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Will Australian Intelligence Agencies or Special Forces Troops find themselves Operating in Syria?


Rob Scott

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 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[8]. 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.” [9]

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



[1] 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

[2] 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

[3] 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


[4]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


[5] Bush, The National Security Strategy 2002, viewed 15th August 2012 at :http//www.georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/nsc/nss/2002/


[6] Desmond Ball, An Australian Cyber-warfare Centre, in: Australia and Cyberwarfare – 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

[7] 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/asis60

[8] 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


About robscott172

Independent academic, researcher and writer. Musician, Songwriter, Event organiser.


2 thoughts on “Will Australian Intelligence Agencies or Special Forces Troops find themselves Operating in Syria?

  1. Reblogged this on robscott172.

    Posted by robscott172 | August 15, 2012, 7:07 am
  2. Excuse layout issues, especially Giant footnotes, a common problem with publishing to blogs.Rob Scott

    Posted by robscott172 | August 15, 2012, 7:08 am

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