A Virginia man was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for spying on Syrian dissidents for dictator Bashar al-Assad's intelligence service.
Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, a Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Leesburg, Va., conducted "extensive and systematic" monitoring of Syrian dissidents in America while acting as an agent of the Syrian Mukhabarat intelligence service. He made video and audio recordings of anti-Assad rallies and of conversations with dissidents. He also provided the Mukhabarat with the contact information of prominent regime foes here.
The information was sought by the Mukhabarat to "undermine, silence, intimidate, and potentially harm" the protestors, Soueid's indictment said.
Prosecutors had asked for a longer sentence, between six and 7 years, saying the Syrian government "prized these recordings."
In April 2011, Soueid attached a handwritten letter to a Syrian official in an e-mail titled "what we talked about." Newly unsealed court records show that in the letter, Soueid justified using violence against the dissidents, saying "disposing of the dissension is a must and should be decisive and prompt."
He met with Assad during a visit to Syria in June 2011, discussing Syrian dissident activity in the United States. Soueid was also presented with an expensive Hablut watch from a close associate of Assad's.
Upon his return to the United States, Soueid lied to an immigration officer at the Dulles International Airport about his trip. Afterward, fearing getting caught, he destroyed two laptop computers used in his work. He told his Syrian contact that "the search and questioning would not stop the project."
Soueid repeatedly lied to FBI agents during an August interview at his home, including denying he collected information on Syrian dissidents for the Mukhabarat. After the agents left, Soueid destroyed incriminating documents.
"Mr. Soueid betrayed this country to work on behalf of a state sponsor of terror," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a Department of Justice press release. "While the autocratic Syrian regime killed, kidnapped, intimidated and silenced thousands of its own citizens, Mr. Soueid spearheaded efforts to identify and intimidate those protesting against the Syrian government in the United States."