15th August 2012
Rob Scott is an independent academic (MA International Relations) and commentator,
specialising in Intelligence Services.
A report by US journalist Eric S Margolis indicates that the United States is already deeply
involved in a secret operation to support the revolt currently underway in Syria.
Margolis is a respected journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, International
Herald Tribune and TheLos Angeles Times. Building upon the history of secret operations by US and
French forces to help the recent Libyan insurrection, Margolis has been able to construct a picture of
emerging high level clandestine US support for the Syrian opposition. This support includes command
and control resources, encrypted signals networks and sophisticated weaponry such as Stinger
It is of note that the ABC in Australia reported on 13th August that the US was not ruling out employing
and enforcing a no-fly zone in north-western Syria. This report derived from a revealing aet of
answers on the question of Syria by John O Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland
Security and Counterterrorism when speaking to the US think tank, The Council on Foreign relations
on US Policy towards Yemen.
Of additional interest is Margolis’ as yet unverified suggestion that US mercenaries, organised by the
organisation formerly known as Blackwater but now re-branded as Academi are training Syrian rebels
in Turkey and possibly sending combat teams into Syria.
This information is in addition to the recent public revelation that the CIA was conducting a support
operation from a southern Turkish military base, ostensibly to co-ordinate the distribution of ‘non
lethal’ US aid to the Syrian opposition.
The US system of covert and clandestine warfare, which has assumed an even greater prominence
under President Obama, has now assumed a major role in the Foreign Policy arsenal of the US.
Avoiding already nominal Congressional oversight over ‘covert’ operations, the US has classified
operations such as the Libyan and Syrian interventions as ‘clandestine’, and thus subject to military
secrecy, in that they are conducted by Joint Special Operations Command teams. The teams are
subject to CIA derived objectives and direction, but clandestine operations are carried out by Military
Special Operations forces such as Navy Seal Team 6, which conducted the raid on Osama Bin
Laden’s compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan in 2011.
Under the umbrella of the ‘War on Terror’, the US has established military doctrines which permit
them to carry out the policies enunciated by George W Bush in 2002, which claimed the right for the
US to pursue its enemies, anywhere at any time.
US ‘hot pursuit’ doctrines, developed in Vietnam and later through the Drug Wars carried on by the
US Drug Enforcement Agency have given way to the doctrine of ‘Preparing the Battlefield’. This
doctrine permits the US to establish long term clandestine teams in nations it perceives may at some
stage become an enemy, or may harbour such enemies.
Such operations may be effectively permanent, illegal and belligerent military-political teams,
established to give the US the ability to destabilise and overthrow unfriendly or un-cooperative
It is in this context that one must consider the potential for Australian involvement in activities such
such as those currently being undertaken in Syria.
Australian military doctrine and Foreign Policy have been ever more closely allied in recent times and
customised to provide a tight fit with the requirements of coalition based military operations, such as
those in Iraq and Afghanistan.Desmond Ball, the renowned Australian researcher has noted recently
the doctrinal blinkers with which the Australian military has perceived the emerging field of Cyber
Warfare, essentially as a mere adjunct to existing battlefield based counter-insurgency warfare
capabilities. This is symbolic of the deep commitment of Australian political and military institutions to
strategic and tactical orientations recently derived from the US alliance.
The Australian Defence Forces have become heavily enmeshed in the carrying out of US strategies in
Iraq and in Afghanistan. Conditioned by more than ten years of counter-insurgency warfare, they have
become enmeshed in the US experience and in developments in US doctrine.
Recent public statements by the head of ASIS also reveal that our external Intelligence agency has
extended its own operations to include a far wider variety of countries than previously has been the
Of note in this matter is the revelation in 2012 that Australian SAS troops had been operating for ASIS
clandestinely in a variety of African states. ASIS, our own version of the CIA, has been conducting
these operations using Special Forces personnel, rather than ASIS operatives, ostensibly in order to
gain information on possible terrorist threats to Australia. ASIS operatives are now allowed to carry
weapons in self defence, but intelligence doctrine may well stretch that privilege to permit their use in
‘counter-espionage’ activities, which opens the way for ASIS and SAS members working for them to
be involved in clandestine acts involving firearms. If ASIS and Australian Special Forces capabilities
already include a presence in the middle east, in countries other than Iraq, as is probable, it may
make them attractive as resources to be called on in pursuit of US objectives in the region.
Evidence that this scenario may have some basis in fact is the report that then Australian Foreign
Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd asked for troopers from SAS 4 Squadron to be used in Libya in 2011, but
was “thwarted by opposition from the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, and the Chief of the
Australian Defence Force.” 
Despite the emphasis on an independent intelligence capability in Nick Warner’s recent ’ASIS at 60’
speech, the extent to which ASIS doctrine now appears to be operating in harmony with recent US
policy orientations, begs the question as to how deeply Australian Intelligence and Special forces
are embedded in the ‘clandestine’ strategies of the US, especially in the Middle East. It is not a great
stretch of the imagination to see how Australian agents and sources, and possibly Australian
personnel might be partners in US operations against governments such as that of Syria.
If the US is arming, training and providing command and control resources for a clandestine
operation, aimed at destroying the Syrian government, then its Australian allies are well placed to
provide support in a variety of ways. This may be as simple as providing information to its US
counterparts, through the networks which ASIS appears to be maintaining, or it may be more direct.
It is also quite likely that former Australian Special Forces members are already involved as
mercenaries in Syria, working for companies such as Blackwater/Academi.
The depth of US and Allied involvement in the downfall of the Libyan government and soon of the
Syrian government will ultimately be revealed. The extent to which it involves an extension of the
Bush Doctrine and its goals of regime change by the Osama Presidency, or the potential
‘Balkanisation of the Middle East’, as Eric Margolis has implied, remains to be seen.
Although the US has thus far represented its response to the Syrian crisis as that of a supporter of a
coalition of localised forces, including Quatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that wish to end the violence
against Syrian civilians, there remains a possibility that Australian forces and agencies may already
have been asked to become involved or may eventually provide support for such actions.
Are Australian Intelligence agencies and their surrogates already working in Syria? As yet there is no
evidence or proof, but given the support given by the Gillard government to US actions in Iraq and
Afghanistan there is no guarantee that proposals like those made by former Foreign Minister Rudd in
2011 will not emerge again to haunt the Defense and Intelligence Agencies of Australia.
15th August 2012
 Eric S Margolis. Syria the Invisible hand of Foreign Intervention. Viewed 14th August 2012 at:http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/syria-the-invisible-hand-foreign-intervention
 U.S. Policy Toward Yemen. Speaker: John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
Presider: Margaret Warner, Senior Correspondent, “PBS NewsHour” August 8, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations. Viewed 15th August 2012:Transcript downloaded at: http://www.cfr.org/united-states/us-policy-toward-yemen/p28794
 Eric S Margolis “…. unverified reports from the Mideast suggest that the U.S. mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater (it recently changed its name to Academi) is training Syrian rebels in Turkey, moving in veteran mercenaries from Iraq, where there were once fifty thousand U.S.-paid private soldiers, and sending combat units into Syria.” Viewed 14th August 2012 at: http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/syria-the-invisible-hand-foreign-intervention-7318?page=1
Eric Schmitt C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition. New York Times. June 21, 2012: viewed 15th August 2012 at:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?pagewanted=all
 Bush, The National Security Strategy 2002, viewed 15th August 2012 at :http//www.georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/nsc/nss/2002/
 Desmond Ball, An Australian Cyber-warfare Centre, in: Australia and Cyber–warfare – ANU E Press – Australian National University, Chapter 6, p. 143, viewed 20th July, 2012 at:http//www.epress.anu.edu.au/sdsc/cyber_warfare/pdf/whole_book.pdf
 Nick Warner, Director-General Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS at 60 | Lowy Institute for International Policy, 19 July 2012. Viewed 15th August 2012 at: http://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/asis–60
 Rafael Epstein, Dylan Welch, Secret SAS teams hunt for terrorists, March 13, 2012: viewed 14th August 2012 at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/secret-sas-teams-hunt-for-terrorists-20120312-1uwhy.html#ixzz23V1ZRuWT
“A secret squadron of Australian SAS soldiers has been operating at large in Africa, performing work normally done by spies, in an unannounced and possibly dangerous expansion of Australia’s foreign military engagement.”The deployment of the SAS’s 4 Squadron – the existence of which has never been publicly confirmed – has put the special forces unit at the outer reaches of Australian and international law. The Herald has confirmed that troopers from the squadron have mounted dozens of secret operations during the past year in various African nations, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya.”
viewed 14th August 2012 at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/secret-sas-teams-hunt-for-terrorists-20120312-1uwhy.html#ixzz23V1ZRuWT
 Rafael Epstein, Dylan Welch ibid. http://www.smh.com.au/national/secret-sas-teams-hunt-for-terrorists-20120312-1uwhy.html#ixzz23V1ZRuWT