“The guy is filming [the funeral] on a smartphone — that tells us he’s going to send that file to someone, right? We had the NSA hit that phone very hard.”
Anonymous Belgian counterterrorism officer
On Monday, BuzzFeed News reported that Belgium had called in the NSA in order to catch Europe’s Most Wanted Man: Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving accomplice of the Paris attacks. Here is the explanation they provided:
According to a Belgian counterterrorism officer and a police investigator, they turned to the NSA in the search for Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect from the attacks, after Belgian police spent four futile months raiding apartments around Brussels as part of a Europe-wide manhunt.
The two officers told BuzzFeed News that the Belgian government asked the NSA for assistance in tracking the mobile phones of several people attending a funeral of one of the other Paris attackers in early March, in the hopes that they would lead police to Abdeslam. He was apprehended after a shoot-out in the Belgian capital on March 18.
The key break came after the identification via DNA testing of Chakib Akrouh, who died in a suicide-vest explosion three days after the Paris attacks during a confrontation with police. Once his remains, which were badly damaged in the explosion, were identified, Akrouh’s family planned a funeral in early March.
The scoop is obviously based on false information. Salah Abdeslam was arrested on 18 March 2016. The funeral of Chakib Akrouh occured in early May 2016! So, unless you believe that the NSA has the ability to intercept phone communications in ‘the future’, it is pretty clear that the story is nonsense.
How did the Belgian Police locate Salah Abdeslam?
On Tuesday 15 March 2016, the police visited an apartment in Forest (Brussels). The occupants opened fire as soon as they arrived and two men escaped. One of them was Salah who called a friend to tell him that he needed a new place to hide. The police got hold of this communication.
On Thursday 17 March 2016, Brahim Abdesmam was buried. The police noticed that Abid Aberkan was recording the funeral with his phone.
Then, by simply monitoring his phone, they located the appartement where Salah was hiding in Molenbeek (Rue des quatres vents – Brussels).
On Friday 18 March 2016, The police raided this apartment and Salah was finally caught.
NSA? — Denial from Brussels
Belgian Authorities have denied that they requested some help from the NSA. A spokesperson — Eric Van der Sypt — said that they had only contacted the FBI to help with some data analysis (not related to telecom).
Bulk phone metadata
Belgian authorities deployed a special police observation unit to watch the ceremony. The Belgians quickly realized they needed to gather as much information as possible from those present, so they contacted their counterparts at the NSA and asked them to collect bulk phone metadata.
This kind of operation does not require ‘bulk phone metadata’. By its very definition, it does not enter in this category as the object of the investigation is a very specific phone number/person.
RELATED POST: UK: Bulk Spying Powers Backed by Independent Reviewer
Such an operation is conducted routinely. The work is actually done by the Telecom operators at the request of the police.
If you have any doubt about European countries being able to do it, you should know that this is exactly how Italy tracked the 22 CIA agents who kidnapped an Imam. (Abu Omar was abducted on February 17, 2003, in Milan ).
“Perhaps most famously, in 2003 CIA personnel in Italy conducting an extraordinary rendition were unmasked through cellphone records. Italian prosecutors investigating the kidnapping requested from the local cellular companies a list of all cellphones that had been present in the vicinity of the kidnapping around the time it happened. From this list they identified a set of cellphones present at that time and location and that also had repeatedly called each other, CIA headquarters, the CIA station chief in Milan and the nearby US Air Force base the kidnapee was flown out of. From those cellphone billing records they were able to identify the agents’ covert identities and trace their movements in the country. All of this just from the simple cellphones each of the agents carried with them.”
RELATED POST: Ex CIA Sabrina De Sousa – NOT – extradited to Italy?
A Stingray Op in Belgium?
The NSA are the best at signal intercepts. and with the NSA’s help, they grabbed all the information about all the phones present at the funeral.
At this point, there is no reason to believe that a ‘Stingray device’ has been used.
RELATED POST: STINGRAY & Cell Phone Evidence