A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 22, 2010

David Mack: "Spy and Counterspy: UAE Using Advanced Technology"

[The Following is a guest post by David Mack, former US Ambassador to the UAE and former Vice President of the Middle East Institute, on recent speculation about the hit in Dubai. To Ambassador Mack's links, which he sent on Saturday, I would add this Sunday Times story and Yossi Melman's reporting on it in Ha'aretz. — Michael Dunn.]

Saturday's Washington Post surveys the use of new technologies to foil secret assassinations, like that of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

Although WaPo does not mention the fact, the UAE has used iris scan technology in its immigration security for three years now. According to a senior official of the Ministry of Interior, about 54,000 people were arrested at Dubai International Airport last year after failing an iris scan. Moreover, Brigadier Obaid Bin Surour, Deputy Director of Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department said the DNRD staff and officials at the airport were able to seize 1,088 forged passports last year.

This raises the possibility that the UAE authorities have more to reveal. Perhaps spies and assassination teams will stop acting as if Dubai is a free fire zone for their activities.

If Mossad was involved, as many suspect, it may be another case where desire for an intelligence coup may have undermined the presumably larger Israeli desire for detente with the Arab states. But that assumes that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman really care whether Israel becomes an accepted part of the Middle East neighborhood.

Then there is a juicy LA Times article by the intrepid reporter Borzou Daragahi. He is on the trail, and he quotes the head of Dubai police as saying they have more evidence to reveal. Borzou does not, however, have the iris scan angle. I know the head of Dubai police, and I know of the high degree of professionalism of his staff and other UAE services. Also, I have stayed at the Boustan Rotana where the hit took place. I think it will be a while longer before Israeli guests are welcome there under their true identities, and they might be more cautious about using the identities of other people. The Arabs of the Peninsula have advanced quite a lot from the days of Wilfred Thesiger!

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