The Cable

Syrian Rebel Commander Tells Allies: Aleppo Could Be The Next City to Fall

With regime-backed Hezbollah fighters advancing on the rebel stronghold of Aleppo following a swift victory over anti-government forces in Qusair last week, Brigadier General Salmi Idris, leader of the rebels' Supreme Military Council, placed an urgent phone call with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) on Wednesday. "His voice just gave a real sense of urgency and concern" said Casey. "He said what happened in Qusair could happen in Aleppo." Idris apparently got the memo that now is the time to lobby Washington hardest on intervening more aggressively in Syria.

The rebels' defeat to Hezbollah fighters last week cost them a stronghold near the Lebanese border, which they had spent a year fortifying with mines, booby traps, and tunnels. Now, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is preparing an offensive on rebel-held Aleppo, According to reports on the ground, thousands of Alawites enlisted in pro-regime militia groups are headed to Aleppo. The loss of the city would be devastating to the rebels from a strategic standpoint.

Meanwhile, in Washington, an internal memorandum circulating inside the Obama administration says "the intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition mutilple times in the last year," according to the New York Times. The paper reports that Obama "now believes the proof is definitive," meaning the regime violated his own "red line." This comes as senior administration officials have said the decision of whether to arm Syrian rebels has dominated senior-level meetings in the last few days, which Secretary of State John Kerry postponed his trip to Israel to attend. Adding to the grist of Washington's "do-something" caucus, the United Nations revised its official death toll in Syria to 93,000 up from 80,000 in mid-May.

In his conversation with Casey, Idris "made very clear to me, they are in need of not just greater support, but very specific support: anti-tank weaponry and some kind of anti-aircraft weaponry," according to Casey. Speaking to his concerns about losing the rebel-held stronghold of Aleppo, Casey said Idris believed "there are 5,000 Hezbollah fighters prepared to advance on Aleppo with the help of the regime's air superiority."

Casey, of course, has been at the forefront of advocating for more military aid in Syria, authorizing a bill back in March that shaped a weapons bill that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 15-3 vote in May. Other Democrats have similarly pressured the White House to act on Syria such as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ironically, one of the lawmakers providing the most cover for the administration's cautious approach to Syria is Republican Senator Rand Paul, who has warned repeatedly that militarizing the conflict could put weapons in the hands of extremist groups, such as the al Qaeda aligned al-Nusrah Front.

During his phone call with Idris, Casey said "I emphasized that we can not be seen as helping al Nusrah or any other extremist groups and Idris made it clear to me that he agrees." The Pentagon, meanwhile, has vacillated about whether it's logistically possible to keep weapons out the hands of extremists in a conflict involving a complex mix of opposition groups. The rebels -- and Casey -- may want the weapons. Getting them is another matter.

The Cable

Exclusive: CIA Officer Sues Agency Over ‘War Crimes’ Probe

A new lawsuit brought by a current CIA officer hints at the existence of a secret overseas paramilitary operation that triggered war crimes allegations, The Cable has learned.

On Friday, "John Doe," an undercover paramilitary officer will file suit against the CIA for "unreasonable delay" of an Inspector General investigation into "alleged war crimes committed in an overseas location." (The operation remains highly classified; details about when and where it occurred remain secret.)

According to his lawyer Mark Zaid, Doe was engaged in "offensive operations against individuals designated or viewed as enemies of the United States." His client believes he did nothing wrong, according to Zaid, but witnessed events that "concerned him." Zaid declined to outline what those concerning events might be. 

The CIA's paramilitary activities have come under heavy scrutiny in recent months. With the ascension of John Brennan to the top of agency, there have been renewed calls in Congress to rein in the CIA's drone strikes and return Langley to traditional mission of gathering human intelligence. President Obama even took the unusual step in late May of publicly defending the agency's targeted killing operations -- while pledging to subject them to new constraints. Brennan himself has expressed his desire to scale back some of the agency's traditional military activities. "While the CIA needs to maintain a paramilitary capability," Brennan said in February, "the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities."

Unlike in the latest string of disclosures about the State Department and the National Security Agency, Doe does not consider himself a whistleblower, Zaid says. The purpose of the suit is to bring an end to the IG's open investigation into the alleged war crimes, which has put Doe on administrative suspension. "It has ruined his career," said Zaid.

But the process of taking legal action has led to the partial disclosure of the operation in question, and other unusual allegations. (The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

For instance, following the operation, Zaid says his client's computer and cell phone were compromised by cyber hackers. At first, the client believed a foreign power was responsible and notified the FBI, which opened an investigation but could not determine the origin of the attack. After working with the FBI in its investigation, and finding it unusually cooperative, Zaid suspects the CIA was spying on his client.

The suit also reveals that the Department of Justice opened, and eventually closed, a criminal investigation into alleged war crimes carried out by CIA personnel. The IG investigation is believed to have been started between 2010 and 2011.

While it's unclear where the mission occurred, covert paramilitary operations by the CIA have become increasingly common in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq over the past several years. On targeted killing missions, the CIA often collaborates with the U.S. Joint Special Operation Command, which oversees the nation's elite military units. But, as The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Julie Tate have reported, the lines of authority can be murky.

"You couldn't tell the difference between CIA officers, Special Forces guys and contractors," a senior U.S. official who toured through Afghanistan told The Post. "They're all three blended together. All under the command of the CIA." As a result of the overlapping roles, congressional committees covering intelligence and armed services often get an incomplete view of CIA paramilitary operations.

In any case, Zaid's suit opens a small crack into the type of covert missions that rarely see the light of day. Whether more will be uncovered about this specific operation is yet to be seen. Below is a copy of the suit Zaid plans to file tomorrow:

Complaint - FINAL