Wissam al-Hassan: A Man Who Had Many Enemies
By: Hassan Illeik
Published Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The fallout from the assassination of Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan nearly two weeks ago was very similar to that following the series of assassinations that has rocked Lebanon since 2005.
Syria was blamed immediately, and those who expressed doubt were labeled collaborators. March 14 alluded to Hezbollah’s involvement as well. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea even went as far as accusing Hezbollah directly.
Jumping to conclusions prevents honest dialogue. In reality, prior to his death, Hassan felt threatened by more than one party.
People who knew Hassan heard him in recent years speak about those he thought wanted to kill him. Some of this information was based on analysis, but some of it was also based on data and facts on the ground.
Of course, Hassan had his suspicions regarding Syria’s role in Lebanon. Over the last few months, he became more apprehensive towards Syrian intelligence agencies. He would often mock their structural weaknesses, which became especially obvious following the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha who was indicted for his involvement in "terror plots" in Lebanon on behalf of the Syrian regime.
Hassan also never hid his conviction that Hezbollah, along with Syria, was behind the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, but he was convinced it was the product of a conspiracy within the organization.
Hassan believed that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh did not have prior knowledge of the killing and were not involved in it in any way.
The intelligence chief made it clear that he feared a certain group within Hezbollah made up of “undisciplined elements who do not obey their leadership.”
This apprehension did not prevent Hassan from cooperating with Hezbollah and even exchanging intelligence on several occasions.
While the Information Branch led the crackdown on Israeli spy networks over the last four years, the Resistance provided information that was crucial to their discovery.
“The are better than us in human intelligence gathering,” he would say of Hezbollah’s intelligence branch.
Hassan knew that the nature of his work made him a target. He often said that his job “left me without any friends.”
A few months ago, Hassan told people close to him about meetings he had with Jordanian officials, including the head of Jordanian intelligence, who he met in Germany, and a minister linked to Jordanian intelligence.
He said that each of them had relayed information – on separate occasions – about discussions with the Israelis regarding the situation in Lebanon.
As a result, both officials told Hassan that the Israelis do not look on him favourably and that he should be careful, even in Europe.
Hassan knew that the Israelis were after his neck. On several occasions, he reportedly said that he did not feel safe in Europe anymore.
He was aware of the damage done to Israel through the unraveling of its spy networks in Lebanon, starting in 2007 when the Intelligence Branch commenced its counter-intelligence operations.
Hassan also received a clear message from the US Congress, which cut back on some of the joint programs between his branch and its American counterparts. On one occasion, several US Senators explicitly informed Hassan that were facing Israeli pressure to stop their assistance to Lebanon.
But the clearest message came from the Jordanian intelligence officer he met with almost a year ago and whose warnings he took seriously.
Earlier this year, Hassan got another warning. In January 2012, he received a letter from the United Arab Emirates’ intelligence body saying they had credible information that a high ranking officer from the ISF would be targeted with a car bomb in Achrafieh on the road between the ISF headquarters and the officer’s safe house.
The information came as a surprise to Hassan, since he believed his safe house in Achrafieh was a secret. Even his closest aides were not informed of its location. He knew that the information from the UAE concerned him personally, the Achrafieh safe house being his own.
All he could do was leak the information to the press, to tell those who wanted to assassinate him that their plot had been discovered.
Urgent investigations conducted by the Information Branch did not show any suspicious activities in the area. But the precision of the information from the UAE led Hassan to treat it seriously.
The information was leaked to the press and treated, as usual, as fodder for internal Lebanese politicking. The Information Branch was accused of fabricating the information to use it to pry communications data from telecom operators.
But for the security officers concerned with the investigation, the issue was critical. Hassan did not know who was behind the plot discovered by UAE intelligence.
He assumed it was related to Syrian intelligence operations. He remained convinced of this until he met a UAE intelligence official who told him that their information points to al-Qaeda, specifically one of their groups operating out of the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp.
Wissam al-Hassan knew he had to stay a step ahead of his adversaries, some of whom remained a mystery even to him. He knew his enemies were many and that the last seven years of his life as a top intelligence chief only made him more of a target.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.