By Suzanne Kelly, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
U.S. officials continue to closely monitor the situation in Syria with an eye toward the status of the country's biological and chemical weapons, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told Security Clearance.
U.S. officials believe the Syrian regime still has control of the country's chemical and biological weapons, but it's a situation that officials are continuing to watch closely in an effort to make sure that the weapons don't fall into the wrong hands, as was the case with the fall of the Libyan regime last year, said Olsen during an interview on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum, in Aspen, Colorado,
"We are still looking in Libya at where those weapons may be, and there are concerns that weapons in Libya have fallen into the hands of groups like al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb. As of right now with respect to Syria, we do think the government has control of the weapons," Olsen said Thursday.
U.S. officials are trying to keep tabs on al Qaeda's presence among opposition groups in Syria, and are focused on whether members of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) are flowing across the border in any significant numbers.
U.S. government sources have previously said that they estimate a small al Qaeda force is in Iraq, numbering around 500.
"I don't want to put a number on it and I'm not going to," Olsen said. "But I do think it's an area we are very focused on and paying attention to understand whether or not individuals from al Qaeda in Iraq are present in Syria."
Olsen said the U.S. intelligence is working "every angle" but admits there are still "gaps" in the understanding of what's going on inside Syria.
"So the entire intelligence community in the U.S. is focused on Syria, getting the collection that we can analyze that information, but there are some gaps and we are working hard to fill those gaps."
CNN's Security Clearance has reported previously the United States has utilized satellites and intercepted communications as part of the effort. In addition, the U.S. intelligence community has sent personnel to neighboring countries to talk to opposition groups to try to determine who the United States might be able to work with, a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr.