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American Killed Fighting for ISIS; Interview with Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary; FBI Analyzing Alleged New Audio of Brown Shooting

Aired August 27, 2014 - 08:00   ET


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His name was Douglas McAuthur McCain, killed last weekend in the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria.

U.S. officials confirm the 33-year-old was fighting for ISIS battle another group who are battling the Assad regime.

McCain's devastated family told CNN he converted to Islam years ago and eventually traveled what they thought was Turkey. They communicated with him over Facebook only days ago and say they had no idea the father and one-time San Diego area restaurant worker with a history of minor arrests and citations devoted his life to violent jihad.

KENYATA MCCAIN, DOUGLAS MCCAIN'S COUSIN: That's not who he was. For him to be in Syria fighting for a terrorist group, that doesn't make sense. My mom and my dad and our family, we're like, that's -- we don't understand it.

KOSINSKI: The U.S. believes more than 100 Americans have traveled to Syria to take up arms.

Earlier this year, this 22-year-old Florida man became the first American to carry out a suicide bombing in Syria. President Obama has been meeting with his national security team to determine what is next. And if airstrikes, which are sounding increasingly certain, then what role will Congress play in authorizing them, and under what legal justification?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America does not forget, our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again, we will do what's necessary to capture those who harm Americans.


KOSINSKI: The administration made it clear they'll be working with international partners moving forward and regional partners are especially important, given this situation. And this issue of foreign fighters has also affected other countries. It was just this week that the mayor of London controversially called for any British citizen traveling to Iraq or Syria right now to be presumed guilty of terrorism instead of innocent upon their return, and he also felt that anybody fighting alongside one of these groups should be stripped of their British citizenship -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You can see that concern rising in London and here as well. Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thanks so much.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. John, for more on the family's reaction to McCain's death and his radicalization into a terrorist group, we go to CNN's Dan Simon in San Diego.

Dan, it sounds like they were blind-sided by this.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Completely blind-sided, Alisyn. They say they're devastated and they had no idea he had these radical views. They knew that obviously that he converted to Islam. He was a Christian, but they said they were OK with that. He was obviously passionate about his faith. They knew that in terms of their relationships with him, but the notion that he would go to Syria and join a terrorist group totally caught them off guard.

The only warning sign or red flag they can point to is on social media he did express his support for ISIS with the motion that he would join the organization, that totally caught them off guard, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I bet it did.

All right. Dan Simon, thanks so much for that update.

BERMAN: All right. We're joined now by Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

Admiral, thank you so much for being with us.

As we sit here this morning how much do you know now about Douglas McCain?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we're just -- actually, we don't have a whole lot, John, here at the Pentagon on him. I know there's other agencies government that were aware and tracking this individual and his activities. I don't have much here again from the Pentagon on this.

But I will say it's a stark reminder and healthy reminder of the concern that governments all over the world have about foreign fighters getting radicalized, joining a group like ISIL and then potentially coming back to their homelands and conducting terrorist attacks.

BERMAN: But he didn't come back to the homeland. What does it tell you? What does it tell you that this young man who was working for ISIS, under ISIS control inside Syria, that ISIS chose to use him in Syria?

KIRBY: It doesn't -- I don't know if it tells us anything specifically he didn't make it back. He certainly can't eliminate the idea that these foreign fighters could potentially come back. Again, that's the concern. As we have -- look, we also have a concern that they're getting radicalized in the first place, they're being attracted to such a perverse and brutal ideology, and that they would go over there and help in this complete deprivation of the region in particular inside Iraq.

So, it's very troubling. When we talk about the immediacy of the threat here in the Pentagon, the reason why we are taking this threat so seriously, this is one of those factors.

BERMAN: So, it is the Douglas -- first of all, how many Douglas McCains do you think there are out there? Is the estimate still about 100 Americans fighting inside Syria right now?

KIRBY: I've seen the estimate of about 100. I have no reason to doubt that here. At the Pentagon, we certainly think it's in the dozens, that's for sure. But it's a very difficult thing to get your arms around.

BERMAN: And as you sit in the pentagon this morning and at the White House, as they're considering air strikes against ISIS in Syria, is the concern people like Douglas McCain, the fact that there are Americans now joining this organization, or are you more concerned with the growing territorial reach of ISIS in that region?

KIRBY: The larger concern is the regional, and even global aspirations that a group like ISIL has, and the increasingly strong threat they pose to security and stability over there. Obviously, we're concerned about Americans that may be attracted to this cause, but if they do, they become enemies of the United States when they do that, and they take on those actions at their own peril.

We've got to deal with this threat regionally. We have to deal with it, and I heard you talking about this earlier from an international perspective, that's certainly something that we're interested in pursuing here at the Pentagon. Yesterday, I announced thanks to Secretary Hagel's leadership we have seven nations now that are helping arm the Kurds.

So, this is a much bigger problem than just inside Iraq.

BERMAN: You have nations now arming the Kurds in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. Who is going to help you in Syria?

KIRBY: Well, look, there's been no decisions about action inside Syria, so I won't get ahead of any kind of potential future operations. We are mindful and have stayed mindful of the free reign that they have, and the free access they have across that border between Iraq and Syria. We know Chairman Dempsey said this last week that there's no way of dealing with this threat without also trying to deal with it in Syria.

But I'll tell you, the long-term answer here in both Iraq and Syria is good governance, trying to remove the conditions in which they've been allowed to fester and grow, the insecurity, the instability. So, when you have good governance in Iraq, there is a unity government standing up, that's a promising thing, and, of course, we have the Assad regime in Syria which has done nothing but caused deprivations on their own people, killing their own people.

That's a regime that needs to go. We need to see good governance in Syria as well and that will help eliminate the attraction to this ridiculous ideology that these people espoused.

BERMAN: You're talking about good governance in Syria, though. You know, how does potential action against ISIS help with that? How does airstrikes, potential airstrikes get Assad out of power because these two things seem disconnected?

KIRBY: Well, we're not talking about, again, I'm not going to get ahead of decisions a president hasn't made here. Whatever action we would take kinetically from the Pentagon's perspective against ISIL terrorists would be against ISIL terrorists.

What we're saying is that airstrikes, military action is only going to take you so far and we've been very clear that there's not going to be a military solution here. Ultimately, there has to be a political solution, there has to be the kind of conditions where people can live free, have hope, have an economic future and not be attracted and not be willing to fall prey to this ridiculous ideology.

BERMAN: There's a little bit of confusion about what the president is deciding on, there were reports yesterday that he has a list of options in front of him that he is weighing. Is that the case right now? Is that your understanding?

KIRBY: We're a planning organization here at the Pentagon, John, that's what we do. We don't talk about the deliberations that go on with respect to that planning.

BERMAN: I'm bouncing you back and forth between Iraq and Syria a lot and I appreciate your patience with me.

KIRBY: That's OK.

BERMAN: There's a report in "The New York Times" this morning that the United States is considering upping its action in Iraq, perhaps more humanitarian air lifts, perhaps more air strikes, particularly targeted at helping some Turkmen Shiites there. Can you confirm that?

KIRBY: Well, we're mindful of the humanitarian situation in Iraq. One of the reasons we are -- we do conduct some kinetic activity, some airstrikes inside Iraq is to assist with humanitarian efforts, that is certainly one of the missions that we're authorized to do inside Iraq. We're always monitoring it.

I won't get ahead of operations or missions that we aren't conducting yet, but we are certainly mindful of the fact that there's other human, there is more human suffering in Iraq and we're watching this closely.

BERMAN: What have you learned from the action in Iraq that could help with potential action that I know you haven't decided on yet but what have you learned in Iraq that could potentially help in Syria? KIRBY: We have -- again, without speculating here, I just tell you,

we're gaining -- what I would say is we're gaining every day that we're helping the Iraqi security forces in their efforts against ISIL. We're gaining knowledge and insight about ISIL in general. I mean, this is a group we've been watching for months. We're certainly now that we're more actively engaged in Iraq we're learning more, getting more information about how they operate.

We also believe on a tactical level these airstrikes are having an effect, that they are causing them to change a little bit of their behavior, that we're setting them back a little bit, we're certainly hurting their morale and we're disrupting their ability to move and to operate inside Iraq.

BERMAN: You have the Kurds inside Iraq. Do you have a similar group that could be available to help you on the ground inside Syria?

KIRBY: Well, one of the things that we are trying to do, John, is to support a moderate Syrian opposition. As you know, here at the Pentagon, we put forward to Congress a plan for $500 million to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition. We're hoping that that gets approved by Congress so that in fiscal '15, we can move out with that regard.

There has been a large humanitarian effort by the United States in terms of donations in Syria.

So, there's definitely an effort here and a desire to help build a moderate Syrian opposition that can not only oppose the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, but also help oppose ISIL.

BERMAN: Admiral John Kirby, always great to have you here with us on NEW DAY. Really appreciate your time.

KIRBY: Thanks. Appreciate it. Thank you.

BERMAN: Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Ten minutes past the hour. Let's give you a quick look at your headlines.

Breaking news overnight: Ukrainian officials say Russian soldiers are firing artillery over the border near Donetsk. Officials say Russians and militants have seized villages in that region. Thirteen Ukrainian troops were reportedly killed, dozens more injured in the past 24 hours.

Also breaking overnight, American Theo Curtis is now back on U.S. soil. He was held captive for almost two years by Islamic militants in Syria. He was reunited with his mom in Boston last night.

An open-ended cease-fire is under way and appears to be holding right now between Israel and Hamas. This agreement reopens border crossings and expands Gaza's fishing zone.

If you've been watching the U.S. Open, you know about a 15-year-old tennis phenom making a big statement. In the first round of the U.S. Open, American Catherine "CiCi" Bellis, the youngest player in the tournament, upset 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova. How big of an upset was this? Well, Bellis is ranked 1,208th in the world.

BERMAN: Not anymore after this. She's going up.

PEREIRA: She's going up, rocket trajectory.

CAMEROTA: That tells me my badminton career stands in shams.

PEREIRA: I didn't know that, good to know. I thought you were the lawn bowling gal myself.



BERMAN: Lawn can be big.

All right. A new recording surfaced that could have captured the moment that Michael Brown was shot. Does this change what we already know about this case? We'll break this down with law enforcement.

CAMEROTA: And the fight to contain ISIS, the terror group, is growing its ranks and spreading more fear. What's the best way to reverse the tide? We will ask Senator John McCain.


PEREIRA: So, we know that the FBI is analyzing that new audio recording that we have obtained here at CNN, allegedly of the very moment police shot and killed Michael Brown.

On the video chat, you'll hear what sounds like gunshots, a pause, and then more shots. Now, remember, this was all recorded apparently inadvertently, so you have to kind of listen beyond the man's voice where he's talking and listen behind for the gunshots.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're so fine. Just going over some of your videos. How can I forget?



PEREIRA: Again, CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the tape.

Here to break it all down for us, David Klinger. He's a former LAPD officer and author of "Into The Kill Zone". Also, CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. What a duo I have to go through all of this with me.

David, I want to start with you my LAPD former friend here, let's talk about this recording that we've been hearing. We played it for you just now. Do you think it's authentic?

DAVID KLINGER, FORMER LAPD OFFICER: I have no idea. I mean, I've told your producers that, for all I know, this is something, one of Howard Stern's punk people have been doing. You know, it came out, what, two weeks after the event. So I don't have a high degree of confidence in it, but it could be real.

PEREIRA: It could be, and why the skepticism?

KLINGER: Because it came out two weeks later. I mean, if you listen to what the gentleman's saying and then the gunfire and so on and so forth, I look at this and I say, my first inclination is someone is trying to punk CNN. I could be wrong.

PEREIRA: Hmm, smells funny to you.

KLINGER: I could be wrong. It could be real. Hopefully, we'll find out.

PEREIRA: Well, hopefully, we will indeed find out.

Tom, let me turn to you then. Give us an idea, because we know the FBI has this. What is the process for authenticating a recording or a tape like this?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the engineers in the laboratory at Quantico will try to determine if there was a dubbing, did we have an original recording of this guy having a consideration no one wants to talk about, and then the shots are dubbed over it.

Was it the complete tape? You know, all accounts from Brown's side and the officer's side say there was a single shot fired initially at the door of the police car. So, that shot followed by Brown trying to flee and then the officer exiting the car and pursuing him and then firing the series of shots. So, we're missing that first shot.

Now, I don't know, CNN got this tape first. Did they censor it because the guy said something obscene over the first shot and they didn't want to air that? I mean, we just don't know all that. And I have to admit, my first impression when I heard this --

PEREIRA: My producer says that's all we were given.

FUENTES: Well, OK, when I heard this yesterday I thought the exact same thing -- it's a hoax, but maybe not. Maybe they'll be able to authenticate it.

If they do, let's take the assumption they do authenticate the tape, then it supports both sides. PEREIRA: Right.

FUENTES: And you can make an argument to support both sides. So, it will be a key argument in terms of how long the sequence of events are from the multiple shots followed by the short pause, followed by four more shots, you know, that will be important to try and link all witness accounts to that, you know?

And as well as Wilson's account, when it's eventually revealed, whether that might be in a courtroom or when at this point, we don't know. Something I --

PEREIRA: Let me just say -- it needs to be said the lawyer who is representing the man who gave us the audio gave it to us, she swears it is real. We have no reason here at CNN to believe that it's not true.

David, I want to turn to you for a second and talk about the scenario. Let's suspend our disbelief for a second, OK?

KLINGER: OK, fair enough.

PEREIRA: And let's talk about this pause. This pause seems significant to many people, to many analysts that are hearing the audio. So, if this were to be real and this is an authenticated audio, this pause, give us a scenario as a police officer, what that pause could signify?

KLINGER: It could signify a lot of things.

PEREIRA: Run through a couple scenarios.

KLINGER: Agree with us.

OK. Scenario one is, police officers are trained to fire, their firearm, until they believe that the threat is other, and then they are trained to assess, and then they are trained to reengage if their assessment indicates either that the threat did not get resolved by the initial volley of shots, or the threat reemerges.

Another scenario I don't think anybody's brought into play -- it could be during the time the officer is reloading. He had plenty of time to reload his semiautomatic pistol. So, there's two and I could tell you chapter and verse officers I've interviewed over the years, good friends of mine that have been involved in shoot-outs, where they put a couple of rounds, or a bunch of rounds down range or single round down range, the suspect falls down and the suspect starts to get back up with a gun and the gun battle starts again.

One of the most famous shoot-outs here in St. Louis occurred 22 years ago in the Clayton courthouse. And to make a very long story short -- some guys I know involved in the shooting, the suspect went down, about three seconds later, he started to come up with the gun, one of my buddies reengaged him and finally stopped the gun fight.

PEREIRA: A really interesting scenario you talk about. Tom Fuentes, I want to talk about the relevance in the case for you --

the pause or the way the shots were fired or the number of shots that were fired.

FUENTES: I agree completely. I think all those scenarios are very possible that were just mentioned.

And again if you're a supporter of Brown you say he turned around and was in the process of surrendering and the officer then executed him. And if you're a supporter of the officer at this point, you say that he reassessed, just as was mentioned, that's exactly what officers are trained to do.

The reloading part, the only question there is that multiple witnesses, no one has described, and that would be a pretty distinct motion, to eject the magazine and put another one in.

So, I think somebody might have seen the reloading and most officers on the street now carry semiautomatic pistols with a 15-shot capacity, 14 in the magazine and another in the chamber.

So, given the number of shots, even if you add the one shot at the car and the additional 10 or 11 shots, that would be within the realm of an officer having enough bullets in the first place to not have -- but the reloading is irrelevant. I agree more with the theory that the officer was assessing or reassessing and possibly at that point Brown is turning around to face the officer, then what happens. And that's where the accounts are going to differ, you know, and I've pointed out before that maybe his arms are straight up, perpendicular to the ground, surrendering or maybe he's starting to come forward.

Either way, multiple shots in the arms would go pretty much in the same place and that's a fine distinction that really you'd have to be in the officer's shoes looking through his eyes to try to determine was the threat continuing or reemerging on him or was it a surrender. I think that's where the difference is going to be, all the way until forever probably in this case.

PEREIRA: There's only one person that knows that and that is Officer Darren Wilson.

KLINGER: The odds of there being --

PEREIRA: Go ahead.

KLINGER: I agree, the odds that there was a reload involved are very slight, but I was simply commenting that we just don't know enough, and so it is possible that during that time frame, those three seconds approximately, he had time to reload.

So, I was simply trying to point out there's so much we don't yet know.


KLINGER: And we have to wait for the investigative case file to come out and explain all of the physical evidence, all of the eyewitness statements and so on and so forth, and that's going to take a good deal of time.

PEREIRA: It is going to take some time. We are anxious as well and know it has to come out in due course.

Can we talk about protocol for a second, David? I think there is, there has been a lot of question and a lot of concern about protocol in a shooting. You have had to do this before. You were in a scenario, you -- our producers tell us you were in a scenario where you faced fire from a suspect, and you had to make a choice. Talk to us about what the protocol and the training is for an officer who finds himself in a situation.

KLINGER: Right, to make a very long story short, what it boils down to is police officers are trained that you're allowed to use deadly force to stop the flight of a very narrow band of violent felons who were fleeing but the vast majority of police shootings are in what we call defense of life, either the life of the officer, his or her partner or an innocent citizen.

Now what that boils down to, police officers are trained that when you believe that you're about to suffer serious bodily injury or death or a third party is, if you don't use deadly force, you use deadly force until the threat is ceased, and then what officers are told beyond that is, given a multiple scenarios, they go over in the academy and in-service training, this is what could present a particular type of threat, someone trying to take your gun away, a large person beating up a small officer, an individual with a firearm who is moving with that firearm, bringing it to bear, so on and so forth, the individual I shot was an individual who stabbed my partner in the chest with a butcher's knife and jumped on top of him, was trying to drive the knife through his throat, so officers are trained about what we call edged weapon defense.

And so, there's a variety of explaining to officers what that means in terms of here are the sorts of things that could constitute a deadly threat and when you are faced with one of those things, you have the right to use deadly force.

Now, one thing that's really interesting is the research that I've conducted and other people who have talked to police officers around the country have found out, the vast majority of times when police officers have lawful warrant to shoot, that is, their life or the life of an innocent individual besides themselves is in eminent jeopardy they decide not to shoot.

In fact, my third chapter of my book "Into The Kill Zone" is story after story after story of police officers confronting people with knives, guns, people shooting at them and for whatever reason, they opt not to shoot. I think that's something that your viewers should be aware of.

PEREIRA: But we know that in this situation, he chose to. We don't know why. We don't know --

FUENTES: Michaela, if I --

PEREIRA: We don't know from the officer's point of view why he chose to shoot. Some are questions if he had --

FUENTES: Michaela --

PEREIRA: -- reasonable cause to shoot and kill that young man.

Final thought, Tom Fuentes.

FUENTES: Yes. I was going to say when I was a uniform police officer for six and a half years before joining the FBI, I had two occasions like that, where I was faced with a situation and was literally starting to pull the trigger, when the person finally dropped the weapon.

But during that time, when they turn around and faced me with a gun, I already had legal justification to shoot that person and didn't.

So, to echo David's point, I have personally two instances like that where I could have killed someone, chose not to. I could have guessed wrong and been killed myself and many officers have done just that. So, it works both ways.

PEREIRA: Split decisions, split-second decisions that our law enforcement officers face. Again, we don't know what happened here from the point of view of Darren Wilson and why he felt he needed to open fire. Hopefully, we'll be learning those details in the coming days and weeks.

Big thank you to David Klinger and Tom Fuentes for joining us today.

You have opinions about this, I know you do, and you're going to probably start tweeting on Facebook. Please do. Let us know what you think of the new developments in the Michael Brown shooting. We want to hear from you,

We're going to take a short break now.

After almost two years in captivity, an American hostage finally back home with his family. We're going to tell you what the reunion with those loved ones was like.

Also, an American dies fighting for ISIS, leaving his family with many questions.

We're also going to speak with Senator John McCain about the growing threat and the radicalization of homegrown terrorists.