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Situation in Syria; Google and the Future

Aired May 31, 2012 - 17:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight, the Syrian government released the results of its own investigation into the Houla massacre. Here's their bottom line: it wasn't us. The culprits, they say, armed terrorists.

Meanwhile, the people of Houla, those who survived the massacre, are now being bombarded again with artillery and sniper fire by Syrian army forces.

My brief tonight is stating the obvious: "The U.N. Peace Plan Is Surely Dead." Everyone seems to agree the so-called Annan plan is not working. So what will the international community do next? The Obama administration officials appear divided, floating conflicting solutions. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice effectively declared the peace plan dead by laying out what she called her worst-case scenario.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Members of this council and members of the international community are left with the option only of having to consider whether they're prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this council.


AMANPOUR: Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States would much rather see Assad's friends pressure him to step aside, what some have criticized as outsourcing U.S. policy.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Syrians are not going to listen to us. They will listen, maybe, to the Russians, so we have to keep pushing them.


AMANPOUR: But back to what Ambassador Rice said, what does working outside the Security Council mean? I will ask the British ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, in just a moment. But first a look at what's coming up later in the program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Where will we fight the next world war? Could a game as fantasy become harsh reality? I'll ask the man who ought to know, Google chief Eric Schmidt.

Then another kind of Internet threat, one false picture could threaten a thousand honest words.


AMANPOUR: In a moment, I will turn to Sir Mark Lyall Grant, but first, I spoke to someone in Homs in Syria, who's saying that the assault by the Syrian army is pushing people into the resistance.

Abo Allith, can you tell me why you joined the resistance?

"ABO ALLITH," SYRIAN OPPOSITION FIGHTER: Actually, first of all, I have some (inaudible) reasons because they killed my father and they captured (inaudible) number. And second reason, because the killing is just -- don't stop.

They just keep killing and killing and just arrest everyone in Homs. So we don't have any safe area except with the Free Syrian Army. So we just enforce from the regime to join the Free Syrian Army and fight back.

AMANPOUR: Do you have what it takes to be able to fight back?

"ALLITH": We have some (inaudible), AK-47s, some machine guns, some RBEs. But we don't have like high-quality guns. We just have, you know, the small units (ph) guns.

AMANPOUR: Do you want the West, the international community, to help you, and if so, how?

"ALLITH": Of course, because the definition (ph), they must help us out because the regime is just keep killing us, keep -- kill everything move in Homs and other areas of Syria. We need the United Nations, the NATO, anything to help us out here because the regime is just make big massacres in Homs. They don't have anything to stop them.

Any threat on them to stop them, they just keep killing. And nobody stop them. We just have -- we have had enough from the promises, from United Nations, from U.S.A., from the European countries, from (inaudible) itself. They said we will help you (inaudible) situations (inaudible) solution. We don't need political (ph) situation in this time now. We need some military action to stop the killing.

AMANPOUR: Abo Allith, thank you very much for joining me.

"ALLITH": (Inaudible).


AMANPOUR: And you can certainly hear, despite the dubious audio quality, the desperation in that person's voice. And now I'm going to turn to British Ambassador to the United Nations Sir Mark Lyall Grant. He's been in on briefings, of course, on Syria all week, and horrified by what he's heard and seen. He calls the Houla massacre a game-changer.

Ambassador, thank you for being with us. I hope you were able to hear what "Abo Allith" was saying. First and foremost, they don't believe that this cease-fire plan, the Annan plan is legitimate any more and the Free Syrian Army wants it declared dead.

Is the Security Council ready to do that yet?

SIR MARK LYALL GRANT, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I don't think so, no, Christiane. Clearly, it is on life support, but it isn't dead yet. We are directing all our efforts into trying to make it work.

But I think to make it work, we're going to need to increase the international pressure on the Syrian regime, and that's where our energies are now directed. We have to get a united pressure on the Syrian regime so that they begin to comply with the six-point plan that Kofi Annan has set out. But it isn't dead yet.

AMANPOUR: Well, how much time do you give it? How many more deaths? How many more potential Houlas and how do you apply the pressure and where?

GRANT: Well, I don't want to set a time scale on it. As I say, there's going to be intense diplomatic activity over the next few days. Kofi Annan has just been in Damascus. He's been in Jordan. He's in Beirut today. He's going to the Arab League summit on Saturday, and he's coming to New York to brief the Security Council next week.

And, clearly, he will set out his views of where the plan has got to and what the chances of success are. In the light of that, we'll need to take decisions in the Security Council. But what we're trying to do is maintain a united posture in the Security Council, which does enable us to put some pressure on the Assad regime.

AMANPOUR: You heard what Susan Rice, your counterpart from the United States, said publicly, that if this doesn't work, if the Annan plan doesn't work, if Russia can't be persuaded to implement the transition or to force Assad to implement the transition, it means the process is dead and that will mean working outside and around the Security Council.

What does that mean? Does that mean Britain, France, America, figuring out a way to do something that doesn't require a Security Council resolution?

GRANT: Well, let's be clear. We're already doing quite a lot of things outside the Security Council. The E.U. has imposed a strong sanctions. We've expelled ambassadors and other diplomats from our capitals. We're looking at other ways of, through the neighboring countries, putting pressure on the regime. We're looking at all the time at accountability.

We've had teams in the refugee camps, in Lebanon and Turkey, getting eyewitness reports so that we can eventually bring to -- hold to account those who are responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities against the Syrian people.

So there are things going on outside the Security Council anyway.


GRANT: But having said that, if the plan is dead, then, of course, we'll need to look elsewhere.

AMANPOUR: Well, I want to press you on that a little bit. I want to -- I want to give you a sense of frustration from your own chief, Ban Ki- moon, the secretary-general. Here's what he's just said in his travels abroad.


BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The United Nations did not deploy in Syria to bear -- just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents. We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities. I command that the government of Syria act on its commitment under the Annan peace plan.


AMANPOUR: So he demands that, to paraphrase Joseph Stalin, how many divisions does the U.N. Secretary-General have? How do you demand, when after 15 months, these demands have fallen on deaf ears?

GRANT: Well, I share his frustration. But the U.N. observers are in a difficult position. They were never there to keep the peace. They were there to observe compliance with the six-point plan. And I think they have had two important functions that we shouldn't lose sight of.

In the places where the U.N. observers have been able to get, they have been able to dampen down the violence. The Syrian regime has been careful to avoid using violence in areas where the observers actually are.

And secondly -- and this is an important point that he raised, they are able to bear witness to that violence, and that is really important for future accountability. To be honest, we would not know exactly what had happened in al-Houla had it not been for the observers able to go there, to demonstrate that there were tank tracks, that there had been use of heavy artillery and that there had been a massacre by the Syrian regime.

Otherwise, people would give some credence to this report that the Syrian government has come out with today, claiming that it was nothing to do with them. We know that's a tissue of lies, partly because the U.N. observers were able to say so.

AMANPOUR: I hear you, you're saying the Syrian government has basically lied in their report into their own investigation. You also said that your observers are there, at least to bear witness. But Ban Ki-moon is saying we can't just be there to bear witness to ongoing slaughter.

And I'm sure you know if we know that even after the Houla massacre, even today, there is more gunfire, more artillery, more Syrian army assault on Houla. So, again, how do you stop this?

GRANT: Well, you are right and the observers are there to try and put some sort of lid, as I say, on the violence, to be able to bear witness to what is happening in the compliance, but they are just a means to an end, and the end is to start up a political dialogue and a political transition in Syria that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, and that is the stage that Kofi Annan himself has been involved in, and that's why he went to Damascus earlier this week.


GRANT: Now we need to hear back from him, whether he achieved any results on the face of it it's not obvious that he did.

AMANPOUR: Well, right --

GRANT: But we need to hear from him himself next week on what he thinks is now possible, because if he says I have reached the end of the road, if he says I can no longer offer you any chance that this will lead a political dialogue, then, of course, Susan Rice is right and that we're going to have to look at other options.

AMANPOUR: And other options mean military options?

GRANT: Well, I don't think anything is being ruled out. But the whole point of what we're trying to do at the U.N. is maintain an international consensus and pressure. Don't forget, that for nine months we were unable to do anything in the Security Council.

We tried two resolutions, which were vetoed by Russia and China. And it's only since April that we've been able to bring the international community behind a single U.N. plan from April onwards. Now we want to try and preserve that unity if we can, but not at any cost.

AMANPOUR: But, Ambassador --

GRANT: (Inaudible) Russia and China were not prepared to play their part in raising the pressure on the regime and that means that the Kofi Annan's plan fails, then obviously we'll have to look elsewhere.

AMANPOUR: Right, but you talk about playing their part in a united response. And this is what Hillary Clinton said precisely about the Russians.


CLINTON: They're just vociferous in their claim that they are providing a stabilizing influence. I reject that. I think they are in a fact propping up the regime at a time when we should be working on a political transition.


AMANPOUR: So the Russians even have different views than you on what their role should be and what the Annan plan's role is.

GRANT: Well, what we'll be trying to do over the next couple of weeks is work out together with the Russians whether there is any agreement on the political transition that Hillary Clinton was talking about there. President Putin is in Paris today. He's in Berlin tomorrow. Their contacts with Lavrov, my foreign minister, was in Moscow on Monday.

We've got the G-20 summit coming up in a couple of weeks' time. All these are opportunities to try and bind Russia and China into a plan that deliveries a political transition in Syria, because we believe that that is still the best way, indeed, probably the only way to get out of this crisis without massive additional bloodshed on top of what we've already seen.

AMANPOUR: We'll keep watching. Thank you for joining me. Thank you for joining me from the U.N., Ambassador.

GRANT: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And as we've seen, and as the ambassador said, the civil war there is a dirty, bloody business, but the next world war may be fought in clean rooms over keyboards and computer screens. I will ask Google chief Eric Schmidt if war games are about to become the real thing.

But before we go to a break, take a look at this, even warriors sometimes take a break. Here's a member of the Free Syrian Army, watching the news, the tools of his trade, though, are never far away. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Now turning to a company and the man behind it that has literally transformed the world we live in. The company is Google and my guest is Eric Schmidt. He served as CEO from 2001 to 2011, and is now the executive chairman.

Earlier in his career at Sun Microsystems, Schmidt was one of the pioneers behind JavaScript, a revolutionary Internet code. He is an engineer by trade. He knows how this gets done.

Eric Schmidt, thank you very much for joining me.


AMANPOUR: We've just been talking about Syria and the horrors that are going there and I notice that you at Google YouTube are setting up a human rights channel, doing it in conjunction with WITNESS and others. What do you hope to be able to achieve?

SCHMIDT: You know, it's amazing when you publicize and people photograph things, it actually has an impact. The one thing you can do with bad people is shame them. You can keep them a little bit more in a box. Maybe they'll kill a few smaller number of people. It's amazing what can be done. So we want to aggressively get those videos and let people see what's really happening.

AMANPOUR: You must have thought, though, a lot of about this 15 months of what's been going on in Syria, despite all the videos that have been uploaded onto YouTube. How do you think that you can create a tipping point?

SCHMIDT: Well, for one thing, this is providing a record of the future trial against the criminals who are doing this. So at a minimum, we can record their evil acts, if you will, and then future generations can try them, understand how to change the society, document the abuses and so forth.

We saw that pattern in Egypt, for example, where more than 100,000 videos were uploaded over those four days. So we have a record of what happened. And it's incredibly important to document this. I would argue that for a normal citizen, you need a camera, not a gun.

AMANPOUR: Having said that, do you worry at all that all these people with cameras, activists or whoever they might be, maybe occasionally putting out false propaganda?

SCHMIDT: Oh, I can't imagine a dictatorship having false propaganda.

AMANPOUR: Not even a dictatorship, even the activists.

SCHMIDT: Of course people manipulate these things. And you can even alter them after you shoot them. So you need some judgment. That's why we're using a curation service, people to look at it and say, is this really true? And we also say, look, we know this is true or we think this is true. But the fact of the matter is, in these kinds of scenes, the sum of the images are true.

AMANPOUR: Let me switch to what you said, perhaps in the future, war will be conducted by camera, not a gun. Well, you must have read the stories that are out right now, "The Washington Post," talks about this new futuristic Plan X, where warfare will be conducted almost entirely inside the space. Where do you see that? What is that? Is that just computers against computers? Or is it taking over on the battlefield?

SCHMIDT: I think that's a little ahead of what's really going to happen. There's no question that there's going to be some form of cyber war in the future. We've seen a little bit of it, where one country has attacked the sites of other countries and that kind of thing.

When people talk about cyber war, what they're saying is that in the context of a traditional war, using cyber threats, if you will, to go attack systems, whether they're electrical systems or financial trading systems or other aspects of the society to try to break it down, I don't know but I should assume that the U.S. plans to do this sort of thing.

One of the interesting things about it is that the doctrines of when you would use cyber war are not agreed to. People have not come to a general agreement of, for example, if China were to attack the United States in a cyber war, would we be willing to attack with them in traditional war? There is not agreement on that.

AMANPOUR: That is -- that is major not to have agreement on.

SCHMIDT: Because we've never faced this before. Also people don't know how extensive these things can be. So for example, how much could we be attacked by -- in reality? Well, what we are doing is we are trying to make our networks more and more secure, the technological solutions that Google and others are building are vastly stronger against attacks than they were before. There are huge groups that are working to strengthen our U.S. electric power system and our financial trading system to avoid precisely that kind of an attack.

AMANPOUR: You say you don't know so much. I would have thought they would have called you in and asked them -- asked you to advise them on this.

SCHMIDT: Well, we have to be careful not to advise too closely on some of these matters. But I can tell you that the way the U.S. is doing it is they're running around and asking people for ideas, and that's not a bad thing.

DARPA, of course, was the original funder of the Internet, and so it's had a long role in using the Internet. And the original design of the Internet was, in fact, from a packet routing perspective to be able to withstand battlefield damage.

AMANPOUR: So when all this was being developed and you were in your initial element, did you imagine then coming to this point?

SCHMIDT: No, and I think most of us believed that the Internet would never be used for harm. We were very naive. We assumed that the Internet would have no criminals on it, that bad people wouldn't use it. But I will tell you that the spread of the Internet globally is overwhelmingly positive, almost everybody in the world is a good person. There's not that many bad people.

And the good people can use those tools and the phones and so forth and so on for surveillance of what bad people are doing and reporting them and reporting them to the police, et cetera, et cetera.

AMANPOUR: So what jazzes you at the moment? You've been traveling to England. You've talked about educational possibilities. You've talked about needing to get the mathematical skills up. You've put up huge amount of Google space and resources for Cornell right here in New York.

What needs to be the progress of the future?

SCHMIDT: Well, if you look, all -- virtually all of the Western democracies, many of the Asian countries are seeing slowdowns. Everybody's having a problem with economic growth. And I sit there and I wonder, how will we grow? We're going to grow because of innovation. Innovation will create new businesses, new opportunities.

How does innovation occur? It occurs in the private sector from educated people. We're not going to go back to the agrarian times and selling more and more of what we do. We already do that very well. So we have to fund not just in the U.S. but everywhere smarter people, better educational systems. The platform that we're building enables extraordinary innovation.

AMANPOUR: But you also actually focus on math. You're saying that the West, even America, Britain, is falling down on its vital math skills.

SCHMIDT: If you look at the Asian model, which at the moment is beating the U.S. and Europe model, the Asian model is much more math- specific -- think calculus as an example. And there's evidence that the Asian model, which is much more focused on getting people math skills early, is producing greater innovation.

AMANPOUR: I obviously have to ask you about certain issues that are taking place in Europe. You have been asked by Joaquin Almunia, who's the vice president of the European Commission on Competition, saying that perhaps Google may be considered abusing its dominance and they've asked you to respond with in a very short period of time.

What are you going to do?

SCHMIDT: Well, those meetings are just starting. And so we've not given back a response. They've just given us the outline of their concerns. And they were concerns that were similar to the ones that were raised by the U.S. Senate in October. We've said that we disagree that these are violations of law, but we're not perfect and we're happy to talk about it.

AMANPOUR: So you will respond?

SCHMIDT: We will respond, and we're going to take -- we're going to take the process that he's offered, which is a good process, to talk to them directly, over the next week or two.

AMANPOUR: Beyond that, it might sound counterintuitive, but in one of your graduation speeches, you basically said to people, turn away from the screen.

Are we getting too much screen?

SCHMIDT: If you have a child, your child --

AMANPOUR: Which I do and I watch.

SCHMIDT: When -- if you have a child, your child is online if they're awake. This next generation is so connected, it's almost frightening. In that sense, watch a 2-year old who can maneuver through all the applications on a tablet like an iPad. It's extraordinary what these 2- year olds are capable of doing.

It's important to understand that texting is not a substitute for human contact. And it's actually important to take a small amount of time and actually talk to people (inaudible), actually meet them, physically talk to them, go to their office, go to their home, actually have dinner together and then you can turn your device on right after that.

AMANPOUR: This is a conversation we need to continue at another time, because it is really fascinating, the idea of connectivity but not enough communication.

Eric Schmidt, thank you very much for joining me.

SCHMIDT: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And there is one thing you don't have to Google. You can always go straight to, where you can watch our entire program online every day. Join us there. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: And finally, we're hearing the outcry still over the massacre at Houla, the heartrending images of innocent children slaughtered like that one behind me. But imagine a world where the rush to tell the story makes it harder to tell the truth. Perhaps you've seen it. This photo that the BBC published just hours after the killing, it was actually taken nine years ago of dead children in Iraq.

The BBC later replaced it with another accurate image. But the damage was done. And yet, it is crucial to remember that one mistake does not invalidate the overwhelming evidence confirmed by the United Nations of a terrible crime that needed no embellishment.

The fact is that in a cyber world, where images and stories can be contradictory or even false, there is a vital need for journalism, the unwavering commitment to get the story and get it right.

Thank you for watching.