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OMEN™ Illuminates Chinese Chemical Companies Helping Fund the Syrian Assad Regime

The fallout from the Syrian civil war had catastrophic effects on the Arab Republic’s legitimate economy, resulting in the Assad regime’s reliance on illegal production of an amphetamine type stimulant (ATS) called Captagon.

As a synthetic narcotic, Captagon is flooding Middle Eastern countries and being exported to U.S. allies in European markets, with revenue estimated to comprise over 90% of Syria’s foreign currency, placing the country as the largest narco-state in the world.

“I do indeed believe the Assad regime would not survive the loss of its Captagon revenues. Assad’s regime has become a narco-state.”

Joel Rayburn, Former US Special Envoy for Syria. US Army (Retired). Twitter.

Captagon and other ATS precursors are produced legally in China and easily shipped to ports in Lebanon or Syria, making efforts to disrupt operations difficult. Chinese freight and shipping companies openly market their ability to pass customs around the world, highlighted in Figure 2. Illuminating these supply lines is an important first step in degrading this revenue source for the Assad regime and other threat actors who engage in Captagon production now or in the future.​

Figure 1. Chinese advertisement for synthetic narcotic precursor chemicals targeting Australian, American, and European markets.

Figure 2. Seventy Chinese exporters highlighted their ability to ship to ports in the Middle East.

Chinese chemical online advertisements are the first step in understanding the supply chain for synthetic narcotics such as Captagon. By extracting and spatializing business addresses and ports, OMEN™ illuminates centers of gravity within China, as shown in Figure 3. By comparing contact details associated with these advertisements, we identify linkages such as those in Figure 4 that suggest the use of shell companies to circumvent international sanctions.

Figure 3. Chemical advertisers and exporters are prolific throughout China.

Figure 4. Automated network analysis of ATS precursor manufacturers, illustrating shared identifiers such as emails, phone numbers, and business addresses between precursor manufacturing companies in China.

To disrupt and dismantle these drug trafficking networks, the U.S. needs shareable insights into the full precursor chemical supply chain.

By characterizing the Chinese precursor supply, we shed light on the networks extending from China to Syria, helping to develop strategies to degrade them as the U.S. works to dismantle trafficking networks affiliated with the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The 3GIMBALS OMEN information fusion and analysis solution persistently monitors online databases to deliver unclassified, near real-time insights on synthetic narcotic precursor chemical suppliers. If you would like to learn more about how the OMEN solution can help address counter-narcotics and other national security challenges, contact us today.

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