No James Bond glamour in espionage’s new ‘El Dorado’

The man’s behaviour was certainly odd. When driving, he would vary his car speed between 30km/h and 90km/h, pulling up occasionally by the side of the road for several minutes for no apparent reason. When he put his rubbish out, he would first cut the bottom of the bags so the contents would spill if anyone tried to rummage through them. Leaving his office, he would walk once around the block before heading off in the direction he wanted to go.

The man under surveillance by South African intelligence was one of scores of foreign intelligence officers who have flocked to the new “El Dorado” of global espionage in recent years.

The agent’s movements are chronicled in a 55-page secret document from 2009 that offers a portrait of modern-day “human intelligence” espionage. There may have been vast changes in surveillance technology, giving the United States National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters previously unimaginable powers. But the life of the spy on the ground appears to have changed very little in half a century. Although there is a high level of risk for some agents, the leaked cables show most of the work is bland and bureaucratic, based around routine meetings with other spies, far removed from the world portrayed in spy movies. In fact, one intelligence document warns that potential candidates should be ruled out for recruitment if their motive is glamour, adventure, money or status.

The agent, an officer for the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, is recorded meeting the heads of his agency’s Africa and Latin America divisions in Cape Town. He is then seen having “a possible ‘brush’ meeting with two persons in a public toilet, one of them of Muslim origin”.

Possible opportunities
The agent is found to have three sources in the South African police and several other contacts in government departments and police crime intelligence. The issue “should have been addressed on a higher level”, the intelligence report says, “as this situation could have led to possible espionage opportunities”.


The agent spent three weeks in a hotel, part of the time with his family, and asked for the bill to be split between the Israeli airline El Al and South Africa’s Tiger Wheel & Tyre company.

The South African report states it is a “known modus operandi of the Israeli intelligence services to utilise El Al as cover for intelligence members” and identifies an El Al employee as a Mossad courier. The use of the airline as a front for the Mossad and Israeli security service Shin Bet in South Africa led to the deportation of an airline official and the withdrawal of the right to carry weapons and diplomatic immunity from El Al staff soon afterwards.

Some of the information in the document about Mossad appears to have been lifted from open sources, such as books on the Israeli agency.

A section dealing with the operational practices of Israeli field intelligence officers says Mossad puts no pressure on female agents to use sex as a “weapon”, but that it is expected. It adds: “If sexual blackmail or entrapment is an integral part of the mission, however, Mossad often employs actual prostitutes.”

There is less hesitation among Mossad chiefs, however, about using male agents to become intimate with embassy secretaries, airline stewardesses and others who might provide valuable information. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Ewen Macaskill
Guest Author

Related stories

Still fighting spy wars

The current Spy vs Spy farce summons a sense of déjà vu, with a CIA spook lurking in every nook.

Radebe: Spy cables leak may put SA’s security at risk

Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, has condemned the spy cables leak and welcomed the State Security Agency's investigation into the matter.

Who is going to spy on the spymaster?

The short-listing process for the new inspector general of intelligence has been an embarrassment.

What the ‘spy cables’ taught us

Spook action at a distance: From Mossad agents and jams to assassination plots and plagiarism.

Greenpeace director not shocked by leaked intelligence on him

"What hurts is that my government might have been engaging in surveillance on me and may have shared that, upon request, with South Korea," he said.

State Security to probe intelligence leak

An investigation into the leaking of classified security documents by broadcaster Al Jazeera is under way, says State Security Minister David Mahlobo.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Q&A Sessions: ‘My north star is the patient’

Rhulani Nhlaniki is Pfizer’s cluster lead for sub-Saharan Africa. As Pfizer starts phase III of the clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, he tells Malaikah Bophela that if it is successful, the company will ensure the vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it

In terms of future-telling failures, this is a Major One

Bushiri knows how to pull a crowd. Ace knows a ponzi scheme. Paddy Harper predicts that a new prophet may profit at Luthuli House

Ghost fishing gear an ‘immortal menace’ in oceans

Lost and illegal tackle is threatening marine life and the lives of people making a living from the sea

Vitamin therapy is for drips

It may be marketed by influencers, but intravenous vitamin therapy is not necessary and probably not worth the hype, experts say
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday