CIA helped senior Syrian defector escape to Washington, say sources

Jihad MakdissiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
American intelligence operatives helped facilitate the escape of a senior Syrian government official, who is now allegedly assisting the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations in Syria, according to a British newspaper. The sudden disappearance last November of Jihad Makdissi, official spokesperson of Syria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, caused widespread speculation that he might have defected. Makdissi, a career diplomat, had been a close collaborator of senior Syrian cabinet officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Moallem, and Dr. Adnan Hassan Mahmoud, Minister of Information. Initial reports claimed that Makdissi, who is a Christian and is fluent in English and French, had crossed into Lebanon and was hiding in a Christian Beirut neighborhood. But London-based newspaper The Guardian said on Monday that the diplomat had been assisted by “US intelligence officials”, who organized his escape into Lebanon, along with his wife and two children, before secretly transferring them to Washington, DC, “almost one month ago”. If The Guardian’s claim is true, it would mean that US intelligence has secured the cooperation of one of the Syrian regime’s most prominent defectors in recent times. Some argue that Makdissi’s importance as a defector is second only to that of Syria’s former Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, who escaped with this immediate family to Jordan in August. The Guardian notes that Makdissi was “privy to many of [the Syrian government’s] most sensitive communications” and was “central to shaping the regime’s message” since the 2011 outbreak of the ongoing Syrian uprising. According to the paper, Makdissi has already undergone nearly a month of debriefings by his American handlers, which have helped the CIA and other US intelligence agencies enhance their understanding of “decision-making in the inner sanctum” of the Syrian regime. But the article revealed no details about the defector’s escape, saying they “are not yet known”. It is worth noting that the British government has denied claims by Syrian and Lebanese media that Makdissi and his family had flown from Beirut to London before transferring to the US. The Guardian said it contacted the CIA requesting a comment, but that the Agency was “unwilling to discuss the story”. A similar request to the US Department of State reportedly went unanswered.

4 Responses to CIA helped senior Syrian defector escape to Washington, say sources

  1. mopsie says:

    jihad is kind of a strange name for a christian, isnt it? maybe not. i suppose it is just arabic for struggle.
    security surrounding the family must be intense, especially the kids.

  2. davide says:

    tell us something new mr. fitsanakis, please

  3. soumyakambhampati says:

    I wonder how the CIA was able to arrange for a defection in a denied area (Syria) to a hostile area (Lebanon). Could it be that the Agency has actual presence within Syria? That would also help explain how the defector got in touch with the Agency. However, in my opinion, it seems more likely that while NCS provided support, another intelligence agency (probably the Turkish MIT) arranged for, and carried out, the defection / extraction with aid from Syrian rebels. It seems to be extremely (and in a sense disturbingly) commonplace for the CIA to rely on “friendly” FIS for HUMINT (as seen in the Khost incident, where the agent was handed to the CIA by Jordanian intelligence).

  4. intelNews says:

    @soumyakambhampati: Based on our previous reporting on this blog, the CIA’s physical presence inside Syria is very limited and it has turned to Jordan, Turkey and Israel for help. This being the case, the assistance of Jordanian, Turkish or Israeli operatives in exfiltrating Makdissi is a very strong possibility. [JF]

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