Al Jazeera Gets Hold of "Secret Syria Files"

Aljazeera describes the confidential Syria documents it obtained:

The files provide an insight into President Bashar al-Assad’s strategy to suppress anti-government protests, including the lengths the government went to for protecting its strongholds. The documents, running into hundreds of pages, point to a government desperate to keep control of the capital Damascus and include clear orders to stop protesters from getting into the city.

There’s an entire story in that article about an opposition “mole” in a sensitive security post who sent the documents to Aljazeera. But feel free, like me, not to buy that story and instead think of a big-time espionage operation that involves a lot of cash transfer and a nation whose name I will not mention, but who will host the World Cup in 2022.

CIA Officials Admit That Hezbollah Damaged Operations in Lebanon

I was initially a skeptic of Hezbollah’s boasts, but CIA sources have confirmed that they were dealt a real blow in Lebanon:

The CIA’s operations in Lebanon have been badly damaged after Hezbollah identified and captured a number of U.S. spies recently, current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press [...] the damage to the agency’s spy network in Lebanon has been greater than usual, several former and current U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about security matters.

Read the whole thing. A lot of fascinating details about intelligence operations in Lebanon.

The US Government Can (Lawfully) Read Your Emails

The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. government has obtained a controversial type of secret court order to force Google Inc. and small Internet provider Inc. to turn over information from the email accounts of WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum

Here’s where I’m personally touched by this story: I met Jacob Applebaum (@ioerror) a few days ago. He was present in the Tunisia Arab bloggers meeting and gave very important workshops on security and online safety to Arab bloggers, dissidents and journalists who wanted to learn how to be anonymous online.

Now we wake up to read that the US federal government can lawfully read the emails some of us might have exchanged with him? What message will this send to the bloggers who were present in that meeting? The irony is that some of us thought he was excessively paranoid. Now we understand why.

❊ The Curious Case Of The Syrian Ambassador in France

It all started with a phone call by a woman claiming to be the Syrian ambassador in France who made a live phone call to the channel:

“I can no longer continue to support the cycle of extreme violence against unarmed civilians [...] I can no longer ignore the young men, women and children who have died. [...] I have informed the president’s private secretary that it is my intention to tender my resignation to (Syrian) President Bashar al-Assad

Usually, when a high-ranking diplomat calls a news channel to make potentially consequential statements, you expect any self-respecting, professional channel to triple check the identity of the caller.

But then, an obviously infuriated Lamia Chakkour (the ambassador) called Syrian TV to categorically deny that she made that call. She then called Al-Arabiya, and with equal fury denied the “impostor” and said that she will sue the “vindictive” France 24 channel. Alarabiya then played the France24 clip while Ms. Chakkour was on air, and it was obvious that the voice of the woman who called the channel is not the same as that of Ms. Chakkour.

So France 24 was caught red handed? Not so fast. Here’s the channel’s statement following Ms. Chakkour’s denials:

Ahead of Tuesday’s “Debate” show on FRANCE 24, the channel invited the Syrian ambassador to France using the email address commonly used by our channel to contact the Syrian Embassy press office. Since Ms. Lamia Chakkour’s response was favourable, we called her at the appointed time on a number that was provided to us by the embassy press office [...]

Following the broadcast, the Reuters press agency received an email from the Syrian embassy in Paris confirming what she had announced [...] We cannot rule out either manipulation or provocation

In other words, someone from Inside the Syrian embassy in France was engaged in a massive act of deception. That happened on the same day that France’s foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that President Assad has “lost all legitimacy” to rule Syria. This could of course be a coincidence, but I’m smelling a botched act of intelligence by the French, perhaps calculated to start a snowball of international resignations of Syrian diplomats.

Let’s wait and see how this plays out..

Using Social Media For Propaganda

Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain for The Guardian:

The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.

This might seem dangerous at first, but honestly, it looks clueless to me. Any user of social media worth his or her salt will know the difference between an artificial persona and a real flesh and bone and keyboard person, because social media approximates real life by building relationships of trust among people.

Of course there will always be the occasional buffoon, the kind that clicks on links in SPAM emails, but those are not the type of influencers that steer conversations in cyberspace anyway..

Did Israel Try To Recruit Charles Ayoub?

This is a mixed up story. First Egypt announced that it caught a man who worked for the Mossad. Tarek Abdul Razzak Hussain Hassan was charged with trying to recruit a Lebanese journalist to work for Israel. Upon hearing the man’s name, Charles Ayyoub, editor in chief of Aldyiar, a struggling newspaper, stepped up and told Alarabiya that he was indeed contacted by that  man. He said that he was offered a lavish trip to make public speeches in the far east, but that he refused because it sounded suspicious.

I’m not sure I buy Mr. Ayyoub’s story. It just sounds a bit too convenient,  announcing yet another triumph of the Lebanese over Israeli spies as if to stay in lockstep with Hezbollah’s attempts to keep the idea of Israeli spies in Lebanese minds. Besides, it sounds like a story made up by someone with an exaggerated sense of self importance (speeches in the far east? Charles Ayyoub?). But hey, weirder things have happened

Why Is Aoun Fighting For Karam's Release?

A Hariri ally offers a theory:

Aoun is worried about certain information Karam might have confessed, which implicates important people in the FPM

This is a tricky issue for Hezbollah. The party can interfere in the process and join Aoun’s campaign to discredit the investigation, but it has so far refrained from doing so to the consternation of its orange ally.

The reason is simple. Hezbollah wants to reach to the bottom of this even if it means “cleaning up” the FPM. If the case against Karam is proven, he (and his collaborators?) would have presented a major security risk to the party and its leader. That is more important than any political alliance that could get strained as a result.