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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations in 2012. Leaked documents reveal blunders made by Israel’s spy agency in South Africa.

LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

Far from their glamorous James Bond image, the spies of the real world are a klutzy lot. They get lost on the roads, mock each other and complain that their cellphone numbers have been obtained by other spies.

That's the mundane and often absurd reality of daily espionage, as revealed in a trove of leaked intelligence documents, obtained by Al Jazeera and released online on Monday.

Most of the leaked documents are from South Africa's intelligence services, focusing on U.S. and Israeli espionage agencies and their efforts to obtain information on Iranian, Palestinian or North Korean targets in Africa and elsewhere.

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But they also provide an inadvertent glimpse of the bureaucratic world of spies. And unlike their Hollywood image, many spies seem as prone to bumbling mix-ups and bureaucratic bickering as anyone else.

Their only similarity to their film and television portrayal is their preference for code numbers to identify each other. But while there are many EM10s and LS825s in the leaked documents, there don't seem to be any 007s or even Agent 86s or Agent 99s.

In one top-secret document, the head of South Africa's national intelligence agency is furious that an Israeli espionage boss has called him on his private cellphone number.

"It must urgently be established where and how the Head of LS825 obtained the cellphone number of EM10," the document concludes sternly. (EM10 appears to be the head of the South African intelligence agency, while LS825 seems to be a South African code name for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.)

In the same document, written in 2009, the South African spy agency ridicules the Israelis for not having a resident agent in the country. It claims that a visiting Israeli spy was clearly "out of his depth" and "had trouble in moving around and finding the roads in an urgent situation."

It added: "He had trouble with his language in conveying the message, and the effectiveness of the message got lost in translation. He definitely had a disadvantage of not knowing how South Africans feel and think about issues on a day to day basis."

These blunders could be a "blessing in disguise" because they could force the Mossad to reconsider its decision to not have a resident agent in South Africa, the document says.

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The document said the Mossad chief had called the South African intelligence director to seek South Africa's vote at the United Nations on the Richard Goldstone report on alleged crimes in the Gaza conflict. It quoted "EM10" as saying that he was surprised by the call from the Mossad chief and questioned the "validity of the caller" but seemed to be eventually satisfied with his legitimacy.

Another leaked South African document, from October, 2012, showed that the confusion and tension between the two intelligence agencies was continuing.

The document said the "initial contact did not unfold well" because the South African spy agency "was not sure if they indeed were talking with members from LS825." It said the confusion was caused because the Mossad agents had failed to bring a "letter of introduction" with them, and this had "almost resulted in tarnishing the relationship before it even began." The South Africans insisted that the letter of introduction must be brought at their next meeting.

The document boasted, however, that the South Africans were more "security conscious" than the Mossad because the South Africans took photos of visitors at their entrance gates.

Relations between South African and Iranian spies were just as fraught. In an intelligence report from May, 2012, after a meeting in Iran, the South Africans complained bitterly about the lack of co-operation between the two agencies. Even though the South African intelligence agency had stationed two liaison officers in Iran, the two agencies were still unable to agree on a planned Iranian visit to South Africa. The meeting "adjourned hastily with no concrete decisions," the report said.

In a sarcastic conclusion, the report said it was "blatantly obvious" that the "blame is always one-sided, that they the Iranians are never in the wrong."

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