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Syria In Crisis; Graphic Video Shows Alleged Sarin Attack On Syrians

Aired September 7, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. Hello again. I'm Don Lemon, and we're following breaking news right now.

And before I say anything more, you have to know that what we're about to show is something that's very difficult. It's very graphic. It's imaging that you might find really disturbing, especially for children. It's a series of video clips recording in Syria right after an alleged sarin gas attack.

We feel it is important to show the videos because some key lawmakers have seen them, senators who are deciding whether to support President Obama and a strike on Syrian and to strike the Syrian military forces.

Here's the video. It's young people, older people, even some babies, that's what you are seeing there. They are struggling to breathe. Some are convulsing on a tile floor. Some of them have already died. The videos were reportedly shot right after a chemical weapons attack on August 21st. And members of Senate who have seen them assured that they are authentic.

Now, we at CNN cannot confirm independently that the videos are authentic and they don't offer any proof as to who is responsible. But as our Jake Tapper reports, they could be very important to president Obama's global call for a military strike on targets in Syria.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: CNN has obtained shocking video shown to the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday, videos which show what the intelligence community describes as victims of a sarin gas attack. And we should warn viewers that the videos are quite disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): In a classified briefing on Thursday, members of the Senate intelligence committee were shown these 13 video clips by the intelligence community, stunning videos, upsetting, showing what the intelligence community say are verified, authentic clips of a sarin gas attack in Syria. Suffering children, convulsing adults and what look to be corpses.

The Obama administration, struggling to build support for limited strikes against the Assad regime, put the DVD together at the request of Senator Dianne Feinstein. SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I asked CIA to prepare a DVD which would have specific instances of evidence, largely victims, and what we see means and it's horrendous. So, we are having that DVD multiplied. And we are going to get it out to every member of the Senate and possibly members of the house.

TAPPER: The senators were told that there were multiple reasons the intelligence community believe the clips to be authentic. They were shot from multiple angles. The outdoor footage matched overhead imageries. Corroborated by survivors. So far, only members and staff of the Senate intelligence committee have seen this video. The house is expected to see the clips next week, perhaps in a classified briefing Monday led by secretary of state John Kerry, secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and Dr. Susan Rice.

Though some in the videos can be heard blaming the Assad regime, these videos do not prove the Assad regime carried out these chemical weapons attacks, those claims by President Obama and others in the administration come from other information not shared with the public and not confirmed by CNN.

And while the president is confident in his case to the public, he says he recognizes why some, even after viewing these images, still have questions.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think people are rightly going to be pretty skeptical about the system and whether it can work to protect those children that we saw on those videos. And sometimes the further we get from the horrors of that, the easier it is to rationalize not making tough choices.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: These upsetting videos are being used to convince a skeptical Congress that military action is needed against Assad and his regime. However horrific the images are, they do not prove or disprove that a military strike would not result in any even more horror.

Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.

LEMON: Jake, thank you very much.

President Obama will give a few interviews on Monday and he will sit down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Of course, you will see it right here Monday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Brian Todd, with me now from Washington.

Brian, intelligence complete senators have seen these clips. President Obama sits down for an interview with Wolf on Monday. How much stronger is the president's case for strikes now that these videos are out there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, you can only imagine it's getting stronger. And Dianne Feinstein makes a good case for all this. But you know, remember, just about every member of the house has not seen the videos yet. Some members of the Senate who have seen some of this evidence are still not supporting air-strikes. So, you have to bear all that in mind.

Now, we have been speaking with chemical weapons experts about these videos, about the reactions of these victims and some of the telltale signs they're showing here. What the experts tell us is the characteristics of these victims are very consistent with a sarin gas attack.

Firs, it's important to note, according to experts we spoke with, including a former U.N. weapons inspector, sarin gas does not burn the skin. And you don't see skin burns on these victims in these videos. Sarin kills you, they say, by breaking down your nerves, then you suffocate. But as for these other visual signs, they are very consistent with sarin.

Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert from the center for nonproliferation studies says if you don't have a gas mask on when an attack occurs, quote, "you are very much out of luck because literally within minutes your body will begin to shut down."

Smithson says the things you see in these videos, the twitching, convulsing, difficulty with vision and foaming at the mouth, all consistent with sarin. Smithson says, if you don't have a gas mask on and you are exposed to a concentrated amount of sarin, here's a quote from here, your body will short-circuit, you will die within minutes -- Don.

LEMON: And because of this, is this why they are so confident -- is this what makes them so confident about the type of chemical weapons used?

TODD: That's part of it. But, you know, you have to also understand how they test for sarin and how they can be very confident in the samples that they take. Experts say that these U.N. inspectors who were there can take blood and hair samples, they can take brain tissue samples from deceased victims and they can run them through a device called a gas chromatography machine. That is going to give them spikes indicating whether sarin was used and if so, how much of it was used.

Even if that area of Damascus was decimated by Syrian army shelling right after the chemical attack, Don, experts say it's not degraded to the point where you can't get an accurate test. They can grab samples from rebases, walls, from clothing, and they can measure those. So, the shelling after the fact there, after that August 21st attack, may not be prevented these inspectors from getting an accurate sample.

LEMON: Brian Todd, appreciate your reporting.

I want to tell you that secretary of state John Kerry, meantime, making the case for action abroad.

CNN's Elisa Labott traveling with him.

Elise, any signs that he is making any headway? ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, he definitely have more progress than the president sit at the G-20 yesterday, only ten other nations join on to that statement. Today, Secretary Kerry in Lithuania met with all 27 ministers of the European Union and he did elicit a statement a very strong one calling called for clear and strong action against the Assad regime. They blamed him for the use of chemical weapons. But they want to wait for that U.N. inspector's report before any military action. And why is that? It is all about European politics, Don. We have our politics in Washington. The Europeans have politics. A lot of public is very sketchy about any type of military action with any kind of U.N. backing.

So you have France, the one country that said it would support and contribute to military action. He wanted some other European nations to side with him. And they said to him, if you want our support, we want to wait for that U.N. inspections report. We want the U.N. to back us on this. And basically, that's the kind of horse trading going on in capitals right now, Don.

LEMON: Yes. You know what, Elise, I mean, we shouldn't underestimate the irony that a president who is won the Nobel peace prize and one who came into office because he was against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, it's interesting that he is pushing to take military action against the country. It's obviously horrific, but there is some irony in that. And I'm sure the president obviously is aware of that and spoke about it as he was at the g-20 last week.

LABOTT: It's weighing on him. And Don, don't forget, he got that Nobel peace prize not for anything that he did but for the hope of things that he could do. And so now when he weighs whether to act or not to act, you see the U.S. making this very strong moral case. When you see these videos, when you talk about these people dying, children. You know, Secretary Kerry's been very emotional about children lying there, dying in their beds, dying with their families.

The U.S. making a strong moral case not that you have to send a message to Assad that he can't use chemical weapons, but that the world needs to act to make sure that these international crimes against humanity, these war crimes, cannot be taken again.

LEMON: Yes.

Elise Labott in Paris, traveling with the secretary of state. Thank you very much, Elise.

I want to go back overseas now, to Beirut specifically. Nic Robertson is there live.

Nic, these videos are horrific, no doubt. So, what impact will they likely have on people who have doubts about what's happening in Syria, specifically the international community? Do they change anything at all?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) LEMON: Nic, we're having a bit of trouble hearing from you. We'll get back to our Nic Robertson. Nic is in Beirut. We have a little trouble with his audio there.

I want to bring in my panel quickly here. Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and CNN military analyst lieutenant colonel Rick Francona.

Right to you, Rick. You know, you made the case today about, you know, why you believe two specific cities were hit by these attacks. What's your analysis of that?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, if you look at the status of forces, the way they are laid out in Damascus right now, there's a highway called the southern beltway. And it divides the regime from the opposition forces. It goes along the eastern edge of the city.

Right inside the city is the (INAUDIBLE) square which many Syrian military people believe is the key. And if the rebels can get to (INAUDIBLE) square, they might be able to take the city.

Now, this, right there, Ein Tarma and Zamalka are on the on the rebel side of the highway. This was a calculated moved of chemical weapons into that area because while you can kill a lot of people with bombs and artillery shells and rockets, the chemicals kill everybody and it pushes everybody away from that contested line. These weren't random attacks. These were planned. They were put there for a reason.

LEMON: Yes.

Stand by, Lieutenant.

Nick, I want to bring you in here because as we have been talking about this and it's a question I've been posing here. Because the videos have been out there on you tube. They just haven't been in one specific place, collected in one specific place and shown to a worldwide audience as it's been shown here on CNN. Many people are saying this is propaganda, these videos have been out there. There are even more horrendous videos that we haven't seen. Why all of a sudden this? The White House is now pushing to try to get the American people and other people over on their side, thus releasing these videos. What do you say to that?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is certainly part of a case they are making in the next 48 hours, Barack Obama's interviews part of that. These are verified by them, they say, from the ground, that part of a multitude that have been out there on social media. But there's a mixed message in some way because this is about reminding Americans about the moral outrage they should feel about what is happening to ordinary Syrians.

But these videos, you know, there's been much more horrific stuff I have seen over the last two years coming out of Syria. Children flattened by rubble on a regular basis. So, at the same time, the kind make people feel great anger on what's happening inside Syria, but at the same time, that red line is about the use of chemical weapons. That the White House trying to play both sides here, make people feel furious about what's happening inside Syria but the strength and rational for acting now is because chemical weapons were used, Don.

LEMON: What's going on here?

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, look. I mean, I think that the moral outrage over these chemical weapons attacks may already be spent. In fact, that's part of the problem with the delay. If you really were going to capitalize on these weapons attacks, you had to do it and you had to do it quickly. At any rate, these videos that we see, to those convinced that Bashar is a war criminal, no further proof is need. To those who are not convinced, no proof is adequate. I just was walking down the street and two very educated people said, it's not possible that Bashar al-Assad would use these chemical weapons. He is way too smart. These must have been used by the opposition.

We can try this case ad nauseam. We have to be convinced what we are doing. I'm convinced this man was used these chemical weapons. And I'm convinced again, as Nick would say, that there was so much before. And I'm convinced as we've argued here that the use of air power by Bashar would have constituted the evidence and the case and the fronting for a campaign against him. So, for 2 1/2 years, we allowed him to do his killing and now we try to awaken moral outrage which is not there.

LEMON: Yes. Hold that thought. We will get it after the break. My panel is going to be with me throughout the entire hour here on CNN.

Next, we are going to talk with a member of Congress who says that we should not be launching any type of attack against Syria.

And just ahead, the FBI recently warned of attacks over the internet with a group aligned with the Assad regime. Cyber terrorism, what might be at risk. That is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: On Monday, President Barack Obama will sit down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Of course, you will see it right here on CNN, Monday night, 6:00 p.m. eastern.

And President Obama is running out of time to shift public opinion on Syria. Congress comes back Monday and the president will address the nation on Tuesday night. The first procedural vote in the season could happen as soon as Wednesday.

Democrats like California Representative Janice Hahn are usually in President Obama's corner but not on Syria. As of right now, the congresswoman is still opposed to U.S. military action in Syria. Are you after seeing that video?

REP. JANICE HAHN (D), CALIFORNIA: You know, that video was horrible. All these images of children gasping for breath after having been exposed to chemical weapons are horrible. Look, I'm a mom, I'm a grandmother. No one likes to see those. But many of my constituents are saying, Congresswoman Hahn, war is terrible, this is a civil war. And death is death. And still people come up to me all the time and are not sure why America has to be the enforcer of this international norm that has been violated. If in fact 188 countries have signed onto this chemical weapons convention, where are they on this?

And is there another way to hold Assad accountable for this violation, short of bombing his country, whereby the United States would be responsible for collateral damage, which could be more people being killed?

LEMON: You are still against a military strike, correct?

HAHN: I am. At this point, I cannot vote in favor of authorizing the president to use military force. I don't believe all avenues have been explored.

LEMON: Is there anything that could change your mind here?

HAHN: You know, maybe, if my constituents had their minds changed, you know? I'm in the House of Representatives. I vote like my district wants me to vote. And if the president can make the case on Tuesday night and my constituents overwhelmingly call my office, e- mail me and urge me to vote yes, maybe I'll change my mind. But right now, that's not the case here in Los Angeles.

LEMON: Even if there's a moral imperative which has been, you know, those are words that have been thrown around a lot. There's a moral imperative that something be done with the Assad regime for using chemical weapons, even with that, it doesn't change your mind?

HAHN: I think the question is, is a response warranted? Do we have a moral obligation to answer this? But in what way are we going to answer this? Is there still an opportunity for the United Nations to take it up, hear all the evidence themselves and have these countries stand up and say yes or no whether they believe this norm has been violated and what the response should be?

I just am one of those that feels it is so unpredictable over there. And we do not know after our first strike what happens next, whether or not the Assad regime would retaliate against us, against our ally Israel. There's too much uncertainty in this military strike response that I think some other avenues should be explored first.

LEMON: Congresswoman, I want to read this statement to you. It's from retired general David Petraeus. And he says, I strongly support congressional approval at President Obama's request for authority to undertake military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al- Assad. Such action is necessary in order to deter future use of chemical weapons in Syria and to degrade the regime's overall military capabilities. Failure of Congress to approve the president's request would have serious ramifications not just in the Mideast but around the world.

What do you say to General David Petraeus' statement?

HAHN: Well, I thank him for his service and certainly he has a lot more experience in military strategy than I do. But I just will tell you that in no way are we guaranteed that this military strike will, in fact, detour any further use of chemical weapons. In fact, the resolution we are asked to vote on actually talks about the first 60 days and then a 30-day extension and an opportunity if chemical weapons are used again for us to respond. So I don't think it's 100 percent guaranteed that this will necessarily guarantee that chemical weapons will never be used again.

LEMON: So if -- you said if he uses chemical weapons again. If something does happen after this because the president has now put the ball really in Congress' court, right? So, if something happens, will you and members of Congress who voted against it -- this is just a question, I'm not on either side here, will you feel responsible for that?

HAHN: Again, absolutely not. This is an international norm that has apparently been crossed. There are many more countries who also signed onto this convention, to this agreement that chemical weapons are not to be used. So President Obama has even said it's not his red line. It's the international community's red line.

But I do think he should be held responsible. I do think there should be some international outrage. But of bombing their country the only way we send a message to this guy that he's crossed the line? I don't think so. And I think America could use our moral leadership and could use our greatness and could use our diplomacy to bring the international community together on taking another course of action to hold Assad accountable for these atrocities.

LEMON: Congresswoman Janice Hahn of California, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. Please come back and tell us when you get an update what you think and after the president speaks. We would love to have you back here on CNN.

HAHN: Thank you. I take this decision very seriously.

LEMON: Absolutely. Thank you again, Congresswoman.

You know, the government is warning Americans about attacks over the Internet. Hackers aligned with the Assad regime might be targeting infrastructure here in the U.S. What might be at risk? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Just a moment ago we spoke with California Representative Janice Hahn and she made her case saying she can't side with the president to strike Syria.

I want to bring in my panel now to talk about this.

Nick Paton Walsh is sitting here and watching this. Fouad Ajami who is sitting here watching this. And also, Lieutenant Colonel Francona is with us as well., Rick Francona. As watching this and she was basically saying she will do whatever her constituents say. If her constituents say, we should do a military strike, she will vote for it. If they say don't -- what do you make of that?

WALSH: In many ways, it is kind of extraordinary because there's a larger issue at stake here that the White House has been talking about relentlessly, the authority of the commander in chief to choose military action as they see fit. And a member of his own party why simply saying that the call she takes her constituents persuade her, that is necessarily good idea. And it embodies an incredible war wariness., I mean, (INAUDIBLE) 20 years ago after Somalia black hawk down how desperately reluctant anyone was to get involved until eventually the (INAUDIBLE). And again, it's an incredibly key moment here for the U.S. And if you need a simple fact as to why perhaps it's the U.S.'s burden, the U.S. spends more on defense than any other countries all combined.

LEMON: Let's get back to what she's saying, though. Because I have a feeling you're not sharing something with me. Because what is your general reaction, your initial reaction to what she's saying about --

WALSH: She's potentially jeopardizing the authority and foreign policy of a man who got her elected to her seat in many ways. And it seems as though, if he were ring up yesterday from her constituents and said, actually we think it's a good idea, that would perhaps change her opinion as well. And I wonder perhaps if there's a broader issue at stake here. The White House talking about the need simply if the president stands up and says, I need to do this and appeals to the house to back him up, then, they should go behind him.

LEMON: It was interesting the way she put it because usually, as you have said, members of Congress have a way of couching it so it doesn't seen. But she just said, hey, this is what my constituents want. This is what I'm doing.

And before I get to the question, the leaders many times are leaders are in possession of information that we don't have, and, classified information. And if our leaders are in possession of that, they cannot share that with the public and the public will never know what the imperative is.

AJAMI: To be honest with you, Don, I think we have all the information that these people have. It's all out on the table. This drama, the tragedy, the unraveling of Syria began in March 2011. Thirty months into this crisis, we know all we need to know.

But that interview is remarkable because you have a member of Congress in a way admitting to a certain kind of moral and political abdication. It depends on the people who are calling her office.

Buy, I'll tell you something about this story that is really now dramatized. President Obama for five years now in office has been a spokesman for a kind of isolationist view of the world, for in a way minimizing the American burden in the world. All of a sudden here we are in September of 2013 and he is now calling upon the American people to boot up and go abroad for a mission that they don't believe in.

LEMON: But she was elected by the people to represent the people and their interests and their interests, they believe, is not to go to war.

AJAMI: But members of Congress, members of the House, members of the Senate, they're also called upon to have moral and political courage. They're called upon to make judgments.

As Nick said, they're called upon to make judgments about the American burden abroad. Do we have a burden abroad to help in situations of distress? And alas, now as we look at the American mood today, it's very much liking.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You make some interesting point about -- Barack Obama has constantly said, the tide of war is receding and now, he's suddenly saying it's coming ashore again. And things are changing.

LEMON: Yes. Yes.

OK. We'll continue with our panel in just a bit.

I want to talk about this -- there's another threat here. The U.S. government taking foreign attacks over the Internet very seriously. In fact, the FBI has now added the hacker known group known as the Syrian Electronic Army to its list of wanted criminals.

So what are they worried about?

Our Laurie Segall has more now -- Laurie.

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN MONEY TECH REPORTER: Hi, Don.

Well, as United States debates military intervention in Syria, we're hearing more and more about a dangerous type of cyber, one that could actually target our nation's infrastructure.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We call this a pipe rupture in this process.

SEGALL (voice-over): That pipe is filled with water. But it could be filled with oil, even acid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are safeties in here such that when the isolation valve is closed, we should also turn off this pump.

SEGALL: That didn't happen because these researchers were able to hack the controller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't do anything. You are, as an operator, you are completely locked out SEGALL: It's the same kind that's used at oil and gas facilities. That means this hack could cause gas pipes and water tanks to explode or overflow. It could also represent modern day warfare, taking down major infrastructure by infiltrating the code that makes it run.

DAVID KENNEDY, CYBERSECURITY EXPERT, TRUSTEDSEC: You could cripple an entire country through cyber means and attacking infrastructure.

SEGALL: Kennedy says that if there is a conflict with Syria, Damascus could respond in cyber space.

KENNEDY: They have some very big allies that have decent capabilities out there, such as Iran and Russia, and they are definitely capable of launching, you know, some sort of cyber capability towards us in the United States.

SEGALL: With this hack, researchers from security consultancy firm Cimation took control of signals to change what an operator sees. To highlight the vulnerabilities they recently presented findings publicly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as this thing is actually filling, we can make it look to the operator that our process is actually lowering.

SEGALL: Hackers could do it because the unit is connected to the Internet with a public IP address. So are other parts of America's infrastructure that are remotely controlled like trains and water towers.

BRIAN MEIXELL, HACKER, CIMATION: They don't have the security controls in place.

SEGALL (on camera): How does it manifest itself into the lives of every day people?

MEIXELL: It could mean a train runs off the tracks and causes a huge accident. There is lots of kind of unpredictable things that could happen, because these systems are in a lot of different areas and in a lot of different industries.

SEGALL (voice-over): And the United States is already on the defensive, after a group calling itself the Syria Electronic Army took responsibility for disrupting Web traffic on major news sites like "The New York Times."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on.

KENNEDY: No one is going to be able to challenge the military, for me. No pure boots on ground, or, you know, actual straight, you know, warfare to warfare type situation. But what countries can do is really impact us from the more information side of the house, what we do electronically.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SEGALL: And, Don, I should mention none of this is a surprise to Washington. The Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon have committed billions of dollars to commit to fighting cyber terrorism. I should also mention, I recently spoke to a hacker. He's claiming he's a leader in the Syrian Electronic Army told me, they've already tested out these types of infrastructure hacks in other countries. Pretty scary stuff -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Laurie, thank you very much for that. In a moment, we'll go a lot deep on this particular subject.

And next, we'll get a look from the inside. My guest is a former member of the National Security Agency. So how real are these threats? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: I want to bring in now the former senior counsel at the National Security Agency, Joel Brenner.

So, let's talk about these hackers. Is it actually a target -- is the Internet actually a target?

JOEL BRENNER, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: The Internet is a target. But it would be better, Don, to say the Internet is a highway through which lots of things can be targeted. The Internet is a porous way of communicating. Our public is now figuring out that privacy on the Internet is more or less nonexistent and not because people are evil but because it's an utterly porous way to communicate. There's no way to know for sure who you're talking to and there's no way to be sure that whoever you're talking to isn't putting things you're your system, as well as taking things out of it.

Now, if you can penetrate the network to take secrets out of it, you can also put the network to put bad things into it or to corrupt the information on it or to shut it down completely. Now, that nice lead- in piece that you had isn't the first time this has been demonstrated. More than 10 years ago, back in the '90s in Australia, a disgruntled guy who didn't get a job he wanted went around opening and closing valves with his laptop on a local water supply and sewage system. And the result was that sewage spewed into the water supply and it caused untold and nasty sorts of damage.

We did another experiment -- our government did -- showing that you could blow up a diesel electric generator with a keyboard and a mouse.

And then we had the Stuxnet on the Russian centrifuges, physically destroyed them. And a year ago, we saw attacks coming out of Iran on Saudi Aramco, a huge oil company in Saudi Arabia. The attackers actually destroyed all the information, wiped clean 30,000 computers and rendered those computers junk.

Since then, we've seen the Iranian attacks on our banking system, causing chaos and costing tens of millions of dollars a month to fend off.

Now, what's particularly troublesome here, Don, is that to do this, you don't need fabulous sums of money that only governments can afford. You need knowledge. You need expertise. And knowledge, like water, levels out over time.

So, we're going to see more and more groups like the Syrian electronic army getting shrewder at this stuff. There are people out there who want to do us harm.

LEMON: Mr. Brenner, I want to ask, you mentioned, though, a number of different instances where, you know, the Internet has been used by hackers. And then there's one just this week that hackers targeted, the recruiting Web site for the U.S. Marines, replacing it with messages trying to convince the U.S. not to take military action in Syria.

I mean, does taking down a military Web site mean a high-value attack for this group?

BRENNER: No. That's a nuisance attack. I don't want to say it's childish or it's not true but it's not a really sophisticated attack. A sophisticated attack doesn't just get into somebody's Web site but they get into what are called industrial control systems or SCADA systems. These are the systems that run the switches on Amtrak or the subway underneath New York City, where you are, or the air traffic control system at our airports or that run our power grid. That's what we're really scared about.

And I should add, the banking system, you know, the accounts. If you were to wipe out the accounts at a large bank or two, the economic damage would dwarf that of 9/11.

LEMON: Wow. All right. Joel Brenner, thank you for joining us here on CNN. We appreciate that.

BRENNER: You're welcome.

LEMON: At town halls across the country, Americans told their representatives sometimes loudly why we should or shouldn't be getting involved in Syria. You're going to hear what they had to say next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're worse off than we started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say we bail out of everybody and say, you guys are on your own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: On Monday, President Barack Obama will sit down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Of course you'll see that right here, Monday night, 6:00 p.m. eastern, "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Now, as they say all politics is local. With Congress expected to vote on Syria this week, some politicians used the end of the recess to make the case for a military strike. But opinion is sharply divided as several lawmakers saw firsthand at town halls. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we shoot a, quote, "shot over the bow" and aren't willing to finish the battle, we're worse off than we started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say we bail out of everybody and say, you guys are on your own.

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: This debate will matter. And so because it will matter, what you have to say matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not just the first red line that we have drawn that he has crossed. He's been crossing red lines for 2 1/2 years.

REP. JOHN LARSON (D), CONNECTICUT: I think there has to be a response to Assad and the use of chemical weapons. I just don't think it should be the United States always alone and unilaterally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't believe that the United States should go in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people of West Hartford and the people Connecticut should be very much concerned about the use of chemical warfare.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am unopposed to having a single American boot on the ground in Syria --

(INAUDIBLE)

MCCAIN: I just said at the beginning of my remarks that we will respect everyone's view --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't respect our view. We didn't sent you to get war for us. We sent you to stop the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to get rid of whoever did this crime. This is a crime against humanity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It's not our fight.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

LEMON: Wow. People are really fired up about this. And even if you ask a question on television, people read things into it. That's how strong the feelings are about this.

So we've been hearing from the left and from the right. What about the moderate middle? We're going to hear from them right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So, as we look toward this coming week's high drama, Washington debate over Syria, political moderates outside the nation's capitol are watching very closely as the usual left versus right political alliances fall apart.

Joe Gandelman is the editor-in-chief of the "Moderate Voice" blog.

And it's good to have you back on the show. I remember during the 2008 election and everything that went with it, we had a group of moderates that came on, and you were one of them. Very strong voice.

You recently posted your frustration with some Republicans, writing that Republicans simply can't argue a case without making it personal and making it all boil down to hatred of Barack Obama. Are there examples of that?

JOE GANDELMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE MODERATE VOICE: Oh, quite a few examples of that. You almost run out of space making up a list these days. I mean, what you're seeing, first of all, I did a piece this week about how you're getting the liberal Democrats and Republican isolationists, and now also the Tea Party Republicans, all converging on opposing this.

The Republicans who have started to have to make it all about Obama personally, you've got Peggy Noonan writes a column and says that Obama doesn't look like a war president. Harry Truman looked like a war president.

You've got Charles Krauthammer who says that he might -- he's leaning against going in because Obama doesn't know what he's talking about.

LEMON: Yes.

GANDELMAN: And then you have Senator Jeff Sessions who says if George Bush had warned Assad, Assad wouldn't have used chemical weapons. There are so many things coming out about Obama and the Obama derangement syndrome by groups on the right.

LEMON: Joe, I want to ask you this -- as an independent, what do you think about how so many groups seem to be opposing President Obama. We had a California representative on just a short time ago, and I asked her, if she would feel responsible if Assad carried out another alleged chemical attack.

And people said, you know, are you pushing to go to war, Don? It's just a question. So what do you -- what do you make of so many Democrats being against the president?

GANDELMAN: Well, first of all, our whole political style now is when somebody asks you a question you don't like or advocates something that you don't agree, you go after them or imply that there's something about the way they're asking it. That's our whole 21st century political style.

Secondly, I'm really not surprised with the Democrats, because if you look at history, the Democrats have had a way of sort of breaking away with their own party, on more issues in particular, also to the point where it may jettison their whole agenda. But I'm a little more in shock over what's happening with the Republicans, because you're seeing -- if you look at the Gallup Poll, the Republicans against this almost match the liberals against it. And it's -- the group that is most divided -- least divided with the margin between, is the moderate group.

So, I'm not really surprised too much with the Democrats, but I'm surprised that they would -- what I'm surprised about the Democrats with is, first of all, if this is defeated, it's going to pretty much jettison the rest of Obama's term.

And you also have to ask about what's going to happen with Iran, what's Iran going to do as far as nuclear weapons? What will North Korea want to do? What's going to happen with chemical weapons being used elsewhere?

There's the moral issues, there's the geopolitical issues, and then there's the other issue, which is, what's going to happen with the Democratic Party, because pretty much, they're going to be selling off their president, letting him float out off to sea. So, I'm really not surprised as much by the Democrats as I am by what's happening with the Republican Party right now.

LEMON: Thank you very much for that, Joe Gandelman. We appreciate you giving us a moderate voice here on CNN.

And after this break, I'm going to talk to the panel about what they think of that.

And also this, a very influential voice calling for no military strike in Syria, we're going to hear what Pope Francis had to say and talk that over, next, as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let's get you some video now. This is from the Vatican, where a prayer vigil led by Pope Francis just wrapped up, just a short time ago, and it was talking about the violence in Syria. Tens of thousands gathered to pray for peace. Smaller events were held in venues of worship around the world. And, of course, the Pope has a Twitter account where he wrote, all men and women of goodwill are bound by the task of pursuing peace.

I want to bring my panel back in right now and get straight to Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

Lieutenant Colonel, you heard from the pope there. People praying for peace. There are many voices of opposition. You heard the congresswoman from California saying, hey, my, constituents don't want us to take a military strike on Syria and that's the way many representatives and people around the country feel.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Ideally, Don, you could settle this diplomatically, you can settle it through the International Court, you could settle through prayers, through some international forum. But I can tell you, having lived in Syria, knowing Assads, this won't work.

LEMON: Yes.

FRANCONA: The only thing that's going to deter Bashar al Assad from deploying chemical weapons is some sort of strike.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

Unfortunately, we're out of time. I want to thank all of my guests here for joining us throughout the hour here on CNN. We're going to be back a little bit later on with an update. But for now, that's it.

Make sure you tune in on Monday night, where CNN's Wolf Blitzer will be speaking to the president. I'm Don Lemon. Good night.