Tag Archives: CIA

Attacks in Havana hit US spy network in Cuba…

VIA

Frightening attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana struck the heart of America’s spy network in Cuba, with intelligence operatives among the first and most severely affected victims, The Associated Press has learned.

It wasn’t until U.S. spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.

While the attacks started within days of President Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The U.S. has called the situation “ongoing.”

To date, the Trump administration largely has described the 21 victims as U.S. embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community.” That description suggested only bona fide diplomats and their family members were struck, with no logical motivation beyond disrupting U.S.-Cuban relations.

Behind the scenes, though, investigators immediately started searching for explanations in the darker, rougher world of spycraft and counterespionage, given that so many of the first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the U.S. embassy. That revelation, confirmed to the AP by a half-dozen officials, adds yet another element of mystery to a year-long saga that the Trump administration says may not be over.

The State Department and the CIA declined to comment for this story.

The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the U.S. government’s intelligence network on the communist-run island, in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half century.

But the U.S. soon discovered that actual diplomats at the embassy had also been hit by similar attacks, officials said, further confounding the search for a culprit and a motive.

Of the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several U.S. officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity. They heard an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their Havana homes, described as similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill.

Over time, the attacks seemed to evolve.

In many of the more recent cases, victims didn’t hear noises and weren’t aware an attack was occurring, identifying the symptoms only later. That has raised concerns among investigators that the attacks may be getting more sophisticated and harder to detect, individuals briefed on the investigation said.

Though the State Department has called all the cases “medically confirmed,” several U.S. officials said it’s unclear whether all of the victims’ symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks. Considering the deep sense of alarm among Americans working in the embassy, it’s possible some workers attributed unrelated illnesses to attacks.

Almost nothing about what has transpired in Havana is perfectly clear. But this is Cuba.

For decades, Washington and Havana pushed their rivalry to unprecedented levels of covert action. The former enemies tracked each other’s personnel, turned each other’s agents and, in the case of the CIA, even mounted a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government in the 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion.

There were hopes, though, that the two nations were starting to put that bitter history behind them after renewing diplomatic relations in 2015. When the attacks first occurred, the U.S. and Cuban governments were hard at work on clinching new commercial and immigration agreements. No new spat among intelligence services was publicly known.

Eleven months on, the U.S. cannot guarantee the threat is over. Last week, the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Cuba and ordered more than half the embassy staff to leave indefinitely. The U.S. had previously given all embassy staff the option to come home, but even most of those struck by the mysterious attacks had opted to stay, individuals familiar with the situation said.

For those staying and new arrivals, the U.S. has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress. They’re also learning steps to take if an attack occurs that could mitigate the risk, officials said.

But the U.S. has not identified whatever device is responsible for the harm. FBI sweeps have turned up nothing.

So to better identify patterns, investigators have created a map detailing specific areas of Cuba’s capital where attacks have occurred, several individuals familiar with the matter said. Three “zones,” or geographic clusters of attacks, cover the homes where U.S. diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.

Since first disclosing the situation in August, the United States had generally avoided the word “attacks.” It called them “incidents” instead until last Friday. Now, the State Department deems them “specific attacks” targeting Americans posted in Havana, without saying what new information, if any, prompted the newfound confidence they were indeed deliberate.

The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba. If that’s the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding.

Last week’s embassy drawdown added to the growing friction between the nations. And an accompanying new travel warning deemed Havana’s hotels unsafe for visitors, threatening to drive down tourism, a backbone of Cuba’s economy.

In Havana, American diplomats are frantically selling off possessions — from mattresses to canned goods to children’s toys — and hunting for jobs and places to live in the United States. Many have spent years overseas and don’t have homes waiting for them in the United States.

“Heartbroken? Me too, but this will make you feel better,” one seller posted in a chatroom for foreigners in Cuba, under a picture of a Costco artichoke hearts jar selling for $6.

For Cubans, it may be no better. The U.S. has been providing 20,000 visas a year to Cubans moving to the United States. It has issued thousands more to Cubans wishing to visit family in America. The reduction in U.S. staff in Havana means visa processing there has been suspended indefinitely.

Cuba has vehemently denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. Some in the U.S. government believe the Cubans may be telling the truth, officials said.

When President Raul Castro denied any culpability in February, he did so on the sidelines a meeting in Havana with five visiting U.S. members of Congress, the AP found. The U.S. had raised complaints about the attacks to Cuba just days earlier through diplomatic channels.

But the visiting lawmakers knew nothing of the attacks taking place in the country they were visiting.

Nor did they know that Castro had used the occasion of their meeting to pull aside Jeff DeLaurentis, then the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, to say privately that his government was equally alarmed and willing to help.

The lawmakers all declined to comment. Cuban officials say they’re disappointed in the U.S. retaliatory measures but will continue cooperating with the investigation.

The CIA & The Drug Trade (Video)

Just as the British Empire was in part financed by their control of the opium trade through the British East India Company, so too has the CIA been found time after time to be at the heart of the modern international drug trade. From its very inception, the CIA has been embroiled in the murky underworld of drug trafficking.

There are billions of dollars per year to be made in keeping the drug trade going, and it has long been established that Wall Street and the major American banks rely on drug money as a ready source of liquid capital. With those kinds of funds at stake, it is unsurprising to see a media-government-banking nexus develop around the status quo of a never-ending war on drugs – aided, abetted and facilitated by the modern-day British East India Company, the CIA.

This is our EyeOpener Report by James Corbett presenting the history, documented facts, and cases on the CIA’s involvement and operations in the underworld of drug trafficking, from the Corsican Mafia in the 1940s through the 1980s Contras to the recent Zambada Niebla Case today…

The CIA’s mop-up man…

Operation Mockingbird lives

A prominent national security reporter for the Los Angeles Times routinely submitted drafts and detailed summaries of his stories to CIA press handlers prior to publication, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.

Email exchanges between CIA public affairs officers and Ken Dilanian, now an Associated Press intelligence reporter who previously covered the CIA for the Times, show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication. In at least one instance, the CIA’s reaction appears to have led to significant changes in the story that was eventually published in the Times.

“I’m working on a story about congressional oversight of drone strikes that can present a good opportunity for you guys,” Dilanian wrote in one email to a CIA press officer, explaining that what he intended to report would be “reassuring to the public” about CIA drone strikes. In another, after a series of back-and-forth emails about a pending story on CIA operations in Yemen, he sent a full draft of an unpublished report along with the subject line, “does this look better?” In another, he directly asks the flack: “You wouldn’t put out disinformation on this, would you?”

Dilanian’s emails were included in hundreds of pages of documents that the CIA turned over in response to two FOIA requests seeking records on the agency’s interactions with reporters. They include email exchanges with reporters for the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other outlets. In addition to Dilanian’s deferential relationship with the CIA’s press handlers, the documents show that the agency regularly invites journalists to its McLean, Va., headquarters for briefings and other events. Reporters who have addressed the CIA include the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, the former ombudsmen for the New York Times, NPR, and Washington Post, and Fox News’ Brett Baier, Juan Williams, and Catherine Herridge.

Dilanian left the Times to join the AP last May, and the emails released by the CIA only cover a few months of his tenure at the Times. They show that in June 2012, shortly after 26 members of congress wrote a letter to President Obama saying they were “deeply concerned” about the drone program, Dilanian approached the agency about story that he pitched as “a good opportunity” for the government.

The letter from lawmakers, which was sent in the wake of a flurry of drone strikes that had reportedly killed dozens of civilians, suggested there was no meaningful congressional oversight of the program. But Dilanian wrote that he had been “told differently by people I trust.” He added:

Not only would such a story be reassuring to the public, I would think, but it would also be an opportunity to explore the misinformation about strikes that sometimes comes out of local media reports. It’s one thing for you to say three killed instead of 15, and it’s another for congressional aides from both parties to back you up. Part of what the story will do, if you could help me bring it to fruition, is to quote congressional officials saying that great care is taken to avoid collateral damage and that the reports of widespread civilian casualties are simply wrong.

Of course, journalists routinely curry favor with government sources (and others) by falsely suggesting that they intend to amplify the official point of view. But the emails show that Dilanian really meant it.

Over the next two weeks, he sent additional emails requesting assistance and information from the agency. In one, he suggested that a New America Foundation report alleging that drone attacks had killed many civilians was exaggerated, writing that the report was “all wrong, correct?”

A number of early news accounts reported that more than a dozen people died in the June 4, 2012, drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan. But in a June 20 email to the CIA, Dilanian shared a sentence from his story draft asserting that al-Libi had died alone. “Would you quibble with this?” he asked the CIA press officer.

On June 25, the Times published Dilanian’s story, which described thorough congressional review of the drone program and said legislative aides were allowed to watch high-quality video of attacks and review intelligence used to justify each strike. Needless to say, the agency hadn’t quibbled with Dilanian’s description of al-Libi’s solitary death. Video provided by the CIA to congressional overseers, Dilanian reported, “shows that he alone was killed.”

That claim was subsequently debunked. In October of 2013, Amnesty International issued a report, based on statements from eyewitnesses and survivors, that the first missile strike targeting al-Libi killed five men and wounded four others. Al-Libi was not even among those victims; he and up to fifteen other people died in a follow up attack when they arrived at the scene to assist victims. Some of those killed were very likely members of al Qaeda, but six were local tribesmen who Amnesty believed were there only as rescuers. Another field report published around the same time, this one by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, also reported follow-up drone strikes on civilians and rescue workers — attacks that constitute war crimes.

Dilanian has done some strong work and has at times been highly critical of the CIA. For example, in July 2012 he wrote a piece about sexual harassment at the agency that angered the press office. In reply to an email from a spokesperson, Dilanian said that complaints about his story were “especially astonishing given that CIA hides the details of these complaints behind a wall of secrecy.”

But the emails reveal a remarkably collegial relationship with the agency. “I am looking forward to working with you, Ken,” a newly hired agency flack wrote him in a March 1, 2012, email.

“Hooray!” Dilanian replied. “Glad to have you guys.”

On March 14, 2012, Dilanian sent an email to the press office with a link to a Guardian story that said Bashar Al-Assad’s wife had been buying a fondue set on Amazon while Syrian protesters were gunned down. “If this is you guys, nice work,” he wrote. “If it’s real, even better.”

The emails also show that Dilanian shared his work with the CIA before it was published, and invited the agency to request changes. On Friday April 27, 2012, he emailed the press office a draft story that he and a colleague, David Cloud, were preparing. The subject line was “this is where we are headed,” and he asked if “you guys want to push back on any of this.”

It appears the agency did push back. On May 2, 2012, he emailed the CIA a new opening to the story with a subject line that asked, “does this look better?”

The piece ran on May 16, and while it bore similarities to the earlier versions, it had been significantly softened.

Here’s the original opening, from Dilanian’s email:

Teams of CIA officers, private contractor and special operations troops have been inserted in southern Yemen to work with local tribes on gathering intelligence for U.S. drone strikes against militants, U.S. officials and others familiar with the secret operation said.

Here’s the version that was published:

In an escalation of America’s clandestine war in Yemen, a small contingent of U.S. troops is providing targeting data for Yemeni airstrikes as government forces battle to dislodge Al Qaeda militants and other insurgents in the country’s restive south, U.S. and Yemeni officials said.

In another case, Dilanian sent the press office a draft story on May 4, 2012, reporting that U.S. intelligence believed the Taliban was growing stronger in Afghanistan. “Guys, I’m about to file this if anyone wants to weigh in,” he wrote.

On May 7, 2012, the AP, Dilanian’s current employer, broke a story about a secret CIA operation that “thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner.” The next day, Dilanian sent the CIA a detailed summary of a planned piece that followed up on (and took issue with) the AP story. “This is what we are planning to report, and I want to make sure you wouldn’t push back against any of it,” he wrote.

Dilanian also closely collaborated with the CIA in a May 2012 story that minimized the agency’s cooperation with director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal on their film about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty. Republicans had been criticizing the Obama Administration for revealing classified details about the operation to Boal and Bigelow while withholding them from the public.

“My angle on this is that…this is a pretty routine effort to cooperate with filmmakers and the sort of thing the CIA has been doing for 15 years,” Dilanian wrote in an email to Cynthia Rapp, the head of the agency’s press office. “This is a storyline that is in your interest, I would think, to the extent you could provide information about how routine it is to offer guidance to entertainment people who seek it out—including ones who are Democrats!—it would show that this latest episode is hardly a scandal.”

Dilanian’s pitch appears to have worked. His subsequent story included an on the record comment from CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz. One year later, internal CIA documents released under the FOIA showed that the agency’s office of public affairs—the same people Dilanian had been working with–had asked for and received changes to the Zero Dark Thirty script that portrayed the agency in a more favorable light.

Reached by The Intercept for comment, Dilanian said that the AP does not permit him to send stories to the CIA prior to publication, and he acknowledged that it was a bad idea. “I shouldn’t have done it, and I wouldn’t do it now,” he said. “[But] it had no meaningful impact on the outcome of the stories. I probably should’ve been reading them the stuff instead of giving it to them.”

Dilanian said he was not sure if Los Angeles Times rules allow reporters to send stories to sources prior to publication. The Time’s ethics guidelines, however, clearly forbid the practice: “We do not circulate printed or electronic copies of stories outside the newsroom before publication. In the event you would like to read back quotations or selected passages to a source to ensure accuracy, consult an editor before doing so….”

Bob Drogin, the Times’ deputy bureau chief and national security editor, said he had been unaware that Dilanian had sent story drafts to the CIA and would have not allowed him to do it. “Ken is a diligent reporter and it’s responsible to seek comment and response to your reporting,” he told me. “But sharing story drafts is not appropriate.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Intercept that the news organization is “satisfied that any pre-publication exchanges that Ken had with the CIA before joining AP were in pursuit of accuracy in his reporting on intelligence matters,” adding that “we do not coordinate with government agencies on the phrasing of material.”

Dilanian’s emails were included in a FOIA request that sought communications between the CIA and ten national security reporters sent from March to July 2012. That request turned up correspondence between the press office and Dilanian, Adam Goldman, then at the AP and now at The Washington Post, Matt Apuzzo, then at AP and now at The New York Times, Brian Bennett of The Los Angeles Times, Siobhan Gorman of The Wall Street Journal, Scott Shane of the New York Times, and David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist.

It’s impossible to know precisely how the CIA flacks responded to reporters’ queries, because the emails show only one side of the conversations. The CIA redacted virtually all of the press handlers’ replies other than meager comments that were made explicitly on the record, citing the CIA Act of 1949, which exempts the agency from having to disclose “intelligence sources and methods” or “the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency.” The contents of off-the-record or background emails from CIA press handlers clearly don’t disclose names, titles, or salaries (which can easily be redacted anyway); they may disclose sources and methods, depending on whether you view manipulation of American reporters as an intelligence method. (The Intercept is appealing the redactions.)

The emails also show that the CIA asked the Post‘s Ignatius to speak at a May 2012 off-the-record conference, “Political Islam’s Future: Challenges, Choices, and Uncertainties,” for U.S. government intelligence analysts and policymakers. The invitation was extended in an email from the press office, which said that the conference organizers “would like you to draw upon the insight from your field experience, reporting, and broad network of contacts during the lead up to the Arab Spring to share how journalists sense that major political, social, or religious changes are in the making.”

Ignatius replied that he would be “pleased and honored to do this,” but unfortunately he would be traveling in Europe on the day of the conference. The CIA then proposed “a smaller round table with our…folks sometime in the future.”

“Smaller round table would be great,” Ignatius replied.

Ignatius told The Intercept that the round table never took place. But he confirmed that he had previously spoken to the CIA twice since 2005. “I talked to them about how journalists collect information,” he said. “It was meant as an admonition and a caution about the need to get things right and not to bend to political pressure and to have systems in place to catch errors.”

Ignatius said he had gotten approval of his editors before he spoke to the CIA, and didn’t see any conflict or problem with addressing the agency. “There’s a very sharp line between our profession and the intelligence business and it shouldn’t be crossed,” he said. “I talked to them about what I’d learned as an editor and the importance of getting it right. I wasn’t sharing any [sensitive] information with them.

Records released in response to another FOIA request, seeking information about journalists who had been invited to address or debrief CIA employees, show that several Fox News reporters have visited the agency.

Fox News’ Bret Baier gave an address about the importance of charity in 2008 (which was reported at the time), and the then-ombudsmen for NPR, The Washington Post, and The New York Times (Jeffrey Dvorkin, Michael Getler and Daniel Okrent, respectively), appeared together on a CIA panel. The event description said that journalism “shares some of the same missions that intelligence analysts have—presenting information in an unbiased fashion and challenging prevailing opinions.” The ombudsmen, the invitation said, could help the CIA “see how journalists deal with some of our common professional and ethical difficulties.” (It’s not clear from the documents when the ombudsmen event was held, but it would have been in 2009 or before.)

In 2007, Juan Williams, then at NPR in addition to his role at Fox News, gave a “standing-room-only” speech sponsored by the agency’s Office of Diversity Plans and Programs. During his speech Williams praised CIA personnel as “the best and brightest,” and said Americans admired the agency and trusted it “to guide the nation and the nation’s future.”

Williams also spoke about Nelson Mandela, saying he was an example of a leader who “came from outside the system.” There was a certain irony here—the CIA played a key role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest by the South African apartheid regime, which resulted in him spending 28 years in prison—which Williams was either unaware of or politely chose not to note.

“For decades, American intelligence agencies have used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to US national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War”

A brief history of the times the US meddled in others’ elections

US lawmakers and officials continue to respond to CIA reports that Russia deliberately interfered with the November election in order to get Donald Trump elected. Yet, intervening in foreign election is nothing new, particularly for the US.

For decades, American intelligence agencies have used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to US national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It’s something Tim Weiner has explored in great detail. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on clandestine national security programs, and his books include “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” He says election meddling is not a gray area for the CIA.

“Several months after the CIA was created in 1947, it set out to steal the Italian election in 1948 to support the Christian Democrats who were pro-American, against the socialist Democrats, who were pro-Moscow, and they won,” says Weiner. “It’s just the beginning of a long, long story.”

After seeing success in Italy, the CIA took this formula — which involved using millions of dollars to run influence campaigns — and brought it to places like Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Afghanistan and beyond.

“The president [of Afghanistan] after the American invasion post-9/11 was a paid CIA agent, Hamid Karzai,” Weiner says. “The list is very long, and it’s part of what the CIA does in political warfare.”

According to Weiner, the CIA doesn’t act independently to influence governments and electoral outcomes around the world, but it operates under the direction of US presidents.

“We set up the shah of Iran, who was our best friend for 25 years until he fell, and that created the Iranian Revolution, which we’re still living with today,” he says. “If you want to swing an election in a foreign country and you’ve got a Halliburton suitcase with a million dollars in it, it works.”

Though money has the power to influence an election, information — or misinformation — can have a huge impact as well. A number of independent researchers have connected the proliferation of fake news reports seen during the election to Russia and other Eastern European states, something that the Trump team has dismissed.

“In denying that Russia ran a successful information war campaign during our presidential election, [President-elect Trump] is alone in denying that this happened,” Weiner says. “We are in uncharted waters. We have just seen the Russian intelligence services, led by an ex-KGB colonel, Vladimir Putin, run a number on the United States using information warfare to get inside our heads and, in the opinion of the CIA, not simply disrupt American democracy, but to elect Donald J. Trump.”

According to Weiner, it’s not just the CIA that believes that Russia worked to influence the US election to help Trump.

“The entire U.S. intelligence community, the British intelligence services, and the German intelligence services all are in concurrence — it’s a rare harmony in convergence — that Moscow is trying to destabilize Western democracies, Cold War 2.0,” he says. “What could be more destabilizing to American democracy than electing the great disruptor, Donald J. Trump? These two goals are one in the same, and it’s the CIA’s judgement, its analysis that electing Trump was part of a larger plan to destabilize American democracy.”

On Tuesday, Trump officially announced that he has chosen Rex Tillerson, the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, as secretary of state. Tillerson has deep ties to Putin, and has made multibillion dollar deals with Russian oil companies in the Arctic.

“[Tillerson’s appointment] alone would be enough to mark Trump as the Siberian candidate,” says Weiner.

CIA-backed rebels in Syria mull alternatives…

“Among the options.. are a closer alliance with better-armed al-Qaeda and other extremist groups”

Three years after the CIA began secretly shipping lethal aid to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, battlefield losses and fears that a Donald Trump administration will abandon them have left tens of thousands of opposition fighters weighing their alternatives.

Among the options, say U.S. officials, regional experts and the rebels themselves, are a closer alliance with better-armed al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, receipt of more sophisticated weaponry from Sunni states in the Persian Gulf region opposed to a U.S. pullback, and adoption of more traditional guerrilla tactics, including sniper and other small-scale attacks on both Syrian and Russian targets.

Just over a year ago, the opposition held significant territory inside Syria. Since then, in the absence of effective international pushback, Russian and Syrian airstrikes have relentlessly bombarded their positions and the civilians alongside them. On the ground, Syrian government troops — bolstered by Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militia forces from Iraq — have retaken much of that ground.

In brutal attacks over the past three weeks, they have been driven out of much of the eastern Aleppo stronghold that they have occupied since 2012.

Trump has made clear that his priority in Syria is the separate fight against the Islamic State, ideally in cooperation with Russia and the Syrian government, as well as other allies. While still vague about his plans, the president-elect has rejected the Obama administration’s view that ending the civil war and bringing Assad to the negotiating table are ultimately key to victory over the Islamic militants, and indicated he will curtail support for the opposition.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the rebels, saying, “We have no idea who these people are.”

“My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” he told the Wall Street Journal last month, using another name for the Islamic State.

Assad, in an interview the week after Trump’s election, called the United States a “natural” counterterrorism ally. He has long labeled the opposition as terrorists equal to the Islamic State.

The possibility of cutting loose opposition groups it has vetted, trained and armed would be a jolt to a CIA already unsettled by the low opinion of U.S. intelligence capabilities that Trump had expressed during his presidential campaign.

From a slow and disorganized start, the opposition “accomplished many of the goals the U.S. hoped for,” including their development into a credible fighting force that showed signs of pressuring Assad into negotiations, had Russia not begun bombing and Iran stepped up its presence on the ground, said one of several U.S. officials who discussed the situation on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The United States estimates that there are 50,000 or more fighters it calls “moderate opposition,” concentrated in the northwest province of Idlib, in Aleppo and in smaller pockets throughout western and southern Syria, and that they are not likely to give up.

“They’ve been fighting for years, and they’ve managed to survive,” the U.S. official said. “Their opposition to Assad is not going to fade away.”

Although their fortunes were boosted last year by U.S. and Saudi Arabia-provided TOW antitank missiles, the rebels have long complained that American assistance has been stingy and has come with too many strings attached. Concerned that more sophisticated weapons, including portable antiaircraft missiles, would end up in the hands of extremists, President Obama refused to send them and prevailed upon regional allies to impose similar restrictions on their own arms shipments.

Now, said one U.S.-vetted rebel commander, “we are very frustrated. The United States refuses to provide weapons we need, and yet it still thinks it can tell us what to do. They promise support and then watch us drown.”

“America will have no influence if our comrades are forced [to retreat to] Idlib” from Aleppo, said the commander, who asked not to be identified to speak about sensitive rebel relations with the United States.

Most rebels already forced to relinquish territory have gone to Idlib, which is fast becoming a holding pen for what is left of the rebellion. The area is dominated by as many as 10,000 fighters for Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda-linked group now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and an equal number of Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist group tied to the wider rebel movement that the United States does not consider terrorist.

Some experts, including Trump’s designated White House national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, think that the growing operational alliance between the rebels and extremist groups began long ago.

Flynn argued last year that Obama’s Syria strategy of first withholding, then offering only measured support for the opposition through a covert CIA program, effectively allowed extremist organizations to grow at rebel expense. Asked in a July 2015 al Jazeera interview whether there should have been stronger early support for the opposition, Flynn said: “When you don’t get in and help somebody, they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals. . . . We should have done more earlier on in this effort.”

At the same time, Flynn has said, the administration downplayed early intelligence indicating that al-Nusra and eventually the Islamic State organization, which combined Islamist extremists and former Iraqi army officers left adrift by the 2003 U.S. invasion, were growing rapidly.

In a book published last summer, Flynn wrote that they are allied with those who “share their hatred of the West,” including “North Korea, Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela.”

But in an analysis looking forward, echoed by Trump and certain to be influential in the incoming White House, Flynn has also outlined a World War II -type global alliance, including both the United States and Russia, under a single leadership, to combat what he has called “Islam’s . . . political ideology.”

Others have noted that cutting off the opposition would not only support Russian and Syrian aims but also would benefit Iran at the perceived expense of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other regional U.S. allies who view that country as an existential threat.

“There will be significant reputational costs with our allies in the region if we abandon support of the moderate opposition,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

He said the question is “whether our Gulf allies can count on us or they can’t, whether the Iranians are going to be given free rein or they won’t.”

“A lot obviously will depend on what the president-elect does, what his advisers urge him to do,” Schiff said. Referring to retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s choice for defense secretary, Schiff added, “I think Gen. Mattis will have different views . . . [that] recognize the implications in terms of Iranian influence in the region.”

Disagreement over whether to take a tougher line against Russia in Syria — including direct military intervention on behalf of civilians and, indirectly, the rebels — in Aleppo and beyond has already caused deep divisions between Obama’s State Department and the reluctant Defense Department and the White House.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has continued negotiations over a cease-fire, meeting again with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Rome on Friday. Talks have focused on an agreement to safely deliver humanitarian aid and to evacuate both civilians, who want to leave, and the al-Nusra forces that Russia says are the majority of some several thousand anti-Assad fighters in the eastern part of the city. U.S. officials think the militants there number in the hundreds.

But Kerry has had little leverage to persuade Moscow to change its strategy, designed to ensure a military victory for Assad.

As the incoming Trump administration considers withdrawing from involvement in either assisting or resolving the civil war, others have indicated they will move into the anticipated vacuum.

Qatar has said it will continue supporting and supplying the rebels, regardless of what the United States decides.

“We want to have the U.S. with us, for sure. They have been our historic ally,” Qatar Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Jassim al-Thani said last week in an interview with Reuters in Doha. “But if they want to change their minds . . . we are not going to change our position.”