U.S. efforts to organize Syria's opposition also appear to be receiving help from the British. A Washington-based Syria analyst told Foreign Policy that OSOS was set up with funding from the State Department with the assistance of a Beirut-based consultancy firm called Pursue Ltd
. Alistair Harris, Pursue's director
, is a former British diplomat known for his work canvassing extremist groups in Palestinian camps in Beirut, the analyst said. Harris has also written a policy paper
on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
in the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph
initially described Harris as "a British political consultant overseeing the [nonlethal aid] programme." It was later edited
to omit his name.
Via email, Harris denied that Pursue is "undertaking any activities relating to the Syrian opposition on behalf of the U.S. or any other project partner." However, he admitted his personal involvement in the program, writing that he is "involved in US assistance programming, but not through Pursue."
A second office, run by a companycalled Access Research Knowledge (ARK), has been opened a short walk from OSOS. There, another British consultant oversees a number of employees of various Western and Arab nationalities. When Foreign Policy visited the ARK office, at least two employees knew Harris by name.
At least one employee is involved with Pursue, and activists said it is acting as an advisor and intermediary for funding from "Friends of Syria" countries to the Syrian opposition. ARK also provides funds and consulting to a new opposition media outlet founded by a group of liberal-minded Syrian activists called BasmaSyria
A State Department spokesperson described ARK as "an implementing partner" of the U.S. nonlethal-aid program.
"ARK is currently undertaking activities to support the nonviolent Syrian opposition and Syrian civil society," the spokesperson said. "Project activities involving hundreds of beneficiaries have taken place in Syria and neighboring states since the onset of the Syrian crisis. It shares the inclusive vision of a future Syria for all Syrians where the rule of law is applied equally and the people of Syria are represented by a legitimate, responsive, and democratically elected government."
The activists themselves see the projects as a way to get their message out to the world more effectively.