A defector who worked in the secretive inner circles of Syrian intelligence has claimed that China is helping the Bashar al-Assad regime to acquire phone intercept and bugging technology.
The Syrian soldier, whose name has been changed by Sunday’s Zaman and will be known as Abu-Husayn for his own security and the safety of his relatives in Syria, has disclosed details of his encounter with Chinese intelligence operatives in Damascus. “I saw Chinese operatives visiting the Ministry of Defense. The regime purchased Chinese surveillance equipment and wiretapping devices. These operatives were teaching Syrians how to use these devices and technologies,” he said.
“Had it not been for ongoing backing from Iran, Hezbollah, China and Russia, Assad could not have maintained his regime. I think Assad will leave power in three months. But even if he quits, it is likely the Baathists will secure the existence of [Syrian intelligence agency] al-Mukhabarat. Unless the system can be wiped out entirely, they will introduce a new Assad within one day,” the defector stated.
Born in the district of Tal Abyad in Syria’s Ar-Raqqah province, located near the country’s border with Turkey, Abu-Husayn fled, risking death, and sought refuge among his relatives in the southeastern Turkish city of Şanlıurfa three months ago. In Syria, he was conscripted into the army and assigned to the intelligence branch. He worked there for 14 months, as his hopes of returning to his previous work as a lawyer were dashed.
As Syrian forces started to lose ground to the opposition, the regime became more desperate, putting pressure on government workers, he recalls. “Everybody was afraid of each other. We were not allowed to speak on the phone or to use the Internet,” he said, adding that he had served 15 days in prison just for briefly using the Internet.
Abu-Husayn carefully planned his escape for six months. He used the opportunity of being tasked for duty in Damascus and fled. Passing government checkpoints, he showed his lawyer’s identity card rather than his military badge, on which there was already a flag for his arrest.
“They would pick youngsters up for conscription. I did not arouse their suspicions as I looked relatively old. At every checkpoint I felt like dying, over and over. I would have gotten caught if they had asked for my real identity. I would most likely have been put to death,” he explained. He finally made it to the Akçakale border gate via Aleppo, where he was reunited with his cousins.
Torture centers all over Syria
Abu-Husayn emphasized that al-Mukhabarat has a mandate to detain and torture persons suspected of offenses. “People may even be compelled to denounce their brothers to save their own lives. Al-Mukhabarat has made its presence felt in all parts of the state; people live almost in fear of their own shadow,” he explained.
“It is three months since I fled Syria. I am in Turkey, but I cannot shake off my fears. I am still afraid of Assad. If Assad quits his post today, its pressure on us will last for 10 years,” Abu-Husayn remarked.
He further noted that there is a severe loss of morale and dissolution in the army. Some of its members rush to their families, residing in conflict-stricken areas, while others refuse to comply with the order to “attack civilians” and run away. He added that the summary execution of soldiers who disobey orders is very common
Abu-Husayn claimed that 90 percent of Syrian families hide their children by giving them false identities and sending them away to Turkey, to avoid forced conscription. Therefore: “As the military is not gaining newcomers, currently serving soldiers are denied discharge. There are conscripts on 18-month military service whose term has now spanned 36 months. I fled in the 28th month of my servitude.”
It is obvious that Assad faces the challenge of finding loyal officers to command his troops. Abu-Husayn describes a conversation he overheard between Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij -- who was posted to the seat of Christian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha upon his death in a suicide attack during a National Security Council (NSC) meeting in Damascus in July -- and a friend, just a few days after al-Freij took office. “His friend on the other end of the line was conveying his good wishes to Minister al-Freij on his new duty, who in turn meaningfully responded: ‘What is good luck with this duty! I am awaiting the day of my death.’”
Abu-Husayn pointed out the existence of torture centers all over Syria. But one, he said, stands out from the rest: “There is a massive dungeon-like facility underneath Mezze Air Base where each component of the security apparatus [the land and air forces and al-Mukhabarat] could torture their respective detainees. It has never come to pass that a person taken there has survived.”