New Revelations in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh Assassination

I wrote a lot last year about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. There's a new article by an Israeli investigative journalist that tells the story we already knew, and adds a bunch of interesting details. Well worth reading.

Posted on January 17, 2011 at 5:47 AM • 34 Comments

Comments

BF SkinnerJanuary 17, 2011 6:31 AM

Discussion on the former entries here tended to be about the 'sucess' vs the intentional burning of a dozen or so agents.

Always hard to tell from the outside but a change in Mossad leadership indicates to me that the Israelis themselves considered it a bungled operation.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 17, 2011 7:04 AM

@ BF Skinner,

"Always hard to tell from the outside but a change in Mossad leadership indicates to me that.."

Yup I could think of a number of other things as well (It appears Iran has dirt on Mossad agents sent in to take out people on the Iran team cleaning up stuxnet, then...)

It appears the previous encumbrant had dropped more than one ball during their tenure, specificaly in the "big no no" area of allowing Mossad officers ID's becoming known...

One thing that has been sugested is it's a "bubble up" effect in that those in Mossad do not have confidence in their senior leadership's seperation from the politico's and the consequence it has had.

But as usuall it's effectivly all spin to drive the rumour mill around, the facts we will probably never know.

BF SkinnerJanuary 17, 2011 7:23 AM

@Clive "take out people ...cleaning up stuxnet"

incident handlers and it guys are become a legitamite target? Yikes. I want my sidearm back.

TJeffersonJanuary 17, 2011 7:28 AM

Could someone please explain how a hotel door chain can be put in place from outside the room?

oldagentJanuary 17, 2011 7:37 AM

re: chain
I could tell you but its more fun if you figure it out yourself. we had to

ddJanuary 17, 2011 8:16 AM

its done with a bent coat hanger, the hanger is thinner than your arm and can manipulate the thing before the door is completly closed, it requires some ingenuity and agility so maybe not you.

Dirk PraetJanuary 17, 2011 8:23 AM

Re-reading last year's posts on the al-Mabhouh assassination, I have little more to add than perhaps someone with sufficient authority within the organisation to push his own agenda was at risk of not making his OTE unless this guy got whacked and called for an all-out strike at the risk of burning about 30 operatives. Over the years, I have seen many cases of really stupid calls motivated by greed and short term thinking that had dramatic consequences over the longer term.

As pointed out by BF Skinner, there may be reason to believe that if indeed the Mossad was behind it, they too may have realised that applying Wall Street logic to other fields generally isn't a good idea.

lost truly lostJanuary 17, 2011 9:05 AM

The article, it should be noted, reads like an internal Mossad 'hit-job' on Dagan. Like someone wanted to hang the op around his neck, presumably as part of a 'new broom'.

Note also that the article is studiously vague about how the murder was actually committed.

mooJanuary 17, 2011 10:45 AM

@ anonymous on Jan 17 9:04 am:
Nice job putting words in BF Skinner's mouth there. You're conflating his opinion about bystanders being able to react to a random criminal pulling out a gun and going on a shooting spree, with a generic comment about the chilling nature of targeted attacks on noncombatants.

Its true that if Mossad decides for some reason to make some IT guy dead, his carrying a sidearm around is not likely to prevent that. To me it read more like, "yikes, I thought fixing computers was as safe as a job could be" which I guess is mostly true, unless those computers are the kind that directly threaten some nation's security.

I don't find it surprising that a country that views Iran as a dangerous enemy would attack individuals whose contributions are vital in some way to Iran's nuclear efforts, even if they are lowly scientists, IT workers, etc.

BF SkinnerJanuary 17, 2011 11:15 AM

@moo
Thanks! I'm sure he's just taking the mickey from a badger.

@. "you still want one for yourself?

I regard this as a case of a specific point control vs general case. Applying the control in the face of real threat vs applying it to a movie-plot.

CCTV is useless unless there's someone to watch them. Around a specific assest with alarms to a human ...they useful. Car Alarms don't deter unless the theif thinks someone will be attracted by the noise. My alarm going off in my driveway is something I'd want to investigate. Audit logs tell nothing unless the data is assessed and alerted to response teams. Ever review your home router's log? Your PCs event log?

I have a classic liberal'sd view on firearms that I got from my Dad who was an FDR New Deal/Johnson Great Society liberal. There weren't guns around the house becuase they didn't interest him or my mom. Then there were. Didn't find out until later that he'd been involved in an investigation that put a lot of crooked cops in jail. Cops and families of cops who made very specfic threats. Once that scum had been convicted of their various crimes the threat diminished over time the guns went away. There were a couple of times after that he controlled for new threats by being armed but once the threat was gone the arms followed.

If I am under a direct known threat?
Yeah. I want a gun. But mostly I live in such a way as not to need them. (don't be a bag man for the mob - that helped)

I asked a friend who was describing a particular firearm (taurus judge) as really well suited to protecting the driver from car-jacking. Does that happen a lot to you? I asked. Well, no. In fact there had never even been a car jacking in the county. But having built a scenario in his head he was threatened by it. and so, sought to control the threat. (only the cynical would observe he really liked guns and any excuse to buy one was a good one, or that the last thing you want to be confronted with is a fear driven man armed with a gun)

Should police (US) be armed on duty at all times?
Yep. Without question. The threat they face is very real and can come about at any time.

Should gun's be generally avaliable?
If they are, risk goes up--as people's guns get stolen, drop down the back of their sweatpants and discharge, fall out of their purses and discharge, or shotguns dropped in the crew room discharges out the station window and hits the off duty radioman. No really read the military's firearm mishap reports. The military believes in gun control, has policies and procedures and trains to them and there is still this constant trickle of accident. And I wouldn't say the military shouldn't have arms.

Some would argue these are acceptable losses for the freedoms that the 2nd ammendment protects and reduction of risk in other areas. I'm not arguing here for or against that position.

Just observing that with more guns generally more people are going to die by gun fire both intentional and unintentional.

jgrecoJanuary 17, 2011 1:24 PM

@Perak

Just wait until you hear how many people it took to put just two men on the moon!

dbCooperJanuary 17, 2011 2:07 PM

I understand how the door chain could be latched from the outside. But how did the maid get in the room to discover the body the next day?

askmeJanuary 17, 2011 2:34 PM

@dbCooper: If you think Mossad are handy with a coathanger and chainlock, you should meet some hotel maids.

ASK

Clive RobinsonJanuary 17, 2011 3:10 PM

@ dbCooper,

"But how did the maid get in the from the outside. But how did the maid get in the room to discover the body the next day?"

If you go back to the original post Bruce made you will see it was discussed at length.

Put simply any hotel has a whole host of reasons to get easy access to a hotel room that the guest has locked themselves into (think children playing about or other legitimate "died in the night" guests).

Thus nextime you stay at a hotel have a realy good look at just how much slack there is on the door furniture when it actually comes down to "security" or the lack there of.

Oh and most criminals know this, the unfortunate case of the young bride who was strangled by "room raiders" just a handfull of days ago will show when it gets to trial just how easy it is to get into a hotel room...

jgrecoJanuary 17, 2011 5:26 PM

@josephdietrich at January 17, 2011 2:06 PM

Tell that to the CIA. The number of botched assassinations in the modern times is pretty staggering.

Or think of it this way: mossad, with all of their real world experience, saw fit to send in 27 people to pull it off. If assassination isn't rocket science, then one must wonder if these organizations are full of a bunch of Mr. Magoos...

JayJanuary 17, 2011 6:34 PM

@jgreco: Equally, "assassination is not rocket science", but clandestine infiltration and extraction is.

Either that, or suicide bombers and sniper nutcases are better at this than the agencies are...

Richard Steven HackJanuary 17, 2011 9:19 PM

Quote: "What the blown identities of the operatives illustrate more than anything is the now seemingly insurmountable problem posed by twenty-first-century counterespionage systems. False identities and cover stories are no longer any match for well-placed security cameras, effective passport control, and computer software that can almost instantly track communications and financial transactions."

No - only if you're an arrogant idiot like the Israelis are. The actions taken by the Mossad in this case in a hostile country are just puerile in their incompetence - much like the idiot contractors the CIA used in Italy a while back.

These people are mostly as messed up as most terrorists. Which is not surprising as the sort of people who go into this line of work really AREN'T "rocket scientists" but mostly psychopaths.

When I was being sentenced for armed bank robbery, the prosecution made something of the fact that I planned the robberies really well. I pointed out to the judge that I was an IT person, a programmer, and "planning is what I do" (well, what I do, not what most programmers do, unfortunately as can be attested by the crap software on the market today.) Even so, I got caught because I didn't do enough research on bank countermeasures and was not aware of radio transmitters in bait money. I SHOULD have been aware since I knew full well such methods were used in FBI kidnapping investigations.

But the Mossad used a ridiculously large team to locate and neutralize one victim, used easily detectable communication and financial systems to connect the team, and engaged in farcical methods of surveillance and disguise in the course of this operation.

They also demonstrated a preference for obscure technology based murder methods like spray poisons and other nonsense when much easier methods exist. A simple silenced handgun shot to the head or a broken neck as a result of a "fall in the bathroom" would have sufficed. The Mossad reads too many spy novels. Since your agents were intended to leave the country within a couple hours and the victim wouldn't be found for a day or more, it's hardly worth the effort to make the kill seem "natural" - when by definition the individual turning up dead at all would be considered suspicious considering who he was.

Which by the way is one good reason for not killing him in his hotel room - kill him on the street, throw him the trunk of a car, park the car in a long-term lot, it will be weeks before he's found (by the smell) and there will no surveillance cameras to worry about.

The reality is that Israel really doesn't care if their agents are seen since no one is going to do anything about it. Israel is a terrorist state far more so than Iran and has been for decades. As long as the US offers unquestioning support for everything Israel does, Israel will act like the "mad dog" the Mossad relishes as a reputation.

Has anyone bothered to ask how Israel and the US gets away with the Stuxnet worm which damaged facilities in a number of other countries than Iran? This was clearly international Internet terrorism, and no one cares.

If Iran had done such a thing, we'd be nuking Iran yesterday.

By the way, all this "Iran supports Hamas terrorism" crap in the article just makes it clear the bias of the author.

.January 18, 2011 7:12 AM

> BF Skinner
> I asked a friend who was describing a particular firearm (taurus judge)
> as really well suited to protecting the driver from car-jacking.
> Does that happen a lot to you? I asked. Well, no.
> In fact there had never even been a car jacking in the county.
> But having built a scenario in his head he was threatened by it.
> and so, sought to control the threat.

Number of mass shootings per year: about 20
source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/...

Number of car jackings per yer: tens of thousands
source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carjacking

A person has a much greater chance of being a victim of a carjacking than a mass shooting.

If you're going to belittle somebody for taking an action to protect themselves from something that happens 10s of thousands of times per year, shouldn't those who use incidents such as the recent shooting in Tucson to promote gun control or restrictions on political speech be ridiculed even more?

GreenSquirrelJanuary 18, 2011 9:24 AM

Ah, another gun debate..

@ .

Did anyone say mass shootings were not rare events? Did I misread BF Skinner's post or is this the beginnings of a strawman?

Are mass shootings the only incidents where a firearm is used to kill people?

On a related (yet still OT) note, I find the title of the USA Today article you link to very entertaining (for want of a better word). It is truly sad that mass shootings are part of American life.

As was fairly obvious, BF's initial remark was tongue in cheek but you seem to have taken this to heart and want to beat it to death. Brilliant.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with Mossad assassinating a guy in Dubai?

GreenSquirrelJanuary 18, 2011 9:27 AM

Sorry to follow up to myself: to get a better risk:benefit analysis wouldnt comparing the incidence of car jackings (in places the person will be driving) to the incidence of accidental shootings?

Or are we keeping with an apples vs oranges line? (When everyone knows that melons win and plums lose)

BF SkinnerJanuary 18, 2011 10:57 AM

@Green Squirrel

Thanks I missed that the .'s reply was to me.

I am completly uninterested in a gun control debate. They don't go any where and are unproduction. I am interested in how people think and act about security. Conditional security (which is based on risk assessment) Which this particular story related to; security counter measures in the absence of threat (calculated threat, calculated impact, failed to calculate probability).

. if you are worried about gun grabbers. I'll tell you what I tell all my engineer's so passionate for the 2nd Ammendment. Don't be. The politics aren't there. When the Democrats won in 2006 who were new, were western state Moderate to Conservative Democrats. These are not the people to pass gun control. While these were the same people driven out by tea baggers the new house won't touch gun control. They learned the lesson from Clinton's administration. Should a conservative, republican house pass gun control their base would turn on them in a heart beat and no death to health care in 2012.

Congress isn't going to go even the mild point of extended clips. No matter how many Democrats are assassinated.

What are characterized as dangerous far left wacko liberials in Congress are Center-right Democrats. (that liberals allowed this? a massive fail)

What you are seeing is a careful well thought out fundraising effort by the NRA. Pay your dues and go on with your life.

A sneeze-guard in the gallery? Given how long it's taken to get the capital security visitor's center done? Maybe by 2020.


ModeratorJanuary 18, 2011 12:02 PM

"Anyway, what does any of this have to do with Mossad assassinating a guy in Dubai?"

Good question.

.January 19, 2011 8:48 AM

Me thinks thou doth project.

For questioning the blatant double-standard of a regular poster regarding self protection methods -- a security related topic brought up not by me -- I am accused of

(1) starting a pointless and off-topic gun control debate. I'm not sure where I started a gun control debate. Read the posts and count the words. I do agree that gun-control is off-topic and an uninteresting and unproductive topic. Search for the first mention of "gun control" in this thread (or of guns the "James Fallows" thread, for that matter).

(2) fearing some gun-grabbing boogeyman, because my detractors, who do want to lecture about gun control, believe they can read my mind.

(3) being a dog with a bone, an insulting phrase, after the Moderator tried to steer this thread back on topic.

Have we descended from critiquing security-theater to becoming security-theater theater?

BF SkinnerJanuary 19, 2011 11:01 AM

@. "Blatent double standard..."

I understood the intent of your original critque. You want to out hypocrisy! Good on you.

I think I addressed the double-standard-ness question of your post sufficiently. If I haven't done so to your satisfaction, well, that, is no problem at all.

There's a real difference between the general and random and the specific and personal risks. In nature, scope and formulated mix. The controls to those risks need be commensurate; commensurate means they must reduce the risks.

There's real consequence and cost in trying secure oneself, one's nation, one's airline industry from any imaginary risk while there is real need to secure for the same from the likely.

People buy hand guns for personal protection because:
a) they define requirement to kill (either murder or justified homicide)
or
b) because they are afraid.

Security. As, I formulate it, protects us from the probable result of a threat impacting an asset. Security done right doesn't increase other risks. It also doesn't and can't protect us from our fears. That's inside...right above the cerebellum. Hard to get to.

"Have we descended from critiquing security-theater to becoming security-theater theater?"

Meh. As others here have observed many times; security theater if done right works. When Kay wore Lancelot's armor he walked through the mele unchallanged. I do allow that it's a big if.

BenjaminJanuary 20, 2011 12:25 AM

@Richard Steven Hack

I'm not going to address any of your other points, but I wanted to challenge the notion of "just make sure he's not found for a few weeks".

I think the Mossad would have other reasons to make the assassination look like a natural death. Remember that to them, the target was not just an isolated individual - he was a member of a large enemy organization. Given that he was traveling surreptitiously, it is very possible that they had some kind of inside information about his wherebouts. By making his death look natural (which they obviously failed to do), they could attempt to protect the source of this information from discovery.

Cayce PollardJanuary 23, 2011 6:53 AM

"The sequence of events described here is based largely on the exhaustive investigation conducted by the Dubai chief of police, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim"

Sounds like a reputable and independent source.

"But the Mossad used a ridiculously large team to locate and neutralize one victim, used easily detectable communication and financial systems to connect the team, and engaged in farcical methods of surveillance and disguise in the course of this operation."

Probably wasn't Mossad, then, was it?

It seems to me more likely that the newspaper article is by Mossad and the assassination was by Palestinians (possibly with the support of Mossad).

Fred JihadiFebruary 28, 2011 9:53 AM

It's amazing how many anti-Israel people post here. Or maybe this is just one of the few places where your rhetoric is accepted/ignored. Yes, Israel is a dictatorship of terror pushing the Jewish religion across the world by means of terrorism and propaganda, surrounded by democratic unopressed multi-religion societies that happily live side by side with their neighbours...

Sad, deluded armchair theorists mostly with not one clue about intelligence operations.

No one person here knows why this guy was killed. You know he was a terrorist and a facilitator. You don't know why it was so important for him to be taken out in dubai. Or what else was linked to that operation. You have no real clue that, whoever did the deed, really used 27 people. Most of the evidence put together by the Dubai police has never been made public. No one has been "caught". No one will be. The main goal was achieved (if that was the main goal) and possibly others too.

Anyone who has conducted surveillance professionally knows how many resources are required to track a single person. And surveillance people arent planners or assassins.

C U AnonFebruary 28, 2011 1:19 PM

@ Fred Jihadi,

"It's amazing how many anti-Israel people post here"

Err anti-Israeli people...

Go back and look again and remember,

Government != people

There is a lot of sentiment against Israel's Government and the policies it puts forward and many would think rightly so.

However I suspect most posters here would treat the ordinary people of Israel in the same way they would treat the ordinary people of their own country.

However your opening sentance does indicate the direction of your argument and it is one others have tried and failed at before you.

At the very least the bulk of your comments indicate that your observation of,

"Anyone who has conducted surveillance professionally knows how many resources are required to track a single person"

Shows you appear to have liitle or no knowledge of the resources involved....

Fred JMarch 1, 2011 9:18 AM

@ C U Anon

Thank you for your comment. But when people demonize the State of Israel they don't qualify which aspect of it they are anti. People who don't like the politics of Obama don't refer to the US as the Illegitimate United States of America. Israel is condemned continuously whatever it does, and all the good is publicly overlooked. This is not opinion or conjecture.

Regarding surveillance resources for following a target...I read a book one time that was quite detailed and I'm quite sure it mentioned numerous vehicles and personnel...

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