No holiday at Hotel Tell-All
The assassination at the Al Bustan Rotana was not the first time espionage agents have 'done business' in luxury accommodations. A CIA document written 45 years ago spelled out how operatives should act.
Last Friday, on the eve of the publication of pictures of 11 alleged Dubai assassins, the Mossad Web site published a wanted ad for a special operations task.
"You will have an opportunity to create a reality in which you play a central role," the ad said alluringly (in Hebrew), without mentioning age and other requisites. "If you possess daring, intelligence and sophistication, you will be able to wield influence and carry out a national and personal mission. If you can excite and motivate people - you may be what we are looking for. If you have all that, the Mossad is open to you."
The process of locating, recruiting, placing and training someone for work at the Mossad is a long-term affair. And the best way of advertising such a job these days may well be via the media focus on the agency following the assassination of a top Hamas man in Dubai (which Israel has been blamed for, but not claimed responsibility).
For the benefit of anyone who may be interested in the job, the Mossad also publishes its "vision and values," some of which not all its chiefs have always followed: "justice, integrity, morality, humility, personal responsibility, reliability, discipline and discretion." There is also an agency lexicon, in Hebrew, of terms explaining the difference, for example, between "leakage," in the sense of the "outflow of classified information to unauthorized personnel," and "leaking": "a method of psychological warfare, the controlled transmission of tendentious information, which includes false or true details, to an adversary, in order to serve the goals of the transmitter." And also "deliberate and malicious revelation of classified material to unauthorized personnel."
The furor around the Mabhouh affair thus started because of "leakage" from the Dubai police.
One of the terms that does not appear in the Mossad's lexicon is "Kidon," which the press says is the name of the organization's assassination squad. Also missing is "hotel."
Over 45 years ago, before the era of all-knowing computers and all-seeing cameras, the CIA distributed, for internal consumption, an article by one of its agents, James Lagrone, called "The Hotel in Operations." Lagrone wanted to teach CIA personnel the routine of hotel work, from the check-in (it's best to show up with a suitcase, even if it's packed with dirty laundry, in order not to arouse suspicion), to the procedure of the chambermaids who report to the person in charge of their floor ("Beware the maid who stops and talks ... [who says] more than 'Good day'") and so on up the chain, to the assistant manager - not forgetting the foolishness of putting a "Do not disturb" sign on the door.
According to Lagrone, the case officer should reserve a room in advance and not appear out of the blue. An expensive room is best, especially "corner suites, which are often used for entertainment," because "it is an axiom in the hotel business that occupants of the higher-priced rooms ... can get away with more noise and strange activity than ordinary guests." If a man and a woman - meaning a pair of case officers or a male handler and a female agent (the opposite is unreasonable, especially in Arab and Islamic countries) - arrive at a hotel, they should register as a married couple. Even if they look odd together, the hotel staff will likely become alerted if only the man registers and the woman slips away to the room.
"No telephone in a hotel can be trusted," Lagrone warned. "During the day, when the operators are busy, calls are only occasionally monitored; but at night, when phone traffic is light, it is common for the operators to monitor all conversations, even internal ones between rooms ... These practices, the result of police requirements and hotel efforts to control organized prostitution, together with the operators' curiosity and boredom, are worldwide ... the staff tends to be busy during the day with its regular work, but its inquisitiveness and capacity for observation go up sharply after 6 P.M. and practically double after 10."
Moreover, he wrote, usually the hotel's chief security officer and most of his assistants are former policemen, and security and hotel management customarily exchange information. For these reasons, it is worth recruiting key employees of hotels, particularly the manager, as intelligence sources. The manager's power is almost absolute, according to Lagrone.
Yet the Dubai police knew all that information - without looking at the Mossad Web site and presumably without reading the CIA instruction manual.
Waiting for answers
New Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein received a series of questions from Haaretz this week about his approach in principle to issues arising from the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. The Justice Ministry declined to say when Weinstein would reply to the questions.
The response of the attorney general was requested without any references to the accuracy of the allegations that the team belonged to the Mossad or to any other Israeli body. Specifically, Haaretz asked him whether he has the power to legitimize, and whether he in fact legitimized, operations abroad that violate the laws of foreign countries, including non-enemy states.
The state prosecutor and the attorney general are sometimes asked to authorize certain operations by the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police to legitimize seeming infractions of the law for the sake of the operations' success. Such illegal operations - in the perception of the country on whose soil they are carried out - might include violence (assassination) or property crimes (breaking and entering).
Fruthermore, Weinstein was asked if the attorney general is empowered to authorize any state institutions to make use of the identity of an Israeli citizen, or of a foreigner, without obtaining the person's permission. Israeli citizens (such as Melvyn Mildiner of Beit Shemesh and others) say their personal details were co-opted, without their knowledge or consent, to issue British passports which, according to the chief of the Dubai police, were used by members of the hit team. Weinstein was also asked how the attorney general is supposed to behave if he learns that an Israeli state institution made use of a citizen's identity without obtaining the person's consent and in a manner liable to endanger him.
What will Weinstein's position be if these citizens file complaints to the police? And if they do not go to the police, will the attorney general instruct the police to launch a criminal investigation on the basis of what he learned?
In thousands of Israeli homes an intriguing social game was played this week: Is it or isn't it her? Or is it him? That scrawny guy from the income tax department? Well, not every Clark Kent turns into Superman in the nearest phone booth. Is the souvenir that the mysterious uncle brought the children across the hall a teddy bear from the Emirates, or is it maybe Modhesh, the alien with the smiley face that was last summer's mascot in Dubai? It's been fascinating entertainment for those not involved, but not for certain other Israelis, whose identities were appropriated by mysterious bodies, and not for others who are agonizing with spiritual mentors about what to reveal to their future wives.
An IDF rabbi recently brought up the issue of halakhic problems regarding husbands in elite units keeping secrets from their wives.
Statistical data from the IDF officers' course that ended this week show that a quarter of all the new second lieutenants in field units are religiously observant. The army preparatory institutes are producing more combat soldiers and commanders than in the past for the special units, notably Sayeret Matkal.
It is only natural that those who serve in these units and prove themselves in demanding missions can keep a secret, and are thus quickly spotted as candidates for the Shin Bet and Mossad.
The journal of the IDF Rabbinate Corps recently published an article by Rabbi Shraga Natan Dahan, the chaplain of the infantry school located between Dimona and Yeruham. The article was devoted to the memory of Lt.-Col. Emmanuel Moreno from Sayeret Matkal, who was killed in the commando unit's operation against Hezbollah at Baalbek, in Lebanon, in August 2006. His photograph is still banned for publication.
"This is a story about a family whose sons fought in one of the IDF's elite secret units," Dahan wrote. "Did the family know that its sons were serving in these units, but was not sufficiently acquainted with their character and with the level of danger to which they are exposed every day? One day, the mother was surprised to see on a television program an item of her clothing that had gone missing from her closet. The item was seen at an assassination site somewhere in the world. It was only then that the mother grasped how dangerous her sons' task was."
Never mind the mother, who did not worry until she realized that "missions like these were carried out frequently by members of the secret elite units, who genuinely risked their lives," Dahan wrote.
The truly complicated problem, Dahan explained, arises ahead of marriage. The obligation of secrecy prohibits revealing to the prospective bride where her prospective husband is serving, but if, after the marriage, she discovers that he is in constant danger and is also not fulfilling his conjugal obligations, this might be a cause for demanding the annulment of the marriage and also compensation, as in cases of physical defect, serious illness and unknowingly entering into marriage with a "wicked man."
In the course of 11 pages, Dahan considers the matter from various angles and cites sages of differing opinions. His factual conclusion: As compared to other units, which are exposed to constant friction with a vigilant enemy and are not protected by a wall of secrecy, it's not so dangerous in Sayeret Matkal (and by extension also in the Mossad).
His recommendation: Hide behind a half-truth. "Let him say that he is in the Golani Brigade's reconnaissance unit and he will have the right to say afterward that it's not the unit that's important but the essence," he writes.