Another Car Bomb Another Mysterious Assassination

Brigadier Wissam al-Hassan was born in 1965 in the village of Betwartij, Koura, North of Lebanon, a married man and a father of two boys. He enrolled in the security service in 1983 as a student lieutenant, and moved up the ranks until he was assassinated as a General. After his death he was promoted to the rank of Brigidier, a rank that he had been promised next year where he was supposed to head the Internal Security Forces, replacing director general Brigadier Ashraf Rifi.

This controversial man was the engineer of an exceptional security apparatus: The Information Branch.

Al-Hassan’s Information Branch was the result of a system created after the Syrian withdrawal in 2005. Known for his close relations with the Hariri family, he played a crucial role at Rafik Hariri’s side, as his trustworthy aide on political and security matters. The contacts and experience he accumulated as one of the closest aides to Rafiq Hariri enabled him to take on a new security role for Saad Hariri, and the March 14 political alliance. After the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri sectarianism in Lebanon increased and with it the sectarian quota in state institutions lost its tightly regimented control that was orchestrated by the presence of Syrian Moukhabarat in Lebanon. As a result there was an urge to create an intelligence security apparatus for the Sunni sect, an organisation that would be close to the Hariris; The information Branch came to life.

Al-Hassan worked extensively on creating a security apparatus that was never given decree by the Lebanese state but gained recognition and was operating under the wings of ISF brigadier Ashraf Rifi. But it was al-Hassan’s PR work and efficiencies in getting the job done on time that gained him local and international respect for the newly created security unit. Al-Hassan under the supervision of director general Ashraf Rifi (one of the board members of the Prince Nayef University for Security Studies and known to have close ties with Saudi) managed to secure cooperation, funding, training, and furnished the Information Branch with equipment, and methods that are unprecedented in any other Lebanese security apparatus. Funds for the newly created security system came from Saudi Arabia, U.S., EU, and training was provided by France, and the U.S.. Funds and equipment came directly to the Information Branch and bypassed the Lebanese fiscal budget. The generous funding and sophisticated tools the Information Branch received gave it a superior role which enabled it to detect spy networks and terrorist cells, turning it into a striking force feared and respected by many.

Al-Hassan’s spying skills were in times a double-edged sword which brought distrust and suspicion from some of his local political allies, and on the international scene the STL grew wary about him. In a Wikileaks cable #06BEIRUT1915 from the American embassy in Lebanon dated 13 Jun 2006: “Wissam Hassan: Previously in charge of Rafiq Harri’s security detail (but absent from Hariri’s side on the day of his assassination — leading to all sorts of conspiracy theories), Hassan now advises Hariri on all security-related matters, from how to mantain personal security to what Lebanon’s security policies and even procurement should be. Hassan now heads a new up-and-coming intelligence bureau inside the Internal Security Services. Hassan is distrusted, even hated, by other Lebanese figures, including most March 14 Christian leaders as well as Walid Jumblatt, but Hariri — who claims to have examined Hassan’s background and loyality with particular scrutiny — is a stout defender of his advisor”.

For the various politicians of the political alliance March 14, however, Wissam al-Hassan’s phone number must have been on their speed-dial. Through his Information Branch al-Hassan was keen to ensure the safety of the March 14 forces, and in times, to reassure that he provided protection. The super cop reputation through the intellegance work of his Information Branch gained him fame on the international scene too. None of his counterparts at the intelligence services was as in demand as he was. He managed to work locally and think golbally, his network expanded beyond Lebanon, from Arab to Western intelligence circles, Al-Hassan was invited to meet with diplomats and other governmental figures, and intelligence personnel, a move to get the information he had and further provide him with information in exchange. The vital information provided encourage a flow of investments in the Information Branch. Only one intelligence system was not happy about his performance: Israel was disturbed by him because of his cooperation with Hezbollah, which uncovered spying networks, affiliates to Israel in Lebanon. However, the story of uncovering Israeli spy networks has a twist to it that made the local news briefly. It was said that while the information branch was on the watch for a Hezbollah personnel (this is suspicious in itself as it was never made clear why The Information Branch was watching Hezbollah) they noticed that there was another group watching the same personnel, the latter turned out to be an Israeli spying network which led to the uncovering of many other spying cells and agents.

Politically al-Hassan represented the March 14 line in Lebanon, and in Syria he never denied his support of the revolution and the Free Syrian Army. His political security role represented the side of the United States and several Arab-Gulf countries. Putting himself on one side, March 14, of the political spectrum in the region generated him many enemies from the opposite political block. Its worth noting that al-Hassan as a security officer by law should not have had any political role or siding, which further demonstrates the freedom and flexibility his Information Branch enjoyed.

The assassination of the founder and chief of the most sophisticated security apparatus in Lebanon came as a shock to all. The man who upgraded Lebanon’s status in the spying wars, especially against one of the strongest spying systems in the region, Israel, should have been able to smell or detect the tails that led to his assassination. Could al-Hassan’s tightly knit security apparatus have been infiltrated by his enemies?

This is one of the reasons why it is still too early and premature to point fingers and throw out accusations in the absence of hard evidence. But what is obvious is the gap he left in such crucial times. The loss of his intelligence skills can be felt by the urgency of the U.S., who dispatched the F.B.I to “assist” the Lebanese authorities in the investigations.

Al-Hassan’s last major operation, whereby he uncovered a plot that seemed diabolical to the public but raised eyebrows among many, boosted his reputation and made him seem to others to have supernatural powers. Al-Hassan was in charge of arresting former Lebanese minister Michel Sammah who had close ties to the Syrian regime. Al-Hassan proved through compelling evidence that Samaha was smuggling explosives into Lebanon in order to carry out assassinations and drag the country into sectarian strife. 10 days ago the French News paper Le Figaro published an article, titled Who sold him, stating French intelligence doubts concering the case of the former minister Michel Samaha, and indirectly accused Brigadier al-Hassan of fabricating the whole plot with Samaha. Le Figaro further remarked that some members of the intelligence services in France have questioned accusations against Samaha.“Samaha is smarter than that, to implicate himself in such a process.” A french Intelligence agent confirms that it is likely the Samaha case was manipulated by al-Hassan.

Its not the first time that the Information Branch falls into the trap of fabrication, after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, al-Hassan fabricated Zuhair al-Siddiq, a false witness in the STL, used to accuse Damascus of the assasination. This fabrication was put together in collaboration with other systems in the region who happen to be participants today in the confrontation to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Al-Hassan was a major player in the region and the game he played was a game of elimination and conquering. The major question at this point isn’t about who killed him, but why now? The assassination came as a blow at a time where Lebanon is standing on its toes on the edge of the abyss. His best friends and allies have taken advantage of his death and agitated their supporters who took to the streets of Lebanon looking for revenge. One of the angry militants who took his AK47 out to the streets of Qasqas (a Sunni strong hold) and fired bullets in the direction of Daheyeh (a Shiite strong hold) voiced his opinion on how he perceived the assassination: “they killed the strongest Sunni we had, he was the last one. We are not afraid anymore we want to protect ourselves”.

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