If you call (703) 482-0623 in the United States, a polite voice will answer you on the other end saying that you have reached the Central Intelligence Agency, or, more precisely, the public relations office of the CIA.
If you Google MI6 or Secret Intelligence Services you will find a website heavily invested in by the British Secret Intelligence Service, which summarizes in detail the agency's functions and even describes some of its methods of operation. The site points out that because it belongs to the British Intelligence Service, and to protect its agents, it refrains from commenting on operational activities. Still, the site informs the visitor that the Interior Ministry, which oversees the secret services, publishes press releases on the agency's behalf.
In the debate that has erupted in these last few days concerning the Mossad's conduct apropos "Prisoner X," I see one simple truth above all else: the Mossad has excellent legal advisers, but its lack of media advisers is tragically conspicuous. From the legal standpoint, it seems the Mossad conducted itself impeccably with regards to Prisoner X, whereas its PR in the case was, to say the least, unsettling.
The Australian investigation's main argument was this: Israel secreted the agent into solitary confinement and concealed his identity. This is how dubious regimes behave, the newspapers cried — as if Israel were behaving like Argentina in the days of the military junta.
As the affair has been elucidated (despite some misguided attempts to hide relevant details), it turns out that the opposite is true. Prisoner X received legal counsel from at least four different attorneys; his case was presented in front of a court of law, eventually in front of the Supreme Court; his family received word of his incarceration and Jerusalem updated Canberra at the outset of the affair. The most incredible thing is that it turns out Prisoner X agreed — some have even said that he requested — to change his name in order to protect himself. These facts pulled the rug out from under all the detractors, and criticism in this arena was halted. It happened too late, though, and every detail was wrenched from the authorities as if it was having its teeth pulled.
I am far from saying that the Mossad ought to divulge its undercover operations. Because of these activities, and especially because of the activities that we know nothing about, we can rest easy. I also do not believe that the public has the right to know the list of Israeli agents, if there is one, in Iran. Definitely not. But sometimes a small window into the world of the Mossad opens suddenly and the agency becomes compelled to respond to the media about this or that event, and this is where the problem starts.
It is imperative to understand that dealing with the media must be done in a highly professional manner, especially due to the depth of the news' penetration into our lives today. Just as it is unthinkable to avoid legal counsel when dealing with issues of law, so too should it be inconceivable not to obtain media consultation when dealing with the news. Hiring a spokesperson does not imply that news stations will be flooded with press releases. What it means is that when the Mossad needs media consultation, it can receive the best in this field. The Mossad deserves it. We deserve it.