WASHINGTON, April 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department secretly financed Syrian opposition groups and related projects, diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks indicated.
The cables indicate U.S. financial support for the London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, which beams anti-government programs in to Syria and is closely tied to the Movement for Justice and Development, a network of Syrian exiles also based in London, The Washington Post reported.
The classified U.S. diplomatic communiques indicate the State Department channeled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria.
Syria has been caught up in protests as pro-democracy groups seek the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad's security forces since demonstrations began March 18.
The U.S funding assistance for Syrian opposition activities began under President George W. Bush after he suspended political ties with Damascus in 2005 and continued under President Barack Obama while his administration tried to rebuild relations with Assad, the Post reported Sunday.
The cables indicate U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus were worried in 2009 upon learning Syrian intelligence agents were asking about U.S. programs, the Post reported.
Syrian officials "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change," an April 2009 cable read. "A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive."
Unclear is whether the State Department still funds Syrian opposition groups; cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010.
The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables. Tamara Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said the State Department doesn't give backing to political parties or movements.