Naming, Shaming and Political Gaming

By George Emery, Undergraduate Student in Politics & International Relations 

A recent article by David Ignatius in the Washington Post revealed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had disclosed the identities of a number of Iranians who had been in contact with the Israeli intelligence service Mossad to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MISIRI). This essentially was an act of betrayal of the agents of an ally to its ally’s enemy. In recent years the once-strong relationship between Israel and Turkey has become strained. The most striking indication of this was the 2010 clash between Israeli commandos and members of a flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip which left nine people dead. However even Mossad, no stranger to hostility, was surprised that an ally disclosed its contacts to a state that Israel may engage in direct conflict in the near-future. This case, and others outlined below, is part of a growing trend in International Relations for states to use often illicit and controversial tactics through their intelligence services for political gains. Ignatius calls these multi-dimensional spy wars, wars that are becoming more and more public.

Israel, and more specifically Mossad, is not just a victim of these spy wars. After a number of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear programme were wounded or killed in assassination attempts the blame was very much laid at their door. Five Iranian nuclear scientists and the head of the Iran’s ballistic missile program have been killed since 2007 with Mossad or affiliates of the agency the most widely suspected (and perhaps most plausible) perpetrator. The Iranians have (allegedly) sought revenge by using proxies, most notably the Lebanese political politico-social movement-cum-militant group Hezbollah. In 2012 a bus carrying mainly Israeli tourists was targeted by a suicide bomber in Burgas, Bulgaria. Five Israeli nationals and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed. The perpetrator had links to Hezbollah, which is heavily supported by Iran. A 2012 report by intelligence analysts for the New York Police Department (NYPD) claimed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies had been involved in nine plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in 2012 alone.

So-called spy wars don’t always include direct violence. Similar to the case of the Turkish disclosure of Iranians working for Mossad to Iran, elements in the Pakistani administration and political apparatus have been accused of public naming of CIA station chiefs, often in response to US drone attacks. Last month the Pakistani political party Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which is led by former cricket star Imran Khan, published what it said was the name of the CIA’s chief operative in Islamabad demanding that he face murder charges over a drone strike that killed five people. This was not the first time this had occurred. In 2010 the then-station chief left the country after his name was revealed during a legal case involving another drone strike in which civilians were killed. A fictionalised version of this event was included in the film Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Some have blamed Pakistan’s powerful and autonomous Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for the 2010 disclosure and in doing so breaking the ‘unwritten rule’ of espionage.

All these cases suggest that political gaming through the use of intelligence did not end when the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR collapsed. They are examples of an increasing trend of the spy world moving out of the shadows, albeit very reluctantly and often unintentionally. Mixed with the prominence of Wikileaks and the Edward Snowden files, intelligence-gathering and espionage may be an increasingly stark and visual aspect of politics and international relations.

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