The assassination of senior Hamas militant leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouhon Jan. 19 is still generating a tremendous amount of discussion and speculation some six weeks after the fact. Dubai’s police force has been steadily releasing new information almost on a daily basis, which has been driving the news cycle and keeping the story in the media spotlight. The most astounding release so far has been nearly 30 minutes of surveillance camera footage that depicts portions of a period spanning the arrival of the assassination team in Dubai, surveillance of al-Mabhouh, and the killing and the exfiltration of the team some 22 hours later.
By last count, Dubai police claim to have identified some 30 people suspected of involvement in the assassination; approximately 17 have been convincingly tied to the operation through video footage either as surveillants, managers or assassins, with the rest having only tenuous connections based on information released by the Dubai police. In any case, the operation certainly was elaborate and required the resources and planning of a highly organized agency, one most likely working for a nation-state.
While the 22-hour period depicted in the video showcased the tactical capabilities of the various teams, it hardly tells the whole story. In order to pinpoint the location of al-Mabhouh on the day of his killing, the organization responsible for this operation would have had to have tracked al-Mabhouh for months, if not years. This can be done in three ways: technical surveillance, utilization of human sources and physical surveillance.
Technical surveillance of al-Mabhouh would include monitoring his e-mail, telephone calls and other forms of electronic communications such as online credit-card transactions and travel reservations. This could reveal his physical location and future plans, which would allow the assassination team to anticipate his location and prepare well ahead of time. With such a large team involved in the assassination, careful coordination and planned movements would have been required to ensure that all members were in place without attracting attention.
But technical surveillance has limitations. An experienced operative like al-Mabhouh (who had been the target of two previous assassination attempts in as many years) would most likely have taken precautions that would have limited his electronic visibility. The operational team likely usedhuman sources with close ties to al-Mabhouh who could corroborate the information and possibly influence the target’s movements, putting him in place for the operation. Human sources could have included al-Mabhouh’s colleagues within Hamas or a member of a rival group such as Fatah. (Three Palestinians suspected of being members of Fatah were arrested by Dubai authorities in connection with the assassination, indicating that the group may have provided human intelligence to the organization responsible for al-Mabhouh’s assassination.) Other people could have been recruited using a number of incentives (including cash) without their knowing the consequences of their assistance. Both the technical and human intelligence operations would have been run by intelligence officers operating abroad and at locations separate from the operational team.
According to Dubai police, physical surveillance was conducted by members of the operational team during al-Mabhouh’s previous trips to the United Arab Emirates. Physical surveillance is acritical part of any effective assault (whether it’s a clandestine intelligence operation or a car-jacking) because it gives the operatives an opportunity to become familiar with their surroundings and recognize their target in his or her “natural” environment.
Once all this homework was done to establish al-Mabhouh’s normal routines and determine his approximate location and duration of his stay in Dubai, the intelligence-collection process moved into the deployment phase and an operational team was sent into action.
Read More: http://bit.ly/dvRHwo
Thanks: Stratfor/Fred Burton/Ben West