PROFITS OF WAR -- INSIDE THE SECRET U.S.-ISRAELI ARMS NETWORK
14. The Revolutionary
MY WEDDING TO Ora took place on March 13, 1988, as scheduled -- much to Ora's relief -- and ten days after our honeymoon in the Blue Nile area, I was ready to fly on my first mission for the prime minister. It was filled with risks. The minerals could only be found in an area in Peru that was in the hands of a group known as the Shining Path, which had a formidable reputation as a Maoist terrorist group that dealt in drugs.
As I flew from New York to Peru, I wondered just what lay in store for "Professor Ari Ben-Menashe." My credentials had gone ahead of me. I was going to apply for a position to teach about the Middle East at the University of San Cristobal de Huamanga at Ayacucho. It was an important "target." Many years earlier, Abimael Guzman Reynoso, founder of the Shining Path, had been a professor of philosophy on its faculty. Although Guzman had been "underground" since 1970, most of the professors at San Cristobal University were members of Shining Path. And most of those who weren't belonged to the Communist Party of Peru.
Guzman was legendary, considered by his followers to be the fourth sword of Marxism after Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. In 1980 he had proclaimed the armed struggle against the capitalist government in Lima, and since then the Shining Path had grown into a powerful force. As a result, the whole department (region) of Ayacucho had been declared under martial law by Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
From Lima I took a plane to Ayacucho. The aircraft was filled with women in bright Inca clothing clutching live chickens and old men with boxes tied up with string. But the passenger who sat next to me was a distinguished-looking, well-built man in his late 40s who asked me in English who I was and what I was doing flying to Ayacucho, a military zone closed to foreigners.
He continued to press me, asking if I'd been accepted at the university -- in fact I had had no response to the application I'd sent -- and whether I had a license from the military government. I told him I was going to talk to the officer who was head of military operations in Ayacucho, Col. Rafael Cordova, in the hope that he would help me stay in the region.
"Well, that's most interesting," said my traveling companion. "Because I am Col. Cordova."
I couldn't be sure whether he was or not, but I told him I was from Israel and would like to teach at the university and write a paper about Shining Path.
By the time the plane landed, I was convinced that the man I had hoped to meet was sitting right next to me, and that this was no coincidence. He agreed to talk to me further after our arrival. When the plane touched down at a small airfield on a mountain plateau, it was immediately surrounded by soldiers. Apart from the airport and the town of Ayacucho itself, the whole region was controlled by Shining Path. The government was taking no chances of losing a plane to the movement.
The secret police were carefully checking IDs, but Col. Cordova told them to take only my passport details and let me through. He wanted to talk to me some more. I took a taxi to the Thrista Hotel -- a holdover from the days when visitors were allowed in the region -- and arranged for the colonel to see me later. I realized that whatever calls I made from the rather pleasant room they had given me would be recorded. So I phoned Ora and asked her to call my "doctors" and tell them I had arrived in Ayacucho.
I then made my way to the university, where I asked to see the rector. His secretary went into an inner office, then returned and asked me to wait for 20 minutes. She started chatting to me about how she represented Amnesty International, but suddenly changed tack and started talking about the visitors Ayacucho had had.
"Many of them are intelligence officers trying to find out what the Shining Path is doing," she said matter-of-factly. "They never find out much."
"Nobody tells them anything?"
"No, not that. They just get killed."
The rector welcomed me warmly, and, on presenting my academic credentials again, I explained I would like to teach and write a paper about the Shining Path. He said he saw no problem, except that I would have to obtain a permit from the military.
"I'll be honest with you," he said. "We don't like them. But they have to approve of your being here. If you stay without their permission, they'll take you away and we'll all be in trouble."
I asked why he was ready to accept me so quickly.
He shrugged. "I see your papers and you can prove yourself. If you are good at giving lectures, you can stay; if not, you can leave. If you're an intelligence officer, from the CIA, from Israel's -- whatever the hell their name is -- that's none of my business."
I was given a letter of appointment, and it was agreed I'd start teaching the following morning. My interviews for the day were not over, of course. Late in the afternoon, Col. Cordova arrived at the hotel. He came straight to the point. "If you're an intelligence officer trying to penetrate the Shining Path, don't bother. The Peruvian military has its own intelligence. We don't need help, whoever you may or may not represent."
I realized that what I had to say next could have resulted in my being shot. I knew he carried a gun under his suit jacket, and I was to find out later just how capable he was of using it. But I had been briefed on what to say back in Israel.
"Colonel Cordova, please excuse me, but I am going to tell you one thing. I am going to stay whether you like it or not."
His reaction was a loud belly laugh. "Oh yes?" he said. "Perhaps you'd like to explain."
"Let me remind you about the three Stingers."
His face hardened. You could feel the atmosphere change.
"We have information," I said, "that you personally got three Stinger missiles off an Aeroflot plane in Lima and sold them to the Shining Path. A lot of people in Israel know about this. And I want to stay here."
He glared at me. "Are you trying to blackmail me?"
"No, colonel. I'm just telling you how much we know about you. And you had better make sure I am kept happy and alive. All I want to do is teach at this university, and I promise you there will be no subversive activity against the Peruvian government or military."
"You're very persistent. By the way, how did you know about the Stingers?"
I wasn't going to tell him that. In fact, we had found out as a result of a "friendly discussion" between Israel's second secretary to Lima and the Soviet Embassy's commercial attache.
It soon became clear to me that the colonel was going to give me a permit after all. In fact, he was going to get it within the hour. He picked up the phone, asked the operator to connect him with a number, and rattled off instructions.
After he left, I went for a stroll around the town, which was dominated by the university, although it is said there are more than 40 churches there. Tourists fascinated by the Incas used to flock here up to 1980, when people started getting killed. After 1985 it was officially closed to tourism, which explained why so many of the 25,000 population stared at me, an obvious stranger.
Waiting for me under my door when I returned was my license to stay. I had hardly started reading it when I had a visitor, a police officer who told me that he knew I was a very important professor from Israel and was to be given the highest protection. In order for that to be effective, I was told I had to phone the police every day and tell them where I was. I told him he would not have to worry -- I'd be at the university if they wanted me.
My first lecture, in English, at the university went well. I spoke about the economic and social structure of the Israeli kibbutz, with which the students were able to identify because they were supporters of commune-style living. I was approached after the lecture by a man called Roberto, who was head of the English department. But he was more, which he readily disclosed -- he was a member of the national leadership of El Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path.
"Aren't you afraid the military will pick you up?" I asked.
He shook his head. According to Peruvian law, membership in any organization was permitted unless the person was found carrying a gun or carrying out subversive activity. Members of Shining Path were followed, but at the same time there was "an understanding" between the organization and the military.
Roberto invited me to his home for lunch, where he explained that Shining Path had its own ideas about the way Peru would be after it took over. There would be a free market, but it would be based on a kibbutz-like commune, not the individual. It would also be based on the culture of the Incas, who had lived communally before the Spaniards came. If Shining Path had any ideological alignment, it was with the Albanian government, which had cut ties with the Soviet Union after Stalin died.
I asked Roberto if I could meet the movement's founder.
"You can't. The chairman is no longer alive."
But shortly afterwards, he confessed Guzman was alive. He said there were immense difficulties in getting me to see him, among them the problem of being tailed by the military.
He agreed to do what he could in return for a favor from me.
"Look," he said, tugging at his thinning locks, "I'm losing my hair. There's a medication in England that can help. Can you get it for me?"
I said I would try. This was becoming a very personal friendship -- which was perfect.
That evening I had another visit from Col. Cordova, who said he wanted to chat. While he was still there, Roberto arrived with a man who introduced himself as Marcus, an English teacher and a member of the Communist Party.
I gestured from the colonel to the new arrivals. "I assume you guys know each other?"
Roberto stared at Cordova with disgust. "Yes," he said, "this is the man who murders peasants."
Cordova rose and held out a hand, but the gesture was not returned. I spent several minutes breaking the ice, saying how nice it was that it had taken an Israeli to bring them together. I ordered coffee, but Cordova remained ill at ease. He said he had to leave and as he made his way out, Roberto called, "Don't kill any more peasants."
The colonel threw him a false smile. "We try to protect them from you guys."
Several days later, after I had given more lectures, I flew to Lima and called Nick Davies in London. He thought I was mad when I asked him to send a bottle of the hair lotion Roberto had requested, but I knew how important it was for public relations. Davies mentioned that a magazine photographer we knew was currently in Lima staying with a journalist named Barbara Durr. He told me to check on her through Israel -- I might find her useful.
I found out through Tel Aviv that she was a stringer working in Peru for the Financial Times of London. That evening, after calling the photographer, Peter Jordan, I had dinner with him and Durr. I explained I was teaching at Ayacucho, and he mentioned to her that I had worked for Israeli intelligence until I was fired the year before. She seemed fascinated, and the three of us chatted on for hours. She was clearly a very smart woman, and I knew she might be useful to me sometime.
Back in Ayacucho, Roberto told me, "You have your wish."
The date and time was set for me to go to his home. Several days later, as instructed, I went to his home, where I was led to a van and asked to get in the back. There were no windows. I sat there, crashing around, as the vehicle hit pothole after pothole. At one stage we stopped at the back of a house where I was asked to climb into another van, also closed. It was two hours before we came to a halt.
I was led into a farmhouse, which was guarded by a number of men clutching Kalashnikovs. In the living room a balding man who looked like a college professor stepped forward. In his '50s, he was of average height, somewhat chubby, and was wearing a sports jacket with an open shirt and no tie. He did not smile as he introduced himself as Abimael Guzman.
"For a dead man, you seem very much alive," I said.
He laughed. It was the laugh of a confident, charismatic man. In his eyes was a calm, sharp look. Guzman was clearly very intelligent -- and suspicious. "Who are you? CIA? Mossad? KGB? Whoever you are, you are lucky to have come so far and still remained alive."
I told him the truth -- that I was a special consultant on intelligence with the Israeli Prime Minister's Office and that I would like to conduct business with him.
Guzman shook his head, bemused. "You come to Ayacucho, Roberto sees you with Cordova the murderer, and now you tell me you are an intelligence officer from Israel. We were informed by our contacts in Sweden, and they are looking into your identity. And you know that if you don't check out, we're going to kill you."
Despite the Shining Path's violent reputation, I wasn't frightened. Guzman had delivered the warning with a twinkle in his eye. I didn't take it seriously. To tell the truth, I was enjoying myself. After years of big-money Iranian arms deals, this was fun. I'd read books, of course, about heroic revolutionaries like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Ho Chi Minh. But here I was, seeing a revolution firsthand at the grassroots level. It was a rare opportunity.
Guzman ordered coffee and talked in a friendly manner about his background. He surprised me right away by saying he had Jewish blood. He was the son of an Inca maid in a household of affluent German Jews who had emigrated to Peru from Europe in the 1920s. She was impregnated by the husband, who did not have any children by his wife. When the wife found out about the pregnancy, the maid was driven out.
Guzman's father died before he was born, and his mother died in childbirth. His Inca grandmother then took him to his father's widow, and she agreed to raise him. She sent him to university in Sweden, but once his studies were over, he felt compelled to return to Peru. He began teaching his own philosophy, a mixture of Inca and kibbutz ideology.
I left the initial meeting impressed by Guzman. He had a magnetic personality and was very well-educated and thoughtful. While he had a tendency to launch into passionate, self-righteous diatribes, he also had a sense of humor.
I spent the night at the farmhouse and was taken back to Ayacucho the next day. After a week of teaching, I made a short trip to Lima. On my return to Ayacucho, I was taken back to Guzman's house, again going through the elaborate security precautions.
"You check out," Guzman said. "What do you want with us?"
I told him about the purpose of my mission -- to secure the purchase of certain minerals and compounds that we believed they had previously supplied to the French through a broker in Lima named Richtmeyer. I explained that the substances were needed for Israel's nuclear development program, to be used for a tactical battlefield weapon. Coupled with a peace treaty, it would be the best defense Israel could have.
Guzman eyed me skeptically. "What's in it for the Shining Path?" he asked.
"Money, so you can help the Andean peasants."
"You have the right answers -- but what about arms?"
I shook my head. "Not possible. Peru is a friendly country. Israel won't supply your people with arms. But with the right amount of money, you can purchase them somewhere else."
He told me they wanted $10 million for starters. After the money was deposited in a bank account in Geneva, we could get down to serious discussion. However, he still questioned whether I was trying to set him up.
From Lima, I called Shamir's adviser, Avi Pazner, to tell him that everything was going well. I gave him a bank account number that had been passed to me, and Pazner told me that the money would be deposited. The plan was that four Cessnas would be placed on standby in Colombia to fly to an airfield in Peru that Guzman would later designate. These planes would fly out quantities of the substances to Venezuela. Colombia had been chosen as the starting point because if the planes were detected, the Peruvians would think they were on a cocaine run; many small planes flew coca leaves from Peru to Colombia.
Next I called Barbara Durr. I asked if she'd like to interview Guzman. She was very excited at the prospect of such a scoop being dropped into her lap, but I had an ulterior motive. I wanted her to interview Guzman to provide public proof to my superiors that we were talking to the right man, given the rumors that he was supposed to be dead. They wouldn't be too happy about laying out $10 million for a dead man.
Shortly after my call to Durr, I realized I was being tailed -- and not by the Peruvians. I talked to Nick Davies's photographer friend, Peter Jordan, and he told me that Durr had tipped off the Cubans about my contact with Shining Path. At the time, I found out, the Cubans were advising the Peruvian government in its campaign against the Shining Path. I didn't like being tailed, and I didn't like Barbara Durr going behind my back. I decided to call in the aid of the Israeli ambassador. A quick solution to the problem was found. The chief of the antiterrorism police would arrange for her to be arrested for being in touch with the Shining Path, and then we would get her out of police hands. When she was freed, she would be grateful and more than willing to help us any way she could.
At least getting her arrested might make her think twice about passing on information to the Cubans. While Durr was at police headquarters, and British and U.S. Embassy representatives along with foreign journalist association officials were demanding her release, I called on the police antiterrorism chief. He told me he didn't know what the scheme was, but he had been asked to let her go when I arrived. So she was freed, and I made sure that everyone knew who had secured her release.
That evening I called at her house, and she thanked me profusely. I then had to leave to meet Col. Cordova, who was visiting Lima. But he could spare me no time. He said he had to fly back to Ayacucho immediately because five of his officers had been killed in a Shining Path ambush.
"I'm going to teach those people a lesson," he raged. "I'm going to destroy them all."
''Are you crazy?" I asked. "You can't punish a whole village. What did they do?"
But he wouldn't listen. I raced back to Barbara Durr's house and begged her to call CBS radio, for which she also worked. I told her to get a story on the air about the ambush and that the colonel was planning to massacre a village in revenge. I reasoned that if it was broadcast, it might stop his actions. But CBS told her on the phone that if he didn't carry out the massacre, the story would be regarded as alarmist. It was never broadcast. Within days, I read in El Diario, the Peruvian newspaper associated with Shining Path, that dozens of innocent villagers had been slaughtered.
This incident shook me up. Because I was so close to it, ironically, it had more impact on me than the mass killing of the Iran-Iraq war, for which I bore a direct share of responsibility. I realized I needed a break, so in early April 1988 I flew back to Israel for about a week. Ora, heavy with child, was a wonderful, welcoming sight.
While I was in Israel, further preparations were made for transporting the strategic materials from Peru. We arranged for the Israeli intelligence logistics man to fly first to Colombia to hire the planes and then on to Venezuela to line up the airfields. The aircraft would be twin-engine Cessna Citations -- passenger planes -- with the seats taken out. Colombian drug dealers used them all the time without interference from the Peruvian government because this was one of the country's main sources of foreign currency, even if it did sometimes fall into the hands of Shining Path or the peasants.
We also planned to have an Israeli liner in port in Venezuela to pick up the substances after their arrival from Peru. Venezuela would give us no trouble -- the country's intelligence network had a close relationship with Israel.
When I arrived back in Lima in mid-April, Barbara was waiting for me at the airport, as arranged by phone. I told her that the Israelis, who had saved her from going to jail, would like her to do something for them. In fact, it wasn't all that tough a job -- she merely had to travel with me to Ayacucho because I needed the protection of a journalist. Things wouldn't get too hot with a newspaper representative around.
Barbara agreed to fly with me to Ayacucho. On our landing, the police greeted me, now a frequent visitor, but they stopped her. I told them that she was traveling with me, and they let her through. We took a cab to the hotel, and at exactly noon the Shining Path attacked the police station, leaving six officers dead. They announced afterwards through leaflets dropped in the square that this was their revenge for the village massacre and that there would be more vengeance killings in the future.
That evening, leaving Barbara in the hotel, I started walking to Roberto's house. He had asked me to be there at 8:00 P.M. Suddenly gunfire broke out. Amid shouts and screams from all directions, I threw myself down flat. Then, during a lull, I ran on to Roberto's house. I was furious and asked why he had wanted me to visit him when he knew my life would be at risk.
"We can't tell you about our operations in advance," he said.
This had been some operation. The Shining Path had taken over the police station altogether and had freed every one of the prisoners held there.
Suddenly all the power went off. In the darkness Roberto told me it was time to visit Guzman. When I pointed out that there would be a military presence everywhere, he said with a smile that it would take them two hours to get organized. His smile broadened when I handed him a package I had brought -- the prescription hair restorer Nick Davies had finally managed to get hold of in London through a balding friend.
After traveling in two vans to Guzman's place, I told the Shining Path founder the truth: that I'd like him to give an interview to a newspaper reporter, explaining there were rumors that he was dead, that I was being duped, and that I had arranged for my government to "give away" $10 million.
"I can't give an interview to a foreign capitalist newspaper," he said.
"But don't you want the rest of your money? I need some kind of proof that you are alive."
"Don't your bosses believe you?"
I told him they believed me, but the interview would help. Eventually, after a discussion about our thinning locks -- these fellows really had a thing about their hair -- he agreed to give an interview to El Diario.
Meanwhile he asked me for a few favors. He wanted the Israelis to buy a chain of five small newspapers -- the Ocho Group -- on the movement's behalf, and he also asked for medical equipment to be brought on the Cessnas that were coming in from Colombia. The equipment would be offloaded, and 200 kilograms of each of the substances would be put on board. It was then that he gave me the location of the airfields in Peru where the Cessnas could land. So the meeting ended on a satisfactory note.
Later I was told by phone that Guzman had a very close friend, Cynthia McNamara, a U.S. citizen, who was in jail in Lima, accused of taking part in a Shining Path attack. Cynthia, I learned, was a former hippie in her early 40s who had visited Ecuador collecting Indian art pieces and later traveled to Peru. In Ayacucho she had fallen in love with a handsome doctor named Enrico. She had also met Guzman and had struck up a good friendship with him. Then she had been jailed. What Guzman wanted now was for me to do something for her, perhaps through the Israeli ambassador. I made no promises.
With the landing strips now designated, the following Friday was arranged for the pickup of the minerals. The only problem I had was getting back to Lima yet again in order to phone the logistics man in Caracas to tell him what had been arranged. I also needed a good excuse to get away from the university. I had been away quite a bit -- and I had, after all, been taken on as a teacher.
Barbara provided the excuse. I told the university that my friend had sprained her ankle badly and I had to travel with her to Lima so she could get medical attention. We arrived in the capital a couple of days before the scheduled pickup and I made my call from a safe phone at the embassy. Then I phoned Roberto to confirm the arrangements.
"How are you going to manage taking the stuff off the ship in Israel?" he asked.
"That's our problem," I replied. "You just make sure it's delivered."
It was all trust. If one thing went wrong, the whole operation would collapse. I waited on tenterhooks at the Country Club Hotel in Lima, where I was staying. Finally I received word that the planes had arrived in Venezuela with the substances. It had all gone like clockwork.
The following Monday, while waiting for the flight back to Ayacucho, I saw the smiling face of Guzman peering out from the front page of the newspaper. As with the delivery of the strategic materials, he had also kept this part of the deal.
I bought a number of copies to take to Ayacucho with me -- as we were traveling on an early flight from Lima, these would be the first he would see. There was also good news for him about his friend Cynthia. Barbara had learned that only three days earlier McNamara had been released from jail.
My guilty conscience about taking so much time off from the university was relieved later that morning when we arrived back in Ayacucho. As we were traveling by cab from the airport to the hotel, gunfire burst out and the driver swerved into the curb. We threw ourselves flat against the seats. But the bullets weren't meant for us. At a roadblock ahead, soldiers had seen a machine gun in a car occupied by students, there had been an angry confrontation, shots were fired, and three students were shot dead. It was later announced that an indefinite strike had been called at the university. So I was out of a job ... if it was ever really a job in the first place.
My other work, of course, had to continue. More of the chemicals had to be bought, which meant further negotiations with Guzman. At his place, the discussions became tense. He tried to get a fortune from the Israeli government by asking for a house in a nice part of Lima, the newspaper chain, and $28 million. He backed up his demands by pointing out that, according to a physics professor at the university, with these substances, Israel was going to be invincible.
"It's worth paying up," Guzman said. "Your government is nothing but an arm of American imperialism anyway. That money is American, and we want it for the Peruvian people."
Sensing that I was about to argue again about his demands, he cut in, "You're a hard-nosed Jew." Then he paused before adding, "I didn't mean to insult you. I'm part Jewish myself. But above all else we're human beings. We are all one. We are all equal," he corrected himself.
He also introduced me to more of the philosophy of the movement he had founded. He had some interesting thoughts on equality, referring to Lenin and the relationship between men and women.
"As a result of Lenin, the Soviets frowned on marriage and encouraged sexuality. When Stalin took over in the '30s, countless numbers of homeless children were roaming around Soviet cities, without any family nucleus. So Stalin announced that the family was to be a socialist institution to protect its women. This is how our Soviet friends manipulated everything. We here in the Shining Path see that the real way is eternal love between one man and one woman forever. All right, if it doesn't work, you are allowed to divorce, but it is not something to be encouraged."
Apparently, in Guzman's idiosyncratic philosophy, communal living did not extend to sex.
"What is the big deal about sex?" he asked rhetorically. "I believe it should be one child per couple. Look at the homeless kids in Lima. It's horrible that their only hope is to be sold to foreign couples who can't have children of their own."
But how, I asked, was he really going to solve the problem? It was all right to talk about it, but what about practicalities?
He smiled softly. "We will start our calendar in Peru from the year zero. At that time everyone in Lima will leave for communes, and Lima as we know it will be erased from the surface of the earth -- it's such a horrible city anyway with its slums, no good water, no drainage systems."
I found this fascinating. These were similar to the naive, idealistic thoughts I had had when I was a teenager. Bring everybody back to one level and start again.
We returned to our negotiations. It was agreed that for a further payment of $18 million -- bringing the total, with the earlier $10 million, to $28 million -- Israel would receive another 300 kilograms of each of the substances.