Syria’s Email Wars: The Opposition Leaks
By: Hassan Illeik
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Starting today, Al-Akhbar will be publishing a series of documents that electronic activists managed to obtain after hacking into the email account of Syrian National Council president Burhan Ghalioun.
After the supporters of the Syrian opposition recently leaked emails allegedly belonging to Syrian president Bashar Assad and his wife, hackers from the other side took over the account of the president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) Burhan Ghalioun and obtained most of its content.
Some of the documents, received by Al-Akhbar, shed light on what happens behind the scenes among the SNC members, the council’s international relations, and how it manages its finances. The emails are also an indicator as to how the council sees itself and its different components.
Today Al-Akhbar publishes three of the leaked documents in its possession. The first is from a US diplomat that shows the level of coordination between the two sides.
On 11 November 2011, Frederic Hof, special coordinator for regional affairs at the office of US peace envoy to the Middle East, sent a letter to SNC president Burhan Ghalioun and spokesperson Bassma Kodmani.
He suggested that they “may have the possibility to meet [Russian presidential] Special Envoy Mikhail Margelov.” In the letter, he advises Ghalioun and Kodmani about the Russian diplomat closest to the US position in the Middle East, and thus the closest to the Syrian opposition and Lebanon’s March 14.
Subject: Mikhail Margelov
Dear Burhan and Bassma,
Forgive the flood of messages. I understand you may have the possibility to meet Special Envoy Mikhail Margelov. I have not met him myself, so I reached out to some colleagues who know him for a recommendation. I am told he is well-worth meeting.
Margelov is very fluent in Arabic and spent much of his childhood in Morocco and Tunisia. He has good access to President Medvedev and a strong interest in Russia’s business interests in Syria. He is reportedly very personable, very engaging and very eager to appear reasonable. He is also quite knowledgeable. One should perhaps not be overly eager to accept any assurance he might offer that he can make things happen. Of all of the people you meet in Moscow Special Envoy Margelov will probably please you the most in terms of his reactions to what you say. Although he is a true expert and enjoys a large measure of credibility he is not necessarily at the center of the decision-making process.
So: the recommendation is that you should meet him if possible. He reportedly has a strong interest in the Arab League initiative, so this might be a good topic of conversation.
I hope this is useful information.
Frederic C. Hof
Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs
Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace
U.S. Department of State
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.
The second email, originally in Arabic, is a letter sent by Ghalioun to the Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faysal on 10 April 2012.
In my name and on behalf of the Syrian National Council, I thank you for the honorable position of the Kingdom that proved in words and deeds that it is the best supporter of our steadfast and resilient people’s revolution.
The Kingdom, under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, played a fundamental and most effective role in supporting our cause in international fora and in the Arab and Islamic worlds, in addition to the recognition of the SNC.
This compassion will remain in the memory and sentiments of the Syrian people. It will become an integral part of the history of Syria, sketching for it and the region a prosperous future based on freedom, tolerance, and national liberation.
Based on our faith in the pioneering role of the Kingdom in relation to our cause, and due to our desire to dutifully express gratitude, seek coordination and strengthen cooperation, we would like to inform you of our desire to visit the Kingdom as soon as possible. Especially following the bloody events in Syria and the upcoming regional challenges accelerating at a rate that dictates we move quickly to coordinate positions, activate efforts, and consolidate them in a common vision, which would allow us to deal with what we are facing and anticipate what the coming days will bring.
Reaffirming our commitment to continuous coordination with the wise leadership of the Kingdom, we would like to draw your attention to the rupture in periodic and direct communications. This creates significant gaps and contributes to the fragmentation and loss of many efforts. Added to that is the symbolic significance of our visit to the Kingdom, which will have a very positive impact on the hearts of our slaughtered people and inspire more hope in supporting the foundations of our steadfastness and the activation of revolutionary efforts.
In conclusion, we repeat what we expressed in the introduction about our thanks and gratitude. We would like to stress that time in Syria today is drenched with blood. Our enemy has not quenched its thirst for the blood of Syrians, which it spills without hesitation, supported by unprecedented Russian support, an Iranian arsenal, and extremist positions.
As we rely on the will of God, we expect good tidings on your part to expedite the conclusion of all that might lead to stop the shedding of Syrian blood by all means and possibilities.
You remain an asset to this nation, a pillar of support for the oppressed, and the best of brothers and supporters.
Dr. Burhan Ghalioun
President of the Syrian National Council
The third email contains the minutes of a meeting, in Arabic, of the executive office of the SNC held on 4 April 2012.
Date: 4/4/2012 Time: 22:30
Attending: Dr. Burhan, Mr. Farouk, Mr. Samir, Dr. Abdel Basset, Dr. Bassma
Candidates for office membership: Mr. Adnan Saif and Mr. Georges Sabra, Dr. Nathir
Absent: M. Mutie, Dr. Ahmad, Dr. Abdel Ahad
Candidates for office membership: Mr. Toufiq Dunia
1. Kurdish Issue
The SNC held a press conference to explain our view of the Kurdish issue.
The Kurdish National Council is not ready for dialogue with us at this moment. A dialogue will only take place after their next conference, in two or three weeks.
One cannot extend the courtesy offered to the Kurdish component among us more than we have done so far. They have to decide whether to come back or not, based on our current position.
Based on all what was presented as our view of the Kurdish issue, we cannot, in any way possible, increase the proposed ceiling since it already exceeds all limits. The Kurdish components must take a position and work to attract more Kurdish energies present on the ground.
2. Relief Work
One and a half million Euros (US$2 million) were spent, €300,000 (US$400,000) were spent by way of the relief office. The latter had proposed that if we did not trust them, then we should appoint a monitoring committee and allow the office to work and implement the decisions. Then we would see the results in the future.
In the past, two committees were formed: one to distribute relief supplies and the other to draw up policies and decide on relief distribution. We have to implement both decisions.
Working towards the implementation of the two decisions of the office concerning the creation of a [committee] to draw up mechanisms for distribution and guarantee it, in addition to creating monitoring and follow-up mechanisms.
3. Preparatory Committee to Expand and Restructure the Council:
Its role will be to research the components of the council and external forces that are trying to join, to work towards increasing the efficiency of the council, restructuring it, and initiation of institutional work, and to prepare for a phase that includes all sides.
Kofi Annan’s team is interested in meeting with the preparatory committee and we have to deal properly with the other side in the committee and explain their position towards the council. This point shall be discussed in the framework of the next [executive] office.
We must establish standards to be taken into consideration when researching each component, its size, establishment date, characteristics, and the damage it has done to the mobilization and its institutions in the previous period. There is no need to include people [in the new SNC] who will cause harm to the council and its institutions.
We asked the Germans to create a framework in line with our position as a national council, to allow us to benefit from international expertise to create a structure that is flexible, takes decisions seriously, and is far from bureaucratic.
Decision: Working towards collecting all proposed projects presented by Brother Abu Jawad, Mr Maher al-Ais, Mr Hisham Mroue, the legal department, and Brother Youssef Yaghmour. Working towards consolidating them in the next meeting of the office and sending them to members before the meeting to be able to discuss them. Dr. Nathir was asked to contact all involved parties to request their proposals and Dr. Bassma will help him locate Brother Youssef.
4. Liaison [with the FSA] Office
The meeting was attended by Brothers Mohammad Farouk, Dr. Ahmad, and M. Mutie representing the SNC, and General Adnan Ahmad, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, and Irfan al-Hammoud.
The brothers explained how Colonel Riad al-Asaad treated the committee, saying that he was aloof and arrogant and that we should find a collective leadership to ensure proper functioning, since the actions of the colonel make the relationship uncomfortable. This needs an in-depth study to be dealt with in the next office.
We could not identify the extent of the FSA’s links to the armed resistance inside Syria.
Positive evaluation of the personality and manners of General Adnan.
Follow-up request: There is a need for a meeting with the generals currently in Turkey to propose candidates for the liaison committee. Follow-up on the statement of Saadeddine el-Qassem that the FSA represents him externally but is not linked on the ground with him.
Follow-up request: Preparing a list of names of military personnel who have deserted the regular army in order to provide them with salaries. This point shall be discussed further in the next office.
5. Meeting of the Secretariat:
A proposed agenda will be sent in two days.
Brother Wael Mirza declined to work in this committee.
The proposed date in the second half of April needs to be approved.
The main point of the meeting is to discuss the structure and expansion.
6. Miscellaneous Issues:
A. The bodies found in the fridges of the national hospital in Homs and the regime’s attempt to cover up the crime by destroying the hospital and its equipment warrant a warning to international opinion about the humanitarian and legal repercussions of the issue.
Decision: After confirming the information, Brother Abdel Baset Seda, head of the human rights office, is charged with contacting the ICRC about the issue and discussing all possible measures to stop this operation. Also, the media office will be asked to release one or more statements and contact press and media to explain the case and its repercussions.
2- Dr. Samir Geagea’s Assassination Attempt
Decision: The office shall issue a statement condemning the attack that is a normal act by the oppressive regime in Damascus. These acts of the oppressive regime in Syria will not pass without punishment. A letter shall be sent to Dr. Samir to congratulate him on his safety (Dr. Bassma).
3- Supporting the media project in Paris following the position to maintain it for one month. The project was adopted after it was presented to the office.
Decision: Inviting at least two persons from the project team to meet with the office in its next meeting (Dr. Nathir).
4- Meeting with the Swedish Ambassador to the Syrian cause and requesting humanitarian and health aid.
5- It is necessary to take care of defecting soldiers who are now in northern Iraq.
6- Following the Istanbul conference, trust in the SNC is beginning to increase. The SNC needs to absorb the phenomenon of the Local Coordinating Committee and the Syrian Revolution General Commission as the legitimate representative of all Syrians. There is a need to take into account the feeling of others. We need to co-opt them and be considerate towards their feelings [and] by stressing that the SNC is sincerely committed to being true.
7- The Socialist Party that split from Hassan Abdul Azim and Rajaa Nasser took with it most of the members. Only a small number remain with the historical leadership.
8- The bills of Bassam Kouefati and Haitham al-Maleh’s demand that they be paid was resolved directly with the concerned party. The amount of US$10,000 was paid to him directly and the case is closed.
9- The request to cover the tickets of the [representatives of the] revolutionary mobilization: they were asked to contact Taleb Yehia (the accountant) to settle the accounts formally.
Next meeting: Istanbul, Sunday and Monday, 8 and 9 April 2012. Arrival on Saturday night.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.