Israel is likely to have planted mobile phone spying devices near the White House and other sensitive locations in the US capital over the past two years, according to a report from Politico that cited three former US officials.
The miniature surveillance devices mimic telecommunications towers to gather information, including the contents of phone calls. The US government concluded Israeli operatives were most likely to have put them in place to spy on Donald Trump and his associates, the news website reported.
The office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the accusations as a “blatant lie”, saying the country had a longstanding commitment “not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US”.
In the article, one of the three former intelligence and national security officials, none of whom were identified, said the Trump administration – which describes itself as the most pro-Israel US government in history – did not rebuke its ally.
“The reaction … was very different than it would have been in the last [Obama] administration,” one former senior intelligence official was quoted as saying. “With the current administration, there are a different set of calculations in regard to addressing this.”
The Guardian was unable to immediately verify the report, which has emerged as Netanyahu fights for political survival before elections next week.
It said the FBI and other agencies used detailed forensic analysis of the devices, known as StingRays, to link them to Israeli agents. “It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,” a former senior intelligence official was quoted as saying.
The Israeli embassy spokesman in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, further denied the accusations, saying: “These allegations are absolute nonsense. Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period.” The White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the US Secret Service did not comment, Politico said.
The prime minister has launched an aggressive campaign to woo the minority of 1 million people, running ads in Russian and erecting a giant poster of him and Putin on his Likud party’s Tel Aviv headquarters.
Netanyahu has also been shoring up nationalist voters with fiery language and hardline promises.
On Thursday, Facebook said it had imposed sanctions on Netanyahu’s page because of a violation of the company’s hate speech policy. It said it had suspended the page’s bot – or automated chat function – for 24 hours.
Netanyahu’s page had called on voters to prevent the establishment of a government composed of “Arabs who want to destroy us all – women, children and men”, causing uproar from opposition politicians. Netanyahu denied writing the post, blaming a staffer.
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