BEIRUT: International security agencies from around the world, many of whom are adversarial in nature, are largely responsible for assisting Lebanese security forces in countering terrorist networks.
“External intel feeds and intelligence sharing from the ICs [Intelligence Communities] in countries that include the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Assad’s Syria” have been some of the main collaborators with Lebanon’s intelligence community, said Aram Nerguizian, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Since the outbreak of civil war in neighboring Syria, a wave of violence has disturbed the security situation in Lebanon. A series of car bombs rocked different areas of the country causing panic and striking fear into the hearts of many citizens.
In April, however, a security plan was put into effect and the attacks effectively ceased. June saw a resumption of attacks, though on a much smaller scale, as three bombs hit Lebanon in less than a week. The attacks renewed anxiety in Lebanon that the security situation would unravel into a near weekly attacks. But as quickly as the explosions returned, they went away as media reported on the dismantling of several terror networks and security raids on arms depots.
A number of former security officers and analysts interviewed said that recent improvements were due primarily to two factors: Information provided by foreign intelligence agencies and an increase in coordination between Lebanon’s various security agencies.
Lebanon’s major security agencies that have intelligence branches working to stifle terrorist networks include the Army Intelligence, the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch, and more recently, General Security.
“It is all about Western intelligence,” said a member of the Internal Security Forces with the rank of captain, who asked his name be withheld because did not have permission to speak to media.
“With intel focusing on extremist groups since 9/11 [foreign intelligence agencies] have large databases and can infiltrate networks using Internet and telecom network surveillance,” said a security analyst, who asked his name be withheld for personal and professional reasons.
These databases provide extra pieces to the puzzle for Lebanon’s intelligence community. As a former security officer, requesting anonymity for professional reasons, put it: “Any piece of information, even if it is from 10 to 20 years ago, can be pieced together to help or stop crimes.”
Other analysts said that American and European intelligence agencies in particular were providing the most information.
Analysts said local intelligence agencies would receive information from abroad and then use it to consolidate data they possessed. They then use the corroborated intelligence, gathered through several sources, to take action against potential security threats.
But sharing information has also increased on a local level, a first for security agencies, often mired in political affiliation and competition.
“We’ve seen more cooperation between LMI [Lebanese Army Intelligence], ISF Intel Branch [Information Branch] and GSD [General Security] in the last 16 months than I can recall in the post-2005 period,” Nerguizian said.
This is a fresh development from the days when distrust emanated between security agencies. “There is no embarrassment in coordination between all security and military apparatuses to implement laws and pursue criminals and wanted individuals,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in the latest issue of General Security’s magazine.
“Cooperation wasn’t so good [in the past] and it could have been much better,” said the former security officer. “Every head of each agency wanted to look like a hero.”
He pointed to the examples of Jamil Sayyed and General Security and late Wissam al-Hasan at the ISF.
“Everyone wanted to establish their own agency in a way to say ‘look what I can do,’” he said, noting that the recent sharing of information seems to have drastically improved the performance of the security agencies.
“The government is now telling law enforcement agencies to increase cooperation,” said the ISF captain. “Every agency has competition but the government is insisting we cooperate.”