Syria, Intelligence and Security
Syria has four intelligence agencies, which together helped President Hafez al-Assad maintain strict control of the nation from 1970 to 2000, and assisted the transition of power to his son Bashar after the elder Assad died. Despite the country's reputation as a police state and an exporter of terrorism within the Middle East, Syrian opposition to Iraq and to Islamist groups has often placed it in temporary alignment with United States policies.
The Political Security Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-Siyasi) conducts surveillance within the country, looking for signs of opposition political activity. Its role overlaps to some extent that of the General Security (or Intelligence) Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-'Amm), the principal civilian intelligence agency in the country. The latter also has an external security division equivalent to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as well as a Palestine division, which oversees activities of Palestinian groups in Syria and Lebanon.
In addition to the typical functions of military intelligence, the Military Intelligence Service (Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya) provides support to Palestinian, Lebanese, and Turkish radical groups, monitors Syrian dissidents living overseas, and coordinates the actions of Syrian and Lebanese forces in Lebanon.
The fourth intelligence service, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya) is only nominally tied to the air force. Its role as the most powerful and feared intelligence agency in Syria comes from the fact that Hafez al-Assad was once air force commander, and later turned the air force intelligence service into his personal action bureau. In addition to intelligence work, the directorate has assisted numerous terrorist operations abroad.
Despite its reputation, Syria has made common cause with the United States against Iraq, whose Saddam Hussein was a hated foe of Assad, and against militant Islamists. After the U.S. defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, extremists ejected from that country began to drift through Syria, but found themselves unwelcome there: the Syrians captured numerous former fighters and held them for questioning by U.S. authorities. In July 2002, U.S. officials confirmed that Syria's government had provided Washington with information that helped head off a surprise attack on U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.
█ FURTHER READING:
Bennett, Richard M. Espionage: An Encyclopedia of Spies and Secrets. London: Virgin Books, 2002.
Boyne, Sean. "Assad Purges Security Chiefs to Smooth the Way for Succession." Jane's Intelligence Review 11, no. 6 (June 1, 1999): 1.
Schneider, Howard. "Syria Evolves as Anti-Terror Ally." Washington Post. (July 25, 2002): A18.
Syria: Intelligence Agencies. Federation of American Scientists. < http://www.fas.org/irp/world/syria/ > (March 1,2003).
Syria's Intelligence Services: A Primer. Middle East Intelligence Bulletin < http://www.meib.org/articles/0007_s3.htm > (March 1, 2003).