The American administration moved aggressively to curb activities by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Israel Ziv in Latin America between 2008 and 2010, threatening to cut ties with governments if they hire the services of Ziv's security company, Global CST, according to two diplomatic cables recently published by WikiLeaks.
Global CST provides security consulting and military training to security forces in Latin America and Africa, and more recently made a pitch for civilian projects as well.
The State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks suggest Ziv's and Global CST's activities were closely monitored by the American administration. U.S. diplomats reported on Ziv's negotiations with the governments of Columbia, Peru and Panama, and even tried to undermine, sometimes successfully, dealings with Global CST. The cables appear to show that the hostility was prompted not only by financial interests but by concern that Ziv's activity posed a security risk to the U.S.
In late 2009, the Americans applied strong pressure on the Panamanian government to stop any cooperation with Ziv. On November 25, 2009, U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson met Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli, his deputy Juan Carlos Varela and Minister for the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu. She told them the company has already "created problems" in Colombia and Peru, and threatened that "the presence of Israeli contractors in Panamanian ministries would by necessity restrict U.S. government security cooperation and information sharing."
Stephenson further advised the president and the other officials to speak to the commander of the Bogota police, General Oscar Naranjo, and secure his opinion on the matter. The cable, written by Stephenson's deputy, said that President Martinelli was surprised by the statement but promised to consult his Colombian counterpart, President Alvaro Uribe. "We don't want to change friends," the Panamanian president told Stephenson.
Martinelli and his deputy could hardly be aware that just the day before, the U.S. ambassador to Bogota, William Brownfield, met with Naranjo and asked him to assist in the campaign against Ziv and Global CST. Naranjo told the ambassador that Defense Minister Gabriel Silva was not pleased with his ministry's connections to Israel and described the relationship between the Colombia police and Maj. Gen. Ziv and his company as a "disaster." He went on to say that the Panamanian authorities have asked him for information and that he provided negative feedback, and will be willing to warn the Peruvian authorities if requested.
The cable written by Brownfield contains at least some of the background for the American reservations regarding Ziv's activities. He wrote that senior Colombian officials had raised "security concerns" regarding Global CST, and that the Colombian government was finding it difficult to work with the company without sharing American intelligence information.
The reluctance to share such information appears to go back to an embarrassing incident in February 2008, when, according to the cable, a Global CST translator named Shai Killman photocopied classified documents belonging to the Colombian defense ministry.
According to the cable, this was "an unsuccessful attempt to sell them to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC ) through contacts in Ecuador and Argentina. The documents allegedly contained high value target (HVT ) database information. Ziv denied this attempt and sent Killman back to Israel."
When reached for comment, Killman said that he was being "slandered" and no such incident ever took place.
An Israeli source who worked with Ziv in Colombia at the time confirmed to Haaretz that an incident of this type took place, but denied there was an attempt to sell classified documents. "This was a guy who acted inappropriately," the source said. "He was immediately kicked out of the company. There was no damage done to anyone - not to Colombia, not to the United States and not to Israel."
Other cables show there was tight monitoring of Ziv and his staff. "Over the last two years, Embassy officers visiting the MOD and Colombian military have observed an increased presence of Israeli advisors," noted the ambassador in one cable in December 2009. "Beginning in December 2006, Colombia's Ministry of Defense engaged Global CST to help the government of Colombia conduct a strategic assessment of the internal conflict. Global CST assessment focused on defeating the FARC and other internal terrorist and criminal organizations by 2010, but also included an evaluation of external threats including Venezuela and Ecuador."
The ambassador wrote that Global CST began working in Colombia thanks to personal connections between Ziv and then-defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos. "Over a three-year period, Ziv worked his way into the confidence of former Defense Minister Santos by promising a cheaper version of assistance without our strings attached. We and the government of Colombia learned that Global CST had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs.
"Global CST was not transparent with us, and tried to insert itself into our classified discussions with the government of Columbia. Given the government's experience with Global CST, it is no surprise that the Defense Ministry is pulling back from them and warning neighbors that their deals are not as good as advertised," the cable continued.
Two weeks of a sustained American campaign brought about the desired result when on December 13, 2009, Papadimitriu met with the American ambassador and informed her that all connections with Global CST will be suspended.
Sources close to Global Group told Haaretz that the document-copying affair was an incident that took place several years ago, when a minor and temporary translation worker was suspected of planning to pass on some documents of little importance, against the company's rules. The intention was never realized, after the company and Colombian authorities exposed the intent and jointly acted to prevent the move. The worker was immediately dismissed, the source said, adding that trying to link that incident to an incident in a different country was baseless speculation.
Spanning three continents
Maj. Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv set up Global CST in 2006, after retiring as head of operations at the IDF General Staff. The company was mentioned in media coverage of a number of security-related affairs in Georgia, Africa and Latin America. In recent years, Ziv was joined by a string of retired top brass, including former head of research at Military Intelligence, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, and retired major general David Tzur, a former Tel Aviv district police commander.
Zivs men trained the Georgian army in the middle of the past decade, before the war with Russia prompted Israel to cut part of the military aid to Georgia. It was speculated that Global CST personnel assisted in the release of FARC hostage and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and Ziv has signed a contract with the Colombian government to plan strategy against the underground.
The company also trains counterterrorism units in Togo, Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria, and won a $10 million contract to train the presidential guard of Moussa Dadis Camara, leader of a short-lived coup detat in Guinea. Ziv was rapped for the contract by the defense ministry and fined by NIS 90,000.