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Tuesday, May 3, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Cable: U.S. secretly aided foes of Assad in Syria

LONDON — The United States has been quietly helping the Islamic opposition in Syria.


A State Department document cited U.S. help to an Islamic group opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The group, believed to have been penetrated by Syrian intelligence, was identified as the Movement for Justice and Development, described by the State Department as comprised of "liberal and moderate Islamists."

"Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian Muhabarat [intelligence] may already have penetrated the MJD and is using MJD contacts to track U.S. democracy programming," the cable from the U.S. embassy in Damascus said.

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The July 2009 cable, released by WikiLeaks, described a badly-divided Syrian opposition and an alienated Muslim Brotherhood, which published a protest letter during the previous month. The report to the State Department, titled "Murky Alliances: Muslim Brotherhood, the Movement for Justice and Democracy and the Damascus Declaration," warned of rising Brotherhood resentment toward the pro-democracy movement in Syria, said to have received at least $12 million from the U.S. government.

"The rancor expressed in the MB's letter suggested a growing fissure between expatriate Damascus Declaration representatives, especially between the MB and the small, but politically connected and increasingly active Movement for Justice and Development," the report said. "More worrisome, however, is recent information suggesting the SARG [Syrian government] may already have penetrated the MJD and learned about sensitive USG programs in Syria."

The report cited disputes within the opposition since 2005, particularly regarding U.S. policy in the Middle East. Another issue was whether the pro-democracy Damascus Declaration should distance itself from the Brotherhood.

"The MB's involvement provoked the SARG," the report, which quoted an unidentified Syrian opposition activist, said. "For the Damascus Declaration to continue safely, MB participation would have to be jettisoned."

Since 2008, expatriates formed Damascus Declaration committees throughout Europe and the United States. Eventually, the Brotherhood, regarded as the largest opposition group, was invited to participate in the forum.

The report said the Movement for Justice and Development, which included Brotherhood members, failed to expand its base in Syria. The rest of the opposition in the Damascus Declaration was also said to have been hampered by internal disputes.

"SARG may be mounting a campaign to entrap democracy activists receiving illegal — under Syrian law — foreign assistance," the cable said.

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