The growing slaughter of innocent civilians by the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad — and his brother Maher Assad — is posing quite a challenge for the international community which risks a re-run of the impotence demonstrated during the Balkan crisis. The situation in Syria is different however and opens doors to more creative approaches at intervention. Its time to deploy the high-tech tools of information warfare.
The regime currently operates with impunity because they have almost total control over the information flow out of the country. The ban on foreign journalists entering the country means that apologists for the regime like Reem Haddad — whose perfect english tones and presentation skills maker her one of the scariest individuals I have encountered — control the news agenda. A particularly obnoxious example of her spin can be found here. It doesn’t matter how ludicrous are her statements, anyone interviewing her is left defenseless without hard facts from on the ground.
This complete control over the flow of information of course emboldens the regime and means they feel they can act with impunity and very little fear of consequence. Imagine for a moment if high quality — independently verified video — of the military shooting innocent — peaceful demonstrators was being shown on the BBC and CBS every evening. Ms Haddad would have a very hard time spinning her way out of that situation and Russian and Chinese objections to the implementations of appropriate UN resolutions would be very hard to avoid.
The solution to this information drought already exists and it doesn’t even need «Boots on the ground.» Its called a Predator and its a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with very sophisticated video surveillance capabilities. The US deploys predator drones over Afghanistan and Iraq every day for exactly this type of intelligence gathering. Syria’s geographic location — being surrounded by US allies — Turkey, Jordan and Israel — would provide perfect bases for launching such surveillance flights and would provide the short flight times necessary to respond to rapidly developing situations. Deploying predators over Syria would bring much needed balance to the flow of information.
As with all plans there will be objections to this one. Syria will squeal to the UN about breaches of it territorial rights. However, slaughtering your own citizens and gross human rights violations probably doesn’t give you the highest ground in that debate. Syria also has a very effective army and air-force capability — unlike Libya. It also has surface to air defenses so a few drones are probably going to be lost to enemy fire in the campaign. However, the knowledge that — at any minute — your actions on the ground may be subject to high-resolution video surveillance may be threat enough to have the regime think again about its strategy.
In my view the benefits of deploying this capability far outweigh any possible objections. These high-tech «Eyes in the Sky» have all the capability needed to feed real-time high quality video direct from scene and that is exactly what the population of Syria needs right now. Barbarous dictators like the Assad brothers like to operate under the cloak of darkness.
It really is time to turn on the spot-light.