The Angel: No Perfect Spy, No Double Agent


    Of HUMINT and Ashraf Marwan

    There is a current argument as to the relevance of HUMINT, or Human Intelligence, in today’s world. The recent appearance of US Navy personnel attempting to provide information to a foreign service regarding Virginia-class submarines likely makes HUMINT minimally relevant. The importance of HUMINT coincides with the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War between Egypt, Syria and Israel in 1973. In the war, human intelligence played a crucial role, partly through The Angel.

    The recent declassified documents by Israel on the Yom Kippur war include mentions of Ashraf Marwan, or The Angel. A controversial case in espionage and Cold War history, The Angel is known for his role in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Both the Mossad and Mukhabarat maintain that the services of Marwan benefitted each one respectively. Additionally, the unresolved death of the former spy in 2007 increases the complexity of the debate.

    Marwan’s role in providing information to Israel played a crucial war in 1973. The spy, provided Israel with an opportunity to react to the surprise attack. In the recent declassified documents, the telegram with the information provided by the spy to prevent the surprise is included.

    Entry to Eli Mizrahi’s diary on the 6th of October


    The Angel was the son-in-law of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian leader from 1956-1970. The Angel’s private business involved an attempted takeover of House of Fraser and a 3.5% ownership of Chelsea FC. Despite the controversial business dealings, his role as a Mossad agent is almost certainly one of the most significant espionage cases.

    The position of Marwan in the Egyptian government, entering through Nasser, provided long-term access to sensitive information. The Mossad asset was appointed in 1968 under Nasser and from 1970 under Sadat. Under both periods the chief of staff and a key figure in intelligence, Sami Sharif, supervised Marwan. Marwan was a close aide of Sadat, earning the President’s trust during the consolidation of power in 1971.  Only in 1980, after the death of Sadat, would The Angel focus on business in London.  

    Meanwhile, Marwan offered his services to the Mossad as early as 1969.

    Walk-ins and Recruitment

    The risk

    A situation of a ‘walk-in’, when a potential source approaches the intelligence agency, balances both risk and reward. While access to sensitive information increases the risk of influence by foreign agencies, the quality of information is capable of providing significant opportunities. The Angel being a walk-in is almost certainly adds weight to the theory of the spy being a double-agent.

    The Origin

    Marwan attempted contacting Israeli intelligence 3 times before the offer of information was taken seriously. The Israeli embassy in London ignored the phone call attempts by Marwan. It took a 3rd attempt, a down-payment and 3 high-level officials to project enough confidence for the Angel to be employed by Mossad.

    Luck is likely a factor to play in the service of the Angel to the Mossad. In London, the IDF attaché Shmuel Eyal informed superiors about a walk-in named Ashraf Marwan. The superiors included Rehavia Vardi, the head of Tzomet (Mossad’s human intelligence operations), Shmuel Goren, head of Mossad’s European operations and the London station chief.

    Handling the Angel

    The handling and treatment towards the spy is evidence of the significance of the source. The public figure of Marwan, including his position in the Egyptian government, increased the risk of handling without being deceived or detected.

    A bet on the handler

    The choice of the handler partly originated from the context in which the spy appeared in the 3rd walk-in. To establish initial contact Goren skipped security procedure due to the fear of Marwan leaving London. The 2nd station chief in London named Dubi, ‘Alex’ or ‘Dr. Lord’, was chosen as the handler. The experience of Dubi and urgency of the matter pushed the decision to be made. In particular, as the station chief already set a location and date with Marwan.

    Doubts and Initial results

    Skipping procedure gave Israel an opportunity to build a long-term advantage over Egypt. While the head of Mossad Zvi Zamir was not informed, the meeting was arranged the day after setting the location in a London hotel. Marwan provided Dubi with the Egyptian order of battle in 1970 in a hotel room while Goren waited in the lobby. Apart from providing crucial intelligence, Marwan confirmed a routine day-to-day access to sensitive information. In exchange, the agreement of occasional payments of $10,000 was accorded.

    Both after the first meeting and during the Angel’s service to the Mossad, Dubi remained the only handler. The mistrust of Marwan by the IDF and fear of losing a strategic advantage over Egypt pushed the debate of a second handler. Nevertheless, the Mossad reportedly favoured maintaining the methodology of the initial contact to ensure results and not risk losing a significant source. Furthermore, Marwan rejected another handle and favoured remaining with Dubi. Regardless of the controversy regarding the spy’s loyalty, the debate and spy’s rejection raises the importance of relationships between sources and handlers.

    The Angel: Structure and Organisation

    As AMAN (IDF Military Intelligence) was responsible for intelligence assessments, the chain of command to instruct Marwan involved both Tzomet and the IDF. Unit 11 of AMAN acted as liaison officers with Mossad and established the chain of questions. Tzomet later provided the questions to the regional and local station chief, in turn providing Dubi with urgent gaps of knowledge. Due to Marwan’s chemist background, the codename to

    Of Yom Kippur and controversy

    The Telegram, inaccuracy and logic

    Israel failed to foresee the Egyptian and Syrian attack on Yom Kippur in 1973, whether to an Israeli failure or Egyptian deception is the debate. The recent de-classified documents provide a transcript of the telegram informing Golda Meir and the cabinet about the likelihood of conflict, estimating at sunset while the attack began around 2PM. Within the document, specific details appear provided by the Angel like the attack date and order of battle. The added document does not clarify the loyalty of Marwan, but provides an insight to the degree of compromise by Marwan. The spy provides significant detail to the Egyptian intentions. Thus, creating a potential opportunity to disrupt Sadat’s objectives wherever the loyalty lied.

    Iñigo Camilleri De Castanedo
    Iñigo Camilleri De Castanedo
    Iñigo is a graduate in psychology specialised in decision-making. He is currently finishing a postgraduate in Politics and History, with particular interests focused on intelligence, non-state actors and information warfare.

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