The Man of Mystery Hustling Myanmar

The make-believe Israeli spy Ari Ben-Menashe turns up again—like a bad penny.

Ari Ben-Menashe, the shadowy Montreal-based business consultant, arms dealer, and—he says—one time Israeli spy, has turned up again. Like a bad penny.

His latest caper, surfaced by Julian Pecquet’s Foreign Lobby Report , is advising the Myanmar junta on how to beat U.S. trade sanctions. His client, according to his filing with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act: Myanmar Defense Minister Gen. Mya Tun Oo. His fee, according to the March 8 filing: $2 million.

That’s a tasty bit of change for very little work, since everyone except maybe the QAnon shaman knows that Washington will never forgive the murderous Myanmar military for engineering the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims, imprisoning democratic leaders and activists and killing peaceful protesters by the dozens.

Iran Intrigue

Ben-Menashe has a long history of trying to manipulate various governments, leaders and gullible people. He was tried and acquitted in New York in 1990 for trying to sell $36 million worth of U.S. military cargo airplanes to Iran’s revolutionary Islamic government. His defense was that his deal was sanctioned by the U.S. and Israeli governments, that he was a former Israeli intelligence operative, and that he had been arranging an arms-for-hostages deal on behalf of Tel Aviv. U.S. prosecutors countered that he had only been a low-level translator for Israeli military intelligence. (He was born in Tehran and knows Farsi.) The jury was not convinced that the deal wasn’t government-sanctioned on some level and let him walk.

The true nature of his employment by the Israeli government was never sorted out.

In the early 1990s, as the Iran Contra, arms-for-hostages scandal was roiling Washington, he added his voice to those who believed the October Surprise conspiracy theory, which had been floating around for years, that Ronald Reagan’s campaign had made a nefarious secret arrangement with Iran to hold 52 American hostages until after the 1980 presidential election—all to help Reagan defeat then-President Jimmy Carter. Ben-Menashe claimed to a former Carter aide and to some reporters that he had witnessed George H. W. Bush, then Reagan’s running mate, meeting with Iranian officials in Paris in October 1980.

Not true. In 1993, a House investigative task force debunked the allegations and dismissed Ben-Menashe as not credible. He wasn’t even in Paris on the dates he said he spotted Bush, the investigators said.

Ben Exotic

Ben-Menashe made a cameo appearance in my latest book Hunting LeRoux, about Paul LeRoux, a tech mogul who created the first global crime cartel in cyberspace.

In 2007 and 2008, according to Justice Department filings and multiple sources, LeRoux paid $12 million to Ben-Menashe, with the intent of having him pass the money to his friend Robert Mugabe, then the president of Zimbabwe. LeRoux was born in colonial, white-ruled Rhodesia and moved as a child to apartheid South Africa, but he yearned to possess a plantation back in his homeland. He set his sights on a spread Mugabe’s regime had confiscated from white farmers. When neither Ben-Menashe nor Mugabe delivered the land, the aggrieved LeRoux plotted to have his hired gunmen, mostly mercenaries trained by various Western militaries, kidnap and torture Ben-Menashe by waterboarding him, according to the confessions of LeRoux’s chief enforcer, a former U.S. Army sniper-trainer named Joseph Hunter. Hunter told DEA agents and prosecutors investigating LeRoux that the enforcers cased Ben-Menashe’s home in Canada and planned to break into it but were interrupted and didn’t finish the job. (Hunter is now serving three life sentences for murdering a LeRoux business associate, and LeRoux is serving 25 years.)

In recent years, Ben-Menashe has registered as a lobbyist for numerous exotic characters and regimes, among others, the government of Kyrgyzstan, the Sudanese junta, various factions in Libya, the Republic of Congo, the United Liberation Front for West Papua, and a Venezuelan party opposing president Nicholas Maduro.

In his disclosures, he has repeatedly stressed that he has alleged connections with U.S. spy agencies.

For example, in his December 2020 filing, Ben-Menashe wrote that his firm, Dickens & Madson, “maintained regular, ongoing telephone communications with U.S. intelligence and the executive branch of the United States of America for the purpose of keeping the government of the United States apprised of the status of Dickens & Madson’s activities and ensuring their consistency with U.S. interests and policy priorities.”

In other words, he claimed to be a CIA source, knowing, no doubt, that the CIA never confirms nor denies such statements.  Why out himself as friendly to the CIA—if that’s even true?

We have a lot more questions, and so do others who have dealt with Ben-Menashe one way or another.

“A lobbyist for the junta?” says one experienced Washington hand who has looked into Ben-Menashe’s various claims over the years and deems him “poisonous.”

“Who’s hustling whom?” he says, “and what’s really going on?”

Ben-Menashe’s filing says he will represent the junta’s interests to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Nations, African Union, and other countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. Such lobbying activity may be legal in other nations.

But operating inWashington is a different story.

“He would have no ability to help them in Washington,” the former official says, “but it does raise some interesting questions about legality.”

Since Myanmar is under sanctions, no one living in the U.S., traveling to the U.S. or calling into the U.S. via Skype or Zoom can do anything for the regime. If he tried and were detected, the Justice Department would likely order his arrest as a sanctions violator and freeze any funds transferred to him in the U.S. from Myanmar.

And this: If Ben-Menashe intends to remain in Canada and elsewhere and operate in the far corners of the earth, why tell Washington?

“The U.S. part is effing bizarre,” the former official says.  “Why has he filed under FARA? It makes no sense at all.”

Maybe that’s the point.  Maybe Ari Ben-Menashe is one of those international men of mystery where there’s less than meets the eye. Or more: Maybe he’s just letting the world know the checks are rolling in, for no good reason.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works —and how to make it work better. More than fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

YES, I'LL MAKE A DONATION

Elaine Shannon

Elaine Shannon is a veteran national security reporter and former correspondent for Time and Newsweek. Her latest book, Hunting LeRoux, was published by Michael Mann Books. This piece first appeared on SpyTalk.