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Transcript: Tamir Pardo talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - TAMIR PARDO

INTERVIEW WITH TAMIR PARDO

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tamir, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is great to have you on the show.

TAMIR PARDO:

Thank you. Thank you very much.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I'd like to start by asking you, Tamir, a few questions about growing up in Israel and about your career. You were born in 1953, only a handful of years after Israel became a state, so in a sense, you and Israel grew up together. And I'm just wondering what the conversations might've been like around your dinner table with your family about your new country and your responsibilities to it?

TAMIR PARDO:

Well, my mum, she was a Holocaust survivor. And she was the only survivor for all family. Her mum, dad, and brother were lost in the Holocaust, so it has an impact, on one hand. But we never talked about it at home. I guess after many years, when we're sitting around the table, she mentioned that she never wanted to raise that case in front of the children, because now we are independent country and the problem that caused the Holocaust vanished. So now we have to concentrate how to keep our country independent and democratic and free. Independent.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, you were a young teenager during the 1967 war. What do you remember about that? What kind of impact did it have on you?

TAMIR PARDO:

I remember I was during that time in the eighth grade. And we were at school in Israel during those days, and--

MICHAEL MORELL:

This was the massive Arab attack on Israel--

TAMIR PARDO:

Yeah. It was s fear, fear on the streets. I remember as kids, that they send us to the roof of the houses in Tel Aviv, to watch if Egyptian or Syrian airplanes are arriving and to give an alert. And then it ended in six days. And for us Israelis, it was a kind of a miracle, because to -- a war on three fronts at the same time, small and tiny country, less than 20 years old as a state, and with understanding, with all the propaganda from the Arab countries that their mission is not really to gain some square miles from one country but to kick us out of the Middle East. So the end of this war was really promising from all the citizens of Israel in those days.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tamir, you joined the Israel military in 1971, as part of your country's required national service. And most people don't know this, in fact I bet you most of my listeners don't know this, but there's actually a Congressional commission here currently operating that's looking at the question of whether the United States should have some form of national service. And I wonder if you were asked to talk to them, what would you tell them about national service and its importance?

TAMIR PARDO:

On one hand, there is a great advantage for a national service, because a compulsory service bring all the society, all the kids that are 18 years old on, to the service. I believe that you are gathering a better armed forces, because it's not that those who think that, "Okay, let's postpone college and let's go join the armed forces." You don't have any other option, so you are getting the elite kids, you're getting the best kids in town to serve together, those who are coming from a different part of the country, and not from the Ivy League high schools.

And I think it's a better armed forces. And I believe that when you had in your time during the Vietnam War, I think that it's not a case that those who cannot do any other things are joining the army. It's everyone obligation to defend the State. That's on one hand.

And today, I think that many, when you're joining cyber forces and other forces, it's a great opportunity for young kids to do things that they're going to take ten or 15 years to do, if they want to be part of that organization. So those are the advantages. Of course, you are losing time, if you want to do something else. So in three years, you can at least finish college.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tamir, where were you during the 1973 war? So you were in the military, but where were you? What did you do?

TAMIR PARDO:

During that time, I was a sergeant, two years already in the army. And with my company, I was in the Golan Heights. I was in Sinai. We were the troops that were sent to Jebel Ataka. It's nearby Suez, after crossing the Suez Canal. So that was war.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You were in the thick of things?

TAMIR PARDO:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, you were also part of the Israeli team that raided the Entebbe Airport in Uganda to free Israeli citizens who had been taken hostage by terrorists. You were still a young man at that point. What stands out to you from that day? And looking back on it, what does that mean to you today?

TAMIR PARDO:

Well, you know--

MICHAEL MORELL:

It was a remarkable achievement.

TAMIR PARDO:

It was July the 4th, 1976. That's your 200th birthday. It's interesting. Well, as a young person, I was then a lieutenant in the Special Forces, and you know, as young people, you don't think about, okay? There is a mission.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You just act?

TAMIR PARDO:

And that's all, okay? You have to do it. You don't think even that you have to fly over ten hours from Israel. And during those days, we didn't have stealth-like capabilities to get some photos from there. It was a blind mission, to a certain extent. And honestly, when we took off from Tel Aviv, I didn't believe that our prime minister, I didn't believe that our Prime Minister, Prime Minister Rabin will get the green light. But when we crossed the (inaud) somewhere on the halfway to Uganda, we realized, "Okay, I will have to do it." And well, that's memories. I think it was very important.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes.

TAMIR PARDO:

I think it was not a show, but at the end of the day, it was a message.

MICHAEL MORELL:

It was a statement?

TAMIR PARDO:

It was a statement from Israel to the other countries around the world that if you can liberate your hostages, don't start to talk with terrorists but beat them.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tamir, you then joined Mossad in 1980, the same year that I joined CIA.

TAMIR PARDO:

Oh, really?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes, yes. So how did you end up there, and why did you end up there?

TAMIR PARDO:

Well, during my service within the Special Forces, we had some, let's say, communication with Mossad, some kind of relationship. And--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--just like the CIA does with the military, particularly the Special Forces.

TAMIR PARDO:

Exactly.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes, yes.

TAMIR PARDO:

So then one day I got the letter on the mail. Open the letter, saying, "If you want to join something interesting," without mentioning it's Mossad, so "That's the phone number. Give us a call." And then I went for the first meeting, without knowing it's Mossad. And then on, school, everything, and then actually starting my job, let's say by the end of 1981.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So part of your time at Mossad involved serving as the deputy to the legendary Meir Dagan, who ran Mossad for almost a decade. What made him so legendary? And what did you learn from him?

TAMIR PARDO:

When I started, when I joined Mossad, our director was Hofi. Before joining the Mossad, he was the commander of the northern front of Israel during the '73 war. And by the legend, he changed Mossad for the first time, to a modern kind of organization.

He put an emphasis on schooling. He put an emphasis on all kind of operations. Then every director since then had his footprint or fingerprint on the Mossad. Meir Dagan, when he joined the Mossad, for him it was quite new. He appointed me as his deputy from day one, when he entered. And he has his own vision.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So he was not of the Mossad?

TAMIR PARDO:

He was not of Mossad. He came from the armed forces. And he retired from the IDF and joined the Mossad as a director, directly the director. He has excellent intuition on all kind of Mossad operations, and he has his vision of the role that Mossad should take on the 21st century. And from time to time, I think that, when they're bringing someone from outside, it's interesting, because you're getting--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Different perspective?

TAMIR PARDO:

A better perspective, I think. And that was happened. And he served for eight years in Mossad, and I was his deputy twice.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Anything in particular that you learned from him?

TAMIR PARDO:

He was a man with a vision on one hand. He look as a tough officer on one hand.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I remember, yeah.

TAMIR PARDO:

A really tough one, you know?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah.

TAMIR PARDO:

Like a Prussian, you could say even. But on the other hand, a very soft personality. So it was a quite interesting combination of a person. And I remember at the very beginning, he wanted that job very much, but let's say six or seven months after he started being director, I think he was a bit confused, because that's not the armed forces. And it's a different DNA, at the end of the day. But he fell in love with the organization and you could feel it for all these years.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You know, when I first met him, I had two reactions. One was, "I wouldn't want to get in a street fight (LAUGH) with this guy."

TAMIR PARDO:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And then the second reaction was, "I wouldn't want to get into a chess match with this guy, either."

TAMIR PARDO:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right? And it was a very interesting combination, as you said. 

So Tamir, I want to ask you a couple questions about your time as director, two years of which you and I worked closely together. And maybe that's the first question I want to ask you, is the relationship between Mossad and CIA. Can you talk about that, to the extent that you can talk about it?

TAMIR PARDO:

Well, you know, we can't talk about it. (LAUGH)

MICHAEL MORELL:

I think we can talk about the general nature of it, right?

TAMIR PARDO:

It's fascinating, from my point of view, to see that people from, let's say, those kind of organization got the same DNA, okay? You can sit and after an hour or so, those who grew up in the organization are very similar, and it's easy to talk. Before talking about the relationship between the CIA and Israel and the United States, even to speak to Arab countries that you don't have any kind of relation, when you meet people from your profession, it's so easy, okay? You can be enemy when you are walking from the room, but when you are sitting together, you can share your experience, you can talk a lot, and you can deal with many obstacles.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why do you think that is? Why do you think that is? Because the job is so unique? Same personality type? Why do you think? I mean, I have noticed exactly the same thing over the years. Why is that? Why is it so easy?

TAMIR PARDO:

I think that those kind of organization, when they are looking for people and they are looking for certain qualities, and whether you're serving in the CIA, the MI6, or one of any other country, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, you need the same people, the same qualities. So it's quite easy when people with the same qualities, they can fight each other very well but they can talk and communicate very well, as well.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Well, I'll say this. Maybe you can't say this, but I'll say this: The relationship between Mossad and CIA is a very important one. And there's no doubt in my mind that both countries are safer as a result of that relationship.

TAMIR PARDO:

During my term, I think that when we were together and afterwards, I think the relationship between the Mossad and the CIA was extremely, extremely good. And it's not obvious. The kind of relationship is coming from top. It's an order. And my understanding, that during my service in director, the president of the United States gave a direct order – that's from feeling, because I never heard him talking about it. It's important for Israel, but it's important for the United States, as well.

And I think that we thought, I thought before being a director that is a dream if we'll be able to achieve with any kind of organization that we have relations with, we achieved with the CIA, things that were beyond, beyond expectation.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, when you were director, a huge focus of your time was on Iran. Tell us how you think about Iran from the perspective of Israel's security?

TAMIR PARDO:

Iran was an ally before the revolution in the '60s and '70s.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Ally with the United States and an ally of Israel.

TAMIR PARDO:

Ally of Israel. And after the revolution, you became the big Satan, and we became the small one. And that's the ideology of the Iranians. And I think that for their own reason, as a Shia country, a minority within the Muslim world, they thought that taking Israel as an example of an enemy, it will serve them. And they started with their nuclear, let's say, project. They assisted Hezbollah. And--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Hezbollah would not exist without [Iran]?

TAMIR PARDO:

Exactly. Hezbollah is Iranian invention, at the end of the day. Hezbollah, let's say they wanted, as we are 2,000 kilometers from each other, like 1,000 mile removed between Israel and Iran, so their thought was that they might have a border with Israel if they will control Lebanon through the Hezbollah, and that we'll remain more than 1,000 miles from them, but they're going to be on our border. And that's exactly what happened. That was with a conventional weapon and with a nuclear weapon. And they admitted that their reasons for obtaining a nuclear weapon is to threaten Israel. So you don't play with nuclear weapons.

MICHAEL MORELL:

What do you believe Iran's goals are in the region? And do they include the elimination of the State of Israel?

TAMIR PARDO:

Look, that's what they are stating, okay? I think that they know that that's an illusion. Maybe it's good for their own propaganda, and it might serve us if we want to do a few things, but it's – come on. When they are facing reality, they will never be able to do it.

It doesn't matter which kind of weapon they're going to hold. Because I believe that we know how to defend ourselves. We show it when we were a very young country, against, let's say, combined forces from all Arab countries. Now we have peace with some of them, and quite good relations with others. So I think that maybe for them, it's a dream, but it's more an illusion than a dream. But Iran, they are a very, very smart people. They had a long history, and they believe that they should be part of, let's say, the G10 or the G9 around the world.

MICHAEL MORELL:

That they should have significant influence?

TAMIR PARDO:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Particularly in the Middle East?

TAMIR PARDO:

And I think that ISIS, at the end of the day, became the great opportunity for Iran, as no Western country wanted to use what we call "boots on the ground," and why ISIS gained, let's say, the majority of Iraq and the majority of Syria. They were those who were ready to fight, to kick out ISIS. And it was a green card to be part of the world again. And then they did it, and now they are standing with their forces around our border, whether it's in Hezbollah in the north or northeast in Syria.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So United States is putting intense pressure on the Iranians at the moment. Pulled out of the nuclear deal, put sanctions back in place, oil exports are going to zero. They're ending waivers. Do you think that will be enough to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table for a second time? Or do you think not? How do you think about U.S. policy at the moment, and what it's likely to achieve?

TAMIR PARDO:

As Iran once wanted to be dominant power in the Middle East, so there are actually three cases with Iran. One is the nuclear program. The other, their vision that they're going to have a corridor between Tehran on the Mediterranean Sea. And the third thing is be dominant in many other countries by supporting minorities like they're doing in Yemen, like they did in South America, in certain places in Africa.

And I think Iran is a very important country in the region. And I believe they need to be considered as an important country on one hand, but we should limit them. And I would've started in Lebanon. After the agreement, whether there are those who think this was a horrible agreement, in Israel and the States as well, but it was an agreement.

And as any kind of agreement, as Dr. Kissinger said once, 'A good agreement that can last for a long time is that none of those who negotiated are happy with the outcome.' Ten to zero, outcomes of the negotiation, it means that those who thought that they were beaten will try at the first time to bypass it and to be back in front.

So I think that dealing with the Hezbollah is something that can be done by the United States, and it will affect all the dynamic of the region and the place that Iran will take less in the future. And I think that if sanctions like President Trump, when he's dealing with Iran, will do in Lebanon, telling the Lebanese government, "You have two choices: or to kick out Hezbollah from Lebanon or that Hezbollah is going to be part of Lebanese armed forces, because there is no way they're going to be a state within a state," -- because for us, it's damn dangerous, because they are getting the advantage of acting like a terrorist group, but it's a terrorist group with more than 130,000 rockets that cover every part in Israel.

So that's impossible. And I believe that if sanctions on Lebanon are going to work in less than 30 days, we're going to see a difference, a total difference in the Middle East, because it's going to affect Syria, it going to affect Iraq, and it is going to affect a nuclear discussion, because we are not dealing with a small country. We are thinking about a country the half size of Europe, with a vision to be an empire at the end of the day.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, I just want to make sure I get this right, you would recommend to the administration to focus on the head of their snake, which is Hezbollah?

TAMIR PARDO:

Exactly. Because when you're dealing with Yemen, those who are playing a very, very important role are the Hezbollah. And the Hezbollah are playing a role all around the world when you're dealing with terrorism.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Just a couple more questions about Iran, Tamir. One is there's a view among some here in the United States that the current regime in Iran is not capable of changing, and that that regime ultimately needs to be replaced with a new regime that would be capable of changing. How do you think about that question?

TAMIR PARDO:

It's irrelevant. I don't think that we can change the regime. I don't think that the United States can change the regime. I think that if we're going to see a revolution that will come from inside Iran, then United States can assist. I think we had an opportunity in 2009. It was before the Arab Spring, but we did--

MICHAEL MORELL:

It was actually the first moment of the Arab Spring--

TAMIR PARDO:

It was.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--in my mind, yes.

TAMIR PARDO:

The Arab Spring started then, in 2009, in the streets of Tehran and Shiraz and all of the big cities in Iran, but we didn't understand it at all. Then we had a great chance to assist the opposition there, but we missed it. The moment it will start again, I hope we will not miss it, but think that we can change it, sitting in Tel Aviv, Washington, and Paris is a dream.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tamir, let me just ask you very quickly just a couple other questions about the region. Jordan; Jordan's a very important country to both of us. How do you think about stability there? Are you worried about that?

TAMIR PARDO:

Well, I count for the king. I think that it's not the stability of Jordan; it's the stability of the Middle East. If something, God forbid, gonna happen in Jordan, it's going to be in fact on Israel, on all the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, actually on all the Middle East.

And I think that we should do whatever can be done to assist His Majesty the King of Jordan and his team. And he's facing many challenges these days. And I believe that, let's say, the Western world doesn't support him enough. And I think that Jordan accepted refugees in an amount that no country on earth did during the last 200 years, that's assuming that United States will have to accept within seven years between 60 and 70 million people to the system. It's impossible to deal with it alone. And they had to do it. And it has an impact on Jordan, and no one unfortunately really understood it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia; Do you think at the end of the day, he's going to add to Saudi stability or subtract from it? How do you think about the crown prince?

TAMIR PARDO:

As a young person, he had all the capabilities to do the right thing. Running a country, running a state, it's a very complicated thing. And if he'll do things -- the right measures and take the right decisions, I think that they bring Saudi Arabia to much better place, because it's a very, very important country in the region.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, another question. The Palestinian issue. How do you think about where we are, where you are with the Palestinians? And what do you think the right approach is that would be in the best interests of Israeli security?

TAMIR PARDO:

Nowadays, I believe that at the end of the day, a two-state solution should be the vision of both sides. Is it an option today? I doubt [it], unfortunately. And there are many reasons for my doubts. First of all, the Palestinians are divided by the south, so the option today, and it's not an option, is a three-state solution. And that is totally unacceptable, because the Hamas in Gaza and the Abu Mazen and Palestinian authorities in the West Bank are, let's say, enemies today.

They are not speaking to each other. They are not assisting. The Palestinian authorities are not assisting the Hamas in Gaza. They are not giving the basic obligations as the leader of the Palestinians to the Hamas. And the Hamas on the other side, it's a terrorist group. And for them, the solution is that the State of Israel will not exist, at least those are their declarations, even though they know very well that's rubbish.

But for the moment, if you want to start some kind of a, let's say, discussion, I believe that we should deal with one entity on the Palestinian side, and unfortunately, I don't see that entity. But my vision and Israel's vision should be that at the end of the day, the solution at the end state [is] going to be a two-state solution with Israel with safe borders and a Palestinian state that can be a homeland for the Palestinians.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, since your retirement from Mossad, you've become deeply involved in cyber security. You're involved in several Israeli firms, and you started your own cyber security company. So let me ask you a couple questions about cyber. How do you see the threat? Do you see it getting better? Do you see it getting worse over time? How do you think about the threat?

TAMIR PARDO:

I believe it's the biggest threat that the free world, our planet is dealing with these days. I'm using the term, you can compare it to a nuclear threat that we used to see during the Cold War days. And I'm calling it "soft and silent nuclear problem."

MICHAEL MORELL:

Soft and silent?

TAMIR PARDO:

Yeah. And I think that there is a misunderstanding of that threat, because in order to run a conventional war, not talking about nuclear war, you need a fortune. One airplane costs millions and millions of dollars. I just read two days ago that the B-52 costs $2.5 billion, okay?

With let's say 1% of that budget, you can create a mess around the world that one B-52 will never achieve, even with all nuclear bombs on it. And that's the point. There's no understanding. And how big is the threat? Because it's not only the threat that's coming from a state. Every kid on this planet can be a threat.

So you're going to find it within states. You're going to find it within criminal gangs. You're going to find it, let's say, in order to get some gain on economy. You can still R&D products and you can beat competitors, so it's everywhere, and there is no understanding. And there is a vision that maybe, let's say here in the States, that Washington will solve the problem. That's [a] stupid way of thinking. And I just say God forbid that on a hot summer day, playing with cyber attack, pressure on the water pipelines in California will drop to zero. Thinking that the federal government will assist, solve the problem -- it's not even a dream.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Tamir, your company, XM Cyber, has a very interesting and unique approach to the problem. Can you just very briefly describe what you do?

TAMIR PARDO:

Yeah. We are trying to take care of the hygiene of a company. At the end of the day, in the network, every network is never in a, let's say, stable situation. They're making changes all the time. In a small company, in a small bank in Israel, they are making 40,000 changes per year. So you are never on a steady-state situation.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And these changes create vulnerabilities?

TAMIR PARDO:

Exactly, because people are doing mistakes. Those who are working, those brilliant kids that are working within the IT systems of any company, are great in their job, but they are making mistakes. Ninety percent, between 80 and 90% of the vulnerabilities in every network are created by those who are working in the system, and not deliberately.

And to fix it, we thought that that was our prime, let's say, vision while starting our company. And we found out that companies are buying and buying and buying solutions against cyber security, but not dealing with the mistakes that the people that are building and taking care of the network--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And creating the most vulnerabilities at the end of the day? So you find those? You find those and you tell--

TAMIR PARDO:

And we recommend and re-recommend those who are sitting and watching (inaud) system and responsible for the security of system which measure to take in order to block those threats and to eliminate, let's say, the mistakes and the stupidities that are done by our own people from the organization.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tamir, thank you so much for spending time with us. Thank you so much for sharing your views with us and sharing your career with us. It was great to have you on the show.

TAMIR PARDO:

Thank you. Thank you. It's always an honor to meet you, Mike.

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