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Flirting With Fascism / Greece’s Dirty Secret
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APRIL 20, 2018 _ VOL.170 _ NO.14
The Greek Public Power Corp. has dominated
energy production in the country since the
1950s, and its 625-square-mile mine has
gobbled up villages, homes and lives in
northern Greece and Western Macedonia.
Photo illustration by Gluekit for Newsweek
Dirty Secret
The secret history of Israel’s
Mossad and its covert war
against Hitler’s scientists
after the Holocaust.
The EU has created jobs in the
country’s coal mines, but at
serious cost to public health
and the environment.
For more headlines, go to
Photog raph b y A N N A P A N T E L I A
APRIL 20, 2018 _ VOL.170 _ NO.14
NEWS DIRECTOR _ Cristina Silva
DEPUTY EDITORS _ Mary Kaye Schilling,
R.M. Schneiderman
Breaking News Editor _ Juliana Pignataro
London Bureau Chief _ Robert Galster
Politics Editor _ Michael Mishak
Science Editor _ Jessica Wapner
News Editor _ Orlando Crowcroft
Gaming Editor _ Mo Mozuch
Deputy Editors _ Dante A. Ciampaglia (Culture)
04 Soweto, South Africa
A Divide That Binds
P. 48
06 Joint Base Andrews,
In Fascism: A Warning,
former U.S. Secretary
State Madeleine
Albright writes about
a revival of creeping
nationalism and
authoritarianism at
home and abroad.
Hair Force One
McAllen, Texas
Ticket to Hide
08 SpyTalk
Gaza Strip
The Tire Next Time
From Moscow
With Murder
12 World
Madeleine Albright
on Trump and
38 Health
Sunscreen Matters
41 Politics
Scientists on the
Campaign Trail
42 Books
An Interview
With Eve Babitz
44 Movies
Scriptwriter Kay
Cannon Directs an
R-Rated Comedy
46 Art
Hank Willis
Thomas’s New Show
48 Parting Shot
Neil Patrick Harris
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In Focus
In Focus
A PR I L 20, 2018
A Divide
That Binds
Children stand beside a portrait of late South
African anti-apartheid activist Winnie MadikizelaMandela at her home on April 3, a day after her
death. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
paid tribute to Madikizela-Mandela, the former
wife of Nelson Mandela, calling her a “voice
of defiance” against white minority rule. But
her legacy was also marred by scandals
involving kidnapping, corruption and murder.
In Focus
A PR I L 20, 2018
Hair Force One
Ticket to Hide
The Tire Next Time
President Donald Trump contends
with strong winds while boarding
Air Force One on April 5. Trump was
traveling to West Virginia to promote
his $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. But
shortly after he began his speech, he
called his prepared remarks “boring.”
Border patrol agents apprehend
immigrants who illegally crossed from
Mexico into the U.S. on April 3. The same
week, President Donald Trump, still
unable to secure funding for a border wall,
announced he would deploy National
Guard troops to the southern U.S. border.
Palestinian protesters run during
clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza
Strip on April 5. A day later, Israel killed
10 demonstrators along the border, as
thousands of Palestinians continued
to protest for the right to return to
land they lost during the 1948 war.
Karpichkov, a
former Russian
double agent in
the U.K., said he’d
been warned that
the Kremlin was
coming for him too.
A PR I L 20, 2018
“Fascism can find a foothold wherever
people are unhappy.” » P.12
Moscow With
Is Russia hunting defectors in the U.S.?
they get lonely. they miss their friends
intelligence agencies have been especially on edge.
A leading factor: the March 4 nerve agent attack
and family. So, despite the danger of exposing
on Sergei Skripal, a former mole for British intelthemselves to retribution, Russian defectors hiding
ligence, in a shopping mall in Salisbury, England.
abroad make phone calls or send emails to relatives
and Washington blamed Moscow, which
in the motherland. And when they do, the Kremlin
role in the attack. “Everyone’s been on
is listening. “It’s easy to find us,” one defector in the
U.S. tells Newsweek, “if they are really determined.”
high alert since the Skripal poisoning,” says Michelle
While phone calls and emails open channels for
Van Cleave, head of national counterintelligence
under President George W. Bush. On March 29,
Russian eavesdroppers to locate defectors, relatives
former Russian double agent in the U.K.,
visiting from back home make it even easier. Agents
reported that he’d been warned
can track them to a defector’s doorstep.
were coming for him too.
Some American security sources say there has
been an uptick in Russian activity in the U.S. in re- “[S]omething is probably going to happen,” an old
comrade told him in mid-February, according to
cent years; suspected agents have been spotted cruising the neighborhoods of defectors protected by CIA
NBC News. “It’s very serious, and you are not alone.”
security teams. The FBI and CIA have been “bringing
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, who was visiting
people out of retirement, people who worked against
him from Russia, were assaulted with Novichok,
a lethal chemical agent invented by Soviet engithe Russians in the 1990s,” to cope with the challenge,
the defector says, speaking anonyneers in the 1980s. The former mole
mously because of safety fears. (The
was slow to recover; a month after
CIA declined to comment. The FBI
the attack, Skripal and his daughBY
did not respond to questions about
ter were said to be out of danger. A
policeman investigating the attack
Russian activity in America.)
Over the past month, U.S. counter@SpyTalker
was also harmed.
A similar assault in the United
States is not unthinkable, say CIA veterans with long histories with Moscow. The Russians “largely got out of
this business in the mid-1970s,” says
former CIA analyst and Russia specialist Mark Stout, but with the rise
of Vladimir Putin in the 1990s, they
got back into “tracking down and
hunting defectors.”
Two former CIA station chiefs in
Moscow don’t rule out such audacious attacks in the U.S. “Putin has
demonstrated there are no limits to
the methods he would use to target
Russia’s ‘main enemy’ and our allies,”
says Daniel Hoffman, a 30-year agency veteran. “The attack on Skripal
should be ringing alarm bells for all
NATO member countries, including
the United States, that something like
that could happen here.” But while
Moscow has “always sought to locate
Russian defectors in the U.S. and Britain,” fellow agency Russia hand John
Sipher says, it also “attempts to lure
them back to Russia” with the message that “all is forgiven.”
That worked pretty well in the
waning days of the Cold War, when as
many as 40 percent of Russian defectors, such as the infamous Vitaly Yurchenko, took the bait and returned
home, two agency veterans say. “Often
Suspected Russian
agents have been
spotted cruising the
neighborhoods of some
defectors protected by
CIA security teams.
it was because they were homesick,
lonely and having great difficulty adjusting to life in the West,” says one,
speaking on terms of anonymity because such matters remain highly sensitive. “A simple thing like choosing a
tube of toothpaste was difficult—too
many choices.” Because they could
not speak with family and friends
behind the Iron Curtain in those
pre-internet days, “daily existence became overwhelming.”
No longer. The recent events suggest Moscow may have abandoned the
lure for the hammer. In 2016, an official British inquiry implicated Putin
himself in the 2006 radiation-poison
murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a
former Russian intelligence officer
living in exile in England, but the uproar faded without diplomatic consequences. The Skripal hit, says former
FBI intelligence analyst Aaron Arnold,
“could be...a litmus test to see how far
people would let them go.”
Not far, judging by the response of
European leaders, led by British Prime
Minister Theresa May, who expelled
scores of suspected Russian spies
working under diplomatic cover. President Donald Trump declined to join
the Europeans in their criticism of
the Kremlin, but the administration
booted 60 Russian diplomats from the
U.S and shuttered the Russian consulate in Seattle. Moscow responded by
expelling 60 U.S. diplomats—plus 59
from other countries—and closed the
American consulate in St. Petersburg.
Later, the U.S. added new sanctions
against Russian oligarchs, their companies and senior Kremlin officials.
Yet some spy veterans raised doubts
about the Kremlin’s role in the Skripal
AX TO GRIND The Kremlin has a long
history of none-too-subtle assassinations.
A Russian agent murdered Trotsky,
middle, with an ice ax in 1940.
A PR I L 20, 2018
RED FLAGS Clockwise
from top: the American
flag is removed from the
U.S. Consulate General
in St. Petersburg; New
York newspapers feature
photos of Russian spies in
2010; and Lesin, Putin’s
former media chief, who
died in his hotel room in
Washington, D.C., last year.
affair. And the Russian defector who
spoke with Newsweek called the hit
“very unprofessional” because it not
only failed to kill its target but inevitably pointed to the Kremlin. The U.K.’s
top military lab also said it could not
identify “the precise source” of the
highly engineered weapon.
And why Skripal? the defector
asked. The former officer with the
GRU, Russia’s military intelligence
agency, had been unmasked as a
British mole years earlier and wrung
dry under interrogation before being released in a trade for 10 Russian
spies arrested in the U.S. in 2010.
“He had no more secrets with him,”
the defector says. “He was no threat
to Russia.” More likely, he says, some
former GRU comrades whom Skripal
betrayed to British intelligence were
taking revenge, using “idiots” in the
Russian mob to carry out the “am-
ateuristic” hit. He also pointed to a
documentary on state-controlled
Russian media saying stocks of Novichok had gone missing.
Those are Moscow’s lines too, as
it turns out. Russia’s ambassador to
the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, explained
to NBC News that Skripal “spent five
years in Russian jail. So it was enough
time for us to know everything that he
knew. Why we should make revenge?”
That’s easy, Hoffman says. “Putin
wanted to whip up his electorate
with anti-Western rhetoric” before
the March 18 presidential election.
And he was assured of “an intense reaction” over Skripal from May, who
was home secretary in 2006 when
Litvinenko was fatally poisoned by
plutonium. The expulsions, Hoffman says, allowed Putin to “portray
Russia as a besieged fortress, which
only he could defend.”
The Kremlin, its critics point out,
has a long history of none-too-subtle
assassinations. A Russian agent murdered former revolutionary Leon
Trotsky with an ice ax to the head in
Mexico in August 1940. Six months
later, an outspoken Russian defector,
Walter Krivitsky, was found in a pool
of blood in his room in a Washington, D.C., hotel. Unaware he was on a
Soviet hit list, investigators concluded he had committed suicide.
Last year, in Washington, D.C., police officially concluded that Putin’s
former media chief, Mikhail Lesin,
died from multiple falls in his hotel
room during a drinking binge. But
“everyone thinks he was whacked and
that Putin or the Kremlin were behind
it,” an FBI agent recently told BuzzFeed. In February, the site surfaced
evidence implicating Russia in 14 suspicious deaths on British soil that the
U.K. government had largely ignored.
In January, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report warning that the long
arm of Russian intelligence might
reach into the U.S. and take somebody
out. “The trail of mysterious deaths, all
of which happened to people who possessed information that the Kremlin
did not want made public, should not
be ignored by Western countries on
the assumption that they are safe from
these extreme measures,” it read.
Putin said as much after the FBI
rounded up Anna Chapman and nine
other deep-cover Russian “illegals” in
the United States in 2010. Whoever
betrayed them would suffer. “It always
ends badly for traitors,” he said. “As a
rule, their end comes from drink or
drugs, lying in the gutter.”
Meanwhile, the defector is fatalistic. “I know it’s going to happen to me
sooner or later,” he says. “All I can do is
renew my life insurance. If they send a
professional, I’m done.”
a decade later. In her new book,
Fascism: A Warning, Albright says she
sees a revival of creeping nationalism and authoritarianism at home
and abroad.
Albright does not consider Trump
a fascist, but she says his behavior is
paving the way for fascism around
the globe. In her book, she studies
the rise of past autocrats like Adolf
Hitler and Benito Mussolini and
finds similar patterns in modern
leaders like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán
and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The
result is an in-depth look at a changing world order and America’s
diminishing role in that hierarchy.
I spoke with Albright, currently
a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign
Service, about Trump, antifa and
what she describes as an international fraternity of “bullies.”
Pulpit Bullies
Madeleine Albright talks Trump, antifa
and the return of global fascism
i n t h e wa k e o f d o n a l d
Trump’s election, a troubling
word re-emerged in the American
political lexicon: fascism. The left
says the president mimics strongmen by attacking the media and targeting immigrants. The right claims
liberals suppress dissenting views on
everything from climate change to
gender politics.
But is this really fascism? Few are
in a better position to judge than former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright. Born in Czechoslovakia,
she fled fascist regimes
twice, first during the
Nazi occupation of
her home country in
1939 and then after
a Communist coup
What are some of the key “warning”
signs, as you call them?
First of all, there’s an appeal to
extreme nationalism. We’ve seen
that in Europe, Turkey and, to some
extent, in the United States. There’s
this “us against them” mentality, the
disregard for the rights of others
and a display of popular enthusiasm
through rallies. Then there’s relentless propaganda, which is really an
attempt to shape one’s own truth.
A PR I L 20, 2018
In your book, you write that the
term fascism has lost its meaning.
People kind of think, OK, well, everything I disagree with is fascist—which
is crazy. A fascist is someone who
claims to speak for a whole nation or
group, is utterly unconcerned with
the rights of others and is willing
to use violence and whatever other
means to achieve the goals. In short,
a fascist is a bully with an army.
Is the United States vulnerable to
modern-day fascism?
If you look at this historically, fascism can find a foothold wherever
people are unhappy and are looking
for answers. We obviously have very
strong democratic institutions, but
I think that there are real questions
in terms of how the government is
responding to the needs of the people at this moment. That’s why this
book is a warning.
How does Trump fit in this picture?
Let me make this absolutely clear: I’m
not calling President Trump a fascist.
I am very concerned about his lack of
democratic instinct of any kind and
his disdain for the press and the judiciary and the electoral process.
Are his actions contributing to the
rise of fascism around the globe?
There are fascists in other countries
who are taking some of the things
that President Trump says in order
to justify their own behavior. Instead
of the U.S. being the leader in democratic values and the leader of the free
world, the bottom line is [there’s] an
empty chair there.
Whether you’re talking about
[Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte, Orbán or Putin, these people are
a bunch of bullies. The president
praising some of the aspects of those
people, identifying with them, gives
them even more strength. When
he was in Poland, standing next to
[Polish President Andrzej Duda],
[his remarks] not only strengthened
the anti-democratic things that are
going on in Poland, but kind of gave
[them] an American blessing, which
is outrageous.
Are you worried about war with
North Korea?
It concerns me a lot. I’m still the
highest-level sitting official to
have met with the North Korean
leader. It takes a lot of work
and preparation, and you need
experts to understand what the
background of a particular issue
has been and what to push for, what
to avoid. From what I can tell, that
has not taken place.
Is Putin trying to dismantle
democracy in the West?
He’s trying. You can’t forget that
we’re dealing with a KGB agent. This
is what Putin grew up on. He is not
stupid. He’s smart, and he’s playing
a weak hand very well.
“Let me make
this absolutely
clear: I’m not
calling President
Trump a fascist.”
Are you concerned about more
Russian interference in American
I am. We need to have the [congressional] investigations [into Russian
meddling] go forward, not kind of
say, “It’s not happening.” We have an
opportunity to stop what is going on.
And it isn’t just the president. It’s on
all of us to have people run for office,
to voice our displeasure, to really
take active measures in terms of
pushing back to show what democracy is really about.
What do you make of the antifa
I don’t think one should fight fascism with violence. Violence is a tool
of the fascist.
What does Trump’s “America first”
agenda mean to you?
It’s an unfortunate term from the
’30s when the United States cared
only about itself and was isolationist, and things got worse and worse
[globally]. This is a very personal
thing for me, as somebody who was
born in Czechoslovakia. The British
and French made a deal with the
Germans and Italians and sold the
country I was born in down the river.
The United States wasn’t there.
[Today], President Trump makes
us look like a victim, a chump. We
have the most powerful country
in the world, and his whole message is about victimization. “Everybody’s taking advantage of us.” It’s
What’s the future of the United
States on the world stage?
It’s going to take a while to rebuild
trust in America and our alliance
structure and how we behave, but we
have it in us to do that, and we have
done it in the past. We are leaders.
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The secret history of ISRAEL’S MOSSAD , and its cov
Photo illust rat ion b y G L U E K I T
ert war against Hitler’s scientists after the Holocaust
A PR IL 20, 2
ince world war ii, israel has used assassinations
and targeted killings on more people than any other country in the
Western world. In many cases, its leaders have determined that
in killing a designated target—and protecting its national security—it is moral and legal to endanger the lives of innocent civilians.
Harming such people, they believe, is a necessary evil.
Israel’s reliance on assassination as a military tool did not
happen by chance. It stems from the roots of the Zionist movement, from the trauma of the Holocaust and from the sense
among Israelis that the country is perpetually in danger of annihilation. And that no one would come to its aid.
Because Israel is such a small country, because the Arab states
have long talked of and attempted to destroy it, and because
of the menace of terrorism, the nation has developed a highly
effective military and, arguably, the best intelligence community
in the world. It has also developed the most robust, streamlined
assassination machine in history.
The following reveals some of the early successes and failures
of that machine.
on the morning of july 21, 1962, israelis woke up to their
worst nightmare: Egypt’s newspapers reported the successful
test launch of four surface-to-surface missiles. Two days later,
the Egyptian military paraded the missiles through Cairo. Some
300 foreign diplomats watched the spectacle, as did President
Gamal Abdel Nasser. He proudly declared that the military was
now capable of hitting any point “south of Beirut.” The implication was clear: Israel was in Nasser’s crosshairs.
The next day, a broadcast delivered in Hebrew from Egyptbased radio station “The Voice of Thunder from Cairo” was
more explicit. “These missiles are intended to open the gates of
freedom for the Arabs,” the anchorman boasted, “to retake the
homeland that was stolen as part of imperialist and Zionist plots.”
A few weeks later, Israelis learned that a team of German scientists had played an integral role in developing these missiles. World
War II had ended 17 years earlier, and suddenly the traumas of the
Holocaust, suffused as they were with images of German scientists
in Wehrmacht uniforms, gave way to a new and different existential threat: weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Israel’s
new great enemy, Nasser, whom Israelis regarded as the Adolf
Hitler of the Middle East. “Former German Nazis are now helping
Nasser in his anti-Israeli genocide projects” was how the Jewish
press described the news. And the Mossad, to say nothing of its
political and military leaders, had been caught unaware, learning
of Egypt’s missile project mere days before the test launch. It was a
devastating reminder of the little country’s vulnerability.
The German scientists developing the Egyptian missiles
weren’t obscure technicians. They were some of the Nazi regime’s
most senior engineers, men who’d worked during the war at the
The bullet hit
the glass and
and then hit
scarf, but it
missed his body.
research base at Peenemünde, a peninsula on the Baltic coast
where the Third Reich’s most advanced weaponry was developed.
“I felt helpless,” said Asher Ben-Natan, the director general of the
Defense Ministry, “as if the sky were falling on our heads. [David]
Ben-Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister] spoke again and again of
the nightmare that kept him awake at night—that he had brought
the surviving Jews of Europe to the state of Israel, only for them
here, in their own country, to undergo a second Holocaust.”
The Mossad, which was created shortly after the formation of
Israel in 1948 to monitor and protect the country against external
threats, conducted a top-secret inquiry into the affair in 1982. It
described Egypt’s 1962 announcement of the missile project as
“one of the most important and traumatic events in the history
of the Israeli intelligence community.”
Mossad chief Isser Harel placed the entire agency on high alert.
An atmosphere of crisis swept through every corridor of the intelligence service. The agency’s operatives immediately began breaking into Egyptian diplomatic embassies and consulates in several
European capitals to photograph documents. They were also able
PUBLIC ENEMY When Israel learned that Nasser, above and to
the left, was working with German scientists on surface-to-surface
missiles, the nation was horrified. It harked back to the trauma of
the Holocaust. At left, a member of the SS shoots a Polish Jew.
to recruit a Swiss employee at the Zurich office of EgyptAir—a
company that occasionally served as cover for Nasser’s intelligence agencies. The Swiss employee allowed Mossad operatives
to take the mailbags at night, twice a week, to a safe house. The
operatives opened their contents and photocopied them, then
experts resealed them, leaving no sign they’d been tampered with,
before returning the mailbags to the airline office. Soon, the Mossad had a preliminary understanding of what Cairo was planning.
The Egyptian project had been initiated by two internationally
known scientists, Eugen Sänger and Wolfgang Pilz. During the war,
they had played key roles at Peenemünde Army Research Center. In
1954, they joined the Research Institute of Jet Propulsion Physics, in
Stuttgart. Sänger headed this prestigious body. Pilz and two other
veteran Wehrmacht specialists, Paul Goercke and Heinz Krug, were
heads of departments. But this group, feeling underemployed and
underutilized in postwar West Germany, approached the Egyptian
regime in 1959 and offered to recruit and lead a group of scientists
to develop long-range surface-to-surface rockets. Nasser readily
agreed and appointed one of his closest military advisers, General
’Isam al-Din Mahmoud Khalil, former director of air force intelligence and the chief of the Egyptian army’s research and development, to coordinate the program. Khalil set up a compartmentalized system, separate from the rest of the Egyptian army, for the
German scientists, who first arrived in Egypt for a visit in April 1960.
In late 1961, Sänger, Pilz and Goercke relocated to Egypt and recruited about 35 highly experienced German scientists and technicians to join them. The facilities in Egypt contained test fields, laboratories and luxurious living quarters for the expats, who were well paid.
Krug, however, remained in Germany, where he set up a company
called Intra Commercial, which was the group’s European front.
Almost as soon as the Mossad gained a basic grasp of the
situation, however, more bad news arrived. On August 16, 1962,
a grave-faced Harel came to see Ben-Gurion, bringing with him
a document from the Egyptian intelligence mailbags that had
been photocopied two days before in Zurich.
The Israelis were in shock. The document was an order written in 1962 by Pilz, to the project managers in Egypt, and it
included a list of the materials that needed to be acquired in
Europe for the manufacture of 900 missiles. The document also
raised fears among Israeli experts that the Egyptians’ true aim
was to arm the missiles with radioactive and chemical warheads.
Ben-Gurion convened urgent meetings with his top defense
officials. Harel had a plan. Sort of. The intelligence collected
so far revealed a weakness in the missile project: The guidance
systems were lagging so far behind, they were borderline nonfunctional, which meant the missiles could not go into mass
production. As long as this was the case, Egypt would need the
German scientists. Without them, the project would collapse.
Harel’s plan, then, was to kidnap or to eliminate the Germans.
‘We’ll Finish You Off’
toward the end of august 1962, harel went to europe to
put his plan into action. The weather was getting cold, heralding
the worst winter in many years. After two weeks of trying and
failing to surveil Pilz, Harel decided to act against Krug.
On September 10 at 5:30 p.m., a man who introduced himself as
Saleh Qaher called on Krug’s home in Munich. He said that he was
speaking on behalf of Colonel Said Nadim, Khalil’s chief aide, and
that Nadim had to meet Krug “right away, on an important matter.”
Qaher added, in the friendliest of tones, that Nadim, whom Krug
knew well, sent his regards and was waiting for him at the Ambassador Hotel in Munich. The matter at hand, Qaher said, was a deal
that would make a tidy profit for Krug. It was impossible to discuss
it at the Intra office because of its special nature.
These missiles
are intended
to open the
for the Arabs.
Krug didn’t see this as unusual, and he accepted the invitation. What he didn’t know: Qaher was actually an old Mossad
hand, whom we’ll call Oded. Born in Iraq, he had been active in
the Zionist underground there, fleeing the country in 1949 after
almost being caught. He’d gone to regular schools in Baghdad,
with Muslims, and could pass for Arab.
Krug met him in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel. “We,
Colonel Nadim and I, need you for an important job,” Oded
said. The next day, he went to the Intra offices to pick up Krug
and take him in a taxi to meet Nadim at a villa outside the city.
“He never suspected for a moment that I wasn’t who I said I was,”
says Oded. “I flattered Krug and told him how we, in Egyptian
intelligence, appreciate his services and contribution.”
The two arrived at the house where Krug believed Nadim was
waiting for him. They got out of the car. A woman opened the
front door, and Krug went in. The door closed. Oded, as planned,
remained outside. Three other operatives were waiting inside.
They stunned Krug with a few blows, gagged him and tied him
up. When he came to, he was examined by a French Jewish doctor
recruited by the team. He thought Krug was suffering from slight
shock, so he recommended not giving him sedation shots until
later. A German-speaking Mossad operative told Krug, “You are a
prisoner. Do exactly what we say, or we’ll finish you off.”
Krug promised to obey, and he was placed in a secret compartment built into one of the vehicles, a Volkswagen camper, and
the whole squad, including Harel, set out for the French border.
By the time, they reached Marseille, Krug had been sedated,
and he was soon placed on an El Al plane flying Jewish North African immigrants to Israel. The Mossad handlers told the French
authorities he was a sick immigrant.
Meanwhile, the Mossad launched a wide-ranging disinformation operation, with a man resembling Krug and carrying documents in his name traveling around South America, leaving a
paper trail indicating Krug had simply grabbed the money and
run. Simultaneously, the Mossad leaked disinformation to the
media saying Krug had quarreled with Khalil and his people and
had apparently been abducted and murdered by them.
In Israel, Krug was imprisoned in a secret Mossad installation
A PR I L 20, 2018
Who Can Kill More Germans?
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
Egypt’s missile program caught him and other top Israeli leaders by
surprise. It was a terrifying reminder of the tiny nation’s vulnerability.
and subjected to harsh interrogation. At first he remained silent,
but he soon began cooperating, and over the course of several
months he “yielded much fruit,” according to a Mossad report.
“The man had a good memory and he knew all of the organizational-administrative details of the missile project.” The documents
that were in his briefcase were also useful. The report concluded,
“This data made it possible to build up an intelligence encyclopedia.”
Krug even volunteered to go back to Munich and work as a Mossad agent. Eventually, though, after it seemed that Krug had told his
interrogators everything he knew, the Mossad pondered what to do
with him. Complying with his offer to go back to Munich would be
very dangerous—Krug could betray his new controllers, go to the
police and tell them how the Israelis had abducted a German citizen
on German soil. Harel chose the easier way out, apparently without
informing his boss, the prime minister. He ordered one of his men
to take Krug to a deserted spot north of Tel Aviv and shoot him.
When it was over, an air force plane picked up the body and
dumped it into the sea.
the success of the krug operation spurred ben-gurion to
approve more targeted killing operations. He authorized the use
of Military Intelligence (AMAN) Unit 188, a secret outfit that put
Israeli soldiers under false cover inside enemy countries.
Harel resented Unit 188. Since the mid-1950s, he had been
trying to persuade Ben-Gurion to transfer it to the Mossad or
at least to put him in charge of it. But the army was vehemently
opposed to this idea, and Ben-Gurion turned him down.
The head of AMAN, Major General Meir Amit, didn’t believe
the German scientists were as grave a threat to Israel as Harel did.
Yet because of the interorganizational rivalry with the Mossad, he
demanded that his unit also be permitted to act against them. An
intense competition over who would kill more Germans began.
During that time, Unit 188 had a veteran operative under deep
cover in Egypt. His name was Wolfgang Lotz, and he was the perfect mole. The son of a gentile father and a Jewish mother, he was
uncircumcised and looked German—tall and blond with pale
skin. He created a cover story as a former Wehrmacht officer in
General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps who had become a horse
breeder and returned to Egypt to start a stud farm.
Within a short time, Lotz, a gifted actor, had become an integral
part of the growing German social circle in Cairo. He supplied Unit
188 with many details about the missile projects and its personnel.
He could not, however, eliminate them in actions that would require his direct participation, for fear he would be exposed. Yosef
Yariv, the head of Unit 188, decided that the best way to do away
with the German scientists would be to use letter and parcel bombs.
Yariv ordered Natan Rotberg, the assassination explosive expert of Unit 188, to start preparing the bombs. Rotberg was working on a new type of explosive: thin, flexible “sheets of explosive
material, developed for civilian purposes, which were meant to
fuse two pieces of steel when they went off ” and would allow
him to make more compact charges. “We had to develop a system
that could be kept unarmed and safe during all the shuffling that
a letter goes through in the mail system, and then go off at the
right time,” Rotberg explained. “The envelope’s mechanism thus
worked in such a way that the bomb was armed not when it was
opened, which would make the whole thing very explosive, but
only when the contents were drawn out.” (French intelligence
collaborated on the research and development.)
The first target to be sent one of the letter bombs was Alois Brunner, a Nazi who had been an Adolf Eichmann deputy and served as
commander of a concentration camp in France, sending 130,000
Jews to their deaths. Unit 188 located him in Damascus, Syria,
where he’d been living for eight years under an assumed name.
The Arab countries gave asylum to more than a few Nazis, and in
exchange they received various services. Brunner helped train the
interrogation and torture units of the Syrian secret services.
‘This Is the Target—Go Kill Him’
the blasts frightened the scientists and their families
but didn’t make them give up their cushy jobs. Instead, Egyptian
intelligence hired the services of an expert German security officer, a
former SS man named Hermann Adolf Vallentin. He visited the Intra
offices and the project’s suppliers, advising them on security precautions, from replacing the locks to securing their mail deliveries.
The next target on Harel’s hit list was Hans Kleinwächter and his
laboratory in the West German town of Lorch, which had been hired
to develop a guidance system for the missiles. Harel sent the Birds—an
operational unit used by both the Mossad and the Shin Bet, Israel’s
domestic security service—to Europe to abduct or kill him if necessary.
Harel set up his headquarters in the French city of Mulhouse.
Birds commander Eitan recalls: “It’s the middle of the winter, horrible snow, bone-chilling cold.… Isser is furious, sitting in some
boarding house in France, beyond the Rhine. He shows me some
A PR I L 20, 2018
He was found with the help of Eli Cohen, one of the unit’s top
agents, who was active inside the upper echelons of the Syrian
defense establishment. After Ben-Gurion gave his approval for the
elimination of Brunner, Yariv decided to try out one of Rotberg’s
devices on the Nazi. “We sent him a little gift,” said Rotberg.
On September 13, 1962, Brunner received a large envelope in
Damascus. It exploded after he opened it. He suffered severe facial injuries and lost his left eye, but he survived.
Still, encouraged by having gotten the bomb delivered to the
target, Unit 188 was eager to use the same method against the
German scientists. The Mossad objected. As Rafi Eitan, a senior
operative of the organization, explained to me, “I oppose any
action that I don’t control. The mailman can open the envelope,
a child can open the envelope. Who does things like that?”
Getting to the Germans in Egypt turned out to be a very complicated matter; they didn’t receive their mail directly. Egyptian
intelligence collected all of the mail for the project and its personnel at the offices of EgyptAir, where it was sent on to Cairo. So
the Mossad and Unit 188 decided to break into the airline office
at night and place the exploding envelopes into the mailbags.
Using a new method for opening locks with a sophisticated
master key, Mossad operatives entered the Frankfurt offices of
EgyptAir on November 16. The break-in specialist was half-hidden behind a female operative as they leaned together against
the door like a couple of lovers. The team went inside the office
but failed to find the mailbag. The next day, they tried again.
While they were busy with the door, a janitor appeared, totally
inebriated. There were no women with the team this time, so
two of the men pretended to make out and managed to escape
without arousing the janitor’s suspicion. The next night, the
operatives tried again, and this time it went smoothly. The
pouch of mail was on one of the desks. The team inserted the
booby-trapped envelopes into the bags.
The Israelis had selected Pilz as the prime target. The intelligence
gathered about him indicated he was divorcing his wife so he could
wed his secretary, Hannelore Wende. The wife lived in Berlin, but
she had hired a lawyer from Hamburg. So the letter bomb targeting
Pilz was designed to look as if it had come from that lawyer, with his
logo and address appearing on the back. “The planners of the project assumed that such a personal item of mail wouldn’t be opened
by Wende,” said the final report on the operation.
But the planners were wrong. Wende, who received the letter
on November 27, opened it. The envelope exploded in her hands,
blowing off some of her fingers, blinding her in one eye and ripping some of her teeth out of her gums. The Egyptian authorities
realized what was going on. Using X-ray machines, they located
the other booby-trapped mail items, then handed them over to
be defused by specialists from Soviet intelligence in Cairo.
The Israeli operation had ended in failure.
SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON Harel, the Mossad chief,
became obsessed with the German scientists behind Egypt’s
missile program, believing they were attempting to carry out a
second Holocaust. The obsession ultimately cost him his job.
pictures and says, ‘This is the target—go kill him.’”
But the Birds, who had been helping Unit 188 in previous months,
were exhausted. Eitan recalled telling Harel that the circumstances
were not ripe for a targeted killing, that they needed “to wait a bit
and create a trap of our own, not just shoot people in the street.”
But Harel wouldn’t listen. On January 21, 1963, he dismissed the
Birds and called in Mifratz, the Mossad targeted killing unit commanded by Yitzhak Shamir (a future prime minister of Israel), to have
Kleinwächter taken care of. What Harel didn’t know was that Vallentin had figured out that Kleinwächter would be the Mossad’s next
target. He gave him a series of briefings, made sure he was constantly
accompanied by an escort and gave him an Egyptian military pistol.
On February 20, a Mossad lookout saw Kleinwächter alone on
the road from Lorch to Basel, Switzerland. They decided to make
their move when he got back. Shamir, who, together with Harel,
commanded the operation in the field, assigned the job of firing
the shots to a trained assassin named Akiva Cohen. Harel also sent a
senior operative, the German-speaking Zvi Aharoni (who, two years
earlier located Eichmann in Argentina and later helped bring him to
face justice in Israel). They waited for the target to get back in the evening. But he didn’t show up, and the Israelis called the operation off.
A few minutes later, Kleinwächter finally appeared, and the
operation resumed. The Mifratz operatives’ car blocked Kleinwächter’s, Aharoni got out and went up to Kleinwächter, pretend-
He began leaking
stories to the
press about
NAZIS building
weapons for
Arabs to kill Jews.
ing to ask for directions. The idea was to get him to open the
window. He began doing so. Cohen, who approached Aharoni
from behind, drew his gun, tried to aim it through the open window and fired. The bullet hit the glass and shattered it, then hit
Kleinwächter’s scarf, but it missed Kleinwächter’s body. For some
unknown reason, the pistol didn’t fire again.
Aharoni saw that the plan had failed and yelled at everyone to
abscond. But the way both vehicles had stopped on the narrow
road prevented the Mossad men from fleeing in their car, so
they ran off in different directions.
As they fled, Kleinwächter drew his pistol and began firing
at the Israelis. He didn’t hit anyone, but the operation was yet
another missed opportunity.
The Butcher of Buchenwald
harel then launched a number of operations aimed at
intimidating the scientists and their families, including anonymous letters threatening their lives and visits in the middle of the
night offering similar warnings.
These also failed when the Swiss police arrested a Mossad operative named Joseph Ben-Gal after he threatened Paul Goercke’s
daughter, Heidi. Ben-Gal was extradited to Germany, convicted
and sentenced to a short term in prison.
By the spring of 1963, Harel’s Mossad hadn’t slowed the Egyptians’ progress. So Harel began leaking stories to the press—
some true, some embellished, some outright lies (that the Germans were helping Egypt produce atomic bombs and deadly
lasers)—about Nazis building weapons for Arabs to kill Jews.
Harel was totally convinced that the German scientists were
Nazis, still determined to complete the Final Solution and that
the German authorities were aware of their activities but doing
nothing to stop them. In reality, according to the 1982 Mossad
report on the affair, they had become accustomed to wealth
under the Third Reich, had become unemployed when it fell
and now were simply trying to make money off the Egyptians.
But Harel dragged the whole country along with his obsession.
To prove his claims, Harel presented information gathered in
Cairo about a Dr. Hans Eisele, the Butcher of Buchenwald, who’d
been involved in appalling experiments on Jewish inmates. He was
designated a war criminal but escaped trial and found a comfortable refuge in Egypt, where he became the physician of the German
scientists. Harel also fingered a number of other Nazis in Cairo,
though none of them belonged to the group of missile scientists.
His goal was to publicly vilify Germany, with which Israel had
a complicated relationship. Relative moderates such as Ben-Gurion and his chief aide, Shimon Peres (also a future prime minister)
disagreed with Harel’s approach. At a time when the United States
was reluctant to provide Israel with all the military and economic
aid it asked for, the fledgling nation, they maintained, could not
afford to jeopardize the economic and military assistance it was
receiving from the West German government. Hard-liners such
as Golda Meir and Harel, on the other hand, rejected the notion
that the Federal Republic of Germany was a “new” or “different”
country. History, to their minds, had left a permanent stain.
Harel also called in the Editors Committee, a unique Israeli
institution, then composed of the top editors of the media, that
self-censored items at the government’s request. He asked the committee to provide him with three journalists, whom he subsequently recruited. They were sent to Europe, at the Mossad’s expense, to
gather intelligence about the front companies that were buying
equipment for the Egyptian project. Harel claimed he needed the
journalists for operational reasons, but he wanted to use their
involvement and the materials they collected to launder information he already possessed; as such, it could be disseminated to the
foreign and Israeli media to manufacture newspaper reports and
HIT JOB After kidnapping and interrogating Krug, top right, Harel’s
Mossad killed him in a deserted spot north of Tel Aviv. Later, Amit,
bottom right, took over the intelligence service and changed its
approach to Egypt’s missiles. Below, Cairo December 1962.
create a climate suited to his purposes. Harel’s stories generated a
media frenzy and a growing sense of panic in Israel. Ben-Gurion
tried to calm him down, to no avail. “He [Harel] was not, in my
opinion, quite sane,” said Amos Manor, the Shin Bet chief at the
time. “You couldn’t have a rational conversation about it with him.”
It ended, as most obsessions do, in Harel’s own destruction. His
publicity campaign, the frenzied newspaper stories he’d planted
about Hitler’s minions rising again, badly wounded Ben-Gurion.
Critics such as Menachem Begin, the opposition leader, attacked
the prime minister for not having done enough to stop the threat
posed by the German scientists—a threat Israelis saw as a danger
to their existence—and for leading his country into a conciliation
with West Germany, which now seemed to be at least indirectly
responsible for a new Final Solution.
On March 25, 1963, Ben-Gurion summoned Harel to his office;
the Mossad chief had carried out some of his media operations
without the prime minister’s approval and now his boss was upset.
The prime minister reminded Harel that he was supposed to implement government policy, not set it. Offended by the rebuke, Harel
offered his resignation, confident the Old Man, as Ben-Gurion was
They know how
to persuade a
person to BETRAY
everyone he
believes in: his
friends and family,
his organization,
his nation.
known, couldn’t manage without him and would beg him to stay.
Ben-Gurion thought otherwise. He accepted the resignation on
the spot. Harel’s once brilliant career ended in a failed bluff and utter defeat. He was immediately replaced by Amit, the chief of AMAN.
But it was too late for Ben-Gurion, too. Harel’s campaign had
played into the hands of Begin, among others. Less than two
months after replacing Harel, Ben-Gurion resigned, convinced he’d
lost the support of his own party. He was replaced by Levi Eshkol.
56 Burglaries and 30,000 Documents
amit, one of the israeli defense forces’ brilliant young
commanders, took over a Mossad in disarray. The agency was
deeply demoralized. In the nine months since Egypt had announced its four missile tests, the Israelis had learned little about
the program, and everything the Mossad and AMAN had tried
had failed to even slow the project, let alone dismantle it. Pressuring Germany had made no difference.
Amit set about rebuilding the organization, reinforcing it with
the best personnel he knew from AMAN. As soon as he took over,
he ordered a halt to any matters that he considered extraneous,
and a drastic reduction of the resources being devoted to the
hunt for Nazi criminals, explaining, “We have to produce information about the enemies of the state of Israel nowadays.” Amit
knew that he needed a tactical reset, and that the Mossad had to
rethink its approach to the problem of Egyptian missiles.
His first order, then, was for a shift away from targeted killing
operations and for the vast majority of his resources to be focused
instead on trying to understand what was going on inside the missile project. Secretly, however, with most of the top officials of the
organization out of the loop, he prepared a targeted killing project
of his own against the scientists. Operations personnel were trying
to find ways to send parcel bombs from inside Egypt, significantly shortening the time between the sending and opening of the
package. They tried out the method on a relatively easy target, the
physician Eisele. On September 25, 1963, there was a blast in the
post office in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Maadi: A letter
bomb that had been addressed to Dr. Carl Debouche, the false
name Eisele was using, exploded and blinded a postal worker.
The failure of this operation convinced Amit that targeted
killings should be used only sparingly. Nevertheless, he ordered
the Mossad to prepare plans to shoot, blow up or poison the scientists in case nonviolent means proved ineffective.
Amit ordered the Mossad to step up break-ins at all the offices
connected to the missile project in West Germany and Switzerland.
These operations were enormously complex. The sites were well
guarded—both by Egyptian intelligence and by the men under Vallentin, the German project’s security chief—in the hearts of crowded European cities, in countries where the law was strictly enforced.
Mossad operatives burglarized the Egyptian embassies, the
Egyptian purchasing mission in Cologne and the Intra office
in Munich. They broke into the EgyptAir office in Frankfurt no
fewer than 56 times between August 1964 and December 1966.
The information they obtained (operatives photographed some
30,000 documents up to the end of 1964 alone) was important,
but far from sufficient. The Mossad had to recruit someone on
the inside of the missile project. This critical task was assigned to
a division called Junction, which was responsible for bringing in
the bulk of the organization’s human intelligence.
Unlike in Hollywood movies, most of this information is not
collected directly by Mossad employees darting about in the shadows. Rather, it is gleaned from foreign nationals in their home
countries. The Mossad case officers responsible for recruiting
and operating these sources are called “collection officers,” and
they are expert psychologists. They know how to persuade a person to betray everything and everyone he believes in: his friends
and family, his organization, his nation.
But none had been able to work on anyone close to the Egyptian
program. Recruiting agents in Arab countries became a long-term
priority, but in the short run, Junction would have to look elsewhere.
‘A Favorite of the Führer’
in april 1964, amit sent eitan to paris, which served as the
nerve center of Israeli intelligence, to run Junction’s operations
in Europe. Vallentin was becoming more of a problem, and Junction needed to take care of him. Avraham Ahituv, Junction’s coordinator in Bonn, had an idea, and he presented it to Eitan in
Paris in May 1964. He’d identified a dubious character who’d sold
arms and intelligence to the Nasser regime and also was close to
the German scientists. “There is just one small problem,” Ahituv
said. “The man’s name is Otto Skorzeny, and he was a high-ranking Wehrmacht officer, Hitler’s special operations commander,
and a favorite of the Führer.”
“And you want to recruit this Otto?” Eitan asked sarcastically.
In 1960, Ahituv told Eitan, Harel had ordered Amal, the unit that
handled the hunt for Nazi war criminals, to gather as much information as possible about Skorzeny, with the goal of bringing him to
justice or killing him. His file said he was an enthusiastic member
of the Austrian Nazi Party, had enlisted in 1935 to a secret SS unit
in Austria and had taken part in Kristallnacht. He rose rapidly in
rank in the Waffen-SS, becoming head of its special operations units.
Skorzeny parachuted into Iran and trained local tribes to blow
up oil pipelines serving the Allied armies, and he plotted to murder the Big Three—Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Franklin
Roosevelt. He also had a plan for abducting and killing U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower. Skorzeny was even personally selected by
Hitler to lead the Gran Sasso raid, which successfully extricated
Benito Mussolini, the Führer’s friend and ally, from the Alpine
BAD COMPANY Skorzeny, left, was a high-ranking Wehrmacht officer
and Hitler’s special operations commander. He later became a key
agent in the most important Israeli intelligence operation of its time.
villa where he was being held prisoner by the Italian government.
Allied intelligence called Skorzeny “the most dangerous man in
Europe.” He was not, however, convicted of war crimes. He was
acquitted by one tribunal, and after he was re-arrested on other
charges, he escaped with the help of his SS friends. He took refuge in Francisco Franco’s Spain, where he established profitable
commercial relations with fascist regimes from around the world.
Skorzeny’s acquaintance with the scientists in Egypt, and the
fact that he’d been a superior officer to Vallentin during the war,
was enough, in Eitan’s view, to justify trying to recruit him, despite
his Nazi past. Eitan felt that if it helped Israel, it was worth it.
Through a number of intermediaries, the Mossad established
contact with Countess Ilse von Finckenstein—Skorzeny’s wife. She
would serve as the Mossad’s entrée. The agency’s file on the countess says that she was “a member of the aristocracy. She is a cousin
of the German [prewar] Finance Minister Hjalmar Schacht.… She
is 45, a fairly attractive woman, brimming over with energy.”
“She was involved in everything,” said Raphael “Raphi” Medan,
the German-born Mossad operative who was assigned to the mission. “She sold titles of nobility, had ties with Vatican intelligence
and sold arms as well.” She and her husband also had liberal ideas
about their relationship. “They didn’t have children,” Medan said,
“and they maintained an open marriage. Ilse always looked stunning. Every two years she underwent hormonal treatment in
Switzerland in order to preserve her youth.”
Medan “had had a reputation, because of his European good
Medan took
advantage of the
German couple’s
open marriage by
and eventually
taking her to bed.
He set up a meeting in a hotel lobby that evening, where he introduced the two. The Mossad’s internal final report on the affair,
though written in dry professional language, could not overlook
its intensity: “Avraham [Ahituv] is a scion of a religiously observant
family, a native of Germany educated in a religious Jewish school.
For him, the contact with a Nazi monster was a shocking emotional experience that went beyond the demands of the profession.”
In the detailed report Ahituv submitted, on September 14, 1964,
he described the talks he had that week with the former SS man:
looks, for being able to influence women,” according to the Mossad report on the affair. They set a meeting for late July 1964 in
Dublin. Medan introduced himself as an Israeli Defense Ministry employee on leave, looking for an opening in international
tourism. He might be interested in taking part in a Bahamas development project that the countess was involved in, he said. The
countess liked Medan, and when their business talk was over, she
invited him to a party at her farm. This was the start of a series of
meetings, including some wild partying in Europe.
According to a Mossad rumor that circulated for many years
and was gently hinted at in the reports but not explicitly stated,
Medan “sacrificed” himself for his country—and took advantage of
the German couple’s open marriage—by wooing the countess and
eventually taking her to bed. Medan, however, simply said, “There
are things that gentlemen do not speak about,” and described their
encounter, with a smile, as “good and even gratifying.”
‘A Life Without Fear’
in madrid, on the night of september 7, 1964, medan told
the countess that a friend of his from the Israeli Defense Ministry
wanted to meet her husband “about a very important matter.”
The friend was already in Europe and waiting for a reply.
Convincing von Finckenstein to cooperate was not difficult.
Only four years before, Israel had found, grabbed, tried and executed Eichmann. Powerful forces in the Jewish world, including
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, were trying to find and prosecute
Nazis like Skorzeny. Medan was able to offer the countess—and,
by extension, her husband—a “life without fear,” as Eitan put it.
The next morning, von Finckenstein informed Medan that
her husband was ready to meet his friend—that night, if possible. The Mossad operative called Junction’s Ahituv to Madrid.
Skorzeny was a giant. A hulk of a man. He was obviously
remarkably strong physically. On his left cheek was the well
known scar from his pictures, reaching his ear.
Two moments gave me a shock. Skorzeny was looking for
a number in his phone book to give me. [H]e took a monocle
out of his pocket and stuck it into his right eye socket. His
appearance then, what with his bodily dimensions, the scar,
and his aggressive gaze, made him look like the complete Nazi.
The second incident happened after our meeting, when we
were dining together in a restaurant near his office. Suddenly,
someone came up to us, clicked his heels together loudly, and
greeted him in German as “My General.” Skorzeny told me
that this was the owner of the restaurant and he used to be
one of the top Nazis in those parts.
They spoke about the war and the Holocaust, among other
things, and Ahituv brought up the issue of Skorzeny’s participation
in the Kristallnacht pogroms. He pulled out a long list of people
who had taken part in the attacks and presented it to Skorzeny,
who was familiar with the document because the accusation had
been raised and discussed during his war crimes trial.
He pointed to an X inked next to his name. “That’s proof that I
did not participate,” he said, though Nazi hunter Wiesenthal interpreted the mark as proof of just the opposite. Skorzeny complained
that Wiesenthal was hunting him and that more than once he had
found himself in a situation where he “feared for his life.” Ahituv
decided not to stretch the point too far and did not argue.
At a certain point, Skorzeny got tired of talking about the war.
“It was clear that there was no point in playing hide-and-seek,”
Ahituv wrote. “I told him I was in the Israeli [intelligence] service.
[Skorzeny said that] he wasn’t surprised we had gotten to him. He
was definitely prepared for an exchange of views with us as well.”
“An exchange of views” was Skorzeny’s delicate way of saying
that he agreed to full and comprehensive cooperation with Israel.
Skorzeny demanded a price for his help. He wanted a valid Austrian
passport issued in his real name; a writ of lifetime immunity from
prosecution, signed by Prime Minister Eshkol; and his immediate removal from Wiesenthal’s list of wanted Nazis, as well as some money.
Skorzeny’s conditions sparked a sharp argument in the Mossad.
The Final Blow
skorzeny’s first step was to send word to his friends in
Egypt that he was reviving a network of SS and Wehrmacht veterans to establish a Fourth Reich. To prepare the groundwork, he
would tell them, his organization had to secretly gather information. The German scientists working for Nasser would thus be
required, under their Wehrmacht oaths, to provide Skorzeny’s
phantom organization with the details of their missile research so
it could be used by the new German military force in the making.
At the same time, Skorzeny and Ahituv also masterminded a
plan to get information out of Vallentin, the formidable security
officer, who knew everything about the Egyptian missile project.
Unlike with the recruitment of the sophisticated and experienced Skorzeny, who was aware he was dealing with a Mossad
man, and whom Ahituv never tried to mislead, the two decided
to use some subterfuge on Vallentin.
Skorzeny played his part perfectly. He summoned Vallentin to
Madrid under the pretense that he was hosting a special gathering
for his subordinates from the “glorious war.” He put the security
chief up, at Mossad expense, in a luxurious hotel and presented
him with his phony plan for reviving the Reich. Then he revealed
that this was not his only reason for the invitation to Madrid and
that he wanted him to meet “a close friend,” an officer of the British
MI6 secret service. The British, he said, were interested in what
was going on in Egypt, and he asked Vallentin to help his friend.
Vallentin was suspicious. “Are you sure the Israelis aren’t involved?” he asked.
“Apologize!” Skorzeny fired back. “How dare you say something
like that to your superior officer!”
Vallentin apologized, but he wasn’t convinced. And he was right.
Skorzeny’s “friend” was no Brit but an Australian-born case officer
in the Mossad named Harry Barak. Vallentin agreed to meet him
but not to cooperate, and the meeting between the two led nowhere.
Skorzeny immediately came up with a solution. At his next meeting with Vallentin, he told him that his friend from MI6 had reminded him that a cable Skorzeny had sent near the end of the war, in
which he notified the general staff that he was promoting Vallentin,
had not reached its destination. He was being retroactively promoted.
The security chief ’s eyes lit up. The move was purely symbolic,
but it clearly meant a lot to him. He stood up and gave the “Heil
Hitler” salute and thanked Skorzeny profusely.
THE NAZI HUNTER Wiesenthal, above, refused to take Skorzeny
off his list of Nazi war criminals, despite a request from the Mossad.
Below, Jewish women in Linz, Austria, during Kristallnacht.
A PR I L 20, 2018
Ahituv and Eitan saw in them “an operational constraint and
a requirement for the success of the operation.” Other senior
officials argued that they were “an attempt by a Nazi criminal to
cleanse his name,” and they demanded a new look at Skorzeny’s
past. This new investigation revealed further details about the
role he played on Kristallnacht, “as the leader of one of the mobs
that burned synagogues in Vienna,” and that “until recently, he
was an active supporter of neo-Nazi organizations.”
Amit, practical and unemotional as always, thought that Eitan and Ahituv were right, but he needed the moral support of
the prime minister. Eshkol listened to Amit and consulted some
of the high-ranking Mossad members who were Holocaust survivors (unlike Amit, Eitan and Ahituv, who were not), hearing
their vehement objections. Nevertheless, he finally approved
giving Skorzeny money, a passport and immunity.
The prime minister also approved the request concerning Wiesenthal, but that wasn’t his decision to make, or the Mossad’s.
Wiesenthal was an opinionated and obstinate man. Although
he had close links to the Mossad, which financed some of his
operations, he wasn’t an Israeli citizen, and he worked out of
Vienna, outside of Israel’s jurisdiction.
In October 1964, Medan met with Wiesenthal to discuss, without elaborating about the operation, why Skorzeny had to be removed from his blacklist. “To my astonishment,” Medan recalled,
“Wiesenthal said, ‘Herr Medan, there is not a chance. This is a Nazi
and a war criminal, and we will never strike him from our list.’”
Skorzeny was disappointed but still agreed to the deal. The
Führer’s favorite, a man wanted all over the world as a Nazi war
criminal, had become a key agent in the most important Israeli
intelligence operation of its time.
Two of the men
pretended to be
making out, and
ESCAPE without
arousing the
suspicion of the
drunken janitor.
The latter told Vallentin he was ready to give him a written
document confirming his promotion. Vallentin was grateful to
his new friend from British intelligence for the information he
had provided, and he agreed to help him as much as he wanted.
In time, Skorzeny invited other former Wehrmacht officers
involved in the missile project to Madrid. They attended lavish
parties at his home, billed as gatherings of Waffen-SS special
forces veterans. His guests ate, drank and enjoyed themselves late
into the night, never knowing that the Israeli government was
paying for their food and drinks and bugging their conversations.
The information provided by Skorzeny, Vallentin and the scientists
who came to Madrid solved most of the Mossad’s information problem regarding Egypt’s missile program. It identified who was involved
in the project and what the current status of each component was.
Thanks to the information from this operation, Amit’s Mossad
managed to destroy the missile project from the inside, using a number of methods. The intel agency, for instance, was able to identify
a secret Egyptian plan to recruit scores of workers from the Hellige
aircraft and rocket factory in Freiburg who were about to be dismissed. Amit decided to take advantage of the momentum to carry
out a quick move aimed at preventing their departure for Egypt.
On the morning of December 9, 1963, Peres, then deputy
defense minister, and Medan carried a locked case containing
a number of documents in English that was based on material
supplied by Skorzeny and Vallentin, among others, and flew off
for a meeting with one of West Germany’s senior politicians,
former defense minister Franz Josef Strauss.
The information Peres presented to Strauss was far more detailed and grave than anything that had been presented to the
Germans previously. “It is inconceivable that German scientists
would help our worst enemy in such a manner, while you stand
idly by,” Peres told Strauss, who must have grasped what leaking
this material to the international press would mean.
Strauss looked at the documents and agreed to intervene. He
called Ludwig Bölkow, a powerful figure in the German aerospace
industry, and asked for his help. Bölkow sent his representatives to
offer the Hellige scientists and engineers jobs under good conditions
at his plants, as long as they’d promise not to help the Egyptians.
The plan worked. Most of the group’s members never went to
Egypt, where the missile program urgently needed their assistance
with the balky guidance systems—a development that fatally crippled the project. The final blow came when a representative of Bölkow’s arrived in Egypt to persuade the scientists already working
there to come home. One by one, they deserted the program, and
by July 1965 even Pilz was gone, having returned to Germany to
head one of Bölkow’s airplane component divisions.
The German scientists affair was the first time the Mossad mobilized all of its forces to stop what it perceived as an existential threat
from an adversary, and the first time Israel allowed itself to target
civilians from countries with which it had diplomatic relations. In
its 1982 report, the Mossad analyzed whether it would have been
possible to resolve the affair using “soft” methods—generous offers
of money from the German government to the scientists—without
“the mysterious disappearance of Krug, or the bomb that maimed
Hannelore Wende, or the other letter bombs and the intimidation.”
The report concluded that it would not have been possible.
The Mossad believed that without the threat of violence directed
at them, the German scientists would not have been willing to
accept the money and abandon the project.
This story is based on an excerpt from the New York Times best-seller
rise and kill first: the secret history of israel’s targeted assassinations (Random House 2018). While writing the book, the author
met with 1,000 sources—from Israeli prime ministers and heads of
the Mossad to the assassins themselves. He also obtained thousands
of new, relevant documents about the Israeli spy agencies.
A PR I L 20, 2018
Photographs by
Years of coal extraction
have left areas like
Ptolemaida, in northern
Greece, unrecognizable.
“You feel like you’re no
longer on Earth,” says
Pantelia. “I couldn’t
find anything to make a
connection with, to say,
‘Oh, this reminds me of this
thing.’ It’s very sad.”
he belching smokestacks of ptolemaida’s
coal-fired energy plant are a sign of opportunity
for Greeks who lost their jobs after the country’s
financial meltdown in 2007. For many others,
however, they’re a symbol of the European Union’s hypocrisy.
In April 2017, the EU approved new regulations aimed at cutting toxic emissions from burning dirty fuels, such as coal. “Air
pollution is the prime environmental cause of premature death
in the European Union,” Enrico Brivio, a spokesman for the European Commission, told Reuters. Yet five months earlier, as part
of its continuing austerity measures, the bloc provided Greece
with 1.75 billion euros ($1.85 billion) to build two new coal plants.
Per The Guardian, they would emit more than 7 million tons of
carbon dioxide a year. A major backer: Germany, the EU’s most
powerful member and a self-proclaimed green energy leader.
“The EU is trying to get everything from poor European countries like Greece and the Balkans,” says photojournalist Anna Pantelia. “Give them all the refugees. Take all the coal from there.”
Pantelia, whose work includes photographing Greece’s refugee
crisis, spent five days at the Greek Public Power Corp.’s Ptolemaida mine last year documenting the human and environmental toll coal extraction has taken on her nation. PPC has dominated Greek energy production since the 1950s, and over the decades
its 625-square-mile mine—which will expand thanks to the EU’s
investment—has gobbled up villages, homes and lives in northern Greece and Western Macedonia. Thousands of people have
been displaced since 1976, and seven out of 10 deaths in Ptolemaida are due to cancer or thromboembolic disease, according
to the deputy regional health manager for Western Macedonia.
Yet coal mining has created an estimated 10,000 jobs in a region hard hit by the financial crisis. Men employed in mines and
plants get guaranteed contracts and salaries (some earn as little
as 680 euros ($837) per month, and the dignity of work is enough
to set aside the potential hazards of extracting lignite.
“I really appreciate these workers, and I know their value,”
says Pantelia. But her images are also powerful evidence that
there’s more at stake than jobs—even if well-off EU states can’t,
or won’t, admit it.
A PR I L 20, 2018
GRAY’S ANATOMY The attitude of the workers Pantelia met is one Americans reeling from the loss of mining and manufacturing opportunities will recognize,
and which Pantelia has compassion for. “These men, they haven’t studied anything, and they’re old now,” she says. “They have worked with this company
since they were very young. So they won’t find any other jobs. They feel like they have security, and they’re happy for that.”
HELL IS FOR HEROES Greece’s Public Power Corp. was unhappy with how Pantelia presented the mines and their impact, complaining her reportage was
one-sided. But the PPC and photographer were in agreement when it came to the workers. “We both believe these people are heroes,” she says. “It’s a very,
very difficult job. Even if it wasn’t the pollution, the environment inside the mines is very difficult. I keep telling them I really appreciate the work that they do
because they give electricity to the whole country.”
A PR I L 20, 2018
Because the jobs at the
mines provide steady
incomes in one of the
most distressed regions
of Greece, a sense of
gratitude can blind the
workers to the health
risks. “When they don’t see
something immediately,
they don’t care so much,”
says Pantelia. “Nobody
can prove that if someone
there has cancer, or asthma
or strokes, it’s because
of the coal mining. They
see the money that they
get into their accounts
every month—they don’t
see because of this job
they have all these health
problems. They believe they
would have them wherever
they were living.”
HAUNTED HOUSES Mining and excavation have turned surrounding villages into abandoned wastelands. “I went inside houses, and you could see beds
with pillows. You could see paintings. You could see books,” Pantelia says. “Now, it feels like nothing. It’s like all life can be erased that easily.” The image that
shocked her the most was a decaying Orthodox church in Charavgi, below, left standing because of the deep ties Greeks have to Christianity. “They destroyed
the whole village, but they kept the church. In general, I don’t believe in God, but when I saw this church, I went inside, I felt something.”
Kostas, above, is a security
guard at PPC, as was his
father, who died of cancer
when Kostas was 12. “Four
other men from his shift
lost their lives to cancer,”
says Pantelia. But he, at
least, made a choice to
stay. “The inhabitants of
the surrounding areas—
and the people who lost
their houses and have
been relocated—didn’t
choose to have this life or
to have this pollution in
their land,” she says. “This
is more tragic, if
you think about that.”
Duel in
the Sun
Tangled government regulations are
keeping Americans in the dark about
how best to protect themselves
from cancer-causing UV light
SKIN DEEP An illustration of stage 1 malignant
melanoma, meaning the cancer hasn’t spread to
the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
wear sunscreen, always. not just at the
beach but at all times, even in winter. When
it comes to skin care, that Michael Pollan–esque
adage is one that we can all agree on: Regular use
slows signs of aging and prevents exposure to the
harmful ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays that
cause skin cancer.
But for many Americans, sunscreen remains a
fraught subject. Products that use zinc oxide, the
most effective barrier between the skin and cancertriggering UV light, usually leave the skin with
that chalky white cast sometimes called “lifeguard
face.” And products that avoid zinc oxide by using
alcohol-based chemicals that the skin more readily
absorbs have prompted health concerns that deter
many Americans from using them.
Sunbathers elsewhere—in France, Japan and
Korea—have a lot more options, with access to sunscreens that absorb better, aren’t greasy and don’t
leave the face tinted white. Although most American sunscreens offer sufficient protection against
sunburn-causing UVB rays, European and Asian
formulations come equipped with the chemicals
Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Mexoryl SX and Mexoryl
XL—filtering agents that also stave off signs of
aging and subtler damage caused by UVA rays.
Since 1978, sunscreen in America has been
regulated as an over-the-counter nonprescription
drug, unlike in the European Union, where it’s
considered a cosmetic. To qualify as a sunscreen
in the U.S., a product must contain no more than
three of the 21 filtering agents that are approved
by the Food and Drug Administration. The filters
range from chemical blockers like para-aminobenzoic acid, which absorb ultraviolet radiation
and convert it into heat energy, to physical blockers such as zinc oxide, which reflect and scatter
the sun’s harmful rays before they can penetrate
the skin. And because the FDA considers them
drugs, any newly invented
chemicals for repelling
the sun’s dangerous rays
go through years of testing
and evaluation before they
can hit the market.
A PR I L 20, 2018
Since 1978,
sunscreen in
America has
been regulated
as an overthe-counter
drug, unlike in
the European
Union, where
it’s considered
a cosmetic.
Applications for the review of
newer sunscreen ingredients often
flounder for years—sometimes as
long as a decade—in backlogged
purgatory at the FDA; the last time
a new ingredient was allowed into
American sunscreens was 1999. In
2002, the agency established the
Time and Extent Applications process to fast-track the review process
on new ingredients that were already
available and in widespread use overseas, but it resulted in no decisions,
frustrating both skin cancer groups
and dermatologists. “Even though
they’re used by tens of millions of
people all over the world,” says Dr.
Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of
dermatology at New York University’s
Langone Medical Center, “they’re still
not available here.”
In 2014, after aggressive lobbying
from sunscreen advocates, cancer
awareness groups, dermatologists
and manufacturers, the Sunscreen
Innovation Act made its way through
the House and the Senate and was
signed by President Barack Obama.
The legislation required the agency
to clear its decades-long backlog of
chemicals under review and report
regularly to Congress. It also imposed
a 180-day deadline for a decision.
The results were not quite what the
act’s backers had wanted. By January
2015, the FDA had issued rejections
for six of the eight pending applications, and by February, it had denied
the remaining two. Its defense was
that the act demanded the agency
issue only a decision, not an approval.
The FDA further claimed that it didn’t
have enough scientific information
on the effects of the pending molecules when absorbed into the skin to
officially recognize them as safe and
effective. The agency also insisted on
more data from the manufacturers,
effectively engineering a stalemate
The Golden
Rules of
→ SPFstands for sun protection
factor and defines how well a
sunscreen can prevent UVB rays
from causing sunburn or any other
damage to the skin. Choose a
sunscreen that’s SPF 15 or higher.
→ Look for the words “broad
spectrum,” The term was purely a
marketing ploy until 2011, when
the FDA, in an uncharacteristically
brisk and effective ruling, began
holding manufacturers to stricter
standards for UV protections.
SPF measures protection against
UVB rays only. But if a sunscreen is
labeled “broad spectrum,” then it
contains agents that protect
against both UVA and UVB radiation
in proportion.
→ There is no such thing as a
“waterproof” sunscreen. There are,
however, water-resistant sunscreens that come in two strengths:
effective for 40 or 80 minutes.
→ Dermatologists advise sticking to
the “one ounce, enough to fill a shot
glass” rule when estimating how
much sunscreen to use. But covering
all exposed areas might require
more. Sunscreen should also be
reapplied every two hours,
especially if swimming or sweating.
Applications for the
review of newer
sunscreen ingredients
often flounder for
as long as a decade—
in backlogged
purgatory at the FDA.
that remains unresolved three years
later. In an emailed statement, FDA
spokeswoman Sandy Walsh notes
that as of last month, no additional
data for these eight ingredients, nor
any additional ingredient requests,
had been submitted.
Some rigor is warranted. The Skin
Cancer Foundation and the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) both recommend generous
use of sunscreen as a skin cancer
prevention aid, advising frequent
reapplication every two hours
and not just at the beach. Walsh’s
email went on to say that sunscreen
today is used more frequently and
in greater quantities than it was in
the 1970s, when sun protection was
conscribed to fair-skinned people
needing to prevent sunburns during
the summer. Back then, the ability of
UV-filtering agents to penetrate the
skin was not widely recognized. The
change in how we use sunscreen,
Walsh says, led to questions at the
agency about the safety and effectiveness of chemicals that block UV
rays. But the FDA refuses to commit
to a timeline for ruling on any of
the eight pending compounds, and
because additional data has yet to
be submitted, the agency cannot
proceed with its review.
That delay may be interfering with
our health. According to the most
recent data provided by the CDC,
76,665 people were diagnosed with
melanomas of the skin in 2014, and
the American Cancer Society estimates that about 91,270 new melanomas—the deadliest form of skin
cancer—will be diagnosed in 2018.
In a country where skin cancer was
declared a public health crisis by the
surgeon general, access to advanced
sun safety should be widespread.
Instead, the sunscreen industry
remains frozen in time.
A PR I L 20, 2018
LAB CATS Bill Nye the Science Guy, in
bow tie in center, leads the March for
Science down Constitution Avenue in
Washington, D.C., on Earth Day 2017.
Election Microscope
Scientists took to the streets last April. This year,
they’re headed to the polls
as a biology professor at
Yale, Valerie Horsley has commanded the attention of students in
lecture halls. But on April 22, 2017, she
stood in front of a far larger crowd—
3,000 people—as one of the organizers of the New Haven March for
Science. “It might have been the quietest march I’ve ever been to,” she says. “I
don’t know if scientists just aren’t used
to screaming on the streets.”
Even if scientists weren’t making
noise last Earth Day, they will be in
towns and state capitals across the
country come November. Horsley is
among more than 50 candidates running in state and local races endorsed
by the science-oriented political action
committee 314 Action Fund. In the
past year, the organization has raised
$2 million, according to filings with
the Federal Election Commission. Its
goal: Elect more candidates with serious science cred.
Traditional politicians are, of
course, perfectly capable of supporting pro-science policies. But 314
Action founder Shaughnessy Naughton believes the expertise of scientists
is well suited to legislature. “They are,
essentially, problem solvers,” she says.
“And when you look at Congress or a
lot of state legislatures, we certainly
could use more problem solvers and
less ideologues.”
That need is particularly acute when it
comes to health-related
issues, where st ate
governments can enact
real change. They run Medicaid and
smoking cessation programs; they can
implement paid family leave policies
beyond federal requirements (a priority for Horsley, if she is elected); and
they influence drug prices and energy
policies. For example, the Connecticut
legislature passed a bill last year that
may save consumers money at the
pharmacy: formerly pharmaceutical
middlemen could try to stop pharmacists from telling customers if paying
cash for a drug would cost less than
their copay; that practice is now illegal. Connecticut is also participating
in a regional cap-and-trade initiative
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The national government has, for
several decades, been characterized
by stalemate, gridlock, paralysis,” says
Adam Myers, a political scientist at
Providence College. “Meanwhile, at
the state level, we’ve seen a lot of policy dynamism.” As well as the ability
to defy the party in power. California,
for example, has made strengthened
sanctuary city laws as President Donald Trump continues to advocate for
a wall along the border with Mexico.
At least two other Democrats have
filed to run against Horsley in the state
Senate primary on August 14, but “I’m
going to win,” she says without hesitation. The government job is part time,
but she’ll still have to step back from
some of her campus responsibilities.
Horsley has come to terms with that.
“There was this moment during the
science march when I had the microphone, and I had the ability to influence thousands of people,” she says. “I
could keep being a professor. I could
keep running my activist organization.
Or I could hold the mic.”
Babitz, left,
posed with artist
Marcel Duchamp
at the Pasadena
Art Museum in
1963—a now
famous photo by
Julian Wasser.
The Pleasure
of Her Company
Eve Babitz was a legendary ’70s It girl and a dishy
chronicler of Los Angeles, until the party stopped in the ’90s. She may
not be writing anymore, but she still has plenty to say
Photog raph by J U L I A N W A S S E R
Neil Patrick Harris finds inspiration in cheesy places. »P. 48
when eve babitz was a young los angeles
Wow, I was wrong about that, wasn’t I? The truth is,
socialite, dropping LSD with Yoko Ono at a
you have to grow up. As much as I fought it, there it
party thrown by Andy Warhol, writing for Rolling
is…life. And if you don’t grow up, the world grows up
Stone, sleeping with Jim Morrison and, once, playaround you. Then you still have to grow up anyway.
ing chess in the nude across from Marcel Duchamp,
she was sure she would die before 30. For Babitz,
The stories in Black Swans contain anxiety about
the point of life was to fill it with as much pleasure
the political landscape shifting with Ronald
Reagan’s presidency. What did the ’80s and ’90s
as possible. “Death, to me, has always been the last
to you? Was it a wake-up call, and do
word in people having fun without you,” she wrote
in the middle of another?
in her first book, Eve’s Hollywood, a collection of
short stories published in 1974. Slow Days, Fast
To me, the ’80s were all about money—who has it
Company: The World, the Flesh and L.A. (1977) and
and who doesn’t and why do they and don’t they.
People started measuring people by their bank
Sex and Rage (1979) followed.
After the intoxication of the ’60s and ’70s came
accounts. That was very different from anything in
the sobriety of the ’80s and ’90s, and Babitz, finding
my life. Of course, the world is more somber [now].
herself still very much alive, had something to say
I hope we’re in the middle of a wake-up call, or at
about it in L.A. Woman (1982), the newly reissued
least I don’t know, yet. That’s the scary thing about
a wake-up call: You don’t know that it’s happening.
Black Swans (1993) and the nonfiction Two by Two:
Tango, Two-Step and the L.A. Night (1999). The L.A. of
these years was roiled by the tragedy
In the story “Free Tibet,” the
main character shacks up with
of the AIDS crisis and 1992’s race riots.
a lover in Hollywood’s Chateau
A free-wheeling, quintessentially
Marmont as the L.A. riots rage
Babitz character runs through Black
outside. What did that moment
Swans’ stories, one that bears a strikMARIE SOLIS
signify for you?
ing resemblance to Babitz (as do all
of her female protagonists). But she
When I wrote Black Swans, I felt there
is not, as the author carefully notes,
was no turning back. The party had
autobiographical. “My life and the life of my chargone on for too long, and, like all parties do at the
acters are often conflated, but they aren’t the same,”
end, the magic goes out. Eventually, the sun comes up
Babitz says of her fictive memoirs. “The characters
and you look around and see dirty ashtrays, spilled
I write about are what I focus on, not my own life.
drinks and dead flowers. Of course, I knew that time
That belongs to me.”
had passed and we had changed decades, life had
Babitz hasn’t published a book since 1999, but
gone on, but the riots were a defining moment for
with each reissue (Black Swans is the sixth) come
us, and certainly for people in L.A. Fun was no longer
new fans. “I wrote when I had something to write
the objective. To me, it seemed the time had come for
about,” says the 74-year-old, who still lives in Hollyawareness, grace, respect and dignity.
wood and vows never to leave. “Maybe I will again.”
Babitz denies she is a recluse—a reputation fueled
Your characters often refer to their own beauty
by her refusal to make author appearances or even
and sexuality, much as your own beauty and
sexuality was commented upon. Were you
do phone interviews—but she did agree to the folunderestimated or resented for those qualities?
lowing email exchange.
Oddly enough, I never had any idea of people’s
expectations of me. And I don’t know if anyone
In your ’70s work, you wrestle with whether it’s
me because I was a writer. I don’t even
possible to live by simply having fun, without
having to do the serious work of growing up. Have
know if I was beautiful. I just felt like I was…maybe
you been able to accomplish that?
that’s enough to be beautiful. And, as I’ve said
many times before, everyone is beautiful when they’re young—that’s the
whole point of being young.
Would social media have changed
your view of yourself?
Absolutely! There is no more mystery,
no more romance—even that word
is probably dead. Everyone looks and
dresses alike. Selfishly, I’m glad more
people can find my reissued books,
but other than that, I hate social
media. People don’t know how to talk
to each other anymore. I could go on
about this forever, but I won’t.
How do you feel about your sexual
history and list of notable lovers
endlessly discussed?
Well, by now I’m used to it. I guess it’s
my fault, because in Eve’s Hollywood
I wrote about it. But, at the time, it
didn’t seem like a big deal. It didn’t
seem like “history” to me. It was my
life. It never occurred to me that my
books would be read all these years
later. And, remember, those are characters. I still have some secrets!
Did you realize the extent to which
sexual abuse was an issue when
you were younger, among actors,
musicians and artists?
That was embedded in the culture
at the time, on both sides. It was a
complicated time, I realize now, but
for me, and I’m only speaking for
myself, I never wanted anything in
exchange. Sex was just it. I was never
going to get a record jacket cover or
book deal if I slept with anyone.
Decades after Sex and Rage, what
advice would you give to young
women looking to have fun?
Be yourself and don’t doubt or second-guess yourself—though I don’t
feel I’m in any position to give advice
in 2018. It’s not my world anymore.
Lady Shoots the Blue
With Blockers, Kay Cannon joins the smallest club
in Hollywood: women directing R-rated movies
kay cannon was on vacation
to her husband and his parents that
in Maine when she was offered
she wouldn’t work on her first fama new job: directing Blockers, an
ily break in six years, so she read the
R-rated comedy about parents tryentire script on her phone in the
ing to “cock-block” their daughters.
middle of the night.
It would be her directing debut after
It was as funny as some of her
favorite boundary-pushing comea decade of writing scripts nonstop,
dies. “I will never forincluding three Pitch
get my first experience
Perfect movies and backwatching American Pie
to-back gigs on 30 Rock,
in a sold-out theater in
New Girl and the shortKansas,”
says Cannon,
lived Netflix series GirlANNA MENTA
like the
boss. Cannon had sworn
A PR I L 20, 2018
phrase “raunchy comedy” because it
undersells the genre. “Everyone was
laughing so hard, and they were so
happy when they left the theater. Isn’t
that what you want?”
If she directed Blockers, she would
be adding her name to a very short
list of women who have helmed
R-rated comedies: Lucia Aniello, for
2017’s Rough Night; Jamie Babbitt, for
2000’s But I’m a Cheerleader; Tamra
Davis, for 1998’s Half Baked; and Amy
Heckerling, for 1982’s Fast Times at
Ridgemont High. And Cannon did
agree to the job, but with extensive
caveats, particularly regarding the
teenage girl characters. “They were
basically interchangeable,” she says.
She started updating the script,
working closely with Seth Rogen and
Evan Goldberg, the producers behind
Superbad, This Is the End and Sausage
Party. “They are amazing at writing
male friendships,” says Cannon, but
clueless about the kind of jokes or
situations that can lead to scathing
feminist takedowns.
Blockers stars John Cena, Leslie
Mann and Ike Barinholtz as parents
who uncover a “sex pact” made by
their high school daughters to lose
their virginity on prom night. “There
was a big conversation about consent,”
says Cannon. “I said that before one
of the girls can take a sip of alcohol,
she has to say that she wants to have
sex that night. [Some of the male producers] were like, ‘Well, no, they can be
partying….’ I was like, ‘No! She has to
say it before she has a sip. As soon as
she’s drinking, it’s no longer consent.
We have to be that clear.’ That was
eye-opening for them. Men just don’t
have to worry about the things we do.”
Cannon also had to point out the
“antiquated but still very real” double
standards young women face when
it comes to sex—issues she wanted
the script to address. This included
Cannon’s favorite line in the movie,
delivered to Cena by his on-screen
daughter, who doesn’t understand his
obsessive protectiveness: “Why is sex
bad?” she asks him. Cannon was told
to cut the line; she refused. “I said, ‘No,
this is really important to me.’ That’s
the question young women are asking
their parents: Why is the thought of me
having sex so crazy terrifying to you?”
With a 4-year-old daughter, Cannon sees both sides. “I’m a progressive
parent; my child will have to make her
own decisions. However, if Jack from
Vanderpump Rules started dating her,
I’d lose my mind.”
Cannon was coaching track at
Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, when she started doing improv
in Chicago’s comedy scene. She met
Jason Sudeikis there and eventually
married him; when he landed Saturday Night Live, they moved to New
York. Not long after Tina Fey read
Cannon’s half-done spec script for an
episode of The Office, she was hired
as a writer on 30 Rock. (Cannon and
“Women laugh at
the same things
men do. I find buttchugging hilarious.”
Sudeikis split in 2010; she’s now married to comedy writer Eben Russell.)
“I owe Tina everything. I learned to
trust my instincts by watching her
trust her own,” says Cannon, who
then went on to work with Liz Meriwether on New Girl. “I don’t know
how Liz will feel about me saying
this, but she’s dirty! She’ll go there—
as much as she can for a Fox show.”
For female creators, going from TV
to film is like leaving the oasis for the
desert. Cannon is one of three women
directing a studio film in 2018, along
with Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle in
Time) and Jennifer Yuh Nelson (The
Darkest Minds). That works out to just
3.3 percent of the films from Hollywood’s six major studios. Cannon had
thought the turning point for women
was in 2015. “We had Spy, Pitch 2,
Trainwreck, Hot Pursuit, Mad Max.
We broke records with Pitch 2—I
was the writer, and Elizabeth Banks
directed it. You would have thought
that would translate into lists getting
longer, more chances for the ladies.
But the numbers went down!”
Cannon’s seen an uptick in studio
interest since the beginning of the
year (“Ever since Frances McDormand mentioned inclusion riders” at
the Oscars, she claims), but actual jobs
offers follow strong box office, and
that’s doubly true for women. While
it’s doubtful Blockers will make history,
like Deadpool or The Hangover (still
the top-grossing R-rated comedies
of all time), don’t underestimate an
underserved audience. “There’s this
idea that women don’t find this genre
funny,” says Cannon, “but women
laugh at the same things men do. I find
butt-chugging hilarious.”
DRINK UP Barinholtz plays one of
three parents attempting to keep
a teenage daughter from losing
her virginity at the senior prom.
Profiles in Courage
With his new show, conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas asks a simple
question: Would you stand up for what you believe in?
hank willis thomas came
across the photo in 2014. The
artist, whose work deals with identity, history and popular culture,
often employs vintage images in his
art. This one, taken in 1936, is of a
crowd of Germans in a Homberg
shipyard. Adolf Hitler has arrived
to christen a ship, and as thousands
“Seig Heil” the Führer, one man stands,
arms folded, a solitary figure of defiance in a sea of complicity.
Willis learned the man’s name,
August Landmesser, and that he was
married to a Jewish woman. Somehow, Landmesser survived the war,
and his gesture, captured nearly 80
years ago, was a spark for “What We
Ask Is Simple,” Thomas’s latest show.
“What I think about when I look at the
photo is that if I had been standing
in that place, would I have that cour-
latest show, Thomas, right, in his New York
studio, was first inspired by a 1936 image
of a German man unwilling to salute Hitler.
“Refusal,” above, incorporates that image.
age?” the artist says. “When everyone
around me is doing the same thing,
would I stand up for what I believe
in? That is what this whole body of
work is about.”
The show, divided between Jack
Shainman’s two Chelsea galleries
in New York and running through
May 12, features 15 works based on
photographs of 20th century protest
movements around the world. (“What
We Ask Is Simple” is a phrase from an
American Civil Rights protest sign.)
Images include the 1913 funeral
procession of militant suffragette
Emily Davison; a black 15-year-old
who carried the American flag 54
miles through Alabama, from Selma
to Montgomery, in
1965; members of
the American Indian
Movement seizing Wounded Knee in
1973; and South Africa’s 1976 Soweto
uprising. In that last devastating
work, a black student holds up his
arms in supplication as snarling
police dogs strain at their leashes.
Thomas became familiar with
many of these images when he was a
child. His mother, Deborah Willis—a
photographer, photo historian and
MacArthur “genius grant” recipient—
worked as a curator at New York’s
Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture. Thomas spent hours in
the archives, as entranced by 20th-century photography as other children
are by Legos. When he grew up, he
trained as a photographer, and his
conceptual work often entails years of
patient research. “As my mother’s son,
I’m very interested in looking at the
past through the lens of the present.”
For his 2010 show at the Brooklyn Museum, “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America,
1968–2008,” Thomas appropriated
ads from the year of Martin Luther
King’s assassination through the
election of Barack Obama, stripping
away text, logos and any branding to
showcase how advertising has commodified the African-American male
body. He repeated the idea in 2015,
this time focusing on white women.
That advertising is racist and sexist
wasn’t surprising; the revelation was
how insidious and political that messaging can be, and how much of it we
miss or take for granted.
“All my work is about framing and
A PR I L 20, 2018
“We Want Equal—but...(II),” retroflection
hides the white mothers picketing
desegregation at a Baltimore high school
in 1954, below, instead highlighting the
heroic black students being escorted
by the Reverend James L. Johnson.
perspective, history and context,”
Thomas says. “And I thought, How
do I shine a light on history in a different way, making the moments feel
current and allowing a new relationship to them? And then I was looking
at this material called retroflective—
even the name implies looking back.”
The material is the coating commonly used to increase the nighttime
visibility of traffic signs and clothing.
For the new show, Thomas employed
a process of silvering, half-tone
“It’s almost like
the revelation
of the dark room
where the images
come out of
screen printing and 3-D image capture (“I still barely understand how
it works,” says Thomas with a laugh)
that allows each work to be viewed in
multiple ways. When dimly lit, only
selected elements or figures, like
Landmesser, are visible, surrounded
by a ghostly field of white; as the light
brightens, or if you take a flash photograph with your phone, the entirety
of the original image—its context—
is revealed. The retroflective, while
dramatically highlighting moments
of extreme courage, also, to some
extent, allows the viewer to step into
the role of image-maker.
It isn’t lost on Thomas that the
result recalls the dying art of film
processing, which began disappearing with digital photography. “For
me, it’s partly about making these
images fleeting and precious in a way
that I used to feel emotionally when
I was printing,” he says. “It’s almost
like the revelation of the darkroom
experience, where the images come
out of nowhere.”
Thomas’s work often emphasizes
the perennial fight for equality, and
how perception can trump reality
when it comes to change. “What We
Ask Is Simple” is certainly timely, as
intolerance and extremism surface
yet again. And, yes, asking yourself if you have courage is simple
enough. It’s the answer that’s hard.
You can’t know “until you’re tested,”
says Thomas. “It’s often people in
the weakest positions who choose to
put themselves on the line. And they
are so easily erased—some might say
whitewashed—and written over.”
Illustration by B R I T T S P E N C E R
Neil Patrick Harris
“he can do it all” gets thrown around a lot, but neil patrick
Harris kind of can: comedy, drama, song and dance, game-show hosting.
He probably makes a perfect omelet. Among the 94 film and TV roles we’ve
counted, Harris highlights include four seasons of starring in Doogie Howser,
M.D., beginning in 1989, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog in 2008, hosting the Tony
Awards four times and playing the dearly lamented Barney on How I Met Your
Mother (2005–2014). Currently, Harris is hosting the NBC game show Genius
Junior—which pits two teams of smart 8- to 12-year-olds against each other—and
starring on Season 2 of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which adapts five
through nine of the Lemony Snicket books. As the operatically dastardly Count
Olaf, Harris adopts various identities in his frenzied pursuit of the Baudelaire
children and their fortune. His favorite disguise this season: a rapping, scatting
hipster detective in stretch pants and a straw hat. “A delicious dish,” says Harris,
who found inspiration in an unlikely place: “He’s like that Cheetos cat from the
commercials. Everything is cool, man, groovy, baby!”
“As Olaf’s
grows, I
get to be
even more
operatic and
Why host a game show?
I’ve been trying to do content that
can be appreciated by more than
one demographic. As a parent
myself, I get that time spent in front
of a screen is best served together.
Parents can watch Genius Junior
and feel amazed and ineffective;
kids can feel inspired. And,
hopefully, kids respond to the
celebration of education and take
that enthusiasm back to school.
During the 2008 writer’s strike,
you played another supervillain
in Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s
Sing-Along Blog. Any truth to
rumors of a reunion?
I would be so excited if that were to
ever come to pass, but from what
I hear, Joss is busy doing other
massive, time-sucky, financially
remarkable endeavors.
What about a How I Met Your
Mother reunion or reboot?
I feel like nine seasons of that
show was exactly right. The
structure of the show was terrific—a
flashback tale that had a conclusion.
And the duality of it: the ridiculous
comedy, mixed with the heartfelt
pathos, intertwined with this
mystery we’re trying to unravel. I
think we did that.
But should there be a reboot,
would you participate?
I would be hard-pressed to find any
sort of equation that would equal
success. [Laughs.] —Anna Menta
A PR I L 20, 2018
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