Scott C. Johnson writes: Beginning in the early 1960s, investigators from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the agency that regulated U.S. nuclear facilities at the time, began to question how large amounts of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium had gone missing from NUMEC [the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation in Apollo, Pennsylvania]. Any nuclear site had a certain amount of loss, from seepage into walls and floors, for instance. In fact, between 1952 and 1968, lax standards at 20 of the country’s commercial nuclear sites resulted in an apparent loss of 995 kilograms (2,194 pounds) of uranium-235. But investigators found that at NUMEC, hundreds of pounds went missing, more than at any other plant.
NUMEC’s founder, Zalman Shapiro, an accomplished American chemist, addressed the concern in 1978, telling Arizona Congressman Morris Udall that the uranium simply escaped through the facility’s air ducts, cement, and wastewater. Others, such as the late Glenn Seaborg, the AEC’s chairman in the 1960s — who had previously helped discover plutonium and made key contributions to the Manhattan Project — have suggested that the sloppy accounting and government regulations of the mid-20th century meant that keeping track of losses in America’s newborn nuclear industry was well near impossible. Today, some people in Apollo think that at least a portion of the uranium might be buried in Parks [Township], contaminating the earth and, ultimately, human beings.
But a number of nuclear experts and intelligence officials propose another theory straight out of an espionage thriller: that the uranium was diverted — stolen by spies working for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. In the 1960s, to secure nuclear technology and materials, Israel mounted covert operations around the world, including at least one alleged open-ocean transfer of hundreds of pounds of uranium. Some experts have also raised questions about Shapiro himself. He had contacts deep within Israel’s defense and intelligence establishments when he ran NUMEC; several of them even turned up at his facility over time and concealed their professional identities while there.
Fifty years after investigations began — they have involved, at various times, the AEC and its successors, Congress, the FBI, the CIA, and other government agencies — NUMEC remains one of the most confounding puzzles of the nuclear era. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera: Secret cables obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit confirm that South Africa’s spy agencies concurred with allegations that Israel uses its flag-carrier, El Al Airlines, as cover for its intelligence agencies.
Leaked documents from South Africa’s intelligence agency support claims made on a 2009 South African television programme by a former El Al employee-turned-whistleblower.
Despite official Israeli denials, the whistleblower’s claims prompted an emergency meeting between senior officials from both sides, as well as a separate note of enquiry from Canada’s intelligence agency.
The Guardian reports: Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document.
It is part of a cache of hundreds of dossiers, files and cables from the world’s major intelligence services – one of the biggest spy leaks in recent times.
Brandishing a cartoon of a bomb with a red line to illustrate his point, the Israeli prime minister warned the UN in New York that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons the following year and called for action to halt the process.
But in a secret report shared with South Africa a few weeks later, Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”. The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment. [Continue reading…]
A leak of hundreds of secret intelligence papers from agencies all over the world, offering a glimpse into the murky world of espionage.
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, in collaboration with The Guardian newspaper, is publishing an array of articles, analyses exploring the stories contained within the documents.
The Spy Cables include papers written by intelligence agencies the world over, including: Israel’s Mossad, Britain’s MI6, Russia’s FSB, Australia’s ASIO and South Africa’s SSA.
Dan Raviv writes: In true-life espionage stories that inadvertently go public, there are often three stages: the initial revelation, the corrective second version from other sources, and – decades later – what really happened.
Newsweek and The Washington Post scored scoops last month, revealing that the CIA worked jointly with Israel’s Mossad to assassinate a Lebanese terrorist in February 2008 in Damascus: the military chief of the Iranian-controlled Hezbollah movement, Imad Mughniyeh.
The bomb explosion that killed Mughniyeh – who was held responsible for killing hundreds of Americans, notably in Beirut explosions that toppled the U.S. Embassy and a Marines barracks – was triggered from 135 miles away when a button was pushed in Mossad headquarters. A CIA man was inside the HQ near Tel Aviv.
This was a unique arrangement in which CIA and Mossad officers coordinated their undercover efforts in Syria’s capital, located the target, identified his habits, and parked a vehicle containing a bomb just outside an apartment he used.
According to the published accounts, the bomb had been designed, shaped, and repeatedly tested at an American base to be sure that only Mughniyeh and no other people would be killed.
Because of the revelation that the CIA was part of the mission, as well as details of how it was accomplished, Israelis close to their country’s security services wondered why American sources chose to leak so much about it.
One result was that some of those Israelis – apparently miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit – went to the trouble of speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections.
Basically, using a phrase inspired by the blue-and-white flag of Israel, they suggested that the assassination of Mughniyeh was “almost all blue-and-white, and just a little bit red-white-and-blue.”
Based on what they told their Western contacts this month, the Israelis claim that their Mossad and Aman (military intelligence) agencies managed to pick up the trail of the elusive terrorist – despite plastic surgery that changed his appearance. His biggest mistake was moving around Damascus without bodyguards, and specifically an unguarded area in front of his apartment building in the Syrian capital.
Contrary to the recent reports, the Israelis claim to have designed and tested the bomb, while respecting the CIA’s insistence that it not be too large so as not to kill any innocents. [Continue reading…]
There’s no better way of making a story compelling than to fill it with granular detail. The more detail there is, the more convincing the account becomes. Details have the aura of hard facts, suggesting the sources must be very well informed.
If the story appears in publications which attach a lot of value to being perceived as authoritative — as do Washington Post and Newsweek — then most readers will take the information at face value.
Thus we come to two reports, both claiming to recount the same events, both detailed and credited to multiple intelligence sources, and yet the details conflict.
In two accounts of the same bombing in Damascus we hear that the bomb was a) “triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad,” or b) that under the plan “the CIA man would press the remote control.”
One report may be more accurate than the other, or perhaps both are inaccurate.
According to the Washington Post, the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008 was carried out by Mossad with the CIA’s support and with the U.S. retaining power to cancel the operation.
As Mughniyah approached a parked SUV, a bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of the vehicle exploded, sending a burst of shrapnel across a tight radius. He was killed instantly.
The device was triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, who were in communication with the operatives on the ground in Damascus. “The way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute,” said a former U.S. intelligence official.
According to Newsweek, the CIA claimed the operation as their own and a former official who participated in the project is quoted, saying: “The Israelis told us where he was and gave us logistical help. But we designed the bomb that killed him and supervised the operation.”
Said another source, a former senior CIA operative with deep Middle East experience: “It was an Israeli-American operation. Everybody knows CIA did it — everybody in the Middle East anyway.” The CIA’s authorship of Mugniyah’s bloody death, the operative said, should have been told long ago. “It sends the message that we will track you down, no matter how much time it takes,” he said. “The other side needs to know this.”
A former senior CIA operative with deep Middle East experience — Robert Baer perhaps — says everyone in the Middle East (wouldn’t that include Hezbollah?) knows that the CIA killed Mughniyah, but the story that should have been told long ago, needs to be told now … because Hezbollah doesn’t know what everyone else knows?
If that doesn’t make much sense, it’s because it doesn’t make much sense.
The same report also says: “The CIA was pleased with Mugniyah’s murder, but not so pleased as to take credit for it. Agency officials always feared Hezbollah would feel a need to retaliate.”
The Washington Post also notes:
In a new book, The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins, former CIA officer Robert B. Baer writes how he had considered assassinating Mughniyah but apparently never got the opportunity. He notes, however, that CIA “censors” — the agency’s Publications Review Board — screened his book and “I’ve unfortunately been unable to write about the true set-piece plot against” Mughniyah.
But that didn’t stop him telling his story to the Post, perhaps.
And while Baer characterizes the killing of Mughniyeh as a case of settling scores, a former official speaking to the Post insisted that this was about the future not the past: “What we had to show was he was a continuing threat to Americans.”
The Israel security and intelligence writer, Yossi Melman, offers a political interpretation of the reporting:
It is hard to believe that the timing was coincidental.
Whoever leaked the details of the 2008 joint Mossad-CIA assassination of Hezbollah operational chief Imad Mughniyeh to two US newspapers, and certainly to a paper like The Washington Post, (the second one was Newsweek), did not do so capriciously. Most likely someone wanted to send the following message to the people of Israel and also to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: You need us. Look at the extent of the cooperation between our intelligence communities, which risks being damaged due to the discordant policies of your prime minister. This was the nature of the hidden message behind the leaked assassination operation.
The leak is surprising because the US usually only confirms its clandestine operations if it takes responsibility for them. In the case of Mughniyeh, neither the US nor Israel claimed responsibility. And there remains room for denial because the source of the leak was an anonymous US official and not an official government statement. The actual details of the leak are less important, and we shall see that some of them are lacking in accuracy.
The impression given from the leaked details is that someone wanted the US to take the lion’s share of the credit for the Mughniyeh assassination. According to the media reports, in the joint operation that killed Hezbollah’s “defense minister,” the Mossad played second fiddle to the CIA who was the senior more central partner. It’s possible that this is a great exaggeration, the truth was entirely different and in fact the Mossad was the dominant player in the operation.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that specific details have been reported on the manner of Mughniyeh’s death.
The Sunday Times reported on February 17, 2008, that the Hezbollah commander was not returning from a nearby restaurant, as the Post now claims, but had left a party at the Iranian cultural center.
According to Israeli intelligence sources, the bomb was not hidden in a spare tire but instead had been placed in the driver’s headrest.
The details being fed to the press at that time were very specific yet apparently not at all accurate.
The details now are no less specific, but likewise, perhaps, no more accurate.
One thing that should be clear is that information provided by intelligence sources, be they current or former, should always be treated with caution.
Those whose careers revolve around secrecy and deception can’t be expected to easily shake off the habits of a lifetime.
At the same time, what we see here is the shadow of journalism.
On the one hand it seeks to bring information to light, and at the same time the process by which that information is gathered, questioned, and analyzed, remains opaque.
We get told the story, but rarely hear the story behind the story.
The Washington Post reports: The revelation that the CIA cooperated with Israel’s Mossad spy agency in the assassination of a top Hezbollah military commander in 2008 is poised to intensify a shadow war with the militant Lebanese group that could involve retaliation against U.S. interests around the world, analysts said.
In an exclusive story published online Friday night, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. intelligence agency coordinated with Mossad in carrying out a February 2008 car bombing in the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed Imad Mughniyah.
The militant commander was implicated in killing hundreds of Americans in attacks that included the U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut in 1983 and assaults on American forces in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias, according to the Post’s report, which cited multiple former U.S. officials. The killing of Mughniyah, a key figure behind attacks on scores of Israelis, was approved by officials in the George W. Bush administration, according to the report.
The report said the operation required extensive planning and cooperation between the two agencies. One of official is quoted as saying that operatives detonated some 25 practice bombs at a CIA facility in North Carolina “to make sure we got it right,” killing Mughniyah while avoiding civilian causalities. The real bomb was triggered remotely in Tel Aviv by Mossad agents, according to the report, but CIA operatives in Damascus acted as spotters and could have called off the attack.
Samar Hajj, a Lebanese analyst who is close to Hezbollah, said the report reinforced the impression — true or not — among officials in the Iranian-backed group that covert Israeli operations are signed off in Washington. [Continue reading…]
Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report: The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling U.S. officials and lawmakers that a new Iran sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress would tank the Iran nuclear negotiations.
Already, the Barack Obama administration and some leading Republican senators are using the Israeli internal disagreement to undermine support for the bill, authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez, which would enact new sanctions if current negotiations falter.
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — supported by Republican Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain — is pushing for his own legislation on the Iran nuclear deal, which doesn’t contain sanctions but would require that the Senate vote on any pact that is agreed upon in Geneva. The White House is opposed to both the Kirk-Menendez bill and the Corker bill; it doesn’t want Congress to meddle at all in the delicate multilateral diplomacy with Iran.
Israeli intelligence officials have been briefing both Obama administration officials and visiting U.S. senators about their concerns on the Kirk-Menendez bill, which would increase sanctions on Iran only if the Iranian government can’t strike a deal with the so-called P5+1 countries by a June 30 deadline or fails to live up to its commitments. Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister’s office has been supporting the Kirk-Menendez bill, as does the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, ahead of what will be a major foreign policy confrontation between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government in coming weeks. [Continue reading…]
The Jerusalem Post reports: The reported Israeli spy who infiltrated Hezbollah and foiled attacks against Israel was responsible for the personal security of the organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, according to Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai.
The spy, known as M.Sh. caused great damage to the Shi’ite militant organization but his arrest was also seen by the Hezbollah leadership as an important achievement, Al Rai reported.
Haaretz reports: The biggest threat to Israel’s security is the conflict with the Palestinians and not Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said Thursday at a meeting at a private home attended by 30 businesspeople.
According to a person present during the 90-minute talk, Pardo dealt largely with the organizational changes he had made at the Mossad, as well as management policies at the spy agency. But during the question-and-answer period, participants asked him to assess the greatest threats facing Israel.
Pardo said, according to the source, that the major threat to Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. When some of the participants asked him to repeat what he said, he answered: “Yes, the biggest threat is the Palestinian issue.”
Someone asked whether the Iranian nuclear threat was the second largest threat. Pardo surprised his audience by saying Iran might produce or purchase a nuclear weapon in the future, but he wouldn’t “recommend rushing to obtain a foreign passport.”
One person noted that Pardo’s words suggested he did not share the urgency in speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tehran’s nuclear program. It was clear that Pardo did not consider this issue a significant threat, let alone an existential one.
Pardo listed the threats facing Israel, including a takeover of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State organization and its threats to neighboring Jordan under King Abdullah.
“This is a worrisome problem for Israel,” Pardo said. “This organization is here to stay. They embrace the public like [Israeli ultra-Orthodox party] Shas does, with a welfare and education system. They espouse murder for its own sake. Hamas is a lightweight organization by comparison.” [Continue reading…]
IntelNews.org reports: Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed.
National Post reports: A week after a Montreal businessman claimed Canada had provided a new identity and passport to an Israeli Mossad agent involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, the government denied the sensational story on Friday.
While Ottawa is usually reluctant to comment on national security matters, the allegation of Canadian involvement in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was apparently considered so damaging it required a response.
“There is no truth to these allegations that the government of Canada provided support to protect those wanted in the 2010 death of a Hamas leader,” said a government official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The charge that the government had secretly resettled a member of the hit squad that drugged and suffocated Mr. Al-Mabhouh in a five star hotel room was made last weekend by Arian Azarbar, an Iranian-Canadian businessman.
He told the Ottawa Sun he learned about it from a Passport Canada employee with whom he had an affair. The passport officer, a member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, had been investigating Mr. Azarbar and has since been suspended. [Continue reading…]
A non-denial denial? It depends on whether the individual in question had been identified as one those “those wanted.”
The Montreal Gazette adds: [A] Montreal police detective was reportedly reassigned in January after allegations surfaced that he, too, leaked information to Azarbar. The businessman is identified in Montreal police documents of being a possible Iranian spy, according to Montreal media reports.
Azarbar said Tuesday he has known the police officer for years, but said he had nothing to do with the officer’s reassignment. He also categorically denied any involvement with his native Iran. He said he has lived in Montreal’s West Island community since the age of five.
“I’ve been to Iran once in my whole life for two weeks,” he said.
He said his troubles began when he received a government letter asking him to meet with federal agents.
There followed one or two initial meetings with Kennedy and a man he believes was from the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said they were most interested in learning about his business trips to Venezuela, where he sells housing construction products.
He said he also had spent time around Hugo Chavez, the country’s fiery socialist leader who died last year.
“Did I work for the Iranian government? No, never. Did I like Chavez? Absolutely. I thought he was one of the greatest men in the world.”
Azarbar blamed much of his situation on a federal customs official in Toronto. Azarbar believes the man was jealous of his relationship with Kennedy, who has been separated from her husband, he said.
“When he found out about my relationship with Trina, he went berserk. It’s him that made this whole story.”
Haaretz reports: Nelson Mandela, the former South African leader who died earlier this month, was trained in weaponry and sabotage by Mossad operatives in 1962, a few months before he was arrested in South Africa. During his training, Mandela expressed interest in the methods of the Haganah pre-state underground and was viewed by the Mossad as leaning toward communism.
These revelations are from a document in the Israel State Archives labeled “Top Secret.” The existence of the document is revealed here for the first time.
It also emerges that the Mossad operatives attempted to encourage Zionist sympathies in Mandela.
Mandela, the father of the new South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, led the struggle against apartheid in his country from the 1950s. He was arrested, tried and released a number of times before going underground in the early 1960s. In January 1962, he secretly and illegally fled South Africa and visited various African countries, including Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt and Ghana. His goal was to meet with the leaders of African countries and garner financial and military support for the armed wing of the underground African National Congress.
A letter sent from the Mossad to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem reveals that Mandela underwent military training by Mossad operatives in Ethiopia during this period. These operatives were unaware of Mandela’s true identity. The letter, classified top secret, was dated October 11, 1962 – about two months after Mandela was arrested in South Africa, shortly after his return to the country. [Continue reading…]
Haaretz reports: The death of Hassan al-Laqis, a senior Hezbollah commander who was killed on Tuesday in what looks like a clean and especially professional assassination in Dahieh, the Shi’ite quarter of Beirut, is the biggest operational blow to the Lebanese organization since the death of Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh, who was described as the Hezbollah chief-of-staff, was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008. At the time Hezbollah blamed Israel, which refrained from responding. On Wednesday morning the organization blamed Israel for the assassination of Laqis as well.
Laqis, one of Hezbollah’s veteran military leaders, has been familiar to Western intelligence services since the 1980s. Intelligence officials have described him in the past as a “brilliant mind” who played a combined role in the Shi’ite organization, which could be compared to the head of Israel Defense Forces’ research and development as well as technology and logistics branch.
Laqis was knowledgeable of and involved in all the organization’s operational secrets – from the acquisition and development of advanced weapons to the establishment of classified communication systems to Hezbollah’s operative plans. His death strips Hezbollah of a “intelligence source” – a person whose experience and widespread connections to Syrian and Iranian intelligence organizations served Hezbollah well for almost three decades. [Continue reading…]
The Jerusalem Post reports: The Mossad is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a potential attack on Iran in the event that Tehran’s nuclear program is not sufficiently curbed in the deal that may be concluded between Iran and world powers in Geneva this week, The Sunday Times reported.
Both Jerusalem and Riyadh have expressed displeasure at the deal being formulated between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers that they see as doing little to stop Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon.
According to the Times, Riyadh has already given its consent for Israel to use Saudi airspace for a potential attack on Iran.
The paper quoted a diplomatic source as saying the Saudis were willing to assist an Israeli attack by cooperating on the use of drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes.
“Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” the Times quoted the source as saying. [Continue reading…]
Probably the most salient detail here is that the report appeared in The Sunday Times — that alone may be sufficient reason why it can be ignored.
But just suppose an Israeli-Saudi operation was in the works, this much we can reasonably assume: its existence and every detail about it, would be guarded with the highest possible secrecy.
Netanyahu has already milked verbal threats for all they are worth. If he actually has any military cards he can play (such as one facilitated by the Saudis), he’s going to keep quiet about it. More likely though is that this “leak” is just more bluster and it’s intended to threaten the P5+1 more than Iran.
AFP reports: France believed the United States attempted to hack into its president’s communications network, a leaked US intelligence document published on Friday suggests.
US agents denied having anything to do with a May 2012 cyber attack on the Elysee Palace, the official residence of French presidents, and appeared to hint at the possible involvement of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, a classified internal note from the US National Security Agency suggests.
Extracts from the document, the latest to emerge from the NSA via former contractor Edward Snowden, were published by Le Monde newspaper alongside an article jointly authored by Glenn Greenwald, the US journalist who has been principally responsible for a still-unravelling scandal over large-scale US snooping on individuals and political leaders all over the world.
The document is a briefing note prepared in April this year for NSA officials who were due to meet two senior figures from France’s external intelligence agency, the DGSE. The French agents had travelled to Washington to demand explanations over their discovery in May 2012 of attempts to compromise the Elysee’s communications systems.
The note says that the branch of the NSA which handles cyber attacks, Tailored Access Operations (TAO), had confirmed that it had not carried out the attack and says that most of its closest allies (Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand) had also denied involvement.
It goes on to note: “TAO intentionally did not ask either Mossad or (Israel’s cyber intelligence unit) ISNU whether they were involved as France is not an approved target for joint discussions.” [Continue reading…]