Surreptitious Intelligence Agencies

by Richard Kostelanetz (October 2013)

I’d written before about the killing of Osama bin Laden as a hoax that took out somebody no doubt resembling OBL but probably not him, who disappeared many years ago. I cited several suspicious moves to support my hypotheses, beginning with the absence of any photographs measuring a man much taller than most and then the quick mysterious disposal of his body. What I failed to mention was the most suspicious fact of all—that American military from the President on down took credit for an operation that a true intelligence agency would have let go uncredited.

Consider, by contrast, the video made in America a few years ago defaming Muhammad. It prompted protests, sometimes anti-American, sometimes violent, around the Arab world. Let me suggest that this resulted from a clandestine operation by the Israeli Mossad, commonly judged the most sophisticated intelligence agency in the world, making all others look like duffers. This reputation comes not because the Israelis are murderous, though murder they sometimes do, but because they are far more clever, as David must be if surrounded by Goliaths, particularly at setting into motion certain provocations that produce a desired result.

I can recall a sometime American diplomat in Africa telling me that whenever anything puzzling happened in the 1960s, such as an African independentista showing up in Western Europe, the Americans guessed that the Mossad arranged it, even if they didn’t take credit or indeed publicize their involvement in any way. Everyone else could guess that no other intelligence was smart enough to calculate such an unusual move, in this case to gain contact and perhaps some credit, if not a debt, with a future African political leader.

Years ago I conjectured in print that someone in Israeli intelligence paid or merely encouraged some delinquent Palestinian kids to throw stones at Ariel Sharon’s motorcade as it provocatively passed through East Jerusalem. Deceived by self-defeating ideology, sure enough they did. When the Israel Defense Force responded, the result was the Second Intifada, which was far more costly to Palestinians than Israelis. Indeed, those stupid kids’ misbehavior indirectly got a lot of people needlessly killed and, incidentally, Sharon reelected. Simply, if they hadn’t thrown those stones, the tough Israeli response wouldn’t have happened. The cunning trick is getting your opponent to make self-confident moves that ultimately will benefit not his side but yours.

More recently, I commended the cunning Israeli strategy of confining Yasser Arafat to his compound. Instead of killing him, as they could have easily done, they kept him alive as a lousy leader more concerned with ripping off benefactors than improving the plight of his people. The support Arafat had among pious Western lefties only made the Israeli move smarter. Now that he’s gone from natural causes, I’m sure that Israeli leaders miss him.

This background accounts for why I perceive the Mossad’s cunning hand in the videotape purportedly made in Southern California portraying Mohammad in an unflattering light. The response was anti-American protests all over the Arab world. Once shown on international television, such anti-American protests in Libya could be duplicated elsewhere in the Middle East, mass communication being a great teaching machine, all without any Israeli intervention.

What the mobs are too stupid to consider is how their violence will be understood. The implicit theme is letting Arabs demonstrate to the outside world that their disrespect for Western liberal values is fearsome and thus that their immigration into the West should be restricted. Simply, no Westerner wants guys like these in their own country, let alone their own neighborhood. (Do you?) I’m reminded of the acronym popular a few decades ago—NIMBY, meaning, mostly for blacks and Latinos, not in my backyard. Were I an Arab-American I’d be working overtime to distance myself and my neighbors here from these dangerous fools.

A second evident theme of massive street protests is that the Muslim governments that can’t control their populations should not be trusted with any advanced weaponry. A further effect is challenging Iran, currently regarded as the most fearsome Middle East country, to demonstrate that it can control not only its population but the rest of the Muslim world. (Don’t be surprised if the Iranians flunk this test, as they’ve done others.)

Since the origins of the provocative Innocence of Muslims are murky, let me suggest that the Mossad could have funded it as well. The filmmaker is said to be an Egyptian Coptic residing south of Los Angeles. As he had a history of financial problems, his production money must have come from someone else. Though this backer might have no visible connection to Israeli intelligence, such an intermediary could have gotten it from a third party, say a Mossad operative who, as a condition of his donation, requires that his identity be kept secret. Such distancing is not unusual in the covert intelligence biz.

Whoever this ultimate patron was, he nonetheless should have imagined what might happen once a trailer (and just a trailer) for The Innocence of Muslims was posted on the Internet and then, as a further stimulus, later translated into Arabic. If crazy Libyans didn’t get incensed, other Muslim loonies elsewhere would have. And every media would rush to cover them. Some fools are 100% reliable. Any wiseguy familiar with how the world works nowadays could have bet on it. No matter that no one has seen the complete film purportedly 90 minutes long. It may even not exist. As merely the possibility of it, exemplified by a trailer universally available, generated certain political effects, it may not need to exist.

Don’t expect the clever schemers in the Mossad to take credit for generating such worldwide mischief. Safely in Israel, they pushed buttons that, once recipients got signaled, pushed other buttons causing effects in lands far away. Respecting current successes, we can bet such provocations will happen again (and again) until puppets wake up. The two measures of a truly successful surreptitious maneuver should first be seeing beyond an opening strategic move to its likely results and then leaving no public trace—even better, letting no one suspect that any covert agency was involved.

May I be surprised that Arab “intellectuals,” predisposed to blame the Mossad for everything including 9/11, have not yet identified its possible role here? Perhaps the reason is that such a charge would make Arabs, rather than Americans or other Westerners, say, appear duped into presenting to the world a negative image of themselves. When will Muslim leaders learn that nothing gets media publicity like attempted censorship? The Pakistani government even called a national holiday to encourage mobs to protest.

Whereas aspiring pornographers once wanted their books and films banned in Catholic Boston, now anything provoking a Muslim mob gets television coverage and thus an audience greater than it previously had, not just in Boston or America but around the world. Salman Rushdie’s publishers reluctantly discovered this sales device two decades ago. How neat to generate publicity far from one’s backyard (but not a television screen), what a pleasure to watch this circus, even though then as now, some innocent Westerners got killed.

Don’t forget that Israel has been more zealous than most about keeping state secrets secret. Its most notorious defector, the nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, was arrested not for giving information to any enemy—no one claims he did. Instead, he simply revealed news of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, with the authority of a former employee, to some British press in 1986. So cruel and persistent has Vanunu’s imprisonment been that no Israeli has since made any comparable disclosure of just the existence of secret government activities. Only those in Israel who need to know know, and they ain’t talking. Were I currently residing in Israel, could I be similarly incarcerated simply for writing my hypotheses here?

Since I’m generally sympathetic to Israel’s aims, certainly with respect to defending itself against its immediate neighbors, I initially circulated these speculations among colleagues before offering them for publication. From a high-school classmate who worked for our CIA in several counties, I got this amusing response:

If I knew anything, which I do not, I would not be at liberty to disclose it. Since I know nothing, anything I think is speculation – and that would fill several pages on an average day.

That’s the Voice of Inside Intelligence speaking. Another high school classmate, who had worked for the US foreign service often in the Middle East, identifies ulterior cunning in another detail: “Even if the film were make by the Egyptian Copt it was purported to be, it really makes no sense for an Egyptian Copt to translate his film into Arabic to inflame Muslims. All this would lead to would be more violence against Copts.” If not a Coptic Christian, who funded the translation? A second possibility might be some American intelligence agency, may I suggest, recalling that President Obama has reportedly doubled the budget for covert intelligence, which is to say enough available money for moves not done before.

One colleague thinks that Muslim riots will prompt the Obama administration to get involved with problems that might better be left alone: “Unfortunately, our response will be to send more money, more weapons and more weapons training to Egypt and Libya and anywhere else mass tantrums are sewn. Plus an apology. Just watch.” I hope not, as pouring more American money and weapons into anywhere in the Middle East, aside from Israel, creates more problems than it solves, as both get misused. Nonetheless, it will become clear, once the dust settles, that the principal beneficiary of these recent Arab street protests will be Israelis smirking high in a distant balcony.

To this colleague’s objection to my implication that Jews necessarily make better intelligence agencies, I reminded him that the stereotype might be true. I twice wrote an appreciation of Markus Wolf, the chief of East German intelligence as the second most ingenious in the world (after the Israeli), regularly disrupting West German politics, incidentally noting that he was Jewish. (So is John Deutsch, briefly our CIA’s chief.) May I particularly commend Wolf’s speculation, new to me, that his STASI and the CIA, otherwise notorious, kept post-WWII peace by scaring their respective host governments.

More seriously, a literary colleague more familiar with Israel, reminds me that the Mossad, as an external intelligence agency, had nothing to do with the Jerusalem stoning.

In reality the uprising was planned months before by Arafat and his circle before, because at the July 2000 Camp David summit Israel offered the Palestinians a state. Arafat, a rigidly doctrinaire pan-Arabist (i.e., a true believer in the Nasserist desideratum of a single Arab state stretching from the Iranian border to the Atlantic), tactically yakked about a Palestinian state, and couldn't be seen publicly as preventing the creation of such an entity.

Establishing such premeditation would be problematic were it not for the results:

So his response to the Israeli offer was to go to war against Israel, and thereby hopefully cure rational Israelis of their wishful thinking about ‘two states living alongside each other in peace,’ which Arafat regarded as the great obstacle to the fulfillment of his pan-Arab dream.

Even if it doesn’t account for the kids with their stones, which weren’t foolish for nothing, this seems a credible correction that I accept.

As for my hypothesis of Israeli agents provocateurs, as they’ve long been called, another colleague reminds me of the Lavon Affair, which he describes as the principal scandal in Israel’s short history. Back in 1954, another Israeli intelligence agency separate from the Mossad, Agaf Modi'in, commonly called Aman, directly reporting to the Israel Defense Force, paid Egyptian Jews to plant bombs inside targets owned by Brits, Americans, and Egyptians. The ulterior aim was telling the larger world about anti-US/UK terrorism by Egyptian nationalists. The Israeli operatives indirectly sought to persuade both the US and Britain to spurn Egyptian nationalism and, more specifically, to induce Britain to retain its military forces near the Suez Canal. What happened instead was that an Aman officer was turned by the Egyptians. Once the cell was exposed, some committed suicide; others were executed. And Britain left the Suez Canal.

My friend seriously doubts if Israel ever again mounted what he calls “a false-flag provocation in an Arab Country.” Perhaps. What can I say except that if the Mossad doesn’t support provocateurs in potential Arab mobs they’re missing opportunities. Even if Israelis didn’t finance Innocence of Muslims, they should have. Such clever maneuvers are far cleaner and more effective than sending troops or dropping bombs. Little Israel’s survival depends not upon its nuclear weaponry but upon cleverly exploiting discord and disunity in the far more populous Arab world.

Having doubted on this website ("Skepticisms" New English Review May, 2012) whether the Arab killed in Pakistan in the spring of 2011 was really Osama bin Laden, whom, I’d previously conjectured, had disappeared a decade before. Mostly questioning the lack of visual evidence that could have been easily provided, incidentally wondering why the cadaver so mysteriously disappeared, I concluded two years ago that the event was an attractive hoax designed to enhance the President’s public approval ratings, as indeed it did, additionally giving his campaign a slogan for the 2012 election. Reconsidering this bin Laden episode in the wake of my appreciation of the Mossad, may I offer an additional reason for doubting the Obama claim: For a true stealth operation, no credit is desired, even if everyone suspects.


Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art,,, and, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.


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