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Marine Website Hacked; Clock Ticking on Syria Action; British Parliament Could Reconsider Syrian Attack; Arab League Wants Action on Syria; Human Remains Unearthed in Florida; Nyad Nears the Coast.

Aired September 2, 2013 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm John Berman, in for Ashleigh today.

The Syrian electronic army delivered a message to the United States Marine Corps today: Please don't attack us and if you would like to join us, come on over. But it's not the message that got the brass in the Pentagon talking. It's how it was delivered.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent: Chris Lawrence joins me now with more.

Chris, this is fascinating and a little bit alarming.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You're right, John. This wasn't some on camera statement or e-mailed press release. The group temporarily hacked into a Marine Corps' recruiting website, basically urging Marines not to attack Syria. It's signed "your brothers, the Syrian army soldiers."

We have reached out to Marine Corps officials. They have not had an official comment yet.

I can tell you this temporary hack did include photos of people in military uniforms, U.S. military uniforms holding up signs that said things like, "I didn't join the Marine Corps to fight for al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war." The message seems to be appealing to the Marines' patriotism arguing it's the Syrian army fighting inside Syria and the Syrian army should be an ally not an enemy. Take a look at this one quote from the hack. "Obama is a traitor who wants to put your lives in danger in order to rescue Al Qaeda insurgents. Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins the military to defend their homeland."

This Syrian electronic army has claimed responsibility for other attacks over the last six months, including those on "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." But in this case, they may have missed the mark, so to speak. Because although the Pentagon has positioned some ships full of Marines in the eastern Mediterranean, they have ruled out any sort of manned flights, much less boots on the ground so the Marine Corps has little to no chance of being involved in any fighting in Syria in the immediate future -- John?

BERMAN: Chris, we know you are a working reporter. I'm sure the phone was ringing with a key source now. One thing I want to clear up. That was a Marine recruiting website. This electronic army, the hackers didn't break into any military operational website, did they?

LAWRENCE: No. Even the main website, the, even that's not the -- there will be little to know classified material or operational detail on that website. It's the official site for the Marine Corps but is used more for recruiting tools and recruiters to reach out to maybe people who may be interested in the Marine Corps.

BERMAN: Raises eyebrows when you see hackers breaking in.

Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. Thank you for the report. Pretty interesting right there.

All right. As Chris said, for the record here, the kind of military operation being discussed now, a limited air strike, most likely missiles. The president made it clear he doesn't want boots on the ground. That would mean Marines.

I want to talk about the military strategy now in Syria.

Joining me is CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

Colonel, thanks for joining us.

One thing people have been discussing since the president put the pause on what people thought would be imminent military operation is, what does this nine days do for the Assad regime? What could he do with this time?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He has warning. He knows there will be a limited strike. That gives time to survive it. We have seen movements of what he believes high-value targets, things the United States might attack. They are being moved to more secure locations. The Syrians have a network of underground storage areas. They are dug into the side of mountains. They have taken lessons well from the Iranians, North Koreans, Russians. Dig deep and get it to the hillsides. Pretty good defense against a cruise missile. That's a wonderful weapon, but it's not a bunker buster. If you can get something into a hardened city, you will protect it. He's also had time to disperse the aircraft, his radar sets, run command and control. He's getting ready for what he believes to be an inevitable couple of days of bombing. If he survives it, he continues on with what he wants to do.

BERMAN: Ari Fleischer, the press secretary of George W. Bush, not a military expert but he's been around during wartime, suggested that one effect might be to freeze the regime's operations now. If they are hiding planes, hiding defense systems, might it mean they are not using them?

FRANCONA: They will use them until they need to get them hidden. They are moving them to the airfields. They will move them to alternate airfields but they can operate. As I have been watching the insurgent websites and the Syrian government websites it doesn't seem to be any real slow down in activity. We saw increased operations on both sides. I think they are all trying to take advantage of what they believe the other side might be lulled into not doing anything. I don't think that's working.

BERMAN: As a former military officer, when you see a limited operation, how does it strike you?

FRANCONA: I don't like limited operations. If we are going to do something we have to do something meaningful. Terms like "shot across the bow" really rankle us. You will be expending a lot valuable resources, putting young men -- American men and women in harm's way. It needs to be for a reason. That reason should be either the removal of the Assad regime or change the situation on the ground. But if you are trying to send a warning to Bashar al Assad not to use chemical weapons again, it may or may not work.

BERMAN: This is one of the things they are discussing in Congress and will be for the next week or so.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

Still to come here, a powerful call to action on Syria from the Arab League. What it had to say and what it could mean for President Obama's plans. That's coming up next.



DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion it is clear to me the British parliament reflecting the views of the British people does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.


BERMAN: That's British Prime Minister David Cameron explaining why his country would not join the U.S. in a potential military strike against Syria. That was a big announcement related to the very special relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain.

What a difference a day can make. On the heels of President Obama's decision to get congressional approval or seek it for intervention, there is talk that British lawmakers could, could reconsider.

Atika Shubert is live in London with more.

Atika, explain this. Is there a chance of parliament voting again here?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a chance but it is a remote possibility at this point. The messages from Downing Street all seem to be the decision has been made and will not be taken again. But there have been signals that if there is substantial new evidence, if there is some sort of compelling reason, evidence, something then lawmakers may say, look, let's take another look at the issue and vote again. It is a possibility. At this point remote. But given that we still have time and, for example, evidence will be revealed to French lawmakers before their debate on Wednesday. It could mean if something comes up we'll see voters decide again.

BERMAN: That would be a boost to the Obama administration. As you said, not 100 percent likely at this point.

Atika, thank you. Appreciate it.

Not on the same page as the Obama administration, the Arab League now supports taking measures against Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons. The council representing 22 Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, did not, however, give the green light to take military action. It is unclear how or if the decision will influence the U.S. and other countries in the coming days.

Nic Robertson is live in Jordan with more.

Nic, a carefully politically calibrated statement from the Arab League here. Explain what it means.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have been talking to a number of diplomats in the region here. This is something Saud Arabia fu pushed for. There is a problem that people on the Arab street here don't like to see Western nations sending missiles into Arab countries. On the other hand, they don't like the use of chemical weapons and want to do something about it. That's a dilemma for the Arab League. But what the Saudis tried to do is get the strongest resolution possible from the Arab League condemning the action, chemical weapons, attributing blame to Bashar al Assad, calling on the international community to take action. Not specifying that the United States should take military action with strikes. But behind the scenes, I'm told by diplomats in the region, that is the intent. The hope is that this resolution by the Arab League can strengthen President Obama's position as he goes to Congress and presents his case for strikes in Syria. Essentially, the Arab League is tacitly giving him the green light for strikes -- John?

BERMAN: It's a broad statement allowing for military action without explicitly calling for it.

Nic Robertson live in Jordan. Thanks for being with us, Nic.

A dark and disturbing mystery unfolding in Florida now. Remains found near the site of an old reform school. It's a story that goes back more than half a century. The question is what else is buried there? We'll find out.


BERMAN: In Florida, officials are digging up a secret cemetery on the grounds of a former reform school. No markers, but plenty of mystery. Ed Lavandera joins us from the grave sites in Florida.

Give us the latest on this disturbing story.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a bizarre story, John. This is the area here in Florida where researchers spent the past few days trying to exhume the first two bodies. This is the cemetery that for decades people thought the boys who died at the school were buried. There are many former students who say what went on at the school was more sinister. A year ago, researchers from the University of South Florida discovered that over here there were possibly more bodies. They have spent the weekend -- and you can see the outline of what they believe is one of the coffins.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): These researchers are looking for buried secrets, exhuming bodies, perhaps as many as 50 in all, from this hidden cemetery in the Florida Panhandle. The question is, will the dead help unlock the sinister secrets of what happened on these grounds decades ago?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bones will tell the truth. They will be able to study whether there was a fracture or a bone broke or whatever. That will help to bring out the truth and some closure to this whole situation.

LAVANDERA: The reform school for boys closed in 2011. Its painful legacy haunts this place. Over the last few years, dozens of former students have come forward to tell stories of how teachers and administrators dealt ruthless beatings, sexual abuse and even murder more than 50 years ago.

For decades, state officials insisted 31 boys were buried here on the grounds. The bodies were never properly accounted for. Then last year, Dr. Aaron Kimmerly and a team of anthropologists from the University of South Florida made a stunning discovery. Using high- tech equipment the researchers said they found evidence of at least 19 more bodies buried in the area. Their research of school records showed the bodies of another 22 boys who died at the school were never accounted for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We approached this with the goal to identify everyone. That's our objective. We know that realistically that won't happen.

LAVANDERA: Owen Smith was sent here in 1940 and his family never saw him again. School officials said he died of pneumonia. Others said he was shot and killed by school administrators.

OVELL KRELL, OWEN SMITH'S SISTER: I believe until this day that they shot my brother that night. I think they probably killed him. They brought him back to the school and buried him.

LAVANDERA: John Due and his family visited the cemetery site and they are hoping to find the body of a relative sent here in the 1930s. JOHN DUE, FORMER STUDENT'S RELATIVE: We have to dig up the past in order to build a better future. We cannot continue to live like zombies. The walking dead, the past doesn't mean anything.

LAVANDERA: Before Dr. Kimmerly's discovery in the cemetery, a Florida state investigation in 2009 determined there was no evidence of criminal activity connected with any of the deaths or any abuses at the facility. One has denied the accusations but admitted spankings did take place. Many former students called it a cover up and an attempt to whitewash the school's brutal past.


LAVANDERA: John, you're looking at a live picture of the researchers doing their work now. This is tedious and delicate work. They have found some fragments of human remains and found pieces of hardware from the coffins. This process will take several months and hopefully reunification with family members and those trying to find out what really happened at this school decades ago -- John?

BERMAN: So fascinating to see the work going on all around you. A disturbing story.

Labor Day is bringing some rough stormy weather to many places around the country. We'll show you how people were forced to handle some of the worst of this weather when we come back.


This could be a rough labor day for people in many parts of the country. None rougher than for the people in Mt. Charleston, Nevada. You saw that powerful rush of mud and water coming down. It washed away trees and roadways, trapping people in their cars. Look at that.

Karen MaGinnis joins us from the Severe Weather Center.

Karen, who's in for the worst of it?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Looks like we still have the monsoonal moisture making its way in from the west. Take a look another what happened in Utah. This was in southern Utah. Give it a second. You'll see this debris flow. Here it comes. We've got large bases of trees, mud, debris. Everything coming down this valley. It looks like for today weep keep some of that moisture in the weather picture but also in the northeast and New England we have flash flood watches and warnings out. One to two inches of rainfall. If you're headed to the airport, places like New York and Boston you're looking at pretty rough weather. Expect some delays there. Also in Atlanta showers and thunderstorms prevail and looks like more wet weather expected.

BERMAN: Sounds like a mess.

Thanks so much.

She is getting close to achieving her lifelong goal. It's time for all of us to get nervous. The very brave and very tired Diana Nyad probably about two miles from completing her swim. This is live pictures. We think this is her crew waiting for her, swimming with her on the way to the Florida Keys. We'll go live to Florida right after the break where Diana Nyad on the verge of making history.


BERMAN: Welcome back.

We could be on the verge of history today. Diana Nyad, the fifth time could be the charm After trying over 35 years she could be about to complete the swim from Cuba to Florida. This is very dramatic. Just a few miles away.

Our John Zarrella is live in Key West, waiting for what could be history today, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, No question about it. I think she can taste it now. She can see Key West from where she is now. That we believe, we're almost certain is her boats in the distance there. They have been getting closer and closer all morning. Probably within two miles of Key West. This is where she is expected to land and if she does, when she does now, we're presuming, could be within the next couple of hours. She will make history, the first person to ever make it across from Havana, Cuba, to Key West Florida, without the aid of a shark cage. She's been amazing. People are starting to gather on the beach. It's a holiday but there's a lot of people, everybody asking, is she still swimming. How close is she now? A lot of excitement being generated as Diana Nyad is set within the next couple of hours to make history.

BERMAN: She was just talking to her crew a little while ago. She said she does have bad abrasions in her mouth, despite the jelly fish mask. She's having trouble talking, but she did tell her people, let's get going so we can have a whopping party. They all sound excited. They sound like this is about to happen. We're glad you're there.


ZARRELLA: We'll be here to cover it when she makes it ashore here. We're seeing when now, not if because confidence is growing by the minute.

BERMAN: We just showed brand new picture of Diana Nyad. She looks well. She's very close.

John Zarrella, waiting in Florida, thanks so much.

And thank you for watching. AROUND THE WORLD starts now with Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes.