Manaf Tlass was once one of Bashar al-Assad's closest friends.
"He is humble. He loves people," Tlass said when describing the Syrian leader. "But he has changed. The crisis has changed him."
Before he defected this July, Tlass was the very image of an Assad regime insider.
His father is a former defense minister.
Manaf Tlass was a brigadier general in Syria's Republican Guard. And, of course, he was a close friend of Assad's.
But Tlass became disgusted with the regime's brutal crackdown -- and he learned about it in the exact same way the rest of the world has: by watching amateur video posted to YouTube.
"I remember very well how I defected," Tlass told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Thursday. "I remember that video that I saw when they stepped on the head of a Syrian citizen in Baniyas," a city on Syria's Western coast.
"I started to feel the feelings of a citizen."
Tlass said he went to Assad and told him that the perpetrator should be punished. When Assad refused to react, Tlass knew that was it.
"Ever since then I can no longer be a friend of Bashar's," Tlass said.
"I tried to tell him that he had to give up something for the people," Tlass said of his last conversations with Assad. "That there is a true uprising and that he must go along with it. There is an Arab Spring all around us. You should be part of it and democratize the country. He refused."
"The old guard around him lulled him into handling the crisis this way."
But the falling out with Assad came early -- four months after the conflict began. The last time the two spoke, Tlass says, was June 2011. It would take him more than another year to defect.
How did he survive?
Tlass was a dissident within the regime, but he was still a true member of the inner circle. His fellow insiders told him that if he kept quiet and avoided Assad, he would be safe.
"I stayed in my office and refused to engage in any meeting or any conversation with any of them," Tlass said.
Tlass stayed silent and survived like this through many months, and many more killed.
"But then I realized that the violence was becoming unbearable and I could no longer take it," Tlass said. "My military conscience could not take that constant killing of innocent civilians."