The U.S. State Department has secretly been financing opposition groups in Syria who are protesting against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, according to diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks.
The Washington Post reported the revelation.
Among the measures designed to help the Syrian rebels was a London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, which showed anti-government programming in Syria. Barada started broadcasting in April 2009, then accelerated its operations when the revolt in Syria erupted earlier this year.
Barada TV is closely connected with the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), a Syrian exile organization based in London.
U.S. diplomatic cables revealed that the State Department has sent as much as $6 million to MJD since 2006 to run the satellite channel and to fund other anti-Assad activities inside Syria.
MJD, which is banned in Syria, has called explicitly Assad’s removal. U.S. diplomats have described the group’s leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists,” some of whom are former members of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.
However, the Washington Post reported that people affiliated with Barada TV insist they took no money from the US government, nor do they claim any link to MJD.
“I’m not aware of anything like that,” Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV’s London-based news director, told the newspaper.
Abdeh claimed the network receives financing from “independent Syrian businessmen.”
“If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” he added . “That’s all I’m going to give you.”
American financing of Syrian rebels reportedly commenced under President George W. Bush in 2005 when he ceased diplomatic ties with Damascus and has continued under the Obama administration.
Ironically, Obama has sought to re-establish relations with Assad, having appointed an ambassador to Syria for the first time in six years.
The US cables discovered by WikiLeaks indicate that in 2009 US embassy personnel become concerned after learning that Syrian intelligence agents became suspicious about US activities with opposition groups, raising fears that Obama’s efforts to pacify Assad were endangered.
Syrian officials “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read a diplomatic cable from April 2009.
“A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive.”
Indeed, the Assad regime has recently blamed unrest in the country to “foreign conspirators,”
However, it is unclear if US money is still being made available to Syrian opposition figures.
It is noteworthy to point out that while US officials have condemned the brutality of Syrian security forces on dissidents, Washington has not called for Assad’s overthrow.