Bolton and the Politicization of US Intelligence on Syria
I am posting an article on Syria's security network in Lebanon below that comes from intelligenceonline.com. It was sent to me by a reader who asked that I publish it even though he noted that "I feel it's too much talk, not enough facts."
I post it, nevertheless, because there have been a number of articles reporting the same thing. One never knows about the truth of such unsubstantiated claims.
I never now how to pass on such articles. US intelligence agencies and institutes have been so damaged by their propensity to spin that one must take this sort of unverified news with a large grain of salt and remain skeptical until ones sees some facts.
Nothing has done more harm to our confidence in US intelligence warnings than the willful politicization of intelligence by the ex-Under-Secretary of State John Bolton, whose nomination for the position of US Ambassador to the UN has now run into grave problems in the Senate.
The recent hearings on Bolton underline his intelligence misrepresentations only too well, something I have sought to point out on Syria Comment for the past year (see this post of May 20, 2004, or this post of June 26, 2005, or this post).
The most damaging allegation about Bolton involves his 2002 efforts to prod the intelligence community to back his allegation that Cuba might be seeking to export WMD from an offensive biological weapons program. In February 2002, he prepared a speech that, according to an unclassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, "contained a sentence which said that the U.S. believes Cuba has a developmental, offensive biological warfare program and is providing assistance to other rogue state programs."
The problem was that Bolton's charges went well beyond what the intelligence community viewed as solid evidence. They claimed Cuba had a "limited, developmental, offensive biological warfare research and development effort." In 2004, the intelligence community revised its 1999 estimate even further downward because it was even less sure that Cuba had any such offensive WMD effort.
Bolton did the same thing to Syria as he did to Cuba. From 2002 to 2004, he consistently insisted that Syria was a growing threat because of WMD and even accused it of developing nuclear weapons capabilities for which there was no evidence and only allegations. Even more egregious, he kept on insisting that Saddam Hussein had smuggled his WMD into Syria even after it had become quite clear that Iraqis could provide no evidence of this and that US agencies had found no evidence that Saddam had preserved any of his WMD. The politicization of intelligence has done a great disservice to US creditability.
After writing this last night, I saw this morning that the New York Times published an article on Bolton's Syria misrepresentations. It says:
Ex-Officials Say Bolton Inflated Syrian Danger
By DOUGLAS JEHL, April 26, 2005
In the speech itself, Mr. Bolton pointed to Cuba, Syria and Libya as "rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction," a trio that extended "beyond the axis of evil" of Iran, Iraq and North Korea that President Bush had described in his State of the Union address several months earlier. On Syria, Mr. Bolton said in the 2002 speech that the government in Damascus "is pursuing the development of biological weapons and is able to produce at least small quantities of biological warfare agents."
In testimony to Congress in June 2003, Mr. Bolton said American officials "know that Syria is pursuing the development of biological weapons." But a report sent to Congress by the C.I.A. in April 2003 was more guarded in its assessment than Mr. Bolton had been. Using an abbreviation for biological warfare, it said only that it was "highly probable that Syria is also continuing to develop an offensive B. W. capability."
David Sanger also has an article in the Times entitled, "Arms Move to Syria 'Unlikely,' Report Says"
The Bush administration's senior weapons inspector said in a report released last night that it was "unlikely" that Saddam Hussein's forces moved weapons to Syria, though he expressed concern about nuclear-related equipment that was apparently removed after American-led forces invaded Iraq.
It is good to see that the administration is finally getting around to clearing up the false allegations that Syria had spirited away Iraqs WMD. Even the CIA has now included a disclaimer on its website.
Here is the article on Syria's Network in Lebanon. Most of its information is tied to one unnamed "diplomatic source," who mysteriously knows exactly what was said in a high level meeting of Syria's top security officers. For this "diplomatic source" to know what went on in the meeting, one of Syria's top security officers must have leaked the information in order to undermine Syria's position in Lebanon. This does not seem likely to me, but here it is anyway.
Syria's New Network in Lebanon
Syria is officially pulling out of Lebanon but appears to be simultaneously deploying clandestine networks throughout the entire country.
According to a diplomatic source, Syria's leadership held one of its most important meetings ever on the Lebanese situation in Damascus on March 24. In attendance for the occasion were president Bashar al Assad; his younger brother, Maher, commander in chief of the Republican Guard; his brother-in-law, the all-powerful general Assef Shawkat, chief of Military Intelligence; his influential sister Bushra, wife of Shawkat; general Ghazi Kanaan, interior minister and former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon; general Bahjat Suleiman, chief of Section 251 of the General Intelligence Directorate; general Mohamed al Mansourah, new boss of the Political Security agency (IOL 493); and general Roustom Ghazale, chief of Syria's secret service in Lebanon.
While Assad called for Syria to disengage itself from the Lebanese "quagmire", Kanaan, Shawkat and Maher Assad pushed a plan to set up covert networks taking their orders from Damascus throughout all of Lebanon.
As a result, Syrian intelligence operatives have begun infiltrating the 12 Palestinian camps housing 400,000 refugees in Lebanon, and particularly the Ain el Heloue camp east of Saida in the southern part of the country. Other agents carrying fake Lebanese ID papers have installed themselves in the southern suburbs of Beirut with the assistance of Hezbollah, which put apartments at their disposal.
And to retain a presence in the capital and in Christian regions the Syrians have activated their local networks, and specially among Lebanese political parties that have long been beholden to Damascus.
This is the case of the Syrian National Social Party (PSNS) in which Christians are an active minority; the Lebanese branch of the Ba'aath Party; the Habashis, a Sunni fundamentalist movement; and the Movement for Islamic Unification.
Syria's new strategy is reflected in events affecting the Movement for Islamic Unification, which is also a Sunni fundamentalist outfit established in Tripoli in northern Lebanon. At the outset the movement close to Syria's Moslem Brotherhood violently opposed Syria's presence in Lebanon.
Following a deadly rift within the movement the Syrians started in 1994 to arrest and jail several hundred of its members. But early this month, the Syrian secret service began releasing the prisoners who flooded back to Tripoli, this time to serve Syria's interests. According to sources in Tripoli, large amounts of weaponry have been distributed in the city.
There was a demonstration yesterday of about 50 people in front of the State Security Court: See Syrians stage rare protest at trial of rights activists. One photographer, Ghaith, whom I spoke to said that he was impressed with the courage of the demonstrators, who were surrounded by security people in full riot gear and who out numbered the demonstrators. He took pictures until he was told to leave.
Ghaith, an Iraqi, came to Syria only a week ago from Baghdad and says how pleasantly surprised he has been to find Syria so different from Saddam's Iraq. He said that he was amazed to see the demonstrators holding their small sheets of paper above their heads and demanding that emergency law be lifted. "No one ever dared to do that in Iraq." He was hardly checked at the airport, and he was able to help his fiancé, a British reporter and novelist, get an extension for her reporter's visa for several months with a minimum of fuss, just a small payment to an officer who made the telling eye contact. They both sang Damascus' praises for being so much fun and cosmopolitan.
They are both refugees from Iraq, driven out by the deteriorating security situation.