Raul Diego A two-pronged initiative by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security is set to substantially increase Israel’s already significant role in America’s digital health, artificial intelligence (AI), critical health infrastructure, as well as law enforcement, public and border protection and other key sectors.
Citing “health challenges” posed by COVID-19, the U.S.-Israel Business Initiative (USIBI), a venture of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is advancing a new eight-point policy framework to facilitate a “more robust bilateral collaboration” between Israeli and American companies to realize the “potential” of technologies emerging out of Israel relating to telehealth, robotic diagnostics and AI-powered applications in healthcare.
In a recent article, investigative reporter Whitney Webb uncovered the deep Israeli military roots of virtually every “health” tech startup to emerge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and their extensive relationships with the U.S. government at both the federal and state level. Regarding the policy framework, Webb stated that it was likely “part of a broader effort aimed at using the coronavirus crisis to facilitate the integration of Israeli tech companies, particularly in the “digital health” sector, into the U.S. technology ecosystem. Many, if not the vast majority, of these companies”, she continued, “were either founded by ex-members of Israeli intelligence or military intelligence, but also serve as contractors to Israel’s government or its military.”
The policy paper issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was developed by a “working group” of unnamed “leading global companies, investors, scientists, academics, and medical experts”. While the USIBI no longer lists their members on their website, archived pages from 2017 show large multinationals like Procter & Gamble, GE, and Caterpillar on the membership rolls, along with the Las Vega Sands Corporation, owned by Sheldon Adelson – the single biggest donor in all of U.S. politics, and TEVA Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.; an American-Israeli generic drug manufacturer that was sued last year by 44 U.S. states for orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with 19 other companies. TEVA recently pulled out of settlement talks with the Department of Justice, betting that the Trump administration will not pursue further charges against them in the midst of the pandemic given that TEVA is among the companies making the President’s most hyped COVID-19 remedy, hydroxychloroquine.
The mystery behind their currently unpublished member list might be explained by what Webb described as “a policy that has been acknowledged by Israel’s government where intelligence operations are spun off into private entities and merged into large multinational corporations, specifically in the U.S., with the ultimate goal of ensuring cyber supremacy for Israel’s high-tech startups and mitigating the successes and popularity of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in the United States.”
First on the list of USIBI’s policy recommendations is the creation of a fund to support research and development for “technologies with commercial application in the health sector” modeled on the U.S.-Israel Energy Center of Excellence, which foments similar public-private partnerships in the energy sector.
Second on the list is strengthening the relationship between Israel’s Ministry of Health and its U.S. counterpart, HHS, and satellite organizations, such as the NIH, CDC and BARDA. Three of the eight points focus on intellectual property protections for Israeli biologics, artificial intelligence and their implementation in a new “U.S.-Israel Digital Trade Agreement” which will “foster open access to government-generated public data” and “promote government-to-government collaboration on cybersecurity issues.”
The proposed framework also calls for the establishment of a “Health Attaché” at Israel’s U.S. embassy and vice versa to “ensure continuity in government efforts” surrounding the policy recommendations.
The Department of Homeland Security has likewise issued its own “solicitation” for collaboration between the U.S. and Israel. In a press release from June 23, 2020, the Under Secretary for Science and Technology William N. Bryan, officially renewed the five-year-old program with a special focus on “the toughest challenges facing our missions today.” These include: combating cybercrime, securing critical infrastructure and public facilities, safe and secure cities, and unmanned aerial systems among others.
The call for proposals was outlined in a joint initiative between the U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation and Israel’s Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), funded by DHS to “fulfill critical homeland security needs in both countries.” MOPS oversees Israel’s border police and prison system, while the BIRD foundation has been promoting” cooperation between U.S. and Israeli companies” since 1977 and receives 50 percent of its funding from DHS’ Science and Technology program. Proposals are due in September and will be awarded in December of this year.
The implications for the average American citizen are far-reaching. As Webb explains, “these health “solutions” offered by these Israeli companies use AI or “digital solutions” require the accumulation of vast amounts of private medical and demographic data; data which is then shared with these foreign companies and their partners and clients, representing a clear threat to privacy.”
But, privacy is hardly the only concern. “Many of these companies that are now marketing these “healthcare” solutions,” says Webb, “were previously contractors for the IDF and used surveillance and predictive policing on Palestinians in occupied Palestine.”
“Those same algorithms,” she continues, “have been rebranded as health surveillance and as helping to predict future outbreaks of coronavirus, despite there being no data or case studies to show that such technological solutions have been effective. in fact, some of these programs, when piloted in Israel, were found to actually hamper the ability of Israeli physicians to respond to the pandemic.”
The dovetailing interests between the U.S. national security state and Israel are nothing new. Since its founding in 1948 to the present, American support of the Middle East’s apartheid state has been virtually unwavering and has served an Atlanticist agenda in the region and beyond.
But the level of interdependence in areas of technology and security has grown exponentially over the last two decades, in particular. The burgeoning presence of Israeli security firms in the U.S. should be of special concern given the murderous treatment it extends to Palestinians in the Gaza and the West Bank, not to mention the draconian policies embedded in its own domestic policies.
Artificial intelligence, in particular, is being peppered over practically Israeli tech startup initiatives as “several institutions, including the U.S.-Israel organization known as Start-up Nation Central, have partnered with Israel’s government to specifically market Israeli AI-based “healthcare” companies to foreign countries,” according to Webb. “Israel,” she states, “promotes itself as a world leader in AI, and part of this has to do with the extreme patronage of Israel’s government, intelligence-linked VC firms, and wealthy Zionists into this field. However, the greatest contributor of all has been the blurring of the line between the aspects of Israel’s national security state that produce AI algorithms, either for the military and intelligence, that are then repurposed and commercialized through these start-ups and start-up accelerators.
“Many of those algorithms,” she elaborated, “such as those produced by the IDF’s Unit 8200, are heavily subsidized by the $3.8 billion a year that Israel’s military receives in aid from the United States. Using the coronavirus crisis is a major selling point and has helped launch a major push towards worldwide integration of AI more deeply into our lives, with the field of healthcare being just one example.”
Feature photo | An Israeli man is tested by a healthcare worker for coronavirus at a drive-thru testing center in Tel Aviv, July 6, 2020. Sebastian Scheiner | AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.