Who really wrote the sagas of Israel's spies?
'The Mossad,' a new book on the major exploits of Israel's storied spy agency, has been on the best-seller list for months. But if much of the text sounds familiar, it's because the authors apparently relied on previously published material - without crediting the original sources.
One creative aspect of the work of Israeli journalists who write about intelligence matters is the need to invent aliases and code names for key figures and secret operations. Israeli military censorship is determined to keep the names of the country's spies under wraps. In addition to prohibiting the publication of real names in most cases, the censors forbid writers even to publish the code names used by the intelligence organizations.
Accordingly, authors must rely on their own inventiveness to come up with alternative names, often highly colorful ones, for the people and events in the murky world of espionage. And they take pleasure in using their imagination; years later they will recall with pride the names they chose and the stories behind their choices.
An interesting case study is "The Mossad" by Nissim Mishal and Michael Bar-Zohar, published in Hebrew in September by Yedioth Ahronoth. The book almost immediately rocketed to first place on the best-seller lists, where it is still ensconced. It reveals how a fictitious name dreamed up by a journalist for wholly private reasons, nostalgic or otherwise, can take on an independent life of its own. So independent, in fact, that it is mentioned years later in a best-selling book without the inventor of the name getting any credit at all.
There are two such cases in "The Mossad." The first is a name concocted by Ronen Bergman, a correspondent for the mass-circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for a secret unit that was created in 2001. At the time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assigned Meir Dagan, later to become head of the Mossad espionage agency, the task of setting up the unit; its purpose was to collect information about and foil the work of those who provided financing for terrorist groups.
Prohibited by military censorship from using the unit's real name, Bergman resorted to his usual ploy in such cases. He made up a name, "Gilgal," that rhymes with the real name in Hebrew. The name first appeared in Bergman's book about Israel's clandestine struggle against Iran's nuclear project, published in Hebrew in 2007, and a year later in an English version (Dr. Ronen Bergman, "The Secret War With Iran," Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008). Bergman used the fictitious name again in an article he wrote about Meir Dagan for Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend magazine in February 2010.
Three years after Bergman's book appeared in Hebrew, the name Gilgal turns up again in the new book by Mishal and Bar-Zohar, in a chapter entitled "The Israeli Superman," which is about Meir Dagan. However, the authors fail to mention that the name is a fiction made up by an Israeli journalist.
"The relaxed life of a kindly pensioner devoting himself to innocent hobbies was not for [Dagan]," Mishal and Bar-Zohar write. "In the 2001 elections, Arik Sharon recruited him to head Likud's election-day headquarters. Afterward he assigned him to establish an organization called 'Gilgal' in the Prime Minister's Office. Gilgal was intended to be a secret organization that would foil the financial sources of the terrorist organizations."
The second case of a fictitious name recycled by Mishal and Bar-Zohar is in their book's last chapter, entitled "Bring the Ethiopian Jewry to me." The chapter title is identical to the title of a book by the journalist Gad Shimron on the same subject: the Mossad operation to bring Ethiopia's Jews to Israel in the 1980s via Sudan (published in an English version in 2007 as "Mossad Exodus: The Daring Undercover Rescue of the Lost Jewish Tribe"). If Shimron peruses the book by Mishal and Bar-Zohar, he will discover that the chapter title is not the only point of resemblance between the current no. 1 bestseller and his book, which was published in 1998 in Hebrew. Once again, Mishal and Bar-Zohar appropriate a name, in this case "Doron," which Shimron used as an alias for the commander of the Ethiopia operation, Danny Limor. (Incidentally, Shimron, who at the time worked for the Mossad, took part in the operation himself under Limor's command.)
The small truck criteria
"The Mossad" has topped the best-seller chart in Haaretz's weekly books supplement (in Hebrew) for three consecutive months. According to the publisher, the book has sold 50,000 copies, a very large number by Israeli standards.
Its 22 chapters contain stories and revelations about the Mossad's major operations over the years. The crisp, colorful style is aimed at a mass audience with an apparently insatiable appetite for the heroic exploits of Israeli spies. No pretension is made of producing a book of an academic character.
The events are chronicled in a flowing, at times almost poetic narrative, told by omniscient authors and the reader feels like an eyewitness to the daring deeds. However, allegations have reached Haaretz to the effect that the authors made use of journalistic sources without crediting them, and that some passages in the book are almost identical to passages in previously published works.
A comparison of several passages in "The Mossad" to past books and articles turns up texts ranging from similar to identical, in the light of which the re-use of the occasional invented name looks quite minor.
One example can be found in the book's very first chapter, "Double agents, hit squads and bomb blasts," which deals with the Mossad's war against the Iranian nuclear project. The authors describe a series of mysterious acts of sabotage at Iranian nuclear facilities beginning in 2005, including the following passage (page 28), referring to a site near Tehran, which was bombed under unknown circumstances:
"At this site the experts are developing the 'explosive lenses,' the mechanism that will convert the core of the bomb into a critical mass and set in motion the chain reaction that will generate the explosion. The Iranian opposition reported that an explosion took place at the site which caused large-scale damage."
Compare this to the following passage from "Marvelous Hitch," an article by Ronen Bergman which appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend magazine in December 2007:
"At this site the Iranians are developing the explosive lenses, the mechanism that will convert the core of the bomb into a critical mass and set in motion the chain reaction that will generate a nuclear blast. About a month ago, an Iranian opposition organization reported that an explosion had occurred at the site which caused large-scale damage."
The similarities go beyond the wording of the dry facts and extend also to the use of imagery. At the end of another article by Bergman, published in March 2010 in Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend magazine, about Mohsen Fakhri Zadeh, the scientist who heads the Iranian nuclear project, the journalist described the distance between Iran and a nuclear bomb in the following words:
"This device will be far larger than the model of the bomb on which a test was carried out in 2003, which was about the size of a small truck. Henceforth, Fakhri Zadeh and his staff will have to work hard to reduce the size of the mechanism, until they reach the size at which it can be mounted on a Shihab missile."
Here is the version that appears on page 31 of the book by Mishal and Bar-Zohar:
"It turns out that the efforts undertaken by the Fakhri Zadeh group have so far produced the possibility of building a huge bomb, one that will be the size of a small truck; now they will have to make a particularly strenuous effort to reduce the size of the bomb until it is suitable for the warhead of an operative missile."
Similar intriguing echoes resonate between Shimron's book on Ethiopian Jewry and "The Mossad." Shimron quotes the directive Menachem Begin gave Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi shortly after Begin's 1977 election victory - "Bring the Ethiopian Jewry to me" - which is also the title of the book. He notes that he is using "his words" because he did not rely on the minutes of the meeting but on conversations with various sources.
Here is what Shimron wrote, conveying the spirit of what Begin said to Hofi: "We know that thousands of Falasha, Ethiopian Jews, are desperate to immigrate to Israel. They are starving, persecuted by the authorities and tormented by their neighbors. I ask you to use the Mossad to find a way to bring these dear Jews to Israel. Bring the Ethiopian Jewry to me."
This text appears word for word on page 306 of "The Mossad." Possibly the authors of the best-seller didn't grasp that Shimron had used creative license and did not quote Begin directly.
Skirting the censors
Chapter 3 of "The Mossad" recounts the story of how the spy organization obtained the secret speech delivered by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956 to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party - in which, for the first time, he denounced the crimes of Joseph Stalin.
The document was obtained by the Israel General Security Service, the Shin Bet - which at the time handled intelligence about developments behind the Iron Curtain - with the generous aid of a Polish Jew named Viktor Grayevsky. Grayevsky purloined the speech, which the entire Western world coveted, from his lover, a senior secretary at the Communist Party in Poland, and passed it on to the Shin Bet station chief in the Israeli embassy in Warsaw.
Fifty years later, in March 2006, Amos Manor, who was the head of the Shin Bet at the time of the speech, revealed the story to Haaretz correspondent Yossi Melman.
Melman's article had the following lead: "On the afternoon of Friday, April 13, 1956, Zelig Katz entered the office of Amos Manor, which was located in an Arab building opposite the flea market in Jaffa."
Mishal and Bar-Zohar write (page 48 in "The Mossad"): "On the afternoon of Friday, April 13, 1956, Zelig Katz entered the office of Shin Bet chief Amos Manor. Katz was Manor's assistant; his office was located in an old Arab building opposite the flea market in Jaffa."
Half a year later, Melman interviewed Grayevsky himself, who told him about his work as a double agent for the Shin Bet years later, after he immigrated to Israel.
"Shortly after the Soviet diplomats left Israel, Grayevsky was summoned to a meeting with his Soviet handler," Melman wrote. He then quoted Grayevsky: "'I received an urgent call and we arranged to meet at the same place in Kibbutz Tzova. Viktor Abramovich,' he told me, 'you did a great thing for the Soviet Union ... Accordingly, we have decided to award you the Lenin Medal for outstanding service."'
The same story appears on page 51 of "The Mossad" in the following words: "Shortly before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, Grayevsky was summoned for a talk with his Soviet handler at Kibbutz Tzova. The KGB man informed him solemnly that the Soviet Union wished to thank him for his devoted service and had decided ... to award him the Lenin Medal for his work!"
The book's co-author, Michael Bar-Zohar, says he heard the story of how the speech was obtained directly from Manor. "Amos was a close personal friend of mine, and I had occasion to talk to him about the Khrushchev speech," Bar-Zohar says. "Sitting in my living room, he told me how his secretary had told him, 'Some sort of speech by Khrushchev has arrived,' and that was the start of the whole story."
Still, what accounts for the close similarity between the wording in the book and in the article? Nili Avnat, one of the two researchers credited in the book, has worked with Bar-Zohar for many years.
"The research for the book took five-six months," she says. "Oriana [Almasi], the other researcher, and I collected material from newspapers, books and the Internet. We gave Bar-Zohar and Mishal only raw material, and they wrote the book's chapters themselves. In most cases we transmitted Word documents and in a few cases also photocopies of articles or reports from the Internet with highlighted sections. We had a whole archival file for every chapter."
Michael Bar-Zohar, why are there so many passages in the book that are almost identical to passages from books and articles written by others?
"Of course there is a similarity to things that others wrote, particularly in regard to quotations. We did that so the censors wouldn't bug us and ask where every quote came from."
But it's not only the quotations. For example, there is a passage that describes, supposedly in your words, how Amos Manor's assistant conveyed Khrushchev's speech to him, which is word for word the same as the lead to an article by Yossi Melman on the same subject.
"It's true that it's the same words you find in Melman, and the reason is that Amos Manor, who told me the same story, was meticulous about telling it the same way every time. I even laughed with Manor about how he doesn't change his story."
There are dozens of other cases of passages that look similar, such as in the chapter about Ethiopian Jewry. It's exactly identical to Gad Shimron's book.
"Correct. Shimron's book is indeed the primary source for that chapter, and we were careful to stick to his wording so that there would be little deletion of facts and data by the censors."
In other words, you and Mishal deliberately wrote a book that is almost identical to past books and newspaper articles?
"Yes, we were careful to stick to the sources, in terms of wording, because I know from experience that if the censors see information in the book that looks new to them, they might ban it altogether. When they see things that look exactly like what has already been published after clearing censorship, less information will be banned."
And did it pay off? Did the censors leave you alone?
"The censors deleted information in a few cases, just a handful, really, and that is definitely thanks to the fact that we preserved the quotations and the wording of others who preceded us."
The missing bibliography
Nissim Mishal, 61, is a veteran political journalist. Prof. Michael Bar-Zohar, 72, is a former Labor MK, has a Ph.D. in history from the Sorbonne and is a prolific writer of books on history, politics and security. He is the author of a three-volume biography of David Ben-Gurion and has also written biographies of Shimon Peres and of spymaster Isser Harel.
Mishal and Bar-Zohar are listed as the book's co-authors. Others who had a hand in the book were the two researchers, Nili Avnat and Oreana Almasi, and Rami Tal, a veteran nonfiction editor at Yedioth Ahronoth Books and a former Washington correspondent for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. (He is also the author of a thriller, published under the Yedioth Ahronoth imprint.) Another individual who worked on the book is Dov Eichenwald, the CEO of the publishing house. He is given preeminent credit as "managing editor."
The book raised questions immediately upon its publication in September. Why was there no bibliography? Why were the authors' journalist colleagues, whose work forms the basis for much of the book, not cited in the acknowledgments? (The only ones credited there are the two researchers, the editor and the cover designer.)
These omissions, together with the fact that there are no footnotes for the sources of the information (a practice which is admittedly rare in works aimed at a mass market), generated a feeling of unease among experts in the field, some of whom were interviewed for this article.
The investigation by Haaretz Magazine found that the absence of a bibliography was due to a technical error and that the second edition, which has been sent to bookshops, contains the full list of sources. Indeed, a copy of the new edition seen by Haaretz Magazine contains a complete bibliography, which includes all the sources mentioned in this article. In the meantime, though, 50,000 copies were sold without a bibliography, according to the publisher.
Moreover, a random check last week of four outlets of Israel's two largest bookstore chains turned up a number of copies of the first edition of the book in which the contents refer the reader to page 321 for the bibliography - whereas the book ends at page 319. Other copies make no mention of a bibliography. No copies containing the full bibliography were found in the bookstores visited.
A spokesperson for Yedioth Ahronoth Books explained last week that "the corrected edition has a print run of 3,000 copies, like every edition, and it is sent to the stores as soon as their stock is depleted. No instruction was issued to remove the copies without the bibliography from the shelves and replace them with the new edition, because we are waiting for the old edition to be sold out."
Prof. Bar-Zohar, the book came out in September, before Rosh Hashanah, and for two months has been sold in an edition that makes no mention of all the many books and articles on which it is based.
"True. There was some sort of hitch, about which I will not elaborate. We decided immediately to correct it, but I was abroad for the whole of September, and when I got back, on October 10, I dealt with it immediately. Now the book has been published with the bibliography and the sources, as it should."
Did you provide the publisher with the bibliography before you went abroad, but they mistakenly published the book without it?
"I will not go into this. There was a problem, and it was fixed. I was abroad, some of the bibliography items were not with me there, so it was only when I returned, on October 10, that the matter was dealt with. Naturally, this was with the concurrence of everyone involved. By the way, there was also a big rush to get the book out ahead of Rosh Hashanah."
You have written more than 20 books and have often been quoted in books by others. Why did you not insist that the publisher print copies with a bibliography immediately and replace the copies in the bookstores?
"I returned to Israel on October 10, and there was a new edition in less than 10 days. That's all. Until then it didn't bother me, because if anyone had asked me, I would have explained what happened, as I explained it to you. No one came to me with a complaint."
"When quoting a passage from a different work, it is necessary to get permission if a 'substantial part' of the work is quoted," says Dr. Dror Nahum, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property law and copyright law and is a legal adviser to the leading artists' agencies in Israel.
"In some cases," he notes, "copying a brief passage or even a single sentence could be considered a copyright infringement. In such a case, the purpose of the quotation is examined, along with the type of work that is quoted from, the amount copied and its essence in relation to the whole work. Use of a work in order to integrate it into a book that is distributed commercially will make it very difficult for the complainant to accept a 'fair usage' defense.
"At the conclusion of the editing process and before the book's physical production," he continues, "it is necessary to examine whether the manuscript contains passages which raise a suspicion of copyright infringement owing to quotations from protected works. In addition, the copyright owner must be asked for permission to use the quotations. Such usage also obliges the author to provide the original details - the writer's name, the title of the work and the date of its publication - with an acceptable emphasis."
Bar-Zohar continues to insist that the inclusion of the bibliography has solved the problem, while also reiterating his point about dealing with the military censors.
Conversations with sources at Yedioth Ahronoth Books turned up phrases such as "writer envy." The sources also pointed out that not all books of this type have a bibliography and that "only in [Ronen] Bergman's books is there an insistence on a complete biographical list."
It was also claimed that all the correspondents who cover the Mossad avail themselves of material published by foreign news agencies and Internet sites and that the correspondents do not maintain contacts with senior figures in the Mossad. Thus, it was said, much of the material in the book came from those "secondhand" sources, and not from published articles.
Nissim Mishal, Dov Eichenwald and Ronen Bergman declined to comment.
Read and burn
"The Mossad," page 40:
"'Fine,' Dagan said, 'we will burn it.' 'What do you want to burn?' one of the participants in the discussion asked incredulously. 'What do you mean, what? That institution. It has an address. We will burn it!' Some of the participants tried to explain to Dagan that there was no cash in the institution and that all the transfers were executed by computer. 'It makes no difference,' Dagan said. 'We will burn it anyway.'"
Ronen Bergman, in Yedioth Ahronoth weekend magazine, February 2010:
"'No problem,' Dagan said, 'let's burn it.' 'Burn what?' the Military Intelligence representatives asked, aghast. 'What do you mean, what?' Dagan snapped. 'The financial institution. It has an address. Let's burn it.' The participants explained to Dagan that there was no cash involved, that the accounts were computerized and also had backup elsewhere. 'It makes no difference,' Dagan said, 'let's burn it anyway, it can't hurt.'"
"The Mossad," page 310:
"For fear of leaks, the Mossad agents did not give the Jews advance warning. The Committee men instructed them to be on permanent standby, and when the signal came they were to leave their shacks secretly, take a few possessions and leave the ovens burning as a cover. And thus, family after family, the Jews slipped clandestinely out of the camps and walked in the dark to a pickup point in a small valley in the area, where Mossad agents awaited them."
"Mossad Exodus," by Gad Shimron, English edition, page 88:
"For fear of deliberate leaks or exposure due to nosy neighbors, the Jews were not given advance warning. They had been on permanent standby to leave their shacks secretly, leaving the fire burning in the ovens and taking very few possessions wrapped in a blanket or a kerchief. And thus, family after family, the Jews slipped clandestinely out of the camps and guided by Committee men, walked in the dark to the pickup point."
"The Mossad," page 233:
"On a summer day in 1997 a few passersby on the streets of Tel Aviv encountered two young people who shook cans of Coca-Cola and then opened them. The drink surged out with a loud noise. The people passing by gave the young men an angry look and then continued on their way. They didn't know that the two were Mossad agents who were testing the method by which it had been decided to assassinate [Hamas man Khaled] Meshal ..."
Ronen Bergman, in Yedioth Ahronoth weekend magazine, July 2006:
"September 1997. The more alert shop owners on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv could not have failed to notice two young, typically Israeli-looking men who returned to the busy street day after day. The two would not have stood out among the tens of thousands of people who packed the cafes and restaurants had it not been for their peculiar behavior: attaching themselves closely to the backs of passersby, they opened cans of Coca-Cola which had been given a good shaking. As expected, the lifting of the tab resulted in the passerby being sprayed with the drink, and in some cases also produced angry shouts... "
"The Mossad," page 51:
"In August 2007, Grayevsky was invited to Shin Bet headquarters, in the presence of senior Mossad and Shin Bet personnel and the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin. In a solemn ceremony, to which friends of Grayevsky and members of his family were also invited, he was awarded a certificate of appreciation for his work."
Yossi Melman, in Haaretz, October 2, 2007:
"Last August, he [Grayevsky] was invited to a ceremony at the Shin Bet with the participation of Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, family members and friends, in which he was awarded a certificate of appreciation for his contribution to the State of Israel."