United States Secretly Funded Syrian Dissidents, WikiLeaks Cables Reveal
The United States has funneled upwards of $6 million in secret funds to Syrian dissident groups based in London over the past five years, according to WikiLeaks cables published by the Washington Post.
The covert support provided by the U.S. includes funding television station Barada TV, which transmits opposition programming into Syria. The station has ramped up its coverage since incumbent dictator Bashar al-Assad has come under increasing pressure to reform -- or resign -- from protesters within his own country.
"The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005," writes Craig Whitlock at the Washington Post. "The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad."
The money was funneled through a group called the Movement for Justice and Development, which is described as a group of "'liberal, moderate Islamists' who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood" by the Washington Post.
Money was provided to outside dissident groups, according to the cables, because internal repression and monitoring by secret police were too strict within Syria itself.
The secret cable was written by the United States' top ambassador to Syria in Dec. 2009, and was leaked as part of WikiLeaks' unprecedented "Cablegate" leak of classified U.S. State Department cables.
In the cable, the U.S. diplomat writes that the Syrian government "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change."
Politics in Syria have been heating up recently, with President Bashar al-Assad promising to revoke emergency law sometime this week. Assad's security forces have been clashing with opposition protesters demanding regime change; those clashes have oftentimes turned deadly.
Bashar al-Assad has been in power in Syria since 2000, after taking over from his notorious father Hafez al-Assad. The father-son pair have controlled Syria for a total of 38 years.