Thursday, May 20, 2004

Propaganda Watch

The steady drum-beat of dubious accusations launched by the administration against Syria is disheartening. It is reminiscent of the build up to the Iraq war. Administration efforts to paint Syria as a "terrorist state" run by an "irrational" and fascist regime doesn't make sense. The purpose of the constant accusations is clear - to isolate and weaken the Asad regime. To what end? The administration is divided. Cheney's office backed by Defense are at logger-heads with the State Department as they were on Iraq. The neocons are out for regime change. State wants behavioral adjustment - to curtail Palestinian groups and Hezbollah and to force better cooperation on the Iraq border. At least, this is what they say. How much heart the Department of State actually has for this game is not clear. Powell's attempts to talk to the Syrians infuriates Defense. Perhaps the State Department has been cowed again by the neocons and is just trying to put the best face on a senseless policy it is powerless to change? No good can come of it.

The Nuclear accusation
John Bolton, the State Department arms control boss, has taken the lead in the WMD scare. Most recently, he charged that Syria is believed to be in possession of equipment for making nuclear bombs. According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, Bolton has claimed that Syria was a "client" of Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who ran an international smuggling ring, providing nuclear weapons technologies to countries like North Korea, Libya, and Iran. Ma'ariv wrote on May 5, "One atomic energy expert ... said Bolton leads a faction in the [Bush Administration] that believes they have strong evidence" of Syria's nuclear weapons program. However, the same article also noted that "Those who are pushing the idea that Syria has centrifuges, have been held back by other members of the inter-agency community who question the veracity of the claim." Another source added, "Not everyone in the U.S. intelligence community and government is certain Syria has operating centrifuges.... One source said that not even Syria's arch foe Israel is convinced."

No one else made the Khan connection with Syria during the unraveling of his network back in March and April. Bolton's claims come out of the blue and look like an opportunistic add-on by a man who will say anything to keep Syria in Washington's cross-hairs.

Several days ago, another wild conjecture about Syria getting Chemical Weapons from North Korea made the papers. In an article entitled: Syrians With Secret CBW Material On Korean Train That Exploded? The article states:

A military source familiar with Korean Peninsula affairs revealed on 6 May
that Syrian technicians were killed in a train explosion incident that
occurred on 22 April in Yongch'on in the northwestern part of the DPRK and
that the damage was especially serious in that section of the train where
the Syrians were aboard, along with large equipment.

The same source noted that although the contents of the equipment are
unknown, DPRK military-related personnel wearing protective suits arrived on
the scene immediately after the explosion and removed debris only from that
section of the train where the Syrian group had been aboard.

Consequently, there is a strong likelihood that the accident occurred when
military materials were being secretly transported between the DPRK and
Once again, we have an unnamed source, "strong likelihood," and "secret transportation." Why must Syria and North Korea be trading WMD? Because men in white coats turned up. And that is enough to clinch WMD? In the US, every time a container truck turns over on a highway, we see men in chemical protective gear turn up because it is protocol. The WMD "proof" will turn up in the congressional record and intelligence reports soon, no doubt.

Jihadists pouring across the Syrian boarder into Iraq
There is very little evidence for the accusations that Syria is sending Jihadists across its boarder into Iraq. Today, General Kimmitt said the US had killed some 40 people near the Syrian border who were sneaking in to fight in Iraq. The Washington Post reported:
Kimmitt said: "At this point, the intelligence that we have and the intelligence that we drew on to conduct this operation was sufficient for us to believe -- to conduct that operation," he said. "We believe that we operated within the rules of engagement for that operation."

"This is one of those routes that we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country," Kimmitt said. He added: "We are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground, and it was not that there was a wedding party going on." He did not directly answer a question about whether foreign fighters were the only people killed.
The identity of the men killed during the raid is still murky (Kimmitt states that no passports were found on the bodies to identity them. Some foreign phone numbers were discovered in the evidence - Sudan and Afghanistan - were cited. Attacking suspected smugglers with gun-ships is bad. US troops must find a way to detain such parties. Shooting first and asking questions later is no way to behave.

Seymour Hersh makes this point in a report on a similar event in June 2003 on the Syrian side of the boarder. He write:
In fact, according to current and former American military and diplomatic officials, the operation was a fiasco in which as many as eighty people - occupants of the cars and trucks as well as civilians living nearby - were killed. The vehicles, it turned out, were being used to smuggle gasoline.
Bashar al-Asad never complained openly about this incursion and faulty intelligence. Nevertheless, the incident fed the fires of the Syria bashers and continued to be used by them as evidence that Syria was violating the boarders.

A striking example of this can be found in today's article published by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) - Stuck Between Iraq and a WMD Cache
Damascus Aiding Anti-Coalition Insurgency in Iraq
JINSA Editorial Assistant Jonathan Howland writes:
Five Marines and ten Iraqis were killed in Husaybah between April 17 and 18 while engaging an estimated 150 terrorists. U.S. military officials, however, expect to have the area under relative control shortly. "We did find, fix and ultimately finish a number of terrorist cells that were out there, that were facilitating this type movement, " Maj. Gen. John Sattler, chief of operations for U.S. Central Command, told the Times.

The size, sophistication, and intensity of the attack, in addition to its proximity to the border, indicate Syrian involvement in the Husaybah attack, according to, April 20, 2004, the online outlet for the private intelligence firm of the same name.
National Public Radio reported on 19, April 2004, however, that no foreign fighters had been detained or observed in the town of Husaybah. The insurgents seemed to all be from Ramadi and Faluja.

After a year of claims, we are left with precious little proof and many baseless claims.

Bashar al-Asad addressed infiltration from Syria to Iraq in his recent Jazeera interview. He demanded to be given names, shown a passport, or given some evidence of Syrian Jihadis. Speaking of the infiltration, he said,
"This matter arose after the occupation of Iraq, and top European and American officials brought it up before me. I have always told them, and the members of the Governing Council, 'You say that people are entering Iraq from Syria, and you know who they are or have caught some of them. What are their names? What passports do they have? Are they Syrians? Are their [passports] forged? Give us some of the names, tell us how they entered, interrogate them.' So far, we have received no information. I told [the Americans]: 'Give us one piece of information. After all, we are talking about infiltration.' People are crossing the Syrian border, and we do not know. This [i.e. weapons smuggling and infiltration of people] interests us as a state. Anything that happens [in this regard] without our knowledge is illegal activity, and we have to be notified about it. Up until now, [we have received] no informationÂ… The accusations toward us are merely throwing on us the responsibility for other countries' failures."

Conspiracy Theories
Now we are being told that Syria bombed itself on April 27. The Iraeli press began this wacky story, which has made its way into JINSA analysis. To lend validity to the claim, they write:
Others, including some members of Congress, support this theory. "This was a charade, one more political maneuver by the regime to avoid U.S. sanctions," Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) declared. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) added, " ... This was staged. Syria seems to be once again starting fires just to get credit for putting them out."
It is our congressmen who are starting fires they won't be able to put out. Ros-Lehtinen and Engel are the co-sponsors of the Syria Accountability Act and pointmen for JINSA's lobbying efforts. These accusations are no more creditable than Arab claims that the CIA planned the Twin Tower bombings.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, also attacked the lawmakers' comments.
''If it is true that some people are saying this, this is something shameful," he said in a telephone interview. ''This shows their insincerity in combatting terrorism. It's really ridiculous, unacceptable, and it shows a lack of responsibility at such a difficult time."


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