18/08/2012 Daraa, #Syria: Leaked video of regime forces invading Tafas
(09/07/2012) *Graphic Warning* Homs, #Syria: Leaked video of regime forces torture an innocent detainee
Documents leaked by defector from Syrian regime show that Assad personally signs off security crackdown plans
New leaks of what appear to be official documents reveal how the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, personally signs off plans drawn up by his government’s crisis management centre, prioritising a security crackdown to prevent demonstrations spreading to Damascus.
Hundreds of pages of confidential papers shown by a defector to al-Jazeera TV describe daily meetings of the heads of all Syria’s security and intelligence agencies, who review events and issue orders that are then approved by the president.
Amid reports of fighting in the Mezzeh area of Damascus – the heaviest in the capital since the uprising began a year ago – al-Jazeera said on Monday that the documents were smuggled out of Syria by Abdel-Majid Barakat, head of information for the crisis management unit, now hiding in Turkey with opposition activists.
Emails published by the Guardian last week – also obtained from Syrian opposition sources – showed the gilded lifestyle of Assad and his wife, Asma, apparently insulated from the bloodshed and violence raging across the country. The emails included details of iTunes purchases, flirtatious exchanges with a female aide and advice on PR and media policy.
The latest documents appear to shed more direct light on the regime’s strategy against the uprising, including the deployment of thousands of thugs known as “shabiha” and members of the Ba’ath party in operations designed to cut off Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib and other large cities from their surrounding regions.
In the capital, the documents show, the main squares are the responsibility of different branches of Syria’s large security apparatus, including the notorious air force intelligence directorate, which has been repeatedly accused of brutality and torture by Syrian opposition supporters and foreign human rights watchdogs.
On Fridays, the day of the biggest anti-regime protests since the uprising began, the plan is to isolate the capital by using 35 checkpoints to control movement. Roads into Damascus from nearby towns are also routinely closed. One thousand security personnel are deployed in the central Ummayad mosque alone.
Al-Jazeera said the papers made clear that Assad was personally involved in approving measures to crush the unrest. The president’s signature was visible on one document authorising prison sentences for illegal demonstrations.
In one leaked document marked confidential, the government warned the foreign minister about countries trying to persuade Syrian diplomats to defect.
Al-Jazeera said: “Every evening at 7pm Damascus time, there is a meeting of all the intelligence and security chiefs looking back at what happened across the country during the day, making their plans, making their orders for the next day. These plans go to the office of the president the next morning and he himself signs all the orders, gives the final go ahead.”
Al-Jazeera described Barakat as an opposition “mole” inside the HQ directing the crackdown. It said he realised last month that he had been compromised and fled the country with 1,400 documents.
“My mission was to transfer the information to the opposition internally and abroad,” Barakat said in an interview with the Qatar-based satellite channel, which is considered profoundly hostile by the Assad regime. Al-Jazeera said it was convinced the documents were authentic.
“Anyone who reads these reports will be shocked, will realise that Syria is living a real crisis: killings, criminality and suppression of protesters. However security chiefs paint [a] beautiful picture in their reports. They ignore many substantial facts on the ground simply to boost the president’s morale,” he said.
Syria’s government made no comment on the documents, which came to light as witnesses reported fighting in Damascus in which state TV said three “terrorists” and a member of the security forces had been killed.
The sound of heavy machine gun fore and rocket-propelled grenades echoed throughout the night from the western suburb of Mezzeh, one of the most heavily guarded areas of the capital.
The Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus also reported 35 people injured by gunfire in the Barzeh area.
Russian media, meanwhile reported that Russian anti-terrorism forces had arrived in the Syrian port of Tartous. Experts sent by the UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan also arrived in Syria to discuss ceasefire and monitoring plans.
Bashar al-Assad took advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising against his rule, according to a cache of what appear to be several thousand emails received and sent by the Syrian leader and his wife.
The Syrian leader was also briefed in detail about the presence of western journalists in the Baba Amr district of Homs and urged to “tighten the security grip” on the opposition-held city in November.
The revelations are contained in more than 3,000 documents that activists say are emails downloaded from private accounts belonging to Assad and his wife, Asma.
The messages, which have been seen by the Guardian, are said to have been intercepted by members of the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution group between June and early February.
The documents, which emerge on the first anniversary of the rebellion that has seen more than 8,000 Syrians killed, paint a portrait of a first family remarkably insulated from the mounting crisis and continuing to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.
They appear to show the president’s wife spending tens of thousands of dollars on internet shopping sprees for designer goods while he swaps entertaining internet links on his iPad and downloads dance music from iTunes.
As the world looked on in horror at the brutal suppression of protests across the country and many Syrians faced food shortages and other hardships, Mrs Assad splashed out on more than £10,000-worth of candlesticks, tables and chandeliers from Paris and instructed an aide to order a fondue set from Amazon.
The Guardian has made extensive efforts to authenticate the emails by checking their contents against established facts and contacting 10 individuals whose correspondence appears in the cache. These checks suggested that the messages were genuine, although it has not been possible to verify every one.
The emails also appear to show that:
• Assad established a network of trusted aides who reported directly to him through his “private” email account – bypassing both his powerful clan and the country’s security apparatus.
• Assad made light of reforms he had promised in an attempt to defuse the crisis, referring to “rubbish laws of parties, elections, media”.
• A daughter of the emir of Qatar, Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, this year advised Asma al-Assad and her husband to leave Syria and suggested that Doha may offer them exile.
• Assad sidestepped extensive US sanctions against him by using a third party with a US address to make purchases of music and apps from Apple’s iTunes.
• A Dubai-based company, al-Shahba, with a registered office in London is used as a key conduit for Syrian government business and private purchases by the Syrian first lady.
Activists say they were passed username and password details believed to have been used by the couple by a mole in the president’s inner circle. The email addresses used the domain name alshahba.com, a conglomerate of companies used by the regime. They say the details allowed uninterrupted access to the two inboxes until the leak was discovered in February.
The emails appear to show how Assad assembled a team of aides to advise him on media strategy and how to position himself in the face of increasing international criticism of his regime’s attempts to crush the uprising, which is now thought to have claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Activists say they were able to monitor the inboxes of Assad and his wife in real time for several months. In several cases they claim to have used fresh information to warn colleagues in Damascus of imminent regime moves against them.
The access continued until 7 February when a threatening email arrived in the inbox thought to be used by Assad after the account’s existence was revealed when the Anonymous group separately hacked into a number of Syrian government email addresses. All correspondence to and from the two addresses ceased on the same day.
The emails appear to show that Assad received advice from Iran or its proxies on several occasions during the crisis. Ahead of a speech in December his media consultant prepared a long list of themes, reporting that the advice was based on “consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador”.
The memo advised the president to use “powerful and violent” language and to show appreciation for support from “friendly states”. It also advised that the regime should “leak more information related to our military capability” to convince the public that it could withstand a military challenge.
The president also received advice from Hussein Mortada, an influential Lebanese businessman with strong connections to Iran. In December,Mortada urged Assad to stop blaming al-Qaida for an apparent twin car bombing in Damascus, which took place the day before an Arab League observer mission arrived in the country. He said he had been in contact with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon who shared the same view.
“It is not out of our interest to say that al-Qaida organisation is behind the operation because this claim will [indemnify] the US administration and Syrian opposition,” Mortada wrote not long after the blasts. “I have received contacts from Iran and Hezbollah in my role as director of many Iranian-Lebanese channels and they directed me to not mention that al-Qaida is behind the operation. It is a blatant tactical media mistake.”
In another email Mortada advised the president that the regime needed to take control of public squares between 3pm and 9pm to deny opposition groups the opportunity to gather there.
Iran and Hezbollah have been accused throughout the year-long uprising of providing on-the-ground support to the regime crackdown, including sending soldiers to fight alongside regime forces and technical experts to help identify activists using the internet. Iran and Hezbollah both deny offering anything more than moral support.
Among others who communicated with the president’s account were Khaled al-Ahmed, who it is believed was tasked with providing advice about Homs and Idlib. In November Ahmed wrote to Assad urging him to “tighten the security grip to start [the] operation to restore state controland authority in Idlib and Hama countryside”.
He also told Assad he had been told that European reporters had “entered the area by crossing the Lebanese borders illegally”. In another mail he warned the president that “a tested source who met with leaders of groups in Baba Amr today said that a big shipment of weapons is coming from Libya will arrive to the seashores of one of the neighbouring states within three days to be smuggled to Syria.”
The emails offer a rare window on the state of mind of the isolated Syrian leader, apparently lurching between self-pity, defiance and flippancy as he swapped links to amusing video footage with his aides and wife. On one occasion he forwards to an aide a link to YouTube footage of a crude re-enactment of the siege of Homs using toys and biscuits.
Throughout 2011, his wife appears to have kept up regular correspondence with the Qatar emir’s daughter, Mayassa al-Thani. But relations appear to have chilled early this year when Thani directly suggested that the Syrian leader step down.
“My father regards President Bashar as a friend, despite the current tensions – he always gave him genuine advice,” she wrote on 11 December. “The opportunity for real change and development was lost a long time ago. Nevertheless, one opportunity closes, others open up – and I hope its not too late for reflection and coming out of the state of denial.”
A second email on 30 January was even more forthright and including a tacit offer of exile. “Just been following the latest developments in Syria … in all honesty – looking at the tide of history and the escalation of recent events – we’ve seen two results – leaders stepping down and getting political asylum or leaders being brutally attacked. I honestly think this is a good opportunity to leave and re-start a normal life.
“I only pray that you will convince the president to take this an opportunity to exit without having to face charges. The region needs to stabilise, but not more than you need peace of mind. I am sure you have many places to turn to, including Doha.”
The direct line of reporting to Assad, independent of the police state’s military and intelligence agencies, was a trait of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for three decades until his death in 2000 ushered the then 36-year-old scion into the presidency.
Assad Sr was renowned for establishing multiple reporting lines from security chiefs and trusted aides in the belief that it would deny the opportunity for any one agency to become powerful enough to pose a threat to him.
His son has reputedly shown the same instincts through his decade of rule. The year-long uprising against his decade of rule appeared to be faltering this week as forces loyal to Assad retook the key northern city of Idlib.
Much of Assad’s media advice comes from two young US-educated Syrian women, Sheherazad Jaafari and Hadeel al-Al. Both regularly stress to Assad, who uses the address sam@alshahba, the importance of social media, and particularly the importance of intervening in online discussions. At one point, Jaafari boasts that CNN has fallen for a nom-de-guerre that she set up to post pro-regime remarks. The emails also reveal that the media team has convinced Twitter to close accounts that purport to represent the Syrian regime.
Several weeks after the firstname.lastname@example.org email was compromised in February, a new Syrian state television channel broadcast two segments denying that the email address had been used by Assad.
Opposition activists claim that this was a pre-emptive move to discredit any future leaking of the emails.
The US president, Barack Obama, signed an executive order last Mayimposing sanctions against Assad and other Syrian government officials.
In addition to freezing their US assets, the order prohibited “US persons” from engaging in transactions with them. The EU adopted similar measures against Assad last year. They include an EU-wide travel ban for the Syrian president and an embargo on military exports to Syria.
A list of democratic activists in Syria, targeted by the state security forces for assassination, arrest, and torture.
EXCLUSIVE: A detailed document obtained by Mother Jones appears to identify a vast group of Syrian dissidents targeted by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. —By Hamed Aleaziz
The document does not contain any identifying government markings. But the experts consulted agree that its organization and content—which they say is striking in scope—are characteristic of lists used by intelligence services in the Middle East. A link to the document, which surfaced in mid-January in discussions about Syria on Twitter, was provided to Mother Jones by a self-described hactivist who tweets frequently in Arabic and English and whose identity is unclear. A redacted sample of the document is below; Mother Jones is not publishing the full document or revealing the names of individuals in it because we cannot definitively confirm its authenticity nor predict how the document might be used if more widely disseminated.
But the experts who examined the document say it shows what many observers have strongly suspected: In addition to relentless bombing of cities such as Homs and Hama, the Assad regime is tracking down thousands of its own people for interrogation, coercion, or far worse. Joshua Landis, a scholar on Syria who has consulted for the State Department and other US government agencies, said he thinks the document merges the records of several Syrian intelligence agencies in order to better coordinate the crackdown. ”This is what a secret service does,” he said. Actions allegedly taken by individuals in the document—such as setting up a roadblock near Homs or issuing instructions about how to attack a Syrian military outpost—are “the kind of thing that people get whacked for all the time, or at least tortured for.”
According to Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syria expert and fellow at the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the document contains the names of people wanted by the government’s military and security services. It lists many of them with specific information—the year of their birth, names of their relatives, and descriptions such as, “he leads rallies in the Sakhaneh neighborhood.” The list also includes military defectors and their units and ranks, Abdulhamid said. “This kind of info on this scale cannot be available to the general public, or faked.”
The hactivist who alerted Mother Jones to the online document said that it was posted by members of an activist organizing committee inside Syria, but declined to provide any details confirming that, citing security concerns. It’s conceivable that the document involves deception by the Syrian regime or counterintelligence operations by its adversaries; the United States, Israel, and other Western powers are known to have run sophisticated covert operations against Syria and Iran for many years.
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees that the list appears to be authentic, despite that there is no way to know for sure. “The way it’s organized looks similar to other documents I’ve seen,” he said, citing a hit list he saw when he was in Syria in 2006. (That list, he said, also did not contain identifying government markings.) “It organizes people in such a way that it would allow the security services to be able to track them down.” Tabler also said the document is longer than any he’s previously seen; it allows the Syrian government to “more effectively round up these folks and choke them off as part of the crackdown.”
Here is a sample from the top of page 1 of the document, which was translated from the Arabic by Abdulhamid.
(The English above corresponds to the headers and content of line 1 below; the columns are flipped, as Arabic is read from right to left.)
A Syrian student living in Europe who actively supports the opposition movement also examined the document and said that it is “very encompassing” and includes details on “activists who make things happen on the field and military defectors.” A note above a section near the end of the document, he said, suggests that the names of the people it contains were extracted through confessions.
The infamy of Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence service is well known. For the past year, reports of it rounding up and torturing Syrian activists have steadily trickled out of the country. “When they took me in, they put me face down on the floor, and started beating me with a cable on the soles of my feet, my legs and back,”a Syrian protester told Human Rights Watch last year. “They were asking, ‘Why did you go to the demonstration? Who paid you to go? Who made you go?’ They just wanted me to confess to something, did not matter what.”
“I have seen lists that had hundreds of names listed in the same manner,” Abdulhamid said. “Some were published on the web by activists to warn people. Others included names of people who were later arrested or killed. Activists have reported since the early days of the revolution that when loyalist security forces came to their neighborhoods, they indeed carried a list of names in their hands and were looking for specific people, in addition to making random arrests or arresting relatives of the people whose names they had.”
He added: “It is possible that some of these lists have been leaked intentionally and that they contain names of pro-Assad elements to be used as bait for catching activists. The dynamics of the revolution have become very complex—there is active cyberwar going on, intelligence and counterintelligence, propaganda and counterpropaganda, and the regime tends to have the upper hand in these fields.”
Landis, who also runs the influential blog Syria Comment, says he thinks the scale of the document highlights “how overwhelmed the security forces clearly are with this uprising. They’re trying to keep track of leadership and who’s in the opposition, and it’s reaching into the thousands upon thousands.” Even for a regime as systematically brutal as Assad’s, it’s an immense undertaking. “They have to go out and find these people’s homes and interrogate their families, and then try to track these people down.”
Landis believes that the Arab Spring and the rise of social networks have weakened the iron grip that the regime has had on the country for more than four decades. “It’s way out of control…it’s on Facebook, it’s using all these technologies they don’t understand and were not up to speed on,” he said. “All of a sudden these large networks of people who were connected through this new technology, it overwhelmed them. It wasn’t people just making phone calls on the old hard lines the government had completely wired.”
Still, ever since the uprising began last March, the regime has shown that it will go to extreme lengths to crush the opposition. The situation turned particularly grim this month: There have been reports of hundreds massacred, including women and children, the US shut down its embassy in Damascus, and Western journalists have been killed. (For more details and essential background, read our updated Syria explainer.)