Syria Continues to Develop Chemical Weapons, Officials Tell WSJ

International mission to remove Syria's chemical munitions failed to curtail work of country's weapons scientists, allowing them to develop new chlorine bombs.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime continues to operate chemical weapons production facilities and is even developing new chlorine bombs, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

According to the report, the international mission to remove Syria's chemical munitions last year failed to force the Syrian regime to give up its entire arsenal, and did not curtail the work of the country's weapons scientists.

According to the WSJ, which cites international weapons inspectors and Western intelligence sources, the Assad regime had managed to hide the extent of its chemical-weapons work from the West. This is credited primarily to the restrictive conditions under which inspectors were allowed in Syria; seeing as the regime was responsible for providing security for the inspectors, it could effectively control their movements. The inspectors felt that demanding further access would antagonize the regime.

In its initial declaration, the Syrian regime disclosed it had 23 sites where 1,300 metric tons of chemicals were stored. The 2014 mission saw the removal of these chemicals, including ingredients for sarin and VX agents, and destroyed relevant equipment and munitions.

The regime also said it had more than 100 missile warheads, primarily Scud missiles, as well as some 1,100 aerial bombs, which posed a threat to Israel. But the regime never had to account for the short-range rockets UN investigators say were used in an August 21, 2013 sarin gas attack that killed some 1,400 people.

Inspectors at the time suspected that Syria may have stashed away a secret reserve of weapons, but didn’t push for answers for fear it would it would jeopardize their primary goal: Getting the regime to surrender the chemicals it did admit to having.

What surprised inspectors in Syria most was its fleet of mobile chemical-weapons production facilities on 18-wheeler trucks. According to the report, the vehicles appeared as regular trucks, even carrying advertisements, including one for a Hungarian moving company.

It was “unlike any other program that I’ve seen or read about,” Scott Cairns, one of the inspection mission’s leaders, was quoted as saying.

This past October, Syria added several research facilities to its initial official declaration of chemical-weapons sites, giving inspectors access to them. Western officials cited in the WSJ report say samples taken by inspectors at these sites found traces of sarin and VX, which confirms that they had been part of the chemical-weapons program.

U.S. intelligence agencies also tracked the regime's increasing use of chlorine filled bombs, a charge the regime denies. In recent weeks, the CIA concluded that there was a growing body of evidence Assad kept caches of banned chemicals, according to U.S. officials cited in the report.