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Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz

Posted: March 2, 2010 01:28 PM

An Intelligence Agency Misused Passports: OMG!

What's Your Reaction:

The complaints leveled against Israel by European countries and Australia, regarding the alleged misuse of passports by the Mossad in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, ring hollow and smack of blatant hypocrisy. Whoever did kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh--whether it was the Israeli Mossad or someone else--clearly did have their agents use stolen or forged passports. Big deal.

Every good intelligence agency uses stolen and forged passports. The British have been especially adept at this means of spycraft. No country that uses fake passports in their intelligence operations has the moral authority to complain about the alleged misuse of passports in this case. The only ones that have a legitimate grievance are those individuals whose passports may have been misused without their knowledge.

I guess it's the job of foreign ministries to complain publicly when other nations do what they themselves do secretly. Hypocrisy is, after all, the homage that vice pays to virtue. I'm reminded of the famous scene in Casablanca, when officer Renault declares, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" A croupier then approaches Renault, and hands him a roll of currency: "Your winnings, sir."

The hypocrisy in this case seems even more blatant than usual. Is it because Israel is the alleged offender, and the world has gotten accustomed to singling out Israel for double standard condemnation?

Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Bali, which killed a large number of Australian tourists, I had the opportunity to meet with the Australian Prime Minister. I was writing a book at the time on preemption, and I asked him whether he would have authorized a preemptive attack on the terrorist who killed Australian citizens, if such an attack would have saved their lives. His response was that Australia would have done anything it could, to prevent these terrorist attacks. Anything, I guess, except misusing passports! Is there anybody who believes that Australia would not have used forged or stolen passports to prevent the Bali massacres? If Great Britain could have stopped the London subway attack by misusing passports, would M6 have allowed the terrorism to go forward in the name of preserving passport integrity? Of course not. The same is true of Spain with regard to the Madrid bombing and to every other country in the world that seeks to prevent terrorism. Well, if the Mossad did in fact kill al-Mabhouh, they too did it to prevent the killing of their innocent civilians.

The Israelis are always accused by their enemies, and sometimes even by their friends, of taking "disproportionate" action to stop terrorists. But what could be more proportionate than a carefully planned and specifically targeted attack on an admitted terrorist who boasted of being an active combatant? Whoops! I guess I forgot about those darn passports. That must be the disproportionate action complained about. Saving innocent lives, on the one hand--misusing passports on the other. I guess the right moral resolution, according to some foreign ministries, is to let innocent victims die--at least as long as its only Israeli victims.

It's interesting, and disturbing, that more criticism is being directed against Israel for allegedly using stolen passports than for allegedly killing a terrorist. That's because no western country wants to appear to be sympathetic to a terrorist. The "victims" of passport fraud are innocent civilians, but the injury they have suffered pales in comparison to the injuries--deaths--prevented by the well-deserved death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

If the deaths of a small number of innocent civilians is deemed "proportional" to the killing of a terrorist combatant, than surely the discomfort of a small number of innocent victims of passport fraud is proportional.

The high dudgeon expressed by foreign ministries over stolen passports is worse than hypocritical. It undercuts the war against terrorism.

There ought to be concern, among western democracies, about how easy it is to use forged or stolen passports. Dubai should be conducting an investigation, but the focus should be on how simple it was for those carrying these phony passports to get into their country. The misuse of passports is, after all, a primary tool used by terrorists to smuggle themselves into western countries, from which they can engage in worldwide terrorism. There are thousands of forged and fraudulent British passports circulating around the world today. Many are in the hands of terrorists. That should be the focus of any investigation, not the occasional and controlled misuse of passports by western intelligence agencies to combat terrorism.

Whomever snuck into Dubai using fake passports may have done that country a service in warning them to tighten up their passport procedures. Next time it may be a terrorist who tries to enter the country. Wait! Isn't that exactly what happened when al-Mabhouh walked through security using a real passport with his real name? I guess in Dubai you don't have to use a fake passport if you're a terrorist, but you do if you're trying to stop terrorists--at least if the terrorism is directed only against Israel. I guess Dubai is less concerned about letting terrorists into their country with real passports than in letting those who would stop terrorism into their country with fake passports. It's a topsy turvy world out there.