02-27-2012, 11:05 AM
| | Syria Hit List Targets Thousands Syria Hit List Targets Thousands | Mother Jones
A 718-page digital document obtained by Mother Jones contains names, phone numbers, neighborhoods, and alleged activities of thousands of dissidents apparently targeted by the Syrian government. Three experts asked separately by Mother Jones to examine the document—essentially a massive spreadsheet, whose contents are in Arabic—say they believe that it is authentic. As Bashar Al-Assad's military continues a deadly crackdown on dissent inside the country, the list appears to confirm in explicit detail the scale of the regime's domestic surveillance and its methodical efforts to destroy widespread opposition.
The document does not contain any identifying government markings. But the experts consulted agree that its organization and content—which they say is striking in scope—are characteristic of lists used by intelligence services in the Middle East. A link to the document, which surfaced in mid January in discussions about Syria on Twitter, was provided to Mother Jones by a self-described hactivist who tweets frequently in Arabic and English, and whose identity is unclear. A redacted sample of the document is below; Mother Jones is not publishing the full document or revealing the names of individuals in it because we cannot definitively confirm its authenticy nor predict how the document might be used if more widely disseminated.
But the experts who examined the document say it shows what many observers have strongly suspected: In addition to relentless bombing of cities such as Homs and Hama, the Assad regime is tracking down thousands of its own people for interrogation, coercion, or far worse. Joshua Landis, a scholar on Syria who has consulted for the State Department and other US government agencies, said he thinks the document merges the records of several Syrian intelligence agencies in order to better coordinate the crackdown. "This is what a secret service does," he said. Actions allegedly taken by individuals in the document—such as setting up a roadblock near Homs, or issuing instructions about how to attack a Syrian military outpost—are "the kind of thing that people get whacked for all the time, or at least tortured for."
According to Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syria expert and fellow at the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the document contains the names of people wanted by the government's military and security services. It lists many of them with specific context—the year of their birth, names of their relatives, and descriptions such as, "he leads rallies in the Sakhaneh neighborhood." The list also includes military defectors, and their units and ranks, Abdulhamid said. "This kind of info on this scale cannot be available to the general public, or faked."
The hactivist who alerted Mother Jones to the online document said that it was posted by members of an activist organizing committee inside Syria, but declined to provide any details confirming that, citing security concerns. It's conceivable that the document involves deception by the Syrian regime or counterintelligence operations by its adversaries; the United States, Israel, and other Western powers are known to have run sophisticated covert operations against Syria and Iran for many years.
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees that the list appears to be authentic, despite that there is no way to know for sure. "The way it's organized looks similar to other documents I've seen," he said, citing a hit list he saw when he was in Syria in 2006. (That list, he said, also did not contain identifying government markings.) "It organizes people in such a way that it would allow the security services to be able to track them down." Tabler also said the document is longer than any he's previously seen; it allows the Syrian government to "more effectively round up these folks and choke them off as part of the crackdown."