Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Wikileaks: The STATE Department 'secretly financed Syrian opposition groups'

US Secretly Backed ‘Syrian Opposition’

 Also Via FLC

[Link to the Original Wikileaks Cable, here, and here]
The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables. The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles.
Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside SyriaThe U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad.... 
The cables show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Damascus at risk.
Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable said.
It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department, which said disclosure could endanger the recipients’ personal safety.......... no dissidents inside Syria were willing to take the money, for fear it would lead to their arrest or execution for treason, according to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy, which reported that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.” Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists” who are former members of the Muslim BrotherhoodIt is unclear when the group began to receive U.S. funds, but cables show U.S. officials in 2007 raised the idea of helping to start an anti-Assad satellite channel......... 
Abdeh said the channel receives money from “independent Syrian businessmen” whom he declined to name. He also said there was no connection between Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, although he confirmed that he serves on the political group’s board. The board is chaired by his brother, Anas. “If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” Malik al-Abdeh said. “That’s all I’m going to give you.”.....
Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the Middle East Partnership Initiative has allocated $7.5 million for Syrian programs since 2005. A cable from the embassy in Damascus, however, pegged a much higher total — about $12 million — between 2005 and 2010. The cables report persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington. “It is unclear to what extent [Syrian] intelligence services understand how USG money enters Syria and through which proxy organizations,” the cable stated, referring to funding from the U.S. government. “What is clear, however, is that security agents are increasingly focused on this issue.” U.S. diplomats also warned that Syrian agents may have “penetrated” the Movement for Justice and Development by intercepting its communications. June 2009 cable listed the concerns under the heading “MJD: A Leaky Boat?” It reported that the group was “seeking to expand its base in Syria” but had been “initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines.” The cable cited evidence that the Syrian intelligence service was aware of the connection between the London exile group and the Democracy Council in Los Angeles. As a result, embassy officials fretted that the entire Syria assistance program had been compromised. “Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian [Mukhabarat] may already have penetrated the MJD and is using the MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming,” the cable stated. “If the [Syrian government] does know, but has chosen not to intervene openly, it raises the possibility that the [government] may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists.”


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