Requiem for a Middle East spymaster

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Three days before his murder, Gen. Wissam al-Hassantold me in a telephone interview from France that his contacts with the Syrian opposition put him “under a big light for Hezbollah” and made it “complicated for me to move” because he was a potential target.

The Lebanese intelligence chief’s comments have the haunting quality of words from the other side of the grave, following his death Oct. 19 in a car-bomb attack in Beirut. He knew he would be in danger back in Lebanon because he had challenged the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But he went home anyway because it was his duty, and also his passion.

For Western readers, the victims of such terrorist attacks are often little more than cardboard cutouts. The assassinations are so regular and brutal that it’s easy to overlook what unusual and talented people the victims were. This was certainly the case with Hassan. His title was head of the information branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, but that bland moniker masked the reality that he was the most powerful Sunni intelligence officer in Lebanon, a man the U.S. government had come to regard as a pivotal player in the region.

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