Syrian President’s mother said to have ‘defected’

Anisah Makhlouf with Hafez al-Assad in 1994By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Arab media reports appeared to confirm yesterday an allegation made last week by a senior American diplomat that the mother of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had abandoned the country. Speaking to CNN last week, Ambassador Robert Ford, who served as the United States’ envoy to Syria until he was recalled by Washington in 2011, said Anisah Makhlouf al-Assad had escaped to the United Arab Emirates. The 78-year-old widow of late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1970 until his death in 2000, is a revered figure among government supporters. As the current President’s mother, she is said to exercise significant influence on the Syrian regime’s core decision makers, despite her advanced age. According several reports in Arab media, Anisah has now joined her daughter Bushra al-Assad in the Emirates. Bushra, who is the Syrian President’s oldest sister, escaped with her five children to the Gulf oil state in July 2012, after her husband, Assef Shawkat, Syria’s deputy Minister of Defense, was assassinated by the opposition in Damascus along with two other senior Syrian government officials. In his CNN interview, Ambassador Ford argued that Anisah’s defection showed that, “little by little, the inner core [of the Syrian regime] is weakening” as its members are “flaking off. They themselves know they are losing”, he added. Read more of this post

Analysis: US spy agencies stil in the dark about Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
It has been almost a year since the ongoing anti-government uprising erupted in Syria. But intelligence agencies in the United States are still struggling to make sense of most aspects of the spiraling conflict. In February, the US Department of State closed down its embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus and recalled all of its diplomatic personnel, including US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, to Washington. Since then, the Central Intelligence Agency, which conducted its operations in Syria largely out of the US embassy there, has been forced to rely on scattered fragments of its agent network in Damascus, as well as on the work of a handful of allied intelligence services, including those of Jordan, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Naturally, the closure of the US embassy in Syria has boosted the role of the signals intelligence collection and satellite reconnaissance. But, none of these intelligence collection channels have been able to compensate for the lack of adequate human intelligence collection from inside Syria. As a result, according to The Washington Post, which cites “senior US officials”, US intelligence-gathering on the situation in Syria is currently “fragmentary [and] out of focus”. Specifically, the US intelligence community remains unclear about the tactical and strategic intentions of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has limited information about the makeup and strength of the opposition forces in the country. Perhaps more importantly, American intelligence analysts have little evidence on which to base any sort of firm conclusions about the extent of involvement of militant Islamists in the funding and operations of the Syrian opposition. Read more of this post