Anonymous Hacks Into Syrian Leadership's Email Accounts
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma in December 2003.
CREDIT: Agencia Brasil/Creative Commons Brazil
A huge cache of emails from staffers in Syrian President Bashar Assad's office showed up online Monday (Feb. 6), and the messages, stolen and posted by the Anonymous hackers, shed surprising insight into the controversial leader's and his aides' methods.
Among the emails from his advisers were recommendations for Assad to change the American public's attitude by minimizing his military's role in the killing of Syrian civilians and suggesting the soldiers behaved no worse than U.S. police did at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
On Sunday night, Anonymous broke into the email server of the Syrian Ministry of Presidential Affairs and pilfered hundreds of emails from about 78 accounts belonging to Assad's aides and advisers, the Israeli news site Haaretz reported. Several of the Syrian government email accounts were protected with the weak password "12345," making it that much easier for the Anonymous hackers to do their work.
The emails reveal some tactics employed by Assad in his attempt to manipulate the way his government is perceived and to downplay global outrage at the violence suffered by Syrians at the hands of the country's own military.
'American psyche can be manipulated'
Among the stolen emails was a document preparing Assad for a December 2011 interview with American television journalist Barbara Walters. During the interview, aired on ABC, Assad repeatedly insisted the Syrian government was not responsible for killing its citizens.
"No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person," he told Walters.
The English-language document was sent 10 days before the interview by Sheherazad Jaafari, a press attaché at the Syrian mission to the United Nations, to to Assad's top media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban.
It detailed a dozen major points for President Assad to stress during the interview, among them the importance that he downplay Syria's government violence.
Jaafari suggested that Assad assure Walters his regime was not only working to redeem itself, but in fact had caused no more harm to its citizens than the American police had in New York.
"It is hugely important and worth mentioning that 'mistakes' have been done in the beginning of the crisis because we did not have a well-organized 'police force.'" Jaafari wrote. "American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear there are 'mistakes' done and now we are 'fixing it.' It's worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are being suppressed by police men, police dogs and beatings."
Bashar Assad speaks fluent if accented English, and like Shaaban, was educated in Britain. Assad's own wife is British-born.
No torture or censorship here
Under the header "Torture Policy," Jaafari advises Assad to contrast the United States' violent policies to Syria's own.
"Syria doesn't have a policy to torture people unlike the USA, where there are courses in schools that specialize in teaching policemen and officers how to torture criminals and 'outlaws.'" Jaafari wrote. "For instance, the electric chair and killing through injecting an overdose of medicine. ... We can use Abu Ghraib in Iraq as an example."
The leaked memo urges Assad to mention that Facebook and YouTube both remained open and uncensored during the Syrian uprising, showing that the government took no effort to block its citizens' freedom of speech, unlike other Arab countries like Libya, Bahrain and Egypt, which restricted Internet access during popular uprisings.
"This is very important to the American mindset," the memo said. "That fact that Facebook and YouTube are open now — especially during the crises — is important."