Posted by Ian Allen
THE 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
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