Shadows Man, Action-Oriented, Veteran Israeli Foreign Intelligence Agency Operative, who Specialized in Recruiting Agents to Work vs Iran, Hezbollah.
David Barnea was born in 1965 in Ashkelon, an Israeli port city on the Mediterranean a few miles north of the Gaza Strip, to a moderately religious family. His father was a toddler when his family fled to British-Mandate Palestine from Germany in 1933 following Hitler's rise to power, changing the family surname from Brunner to Barnea, after an ancient town in biblical Israel. Barnea grew up in middle class surroundings outside Tel Aviv, where his father, a retired army lieutenant colonel, directed a communications company. His mother, a Holocaust survivor from Europe, worked as a schoolteacher.
Nearly all young Israelis are obligated to sign up for military service, three years for men, about two years for women. In a sign of things to come, Barnea was assigned to the Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. Army's Delta Force. Service in the special ops unit has been a highly respected credential among top Israeli political and national security figures, Ilana Dayan, a prominent Israeli investigative reporter and military veteran herself, told SpyTalk.
After finishing his active-duty army service in 1986, Barnea came to America to study economics and finance at the New York Institute of Technology's School of Management, which was followed by an MBA from Pace University. Returning to Israel, he worked for several years as an investment banker in Tel Aviv. But according to people familiar with his background, Barnea grew bored with banking, and in 1996, shaken by a series of terrorist bombings and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a rightwing Jewish extremist a few months earlier, he joined the Mossad.
Barnea trained as a case officer, or spy handler, for a year and half before Mossad sent him to Europe, where he excelled in recruiting agents, according to friends. He spent more than a decade in human intelligence operations, rising to become Mossad's European station chief, the agency's busiest operations station. Barnea's experience as an investment banker boosted the quality and scope of his intelligence work, helping him set up front companies in Europe and South East Asia to infiltrate spies into Iran, says Melman, co-author with Dan Raviv of "Spies Against Armageddon," a history of Mossad.
Barnea returned to Israel to serve several years as the deputy chief of Mossad's Keshet unit, whose highly trained technical teams specialize in surveillance, break-ins, bugging, safe-cracking and sabotage operations in both hostile and non-hostile countries.
In 2019, Barnea was tapped to head all of Mossad's operations worldwide, which made him the agency's principal deputy director under Yossi Cohen. In that capacity, he assisted his CIA counterparts in the U.S. operation that targeted Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, fabled leader of the elite Quds special operations forces of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Soleimani had built the network of pro-Iran Shiite militias responsible for attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and against Israel from bases in Lebanon and Syria. On January 3, 2020, an American drone, reportedly guided by Israeli agents on the ground, killed Soleimani and a pro-Iranian Iraqi militia leader in a missile strike at Baghdad International Airport.
"David was an exceptionally supportive partner in important joint work then underway by the U.S. and Israeli services," Stephen B. Slick, a 30-year veteran of the CIA who knows Barnea personally from his stint as the agency's station chief in Tel Aviv, told SpyTalk. He characterized Barnea as "an impressive intelligence professional with deep experience in field operations." He declined to share any additional details.
Likewise, other CIA "formers" contacted by SpyTalk declined to venture beyond generalities when asked about Barnea. "He is a serious officer," retired senior CIA operations official and Iran specialist Norman Roule said. "Experienced, a good manager, and capable of leading Mossad well as it confronts regional challenges."
Unlike some of his predecessors, Barnea had no public profile before he was named Mossad chief, notes former Mossad officer Avner Avraham. (founder and chairman of the international agency Spylegends.com)
Still, Barnea has already amassed a legend. As Mossad's operations chief, Barnea is also credited with supervising the November 2020 assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as he drove his car in small resort town just east of Tehran.
According to a recent account of the assassination in the New York Times, the operation used a computerized machine gun tricked out with artificial intelligence to account for gun sight recoil, plus multiple cameras to positively identify Fakhrizadeh and keep watch for any interference. The weapon's computer was linked via satellite to a sniper in Israel, who remotely squeezed the trigger more than a thousand miles away. Three bullets to Fakhrizadeh's spine killed him instantly, according to the account. The accuracy of the weapon left Fakhrizadeh's wife, who sat beside him in the car, untouched.
Fakhrizadeh's high-tech assassination exemplified what Barnea's colleagues call his "out-of-the-box" approach to Mossad operations. It also underscored his fascination with technology and gadgets and his determination to upgrade Mossad operations with more use of them. Though he's only been in the director's chair for four months, Barnea has already begun to create new units that place a heavy emphasis on cyber and high-tech, Melman said. In that, he's much like the bosses of the CIA and other spy services worldwide.
Fakhrizadeh was the sixth and highest ranking Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed by the Israelis since they began their ruthless shadow war against Iran and its nuclear program more than two decades ago. Barnea also directed the sophisticated cyber-attack on Iran's primary uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in April of this year. That attack knocked out a power station some 150 feet underground, destroying or damaging thousands of centrifuges.