Friday, July 20, 2012

He Who Pays the Piper...

... calls the tune:

"A distant sponsor finances the war among the olive groves and walnut trees high on the Jebel Akrad mountains. Sometimes he supplies the rebel fighters there with weapons and ammunition. More often he gives them money, hundreds of thousands of Syrian pounds, that are carried along hidden trails by a courier coming from Turkey. With the sponsor's support, the rebels can raid, harry and ambush the logistic routes and outposts of the Syrian army in the valley beneath them. Without it, the hundred men of the Thwar [sic: thuwwaar] Tahrir khattiba [sic:katiiba], one of a dozen rebel units in the area, would be little more than desperate renegades struggling to survive. There is one major problem in the relationship. The rebels do not know who their sponsor is. 'We know what we are fighting against, but we don't know exactly who we are fighting for,' admitted the khattiba's [sic] commander, Lieutenant Ahmad, a tall athletic man in his mid-20s who was an infantry officer in the Syrian army before defecting 7 months ago to join the rebel Free Syrian Army. 'A middleman in Turkey masks the sponsor's identity. We can never deal with him directly. At the moment there are no conditions to the money and weapons we receive, but I'm worried that one day there might be.'... There are strong moral arguments for arming the rebels and ending President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but who exactly is financing the revolution and what is their agenda?" (Mystery donor causes unease among rebels, Anthony Loyd, The Times/The Australian, 19/7/12) 

Here we are - 2012 - and the source of the FSA's funds is a complete mystery! Who could the mystery donor possibly be? Well, as Dr Phil never tires of reminding us - the best predictor of future behavior is the past. So, going with Dr Phil's dictum, I offer the following extracts from CIA agent Wilbur Crane Eveland's 1980 book Ropes of Sand: America's Failure in the Middle East in answer to Anthony Loyd's question:

"Leaving on the morning of July 24 [1956], I drove to Damascus and, as usual, registered at the Omayad. [Michail Bey] Ilyan [leader of the conservative Populist Party and wealthy landowner from Aleppo] would hear of my arrival, I knew, but this time I was reluctant to meet in his suite, which I assumed to be a target for bugging by the local surete. Employing what I could remember of my counterintelligence training, I searched my room for listening devices. Finally, feeling fairly secure, I was ready to discuss money with Michail Bey.

"When he arrived I pointed a finger at my ear and then turned up the radio to indicate that our talk would be secret and that the whinning Oriental music would prevent any eavesdropper from hearing what was said. This conspiratorial beginning seemed to delight Ilyan, who drew his chair close to mine and hunched over with elbows on his knees. Head bowed, looking alternately at me and the floor, my conspirator flicked his worry beads at a speed I thought might match that of the abacus clicking in his head to come up with a price tag for his operations.

"Telling him I'd been back to Washington and now had word of American plans, I said that we were prepared to consider helping him and his fellow Syrians help themselves... I asked what plans he had in mind, what support he'd need... and how long it would take to get results.

"A good 15 minutes of silence and worry-bead twirling followed as Ilyan stared intently at the rug on the floor. Finally, he made his proposal. 'Ya Ahmee, it will take money - much of it and soon - to care for the press, the 'street', key army officers, and others. When I asked him if the politicians too would want money, or if saving their country and their fortunes would be enough, Ilyan gave me a look I'd last seen when my mother had prepared to wash out my mouth with soap. 'Mr Eveland,' Ilyan said, 'we don't expect anything for ourselves. It's just those who have been offered dirty money to oppose us whom we'll have to buy off.' Far from convinced that I'd met my first honest man in the Middle East, I said I'd have to assure Washington that no pockets would be lined with our money. I'd not meant to offend him, of course, I added.

"Since getting down to specifics seemed impossible before we had a firm plan of action, I decided to try for an estimate of money and a time frame. After more silence, tongue clicking, and rustling of beads, Ilyan asked for 'a half-million and at least 30 days.' Since he hadn't said which currency he was referring to - about 3 Syrian pounds made a dollar - I deliberately chose the lesser possibility, saying that it would take time for the people who handled such things to collect that much Syrian currency on the Lebanese money market." (pp 202-203)

"Harvey Armado, head of the regional finance office of the Beirut CIA station, was one of the busiest members of the staff. Beyond his fiscal responsibility for the administrative and operational activities of all stations in the Middle East, Armado worked under direct orders from Washington on worldwide financial transactions. Having no prohibitions on foreign-exchange transactions, Lebanon was an ideal location for such activities... [W]hen I called on Armado to say I needed a half-million Syrian pounds, he hardly blinked. Did I need new money, old money, a mixture? Bundled or boxed? When I professed ignorance, Harvey suggested a combination of old and new Syrian bills from various banks in Syria, so that their Lebanese origin could not be traced from the bands on the bundles. 'Give me 2 days,' he said, 'and I'll have it for you in a nice suitcase purchased in Damascus.'" (pp 217-218)

"Now the winding mountain road I'd travelled so often before made it possible for me to watch for the headlights that would betray any car in pursuit. Ten miles into the mountains, as instructed, I reverseed my direction and checked the deserted highway over which I'd just passed. Coming back, at the Bludhan turning I swung left onto the casino road, which was steep, narrow, and winding - just right for me to be able to be sure I was alone. Finally I reached the old French gambling casino Ilyan had spoken of, which was dark - there was only a watchman's light inside. Turning around in the parking area, I drove back and found the side road that Ilyan had designated for our meeting place.

"There was no sign of life anywhere, as my odometer showed me that I'd gone the 2 miles described as the point at which I should make a U-turn and pull off the road. Alone in the stillness, I took stock of my situation. I was frightened. My mind kept racing. I thought I heard noises. Was I just imagining things? Then, from behind, I heard dogs barking, and soon a swaying lantern came into view. It was a Bedouin camel caravan, I realized. Just before it reached me, I stepped from the car and pretended to relieve myself in the ditch. Too scared to do anything more, I simply hoped that they weren't robbers and shuddered with relief as the caravan passed out of sight and beyond hearing.

"What seemed like an eternity was in fact only about 10 minutes before a car's headlights came bouncing into view and the dark bulk of Ilyan's limousine showed that my wait had come to an end. Shocked to see that he himself was not driving, I demanded to know why he hadn't come alone. His answer was simple enough: he'd never learned how to drive. In any case, he said, he trusted his driver, Artim, as he would a brother. So, as America's candidate for changing Syria's government puffed complacently in the back-seat on a long cigar, Artim and I transferred the suitcase, and finally the Chrysler went off in a cloud of dust.

"Sighing with relief, I drove back to Beirut, gradually relaxing as the cold mountain air blew about me. When I arrived at my apartment, I poured myself a stiff drink, sat on the balcony, and stayed until the sun came up, still thinking that the suitcase I'd handled might have a profound effect on 7 million Syrian lives." (pp 222-223)

No comments: