Another somber commemoration will take place in Lebanon Saturday, as officials mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, who headed the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces.
The judiciary has yet to come to any conclusions in the case, meaning Hasan’s assassination, for now, is one of the many politically motivated killings of the last decade that remains unpunished. But to focus on this aspect of the explosion in Ashrafieh which took the lives of Hasan, his bodyguard and a bystander does not do justice to Hasan’s legacy.
Hasan was a polarizing figure, since he was identified with one of the rival political camps in Lebanon. But irrespective of whether one loved or loathed the man, he was instrumental in seeing the ISF’s Information Branch play a leading role on the security scene.
Under Hasan’s guidance the branch was instrumental in uncovering a number of networks of Israeli agents operating in Lebanon, and some believe Israel has yet to recover from this series of deadly blows to its intelligence capabilities, and thus war-making capabilities, against Lebanon.
The Information Branch has of course been active on a number of fronts, and purely domestic, non-political crime has been an important area of achievement. But the agency’s work in the realm of “political,” more sensitive crime stands out. Under Hasan, the Information Branch exposed a bombing plot allegedly masterminded by Syrian intelligence officials, which netted former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha as one of the conspirators. Most recently, the Information Branch detained a suspect in the deadly twin car bomb attacks in Tripoli in August, which took nearly 50 lives.
The fact that the Information Branch remains a force to be reckoned with is a testament to Hasan’s legacy. Some might focus on the political roles he played during his career, mediating between various sides, but his contribution to building an institution is infinitely more valuable. Whether in Lebanon or the wider Arab world, the death of a leading figure is often followed by decay and collapse in the institution that such people head. In Hasan’s case, the institution he was associated with has survived him and maintained a record of achievements.
No state agency, especially in the realm of intelligence and security affairs, is likely to be completely free of politics and division. But the Information Branch that flourished under Hasan should serve as a stark reminder to the Lebanese that if their politicians largely stay out of the business of such institutions, such institutions might have a chance to shine, if guided by the right kind of individuals. Politicians must ensure that such government bodies receive the level of funding that they require, and be led by the kind of people who can build for the future.