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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

U.S. Preparing Possible Military Strike on Syria; Millions For Charity, Nearly Nothing For Dying Children; Measles Outbreak Sickens 16 At Texas Megachurch; No Link Between Measles Vaccine And Autism

Aired August 27, 2013 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jessica, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

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

Also tonight, part two of our special report on what we've 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 who 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 and could save someone's life.

We begin tonight with Syria. The drums of war growing louder but also some very tough questions about what kind of military action it might be. Today Defense Secretary Hagel said 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 many number of submarines believed to be in the Mediterranean. Syrian officials vowing to fight back if hit. Continued 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)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: 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: And there is ample evidence of an atrocity on the ground. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has managed to obtain 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 INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, you know what, I actually think they're really hearing that language, Anderson. I was in with the information minister of the country earlier today who's quite a powerful figure here. And he really spoke a lot differently than I've 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 sort of hear that kind of rhetoric but it certainly is 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 of course still on the ground here 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 that it's less a question of if the U.S. and its allies will strike and rather more a question of when. That certainly is the mood that I got today from a meeting with the information minister of this country -- Anderson.

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

PLEITGEN: Well, it tells us a lot because it was taken by an independent filmer who's 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.

And 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 who went on the ground there, he said that inside the makeshift -- the 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. And so there's a lot of dead bodies and a lot of them are children who are still inside that field hospital.

A lot of deaths, a lot of destruction down there. The people that had told the filmer that a lot of folks died in their sleep because this hit at around 2:00 a.m. 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 who 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. And he says that's how he survived the whole thing. But really a very surreal scene on the ground in Zamalka where many hundred 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 and to what end? In a few moments we'll 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." He's also editor of the "Daily Beast" OpenZion.com blog, national security analyst Fran Townsend, who 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 that the administration would likely release declassified report on Syria perhaps with even information about this attack. You're hearing now there's a debate in the administration about it.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is a debate what to release. I think you will see there -- look, there are memories, right, of the failed intelligence prior to going into Iraq about WMD. And so I think administration feels compelled to release some information that -- you know, sort of underscores and verifies what you've heard President Biden said today. Absolutely the regime absolutely used chemical weapons.

But the question -- the debate becomes, Anderson, how much do you reveal? What is enough to convince the international community that you really do have solid proof of the regime's use of these awful weapons versus how do you protect the sources and methods by which --

COOPER: So that's the concern, sources, not whether it's interception of signals intelligence or something like that or on operative on the ground?

TOWNSEND: Correct.

COOPER: That -- they don't want to reveal that?

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

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

DEXTER FILKINS, STAFF WRITER, 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 exile groups who've been trying to track these things. And what you had, basically, over the past several months is a series of really low-level attacks. You know, maybe 30 or 35, and the total number of people killed, total, is only about 150. So they really --

COOPER: Prior to this -- this last attack.

FILKINS: Prior to the last one.

COOPER: Right.

FILKINS: So this last one is just, you know, completely different.

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

FILKINS: Yes. I mean, it looks like maybe more than a thousand are dead but I think -- I think the Assad strategy until now has been we use this and we use this to cause panic and, you know, prepare the battle ground for when the troops go in, and they got away with it by in large and so obviously he decided to go big.

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

FILKINS: Yes.

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

FILKINS: Yes. I mean, you would think that 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: So what would be the strategy? I mean, why do it?

FILKINS: I think he thought he'd 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's 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 have arrived yet so --

COOPER: That big -- I mean, we were reporting it as if there was a big change of policy but in fact not much on the ground has changed.

FILKINS: Or nothing on the ground.

COOPER: Or nothing.

FILKINS: Yes. So far, for Assad, there's been no price to pay. COOPER: And, John, we've heard from Secretary Kerry yesterday, Secretary Hagel this morning, Vice President Biden this afternoon. Is it likely we'd hear from the president before any kind of an attack? Or -- I mean, in memory, we don't usually hear from a president before an attack, right?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is a debate within 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, we've heard from the president of France, and some are saying, you know, when are we going to hear from the president of the United States.

One of the things they're trying to do, Anderson, is they're trying to get more people publicly on their side. A lot of phone calls especially into the Arab world, other European allies, and in the Arab world they're getting a lot of go for it, good luck, but they're not getting any public endorsements from any of these countries right now.

So 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, public endorsements of this, it's a pretty lonely job for the president trying to build this coalition.

COOPER: You know, Peter, it's interesting. I mean, nobody can say that they don't -- that they haven't known what's been happening on the ground in Syria. I mean, this thing has been documented in video -- you know, cell phone video cameras from the first demonstrations in Daraa, and it's interesting that 100,000 people have been killed, but 1,000 people dying from a chemical attack that has spurred the U.S.

Does that make sense to you?

PETER BEINART, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK AND THE DAILY BEAST: This is really different than Kosovo and Libya in the sense that we're not really trying to end the conflict here. We are simply -- and if you look at what Kerry said a couple of days ago, what was amazing is he said nothing at all really about the larger Syrian civil war other than the chemical weapon strike.

They were really trying to isolate that off and say we were trying to make a statement globally about non-use of chemical weapons but, you know, one might think that 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 as successful as possible, Assad doesn't use chemical weapons, again there will still be a day after in which Syria will be spiraling towards a more and more horrendous civil war. COOPER: And they aren't -- Dexter, I mean, they are not talking about really changing the calculus on the ground. It's just -- it's just a warning to not use chemical weapons.

FILKINS: Yes. I mean, well, first of all, you can't -- you can't hit the chemical weapons themselves or the storage sites because then you'll release chemicals. But, I mean, the indications are -- we don't know yet, but the indications are that they'll 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. I mean --

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

TOWNSEND: Right, I mean, I think that's exactly what the concern is and they are saying they don't want -- they're not doing this to tip the balance of power because it's not clear when you tip 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? I mean, I think President Obama has had a very clear strategic vision throughout his presidency. He's going to get out of these two wars. 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 distracted.

I mean, already we're being brought into this. But what happens if Jordan next door starts to teeter? If this gets worse and worse American 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: Well, and you're -- the president runs the risk, frankly, of even if he launches a cruise missile strike, the analogy the -- after the East Africa bombings when the Clinton administration did the same thing and to Afghanistan and Sudan, and we still wind up with 9/11. So a cruise missile -- a cruise missile strike all by itself --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Reagan fired cruise missiles into Gadhafi's tent and you know.

TOWNSEND: Right.

COOPER: A puff of sand went up, a few people were killed.

TOWNSEND: Right.

COOPER: But that was about it.

John, what's also so interesting is, I mean, I don't hear from anybody -- there is no enthusiasm about this really in any quarter, it seems like, in the United States. I mean, nobody really wants to go down this road. The -- you know, the 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.

This president is one of the people who's helped shape that public opinion in his presidential campaign and as president, saying, as Peter just noted, it's time to get out, it's time to focus elsewhere and 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, even experts. I talked to several retired generals who say, how do you do what they're trying to do 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: And, Dexter, I mean, there are legitimate concerns on the parts of Christians and Alawites, who have been supportive of the Bashar Assad regime, about what happens if he does fall and what kind of retribution for their actions over the last two years.

FILKINS: Yes, I mean, 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. And probably they'll either all go to Lebanon. They will run for the borders or it's just going to get really ugly for them.

COOPER: Yes.

FILKINS: Yes.

COOPER: Dexter Filkins , it's great to have you on the show. Peter Beinart as well.

Fran Townsend, John King, we're digging deeper next into the military options. What exactly are they and the possibility that the likely choices that 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 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.

(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 of dollars allegedly to help dying kids. They spent about 3 cents on every dollar to actually help kids. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

You're going to get sick when you learned where most of that money really went. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, these are serious days. America's fighting men and women could be days 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 are maybe a number of attack subs as well. The Navy traditionally does not disclose their locations.

There also major NATO airbases in Italy and Turkey. The question is whether and how to use those assets. What kind of action to take and toward what strategic goal. Sources have been hinting heavily yet 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's 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 -- I mean, that what we heard from the White House today is the leading options appear to be an option involving cruise missiles. What does that look like and what does that entail?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): 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 base 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'll 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? I mean, 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'd see no fixed wing if that was the case. Certainly you'd see unmanned aerial vehicles both for intelligence collection and for precision strike, but you've got to 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's 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 -- 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 the case for intervention. And your study outlines how the U.S. could degrade Assad's military relatively on the chiefs, specifically with cruise missiles. I know you've since changed your thinking. You now say a limited strike is the dumbest of all actions. Explain that.

CHRISTOPHER HARMER, SENIOR NAVAL ANALYST, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: Well, a limited strike in the absence of -- service of a strategic objective is the worst of all options. If we're 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 offered 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 that we have now or part of the options 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, 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 just trying to level the playing field, we're just going to extend the mystery.

COOPER: Can you do that, though? Can you tell -- 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, other foreign terrorist organizations that have no restrictions on their willingness to use it.

It may be a bad option to attack chemical weapons in place that will cause some civilian collateral damage. I'm sorry, but that's the case. But that is far preferable outcome to seeing those chemical weapons dispersed among Hezbollah and al Qaeda. So I'm saying now that the cruise 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? I mean, what do you think the best options are and in terms of -- I mean, they're not even talking about ending the conflict at this point, which is -- just -- it's 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, CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think that coming at this from a slightly different perspective I've 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've been deserting from a Syrian military who were as much hostages of the regime as anyone in Syria.

They're as much victims of what's going on. And whatever happens in the next couple of days, they are the ones that are going to be suffering. They're 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 are going to die in the next few days, I guess the question is whether the reputation of America's promises are worth what it is that we're about to do on the ground in Syria.

COOPER: So what -- you're -- 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 -- a worthy objective. So just in -- just in light of ending the mystery in Syria, I just don't think this is going to put us forward one bit and it's just going to 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? I mean, even if it did --

MARKS: We're not -- no, no.

COOPER: Cut out chemical weapons, you know, 100,000 people have been killed by other means than chemical weapons.

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 the initial mission was to remove Saddam. The mission then crept into 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: General Marks, appreciate you being. Andrew Slater, Christopher Harmer, a lot more to talk about, no doubt, in this in the days ahead. We'll be watching it very closely.

Also tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest," a charity that collects millions to grant wishes for dying children. Sounds great, right? It turns out, they spend next to nothing on those wishes. Two more whistleblowers are speaking out tonight.

Also the shocking message of the pastor to faith-healing megachurch gave members and now they are 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 pulled on heartstrings and opened wallets raising big money from donors but spending nearly nothing on the children that are claimed they care about. Children who are sick, many of them dying. We've reported on a robes 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've 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's part two of Drew Griffin's investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These former employees say they are afraid to show their faces because they are afraid on 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 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, airline tickets, amusement parks are all donated and that includes toys and school supplies and clothes given away when Kids Wish Network holds events for sick children.

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

GRIFFIN (on camera): Was it basically company's leftovers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 said 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 the 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 but my view maybe they should show the kids being satisfied but not just upset, sad kids. That was my thought process, just never heard.

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

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

GRIFFIN: Who told you that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anna.

GRIFFIN: The boss?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

GRIFFIN: 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, Drew Griffin with CNN.

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

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

LANZATELLA: No, I'm sorry, there have been so many misleading reports that have been made we asked our attorneys to look into everything.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Local news channels and 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 the dollars will help sick children when in truth, it is literally pennies of the dollars being used.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It surprises me every single day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I mean, it's just so sickening listening to -- they raised $127 million over ten years, and are giving 3 cents on the dollar actually to kids and basically getting all these donated things and that's what they are giving to kids. There is a lot of reporting on the Kids Wish Network not only from us, but on "Tampa Bay Times," the 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 Kid's Wish Network. The state got lots of complaints, but we have seen it 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 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. How that woman sleeps at night and she's there shaking her hand and acting like everything is proper. This Kid's Wish Network, they have 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: Yes.

GRIFFIN: The folks at make a wish actually sued forcing Fulfill A Wish to change the name. That's how they got to the Kids Wish Network. We found that as quite common, too. The less than forthcoming charities they want names that sound very much like respected charities.

COOPER: The bottom line, there are good charities out there. People can go to charity navigator to find out actual ratings of charities.

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

COOPER: That's how they raise money, these telemarketers not associated. It's unbelievable.

If you have a story idea for Drew and the investigation team let us know at cnn.com/investigate.

Just had a measles outbreak at a Texas Megachurch has Dr. Sanjay Gupta speaking out. He says 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.

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COOPER: Tonight, a potentially deadly collision of personal faith and public health. A measles outbreak at a Texas Megachurch has already sickened more than a dozen people including an infant. In hindsight, anyone could have seen it coming. It happened before across the country. The church promotes faith healing as long preached against vaccinations, but church officials didn't stop there. They played on parent's 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 hitch a ride from half way across the globe. Randi Kaye reports.

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RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all started with a visitor to the Eagle Mountain International Church near Forth 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 have 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 pastors televangelist father has long spoken out against children getting immunized often suggesting a link to autism. Listen to the 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 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 is 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 that 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.

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 the precautionary measures are in line with the church's belief of faith healing.

PEARSONS: Go 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 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.

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

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon, a father of three. He joins me now. Sanjay, you have the pastor saying seek the counsel of God first and then a medical professional after that. Given how fast measles can spread, is that dangerous?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we know a lot about measles. The vaccination has been around for a long time. It's very contagious. If kids are not vaccinated and they come into contact they will get it and of 1,000 kids that get it, one to two will die. You can trace the trajectory and 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 80s. It's one of the clearest examples I think of vaccines with the specific disease providing benefits.

COOPER: And this misperception that vaccines cause autism, it's been around for awhile, not just pushed by religious leaders, but also by 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 --

COOPER: Not only as a doctor but father.

GUPTA: As a father. I got my kids vaccinated on schedule. This is another thing. The notion to delay vaccines and push them off because we think the kids are getting too many at once. That doesn't have scientific merit. First of all, we used to provide a lot more in the types of vaccines to kids years and years ago, decades ago. If you think this is too much of an insult to a child's body, I understand that but we used to do far more and didn't have the rates of autism than we have now.

They used to create a more anti-body response as a result of things like polio for example. You get a more robust response, which is a concern people raise. It doesn't seem to translate. The vaccines themselves, the schedule, the components, none of them seem to have a link to autism. People need to say it that clearly. There is so much wish washing. It's OK to delay vaccines, it not OK. If your kid gets exposed during that time, you can get a very sick child from a preventable disease.

COOPER: So why do you think this misperception why it's still out there?

GUPTA: I think there are two reasons. One, there is this now widely discredited paper in the mid '90s that made this astounding link. We spoke to Dr. Wakefield about some of his findings at that time. He subsequently lost his medical license a few years ago. He probably had good intentions Dr. Wakefield, but the study didn't make sense. Is there a link between vaccines and autism? They looked at 1,000 children at American Academy of Pediatrics and followed the children over years and put a final sort of, this notion to rest that there is some link. The American Academy of Pediatrics, looking at the real science here, have been able to say that.

COOPER: Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

COOPER: All right, up next, the fight to save Yosemite. An up close look at the fire threatening the park at 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 part of Yosemite National Park. Luckily, it spared the Yosemite Valley, which is the most popular part with visitors. That said, the fire has roughly doubled in size in a day. It's threatening thousands of acres not to mention the water supply. Gary Tuchman is there.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The helicopters are now swooping in because dangerous smoke has started billowing.

(on camera): You are looking at a fast-growing fire on a canyon rim outside of California. We know it's fast growing because we arrived an hour ago and you 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, nobody lives on that ridge but that ridge on that canyon is all that separates this fire from a neighborhood right in front of me.

(voice-over): The woman that lives in this house next to the canyon in the town of Tualamee is a wildlife rehabilitator. She and her husband will leave if the fire gets much closer. LAURA MURPHY, HOMEOWNER: To be this close and scared. We're ready. We're packed. We already evacuated most of the animals. We can leave, if we have to, but it's amazing to sit here and watch it.

TUCHMAN: Piloting the helicopters and planes the 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 said the situation is tenuous. They are in place in case the flames arrive here.

MICHAEL RAMIREZ, CAL-FIRE DIVISION CHIEF: If it slops over that line further and gets established into the canyon below us, it would have a straight shot towards the community of Tualamee.

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 are so coordinated.

TUCHMAN: And they are also exposed and vulnerable.

RAMIREZ: It is dangerous for them right now. Everything is a calculate risk with fire fighting but any time you're establishing line on top of a ridge and the fire is below you, that's one of the recipes for disaster.

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COOPER: Amazing. Gary joins me live from Groveland, California. What is 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 before the Yosemite Valley and the southern part hasn't been touched yet. Groves of 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 300 feet tall, 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 the 360 News and Business Bulletin -- Isha.

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

Major Nidal Hasan rested his case today without calling any witnesses in the sentencing phase of his court martial. Hassan was convicted on all counts in the Fort Hood massacre. He could be sentenced to death.

George Zimmerman will ask the state of Florida to reimburse him for at least $200,000 in trial related expenses. He's entitled under state law having been acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

A store in New Jersey is looking for a few good men that shopped there on Sunday evening. A camera shows they paid for the item, though no clerk was on hand because the store was closed, but the shoppers didn't know that because the lights were on and the front door was open. Management wants to offer them gift certificates. There you go. That is always watching.

COOPER: Amazing. Isha, thanks very much. We'll be right back.

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COOPER: The coverage of the ongoing crisis in Syria, we ran out of time for "The Ridiculist." tomorrow will mark the 50th anniversary for the march on Washington. That does it for this edition of 360. We'll see you at 10:00. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.