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

[Updated] World braces as Israel attacks Syria for first time in 5 years

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Alarm bells were sounding all over the Middle East Wednesday as Syria confirmed it had been attacked by Israeli military jets for the first time since 2007. It remains unclear at this point whether the Israeli airstrikes were meant to disrupt the flow of weapons to neighboring Lebanon, or whether Israel has officially entered the Syrian Civil War. Unnamed United States officials told The New York Times late on Wednesday that the Israel Air Force had entered Syrian airspace and destroyed a single truck transporting a “game-changing” cache of weapons to Lebanon. The cargo, allegedly consisting of Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, is said to have been destined for Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large parts of southern Lebanon. The alleged attack occurred near Zabadani, a small town on the road that connects Syrian capital Damascus to the Lebanese border. Hours later, however, Syrian state television confirmed the Israeli attack, but said the target was a “military research center aimed at raising the level of resistance and self defense” of the Syrian nation, located near Damascus. Some Israeli media suggest that, if the Syrian government’s claims are accurate, the target of the Israeli attack would seem to have been the so-called Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as CERS. Both The New York Times and Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper report that Israel informed the United States prior to launching the attack, but neither Washington nor Tel Aviv have so far commented on the airstrikes. In the absence of credible corroboration, confusion persists on whether the Israeli action was directed against Hezbollah, or meant to assist the aims of the Syrian opposition –or both. Read more of this post

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