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ISIS Forces Seize 60 Villages; U.S. Makes Case for War on ISIS; "Major Break" in Hunt for Missing Student; Hunt for Suspected Cop Killer; Interview with Rear Admiral John Kirby; NFL Scandal

Aired September 19, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, ISIS advance -- terrorist forces seize dozens of villages, as the U.S. prepares to strike the militants inside Syria.

Can the Pentagon win this war without U.S. troops on the ground?

A break in the case -- police are getting ready to announce major new developments in the search for a missing Virginia college student. We're standing by for new information this hour.

Damage control -- the embattled NFL commissioner makes a dramatic announcement, as the league reels from multiple abuse scandals.

What changes is Roger Goodell getting ready to make?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two major stories.

We're awaiting a police news conference to update us on what they are calling a major break in the hunt for that missing University of Virginia student. The missing college sophomore vanished a week ago.

Also, there's been a dramatic advance by ISIS forces in Syria, even as the U.S. launches new strikes against the terrorists in Iraq.

There have now been 178 U.S. air assaults on ISIS targets in Iraq, with the Pentagon planning to dramatically increase that number, we're told, in the coming days. But there are also growing concerns about the U.S. strategy.

We're using CNN's global resources to bring you in-depth coverage this hour with our reporters and our guests.

Our Pentagon correspondent.

Barbara Starr, begins our coverage this hour.

What is the latest -- Barbara? BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, ISIS remains on the advance across Northern Syria, as everyone is waiting and watching to see when and if President Obama will order airstrikes against ISIS targets.


STARR (voice-over): In Northern Syria, Kurdish forces clash with ISIS fighters who have taken over some 60 villages in recent days, according to a monitoring group. U.S. officials know the war against ISIS must be won on the ground, but President Obama insists it won't be with U.S. ground troops.

ANTONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Because it has to be the Syrians fighting for their own country. That's the best way to do it, the most effective way to do it, the most sustainable way to do it.

STARR: But is the U.S. running out of time before it even gets started?

The Pentagon estimates it will take up to five months to first find 5,000 reliable Syrian fighters to train. And then...

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There will be, probably, a period of eight to 12 months of actual training and fielding. So it's going to be a little while before you start to see opposition fighters returning to Syria.

STARR: So is it worth starting airstrikes in Syria now?

COL. CEDIR LEIGHTON (RET.), FORMER AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: There is still a significant weakness and a significant gap if you don't have ground forces that are ready, willing and able to conduct missions in conjunction with airpower.

STARR: In Iraq, general Lloyd Austin, head of Central Command, did ask to place a small number of troops on the ground to direct U.S. airstrikes when the U.S. began helping local forces retake Mosul Dam last month. The White House said no. President Obama was sticking to his pledge.

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has ruled out the option of deploying American boots on the ground in Iraq and in Syria in a combat role.

STARR: The Pentagon insists commanders are not at odds with the president, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs holds open the option of requesting the U.S. military join Iraqi troops as advisers on the front lines.

KIRBY: There's complete alignment between the White House, the president and his military leadership here at the Pentagon, from Secretary Hagel right on down to all the planners that are putting together the options for the president to consider.

STARR: But a former head of Central Command warns the U.S. may be telling ISIS too much about no U.S. ground troops.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), FORMER CENTRAL COMMAND COMMANDER: I don't think we should reassure the enemy in advance that they'll never face them.


STARR: And, of course, there are already some 1,700 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq acting as military advisers. And military commanders say that number could still grow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So the next step we're getting ready, the U.S. presumably already had some targets in place in Syria right now. So the next step is just to go ahead and start the targeting, the actual air assaults against these various ISIS locations?

STARR: Wolf, senior U.S. officials are telling us the very last step before airstrikes begin will be for President Obama to specifically authorize military action against ISIS inside Syria. Once he does that, the military says it is -- publicly says it's ready to go and carry out the president's orders.

BLITZER: He gives the general order to authorize those kinds of strikes, but they don't give him, necessarily, a list that he reviews those lists and he says yes or no to specific targets, does he?

STARR: The understanding is that he is not -- no president in modern times, you know, takes out their number two pencil and goes through target by target. He has been briefed in that visit to Tampa, Florida earlier this week on the target list, on the general understanding of what the targets are, how they'll be struck, what the impact will be on ISIS, how much hitting those targets could destroy ISIS' capability.

Officials are telling us they're looking for two goals -- to destroy ISIS' advance and destroy them on the move, as they are now, and also destroy their strategic capability, their ability to reinforce themselves, to get more weapons, command and control. So looking for that short-near term gain and the long-term gain.

That's what the president is going to approve, we are told. That's what he has to authorize. And then those airstrikes would begin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And once those airstrikes in Syria begin, that opens up a whole new phase in this current war.

Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

The secretary of State, John Kerry, made the case for the U.S. war on ISIS at the United Nations Security Council today. But to many people, his remarks sounded eerily familiar.

Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

You were monitoring what the secretary had to say. Give us an update -- Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, it's not the first time a U.S. secretary of State took to the U.N. Security Council to urge the world to take military action in Iraq. I mean the comparison here was inescapable -- John Kerry today, Colin Powell 11 years ago.

But Secretary Kerry was quick to explain this is not deja vu.

Take a listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't need to remind anyone here that the last two times the eyes of the world were focused on Iraq was when its government was in confrontation with the international community, with great consequences. Today, however, we come together in support of the new Iraqi government that has already made great strides in a short amount of time. And we must not miss this moment.


LABOTT: Now, Wolf, the world was very skeptical back in 2003 about the U.S. case on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But today, ISIS' advance in Syria and Iraq, the beheadings of those two Americans and the British citizen have really galvanized the international community.

BLITZER: Elise, thanks very much.

Elise Labott.

We're going to be speaking shortly with the Pentagon spokesman. But I want to go to Charlottesville, Virginia right now. There's apparently been a major break in the disappearance of a young University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham.

Let's listen in.


CHIEF TIMOTHY LONGO, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA POLICE: I'm going to do it in concert with Detective Sergeant Mooney, who was the person, who worked with his team so incredibly hard over the course of the last 24 hours to develop information and use that information in support of a search warrant.

I know you have a lot of questions. And I know I may not be able to answer a lot of those questions. But we're going to do our best.

But I want to make one thing absolutely clear. This press conference and every press conference hereafter is about one thing and one thing only, and that is finding Hannah. Everyone within the sound of my voice has that responsibility. If you live in the city of Charlottesville, if you attend the University of Virginia, if that young lady has touched your life in any way, you have the responsibility to help us find her.

Now, Hannah Graham was on this mall last Friday night, into Saturday morning. She walked from one end of the mall to the other end of the mall. And she walked past people. And now we have reason to believe she was inside of a bar on this mall with an individual who lived on Hessian Hills Way, whose home we visited this morning.

Now, people saw her with that individual in that restaurant. Videotape that you've already seen that Detective Sergeant Mooney will talk about will depict signs of that individual, we believe.

And so my point is this, people saw Hannah and people saw him and people saw them together. And it's entirely possible, we believe, that Hannah Graham may have gotten into his vehicle, a vehicle that we seized pursuant to a search warrant, a vehicle that is characterized as a 1998 Chrysler coupe, burnt orange in color.

I believe that vehicle was parked last Friday night into Saturday morning on Fourth Street.

DET. SERGEANT MOONEY: Somewhere in that area.

LONGO: Somewhere in that area?

Somewhere in the area of this mall that car was parked. Somebody got out of it and somebody got back in it and somebody drove away.

If you remember seeing that vehicle and you remember seeing someone get back in it and you remember seeing it drive away, we need to hear from you.

Folks, we've had over 400 tips to find Hannah Graham. And it was from those, in large part, from many of those tips that got us to the point where we are now, the point that helped Detective Sergeant Mooney and a team of investigators put together some facts and circumstances in support of probable cause, sit down with the commonwealth attorney, present it to the magistrate, get authorization to go to take a car.

And as I said to you this morning, while they were there executing that seizure for the purpose of taking that car and transporting it elsewhere to conduct a search, again, pursuant to that warrant, they established probable cause to obtain yet another warrant to enter that house.

Now the question, appropriately so, has come up, well, was anyone at that house when the police arrived?

Yes. There were three people.

Was the individual who we believe was with Hannah Graham there?

Yes, he was there.

Is he in custody?

No, he's not in custody. Was there probable cause to arrest him?

No. There was no probable cause to arrest him.

Was there legally sufficient legal basis to detain him?

Not in the opinion of the ranking supervisor on the scene, not in the opinion of our commonwealth attorney, not legally sufficient reason. So that person isn't in custody. But we know who he is. Others know who he is. And while I'm not releasing his name right now, this man has not been charged with the commission of a crime. I've described his car. We know that he lived in the house that we searched this morning. We know that many of you were there.

My suspicion is others know his name. And so there will come an appropriate time when I'll release that information. But right now, the message is this. Today was productive, from an investigative standpoint it was productive. The reason it was productive is that it advanced the investigation. So it got us to the point where we need to be now.

Can bright legal minds debate that?

Probably. But when we arrest the person responsible for deconstructing the lives of Mr. And Mrs. Graham and this community, it's going to be a prosecution that's going to lead to a conviction. That's our goal, not to put together a case that's just going to result in an arrest, but to make an arrest that will lead to a conviction.

We have the legal and moral obligation to do that on behalf of Hannah, on behalf of Mr. And Mrs. Graham, on behalf of all of you.

So I want to let Detective Sergeant Mooney, just for a minute -- now be patient, because there's a lot of things that are going to be left out and you're going to say, but what about this and what about that that we're not going to be able to tell you. But I want you to get an understanding of how did you get from yesterday to today and what happened along the way to get you there?

Now, before I ask Jim to do that, I'm going to preempt a question by providing you with this information. I'm not at liberty to disclose any items that we may have taken from that car, any items that we may have taken from that residence, for lots of reasons. But the most practical right now is those items are still being evaluated for their relevance and their evidentiary value, if any.

You can, you know, you probably can think of the kinds of things the police department would be looking for in a case like this. And you'd probably be right. But it's too premature for me to say, here's what we've got and this is what it means to us. So understand, I cannot and will not share that information with you tonight.

But I do want Jim to let you have an understanding how we got from last night or yesterday to where we are now -- Jim. MOONEY: I'll talk briefly about the video evidence that you're already aware of. There have been numerous sightings of Hannah on the downtown mall, as well as the video evidence. We know that she was at the intersection of Market and Fourth Street, that she traveled eastbound on the downtown mall. Video evidence puts her in the 200 and 300 blocks of Main Street, the downtown mall.

One of the videos -- and this came from tips, eyewitnesses that saw people in addition to an observation to the video. You see in front of one of the restaurants in the 300 block, you see a black male wearing all white. He has long dreadlocks walking westbound. Within a couple seconds, you see Hannah Graham walking eastbound. You can very clearly see this black male with dreadlocks cross to the other side of the mall and then he travels eastbound behind her.

An additional video captured at a store on the mall in the 300 block shows that same black male with dreadlocks with his hands around Hannah Graham's waist. We know from witness accounts that they entered a -- what it's called?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, entered the Tempo Restaurant, on Fifth Street just off of the main part of the mall. We know that he purchased alcohol there and we know that Hannah Graham was with him. We also know that within 15 minutes, they were gone from that bar and that his car was seen leaving the area on video. And we have every reason to believe that Ms. Graham was in that vehicle.

CHIEF TIMOTHY LONGO, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA POLICE: If you have a question that Jim can answer, he will certainly do that at the appropriate time.

I just want to add -- just to underscore, emphasize, highlight the reason we're saying the Tempo Restaurant, because I want people who were on the downtown mall last night -- or last Friday rather at 1:00 in the morning, between 1:00 and 2:00 to think about the Tempo Restaurant, to think about the garage, to think about Fourth Street, to think about that section of the mall and replay in their mind, did I see someone that is a black male, 32 years of age, 6'2", 270 pounds with dreadlocks with Hannah Graham?

Did you see that? If you did, what did you see? They weren't the only two people on the pedestrian mall last Friday night is my point.

We need your help. We need people's help to find this young lady.

Jim and I sat with Mr. and Mrs. Graham this afternoon, about an hour and a half ago. They want their daughter back. They want to know what happened to their little girl. That's all. And that's what I want. And that's what you want.

So, we've got to do this together. When we leave here tonight, we're going to go meet with -- my guess, it's going to be a large number of volunteers that are going to want to help. Thank God for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, thank God for our fire department and the sheriff's department and all the people that have helped coordinate searches because all day tomorrow, they're going to be looking.

As I said last time we were together and I'll repeat now, we need you to look, too. If you live east of here, if you live he's of here to the county line, be looking. In you live west of here to Heshing Hills, be looking. If you own a business or residence east of here to the county line, straight on down market street and you've got a video camera in your house, or it's a business and you have a video camera in your business, if you haven't talked to us, please talk to us.

If you live or own a business west of here to Heshing Hills, up Maine Street, up Preston, up Barracks Road, clear into the county and we haven't talked to you, please call us. We need your help.

I'll take any questions you might have.


LONGO: The person I'm looking for, there's -- I'm going to answer your question specifically about -- I would to underscore and highlight. The person we're looking for is a black male that's 32 years of age who's 6'2", 270 pounds and has dreadlocks.

Now, as Jim just said to me -- you know, 10 people can look at a video and walk away with 10 different impressions. I've told you earlier that we looked at a video and it looked like a reflection when in fact when we go back and look and critically evaluate it as a lot of you did, no, that's somebody. Now we look at it and we see it's this person whose description we've articulated. We can't account for a gap. So we don't know that there may not have been more than one contact.

What we know now because of eyewitness testimony or eyewitness evidence or information is that she was in that business with this person, that she walked in this business with this person. She walked out of that business with this person.

REPORTER: That was after the (INAUDIBLE) --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It varies, some of the restaurants close earlier. But 2:00 is --

LONGO: I'm sorry, Jim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Generally 2:00 is about the latest. Some of the restaurants close earlier, some are later.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That has not been clearly established yet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who he is and we are aware of where he is, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say to that, Henry, that this male -- if anybody has seen him since that night in the last six days, we would be interested in that information. I would encourage you to come forward through the tip line.

REPORTER: What about the subsequent reports of rapes in the area? Why did you not know about those then (ph)?

LONGO: Every morning, between 5:57, 6:00, the media gets a report that looks like this. Those incidents are on that report.

REPORTER: Does UVA know about this?

LONGO: I don't know if they know about it. They get a copy of this report as well.

Look, let me make something clear. I do so respectfully. We can have this conversation at another press conference. This conversation is about Hannah Graham. That's what this is about.


LONGO: Don't have any reason to believe that. The issue -- and I'll say this and then I'd like to stay on point, if I can. The issue that the university and I will continue to always work towards -- and I really think we've done a better job of it over the years. But we will always work towards communication.

So, we not only will we fulfill our obligation to the community to make sure that things are properly disseminated and maybe not just to a 6:00 in the morning media group, but also to make sure the university fulfills its legal obligation under the Cleary Act.

OK. Yes, sir?


LONGO: I'll answer the firs question, and I yield to Jim, because I don't know that I've seen any -- the other thing, too, I don't know if we've recovered any additional video that we haven't even reviewed yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's exactly right. We've recovered additional video today. It's still being analyzed. And I cannot say that Ms. Graham is on that video.

In fact, I can say right now, that the last video where we see Ms. Graham is in front of that store in the 300 block of East Main Street on the mall. There is no other video evidence that shows her after she leaves this mall that night. (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I may. We collected a number of videos today and they need to be analyzed and if we do, we will certainly release those.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not aware of any relationship. I do not believe so, no, sir. I have no reason to believe that.


LONGO: Unfortunately, no. I don't know that anything that I've been made aware of up to this point -- and I want to -- as I said to lots of folks before, I get briefed on these cases every couple of hours, things happen within 45 minutes of me walking up to this podium that I may not be aware of.

So I will cautionately (ph) say -- cautiously say nothing's been brought to my attention to help me answer that question either way.

REPORTER: When you talk to her parents, do her parents still have hope to try to bring Hannah home alive (INAUDIBLE)

LONGO: I will always be hopeful until we find Hannah. I can't speak for her mom and dad, but I can tell you every interaction I've had with them over the past couple of days, they're hurt, they're concerned, they're frustrated. But not for one second have I ever discerned that they've lost hope in finding their daughter.

REPORTER: How many officers did you have on the mall at 1:00 when Hannah was here? And was that an adequate force?

LONGO: I don't know the number that were deployed at that particular time. I've been saying for many years and others have said, we need to increase our presence not only on the downtown pedestrian mall but across the table of organization. And we're working hard to establish that.


LONGO: I missed the first part of the question.


LONGO: I haven't spoken to Mark who's coordinated the searches, nor have I spoken to detective Sergeant Harris about the search patterns other than we're searching places that are logically associated with the path that our investigation has taken us. Yes, ma'am?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the reanalysis of the video and it's the witness accounts. A number of people pointed out a black male with dreadlocks that seemed to turn around when Hannah walked eastbound. (INAUDIBLE)

LONGO: I can't answer that. I have no information one way or the other.


LONGO: I won't discuss his criminal history. He has had police contact. Yes, sir?


LONGON: The person who was with Hannah Graham in that Tempo Restaurant, the person who left in that car was there at that apartment, yes, sir.


LONGO: You know, I can't because Mark's coordinating that. If we can -- if there's some way we can do that before the night's out, we can get you some information -- part of what's going to happen at 7:00 tonight is, one, to do what I think is really important. And that is to make sure that we ensure that the volunteers understand the mission and the importance of the mission. And then walk them through the practicalities of fulfilling that mission. And that's going to be largely (INAUDIBLE) role in this case. So they would be better suited than I.

But you can imagine, we're going to re-canvass, re-evaluate, re- search, reacquaint ourselves with the areas that I've described. Due east of here to the county line, straight down Market Street corridor, west of here, clear up through the Barracks Road corridor. Those are the areas we're going to focus.

A couple of more questions? I'm sorry.


LONGO: Well, I'm not calling him a suspect. Although we've used this term person of interest, I've never been quite fond of the term.

So, let me just say, we're interested in him. We're interested in talking to him. We're interested in learning more about his interactions with Hannah. But to label this person in any way, shape or form -- I don't know that that's appropriate, although we'll admit we've done that in the past.


LONGO: Yes, ma'am?

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Did she appear to be uncomfortable with him or distressed or was he a concern?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I won't comment on what they've said about her appearance. But I'm interested in hearing from more people that saw her to put that together. We've had different accounts of her behavior. We've seen the video. She seems to be walking with a purpose.

REPORTER: What was this man's reaction when you knocked on his door bright and early this morning (INAUDIBLE) --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that I spoke to him and I want to speak to him again.

REPORTER: His reaction, the look on his face?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to go into that.

LONGO: Can we take one more question? Courtney, you had your hand up?

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Did he cooperate? Did he object to being questioned?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I'll say to that is that I spoke to him early this morning and I want to speak to him again and I want to speak to anybody that has seen him since Friday, Saturday morning on this downtown mall.

REPORTER: Did he deny --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to go into what he said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any reason to believe he's (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no reason to believe that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me thank all of you for your continued interest on behalf of the Grahams, on behalf of Hannah, of course. On behalf of the university community and behalf of our citizens.

Again, as I said many, many times, we really need your help. We again appreciate you being here. And I hope you have a safe night.

BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. The Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo saying they think they have someone of interest but certainly not enough evidence, he says, to go ahead and arrest anyone. They're looking for this 19-year-old student from the University of Virginia, Hannah Graham.

Jean Casarez is our reporter there in Charlottesville, Virginia. They said they had a major break in the case. What was that major break that the police chief spoke about?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we heard a little bit yesterday and more today on this case. It has been across the country all week with national headlines. And there was someone that was at that mall a week ago tonight that saw Hannah and felt she was distressed. And then they saw an African-American male go up to her and they appeared to know each other. And that gave authorities in the last 24 hours to relook at that videotape and all the surveillance tape that they had on Hannah.

And they found, in fact, that that African-American male person of interest they are calling now walked to her, put his arm around her and then they went to a restaurant. And the man at least ordered some alcohol. And that's the last person authorities are saying now saw Hannah.

And I think what has given this case such national significance, this is not the first young woman to go missing from Charlottesville and this area. This is a University of Virginia sophomore. And several years ago, another Virginia University student also went missing. And so the community has continued to be on edge and now there is another young woman.

BLITZER: Jean, stand by. Tom Fuentes is with us. Our law enforcement analyst. Jeffrey Toobin is here, our senior legal analyst as well.

What did you make of the police chief, what he said? They went do this house early in the morning, there are three men there. They questioned the so-called person of interest. He repeatedly described him as a black man with dreadlocks, 6'2", 270 pounds, but they said that the lawyers, the prosecutors, they didn't have enough evidence to go ahead and arrest him.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I have to admit, I'm confused by this whole thing. They've taken the car into custody, presumably to do a forensic search on him. They were talking to the person of interest at the apartment last night.

Now if they let him go, do they keep him under surveillance? Do they, you know, have some close watch on him? Do they know right now where he's at and how to get ahold of him if they find evidence that's important in the search of that vehicle? I just don't understand really all of the dynamics.

BLITZER: They certainly haven't found enough evidence yet to go ahead and arrest this individual.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, apparently the local prosecutor doesn't think so. You certainly got the impression from the police chief's news conference that they think they know they've got their guy.

You know, this term "person of interest" has started to be used in recent years. It is an almost entirely meaningless term. It sort of means suspect but we don't want to name him as a suspect. I find this a very strange situation. Obviously mostly it's a very sad situation. But to pin a investigation so much on one person yet not arrest him, it just seems odd to me.

BLITZER: Because it sounds almost like the prosecutors, the lawyers in Charlottesville, Virginia, they certainly don't think they have enough probable cause to go ahead and arrest him. But that police chief, he was pretty bombastic in describing this individual, making it sound like they think he may be the guy. FUENTES: He did. And normally the courts have held that the more

serious the crime, the more latitude would be given to law enforcement for detaining a suspect. You know, and I agree with Jeffrey, the term person of interest is ridiculous. But he is a suspect. They're suspicious of him. They've taken his car into custody. So that, you know. shows they're looking for evidence there to link him to her disappearance. So I think that -- you know, it just sounds very strange to me that this guy would still be on the loose when they're so suspicious of him.

BLITZER: Yes. The University of Virginia police chief -- excuse me, the Charlottesville, Virginia, police chief, Timothy Longo, is clearly very suspicious as is Detective Sergeant Mooney. But as, Jeff, you point out, the prosecutors there don't think they have enough probable cause to go ahead and arrest anyone. We'll see what happens.

All right, we'll update our viewers if we get more information on this story.

When we come back, we're going to get back to the top story right now. The U.S. getting ready to launch airstrikes -- could be any day now -- against ISIS targets in Syria going beyond Iraq. When will those targets start being attacked by U.S. warplanes? Stay with us.


BLITZER: Growing questions about the U.S. strategy to degrade and destroy ISIS forces with air strikes as President Obama vows this new war will not see U.S. combat troops on the ground.

The Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, is joining us now to talk about all of this.

You've seen all the reports, Admiral. Is there significant difference or any difference for that matter between the president and his generals?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: No, Wolf, there absolutely is not. Everybody's in alignment about the strategy. Everybody's in alignment about the objectives and how to achieve them.

We had a great session down in Tampa between the commander-in-chief and General Austin, the commander of Central Command. I can tell you all up and down the chain of command, we understand what our objectives are and we're very much ready to go achieve them.

BLITZER: You heard the testimony of retired Marine General James Matisse who served under President Obama. He used to be the commander of the U.S. Military Central Command. He told the House Intelligence Committee in his words that half-hearted efforts can backfire.

So what do you think?

KIRBY: I don't think these are half-hearted measures at all. With all due respect to General Matisse for whom we have great respect. The policy is very clear but more importantly the strategy is. And we have been active and energetic inside Iraq with our Iraqi partners for a couple of months now. And we have devoted a lot of resources and time. Over 170 strikes.

We're still flying more than 60 intelligence and reconnaissance flights over Iraq. And we have helped Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish forces take back ground that ISIL had captured and we're going to continue to do that.

BLITZER: Here's what the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told the "Washington Post," he said, "What we didn't do was predict the will to fight. We underestimated ISIL and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army. I didn't see the collapse of the Iraqi Security Force in the north coming."

Is that a general intelligence assessment? Does the Pentagon agree with that?

KIRBY: I think we certainly agree with the fact that we didn't expect, you know, four Iraqi divisions to fold the way they did up in the north near Mosul. That's -- clearly we were surprised by that. And we said so. We had been watching as the intelligence community had been watching ISIL grow and develop their capabilities over time. They move with lightning speed. And again, the performance of those Iraqi divisions, they surprised us.

But I will also say that the Iraqi Security Forces have since then really coalesced. They're beginning to fight back and take back territory with our help and with the help of our allies and partners. So I think the pressure is certainly being felt by ISIL throughout Iraq.

BLITZER: Has the president already signed off on U.S. airstrikes against is targets in Syria?

KIRBY: Well, I won't speak for the president or for his intentions. What I can tell you is he had a great session down in Wednesday down -- in Tampa on Wednesday where he was briefed on the achievements and the accomplishments that we've had in Iraq as well as planning options for Syria.

We're still working -- refining those plenty of options. Obviously there is still some work to do. But we are going to be ready if we get that call to take military action inside Syria.

BLITZER: If he were to call tonight and say, go ahead, do you have targets already in place?

KIRBY: I would just tell you this, Wolf, the United States military is ready to provide options and to take action where and when we're needed to.

BLITZER: I know the French are helping the U.S. now with air strikes in Iraq. Does any other air force out there, whether in Europe, NATO, the Middle East, any other air force ready to launch air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria? KIRBY: Well, right now, again, no -- we're still refining our options

here. We're focused on what we are going to be able to accomplish inside Syria. We are working with a number of allies and partners.

I wouldn't speak for their contributions yet. But what we -- what I will say broadly is we know that it's going to take a coalition effort, regardless of whether it's aggressive strikes, you mentioned the French, or whether it's other kinds of support. We know we need coalition support. We know we need partners in this. And we're working at that very, very hard.

BLITZER: On a totally unrelated matter, while I have you, Admiral, we're just getting this in from NORAD, that two U.S. jets intercepted six Russian planes that neared U.S. airspace off the Alaskan coast yesterday and the second incident, Canadian planes intercept the two Russian bombers that approached a Canadian airspace. NORAD says the Russian planes never entered U.S. or Canadian airspace. But how serious of an incident is this?

KIRBY: Well, we've faced these kinds of incidents before. We take them very, very seriously. And we routinely intercept them. We'll make our intentions known to Russia as we always do and we'll certainly discuss our concerns with them at the appropriate time and in the appropriate venue.

It is important that as we talk about these kinds of reconnaissance missions that everybody has a clear, transparent sense of what we're doing so that we can avoid any kind of mishaps in the air.

BLITZER: Was there any connection you think of? Because there's some speculation that maybe these incidents were connected to Russian anger over the visit to the United States by the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko?

KIRBY: I have not seen any indication of a linkage to the -- to President Poroshenko's visit, Wolf. But, again, I think for intentions you probably ought to be talking to our friends in Moscow. Again, we take these things seriously. And we'll convey our concerns to Russia through the appropriate venue.

BLITZER: Admiral Kirby, thanks very much for joining us.

KIRBY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, the National Football League's boss tries to quiet the uproar over players accused of domestic abuse. Will anything he said today, though, really make a difference?


BLITZER: National Football League's top boss says he got it wrong but he won't step down. This afternoon, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised that the NFL, in his words, will get our house in order when it comes to players accused of domestic violence and sexual assault. Let's bring in CNN's Rachel Nichols, she;s the host of "UNGUARDED WITH

RACHEL NICHOLS" and our own senior legal analyst once again Jeffrey Toobin is joining us.

So, Rachel, let me start by playing a question you asked the commissioner about the former Baltimore running back Ray Rice. The video of him hitting his fiancee last winter is what broke open the scandal. Listen to this.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS: You've mentioned on TV last week that you guys checked and tried to get the Ray Rice video and any information. The Atlantic City prosecutor's office in an open record check said they don't have any electronic communication from the NFL asking for those kinds of documentation or the video.

Can you give us sort of the trail of how you guys did that investigation so that people can know really what you put into it?

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Well, certainly. Our security department works with law enforcement. They're fully cooperative. We gather almost entirely all of our information through law enforcement, and that's something else we're going to look at, Rachel. That's something -- is that the right process? Should all of our information be gathered simply through law enforcement?

We understand and respect what they go through and the job they have to do, and there's certain restrictions that they may be under.

NICHOLS: Because they're saying they don't have a record (INAUDIBLE).

GOODELL: We asked for it on several occasions, according to our security department. We went through it, we asked for it several occasions over the spring, all the way -- from February through June. So I'm confident that our people did that, and so that's something that we'll have to discuss directly with them.


BLITZER: All right. So, Rachel, so his confident, his people did that. Is that good enough?

NICHOLS: I mean, look, there's a lot of different branches of government. I don't know who they asked. I can tell you the group that had jurisdiction, the Atlantic City Police and the Atlantic City Prosecutor's Office, in an open records check from CNN, said that they don't have any record of any communication from the NFL.

Now they may have asked different law enforcement officers, but then that begs the question, were you asking the right people in the first place? It just goes back to this larger point of you seriously were they conducting these investigations, specifically the Ray Rice investigation, but any of them. And when Roger Goodell gets up at that press conference today and

talks about how things need to change, and he openly acknowledged that, and I give them credit for standing up for 45 minutes and answering all of those questions. He didn't have a lot of specifics, though, and as they work that those specifics in the next few weeks, the next few months, people are going to be looking for real answers, not just lip service.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, do you think we're going to see some major changes, personnel changes, going ahead and changing the rules of the NFL? Or is that -- he said they're not going to have a complete review until after the Super Bowl, which is what? In February.

TOOBIN: Which -- yes, I mean, it's the middle of September now and the Super Bowl is in February. Look, he's giving himself a long time to make these changes.

Look, the big issue in the NFL it seems to me is what happens to people who are charged with domestic violence? We know for a fact that they have an inconsistent policy and they have -- you know, some people have been suspended for a week, sometimes longer. And the big question is, what is the policy going to be?

Well, that was the precise question that Goodell kicked down -- kicked the can down the road on that. He said we're going to change the policy. Apparently by the time of the Super Bowl. So basically, this press conference was content free as far as I can tell. He did not announce any changes. He just staid that he was wrong and there will be changes down the road. We will see what happens.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

Rachel, you also asked him if he'd be willing to give up any of his power in the NFL. And the commissioner of the NFL he certainly has a lot of power.

Were you satisfied with his answer?

NICHOLS: Well, he said everything is on the table. And look, that is a again a step further than we've been in the past. But the system that is set up right now for discipline in the NFL is something that would just never fly in any other part of our American society.

Roger Goodell is judge, jury, executioner and he's also appeals court. So he makes complete decisions, everything is under his control. The NFLPA, the players association., can an outside arbitrator to come in and review, but it's Goodell that has to give permission for that outside abirtator.

So the question I asked is hey, one of the problems without a system of checks and balances is that you make mistakes, as Goodell has said, he has made in these cases. Could there be more checks and balances in the future? Again, his answer is everything is on the table. We'll have to see if months from now when the pressure is off so much, when the public scrutiny isn't as hot if he does really does give up some of that power. TOOBIN: And let's remember, too, that Ray McDonald of the San

Francisco 49ers, arrested for domestic violence, remains with the 49ers. And because Goodell has not changed any of the policies, he's apparently free to continue playing, unlike Adrian Peterson, unlike Ray Rice. He's arrested for domestic violence, still playing, and as far as I can tell, he's going to continue playing because this policy review is going to go on for months.

BLITZER: So clearly this news conference today. A statement by the commissioner didn't resolve all of these issues. A lot of questions still remain to be resolved.

Jeffrey, thanks you very much. Rachel, thanks to you, as well.

And this important note to our viewers. Rachel will be back later tonight, 10:30 p.m. Eastern with her program, an excellent program I should say, "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS." You got to catch it right here on CNN, 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Coming up, as the U.S. goes to war with ISIS, we're now learning new details of the mistakes that slowed the U.S. response to the terror threat.

Plus a slick new ISIS propaganda called "Flames of War." We're going to show you how it's trying to instill fear in Americans.