Is the U.S. choosing targets in Gaza for Israel?
The Biden administration is sending officers to Israel whose job is to share targeting data, suggesting a far more direct U.S. role in the Gaza war than previously reported.
The U.S. Air Force has sent specialized intelligence officers — whose job is to share targeting data with other countries — to Israel during its current war in Gaza. I reported this previously un-reported scoop with The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein, based largely on documents I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Biden administration has previously admitted to flying drones over Gaza, ostensibly to search for hostages. But the arrival of the intelligence teams suggests a much deeper level of U.S. involvement in the war than has been previously reported: not just giving Israel weapons, but helping point out some of the targets. And this role is meant to be kept out of the public eye; the documents include an order for U.S. personnel in Israel not to wear their uniforms out and about.
If you want to see the documents, or the full implications of this story, The Intercept is the place to go. (Read the full story here!) I’d like to use my Substack to tell the story behind the story. Not only did this scoop come from a public records request, but it was also completely unexpected.
Those of you have been subscribed for awhile may remember my story on sensitivity training at the edge of the world. There’s a U.S. Space Force satellite station in Greenland, formerly known as Thule and renamed Pituffik, where almost no one or nothing lives. So I sent a request for cultural orientation materials. What could they be for? Polar bears? The Thing? As it turns out, the large number of Danish and Inuit workers on the base.
When Ken first reported on a secret U.S. radar base in the Negeb desert, I sent a freedom-of-information request for their cultural orientation materials. Israel and Palestine are way more culturally loaded for Americans than any other foreign nation. It would be interesting to see how the U.S. military explained Israeli society behind closed doors, and whether it found Palestinians (or others) worth mentioning.
The freedom-of-information staff at the Space Force were incredibly helpful, and I really appreciate their pointers and quick response time. The request ended up capturing something I hadn’t even thought to look for. Instead of a slideshow on Hebrew slang, I got back a packet of “reporting instructions” for U.S. airmen and space guardians (yes, that’s what Space Force members are called) in Israel. It basically outlined what they needed to bring and how they should conduct themselves in country.
For one, U.S. troops in Tel Aviv are apparently allowed to rent electric scooters with their government expense card.
I forwarded the packet to Ken, who was after all reporting on the U.S. military presence there. He zeroed in on the phrase “intelligence engagement officer.” That suggested a level of U.S. involvement in the war that has not been reported. We followed the lead…and you can read about what we found at The Intercept.
There’s two lessons here. One is that the Freedom of Information Act is your friend. The U.S. system is amazing for letting any citizen inspect any bureaucracy’s records. Another lesson is that the Internet is no substitute for talking to people. I obtained these documents by writing an email, but I wouldn’t have realized their significance without talking to Ken, and we wouldn’t have been able to flesh out the story without talking to our sources.
So, aspiring (American) journalists, learn what kind of files your favorite bureaucracy produces, and ask for them. It’s your patriotic right. And don’t be afraid to talk to people, either. Fight your phone anxiety, or whatever the Zoomers call it these days. Journalism is all about people, and you’d be surprised by what they’re willing to share.
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