France’s Cell Phone Caper in Israel

A truly bizarre story appeared on July 6 in the French news magazine L’Express.  According to the story, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, on a visit to Jerusalem, was obliged to leave his “secret” cellphone and also at least one laptop computer outside the meeting room with the Israeli Prime Minister.  Thereafter, according to the report in L’Express,  the phone did not work and the laptop displayed strange behavior.  Thus the suspicion that the Israelis tampered with the French prime minister’s phone and laptop.

bryensblog.com, stephen bryen

This is a strange story for a number of reasons.
The first is that it is absolutely unbelievable that a Prime Minister and his retinue would be carrying electronic devices into a meeting of any kind.  Everyone knows that cell phones and lap tops, no matter how much modified, are walking time bombs for hackers.  Taking them to a high level meeting is, in and of itself, a condemnation of French security.
Add to that the alleged fact (it is alleged because we only have the L’Express article, which is missing any responsible source) that the French dutifully turned over the devices to the Israeli Prime Minister’s security detail because they were not allowed to be taken into a meeting.
Anyone who visits the White House, Pentagon, State Department or intelligence organization in the US is always obliged to turn over their cell phones, tablets and laptops which are normally locked up.  Most often, the person is instructed to put them in a lock box and then retains the key so he or she can retrieve them after their meeting.  This is normal procedure and is also followed these days almost everywhere in the world.
Since the French devices allegedly carried secret information, the idea of taking them to any meeting in the first place seems highly suspicious.  On top of that. leaving them in someone else’s care is downright reckless.  Had they been carrying these devices, the right move would have been to hand them to an aide and have the aide leave the premises.
The allegation, that the Israelis planted some bug in their devices, also seems peculiar and, perhaps, intentionally misleading.
Israeli capabilities in cyber intelligence gathering is second to none.  In fact they are so good that when Apple refused to cooperate with the FBI in opening a locked cell phone, Israeli experts were called in and promptly opened it.  Given the very high level of Israeli capabilities, it is unlikely they would have used a poorly designed bug that made French equipment perform strangely.
This leads to the following possibilities.
The first is that the L’Express article is a provocation and is intended to attack Israel’s Prime Minister as a thief and a brigand, especially since he did not go along with France’s so-called Middle East peace initiative.
The second is there was already a bug in the French equipment before they went to the Prime Minister’s office and they only found out later when their equipment did not work.  This suggests a second-rate intruder or hacker, maybe Palestinians.
The third is that the French secret services put the bugs in the French Prime Minister’s equipment and, facing discovery, hastened to throw the blame on the Israelis.
The fourth and least likely scenario is that Netanyahu’s office put the bugs in the French phones. From Netanyahu’s vantage point, this would have been incredibly stupid and certainly unnecessary.  For sure Israel and Netanyahu have flat out denied any such thing happened.
So which scenario is most likely?  The third scenario, that it was done by the French secret services, seems most plausible because the French secret services have persistently spied on their leaders.  One needs only ask former President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose cell phones and land lines were systematically tapped.  Having done a lousy job, and panicking, it seems a scapegoat needed to be found fast.  Blaming it on Israel, which is like the classical “Blame it on the Jews” is not surprising as a consequence.
Finally, the French prime minister and his team ought to get a lesson in security.  They obviously are, on this subject, incompetent.

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