Change of Fuels

Whether you call them ‘revolutionaries-in-waiting’ or ‘governance transition scholars,’ students of regime change have an abundance of works-in-progress available for their critical review at this particular time.  Life lessons lie thickly strewn across the terrain in places like Mali, Libya, Central African Republic, Italy and (of course) Syria.  There’s certainly more than enough material to serve as a basic armature for a fully fleshed-out chapter or two of the Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change.™   F’rinstance:

Rebels fighting Assad say they have set up [an intelligence service] of their own to “protect the revolution,” monitor sensitive military sites and gather military information to help rebels plan attacks against government forces. “We created the unit formally in November.  It provides all kinds of information to (opposition) politicians and fighters. We are independent and just serve the revolution,” said a rebel intelligence officer who uses the name Haji. “Our work is organized, we have internal regulations and we are committed to international laws and human rights,” he said, speaking briefly over Skype.

Intelligence agents are also documenting [crimes by rebel forces themselves, such as] … torturing and summarily executing opponents, looting state and private property … so that the perpetrators could be held to account. “We are watching everybody. We have gathered information about every violation that happened in the revolt,” he said. “Those we cannot punish now will be punished after toppling Assad. Nothing will be ignored. We have our members among all the working brigades. They are not known to be intelligence officers and they operate quietly [ undercover as activists, citizen journalists or fighters.]”

Haji said most of the [organization’s] members were army defectors and former intelligence officers, and that the information they gathered was distributed to all anti-Assad factions and rebel brigades without discrimination. The organization appears to operate independently from the main opposition Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army, effectively answering to itself alone.

Morale of government officials is low and many are secretly helping the rebels as an insurance policy in case they win.  “They approach us and they give us information. We do not pay them.  They say all they want is protection for their families later on.”


Learnable Lessons

  • Intelligence is an indispensable component of regime change capability. Therefore, the logistical process of transforming information into intelligence should be understood as indispensable for regime changers.
  • Expertise is needed to reliably process information into intelligence.  If the insurgency hasn’t developed its own expertise, it must be ‘borrowed’ from those who already have it: disaffected “army defectors and former intelligence officers.
  • Some functionaries in regime preservation agencies have a strong sense of social justice, ethical responsibility, and a personal moral compass.  That’s why they’re defending the established order in the first place.  But they will defect once the insurgency has demonstrated a stronger commitment to justice, ethics and morality than the incumbent regime.  John Boyd can tell you why.
  • Security is the core social service.  “All they want is protection for their families.
  • Fear and security are Siamese twins.

“The word ‘security’ should mean the security of the people,” said an opposition activist. “Unfortunately, the regime’s security bodies changed it to mean preserving the security of the government against the people.”


Unanswered Questions … for seminar discussion:

  • Who’s paying the freight?  The concept of an all-volunteer people’s intelligence operation is certainly an inspiring and almost noble one, but collecting and processing all-source information into intelligence is a protracted and costly logistical undertaking.  Does the Free Syrian Intelligence Service have a reliable, culturally acceptable revenue base?  Or is this organization actually the stalking horse of a shadowy foreign power?
  • Is there any kind of  framework in place to guide and prioritize intelligence requirements?  Would anyone other than an intell geek care?
  • To what extent should this Reuters article be viewed as an information operation in its own right?  Whose interests would thus be served?  See Question #1.

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