CIA and Syrian Intelligence in Lebanon

The CIA and Syrian intelligence are upping the ante in Lebanon. These two stories from the Daily Telegraph are revealing.

CIA gets the go-ahead to take on Hizbollah
By Toby Harnden, US Editor
Last Updated: 1:47am GMT 10/01/2007

  • The Central Intelligence Agency has been authorised to take covert action against Hizbollah as part of a secret plan by President George W. Bush to help the Lebanese government prevent the spread of Iranian influence. Senators and congressmen have been briefed on the classified "non-lethal presidential finding" that allows the CIA to provide financial and logistical support to the prime minister, Fouad Siniora.

    The finding was signed by Mr Bush before Christmas after discussions between his aides and Saudi Arabian officials. Details of its existence, known only to a small circle of White House officials, intelligence officials and members of Congress, have been passed to The Daily Telegraph.

    It authorises the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to fund anti-Hizbollah groups in Lebanon and pay for activists who support the Siniora government. The secrecy of the finding means that US involvement in the activities is officially deniable.

    The Bush administration hopes Mr Siniora's government, severely weakened after its war with Israel last year, will become a bulwark against the growing power of the Shia sect of Islam, championed by Iran and Syria, since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    Mr Bush's move is at the centre of a fresh drive by America, supported by the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as well as Israel, to stop Iranian hegemony in the Middle East emerging from the collapse of Iraq.

    The finding, drawn up at the White House by National Security Council (NSC) officials, is a sign of Mr Bush's growing alarm at the threat posed by Iran, which has infiltrated the Iraqi government and is training Shia insurgents as well as supplying them with roadside bombs.

    A former US government official said: "Siniora's under siege there and we are always looking for ways to help allies. As Richard Armitage [a former deputy US secretary of state] said, Hizbollah is the A-team of terrorism and certainly Iran and Syria have not let up in their support of the group."

    Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, is understood to have been closely involved in the decision to prop up Mr Siniora's administration and the Israeli government, which views Iran as its chief enemy, has also been supportive.

    "There's a feeling both in Jerusalem and in Riyadh that the anti-Sunni tilt in the region has gone too far," said an intelligence source. "By removing Saddam, we've shifted things in favour of the Shia and this is a counter-balancing exercise.

Addendum: (Evening 10/05/2007) Here is a bit of helpful background that casts doubt on the sources used by Con Coughlin, the author of the following article. I thank Peter H. for bringing it to my attention in the comment section. "The Press Complaints Commission have launched their third investigation of Daily Telegraph political editor, Con Coughlin, in as many months, after a number of high level complaints about his latest ariticle on Iran. The investigation is looking at an article by Mr Coughlin on 24 January relying on an unnamed “European defence official” alleging that North Korea is helping Iran prepare a nuclear weapons test and follows the recent publication of a report detailing a catalogue of innaccurate and misleading stories about Iran by. The report, put together by Campaign Iran and published last month, revealed that Mr Coughlin, the man who ‘broke the story’ of Iraq’s 45 minute WMD capacity, is behind sixteen articles containing unsubstantiated allegations against Iran over the past twelve months. The PCC will examine whether the stories, all based on unnamed or untraceable sources, are in breach of Clause 1 of their Code of Practice, requiring accuracy." The rest can be read here.

Siniora government's battle for survival
By Con Coughlin, 10/01/2007

The CIA's decision to back Lebanon's Siniora government in its attempts to beat a challenge by the radical Shia Muslim Hizbollah militia could not come at a more opportune time.

Lebanese security officials have disclosed that Hizbollah is receiving the active support of Syrian intelligence in its attempts to overthrow the democratically-elected Lebanese government.

Senior Syrian intelligence officials have held a series of meetings in Damascus with Hizbollah leaders and also with the renegade Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun, a former general in the Lebanese army.

Under the terms of the Lebanese constitution, only a Christian can run for president, and Aoun, who is pro-Syrian, has thrown his lot in with both Damascus and Hizbollah in an attempt to secure victory in the forthcoming presidential elections, which are due this summer.

The Syrians confirmed their support for Aoun at a meeting held in Damascus at the end of last year between Aasef Shawqat, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hizbollah's deputy secretary-general.

The Syrians have promised to provide extensive funding for Aoun's election campaign and to put pressure on "floating members" of the Lebanese parliament to support their candidate.

The recent rapprochement between Aoun and Syria constitutes an enormous challenge to the Siniora government's battle for survival.

Syria is still smarting over the way it was forced to withdraw from Lebanon in 2005 after Syrian intelligence was implicated in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and is determined to use its Lebanese proxies as a means of restoring the status quo ante

Here is an AP followup on the refugee visa situation in Syria: Iraqi refugees protest Syria's alleged visa restrictions

"The Iraqis in Syria are the victims of deportation," one banner read. Another said "Going back for one month means death." He will is refusing to go back to Iraq.

"My son was kidnapped and I paid US$20,000 in ransom to secure his release," Saeed said. "My brother-in-law was killed three months ago and my house was totally destroyed. I have nothing there. … I don't want to return."

Ali Ibrahim, another Iraqi refugee, urged the Syrian government to allow Iraqi refugees to stay in Syria until "calm returns to Iraq."

Syria is denying there has been a major visa change. It insists it continues to welcome Iraqis. The substantial demand is that in order to move from a temporary visa to a renewable residence permit, Iraqis must show proof of residency and an apartment contract. 

This photo of the demonstration was kindly provided to SC by John Wreford, a professional photographer working in Damascus. He can be reached at Tel: 00963 94 361 947. His wonderful site, with many beautiful photos of Syria and other Middle East countries is

Iraqi Refugees Demonstrate in Damascus

Here is another photo of Sryian girls from his site:

Here is a bedouin girl

Also don't miss the new report from Conflicts Forum. "After Condoleezza Rice recently called Hamas a "resistance movement" (January 18), the reaction from reporters was… No reaction!"

Comments (17)

MSK said:

Dear Josh,

Do you not have any comment on the Sawyer/Bashar interview?

As for this post, that is indeed very significant news – both on Bush’s CIA decision and on the Syrian support for HA/Aoun.

If it is true that Aoun went to Damascus to meet with high-ranking Syrian Secret Service officials and if he is, indeed, accepting Syrian support for his bid to become president of Lebanon … then he is finished. A tactical alliance with HA is one thing for his Christian supporters, but letting the Syrian mukhabaraat support & finance him – that’s a red line.

HA’s constituency is different and thus this “revelation” won’t hurt Nasrallah.

Do you have any details on how the Iraqi visa situation is playing out on the ground? How does one show “proof of residency” in ADDITION to a rental contract?


February 6th, 2007, 12:26 am


Nur al-Cubicle said:

How can Siniora permit the CIA to stalk Hezbollah leaders?

February 6th, 2007, 12:59 am


MSK said:

Ya Nur,

where does it say that “Siniora permit[s] the CIA to stalk Hezbollah leaders”?

I’m afraid you’re interpreting something into this issue that isn’t there (in the articles above).

But of course, if you have any material that supports your claim …


February 6th, 2007, 1:13 am


Peter H said:

Isn’t Con Coughlin the same guy who reported in 2002 that Iraq could launch WMD’s within 45 minutes? Maybe we should take this article with a grain of salt.

February 6th, 2007, 3:33 am


Peter H said:

Here’s more on Con Coughlin -author of the article that Aoun and Nasrallah are working with Syrian intelligence

February 6th, 2007, 3:38 am


Bilal Nawaf said:

Getting back on the Sawyer/Bashar interview

To Innocent_Criminal,
If you do not think that Syria and Iran’s attempt to exert their own influence on the region as something so evil then how do you see the opposition attempt to destroy Lebanon just to save Bashar’s neck? Isn’t that evil enough? During the July war and a week after the end of the war Mr. Berri was praising Seniora’s government to the point when he said when he visited the Southern Suburb that Seniora will speak on my behalf. Then in 2 weeks the image completely changed and this is due only to a request by Bashar to abolish the International Tribunal. Yes each country uses what tools and assets it has to push its own agenda but the problem with the Syrian Regime is that the only tools he is using are assassinations and creating chaos and the only asset he has is brutality against his own people. Maybe they do not have any other tools left after all the stupid mistakes they have committed.
Anyway the interview is not over and tomorrow there will be more and from what I understood it is going to be even worse that is. People will ask: is it possible to have worst than this? Yes, Bashar have outperformed himself once again. He is getting worst by the day as we see.

February 6th, 2007, 5:28 am


Bilal Nawaf said:

I wonder why you have published a new article just after the Sawyer/Bashar interview. Do you feel that Bashar has done such a lousy job that you want to deflect the attention?

February 6th, 2007, 5:32 am


MSK said:

Dear Peter,

thanks for bringing that to our attention. Indeed, seen in that light – C. Coughlin was the one who “broke” the 45 min WMD story & is now also peddling all sorts of other dangerously misleading claims – the above-mentioned article is most likely just a fabrication.



February 6th, 2007, 5:56 am


Joshua said:

MSK and others. If you want to edit your comments or add links or pictures to comments, just publish and then click on the EDIT button. You will then find a complete array of buttons to assist you in editing your comments and adding links, etc.

February 6th, 2007, 6:01 am


Alex said:

Bilal, I published the ABC interview and Joshua was already prepared to publish this newer post.

Joshua, here is my rule for filtering “news”

If they come from one of the writers and/or newspapers that ALWAYS seem to find dramatic Syria related news that attempt to demonstrate how the Syrians are stupid thugs who are about to get in deep trouble or that they continue to interfere in poor neighbors’ affairs in a way that is very damaging to the neighbors’ valuable young democracies … then I won’t believe it… until I hear it from a more reliable source

February 6th, 2007, 6:25 am


MSK said:

Dear Josh,

alright. It took a while to figure out. Got it now. But am not offered anything new except the choice to delete the comment. (Which might come in handy at some point.) Might be my browser – Firefox. No problem – I’ll work with it.


February 6th, 2007, 7:13 am


Bilal Nawaf said:

Hi Guys,
Please take a look at the recent report by CBS that will show how openly Bashar is fueling violence in Iraq. He is playing with the DEVIL and I hope that Syria will not pay for his continued mistakes as always.

February 6th, 2007, 8:37 am


t_desco said:

“(This) is indeed very significant news”.


Con Coughlin will be most pleased…

MSK, I know Quellenkritik is a German thing, but you may want to look into it.


February 6th, 2007, 8:54 am


MSK said:


does the term “subjunctive” mean anything to you? I explicitely wrote “If … and if … then …”

It’s not my job to check Josh’s sources – there are 5 administrators on this blog already.

And as soon as Peter alerted us all about the author of that piece I posted a “well, in that case the ‘story’ is most likely false” comment – just as Josh immediately added the addendum.

In general, I do tend to be careful with stories and I have no problems with accepting that something turns out to be different than I or others had first thought.

Why didn’t you tease Josh about posting it? 😉


PS: In case the first story isn’t bogus as well, that alone is significant news. Toby Harnden is usually pretty good, though, and anything BUT a Bushite.

February 6th, 2007, 9:38 am


Joshua said:

The Edit window on comments can only be used by the author of the comment for half an hour after the comment is posted. I set that parameter because I thought it was long enough to fix mistakes or fiddle with uploading and linking. Perhaps if you try it on a new commment it will work in Firefox? It should be universal, but I am not sure. I use IE.

February 6th, 2007, 1:18 pm


t_desco said:

Part two of the interview:

Exclusive: Syria’s President Says He Needs Iran’s Support

President Bashar al-Assad Spoke With ABC’s Diane Sawyer About Criticisms Against Him
ABC News

February 6th, 2007, 2:13 pm


Max said:

Quellenkritik. Ein wundervolles neues Wort für mich.

There’s a bit on Con Coughlin at Crooked Timber. It seems he is either a patsy or stooge for intelligence service (dis)information. Google returns this as the first link about him:

February 8th, 2007, 3:15 pm


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