One feature characterizes the behavior of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon: Anonymity. However in a changing age, Syrian intelligence operatives and their Lebanese cronies have expanded into cyber space, where identities cannot be concealed as easily.
The rise of ghosts started with former Director-General of the Surete General, Jamil al-Sayyed, when his fax machine – with its withheld phone number – circulated slanderous rumors to official news agencies and pro-Syrian dailies in Beirut.
The al-Sayyed era saw his ghosts sowing discord around town, often by using an arsenal of tools at their disposal, which included security agents chasing journalists and assaulting student rallies, corrupt judiciary fabricating charges against political opponents, and MPs and columnists spreading false information.
Al-Sayyed is now in prison trying to avoid testimonies to his criminal mind by former associates. Yet many of al-Sayyed’s Syrian superiors and Lebanese subordinates remain at large, and faithfully employ his tactics, now in their upgraded cyber form.
The Syrian-Lebanese intelligence propaganda machine has now taken up Media Laundering, a process where these operatives post rumors on websites with anonymous or fake administrators. Then pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian media outlets such as TVs, newspapers and news portals pick up these rumors without verifying them, a characteristic of propaganda media.
Media Laundering websites include Lebanese-operated Filkkaisrael and al-Thabet blogs, Syrian operated Aksalser, damaspost, and Iranian Fares News Agency. On the receiving end of the rumors are Syrian websites Champress, Syria Post, Syria News, Syrian Strategic Center, Egyptian Almoheet and Kuwaiti Aldiwan.
Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV and state-run Syrian TVs, as well as Al-Dounya TV, owned by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, also air fabrications posted by the same ghost-operated websites.
Tracing publishing links, the following names standout as members of the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah Media Laundering: Lebanese Khodor Awarki, Younes Awdeh, Walid Zbibo and Fouad Itani, Syrian Ali Jamalo and Reem al-Khodor, Egyptian al-Manar TV anchor Amro Nassef and his compatriot and owner of Almoheet portal Mohamed Alewa.
Tracing funding of the aforementioned network shows the involvement of Hezbollah-owned Dar Al-Hadi Publishing House, Syrian TV producer known for his production of the Nizar Qabbani series Nabil Tohme, Syrian intelligence top officers Brigadier-General Ali Mamlouk and General Zuheir al-Hamad, and Jamalo, among others.
The network is commanded by Mamlouk, al-Hamad, Jamalo and most important of all, Lebanon’s former Information Minister Michel Samaha, under sanctions by the Treasury Department for his remarkable role in commanding the anonymous media, public relations and cyber network as a successor to imprisoned General Jamil Sayyed.
While networking and public relations form the essence of any democratic life, the Syrian-Lebanese network stands out for its deceptive practices: Anonymous or fake authors spreading false news or merely slandering Syria’s and Hezbollah’s opponents in Lebanon through the usage of fabrications and foul language.
Filkkaisrael is a case in point. While the administrator of this Google-hosted blog claims to be an anti-Israel Israeli, an imaginary Elia Bnay Simon, the administrator is no other than Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) supporter Khodor Awarkeh, who also pretends to be a resident of Montreal, Canada.
Awarki gets a hand in spreading his filth online from his Kuwaiti friend and administrator of Aldiwan site, Abdul-Hamid Abbas Dashti, a Kuwaiti Shiite linked by marriage to a senior Syrian intelligence officer.
By analyzing the text posted on Filkkaisrael and Awarki’s articles, the style is identical. Awarki has not been successful in concealing his fingerprints on the blog, where he has tried some unconvincing self-slandering lines where the presumed authors of the blog accuse him of being an agent of Canadian intelligence; months after the blog accused him – in passing – of being an agent of Israeli intelligence.
Awarki’s rumors are not coherent either, often contradictory. He seems to be suffering extreme mental stress as he bursts into angry salvos of foul language against people he and his Syrian and Lebanese sponsors dislike.
Most importantly, Awarki boils with hate, which he probably thinks is spontaneous and honorable rebellion, confusing political opponents with sworn enemies and wishing ill to everyone who does not support his political line.