Syria's real threat: Biological weapons

Assad’s primary biological-weapon programs are run out of the SSRC (Scientific Studies and Research Centre) in Damascus, with government laboratories in Aleppo and Homs. The SSRC is a huge complex, with wings and units designated for specific pathogen research. The labs are state of the art and, unlike chemical weapons, stockpiling biological weapons is obsolete. The infrastructure to support both clandestine and legitimate research is identical, making identification of the development of biological weapons exceptionally difficult. As with vaccine development, it is only at the very end that the process becomes offensive…

Smallpox is by far the most concerning program Syria likely possesses. Syria has long been suspected of retaining strains of smallpox from its last natural outbreak in 1972, as well as possibly receiving genetically modified versions from North Korea in 2006. Unlike chemical weapons, many biological-warfare agents are highly infective, transmissible, have lengthy incubation periods and are genetically modified to circumvent current medical countermeasures.

To put this threat into context, in 1972 Yugoslavia experienced one of the last outbreaks of smallpox in Europe. For each person infected, another thirteen contracted variola. Generally a 1:3 ratio is considered the norm. Yugoslavia instituted martial law, vaccinating their entire population in three weeks. Today, with modern air travel, the pace not the space is critical, and this could quickly become an international health emergency.