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Battling Wildfires; NSA Surveillance Revelations; Report: Kids Slaughtered in Poison Gas Attack; Zuckerberg's Big Idea

Aired August 21, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Grab your helmet and an axe. They are literally running out of firefighters out West.

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Some of the most cherished and protected land in all the land burning out of control right now, as wildfire spending tops $1 billion for the year, and officials ask Canada for more manpower.

And breaking news on THE LEAD, the National Security Agency now admitting it spied on ordinary Americans, but saying it was only a mistake, a mistake that happened tens of thousands of times without any suspicion of terrorism.

Plus, she stood between a gunman and another potential Newtown. We will hear from the bookkeeper who talked a man with an AK-47 out of possibly committing mass murder.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead and a frightening indicator of what firefighters are up against, as wildfires leave behind scorched earth from Arizona to Alaska. In Idaho, the national wildfire preparedness threat level was raised to its highest level for the first time in five years. Resources are stretched so thin there that the military and even international firefighters could be called in to help. That includes firefighters from as far away as New Zealand.

Wildfires are also closing in on two national treasures. In California, crews are working overtime to contain a forest fire just east of Yosemite and a 4,500-acre fire is burning in the hard of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

In Montana, the governor has declared a state of emergency in 31 counties, where blazes continue to spread. These fires aren't just burning up land, but they're burning a hole in the federal budget. We learned today that the price tag to fight wildfires this year passed the $1 billion mark. That's about half of last year's total of $1.9 billion and fire season is nowhere near from over.

Joining us right now by phone is Steve Gage from the National Interagency Fire Center.

Mr. Gage, thanks for joining us. First of all, let's get an update. There are actually some new fires that you're focusing on. Tell us about those. What are the areas affected?

STEVE GAGE, NATIONAL INTERAGENCY FIRE CENTER: The new fires are actually new prioritizations set by the national multi-agency coordination group in Boise, which moves the Northern Rockies coordination group, coordination into the first spot.

When the Lolo Creek complex outside of Lolo, close to the city of Missoula is the number one fire in the nation, which means it gets the highest priority for those critical resources that we would dispatch to a fire. There's also a new fire outside of Red Lodge, Montana, that has piqued a lot of interest and is going to receive a lot of attention from us here in the near future.

TAPPER: Steve, talk to us about the resources in fighting all these fires. What are you missing? And are you confident you can get the help you need?

GAGE: Each one of these large fires encompasses a fairly large land mass. When you try to encompass the entire fire, it takes a lot of personnel on the ground to do that. A lot of air support with helicopters and air tankers, engines, heavy equipment, bulldozers, those kinds of things.

As we get more and more fires on the landscape, it takes more and more equipment. Hand crews tend to be the first asset that we run short of, and so we at preparedness level five, part of our process is to reach out to our international partners, to Canada. We look to Australia, New Zealand for what we call overhead or people to come in with expertise, middle management, on a fire.

And we also have started discussions with the military to see if they can provide us the additional ground troops in the form of a hand crew we would train soldiers to be hand crew firefighters.

TAPPER: Steve Gage, thank you so much and good luck.

Breaking news right now, national Security Agency errors exposed. The nation's top intelligence official is making public three secret court opinions detailing how the NSA accidentally, they say, collected tens of thousands of e-mails from Americans with no connection to terrorism.

It all comes amid the deluge of accusations that the government has been perhaps unlawfully breaching the public's privacy in the name of national security.

CNN's justice reporter, Evan Perez, joins me now with the details.

Explain this ruling from the secret court called the FISA court, the most secret court in federal government. What is the significance of these documents that have been released today by the NSA?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the court essentially was very angry. The judge was very angry at the government, because he said you have been collecting all this data on Americans which have nothing to do with terrorism, it's completely domestic. The NSA is supposed to be focused on foreign communications, as you know.

This has nothing to do with those things. You have been misrepresenting what you have been doing to the court for three years, essentially. The judge was essentially cataloguing all the things the NSA was doing. The NSA was essentially setting its machines, its computers so that it was collecting stuff that essentially had nothing to do with you for example communicating with someone in al Qaeda in Yemen, for instance.

It was completely your domestic communications with other people, for instance.

TAPPER: Other people in this country?

PEREZ: In this country, correct.

And the NSA -- you were getting content. You were getting not only the metadata that the government has talked about.

TAPPER: Metadata is -- this person e-mailed this person. And it was this size. But that's not necessarily the content.

PEREZ: Right. And in essence the NSA has been telling the court it was doing a certain amount of this, it was taking its care to make sure all the domestic data was left out and it wasn't doing that.

TAPPER: This went on for three years?

PEREZ: For three years.

In October 2011, the NSA finally comes to the judge and explains what they have been doing. The judge was very angry and said, well, you know, tell us how you're going to fix this. The NSA had to come up with new ways to be able to remove the domestic data, the domestic e- mails and Internet traffic.

TAPPER: And this is fascinating, Evan, because the NSA did this proactively. The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, made this decision. Why?

PEREZ: Well, Edward Snowden has been leaking these documents that obviously has got everyone talking about this subject.

I think they're under tremendous pressure to explain, frankly. We can't just go on the leaked documents. They have to try to explain what exactly they have been doing now for the last few years. And keep in mind, this collection is going on. The NSA is just saying we're doing it better, we're doing better care to make sure that Americans' data is not involved.

TAPPER: And also pushing back, perhaps, on the suggestion that this secret court, the FISA court is just a rubber stamp. They're saying, no, it's not just a rubber stamp. Look, they fault us. PEREZ: Well, yes, it shows that, but it also shows that the court is very limited, because essentially the NSA comes to them and says we have been doing this for three years. The court really has no leeway. It can order the government to follow the law, but if the government doesn't follow the law, there's really nothing the court can do.

TAPPER: Fascinating stuff. Thank you so much, CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.

He started the debate that's still going on right now with Edward Snowden about the balance between government secrets and national security by giving the mother lode of U.S. intel to the Web site WikiLeaks.

Today Private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for that leak, fewer than the 60 years prosecutor wanted and far fewer than the 90 years he could have received. Manning was convicted on 20 counts, including espionage, fraud and theft, but acquitted of the most serious charges of aiding the enemy. He will be ineligible for any pay or benefits. He will be dishonorably discharged.

Authorities say Manning handed over three quarters of a million pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks, including a video title "Collateral Murder" which appeared to be shot from an Apache chopper as it fired on people. A dozen were killed, among them a Reuters TV cameraman and his driver.

Manning is one of the seven Americans whom the Obama administration has charged with leaking classified information to the media. Those seven, that's more than twice than all other previous presidential administrations combined.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, would you risk your life for a vacation? Why one prime minister is saying that's exactly what his citizens are doing if they take a trip to the United States.

And later, it's being called racist, and it hasn't even aired yesterday. Do the jokes on the new sitcom "Dads" go too far?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now our politics lead. She says he was armed with an AK-47 and told her he was off his medication and ready to die. One brave bookkeeper near Atlanta, Georgia, potentially saved a school full of children from what could have been an all too familiar nightmare. Her words were her weapon.


ANTOINETTE TUFF, WITNESS: He said that no one loved him, and I told him I loved him and that it was going to be OK, that we were going to get out safely. And then I told him if he just go ahead and surrender since he didn't hurt anyone, that I would stay there with him until they came to get him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Antoinette Tuff, a very apt surname. Tuff helped the suspect, Michael Brandon Hill, unpack his extra ammunition and put his weapon down. She's a hero.

But should Tuff and school faculty members like her across the country at least have the right to be armed with more than their wits?

Here to talk about it are two co-hosts of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," Van Jones and S.E. Cupp.

S.E., obviously, this woman acted as a hero, but after yesterday's standoff near Atlanta and after Newtown, should teachers have the right to carry weapons if they want?

S.E. CUPP, "CROSSFIRE" CO-HOST: Absolutely. I am not for arming teachers against their will, forcing school administrators to learn how to use guns if they don't want to, but if a local school has decided that this is how we want to train teachers and deal with the very rare case of a mass shooting at a school, then it should be up to that jurisdiction.

If someone like Antoinette Tuff wants to take it upon herself to try and stop a school shooting, she should be allowed to do that as well.

TAPPER: What do you think? I spoke this summer to the superintendent of a school system in Clarksville, Arkansas, that has there -- a panel has blocked them, but they wanted to bring guns into their schools. Was that an encroachment on their rights?

CUPP: Absolutely. It always is. There's a constitutional right to bear arms.


TAPPER: Even if a school?

CUPP: I can't bring my gun onto a college campus. It's a gun-free zone. We wonder why we have so many rapes on college campuses and sexual assaults, because we are disarming people that would orderly be allowed to carry guns to protect themselves.

It's an arbitrary geographic sort of gun-free zone that actually ends up putting people in danger.

TAPPER: Van, please weigh in here.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, first of all, let me just say how happy I am, I think the whole country is, that we did not have a tragedy yesterday.

My dad was a principal at a junior high school, he was a big ex- military guy, and I don't think he could have done a better job than that woman did, using her words. The NRA has been saying for a very long time, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. In this case, a woman with good words, I love you, was able to turn it around.

CUPP: Very lucky.

JONES: I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on that.

Very lucky. It does not happen that way every time, but I do think it's important to recognize that this time a woman with good words was able to turn it around. I don't understand why we're now wanting to talk about these sort of exotic ideas of arming teachers and that kind of stuff, when we still haven't done what the law enforcement community is saying, which is to tighten up the background checks.

The problem we have right now, we don't know how this guy got a gun, but what we do know is he's a convicted felon, and he shouldn't have had one. And right and left can agree that convicted felons shouldn't have guns. And we're not doing what we are supposed to do to keep the guns out of his hands. That's not exotic. That's not news.


CUPP: Van, we absolutely do agree. We absolutely do agree that dangerous people should not have guns.

The problem with this argument is always the same: criminals do not submit to background checks. It is a fallacy that you expect a criminal to walk into a gun store and say, here's my information, and when I commit this crime, here's where you can find me. Here's my phone number.

It is an absolute fantasy. So, this gun control that you all talk about as a sylph (ph) for things like this is a fantasy. It's delusional.

JONES: Let me tell you something. When you say that, it sounds great, but it's not a fantasy when you look at the numbers. The 14 states that have the background checks --

CUPP: Yes, let's look at the numbers.

JONES: Let me finish. The 14 states that have background checks, there are 39 percent fewer women who are being killed by their intimate partners in those states. There are -


CUPP: This is a correlation you're going to make?

JONES: But most importantly, there are 39 percent fewer cops who are being killed by handguns where we are doing a better job. No law, no criminal law will stop all crime, but you can reduce crime and we're not doing it.

CUPP: So, you think background checks are responsible, when the only people submitting to background checks are law-abiding citizens? That's preposterous.

JONES: It's not -- then what you're saying is that law enforcement, American law enforcement is preposterous, because that's what they're saying.

CUPP: No --

JONES: What American law enforcement is calling for is for us to get on the same page on background check. We can't even do that?

CUPP: We don't even enforce that. When people apply for background checks, in the rare case that they don't -- they don't succeed in getting a background check, we don't even prosecute them. It's a sense of false security.

JONES: Then we should change that.

CUPP: Talk to Joe Biden, who said it's impossible. We do not have the resources.

TAPPER: I want to go -- I want to take -- we have one minute left. After the horrible death of Australian Chris Lane --

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: -- the former Australian deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer, told CNN's Piers Morgan that Australians should think twice before visiting the U.S.

I want to hear you guys' reaction to that.

JONES: Well, in Australia --


TIM FISCHER, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA (via telephone): It is another example of murder and mayhem on main street. Yes, people thinking of going to the U.S. on business or tourist trips should think carefully about it given the statistical facts you are 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the USA than in Australia per capita per a million people.


TAPPER: Van, you were so eager there. You were talking before we even played the clip. Your reaction, does this affect the way that the rest of the world views the United States?

JONES: Well, clearly it does. I would just say to the people of Australia, rather than keeping your people out, why don't you help us bring some of your good smart laws here? They banned some of these assault weapons and they've had a dramatic drop in the amount of murder and suicide. I'd rather for us to be closer to the Australians than farther away. And I'm so sorry about this death.

TAPPER: S.E., I know you want to weigh in. JONES: It's a tragedy, and it's really unfortunate that Australia is maligning an entire city, state and indeed country by telling its citizens not to visit. Americans are killed abroad every day, unfortunately. This is just something that happens. It's a tragedy, but it's absolutely no reason to boycott the country.

TAPPER: I want to go to one other thing about Michael Brandon Hill, the suspect that was thankfully detained before he did anything horrific. He had, according to police, 500 rounds of ammunition on him. Some people who support greater restrictions on gun ownership and greater restrictions on ammunition ownership would say, here is an example of one place that maybe we can all agreed on is ammunition -- S.E.

CUPP: Well, it's also arbitrary and down to the shooter. If you're a proficient shooter, you're going to get off as many rounds as you can. Shouldn't we be trying to prevent one death, not one plus 10, or 10 plus one?

One death is bad enough. And for that, we should be looking at mental health fixes. I understand that this suspect himself was off his medication. Something that most all of these shootings have in common is a mental health issue that we're simply not addressing because we are focusing on guns and bullets.


JONES: Well, we can all agree we need more mental health. I think we need some mental health for the people who are these crazy lobbyists who are keeping us from implementing what law enforcement says will work, which is tighter background checks.

We should not live in a world where a crazy person or somebody who's been convicted can do cartwheels through all these big loopholes and land in a kindergarten with a gun and hurt people. And no law can stop every crime. But you work together usually to get the laws tougher.

The right wing usually wants tougher laws. The only time when the laws are failing is they say they don't want tougher laws is when it comes to gun laws. I just don't understand it.

CUPP: Then the only intellectually honest and consistent argument, Van, is to call for a 100 buyback and 100 percent gun ban. And no one is doing that.

TAPPER: All right. I've got to stop there. We've already, this is so good, we gave it more minutes than we actually were planning. A little -- a little teaser for people.

CUPP: That's right.

TAPPER: Remember, CNN's "CROSSFIRE" returns September 16th. Hopefully that whetted the palette as it were with S.E. Cupp and Van Jones.

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: Appreciate it. Thanks so much, guys.

Coming up on THE LEAD: in Google's quest for world domination, is there anything the company won't do? The latest rumors on Google's next move and how it could change the way you spend your Sundays.

Plus, will you give up shoe shopping to make them yourself at home? We'll tell you how you can do it by barely lifting a finger.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now, it's time for the world lead. It was one year ago this week when President Obama laid down the red line on chemical weapons in Syria.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.


TAPPER: Today, there are brand-new allegations of a barbaric gas attack in Syria. Syrian activists claimed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb were slaughtered this morning by the Assad regime, with chemical weapons. The activists released video that will make you fall to your knees. It shows scores of dead children under sheets and a makeshift morgue. But the Syrian government is claiming it did not happen.

This would not be the first time that President Obama's red line has been crossed by Bashar al-Assad. In March, reports circulated about a chemical strike by the Syrian government against a village in northern Syrian. Three months later, the Obama administration said it had a high degree of confidence of the attack. And in July, administration sources said the administration would begin to arm some Syrian rebels.

Today's response from the White House included a statement saying the president is deeply concerned about the new reports, with the request the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation. The U.N. Security Council is convening an emergency meeting today.

"Bloomberg View" columnist Jeffrey Goldberg today wrote that, quote, "Assad believes that no one, not the U.N., not President Obama, not other Western powers, not the Arab League, will do a damned thing to stop him. There is a good chance he is correct," close quote.

Some news developing this hour in Egypt. State TV there is reporting that the deputy military ruler has ordered Hosni Mubarak placed under house arrest, just hours before a court reportedly ordered him to be freed. The former dictator has been in custody for most of the last two years. He was stripped of power in 2011, and sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of protesters during his rule. But he is going to be retried.

Turning now to the money lead -- Mark Zuckerberg redefined what it means to be friends. But the Facebook wants to be more than friends. He's announced a grand plan to get the other 5 million people in the world online. We're talking about those who do not have Internet access, and not just in third world countries. Nearly 20 percent of the people in the U.S. are deprived of the Internet, too.

Here's what Mr. Facebook told CNN's Chris Cuomo.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, CHAIRMAN & CEO, FACEBOOK: The way I like to live is every day I wake up and think about, what can I do that's going to have the biggest positive impact. And, you know, I spend almost all my time on Facebook because I think that, you know, giving people the power to share is one of the most profound changes that's happening in the world today. Getting the next 5 billion people to have access to the Internet I think is one of the most important problems in my generation.


TAPPER: Zuckerberg's campaign is called, and mobile devices will be key to making this plan happen. He says he's got big tech companies like Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung to get on board.

It's a revolution that will cut right to the soul of few addicts everywhere. A Finnish designer has created an entire collection of shoes using a 3D printer. The shoes are all wedges and they come in four different styles. Blueprints are currently available for free through the 3D printing Web site, Cubify. The only hiccup is figuring out how to print out the right size. That and the fact that a shoe takes about six to seven hours to print.

Coming up in politics, Senator Ted Cruz says this is the last chance for the GOP to win the argument on killing Obamacare. Haven't we been hearing that since 2009? We'll ask on Republican government what he thinks about his party's effort.

Plus, he was a trouble maker, a loner, a fighter, and was discharged from the marines because of it in part. So, how did Ty Carter go from that to Medal of Honor recipient?