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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

Open letter to Rt. Hon. David Miliband,

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About Maurice Ostroff
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
 
 

From Maurice Ostroff 
March 25, 2010

 
Sir,
Your statement about the fraudulent use of British passports (by Israel) in the Dubai affair as recorded in Hansard.

It is with great respect that I suggest that several aspects of the Dubai imbroglio, of which you may not be aware, may lead you, as a fair-minded person, to reconsider the views you presently hold. For example

1. You said that SOCA concluded that the forged passports were copied from genuine British passports when handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel. This focus on Israel as the only suspect diverts attention away from other avenues that deserve equally intense investigation, if the truth is sought.

For example, the fake passports at issue could have come from any of the flourishing passport factories in London open for trade with all comers. On February 26, Sue Reid in the Daily Mail described the "frightening ease", with which foreign terrorists and criminals can obtain fake EU passports made to order in 48 hours at counterfeiting factories in North London. (note the plural). She bought three forged passports for �1,200 each.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-388912/My-fake-passport-Britain.html

There are many other likely sources. The passports used in Dubai could even have been issued fraudulently by the British Home office, which has admitted to having issued 10,000 genuine British passports to fraudulent applicants. According to Mail online of March 21, 2007, an Al Qaeda fanatic was issued with nine British passports, seven in his own name and two in fraudulent identities, while he was plotting to murder thousands of people in a series of terrorist atrocities. http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id263.html

Another worry is that thousands of stolen passports are still in circulation resulting from a hijack in 2008 of 3,000 blank British passports and visas that were destined for British embassies abroad. The Mail online described the hijacking as a 'real coup' to terrorists, illegal immigrants and fraudsters.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1039490/Hijackers-steal-blank-British-passports-worth-2-5m-driver-stops-buy-chocolate-bar.html

Moreover, a Google search for fake passports reveals countless offers for genuine looking but fake EU, British, USA, Canadian and Australian passports. See for example
http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/travellers-warned-of-passport-scam-20090309-8tcd.html
 
2. You also announced that you intend to amend your travel advice on Israel to make clear the potential risk British nationals face that their passports might be misused when visiting Israel. Once again I suggest sir, that the focus on Israel is misplaced. One may well ask whether Dubai will be included in this travel advisory, as the photos of passports of the Dubai suspects that have been repeatedly published in the media are proof positive that passports of visitors are routinely copied at Dubai airport.

In fact I would be surprised if most international airports do not routinely scan the passports of visitors.

3. You said that SOCA concluded that the high-quality of the forgeries indicated they were made by a state intelligence service, with the implication that the only possible suspect must be Israel leading to your draconian decision that a member of the Israel embassy be withdrawn from the UK. Again, with great respect I ask how SOCA could possibly evaluate the quality of the forgeries without examining the documents. All that was available to them were copies of particular pages.

4. A number of unresolved question marks must throw doubt not only on Israel's involvement in this affair, but even whether Mr. Mabhouh was indeed murdered, committed suicide or died by misadventure. For example

a) Gulf News reported that when the body was found on January 20 at 13.30, the door to Mr. Mabhouh's room was securely locked from the inside and latched with the safety chain in place, indicating the possibility of suicide or misadventure.  It is astonishing that this vital information has been glossed over instead of receiving the attention it calls for. On the one hand the media and the Dubai Police describe the Mossad as clumsy and incompetent, having been unaware of the CCTV cameras and leaving behind evidence including DNA samples. On the other hand they assume that Mossad agents are so brilliant that they are able to leave a room securely locked from the inside with a latch and chain firmly in place.

b) On the very day the body was discovered, Palestine News Agency Ma'an reported that Mabnouh had died of cancer, indicating a possible hasty cover-up of a possible suicide or other misadventure. This was followed by silence on the subject until the official announcement of his death, nine days later, allowing sufficient time to change the cancer story and invent an assassination, implicating Israel, with video clips and false passports deliberately using the identities of people living in Israel, in order to cast suspicion on that country.

The use of Israeli identities in the fake passports is a powerful indicator that Israel was not involved. It is highly improbable that if the Mossad had prepared the forged passports they would have pointed the finger at Israel by using the identities of persons living there.

c) The hotel's CCTV cameras clearly cover the doors to the rooms as is evident from one of the video clips of "Gail" walking in the corridor with the doors in the background. That the cameras did not capture the crucial evidence for which they are intended, namely to photograph culprits breaking into and leaving Mabhouh's room points either to a damming security failure or the possibility that there was no irregular entry into the room.

The many widely distributed video clips of people walking outside the elevators and at the airport are meaningless. In a busy hotel this happens all the time and it is not difficult to piece together shots taken at different times to produce a fictional sequence.

d) To compound the confusion, on March 3, the London Telegraph reported that Al-Quds Al-Araby reported that Hamas itself believe that �the security forces of an Arab state were behind the assassination�. No less than Mahmoud Nasser, a member of Hamas� political bureau spoke of efforts to kill Mabhouh who was being tracked by agents from Jordan and Egypt as he was in possession of information dangerous to particular Arab elements seeking to topple Islamist resistance. The author, Douglas Murray suggested then, that you sir, should have summoned the ambassadors of Jordan and Egypt to the Foreign Office.
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/douglasmurray/100028233/hamas-arab-state-behind-dubai-assassination/

On February 22, The Independent reported that Gulf News and al-Khaleej newspapers in the United Arab Emirates quoted police chief, Lieutenant-General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, as saying that a Hamas member played a significant role in the killing of Mabhouh.

The report also referred to a request by the Gaza-based Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, that the UAE extradite to Gaza two Palestinian suspects the Dubai police are holding in connection with the assassination.

Al Asharq Alawsat  carried the headline "Palestinian Dubai Murder Suspects are Hamas Members - Palestinian Security Official" The PA police spokesman said, ".. they work for the security apparatus of Hamas, and one of them holds the rank of major..I ask Hamas to reconsider and open investigations into all previous assassinations, and inform us how Hamas Interior Minister Said Seyam was assassinated, as well as Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi, and senior Hamas member Ismail Abu Shanab, and many others."
http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=19905

A dispassionate observer cannot help but observe the zealous focus on Israel while all other suspicious avenues are ignored, though intellectual honesty would require they be examined with equal diligence.

e) Despite the brouhaha about fake passports, the Dubai Police Chief told Press TV that the passports used by members of the terrorist squad who killed Mabhouh were not fake. He said that Dubai immigration officers have undergone training courses by European security experts and are qualified to spot fake documents.
http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=118907&sectionid=351020205

f) Details of forged passports used by the supposed assailants have been widely publicized, but one must ask why no information at all has been provided about the five fake passports used by Mabhouh. Was there a fake British passport among them?

Sir, in the circumstances above, I respectfully urge you re-assess your attitude to Israel in this matter, taking into account the many additional avenues that need to be investigated in order to arrive at a fair and just evaluation of the matter.

This open letter will be made public and your considered response will be appreciated and will be similarly published

Sincerely

Maurice Ostroff

Extract from Hansard
 
23 Mar 2010 : Column 133

UK Passports (Use in Dubai Murder)

3.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will report to the House on the investigation announced on 17 February by the Prime Minister into the use of counterfeit British passports in the killing of Mr. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on 19 January. The UK is continuing to support inquiries under way in a number of countries including in the United Arab Emirates itself. However, at the end of last week the Serious Organised Crime Agency reported to the Home Secretary on its investigation. Its report has now been studied by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and me, and was presented to the Cabinet this morning.

In the past 24 hours I have spoken to the Foreign Ministers of the other countries whose passports were involved. Their investigations are continuing. It would not be right to release the report in full, for legal and other reasons, but it is right that the House knows a summary of the conclusions that SOCA has reached and the action that we will be taking in response.

First, for the avoidance of any doubt, I should make it clear to the House that in the case of each of the 12 passport holders to whom SOCA spoke, it found no evidence to suggest that any of those individuals were anything other than wholly innocent victims of identify theft. Secondly-this should not need saying-I must add in the strongest possible terms that the UK had absolutely no advance knowledge of what happened in Dubai nor any involvement whatever in the killing.

SOCA conducted an extremely professional investigation. The Israeli authorities met all the requests that SOCA made of them. SOCA was drawn to the conclusion that the passports used were copied from genuine British passports when handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries. It found no link to any other country. Given that the operation was a very sophisticated one, in which high-quality forgeries were made, the Government judge it highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service. Taking that together with other inquiries and the link to Israel established by SOCA, we have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports.

The Government take this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable. It presents a hazard to the safety of British nationals in the region. Also, it represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the UK. The fact that that was done by a country that is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury. No country or Government could stand by in such a situation.

Israel is a democratic country, with remarkable achievements to its name, in a dangerous part of the world. That makes international co-operation even more important. Britain has worked and will continue to work closely with Israel on a range of issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat, but that co-operation must be based on transparency and trust. The Government are therefore taking a number of steps, based on the evidence of what has occurred in this case, to make clear their deep unhappiness at what has happened, and to seek to ensure that such an abuse does not happen again.


23 Mar 2010 : Column 134

I met Foreign Minister Lieberman on 22 February. At that stage, our investigation was only just starting. I told him then of our deep concern about the incident, and made clear my expectation that Israel would co-operate with the investigation. I met Mr. Lieberman again in Brussels yesterday. I set out the findings of the SOCA report, our intended actions, and our determination to ensure that this affair was never repeated. I handed over a letter seeking a formal assurance from him that in the future the state of Israel would never be party to the misuse of British passports in such a way.

Diplomatic work between Britain and Israel needs to be conducted according to the highest standards of trust. The work of our embassy in Israel and the Israeli embassy in London is vital to the co-operation between our countries. So is the strategic dialogue between our countries. Those ties are important, and we want them to continue. However, I have asked for a member of the embassy of Israel to be withdrawn from the UK as a result of this affair, and that is taking place.

Members will be concerned about the fate of the British passport holders involved. As one of them said, to go to bed as a citizen and wake up as a wanted terrorist is shocking. We have provided consular assistance for the 12 people whose identities and passports were misused. As part of that, we offered them all new biometric passports, which are being rolled out to the whole British population and, being considerably more difficult to counterfeit, should give them the confidence that they need that they can still travel safely on their British passports. Eleven of the 12 have so far been issued with new biometric passports.

To alert other British nationals to the risk that their passports might be misused in the same way, I am today amending our travel advice on Israel to make clear the potential risk, and to set out the steps that people can take to minimise that risk.

The middle east is not a place for woolly or wishful thinking. The Israeli people crave and deserve legitimacy and security. The United Kingdom will not compromise its support for that, but the actions in this case are completely unacceptable, and they must stop.

I commend the statement to the House.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for setting out the measures that are to be taken. Let me say at the outset that the Opposition agree with them. We should all regret having to take such measures against a country that is a friend of Britain and with whose diplomats we enjoy good relations, but we cannot permit cloning of, interference with or misuse of British passports by another state. If the Foreign Secretary is truly satisfied, on the basis of all the evidence he has seen, that that has happened in this case, it is right for Britain to take measures both to rectify the situation and to show that it is unacceptable to us.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there was a similar case in 1987, when it was discovered that Israel had forged British passports for intelligence operations? On that occasion, the then Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, assured the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, that it would not happen again. It seems that those assurances have not been upheld.


23 Mar 2010 : Column 135

On the results of the investigation, we welcome the fact that Israel co-operated with the Serious Organised Crime Agency in its inquiries. The Foreign Secretary said that he had spoken to the Foreign Ministers of the other countries whose passports were allegedly involved. Can he tell us anything about their own investigations? Can he tell us when he expects those investigations to be concluded, and whether he expects any of those other countries to take similar action in parallel with the United Kingdom?

On the need to prevent this from happening again, the Foreign Secretary will know that as soon as the use of British passports was uncovered last month, we argued that the Government should seek a specific assurance that Israel would never sanction the misuse of British passports in any future operation. We therefore welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary has now formally requested such an assurance from his Israeli counterpart. Will he make it clear, however, that it is not just a question of an assurance that no future counterfeiting will take place, but a question of an assurance that there will be no further use of any British passports that may already have been copied? That last assurance will be of particular concern to British travellers who may fear that other versions of their passports are in circulation.

Did the Foreign Secretary receive any indication from the Israeli Foreign Minister that such assurances could or would be given, and will he intend, if they are received, to change the Foreign Office travel advice relating to Israel accordingly?

The Foreign Secretary said that the biometric passports introduced four years ago are more difficult to counterfeit. Does he consider these new passports to be as invulnerable to counterfeiting as it is possible to make them, or will the Government review whether any other steps are needed to protect the integrity of British passports? Is there any suggestion that British passports are more vulnerable than those of other countries, including other EU countries?

Finally, on the effect of this on relations with the United Arab Emirates, can the Foreign Secretary say any more about what assistance SOCA and other British authorities have provided to the Dubai authorities at their request and whether this is continuing? Has he had any indication from the UAE Government that more stringent rules will be applied to the issuing of visas to British citizens visiting or resident the country?

There are many issues on which Britain and Israel quite rightly work closely together: a two-state solution to the middle east peace process, diplomatic action over Iran's nuclear programme and the expansion of trade between our countries to the benefit of all our citizens. But such relations and co-operation must be able to take place in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and it is necessary for that trust to be reaffirmed so that relations can be as productive as they should be. We therefore think that the measures taken by the Government are right and that the Israeli Foreign Minister, as he considers the Foreign Secretary's letter, should know that it comes with united support across this House.

 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmhansrd/cm100323/debtext/100323-0004.htm

 

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