Report: CIA Helped Syrian Official Flee to U.S. after Crossing into Lebanon
By Naharnet Newsdesk
December 25, 2012
U.S. intelligence officials helped Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi to flee to Washington earlier this month, The Guardian has reported, after media reports said he had been residing in Lebanon since he left Syria around a month ago.
“Makdissi is cooperating with U.S. intelligence officials who helped him flee to Washington almost one month ago,” The Guardian said.“Makdissi became one of the most prominent regime defectors in late November when he left Beirut after first crossing from Syria. The Guardian reported at the time that he had fled for the U.S., possibly in return for asylum. This has now been confirmed,” The Guardianadded in its new report.”Details of Makdissi’s journey to the U.S. are not yet known, although Britain has previously denied that he arrived in the UK after fleeing Beirut,” the British newspaper said.
“Lebanese officials had previously suggested he was either staying with his family in a Christian area near Beirut or had been captured and returned to Syria,” it added.
The newspaper said the alleged development comes after almost a month of debriefings, “which have helped intelligence officials build a picture of decision-making in the inner sanctum of the embattled regime.”
Syrian officials have denied that Makdissi has defected, saying he had instead taken three months of administrative leave. However, at the time of his departure, the pro-regime television al-Manar said “Makdissi has been relieved of his duties for voicing stances that do not conform to Syria’s official rhetoric.”
Al-Mayadeen, another Beirut-based pro-Syria television, also reported that Maqdessi had defected. Lebanon’s al-Jadeed television said “Maqdessi left for London via the Beirut airport after tensions in his relation with the Syrian regime.”
The Guardian said the U.S. State Department did not respond immediately to its requests for comment, and the CIA was “unwilling to discuss the story.”
On Saturday, OTV reported that the Syrian official was residing in Lebanon and has not formally defected from the Syrian regime.
It said there is no restriction on Makdissi’s movement in Beirut.
On December 3, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the spokesman had been “pressured by people inside the presidential palace, but not the president himself, to resign” and had traveled to London with his family.
However, in the first reaction from Damascus regarding the information that surfaced about a possible defection by the longtime loyalist to President Bashar Assad, Syrian pro-government daily al-Watan said on December 11 that Makdissi has taken sanctioned leave for three months.
A native Arabic speaker and fluent in French and English, Makdissi conducted his thesis in London while working for the Syrian embassy.
The Christian native of Damascus was called back to the Syrian capital soon after an uprising against Assad broke out in March last year to assume the post of foreign ministry spokesman.
He later relocated his wife and two children to Beirut, where he would visit them on the weekends.