Skip to main content

Embarrassed Israel exposed hacking John Kerry's phone calls

With so much in the news over the past year about the vastly inflated spying capabilities of United States intelligence services, it's been easy to forget that the US is just as often a victim of spying. This week it emerged that none other than Secretary of State John Kerry was the victim of spying from close ally Israel, and at least one other nation.

Kerry has spent a huge time in the Middle East over the past year, mediating in (now stalled) peace talks between Israel, Arab states and Palestinian authorities.

According to German weekly Der Spiegel, Israeli intelligence and at least one other secret service intercepted Kerry's phone calls during a doomed, nine-month effort to broker a peace deal. Some calls were allegedly made on normal phones and were not encrypted.

"The government in Jerusalem then used the information obtained in international negotiations aiming to reach a diplomatic solution in the Middle East," it said.

The incident mirrors some of the crises originating from the Edward Snowden leaks of June last year, in which it emerged that the US had spied on diplomats of European allies in an effort to judge their position on tougher sanctions on Iran.

Revelations in Brazilian new magazine Época revealed how the NSA had used spying to give American diplomats the upper hand in negotiations over sanctions against Iran in 2009, a vote that it narrowly won.

Another programme, codenamed "GENIE", saw American spies implanting malicious software on the computer systems of French diplomats. Le Monde learned of the use of several of what they call "very innovative programmes" after a top secret NSA memo was passed to them by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, operating from Brazil.

The seniority of Kerry doesn't seem to have put Israeli intelligence off targeting him, either. But let's remember that the NSA apparently eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone communications last year, as well as that of the current Mexican President.

Neither Washington nor Jerusalem have offered immediate comment on the matter, though the revelation will certainly sour relationships between two allies increasingly growing tired of each others' behaviour.

We're unlikely to hear too strong a comment from Washington, though. With all the revelations we've heard over the past year, there's not much the White House can say without sounding like hypocrites.