ABC "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" - Chemical Weapons in Syria and the Boston Bombing Investigation


By:  Dutch Ruppersberger Mike Rogers Jan Schakowsky
Date: April 28, 2013
Location: Washington, DC


STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring in the Chairman. The Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. You've also, of course, looked at -- at a lot of this evidence. Is it conclusive enough for you?

ROGERS: It is. And there is also classified information that we have, that I think strengthens the case that in fact some small amount of chemical weapons have been used over the course of the last two years. And -- and the problem is, you know the president has laid down the line. He -- and it can't be a dotted line. It can't be anything other than a red line. And more than just Syria, Iran is paying attention to this. North Korea is paying attention to this.

So I think the options aren't huge, but some action needs to be taken. And if you think about the destabilizing impact. Right now, the chemical weapons have been small in use. If you have a larger use, the refugee and humanitarian crisis that comes from that is huge.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me ask the other question, how do you explain why it was such a small use of chemical weapons? Presumably President Assad knew that if he used chemical weapons it would -- it would trigger some kind of response. Why use it in such a small, small area.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well the first thing, he could be testing. We're not sure. But whatever that is, it's -- it is a red line, and you don't kill people with chemical weapons. And it's not just about the United States and where we stand, it's at -- that the whole world and those countries around there. I think a key player here, is Russia. I think Russia can stand up and make a difference. And they have before in the last couple of -- within the last month, Russia I'm sure went -- went to Assad and said, look you don't cross this line. And -- and I -- and I think at this point we -- that's where we are.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well then let me ask, do you agree that the line has been crossed and it's conclusive?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well the president, and I appreciate his deliberative approach to -- to this, you know we've had a little problem with going to the U.N. with the idea of weapons of mass destruction before. So we certainly want to finish the investigation. But he said, it's not an on and off switch, but it is -- it has changed his calculations. And of course, he's looking into all of the options. But, you know to -- to imply that maybe we're not doing enough, or we're not doing anything, I think also is a mistake.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Jeffrey Goldberg, let me bring this to you. Because you said -- you wrote a couple of pieces recently saying very clearly the red line has been crossed and the president must act. Unfortunately the president has doubled-down on this notion several times that if -- if Syria uses chemical weapons, he will take action. Kind of put himself in a box.

GOLDBERG: Well, he -- he has, except -- and -- and I did write that, you know especially because of our experience with Iraq, this has to be excellent intelligence. The chairman says it already is excellent, accurate intelligence. But, it's fine for the president to demand extra -- extra levels of certification, if you will. But now he has, and -- and this is the problem of red lines. And, you know he hasn't put down a red line.

He's been fuzzy on Iran, except to say that they shouldn't cross the nuclear threshold. But the Iranians are watching this one very carefully. They believe that he has a red line for their nuclear program, and they're watching how he handles the Syria issue. And every day that goes by where it seems as if there's indecision, or it seems as though there's some level of ambivalence, is -- is -- is the wrong signal to the Iranians, to the North Koreans, to anyone who wants to test the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the question is, what are these options? I think the president has made it clear to us, well, he's not talking about sending troops.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is this range of escalating options?

RADDATZ: I -- I think you can talk about a no-fly zone, or a safe haven. None of that is easy. It sound great, a safe haven. But that involves taking out anti-aircraft. It involves kinetic action. And it involves a great deal of risk. And I think here, you have to remember the comparison with Iraq. President Bush was looking for ways to go into Iraq. President Obama does not want to go into Syria and is looking for ways not to go in there.

So I think that's one of the reasons why they're being so cautious here. And military action, I think you know is the military always the option? What is the grander strategy here? Does it have to be a military option?

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the answer to that?

ROGERS: Yeah, you know part of the problem was, I think indecision has lessened the number of options we have available. So you have al-Qaeda in large numbers in the thousands, who are the best-trained, best-equipped, and most...


STEPHANOPOULOS: These are the opposition to the Assad regime?

ROGERS: ...well, what they have done is attach themselves to the secular units. That causes a huge problem for us. And here's the biggest problem, and why at least our leadership, and this is not about military intervention alone, how often is the Arab League actually asking us to show leadership with them, to help coordinate their resources on the ground in Syria? It doesn't happen very often. Why?

The conventional weapons, if they get loose from Syria, and there are a bunch of them, is incredibly destabilizing to the Levant, to the Middle East, to Southern Europe. That's Israel is -- is concerned, Jordan is concerned, Turkey is concerned, because they see that in chaos, if -- when he falls, you have Hezbollah in the north trying to get their hands on both chemical and conventional weapons, you have al-Qaeda all over the country now, even knocking on Israel's doorstep in the south, also looking to get better equipped through these stockpiles. It is horribly destabilizing. That's why they need to take a leadership role.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it does appear, Congressman that the Assad regimen is, perhaps in many ways even stronger than Saddam Hussein's regime at the beginning of -- of the invasion. This a resilient leader who is not going anywhere fast.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, we hope he goes a lot faster than he is now. A lot of people are surprised he's lasted this long. I agree with Mike on the issue of the chemical weapons. That is severe. We have to know where they are, and we're very much concerned, if Assad eventually falls, where these chemical weapons are going to go. Just like in Libya. We had a lot of weapons that went to some bad guys. And it's the same situation here.

So -- but we have to be together as a team. You know we can't make decisions because we're concerned about how -- how Iran, or North Korea looks at us -- at us. That is an issue, no question. But we're going to do what we need to do. We have unique weapons that no one else has. But you talk about a no-fly zone. It's easy to say it, but Syria is very sophisticated. Libya was not sophisticated. So, we have a lot of issues on the table, and we've got to get it right. But, I believe very strongly, we have to do it as a -- as a team.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the most effective escalation right now?

GOLDBERG: The most effective escalation for the Americans?


GOLDBERG: Well, you know, I have to agree with Martha, safe haven is a very...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Define what a safe haven...

GOLDBERG: A safe haven means essentially you're occupying part of another person's country. I mean, let's not kid ourselves. If you're going to say that this is a safe haven means that you're enforcing a no-fly zone over that haven, that means you have established your sovereignty in somebody else's country. That is not -- we can't call that invasion in the Iraq style, but that's a very serious thing.

I think obviously the number one thing for Americans to do, and for the world community to do, is to make sure that these al Qaeda forces don't get hold of any Assad's chemical weapons. That's -- look, President Obama has said this, President Bush before him has said this, that the ultimate nightmare for the United States, and for our allies, is the marriage of weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda. And in Syria, we're dangerously close to that happening as Syria falls apart and we're not aware of where these chemical weapons are.

So we have to stop chemical weapons from being used. And we have to stop them from falling into even worse hands.

RADDATZ: I think -- can I just say one thing on the pushing that line in the small number -- the small amount of sarin apparently used I think that's really pushing that line, that's really testing to see how far he will go.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Assad, it's testing by Assad.

RADDATZ: And I think the issue of the number of people who have been killed, which is fairly small, is an issue for the administration. We're talking about weapons of mass destruction. This wasn't mass destruction. So, I think that's a game Assad is playing that makes it more difficult for President Obama.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what he would be hoping, I presume congresswoman, is that he tries a few chemical weapons, America and the rest of the world does not respond and that demoralizes the opposition.

How far would you go in supporting more military action?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, let me say that no country in the region wants boots on the ground. We had King Abdullah come to the United States. And what he was asking for was help with a political situation, which obviously would be the best. Russia is in a position to help pressure Assad. And I think that he has to go. I don't think there's any question about that.

But, I think that all of these options have to be looked at, because the day after, the day after Assad is the day that these chemical weapons could be at risk, that if we don't address the growing sectarian that is there, and help the people who are more moderate, we could be in bigger, even bigger trouble the day after.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on to another topic. But to sum this up, am I hearing that all of you believe that more asserting, including military action, has to be taken but far short of actually putting U.S. troops on the ground?

GOLDBERG: Nobody is calling for boots on the ground, that needs to be very, very clear. And remember, when we're talking about safe haven, equipment with the Arab League goes a long way. That doesn't have to have a U.S. face on it. But what they do need is specialized equipment that can take planes and helicopters out of the air so you can train the Syrian forces that we can vet and train under the rule of law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Chairman, let me stick with you and move on to the issue of the fallout from the Boston Marathon bombings.

Are we any closer, any closer, now close to a couple of weeks in, in figuring out this key central question, who radicalized these brothers and when?

ROGERS: There are still persons of interest in the United States that the FBI would like to have conversations with. And the big unknown is still that six months, little over six months in Russia. Clearly, that is where they went from the process of radicalization to...

STEPHANOPOULOS: The older brother?

ROGERS: The older brother -- to violence.
And there is a lot that we just don't know. And that's why many say, hey, the Russians need to step up to the plate here and provide us better information.

I think they have information that would be incredibly helpful that they haven't provided yet. And I think...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why wouldn't they have provided it?

ROGERS: You have to remember the FSB is a hostile service to the FBI and the CIA. There's a cultural problem there between where the Russians are and our folks. So they sent a letter, didn't have a lot of information, and then three extra times after the investigation was closed, they said, hey, do you have any more. They wouldn't do it.

I believe that they have information and had more information that they just weren't willing to...

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of things they have provided is these wiretaps of the brothers' mother, who she seems to have been a key figure at least in encouraging the older brother in his more fervent worship.

And we have a very deep problem no matter -- you know there are people who are being self radicalized at this moment in the United States of America. And we have to find a way to disrupt that radicalization process. And it's very difficult, because it's all there on the internet already.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to get to that, but one of the things we have seen, chairman, is that it wasn't enough for these guys to go to "Inspire," to go to the website to learn how to build the bomb. I know the FBI has real suspicions -- even with what they found on the internet, they had to have some kind of help to still get those bombs together?

ROGERS: Yeah, absolutely. And not only that, but in the self-radicalization process, you still need outside affirmation. So in every case that we have seen, that has led to somebody taking an event to try to commit an act of violence, there was outside self -- or affirmation of their intent to commit an act of jihad. I believe that happened in the United States.

Now we don't -- we still have persons of interest that we're working to find and identify and have conversations with.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're saying 10 or fewer?

ROGERS: I didn't say that. I didn't give a number. I do think there are persons of interest in Russia is where I think they went from, yes, I'm ready for jihad, here's how you conduct an act of violence with including training.

RADDATZ: And the scary part there is who else is still out there that they also radicalized.

RUPPERSBERGER: The threat to our country -- we though the lone wolf, and that's just not one person.

RADDATZ: Stray dog.

RUPPERSBERGER: Stray dog, OK, but under the radar. And that was Awlaki in Yemen. He organized the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber and this is really what really concerns us. This is what we're saying to our public, if there's not chatter and we can't get information through our technical intelligence, and we have the best intelligence in the world in my opinion, then we need the help of the public to let us know when there are unusual...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But in this case, the FBI talked to him twice before he went to Russia. I guess the big question, and congresswoman let me bring this question to you, is why there were not further interviews after Tamerlan came back from Russia. If there was any breakdown in the system, that was it.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I think we need to look at that. The older brother Tamerlan was on the databases, the TIDE database the TECS database. We had him information about them. Were the dots not all followed to lead to a more investigation? I think that's worth looking at.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you blame the FBI for dropping the ball here?

ROGERS: I think it's too early to start pointing fingers and blame. Remember, they're right in the middle of an investigation. I -- if you look at what they have -- did in 2011, at the end of the day they had no derogatory information including all of the databases -- all of the databases -- including interviews. And at some point, the FBI just doesn't get to investigate Americans or people here who are here legally just because they want to. That is a huge difference.

Now what happened on the -- could they have done a secondary interview on the way back? There are some questions there if we can improve the system a little bit.

However, I think it's wrong to blame the FBI in 2011. At the end of the day, they finished this investigation, found no derogatory. They did the digital footprint search, couldn't find anything. And then they asked the Russians, hey, will you help us, is there more to this that we missed, nothing.


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