They’re the world’s finest killing machine. They couldn’t be less funny. They couldn’t be more serious. And yet I am fascinated by the Mossad. Also, I have loved Harriet the Spy since I was a kid. Coincidence?
Harriet the Spy is a young adult novel, published in 1964, written and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet is a kick-ass, badass, fearless 10-year-old girl who lives on the Upper East Side, basically being raised by her nanny (or “governess”). Harriet barely knows her parents and they barely know her. Every day after school Harriet changes into dungarees and a hoodie and spies on her neighbors. She has a route she follows every day; she hides and watches the same people and keeps track of them in her notebook. She also writes about her friends and classmates and while she’s always honest, she’s not always kind. Her friends discover her notebook and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly Harriet’s parents are involved, concerned and decide the only course of action is to take away Harriet’s notebook. She is devastated. Conflicts are resolved; Harriet gets a new notebook. Happy ending? Read it yourself!
I’m not sure when I actually became aware that the Mossad existed; through college and early adulthood I wasn’t all that concerned with global politics. I continued to be nosy, though – or as we said in Hatfield, “got a nose problem?” Yes. We said that. My ex-partner’s father was a retired CIA agent. I’m not sure there is such a thing as retired CIA and in fact my ex can back me up on this – we were pretty sure our phone was tapped the entire time we lived in California in the late 80s. Sarah dropped out of Smith after her sophomore year to move to San Francisco with me, three days after I graduated. It may not have been obvious to her parents that Sarah’s dropping out of Smith was really a mutual decision between her and the administration. But away she went, 3000 miles away from her family and living with a very sketchy character. Me.
Back in the 80s, of course, it was all land-lines. And our phone would ring in the middle of the night – we’d answer and hear clicks and beeps and fax-machine sounds. So, someone had our number confused with a fax number, someone who was faxing at 3:00 am Pacific time. When we’d pick up the phone to make a call, we’d hear a click before the dial tone. We figured it was the phone. We bought a new phone. The noises and the late-night faxing continued. Then we moved across town and back then you had to change your phone number when you moved! So we got to the new place and plugged in the phone – it was shaped like Gumby – and got a 3:00 am fax. We joked about the phone being tapped. I’m pretty sure it was.
A few years later I made the decision to get an master’s in library science not because of my lifelong love of books and libraries but because of my fascination with information: who has it, who needs it, and how does anyone get it? I had just started hanging out online in 1991; I was frustrated because I knew a few things but I knew there was so much more. I wrote my thesis in 1993; it was a user guide to the internet for librarians. (Which I submitted shortly before Mosaic was released and my paper was, in theory at least, obsolete!)
So, librarians and spies. What do intelligence agencies know, how do they get it and what do they do with it? The Kennedy assassination, Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor, Facebook. (Am I the only one who thinks Facebook is just a front for NSA?) And, of course, the Mossad.
A few years ago I discovered the BBC series MI5 and after watching the entire run twice I was pretty much a field agent. All I needed was the clothes, a tight leather jacket and a black pantsuit, for starters. Somehow MI5 seemed so much cooler than CIA, with the exception of George Clooney in Syriana (or in real life, according to Reddit). A few MI5 episodes had plot lines involving Mossad – not really stories about Israel, just the ruthless hit squads. I was intrigued. Non-British agents were portrayed as equally human and glamorous as the ‘5 agents. Except Mossad. Not many Mossad agents had much dialogue – there was a lot of lurking, creeping, and pouncing. Lots of shadow, lots of body armor and lots of impressive acrobatics.
Admittedly, I’ve always had a pretty casual relationship with reality, but I figured I should start learning about the real Mossad. So I watched a Steven Spielberg movie. Munich is the story of the massacre at the 1972 Olympics, a retelling of the 1986 television movie Sword of Gideon. Both movies are based on real, documented, historic events but who knows what the real story is? Who knows what Golda Meir said to the hit squad? Just my kind of movie: facts, potential facts, and myths & legends. I watched a bunch of Mossad-related movies, all features. I found a bootleg copy of the documentary The Gatekeepers for free on YouTube, but it’s not subtitled. It’s supposed to be excellent, though. And I read some books. By Way of Deception, by Victor Ostrovsky, a former and apparently disgruntled Mossad operative, was a decent read. Right now I’m reading Gideon’s Spies and so far, so good.
In 1966 the Mossad managed to steal a MiG fighter out of Bagdhad and land it in Israel. They actually physically stole a Russian fighter plane. Or so the story goes. If it’s true, then that’s some brass balls right there. If it’s a myth, it’s a good read. Obviously there’s a difference between fact and fiction, movies and reality. With intelligence agencies, what’s the difference? Mossad is known for many things, among them anonymity. Secrets protect the good guys, secrets protect the bad guys, and most of us use secrets to protect ourselves from time to time. Harriet the Spy told the truth and got into a lot of trouble, but she can’t live her life any other way. I like to think of myself as Harriet all grown up, but I’m not. I’d tell a lie to protect someone’s feelings, and I always tell the truth at just the wrong time. More importantly: I’d never fit in a dumbwaiter.