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US Supreme Court Rules on Same-Sex Marriage; Interview with Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Aired June 26, 2013 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

A cultural sea change swept the United States today on an issue that's been hotly debated here and across the world. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gay married couples now have the same rights as straight couples, benefits, tax breaks, joint property rights.

And later I'll speak with an American man who's been forced to live abroad with his British partner because of the law that was overturned today. But first, to my guest, the former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He hearkens back to a different, perhaps a mythical time in Washington, when people of good faith were called to serve their country regardless of party or politics.

Gates has served seven presidents and he's overseen two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also CIA director under the first President Bush.

Gates overcame partisan dysfunction in Washington as the quintessential straight shooter. He's not afraid to tell generals, presidents and U.S. allies what they may not want to hear, as in this speech in February of 2011, as he was preparing to leave office.


ROBERT GATES, FMR. SECY. OF DEFENSE: Any future Defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.


AMANPOUR: Now two years after finally leaving public service the United States still wrestles with war and crisis in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. And also what does this former CIA chief have to say about Edward Snowden leaking America's most top secret secrets? So let's ask Robert Gates.

Welcome to the program.

GATES: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: It's good to see you. I want to ask you first to react to the U.S. Supreme Court knocking down DOMA and also the Secretary of Defense, one of your successors, Chuck Hagel, has today issued a statement saying that now all benefits, all military benefits will be afforded to military same-sex couples.

GATES: The Defense of Marriage Act was the sole impediment to extending full benefits to gay couples in the military. We always acknowledged that we would as much as we could within the framework of that law for shared benefits, but that until the law was changed, there were limits on what we could do.

Now with the law being struck down, my assumption is that gay couples will have the same -- all the same benefits that straight couples do in the military.

AMANPOUR: And that's a good thing.

GATES: I think that anything that treats people equality is a good thing.

AMANPOUR: And just because you did lobby quite fiercely for the end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," you're satisfied that that's had absolutely no negative effect on the cohesion and the performance of the U.S. military?

GATES: That's probably going too far to say it's had absolutely no effect. But I've certainly not read of any difficulties. I've not read about any difficulties with unit cohesion, with discipline.

I think the -- one of the benefits of the review we did was that it showed that two-thirds to three-quarters of those in the military thought it would have no effect or even a beneficial effect in terms of allowing gays to serve openly.

So I don't think there's been any serious problems as a result of implementation.

AMANPOUR: America's changing. This law that was knocked down today and also the surveillance, the secrecy, the lack of privacy, there's so much that's changing because of technology in this regard. And of course you know the crisis over Edward Snowden, he's potentially still holed up in the transit area of the Moscow airport.

What concerns you the most about what he is self-professed to have done, to have leaked a lot of America's secrets?

GATES: Well, I think just that, the fact that this single individual has taken upon himself, aggregated (ph) to himself the authority to override 35 years of established oversight processes in all three branches of government and to take upon himself the right to make the decision to make all this sensitive information public.

AMANPOUR: In substantive terms, though, what has it done, do you think? What's the most worrying thing to you, that somebody might know who's being surveyed? Or that, I don't know, what is the most problematic thing for you?

GATES: Well, it's a little difficult for me to answer since I don't know what he had access to --


AMANPOUR: No, but you were former CIA chief --

GATES: -- what he's already revealed suggests to me that he has access to quite a lot. And frankly, these are the tools that we use to protect the American people. You've always had this debate in this country over the proper balance between freedom and security.

But 35 years ago, after the scandals of the CIA, we established these oversight mechanisms that under presidents is different, as Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and George W. Bush have been continued.

And under Congress' control, both by the Republicans and the Democrats, to override all of those institutional safeguards. For an individual to take upon himself doing this is a formula for chaos and anarchy.

And so I think that -- I think that this is a violation of his oath, but also the violation of all of these institutions in a democratic government for the protection of liberties that is worrisome, not to mention the benefit to our adversaries from terrorists to others of the information that he will communicate and that I think will probably put Americans at risk.

AMANPOUR: What changes will American intelligence gathering have to institute now that some of his methods are out there?

GATES: Inevitably people will looking at the vetting process, how did this guy get a clearance, how did he get hired, what is the role of contractors in the intelligence business. My guess is that we'll look at all of this.

But you know the reality is at the end of the day, this all depends on trust. There are 3 million people in the Defense Department and somebody is probably not following the rules at any given time.

And so it still boils down to trust. That's why people take an oath to protect the secrets and to uphold the Constitution. And if you can't ultimately trust people, then you're in real trouble. And the consequence of that is you will have a narrowing and a narrowing of the information that's made available to people for analysis and for decision-making as people try to protect that information.

And you will be back in the same kind of situation that we potentially -- that we apparently had prior to 9/11, where you don't have the ability for people with a broad enough access to connect the dots.

AMANPOUR: On the trust issue, a lot of the commentary has been that Snowden didn't reveal any kind of illegality by the U.S. government in this surveillance, but he did reveal an overreach by the U.S. in its massive Hoovering-up of intelligence, or records.

And people are saying that actually a potential benefit of this is to bring it into the public in order to create more of a trust, have a real conversation about this kind of surveillance so that people can trust their government and know where are they going.

GATES: The second that everything that the government does is made public, in terms of the intelligence we gather on our adversaries, in terms of the capabilities of our weapons systems, our ability to protect the American people to a considerable degree depends on secrecy in these arenas.

And that's why the American people have to trust their elected representatives to protect them in this. And that's why I think that the representations by the Republican and Democratic chairs of the intelligence committees and others are all in agreement. They've been briefed on these things; there is no wrongdoing.

They monitor them. They're briefed every three months. The American people elect these people to Congress to be their representatives so they can hear those secrets so we can still use that information to go after our adversaries. But you have to depend on the elected representatives to conduct effective oversight. And I will tell, based on my experience over 35 years, that oversight is very effective.

AMANPOUR: What about Russia's role as a CIA analyst and then chief, you spent many, many years studying Russia and their intelligence and their spy gathering.

What do you think is happening right now? And does this point out the real dangers of having a rocky relationship with Russia?

GATES: Well, I think that we've -- our relationship with Russia has had its ups and downs for a long time, even after the end of the Cold War. Frankly I figure Putin won't miss any opportunity to poke his finger in the eye of the United States.

I don't know what the Russians are doing, whether they're sitting there in the transfer section of the Moscow airport offering Snowden all kinds of opportunities and dollars and a future and so on to try and give up his secrets, whether they're surreptitiously downloading the computers he's with. I have no idea what's going on.

But it can't be good.

AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you also about the idea of cyber-hacking. Obviously the U.S. has accused China of cyber-hacking, even into sensitive weapons systems. But Snowden has said that the U.S. is also spying on China and various universities and other such things and in Hong Kong.

What is the impact of all of that? Because Leon Panetta, one of your predecessors, said that there could be a massive cyber-attack on the U.S. that could become a cyber Pearl Harbor.

How vulnerable is the U.S. to its institutions, its ports, its airports, its bureaucracy being hacked and wiped clean?

GATES: I think Secretary Panetta had it exactly right. I think we are quite vulnerable, particularly in terms of our infrastructure, particularly in our dependence on the Internet and the networks that exist around this country, control of things like the electrical system, power systems and so on. We are quite vulnerable.

AMANPOUR: Hold that though; we're going to take a break. And when we come back, we're going to talk about the wars that are going on right now. I'll continue my conversation with Secretary Gates and I'll ask him about America's role in Syria.

But first, the U.S. military has come a long way, as we said, since the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And yesterday, for the just the second straight year, the Pentagon held a gay pride celebration. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke on behalf of a grateful and changing nation.


CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're very proud of everything the gay and lesbian community have contributed and continue to contribute with their service we are moving closer to fulfilling the country's founding vision, that all of us are created equal.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Changing times indeed. And we'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and to more of my conversation with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Let's talk about Syria. Since you left office, this has just gotten worse and worse and worse and America appears to be sitting on the sidelines. It has been prompted, perhaps, by the advances of Hezbollah and Iran inside Syria to now say it's stepping up.

Agree or disagree? Approve or not?

You, of giving more military help to the Syrian opposition?

GATES: I think if we're going to give -- first of all, I have to be honest here. I opposed our intervention in Libya.

AMANPOUR: I know. And I'll get to that in a second.

GATES: And I think we overestimate our ability to shape events in that part of the world. But under the circumstances, I believe that if we are going to assist segments of the Syrian opposition, that the way the president has decided to do it is the way to do it --


AMANPOUR: Is it enough?

GATES: -- which is through Turkey and Jordan, basic military equipment. I would be willing to give them more anti-armor. I would not give them surface-to-air missiles. Those would probably come out of Gadhafi's arsenal or everywhere and I think those in the -- too easily could fall into the hands of the wrong parts of the opposition.

But I think -- I think we could do more along the lines of what the president has suggested, the basic military equipment, intelligence and so on.

AMANPOUR: Do you think any of this is going to be enough to tip the balance of power on the ground to some kind of political or negotiated settlement which, now it just seems that President Assad's regime has the upper hand.

GATES: My personal view is probably not.

AMANPOUR: So where do you see this ending?

GATES: I think that's the question everybody is asking. And the question is how much do you do, what makes you think you can have any influence over the end game in Syria? I just have reservations about our ability to make these happen.

And when people talk about a no-fly zone, I mean, the reality is we had a no-fly zone over Iraq for 12 years, and it didn't stop Saddam Hussein for one minute.

AMANPOUR: But it did. It stopped him --


AMANPOUR: -- attacking the Kurds --

GATES: No, it did not stop him. Most of those killings of the Shia and the Kurds after the end of the Gulf War were by ground forces.

AMANPOUR: Well, but anyway, they ended up being the most protected because of your no-fly zone.

But let me get you back to Libya, because you did say you did oppose it; we remember that. Do you have any second thoughts, given that what happened in Libya was -- I don't want to sound cavalier, but at virtually no cost to America. You did not lose lives and you were in and out and the regime was broken.

And now there's a different regime and a potential for a different future.

Do you have second thoughts about opposing Libya (inaudible)?

GATES: Well, and one of the realities that we're dealing with in Libya is that the country seems to be drifting into its three historical elements with a very weak central government and very heavily armed militias all over the country.

I think that our position, our preferred position in all of these countries should be evolutionary change because the reality is when these revolutions take place -- and that's what's happening in the Arab world -- if you look back 250 years on the history of revolution, beginning with our own, ours is the only one that actually turned out reasonably well in the early decades.

In every other case, the most radical, the most ruthless, the most violent and the best organized have been the winners in those revolutions, have come out on top.

We don't have the democratic institutions, rule of law, civil institutions, civil society in any of these countries to form a basis for democratic governments.

So an evolutionary process of reform under the governments that exist, including the emirs and the monarchies is, I think, the position the United States ought to be taking. And if we have to make decisions on individual countries in a different direction, then we take them one at a time.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about Iraq because you were there; you oversaw several years of that and you wanted it to be a secure place. Then the Obama administration pulled out and many believed it was politically motivated, that pullout, no residual U.S. force there and complete chaos today. I mean, people being killed on an unprecedented level.

Is that -- was that a wrong decision to pull out without having a residual force in Iraq?

GATES: Well, first of all, the administration did want to keep a residual force and had plans or a force of probably some 8,000-10,000 troops. And there was an effort to negotiate a new status of forces agreement with the Iraqis. At the end of the day, didn't get done.

People can argue whether the administration worked hard enough, whether the president was personally involved. But I will tell you -- I remember vividly in the late fall of 2008, how difficult it was to get the agreement, the strategic framework agreement with the Iraqis under President Bush. It was a near run thing then because of Iraqi political resentment against the United States.

And the view of most Iraqis that we were, in fact, an occupier. So I don't know how hard the administration worked. This was after I left. But I will say that the obstacles to getting such an agreement that would have allowed a continuing U.S. force would have been very (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you something that you also had to deal with, and that's Iran and the nuclear program. There's been a new election in Iran; the new president-elect says he wants to provide more transparency for their nuclear program. And just today the Supreme Leader, who's viewed as having all the power, said that negotiations would be easy if the adversary was less stubborn.

So my question really to you is, do you see any window of opportunity for both sides with the new president?

GATES: I was the notetaker during the first outreach to the Iranian government after the revolution in 1979, when Brzezinski (ph) meet with their leadership in Algiers. As I like to put it, ever since, I have been engaged in my search for an elusive Iranian moderate.

I think this guy is probably going to be more moderate in terms of the internal situation in Iran, in terms of the economy, in terms of some of the liberties of the young people in trying to find jobs. But in terms of the nuclear business, I think we shouldn't for a second lose sight of the fact that the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, is going to call the shots.

AMANPOUR: You've called for a face-saving proposition. For instance, that they could have some form of peaceful nuclear program in exchange for robust inspection.

GATES: Correct.

AMANPOUR: So you think that (inaudible) formula that would work?


GATES: I think that that is -- has generally been the view of both the Bush and the Obama administrations, that they would be willing to have, for example, the Tehran research reactor fueled but -- and to have a peaceful nuclear program if there were adequate safeguards so that we and, frankly, the Israelis, had the confidence that they were not building a nuclear weapon and that we had enough measures in place that if they did choose to violate the agreement we would have enough time to take action.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Gates, thank you very much. Always fascinating; wish we had more time.

GATES: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thanks for that tour of the world.

And in a moment, imagine being forced to choose between love and country. For thousands of gay couples, today's Supreme Court decision may mean they no longer have to make that choice, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, President Obama heard the news about the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage as he was on his way to the West African country of Senegal where, ironically, homosexuality is illegal.

And earlier in the program, we spoke of Brandon Perlberg, a gay American who was forced to choose between love and country. Well, imagine a world where he may no longer have to make that choice.

Today's historic decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, looks a game-changer for Brandon and his British partner, Ben Storey, and for thousands of other gay Americans with a foreign-born partner who'd been living in limbo.

Brandon, welcome back to the program. We talked to you when you were in the midst of all of this legal razzamatazz. Are you coming home now? Is this the decision you've been waiting for?

BRANDON PERLBERG, GAY EX-PAT: Well, this is certainly the decision that I've been waiting for. I am just overjoyed. Words can't describe the way that I feel right now. Today is a win, not just for gay Americans; it's a win for all Americans. I am so proud of my country today.

Whether I'm coming back is a different question and is a difficult question to answer. Today's decision was great for all of the reasons you already know.

But what it did not do was to wave a magic wand in the air and undo all of the damage that was done by DOMA over many, many years. I can get on a plane bound for New York tomorrow. But I won't get my life back. My job is gone; someone else is living in my home; my savings are depleted. And that doesn't even begin to address the emotional toll that this process has taken on me.

AMANPOUR: Obviously.

PERLBERG: Don't get me wrong; I'm very, very happy today. But it's not a simple decision whether or not we're going to resume our lives in New York.

AMANPOUR: Right. I hear you. But what about -- what are (inaudible)? Are you going to start the procedure? I mean, for you the issue is all the things you've mentioned, but also to try to get your partner a resident of the United States.

Do you think that that's -- are you going to work on that legally right now?

PERLBERG: Absolutely. I mean, for both of us, we realize the importance of passports and citizenship. So for us, what we will commence doing shortly is beginning the process for Ben, my partner, to gain a green card.

I'm right now in the process of ultimately obtaining citizenship here in the United Kingdom with a view to finally getting to that place where we never to make a decision like the one we already had to make, again, where we can live anywhere we want to live, in his country, in my country, where our relationships are a good enough basis for us to live there.

AMANPOUR: So what do you think that is going through the minds -- I know sort of the emotion, the joy and all the rest of it. But you said you're not quite sure there's no magic wand. Was there anything in there that you heard -- because I mean, you know, I haven't parsed the whole law. But is there anything in there that you heard that could actually impact your particular situation?

PERLBERG: Well, look, there are three different types of people in immigration related circumstance whose lives are affected today. There are the people who live in the United States where both parties live in the United States and they've been living under this dark cloud of uncertainty, not knowing what's going to happen in their lives.

Today's decision means that for the first time, since they've been in those relationships, they can actually get a decent night's sleep. This is tremendous for them. For the people who are split, where there's one party in the United States and there's another party living abroad, I think they're going to feel a real fire under themselves to get moving right away.

I think that's completely understandable. I would just urge them that immigration process is not easy; we didn't win green cards today. We won access to the immigration system and they should seek out effective counsel and make sure that they're making their decisions appropriately with respect to their applications.

Then there are the people in my position where we've started new lives overseas. So you know, there are lots of considerations. There are property that people have purchased overseas. There are careers that people have built overseas. The relationships with other people that they've established overseas. So you know, there really is a lot that goes into whether you return or not.

AMANPOUR: So very finally and very quickly, do you think this sea change, as I described it, is a sea change in people's minds in the U.S.? Do you think that's happened?

PERLBERG: Absolutely. We're on the right side of history. The Supreme Court was definitely tuned into the way that the majority of Americans feel and this is just going to keep rolling.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much indeed, Brandon. Thank you for joining me.

PERLBERG: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.