Why, And How The CIA Killed Top Hezbollah Operative Imad Mughniyeh — ‘The Prince Of Darkness’
Matthew Levitt,writing in the February 9, 2015 edition of Politico Magazine, says the CIA’s assassination of Hezbollah operative Imad Mugniyeh in February 2008, was “payback for a generation, old blood debt. A team of CIA spotters in Damascus tracking the Hezbollah terrorist wanted for decades; a custom-made explosive shaped to kill the only target, and placed in the spare tire of an SUV parked along the target’s route home; intelligence gathered by the Israelis, paired with a bomb built and tested at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina — taking out a man responsible for deaths of more Americans than anyone else till 9/11.” “The United States helped build the bomb; and, tested it repeatedly at the CIA facility in North Carolina,” a former senior U.S. official told The Washington Post last month. One reason for the rigorous testing, was to reportedly ensure the potential blast area was contained and would not result in collateral damage,” the Washington Post noted. The CIA and Mossad worked together to monitor Mughniyeh in Damascus for months prior to the killing and to determine where the bomb should be planted, according to the former officials.
According to the January 30, 2015 article in The Washington Post, written by Adam Goldman, with contributions from William Booth in Jerusalem, Greg Miller, Karen DeYoung, Anne Geran, and Julie Tate, “It is not clear when the CIA first realized Mughniyeh was living in Damascus, but his whereabouts were known for at least a year before he was killed. One of the former U.S. intelligence officials said that the Israelis were first to approach the CIA about a joint operation to kill him in Damascus. The agency had a well-established clandestine infrastructure in Damascus that the Israelis could utilize.
“Officials said the Israelis wanted to pull the trigger as payback. “It was revenge,” another former official said. The Americans didn’t care as long as Mughniyeh was dead, the official said, and there was little fear of blowback because Hezbollah would most probably blame the Israelis.”
“Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence until 2010, said Mughniyeh was positioned right under the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. “He was the commander and chief of all military and terror operations,” Yadlin said, who declined to discuss Mughniyeh’s demise. “He was the agent of the Iranians.”
“The operation to target Mughniyeh came at a time when the CIA and Mossad were working closely to thwart the nuclear ambitions of Syria and Iran. The CIA had helped the Mossad verify that the Syrians were building a nuclear reactor, leading to an Israeli airstrike on the facility in 2007. Israel and the United States were actively trying to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.
“Once Mughniyeh was located in Damascus, the intelligence agencies began building a “pattern of life” profile, looking at his routine for vulnerabilities. Mossad officials suggested occasional walks in the evening – when Mughniyeh was un-escorted – presented an opportunity. CIA officers with extensive undercover experience secured a safe house in a building near his apartment. Planning for the operation was exhaustive. An Israeli proposal to place a bomb in the saddlebags of a bicycle or motorcycle was rejected because of concerns that the explosive charge might not project outward properly. The bomb had to be repeatedly tested and reconfigured to minimize the blast area. The location where Mughniyeh was killed was close to a girls’ school.
As Mr. Levitt notes, most people, governments, and Hezbollah itself, assumed it was Israel who actually took out Mughniyeh; and, given the fact that Mughniyeh had been linked to terrorist attacks on Jewish personnel and facilities around the world — that was a safe assumption. But, as a Middle East Intelligence Analyst working for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Joint Staff/J2, we knew that Mughniyeh was a , if not the principal architect of the Marine Barracks Bombing, and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in October 1983. Two truck bombs detonated just outside the Barracks and the U.S. Embassy, killing 299 American and French servicemen, and also the entire CIA Station, as well as the Head of the CIA’s Middle East Analysis Branch. Forever after, Mughniyeh was known in our circles as The Prince Of Darkness. “Mughniyeh reportedly planned the 1983 [Mr. Levitt mistakenly dates the incident as 1984], Marine Barracks bombing; and, watched the attack unfold through binoculars — from the top of a nearby building,” Mr. Levitt writes, and “his hand touched Hezbollah plots from Germany to Kuwait, and from Argentina to Thailand.” And, then there’s the March 1984 abduction of Beirut CIA Station Chief, William ‘Bill’ Buckley — which, as Mr. Levitt notes, “showed careful target selection and operational surveillance.” — and, likely assisted in some fashion by Iranian intelligence operatives. “According to one account,” Mr. Levitt writes, :some of the intelligence Hezbollah used to identify Mr. Buckley, was provided by Iran — based on materials seized during the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979. His kidnapping, was a devastating blow to the CIA.” “Bill Buckley’s abduction, basically closed down CIA intelligence activities in Lebanon” said one former senior CIA official. “But, within six months, the CIA has enough solid intelligence to determine that Mr. Buckley was being held by Hezbollah; and,CIA Director William Casey moved ‘heaven and earth’ in an attempt to secure Mr. Buckley’s freedom — but, it was not to be.
“Buckley was reportedly tortured, both by Hezbollah, as well as by Iranian intelligence operatives.” Mr. Levitt writes. To add insult to injury, “Hezbollah reportedly sent three different videotapes of Buckley being tortured by the CIA, each more harrowing than the next,” he adds.
“By some accounts, “Mr. Buckley was moved [frequently] through Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley; and, transferred to Iran,” at some point Mughniyeh’s Islamic Jihad Organization announced it had killed Mr. Buckley in 1985; but, fellow hostages would later reveal that he had died months earlier — as a result of the torture he endured, possibly at the hands of Mughniyeh himself. According to former hostage David Jacobsen, when Mr. Buckley died in captivity, reportedly drowning in his own fluids as a result of the torture [he endured], “it really shook up our kidnappers.”
“The authority to kill Mughniyeh required a presidential finding by President George W. Bush. The Attorney General, The Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Adviser and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department — all signed off on the operation,” one former intelligence official said.
The former official said “getting the authority to kill Mughniyeh was a “rigorous and tedious” process. “What we had to show was he was a continuing threat to Americans,” the official said, noting that Mughniyeh had a long history of targeting Americans dating back to his role in planning the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.”
“The decision was we had to have absolute confirmation that it was self-defense,” the official said.
In a new book, “The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins,” former CIA officer Robert B. Baer writes how he had considered assassinating Mughniyeh but apparently never got the opportunity. He notes, however, that CIA “censors” – the agency’s Publications Review Board – screened his book and “I’ve unfortunately been unable to write about the true set-piece plot against” Mughniyeh.
Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq when Mughniyeh was killed, said: “All I can say is that as long as he drew breath, he was a threat, whether in Lebanon, Iraq or anywhere else. He was a very intelligent, dedicated, effective operator on the black side.” Crocker said that he didn’t know anything about the operation to kill the Hezbollah operative and had doubts about Mughniyah traveling to Iraq. That said, he added: “When I heard about it, I was one damn happy man.”
“In a statement in 2008 after Mughniyeh’s death, the office of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said: “Israel rejects the attempt by terror groups to attribute to it any involvement in this incident. We have nothing further to add.”
“State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at the time: “The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a coldblooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost.”
“Inside the Intelligence Community, a former official recalled, “It wasn’t jubilation.”
“We did what we had to,” the official said, “and let’s move on.”
“Twenty-four years after Mr. Buckley’s abduction,” and murder, Mr. Levitt concludes, “:the CIA got its payback. A former CIA operative told Newsweek, that publicly acknowledging the CIA role in Mughniyeh’s demise — was long overdue.” “It sends a message, that we will track you down, no matter how much time it takes,” he said. “The other side needs to know this.’ V/R, RCP