A British newspaper report had spurred furious speculation about the whereabouts of one of the Syrian regime's top defectors and rumors that he may be working with intelligence officials in the U.S.
Earlier this month, the Syrian opposition began reporting that Jihad Makdissi, spokesperson for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, had defected. No one had been able to confirm his whereabouts, but word had come down from several sources that he had left the country, robbing Bashar al-Assad's government of one of its most prominent and public faces. While not confirming his defection, a Lebanese TV network known to be friendly to the regime reported that he was fired for spreading information contrary to the government's official line. Last week, some reports had surfaced that he had taken shelter at the British embassy in Beirut and there were even rumors that he made it all the way to London. UK officials strenuously denied both reports.
Then on Christmas Eve, The Guardian reported that Makdissi had not just left Syria or the Middle East, but was actually in Washington, DC, and fully cooperating with intelligence agencies in exchange for asylum in the United States. While not a member of Assad's innermost decision-making circle, Makdissi was responsible for shaping its public message and would be able to provide the Americans with their best picture of yet of the state of the regime from someone who was inside it.
American officials have naturally denied that claim as well, but their statement that they heard he was in London suggests that the U.S. and the U.K. are not on the same page with this story. As for Syria, they continue to deny that Makdissi was fired at all, saying that he's merely on a "sabbatical" and hasn't defected.
Adding even more intrigue to this case of diplomatic espionage, a Syrian activist decided to publicly release a series of Twitter direct messages that he shared with Makdissi before he defected and disappeared. After the report in The Guardian surfaced, Rami Jarrah—who tweets under the pseudonym @AlexanderPageSY—began sharing private conversations that he had with Makdissi, where the then-spokesperson revealed his sympathies for the opposition and hinting he might be preparing to leave his position. Makdissi suggested that the only thing holding him (and others) back from joining the revolution was the behavior some of the opposition leaders, like the Free Syrian Army, saying, "Do you think that I am blind to the heroic actions of the Syrian people?"
Whether or not Makdissi has made it all the way across the Atlantic or been offered asylum here, there's no question that he would be a prime target for intelligence agents wanting to know what's really going on inside Syria. Throw in yet another high-ranking military defection announced today and there's yet more proof that the revolution has more than a few high-level sympathizers wishing to see an end to Assad's reign, even if they haven't yet found away to destroy it from the inside.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.