the waterboarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times

Communications: Cheney (pictured speaking on the phone on the day of the attacks) has defended the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the wake of the attacks, which included the waterboarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times

Ready to speak: Bush is pictured clutching a piece of paper as he speaks to Card, Cheney and Rice ahead of his address to the nation

Ready to speak: Bush is pictured clutching a piece of paper as he speaks to Card, Cheney and Rice ahead of his address to the nation

Reassuring the nation: During his address, Bush promised to 'find those responsible and bring them to justice' for committing the 'evil, despicable acts of terror'. Above, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet is pictured watching the speech at around 8:30pm

Reassuring the nation: During his address, Bush promised to ‘find those responsible and bring them to justice’ for committing the ‘evil, despicable acts of terror’. Above, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet is pictured watching the speech at around 8:30pm

Listening: Tenet (left) and FBI Director Robert Mueller were joined by other officials as they watched Bush address millions of citizens

Listening: Tenet (left) and FBI Director Robert Mueller were joined by other officials as they watched Bush address millions of citizens

Flown to safety: That evening, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were flown via helicopter to a secret destination, revealed in the photos to be Camp David. Above, the couple are pictured (left) being escorted to Marine Two, which shortly took off for Camp David (right)

Bigger plan: Cheney's move was part of a Secret Service plan to maintain the continuity of the leadership of the government, PBS reports

Bigger plan: Cheney’s move was part of a Secret Service plan to maintain the continuity of the leadership of the government, PBS reports

 En-route: Cheney and his wife (seen in the aircraft) were later moved to other undisclosed sites as rescue workers looked for victims

En-route: Cheney and his wife (seen in the aircraft) were later moved to other undisclosed sites as rescue workers looked for victims

Safe place: The then-Vice President is greeted by a sailor at Camp David, situated in wooded hills about 62 miles from Washington, D.C.

Safe place: The then-Vice President is greeted by a sailor at Camp David, situated in wooded hills about 62 miles from Washington, D.C.

Horrified: Cheney (pictured at Camp David) said in the aftermath of the devastating attacks: 'We have to work the dark side, if you will'

Horrified: Cheney (pictured at Camp David) said in the aftermath of the devastating attacks: ‘We have to work the dark side, if you will’

On September 11, 2001, two hijacked passenger planes crashed into two World Trade Center towers (pictured) in New York, another jet struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field. The attacks killed a total of 2,996 people, including the 19 hijackers

On September 11, 2001, two hijacked passenger planes crashed into two World Trade Center towers (pictured) in New York, another jet struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field. The attacks killed a total of 2,996 people, including the 19 hijackers

Shocking news: This photo, later seen by people across the world, shows the moment Bush was informed of 9/11 by his Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, who whispered in his ear. At the time, the then-President was attending a school reading event in Sarasota, Florida

Shocking news: This photo, later seen by people across the world, shows the moment Bush was informed of 9/11 by his Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, who whispered in his ear. At the time, the then-President was attending a school reading event in Sarasota, Florida

Hackers breach some White House computers

Hackers thought to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified White House computer networks in recent weeks, sources said, resulting in temporary disruptions to some services while cybersecurity teams worked to contain the intrusion.

White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said that the intruders did not damage any of the systems and that, to date, there is no evidence the classified network was hacked.

“In the course of assessing recent threats, we identified activity of concern on the unclassified Executive Office of the President network,” said one White House official. “We took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity. . . . Unfortunately, some of that resulted in the disruption of regular services to users. But people were on it and are dealing with it.”

The FBI, Secret Service and National Security Agency are all involved in the investigation. White House officials are not commenting on who was behind the intrusion or how much data, if any, was taken.

“Certainly a variety of actors find our networks to be attractive targets and seek access to sensitive information,” the White House official said. “We are still assessing the activity of concern.”

U.S. officials were alerted to the breach by an ally, sources said.

Recent reports by security firms have identified cyber-­espionage campaigns by Russian hackers thought to be working for the government. Targets have included NATO, the Ukrainian government and U.S. defense contractors. Russia is regarded by U.S. officials as being in the top tier of states with cyber-capabilities.

In the case of the White House, the nature of the target is consistent with a state-sponsored campaign, sources said.

The breach was discovered two to three weeks ago, sources said. Some staffers were asked to change their passwords. Intranet or VPN access was shut off for awhile, but the email system, apart from some minor delays, was never down, sources said.

White House officials said that such an intrusion was not unexpected.

“On a regular basis, there are bad actors out there who are attempting to achieve intrusions into our system,” said a second White House official. “This is a constant battle for the government and our sensitive government computer systems, so it’s always a concern for us that individuals are trying to compromise systems and get access to our networks.”

The Russian intelligence service was believed to have been behind a breach of the U.S. military’s classified networks, which was discovered in 2008. The operation to contain the intrusion and clean up the computers, called Buckshot Yankee, took months.

That incident helped galvanize the effort to create U.S. Cyber Command, a military organization dedicated to defending the country’s critical computer systems — including those in the private sector — against foreign cyberattack, as well as helping combatant commanders in operations against adversaries. The command is expected to have some 6,000 personnel by 2016, officials said. 

When directed by the president or defense secretary, Cyber Command can undertake offensive operations.

New sparks fly between CIA, Senate Intelligence Committee

— Tensions between the CIA and its congressional overseers erupted anew this week when CIA Director John Brennan refused to tell lawmakers who authorized intrusions into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a damning report on the spy agency’s interrogation program.

The confrontation, which took place during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, came as the sides continue to spar over the report’s public release, providing further proof of the unprecedented deterioration in relations between the CIA and Capitol Hill.

After the meeting, several senators were so incensed at Brennan that they confirmed the row and all but accused the nation’s top spy of defying Congress.

“I’m concerned there’s disrespect towards the Congress,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy. “I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s unacceptable.”

“I continue to be incredibly frustrated with this director,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “He does not respect the role of the committee in providing oversight, and he continues to stonewall us on basic information, and it’s very frustrating. And it certainly doesn’t serve the agency well.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he was “renewing my call” for Brennan’s resignation.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said that Brennan declined to answer the committee’s questions because doing so could have compromised an investigation into the computer intrusions by an accountability board headed by former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. Moreover, the agency’s leadership has asked the CIA Inspector General’s Office to respond to the questions, Boyd said.

“Commencing a new, parallel investigation to compile answers to these questions could negatively impact the integrity of the ongoing Accountability Board process,” Boyd wrote in an email.

Hours before Tuesday’s meeting in the committee’s secure offices, the panel received a letter in which Brennan said he wouldn’t respond to written questions he’d received in January from the chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper joined Brennan for the meeting, which had been expected to focus on the threat posed by the Islamic State. But tempers flared as some lawmakers challenged Brennan on his decision not to answer Feinstein’s questions, witnesses said.

At one point, said a person familiar with the meeting, Brennan raised his voice at Feinstein.

Feinstein sent the questions after Brennan told her that agency personnel investigating a security breach had searched computers her staff used in a secret CIA facility. The questions included a demand to know who ordered the intrusions and under what legal authority they were conducted.

Brennan “shouldn’t get away with not answering questions,” said Levin. “Nobody in the executive branch should get away with not answering questions to a legitimate legislative inquiry.”

Feinstein described the questions in a scathing March speech on the Senate floor. In her address, she confirmed an earlier McClatchy report about the computer intrusions and suggested that the CIA might have violated the law and the separation of powers provisions of the Constitution.

The committee staff used the computers to compile a report on the agency’s use of torture on suspected terrorists under the George W. Bush administration. Bush ended the program, in which detainees were abducted and held in secret overseas prisons, in 2006.

The CIA and former Bush administration officials deny that the interrogation techniques, which included simulated drowning known as waterboarding, constituted torture.

For its part, the CIA accused Feinstein’s staffers of removing without permission classified documents from the secret facility in which the agency required them to review millions of pages of operational cables and other highly classified materials on the program.

Both sets of charges were referred to the Justice Department for criminal investigations.

At the time, Brennan adamantly denied Feinstein’s allegations that the CIA had spied on her committee. But in July, he was compelled to apologize to her after a review by the CIA Inspector General’s Office confirmed that CIA personnel gained unauthorized access to her staff’s computers and combed through their emails.

The inspector general report also revealed that the agency’s contention that the staff had removed classified documents without permission from the top-secret facility was unfounded and based on inaccurate information.

Levin dismissed Brennan’s defense that CIA Inspector General David Buckley was the appropriate person to answer Feinstein’s questions.

“It may or may not be appropriate for the (CIA) IG to answer, but it’s not appropriate for Brennan to refuse to answer. If he doesn’t know the answers, he can say so,” said Levin.

Levin continued, “He either knows the information or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t know the answers, OK, tell us. It’d be kind of stunning if he didn’t know the answers to those questions, but if that’s what he wants to say, he should tell us.”

In June, the Justice Department cited insufficient evidence and declined to launch criminal investigations into the CIA computer intrusions or the allegation that the staff had removed top-secret documents without authorization.

But Levin said that the answers to Feinstein’s questions could yield new information that could prompt the Justice Department to reopen an inquiry into the CIA’s computer monitoring.

The committee spent $40 million and five years compiling its more than 6,000-page report on the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program.

It submitted the 500-page executive summary to the CIA and the White House for a declassification review in April, but the sides have been locked in a contentious debate over how much to black out prior to its public release.

Putin called Obama

Putin called Obama on Thursday, according to Russian news site TASS.

This was the first time the two leaders spoke in four months.

Putin reportedly brought up the spread of the Islamic State’s influence in the Middle East, according to The New York Times.

Ultimately, the two leaders agreed to have Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry meet to further discuss the issue.

They also had a “detailed” discussion regarding the situation in Syria and the Iranian nuclear problem. Russia and the US have not seen eye-to-eye with either of the two cases.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two leaders also discussed the ongoing Ukraine crisis, which flared up once again in early June.

“President Obama reiterated the need for Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including the removal of all Russian troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory,” according to the White House.

ukraine

According to the Kremlin, the two leaders agreed that US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasian will soon be in touch to discuss the fulfillment of the Minsk agreement.

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told TASS that, overall, the conversation was “constructive.” He added that Putin told Obama that the assumption about Russian troops in Ukraine is “a delusion.”

This comes slightly more than a week after Simon Ostrovksy‘s Vice News documentary on “Selfie Soldiers,” in which he followed a Russian soldier’s social media trail and reenacted the photos he took in Ukraine.

“American officials hope Mr. Putin may see the rise of the Islamic State as enough of a threat to now be willing to apply pressure on Mr. Assad, but they also suspected his renewed interest in the issue may be a way of distracting from Ukraine,” according to The New York Times.

US hands over armored military vehicles to Ukraine; vehicles spotted in Budapest, Hungary

Military vehicles spotted in Budpest, Hungary

The United States announced $75 million in non-lethal aid for Ukraine on Wednesday and placed sanctions on a handful of Ukrainian separatists, a Russian bank and others after accusing Russian-backed rebels of breaking a European-brokered ceasefire.

The aid does not include the anti-tank, anti-air and other weapons requested by Ukraine and by lawmakers in both parties of the U.S. Congress who want a tougher response from President Barack Obama to claims by U.S. intelligence agencies of Russian tanks and artillery crossing into Ukraine.

Radios, unmanned aerial vehicles, counter-mortar radars, night vision devices, first aid kits, ambulances and other medical supplies are included in the aid package. About 200 unarmed Humvees and 30 with armor will also be delivered.

Mit keresnek ezek az amerikai tankok Budapesten?

The announcement follows accusations by Ukraine and Western governments that Russia is sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire deal reached Feb. 12 in Minsk. The Kremlin denies the accusations.

Separately on Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s board signed off on a $17.5 billion four-year aid program for Ukraine, the second attempt in less than a year to pull the country’s economy back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The program includes an immediate payment of $5 billion to help stabilize Ukraine’s listing economy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about the new aid by telephone. “The vice president noted with concern the ongoing violations of the ceasefire by Russia-backed separatists”, said a White House statement.

One of the eight blacklisted separatists, Roman Lyagin, said he was not a fighter. “It’s the opposite. I do my best to stop the bloodshed,” he told Reuters, speaking from the separatist-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk.

The U.S. Treasury accused him of preventing voting in Ukraine’s May presidential election.

Mit keresnek ezek az amerikai tankok Budapesten?

‘THE FULL SET’

Aleksander Khodakovsky, a rebel leader, was also dismissive of the U.S. sanctions slapped against him. He said he had no bank accounts, was already sanctioned by the European Union and had nowhere to go beyond Russia and rebel-held areas.

“Why should I be worried?” he asked.

Khodakovsky, a defector from the Ukrainian state security service who is now Secretary of the Security Council of the so-called government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, was placed on the European Union’s sanctions list in July.

K EPA20150325075

“Now with the Americans I have the full set,” he said.

The sanctioned bank, Moscow-registered Russian National Commercial Bank (RNCB), last year became the first Russian bank to open its doors in Crimea after the region’s annexation. Russia’s Interfax news agency, which treats Crimea as part of Russia, ranked it as Russia’s 142nd largest by assets last year.

Russia’s biggest lender, state-owned Sberbank, gave RNCB its former network on the Black Sea peninsula after the annexation. The bank was sanctioned by the European Union last year.

K  AP20150325077

RNCB said the sanctions “do not pose a threat to its current activities” and “at present, RNCB has no assets in the United States.”

Also sanctioned was the Eurasian Youth Union, a Russian pro-separatist organization which the U.S. Treasury said recruited fighters, along with three of its leaders and three former Ukrainian officials.

Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Ally’s snooping upset White House because information was used to lobby Congress to try to sink a deal

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.

The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.

Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Barack Obama shown during a meeting at the White House in October. The leaders disagree over the negotiations with Iran. Photo: Getty
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Barack Obama shown during a meeting at the White House in October. The leaders disagree over the negotiations with Iran. Photo: Getty PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer early this year saw a rapidly closing window to increase pressure on Mr. Obama before a key deadline at the end of March, Israeli officials said.

Using levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal. They knew the intervention would damage relations with the White House, Israeli officials said, but decided that was an acceptable cost.

The campaign may not have worked as well as hoped, Israeli officials now say, because it ended up alienating many congressional Democrats whose support Israel was counting on to block a deal.

Obama administration officials, departing from their usual description of the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel, have voiced sharp criticism of Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer to describe how the relationship has changed.

“People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.”

This account of the Israeli campaign is based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials, policy makers and lawmakers.

Weakened ties

Distrust between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama had been growing for years but worsened when Mr. Obama launched secret talks with Iran in 2012. The president didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu because of concerns about leaks, helping set the stage for the current standoff, according to current and former U.S. and Israeli officials.

U.S. officials said Israel has long topped the list of countries that aggressively spy on the U.S., along with China, Russia and France. The U.S. expends more counterintelligence resources fending off Israeli spy operations than any other close ally, U.S. officials said.

A senior official in the prime minister’s office said Monday: “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”

Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies scaled back their targeting of U.S. officials after the jailing nearly 30 years ago of American Jonathan Pollard for passing secrets to Israel.

While U.S. officials may not be direct targets, current and former officials said, Israeli intelligence agencies sweep up communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran.

Americans shouldn’t be surprised, said a person familiar with the Israeli practice, since U.S. intelligence agencies helped the Israelis build a system to listen in on high-level Iranian communications.

As secret talks with Iran progressed into 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored Israel’s communications to see if the country knew of the negotiations. Mr. Obama didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu until September 2013.

Israeli officials, who said they had already learned about the talks through their own channels, told their U.S. counterparts they were upset about being excluded. “ ‘Did the administration really believe we wouldn’t find out?’ ” Israeli officials said, according to a former U.S. official.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer met with U.S. lawmakers and shared details on the Iran negotiations to warn about the terms of the deal.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer met with U.S. lawmakers and shared details on the Iran negotiations to warn about the terms of the deal. PHOTO: CNP/ZUMA PRESS

The episode cemented Mr. Netanyahu’s concern that Mr. Obama was bent on clinching a deal with Iran whether or not it served Israel’s best interests, Israeli officials said. Obama administration officials said the president was committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Dermer started lobbying U.S. lawmakers just before the U.S. and other powers signed an interim agreement with Iran in November 2013. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Dermer went to Congress after seeing they had little influence on the White House.

Before the interim deal was made public, Mr. Dermer gave lawmakers Israel’s analysis: The U.S. offer would dramatically undermine economic sanctions on Iran, according to congressional officials who took part.

After learning about the briefings, the White House dispatched senior officials to counter Mr. Dermer. The officials told lawmakers that Israel’s analysis exaggerated the sanctions relief by as much as 10 times, meeting participants said.

When the next round of negotiations with Iran started in Switzerland last year, U.S. counterintelligence agents told members of the U.S. negotiating team that Israel would likely try to penetrate their communications, a senior Obama administration official said.

The U.S. routinely shares information with its European counterparts and others to coordinate negotiating positions. While U.S. intelligence officials believe secured U.S. communications are relatively safe from the Israelis, they say European communications are vulnerable.

Benjamin Netanjahu amerikai törvényhozók gyűrűjében. Izrael keményen, a jelek szerint titkos hírszerzési értesüléseket megosztva lobbizott az iráni-amerikai atomalku ellen. Fotó: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News

Mr. Netanyahu and his top advisers received confidential updates on the Geneva talks from Undersecretary of State for Political AffairsWendy Sherman and other U.S. officials, who knew at the time that Israeli intelligence was working to fill in any gaps.

The White House eventually curtailed the briefings, U.S. officials said, withholding sensitive information for fear of leaks.

Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies can get much of the information they seek by targeting Iranians and others in the region who are communicating with countries in the talks.

In November, the Israelis learned the contents of a proposed deal offered by the U.S. but ultimately rejected by Iran, U.S. and Israeli officials said. Israeli officials told their U.S. counterparts the terms offered insufficient protections.

U.S. officials urged the Israelis to give the negotiations a chance. But Mr. Netanyahu’s top advisers concluded the emerging deal was unacceptable. The White House was making too many concessions, Israeli officials said, while the Iranians were holding firm.

Obama administration officials reject that view, saying Israel was making impossible demands that Iran would never accept. “The president has made clear time and again that no deal is better than a bad deal,” a senior administration official said.

In January, Mr. Netanyahu told the White House his government intended to oppose the Iran deal but didn’t explain how, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

On Jan. 21, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) announced Mr. Netanyahu would address a joint meeting of Congress. That same day, Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials visited Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers and aides, seeking a bipartisan coalition large enough to block or amend any deal.

Most Republicans were already prepared to challenge the White House on the negotiations, so Mr. Dermer focused on Democrats. “This deal is bad,” he said in one briefing, according to participants.

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, Aaron Sagui,said Mr. Dermer didn’t launch a special campaign on Jan 21. Mr. Dermer, the spokesperson said, has “consistently briefed both Republican and Democrats, senators and congressmen, on Israel’s concerns regarding the Iran negotiations for over a year.”

Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials over the following weeks gave lawmakers and their aides information the White House was trying to keep secret, including how the emerging deal could allow Iran to operate around 6,500 centrifuges, devices used to process nuclear material, said congressional officials who attended the briefings.

The Israeli officials told lawmakers that Iran would also be permitted to deploy advanced IR-4 centrifuges that could process fuel on a larger scale, meeting participants and administration officials said. Israeli officials said such fuel, which under the emerging deal would be intended for energy plants, could be used to one day build nuclear bombs.

The information in the briefings, Israeli officials said, was widely known among the countries participating in the negotiations.

When asked in February during one briefing where Israel got its inside information, the Israeli officials said their sources included the French and British governments, as well as their own intelligence, according to people there.

“Ambassador Dermer never shared confidential intelligence information with members of Congress,” Mr. Sagui said. “His briefings did not include specific details from the negotiations, including the length of the agreement or the number of centrifuges Iran would be able to keep.”

Current and former U.S. officials confirmed that the number and type of centrifuges cited in the briefings were part of the discussions. But they said the briefings were misleading because Israeli officials didn’t disclose concessions asked of Iran. Those included giving up stockpiles of nuclear material, as well as modifying the advanced centrifuges to slow output, these officials said.

The administration didn’t brief lawmakers on the centrifuge numbers and other details at the time because the information was classified and the details were still in flux, current and former U.S. officials said.

Benjamin Netanjahu felszólalása a kongresszus együttes ülésén szintén sokat rontott a viszonyon. Fotó: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News

Unexpected reaction

The congressional briefings and Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint meeting of Congress on the emerging deal sparked a backlash among many Democratic lawmakers, congressional aides said.

On Feb. 3, Mr. Dermer huddled with Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who said he told Mr. Dermer it was a breach of protocol for Mr. Netanyahu to accept an invitation from Mr. Boehner without going through the White House.

Mr. Manchin said he told Mr. Dermer he would attend the prime minister’s speech to Congress, but he was noncommittal about supporting any move by Congress to block a deal.

Mr. Dermer spent the following day doing damage control with Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, congressional aides said.

Two days later, Mr. Dermer met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the SenateIntelligence Committee, at her Washington, D.C., home. He pressed for her support because he knew that she, too, was angry about Mr. Netanyahu’s planned appearance.

Ms. Feinstein said afterward she would oppose legislation allowing Congress to vote down an agreement.

Congressional aides and Israeli officials now say Israel’s coalition in Congress is short the votes needed to pass legislation that could overcome a presidential veto, although that could change. In response, Israeli officials said, Mr. Netanyahu was pursuing other ways to pressure the White House.

This week, Mr. Netanyahu sent a delegation to France, which has been more closely aligned with Israel on the nuclear talks and which could throw obstacles in Mr. Obama’s way before a deal is signed. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is stepping up its outreach to Paris to blunt the Israeli push.

“If you’re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes,” a senior U.S. official said. “These things leave scars.”

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