Ex-Mossad agent's agency reveals secrets, stories behind undercover ops.

Spy Legends is the first-ever company whose focus is on people who work in espionage and undercover intelligence operations.

AT THE 2018 ‘Operation Finale’ film premiere in Chicago. (photo credit: SPY LEGENDS)
AT THE 2018 ‘Operation Finale’ film premiere in Chicago.
(photo credit: SPY LEGENDS)
Avner Avraham, former Mossad agent of 28 years, speaker, film consultant, artist and museum curator, was about to pursue his dream of moving to New York when the pandemic suddenly brought the world to a screeching halt. Film premieres, exhibits and speaking engagements he had lined up were suddenly canceled, so he started thinking of what he could do professionally that could come to life virtually. He decided to bring stories of espionage, adventure and inspiration to a homebound audience longing for excitement and escape.
AVNER AVRAHAM: Bringing the stories to the people via Spy Legends. (Photo credit: Dany Kitri)AVNER AVRAHAM: Bringing the stories to the people via Spy Legends. (Photo credit: Dany Kitri)
Avraham’s new agency, Spy Legends, is the first-ever company whose focus is on people who work in espionage and undercover intelligence operations. Speakers include former heads of the Israeli National Security Council and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), a former deputy Mossad chief, a former FBI special agent, a neo-Nazi turned human rights activist, CIA officers, war-zone experts, and prominent authors, actors, directors and musicians from all over the world.
Sami Steigmann is a Holocaust survivor based in New York who is an integral part of the agency. He is both a speaker and consultant and works tirelessly to keep the website running smoothly on a daily basis.
Avraham is widely known as the chief Mossad consultant for the Hollywood film Operation Finale, starring Ben Kingsley. He curated a highly acclaimed museum exhibit for which the movie is named that features original documents relating to the capture of notorious Nazi and Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann. Avraham uncovered this information while working as a Mossad agent. He explains that after a certain number of years have passed, he is permitted to disclose some information about his covert Mossad missions, which up until now have never been revealed to the public. This is why the more than 200 speakers signed to Spy Legends can finally shine a light on parts of their lives previously kept hidden away in the shadows.
SPY LEGENDS is a family-owned and run agency. Avraham is the founder; his son, Nof, is CEO; and his daughter, Ofek, is director of lecturer relations. All prospective members are thoroughly vetted.
Nof describes how one of the unique features of Spy Legends is that it offers consulting services for productions such as movies and TV shows.
He elaborates, “We have directors, producers, photographers, screenwriters, actors and actual special operation experts at our agency. The aim is to create the perfect package so there are no mistakes in terms of credibility, reliability and accuracy.”
Avraham tells how when he was on the set of Operation Finale, he noticed that in one of the scenes, several Mossad agents were shown coming out of an airport in Argentina together with Air France tags attached to their luggage. In reality, the agents flew in from Paris, Vienna and Berlin.
As a rule, the Mossad does not allow agents to fly together. They have to travel separately so it looks like there is no connection between them. Avraham had the original tickets and names of the airlines from his exhibit. He researched what luggage tags in the 1950s looked like and printed them out for the movie. Small details that seem minor can play a pivotal role in maintaining the authenticity of a film.
The agency offers an immersive experience for screenwriters, universities, film studios, law enforcement agencies, synagogues and other parties interested in untold stories of espionage and Jewish history from people who actually lived it. Avraham describes how Spy Legends can produce an entire event.
“We can build a small exhibition for you. I can bring the pianist or violinist to play the theme song of a movie being discussed. I can bring photographers or videographers. I can bring the moderator or MC. I can take a Holocaust survivor and a Mossad agent and someone who’s an expert in [Nazi physician Josef] Mengele and an expert historian. The idea is to have a few different points of view of the same subject.”
IN JUST a little over three months, Spy Legends has already achieved a global reach. Its lecturers are fluent in English, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian and Arabic. Representatives who work for the agency are located all over the world – in Africa, South America, North America, Europe and the Far East. There are also non-Israeli and non-Jewish members. The surge in popularity of Zoom during COVID-19 has played an integral part in Spy Legend’s accessibility, because it is easier and more cost-effective to connect virtually with people at an international level.
The Spy Legends site showcases coins produced by Avraham and designed by artist and designer Roy Segev. Each coin tells a story with symbols and intricate details that depict and commemorate Mossad missions. They come with brochures that describe everything about the operations in Hebrew and English.
Avraham told the Magazine, “When I was in school, I didn’t like history. I didn’t like the way that they taught us with books without pictures. The coins are a creative way to commemorate and to teach national history, about the Mossad and the IDF – big and small operations, for example, Operation Entebbe, the most important and famous command operation ever.”
AT THE 2015 Operation Entebbe exhibition at Tel Aviv’s Yitzhak Rabin Center Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo credit: Operation Entebbe Exhibit/Yitzhak Rabin Center)AT THE 2015 Operation Entebbe exhibition at Tel Aviv’s Yitzhak Rabin Center Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo credit: Operation Entebbe Exhibit/Yitzhak Rabin Center)
The coins can be brought to an event planned with a speaker from the agency as part of a traveling exhibition. Avraham donates some of them to the heroes who took part in the operations.
The Magazine interviewed several speakers at Spy Legends who revealed fascinating details of their experiences in espionage. Speaking with them is as suspenseful and intriguing as watching the plot of a spy movie unfold. It doesn’t matter if you’re not in the intelligence field; their messages are entertaining, inspiring – and in many cases, they resonate on a universal level.  
Nof Avraham commented, “I think that everyone is interested in these stories. I think everyone secretly wants to be a secret agent at some point in their life.”
SHALVA HESSEL is author of the Israeli best-seller Married to the Mossad. She grew up in Moshav Hibbat Zion, a countryside farming community in Israel. She was a tomboy as a child – fearless and craving adventure and excitement that always seemed to find her. Hessel married a man whom she initially thought worked in Israeli advocacy, but turned out to be a Mossad agent. His nighttime whereabouts were unknown to her until she confronted him and his secret life became her own.
When Hessel’s husband received a proposal to relocate to a Muslim country for three years to stop an arms deal and keep a close watch on an enemy regime’s nuclear weapons capabilities, she insisted they go. Hessel, her husband and young son quickly obtained fake passports and assumed new identities. It was the first time an entire family went undercover for the Mossad in a target country.
She socialized with political leaders and their wives, and became best friends with the wife of an ambassador, who shockingly told her that she hated Jews.
Hessel poignantly disclosed, “Most of my life, I didn’t live my own life. I lived somebody else’s life, not being able to say what I want, to have to hide and be undercover, not to choose the friends I want. In my nature, I love people. I’m a people-person and I’m opinionated, an extrovert.”
Hessel continued, “I didn’t mean to do what I did, but I was drawn into it. Sometimes you don’t plan. Life takes you and you do things that you never would have believed you’d have the courage to do.”
One of the topics Hessel lectures about is women’s empowerment. She believes it is crucial for the fight against terrorism to include women because they can gain access to people and places that men cannot. They can seem innocent while at the same time being extremely intuitive and resourceful. She also speaks about how to make decisions under stress and how faith can help in business and in life.
Hessel passionately stated, “If you have faith, you can always be optimistic. You can look forward. If you have no faith, then you are nobody anyway. If you don’t believe that you are created for something, then who are you, anyway?”
EREZ HASON is a Shin Bet intelligence officer, which is analogous to being an FBI agent. Training consists of intensive Arabic-language courses for one year, and then an additional year of learning how to work in intelligence, which includes courses in psychology, body language, acting and manipulation techniques. Hason worked in the Palestinian territories, where he was responsible for overseeing a specific geographic region, like Hebron.
He lived there and got to know the area, the streets and assimilated with the people. Hason’s main job was to recruit human resources or informants – terrorists or relatives of terrorists, for example – to collect information and thwart planned attacks against Israelis. Hason was guarded by IDF soldiers and did not disguise himself or go undercover to blend in.
Palestinians in the area were aware that he was a Shin Bet officer there to collect information about them. Yet incredibly, some of them befriended him, trusted him and willingly turned their backs on their families, friends and religious beliefs to give him what he was looking for. Hason said the motivation behind doing this was not monetary, but rather came from “something inside that people don’t even know about... it’s human weakness.”
Hason revealed that the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) has a saying: “Every person is like a puzzle. Everyone needs something. If you will learn to be the missing piece, he will give you everything you need.”
Hason speaks about universal messages he learned that can be applied to any situation or field. He has a series of lectures that include such intriguing titles as “To Succeed, to Fail and Remain Human,” “A Personal and Close Connection Can Motivate People to Action on the Edge of Imagination,” “How to Deal with Failures,” and “The Art of Persuasion.” During each speech, Hason shares his own personal stories, such as the time he recruited the brother of a terrorist who told him where he could be found the night before an attack.
YOLA REITMAN’s story of what it was like to be part of the Mossad mission Operation Brothers is depicted in the film The Red Sea Diving Resort. From 1982 to 1985, Reitman pretended to work at an opulent resort in Sudan as a diving instructor, while surreptitiously helping to smuggle 8,000 Ethiopian Jews into Israel. The guests were real, but the staff at the hotel, including Reitman, were all undercover Mossad agents.
Reitman discusses how gratifying it was to help Ethiopian Jews achieve their lifelong dream of coming home to Israel after being separated from the rest of the Jewish world for so long.
“Their dream was always to go back to Jerusalem, because this is where they knew they came from. It was the same dream and the same prayers as the Jews in Europe.”
The Ethiopian Jews walked for months; an incredibly long distance of more than 1,100 kilometers to reach Sudan. They had to be careful to cross the border without being caught. Mossad agents helped to transport them by trucks to the Red Sea shore, where Israeli Navy Seal boats then picked them up. After a year, the Israel Air Force flew them to Israel from Sudan.
Reitman talks about how the Mossad acts in a unique and completely different way from intelligence agencies in any other country.
“The important thing about the Mossad is that since the establishment of the State of Israel, they not only are responsible for gathering intelligence information, but also taking care of Jewish communities, caring for their safety and smuggling them out of countries, like they did in this operation.”
For more information, visit www.spylegends.com.