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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Children's Charity Ripoff?; Will U.S. Strike Syria?

Aired August 27, 2013 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight, with Washington talking war, we will talk about what military action against Syria would actually mean to American interests, American lives and millions of Syrians living and dying under a dictator.

Also tonight, part two of our special report in what we have identified as America's worst charity when it comes to how much money they raise for dying children, and how little they actually spend on them. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And, later, the people that say not vaccinating their children is a matter of faith, putting everyone at risk of childhood diseases that we sometimes forget can kill. Dr. Sanjay Gupta weighs in. It could save someone's life.

We begin tonight with Syria. The drums of war growing louder, but also some very tough questions what kind of military action it might be. Today, Defense Secretary Hagel says American forces are in his words ready to go if ordered to strike. Four Navy destroyers now have targets within range of their cruise missiles. So may a number of submarines believed to be in the Mediterranean.

Syrian officials vowing to fight back if hit continue to deny responsibility for last Wednesday's mass casualty attack outside Damascus. The Obama administration is promising to release new intelligence shortly.

Speaking to members of the American Legion today, Vice President Biden sounded 100 percent convinced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one doubts that innocent men, women and children have been the victims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. And there is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Syrian regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There is ample evidence of an atrocity on the ground.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has managed to obtained exclusive video from shortly after the attack. He joins us from Damascus by phone. Fred, first of all, what's the reaction from the Assad regime to continued strong language like that from the Obama administration?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what? I actually think they are really hearing that language, Anderson.

I was in with the Information Ministry of the country earlier today who is quite a powerful figure here. He really spoke a lot differently than I have seen Syrian officials speak in the past couple of days. Before that, you would hear them say if attacked, Syria would fight back. The Syrian people would rise up.

You still hear that kind of rhetoric, but it's certainly a lot less bold, and you would -- and it comes, of course, after statements like the one from Secretary of State Kerry yesterday and then the one from Vice President Biden today.

Right now, what I'm hearing them say is the U.S. ought to give the U.N. weapons inspectors who are still on the ground here some more time to do their work and then wait for their assessment. Of course, the U.S. has already gone a step further and it seems as though the Syrian government is now starting to realize it's a less of a question if the U.S. and its allies will strike and rather more of a question when.

That certainly is the mood I got today from a meeting with the information minister of this country.

COOPER: Fred, you obtained exclusive video from one of the areas allegedly hit with chemical weapons in this region right outside Damascus. What does the video tell us? What does it show?

PLEITGEN: It tells us a lot because it was taken by an independent filmer who is absolutely trustworthy and who got us this video.

And what it shows is it shows the Zamalka district which was the district of these alleged chemical weapons attacks that had the highest death toll. There was more than 400 people there killed. It shows a lot there, that it was used as a mass grave. It was plowed over. There were graves made there, a lot of bodies placed in there and there's really only very little space left in that area to put more bodies into.

But the thing is that the filmer that went on the ground there said inside the makeshift field hospital they had there, there are still a lot of bodies laying in there that have not been claimed. They can't find the relatives of those people. So there is a lot of dead bodies and a lot of them are children who are still inside that field hospital. So a lot of death, a lot of destruction down there.

The people there told the filmer that a lot of folks died in their sleep because this hit at around 2:00 in the morning and people were just surprised for it and they died before they even woke up. But there are also some tales of miraculous survival. There was one man that made a makeshift gas mask out of a plastic cup, a piece of cotton and a piece of coal to try and make a filter out of. He says that's how he survived the whole thing, but really a very surreal scene on the ground in Zamalka where many hundreds of people died -- Anderson.

COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, appreciate the report. Thanks. Be careful.

We're looking tonight at what President Obama might do about Syria, when, how, with whose help to what end. In a few moments, we will focus very narrowly on the pluses and minuses of a variety of military options.

First, though, the broad strokes. For that, Dexter Filkins, staff writer at "The New Yorker" magazine, Peter Beinart, special correspondent for "Newsweek" and Daily Beast and he's also editor of The Daily Beast OpenZion.com blog. National security Fran Townsend currently sits on the CIA and Department of Homeland Security external advisory boards. Also, chief national correspondent John King.

Fran, let me start with you. We were told the administration would likely release a declassified report on Syria, perhaps with even information about this attack. You're hearing now there is a debate in the administration about that.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is a debate what to release.

I think you will see -- look, there are memories, right, of the failed intelligence prior to going into Iraq about WMD. So I think the administration feels compelled to release some information that, you know, underscores and verifies what you have heard President (sic) Biden say today.

Absolutely, the regime absolutely used chemical weapons. But the question and the debate becomes, Anderson, how much do you reveal? What is enough to convince the international community you really do have solid proof of the regime's use of these awful weapons vs. how do you protect the sources and methods...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So that's the concern, sources, about whether it's interception of signals intelligence or something like that or an operative on the ground.

TOWNSEND: Correct.

COOPER: They don't want to reveal that?

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. So you are trying to give as much detail as you can without revealing sources and methods.

COOPER: Dexter, in your reporting, everybody focuses on this attack and the knowledge that there was one smaller attack before. But in your reporting, you have actually seen there were as many as 35 other chemical attacks.

DEXTER FILKINS, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes, yes, I mean, I talked to a number of -- I talked to somebody in Zamalka, but I talked to a number of Syrian exiled groups that have been trying to track these things. And what you had, basically, over the past several months is a series of really low level attacks, maybe 30 or 35 and the total number of people killed, total is only about 150.

COOPER: Prior to the last attack.

(CROSSTALK)

FILKINS: Prior to the last one. This last one is just completely different.

COOPER: Right. We don't know the exact numbers at this point. There is people who were buried and their names are not known and there's people who still haven't been buried.

(CROSSTALK)

FILKINS: Yes. It looks like maybe more than 1,000 are dead, but I think the Assad strategy until now has been we use this and we use these to cause panic and prepare the battleground for when the troops go in, and they got away with it by and large and so obviously he decided to go big.

COOPER: Because, I mean, President Obama's red line comment, that was about a year ago, if memory serves me correct.

FILKINS: Yes.

COOPER: And you find this move by Assad interesting because all the reports were over the last six months or so that the tide of the battle had kind of turned in the favor of the regime.

FILKINS: Yes. You would think somebody who did what apparently the regime did last week would be desperate, and by all accounts his situation is much less desperate than it was, say, six months ago.

COOPER: What would be the strategy? Why do it?

FILKINS: I think he thought he would get away with it. If you look at the red line, President Obama laid down the red line a year ago. If in fact there has been as many as 35 attacks, what price has Assad paid for that?

The Obama administration decided a couple of months ago to send basically rifles and bullets to the rebels, but there isn't any evidence that any of those has arrived yet.

COOPER: We were reporting as if it was a big change of policy, but in fact, not much on the ground has changed.

FILKINS: Or nothing on the ground.

(CROSSTALK) FILKINS: Yes. So far for Assad there has been no price to pay.

COOPER: John, we heard from Secretary Kerry yesterday, Secretary Hagel this morning, Vice President Biden this afternoon. Is it likely we will hear from the president before any kind of an attack? In memory, we don't usually hear from a president before an attack. Right?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a debate within the administration as well and the conversation you're having underscores the credibility challenge for the president right now.

There was plans to release more of this intelligence today, perhaps satellite images, some signal intelligence. There is a tug of war within the administration over how much to do. We have heard from the prime minister of Great Britain and we have heard from the president of France and some people are saying when will we hear from the president of the United States?

One of the things they're trying to do is they're to get more people publicly on their side. A lot of phone calls, especially into the Arab world and other European allies. And in the Arab world they are getting a lot of go for it, good luck, but they're not getting any public endorsements from any of these countries right now. At the moment with the exception of Great Britain and France, when it comes to a military perspective and people willing to stand with you as public allies and public endorsements of this, it's a pretty lonely job for the president trying to build this coalition.

COOPER: Peter, it's interesting. Nobody can say that they haven't known what has been happening in the ground in Syria. This thing has been documented in video, cell phone video from the first demonstrations in Daraa. And it's interesting that 100,000 people have been killed, but it's 1,000 people dying from a chemical attack that has spurred the U.S. Does that make sense to you?

PETER BEINART, THE DAILY BEAST: This is really different from Kosovo and Libya in the sense that we're not really trying to end the conflict here.

We are simply -- if you looked at what Kerry said a couple days ago, what was amazing is he said nothing at all really about the larger Syrian civil war other than the chemical weapons strike. They were really trying to isolate that off and say we're trying to make a statement globally about non-use of chemical weapons.

But one might think the lesson to dictators around the world could be, just butcher your citizens in other ways. So, I mean, obviously, it would be terrible to have a lifting of this taboo on chemical weapons, but even if this is successful as possible, Assad doesn't use chemical weapons, again, there will still be a day after in which Syria will be spiraling toward a more and more horrendous civil war.

COOPER: And they aren't -- Dexter, they are not talking about really changing the calculus on the ground. It's just a warning to not use the chemical weapons.

FILKINS: Yes.

Well, first of all, You can't hit the chemical weapons themselves or the storage sites because then you will release the chemicals. But the indications are, we don't know yet, but the indications are that they will attack some of the units that have used chemical weapons.

But that's not going to change, that's not going to materially change the nature of that conflict at all.

COOPER: Is part of that -- and anybody weigh in -- is part of that a reflection of the concern within the administration and really around the world about after Assad, then what, about the makeup of the various opposition groups, the rebel groups? You have the Al-Nusra Front, these al Qaeda-inspired groups.

TOWNSEND: Right, I think that's exactly what the concern is and they are saying they are not doing this to tip the balance of power because it's not clear when you tip it where it goes.

COOPER: They don't want to break it. They don't want to own it.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right.

BEINART: But I think the real question is, can they not own it?

I think President Obama has had a very clear strategic vision throughout his presidency. He will get out of the two wars and he's going to focus on rebuilding America's strength at home and he doesn't want to be too distracted, but we're facing a big test now about whether in fact, America cannot be districted. Already we're being brought into this. But what happens if Jordan next door starts to teeter?

If this gets worse and worse, America still remains the hegemon in that region and at some point it becomes self-defeating to try to stay out because you end up getting pulled in at a later and worse point.

TOWNSEND: The president runs the risk, frankly, of even if he launches a cruise missile strike, the analogy after the East Africa bombings when the Clinton administration did the same thing into Afghanistan and Sudan, and we still wind up with 9/11. So a cruise missile strike all by itself...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: President Reagan fired cruise missiles into Gadhafi's tent and a puff of sand went up. A few people were killed, but that was about it.

John, what is also so interesting is, I don't hear from anybody -- there is no enthusiasm about this really in any quarter it seems like in the United States. Nobody really wants to go down this road, the population, you know, voters included. KING: The American public is tired after more than 10 years, 11 years going on 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan both from the financial cost and the human cost.

The president is one of the people who has helped shape that public opinion in his presidential campaigns and as president, saying as Peter just noted it's time to get out and it's time to focus elsewhere and it's time to not have a military presence in this part of the world.

In Congress, the president will have some supporters. The left of his own party which doesn't like this will be muted because he's a Democratic president. But everybody, what is their bipartisan agreement on almost across the board? Skeptical you can do this. What the administration is talking about, look at a map of this neighborhood. This is not delivering blunt-force trauma to Nebraska knowing you won't impact California.

Look how close Lebanon is. Look how close Israel is. Iran is not that far off in the distance and will be looking to take advantage of this. There are a lot of skeptics and even experts. I talked to several retired generals today. How do you do what they are trying inside Syria without there being some sort of a ripple effect, some sort of a reaction in a very tightly packed, messed up neighborhood?

COOPER: Dexter, there are legitimate concerns on the parts of Christians and Alawites who have been supportive of the Bashar al- Assad regime about what happens if he does fall and what kind of retribution for their actions over the last two years.

FILKINS: Yes, you can just imagine what is going to happen to the Alawites when Assad finally goes, and it's not going to be pretty, yes.

Probably they will either all go to Lebanon, they will run for the borders, or it's just going to get really ugly for them.

COOPER: Yes. Dexter Filkins, it great to have you on the show, Peter Beinart as well, Frances Townsend, John King.

We are digging deeper next into the military options, what exactly are they, and the possibility that the likely choices as Peter and Dexter mentioned could leave Assad in power and leave his chemical arsenal virtually untouched.

Let us know what you think. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I'm tweeting tonight.

Later, part two of our special report on the charity that earned a spot at the bottom, playing on your sympathy for dying kids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: So they wanted sick kids?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what will make them the money.

GRIFFIN: And who told you that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anna.

GRIFFIN: The boss?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: This is so outrageous. If you didn't see part one of our report tonight, you have to tune in for this, because they raised tens of millions allegedly to help dying kids. They spend about 3 cents on every dollar to actually help kids. We're "Keeping Them Honest." You're going to get sick when you learn where most of that money really went. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: These are serious days. America's fighting men and women could be days away or even hours away from action against Syria.

Again, there are four cruise-missile-armed American destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean. Normally, there are only two, but in recent months the Pentagon has sent a third and now a fourth into the region. In addition, there are British forces and there may be a number of attack subs as well. The Navy traditionally does not disclose their locations.

There are also major NATO air bases in Italy and Turkey. The question is whether and how to use those assets, what kind of action to take and towards what strategic goal. Sources have been hinting heavily at a limited campaign. Pentagon officials telling CNN that the aim would be to deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again, not targeting chemical stockpiles or the regime itself.

Let's talk about that and other range of options with Daily Beast contributor and former special forces officer Andrew Slater, retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, who is a CNN military analyst, and Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

General Marks, let me start with you. No U.S. troops on the ground. Likely no attempted regime change. Was the message out of the White House today -- that's what we heard from the White House today. The leading options appear to be an option involving cruise missiles. What does that look like, and what does that entail?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, specifically, it's a confusing message if the message is we want to attack Assad's ability to conduct military operations and there will be a punitive operation through the use of precision strike, whether they are from sea-based or from submarine or from land-based capabilities. But at the same time, we're trying to decouple regime change from this operation, and it's very difficult to do that. So it will be very, very precisely coordinated. NATO has done this before. I would imagine they will do this again, and we will see contributions from other nations against very precise known command-and-control intelligence naval forces of the Syrian regime to try to eliminate that very conventional capability.

COOPER: And unlikely -- I mean, how easy would it be to take out the Syrian anti-aircraft capabilities? Without that, I guess we wouldn't be seeing NATO or U.S. or European fighter jets over Syria, would we?

MARKS: Right, right. You would see no fixed-wing if that was the case. Certainly, you would see unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence collection and for precision strike, but you have go after the IADs, the integrated air defense capabilities.

That's at the top of the target list whenever you conduct an operation like that. It blinds Assad's ability to respond and to really get a sense of what is being done against him at that very moment. Then you go after his command-and-control. He can't communicate with his forces.

Then you go after some of his ability, some of his forces that could take the initiative and respond independently like naval forces and the air forces as well.

COOPER: Chris, you authored a study back in July which Senator McCain has referenced while making a case for intervention and your study outlines how the U.S. could degrade Assad's military relatively on the cheap specifically with cruise missiles. I know you have since changed your thinking. You now say a limited strike is the dumbest of all actions. Explain that.

CHRISTOPHER HARMER, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: A limited strike in the absence of service of a strategic objective is the worst of all options.

If we are going to go in just to punish Assad that doesn't make any sense. If we're going in, we should go in with reference to a strategic objective that we're trying to achieve. I authored that study before the use of chemical weapons and it was specific to degrading or destroying the Syrian air force.

That mission is a very easily accomplished mission, but that's only part of the mission we have now or part of the options that we have. Our strategic interests go far beyond simply seeing Assad stop using his air force to attack civilians. We have to deal with the issue of chemical weapons and we have to deal with the issue of proliferation of chemical weapons and I don't see what the point is if we're not going all in on one side or the other.

COOPER: But...

HARMER: If we're there just trying to level the playing field, we will just extend the misery.

COOPER: Can you do that, though? Can you deal with the -- you can't hit the chemical weapons facilities because won't that detonate the chemical weapons?

HARMER: Yes, there are bad options, there are worse options, and there are horrible options.

The horrible option is to let the chemical weapons continue to disperse, wind up in the hands of Hezbollah, al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations that have no restrictions on their willingness to use them. It may be a bad option to attack chemical weapons in place. That will cause some civilian collateral damage.

I'm sorry that that's the case. But that's a far preferable out outcome to seeing those chemical weapons dispersed among Hezbollah and al Qaeda. I'm saying now the cruise missile attack is a great option to defeat an air force. The Assad air force is primed to be taken down in one strike.

Past that, if we're going to do that, we should go all in on the mission of completely destroying Syria's chemical weapon capability. Otherwise, let's just stay out.

COOPER: Andrew, you're a former special operations officer. How do you see this? What do you think the best options are? And in terms of -- they aren't even talking about ending the conflict at this point, which is just not possible to do simply from the air or even if it was American boots on the ground, it's not even clear that's possible.

ANDREW SLATER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think I'm coming at this from a slightly different perspective.

I have been doing interviews with Syrian refugees and deserters over the last year. And all these options that I hear people talk about, what I'm seeing is these young men who have been deserting from the Syrian military who are as much hostages of the regime as anyone in Syria is.

They're as much victims of what is going on. Whatever happens in the next couple days, they are the ones that are going to be suffering. They are the ones that are going to be underneath American bombs and missiles and whatever the strategic objectives, I think it's clear that we're not talking about ending the war.

So all these -- the Syrian young men that will die in the next few days, I guess the question is whether the reputation of America's promises are worth what it is we're about to do on the ground in Syria.

COOPER: So what you're -- you're saying you don't support this idea of a strike?

SLATER: I don't. If it's not -- I find the calculus of the situation in Syria to contain too many unknowns for any military option to reasonably be putting us toward ending the war. And if we're not talking about ending the war, I'm not exactly sure that this is a worthy objective.

So just in -- just in light of ending the misery in Syria, I just don't think this will put us forward one bit and it will just complicate whatever the next chapter is.

COOPER: General Marks, do you see this as ending the misery in Syria or as even a step in that direction? Even if it did cut out chemical weapons, 100,000 people have been killed by means other than chemical weapons.

(CROSSTALK)

MARKS: Anderson, here is the confusing part is that if we want to be punitive against Assad and we're going after his ability to employ his conventional military forces and to deliver chemical weapons, that will do nothing to eliminate Assad and his regime.

We learned this lesson in Iraq when our initial mission was to remove Saddam. The mission then crept in to replace Saddam. If we want this to end, you can't decouple what's about to occur from regime change of some sort. That inevitably leads to a discussion of having boots on the ground so that you can separate warring factions, you can make sense of the chaos that's on the ground, and you can hopefully move in the direction of eliminating some slaughter.

This is, as has been discussed, a series of relatively bad options for the United States. That doesn't mean the United States should not act.

COOPER: Yes.

General Marks, I appreciate you being on, Andrew Slater, Christopher Harmer.

A lot more to talk about, no doubt, on this in the days ahead. We will be watching it very closely.

Also tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest." A charity that collects millions to grant wishes for dying children, it sounds great. Right? It turns out they spend next to nothing on those wishes. Two more whistle-blowers are speaking out tonight.

Also, the shocking message that a pastor at a faith healing mega- church gave members and now they're in the thick of a measles outbreak. Dr. Sanjay Gupta says it's just plain dangerous -- what you need to know about vaccines. He joins me ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back.

"Keeping Them Honest" tonight, more tonight on a charity that pulls on heartstrings and opens wallets, raising big money from donors, but spending nearly nothing on the children it claims to care about, children who are sick, many of them dying.

Now, we have reported on a rogue's gallery of shady charities over the last several months, but the Kids Wish Network is in a class of its own.

Along with "The Tampa Bay Times" and Center for Investigative Reporting, we have identified it as the absolute worst charity, the rock bottom when it comes to how little out of each dollar they raise they actually spend helping those they claim to be raising money for.

Now, last night we told you about a former employee who blew the whistle on Kids Wish Network and paid a steep price. The FBI showed up at her door. Tonight, two more whistleblowers are speaking out. Here is part two of Drew Griffin's investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These former employees say they are afraid to show their faces, because they're afraid of getting sued for telling what they say is the real truth behind the Kids Wish Network.

The charity raises millions and millions of dollars -- $22 million just last year, according to its most recent tax filing -- but uses less than 3 percent of that cash to fulfill wishes of sick children.

The Kids Wish Network does fulfill wishes, but these employees say not by buying them with cash. The trips, the airline tickets, the amusement park tickets are all donated, and that includes the toys and school supplies and clothes given away when Kids Wish Network holds events for sick children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is whatever we had in the warehouse we would try to fit it to that age group that we were giving it to.

GRIFFIN (on camera): And was it basically companies' leftovers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That's what it seemed like, yes.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): So what happens to all the actual donated money? In ten years Kids Wish Network raised $127 million, and nearly 90 percent of that money went to professional fundraisers, not sick kids.

The sick kids, they got at most 2.5 cents of every dollar raised.

The charity's attorney insists there is "nothing illegal" about the fundraising. Maybe not, but this former marketing associate says there was something wrong to him about how they did it. At events where sick children were given the surplus goods, his job was to photograph those kids for promotional purposes, and he was told the sicker, the better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted the most sick kids, and I can understand a little bit where they were going with that. But my view was that maybe they should show the kids being satisfied by it, not necessarily just showing the upset and sad kids. That was my thought. That was my thought process, just was never heard.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So they wanted sick kids?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-huh, that's what will make them the money.

GRIFFIN: And who told you that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anna.

GRIFFIN: The boss?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-huh.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The boss, Anna Lanzatella, runs the charity we've rated as the worst in the United States, and no, she's not talking.

(on camera): Hi, Anna Lanzatella? Drew Griffin with CNN.

ANNA LANZATELLA, RUNS KIDS WISH NETWORK: Hey, Drew, nice to see you.

GRIFFIN: Nice to see you. Can we just ask you some questions about all the ratings that have come out?

LANZATELLA: No, I'm sorry, there's been so many misleading reports that have been made that we've asked our attorneys to take a look into everything. And I'm not going to be doing any interviews.

GRIFFIN: Well, we've...

(voice-over): Bad press is nothing new to Kids Wish Network. Local news channels in the Tampa, Florida, area have done several reports.

Last year the city of Savannah, Georgia, cancelled a Kids Wish Network event after Savannah's mayor criticized the charity's practices.

But still, people give millions and millions, believing their dollars are going to help sick children when, in truth, it is literally pennies of those dollars being used.

(on camera): Does it surprise you that, after all the reporting done on this group, they're still in business?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It surprises me every single day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Cooper: Yes, I mean, it is just so sickening listening to -- they've raised $127 million over ten years, and are giving 3 cents on the dollar actually to kids. And they're basically just getting all these donated things, and that's what they're giving to kids.

There's been a lot of reporting on this Kids Wish Network, not only from us but the "Tampa Bay Times" and Center for Investigative Reporting. CNN affiliate in Tampa, WFLA, they kept very close track. Have state regulators done anything?

GRIFFIN: Anderson, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which in Florida regulates these non-profits, confirms there is an investigation ongoing into the dealings of the Kids Wish Network. The state has gotten lots of complaints. But we have seen this time and time again. These investigations open up and close. At most they get a small fine.

That's largely, Anderson, because, you know, the laws regarding charities, they don't really punish you for being a really, really, really bad charity. So you can continue to be a bad charity. You're not breaking the law.

The Kids Wish Network has faced fines before in Utah and Mississippi. The fines, all those fines added up to a little more than $6,000.

COOPER: Unbelievable. I mean, how that woman sleeps at night, you know, and she's there shaking your hand and acting as if everything is proper. This Kids Wish Network, I mean, they've been around a long, long time.

GRIFFIN: Since 1997, and listen to this; this is interesting. It began with a different name. The Fulfill a Wish Foundation, which sounds a lot like Make a Wish, right, Anderson?

COOPER: Right.

GRIFFIN: Yes. The folks at Make a Wish thought so and actually sued, forcing Fulfill a Wish to change its name. That's how they got to the Kids Wish Network.

We found that is quite common, too. These less-than-forthcoming charities, they like to have names that sound very much like respected charities.

COOPER: And the bottom line, I mean, there are good charities out there. People can go to, like, Charity Navigator to find out actual ratings of charities.

GRIFFIN: Yes, and you really should. And the last thing you should do is have the phone ring and find a telemarketer on the other end asking you for money and telling you all the great things that they're going to do with that money. I'm sorry. You should just hang up the phone.

COOPER: And that's how they raise money, these telemarketers that aren't even associated with the charity, just hired guns, who just are asking for money.

GRIFFIN: Yes. COOPER: It's unbelievable. We'll keep on it. Drew Griffin reporting.

If you have a story idea for Drew and the CNN investigations team, let us know. Just go to CNN.com/investigate.

Just ahead, a measles outbreak at a Texas mega church has Dr. Sanjay Gupta speaking out. He says it's time to bury that long- debunked claim about vaccines and autism; time to get your child vaccinated. He joins me ahead.

Plus, the Giant Rim Fire in California is still growing, spreading deeper into Yosemite National Park. Gary Tuchman is back on the front lines tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, a potentially deadly collision of personal faith and public health. A measles outbreak at a Texas mega church has already sickened more than a dozen people, including an infant. In hindsight, anyone could have seen this coming. It's happened before across the country.

The church promotes faith healing and has long preached against vaccinations, but church officials didn't stop there. They flat-out played on parents' fears about autism, even though claims about vaccines causing autism have been debunked by science. The upshot: many church members were sitting ducks when the measles virus hitched a ride from halfway across the globe.

Randi Kaye reports.

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RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all started with a visitor to the Eagle Mountain International Church near Ft. Worth, Texas. A visitor who had traveled overseas, then at church hugged parishioners and handled babies in the church daycare, unknowingly, spreading a dangerous measles virus.

Terri Pearsons is the pastor.

TERRI PEARSONS, PASTOR, EAGLE MOUNTAIN INTERNATIONAL CHURCH: We've had a few families that have been affected by this, and so we want to shut this thing down.

KAYE: More than a few: 16 cases of the measles originated at the church, including seven adults and nine children. The youngest is just 4 months old.

Health officials say 11 of the victims have never been vaccinated. Not surprising, considering the pastor's televangelist father had long spoken out against children getting immunized, often suggesting a link to autism. Listen to this recent broadcast posted on the church's Web site. KENNETH COPELAND, TELEVANGELIST: As parents we need to be a whole lot more serious about this and -- and being aware of what is good and what isn't. And you don't take the word of the guy that's trying to give the shot about what's good and what isn't. You better go read the can or read the thing. Find out what's going on there.

KAYE: Medical officials have found no link between vaccines and autism.

(on camera): As one expert put it: measles has a way of finding people who aren't vaccinated, and it's not just Texas. This past spring, 50 children in an orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn got the measles. None of them had been vaccinated, either because they were too young or because their parents refused or delayed the vaccine. And in 2011, there were 21 cases of the measles reported in a Somali community in Minneapolis.

Concerns about the vaccine being linked to autism drove vaccination rates down to 57 percent.

(voice-over): Other measles outbreaks have been reported in recent years in San Diego, Indiana, North Carolina and elsewhere among unvaccinated people.

Back at Eagle Mountain International Church, the pastor released this statement online. It reads in part, "Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true." She's now urging members to be vaccinated at a free county clinic.

PEARSONS: If you read the old testament, you find that it is full of precautionary measures.

KAYE: As long as those precautionary measures are in line with the church's belief of faith healing.

PEARSONS: Go in faith. Don't do anything you don't do in faith. Do it in faith. Do it in faith. Do it in faith.

Now, if you're somebody and you know that you know that you know that you've got this covered in your household by faith, and it crosses your heart of faith, well then don't go do it.

KAYE: On its Web site, the church urges anyone with a medical condition to "first seek the wisdom of God, then appropriate medical attention, including vaccinations from a professional they trust."

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So it's interesting. On one hand it sounds like the pastor there is saying, "Well, go get vaccinated" and then she's saying, "Well, if you think you've got it covered, don't do it." So they're not doing a complete 180 on vaccinations. In fact, the pastor is sending obviously mixed, possibly dangerous messages.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon, father of three. He joins me now.

Sanjay, you have this pastor saying seek the counsel of God first and then a medical professional after that. Given how fast measles can spread, is that dangerous advice?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we know a lot about measles. The vaccination has been around for a long time. It is very contagious. I mean, look, if kids are not vaccinated and they come in contact with it, they are going to get measles, almost assuredly. And of 1,000 kids that will get measles, about one to two will die from it.

And you can also trace the trajectory with measles more than just about anything else, when you have groups of people who are unvaccinated, or even clusters in the United States, you see increases in the number of measles cases; you see increases in the number of deaths. We saw that in the late '80s, and then as the vaccinations rates picked up, you saw it go down. So it's one of the clearest examples, really, I think, of vaccines with a specific disease providing benefits.

COOPER: And this -- this misperception that vaccines cause autism, I mean, it's been around for -- for a while, not just pushed by religious leaders but also by, you know, well-known people and stuff. I mean, is there any reason not to get your children vaccinated?

GUPTA: There is no reason not to get your child vaccinated. And it needs to...

COOPER: You say that not only as a doctor but as a father?

GUPTA: I say that as a father. I got my kids vaccinated on schedule, which is another thing. This whole notion that we're going to delay vaccines and push them off, because we think the kids are getting too many vaccines at once, that just doesn't have scientific merit.

First of all, we used to provide a lot more in terms of the types of vaccines to our kids, you know, years and years ago, decades ago. So if you're thinking that this is too much of an insult to a young child's body, which you know, I understand that, but we used to do far more and didn't have the rates of autism that we have now.

COOPER: So people used to get more vaccines?

GUPTA: They used to -- they used to create more antibody response as a result of things like the polio vaccine, for example. So you would get a more robust, inflammatory response, which is one of the concerns that people have raised. It just doesn't seem to translate.

So the vaccines themselves, the schedule of vaccines themselves, the components of the vaccines themselves, none of those things seem to have a link to autism. And people need to say it that clearly. Because I think there's so much wishy-washiness, even along colleagues in the medical community. They say it's OK to delay vaccines. It's not OK. Because if your kid gets exposed during the time that you delayed that vaccine, you can get a very sick child from a preventable disease.

COOPER: So why do you think this misperception, why it still is out there?

GUPTA: I think there's two reasons. One is that there was this now widely discredited paper that came out in the late '90s that made this astounding link. You and I both spoke to Dr. Wakefield about, you know, some of his findings at that time. As you know, he was -- subsequently lost his medical license a few years ago.

It just -- he probably had good intentions, Dr. Wakefield, but the science does not make any sense. There have been literally hundreds of studies that have looked at this question and is there a link between vaccinations and autism. The most recent one, they looked at 1,000 children. This was at the American Academy of Pediatrics and really tried to look -- follow these children over years and, you know, put a final sort of -- this notion to rest that there's some link. The American Academy of Pediatrics, many other medical organizations, looking at this science, the real science here, have been able to say that.

COOPER: Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: All right. Up next, inside the fight to save Yosemite. Our Gary Tuchman gets an up-close look at the fire threatening the national park and San Francisco's water supply.

Also ahead, a sad end to the search for a teenager who had an obsession with the movie "Into the Wild."

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COOPER: The California wildfire that's already scorched more than 180,000 acres is now burning in parts of the Yosemite National Park. Luckily, it has spared the Yosemite Valley, which is the most popular part with the visitors. That said, the fire has roughly doubled in size in a day. It's threatening thousands of structures, not to mention San Francisco's water supply.

Our Gary Tuchman is there.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The helicopters are now swooping in, because dangerous smoke has started billowing.

(on camera): You're looking at a fast-growing fire on a canyon rim outside of Tuolumne, California. We know it's fast growing, because we arrived here about one hour ago, and you could barely see any smoke at all, and now you can see it's out of control. Helicopters flying around dropping water on it.

The reason this particular fire is so important, no one lives on that ridge, but that ridge in this canyon is all that separates this fire from a neighborhood right in front of me.

(voice-over): The woman who lives in this house next to the canyon in the town of Tuolumne is a wildlife rehabilitator. She and her husband will leave if the fire gets much closer.

LAURA MURPHY, HOMEOWNER: To be this close and to be scared. But we're ready. We're packed. We already evacuated most of the animals. So, you know, we can leave if we have to, but it's amazing to sit here and watch it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, ready, drop.

TUCHMAN: Piloting the helicopters and planes that drop the water and chemical retardant is a dangerous business. But the men and women do amazing work. This wildfire is a mess, but relatively few houses have been damaged.

At this canyon, fire officials admit the situation is tenuous. These men are in place on this side of the canyon in case the flames arrive here.

MICHAEL RAMIREZ, CALIFORNIA FIRE DIVISION CHIEF: If it flops over that line any further and gets established in the canyon right below us, then it would have a straight shot towards the community of Tuolumne.

TUCHMAN: The Murphys are grateful for the people working to save their home.

BERNARD MURPHY, HOMEOWNER: They are incredible. What can you say? They are just so on top of this. They're so coordinated.

TUCHMAN: And they are also exposed and vulnerable.

RAMIREZ: It is dangerous for them right now. Everything is a calculated risk when it comes to firefighting, but any time you're establishing a line on top of a ridge and the fire is below you, that's one of the recipes that we have for disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Amazing. Gary joins me live from Groveland, California. What's the latest for the fire damage in Yosemite Park?

TUCHMAN: Six percent of the park, Anderson, has been consumed by flames, 41,000 acres, but it's not the part of the park where tourists go. We mentioned it before: the Yosemite Valley and the southern part of the park hasn't been touched yet.

Also not touched yet are groves of sequoia trees. I want to mention that, because these sequoia trees are some of the tallest and oldest living things in the universe. Some of the trees, Anderson, are up to 300 feet tall -- that's the length of a football field -- and some of them are up to 3,500 years old.

COOPER: Wow, that's incredible. Gary, appreciate the reporting. Stay safe.

We're following other stories tonight, as well. Isha is here with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Anderson, the body of 18-year-old Jonathan Croom has been found in the mountains of Oregon. His father says Croom became obsessed with the movie "Into the Wild," about a young man who drops out of society to live off the land. Police believe Croom took his own life.

Army Mayor Nidal Hasan rested his case today without calling any witnesses in the sentencing phase of his court-martial. Tomorrow closing statements and the jury begins deliberating. Hasan was convicted of all counts in the Ft. Hood massacre. He could be sentenced to death.

Two Florida man are in custody after a three-county high-speed chase across south Georgia. They bolted when police tried to pull them over for speeding. Turns out they were driving a stolen car filled with weapons and body armor.

And a store in New Jersey is looking for a few good men who shopped there on Sunday evening. The camera shows they paid for their item, though no clerk was on hand. That's because the store was closed, but the shoppers didn't know it, because the lights were on and the front door was open. Management wants to offer them gift certificates.

We will be right back.

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COOPER: We ran out of time for the "RidicuList" tonight. That does it for us. Thanks for watching.