Jeffrey LewisHasaka Spinning Factory

Reporters are calling around town inquiring about this site, which is located at 36°30’33.99″N, 40°46’34.75″E near the town of Al Hasaka in Syria (sometimes transliterated as Hasakah or Hasekeh).  The facility is said to be of some interest to the IAEA.  (Like my use of the ambiguous passive voice?) There will, undoubtedly be a story in one rag or another soon enough, so I wanted to give readers a head-start.

Just what is this thing?

Based on these three photographs (one, two, three), I conclude that this facility is most likely the so-called Hasaka Spinning Factory. (Two other exterior shots — one, two — are inconclusive.) I am interested in whether others agree with me — we can make comparisons in the comments and I am happy to identify the signatures I see in the overhead and ground photos.

Just what the Syrians are spinning, of course, is an interesting question. Sorry, lame pun.  The website for the Hasaka Spinning Factory says that they are spinning cotton fabrics.  There are many, many photographs of the textile machines that the website claim fill the various buildings on-site.  For example, consider these:

You can take a look at the whole set by using the search string “” and then restricting the search to images, like this.

To a first approximation, I don’t see anything obviously amiss. I am not sure what is so interesting about this facility.

The website is copyrighted 2006. The site was first crawled by the Internet Archive in November 2007 and has been redesigned at least once following December 2007.  (That doesn’t mean the 2006 date is false or that there wasn’t a website before, simply that we only know the website dates to at least November 2007.)

The buildings themselves are older than the website — the oldest image in Google Earth is 2004, while I think I can make out at least the large building in a 2001 Landsat image that is pretty pixellated — so it is at least possible that the buildings were intended for one purpose then converted to another. Or, rather innocently, the textile factory simply predates the idea that an industrial firm in Syria should have a website. Or the prior website is lost to history. You get the idea.

The facility itself looks reasonably secure and there is another odd little compound further to the east with a building that looks like a munitions storage depot to me. (Well, ok, the smaller facility is simply a long narrow building with a gabled roof and ventilation along the ridge.  There are many reasons to ensure a warehouse is well-ventilated, of course, but ventilation is essential for munitions storage, so that always catches my eye.)

Syrian security in the area appears to have been remarkable even before the recent security crackdown.  Two Westerners making a documentary about Iraqi Assyrian refugees — Adam Teale and Anobel Odisho — visited Al Hasakah in early 2009. (You can view their documentary, Transient, online.)  Teale, who is Australian, remarked on the unusual security — “As our minibus got closer to Hasaka we were stopped a few times for ID/Passport checks. I hadn’t had a mid journey ID check in Syria so I guess it [m]ust have had something to do with being close to Iraq.”

Yeah, must be the border crossing 160 km to the East.

Teale continues “This time we stopped at a checkpoint and our passports were given to a beedy-eyed fellow with a mounted machine gun in the back of his ute. We got our passports back and the bus continued on its way only this time were were being followed, by the Machine Gun Man!”

Odisho, an American now living in San Francisco, has a long account of being followed by “Machine Gun Man” as the two dubbed him for the entirety of their visit to Al  Hasaka.  “Now, I’m not sure how many of you have been followed by a machine gun mounted truck,” Odisho wrote, “but it’s pretty scary.”

You don’t say.  Let’s just all be happy neither of you bore any resemblance to a certain good-humored Finn or expressed any interest whatsoever in the local textile industry.  Good lord, this is why no one should EVER do anything like this again.

It is possible, of course, that the buildings were constructed for one purpose relating to a nuclear weapons program and that, following the compromise of the site at Al Kibar, the Syrians simply converted them to something innocent, with a website hastily thrown up.  It is also possible that pretty much any big building in Syria is going to get a long, hard look in the current environment and this is just a bit of paranoia run amuck. It may, after all, simply be a textile factory.

Am inclined to skepticism, pending an important question: What triggered the initial interest in this site? If it is just a big building in Syria, that seems  a little overzealous to me.  On the other hand, if the Syrians  imported something incriminating — like the whole body counters imported by the Iranians at Lavizan —  then that would be a different story.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait for more leaks to find out why the IAEA is so interested.  But, for now, it is just a textile factory.


  1. Allen Thomson (History)

    Perhaps the facility of interest is the reticulated whatsit just to the north? It seems to have developed 2009 and after. Disposal trenches maybe?

    Just guessin’.

  2. Andy (History)

    Oh, fun!

    I think you’re correct that this facility is the same one on the website. Additionally, the interior pictures don’t seem unusual to me and fit the general outlines of the structure, such as size, the corrugated roofing material, etc. I googled up some US spinning plants and compared them in google earth and they appear broadly consistent in terms of building size and shape. The Syrian facility, however, lacks lacks air handlers and and a clear source of external power to run the equipment unlike US plants. The US facilities are serviced by what look to be high voltage overhead power lines that run to a transformer next to the facility (see one example here). At the Syrian facility there appear to be some high-voltage lines north of the facility on the other side of the road, but the facility does not appear attached to them. I don’t know if that is significant or not since I’m not familiar with the energy and climate control requirements for this kind of process.

    The only other thing that seems out of place is how empty the whole facility is on the outside. Google earth has five good quality images going back to 2006 and there’s very little change and almost no activity. There are not even tell-tale signs of parking areas, such as discoloration in the concrete caused by tires, oil dripping engines and the link. Occasionally a truck or a couple of cars are seen in the facility, but little else – if this is a factory, where are the employees? Where are the trucks bringing in source material and carrying out finished product?

    Finally, there is some kind of storage area at the NE corner of the facility. The truck seen in the various images is sometimes there and whatever the stuff is that is stacked on the ground there was moved. I can’t quite tell what it is.

  3. George William Herbert (History)

    I don’t know; there’s nothing flagging alarms to me.

    Shipping/receiving for stuff you want to keep clean out in the desert is often indoors. They have truck-sized doors in the buildings. You drive into the warehouse, you load/unload, you drive out.

    The lack of active parking seems normal for the town. There are other (smaller) industrial parks around town there; none of them have much parking or other cars in evidence in quantity. This site in particular is only 1,300 meters from the traffic circle due west, which is the center of that residential area with what looks on first impression to be several thousand residents. The workers could mostly walk to work, or take buses.

    Yes, you could fit evil things in any big building, but there’s nothing setting me off looking at it and the rest of the city. There’s a big army depot on the west side, the big enclosure (almost a mile deep) north of the spinning factory, past the “reticulated” area Allen notes, is sort of wierd. There’s a little private racetrack further south. But it’s not setting off my spidey sense.

    That doesn’t mean the building isn’t associated with WMD. Someone’s curious for some reason. But I’m not seeing the signs so far.

    Today does seem to be “strange new facility” day, though…

  4. masoud (History)

    Hold on to your hats.

    This site has in fact only been registered since 2007-12-07( It goes without saying, this is a deeply troubling contrast to it’s claimed 2006 copyright.

    If you are inclined to be ‘Good Natured’, that may just be grounds enough to demand for a Chapter Seven resolution authorizing the IAEA to conduct intrusive inspections to determine just how long the Syrians have been spinning that cotton. Personally, I think NATO should take pains to point out that it will be keeping all options on the table, as this development has so thoroughly shaken the ‘International Community’s’ confidence. Also, I would like to point out that no clause of the NPT has ever explicitly guaranteed NNWS to spin cotton. Perhaps it would be prudent to call on Syria to observe a voluntary suspension of all cotton related activities while this is all sorted out. Actually, if you give it some thought, there’s no reason why the Syrian regime needs to produce it’s own cotton at all. It should just buy finished product from foreign suppliers like every other nation that does(well, except for those who actually do produce cotton, but common, it’s not like Syria can hope to be like them). It’s not like anyone’s making much profit off of textiles anyways. In any case, it looks like it’s going to be a dangerous next couple years for T-Shirt designers in Damascus. I say who gives a Damn, those Terrorists knew what was coming their way when they signed up for that line of work. We should all simply aim to be patriotically snide about any distasteful developments that occur, whenever we can’t dodge the subject, that is.

  5. mark (History)

    You see those vertical spools in your picture number two? What do they look like? Use your imagination. What did you say? That’s right. Some people think that’s what it might have been supposed to have been. If it was, the chances are by now that there’s nary a trace of that activity there.

    • Andy (History)

      Oh how I wish that were true. It would prove the Syrian’s have a really good sense of humor.

    • Roger (History)

      Hmmmmmm….growing up in the late 50’s in a small town of Covington Tennessee we had a textile mill and the whole economy was driven by cotton and textiles. I think they were using the spent nuclear fuel rods as cotton bobbins as well….or….were they spent? Well the cotton mill closed in the early 60’s and we moved to Chicago there along the lake front were all the Nike Missile sites….you can run but you can’t hide!

  6. Allen Thomson (History)

    > past the “reticulated” area Allen notes

    [totally OT]

    I’ve loved the word “reticulated” since I noticed the ur-ones out at 40.453 N, 93.744 E and 40.457 N, 93.392 E .

    [\totally OT]

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Wow. Someone’s got an artistic bent and a lot of earthmoving machinery…

  7. bradley laing (History)

    A question to approach carefully: could Syrian exile groups of some sort be passing out fake information, in hopes of gaining some kind of advantage?

    During World War II, rival French exile groups fought with each other, for the role of being the true leader of France.

  8. Gary (History)

    It might have something to do with the massive Syrian army base a little up the road from the factory:,+Syria&hl=en&ll=36.545311,40.849657&spn=0.014463,0.027466&geocode=FQuBKwId84JuAg&hnear=Al+Hasakah,+Syria&t=h&z=16&vpsrc=6

    Note the tanks parked in the northern complex and the massive communication tower on the hill. It can either be there because of the sensitive nature of the factory OR it itself could be why the Syrians are nervous about people coming near to the town?

    • David (History)

      The field artillery pieces in the same complex also suggest a big base.

  9. Allen Thomson (History)

    Oh, my, another OT. But y’all really ought to hurry out and get this:

  10. Bob (History)

    My company is in the textile business, in fact the yarn spinning business. The machines in the pictures are all yarn spinning frames. Yarn is a continuous strand. Fabrics are made from yarns by either weaving or knitting.