Mideast Spy Agencies Nervous Syria May Use Bioweapons

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 5, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

Middle East­ern in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials are con­cerned that Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime could for the first time de­ploy bio­lo­gic­al weapons in re­tali­ation to an ex­pec­ted U.S. mis­sile strike, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­por­ted on Wed­nes­day.

Syr­ia has nev­er form­ally de­clared a bio­lo­gic­al weapons pro­gram, though it came close last sum­mer to ad­mit­ting own­er­ship of one.

Seni­or-rank­ing spy of­fi­cials from two Middle East­ern na­tions an­onym­ously told the Post that they have stud­ied the pos­sib­il­ity of Syr­i­an bio­lo­gic­al at­tacks in re­sponse to West­ern strikes on the Syr­i­an cap­it­al. The United States is seek­ing to build in­ter­na­tion­al sup­port around lim­ited cruise mis­sile at­tacks on the As­sad re­gime as pun­ish­ment for its widely sus­pec­ted Aug. 21 gas at­tack on Syr­i­an ci­vil­ians in the Dam­as­cus sub­urbs.

“We are wor­ried about sar­in, but Syr­ia also has bio­lo­gic­al weapons, and com­pared to those, sar­in is noth­ing,” one of the in­ter­viewed of­fi­cials said. “We know it, and oth­ers in the re­gion know it. The Amer­ic­ans cer­tainly know it.”

De­tails of Syr­ia’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment of bio­lo­gic­al weapons re­main some­what mys­ter­i­ous. A 2008 ana­lys­is by a Wash­ing­ton think tank con­cluded that the mil­it­ary likely had es­tab­lished the abil­ity to pro­duce, at a min­im­um, botulism and an­thrax.

Jill Bel­lamy van Aalst, a biode­fense ad­viser to NATO, said Syr­ia in re­cent years has ac­quired much phar­ma­ceut­ic­al equip­ment that is “dual use.” Though it may be used for val­id health re­search, the tech­no­logy also could be used to pro­duce patho­gens for weapon­iz­ing, the Post cited her as say­ing.

“You don’t stock­pile bio­lo­gic­al weapons any­more, be­cause today it’s all about pro­duc­tion ca­pa­city — and in Syr­ia the pro­duc­tion ca­pa­city is quite sub­stan­tial,” the biode­fense con­sult­ant said.

Syr­ia re­portedly pos­sesses the equip­ment ne­ces­sary for modi­fy­ing patho­gens in­to aer­o­sol or powder form — the bet­ter for dis­pers­al in mil­it­ary at­tacks. There is dis­agree­ment among U.S. of­fi­cials about just how ad­vanced a po­ten­tial Syr­i­an bio­lo­gic­al at­tack would be.

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