HOME About Blog Contact Hotel Links Donations Registration
NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Could Syrian Acquisitions from the Iraqi Arsenal Increase the Risk of Biological Terrorism?

Presentation by Jill Dekker:

Beyond dual-use technology sales to rouge states and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, this presentation assess how a relatively unsophisticated biological weapons programme might be significantly advanced from the possible acquisition of technology and select pathogens from a third party state. Specifically it examines the potential for Syrian programme advancement and the likely consequences to Israel and her western allies particularly on the notable Hamas victory in Palestine.

Although the concept that only a few select agents pose a plausible threat derived largely from state weapons programmes which predated our current knowledge of molecular biology, the five or so (anthrax, smallpox, botulinum, plague and ricin) select agents remain, in the short term, a formidable threat (Relman, 2006) Anthrax and smallpox make particularly compelling weapons. Rapid advances in the life sciences increase the number of potential agents and technologies for developing future terrorist weapons. The states who sponsor terrorism are conducting advanced research and development on biological weapons. How can such research be obstructed and how should states with a latent biological weapons capability be dealt with?

Today, after the US liberation of Iraq and possible intelligence failures, discussing state weapons programmes can be an unpopular subject particularly in Europe and the mid-east. Unfortunately the threat of bio-terrorism has not in any way been diminished by the lack of reported findings in Iraq or the lack of reported weapons transfers to Syria and Lebanon. In fact the possibility of such transfers if they have occurred would likely advance Syrian programmes considerably. This presentation develops a number of critical criteria for assessing breakout potential of a state, the sponsoring of terrorism with unconventional weapons, how likely this is to occur and what should be done to prevent state sponsored bio-terrorism in the mid-east.

Overview of Syria's intelligence apparatus:

Syria has a myriad of security/intelligence services with overlapping missions to gather intelligence on opponents of the Assad regime and then neutralise them. Some are civilian agencies, for example the General Intelligence Directorate and the Political Security Directorate; others are military such as Syrian Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence. Each organisation has its own detention cells and interrogation centres and is responsible directly to the president and his closest advisers. In addition, there are elite military elements with a special role in maintaining security. Syria's intelligence agencies have in the past been responsible for co-ordinating and organising operations with terrorist groups against Israel and opponents of the regime in the Middle East and Europe. In recent years, observers have estimated there are as many as 15 security/intelligence services in operation in Syria. They include the following:

National Security Bureau (NSB)

The NSB is the Baath Party body through which the regime supervises the work of the various security agencies. Lieutenant General Hisham Ikhtiar [name also rendered as Bakhtiar], formerly head of the General Intelligence Directorate was appointed to head the bureau in summer 2005, replacing Mohamed Said Bukhaytan, who became assistant secretary-general of the Baath Party. The NSB head is, in effect, the regime's national security advisor.

General Intelligence Directorate (GID)

The General Intelligence Directorate (GID) gathers intelligence and monitors any activity that might be considered a threat to the regime. It is thought to be the biggest of the agencies, with an estimated strength of about 25,000. The GID, also known as the General Security Directorate, is the main civilian intelligence agency, and while it formally comes under the control of the Interior Ministry, it appears to operate with considerable autonomy and reports directly to President Assad.

Established in 1971, the GID has responsibility for monitoring the Baath party and the civilian bureaucracy as well as the population in general. It oversees the civilian police and border guard, and is also responsible for counter-espionage. The GID is organised on the basis of three branches - Internal Security, also known as Branch 251, which is responsible for the monitoring of the activities of the population, with a particular focus on Damascus and university campuses; External Security, which gathers intelligence beyond the borders of the state in the manner of the CIA; and Palestine Division, which monitors the activities of Palestinians. In June 2005 President Assad named Lieutenant-General Ali Mamlouk as commander of the GID - he was previously deputy head of Air Force Intelligence. General Hassan Khaluf, formerly the head of the Palestine Branch of Military Intelligence, was named as Mamlouk's deputy. Mamlouk replaced Lieutenant-General Hisham Ikhtiar. General Fuad Nasif Kheirbek was named as head of Internal Security section in the GID, replacing Brigadier General Bahjat Suleiman, who had held the post for seven years. Kheribek formerly served as head of Military Intelligence's monitoring department. Internal Security is also known as the State Security Service.

Political Security Directorate

The PSD is one of the oldest security agencies in Syria, and oversees control of established political organisations, surveillance of government departments, monitoring student activities and the investigation of political dissidents. The PSD monitors the media and the activities of journalists, as well as the activities of foreigners in Syria. In the mid-1990s, it was understood that the PSD was divided into the Internal Security Department (ISD) and the External Security Department (ESD). The ESD appeared to be divided into three units: Arab Affairs, Refugee Affairs, and Zionist and Jewish Affairs. Major General Ghazi Kenaan served for a period as chief of the PSD after stepping down from his post as head of Syrian Military Intelligence in Lebanon in 2002. He went on to become Syria's Interior Minister in August 2004. General Mohammed Mansoura succeeded Kenaan as head of the PSD.

Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI)

Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) does not simply gather operational and strategic intelligence relevant to the armed forces - it also has an important mission relating to internal security as well. SMI has for long been regarded as highly influential within Syria's intelligence/security network and was also involved in unconventional warfare. Its HQ is located at the Defence Ministry complex in Damascus. Probably the most pre-eminent of Syria's myriad intelligence agencies, SMI derives something of its importance for reasons of history: the intelligence agencies created during the mandate period followed the French model. The Military Intelligence agency was known as the Deuxieme Bureau until 1968 and its dominance became entrenched as the army came to play an increasingly active role in politics. SMI has a number of departments, including the Palestine Branch, Regional Branch, Commando Police, Military Interrogation Branch and SMI in Lebanon

The latter branch exercised enormous power in Lebanon during the years of the Syrian military presence in that country. In the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in April 2005, it was thought unlikely that Syria would totally abandon its intelligence presence in Lebanon. It was thought that Syrian intelligence would almost certainly continue monitoring developments in the territory of its neighbour through agents 'on the ground'. In Lebanon, Lebanese Military Intelligence (LMI) operated in close co-operation with its Syrian counterpart. A joint Syrian-Lebanese military intelligence force was based at Hazmieh, on the outskirts of Beirut, where the facilities included a detention centre. The close working relationship between the two agencies was highlighted by the report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, issued in October 2005 by the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) headed by Detlev Mehlis. The report pointed the finger of suspicion at senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials, and stated that it was a 'well-known fact that SMI had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the least until the withdrawal of the Syrian forces pursuant to [UN Security Council] resolution 1559.' The report went on: 'The former senior security officials of Lebanon were their appointees. Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge.' Syria has denied all allegations of involvement in the murder of Hariri.

The report also dealt with LMI's wiretapping activities and the manner in which the results of wiretaps were shared not only with senior Lebanese officials but also with SMI. The SMI chief in Lebanon at the time of the Syrian withdrawal in 2005 was Major General Rustum Ghazali. The holder of this position was generally seen as the viceroy in Lebanon of the Syrian President. Ghazali's HQ was in the Lebanese town of Anjar, close to the Syrian border. In 2002 he replaced the previous SMI chief in Lebanon, Major General Ghazi Kenaan, who went on to become Syria's Interior Minister. Kenaan was reported to have committed suicide in his office in Damascus in October 2005, just days before the publication of the UNIIIC report on the Hariri assassination.

The head of SMI is Major-General Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of President Assad. The President is reported to rely heavily on Shawkat, who is widely regarded as the key behind-the-scenes strongman of the regime. The UNIIIC report provided details of an allegation made by an unidentified witness that Shawkat was an accomplice in the plot to murder Hariri. The witness claimed that Shawkat forced a man called Ahmad Abu Adass, a member of a militant Islamic group, to record a videotaped confession to the assassination 15 days before it happened. As already indicated, all such allegations were denied by Syria. The Deputy Director of SMI is Said Sammour.

The Syrian Human Rights Committee in its report for 2005, stated that SMI was considered among 'the most savage of the security and intelligence divisions in Syria' in the use of torture against detainees.

Air Force Intelligence (AFI)

Under the late President Hafez al-Assad, Air Force Intelligence (AFI) was believed to be closest to the Presidential Palace, owing to Assad's own career in the air force. After assuming power in 1970, Assad used the AFI (many of whose members he knew personally) to perform sensitive missions both inside and outside Syria. On the domestic level, the AFI frequently spearheaded operations against Islamist opposition elements in the country. It played a leading role in the regime's suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood revolt during the 1970s and early 1980s. More recently, AFI agents reportedly led the nationwide manhunt for members of the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir) in December 1999. During the 1980s, Air Force Intelligence was accused of playing a central role in the regime's sponsorship of international terrorism. In 1986 the then head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, General Mohammed el-Khouly, was alleged to have been behind an operation mounted by Jordanian-born Nezar Hindawi to destroy an Israeli airliner while in flight by planting an explosive device in the baggage of his unsuspecting girlfriend. The plot was foiled when the bomb was discovered by Israeli security checks. AFI also has the role of maintaining security within the air force. The head of AFI is Major General (reserve) Izzedine Ismail. He was appointed to the post in January 2002, replacing General Ibrahim Hueiji

The Republican Guard (RG)

The Republican Guard (RG), which consists of an armoured division, comprising three armoured brigades, one mechanised brigade and one artillery regiment, has the primary mission of protecting the regime and is charged with controlling the Damascus area. Formed by the late President Hafez al-Assad in 1976 following violent attacks in Damascus by Palestinians angered by the Syrian intervention in Lebanon, it is the only major military formation permitted to deploy within the city centre itself, and has a particular role in countering any threat from dissident military forces. The unit has a strength of about 10,000, and there is a particular focus on protecting the Presidential Palace and on securing the up-market Malki district, an area home to many senior Syrian officials.

Bashar al-Assad served as an officer in the Republican Guard and is believed to have developed close personal contacts with senior officers in the force. His younger brother Maher is a brigade commander, and his personal secretary, Lieutenant General Abd al-Fatah al-Qudsi, heads up the RG's security branch, which ensures that RG members remain loyal to the regime. The RG is commanded by General Ali Mahmud Hasan, a member of the Alawite sect to which many senior figures in the regime belong. He took over command of the RG in 1995, following the departure of Major General Adnan Makhluf, a cousin of the wife of the late President Assad.

Special Forces

It is understood that apart from the Special Force Division, which comprises three special forces regiments, there are also at least eight, and possibly as many as 10, independent special forces regiments. In addition to these independent units there is the 14th Parachute Division, which is also considered part of the special forces. There is a Special Forces HQ at Al-Qutayfah, about 25 miles northeast of Damascus, and it is understood that this HQ controls the independent regiments which, along with the 14th Airborne Division, are estimated to have a strength of 10,000 to 15,000 commandos. The commander at Special Forces HQ was formerly Major General Ali Habib, who previously commanded the 7th Mechanised Division and who is now Chief of Staff of the army.

The Struggle Companies

The Struggle Companies, known in Arabic as Saraya al-Sira, is one of the forces used by the regime to protect it from any threat posed by hostile elements. The force, which has an estimated strength of about 5,000, is concentrated in the greater Damascus area, one of its roles being to maintain a security cordon around the perimeter of the city. It is commanded by Major General Adnan al-Assad, a cousin of the late Hafez al-Assad.

People's Army (Baath Party militia)

The Baath Party's militia, known as the People's Army, has an estimated strength of 100,000. It is not seen as a significant military force.
Web IntelligenceSummit.org
Webmasters: Intelligence, Homeland Security & Counter-Terrorism WebRing
Copyright © IHEC 2008. All rights reserved.       E-mail info@IntelligenceSummit.org