Israel – biological warfare part 2

What secrets lie behind the concrete  walls and electric fences of the Israeli  Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) of  Nes Tzionah near Tel Aviv? Although few  people know for sure, it widely suspected  that this place is one of the main centers of  Israel’s chemical/biological weapons  (CBW) research. Another presumed task  of the institute is to discover vaccines and  design monitoring systems to safeguard  Israel’s population against enemy attacks  using unconventional arms. The secretive  place attracted an unwelcome jolt of publicity  when its deputy chief, Professor  Marcus Klingberg, mysteriously disappeared  twenty-two years ago.

After Peter Pringle, a British reporter,  attempted to trace Klingberg’s whereabouts  in 5735/1985, the trail ran cold.  Everyone he questioned would not, or  could not, tell him anything. In  5753/1993, Israel’s Supreme Court finally  forced the government to reveal his  whereabouts after the Schocken Media  Group petitioned that the public had “the  right to know.”

It turned out that Klingberg had been  arrested ten years before and was sitting in  a high-security Israeli jail. His crime was  espionage for Soviet Russia. How did an  internationally renowned scientist become  a spy? 

Marcus Klingberg was born in Warsaw  into a Torah-observant family but threw  off most of his religious training at an  early age. In 5699/1939, his world was  shattered when the Nazis stormed into  Poland. Klingberg had a terrible choice –  to flee east to Russia, or to remain behind  in Poland with his mother who could not  leave her elderly parents. Klingberg took  the first option and fled, taking with him  almost nothing except his rarely-used  tefillin and a load of guilt.

After studying medicine in Minsk,  Klingberg served as a military epidemiologist  (disease specialist) in the Red Army.  His years in Russia turned him into a dedicated  Communist. After the war, Klingberg  returned to Poland hoping to find a  remnant of his family but like so many  others, he found no one. After his attempts  to immigrate to America failed, he immigrated  to Israel, which had just declared its  independence, and joined the army’s medical  corps. At the completion of his military  service, he became one of the founding  members of the IIBR in Nes Tzionah  and, by the 5730s/1970’s, he was its  deputy director. 

One day in 5717/1957, Klingberg  arrived at the door of the Soviet Embassy  in Tel Aviv to get copies of his medical  diplomas. The Soviet Embassy in Tel  Aviv, like those worldwide, served double-  duty as an office for the KGB and  Klingberg was too big a fish to be cast  back into the sea. He was informed that, as  he had skipped a year during his medical  studies in Minsk, he was not really qualified  to be a doctor at all. As such, he was  given a choice. To get his papers, he must  supply the Soviets with IIBR’s secrets.  Klingberg’s Communist leanings made it  easier for him to do such as deed. In fact,  he subsequently retracted this version of  his recruitment and testified that he agreed  to spy for Russia of his own volition and  never took a penny for his services.

Later, on a trip to Europe, Klingberg  was taught the tricks of the trade – how to  use invisible ink, how to take micro-photos  and how to carry out mail drops.  Klingberg then returned to Israel and  spied so discreetly that it took Israel’s  Secret Service twenty years to catch up  with him.

In the 5720s/1960s, suspicions arose  that something fishy was going on in the  IIBR but Klingberg passed polygraph tests  with flying colors. When the Soviets  stopped diplomatic contact with Israel  after the Six-Day War, Klingberg began  traveling to Switzerland under the guise of  attending to his health or international  conventions, all the while conveying  information to spymasters over there. He  arranged meetings with his handlers in  restaurant and cafes, sometimes a Soviet  biological expert was there to ask the right  questions.

In the course of about twenty such  meetings, Klingberg reportedly handed  over such sensitive information that he  may have the dubious distinction of being  the most important Soviet spy Israel ever  caught. It is assumed that the Soviets  handed over their information to their  Arab client states.

The senior security officer of the Biological  Institute was convinced for years  that Klingberg was responsible for infor mation leaks.  “I tell you he’s a spy,” he claimed time after time. But  no one would listen to him. Nothing concrete was pinned  to Klingberg even after a Mossad operative trailed him in  Switzerland. 

Finally Avraham Shalom, the new head of Israel’s  Secret Service, decided that the solution was to subject  Klingberg to some “shock treatment,” and an elaborate  psychological plan was set into motion.

Israel’s Supreme Court gave the Secret Service sanction  to arrest Klingberg for thirty days without trial. An  apartment was hired in the center of Tel Aviv and set up  with cameras and microphones, a few chairs, a table and  a bed. All that remained was to lay out the bait.

Soon afterwards, a Secret Service man introduced himself  to Klingberg and told him that there had been a  chemical explosion in Malaysia.

“Israel has no formal links with Malaysia,” the secret  agent explained, “and we need you to go there unofficially  and help. The trip must be kept absolutely secret. Not  even your wife must know where you’re headed for.”  Klingberg agreed to the plan and, after a few briefings,  he packed his bags, said farewell to his family one morning,  and went downstairs to a car waiting below. Instead  of heading for the airport, the car sped into the middle of  Tel Aviv and stopped at a nondescript building.

“We’re stopping here first,” Klingberg was told.  Klingberg climbed up the stairs and was herded into  the prepared apartment where a Secret Service operative,  Chaim Ben-Ami awaited him and accused him of selling  out Israel to the Soviets.

Despite a merciless grilling, Klingberg held firm and  refused to admit anything. Time was running out.  According to law, a relative was already supposed to be  informed of his arrest. However, Ariel Sharon, then the  Minister of Defense, waived this injunction and the interrogation  continued.

After six days of pressure, Klingberg broke down and  confessed. Afterwards, he was taken to a Tel Aviv hotel  where he committed the history of his espionage to writing.  Klingberg’s wife was informed about what had happened  and was sworn to secrecy. In June 5733/1983, he  was sentenced to eighteen years in prison, the same sentence  as was handed down to Mordechai Vanunu three  years later, in 5736/1986. 

Klingberg languished in jail for ten years, much of it in  solitary confinement, under the pseudonym Avraham  Greenberg, until the Israeli newspaper, Ha’Aretz, published  by Schocken Media, appealed to Israel’s Supreme  Court and received permission to reveal the episode. A  few years later, Klingberg began to complain that his  health was failing.

A Beersheba court ruled that “the state must bear in  mind humanitarian considerations and not merely security”  and Klingberg was allowed to serve the last five years  of his sentence under strict house arrest. Two male housekeepers,  approved by the Secret Service, were hired at his  expense to listen in to every word he said. To foil them,  Klingberg took to talking in Yiddish and Russian until a  Beersheba judge made a special injunction to stop this.  Klingberg completed his sentence over a year ago and  joined his daughter, Sylvia, in Paris. She is married to Udi  Adiv, who was found guilty of spying for Syria some  years ago. 

In 5747/1997, Israel unwillingly revealed its biological/  chemical know-how in a botched attempt to assassinate  Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political bureau head. A  Mossad squad was sent to Jordan armed with a poison  spray and, as Meshal emerged from his offices in  Amman, the two men gave him a dose. Unfortunately,  Meshal’s bodyguard and a chauffer caught the two  Israelis and King Hussein threatened to break off diplomatic  ties with Israel because of the incident. To appease  him, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was forced to  release Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas from  an Israeli prison, and send a medical team with an antidote  to save Meshal’s life. 

The next major crack in the IIBR’s secrecy came in  October 5759/1998 when an El Al Boeing 747 was taking  off from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. At 6,500ft, a jet  engine fell off the wing and broke off another engine in  the process. While reducing speed for the final approach,  the plane went out of control and crashed into an apartment  building in the Bijlmer suburb of Amsterdam.

During the next few years, rescue workers and people  living near the crash site came down with mysterious ailments,  including skin rashes and cancer, raising suspicions  that it may have been caused by a toxic cargo on  board the plane.

Israel admitted that the plane had been carrying 190  liters of dimethyl methylphosphonate, a chemical that can  be used to produce sarin nerve gas or utilized in building  materials as a flame retardant. Despite the Israeli government’s  insistence that the chemicals were non-toxic, El Al  admitted that the plane was carrying dangerous chemicals.

On top of that, the plane’s freight documents indicated  that the chemical cargo was on its way from an  American factory to the Nes Tzionah institute.  The Nes Tzionah mystery continues. May the day soon  come when we beat our swords into ploughshares and  chemical/biological research is devoted to solely peaceful  ends.

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