THE WHITE HOUSE – That was Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on his Moscow visit Thursday denying Politico’s reporting that the FBI has determined that Israel was behind the planting of miniature cellphone surveillance equipment near the White House and other sensitive locations in Washington, DC.
Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, Israel Katz, tweeted that
I welcome US Sec. of the Treasury @stevenmnuchin1’s statement that no meeting is planned between @realDonaldTrump and Iran’s Rouhani, and that the maximum pressure campaign against Iran will continue. Israel has no better friend in the Trump Administration than President Trump.
— ????? ?”? Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) September 12, 2019
On a Hebrew-language video, Netanyahu said, “Yesterday you heard the lies that Israel tried to spy on the White House, a complete lie.” He then quoted Fox News host Mark Levin, saying that “this is exactly like the tricks carried out by Joel Benenson. He was an adviser to Obama and now he is the adviser to [Blue and White leaders Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid.”
Netanyahu continued, “For them everything is kosher. They are willing to do anything and don’t care if they damage this valuable asset, our relationship with the United States and my relationship with the president.”
Responding to reports of alleged Israeli spying, Trump told reporters:
(AUDIO: “I don’t believe that. No, I don’t think the Israelis were spying on us. I really would find that hard to believe. My relationship with Israel has been great. …”)
The reconnaissance devices discovered by the White House, known as “StingRays,” are mobile subscriber identity-catchers or IMSI-catchers. Designed to trick cellphones into believing they are communicating with legitimate cellphone towers, StingRays scrape and monitor subscriber identities, cellphone data, and conversations.
President Donald Trump is widely reported to use two iPhones issued by the White House Communications Agency. One is only capable of making calls and the other, preloaded with a few news sites, only tweets on Twitter. Both must be swapped out monthly, but Trump is widely reported to resist doing so for up to five months at a time as he says it is “too inconvenient”.
To put this in context, Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama, also found White House preloaded phones to be inconvenient and was photographed with an insecure phone many times before he was convinced that he needed to alter his cellphone habits.
In order to crack down on insecure cellphone use in the White House, former Chief of Staff under Trump, John Kelly, issued a memo on Jan. 10, 2018, effective Jan. 16, banning “all portable electronic devices” from “being carried into or otherwise possessed” in the West Wing from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday (except federal holidays). Except for the press area, credentialed press may not carry their cellphones into other parts of the West Wing unless they are working in a “professional capacity and are escorted by a member of the White House staff.”
The memo cautions that “Violations of this policy by [Executive Office of the President] staff are security incidents that may indicate knowing, willful, and negligent conduct in violation of security policy and may therefore result in disciplinary action and, for other Federal employees and visitors, may include being indefinitely prohibited from entering the White House complex.”
Doug Christian, The White House