Massive Israel spy base exposed
A French periodical has revealed
the location of a secret Israeli espionage center, which ranks among
the world’s largest and most significant.
The base, which intercepts
information for the Israeli Spy Agency (Mossad) and the Israel Defense
Forces (IDF), is placed near Kibbutz Urim not far from Beersheba, the
largest city in the Negev desert, which is in the south of Israel,
Israeli website Ynetnews said on Sunday, detailing the report by the
monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique.
The French publication said the
Israel Army’s intelligence Unit 8200, which is accommodated in the
base, cracks into email boxes and taps the phone conversations of
“governments, international organizations, foreign companies, political
groups and individuals” in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Israeli daily Ha’aretz
said the unit had intercepted a call between Egyptian president Gamal
Abdel Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan during the first day of the
1967 Six-Day War. Israel captured vast expanses of Arab lands including
the Palestinian territories during the war.
The expository account was the work
of Nick Hager, New Zealand investigative reporter and writer on issues
involving intelligence networks, environmental matters and politics, Ha’aretz wrote.
Desert base listens to the world talking — Israel’s omniscient ears
Israel’s Urim base in the
Negev desert is among the most important and powerful intelligence
gathering sites in the world. Yet, until now, its eavesdropping has
gone entirely unmentioned
by Nicky Hager
Le Monde Diplomatique
Israel’s most important
intelligence-gathering installation is only a 30km drive into the Negev
desert from Beersheba prison – where those taking part in the Gaza aid
flotilla were briefly detained this June. The base, hidden until now,
has rows of satellite dishes that covertly intercept phone calls,
emails and other communications from the Middle East, Europe, Africa
and Asia. Its antennas monitor shipping and would have spied on the aid
ships in the days before they were seized.
Israel’s powerful position in the
Middle East is often associated with its armed forces, nuclear weapons
arsenal or covert (Mossad) operatives. But just as important is its
intelligence gathering – monitoring governments, international
organisations, foreign companies, political organisations and
individuals. Most of this happens at the installation in the Negev a
couple of kilometres to the north of the kibbutz of Urim. Our sources,
close to Israeli intelligence, know the base first-hand. They describe
lines of satellite dishes of different sizes, and barracks and
operations buildings on both sides of the road (the 2333) that leads to
the base. High security gates, fences and dogs protect the facility. As
you can see on the internet, the satellite images of the base are quite
clear. A practised eye easily discerns the signs of an electronic
surveillance base. A large circle in the farmland shows the site of a
direction-finding antenna (HF/DF) for monitoring shipping.
The Urim base was established
decades ago to monitor Intelsat satellites that relay phone calls
between countries. It expanded to cover maritime communications
(Inmarsat), then rapidly targeted ever more numerous regional
satellites. As such, says intelligence specialist Duncan Campbell, it
is “akin to the UK-USA pact’s Echelon satellite interception ground
stations”. The Echelon system is a network of interception stations
around the world, set up in 1996 by the US, Britain, Canada, Australia
and New Zealand. Satellite phones used by the Gaza-bound aid ships were
easy targets for this hi-tech equipment.
Our Israeli sources described how
the computers are “programmed to detect words and phone numbers of
interest” from intercepted phone calls, emails etc, then transferred to
Unit 8200 – the headquarters of Israeli signals intelligence – in the
city of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. There they are translated and
passed on to other agencies, including the army and Mossad.
Unit 8200 and its counterparts –
the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the
American National Security Agency (NSA) – are less famous than their
foreign intelligence and special operations agencies (MI6, the CIA and
Mossad). Yet the signals agencies are far bigger.
The Urim base targets many nations,
friend and foe. A former analyst at Unit 8200, a military service
conscript, said she worked full time translating intercepted calls and
emails from English and French into Hebrew. It was “interesting” work,
studying routine communications to find the nuggets. Her section
listened mostly to “diplomatic traffic and other off-shore
[international] signals”. They also searched public internet sites.
The Urim base, said our sources, is
the centre of a spying network that taps undersea cables (notably
Mediterranean cables linking Israel to Europe via Sicily) and has
covert listening posts in Israeli embassy buildings abroad. Unit 8200,
which is officially part of the Israeli army, also has secret
monitoring units within the Palestinian territories and uses Gulfstream
jets fitted out as signals intelligence aircraft.
Excluding television satellites,
most satellites, in an arc stretching from the Indian Ocean to the
Atlantic, are probable targets: European, Arab, Russian and Asian, as
well as the Intelsat and Inmarsat satellites. Images of the base show
30 listening antennas, making Urim one of the largest signals
intelligence bases in the world. The only comparable-sized station is a
US facility at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, UK.
Other stations have been known
about since the 1980s. There is a large NSA base near the German city
of Bad Aibling, and another US base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego
Garcia, just northwest of an airbase with a runway full of B-52
bombers. The main UK base, at Morwenstow, Cornwall, can be spotted
through its 20 listening antennas above the cliffs. France has its own
network, known as Frenchelon, under the General Directorate for
External Security (DGSE), which includes several bases in France and
its overseas territories.
But unlike these, Israel’s spy facility at Urim remained invisible for decades.