U.S. Prepared Huge Cyber-Attack on Iran, In Case Israel Bombed Iran and a War Started

In his latest documentary, “Zero Days,” the award-winning Alex Gibney reveals that the Obama Administration believed an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — which seemed in 2012 to be a very real prospect — would draw the United States into war.  To prepare, the NSA created a set of cyberattacks — code named “Nitro Zeus” — which could have crippled Iranian industry, transport, and other modern services.  

“Zero Days” was the opening feature of the AFI Docs festival in Washington, DC, on June 22.  Gibney was interviewed by Dan Raviv for the CBS News Weekend Roundup radio magazine; and Yossi Melman is seen in the film as an expert commenting on Israeli motivations in confronting Iran’s nuclear program.  Melman also credited in the film as a consultant.

Raviv and Melman are co-authors of five books, including the current history of Israeli intelligence — Spies Against Armageddon.

Here is part of an article Melman wrote for The Jerusalem Post in February 2016, when the documentary was first screened at the Berlin Film Festival.

Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, is in the film and claims the goal of a potential Israeli strike on Iran would be to drag the U.S. into war.  The film also quotes other sources in the US intelligence community who accuse Israel of disrupting a joint covert operation to sabotage computers used in Iran’s nuclear program by acting rashly and in opposition to agreed-upon plans.  As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars that were invested in the operation went to waste.
A graphic from the documentary "Zero Days"

A graphic from the documentary “Zero Days”

The film contains testimony from NSA and CIA operatives who worked together with Israeli colleagues – from the 8200 Military Intelligence Unit and Mossad – to develop several versions of a deadly virus that penetrated computers at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in Iran. The testimony is delivered anonymously by an actress whose face remains hidden.

According to the claims in the film, the hasty Israeli action prevented the carrying out of a number of further planned actions that were intended to sabotage computers at a second, more fortified uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. The film also reveals another planned cyber unit covert operation code-named NZ (Nitro Zeus).

“We spent millions on this operation to sabotage all of the computers of the Iranian infrastructure in the instance of a war,” a source quoted in the film said. “We penetrated the government, electricity lines, power stations and most of the infrastructure in Iran.”

The deadly virus that was implanted at Natanz was named “Stuxnet” by computer security experts, but it had a different name among the Israeli and American intelligence communities: “Olympic Games” — as revealed by New York Times’ journalist David E. Sanger.
Conventional wisdom holds that the implanting of the virus marked the first time that a country, or two countries in this case (the U.S. and Israel), engaged in cyber warfare against another country (Iran). Up until then, the majority of attacks were carried out by individual hackers for their own enjoyment or for political purposes, by criminals for the purposes of fraud and thievery, or by companies engaged in industrial and commercial espionage.
Vice President Joe Biden is quoted in the film as saying in a meeting that the Israelis “changed the code” of the deadly virus’s software.  As a result, the virus spread from nuclear program computers to many other computers in Iran, and from there to computers around the world — even harming the computers of American companies.
The unplanned spread of the virus led to the exposure of the operation and enabled the Iranians, with the help of information security experts from Belarus and Russia, to invent a “vaccine” for their computers to better defend the nuclear program.

According to the film, the premature exposure of the operation caused by Israel’s action’s also caused the virus software, which was among the most classified and most advanced in the world, to leak to Russian and Iranian intelligence.

“Ironically,” it is said in the film, “the secret formula for writing the code for the virus software fell into the hands of Russia and Iran – the country against which it was developed.”

June 23, 2016

“Ready for a Challenge?” Job Ads Placed by Mossad — Looking for Cyber Aces

[This post is based on an article in Hebrew by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books, in the newspaper Maariv.]

The Mossad — Israel’s famed foreign intelligence agency — placed unusual advertisements in several Israeli newspapers on Wednesday.  It is not the first time that the Mossad published “want ads,” announcing that jobs are available for the right men and women.  This one also seems to be polishing the secret agency’s image as a cutting-edge, entirely modern and exciting place to work.

Mossad ready for challengeThe ad shows rows of numbers, apparently meant to represent computer code on a screen — and among the digits are English letters that read: “ARE YOU READY FOR A CHALLENGE?”

At the bottom, in Hebrew, is the official symbol of the Mossad — with its motto quoting the Bible: “Where there is no counsel, the nation falls; but there is salvation in a multitude of counsel.”  (Proverbs 11:14)

And intriguingly at the bottom is — apparently — the name of the Mossad department looking for brilliant employees: “The Operational Cyber Arm.”

The agency’s website also invites job applications.

Mossad.gov.il came into existence only about 15 years ago.  In part that was part of a new wave of relative openness: acknowledging that the Mossad exists and making it legal to publish the name of its director (Yossi Cohen this year replaced Tamir Pardo).  Also, the website is part of a recruitment effort — in Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic, and Farsi (Persian) — which suggests that working for Israeli intelligence can give a person amazing experiences.

It was also, in the past 10 to 15 years, that the Mossad — instructed by Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert — stepped up its efforts to derail and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.


May 11, 2016

Israel Rushed — Iran Computers Could’ve Been Sabotaged More: New Documentary, “Zero Days”

Israeli hastiness blew operation to sabotage Iran’s computers, U.S. officials say:
‘Zero Days’, Alex Gibney’s film premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival, explores the joint U.S.-Israeli operation to develop the Stuxnet virus and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program
• By YOSSI MELMAN  (for Maariv and The Jerusalem Post)

If Israel were ever to bomb Iran and its nuclear facilities — according to Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA — Israel’s goal would be to drag the United States into war.

MIchael Hayden, in the film "Zero Days"

MIchael Hayden, in the film “Zero Days”

Hayden makes the remark in a documentary film premiering this week at the Berlin International Film Festival.  The film also quotes other sources in the U.S. intelligence community who accuse Israel of disrupting a joint covert operation to sabotage computers used in Iran’s nuclear program by acting rashly. The sources say Israel did not stick with the agreed-upon plan.

As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars that were invested in the operation went to waste.

The film, Zero Days, was directed by Alex Gibney, whose film Taxi to the Dark Side won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2008.

His new film includes testimony from NSA and CIA operatives who worked together with Israeli colleagues – from the 8200 Military Intelligence Unit and Mossad – to develop several versions of a deadly virus that penetrated computers at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in Iran.  The testimony is delivered anonymously by an actress whose face remains hidden.

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

According to the claims in the film, the hasty Israeli action prevented the carrying out of a number of further planned actions that were intended to sabotage computers at a second, more fortified uranium enrichment facility at Fordow.

The film also reveals another planned cyber unit covert operation code-named NZ (Nitro Zeus).

“We spent millions on this operation to sabotage all of the computers of the Iranian infrastructure in the instance of a war,” a source quoted in the film said. “We penetrated the government, electricity lines, power stations and most of the infrastructure in Iran.”

As seen in "Zero Days"...

As seen in “Zero Days”…

The deadly virus that was implanted at Natanz was named “Stuxnet” by computer security experts, but it had a different name among the Israeli and American intelligence communities that was not revealed in the film. The code-name of the entire operation, as was revealed by New York Times journalist David Sanger, was “Olympic Games.”

Conventional wisdom holds that the implanting of the virus marked the first time that a country, or two countries in this case (the U.S. and Israel), engaged in cyber warfare against another country (Iran).

Up until then, the majority of attacks were carried out by individual hackers for their own enjoyment or for political purposes, by criminals for the purposes of fraud and thievery, or by companies engaged in industrial and commercial espionage.

America’s Vice President Joe Biden is quoted in the film as saying in a meeting that the Israelis “changed the code” of the deadly virus’s software.  As a result, in contravention of the plan, the virus spread from nuclear program computers to many other computers in Iran, and from there, to computers around the world — even harming the computers of American companies.

LInes of code of Stuxnet, seen in the film

LInes of code of Stuxnet, seen in the film

The unplanned spread of the virus led to the exposure of the operation.  That enabled the Iranians, with the help of information security experts from Belarus and Russia, to invent a “vaccine” for their computers to better defend the nuclear program.

According to the film, the premature exposure of the operation due to Israel’s actions also caused the virus software, which was among the most classified and most advanced in the world, to leak to Russian and Iranian intelligence.

“Ironically,” it is said in the film, “the secret formula for writing the code for the virus software fell into the hands of Russia and of Iran – the country against which it was developed.”

The development of Stuxnet and the planning of Operation Olympic Games began in 2006, during George W. Bush’s term as president.  He fervently wanted to thwart the Iranian nuclear program.

Hayden, with his long experience in both the CIA and the NSA, declares in the film that “President Bush did not want to be left with the choice of ‘to bomb or be bombed.’”

Revealed too much: Ahmadinejad's Visit to Natanz

Revealed too much: Ahmadinejad’s Visit to Natanz

According to the film, experts from both countries came up with the idea of trying to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities, and in particular their computers.  News photographs of then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the Natanz facility helped the experts obtain needed intelligence on the computers.  The computers, their configuration and their rear connections can be seen clearly in the pictures.  Eventually, these entry and exit points served as portals to implant the virus.

Iranian nuclear experts accompanied Ahmadinejad on his tour of the facility.  One of those photographed at Ahmadinejad’s side was assassinated a few years later, in an operation that was attributed to the Mossad.

On Bush’s orders, exact replicas of the centrifuges were built at the national laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is also used to produce nuclear weapons, and at Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.  The deadly virus was implanted in the centrifuges and their rotors were damaged and broken.

Intelligence operatives brought the broken rotors to the White House situation room, showed them to President Bush and explained what the sabotage could do.  Bush was impressed, saying, “Go and try.”

He ordered a greater investment in offensive, covert cyber warfare and approved the operation.

According to the film, offensive cyber warfare against Iran was increased even more during Barack Obama’s term.  A key reason was his concern that Israel — under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak — would take military action against Iran.

Hayden reveals in the film that America’s fear was that “the real goal of an Israeli attack [against the nuclear facilities in Iran], would be to drag us into war,” because Israel’s own attack capabilities were limited.

Hayden continues: “Israel has an excellent air force, but it’s small. The distance is great and the facilities are spread throughout Iran.”

In order to calm Israel down, and to prove that the administration was working diligently to thwart an Iranian nuclear weapon, Obama ordered the intelligence community to increase its efforts and its cooperation with the Mossad and Unit 8200.

He did so despite having some doubts about the operation. Obama expressed concern that “the Chinese and the Russians will do the same thing to us,” and insert viruses into nuclear facilities and other strategic sites in the United States.

However, Obama’s greater fear was of an Israeli attack.  “The goal was to gain time,” Hayden added, “in order to force Iran to come to the negotiating table.”

According to the film, British intelligence also secretly took part in the operation through GCHQ, its unit responsible for telephone surveillance, communications interception, code-breaking, and cyber warfare.

“But the main partner was Israel,” the film says.  “And in Israel the Mossad ran the show.  8200 provided technical help.  Israel was the key to the whole story.”

In the beginning, the virus succeeded at its mission, according to the film.

“As far as we knew, but they weren’t telling us everything,” an NSA source told Alex Gibney’s team. “The virus was implanted in the computers, probably by the Mossad, through its infiltration of two software companies in Taiwan that were working with the Iranians.”

The plan was for the virus to harm the digital and computerized electric boxes made by the German company Siemens, which were hooked up to the computers that operated the centrifuges.  About a thousand of the 5,000 centrifuges were damaged without the Iranians discovering the cause of the problem.

“The plan did what it was supposed to do,” an anonymous American intelligence operative said. “The centrifuges blew up without leaving a trace.”

The sabotage operation also had a psychological goal: to instill in the Iranian leadership and in the community of scientists a feeling that they were helpless and did not understand what was happening.  An additional goal was to drive a wedge between the scientists on one side — and Iran’s political and military leadership.

It did turn out that Iranian authorities accused their experts of failure and began firing them and threatened them.

According to testimony gathered by the filmmakers, several hundred programmers, mathematicians, and computer engineers worked in Tailored Access Operations (TAO) teams at CIA headquarters and the cyber command in Fort Meade, Maryland.  Only these teams were authorized to infiltrate computers outside of the U.S., including those in Iran.

The sources quoted in the film say the U.S. and Israel developed a few different versions of the Stuxnet virus.  Each new version was more powerful than its predecessor.  The idea was to gradually implant increasingly stronger versions of the virus.

In addition, it was established that each country had the right to act independently, as long as it informed the other of its actions.  However, according to the film, as a result of pressure from Netanyahu on the chief of the Mossad to “show results,” it was decided in Israel to use the most deadly version of the virus prematurely.

“We operated at a low profile,” an NSA source said. “The Israelis, on the other hand, constantly pushed to be more aggressive.”

In this way, after the strongest version of the virus was implanted in order to increase the force of the damage to the centrifuges at Natanz, the virus, according to German information security expert Ralph Langer, began to “jump from computer to computer,” until it was out of control and unintentionally spread to thousands of computers, networks and systems, including computers in the United States.

“Our friends from Israel took a weapon that we developed jointly, among other things in order to defend Israel, and did something crazy with it, and actually blew the operation.  We were very furious,” an American source said.

The film reveals that the presidential orders of Bush and Obama to activate the cyber weapon were based on their authority to use nuclear weapons.

As a result of this American-Israeli cyber warfare, Iran began to develop and to enhance its own attack tools.  A few years ago, in revenge and as a message of deterrence, it attacked 30,000 computers belonging to the Saudi oil company Aramco and computers belonging to American banks.

Against this backdrop, the film also delves into the philosophical-theoretical issue of the world’s need to establish international treaties and rules of what’s legal and illegal in cyber warfare, like the international conventions that govern the laws of conventional warfare.

In addition to Hayden, other U.S. officials are interviewed in the film, including Richard Clarke, an anti-terrorism and cyber warfare consultant in the Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations; John C. Inglis, former deputy NSA chief; Gary Samore, formerly with the Obama National Security Council; and the head of information and computer security branch of the Department of Homeland Security.  The New York Times’ Sanger also served as consultant to the film’s director and producers.

On the Israeli side, interviews were conducted with former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, current National Infrastructure, Energy and Water and former Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, as well as the writer of this article, who also served as a consultant to the filmmakers.

Computer security experts from the American firm Symantec appear in the film, as well as the German expert Ralph Langer and Eugene Kaspersky, who is considered one of the best-known computer security experts in the world.  Kaspersky was formerly a Russian intelligence operative and is considered to have close ties to the Kremlin.

February 16, 2016

In-Depth on the New Mossad Chief: Action Man Turns Strategist — Yossi Cohen’s Test Starts Now

[This article was written for The Jerusalem Report, a magazine published by The Jerusalem Post, by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and other books, including the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security agencies: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]

Yossi Cohen is taking over (on January 6) at Mossad headquarters in Glilot, north of Tel Aviv, as the intelligence organization’s twelfth director.  He is replacing Tamir Pardo who retires after 35 year in the agency, five of them as its head.

Yossi Cohen, Israel's new top spymaster

Yossi Cohen, Israel’s new top spymaster

For the last two and half years Cohen served as national security adviser to the prime minister and as head of the National Security Council. This capacity and proximity to Benjamin Netanyahu gave him the edge over two other senior Mossad officials in the running for the job.

Netanyahu trusts Cohen and assigned him secret and sensitive missions; among them mending relations with Turkey; improving ties with the Obama administration, which he did via his good contacts with his American counterpart Susan Rice; and clandestine meetings with Arab leaders and officials.

Cohen is 54 years old. He is a typical product of the Mossad, where he has served in various operational and managerial capacities since 1983; but he was not a typical recruit. He was born in Jerusalem in 1961 to a right-wing religious family with roots going back eight generations in the city. He graduated from schools affiliated with the National Religious movement, which is today represented by the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party.

When Cohen joined the Mossad as a young cadet it was rare to see a religious candidate wearing a kippa (yarmulka). Cohen, who later stopped wearing a head covering, was the only religious cadet in his class and as a result was the brunt of many jokes.

The Mossad, at the time, was practically off limits to people like him.

As years went by, he was labelled “The Model” by journalists for his dapper suits — with headline writers recently dubbing him “James Bond 007” — in stark contrast to the typically informal Israeli dress sense.

Cohen was communicative, charming, easygoing, focused and manipulative; all the traits needed to be a good case officer, known in Mossad parlance as “katsa,” the Hebrew acronym for a collection officer.  A Mossad case officer is expected to be able to establish contact with potential agents, and if successful in recruiting an agent, running that agent and extracting the required information the agent may possess. The case officer’s main responsibility is in the field known as HUMINT — human intelligence.

Cohen rose through the espionage agency’s rank and file. He began as a low-level case officer running Arab agents in Europe and later became chief of a Mossad station, operating from the Israeli embassy in a major Western European city. After returning to Israel he was appointed by Meir Dagan, then Mossad chief, as head of the Tzomet (Junction) department in charge of case officers and their agents.

Meir Dagan on CBS's "60 Minutes," 2012

Meir Dagan on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” 2012

Cohen was in charge of covert actions against Iran and its nuclear program.

The years 2006-2010 — before Dagan retired and was replaced by Pardo — were the heyday of Mossad operations to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb.

Dagan put Cohen in charge of these efforts. From his Tzomet office he ran a special operations center that coordinated with all the other relevant departments.

During that period at least five key Iranian nuclear scientists were killed – their deaths were attributed by foreign sources to the Mossad – a few more wounded and probably many more warned that they would be well advised to stop working for the secret military project.

The Mossad, together with the U.S. National Security Agency, was also said to have created the Stuxnet computer worm which targeted systems running the centrifuges in the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran: a cyberattack that caused severe damage.

Other operations included preventing shipments from reaching Iran; either by damaging the equipment at the port of departure; or by threatening companies not to do business with Iran, or by asking local security services to intercept the shipments.

Another important operation during these years was the killing in 2008 in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh ,  the “Defense Minister” of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite-Lebanese organization. According to American media, the assassination was a joint Mossad-CIA operation but other foreign sources claim that though the CIA was privy to the planning and intention, its operational role was marginal and most of the work was “blue and white” – the colors of the Israeli flag.

mossad, kidon, spies against armageddon, israel covert operations, Iran nuclear

Mossad’s official logo

Yet, Cohen’s team was not immune to failure. The most damaging  of his failures was the case of Ben Zygier, an Australian Jew who was recruited to work for a European-based front company of the Mossad, which while selling equipment to Iran tried to penetrate its nuclear program. Zygier boasted about his role and exposed the operation. Agents had to be recalled and tens of millions of dollars were wasted. Zygier was jailed, and he committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010, causing some fuss when the case was publicized in the media.

It is hard to assess whether the daring Mossad operations, combined with international sanctions, prevented Iran from assembling a nuclear bomb or whether Tehran made a well calculated decision to stop short of an actual weapon.  Either way, Iranian scientists and military men have already mastered the know-how and acquired the technology, equipment and materials necessary to build a bomb should they decide to do so.

All these anti-Iran operations were carried out simultaneously and required above all agents in the right places, who needed solid and accurate information.  Although the reasons cannot be revealed, in 2011, then president Shimon Peres granted Cohen and his Tzomet team the Israel Security Award, and in the same year he was also promoted to deputy head of the Mossad.

Cohen’s return to the organization where he spent most of his career is being well received. Cohen knows the agency and most of its staff inside out.

The Mossad’s organizational behavior and culture are rooted in years of experience and meticulous care to detail, but the spy agency needs to be responsive and flexible in order to meet the challenges of the new Middle East reality.

This is a region where several states – Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya – are at various stages of collapse; American power and influence are dwindling and Russia is taking full advantage; new actors, such as ISIS and the Kurds are emerging, and the Sunni-Shia rift is widening.

These new realities create opportunities but also risks for Mossad’s new head. Although his years heading the prime minister’s National Security Council helped to upgrade his strategic understanding, Cohen is more of a skillful operative than a thinker and will have his work cut out for him.

Netanyahu decided (government photo)

Netanyahu decided (government photo)

Cohen wants to make the Mossad more combative and daring than it was under Pardo and return to the “good old days” when Dagan led the organization.

He strongly believes, like Netanyahu, that Iran remains Israel’s enemy number one – that it continues to support terrorism and has never abandoned its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. One of his major tasks will be to monitor and to verify that Iran is not once again deceiving the international community and violating the July 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers.

Cohen will also continue to carry out — on behalf of Netanyahu, often authorized solely by the prime minister — sensitive missions. These may include delivering messages to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Netanyahu hopes to establish an anti-Iranian coalition with those countries, but their leaders are reluctant to go out into the open and be seen in the company of Israel unless there is progress on the Palestinian issue.

The Mossad has no input on the Palestinian issue, perhaps Israel’s most challenging front.

Colleagues who know Cohen from their work in the agency say that from an early stage he dreamed of reaching the top. Now his dream has come true, and his test will be to provide the prime minister who appointed him a true picture of the reality faced by Israel — and not one that is tainted by politics.

January 5, 2016

Penetrating the Iran Nuclear Talks: Israel — And Others — Use Malware for Cyber-Espionage


The Russian internet security company Kaspersky Lab – which is often first to identify hacking efforts and cyber-crises around the world – says someone used an innovative computer virus to spy on the Iran nuclear talks.

Kaspersky and the American anti-virus company Symantec both say the virus resembles Duqu – malware that’s been called a “stepchild” of Stuxnet, the program that’s known to have been created as a joint project of U.S. and Israeli government agencies.

We don’t have to let the Russian software experts knock us off our chairs with surprise.  Founded and still led by Eugene Kaspersky, a product of former KGB technical training schools, the Lab publishes its findings on viruses and computer worms around the world.

The Lab has a financial motive.  Every burst of publicity brings it new, paying clients – especially in Western nations.

Kaspersky logoThe revelations from Kaspersky always point to Western governments (including Israel) or corporations as the villains.  He would not dare point a finger of blame at Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia.  Everyone knows what usually happens to open critics and foes of Putin.

Thus the motivations are not only financial – but also political-ideological.  With a dash of self-preservation.

We also shouldn’t be very surprised that The Wall Street Journal cites officials as saying that the malware that’s spying on nuclear negotiators – dubbed “Duqu 2” – originated with an Israeli intelligence agency.

Eugene Kaspersky is quoted as giving huge praise to Duqu 2 as “a generation ahead of anything we’d seen earlier” – and it’s reported that whoever invented it used it to penetrate Kaspersky Lab’s own systems.

It has become crystal clear that cyber-war is the war of the future: penetrations of government or corporate computer systems by using “Trojan horses” or other sophisticated software, viruses, or worms.  Who is able to do it?  Governments, corporations, terrorist groups, and individual hackers.

The future is now.

The almost mythically powerful malware might be named Stuxnet, and then a similar one is called Flame, and now we hear of two versions of Duqu.  The goal is the same: to intrude into the computers of a rival or enemy: to infect the databases with an overload of nonsense, to pluck out any valuable data, to eavesdrop on conversations whether written or oral, to record and transmit every word typed into the computers, and even to photograph the target facilities.

As the now fabled Stuxnet story shows, the malware can also make industrial control systems go haywire – damaging equipment such as the centrifuges that Iran used to enrich uranium.

Cyber-war is certainly the next big thing in espionage. The leaders in the field are the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, and Israel, with Iran showing significant leaps in capability.

In a way, this is old wine in new bottles.  It is still espionage.  Field agents used to find a way to get into a target facility; they secretly took photographs and used bugging devices to record conversations.

For years now, it’s been reported – and assumed – that every international conference is a target for collecting intelligence information.  Espionage agencies gather whatever they can about participants, especially the ones who travel from country to country, as they can be monitored or recruited as spies.

Meetings that involve traveling Iranians are certainly of high interest – and not only to Israel – especially if the subjects include Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and the local security agency in whatever country is hosting the conference are likely to be just as interested as Israel’s Mossad might be.

Now there’s no need physically to break into a hotel room, embassy, or office.  Electronic penetrations can be aimed at the laptop computer systems, networks set up for temporary offices, or the computer and wi-fi facilities of hotels.  It does not seem to be very hard for an intelligence agency to insert viruses and worms.

The published American report says a “Duqu” virus was injected into computers in three different hotels where the Iran nuclear talks have taken place in recent years: the talks that face a deadline for success on June 30.

There is a double problem. The targets of offensive cyber-warfare – in this case Iran – know about the possibility and use every countermeasure they can.  Thus the developers of malware find they have to raise their game even more: inventing what are, in effect, poisonous software creations.

Somewhat similar to traditional, physical warfare, there is collateral damage.  Computer systems that were not intentionally targeted are also being affected, and that has often led the anti-virus experts such as Kaspersky to find the malware.  E-mail and programs are constantly on the move, so it is hard for cyber-attackers to limit the impact of what they have created.

That is apparently why Kaspersky Lab found the latest poisonous program in its own computers.  It is even possible, however, that Israeli intelligence was trying to penetrate Kaspersky to find out what that company knows.

[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and other books including the new history of Israel’s intelligence and security agencies: Spies Against Armageddon.]

June 10, 2015

Ex-Head of Israel’s Electronic Surveillance Tells Us: Nothing to Fear from NSA

by Yossi Melman (in Tel Aviv)
Chatting with a former chief of Unit 8200 — the SigInt (Signals Intelligence) unit in Israel’s military intelligence agency Aman — I heard: “The last thing Israel should be concerned about is bugging by the U.S.”

Brigadier General Hanan Gefen added: “I am not worried at all. We are partners and share almost everything.”

Emblem of the "Intelligence Corps" of Israel's Military

Emblem of the “Intelligence Corps” of Israel’s Military

Unit 8200, to help its international liaison relationships, has given itself an English name: “Israel Sigint National Unit” (ISNU). Gefen was its commander from 1993 to 1997 and later served as a military attache in Israel’s embassy in Beijing. He is now in private business.

“Israel should be much more concerned about the improving sigint and cyberwarfare capabilities of Iran and Hezbollah,” Gefen told me. “The world should not forget that NSA surveillance [by America] is aiming at fighting global terrorism, and many countries in the world benefit from what they collect and find out.”

As for America’s problems with European nations, publicly expressing anger that the NSA eavesdropped on their leaders and kept records of their citizens’ phone calls and e-mails, Gefen commented: “I believe that soon, when the dust settles, the U.S. relations with the European Union will be back on the track of close cooperation.”

November 6, 2013

Surveillance by the Government: A Hot Issue in U.S. — Old Hat in Israel — But Did Israel Help American Agencies Do It? (Updated)

Did Israel help the National Security Agency (NSA) collect a massive database of phone calls and e-mails involving American citizens?  Some reports have pointed to U.S. government purchases from Israeli high-tech companies of hardware and software — for the collection and analysis of huge amounts of information.

After Israel’s government was asked to provide a response, on a subject where “no comment” is usually all we get, a senior officer who worked for a long time in the field of communications intercepts did have something to say.

“America is our strategic ally, so it so clear that we neither spy on the USA nor against its citizens,” said a Brigadier-General who is a former commander of Unit 8200 of Israel’s military intelligence agency Aman.  He asked not to be named. Unit 8200 is being mentioned in some media reports,  in a form of innuendo,  as a likely accomplice of the NSA in its counter-terrorism surveillance programs.

The Australian edition of Business Insider has this headline:

DID YOU KNOW?: Two Secretive Israeli Companies Reportedly Bugged the US Telecommunications Grid for the NSA

A few comments are in order, when almost every day there are new leaks about the surveillance programs run by the United States government since 9/11.  Israel has been doing a lot of the same things, but with a minimum of complaint within Israel.

Years ago, and even since the founding of Israel in 1948, most of its citizens have weighed the conflict between security requirements and how to protect civil rights. They have clearly opted for security, above all.

Obama Administration officials say that with the vast amount of information collected by the highly secretive National Security Agency (NSA), only a tiny fraction is ever looked at — and only when there is believed to be a connection with foreign terrorist groups.

In Israel, the police have the authority to demand details of telephone calls for any criminal investigation. If a crime has been committed, police will obtain logs of cellphone calls in the immediate geographic area — just before and after the crime. That sort of high-tech investigating has helped solve crimes.

The domestic security agency Shin Bet (the initials of Sheruti ha-Bitachon, which means Security Services) has even broader authority — and capabilities — to intercept calls and e-mails within Israel. Shin Bet is roughly equivalent to America’s FBI and Britain’s MI5, and the Israelis have been on strongly on the look-out for communications involving foreign spies and terrorists — long before America woke up to the global peril on 9/11.

It can fairly be said that the surveillance powers of Israeli government and police agencies are far wider than those of U.S. officials, who insist that they obey laws barring them from spying on American citizens.

As for published claims that two high-tech companies that were founded in Israel — Narus Systems and Varint — helped the NSA run its controversial communications intercepts, suggestions that Israelis are physically present at NSA facilities and working with the American interceptors and analysts seem to be little more than speculation.

Yes, it would be no surprise if equipment used by the NSA — at its headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, and at many unacknowledged facilities around the world — is designed or made in Israel. (Our book includes information on high-tech accomplishments by Unit 8200 of Israel’s Aman agency, and veterans of Unit 8200 often become leaders in the internet and communications industries.)

Yet it would be unfair to suggest that Israelis are carrying out the intercepts, collection, and analysis of information. The Americans at the NSA are quite capable of doing it all on their own.

In reluctantly discussing the counter-terrorism programs that have been revealed, President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, insists that information about U.S. citizens is ignored. Clapper adds that leaks to the news media on this subject have damaged America’s ability to keep an eye and ear on terrorist groups.

It is not surprising to see reports that the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into who is leaking all these secrets about surveillance programs. The leak seems more like a gusher.

Part of a Leak, Apparently from the NSA, Published June 8 by The Guardian

There are strong indications now that the United States and Israel are focused on similar dangers. The latest leak — describing an NSA tool (“Boundless Informant”) for keeping track of the internet and phone-call information intercepted all around the world — includes a list of countries that are targeted: Iran above all others. Israel has also had its focus on Iran, hoping to stop its nuclear program, for a decade.

NSA documents suggest that intercepts are fully approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and overseen by the Department of Justice — in the name of investigating terrorism and/or the spread of nuclear weapons.


June 9, 2013

Reviews Excellent For ‘Spies Against Armageddon’

A former Director of Central Intelligence is one of the readers of Spies Against Armageddon who are praising the book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, who were the authors of a best seller on Israeli intelligence in 1990 titled Every Spy a Prince

james woolsey, israel spy, spies against armageddon, covert operations

After reading Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, James Woolsey — who is well versed in the history of CIA cooperation with Israeli espionage and security agencies — wrote:

Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence. This remarkable history of Israeli intelligence from the War of Independence to Stuxnet calls it straight. By describing the roots of both the triumphs and the screw-ups thoroughly and fairly, the authors help us see not only how Israel’s survival has been effectively protected — but the huge debt the rest of us owe.”

The reviews at Amazon.com are uniformly 5 stars out of 5.  One is by Joseph Gelman, co-author of a fascinating non-fiction book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon, Arnon Milchan.  Milchan is among the dozens of colorful characters in Spies Against Armageddon, in part because – before becoming one of the top movie producers in the world — Milchan took part in covert missions that helped Israel obtain materials it needed for its unacknowledged nuclear weapons.  Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, coordinated much of that work and now has very high praise for Milchan.  Here is what the author Gelman wrote about Raviv and Melman’s new book:
“A gripping read. Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman do it again! As a life-long student of Israeli intelligence history and capabilities, I have always found Raviv and Melman’s work over the decades to be indispensible and cutting-edge. ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ is chock-a-block with stunning material. I could not put the book down. For a sweeping history of Israeli intelligence accompanied by nail-biting descriptions of field operations, this is a must read.”
August 22, 2012

Buzz Continues For ‘Spies Against Armageddon’

The buzz about Spies Against Armageddon, the new book about Israeli covert operations continues with this interview with Scripps-Howard News Service.

dan raviv, spies against armageddon, covert operations, israel history

“Those seeking to understand Israel’s saber-rattling have a new piece of required reading,” writes Isaac Wolf. “In their rich volume, ‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ published by Levant Books, veteran reporters Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman tell the history of Israel’s intelligence community. It’s one cast from the horrors of the Holocaust and steeled by their Arab neighbors.

“Raviv, who has over 30 years of experience as a CBS News correspondent, and Melman, a longtime Israeli newspaper reporter on military and intelligence issues, trace the growth of Israel’s intelligence community, showing the long-standing tension between Israel’s efforts to gain respect from American spies as it simultaneously tries to trick them.”

August 20, 2012

‘Spies’ Co-Author Raviv On Lars Larson Talk Show

On his nationally syndicated radio show, conservative talk host Lars Larson asked Dan Raviv — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — whether Israel might bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities this Fall.  Here’s part of Raviv’s answer:


Israel intelligence, israel covert operations, Dan Raviv, spies against armageddon

Raviv on LarsLarson Part1 14aug12


“Yeah, it’s not a good feeling, but it might have a good outcome: if Iran’s nuclear program can be shut down.  You’d favor that.  I’d favor that.  Americans would favor that.  But it’s a very tough mission.  Israel’s not anxious to do it.  In many ways, Israel’s been sending a signal — to the U.S. government, especially — saying, please ‘You take care of this, but you’ve got to promise you will.’


“And frankly, no one is promising absolutely.  So Israelis say, ‘We’re the people who are threatened the most by Iran’s nuclear program, and we might have to act.  And we’re sorry, Mr. Obama, we might not even wait ’til November 6th…”


Larson asked if it’s legitimate for Obama to ask Israel not to act until after Election Day.  And he also asked Raviv about the fact that the United States keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem:


Raviv on LarsLarson Part2 14aug12


Raviv noted that while candidates have spoken of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, to recognize that city as Israel’s capital, even Mitt Romney may well decide — if he is elected president, but then takes advice from the State Department and other agencies — to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.

August 15, 2012

Latest Signal: Israel, U.S. On Same Page Re Iran Nuclear Progress

By Dan Raviv

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak today made a pointed effort of clarifying why — and how — Israel might be moving toward a fateful decision: to use its air force for a very challenging and risky mission, to damage or destroy nuclear facilities in Iran.

barak, spies against armageddon, israel spy, covert operationsOn Israel Radio, in Hebrew, he was asked about a report in the Haaretz newspaper that President Obama has received a new National Intelligence Estimate that tells of rapid progress, recently, by Iran toward building nuclear weapons.

Barak did not confirm that Obama has a formal NIE from America’s intelligence community, but here is what Barak did say:
“I know more than I can talk about on the air … There is apparently a report by American intelligence agencies … I don’t know if it’s under the title NIE … or under another title … which is making the rounds of high offices. As far as we know, it comes very close to our own estimate, I would say, as opposed to earlier American estimates. It transforms the Iranian situation to an even more urgent one, and it is even less likely that we will know every development in time on the Iranian nuclear program.”

That last remark is somewhat surprising, as Israeli intelligence sources had been expressing confidence — for the past year and more — that if Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, made a decision to move quickly toward creation of a nuclear bomb, Israeli intelligence would very quickly know about it.

Barak continued:  “I don’t think you can attach this report to one step or another … I think already for many months there has been understanding of what the Iranians are trying to do. …  All of us … including the American president … are prepared to stop Iran from going nuclear, and all the options remain on the table … And when we say that, we mean it … When the Americans say it, we believe that they also mean it …”

Political circles in Jerusalem and in Washington have been buzzing about whether Obama could, in effect, have veto power over an Israeli decision to attack Iran.  He is reported to have asked the Israelis to delay any attack until at least after America’s Election Day on November 6.

Barak today said: “The government of Israel by itself will make decisions about its security and its future. … We are going to have to make decisions that are not simple.”

To naysay complaints, within Israel, that Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plan to make an attack decision on their own, Barak said that the cabinet would be part of the decision.  He may have been referring to the inner core of ministers often called the Security Cabinet, as the full cabinet of several dozen men and women is an unwieldy coalition of opinionated political-party representatives.

When might Israel’s leaders feel they have to make a decision to attack — in effect, to go to war, over their suspicions and intelligence findings that Iran is moving rapidly toward building a nuclear bomb?   Netanyahu and Barak have recently tried to make it seem that they are on a hair-trigger.  War could come at any time.  But perhaps the principal intention remains grabbing the United States government’s attention, so that Israel will get better bunker-buster bombs and other equipment, including defensive systems to protect the Jewish state from incoming missiles — and Israel still wants America’s president, whether that is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney next year, to be the one who uses the U.S.’s armed might to smash Iran’s nuclear program.

August 9, 2012

Hot Israel Debate Over Covert Action In Iran To Stop Nuclear Program

People who are interested in news from Israel might be aware of a fairly new English-language website, IsraelHayom.com.  It’s associated with the daily newspaper, Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), which is owned by an important campaign contributor to Republican candidates and causes in the U.S., the Las Vegas Sands casino owner Sheldon Adelson.  He is known to be very close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so some of the comments on the site reflect the Israeli leader’s point of view.  This excerpt, however, reports what a former Mossad chief — Efraim Halevy  said on Israeli TV on Saturday night.  Halevy (“ha-LAY’-vee”) predicted that Israel would not act alone, without fully consulting the United States, should Israel deem it necessary to attack Iran to stop or slow its nuclear program

Halevy added that, other than attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities directly, there were various options available that could harm Tehran’s nuclear program. “It is incorrect to use the ‘bomb or bombing’ formula [referring to either Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb or Israel bombing its nuclear facilities to prevent it from doing so]. The minute people say this, they are in fact saying that if there’s a bombing, Iran will not have a bomb. And if this is true? If we decide to bomb, then what will we bomb? A nuclear reactor? Iran’s nuclear manpower? [The Iranians’] other methods for a counterattack?”

According to Halevy, “U.S. sanctions are effective, but negotiations with the Iranians have stopped. This is a situation in which an accumulation of negative things are happening to Iran. Either because of the international pressure or because of instability in Syria, Iran’s situation is deteriorating rapidly. In this situation, the Iranian regime could make wrong, unsound decisions which could affect us as well.”

Last week, Halevy told The New York Times, “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” in line with the belief of some that a strike could come in September or early October.

Halevy’s statements join a series of remarks made by former Israeli security officials, including former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Yuval Diskin, who in the last year have come out against a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

An Israeli official said last week, after Halevy’s interview with The New York Times, that the statements reflect “irresponsibility of the first order.” In addition, he said they were largely directed at American ears, and were designed to interfere with the Israeli political leadership’s ability to decide for itself what to do regarding Iran.

Halevy said on Saturday that he was “sorry the statements were not to the liking of some” and noted that he himself did not like certain remarks made by the others, hinting at Netanyahu’s previous comment that the situation with Iran was similar to the eve of the start of World War II.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, who served as head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate from 2001 to 2006, was also interviewed over the weekend on Channel 2 news. Ze’evi-Farkash assessed that if an Israeli attack were to take place, it would occur in the near future: “I do not know if Israel will attack. The prime minister said he has not decided yet, but from my understanding of the big picture, I can say that it could be soon, within weeks or months.”

He added that Israel must take into account the possible risks arising from an attack on Iran, the consequences on the home front in Israel, and the implications this would have for Iranian unity.

“There are several options and only the last one should be to bomb Iran,” Ze’evi-Farkash said. “The Iranians have to understand if they do not stop this [nuclear] process, they will eventually have to absorb a blow to most of their military bases — from a possible coalition of countries, from the Americans or from Israel.”

“It’s not right to break this hard-won legitimacy now,” suggesting what could happen to Israel in the eyes of the international community if it decided to attack Iran soon.

Another ex-security chief, Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, who served as head of Mossad, told Army Radio on Sunday that he believed the recent statements by former security heads were harming Israel’s national security.

He said he was “very concerned” over their statements and that he hopes “reports saying former defense officials are intentionally presenting positions that are not entirely correct in order to give themselves cover in the face of future inquiry committees, are not true.”

He added, “The officials should not be presenting their views to the prime minister or defense minister through statements made in the media. This discussion, in my opinion, harms our security.”

Yatom emphasized that U.S. support for an Israeli attack, if there is one, is very important. “I urge Israel to make every effort to coordinate an attack on Iran with the U.S. Although Israel is a sovereign country and it will eventually be its decision whether to attack Iran, U.S. support is still important,” he said.

August 6, 2012

Expert on Stuxnet, Cyberwarfare Aimed at Industry, Points Out Links to German Firm in ‘Spies Against Armageddon’

There is a burgeoning industry in trying to trace the beginnings of a new phenomenon in international conflict: cyberwarfare.  Ralph Langner, a German expert in security for industrial systems, has an active blog that discusses a broad range of intriguing clues: Who launched the first significant attack on a foreign country’s mechanized control systems, and how did they do it?  Here’s what Langner writes:

spies against armageddonIn a new book titled Spies against ArmageddonDan Raviv and Yossi Melman report some previously unknown details about Operation Olympic Games. The authors support David Sanger’s reporting that Siemens built the complex instrumentation and control systems in Natanz (and, as an aside, also acknowledge the role of INL in Stuxnet’s development). However, different from Confront and Conceal, Raviv and Melman report that Siemens cooperated with Israel and the US in the development of the worm in an arrangement facilitated by the German BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst). Quote: “The directors of Siemens may have felt pangs of conscience, or were simply reacting to public pressure, as newspapers pointed out that it was Iran’s largest trading partner in Germany.” (Page 10)

If Raviv and Melman are correct, it would support our hypothesis from Oct 7, 2010 that the United States and Israel didn’t act alone but with the help of a Third Man – with German nationality. It’s not very difficult to imagine that the German government might have given the Munich-based corporation some incentive and legal immunity for helping to cripple the very same systems that they reportedly had installed and maintained for the Islamic Republic. For decades, Siemens enjoyed an intimate relationship with the BND simply because of their telecommunications business. A conscious involvement in the operation could also explain the bizarre tidbit that back in August 2010, Siemens’ top management gave direct order to the company’s own CERT to stop analyzing Stuxnet.

As a side note, the fact that considerable detail on this operation of historical proportions was leaked can now be explained easier by keeping in mind how many different organizations were involved: Pentagon, NSA, CIA, US Department of Energy (INL, ORNL), HaMossad, Aman (Israel Defence Force Intelligence Service), BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), plus employees of a private company (Siemens). Our earlier estimate that around fifty people would have been involved now appears like a gross miscalculation.

Credits to Larry Constantine for pointing out Spies against Armageddon.

August 4, 2012

U.S.-Israel Rift At Iran Nuclear Crisis Time?

New reports blame Israelis for spying on America — Out of Date? Exaggerated? Or True?

Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, authors of Spies Against Armageddon, end their latest piece for The Daily Beast with an intriguing suggestion that the outcome of America’s election in November — indeed, the expectation in October that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is likely to win — is a factor in Israel’s strategic thinking when weighing the advantages and dangers of bombing nuclear facilities in Iran:

[Mitt Romney arrived in Israel on Saturday, for meetings and a speech on Sunday.]

This weekend, newspapers around the world are running an Associated Press investigation that cites CIA veterans charging that Israel regularly spies on them — and more broadly on the United States.  It says that Israel is considered a senior counterintelligence “threat.”


On Saturday night, officials in the Jerusalem office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who was preparing to meet with his long-time acquaintance Romney on Sunday—denied the AP story’s report of break-ins at the homes of CIA officers in Israel as “a lie.”

For many years, however, well-informed Israeli sources have told us that it is routine for an intelligence officer based in a foreign country—with the thin veil of diplomatic cover—to be watched and eavesdropped upon. It is no big deal, Israelis have said, and the Mossad representatives in Washington fully expect the FBI is doing it, too.

The AP report also suggests that Israeli espionage in the U.S. is considered “a genuine counterintelligence threat” and has continued even after Pollard was arrested in 1985 and imprisoned for life.

But our Israeli sources indicate that there is a vast difference between Israeli behavior now and during the pre-1985 period. Before Pollard was arrested, some of them admit, it was “the Wild West,” where Israeli diplomats, especially science attachés, felt that they could get away with almost anything in America. At worst, they thought, they would be ordered quietly to leave the country.

High-level Israeli officials insist emphatically that no part of Israel’s intelligence community is recruiting Americans or other people to be spies inside the United States. They are obeying, they say, what the AP article calls the “Friends on Friends” framework of their relationship with Washington: that “friends don’t spy on friends.”

In the confrontation with Iran’s nuclear program, our sources in both countries say that cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities is, in fact, deeper and broader than it has ever been. They point, for instance, to joint development of Stuxnet and other computer viruses meant to delay Iran’s nuclear work. Would security and espionage cooperation be at new heights if there was so much distrust?


The differing interests are also a major part of the relationship between the two countries. Even in confronting Iran, the American superpower and tiny Israel do not see absolutely eye to eye.

The latest leak on that (or, at least, the result of hints and indications that Israeli officials may be intentionally giving to Americans) emerged on one of Israeli television’s top news programs on Saturday night. Ehud Yaari, a respected news analyst, reported that he was just back from Washington and “the Americans are convinced that there is a very high chance that Israel will decide to attack Iran before the elections in the U.S.”

Yaari said he got the “strong impression” that Obama-administration officials are preparing for a decision by Netanyahu in October. He said that the Americans talk about an Israeli strike “almost as a given—as a clear, unassailable fact.”

The Americans who whispered in Yaari’s ear may be correct in their impression, or it may be that Israeli diplomats and other officials—even the director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, on his unannounced visits to Washington—have been trying to make the Americans think that Israel is on a hair trigger. Israeli threats of military action have definitely prompted the U.S. and other countries to take the Iranian nuclear program very seriously and impose unprecedented economic sanctions.

Here is an example of Israel wanting to give the impression that a fateful airstrike on Iran could happen at any time. After we wrote recently  that there is hardly any chance that Israel or the U.S. would bomb Iranian targets before Election Day, a very senior Israeli official said to one of us: “How can you be so sure?” His objectives seemed to include mystery, intrigue, and the now-routine policy stand that all options are always on the table.

That may help explain, indeed, why President Obama is sending his defense secretary, former CIA chief Leon Panetta, to Israel very soon: in part to coordinate what the two countries should do if a war does break out, but even more so to try to persuade the Israelis not to be hasty and to wait for at least another few months.

The talks in Jerusalem between Mitt Romney and Netanyahu may actually figure into Israel’s strategic calculus. Romney already gives Israelis the impression that he would go along with almost anything they do. His Middle East policy speech in Jerusalem on Sunday is likely to support Israel’s right to make its own decisions for its own security.

It would only be logical for Israeli leaders to look at the situation in October—whatever intelligence the Mossad may have gathered about the progress made by Iran in enriching uranium and designing a nuclear bomb—plus the opinion polls and any strong impression from the United States as to who is going to win the election in November. If they believe Romney is very likely to win, they will assume that the United States will be supportive after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2013—even of an Israeli move against Iran that has not been revealed in advance to Washington. If they are convinced that Obama is heading to a second term in office, the Israelis may temper their behavior out of fear that they would not automatically be fully supported at the White House after Nov. 6.

July 29, 2012

Gulf Arabs Learn Lessons From ‘Spies’ about Israel, U.S. Fighting Iran

This article is from an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, The Gulf Today.

Spies Against Armageddon, israel spy, covert operations, dan raviv, yossi melman

israel spy, covert operations, Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon

The writer tweets at @HichemKaroui.

Mr. Karoui’s article is titled “Spies, Murders, and Secret Wars.”  He writes of the “very intriguing book …  Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.

“In their introduction, the authors say that Israel’s goal now ‘is to win – or, thinking of Iran, to distract and delay the enemy’s most dangerous plans – without committing large numbers of troops and planes, and without putting a major part of the Israeli population at risk from attacks by hostile neighbours’ forces.’  Thereupon, they add that their book ‘will reveal more than Israel has ever been willing to declare publicly about assassinations as a tool, about its flattening in 2007 of a nuclear reactor in Syria, and about the sabotage and murders aimed at choking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.’”




July 23, 2012

Dan Raviv On ABC Radio’s John Batchelor Show On Israel Nuclear, Mossad, Covert Operations

Spies Against Armageddon co-author Dan Raviv appears on the John Batchelor Radio Show On ABC Radio.

dan raviv, spies against armageddon, every spy a prince, israel spyListen here to Part One:

BatchelorShow Raviv Part1 19july12


Listen here to Part Two:

BatchelorShow Raviv Part2 19july12

July 22, 2012

‘Spies’ Authors Return To Scene Of Israeli Intelligence

By Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman

We think we have some important stories to tell, and thus we returned to the subject of Israeli espionage. Our first effort in that field was a book in 1990 titled “Every Spy a Prince.” Twenty-two years later, in our new Spies Against Armageddon, we spoke with more people and got more stories — about recent events, but also new details about important operations going back to the beginnings of the Jewish state in 1948.

israel spy, spies against Armageddon, iran nuclearWe are not surprised that the news media put their focus on our description of Israel’s covert activities aimed at stopping — or at least slowing — Iran’s nuclear program. Many of those were accurate, if brief, summaries of what we reported: notably, a news article by the Associated Press on July 8, 2012.

We had mixed feelings, therefore, when The New York Times gave our book significant attention on July 11. The headline atop a full column on Page A8 said: “Tehran Abuzz as Book Says Israel Killed 5 Scientists.”

Several of our friends said there is no such thing as bad publicity when one has written a book and it is just out, and the project thrives or languishes depending on how much attention it can get, yet the wording of the Times article would lead newspaper readers to think we were accusing Jews in Iran — where approximately 25,000 still reside — of participating in secret Mossad missions, including assassinations.

The article says that our book contains the “assertion” that five scientists were killed in Iran “by operatives, most likely of Persian Jewish heritage, employed by Mossad …”

We do not want to attack the reporter. We feel, however, that while the main thrust of his article turned out to be reporting what the news media in Iran are saying about our book, he himself distorted what we wrote. We are not suggesting that it was intentional, but there were some exaggerations and too much certainty — whereas we were cautious in suggesting what might be true about covert Mossad operations in Iran.

In a carefully worded passage on Page 14 — in our first chapter, “Stopping Iran” — our book says: “The Mossad also had a human treasury: Tens of thousands of ex-Iranians now lived in Israel. Iranian Jews had fled, especially just after the 1979 revolution, and many of their children also were well acquainted with the Persian language and customs. Individuals who were brave enough — and then selected and trained by the Mossad — could move back to Iran and secretly serve Israel.

“Israeli operatives inside Iran were available for all kinds of espionage and even, if and when the time came, for pinpointing targets for air strikes.”

We were not reporting that the assassins in 2007-2012 were Persian Jews returning to their homeland. We said that the Mossad “could” call upon the repository of ex-Iranians as well as other Israelis in the secret agency.

The Times article also mentioned “the book’s assertion that the assassins were all Mossad agents who used agency safe houses maintained inside Iran since the era of the shah.”

Again, we carefully report in our book that the Mossad has had safe houses in Iran since pre-1979 days, but we don’t report that all the assassins stayed in such houses.

The key paragraph on Page 13 of our book speaks of “possibilities.” We do not claim to know or to reveal how the assassins traveled or where they stayed:

“Naturally, no one in Tel Aviv was talking about any operational details of how Israelis entered and left Iran — or where they stayed while inside the Islamic Republic.

“There were many possibilities. Obviously, Israeli operatives traveled using the passports of other countries, including both bogus and genuine documents. That fact had been inadvertently revealed several times, over many years. In addition, the Mossad continuously maintained safe houses in Iran, dating back to the pre-1979 years under the Shah. That was an investment in the future, typical for Israeli intelligence.”

The Times article then caused some discomfort to some Persian Jews in the United States — and we heard from some — when it stated that our book contains “assertions about the assassins’ nationalities or religious beliefs …” We never discuss their religious beliefs. Yes, their nationality is Israeli. We do report that, and we explain that against the background of Mossad operations that penetrated enemy countries in decades past.

Our book treads carefully on some very sensitive territory, but we would like to think that we got the balance right. It is the historian’s job to tell readers what happened and to set it in context — and as historians of the espionage world, we further endeavor not to endanger anyone by revealing too many details.

Let us be clear, and we have written about this elsewhere and will continue to do so: Israel’s Mossad does not use local Jews as agents, saboteurs or assassins. Bitter lessons were learned more than half a century ago in Egypt, Iraq and other countries, where early operations by Israeli intelligence sometimes did use local Jews— and, if caught, the individuals were hanged, and their entire communities suffered official retribution from the Arab regime.

The use of Jonathan Pollard, an American with a high-level security clearance in U.S. naval intelligence, as a spy for Israel was an aberration. The Mossad would not have hired him. It was a separate agency, Lakam (the Science Liaison Bureau), that ran Pollard — who is now serving a life sentence for an operation that most Israeli officials and intelligence professionals believe was a mistake.

The Mossad, we believe, would have known not to put the important American Jewish community in peril — not the least, American Jews working in U.S. defense and intelligence jobs — by employing Pollard.

Original article.

To read the Associated Press and New York Times articles mentioned above, visit:

Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent based in Washington, and veteran Israeli intelligence reporter and commentator Yossi Melman are co-authors of the new “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.” They also wrote the best seller “Every Spy a Prince.” They blog at IsraelSpy.com  . A version of this article appeared in print in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

July 19, 2012

Spies Against Armageddon: a White House Must-Read?

Independent Review By Jefferson Flanders

Veteran journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman have authored a compelling new book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that should become required reading for President Barack Obama and his National Security Council.

spies against armageddon, jefferson flanders, dan raviv, yossi melmanThe White House has abandoned “nation-building” and opted for a “small footprint” strategy of special operations missions and drone attacks in the Middle East. If this is the direction for American foreign policy in the region (at least for the short-term), there’s a lot to be learned from the Israeli experience and Spies Against Armageddon offers a deeply researched account of how Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies operate when confronting threats to the Jewish state.

Take, for example, the sensitive topic of state-sponsored assassination (covered in detail in Chapter 22 of Spies Against Armageddon). It is a practice frowned upon by the international law community (which considers assassinations of suspected terrorists to be “extrajudicial killings”), but one that has been employed by the Mossad in its fight against terrorism.

Historically American political leaders have been queasy about endorsing assassinations and confronting the difficult legal and moral questions they raise, especially when the targets are far from armed conflict zones. After the revelation of CIA involvement in assassination plots in Cuba, Vietnam, the Congo and elsewhere, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning assassinations in 1976. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration relaxed prohibitions against “targeted killings” arguing that they were a form of self-defense*. Predator drones began firing Hellfire missiles at Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama has dramatically expanded these drone strikes, making them the central tactic in American counterterrorism efforts.

In fact, Obama’s enthusiasm for, and acceleration of, “drone wars” has disturbed many of his liberal supporters. The revelation that Obama himself reviews the “kill list” of targeted terrorists, and decides their fate, has been an unsettling image for many. In his Esquire piece “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama,” Tom Junod directly challenges the President’s current direction: “You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy.” Junod adds: “Since taking office, you have killed thousands of people identified as terrorists or militants outside the theater of Afghanistan. You have captured and detained one.”

In contrast, Spies of Armageddon argues that the Israelis take a more restrained approach to targeted killing. They prefer the scalpel to the hammer. Raviv and Melman note that:

  • The Israelis are very selective in their use of assassination as a foreign policy tool, despite the public perception (aided by movies like Munich) that they rely on hit squads. Raviv and Melman claim that since the creation of Mossad in the early 1950s “it has been involved in only a few dozen killing operations—certainly fewer than 50.”
  • Their targets tend to be key operational players in terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, or technical support people (bomb-makers, nuclear scientists). Spies Against Armageddon made headlines around the world in reporting that it was Mossad agents, not Iranian rebel groups, responsible for the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
  • They don’t go after top political figures.
  • They won’t, and don’t, kill Israeli citizens.

In contrast to this selectivity, the drone programs operated by the U.S. military and the CIA have been aimed at thousands of militants in an increasing number of countries. Drones have been employed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. And most disturbingly, President Obama and his surrogates have claimed the authority to kill American citizens deemed to be terrorists without judicial review or due process. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that administrative due process is enough—a bizarre position for the nation’s top legal official to take.

It’s not hard to see why the Obama Administration has turned to drones to counter Islamic jihadism. It avoids the costly, and unpopular, use of American combat troops in the Middle East. It does keep Al Qaeda and the Taliban off balance. And it does protect Obama politically from right-wing attacks that he is soft on terrorism.

Yet it doesn’t appear that policy makers have thought through the practical, legal, and moral issues surrounding their reliance on targeted killing. The Obama Administration’s position on targeting American nationals without judicial oversight is a terrible one, arrogating to the President the “power of kings” to kill his subjects). There’s also the question of how long this approach can be sustained. Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich, for one, has questioned this continuing “whack-a-mole” approach: “How many Hellfire missiles do we launch from drones before the last violent Islamic radical is either dead or decides that the cause is futile and puts down his arms and goes home?”

These aren’t easy issues to address. Spies Against Armageddon makes it clear that within the Israeli government there is a continuing debate over the limits of action and the ethical boundaries for intelligence agencies in a democratic state. It’s heartening to know that such debates are taking place in Jerusalem. We can only hope that they are happening in Washington as well.

*Lethal force may be employed in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders      Twitter @JeffersFlanders

July 18, 2012

‘Spies Against Armageddon’ Now ‘Required Reading’

As readers worldwide receive their copies of Spies Against Armageddon, the new history of Israel’s intelligence services by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, reviews are beginning to appear.  The first one at Amazon.com, unsolicited by and unbeknownst to the authors, is written by a former Reuters correspondent who was based in Israel for a long time, Alan Elsner.

Here is what Elsner wrote:
Spies Against Armageddon, israel spy, covert operations, dan raviv, yossi melman

israel spy, covert operations, Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon

This detailed and exciting account of the history of the Israeli secret services, including the Mossad, the Shin Beth and others less well-known to the public, should be required reading for anyone interested in the history and politics of the Middle East. It is even more relevant because its opening chapter deals with the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis and Israel’s clandestine efforts to derail and delay the Iranian nuclear program.

The book clearly benefited from detailed interviews the authors conducted with leading players, some now deceased. The authors themselves are a winning team of a well-known Israeli reporter and a veteran American correspondent (full disclosure, I was a reporter in Israel for several years in the 1980s and knew one of the authors quite well.)

Starting with the founding of Israel in 1948, the book runs through some well-known episodes such as the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina to stand trial in Jerusalem. But there are many other vignettes that were unknown to me — and I consider myself something of a professional student on Middle Eastern history. There is a comprehensive account of how Israel built its own nuclear program with help from France and others. The story of how Israel managed to persuade an Egyptian Air Force pilot to defect, bringing with him his top secret Soviet plane, could be the subject of a fantastic movie all by itself. Thus, Israel became the first Western nation to acquire a Soviet MiG-21 and it was a treasure trove for U.S. intelligence.

In another chapter, the authors describe Israel’s success in protecting its civilian aircraft from hijackers and bombers — and America’s refusal to imitate some of the Israeli techniques despite repeated warnings. Had our leaders listened, we may have averted 9/11.

The authors show that contrary to popular opinion, the Mossad has generally been reluctant to kill its adversaries. It preferred to threaten and deter them if possible, with assassination a last resort. But they state unequivocally that Israel has been behind the murders of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years.

There is also a vivid and full account of the decision to destroy a Syrian nuclear plant in 2007. I had no idea before reading this account how close the Syrians were to developing a weapon. Their graphite reactor would have gone operational and started to produce plutonium within weeks had the Israelis not taken it out in September 2007.

The Mossad and especially the Shin Beth are not perfect. They have made major blunders — such as failing to anticipate the start of the Yom Kippur War. The Shin Beth fell victim to excessive brutality against Palestinians in the territories and mishandled the two Intifadahs. Israel has made strategic decisions, such as invading Lebanon in 1982, that produced short-term success and longer-term disaster.

But what comes across to me most vividly in this book is the resourcefulness, courage and sheer inventiveness the men and women of these services have so often displayed. Israel is still at war, surrounded by enemies who wish to destroy it. These secret services are on the front lines. Often, what they do averts greater threats through their ingenuity.

Since its early days, Israel has developed a doctrine of not relying on others for the defense of the nation. This doctrine comes out of the painful lessons learned during the Holocaust. But the Iranian crisis is testing many long-held beliefs and assumptions, confronting policy-makers and especially the Prime Minister, with one of the most agonizing decisions any Israeli leader has ever faced.

This book will make readers more aware of the stakes, the opportunities and the dangers. (photo of Alan Elsner, now with The Israel Project in Washington DC)

July 17, 2012

‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ In Hebrew, Comes To Israel’s Bookstores

Spies Against Armageddon, the new history of Israel’s intelligence community published in English on July 9, is about to be available in Hebrew.

Spies Against Armageddon, Hebrew, Yossi Melman, Dan RavivYediot Books in Israel is publishing a translation of the book — with the title, Milkhamot ha-Tzlalim: ha-Mossad v’Kehilat ha-Modiin, by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv.

The title translates literally as “The Shadow Wars: The Mossad and the Intelligence Community.”

Articles based on the book will be featured in one of Israel’s top selling Israeli daily newspapers, Yediot Ahronot, which is affiliated with the publisher.

Israelis have, of course, read a lot about the espionage and security agencies tasked with protecting the Jewish state; but the new book by Melman and Raviv will reveal new stories — some from as far back as the 1950s, and others concerning Syria and Iran making new headlines now.

The new book in Hebrew is expected to be in bookstores all over Israel starting Monday, July 16.
 In English, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars will be available at bookstores and is already sold through this site and at Amazon.com and other on-line bookselling sites — as a paperback and in all e-book formats.
July 15, 2012

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