Syrian intelligence: Who do we believe? Consider the source

How can we know if we are getting accurate information when we watch the analysts on the news? Maybe there are other sources. Photo: Kerry meets Lavrov in Geneva (

CHARLOTTESeptember 13, 2013 – Virtually anyone can become a source of legitimate information these days. Recently a local restaurant owner in Charlotte, N.C. known only to his customers as Billy returned from his annual vacation in his home country of Lebanon.

Nobody knows Billy’s last name, but even if they did, they probably couldn’t pronounce it.

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Billy’s restaurant is called “Sammy’s,” but that’s another story. Chalk it up to a sign of the times and let it go at that.

Billy (left) and chef Brandon (Taylor)

Upon his return, many of Billy’s customers wanted to know how far he was from the chaos in Syria and what his opinions were. Though he speaks English quite well, Billy is easily excitable and when he becomes agitated he also gets louder and less coherent.

Despite that, Billy, like most of his countrymen, is vocal about what he thinks.

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But here’s the question. Is Billy giving us good information or not?

Certainly it is relatively first-hand or, at least, more first-hand than we have access to in the U.S. But how accurate is it?

According to Billy, and the opinions of many people in Lebanon, al Qaeda was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Syria not President Assad. Until recently, most media sources disregarded that premise and, indeed, the Obama administration’s closed door briefings presided by Secretary of State John Kerry strongly insisted that the culprit was Assad.

As Billy observed from roughly 200 miles beyond the Syrian border, Islamists, including al Qaeda, were infiltrating rebel forces against Assad, but several of the talking heads in the United States claimed the terrorists were in the north of Syria and not involved.

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So authoritative was some of that information that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) cited an important op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal by Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. O’Bagy, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War later made appearances on CNN and FOX News claiming the Islamists in Syria were in the north and west and not part of the rebel’s insurgency.

McCain in Syria (

Quoting from O’Bagy’s column, McCain read “contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards.”

Not inconsequential considering the foreign policy decisions being based upon O’Bagy’s words. That sentence had significant impact on McCain as well as John Kerry who were both supporting the Obama administration’s proposal for military intervention.

Only a few days prior to O’Bagy’s interviews, retired four-star Army general Jack Keane, who is Chairman of the Board at the ISW offered the same information. Keane’s statements were not only bold but definitive and contrary to other reports which stated the Islamists had infiltrated the rebel forces.

Suddenly, on Wednesday, the ISW fired O’Bagy after learning she had falsely represented her Ph.D. credentials.

Immediately other journalists spoke up to express how stunned they had been when the previously unknown 26-year-old researcher was presenting expert analysis about a region where she had never worked.

In the end, Kerry, McCain and Keane all had egg on their faces for placing their credibility on the merits of a non-credible source.

The point being that the more accurate information was gathered from a simple Lebanese restaurant owner than the so-called “experts” from whom we are basing our foreign policy.

Says Billy, “I used to go home once or twice a year. Now I will never go back. I have friends who look just like you and me, but they are Hezbollah. They go to Syria, fight a couple of weeks and come back to Lebanon. The Islamists aren’t Syrians. They’re from other places. Arabs are stupid. They’re ignorant. They’re like dogs. You tell them to sit and they sit. The Arabs don’t do nothin’. We  need to get out. Let them fight each other. We got no business there.”

Maybe we should listen to Billy. Maybe he has a better grasp of the world he once called home than the people we rely upon for our information.

We could do worse.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (  

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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