Isha khan’s Weblog


The truth about the Mossad
February 22, 2010, 6:06 pm
Filed under: MidEast

The truth about the Mossad

The recent, outlandish assassination in Dubai may prove the most damaging yet in the Mossad’s history of high-profile, bungled operations.

Last November, a sharp-eyed Israeli woman named Niva Ben-Harush was alarmed to notice a young man attaching something that looked suspiciously like a bomb to the underside of a car in a quiet street near Tel Aviv port. When police arrested him, he claimed to be an agent of the Mossad secret service taking part in a training exercise: his story turned out to be true – though the bomb was a fake.

No comment was forthcoming from the Israeli prime minister’s office, which formally speaks for – but invariably says nothing about – the country’s world-famous espionage organisation. The bungling bomber was just a brief item on that evening’s local TV news.

There was, however, a far bigger story – one that echoed across the globe – two years ago this week, when a bomb in a Pajero jeep in Damascus decapitated a man named Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was the military leader of Lebanon’s Shia movement Hizbullah, an ally of Iran, and was wanted by the US, France and half a dozen other countries. Israel never went beyond cryptic nodding and winking about that killing in the heart of the Syrian capital, but it is widely believed to have been one of its most daring and sophisticated clandestine operations.

The Mossad, like other intelligence services, tends to attract attention only when something goes wrong, or when it boasts a spectacular success and wants to send a warning signal to its enemies. Last month’s assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai, now at the centre of a white-hot diplomatic row between Israel and Britain, is a curious mixture of both.

With its cloned foreign passports, multiple disguises, state-of-the-art communications and the murder of alleged arms smuggler Mahmoud al-Mabhouh – one of the few elements of the plot that was not captured on the emirate’s CCTV cameras – it is a riveting tale of professional chutzpah, violence and cold calculation. And with the Palestinian Islamist movement now vowing to take revenge, it seems grimly certain that it will bring more bloodshed in its wake.

The images from Dubai follow the biblical injunction (and the Mossad’s old motto):”By way of deception thou shalt make war.” The agency’s job, its website explains more prosaically, is to “collect information, analyse intelligence and perform special covert operations beyond [Israel’s] borders.”

Founded in 1948 along with the new Jewish state, the Mossad largely stayed in the shadows in its early years. Yitzhak Shamir, a former Stern Gang terrorist and future prime minister, ran operations targeting German scientists who were helping Nasser’s Egypt build rockets – foreshadowing later Israeli campaigns to disrupt Iraqi and (continuing) Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear and other weapons.

The Mossad’s most celebrated exploits included the abduction of the fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was later tried and hanged in Israel. Others were organising the defection of an Iraqi pilot who flew his MiG-21 to Israel, and support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels against Baghdad. Military secrets acquired by Elie Cohen, the infamous spy who penetrated the Syrian leadership, helped Israel conquer the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war.

It was after that that the service’s role expanded to fight the Palestinians, who had been galvanised under Yasser Arafat into resisting Israel in the newly occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The 1970s saw the so-called “war of the spooks” with Mossad officers, operating under diplomatic cover abroad, recruiting and running informants in Fatah and other Palestinian groups. Baruch Cohen, an Arabic speaker on loan to the Mossad from the Shin Bet internal security service, was shot in a Madrid cafe by his own agent. Bassam Abu Sharif, of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was badly disfigured by a Mossad parcel bomb sent to him in Beirut.

Steven Spielberg’s 2006 film Munich helped mythologise the Mossad’s hunt for the Black September terrorists who massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Eleven of them were eliminated in killings across Europe, culminating in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer, where a Moroccan waiter was mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, the Munich plot’s mastermind. Salameh was eventually killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 1979 – the sort of incident that made Lebanese and Palestinians sit up and notice last year’s botched training episode in Tel Aviv.

Some details of the assassination of Mabhouh last month echo elements of the campaign against Black September – which ended with the catastrophic arrest of five Mossad agents. Sylvia Raphael, a South African-born Christian with a Jewish father, spent five years in a Norwegian prison; she may have been among the young Europeans in Israel who were discreetly asked, in nondescript offices in Tel Aviv, if they wished to volunteer for sensitive work involving Israel’s security. Other agents who had been exposed had to be recalled, safe houses abandoned, phone numbers changed and operational methods modified.

Over the years, the Mossad’s image has been badly tarnished at home as well as abroad. It was blamed in part for failing to get wind of Egyptian-Syrian plans for the devastating attack that launched the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Critics wondered whether the spies had got their priorities right by focusing on hunting down Palestinian gunmen in the back alleys of European cities, when they should have been stealing secrets in Cairo and Damascus. The Mossad also played a significant, though still little-known, role in the covert supply of arms to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran to help fight Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, as part of the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

It has, in addition, suffered occasional blows from its own disgruntled employees. In 1990, a Canadian-born former officer called Victor Ostrovsky blew the whistle on its internal organisation, training and methods, revealing codenames including “Kidon” (bayonet), the unit in charge of assassinations. An official smear campaign failed to stop Ostrovsky’s book, so the agency kept quiet when another ostensibly inside account came out in 2007. It described the use of shortwave radios for sending encoded transmissions, operations in Iran for collecting soil samples, and joint operations with the CIA against Hezbollah.

But the worst own goal came in 1997, during Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister. Mossad agents tried but failed to assassinate Khaled Mash’al – the same Hamas leader who is now warning of retaliation for Mabhouh’s murder – by injecting poison into his ear in Amman, Jordan. Using forged Canadian passports, they fled to the Israeli embassy, triggering outrage and a huge diplomatic crisis with Jordan. Danny Yatom, the then Mossad chief, was forced to quit. Ephraim Halevy, a quietly spoken former Londoner, was brought back from retirement to clear up the mess.

The Dubai assassination, however, may yet turn out to be far more damaging – not least because the political and diplomatic context has changed in the last decade. Israel’s reputation has suffered an unprecedented battering, reaching a new low during last year’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. “In the current climate, the traces left behind in Dubai are likely to lead to very serious harm to Israel’s international standing,” the former diplomat Alon Liel commented yesterday.

Even though Israel is maintaining its traditional policy of “ambiguity” about clandestine operations, refusing to confirm or deny any involvement in Dubai, nobody in the world seems to seriously question it. That includes almost all Israeli commentators, who are bound by the rules of military censorship in a small and talkative country where secrets are often quite widely known.

It would be surprising if a key part of this extraordinary story did not turn out to be the role played by Palestinians. It is still Mossad practice to recruit double agents, just as it was with the PLO back in the 1970s. News of the arrest in Damascus of another senior Hamas operative – though denied by Mash’al – seems to point in this direction. Two other Palestinians extradited from Jordan to Dubai are members of the Hamas armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, suggesting treachery may indeed have been involved. Previous assassinations have involved a Palestinian agent identifying the target.

Yossi Melman, the expert on intelligence for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, worries that, as before the 1973 war, the Israeli government may be getting it wrong by focusing on the wrong enemy – the Palestinians – instead of prioritising Iran and Hizbullah.

“The Mossad is not Murder Inc, like the Mafia; its goal is not to take vengeance on its enemies,” he wrote this week. “‘Special operations’ like the assassination in Dubai – if this indeed was a Mossad operation – have always accounted for a relatively small proportion of its overall activity. Nevertheless, these are the operations that give the organisation its halo, its shining image. This is ultimately liable to blind its own ranks, cause them to become intoxicated by their own success, and thus divert their attention from their primary mission.”

From an official Israeli point of view, the Mossad has an important job to do. Its reputation for ruthlessness and cunning remains a powerful asset, prompting what sometimes sounds like grudging admiration as well as loathing in the Arab world – where a predisposition for conspiracy theories boosts the effect of the disinformation and psychological warfare at which the Israelis are said to excel.

The government’s official narrative, of course, is that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that pioneered horrific suicide bombings, fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian targets and – despite occasional signs of pragmatism or readiness for a temporary truce or prisoner swap – remains dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. It refuses to admit that its ever-expanding West Bank settlements remains a significant barrier to peace.

In western countries, including Britain, there was widespread anger at the 1,400 Palestinian casualties of the Gaza war. Barack Obama has declared the occupation “intolerable”. Netanyahu heads the most rightwing coalition in Israel’s history; his famous quip that the Middle East is a “tough neighbourhood” no longer seems to justify playing dirty.

Yet Israelis, and not just those on the right, worry that their very existence as an independent state is being de-legitimised. And, judging by the jobs section of the Mossad website, there are still plenty of opportunities for Israel’s wannabe spies: challenging positions are available for researchers, analysts, security officers, codebreakers and other technical work. Speakers of Arabic and Persian are invited to apply to be intelligence officers.The work involves travel abroad and a “young and unconventional” environment.

It is a novelty of this episode that ordinary Israeli citizens are angry that their identities appear to have been stolen by their own government’s secret servants – one reason why the Mossad chief Meir Dagan may find his days are numbered. But it is hard not to detect an undercurrent of popular admiration for the killers of Mabhouh. The day after the sensational CCTV images and passport photos were shown, the Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe’er reached the quarter-finals of a major international competition in the emirate. “Another successful operation in Dubai,” the Ynet website headlined its story.

Ofer Kasti, Haaretz’s education correspondent, did not have his passport cloned, but he does bear a striking resemblance to the hit-squad member named as Kevin Daveron. “My mum rang and asked gently if I’d been abroad recently,” he wrote. “Friends asked me why I hadn’t brought back any cigarettes from the duty free shop in Dubai. I thought I sensed admiring glances in the street. ‘Well done,’ said an elderly woman who came up to me in the supermarket and clapped me the shoulder. ‘You showed those Arabs.'”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/19/ian-black-mossad-dubai



Sexual Torture
May 18, 2009, 1:13 pm
Filed under: MidEast, USA

What is Acknowledged and What Remains Unknown

Sexual Torture

By DAVID ROSEN

“Removal of clothing was authorized by the Secretary of Defense [Rumsfeld] for use at GTMO [Guantánamo] on December 2, 2002,” acknowledges the recently released U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee report on the use of harsh interrogation techniques. It also reports that the use of prolonged nudity proved so effective that, in January 2003, it was approved for use in Afghanistan and, in the fall of 2003, was adopted for use in Iraq.

“Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody”

The Senate report came out shortly after a secret International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on CIA torture techniques used as part of its detention program was leaked by Mark Danner of the “New York Review of Books.” These reports provoked a storm of media attention, much of it focused on the use of waterboarding (or what the ICRC more aptly calls “suffocation by water”) and, in particular, its use on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times and Abu Zubaydah 83 times.

The media paid less attention to the host of what the ICRC calls the other “methods of ill-treatment.” The Senate report identifies these techniques as: use of military dogs, stress positions and physical training, sleep adjustment/sleep management, sensory deprivation and removal of clothing. The ICRC identifies them as: prolonged stress standing, beating by use of a collar, beating and kicking, confinement in a box, sleep deprivation and use of load music, exposure to cold temperature/cold water, prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles, threats, forced shaving, deprivation/restricted provision of solid food and prolonged nudity.

These reports, together with the recent release of Bush-administration “torture memos,” helped focus national attention on a shameful, if not illegal, aspect of mad king George’s War on Terror. However, these reports are “official” documents based on revelations of a very limited number of sources. The information gathered, while invaluable, is limited by these sources.

The limited sources limit the public’s knowledge of the full scope of the torture committed by American intelligence agents, military officers and private contractors. Focusing on the issue of sexual torture, which includes prolonged nudity, reveals what has been made public but also what has yet to become publicly acknowledged.

Failure to publicly acknowledge the full scope of sexual torture, along with all the other “harsh” interrogation techniques, creates a sanitized, “official,” history. Americans will never know what torture was committed in their name, nor be able to hold accountable those who ordered and executed these actions unless they go beyond “official” sources.

* * *

The ICRC conducted interviews with fourteen “enemy combatants” from eight countries. The detainees were arrested over a nearly three-year period, from March 2002 through May 2005. Eleven of the detainees were subject to prolonged nudity “during detention and interrogation, ranging from several weeks continuously up to several months intermittently.”

The ICRC recounts what it calls the “alleged” experiences of seven detaineesm subject to prolonged nudity:

• Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – kept naked for one month in Afghanistan.

• Abu Zubaydah– kept naked for two-and-a-half weeks in Afghanistan after recovering at a Pakistan hospital; he reports subsequently being repeatedly provided with clothing and then stripped naked for weeks at a time.

• Walid Bin Attash – kept naked two weeks in Afghanistan and again for a month in a second but unknown detention facility.

• Encep Nuraman (aka Hambali) – kept naked for four or five days in Thailand and a week in Afghanistan, followed by intermittent periods of being clothed and naked.

• Majid Khan – kept naked for three days in Afghanistan and seven days in his third place of detention.

• Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep – kept naked three to four days in Thailand and nine days in Afghanistan.

• Unnamed detainee – kept naked for two to three months in Afghanistan and then faced intermittent periods of being clothed and naked.

The sources of these reports were interviews with the detainees.

The Senate report provides a far different assessment on what it calls “removal of clothing.” It makes clear that the use of prolonged nudity found strong support within the CIA and military as an interrogation technique. It reports that nudity was imported into Iraq, especially Abu Ghraib prison, from Afghanistan and GTMO.

It states that this technique served a number of critical interrogation purposes, including to “humiliate detainees,” to “renew ‘capture shock’ of detainees” and as an incentive for good behavior. It use was extensive, as indicated by two of the many officers interviewed. COL Jerry Philabaum, the Commander of the 320th MP, reports seeing “between 12-15 detainees naked in their own individual cells.” CPT Donald Reese, the Commander of the 372nd MP Company, acknowledged that prolonged nudity was “known to everyone” and it was “common practice to walk the tier and see detainees with clothing and bedding.” Other officers made similar statements.

Like the ICRC report, the Senate report draws extensively on interviews, but these interviews are with Army officers from the Military Police and intelligence. In addition, the Senate report draws on a number of publicly released military report, most notably by Major General George Fay, known as the Fay Report. One of its quotes is remarkably candid, perhaps more revealing than originally intended: detention created an “environment that would appear to condone depravity and degradation rather than humane treatment of detainees.” The report also makes a single passing reference to Major General Antonio Taguba’s report on Abu Ghraib.

* * *

The first “enemy combatants” arrive at Guantánamo on January 11, 2002, nearly a year before Rumsfeld officially authorized the use of sexual torture. According to a CBS timeline, a “U.S. Air Force plane from Afghanistan touches down at Guantanamo carrying 20 prisoners, marking the start of the detention operation.” [CBS News Gitmo Timeline, August 24, 2004] In the Senate report, SMU [Special Mission Unit] TF [Task Force] Commander [name blacked out] states that when he “took command [of Guantánemo] he ‘discovered that some of the detainees were not allowed clothes’ as an interrogation technique [blacked out] said he terminated the practice in December 2003 or January 2004.”

The disclosures about prolonged nudity received little public discussion. Compared to the many far worse techniques employed, most notably “suffocation by water,” head beating, kicking, stress positions, uses of dogs and sleep deprivation, sexual torture seems rather modest. But its purpose was, along with the other techniques, clear. As the ICRC notes, it “was clearly designed to undermine human dignity and create a sense of futility … resulting in exhaustion, depersonalization and dehumanization.”

However, drawing upon other sources paints a different picture, one far less sanitized and much more sadistic. What is not known is whether these additional techniques were approved by U.S. military and civilian leaders or were the improvised actions of frontline officers and contractors? A few examples illustrate these techniques.

The best single source on the use of sexual torture at Abu Ghraib remains the Taguba report. In the report’s executive summary, the following “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” are identified as having been used at the prison:

* forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;

* forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;

* videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees;

* forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing;

* forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear;

* forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;

* arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them;

* positioning a naked detainee on a MRE [meals ready to eat] Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture;

* placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture;

* sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.

Why did this part of the Taguba report not appear in the Senate report? Its absence speaks to the way official reports are sanitized and an “inside the Beltway” history is written. [see “Sexual Terrorism: The Sadistic Side of Bush’s War on Terror,” CounterPunch, May 13, 2008]

The U.S. and international press revealed disturbing episodes of sexual terror used by American forces. For example, The Associated Press reported that a former inmate, Dhia al-Shweiri, was ordered by American soldiers to strip naked, bend over and place his hands on a wall; while not sodomized, he says he was humiliated: “We are men. It’s OK if they beat me,” al Shweiri said. “Beatings don’t hurt us; it’s just a blow. But no one would want their manhood to be shattered.”

Scotland’s “Sunday Herald” reported that a former Iraqi prisoner claimed that there is a photo of a civilian translator raping a male juvenile prisoner; he stated, “They covered all the doors with sheets. I heard the screaming, … and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

London’s “Independent” reported on the experience of Hayder Sabbar Abd, immortalized as the man in the hood in infamous Abu Ghraib photo of Lynndie England. Abd alleges that he was ordered to masturbate as Ms. England “put her hands on her breasts,” which he couldn’t; and to simulate fellatio with another prisoner, which he appears to have done.

The “Sydney Morning Herald” noted: “Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man’s face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider’s written account.”

* * *

Sexual torture served two purposes on those subjected to such abuse: to physically harm and to emotionally scar. It was intended to break male inmates. It sought to inflict both pain and shame, to make the recipient suffer and loathe himself. Sexual torture attempted to break the victim both physically and spiritually, to leave scars on (and inside) the body and in the psyche.

With Obama’s election, the U.S. military has probably ceased employing “harsh interrogation techniques.” Unfortunately, given Obama’s pragmatism, the Congress’ complicity, the military’s bureaucratic zealotry and the CIA’s (and private contractors’) immorality, one can only wonder what would happen if another September 11th occurred.

The full scope of “harsh interrogation techniques” used during the War on Terror is unknown. Nor is it fully known who within the Bush administration approved the use of such technique, not who within the U.S. military and intelligence community (along with private contractors) used such techniques. Answers to these questions should be the first task of any “official” investigation of the War on Terror. And those undertaking the investigation should use a far wider assortment of sources than those deemed “official.” Only then will the American people understand what was done in their name and, hopefully, how to stop it from happening again.

David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandal America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” and can be reached at drosen@ix.netcom.com.

 http://www.counterpunch.org/rosen05152009.html