Classified cables show that the State Department has been funding Syrian opposition groups, including efforts like a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country. Barada TV, the London-based satellite channel, began broadcasting in April 2009 but increased operations to cover recent protests. The channel is closely tied to the Movement for Justice and Development, a network of Syrian exiles based in London. The Washington Post calls the station "part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow" Bashar al-Assad, the autocrat who succeeded his father's 29-year rule. The classified cables, released by WikiLeaks, show $6 million in funding from the State Department to operate Barada TV and finance other activities inside the country. The U.S. began sending money under President George W. Bush in 2005, after he froze ties with Damascus. But the cables show the money continued to be set aside at least through September 2010, which could endanger President Obama's rapprochement with Assad. In January, for example, Obama named an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.
The cables also show that the U.S. reconsidered its involvement as far back as 2009, when Syrian intelligence began to raise questions:
Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable said.
The State Department refuses to comment on the cables, only saying that the agency "does not endorse political parties or movements." Considering that Assad administration was already blaming the violence that human-rights groups claim has killed 200 protesters on "armed gangs," these cables will likely make it easier for Assad to blame outside forces for the anti-regime sentiment and violent crackdowns, as both Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi have done.