In 2014, Washington was buzzing over a controversial new nuclear agreement between the US and Iran — but the negotiations may have kept America's spy agencies busy as well. A new report in The Wall Street Journal claims the negotiation process saw sustained efforts by the National Security Agency to monitor the communications of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly once he came to Washington to lobby Congress to oppose the deal. The Journal had previously reported on Israel's own efforts to spy on the closed door talks.
Those efforts are particularly sensitive because many of the conversations involved members of Congress, a constitutionally troublesome target for a foreign-oriented spying agency. They also reflect the ongoing political issues presented by spying on world leaders, which came to a head when it was revealed the NSA had been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone in 2013. President Obama's response to the scandal was to establish a list of friendly world leaders who would be exempt from NSA targeting, although Netanyahu does not appear to have been included on the list.
The report also highlights the growing unease between Israeli and US intelligence agencies. The NSA shares some tools and methods with Israel's Unit 8200, but the two agencies often surveil each other as well — in this case, going head-to-head over the security of internal Israeli political communications. In advance of the talks, the Journal claims the NSA was able to implant malware that gave the agency access to communications within Netanyahu's office, often forwarding information to the president less than six hours after it was initially sent.