Was The Perfect Spy A Double Agent?

60 Minutes: Was Ashraf Marwan Israel's Greatest Spy Or Was He A Double Agent?

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Sometimes history is shaped by unknown people who operate in the shadowy world of espionage. And this story of war, deception and murder has a plot worthy of a John le Carre novel.

Thirty-five years ago, the armies of Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against the state of Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Militarily, it ended in a stalemate, but in practical terms the war changed the map and the politics of the Middle East.

At the center of it all is a little known story about one man who played a major role in the outcome. Strangely enough, he's a hero in both Egypt and Israel, considered by each of these former enemies to be their greatest spy ever.

The question is: who was Ashraf Marwan really working for? And who finally murdered him in London?

The first stories in the London papers were sketchy at best: a mysterious Egyptian had been found dead outside his London apartment under questionable circumstances. The name Ashraf Marwan meant nothing to most people in Britain - just another rich Arab who owned hotels and a part of a soccer team.

But to bestselling author Howard Blum, who came across Marwan while writing a book on the Yom Kippur War a few years back, and to students of the Middle East, Marwan was much more: an arms dealer with connections to a half a dozen intelligence agencies and a secret player on the world stage.

"What went through your mind when you found out that Marwan was dead? Did you believe he'd been murdered?" 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft asked Blum.

"Yes, I believed very much that he was murdered. My next question was by whom," he replied.

"And that's a complicated question?" Kroft asked.

"That's a complicated question because Marwan was a complicated man," Blum said.

It's a tale rooted in nearly 40 years of history and a distant war. And as you will see, there are two different versions.

Both of them begin in 1969, not long after the Israelis routed invading Arab armies in the Six Day War, capturing the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Sinai Peninsula from the Egyptians.

Another war, to recapture the lost territory, was already brewing when a tall, elegant 26-year-old Egyptian contacted Israeli intelligence in London and offered to provide them his country's most important military secrets.

"It was, for us, something unbelievable," remembered Major General Aharon Farkash, who until recently was Israel's director of military intelligence.

"In our work of intelligence we are very, very suspicious about everything. So we try to ask difficult questions about everything that he brought. And after years we understood this is a piece of gold," Farkash told Kroft.

"In the annals of spies for Israel, where does Marwan rank?" Kroft asked Aharon Levran, who at the time was one of Israel's highest ranking intelligence officers.

"He was the best. He was the best," Levran replied.

Levran was one of only a select few with access to the information that Marwan provided.

"It was a bonanza. It was a masterpiece of information," Levran said.

"Like having somebody?" Kroft asked.

"In the bed of the ruler," Levran replied.

Actually, Marwan was in the bed of the ruler's daughter. He was the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Nasser's liaison to the Egyptian intelligence services.

"Why do you think he became an Israeli spy?" Kroft asked Levran.

"It was money, it was adventure. He was a special character," he replied.

The meetings took place at a London safe house near the Dorchester Hotel, under the direct supervision of the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

According to the Israelis, part of Marwan's motivation was a deep hatred of the Soviet Union, Egypt's major ally, military patron and chief arms supplier. But the Israelis say Marwan also demanded more than $100,000 per meeting to finance what they claim was a lavish London lifestyle that included wine, gambling and women.

"He was for sale," Kroft remarked.

"In a way," Levran acknowledged.

"And Israel paid him very well," Kroft said.

"He was worth every penny," Levran replied.