Israel accused of planting mysterious spy devices near the White House

The likely Israeli spying efforts were uncovered during the Trump presidency, several former top U.S. officials said.

The U.S. government concluded within the past two years that Israel was most likely behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, according to three former senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter.

But unlike most other occasions when flagrant incidents of foreign spying have been discovered on American soil, the Trump administration did not rebuke the Israeli government, and there were no consequences for Israel’s behavior, one of the former officials said.

The miniature surveillance devices, colloquially known as “StingRays,” mimic regular cell towers to fool cellphones into giving them their locations and identity information. Formally called international mobile subscriber identity-catchers or IMSI-catchers, they also can capture the contents of calls and data use.

The devices were likely intended to spy on President Donald Trump, one of the former officials said, as well as his top aides and closest associates — though it’s not clear whether the Israeli efforts were successful.

Trump is reputed to be lax in observing White House security protocols. POLITICO reported in May 2018 that the president often used an insufficiently secured cellphone to communicate with friends and confidants. The New York Times subsequently reported in October 2018 that “Chinese spies are often listening” to Trump’s cellphone calls, prompting the president to slam the story as “so incorrect I do not have time here to correct it.” (A former official said Trump has had his cellphone hardened against intrusion.)

By then, as part of tests by the federal government, officials at the Department of Homeland Security had already discovered evidence of the surveillance devices around the nation’s capital, but weren’t able to attribute the devices to specific entities. The officials shared their findings with relevant federal agencies, according to a letter a top Department of Homeland Security official, Christopher Krebs, wrote in May 2018 to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Based on a detailed forensic analysis, the FBI and other agencies working on the case 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.

That analysis, one of the former officials said, is typically led by the FBI’s counterintelligence division and involves examining the devices so that they “tell you a little about their history, where the parts and pieces come from, how old are they, who had access to them, and that will help get you to what the origins are.” For these types of investigations, the bureau often leans on the National Security Agency and sometimes the CIA (DHS and the Secret Service played a supporting role in this specific investigation).

“It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,” said a former senior intelligence official.

An Israeli Embassy spokesperson, Elad Strohmayer, denied that Israel placed the devices and said: “These allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period.”

A senior Trump administration official said the administration doesn’t “comment on matters related to security or intelligence.” The FBI declined to comment, while DHS and the Secret Service didn’t respond to requests for comment.

After this story was published, Trump told reporters that he would find it “hard to believe” that the Israelis had placed the devices. 

“I don’t think the Israelis were spying on us,” Trump said. “My relationship with Israel has been great…Anything is possible but I don’t believe it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denied after publication that Israel was behind the devices. “We have a directive, I have a directive: No intelligence work in the United States, no spies,” he said in a gaggle with reporters. “And it’s vigorously implemented, without any exception. It [the report] is a complete fabrication, a complete fabrication.”

But former officials with deep experience dealing with intelligence matters scoff at the Israeli claim — a pro forma denial Israeli officials are also known to make in private to skeptical U.S. counterparts.

One former senior intelligence official noted that after the FBI and other agencies concluded that the Israelis were most likely responsible for the devices, the Trump administration took no action to punish or even privately scold the Israeli government.

“The reaction … was very different than it would have been in the last administration,” this person said. “With the current administration, there are a different set of calculations in regard to addressing this.”

The former senior intelligence official criticized how the administration handled the matter, remarking on the striking difference from past administrations, which likely would have at a very minimum issued a démarche, or formal diplomatic reprimand, to the foreign government condemning its actions.

“I’m not aware of any accountability at all,” the former official said.

Beyond trying to intercept the private conversations of top officials — prized information for any intelligence service — foreign countries often will try to surveil their close associates as well. With the president, the former senior Trump administration official noted, that could include trying to listen in on the devices of the people he regularly communicates with, such as Steve Wynn, Sean Hannity and Rudy Giuliani.

“The people in that circle are heavily targeted,” the former Trump official said. 

Another circle of surveillance targets includes people who regularly talk to Trump’s friends and informal advisers. Information obtained from any of these people “would be so valuable in a town that is like three degrees of separation like Kevin Bacon,” the former official added.

That’s true even for a close U.S. ally like Israel, which often seeks an edge in its diplomatic maneuvering with the United States.

“The Israelis are pretty aggressive” in their intelligence gathering operations, said a former senior intelligence official. “They’re all about protecting the security of the Israeli state and they do whatever they feel they have to to achieve that objective.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with President Donald Trump. | Michael Reynolds/Getty Images

So even though Trump has formed a warm relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and made numerous policy moves favorable to the Israeli government — such as moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, ripping up the Iran nuclear deal and heavily targeting Iran with sanctions — Israel became a prime suspect in planting the devices.

While the Chinese, who have been regularly caught doing intelligence operations in the U.S., were also seen as potential suspects, they were determined as unlikely to have placed the devices based on a close analysis of the devices.

“You can often, depending upon the tradecraft of the people who put them in place, figure out who’s been accessing them to pull the data off the devices,” another former senior U.S. intelligence official explained.

Washington is awash in surveillance, and efforts of foreign entities to try to spy on administration officials and other top political figures are fairly common. But not many countries have the capability — or the budget — to plant the devices found in this most recent incident, which is another reason suspicion fell on Israel.

IMSI-catchers, which are often used by local police agencies to surveil criminals, can also be made by sophisticated hobbyists or by the Harris Corp., the manufacturer of StingRays, which cost more than $150,000 each, according to Vice News.

“The costs involved are really significant,” according to a former senior Trump administration official. “This is not an easy or ubiquitous practice.”

Among professionals, the Israeli intelligence services have an especially fearsome reputation. But they do sometimes make mistakes and are “not 10 feet tall like you see in the movies,” a former senior intelligence official noted.

In 2010, the secret covers of a Mossad hit team, some of whom had been posing as tennis players, were blown after almost 30 minutes of surveillance video was posted online of them going through a luxury Dubai hotel where they killed a top Hamas terrorist in his room.

Still, U.S. officials sometimes have been taken aback by Israel’s brazen spying. One former U.S. government official recalled his frequent concern that Israel knew about internal U.S. policy deliberations that were meant to be kept private.

“There were suspicions that they were listening in,” the former official said, based on his Israeli counterparts flaunting a level of detailed knowledge “that was hard to explain otherwise.”

“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,’” said the former official.

Back when the Obama administration was trying to jump-start negotiations with the Palestinians, for example, the Israelis were eager to get advance knowledge of the language being debated that would describe the terms of reference of the talks.

“They would have had interest in what language [President Barack] Obama or [Secretary of State John] Kerry or someone else was going to use and might indeed try to find a way to lobby for language they liked or against language that they didn’t like and so having knowledge of that could be advantageous for them,” the former official said.

“The Israelis are aggressive intelligence collectors, but they have sworn off spying on the U.S. at various points and it’s not surprising that such efforts continue,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former coordinator of counterterrorism at the Obama State Department and now director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth.

Benjamin, who emphasized that he was not aware of the FBI’s investigation into the cell-phone spoofing, recalled once meeting with a former head of Mossad, the premier Israeli intelligence agency, when he was out of office. The first thing the former Mossad official told Benjamin was that Israel didn’t spy on the U.S.

“I just told him our conversation was over if he had such a low estimate of my intelligence,” Benjamin said.

Israeli officials often note in conversations with their American counterparts — correctly — that the U.S. regularly gathers intelligence on Israeli leaders.

As for Israel’s recent surveillance of the White House, one of the former senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged it raised security concerns but joked, “On the other hand, guess what we do in Tel Aviv?”

This article has been updated to clarify that Daniel Benjamin had no knowledge of the alleged Israeli spying, and that the Israeli official he was speaking with was a former official at the time of their conversation.

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State police: Watertown woman had ‘sexual contact’ with dog, hit 75-year-old woman

PAMELIA, N.Y. (WWNY) – A Watertown woman is accused of punching and threatening a 75-year-old woman.

State police say 45 year old Teresa Salter allegedly hit the victim several times with a closed fist at a home in the town of Pamela and threatened her with a kitchen knife and a hammer.

Troopers say during their investigation, they learned Salter was having sexual contact with a dog in the home.

She was charged with second-degree menacing, fourth-degree criminal mischief, sexual misconduct, and second-degree harassment.

Salter was arraigned in Pamelia town court and jailed on $1,000 bail or $200 bond.

13 arrested in record welfare fraud sweep

13 people are accused of defrauding the Department of Social Services out of more than $104,000

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, N.Y. (WWNY) – It’s being called the largest welfare fraud sweep in St. Lawrence County history.

District Attorney Gary Pasqua announced Friday that 13 people were arrested for defrauding the Department of Social Services out of more than $104,000.

Four other arrests are pending.

“Here in St. Lawrence County, our welfare benefits provide vital support to genuinely needy families at great cost to honest hard working taxpayers. Those individuals who gain benefits through deception are stealing medicine, groceries, and other necessary provisions from innocent children, vulnerable seniors, working citizens, and others in need,” said Pasqua in a prepared statement.

The following people were arrested:

– Georgeanna L. Aldous, age 47 Lisbon, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on a charge of Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $1,312.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Kandy L. Butler, age 29 Ogdensburg, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on a charge of Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $3,906.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Brandi David, age 41 Ogdensburg, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on a charge of Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $2,046.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Ashley Debiew, age 25, Massena, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on a charge of Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $1,852.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Cara E. Dimon, age 25, Massena, arrested on June 14, 2019 on a charge of Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $1,739.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Jessica Driscoll, age 29, Ogdensburg, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, class E felonies. The defendant is alleged to have received $3,789.80 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Crystal L. Lalone, age 39, Ogdensburg, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, class E felonies. The defendant is alleged to have received $10,654.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Amber Morrill, age 35, Russell, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony and one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $5,108.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Kerry M. Pelo, age 36, Newtown Falls, arrested on June 14, 2019 on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony and one count of Welfare Fraud in the Fifth Degree, a class A misdemeanor. The defendant is alleged to have received $1,560.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Star L. Perrin, age 39, Massena, arrested on June 14, 2019 on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, class E felonies. The defendant is alleged to have received $31,573.94 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Lynn A. Ryan, age 46, Winthrop, arrested on June 14, 2019 on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, class E felonies. The defendant is alleged to have received $15,894.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Sherri A. Scott, age 51, Heuvelton, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on charges of Welfare Fraud. The defendant is alleged to have received $1,380.50 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

– Nancy G. Sherman, age 27, Richville, arraigned on June 14, 2019 in Canton Town Court on charges of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony and one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony. The defendant is alleged to have received $5,844.00 in Public Assistance Benefits she was not entitled to receive after failing to accurately report income information.

All cases were the result of investigations conducted by the St. Lawrence County Social Services Fraud Unit, the District Attorney Fraud Investigator, and the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, the Ogdensburg Police Department, the Massena Police Department, the Gouverneur Police Department, and other agencies.

Sherriff Kevin Wells stated that he “is proud of the professionalism and participation of the Sheriff’s Department in carrying out this operation, which is critical to deterring abuse of the taxpayers and ensuring that these critical resources go to those in need.”

The DA noted that citizens may anonymously report incidents of fraud in St. Lawrence County.

To report possible fraud, call 315-379-2145 or go to www.otda.ny.gov/resources/welfarefraud/ to complete the ‘Report Welfare Fraud Online’ form.

Police: Drunk man breaks into home, cooks meal, tells homeowner to ‘go back to sleep’

gavin crim_1567613878202.jpg_7637777_ver1.0_1280_720

– A Dunedin man was arrested after cooking and eating food inside a stranger’s home, deputies said.

Pinellas County investigators said 19-year-old Gavin Crim, a Marine, broke into a Safety Harbor home in the 2400 block of Huntington Boulevard. The burglary occurred just after 4 a.m. Tuesday, while the victim was home.

Deputies said Crim entered the home through an unlocked rear door, and began cooking, then eating, the victim’s food. The victim confronted Crim, who told the victim to, “go back to sleep,” officials said.

When the victim told Crim he was calling 911, Crim ran away from the home, deputies said.

Deputies said they found Crim behind the home, hiding in a wooded and swampy area. During an interview, they said he admitted to breaking into the home. His arrest report states he was under the influence of alcohol.

Crim was arrested on a burglary charge.

Democrats ready to replace worship of God with worship of the state

Democrats can’t seem to figure out whether they want to use the government to drive Christianity underground or just replace the biblical version with fake Christianity.

These aren’t mutually exclusive goals; either one brings America closer to a secular, socialist state whose unofficial religion is atheism.

Democratic presidential contenders like former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg invoke Christianity to shill for taxpayer-funded, unrestricted abortion and the family values of Sodom, plus confiscation of wealth and redistribution. Note to the media: Why aren’t Democrats and Republicans being asked what they think of Drag Queen Story Hour? Anyone?

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution on Aug. 24 hailing the “religiously unaffiliated” as the “largest religious group within the Democratic Party, growing from 19% in 2007 to one in three today.”

That’s great news for those Democrats who would love to replace worship of God with worship of the state.

The DNC resolution declares “that morals, values, and patriotism are not unique to any particular religion, and are not necessarily reliant on having a religious worldview at all.”

Really? So, where did American morals and values come from? The DNC might want to try to identify areas of the world not influenced by Christianity or Judaism that have nonetheless embraced the sanctity of life, individual rights, free markets, self-government and women’s rights.

They’ll be looking for a long time.

Many nonbelievers are patriotic, have strong personal integrity and strong opinions. But the moralistic language they use is derived from the very faiths that they claim have no value. If everyone has his or her own “truth,” and everything is relative, who can say what’s right or wrong?

The Declaration of Independence credits God as the source of justice, stating that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Likewise, as John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

That’s because the U.S. Constitution’s design for maximum human liberty works only when the people have a moral compass beyond their own appetites. Absent that, we can rationalize anything.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address. “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

Based on concepts enshrined in British Common Law, which the great English jurist William Blackstone traced to the Bible, Christians led the campaign to end the slave trade. Across the world, Christians created hospitals and clinics. They criminalized infanticide, child marriage, child and spousal abuse, gladiatorial combat, death games and immolation of widows, to name a few reforms. Some also behaved very badly, justifying their inhumanity by misusing the Bible.

The American Revolution led to a hunger for self-governance that rocked the world. It’s not for nothing that brave Chinese dissident students erected a model of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square.

The DNC’s resolution calls for “rational public policy based on sound science and universal humanistic values.” Science is, indeed, marvelous. But there’s no acknowledgment that the scientific method arose in Christian countries precisely because of the biblical view of an ordered universe with a discoverable design.

Finally, before the Democrats embrace atheism as their new-found faith, they might want to take a closer look at the surveys.

Some polls show that up to 25 percent now choose “atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’” when asked about religious affiliation. However, this may be quite misleading. The Pew Research Center’s latest figures show that only 3 percent of the U.S. population identifies as atheist, notes Glenn Stanton, a researcher at Focus on the Family, in The Federalist.

“Yes, there has been a sizable increase here over the last decade, but that’s up from only 1.6 percent of all adults,” he writes. “Comparatively, if you could fit all the serious Christians in the United States on a couple of Greyhound buses, all the atheists could fit in the backseat of a Prius with room to spare.”

People who were nominal Christians in mainline denominations now describe themselves as unaffiliated, or “nones.” Meanwhile, evangelical churches are growing rapidly.

“Robust Christianity is not shrinking, not even among young adults,” Mr. Stanton writes. “It is holding quite firm and even growing in many important ways. It is increasingly liberalized, orthodoxy-denying, and lukewarm faith that’s tanking as if it has a mill stone around its neck.”

That’s something to think about when the Democrats celebrate unbelief in their midst or trot out pagan customs masquerading as Christian tolerance.

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‘Straight pride’ parade draws marchers, protesters

BOSTON (AP) – A “straight pride” parade and counter-demonstration went off in Boston Saturday without any major conflicts reported between the two groups.

An organization calling itself Super Happy Fun America announced the parade as Boston celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month earlier this summer, saying it believes straight people are an oppressed majority.

Counter-demonstrators accused those organizers of promoting an atmosphere of violence toward the LGBTQ community.

The parade, with marchers carrying signs such as “2020 Trump” and “Build The Wall,” moved from Copley Plaza, through major downtown streets before ending with a rally at City Hall Plaza, where the crowd and speakers were outnumbered by those protesting them from behind barricades.

Several arguments and minor fights were reported on the parade route and police made over 30 arrests, but did not report any major confrontations. Four officers suffered minor injuries during the parade.

911 dispatcher lectures drowning woman as she dies

Uncaring 911 dispatcher mocks drowning woman

 – Police released disturbing audio of an Arkansas woman who called for help in the final moments of her life, drowning in her car, only to be met with mockery and disdain by the dispatcher.

Debbie Stevens, 47, was on her regular paper route in Fort Smith Saturday, Aug. 24 when a flash flood swept up her car. Panicking, she dialed 911.

“Please help me, I don’t want to die!”, Stevens begs on the call that lasted 22 minutes. “I can’t swim! I’m scared! I’m going to drown!”

The dispatcher, Donna Reneau, who was working her final shift after giving her notice two weeks earlier according to the Fort Smith Police Department, replied flippantly telling her authorities will get there when they get there and that she’s not going to die, at one point telling her to “shut up.”

As the water slowly filled Stevens’ SUV, she responded: “I’m scared. I’ve never had anything happen to me like this before.”

Stevens pleaded for help and prayer but received a lecture: “Well this will teach you, next time don’t drive in the water,” Reneau responds. “I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it, so.”

Authorities responded to the scene 12 minutes after she dialed 911, but because of the floodwaters, it took more than an hour to reach Stevens’ vehicle — and by the time police and firefighters were able to secure the car, Stevens had drowned.

Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker described Reneau’s response as “calloused and uncaring at times” in a statement, but he added to KHBS that she did nothing “criminally wrong” nor “violated policy.”

“I completely understand the disgust and the concern that we all have,” Baker said. “We all hope that we would get a little better response.”