Intelligence: Dealing With The Devil

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July 2, 2008: Iran has condemned an Iranian citizen, Ali Ashtari, to death for spying for Israel. Ashtari was arrested 18 months ago, and was accused of attempting to set up connections between people in Iranian weapons development and nuclear research facilities, with Israeli intelligence. Israeli denied any connection with Ashtari.

Israel has a well deserved reputation for building and maintaining espionage networks in Moslem nations. The Israelis, naturally, don't like to talk about it. But over sixty years of this, some details have gotten out.

Israel relies on several basic techniques to carry out this very dangerous business. First, Israel, being an immigrant nation, has many citizens who once lived among Moslems. Well, not as many now as did several decades ago. But when Israel was founded in 1948, many Moslem nations responded by chasing out their Jewish citizens. Over half a million of those went to Israel, while others scattered to whatever nation would take them. Not only were these refugees intimately familiar with the cultures they had been expelled from, many maintained personal and commercial contacts back there. Israeli intel worked these exiles for information, as well as suitable candidates for intelligence work. A few of these were sent back as long term agents, to stay deep undercover, but to quietly collect whatever information they could. A few of these were caught, but most, apparently, never were.

Israel used commercial and diplomatic connections to recruit agents among foreign populations. Even though many of these agents were anti-Semites, they could be bought for money, or other favors. Israeli recruiters never had to fear a media bashing back home for working with lowlifes. That's how espionage worked, and the Israelis would do business with anyone. Some foreign spies did it out of idealism, but this was rare, and not considered as trustworthy as money. Israel was not looking for superspies, just lots of little bits of reliable information. Israeli analysts could put the bits together to create accurate pictures of what was going on. It wasn't perfect, but the much larger intel agencies like the CIA and KGB (plus the smaller, but very capable, French, British and German operations), always had high regard for the Israelis.

Finally, because Israel has been under attack constantly for the past sixty years, that gives its espionage operatives an edge. They are at war, and their work is literally a matter of national survival. So the idea that Israel got to Ashtari, a guy who supplied the Iranian military with electronic gear (often from questionable sources, because of all the embargos), is certainly possible.

 


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