Even More on the al-Mabhouh Assassination

This, from a former CIA chief of station:

The point is that in this day and time, with ubiquitous surveillance cameras, the ability to comprehensively analyse patterns of cell phone and credit card use, computerised records of travel documents which can be shared in the blink of an eye, the growing use of biometrics and machine-readable passports, and the ability of governments to share vast amounts of travel and security-related information almost instantaneously, it is virtually impossible for clandestine operatives not to leave behind a vast electronic trail which, if and when there is reason to examine it in detail, will amount to a huge body of evidence.

A not-terribly flattering article about Mossad:

It would be surprising if a key part of this extraordinary story did not turn out to be the role played by Palestinians. It is still Mossad practice to recruit double agents, just as it was with the PLO back in the 1970s. News of the arrest in Damascus of another senior Hamas operative ­ though denied by Mash'al ­ seems to point in this direction. Two other Palestinians extradited from Jordan to Dubai are members of the Hamas armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, suggesting treachery may indeed have been involved. Previous assassinations have involved a Palestinian agent identifying the target.

There's no proof, of course, that Mossad was behind this operation. But the author is certainly right that the Palestinians believe that Mossad was behind it.

The Cold Spy lists what he sees as the mistakes made:

1. Using passport names of real people not connected with the operation.

2. Airport arrival without disguises in play thus showing your real faces.

3. Not anticipating the wide use of surveillance cameras in Dubai.

4. Checking into several hotels prior to checking in at the target hotel thus bringing suspicion on your entire operation.

5. Checking into the same hotel that the last person on the team checked into in order to change disguises.

6. Not anticipating the reaction that the local police had upon discovery of the crime, and their subsequent use of surveillance cameras in showing your entire operation to the world in order to send you a message that such actions or activities will not be tolerated on their soil.

7. Not anticipating the use of surveillance camera footage being posted on YouTube, thus showing everything about your operation right down to your faces and use of disguises to the masses around the world.

8. Using 11 people for a job that one person could have done without all the negative attention to the operation. For example, it could have been as simple as a robbery on the street with a subsequent shooting to cover it all up for what it really was.

9. Using too much sophistication in the operation showing it to be a high level intelligence/hit operation, as opposed to a simple matter using one person to carry out the assignment who was either used as a cutout or an expendable person which was then eliminated after the job was completed, thus covering all your tracks without one shred of evidence leading back to the original order for the hit.

10. Arriving too close to the date or time of the hit. Had the team arrived a few weeks earlier they could have established a presence in the city ­ thus seeing all the problems associated with carrying out said assignment ­ thus calling it off or having a counter plan whereby something else could have been tried elsewhere or in another country.

11. And to take everything to 11 points, not even noticing (which many on your team did in fact notice) all the surveillance you were under, and not calling the entire thing off because of it, and because you failed to see all of your mistakes made so far and then not calling it off because of them.

I disagree with a bunch of those.

My previous two blog posts on the topic.

EDITED TO ADD (3/22): The Israeli public believes Mossad was behind the assassination, too.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): The Cold Spy responds in comments. Actually, there's lots of interesting discussion in the comments.

Posted on March 22, 2010 at 9:10 AM • 60 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonMarch 22, 2010 9:25 AM

Irespective of the Cold Spy's points and that of the grey in the beard bod.

The simple fact is we have not (yet) seen a trace of them once they had left...

I guess time will tell who is right and who is wrong.

But the simple fact is so far they have got away with it whoever they where/are.

BillMarch 22, 2010 9:26 AM

Oh please. The operation appears to have been a complete success. Therefore their obfuscations were 'good enough'(tm).

His armchair critique may help de-risk their next operation, although I doubt it because these are killers with a high risk tolerance.

GreenSquirrelMarch 22, 2010 9:26 AM

Interesting.

I agree totally with the CIA Station Chief extract you posted here especially:

"it is virtually impossible for clandestine operatives not to leave behind a vast electronic trail"

As for the 11 points the Cold Spy has made, well.... Nonsense. Simply put, its nonsense that appears to have come from the comfort of an armchair expert.

BobMarch 22, 2010 9:28 AM

It's almost like they were supposed to be seen, like the trail was supposed to lead back to Mossad.

andyinsdcaMarch 22, 2010 9:38 AM

Ok, so they were spotted. All of these cameras everywhere caught their picture, there are electronic footprints everywhere.

SO WHAT?

It didn't stop the Mossad (allegedly) from killing al-Mahbouh. It didn't help the UAE from finding the assassins. It did exactly ZERO except for generate some heat in the press.

DCMarch 22, 2010 9:42 AM

@Bob,
Fer sure -- this all depends on how smart they really are -- double and triple think happen more in novels than in real life when experts (or at least professionals) are involved. Could have been someone trying to leave a trail back to Mossad, or even Mossad trying to make it look like that.

Disposable hired mercenary types do often play these games (or so they say when bragging to one another over beer), but often outsmart themselves at it.

But usually incompetence is a larger factor, which doesn't mean idiots don't sometimes win anyway -- they did, after all, get away with it (so far).

GreenSquirrelMarch 22, 2010 9:50 AM

@Bill - I see we took the the same assessment of the Cold Spy :-)

In more detail, his 11 points arent even 11 points - obviously Cold Spy wants to make use of the Digg effect where numbered lists seem to get much more prominence...

The overarching issue I have with it, and all similar analysis postings, is that we are working from a position of vast ignorance. We have no idea what risks were assessed and tolerated, what other risks were mitigated against and what other constraints the operation was planned under. Its trivial for *us* to sit at our PC (or Mac for the weirdos) and discuss what *we* would or wouldnt have done based on our assumptions (normally along the lines of Mossad operators are superhuman, no risk is acceptable, one man can do the job of 20 etc. I blame Bourne for this).

So, of the 11 points:

1 - not a mistake. A best this is an operational decision they may not use again. However it may well be the case that a passport that has "lived" on international travel systems will get less scrutiny than one belonging to an adult who has only just bothered to get it. Even middle eastern countries try to screen out terrorists....

2 - Not really a mistake unless the operational decision had been to hide their faces. That said, if you were at a border control point and someone came through trying to disguise their face, what would you do? (allowing entry is probably low on the list)

3 - How do you know they didnt? We assume they didnt and they may well not have but given the widespread surprise about how well the Dubai police reacted to this and built an evidence pack, its possible they did indeed make that mistake. Its also possible that Mossad (or whoever) accepted this risk and, as others have said, given that not one of the team have been found yet it seems an acceptable risk to me.

4 - not a mistake at all, in fact this is probably fairly good operational practice depending on the goal. If they didnt know where the target would be, they have to make sure they are as flexible as possible so getting several locations is good. This activity did not lead to their plan being compromised and only came to light *after* they had left the country. Is this a mistake or an operational judgement?

5 - I dont understand why this is a mistake at all, so I might have misread it. I will withold judgement in case someone can explain it a bit better.

6 - I am not sure this is a mistake or significantly differrent from #3. The mistake may well have been to hope that the police would assume natural causes and not investigate and if everything else was built on that these decisions cease to be mistakes. Can an operational decision that has no negative impact on the outcome of the operation be called a mistake? It seems to me that (again assuming Mossad) this is a message that cuts both ways. One country can say "dont do it on our soil" (but if you do, we wont catch you) and the other says "You arent safe anywhere." Either way its good PR if you are that way inclined.

7 - this is 6 repeated.

8 - If they did this with 11 people I am impressed. Unless that 1 person is Jason Bourne, James Bond or similar, its not possible. Even a street robbery would need more than 1 person. The key is that this is not a street robbery, so unlike a crack addict robber they have to factor lots and lots of things into the equation - not least of which is controlling who is in the vicinity at the time of the attack. A street robber is attacking any person who passes, this is an attack on a specific person. Massive difference and one that needs lots and lots of people.

9 - pretty much contradicts everything else. Why is it harder for a film to fake a car crash than to have one in real life? In real life things just happen, a mugger just stabs their victim. In a staged attack things have to be set up to look real enough without leaving any loose ends. If you go down the cut out, which you then kill route, it gets even more confusing (do you kill the killer, and the killer of the killer's killer etc). Madness and I have never heard of it happening in real life (*).

10 - how is this a mistake? Not only is more time in country more dangerous (risk of compromise) but how do we know the attacking agency had that much notice? Even once they have the solid intelligence plans have to be made, budgets checked, authority granted etc. Why would more time have led to it being called off? Was the target planning to visit a load of low security countries? (Do any still exist?). It strkes me their plan was reasonably well thought out but everything carries risk.

11 - see 6 again.

Overall, no mistakes. Risks were taken and some of these risks were realised. If this never happened, they wouldnt be risks.

We could argue all day as to if the organisation which did this was right to accept all these risks but we dont know what else they considered.

As anyone who works in security knows even with the best will in the world, with flawless execution sometimes the residual risk happens.

------------
(*) but then I wouldnt...

NotMeMarch 22, 2010 9:57 AM

Operation was a success. Missions was accomplished. No one was caught. The problem with arm-chair spy-masters is that they view success on "Mission: Impossible" terms. Where the spy leaves (usually with the girl on his arm) no trace into the sunset. We've already concluded that in today's world, that just isnt possible. So, Mossad (assuming its them), decided to use OTP - one-time-phatoms. Where's the mistake?

robMarch 22, 2010 9:59 AM

There seems to be an assumption that the operatives wanted to conceal themselves. But if you've got the brass neck for it, the sub-text of the video clips on YouTube could be: "Just look what we can do, and get away with. Now, do you feel lucky? And do I look bothered?"

Sorry for mixing the cultural references.

EsurnirMarch 22, 2010 10:00 AM

I don't see how any of these are a problem, it's not like someone will sue Israel for dammage for this assassination will they ?

For me it's very simple :

They killed their target, people know it's them whodunit. Message sent, the rest really is more about saying that "They should have done it with a fake mustache speaking with a Bavarian accent". Who cares, the mission was a success. The agent are burned but they just need to relocate them like an endangered witness in the US.

kangarooMarch 22, 2010 10:13 AM

Well, from the newspaper interviews (the usual "unnamed Israeli military sources"), apparently the big "error" was assuming that the Dubai chief of police was either incompetent or political -- that he would do as others have in the past, simply let the evidence disappear due to laziness or expediency.

Apparently, he took his job seriously. Not an issue of technical craft, but of human intelligence -- assuming that "Arabs" are all alike, that "Arab" bureaucracies & bureaucrats are all alike, that the past tendency is at all predictive of a future individual.

GreenSquirrelMarch 22, 2010 10:20 AM

@Kangaroo - I agree totally.

As an aside, I've just realised the blog software strips fake HTML tags such as < and > which has made some fantasitcally funny and witty asides to my previous comments vanish.

I am heartbroken...

PeterMarch 22, 2010 10:24 AM

At least one version I have heard suggested that they made only one mistake - they thought their assassination technique would be accepted as a heart attack. If the death had been accepted as due to natural causes, then the history would never have been reviewed and the other issues detected.

As to the idea that they didn't make any mistakes, since they were successful. That only works to the extent that they didn't want to repeat the work - that will be much harder now.

Clive RobinsonMarch 22, 2010 11:00 AM

@ GreenSquirrel,

"We could argue all day as to if the organisation which did this was right to accept all these risks but we dont know what else they considered."

As I've said before if we know what was so important that he had to be there without his body guards then we might know a lot more about why and who "whacked him".

Yes as an operation it was expensive with something like 30 field agents burned.

However this makes me think it was an inept political hit than a tactical hit.

We have seen the Israeli Government make quite a few "political" not "tactical" choices that have gone bad on the current and previous incumbrants.

The question is how much longer will the Israeli armed forces put up with it...

ShaneMarch 22, 2010 11:09 AM

So, Mr. Cold Spy, please tell the laymen again how you are able to decipher what these assassins were anticipating or not anticipating? Seems a rare and valuable gift you have there.

GreenSquirrelMarch 22, 2010 11:15 AM

@Clive

Spot on - there is no reason to think that this wasnt a politically driven mission in which any possible long term issues were deemed acceptable.

Who knows? Will we ever know?

Assuming for arguments sake that this was Mossad, as you say its not the first time that they have been sent on missions which have had adverse political feedback and I doubt it will be the last.

Will the IDF ever get that annoyed they do anything? I dont know the local situation very well at all, but I suspect not...

Tangerine BlueMarch 22, 2010 11:28 AM

> using one person ... which was then
> eliminated after the job was completed

Seems kind of like solving hunger by eating farmers.

J.D.March 22, 2010 12:12 PM

@Tangerine Blue
"Seems kind of like solving hunger by eating farmers."

Actually, if you just eat the incompetent farmers -- you know, pour encourager les autres...

RonKMarch 22, 2010 12:34 PM

Wouldn't it be possible that a good percentage of these agents, instead of being "burned out", have volunteered to have plastic surgery in some operating theater deep in the Mossad?

Does anyone know if they were fingerprinted at the border, and if the fingerprinting mechanism is hard or easy to fake out (e.g., with a temporary film over the real prints)?

peteMarch 22, 2010 1:09 PM

I have a feeling the "obfuscation by random street-killing" strategy suggested in #9 would have ended up being blamed on Mossad anyway. The death of such a high-profile target has got to raise suspicions regardless of circumstance.

Brian WMarch 22, 2010 1:14 PM

Seems that the covert agencies are realizing that tightening the loopholes in travel security used by terrorists also prevents them from using them for these sorts of missions.

It would be interesting to see just how closely the tradecraft of the covert intelligence world matches that of the terrorist world, and whether governments give any push back on anti-terrorism measures for the sake of enabling covert operations.

walterzueyMarch 22, 2010 2:26 PM

The Mistakes

1. Using passport names of real people not connected with the operation.

As opposed to using the names of real people are connected with the operation?? The other alternative is to have fake names of people not connected with the operation? I think it might be a tipoff when Dick Hertz, Anita Pad, Mike H.. and their known associates show up at the same hotel as an obvious assassination target....

thecoldspyMarch 22, 2010 3:26 PM

Mistakes, I have seen them. In relation to how easy it would have been to use one man or a two man team, I point you to these articles below which do in fact show how these teams operate and actually work via state sponsored operations.

http://current.com/items/92270073_assassination-attempt-on-the-life-of-honduran-reporter-karol-cabrera.htm

http://www.invasor.cu/index.php/en/honduras-english/2416-honduran-people-leader-assassination-worsens-crisis-

http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/2299


http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/87349

http://www.greenleft.org.au/2010/829/42621

http://agonist.org/20091208/honduras_anti_drug_chief_shot_dead_by_gunmen

You might think that most of this was armchair, however try going to third world countries where death and assassination is a daily regimen. Usually these are state sponsored, in that they have a government stamp of approval on them. In the last link above, here was a guy who was the drug chief who was gunned down by assailants on a motorcycle. How was he traveling that day?

Police said retired Gen Julian Aristides Gonzalez was traveling in a car in the capital, Tegucigalpa, when attackers on a motorcycle opened fire.He was reportedly traveling alone, without bodyguards.

Happens all the time in HN, and the guys that do it always get away with it, or at least 99 percent of the time they get away with it, with no track back to who was really responsible or gave the order. There is a term for it, it is called carro asesino. When you see cars like this traveling with no plates, smoked out windows and near you, well, you know you or someone close by is a target. Same with a motorcycle.

According to Adrienne Pine in her book detailing how it is in HN

"The carro asesino usually shoots to kill and rarely fails."

This is how it is in HN. You have to deal with it as a daily regimen that becomes a part of you after awhile. And when you are a target, usually they end up getting you. As for armchair thoughts, they were opinions on how to do a job with less, and is not the end all be all of assassination techniques. I always look at it that way when I see 11 or now as reported 27 or so people involved in a job that two people could have handled with ease as a waste of manpower and resources. Not only that, they got their faces plastered all over the place and seemed not to care about it. In my book that is and always will be a stupid way to operate.

Maybe your book is different. Maybe you think it was all fun and games and stuff to be arm chaired. However a guy got killed, and many people were seen to be involved. I cannot think how that has any benefits to it when two people could have done it and walked away clean. If you have any questions about assassinations and how they are done, I will point you to life in Honduras. You can't armchair that because it is a fact and way of life there. And so far out of all the people lost in HN during the crisis and even after it, no one, and I mean no one has been brought to justice over it, and no one could actually say if it was Micheletti, Vasquez or Billy Joya or Battalion 3-16 members carrying those hits out. Were they state sponsored? Most assuredly. Were some pay back by the resistance? Of course. But name one person responsible? You can't. Name the state actor responsible? You can't.

You could say Micheletti ordered some of them, but so far no one has any real idea, and even his own nephew was killed during the crisis, and so far no one has been identified as to who was responsible or even who gave the order for that hit. In the case discussed here we know he was a target of Mossad, we even have articles detailing the hit and who gave their blessing. We have how many people involved? We know huge amounts of money and technical resources were expended on this one job. We know the costs of this operation will continue for some time to come.

In the cases of assassination in places like El Salvador or Honduras, you can buy a team for 200.00 USD who will complete the job in record time with intelligence on the target included. Plus, it will never lead back to the original sponsor. So take away from that what you may. Sure it's third world, but one could look at the many assassinations carried out by those in that world and gain valuable lessons from them. Plus motorcycle hits have been used for a very long time in other parts of the world. I think the Red Army Faction used them in the 70's and were quite successful in some of those attacks.

GreenSquirrelMarch 22, 2010 3:56 PM

@The Cold Spy - thanks for joining in.

"You might think that most of this was armchair, however try going to third world countries where death and assassination is a daily regimen."

I do and I have done thanks.

However it might be possible to see where the confusion between MOs is now.

"Police said retired Gen Julian Aristides Gonzalez was traveling in a car in the capital, Tegucigalpa, when attackers on a motorcycle opened fire."

Cant you see how this is a very different situation? Here the attackers are deliberately making an overt power statement through their assassination.

Do you think Dubai is so lawless that this sort of act could be carried out without a MASSIVE police reaction?

Also, how many people did the motorbike attackers have acting as lookouts, providers of weapons, providers of escape routes, vehicle changes etc.

The low cost of assassins and high risk of places like El Salvador and Honduras make them unlikely places for either the target of this particular attack, or the agency belived to have carried it out, to be. Could the same attack be mounted in the US, for example, for the same cost & low risk?

You also conflate the activities of radical, anarchist, gangs with those of state controlled intelligence operators. Using this example the IRA sent a 4 man cell to Gibraltar and would have been devastatingly effective, yet AQ would have used 1 for the same effect - were the IRA wasteful? Even worse, the British security operation in Gibraltar which resulted in the IRA deaths consisted of around 40 people on the ground - not just the few that went in guns blazing.

Sticking with the IRA example, even their "bomb runs" which comprised one or two people in a car loaded with explosives had dozens of support acting as screens, lookouts and the like. And this was while operating on their own territory, in their own cities..... Same with the R.A.F (even though they were insane). To confuse matters more, most of these groups have, as gunmen, people who no longer care about the outcome - if they escape or not, if they go to jail or not. Obviously Mossad wanted its operators back home.

As I said to you previously on this when you identify the tasks that have to be carried out on the ground it quickly becomes unrealistic to mount an attack without swamping the area. Even one made up to be a random act of street violence needs people.

How do you keep surveillance on the target? That alone will churn through 6 - 8 people on a non-aware target. If the target is trained or experienced you double it. Then assuming the decision is to kill how do you keep innocent bystanders / witnesses away? How do you control the target to make sure he will be where you want him in a large city?

Next, as this is a state sponsored op, you add in adminstrative staff, people to make sure hotels are booked and suitable, people to make sure escape routes are clear (including alternates for unforseen circumstances).

Dubai is a police state. Keep that in mind when you judge how their operational plan went down.

"In my book that is and always will be a stupid way to operate. "

I agree, but this hasnt been done by your book. We have no idea what their risk management strategy was so saying it is doesnt meet up to one you would expect is a bit strange.

RoxanneMarch 22, 2010 5:51 PM

In assassination, there are really only a few questions: A) Is the target dead? B) Is anyone else dead? C) Were the assassins arrested promptly?

Given that the answers are Yes, No, and No, I'd say this is a Total Win for the assassins. I mean, it's a win once the answer to Question A is Yes. Having no collateral deaths is a bonus. Getting everyone out - even for a day or two - borders on the incredible.

I assume they have plastic surgeons available to whatever organization did this. None of those people look like that anymore, so it doesn't matter that they have pictures. In fact, it's good for the bad guys because the cops now have to prove the plastic surgery as well as the crime.

nateMarch 22, 2010 5:58 PM

It's quite possible the "Mossad" (or whoever was involved) was noisy on purpose.

It may be like the 'shock and awe' compaign the USA did in the early moments of the Iraq war.

It's a political statement that's goal is basically going to be:

"While you may sitting behind a massive army or supportive population that may protect and isolate your goals from failure, it does not protect you from being a target. The first people to die in this battle are not going to be the boys in the front line.. it's going to be you and your friends."

In otherwords. Isreal (or whomever) may not be capable of defeating your country, your armies, your political movement. But they can make damn sure that you know that they can still defeat _you_. Your country will live on, and your goals may yet succeed, but you (personally) will still just be a rotting corpse or a grease mark on the pavement no matter what.

Gives political heads a huge second thought when they know it's going to them and their close families that will be dying instead of their servants, recruited agents, and military.

If your going to go through all of the trouble of arranging a assination like this then why the hell would you keep it a secret? What is the point of making it look like a accident or a mugging?

There is nothing about this man that is unique or is irreplaceable. There are probably dozens of guys lined up right behind him that are just as capable. The least you can do for his successor is to make sure that he knows who is responsible for the promotion.

thecoldspyMarch 22, 2010 6:38 PM

I do and I have done thanks.

Is that so? :)

--Cant you see how this is a very different situation? Here the attackers are deliberately making an overt power statement through their assassination.--


I don't see it that way. However you fail to include the rest of the articles highlighting assassination teams of unknown assailants who have never been captured nor even been revealed as to who was or is behind them. You pick one article out as if to say this is the main premise that I need to debate. It isn't. My view is my own view, and not necessarily the only view, but also a view taken from the standpoint of thinking it through in relation to experiences and readings and research in a third world country during the height of a major constitutional crisis, where death rained down on people on a daily, if not hourly basis.

--Do you think Dubai is so lawless that this sort of act could be carried out without a MASSIVE police reaction?---


Yes. It happens every day in countries that are more police state organized than Dubai, matter of fact such acts usually go unnoticed on page 15 of any daily newspaper from any major city in the United States, which many have said appears to be a police state. But I digress..

The fact is green, murder happens. And it happens daily everywhere on the globe, with many never aware of what the reasons were for them or who carried the acts out. And often no one cares past reading it once as part of their daily news briefings.

--Also, how many people did the motorbike attackers have acting as lookouts, providers of weapons, providers of escape routes, vehicle changes etc.---

Hard to say, but after careful reading of the act in question itself, he always traveled with bodyguards, but on that very day he decided to go it alone. Why? And more to the point, who knew that critical piece of intelligence and delivered it to the assassins?

I will give you a brief example in the case of a head of state in HN under the guise of Roberto Micheletti, one of the most hated (by the resistance) people in HN.

There were of course many plots and or plans ongoing every week about how to get rid of him. But no one really knew how to get that close to him to carry out said attack. One day it was noted that a small but very relevant piece of intelligence, which came by way of an innocent posting on a newsgroup, that Micheletti traveled home by way of a route that no one knew of. This poster, who was a part of the booster club for the coup, posted that each night he watches Micheletti going home by way of his street, and that he sits out most nights waving at his limo going by his house at about 9:00 pm each night. This critical piece of intelligence came by accident, and was discovered by one person. Now take that small piece of intelligence and take it where you wish to take it when considering how to get at him.

Assuming he had a small contingent of army personnel attached to his limo, one would have to assume that the only way someone would get at him is through a truck bomb or IED or some other device. Could one or two men commit to such a brazen act and have it succeed? The possibilities are endless. And that is where critical planning comes into play. It is much like Synchronicity, which can be defined as:

The experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner.

In that a minor posting by an unrelated person revealing important intelligence on a major target of the resistance that no one had such intelligence on at that moment, who if attacked and eliminated would have caused a massive change in a brutal regime, which could have in fact resulted in Mel being brought back into power if ....

If, someone decided to make a plan based on that intelligence, and if that plan was feasible; whereby a small group of people could have in fact committed to such a strategy, and committed to it post haste before his travel plans were changed. Then something could have in fact escalated Mel back into power during the resulting confusion. Else, it would have been a major blow against the coup regime resulting in a heightened state of alert by other coup members, resulting in increased awareness that life is or could be incredibly short for them IF....

In the case we are here to discuss, it appears that the plan was not made in haste as was originally reported on this blog. It took time and planning (which I made note of refuting the original post which said it appeared to be an operation done in haste.) However in some cases time is not on your side, and you have to agree on a rationale that takes you closer to a quick plan hastily executed, with best hopes for the outcome as was originally stated for this post weeks ago. Meaning here is that based upon one piece of critical intelligence gained by one person, could have in fact resulted in Synchronicity had it been taken to its logical conclusion.

--The low cost of assassins and high risk of places like El Salvador and Honduras make them unlikely places for either the target of this particular attack, or the agency belived to have carried it out, to be.---

I disagree. There were plenty of places this could have been done outside of Dubai, and I am sure it was thought about being done closer to home, but for some reason a year earlier it was decided to be a hotel termination, else why train in an hotel in Tel Aviv a year prior?

--You also conflate the activities of radical, anarchist, gangs with those of state controlled intelligence operators.---


No I don't. Today many of these gangs are used more and more for routine assignments. Just look at Mexico, and again HN for how this is being done. Many use transnational gangs such as MS-13, Zetas, and other organizations to carry out a variety of operations such as smuggling drugs, people, carrying out contract hits and so forth. And I am sure many state sponsored actors use these gangs as a way to settle scores or do business. If not, why do we read so much about them?

Often they are your best source for carrying out attacks where you wish to remain anonymous. Plus, their work is spread all over the news in Mexico and other places, so we do have facts to back this up, which is why we are now arguing over this anarchy spreading into the United States at the border regions.

--Using this example the IRA sent a 4 man cell to Gibraltar and would have been devastatingly effective, yet AQ would have used 1 for the same effect - were the IRA wasteful? ---


Depends on the operation and who was calling the shots. In the case above we are told that 11 and as many as 27 people were involved in the operation. 11 were on the ground on D day, therefore it took 11 to carry out the hit.

Wasteful? If there were in fact other ways to go about it, then yes, wasteful. But again, depends on who called the shots and what they decided was the best policy for this operation. In hindsight we can always look back and discuss mistakes, which is why I made my original post.

---Sticking with the IRA example, even their "bomb runs" which comprised one or two people in a car loaded with explosives had dozens of support acting as screens, lookouts and the like.---


In the case of Micheletti, two or three people could have carried out the attack. End of story.

--And this was while operating on their own territory, in their own cities---


Have you ever studied Urban Guerrilla?

A few highlights from it just to make a point:

The urban guerrilla has to have vital information about the plans and movements of the enemy; where they are, how they move, the resources of their banking network, their means of communication, and the secret activities they carry out.

In places where people work, study, and live, it is easy to collect all kinds of information on payments, business, plans of all kinds, points of view, opinions, people's state of mind, trips, interior layout of buildings, offices and rooms, operations centers, etc.

Observation, investigation, reconnaissance, and exploration of the terrain are also excellent sources of information. The urban guerrilla never goes anywhere absentmindedly and without revolutionary precaution, always on the alert lest something occurs. Eyes and ears open, senses alert, his memory is engraved with everything necessary, now or in the future, to the continued activity of the guerrilla fighter.


And lastly:

Careful reading of the press with particular attention to the mass communication media, the research of accumulated data, the transmission of news and everything of note, a persistence in being informed and in informing others, all this makes up the intricate and immensely complicated question of information which gives the urban guerrilla a decisive advantage.


While you may think it is a piece of leftist trash, I think people still study the Battle of Algiers as a matter of history and routine. In the case of the Urban Guerrilla work, one can gain valuable insight into how to gain an upper hand by a lone wolf personality. In those cases, which I think the people at Stratfor (not plugging for them either) discuss as a matter of routine, lone wolf operators are harder to contain, thus are more dangerous than entire teams.

Yes, one man and two man teams can eliminate "any" target if enough time is spent on that one target.

I suggest you re-read the Urban Guerrilla text for nuggets of information on lone wolf operations.

--Same with the R.A.F (even though they were insane). To confuse matters more, most of these groups have, as gunmen, people who no longer care about the outcome - if they escape or not---


I agree on this point. I don't agree that the RAF was insane, however I do agree that there were many who did not care about the outcome, which again highlights today's terrain with suicide bombers. In this case above I wonder why the camera footage was not an issue. Someone today told me they just didn't care, thus, this highlights your point on certain groups that operate without any care of being seen nor identified.

--Obviously Mossad wanted its operators back home.---

Now you are taking a giant leap of faith in 100 percent identifying who was responsible. You are now saying Mossad, when I think we still have others saying it was more multi-dimensional, with various state and non-state actors involved.

--As I said to you previously on this when you identify the tasks that have to be carried out on the ground it quickly becomes unrealistic to mount an attack without swamping the area.---


I again disagree. that is to say that at times an attack can be carried out on a whim, with very little involvement required on the part of massive sweeps of people involved. If you care to debate it I again point to the articles above, and can tell you that a number of them were small two and three man teams who disappeared into the night without a trace. It depends on the intelligence of the target, the terrain, and the intelligence about the targets movements before one can start playing with teams, number of people required, dates and so forth. However in the case of hits in HN, scant information is needed on targets, Usually a target can be eliminated on whim upon knowing the targets location, where he hangs his hat during the day or night, and how many people are usually around him and whether they are armed or not.

Again it is all based upon the intelligence coming in, the actors involved, and their commitment to an operation, as well as money paid for it or payback messages being sent after it in lieu of monetary payments or financial gain.


---How do you keep surveillance on the target?---


Many ways as I described above. However, in the case of the Micheletti issue, one man could be placed on the street commonly used that evening to see how things were set up, while two men could have built a truck bomb and then drove it to that location, and then with a remote detonation via cell phone at thew appropriate time. Thus a 3 man team to take out x number of military people and a limo. It is more than likely his limo was bullet proof and possibly hardened against a bomb attack, so that would also have to go into the equation. Possibly this 3 man team would have had to execute people crawling out from under the rubble as well.

Think I jest? In earlier times a small group of MS -13 members boarded a bus and wiped out over 28 people to send a message to the President of HN to leave them alone. HN is also a very armed place, so this type of operation could have in fact succeeded had those in the resistance taken it further. They chose not to, and thus nothing ever came of it.

--Then assuming the decision is to kill how do you keep innocent bystanders / witnesses away?---

Mossad is known at times for not caring about collateral damages. If you need a link I can provide it, but I assume you already know they eliminate targets and at times could care less who goes out with them.


---How do you control the target to make sure he will be where you want him in a large city?---

In the case I illustrated with Micheletti, it was known he traveled a certain way on a certain street at a certain time at night which was unknown to everyone else but gained by way of monitoring sites talking about him and the crisis. Controlling a target is next to impossible at times, but often plans are made where such actions are committed to based upon certain assumptions that the target will be in a certain place at a certain time. And at times your entire operation depends on just that one critical aspect of the plan. How many operations have been called off because of timing issues? Plenty I am sure.

--Next, as this is a state sponsored op, you add in adminstrative staff, people to make sure hotels are booked and suitable, people to make sure escape routes are clear (including alternates for unforseen circumstances).---


Again you are going to the nth degree here. Granted this makes a good analyst and planner, and I do not deride you for being such an analyst. However as I continue to say or defend, a smaller team or even a one man operation could have in fact worked. The fact that you deny this is evidence of you over planning operations. Nothing wrong with that either. I would rather over plan than under plan.

--Dubai is a police state. Keep that in mind when you judge how their operational plan went down.---

So is the United States. HN was a military police state, and at some points during the crisis a rat couldn't fart without having his ass blown apart, yet killings and murders and assassinations happened routinely during that period of time.

--I agree, but this hasn't been done by your book. We have no idea what their risk management strategy was so saying it is doesn't meet up to one you would expect is a bit strange.---


I didn't say it had to be by my book. I said in my book, not in their book or any other persons book, just mine.

Thank you for your thoughts, armchair as they are lol...Or are they not? See green, no one knows now do they?


jgrecoMarch 22, 2010 8:05 PM

"as opposed to a simple matter using one person to carry out the assignment"

Last I heard, Sean Connery was retired.

anonnymusMarch 23, 2010 1:12 AM

Anybody making claims about "mistakes" has simply got their head screwed on backward.

By all rights (if you believe these false experts) these folks would have been identified and warrants issued long ago. Instead we have a eerie silence as to even what hemisphere this team came from.

It's starting to look like video, receipts, passports, cell records —even their facial appearance— was fabricated from the start. Yes, their appearance was altered BEFORE the assassination, no need for plastic-surgery after. The video distributed worldwide shows people nobody has ever seen before, and won't ever see again.

Fact: the assassins were spectacularly successful. Reality trumps theory, and 2500 words won't change the fact that there were no significant mistakes.

WinterMarch 23, 2010 2:36 AM

@ColdSpy:

Dubai is not Honduras.

Dubai sells security to rich people. They seem to be rather sensitive to anything that may shy away investors, tourists, and immigrants.

http://www.ameinfo.com/116118.html
https://www.osac.gov/Reports/report.cfm?contentID=66948

They pride themselves for quick police responses. Their airport is pretty secure by international standards.

In short. There are many countries where the local police could not be bothered about a murder more or less. Dubai is most certainly NOT one of them.

You assume someone would take chances by sending two mercenaries into the city, find and kill an experienced Hamas soldier, and get out without being caught. That would have been a huge risk. Mostly that the target would not have been killed, and would be warned. Making it extremely difficult to get to him later.

Now that would be what I call unprofessional if you desperately want to get a top brass Hamas politician.

Winter

SeanMarch 23, 2010 2:38 AM

A) They pulled it off and got completely out of the country.
b) They more or less did not care that they were observed doing it as none of the surveillance would cause any action to preemptively stop them from achieving their goal, and then leaving.

GreenSquirrelMarch 23, 2010 3:47 AM

@The Cold Spy

I will try to truncate my response to make it a bit more readable.

"I don't see it that way. However you fail to include the rest of the articles highlighting assassination teams of unknown assailants who have never been captured nor even been revealed as to who was or is behind them. You pick one article out as if to say this is the main premise that I need to debate."

No, you did that. You extracted an example from the links, so I responded to that. If you thought one of the others was a better example why didnt you use it?

"My view is my own view, and not necessarily the only view, but also a view taken from the standpoint of thinking it through in relation to experiences and readings and research in a third world country during the height of a major constitutional crisis, where death rained down on people on a daily, if not hourly basis."

This does not describe Dubai. You are making a false analogy here.

"The fact is green, murder happens. And it happens daily everywhere on the globe, with many never aware of what the reasons were for them or who carried the acts out."

Yes I dont disagree with this. However even more people die of natural causes. A murder will pretty much always result in a police investigation. A murder of a senior Hamas official (even in a "street robbery") would get no end of resources thrown at it. How would that be a better plan?

"Hard to say, but after careful reading of the act in question itself, he always traveled with bodyguards, but on that very day he decided to go it alone. Why? "

Well, we will never know. It is nearly always the case that the time a high value target gets taken out is the time they make a slight change to their security posture.

Now we can assume this is pure chance and the lone gun man was fortunate enough to have chosen to attack right at the moment the target was vulnerable. Alternatively its possible that the assassin had detailed surveillance and intelligence, as well as sufficient resources to hand, to react to a mistake by the target with lethal effect.

Its up to you which option you go for.

One assassin on the ground does not have the flexibility to control the situation or take advantage of sudden "synchonicity" that a large team does. Granted too large a team becomes a problem but this is something the mission planners get paid to work out. We cant, from a distance, look at the part of the overall operation and say their numbers were wrong because we think it should have been done in a different way.

"I disagree. There were plenty of places this could have been done outside of Dubai, and I am sure it was thought about being done closer to home, but for some reason a year earlier it was decided to be a hotel termination, else why train in an hotel in Tel Aviv a year prior?"

Unless both of us were sitting in on their planning meetings we will never know why they chose this option. We dont know what their intelligence feeds were telling them or what their assessments were. We can use 20:20 hindsight and say "why didnt they do XYZ" but that kind of assumes they have some psychic powers.

"No I don't. Today many of these gangs are used more and more for routine assignments. Just look at Mexico, and again HN for how this is being done."

You are still missing the point. These gangs are not routinely used by national actors to solve problems. If they were, why havent MS-13 been sent to Afghanistan to sort out Usma Bin Hiding?

Who do you think is using these gangs to do nation sponsored work?

Why do you think the use of a gang is more efficient or effective?

"Plus, their work is spread all over the news in Mexico and other places, so we do have facts to back this up, which is why we are now arguing over this anarchy spreading into the United States at the border regions."

How would you get a Mexican drug gang into Dubai?

"But again, depends on who called the shots and what they decided was the best policy for this operation. In hindsight we can always look back and discuss mistakes, which is why I made my original post."

You make my point then ignore it. How is it a mistake to have decided how to run the operation?

"Yes, one man and two man teams can eliminate "any" target if enough time is spent on that one target."

How does a 1 or 2 man team get to spend time on target?

The urban guerilla scenarios have small "hit" groups but, and this is important, have control of the environment and logistic / intelligence support at hand. If you go to a different country to do this you have to bring it with you.

If an attacker wants to kill a certain person on foreign soil, and escape without capture, it needs a large team.

If an attacker wants to kill on foreign soil and escape without capture it needs a smaller team.

If the attacker just wants to kill on foreign soil it needs one person.

"Now you are taking a giant leap of faith in 100 percent identifying who was responsible."

I said Mossad because it was easier than writing "the organisation or group or national agency involved which may or may not have been Mossad." Its up to you what you want to read into that.

"I again disagree. that is to say that at times an attack can be carried out on a whim, with very little involvement required on the part of massive sweeps of people involved. "

Actually this agree with what I have said. If you are carrying out an attack on a whim, it doesnt need a large team. To have a planned attack on a specific person over a specific period, does.

The ironic thing is you again go on to prove my point with the rest of that paragraph.

It depends on lots of things, if you have good intelligence, good control of the terrain, good logistics, good control of bystanders and confidence in the targets activities you can probably send in a single assassin.

How you get that level of control without other people is a totally different question.

"However in the case of hits in HN, scant information is needed on targets, Usually a target can be eliminated on whim upon knowing the targets location, where he hangs his hat during the day or night, and how many people are usually around him and whether they are armed or not."

All this extra control comes from having lots of people on the ground. Great if you are operating on your own turf, not so great if you have to export it to a different country.

"Many ways as I described above. However, in the case of the Micheletti issue, one man could be placed on the street commonly used that evening to see how things were set up, while two men could have built a truck bomb"

So it takes one person to mount surveillance on a static target on your own territory.

What happens when the target is moving and you need to find out where that "street commonly used" is? How do you gather that information on the target behaviour? How do you do it in a foreign country?

"Think I jest? In earlier times a small group of MS -13 members boarded a bus and wiped out over 28 people to send a message to the President of HN to leave them alone."

Again, totally different. They were not looking to kill person X, they were looking to kill. There was no need to make sure the target was seperated from innocent bystanders, no need to escape out of the country etc.

This is the point I am making and every one of your examples supports it but you refuse to aknowledge that.

"Mossad is known at times for not caring about collateral damages."

I thought you told me off for assumingit was Mossad. I am sure that at time they wont care about killing innocent bystanders. This time they did and the team size reflected that decision.

"---How do you control the target to make sure he will be where you want him in a large city?---

In the case I illustrated with Micheletti, it was known he traveled a certain way on a certain street at a certain time at night which was unknown to everyone else but gained by way of monitoring sites talking about him and the crisis."

This is control. Ifyou have a target who has handed you intelligence on a plate, great, smaller team. If he hasnt, what do you do? Do you give up and go for some one else because this target is too clever to post his activity on the internet?

"And at times your entire operation depends on just that one critical aspect of the plan. How many operations have been called off because of timing issues? Plenty I am sure."

I agree plenty probably have been. Now if a national actor wants a mission to go ahead, they can mitigate timing issues by swamping the area with operators to increase the control over variables.

See where this is taking us?

"Again you are going to the nth degree here. Granted this makes a good analyst and planner, and I do not deride you for being such an analyst. "

Ha, ha, so by implication you say I am a poor planner.

Thank you.

"However as I continue to say or defend, a smaller team or even a one man operation could have in fact worked. The fact that you deny this is evidence of you over planning operations."

I dont deny it could have worked. It is less likely to have worked.

Despite what you might think it takes less planning to send a big team in than it does for one person. A big team can collect their own intelligence, carry out surveillance, has more skills available, has more flexibility to adapt to a changing situation etc.

One man has to plan every tiny detail if he wants to get out.

While I accept that most western nations are becoming more like police states it is not in the same way as Dubai. Even military dictatorships in central / south America are not the same. As Winter said, Dubai sells itself on how well it controls crime. Most military dictatorships (and the UK/US) just control the population...

I know you said your book, but the problem is if they run off a differet play book it isnt a mistake.

"Thank you for your thoughts, armchair as they are lol...Or are they not? See green, no one knows now do they?"

This is the internet, we are all armchair experts and nothing else. If we worked for an intelligence agency we would be busy doing our jobs rather than debating conspiracy theories.

Clive RobinsonMarch 23, 2010 7:34 AM

@ GreenSquirrel,

"This is the internet, we are all armchair experts and nothing else."

It does not mater if it's the Internet a pub or the planning room of the Mossad/CIA/MI6 et al

Most good ideas come about one of two ways,

1, Brainstorming sessions
2, Quiet Contemplation.

In the end though quiet contemplation be it in an armchair, sitting on the toilet or behind a desk is what turns the skeleton of an idea into a fully fledged beast with a life of it's own...


"If we worked for an intelligence agency we would be busy doing our jobs rather than debating conspiracy theories."

As MI6 and the CIA are very very close to being "newsdesks" I suspect they do debate conspiracy theories all the time. Only they call them "analysis based on limited intel".

It is no secret that those in the "game" work effectivly as journos and in some cases actualy are journos, it's why countries have a habit of getting them across their boarders as fast as possible.

@ Bruce,

Oh and whilst on the subject of "news" a bit of breaking news the UK Gov has expelled an Israeli diplomat over "Israeli misuse of UK Passports".

So it would apear that either the UK believes it's Mossad or they want to make it appear to the world...

So if it was a "state sponsor" such as Israel, it brings us around to the subject of "facial recognition software",

@ anonnymus,

"Yes, their appearance was altered BEFORE the assassination, no need for plastic-surgery after. The video distributed worldwide shows people nobody has ever seen before, and won't ever see again."

This is a point I made (some what less forcefully ;) on the first thread.

That is the team where not worried about CCTV in the longterm or that they new the authorities had sufficiently good quality pictures...

Because they new they would be worthless for one of two reasons,

1, The know that facial recognition systems can be defeated.

2, There was absolutly no chance that the field agents would be put at risk afterwards even if postively identified.

Now there is no way (2) can be done and field agents know it the fall of the Shar of Iran, East Germany and quite a few other states, shows that "secret files do come to light"...

Thus from my point of view I would think that the agents gave serious thought to this.

Now Mossad have been known for more than a quater of a century to put a lot of time and money into beating technical security (way more than many other nations combined).

Thus if there are ways facial recognition software can be beaten they are likley to be the one organisation who has not only thought of it but also put the ideas to the test...

Now I know from having developed systems to beat fingerprint readers and DNA testing that most biometric systems have large grey areas not just in the algorithms but also in the measurment systems and worse the fundemental assumptions they work on.

Thus I have a not unfounded suspicion that "facial recognition systems" have significant underlying assumptions that can allow them to be safely discounted...

This of course has a significant side effect, people are peddeling Facial Recognition Systems as a way to reduce manpower costs in real world security such as "Passport Control"...

We could actually be making life easier for amongst others terrorists by going down the Facial Recognition path...

ShaneMarch 23, 2010 12:59 PM

Yea... Nothing like a spy-story to lull out the blowhards. Points 3, 6, and 7 alone are so full of shˆt they're hemorrhaging.

GreenSquirrelMarch 23, 2010 2:35 PM

@Clive

""This is the internet, we are all armchair experts and nothing else."

It does not mater if it's the Internet a pub or the planning room of the Mossad/CIA/MI6 et al

Most good ideas come about one of two ways,

1, Brainstorming sessions
2, Quiet Contemplation.

In the end though quiet contemplation be it in an armchair, sitting on the toilet or behind a desk is what turns the skeleton of an idea into a fully fledged beast with a life of it's own..."

Sorry for any confusion I have caused. I never meant to imply that armchair spymastery was pointless or that intelligence professionals didnt engage in a similar process.

The point I was trying to make is that this being the internet for all anyone else knows we are all overweight 15 year olds who have read a few too many spy books.

We can not take anything anyone says here as authoritative because, well, this is the internet...

I can claim to have been a planning officer for the det in SAMA but it could just as easily be that I am a 12 year old who has read Big Boys Rules. There can be no prior assumption of authority on my, or anyone elses, posts based on claimed experience.

Ideally people would take every posting on its own value - even experts get confused at times - but humans have a tendency to ascribe status and reputational authority. As long as it is based on what is really here, rather than claimed, then it is ok.

Also, it is very different for a group of people involved in an operation, who know what their criteria and constraints are and know what intelligence is available to brainstorm as mission plan. It strikes me as a bit foolhardy for disparate people of varying knowledge and experience to try and reverse engineer that mission plan and judge where the "mistakes where."

Again, I am sorry I didnt explain myself very well but I will try harder next time.

Dr. StrangeloveMarch 23, 2010 3:23 PM

Perhaps they wanted to send a message, that they can and will use such a scale of an operation to accomplish their goals, as a deterrence to others.

From Dr. Strangelove:
"Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy... the FEAR to attack."

JonSMarch 23, 2010 3:23 PM

@Clive and others who posted along the same lines:
"But the simple fact is so far they have got away with it whoever they where/are."

If by 'they' you mean the people who pulled the triggers then, well, yeah, they got away with it. Excpet they now can't show themselves anywhere outside Israel, and quite possibly most places inside Israel too.

If by 'they' you mean Israel, then quite clearly that's wrong. 'They' did NOT get away with it. Sanctions are starting, diplomats are being expelled, etc. Sure, that isn't as viscerally satisfying as locking someone up, or putting someone against a wall, but there are definately repercussions, and I'd expect them to continue for qwuite some time.

Jon

jgrecoMarch 23, 2010 3:55 PM

@JonS

"Excpet they now can't show themselves anywhere outside Israel, and quite possibly most places inside Israel too."

I don't even buy this. Very rarely do fugitives get caught as a result of having their faces circulated around the world. There are too many trivial things they can do to change their appearance in semi-permanent ways so that even someone who has dedicated their time to finding these people would never recognize them. Changes in hair color, facial hair, eyeglasses, etc go surprisingly far. Even if you can theoretically pull biometric information off of the video footage (such as facial measurements) what makes you think you'll ever be in a position to make effective use of it? You could be walking to work right past one of these guys on the sidewalk every day, and I bet you would never notice it, even if they didn't do a thing to obscure their identity.

Heck, if anything, I think their best bet would be to live anywhere _but_ Israel. How many people in [Small Town], [European/North American Country] do you think will even remember this incident 5 minutes after they saw it on the evening news?

DavidMarch 23, 2010 4:16 PM

JonS: You're assuming this was a Mossad op. If it wasn't, then whoever ordered it is getting away with it quite nicely, with all the consequences falling on Israel.

It sure wouldn't surprise me to find out it was Mossad, but I've seen no actual evidence. There's an op that's like no other I've read about in several spy novels (to establish my level of knowledge), against a target that Israel would likely want dead. That would seem to be the available facts.

ShaneMarch 23, 2010 4:25 PM

@JonS

Did OJ get away with murder?

Yes: he's not in prison on murder charges
-or-
No: most people believe he did it, he all but publicly admitted to it, and was penalized monetarily for the crime in a civil trial

The 'success' here is completely subjective. For some, it's getting away with the act of murder without being imprisoned for it. For others, it's getting away with murder without ever being suspected of it in the first place.

In the case of an assassination of this caliber, as a state who had a strong motive to carry it out, it's naive to think there would be any possibility of avoiding suspicion altogether.

Is there irrefutable proof that Israel was behind the attack? No. Does the world at large have a reasonable right to assume they were? Yes. Sure, it may enough to get some politicos to resign, but it's not enough to 'put anyone against a wall' so to speak, and let's be honest here... sanctions are, well, kind of a joke. If they had any real teeth, North Korea and Iran wouldn't be nuclear states right now.

thecoldspyMarch 23, 2010 4:29 PM

"The point I was trying to make is that this being the internet for all anyone else knows we are all overweight 15 year olds who have read a few too many spy books."

I don't mean to belabor this one well thought out point, but I have seen 15 year old kids run circles technically around 50 year old experienced people. It doesn't mean they have no value, rather the opposite, it means that at times, "out of the mouth of babes comes wisdom" lol. Good point though and well taken.

"We can not take anything anyone says here as authoritative because, well, this is the internet..."

This can also serve to discombobulate your theories, however because I am old enough to read between what you are saying, I can deduce from your posts the following

1. You think ahead.

2. You are a strategic planner.

3. You have taken apart the Dubai case and feel that it was a success based upon knowledge that you have that others do not possess naturally or as a matter of routine.

4. You probably play a very mean game of chess, possibly thinking 8 or even 10 moves ahead.

5. You use your knowledge as a way to state your authority in how you write or analyze a given situation.

I could go on, but that is so far what I have gathered.

"I can claim to have been a planning officer for the det in SAMA but it could just as easily be that I am a 12 year old who has read Big Boys Rules. There can be no prior assumption of authority on my, or anyone elses, posts based on claimed experience."

Yet, knowlege is power do you not agree? And if so, knowledge in certain fields are a way to say that you have experience doing XYZ. For example, if you apply to ABC company and do an interview with them, they look at what you present as a guide on what you know. They do not in fact know you are this person that you claim to be, yet, because you have intrinsic knowledge on subjects they query you on, your claim is validated until they look further into your background, but until then, they base their decisions on claimed knowledge you gave them which asserts your authority over the same subject matter discussed.

"Ideally people would take every posting on its own value - even experts get confused at times - but humans have a tendency to ascribe status and reputational authority. As long as it is based on what is really here, rather than claimed, then it is ok."

Experience is only a guide. You could be the greatest guy in the jungle, but throw you out into the dry desert you could fold up like a toy. Doesn't mean you are not experienced in the jungle, it just means you haven't any experience in the desert.


"It strikes me as a bit foolhardy for disparate people of varying knowledge and experience to try and reverse engineer that mission plan and judge where the "mistakes where."


I think many strategists and corporations are always looking at mistakes made after any given business deal or any operation once concluded to see how they could in fact do it better next time. Therefore I think it is a normal, rational, human process whereby people are always looking how to do better next time by looking at how they may have made mistakes on any given issue in the past. It doesn't really matter who makes the analysis, only that one is made.

Sometimes those outside of the box come up with things those more focused internally do not see. This is why outside analysts are sometimes employed to look at where those on the inside went wrong.

I think the rationale of your posts show that you do not wish to qualify my statements or even my opinions as decent or worthy of discussion based upon your experience as you posted, as they are too far off the mark for your taste. This is fine, because as I have stated many times, the article in question was based upon my opinion, and as we all know, opinions are like assholes, we all have one.

I do not however elect to say that your opinions are not worthy of debate or critical thought. I agree to disagree with some of your statements only because I read things differently than you do. For example, when you said that transnational criminal groups are not really an issue. I disagree. In Pakistan and Afghanistan opium production is used as a way to support resistance groups and allow them to buy weapons and operate. Transnational criminal groups are involved in the sale, transportation, and use of said drugs, and are involved in more than just the opium trade, which allows said resistance groups or terrorists as they are at times referred to as, to operate. Without such transnational criminal groups to move said products to the end users, no money would be made, thus resistance groups or terrorists would not be as productive as they are today. In other words, transnational criminal groups involved in the drug trade allows certain groups to amass money to operate. These same groups also do other operations, such as contract murders, human smuggling, and have other varied interests along the criminal sub groups. They also operate all over the globe.

I have one slight question on the plastic surgery before they left. We now have their new faces, so what good was having plastic surgery prior to the operation if we now know what they look like after it? The only way around that would be more plastic surgery to change their appearances again. Why not just do one surgery after the fact?

Also, why do we not discuss the missing hallway footage? Was this footage somehow deleted or was the camera disabled? And if disabled by the team, why did they disable that camera only?

What happened during those crucial moments? And why did they elect to cover that one aspect of the operation up?

JonSMarch 23, 2010 4:52 PM

@ jgreco
Fair point. Perhaps what I should ahve said is something along the lines of 'while they can *live* incognito pretty much anywhere they like, their chosen career is currently undergoing radical reapraisal'

@ shane
re: OJ, also, while he is "not in prison on murder charges," one could certainly posit that his life went down the toilet as a direct result of the 'murder he got away with'. It hasn't been much fun to be OJ since that day.

re: sanctions, yeah they're kind of a joke. But it depends how far they're pushed really. Despite their resondingly prickly appraoch to diplomacy, the Israeli's could use some friends, rather than more enemies.

@ David
Yes, I'm assuming it's an Israeli op (and may or may not also be a Mossad op). The UK Govt, amongst others, is prepared to say so loudly and publically, and I kinda think they'd have to have pretty strong reasons to do so, and that's good enough for me ;)

Jon

Eric in PDXMarch 23, 2010 5:03 PM

``Its trivial for *us* to sit at our PC (or Mac for the weirdos)''

And just what makes us ``weirdos'' for using a Mac?

Or are you just intentionally being a troll?

jgrecoMarch 23, 2010 5:06 PM

@thecoldspy

"I have one slight question on the plastic surgery before they left. We now have their new faces, so what good was having plastic surgery prior to the operation if we now know what they look like after it? The only way around that would be more plastic surgery to change their appearances again. Why not just do one surgery after the fact?"

It works like a ski mask. Before robbing the 7-11 you put on your ski mask. Then you rob the 7-11, and get your ski-masked image captured by the cameras. Then, after the fact, you remove your ski mask.

Now, the last step isn't actually needed with the plastic surgery route, I'm completely unconvinced that identification of people after-the-fact with footage is plausible, though it is still possible (insert then remove silicon implants in the face, etc).

The idea would be to prevent someone from seeing the face on the news, then realizing they have been living next to that person for the past 10 years. People are far more likely to recognize someone on the news that they have known for years, than they are to recognize someone they just met as someone they saw on the news a year or two ago.

Whenever you hear about the police releasing a sketch of a suspect, and getting an arrest because of it, 99% (figure made up, can't be bothered to look up a real one) of the time it's the suspects mother/grandmother recognizing their son/grandson. Almost never is it random people on the street (though of course that does happen sometimes).

I however think that plastic surgery at all was is unlikely.

Clive RobinsonMarch 23, 2010 8:59 PM

@ thecoldspy,

"I have one slight question on the plastic surgery before they left. We now have their new faces, so what good was having plastic surgery prior to the operation if we now know what they look like after it? The only way around that would be more plastic surgery to change their appearances again. Why not just do one surgery after the fact?"

The simple answer is not all "plastic surgery" involves surgery that requires either a full medical team or general anasthetic. Simple dentistry will change the shape of somebodies face quite a bit.

Also small silicone implants to change the shape of the cheeks and chin ar not unknown as is the injection/removal of fat.

Now go and have a look at those pictures again and ask yourself if some of those faces look a bit longer or the nose a bit larger than you might expect?

Now the next question is why bother afterall a bit of makeup might achieve the same effect...

Now take a leap of faith on this.

Mossad are known to have a large knowledge of "technical security". And jewish engineers actually design a disproportianatly high amount of the security equipment used around the world one way or another.

So it is reasonably safe to say they have a good knowledge of the way "facial recognition software works".

From the little I know (having spoken to people who work in the field) FRS predominatly works on finding ratios between known points on the face where the flesh is known to be thin (cheek bones chin etc).

Well if you can alter those ratios using small silicon etc implants then FRS may not work very well, or at all...

lost at seaMarch 23, 2010 11:42 PM

Some further points:

1. If the UK is strongly implying, by expelling the Mossad London Station Chief, that Israel was behind the hit, and Mossad too, then it is silly to say there is no proof. After all, the UK sent their equivalent of the FBI (i.e. SOCA) down to Israel to look into the passports thing. There may not be actionable evidence to open a court case in Dubai against A or B, but there has to be some evidentiary support for the very public action, followed by explanations in the British Parliament, of expelling an Israeli diplomat for forging the British passports used in the operation. This seems to put paid to the idea that the operation wasn't botched. No one in the real world would consider that having their London Station Chief publicly expelled is a reasonably foreseeable and acceptable consequence of an assassination of a person who is surely not that big a fish. Maybe for Nasrullah, the head of Hizbollah, but for Mabhouh this seems to be a bigger price than anyone would be willing to pay.

2. It appears that what was done was that identical passports to real passports of real people were forged ('cloned') and then the pix of the agents were put into the new passports. Again, this would suggest that the new passports could not possibly have invalid serial numbers, but would retain the original serial numbers (unless I'm too dumb to understand the intricacies of cloning passports in identity theft cases). So why would some passports have such an obvious error as grossly invalid serial numbers?

3. The London Times is going with the succinylcholine/suffocation thing

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7072314.ece

while the BBC on-line is going with the massive electrocution to the head possibly with concomitant strangulation thing:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/uk_news/8582518.stm

This seems to be a rather basic confusion about what happened and why. (The cause of death is given near the end of each article).

GreenSquirrelMarch 24, 2010 3:35 AM

@ Jon S

" Excpet they now can't show themselves anywhere outside Israel, and quite possibly most places inside Israel too."

I concur with jgreco's response to this. The photos published are far from ones that prevent these people moving around - they are bland, forgettable people. Even if their facial details are sent to every border control point in the world, this will be remarkable ineffective even in just a short time. Yes they may get caught at a crossing but if they wait a while, some else will be the photo of the day.

Equally, the false positive rate of this data is enormous. Two of the people in those pictures look just like people in the office with me now. (worrying, we can only account for the whereabouts of one of them at the time of the assination... I will call the police now...)

It is likely that for a while border crossings will be an issue for people who resemble one of those pictures but, really, what would the border guard have to detain the person for?

Yes they could be questioned, but it strikes me as nearly impossible to prove anything other than the fact they look a bit like an assassin... Its not as if their passports will even have Dubai entry and exit stamps.

I suspect the most they will suffer is a bit of "joking" about how they look just like XYZ and thats it. Just like the people in my office (until I call the police that is, fortunately we take terrorism seriously in this country and they will spend 42 days in a cell trying to prove innocence rather than the other way round....)

As for Isreal suffering, well I am sure it has broken their hearts.

GreenSquirrelMarch 24, 2010 3:39 AM

@ Eric in PDX

"And just what makes us ``weirdos'' for using a Mac? Or are you just intentionally being a troll?"

I will leave that to the judgement of the discerning reader.

Some may get offended and respond in that manner, some may see it as a lighthearted joke. I have no real control over how others interpret my words so, on the whole, I write in a manner that I can relate to.

GreenSquirrelMarch 24, 2010 4:13 AM

@ The Cold Spy

"I don't mean to belabor this one well thought out point, but I have seen 15 year old kids run circles technically around 50 year old experienced people."

It certainly is possible but is far from the norm, or even likely. I'd hazard a guess it is so rare that when ever it does happen it sticks in your memory for a long time.

I would also hazard a guess (I have no evidence and know of no research) that this is more likely in some fields than others, such as areas where technological advancements outpace the value of experience - a 15 year old C# programmer will do better than a 65 year old Cobol programmer if else is equal. But in some areas the converse is true - the best 15 year old in the world simply doesnt have enough time to have encountered as many situations so will do worse in areas which require this than an average 50 year old (but you do get bad 50 year olds as well).

When I was 15 I had read books about being in the Army. It didnt mean I knew how to be a soldier, but I knew what the books said. When I joined the Army I realised that some of it was good and some wasnt, I also realised that no amount of reading equalled the need to sometimes "try" things. The older you are, the more things you can have tried.


"It doesn't mean they have no value, rather the opposite, it means that at times, "out of the mouth of babes comes wisdom""

In my experience the main thing that comes out of the mouth of babies is vomit, todlers is screaming, young children is playful gibberish and sullen angst from teenagers.

Some of it may be wisdom but it is well hidden.

"Yet, knowlege is power do you not agree? And if so, knowledge in certain fields are a way to say that you have experience doing XYZ. For example, if you apply to ABC company and do an interview with them, they look at what you present as a guide on what you know."

This supports what I said.

When you apply for a job, you say "I can do ABC," the company quite rightly dont believe you and interview you. You are judged by how you answer questions and present yourself.

On the internet I can say I spent six years in South Det SAMA and, quite rightly you should all say *cough*bullshit*cough* (or words to that effect) and judge everything I say on the basis of what I have said.

The internet is a prime ground for the false authority fallacy in its many forms. Assuming everyone is an armchair expert at best helps (a little) to defend against this.

"Experience is only a guide. You could be the greatest guy in the jungle, but throw you out into the dry desert you could fold up like a toy. Doesn't mean you are not experienced in the jungle, it just means you haven't any experience in the desert. "

Sorry, I dont understand what you are trying to say with this, unless you are just agreeing with me and restating what I have said.

"I think many strategists and corporations are always looking at mistakes made after any given business deal or any operation once concluded to see how they could in fact do it better next time."

Indeed and, (risking false authority fallacy here!) this is something I regularly get involved in. The key to learn from the actions of others is to analyse them in the correct manner. Dont assume mistakes and dont dismiss their activity because you would have done the whole thing differently.

What learning point is there from the Dubai assassination to say "well, I would have just fired a hellfire missile into his bedroom?" (Yes, silly example to make a point).

Your general points are basically you would have done everything differently so nothing is learned from the available news.

Personally I would say that depending on your organisations risk appetite the mission went quite well so the learning points are minimal and would focus on concealing the method of assassination more. If that had been done better we wouldnt even have this debate.

"Sometimes those outside of the box come up with things those more focused internally do not see."

I agree. The key part is sometimes. A lot, if not most, of the time people come up with ideas that have already been tried and tested (and failed).

"I think the rationale of your posts show that you do not wish to qualify my statements or even my opinions as decent or worthy of discussion based upon your experience as you posted, as they are too far off the mark for your taste. "

Not at all.

Not only did I address your 11 points one by one, but on the previous posts about this topic I discussed them in detail.

You may also be aware we are still discussing them even now.

Petulance is even less effective on the internet than it is in real life.

" For example, when you said that transnational criminal groups are not really an issue. I disagree. In Pakistan and Afghanistan opium production is used as a way to support resistance groups and allow them to buy weapons and operate."

I am not sure I said they werent an issue on a global scale, just that werent something that would have worked here. Again Pakistand and Afghanistan are not Dubai. How many transnational criminal gangs operate in Dubai (discounting the government, the US, etc to deflate the predictable jokes)?

Yes they may smuggle drugs through the streets but it seems it may amaze you how few gang related killings there are in the UAE.

"I have one slight question on the plastic surgery before they left."

I have no idea about this. I remain unconvinced they would have surgery before or after, they may well have done, but I fail to see the need nor the effectiveness.

"Also, why do we not discuss the missing hallway footage? Was this footage somehow deleted or was the camera disabled? And if disabled by the team, why did they disable that camera only?"

There are a million and one reasons that could explain this - all are more common than any conspiracy theory.

The building I am in at the moment has 47 external CCTV cameras. Last week I reviewed the footage and discovered one had malfunctioned and not recorded for the previous 12 hours. Fortunately, as far as we know it missed nothing. In a similar manner, two years ago my predecessor was investigating a break in and found a (different) camera had failed to record the most crucial evidence.

Now was one a simple fault and the other the work of an attacker? Were both? Were neither?

Technology is not perfect.

"What happened during those crucial moments?"

We may never know.

"And why did they elect to cover that one aspect of the operation up?"

This is what leads me to suspect it was not their doing and may have been nothing more than a simple camera malfunction.

I have no way of knowing and freely admit this is total speculation.

I do however, think that if there is no motive or reason for their actions, they probably didnt do it.

Clive RobinsonMarch 24, 2010 9:17 AM

@ lost at sea,

"This seems to be a rather basic confusion about what happened and why. (The cause of death is given near the end of each article)."

The cause of death was probably both...

Electrocution to the head stuns and may cause brain death, but usually does not kill the body.

If you look at the history of the electric chair you will be quite shocked.

You need to know that heart muscle and ordinary skeletal attached muscle are quite different. The drug used causes the skeletal attached muscle to cease working by the drug you mentioned but does not effect the heart muscle which keeps on beating. It is why the drug is used in GA's for non minor surgery. Even better for the surgeons it is has a very short half life and breaks down into virtualy untraceable components in moments.

So if I was to inject it into you, you would be unable to breath to get oxygen into your blood supply. However your heart would carry on beating untill it ran out of oxygenated blood. Then you would have a major heart attack and be brain dead shortly there after. However the drug would continue to break down into components that would be effectivly "invisable" in the body.

However two problems,

1, Getting the drug into the victim.
2, A suspicious pathologist.

The first is a significant issue and has to be done by injection, unless the victim is a heavy sleeper etc you can expect them to fight very vigourously for their life, which would leave lots od suspicious marks on the body...

Now as is only too well known in the meat industry, the "electroshock" stun to the head causes the skeletal muscles to be temporatily disabled rendering the animal apparently lifeless, although the heart etc will often continue to beat (which is why the animal can be more easily "bleed out").

What is not so commonly known is that the debilitating level of shock is much much less than the level required to gaurenty death. The level of shock required to kill will often leave burn marks on the skin and lower layers which are very charecteristic.

Now the problem with sticking a hypo in some one shortly before they die is it leaves tell tail signs unless you put it somewhere that is out of sight.

So if you stun first you have a live but flacid victim who you can then carefully pick your target site to inject the drug. Lets say down the side of a finger nail etc (as other more favorable sites are...) and apply and maintain preasure when removing the hypo neddle so that surface brusing is minimised or stoped untill the heart has died.)

Now all of this would get by an unspicious pathologist. However if foul play is thought, carefull examination of the brain and heart tissue will show atypical indicators (smoking guns).

For instance a heart attack or stroke generaly occures as the result of a blood clot breaking free from a blod vessel wall and blocking a smaller blood vessel.

This clot would usually cause localised damage not generalised damage as caused by the drug.

Thus a carefull examination of the heart tissue and blood vessels would not show the presences of the charecteristic blood clot.

You thus have an "unexplained death"...

Very carefull examination of the toxicology from samples taken in various parts of the body other than the blood, may well show up traces of the drug used or other confirming indicators found such as the hypo hole.

In which case you have at the very least a smoking gun pointing to murder, which most juries (due to the CSI effect) will take as proof positive...

The simple fact is that there is no untracable way to kill a human that we know of. If those examining the body have reason to be suspicious and are sufficiently skilled and have the time to do a thorough examination.

We may not be able to actually say what the exact method of death was but atypical indicators will point out that it was probably murder.

Which then brings up the question,

Where tha assains attempting to hide the murder short term or long term?

They may well have decided to go for a short term "natural causes" look to give them 24-48 hours time to get out of the country, rather than use a lot of care to make the murder very difficult to detect.

If the purpose of the murder is to "send a message" then they may well have used to much current to leave small burns and too much drug to ensure sufficient amount to be traced, and deliberatly botched the injection so the site would be found. All of which would only show up at the autopsy...

lost at seaMarch 24, 2010 11:22 AM

@Clive Robinson.

Thanks very much. However, you haven't addressed the strangulation/suffocation contradiction. In ordinary language strangulation is caused by a loop or hands around the neck; suffocation by something like a pillow. Completely different trace left behind.

Also, according to the news reports the burn marks were behind the knees, elsewhere on the body and behind the ears, and were visible to the naked eye. That doesn't sound like an attempt to make it look like natural causes--except perhaps to room service. Is it that one method didn't work and they fell back to a secondary backup method?

@Cold Spy, Green Squirrel (what is a green squirrel?) and all those on about plastic surgery before or after the fact. If there had been reversible plastic surgery before the fact, with the expectation of reversal after the fact, or the plan of using ordinary plastic surgery after the fact, why would the perpetrators have used theatrical disguises while they were on the ground? If you're James Bond who's been given reversible plastic surgery to look temporarily like Jason Bourne, why put on a disguise? 'Jason Bourne' did it. Where's 'Jason Bourne'? Disappeared off the face of the earth. We only know a James Bond. Where does 'Jason Bourne' putting on a wig during the operation so as to look like Mel Brooks fit? The only two possibilities that I can think of are:

1. If 'Jason Bourne' sees that someone in a hotel has noticed him and wants to pretend it's not him that's back in the lobby.

2. If 'Jason Bourne' is worried that he might be outed before he gets on the aeroplane out. But that doesn't seem to have been an issue either in the operation or in the discussion.

Of course, this is not to say that after-the-fact plastic surgery has not happened now that the 27 people have been outed.

Moreover, is the issue whether the common man or the common border guard will identify them, perhaps from a wanted list--or that the professional services of other countries will have marked them out? I.e., do the KGB, Chinese Intelligence, MI6, Defense de la frontiere, and the CIA all know each others black ops specialists? I doubt it. But now these services will have studied the matter and opened files on the 27.

Seems to me difficult to say that this was a perfect operation.

GreenSquirrelMarch 24, 2010 11:58 AM

@ lost at sea at March 24, 2010 11:22 AM

"If there had been reversible plastic surgery before the fact, with the expectation of reversal after the fact, or the plan of using ordinary plastic surgery after the fact, why would the perpetrators have used theatrical disguises while they were on the ground?"

--------------------

I never suggested plastic surgery had been done before or after. My exact quote was: "I have no idea about this. I remain unconvinced they would have surgery before or after, they may well have done, but I fail to see the need nor the effectiveness."

I still doubt it happened. I know of no other instances* where this has been done other than in fiction novels. Even high profile relocated witnesses dont get it.

A green squirrel is the name of a place I spent a lot of time, not a living animal as far as I know.


#####
(*) but then I wouldnt, would I? Thats the whole point.......

lost at seaMarch 24, 2010 12:01 PM

@Green Squirrel:

Sorry about that. I remembered vaguely the discussion and some of the participants but I was too lazy to go back and read the posts. I'll be more careful in future.

"A green squirrel is the name of a place I spent a lot of time, not a living animal as far as I know."

Velly mysterious indeed.

Regards

Clive RobinsonMarch 24, 2010 12:48 PM

@ lost at sea,

Before we go any further I need to make one thing clear.

An effect can have many causes, it is almost a "one way" argument and I personaly don't like arguing backwards from effect to cause especialy on very incompleate information (and as far as I'm aware the path report has not yet been made public, so details are scetchy at best).

You made the point,

"However, you haven't addressed the strangulation/suffocation contradiction."

No partly because strangulation is a cause and suffocation is an effect.

That is death by suffocation can have many causes, one of which is strangulation, another is as you say the use of a pillow (although this is not very effective with modern hollow fill pillows).

There is also still the question of how the victim was subdued prior to the administration of electric shock or the drug. I would have expected the victim to have put up quite a strugle.

Also I'm a bit concerned about the reliability of the report of strangulation. In most cases it leaves significant marking around the neck, and burst blood vessels in the face and eyes. That is it is generaly very difficult to mistake for a natural death from ten to fifteen feet away from the victim.

You also mentioned,

"Also, according to the news reports the burn marks were behind the knees, elsewhere on the body and behind the ears, and were visible to the naked eye. That doesn't sound like an attempt to make it look like natural causes--except perhaps to room service. Is it that one method didn't work and they fell back to a secondary backup method?"

I was only aware of behind the ears.

Behind the knees and other parts of the body tend to sugest torture not passivation by shock, which is something I mentioned on another thread on this blog.

The problem is it is none to clear what the actual time line of events is various reports have given different times.

What also has not been said (that I'm aware off) is if anything is missing like part of the victims lugage like a laptop etc.

Also of importance is what was so important to the victim that he had to be in what has become a major arms trading city without his body guards.

Concevably he could have been carrying "letters of credit" that needed signing over etc etc etc.

As others, GreenSquirrel and myself have repeatedly said "we don't know enough" to be able to start eliminating the various causes.

With regards temporary plastic surgury, it was something I and others raised on the original thread. Basicaly if you assume that the CCTV footage is as good as it is (and if it was Mossad they would know) then you would think they would take precautions which the attackers appear not to have done.

Now something most people don't undersatand is that human facial recognition is way different to computer recognition.

That is facial recognition software is (reputed to be) able to "see through disguises" where as humans are supposed to be quite bad at it (a simple example being to take a picture of somebody smiling using photoshop turn the mouth through 180 degrees, the result is pretty silly, but if you then turn this upside down most humand cannot spot the smile is the wrong way up on an upside down face...).

Facial recognition software is likley to become "the next big thing" like DNA profiling did.

That is although simple disgises prevent humans recognising faces, facial recognition software is (supposadly) not stopped by them. As the UK and other Govs are seriously looking at facial rcognition software to do passport control, it takes no great leap of the imagination to see it being used in real time to pick out "wanted faces" in an airport que etc, even several years after the "wanted notice" was issued...

So there is a possability that the attackers did have implants to the main thin point areas (cheeks, chin, brow ridges, nose etc) facial recognition uses to build up the bone structure.

If that is the case then it might well account for a number of other things.

Contary to what most people belive certain types of cosmetic surgury involve as little as saline injections, or lipid redisposition, not actual knife work.

For instance fat from the stomach area could be injected into the cheek or chin area to cause the basic skull shape apear to be different...

lost at seaMarch 25, 2010 12:22 AM

@Clive Robinson

Thanks very much, Mr Robinson. I actually agree with the points you are making--especially concerning your overview. I think an investigator would benefit from reading what you just wrote.

Some minor points.

1. I don't recall where, but I believe that some reports gave shock burns on the back of the knees and the chest in addition to the chest. I understand that the hit took about 10 minutes (again from vaguely remembered news reports) so if torture was involved it didn't go on for very long. There is torture to get passwords and there is torture to punish; this would, I think, have been torture to punish. Torture for information would seem to require much more time. It is conceivable to me that the electrical shock method had not been properly tested beforehand--how would you test such a system before the operation?

2. I took suffocation to refer to a method and not to a result, especially since the scenario was succinylcholine (short-acting incapacitant) then suffocation not to leave marks and to make it look like a heart attack. This is of course completely inconsistent with visible electrocution burn marks on the body coupled with strangulation.

3. I fully agree that the initial immobilization of the victim is an issue.

4. I fully agree that what al-Mabhouh was doing without bodyguards in Dubai is an important question.

5. I'm not completely sure of the point you're making about simple reversible plastic surgery before the event. That it might have been done I accept. What I don't understand is why it would have been combined with theatrical disguise. As you point out theatrical disguise is good only to fool humans. My gut feeling is that the operators thought that theatrical disguise was enough and that we see a mistake here: even Mossadis are human and make mistakes.

Best wishes.

GreenSquirrelMarch 25, 2010 5:49 AM

@ lost at sea at March 25, 2010 12:22 AM

"There is torture to get passwords and there is torture to punish; this would, I think, have been torture to punish. Torture for information would seem to require much more time."

I wonder if this is the case and if so what sort of extra time it would need.

We see lots of supporters of "enhanced interrogation" trying to justify torture as it being a quick way of getting a suspect to talk, but my instincts are you agree with you.

It certainly feels right that to torture information out of someone would take longer than 10 minutes but I have no way of knowing if this is the case.

For me personally, I would be singing like a canary almost instantly but I also appreciate that I am neither a hardened Islamic terrorist figure nor would doing that help me, so I might think differently.

I quite like the suggestion that the electroshock hadnt been properly tested - that certainly would make sense.

Clive RobinsonMarch 25, 2010 8:12 AM

@ lost at sea,

The main problem we have is first lack of information, then in most cases the information has been filtered through one or more news agencies / journo's. Some of whom will almost certainly have axes to grind (at least in the UK).

With regards torture itsupposadly does and does not work...

Depending on whom and at what point in time.

Firstly the "does argument" according to one or two Russian's field tourture work's for basic Intel (apparantly one ex Russian Col. who defected has written a book which covers this in passing...)

That is you tie the person by their thumbs to a tree, or post or whatever, force their mouth open and start filing down their teeth with an appropriate file (10-20 teeth to the inch). You then ask them one or two questions you already know the answers two, if they lie you tie up one of their co-capties up to a next to them gag them and just keep filing the first ones teeth down. If they don't tell the truth by the time you've reached the gums you start on the next one. Apparently within three captives you will usually get the answers you want...

Also if you take three prisoners up in a helicopter, ask the first any random question, if they hesitate throw them out the door, and ask the second the same question, any hesitation and out the door they go and you ask the third...

Apparently these methods where used by the Russians quite liberaly in various conflicts including Afganistan.

The second view point is that if a person has not responded to tourture within a few minutes you are wasting your time as they will have got over the initial shock and start telling you anything you want to hear as long as they think it will make the pain stop...

My limited experiance in getting information from people has involved nothing more that a cup or three of sweet milky tea (from a thermos we both get tea from) a friendly face a few jokes and a long chat about not very much.

With a small team out of sight listening in making notes and looking for differences in the stories these get fed back to the person doing the talking to gently go over the subject again and again untill the differences become minimal.

I was told fear and pain play no part in long term interogation because once you resort to tourture the person being interogated know you have lost the plot...

It is why they impress on you in the UK Armed forces as hard as possible "Name, Rank, Serial No and nothing else", because lack of sleep and other non physical techniques (sand bags over the head and lots of shouting and boots stamping by) messess up your mind.

With regards your,

"5. I'm not completely sure of the point you're making about simple reversible plastic surgery before the event. That it might have been done I accept. What I don't understand is why it would have been combined with theatrical disguise... "

If it was Mossad, they are known to have fairly good field craft skills.

Amongst other things they are reputed to have the master keys for every major hotel (4&5 star) in the local embasy etc...

Thus as Dubai is a major "hot spot" for various activities (arms dealing etc) it would not be unreasonable for them to know that the CCTV covarage and the image quality are sufficiently good that they cannot avoid having sufficiently good pictures taken of the operatives faces that Facial Recognition Software (FRS) might well work on the images.

It is no secret that a number of countries are looking to use FRS bio-metrics to verify a person with their ID documents, as humans are apparently not that good without a reasonable level of training. And even when they have the training they are easily deceived.

Thus FRS systems are very likely to be common place at airports and other ID check points within the next ten years (sooner if the sales bods have their way with Gov money).

Now a question arises, what is the difference between checking a face against a passport, or a record in the "most wanted list"...

Basicaly nothing if the quality of the suspects facial image is sufficient.

Now I'm not as familliar with FRS as I would like mainly because the little I have read and looked at smell heavily of "snake oil" because of the limited way it is normaly assessed.

Simplisticaly you have a full frontal facial image, various points are highlighted and these ratios (not actual measures) are compared.

The points usually selected are those where the bone coverage is minimal. In essence they are measuring the skull dimensions from external features like pupil to pupil distance, cheek to cheek distance jaw position relative to these other features.

Obviously such measurments depend on many things such as if the face is truly full face, and how fat etc the person is.

Which means there is a significant error value in the ratios due to people putting on or losing weight etc.

Now the second question arises if you know all of the above and have had the time to use friendly domain experts, the chances are you will have had time to work out what can be done to change these ratios by sub dermal padding etc.

So the question arises can FRS be fooled by simple plastic surgery with either injections of lippids or collegen (of which Israel is a major producer) or minor silicon implants.

If the answer is yes then I would fully expect Mossad etc to use it as a mater of routien for field agents.

If you want to have a think on this and the concept of "ID Brokering/shopping" (which is basicaly what happened with the UK "cloned" passports), then you could come quite quickly to the conclusion that bio-metric ID using FRS is a waste of time, and thus an enormous waste of tax payers money...

lost at seaMarch 25, 2010 1:49 PM

@Clive Robinson

1. I accept what you are saying. My point, however, is that since we know that the perpetrators used theatrical disguises, we have to explain, if we assume that there was pre-operation (reversible) plastic surgery or the expectation of post-operation (permanent) plastic surgery, why the theatrical disguises were thought necessary.

2. Also, I think that we can now take it as established that it was a Mossad operation based on the statements of the British Foreign Minister to the British Parliament, based on the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat identified in a not-for-attribution briefing to the press (presumably from the Foreign Office) as the Mossad London Station Chief or equivalent and based on the rest of the not-for-attribution briefing. Granted Mossad has a reputation for excellent trade-craft, but mistakes do happen, organizations do grow complacent or arrogant and so on and so forth.

3. The most economical explanation seems to me to be that the perpetrators thought that theatrical disguises were all that was necessary. A big mistake. But similarly the CIA operators who snatched the imam in Italy thought that their cell phones were clean and that their personal calls to their family would not be traced, as they indeed were. Perhaps, as Baer suggests, surveillance technology has simply rendered large swaths of trade-craft obsolescent without the agencies' being able to assimilate that before they make a huge blunder.

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