Top Syrian chemical weapons scientist spied for CIA for 14 years, new book claims

Syrian Scientific Studies and Research CenterTHE TOP SCIENTIST IN Syria’s chemical weapons program, reputed to be among the world’s deadliest, spied for the United States Central Intelligence Agency for 14 years, according to a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Toby Warrick. The claim is included in Warrick’s latest book, Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America’s Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World, which has been published this week by Doubleday.

The scientist, whose name Warrick is withholding from publication, was partly educated in the United States in the 1980s, after receiving an academic scholarship. Upon returning to Syria, he became a senior researcher in Institute 3000, a secret chemical weapons program that was hidden within the Damascus-based Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). Known mostly by its French name, Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS), the center coordinated scientific research throughout the country. Camouflaged as a CERS engineering outfit, Institute 3000 maintained over 40 research and storage facilities that manufactured and housed Damascus’ stockpiles of military grade sarin, mustard gas, VX, and other nerve agents.

Citing interviews with “three former US intelligence officials familiar with the case”, and with a Syrian defector who knew the scientist, Warrick claims that the scientist was in his 30s when he reached out to the CIA. It allegedly happened in the mid-1990s, when the scientist was attending a conference in Europe. A number of months later, the scientist, who is simply referred to as “Ayman” in Warrick’s book, was approached in Damascus by a CIA case officer. He soon began sharing classified information with the CIA, which included samples of nerve agents that the Syrians were working on. In return he received regular payments from the US spy agency “in the form of cash transfers to a foreign bank account”, according to Warrick.

But the scientist’s service to the CIA ended abruptly in late 2001, says Warrick, when officers from Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency appeared at his Damascus office and took him away for questioning. It turns out they were there to investigate reports that he had been asking foreign suppliers to CERS for payoffs, in return for recommending them for contracts with the research agency. But the scientist thought his work for the CIA had been betrayed, so he confessed to everything, without realizing that the Mukhabarat had no idea about his espionage. He was executed by firing squad on April 7, 2002 in the Adra Prison, on the northeast outskirts of Damascus, says Warrick.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 February 2021 | Permalink

Syrians accuse Israel of assassinating top missile scientist in Hama province

Syrian Scientific Studies and Research CenterOne of Syria’s leading pro-government newspapers has said that Israel was behind a bomb blast in Hama province that killed a senior scientist working for the country’s missile program. Aziz Azbar was reportedly a senior research director at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS. The Damascus-based agency is thought to be at the center of the Syrian government’s formidable chemical weapons program. Last year, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed economic sanctions on nearly 300 CERS employees, after Washington accused them of being directly responsible for the Syrian government’s repeated use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians. The European Union, as well as the French and British governments, also imposed sanctions on CERS and its staff.

According to Syrian media, Azbar specialized in developing and maintaining rocket systems in the city of Masyaf, located about 160 miles north of Damascus, where CERS maintains a research facility. He reportedly died last Saturday night when his car suddenly blew up. According to some reports, the blast originated from a bomb that had been placed in the headrest of his car seat and was detonated remotely. His driver was also killed in the blast, according to Syrian media reports. An insurgent group calling itself the Abu Amara Battalions, which is linked with the Sunni Levant Front in Syria’s Aleppo province, issued a statement claiming responsibility for Azbar’s killing. The Abu Amara Battalions have previously issued similar statements after reportedly assassinating Syrian government officials or militia commanders.

However, on Sunday Syria’s al-Watan newspaper said that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was responsible for Azbar’s death. The Syrian scientist was “a person of the utmost interest to Israel” said the paper, because of his direct connection to Damascus’ Russian- and North Korean-built Scud missile arsenal. However, officials in Israel refused to acknowledge that Tel Aviv had any connection with Azbar’s killing. “Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores”, said Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. “Every time they try to pin the blame on [Israel], so we won’t take this [latest accusation] too seriously”, he added. The Syrian government has not made any formal statements regarding Azbar’s death.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 August 2018 | Permalink