On August 21, 1995, an article entitled, “C.I.A. Re-examines Hiring of Ex-Terrorist as Agent” appeared in the New York Times. It was written by one Tim Weiner, a Times reporter and Pulitzer-Prize Winner, who gained fame thorough his, “The Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA”. The book alarmingly describes why practically every CIA Director left the agency in worse shape than when he found it, and how these profound failures jeopardized US security.
The subject Times report points to actions by the C.I.A. in “cleaning house” after the cold war, which included trimming the roster of foreign agents and writing the rules for hiring them. At the time, a retired terrorist who had been on the agency’s payroll, had given it cause for some soul-searching.
Apparently, the man provided crucial assistance in the agency’s efforts to track and trap the notorious Carlos the Jackal who was responsible for killing 83 people in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Government officials admitted that Carlos’ capture could not have occurred without the retired terrorist. With the leads he provided, the C.I.A. developed information that it passed to France counterintelligence service.
The French were able to trap Carlos in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital and he was flown to France where he faced trial followed by sentencing. However, around that time, the C.I.A. discovered a brutal resume pertaining to the retired terrorist. In the mid-1980s, he participated in two bombings in Western Europe which resulted in several wounded Americans.
In 1987, the retired terrorist had ” a change of heart” and consequently commenced furnishing information to the C.I.A.. However, despite its value, some US officials developed concerns about having hired a man they new “had American blood on his hands.” But, indications suggested that they would probably repeat the exercise, given the same set of circumstances.
One deviation imparted by some officials felt that the Justice Department should have been informed about the retired terrorist’s past before he was hired. The protection afforded the subject individual is neither illegal nor unusual. Carl Stern, the Justice Department’s chief spokesman indicated where appropriate or even necessary, it had to be dealt with.
Jeffrey H. Smith, who was engaged to re-write the agency’s guidelines, offered his thoughts “on the delicate balancing test.” The rest of the report massages the issues in typical British fashion without a definite conclusion. Of particular interest is the omission of the ex- terrorists fate following his crude dismissal from the C.I.A.
However, we find in John Rizzo’s book, The Company Man, Chapter 8, Page 151, the following statement, “Despite all our entreaties, the Times ran the story on Page 1 of August 21, 1995. Some identifying details were omitted, but way too many weren’t. The case officer handling the “asset” tracked him down overseas for an emergency meeting. To warn him about the story, to offer him protection and safe haven. The “asset” stunned and betrayed, refused. He would have nothing to do with us, he told the case officer. He promptly went underground and disappeared. No one ever saw him again. No one.”
In this, it is to be understood that Rizzo, [born 1947], was an attorney in the C.I.A. for 34 years; he was the Deputy Counsel or Acting General Counsel of the C.I.A. for the nine years of the “war on terror”, during which the C.I. A. held dozens of detainees in black site prisons and yet did not deter him from being protective of his employer.
“Asset” is the term the C.I.A. assigned to secretly refer to an ex-terrorist reformed terrorist. Further, Rizzo explains that the Weiner piece was one more log on the political fires burning in Washington D.C. over the morality of the C.I.A.’s historical practice of enlisting the services of individuals with unsavory, violent pasts.
“The Road to Damascus” is a creation Of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” journey through the overlooked and misunderstood. Every Podcast episode re-examines something from the past and in this case addressed the subject ex-terrorist. The book focuses on “Company Man” noting that the author, John Rizzo was involved with all the spies run by the C.I.A
After reading the book, Gladwell was struck by the “spy, a very good one” and sought out Rizzo for an interview, since he felt that if any single anecdote would garner public attention it would be this item. He learnt that the given spy nick-named “Al Pucino” because of his appearance felt remorse guilt about what he’d done in his youth. Rizzo stated that he could not recall another instance of an “asset” who had a “change of heart” when volunteering his services. He also stated that the quality of the information provided was “very good” and considered to be highly reliable and that surprisingly he did not seek much money, because of his conscience. This was particularly interesting.
In explaining the C.I.A.’s function in attempting to conduct a secret intelligence service in an open democratic society, unlike the Russians, Chinese and to a certain extent the British, Rizzo pointed to the constant tug of war between a free press, a cantankerous press and a skeptical press, there were bound to be arguments. To illustrate his point, he addressed the cases presented by Carlos, the Jackal, whose notoriety included membership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, assassinations, massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich games and bombings, bin Laden and Aldrich Ames. He described the extent of care needed when dealing with “bad guys” and upholding the Constitution.
The Podcast Road to Damascus, reveals what happens when the terrorist in question has a change of heart, and brings to light his former life as an Islamic militant who left a trail of destruction in Europe prior to his engagement by the C.I.A.in 1987. It raises several issues on morality:
[a] Was it really necessary to make known [publish] details on the case of the reformed ex-terrorist? Undoubtedly this was most hurtful to him.
[b] Should not consideration been given to the ex-terrorist who was seeking to repudiate his past since he risked his life for a country which was not his own? In seeking atonement the C.I.A. did not allow it.
[c] One is reminded about the case of Saul of Tarsus of whom it is said persecuted Christians, had a vision, became a Christian himself and was forgiven.
[d] Should not the victims be considered?
[e] Upon learning of the insistence by the Times to run the story, the ex-terrorist was flabbergasted, refused help, felt betrayed and burst out “I’m a dead man!”
Soon after the NY Times published the report which included reference to him, in all but name, “Al Pucini” the ex-terrorist was killed by former colleagues, as he prophesied.
On August 16, 2014, Aish.com published “The Muslim Spy who became a Jew”. It is the story of Ibrahim Yassin who became Rabbi Avraham Sinai as told to Chananya Bleich. He was from a non religious family in a small village in Lebanon who supported a Western Lebanese government. But the government becoming increasingly weak were in reality ruled by Palestinian terrorists. Consequently Yassin who was amongst those whose political views was in opposition to the Palestinians suffered from harassment and punishment.
For Yassin, the arrival of the IDF in 1982, proved to be a blessing. In fact, he had admired them before then. He speaks of how their lives improved dramatically through the Israeli presence, in employment, restoration of order, money, peacefulness and particularly the removal of terror. In 1983, Hezbollah began staging more attacks against Israel, ‘just like Hamas is doing now.” In 1985, Hezbollah. In 1985, Hezbollah “tried to kill my entire family”, so they fled to southern Lebanon, near an IDF base which controlled the area.
One day Yassin , his father and 2 brothers were kidnapped and locked in an underground bunker, held there for a whole year. Apart from viewing his 9 moth baby being burnt, he suffered from torture and being cut with knives. In time, he was able to bond with the Israeli soldiers. He felt connected to them and appreciated their kindness, leaving him with a deep desire to return the favor. During that year, he had much time to reflect. He learnt sufficient Koran to be able to counter Islamic myths and propaganda.
After a year in the bunker, the family was released, his captors believing that the family had become true believers in Hezbollah’s cause. With the hope of helping Israel, Yassin set about joining Hezbollah and establishing contact with the IDF. He met an Israeli who had visited his home and indicated his willingness to “work for Israel from within Hezbollah. He tried very hard to dissuade me.” Pointing to all the atrocities Hezbollah had inflicted on the Yassin family, the Israeli failed to convince him.
The IDF put Yassin through a series of rigorous background and personality checks, prior to his becoming an Israeli plant in the “echelons of Hezbollah.” He successfully interfered with many of Hezbollah’s plans, preventing attacks and saving many Jewish lives. He worked from within Hezbollah for 14 years, from 1986 until 2000, helping to prevent many terrorist attacks.
In 1977, he sensed that certain members of his Hezbollah group had become suspicious of him and realized that time in Lebanon was coming to a close. By means of swift planning with the Israelis, the Yassin family was able to cross the border to Israel and settle in Tzfat. With great effort and long time study, Yassin was converted by Rabbi Shmuel el Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat.
“From Hezbollah to Israeli army: The Extraordinary journey of a father and son” by the Times of Israel staff was published on May 14, 2016, and provides a continuum in the amazing life of Rabbi Avraham Sinai. During the week which followed, Rabbi Avraham Sinai’s son Amos, born in Lebanon, received a presidential citation for service in the Golani brigade.
Amos is Sinai’s fourth son to enlist in the IDF. Close to completing his service, he plans to remain in the security business. “I’m thinking of continued service in the Shin Bet, maybe in the Prison Service”, he told Ynet news. Avraham noted that under different circumstances his son could have been a citation-worthy Hezbollah fighter.. “They missed out.”
Father and son met Sinai’s old handler Mordechai a week prior to the ceremony. As reported, the warmth between the rabbi and general was something to behold. They recounted their escapades “meeting in the middle of the night deep inside Lebanon, with mortars around us.” Mordechai noted with satisfaction that Amos was a distinguished soldier in Golan’s Battalion 51, the same unit he once served in. “How the world turns.”
The evaluation of the fate of both reformed terrorists invites measures of morality, judgment and investigation of previous cases having similar criteria.