E-mails released by the secret-spilling group WikiLeaks
on Friday reveal an attempt by an American-British public relations firm to advise embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad
on how to spin the war against his dissidents.
WikiLeaks said earlier this week that it is in the process of publishing material from 2.4 million Syrian emails, which will prove “embarrassing to Syria,
but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.”
According to a report in the Washington Post, the documents have also proved to be embarrassing to Syria’s surrogates in the United States.
The first batch of documents contained communications between the Syrian government and its PR firm Brown Lloyd James (BLJ). The firm has represented several undemocratic regimes in the past, included that of Muammar Gaddafi
in Libya. Moreover, it has worked on behalf of supporters of the Mujaheedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group identified as a terrorist organization by the US.
In one document, the firm advises the Syrian regime on how to create the appearance it is pursuing reform while repressing the uprising.
“If hard power is necessary to quell rebellion, soft power is needed to reassure the Syrian people and outside audiences that reform is proceeding apace, legitimate grievances are being addressed and taken seriously, and that Syria’s actions are ultimately aimed at creating an environment in which change and progress can take place,” the document read, according to the Washington Post.
The document also called for the creation of a campaign that would generate "media coverage outside of Syria that points to the President’s difficult task of wanting reform, but (would be) conducted in an non-chaotic, rational way.”
Brown Lloyd James claimed last August that “its work for the Syrian government ended in December 2010.” The Syrian e-mail released by WikiLeaks, which contained the BLJ plan as an attachment, is dated May 19, 2011. According to the Microsoft Word document properties, the proposal was written by BJL partner Michael Holtzman on May 15, 2011.
In a response sent to the Washington Post, BLJ said that the memos were e-mailed to Assad's wife, Asma,
after the company had already halted its work with the Syrian government due to the escalating unrest. The memos were nothing but an attempt to persuade the Syrian regime to stop the violence, the company claimed.
“(...) we sent the Office of the First Lady an unsolicited last-ditch memo — for which we were not paid — urging the leadership in plain terms to recognize that they still had time to avoid an escalating bloodbath and urgently implement reforms. Above all, BLJ boldly and directly encouraged the government to listen to the demands of the Syrian people. Our message was timely and consonant with that of the US government.
“Unfortunately, our advice was ignored, resulting in the ongoing and escalating violence against the Syrian people. Our professional and voluntary involvement in the country ended when the regime proved irredeemable and US sanctions were imposed.”