Some kids read biographies about baseball players. In high school my favorite books were about the great accomplishments of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.
They had kidnapped war criminal Adolf Eichmann from Argentina before the police in the country knew he was there or even missing. A beautiful woman had inspired an Iraqi pilot to defect to Israel with his top-secret Mig-21. A Mossad mole nearly became Syria's Minister of Defense. And in a story popularized by Steven Spielberg's movie Munich, the Mossad quietly and systematically killed those responsible for the murder of their athletes at the Munich Olympics.
The man responsible for directing much of these accomplishments was the legendary Mossad chief Zvika Zamir, who I met and spoke with on several occasions in Israel. He was one of only three people who Egyptian spy Ashraf Marwan met with during his four years of spying for the Israelis. He didn't want to go on camera - Mossad agents are adverse to publicity - but Zamir wanted me to know how convinced he was about Marwan not being a double agent.
A former head of Israeli Military Intelligence revealed in the Israeli press a few years ago that Marwan was responsible for misleading Israel during the run-up to the 1973 Yom Kippur War; Zamir believed that the former military intel chief was just covering up for his own failings to predict the war.
Zamir is now in his late eighties but still quite sharp. He said that Marwan enjoyed fine cigars and good clothes and the company of beautiful women.
Zamir said he would often test Marwan. One time he asked Marwan to name the commanding officer of individual Egyptian military units, names Zamir had already known from another inside spy. Marwan, he said, never lied to him.
Zamir says the day before the war began, he met with Marwan in London where Marwan not only told him the war would begin but also gave him the war plans, which included specific points of where parachute landings would occur.
Amazingly, the Israel Army chief of staff didn't look at it until the fighting was well under way.
When Ashraf Marwan was found dead, Zamir said he blamed himself because he felt he didn't do enough to protect his identity. He also says Marwan's death will have long range repercussions for the Israelis in trying to recruit other Arab defectors.
Two days after my last Zamir meeting, I was directed, one afternoon, to go to a particular park bench in Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb. I felt like I was in a spy movie, as an old Jewish man who looked a little like the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky, sat down next to me and said simply, "I hear you have some questions about Marwan."
It turned out "Shmuel" as we will call him, was the former head of European operations for over 30 years for the Mossad. It was Shmuel who was first contacted by Marwan in 1969, and hurriedly arranged a meeting at a London restaurant.
He directed one of Israel's legendary agents to meet Marwan that day, an agent simply called "Dubi." If Israel had a James Bond, it was Dubi.
Everyone from the Mossad avoids discussing details about Dubi, in part to protect him and in part to keep his accomplishments part of the secrets held by a small fraternity of Mossad agents.
For one extraordinary afternoon I was a kid again, hearing stories about the Mossad, from one of its most important figures. They are a very proud organization which might explain why they will never publicly acknowledge that Marwan might have gotten the better of them.
As a last question I asked how the relationship between Israel and Marwan ended, my new friend told me that it was the Israelis that ended it: "We had a peace with Arabs and he wasn't worth paying $100,000 for each meeting. What do you think he would give us, the Egyptian wheat reports?"
Written by Ira Rosen