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Diving into the papers of Farid Chehab, Lebanon’s first spy chief

| Oct. 06, 2018

On Sept. 6, 2018, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. announced the addition of nearly 1,900 files from the private archives of Emir Farid Chehab. Referred to as the “Father of the Surete Generale [General Security],” Chehab served as the founding general director of Lebanon’s first intelligence agency. Known as the General Directorate of General Security, the primary duties of this organization are to collect and analyze intelligence, and inform the Lebanese government of threats to national security.

Chehab’s vast collection of primary records, primarily in Arabic, promises researchers and curious readers an insider’s look into Lebanese history and developments in the Middle East in the 20th century. As a scholar who researches, writes and teaches about the politics of intelligence, secrecy and foreign policymaking, I’m thrilled at the prospect of scouring his hundreds of analyses, notes and correspondence with informants in the Middle East during the Cold War and at times marked by wars, military coups, revolutions and political crises.

While the Chehab papers were available at the Middle East Centre Archive at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, the History and Public Policy Program at the Wilson Center started digitizing the collection since 2016. What do Chehab’s private papers offer to scholars and curious readers interested in the political and security history of Lebanon and wider Middle East?

In brief, the papers that stretch from the 1930s to the early 1980s consist of personal analyses, military and security reports, correspondences with informants and diplomats, and news reports.

Accepting that these are personal papers, and hence represent the subjective view of a key security leader in Lebanon, we can still undoubtedly though cautiously explore them for a more nuanced understanding of the past.

The papers trace the evolution of different political parties and militias in various Arab states, primarily Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. More importantly, Chehab’s detailed focus on revolutionary cells in different Arab militaries and plans for coup d’états is interesting for researchers working on civil-military relations and the rise and consolidation of authoritarianism in the Arab world, especially between the 1940s and 1970s.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Karam, Jeffrey G.“Diving into the papers of Farid Chehab, Lebanon’s first spy chief.” Daily Star, October 6, 2018.