Israel to kill in U.S., allied nations

By Richard Sale
UPI Intelligence Correspondent
Published 1/15/2003 7:14 PM

Israel is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror that will include staging targeted killings in the United States and other friendly countries, former Israeli intelligence officials told United Press International.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has forbidden the practice until now, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli statements were confirmed by more than a half dozen former and currently serving U.S. foreign policy and intelligence officials in interviews with United Press International.

But an official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington told UPI: "That is rubbish. It is completely untrue. Israel and the United States have such a close and co-operative intelligence relationship, especially in the field of counter-terrorism, that the assertion is ludicrous."

With the appointment of Meir Dagan, the new director of Israel's Mossad secret intelligence service, Sharon is preparing "a huge budget" increase for the spy agency as part of "a tougher stance in fighting global jihad (or holy war)," one Israeli official said.

Since Sharon became Israeli prime minister, Tel Aviv has mainly limited its practice of targeted killings to the West Bank and Gaza because "no one wanted such operations on their territory," a former Israeli intelligence official said.

Another former Israeli government official said that under Sharon, "diplomatic constraints have prevented the Mossad from carrying out 'preventive operations' (targeted killings) on the soil of friendly countries until now."

He said Sharon is "reversing that policy, even if it risks complications to Israel's bilateral relations."

A former Israeli military intelligence source agreed: "What Sharon wants is a much more extensive and tough approach to global terrorism, and this includes greater operational maneuverability."

Does this mean assassinations on the soil of allies?

"It does," he said.

"Mossad is definitely being beefed up," a U.S. government official said of the Israeli agency's budget increase. He declined to comment on the Tel Aviv's geographic expansion of targeted killings.

An FBI spokesman also declined to comment, saying: "This is a policy matter. We only enforce federal laws."

A congressional staff member with deep knowledge of intelligence matters said, "I don't know on what basis we would be able to protest Israel's actions." He referred to the recent killing of Qaed Salim Sinan al Harethi, a top al Qaida leader, in Yemen by a remotely controlled CIA drone.

"That was done on the soil of a friendly ally," the staffer said.

But the complications posed by Israel's new policy are real.

"Israel does not have a good record at doing this sort of thing," said former CIA counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson.

He cited the 1997 fiasco where two Mossad agents were captured after they tried to assassinate Khaled Mashaal, a Hamas political leader, by injecting him with poison.

According to Johnson, the attempt, made in Amman, Jordan, caused a political crisis in Israeli-Jordan relations. In addition, because the Israeli agents carried Canadian passports, Canada withdrew its ambassador in protest, he said. Jordan is one of two Arab nations to recognize Israel. The other is Egypt.

At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "I have no intention of stopping the activities of this government against terror," according to a CNN report.

Former CIA officials say Israel was forced to free jailed Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and 70 other Jordanian and Palestinian prisoner being held in Israeli jails to secure the release of the two would-be Mossad assassins.

Phil Stoddard, former director of the Middle East Institute, cited a botched plot to kill Ali Hassan Salemeh, the mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. The 1974 attempt severely embarrassed Mossad when the Israeli hit team mistakenly assassinated a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway.

Salemeh, later a CIA asset, was killed in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976 by a car bomb placed by an Israeli assassination team, former U.S. intelligence officials said.

"Israel knew Salemeh was providing us with preventive intelligence on the Palestinians and his being killed pissed off a lot of people," said a former senior CIA official.

But some Israeli operations have been successful.

Gerald Bull, an Ontario-born U.S. citizen and designer of the Iraqi supergun -- a massive artillery system capable of launching satellites into orbit, and of delivering nuclear chemical or biological payloads from Baghdad to Israel -- was killed in Belgium in March 1990. The killing is still unsolved, but former CIA officials said a Mossad hit team is the most likely suspect.

Bull worked on the supergun design -- codenamed Project Babylon -- for 10 years, and helped the Iraqis develop many smaller artillery systems. He was found with five bullets in his head outside his Brussels apartment.

Israeli hit teams, which consist of units or squadrons of the Kidon, a sub-unit for Mossad's highly secret Metsada department, would stage the operations, former Israeli intelligence sources said. Kidon is a Hebrew word meaning "bayonet," one former Israeli intelligence source said.

This Israeli government source explained that in the past Israel has not staged targeted killings in friendly countries because "no one wanted such operations on their territory."

This has become irrelevant, he said.

Dagan, the new hard-driving director of Mossad, will implement the new changes, former Israeli government officials said.

Dagan, nicknamed "the gun," was Sharon's adviser on counter-terrorism during the government of Netanyahu in 1996, former Israeli government officials say. A former military man, Dagan has also undertaken extremely sensitive diplomatic missions for several of Israel's prime ministers, former Israeli government sources said.

Former Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Gal Luft, who served under Dagan, described him as an "extremely creative individual -- creative to the point of recklessness."

A former CIA official who knows Dagan said the new Mossad director knows "his foreign affairs inside and out," and has a "real killer instinct."

Dagan is also "an intelligence natural" who has "a superb analyst not afraid to act on gut instinct," the former CIA official said.

Dagan has already removed Mossad officials whom he regards as "being too conservative or too cautious" and is building up "a constituency of senior people of the same mentality," one former long-time Israeli operative said.

Dagan is also urging that Mossad operatives rely less on secret sources and rely more on open information that is so plentifully provided on the Internet and newspapers.

"It's a cultural thing," one former Israeli intelligence operative explained. "Mossad in the past has put its emphasis on Humint (human intelligence) and secret operations and has neglected the whole field of open media, which has become extremely important."

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Pentagon Seeking Leeway Overseas
Operations Could Bypass Envoys

By Ann Scott Tyson and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page A01

The Pentagon is promoting a global counterterrorism plan that would allow Special Operations forces to enter a foreign country to conduct military operations without explicit concurrence from the U.S. ambassador there, administration officials familiar with the plan said.

The plan would weaken the long-standing "chief of mission" authority under which the U.S. ambassador, as the president's top representative in a foreign country, decides whether to grant entry to U.S. government personnel based on political and diplomatic considerations.

The Special Operations missions envisioned in the plan would largely be secret, known to only a handful of officials from the foreign country, if any.

The change is included in a highly classified "execute order" -- part of a broad strategy developed since Sept. 11, 2001, to give the U.S. Special Operations Command new flexibility to track down and destroy terrorist networks worldwide, the officials said.

"This is a military order on a global scale, something that hasn't existed since World War II," said a counterterrorism official with lengthy experience in special operations. He and other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is classified.

The Pentagon sees the greater leeway as vital to enabling commando forces to launch operations quickly and stealthily against terrorist groups without often time-consuming interagency debate, said administration officials familiar with the plan. In the Pentagon view, the campaign against terrorism is a war and requires similar freedom to prosecute as in Iraq, where the military chain of command coordinates closely with the U.S. Embassy but is not subject to traditional chief-of-mission authority.

The State Department and the CIA have fought the proposal, saying it would be dangerous to dilute the authority of the U.S. ambassador and CIA station chief to oversee U.S. military and intelligence activities in other countries.

Over the past two years, the State Department has repeatedly blocked Pentagon efforts to send Special Operations forces into countries surreptitiously and without ambassadors' formal approval, current and former administration officials said.

The State Department assigned counterterrorism coordinator J. Cofer Black, who also led the CIA's counterterrorism operations after Sept. 11, as its point person to try to thwart the Pentagon's initiative.

"I gave Cofer specific instructions to dismount, kill the horses and fight on foot -- this is not going to happen," said Richard L. Armitage, describing how as deputy secretary of state -- a job he held until earlier this month -- he and others stopped six or seven Pentagon attempts to weaken chief-of-mission authority.

In one instance, U.S. commanders tried to dispatch Special Forces soldiers into Pakistan without gaining ambassadorial approval but were rebuffed by the State Department, said two sources familiar with the event. The soldiers eventually entered Pakistan with proper clearance but were ordered out again by the ambassador for what was described as reckless behavior. "We had SF [Special Forces] guys in civilian clothes running around a hotel with grenades in their pockets," said one source involved in the incident, who opposes the Pentagon plan.

Other officials cited another case to illustrate their concern. In the past year, they said, a group of Delta Force soldiers left a bar at night in a Latin American country and shot an alleged assailant but did not inform the U.S. Embassy for several days.

In Pentagon policy circles, questions about chief-of-mission authority are viewed as part of a broad reassessment of how to organize the U.S. government optimally to fight terrorism. In this view, alternative models of U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence authority -- possibly tailored to specific countries and situations -- should be considered.

Pentagon officials familiar with the issue declined to speak on the record out of concern that issues of bureaucratic warfare would overshadow a serious policy question.

Debate over the issue reignited last month, as Armitage and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell departed and Condoleezza Rice prepared to replace him, said an administration official familiar with the matter. When the Pentagon refused to change language in the execute order, that put the issue before Rice.

In the past week, however, she has made it clear that she intends to protect the existing chief-of-mission authority. "Rice is resolute in holding to chief-of-mission authority over operations the way it exists now, for a very rational reason -- you need someone who can coordinate," said a senior State Department official.

Some officials have viewed the debate as an early test of how Rice will defend State Department views on a range of matters in bureaucratic infighting with the Pentagon.

The State Department's concerns are twofold, officials said: Conducting military operations would be perilous without the broad purview and oversight of the U.S. ambassador, and it would set a precedent that other U.S. agencies could follow.

"The chief-of-mission authority is a pillar of presidential authority overseas," said the administration official familiar with the issue. "When you start eroding that, it can have repercussions that are . . . risky. Particularly, military action is one of the most important decisions a president makes . . . and that is the sort of action that should be taken with deliberation."

U.S. ambassadors have full responsibility for supervising all U.S. government employees in that country, and when granting country clearances they are supposed to consider various factors, including ramifications for overall bilateral relations. For example, one reason the U.S. military never conducted aggressive operations against al Qaeda in Pakistan was a fear that such actions would incite the local population to overthrow the fragile, nuclear-capable government of President Pervez Musharraf.

The rift between the Pentagon and State Department over chief-of-mission authority parallels broader concerns about the push to empower the Special Operations Command in the war on terrorism. The CIA, for example, has concerns that new intelligence-gathering initiatives by the military could weaken CIA station chiefs and complicate U.S. espionage abroad.

Without close coordination with the CIA, former senior intelligence officials said, the military could target someone whom the CIA is secretly surveilling and disrupt a flow of valuable intelligence.