When friends like Jordan steal weapons
SCEPTICS of American ef forts to arm anti-government rebels in Syria have long worried that weapons could be diverted to opposing forces or terrorists. But they did not expect diversion by members of Jordan’s vaunted intelligence service, which was working with the United States to train the rebels. Revelations, by The Times and Al Jazeera, of just such theft have shown how even a supposedly stalwart ally can undermine American interests and aid its enemies.
In a joint investigation, the news organisations found that Jordanian intelligence agents had systematically stolen and sold on the black market millions of dollars of weapons shipped into the country by the CIA and Saudi Arabia for use by Syrian rebels. Some of the weapons were used in a shooting in November in which a Jordanian officer killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, they reported.
The news is shocking in part because the United States has long considered Jordan one of its closest allies in the region. The country has been an active partner in the American-led airstrikes against the ISIS and has provided a critical staging ground for training, arming and coordinating rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. About 2,000 American forces were stationed in Jordan as of January. The United States has promised Jordan at least $3 billion in military and economic aid through 2017, partly to help it cope with about 650,000 Syrian refugees.
The CIA helped Jordan establish its intelligence service — the General Intelligence Directorate, or GID — during the reign of King Hussein, who died in 1999. Although the agency is respected in Washington as a professional and competent force, two of its recent leaders have gone to prison for embezzlement, money laundering and bank fraud. This latest case suggests there is corruption throughout the organisation.
Instead of delivering the weapons to the American-backed rebels, the Jordanian officers involved in the recent swindle sold Kalashnikov rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to several large arms bazaars that have long stocked the arsenals of criminal gangs, tribes and other groups. Then the officers bought themselves SUVs, iPhones and other luxuries. Although word of the theft reached the Jordanian government last year, the operation was not shut down until a few months ago, after American and Saudi complaints. GID investigators arrested several dozen officers involved in the scheme, and the officers were fired. But they were eventually freed and permitted to keep their pensions and profits from the theft.
The revelations obviously shred the credibility of the Jordanian government and its intelligence service when it comes to fighting corruption. Yet they are also an indictment of the CIA, which for three years has been responsible for training thousands of rebels considered moderates to use Kalashnikovs, mortars, guided antitank missiles and other weapons. President Obama at first resisted giving the rebels lethal weapons because of the risk that they would fall into the wrong hands. But in 2013, he authorised the covert programme and charged the CIA with vetting the rebels and controlling the flow of arms. The CIA has failed in its oversight of the weapons. This scandal should be a warning to those, including Hillary Clinton, who want to deepen American military involvement in Syria. — The New York Times