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
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.
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
The buzz about Spies Against Armageddon, the new book about Israeli covert operations continues with this interview with Scripps-Howard News Service.
“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
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:
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
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.
On 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
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
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:
In a new book titled Spies against Armageddon
, Dan 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
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
This article is from an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, The Gulf Today.
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
Spies Against Armageddon co-author Dan Raviv appears on the John Batchelor Radio Show On ABC Radio.
Listen here to Part One:
BatchelorShow Raviv Part1 19july12
Listen here to Part Two:
BatchelorShow Raviv Part2 19july12
July 22, 2012
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.
We 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.
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
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.
The 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
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:
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, the new history of Israel’s intelligence community published in English on July 9, is about to be available in Hebrew.
Yediot 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
Spies Against Armageddon co-author Dan Raviv talks with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room about Israeli intelligence, covert operations, cyberwar, and other details from the book, available for purchase now in ebook and print formats.
July 12, 2012
This article is by Julian Borger, the diplomatic editor of the British newspaper, The Guardian. He runs a Global Security Blog, and this was posted on July 11, 2012 after Mr. Borger purchased Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars from Amazon.co.uk for his Kindle::
The series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists
since 2010 has long been believed to be the work of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, but most of the speculation over the issue suggested that the Israelis sub-contracted the dirty work to Iranian rebel groups like the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) or Jundullah.
A new book by respected Israeli and American journalists called Spies Against Armageddon says the Mossad would never have farmed out the job to outsiders. The killings of the four scientists and the attempted murder of a fifth, were “blue and white” operations, the Mossad parlance for Israeli.
[F]or such a sensitive, dangerous, and daring mission as a series assassinations in Iran‘s capital, the Mossad would not depend on hired-guns mercenaries. 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.
The Mossad unit carrying out the assassinations is called Kidon, or Bayonet, which was infiltrated into the country by various routes
The Mossad also enjoyed fairly safe passage in and out of Iran by going through nations where the security services were cooperative – including the Kurdish autonomous zone of northern Iraq…Obviously, Israeli operatives travelled using the passports of other countries, including both bogus and genuine documents. …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 authors, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, also have more detail than I have seen anywhere else on Mossad efforts to smear Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It fed suggestions he was in the Iranians’ pocket to the Mubarak regime, to little effect, so it dreamed up other dirty tricks.
One such plan was to penetrate his bank account and deposit money there that he would not be able to explain. The psychological warfare department then would spread rumours to journalists that ElBaradei was receiving bribes from Iranian agents. In the end, that did not occur.
These assertions, like most of the claims in the book, are not backed up by quotes, even anonymous ones, or by any other kinds of references. The style of the book is to state such things as facts and we have to take it or leave it. Raviv refers to the style, also used by Bob Woodward, as ‘synthesis’. The grounds for the claims are largely the reputations of the authors. Melman, in particular, is a doyen of Israeli national security experts, until recently on the liberal Ha’aretz newspaper, and is widely respected. My guess from reading it that the former Mossad boss, Meir Dagan, is a primary source.
Still, there are a lot of blurry edges in the book. It implies that the blast in a missile base near Tehran in December 2011 which killed the godfather of the Iranian programme, Major General Hassan Moghadam, was the work of Mossad, but Melman conceded this was purely supposition. There are also a lot of references to Iranian weaponisation work in the present tense, though all the evidence presented points to past activity.
Just as interesting as the claims about Mossad’s activities in Iran is the way the authors refer to Israel‘s own nuclear programme. Under Israel’s policy of ambiguity, Israeli journalists are not supposed to confirm the existence of the arsenal, and every time they refer to it they have to add a formulaic phrase like ‘according to foreign reports’ or some such. In ‘Spies Against Armageddon’, there is some token effort at euphemism. For example, in the following section, the word ‘potential’ stands in for ‘bombs’:
Generating electricity without relying on imported coal and oil could be valuable, but developing a nuclear potential was even more important: It would make Israel an unrivalled force in the Middle East. It could be the ultimate guarantee of the Jewish state’s continued existence.
But in the following passages, the taboo is tosed out altogether:
Implicit in Ben-Gurion’s vision was an Israeli monopoly. Wherever and whenever deemed necessary, Israel would do what was necessary to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East. That unique and unspoken mission would be at the core of crises more than half a century later..
Most of the prime minister’s scientific advisers also feared that Israel could trigger a dangerous nuclear arms race. They loved research, but not weaponry. Seven of the eight IAEC members resigned in protest in late 1957.
Avner Cohen, author of The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb drove a large bulldozer through the policy of deliberate ambiguity, or amimut, and Spies Against Armageddon appear to have benefited from the lighter censorship.
Raviv said that the entire text was submitted to the Israeli military censor and approved with only very minor amendments. I understand, however, that in the Hebrew version of the book, the usual formula of ‘according to foreign sources’ will be reintroduced.
From the outside it seems a bizarre and arbitrary practice, but the government shows no signs of abandoning it. A former deputy Mossad chief, Ilan Mizrahi, was in London yesterday and I asked him about it. He said: “Yes I think amimut is corroding, but I still think it is a good policy.”
July 12, 2012
“The shadowy men on motorcycles who were behind the assassinations of four Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years were Mossad agents,” writes Yaakov Lappin in The Jerusalem Post, “not foreign mercenaries, according to a new book on the history of Israeli intelligence services.”
The book in question, of course, is Spies Against Armageddon, the inside story of Israeli intelligence service and covert operations by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman. Melman was interviewed about the book here by The Jerusalem Post.
“This technique of hitting the scientists has worn itself out,” Melman told The Post. “It won’t stop the nuclear program. It is one tool in the box.”
Melman told The Jerusalem Post, speaking of the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran: “It’s very hard to assume that such a delicate, sensitive mission was carried out by hired guns or mercenaries.”
Melman added: Iran “is not a hermetically sealed state. The agents operating in Iran face the highest level of danger. These people are endangering their lives more so than on missions in say, Lebanon, which is not a police state.”
July 11, 2012
Israel’s covert actions inside Iran will be the focus, on the CBS television network on Thursday at 8:40 a.m. in most time zones (the second hour of the two-hour morning show on CBS) < http://www.cbsnews.com/cbsthismorning/ >
July 11, 2012
“Spies Against Armageddon often reads like a thriller, but it’s non-fiction. These two world-class journalists take us to places we’ve never been before…. I learned so much reading this book. I know you will, as well.”
– Wolf Blitzer, CNN Anchor
“Wonderful. Great sourcing, and it reads like a thriller.”
— Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s Face the Nation
“Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence.”
— James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence
“Buyer beware: Once you crack the cover of Spies Against Armageddon, you won’t be able to put it down.”
– Daniel Silva, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fallen Angel
“The revelatory research amassed in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is nothing short of stunning…. Highly recommended!”
– Douglas Brinkley, historian, author of Cronkite
July 11, 2012
Revelations in the new book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon, are literally spanning the globe via coverage from news sources, media outlets, and bloggers around the world.
Here’s a sample from Google News:
israel spy, covert operations, Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon
Who has really been killing those Iranian scientists?
Now, in a book published last Saturday, CBS reporter Dan Raviv and former Haaretz correspondent Yossi Melman claim that the assassinations between 2010 and 2012 are the work of none other than Mossad itself. Spies Against Armageddon. Writing in …
See all stories on this topic »
|Spies hit Iranians, book says
Columbia Daily Tribune
… published today, authors Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman say Israeli operatives have killed at least four Iranian nuclear scientists, including targeting them with operatives on motorcycles, an assassination technique used by the Israeli spy service …
See all stories on this topic »
|Inside Israel’s super-secret intelligence agency
This article is adapted from “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars” (Levant Books), a new book detailing the history of the Israeli intelligence community by CBS News national correspondent Dan Raviv and Israeli journalist Yossi Melman.
See all stories on this topic »
|Book: Israel agents behind killings of Iran scientists
Oman Daily Observer
The book, Spies Against Armageddon, by veteran journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman and out in paperback yesterday, says the Israeli operatives killed five Iranian scientists working for the country’s nuclear programme between 2008-12. Although the …
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|Israel Behind Assassinations Of Iran Scientists, Claims Book
Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars by Dan Raviv of CBS News and Yossi Melman, a Ha’aretz analyst, states that Mossad has undertaken several terrorist missions in Iran that targeted nuclear scientists in order to curb the country’s …
See all stories on this topic »
|“Spies Against Armageddon” book says Israel’s Mossad killed Iranian nuclear …
Written by CBS News’ Dan Raviv and prominent Israeli commentator and Ha’aretz analyst Yossi Melman, “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars” details various missions undertaken by Mossad to target Iranian nuclear scientists, the authors …
July 10, 2012