As Syrian regime erodes, chances of chemical weapon use rise

Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime is losing authority at an increasing rate and the government may be prepared to use chemical weapons to defeat the insurgents, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.

James Clapper, the director of U.S. national intelligence, spoke on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said Assad's regime is experiencing shortages in logistics and manpower while the opposition is gaining territory and strength. Clapper also warned the committee that Syria could resort to using biological weapons as well, the Washington Post reports.

"(Elements of Syria's biological weapons program) may have advanced beyond the research and development stage," Clapper said, according to the Washington Post. "(Syria has conventional and chemical weapons systems that) could be modified for biological agent delivery."

Clapper testified on Tuesday along with the heads of the FBI, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency among others. The hearing was part of the intelligence community's annual assessment of worldwide threats and dealt with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional instability, cybersecurity threats, terrorism, competition for natural resources and climate change.

Clapper also commented on Iran and whether or not the country will decide to build nuclear weapons.

"We assess Iran is developing nuclear capabilities to enhance its security, prestige and regional influence and give it the ability to develop nuclear weapons, should a decision be made to do so," Clapper said, the Washington Post reports. "Of particular note, Iran has made progress during the past year that better positions it to produce weapons-grade uranium using its declared facilities and uranium stockpiles, should it choose to do so. Despite this progress, we assess Iran could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of WGU before this activity is discovered."

The hearing was divided into open and closed sessions. In several instances, Clapper said he would give more detailed responses on subjects like Iran during the closed session, according to the Washington Post.