This series charts Assad’s major role in the rise of Islamic extremism from the inside. Based on exclusive interviews with high-level defectors from the regime’s security apparatus, it sheds new light on key decisions
—like sending volunteers to fight the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which helped establish the forerunner of the Islamic State, releasing more than 1,000 former al Qaeda militants from Syrian prisons in 2011, and rarely fighting the Islamic State militants.
It also reveals how:
— the regime likely staged bombings of its own security facilities in 2011 and 2012 to foster the impression that al Qaeda had an armed presence in Syria long before it did.
— Syrian intelligence received orders to stand by when al Qaeda fighters crossed from Iraq into Syria in 2012.
— Syrian intelligence has penetrated the leadership of extremist jihadist groups and at critical moments can influence their operations.
Remarkably, several high-level former Syrian security officials who spoke on the record with this reporter said that U.S. intelligence agencies never debriefed them. The ex-officials viewed this as a major lapse, not only because they were privy to, and complicit in, the inner workings of Assad’s role in organizing a terrorist insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq, but also because they were well-placed to advise on the establishment of a new state security apparatus should Assad’s police state collapse or be overthrown.
The Obama administration apparently wasn’t interested. A former top U.S. diplomat said the CIA had little interest in Syrian defectors and debriefed them only if the diplomat insisted.