CIA Joins the Hunt for Bashar Assad’s ‘Massive’Chemical Weapons Stockpile
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 falls.
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.
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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 tomorrow.”
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.”