State Security: One man’s den of corruption

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A State Security officer escorts an official to the Lebanese parliament. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Wednesday, June 18, 2014

State Security is just a fancy name for what is in fact a den of incompetence and corruption. In this so-called directorate, the talents of around 2,500 officers, noncommissioned officers, and servicemen and women are squandered, as well as millions of dollars each year in taxpayer money. Is it not time to abolish, or at least rein in the corruption at the General Directorate of State Security that has not made any noteworthy achievement in years?

The General Directorate of State Security is not the same anymore. Its name no longer has the same impact it had more than 15 years ago. This security branch, which was established under Decree No. 2661 dated September 6, 1985, was primarily tasked with VIP protection. However, this task has more to do with administration and logistics than with security. These functions, including providing escorts and drivers for VIPs, consumed the Directorate’s staff, yet without scoring any security achievement related to protecting high-profile figures.

In its early years, the directorate under Major General Nabih Farhat could claim many achievements, most notably uncovering the identity of the killers of the Antonios brothers in the 1990s, a crime that was referred to the Judicial Council and that ended with the execution of the perpetrators; and solving the stamp fraud case at the Ministry of Finance and the death of Raafat Suleiman, a suspect in the case. The directorate was also involved in the plot to arrest Japanese Red Army members in western Bekaa in 1997.

However, State Security did not continue to evolve and its decline started shortly before 2005. The first signs of its decline began with the appointment of Brigadier General Elias Kaikati as acting director general. Kaikati’s tenure was marred by corruption, prompting the Court of Audits to open several cases involving State Security.

Yet despite all this, State Security has never been in such a dismal shape as the one it is in today. This sorry state began in 2010 with the appointment of Major General George Qaraa as director general of the General Directorate of State Security. Qaraa is affiliated to former President Michel Suleiman’s security team. In effect, Suleiman began his term by resolving to abolish State Security on account of its inefficiency, before backtracking and giving the new director-general an unprecedented blank check.

The directorate’s budget was increased by including additional credit lines to purchase vehicles, various office supplies, and sophisticated wiretapping equipment to the tune of millions of dollars. Secret allocations were also increased sevenfold, from L.L. 57 million ($38,000) to L.L. 375 million ($250,000) a month.

However, this did not improve the directorate’s performance much. The director-general kept more than half of the secret allocations to himself. The same goes for the L.L. 2 billion ($1.33 million) allocated for investigation-related expenditures, the result of differences in the secret items on the state budgets since 2010, which were worth L.L. 600 million ($400,000) annually. These figures were then increased under the governments of Prime Ministers Saad Hariri and Najib Mikati in 2012 and 2013, to around L.L. 4 billion ($2.66 million), and yet, investigations financed by the Lebanese taxpayer remained nearly non-existent.

Today, the situation at State Security is dire. Disputes within the State Security Council (which comprises the director-general and his deputy) have exacerbated the directorate’s paralysis, as the council has not convened for more than six months. To make matters worse, the director-general has been monopolizing the decision-making process.

According to sources, Major General Qaraa does not notify his deputy about administrative and security processes at the directorate, bearing in mind that the law regulating its work obliges him to do so. The sources say that some processes, even though containing security information, are no longer sent to Deputy Director-General Brigadier General Mohammed al-Tufaili for his input, noting that the latter’s powers entitle him to express his view before the documents are sent to the director-general for his final decision.

In the sources’ view, the aim behind this is to hide information from Brigadier General Tufaili, which, always according to the sources, raises questions about possible unlawful dealings. The sources cite a deal to purchase SUVs and other vehicles for the directorate that was concluded with the Rasamny Younis Motor Company (RYMCO); a deal to purchase surveillance and wiretapping equipment worth more than $1 million; and other deals to purchase weapons and ammunitions and corresponding credit lines as being part of these dealings.

To top it all, the director-general has yet to announce the results of exams for 300 recruits who have been in limbo for more than two years. Qaraa has also failed to announce the results of exams for commissioned officers, after his secretary failed in the exams conducted by the army. Qaraa approved appointments and promotions on the basis of sectarian and personal favoritism, without consulting the council, in a way that violated the law. It is worth noting that most of these decisions were made without the endorsement of the deputy director-general.

In 2010 and 2011, 30 officers were transferred from the army to State Security. This placed an additional burden on the existing officers, as the transfers were on the basis of personal and political merits. Qaraa had the lion’s share of the appointments, putting his cronies in top posts, and excluding State Security officers who had more seniority.

Qaraa’s share of the appointments included Brigadier General Robert Jasser, a relative of Qaraa, and Brigadier General Jihad Daher, the cousin of Qaraa’s driver. Similarly, Brigadier General Fadi Haddad, Lieutenant Raymond Abu Maashar, and Brigadier General Abdo Faddoul were appointed on the basis of their various personal ties to the director-general. These officers went on to become the biggest globe-trotters of their peers. For instance, the director-general’s friend, retired Brigadier General Antoine Makari, broke all records for being the most traveled officer of the directorate, while Brigadier General Abu Maashar traveled three times in a single year at the directorate’s expense.

Qaraa entrenched sectarianism at the directorate to a very large extent, and completely ignored competence or merit. Officers from the directorate speak about being blackmailed in transfers, dismissals, and assignments abroad. One even said that they have to bargain to access secret allocations, which are sometimes blocked in an attempt by the director-general to coerce them.

According to the sources, every regional director at the directorate is given L.L. 7 to 10 million ($4,600 to $6,600), while heads of regional offices are given LL. 3.5 million ($2,300), to cover surveillance costs. However, due to lack of oversight, these funds are often spent without any results, while regional directors are not held accountable for their performance and what they did with these allocations. The goal is to buy their loyalties for the director-general’s battle with his deputy.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg of Qaraa’s feats. There is talk within the corridors of the directorate about the director-general’s three homes in Rawda, Faytroun, and Hazmieh, the latter worth around $1 million, which are guarded by more than 70 officers. In addition, more than 14 SUVs are being used by the director-general and his family, which otherwise belong to the State Security’s branches and patrols.

That’s not all. The director-general’s wife is employed by the State Security as head of IT, even though a specialist engineer officer is present. It should be noted that she does not show up for work at the headquarters of the directorate. Luxurious military vehicles and escorts are placed at her disposal during her movements, and it is said that her annual salary increases constantly.

Meanwhile, in continuation of the abuse of the directorate for the personal purposes of the director-general, State Security officers are being deployed as personal bodyguards. For instance, the director-general has assigned officers to escort the CEO of a major contracting company whenever he visits Lebanon on grounds that are unrelated to security or decisions by the Central Security Council, as is the norm, but because the director-general’s son works for the company in question in Greece.

After restoring his family's house in the city of Baalbek, Qaraa rented it out to State Security to use it as the headquarters for the directorate in Baalbek-Hermel for more than L.L. 30 million ($20,000) a year.

Abuses by Major General Qaraa do not stop there. The director-general has issued a racist decision to summon Syrian workers on a daily basis to State Security offices and interrogate them randomly without any plausible cause or court warrants. No one knows the reason for this move yet, but Qaraa has asked the regional directorates to step up these summonses, and currently, he requires each office in a given district to summon a minimum of four Syrian workers per day. Bear in mind that this is not part of his jurisdiction.

Former Israeli collaborator eavesdrops!

All of the above is just a drop in the sea compared to the director-general’s security-related coups. For instance, the directorate acquired sophisticated equipment to eavesdrop on cellular phones from Belgium and Germany, but did not identify which authority would be supplied with the information – which has yet to be put to use in arresting any terrorists.

Not only this, but this equipment was actually used to spy on staff to determine where their loyalties lie. Also, it should be noted that Law No. 140/1999 on the interception of telephone calls did not assign any functions to State Security when it comes to surveillance and wiretapping, which was made the exclusive purview of a specialized department at the Ministry of Telecommunications.

So why did State Security decide to get involved in this activity? Was it with the consent of the political authorities? Is the judiciary in Lebanon aware of these actions? And to whose benefit are these surveillance activities conducted? In truth, one of the most prominent officers working at the Technical Surveillance Department of the directorate was a member of the Antoine Lahad militia that collaborated with the Israeli occupation army.

Although dozens of terrorist attacks took place in Lebanon in recent months, there has been no role for the directorate whatsoever, except when it came to spying on the Resistance. Indeed, the Information Division of the directorate had a key role to play in gathering information on the Resistance’s telecommunication networks, and even fabricated reports about Resistance operatives that were officially submitted to the Higher Defense Council later.

Not only is State Security ineffective in its functions, then, but it is also suspected of conspiring against the Resistance and ordinary citizens. Add this to the unchecked corruption plaguing its ranks, and it becomes imperative to dissolve this rogue institution and re-post its staff to the army and the security forces, or rebuild it from scratch if necessary.

The Information Division

Brigadier General Abdo Faddoul is considered the second man in the directorate, and many State Security officers see him as Maj. Gen. George Qaraa’s right-hand man. Faddoul, who heads the Service and Information Division, receives secret monthly allowances of up to L.L. 50 million ($33,000). Though five departments fall under his command - Internal Security; External Security; Technical Surveillance; Analysis and Investment; and Service and Operations - Faddoul distributes very little of his allocations to these departments, and retains about L.L. 40 million ($26,666).

Faddoul’s achievements include spying on the communications of State Security officers and submitting reports on them to Qaraa. Less than a month ago, Faddoul was filmed by CCTV cameras shoving and verbally abusing an officer outside the Directorate’s headquarters.

Not long ago, Al-Akhbar reported that Faddoul was at the center of accusations by Maj. Gen. Qaraa of having tampered with information provided to the directorate, and which is usually relayed to the political authorities, in an attempt to smear Hezbollah. However, Qaraa did not take any action against Faddoul. Meanwhile, the director-general had admitted to asking a State Security unit to gather information on the Resistance’s telecommunications networks.

The achievements of State Security

State Security is no longer a directorate. It does not even amount to a security force, and is closer to being a precinct that is focused on petty crimes.

After extensive monitoring and follow-up, for instance, the State Security Directorate arrested Ahmed Awad al-Hamed, a Syrian national, for illegally entering the country. The man was handed over to the competent authorities. State Security also managed to arrest a man identified as Khaled H., after raiding his home in Bar Elias, for an alleged hit-and-run involving the 12-year old boy Mohammed Ali Ako. State Security officers then raided a facility distributing spoiled dairy products, even though this is the purview of the Consumer Protection Authority. Similarly, the directorate thwarted fraud in a real estate deal in Sidon, and arrested a suspect in Beirut involved in the case. The directorate also arrested drug users and captured a gang that forged university degrees and identification documents.

This is what State Security does with 2,500 officers and L.L. 4.5 billion a year.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter @radwanmortada

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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