Amos Gilad spent 45 years in the service of Israeli intelligence, retiring in 2017. According to Gilad, his proudest achievement during his career was the role he played in getting Iran identified as the main threat to Israel, back in 1996. (I can verify this, since I was told personally by the then-head of Aman, Moshe Ya'alon, that, thanks in large part to the work done by U.N. inspectors, Iraq had dropped to number five on the list of threats to Israeli security, behind Iran, Hezbollah, Palestine and Israel's ultra-conservative Orthodox Jews.)
When Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected prime minister of Israel, in 1996, Amos Gilad briefed him on the intelligence assessment that placed Iran as Israel's main threat. Netanyahu went on to speak before the U.S. Congress in July 1996, telling American lawmakers that the fundamental problem in the Middle East was "unreconstructed dictatorships whose governmental creed is based on tyranny and intimidation," adding that "[the] most dangerous of these regimes is Iran, that has wed a cruel despotism to a fanatic militancy. If this regime, or its despotic neighbor Iraq, were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind."
Netanyahu's speech, when combined with Israeli intelligence reports Gilad carefully manipulated and selectively released to the press, played an important role in getting Congress and the administration of then-President Bill Clinton to sanction Iran in September 1996.
Netanyahu has been the mouthpiece of Israeli information operations/psychological warfare for more than 20 years. In the summer of 2002, after being voted out of office, private citizen Netanyahu -- drawing upon the credibility he would be given as a person who had, only recently, been privy to Israeli intelligence information Gilad provided -- testified before Congress that "every indication is that he [Saddam Hussein] is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons." History proved Netanyahu, and the information he was relying on, to be 100 percent wrong.
The thing about intelligence-driven information operations, however, isn't the need to get the information right. The goal is to get the policy right, and in this case, Israel's policy objective of getting the United States to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power was achieved.
Netanyahu has been at the forefront of Israeli information operations targeting Iran. For years, he lectured the world about the danger Iran's nuclear program posed, culminating in a bizarre show-and-tell before the United Nations in 2012 where he used a crude drawing of a bomb to illustrate his case. The takeaway from Netanyahu's speech, however, did not rest with any spectacular expose of Iranian nuclear ambition, but the fact that Netanyahu was freelancing -- the Israeli intelligence service did not agree with the case the Israeli prime minister was making. Since that time, Netanyahu has doubled down on crying wolf about the Iranian nuclear threat, opposing at every step the Obama administration's efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, and supporting Donald Trump's calls to "rip up" that same agreement.
Given both Israel's past role in exaggerating the Iraqi WMD threat and Netanyahu's track record on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program, a responsible observer would be loath to take the Israeli prime minister's warnings at face value. Instead, one would insist on a process of verification to be conducted on the documents and data the Israeli prime minister relied upon to make his case.
I have considerable experience in conducting searches for documentary evidence involving weapons of mass destruction. I was in the U.N. operations center when U.N. inspectors seized the Iraqi nuclear files in September 1991 and headed up the inspections that cornered a covert Iraqi WMD archive in the summer of 1992. Between 1995 and 1996, I led the investigation into the so-called "chicken farm" archive Iraq turned over to inspectors following the defection of Hussein Kamal in August 1995. I am intimately familiar with the logistics of covertly gathering, collating, archiving and securing a massive number of documents and associated materials.
The "chicken farm" archive itself was more than a million pages -- more than 10 times larger than the document cache alleged to have been stolen by the Mossad. I spent months debriefing the Iraqi security personnel involved with transporting and securing this archive, as well as physically inspecting the locations involved, and have gained some insight into the realities associated with such operations.
According to Israeli sources, operatives of the Mossad discovered the location of the Iranian nuclear archive sometime in 2016, after it had been moved into a ramshackle warehouse in southern Tehran. In early 2017, Israeli operatives were able to gain access to the building, access the material in question and remove it from Iran the same day. These same sources state that a special unit of the Iranian Intelligence Service guarded the archive. If the Israeli story is true, then the Israelis exposed an entire operational network for the purpose of bringing this information to public attention, an act that, given the time and difficulty of putting such a network in place, borders on the criminally irresponsible.
I do not doubt that the Israelis would be able to gather information about the existence and location of a secret archive in Iran. In my time as an inspector, I received numerous reports of this nature, which proved to be both timely and accurate. The issue is access. In Iraq, we had a full-time inspection apparatus mandated to carry out document searches and, as such, could operate openly. In my debriefs of the Special Republican Guard officers who had been given the task of safeguarding the "chicken farm" archive, they indicated that they had a 24-hour armed presence, and that they would have shot and killed anyone -- even U.N. inspectors -- who tried to gain access to these documents. If the Iranian archive is as sensitive and important as Netanyahu claims, and indeed a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard was assigned the task of securing this archive, there is no doubt that the same "shoot to kill" orders would have been in place, along with a 24-hour armed guard. The thought that Mossad operatives could gain access to the archive and extricate tens of thousands documents and scores of CDs flies in the face of the notion that the archive was sensitive and guarded by elite guards.
That means the documents were forgeries. Who forged them is unknown, but the point is, Israel knows they are not the real deal.
The issue of document verification is critical when addressing the veracity of the information contained in the documents in question. This is another area where I possess some relevant experience. By way of example, in 1992 U.N. weapons inspectors compelled the Iraqi government to admit that it had lied about the numbers of missiles it had declared. Nearly 100 missiles had been hidden from inspectors, and the accounting used to underpin the original deceptive figures was doctored to make up for the missing missiles. To clear up this discrepancy, the Iraqis provided the inspectors with detailed log books from the Iraqi Army that recorded the disposition of every missile received from the Soviet Union. To verify that these were original logbooks, and not forgeries produced to deceive the inspectors, the inspectors turned over one of the original logbooks to the FBI so that a forensic assessment could be made.
The FBI was able to determine the type of paper used in the logs, trace the paper back to its source and confirm that this paper had been provided to Iraq during the time period involved, Similarly, the FBI conducted a forensic analysis of the ink used in typing up the documents, identifying specific typewriters involved, as well as the inks used for the various stamps and signatures that had been affixed to the documents in question. The conclusion reached by the FBI was that the documents were most likely originals.
Likewise, when U.N. inspectors came upon computerized files, the files were subjected to detailed forensic analysis to ascertain whether they were originals, or copies planted to deceive the inspectors. This analysis -- which included determining the date a file was created, on which machine it was created, who created it, and any modifications made to the file -- was essential in determining the origin of the files (whether they were original) and the veracity of their content. This kind of detailed forensic inspection of documentary evidence was a prerequisite action before any consideration could be made about the validity and credibility of the data. And because of this kind of attention to detail, U.N. inspectors were able to present their document-based findings with confidence.
Netanyahu claimed the documents the Mossad allegedly stole had been shared with the United States and that the United States could vouch for their authenticity, but this claim is, on its face, unbelievable. The Mossad already had accessed many of these documents and found them wanting. Sometime in 2004, the Mossad had gained access to some of the same documents that Netanyahu had used in his April 2018 presentation. These documents were collated into electronic form and turned over to an Iranian opposition group, the MEK (People's Mujahedeen of Iran), which turned the laptop containing the documents over to the German intelligence service.