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Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. Another excerpt from “The Watchman’s File”

8:16 am in Uncategorized by Barry Lando

I invite you to read the latest excerpt from my mystery, “The Watchman’s File,” specially featured on Amazon’s Kindle again this week. It’s the gripping tale of an American TV reporter, Ed Diamond, as he risks his life to to unravel Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. (It’s not the bomb) To whet your interest, I’ve been posting excerpts here.

To recap the story to this point, Ed Diamond, one of America’s best-known reporters, based in Paris, receives an urgent call to come to Israel from an old friend, Dov Ben-David, former deputy director of Israel’s Mossad. Dov has alarming information, he says, concerning the U.S. and Israel. Diamond flies to Israel, but before they can meet, Ed’s friend is blown apart by a car bomb.

The next day, Ed mingles with hundreds of prominent Israelis attending  Dov’s funeral at the kibbutz of Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea. He is stunned when Dov’s widow, Esther, accuses Ed of being responsible for her husband’s murder. To find out what’s behind that accusation, after the funeral Ed joins other mourners at Esther’s home.

———————–

It was a modest, one-story bungalow, like all the other dwellings on the kibbutz, faded yellow ochre stucco walls, roof tiles of burnt sienna, several splintered and cracked. No one came to live on a kibbutz to make a fortune. In exchange for your labor, you and your family could count on a roof over your head, three meals a day, education, health care, and—in the early pioneering days at least—the feeling that you were constructing something new and grand, fulfilling the destiny of your people. No more. The dream had been tarnished long ago.

There was a small garden in front of the Ben-David home, a few roses, a bougainvillea, and a towering banana plant that shaded the entrance. The door was open. Inside, it was cool. Esther sat on a beige sofa in the living room with a few close family and friends, all talking softly. She looked up when Ed entered. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but she gave him a wan smile.

“Mr. Diamond, please, come in. Have some coffee and cake.”

Ed poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup and took a seat by the bookcase, next to a couple of men who were turned to each other in deep conversation. A mourner’s candle burned on one of the bookshelves, its light flickering over an old photo of Dov Ben- David: a strapping young man in his twenties, dressed in short sleeves, shorts, and sandals, a Sten gun on his shoulder as he beamed confidently at the camera. Behind him, the mountains of Ein Gedi. Vintage Zionism, more than forty years ago, thought Ed. These days it has a vinegary taste.

The man sitting beside Ed, who had been talking with someone else, now turned to face the reporter. It was Arik Ben-David. “Mr. Diamond. Shalom again.” His smile was warmer than it had been at the cemetery. He glanced at the photo of Dov. “A fine-looking man, yes? And such dreams. We were so naive back then.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You know, I’ve often wondered why the Palestinian terrorists have targeted so few Israeli leaders. Maybe that’s all going to change now.” He shrugged. “It’s just something we will have to live with.”

He took a small piece of sponge cake and then glanced across the room at Esther.

“My sister-in-law says you came here to see Dov.”

“That’s right.”
“What about?”
“He wouldn’t tell me over the phone.”

“Well, then, I suppose we’ll never know.”
“I’d sure as hell like to.”
Ben-David patted Ed’s knee. “Things have changed in this country, Mr. Diamond. Even with the Wall, it’s become a far more dangerous place for government officials, past and present, perhaps even for reporters like you. Here, everything has become a fight for survival.”

”Dov never told you what was bothering him?”

“No. Dov and I lived in such different worlds. But you can’t imagine how much I will miss him.” Arik rose and extended his hand. “Goodbye, Mr. Diamond. By the way, if you do decide to look into this matter, let me know. Perhaps I can help you.” He smiled again. “I still have friends in high places.” He turned and limped across the room, said a few words to Esther, embraced her, and left.

Moshe Weinstein had been listening nearby. “I’ve known Arik forever,” he said as he sat down next to Ed. “I used to admire him tremendously. Military hero. Brilliant businessman. Grandmaster at chess. But now we rarely talk. Today was the first time in years he even shook my hand. The country is going berserk.”

“What do you mean?”

Weinstein glanced at the newspapers on the coffee table. They all carried pictures of yesterday’s bomb attack and a photo of Dov Ben-David. “I mean that the political weather around here is getting very ugly, as bad as it’s ever been: Jews against Palestinians, Jews against Jews, Palestinians against Palestinians. Some of them hate their own people more than they hate one another, and that is saying something.”

“And all sides are convinced they’re doing God’s will.” “Exactly.”

“And that’s what makes it so interesting for you reporters,” a woman’s voice interjected.

Gabriella Ben-David was standing before them. She had a tight smile on her lips as she handed them some sponge cake. “A peace offering—from my aunt.”

“Peace offering?” said Ed.
“That’s what she told me to say.”
“Thanks. How could I refuse?
“I’ll leave you two to figure things out,” said Weinstein. “Ed, here’s my card. If you’re going to be in Jerusalem tonight, give me a call.”

Gabriella took Weinstein’s place. “I can understand why you might have been surprised by my aunt,” she continued in lightly accented English. “I heard what she said to you by the grave.”

“She thinks I’m somehow to blame for what happened to Dov,” said Ed. “I’ve got an idea that Arik feels the same.”

“No, believe me,” she said solemnly. “It’s just that everyone is still so shocked by what happened. We do not hold this against you. Not Esther, Not my father. None of us.” She raised a hand to push her long hair back from her face. Once again, he was mes- merized by her emerald green eyes. He searched for something to say. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Hebrew, but what you said by the grave moved everyone. Dov would have been proud. I’m sure your father was.”

“Thanks, maybe he was,” she said curtly. “He didn’t say.” The color rose in her cheeks. “Now come, my aunt would like to talk with you.” She guided Ed to the leather sofa across from Esther. The other mourners had departed. The widow was drawn and gray.

“Mr. Diamond, I am sorry if I am rude before. I hope you understand.”

“Of course. Please,” he put his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to—”

“I do know it is not your fault. You are just answering Dov’s call. He insists on calling you.”

Ed hesitated. Esther was exhausted, emotionally drained, but he had to ask. “What was it about? What did he want?”

She looked away. “He—he won’t tell me. He—all I know is that, the evening before he calls you, he is here, reading the paper and watching television, like always. When I come out of the kitchen, he is very upset.”

“What was he watching?”

“I don’t know. Usually CNN. He tells me he cannot believe what is happening.”

“Happening where?”

“I don’t know.” Esther threw up her hands. “He says he doesn’t want me involved. That night he does not sleep. He is up all the time. Walking. Around and around. Like an animal in a cage. For years, I don’t see him like that. The next morning he says he is going to call you. He says he trusts you. I have bad feeling about it. I don’t want him to do it. But he doesn’t listen.”

She stared at the picture of her dead husband on the bookcase. “He doesn’t listen to me—or to Arik. He says it is too important. Someone has to make the alarm.”

“Alarm about what?”

She looked helplessly at the reporter and shook her head. “And then, he has to go back to the spa. Why? Why?”

“But I don’t understand,” said Ed. “The declaration the terrorists made today was that they murdered Dov because he had targeted radical Palestinian leaders when he was in the Mossad. What does any of that have to do with his call to me?”

Esther’s eyes widened. She bit her lower lip.
“Please, what is it?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
She looked at Gabriella.
“It’s all right, show him,” said her niece.
Esther hesitated.
“Dodah, it’s all right.”
Esther walked unsteadily to the bookcase. She opened a cupboard on the left-hand side, removed a piece of paper, and returned. “Yesterday, just before the bomb goes off, the fax rings on Dov’s desk. It is this message.”

She showed the fax to Ed. There were two sentences hand– written on it, in a script that appeared to be Hebrew.

“Can you translate this?”

Gabriella took the paper. “It’s ancient Aramaic,” she said. “It is addressed to Dov and says, ‘Warning to those who commit sins causing dissension in the community, passing malicious information to the gentiles, or revealing the secrets of the town.’ It goes on to say, ‘Next time there will be no warning.’”

“You mean that bomb was supposed to have just been a warning?” said Ed. “It wasn’t supposed to have killed him?”

Esther stared ahead.

“That’s what we think,” said Gabriella. “Usually my uncle would never have been there when the bomb went off. He went to work at the spa early in the morning around eight. Then he would come back around 11:30, have lunch, rest, go to his study, read, write. During the tourist season, he’d go back in the late afternoon, maybe four or five, to see if there were any problems. But yesterday he went back down right after lunch.”

“He has to fix the computer at the cashier’s desk,” Esther explained. “The cashier’s desk is next to the front door.”

All expression had drained from her face.
“Do the police know about this?”
“The Shabak come last night. I tell them the same thing I tell you.”
“They took the fax with them,” said Gabriella. “I made a copy.” “Esther, I’m sorry to push so hard,” said Ed. “I hope you understand. I’ve got to go now. I’m staying in Jerusalem tonight, but I’m flying to Paris early tomorrow morning.” He took the widow’s hands and continued. “If you do find out more, please let me know. And if I can ever do anything to help, don’t hesitate to call.”

Not a very gracious exit, thought Ed, considering the circum- stances: Dov is dead because of what he wanted to tell me—but what the hell was it?

Gabriella accompanied him to the door. “I’ll walk you to your hotel.” The children were no longer playing on the lawn; the sun was at its peak. They strolled along the bamboo-shaded path toward the hotel, Ed very conscious of the attractive woman at his side.

“So that’s it? You’re not going to investigate Dov’s killing any further?”

“Unfortunately, I’ve got to get back to my office. I’ve another report to complete. And then I’ve got to get to New York. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to begin on this. Your intelligence services are supposed to be the best in the world. What could I possibly come up with on my own?” He’d almost convinced himself.

They walked for a while in silence. Her skin gave off a faint scent. Jasmine?

“You mentioned you are going to Jerusalem now. Would you give me a ride? That’s where I live. I came here with my father last night. But he had to go back early. I was going to take the bus.”

“Of course.”

“Great.” She touched Ed’s bare arm. “I’ll go and get my bag. Meet you here in ten minutes, okay?”

Ed watched as she turned toward her aunt’s house. His skin still tingled at her touch.

When he looked back, he noticed a tall, broad- shouldered man who looked like an ad for a Nautilus workout at the hotel door. He wore a white open-necked shirt, had an angular Slavic face, and appeared to be in his midthirties. He was staring at Ed and made no secret of it. Ed had seen him talking with Arik at Esther’s house half an hour before. He stepped forward to produce an ID card with the blue shield of Israel printed in the center. “Mr. Diamond, Amos Givron, Shabak. We are investigating the bomb- ing. I need to talk with you.”

“Fine. But I really don’t know how I can help.”

“We will see.” He contemplated Ed now with hard, unfriendly eyes. “Please, come with me.”

“I’ve also got to get to Jerusalem tonight.” Ed said.

As if he hadn’t heard, Givron continued into the hotel. Suppressing a brief surge of anger, Ed followed him past the gift shop, where a noisy group of tourists was trying on souvenir T-shirts, and into the cafeteria. The two men bought coffee and then sat at a small table by the window. The only other people in the room were sun-bleached teenagers, a boy and a girl in shorts and sandals, their heads close together, talking softly. The boy had a light blond beard.

Givron glanced at the couple, gazed out the window where hotel guests sat around the swimming pool shaded by giant palms, and then looked back at Ed. “As I said, Mr. Diamond, we are looking into yesterday’s bombing.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “I thought a Palestinian group has taken responsibility, the Sons of the Prophet.”

“They did—at least that’s the e-mail they sent to the press this morning.”

“You don’t think it was them?”
“I said we are still investigating,” said Givron testily.
“But why Dov Ben-David? I mean, he was retired, and he was known to favor a deal with the Palestinians.”
The Israeli looked up sharply. “Mr. Diamond, why don’t you let me ask the questions.”
Ed shrugged. “Be my guest.”
“Why did you come to Israel?”
“Dov called and asked me to come.”
“Did he say what it was about?”
“He didn’t want to talk about it over the phone.”
“I don’t understand, Mr. Diamond.” The tanned young girl cross the room began to laugh softly. Givron paused and glanced in her direction. Her boyfriend had his hand under the table; she had her foot raised between his legs. “Look, you are in Paris, and someone in Israel phones you, tells you to come to Israel, but says he can’t tell you why. And you—a very busy, very famous reporter—you simply drop what you are doing and fly to Israel.”

“No, you look, Mr. Givron. Dov was an old friend. I’d known him for many years. I trusted him. If he said ‘Come,’ that meant it was important.”

Givron’s eyes narrowed. “He helped you in the past—when he was with the Mossad, of course? Just how did he help you?”

“I can’t tell you. You can be assured he gave away none of Israel’s valuable secrets. But that’s as far as I’ll go. I’m a reporter. I protect my sources—even when they’re dead. That’s something authorities in my country understand.”

“You are no longer in your country,” Givron said flintily. “You are here, in Israel. We play by different rules. We are surrounded by enemies. We take our security laws seriously. It’s not up to you to decide if Dov Ben-David broke them by talking to you. It’s up to us. Perhaps what he revealed to you is connected with the bombing.”

Ed felt his temper flare. “Hey, I’m as interested as you to discover who killed Dov! And why! So cut the shit—and back off.” Ed rose from his chair. “Now, unless you’re going to arrest me for something specific, I’m out of here.”

The young couple stared at them across the room. Givron’s jaw tightened. He took a deep drag on his cigarette, exhaled, and smiled grimly. “Arrest you? Who’s talking about arresting you?” He spread his hands wide. “You are free to go. But if you do get any information, we shall expect you to be in contact with us, you understand? Another thing, Mr. Diamond…”

“Yes?”

“An intelligent man like you should be more cautious before he jumps into situations he knows nothing about.” His eyebrows arched. “You are dealing with crazy people here. You get in the way, they kill you.”

———————-

I’ll be publishing more excerpts, but if you don’t want to wait, you can download the book this week for only $0.99 while it’s featured on Amazon.  Also available in softcover.

60 Minutes Benghazi Fiasco: There could have been so many more!

1:48 am in Uncategorized by Barry Lando

The embarrassing flap resulting from the 60 Minutes report on Benghazi—broadcasting a sensational interview with a security officer, Dylan Davies, an apparently totally trustworthy, convincing source, who later turned out to be a con artist–makes me shudder.

I recall the number of times during my thirty years as a producer with 60 Minutes when I only narrowly missed being caught in the same kind of devastating, career-shattering trap.

But first, what does it mean to be a producer at 60 Minutes? Each report on the show has “produced by” written on the art work introducing it, but most viewers have no clue what “produced by” really entails.

Indeed, the great irony of 60 Minutes is a question of truth in packaging. That is, 60 Minutes, which prides itself on ruthless truth telling, exposing cant and fraud, is in itself, something of a charade.

TV Shows We Used To Watch - Sunday 4th January 1970

The fact is that, although the viewers tune in to watch the on-going exploits of  Lara, Morley, Bob, etc. etc., most of the intrepid reporting, writing, and even many of the most probing questions posed in the interviews, are not the handiwork of the stars, but much more the effort of teams of producers. associate producers, and researchers–who actually sift through and report the stories that the stars present–as their own exploits–each Sunday night.

The stars who pull down the seven figure salaries. But, it’s the producers and their assistants who are, far more than the stars, also responsible for checking out the veracity of those reports.

That’s a daunting task. Most investigative reports on 60 Minutes (or anywhere else) are usually told in terms of black and white, the bad guys vs. the good guys. The problem is most of life is played out in shades of grey. When you start digging into any supposed scandal you usually find that the bad guy is not all that bad; the good guy not all that good, and often the supposed villain is not really a villain at all.  Or, as the former City Editor of the old Chicago Herald American, Harry Romanoff, famously said, “If you dig deep enough, any story collapses.”

Usually producers and correspondents recognize when they arrive at that point, and drop the project. But not always.  Particularly when the devastating revelation occurs after you have already committed several weeks and tens of thousands of dollars to a report. It’s then that blowing the whistle is most painful, and the temptation to continue, in spite of what you have uncovered, the greatest. In addition to that is the constant pressure to be turning out “sensational pieces”; the rivalry, not just with other news shows, but, even more pronounced, among the producers and correspondents of 60 Minutes themselves.

There’s plenty of ammunition for error. Every week, scores of people write and call 60 Minutes about some incredible expose just waiting to be unearthed. They supply reams of documents, which, they claim, prove their cases, and convincing explanations about why such and such newspaper or congressman refused to follow up on their leads and trumpet the shocking truth.

The more questions you ask, the more convoluted their answers become. But you never know when one of them will pan out. So you never stop listening, studying their evidence, hoping that one of them will turn into something electrifying.

Some of them, like Dylan Davies, the focus of 60 Minutes’ Benghazi report, also have books to peddle.

That’s what happened in 1982. when I was in New York, researching a report about a particularly brutal Communist regime. We heard that a former top official from the secret police of that country, who had defected to the U.S., was writing his memoirs.  I immediately contacted him. He showed up the next day in Mike Wallace’s office with page proofs of the book–plus the female CIA agent who had helped debrief him when he first arrived in the States.

The debriefing had obviously gone well.  They’d married and she’d help him write his account. (This, don’t forget, was almost thirty years before Homeland!)

That same week a news story broke about two black U.S. Marine sergeants who, the government claimed, had let two Russian girls they were dating, into the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after hours. The government threw the book at both men, claiming they’d compromised Embassy security.

“You know,” the Communist defector in Mike’s office told me, “what happened in Moscow is nothing. In our country, the U.S. Ambassador’s wife was having an affair with the embassy driver.” The driver, like all nationals working for the embassy, was a member of that country’s secret police.
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Iran: When a U.S. President Tried to Muzzle 60 Minutes

9:13 am in Uncategorized by Barry Lando

In his address to the U.N. a few days ago, President Obama came the closest any American leaders has come to acknowledging America’s shameful legacy with Iran: overthrowing a democratically- elected government, installing a corrupt, repressive dictatorship in its place. It was something of an apology-almost. In fact more than 30 years ago, during the hostage crisis, another American President, Jimmy Carter attempted to block a 60 Minutes broadcast that also suggested the U.S. owed Iran something of an apology.

60 Minutes logo

President Carter tried to block a 60 Minutes program on Iran.

At the time, I had already made several reporting trips to Iran for 60 Minutes; had met its young revolutionaries; knew of the past relations between Iran and the U.S. — of the close ties between the Shah’s secret police — the Savak — and the CIA. It was not difficult to understand the volatile anti-American emotions that had exploded with the revolution. They were being stoked by Khomeini’s more extremist followers. They had organized the taking of 54 American Embassy hostages to undermine the moderates in the new chaotic regime, and advance their own radical cause.

Indeed, the anti-Iranian outrage provoked by the hostage-taking was boiling in the United States. In Washington, I was shocked to see stickers on every door up and down the corridors of the State Department hallways backing “The 54”, and a huge billboard on in New York, right up the block from CBS, with the most diabolical image of Khomeini, glowering over 57th street. Americans I spoke with seemed to lack any understanding of the history and emotion driving the Iranians. I suggested we do a crash report on the subject for 60 Minutes. Mike Wallace and our executive producer, Don Hewitt, agreed.

Over the next four days, we stitched together a very strong segment based on a series of interviews in New York and Washington. Former officials from the State Department and the CIA gave vivid first hand accounts of the extremely close cooperation between the U.S. and the regime of the Shah, despite the mounting evidence of torture and corruption under his rule.

Jesse Leaf, for instance, a former CIA analyst, said that early on in the 70′s he had wanted to write a report on torture in Iran but was ordered not to. “You’d have to be blind deaf and dumb and a presidential candidate not to know there was torture going on in Iran, “Leaf said. “We knew what was happening and we did nothing about it, and I was told not to do anything about it. By definition, an enemy of the Shah was an enemy of the CIA. We were friends. This was a very close relationship between the United States and Iran.”

Another former CIA officer, Richard Cottam, also condemned the U.S. for turning a blind eye to the excesses of the Shah, and refusing to deal with minority opposition groups. Such were the policy guidelines, he said, laid down by Henry Kissinger.

Mike Wallace asked: “What you seem to be saying, Professor Cottam, is that when the question ‘Who lost Iran?’ is finally asked, Henry Kissinger is at the top of your culprit’s list.”

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