NOTE: The Nation has published my new piece on NSO Group and Black Cube. It is my first piece published there in years. I’m proud of it and hope you will read and pass it on…
Why Israel, of course!
But this post is going to start out in a strange place far removed from the Middle East. And I promise that though the starting point is Mongolia, this is not a post about Mongolia (no offense to Mongolia).
Today’s news reported that a Turkish citizen who’s resided in Mongolia for twenty years was kidnapped by Turkish intelligence agents. The Turkish military had chartered a plane and flown it to Ulan Bator to complete the kidnapping. Only a ‘strange thing happened on the way to the forum’…the victim managed to notify friends and family about his predicament and they went to the airport and attempted to stop the kidnapping. When the Mongolian authorities found out about these shenanigans (that’s assuming they weren’t in on the kidnapping from the beginning) they held the plane on the ground and refused it permission to depart. The kidnappers relented and permitted the man to exit the plane. He is now safe at home in Mongolia.
How and why did this happen? As you no doubt know, Turkey’s president has a megalomaniacal, pathological impulse to see enemies everywhere. As he rose to power, he made common cause with an Islamic group founded by Fetullah Gulen. Gulenists had infiltrated many public institutions and government agencies. From these perches they were able to protect Erdogan’s own political party and its hold on power.
But there was a falling out and Erdogan eventually declared the Gulenists Public Enemy #1. A few years ago, there was a coup attempt against Erdogan, supposedly orchestrated by the Gulen movement. Whether or not this is true, the Turkish leader took advantage of the failure of the coup to launch a massive social cleansing of “undesirable elements” in all walks of Turkish life. Hundreds of thousands of public servants including teachers, journalists, army and police officers, and officials have either been arrested or fired from their jobs.
Until yesterday, we didn’t know that Turkey’s military and intelligence services had also orchestrated an international campaign to kidnap the government’s enemies and bring them to “justice.” Despite this particular failed attempt, Erdogan’s henchmen announced that they successfully kidnapped 18 such individuals from countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Burma. There must be all sorts of international and local laws that such operations violate, unless of course the Turks have secured the cooperation of local authorities themselves, either through corrupt dealings or tacit agreements.
The Turks are not the only country to engage in such aggressive acts against overseas enemies or dissidents. China routinely kidnaps its citizens and Hong Kong nationals and spirits them back to China for interrogation sessions or even arrest, when they are engaged in activities the Communist regime considers transgressive. It refuses to recognize the foreign citizenship of any Chinese native or offer them any protections or rights as citizens of other countries.
Ah, but you knew we weren’t going to end this discussion without mentioning Israel, right? If you’ve been reading this blog for some time you’ll recall the case of Dirar Abusisi. He’s the former Gaza civil engineer who helped run the local power plant. After Hamas pressured him to cooperate in unspecified ways, he decided to flee to the Ukraine, his wife’s native country, and apply for citizenship there.
Hamas, not happy that one of its own rejected its advances and attempted to fly the coop, sought revenge on Abusisi. At the time, Hamas was holding Gilad Shalit captive and the Israelis were tearing their hair out trying to determine his location to free him. The Islamist group relayed to Israeli intelligence sources that Abusisi was a key player in the kidnapping and knew where Shalit was (he didn’t). Israel then mounted a major intelligence operation to locate, kidnap and forcibly return his to Israel for debriefing.
In doing so, the Mossad orchestrated a massive campaign, which enlisted the support of Jordanian intelligence (Abusisi went from Gaza to Egypt and then to Jordan, before boarding a plane for Ukraine). They also engineered the collaboration of Ukrainian security officials in the kidnapping of Abusisi from a Ukrainian train. He was taken to an apartment in Kiev, drugged and placed in a coffin and flown back to Israel.
When the Israelis discovered Abusisi had no information about Shalit, they were left holding the bag. They could not admit they’d been fooled by Hamas. They could not simply let Abusisi go free and have walking evidence of their being duped.
So they concocted a story that he had been Hamas’ chief rocket engineer responsible for developing the technology necessary to build a missile fleet that could threaten Israel. Abusisi, though he had a civil engineering degree in operating power plants, knew nothing about rockets.
But once a Palestinian security suspect is in the grip of the Israeli security apparatus he cannot extricate himself. There is no such thing as rule of law or even proof of guilt. The system is rigged so that you have two choices: 1. refuse to cop a plea and fight the system forever; or 2. cop a plea and remain a prisoner for “only” a decade or two. At least, you will have something left of the rest of your life.
I bring up Abusisi’s case both because it represents the Israeli intelligence apparatus at its worst; and because it offers an example of a country, like Turkey, which uses such illegal and transgressive methods to fight its enemies, real or imagined.
But to really understand how Israel uses the technique of kidnapping, you have to go back in time much farther to 1960. This was the first time that Israel mounted such an operation in the apprehension of Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, who was in hiding in Argentina. After confirming his hiding place and identity, he was kidnapped off the street, hustled into a waiting vehicle, sedated, and put on a plane back to Israel. There he was charged with genocide and war crimes, and eventually hung. At the time, few people criticized the Israel operation, since bringing a war criminal to justice was considered a laudable act.
However, Israel had already used the same technique in a manner that wasn’t laudable at all. I wrote this post in 2011 about the Mossad’s favorite doctor who accompanied top Mossad spy, Rafi Eitan, on his kidnapping mission involving Eichmann.
Dr. Elian also went on a different mission, Operation Bren, that ended disastrously. It happened in 1954, preceding the Eichmann kidnapping, as I wrote here:
Elian also inadvertently killed one of the Mossad’s targets on one of these missions. In 1954, the Mossad got word that an Israeli engineer, Capt. Alexander “Avner” Israel, was offering military secrets to the Egyptians in Europe. Dubbing it Operation Bren (p. 4 ff.), they hastily dispatch a team to kidnap him and bring him back to Israel to stand trial for treason. The team found their quarry quickly through the use of a “honeypot” female agent (shades of Mordechai Vanunu) who lured him to a romantic Paris rendezvous. Then Elian sedated him and the victim was hustled off to an Israeli military transport plane. Unfortunately, the plane had to make several refueling stops and each time he was sedated anew. Apparently this anesthesiologist didn’t realize there were limits to how much sedation a human being could take and he gave the man an overdose and he died.
When the plane landed and they discovered they’d killed him they decided there should be no evidence left behind. To accomplish the cover-up, they promptly took off once again and dumped the body in the Mediterranean Sea. Isser Harel, then Mossad chief, never told the victim’s family a word about the man’s death. No compensation was ever offered for the murder. As Prof. Shlomo Spiro wrote in a paper on the subject of ethics[!] in the field of Israeli intelligence:
“The Mossad then obliterated every reference to the man in Israeli official files, and the case kept secret for five decades. Generations of Mossad officers heard rumors of this failed operation, many knew the details, but nothing was done to inform Alexander’s family or provide for their support.”
As you can see, Israel has been using roughly the same technique for nearly 70 years, both on Israeli citizens and foreign enemies. As in many other areas of international espionage and counter-terror tactics, it has pioneered operations that have been widely adopted by other nations throughout the world. Though some Israelis are proud of such prowess and how it is emulated by foreign countries, there is nothing to be proud of. Israel, as I wrote in my new piece published in the Nation, manages to plumb the depths of questionable intelligence practice. It murders, steals, kidnaps virtually at will with almost no regard for anything but Israeli interests. Ethics is a dirty word. Something that only major world powers can afford. Israel manages to excuse its refusal to adhere to ethical standards by arguing that its enemies don’t respect them, so it would be at a disadvantage if it did. Which is absolute nonsense. Israel is the avatar of intelligence practice at its worst. And it exports its bad habits and makes them common practice throughout the world.