Beyond the Looking Glass
When the red light blinked on the bedside telephone, a sophisticated recording device was automatically activated in the Paris apartment near the Pompidou Center in the lively Fourth Arrondissement. The light had been wired in by an Israeli communications technician who had flown from Tel Aviv to install the recorder, intended to allay any suspicions neighbors would have about the phone ringing at ungodly hours. The technician was one of the yaholomin, a member of a Mossad unit that dealt with secure communications in the safe houses of Israel’s secret intelligence agency.
The one in Paris was like all the others. It had a bombproof front
door and window glass which, like the panes in the White House, could deflect scanners. There were scores of such apartments in all the major cities in the world, either purchased outright or rented on long leases. Many were left unoccupied for lengthy periods, ready for the time they would be needed for an operation.
One had been conducted from the Paris apartment since June 1997, when Monsieur Maurice had arrived. He spoke fluent French with a slight Central-European accent. Over the years his neighbors had encountered others like him: men, and occasionally women, who arrived without warning, spent weeks or months among them, then one day were gone. Like his predecessors, Maurice had politely discouraged interest in himself or his work.
Maurice was a katsa, a Mossad field agent.
Physically he was nondescript; it had been said that even on an empty street he would pass virtually unnoticed. He had been recruited in what was still a halcyon time for Mossad, when its legend remained largely intact. His potential was spotted during Israel’s compulsory military service, when, after boot camp, he had been drafted into air force intelligence. An aptitude for languages (he knew French, English, and German) had been noted, along with other qualities: he was good at filling gaps in a case study and drawing fact out of speculation, and he knew the limits of informed conjecture. Above all, he was a natural manipulator of people: he could persuade, cajole, and, if all else failed, threaten.
Since graduating from the Mossad training school in 1982, he had worked in Europe, South Africa, and the Far East. At various times he had done so under the guise of a businessman, a travel writer, and a salesman. He had used a number of names and biographies drawn from the library of aliases maintained by Mossad. Now he was Maurice, once more a businessman.
During his various postings he had heard of the purges back in “the Institute,” the name its staff used for Mossad: corrosive rumors of disgraced and ruined careers, of changes at the top, and each incoming Mossad director with his own priorities. None of them had stemmed the loss of morale within the service.
This had increased with the appointment of Benyamin Netanyahu as Israel’s youngest prime minister. A man with a proven intelligence background, he was supposed to know how things worked on the inside; when to listen, how far to go. Instead, from the outset, Netanyahu had astonished seasoned intelligence officers by dabbling in operational details.
At first this was put down to unnecessary zeal, a new broom showing he was ready to look into every closet to make sure there were no secrets he should know. But matters had become alarming when not only the prime minister but his wife, Sara, wanted to peer behind the looking glass into Israel’s intelligence world. She had invited senior Mossad officers to call on her at home and answer her questions, claiming she was following the example of Hillary Clinton’s interest in the CIA.
The featureless corridors of Mossad’s headquarters building in Tel Aviv had echoed with the scandalized whispers of how Sara Netanyahu had demanded to see psychological profiles of world leaders she and her husband would be entertaining or visiting. She had especially asked for details about President Bill Clinton’s sexual activities. She had also asked to review dossiers on Israel’s ambassadors whose embassies they would be staying in during overseas trips, expressing an interest in the cleanliness of their kitchens and how many times the bedding was changed in the guest suites.
Bemused by her requests, Mossad officers had explained to the prime minister’s wife that obtaining such information was not in their intelligence-gathering remit.
Some of the veterans had been removed from the mainstream of intelligence and given responsibility for small operations that required little more than creating paperwork which went virtually unread. Realizing their careers were stagnating, they had resigned, and were now scattered across the length of Israel, keeping themselves occupied with reading, mostly history, trying to come to terms with the fact that they were also yesterday’s people.
All this had made Maurice glad to be out of Tel Aviv and back in the field.
The operation that had brought him to Paris had provided another chance to show he was a methodical and careful agent, one able to deliver what was expected. In this case the task was relatively simple: there was no real physical danger, only the risk of embarrassment should the French authorities discover what he was doing and quietly deport him. The Israeli ambassador knew Maurice was in Paris but had not been told why. That was standard operational procedure: if things went wrong, the envoy could plead ignorance.
Maurice’s task was to recruit an informer. This was known in the esoteric language of Mossad as a “cold approach,” suborning a foreign national. After two months of patient work, Maurice believed he was now close to succeeding.
His target was Henri Paul, assistant chief of the city’s Ritz Hotel, who also acted as chauffeur to its celebrity guests.
One had been Jonathan Aitken, a minister in Britain’s last Conservative government. Aitken had held special responsibility for coordinating arms sales and had built up a raft of contacts with Middle Eastern weapons dealers. This had led to World in Action, a TV investigative program, and the Guardian newspaper publishing highly damaging reports about Aitken’s ties to men not normally found in the company of government ministers. Aitken had sued for libel. The case had come to hinge on who had paid Aitken’s hotel account when he had stayed at the Ritz to meet some of his Arab contacts. In court, Aitken had sworn on oath that his wife had settled the account.
Through a third-party source, Mossad had tipped off investigators acting for the defendants that Mrs. Aitken had not been in Paris. The case had collapsed. Mossad, who had long regarded Aitken’s activities as a threat to Israel, had effectively destroyed him.
In 1999, after facing a lengthy criminal trial in London, Aitken was found guilty of perjury and given a prison sentence. By then his wife had left him, and a man who walked the corridors of power for many years faced a bleak future.
Understanding if not sympathy, came from an unlikely source, Ari Ben-Menashe (see chapter 8). He had once experienced the rigors of a New York prison after his own fall from grace as intelligence coordinator for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The position had given Ben-Menashe a rare insight into how Mossad and Israel’s other intelligence services operated. He regarded Aitken as “a man consumed by his own belief that he could outwit anyone. He did for years. But his mistake was to underestimate Mossad. They don’t take prisoners.”
Unlike Jonathan Aitken, whose life after prison holds little prospects, Ben-Menashe has made a spectacular recovery. By 1999 he had a well-established intelligence-gathering company based in Montreal, Canada. It numbers among clients several African countries as well as some in Europe. Multinationals also seek his services, having assured themselves their anonymity will be protected by Ben-Menashe.
His staff includes several former Canadian secret intelligence service officers and others who had worked for similar Israeli and European organizations. The company provides a wide range of economic, industrial, and protection services. The staff know their way around the arms dealers and well understand the rules of negotiating with kidnappers. There is not a city in the world where they are without contacts, many of them nurtured by Ben-Menashe from his days as a serious player in the Israeli intelligence world. He and his associates constantly update themselves on shifting political alliances and can often foresee which Third World government will fall—and who will replace it. Small and compact, Ben-Menashe’s company is in many ways modeled on Mossad, “moving,” Ben-Menashe cheerfully admits, “like thieves in the night. That’s the way it has to be in our business.” And it pays well.
Equipped with a new Canadian citizenship, he has found himself once more working with “the princes and kings of this world . . . the famous and those who use their fortunes to buy better protection. For them all knowledge is power and part of my job is to provide that essential information.”
In London he is a favored guest at the Savoy. In Paris it is the Ritz that greets him with deference.
In no time Ben-Menashe discovered that the hotel remained a meeting place for Middle Eastern arms brokers and their European contacts. He checked with Mossad colleagues. From them he learned just how important the hotel had become in Mossad’s overall strategy. Ben-Menashe, a natural-born acquirer of information—“long ago I learned that nothing I hear goes to waste”—decided he would watch how matters developed. It was a decision that would eventually directly involve him in the fate of Diana, Princess of Wales and her lover, Dodi al-Fayed, the playboy son of the Ritz’s owner, the mega-wealthy Mohammed al-Fayed.
Mossad had decided to have an informer in the Ritz who would be able to report on activities. It had set about the task by first obtaining the hotel’s staff list; this had been done by hacking into the Ritz computer system. No one at the hotel’s senior management level appeared to be a likely prospect; junior staff did not have the overall accessibility to guests for the task required. But Henri Paul’s responsibility for security meant every area of the Ritz was open to him. His passkey could access a guest’s safe-deposit box. There would be no questions asked if he wanted a copy of a person’s hotel bill, no raised eyebrows if he asked to see the hotel’s telephone log to obtain details of calls made by arms dealers and their contacts. He could know which woman a dealer had discreetly hired for a contact. As chauffeur to VIPs, Paul would be in a good position to overhear their conversations, witness their behavior, see where they went, whom they met.
The next stage had been to create a psycho-profile of Paul. Over several weeks information on his background had been unearthed by one of the resident katsas in Paris. Using a number of covers including an insurance company employee and a telephone salesman, the katsa had learned that Paul was a bachelor in no permanent relationship, lived in a low-rent apartment, and drove a black Mini but liked fast cars and racing the motorcycle of which he was part owner. Hotel staff had spoken of his liking a drink. There had been hints that, from time to time, he had used the services of an expensive hooker who also serviced some of the hotel’s guests.
The information had been evaluated by a Mossad psychologist. He had concluded that there was an inherent vulnerability about Henri Paul. The psychologist had recommended that steadily increasing pressure, linked with the promise of substantial monetary reward to finance Paul’s social life, could be the best way to recruit him. The operation could be a lengthy one, requiring considerable patience and skill. Rather than make further use of the resident katsa, Maurice would be sent to Paris.
As in any such Mossad operation, Maurice had followed well-tried guidelines. First, over several visits, he had familiarized himself with the Ritz and its environs. He had quickly identified Henri Paul, a muscular man with a certain swagger in his walk, who made it apparent that he sought approval from no one.
Maurice had observed the curious relationship Paul had with the paparazzi who staked out the front of the Ritz, ready to snatch photographs of the more newsworthy rich and famous guests. From time to time Paul would order the photographers to leave, and usually they would do so, circling the block on their motorcycles before returning. During those short trips, Paul would sometimes emerge from the hotel’s staff entrance and engage the paparazzi in friendly banter as they passed.
At night, Maurice had observed Paul drinking with several of the paparazzi in one of the bars around the Ritz he patronized with other staff after work.
In progress reports to Tel Aviv, Maurice had described Paul’s ability to drink considerable amounts of alcohol yet appear stone-cold sober. Maurice also confirmed that Paul’s suitability for the role of informer overrode his personal habits: he appeared to have the essential access and a position of high trust.
At some point in his discreet surveillance, Maurice discovered how Paul was betraying that trust. He was receiving money from the paparazzi for providing details of guest movements, enabling the photographers to be in a position to snatch pictures of the celebrities.
The exchange of information for cash took place either in one of the bars or in the narrow rue Cambon, where the Ritz staff entrance was situated.
By mid-August that exchange had focused on the expected arrival at the Ritz of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her new lover, Dodi Al-Fayed, the son of the hotel’s owner. They would stay in the fabled Imperial Suite.
All the Ritz staff were under strict instructions to keep details about Diana’s arrival secret under penalty of instant dismissal. Despite this, Paul had continued to risk his career by providing details of the forthcoming visit to several paparazzi. From each he had received further sums of money.
Maurice saw that Paul had also begun to drink more heavily and had overheard Ritz staff complain that the assistant security chief had become even more of a martinet: he had recently fired a floor maid he had caught stealing a bar of soap from a guest bedroom. Several of the hotel’s employees said that Paul was also taking pills and wondered if they were to help control his mood swings. Everyone agreed Paul had become more unpredictable: one moment he would be good-humored; the next he would display barely controlled anger over some imagined slight. Maurice decided the time had come to make his move.
The first contact was in Harry’s Bar in the rue Daunou. When Paul came in, Maurice was already sipping a cocktail. The Mossad katsa smoothly struck up a conversation, and the security man accepted a drink after Maurice mentioned that friends of his had stayed at the Ritz. Maurice added they had been surprised how many other guests had been wealthy Arabs.
If it had been a shot in the dark, it produced a staggering result. Paul replied that many of the Arabs were rude and arrogant and expected him to jump when they raised a finger. Worst were the the Saudis. Maurice mentioned he had heard that Jewish guests were just as difficult. Paul would have none of it. He insisted that Jews were excellent guests.
On that promising note, the evening ended with an arrangement to meet again in a few days, over dinner at a restaurant near the Ritz. During the meal Paul confirmed, under Maurice’s well-timed questions, much of what the katsa knew. The hotel security chief spoke of his passion for fast cars and his liking for piloting a small aircraft. But it was difficult to enjoy those habits on his salary.
That may well have been the moment Maurice began to exert pressure. Finding money was always a problem for such hobbies, but not an insoluble one. Almost certainly that perked Paul’s interest.
What followed then developed a rhythm of its own: Maurice laying down the bait and Paul all too eager to take it. The hook in place, Maurice would then have begun to reel in the line with the skills he had acquired at the Mossad training school.
At some point Maurice would have planted the idea he might be able to help, perhaps mentioning he worked for a company that was forever looking for ways to update its database and would pay good money to those who could help do so. This was a favorite opening gambit for Mossad recruiters on a cold-approach operation. From there it would be a small step to tell Paul that many of the Ritz guests no doubt possessed the kind of information that would interest the company.
Paul, perhaps uneasy at the turn of the conversation, may have balked. Maurice would have then moved to the next stage, saying that of course while he understood Paul’s reservations, they did come as a surprise to him. After all, it was common knowledge that Paul already took payment for information from the paparazzi. So why turn away the chance to make some real money?
Looking back, Ari Ben-Menashe would judge the operation at this stage as developed along classic lines. “From my personal knowledge there is no one better than Maurice (his name for this one operation), at this. A cold-approach operation requires a real finesse. Move too quickly and the fish is off the hook. Take too long and suspicion is soon coupled with fear. Recruiting is an art all by itself and a European like Henri Paul is very different from hooking an Arab on the West Bank or Gaza Strip.”
Maurice’s undoubted skill at delivering his proposition and accompanying revelations of how much he knew of Paul’s background would have been delivered with a combination of worldliness and persuasion, with the essential undertow of pressure. It would also have had an effect on Paul.
Even if he had not asked, he may well have realized that the man seated across from him at the dinner table was an intelligence officer or at least a recruiter for a service.
That may well be the reason for his response. According to an Israeli intelligence source who has a certain knowledge of the matter: “Henri Paul came straight out with it: Was he being asked to spy? If so, what was the deal? Just like that. No hedging or bullshit. Just what was the deal—and whom would he really be working for? That would have been the point when Maurice would have had to decide. Did he tell Paul he would be working for Mossad? There is no standard operational procedure for something like this. Every target is different. But Henri Paul was on the hook.”
If so, Maurice may well have told Paul what would be required of him: obtaining information on guests, perhaps even bugging their suites, and noting whom they entertained. There would have been discussions about payment, accompanied by an offer to open an account in a Swiss bank or, if need be, to pay Paul in cash. Maurice would have given the impression that such matters were not a problem. At that point he may even have revealed that Paul would be working for Mossad. All this would be standard for the successful conclusion of a cold-approach operation.
Paul was very probably scared at what he was asked to do. It was not a question of his loyalty to the Ritz; like other members of the staff, he worked for the hotel because of the relatively high salary and the perks. Paul was understandably frightened he was getting in over his head and could well end up in prison if he was found spying on the hotel’s guests.
Yet if he went to the police what would they do? Maybe they already knew that he was going to be propositioned. If he turned down the proposition, what then? If the hotel management learned he had already betrayed that most precious of all assets the Ritz offered—confidentiality—by informing the paparazzi, he could be fired, even prosecuted.
For Henri Paul in those last days of August 1997, there seemed no way out. He continued to drink, to take pills, to sleep restlessly, to bully junior staff. He was a man teetering close to the edge.
Maurice maintained the pressure. He often managed to be in a bar where Paul was drinking off-duty. The katsa’s very presence could only have been a further reminder to the security chief of what he was being pressured to do. Maurice continued to visit the Ritz, sipping an aperitif in one of the hotel bars, lunching in its restaurant, taking afternoon coffee in a lounge. To Henri Paul it would have seemed as if Maurice had become a personal shadow. That would have only further increased the pressure on him, reminding him that there was no way out.
Compounding the pressure was the forthcoming visit of Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed. Paul had been put in charge of their security while they were in the hotel, with particular responsibility for keeping away the paparazzi. At the same time the photographers were calling him on his cell phone seeking information about the visit; he was being offered large sums of money to provide details. The temptation to accept was another pressure. Everywhere he turned, there seemed to be pressure.
Though he managed to conceal it, Henri Paul was unraveling mentally. He was taking antidepressants, sleeping pills, and pep pills to get him through the day. This combination of drugs could only have furthered the strain on his ability to make reasoned judgments.
Later, Ben-Menashe felt if he had been running the operation, “that would have been when I would have pulled out. Henri Paul might well have been able to conceal from most people his mental state, but to an experienced operative like Maurice, trained to a high degree in making such observations, the evidence of deterioration would have been all too obvious. Almost certainly, Maurice would have told the man in charge in Tel Aviv, Danny Yatom, he should pull the plug . . . let it go. But for reasons only Yatom knows, he did not. Yatom was barely a year in the hot seat. He wanted to make a name for himself. Vanity, like arrogance, is one of the great dangers in intelligence work. Yatom has plenty of both and that’s okay—except when it gets in the way of reality. And the reality was Mossad should have pulled out.”
It did not. Yatom’s consuming need to have his own man inside the Ritz drove him. But other events that no one could have foreseen were moving to their own climax.
Copyright © 1995, 1999, 2005, 2007 by Gordon Thomas. All rights reserved.