CIA joins the hunt for Bashar al-Assad´s chemical weapons (TELEGRAPH UK) By The Daily Beast, Eli Lake 07/21/12)
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With the rebels moving deeper into Damascus, and the Assad regime’s
days appearing numbered, the CIA is racing to find Syria’s chemical
and biological weapons before it’s too late.
With the days and weeks of the Syrian government appearing numbered,
the Central Intelligence Agency is scrambling to get a handle on the
locations of the country´s chemical and biological weapons, while
assessing the composition, loyalties, and background of the rebel
groups poised to take power in the event President Bashar al-Assad
Obama administration officials tell The Daily Beast that the CIA has
sent officers to the region to assess Syria’s weapons program. One
major task for the CIA right now is to work with military defectors
to find out as much information on Syria’s weapons of mass
destruction, according to one U.S. official with access to Syrian
intelligence. Another focus will be to sort through reams of
intercepted phone calls and emails, satellite images, and other
collected intelligence to find the exact locations of the Syrian
weapons, this official said.
This task has become more urgent in recent days. Last week, The Wall
Street Journal reportedthat the Syrian military was moving its
chemical weapons out of storage. On July 17, Nawaf Fares, Syria’s ex-
ambassador to Iraq, told the BBCthe regime would not hesitate to use
chemical weapons against the rebel fighters. On Wednesday, a bomb
killed the Syrian defense minister and the brother-in-law of
President al-Assad in Damascus. The blow to the al-Assad cabinet
raised the prospect that the Syrian regime may be on its last legs.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to provide details on what
intelligence assets have been sent to Syria or to say whether the CIA
has sent officers on the ground there. He said that the
administration had recently deployed "the resources necessary to
collect the information that we need to make a good decision on
chemical and biological [weapons], opposition groups and leadership
transition strategies." But, he added, "We don’t know nearly what we
need to know to be completely effective if the regime were to implode
A CIA spokesman Thursday declined to comment.
Syria never signed the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, the treaty
that bans the use, stockpiling, or production of chemical weapons.
Steven Heydemann, a senior adviser for Middle East initiatives at the
U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank, said he
understands Syria’s stockpiles to be “massive.”
Brian Sayers, the director of government relations for the Syria
Support Group, a new lobby in Washington that is pressing the Obama
administration to give guns and training to Syria’s opposition
said, “We believe that if the United States does not act urgently,
there is a real risk of a political vacuum in Syria, including the
possibility of a dispersion of chemical weapons to rogue groups such
Paula DeSutter, who served as assistant secretary of state for
verification, compliance, and implementation between 2002 and 2009
and is now retired, said biological weapons could be a bigger a
concern. A 2011 State Department reporton the compliance of countries
with arms control and nonproliferation agreements said it "remained
unclear" whether Syria would use biological weapons as a military
option or whether Syria had violated the Biological Weapons
DeSutter also said she would want the U.S. and international
community to secure any remaining nuclear-related equipment from the
al-Kibar reactor destroyed in 2007 by Israeli jets. Also unclear is
what, if anything, Iraq transferred to Syria before the 2003 U.S.
invasion. “That is the wild card,” said DeSutter.
Whether or not sensitive weapons technology was moved to Syria is a
hotly disputed question in the intelligence community. James Clapper,
now the Director of National Intelligence and formerly the director
of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, said in 2003 that he
believed materials had been moved out of Iraq in the months before
the war and cited satellite imagery.
Obama administration officials say the White House has yet to decide
on how it will respond if pro-al-Assad forces use chemical weapons
against the Syrian population or a neighboring country. The
administration has told senior regime officials that they will be
held responsible if they fail to secure chemical weapons.
DeSutter said the U.S. should remain vague about the exact
consequences. “You could say we will target the president of Syria if
they are used and we will target any military organization that used
them,” DeSutter said. “I would let them wonder. You might want to
drop the word ‘Israel’ in the conversation, too, as a subtle point.”
Hydemann said, “There is absolutely no question there has been a
great deal of attention in different agencies of the government to
the location and security of the chemical weapons stockpiles.” He
says the U.S. has done some contingency planning on securing Syria’s
borders as well as airports and sea ports to make sure sensitive
weapons or terrorist and regime officials do not escape in the event
of the regime’s collapse.
Other issues pending at the White House include who in the current
Syrian government could remain in place if the regime falls and what
the U.S. will do to protect Syrian religious and ethnic minorities.
While several government agencies and departments are drawing up
contingency plans and drafting policy memos, the White House has
ultimate control of the policy process and has yet to make a
decision. “We are still waiting for red lines,” one Obama
administration official who works on Syria issues told The Daily
Beast. “This is a decision for the president.”
Up until now, the Obama administration has preferred to influence
events in Syria from behind the scenes. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton has helped create a group of states known as “Friends of
Syria” that seek a managed transition through financial support for
the opposition. The State Department is also providing nonlethal aid
to Syria’s opposition such as communications equipment. U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has pushed for U.N.
Security Council resolutions and sanctions targeting President al-
Assad and his top aides. A resolution authorizing military
intervention in Syria was vetoed Thursday by China and Russia at the
This article was originally published on TheDailyBeast.com(©
Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 07/21/12)
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