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THE SITUATION ROOM
Eric Holder Visits Ferguson; ISIS Kills American Journalist; U.S. Attempted Rescue of ISIS Hostage in Syria
Aired August 20, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Local authorities begin a secret grand jury investigation. And police are on alert for any new unrest in Ferguson after late-night clashes with protesters just as the situation seemed to be settling down.
Plus, new U.S. attacks on ISIS terrorists after they beheaded an American and threatened to kill another. Now President Obama is furious and he's considering even more military action.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We're following two breaking stories. The U.S. military unleashing new airstrikes against ISIS fighters in Northern Iraq and it's considering a new deployment of ground troops, this after the terrorist group beheaded an American journalist James Foley and threatened to kill another American held hostage.
President Obama responded with an angry vow of justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it doesn't spread.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Also this hour, we're monitoring the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and whether Attorney General Eric Holder's visit has made a difference after new street clashes overnight. We're told Holder is planning to meet with the family of Michael Brown.
The investigation into the shooting death of the 18-year-old is intensifying right now and secret testimony before a grand jury began today.
We have correspondents and newsmakers standing by to bring you new information on these breaking stories.
First to Jake Tapper in Ferguson. He will be joining me throughout the hour -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Brianna.
Attorney General Eric Holder says he hopes his visit here in Ferguson, Missouri, will have a calming effect after the death of Michael Brown, the violence on the streets and the history of tension between police and the African-American community here.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Keep up the good work.
TAPPER (voice-over): He came bearing assurances from Washington that there will be a full and fair investigation in Ferguson. Attorney General Eric Holder today meeting with students and community leaders and bringing a personal commitment to a community torn apart.
HOLDER: We want to help as best we can.
TAPPER: Holder is overseeing the FBI's investigation into the police shooting and any potential civil rights violations. But as for criminal charges against the officer involved, that it will be up to local officials. A neighbor who knew Michael Brown says he does not have much faith in local leaders investigating.
HOWARD BRONNER, NEIGHBOR: I'm glad the federal government decided to investigate this because if they wouldn't, this young man wouldn't get justice.
TAPPER: Howard Bronner says the image of Michael Brown's body, which he saw that day, still disturbs him.
BRONNER: It was just horrifying. I see that young man laying in the street any time I go to sleep.
TAPPER: Today, a local grand jury began hearing evidence in the police shooting. Protesters repeated calls to remove county prosecutor Robert McCulloch, saying McCulloch is too close to the police. His father was an officer and was killed while trying to arrest an African-American suspect. But McCulloch vowed he would not walk away from the job and said the loss of his father did not make him biased.
ROBERT MCCULLOCH, SAINT LOUIS COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: What it did for me or to me was made me, I think, a fierce advocate for victims of violence. I know the pain that the Brown family is going through right now.
TAPPER: In the meantime, the unrest here in Ferguson continues. Demonstrators were out again last night and police made 47 arrests and confiscated two guns. Still, it was calmer last night than the night before. Officials hope tensions are easing.
CAPT. RON JOHNSON, MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL: I think our community is turning against the criminals that are trying to project this community in a bad light. TAPPER: But at a nearby church, controversy came. Police came this
afternoon, saying they were checking to see if protesters had been illegally sleeping there. Members of the community accuse the police of intimidation and harassment.
AARON BURNETT, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: They have been intimidating us for the last couple of nights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Brianna, there were initial reports in other media outlets that police had been seizing supplies from the safe haven in that church. That turns out not to be the case. No supplies were seized, but members of the church, community leaders say police have been shining a light, one of those very strong police lights on them, visiting with semiautomatic rifles in tow and they consider it intimidation and harassment.
So far, we have yet to get a response from the Saint Louis County police on that -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Jake, thank you so much.
Let's get more now on Attorney General Eric Holder's visit to Ferguson.
Our justice reporter Evan Perez is joining us now live from Missouri -- Evan.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Brianna.
One of the first things that Eric Holder did when he got here to the Saint Louis area was meet with some young people who were at a community college. That was a pretty important part of the visit and meeting with community leaders as well. He was trying to bring the message that the first African-American attorney general, he knows what it's like from the complaints that many of these young people, African-American people have here in this community.
For example, he told the story of how he was going to a movie theater when he was a young prosecutor in Washington, D.C., going to a movie in Georgetown and he was stopped by police and questioned as to where he was going and how angry that made him feel. At the same time, he was asking for people to have patience and to basically give a chance to have a conversation about making things better here.
KEILAR: And, Evan, when you look at the record of the Justice Department under Eric Holder, it's actually had increased scrutiny over police departments. Tell us how that sort of manifested itself.
PEREZ: That's a key part of his message here is that he's been on the ball. He's been putting additional scrutiny against police departments all over the country. He's launched about 20 investigations in the last five years against police departments all over the country. That's more than twice the number of those types of investigations in the previous five years. So again he was trying to give them some credibility that what the
Justice Department is doing with the civil rights investigation is to try to bring justice here, Brianna.
KEILAR: And it's a big day today where you are. The local prosecutor began presenting evidence to the secret grand jury. Do you think that is going to affect the federal case at all?
PEREZ: Well, you know, it is on a separate track. I think the attorney general was trying to make a fine distinction between what the Justice Department is doing and what the local prosecutor is doing. Obviously, the local prosecutor said it's going to be probably until October before he finishes presenting evidence. That means that it's going to be awhile before the local prosecutor makes a decision and of course the Justice Department is probably going to wait even longer than that.
So, there's going to be a lot of patience that's going to be demanded of the community here, Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes. And I'm not so sure that they want to wait that long.
Evan Perez in Ferguson, thank you.
KEILAR: As officials scramble to seize tensions there, a Missouri police officer has been suspended for pointing an assault rifle at a peaceful protester and for making threats. Take a listen to that dramatic exchange caught on video yesterday shortly before midnight yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My hands are up, bro. My hands are up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hands up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kill you. Get back. Get back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to kill him. What's your name, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your name is go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself? All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Jake -- let's go to Jake now in Ferguson. Jake, that's not how any police officer should be behaving there. And that police officer is now gone, right? TAPPER: Well, he's been suspended indefinitely. You did see in that
video also another police officer went over to him and escorted him away.
So it's not as though other police weren't aware of that. This is from the Saint Ann Police Department.
we're joined now by Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal. She represents parts of Ferguson.
I don't know if you saw that video last night when it first became viral, but the officer pointing his gun at individuals, I have seen that a lot, not just from him, but saying I'm going to F'ing kill you and then when asked your name, go F-yourself, sounds like the police department did the appropriate thing. What's your response?
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL (D), MISSOURI STATE SENATOR: I'm glad that this incident has come to light.
This has happened several times. There was another officer who referred to one of my constituents as an animal and treated us as animals in the very few first days that we started. I know last Monday we had tear gas for three hours. There was a woman who was -- who is six months pregnant and she was forced face down to the ground while we were being sprayed with tear gas. So this is just reflective of some of the treatment that my constituents have experienced.
TAPPER: Obviously, there are rogue incidents like that. The general approach of the police has been different on different nights. Last night it seemed like the police -- I assume you were out there -- the police were spread out throughout They were rather low-key. There were times that they were clearing areas, but it seemed to be a much more constructive approach than we had seen when they did the huge massive show of force in one location very militarized. What do you think?
You want them there. You want police there.
CHAPPELLE-NADAL: Absolutely. We want to maintain security for all protesters who are there in peace. I will tell you that police officers now have shown a great amount of restraint, different from what we experienced last week.
And last week, it was just totally militarized. I was in Iraq four years ago. And we were in fired upon. We were in a bunker. But last week I felt as though I was in real Iraq when we were in war. And so having a district that looks like we are totally in war is quite surprising. I didn't expect to start passing out gas masks to my constituents. I never thought that would be my job.
TAPPER: That was odd. I came back from the Middle East and I brought the same kit with me.
Let's turn now to Attorney General Eric Holder's trip here. Do you think this is really just for show or is something actually being accomplished? CHAPPELLE-NADAL: I have to tell you, from my constituents'
perspective, they are very happy about this. They have been tempered. This is like a good look over the governor's shoulder. Eric Holder understands the kind of pressure and intimidation that my constituents have experienced.
This is definitely a message to the people of Ferguson and otherwise that the federal government is serious. Quite honestly, our governor has let us down. For my constituents to experience tear gas with extraordinary force from police officers in Saint Louis County, it was quite upsetting, to say the least. He was at the state fair, at a country music fair concert and just to have that experience, two state senators in his party have been tear gassed at this point.
TAPPER: You have been very critical of the governor on Twitter. You used some of the same language the police officer was using, or at least the same word starting with an F.
TAPPER: He's tried to be more active. He put out a video statement. He's appeared, talked more about it. He's subjected himself to two interviews by me. Do you feel like he's getting it a little more? Are you a little bit more supportive?
CHAPPELLE-NADAL: No. You know what? Let me just tell you something. The governor didn't show up until six days later. He is George Bush in Katrina, but this is his Katrina.
Here's the other deal. He's showed up in Florissant, had meetings at churches, which is great. I applaud him for that. He showed up in Normandy, another municipality that I represent, but he's never gone to our ground zero, either one or two. We are at the police station and we are also at the Q.T. That's changed a little bit.
But my constituents, even this morning we were out at like 6:30 this morning and the one thing they will tell you is, why hasn't our governor come to talk to us specifically? We have had Claire McCaskill. I just heard the speaker of the house, Tim Jones, was here. I have had Republican senators who have come to the ground and talked to people, why are you feeling such anger and intimidation? What is going on?
And I think it's quite reflective of the governor's policies at this point. He's been totally disconnected with what is going on at the ground level, and because of that, there are several mistakes that have spanned several days. That's why he's always adjusting. Again, it's wonderful that this community has Captain Johnson because it's someone who is a native-born son. He understands the culture of the community, but Governor Nixon has never made an effort in his entire career to understand the complexity of the minority community here in Missouri. TAPPER: All right, state Senator, thank you so much. We appreciate
We should note right now, the attorney general is meeting with the family of Mike Brown as we speak. We should also note that when the information comes out about that meeting, we will bring it to you -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, thanks, Jake, we will be looking for that.
Still ahead, the grand jury expecting to hear conflicting stories about the shooting of Michael Brown. We're digging deeper into duelling police and witness accounts of what happened.
And is President Obama striking the right tone against ISIS and ordering the right military strategy? I will ask the former CIA director, retired General Michael Hayden.
KEILAR: We're back now with the breaking news out of Ferguson, Missouri.
as police and protesters brace for another tense night, a secret grand jury investigation is under way looking into the death of Michael Brown. His shooting by a police officer sparked this unrest 11 days ago.
And our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, joining us now.
We're expecting this grand jury is going to be hearing very different stories. Right?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely and it could take awhile, until October, Brianna.
Basically, the Saint Louis County prosecutor's office was expected to start presenting the Michael Brown case to the grand jury today. That grand jury will be asked to sort through the various witness accounts in an attempt to try to find out what happened. So far, it seems clear that Brown was walking in the street with his friend Dorian Johnson when they were approached by officer Darren Wilson in his patrol car.
But that's where the stories differ dramatically.
JOHNS (voice-over): Grand jurors will likely see this surveillance video taken in a nearby convenience store. It appears to be the last image of Michael Brown alive seen confronting the store's owner after allegedly stealing cigars. Moments later his friend Dorian Johnson who was with him tells CNN they were walking in the street when they were passed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in his patrol car.
Johnson says he put the car in reverse, backing up and stopping next to them.
DORIAN JOHNSON, WITNESS: We were so close, almost inches away, that when he tried to open his door aggressively, the door ricocheted both off me and big Mike's body, and it caused back on the officer. At that time, he reached out the window with his left arm. He grabbed on to my friend big Mike's throat and he's trying to pull him into the vehicle. And my friend big Mike very angrily is trying to pull away from the officer.
JOHNS: Nearby, Piaget Crenshaw says she saw the tussle.
PIAGET CRENSHAW, WITNESS: It looked like they were wrestling, like -- sorry -- the officer was just trying to pull him into the vehicle.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless his soul.
JOHNS: Crenshaw did not start recording the cell phone video until after the shooting. Johnson, who was walking with the 18-year-old, says Brown never touched officer Wilson's gun.
D. JOHNSON: At no point in time did they struggle over the weapon because the weapon was already drawn on us, so we were more trying to get out of the angle or aim of the weapon besides going towards the weapon because it was drawn on us already.
JOHNS: Other witnesses tell a different story. Listen to the conversation recorded on cell phone video between two bystanders as Brown's body lay in the street after the shooting. CNN does not know their names and we have not interviewed them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
JOHNS: For his part, Wilson has not spoken publicly, but a source with detailed knowledge of the investigation tells CNN officer Wilson's version matches a secondhand account told by his friend when she called into a radio show with his side of the story.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, he tries to get out, and as he stands up, Michael just bum-rushes him, just shoves him back into his car, punches him in the face, and then, of course, Darren grabs for his gun, and Michael grabs for the gun.
At one point, he's got the gun totally turned against his hip and Darren shoves it away, and the gun goes off.
JOHNS: Witness accounts also vary about what happened next. Johnson says he and Brown started running away, but stopped when Wilson began shooting.
D. JOHNSON: And I see the officer proceeding after my friend big Mike with his gun drawn, and he fired a second shot and that struck my friend big Mike. And at that time, he turned around with his hands up beginning to tell the officer that he was unarmed and to tell him to stop shooting, but at that time, the officer was firing several more shots into my friend.
JOHNS: Wilson's friend says the officer has a different account.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He stands up and yells, "Freeze!" Michael and his friend turn around, and Michael starts taunting him. "Oh, what are you going to do about it? You're not going to shoot me."
And then he said, all of a sudden, he just started to bum-rush him. He just started coming at him full speed, and so he just started shooting.
JOHNS: Tonight, the one thing witnesses agree on is that moments after the shooting began, Brown was dead and Wilson was holding the gun.
Now officer Wilson is expected to be invited to testify before the grand jury, though most legal observers say that kind of thing is unlikely because grand juries are seen as tools of the prosecution. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, he would be taking a tremendous legal risk.
KEILAR: All right, Joe, and stick around. I want you to jump in on this conversation that I'm going to have with our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, as well as CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes and CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill.
To you first, Jeff. When you're hearing these conflicts accounts so different of what happened, what does the grand jury and eventually a jury, what do they do with this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: They get more information.
Remember, these are conflicting stories, but there's nothing extraordinary about two eyewitnesses having different recollections. It happens all the time. That's why it's going to be very important to get the scientific evidence, the ballistics evidence, the other autopsy evidence, which will indicate presumably how far away Mike Brown was when he was shot.
DNA evidence, potentially. Is Mike Brown's evidence on the gun? That would suggest he reached in to get it. All sorts of additional evidence will be required before the investigators and then the grand jury can decide whether a crime was committed here.
KEILAR: There's no dash-cam, Tom, which would really be able to tell us what happened. Knowing that, what is the key evidence for the prosecution as they try to make their case?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's going to be the scientific evidence, as Jeffrey mentioned, because really, if it's the science, then you know it's not going to be tainted by a recollection that's not quite accurate by one of the witnesses or the conflicting witnesses.
And as Jeffrey mentioned, the forensics in that car are critical. If Brown was wrestling with the police officer, he could have his skin particles and DNA, hair, fibers on the officer's uniform, on the car, on the floorboard of the car and vice versa. In the videos that you see of the final encounter on the street where officer Wilson does shoot him, you don't see Wilson touch him again.
So if Wilson's DNA is on the body, it came at the car. It didn't come after Brown leaves and starts to flee the scene.
KEILAR: Could there be an issue with so many autopsies, do you think?
JOHNS: Yes. Well, possibly, because everybody says the first autopsy is the biggest deal. That's where you get the most information.
KEILAR: Which was done first, the local autopsy.
JOHNS: Yes, but there are others essentially because they want to make sure that this looks like an independent investigation. Who knows what else the federal autopsy could get.
The other thing about the witnesses, though, is trying to get the disinterested observer. We see the people that CNN reports have said certain things. Are there other people who had different points of view that we don't know about who can come in and say I have no dog in this fight? This is what I saw. That's the type of witness that is going to have perhaps more credibility.
KEILAR: Yes, and carries more weight. I want to talk about something, Marc, that I have found very important in a discussion about how the community is responding to what happened and also to handling the protests and some of the violence that has broken out.
The concept of community policing, that before any of this ever happened that the police should have made inroads in the community so that members of the community when they are having an encounter with the police, their first one isn't a negative one. I want you to listen to something that Captain Ron Johnson said about this community policing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
R. JOHNSON: I think policing has to grow. It's obvious that community policing needs to take place here and across this country. It's obvious that the community here does not feel that there's a connection with them and law enforcement. So that has to change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: How important is this community policing?
MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. In the term itself community policing in the research literature means lots of different things to lots of different people.
But at the core, the idea the community is seen as an asset and an ally to police work as opposed to an enemy is at the crux. It also means that police have to not look at themselves or function as an occupying force in neighborhoods, but instead as people who partner with communities to solve problems, to address issues, so that you know the local policeman's names, so that someone works a beat, so that people know the stakeholders in their community, so people feel comfortable going forward.
Right now I spoke to several people, one woman in particular, who says she saw the shooting. I spoke to her when I was in Ferguson a few days ago. And she says I'm afraid to come forward because I don't want to get killed. I'm afraid of what the law enforcement agencies will do. I'm not afraid of the people out there, I'm afraid of law enforcement.
Just the other night when we were there covering the protests, it was the same thing. Most people who were out there on the streets on Florissant Avenue were not worried about antagonizers or even provocateurs. They were afraid of police. We need to re-imagine the model so before the crisis happens, we have good, healthy relationships.
KEILAR: Yes, please, go ahead, Jeff.
TOOBIN: Let's put some numbers on this. This is a community, Ferguson, that is in round numbers 70 percent African-American. The Ferguson police force is around 90 percent white.
That is a problem. You don't need precisely equal percentages, but you need to have some sense that the police department reflects the community and that is not the case in Ferguson. And it's not just Mike Brown that this was a problem. The relations between this police force and the community have been bad for a long time, and that's one of the reasons the Justice Department is investigating.
KEILAR: Yes, this is a great divide, Tom.
And if police who are -- it's a mainly white force and it's not representative of the city, in order to try to overcome that, I mean, having covered a local crime beat in the past myself in a small town, you even see police officers who were stationed in schools as the kids come in for maybe their breakfast before school. They know them all by names. They know their brothers and sisters and there's a sense that they are a part of the community.
FUENTES: Brianna, this is not a new concept. When I was a little kid, my father was a juvenile officer for more than 10 years. He went and he chaperoned dances and athletic events. I remember tagging along with him. He was constantly interacting with the kids in the community.
KEILAR: And they liked him, I bet. Right?
(CROSSTALK) FUENTES: They knew him by name. When I went to school, they would
say, I saw your dad the other day.
This is not something brand-new that just came out of the textbooks. It's been ongoing a long time. It needs to continue. It needs to be expanded into all neighborhoods, as has been said. I agree with that.
KEILAR: I am so sorry, Marc, we actually have to move along really quick. Thank you so much to all of you, great perspectives on what's really a complicated topic.
Just ahead, we will be taking a closer look at what is really the gruesome message sent to President Obama by ISIS terrorists with the beheading of an American and a horrifying video -- Jake.
TAPPER: And, later, we're keeping a close watch.
KEILAR: Please go ahead, Jeff.
TOOBIN: Let's put some numbers on this. This is a community, Ferguson, that is, in round numbers, 70 percent African-American. The Ferguson police force is around 90 percent white. That is a problem. You don't need precisely equal percentages, but you need to have some sense that the police department reflects the community, and that is not the case in Ferguson.
And it's not just Mike Brown that this was a problem. The relations between this -- this police force and the community have been bad for a long time, and that's one of the reasons the Justice Department is investigating.
KEILAR: This is a great divide, Tom. And if police, who are -- it's a mainly white force and it's not representative of the city, in order to try to overcome that, I mean, having, you know, covered a local crime beat in the past myself in a small town, you even see police officers who were stationed in schools as the kids come in for their -- maybe their breakfast before school. They know them all by names. They know their brothers and sisters, and there's a sense that they're a part of the community.
FUENTES: This is not a new concept. When I was a little kid, my father was a juvenile officer for more than ten years. And he went and chaperoned dances and athletic events. I remember tagging along with him. He was constantly interacting with the kids in the community.
KEILAR: And they liked him, I bet.
FUENTES: Good and bad, and knew them by name, and I went to school. "I saw your dad the other day."
So this is not something brand-new that just came out of the textbooks. It's been ongoing a long time. It needs to continue. It needs to be expanded into all neighborhoods, as has been said. I agree with that.
HILL: I want to add one quick note.
KEILAR: I am so sorry, Mark. We actually have to move along really quick. Thank you so much to all of you. Great perspectives on what's really a complicated topic.
Now, just ahead, we will be taking a closer look at what is really the gruesome message sent to President Obama by ISIS terrorists with the beheading of an American and a horrifying video -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And later, we're keeping a close watch on the...
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We have breaking news and I want to bring in Barbara Starr. She is at the Pentagon.
Barbara, this is about U.S. efforts, right, to try to rescue James Foley, the American journalist who was gruesomely executed by is fighters in Iraq.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Actually in Syria, Brianna.
KEILAR: In Syria.
STARR: Sure. We have an extraordinary revelation by the Obama administration in the last few minutes.
Earlier this summer, U.S. Special Forces, several dozen of them, landed inside Syria for the first time we know of, U.S. combat boots on the ground inside Syria, in an attempted hostage rescue of James Foley and several other hostages being held by ISIS.
The U.S. Special Forces, these were the most senior Special Forces the U.S. has, on the level of Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, we have seen spring into action so many times before.
They had intelligence. They went to a site in Syria. That not -- location not being disclosed. They came in by helicopter, several dozen of them. They were backed up in the air by combat aircraft, by intelligence and surveillance aircraft, keeping an eye on them at all times.
When they got to this facility, they engaged ISIS fighters on the ground. We are told they killed several of them. We are told one of the Special Forces personnel was wounded, no U.S. personnel killed, but when they got to the site, none of the hostages were there. Very sad news on that front. I can tell you that the administration is indicating they had
intelligence that they would be there. They were going after a particular part of the ISIS network that they believed was holding Foley and other hostages. They had some very specific information. They are not saying how they developed that information.
We know it is public information that other hostages that have come out of Syria have been able to report some details of their circumstances while they were being held.
This information exceptionally sensitive, because there are certainly still many people being held inside Syria against their will. The administration acknowledging it, because several news media outlets clearly were onto the story, but offering very scant details other than this extraordinary development that U.S. military personnel were inside Syria earlier this summer. That is about as dangerous as it gets. The Assad regime forces clearly would have an attacked the Americans if they were there. Any number of Syrian factions, including ISIS, would have attacked the Americans if they knew they were there. This is just about as dangerous as it possibly gets for U.S. commandos -- Brianna.
KEILAR: The heroism of that attempt and the heartbreak that they were no longer at that site. Stand by for me, Barbara. We're going to get more details, coming to us from the White House.
I want to bring in our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She is on Martha's Vineyard where the president is vacationing.
Michelle, what are you learning?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is a lot to come out in a short period of time. We just heard from the national security team not long ago. We weren't asking about this specifically, because we didn't know about it yet. But asking about any attempts made or any specific threats known against James Foley's life in the recent past or beyond.
All they said at that time was that they used every tool in their disposal to try to gain information about Foley's whereabouts, about his condition, and to find him and bring him home. Never mentioning this rescue attempt.
So what they have said right now is that "Earlier this summer the president authorized an operation to attempt the rescue of American citizens," plural, "who were kidnapped and held by ISIL," which is their word for ISIS, "against their will in Syria. The president authorized action at this time, because it was the national security team's assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in ISIL custody. The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful, because the hostages were not present."
And then they go on to say that, given the need to protect the military's operational security, they're not going to give any more details about what exactly transpired during that attempt -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Michelle Kosinski, there with the president, thank you so much.
Joining me is retired general Michael Hayden, the former director of both the CIA and the NSA. He's now with the Chertoff Group, a global security firm.
I'm wondering -- thank you for being with us. Is this the first that you are hearing of this?
MICHAEL HAYDEN, CHERTOFF GROUP: It's the first time I've ever heard any of the enriched details that Barbara gave you from the Pentagon. I had had heard rumors, but nothing specific, to be perfectly candid with it.
HAYDEN: I don't know any of the fine print. I don't know when or where.
I can tell you, though, it's what we do.
HAYDEN: We're good at it. We work very hard at this.
KEILAR: So you cannot really overstate the danger of taking on an operation like this, right? But also certainly the goal behind it. There's so much risk in trying to achieve something like this.
HAYDEN: No, here's tremendous risk. We're kind of an emotional -- emotional roller coaster, aren't we? We had the horror of yesterday. And now today we hear a story of brave Americans supported by really good intelligence efforts, risking their own lives in order to save an American citizen.
KEILAR: Yesterday we saw on the video the horrific video where one American journalist, Jim Foley, lost his life. But ISIS has issued this other threat for another journalist, Steve Sotloff, that they are going to kill him, essentially saying to President Obama, "His life is in your hands."
And certainly, some of this is very much a gruesome P.R. offensive on the part of ISIS. But what -- I guess at this point, are there any options to try to save this man? And other Americans?
HAYDEN: Sure. It totally depends on how good you think your intelligence is. Do you think you have an idea of where these individuals are? And Brianna, if you don't, you can't. You just don't have options here against this kind of an enemy. You can't deter them or dissuade them from this. The only tool you have is to prevent, and you can't prevent unless you know exactly where they are.
KEILAR: I want to go ahead and bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, bring her back into the discussion. I know you must have a number of questions, Barbara, as you were just
learning this astounding news of this attempted rescue.
STARR: Well, General Hayden, I wanted to ask you something, because after all your years of serving in the Air Force, serving in the intelligence community, you have a lot of knowledge about what the threat would have been facing those U.S. commanders as they went into Syria.
And we've heard so much in recent past that one of the big restrictions, one of the big reasons you can't put U.S. troops into Syria is because of their air defenses, that the Syrian government has very strong weapons and systems that could shoot down U.S. aircraft. So for the U.S. helicopters to get into Syrian air space, land several dozen U.S. commandos, there had to be an awful lot of very covert, very secret action against some of Syria's capabilities to make them able to get in and get out.
HAYDEN: Well, you're right, Barbara. But let's not overestimate the Syrian air defenses. After all, Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria several years back and were able to manage going through the defenses. So let's not overrate them.
Now, that doesn't discount the danger, but this is what our Special Forces do. Flying map-of-the-earth techniques very low. Based upon your information they did have some top cover that they could call in if the situation went south. Let's remember: these guys in JSOC did this multiple times per night in Iraq, taking on AQI at that time.
KEILAR: Yes, and that's really one of the things with the Joint Special Operations Command, as you referred to JSOC. That idea -- we've seen, obviously -- we know of the operation to try to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, very successful. This one, obviously, not turning up to be fruitless, very unfortunately.
But can you talk a little bit about, I guess, whether this is something that could -- would it be carried out again, or do you have a feeling that -- that there's really no way to stop ISIS at this point?
HAYDEN: Well, again, absent the specific intelligence, we can't prevent and they are not dissuadable, deterrable.
Now we've made this public, all right? There may be some people out there watching this, saying, "Well, we put them on their toes." But you and I didn't know about the raid before, but ISIS knew.
HAYDEN: This doesn't give them any additional warning.
KEILAR: So why are U.S. officials coming out and disclosing this now? As you said, this happens all the time. We don't hear about it as members of the public. Many journalists don't. Why now? Why are we learning this now? HAYDEN: I think Barbara suggested, or perhaps your reporter suggested
that it was beginning to bleed out, that some news agencies had gotten the story. So it's better -- it really is better if you have a part of this you can tell, go tell it and close it off. And that way others won't say too much and reveal something about your tactics, techniques, procedures, that really will do harm to future operations.
KEILAR: What are the next steps here? We've seen airstrikes, apparently in response to the killing of Jim Foley. The State Department has made a request for more assistance. What are the next steps?
HAYDEN: Well, look, the lives of these individuals, the life of Jim Foley, the life of Mr. Sotloff and other hostages, that's always very, very important.
But, Brianna, fundamentally here, we've got a really serious strategic problem. We have a fundamental estate not in the middle of nowhere like Afghanistan, but in the middle of the Middle East. And those people there intend to do great harm not just locally but regionally and then globally.
We actually need to take on this threat not just -- it's very important -- not just try to protect or rescue our citizens, but we have to got to take the wood to ISIS and simply make them less capable of doing the kind of harm they clearly intend to do to us.
KEILAR: I want ask you about this in a moment. First, I want to sort of see, is this the first time that we know of U.S. forces, U.S. Special Forces being in Syria?
HAYDEN: There was a raid against a fellow named Abu Ghadiya while I was the director of CIA. We did cross the border. It showed up on cell phone video, that became very public. It's a very shallow raid. We did kill our Abu Ghadiya. So, it's not quite the first time, but it's certainly the first time I'm aware of in this current conflict.
KEILAR: You say take the wood to ISIS. What needs to be done and why is ISIS such a threat to America?
HAYDEN: Well, first of all, the president has articulated a policy. We're going to prevent genocide and atrocities and we're going to protect Americans like in the consulate in Irbil. That's good.
But you know what? The president's actions are already pretty much beyond those limited objectives. I mean, we were kind of a Kurdistan air force, aren't we, in the retaking Mosul dam, providing close air support to Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi special forces? Look, we're all tired of war. We all have fatigue about this. But I really do think that's the right course of action.
We need to do more of that. We need to degrade ISIS, which is more than a terrorist organization. It's a government and it's an army and we just simply have to make them less capable.
If you're looking for a metaphor here, all right, and I'm not taking part of any detailed planning that's going on, or anything, we need to begin to treat ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria, the way we have treated Waziristan for the last decade. Make them worried about their survival rather than planning to threaten yours and mine.
KEILAR: All right. General Hayden, thank you so much. Stick with us.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
KEILAR: And, you know, we need to take a quick break. More of this breaking news of an attempted rescue, an extraordinary attempted rescue of American hostages in Syria.
KEILAR: Breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We've just learned that over the summer, there was a Special Operations attempt to try to free Jim Foley, that American journalist who was so horrifically and unfortunately beheaded by ISIS as we learned yesterday.
We're talking about this operation that ultimately was not successful. We have learned from U.S. officials and reporting from our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr that when Special Operations Forces tried to attempt this rescue, the hostages, Jim Foley, as well as others, had been moved.
I want to go ahead and bring in retired General Michael Hayden, used to head the NSA and the CIA.
And this is startling what we're learning, that this is a way that the U.S. has been dealing with ISIS. Does this really change in a way our perception of how they're dealing with this threat?
HAYDEN: I hope so. I hope it's a suggestion of other things that have been going on. Look, the president doesn't need me to grade his policy statements.
But I looked at the speech today. There's genuine grief, genuine anger. And then, the president said something along the lines of, we can all agree that ISIS is incompatible with the 21st century.
That sounded a lot to me like Assad has lost all legitimacy, must go, or Putin's foreign policy is 19th century foreign policy. I mean, those are all true.
The question I have is, so what are we going to do about it? And perhaps this raid is a suggestion that we're going to do more about it than we have in the past.
Now, look, we did harm ISIS a bit but that was incidental to trying to rescue the American. I think we need to do a lot more with the specific purpose of degrading ISIS.
KEILAR: What does that mean, though, more? HAYDEN: What more?
KEILAR: More airstrikes, ground troops?
HAYDEN: Look, I actually think, you know, the tide of war is receding and so on. It's not receding. There's a line in Tolkien about it takes but one sword to make a war. And I think we're seeing that in ISIS. We have got to respond. We can do it with airpower, we can do it with unmanned aerial vehicles, we can do it with our friends in Iraq like the Kurds, and we might have to do it with some of our own forces on the ground.
KEILAR: Other options besides ground forces, Americans have shown they're weary of that, but certainly that's something that you're in favor of.
I want to bring in on the phone someone with incredible perspective on this. A former Navy SEAL. He was a member of SEAL Team 8. Chris Heben joining me now.
Chris, can you just explain to us -- I mean, we know that this is dangerous. But really, with your expertise, put a finer point on just how risky an operation like this is.
CHRIS HEBEN, FORMER NAVY SEAL (via telephone): Well, you know, any time you head into someone else's territory, the odds of difficulty increase and the margin for error is increased. But Special Forces guys, we train to the tip of perfection and we're ready to do these operations. There's always an inherent risk.
You're only as good as your intelligence reports and intelligence is fleeting. We have electronic intelligence. We have human intelligence, signal intelligence. It's this hodgepodge of information that they put together and you hope that it's up to date and current.
Sometimes it is and you get the job done, and sometimes it's not and you go away empty handed. But as long as no one got hurt and maybe you take it to the bad guys and you took out some of them, it's still a pretty good day.
So, these guys came up empty handed but no one got hurt. But there's always a risk.
KEILAR: All right. Chris, stand by for us. We are going to be right back.
KEILAR: We are following breaking news. The Pentagon just revealing that the U.S. attempted a rescue operation this summer to try to save a number of American hostages held by ISIS in Syria. A U.S. official tells CNN the mission was to rescue the American journalist Jim Foley, along with others who are being held hostage at an undisclosed location. ISIS released a gruesome video yesterday showing Foley being beheaded, saying that it was retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.
The terror group is also threatening to kill another American journalist held hostage right now. And we've also learned in some of these details that no U.S. personnel were killed in this operation. One was slightly wounded. Several ISIS operatives were killed.
But perhaps this news, telling us, giving us more information about how the U.S. is dealing with the threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
I'm Brianna Keilar. Thank you so much for watching us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.