WASHINGTON: Israel set up scanners to intercept cellphone communications in the area around the White House in Washington, according to a report on Thursday (Sep 12) which was denied by the Jewish state.
Politico reported that US officials believe Israelis were most likely the ones who set up several so-called stingray scanners, which mimic cellphone towers to intercept nearby calls and text messages, that were discovered in downtown Washington in 2017.
Several former national security officials told Politico that forensic analysis by the FBI and other agencies of the devices tied them to Israeli agents.
"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," Politico wrote.
Israel, one of the United states' closest allies, issued a strong denial.
"Israel does not conduct any espionage missions in the United States," said Foreign and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz.
"The United States and Israel share between them a great deal of intelligence information and work together to prevent threats and to strengthen the security of the two states."
Stingrays are formally known as international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers, devices able to monitor and track cellular device communications as they interact with networks.
They are increasingly used by police in criminal investigations to intercept cellphone activity by suspects, and have become a focus of controversy for their use without warrants.
Two years ago an unknown number of the devices were discovered inside Washington during a Department of Homeland Security test project investigating the risk posed by the devices.
Their discovery included "locations in proximity to potentially sensitive facilities like the White House," DHS said in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden in May 2018.
But those responsible for putting them in place were never identified.
They could have been potentially useful at the time in monitoring Trump, who was known to use an unsecured cellphone for phonecalls and text messages.