Quite a remarkable article in Haaretz today. It’s entitled “Will biometric passports hurt the outreach of Israel’s intelligence?”, and the first paragraph goes like this:
The affair of the forged foreign passports used by the hit team in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh has raised difficult questions regarding the expected implementation of a biometric passport system in Israel.
Hmm, well those aren’t exactly the “serious questions” that come to my mind about this situation — nor, for that matter, to the minds of the British and French foreign ministers. And it’s interesting how this article pretty much starts with the assumption that the Dubai hit was, in fact, carried out by the Mossad. It in no way points to this as fact; it’s simply a part of the writer’s epistemology. There’s no doubt here. But let’s continue:
Opponents of the database’s establishment fear, among other things, that it might affect Israel’s ability to run intelligence agents abroad. Thus, for example, the opponents say if protected biometric information leaks to foreign countries, no wigs, disguises or even surgery to change identities will help. Every Israeli agent who gives his fingerprint at a biometric border control station is liable to be in danger of exposure.
Former Mossad man and Knesset member Rafi Eitan spoke on Wednesday about the need for the professionals in Israel’s intelligence system to adapt their activities to the advanced technological reality. “By 2015 most countries will have moved over to biometric identification methods, which are more thorough methods for checking a person’s identity,” he told Haaretz.
So let’s recap here. A member of the Israeli parliament, a former member of the Mossad, is advising the government to come up with new methods for Mossad agents to kill abroad, lest technological evolution leave them behind. It’s like the Mossad is the world’s only friendly, open assassination squad. Come on in, sit down, have a drink, let’s discuss this roguishness and where it’s going.
But what’s really remarkable is that this discussion is happening at all, and in the pages of a major newspaper. I find it hard to picture the Washington Post or whoever discussing the finer points of CIA strategy going forward; and maybe, to some degree, this article’s very existence puts the lie to the old “national security” rationale for keeping state secrets. Israel is the most security-obsessed country in the world, and clearly discussing these matters isn’t considered a “threat to national security.”
Or maybe Israel’s political discourse is a two-headed hydra, with a free press on one side and a police state on the other.
And in any case, Eitan does ultimately address the need for secrecy as the Mossad publicly plots its new assassination strategies.
However, according to Eitan, “This will not affect the various intelligence activities in the future, because I assess that the organizations engaging in this will find suitable ways to overcome the difficulties - should there be any.
“I am fairly certain that someone is thinking about this. I also think about this from time to time, but I don’t want to give our enemies any ideas. In principle, when there is a war on terror you conduct it without principles. You simply fight it.”
Well, good. Glad to hear that biometrics won’t put a damper on the world of cloak and dagger.
But if there’s anything that stands out to me about this is how strikingly it reflects Israel’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world. Perhaps that’s an inevitability in the world’s only Jewish state and the world’s only Hebrew-speaking country, but it’s nonetheless somewhat frightening to see how detached the Israeli political discourse has become. While Europe gets in a bureaucratic huff about phony passports, and the Arab world salivates at the prospect of spanking Israel, the Israelis sit back and ask, “Well. What does this mean for future kill operations?”
Now that’s chutzpah.