How the CIA Operates in Israel

The American intelligence agency bears the main responsibility for the military development of the Palestinian Authority. CIA agents organized courses for snipers, trained special units, and provided sophisticated listening devices, all in exchange for security cooperation with Israel. Now George Tenet, the head of the organization, and John O’Connor, station chief in Israel, have become the only communications channel between the sides. No great success has been chalked up

THE INTELLIGENCE PROS [note: the Hebrew used for “pros” – ashfei – also uses the same letters as the Hebrew for PLO – ASHAF]

At the unsuccessful Paris summit George Tenet, the Director of the CIA, met Yasser Arafat, and demanded that he calm the atmosphere and stop the violence. Tenet did not forget to remind the Palestinian leader that it was not for nothing that the CIA has a reputation of builder and destroyer of nations. According to the British Independent newspaper, the head of the Palestinian Authority was not impressed by the threat.

This was not the first time that Tenet met with Arafat. The Director of the American intelligence agency is considered to be the patron of Israeli-Palestinian-American cooperation since ’96. Over the course of years, Tenet and Arafat met in the region a number of times in order to clinch security deals. Thus the organization, and especially Tenet, who heads it, have gradually become an integral part of all the contacts conducted between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the last three years. And thus the head of the organization, who is responsible for the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contras scandals (who did not anticipate even a single important political development in the region, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the Oslo accords), has become the object of the wet dreams of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

The American agents trained sniper units, policemen, and intelligence officers, and conducted military exercises for additional units in the Palestinian military apparatus. They also provided sophisticated equipment, built a headquarters for Jibril Rajub, from which they also operate, and operated satellite stations in the Authority’s cities. The Israeli governments, that felt confident of American support, did not express opposition, knowing that, in the final analysis, American intelligence information concerning what was happening in the Authority would aid the security situation in Israel.

Everything has gone topsy-turvy in recent weeks. The security cooperation between Israel and the Authority has become a faint memory, and except for individual initiatives by political elements, in recent weeks, since the outbreak of the riots, Tenet, by means of John O’Connor, the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv, has succeeded in taking control of the communications channels between Israel and the Palestinians. O’Connor was actively involved in the attempts to rescue Yusef Madhat from Joseph’s Tomb about a month ago, and according to the testimony of security sources, also in the surrendering of the lynchers from Ramallah. After four years of active involvement by the CIA in the security contacts between the sides, the failure to calm the situation is glaring. The agreements (that were violated) concerning the Beit Jala-Gilo sector and the meetings between Israeli and Palestinian security elements in Cairo placed O’Connor, Tenet, and the entire CIA organization in the embarrassing situation in which the sides may possibly be beating a path to their door, but do not honor any agreement to which they committed themselves before it [the CIA].

An Opening for the PLO [Hebrew wordplay: petah le-Fatah]

The CIA’s ties with the Palestinians are not something new. Similar to other regions in which the Agency developed ties with the countries with which the US does not officially talk, this also happened with the Palestinian movements and with the PLO.

This began in the ‘seventies in Lebanon, when Bob Ames, the CIA station chief there, started to maintain ties with elements in the Arab world, and especially with PLO people and other factions in Lebanon. In meetings with Israelis he told a great deal about his ties with Abu Jihad and Arafat. The Americans preferred to conceal these ties because of Israeli opposition, and the Palestinian identification with the Soviet bloc, but this did not prevent them from maintaining the open channel. Thus, for example, they exchanged messages with the leading members of the Young Fatah in Beirut, most prominent among whom was the Operations Officer of Black September and the founder of Force 17, Ali Hasan Salameh, who would later be murdered by the Mossad in the explosion of a car bomb.

Salameh served, among other tasks, as the central intelligence officer of the Fatah, alongside Abu-Iyad, and on the background of his ties with Ames, he delivered lectures twice at the headquarters of the CIA organization at Langley, Virginia, about the then-forming PLO. Salameh would later recompense the Americans by protecting the US embassy in Beirut at the beginning of the Lebanese civil war, and provided security for the evacuation of American citizens from the city in 1976. These ties were never broken: Ames mediated between Israel and Arafat during the course of the transfer of the PLO forces from Beirut to Tunis, and Arafat, who met with him on a steady basis, always regarded the ties with the US as a central goal. A tangible insurance policy, paralleling the PLO’s ties with the USSR and the Eastern bloc.

In the ‘eighties the Americans maintained a direct link with Abu-Iyad, that also included preliminary feelers after the eruption of the intifada in 1987, in an attempt to examine the possibility of diplomatic negotiations between the PLO and Israel. These ties became public in the meetings between Robert Pelletreau, the US ambassador in Tunis, and Yasser Abu-Rabo, the deputy of Naif Hawatma, the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The American contacts were conducted in parallel to the Palestinian ties with France and security services in additional European countries. In 1990 the US announced the suspension of the dialogue with the PLO, that was already public, in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein. Despite this, the contacts continued, and upon the conclusion of the Gulf War and at the time of the preparations for the Madrid Conference the tie once again became public.

The secret negotiations conducted at Oslo between Israel and the PLO caught the CIA by surprise. Even if the Americans knew about some of the meetings, they certainly were not aware of their scope and significance, and they only got on the horse after the fundamental agreements had been reached. The main importance of the story, however, lies specifically in the consequences for the relationship between the Palestinian national movement and the US, consequences that, as far as Arafat is concerned, make an appearance at present as well. The connection with the CIA fulfills a number of goals for him, at this time as well. This is a connection that also guards his life as the head of the Palestinian national movement against the radical elements in Fatah and in Libya, in Iran, and in Iraq. Arafat understood that he needs a new intelligence arrangement. He began to search for this, and he also found it.

Problems in Concentrating

When Arafat signed of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993, Arafat received, for the first time, vital legitimacy from Israel, and with it American support. Israel presented him as a partner and ally in the war against the Hamas terror. The seal of approval received even stronger validity in the Cairo agreement in May 1994, that permitted the entry of the Authority to Gaza and Jericho, and later to the cities of the [West] Bank as well. Before the entry of the forces, security matters were clarified, such as the scope and structure of the Palestinian police. The entire process created exaggerated Israeli expectations. In practice, Arafat did not really take control of the Hamas and Fatah, who were active in the field. Rather, Arafat’s entry to Gaza was also accompanied by a change in the format that had been determined in the agreements. Instead of establishing an administration of the different policing mechanisms that would command the forces, Arafat began to direct the police in a centralized manner. The number of the mechanisms and their function changed; thus came into being the General Intelligence apparatus, under the command of Amin al-Hindi, from Black September; the Preventive Security apparatus, that was headed by Mohammed Dahlan in the Gaza Strip and Jibril Rajub in the [West] Bank; and a string of additional organizations such as Force 17, the Presidential Guard, the Special Security, and the National Security – the Palestinian army, that is based primarily on members of the Palestine Liberation Army that was deployed in Arab countries. Arafat directly controlled each apparatus and intervened in what happened in each, to the smallest details.

Upon the outbreak of the recent riots, the intelligence officers of the Central Command, who briefed IDF forces in Bitunia to the west of Ramallah, warned that the Palestinians received training in anti-terror measures and sniper marksmanship from foreign experts in the tent camp near Jibril Rajub’s new headquarters. It can hardly be said that, as far as the IDF is concerned, that this is an exceptional development. Already in 1994, upon the entry to the territories of the Authority’s forces, Israel accepted this pattern. The goal was strengthening Arafat against the Hamas.

Dr. Boaz Ganor, from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliyah, explains: “At the basis of the conception was the idea of reliance upon the Palestinian intelligence capabilities, especially since in ’93 they were vastly superior to our [intelligence capabilities] as occupiers. This is a system that lives within its people, is familiar with it, and receives cooperation from it.”

And so thousands of Palestinian police found themselves receiving American training, along with courses by Scotland Yard, courses by the French police, and the police forces of Germany, Austria, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries. Even different frameworks of the UN have, since 1993, been providing training courses, that extend from days to weeks. The training courses include responding to disturbances of public order, the war against terror, interrogations and questioning, administrative police courses, and more. Added to these courses are more advanced and complex topics, of an intelligence nature.

An Israeli intelligence source explains: “On the part of Israel, there was an oral understanding with the Palestinians, that was based on the need to build a Palestinian police force. Everything was conducted under the general understanding that subjects that could trouble the State of Israel would not be taught within the context of the courses.” This was conducted, according to the source, with full transparency to the foreign countries. “The problem was never the very holding of one course or another, but with its content. This was a troubling subject, to which objections were raised by the GSS and by the other organizations, in a specific manner. This was always perceived as a potential threat, but, to the best of my recollection, it never constituted a causus belli. Israel, at the most, expressed its displeasure and moved along.”

The CIA, that conducted some of the courses, also was not free of its own interests. “From my knowledge of the way in which intelligence organizations work,” a military source relates, “the central consideration on the part of the foreign organizations is the recruitment of agents, and during the course of these training sessions they undoubtedly recruited whoever they could.” The source cites as an especially problematic example the training courses that were given in Egypt and in Jordan. “As far as Egypt is concerned, mainly Gaza, but also the [West] Bank, is its front yard, and they have a double motive to know what is happening in the Authority, and through it to also know what is happening in Israel. The Authority’s security cooperation with Egypt unquestionably exceeds the relations with other Arab countries. There are clear indications that people from the Egyptian intelligence are currently present in the territories, and closely follow the recent riots.”

The Element of Penetration

Despite the original Israeli conception of the Palestinian Authority’s [security/intelligence] apparatuses, as if their goal is to fight terror, it was clear, already from the beginning, that the main efforts of the apparatuses were directed to the locating Israeli penetration of their services and the disrupting of the Israeli capability in this context. As is known, old habits die slowly, and decades of activity against Israel in the territories and outside them established a pattern of limited cooperation with Israel. There was no reason why Amin al-Hindi, who for decades had waged the war of minds with the GSS and the Mossad (and maintained for Fatah contacts with the foreign intelligence organizations) would smoothly make the transition to a format of cooperation with Israel; and also for the heads of the other apparatuses, such as Rajub, Dahlan, and others, there is no natural tendency like this, in spite of the Israeli expectations. Additionally, the continued operation of agents in the areas of the Authority after the agreement, and various events, such as the discovery of listening devices attributed to Israel in the headquarters of the one who was supposed to head the Palestinian police, General Nasser Yusuf, did not contribute to a change of this atmosphere.

Between 1994 and 1996 the appearance was created of intensive cooperation, that concealed great hostility and suspicion. In some instances, the Palestinians agreed to act in accordance with Israeli information, but such information led to a chain reaction on the Palestinian side, that had the goal, first and foremost, of revealing how the information had leaked to the GSS. “The instances of the transferal of information or independent Palestinian prevention [of terror] activity are extremely rare, and they happened, for example, on the eve of the last elections in Israel, when the apparatus of Mohammed Dahlan prevented the infiltration of large explosive charges for the purpose of conducting a major terrorist attack in the center of Israel,” a security source explains.

The suicide bombings in February and March ’96 in Jerusalem and in Ashkelon were a turning point in the Palestinian policy. The attacks also constituted a turning point in terms of involvement by CIA operatives, who saw how public opinion in Israel, and Binyamin Netanyahu’s chances of rising to power, cast doubt upon the continuation of the diplomatic process.

After Peres, by means of his emissaries, had attained the April understandings, that included consent to outlawing the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, the American intelligence entered the picture once again, this time in a more active manner than ever.

The first stage was the entry by Stan Moskowitz, the former CIA station chief in Tel Aviv, into the details of the security contacts and the sending of representatives of the intelligence agency to accompany the activity of the Preventive Security and General Intelligence people in Gaza and in Jericho. Meir Dagan, the head of Netanyahu’s security staff: “It is my assessment that the involvement did not stem from a specific and clear decision, but rather from a gradual development. The United States always wanted to know what was really happening, but there is a well-known process of the dragging of intelligence organizations into a crisis. This is a slow process, that receives gradual legitimization by the relevant parties.” First and foremost, the CIA functioned as a conduit for the passing of personal messages to Arafat. “Until then, if information about a senior individual in Hamas had accumulated in Israel, Israel would have addressed Arafat with the information and requested clarifications,” relates a senior security personage. “Arafat would say that the information does not exist or is groundless, or ‘I checked, and there is nothing to it.’ The American involvement began a process of the active clarification and determination of information details in the field.”

Rajub as a Chatterbox

Moskowitz also played a part in the deep involvement of the CIA in that period. Moskowitz, who was his sixties at the time, is described as someone who had free access to the Rais [leader]’s chamber, and as having an open line to the head of the GSS, the Mossad, and the IDF Intelligence Branch, and to the Prime Minister’s Bureau. In that period the Americans also began to undertake the training of Arafat’s Presidential Guard, with courses for the protection of individuals, and improving intelligence capability by means of courses and visits to the Agency headquarters in Virginia. American sources report of visits by apparatus heads Rajub and Dahlan to the American headquarters of the CIA and other intelligence agencies such as the FBI.

In addition to the training of the forces, courses were also given in the organization of databases, along with improving the capability of employing advanced surveillance and photography methods, and the supply of sophisticated listening equipment, such as computer programs capable of monitoring a large number of frequencies. The CIA also supplied the Palestinians with advanced radio scanners, that could also be used to listen in on the frequencies of the Israeli security forces, and additional intelligence equipment.

As the process continued, CIA liaison offices were established on the ground in Hebron, Ramallah, and Shechem. The construction of the Preventive Security compound in Bitunia, next to Ramallah, was completed at the beginning of the year, with the activity of the [Preventive Security] service transferred there from Jericho. This compound, that was built with the aid of the American intelligence agency, is called “the Pentagon” in the Palestinian street. Palestinian sources report of an additional compound of the General Security, that also will be constructed in the Ramallah area.

A CIA officer also is resident in Jerusalem, in the offices of the American consulate in East Jerusalem. This officer conducts tours of Bethlehem and of “seam” [= 1967 border] areas, while disguised in traditional Islamic garb, and conducts meetings on a steady basis with Palestinian security and political elements.

Laboratory Conditions

In January 1997 the CIA involvement acquires a new dimension, when Moskovitz is involved in the formulation of the security appendix to the Hebron agreement, and is directly in charge of the contacts between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He is supervised by Tenet, then only the deputy of John Deutsch, the ousted head of the intelligence agency. Inspired by the agreement, the CIA began to conduct additional activities, such as counting, at Israel’s request, the Hamas members imprisoned in the Palestinian prisons and supervision of the lists of Palestinian policemen.

In July ’97 the American envoy for Middle East affairs Dennis Ross conducts a low-profile security visit, that leads to a clash between him and Netanyahu’s people, on the background of the demand for action against the Hamas infrastructure. When Ross insisted, “You, too, were not successful in contending with the Hamas,” a senior member of the Netanyahu government replied: “You need a terrorist to deal with a terrorist.” Despite the difficult atmosphere, contacts continued for the creation of a formula for the continued transferal of area to the Palestinians, in exchange for determined war against the Hamas (the code word for the arrest of activists, on demand), supervision of continued arrests, the locating of laboratories for explosives, and the arrest of senior wanted [terrorists].

In operational terms, the security cooperation began to acquire a new form. A senior Israeli official at the time relates that Ross’s visit “led to the creation of a veto mechanism, according to which if the Palestinians want to release Hamas members, the names would be given to the CIA, who had the right of veto over the release. In parallel, we conducted a quiet dialogue and updating with the Americans, with the Palestinians being aware of this.” In addition, the American agents went to the prisons to confirm in the field the continued imprisonment of the wanted [terrorists], cooperation that eventually led in practice to the elimination of the military arms of the Hamas and of the Islamic Jihad.

They Shot the Sheriff

A week after the terrorist attack at Cafe Apropo, the CIA people came to Bitunia to examine the garage in which the explosion occurred, as a result of which Muhi ed-Din esh-Sharif, who was known as the Engineer no. 2, was killed. GSS people also were seen beside them. In the end, a joint version was established, that esh-Sharif was murdered with a pistol by I’adal Awadallah, as a result of financial and tactical disagreements. Hamas, of course, denied this, but the episode was a major embarrassment for the movement.

The CIA-inspired security cooperation was also noticeable in the capture of two members of the Tzurif gang that carried out the terrorist attack at Apropo. Jamal Alhud and Abd-el-Rahman Janimat fled to Hebron after the attack, and were arrested by members of the Preventive Security. The two were transferred for some reason from the Hebron prison to the one in Shechem, and close to the village of Hawara IDF special units took control of the vehicle and captured them without opening fire. Following the arrest, demonstrations by Hamas activists against Rajub were held in Hebron. Rajub himself denied that the arrest was the result of any cooperation with Israel, and claimed that the pair were transferred to Shechem in order to stand trial. An Israeli security source describes: “Unrelated to the diplomatic contacts, during the course of the entire period, there was noticeable determined action by the Palestinian security services, under supervision by CIA people, that included action against preachers identified with the Hamas in the mosques, and continued arrests of members of the movement.”

As a result of this activity, I’adl and Imad Awadallah, the heads of the military arm of Hamas, were eliminated by a Yamam [special antiterrorist police unit] force at a farm near Hebron, in a region under Israeli control, and in December 1999 the Hamas members Iad Batat and Nadr Musala, also senior members of the military arm, were killed in a clash with Duvdevan soldiers in the village of Bet-Awa, southwest of Hebron. Sheikh Abd el-Hakim el-Masalama, a member of the political leadership of the Islamic Jihad, who currently sits on the joint committee with Fatah, said this week: “There is no doubt that the security cooperation under American inspiration had harsh consequences for the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The most prominent expression of this policy is the Palestinian Authority’s policy of political arrests, that was done under American pressure. Beyond this, our people encountered American agents in the prisons, when they came to check that they were under arrest. It is clearly known among the Ramallah people that an entire floor in the ‘Pentagon’ is used by the CIA people.”

Screen Check

In November ’97 Tenet appeared before the Conference of Jewish Organizations and shared his feelings with those present: “There is a single ray of light on the background of the terrorist attacks in the past two years in Israel, and that is the contribution by the US to the work of the sides in facilitating the dialogue and security cooperation, especially in that it caused the Palestinians to fulfill their obligations.”

The entry of the organization into direct action aroused criticism in Israel. “Until the entry of the CIA, we were forced to contend with low-level State Department reports regarding the construction in the settlements,” relates one of Netanyahu’s people, “until this construction became the central dynamics between the secret services. Censuses of mobile homes became the central focus of interest by the CIA people, and the subject also arose in the security discussions.” In another instance the Arab weekly that is published in Paris, Alwatan el-Arab, claimed that Netanyahu even demanded the firing of Moskovitz, claiming that he was pro-Palestinian. The report resulted in denials from Jerusalem.

Despite the criticism, the outing by Tenet and Moskovitz came about, in all places, in the Wye talks, when the two were present for the first time publicly in the rooms of the discussions, and accompanied the negotiations during the nine days they were held. The presence of the two, who came after a direct invitation from Clinton and the involvement of the Agency in the resolution of the disagreement between Israel and the Authority, stirred up much criticism in the American media and in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that oversees the organization. The head of the committee, Senator Richard Shelby, defined the role of the CIA as a nuisance, and voiced the opinion of many who thought that there was a problem in the CIA’s being about to be involved up to its neck in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Melvin Goodman, a professor of international security and who is close to high-level American security circles, describes the problematics: “Clinton initiates moves, and the Senate goes along with him willingly in order to assure the attainment of a diplomatic agreement. This is a matter for statesmen, and not for secret services. The CIA has defined tasks of information gathering, the recruitment of agents, and the writing of situation assessments. Tenet, who is no more than a skilled Democratic politician who spent most of his time on Capitol Hill, did not know about the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and now he ‘cooks up’ situation assessments for Clinton.”

After the outbreak of the latest clashes with the Palestinian Authority, Tenet and O’Connor were asked to save the diplomatic process and their role as referees in this game, so far without results. The terrorist attacks in the past week merely attest to the inability of the CIA people, who are not successful in calming the arena. In practice, the Agency people are still in the field, but their function is not tangibly expressed in a calming of the situation.

Several months after King Hussein’s death last year and the crowning of Abdullah, American security sources reported a strengthening of regional cooperation in the war against terror. The sources, who briefed senior American reporters, proudly spoke of the creation of a regional regime of effective cooperation between Jordan, Israel, the Palestinians, and Egypt under the aegis of the CIA against the fundamentalist elements in the Islamic world. A senior Israeli political figure, who is familiar with the CIA involvement in the current conflict, said this week: “In a situation of military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the danger of an expansion of the conflict, it is preferable for Tenet and his buddies, and the can of worms that accompanies them, to direct their calming efforts to other places.”

The American embassy stated that it does not respond to matters related to the CIA.

This piece ran in Kol HaIr on Nov. 24th