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Two Million Syrians Now Refugees; Kerry Hails French on Syria; Testing Support for U.S./Syria Strike; Russia Slams Syria Findings; Fears over Pro-Assad Regime Hackers; Movie "50 Shades of Gray" Has Cast Its Actors

Aired September 3, 2013 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Still to come this hour, a crisis growing by the second. Syrians fleeing their homeland in the millions and what's being called the great tragedy of the century. A live report from a refugee camp just ahead.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me.

In just a few minutes, President Obama's expected to meet with the two top House leaders about the crisis in Syria. The president's calling on Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the White House as he tries to build up congressional support for a strike on Syria. You're looking at the parking lot near the White House and I believe that I just saw John Boehner get out of one of those fancy cars and go into the White House. Joe Biden is already there. Of course, they'll all be having this big meeting about Syria and whether the Assad regime really was responsible for killing more than 1,400 people in a chemical weapons attack.

As the United States decides what to do, in the next 15 seconds, another Syrian will become a refugee. The crisis has escalated to the point that 2 million Syrians are now living in refugee camps. Half of them are children. A year ago that number was nearly 231,000 people. CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins me from a refugee camp in northern Jordan.

Good morning, Ben.


We are at the Zatzidi (ph) refugee camp, which is just about 15 kilometers from the Syrian border. There are 120,000 people living in this refugee camp. Every day, more are arriving. And it's a very difficult situation. In the summer, it's very hot and dusty. In the winter, it is cold and rainy. We are told that 75 percent of the inhabitants of this camp are women and children, half of them under the age of 18.

And, really, this is just a drop in the bucket. In Jordan, for instance, the UNHCR says there are 519,000 registered refugees. But, in fact, there may be twice as many Syrian refugees in this country. And not only is there a problem with refugees outside of Syria, but within Syria itself there are 4.2 million people who have been internally displaced. So this is a crisis that is really shaking many of the countries, all of the countries that are bordering Syria.


COSTELLO: Ben Wedeman reporting live this morning.

As the Obama administration works to boost support for action in Syria, both at home and abroad, one nation has emerged as a surprising backer.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our oldest ally, the French, said the regime, quote, "committed this vile action and it is an outrage to use weapons that the community has banned for the last 90 years in all international conventions."


COSTELLO: That may come as a surprise to the British and also to some of the French who were roundly criticized by many Americans after slamming our involvement in the Iraq War. So, good-bye freedom fries, hello, french fries. Let's talk. CNN's senior political commentator David Gergen with is us, senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar, senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is at the United Nations and, in Moscow, Phil Black.

Welcome to all of you.

Good morning.


COSTELLO: You're welcome.


COSTELLO: Good morning.

David, I want to start with you. Let's start with the French. Suddenly our military friends. So let me throw you a curve. Why doesn't France lead the charge?

GERGEN: Well, who would have believed it after all those years with the french fries. The -- but the French government has been very tough on this. They've got a long-term relationship in Syria. It goes back historically. And they have -- the whole on government does not want to - deoesn't have to and doesn't want to submit it to the French parliament. So they're ready to go. But they're not ready to go alone. And they do want the United States not only to come in, but to bring other allies. And that's why the G-20 meeting could be important this week for the president. He needs to round up some more support. COSTELLO: Speaking of support, Brianna, we have top congressional leaders coming to the White House, while defense officials go to the Senate. What does the administration plan to do if Congress votes against any type of military action?

KEILAR: That is the huge question, Carol, because if -- and if you ask the White House that, you hear from White House officials, they say, well, the president still has the authority to act, but officials won't say that he will do that. And I have talked with some long-time observers of the U.S. relations with Syria and of this administration's policy when it comes to Syria and they say, you know what, without Congress okaying this, President Obama may very well not go ahead.

I think that that is a distinct possibility and I think that's part of the reason why, as we look at all of these lawmakers coming here today, why we see Senator McCain and Senator Graham really tentatively lending their support to President Obama. You'll recall they were here yesterday for that meeting, as well, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, they had strong words in support for the president.

Nick, a question for you. The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, wants the weapons report released very soon so the U.N. doesn't appear irrelevant. But that report isn't back for a week or two. Plus two members of the Security Council, Russia and China, won't vote for anything to punish Syria. So is the United Nations already irrelevant?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we have to look at two elements of this. There's the inspectors' report, which is going to feed massively into the court of global public opinion, and that's clearly while Barack Obama says the U.N. is completely paralyzed, he does care what the rest of the world thinks and you can't imagine that it would be helpful for U.N. inspectors to declare they'd found traces of chemical weapons during their inspections.

We're hearing a bit more of a tick tock, testing of samples taken from Syria, should be underway today in The Hague. The head of the inspections team, Angela Kane, will be briefing a number of U.N. members who asked for more information about this process. And the U.N. secretary-general will be telling the non-permanent members of the Security Council a little bit more about how this process is going. You say one to three weeks. We've heard all sorts of different timelines. The U.N. won't give one specifically. But we are hearing it's possible they could be ready by the time Congress debates.

But on top of that, there's the broader issue of Russia and China will veto any western-based resolution against Syria, because they have done historically in the past. The question is, if the U.N. inspectors say chemical weapons were used, will that lead to some sort of resolution condemning that more broadly. The U.N.'s been deadlocked, but people are looking at what's happening in this building because it's informing the world's opinion about what happened in Syria, Carol. COSTELLO: Well, Russia doesn't seem to be holding its breath for that report to be released because Russia is now sending its own delegation to the American Congress after the nation's foreign minister had said that claims made by the United States and France don't convince Russia. So what's their strategy, Phil? I mean what are they going to say to these American lawmakers and do they really think American lawmakers will listen to the Russians at this point, you know, Edward Snowden and all?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I guess they're hopeful, Carol, yes. The number one policy goal for Russia throughout the Syrian crisis for more than two years now has been to block any sort of suggestion there should be international military intervention, because Russia believes it will only make the situation in the country worse. So when the British parliament recently voted against a military strike, Russia saw that significantly as validation for its longstanding consistent opinion. Now that President Obama is going to Congress, Russia sees opportunity to try and talk around as many members of Congress as possible into thinking there might be something to that Russian view, which is any military strike could have devastating consequences in Syria and across the region, as well, Carol.

COSTELLO: David Gergen, Brianna Keilar, Nick Paton Walsh, Phil Black, thanks to all of you. So appreciated.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Syrian regime supporters have already launched one weapon in a cyber attack on the United States. Now there's concern the hackers could go beyond a propaganda war.


COSTELLO: Some of the top leaders in Congress now meeting with President Obama. He's called them there to make his case again for a strike against the Assad regime in Syria. The U.S. suspects the regime was behind a chemical weapons attack. House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other members of key national security committees in the House and Senate are all attending this meeting. Brianna Keilar is there. We'll check back with her in just a few minutes.

Ahead of possible U.S. military action, Syrian government supporters have launched a pre-emptive cyber strike. As we told you yesterday, the pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army hacked the U.S. Marines recruitment website, urging U.S. Marines not to attack Syria. Now, this isn't the first time we've heard about the Syrian Electronic Army. What is it? Who's behind it? CNN's Pamela Brown has some answers.

Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Carol. That's right., the main Web site for the United States Marine Corps, became the latest target of a cyber attack, apparently by the Syrian Electronic Army. That's a group of hackers known for recently taking over various media Web sites.

Now while it's not believed that any classified information was obtained, this incident renews fears among security experts that these attacks will continue and could cause a real economic toll.


BROWN (voice-over): If you try to visit Monday, this is what you would have seen. A letter addressed to U.S. Marines trying to persuade them against military action in Syria. Along with these pictures of people dressed in U.S. military uniforms holding up signs like, "Stay out of Syria."

A Marine Corps official tells CNN that the site is primarily for recruiting and no military intelligence was compromised, but this apparent work of pro-Syrian government hackers, the Syrian Electronic Army, once again raising concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. sites and servers.

KEN WISNEFSKI, CEO, WEBIMAX: I think at this point it's a little bit along the lines of, you know, more bragging rights, hey, look at what we have been able to do, look at what we've been able to impact.

BROWN: The same group took responsibility for taking down "The New York Times" Web site for 20 hours last week, showing users this "server not found" air message. The "Washington Post," BBC and CNN have also been recent targets.

Back in April, the Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for hacking into the Associated Press' Twitter feed and posting this fake tweet about alleged chaos in the White House.

The Dow Jones plummeted more than $100 billion, but quickly recovered once the hoax was discovered. Still the potential impact was evident. So far the hacking has been limited to posting propaganda on Web sites, but future targets could include online retailers, banks, or the stock market.

WISNEFSKI: The fact that they are able to kind of get engaged with things and ultimately create the type of pandemonium they're looking for, you know, has seemed to have intensified their interest in, you know, kind of attacking these sites.


BROWN: And other targets that officials are concerned about are the electrical grid and government computer systems, and if the Syrian Electronic Army were to get support in their hacking efforts from other powerful countries and groups, what they could be capable of increases dramatically, so, of course, that is the big concern, that these attacks will continue to escalate -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Pamela Brown reporting live for us this morning. Thanks so much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: Southeast Rhode Island cleaning up from heavy rain and flashfloods today. Firegfighters used boats to rescue dozens of people from flooding an apartment building in New York.

Check out these pictures from CBS 4's torrential rain delay play at the U.S. Open. Those are very, very dedicated fans.

CNN's Indra Peterson is live in New York keeping an eye on today's weather.

So, like, we're sick of the rain, Indra

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I was just going to say it's almost a little payback for us here in the northeast after everything the southeast has been dealing with. You can actually see that heavy rain that cruise through the area. In fact we saw records yesterday. Philadelphia almost two inches of rain. And also Providence, Rhode Island, almost three inches of rain.

Now I'll show what it looks like right now. Looks like some spotty hit in the shower. So definitely improving but we are going to be watching. It's just that cold front now making its way offshore in the northeast and mid-Atlantic.

Now keep in mind, though, the tail end of this just like we've been seeing all summer long is going to sag into the southeast. Here's what it looks like tomorrow once we go into Thursday and even through Friday. We are still going to be talking about that same cold front and a chance for showers in the southeast.

We will be right back.


COSTELLO: "50 Shades of Grey." Have you read them all? Well, the popular erotic novel -- novels I being -- they're being made into a movie. And the film police were just announced what might have been one of the most eagerly anticipated casting decisions of the entire year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got footage from a security camera. That's Obie torching the meth lab.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's us doing it. Caught on security cameras. Obie's face plain as day. We underestimated them. We've got to protect our club right now. Retaliation is undisputable. But if we do it now, we're doing it half blind.


COSTELLO: Charlie Hunt, he was the blond guy, he's star of Axis' "Sons of Anarchy." He'll play the billionaire playboy Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson, who just what happens to be Melanie Griffin and Don Johnson's daughter, will play the innocent college student Anastasia Steele.

CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner live in New York.

I was just --


I was just thinking, I don't know these actors very well but after the movie comes out I'll be seeing them in their birthday suits probably.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, more than likely, a few times, Carol. You know, this is actually a big announcement. And especially for the fans of the books which have sold more than 30 million copies. I am one of those fans of the books. And this was a little bit of a shocker. The biggest shocker, though, probably the casting news of Dakota Johnson.

She's pretty -- she's famous -- you know, her parents are actually probably more famous than she is right now. Her name wasn't out there as a potential for the role. Not that she hasn't had a few roles. She's been in films like the "Five-Year Engagement," she's been in "The Social Network." She starred on a short lived FOX series called "Ben and Kate."

According to Google, though, more than two million people were Googling the name Charlie Hunnam yesterday. You just showed him. He was the number one search on the site. Diana Nyad, swimming from Cuba, was the second most searched on the site. He was one of the names, kind of in the mix for the role of Christian Grey.

Now he may star, as you see him there, as bearded, edgy, ripped. He's one of the bikers on "Sons of Anarchy." But he does have an interesting resume. He's British. He's had a few other roles of note in his career. He was just in "Pacific Rim" this summer. It was a hit internationally not so much domestically.

He burst out some attention in this country, though, by playing the love struck gay man in "Clear Smoke." And then he was also in the Judd Apatow's series "Undeclared." So he's been there. He hasn't had that big role yet but I think this may be by design, Carol. You know, the "Twilight" series, they had -- they had unknown people and then they became big stars. Maybe this will happen with him, too.

COSTELLO: You never know. Nischelle Turner, thanks.

Next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a quick break.


COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, President Obama meeting right now with congressional leaders. Can he convince them that the U.S. needs to intervene in Syria.

Plus, is the U.S. even prepared to intervene? Our budgets stretched. Our troops stretched? What would success really cost us?

And --


DIANA NYAD, SWIMMER: My whole mantra this year was find a way. You know, like it's doable. Find a way.