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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Biological Weapons

Syria has a robust biotechnology infrastructure and is likely It is highly probable that Syria also is developing an offensive BW capability. Nearly all assessments of this program point to Syria having difficulty producing biological weapons without significant outside assistance both in expertise and material. A facility near Cerin is the only reported facility suspected as being used for the development of biological agents. Syria is a signatory of the Biological Warfare Convention but has not ratified it.

Syria was assessed as being a "probable" biological weapons state according to the Committee on Armed Services, US House of Representatives "Special Inquiry into the Chemical and Biological Threat. Countering the Chemical and Biological Weapons Threat in the Post-Soviet World." Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 23 February 1993.

A White House Fact Sheet: "Implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003" stated May 11, 2004 "Syria has one of the most advanced Arab state chemical weapons capabilities and it is highly probable that Syria continues to develop an offensive biological weapons capability."

The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) was listed in the Annex to E.O. 13382 in June 2005 for its ties to Syria’s WMD proliferation activities. The SSRC is the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The SSRC also has a public civilian research function; however, its activities focus on the development of biological weapons, chemical weapons, and missiles.

The Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January to 31 December 2006, reported "Syria's biotechnical infrastructure is capable of supporting limited biological agent development. We do not assess the Syrians have achieved a capability to put biological agents into effective weapons, however." In 2008 the US Congressional Research Service reported that unclassified sources indicated that several nations were considered, with varying degrees of certainty, to have some BW capability, including China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia, and Syria.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a 2008 analysis, concluded that Syria’s capabilities included “possible production capability for anthrax and botulism, and possibly other agents,” and that the “design of biological bombs and missile warheads with the lethality of small nuclear weapons may now be within Syrian capabilities . . . .”

In July 2012, a Syrian government official directly acknowledged the existence of his country’s bioweapons, simultaneously threatening to use them if Syria was “exposed to external aggression.” In April 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate, providing the assessment of the US intelligence community: “Based on the duration of Syria’s longstanding biological warfare (BW) program, we judge that some elements of the program may have advanced beyond the research and development stage and may be capable of limited agent production.” Director Clapper also assessed that Syria’s delivery systems for chemical weapons “could be modified for biological agent delivery.”

One scientist who serves as a biodefense consultant to NATO, and who was quoted in a Washington Post article in September 2013, believes that Syria’s bioweapons program is “capable of serious harm” and “includes a full complement of lethal human and animal strains, from neurotoxin producers such as botulinum to the family of orthopox viruses such as camelpox and cowpox, both cousins to the microbe that causes smallpox.”

US Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter 13 September 2013 to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to include bioweapons in the negotiations on disarming the Assad regime of chemical weapons. “I remain highly skeptical of Russia’s true intentions, but I believe omitting Assad’s bioweapons from any agreement would represent a gaping hole in the plan and would not adequately protect U.S. national security interests.

“Assad’s bioweapons, either in his hands or the hands of terrorists, represent a direct security threat to the U.S. and our allies. In many ways, bioweapons can be easier to hide, transport, and employ than chemical weapons, making them a potentially even graver threat.

“Any credible agreement must force the surrender of both Assad’s bioweapons and chemical weapons, and it must achieve their destruction in a way that is workable, effective, timely, and verifiable.”

Federal and state officials told Homeland Security Today In September 2013 that they continued to be especially concerned about the adequacy of the nation's Strategic National Stockpile, which they said lacks necessary bio-countermeasures for dealing with a large-scale biological event. Speaking on background because of the positions they hold, they framed their comments in the context of what they said are concerns about the potential for biological weapons or materials getting into the hands of terrorists and rogue states, and pointed to fears about Syria's bio-weapons stockpiles and production capabilities, and whether they are adequately secured.

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Page last modified: 31-10-2014 17:56:15 ZULU