Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Syria's Al Qaeda Dilema: Retaining Command and Control of WMD

The basic timeline of Syria's biological weapon programs begin in the 1980's when culture collections were routinely and legally obtained. Additionally, there is speculation that Syria retained smallpox from it's last outbreak in 1972. The Wednesday Report Canada's Aerospace and Defence Weekly noted:  "In April 2000, Syrian Defence Minister General Mustafa Talas published a lengthy article entitled "Biological (Germ) Warfare: A New and Effective Method in Modern Warfare;" (Interestingly, the article was published in Persian translated in Tehran, the key Muslim strategic ally of Damascus)." See: http://www.thewednesdayreport.com/twr/syria/syria.htm. 

That same year Gen. Tlas commented that Syria, who by this time had a joint defence agreement with Khartoum, had re designated it BW programs into it's conventional arsenal. This was a highly significant shift in military protocol. See: http://www.thewednesdayreport.com/twr/syria/syria.htm. This seemed to pass by un-noticed by most Western analysts.  In 2006 unconfirmed reports hinted that Syria had received a genetically modified version of smallpox from the DPRK.  

Syria is also rumored to have benefited from sections of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs right before the fall of Iraq to coalition forces. Back in 2003, the Pentagon released a report to Congress regarding AQ interest in CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) which noted that Bin-Laden encouraged the use of CBRN calling it a religious duty of all Muslims to make and use weapons of mass destruction against Americans and Jews. American forces discovered documents and equipment used for chemical and biological weapon tests. The Pentagon then described in a report sent to Congress indicating AQ had a sophisticated biological weapon program. See: .http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2003-05-23-us-wmd_x.htm

SSRC photo Times of Israel

In 2012, Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for Syria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, unintentionally announced on Syrian state television SANA that Syria had a BW program, confirming what has long been suspected. See: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/syrian-officials-statement-on-w-m-d/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 Most recently, the Telegraph ran an article entitled:"Syria 'may be able to produce biological weapons.' The article goes on to state: 

"President  Bashar al-Assad has developed Syria’s biological weapons programme and may now have the capability to produce lethal agents, the US intelligence chief warned senators on Wednesday.The written statement by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, to the Senate Intelligence Committee, is the first assertion by American spy agencies that Syria may have made significant strides in biological warfare.“We judge that some elements of Syria’s biological warfare programme might have advanced beyond the research and development stage and might be capable of limited agent production, based on the duration of its longstanding programme,” said Mr Clapper. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10605512/Syria-may-be-able-to-produce-biological-weapons.html
photo: www.theblogmocracy.com al-Nusra Front

Command and control over Syria's weapons of mass destruction and particularly its biological weapon programs, nestled at the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) in Damascus, facilities in Homs, Aleppo and Latakia, are protected by elite forces, some of whom have been identified as Iranian IRGC/Quds. As Al Qaeda forces gain ground in Syria, of grave concern is the security of Assad's BW sections. Contrary to popular perception, that Syria's BW programs are marginal, and of little interest to AQ, quite the opposite is true. AQ has biological and chemical weapon experts which could divert BW out of Syria. Although AQ has lost a couple of it's CBRN experts, namely Midhat Mursi, also knows as Abu Khabab, an explosives expert who ran a training camp in Jalalabad and wrote the chemical and biological weapon manuals found by the US military, he was killed in a drone strike and Yazid Sufaat, a US trained microbiologist detained by Malaysia under ISA, for 7 years and recently rearrested for planning terrorist attacks in Syria, AQ's interest has by no means waned. With Syria's CW scheduled destruction and the spotlight clearly focused on that weapon class, BW may well prove a more enticing target for elements within AQ. Politics aside, Assad's command and control over his BW programs is essential to averting global public health risks. While many view Assad's departure as a positive step, from a strictly international public health security perspective it is not. While there is much concern over Assad and his human rights track record leaves much to be desired, BW in the hands of AQ would be far worse, not only for Syrian populations but global public health security.  We must be careful not to put the cart before the horse. 

For further interest I recommend this PBS interactive series on biological weapon proliferation: http://www.pbs.org/avoidingarmageddon/learnTheFacts/learn_02_01_prolif.html
Dragon voice recognition

Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washington DC. Her articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, a private consultancy based in the Netherlands.Currently she serves as Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society.

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