July 26th, 2012
02:48 PM ET

Intel official: U.S. concerned about security of Syria's chemical weapons

By Jamie Crawford, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

The question of whether some of Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons have fallen out of government control is a source of great concern for the U.S. government, according to one of the nation's top intelligence officials.

"The key for us is, are we able to identify where those weapons are? Are they safe and secure, are they falling into the wrong hands," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center said Thursday at the Aspen Institute Security Forum.

But when asked by the moderator, David Sanger of the New York Times, whether there has been a clear accounting of those weapons, Olsen was non-commital.

Read all our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

"No, not yet," he said. "This is a very sensitive time for this situation so it's an important question that we are following."

Olsen's comments were seemingly at odds with statements from other areas of the Obama administration.

"We continue to be concerned about the disposition of the Assad regime's chemical weapons," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. "We believe that they are still under control of the government, and we use every opportunity to remind the Syrian government that it must maintain control of those weapons and, of course never use them."

Olsen spoke to Security Clearance after the panel and sought to clarify his remarks.

“We are monitoring the situation very closely,” Olsen said of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. “Right now we think that the government has control of those weapons. Nonetheless, it’s a situation we are looking at very closely to insure that those weapons that the government has don’t fall into the wrong hands.”

In his comments alongside his immediate predecessor, Michael Leiter, Olsen said there is still a great concern that members of al Qaeda in Iraq may be exploiting the instability in Syria, crossing the border to sow even more chaos.

"It's a difficult picture because of the nature of the opposition in Syria is an intelligence challenge," he said, saying questions remain about the opposition's composition.

Syria, Olsen said, is not the only proliferation concern for the U.S. government when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

Pakistan, which harbors the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal, is now the focus of a joint task force between counterterrorism center and the National Counter Proliferation Center, Olsen said.

The agencies have partnered to create an "integration center" to focus on the status of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and to ensure those weapons don't fall into the hands of al Qaeda or other militant organizations operating inside Pakistani territory.

"The idea is we need to make sure we are covering the scene between proliferation and terrorism when it comes to" weapons of mass destruction, Olsen said. He added that the task force reports regularly to the heads of both agencies, who meet frequently to discuss the issue.

As the question turned to Iran, Leiter said the threat emanating from Tehran and its ally Hezbollah has grown over time.

"What has been a relatively hot war has gotten hotter," he said, citing the recent plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington. That plot has been attributed to both Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Israel.

Leiter said the confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah is nothing new, citing their support for targeting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with improvised explosive devices and other attacks. "The Iranians have considered this a shooting war for some time," Leiter said.

"Those are significant developments from our perspective," Olsen added.

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Iran • Iraq • Israel • Middle East • Pakistan • Syria
soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. saeed

    Well USA is only doing this to stop other countries from going high tech what USA really wants is that bushehr nuclear plant stop producing electricity that Iran stop sending satelites into space that the 11000 centrifuges stop producing enriched uranium.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  2. ddpp

    no more WMD joke please; it's not funny anymore.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  3. OffTheWorldPolitics

    Hey, why do all these things say "made in Iraq?"

    July 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  4. multiuniversal

    II think they don't have chemical weapons but since they have no nuclear weapons they're defenseless against an invasion. Making this claim is going to be the only thing stopping them from being invaded.

    II guess now US will think twice before invading Syria at least until they can figure out there isn't a real threat of retaliation. ;-)

    July 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  5. huxley

    If the concern is the security of the weapons, are the weapons more secure in the hands of the established military or in the hands of a failed state?

    Given that the weapons are more secure in the hands of a state military, that would seem to argue the reverse point – that propping up the Assad regime would be the best response to the situation.

    July 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  6. Joseph Zrnchik

    Did Syria say it would attack anyone with chemical weapons? It says it will use them to defend against foreign invasion. If no nation invades then no chemical weapons will be deployed. The most massive stores of chemical weapons is owned by the US. We even sold them to Saddam as we encouraged him to use them on Iranians. Did Israel or the US care about chemical weapons then? So why are they so worried about ones that have not even been used and for which the government has sworn off use except against a foreign invasion? This Zionist propganda makes me want to puke.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  7. Joseph Zrnchik

    Does the US have the right to use chemical weapons to defend from foreign invasion? Then so does Syria.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  8. Joseph Zrnchik

    As a retired US Army officer I find it disgusting that the US is supporting al Qaeda fighters in Syria. The “Free Syrian Syrian Army” is made up of the Saudi Sunnis who attacked the US on 9/11. Yes Saddam was a Sunni, but like Iran and Syria he despised al Qaeda and viewed the Saudi al Qaeda jihadists as too radical and a threat to his rule. Yet, we have supported al Qaeda fighters in Libya and now are doing it again in Syria. Meanwhile, these foreign al Qaeda fighters the US is supporting in Syria are slaughtering Christians, Druze, Shiite and Alawite. Christians and Jews were protected in Iraq under Saddam. Syria, like Iran, also has Christians and Jews that are protected under the rule of law and that have lived in their country for generations. How many Syrians of any ethnic or religious non-Sunni group attacked the US? ZERO. It was Saudi Sunnis and yet we continue to fight their enemies and support the corrupt House of Saud that is the most brutal dictatorship in the Middle East. It acts under the guise of a monarchy, but the Saudis are a brutal and heinous regime who supported the 9/11 attacks on the US. The Israelis act as if they care for Muslims and demand the US stop the slaughter of Syrians all the while slaughtering Palestinians, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. All of the above information about the al Qaeda fighters the US is supporting is being hidden by the Zionist media organizations owned by Zionist groups. Reuters is nothing but Israeli propaganda. This support for al Qaeda in Syria shows the last decade of spending trillions of dollars in the “Global War on Terror” fighting al Qaeda to stop the Islamo-fascists from establishing a “global caliphate has been a complete scam to steal our money. Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain all want to manipulate the US into a war with Iran. This situation shows how all the Jews in the intelligence and armed services committees, the State Department, Pentagon and DHS are control our government. If we do not stop our government we will be fighting Iran, Russia and China.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • Charuz

      Paranoid about Israel or is it just blind hatred for that country. And no, I will not fall into your trap switching the discussion to your the religions of the countries you noted.You are simply a really paranoid and hate-filled person.

      July 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
      • intelligent

        You are a hasbara cunnt.

        I'd say your even.

        August 5, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  9. eddie2010

    Oh no! Not WMD's! Wait, where have I heard this before? Hmmm...

    July 27, 2012 at 8:03 am | Reply
    • Pharos

      They have admitted that they have them.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
  10. rightospeak

    Another Iraq , where we are bringing "peace,democracy and prosperity" to ? Sounds about the same.If we do not like a government ,we just say they have chemical weapons. In case of Iraq,while he was our patsie we gave them the WMD. The propaganda is really disgusting.

    July 27, 2012 at 5:23 am | Reply
    • Osama Wazan

      Well said, rightospeak. I feel the same way about this right-wing propaganda as you do!

      July 27, 2012 at 8:25 am | Reply
    • Pharos

      Let me bump two stupid people with one stone.
      The Syrians have admitted that they have chemical weapons.
      Nobody is threatening to invade Syria. They can't even get the Russians and Chinese to consent to sanctions.
      There is no conspiracy.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  11. welloiled

    I'd have thought it in Syria's interest that the US remains in the dark as to the disposition of its weapons. Wearing bio suits in the desert is hot work.

    July 27, 2012 at 2:43 am | Reply
    • Cocopuf

      Being in the dark or knowing about it is just as potentially catastrophic. And to Syria too.

      July 27, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  12. whosurdaddy2

    LOL here we go again lies lies more lies Americans are really stupid.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:51 am | Reply
    • Cocopuf

      YOU are absolutely SURE of that? Or are you just guessing? Don't you think that the US, Russia, and even China knows something about it?

      July 27, 2012 at 5:14 am | Reply
  13. maltesefalconx9

    "the Syrian government that it must maintain control of those weapons and, of course never use them." Huh? Amerika (CIA) must not interfere with that control. Why does anyone at the White House think they would have any say in what Syria does anyway? Ridiculous. Especially in the area of Nerve Gas – remember Washington's Birthday 1991?

    July 27, 2012 at 12:47 am | Reply
  14. maltesefalconx9

    Why do the nuts at the "National Counterterrorism Center" think the Syrian government is going to inform them where their chenical weapons stockpiles are located. You are The Enemy. That is a serious case of self-delusionment.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      You should not really blame them for trying! It never hurts to ask.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:42 am | Reply
    • welloiled

      They need to go see the head shrinks

      July 27, 2012 at 2:44 am | Reply
  15. Steven Kalbach

    I wouldn't worry about Syria's WMD's. We have our own WMD's to throw at them. G.W. Bush and Mittens.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Reply
    • Buddy

      Saddam's WMD's belong to Syria now.
      Dubya will be vindicated within a month or two.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Reply
      • Sodomite

        Dubya vindicated? Thats rich.

        July 27, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  16. Nomad32

    What is the best solution here? What does that even mean? How does the perspective of any given high-level policy maker, of any country involved in this mess, differ from that of an intelligent reader of the news? The last bit wasn't a rhetorical question, rather, I can't comprehend how any human being can be put in charge of resolving this.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • Cocopuf

      Clearly, the only thing the UN can do is put a lot more "observers" there ... that is, to keep an eye on Kofi Annan. :)

      In other words, the UN is another BS sessions with vetoes flying around, and therefore useless.

      July 27, 2012 at 5:35 am | Reply
  17. maltesefalconx9

    If you're worried about Syria's weapons, then call off your CIA-orchestrated goon squad and get the hell out of there, you stupid Amerikan.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
    • Willie12345

      Thank you maltesefalconx9 for your intelligent post above. I get so sick and tired of reading all this nincompoop, warmongering Tea Party nonsense here from all these nitwits. We have no business in Syria at all!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • US Army

      It is spelled "American" moron.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Reply
      • maltesefalconx9

        As long as your government wants to act like the Nazis in Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc., then I think it is totally appropriate to spell the name of that country – A – m – e – r – i – k – a . Certainly not any America I ever heard of.

        July 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Cocopuf

      Although I agree with you that this is a Syrian problem, so far. But, if Syria uses ANY chem or bio weapons, especially within Syria or anywhere in the region, it will certainly be the end of Syria's ASS-sad. Even if Syria is not a signatory to the treaty. AMERICA will take care of your @sses.

      July 27, 2012 at 5:26 am | Reply
  18. George Patton

    Does Syria truly possess any chemical weapons or is this just more right-wing propaganda from the right-wing news media trying to scare the public again? These right-wing fanatics never give up!!!

    July 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • manannan

      People who have actually been to those countries know that after the first Gulf war Saddam sent a lot of his gen 4 nerve agent to Syria for safe keeping and paid them well.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  19. Maggiemae

    I grew up with scare of nuclear war and remember being taught in school to hide under our desks and cover out heads (like that would really help) in case of an attack. I remember my mother stockpiling food and a neighbor building a bomb shelter. I was young but it was really scary, especially after the assassination of JFK. That was 1 threat from one place (Russia). Now it seems like there r threats everywhere
    You're not safe going to work (911), to school (too many to list), the movies (Aurora), or many countries in the world where terrorists target US citizens. Of course there r the wars GWB got us into. It is all such a mess. We've got to stay out of everyone's business and all try to look for signals in others that might warn us of impending disaster. It's all crazy!

    July 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Felipe Lopez

      Maggiemae welcome to the world of adults.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  20. larry5

    The media claimed there were not chemical or biological weapons in Iraq even though thousands of Iraqi citizens got gassed. The only way we will know about these weapons in Syria considering the competence of the US media is when they explode.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  21. Andrey

    Well, finally I see that wheels start turning in some heads! And you probably thought al Qaeda was fighting in Syria for freedom and democracy? And you probably thought the worst case scenario was Islamists capturing the power and ordering Syrian army around, directing it at Israel? Yes, that could happen. But that would be not necessarily the end of it!
    It is though strange that CNN discuss any of it now. So are "rebels" getting close to gaining upper hand in the struggle and is CNN turning tables around as I have predicted?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • chris

      No Andrey,the rebels are on the verge of being defeated as I type. america simply cannot hide the fact any longer that the rebels are in fact FOREIGN JIHADIST AND AL-QAEDA TERRORIST! even CNN has confirmed that members of the so called rebels DO consist of foreign fighters from LIBYA,MALI,TURKEY,IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN!

      america,our govt has KNOWINGLY sided with a terrorist force to overthrow a legitimate in syria under the disguise of freedom fighters. the russians will NEVER let assad fall knowing that america has backed a bunch of foreign terrorist to over throw their ally.

      our govt is about to become exposed for what they are! liars,frauds and state sponsors of terror! democracy means nothing to america when destabilization and resources are at stake.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Reply
    • nadeems

      if the U.S stopped supporting Israel then 99% of the threats that we currently face would dissapear

      July 27, 2012 at 2:27 am | Reply
      • Cocopuf

        This has nothing to do with it. Besides, you have to face reality. That isn't going to happen any time soon. Get it through your dumb skull. (sorry, but you and likes don't seem to get it).

        July 27, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  22. i3raveheart

    why not use tactical strikes to atomize any armories containing chemical weapons? neither side should be using these since all the fighting is in civilian populated areas. other then that the US should steer clear of this

    July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • chris

      as confirmed by CNN,the rebels are foreign jihadist! assad can use what ever weapons he has to defend his country and people from foreign invaders!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  23. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    The GOP solution: Start a war with (insert country here) totally unfunded of course. The get the poor people to fight/die in the war while giving the rich people "no bid contracts". Thus killing two GOP birds with one stone. Then use (insert country here)'s resources (like oil) to pay for the war. And when the war is over, (insert country here) will sell us cheap resources (like oil)!!!! Just like in Iraq!!!!!!!!! Oh wait..........never mind.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
    • sprtrpr

      WWI: Woodrow Wilson democrat / WWII Roosevelt democrat / Korean war Truman democrat / Viet Nam war Kennedy democrat

      July 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Reply
      • ed

        Well....Wilson did wait 3 years, Roosevelt and Truman would have been excoriated in public and Congress had they stayed neutral – especially Roosevelt. As for Kennedy, he was...."rewarded"..with a bullet to the head. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that we wouldn't have avoided these conflicts with a Republican in office.

        July 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
      • AUS86

        10 year long war of terror costing trillions of dollars. Bush. republican.

        July 27, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Let me understand... You're saying that the "rebels" in Syria are GOP agents that started the "totally unfounded war" against the regime of President Assad in order to use Syrian oil to pay for the war?

      Try to find a good psychiatrist and tell her this fascinating story. She is your only hope.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Reply

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