Position: Former commander of Syria's military intelligence agency, current deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military
Career: Few paths to power have been as unlikely -- or as oddly romantic -- as Assef Shawkat's. Born in the coastal town of Tartus, Shawkat served in the Syrian military while pursuing a graduate degree in history, a subject for which he has a deep affinity. Shawkat moved easily within elite circles, socializing that paid off spectacularly when he captured the heart of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's daughter, Bushra. His dogged pursuit of Bushra -- her father initially opposed the relationship -- earned him some measure of respect: "Anyone who could go into the home of Hafez Assad and take his daughter away without his permission has the power to do anything,'' a Syrian newscaster who had met Shawkat many times told the New York Times in 2005.
By the late 1990s, Shawkat had joined the inner sanctum, assuming command of military intelligence in February 2005 -- the same month former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated. The initial findings of a U.N. commission cast suspicion on Shawkat, leading many observers to suggest that President Bashar al-Assad would hand his brother-in-law over for questioning or possible trial. In January 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department added to the avalanche of condemnation by freezing Shawkat's assets and dubbing him "a key architect of Syria's domination of Lebanon.
Influence: By 2008, having successfully avoided the calls for his extradition, Shawkat appeared poised to continue the consolidation of his power base. However, his ascension may have been stalled by the death of Hezbollah security chief Imad Mugniyah in February 2008. Killed in the heart of Damascus, Mugniyah's death was viewed as an embarrassing breach of security or even an indication of Syrian involvement. Tellingly, Shawkat was barred from participating in the joint Hezbollah-Syrian-Iranian investigation into Mugniyah's death. Additionally, just this month, Shawkat was "promoted" to deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military, a transfer that may signal a deterioration of the Assad-Shawkat relationship. However, given Shawkat's marriage to Bushra and his long-standing ties to senior members of the security apparatus, it is way too early to count him out of the Syrian power game.