The Corner

Another Classified Leak

Published in Time; this one putting anti-Assad activists in danger?

The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document which says that the U.S. already is “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that “these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists.”

The document says that Syria’s legislative elections, scheduled for March 2007, “provide a potentially galvanizing issue for… critics of the Assad regime.” To capitalize on that opportunity, the document proposes a secret “election monitoring” scheme, in which “internet accessible materials will be available for printing and dissemination by activists inside the country [Syria] and neighboring countries.” The proposal also calls for surreptitiously giving money to at least one Syrian politician who, according to the document, intends to run in the election. The effort would also include “voter education campaigns” and public opinion polling, with the first poll “tentatively scheduled in early 2007.”

American officials say the U.S. government has had extensive contacts with a range of anti-Assad groups in Washington, Europe and inside Syria. To give momemtum to that opposition, the U.S. is giving serious consideration to the election- monitoring scheme proposed in the document, according to several officials. The proposal has not yet been approved, in part because of questions over whether the Syrian elections will be delayed or even cancelled. But one U.S. official familiar with the proposal said: “You are forced to wonder whether we are now trying to destabilize the Syrian government.”

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