By Richard Sale, author of Clinton’s Secret Wars
The crisis between the U.S. intelligence services and Hariri began with the 9/11 attacks. As one serving U.S. analysts said at the time, with the discovery of the hijackers’ Saudi identity, The Kingdom ordered Hariri and the rest of their agents into a “protective stance” in an effort to repair “Its shattered image” in Washington. The agency was shocked to find that their key asset was no longer talking to his American controllers and even when he did, he never gave anything of value regarding secret Arab conversations, sources said. The case was made worse when the agency thought of the huge monies they had spent on furthering their man’s political career in Lebanon. Former CIA official Larry Johnson said at the time, ‘”It’s another example of the incompetence of the agency in managing a source.” (Johnson, a good friend, was not a source for this piece by the way.)
A former senior U.S. intelligence official agreed with Johnson: “It doesn’t take much to fool the CIA if you are averse to risk and you give your superiors the idea that you have this great source who makes you look good in your fitness reports.”
Another source cited examples of the British MI-5 agency and the difficulties of MI-5 handlers admitting that an agent of their had been blown.
Asked about counterintelligence analysis – why Hariri’s reports were not correlated and measured against other area reports, a former senior CIA official said, “At the agency we slip it into some compartment somewhere, give it a number, and ship it to the director himself and then whisper what it is and how the thing is so secret that asking any questions would pose risk to the source’s life.”
This person said that there were instances where agents arranged meetings with Hariri and their superiors only to be told afterwards by their superiors not to talk to Hariri anymore yet nothing had an effect.
After the Trade Center attacks, the Saudis began to agitate for Washington to receive Hariri and listen to his explanations of his pervious lack of cooperation. “The Saudis expected that Hariri would come to Washington (in 2002) and say, ‘Get the Syrians off my back and I will deal with Hisbullah and support the resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon.”
It came too late. When Hariri visited Washington, he saw no one of any importance, making clear he had lost his American employer.
Later, one former agency case officer, Bob Baer, went on the record to the amazement of his colleagues., calling Hariri “terrible” and “useless.” When the Iranian-backed and funded terrorists in Lebanon blew up the U.S Embassy and Marine barracks, “Hariri gave us no early warning, no useful information,” he said.
Perhaps the most telling judgment was made by a former senior analyst who concluded that the Hariri episode represented an attempt by the Saudis to use the CIA to direct and influence Middle East policy by means of “contaminated information from a hostile source.”
With the firing in December 2006, of Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi intelligence chief, who had had many dealings with Bin Laden, it appeared that Crown Prince Abdullah wanted to take a tougher stance against Salafi terrorists rather than treat Iran as the chief threat to American interests. . As an agency source said at the time, “Abdullah is one of the few in the Royal Family fighting terrorism.” (Note that Turki’s firing was announced not by the Kingdom but by the Washington Post which called it a “resignation,”)
Other family members continued to fund bin Laden “as protection money” to ward off attacks on the Kingdom, using a long chain of front companies.
As the middle of the decade approached, Hariri’s economic predominance was unquestioned but its corruption was posing causing economic deterioration. The economic keystone in Lebanon is its defense and security budget. Seventy percent of the Lebanese budget at that time had been distributed to his supporters both Muslim and Christians to further consolidate his power but the economy was sinking. One of the purposes of Hariri’s U.S. visit was to try and obtain funds to restructure the country’s debt-ridden economy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee refused to release $20million in aid because of Lebanon’s refusal to deploy its forces along the border with Israel. (Hariri could not deploy these forces without Syrian permission.)
In an interview with CNN, Hariri said that the presence of Syria in Lebanon was necessary and desirable and endorsed Syria’s and Hezbollah’s view that by holding onto Shabaa Farms, Israel had not fully complied with UN Security Council Resolution 425. (The UN had ruled that Israel had met its obligation.) On the economy, in spite of muttering about debt-relief schemes, the Lebanese economy continued to sink. And among U.S. policymakers, the question endured, how can the United States give assistance to a government under the control of Syria? Especially since that country was on a list of countries designated as “terrorist.” In other words, of the economy collapsed, Hariri would be held responsible.
Who killed Hariri?
The best answer to this is, Who Knows? The suspects include the U.S., Israel, the Shia of Syria, the various Christian factions in Lebanon, etc, etc. etc.
In the years between Hariri’s assassination and the activation of the UN Tribunal, there have been dramatic changes in Lebanon. Syria, it’s true, withdrew its troops but far from being shunned or snubbed was courted vigorously by France and to a lesser degree, Syria itself.
The brief 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah confirmed the latter’s growing military competence and sharpened the rifts and disagreements among Lebanon’s factions. But what resulted was a new domestic balance of power resulting in a fragmentation of the pro-Western anti-Syrian government coalition led by Saad Hariri. (I am paraphrasing an excellent study by the International Crisis Group.)
Most of the recent media leaks, many from pro-Israelis, point the finger at Hezbollah, and for that group, ducking the allegation has become a serious matter for it they are right, they would damage Lebanon’s prestige and Hezbollah’s as well. Which accounts for the latter’s incredible efforts to discredit the Tribunal and its indictments. Certainly France and the United States have been anything but impartial, forging joint objectives regarding the probe, according to the ICG. And it pays to remember George W. Bush’s pressures to undermine Syria and implement “regime change.”
But a French official neatly summed up the case against Syria: “No evidence, no