Tuesday, July 10, 2012

534 Syrian rebels' CFR & Bilderberg connections, & funding from State Dept

Syrian rebels' CFR & Bilderberg connections, & funding from State Dept

[shamireaders] From: israel shamir <israel.shamir@gmail.com> Date: 14
July 2012 13:53 From: Ian Buckley <ianbuckley@ianbuckley.plus.com>
Subject: The Syrian opposition: who's doing the talking?


The Syrian opposition: who's doing the talking?

The media have been too passive when it comes to Syrian opposition
sources, without scrutinising their backgrounds and their political
connections. Time for a closer look …

Charlie Skelton

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 12 July 2012 15.48 BST

A nightmare is unfolding across Syria, in the homes of al-Heffa and the
streets of Houla. And we all know how the story ends: with thousands of
soldiers and civilians killed, towns and families destroyed, and
President Assad beaten to death in a ditch.

This is the story of the Syrian war, but there is another story to be
told. A tale less bloody, but nevertheless important. This is a story
about the storytellers: the spokespeople, the "experts on Syria", the
"democracy activists". The statement makers. The people who "urge" and
"warn" and "call for action".

It's a tale about some of the most quoted members of the Syrian
opposition and their connection to the Anglo-American opposition
creation business. The mainstream news media have, in the main, been
remarkably passive when it comes to Syrian sources: billing them simply
as "official spokesmen" or "pro-democracy campaigners" without, for the
most part, scrutinising their statements, their backgrounds or their
political connections.

It's important to stress: to investigate the background of a Syrian
spokesperson is not to doubt the sincerity of his or her opposition to
Assad. But a passionate hatred of the Assad regime is no guarantee of
independence. Indeed, a number of key figures in the Syrian opposition
movement are long-term exiles who were receiving US government funding
to undermine the Assad government long before the Arab spring broke out.

Though it is not yet stated US government policy to oust Assad by force,
these spokespeople are vocal advocates of foreign military intervention
in Syria and thus natural allies of well-known US neoconservatives who
supported Bush's invasion of Iraq and are now pressuring the Obama
administration to intervene. As we will see, several of these
spokespeople have found support, and in some cases developed long and
lucrative relationships with advocates of military intervention on both
sides of the Atlantic.

"The sand is running out of the hour glass," said Hillary Clinton on
Sunday. So, as the fighting in Syria intensifies, and Russian warships
set sail for Tartus, it's high time to take a closer look at those who
are speaking out on behalf of the Syrian people.

The Syrian National Council

The most quoted of the opposition spokespeople are the official
representatives of the Syrian National Council. The SNC is not the only
Syrian opposition group – but it is generally recognised as "the main
opposition coalition" (BBC). The Washington Times describes it as "an
umbrella group of rival factions based outside Syria". Certainly the SNC
is the opposition group that's had the closest dealings with western
powers – and has called for foreign intervention from the early stages
of the uprising. In February of this year, at the opening of the Friends
of Syria summit in Tunisia, William Hague declared: "I will meet leaders
of the Syrian National Council in a few minutes' time … We, in common
with other nations, will now treat them and recognise them as a
legitimate representative of the Syrian people."

The most senior of the SNC's official spokespeople is the Paris-based
Syrian academic Bassma Kodmani.

Bassma Kodmani

Here is Bassma Kodmani, seen leaving this year's Bilderberg conference
in Chantilly, Virginia.

Kodmani is a member of the executive bureau and head of foreign affairs,
Syrian National Council. Kodmani is close to the centre of the SNC power
structure, and one of the council's most vocal spokespeople. "No
dialogue with the ruling regime is possible. We can only discuss how to
move on to a different political system," she declared this week. And
here she is, quoted by the newswire AFP: "The next step needs to be a
resolution under Chapter VII, which allows for the use of all legitimate
means, coercive means, embargo on arms, as well as the use of force to
oblige the regime to comply."

This statement translates into the headline "Syrians call for armed
peacekeepers" (Australia's Herald Sun). When large-scale international
military action is being called for, it seems only reasonable to ask:
who exactly is calling for it? We can say, simply, "an official SNC
spokesperson," or we can look a little closer.

This year was Kodmani's second Bilderberg. At the 2008 conference,
Kodmani was listed as French; by 2012, her Frenchness had fallen away
and she was listed simply as "international" – her homeland had become
the world of international relations.

Back a few years, in 2005, Kodmani was working for the Ford Foundation
in Cairo, where she was director of their governance and international
co-operation programme. The Ford Foundation is a vast organisation,
headquartered in New York, and Kodmani was already fairly senior. But
she was about to jump up a league.

Around this time, in February 2005, US-Syrian relations collapsed, and
President Bush recalled his ambassador from Damascus. A lot of
opposition projects date from this period. "The US money for Syrian
opposition figures began flowing under President George W Bush after he
effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005," says the
Washington Post.

In September 2005, Kodmani was made the executive director of the Arab
Reform Initiative (ARI) – a research programme initiated by the powerful
US lobby group, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The CFR is an elite US foreign policy thinktank, and the Arab Reform
Initiative is described on its website as a "CFR Project" . More
specifically, the ARI was initiated by a group within the CFR called the
"US/Middle East Project" – a body of senior diplomats, intelligence
officers and financiers, the stated aim of which is to undertake
regional "policy analysis" in order "to prevent conflict and promote
stability". The US/Middle East Project pursues these goals under the
guidance of an international board chaired by General (Ret.) Brent

Brent Scowcroft (chairman emeritus) is a former national security
adviser to the US president – he took over the role from Henry
Kissinger. Sitting alongside Scowcroft of the international board is his
fellow geo-strategist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who succeeded him as the
national security adviser, and Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman
Sachs International. So, as early as 2005, we've got a senior wing of
the western intelligence/banking establishment selecting Kodmani to run
a Middle East research project. In September of that year, Kodmani was
made full-time director of the programme. Earlier in 2005, the CFR
assigned "financial oversight" of the project to the Centre for European
Reform (CER). In come the British.

The CER is overseen by Lord Kerr, the deputy chairman of Royal Dutch
Shell. Kerr is a former head of the diplomatic service and is a senior
adviser at Chatham House (a thinktank showcasing the best brains of the
British diplomatic establishment).

In charge of the CER on a day-to-day basis is Charles Grant, former
defence editor of the Economist, and these days a member of the European
Council on Foreign Relations, a "pan-European thinktank" packed with
diplomats, industrialists, professors and prime ministers. On its list
of members you'll find the name: "Bassma Kodmani (France/Syria) –
Executive Director, Arab Reform Initiative".

Another name on the list: George Soros – the financier whose non-profit
"Open Society Foundations" is a primary funding source of the ECFR. At
this level, the worlds of banking, diplomacy, industry, intelligence and
the various policy institutes and foundations all mesh together, and
there, in the middle of it all, is Kodmani.

The point is, Kodmani is not some random "pro-democracy activist" who
happens to have found herself in front of a microphone. She has
impeccable international diplomacy credentials: she holds the position
of research director at the Acad̩mie Diplomatique Internationale Р"an
independent and neutral institution dedicated to promoting modern
diplomacy". The Académie is headed by Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former
head of the DGSE – the French foreign intelligence service.

A picture is emerging of Kodmani as a trusted lieutenant of the
Anglo-American democracy-promotion industry. Her "province of origin"
(according to the SNC website) is Damascus, but she has close and
long-standing professional relationships with precisely those powers
she's calling upon to intervene in Syria.

And many of her spokesmen colleagues are equally well-connected.

Radwan Ziadeh

Another often quoted SNC representative is Radwan Ziadeh – director of
foreign relations at the Syrian National Council. Ziadeh has an
impressive CV: he's a senior fellow at the federally funded Washington
thinktank, the US Institute of Peace (the USIP Board of Directors is
packed with alumni of the defence department and the national security
council; its president is Richard Solomon, former adviser to Kissinger
at the NSC).

In February this year, Ziadeh joined an elite bunch of Washington hawks
to sign a letter calling upon Obama to intervene in Syria: his fellow
signatories include James Woolsey (former CIA chief), Karl Rove (Bush
Jr's handler), Clifford May (Committee on the Present Danger) and
Elizabeth Cheney, former head of the Pentagon's Iran-Syria Operations Group.

Ziadeh is a relentless organiser, a blue-chip Washington insider with
links to some of the most powerful establishment thinktanks. Ziadeh's
connections extend all the way to London. In 2009 he became a visiting
fellow at Chatham House, and in June of last year he featured on the
panel at one of their events – "Envisioning Syria's Political Future" –
sharing a platform with fellow SNC spokesman Ausama Monajed (more on
Monajed below) and SNC member Najib Ghadbian.

Ghadbian was identified by the Wall Street Journal as an early
intermediary between the US government and the Syrian opposition in
exile: "An initial contact between the White House and NSF [National
Salvation Front] was forged by Najib Ghadbian, a University of Arkansas
political scientist." This was back in 2005. The watershed year.

These days, Ghadbian is a member of the general secretariat of the SNC,
and is on the advisory board of a Washington-based policy body called
the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) – an
organisation co-founded by Ziadeh.

Ziadeh has been making connections like this for years. Back in 2008,
Ziadeh took part in a meeting of opposition figures in a Washington
government building: a mini-conference called "Syria In-Transition". The
meeting was co-sponsored by a US-based body called the Democracy Council
and a UK-based organisation called the Movement for Justice and
Development (MJD). It was a big day for the MJD – their chairman, Anas
Al-Abdah, had travelled to Washington from Britain for the event, along
with their director of public relations. Here, from the MJD's website,
is a description of the day: "The conference saw an exceptional turn out
as the allocated hall was packed with guests from the House of
Representatives and the Senate, representatives of studies centres,
journalists and Syrian expatriats [sic] in the USA."

The day opened with a keynote speech by James Prince, head of the
Democracy Council. Ziadeh was on a panel chaired by Joshua Muravchik
(the ultra-interventionist author of the 2006 op-ed "Bomb Iran"). The
topic of the discussion was "The Emergence of Organized Opposition".
Sitting beside Ziadeh on the panel was the public relations director of
the MJD – a man who would later become his fellow SNC spokesperson –
Ausama Monajed.

Ausama Monajed

Along with Kodmani and Ziadeh, Ausama (or sometimes Osama) Monajed is
one of the most important SNC spokespeople. There are others, of course
– the SNC is a big beast and includes the Muslim Brotherhood. The
opposition to Assad is wide-ranging, but these are some of the key
voices. There are other official spokespeople with long political
careers, like George Sabra of the Syrian Democratic People's party –
Sabra has suffered arrest and lengthy imprisonment in his fight against
the "repressive and totalitarian regime in Syria". And there are other
opposition voices outside the SNC, such as the writer Michel Kilo, who
speaks eloquently of the violence tearing apart his country: "Syria is
being destroyed – street after street, city after city, village after
village. What kind of solution is that? In order for a small group of
people to remain in power, the whole country is being destroyed."

But there's no doubt that the primary opposition body is the SNC, and
Kodmani, Ziadeh and Monajed are often to be found representing it.
Monajed frequently crops up as a commentator on TV news channels. Here
he is on the BBC, speaking from their Washington bureau. Monajed doesn't
sugar-coat his message: "We are watching civilians being slaughtered and
kids being slaughtered and killed and women being raped on the TV
screens every day."

Meanwhile, over on Al Jazeera, Monajed talks about "what's really
happening, in reality, on the ground" – about "the militiamen of Assad"
who "come and rape their women, slaughter their children, and kill their

Monajed turned up, just a few days ago, as a blogger on Huffington Post
UK, where he explained, at length: "Why the World Must Intervene in
Syria" – calling for "direct military assistance" and "foreign military
aid". So, again, a fair question might be: who is this spokesman calling
for military intervention?

Monajed is a member of the SNC, adviser to its president, and according
to his SNC biography, "the Founder and Director of Barada Television", a
pro-opposition satellite channel based in Vauxhall, south London. In
2008, a few months after attending Syria In-Transition conference,
Monajed was back in Washington, invited to lunch with George W Bush,
along with a handful of other favoured dissidents (you can see Monajed
in the souvenir photo, third from the right, in the red tie, near
Condoleezza Rice – up the other end from Garry Kasparov).

At this time, in 2008, the US state department knew Monajed as "director
of public relations for the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD),
which leads the struggle for peaceful and democratic change in Syria".

Let's look closer at the MJD. Last year, the Washington Post picked up a
story from WikiLeaks, which had published a mass of leaked diplomatic
cables. These cables appear to show a remarkable flow of money from the
US state department to the British-based Movement for Justice and
Development. According to the Washington Post's report: "Barada TV is
closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a
London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified US diplomatic cables
show that the state department has funnelled as much as $6m to the group
since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities
inside Syria."

A state department spokesman responded to this story by saying: "Trying
to promote a transformation to a more democratic process in this society
is not undermining necessarily the existing government." And they're
right, it's not "necessarily" that.

When asked about the state department money, Monajed himself said that
he "could not confirm" US state department funding for Barada TV, but
said: "I didn't receive a penny myself." Malik al -Abdeh, until very
recently Barada TV's editor-in-chief insisted: "we have had no direct
dealings with the US state department". The meaning of the sentence
turns on that word "direct". It is worth noting that Malik al Abdeh also
happens to be one of the founders of the Movement for Justice and
Development (the recipient of the state department $6m, according to the
leaked cable). And he's the brother of the chairman, Anas Al-Abdah. He's
also the co-holder of the MJD trademark: What Malik al Abdeh does admit
is that Barada TV gets a large chunk of its funding from an American
non-profit organisation: the Democracy Council. One of the co-sponsors
(with the MJD) of Syria In-Transition mini-conference. So what we see,
in 2008, at the same meeting, are the leaders of precisely those
organisations identified in the Wiki:eaks cables as the conduit (the
Democracy Council) and recipient (the MJD) of large amounts of state
department money.

The Democracy Council (a US-based grant distributor) lists the state
department as one of its sources of funding. How it works is this: the
Democracy Council serves as a grant-administering intermediary between
the state department's "Middle East Partnership Initiative" and "local
partners" (such as Barada TV). As the Washington Post reports:

"Several US diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that
the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called
the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the
State Department funnelled money to the exile group via the Democracy
Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit."

The same report highlights a 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Syria
that says that the Democracy Council received $6.3m from the state
department to run a Syria-related programme, the "Civil Society
Strengthening Initiative". The cable describes this as "a discrete
collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners"
aimed at producing, amongst other things, "various broadcast concepts."
According to the Washington Post: "Other cables make clear that one of
those concepts was Barada TV."

Until a few months ago, the state department's Middle East Partnership
Initiative was overseen by Tamara Cofman Wittes (she's now at the
Brookings Institution – an influential Washington thinktank). Of MEPI,
she said that it "created a positive 'brand' for US democracy promotion
efforts". While working there she declared: "There are a lot of
organizations in Syria and other countries that are seeking changes from
their government … That's an agenda that we believe in and we're going
to support." And by support, she means bankroll.

The money

This is nothing new. Go back a while to early 2006, and you have the
state department announcing a new "funding opportunity" called the
"Syria Democracy Program". On offer, grants worth "$5m in Federal Fiscal
Year 2006". The aim of the grants? "To accelerate the work of reformers
in Syria."

These days, the cash is flowing in faster than ever. At the beginning of
June 2012, the Syrian Business Forum was launched in Doha by opposition
leaders including Wael Merza (SNC secretary general). "This fund has
been established to support all components of the revolution in Syria,"
said Merza. The size of the fund? Some $300m. It's by no means clear
where the money has come from, although Merza "hinted at strong
financial support from Gulf Arab states for the new fund" (Al Jazeera).
At the launch, Merza said that about $150m had already been spent, in
part on the Free Syrian Army.

Merza's group of Syrian businessmen made an appearance at a World
Economic Forum conference titled the "Platform for International
Co-operation" held in Istanbul in November 2011. All part of the process
whereby the SNC has grown in reputation, to become, in the words of
William Hague, "a legitimate representative of the Syrian people" – and
able, openly, to handle this much funding.

Building legitimacy – of opposition, of representation, of intervention
– is the essential propaganda battle.

In a USA Today op-ed written in February this year, Ambassador Dennis
Ross declared: "It is time to raise the status of the Syrian National
Council". What he wanted, urgently, is "to create an aura of
inevitability about the SNC as the alternative to Assad." The aura of
inevitability. Winning the battle in advance.

A key combatant in this battle for hearts and minds is the American
journalist and Daily Telegraph blogger, Michael Weiss.

Michael Weiss

One of the most widely quoted western experts on Syria – and an
enthusiast for western intervention – Michael Weiss echoes Ambassador
Ross when he says: "Military intervention in Syria isn't so much a
matter of preference as an inevitability."

Some of Weiss's interventionist writings can be found on a Beirut-based,
Washington-friendly website called "NOW Lebanon" – whose "NOW Syria"
section is an important source of Syrian updates. NOW Lebanon was set up
in 2007 by Saatchi & Saatchi executive Eli Khoury. Khoury has been
described by the advertising industry as a "strategic communications
specialist, specialising in corporate and government image and brand

Weiss told NOW Lebanon, back in May, that thanks to the influx of
weapons to Syrian rebels "we've already begun to see some results." He
showed a similar approval of military developments a few months earlier,
in a piece for the New Republic: "In the past several weeks, the Free
Syrian Army and other independent rebel brigades have made great
strides" – whereupon, as any blogger might, he laid out his "Blueprint
for a Military Intervention in Syria".

But Weiss is not only a blogger. He's also the director of
communications and public relations at the Henry Jackson Society, an
ultra-ultra-hawkish foreign policy thinktank.

The Henry Jackson Society's international patrons include: James "ex-CIA
boss" Woolsey, Michael "homeland security" Chertoff, William "PNAC"
Kristol, Robert "PNAC" Kagan', Joshua "Bomb Iran" Muravchick, and
Richard "Prince of Darkness" Perle. The Society is run by Alan Mendoza,
chief adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on transatlantic and
international security.

The Henry Jackson Society is uncompromising in its "forward strategy"
towards democracy. And Weiss is in charge of the message. The Henry
Jackson Society is proud of its PR chief's far-reaching influence: "He
is the author of the influential report "Intervention in Syria? An
Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards", which was repurposed and
endorsed by the Syrian National Council."

Weiss's original report was re-named "Safe Area for Syria" – and ended
up on the official syriancouncil.org website, as part of their military
bureau's strategic literature. The repurposing of the HJS report was
undertaken by the founder and executive director of the Strategic
Research and Communication Centre (SRCC) – one Ausama Monajed.

So, the founder of Barada TV, Ausama Monajed, edited Weiss's report,
published it through his own organisation (the SRCC) and passed it on to
the Syrian National Council, with the support of the Henry Jackson Society.

The relationship couldn't be closer. Monajed even ends up handling
inquiries for "press interviews with Michael Weiss". Weiss is not the
only strategist to have sketched out the roadmap to this war (many
thinktanks have thought it out, many hawks have talked it up), but some
of the sharpest detailing is his.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

The justification for the "inevitable" military intervention is the
savagery of President Assad's regime: the atrocities, the shelling, the
human rights abuses. Information is crucial here, and one source above
all has been providing us with data about Syria. It is quoted at every
turn: "The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA
[Voice of America] that fighting and shelling killed at least 12 people
in Homs province."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is commonly used as a standalone
source for news and statistics. Just this week, news agency AFP carried
this story: "Syrian forces pounded Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces as at
least 35 people were killed on Sunday across the country, among them 17
civilians, a watchdog reported." Various atrocities and casualty numbers
are listed, all from a single source: "Observatory director Rami Abdel
Rahman told AFP by phone."

Statistic after horrific statistic pours from "the Britain-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights" (AP). It's hard to find a news report
about Syria that doesn't cite them. But who are they? "They" are Rami
Abdulrahman (or Rami Abdel Rahman), who lives in Coventry.

According to a Reuters report in December of last year: "When he isn't
fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes
down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife."

When the Guardian's Middle East live blog cited "Rami Abdul-Rahman of
the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights" it also linked to a sceptical
article in the Modern Tokyo Times – an article which suggested news
outlets could be a bit "more objective about their sources" when quoting
"this so-called entity", the SOHR.

That name, the "Syrian Observatory of Human Rights", sound so grand, so
unimpeachable, so objective. And yet when Abdulrahman and his
"Britain-based NGO" (AFP/NOW Lebanon) are the sole source for so many
news stories about such an important subject, it would seem reasonable
to submit this body to a little more scrutiny than it's had to date.

The Observatory is by no means the only Syrian news source to be quoted
freely with little or no scrutiny …

Hamza Fakher

The relationship between Ausama Monajed, the SNC, the Henry Jackson
hawks and an unquestioning media can be seen in the case of Hamza
Fakher. On 1 January, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer: "To grasp the
scale of the barbarism, listen to Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy
activist, who is one of the most reliable sources on the crimes the
regime's news blackout hides."

He goes on to recount Fakher's horrific tales of torture and mass
murder. Fakher tells Cohen of a new hot-plate torture technique that
he's heard about: "imagine all the melting flesh reaching the bone
before the detainee falls on the plate". The following day, Shamik Das,
writing on "evidence-based" progressive blog Left Foot Forward, quotes
the same source: "Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, describes the
sickening reality …" – and the account of atrocities given to Cohen is

So, who exactly is this "pro-democracy activist", Hamza Fakher?

Fakher, it turns out, is the co-author of Revolution in Danger , a
"Henry Jackson Society Strategic Briefing", published in February of
this year. He co-wrote this briefing paper with the Henry Jackson
Society's communications director, Michael Weiss. And when he's not
co-writing Henry Jackson Society strategic briefings, Fakher is the
communication manager of the London-based Strategic Research and
Communication Centre (SRCC). According to their website, "He joined the
centre in 2011 and has been in charge of the centre's communication
strategy and products."

As you may recall, the SRCC is run by one Ausama Monajed: "Mr Monajed
founded the centre in 2010. He is widely quoted and interviewed in
international press and media outlets. He previously worked as
communication consultant in Europe and the US and formerly served as the
director of Barada Television …".

Monajed is Fakher's boss.

If this wasn't enough, for a final Washington twist, on the board of the
Strategic Research and Communication Centre sits Murhaf Jouejati, a
professor at the National Defence University in DC – "the premier center
for Joint Professional Military Education (JPME)" which is "under the
direction of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff."

If you happen to be planning a trip to Monajed's "Strategic Research and
Communication Centre", you'll find it here: Strategic Research &
Communication Centre, Office 36, 88-90 Hatton Garden, Holborn, London

Office 36 at 88-90 Hatton Garden is also where you'll find the London
headquarters of The Fake Tan Company, Supercar 4 U Limited, Moola loans
(a "trusted loans company"), Ultimate Screeding (for all your screeding
needs), and The London School of Attraction – "a London-based training
company which helps men develop the skills and confidence to meet and
attract women." And about a hundred other businesses besides. It's a
virtual office. There's something oddly appropriate about this. A
"communication centre" that doesn't even have a centre – a grand name
but no physical substance.

That's the reality of Hamza Fakher. On 27 May, Shamik Das of Left Foot
Forward quotes again from Fakher's account of atrocities, which he now
describes as an "eyewitness account" (which Cohen never said it was) and
which by now has hardened into "the record of the Assad regime".

So, a report of atrocities given by a Henry Jackson Society strategist,
who is the communications manager of Mosafed's PR department, has
acquired the gravitas of a historical "record".

This is not to suggest that the account of atrocities must be untrue,
but how many of those who give it currency are scrutinising its origins?

And let's not forget, whatever destabilisation has been done in the
realm of news and public opinion is being carried out twofold on the
ground. We already know that (at the very least) "the Central
Intelligence Agency and State Department … are helping the opposition
Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into
Syria and providing communications training."

The bombs doors are open. The plans have been drawn up.

This has been brewing for a time. The sheer energy and meticulous
planning that's gone into this change of regime – it's breathtaking. The
soft power and political reach of the big foundations and policy bodies
is vast, but scrutiny is no respecter of fancy titles and fellowships
and "strategy briefings". Executive director of what, it asks. Having
"democracy" or "human rights" in your job title doesn't give you a free

And if you're a "communications director" it means your words should be
weighed extra carefully. Weiss and Fakher, both communications directors
– PR professionals. At the Chatham House event in June 2011, Monajed is
listed as: "Ausama Monajed, director of communications, National
Initiative for Change" and he was head of PR for the MJD. The creator of
the news website NOW Lebanon, Eli Khoury, is a Saatchi advertising
executive. These communications directors are working hard to create
what Tamara Wittes called a "positive brand".

They're selling the idea of military intervention and regime change, and
the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the "activists" and
spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many
cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people
who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and
statistics from these sources isn't necessarily pure news – it's a sales
pitch, a PR campaign.

But it's never too late to ask questions, to scrutinise sources. Asking
questions doesn't make you a cheerleader for Assad – that's a false
argument. It just makes you less susceptible to spin. The good news is,
there's a sceptic born every minute.

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