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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript




BLITZER: What happens to all those chemical weapons? All right. Barbara, thanks very, very much.

Let's discuss what's going on in Syria, Iran and more with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican congressman from Michigan, Mike Rogers. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in. Is that your nightmare scenario, that al Qaeda, for example, or Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or whoever, gets their hold on these Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons? I assume you believe they do have these stockpiles around the country?

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) MICHIGAN: I am highly confident they have these stockpiles of chemical weapons around the country, and one of the problems, Wolf, is that there are multiple sites. So, it's very difficult for, A, for us to track, and B, for us to come up with a plan to try to contain those records if something -- if regime loses control.

In addition, this is a place that is stockpiled weapons that makes Libya look, you know, like kindergarten. They have huge and modernized weapons systems that have been throwing through Syria to Iraq, in some cases, to Hezbollah, to Hamas. This has been a proxy state for Iran. So, its weapon systems are more advanced, and there's lots of them.

So, that's very concerning, especially now with reports that al Qaeda in Iraq is making some effort in Syria. It is getting more confusing, not less confusing, and certainly, in the short-term.

BLITZER: Well, is that true? Your access to important information, is al Qaeda now entrenched in this opposition to the regime in Bashar al-Assad?

ROGERS: We have seen intelligence reports that indicate they're at least making the effort. I don't believe we can say with a high degree of certainty that they're there and embedded, but we can say that they're certainly making the effort and have made the effort, and are probably successful in some areas.

BLITZER: John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Service Committee, he was adamant yesterday. Let me play this clip, because, all of a sudden, people are throwing around this notion that there may be al Qaeda elements inside the opposition to the regime in Syria. Listen to Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: They're not fighting and dying because they're al Qaeda. They're not fighting and dying and sacrificing their lives because they're Muslim extremists. They're fighting and dying because they want the same universal rights and freedom that we guaranteed in our constitution. So, I reject the argument that we, quote, "don't know who they are."


BLITZER: Do you know who they are? Who is -- who this opposition is?

ROGERS: Well, I respect John McCain's passion for wanting liberty for this people and for the Assad regime to go away. I think we all want that. I'm not quite as sure about who the opposition is. They're not nearly as organized, even as bad as they were in Libya disorganized, they're not even that organized in Syria.

So, there's a problem there, and one of the things we learned from Libya is that, listen, if you don't have a game plan when you go into this thing, and they really didn't, you're going to have a problem with weapons systems, not only the chemical weapons systems there were very isolated, pretty singular site, kind of had our eye on.

We knew where it was, and we thought we had a pretty good handle on it. Here is so much different and so much more complicated, and then you have man pads, these ground to air anti-aircraft missiles and other munitions systems that worry us a lot that are everywhere. We better walk into this knowing exactly who's who, who we can trust and who we can't.

And we probably should use all of the capabilities the U.S. government before we decide we're going to go into something like that.

BLITZER: How good is U.S. intelligence in Syria right now?

ROGERS: You know, it's a very difficult place. I think some days it's better than others. I would put it on the low end side right now, and that's one of our problems with trying to understand who the opposition is and the different fractions within the opposition. And remember, you're not only working with the Syrian problem, you have the Iranians all over Syria.

They're helping them financially. We believe with weapons systems. Other nation states are also up there up to no good. So, you got a very complicated scenario in Syria that we didn't see in other places, including Libya, or Tunisia, and Egypt, places like that.

BLITZER: Because you've seen evidence lately that Iran is beefing up its assistance to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Talk a little bit about what you're seeing.

ROGERS: Well, clearly, they cannot afford to lose Syria, and I'm talking about Iran. This is their proxy state. This has been their extension and their arm on state-sponsored terrorism. They have used it to support and arm Hezbollah. They've used Syria to move weapons and operatives we believe into Iraq that may have been responsible.

By the way, state department reports said about 600 U.S. soldier deaths. This is an important thing for them. And it's the psychology -- not only for the reasons of moving those kinds of munitions and having that kind of support, but the psychology of controlling a proxy state like Syria. So, yes, they don't want to let it go. And they will do anything, which is why it's really difficult, Wolf, to say, well, it's in three or four weeks this thing is going to come tumbling down.

Not quite sure, because this is something different than we have seen in the other countries that took on their regimes. Mainly because you had the strong external force who had that iron-fist grip, who is willing to spend money, and weapons and blood of the Syrians, by the way, not of themselves, of the Syrians to hold onto power.

And that is that -- that's that mix-up in the equation. We're just not sure how we're going to get through right now.

BLITZER: As you know, congressman, there's been some confusion lately about what the U.S. intelligence assessment is about Iran and its supposed effort to try to build a nuclear bomb. Is there hard evidence that, right now, the Iranians are trying to assemble or build a nuclear bomb?

ROGERS: You know, I think it's all about parsed words here. There are three different ways they have to get there. They have to develop the missile system that would carry a nuclear weapon. They have to have enrichment capabilities so they can enrich the uranium, so that it's weapons grade that can actually form and build a nuclear device, and then, they have to figure out how to weaponize it.

In other words, they have to figure out how to make it go off and deliver its payload. All three of those programs, I have a high degree of confidence, Wolf, are under way. What this whole parsing of the words is, is when they're going to sprint to get to the assembly part of the bomb, but you can do a lot of damage, you can do a lot of enrichment capability increase.

You can get a lot of design testing of your missile program, and you can do a lot of -- there's other ways other than physically to develop your weaponization program to get you very close to the real deal.

And so, the Israelis have a different time line than us on this, because they argue, hey, you can't (ph) let them get to where -- all they have to do is put the thing together where the United States, at least the current administration, is saying, hey, we need to make sure that they're going to run that extra mile and put it together for the capability to have a bomb.

And that's where you have all of this disagreement in a very, very aggressive, it seems to me, across the pond political exchange.

BLITZER: All right. So, one final question. We only have a few seconds left. Best case scenario, worst-case scenario, how much time in this window before they have a bomb is there?

ROGERS: Well, that is the million dollar question. I don't think we have long. I think if you look at it from how the Israelis perceive the problem, that timeframe is very short. Even if we get to that timeframe, you're talking, you know, estimates anywhere from six months to 24 months. And that's the unfortunate thing is that gap. The Israelis argue we can't let them get to a place where we think it's 24, but it's only six. So, you can see their problem.

BLITZER: So, you see can see there's a difference of opinion there. All right. Thanks very much. Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as always, thanks for coming in.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.


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