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Questions Surrounding the Syrian Counterprotest Plan

5 MINS READApr 15, 2011 | 06:30 GMT
GIL ELYAHU/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
The main Facebook group organizing protests in Syria released a document purportedly from the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate that details a comprehensive set of tactics to counter the Syrian uprising. The document is suspicious and could be fraudulent. Nevertheless, the plan therein is very detailed, and it reflects the author's in-depth understanding of tactics and countertactics of protests in general and those employed in Syria in particular. STRATFOR suspects that the writer is someone opposed to the Syrian regime, and this shows increasing sophistication in the understanding of protest tactics.
Click here for a PDF of the document MSNBC's English translation of the document (STRATFOR is not responsible for the content of other websites.) The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook group posted a top secret document purportedly from Syria's General Intelligence Directorate (which the media has translated as General Security Directorate, though these are different organizations) outlining tactics for the regime's counterprotest plan. The document, supposedly distributed March 23, was posted at approximately 1800 GMT on April 13 on Facebook and was translated and reported by MSNBC on April 14. The plan in the document is comprehensive and shows an in-depth knowledge of the Syrian regime's tactics, which does not necessarily mean that the author had insider knowledge or that the document is authentic. In fact, the document appears to be a crude forgery. Without forensic analysis STRATFOR cannot know its authenticity conclusively, but its content reveals much about who wrote it. The plan in the document shows a sophisticated understanding of protest and counterprotest tactics, and if the document was indeed created by the opposition, then the Syrian opposition is demonstrating skills necessary to counteract the country's security services. Demonstrating those skills does not guarantee success, however. From a copy of the document obtained by STRATFOR, it looks like a General Intelligence Directorate analysis presented at the highest levels of the Syrian government. It includes seemingly appropriate headers and a "Top Secret" stamp. But it also shows large coffee stains, which could be an amateurish attempt at giving the document a tarnished appearance. Significantly, the information contained in the document is limited to that which is already public knowledge, and it fails to illustrate an intricate understanding of the various responsibilities of different security agencies — things one might expect from such a high-level document. The "Detailed Plan for Bracing," as it is called, involves three major tactics: political, media and security. The political tactics involve organizing rallies to support the president and managing his forthcoming speeches and policy promises, particularly increases in state salaries and subsidies for commodities. The media tactics involve employing propaganda to make the protesters appear to receive support from foreign sources, including Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States. The document recommends controlling media and maximizing propaganda to make minorities fear for their security. The document also includes a detailed plan to subvert the social network groups and media interviews to control international and domestic perceptions of the protesters. The security tactics involve strict — even brutal — crackdowns on the protesters, including a statement that permits the killing of up to 20 protesters in each crackdown. It also permits undercover security personnel who have infiltrated the protesters to shoot at official security forces to arouse their anger and trigger a harsh response. The opposition can support claims of the document's authenticity simply by listing events that have occurred since March 23, the date on which it was allegedly produced. There have been negotiations with opposition representatives in Latakia, Daraa and Homs in the last three weeks, along with new proposals and discussions of Kurdish issues. Syrian Embassy overseas employees have received raises, the government has alluded to sectarian strife, there have been clashes in which unknown snipers fired on civilians and military personnel, and the Syrian Cabinet was changed April 14. Some of the tactics listed in the document have indeed been seen in Syrian policies recently, as well as in Syrian President Bashar al Assad's speech March 30, which implied foreign involvement in the protests. But the document could simply have been backdated. Moreover, it does not mention discussions over ending emergency rule or reforms on agricultural issues (which are of particular interest since the protesters draw their base from rural areas). The detail of Syrian tactics within the document illustrates a careful study of Syrian counterprotest methods and the security apparatus' capabilities. But the document does not show the requisite insider knowledge that would prove it is an actual internal document. It could be real, or it could be a ploy by the government to show the danger posed by the protesters, portraying them as willing instigators of violence. Otherwise, it could be a fabrication by the opposition. If opposition groups created the document, they have utilized a sophisticated propaganda tactic to exhibit "official" evidence of the brutality of the Syrian regime. Accusations of intentional violence and undercover security officers are an attempt to focus international and domestic attention on al Assad's heavyhanded measures. More important, the document shows that someone within the opposition has meticulously researched Syrian security forces and their tactics. The use of this knowledge on the street would be a major evolution from simply drawing people in through social media. The understanding of protest and counterprotest tactics demonstrated in the document is critical to a successful revolution, and while it does not guarantee success for the opposition, the Syrian government is likely going to have to labor to quell the unrest, rather than simply relying on raw force. The protests have escalated recently and spread to more towns, but so far lack the intensity that could seriously threaten the regime. Nevertheless, the government is compelled to enact changes, such as moves to lift emergency rule and lift the ban on the hijab. In the less-likely event that the document is authentic, the Syrian opposition now has a very clear tactical outline to counter.

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