… Israel made an urgent appeal to the FBI for help in trying to determine the remote source or information that would be stored on Facebook servers indicating the location where Oron’s page had been hacked into. Upon receiving the request from Israel in Washington on July 21, the FBI immediately issued a “preservation letter” to Facebook ordering them to preserve all data saved on their server pertaining to the Oron’s account.
At 4:25 p.m. on July 21, the FBI contacted a United States Attorney’s Office in a nearby district to initiate the legal process to get a court order to serve Facebook for server information on the account belonging to the soldier. […]
To be sure, the IDF was using all other available intelligence means – technical and human – to try to determine the fate of its missing soldier.
The attempt to secure information via the soldier’s Facebook account was just one of the multiple efforts being made by the IDF but deemed a “worthy shot” by a senior Israeli military official. So as these other efforts were under way, time was ticking away on the Israeli request to the FBI to get vital Facebook server information on the Hamas terrorists who had either kidnapped Oron or seized his remains. The more time elapsed, the less the odds of finding the soldier.
But the next day, July 22, the US Attorney’s Office received a startling response from the FBI: “Thank You for your effort, input and assistance. I regret to inform you we have been denied approval to move forward with legal process.
We were told by our management we need a MLAT [Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty] in order to continue to assist our partner with the request in question.” Those words put an immediate halt to the Israeli request.
An MLAT is a standardized legal agreement between the United States and other countries that spells out the legal and diplomatic protocols in processing requests for legal information pertaining to court cases in either the United States or in another country. MLATs go through various bureaucratic channels, usually take weeks to process and would generally be used for non-pressing legal matters in which the United States or another country was carrying out a legal process such as a prosecution involving a citizen of another country.
Prosecutors familiar with their use say that an MLAT would definitely not be used in an urgent life-or-death intelligence or counter-terrorist incident, especially with a close ally such as Israel. “In a pressing court matter, there is no way the USG would invoke an MLAT with a close ally,” said a veteran prosecutor who has worked on international counterterrorism cases.
Law enforcement officials knowledgeable about this incident say both prosecutors and the FBI were shocked at the turn of events. “This sudden reversal was devastating,” said one law enforcement official who was intimately familiar with this incident.
“For those working this case, they felt this decision was tantamount to a death sentence. Nothing less.”