By CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
The State Department is slamming an amateur video put on YouTube showing the American ambassador being harassed by a Syrian supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, calling it a "feeble attempt to divert the world's attention from what's really happening to the Syrian people."
The video, the authenticity of which CNN cannot verify, is part of a report on U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford carried by Al Donya TV. It claims that Ford and other Westerners were trying to infiltrate a crowd of pro-Assad supporters in Damascus. It also says that Ford was in Syria to try to subvert the Assad regime.
A man described as an eyewitness tells the reporter he chased Ford down and covered him in an Assad poster because he knew Ford was trying "to play with this country."
The amateur video shows the ambassador's security detail hustling Ford away out of danger and into a vehicle.
Asked about the YouTube video in her daily briefing Tuesday at the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. ambassador and several European Union ambassadors were invited by Syrian lawyers holding a sit-in at the Syrian Bar Association to come and witness their protest.
"Ambassador Ford went, he stood quietly outside, he was not involved in any disruptive activity," Nuland said, "but some pro-government thugs came and tried to interrupt his bearing of witness and then putting it on YouTube as a cynical effort to portray him as an agiteur, when in fact, they should have been paying attention to their own lawyers protesting peacefully at the Bar Association.
"I think this effort to put it up on YouTube is going to backfire," Nuland said, "because it just allows more public understanding of what the lawyers were trying to say to their own government."
Asked whether Ford was in danger Nuland told reporters, "If you watch the video to the end, the ambassador's guard force was able to handle the incident and it ended peacefully and he left."
The incident was the second time in which a video was put on YouTube showing Ford's activities in Syria that have drawn the ire of the Syrian government.
In July Ford visited the restive city of Hama to show solidarity with protesters. A YouTube video shows his vehicle being greeted by citizens and covered in flowers as it moves through the streets.