The Obama intelligence assessment released Friday said, “Personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC — were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack.” It added that information about the preparations came from “streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence” collected three days prior to the event.
The SSRC, though within the Defense Ministry, is directly subordinate to President Bashar al-Assad. Its director has a standing equal to that of a senior government minister. Three other Syrian entities involved in non-conventional weapons development report to the director — the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, the Electronics Institute and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory.
In 2005, SSRC was described by then-President George W. Bush as “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them.” They include “biological and chemical weapons.”
The SSRC was put on the Treasury Department list requiring export and re-export licenses because it posed a risk of diverting items into programs related to weapons of mass destruction. Two years later, the other three entities went on the same list.
Most SSRC employees are prohibited from speaking with foreign groups or individuals. U.S. intelligence officials believe that chemical and other weapons are stored in underground bunkers in the area where the SSRC is located, on a hillside behind Mount Qassioun.
The Jamraya area where the SSRC is located provides other possible military targets.
Adjacent to the center’s grounds to the southwest is the Republican Guard 104th Brigade; to the north is the headquarters of Syria’s Special Forces and its major training area. There are other Syrian Army training areas to the west.
In January, Israeli aircraft attacked a Syrian convoy near the SSRC area, which is supposed to be protected by Russian-made antiaircraft batteries. The convoy was heading for Lebanon with parts of antiaircraft weapons. Reports claimed the SSRC was hit, but aerial photos showed no damage.
The Syrian rebels believe the SSCR area will be a U.S. target. Qassim Saadeddine, a former Syrian Army colonel and spokesman for the rebels’ Supreme Military Council, told the Reuters news agency the group was poised to take advantage of those strikes.
Among the sites Saadeddine mentioned were “elite forces believed most loyal to Assad” and “headquarters of military leadership . . . [and] certain weapons storage areas.”
On Tuesday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he was confident the attack plan would “deter and degrade” Assad’s chemical forces. He also made clear that he was preparing “several target sets, the first of which would set conditions for follow-on assessments, and the others would be used if necessary.”