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Assassination of Mabhouh was successful but technology won

Dubai Hamas murder anniversary: Clear images of those involved in the operation, their fake identities revealed and the connections between them laid bare - marked a new high for law enforcement and proved the operation had been a disaster.
Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, bottom, is shown being followed by his alleged killers in this CCTV handout from Dubai Police in 2010.
Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, bottom, is shown being followed by his alleged killers in this CCTV handout from Dubai Police in 2010.
WASHINGTON // The assassination of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh was the first of its kind to have been documented so exhaustively and vividly.

The 27 minutes of edited video surveillance footage Dubai Police eventually released told not only the story of a murder, but also its unravelling.

Many have suggested the very public dissection of the assassination of the Hamas arms broker - with its clear images of those involved in the operation, their fake identities revealed and the connections between them laid bare - marked a new high for law enforcement and proved the operation had been a disaster.

Robert Baer, a former Central Intelligence Agency agent and now a best-selling author, even argued that with advances in surveillance technology, assassinations were now "passé".

Writing in the Wall Street Journal at the time he concluded: "You just can't get away with it any longer."

On one level, however, the operation was obviously successful. Al Mabhouh was murdered and no one has been brought to justice. And even if the assassination was meant to have passed off quietly, some suggest the publicity surrounding it brought advantages of its own.

Most fingers have pointed at Mossad, Israel's external intelligence agency.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

But no arrests have been made, no real identity has been revealed and there has only been minimal diplomatic blowback for Israel, pointed out Fred Burton, the vice president for intelligence at Stratfor, a Texas-based global intelligence company, the primary goal had been achieved.

"If your definition of success is to carry out an assassination, this was highly successful."

Mr Burton is a former deputy chief of the Diplomatic Security Service, the US Department of State's counterterrorism division and was involved in the investigation into the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The assassination in Dubai did show, he said, that investigators now have more tools at their disposal than ever before. New surveillance technology combined with enhanced intelligence sharing after 9/11 and greater air travel scrutiny had provided "valuable data . the likes of which I have not seen in my career", which allowed investigators to draw the connections they did between the suspects.

"Your ability to data mine breadcrumbs is extraordinarily robust compared with years gone by when you did not have that kind of blending of technology."

But he said those who planned the operation would have been aware of the risks posed by new surveillance technology.

"There's no doubt in my mind that as part of the advanced planning, they recognised they were going to be dealing with the potential of the surveillance tapes surfacing."

okarmi@thenational.ae

Updated: January 19, 2012 04:00 AM

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