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New Videos Released of Gas Attacks in Syria; Former U.N. Weapons Inspector Assesses Evidence Sarin Gas Used in Syria
Aired September 7, 2013 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But I can build on what David Kay said a moment ago. In our reports over the past two weeks about the use of sarin gas and its effects and the effects of other chemical weapons, I interviewed David Kay. I also interviewed Amy Smithson. She is a chemical weapons expert from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
And again, to build on what David just said about the images that we're seeing here, what they're consistent with, and the use of sarin gas, Amy Smithson also reiterated that, because we talked about some of these images that she has seen and others. And she told me that, quote, "If you don't have a gas mask on in an incident such as this," your body, quote, "will begin to shut down. It's not just the types of things that you've seen on these videos with the twitching and the convulsing and the difficulty seeing things and the foaming at the mouth. Your body will short circuit. You will die within minutes."
She along with David Kay, as you just heard him say, told me that essentially your nerves shut down and you asphyxiate almost from within when you're subjected to enough amounts of sarin gas, especially to do damage. And that appears to be what's consistent with these videos.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So if no longer the dispute is what chemical weapons were used, the dispute still remains who is responsible? You know, the international community, including the U.S., is blaming the Syrian government, Brian, but then you hear Russia, an ally of Syria, saying it's the rebels. How does anyone go about proving who was responsible for launching chemical weapons?
TODD: That's been the nagging question, Fredricka, for more than two weeks now, claims that either side are responsible for this. There is always the nagging issue of could this have been manipulated somehow by the rebels? The administration says absolutely not. The overwhelming evidence points to the Syrian regime. You're talking about communications intercepts, intelligence on where the bombs came from, where they were aimed and where they were not aimed. The administration says that is all consistent in favor of a finding that it was the Syrian regime.
But, again, the Russians and others are still pulling us back to that other side with these kind of nagging issues and raising the Specter of the possibility that this could have been the rebels. So that will always kind of hover over this as the administration continues to make its case this week. WHITFIELD: All right, Brian Todd, thanks so much. Stand by. Again, Jake Tapper with us, bringing us these images exclusively. So Jake, you mentioned these images are on YouTube. They were put on YouTube before or after this select Senate intelligence committee were able to see it?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No, all these images have been uploaded on YouTube and were uploaded on or around August 21st, the date of the chemical weapons attack. What's different is that it's not -- these aren't just videos on YouTube that we've seen, these are ones specifically being shown to members of Congress by the intelligence community in classified briefings as the Obama administration tries to make a case for why there should be strikes against Bashar al Assad.
We've seen in recent days images of the brutality of the Syrian rebels. One of those videos posted by the "New York Times," actually from a year and a half ago, as opposed to earlier this year, but in any case, the point stands, Fredricka, which is that there are serious concerns about some of the rebels and the brutality that they are capable of.
These are the videos being shown right now to members of Congress in classified briefings, just on Thursday to members of the Senate intelligence committee and their staffs. And Senator Feinstein, after she saw the video, let me read what she said. She said, "I've asked the CIA to prepare a DVD which would have specific instances of evidence, largely victims, and what we see means with what pinpointed eyes mean, what convulsions mean, and other aspects."
In other words, Feinstein wanted people to see not from the descriptions of what individuals have seen and been able to verify as real when it comes to the chemical weapons attack, but actually see what it means as we are showing the viewers and some images that are very difficult to take.
Feinstein went on, and of course she is a supporter of President Obama's pitch to use military intervention in Syria, that's a pitch that President Obama is having a very difficult time making a sale on to Congress and to the public, but Feinstein went on and said, "We received that this morning," referring to the videos we're showing. "It's horrendous so we're having that DVD multiplied so we're getting it out to every member of the Senate, possibly members of the House, so they can at their leisure go through it and also what it means to make a determination that chemical agents are used." So that's new. We were able to obtain this video before it was distributed to other members of the Senate and other members of the House.
And, you know, there are -- the response to this, in addition to just how shocking it is, Fredricka, and how upsetting it is, obviously when information like this comes forward, you'll have to wonder, why is this information coming out? You were asking that before of Brian Todd. Obviously there is a debate whether or not use of force is appropriate. I don't know that this video answers that question. It doesn't necessarily say who is responsible for these chemical weapons attacks. It doesn't say necessarily that a military intervention in Syria is the correct answer to this.
But a piece of the puzzle, as members of the House and Senate make their determination, is this video being shown to them by the intelligence community, and we felt like the viewers and the voters and the citizens of this country deserve to know what their elected representatives are being shown on either side of the equation when it comes to whether or not use of force is appropriate in Syria.
WHITFIELD: Right, and all those questions at the core of this debate. Jake Tapper, thank you so much. Stand by as well as Brian Todd and David Kay. We're going to get back to you in a moment. We'll take a short break. Much more in the Newsroom right after this.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. In case you're just now joining us, we have breaking news on an important development in the debate over what the U.S. should do about Syria. Chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper joining me live now. Jake, these images are very disturbing, but this is information that members of the Senate intelligence committee have seen.
TAPPER: That's right. CNN has obtained videos that were shown on Thursday to members of the Senate intelligence committee in a classified briefing -- 13 videos, specifically. The senators were told that the intelligence community of the United States has verified them as authentic. They seem to show the victims of a chemical weapons attack. The senators were told they are specifically consistent, the symptoms seen in the videos, consistent with a sarin gas attack.
CNN, of course, cannot independently verify the authenticity of the videos. We're reporting on them because we have verified that senators were shown these videos by the intelligence community as the Obama administration tries to make its case for limited military intervention in Syria. We've seen videos in the past few weeks about the barbarity of some of the rebels in Syria. These are some of the videos also affecting the debate behind closed doors.
Before I show some more of these videos, I want to caution our viewers that some of these images are disturbing. They are individuals after having suffered a chemical weapon attack. So we'll start -- I think we cut off with video seven last time. We're going to start with video number eight of the 13. This one was shot in the Damascus suburb of Muadamea. The intelligence committee told the senators that this is verified. This is legitimate shot then right after the chemical weapon attack. It appears to show a man frothing at the mouth next to a boy.
As David Kay, former weapons inspector told you, Fredricka, not long ago, the image is consistent with the attack of a nerve agent, possibly sarin. Let's go to video nine now. The state of location of this upload was outside Damascus, and this shows a boy with an oxygen mask on his face. In a second we will see him struggling to sit upright. He is alive in this video. He's struggling to sit upright, and he's crying with men who appear to be medical personnel. We'll see him upright in a second. It's about a minute-long video.
Many of these videos are very short, two minutes at the longest. Here he is sitting up, struggling, obviously, in a great deal of pain. The intelligence community told the senators that these videos, they believe, are authentic. They do not think they are staged. They do not think they are faked. They have verified them.
Let's go to video number 10 of the 13. Video number 10, this one, the stated location was Kafur Botna outside Damascus. Damascus of course an area where there is a lot of support for the opposition. This might be one of the most upsetting videos. Here is a little boy maybe one or two years old. Adults are trying to give him oxygen. They're going to try to give him water in a second. It's a 45-second video. A lot of these victims, obviously, were children, were innocents.
The prevailing theory by the intelligence community is that the area of Damascus which is supportive of the opposition of the rebels, that conventional fighting was not sufficient to oust and defeat the rebels in Damascus. And so the theory is that Assad or his regime allegedly launched a chemical weapons attack against Damascus to quell the rebellion, to quell the support for the rebels.
I want to show you two more videos, Fredricka, of the 13. This is video number 11 also from Kafur Botna. These appear, and I really want to caution our viewers on this one. These appear to be the dead bodies of Syrians, many of them children. The some of them the elderly, some of the Arabic we hear in these videos are prayers. Some of the Arabic we hear refer to the dogs of Assad, Bashar al Assad, and some of the Arabic in the video says, "Look what they've done to innocent people." Obviously, these images are very disturbing.
And then lastly, I want to show you video number 12 of the 13. This is from Duma outside Damascus. It's a 28-second video. It just shows the conclusion of such an attack, bodies wrapped in shrouds, ready for burial. In the Muslim religion burial comes within 24 hours of death.
So again, the intelligence committee, Fredricka, making their argument to senators behind closed doors. Members of the House have not yet seen these videos, at least through the intelligence committee or through any of these classified briefings. But they are being described as authenticated, verified. There are different ways in which the intelligence community says they have authenticated them. Some of them have to do with when videos are shot outdoors using satellite imagery and believing they were consistent, the terrain was consistent with what was seen on that day. Some of the other ways that it was authenticated by the intelligence community includes the fact that some of these videos were shot by different people from different angles and sounds and videos, sounds and images seen in them are consistent throughout.
Other ways that the intelligence community is telling members of Congress that these are legitimate has to do with survivor accounts being consistent with what is seen in these videos, fourth, that they have verified that the places where these videos were shot and the times when they were uploaded have been verified through various means. And fifth, that the symptoms as we described earlier are consistent with not just a chemical weapons attack but a sarin gas attack.
Now, again, for the context of this, none of this proves that the Assad regime was responsible for it. None of this proves that a limited military intervention as the Obama administration is supporting is the correct response to it.
But, Fredricka, we at CNN believe that viewers have a right to all of the information available when it comes to this momentous decision that members of Congress will face. We've seen barbarous images of Syrian rebels attacking individuals, and this is some of the other side, as it were, a call to act.
Members of Congress are describing this, or at least Diane Feinstein, the chair of the intelligence committee, sees these images and says members of Congress need to see these before they make their decision. Again, we do not have a position on the war and whether or not Assad is responsible. We in the media have not seen anything to prove that Assad is responsible for these chemical weapons attacks, but we do know that it did take place, the attacks. And as members of Congress debate what to do about it, this is being shown to their elected representatives. Therefore we are also showing it to the people who elected those representatives, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And perhaps, Jake, this brings a bit more clarity as to what Diane Feinstein meant when she said you haven't seen what I have seen. Just some members of the intelligence committee and the Senate side have seen this.
Jake, we're going to take a short break. We're going to get back to you in a minute. As you said, the intelligence committee has authenticated, has verified that indeed chemical weapons, or at least this video bears the hallmarks of the use of chemical weapons, but still unanswered who would be responsible for the use of chemical weapons. We're going to be joined by former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay right after this.
WHITFIELD: Back now to exclusive information that members of the Senate intelligence committee have seen very disturbing images of what appear to be a video of Syrians exposed to chemical weapons. Jake Tapper breaking the story and bringing us these images along with this exclusive information.
Also joined by Washington correspondent Brian Todd as well as former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay joining us via Skype from Stephanie Beach, Delaware. So Jake, let me begin with you. This information that this video that we are now seeing, these some 13 images, video we're now seeing, members of the intelligence community have seen it, but no members of the House, apparently, have seen it, at least not in any classified meetings?
TAPPER: That's right, not yet, anyway. They will see it and they will get the opportunity to see it when members of the House reconvene on Monday. But specifically, the Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein requested this video, this DVD, I should say -- I'm dating mi myself with the reference to video -- and this DVD has 13 short videos on it, with YouTube videos that were uploaded, which the intelligence committee have verified as authentic, not just a chemical weapons attack, but a sarin gas attack, very disturbing images, all 13 of them, showing children, showing innocent elderly people convulsing. Some of them appear to be dead from this chemical weapons attack.
But no, the images have not been shown to members of the House of Representatives, which will, theoretically at least, vote as well on this war authorization, or use of force authorization, I should say, but that will happen. But no, it was only shown to senators and their staff on the intelligence committee on Thursday, that's right, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: OK, Brian Todd, let me bring you into the equation. How, if your view, is video like this authenticated or verified? How is it proven or disproved that chemical weapons may be used?
TODD: Fredricka, we've been talking to chemical weapons experts the last two weeks on this, and specific to the comments by John Kerry last Sunday when he said signatures of sarin have been found on these victims. We took that and started to talk to experts about how do you verify that?
And the experts we spoke to, including the gentleman we have on with us, David Kay, all told me that these videos are consistent with some of these symptoms. David Kay told me that sarin gas, when you're exposed to it, does not burn the skin. Amy Smithson from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies says that basically your body starts to shut down, your nerves shut down, you start to suffocate from within. The symptoms that we're seeing in these videos, the difficulty seeing, the foaming at the mouth, the twitching, all consistent with exposure to sarin gas. And the testing for it essentially is you have to take blood, hair in and the deceased victims, brain tissue samples, and run them through what's called a gas chromatography machine that gives you spikes on the certain levels of the testing of sarin that can verify that Saris was used in these cases, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And so former weapons inspector, David Kay, let me bring you into this. We have seen, meaning the television viewing public, have seen versions of video that look very similar to this. Frothing at the mouth, someone shaking, eyes dilated. How are these videos different or very similar to what the public has already seen?
DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think they're very much. In fact in some cases they're exactly the same because these are videos have been uploaded to YouTube.
I would just add on the authentication, and particularly the authentication of who did it, there is something to look forward to in the U.N. inspectors' report. The Syrians use a form of sarin that's called binary. You take two chemicals that are not lethal and you combine them and make sarin. You don't do that until you're ready to use it, because sarin loses its lethality relatively quickly.
That chemistry is one that was passed to the Syrians by the old Soviet Union. It uses some stabilizers that are authentic to Syria and the former Soviet Union and for which rebels would never in days dream be able to come up with that. So I in fact think when the inspectors are in court, you're going to have one additional piece and one that has a little bit more legitimacy because it's coming from an international group, not from the U.S., that will point another finger directly towards the Syrian government.
WHITFIELD: So David, help me understand how would it be authenticated that this binary would be used in the case of these 13 clips that you've seen?
KAY: These binary agents are stabilized by another, or actually several chemicals, which when combined makes sarin, but when they're used and they evaporate over time and the inspectors did not get in for about nine days after this attack, they have a signature of their own. And unless you had used these precursors and a stabilizer in it, you wouldn't have had it.
So if the Syrians rebels had by some real stretch of the imagination been able to make their own sarin gas, it would not look like the sarin that the Syrians used. If the inspectors find those fingerprints, and these are chemical fingerprints and they do show up on a gas chromatography, you will have another piece of evidence that says this must be an attack carried out by the Syrian government.
WHITFIELD: Let me bring into this. Jake, I think you have a question for David as well.
TAPPER: Sure. I'd love to ask. And obviously we are a visual species and we react to things that we see very much. You were cautioning just now and also earlier in the broadcast that members of Congress, before they make any determination, should not rely just upon the very disturbing images that we see of children convulsing and suffering. What are some of the other evidence that you think members of Congress need to know beyond, of course, tying this attack to Assad and then of course the decision about whether or not military intervention is the correct course of action, which is a whole different thing. But when it comes to watching these images, what else should they know about the attack beyond these videos?
KAY: Well, sarin is an agent which by its very nature is hard to handle, it's very dangerous, if you mishandle it, even if you're the one going to use it. You need to know generally -- in the case in Tokyo, and that sarin was a crude sarin, not anything like this, did not have the lethality, did not have all the hallmarks, members of Congress, and I think most Americans are ready, are willing to stipulate this was a chemical attack, probably with sarin -- I think almost certainly, actually, with sarin.
And I think most people -- the missing piece of evidence that absolutely ties it is something that ties it to the Assad regime. If you recall, in the intelligence briefing information released by the U.S. government, they pointed to, we have missile tracks, we have conversations, but they release none of that information other than the assertion of it. In fact, for me, and this is a bit of personal history, it's remarkable as I go back and remember and think about sitting through Colin Powell's briefing at the security council, you got actual photos, you got actual communications intercepts. I also remember that they turned out to be all wrong, but leaving that aside, the administration of George W. Bush actually released a considerable amount of raw intelligence. The administration didn't, and I think it will be saved in this regard by if they wait around until the inspectors' report, which will be in depth, authentic, and from two separate analytical labs.
WHITFIELD: And then quickly, David, if I may interrupt there, how long would it take before that report were available?
KAY: I suspect we're probably into five or seven days more. There are some things you can do that makes it a little quicker. But a lot is riding on this. I can speak of having been under it in the past. You're under a tremendous amount of pressure because the policymakers, the governments, want the answer immediately. You're also under professional pressure. You know the consequences of a mistake. You want to get it right. And so you go one way or the other, depending on the pressure. I think if you have it by the end of this week, they've done a very quick job of it. Not only are you looking at blood and urine samples and hair samples, you're looking at the clothing. The most likely place to find clear samples of sarin is in clothes.
WHITFIELD: OK, I'm going to leave it right there. We're going to see you again at the top of the hour, however, former U.N. weapons inspector, David Kay, Jake Tapper, Brian Todd, both joining us from Washington. Thanks so much, gentlemen. We'll see you top of the hour, 3:00 eastern time.
But first, a low wage recovery, fast food workers walking off the job in protest, calling the nation's capital to force Wal-Mart to pay more than the minimum when it comes to creating jobs. Should quality trump quantity? I'm Fredricka Whitfield. "YOUR MONEY" starts right now.