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Remote Control War; Cuban Reform

Aired June 8, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour and welcome to our special weekend edition of the program, where we bring you two of the big stories we covered this week.

A key member of Cuba's Castro family was on a rare trip here to the United States and I had the rare opportunity to talk to her. She is Mariela Castro, daughter of the president, Raul. We spoke about her fight for gay rights. She has brought Cuba's gays a long way from where they used to be, consigned to reeducation camps.

I also asked her whether that struggle would lead to broader civil rights, political rights in Cuba. But first, the American president you thought you knew. In fact, a whole new picture of Barack Obama's foreign policy emerged this week, one that relies heavily on drones and cyber- warfare.

The details were exposed by David Sanger of "The New York Times", in a controversial new book called "Confront and Conceal," which has triggered outrage in Congress and even an FBI probe into leaks. I spoke to him about what he described as an Obama doctrine of remote control foreign policy.


AMANPOUR: Welcome, David.

DAVID SANGER, AUTHOR: Great to be back here with you.

AMANPOUR: Good to see you again.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when you were researching for this book?

SANGER: I think that there were two big surprises about President Obama as commander in chief.

Many who worked for him, many who were career diplomats or career military tell me they were surprised at his aggressiveness, that they had not expected this from somebody who had very little foreign policy experience, who was frequently derided during the 2008 campaign as a former community organizer, which was sort of code word for is this person ready to be commander in chief.

What emerged was an Obama doctrine, and the doctrine that has come out of this is that he's very willing to use unilateral force when the direct interests of the United States are at stake -- think of the bin Laden raid and so forth.

AMANPOUR: Exactly, and all these drone strikes beyond bin Laden and also what you focused on, and really which is the big controversy of the book, and that's the cyber war against Iran.

SANGER: That's right.

AMANPOUR: In other words, as some are saying, the United States is at war with Iran. How effective is this cyber war?

SANGER: Well, the main revelation that you're referring to concerns Olympic Games that you mentioned at the beginning, which was a four-year- long program.

We believe it continues to this day, begun in the Bush administration, handed off to President Obama in a quiet meeting between him and President Bush just days before the inauguration in 2009, when President Bush said, look, there are two programs you're going to want to hold onto.

One of them is drones, the other is Olympic Games. Olympic Games is an effort to get into the Iranian centrifuge system with a computer worm that was a very elaborate effort to get through the defenses the Iranians had built up, and then to go map a blueprint of how the computers inside Natanz connect to the centrifuges, send in a worm that would speed up or slow down those centrifuges until they began to blow up. And --


AMANPOUR: And affect enrichment.

SANGER: -- and affect enrichment by taking out the centrifuges.

AMANPOUR: Is it still happening?

SANGER: You know, very hard to know what is happening today. Once it became obvious to the Iranians -- and it took them a few years to catch onto what was going on -- presumably they put in some pretty good defenses.

But, you know, cyber war, like all war, evolves, and there are new approaches the United States and Israel, who work together very closely on this, are no doubt using today.

AMANPOUR: Do you think cyber war is a alternative, a replacement for real war, as -- I mean, I don't ask that in a vacuum. People think maybe Israel will bomb Iran's facilities.

SANGER: You know, one of the big objectives of Olympic Games for the Americans was to so wrap the Israelis into the process that they would become convinced that there was a more effective and deniable way to affect the enrichment at Natanz and would make bombing it unnecessary. And, in fact, some argue that the CIA estimates are that this set back the Iranians 18 months to two years.

Some believe that's over-optimistic, but in any case, when you think, Christiane, about what you and I have talked about, what the estimates are of what a military strike could accomplish, 18 months to two years is about the number you hear.

AMANPOUR: You said deniable, and you know there are certainly people who are pretty angry that this information is being leaked, and that you've got it, and it's in "The Times" and it's in your book. They're saying that this puts American operations and American lives at risk. And, you know, Senator McCain has called for special council. The FBI is already looking into it.

You were leaked to?

SANGER: This was a 18-month-long investigation for a book that started at the ground level up and built its way up. But what was the major disclosure here? It wasn't anything that anybody said to anyone. It was the error in 2010, in the summer, that allowed the worm that later became known as Stuxnet to escape from the Natanz plant and propagate out across the Internet.

The United States and the Israelis had not planned on that happening. That was a programming mistake. It made the worm evident to the whole wide world. And in fact, we reported in 2011, early 2011, that it seemed likely this was American and Israeli working together. What this book does is pull on that string of Stuxnet and just fill in the details of how and who -- how it was done and who did it.

AMANPOUR: But you, obviously, in your book, quote people from the Situation Room. So they are telling you about this stuff.

SANGER: I certainly heard a lot from a number of different sources -- and just as you would in the same situation, I'm not going to discuss the sourcing for this. But --

AMANPOUR: Are you worried about the probe?

SANGER: You know, there are always leak probes and I understand why governments have to go do them.

But I also think that there was a very important policy issue that we were airing here, which is that the United States, Israel, others are beginning to use a new weapon of war, and you know, it is very much we're in that era, sort of similar to where the United States was between 1945, when the U.S. dropped its first atomic bombs, and 1949, when the Soviets got their first bomb.

And, you know, it took about 20 years to sort out how you'd use nuclear weapons. We're in the process now of trying to figure how one uses cyber weapons.

AMANPOUR: So let's ask, not just about cyber weapons, but other things that you've been talking about. You also brought up, certainly in an article and in your book, also, about Afghanistan and Pakistan. This whole drone policy is also having a backlash, a blowback on vital alliances, for instance, in Pakistan.

SANGER: That's right. I mean, the United States, for years, has said that they don't want to deal just with the military side of Pakistan. They want to build up a legitimate, democratically elected Pakistani government.

Well, what did that democratically elected parliament do about a month and a half ago? They passed a resolution banning all foreign drone flights into their territory. And since that time -- I've lost count -- but there have been a lot of U.S. drone strikes, including a very successful one.

So we have a tension in our own American policy in dealing with Pakistan, and that is between supporting a democratically elected government and respecting their boundaries, and the need to go pursue a war against Al Qaeda on their territory.

AMANPOUR: When I asked the question leading into, is this foreign policy now warfare by remote control, and what will it do to America's long-term prospects for leadership and influence, let's just take Afghanistan, where you talked about Afghan good enough, and where we see a light footprint is the goal right now --

SANGER: That's right.

AMANPOUR: -- no matter how much they talk about an enduring presence, we know that it's not going to be very strong. You said that you worry that pulling out and relying on the sort of light footprint or drone or whatever from the air, could actually reverse the last 10 years of war effort in Afghanistan, could bring the Taliban back.

SANGER: Well, it could be the Taliban's going to come back no matter what, and that seems clear, and I think President Obama has read the American public accurately on this, that after 10 years, I think the American public is pretty tired of foreign occupations, OK --

AMANPOUR: That's true, but the effectiveness of the policy --

SANGER: -- but the effectiveness of the policy may be limited. I mean, with a light footprint policy, you're -- it's very effective in going after individual terrorists. We've learned that. On the cyber end, it may be effective at going after groups of centrifuges.

What it can't do is what we all thought counterinsurgency might be able to do, which is make a population feel secure, build up government institutions. You can't do that by remote control. And so we have changed our approach in a very deep way, and you have to understand that if you do that, you've got a policy with severe limits. And we need to discuss what those limits are.

AMANPOUR: So it seems to me, from reading your book, parts of it, reading the articles and things, that this is a foreign policy that relies on the White House and the CIA and the Special Ops if it -- the Pentagon at all.

The traditional State Department and the traditional warfighting machine, the generals and the Pentagon, they're kind of to the side.

SANGER: A little bit, and you know, one of the things I worry about on the remote control war side is that one of the reasons that Hillary Clinton supported having a surge in Afghanistan of 30,000 troops -- she actually argued for 40,000, you learn in "Confront and Conceal" -- was that she wanted to be able to come in behind them with a civilian core to help rebuild Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: And that never happened.

SANGER: You don't hear that discussed. You don't hear anybody in the administration talking about sending girls to school. You don't talk about building up justice systems. It's not that anybody thinks it's a bad idea. It's just the president came to the conclusion after the first year in office that it may be beyond what we can afford to do right now.

AMANPOUR: And it's clearly relatively cheap, relatively easy and definitely politically pain-free to do this, electronic, cyber, drone kind of warfare.

SANGER: It is, and it's easy not to discuss because those programs are classified, so there's an easy way to sort of hide behind it.

Now in the drone program, because we all see drone attacks happen and, you know, you understand what's happening, there has begun to be in this administration a discussion of the legal justification behind drones. And you may be persuaded by it or you may not be, but at least there's a discussion.

In cyber, we haven't had that yet because the United States has never yet acknowledged -- hasn't to this day -- using cyber weapons.

AMANPOUR: David Sanger, thank you very much indeed.

SANGER: Always great to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And, of course, we'll be closely following the policy and the fallout from David Sanger's revelation.

When we come back, my exclusive interview with Cuban president Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. This week, the daughter of the Cuban president Raul Castro made a rare visit to the United States, giving me a rare opportunity to speak with a member of the Castro family.

Mariela Castro is a gay rights activist who succeeded in changing attitudes and actions in Cuba. I asked her about political change as well, and got some surprising answers. Take a listen.


AMANPOUR: Mariela Castro, thank you for being with us.


AMANPOUR: I want to ask you first, who inspired you to this cause of gay rights?

ESPIN (through translator): In the first place, it was my mother.

My mother began to do this kind of work in the Cuban women's organization, first defending women's rights, children's and youth rights and little by little she began to try and have people be respected in the LGBT community that, because of a very patriarchal culture inherited from the Spanish system, continues to be our reality, these prejudices are still repeated.

AMANPOUR: Let me show you these pictures that we have found, amazing pictures of you and your family, your mother and your father and your siblings. This is the current president, Raul Castro, your father. And this is your mom, Vilma.


AMANPOUR: And which is you here?

ESPIN: Here. Esta.

ESPIN (through translator): I'm right here. This is me. I'm the second child.

AMANPOUR: Given your family's history and the revolutionary hero and the tough guy image in Cuba, was it difficult to take up this cause of gay rights?

ESPIN (through translator): All families in the world are patriarchal families and they're machista families. And in the case of my family, the fact that my mother was already working in this field, she ensured that my father interpreted this reality in a more flexible way.

And for me it was always easy to speak openly with my parents and this idea of fighting against homophobia was really something that I took from them.

But even so, although I found understanding in my family and my family was very understanding, even my father is very understanding right now, it's a very difficult and complex process.

And this is why my father always said that I have to be very careful about everything and to do this very attentively and carefully so that I wouldn't hurt other people who don't understand, but that I do have to provide people the instruments with which they can respect other realities, even though they don't understand them.

AMANPOUR: You have written, "As I began to recognize the damage that homophobia was doing to society, I would come home and confront my parents with the issue. And when I got home, I said to my father, 'How could you people have been so savage?' My dad said, 'Well, we were like that in those days. That's what we were taught. But people learn.'"

So it was an evolution for your father.

ESPIN (through translator): Exactly. I think that Cuban society as a whole has been changing and its political leaders are also changing as part of society.

AMANPOUR: Even in this country, it's taken a long time for politicians to agree, for instance, to gay marriage, same-sex marriage. President Obama has just said that he supports it. You must admire President Obama.

ESPIN (through translator): Yes. And when I heard this news, and I was questioned about it in the press, of course I can say that I support and I celebrate what President Obama has done. I believe that it's very just and I feel a great deal of admiration for President Obama.

I believe that if President Obama had fewer limitations in his mandate, he could do much more for his people and for international law and international rights. Yes, I think that I dare to say that, because I'm not American. That's really a right that the American people have. But I feel the right to express what I feel, and if I was an American citizen, yes, I would vote for President Obama.

AMANPOUR: On this issue of same-sex marriage, do you think that will become legal in Cuba?

ESPIN (through translator): Already several years ago, my mother began to promote this bill and even trying to propose changing legislation. First we were proposing the freedom of same-sex marriage.

But since there's been such a debate on this and there are so many diverse opinions in Cuba, what is being proposed right now are civil unions, where gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. However, this hasn't happened as yet, and people who are in same-sex couples do not have any protection.

AMANPOUR: You can see these pictures of gay rights marches in Cuba itself. When do you think this law will be taken up? When do you think that there will be progress from the Cuban parliament on this?

ESPIN (through translator): According to what had been planned, it's this same year that this still has to be presented, which recognizes the rights of same-sex couples.

AMANPOUR: As we've been talking, you've talked about human rights and you've talked about the limits of the state. So let me ask you about the rights in your country and whether you think that gay rights, civil rights, could lead to more different kinds of rights, political kinds of rights. Where do you see this trend going, opening up the space for civil rights?

ESPIN (through translator): At present, in the last few years, there's been a big debate that the Cuban people have participated in in many sectors. And there have been criticisms and suggestions of what we have to change in Cuban society.

And many valuable ideas have come from this. And what we've seen is what the population believes should be our socialist transition process in Cuba. And we want to include everything that we believe to be our need. And of course, this translates into rights, civil rights.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that. I've been in Cuba several times over the last 14 years, and I can see that under your father, President Raul Castro, there's been opening on the economic front, but not so much on the political front. Again, do you think these civil rights will lead to more political diversity, more political rights?

ESPIN (through translator): As to political rights, what are you talking about?

AMANPOUR: Obviously, there's one party in Cuba, so that's one issue. But Human Rights Watch says that Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. So I'm trying to figure out whether there is space in Cuba for broader political rights, where people, for instance, can dissent without being sent to jail.

ESPIN (through translator): All right. Human Rights Watch does not represent the ideas of the Cuban people and their informants are mercenaries. They're people that have been paid by foreign governments for media shows that do not represent Cuban positions correctly.

However, the presence of a sole party in Cuba came from the fight against colonialism, from Spain. Jose Martin had the merit of creating the Cuban revolutionary party in Cuba as a sole party, specifically to achieve independence and to avoid domination by the United States. So that's the line that we followed in Cuban history because conditions haven't changed.

And it hasn't been easy. We've been working for many years to achieve this. We've achieved it in many spheres, in human rights, the rights of women, health, in many areas. But in other areas, where we haven't reached that, we're still working. That demand, that Cuba have various parties, no country has shown that having plural parties leads to democracy.

So the suggestions that they want to make to us aren't valid. Conditions haven't changed. Cuba is a country that for over 50 years have been subjected to the violation of international law with the financial blockade which has not allowed Cuba to access development.

AMANPOUR: I think I heard you suggest that if the embargo was not there and if you were not under pressure, that there would be a different political reality or there could be a different political reality in Cuba. Is that right?

ESPIN (through translator): Exactly. That's right. If Cuba weren't the subject of an economic and trade embargo, which has created so many problems for us, then Cuba, it wouldn't make sense to have a sole party, just one party. But it's when our sovereignty is threatened that we use this resource, which has truly worked in Cuban history.

AMANPOUR: As you know, there are many people, even inside Cuba, who feel that if the embargo was lifted, it would actually cause the one-party system to collapse. It would cause, perhaps, socialism to collapse.

ESPIN (through translator): I don't think it would collapse. I don't think socialism would collapse. I think it would become stronger. This is why they don't lift the embargo.

AMANPOUR: To be continued, this conversation.

Thank you very much for coming in.

ESPIN (through translator): Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And you can watch more of what Mariela Castro has to say about Cuba's political future, about relations with the United States, about the blogger Yoani Sanchez and the incidence of AIDS in her country, which is one of the lowest in the world. That is all at

And in a moment, the anniversary of D-Day was this week, and we will remember it with one man's story. But first, take a look at this picture. It shows a future president, Dwight Eisenhower, Commander of Allied Forces in World War II, giving the final instructions to paratroopers on the eve of D-Day. "Full victory or nothing else," he said. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And a final thought. Imagine a world before push-button wars and surgical drone strikes. Sixty-eight years ago this week, Europe was in another Dark Age, held captive by forces of evil who were bent on exterminating whole races and peoples.

But in the early hours of June 6, 1944, Allied paratroopers descended on Normandy, launching the D-Day invasion ahead of the largest armada the world had ever seen.

One of the paratroopers, John Steele, landed on the church steeple in the French town of Ste Mere Eglise. He hung there from his tangled parachute for over an hour while Americans and Germans fought below. He was eventually captured by the Germans and then escaped, and later he received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

But his memory is preserved in Ste Mare Eglise in a stained glass window of the church. And in his figure, still protecting the town, a reminder that sometimes evil has to be fought face-to-face and hand-to- hand. That's it for tonight's program.

Meantime, our inbox is always open, And we read every single email. Imagine that. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.