The Spymaster: Meir Dagan on Iran’s threat
(CBS News) Meir Dagan has been described as “hard-charging” and “stops at nothing.” For more than eight years, Dagan made full use of those qualities as chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, where he focused on keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. When that job ended, Dagan did something unheard of for an ex-Mossad chief: he spoke out publicly, voicing opposition to Israel launching preemptive airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities anytime soon. Dagan believes the Iranian regime is a rational one and even its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who has called for Israel to be annihilated – acts in a somewhat rational way when it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Lesley Stahl reports.
The following script is from “The Spymaster Speaks” which aired on March 11, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shachar Bar-On, producer.
When President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this past week, the subject was how, when and if to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Netanyahu saying Israel can’t afford to wait much longer; Mr. Obama arguing there’s still time to let sanctions and diplomacy do the job. And he said some top intelligence officials in Israel side with him.
Actually, you’ll hear from one of them tonight: Meir Dagan, former chief of the Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of the CIA. It’s unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly, but he told us he felt compelled to talk, because he is so opposed to a preemptive Israeli strike against Iran anytime soon.
Dagan headed the Mossad for nearly a decade until last year. His primary, if not his only mission was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. And he says there is time to wait, perhaps as long as three years.
Lesley Stahl: You have said publicly that bombing Iran now is the stupidest idea you’ve ever heard. That’s a direct quote.
Dagan: An attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.
Stahl: The dispute seems to come down, though, to whether you are at the end of everything that you can try or whether you have a lot of time left to try other things, which seems to be your position.
Dagan: I never said it’s a lot of time but I think that-
Stahl: Well, more time.
Dagan: More time.
For nearly a decade buying more time was his job. The Iranians say Dagan dispatched assassins, faulty equipment and computer viruses to sabotage their nuclear program. All the while, he was poring over the most secret dossiers about the Iranian regime, gaining insights and a surprising appreciation.
Dagan: The regime in Iran is a very rational regime.
Stahl: Do you think Ahmadinejad is rational?
Dagan: The answer is yes. Not exactly our rationale, but I think that he is rational.
Stahl: Do you think they’re rational enough that they are capable of backing down from this?
Dagan: No doubt that the Iranian regime is maybe not exactly rational based on what I call Western-thinking, but no doubt they are considering all the implications of their actions.
Stahl: Other people think they’re not going to really stop until they have this capability.
Dagan: They will have to pay dearly and all the consequences for it. And I think the Iranians, in this point in time, are going very careful in the project. They are not running in it.
*Dagan argues that a preemptive Israeli strike this year would be reckless and irresponsible. The Obama administration agrees that there’s time to wait.
*He worries about a rain of missiles which some estimate could be as many as 50,000.
We are going to ignite, at least from my point of view, a regional war. And wars, you know how they start. You never know how you are ending it.
We went outside and looked out from his balcony at the bright lights of the very prosperous, modern city of Tel Aviv.
Stahl: If Israel does strike Iran, the retaliation would probably take place right here. Hezbollah could come from the north; Hamas could fire from the south.
Dagan: It will be a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life. I think that Israel will be in a very serious situation for quite a time.
Dagan’s other concern is that a bombing attack would not be effective. It’s been widely reported that there are four main, heavily fortified, nuclear facilities dispersed across Iran. He says it’s more complicated than that.
Dagan: There are dozens of sites.
Stahl: Not four?
Dagan: Not four.
Stahl: So if Israel were to go and have their strike, they’d have to have a dozen hits?
Dagan: You’ll have to deal with a large number of targets.
Stahl: Here’s something that I saw that you said. You said, “There’s no military attack that can halt the Iranian nuclear project. It could only delay it.”
Dagan: Yes, I agree.
It’s ironic that the man arguing that Israel show restraint, built his reputation on brute force. Dagan is legendary in Israel with a 44-year resume as an effective killing machine. Before Mossad, he ran undercover hit squads, executing PLO operatives in Gaza, then Shiite militias in southern Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used to say Dagan’s expertise was, quote, “separating an Arab from his head.”
* Dagan: I know it would sound anti-Semitic if I said some of my best friends are Arabs, but I truly, really admire some of the qualities of Arabs.
His portrait is complex: he led a life of violence, but is a vegetarian. And in the background lies a haunting memory. This is a photograph of his grandfather moments before he was executed by the Nazis. Dagan would show it to his Mossad operatives before sending them off on missions.
* He came to Mossad with the Holocaust motto of “never again” on his mind. Soon after, Iranian cargo planes started falling from the sky, nuclear labs were catching fire, centrifuges were malfunctioning. And then, one by one, Iranian nuclear scientists started disappearing and getting killed, blown up by shadowy men on motorcycles. But no matter how hard we tried, whenever we asked about any of this, he stonewalled.
Dagan: I’m not going to discuss anything about this issue.
Stahl: Okay, but that’s pretty well known.
Dagan: Nice try.
Stahl: Nice try! That must kill you not to take credit for it. I mean, even in the Arab world, do you know what they call you? They call you Superman!
Dagan: I don’t have my costume.
In Superman’s time, Mossad was credited with a string of daring, exquisitely executed, covert missions and assassinations from Damascus to Sudan.
But glory turned to scorn at a Dubai hotel in 2010 during an operation to kill a top arms courier for Hamas.
What the 27 Mossad agents didn’t know was that the hotel was full of security cameras and while they succeeded in the assassination, the whole world got to watch their comings and goings including the two agents who conspicuously hung around the elevator in their tennis shorts. Pictures of the “secret agents” were on front pages around the world.
Stahl: This is considered kind of a disaster for the Mossad.
Dagan: I never heard that any Israeli was arrested.
Stahl: No, but the chief of police in Dubai called for your arrest. He challenged you to, quote, “be a man and take responsibility.”
Dagan: What do they want? That I really would take seriously what the chief of police of Dubai is saying?
Stahl: I wonder if it is the reason that you are no longer at the Mossad. That it was seen as such a botched operation, that that basically ended your career.
Dagan: First of all, not true. I was requesting the prime minister to leave my office. After more then eight years, I believed it’s enough.
Dagan says he retired, but it’s widely believed in Israel that Netanyahu refused to renew his term and that’s one reason Dagan has broken the Mossad code of silence to criticize the prime minister’s stand on Iran.
We have seen this work. Its amazing!
(CBS) In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that’s inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention: a little power plant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard.
You’ll generate your own electricity with the box and it’ll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines.
It has a lot of smart people believing and buzzing, even though the company has been unusually secretive – until now.
K.R. Sridhar invited “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl for a first look at the innards of the Bloom box that he has been toiling on for nearly a decade.
Looking at one of the boxes, Sridhar told Stahl it could power an average U.S. home.
“The way we make it is in two blocks. This is a European home. The two put together is a U.S. home,” he explained.
“‘Cause we use twice as much energy, is that what you’re saying?” Stahl asked.
“Yeah, and this’ll power four Asian homes,” he replied.
“So four homes in India, your native country?” Stahl asked.
“Four to six homes in our country,” Sridhar replied.
“It sounds awfully dazzling,” Stahl remarked.
“It is real. It works,” he replied.
He says he knows it works because he originally invented a similar device for NASA. He really is a rocket scientist.
“This invention, working on Mars, would have allowed the NASA administrator to pick up a phone and say, ‘Mr. President, we know how to produce oxygen on Mars,'” Sridhar told Stahl.
“So this was going to produce oxygen so people could actually live on Mars?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Sridhar replied.
When NASA scrapped that Mars mission, Sridhar had an idea: he reversed his Mars machine. Instead of it making oxygen, he pumped oxygen in.
He invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs. Sridhar feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. There’s no need for burning or combustion, and no need for power lines from an outside source.
In October 2001 he managed to get a meeting with John Doerr from the big Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
“How much do you think, ‘I need to come up with the next big thing’?” Stahl asked Doerr.
“Oh, that’s my job,” he replied. “To find entrepreneurs who are going to change the world and then help them.”
Doerr has certainly changed our world: he’s the one who discovered and funded Netscape, Amazon and Google. When he listened to Sridhar, the idea seemed just as transformative: efficient, inexpensive, clean energy out of a box.
“But Google: $25 million. This man said, ‘How much money?'” Stahl asked.
“At the time he said over a hundred million dollars,” Doerr replied.
But according to Doerr that was okay.
“So nothing he said scared you?” Stahl asked.
“Oh, I wasn’t at all sure it could be done,” he replied.