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Syria's Chemical Weapons Supply; Obama Answer Critics; How to Get Rid of Chemical Weapons.

Aired September 11, 2013 - 11:30   ET



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A declassified CIA document from 1983 says, "Both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union delivered training and systems that flowed to Syria."

AMY SMITHSON, CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: That would then establish the capacity they have. Syria has had for quite some time the ability to do this on its own.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, an official at the Russian embassy here in Washington flatly denied that, saying, quote, "Neither the USSR nor Russia ever provided the chemicals or precursors to Syria. All the facilities were built with the help of Western European countries," he said -- Ashleigh?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: If we're talking about timing and we're going back decades, let's go back to the attack itself, and the significance of the timing. Why at that moment allegedly did the president launch that attack?

TODD: What chemical weapons experts are telling us, Ashleigh, is that the fact it was launched at night is significant. It was done by whatever side did this, knew what they were doing as far as maximizing casualties, because when they launched it at night and the shells broke up at night, the gas cloud basically stayed near the ground. During the day, when it was hot, risen with the heat and dissipated quickly. This time, at night, in the words of one expert, it flattened out like a pancake, stayed on the ground longer, maximizing casualties. That's the mark of somebody that knew what they were doing as far as using chemical weapons.

BANFIELD: A sickening strategy. No other way to put it.

Brian Todd, thank you for that.

So are we about to embark on a cat-and-mouse game of epic proportions when it comes to Syria dispensing of its chemical weapons if in fact this gets off the ground? And what's happening with the United States military in that region? Just how long can those destroyers stay off the shore? And how about the aircraft carriers around the corner? We'll talk about the strategy of the assets, next.


BANFIELD: Some members of Congress have criticized President Obama's plan for a limited military strike against Syria, saying that it would be no more than a pinprick attack. And the president answered those pricks in his speech last night.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me make something clear. The United States military doesn't do pinpricks. Even though a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver, I don't think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq tht doing so makes us responsible for what comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.


BANFIELD: So there you heard it from the president, a strike against Syria would be much more than pinpricks. It would deter President Assad from using chemical weapons again.

Joining us with more on this, Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon; and CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. He was in the military. He was an attache in Syria.

Chris Lawrence, I want to begin with you.

That was a moment when the discussion of just how big or how small any kind of assault would be, pinprick is in our lexicon. What is the Pentagon letting on about its morphing plan as the diplomacy starts to take center stage?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the plan has been constantly updated, Ashleigh. They've been constantly going over their target list, because they see movement on the ground, some of the chemical weapons. Some of the other assets being disbursed to different places around the country. So they've updated their target lists. We've heard officials, that the use of air strike might also be in the package. Long-range bombers sitting outside of Syria to conduct strikes. You're saying you're going to hit Assad so much that he gets this message, the pinpricks, it degrades his capability, but not so much to tip the balance. That's a fine line to walk, and the one thing military officials have been telling me here is the one thing they cannot control or say with 100 percent center is what happens next? They may send this message, but how it's received is totally up to Bashar al Assad.

BANFIELD: And, Colonel Francona, isn't this is critical window for Bashar al Assad? If he actually is planning to engage in this plan? Wouldn't this be the moment, if he didn't want to be 100 percent honest, to start doing a better job of hiding some of the things he has?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think a lot of the stuff is already hidden. We talked about this the other day. I just find it inconceivable no matter what he or his foreign minister says they're going to give up what they believe is their strategic deterrence against Israel. And those would be the missile warheads that fit on the scud. The long-range missiles he has. Those are probably locked away somewhere. I don't know if we know where they are, but I don't trust the Syrians to give up everything they have, and, of course, the answer is, well, maybe the Russians will force them to, and I'm not trusting them either. So I think that we've got a real tough problem on our hands. The verification will be a real problem. As far as the military goes, they will be able to deliver whatever the president wants, but pinprick isn't it.

BANFIELD: So, Chris Lawrence, the 2012 report that came out on Syria's chemical assets suggested there were about 50 different production sites. The French, according to NBC News and "The Financial Times," suggested they have an arsenal of 1,000 tons and it's located in about five major locations. All of this, of course, on the map, we'll show you where the locations are. Chris, all of this is dependent on excellent intelligence. I'm curious as to how the Pentagon feels about the intelligence and whether they feel good about the plan they're working from?

LAWRENCE: They feel fairly confident. I mean, it's more the intel community, and when you talk to officials on that side, they have a fairly confident view that they are able to keep some surveillance on where those weapons have been moved. They, perhaps, not with 100 percent certainty, but a good idea. The problem is the amount of work that it takes, and the expertise. There are only certain people trained to actually locate, secure and dispose of these chemical weapons. It's an exhausting process that involves separating the chemical substance. You know, burning it up in a specially designed furnace. Destroy the munitions. You know, where do you set up the actual facilities to the do this?

BANFIELD: Of course.

LAWRENCE: You know, the United States started destroying its chemical weapons back in the '90s. It's not going to finish for another 10 years. So we're not talking about a process that's weeks or months. This is years if not decades.

BANFIELD: Yes. We'll talk more about that exact process in a moment.

But, Colonel Francona, as we discuss all of this, there are very expensive, very significant American assets parked off the shore of Syria and sitting in the Persian Gulf and sitting, my guess, in the Arabian Sea, and they can't sit there forever. So what does one do while we wait on diplomacy with those assets?

FRANCONA: Well, you know, the Navy will just keep a constant rotation going out. They'll replace these with other vessels as long as the capability remains there. These vessels can pull into port in the Mediterranean. We have NATO allies. With the range of the missile, they don't have to be close to Syria to fire these. They can fire a missile from south of Crete and reach anywhere south of Syria. We have a long reach. We can pull the vessels back, but there will a constant rotation of Navy ships in to the area. BANFIELD: I'm fascinated how quickly one can move an aircraft carrier because the "Nimitz" is in the red sea and the "USS Harry Truman" is back east. Fascinating to watch to those employments.

And, Chris, you're tasked with doing that. Keep us updated.

Chris Lawrence, thank you.

And Colonel Rick Francona, as always, thank you as well.

The United States air strike on Syria is on hold, but just how long would it take to find all of the goods? All of the chemical weapons? Get them actually out of Syria's control, and then destroy them? It is a mammoth tank and we'll explore the reality of it, next.


BANFIELD: President Obama says the United States will work with Russia towards making the Assad regime give up its chemical weapons in this latest brokered deal. Think about it. Removing those stockpiles from Syria, fair to say easier said than done, and even the president himself acknowledged that. Not so sure it would succeed. Take a listen.


OBAMA: However, in the last few days, we've seen some encouraging signs. In part, because of the credible threat of the U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said it joined the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use. It's too early to tell whether this will suck sealed and any agreement must verify that Assad keeps his -- particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.


BANFIELD: The secretary of state, John Kerry, said earlier this week that he considered giving president Bashar al Assad a week to hand over his entire stock of chemical weapons, and if not, a U.S. military strike is inevitable. But just the logistics of arrangements that, ain't going to be a week. Just getting word of a Russian plan submitted a plan of putting the weapons under international control. Coming from the Russian news agency ITAR (ph), citing a source. The French suggested one way of handling this to the U.N. The Russians weren't crazy about it, because it involved punishing the Syrian authorities for what they already did in that chemical attack, and the Russians didn't like that. Without seeing the Russian plan, we have a headline, could it possibly be somewhat similar, without all the punishment?

Let me bring in our CNN analyst, former U.N. chief weapons inspector David Kay. David, you just heard the breaking news. What's your assumption? What do you think the Russians are suggesting to the U.N. If any kind of deal they're putting forward?

DAVID KAY, CNN ANALYST & FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think this is the beginning of the process of negotiations. As we see what the Russians actually can deliver, we're not even sure what the Syrians think they agreed to, with the Russians. So it's a process. It's a process that should not be allowed to drag out, because further delay is, I think, does not -- it's not possible in this area without losing any credibility.

BANFIELD: And not only that, but we're still talking about, you know, the secretary of state suggesting in an offhanded remark that the only thing that would stop the onslaught of an attack, other than perhaps Congress, might be a notion that Bashar al Assad would give up his weapons in a week. But you and I have already discussed this. It's not possible in a week. You heard Chris Lawrence earlier, the Pentagon couldn't possibly device a plan where it would happen in a year, two, three or four. We have a history of a cat and mouse game going on in Iraq. You were there with Saddam Hussein. Do we have to put a deadline on this? Is it even plausible?

KAY: What you can do in a week, have an agreed binding Security Council resolution. Laying out the Security Council regime and right of the U.N. Inspectors that will go in. You ought to have a second set of deadlines, which is a week to two weeks at max that the Syrians hand over the identification of all of the chemical weapons they have, the mix of what they are. Their locations, and they agree not to move them any further from where they are, and that date certain. That allows you to build a baseline to think about, indeed, how you would take control of them.

Now, the difficulty -- and we should not forget, this is in the midst of a civil war. The sites you had listed earlier, which were ones we've known about for about 10 years, they are all in almost -- every one of them are now in areas that are contested by the rebels. This is something that is extremely difficult to imagine how international inspectors take control of this in an area where there's an active civil war going on.

BANFIELD: You know, it was just last month some of your former colleague, U.N. Weapons inspection team in Damascus actually came under fire. So what would be to suggest that any team, hundreds of teams, might be in danger of the threat of the civil war taking them out?

I've got to wrap it there.

David Kay, I'll more than likely talking to you about this tomorrow. Thank you so much.

KAY: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Always good to talk to David Kay. Excellent perspective. Just ahead, I wanted to show you this video that was sent to CNN. A dramatic dashboard video camera. Take a look at that motorcycle. Good lord. A cruiser hitting a couple on the motorcycle, and -- he's a former trooper of the year, no less.


BANFIELD: TSA employee has been arrested for allegedly making threats against the Los Angeles International Airport. Apparently, the threats included unspecified threats relating to the 12th anniversary of September 11th, which is today. The employee had apparently resigned from his post after being recently suspended.

In Ohio, a terrifying accident caught on a state trooper's dash board camera. Our affiliate, WDTN, reporting Officer Jacob Damon rammed the rear end of a motorcycle. Amy and Cory Waldman went flying on impact, both taken to the hospital. Luckily, their injuries are nonlife- threatening. Damon, that former trooper of the year, stopped and used his own car to block the lane where the accident happened so there would be no further accidents. He has not been charged in this. And an accident investigation is ongoing.

In Colorado, two Democratic lawmakers who supported tighter gun control laws have been booted out of office in a recall election. The State Senate president on the right and the Senator on the left supported the unpopular new gun laws earlier this year, and they're out. National groups on both sides of the gun control debate had poured money into that contest.

A young girl wants to play basketball but the coach tells her that she is too fat. Now, as a woman, she overcomes years of frustration and anger. And just wait until you hear what she has accomplished.


BANFIELD: It's a battle that people are fighting every minute of every day, and far too many people are losing. It is the battle against weight gain.

And if you need some inspiration, meet Annette Miller, who just finished the Malibu Triathlon as a member of "CNN's Fit Nation" team.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has her story in today's "Human Factor."


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Growing up in Tennessee, Annette Miller always dreamed of playing basketball. So as soon as she was old enough, she decided to sign up for the team.

ANNETTE MILLER, MALIBU TRIATHLON PARTICIPANT: I've got a permission slip from her coach at school. I came running home that day. I was so excited I was going to get to play basketball. Instead of getting a signature from my parents, I was told you're too fat to play.

GUPTA: At 10 years old and more than 200 pounds, that mantra instantly changed her life.

MILLER: "You're too fat" followed me into adulthood. And I didn't realize how much that held me back.

GUPTA: But years later, when her twin sister Babbette (ph) needed a kidney transplant --

MILLER: I was not tested or considered to be a donor because of my weight. That was the kick in the pants I needed.

GUPTA: So she changed her diet. She started walking. She hit the gym. She was determined to get the weight off. By November of 2012, she was well on her way.

MILLER: I'm proud to say, at this point, I've lost over 100 pounds.

GUPTA: And she wasn't finished.

MILLER: There's a little 10-year-old kid in here that still wants to play. Wants to be a part of something, be part of a team.

GUPTA: Miller applied for the "CNN Fit Nation" challenge and she was accepted in January.

(on camera): Congratulations. We've already picked you.


GUPTA (voice-over): For eight months, she trained -- swimming, biking, running -- to compete in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.


GUPTA: And she got below 200 pounds for the first time in decades.

MILLER: I didn't stop, 198, and I've never had a breakdown on a scale but I started crying.

GUPTA: And on Sunday, September 8th, Miller got her chance to play. Crossing the finish line in Malibu, squarely in the middle of the pack.

MILLER: Amazing. I made the turn around on bike. I knew I had it.

If I can do it, you can do it.

GUPTA: Next up for Miller, surgery to remove the excess skin left over from her years of being overweight to complete her transformation.

MILLER: I did it.

GUPTA (on camera): Chest pass, nice.

(voice-over): As far as that basketball game, that dream came true, as well. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BANFIELD: That's awesome. Congratulations, Annette. Fantastic.

Thank you for watching, everyone. AROUND THE WORLD starts right now with Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

World powers right now intensifying their efforts to defuse the situation in Syria. Nothing set yet. Nothing decided. But the U.N. Security council members, the five permanent members might meet later today to try to work on that plan to take control of Syrian chemical weapons.

MALVEAUX: There are so many whoa re people skeptical that a diplomatic deal can even be reached. France is pushing a five-point solution, a resolution. Russia and Western nations are fighting over whether the U.N. should authorize military attacks on Syria if it violates a diplomatic agreement. And --