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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Responding to reports it spied on Israel, White House says 'all countries collect intelligence'

The White House responded on Friday to international media reports claiming that the National Security Agency intercepted the emails of senior Israeli government officials.

"We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, but as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told Haaretz.

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to the reports, according to which U.S. intelligence surveillance eavesdropped on email addresses at the offices of the prime minister and the minister of defense in early 2009. At the time, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, respectively, headed those posts.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said on Friday that even if the details of the report were true, the email address in question was a public one used by the premier's office.

"The chance that security- or intelligence-related damage was done by this interception is zero," Olmert's office said. "It should be emphasized that relations between Israel and the U.S. in those years were excellent, and the intelligence cooperation was comprehensive, detailed, and as close as never before."

Sources close to Olmert said that at the time, whatever information that was not passed on through dialogue between the two states was always ironed out between former President George W. Bush and Olmert. "The information that Israel shared and received from the U.S. at the time by far surpassed anything that that could have been revealed to the Americans by tracking that email address," they said.

Sources in the office of the current minister of defense, Moshe Ya'alon, said that the minister's email mentioned in Friday's reports serves to connect the office with the outside world, and has no special significance. "It's an address just like the Knesset's email address,"" they said. "Any citizen can use it and the correspondence is not classified."

A senior security official said that the minister of defense and his people are aware of the likely possibility that they are under surveillance by foreign intelligence agencies. "We take into account that there is eavesdropping," the official said, "whether it's on cellular phones or in hotel rooms while on visits abroad."

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