The spy who doesn't know he's a spy

Top Arab official has been unknowingly spying for Israel for 5 years — report

IDF’s human intel unit unveils one of Jewish state’s most important assets in an unspecified Arab state, a spy known as ‘Torpedo,’ including details of his remarkable recruitment

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative image of a spy. (cyano66; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a spy. (cyano66; iStock by Getty Images)

It sounds like a screenplay for a movie: According to the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish state is operating a spy in a very senior position in an Arab state — without his even knowing he is providing invaluable intelligence to Israel.

The case was reported Thursday by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, which released an excerpt of a longer piece that will be published over the weekend, after receiving approval for publication by the military censor.

According to the report, the high-level source in an unnamed Arab country, nicknamed “Torpedo,” works for what he thinks is a non-military body. He was recruited in a complex operation five years ago, and continues to unknowingly provide Israel with immensely important information to this day.

The report cited officials in Israeli Military Intelligence’s Unit 504, which employs agents beyond Israel’s borders, adding that it was at the initiative of that unit that the story was published.

“We always aim high, toward sources with a high intelligence value, in very important roles,” said the commander in charge of the case, a lieutenant colonel who was only identified by the first Hebrew letter of his first name, Ayin.

“That necessarily increases the level of difficultly, because whoever reached such a senior position is already older and more experienced, alert and suspicious,” added Ayin, who is in charge of matters related to a specific region in Unit 504.

The report detailed how initial contact had been made with the official, offering a glimpse into the tactics of one of the most secretive units in the Israeli military.

First, its soldiers studied all the intelligence provided by other sources around him, checking whether he is able to fly abroad and how frequently, his life situation, and whether he feels “stuck” and thinks he can do more and earn more, perhaps in the private sector.

The commander of Unit 504 receives an official commendation in April 2019. For security reasons, the commander’s identity is classified. (Israel Defense Forces)

In this case, the extraordinary decision was made to recruit “Torpedo” covertly, without him knowing he was being recruited as an Israeli intelligence asset.

“As a civilian body, for instance, you don’t intimidate the target and don’t scare him,” said Torpedo’s handler, also identified only by the first Hebrew letter of his first name, Dalet. “You enter what is called his ‘area of denial’ — something that he probably isn’t allowed do to, but isn’t as extreme as working for Israel. It’s not a red line for him.”

Later, the cover story was constructed, and the operation began.

“While collecting the information about Torpedo I discovered he has an acquaintance, a distant relative, who lives abroad and had previously had a connection with a certain field,” Dalet was quoted as saying. “I contacted that acquaintance online and started asking him about topics he is an expert on. He was happy to cooperate.”

Dalet said he had not mentioned Torpedo at all during his conversations, and waited until the acquaintance — who had been eager to start collaborating — brought up his name by himself.

“He told me about a relative of his who is a senior official in that country. He explained that due to his position he is close to many officials, well-connected,” Dalet said. “I told him I would think about the ideas floated during our correspondence and that I would come back with an answer. My goal was to give the impression that I’m not eager, not in a hurry. I want to create suspense. That he will check his email inbox every day and wait for my answer.”

The excerpt ended there, adding that the full story would include details about the next stages, when contact was made at an office building on the edge of a lake, along with details about Torpedo’s hesitations and the Israeli military’s success in using him as an asset — to this day.

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