The U.S. intelligence chief warned senators today that Syrian agreed to dismantle its arsenal of chemical materials but may now have the ability to produce biological weapons.
"We judge that some elements of Syrian biological warfare program might have advanced beyond the research and development stage and might be capable of limited agent production, based on the duration of its longstanding program", James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said in a written statement presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Clapper offered no further details but it was the first time officials had stated publicly that America's spy agencies believed Syria had made significant strides in its biological weapons program.
He added that Syria could potentially launch biological materials with conventional weapons.
He said "to the best of our knowledge, Syria has not successfully weaponized biological agents in an effective delivery system, but it possesses conventional weapon systems that could be modified for biological-agent delivery".
Clapper also said the crisis in Syria had become a "huge magnet" for Islamist extremists, including Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
The U.N Security Council last year approved a US-Russian deal to remove and destroy Syrian chemical arsenal. Under the accord, Syria's entire chemical arsenal is to be eliminated by June 30.