ML: I’ve been having a hell of a time getting through. I was beginning to think you’d gone off on vacation or something.
I was (finally) talking to my late spooky friend, James Jesus Angleton, once upon a time head of CIA Counterintelligence, now a shade of his former self in the nether regions, but generally reachable through the (sometimes) good services of my Ouija board. He seemed in his usual impenetrable mood.
JJA: We don’t get vacations here; it’s all one big long vacation, if you see what I mean.
ML: I imagine you’re following the Gaza fighting, aren’t you?
JJA: Well, I’m following the mind games; that’s what interests me most, anyway. And there’s so much deception going on, you can’t really tell what’s happening on the ground; everyone’s got an angle. It’s better than the U.S. in Iraq, though, because the Israelis aren’t letting in all the journalists.
ML: Yeah, people are complaining that they can’t get up-to-the-minute reports.
JJA: It was always very funny — back at the start of the Iraq War, there were some CNN guys in Baghdad broadcasting live, and then CNN would show some video, and everybody thought they were watching the actual war, but they weren’t. The CNN guys were hiding under their desks and the footage was relatively old; it wasn’t broadcast from Baghdad at all, but was driven to Jordan and broadcast from there. But viewers liked it.
ML: Anything catch your fancy so far?
JJA: Oh yes. You know, I learned a lot from the Israelis, especially about human intelligence. And you can see how well they do it from the number of Hamas leaders who have been killed. One by one, not as part of the general onslaught. And the chutzpah of the Israelis is amazing, like when they called a top Hamas guy and told him to get out of his house. He didn’t, and they blew him up.
ML: And you’re saying that shows terrific human intelligence.
JJA: Yes indeed. I mean, CIA is forever telling the oversight committees that it’s really, really hard to penetrate terrorist cells, but the Israelis have obviously done that, since they know exactly where these guys are. And to know that so-and-so is in his white Toyota, with this tag number, driving on a particular street, so that the air force can destroy that car, wow!
ML: Obviously some of their own people are betraying them to the Israelis.
JJA: Obviously. Meanwhile Hamas leaders are saying it’s the Fatah people, so 35 Fatah people have been executed and lots more rounded up and locked away. But I think lots of Gazans, and plenty of Hamas people, are happy to turn in the top Hamas people to the Israelis. It’s kind of like what happened to al-Qaeda in Anbar Province in Iraq: Once the people decide that one side is going to win, they join in.
ML: It seems the Israelis have every phone number in Gaza . . .
JJA: Maybe. And what a weapon that is! They get to deliver messages to every resident.
ML: You must love it when the Israelis show up on Hamas radio and TV, don’t you?
JJA: Oh yeah, that’s terrific. My favorite so far is this one:
[Hamas’s] radio program was interrupted with a man’s voice speaking in Hebrew-accented Arabic: “Hamas leaders are hiding in the tunnels and are leaving you on the front line of Israel’s Defense Forces.”
“Hamas leaders are lying to you and they are hiding in hospitals,” he said. “Launching rockets puts civilians in danger.”
Meanwhile a broadcast on Al-Aqsa television was interrupted with an image of a ringing phone that no one was answering.
“Hamas leaders are hiding and they are leaving you on the front line,” says a voice in accented Arabic . . .
ML: Yes, it’s first class psychological warfare, not only the content — calling their leaders cowards — but the image of the unanswered telephone.
JJA: And the very fact that Israel can just step in to Hamas’s own broadcasts, and make fun of them to their listeners, is itself a real blow. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the Israelis have penetrated Hamas. Even their television station, heh.
ML: So how much of this battle has to do with intelligence?
JJA: We won’t know for quite a while, and there are undoubtedly many details we won’t know, ever, ahem, or until some of my old friends get here and I have a chance to ask my questions. But if you look at the Israeli strategic objectives, you can see that a great deal of them depend on very good intelligence. They want to destroy the tunnels through which Hamas has been smuggling its weapons, especially the missiles and rockets. Ergo the Israelis have to know where the tunnels are located . . .
ML: And the Israelis want to wipe out the military organization, so they have to know where the leaders are, where the weapons are kept . . .
JJA: Exactly so. And they want to prevent Hamas from rearming afterwards, which means they need to know the international supply lines and the identities of the people doing the logistics.
ML: A lot of that is Iranian, however, and Israel can’t get into Iran.
JJA: True, but the Israelis can watch for those people when they move around the Middle East. No doubt a certain number of them go around Syria and Lebanon, in cahoots with Hezbollah, and the Israelis for sure know a lot of them.
ML: Which raises another interesting question: How come Hezbollah hasn’t opened a second front across the Lebanese border? Didn’t half the world expect that to happen?
JJA: Oh, I’d say much more than half the world. Life is full of surprises, you know. At least for the moment, it seems that Hezbollah and Syria don’t want a second round with the Israelis.
ML: What happened to the cult of death?
JJA: Good question. Maybe it’s easier to recruit terrorists when they think they’re sacrificing for a victorious cause than when they see their comrades in Gaza chewed up.
ML: But everybody says that Hezbollah won the battle with Israel in 2006.
JJA: Yeah, well. They lost a quarter of their fighters, and they probably aren’t eager to do that again, or to risk their reputation as winners. It’s a lot safer to stage big demonstrations, pound your chest, chant “Death to Israel,” and do nothing.
ML: Iran’s not doing too well, then . . .
I was starting to smell the tell-tale odor of Ouija-board wires getting frazzled, generally an indication of rising temperatures at the other end.
JJA: Hell no! And they don’t have much of a craving for martyrdom either, do they?
I was seeing the smoke now, and lots of sparks.
JJA: . . . that Revolutionary Guards guy who said that Hamas had everything necessary to defeat Israel . . .
I think he was talking about IRGC Commander General Mohammad-Ali Ja’fari, who said that “Hamas has enough weapons, that the people in Gaza do not need the help of other armies, and that it is capable of dealing with the steps taken by the Zionist regime.”
But I couldn’t ask him, because the Ouija board had gone dead.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more “interviews” with the late James Jesus Angleton, see Michael Ledeen’s NRO archive.