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Syria Moves To Avoid U.S. Strike; Spying On Muslims?; Arsenio Hall Returns To Late Night TV

Aired September 12, 2013 - 16:30   ET



In more world news, it may be the most promising sign yet that the U.S. will make headway in its effort to disarm Syria without military strikes. According to the U.N. secretary general's office, Syria says it wants to join the global ban on chemical weapons.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us live outside the United Nations to break down the historical significance of this new development.

Nick, if Syria joins this convention, what does that mean for this crisis?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means that Syria has said that under international law, it wants to hand over all its chemical weapons, anything that could be used to make a chemical weapon, to the U.N.'s organization for prohibition of chemical weapons.

Now, if it does actually join this convention, and it has sent a letter asking to, which the U.N. says it's received, says it's studying and if it's sure this letter is in fact the genuine article and says the right things, then they join the convention. There's no vote or anything ahead of that particular process.

Once they've joined the convention, then a timeline kicks in. They've got 30 days until they could possibly see inspectors turn up and 60 days until they have to make a full declaration of all the chemical weapons they have.

Now, 189 countries have signed on to this. Only seven actually had chemical weapons stockpiles to have dismantled, but I did also ask the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, just to confirm for us whether or not Syria does in fact have chemical weapons and he did say look, yes, we had them as a deterrent against Israel, a stark admission, really.

A week ago we weren't clear where we are. Now it seems pretty clear Syria has these weapons, wants to give them up and may be doing so in a timeframe of forthcoming months.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much for joining us.

Now the Politics Lead, it was a limited strike, a shot across the bow designed to send a stern message, talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin's scathing open letter to the American people. Today, Press Secretary Jay Carney at the White House said the awkward task of addressing the Russian hate mail.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is clear that President Putin has invested his credibility in transferring Assad's chemical weapons to international control, and ultimately destroying them.


TAPPER: The question, of course, since when has Vladimir Putin cared about his credibility? Here to discuss the politics of Putin, host of NPR's "Left, Right And Center," Matt Miller, Heritage Foundation Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs, and Max Fisher from the "Washington Post." Max, does Putin care about his credibility?

MAX FISHER, "WASHINGTON POST" FOREIGN AFFAIRS BLOGGER: No. I mean, he's not running for the Senate here. What he's trying to do is he is trying to put his thumb on the domestic American debate over whether to strike Syria. The thing you have to understand about this is everything that's happening right now between the U.S. and Russia is a negotiation over Syria.

The CIA arming the rebels, Putin's op-ed is all about this chess match between these two great powers over the future of this country. The U.S. wants to see the chemical weapons pulled out. Russia wants the status quo. Everything they're doing is about trying to achieve that position.

TAPPER: And taking public positions, for instance, suddenly it was in the "Washington Post" that the arms were getting to the rebels, one of the rebel leaders, General Idriss, appears on NPR says, I don't know anything about that. Then he appears with Christiane Amanpour a few hours later and says, I can't talk about that. Somebody obviously said, sshh, not so much talking about the arms.

FISHER: Well, I think it's telling that, you know, President Obama didn't arm the rebels for a long time because he didn't want to, and now that he's negotiating with the Russians, all of a sudden he's arming them. I mean, in negotiations this is called a gimme. It's something Obama probably actually wants to give up.

But this way he has a little bit stronger of a position and can go to the Syrians and the Russians and say this crazy unreasonable thing you're demanding, you give it up and we'll stop arming the rebels because we didn't want to do that anyway.

TAPPER: Rebecca, we heard the White House today, a senior White House official told me last night. This is now on Putin. He has buy ends of this plan. They are trying to stake Putin's credibility on this, not so much President Obama's. Do you think that can work?

REBECCAH HEINRICHS, FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, yes, I mean, you think about who Vladimir Putin is. Let's be reminded of what the Russian government has been doing the last several years. I mean, in the op-ed he accused the Obama administration of using aggression and force too quickly. This administration, he has threatened to use nuclear force pre-emptively over a dozen times the past seven or eight years.

This is a country that doesn't abide by their own treaty obligations with the United States. So it's pretty audacious for Putin to be lecturing our people about our president. You know, 80 percent of the American people already oppose the military strikes and for good reason because our president doesn't have a good military objective or strategy that he's articulated to the American people. So we are already against it so we don't need lectures from Vladimir Putin.

TAPPER: Matt, you say that Putin could actually theoretically get a nod from the Nobel community should this work out.

MATT MILLER, HOST, NPR'S "LEFT, RIGHT AND CENTER": Well, Putin is totally in control of this situation. If you read that op-ed, it's actually, if Obama were still running for re-election in 2016, Putin would be outflanking him to his left, is kind of the peacenik candidate against the warmonger Obama. You could argue that Putin, if he pulls off this Syrian thing, will have done more to deserve a peace prize than Obama did when he got the first one just by taking office.

TAPPER: Max, one of my writers thinks you laid out the president's objectives even clearer than the president has. Let me read this. Quote, "What Obama wants, quote, is for" -- I'm sorry. "What Obama wants is for Assad to step down voluntarily as part of a negotiated peace deal with the rebels that would also leave elements of Assad's government intact." That's something that I didn't hear the president say as clearly during his speech the other night.

FISHER: Right. And I think the reason that he's not talking about that is that it's actually totally separate from what he's trying to do with the chemical weapons. If he takes chemical weapons out, Assad's still there. It does nothing to solve the war. This is the needle that's been really tough for him to thread, because in talking about let's get rid of these chemical weapons because Assad is a monster, Assad is killing lots of kids.

Well, it turns out that fixing that problem is actually not on the table with getting rid of chemical weapons. It's actually this much more academic case about upholding international norms, which is really important but it's really tough to sell to people.

TAPPER: Is that one of the communications problems the president is having, this idea of international norms? It has been compared to the build up of the war in Iraq and obviously, they are completely separate, but one of the things that the Bush administration was making the case for was directly, this is how it's going to affect you, don't let a mushroom cloud be the smoking gun.

I don't want to get into a whole debate about the Iraq evidence and how false it was, and incorrect it was, but that at least was a way to say to the American people, I shouldn't say at least, that was conveying to the American people this is how it affects you, I think a lot of people are confused by this argument.

HEINRICHS: People are confused by the argument. We waited for the president watching him address the American people, make his argument as to why these strikes are necessary and the speech was muddled and it was confusing and it wasn't clear. I think that's because in the president's own mind it's muddled and confusing and isn't really clear about what these military objectives are meant to achieve.

Now that we have the curveball from Vladimir Putin, making this suggestion that we can come together as an international community and remove these chemical weapons, this is a great out for President Obama. I'm very, very skeptical that this can work out, but this is the out that he need, doesn't have the support from Congress or the American people or the international community.

MILLER: But it's not really an out totally. That's the thing. We're in a situation where it's diplomacy by accident. You have the red line was kind of an accidental remark that Obama made a year ago that kind of put us into this situation. Kerry's off-hand remark the other day, which I think by all accounts was meant as a kind of throwaway line ends up being the vehicle that brings us to this new set of negotiations.

And I don't know anyone serious who thinks that you can dismantle chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war and even then, you've still got Assad there having killed 100,000 people. So I don't know what we're doing.

FISHER: You know, maybe I just feel a little more charitable but I think Obama has been pretty consistent about saying we don't want people to use chemical weapons. And this is a great opportunity for him to do that. And if we can actually see it through, who cares if it happens and Putin look good in the process.

TAPPER: All right, Rebeccah, Max, thank you so much. Great work.

Coming up in the Buried Lead, today marks an important day in U.S. history, the anniversary of 9/12, the day after 9/11 when the United States and New York City changed forever, especially for a certain group of Americans. The secret NYPD spying unit revealed.

Plus, in Pop, could Harry Potter be making a comeback? The major announcement about the boy wizard's world that's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Buried Lead now, stories we think deserve more attention. Yesterday, the country passed a painful 9/11 milestone, 12 years since the attack, but today marks another dubious anniversary, September 12th. That's the day we woke up to a different world, a world where the patriot act, digital surveillance and secret data collection programs routinely bend our individual liberties in the name of national security. It's a trend that's continued now for over a decade.

This week, for example, we learned the NSA reportedly shares raw intelligence data with Israel, data which likely includes phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, according to yet another document provided to "The Guardian" by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Again, privacy tested in the name of counterterrorism. The leaders of the city, the 12 years ago today was still clouded in dust and debris, remain unapologetic about that kind of trade off.

Just months after the twin towers fell a new antiterrorism program was born within the New York City Police Department. The idea was to turn plain clothes cops into intelligence agents to keep a close eye on the city's Muslim communities and mosques. The author of a new book argue that the controversial unit short when it mattered most when the would-be subway bomber, carrying a detonator and explosives, drove a rental car across the George Washington Bridge and into Manhattan.

I sat down with Pulitzer Prize winning reporters, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, authors of "Enemies Within, Inside The NYPD Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot America" to talk about what really changed after 9/11.


MATT APUZZO, AUTHOR, "ENEMIES WITHIN": It was really staggering to us to see the scope of these really intrusive domestic surveillance programs that were built at the NYPD with help from the CIA to really keep track of all aspects of Muslim life in New York. And they were designed specifically to catch somebody like Zazi, a home-grown, radicalized, al Qaeda trained guy from Queens who wants to blow up the subway and when it mattered most the programs didn't work.

TAPPER: I want to get a response from the NYPD Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly. He is not a fan of your work, Pulitzer Prize notwithstanding. He says your book is full of half-truths and he was just doing what he had to do after 9/11.

RAY KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: Our sin is to have the temerity, the chutzpah, to go into the federal government's territory of counter terrorism and trying to protect this city by supplementing what the federal government has done.

TAPPER: Your response?

APUZZO: You know, Kelly has tried to make this a turf battle between the FBI and NYPD Intelligence Division. The truth is the book is heavily footnoted. We're publishing internal NYPD documents, many of the ones we've obtained. This is really about what we've created in America after 9/11. It's not a question of what's legal. Like the NSA programs we've created, everybody knows we changed the law.

Everybody knows we have a patriot act now. What we're looking at is post-9/11, what was built with these new authorities, what kind of surveillance are we accepting in our cities from a municipal police department post-9/11 and we want to let people decide whether they want that and whether it's useful and whether it's worth paying for.

TAPPER: And whether or not it works. Adam, tell us how many of the surveillance programs that the government has, either the NYPD or the federal government, were effective in catching Zazi? We know the tip about Zazi first came from British intelligence, but then the NSA did get involved.

ADAM GOLDMAN, AUTHOR, "ENEMIES WITHIN": That's correct. The NSA was up on this particular al Qaeda e-mail, using what we know today is called a prism, tracking the e-mails of terror suspects, and then the FBI was able to identify his co-conspirators from the travel record because we all flew together on the same flight. It didn't take the FBI long to figure out who Zazi was plotting this with.

TAPPER: Do you think the new surveillance programs are needed or not?

GOLDMAN: I don't know about that but given the amount of time we spent on the book and the people we interviewed, agency bureau, they concede that in this particular instance they didn't need prism to stop Zazi because they could have used traditional FISA authorities to get up on this Yahoo! account. This was an account of a known al Qaeda terrorist. Because they had the travel records, they didn't need the bulk phone records. They knew that these two individuals from Flushing, Queens had flown there with Zazi himself.

TAPPER: There's a question here, we know this from before and after 9/11, sometimes too much information can stop the law enforcement that is need, all these individuals in the NYPD focusing on where every Muslim in the city is, which tea rooms are playing Al Jazeera, you know, which shawarma taste the best and ultimately they are wasting their time. They are not picking anything up.

Well, Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo, the book is "Enemies Within," best of luck with the book. Congratulations on the Pulitzer Prize.


TAPPER: Still ahead, Arsenio Hall back on the late night landscape after taking nearly a generation off. Can he make it in this multi-platform world? Will he twerk, too?

Plus Washington's NFL squad is becoming the team that must not be named. Another reporter refusing to use the "r" word and the NFL commissioner weighs in.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Pop Culture Lead. Remember when Arsenio Hall debuted a late night talk show that got executives at other networks a little nervous because of its early success? I'm not talking about 20 years ago. I'm talking about just a few days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ARSENIO HALL: I keep telling myself do a good show every night, write funny jokes and work really hard, then I'll get to number one and once I'm at number one, I should be able to stay in late night forever if I want to. I mean, that makes sense, doesn't it?

JAY LENO: Yes, good luck with that.


TAPPER: Hall debuted the reboot of his once wildly popular talk show this week and he actually beat all the late night veterans in his first night among viewers 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, those are the age groups that advertisers love.

This increasing competition for younger viewers in the late night world could explain why many hosts have learned lessons from the past by evolving the way they attract eyeballs instead of just relying on live TV to sell their jokes and sketches, they're turning to everything from viral campaigns to viewer participation.


TAPPER (voice-over): Don't pretend you haven't seen this viral video yet or that no one's told you about this breaking bad parody today.


TAPPER: They are the definition of viral. Now videos like these are defining late night comedy as well. Yes, this 13-minute joke is the work of Jimmy Fallon's late night team and this twerking woman is a stunt woman hired by Jimmy Kimmel.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": They shot that video two months ago and posted it on YouTube. We didn't send it to any TV station. We just put it on YouTube and let the magic happen.

TAPPER: The comedian's highly produced trick worked, pulling in more than 11 million YouTube hits so far. That's more than four times his number of nightly television viewers. But earlier this year, Kimmel told me an achievement like this is a double-edged sword.

(on camera): Your YouTube channel's huge.

KIMMEL: It's a blessing and that many people have learned about our show from those YouTube videos, but it's a curse in that people also know that if something great happened on the show, they could easily just call it right up.

TAPPER (voice-over): Though it may seem counter intuitive, both Kimmel and Fallon have made it easier for their fans to call up the laughs with their YouTube channels and hash tag jokes.

KIMMEL: It educates you because it's very democratic. People are voting for what they think is funny by watching it and passing it around to their friends. LAURA BENNETT, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": The main thing to know about these late night shows is that when something goes viral, nothing about that is happenstance. So producers know exactly what they're doing and they engineer clips basically to go viral.

TAPPER: Don't worry. Late night still has the live band, the monologue, the tell-tale desk. When "Saturday Night Live's" Andy Samberg began making digital shorts like these eight years ago, the weeknight crew jumped on board. And so did their guests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is how we slow jam the news.


BENNETT: It's all about branding the show, but they also have different types of competitors online and on the air. So when you're on the air you're competing with the other late night shows. When you're online you're competing with funny or die.

TAPPER: In ever-growing numbers, the fans have followed. Not just because it's funny, but because it's accessible.

KIMMEL: It wasn't like that when I was a kid. You know, if Shirley McLean was a guest on "Letterman" and you knew something crazy was probably going to happen, you had to be sitting in front of your television set. We didn't even have a VCR.

TAPPER: Lucky for us, this new era of comedy allows us to not miss anything.


TAPPER: You can expect things to heat up even more when Jimmy Fallon takes over the "Tonight" show putting him right up against Jimmy Kimmel, Arsenio and David Letterman.

Here's some good news if you're having Harry Potter withdrawal, J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers have teamed up to create a whole new slew movies based on her lucrative, wizard world.

The first film will be called "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them." That was actually the title of a textbook. The movie will follow the adventures of that book's author. A guy named Newt. It will set in New York about 70 years before Harry Potter was born. Rowling says it's not a sequel or a prequel but an extension. I should point out that Warner Brothers is owned by Time Warner, our parent company.

Coming up in the Sports Lead, that's Sergeant Joe Montana to you. Why fans of the Seattle Seahawks may want to be nice to fans of the opposing team this Sunday.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Sports Lead. It stings harder than a hit on RG 3 every time, many Native Americans hear the term "Redskins." Now another reporter of note has vowed never to use it again.

Christine Brennan from "USA Today" who was once the Redskins beat writer for the "Washington Post" now says she's no longer comfortable using the name. She joins other prominent reporters like Peter King of our corporate cousin "Sports Illustrated" who say they will never use the term.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also weighed in on the controversy. While he seemed to soften his stance on the name change, saying if one person is offended we have to listen. He also essentially passed the buck to Redskins' owner, Dan Snyder who was once quoted as saying we'll never change the name. It's that simple, never. You can use caps.

Century Link field in Seattle prides itself as being one of the loudest places in the NFL, but people there may want to think twice before they give a 49ers fan the business this Sunday because the Seahawks have announced that undercover officers will be wearing opposing team jerseys at home games, starting Sunday night against San Francisco.

The Niners have also taken similar steps at their home games. Fans who are kicked out for being jerks will have to complete a four- hour online educational course before they can come back. That of course presumes they know how to read.

Peyton Manning is helping to put the high in Mile High Stadium. I'm not talking about the Denver Broncos quarterback. I'm talking about the new strain of marijuana named after him. Yes, there is now such a thing as Peyton Manning weed. It's growing in popularity in Colorado, where of course, weed is now legal.

According to this tweet, the strain brings about a quote, "uplifting happy euphoric high." In related news we hear that after Sunday's loss against the Cowboys, a new brand of downers hit the market called the Eli Manning.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back later tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Pacific for one hour live special "Crisis In Syria, Decision Point." I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, deep divides and deep skepticism as the United States and Russia begin formal talks on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons and averting a U.S. military strike.

Also breaking news, Syria shocks the world, saying it's signing on to the global ban on chemical weapons. Other countries caution, however, it's not that simple.

Plus, a disturbing confession by a former U.S. Marine being held in Iran, now he says it was all coerced.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM." We begin with the fate of Syria's chemical weapons and potentially the fate of Syria itself being hammered out right now in Geneva, Switzerland. That's where the top American and Russian diplomats are meeting to try to find a resolution to the crisis sparked by that chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb --