International Military Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein: Israeli Ex-Spy Chief’s Sex Tapes

Yossi Cohen's mistress was a married flight attendant, to whom he exposed Israeli national security secrets.
Yossi Cohen (photo credit: REUTERS)

By Richard Silverstein / Tikun Olam

A trusted Israeli source shared a bombshell file consisting of 184 pages of text messages between Yossi Cohen, then-Mossad chief and a former Orthodox Jew, and his mistress, Maya Harel Shiker.  The first set of text messages begin in December 2019 and end in June 2021. A second file runs from October 2021 to December 2021.  The two first met in Bangkok in 2018 (or possibly 2017). It began just as Bibi Netanyahu’s affair with Sara began: in the first-class cabin of an El Al airplane. An attrative young flight attendant flirts with a powerful man. She flatters him and boosts his ego.  So begins the affair.  In this case, as the chat logs confirm, quite a torrid one.

Most of the content consists of short exchanges confirming assignations at her home or in a hotel they frequented.  In the chats, he is “Hila Tal” and she is “Maya Harel.” There is, of course, a great deal of intimate conversation of a sexual nature, including a massive number of “dick pics.”   And what do you call images a woman sends to her lover (she did, lots)? Tits pics (apologies for the vulgarity)?

Years ago, after Cohen was promoted to national security advisor, I wrote this account detailing his sexual obsessions.  At any rate, that’s peripheral to this report.  What is critical is the national security aspect, rather than the prurient aspect.  Human frailty or recklessness is one thing, but exposing the secrets of Israeli state security is another entirely.  Remember, the way Israel succeded in assassinating Imad Mugniyeh was that they tracked him during a visit to his mistress.  They knew the route he took and planted a bomb in a nearby vehicle, which killed him. It’s by no means beyond the realm of possibility that the same could happen to someone as heedless as Cohen.

Click here to listen to the Scheer Intelligence podcast with writer Richard Silverstein on why the Israeli spy export Pegasus is a danger to freedom worldwide

Who Conducts an Affair with an Intelligence Official Using an Unsecured Personal Phone and Whatsapp??

After working for El Al, Harel began working for the Israeli hotel chain, Fattal.  Her work enabled her to use rooms at the hotel for their assignations. Not to mention, it enabled them to conduct their affair with some level of secrecy given her full access to the hotel’s rooms, security system and physical layout.  Cohen also maintained a room at the Dan Hotel.  The chat logs also indicate that they often arranged their assignations at her apartment. In one case, they even had sex while her children were asleep.

Again, the importance of this story is not where or when, or how often they had sex.  It’s in what the texts reveal about Cohen’s absolute recklessness.  At least once in the text history, Cohen reminds Harel to erase the text messages and the dick pics.  She does erase the images.  But she does not erase the texts. And that is her fateful mistake.  Harel left the images on what my source tells me is “the hotel computer.”  It’s not clear whether this was a computer she used in her hotel room or whether the messages were on the hotel computer system.  At any rate, the file was on an unsecured computer to which someone else had access.  And that’s how it came to me.

You can imagine the security breach here.  For an Israeli intelligence chief to conduct an affair using an unsecured computer is a grave and reckless error.  Not to mention that both of them use WhatsApp for their communications app.  It is notorious for being riddled with security vulnerabilities.  No one tasked with state security would ever use this platform. And if they did, they should be fired. NSO Group, in fact, exploited one of these weaknesses to compromise the cell phones of 1,400 users targeted by various national intelligence agencies.  Jeff Bezos’ cell phone was also compromised, and his own dick pics sent to his lover were secured by Saudi intelligence and offered to the National Enquirer.

Though in the texts Cohen does not discuss explicitly any Israeli intelligence operations or any top-secret information, he does convey enough to ascertain key aspects of his activities, travels, and meetings.  All of this would be extremely useful to foreign intelligence services seeking to penetrate Israeli security secrets.

Pillow Talk: What Did Yossi Whisper in Her Ear?

Further, we don’t know what the two discussed in private. But it’s likely that given the level of exposure he reveals in the texts, he would have been even more explicit in sharing with her his professional activities. Considering that they communicated over unsecured personal phones, we know that NSO’s Pegasus malware can activate the microphone of cellular devices, allowing the hacker to listen to anything said in the room.  Given that Pegasus and similar programs are widely available to scores of intelligence services, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or both of their phones could have been hacked.  That would enable the hacker to hear everything Cohen and Harel did and said. Remember, that Benny Gantz’s phone was similarly penetrated by Iranian hackers a few years ago.

3 days before the assassination of Iranian scientist Moshen Fakhrizadeh, Cohen tells his mistress that he was “terribly overloaded” at work and begs forgiveness for missing her birthday

One of the most glaring security breaches revealed by the “sex diaries” occurred on November 25, 2020.  On that date, Harel remonstrates with Cohen that he’d forgotten “a very special day” for her: her birthday.  It becomes clear why he may have forgotten–because at 9 am on November 27th, a few hours before the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Fakhrizadeh in Tehran, Cohen apologizes to her for forgetting her special day.  He writes: “because of being “terribly overloaded” [at work], it escaped me.” It’s probably no accident that on her birthday a year later (November 24, 2021), when he was no longer Mossad chief and no longer murdering Iranians, he did remember and wished her an “awesome birthday.”

As I wrote earlier, even hints about his plans and activities would be pure gold to any spy or intelligence agency.  Even if you didn’t know precisely what was planned, knowing hours before a major intelligence operation would be extremely important.  If foreign spies had other sources, they could put a series of different intelligence puzzle pieces together to figure out what might be planned.

Numerous times in the chat logs, he tells her he has an urgent meeting with the prime minister and is traveling to Jerusalem for it.  Once he tells her he was working late (presumably in his office) till 1:45 am.  In December 2019 he tells her he was “very much abroad.”  In April 2020, he tells her that he is “busy on both fronts.” Given that he doesn’t reveal in the chat what the “fronts” are, he does speak as if she would know. Meaning again that he’s presumably shared if not secret, then sensitive information.  In August 2020, he tells her of “an urgent mission abroad now, returning tomorrow.” In December 2020, he tells her that he must cancel their visit because something “urgent and complicated” has come up.

He also tells her when he plans to travel abroad.  On April 23, 2021, he tells her that he’s in New York and will be returning on April 26th. As I reported in a recent post, Cohen made a series of trips to the US to lobby on behalf of Dan Gertler, who sought to remove sanctions imposed on him by the Treasury Department.  This might conceivably have been the purpose of this visit.  In yesterday’s post, I noted that a source said there are reports that on a June visit to the US he was detained and interrogated by security officials.  Conceivably if the FBI, Treasury, CIA or the White House were angered by his activities during his April visit, it might explain why he was questioned in June.  As I noted yesterday, the June detention is an unconfirmed report.  The April US visit is confirmed by Cohen himself in the chat.

Final text messages between Cohen and Harel

He also tells her when he plans to travel abroad.  On April 23, 2021, he tells her that he’s in New York and will be returning on April 26th. As I reported in a recent post, Cohen made a series of trips to the US to lobby on behalf of Dan Gertler, who sought to remove sanctions imposed on him by the Treasury Department.  This might conceivably have been the purpose of this visit.  In yesterday’s post, I noted that a source said there are reports that on a June visit to the US he was detained and interrogated by security officials.  Conceivably if the FBI, Treasury, CIA or the White House were angered by his activities during his April visit, it might explain why he was questioned in June.  As I noted yesterday, the June detention is an unconfirmed report.  The April US visit is confirmed by Cohen himself in the chat.

In other instances, he only tells her he’s left Israel. Once he reveals that he will travel “in our neighborhood.” It’s well known now that Cohen made secret trips to the Gulf states as part of the process of negotiating the Abraham Accords. In another case, the Mossad boss flew with Netanyahu to Chad, which planned to open diplomatic relations with Israel.  While Bibi flew back to Israel, Cohen traveled on to New Zealand.  From there he flew to New York for an intimate visit with Harel who had a flight layover there.  This too would be worth its weight in gold to intelligence agents.  In numerous instances, he tells her that he will travel to Jerusalem for a meeting with the prime minister. Pinpointing the location of the country’s top intelligence official, whether it’s on the road to Jerusalem or a New York City hotel, is also very valuable.

It’s not surprising that an official engaging in such reckless behavior would need bodyguards he can trust to maintain these secrets.  He did this in two ways: he ensured that they earned the highest salaries of all agents protecting major Israeli officials.  Even more disturbing is that Cohen conspired with Harel, who was tasked with “procuring” flight attendants to have affairs (I was thinking of a bit stronger word, but never mind) with his bodyguards.  This would make both of them, in effect, pimps.

Cohen made no less than 50 foreign flights during his five-year term as intelligence chief. It’s reported that on one of these trips he flew to Russia to watch the World Cup final.  All on the Israeli taxpayer’s dime.  His predecessor, Tamir Pardo, left Israeli only a few times for operational reasons. The lawyer in the attorney general’s office who approved his trips was later made number 3 in the Mossad.  It certainly would appear to be a quid pro quo.

This week’s Kan TV documentary, Operation Gertler, notes close ties between Cohen and Gertler, and numerous trips to Washington by the former to lobby to remove sanctions levied on the Israeli oligarch.  It’s possible that the military censor’s directive to censor its content involves this incident, though I don’t have any concrete evidence of what specifically is censored.

A good deal of Cohen’s foreign travel involved his need to feel that he is at the center of events so he can take personal credit for agency operations.  There are numerous examples of Cohen revealing sensitive information to the media in order to burnish his own reputation.  He was excoriated both in the press and also by former senior intelligence officials, who railed about Cohen destroying decades worth of precedent.

In yet another instance Harel, who was divorcing her husband, recorded the family court hearing devoted to the custody of her children.  She uses her phone microphone to permit Cohen to hear the proceedings in real-time.  Keep in mind: that such judicial proceedings are confidential and may not be shared with anyone but the principals and their attorneys.  During the hearing, she texts with Cohen (these too are on the chat log I’ve obtained) about ways in which they can paint the husband as mentally unstable.

All Good Sex Must Pass

The final set of texts on December 26, 2021, is memorable:

Hila [Cohen]: Take care1000% that no one knows that we were in contact from the beginning until now.
–Could it be they’re [text messages] on your cell phone?
–Erase everything!
–Including the pictures

Harel: Would you like one right now?

Picture erased

Hila: Idiot!
–Erase, erase, erase!!

For my money, if I could create my own viral meme ridiculing Yossi Cohen it would be” “Idiot! Erase! Erase! Erase!  Clearly, she didn’t do what he told her. And thanks to that we have this story.

Thanks to the source for this report and for those who helped me comb through the file.

Richard Silverstein

Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.

2 comments

  1. Is there any way to comment on this without provoking accusations of anti-semitism?
    This would be a successful mini-series on American TV.

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