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Facebook in Hot Water; Russia and U.K. Back and Forth Retaliation; Serial Bomber Roaming in Texas. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 20, 2018 - 03:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The personal information of 50 million Facebook users exploited for campaign politics. Now British and American lawmakers are demanding answers.

Plus, the diplomatic spat between Russia and the U.K. heating up as the investigation of the poisoning of a former spy intensifies. We will have live reports from Salisbury and Moscow.

And four bombs, two deaths and one terrified city. Police in Austin, Texas say they are hunting for a serial bomber.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church, and this is CNN Newsroom.

The growing scandal involving Facebook and a data firm now involves investigators of both sides of the Atlantic. Facebook has hid independent forensic auditors to investigate Cambridge Analytica. The firm has ties to Donald Trump's presidential campaign and reportedly used data from millions of Facebook users to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Cambridge Analytica denies the allegation. Facebook investigators visited the firm's London office but back to way at the request of Britain's data protection agency. British officials are seeking a warrant to conduct their own investigation.

Well, accusations that Facebook isn't protecting its user's personal information are raising lawmakers deep concerns.

Isa Soares reports.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT I first met the CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix nine days before the U.S. presidential election in 2016. A man confident he could get inside the mind of American voters by predicting and then attempting to also their behavior.


ALEXANDER NIX, CEO, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: I think the day is extremely robust and proven to be so time and again.


SOARES: His data helped this man win, U.S. President Donald Trump who paid multimillion dollars for them to work their magic. But behind their win method is more than just data crunching, it's a massive data grab. So says their former contractor now turned whistleblower Chris Wylie.


CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, FORMER RESEARCH DIRECTOR, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: We spent almost a million dollars doing this. It wasn't some tiny pilot project. It was the core of what Cambridge Analytica became. It allows us to move into the hearts and minds of American voters in a way that had never been done before.


SOARES: And this is what Wylie says they did, Cambridge Analytica received data from a third party, a Professor Aleksandr Kogan based at University of Cambridge who was able to gather data on tens of millions of Americans who were at Facebook.

And then using a survey place on Facebook they ask users to take a personality test. They ask these group people under personality types. They combined it with vote to history, what they buy, where they shop, and what they watch on TV. And that will enable them to predict the personality of every adult in the United States and then target them with specific political ads.

But it goes further. By opting into this Facebook surveys each user was actually not just their data but that of many of their Facebook friends.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with an entire country, the psychologically of their country without their consent or awareness.


SOARES: Speaking to the U.K. parliament committee on data protection of fake news back in February Cambridge Analytica they violated Facebook's terms.


NIX: We don't work for Facebook data. We don't have Facebook data. We do use Facebook as a platform to appetize as do all brands and many or most agency or agency, I should say, and we use Facebook as a means to gather data.


SOARES: The attention now turns to Facebook and how it reportedly allowed a data breach on the scale. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I've said from the beginning --


SOARES: And more importantly how it was used to reach and influence voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement, Facebook said, "The claim that this is a data breach is completely false, and that those involved certify they had destroyed the data."

Meanwhile, it says it's suspending the accounts of Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica, as well as Professor Aleksandr Kogan who did not respond to our request for comment.

If anything is shine the light from the dot coms of political advertising.

Isa Soares, CNN, London.

[03:04:57] CHURCH: And that whistleblower you saw on Isa's report with CNN he reveals what was that alarmed him enough to come forward with what he knew, and we will have that interview for you a little later this hour.

For more on this now we are joined by Hannes Grassegger, he's an economist and reporter based in Zurich, Switzerland. Thanks so much for being with us. So, who do you think is more fault here, Cambridge Analytica or Facebook? Ad could this proved to be an existential threat to the popular social media site do you think?

HANNES GRASSEGGER, ECONOMIST AND REPORTER, DAS MAGAZIN: I think the whole thing is actually growing, so I see on both sides happened massive mistakes have been made and we should look at Facebook going into Cambridge Analytica's office is just (Inaudible) the British state authorities to go inside. That's actually a cause of discerned for me.

I do think the whole scandal is just an example for what is actually going on in the markets and way how our personal data is actually currently being treated and marks which we don't see so there's people with strange unknown political ambitions.

And if you look at Cambridge Analytica, the issue of Cambridge Analytica is an information warfare and that kind of people is actually working with our personal information with role filing hundreds of millions of Americans and that's difficult for me to feel easily.

CHURCH: If you could just answer that question I asked about the existential threat or possible existential threat to Facebook, I mean, people are actually closing their accounts at this point, we know the stocks have plummeted, so is this a threat for Facebook do you think? GRASSEGGER: I think -- I think clearly this is not only for Facebook. This is a massive threat, I think regulation is clearly going to come. Regulation in Europe has already been extended will start in May with that GDP are. And you see Alex Stamos, the chief security officer of Facebook is he still working on this post or not just like different statements that we're receiving.

And I think Facebook is clearly not able to manage the situation. We haven't had it work from Zuckerberg thus far clearing out. We don't get any information about this. This is a massive crisis they are not able to handle it right now.

CHURCH: Right. I just want to take a listen to Brad Parscale what he said in the 60 Minutes interview just a few months ago about using Facebook data to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. It is worth mentioning of course he will be running Mr. Trump's 2020 campaign so let's just listen to that.


BRAD PARSCALE, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, TRUMP 2020: To Facebook now lets you get to places, and places possibly that you would never go to a TV ad, now I can find 15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for. Changing language, words, colors, changing things because certain people like a green button better than a blue button. Some people like the word donate or contribute.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So how would you know let's say I like a green button.

PARSCALE: Because if I give the blue button you never click on them.


CHURCH: Hannes, what do you think when you hear this level of targeting of U.S. voters?

GRASSEGGER: When I first spoke to Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica I ask him how granular can you go? And he said we can -- we can target groups of people as a small as a dozen and sometimes even going to a personal.

And so if you imagine you have an office floor of people working together and just right before lunchtime you can send them a message and make them discuss about this on lunchtime. Is this still -- is this still like sending out advertisements or is this coming out close to manipulation?

I think there's a line that needs to be drawn and this whole process of micro targeting is actually the whole strategy is actually is what Silicon Valley builds its business on this. Because this is what people need their data for all the marketers. They want to go to that kind of level.

So we are entering kind of this virtual personalized reality where everyone is just receiving that kind of information that he should see, you know. And there's not a common platform and this is what people are scared about when they discuss what democracy really needs.

Democracy needs a certain common understanding of what is the actual truth what is actually going on. And it's your personalized information, all information about, you know, like politics and government and all of that stuff. This is not only for election campaign.

[03:09:58] This is something that is going on for years in the marketing environment in which is now a discovery how well advance and developed that is what kind of business status, and what kind of people are actually using it and how it kind of goes out of the hand of one of the most powerful companies of the world and how one of the most powerful companies doesn't know how to manage it.

CHURCH: Yes, and this is certainly making a lot of people rethink how much they share on sites like Facebook. Hannes Grassegger, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

GRASSEGGER: Thank you so much for having me.

CHURCH: And Andrew Stevens joins us now from Hong Kong with the business implications of this scans. So, Andrew as a result of the story Facebook shares plunge Monday, how bad are those numbers and what impact might this have on the company going forward.

ANDREW STEVENS, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Facebook is $36 billion less valuable of the close than it was at the open which gives you an idea of how big ahead is taking. The stock market reacted by sitting the price down by nearly 7 percent, 6.8 percent, Rosie, and that's the biggest fall we've seen in Facebook for four years.

It's interesting. It wasn't just Facebook. It was the other FAANG companies they call. This is the Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, the FAANG companies but Google was down 3 percent as well. So the real fear here amongst investors is what we're hearing from that guest these concerns about security, about privacy, the granular approach of information from these big data companies.

So regulators are going to be looking at how they can plan down on that and clamping down on that sort of information is really goes the heart of these models as far as raising revenue through advertising, so having that level of information is wonderful for Facebook for advertising but it's not so good obviously for privacy issues and that's what the regulators begin to be looking at and that's what they're looking for investors.

CHURCH: Certainly has unnerves a lot of people. Andrew Stevens joining us there from Hong Kong. Many thanks to you.

Now in the coming hours, Russian diplomats are expected to fly out of London following the poison attack on a former Russian spy. The U.K. accuses Russia of poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England earlier this month. Independent chemical weapons experts are there now to test samples of the nerve agent used in that attack.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson at NATO headquarters Monday said the attack shows a pattern.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: We share of you that the poisoning of Sergei Skripal is not an isolated case, but the latest in a pattern of reckless behavior by the Russian state.

That behavior goes back many years from Russia's annexation of Crimea to cyber attacks and its involvement in Syrian war Russia has shown itself. The Russian state has shown itself to have a blatant disregard for international order for international law and values, our values.


CHURCH: And we are covering this story from both countries. Matthew Chance is standing by in Moscow, and Melissa Bell is in Salisbury, England. Let's go to Melissa first.

So Britain is expelling these 23 Russian diplomats, what other action might be taken and des this perhaps mark a return to the Cold War. That's the fear many people have.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT That's certainly how it feels, Rosemary. Not so much because of the poisoning itself. After all this is something that the British authorities have accused Russia of doing in British soil before. If you think of the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning 12 years ago.

I think what's changed and this is something that Boris Johnson has made clear in an interview he gave yesterday the German television is, the world in which those events unfold. And this time it feels perhaps more polarized that it was 12 years ago.

Boris Johnson made the point that this time it had been much easier to get international support for the British position in its condemnation of Russia. He said because those -- because so many countries had been on the receiving end of what he described as a bad behavior by Russia.

And certainly it is in the context of a world more clearly polarize between those who want a hard line between against Moscow and those who want perhaps an extended hand that it was 12 years ago when Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned.

And so I think that you can expect more retaliatory measures from London beyond the 23 diplomats, 80 people in all with their families that will be leaving today on an Arab flight to Russia. Special flight is being organized.

Beyond that London is very much left the door open, Rosemary, for more measures. The National Security Council said Theresa May over the weekend is continue considering what might be done and add London seats to prove its case.

[03:15:03] Did you know that the inspectors for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived here at Porton Down just outside of Salisbury to have a look at those British samples. Britain is going to be trying to get more vacuum for further measures against Russia once it's proved that case. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to Melissa Bell, joining us there from Salisbury in England. We go to Matthew now in Moscow. And of course, Matthew, in response to this Russia ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats from the country. We hear there from Melissa that Britain is likely to do more in response to this, what about Russia, how is likely to react.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT Well, Rosemary, it's already more than that. It's expelled those 23 diplomats the exact same number of Russian diplomats who have been expelled from Britain but it's also going further by shutting down the British Consulate General in St. Petersburg and closing down the operations of the British council, the cultural and educational exchange organization funded by the British governments all across Russia.

And so it's already issued of what many critics regard as asymmetrical response to the British expulsions. And they've also categorically denied any involvement in this instance calling on Britain, this is coming from the Kremlin, calling on Britain to either prove its allegations or apologize for the remarks that have been made and particularly the suggestion made by the foreign secretary of Britain, Boris Johnson that Vladimir Putin is personally responsible or personally ordered the nerve agent attack in Salisbury in Southern England.

And they've also reserved the right to respond further, and if there are more what they call unfriendly acts by the United Kingdom. And so we're in a situation now with Theresa May, the British Prime Minister considering what next steps her government is going to take over the coming days. And the Russians saying that they will respond to any further action.

And so, of course, the danger is that we get into this constant unbreakable cycle of response and retaliation and I think that's the real concern right now and I expect that's what the May government will be considering as it decides what it's next step should be.

CHURCH: They, of course, Britain insisted how is the evidence. We shall see in the coming hours and days. Matthew Chance joining us from Moscow, where it is just after 10 in the morning. We appreciate that.

Let's take a short break here, but still to come, a city on edge. Police say a suspected serial bomber is on the loose in Austin, Texas. The latest on the hunt for that killer. That's next.

Plus, the U.K. and E.U. take a big step forward on Brexit but one issue could step them back. We'll take a look at that when we come back. Stay with us.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. In Austin, Texas police say they believe a serial bomber is behind four attacks that have killed two people and wounded four others. The bombings began March 2nd. The first three devices were concealed in packages and left on people's doorsteps. But the fourth one was left on a residential street and exploded when it was triggered by a tripwire.

Austin's police chief says that attack shows a high level of skill by the bomb maker.


BRIAN MANLEY, POLICE CHIEF, AUSTIN, TEXAS POLICE DEPARTMENT: We do believe that it's the same person based on the components that are comprising the explosive devices across all four that we've had so far. So we do believe that this is the same person or persons that are involved in these and using the tripwire on this one. The first three felt as if they were targeting a specific residence and possibly a specific person.

The way this fourth device was placed in a neighborhood and left with a tripwire to really injure the person who randomly came across it was very different than the ones that felt targeted in the first three.


CHURCH: Police Department in Houston and San Antonio, Texas are sending bomb technician teams to Austin to help in the investigation.

The United Kingdom has struck a major deal and its divorce from the European Union, but one sticking point could unravel at all. The deal creates a 21 month transitional period next March after Britain leaves the E.U. It allows the U.K. to negotiate trade deals with other countries during this timeframe, but it hasn't resolve the issue of the border between Ireland which is an a E.U. member and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

The European Union's top negotiator admits there are still more work to do.


MICHEL BARNIER, CHIEF EUROPEAN UNION NEGOTIATOR: We must have a (Inaudible) practical solution to avoid our border and protect north south corporation. The E.U. and U.K. agreed to include into its agreement text published to today and note on how the Irish issues will be dealt with.


CHURCH: Nic Robertson CNN international diplomatic editor joins me now from London. So, Nic, why has the Irish border issue become such a sticking point and how will it likely be sold, what are some of the options here?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's a sticking point because it's the fullest of all the issues here essentially what the British government has agreed to in terms of what it said to the European Union and therefore the Irish of what it said to its own people to the Brexiters, if you will, in the U.K. It appears to be incompatible that you can't have both things.

And I think if we look across the whole of that agreement was announced yesterday on some of the key fundamental issues there have been climbed down, they have been climbed down that transition period than the British government wanted.

It does give certainty to business, but it was climbed down on the rights for workers for European Union workers in the U.K. to be here come here have full rights during the transition period. There was a climbed on fisheries. There was a climbed down essentially on this Northern Irish issues.

The British government had sort of put together language that it hope to consider keep the political support internal political support for its own party, the conservative party and its Northern Ireland supporters the Democratic Unionist Party would prop up the majority.

But what the E.U. is saying at the moment is well, we got to full back option on Northern Ireland because we don't think we're on the border because we don't think what you're proposing is actually going to work. So what they said yesterday is that the British government needs to put some legal language is there.

The crux of the issue is this, the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland have said that there cannot be any weakening of their relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain. And what the British government has committed to is an open border between the North and South of Ireland but it's also committed to coming out of the customs union and coming out of a single market.

And these things are seen as incompatible so you get to a crunch point and this is what Barnier is talking about where ultimately Theresa May has to make some compromises. And the question is can she make can she get fine compromises that those DUP politicians in Northern Ireland will agree to. And at the moment the indications are that is a huge stretch and potentially something that some experts say could still bring this whole deal down.

[03:24:55] CHURCH: And so, Nic, what are euro skeptics saying about where things currently stand on Brexit negotiations.

ROBERTSON: You know, again, going back to yesterday Sterling responded positively because of business community responded positively to have that level of certainty that there was this 21- month transition period.

And the language around the talks yesterday in Brussels indicated that the slides were coming together, that they -- the document that they produce had a lot of area shaded in green, which sort of means deal more or less done. But areas that are in yellow on plain text where work is yet to be done.

So that was why it sort of broadly seen as being successful, but you know, as we keep hearing the whole deal is not done until everything is done until everything is signed together. So at the moment it's, you know, the possibility of getting the deal done seems much more real and the transition seems now, therefore, more certain, therefore, business feels more certain about it, but on that issue of Northern Ireland, there is less certainty.

And where do you find compromised people are talking about technical solutions to keep the border open so that trucks and businesses could pass across the border without being -- without that being hard border structures. No one has developed the technology anywhere in the world to put that in place. That's the best assessment of the Irish, the European Union and even the assessments of the British government has done as well.

So you left with this conundrum. How do you keep that border open without putting hard post back on border on the concern? If you do that, then you begin to unravel that peace process that was sort of signed into agreement 20 years ago in Northern Ireland that that could potentially unravel.

The ramifications are very, very big here and I don't think anyone involved in the negotiations underestimates them. They just keep pushing it off. And right now the push off point maximum, if you will, is essentially October of the end of this year.

CHURCH: All right. Our Nic Robertson with the Brexit negotiations joining us from London, where it is nearly 7.30 in the morning. Many thanks to you.

Well, tennis legend Martina Navratilova may have won nine Wimbledon singles titles, while John McEnroe only has three but when it comes to their current paychecks McEnroe he has the edge. Navratilova says the BBC pays her 10 times less than McEnroe for doing Wimbledon broadcast.

On the BBC's own show Panorama she spoke out about the pay gap saying McEnroe makes about $210,000 while she gets paid $21,000.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How you feel about that.

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA, TENNIS PLAYER: Not happy, needless to say. I mean, it's shocking. It really this happens to me than, you know, for me, it's a part-time job. It's two weeks of my life. But for women that won several time maybe the discrepancies not that large but it's still and it adds up you realize it's an amazing amount of money. So it's extremely unfair and, you know, it makes me angry for the other woman that I think go through this.


CHURCH: The BBC says McEnroe is on air three times more than Navratilova has a different contract than she does and gender is not a factor in how they are paid. We'll let you decide on that one.

Let's take a short break here, but still to come, the whistleblower at the center of the face for Cambridge Analytica scandal is telling his story. His interview with our Hala Gorani, that's still to come.

Plus, a surreal scene in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad celebrates his troops advance into one of the last rebel stronghold by driving there in a Honda and posting it all online.

We're back in just a moment.


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: A very warm welcome back to CNN Newsroom. I'm Rosemary Church, I want to update you now on the main stories we've been following this hour. Lawyers for Donald Trump are discussing specific topics for potential interview with a Special Counsel in the Russia probe. Sources say, the two sides met face-to- face for the first time last week. On Monday the U.S. president once again called the investigation a witch hunt.

The USA's annual military exercises with South Korea will begin April 1st, they will postponed until after the winter games in Pyeongchang. North Korea has viewed these drills as an act of aggression, but South Korea says they will only be about half as long as last year's.

Facebook has hide independent forensic overtures to investigate how the data firm Cambridge Analytica use personal information in the 2016 presidential election. Facebook is under fire for not protecting its user's data. U.S. and European lawmakers are calling for hearings and possible new regulations.

Earlier, Hala Gorani spoke with the whistleblower in this story, Christopher Wylie, he is a former contractor with Cambridge Analytica.


HALA GORANI, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Did Cambridge Analytica know, that this data was taken from profile from users on Facebook that hadn't voluntarily shared it?


GORANI: They knew that?


GORANI: And they were fine with that?

WYLIE: Yes. Because you know it's -- it's one of those -- if you don't -- if you don't ask questions, you won't get answers that you don't like, right so, you know, we knew how the apps works. We knew that, you know, when it pulls the Facebook friend data it wouldn't pass the friends if they -- if they could get permission for that, it is when and just pulled it and that's why it scaled so quickly. It made -- it made the program, I mean we spent over million dollars on the program, but it -- is in the scheme of the amount of data that we were able to collect, it actually was fast and sheep and gave us good quality data.

GORANI: The other big question is did Facebook know?

WYLIE: So my understanding is that Facebook authorize Cogan to Dr. Cogan, a professor --


WYLIE: -- to use the App for academic purposes. That's what they told me in legal correspondent for the file of them --


WYLIE: -- which means that Facebook did allow this to happen and they knew that this is happening. They just thought it was for academic research --

GORANI: Right.

WYLIE: -- but nonetheless, Facebook still allowed an App to go and harvests data of friends without permission.

GORANI: But they knew that the App wouldn't just collect data from the person downloading the App --

WYLIE: No, they typically granted that permission.

GORANI: Right.

WYLIE: Facebook granted that permission for the App, so -- they knew what the App was doing and they just didn't necessarily know what it was for.

GORANI: When did you leave Cambridge Analytica and why and why are you speaking up now?

WYLIE: I left near the end of 2014, after I left, you know, they you got very upset with me. I -- you know, you have to remember, I was one of the people who was creating these company to have me was I think a massive blow and they -- they threatens all kinds of legal action after I left, so I signed an NDA after, you know, this is quite intimidating --

GORANI: A nondisclosure agreement.

WYLIE: A nondisclosure agreement, you know it's quite intimidating to have your company backfired rich billionaire threatening you nonstop so I signed an NDA and I didn't say anything --

GORANI: Why now then?

WYLIE: Well, because when I -- when I was watching the 2016 election happen in the United States and all of these questions about Russian interference. For example, you know, I -- started thinking back to, you know the times where we were meeting with Lukoil, which is the second largest oil company in Russia.

[03:35:10] Alexander, next to the presentations to Lukoil and the first slide was all about rumor campaign and the second slide was about voter inoculation and -- and, you know, we had our -- professor who is managing the data harvesting program going back and forth between London and Russia, because he is working -- because he was also working on projects in Russia.

They were funded by the Russians on psychological profiling and so for me it's really concerning, because I look at what's happening and I think, OK, you know we've work -- massing this -- mass amount of data, meanwhile we're interfacing with a company that has known links to the FSB, which is the Russian Security and the Intelligence Service and we -- the professor who is managing this App and its harvesting program was going to Russia and working for the Russian and in addition to that the company literally pitched Cogan's work for the Russian to other clients in other countries.

GORANI: This is were -- so this completely contradicts what Alexander next to the boss of Cambridge Analytica, told lawmakers here in Britain, he was asked directly, do you have any Russian clients, he said no. To harvest information from Facebook to use Facebook as a source for your data, he said, no. Are you saying he lied to lawmakers?

WYLIE: What I'm saying and what I showed Damien Collins last week as the Chair of the Committee that you are referring to, I showed him contracts invoices email that showed that, you know, a $1 million was spent at least on this program, the data was collected.

You know, Alexander signature -- Alex's (inaudible) signature is on the documents, right. He can't deny it. So, for him to go to Committee and say that he did not use Facebook data is patently false.


CHURCH: And in a statement to CNN Lukoil denied ever working with Cambridge Analytica or its parent SCL group, a spokesman said the company said it was never interested in political targeting, Lukoil acknowledged SCL made a presentation to Lukoil in Istanbul about promoting Lukoil's fueling stations in Turkey.

Well, tributes are coming out now for an animal that was truly one-of- a-kind. The world's last male northern white rhino has died. Sudan was 45 years old, he was euthanized at a conservation Park in Kenya after battling infections and health issues due to old age, his daughter and granddaughter also leave at the park and their now the last two known remaining members of this species. Last April, Sudan made headlines as the world's most eligible bachelor when the park put him on the dating App, Tinder. It was made to raise awareness about the rhino and raise money to keep the species from going extinct.

We'll take a very short break, we will be back in a moment.


CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Well, the U.S. is warning Turkey's military offensive in Northern Syria has allowed ISIS to regroup in parts of the country. Turkish's Special Forces and the Free Syrian Army have seized part of the Kurdish town of Afrin, driving out Kurdish militia fighters, who had been keen U.S. allies in the battle against ISIS. Turkey's president says the military offensive will be expanded to other Kurdish held towns in Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATOR): After controlling the city's center of Afrin yesterday, we've completed the most important phase of operation Olive Branch, now we will continue this process with (inaudible), (inaudible), Ross Eileen, and (inaudible), until we remove all of this corridor.


CHURCH: There have been reports of looting civilian deaths and even the bombing of a hospital in Afrin. Turkey insist civilians are not the target of this military offensive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (TRANSLATOR): 57 days have past, today's day 58 we are in hell, we used to suffer, because of the curfew and increasing taxes. Our hopes were to finally get rid of this, now the free Syrian army entered Afrin, so that we could live in peace. What happened was the opposite, the FSA have robbed our vehicles, have stolen our homes and our shops. We feel homeless in our own homes, no food, drink or safety.


CHURCH: President Bashar al-Assad celebrated the advance of his government forces into rebel held Eastern Ghouta by apparently driving himself there in a Honda. The enclave is on the outskirts of the capital Damascus and is one of the last opposition strongholds in Syria. As Ben Wedeman reports, it's a scene of devastation and ruin.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Bashar al-Assad is at the wheels, were going to the Ghouta to see the situation, he says. Driving through what appears to be normal, put out and a parent security escort on his way to the Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.

Under siege for years, per month now the scene of a government offensive oppressed this rebel held packet. According to the United Nations more than a thousand civilians had been killed, tens of thousands have fled the government held areas.

God willing anything that can be liberated without fighting is best, he says. Let's not forget their civilians and we must preserve their lives, it's a surreal work of propaganda. The Syrian everyman on a day trip to the (inaudible) of his realm.

His bodyguards reappear when he meet people, they greet him with kisses and chance (ph). With our souls and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Assad. In seven years, nearly half a million Syrians have been sacrifice in the war far from (inaudible).

Many killed by government that showered its opponents with barrel guns in the Eastern Ghouta 2013. Meeting with commanders he gave instructions to avoid civilian casualties, because he says, maybe the terrorist are hiding behind the civilians.

The Syrian government has always framed its fight against the armed opposition as an existential struggle's between order and chaos. The battle is bigger that Syria, Assad tells the troops. You are wage in a battle for the world. Every bullet you fire to kill a terrorist you're changing the world order and while the Syrian president bask in the cheers of his troops, Sunday. The bloodshed carried on.

According to the Syrian-American Medical Society, during Assad's day- out, government forces subjected the Ghouta to an intense bombardment, killing 48 people including four children and five women. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


CHURCH: And despite the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, Russia blocked a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the human rights situation there. France and six other member nations had called for the meeting, but Russia which has been an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said human rights was not a subject on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council. That spark the furious response from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.


[03:45:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the Security Council's Ronin, upholding the charter and human rights across the world is block, if it can no longer rise to meet the challenge of crises and conflicts then, as the U.N. and the great framework of international law begin to break down into irrelevance and inaction, human beings stays enormous danger.


CHURCH: Russia and Iranian involvement in Syria will be on the agenda with the Saudi Crown Prince visits the White House in the coming hours. Senior U.S. officials say President Trump and Mohammad bin Salman will look for ways to make Russia pay a price for its aggressions. The Saudi leader also has much more on his mind, CNN's John Defterios reports.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: He is the young heir to the throne with grand plans. The man known by his initials, MBS wants to wean Saudi Arabia off oil and create the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. His master plan hinges in part on a successful and slightly delayed IPO for state oil Behemoth Saudi Aramco, a record $2 trillion valuation is the target to create the world's most valuable company.

(BEGIN VIDEO) Honk Kong, London and New York are all rolling out the red carpet went

over Aramco and the Prince, but the Ministry of Energy told me, he had serious reservations about taking to public on Wall Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a litigation and liability, we concern the U.S. we've seen five IOC companies being sold for, you know, frivolous climate change allegations and quite frankly, Saudi Aramco is too big and too important from the kingdom to -- to be subjected to the kind of risk.

DEFTERIOS: His young boss is both determined and unconventional. One-week welcoming global investors of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, entering the same gilded venue into a jail for Saudi billionaires. The forceful crackdown on corruption took down investor Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the former head of the National Guard and scores of others, while climb back $100 billion for the state, senior members of his team insist it was a necessary purge.

MOHAMMED AL-TUWAIJRI, MINISTER FOR PLANNING AND ECONOMY, SAUDI ARABIA: The local community is extremely positive around the crackdown, to get friends and rest of Saudi Arabia talking positively about it.

DEFTERIOS: Politically, MBS has purge a tight bond with U.S. President, nurtured by Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. Saudi Arabia was the president's first overseas trip where he signed defense contracts worth over $100 billion. He topped it off with this ominous pose alongside the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of Egypt.


DEFTERIOS: That was Rex Tillerson out of the picture as Secretary of State, MBS will also want to focus on his Middle East security priorities most notably the isolation of Iran and this were strategist suggests the Crown Prince and the U.S. President can aim for complete alignment. John Defterios, CNN Money, Abu Dhabi.

CHURCH: No holding back, four Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday at a speech in Ramallah, he accused Hamas of trying to assassinate the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister last week in Gaza and he took aim at U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, for donating to an Israeli settlement North of Ramallah.




CHURCH: Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded on Twitter saying this, for the first time in decades the U.S. administration has stopped spoiling the Palestinian leaders and tells them enough is enough, apparently the shock of the truth has caused them to lose it.

And will take short breaks here, but there's still to come, China's Xi Jinping start his second term as president with a rare public display of power. The details coming up next.


CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Xi Jinping has submitted his power as China's president, capping the National People's Congress with rare closing speech, he spoke at the ceremony two days after the parliament unanimously reelected him. Last week changes to the Constitution were approved to remove presidential term limits allowing Xi's of staying in office for as long as he likes.

CNN's Matt Rivers was there for President Xi's speech and joins us now from Beijing. So, Matt, what are the main headlines at a Xi Jinping's rare address during this closing ceremony?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really just kind of sticking to the same script that we saw President Xi unveil in October of 2017 at the National Party Congress the 19th Party Congress which is where Xi Jinping was reelected as General Secretary of the Communist Party, it was at that event that he gave a three hour plus long speech of that -- this particular speech didn't come anywhere near that, it was only about 35 minutes longer, so but it still touchstones a lot of those same themes. Chinese rejuvenation as he put it the rejuvenation of the Chinese dream and also the fact that in his mind when the Communist Party is strongest that's when China is strongest.

He even use some of the same terminology that he used back in October, so really nothing new in terms of what he pushed. The line that got the loudest applause, was when he discussed a Taiwan and Hong Kong and Macau are the three territories of the China believes are there.

They administered two of them, Macau and Hong Kong, of course, they don't govern Taiwan, but he basically said that he would seed no ground to anyone who would want independence for any of those three territories as China views it as mainland China views all three of those, even though Taiwan would view things quite differently, but really nothing new, Rosemary, a long -- 35 minute long speech touching on the themes we've grown familiar with.

CHURCH: And so Matt, why did Xi Jinping decide to make this rare address?

RIVERS: Yes, it's not typical for the president to address the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress session that happens once every year, but the fact is you made this address, because he can. He wants to, he wanted to put his message across and he is without question the most important person in this country right now. What we saw happen across the -- over the two weeks or so that this lasted, we saw the elimination of term limits for the presidency, he can stay in power in the presidency for as long as he wants and that comes on the heels of six months of moves going all the way back to the Party Congress, where he had his thought enshrined into the Party Constitution.

That fact alone made him the most important Chinese politician since Mao Zedong, the founder of communist China, but then when you add in the removal of these term limits, what you seen is a coronation of sorts, according to critics who say this is the dawn of a new dictatorship here in China and so we don't know the exact reason why Xi Jinping wanted to give a speech, but the fact is, that he can. He has near absolute power in this country right now and there is no one at least publicly that is challenging that.

CHURCH: Can do just whatever he wants. All right, Matt Rivers joining us from Beijing with coming up to 4:00 in the afternoon, many thanks to you.

All right. Let's turn to the weather now, hail and damaging winds pummeling some Southern U.S. states and snow storms are threatening states in the north. Our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, joining all -- joining us now and covering all of that. What a mixed bag?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is, and you know what's interesting about it is that it is such quiet season, both in city weather, both and snowfall amounts as well up until very recently of course with multiple nor'easter's, but wait till you see, what is instore, once again, across parts of the United States in to the Northeast, but severe thunderstorms really the name of the game in that past 24 hours across parts of the State of Alabama, parts of the State of Georgia, when you take a look at exactly what transpired the concern was very hyper tornado that became a really -- mitigated here as the -- being un-agree -- didn't come together into parts of the Southeast, but a parts of just three reports of tornado as you see the vast majority related to hail damage also wind damage across this region, the storm quickly roaring across --just South of Atlanta pushing on to the Carolinas down, as well and watching this that produce potentially some severe weather into the Carolinas in the morning.

[03:55:22] Atlanta, there is a tornado watch that has been issued across this region just East -- Southeast of Atlanta as well that we are watching at this hour, but as the storm pushes off towards the East Coast of the U.S., parts of the coastal region of Carolina and upwards of 14 million people stretching Downtown on Northern and Central Florida will deal with severe weather.

So as we transition of course, the first day of the spring season here on Tuesday, severe weather absolutely at ramped up yet again, but the system migrates off toward the Eastern half, the Northeastern corner of the U.S. Once again, we come in with a potential there for another nor'easter, potentially the fourth one in as many weeks of this plays out in searching.

Note of the track right now, the models bring this in the forecast has shift a little to the West here, it could bring in a pretty significant snowmaker for parts of the Northeast, if it shifts farther to the East, it could be less of an impact there across that region of the U.S., but at this point, we think it will stay closer towards the coastal communities with that said the models really paint an impressive amount of snowfall after what has really been a quiet season at least for much of December, January onto February.

And then March came and with it came tremendous snowfall amount, in fact, look at March 2018 out of places such as Washington D.C., about .4 inches or so of snow fall had come down across this region.

For Tuesday into Wednesday, we could get up as much as, 6 inches out of a location such as Washington D.C. and New York City going in with 3 inches in March 2 up to 10 to 11 potentially going in for Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. So this certainly could be the most impressive snowmaker of the season and it would come in of course, Rosemary on the first day of spring. So winter officially comes and goes, a few snowstorms come and go as well, the biggest one comes in on the first day of spring.

CHURCH: How about that? All right. Thanks so much Pedram, I appreciate it.

JAVAHERI: Thank you, yes.

CHURCH: And thanks to you company everyone. I'm Rosemary Church, remember to connect with me anytime on Twitter, we've love to hear from you. And the news continues now with our Max Foster in London. You are watching CNN. Have yourself a great day.