Sixty-first edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: Tue, 03 Jun 2003 12:30:04 +0200)

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Intelligence profile : Syria


Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Syria was administered by the French until independence in 1946. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Since 1976, Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon, ostensibly in a peacekeeping capacity. In recent years, Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over the return of the Golan Heights.


Country name : Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah (Syrian Arab Republic)
Short name : Suriyah / Syria
Capital : Damascus
Administration : Syria has 14 provinces: Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah, Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda', Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq, Halab, Hamah, Hims, Idlib, Rif Dimashq, Tartus

Military branches:

Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air Force (includes Air Defense Forces), Police and Security Force

Intelligence agencies:

All Syrian intelligence services are under direct control of the president. The agencies have overlapping functions so that Syria is not dependent on any one of them.

Idarat al-Amn al-Siyasi
Political Security Directorate

This organisation is responsible for detecting signs of organized political activity against the regime. This involves surveillance of suspected political dissidents, as well as the activities of foreigners in Syria. The agency also monitors all print and audiovisual media.

Idarat al-Amn al-'Amm
General Intelligence Directorate

This Directorate is the main civilian intelligence service in Syria. It is divided into three branches;

Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya
Military Intelligence Service

Syria's military intelligence service, headquartered at the Defense Ministry complex in Damascus, is formally responsible for the usual range of military surveillance operations, planning, etc. that one would expect. In addition, it is responsible for providing military and logistical support to Palestinian, Lebanese, and Turkish extremist groups, monitoring (and often assassinating) political dissidents abroad, and coordinating the activities of Syrian and Lebanese military forces stationed in Lebanon.

Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya
Air Force Intelligence Directorate

Despite its name, this intelligence service is not primarily concerned with providing information to the air force. It's evolution into Syria's most secretive and fearsome intelligence service has a great deal to do with the fact that Hafez Assad was once commander of Syria's air force. After he assumed power in 1970, Assad turned to this intelligence service, dominated by men that he knew well (and in most cases had appointed himself), to undertake sensitive domestic and international operations.

On the domestic level, Syrian air force intelligence has frequently spearheaded operations against Islamist opposition elements in the country. It played a leading role in the regime's suppression of Muslim Brotherhood revolt during the 1970's and early 1980's. More recently, air force intelligence agents reportedly led the nationwide manhunt for members of the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir) in Dec. 1999.

The Directorate has also been central to the regime's sponsorship of international terrorism. It's agents, frequently stationed abroad in Syrian embassies and in branch offices of Syria's national airline, have directly coordinated dozens of terrorist operations.

The Interior Ministry

In December 2001 Interior Minister Harba was replaced by Hammoud, the former head of Syrian military intelligence in west Beirut. When this happened well-placed sources in Damascus said that Hammoud will assume some of the responsibilities previously carried out by various security agencies. I couldn't find further info about this.


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