Dubai assassination was a masterclass in intelligence

By Scott Stewart, February 18, 2010

There have been enormous and dramatic changes in the use of passports and visas over the last 10 to 15 years. It is no longer so easy to counterfeit, and it is also much harder to alter such documents.

Today - ironically, in order to prevent terrorists travelling - passports and visas now have RFID chips embedded, making them much harder to forge. A lot of the lower-level kind of forgeries will diminish and in future it will only be the high-end counterfeiters who will operate.

But this will also mean it will be more difficult for the high-end intelligence agencies to operate. In the future, they will have to obtain documents through bribery and malfeasance.

We will see intelligence agencies such as Mossad using documents stolen from people who bear a resemblance to the operatives that they want to send out.

In Pakistan, for example, this is already commonplace: jihadist groups get people to surrender their passports and then use people who look as much as possible like the original holders. This avoids the necessity to try to alter the pictures.

I plan to use this operation to teach my students

As far as relations between Britain and Israel are concerned, this is unlikely to be a big problem. There may well be some sort of "knock it off" admonition from the British to the Israelis, I doubt there will be big repercussions. Things like aggressive Israeli spying against the UK would have much greater repercussions.

In relation to the Dubai operation itself, I look at it for the tactical breakdown of how they did it. I plan to use it as a teaching tool for some of our corporate customers.

To my mind, this operation was an absolute success. I was amused when I heard it described in America as one of Mossad's sloppiest operations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The team had excellent intelligence, they were well-prepared and their demeanour was as smooth as butter.

Mossad had the tradecraft to do it. They were well-trained, and the video that the Dubai police produced from the hotel is not something you see widely. These people were excellent.

They got someone who met the pillars of their criteria - he was a current threat, there was the retribution angle, and his death will upset the flow of arms from Iran to Hamas.

As for the future, the furore will simmer down and Mossad will just get better and change its tradecraft and its counterfeiting, and probably the countries that it uses for cover. I could go to Managua now and get a Nicaraguan passport today, it is that easy. I think Israel will probably look in Latin America and also possibly Mediterranean countries such as Lebanon, Cyprus, or even Italy. They will have to work illegally - but they know how to do it.

Scott Stewart is vice-president of tactical intelligence for the Statfor Global Intelligence Company, based in Austin, Texas

Last updated: 4:49pm, February 18 2010