Much of what I do here is based on trust. Trust with my sources. Trust between you, the reader, and me. Your trust in my judgment as a researcher and blogger. This, as I’ve written in the past, is a very delicate dance. Like with any complex dance, it’s easy to get the steps wrong. When you do you may look awfully awkward. Something like that happened in my recent reporting on Israel’s drone failures.
As readers will know, I’ve reported over the past two years about at least four failures of Israeli drones. My reports were based on a highly-placed and trusted source I use regularly. Those reports indicated that an external agent (likely Hezbollah or Iran or both) had hacked the navigation system of Israel’s drone fleet causing IAF controllers to lose the ability to steer the craft. The result was that the drones were deliberately crashed by the IAF so they would not fall into enemy hands.
After the latest crash, I received an anonymous e-mail from someone purporting to be an insider who knew about the crashes and the reasons for them. You can read those messages which I published here, here, and here. This was a new source for me and anonymous and this did raise a flag. He also used a fictious e mail address Irathernot@gmail.com. Though he likely spoofed his email so he couldn’t be tracked, this was the message header. If anyone can ferret out useful technical information from this, let me know:
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Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2013 13:14:25 +0000
Subject: few more anecdotes
From: Irather Not <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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Because of these concerns, I vetted the information with my trusted source and others as I could, and they deemed the information as credible enough to be worth reporting, which I did.
The Israeli security forum, Fresh, began to post material about the story with a link to my post. At a later point, a forum Admin posted a notice that I had received an e-mail from a source they knew and they predicted what the message said and what I would write in my post. If I had seen that Fresh posting I would’ve known of the fraud earlier and stopped using this source. But I didn’t find out about it until after I posted a final post.
This is what I believe happened, which is based on my knowledge of facts and some guesswork based on the pattern of events and other judgments I’ve made: my earlier reporting on Israeli drone failures derives from a trusted source, as I noted. In order to dampen the potential for scandal of a major military system facing repeated failures, the IAF or others involved with Israeli intelligence wanted to discredit those reports. That would mean any subsequent reporting by me or others on this theme would be immediately brought into question. It would also tend to discredit any future reporting I did on any subject involving Israeli national security or intelligence.
The Israeli hoaxster contacted Fresh at some point during the process of contriving the fraud. I don’t know whether the hoaxster revealed his true intention or merely used Fresh as a conduit for his plan. At any rate, he told Fresh about his messages to me and that they were frauds. This allowed Fresh to do the rest of the dirty work.
As with any good con, there has to be an element of truth in order to fool the mark. So I believe that a good deal of what the con man source told me was indeed true. In other words, he confirmed the drones were hacked by Iranians (I had speculated this myself though my trusted source had said he didn’t know who specifically was hacking the drones). The con source said that the hacking of the drones rendered the fleet unable to perform critical functions as part of any Israeli attack on Iran, such as disabling its air defense system. This too is plausible.
But any con will also contain falsehood known only to the con man and co-conspirators. So part of the story I was fed appears on second thought to be contrived. As I review my decisions and judgment, that’s where I should’ve had second thoughts. The con said that because the drone fleet was disabled it rendered Israel unable to mount a conventional attack on Iran. This would mean Bibi Netanyahu and the IDF would have to mount a nuclear attack on Iran. This is the part of the story that is likely bogus.
All this being said, this has taught me lessons and also ‘enriched’ my view of Israel’s intelligence apparatus and its methods. First, no stories will be published here from anonymous sources. No stories will be published when I have no means of contacting the source. If sources wish to contact me securely/anonymously I can offer encrypted protocols providing such security.
When dealing with Israeli sources who face the prospect of violating both Israeli censorship and gag orders (and all that this entails in terms of personal risk), it’s tempting to relax one’s level of skepticism and trust someone who may be making more personal sacrifices than you. But one of the victims of such cons is trust and I can no longer afford that level of openness, unfortunately.
Second, I want to put this con into proper context. There are two forms of fraud that Israelis have used here. One is an official con: an example of this is the Fordo sabotage story which Israeli intelligence put out just before it bombed a Hezbollah-bound arms convoy in Syria. It leaked this fake story in order to distract from its planned controversial raid (the first of several which followed), which violated Syrian sovereignty and also killed Iran’s commanding general in that country. The second type of con is the private one perpetrated by Israeli wanna-be security mavens. People who fly the flag of Israel and believe they’re doing God and Zionism’s work by proving how gullible I may be. The Fresh site is a perfect example of this as is David Lange and others. They’re classic gotcha hasbarists aiming to discredit political narratives that tarnish Israel’s military-security establishment.
The art of the con involves theft. Stealing something from a victim. In the usual case, it’s money. In this case, it’s reputation. The goal of this con is to steal my reputation. It’s essentially an act of cruelty. Once again it speaks far more about the character of the con men than it does about me. In a good many ways it matches the cruelty of the policies of the Israeli government and its Occupation (which in the minds of the hoaxsters, they are protecting).
Another thing to keep in mind: this con is built on a lie since a con is an act of deceit. If those who perpetrated this fraud lied to me they will lie to anyone to advance their goals. Anyone who places any degree of trust in any of them is waiting to be ambushed by the dirty reality in which they live.
There is an American equivalent to this phenomenon. It’s James O’Keefe, the Tea Party guerilla videographer who single-handedly destroyed the ACORN community action organization and who tried unsuccessfully to do the same to Planned Parenthood. He too used fraud and deception in the form of hidden video cameras and actors posing as prostitutes or worse. Instead of engaging in a political debate he can sustain, O’Keefe, like these con men, uses the slash and burn tactics of reality TV. They reflect more on the desperation of the hoaxsters than the integrity of the victim.
Returning to the nature of this particular con: it may’ve been a hybrid that involved official channels and private. The source who sent me the drone e-mails colluded in some way with Fresh. I don’t know to what extent he revealed himself to Fresh. But he clearly either is directly involved with Israeli intelligence or is collaborating with it.
In summary, the goals are two-fold: to blunt the impact of any scandal that might ensue from the failures of Israel’s drone fleet and discredit any future scoops I might publish on this or other security-related subjects. Most importantly, the only times my stories have been wrong has been the few instances when either official Israeli channels or private Israeli citizens have deliberately sought to perpetrate a hoax for ideological purposes.
Further proof of this agenda is that I was just contacted by a reporter for the Mako online news portal who wrote he would be publishing a story about this in two hours (as of when I read his message to me) and that if I wanted to comment I had to do so by then (after further consideration, the reporter has given me a longer deadline so that I might complete this post). This means that Israeli intelligence sources or private operatives (like Fresh) have put the story out to Israeli media. Most of you know that Israeli media often dutifully do the bidding of the security state. In this sense, the leak to Mako fits in perfectly. Get Israeli journalists to do the work for you of discrediting enemies of the security apparatus.
I would ask that any report on this story delve into the question of why Israelis, whether official or unofficial, would use such deceit in this manner. Those reading that resulting Mako story should note whether the reporter does his homework and notes the myriad scoops I’ve reported which were true and reported by such leading international media outlets as the BBC World Service (twice), Der Spiegel, the Daily Telegraph, and the New York Times.
Finally, I want to remind readers that my scoops mostly derive from one trusted source (even though this source has himself been fooled twice by official Israeli intelligence officials in stories reported to me). He has offered me more than a score of scoops that have proven the test of time as dead-on accurate. Stories that derive from him are trustworthy.
The problem has derived from the few instances when I’ve published stories from anonymous sources or sources I didn’t know previously. I’ve published two stories from such sources and both proved to be cons. This has taught me a lesson I won’t forget.
Readers ought to give some thought to why Israelis feel the need to perpetrate hoaxes. They need to put up a smokescreen that conceals truths that are perceived as damaging to Israeli interests. One of the ways they deem effective is to engage in deception that discredits an enemy. But the use of deception on as wide a scale as Israel uses officially, forces outsiders to discount anything they hear from such sources.
One of the most common themes of this blog is the endless uses of lies and half-truths in reporting about the Occupation from the IDF and Israeli intelligence. There are endless levels of secrecy and deceit involved in maintaining the Israeli security state. One of them happens to have impacted me.
Readers who understand all of these things will place this con in that context and know what happened and why. Others will jump for joy and shout from the rooftops about this victory of Israeli ‘ingenuity’ (i.e. trickery) over the enemies of the State. I trust that those who matter can distinguish between the two.
The fact of the matter is that when I’m fooled, I admit it. If any of the con men involved in this project were hoaxed they would never do so. It reminds me of Walter Mondale’s famous line during a debate with Ronald Reagan:
He won’t admit he’s going to raise your taxes. I just did.
The hoaxsters probably never report any story, even truthful ones, that have the impact and importance of the ones I’ve reported. That’s why I called them above frustrated security-wannabes.
I want to thank especially Dena Shunra for her support and counsel in this and other matters. Also, I’d like to thank a certain Israeli for providing incalculable help in doing what I do.