CBS’s Clarissa Ward Sneaks Into Syria: ‘I Was Fortunate That I Really Did Slip Under The Radar’

By Merrill Knox 

For her first assignment since joining CBS News, foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward secretly visited Syria, where foreign journalists have been banned in an ongoing attempt by President Bashar al-Assad to quell opposition.

“I had all sorts of things I wanted to see that I felt American audiences had not been able to see,” Ward tells TVNewser.

Ward entered the country alone on a tourist visa, spending two days in Damascus before she felt comfortable reaching out to an underground network of government defectors she interviewed for the series, which begins this evening.

“I had already been in contact with a network of activists before going in, and once I went in I went to Damascus I posed as a tourist for a few days to make sure I wasn’t being followed,” Ward, who speaks Arabic, says. “I was fortunate that I really did slip under the radar.”

Ward was blindfolded in the back of a car on her journey to meet with the underground group, which facilitated most of her reporting. She attended protests and the funeral of a 16-year-old boy, shooting footage with a small point-and-shoot camera.

“I always had a memory card with me that had still photographs of tourist pictures, like of the Hammoudiya Souq,” Ward says. “I hoped I would get the opportunity to quickly switch out memory cards if I was caught filming.”

In March 2010, Fox Business Network anchor Cheryl Casone reported from Damascus with the government’s permission. Katie Couric, reporting for CBS “Evening News,”  and Diane Sawyer, reporting for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” both traveled to Syria in 2007. NBC’s Richard Engel reported from Syria last month for “Rock Center.”

Ward said she was especially careful at the anti-government gatherings, which are often attended by members of a plainclothes militia loyal to al-Assad.

“What will strike the audience, or what really struck me, is how incredibly brave these people are,” Ward says. “There is not one person I spoke to from the opposition that has not had a friend, or a family member, or a colleague who has not been beaten or killed. And yet these people were so brave and bold in wanting to get their story across.”

Ward’s reports will air in three parts, beginning tonight, on “Evening News with Scott Pelley.”