U.S. provides communications aid for Syria opponents

WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday acknowledged providing communications equipment and other forms of assistance to members of the “peaceful opposition” in Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the aid is part of “non-lethal” assistance to Syrians living under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and part of a global effort to support Internet freedom.

Nuland declined to elaborate on the aid, but a source familiar with the effort said it includes things such as anonymizing software, and satellite phones with GPS capabilities “to document the location of atrocities.”

Nuland said the Internet freedom initiatives are part of “programs that we do around the world that we’ve been doing with Syrians and many, many other countries for quite a long time.”

These are programs “that help citizens in countries where the Internet is restricted or unavailable to find ways to have access to the Internet so that they can know their fundamental freedom to expression and access to information is respected,” she told a press briefing.

The United States has spent $76 million since 2008 for these programs around the world and has another $25 million that will be allocated this year.

Nuland said that additional aid for Syria “is largely in the communications area” and is “designed to help those who are subjected to government intrusion, government interruption of their ability to communicate with each other, to do so to help support unity among the peaceful opposition.”

Time magazine reported this week that the State Department has been providing media-technology training and support to Syrian dissidents by way of small nonprofits.

Asked about the report, Nuland said it was “greatly over-revved.”

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