Slumped in a Nairobi courtroom, suit coats rumpled and reading glasses dangling from librarian chains, the defendants made a poor showing for the notorious Quds Force of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Ahmad Abolafathi Mohammed and Sayed Mansour Mousa had been caught red-handed and middle-aged. And if the latter did them a certain credit — blandly forgettable always having been a good look for a secret agent — the prisoners still had to explain why they had hidden 15 kg of the military explosive RDX under bushes on a Mombasa golf course.
Created to advance Iran’s interests clandestinely overseas, the Quds Force has lately provided mostly embarrassment, stumbling in Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, Kenya and most spectacularly in Thailand, where before accidentally blowing up their Bangkok safe house, Iran’s secret agents were photographed in the sex-tourism mecca of Pattaya, one arm around a hookah, the other around a hooker. In its ongoing shadow war with Israel, the Iranian side’s lone “success” was the July 18 bombing of a Bulgarian bus carrying Israeli tourists — though European investigators last week officially attributed that attack to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. That leaves the Islamic Republic itself with a failure rate hovering near 100% abroad and an operational tempo — nine overseas plots uncovered in nine months — that carries a whiff of desperation. A Tehran government long branded by U.S. officials as the globe’s leading exporter of terrorism may be cornering the market on haplessness.
Within Iran’s own borders, however, the story is different. Twice in the past two years Iranian intelligence has cracked espionage rings working with Israel’s Mossad, Western intelligence officials tell TIME. In both cases, the arrests were the furthest thing from secret: announced at a news conference, each was later followed up by televised confessions broadcast on Iranian state television in prime time. Given Iran’s history of trumped-up confessions, skepticism is more than justified. But the arrests appear to be solid. One intelligence official said the captured Iranians provided “support and logistics” to the Mossad operatives who carried out the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
At least four scientists were killed on Tehran’s streets from 2010 to 2012, when, as TIME has reported, Israel ratcheted back on covert operations inside Iran. Officially, Israel has remained silent on the killings, though government officials will coyly say they welcome the deaths. The Jewish state maintains the same ambiguous posture on other “setbacks” to Iran’s nuclear program widely — and correctly, Western intelligence officials say — attributed to Mossad, from the Stuxnet computer virus, to mysterious explosions like the massive blast at a missile base, which destroyed ballistic missiles that could reach Israel.
The mysterious case of Prisoner X has caused a diplomatic storm in two countries and many questions remain unanswered.
Two nights ago, the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program reported on the death of 34-year-old Australian Ben Zygier in an Israeli prison in 2010.
He was accused of espionage and treason and it’s understood the dual citizen was an agent of Mossad, Israel’s notorious intelligence unit.
But it’s unclear why he was imprisoned and in both countries pressure’s growing for an official explanation.
Hayden Cooper reports.
HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: An Australian man languishes in an Israeli prison. His identity is a secret. His alleged crime kept under wraps. It’s a story of intrigue and espionage stretching from the Middle East to Melbourne. But it’s a story that ends in suicide.
HARRY GREENER, FAMILY ACQUAINTENCE: We didn’t know anything about what happened to him except that there were whispers about Mossad and there were whispers about him being in detention and something went horribly wrong.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, AUTHOR: I try not to be too surprised about anything that happens in the Middle East, but, yes, this has really shocked me.
HAYDEN COOPER: Tuesday’s Foreign Correspondent investigation prized open the mystery case of Prisoner X, a man now understood to be an agent of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. A man also now believed to be Australian Ben Zygier. Its created a political uproar in Israel.
NITZAN HORWITZ, ISRAELI MP (voiceover translation): Today I call on the Attorney-General to check once and for all in a thorough manner what happened; why this man died and what were the circumstances of his imprisonment and death?
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For the first time, women who command some of the Israeli secret service’s most daring operations speak about their work and their lives.
They are one of the State of Israel’s most important assets. If we sleep soundly at night, it’s in large part thanks to them. If we win the next war, they will have a considerable share in the victory. Our security is entrusted to their hands, but, despite their importance to the country, you won’t read about them in the newspapers, you won’t see them on television, you can’t applaud them. Recognition and glory are not their lot. You can’t identify them, because they operate under cover. The women of the shadows.
Their brains invent daring and ingenious operations that make the difference between success and failure. They bring to bear a capacity to improvise, rare expertise, sophisticated weaponry, command of languages, and psychological insight. They have to get inside the mind of the other.
These women working in secret are senior operatives of Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, an organization that needs no wordy introductions about the cunning and boldness of its operations.
They live under threat to their lives, to their families, and to their freedom. They disappear from their homes, emerge under various identities, conceal themselves, rub shoulders with the enemy. It’s hard to grasp the price they pay. A spy who is captured in an enemy country can expect tough interrogation, torture, and execution.
Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, a real life “thriller” about the exploits of Israel’s intelligence agencies, has been making headlines since its publication on July 9. Not only do its authors, CBS News’ Dan Raviv and Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, confirm widely held suspicions that Israel was responsible for the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists and for interjecting the Flame and Stuxnet viruses into the computers that control Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but they make the case that Israelis-not local lackeys or political dissidents such as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK)-carried out the assassinations on Iranian soil:
“For such a sensitive dangerous and daring mission as a series of assassinations in Iran’s capital, the Mossad would not depend on hired-gun mercenaries,” Raviv and Melman assert. “They would be considered far less trustworthy and there was hardly any chance that the Mossad would reveal to non-Israelis some of its assassination unit’s best methods.”
Unnoticed in the effusive advance praise promoting the book is that much of Spies Against Armageddon is a rehash of Raviv and Melman’s earlier collaboration Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel’s Intelligence Community, published in 1990. Although the authors state that they have updated, revised and amplified their previous work in light of new documentation that has become available, large chunks of text-for example, the extensive section on Jonathan Pollard-are incorporated practically verbatim. Chapter titles have been tweaked slightly, and in some cases the chronological order has been reshuffled. Both books conclude with a chapter whose heading is “Into the Future,” and with the identical closing sentence: “The community’s history has demonstrated both the maximal achievements and the inescapable limitations of intelligence.”
There’ve been more than a few reports suggesting that Israel’s foreign intelligence agency - the Mossad - hires Iranian dissidents to carry out sabotage and assassinations inside Iran.
But a study of fifty years of assassinations by the Mossad - including conversations with current and former operatives and those who work with them in countries friendly to Israel - yields the conclusion that the assassins inside Iran are Israelis.
The Mossad has a special operations unit - a kind of Mossad within the Mossad - called Kidon (the Hebrew word for bayonet), which has over the years developed unique methods for infiltrating enemy countries, and for murdering Israel’s enemies without leaving a trace.
The Mossad benefits from unmatched linguistic capabilities, in part because Israel has many citizens whose families moved from Arabic- or Persian-speaking countries. Israeli operatives have traveled into Iran using the passports of other countries, including bogus documents produced by skilled Mossad forgers, and genuine passports where the photographs might be altered slightly.
Insight into the psyches and behavior of members of the super-secret Kidon squad can be found - perhaps surprisingly - in the pages of a novel called “Duet in Beirut,” published only in Hebrew (in 2002), by Mishka Ben-David, a former intelligence officer in the Mossad’s operations department, which runs and coordinates Kidon.
From the book and other sources it is understood that Kidon is so compartmentalized that its office is not inside the Mossad headquarters. Kidon combatants - who dubbed themselves “The Team” - hardly ever go there. Even when interacting with Mossad operatives from other units, Kidon men use assumed names. In the field, members use a third name - and sometimes even fourth and fifth identities.
Their training includes almost anything one might imagine is needed
Hamas leader believes Mossad behind killing, says Kamel Ranaja was former deputy of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh; Barak: He wasn’t one of the righteous ones.
A Hamas member was killed in Damascus Wednesday night, the French news agency AFP cited a senior official for the organization as saying, adding that Hamas suspected that the Mossad was behind the killing.
The official, who spoke anonymously, said that “a group of people entered the home of Kamel Ranaja (also known as Nizar Abu Mujhad), and killed him. According to information that we have gathered, the Mossad is behind the attack.”
According to the leader, Ranaja was a former deputy of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top Hamas official who was assassinated in Dubai over two years ago. A Lebanese television station aligned with Iran and Hamas confirmed Ranaja as al-Mabhouh’s former deputy.
There is the comb, the cigarette holder and the house keys he had on him when he was captured; the needle used to sedate him during his abduction from Argentina to Israel; and the booth in which he sat during his trial.
Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, has lifted a veil of secrecy to display publicly for the first time documents, equipment, artefacts and personal testimonies relating to the capture, abduction and trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal who was hanged in Israel almost 50 years ago.
Operation Finale, an exhibition at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, is curated by a serving Mossad officer, who can only be named as Avner A. Ninety per cent of the material on display comes from the Mossad archives, the first time in the agency’s history that it has opened its vaults.
The exhibition includes espionage equipment, such as a camera hidden in a briefcase and items used to forge documents and number plates; the original Mossad file on Eichmann, handwritten on yellowing paper; and the booth in which he sat during his trial. It discloses that the target was identified by his ears.
Eichmann was in charge of implementing Hitler’s Final Solution for the Jewish people, in which six million people died. After the war he was captured by Allied forces but escaped and fled to Argentina. There, a Holocaust survivor whose daughter was dating Eichmann’s son became suspicious about the identity of the boy’s father, and Israeli intelligence was alerted.
A complicated operation, involving about a dozen agents, most now dead, was prepared and executed in May 1960. Eichmann, who was living in Buenos Aires under the alias Ricardo Klement, was surreptitiously photographed and the images compared to those from his SS file. From the shape of his ears it was concluded that Eichmann and Klement were the same person.
He was bundled into a car on his way home from work by a team of Mossad agents. One of them, Rafi Eitan, who attended last week’s opening of the exhibition, described in video testimony what happened. “Eichmann’s head was in my lap,” he said. The agent examined his body for known scars and said he felt ecstatic when he found them.
Eichmann was taken to a safe house. Asked to identify himself, he first gave a German alias, then his Argentinian identity. On the third time of asking, he responded: “I am Adolf Eichmann. This is indeed my name.” Then, recalled Eitan, he asked for a glass of wine.
An elaborate plan to spirit him out of he country without alerting the Argentinian authorities was put into action. An El Al plane brought an official Israeli delegation to Buenos Aires as a cover for taking the high-value target back. He was passed off as a sick airline employee, dressed in an El Al uniform and heavily sedated in a first class seat.
Luba Volk, now in her 80s, played an unwitting part in the abduction. A former El Al employee who had relocated to Buenos Aires, she was contacted by the airline and asked to help secure documentation for the flight. She had no idea of its true purpose.
Israeli intelligence agency collaborating with CIA to revive spy network after revolution, Tunisian journal reports
The Mossad has bolstered its activity in several Tunisian cities since the start of the revolt that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last January, a Tunisian magazine reported.
According to the Al-Musawar, the Israeli intelligence agency has been working with its US-based counterpart, the CIA, to revive its spy network in post-revolution Tunisia. The journal cited a report compiled by the Egyptian Yafa Research Center, which found that the Mossad’s intelligence net is spread across several Tunisian metropolises - each branch with its own speciality.
The branch stationed in Tunis, for example, tracks targets in Alegria. The one placed in Djerba, an island located 500 kilometers southeast of the capital, traces Libyan targets. The Sousse office deals with Tunisian internal affairs, the report claimed.
According to the Tunisian journal, the Mossad has three primary goals for its activity in the north African country; to form spy rings for sabotage and incitement purposes, to follow the development of events in neighboring Algeria and Libya, and to track what is left of the Palestinian groups in Tunisia as well as Islamic and Salafi movements that are active there.
Another goal that the Mossad has assigned its agents, Al-Musawar reported, is to shadow the opposition groups in Tunisia - especially those who oppose the peace process with Israel, while also protecting the interests of the Jewish communities in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.
“Operation Finale: The Story of the Capture of Eichmann” is a museum exhibition that chronicles the secret Mossad operation that stalked and captured Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann from his refuge in Buenos Aires, and smuggled him to Israel to stand trial for his role in organizing the Final Solution. Eichmann was the chief logistician of the Holocaust, and the exhibit at the University of Tel Aviv is satisfying in every possible way: Not only seeing justice done, but laying eyes on the homespun artifacts of early spycraft that made it happen, like the stubby metal needle that administered a sedative before the prisoner was led, dressed in the uniform of a flight navigator, up the staircase of the El Al plane that carried him across the Atlantic.
The exhibit, at The Museum of the Jewish People, has it all: The soft leather briefcase with a camera hidden inside, its shutter activated by a button on the bottom pressed by an Israeli agent who pretended to happen by the house on Garibaldi Street on day in 1960, inquiring about investments in the area. Here are the black and white images, captured at an upward angle, of the man calling himself Ricardo Klement: A thing bald figure gesturing with arms akimbo, some quality of arrogance on display along with the actual prints, their negatives, and even the cardboard sleeve of the Buenos Aries photo shop that developed them — “Optica ‘Florida’ Argentina 1960.”
The agents didn’t think it was Eichmann. But their sneaked photos were compared with a civilian portrait and the photo from his SS file - both also on display - by forensic experts who knew what to look at: Ears really don’t change. One expert sketched an oval of a head with 10 points of commonality enumerated on a piece of paper either brown in 1960 or faded since to that shade, like the Mossad file on Eichmann himself, code-named “Dybbuk,” Yiddish for an evil spirit that penetrates the soul.
The 11 agents dispatched to bring Dybbuk to Israel were a mix of Mossad, the intelligence agency that works overseas, and Shabak, Israel’s domestic security office, which had to be called on for help. “Besides being the Eichmann story this is the story of the evolution of the Mossad,” says Avinoam Armoni, chief executive of the museum, known in Israel as Beit Hatfutsot. Mossad — the massive organization whose hand critics see behind many a mysterious death abroad - was not all that back then. Its original mission was mostly getting Jews out of other countries and into newly established Israel.
Explosive CIA Memos: Mossad agents posed as CIA spies to recruit members of a terrorist group to fight covert war against Iran
Buried deep in the archives of America’s intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush’s administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives — what is commonly referred to as a “false flag” operation.
The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah — a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according tothe U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.
But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel’s Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel’s recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel’s ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.
The officials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallah is ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad’s efforts.
“It’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with,” the intelligence officer said. “Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought.”
Interviews with six currently serving or recently retired intelligence officers over the last 18 months have helped to fill in the blanks of the Israeli false-flag operation. In addition to the two currently serving U.S. intelligence officers, the existence of the Israeli false-flag operation was confirmed to me by four retired intelligence officers who have served in the CIA or have monitored Israeli intelligence operations from senior positions inside the U.S. government.
The CIA and the White House were both asked for comment on this story. By the time this story went to press, they had not responded. The Israeli intelligence services — the Mossad — were also contacted, in writing and by telephone, but failed to respond. As a policy, Israel does not confirm or deny its involvement in intelligence operations.