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Alex Rowell

Friends in the media

Emails reveal conspicuously warm relations between several Western journalists and the regime

(Illustration by NOW)

Attention has already been drawn in previous leaks to international journalists who were in contact with Bashar al-Assad’s media aides. Many of these reporters were simply requesting interviews with the president, after obtaining the relevant email addresses through third-party contacts.

 

Other journalists, however, appeared to take things further; seemingly developing friendships with the aides, exchanging comments flattering to the president and disparaging of his opponents, and even sharing information about the presence of other reporters in rebel-held areas (see, e.g., the case of Israeli-American journalist Nir Rosen*).

 

Below, NOW highlights other previously-unseen correspondence between journalists and the regime’s inner circle that appears to go above and beyond professional requirement.

 

 

Hala Jaber

 

On 6 February 2012, Hala Jaber, the award-winning Lebanese-British Sunday Times correspondent, sent an email to a man named George Chawi. The following day, Chawi forwarded the email to Sheherazad Jaafari, a key media aide of Bashar al-Assad’s and daughter of Syria’s ambassador to the UN, who promptly forwarded it to Assad. The email’s content was an article by Foreign Policy about the hacker group Anonymous “exposing the email accounts of top aides to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and posting the passwords online.” The subject of the email was “Intibho”—an Arabic phrase meaning “Be careful” in second-person plural (i.e. approximately “You guys be careful”).

 

The previous year, on 14 November 2011, George Chawi was added to a list of European Union sanctions on Syrian regime-affiliated individuals. The EU described Chawi as a “member of the Syrian electronic army […] involved in the violent crackdown and call for violence against the civilian population across Syria.” The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) is a pro-Assad hacking group, linked variously to the regime itself or to Iran.

 

A source knowledgeable about Chawi, who declined to be named, described him to NOW as the owner of a café in the Damascus Four Seasons Hotel popular with senior regime members, including intelligence operatives. According to this source, Chawi’s involvement with the SEA chiefly comprised harnessing these mukhabarat connections, as well as raising funds, rather than working on the computing side of the operation.

 

The timing of Jaber’s email indicates she was seeking to protect Chawi nearly three months after the EU had implicated him in “violence against the civilian population” in Syria. When contacted by NOW last Tuesday, Jaber declined to comment.

 

Other emails demonstrate Jaber’s reporting was seen as favorable within regime circles. An interview she had secured with Assad in Damascus in November 2011 was shared with the president by Jaafari one day prior to publication with the comment: “This will be published!!!! i love this sentence!” On the date of publication, Chawi himself emailed the article to Hadeel al-Ali, another key media aide, who then forwarded it to Assad, saying “you2berni  yalli "could be mistaken for a young business executive"  as she said. Wow, somebody looks HOTTTT..” (“You2berni yalli […]” roughly translates as “I could die [of love] for he who […]”.)

 

Presumably, Assad shared Ali’s satisfaction. In March 2013, Jaber managed once again to interview the president in Damascus; his “first” interview, as she wrote, “with a western newspaper for more than a year.”

 

 

Jürgen Todenhöfer

 

A German journalist and former parliamentarian with the center-right Christian Democratic Union, Todenhöfer recently acquired fame as the first Western journalist to be granted access by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to its territories in Syria and Iraq.

 

Two years previously, however, Todenhöfer was entering Syria with the permission of a different party: the Assad regime itself. In July 2012, he interviewed the president in Damascus. The leaked emails obtained by NOW reveal a history of warm exchanges between Todenhöfer and a key Assad confidante in the months prior to that moment.

 

In a series of emails with Sheherazad Jaafari (see above), whom Todenhöfer calls “princess of the Middle East,” the journalist repeatedly congratulates his interlocutor on her ostensible success at improving Assad’s image, praises regime officials and indeed the president himself, whom he says is “doing great” and is the “only leader” able to offer Syria “a modern, democratic and stable future.” Below are some extracts, in chronological order:

 

6 December 2011

From: Jürgen Todenhöfer

To: Sheherazad Jaafari (forwarded to Bashar al-Assad)

Text:

 

Dear princess of the Middle East!
>
> Great idea, let us make Syria the democratic leader of the Arab world and I will spend every free minute there- in the most fascinating country with the most fascinating princess.
>
> What about our interview with the President? It would be so important to show his motivations and how he really is. Don't give up!
>
> I am here under heavy fire, because I wrote some articles and showed together with Julia a tv movie - watched by more than 2 million Germans -trying to be objectif. And saying that he is the only one to find a peaceful way to democratie. In this " historical hours".
>
> But time is running out- also for our interview. And it would be such a wonderful opportunity to see you.
> Yours Juergen

 

*

 

16 December 2011

From: Sheherazad Jaafari

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

Hellooo,

 

I hope you win your tennis game today!! u should be a pro by now :D

 

so, I met with Ghatfan yesterday. He was pretty happy about jurgen Todenhouver, the German thinker. He said that he influenced the main stream idea about Syria as soon as he got to Germany. He was interviewed a lot and he wrote an article yesterday that was published in 7 main newspapers. He said a lot of positive comments about you as a person and about Syria as a country!!!

 

I am so happy about this!!!! 

 

*

 

18 December 2011

From: Jürgen Todenhöfer

To: Sheherazad Jaafari (forwarded to Bashar al-Assad)

Text:

 

> Dear Sheherazad, 
>
> How are you? I hope you are not too exhausted by all the German journalists coming now to Syria. But it is the right strategy to open your country to the international press. Here in Germany articles and even tv- reports about Syria start to be more objective- this is also your success. So just continue!
>
[…]
>
> In Germany I am beeing heavily criticised for allegedly beeing to friendly about your president and not critical enough. But that's live.
>
> I have some great ideas for you and your country. But unfortunately emails are not very confidential. So I have to wait until I meet you. In South-Tyrol or in Damascus.
>
> I wish you a great week- with all these great journalists. 

Yours Juergen

 

*

 

21 December 2011

From: Jürgen Todenhöfer

To: Sheherazad Jaafari (forwarded to Bashar al-Assad)

Text:

 

>  very interesting and objective article from Avenarius! You should get it translated from your German Embassy and show it to your people!! And even to your President! Continue to invite good journalists even if sometimes they are critical. And yesterday I read some intelligent statements from your foreign minister about the future Syria as a model democracy. Very very good!

Greatings from snowy Munich! Juergen -:)

 

*

 

16 January 2012

From: Jürgen Todenhöfer

To: Sheherazad Jaafari (forwarded to Bashar al-Assad)

Text:

 

Dear PrSh, congratulations on the new amnesty. This is the right strategy!!! Your President is doing great - Congratulation.

 Yours Juergen

 

*

 

29 January 2012

From: Jürgen Todenhöfer

To: Sheherazad Jaafari (forwarded to Bashar al-Assad)

Text:

 

Hello Princess,

great to hear from you. Freddy  too is fascinated. We all miss you. Give my best regards to your president please. 

Some people in Germany want to kill me because of the interviews I gave concerning Syria. And the treats are very concrete. But they want the killers to put your army uniform on before so that they can blame your governement. Nice-isn't it? -:)

But this time we should do something really great, something which would destroy the whole strategy of demonisation of the western countries and Al Jazeera. And you know that this is possible only with him. It will his best interview for ever - distrbuted all over the world.

He is the only leader  who can give  your country a modern democratic and stable future without foreign dominance. And this is what we have to make clear to the world. And to your people.

So let us do it. Nothing is stronger than a idea whose time has come. Now time is on our side. So please fight- for him and for your country! Yours Juergen from Cairo

 

 

Other interactions

 

On 12 August 2011, Jaafari wrote to Assad to debrief him on a meeting she had had that morning with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – an Iraqi-Israeli professor at New York University, widely published columnist on Middle Eastern political affairs, and former participant in peace negotiations between Syria and Israel. During the meeting the two evidently discussed a “proposal” to send a “delegation” of international students and think tank analysts to Syria.Below is the email sent by Jaafari to Assad in full:

 

12 August 2011

From: Sheherazad Jaafari

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

I hope this will find you well . I explored this morning the proposal with Professor Alon ben meir. He is a very well known Professor who teaches politics in New York Univercity . He found it of great interest and he is going to work on it during the week end . He has gone through a surgery a few days ago and he promised to elaborate a proposal encompassing all the details that he will hand it over to me by monday .He thinks , and I agree with him on that , that we should include in the delegation : students ( PhD +Master degree ) -some eminent members of prestigious think tanks such as the CFR (Council of Foreign Relations ) and The Century Foundation .The total number should be around 15  .

He suggested that in order to create an appropriate ground for such a visit vis a vis the political American policies towards Syria ,to keep the situation quite for some days in the country so that the impact of the announcement of the visit would be positive .He thinks that our point of view about THE EVENTS IS CRUCIAL FOR GUARANTEEING THE VISIT'S SUCCESS. 

 

*there are some secret details that I would love to explain to you through our phonecall.

 

* He is Jewish which is extremely compelling. 

Thank you

 

For legal reasons pertaining to Lebanon’s 1955 Boycott of Israel law, NOW was unable to contact Ben-Meir to request comment.

 

Michael Weiss contributed reporting.

 

* Subsequent to publication, Rosen contacted NOW, denying that he was of Israeli nationality and requesting that NOW link to his 2012 response to allegations of collaboration with the Syrian regime.

 

(Illustraion by NOW)

The timing of the email indicates [Hala] Jaber was seeking to protect Chawi nearly three months after the EU had implicated him in ‘violence against the civilian population’ in Syria.”

  • auntie

    jürgen todenhöfer pleases himself in the role of a 'gutmensch' as we call this attitude in German,and he will do everything to get into the media to praise his heroic deeds .

    May 22, 2015

  • Sheikh Nanar

    All this is normal within any cabinet in any country,! what is not normal is the one sided attitude of most Western and oil countries paid media who are producing and propagating false stories and biased analyses about the tragc events in SYRIA. Those biased media are accomplice of crimes against the people of Syria

    May 20, 2015

  • adam.neira

    Lie down with dogs and you get fleas nu ? Assad's PR Chief Sheherazad Jaafari is a charming psychopath just like her father.

    May 19, 2015