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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Strikes Kill Hostages, al Qaeda Leaders; Interview with Peter King; State Troopers Called in After New Baltimore Protests. Aired 5-6:00p ET
Aired April 23, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:17] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, American drone deaths -- President Obama reveals a U.S. strike killed two al Qaeda hostages, including an American.
Why didn't U.S. intelligence know that civilians were present?
And terrorists killed -- U.S. counterterror strikes left two other Americans dead, but both of them were key al Qaeda operatives.
How big a blow is this to the terror group?
We'll hear from top experts on al Qaeda.
And growing anger -- fresh protests are building in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray and the police union's comparison of the demonstrators to a lynch mob. I'll talk to the Baltimore police commissioner.
And nuclear fallout -- chilling new analysis suggests North Korea has up to 20 nuclear weapons, will soon have many more and already has a missile able to reach America's West Coast.
Wolf Blitzer is off.
I'm Brianna Keilar.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We are following two major stories this hour.
Our breaking news -- a U.S. counterterror strike kills two al Qaeda hostages, one of them American, the other Italian. President Obama says he takes full responsibility for the deaths. But the White House also revealed the U.S. strikes killed two other Americans who were senior al Qaeda operatives.
And a new protest targets Baltimore city hall. Officials call on workers to get out of the downtown area, even as state troopers are called in. With anger growing over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and police union comments likening protesters to a lynch mob, where is all of this headed?
I'll be asking Baltimore's police commissioner. Congressman Peter King is also standing by.
And we have our correspondents, our analysts and guests who will all help us with complete coverage on both of these stories.
And we begin with the al Qaeda strike and CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Brianna, President Obama personally apologized to the families of those two hostages who were killed, and even made a phone call to the widow of the American, Warren Weinstein, who died in the drone strike.
The White House says the president authorized the disclosure of the operation as soon as his administration was certain the hostages were the victims of a mistake.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Obama was forced to face one of the harsh realities of his war on terrorism, that even precise drone strikes can go horribly wrong.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally, and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur.
ACOSTA: One of those mistakes happened in January, when the CIA conducted a drone strike near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that inadvertently killed two hostages. U.S. government contractor Warren Weinstein, captured from his home in Pakistan and held by al Qaeda since 2011, and Italian aid worker, Giovanni Lo Porto.
OBAMA: And I simply want to say this, as president and as commander- in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.
ACOSTA: The Obama administration says Weinstein and Lo Porto died died in the first of two drone strikes ordered by counterterrorism officials, not the president, after hundreds of hours of surveillance that determined there were no civilians present. Officials cautioned the air assaults were aimed at al Qaeda compounds, not members of the group.
But killed in the strikes were two American terrorists, Ahmed Farouq, a leader from al Qaeda of the Indian subcontinent, and Adam Gadahn, a well known al Qaeda spokesman who was wanted for treason.
Weinstein's widow released a statement saying, "We are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home. But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility."
That was essentially the reaction up on Capitol Hill, where House speaker, John Boehner welcomed the president's announcement of an independent review of the strikes.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We need all the facts for the families and so that we can make sure that nothing like this ever happens again in our efforts to keep Americans safe.
ACOSTA: But drone critics are raising questions.
HINA SHAMSI, DIRECTOR, ACLU NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: The CIA apparently does not even know who it has killed until weeks after the fact. That calls into question not just the standards under which this lethal force program is being carried out, but the reliability of the intelligence that is being used.
ACOSTA: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pushed back on that assessment. While he refuses to offer many specifics about the strikes and declined to use the word "drones," he argued that sometimes they're necessary.
JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We can't use Special Operations troops to go after every terrorist in the world. And we can't conduct an Osama bin Laden-style raid against every terrorist.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ACOSTA: Senior administration officials say they had early indications Weinstein was dead back in February, but only confirmed his death within the last several days.
Besides that internal review that's been ordered by the president, the CIA's inspector general is also expected to be on the case. And the White House confirmed that the families of these hostages will be compensated by the U.S. government for their losses -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Jim Acosta at the White House. Thanks.
And I want to turn now to CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
You've been digging on this all day today -- Jim. And you're learning more about how officials were able to determine these hostages had, indeed, died in this attack.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Brianna. They didn't have a body. They didn't have DNA evidence. It was a collection of evidence over time. And as Jim said, there was a final crucial piece of evidence just this month which led them to the final conclusion that Warren Weinstein and the Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, had been killed in that attack. And it was just yesterday when a senior White House official gave the news to the Weinstein family and then you had the phone call from the president to them, of course, a very difficult conversation with that news.
But we also know from the family's statement and from previous comments that they were not happy with the treatment from some administration officials.
And, Brianna, as you know, that's a -- that's a criticism that we've heard not just from this family, but from other families, the James -- the family of James Foley, for instance, the families of some of the Americans held in Iran right now, about the treatment from this administration, which is -- some of which is natural. But there has been criticism coming from the families with regards to how they were treated when they're trying to get their family members back.
KEILAR: And this is a program, this drone program, Jim, it's been controversial, really, since President Obama expanded it so much in his administration. And it's not the first mistake that's been made.
SCIUTTO: It is not. There was a case of a wedding party being hit in Yemen. Those family members were compensated by the U.S. government.
It's not just the drone program, but the difficulty of trying to engineer complicated hostage rescues. You had that with a failed hostage rescue attempt in Syria going after some of the ISIS captives. They came to the right place, but it was too late. They had already gone.
You had an operation in Yemen in December last year. The American, Luke Summers, killed not by the rescuers, but by his hostage holders while that attack was underway.
It's very difficult to get these things right.
And then there's the bigger question, because you have enormous opposition to these strikes from locals on the ground in Pakistan, in countries such as Yemen and elsewhere.
And the larger policy question raised is, you know, do -- do the costs out weight the benefits here?
Because it's not just local opposition, which leads to anti- Americanism, but it's an extremely powerful recruiting tool for some of these extremist groups. You have a strike, people are killed. Some of those people who see that happen, whether they lose loved ones or not, join the extremist group.
Donald Rumsfeld asked this question more than a -- more than a decade ago -- are we, in his words, killing them faster than they are being created?
And it's still a question, whether you're talking drone strikes or some of these rescue attempts, as well.
KEILAR: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.
And I want -- I'm going to be joined now by Republican Congressman Peter King of New York.
He serves on both the Homeland Security Committee, as well as the Intelligence Committee.
And, Congressman, you've been briefed on this incident. One of the things that we've been hearing today from officials is that they were near certain that there were no Americans, no civilians on site during these strikes.
How did this go so wrong?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I think this is something that was just -- it happened. It happens in every war. I can't begin to tell you how much our government, how deliberate, how painstaking, how exacting they are before any attack like this is authorized.
And if you have prisoners who never see the light of day, who are kept out of any type of observation at all, I can certainly see how that could happen.
I don't know what else could have been done in this situation to ensure that there were no civilians there or that there were no Americans there.
Again, there was -- this was hour and hours of monitoring, of surveilling, of looking. And I've actually been at a headquarters where I've seen how this is done. And I can tell you that I think there's been any number of times where we have allowed al Qaeda operatives to get away rather than run the risk of hitting a civilian or certainly of hitting an American.
KEILAR: So then is this just -- you can't prevent this, because we know at this point that there are at least four other hostages who could be in that region?
And a lot of people are wondering if there's a way to make sure that this doesn't repeat itself.
KING: Yes, I don't think I think -- I think it's giving a false hope to say this would never happen again. We can and we should do whatever can possibly be done to avoid it. It should obviously be looked at very, very carefully, very closely, have an action report to see if anything did go wrong or why it went wrong.
But if, again, based on what we know so far, I think that everything that could have been done was done. But again, that's why you have the experts to go through it again with a fine tooth comb to see if anything, you know, could be done.
Having said that, if I were a relative of those two gentlemen who were killed. I'd be sad and I'd probably be angry.
[15:10:00] So I understand that.
But, again, when you're making decisions in time of war, to me, the cost-benefit analysis here and the fact that everything, you know, painstakingly is done to avoid civilian casualties is done.
KEILAR: Certainly, there are intelligence limitations, Congressman, when you're talking about certain areas of Pakistan. You don't necessarily have eyes on the ground there. And we even understand that the conclusion that Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto had died, that that wasn't determined through DNA evidence.
Can you give us some idea of how that was determined?
KING: No, I really can't say, other than that they are now certain that it is.
But, again, this is hard to determine in any case. Without going into details, it was quite a while before we knew for certain that it was Adam Gadahn. We knew there was an al Qaeda headquarters. We knew there were al Qaeda operatives. But as far as the actual identities, again, when you don't have people on the ground, it's very difficult. And it's -- but again, right now. I can tell you that our government is satisfied, is confident, you know, confident -- I hate to use that word -- is certain that of the two civilians who were killed.
KEILAR: All right. So can you give us a sense of how many times you were briefed?
Because I know that two months ago, the White House had a concern that Weinstein could have been killed.
Were you told then?
When were you first notified that this might have happened?
KING: You know, I can only speak as an individual. I was not aware of Weinstein until today. Now, I may have missed it along the way. I was aware of Adam Gadahn. I was not aware of Weinstein.
And so I -- again, I cant speak to other members on the committee. But I myself, you know, was not aware of it.
And I'm not blaming anyone. It's possible that was a meeting I missed, even though I try to make them all. And I think I -- and I know I'd remember it if I had been told.
But, again, it's possible that I just wasn't there when that was brought up.
But I have not heard any discussion of that at any of the briefings I've been at.
KEILAR: All right, Congressman, stay with me.
KING: Sure. KEILAR: There are some in Congress who are saying agencies are not sharing information. I want to ask you about that right after a quick break.
KEILAR: Our breaking news. U.S. drone strikes killed two al Qaeda hostages, including an American. Also killed, two Americans who became senior al Qaeda operatives.
[17:16:37] We're back now with Republican Congressman Peter King. He serves on both the Homeland Security and the Intelligence Committees.
Really interesting scenario that we've heard, Congressman, from a fellow Republican, Duncan Hunter. He was detailing a plan that was out there the Pentagon was working on to exchange a number of hostages held in Afghanistan and Pakistan for a single detainee that the U.S. was holding. And there were different machinations of this plan. But one would have included Bowe Bergdahl, who ultimately was exchanged for five Taliban prisoners, as well as Warren Weinstein and then this Canadian couple and the baby that is believed the woman had in captivity. He said it's a tragedy, because this didn't have to happen. Warren Weinstein didn't have to die. What's your reaction to that?
KING: I have not discussed that with Duncan. And I have been at any number of briefings. I've never heard that discussed. But he may have his own sources. I'm not aware of that. I've been at a -- again, both committees, especially on the Intelligence Committee where we get briefed on a regular basis, and I have -- that's the first I've heard of that.
But again, it could be that Duncan has his own sources. It could be he's getting that more from the Pentagon.
KEILAR: Could more have been done to get Warren Weinstein released, though? I know this is certainly a concern of his family. Should more have been done?
KING: You know, I don't want to be taking shots at the administration. I'm willing to believe that they were doing everything they could do or everything they felt could be done. You know, whether it's George Bush or Barack Obama, the fact is when there's an American who's being held hostage, certainly an innocent person such as this, as opposed to Bergdahl, every American president has to be doing all that can be done.
So again, you need an extra action (ph) report. I can tell you the Intelligence Committee is going to be certainly meeting with the CIA, and with other members of the intelligence community to find out what else could have been done, what should have been done.
But again, I don't want to, on this day, be taking shots at the administration when we really have to look at this more carefully. My understanding all along was that we're doing all we could do to get them back. But again, if Duncan Hunter has that, that's certainly something that should be raised.
KEILAR: But even the administration is saying we have this internal review, we have an independent inspector general who is going to look at this, and perhaps some changes should be made. We heard that today coming from the White House.
So on that front these idea that these were signature strikes, that U.S. officials didn't know specifically who they might be targeting, other than they were people they believed to be al Qaeda, because they were behaving like al Qaeda. Is there perhaps a problem with these signature strikes? And what needs to be fixed to make sure that this doesn't happen again?
KING: Well, signature strikes are always a little bit more risky because, again, you don't know exactly who they are. But it turned out it was an al Qaeda headquarters. It turned out the two very, very top al Qaeda people were killed. So to that extent this was successful. The fact that there were Americans being held hostage there, I don't know what we could have know -- done to find out they were there. That is what we have to look at.
But I mean, other than the fact that it's a terrible tragedy, but again if they're thought visible, if there's no way they can be seen. If there's no intelligence on the ground that they're being held there, and you monitor for hours and hours, maybe 100 hours and you see no evidence of anyone other than al Qaeda, then, to me, that is a signature strike that should be taken.
[17:20:15] Otherwise we would never attack anyone on a signature strike, because there's no way of knowing who could be being held below ground, who could be held -- again, you know, in a way they just can't be detected.
I've heard other hostages say that when they're held, they never see the light of day, because the Taliban and al Qaeda, especially al Qaeda, of course, are so aware that drones could be monitoring. You know, that Americans have great powers of observation. That they don't let these people be seen by anyone, any possibility of being seen. Under those circumstances, I don't know what else can be done. But again, that's the purpose of having this -- the IGA and the after action report.
KEILAR: And we will certainly be looking for that soon. Is what we're told by Josh Earnest. It should come out.
Congressman King, as always, thanks for being with us.
And coming up...
KING: Brianna, thank you.
KEILAR: Thank you. Coming up, there's a deadly U.S. drone strike that we've been talking about, and it's raising these new questions. Could al Qaeda hostage Warren Weinstein been saved long before that operation? We have our terrorism experts standing by to talk about that.
And then as a new protest erupts in downtown Baltimore, workers are told to clear out of the area. State troopers are brought in. I'll be asking Baltimore police commissioner where all of this is headed.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:25:57] KEILAR: Our top story, President Obama reveals that a U.S. strike accidently killed two al Qaeda hostages, including an American. Also killed, two Americans who became senior al Qaeda operatives.
And joining me now to talk about this, we have CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. We have CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, a former CIA official. We have CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative. And we have CNN military analyst, retired lieutenant general Mark Hertling.
So, Bob, we hear today from President Obama, and he reveals -- and we know this from reporting, as well -- that this site had been under extensive surveillance, pretty much 24/7 surveillance, leading up to this strike. And still, the Americans were missed. The American hostage and the Italian hostage. Should they have been missed? Was there a way to figure out that they were there?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brianna, no, there's not a way to figure it out. This is what we called the denied area in operations. You can't put people on the ground. You can't put clandestine video coverage of the place. You can watch the front doors. You can't put acoustics in the building. So it's pretty much a hit-or-miss when you're surveilling from the air.
For years they hunted for hostages, and the military and the CIA both insisted whenever we could is to put cameras on the ground to see who's inside. Whether it's a heat signature or, again, acoustics. And it just wasn't possible in tribal areas of Pakistan. It's just an unfortunate accident.
KEILAR: Phil, what about afterward? What about after this drone attack? Was there -- tell us about the difficulties in trying to figure out exactly what had happened, who had been killed, if anyone had been killed?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, look, there's been commentary today about the after action, saying, "Let's insure that we don't let this happen again." This is nonsense. Let's be clear here.
You're doing a hit that's called a signature strike. You have intelligence that says there's a collection of al Qaeda guys at a facility. As the president said, you have several hundred hours, potentially, of overhead surveillance to answer a couple of questions: Can we get more certitude about who's there? And can we insure that, if there's women and children on that compound, that we miss them?
If the follow on question in the after action is "how do we guarantee that we've identified everybody in the compound and then, in a space the size of California, we're sure that building is -- doesn't hold a hostage," I'd say get out of warfare. That's Hollywood.
The after action here is going to cost 5 million bucks. Let me save you the money. This happens occasionally in the tragedy of war.
KEILAR: Who -- very strong words there from you, Phil. I mean, General Hertling, you can respond to that. But I also want you to give us a sense of who would have approved this? Because we don't know this. What we do know is that President Obama did not specifically approve this. There are protocols in place so that if certain -- I guess -- if a certain situation or characteristics of a situation are in place, then you have lower level officials who can go ahead and say, "Let's do this."
MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, well, Brianna, take a good hard look at my face, because it's been a guy just like me. A two- or three- or a four-star general who has the unfortunate and tough responsibility of approving kinetic strike packages, which is what this one was.
I've approved dozens of these, and it's tough and it's difficult. These targets are put together by cells of intel professionals, technicians and operators who use all kinds of ISR products. They are never going to be 100 percent sure of their targets. Intelligence isn't perfect, as Phil and Bob have both said.
It's nice that the president took responsibility. That's what higher up commanders do. But it's somebody on the ground that said, "I approve this package."
KEILAR: Peter, you've been doing a lot of very interesting reporting today. If you listen to the White House press briefing, what you heard from the White House was that they've been in touch with Warren Weinstein's family. And you walked away with the sense that they had done everything they could do, really, to help. But is that what you found?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think so. I think that we're stymied, the U.S. Government is stymied by its unwillingness to negotiate with terrorists or make concessions, as part of the U.S. government policy. And the fact is, there are ways to go about this without the U.S. government paying a ransom. You can go through proxies, like the Pakistani government that has links to these militant groups.
The Pakistani government officials tell me that they did try and reach out to try and secure Weinstein's release through the Haqqani Network which is sort of associated with al Qaeda or the Taliban group. But wasn't enough. But I mean -- what I would say that is really important today is that there were other Americans being held exactly where in that area of North Waziristan which is not large area were Caitlin Coleman who's an American and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And they've had a baby. BERGEN: And they've had a baby in captivity. We don't know the name
or the sex of the baby. They are out there. And surely, some -- you know, I agree with everything that's been said, but you know, a mistake was made here. You know, mistakes do happen. But that doesn't mean there's an excuse for them happening again.
KEILAR: So if there is that possibility you have -- you know, I've listened to experts today who have said when you're dealing with something like this, this is just the unfortunate collateral damage that exists.
BERGEN: Sure but --
KEILAR: But when you look -- but when you look at this couple with this baby, what can be done to make sure that this isn't going to be repeated?
BERGEN: We're giving billions of dollars a year to the Pakistani government. Let's make this a very big issue with the Pakistani government, that we want this family back and make it the leading issue in our diplomatic discussions with the government.
KEILAR: What do you think, Phil?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, I don't think there's much that can be done. I do believe we should pressure the Pakistanis. Let's remember, we've been at this with them for 15 years. It's not like we don't know how they operate. It's not like we haven't tried to pressure them before.
Before I close, this M word, mistake, keeps getting thrown around. Let's step through this for one second. If you had intelligence picture that identified a target in no man's land and you could with some assurance say we won't kill women and children, your choice is to pull the trigger or not. That's it.
KEILAR: Well, let me --
MUDD: And in my -- in this case, I'd say we pulled the trigger and we hit the target. The tragedy of war tells me there was unfortunate consequence and a loss of life of a hostage. That's war.
KEILAR: But, General Hertling, if we are here in this place again and we're talking about something similar involving the lives of people who were there now, at this point at stake we're talking about a couple and their baby, doesn't something have to change?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Brianna, it's a tough call. And I agree with everyone on the panel. But I also know we're in the type of warfare where people intermingle. And it's called hybrid, it's called asymmetric. There's all kinds of words for it. But the fact of the matter is, you have civilians in a battle space being held hostage or being in some cases used as shields.
You take the best intelligence you can. And again, the responsibility for taking these shots is an extremely difficult one. But it's warfare. And the president isn't going to approve every single one. But Peter has got a good point. We really need to pressure the Pakistani government on this. They have not been doing enough to assist in these kind of intelligence matters.
KEILAR: Yes. Something needs to be done diplomatically as well.
All right. Stay with me, guys, Bob, Phil, Peter and Lt. Gen. Hertling, as we continue to follow this breaking news.
Coming up, though, state troopers are now being called in to Baltimore as protesters demand answers for the death of Freddie Gray.
I'm going to speak live with the police commissioner as his city stands on edge. You can see it right there.
And frightening new analysis says Kim Jong-Un is beefing his nuclear stockpile. With as many as 20 nuclear warheads now, is the rouge state preparing to lash out.
KEILAR: Growing anger and a fresh wave of protesters seizing the city of Baltimore again tonight after Freddie gray, an African-American man, died in police custody. City officials have called in state troopers as crowds march through the streets right now with anger mounting after the police union compared protesters to a lynch mob.
Brian Todd is in Baltimore where tensions are high.
Give us a sense of the scene, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this is the location where protests are scheduled to begin very shortly. Protest marchers have been starting at this point where the arrest of Freddie Gray took place marching that way toward the police precinct and elsewhere in the city. That's supposed to begin here shortly.
I know you guys have shown pictures and I'm putting up pictures now of marchers elsewhere in the city of Baltimore. There have been marches all day. A big rally a short time ago at city hall. Tensions growing again tonight here in Baltimore.
Also tonight we're getting more information, new information about tensions between African-American leaders and the city's leadership. As crowds of protesters continue to demand answers and accountability.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No justice.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No peace.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No justice.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No peace.
TODD (voice-over): Not letting up in their show of anger, determined to stay on the streets and on message, protesters pressed their demand for justice for Freddie Gray. Tonight signs of anger and descent among African-American leaders in Baltimore. Some black leaders critical of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for not expressing more public outrage over Gray's death.
CARL STOKES, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMAN: I think the mayor is trying to be too cautious, to be overly calm, and as I said earlier, if we're calm, something's wrong with our psyche. This is not something for us to be calm about.
[17:40:12] TODD: The mayor's spokesman says it's her record in this case that counts.
KEVIN HARRIS, SPOKESMAN FOR BALTIMORE MAYOR: Screaming and yelling isn't going to get the Gray family the answers that they're looking for. Screaming and yelling isn't going to get the police department to continue changing this culture as we've seen that process start under this administration. This is about getting results and getting answers.
TODD: African-American leaders are also turning their anger toward Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
REV. CORTLY C.D. WITHERSPOON, SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP: He has been complicit and he has allowed for the culture of police brutality to grow in the city to the height that it has grown.
TODD: An investigation by the "Baltimore Sun" found the city paid out more than $6 million since 2011 to settle lawsuits alleging police misconduct. Batts has been commissioner since 2012. No immediate comment from Batts to the criticism of him but one police official told us that the department has undergone extensive reforms and retraining over the past couple of years. And the head of the Baltimore's police union downplayed the lawsuits.
GENE RYAN, PRESIDENT, BALTIMORE FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: Our officers are exonerated in most of the cases. They're settled out of court because it's cheaper just to give money away. And then it's all over with.
TODD: Now Mayor Rawlings-Blake and police officials say that under their watch lawsuits over the conduct of police officials or police misconduct, police brutality have gone way down especially in the last couple of years. But the "Baltimore Sun" is reporting that the city is still paying out some of those lawsuits, spending $255,000 alone just over the past two weeks -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Wow, some numbers. Brian Todd for us in Baltimore.
And I want to dig deeper now with Baltimore's police commissioner, Anthony Batts. You saw him featured there in that story. ANTHONY BATTS, COMMISSIONER, BALTIMORE PD: Yes.
KEILAR: Commissioner, talk to us a little bit about some of the -- and first up, I do want to point out as we're seeing these pictures of crowds gathering there in Baltimore, what are you expecting today?
BATTS: I think our community is expressing pain. They're expressing outrage. There's been an history within our organization -- I've been a part of our community -- not establishing relationships and to a certain extent, not taking accountability for actions that have taken place within this community.
KEILAR: We're seeing --
BATTS: And so what people are doing are marching and expressing their pain and outrage that the community has as a whole.
KEILAR: Can I tell you what -- some of what we're seeing, and I don't know if you can see but we're seeing people scuffling in a way sort of with police. Police try to create a barrier across a crosswalk there. And now they seem to just be letting people flood through the area and through the intersection. If you have people who are protesting, police are trying to get them to stop. Now they're just standing by. I mean, this doesn't seem like -- this doesn't seem like they're obviously getting along.
What have police been told about how to handle these protesters?
BATTS: Well, in reality, it's much like I had a chance to sit down with the Gray family this afternoon in the police station. The Gray family came in along with their pastor. We sat down, we had an opportunity to listen to the family. There was a lot of pain in that family. And I can understand it. If that was my son, that ended up the same way, I would be angry, I'd be outraged. I'd have a sense of rage.
I think they're looking for answers. And what we need to do is move through the investigational process and provide them answers to how they lost their loved one as a whole. As the marchers are out there, what I've told this police department and the employees is to allow them to march. Understand the outrage, understand the pain that the community has suffered through. And allow them to express themselves in their own constitutional way.
So I believe the officers have been given that direction. They're stepping back and let the marchers protest and have their say for today.
KEILAR: There are six officers to be questioned in this case. Five of them have given statements. What have we learned from them? What have you learned from them about how Gray may have been injured?
BATTS: Well, it's not clear. I had a full briefing this morning at 9:00. I was not happy with all the answers that I got. I'm not focusing just on one part, I'm not focusing on the van. What I told them is start from when those police officers came on duty that day, early that morning through the contact with Mr. Gray, all the way to the end to that day.
I want every stone unturned. I want everything exposed. And I want to look at ever nth degree so we can go back to this community to answer every question that may be there so we don't have any that are pending. We'll then take that investigation and give it to state's attorney and the state's attorney will make the decision on whether they'll file -- to file charges or not.
KEILAR: You said you were not happy with some of what you had heard from them in their statements. What were you not happy with?
[17:45:04] BATTS: No, correction on that. I wasn't happy with not answering some questions within the investigation so I sent them back to relook at situations.
KEILAR: To look at the extent of the entire day.
BATTS: I think we need to be more --
KEILAR: OK, but tell us about this one officer. You have --
BATTS: But what I'm saying, is I want them to go back and be more aggressive and assertive at looking at this investigation than what we have been.
KEILAR: Do you feel they were not being forthcoming?
BATTS: No. I'm not talking about the officers in their interview. I'm talking about our investigatory body that we have.
BATTS: We have about 30 officers that are doing a task force. And I wanted them to dig deeper and heavier to answer all questions that may be asked of us for the Gray family. But the officers, they have been five of the six, much like any other person that may be accusatory in a crime were given their Miranda rights. They have the right to remain silent. Five of the six were very open and answer the questions. One of the officers did not answer the questions and by his attorney opted not to testify or give testimony.
KEILAR: OK. And we're looking at live pictures coming to us from Baltimore. Protesters have essentially shut down traffic. I mean, we have traffic there at the standstill. They're flooding the streets. And obviously this is their objective here as people are gathering. Right now it's day light. It's going to be getting darker. I wander what you think is ahead if you see these protesters now blocking traffic.
Are you expecting the city to, in essence, become shut down or be in a situation where police officers can't even control the area?
BATTS: Part of -- no, ma'am. Part of my direction to the organization is allow the protesters to protest. If we have traffic, we'll redirect traffic. The protests in Ferguson in November and December and a lot of other cities you had a large number of arrests. In Baltimore we didn't have any arrests. We allowed people to march throughout the streets and do protests. That's what the Constitution says. So if we have to redirect traffic we'll redirect traffic.
We apologize to those who may be delayed. But we will facilitate the First Amendment right within the city of Baltimore.
KEILAR: All right. Commissioner Batts, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
BATTS: Thank you, ma'am.
KEILAR: And coming up, a stunning new report says that North Korea could double its nuclear arsenal by the end of next year and even reach the West Coast with a nuclear tipped missile. What is being done to stop that.
[17:52:06] KEILAR: Breaking news. You're looking now at live pictures coming to us from Baltimore. Demonstrators have essentially brought traffic to a standstill here. This is Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and we've been watching protesters just move in between cars, completely stopping traffic there. And then take a look at this. This is from just minutes ago where they swarmed a police car.
So much frustration over the death of Freddie Gray who died in police custody. So many unanswered questions there. And so after this we will tell you these protesters did disperse. We've been seeing police officers at times trying to block the protesters from some movement, but then really letting them pass.
And we are going to continue to monitor the situation especially as we head here into the evening.
First, though, there is a frightening new warning tonight that North Korea and its rogue young leader are racing to double the country's nuclear arsenal by the end of next year.
We have CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. She is tracking this story.
This is really interesting -- Elise.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, that's right, Brianna. This alarming new assessment shows that North Korea is making great advances in its nuclear program but what's really significant here it's coming from China. North Korea's closest ally in the world who now warns that the nuclear threat is so much bigger than anyone imagined.
LABOTT (voice-over): It's a frightening new assessment from North Korea's neighbor and closest ally. China warning Kim Jong-Un has a nuclear arsenal well beyond current U.S. figures. In a closed door meeting with U.S. nuclear experts, first reported by "The Wall Street Journal," China's top nuclear experts warn the erratic and unpredictable leader has as many as 20 nuclear weapons and is racing to double that by the end of next year.
JOEL WIT, SAIS U.S.-KOREA INSTITUTE: They're noticing the same things we noticed in our report which is that the North Koreans are preparing to expand their nuclear arsenal and have been doing that for five years.
LABOTT: Joel Wit of the U.S.-Korea Institute made a similar assessment in February along with the Institute for Science and International Security headed by former weapons inspector David Albright. Their alarming report warned Kim Jong-Un is beefing up his nuclear weapons stockpile at warp speed.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: The worst cases that they could end up with 100 nuclear weapons by the end of 2020.
LABOTT: But now China, North Korea's cheap benefactor, is offering its highest estimates to date after downplaying the threat for years, reflecting growing concern in Beijing over the North Korean nuclear threat.
WIT: The Chinese are being realistic and understand that a growing North Korean nuclear threat not only has implications for the United States and its allies but also has implications for China.
LABOTT: The frightening new Chinese estimates are even more concerning giving this warning by a top U.S. military official this month. North Korea, he says, is now capable of launching a nuclear tipped missile that could potentially reach the U.S. West Coast.
[17:55:14] ADM. WILLIAM GORTNEY, COMMANDER, U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND: Our assessment is that they have the ability to put it on and shoot it at the homeland. It doesn't necessarily mean that they will fly before they test it.
LABOTT: A nightmare scenario that raises concerns that a nuclear deal with Iran could provide Tehran with diplomatic cover to build a nuclear weapon just like the 1994 agreed framework with North Korea did.
LABOTT: The U.S. says it learned its lesson with North Korea which is why the nuclear deal they are negotiating with Iran would have much tougher inspections of the nuclear facilities to ensure the Iranians don't cheat -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Lessons learned.
Elise Labott, thank you so much.
We have much more breaking news ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)