CIA “Command and Control” in Syria

Yesterday, in a story describing the state of affairs following the suicide bomb that took out key members of Bashar al Assad’s national security team, David Ignatius described CIA’s (and Israel’s) involvement in Syria this way:

The CIA has been working with the Syrian opposition for several weeks under a non-lethal directive that allows the United States to evaluate groups and assist them with command and control. Scores of Israeli intelligence officers are also operating along Syria’s border, though they are keeping a low profile.

Even before I read Ignatius’ piece, I wondered if we had shared intelligence with the rebels, helping them to decimate Assad’s team so effectively. Certainly, intelligence sharing could be included under non-lethal activities.

And now, Middle Eastern sources are reporting this RUMINT.

Reports in the Arab-language press indicate the head of Iran’s covert foreign operations Quds force was killed in Wednesday’s bombing in Damascus.
Al-Quds Force’s long-elusive commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, is reported to have made several trips to Damascua to meet with Assad and his top commanders since January of this year.
Iran has made no bones about having bolstered Assad’s embattled regime with members of its own elite Revolutionary Guard, but the death of Suleimani would be a direct blow to Tehran.

Suleimani, who masterminded al-Quds Force operations in Iraq and covert activities throughout the Persian Gulf and Lebanon, is a key figure in Iranian policymaking, particularly in security matters.

A combat veteran of Iran’s 1980-88 war with Iraq, Suleimani took command of the al-Quds Force in the late 1990s and has become a powerful figure in the upper echelons of the Tehran regime.

His death in Wednesday’s bombing could indicate Syria’s rebels have covert support from Western nations in their anti-Assad campaign.

Well now, that would be rather remarkable “luck,” wouldn’t it? Those feisty Islamist-tied rebels taking out Assad’s national security team and our enemy, all in one terrorist attack?

Additionally, Syrian rebels have seized the border crossing points between Syrian and Iraq, another pressing issue Ignatius rather presciently raised yesterday.

The main transit routes into Syria come from the four points of the compass — Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The two key axes, in terms of Western assistance, are Turkey and Jordan, both close allies of the United States. The two potential flash points for spreading the sectarian fighting are Lebanon and Iraq, both of which have substantial Shiite militias allied with Iran, which backs Assad.

It all seems to be falling into place for the Islamist backed rebels, huh?

Meanwhile, in probably but not definitely unrelated news, King Abdullah just named Bandar bin Sultan to head Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service.

I wonder. Is the War on Terror still operative? Or has CIA been swapping prepositions of late?

Update: Wrong! Bandar’s appointment is totally related to Syria. He was appointed because he’s the guy who partnered with us the last time (save Libya) we used Islamists to clandestinely overthrow a country.

For Saudis and Westerners who remember Prince Bandar as a driving force rallying international support and procuring weapons for Muslim fighters seeking to push Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, the appointment was a sign that the Saudis might play a more influential role as uprisings that may remake the Arab world, especially in Syria.

“In these very hectic moments for Saudi foreign policy…we need Bandar bin Sultan,” said Abdullah al-Shammri, a political analyst. “He’s a volcano, and we need a volcano at this moment.”

Mr. al-Shammri cited what he called Prince Bandar’s “special relationship” with American officials. He also mentioned parallels between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia working together in the 1980s against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and current circumstances in Syria, where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and others are trying to overcome Russian objections to tougher action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. David says:

    I think I missed sarcasm somewhere: opening pathways to receive support from Shiite militias in Iraq and killing the head of Iranian intelligence would be main bullet points on opposing agendas, yes? The rebels are against Assad, which means they’re against Iran (maybe), who supports (supported?) Iraqi Shiite militias. That they’re now trying to work with? What?

  2. emptywheel says:

    @David: The idea is they’re holding them closed, not open. Sorry I wasn’t clear. I was trying to point out that the rebels seem to be working from what Ignatius says is the CIA playsheet.

  3. JohnT says:

    From the first blockquote

    The CIA has been working with the Syrian opposition for several weeks …

    Several weeks? More like several months, or possibly more accurately, several years.

    Don’t they have teh google at wapo?

  4. MadDog says:

    Regionally-related, it seems both the US and Israeli intelligence organizations have come to a pre-agreed-to conclusion regarding the “who, how, and why” of the Bulgarian Israeli Bus Bombing with a rapidity only previously seen in spy novels – via the NYT:

    Hezbollah Is Blamed in Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria

    “A senior American official confirmed Israel’s assertions on Thursday that the suicide bomber who killed five Israelis in an attack here on Wednesday was a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria.

    The official said the current American intelligence assessment is that the bomber was “acting under broad guidance” to hit Israeli targets when the opportunity presented itself. That guidance was given to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, by its primary sponsor, Iran, he said.

    The attacks, the official said, were in retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists by Israeli agents, something that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied. “This was tit for tat,” said the American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the investigation was still underway…”

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Worth reading at the UK Guardian yesterday:

    The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?

    The media have been too passive when it comes to Syrian opposition sources, without scrutinising their backgrounds and their political connections. Time for a closer look….

    It’s important to stress: to investigate the background of a Syrian spokesperson is not to doubt the sincerity of his or her opposition to Assad. But a passionate hatred of the Assad regime is no guarantee of independence. Indeed, a number of key figures in the Syrian opposition movement are long-term exiles who were receiving US government funding to undermine the Assad government long before the Arab spring broke out.

    Though it is not yet stated US government policy to oust Assad by force, these spokespeople are vocal advocates of foreign military intervention in Syria and thus natural allies of well-known US neoconservatives who supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq and are now pressuring the Obama administration to intervene. As we will see, several of these spokespeople have found support, and in some cases developed long and lucrative relationships with advocates of military intervention on both sides of the Atlantic.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/12/syrian-opposition-doing-the-talking?CMP=twt_gu

  6. shekissesfrogs says:

    Have the Iranians or the Russians confirmed the death?
    This is funny:

    Mossad-planted stories in the Times?

    .. “a former Syrian Army artillery major, who called himself Abu Akhmed”. Which Arab in his/her right mind would call himself “Abu Akhmed”. Akhmed is the Hebrew mispronunciation or corruption of Ahmad. This story must have originated–along with the fictitious names–in Israel. Notice that the other person cited in the story is also named…Abu Akhmed. The third person–not cited in the story–is Abu Abraham Foxman.

    Also, your reference to this as a terrorist attack, are you sure it qualifies as such? Are they not legitimate targets?

    Kaplan Test Prep says the mossad is operating along the border, they mention trying to secure Syria’s chemicals, they use it as an opportunity to pin Libya’s supply on Iran.

  7. shekissesfrogs says:

    @MadDog:
    Bus bomber was not Bulgarian, minister says

    Investigators said they managed to obtain DNA samples from the fingers of the bomber and were checking databases in an attempt to identify him. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov told parliament he hoped that would be done in 3-4 days.[]

    Tsvetanov said investigators were working on several leads, including the possibility that the bomber had an accomplice, but he denied media reports that a local Hezbollah cell was behind the bombing.

    “Such topics, and such interpretations have not been talked about or discussed. At the moment we are focused on realistic options,” he said.

    Israel is helping with the investigation.

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