According to "sources familiar with the matter," President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. government agencies to provide support to the Syrian opposition.
First of all, the mere fact that we are discussing this flies in the face of the concept of a "secret" order. My first thought was, "Great, another calculated leak to make the President look strong and in charge." I may not be far off the mark, but I have already made my views on this issue known (see my earlier article, Intelligence and the Obama Administration - Amateur Hour?).
It appears that the President has signed a "finding." This has been happening since the National Security Act of 1947. When the President determines that there is a threat to national security requiring covert action - either CIA or Defense Department - he signs a document called a "finding."
The term "finding" has evolved from the text on the blank piece of paper that states, "I find that in the national security interest of the United States... I have directed...(signature)." The document then goes to the chairs and ranking members of the applicable Congressional committees - and things start to happen.
I have been involved in several events that have evolved from findings. It is almost a blank check. The President of the United States has authorized a covert or clandestine operation - resources are committed, people move, money is transferred, weapons are provided, special forces (CIA or Defense) are deployed - things happen. The American hand makes a presence - sometimes known, but most times not.
More often than not, the initial American contribution - as with the Obama Administration's assistance to the Syrian opposition - will be communications equipment, medical supplies and funding. There will be some rhetoric that we are supplying "non-lethal" assistance. This is a joke.
As we all know, money is a fungible commodity. If the United States sends money to an insurgent organization, that frees up the money they were going to use on these non-lethal items. That "other" money is then spent on weapons. It's the same if we send communications gear or medical supplies. Those resources free up the money the recipient was going to have to spend on those items, and the freed up money goes towards weapons. The money is untraceable - it's just a word game.
According to the press and the Syrian regime, the opposition is being supplied with weapons and funding by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, via an operations headquarters in southern Turkey. There is a NATO air base at Incirlik with a substantial American military and intelligence presence. If the reports of the American finding are true, our money and supplies will be funneled via this headquarters. Where our money and supplies go, so usually do our intelligence officers - rightly so.
I was struck by the photograph on the cover of The Economist (photo). The man in the photograph is carrying an M-16 with an electro-optical scope - it appears to me to be an M-16A1. If in fact this is an actual photograph of a member of the Syrian opposition, it is quite telling. The Syrian armed forces, security organizations and intelligence agencies all carry versions of the AK-47 and AKM. During the years I spent in Syria, I do not recall ever seeing anyone carrying an M-16 (except the U.S. Marine guards at the embassy).
Where did this weapon originate? It most likely was not the American intelligence services - we prefer to provide locally available weapons not traceable to or identified with the United States. An M-16 says American or Israeli. I would speculate that it came from Lebanon, either purchased or supplied.
Change is coming in Syria. It is doubtful that the Bashar al-Asad regime will survive. Having some influence in what happens is a good idea, and supporting the opposition is a good start. Let's forget the myth of "non-lethal" and give the opposition what they need - money, weapons and training.