Foreign Correspondent The Hit Parade

Foreign Correspondent The Hit Parade

The Hit Parade

Imagine waking up one morning to learn that overnight, you've taken a trip to a nearby country and killed someone.

That was the situation facing a group of dual national Israeli citizens recently, after unknown people using their identities assassinated a Palestinian arms dealer in Dubai.

The finger is firmly pointed at the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, which has neither confirmed nor denied the allegation.

So what happened? And how did a bunch of Germans, British, French, Germans and Australians end up with their identities - including all their passport details - plastered on front pages all over the world? Was this a clear cut case of identity theft or is it possible they fell foul of a surreptitious arrangement spoken about in hushed tones in Israel.

Foreign Correspondent's Trevor Bormann, a former ABC Middle East correspondent, has been following the spy trail to Dubai, Jordan and Israel, as well as speaking to former secret agents for other intelligence services such as the CIA and MI6.

"It's clear it was botched," says former CIA Middle East operative Robert Baer. "They've learned a big lesson ... they didn't understand that technology could deliver this trail that exposed them... they just weren't good enough."

According to Baer, who was once accused of plotting to kill Saddam Hussein, your average CIA agent is not a fan of targeted assassinations. "It's messy ... You have a lot of liberal arts majors that come in that want to be assigned to some exotic place and study the country and make careers. And one way to end a career is just get in the middle of a botched assassination."

Mossad, on the other hand, is famous for its targeted, cross-border hits. But is that a counter-productive policy? MI6 thinks so, and never approves assassinations according to an ex agent, who's also annoyed about the use of British passports, which makes it harder for MI6 spies to move around undetected. "Speaking as a former professional, it's definitely two fingers up from one service to another." He claims it's "second nature" for special forces to kill people, and it doesn't take much training to suffocate a target with a pillow, adding: "There are little old ladies doing that."

Foreign Correspondent The Hit Parade will screen on ABC1 on Tuesday March 16th at 8pm.

Interview with Trevor Bormann

Foreign Correspondent's Trevor Bormann, a former ABC Middle East correspondent, has been following the spy trail to Dubai, Jordan and Israel, as well as speaking to former secret agents for other intelligence services such as the CIA and MI6.

How does The Hit Parade explore what happened and who is to blame?

Trevor Bormann: We look at the whole question of how the identities of the Australia passport holders were used in the hit and we explore whether the passports of the Israeli dual passport holders were taken perhaps with their consent of those people in Israel or whether their identities were stolen. We also talk to former CIA spies and to a former MI6 spy about their policy and their history when it comes to assassinations. We speak to a former Mossad agent who talks about the way that Mossad operates.


Have you had a chance to speak with any of the Australians who had their identity stolen?

Trevor Bormann: No, they're not talking to anyone. They are putting up the shutters, they have been interviewed by Australian Federal Police, but for some reason they are choosing not to talk.


Where you able to investigate how passports were acquired, if they were acquire unknowingly could this happen again, in the future?

Trevor Bormann: I have been told by former Mossad people that there is a practice where Israelis of dual nationalities, so you may be an Israeli who has an Australian passport, are approached by officials and the system works something similar to this, they are asked if they are planning on leaving the country in the next twelve months or so. If the answer is no, then they are asked if it is okay for their passport details to be used. Of course they are not told what they are going to be used for, but that is the deal. This is a practice that has apparently gone of for a long time, although it hasn't become an issue because no one has ever been caught in this way before.

If you voluntarily give up your passport details to the government they are probably not going to tell you what it is going to be used for. If it is a Mossad mission, obviously those people that give their passport details up aren't going to be told that their passports are going to be used by assassins for a murder in Dubai.

Israeli is a very different place where people serve in the army until they are 40. When these people are approached they are told as a duty to the state, it might be a good idea if they volunteer their passport details. People, if they did voluntarily give up their passports, and I have no evidence that the Australia passport holders did, but this a practice that I have been told happens; if it is the case, that people did give up their passport details willingly they do so out of what they feel is a duty to Israel.


In Australia would an Australian be asked to do this?

Trevor Bormann: Probably not. Australia is a different place; we do not have a secret service that goes around getting passports together to kill people overseas.


I'd like to hope not!

Trevor Bormann: Arguably this is a practice there, in terms of this killing in Dubai, no one has claimed responsibility and of course spy agencies never do. Mossad has a policy of not confirming or denying this and they will continue to do that. All the evidence points to Mossad because they have a routine of doing this kind of thing.


On your travels, did you find any history of this happening prior?

Trevor Bormann: Yes, Mossad have been responsible, this is on the record, Mossad has either admitted to these other assassination attempts or undeniable indicated. There is a famous case in Jordan, that we looked at, in 1997 a Hamas leader was attacked on the way to work, two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists sprayed poison into his ear and basically this guy had 24 hours to live and the Mossad agents were caught red handed. This was a huge stir because Israel and Jordan had just made peace with each other, the Israelis were more or less forced by President Clinton to send an anti-dote for the poison otherwise Jordan would cut of the peace treaty and hang the Mossad agents. They have been involved in some spectacular assassinations attempts before and not always have they been successful.

It is very interesting we spoke to an ex-CIA agent and they were more forthcoming, they provide more information because they are an intelligence community and they make observations about what happened in Dubai. The killing in Dubai is either two possibilities:
Either he was killed to send a very public demonstration to the world, which Mossad has a history of making big spectacular hits to send a message to their enemies to send the message we can get you in a time of our choosing and a place of our choosing. That is one possibility because of course all of these guys were captured on CCTV so the theory is that they knew they were being captured on CCTV and they knew they would be exposed and this was a very public demonstration to send their message.
What goes against that theory is the victim suffocated; basically what they did was they got into his room, they anesthetised him so he was weak and then they smothered him, they weakened him so there were no bruises or no signs of a struggle. That suggests they wanted it to look like natural causes, for many days after he died there was no suspicious circumstances because he was just found dead in his bed, similar to a heart attack or something. Then it was revealed that he had been a victim of this hit.


How else can those interested view the show, if they miss the first screening?

Trevor Bormann: Sure, on the website, even if you miss it, it will be posted on the websites: www.abc.net.au/ and www.abc.net.au/iview


Interview by Brooke Hunter




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