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An Israeli-Hamas Double Agent Speaks about Career in Intelligence

Aired March 02, 2010 - 15:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, an exclusive interview with a Palestinian who is the son of a founder of Hamas and who now says that he was an Israeli spy.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

In the dark art of global espionage, the biggest coup is to place a mole inside the enemy leadership. All spy agencies try it. Now the son of this man, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas, says that he spent 10 years as a spy for Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service.

In his new book, Mosab Hassan Yousef, says that he turned against Hamas because he believed the group was killing people, quote, "for no reason." The book and his story are controversial. Palestinians and members of Hamas are calling it part of the ongoing psychological warfare against them. His family has disowned him and say that he's been duped by an Israeli campaign to discredit the Palestinian cause.

I spoke earlier with Mosab Hassan Yousef, and this program is the first of two parts. In tomorrow's broadcast, we'll dissect the book, analyze his claims with some Middle East experts. But we start with our interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef, author of "Son of Hamas."


AMANPOUR: Thank you for being here with us in the studio.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Musab, your book is titled, as we said, "Son of Hamas." Your father is Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder of Hamas. In the book, though, you said that you collaborated with Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency. How did that happen? Why did that happen?

MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF, AUTHOR OF "SON OF HAMAS": That happened when they offered me to work for them, when I was arrested in 1996. And I accepted their offer. My goal was to be a double agent and attack them from inside.

AMANPOUR: So you started off saying that this is the enemy, they've arrested me, they're against the Palestinians, I'm going to -- I'm going to attack them by pretending to work for them?


AMANPOUR: But then you turned and you did start to work for them; that's what you say.



YOUSEF: After I was tortured by the Shin Bet themselves, who became my friends later on, I was transferred to a prison -- to prison, and Hamas leaders were torturing Hamas members.

AMANPOUR: So you're in jail, and you're seeing things in jail that turn you off Hamas?


AMANPOUR: Your people?

YOUSEF: Yes. So I became confused about that, about who's really my enemy, and everybody is torturing everybody. Now, when I was released from jail, I decided I don't want to work for Shin Bet, I don't want to work for Hamas, either, but I wanted to finish my promise to the Shin Bet respectfully, so I accepted to meet them. And I was surprised with the first rules that they gave me.

AMANPOUR: What did -- what did you promise them?

YOUSEF: I promised to work for them. They didn't know that I wanted to be a double agent, so I didn't want just to turn my back. I wanted to meet them at least for once or a couple of times and say, "I'm sorry, I cannot work for you."

AMANPOUR: And what did you want to do for them?

YOUSEF: I was asked to collect information about the suicide bombers and terrorists.

AMANPOUR: Were you doing this for money?

YOUSEF: My goal wasn't to do it for money. It was to do it for my people, to attack Shin Bet, my enemies, who tortured me, who arrested my father, who killed our people. So, of course, it wasn't for money.

AMANPOUR: But the question is -- you sound confused. You say that you wanted to be a double agent, you wanted to attack Shin Bet, that's why you were pretending to work for them, but then you decided really to work for them. That's what you say in your book.


AMANPOUR: Why? What was your agenda?

YOUSEF: Later on, I became a Christian, during that time, the first few months, and I was convinced by the principle of loving your enemies. And I saw that my enemy, who I thought that they were my enemies, they had morality, they had their responsibilities more than my own people.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying that you found that the Israeli intelligence agency had more morality than your own people, than your own Palestinians? That's what you say?

YOUSEF: Yes, I did. And it was a moral issue for me.

AMANPOUR: What was?

YOUSEF: My people -- my people don't understand this, because they didn't have the same experience.


At least the Shin Bet is an organization that is committed to the constitution. They have their own rules. And they respect the rules.

Yes, there are mistakes, and they are responsible for killing civilians, and I admit that, and I'm witnessing for things like this, but this doesn't make them thirsty to kill Palestinians.

Now, what Hamas is having something absolutely different. Hamas targeted -- targets civilians. It's their goal to target civilians. And there is a difference if -- if -- if you're targeting a terrorist and there is a civilian casualty.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk a little bit about you when you were a child in the West Bank growing up. The first intifada happened in 1987. How old were you then?

YOUSEF: I was nine years old.

AMANPOUR: How did you take part in that? Were you one of the small children who threw rocks at Israeli soldiers?

YOUSEF: The model for every Palestinian child is a mujahid (ph) or a fidahi (ph) or a fighter. So, of course, I wanted to be one at that point of my life. It wasn't -- it's not my only dream. It's every child's dream in that territory.

AMANPOUR: So what were you doing there during the first intifada?

YOUSEF: We participate in throwing stones. Even when I was a child, I was arrested when I was 10 years old. I was beaten by settlers and kidnapped, in fact, for throwing stones on settlers.

AMANPOUR: Those are the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.


AMANPOUR: It is almost fantastical. How can this Palestinian young man whose father is the founder of Hamas completely switch sides with such passion as you're describing now? Many people are saying, how can this be true? Is this Israeli propaganda?

Your own father has written from prison, where he still is, a statement: "I, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, dauh dal khalil (ph), and my entire family, my wife, sons and daughters, declare that we fully, inclusively and exhaustively denounce our eldest son, Mosab."

He said that you were a collaborator, collaborating with the enemy. He said that you're betraying the Palestinians, betraying Islam. How do you respond to that? I mean, is your father telling the truth?

YOUSEF: My father is not saying -- telling his heart. My father is under lots of pressure, and he's committed to his god. This is not my father's will. This is his god's will. And, unfortunately, his god unskins (ph) my father's humanity by doing this. My father in all his heart -- and I know that he loves me and I love him -- but this is his god's will, and he -- he didn't have an escape from that.

AMANPOUR: Hamas is saying also that this is a psychological war being waged against the Palestinian people.

YOUSEF: It is not. It is not. They're mistaken. It is not. I did what I did because I believed in it, and I am not working for the Israeli agenda or for the Israeli propaganda. I am doing...

AMANPOUR: Why does your brother say it was full of lies, your book, all lies?

YOUSEF: First of all, my brother didn't read my book yet. Second, it's for real, and we have witnessing from the Shin Bet, from outside, and you can go yourself and check every fact that we described in the book.

AMANPOUR: So let's -- let's say what you're saying is what happened. Why did you do it? You talk with great passion about it. What were you hoping to achieve? You say peace, but how?

YOUSEF: At that time, what I could do to stop killing people, even terrorists.

AMANPOUR: How was working for Shin Bet stopping killings of Palestinians?

YOUSEF: First of all, as a Shin Bet agent, when I had information about someone, that helped arresting them. When the Shin Bet didn't have information who carried the attack, they had to hit randomly without -- it's not -- they didn't have specific targets.

But when I specified that this person is responsible for that thing, and I had a condition that you don't kill that person -- I remember once I had five suicide bombers in one place, and Ariel Sharon decided to drop a bomb on them, and I said, "I cannot kill them, first, as a Christian, second, as a Palestinian, those are my people, and those people don't understand what they're doing."

Nobody did this in the Shin Bet. And this will show you that I wasn't working for the Shin Bet agenda. In fact, Shin Bet worked for my agenda.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying the information you provided prevented Palestinians, even suicide bombers, from being killed?


AMANPOUR: It allowed the Shin Bet to arrest them?

YOUSEF: Ten years -- ten years working for the Shin Bet, I am not responsible for killing even one terrorist. So I was -- I cared about my people. And why? Because I -- I discovered that our problem is not with the terrorists. Our problem is not with the suicide bomber. Our problem was with their ideology, and they're absolutely victims of their ideology.


AMANPOUR: Is this for you a conflict between Islam, the religion of your birth, and Christianity, what you converted to you? You keep talking about our god, their god.

YOUSEF: Exactly. This is absolutely right. It's ideological conflict. It's ideological war. In other wars, it's a war between two gods, the god of the Koran and the god of Torah or the god of the Bible. So people are victims of this war.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, what was your role in Hamas when you say that you were working with Shin Bet? I mean, what did you know about it? Because Hamas is saying, well, he didn't know anything, we knew he was a double agent, we didn't let him in on anything.

YOUSEF: First of all, I wasn't required to be a member of Hamas or a member of its military wing. That wasn't good for our work as intelligence, because if I was in, I could carry one operation only.

I understood culture. I understood the movement. I understood the people, their motives, their ideology, and I didn't have even to be there to understand what they're doing. Some information was enough for me to put the puzzle together and solve it.

AMANPOUR: We have some pictures of you with your father, Sheikh Hassan, and we're going to show you right now, you walking with your father. That appears to be your father.


AMANPOUR: And you were there with the dark glasses next to him in the leather jacket?


AMANPOUR: When was the last time you saw your father?

YOUSEF: It was five years ago when we were arrested together. I had to go to prison undercover because I was his assistant. And I had to go to prison for cover. So we were arrested the same -- at the same time. And he's still in prison to this moment.

AMANPOUR: And you were arrested trying to save him from being killed? Or what was the reason for that arrest?

YOUSEF: Absolutely. If I wasn't in the picture, my dad would be killed 10 times, not only my dad. If you go back to Ramallah history, you will find that Ramallah, between all the Palestinian territories, had the least amount of assassinations. And if you ask a question, why did -- how did this happen, I tell you, because -- because I was there.

AMANPOUR: So you keep coming back to this point that you believe you saved lives.

YOUSEF: I did save lives. That's not something I'm -- I'm telling you. That's for real. And you can read in the book, and you can read details. Many people -- many Palestinian people now who hate me owe me their lives.

AMANPOUR: Are you conflicted about what you did inside?

YOUSEF: I am not. I never felt guilty about this. And do I look to you as somebody who really feel guilty or regrets what I did? If I regret what I did, and I feel guilty about it, I wouldn't be talking about it to the entire world here in your studio.

AMANPOUR: Why are you talking about it? Why are you writing the book?

YOUSEF: I am writing a book because I want everybody to go through this journey, to see the picture from every side, to -- to see that there is -- if they go through the experience that I had, there will be peace in the Middle East, I believe.

AMANPOUR: When did you convert to Christianity?

YOUSEF: I don't know the exact date, but it took me six years of studying, and I was baptized in 2005 in the Mediterranean Sea.

AMANPOUR: So you were still in the Middle East...


AMANPOUR: Are you not afraid that one day they're going to come and get you for all of this, somebody is?

YOUSEF: To get me -- what do you mean? To kill me?

AMANPOUR: Somebody. Somebody.

YOUSEF: To kill me for example? Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a human being, physical death. The worst: spiritual and soul death. This is what really scare me.

AMANPOUR: Why did you leave Shin Bet? And when did you?

YOUSEF: After 10 years of working against terrorism, this is what I realized as a Christian, that our problem with terrorism is not with bunch of terrorists in Afghanistan mountains or in Gaza Strip or any other places. Our problem is with their ideology. Our problem is with their god, the god of the Koran.

I know this is very dangerous, and I know this is -- this can offend many people, and I -- I want them to understand that my problem is not with them. They are my family. Muslim people are my family. When I think about them, I think about my dad, I think about my mother. My problem is with their god.

So I end up, instead of hunting the street drug dealers, I'm telling governments, let's hunt the gangster, the main gangster, and I believe the main gangster is the god of Islam, and the motive -- the real motive is not by fanatic Muslims. It's in the Koran that moderate and fundamentalist Muslims read.


AMANPOUR: Mosab, you just said that the gangster of the world is the god of Islam, the god of the Koran. Do you really mean that?

YOUSEF: I really mean that. And I'm willing to die for this.

AMANPOUR: Because you're going to offend not just the Palestinians, but a billion Muslims all over the world, who are going to say, what are you talking about?

YOUSEF: Yes, but my goal is not to offend them. My goal, to wake them up. It's -- I say that the worst terrorist criminal Muslim has moralities, logics, responsibility more than their god.

I want Muslims to read their Koran and understand it. They don't understand their book. And I understand it. I memorialized half of the Koran, and I have the authority to say -- because I understand Islam religion.


YOUSEF: Most Muslims don't.

AMANPOUR: I'm not going to debate Islam with you, but as you know, many, many, many Muslims would say that that is not written in the book and it's a matter of interpretation by men and women. But in any event, I appreciate you being here, and thank you very much for joining us.

YOUSEF: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: We will have more with Mosab after a break. Now, there are many fantastical claims, as I said, in that book, some very high-profile claims about thwarting high-profile terrorist events. Nobody will really confirm all of these. Shin Bet is not talking. He claims to have been a Shin Bet agent.

However, people who do know told me that the core claims are true, that this is a modus operandi of how Israeli agents work, in other words, to penetrate the opposite side, to try to get as much information as they possibly can, but went on to say that some of the high-profile claims of thwarting or causing various captures are probably gross exaggerations.

We'll have more on Mosab Yousef's childhood when we come back.



AMANPOUR: We're back with more of our interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef. And clearly, as you've seen, his conversion from Islam to Christianity plays a huge role in his descriptions that he tells us about and that he's written about in his book.

Now, in this segment, he explained how he went from admiring suicide bombers, he says, to wanting to stop them.


AMANPOUR: Did you ever want to become a suicide bomber?

YOUSEF: I didn't want to be a suicide bomber, because I was very young for a thing like this, but I praised suicide bombers.

AMANPOUR: You praised suicide bombers?

YOUSEF: And I celebrated attacks against Israeli civilians at some point of my life.

AMANPOUR: And how do you turn from praising suicide bombers and praising attacks on Israeli civilians to joining them, to joining the Israelis, rather, the intelligence?

YOUSEF: This is why I wrote "Son of Hamas." It's a long story. I cannot answer it in one second. But you read the book, you will see how that transformation in my life happened.

AMANPOUR: Tell me again the turning point and whether it was a person that you trusted, somebody who came to you. Who turned you to working for the Israelis?


YOUSEF: It's not about trusting somebody. It's about my own experience, figuring out who's my enemy. I grow up in a society that Israel was my enemy, and this is how I was learned. And when I was in prison, I found that there could be other enemies. Also, there are other enemies in the community.

So I was confused. Personally, I was confused who was really my enemy.

AMANPOUR: How does it feel never to be able to go back? Or do you think you can one day go back to the Palestinian territory?

YOUSEF: Who told you that I can't go back?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm -- it seems extraordinary if you could tell all this story and describe all these things that you say that you've done and then want to go back into Palestinian territory.

YOUSEF: I think, with my experience, I can live in my own town and nobody will know that I'm living there, if I want to.

AMANPOUR: Because you're so good at disguising and faking your experience?

YOUSEF: I don't want to say that I'm so good, but if I want to go back, I will go back.

AMANPOUR: We talked a little bit about it before, but I want to ask you again. It's one thing to turn your back on your own father.

YOUSEF: I didn't turn my back on my own father. I saved his life. Today he's disowning me while I saved his life. My dad would be killed. When the Israeli cabinets send the pictures and the names of people who would be assassinated, the Shin Bet tried to hide my dad's picture so they don't hurt my feelings to tell me that our prime minister wants your dad dead.

And I said, it doesn't matter. It's not about my dad. It's about everybody on the list. Let's arrest them. Let's put them in prison. I was willing to put my dad in prison to get him away from trouble. I saved his life. He would be -- he was an easy target.

AMANPOUR: So Hamas says that they knew you were an informer and that you didn't actually have access...

YOUSEF: Not because they're smart.

AMANPOUR: ... to any significant information. What's your response?

YOUSEF: Not because -- not because they're smart they knew. Because when I was in prison, after I was -- after I gave my word to the Shin Bet, I went to the Hamas security wing, and I told them I gave my word to the Shin Bet to work for them to do double agent thing. Do you see any chance that you can help me to infiltrate and attack them from inside? That was something I thought of, not because I was suspicious.

And the funny thing, I told them this, and I was suspicious, and I could do what I could do for 10 years. Why they didn't do anything about it?

AMANPOUR: What was their response when you said, "Give me information. I can help you"?

YOUSEF: They didn't want to get involved. They were afraid, simply.

AMANPOUR: Did Shin Bet let you down somehow?

YOUSEF: To be honest with you, I maintained very strong position inside the Shin Bet. I mentioned something to you, I don't know if you take it seriously or not. I said that the Shin Bet worked for my agendas, and they really did.

AMANPOUR: Did they know they were doing that?

YOUSEF: In the -- directly they would think, "OK, this guy's genius, you know? He's like just doing whatever he wants to do," because I was working with lots of conditions. And I remember once they told me, "We don't work with anybody with conditions." I told them, "OK, then goodbye." And they didn't want to lose me. They had no other option.

I'm not telling you that there are lots of Hamas people who work with the Shin Bet or even Palestinians. But there are technologies, there are lots of sophisticated devices today that -- even the Mossad was discovered with every move they did in Dubai by police, not by intelligence. Today -- so think about organized governmental organization.

AMANPOUR: Was that Mossad who did that in Dubai?

YOUSEF: I -- I don't know for sure, but I can tell you that their fingerprints are everywhere.

AMANPOUR: Do you still have links to Shin Bet?

YOUSEF: They don't want to talk to me. They're actually mad at me.

AMANPOUR: Why are they mad at you?

YOUSEF: Simply, they didn't want me to go public with this and write a book. They're afraid that I wrote something that would hurt their operations.

AMANPOUR: Did they try to get you to not write this book, not publish it?

YOUSEF: They didn't know until the last moment. But for sure, they stopped -- my handler, my ex-handler, who doesn't work now for the Shin Bet, now they asked him not to talk to any type of media. He's not allowed to talk anything about it.

AMANPOUR: So now Shin Bet is against you, the Palestinians are against you. You're in a very dangerous position.

YOUSEF: Yeah, but God is with me. He's love.


AMANPOUR: Again, he talked about Shin Bet and how that they did not want this book to be public. Again, we have to say that they would not speak, Shin Bet, as they do not in these situations, but we did speak, as I say, to somebody who really knows and is close to this situation and who said the core of this story is true.


Some of the more extraordinary claims, to be at the center of thwarting terrorist attacks or, as he claimed there, to have Shin Bet working for his agenda are exaggerations. But it boils down to what really is true, we were told, was that he tried to help his father, and he is explaining all of this in order to try to keep his father safe. That's what we've been told by people inside.

And we are going to dissect this and analyze it in our next program, as we said. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Now we want to tell you about tomorrow's program, when we will dig deeper and look more closely at Mosab Yousef's explosive claims. We'll try to put his story about changing sides in context, because spy agencies everywhere try to recruit double agents, and it's especially happening in the Israeli-Palestinian ongoing war.

What is Yousef really saying? Is he exaggerating? Or is he, as some claim, part of a psychological warfare operation? We'll talk to leading experts in the Middle East about this and to a spokesman from Hamas.

But before our experts weigh in, tell us what you think of Mosab Yousef's story. Go to our Facebook page at That's it for now. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.