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Hacked e-mails reveal Syrian spin used to defend crackdown

From Brian Todd, CNN
February 13, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aide advises Syria's president to avoid discussion of any proposed reforms
  • "American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are 'mistakes,' an e-mail said
  • Bashar al-Assad was advised to tell ABC's Barbara Walters that the reports of violence were mistakes

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was apparently coached on how to describe his government's brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrators just days before his appearance on an American network, according to purported e-mails of Syrian officials released by the hacking group known as Anonymous.

The purported e-mails of dozens of Syrian officials as well as their account passwords were released Sunday by Anonymous hackers, who claim to have attacked the webmail server of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.

CNN, which has seen the e-mails in question, cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the material. A telephone call to the Syrian Mission at the United Nations seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Among the e-mail correspondence Anonymous posted was an exchange between Sheherazad Ja'afari, Syria's press attaché at the United Nations, to one of al-Assad's aides in Damascus.

Ja'afari is the daughter of Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations.

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In the e-mail, she advises that al-Assad avoid discussing his proposed reforms in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters.

"Don't talk reform. American's won't care, or understand that," the e-mail said.

Rather, it advises the Syrian president to talk about mistakes and blame his own police

"American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are 'mistakes' done and now we are 'fixing it,'" the e-mails said.

During al-Assad's interview on ABC in December, he described some of the reports of violence as "individual mistakes."

When asked by Walters who was responsible for the mistakes, al-Assad responded: "We don't know everything. In some cases, done by the police. In some cases, done by civilians."

The e-mails go on to encourage al-Assad to say "Syria doesn't have a policy to torture people," and contrast it with the actions of U.S. soldiers at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Additionally, an email describes how al-Assad -- referred to in the exchanges as H.E. for His Excellency -- is viewed by Americans.

"At one point, H.E. was viewed as a hero and in other times H.E. was the 'bad guy.' Americans love these kinds of things and get convinced by it," the e-mail said.

While al-Assad's interview may have been viewed as an opportunity to explain the actions inside Syria, he no longer is interested in trying to win over the United States, said David Kenner at Foreign Policy magazine.

"Honestly, I think at this point, they think they have lost the Western media. They've lost the United States," Kenner said.

"At this point, the Syrian government is more interested in winning public opinion and government support in Russia and Iran."

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