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Chemical Weapons in Syria?; Seven Marines Die in Accident; President Obama to Visit Israel

Aired March 19, 2013 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: In Syria, both sides report the use of chemical weapons. And this is where President Obama says he draws the line. So what happens next?

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

(voice-over): Tragedy in training, seven Marines killed during an exercise in Nevada. We're hearing what happened in their final moments.

Plus, one researcher says it's possible to reverse death -- why extinction may not matter anymore.

And is Justin Timberlake America's biggest male pop star? You will hear the argument.


BALDWIN: Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let me begin with this developing story out of Hawaii. A civilian defense contractor has allegedly passed secret information to his mistress, a much younger woman from China.

Brian Todd is in Washington digging on this one for us. He joins us live.

And, Brian, what you can tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this man who was arrested, Benjamin Bishop, had top-secret clearance, access to sensitive classified information.

Bishop is an Army Reservist, worked for a defense contractor doing work for the U.S. military's Pacific Command in Hawaii. According to the complaint, Bishop leaked military secrets including information on nuclear weapons and war plans to a Chinese woman 32 years younger than him who he was having a romantic relationship with.

U.S. law enforcement officials say this could have caused serious damage to national security. The woman is identified in court documents only as Person One, 27 years old, a Chinese national in the U.S. on a student visa. Without calling her a Chinese spy, the complaint certainly implies is. The document says she met Bishop at a military defense conference and -- quote -- "Person One may have been at the conference in order to target individuals such as Bishop who work with and have access to U.S. classified information regarding Person One's purported interests."

There is a name for this kind of spy op. I spoke with Eric O'Neill, a former counter intelligence officer. He's the one who took down Robert Hanssen, the FBI official who spied for the Russians at one point. Here's what O'Neill calls this kind of spy operation.


ERIC O'NEILL, FORMER FBI OFFICER: This is a honey trap case, sometimes called a honey pot case. This is where they use usually an attractive person to come and solicit information from someone who has access to that information.

Here we had a person who had a secret clearance, a top secret clearance who was able to access certain defense information. He goes to a tech conference which is ground zero for this kind of espionage, actually ground zero for all kinds of espionage. These conferences can usually be rife with spies.


TODD: The attorney for the man accused, Benjamin Bishop, says Bishop has served his country honorably for 29 years and maintains that Bishop would never do anything intentionally to harm the United States. We have reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment on this case. We have not heard back -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, Brian Todd, thank you so much.

Now new reports that the U.S. military has ordered a worldwide stop on the firing of a specific mortar believed to be behind this deadly explosion today in the Nevada desert. It happened right here. See this map? This is Hawthorne Army Depot. It's a military base southeast of Reno.

Here's what happened. A group of U.S. Marines were taking part in a training exercise when there was this huge explosion. Seven of those Marines were killed, eight others injured. They were taken to a Reno hospital.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's thoughts and prayers go to the families of those who were lost and to those who are injured. We're obviously in the early stages of assessing the incident. It's a tragedy, clearly, and the president was briefed immediately on and made aware of it immediately and briefed on it and we're monitoring the situation.


BALDWIN: It takes three to four Marines to operate this specific type of mortar. It is still not known why the mortar round exploded.

And check you clocks. Just about five hours from now, President Obama leaves for his very first trip to Israel since moving in to the White House. No major announcements are planned for rights trip to the Middle East here, but Syria's chemical weapons and Iran's nuclear program are sure to be among the major issues discussed when he meets Mideast leaders, including, taking a look at the list, you have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is live in Jerusalem.

First question, Jess, why now?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's an excellent question and one a lot of people here in Jerusalem are asking.

Every visit to Jerusalem to Israel by a U.S. president is seen as rich in symbolism and strategic significance. Symbolically, the president's visit makes sense. You could say his first visit overseas in his first term was to give a speech in Cairo to the Arab world. Now he can say his first overseas visit, the second term, he gives a speech in Israel to the Jewish world and any sensitivities he irritated the first time around, he will have addressed now.

But, strategically, many people here in Israel are confused by the timing of this visit. Other American presidents have come to Israel at a time when, for example, peace negotiations were at a crucial turning point and their visit had enormous potential to bring the two sides together.

For example, Jimmy Carter came in 1979, the same month both Begin and Begin signed the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. In Clinton's term, there were four visits. In 1994, right after he took office, shortly after, there was a peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan after his visit a while he was here, I should say. There were two things during that time when it was a crucial moment for the U.S. to show its friendship and again during a peace accord. And then George W. Bush waited until the very end of his term until he was about to leave office, but that's when his administration was doing finally at a point in the peace discussions where a presidential visit could add momentum.

And so that timing people here say made sense. This time, there is no similar momentum the president's visit could lend to any peace deal, to any discussion regarding Iran and no there is deliverable they expect regarding Syria, and so many people just don't understand why now.

BALDWIN: So you bring up Iran. Let me ask about Iran. Do we have any idea what President Obama may be saying about Iran, what is it that Prime Minister Netanyahu would like to hear?

YELLIN: Quite simply, he's expected to repeat what we have heard before, that he will say Iran simply cannot be allowed to get a nuclear capability, that the U.S. will not stand for that, that the U.S. will have "Israel's back" -- quote, unquote. And we do not expect that the president will use new language, but Israelis I'm assured will be OK with the language he will use.

Simply coming to Israel and repeating what he has said recently on Iran will be enough. It's not as far as many of the Israelis, the more conservative Israelis themselves stand, where they stand on Iran, but it's enough that he will come here and repeat where he's been -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We will see. We know you're covering it for us from Jerusalem. Jessica Yellin, thank you.

As we mentioned, the president leaves in just a couple of hours.


BALDWIN: Now to Syria -- disturbing reports today of chemical weapons being used in the civil war there. But the question is, if this is happening, who is using them? That answer depends on who you ask. Remember, President Obama has said that is the red line, chemical weapons. So what then? That's next.


BALDWIN: Just into CNN, Carnival Cruises announcing it will cancel another 10 cruises on the troubled Triumph, which, of course, made headlines last month, passengers stranded for days without power. Carnival says the ship will not be ready until June, when repairs are made.

And now to the red line, the red line that could mean greater U.S. involvement in Syria perhaps. And today the White House is looking into reports that that red line has now been crossed. Syrian state media reporting chemical weapons have been strapped to a missile and fired on civilians in Aleppo province, killing at least 25 people and injuring dozens more. President Bashar al-Assad's regime, they are blaming the rebels. The rebels blame the government. Here's what the U.S. thinks.


CARNEY: And we have no evidence to substantiate -- substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons. We're deeply skeptical of a regime that has lost all credibility and we would also warn the regime against making these kind of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons.


BALDWIN: CNN International's Jim Clancy joining me here in the studio.

When we hear, Jim, Carney saying skeptical, just before we even get in to this, no one knows definitively whether chemical weapons were used. The U.S. knows that Syria, that the government has them. That's why President Obama drew this red line. But we don't know for sure.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't know for sure, but you can analyze it a little bit.

You can look at that videotape that is of the survivors, the injured in hospital.

BALDWIN: Let's roll it again.

CLANCY: When you look at them, you see they're being treated by doctors. If these were people that were wearing normal clothing and they had actually been hit in a chemical weapons attack, all those doctors, everybody that is carrying them, they would also be affected.

Now, did people smell chlorine? They may have. But it may not have been from the use of chemical weapons. So, right now, there's a lot of skepticism about chemical weapons, whether or not they were used.

And, of course, as you saw, that all-important red line that's already been drawn.

BALDWIN: If, if this is the usage of chemical weapons, would we know for sure whether or not there would be U.S. boots on the ground in Syria?

CLANCY: Well, the president has said that was a red line. He didn't say exactly what it would mean if that red line got crossed. And they used the occasion again today. And you heard Carney talking about it where he's saying don't use this as a pretext, don't try to pump all of this up.

The U.S. is backing the rebels saying this was a regime missile that was fired. Russia is backing the Syrian news agency's official accounting of this, blaming it on the rebels. We will find out what was fired and who did it at some point, I'm sure.

BALDWIN: How much of a chemical weapon cache is in Syria right now and what would be the potential for damage?

CLANCY: Mustard gas is what is thought that the regime has. And the U.S. is very concerned about not only the Assad regime doesn't use it against the rebels, against its own people, but also to ensure that those chemical weapons aren't transferred to other parties, like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Or for the rebels, some of the Salafist groups, they're fighting on the rebel side. The U.S. doesn't want see them get weapons of mass destruction certainly.

BALDWIN: Jim Clancy, thank you.

Coming up next: news on everything, everyone, including Justin Timberlake, his future plans. Critics upset over CVS pharmacy asking employees to get a physical or pay up. And scientists saying extinct species could be extinct no more. And one company's stock price drops because certain pants, uh-oh, they are see-through. The power block is next.


BALDWIN: Here we go, technology, sports, business, health, science, showbiz news, we hit it all right now for you. It's called the power block, beginning with this.

Break out the suit and tie. Justin Timberlake's first album since 2006 is out today and the rumors are true. This is just the first half of "The 20/20 Experience." Almost seven years without a little J.T. music and suddenly he is bringing sexy back to back. You like that, back to back sexy? Timberlake confirms the sequel is coming. No word on the release date.

And heads up all of you downward-facing yogis. You could facing a pants shortage. Lululemon has pulled its latest bath of black yoga pants off store shelves because they reveal a little too much skin. Yes, you can see through them. You don't want that, folks. This is a big recall for Lululemon, 17 percent of all its pants it sells. It is having a big impact on the company's stock price as well. Lulu shares are down more than 5 percent today.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There it is. Welcome to "Jurassic Park." We have made living biological attractions so astounding that they will capture the imagination of the entire planet.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: How did you do this?




BALDWIN: "Jurassic Park" might actually be closer to reality than you think. Scientists are working on ways for bring back extinct species.

Chad Myers, it's here. I read this crazy article this morning in the paper, and I said we had to get you on just because the idea of having a species once extinct, bringing it back, are they having success at all?





They're not having success, but they're trying to think of other ways to do it. The way they're thinking about it now is doing the cloning thing. BALDWIN: OK.

MYERS: Taking the nucleus out of an egg and then finding the DNA of an extinct animal and putting that DNA into the egg, hatching the egg and making a real person, a real animal, new un-extinct version of that same animal right there.

But now they're thinking wait a minute -- and I will speak for myself -- we have about 1 percent to 2 percent Neanderthal in us -- not you, just me.

BALDWIN: I will take that.


MYERS: If we find that, we can take that 1 percent and find the most Neanderthalic people and breed them -- this is all weird, I know.

BALDWIN: Neanderthalic, I was stuck on that word. Go ahead.

MYERS: And all of a sudden 300 years from now, we have enough babies that look like Neanderthals, we could maybe go back-breeding.

Well, let's not talk about people. Let's talk about a frog. Behind a frog that looks like the extinct frog, you find another one that looks a little bit like it, you breed those frogs. Then you take the best of those frogs that look the most like the extinct frogs and you could breed back the DNA of the extinct animal. It could come back to life.

We are going to not see woolly mammoth, probably.

BALDWIN: Dinosaurs?

MYERS: We are going to not see dinosaurs. I don't think so, absolutely not, because that DNA is dead.

BALDWIN: That's gone?


MYERS: Millions of years ago. It's gone.

But, no, this is just different ideas of how to maybe bring back the carrier pigeon, all those -- you have seen so many pigeons around. And the ibex, they tried, which was kind of a goat-like thing, in France and Spain, but it only lasted, only lived just a couple of minutes.

That was the closest they ever got. It was extinct in 1999. They took a cell from that last animal. They tried to clone it, and bring it back, but it didn't live.

BALDWIN: So maybe the word extinct will be extinct eventually.

MYERS: Maybe, a little. BALDWIN: Maybe. Maybe. Thank you, my Neanderthalic weatherman.


BALDWIN: Let's talk basketball. NBA's Miami Heat, yes, they did it again. They wont their 23rd straight game last night, beating Boston. One highlight, monster dunk, wait for it, boom, by, of course, LeBron James.

Didn't stop there. King James led the Heat all the way back from actually 17 down, including hitting a jumper with 10 seconds to go to win the game 105-103. They are 10 wins away from tying the longest streak in league history.

And the NCAA Tournament tipping off in actually just a matter of hours. The so-called first four begins with a pair of games. You have Liberty playing North Carolina A&t at 6:40 Eastern. The winner, by the way, will face number one overall seed, Louisville. Good luck with that. Hey, there's always a good Cinderella story. In tonight's second game, St. Mary's takes on Middle Tennessee State. You can watch both games on truTV.

A new policy from a national drug store chain is triggering all kinds of controversy today. The company, you have of them, CVS, calls it motivation. Critics call it retaliation. The policy involves workers having to pay more for health care if they don't report certain medical information like your weight, your body mass index, glucose levels, to the insurer.

And CNN's Zain Asher joins me.

And just specifically, how, Zain, does this policy work?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, it's pretty simple. Right?

Basically you agree to a voluntary -- quote, unquote -- "voluntary" health screening or you pay a fine. Companies wanting their employees to submit to health screenings isn't anything unusual. What's unusual in this particular case is the fact that CVS is reportedly saying if you don't take the screening, they will be taking money out of their employees' paychecks.

So this time it's a bit more coercive. And also the information they're asking is a bit controversial. You mentioned some of them, things like weight, body fat, glucose levels, that kind of thing. So it's pretty clear they are trying to weed out anyone who might have early symptoms of diabetes or obesity. Now, we spoke to Deborah Peel. She's the founder of the Patients Privacy Rights group.

She says even though companies have a natural incentive to reduce health care costs, she says this, of course, is not the best way to go about it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. DEBORAH PEEL, PATIENT PRIVACY RIGHTS: There are many companies who want to help their employees get healthier and they do so by giving them rewards.

They don't say do it or else I'm going to take money out of your paycheck. I have seen way too many employers that use employee health information to discriminate against them. And so even if it's couched as this is -- this is -- we're not going to look at your health information now, there is really no way that employees can be sure of that.


ASHER: We did reach out to CVS for a statement. They told us that all personal data will be given to a third party, not shared with CVS under any circumstance.

And they said -- and I quote -- "Our benefits program is evolving to help our colleagues take more responsibility for improving their health and managing their health-associated costs." The initial step to accomplish this goal is a health screening and wellness review.

The company would not confirm how much it would charge employees who declined the voluntary screening -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Zain Asher, thank you so much.

We have been keeping an eye in the last half-hour on these two breaking news stories which we you told about, the first involving that reported gunman on a college campus, the other a shooting inside a hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the hospice wing. We have an update on both of those next.