Thursday, November 05, 1998
Israel denies passport claims No Approach Made: Canadian claims Mossad wanted document; CSIS found no evidence
Israel is vehemently denying allegations its secret service is using Canadian passports and the Canadian government is downplaying the claims, but a former Canadian spy expert says it would be naive to think this kind of trade in documentation isn't commonplace in covert operations around the world.
"Travel documents are the currency of cover in foreign intelligence," said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. "This is a reality out there."
He wasn't surprised by this week's claims of a Canadian now living in Israel that he had been approached by Israeli intelligence officials for his passport.
The claims, televised in a CTV news report Tuesday, have caused an international stir because they come more than a year after Israel vowed publicly it would no longer use Canadian passports in its covert operations.
That promise came after two Mossad agents were caught with Canadian passports in a bungled assassination attempt.
David Bar-Illan, media advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, reacted angrily yesterday to a televised report documenting the claims of Leslie Lewis, an Hasidic Jew living in Jerusalem.
Calling the W-FIVE report "absolutely despicable" and "irresponsible journalism," he said he hoped he could undo any serious damage done.
"It's given Israel very bad publicity as a country that does not keep its word."
He said Mr. Lewis may have been the victim of some kind of imposter, but he was certainly not approached by any sanctioned agents of Israeli intelligence.
Lloyd Axworthy, Canada's foreign affairs minister, said the official investigation into Mr. Lewis' claims were hampered by the man's original desire to remain anonymous.
"It's pretty hard to do an investigation if you have to identify an unnamed source. He seems to have gone public recently, but that's a choice he makes," Mr. Axworthy said yesterday. He maintained that the man's claims were aggressively investigated by CSIS, the embassy and passport consular officials, but ultimately dismissed. "Frankly, the information that came back was that his assertions could not be corroborated," Mr. Axworthy said. "It was as simple as that."
Even though there was no evidence to support the allegations, Mr. Axworthy admitted that there was also no way of knowing for sure that Mossad had not tried again to obtain Canadian passports.
Mr. Harris, who now runs an Ottawa-based foreign intelligence service, says no one involved in intelligence would have seriously expected the practice to stop when Israel gave its assurances a year ago.
"I can understand our government accepting Israeli assurances, but it would be unforgivable if they believed it."
He said any serious foreign intelligence service would understandably lust after identification documents because they can be used in so many ways.