Illusion and Espionage

At one point in By Way of Decepcion, former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky writes, "We used to read a lot of magician's books."1 He describes a trick used to smuggle a document past customs: buy two copies of the same newspaper, and glue a section of one of the newspapers over the same section of the other, to form a pouch where the document can be stored. Other simple tricks were hiding places for documents in a home or apartment: the hollow tubes used for coat-hangers, or the inside of a hollow door.2

Tricks like those are just the beginning. Many of Mossad's operations involve elaborate illusions created to deceive individuals, groups, or other intelligence agencies. Techniques used by magicians are repeatedly and consciously used by Mossad: attention control, misdirection, gimmicks, staging, dissimulation (lying), and others.

This section describes particular operations, and the magician's techniques used to bring them to a successful conclusion.

1 Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, By Way of Deception (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), 78
2 Ostrovsky, 78

The Trojan Transmitter

In this operation, a device capable of receiving Israeli signals, and then retransmitting them, is placed at a location in Libya. It's purpose is to disinform listening western intelligence agencies - in particular, to make it appear that Libya was responsible for particular acts of terrorism.


Illusions, in the sense used by magicians, are constructions that make something unreal seem real. An illusion could be a cabinet constructed with interior mirrors to make it look empty, when actually there's a special compartment, hidden behind the mirrors, with enough room for a person, several objects, and maybe a rabbit. It could be a support system, held up with wires, to make it appear that someone is floating in the air. Illusions are often expensive, and the secret to their construction is carefully guarded.

The Transmitter

The illusion at the center of this operation is a device capable of receiving special digital signals, designed especially for the device, and then retransmitting the information contained in the signals, mimicing the transmission method and frequency used by an adversary - in this case the government of Libya.1


When an illusion is used in a performance, the illusionist has to carefully prepare how the audience perceives it. If the illusion involves wires, they have to be thin, and the stage lighting must be such that they're not visible to anyone in the audience. Mirrors or glass screens have to be treated and cleaned so that they appear as transparent as air. The line of sight from any audience member to the stage has to be such that noone can see what the magician wants to remain hidden.

Placement of the Transmitter

In mid Febrary of 1986, three missile boats were used to bring a group of twelve commandos, two speed boats, and four small submarines to a location just outside Libyan territorial waters near Libya's capital, Tripoli. The speedboats were used to tow the small submarines close to the shore. Eight of the commandos then used the submarines to bring the transmitter ashore. The transmitter was carried to a van, driven by a Mossad "combatant." One group of four entered the van, while the other four took up a defensive position to protect the submarines.

The transmitter and the four commandos were then driven to an apartment building three blocks from the headquarters of Moammar Gaddafi, where the transmitter was set up in an apartment previously rented by the Mossad "combatant." The apartment was rigged to explode if anyone other than than the "combatant" entered.

The commandos returned to the missile boats before daybreak, while the "combatant" was left to monitor the transmitter.2


Dissimulation means lying, and magicians use it continually. They might invent a story about learning a magic trick from a Hindu holy man in India, or deceive the audience about some detail:"this box is obviously empty" (when it's crammed full of stuff cleverly hidden by mirrors); "I will now make the person in this magical cabinet disappear." (when the person in the cabinet has already climbed down through a trapdoor in the stage.)

The Transmitter in Action

In psycological warfare, lies are called disinformation, and the disinformation which the transmitter was built to broadcast was invented by Mossad's psycological warfare unit called LAP. The intended audience, according to former Mossad officer Victor Ostrovsky, were American and British listening stations.

By the end of March, 1986, some six weeks after the placement of the Trojan transmitter in Tripoli, American listening posts were intercepting and reading its transmissions. The content of the transmissions was designed to make it appear that orders to commit acts of terrorism were being broadcast to Libyan embassies around the world. According to Ostrovsky, American listeners were more convinced of the authenticity of the transmissions because they were corroborated by intelligence provided by Mossad, but French and Spanish intelligence services noticed that the wording of the transmissions was suspiciously similar to the wording of Mossad reports.3


On the night of April 14, 1986, some two months after the placement of the Trojan transmitter, the United States launched a series of air strikes against Libya. In a speech to the nation, President Reagan said it was in retaliation for Col. Moammar Khadafi's "reign of terror."4

Libyan radio announced that dozens were killed, and more than 100 were injured. Qadafi's two youngest sons were seriously injured, and Hannah, a one-year-old baby, said to be his adopted daughter, was killed. The French Embassy was seriously damaged, as were the homes of the Swiss, Austrian, and Finnish ambassadors to Libya.5

President Reagan later cited cables intercepted by U.S. intelligence as the reason for the air strikes. The first cable, dated March 25, was sent from Libya, and contained orders to conduct a terrorist attack against Americans. Another cable, dated April 4, came from the Libyan Embassy in East Berlin, and said that a terrorist attack would occur the next day. On April 5, an American off-duty soldier was killed in the "La Belle" discoteque in West Berlin.6 Ostrovsky's narrative doesn't explain the April 4th cable from the Libyan Embassy in East Berlin. If it existed, it either implies the existence of another Trojan transmitter in East Berlin, and that the Israelis themselves bombed the discoteque, or that the Trojan transmitter in Tripoli induced the attack. If it didn't exist, then either it was fabricated by the Reagan Administration to further justify the air strikes, or it was fabricated by the Mossad, and passed to the U.S. as genuine. Ostrovsky wrote that the Mossad counted on the volatility of the situation in Europe to eventually provide "proof" of the authenticity of the Tripoli transmitter's broadcasts.7

1 Victor Ostrovsky, The Other Side Of Deception, (New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1995), 144
2 Ostrovsky, 144-146
3 Ostrovsky, 146-147
4 Bernard Weinraub, "Strikes In 2 Areas," The New York Times, April 15, 1986, A1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
5 Christopher Dickey, "Qaddafi's Daughter Reported Killed," The Washington Post, April 16, 1986, A1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
6 Norman Kempster, "Cables Cited as Proof of Libyan Terror Role," The Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1986, V1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
7 Ostrovsky, 147


Assassination By Poison

In September of 1997, a Mossad assassination team botched an attempt to murder Hamas leader Khaled Meshal with a device designed to spray poison into his body through the skin, thereby allowing the world to see a little bit further into the Israeli spy agency's bag of tricks.


Gimmicks are simple tricks. A gimmick could be an ordinary looking table, whose top can flip at the press of a switch, to reveal a bouquet of artificial flowers. It could be a special knot, that makes an escape artist like Houdini appear to be securely tied, but that can be undone in a moment.

The Poison Sprayer

What is known about the lethal device used in the attempted murder of Khaled Meshal is based on rumor and the reports of eyewitnesses. It appears to have been a miniature sprayer, which delivered a lethal concentration of an opiate-based solution through the skin. It was seen taped to the hand of one of the assassins, and was described as "lead-colored."1

The Audience

The magician's ideal audience is passive, listens to his patter, and is suitably mystified by his tricks and illusions. Unfortunately for magicians, audiences aren't always ideal. Audiences have been known to interfere with illusions, and even storm the stage. In one case, in 1901, when John Maskelyne was performing a new levitation illusion called "The Entranced Fakir" at Egyptian Hall in London, an American rival, Harry Kellar, calmly got up from his front row seat and walked onto the stage. While the actors taking part in the illusion were stunned in surprise, Kellar was able to observe the network of wires and supports that held the fakir in mid-air.2

The Attack

The attack on Khaled Meshal took place in Amman, Jordan. Two members of a Mossad Kidon team followed Meshal's car from his home in a green Hyundai rental car.3 The driver of Meshal's car noticed the Hyundai following, and just before he reached his destination - an office building in southern Amman - he was passed by the rental care. He was then prepared, when he saw two foreign-looking men loitering outside the office building, and when Meschal exited the car, he placed himself between Meschal and the two men.4

According to an eyewitness, one of the two men, a blond, had a device strapped to his arm, and that when he reached toward Meshal's neck, there was a bang. The two attackers then fled the scene.5 Meshal later said, "I felt a loud noise in my ear. It was like a boom, like an electric shock. Then I had a shivering sensation in my body like an electric shock."6

Meshal's bodyguard, Mohammed Abu Saif, followed the attackers on foot, and when they entered the green Hyundai, flagged down a car to follow them. The next thing to go wrong for the two Mossad assassins, was that when they reached their apparent rendezvous point, and exited the rental car, presumably with the intent to switch cars, there was no other car there. They were then captured by Abu Saif and a security officer, and taken to a police station.7

Meanwhile, Meshal's symptoms went from severe vomiting and vertigo to respiratory collapse. He was taken to the Islamic Hospital, and eventually to the King Hussein Medical Center.8


After negotiations between Jordan and Israel, Meshal was given an antedote for the poison on orders from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.9

In addition, in exchange for the release of the two Mossad assassins, Israel released from prison Hamas founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and made other concessions.10,11

1 Alan Cowell, "The Daring Attack That Blew Up in Israel's Face," The New York Times, October 15, 1997, A1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
2 Jim Steinmeyer, Hiding The Elephant, (New York: Carroll & Graff, 2003), 169
3 Cowell
4 Barton Gellman, "Botched Assassination by Israel Gives New Life to Hamas," The Washington Post, October 6, 1997, A1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
5 Gellman
6 Cowell
7 Gellman
8 Gellman
9 Gellman
10 Barton Gellman, "Hamas Founder Returns To Gaza Strip as a Hero," The Washington Post, October 7, 1997, A1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
11 "Assassination Ill Befits Israel," The New York Times, October 7, 1997, A26, ProQuest Historical Newspapers


The Recruitment of an Iraqi Nuclear Scientist

Although it's common knowledge that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, Israel isn't willing to share this capability with any other country in the Middle East. When Iraq began developing a nuclear capability, Israel decided to recruit an Iraqi nuclear scientist, who was familiar with nuclear power facilities in Iraq, in order to learn details about the construction and vulnerabilities of Iraq's nuclear power plant complex. But what Iraqi scientist could Mossad recruit? In this sequence of illusions, the audience is an Iraqi nuclear scientist, and the Mossad magicians create an imaginary world for him - a world in which he will want to share military secrets.


Magicians don't want their competitors to steal their illusions, so they're very careful about where new illusions are constructed, and who is allowed backstage when the illusion is performed.

The Security Team

Once Mossad had decided on the Iraqi nuclear scientist to "recruit," they needed to know that he wasn't being watched by anyone else. Since this operation took place in Paris, they had to consider the possibility that he was being protected by French security. In order to make sure that he wasn't, a yarid team was brought in to follow him, find out about his personal security, and ascertain that he wasn't under surveillance.1

The illusions that Mossad had planned were for an audience of one - the scientist himself. Any interloper would ruin everything.


Polarization is a term used by illusionists to describe the process of turning an ordinary group of people into an audience. At a carnaval, for example, it would involve showy, crowd-pleasing tricks designed to attract passers-by into the magician's show.2

The Attention Grabber

In his description of this operation, ex-Mossad officer Victor Ostrovsky calls the Iraqi scientist Halim.

The yarid team had found that there was one constant in Halim's workday. Although for security reasons, he took different routes to work every day, he always started from the same bus stop. In the first step of the operation, a very attractive blond woman, whose clothes were a bit sexier than normal, began coming to the bus stop at the same time.

The attractive blond woman was a Mossad agent. Every day, under Halim's watchful eye, she would be picked up by an Englishman in a rented Ferrari. The Englishman was actually a Mossad katsa named Ran S., who called himself Jack Donovan for this operation. Gradually Halim became used to the procedure, and on the day when the blond woman took her bus before the Ferrari came, he explained to "Jack Donovan" that she had already left. Jack was very friendly, and offered Halim a lift in the Ferrari. Halim happily accepted.3


The ideal illusion is like a good story. The magician paints a picture for his audience. He draws their attention to some things, and minimizes others. If he's talented, the audience is enthralled.4

Rubbing Elbows With the Rich

Now sometimes the blond woman would show up at the bus stop, and sometimes not. When she didn't, Halim got a free ride in the Ferrari from Jack Donovan. When his wife left town, Halim went out to a nightclub with Jack; once Jack treated him to a night with a hooker. On a business trip, Halim offered some minor help, and Jack gave him a thousand dollars in return. Halim was in a brand new world, where money and sex were always within reach.

Jack Donovan gave Halim a phone number and office address where he purportedly worked, but actually he lived in a Mossad safehouse. After every encounter, he wrote up reports on what had been said, and the Mossad team plotted their next move.

One day Jack confided in Halim that he had a business problem that involved containers used for shipping radioactive materials. Halim offered to help, but Jack replied that what he really needed was help from a scientist. Halim told him that he was a nuclear scientist... 5

Creative Flow

In order to keep the audience's attention, the illusionist must move smoothly from illusion to illusion, continually rewarding the audience, and then focusing its attention on the next trick.6

The Businessmen

Halim was flown to Amsterdam on a suitably disguised Israeli Learjet, where he met another Mossad katsa, who played the role of an industrial magnate, and an Israeli nuclear scientist, who played the role of a German nuclear scientist. For his part in the purely fictitious deal involving containers for radioactive materials, Halim was rewarded with eight thousand dollars and an afternoon with a hooker.

The "industrial magnate" and the "German scientist" told Halim they would would offer a lot of money if he would help him in their scheme to make money building nuclear reactors for third world countries, and they wanted to use the reactor he was helping to build in Iraq as a model. He eventually agreed.

At this point he had been recruited by Mossad. He was, unknowingly, an Israeli agent, who was willing to supply the Mossad with details about the nuclear complex being developed in Iraq.7


On June 7, 1981, Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin , ordered an Israeli airstrike on a nuclear reactor near Baghdad. American made F-4s and F-15s were used to destroy the reactor. France insisted that the reactor had been used only for research.8

In a footnote to the recruitment of Halim, according to Ostrovsky, two people who had minor roles in the operation, an Egyptian physicist, who knew Halim, and the Paris hooker, who had slept with him, were later executed by Mossad.9

1 Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, By Way of Deception , (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), 6
2 Marvin Kaye, The Stein and Day Handbook of Magic , (New York: Stein and Day, 1973), 304
3 Ostrovsky, 1-2, 10
4 Jim Steinmeyer, Hiding The Elephant, (New York: Carroll & Graff, 2003), 180
5 Ostrovsky, 10-13
6 Kaye, 301
7 Ostrovsky, 14-16
8 David K. Shipler, "Israeli Jets Destroy Iraqi Atomic Reactor; Attack Condemned By U.S. And Arab Nations," The New York Times, June 9, 1981, A1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers
9 Ostrovsky, 13-24