The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain acknowledges Syrian opposition was Saudi proxy – after pushing for regime change

A newly released NSA document shows clearly that the so-called moderate Syrian opposition was following orders from its patron, Saudi Arabia.

In March 2013, the Saudi regime armed the Free Syrian Army with 120 tons of explosive and weapons. Prince Salman bin Sultan then ordered it to “light up Damascus” and “flatten” the airport.

Freedom-loving FSA fighters happily followed orders from the freedom-loving Wahhabi Saudi absolute monarchy and proceeded to launch a rocket attack on the Syrian capital.

The Saudi regime was “very pleased” with the attack, the NSA document noted.

nsa syria rebels saudi attack

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked this document in 2013, yet is was only released four years later — when the war in Syria is effectively over.

Even more strangely, this bombshell document was in fact reported on by someone who has consistently and openly pushed for regime change in Syria for years, echoing the CIA narrative on the horrific war in the country.

Murtaza Hussain, regime change aficionado

Murtaza Hussain, the Intercept reporter and author of the new report “NSA Document Says Saudi Prince Directly Ordered Coordinated Attack By Syrian Rebels On Damascus,” has repeatedly written absurd propaganda that echoes the CIA on Syria.

With this article, Hussain is still in denial, while hinting at the truth. Much of his piece is devoted to rewriting the history of the proxy war in Syria and rehabilitating the reputation of the opposition, which was armed and trained by the progressive utopias in the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. But it does softly imply the uncomfortable reality: from very early on in the war, the Syrian opposition was a proxy for reactionary foreign powers, which knowingly empowered al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Releasing this NSA document years ago could have actually had an impact on the war in Syria. Today, the conflict is in its final stages — and the US lost. But Murtaza Hussain and much of the CIA-echoing “left” were too busy defending regime change to report on the privately owned Snowden document earlier.

In August, when the far-right racist billionaire-in-chief Donald Trump demonized anti-fascists as the “alt-left,” I wrote a report for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project detailing how Murtaza Hussain was one of the motley crew of anti-anti-imperialist journalists who helped popularize the bogus term “alt-left” to smear the anti-war left.

I wrote:

Murtaza Hussain: A reporter at The Intercept who has long attacked anti-war journalists and consistently denied and downplayed U.S.-backed Gulf regimes’ support for extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Hussain lobbed softball interviews at the spokesman of Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate and wrote a puff piece on Bilal Abdul Kareem, a top al-Qaeda propagandist in Syria whose services were similarly employed by CNN. Hussain used the term “alt-left” multiple times to disparage the anti-imperialist left before deleting all 40,000 of his tweets in December — a bizarre move for an employee of a publication supposedly dedicated to transparency.

Yet that’s not all. Murtaza Hussain has also written articles for The Intercept that uncritically echo the CIA perspective on Syria and rely on analysis from neoconservative “experts” at Gulf-funded think tanks.

In August 2016, Hussain wrote an article quoting Charles Lister, one of the most notoriously hawkish self-styled experts on Syria. Hussain merely noted that Lister is “a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute”; he didn’t provide any background information about the war hawk — like, you know, the fact that he has for years lobbied for the US military to violently topple the government in Damascus. (That October, Lister went on to pen an op-ed with a former U.S. general for the Washington Post, in which they called for precisely this.)

Hussain also failed to disclose in his report that Charles Lister’s employer the Middle East Institute — as the Intercept would later report — is bankrolled by the UAE, and by Saudi Arabia. More recent leaks also show it to be a vehicle of influence for the reactionary Emirati regime. And Lister’s former employer, the Brookings Doha Center, is likewise financed by Qatar.


Similarly, Murtaza Hussain has written at least three articles on Syria quoting another notoriously hawkish analyst, Hassan Hassan. Hassan, who is close to Lister, shares his affinity for regime change and his reluctance to criticize hyper-authoritarian, ultra-reactionary Gulf regimes. Hassan was also previously a fellow at the US and UK government-funded, sine qua non establishment think tank Chatham House, and an editor for the UAE regime mouthpiece newspaper The National.

This is the kind of laughably propagandistic, uncritical reporting coming from a publication that markets itself as the home of “Fearless, adversarial journalism that holds the powerful accountable.” And Murtaza Hussain is not alone; recent The Intercept hires like fact checker Mariam Elba are still doing PR for Syria’s Salafi rebels — when not getting basic facts about the war in Syria embarrassingly wrong.


New The Intercept editor and reporter Maryam Saleh is also spreading sectarian propaganda calling Shia “dogs,” demonizing elected foreign heads of state targeted for regime change by the US as “dictators,” and declaring “Death to Hezbollah.”

When it comes to Syria, the US-UK-Saudi-Qatari-Turkish proxy forces are clearly the revolutionary ones; if one were to read virtually all “progressive” English-language media outlets for the past six years, this would be the natural conclusion.

None of us is perfect. I was personally hopelessly deluded about Syria in the early years of the war there — thanks to rampant propaganda like this. But I eventually sobered up. Much of the Respectable Left™ did not. It certainly helped that challenging the CIA-MI6-Saudi-Qatari-Turkish narrative on Syria really, really hurts one’s job prospects.