The Mossad explodes with growth while IDF shrinks - report

State Comptroller report is extremely rare and detailed disclosure of usually classified internal Mossad proceedings and debates regarding long-term future of the organization.

Mossad Director Yossi Cohen (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The State Comptroller report on Monday drew attention to the explosive growth of the Mossad in recent years, far beyond its approved budget, compared with the IDF’s shrinking budget.
The report is an extremely rare and detailed disclosure of usually classified internal Mossad proceedings and debates regarding the long-term future of the organization. It includes a debate about moving its headquarters from Glilot, north of Tel Aviv, which took place in 2011.
In fact, Matanyahu Englman’s first major security report as comptroller says the spy agency exceeded its NIS 1.5 billion budget, reaching NIS 2.6b. for recent years.
This is happening at the same time that the IDF is facing cutbacks across the board and having to make hard choices about discontinuing major weapons programs or forces to maintain others.
Regarding the Mossad’s growth, the report revealed that in June 2017, its director, Yossi Cohen, told a gathering of the Mossad High Command that he “is pondering the dilemma of the need to do more and regarding the openness of the state to facilitate the growth. As a reminder, we are reaching much larger numbers [than our budget] in contrast to (a different security agency) [the comptroller deleted the name], which halted its growth, and in contrast to the IDF, which is expected to reduce [its growth].”
“We are going in the opposite direction and in contrast to the global trend where fewer employees are needed; with the Mossad, it is the opposite,” he said.
This was actually a shift of Cohen’s position from a meeting of the High Command in June 2016, only a few months after he had taken over from his predecessor, Tamir Pardo. Besides the agency’s directors, the identities of all other officials are classified.
At the June 2016 meeting, Cohen said: “I am trying to understand why we are having trouble completing the project based on the original budget. We in the Mossad are not fully using our budget, and every year we have extra money. This kind of project we do once every 30 to 40 years.”
The Mossad Planning and Resources Division chief responded that this is “because the Mossad is still at the very early stages of utilizing its annual budget. There could be a situation where we could significantly exceed [the budget].”
“But it is hard to foresee far into the future with large funds in these quantities,” he added. “I think we need to go to the Finance Ministry today and to prepare them for the possibility that we will far exceed the funding for the project.”
The High Command’s deputy interjected that the Finance Ministry “must approve” the additional funding, adding: “The Finance Ministry is a partner, whether it wants to be or not. We need to be careful that our ongoing work is not interrupted, because then we will get into larger gaps.”
This exchange appears to suggest that the Mossad is used to having its way with the Finance Ministry in a way that the IDF and most other agencies are not.
AT THE SAME time that the Mossad seemed to be getting its way on aggressively expanding its budget in June 2016, the Finance Ministry pressed it into agreeing to pay for certain items, worth tens of millions of shekels, that it initially thought would be subsidized from a new, different budget.
The comptroller criticized the Mossad, the Finance Ministry and other ministries involved for leaving these items out of general budgetary considerations. The agency left these items out after it successfully negotiated to pay off the owed funds in periodic payments over 15 years.
Though some of the Mossad’s most recent growth has been attributed to strong relations between Cohen and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tensions between the Mossad and the Finance Ministry over an ever-expanding budget predate Cohen.
In March 2012, Pardo had an exchange with officials handling the issue about whether to keep growing without cuts or to plateau the Mossad’s growth by reorienting old resources to new needs, including removing or re-tasking manpower from outdated roles.
Though Pardo seemed to agree to slow the security agency’s growth, the report then said it ignored this reduced growth commitment through the rest of Pardo’s tenure and until 2016.
Later, Mossad officials said human-resources needs would double compared with the earlier, more-modest estimates of the Finance Ministry.
At an April 2015 Mossad meeting, officials indicated that its Technology Division must grow by between a third and a half.
In February 2016, the Mossad’s Logistics Division chief said operations personnel had not grown significantly, but support personnel had, while again floating the idea of trying to plateau growth.
At the same time, a repeat theme from Mossad officials was that the state is using more and more clandestine operations for a variety of 0evolving national security needs.
According to the comptroller, the agency responded to the report, saying: “The rate of growth in reality is a product of an administrative decision by the management of the Mossad, which was arrived at based on the responsibilities and missions of the Mossad.”
ANOTHER FASCINATING saga explored by the report is the question of whether to move the Mossad headquarters from its long-standing location at Glilot.
According to the report, starting in 2011, the Mossad and other agencies reviewed 17 potential new spots, focusing in detail on seven of them.
The issue was that the Mossad needed far more office space as it continued to grow dramatically.
In February 2013, Netanyahu made the final decision to keep the agency at Glilot and approved the 2040 long-term expansion plan in general terms. But the comptroller criticized Netanyahu for failing to follow the plan going forward in terms of how it is ultimately evolving and expressing itself.
In 2014, the Mossad, the Finance Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) signed a three-way deal to cover the spy agency’s future physical building needs through 2040. The first phase was due to run through 2021.
Eventually, the agency would not only have far more offices, but also many new facilities: an auditorium, an underground garage, a central kitchen and cafeteria, exercise spaces, a synagogue, a terminal for employees and suppliers to enter, laboratories and one new, unidentified structure.
The additions to the campus will also include significant new communications, water, electricity and other infrastructure.
Originally, the NIS 1.5b. set aside for expanding the Mossad campus at Glilot was broken down as NIS 1.17b. from the Finance Ministry plus another NIS 330 million from the ILA.
Part of the deal was made possible when the Mossad dropped its security-based objections to nearby new residential buildings; 13,500 new residential units would be built at a cost of NIS 5b.
But all of the budget estimates were based on small, steady growth, whereas in 2016, the Mossad needed office space for 20% more employees.
THE COMPTROLLER’S review was performed during the period from August 2016 to May 2018.
Englman said the Mossad failed to undertake a comprehensive review of its long-term budget needs to be able to continue to exist and remain effective when it filed its budget requests.
Furthermore, he said, the spy agency has said it needs to grow in human resources, but it has not described in detail how it will utilize this new manpower.
In addition, the report said the agency did not perform an analysis of how certain agents can continue multitasking and how the qualifications of the newly hired agents match up with their designated roles.
Englman wrote that the National Security Council should have kept a more careful eye on following and supervising development of the Mossad’s long-term plan since it is part of the country’s long-term strategic vision.
Besides the failure of the prime minister to supervise the program and the NIS 1.1b. budget overrun, the comptroller criticized the ministerial subcommittee, which has authority over defense budgetary allocations of more than NIS 500m., for failing to supervise the program.
The report also makes references to the Intelligence Ministry, which technically has responsibility for the Mossad’s budget and sometimes leads the ministerial committee in that regard. But it does not single it out for additional special criticism.
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Intelligence Ministry had responded by press time.
The comptroller said the Mossad responded that it was in regular touch with the Finance Ministry about its evolving needs.
Later Monday, the Mossad added an additional response, noting that it is "a central body in the defense community" and "had received recognition from both the political and defense echelons" of the state.
"Due to the increasing security threats against Israel and due to its unique and decisive contributions, the Mossad's role and missions as part of the [country's] national security campaign have broadened in recent years. As a result of this, the Mossad has received additional resources and budgets in order to carry out its goals and to perform at the highest levels preserving the state's security," the statement said.
The spy agency added that its long-term budget and building plans were composed after "careful planning, transparency and full oversight from the Finance Ministry, taking into account the approved budget for the Mossad, and taking care not to create budgetary obligations which were not approved by the Finance Ministry."