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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Waiting for Action on Syria; The Aftermath of the Attack; A Fire for the Record Books; "New York Times" Attacked

Aired August 28, 2013 - 05:00   ET

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


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Inside the massacre. Our cameras take you to a town where the Syrian government is believed to have poisoned its people. Residents there explain there explained how they survive the attack. And we are live.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: California on fire. One of the largest wildfires the state has ever seen, continuing to burn this morning. Hundreds of miles charred, homes destroyed, residents evacuated. We'll show you where the flames are heading.

BROWN: And "The New York Times" attacked. Hackers take the newspaper offline. So, could the Syrian government be targeting American media?

PEREIRA: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BROWN: And I'm Pamela Brown. So, great to have you along with us on this Wednesday morning, August 28th. It's 5:00 in the East.

PEREIRA: We begin this morning still waiting word from the Obama administration over what it plans to do in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside of Damascus. The White House insisting there will be a response, but a decision has not yet been made.

Frederik Pleitgen is the only Western television journalist in Syria's capital. He has been to one area where rebels say chemical weapons were used.

Fred, good morning to you.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Michaela. This is the Zamalka district, which is on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus and it's district is actually the place where there were allegedly the highest death toll after that alleged chemical attack. It is a devastating scene even several days since that attack.

Let's just have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): A cloud over lot in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka. This is actually a mass grave, with the bodies of many of those killed in last week's alleged chemical weapons attack. There's very little space left as one resident shows us, and even that space might soon be occupied with many unidentified bodies in the local field hospital, a lot of them children.

The hospital staff says they're trying to find relatives so the corpses can be buried. Others are still recovering.

This man says he was trying to evacuate victims. "I was helping a lot of young women and children and three young men," he says. "I also evacuated two dead bodies. Then, there was another explosion. I couldn't breath. I had cramps and I couldn't see. The doctors helped me."

CNN has exclusively obtained this video from one of the journalists. One man tells the filmer how he survived, thanks to a homemade gas mask.

"When we came here, the people said we should make some gas masks. This is a plastic cup with cotton on the bottom, some coal and then cotton again. It helps a little bit."

Residents say the alleged chemical attack happened in the middle of the night, killing many in their sleep while others struggled to escape, like 6-year-old Abdul Hani (ph). "After the chemicals hit, they woke us up and told us to put masks on," he says. "I told my dad I can't breathe. My father fainted and I fainted right after that. But we were found and taken to the emergency room."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Michaela, it seems to me that many Syrian officials are starting to realize it's probably not a matter if the U.S. will strike, but when it will strike. I was actually able to speak to the country's information minister who's quite a powerful figure here. And he said he's urging United States to give the chemical weapons inspectors that are, of course, on the ground here right now, more time to do their work, and then to wait for their results.

The chemical inspectors have gone out this morning to try and get to some of these sites but certainly, the Syrian government is starting to realize how high the stakes are at this point, Michaela.

PEREIRA: Fred, we have to thank you for getting that footage to us for people here in America to see what is happening there. First hand accounts from people that are directly affected.

Fred Pleitgen from inside Syria -- thank you so much for that.

BROWN: Now to California where a massive fire continues to spread near Yosemite National Park. It's now grown to 281 square miles and has destroyed more than 100 buildings, including some homes. Thousands are more threatened.

Casey Wian is on the fire lines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walking into the burning timber on the edge of Yosemite National Park, the loud crackling of burning trees and the crash of trees falling is unmistakable.

(on camera): Although firefighters are gaining more control over the Rim Fire, you can see that there are places like this where it's still largely burning out of control. Just in the last couple of minutes, those trees have started to burn very, very quickly. And it is moving now toward the main highway through this part of Yosemite. So, we need to get out of here.

JOHNNY MILLER, CAL FIRE: One of the biggest concerns is that, obviously, you see these large trees out here. So, we have a lot of those trees that are dropping, they're falling in isolated areas. So, our firefighters really have to be heads-up while they're out there putting water on the fire.

WIAN (voice-over): Here in one of several hot spots there's no water in sight.

(on camera): It's hard to describe how hot and smoky it is this close to the fire. These are the kind of conditions that firefighters have had to deal with for a couple of weeks. And given what we're seeing here, this is going to be burning for a long time.

(voice-over): It's not just fire. The smoke is so thick in areas surrounding Yosemite that visibility is reduced to less than 100 yards. The good news, most of Yosemite National Park, famous for breathtaking scenery that attracted nearly more than 4 million visitors last year remains untouched by the fire.

MILLER: The park is safe. The park is a large park. It's 800,000 acres we're about two 24,000 acres of it burnt. So, a large area of the park that's still accessible.

WIAN: What's not accessible by vehicle or on foot, much of the main portion of the fire, which has spread to 180,000 acres and is now the seventh largest fire in California history. And those areas, firefighters are relying on aircraft dropping water and retardant to slow its spread.

Casey Wian, CNN, Yosemite National Park.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA: And it's worth repeating that, you know, these guys at work, the men and women that work those aircraft, the fixed width and the helicopters. It's amazing the work they do in such dangerous and dire circumstances.

BROWN: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: They have to get downward. There's very low clearance. And they can't see anything because of smoke. They're everyday heroes.

BROWN: Yes. They're tireless. They're tireless and they could really use some help from Mother Nature.

PEREIRA: They certainly could. Let's see if that's on the way. Indra Petersons is keeping an eye on weather for us.

Is Mother Nature going to help us out?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's one of those things again, which is just that unbelievable terrain that they're rendering. This weird mountain peaks of very steep terrain, because look at the temperatures and we're talking about 70s. No read flag warnings.

So, temperatures are light. Winds are generally light. Now, there is a little bit of a chance of rain, but again, this is always a mixed bag.

I want to show you the terrain again. This is actually a view from space where you see some of the smoke in the Yosemite area where you see all these white patches. Well, that is the monsoonal moisture that's been picking up by the afternoon.

You think rain, that's a good thing, but you get gusty winds, of course, the fire creates its own winds as well, and then, you have the threat of lightning which could actually cause more fire. So, that's going to be a concern, especially for those in the afternoon today.

As far as the pattern itself, we have that dome of high pressure. But behind it, we pull up the monsoonal moisture. The reason this matters is as we go through the end of the week, we're hoping to get enough to see more moisture in the area to give them more relief.

What we're actually watching is all the remnants of Fernand kind of scooping into that area. Now, it's going to take some time, but eventually, that moisture should go into the four corners. The downside of this, remember what happened a few days ago, you get all of that tropical moisture and it's so try out there all of this produces flooding especially for the southwest especially into the weekend and tail end of the weekend. Rain totals in the northeast not expected too high but enough to dampen your plan.

Otherwise, of course, the big story being the Midwest, temperatures still 20, 25 degrees above normal. Tomorrow, expect it to be hotter than today, which is hard to believe.

BROWN: Can't catch a break.

PETERSONS: Yes, no.

PEREIRA: I think it's popsicles for dinner again.

PETERSONS: I would say, yes.

BROWN: I would.

PEREIRA: Indra, thanks so much. Looking back to our headlines now, the defense has rested without doing much in the sentencing phase of Army Major Nidal Hasan's Ft. Hood court-martial. When it came time to present his case, Hasan who's representing himself did not call witnesses and he did not testify himself. The judge telling him, you are the captain of your ship.

The military jury could begin deliberating today on a possible death sentence of Hasan, convicted of killing 13 people at the base in 2009.

BROWN: And we're seeing more photos of the takedown of suspected Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Take a look here. "Boston" magazine publishing 48 additional photos, all taken by a Massachusetts state police officer. Among them, several new images of a bloody Tsarnaev slumped over the edge of the boat, falling off, and then being treated for a reported gunshot wound to the mouth.

The photographer who took the pictures is facing disciplinary action for giving them to the magazine earlier this year, as you may recall.

PEREIRA: The IRS is issuing final rules and finalizing the penalty for people who do not get medical insurance under Obamacare's individual mandate. It doesn't go into effect until next year.

Here are the basics for you. For the first year, the charge for not having health insurance is $95 or 1 percent of household income. The penalty increases to $695 per person, or 2.5 percent of household income in 2016.

BROWN: Well, it was 50 years ago today that hundreds of thousands gathered in the nation's capital for what would be become a watershed moment in the civil rights movement, the march on Washington, of course. And that's when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Today, President Obama and former Presidents Carter and Clinton will deliver their own speeches at the Lincoln Memorial to mark the anniversary. And several of the original participants, including now Congressman John Lewis will be there. Former presidents, George W. and H.W. Bush will not be attending. Both are recuperating from health issues.

PEREIRA: The Washington, D.C. is already a big player you could say in politics. But what about this? Could it become the center the sports world in 2024? Organizers pushing the city as a potential host for the Summer Olympics, touting its infrastructure and support as big pluses. The D.C. area already has a football and baseball stadium, of course, a big arena for basketball and plenty of hotel space.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SWEENEY, PRESIDENT, DC 2024: Washington, D.C. is the only global capital that has never hosted the Olympic games yet. And it's our turn. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: But there is plenty of competition, the U.S. Olympic Committee is said to be considering about 35 other places in the nation to be the choice for the IOC. And then there are dozens of international cities that are likely to be in the running. And it gets highly competitive.

BROWN: Oh, yes. The competition is steep. But I have to say, you know, I lived in D.C. for nearly seven years, seeing the city large crowds or inauguration --

PEREIRA: Do you think it's a good choice?

BROWN: Yes, I don't think it's a bad choice.

PEREIRA: All right.

BROWN: We'll have to see. Not that my opinion matters.

PEREIRA: Sure, it does. Come on.

BROWN: All right. Well, coming up right here on EARLY START: "The New York Times" taking offline. Syrian hackers claiming responsibility. So, could the Assad regime be targeting U.S. media?

PEREIRA: Plus, history of violence? Disturbing new details about the life of fallen sports star Aaron Hernandez.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Welcome back to EARLY START.

As the U.S. considers its options in dealing with Syria, supporters of the Assad regime are thought to be behind an electronic attack on "The New York Times" and Twitter.

BROWN: Christine Romans here to talk more about this.

Christine, what do we know who's behind this?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army or someone very, very aggressively trying to pretend to be the Syrian Electronic Army has put the site down. Very interesting.

This has happened just at a time with a lot of criticism about Syria and the actions of the Assad regime. So, the site down for "The New York Times" down many hours yesterday. We're still having trouble getting on there today. The company finding other ways to sort of post some of its stories online.

But this is the second time in less than a month that "The New York Times" Web site has been down. And it's also interesting because earlier, they were a victim of attack -- earlier this year, they were a victim of attack it looks like by Chinese hackers or hackers that were based and routed through China.

So, you can tell that the major -- the major media companies have been targets of hackers. And "The New York Times" -- "The New York Times" going down yesterday, and it looks as though, at this point, it's Assad supporters that have targeted both Twitter and "The New York Times."

This is what the Syrian Electronic Army says in this statement, we just showed that. But let me tell what you "The Times" said. Our Web site was unable to users in the United States for a time on Tuesday.

The disruption was the result of an external attack on our domain registrar. We're at work and fully restoring service. We regret if this caused you any inconvenience.

Still seems to be having problems this morning, by the way.

PEREIRA: So, we'll keep an eye on both of these?

ROMANS: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: So, Twitter back up and running or just aspects of Twitter that were affected?

ROMANS: Just aspects of Twitter that were affected, and for some of users, not for everyone. So, we shall see.

But this is the new era. You know, hacking -- especially hacking for political purposes or to make a statement.

PEREIRA: Another way to protest, right?

BROWN: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Something that we'll be watching and something that I can tell you that the major companies -- all the major companies, not just media companies, but everybody who's got a business and who's got a business -- and they've got, you know, a perception online, very, very careful. They're spending an awful lot of money trying to protect their computers and their access.

PEREIRA: Got to stay ahead of them.

BROWN: Very vulnerable.

PEREIRA: All right. Christine, thank you for that update.

New revelations about Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL star now facing a murder charge. An investigative piece in "Rolling Stone" magazine claims that Hernandez was a heavy drug user and that paranoia caused him to carry a gun everywhere he went. That article goes on to say he surrounded himself with gang members and cutting off family and his New England Patriot teammates.

It also alleges a former coach at the University of Florida may have helped cover up failed drug tests and other violent incidents. BROWN: Well, Joe Francis of "Girls Gone Wild" fame is going to jail. Francis was sentenced Tuesday to 270 days behind bars for assaulting a woman at his California home back in 2011. A Los Angeles judge expressing serious concerns about what he called Francis' explosive temper, also ordered him to undergo extensive psychological counseling and complete an anger management course.

PEREIRA: The U.S. is tops when it comes to asking Facebook for personal information about its users. The social media network said the feds have made more than 11,000 requests for personal user data during the first six months of this year. That's more than the next three countries combined. Facebook said it honored 79 percent of those requests.

BROWN: Well, Walmart is extending health insurance coverage to domestic partners whether they're in a legal relationship or not. The company plans to allow people who are in long-term unmarried relationships to sign their partners up for that coverage. And that goes for same gender or opposite gender couples.

Walmart is the nation's largest private employer with some 1.3 million workers.

PEREIRA: In today's "Road Warriors", there was a time when frequent flyers were pretty loyal. You signed up for one program, you stop for that airline in order to get all those perks. That's no longer the case.

A survey by Deloitte finds that 72 percent of business travelers who fly a lot belong to more than one loyalty program. And two-thirds could switch even if they had elite status. In fact, many people don't use all of their earned miles at all. Travel experts say airline loyalty programs are too similar, none of them really standing out from the pack. So there's no incentive to pick one over the other.

According to the survey, one way airlines could keep flyers loyal is by tailoring their programs to the needs of the individual, like, say, offering free drinks or other perks based on their favorites.

BROWN: They have to get rid of some of those fees.

PEREIRA: The fees are at an issue for every traveler, to be sure.

BROWN: Yes, it's just getting worse.

PEREIRA: All right. Coming up right here on EARLY START, your drive to work could soon get a little easier. Nissan promising cars that can drive themselves. Well, you can get your hands on one.

"Money Time" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Welcome back, everyone. Five-twenty-two in the East, here on EARLY START on this Wednesday morning. PEREIRA: Still dark out.

BROWN: I would say it's still dark out. Not a whole lot to say about this picture here.

PEREIRA: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START. It is "Money Time". Christine Romans is here.

Obviously, the market having a really tough day yesterday.

ROMANS: So, it's all about Syria. And in the markets, we call it geopolitical concerns. You hear traders and you hear economists taking geopolitical concerns, taking -- you know, taking the real action. That's what we saw yesterday.

The worst day for stocks since June. The Dow and S&P closed down 1 percent on those geopolitical concerns. The NASDAQ dropping more than 2 percent.

Why is that? Well, concern that the U.S. and the West could have some sort of military action in Syria that could be destabilizing for the region, a region enflamed in controversy.

Syria doesn't produce a huge amount of oil. There's huge sanctions on Syria, of course. But just the fear that of disruption, the region spent $109 a barrel. That's an 18-month high.

That means you will likely feel that down the line in your own gas prices. Very closely watching oil. It could crimp, you know what I would call a careful recovery.

And the gold prices, gold prices went up, too. It's a safe haven, right? People fly out of stocks and fly into things like gold. They fly into things like government bonds.

And, of course, oil prices go up because of the concerns about the region, an oil rich region and the transportation of oil in that region. So, we're closely watching again, oil prices, ladies.

We have disclosures, meanwhile from Federal Reserve members. And many of them are millionaires. Ben Bernanke, in case you're wondering, has assets up to $2.3 million. Janet Yellen, up to $12 million. Jerome Powell, $47 million. Jeremy Stein, $11 million.

You can see the list here. These are people who sit on the board of the Federal Reserve, people who buy the policy in the U.S. about what we should be -- you know, put the foot on the gas, all this money into the economic system, just to let you know, that when we're talking about jobs and the recovery of jobs, then the low wage recovery, the people who are making these decisions, have an awful lot of money.

That doesn't mean anything?

PEREIRA: It's not going to sit well with some folks, though.

ROMANS: It might not sit well with some folks, especially to people who say that maybe the Feds, the Federal Reserve is out of touch. But whether the Federal Reserves have been trying to do, the Fed policymakers, they're been trying to keep the economy going and get jobs come back because you need some spill into the economy, just a little bit of, I guess insight in shining some light on the Fed in the meantime.

OK. Here's an interesting story for you. Self-driving cars could be coming to the market in just a few years if Nissan sticks to its plan.

PEREIRA: I don't know about them.

ROMANS: Right. The Japanese automaker said it's going to begin selling these autonomous cars by 2020. Nissan said it's working with the member of universities, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, University of Tokyo, to perfect this. The company is also building a special testing facility in Japan. The automaker says they plan to have multiple self-driving models on the market in seven years and to have the technology available across model range within two vehicle generations.

There you go.

PEREIRA: I don't know. I'm not sure about it.

BROWN: I actually like it because there's a lot of bad drivers.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Interesting because some of the technology, Google has been into this, a lot of big technology companies and the big, you know, like, for example, the farm equipment manufacturers, they like this idea, this technology, because imagine self-driving tractors. Imagine if you had a line of self-driving cars say, like in L.A. if you wanted a train of cars, L.A., self-driving cars.

PEREIRA: It will be something.

BROWN: All right.

ROMANS: If the technology is there, companies pushing forward.

PEREIRA: If it's self-driving vacuum cleaner, I'm down with the car. I am --

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: Good to have you here.

BROWN: You might have a great idea there.

PEREIRA: Well, it's already in the market.

BROWN: Oh, OK.

PEREIRA: I'm after the fact, come right back.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: We'll take a short break.

Still ahead in the news, police say he killed his long time friend and her son and kidnapped her daughter. But James DiMaggio's family, specifically, his sister, believe there's something that detectives have been missing. It's a CNN exclusive. You'll hear it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)