Michael Ross: Richard Silverstein Confuses Concept of “Tikkun Olam” with Reckless Endangerment, Cyber-Bullying, Defamation, and Mendacity.

michaelross sm 150x150 Michael Ross: Richard Silverstein Confuses Concept of Tikkun Olam with Reckless Endangerment, Cyber Bullying, Defamation, and Mendacity.Michael Ross was born in Canada and served as a soldier in a combat unit of the Israel Defence Forces prior to being recruited as a “combatant,” (a term designating a deep-cover operative tasked with working in hostile milieus) in Israel’s legendary secret intelligence service, the Mossad. In his 13 year career with the Mossad, Ross was also a case officer in Africa and South East Asia for three years, and was the Mossad’s counterterrorism liaison officer to the CIA and FBI for two-and-a-half years. Ross is a published writer and commentator on Near Eastern affairs, intelligence and terrorism. He is the author of The Volunteer: The Incredible True Story of an Israeli Spy on the Trail of International Terrorists.

For several months my personal and professional reputation has been under attack by what I can only assume are politically motivated voices in the blogosphere and social media. For a public figure this is part of the game. However, one writer in particular, has acted with such irresponsible maliciousness that I have been forced to respond through both legal and public arenas.

Richard Silverstein wrote not one, but two, very malicious and extremely defamatory blog posts about me based on a “source” whose well-documented run-in with the internet “Hacktivist” known as “The Jester” speaks for itself.

This is the part where I announce that I have retained the services of Vorys, Sater, Seymour, Pease LLP, leaders in the field of internet defamation. All documents and statements contained in this piece can be verified through their offices.

Armed with this background and disclaimer, let us move forward.

Richard Silverstein makes all kinds of heavy weather about exposing my true name “Burrows”. It is indeed a true name, and nothing short of criminal to reveal it to be sure, but unbeknownst to Richard Silverstein one that I have only been using since 2002. Until that point, I had been living under two separate identities; one Israeli and one Canadian. The notarized copies of according alias passport and supporting documentation are lodged with my lawyers and I will be making copies available to a number of select national security journalists.

In a letter sent to my lawyers from my friend and colleague, Ishmael Jones – a long serving and distinguished non-official cover veteran of the CIA’s National Clandestine service – had this to say:

The most troubling act by Mr. Silverstein is that he reveals Mr. Ross’s true name. This places Mr. Ross and his family at physical risk. Because it involves a former member of an allied intelligence service, slander and libel laws may be the only options for responding to Mr. Silverstein. If Mr. Silverstein had done this to an American intelligence officer, however, he would be subject to criminal prosecution.

I don’t care about being “exposed”. I do however, find it nothing short of criminal to do so in full knowledge that I have a wife and children.

Dear public, how is that even remotely excusable? This isn’t exercising a First Amendment right, it’s reckless endangerment.

Jones continues:

Through my service with the CIA and through contact with friends and colleagues within the CIA, I have confirmed the truth of Michael Ross’s biography as described in his book. Mr. Silverstein’s blog posts are slanderous and unfounded.

Now for some other refutations of his blog posts:

I posted a photo of Steve Nash’s high school jersey’s at St. Michael’s University School and (apparently not content with questioning my professional background alone) Richard Silverstein asserts that I claim to have attended the school. I have existing close family ties to the school and my uncle is an alumnus. I took the photo as Steve Nash made a surprise visit, as he does on occasion, to the school that day. I attended a perfectly good public school with its own notable alumni including Steve Nash, who attended my school and switched to St. Michaels later on.

Richard Silverstein also claims that I wasn’t in the Canadian military and states he couldn’t locate me through the Department of National Defence (as if they hand out personnel files to anyone who asks). As I pointed out, my Canadian identity prior to 2002 was not “Burrows”. After basic training at CFB Cornwallis, NS, I was selected to serve in a combat arms regiment at CFB Petawawa in the Canadian Special Service Brigade from 1979 to 1983. A small contingent of my regiment also served in an exchange program with a similar U.S. unit based in Fort Hood, Texas. Parenthetically, an acquaintance who resides in my neighborhood is a retired Major-General in the Canadian military who in his past, commanded a sister regiment; we have a number of former colleagues in common.

As for my Mossad career. I was recruited in 1988 and served in three operational divisions until December 2001, when I retired with the equivalent military rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and in the position of Branch Head. Hardly a low-level under-achiever, I left the Mossad because I was tired of the work, the region as a whole, and wanted to return to my home in Canada. I put in the hard time and nobody is more aware of this than my family, who were the ones who endured the real hardship of being part and parcel of my Mossad career. It’s worth noting that one of my sons recently served in a special operations force unit of the type that, were Richard Silverstein’s accusations true, would have precluded him from eligibility in such a unit.

I was recruited because I had an established anglo-saxon background with no previous ties to Israel or Judaism. I made it through the Mossad’s lengthy vetting and stringent selection process for an operational deep-cover role. I was a decent athlete and could think on my feet. I could travel unhindered by Israeli characteristics. I was not an analyst. I had no background in military intelligence nor in academia so I served 11.5 years in the field and 2.5 in HQ. I retired with a pension that is still paid out monthly. I have notarized translations of documents attesting to these facts. I even retained the invitation to my retirement ceremony held in the presence of the Mossad Director-General in December 2001.

Were I to fabricate a book about my experiences, it would cover a much shorter period of my life and be a hell of a lot more exciting than it actually was. I never claimed I was an uber-spy. My career was more Le Carre than Ludlum.

Another highly erroneous statement in Richard Silverstein’s blog posts is his assertion that in a liaison role, I would have had no contact with the FBI. The FBI opened their Tel Aviv Legal Attache (LEGATT) in 1996 during an inaugural visit by then Director Louis Freeh. I came on board the Liaison and Special Political Operations Division’s North America Department two weeks later. The Mossad is responsible for all liaison relationships with representatives of all foreign intelligence services without exception. There are a number of former FBI agents on Twitter who can attest to this fact. Of course, Richard Silverstein would never think to ask.

As it happens, the real predator and poseur in this whole tawdry little drama is Richard Silverstein. He preys on people to whom he is ideologically opposed while posing as a “journalist”. My understanding is that one of the basic tenets of journalism is to conduct research and interview the subject of your article to obtain all the facts. I received no communication from Silverstein requesting clarification or my side of the story. He did write my publisher however, who shared the contents of his email with me and promptly referred it to Random House’s legal department due to its threatening tone. It’s not surprising that Richard Silverstein’s accuracy and the quality of his reporting has been called into question.

Richard Silverstein then goes on to compare me to Anthony Weiner. That is as highly defamatory as it is obscene. I am and have been married for nearly ten years to a beautiful, accomplished, and wonderful woman. I dedicated my book to her and she appears at the end of my acknowledgements. We are best friends and soul-mates. We recently spent time together in SE Asia where I was able to show her some of my former haunts. My wife followed me on Twitter and knew exactly from whence this salacious cancer originated. So do many others. Surprise.

Despite two letters to cease and desist unlawful conduct from my lawyers, Richard Silverstein will not remove his defamatory and libelous blog posts. So be it. My lawyers have prepared the formal complaint and I am prepared to sue Richard Silverstein in a Seattle court at the time of my choosing. In the interim, I will spare no effort in defending my good name and record of service.

I formally challenge Richard Silverstein to come out from behind the safety of his keyboard and debate me in any public forum; radio, TV, or the internet, I’m good to go.

In closing, I offer this advice to Richard Silverstein: Spend less time trolling the internet and engaging in toxic, spiteful, and malicious character assassination. Try reading former Navy SEAL Rob DuBois’ excellent book, “Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War” and think about what it is to be a mensch instead of a cyber-bully.

Karma, Richard Silverstein, karma.

Life in the Cold – Discussing the Psychology of Spying with Former Mossad Officer Michael Ross

Michael Ross was born in Canada and served as a soldier in a combat unit of the Israel Defence Forces prior to being recruited as a “combatant,” (a term designating a deep-cover operative tasked with working in hostile milieus) in Israel’s legendary secret intelligence service, the Mossad. In his 13 year career with the Mossad, Ross was also a case officer in Africa and South East Asia for three years, and was the Mossad’s counterterrorism liaison officer to the CIA and FBI for two-and-a-half years. Ross is a published writer and commentator on Near Eastern affairs, intelligence and terrorism. He is the author of The Volunteer: The Incredible True Story of an Israeli Spy on the Trail of International Terrorists. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrossletters. John Little tweets at @blogsofwar.

John Little: John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a damning and deeply cynical take on the intelligence profession and government’s use of intelligence and intelligence operatives. It is an uncomfortable and exaggerated (but not entirely untrue) look at the difficult human dimension of this business that will always be relevant even as technological sources of intelligence continue to advance. In a world where relationships are often built on an inherent dishonesty, empathy for the source is secondary to achieving one’s goal (or non-existent) and success may also mean that lives are damaged or lost in the process how does an intelligence officer succeed and walk away relatively undamaged? Is that even possible?

Michael Ross: I think the great achievement of “The Spy Who Came infrom the Cold” is that it lifted the Bondian veil and revealed that spies aren’t all suave Aston-Martin driving sex addicts who gamble at high end casinos but what Le Carre’s anti-hero Alec Leamas describes as “a bunch of seedy squalid bastards like me.” While I think he is being a bit harsh in his assessment, I believe the underlying point he is making in this part of the book (and brilliant subsequent film with Richard Burton) is that people searching for some deeper, altruistic motive behind the actions of their intelligence services will be readily disabused of these notions when confronted with the reality of the profession. Le Carre posited that intelligence services are the sub-conscious of the nation they serve and when examined as such, you see that he has also revealed another hard truth about this milieu. I would only add to Le Carre’s observation by saying that intelligence services are also the disassociative aspect of a nation’s sub-conscious. Policy makers have a tendency to only ask questions about methods when things go awry.

A spy’s job is to meet the expectations set by his nation’s national security agenda (and in specific instances I include economic security under this umbrella) and part of this includes targeting people for sources of human intelligence who will assist you in meeting these expectations. From the dock-worker in Tartous to the network administrator for a European telecom provider, they all have to be spotted, assessed, developed, recruited, and handled by a spy in person. This involves forming a bond and workable relationship, but for obvious reasons, these relationships can only go so far. There can also be a great deal of warmth and empathy in these relationships that is often misinterpreted by the source (I heard of more than once case where a female source fell in love with her case officer), but it can never be reciprocated to the degree that it interferes with the primary objective of the relationship. A HUMINT case officer who lacks empathy and is unable to make some kind of bond with his source will never achieve the full potential of the relationship.

Things do go wrong from time to time and sources get caught and in our area of operation, this often means torture and death. I never saw a case officer remain unscathed by such an experience and I think one of the great fears of practioners is to lose a source. Some case officers are less moved by relationships with thier sources than others but in the end, it’s a question of balance; be the person that your source wants to spill his secrets to but don’t take it so far in the direction of cameraderie that your source is also your best friend. People know when sincerity isn’t genuine. Recruiting human sources of intelligence is as much an emotional and psychological construct as it is an intellligence gathering one.

John Little: The psychological dynamics of these relationships really run the whole spectrum so it’s difficult to generalize. However, agents seem to be burdened with most of the psychological stress. Once that line has been crossed and they’ve betrayed their country the case officer is both a lifeline and in some ways a potential (if not outright) threat. It seems like a really unstable dynamic. How were you prepared for this? Can role play and classroom time really prepare a potential case officer for the challenge or does it have to be mastered in the field?

Michael Ross: Let there be no mistake; it’s the source that bears almost all the risk. How often do you hear in the news that a Mossad, CIA, or MI6 case officer has been captured and/or executed? By the same token, being a case officer has its stresses and dangers (one of my Mossad colleagues was shot by a turned source during a meeting in Brussels and we all know what happened at the CIA base near Khost), but by comparison, it’s negligible compared to what the source must endure waiting for the local security goons to get wise. The worst thing a case officer can do is be the cause of his source’s capture. It’s why we do surveillance detection routes, have good cover, and make damn sure we’re not being the reason the source was discovered. The recent episode with Ryan Fogle in Moscow is a good example of what happens when you don’t take the HUMINT recruitment process seriously. You can laugh at Fogle and his wig but you have to wonder who trained him and even more importantly, thought he was a case officer worthy of deployment in Russia.

There is no replacement for experience but training is a very big part of success in the field. There is a lot of time devoted to role-playing during training. I can’t speak for other services but our role-playing consists primarily of real-life scenarios based on what happens when things go sideways. You have sources who balk, demand more money, threaten to go to their own authorities etc. I recall one Mossad case officer sitting calmly with his Arab source in a hotel in Zurich and the source engaging in histrionics and complaining bitterly about his lot in life. The Mossad case officer just smiled and reassuringly told the source in Arabic, “I kiss the words that come out of your mouth”. Sometimes all a source wants is reassurance and a chance to vent. A good HUMINT service always remembers that it’s dealing with human beings with all their failings and idiosyncrasies. A good case officer is able to evaluate very quickly what type of person he’s dealing with and conduct himself accordingly.

John Little: So maintaining a productive relationship with the source requires a lot of work. Does all the effort that goes into maintaining security and managing the agent’s psychological state help the case officer maintain the necessary emotional distance? It’s never really a “normal” relationship and it would seem that those extra layers of activity would constantly reinforce that.

Michael Ross: That’s an excellent way of framing the relationship. As a case officer, there is so much to be done in the professional domain that the logistics and requirements of the job prevent the relationship with your source from becoming a true “friendship”. It’s important to also remember that a case officer has other sources on the go at varying degrees of development at once and therefore is too busy managing each relationship like a plate spinner to somehow turn work into the kind of relaxing and fun construct that real friendship entails. The essence of real friendship is effortless, the essence of being a good case officer is making it look effortless when it’s not.

Having said that, there’s moments to debrief and there’s times when you can hit the bars and relax with your source. Some case officers are fun people and some are very businesslike. It’s a question of personal style and if it works, then nobody will question it. I’m an introvert at heart but the work forced me to overcome that part of myself and become someone else for the purpose of getting the job done. I actually enjoyed that transformation and still do on the rare occasions that I still have to step out on myself.

John Little: How does this dynamic change when a case officer’s leadership gets involved? It’s not too difficult to imagine a scenario where all three players have different expectations from the relationship. Do these kinds of breakdowns occur? Are there common strategies for managing this problem?

Michael Ross: The Mossad, because of its size and small cadre of case officers at its disposal, has to be really selective about the sources that it recruits. This means that the case officer’s leadership is involved in much of the process in a collaborative way. Having said that, I remember taking two senior managers from HQ to a country in Africa who had never visited before to meet some sources and one of the managers – who served in France – made a comment about the conduct of my source that I took rather personally. In defence of my source I made an angry comment about Africa not being exactly the same as Europe. I knew the terrain and the local attitudes and my manager was looking at it from the perspective of his experiences in Europe. I received a stern rebuke and the moment was instructive. I endeavored thereafter to educate my managers about the way business is done in the places I chose to serve and also remember that yes, a source needs his case officer to be his advocate with his own people from time to time.

Even in the most collaborative environment, the friction between field and HQ will always exist.

John Little: It sounds rare but when the collaboration does break down, and the case officer and leadership find themselves at odds, is there a specific approach to working that out or do they eventually end the conversation, pull rank, and force the case officer to carry out their instructions? And while we are on the topic is it fair to say that headquarters has to manage it’s case officers to some degree the same way case officers manage their agents?

Michael Ross: I don’t think I ever saw a complete break down between case officer and HQ but there are differences of opinion on how to approach a recruitment operation. These details are always hashed out in advance. Case officers are expected to work with little guidance and a fair amount of autonomy but the reporting structure makes sure that there is no real disconnect.

As far as case officer management goes, that’s a really interesting question because case officers tend to be people with subtle (and at times not so subtle) powers of persuasion and manipulation. Issues arise when case officers think it’s okay to use this finely honed skill in their personal lives and with colleagues at work. It’s considered very bad form in the Mossad for a case officer to try and use his skills on colleagues or as a means to advance his or her career. It’s extremely rare, but it does happen. Case officers (and combatants) are a special demographic that requires careful, but not overly stringent management. One of the advantages that the Mossad has is that it’s senior ranks are not professional bureaucrats but people who have earned their position through successful careers in the field – and these are not people to be trifled with. In fact, it’s not usual to have a new division head appointed that has barely spent anytime at all inside Mossad HQ.

John Little: Despite the Mossad’s laser focus on its mission, the excellent training and a generally effective chain of command I still get the sense that you can personally relate to the source of Alec Leamas’ cynicism. Can you, in very general terms, touch on the decisions or outcomes during your career that didn’t set will with you and perhaps still don’t?

Michael Ross: As someone whose career was almost entirely based in the field I can very much identify with Alec Leamas and his cynicism. There’s a great (and in my view under-noticed) part in “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” where Le Carre talks about the essence of being a spy and living a life under cover: “In itself, the practice of deception is not particularly exacting; it is a matter of experience, of professional expertise, it is a facility most of us can acquire. But while a confidence trickster, a play-actor or a gambler can return from his performance to the ranks of his admirers, the secret agent enjoys no such relief. For him, deception is first a matter of self-defense. He must protect himself not only from without but from within, and against the most natural of impulses: though he earn a fortune, his role may forbid him the purchase of a razor; though he be erudite, it can befall him to mumble nothing but banalities; though he be an affectionate husband and father, he must under all circumstances withhold himself from those in whom he should naturally confide.”

For all the cool professionalism of my service as I describe it, there are the petty banalities that one cannot escape; the source you detest and yet must cajole and entertain, the bigot, the venal, the malodorous, and the foul. The constant and monotonous surveillance detection routes (try doing one in Delhi in 42 C. heat, it’s very unglamorous). Then there is your own desk officer who forgets to maintain your commercial cover address and brings your credibility into question within your operational environment, the constant loneliness, and the occasional failure. This is compounded by those instances where you are putting a source and his family at risk yet he knows it and agrees because you can help his family or keep him afloat financially knowing his dependency on you is like a drug. He’s your worst enemy and now your best friend. After someone looks at you in the way a drowning man looks at a life preserver, believe me that it changes you and makes you second guess yourself and who you really are. At the center is a sense of duty. This is the only place where soldiers and spies walk a common road; you are expected to do the worst things because it’s a contract you signed and fulfill because if you don’t, then who will?

You can read more discussions with Michael Ross here.

William Tucker: Syria’s S-300 Air Defense System in Perspective

wt2 William Tucker: Syria’s S 300 Air Defense System in PerspectiveWilliam serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning. Mr. Tucker regularly writes on terrorism, intelligence (geopolitical/strategic), violent religious movements, and psychological profiling. Prior to his current position, Mr. Tucker served in the U.S. Army where he frequently briefed superior military officers in global terrorist movements and the modernization of foreign militaries. Additionally, he advised Department of Defense Police on domestic and international terrorist movements and trends in guerrilla attacks. Mr. Tucker received his B.A. and M.A. in Homeland Security (both with Honors from American Military University – AMU). You can follow William on Twitter at @tuckerwj.

In an interview with Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed to have already received an S-300 air defense system of Russian manufacture. More accurately, Assad said “missiles” which could indicate that the entire S-300 kit hasn’t yet arrived in Syria. At a time of civil war when the government is pitted against an asymmetric foe without any air assets, the question of why Syria would bother purchasing such a system seems rather profound. Also at the forefront of this discussion is the possibility that Israel may attack these new air defense assets thus rendering the purchase moot. Conceivably, there must be more at play than a simple arms purchase. Granted, this is a profound observation, but it is one that should be dissected in a timely manner as this move by Assad and Russia is rather provocative. It is Russia, however, where this analysis should begin.

Russia is following a dual track role in its relations with the Assad regime, but it is also using that relationship as a lever in its relations with the U.S. and its allies in Europe. The move by Moscow to sell this system to Syria at a diplomatically sensitive time is meant to underscore Russia’s resolve in standing with Damascus. This isn’t to say that Russia’s motives are altruistic; rather that Moscow has a strategic desire to maintain a foothold in the Mediterranean basin. Losing Assad would undermine this goal and force Russia to rely on other levers in it’s near abroad such as the Caucasus, the Balkans, or energy supplies to Europe. For each lever lost, Russia would find its options narrowed and thus much less persuasive. By selling an advanced air defense system to Assad, Russia can complicate the planning of a conventional intervention in the Syrian civil war by western powers. Furthermore, it would serve to undermine U.S. initiatives in the region by extending Assad’s remaining hold on power. It is no accident that Russia made the sale public as the U.S. and the EU were discussing arming the Syrian opposition.

Considering this sale, the Israeli question looms large. As Hezbollah and Iran continue to double down in their combined effort to save Assad, Israel has engaged in targeted strikes against weapons that could wind up in the wrong hands – namely the hands of regional non-state actors. Israel has executed these strikes with near impunity, but from Syria’s perspective an upgrade in air defense would be meant to temper the targeted strikes. If the Syrian and Russian reading of the situation vis-à-vis Israel is correct, then the Israelis would be forced to expand air operations by first focusing on wide scale suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) operations. Doing so would force the IAF to widen its targeting of air defense systems and increase the rate of Israeli air strikes. Once the air defense network has been mitigated, only then could Israel strike the intended weapons or Syrian strategic/tactical targets. With the rate of airstrikes forced to increase, then it would follow that pressure on Israel – most likely from the U.S. – to abandon this method of controlling the arms flow would increase. At least, that’s one interpretation of the Syrian, and/or Russian mindset.

Israel can avoid this scenario, however. They could conceivably strike before the S-300 system is set up and integrated into the existing Syrian air defense network. Although this is a workable approach, it does entail some risk. There is the ever present possibility that Russian soldiers could be involved in the set-up, network integration, and regular maintenance of the new system until Assad loyalists are trained to operate it. Striking prematurely could put the IAF in the position of launching air strikes against Russian soldiers – the fallout of which would damage already tense ties between Israel and Russia. Because the S-300 is a long range system, it would cover Israeli, Lebanese, and Syrian airspace. This is a situation that Israel simply cannot accept. Damaging already frayed relations with Russia by striking the Syrian air defense network directly would seem to be the better alternative.

Another avenue to consider is the use of EW, or Electronic Warfare, to spoof the air defense network and allow the IAF to continue its targeted strikes – albeit in a limited fashion. Israel has successfully used EW against Russian air defense systems in Syria since at least 1982 and perhaps more recently. According to several accounts of the now infamous 2007 bombing of the al-Kibar nuclear reactor, the Syrian air defense systems were first tracking nonexistent aircraft before crashing altogether. Shortly after, Russian technicians – with a little prodding from Iran – were sent to Syria to investigate these claims. One would expect that Russia has upgraded their software to better protect against such EW threats, but it is unlikely that Israel has refrained from making advancements of their own. In short, this is a lower risk strategy that Israel has successfully employed in the past and will definitely consider in future operations.

Looking forward, the S-300 air defense system in Syria must be kept in perspective. It can certainly pose an offensive threat to Syria’s neighbors, while inversely it complicates foreign air operations in Syrian airspace. Now that the U.S. is strongly considering arming some Syrian opposition movements and the EU has lifted an arms embargo on sales to Syrian rebels, the ground fighting between the Assad regime and rebel factions may intensify. This serves the interests of all those nations that wish to see Assad’s ouster sooner rather than later. If arming the Syrian opposition also serves to bloody the nose of Iran and Hezbollah, then so much the better from the Israeli and western perspective. Essentially, the fighting on the ground will come back into the foreground and dominate the public talks regarding Syria’s future. For Israel’s part, covert operations on the ground in Syria are always a possibility. All told, the S-300 system is a threat, but it is not the cure to all of Assad’s ills. There are far too many avenues of approach to target the remaining Syrian regime and very few of those avenues concern Syrian airspace.