Several hundred emails from Syria’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs were leaked on Monday following an attack by the hacker group Anonymous. A list was released online containing over 70 addresses hosted in the server of the ministry in question along with their relevant passwords.
While many of the addresses were void or the passwords incorrect, or the accounts contained only spam mail and information of little value, many of them were still accessible and there were several valuable findings.
One of the email files was a long email preparing Assad for his interview with Barbara Walters in December. Emails exposed include those of Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam and the regime’s media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban.
Some days before the infamous interview, Sheherezad Jaafari, sent a long email to Luna Chabel, a former journalist for Al-Jazeera and now member of the staff in Assad’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
Jaafari was elementary in setting up the interview with Walters and is also the daughter of Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari.
Jaafari claims to have done extensive research on American media’s coverage on Syria and provides concise advice on major issues that needed to be covered by the interview.
According to her, violence and bloodshed is the main subject brought up in American media: “There is no mention of how many soldiers and security forces have been killed. They think that the bloodshed is done by the government to attack the innocent civilians and peaceful demonstrators.”
She insists that the topic of “armed gangs” has to be brought up and that there are articles to prove it.
In one of the most telling passages, Jaafari insists on playing the card of mistakes being done by the security forces: “It is hugely important and worth mentioning that mistakes have been done in the beginning of the crisis because we did not have a well-organized police force. American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are mistakes done and now we are fixing it. It is worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by police men, police dogs and beatings.”
She adds that it should be highlighted how Syria doesn’t have a policy to torture people, unlike the USA. Cases in point mentioned were the electric chair, lethal injection and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Other issues were brought up such as the non-interventionist mood prevalent in the American scene now, the decline of Obama’s popularity, the fact that Facebook and YouTube have remained open during the crisis and lastly, that international media was allowed in the country, but in her words: “Both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya’s offices were open but when they started to manipulate what was happening and make up facts, the Syrian government became more cautious about who will enter the country.”
It all points to a strategy that was clearly drawn up in order to manipulate the American public and divert attention from the issues at hand.
While the content of Jaafari’s e-mail is very telling about the media strategy of the Syrian regime, it was by far not the only finding of controversial nature. Besides directives from the First Lady’s office concerning media and other internal documents, two emails surfaced that involved foreigners voicing their support for the regime: Kris Janssen, a political commentator who has spoken in favor of the Iranian regime on Press TV and who has been featured by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) sent a letter on February 5 to media advisor Bouthaina Shaaban in the name of his organization based in Belgium, the Syrian Friendship Association.
Janssen writes in his letter: “In light of the regrettable decision taken by the Arab League to suspend the observer mission due to the extreme pressure exerted on it by some Gulf states manipulated by Western neo-imperialist superpowers with the intentions to destroy Syria because of its traditional pan-Arab position and steadfastness against Zionism and neo-colonial interference in Arab and regional affairs, I am planning to visit Syria in the near future and stay a number of days in Damascus to witness the current situation myself from an unbiased and impartial point of view.”
In the letter, Janssen requests to meet with a representative of the ministry in Damascus and in his own words: “To discuss the circumstances which have taken place in the past ten months leading to the current situation and the backgrounds (especially foreign interference) responsible for these conditions as well as the extensive political and economic reform process implemented by the Syrian government.”
In other letter, forwarded by Wassim Dehni to Luna Chabel, the same recipient of Jaafari’s extensive media advice, Keiko Nagai – a project formulation advisor with Japan International Cooperation Agency, requests from Dehni information about the situation and reality of ICT in Syria for an interview with a Japanese newspaper about what she terms “so-called Arab Spring.”
Nagai writes that “I think it is a good opportunity for you, Syria, to let Japanese know about it “accurately” if we have good information on it.” Apparently, Nagai is requesting from the regime to provide accurate and reliable information.
Among other documents leaked, including a proposal for the creation of an immigration/naturalization department, there is also a very interesting document sent by Joelle Mesmar to members of the staff under the cryptic title of “Stakeholder Database”.
The curious document that runs through dozens of pages is an extensive list of monitored people who are considered regime assets. It runs extensive information about the people, their activities, profession, number of children, places of residence and the like; not to mention that it mentions which member of the staff is in charge of monitoring them.
The list includes not only Syrians in Syria, but also expatriate Syrians, and other foreigners including businessmen, academics, NGO consultants and the King and Queen of Spain.
About Queen Sofia of Spain it is written: “Close personal relationship with The First Lady. Last visited Syria in December 2008. The First Lady usually contacts Queen Sofia privately. As an Office, we send her Birthday greetings every 2nd November. The King and Queen of Spain are on the New Year’s greeting card list sent by both The President and The First Lady.”
Other acquaintances of Asma Al-Assad, First Lady of Syria, are also included with a register of their relationship to her and other personal details.
While it cannot be ascertained whether all or any of the people contained in the list are actual close acquaintances of the regime – and it is also the case that many of them are otherwise considered part of the silent majority and not assents of the regime in itself; it is interesting to notice the care taken to extensively monitor their activities and the cryptic language used in the document that might give us some hints about the mood prevalent now inside the Syrian regime.
By Arie Amaya-Akkermans