Israel Reportedly Planted Mysterious Spy Devices Near White House; Netanyahu: Total Lie

According to former top U.S. officials who spoke to Politico, the cellphone surveillance devices were uncovered during the Trump presidency and meant to track him ■ Trump denies Israeli spying on U.S.

President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House, August 21, 2019
Alex Brandon,AP

Israel has likely planted surveillance devices that have been located near the White House over the past two years, Politico reported on Thursday based on accounts provided by three former U.S. officials.

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According to the report, the cellphone surveillance devices were likely intended to spy on U.S. President Donald Trump. “It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,” a former senior intelligence official was quoted as saying.

After the report was published, Trump said that he did not believe that Israel is spying on the United States.

A spokesperson for Israel's Embassy in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, was quoted in the report as saying that “these allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period.” 

Upon arrival to Sochi, where he is slated to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Netanyahu also denied the report. "We have a directive, I have a directive, no intelligence work in the United States, no spies. And it's vigorously implemented, without any exception. It [the report] is a complete fabrication, a complete fabrication," he said. 

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The spying devices that have been uncovered according to the report are known as "StingRays" and emulate normal cell towers to trick cellular devices into giving them their locations and identity details. They are also known as mobile subscriber identity catchers, or IMSI-catchers. 

Netanyahu's bureau released a statement echoing his comments upon arrival in Russia. "A blatant lie. There is a longstanding commitment and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the U.S. This directive is strictly enforced without exception."

According to the report, the White House refused to comment. “I’m not aware of any accountability at all,” one former official told Politico, noting: “The reaction ... was very different than it would have been in the last administration… With the current administration, there are a different set of calculations in regard to addressing this.”

However, an ex-official told Politico that as opposed to other incidents of foreign spying on U.S. soil, the Trump administration did not rebuke the Israeli government or took any official steps against it. 

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security both declined to comment on Politico's report.

Around October 2018, officials at the DHS had discovered evidence of the surveillance devices near the White House as well as several other sensitive locations around Washington, D.C., the report said. They then shared the findings with relevant federal agencies. 

The FBI, along with other agencies probing the case, pointed the blame at Israel after conducting a detailed forensic analysis, the officials told Politico. 

The report cited former officials and individuals that worked with previous administrations as saying that there prevails a common concern that Israel is spying on the White House. 

“Sometimes it was sort of knowledge of our thinking. Occasionally there were some turns of phrase like language that as far as we knew had only appeared in drafts of speeches and never been actually used publicly, and then some Israeli official would repeat it back to us and say, ‘This would be really problematic if you were to say X,’” the former official was quoted as saying.

“The Israelis are pretty aggressive," the former intel official officer told the website. “They’re all about protecting the security of the Israeli state and they do whatever they feel they have to achieve that objective.” 

Reuters contributed to this report.