Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lebanese security officer charged with helping foreign intelligenceBEIRUT: Lebanon’s Military Tribunal is prosecuting a General Security officer on charges of bribery and of preparing reports on Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda and possible terrorist elements in Lebanon on behalf of an unnamed European country.

 Military Investigating Magistrate Jean Fahd charged the unidentified officer, who worked as an inspector at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, with "disobeying military rules to realize a material and personal benefit by preparing security reports and sending them to non-Lebanese parties."

A European intelligence agency had asked the officer to provide it with various forms of information about Al-Qaeda and other militant groups operating in Lebanon, the judicial sources said.

The inspector performed the service but has told investigators that the information he passed on was gathered exclusively from news clippings and entailed no actual espionage.

"He said that every time he read in newspapers about someone arrested for having links to Al-Qaeda or any terrorist activity, he would inform the foreign party, pretending it was exclusive information, and get paid for it," one judicial source told The Daily Star.

The European intelligence agency recently asked the officer to provide it with information about Hizbullah, but he turned down that request and was arrested shortly afterward when a colleague reported his activities, the source added.

A judicial source said the officer would not be charged with spying because "the assistance he provided does not include secret information that harms national security or the security of any Lebanese group."

Military expert Elias Hanna told that turning over public information does not constitute spying.

"If it was general information and pictures of posts and centers, then it has no importance," Hanna said.

As-Safir newspaper reported on Wednesday that the defendant, from the Northern city of Tripoli, had been detained for spying on Hizbullah on behalf of an unnamed European country. The newspaper said senior security officers had kept the suspect under surveillance for a month before arresting him in January.

The suspect’s activities included attempts to recruit civilians as well as colleagues at the airport, filming Hizbullah bases and institutions and using Global Positioning System technology to pinpoint locations of interest, the As-Safir report said.

The daily quoted anonymous sources as saying that the European country in question was not known to have any interest in spying on Hizbullah.

The report also speculated that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, claiming to be a European service, could be behind the matter.

Security officials raided the suspect’s home and found maps, pictures and videotapes of Hizbullah bases in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the South, the Bekaa Valley and Beirut, the newspaper added. A digital camera was also confiscated.

In June 2006 security officials uncovered a two-member Israeli spying network and arrested one suspect.

The two were accused in the May 2006 assassination of two members of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad in the Southern city of Sidon.

In a separate development, the new director of US intelligence said that Hizbullah is a key element of Iran’s regional strategy and that the Lebanese group could carry out attacks against US interests.

Retired Admiral Michael McConnell told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Hizbullah had made "contingency plans to conduct attacks against US interests in the event it feels its survival – or that of Iran – is threatened."

He also said that Hizbullah and Iran are training Iraqi Shiites at sites in Iran and Lebanon in the use of armor-piercing munitions of the kind blamed for the deaths of 170 US troops in Iraq.

"We believe Hizbullah is involved in the training as well," McConnell said.