A top-secret national security document taken by former contractor Edward Snowden confirms for the first time that American officials attributed Israeli special command forces with the 2008 assassination of a key aide to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Reports concerning the death of Muhammad Suleiman, Mr. Assad’s chief weapons procurement adviser, have previously all but established a direct link to Israel. U.S. officials wrote in a secretive online database that Israel was, in fact, behind the assassination, according to National Security Agency files published by The Intercept on Tuesday.
Suleiman “was assassinated by a sniper near Tartous” in August 2008, begins an entry in a “Manhunting” page taken by Mr. Snowden from the NSA’s internal Intellepedia system.
That slaying, the entry continues, was carried out by “Israeli naval commandos” and was “the first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate government official.”
Matthew Cole, the author of The Intercept article, reported that confirmation from the NSA file “ends speculation that an internal dispute within the Syrian government led to his death.”
Suleiman was rumored to have been trying to get Iran to provide arms and military training to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon on behalf of Mr. Assad’s regime before his death, Mr. Cole acknowledged, but a probe of the assassination reportedly raised only further speculation about his role within the Syrian government.
A 2009 U.S. State Dept. cable published by WikiLeaks revealed that the subsequent investigation into Suleiman’s death “uncovered USD 80 million cash in a basement room of the general’s home in the mountains between Damascus and the Lebanese border.”
“Assad was said to be devastated by the discovery, and, fearing Suleiman had betrayed him, redirected the investigation from solving his murder to finding out how the general had acquired so much money,” reads the cable.
Three former U.S. intelligence officials told The Intercept that the markings on the “Manhunting” page suggest that the NSA drew its conclusions on Suleiman’s slaying based off of monitoring communications signals.
“We’ve had access to Israeli military communications for some time,” remarked one of the officials on condition of anonymity.
Neither the NSA nor the office of the Israeli prime minister responded to The Intercept’s requests for comment. According to the former official, however, revelations concerning both the United States’ knowledge of the plot and its persistent eavesdropping may raise concerns within the spy agency’s headquarters. Both the U.S. and Israel have intelligence analysts working at the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the official said.
• Andrew Blake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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