US authorities managed to nab Faisal Shahzad – the Times Square aspiring bomber – after a mere 52 hours of searching. They were able to pull up emails, go through his phone records, check the vehicle identification number and scan through flight manifests.
I couldn’t help but thinking of the work that we did with the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, a group mandated by the UN Security Council to find out who is supporting and financing Congolese rebel groups. We asked the US authorities for help to subpoena emails and financial records in the US belonging to FDLR and CNDP leaders. They still haven’t answered most of the requests. They have very few staff in the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Treasury Dept) and all the requests have to be vetted thoroughly so we don’t compromise domestic legislation. Plus, Al Qaeda, Taliban and Sudan take priority over the DRC.
A similar situation for France, where several FDLR operatives live and where many yahoo.fr mail accounts that these rebel leaders use are based. Funnily, we got much better cooperation from countries you would not have expected: the United Arab Emirates helped us get tons of information on Thuraya satellite phones, the Congolese government seconded a public prosecutor to subpoena pretty much anything we wanted (including phone records and financial statements), and the Australian government helped us get access to tens of thousands of emails of one suspect within a week of our request.
There were only five of us on the panel. I had to personally enter by tens of thousands of phone numbers from call sheets into an Excel file for data analysis because we didn’t have a budget for a data analyst.
We are still a long way away from the day when we actually do what the Security Council (where the US has veto power) mandates. And then diplomats throw their hands in the air and say they don’t know who is supporting the FDLR and other rebel groups.