Journalists, Ulterior Motives and War-Torn Syria

Kerry Patton, a combat disabled veteran, is the author of Contracted: America’s Secret Warriors (Quiet Owl Books). You can follow him on Facebook or at kerry-patton.com.


Syria’s ongoing atrocities have led to multiple discoveries revealing unprecedented amounts of covert activities. An array of international players exist in Syria, however, most observers solely focus on the Assad regime or his opposition comprising of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). There is so much more to the situation in Syria going unreported and it constitutes internationally led covert activities and the illegal incorporation of journalists possibly serving as spies.

After several days of deductive reasoning then a quick follow up with an undisclosed source that is incredibly active with the Syrian conflict, some points of covert activities have been confirmed. At least one US media network, and possibly more, has been involved in covering up some of the activities.

More interesting is the fact that some of these media networks have a history of chastising such intelligence practices especially when it comes to the incorporation of intelligence contractors.

Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, and his crew recently escaped from pro-Assad militants after being held for five days. Mixed reporting initially aired claiming he and his crew were abducted by the Free Syrian Army. NBC requested a temporary media blackout on this situation.

Engel and his crew miraculously freed themselves yet the escape was not as miraculous as he or NBC would like people to believe. There was an orchestrated attempt to see Engel and his team freed by international players many of whom have no government affiliation—i.e. independent contractors.

These international players worked closely with the Free Syrian Army formulating a plan of action, and that plan came to fruition.

With sound intelligence, an ambush was orchestrated on Engel’s capturers. The pro-Assad capturers were caught in a “dead zone” forced to return fire and engage the FSA opposition.

During this action, some of Engel’s captors were severely injured prompting Engel and his team to flee. Everything Engel revealed came to light, but a lot of missing points are still left unanswered.

Temporarily freed, Engel was still in a hostile region deep inside Syria. Who assisted him and his team to physically move out of that hostile region? Who assisted in his transportation needs to reach the border of Turkey?

The same people who engaged Engel’s captors were the same people who assisted in his travels to Turkey—the Free Syrian Army. This information has been confirmed by undisclosed Western sources intimately familiar with Engel’s escape as these sources were part of the planning process.

The same sources revealed a botched rescue mission conducted by the Free Syrian Army, which unfolded in September. It was a rescue mission to free US journalist Austin Tice. The former Marine Corp veteran was abducted in mid-August by pro-Assad militants.

The former Marine’s family recently begged for information pertaining to their son’s whereabouts. While no one can confirm his current whereabouts, it is known that in September, Mr. Tice was being held on an undisclosed airfield in Syria.

The airfield, which shall not be named due to intelligence security, was attacked by the FSA. The attack was a multi-pronged operation intended to destroy vital infrastructure, which included gas storage facilities, air traffic control, and even aircraft. The attack was also intended to free at least one Western journalist.

Operational security is vital in these types of missions. Leaks of information can get people killed. Unfortunately, the Free Syrian Army had a leak in their operation’s planning, which placed ground forces in a grueling situation, leaving some killed.

During this time in September, at least three air fields were attacked by the Free Syrian Army. Some of the attacks could be deemed successful while others were a complete nightmare. Needless to say, Austin Tice remains in pro-Assad militants’ captivity.

Another international journalist has been abducted, however most reporting claims the abduction was enacted by the Free Syrian Army. Ankhar Kotchneva, a Ukrainian journalist with Russian citizenship, has been missing since October.

The case of Ankhar Kotchneva is interesting. A few questions must be asked to determine her actual status. Some reports claim when Kotchneva was abducted, she was actually carrying a weapon.

Anti-Assad elements have stated that Kotchneva “was carrying a gun and was an interpreter for Russian officers.” Real journalists do not make it a habit to carry weapons while on assignment. Why was she carrying a weapon? Was she using journalism as a cover story for intelligence activities?

According to the kyivpost.com, “Her coverage of the Syrian conflict for several Russian media, including NTV, RenTV and RT channels favored Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She voiced support for the Syrian president in interviews she gave to other news outlets as an expert on the region. When she was abducted, Kotchneva was employed as an interpreter.”

At least one Eastern European media outlet acknowledges Kotchneva was not in Syria working as a journalist. Instead, she was serving as an interpreter. But who was she interpreting for? That question remains unknown. But what is known is this—no one is coming to her rescue any time soon.

Journalists have been rightly outraged over the ongoing crisis dealing with Ankhar Kotchneva. For many journalists, she is one of them. But emotions need to be taken out of the cognitive process to understand the life Ankhar Kotchneva could possibly have been living.

Remember Anna Chapman? How many American’s who were close to her refused to accept the fact that she was an actual spy for Russia? If Ankhar Kotchneva is actually found to be a spy for Russia, many journalists will likely go into denial as well.

Russia is playing a very dangerous game in Syria, and they have recently acknowledged that it appears Bashar Assad will likely lose the war. Russia backed the wrong team in Syria. Now they have one of their own citizens held against her will potentially facing execution for crimes of espionage.

When it comes to Syria, there is a difference between Russia’s activities and the West. Russia is physically placing its citizens in harm’s way on the ground in Syria. Some of those citizens may or may not be acting as journalists while they serve as spies.

Col. Stanislav Lunev has once revealed that many journalists from Russia and other countries are, in reality, intelligence gatherers. He also stated that many Russian journalists have recruited leading American reporters to engage in espionage as well.  Col. Lunev should know exactly how Russian covert operatives execute their missions. He was the highest-ranking spy ever to defect from the Russia’s top spy organization, the GRU.

The United States has strict laws against using journalists as spies. This does not mean it never happens, however. More often than not, journalists serve as sources for the US intelligence community. OSINT, Open Source Intelligence, is the lead in utilizing media for its intelligence activities.

50 USC § 403–7 titled, Prohibition on using journalists as agents or assets, specifically states that “the Intelligence Community may not use as an agent or asset for the purposes of collecting intelligence any individual who is authorized by contract or by the issuance of press credentials to represent himself or herself, either in the United States or abroad, as a correspondent of a United States news media organization.”

With more than 28 journalists killed in Syria just in 2012 alone, the war torn nation has become uniquely complex. Many of these journalists have been killed by pro-Assad forces while some have been killed by anti-Assad opposition.

Both sides have enacted the practice of targeting journalists and both sides may have good reason. Today, we learn that while most journalists are serving in ethical roles, some are not. Some, like Ankhar Kotchneva, may be serving in unique covert activities working as spies.

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  • southwood

    If Syria is taken over by the rebels, of whatever group they be, it will be another Egypt, another Muslim Brotherhood led country, repressing the freedom of those who disagree with shariah law. Assad, at least, has allowed minorities like Christians have their rights and freedoms. No Muslim nation allows Christians more freedom than Syria. Already the Syrian rebels are terrorizing Christians and forcing them to flee in their thousands. The West are seeking to remove Assad just like they did with Qaddafi and Mubarak. That created a big improvement in Libya and Egypt. Sure it did ! The Russians have more insight and common sense in regard to these nations.

    • D-Boy

      Comman sense? Yeah I don't think trying to preserve a path for troop and supplies thru the Bekka Valley is being very bright. Like fish on a hook they come, the Russians and the muslim hoard and the rest of the world still alive, will come to remove Israel from the land the Lord swore to give the decendants of Abraham. Blood will be as deep as a horses bridle. I would trust God is going to win seeing how it's all coming to pass just as he said.

      • southwood

        Not "comman sense", "common sense". I suppose it's ok to just let there be mass genocide, ethnic cleansing whatever to stop your unproven scenario. You really do need common sense, pal, if that's your response.

      • Horace

        And the Muslim Brotherhood islamists that are taking over are not going to supply terrorists against Israel, or launch another major 3 pronged attack? Wake up. Many more rockets and suicide bombings arise out of Sunni territory than Shiite or Christian.
        Maybe it's not important to you whether Christians get murdered or not, but it is important to many Christians wheter Jews get murdered or not and it looks bad when Israel is seen to be supporting Islamist takeovers, getting rid of secular dictators in favor of the Sharia gang. Keep the big picture in mind.

  • Parenthetical Phrase

    Even if Syria isn't completely taken over by the rebels, it will continue to remain in a state of chaos with warring clans from all over the Muslim world fighting each other, Assad, the Christians, Druze, etc. Syria will be fractured for a long time to come and will be a launching pad for every kind of terrorism and illegal activity. The US is going to wish it never became involved in any of it because the consequences won't stop at the border of Syria. Prepare for trouble America. We will definitely be learning some hard lessons! If Assad succombs, Syria will be a land of warlords and violence for decades to come — another Afghanistan.

  • harbidoll

    no one can stop this. there is too much money involved. what else are the gulf states going to do with their time & wealth. they think allah has given them a prime directive to expand & conquer for islam. we gotta be wiser.

  • bubbaland1

    Interesting column, however, the message is muddled. In particular, reference is made to Engel’s “rescue” and passing mention is made to Tice. The end of the column focused on the likelihood that Ankhar Kotchneva may have been a Russian spy. Perhaps I am reading too much into this column, however, Engel and Tice are presented in a positive light (FSA), while Kotchneva (Pro Assad) is present in negative light. Why are Ankhar Kotchneva purported actions worse than those that might have been carried out by Engel and Tice? If all the above were functioning as spies so what? Does anyone seriously think that journalists are immune to conducting such activities? Perhaps, some of these individuals had debits that they needed to pay off. In other words, their livelihood is dependent on getting information from various sources, perhaps some of their sources called in a favor, alternatively these players might have acted for patriotic reasons, as antiquated as that may sound. Lastly, journalists are a smug, sanctimonious lot, so let them foist themselves on their on petard.

  • Drakken

    The Russians are playing this one very smart, they are playing chess while the Obummer administration is playing checkers. The more the Russians let the savages kill themselves the better, if we were smart and we aren't, we would encourage the Kurds to declare independence and be a nice pain in the ass to the sunnis and shiittes of Syria,Turkey, Iraq and Iran, let them stew in their own filth for a change, sit back, grab a cocktail and let them slaughter each other to their little jihadists content

  • Larry

    Journalists as spies is nothing new. Many of the "freelance" journalists working around Europe in the 1930s, people like Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), were in reality spies for their home or other governments.

    • Rostislav

      Mr. Fleming never was a "freelance" journalist. He was working for the Reuters and for the Times before the WWII. And there is absolutely no evidence for his spying activities at that time – even within the archives of such a suspicious organization as our NKVD. Rostislav, Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

      • Larry

        Fleming was almost certainly working for MI6, even if he wasn't on their payroll.

        The penetration of MI6 didn't come until later, and a great many well known figures were working for them, patriotic Brits (and citizens of the Dominions). Probably the best known person to be on 6's books, but not on their payroll, was Noel Coward, who was a British spy from about 1936 until the end of the War.

        The NKVD may have been a suspicious organization, but they weren't omniscient.

        • Rostislav

          "Fleming was almost certainly working for MI6". Hm. And where are the sources of this almost cernainty, even if NKVD weren't omniscient? As for Mr. Coward, he did work for the British propaganda efforts before the war, indeed, but again he never was a freelance journalist! Rostislav

  • W. C. Taqiyya

    Everyone loves a good spy story. Especially if the spies are Russian and pretty. Yep, it's a groovy story.

  • burt

    New Year Greatings for our MSM:
    Urinalists, press-titutes, and the rest of butt-licking slaves there: let the rheumatism twist your fingers, angina blocks your throats, and may you stay in his arshe forever.
    From the bottom of my heart, with my middle finger salute – the h*ll with you,
    you useless red scum.