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Israel's Secret Service, Part I by Sefton Delmer

  1 of 1   | ARTICLES
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Isser Halperin
Isser Halperin

In the infirmary of Bayreuth gaol lies a German companion in distress of Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Like Nasser, who lost his air force, his army, and his face, Franz Rademacher, 61 year old ex-diplomat accomplice of Adolf Eichmann, is a victim of the Shin Beth, Israel's Secret Intelligence Service, which is at one and the same time both the youngest and the oldest of the world's great espionage and deception agencies.

Youngest because it was officially not born until 1949, oldest because it traces its descent to Joshua. "...And Joshua, the son of Nun, sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly saying, 'Go view the land, even Jericho'... Since the June 1967 Blitz Israel Secret Service is considered the most efficient in the world. For the June victory was largely due to the Shin Beth who had been so active in Egypt that Nasser's country could keep nothing secret from them. Since his defeat the Egyptian dictator has tried to remedy things by a wholesale purge of his German trained secret Service. But I doubt whether this once bitten dictator feels any greater confidence today.

Before the June Blitz the agents of the Shin Beth had not only reported in detail the Egyptian plans for the attack on Israel and the disposition of their units - they had identified all the dummy aircraft on Egypt's 19 genuine and camouflaged airfields so that the Israeli air chief, General Hod, did not need to waste any bombs or bullets on them. They enabled the general to strike at exactly the moment when Nasser's Soviet-built air force was at its most vulnerable.

A deception plan planted on the Egyptian Intelligence staff by agents of the Shin Beth and reinforced by fake military moves and fake signals traffic led the Egyptian army and its Jordanian allies into moves which played right into the hands of the Israelis.

Like that operation, for instance, which led Nasser to believe the Israeli air force was going to attack him around the southern end of the Sinai peninsula. To counter this anticipated attack Nasser diverted an important number of his fighters to Hurghada on the Red Sea from where it was impossible for them to enter the real battle in time. (A repetition of Hitler's fate in World War II, when fake intelligence reports and fake signals traffic led him to expect the main thrust of the allied invasion of June, 1944 not in Normandy but in the area of the Pas de Calais.)

On top of this came individual coups by Shin Beth agents. Such as that by which an agent of the Shin Beth operating in Iraq succeeded in bribing an Iraqi air force pilot to fly from his base at Rashith to Israel with a MIG 21, the latest model delivered by the U.S.S.R. This MIG revealed to Israeli technicians the vulnerable points in the Russian jet fighter. The Israeli airmen were specially trained in how to exploit these weaknesses. Israeli pilots flew the MIG in special mock dogfights so that their comrades could practise the best tactics in fighting the new MIGs. This was one of the factors which helped the Israeli air force during the 'Blitz' to down fifty-four MIGs in sixty-four aerial combats without losing so much as one of their own aircraft.

The Iraqi defector's MIG 21 also revealed exactly how long its fuel capacity would allow it to remain airborne under operational conditions, a piece of information which was vital to General Hod and his staff in drawing up their tightly scheduled plans.

So much for Nasser. But how did the German, Franz Rademacher become a victim of the Shin Beth?

On March l7, 1952, Rademacher had been sentenced to three years and five months imprisonment by the Nuremberg Assizes. Both his own defence Counsel and the Prosecuting Attorney appealed against the sentence. Rademacher had been the chief of the notorious Department III of the Foreign Office which had responsibility for the liquidation of Jews in German-occupied territory like Yugoslavia and France. Nevertheless he was granted bail. He promptly escaped from Germany. Via Marseilles he travelled to Bayreuth and from there to Damascus.

With a Spanish passport issued in the name of Francisco Rosilio he settled down in Damascus as a businessman. When this was discovered - Rademacher had committed the indiscretion of writing to Juliane Geist, his fiancée, in Germany — the Federal Government in Bonn applied for his extradition. But both in Damascus and in Cairo Franz Rademacher was held in high esteem as a hero and a martyr in the struggle against Jews and Israelis. Extradition was refused.

The Shin Beth however did not give up the battle. They did not attempt to kidnap him as they had Eichmann. Instead something quite different happened - something much more akin to what caused Nasser to move his MIGs to Hurghada.

Evidence began to accumulate in the files of the Syrian Deuxieme Bureau which suggested that Rademacher far from being the friend and ally as which the Syrians had welcomed him was in fact a traitor to Syria, perhaps even an agent of the Shin Beth.

By the beginning of 1965 the volatile Syrians - like all Arabs they are liable to jump to hasty conclusions, particularly to the conclusion that they have been betrayed - believed they had conclusive evidence that it was Rademacher who at the time of the Algerian rising had revealed secret arms shipments to Algeria from Syria causing them to be inter­cepted,, by the French Authorities. On March 19 1965 Franz Rademacher and his German partner Springer were arrested by the Syrian Police and flung into gaol.

Now a period began for Rademacher compared with which his previous incarceration by the British, Americans, and the Germans, was a Caribbean luxury cruise. Not only was he subjected to incessant interrogation, but he was locked up in the most fetid and verminous of Damascus prisons. Rademacher became seriously ill. His morale broke. Somehow he managed to smuggle out a message. An emissary of the German interests section attached to the French Embassy in Damascus - relations between Syria and federal Germany had been severed - was allowed to see him. "Please get me out of here, I am a citizen of the Federal Republic," Rademacher begged. "Will you agree to return to Germany and stand trial?" asked the Official. "Most certainly I will. Only get me out of here."

On Friday, September 30, 1966, Franz Rademacher was safely back in the Federal Republic - in the gaol at Bayreuth.

The ability of the Shin Beth to carry on long, complicated and continuous deception operations against their Arab neighbours is a proof of its being one of the world's top ranking intelligence agencies. For not only does it require a high degree of ingenuity to fabricate and plant the mis­leading information, but constant checking against first-class intelligence from enemy sources is essential to make sure the bait is being swallowed.

That the Shin Beth achieved this has not surprised Western Intelligence experts working in Israel. They have long become used to finding the Israelis better informed about what is going on in Arab countries than even the French and the British with their long experience of the Middle East. Or the American C.I.A. men with their wealth of technological and financial resources.

The fact is that the Shin Beth - these Hebrew initials stand for Sheruth Bitakhon or Security Service, and the service covers both espionage and counter espionage - is almost ideally equipped to collect and evaluate information about the Arab states. No need for its members to attend special courses at MECAS (the 'Middle East Centre of Arabic Studies') near Beirout, as British would-be Arabists must. (Recently it was temporarily transferred to Beaconsfield near London.)

The Shin Beth has at its disposal a corps of highly intelligent men and women who have lived and worked in Arab countries before they came to Israel. They can talk and think in Arabic almost better than they can in Hebrew. They also have that gift of empathy, the ability to put themselves in the place of their opposite numbers, and emulate their thought processes which is indispensable to a first-class intelligence operative, especially if he is dealing in deception.

In addition to their close acquaintance with Arabic, Arabs, and Arab ways of thinking the Shin Beth and Israel's Directorate of Military Intelligence under General Meir Amit between them possess all the most modem and up-to-date technical equipment. They have the latest thing in apparatus for the interception of high speed radio traffic as well as electronic computers for breaking cyphers - both indispensable in the Middle East where communications rely mainly on the radio link. Agents of the Shin Beth possess the latest 'bugging' devices for monitoring conversations and mini-transmitters for transmitting their own report. And, as they showed during the 'Blitz', they also know how to use the most modern techniques for deceiving or neutralising enemy radar.

All this is not really surprising. For just as the Shin Beth has expert Arabist at its disposal it also has on its staff men who before they emigrated to Israel had been trained in the best anti-radar and cypher breaking services of the west. But apart from this valuable cadre of operators with an expensive western education behind them the Shin Beth has one other asset which to my knowledge is the envy of the Western Intelligence agencies: the world wide network of Jewish members of Non-Israeli Intelligence agencies who are always ready to help the Shin Beth. Or to inform it of the latest developments in intelligence getting techniques.

I myself got a glimpse of this world wide penetration of foreign intelligence agencies by the Shin Beth during a visit to Israel in 1962. "What can you tell me," I had asked "about the activities of that little group of Nazi fanatics who escaped to the Middle East after Hitler's collapse and are now working for Nasser?"

By way of answer my Israeli friends produced a file with full details of Nazis who now had Arab names, lived in Cairo and were instructing the Egyptians in the methods of the Gestapo and the Abwehr. The Israelis even presented me with photo-copies of a correspondence that had been passing for about four years between a Nazi in Cairo and another at Wiesbaden in Germany. Both were dead, so I suppose they thought there was no great security risk involved in showing me the photostats.

The Nazi in Cairo was Dr Johannes von Leers, that maniacal little anti-Semite whom I had met many years ago in Berlin when he was an eloquent party orator in Dr Goebbels's Berlin 'Saci'. As 'Professor Omar Amin' a name he had assumed when he became a Moslem, he had been helping Nasser's men to revamp Hitler's anti-Jewish propaganda for Arab consumption. The man in Wiesbaden was Karl Heinz Priester, the chairman of the National Democrat Party in Hessen. He had been producing 'racist' literature as best he could under the somewhat hampering conditions imposed by the constitution of the Federal Republic.

The Leers - Priester correspondence started just after Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal in 1956 and went on year after year right up to 1959. Everything was there, letters from Priester to Leers and from Leers and his wife to Priester.

Here are just two sample excerpts in the original German. The first from a letter addressed to Priester by Leers:

"Sind kommt alle Tage zu uns zum Mittagessen; ein tapferer, gerader Mann." A quote from a letter from Priester to Leers: "Professor Kunstmann ist ein tüchtiger Arzt, der ..... wenn er nicht so eng in der Bekenttniskirche hinge, wirlich Vertrauen verdiente." ("Zind * comes to lunch with us every day an honest and courageous man." "Prof K. is an excellent physician who -, if he had not such close ties with (Niencöller's) confessional church would deserve the greatest confidence.")

I was dumbfounded when I saw this material. It meant that someone working for Israel was in a position to intercept and photograph correspondence passing between Egypt and the Federal Republic, two states with which Israel had no diplomatic relations at the time.

"How on earth do you get stuff like this?" I asked the official showing me the file, a friendly fellow who had told me he used to work in British Intelligence on radio interception during the war. So I presumed he was a member of the Shin Beth.

"You don't seriously expect me to tell you that, do you?" he replied. I did not, and left it at that.

I can guess the answer all the same. It is that these intercepts had been passed to Israel by an Intelligence officer of Zionist sympathies belonging to one of the Federal Republic's allies who had the right, deriving from their former standing as 'occupiers' to intercept German postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications, or to request the German authorities to do so on their behalf.

The fact is, - as I discovered and Nasser no doubt discovered before me -, that so much intelligence material reaches the Shin Beth from Zionists and Zionist sympathisers working for foreign intelligence services, both from the West and from behind the Iron Curtain, that Telaviv has become notorious in the Cloak-and-Dagger world as a kind of clearing house of secret information.

Foreign Zionists, - especially in the American C.I.A. which has many Zionist sympathisers in its ranks -, sometimes even lay on special operations of their own services on behalf of the Shin Beth. In 1956, for instance, at the time of Suez when the Israeli General Staff were preparing that first invasion of the Sinai peninsula, an intelligence questionnaire was sent to one of Nasser's German SS advisers who happened to be an agent of General Reinhard Gehlen's Federal German Espionage organisation. General Gehlen worked closely with the C.I.A. The Gehlen man in Cairo sent the requested information to Pullach (Gehlen's Headquarters near Munich) and Pullach passed it on to the Americans, never dreaming that the officer who had first asked for it was acting for the Shin Beth and that the information obtained by the Gehlen organi­sation was going straight on to Telaviv.

Western Intelligence chiefs know that this sort of thing is going on. But they wink an eye at it. For while officially they must treat Israel as a power excluded from the routine exchange of intelligence between the Western allies, they nevertheless regard it as ideologically within the Western camp.

Besides, they themselves profit from the intelligence that until recently had still continued to trickle through from Zionists in the Soviet K.G.B. and its satellite East European services. Above all they profit from the acuteness with which the Israelis, some of whom have lived behind the Iron Curtain and held office there, are able to interpret the Communist thinking and evaluate the information received.

Ex-premier Ben Gurion, the founder of the Israeli intelligence service, appreciating the difficulties facing his operatives battling with both the Arab and Soviet blocks, divided up the intelligence tasks between two units independent of each other but co-operating through the direct responsibility of their respective chiefs to the premier of the day.

The first group, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, is mainly concerned with the evaluation, interpretation, and application of intelligence with a military aspect. In 1962 its director was British-born General Vivyan Herzog who shortly after was appointed Military Attaché in Paris. After the 'Blitz' he was made governor of the occupied Jordanian territory on the West Bank. But after only a few days in his new job he was fired because in encouraging Arabs to cross the Jordan eastwards he was thought to have allowed too many Arab infiltrators and guerrillas to slip through the net of the Shin Beth. His successor as Director of Military Security, General Meir Amit, has suffered no diminution in his authority as a result of the 'Blitz'. Rather the reverse.

The other group, the Shin Beth proper, is entrusted with the Job of obtaining intelligence and preventing Israel's enemies from getting it. And naturally enough while there is no mystery about General Meir Amit - like General Herzog before him you can meet him at social parties by no means confined to Israeli's but including foreigners and non-Jews like myself - the identity of the Shin Beth chiefs is hidden behind a fog of anonymity and official secrecy.

His predecessor's identity was only revealed when he 'resigned' after a political disagreement with the then Premier Ben Gurion. He was then identified as a former Lithuanian named Isser Halperin who had arrived in Israel as an immigrant in 1933. After his retirement he is said to have taken up a position as manager of a Tractor Factory.

About the present chief and his background I did manage to learn a little. This I will reveal in my next article.

* Ludwig Pankratz Zind, a schoolmaster, was condemned at Offenburg in 1958 to 1 year's imprisonment for anti-Jewish utterances in public. ("Far too few Jews were sent to the gas chambers") He escaped to Egypt before he was arrested.



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