Super-secret Israeli agency scuttles office projects
“Build it and they will come” is taking on a new meaning in Tel Aviv, where the Israeli Defense Ministry’s secret communications channel is causing major developers to alter or scrap high-rise developments that could interfere with its signals.
“Many major building projects in Tel Aviv have been delayed or altered due to a Defense Ministry secret communications channel, and contractors have been forced to develop shorter towers with less space and even help cover the cost of changing the defense establishment's infrastructure as a result,” according to a report Wednesday in TheMarker, the Haaretz newspaper’s business publication.
“One recent example is a 20-story office building on Tel Aviv's Hamasger Street. The project, unveiled to great fanfare last month, may have to be scaled back or changed significantly to avoid disrupting the secret military communications network,” Haaretz reported.
No one explained in the report why the Azouri Brothers developers failed to get clearance from the Defense Ministry in advance, “a precondition for obtaining construction permits,” the paper said.
But they’re not alone.
“The issue has affected plans for many large projects in the city,” Haaretz reported, which could cost the developers many millions of dollars.
Israel's Defense Communications directorate includes information protection, intelligence collection, encryption and code-breaking units.
The Haaretz report puzzled James Bamford, a writer who has chronicled the triumphs and travails of its rough approximation here, the National Security Agency, in "The Shadow Factory" and two other best-selling books.
"It doesn't make sense," Bamford said in a brief telephone interview, cautioning that all he knew of the Defense Communications directorate's Tel Aviv construction problems was what he read in Haaretz.
"It seems to me they could get rid of the problem simply by developing repeater stations on top of the buildings, or find other ways to get around the problem," Bamford said. "I mean, what do they do in places like L.A., New York, Hong Kong or, for that matter, Washington?"
Whatever the exact nature of its issues, in scuttling nearby commercial projects out of security concerns, the Israelis are following in the footsteps of its U.S. counterpart at Ft. Meade, Md., Bamford said.
Over the years the NSA caused developers to alter plans for a number of commercial developments nearby, he said.
“Quite a few projects" were affected, he said. "There were a number of things….Nothing could be built within eyesight” of NSA’s complex along the Baltimore-Washington Highway "without their permission."
Legend has it that in the early 1990s the agency quickly bought a nearby small hotel after an exhausted employee, booking a room for the night rather than driving home, discovered he had a straight line of sight from his hotel window to NSA’S super-sensitive communications complex.
“Apparently the next day the owners of the hotel got an offer to buy the hotel they could not refuse, so it was purchased by the NSA,” according to one version of the story. “It sat unused for awhile, and was used as storage, but eventually someone suggested turning it into a museum, blocking off access to the areas that previously (but no longer) had a view into the complex.”
Today it houses the National Cryptologic Museum.
| August 25, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
Categories: Financial/business, Intelligence | Tags: James Bamford, NSA, National Cryptologic Museum, Tel Aviv
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