Passport to Terror

by , August 07, 2004

In the world of international terrorism, both privatized and state-sponsored, passports and other identity papers are the coin of the realm. Terrorists targeting America are particularly eager to get their hot little hands on Canadian and New Zealand passports, for a number of reasons, most especially because the holders don’t need visas across a wide swathe of the globe, including the United States. Now, as the orange alerts have us wondering when and where the next terrorist strike on American soil will occur, and U.S., British, and Pakistani agents bust up an important Al Qaeda operation, discovering how the terrorists procure travel documents provides important clues as to how they operate – and with whose complicity.

In April I wrote about the “passport farm” Israeli agents set up in New Zealand, in which four employees of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, were caught trying to obtain a New Zealand passport in the name of a housebound paraplegic. (I updated the story here.) Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara were arrested, in a much-publicized case, and jailed, while Prime Minister Helen Clark openly raged against what was undoubtedly an Israeli intelligence operation. Since then there have been a few rather interesting, albeit ominous, developments.

It turns out that the ringleader, Ze’ev William Barkan, who fled before New Zealand security could nab him, was and presumably still is a member of the Israeli diplomatic corps, having served at embassies in Vienna and Brussels. He was last seen in North Korea, traveling with a Canadian passport as “Kevin Hunter,” where he turned up in Pyongyang as a “consultant” brought on to help the North Korean government build a “security fence” in order to keep their people in. Now that the East Germans have wound up in history’s dustbin, the Israelis are the current experts in the field.

Barkan is a man of many skills, and one of them, according to an aid worker cited by the Sydney Morning Herald, is this:

“‘He goes to Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand and deals with gangs who rob tourists of their valuables and passports,’ the aid worker said. ‘Barkan is mostly interested in passports and there have been a number of Australian passports.’ Intelligence analysts in New Zealand believe Barkan, a former navy diver in the Israeli Defence Force, was trying to secure a ‘clean’ passport for use in a sensitive Israeli undercover operation in the region, less risky than a forged passport.”

The inner workings of Barkan’s New Zealand operation were exposed when the fourth suspect in the case, Tony Resnick, was outed. Mr. Resnick, 35, who fled the day after the arrest of Kelman and Caras, was a paramedic with the St. John Ambulance in Auckland before taking a job as a healthcare lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology. He had previously worked as a paramedic in Israel, and, in his capacity as a paramedic in New Zealand, had possibly visited the home of the targeted paraplegic [be sure to click on this link if you have broadband! And then go here for the fascinating follow-up].

Using Resnick’s connections to wheelchair-bound and otherwise incapacitated New Zealanders, Barkan’s cabal targeted people who would not likely be traveling abroad, and set up a passport farm by stealing their identities. The Israelis were caught by a suspicious official, who checked their references and laid a trap. But the question that is no doubt haunting the government of New Zealand is how many times did they succeed before they were caught – and to what purpose was Israel culling travel documents?

The answer to this last question is discernible if we look at Israel’s record in this regard. The botched assassination of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan caught the Israelis with their pants down on the passport issue: the assassins were outfitted with Canadian travel documents. This incident no doubt came to mind as New Zealand government officials contemplated the meaning and purpose of Israel’s underground passport factory.

Speaking of Canada, the story of the Mossad’s New Zealand hijinks took a Canadian twist when that country’s foreign ministry announced that it was investigating the matter of Barkan’s passport. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Phil Goff, replied:

“I have read with interest the Canadians are following up allegations he may have traveled at some point on a stolen Canadian passport. When he came to New Zealand my understanding was he was travelling on a U.S. passport. Clearly there would be co-operation between police forces in different countries to try to get to the bottom of these things.”

So there’s an American twist, too. Barkan reportedly had an American accent, and said he came from Washington, D.C., where his family supposedly was in the “windows and doors” business. The Sydney Morning Herald confirms his Washington residence, and says Barkan grew up there as Zev Bruckenstein, where his father was director of religious studies at a synagogue

It isn’t just the Israelis who are scrambling for passports. The recent wave of passport theft has now hit South Africa, where terrorists trying to enter the United States can easily obtain travel documents – thanks to what are described as “crime syndicates” within the government.

Three terrorists, key links in the Al Qaeda network, were recently picked up in Pakistan using South African passports. The South African authorities went into shock after what one British official described as “boxes and boxes” of South African passports were found in a terrorist nest uncovered in London.

The capture of Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed, who reportedly entered the U.S. hundreds of times through Mexico, featured a suspicious-looking South African passport with a few pages torn out. Ms. Ahmed was on her way to New York, and has been identified as a courier ferrying instructions to an Al Qaeda cell preparing a terrorist attack on our soil. Homeland Security Today magazine refers to her interrogation as leading to the “unreported capture by the CIA of two operatives of an Al Qaeda cell operating in Mexico”: as a part of this cell, Ms. Ahmed was ferrying “instructions” to suspected Al Qaeda members in New York. This is apparently what triggered Sunday’s orange alert for New York City and New Jersey.

As the U.S. seeks to plug up the holes in its security, the recent activity in New Zealand ought to be of immediate concern. The Israeli government has refused to either disavow or claim “credit” for the activities of its agents in Kiwi-land, let alone apologize. In this age of terror, however, an Israeli covert operation that systematically and illegally collects Western passports is bound to raise all sorts of suspicions – and rightly so.

If they did it to the Kiwis, and the Canadians, then why not screw us, too? A similar scam aimed at procuring U.S. passports on American soil can’t be dismissed altogether.

The danger of that, alone, ought to motivate U.S. government officials to do everything possible to assist New Zealand and Canada in tracking down Barkan and bringing him to justice, and yet, so far, we have heard not a peep out of them about this matter. The possibility that Barkan is indeed an American may eventually force the Washington spin team into performing the requisite verbal gymnastics, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Stymied by tighter U.S. security procedures, Al Qaeda is apparently seeking to outflank us on our porous southern border. But surely such a strategy is a bit risky. Ms. Ahmed was caught without a visa, and the pages torn out of her South African passport aroused suspicion. Maybe next time, the terror masters should seek out Ze’ev Barkan: I’m sure he can give them a real deal on a New Zealand passport – or perhaps even a Canadian one, in which case they’ll have no trouble coming in from our equally porous northern border.

But wait: doesn’t this posit a relationship of some sort – possibly falling somewhere between active and passive collaboration – involving the Mossad with the terrorists who seek our doom? Don’t be too surprised, because it wouldn’t be the first time ….

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Okay, look, I’m not going to harangue you about how behind we are in fulfilling our goal of raising $50,000 during this week’s fundraising drive. I’m just going to lay it out for you honestly and tell it like it is: if we don’t raise that amount we’re going to have to start making some serious and very immediate cutbacks, and you’ll notice them at once. We’ll have to lay off at least half of our staff – and, who knows, you may be seeing much less of me! No kidding.

I realize it’s summer, and a lot of people are on vacation. But if we don’t roll back the War Party and take advantage of the gains we’ve made thus far, no matter how far you travel you won’t really be able to take a vacation from the world of trouble we’ll be in.

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