Report: Syrian spy chiefs deployed to foreign capitals
Syrian intelligence chiefs made discreet visits to London, Rome, Paris, Beijing and possibly Pyongyang in recent days, according to a new report, a development all the more intriguing in light of WikiLeaks' disclosures this week that President Bashar Assad might be willing to distance himself from Hamas.
The reasons for dispatching his senior intelligence officials abroad are not clear, but according to the Paris-based Intelligence Online newsletter, “Syrian intelligence services have been engaged in intensive diplomatic activity of late.”
Gen. Ali Mamlouk, an Assad intimate and head of Syria’s General Intelligence service, made an unannounced trip to London from Nov. 16 through 20, said the subscription-only newsletter. At his side was Gen. Tha’er al-Omar, described as head of the service’s anti-terrorism component, and Gen. Hafez Makhlouf, the head if its internal branch, “who was traveling outside Syria for the first time.”
U.K. officials “shrouded the visit in absolute secrecy,” IO reported, citing sources in Damascus. Mamlouk went on to Paris on Nov. 22 to lay the groundwork for an upcoming visit by Assad.
In London, presumably, the Syrians met with their U.K. counterparts who, like the CIA, have found common ground with Damascus in combating al-Qaeda and its allies.
Mamlouk was said to have also met with lawyers from Matrix Chambers, who have been defending the regime during the U.N. inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. A final report in the long-running probe is considered imminent.
Assad described Hamas as an "uninvited guest" in a 2009 meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, and likened its presence in Syria to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, which his father crushed in the 1980s. Assad hinted that he might be willing to break with Hamas in exchange for “incentives,” such as being allowed to buy U.S. commercial aircraft and parts.
Mamlouk was in Rome on Oct. 19 signing an anti-terrorism agreement, IO also reported, accompanied by his top foreign intelligence official, Zouheir Hamad, and his Brussels station chief, Fou’ad Fadel.
Just as Mamlouk was leaving London, meanwhile, another General Intelligence official, Gen. Bassam Merhej, described as “director of Assad’s security and military bureau,” was arriving in China.
“His real destination was probably Pyongyang, with whom Syria has a nuclear co-operation program,” IO reported. A heavy water reactor obtained from North Korea was destroyed in September 2007.
A former deputy general director of air force intelligence, Mamlouk was appointed head of the General Intelligence service by Assad in June 2005 and is in frequent contact with his Gulf States counterparts, according to reports.
| December 2, 2010; 2:40 AM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence
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