Journalist Nir Rosen defended himself against accusations over the weekend that he’d collaborated with Syrian security services. Rosen, who spent four months in Syria reporting for Al Jazeera International’s English-language website, was implicated in emails published by Al Arabiya. Along with the Guardian, Al Arabiya has begun releasing a cache of emails apparently drawn from the accounts of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. There are reportedly 3,000 emails already, though so far only a fraction have been released—and two relate to Rosen.
One, written in English and dated November 13, 2011, is from Assad advisor Hadeel al-Ali to the president’s private email account, forwarding Rosen’s CV along with his request for an interview with Assad. Ali puts in a good word to Assad for Rosen. “He's been writing some positive articles on Syria mentioning the armed groups attacking the security forces,” writes Ali, “trying to represent the Alawites in a good way also.”
Then, Ali explains to Assad that Rosen has already been in the country for two months, and how he has been able to travel freely around the country during the course of the uprising. “He got his cover from Khaled and his people,” she explains.
It seems that “Khaled” is Khaled al-Ahmad, another Assad advisor whose exact role with the regime is not yet clear. In any case, because he too has the president’s private email address he is presumably close to, if not part of, the regime’s inner circle. A number of the leaked emails already released are from Ahmad to Assad, addressing security and economic concerns. One, written in Arabic and sent a week after the Ali email, relates in part to Rosen.
After telling Assad about a delivery of Libyan arms to the rebels, Ahmad relays what he has learned from the journalist. “Nir Rosen was able to enter Baba Amr (which is closed off) and has informed me that several journalistic delegations have entered the area after illegally crossing from the Lebanese border, among them a French and German journalistic delegation, and that the fighters are roaming freely in the streets, especially those who call themselves the battalions of Khaled Ibn al-Walid.”
When this email was released Friday night, blogs and Twitter feeds lit up with denunciations of Rosen. Some, apparently aligned with the Syrian opposition, called him a spy. More damning still, others alleged that Rosen’s information may have led to the deaths of journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, both killed in Homs by the regime’s security forces. Rosen’s defenders pointed out that the two were killed three months after the email from Ahmad to Assad. Rosen himself tweeted that the allegations “are completely untrue” and promised to answer the charges.
His response is characteristic of the same sensibility on display when Rosen was chastised for mocking CBS journalist Lara Logan after she was sexually assaulted last February in Cairo—here, again, Rosen is petty, self-pitying, and self-aggrandizing. He’s hired a lawyer and threatens to take those who are “defaming” him to court. Everyone else owes him their gratitude and prayers for enduring “difficult and dangerous conditions to provide them with an understanding of events in far away places.”
And then there’s Rosen’s random cheap shot at Israel. So what if he had to woo Syrian regime thugs to get a visa and clearance? According to Rosen, what was even worse—and worse than having to request access from the Mahdi Army, Al Shabab in Somalia, Mexican drug cartels, Mujahedin leaders in Falluja, and Taliban officials—was having to get approval from the Israeli Government Press Office to cover the Palestinian territories.