February 14, 2008


End of a Hezbollah militant: Imad Mughniyah began his career in Lebanon's civil war and rose through the ranks of the Shiite group. (Josh Meyer, 2/14/08, Los Angeles Times)

Former CIA agent Robert Baer said Mughniyah eliminated every piece of paperwork about himself, including the passport photo in Lebanese government files. "He erased his past," Baer said.

Mughniyah changed his radio frequency every day, never took the same route twice and met only in buildings with more than one exit, Baer said.

"In terms of terrorism he was the best there was, truly a professional. I chased him for 15 years, but saying I chased him implies that I actually got close to him. And I'm not sure that I ever did." [...]

Intelligence officials said they could never pin down his exact role as a liaison between Hezbollah and the intelligence services of Iran and Syria, which support the group, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

Matthew Levitt, a former senior counter-terrorism official for the Treasury Department, discounted speculation that Mughniyah had been marginalized in recent years. "He continued to operate as he was," said Levitt, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. [...]

Despite their lack of intelligence, the hunt for Mughniyah was intensely personal for the U.S. military and the CIA, which suffered casualties in Hezbollah attacks and kidnappings.

The Justice Department indicted Mughniyah in 1985 in the hijacking of a TWA plane and fatal shooting of a passenger, Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem. Agents with the FBI, along with the CIA, had been hunting him since.

"Certainly within the U.S. intelligence community, some were as eager to get Imad Mughniyah as they were Bin Laden," Ranstorp said. "I'm sure there will be champagne corks popping" in Washington.

"Many people in the intelligence community, successive U.S. presidents, have waited for this day, to extract a price for the American lives that he has taken.

"There are people who have spent most of their career trying to track this guy down."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 14, 2008 8:45 AM

I wunder who dunnit?

Can't be us. Our intelligence services are far to bumbling. I suppose it could've been the Israelis, but I wouldn't bet against the Iranians having offed their own guy, especially if more moderate elements in Iran are seeking accomodation with the US. Mughniyah's head would have to be one of the prices we set.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 14, 2008 9:57 AM