When U.S. intelligence officials informed the Trump administration that they believed Israel was behind cellphone surveillance devices found near the White House and other strategic locations in Washington, D.C., the administration took no action against the Israeli government — not even a rebuke.
Politico reported that the tiny devices, known as “StingRays,” trick cellphones into handing them information by mimicking cell towers, and they also can capture the contents of calls and data use.”
A former official told the news outlet that the devices — formally known as international mobile subscriber identity-catchers or IMSI-catchers — were likely intended for spying on President Donald Trump, along with his aides and associates.
Whether or not the devices performed as intended remains unclear.
Politico noted that spying on this particular president could prove easier than usual, as Trump is known “to be lax in observing White House security protocols.” According to a 2018 New York Times report, the president was using an insufficiently secured cellphone to speak with family and friends.
Department of Homeland Security officials had already found evidence of the surveillance devices in Washington, D.C., by the time that report hit the news, but they were unsure who was behind the StingRays.
But the intelligence community later put its finger on Israel following a thorough forensic analysis led by the FBI’s counterintelligence division.
A former official told Politico that this analysis entails a detailed examination of 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.”
Sometimes the National Security Agency and CIA are also involved, the former official said. In this particular investigation, the DHS and Secret Service “played a supporting role.”
That the Trump administration took no action against Israel — which adamantly denied it was behind the devices — was not typical compared to previous administrations.
“The reaction ... was very different than it would have been in the last administration,” a former senior intelligence official told Politico. “With the current administration, there are a different set of calculations in regard to addressing this.”
A senior Trump administration told the news outlet that the administration does not “comment on matters related to security or intelligence.” None of the intelligence agencies offered comment.