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Israel planted mysterious spy devices near White House: Report

Hidden mobile phone surveillance devices were likely intended to spy on US President Donald Trump, Politico says
Based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other agencies felt confident that Israeli agents had placed the devices (AFP)

Mysterious surveillance devices located near the White House over the past two years were likely planted by Israel, former top US officials have told a political news organisation.

The report, published on Thursday by Politico, said the mobile phone surveillance devices were likely intended to spy on US President Donald Trump, though it was not clear whether the Israeli efforts were successful.

Unlike other occasions when such incidents have been discovered on US soil, the Trump administration did not rebuke the Israeli government, and there were no consequences for Israel’s actions, one of the former officials told Politico.

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Elad Strohmayer, an Israeli embassy spokesperson, was quoted in the report as saying that "these allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau also denied the report according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. 

"A blatant lie. There is a longstanding commitment and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US. This directive is strictly enforced without exception," it said.

Forensic analysis

The miniature surveillance devices, known as "StingRays", mimic regular mobile phone towers to fool mobile phones into giving them their locations and identity information, they also can capture the contents of calls and data use.

Around October 2018, officials at the US Department of Homeland had discovered evidence of the surveillance devices near the White House as well as several other sensitive locations around Washington, the report said. 

They then shared the findings with relevant federal agencies.

Based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other agencies felt confident that Israeli agents had placed the devices, according to the former officials, several of whom served in top intelligence and national security posts, Politico said.

Suspicions

The report said some people within the Trump administration had suspected Israel was eavesdropping on communications from the White House. 

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"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,'" a former official was quoted as saying.

According to the report, the White House refused to comment on the allegations.

"I'm not aware of any accountability at all," one former official told Politico, adding: "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."