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Israeli War Planes Strike Syria; Hagel Comes Under Fire at Hearing; Youth Revolt in Egypt; NYT's Hacker Problems; Mexican Prostitution Cult Raided by Authorities

Aired January 31, 2013 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We're taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Here's what's going on right now.

Tensions sky high right now on the last frontier of the Cold War. North Korea now threatening to get physical with South Korea. Promises to go forward with underground nuclear tests.

And hacked. "The New York Times" now falling victim to a four-month- long computer attack. And they say the source was China.

But first, a dangerous stand off in the Middle East. It has to do with one of our most important allies. Syria and Iran, they are furious over an Israeli airstrike inside the Syrian border. They are now warning of retaliation. The details are sketchy but the Syrians say that the Israeli strike hit a research facility near Damascus, killing two workers.

However, a senior U.S. official say the Israeli jets struck a convoy suspected of transporting weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Sara Sidner, she's joining us from Jerusalem. We also have our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, from New York.

Sara, first of all, sort this out for us. We've got reports from the United States and we've got reports out of Syria. Is this the same or separate attacks?

SARA SIDNER, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the thing that needed to be sorted today. Now, we've heard from a U.S. official that indeed there was just one attack. They say that Israeli planes did fly over and ended up hitting an area. The question is, what is the difference? Was it hit -- a convoy was hit that had pieces and parts of SA-17 missiles, or was it this research facility that Syria says the Israelis hit that was damaged? So there is confusion over exactly what was hit or perhaps it was one in the same incident.

What we do know from senior intelligence officials who have now left the intelligence agencies here in Israel, and we've talked to quite a few of them, is that this particular research facility has been a facility that they know that has been part of a chain of facilities that Syria runs that have been trying to create unconventional weaponry. We're talking about chemical weapons. However, we are told that this particular facility did not have chemical weapons in it. However, it was in a link. Something that would help them move, for example, weaponry around. This facility, we're hearing from intelligent sources, was one in which very large missiles were made to be smaller so that they could be transported. And that is the key here. A lot of worry in Israel that the weapons in Syria are being transported across the border to Lebanon into the hands of Hezbollah, which is a known enemy of Israel.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And real quick here, Sara, do we know if the Syrians are threatening now to retaliate?

SIDNER: They've given some inkling that this was absolutely unacceptable, barbaric as they put it. However, what we are not hearing is the sort of very, very heightened language that you often here targeted at Israel. We heard that, though, from Iran. Iran basically saying through their media that, yes, you know, Tel Aviv could be a target, for example.

But right now you're not hearing the kind of heightened kind of language that is often used from Syria or from Lebanon itself, from Hezbollah, when it comes to Israel. Everyone's sort of wondering what is going to happen next. The people in the north of Israel concerned now that there may be retaliation.

MALVEAUX: Sure.

SIDNER: But it is one of those situation where Israel has not confirmed any of this. They are keeping mum so far on this. And there's a lot of information that simply we just don't know.

MALVEAUX: All right, Sara, thanks.

Want to bring in Fran into the conversation here because, Fran, Israel launches this military strike on a sovereign nation. The United States obviously very much loyal to Israel. Where do we stand in this? How do -- are we potentially now drawn into this conflict?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, we've got to think back. Remember, there was an acknowledged Israeli strike on a Syrian facility at the early going of the Obama administration. It was not an acknowledged nuclear site, but it was hit by Israel. And there was no retaliation. And so some of this has got to do with the fact that Israel has not acknowledged it, has not made a statement, as Sara said. The U.S. has tried to stay quiet in terms of not adding any provocation to this. And so some of this needs to sort itself out.

Obviously we don't want to be drawn into a conflict. But how everyone talks about it and what happens next really will determine whether or not there's a physical confrontation over it or whether this really becomes just a battle of words.

MALVEAUX: All right, Fran Townsend, Sara Sidner, thank you very much. Another story we are following. Too cool to Israel, too soft on Iran. That is some of the criticism that is facing Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearing that is happening now. Is Hagel urging the Senate Armed Services Committee to focus on his present, not his past comments? In his opening statement, he tried to set the record straight.

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CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: During the 12 years I had the privilege of serving the people of Nebraska in the United States Senate, I cast over 3,000 votes and hundreds of committee votes. I've also given hundreds of interviews and speeches and written a book. So as you all know, I'm on the record. I'm on the record on many issues. But no one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs or my record.

My overall world view has never changed -- that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead in the international community to confront threats and challenges together and take advantage of opportunities together, that we must use all our tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, along with Fran Townsend, who's back with us here.

Dana, give us a sense of the tone and the mood inside the hearing so far. Do we think that he is -- he's doing well in terms of convincing his critics that he's the guy for the job?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's certainly trying, but he definitely has critics on a whole host of issues. We knew that going into it, but they are being -- they're not being shy about voicing some of their concerns across the globe of his position across the globe -- North Korea, about Syria, about Iran, about Israel. And he's even being asked about his position on gays in the military and even religion in the military. So those are some of the hot button issues that have people very skeptical of him.

So far, I don't think that the ball has moved very much with regard to, you know, Democrats who, for the most part, have slowly come out in support of him and Republicans who are still pretty skeptical. Only one publically has said that he would vote for the former Republican, Chuck Hagel, and he's not even on this committee -- Ben Cochran of Mississippi.

MALVEAUX: And, Dana, I want to bring in -- this is Senator John McCain. Obviously they were best buds at one point. One of his big supporters. Now certainly giving him a hard time during this hearing. I want you to listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You said, I disagreed with the president, Obama, his decision to surge in Iraq, as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq. Do you stand by that -- those comments, Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: Well, senator, I stand by them because I made them. And --

MCCAIN: And were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?

HAGEL: Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out, but I'll --

MCCAIN: I think the committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.

HAGEL: I'll explain why I made those comments and the belief I had, but --

MCCAIN: I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question. I expect a direct answer.

HAGEL: The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit --

MCCAIN: Will you please answer the question? I would like the answer whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.

HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Dana, how important is Senator McCain in all of this? I mean is he -- is he going to be able to block his possible confirmation?

BASH: Well, he has said publically that he has no intention of actually blocking Hagel's nomination. But he has said, in fact, just said after that pretty intense back and forth, that the fact that Hagel wouldn't answer whether or not he was mistaken in opposing the military surge in Iraq, whether -- that that was, from his point of view, enough to make -- potentially make McCain vote against him.

By far, Suzanne, that that was the moment so far in this hearing for so many reasons. There's so many layers of plots going on here. First and foremost because of the fact that they know each other so well.

MALVEAUX: Right.

BASH: They were so, so close. Very close friends when they were -- beginning of Senator Hagel's Senate career back in the mid 90s. And they, of course, did diverged over that issue. John McCain was very much a proponent of the Iraqi surge -- the surge in Iraq and Chuck Hagel was very much on the other side.

MALVEAUX: OK.

BASH: The only thing I also want to add to that is, it is because they know each other well, it was surprising that Hagel didn't have a more clear answer ready. John McCain, anybody who knows him knows that he wants to be -- that he feels vindicated on the surge --

MALVEAUX: Right.

BASH: And the fact that Hagel didn't have an answer was pretty perplexing.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you, Dana.

I want to bring in Fran back to talk a little bit about this.

And, Fran, you look at Hagel there. Obviously he is a Vietnam veteran and he is somebody who really was in the trenches, potentially somebody who could talk and speak very directly to the generals. What kind of problems, what thing is he going to face, if he's confirmed, that is going to be perhaps the most important challenge?

TOWNSEND: Well, clearly the most important sort of policy challenge he's going to have is the budget. The budget cuts that DOD is going to -- is already trying to implement and what they're going to face as the budget discussions between Congress and the executive branch continue will be his biggest policy challenge.

His biggest sort of tactical, military challenge, it's really two- fold. It's the same issue, right? It's both Iran's nuclear program and the ongoing conflict in Syria. What's the appropriate U.S. role? What is the role that the U.S. military should play in the resolution of those existing challenges? And I think that's his biggest sort of military challenge.

MALVEAUX: And, Fran, one of the things that people were complaining about is something he said in the past where he talked about the power of the Jewish lobby, in his words. He actually addressed that. I want you to listen to this. He talked about Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAGEL: I think my record's pretty clear on my support of Israel. And I would, of course, continue to support the president's policies. And I think he's been as strong a supporter of Israel as maybe any president since 1948 when Harry Truman helped give birth to Israel. This president has been there. As he said, I have Israel's back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Fran, are you convinced when he says that?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, more importantly it's whether or not both the American people are convinced and how the men and women that Chuck Hagel will lead as the secretary of defense, what do they think? I mean, frankly, Suzanne, look, the statements in the past are a problem for Chuck Hagel. And you noted when he was addressing this issue, he talked about President Obama's record. He didn't really directly address. He said, you know, I've been a friend of Israel. He didn't deny that he made those statements. He couldn't do that.

MALVEAUX: Right. TOWNSEND: And what he had -- what he (INAUDIBLE) to was President Obama's record. And so that's, I think, the safest bet for him. He had the -- he took the right tact in terms of the answer there.

MALVEAUX: All right, Fran Townsend, thank you. Appreciate it.

An Oscar-nominated movie is finding a receptive audience in a very unlikely place. Talking about the film "Argo." Hollywood's take on a real life mission to rescue American hostages from Iran back in 1979. But the film is officially banned by the Iranian government, but apparently a hot commodity underground. Bootleg DVDs, they're all over the place in Iran according to an article in "The Wall Street Journal." There's reportedly much debate in Iran about the accuracy of this story. Bootlegged movie distributors in Iran say it is the biggest seller in years.

The real life story of Egypt's revolution is, of course, still being written. But there is one thing that is clear, the young behind the Arab Spring uprising, they are afraid that their voices are still not being heard. Their anger boiling over on the streets in days of violent protest. Ben Wedeman takes us there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The boys in the streets aim their whistles, taunts and gestures toward the line of riot police off Tahrir Square. Kids just don't respect authority anymore, is a familiar refrain from the older generation. But in Cairo, it has been Egyptian twist.

For decades the state, the police, inspired fear. But the revolution and its chaotic aftermath changed all that. "Thugs" is how 20-year-old Muhammed (ph), unemployed, describes the police. "We used to respect them, but their dignity is gone."

Almost a quarter of Egypt's population is between the ages of 18 and 29. More than half of whom live in poverty according to government figures. With the economy at a standstill, many have the same complaint.

"All the young want to work but can't find work," says Muhammed (ph), unemployed, so he fights instead.

Shawki (ph) is an army conscript apparently AWOL. He's dismissive of Egypt's new generation of elected representatives. "No one represents me," he says. "I represent myself. Everyone who wants to represent me just wants power. All the parties just want power. Elections, elections. But in a revolution, there are no elections."

The police can rush the protesters, push them back a bit, but they can't chase them away. Walls don't stop them. Tear gas doesn't faze them. During the revolution, political leaders came to Tahrir Square. These days, it's considered too dangerous.

(on camera): The politicians in Egypt no longer come into the streets and the boys in the streets don't want anything to do with the politicians.

(voice-over): It was the young who inspired Egypt's revolution, but the old remain in the corridors of power. Those who appear at press conferences trying to mold Egypt's future are mostly old men, leaving the young and disenfranchised with little means other than street battles to voice their anger, says researcher Amr Abdulrahman.

AMR ABDULRAHMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF CAIRO: (INAUDIBLE) is now even more aggravated (ph) after the revolution, before the revolution. Because for them, this revolution contribute to their own (INAUDIBLE).

WEDEMAN: The only way they can make their presence felt is with rocks.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Here's more of what we're working on for this hour of NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL.

Devastation and mass evacuations as flood waters rip across Australia.

And a Mexican sex cult busted now after women are allegedly forced into hard labor and prostitution by a man who told his followers he was Jesus Christ.

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MALVEAUX: Editors at one of the biggest, most respected newspapers in the world say they are now having trouble with hackers.

"The New York Times" says it's been going through this for months. Computer hackers are stealing passwords. They're getting into e-mail accounts of the reporters and the bureau chiefs. And they say that the hacking is coming from China.

Want to go live to Beijing now, our producer there, Steve Jiang. And, Steve, tell us, first of all, what's going on. I mean, how much do they know in connection with China?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING PRODUCER: Well, Suzanne, it's quite extraordinary. The thing happened after "The Times" published an article about how the family members of the Chinese premier amassed billions of dollars in business dealings during his reign as the head of the Chinese government here.

So, of course, the Chinese authorities were infuriated by this article. And the hacking, according to the paper, started right before publication of the story, presumably after "The Times" told the authorities about a story, asking for a response.

And, according to "The Times," the hackers appeared to be looking for any information related to the sources of that story.

Suzanne? MALVEAUX: So, explain it to the viewers here. Because, I mean, it seems as if "The New York Times" would have some pretty good security when it comes to their Internet and their passwords and their e-mails. How were they actually able to do this?

JIANG: That's right. But what they did was actually something fairly simple. They -- once they hacked into the first two reporters' e-mail accounts, they installed malware basically allowing them to take control over those computers.

And through those computers, they gained access through a back door into the entire "Times" network and eventually stealing every single password of every "Times" employee and then taking control over 53 employee computers. Quite extraordinary affair, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And how are the Chinese responding to this? Are they denying this?

JIANG: Yeah, the Chinese authorities have denied any involvement in such cyber attacks. And, today, we asked the foreign ministry, again. They called the accusations baseless and the news reports irresponsible. And the defense ministry also told us the Chinese government has always been cracking down on hacking activities and the Chinese military has never supported hackers, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: All right, Steven, thanks.

On the phone with us from "The New York Times'" offices in San Francisco, this is Nicole Perlroth and she is the one who wrote this article about all of this.

And, Nicole, first of all, tell us what's the impact on the paper here. I mean, how are they responding to this?

NICOLE PERLROTH, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (via telephone): Well, we've been responding for the last four months. We're only coming public with this now because we feel confident we have gotten the hackers out of our systems and have put out new defenses that will hopefully keep them out next time they try to get in.

But we've known about this for several months now and we've kept quiet until now because we didn't want to tip of the hackers that we knew what was going on. And we wanted to get a full grasp of what was going on before we went public with it.

MALVEAUX: And, Nicole, what kind of information did these hackers obtain? I mean, is the newspaper concerned that there are secrets or there's information that's out there that could put the employees in danger or sources from stories?

PERLROTH: No. This was a very targeted attack and I want to be very clear on that. We were able to see what they were after and what they were after was clearly what they perceived to be sources for an investigation that my colleague, David Barbosa, did in October into the net worth of relatives of China's prime minister, Win Jiabao. And the interesting thing there is that David sourced that article through publicly available documents in China. And there was some speculation after his story published that there was some sort of "Deep Throat" or that someone came over and dumped a bunch of documents on his lawn when, in fact, this was a year-long reporting effort where he was searching out their business interests through publicly available documents.

So, while the hackers were clearly after what they perceived to be sources for the story, they found nothing. And among the documents they took, there was nothing sensitive taken.

MALVEAUX: And, Nicole, I am assuming everybody has new passwords and new e-mails and there is a sense that -- could this happen again?

PERLROTH: It very well with could. They call these attacks APTs which stands for "advanced persistent threat." And there is a reason why they call them advanced and persistent.

Once hackers have a very targeted motivation, come after you, the likelihood that they will come back is pretty high, so we have continued to monitor our systems. This is an ongoing effort by "The New York Times" and by the security firms that it has hired to monitor its systems.

And we are just sort of doing this partly -- coming public with this partly as an educational effort for our own employees to exercise vigilance in terms of what they click on, and what personal information they give away and what they put up on social media sites, et cetera.

MALVEAUX: All right, Nicole Perlroth, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

It's a fascinating article and certainly a window into many of the media outlets that are actually targets of this kind of hacking and the kind of security, Internet security, that's used to combat it. Thank you, again, Nicole.

Major flooding forcing thousands of folks from their homes. This out of Australia. This is the northeastern state of Queensland. And you've got high-water damage that's left behind from a tropical cyclone. Houses, hospitals, businesses, all flooded out. So far four people reported dead from drowning or accidents in that rising water. You it there.

Emergency officials are evacuating towns on Australia's coast, predicting more devastation as these rivers come out of their banks. You see it there. Forecasters now expecting the flooding to get even worse before it gets better.

And this guy, he told them he was Jesus Christ. Then police say he raped them. This is a bizarre sex cult busted now in Mexico.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX : Mexican authorities have raided a cult they say forced people into labor and prostituted young women. The cult allegedly operated out of a ranch in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas.

Rafael Romo joins us to talk about the cult and alleged leader who, first of all, claimed he was Jesus Christ and people started to follow him because they believed him.

RAFAEL ROMO, SENIOR LATING AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: That's exactly right and it all started in a very innocent way. They -- it's a group of foreigners in Mexico, 14 of them, who said we are going to train you to control your mind. That happened a few years ago.

But then, little by little, the leader of the group, a man identified as Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba, a Spanish national, started convincing some of the followers of this cult that he was Jesus Christ reincarnated and that he was on earth to help them.

Now, I had an opportunity to talk to Myrna Garcia. She is from the Support Network for Sect Victims. She was the one, and through her organization, that originally made the complaint with the federal government in Mexico about this organization and the type of abuses people were suffering from, not only forced labor, but sex slavery.

Let's listen to what she had to say in the way he controlled their minds to do whatever he wanted them to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MYRNA GARCIA, SUPPORT NETWORK FOR CULT VICTIMS: They offered to people they are going to be rich. You are going to have powers. You are going to be able to develop or know or grow a little bit in spirit where you are going to be able to (INAUDIBLE), et cetera.

People -- some people listened to it and they believed that and, especially, people who were in need, economical need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMO: Now, Miss Garcia says that this man by the name of Ignacio Gonzalez Arriba was asking people, Suzanne, for about $130,000 to offer these courses where he would teach them how to heal people.

But then he started changing the way he operated and thought that he was going to portray himself as Jesus Christ.

Now, he made a very interesting, bizarre connection between sex and Jesus Christ. Let's listen to what Garcia said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARCIA: He was love. Jesus was asking everybody to practice sex because, through sex, they were going to get power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)