Sarg Director Of The Political Security Department Sacked

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¶1. (S/NF) A European diplomat reported to us on March 2 that
Major General Mohammad Mansurah, Director of the Political
Security Department (PSD) and close associate of President
Asad, was summarily fired in mid-January. This action is
reportedly linked to the discovery of a smuggling ring being
run out of this directorate. As many as 15 PSD officers were
arrested in January after the Syrian Military Intelligence
(SMI) uncovered evidence, during the course of an
investigation that commenced in the fall, suggesting the PSD
was heavily involved with cross border smuggling of weapons,
persons and goods. While Mansurah was reportedly not among
those arrested, it remains unclear whether his sacking
stemmed from his direct involvement in the illicit activity
or simply because the activity took place under his command,
thereby losing the confidence of SARG leadership. Former
Deputy of the General Intelligence Directorate Diab Seitun
reportedly assumed charge of the PSD.

¶2. (S/NF) According to the diplomat, Mansurah headed the SMI
office in the Hasakah region of Syria from 1982 to 2002. In
this capacity he was reportedly responsible for contacts with
Kurdish groups, supplying weapons to Kurds fighting Saddam
Hussein in Iraq. In 2002 he became the head of the Palestine
Branch of the SMI and then went on to become Deputy Director
of PSD, where we was promoted to director in January 2005.

¶3. (S/NF) Thus far the Syrian government has made no mention
of this incident publicly, nor has the story made the local
press, unlike the recent high-profile arrest and firing of
the SARG Director of Customs Brigadier General Hasan Makhlouf
in mid-February. While local papers report Makhlouf was
fired and arrested for accepting bribes in association with
the illegal import of Chinese goods — goods which were
declared to have been transiting but were in fact sold on the
market here — local contacts indicate that his activity
could have more nefarious links. An Arab diplomat reported
Makhlouf would in effect “rent” out the border check-points;
a prescribed amount of money (NFI) could buy blocks of time
when the border inspectors would ignore the “renters'”
vehicle traffic. The Arab diplomat said such a scheme means
“anything” could have come into and out of Syria. Tishreen
newspaper reported Makhlouf and 20 customs employees have
been arrested and Al Kahbar reported the Ministry of Finance
ordered the freezing of all Makhlouf’s assets, and those of
his extended family. It remains unclear if there is a
connection between the PSD smuggling ring and that of the
Customs Directorate.

¶4. (S/NF) Comment: The SARG may be in the midst of a long
overdue house cleaning. They may be making some of the
arrests public, as in the Makhlouf case, in an effort to
demonstrate to the Syrian people and international community
that the government is serious about tackling corruption —
even among Alawites. The public airing of the firing of yet
another senior government official might be a leap too far
for the SARG, but the fact the Mansurah story has made its
way into a small Western diplomatic circle could signal SARG
willingness to clamp down on illicit cross-border smuggling.
Alternatively, these episodes could represent a classic power
struggle between competing intelligence branches, with the
SMI seeking favor among the ruling class by airing the dirty
laundry of its brother organizations.
CONNELLY