The CBC (Canada) Investigation: Who killed Lebanon's Rafik Hariri? by Neil Macdonald, released Sunday, Nov. 21, at the start of US Thanksgiving week, was loaded with explosive implications. It was bad news for the forces of freedom and democracy in Lebanon and cast doubt on the UN's credibility as an instrument for fighting terror. But, most of all, one particularly grim finding told the United States that its effort to keep Lebanon out of the clutches of Iran, Syria and Hizballah was up against a blank wall.
Whereas the Western media found in the CBC report a strong indictment of Hizballah, a second reading led DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources in a different direction. They assume that it came about as a result of an initiative in Washington to hand the CBC correspondent a bundle of classified data on the inner deliberations of the Special Lebanese Tribunal investigating the Rafiq Hariri assassination of February 2005. That data appeared to indicate that despite the many leads pointing to Hizballah and Syria, the SLT has not been able to lay hands on a single piece of solid evidence for implicating either in a trial.
The most the tribunal has garnered is enough evidence to summons suspects for questioning or bearing witness before sending them home.
So who will question them? The revelations laid out in the report put a question mark over the heads of the tribunal members and its teams of prosecutors and investigators.
The quick-change succession of prosecutors
Those revelations relate to the tribunal's chief investigators, the former prosecutor, Serge Brammertz of Belgiuim and the incumbent, Daniel Bellemare, of Canada. Two others claimed to have impeded the tribunal's work are former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, who served as President George W. Bush's national security adviser – in short, the Bush administration.
Serge Brammertz took up his appointment in January, 2006, eleven months after the assassination. He succeeded the German Judge Detlev Mehlis, whom Chancellor Angela Merkel pulled off the job for fear of negative impact on German Middle East policies and relations with Iran.
From the moment Brammertz took over until his resignation two years later in January 2008, his staff described him as spending most of his time dodging political controversy rather than pursuing a serious investigation.
Bellemare, who officiates at present, is portrayed in the CBC investigative report as exploiting his brief to satisfy his obsession with the trappings of UN office, such as ordering in tailored garments, designing a personal coat of arms and boasting about his prosecutorial prowess. His underlings say they have seen security officers being sent to Beirut's modish shopping centers in search of craftsmen to emboss the Bellemare family crest on pieces of jewelry.
It bears noting that the two prosecutors are provided with an annual budget in excess of $40 million and more than 300 staffers from 61 countries. The Tribunal's members, who work out of lavish premises in The Hague, supported by flocks of prosecutors, investigators, clerks and research staff, with access to detention facilities, has not produced a single accused individual in more than four years.
Lebanese Intelligence chief is… a Hizballah mole
The CBC holds Rice and Hadley responsible for obstructing the probe by denying Bellemare's request for access to Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency confidential files on Lebanon and the Hariri murder to streamline his investigative work. The Canadian was not Washington's choice for the job of prosecutor and Bush administration officials did not hold him in terribly high regard, said the CBC report.
But this episode was incidental to the real intelligence bombshell dropped in the investigating report's lap:
The real villain of the piece turns out to be none other than Lebanon's Director of Intelligence, Col. Wissam al Hassan, who was in charge of security for the doomed former prime minister five years ago and is still in the same position today.
Col. al-Hassan is revealed as a Hizballah mole going back to 2004 and up to the present. For six years, he has been passing to Hussein Khalil, first deputy of the Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, every scrap of data not only concerning the Hariri probe but also about the activities of the late politician's son, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources say that if the report's American sources are correct, the traitorous Lebanese intelligence chief was, and remains, in position to access and forestall American and Arab covert operations and policy planning in other parts of the Middle East as well a Lebanon. For many years, he has enjoyed the complete trust of US, French and Arab statesmen, diplomats and spy chiefs. They usually saw him first before any other contacts when they had business in Beirut, believing him solid in his antipathy for Iran, Syria and Hizballah.
Tehran and Damascus were tipped off on US plans
Al-Hassan was deep in the confidence of the Lebanese prime minister, the Director of Saudi General Intelligence, Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulazi and former US ambassador to Beirut Jeffrey D. Feltman, who serves now as Hillary Clinton's Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
Through Wissam al-Hassan, Hizballah leaders were up to the time of writing this article kept abreast in real time of the ins and outs of the Hariri probe and the decisions taken in different quarters in their wake and always stayed a few steps ahead.
Through their Lebanese surrogate, Tehran and Damascus were put in the picture in good time of the diplomatic, military and intelligence moves Washington, Paris and Riyadh proposed to put into action. This advantage explains why all these years, the rulers of Iran and Syria never gave a hoot for Washington's warnings to desist from nefarious activities such as sponsoring terror and meddling in neighboring capitals and carried on without breaking stride.
There is no indication in the CBC exposé of when US intelligence caught on to Col. Hassan's two-timing or when the French, Israelis and Saudis found out, or were tipped off to the danger. It offered only a list of his cell phone conversations with his Hizballah handlers – the scoop which nailed him as a Hizballah mole.
Lebanese politicians bribed to endorse dismantling the Hariri tribunal
Publication of that list triggered a Hizballah counter-attack this week designed to blunt its impact. It came two days later in the form of a set of intelligence "revelations", which are covered in a separate article.
This week too, to keep the Lebanese Shiite group from making good on its threats of violence against Lebanon and Israel, Riyadh, Damascus and Qatar continued to lay out good cash to buy the endorsement of Lebanese politicians to Saad Hariri's final capitulation to Hizballah and its Iranian sponsor. This would entail bowing to their ultimatum and consenting to disown the Special Lebanese Tribunal and declaring its decisions invalid.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 470 of Nov. 19: Lebanon is Abandoned to its Fate – Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri Caves in to Syria and Hizballah).
In Beirut, meanwhile, the CBC's disclosures have scarcely registered.
Col. Wissam al Hassan is still chief of intelligence. The hatch through which America's adversaries are fully apprised of Washington's intentions and actions remains unblocked and active. And even if STL Prosecutor Bellemare warned Tuesday, Nov. 23, that those disclosures may put people's lives in jeopardy, so what? No one in Lebanon or elsewhere in the Middle East seems to care a fig.