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Passing the Hat for the Syrian Rebels

A bizarre interview took place last week on NPR. Michael Martin spoke with Brian Sayers of the Syrian Support Group. Sayers is the group’s director of government relations and is reported to be a former NATO political advisor who was hired to lobby on behalf of the Syrian insurgency this year. The Syrian Support Group’s website claims that it “seeks to facilitate, through all legal means, the protection of Syrian civilians during their historic struggle for freedom.”

The Syrian Support Group is a registered non-profit which the US Treasury has licensed to raise money for the Free Syrian Army while also authorizing a waiver to send money to Syria, which is otherwise prohibited because of sanctions. Per Sayers the Free Syrian Army is “basically a group of freedom fighters” and he claims that his group can “provide financing, logistics, communications as well as services…but we can’t actually purchase weapons. We can’t actually send any hardware over.”

When challenged by the interviewer, Sayers admitted that providing money enables the insurgents to use other money to buy weapons, describing the purchases as the “ultimate intention.” He notes that “I think it certainly is part of it. It depends where you are in Syria, I mean, in Aleppo right now they definitely need sophisticated weapons to take out the tanks, to take out the fighter jets.”

When pressed again on the extremists who apparently have infiltrated the insurgency, Sayers explained that the FSA is led by nine military councils that “have all signed up to a proclamation for a multi-ethnic country to fight for democracy, for the rule of law, human rights, to fight under the Geneva Conventions. These are very serious commitments.”

“How do you know?” asked the interviewer, referring to the actual level of commitment to those ideals. Sayers replied that the nine military councils have “pretty good command and control.”

Sayers went on to advocate Americans contributing to his group because “that would be a real game changer.” And then there is a big plus for Washington – his organization could use its connections to fill in the “intelligence gap” on what is going on inside Syria.

Don’t know where to begin on this one. A private group being given 501(c)3 tax deductible status to raise money for an armed rebel group seeking to overthrow the government in a country with which the United States is not at war would appear to be outsourcing to the private sector the sort of thing that the CIA used to do. And the money is supposed to be raised for non-lethal support but the group concedes that as money is fungible it will wind up purchasing weapons anyway. And the rebels, who are called freedom fighters even though they appear to have regular links with groups connected to al-Qaeda, are promising free elections, rights for minorities, and adherence to the Geneva Conventions. For some reason the expression “useful idiots” comes to mind as well as the inevitable comparisons to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, which was supported by the US and turned out real well in the end, fabricating intelligence to bring about an unnecessary war with Iraq and later passing American intelligence information on to Iran.

about the author

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London. In addition to TAC, where he has been a contributing editor for nine years, he writes regularly for Antiwar.com. He is currently Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest and resides with his wife of 32 years in Virginia horse country close to his daughters and grandchildren. He has begun talking far too much to his English bulldog Dudley of late, thinks of himself as a gourmet cook, and will not drink Chardonnay under any circumstances. He does not tweet, and avoids all social media.

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