4 December 1951 |
|Residence||Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|Occupation||businessman, security consultant and author|
Ari Ben-Menashe (Hebrew: ארי בן מנשה; born Tehran, 4 December 1951) is an Iranian-born Israeli businessman, security consultant and author. He was previously an employee of Israel's Military Intelligence Directorate from 1977 to 1987 and an arms dealer. He now lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and runs an international commodity exporting firm, Traeger Resources and Logistics Inc.
Ben-Menashe was born in Tehran, Iran in 1951, emigrating to Israel as a teenager. His parents were Iraqi Jews who settled in Tehran in 1945. From 1974 to 1977 he served in the Israel Defense Forces, in Signals Intelligence.
In 1977 Ben-Menashe joined Israel's Military Intelligence Directorate. He later said "I happened to be the right guy at the right time. I spoke Persian, Arabic, English. I knew the United States." In his book Profits of War: Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network Ben-Menashe said that following the 1979 Iranian Revolution his Iranian background provided useful connections, with some of his school friends playing roles in the new government. These connections, Ben-Menashe said, led to his playing an intermediary role in the Israeli effort to sell arms to Iran, and close to the Israeli government decision to back the Reagan campaign's "October Surprise" efforts to ensure Iranian hostages were released on a timetable that strengthened Ronald Reagan and not the incumbent President Carter.
Ben-Menashe served in the Military Intelligence Directorate until 1987, at one time under Moshe Hebroni, the deputy to the Directorate's Director, General Yehoshua Saguy. Hebroni told Craig Unger in 1992 that "Ben-Menashe served directly under me. … He had access to very, very sensitive material."
In September 1986 Ben-Menashe gave information to Time correspondent Raji Samghabadi about the weapons shipments to Iran organised by Richard Secord, Oliver North and Albert Hakim—which later became known as the Iran–Contra affair. Time was unable to corroborate the allegations, and Ben-Menashe later passed the information to the Lebanese Ash-Shiraa, which published them on 3 November 1986, and soon led to Congressional investigations. Samghabadi later said that "The information he gave me was earthshaking, and it was later corroborated by Congress." According to Ben-Menashe, the leaking was done on the orders of Likud's Yitzhak Shamir to embarrass his Labor Party rival Shimon Peres.
Ben-Menashe first came to public prominence in 1989, when he was arrested in the US on 3 November for violating the Arms Export Control Act for trying to sell three Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to Iran using false end-user certificates. According to Ben-Menashe, the Israeli government urged him to plead guilty, with officers of Shin Bet visiting his mother in Tel Aviv telling her that "it would be in my best interests to plead guilty to all charges before the Federal Superior Court [in New York] if I wished to avoid prosecution in Israel." According to British intelligence writer Gordon Thomas, while awaiting trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, Ben-Menashe was visited by Israeli government lawyers, who urged him to plead guilty and in exchange offered him a generous financial settlement that would allow him to live comfortably after his release from prison. After realizing that Israel was not going to support him, Ben-Menashe began to give interviews to journalists from prison, on matters including his role in the October Surprise and its links with the Iran-Contra affair.
At this point Israel sought to discredit him, with efforts including an "authoritative source" telling The Jerusalem Post (27 March 1990) that "the Defence establishment 'never had any contacts with Ari Ben-Menashe and his activities'." These claims were dropped after Ben-Menashe provided Newsweek's Robert Parry with employment references from Israeli intelligence sources. After almost a year in prison he was acquitted on 28 November 1990, with a jury accepting that he had acted on behalf of Israel. Former Time correspondent Raji Samghabadi, to whom Ben-Menashe had given details on the Iran-Contra affair before they became public, proved a key defense witness.
With Ben-Menashe's claims remaining in the public eye, in early 1991 The New Republic's Steven Emerson travelled to Israel, and on his return described Ben-Menashe as merely a "low-level translator", even though the references described Ben-Menashe as working in "key positions" and handling "complex and sensitive assignments." Parry later wrote that other documents confirmed Ben-Menashe's travels: "Ben-Menashe's passports and other documents revealed that he had traveled extensively with frequent trips to Latin America, Eastern Europe, the United States and elsewhere, not exactly the record of the stay-at-home, low-level translator that Israel was trying to sell to me and other journalists." Emerson also published his claims in other outlets, and Newsweek (which Parry had left in June 1990) also attacked Ben-Menashe. In 1992, however, Moshe Hebroni, the deputy director of the Military Intelligence Directorate, told Craig Unger that Ben-Menashe had worked directly him and had access to sensitive material. Additionally, in the Israeli daily Davar, reporter Pazit Ravina wrote that "in talks with people who worked with Ben-Menashe, the claim that he had access to highly sensitive intelligence information was confirmed again and again."
In 1990–1991 Ben-Menashe said that he had been personally involved in assisting the Republican campaign with its October Surprise (preventing the Iranian hostages being released before the 1980 election). He also gave Seymour Hersh information about Israel's nuclear program, which was published in Hersh's book The Samson Option. Ben-Menashe then fled to Australia, and in his application for refugee status declared himself a victim of persecution of the Israeli and US governments. For his return to the US in May 1991 to testify to Congress, journalist Robert Parry received a tip from an intelligence source that the US was planning to divert Ben-Menashe to Israel, where Ben-Menashe feared he would be charged for revealing official secrets. With a delay to Ben-Menashe's flight, Congressional investigators were able to extract assurances from the US government.
In December 1991 Ben-Menashe's appeal against a refusal by Australia to grant him refugee status failed. He left Australia, eventually settling in Canada in 1993, and gaining Canadian citizenship.
In 1992, Ben-Menashe published a book about his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair and intelligence operations on behalf of Israeli intelligence in Profits of War: Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network. Legendary Israeli spy Rafi Eitan told author Gordon Thomas, for Thomas' book Gideon's Spies, that he had worked with Ben-Menashe on setting up the US-Israeli network for covertly supplying arms to Iran, and had collaborated with Ben-Menashe on using PROMIS for espionage. Sent a copy of Ben-Menashe's book, Eitan said he had no criticism of it, and added that Ben-Menashe "is telling the truth. … That's why they squashed it."
Ben-Menashe claimed that Robert Maxwell, then owner of Mirror Group newspapers in the UK, was a Mossad agent, and that Maxwell had tipped off the Israeli embassy in 1986 about Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, after Vanunu and a friend approached the Sunday Mirror and The Sunday Times in London with a story about Israel's nuclear capability. Vanunu was subsequently lured by Mossad from London to Rome, kidnapped, returned to Israel, and sentenced to 18 years in jail. According to Ben-Menashe the Daily Mirror's foreign editor, Nicholas Davies worked for the Mossad and was involved in the Vanunu affair. No British newspaper would publish the Maxwell allegations because of his well-known litigiousness. However, Ben-Menashe was used as a key source by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh for his book about Israel's nuclear weapons, The Samson Option: Israel, America and the Bomb, published in Britain in 1991 by Faber and Faber. Hersh included the allegations about Maxwell and Vanunu in his book.
On October 21, 1991, two Members of Parliament, Labour MP George Galloway and Conservative MP Rupert Allason (who writes spy novels under the pseudonym Nigel West) agreed to raise the issue in the House of Commons, which enabled newspapers to claim privilege and report the allegations. Nick Davies was subsequently fired from the Daily Mirror for gross misconduct. Robert Maxwell issued a writ for libel against Faber and Faber and Seymour Hersh, allegedly telling Davies that the Mirror editor had threatened to resign if Davies was not fired, but that he would get his job back when the dust settled.
Two weeks later, on November 5, 1991, Maxwell fell from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine. Ben-Menashe claimed that Maxwell had been assassinated by the Mossad for trying to blackmail them.
On November 12, Matthew Evans, chairman of Faber and Faber, called a press conference in London to say he had evidence that Ben-Menashe was telling the truth about Nick Davies. Evans read out a statement from Seymour Hersh, who said he had documentation showing meetings between Davies, unnamed Mossad officers, and "Cindy" (Cheryl Bentov), the woman who lured Vanunu to Rome. It transpired that Matthew Evans and Seymour Hersh had themselves been the subject of a sting operation by Joe Flynn, Fleet Street's most celebrated con man. Evans had met Flynn in Amsterdam, paying him £1,200 for the forged documents.
Ben-Menashe testified in 1991 that he had personally witnessed George H. W. Bush attend a meeting with members of the Iranian government in Paris in October 1980, as part of a covert Republican Party operation—the so-called October Surprise—to have the 52 U.S hostages then held in Iran remain there until President Jimmy Carter, who was negotiating their release, had lost the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. Time called him a "spinner of tangled yarns," and ABC News claimed he failed a lie-detector test: On a scale of reliability from zero to minus eight, he scored minus eight or minus seven on major questions. In 1992, American journalist Craig Unger of the The Village Voice wrote: "Ari has put five or six dozen journalists from all over the world through roughly the same paces. His seduction begins with a display of his mastery of the trade craft of the legendary Israeli intelligence services. A roll of quarters handy for furtive phone calls, he navigates the back channels that tie the spooks at Langley to their counterparts in Tel Aviv. His astute analysis and mind-boggling revelations can stir even the most jaded old hand of the Middle East. … Listen to him, trust him, print his story verbatim—then sit round and watch your career go up in flames."
In their report published January 3, 1993, the House October Surprise Task Force investigating the "October Surprise" allegations stated: "Ben-Menashe's testimony is impeached by documents and is riddled with inconsistencies and factual misstatements which undermine his credibility. Based on the documentary evidence available, the Task Force has determined that Ben-Menashe's account of the October meetings, like his other October Surprise allegations, is a total fabrication."
Ben-Menashe again came to the attention of the international media in 2002, when he alleged that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had asked him to help "eliminate" President Robert Mugabe. Ben-Menashe produced a videotape of conversations between himself and Tsvangirai in London, England, and Montreal, where the latter appeared to ask for Ben-Menashe's help as a political consultant. Unbeknownst to Tsvangirai, Ben-Menashe's Montreal consultancy firm at the time, Dickens and Madson, was working for Mugabe, and tapes of the ambiguous conversation were passed to the Zimbabwean authorities, who charged Tsvangirai with treason, which is punishable by death in that country.
Tsvangarai was put on trial for treason before the Harare High Court, but was exonerated in October 2004 after the judge accepted he had not used the word "eliminate" to mean that he wanted Mugabe to be assassinated. Judge Paddington Garwe described Ben-Menashe, who was the prosecution's star witness, as "rude, unreliable, and contemptuous." 
Ben-Menashe was hired by Paul Le Roux, an alleged international drug lord born in former Rhodesia, to lobby the Zimbabwe government to grant leases to Zimbabwean farmlands. These would then be sublease the land to white farmers dislodged by previous land reform in Zimbabwe. Ben-Menashe received more than $14 million USD from Le-Roux.
Personal and business controversies
Ben-Menashe moved to Sydney, Australia in 1992, then to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he married a Canadian woman and became a citizen. He was arrested in 2002 during acrimonious divorce proceedings, and charged with assault, following complaints by his wife and mother-in-law, but was subsequently acquitted. He set up Carlington Sales Canada Corporation, which was accused of taking payments for shipments of grain that allegedly never materialized, according to Canada's National Post (July 25, 2005). Ben-Menashe's American business partner, Alexander Legault, was arrested in October 2008 while being deported back into the United States after a failed refugee claim in Canada. He had been wanted on $10,000,000 bond by the FBI since 1986 on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, organized fraud, mail fraud and unregulated security in Florida and Louisiana.
Documents obtained in 2002 by Canadian journalists under Canada's freedom of information legislation show that Ben-Menashe had a relationship with the Canadian government: "over 400 pages showing Ben-Menashe was regularly de-briefed by Canadian intelligence officers, plumbed about what he knew of the inner workings of the governments he was involved with."
In June 2005, Alexander Vassiliev of Sonox International, a Florida-based food export company, told the National Post that he had wired a deposit of U.S.$336,000 to Ben-Menashe's former company, Albury Grain Sales, which undertook to ship 12,000 tonnes of soybeans from North America to a Sonox agent in Uzbekistan. Vassiliev alleged that the soybeans did not arrive. The case went to court and was dismissed then referred to arbitration, where it was again dismissed.
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- Ben-Menashe Case Eyes Bomb Residue
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