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Iran Nuclear Deal; After 43 Years, FBI Burglars Come Clean; Imagine a World

Aired January 13, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

The countdown is on to January 20th, when the interim agreement between Iran and the rest of the world comes into effect to curb Iran's nuclear program and get some sanctions lifted.

In Paris, U.S. foreign secretary John Kerry hailed this as an important step and it does follow the breakthrough agreement between the United States, Iran and major world powers known as the P5+1 in Geneva late last year. And that will see Iran capping its uranium enrichment at 5 percent in return for limited sanctions relief.

But the deal faces stiff opposition, especially in Israel, where today the former hardline prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was buried. And it has also run into heavy criticism in the United States Congress, where lawmakers from both parties want to tighten rather than ease sanctions.

Now David Cohen is undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence for the United States Treasury, which was a major player in negotiating this deal. He joins me tonight from Washington.

Mr. Cohen, welcome. Welcome to the program.

DAVID COHEN, U.S. TREASURY UNDERSECRETARY: Hi, Christiane. Happy to be here.

AMANPOUR: So tell me, from your perspective, the fact that the countdown to January 20th is on, do you feel good about it? Do you feel this is a positive step? Are you concerned right now as others are?

COHEN: Well, it is a positive step. The implementation agreement that was reached over the weekend which will put into effect the joint plan of action that was agreed to last November is a concrete step forward in putting some real restraints on Iran's nuclear program, creating the space to allow negotiations to proceed on a potential comprehensive solution to concerns with Iran's nuclear program.

And in exchange, we will be providing some very limited targeted and reversible sanctions refl.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you precisely at that moment what that sanctions relief is.

COHEN: Right. It is -- it is actually quite limited. The entire value of the sanctions relief package is in the $6 billion to $7 billion range. And it has a number of components but they are quite targeted. There's a portion of Iran's revenues that have been restrained overseas that Iran will get access to, $4.2 billion in total.

We're also suspending some sanctions on the import of parts for Iran's auto industry and the export of petrochemicals from Iran. But this is very targeted, limited to those sectors. And importantly, it's all reversible.

If Iran does not comply with the commitments that it's made in this new deal, all of these sanctions can be immediately reinstated. We will stop the flow of funds that Iran will get access to under this agreement. Then we will work with our Congress if Iran fails to fulfill its commitment under this agreement to put into effect even more stringent sanctions.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about Congress, because right now, it looks like President Obama and you, the administration, are in fact working kind of at loggerheads with Congress because many members of Congress want to impose and tighten sanctions.

The president has said that this is not the time to do that.

What do you think is going to happen? Is a vote going to take place that will actually tighten sanctions? And what do you believe the effect of that will be on the current state of negotiations?

COHEN: Look, we have worked very closely with Congress over many years now to put in place the most comprehensive, the most powerful sanctions regime in history. And it has had a very, very valuable effect in bringing Iran to the table and helping us negotiate this first step agreement.

And will also help us, I think, in our negotiations for comprehensive agreements. But we have also been very clear that we don't think now is the time to impose additional new sanctions. We have made very clear to the Iranians -- and it's explicit in this new implementation agreement -- that we have the right to enforce the sanctions that are in place. The vast majority of the sanctions remain in place.

And we will continue to vigorously enforce those sanctions. And there's no doubt that if Iran doesn't fulfill its obligations under this agreement, or Iran is unwilling to come to terms on a comprehensive agreement, that we can, working with Congress, impose new sanctions, you know, in a heartbeat. But now is not the time to impose new sanctions, new nuclear sanctions, on Iran.

AMANPOUR: So you have been instrumental in crafting these sanctions, in enforcing these sanctions, as I said also you, the Treasury Department, had a particular role and a seat at the negotiating table.

What can President Obama do if, in fact, Congress does vote to tighten and impose new sanctions?

COHEN: Well, I don't want to presuppose that Congress will do that. I think we've had constructive dialogue with Congress about the importance of withholding for the time being any new sanctions.

But we -- what I can tell Congress and what we've told our international partners and we've told the Iranians is that the sanctions that remain in place, which include all of our banking sanctions, sanctions on anyone who would invest in Iran's energy sector, the trade embargo that prevent any U.S. business from doing business in Iran, sanctions on Iran's ability to sell its oil, a whole range of sanctions remain in place and we are going to continue to very vigorously enforce those sanctions so that we keep the pressure on Iran during this six-month period.

AMANPOUR: Right. But what can the president do? What pools are available to him to make sure that sanctions don't get new ones don't get imposed or don't get tightened? Because you know, that very well that the Iranian foreign minister said the entire deal is off is such a thing happens.

Do you believe that? Do you think that this jeopardizes this whole deal and will the president veto any such, you know, moves from Congress?

COHEN: Well, the president has said that he would veto new sanctions legislation if Congress were to pass such a bill. But I don't think anybody wants to go there. I think we've been working closely with Congress over many years now on putting together a very effective sanctions regime.

It has had the effect that we've been looking for, which is to put significant pressure on the Iranians to bring them to the table. They're at the table now. And you know, now is the time to see if it's possible to negotiate a comprehensive resolution to the concerns with Iran's nuclear program.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you about the comprehensive negotiations. Apparently they might start; it's been floated, maybe in three or four weeks after the interim one goes into effect.

What is the complications? How long do you think that could take? Do you think that it could go as relatively smoothly as the interim deal has?

COHEN: Well, I know my colleagues at the State Department are -- will be working with their colleagues in the P5+1, the five members of the Security Council plus Germany, to negotiate with the Iranians going forward on this long-term agreement. I can't predict what sort of complications there may be.

But I know that everyone is looking forward to having a -- you know, a fruitful negotiation and with the intent of trying to get this done within the six-month period that the joint plan of action sets out.

AMANPOUR: So you've laid out your rationale and the Obama administration rationale for why now is not the time to increase the pressure. But clearly, you know, as you've seen what Congress wants, some people will think that, you know, you might lose this fight in Congress. And --


COHEN: Christiane, the pressure will increase on Iran during the course of this six-month period, even without new sanctions. The sanctions that are in place will continue to deny Iran about $5 billion a month in oil revenue that they otherwise would have earned. The sanctions will continue to put out of Iran's reach most of the revenue that it earns from the reduced amount of oil that it sells.

The sanctions will continue to make it very difficult to do business with Iran because most of Iranian banks are cut off from the international financial sector. All of those sanctions remain in place. They have all been building the pressure on Iran over the last several years. And they will continue to build the pressure on Iran in this six-month period.

AMANPOUR: And finally then, you know, there's a lot of chatter outside whether it's in Congress or in Israel or amongst those who oppose this deal. You've sat at the table. Do you feel that this is a singular moment? Do you feel that this interim deal could lead to a permanent deal or that you're -- you know, on a trip to be conned, as the critics claim?

COHEN: Well, it's very important that this six-month joint plan of action halts Iran's progress on their nuclear program, which gives us this space to negotiate and to explore whether a long-term deal can be reached without the risk that in the meantime Iran will continue to enrich uranium at 20 percent or at higher levels. Their enrichment at 20 percent will be halted under this agreement.

You know, whether this is -- will lead to a long-term comprehensive deal, you know, that is really very much in the Iranians' hands. If they're prepared to take the steps necessary to prove that their nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes and we can reach a deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that's what we're looking to achieve.

AMANPOUR: David Cohen, Undersecretary of the Treasury, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

COHEN: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Meantime, Iran won't be at a Syria press conference as the United States and its allies are trying to arrange in Geneva this month. That, the West says, must pave the way for a government in Syria without Iran's ally, Bashar al-Assad.

But Assad himself shows no sign of preparing to step aside. Syrian state TV shows him mobbed by supporters as he was leaving a mosque in Damascus on Sunday.

And after a break, long before Edward Snowden and the NSA, the FBI was spying on U.S. civil rights activists and opponents of the Vietnam War. In that pre-digital age, all it took was a crowbar and eight ordinary free people to break in and steal the secrets. You'll meet two of the conspirators and hear their amazing story when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

In a major speech later this week, President Obama is expected to lay out reforms to the NSA. After a special panel investigating Edward Snowden's leaks called for new limits on the nation's intelligence agencies. Now this is not the first time that stolen files have forced reforms to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Back in 1971 a group of anti-Vietnam War activists broke into an FBI office in suburban Philadelphia. They were ordinary citizens, college professors, day care workers, taxi drivers and one night while most of American was riveted by the historic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, they staged a major heist that would reveal a pattern of FBI spying and dirty tricks against American citizens and activists.

Now despite a massive FBI manhunt, the burglars were never caught; the statute of limitations ran out and their identities were never known until now.

Journalist Betty Medsger was the first to report the story, and she's just published her book called "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI."

Betty joins me today, along with John and Bonnie Raines, a married couple who kept their story a secret for more than 40 years.


AMANPOUR: Welcome, all of you, to the program. Thank you for joining me.

It is really an extraordinary thing that I read that you all did.

John, what was your motivation for actually robbing the FBI office?


JOHN RAINES, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, the motivation really came out of my early participation in the civil rights movement. I was a Freedom Rider.

We were made very much aware, those of us involved in the civil rights movement, that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI did not want that movement to succeed. They wanted -- he wanted the streets to be quiet.

AMANPOUR: What did you think you could do by robbing the office?

JOHN RAINES: J. Edgar Hoover was untouchable. He was either admired or he was feared in Washington. Nobody that we elected to supervise something like the FBI would do their work.

AMANPOUR: And you got all the paperwork and you were one of the first to break this story; now you've written this amazing book.

BETTY MEDSGER, AUTHOR: There was a lot that needed to be confronted.

First of all, we'd learned the basic philosophy of the FBI, how they - - how they operate. There was a statement that was extremely surprising.

AMANPOUR: And I'm going to quote it directly, "It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."

That was one of the documents that you found.

BONNIE RAINES, ANTIWAR ACTIVIST: Yes, that was one of the first ones.

AMANPOUR: So you felt that was sort of like a smoking gun about what they were doing?

BONNIE RAINES: It certainly was.

AMANPOUR: Let's go back to the beginning. It was a meticulously laid plan. I mean, it just reads unbelievably when we look at it today.

How did you think you were going to get away with it? You're not professional burglars.

The night that you decided to commit the robbery, how did you know that you would be able to case this joint, to get into this joint?

What do you have to do to make sure --


AMANPOUR: -- he's pointing at you, Bonnie.

What did you do?


JOHN RAINES: (INAUDIBLE) after the break-in, "Find me that woman," well, there she is.

AMANPOUR: What did that woman do?

BONNIE RAINES: I called the office and posed as a sophomore college student and said I was doing research on opportunities for women in the FBI and could I come in and interview the head of the office.

And they gave me an appointment and I tried to disguise my appearance, look like a college student --

AMANPOUR: Yes, we have a drawing of --

BONNIE RAINES: -- I was 29 at the time.

And they never noticed that I never took my gloves off the whole time I was there. I took my notes in my little notebook with gloves on. So it was --



BONNIE RAINES: No suspicion, no suspicion whatsoever.

And that gave us the confidence that we -- there were no security measures and that we would be able to go ahead and attempt to break in.

BETTY MEDSGER, AUTHOR: Yes, I just wanted to -- I want to emphasize that they had no idea whether they would find a single piece of paper of importance.

And I think this is important. They were willing to take this risk that could have led to many years in prison, sacrificing their freedom, without having any certainty that they were going to find anything significant.

And this is quite in contrast with the methods used by Edward Snowden today, when he's an insider. They were an outsider.

AMANPOUR: And additionally, you had young children.


AMANPOUR: How did you prepare yourselves and them for the possibility of being arrested and put away for a long time?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, we committed finally and agreed that both of us would participate, which was another level of jeopardy. We were not reckless in any regard and that it was our responsibility as citizens to take this action, even as parents of young children.

And I had a concern about the kind of society our children were going to grow up in and what would their future be.

JOHN RAINES, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: See, that's crucial. I mean, we're parents; we're also citizens, so that we have a double responsibility, yes, as parents to our children, but also as citizens to the nation those children are going to live in and have children in.

So we had those two responsibilities.

AMANPOUR: Who would have taken care of those children, if their parents had been sent to jail?

JOHN RAINES: My older brother, and we talked -- and we didn't tell him what we were going to do. But we said this is -- this could be a high jeopardy kind of thing.

Would you be willing if we are sent to jail?

AMANPOUR: Did you choose the night specifically?


BONNIE RAINES: That is a key factor. And yes, it was chosen, I think, once again, Bill, who was so strategic and smart, realized that we had an opportunity on the night of huge championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

And that we -- it was our hope that people living in apartments in that building would be listening to it on their radio and perhaps the police would not be quite as vigilant. They would be listening to the fight as well.

AMANPOUR: And is that what you found?

JOHN RAINES: It worked.


JOHN RAINES: It worked.

AMANPOUR: The night that the actual burglars got in, having jimmied the lock with a crowbar, having collected all these papers, what did they do?

What did they find? What did they do? Where did they take the papers?

JOHN RAINES: Well, they took the papers to our station wagon, which was parked in the Swarthmore College, which was close by Media, where I was waiting, quite anxiously, I should say.


JOHN RAINES: And then we went to a fellowship farm, a Quaker place --



JOHN RAINES: -- about --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a conference center.

JOHN RAINES: -- about an hour west of the city and started sorting it.

I mean, all -- we had tables set up in this -- in the house that was - - that we had rented and all of a sudden, somebody would say, oh, oh, oh, look at this! Look at this! Look at this!

And we'd all run over there and, you know, it was within an hour, we knew we hit the jackpot.

AMANPOUR: For instance, the document that had the huge impact was one, apparently, an internal memo, talking about this thing, COINTELPRO.

What does it mean? What is COINTELPRO?

MEDSGER: An acronym for counterintelligence programs. It was a mere routing slip on top of a -- of an article, actually, about -- it was advice on how university administrators should come down hard on student protesters.

It was really one of the most vicious of Hoover's operations and it would involve dirty tricks, some of them violent, some of them resulted in death.

AMANPOUR: And was that also when Dr. Martin Luther King was under investigation, being blackmailed and all the rest of it?

Was that part of that?

MEDSGER: It was part of that. And the program against Dr. King was a -- went on for years. And one of the elements of that was an effort, a blackmail effort against him, trying to convince him to commit suicide just days before he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

AMANPOUR: It's incredible to think about it.

But what is also incredible is, as you say, it's the first that really got the ball moving in terms of reining in some of these rogue operations. Right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The existence -- the existence was absolutely unknown. And they --


AMANPOUR: After these investigations and hearings, it actually did make a difference. We have a -- from the "Church Committee Final Report," quote, "Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies and too much information has been collected."

So did you feel that what you did was a major success?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, we did. We finally felt that we had had the success that we -- that we hoped we would have and so that made us feel like we could turn the page and more or less return to our regular lives.

AMANPOUR: Well, could you talk to anybody about this?

BONNIE RAINES: No, no. We didn't talk to anyone.

AMANPOUR: You never talked to each other?


AMANPOUR: After the operation?

BONNIE RAINES: No, we didn't.

AMANPOUR: And then the statute of limitations ran out several years later.

JOHN RAINES: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And then you were home free.

JOHN RAINES: Well, we were home free; but by then our lives had gone on. I mean, we were -- we returned to what we were, citizens. And I was a teacher. Bonnie was a day care director. And our lives were very full.

AMANPOUR: And you, as we said, had these children.

What did they think their parents were doing when you were planning? I mean, did they -- did you have to educate them on how to keep quiet?

BONNIE RAINES: Just a little bit. But most of what we were doing was after their bedtime and we weren't out every single night doing casing. But we would have a sitter who would stay with them. And then we would always be back at home in time to get them up in the morning and drive car pool, just like a normal mommy.


MEDSGER: (INAUDIBLE) two other burglars had children also, Bill Davidon and plus one who has not come forward.

AMANPOUR: John and Bonnie, Betty, thank you very much. Fascinating story.

JOHN RAINES: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And there's also a documentary coming out later this year made by filmmaker Johanna Hamilton, called "1971" on this very subject.

And after a break, we'll take a closer look at the fight and the outspoken fighter that kept the FBI and the neighbors occupied while the break-in took place.

(INAUDIBLE), sting like a bee, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, that daring break-in at the FBI office back in March of 1971 as we said was timed to coincide with the prize fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which was taking place here at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Ironically, Ali himself had been the target of just this kind of secret surveillance. The burglars were searching for. And he was battling for more than a heavyweight crown.

Imagine a world where a boxer loses the fight of his life and comes out the winner. Back in 1960, as an 18-year-old amateur, a brash young boxer named Cassius Clay won an Olympic gold medal, becoming a national hero.

Four years later, he took on and defeated the unbeatable heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. But soon after Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali and later he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.


MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXING CHAMPION: My intention is to box, to win a clean fight, but in war, the intention is to kill, kill, kill, kill and continue killing innocent people.


ALI: That's what --

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In 1967, Ali put his career and convictions on the line, refusing to serve in the military. Convicted of draft evasion, his boxing license and passport were revoked and he couldn't fight for four long years at the peak of his powers.

And then in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction, setting up the so-called "Fight of the Century" between him and Joe Frazier. Ali lost that night, as we said, the night the burglars were raiding the FBI office. He lost in a 15-round decision. But he would go on to reclaim his crown and so much more.

By the time he retired, the fighter who called himself "The Greatest" had indeed become an inspiration to millions of people. And in 1996, with his physical powers so diminished by disease, he triumphantly returned to carry the torch and light the flame at the Atlanta Olympics. He was a champion in every sense of the word.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.