Former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj says he spent half his days at the Syrian U.N. mission in Geneva secretly working against President Bashar Assad's regime — and he says there are many others like him at all levels of government.

Al-Baaj, who joined the mission as a third secretary in August 2010, defected to the opposition last fall but kept on in his job, where he dealt mainly with human rights issues. He says he tried to represent the Syrian people, not the regime and its brutal attempt to suppress anti-government groups.

"Yes, I was with the opposition for a year and a half," al-Baaj told U.N. reporters in Geneva on Thursday after his defection earlier this month. "It is a criminal regime."

In recent months, he said it had become harder for him and several other diplomats elsewhere who were secretly opposed to the regime to keep up appearances. He said higher-ups increasingly scrutinized their statements, finding them not in line with the regime's thinking.

Al-Baaj told reporters that he remained in his role as long as he could since he had decided he could be more useful to the opposition by doing so.

"(There are) a lot of other Syrian diplomats, a lot of other Syrians, even officers in the army, who feel that they can help from the inside," he said.

For months, he tried to figure out how to get his family out of the country and what they would do if he suddenly had to defect. Then this summer the day came when he had to call his parents and use the code words that meant it was time for them to flee.

Even then, he recalled, his parents only made it over the border into Lebanon because of the kindness of a taxi driver and an immigration officer who secretly sided with the opposition and ignored the fact that his parents' names were on a government watch-list.

Al-Baaj said he is now talking with the Swiss government about asylum for himself and his family.