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Interview with Josh Earnest; Coverage of Aftermath of Terror Attack in Paris

Aired January 7, 2015 - 08:30   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Marie, let me ask you, there's been a lot of speculation about how many attackers were involved. Do you have any sense of that and that this was -

MARIE TURCAN, JOURNALIST (via telephone): I have - I have - I've always heard only two people.


TURCAN: And I think that's the right number. Police, a syndicate (ph) just confirmed it to me. Two people who came with Kalashnikovs, heavily, heavily armed. What we don't know is if - is if they wear mask or not. That's - we have heard both sides. Some people say they were just wearing hats and people say they were actually masked. But that we don't know.

CUOMO: Right. The video that we see, they seem to be masked. But, you know, that's details, obviously, that the authorities will want to get straight. Did you know any -

TURCAN: Yes, we don't know how they wear when they entered the building. That's --

CUOMO: I understand. But you're saying, when they entered the building, that was another important point here about whether or not this attack was done outside the offices or actually inside the offices. You're suggesting that you believe that there was a breach here, that these gunmen went into "Charlie Hebdo's" offices, yes?

TURCAN: Yes, yes, nothing happened outside at first. They came into the wrong building. They came at number six and "Charlie Hebdo's" at number 10. It's the same building but it's not where the (INAUDIBLE) were working. So the same into the number six. People told them that it was the wrong building, so they went out and they went in the number 10, which is the right one. And went directly to -- inside the newsroom where it was actually a consicle (ph), how do you call it when journalists gather and talk about what they're going to do for the day. They came at the right time and then they started shooting inside the building. Then they went out and that's where the policemen - the police car saw them and started chasing them. And that's where the police - the two policemen were shot.

CUOMO: We're hearing from Reuters now, Marie, that four cartoonists were killed, including the editor of "Charlie Hebdo."

TURCAN: Yes, that's what I heard.

CUOMO: Did you know any of the people who worked there? Are any of these people your friends?

TURCAN: I did not. Everybody knows them. When you work in journalism, because they're really - they're famous and they have marked (ph) friends (ph) journalism (ph) forever with their drawings and with their cover stories. So everybody knows them. And that's probably what's going to stay in everybody's mind is there is - their (INAUDIBLE) that you can bet everybody's going to be talking about for a very long time.

CUOMO: Well, Marie, thank God that you're safe and that we know that the men are still on the loose.


CUOMO: And we'll be following this story very well. Thank you for telling us what you know and please get back to us if you have new details for us.

TURCAN: OK, thank you.

CUOMO: Marie Turcan, thank you very much.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring in now Christopher Dickey. He's the foreign editor for "The Daily Beast."

Christopher, where are you?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, FOREIGN EDITOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": I'm standing above the Champs-Elysees (ph) here in Paris.

CAMEROTA: And, Christopher, tell us what unfolded and what details you know about this gun attack today.

DICKEY: Well, I think you've gotten a pretty good account so far of what we do know. Of course the big question is what we don't know. We don't know who these two people were working with or for, we don't know the extent to which they were inspired by propaganda online or were trained someplace overseas. Probably they have had training. It is very possible that they fought in Syria or Iraq or elsewhere, maybe Mali, and have come back to France, knowing their way around the country at least, if indeed they're not French citizens. There are all kinds of huge questions and everything we're saying about who is behind this is essentially speculation, informed speculation maybe based on the history of "Charlie Hebdo" and the history of these jihadist movements. But, still, it's speculation and we have to leave open the possibility that we can be surprised that when these people are caught, when the details are known, they could come from some other source of violence than the ones we're all talking about.

CAMEROTA: We have a few details of what happened inside this attack. I want to know if you've heard any of these things. We just heard from Marie Turcan that 10 journalists were killed, two police officers and that it seems as though the journalists who were killed were specifically targeted. This wasn't just a spraying of bullets. They perhaps knew exactly who these people were. There were four cartoonists, one of who was the famous cartoonist behind the Prophet Mohammad cartoon that was why this magazine was targeted back in 2011. We've even heard some reports that somehow the gunmen gained access to the loud speakers in the building and were calling out specific names of journalists. Do you know anything about what happened inside that office?

DICKEY: Well, it isn't clear to me that they knew the exact names of every journalist they wanted to kill, and clearly they were killing everybody they possibly could. I think it's important, as one of the previous guests mentioned, that they went into the wrong door first. They went into the wrong place. It's an almost, if it were not just such a tragic event, an almost ludicrous scene where you have gunmen going to kill people and they go in the wrong door and there's nobody there they want to kill. So then when they go in the right door, then they want to be sure that they're killing the people that they came to kill, and that is, of course, exactly what they did, using automatic weapons.

Now you have to remember that in France, automatic weapons are not impossible to get. A lot of criminals have gotten ahold of them. But it's not like in the United States where a lot of people have Kalashnikovs and have AR-15s and M-16s. It's just not that kind of environment here. So that these guys were so well-armed and, generally speaking, so well organized says that this was definitely not a random act and whoever it was planned it carefully to do maximum damage.

You can hear - you can hear the sirens right now. There's a sense right now, even here on the Champs-Elysees, of a city on alert. And I can tell you that people are holding back. I came through a very -- what's normally a very crowded tourist area to get here underneath the Arc de Triomphe. There was almost nobody there. I don't know if people are still going to the sales that started today, but I would bet a lot of people have decided to stay home. This is a country right now that's scared because this is the kind of violence that people just were not ready for. A little terrorism here and there, France is used to that. This kind of terrorism, they haven't seen for a long, long time.

CAMEROTA: Christopher, a couple more details about the gunmen. We understand that they are still at large. That's the latest information that we have. The president of France said that they will be hunted far and wide until they can be brought to justice. Our Christine Romans, our reporter here who speaks French, has been listening in to these home videos that we have been showing the viewers that were taken during the attack from eyewitnesses. She says that she can hear the gunmen speaking perfect French. She said they speak beautiful French. And, in fact, the newspaper "Le Monde" says they speak French with no accent whatsoever. What does that tell us?

DICKEY: Well, it tells you that they are very probably French. They are probably not immigrants (ph). That they were probably born in this country and raised in this country. And I think the next thing that people will want to know, and they can probably begin to identify by listening to those videos closely enough, is to what extent the particular regional or urban accents are that are identifiable. But, you know, there are about 10 percent of the population of France is Muslim. And a tiny percentage of that is attracted to jihadist violence. But even a tiny percentage of 6 million people is a significant number when you're talking about terrorism.

We know that there have been hundreds of Europeans and certainly scores if not hundreds of French people who have gone to fight in Syria. Some of them may come back -- have come back. We thought that they were being watched very closely. But if it turns out that these people were trained in Syria, fought in Syria and have brought their violence back, then that is the nightmare that all of Europe has been worried about coming to fruition.

CAMEROTA: Christopher Dickey from "The Daily Beast," thank you.


CUOMO: No question as a suggestion that the situation cannot be ignored. Just because it's in Syria doesn't mean it can't bleed into everywhere else. The immediate concern, though, is, who did this? And that's what United States intelligence officials are working on. We have word from the Pentagon. Our correspondent, Barbara Starr.

What are we understanding here, Barbara? We know that they were always going to work as an alliance with the French, but now we believe that this has been stepped up a little bit. What's going on right now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now a senior U.S. official tells me they are going to start working with their French counterparts on this situation. The U.S., right now, is looking through every piece of intelligence it has for any signs that this threat might have emerged in Paris this morning. The official tells me, looking through all their files, all their data. Right now they have nothing that matches this. They have no indications, no warnings of this attack they tell me. But they are going to continue to dig.

The big concern right now is finding the alleged gunman as fast as possible because, of course, in Europe, they could jump on a train, they could get in a car and drive across international borders. The urgency is, of course for the French, to find these people as quickly as possible. And the U.S. will help with any information it can.

The official also telling me what raises the U.S. concern level when they look at this, this morning, is this notion of multiple gunmen, two or more. That means preplanned, possibly conspiracy. That's where the U.S. concern lies right now.


CUOMO: Hey, Barbara, one quick thing. We understand that ISIS had been telling people who were going to act in their name not to be masked, to be unmasked, to show themselves. These men apparently masked, at least in the videos that we've seen. Relevant?

STARR: Well, that's very interesting. The U.S. is looking at that very point right now. When they saw the masks on the video, it caught their attention because they had intelligence indicating ISIS leadership told its people not to hide behind masks, have the courage of their convictions and show their faces. These guys were masked.

So, again, the intelligence community working very hard right now to figure out what that may mean. It's this notion of the multiple gunmen, the preplanning, the heavily armed. They knew what they -- they may have gone into the wrong building at the beginning, but they knew what they were after. And this is the question, how could some kind of preplanned conspiracy like this have been missed? Right now the U.S. says, as it looks at everything it has, it had no indication. They are continuing to dig and they are very urgently working with the French. The top priority right now is to find the gunmen.

CAMEROTA: Barbara Starr, thank you so much for that latest reporting.

President Obama, we understand, has been briefed on the terror attack in Paris. Let's bring in White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Josh, what is the president saying at this hour?


Yes, I can tell you that the president is aware of the tragic events that we've seen in Paris early in the morning U.S. time. The president does have the presidential daily briefing on his schedule this morning as usual, so the president will be meeting with his national security team this morning and I'm confident this will be on the agenda.

You know, what I can say is, I can tell you that the United States condemns, in the strongest terms, this horrific act of violence that we've seen in France. I can tell you also that the thoughts and prayers of the president and the first lady and everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were killed or injured in this attack and our thoughts are with our allies over in France right now.

Senior national security officials here at the White House have been in touch with their counterparts in France and we have made clear to them, something that's not particularly surprising, which is that the United States stands with the people of France as they confront this threat. We're going to use our resources to work with the French to investigate exactly what happened and to bring the perpetrators to justice. This is something that we have seen that the people of France have been stalwart allies with the United States and other countries around the globe as we've undertaken this strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

Now, it's - you know, we're still learning the details of this event who exactly is responsible for it and what their motivations were. But I can tell you that, you know, we have worked closely with the French in this effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. And we are confident that the people of France will not going to be cowed by this terrible act of violence. They are going to continue to take the fight to ISIL and we're going to be with them every step of the way.

CUOMO: Well, certainly something like this, Josh, is going to make the French authorities recalibrate what they're doing in their efforts in terms of aiding the coalition in the war against terror. But in terms of what it presents as a threat, we're used to seeing lone wolves, meaning just that, one person one off, maybe mentally unstable, lightly trained, self-radicalized. This may be something very different. I know you've been making the rounds this morning, but what are you hearing about the idea of two potentially trained gunmen in a coordinated attack, maybe more people involved. We haven't seen this before.

EARNEST: Well, Chris, we are trying to determine what happened. I mean this is only - you know, this only happened a couple of hours ago now. You know, one thing that we have been keenly aware of is the risk that is associated with foreign fighters. So these are individuals who have traveled from countries around the world to the region. They've taken up arms to fight alongside ISIL. And the concern that the western world has harbored, and certainly here in the United States we've had this concern, that those individuals could return back to their home countries or return to countries like France or the United States and use that training and use that equipment, use the willingness that they've already shown to give their lives for their cause and carry out acts of violence in places outside the region where ISIL is having a terrible impact right now.

So you recall, Chris, back in the fall, the president chaired a meeting of the United Nations Security Council where essentially the leaders of the world came together and raised standards and vowed to work together to make sure that we're sharing intelligence, that we're properly monitoring the movements of those individuals that have traveled to this region, to try to combat this threat. And the people of France, and the nation of France, has worked closely with the international community to try to confront this threat. And that's something that we're going to continue to do because we do understand that there is some risk associated with that.


EARNEST: Now, I don't want to leave people with the impression that we know that's what happened here. This is something that is still under the - under investigation. We're in the early stages of determining what happened, who is responsible and what their motivation was. But this is, in general, a threat that we are keenly aware of.

CAMEROTA: But, Josh, you are talking about ISIL or ISIS, as we refer to the terrorist group. Bobby Goshen (ph), who's here on set with us, just passed us a note reminding us that the editor-in-chief of this satirical magazine, Stephanne Charbonnier, was on al Qaeda's 2013 most wanted list. How will you determine which -- whether it was al Qaeda, ISIS? Which way are you leaning now?

EARNEST: Well, again, we're in the very early stages of analyzing what happened and who may be responsible. And we're going to have to figure that out before we can dig really into what their motivation may have been. What we already know, though, is that there are strong ties between al Qaeda and the remnants of al Qaeda and ISIL. That's one of the reasons that we have taken this threat so seriously. And it is one of the reasons that, you know, that we remain very concerned about the threat that's emanating from the leadership in ISIL.

The other thing that ISIL has demonstrated in ability to do, that we're also carefully monitoring, is they have demonstrated a sophistication when it comes to using social media tools to radicalize people around the globe and to encourage them to take up arms in pursuit of their cause. And so that is also something that we've been monitoring very closely.

The other thing that we have tried to do is to work with the leaders in the Muslim community, both here in the United States and around the world, to try to counter those violent messages, that we see ISIL, you know, distort the name of a peaceful religion and destroy the tenets of an otherwise peaceful religion to try to inspire people to carry out acts of violence, and that's why it's incredibly important that we see leaders in the Muslim community stand up and speak out about what the true teachings of Islam are. That's an important part of this, too.

CUOMO: Josh, when you talk about countering the message, you keep using the word violence. I mean, this is an act of terrorism, that's what the president of France called it, an act of terrorism. You're referring to ISIS and other bad actors. It doesn't really matter who it is at the end of the day, you know you're fighting a very large group of people of somewhat similar concern. Do you see this as an act of terrorism, and is this something that has to be condemned on that level?

EARNEST: Well, you know, I think based on what we know right now it does seem like that's what we're confronting here, and this is an act of violence that we certainly do condemn. If based on this investigation it turns out to be an act of terrorism, then we would condemn that in the strongest possible terms, too. I mean, look, this is again based on the very preliminary information that we have, this isn't just an attack, as you point out, Chris, on the people of France and on innocent civilians. This is an attack on some of the basic values that we hold dear here in this country and basic values of freedom of speech, and freedom of expression, and the free press that is also held dear by our allies in France.

So, this is something that we take very seriously. It's something that we condemn like I said in the strongest possible terms. I'm confident that in the days ahead we're going to be working very closely with our allies in France who have already shown tremendous courage in facing down the threat from terrorism to make sure that we're doing everything we can to investigate this incident and bring to justice those who are responsible for carrying it out.

CAMEROTA: Josh, we know the president will be dealing with this today. He was supposed to be going to Michigan to a Ford plant. Is that still on the table?

EARNEST: It is. The president is not planning at this point to change his schedule. The president is planning to travel to Detroit. He's going to talk about what is a good news story, which is the tremendous progress that the American auto industry has made over the last five or six years. You recall when the president first took office the U.S. economy was on the precipice of a second great depression. Thanks to the policies that this administration put in place, we didn't just stave off that second great depression, we actually laid the groundwork for a very strong recovery that we're seeing now in the auto industry. So, that's something that the president will have an opportunity to talk about today. He's looking forward to that opportunity.

CAMEROTA: Josh Earnest, thanks so much for taking time for NEW DAY. We appreciate you coming on.

EARNEST: Thanks to both of you. Have a good day.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

And over to Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we want to bring people up to speed right now on what is happening there. A manhunt is under way for the gunmen that perpetrated this heinous attack on the offices of "Charlie Hebdo.' We want to turn to our correspondent Jim Bittermann who is there. We have just been talking about Francois Hollande, the president of France, being on scene there, Jim, which is so different from how things would be done in our nation. But we also know he has called this a terror attack and he says that we will chase, these gunmen will be chased as long as necessary. What is the latest on the manhunt?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact that (INAUDIBLE) has not fulfilled the president's promise quite yet. As far as we know they're still chasing the gunmen. There's been no indication the police have caught anybody. The president himself is back in the presidential palace and he's having a crisis meeting with his ministers to try to figure out what the response should be. The prime minister has already announced that the response from his point of view is ordering the highest level of terrorist alert so far in France, and in that alert level, in fact, they're going to put out additional police protection around schools, transportation hubs like plane terminals and train stations, around places of worship, and basically anyplace in the country that might be a soft target as this one certainly was this morning.

This attack, which left 12 people dead, four critically injured, and as the French press puts it, between life and death, so there may be some more people who are added to the fatalities here. The gunmen clearly aware of what they were doing, know that the timing of this was such that they attacked at a moment when the maximum number of reporters, and cartoonists, and editorialists would be around in the morning at an editorial meeting. And apparently among the dead, according to reports, are the head of the magazine, the satirical magazine, as well as the cartoonist who was responsible for that very controversial cartoon back in 2011 which depicted the prophet Muhammad, that was a cartoon that got the magazine fire bombed back then.

PEREIRA: So, Jim, we were talking about this of the information sort of being difficult to gather here in terms of the death toll and the number of those injured. We understand there are several people that are critically injured. Can you give us more information on the number of people that have been hospitalized, that have been taken in for medical attention?

BITTERMANN: No, we don't have a full count on that. It sounds like from what we hear that the shooting went on for some time. There was also apparently a pedestrian who was hit as the gunmen made their way away from the scene in their are, they apparently hit a pedestrian. That's according to one report. So it's not very clear. We don't have a total picture yet from the authorities and they're still investigating themselves.

One of the things that we have seen, though, Michaela, I should say is something that your guest Josh just reported there about bringing in moderate Islamic voices. We have seen at the scene just in the last hour or so two very moderate imams, including the highest Islamic spiritual leader in France, speaking out at the scene, saying that they might not agree with what the magazine was doing, but they certainly weren't going to take it to the level of hate that we saw this morning or spill blood over their disagreements.

PEREIRA: When there's a manhunt of this magnitude going on within the nation of France, give us an idea of how the system works in terms of borders, airports. We know how it works here in the United States with all of the agencies working in conjunction with one another. Talk about how that works in France.

BITTERMANN: Well, I think that they would be working quite closely with each other. They have an experience of doing this kind of thing in the past. There have been, several decades ago, 20 years ago, there was a series of attacks here which ended with the culprits being rounded up eventually. They've been very good about tracking down in other kind of terrorist attacks about tracking down the people who are behind them. That's not to say they're going to have as much luck in this case.

One of the things that I think was most striking to me and the eyewitness testimony that we heard coming out is the fact that these gunmen, the two gunmen, were speaking perfect French. That says to me that they may be very hard to identify, because it means they probably were born here, they probably were educated here, they probably have French passports. This is the kind of thing that the French government, the authorities here, have feared for so long, that these young people who are attracted to the cause of fighting against Syria and the government of Syria, and fighting Iraqi authorities out of the Middle East would come back with their French passports, slip in under the radar, and go undetected. The French police have said that they've broken up a couple of these rings, but clearly this morning it didn't work.

PEREIRA: Yes, clearly it did not. We understand that the terror level has been raised there in that nation. We heard that, but now we've just been updated from the office of President Hollande that the terror level, or actually from the minister there, that the terror level has been raised all across the nation with particular focus, Jim, on some of the religious institutions and religious houses there, the temples, et cetera, around the nation of France. This is unprecedented I would imagine.

BITTERMANN: Well, it's unprecedented. I don't think that sensitivity about the terrorism, though, is unprecedented. There have been moments here in the past where particularly religious institutions have been targeted. There have been a number of very serious and very deadly attacks against synagogues, for example, and there were attacks back in the '80s against a major train station here, a major department store. So there have been attacks of this nature before. It certainly sends chills up and down everyone's spine, and I think that this is going to have a really devastating effect on public opinion here. I think they're going to wonder why the authorities could have let something like this happen, although they may not have had much ability to stop it.

PEREIRA: Questions to answer down the line. Right now the need to find those gunmen is urgent. Our thanks to you, Jim Bitterman. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: All right, Michaela. We want to bring in Evan Perez, he's our justice correspondent. He has more on the investigation now. What do you have, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the FBI is offering assistance to the French authorities at this hour, and right now what they're doing, the U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence agencies, are combing through any internet, e-mail, telephone traffic, anything that they have in their system on people that they were watching, people that was on their radar, to see if there's any involvement in this. Because, obviously, this is something that had to have been planned in some way, and whether or not someone that the U.S. had knowledge about was involved is something that they want to know, you know, urgently. The other thing that they're concerned about at this hour is, at least from the scene, reports from the scene, is the number of gunmen. It, you know, ranges from two to four, to, you know - - So people on the scene often, eyewitness accounts are very, you know, they vary a lot.

CUOMO: And the police were dressed very similarly to the gunmen in this situation.

PEREZ: Right, and what happened in the Navy yard, for instance. And so it's very sketchy right now what they're able to share between the U.S. and the French authorities. And the final thing was the concern about when this attack occurred, whether these attackers knew that this news organization was having a meeting to maximize the effect of this attack or whether it was just a coincidence, because from the look of, you know, the scenes there, you see the shots appear to be very good. Whoever was doing this had some kind of training with these weapons, and that raises an additional concern for U.S. authorities.

CAMEROTA: Evan Perez, thanks so much for all the latest information.

CUOMO: All right, let's get to Christiane Amanpour, obviously our chief international correspondent, joining us from London. I know you're working your sources, Christiane. You know, I'm hearing from so many in the intelligence community here on the U.S. side, saying the concern is that this is the real deal, that this is trained fighters who have come back home to do domestic types of assaults on things that are hallmarks of freedom. This would be an obvious target in Paris, the satirical magazine that has a history of infuriating extremist Islam, but what are you hearing?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is what all law enforcements, particularly here in Europe, have been very, very concerned about, this so called blowback from ISIS, from the vacuum in Syria and in Iraq.

Over the last year or so, this has been everybody's big, big fear. I think at this point it's also very, very important to point out that, as we've said, "Charlie Hebdo" has been deliberately provocative for a long, long time, and proudly so. Over the years it has printed some of what many Muslims find very offensive depictions, and it has been criticized. I mean, now the White House is defending freedom of speech and this and that, but back in 2012 the White House criticized the cartoons. Back in 2006 the French president, Jacques Chirac then, criticized the cartoons.

And I interviewed Lous (ph) who was one of the chief cartoonists, and I asked him a few years ago was he not concerned about pouring oil on fire? Did he not worry about this? And he said to me, you know, I am not here to shock or offend. This is what we do. We are simply, you know, trying to satirize the absurdity of what's going in the extreme corners of this religion. And perhaps it's interesting to close out this program with just a little reflection of what the editor, Stefan Charbonniere, recently said. He basically said this will only shock those who want to be shocked. And he's told a newspaper, "I don't feel as though I'm killing someone with a pen, I'm not putting lives at risk. When activists need a pretext to justify their violence, they always find it." And this, on this day, these activists found their target, and their targets were journalists. This was a clear attack on the freedom of expression, on press, and on satire.

CAMEROTA: It's so profound, Christiane, to hear those words now that we know that ten journalists inside that office were killed, including the editor-in-chief, and we heard that the gunmen upon leaving said "Charlie Hebdo" is dead.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's a very sad day, not just for terror, and law enforcement, and the loss of human life, but it's a very sad day for what this means to freedom of expression, to freedom of the press, and for the ability to operate in a responsible way in this incredibly difficult climate that we all find ourselves in right now.

CAMEROTA: It's just hard to sort of get your arms around everything that is happening there with the amount of carnage that these gunmen, it appears two, though they are still at large right now, were able to affect in going into these offices and opening fire during this editorial meeting. And then again, outside of the offices as we have seen from the eyewitnesses.

CUOMO: Christiane, thank you very much for the reporting. We know we'll be following up with you throughout the morning and the day here on CNN.

The details are light, but the obvious is something we've been reporting to you. France has just suffered its worst terror attack in decades. Right at lunch time in Paris, a magazine there with a history of doing political and religious satire attacked, a dozen people killed. The shooters heavily armed, perhaps trained, still at large. The United States is cooperating with France to try to bring these terrorists to justice. CNN will continue its coverage throughout the morning. We have a special edition of "NEWSROOM" with Anderson Cooper, and it starts right now.