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Christopher O'Leary is Interviewed about the Israel-Hamas War; Anna Kaplan is Interviewed about the New York Special Election; Glaring Vulnerabilities on Aviation Safety. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 04, 2023 - 09:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: At the same time but they really have not proven to be so great at that (INAUDIBLE) said for sure.

Tia (ph), thank you so much. It's good to see you.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, first Hamas fighters raped her, then they shot her in the head. New horrifying accounts of sexual violence in the Hamas terror attack.

Eleven climbers killed in a volcanic eruption, 12 more are still missing, and the danger is not over yet.


BERMAN: A graphic new report reveals stories of rape and other atrocities committed during the Hamas terror attack on October 7th. The U.K.-based newspaper "The Sunday Times" interviewed survivors, medics and investigators recounting what happened that day.


Investigators say they've gathered more than 1,500 testimonies, including gang rape and postmortem mutilation. One such testimony reads, quote, "I saw this beautiful woman with the face of an angel and eight or ten of the fighters beating and raping her. She was screaming, stop it, already I'm going to die anyway from what you're doing, just kill me. When they finished, they were laughing and the last one shot her in the head."

In just a few hours Israel's delegation to the U.N. will hold a special session focusing on what they say is sexual -- are sexual- based war crimes.

I'm joined now by Christopher O'Leary, the senior vice president for global operations for the Soufan Group and former director of hostage recovery for the U.S. government.

These accounts are horrifying. To what extent were they part of the terror attack itself, do you think? CHRISTOPHER O'LEARY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GLOBAL OPERATIONS,

SOUFAN GROUP: I think it was completely orchestrated. One just has to look back at ISIS. ISIS took American hostages, but they also took over 6,000 Yezidis as well. And that was by design. There's a term called sabia (ph), which is sex slave for the extremists, and they think they're justified to actually hold them. They don't see things the same way we do. They don't think this is morally wrong.

Just this last year I had the opportunity to interview one of the beatles (ph), Alexander Kotey, Shafee Elsheikh, we brought back here to the United States.

BERMAN: One of the ISIS terrorists nicknamed the beatles.

O'LEARY: Correct. They're responsible for taking a number of Americans, including Kayla Mueller, who they then gave to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. She was systematically raped over time. I confronted Alexander Kotey during questioning last year and no remorse whatsoever. He sees no issue with it. So, this is not something that concerns them. They think it's their right. They think they're justified. They did not see the Israeli citizens and Americans and others as equals to them.

BERMAN: If Israel presumably knows this, or fears this, what you are describing, how does that color their hostage negotiations? There are still some women -- and men could be victims of sexual violence also being held hostages, obvious more than 100, in Gaza.

O'LEARY: Well, I think the problem is this. I think the problem is the focus solely on hostage negotiations is flawed. You need a multilateral approach. You need to be continuing negotiations, trying to get the other women and children released and the other wounded and the elderly. You should not stop that. And I do know that my good friend and colleague, Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, is in the region right now trying to jump start things again. But they also should be looking to locate and recover the hostages.

The way they're going about it right now, through this traditional urban assault, leveling large swaths of Gaza, is ineffective at, number one, dismantling Hamas. It's creating massive collateral damage, as we've all seen. It's eroding their support, both internationally and in the United States. But it's also not locating the hostages. To do that you need precision raids that are gathering intelligence. You need to be doing it every night, dismantling the network. You conduct sensitive site exploitation while you're on the -- on target. You recover the information there. You exploit that. You do tactical interrogations of the detainees you pull off. You biometrically enroll them. All of this is being fed into the intelligence picture and it's being layered into the other imagery intelligence that you have, the aerial surveillance that you have, special reconnaissance units on the ground, other technical collection.

You're also listening for post operation reflections we call them. After -- if we go in and grab John Berman, you know, out of his house, we're trying to listen to what the network is saying afterwards. What a significant capture it was. That's going to bring you to where the hostages are.

The other part of the mission that Israel has, which has not been spoken about, they have to bring justice, justice to the hostages. Justice to the rape victims and hold the terrorists accountable for what they did. You do that by gathering evidence. So, when you conduct sensitive site exploitation, it's a crime scene at speed on a tactical target. All that information can be used subsequently in a court, either in Israel or back here in the United States.

BERMAN: Christopher O'Leary, it sheds a lot of light on what the operation maybe needs to be if it continues in southern Gaza. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

O'LEARY: Good to be with you.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go, the race to replace expelled Congressman George Santos is on. Still ahead, we speak with one Democrat who thinks she can flip his seat. That's ahead.



BOLDUAN: So, with George Santos now gone from Congress, the race to fill the now vacant seat is heating up quickly. New York's governor, Kathy Hochul, will soon be setting the date for a special election and Democrats are gearing up already to try and reclaim New York's third congressional district, a seat Republicans had flipped with Santos' win. A congressional district that Joe Biden carried in 2020.

One of the Democrats vying for the nomination is former New York State Senator Anna Kaplan. She joins us now.

Thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: When Santos was finally expelled, I was - I was looking at your statement and you said this in summary, "this has been an embarrassing episode."

Why do you think this embarrassing episode sets you up to win back this seat?

KAPLAN: So, it is really amazing somebody like him, a fraudster, to get into office by lying and cheating.


And I got into this race in mid-May because I truly believe we deserve better. The residents deserve better. I made my announcement through a video. The video has gone viral.

We've gotten over 1.6 million views. I'm happy to say, up to today, my campaign has been able to raise $176,000. And if you look at it, what's amazing about it, it's $25 campaign contribution average from 20 -- over 26,000 unique donors.

This is a very grassroots campaign. I am very proud of what we've done. And I will continue to do what I can to make sure that we gain this seat back.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that with the mess that was what has happened with George Santos and kind of the spotlight that it put on the district, probably not a spotlight anyone wants for the district, do you think that it almost guarantees that Democrats win back this seat in the special?

KAPLAN: I think these days I will see how divided we are in this country, and everybody wants to go to their own corners, nothing is guaranteed and we can't take anything for granted.

This is, just like you said, it's a Biden plus eight district. And we lost it with eight points. That's 16 points that we have to make up. That's why I jumped into this race early. And I invite everybody to go to to look it up and see how they can help us. We could use their help and support.

BOLDUAN: Another Democrat who's vying for this seat, so everyone knows the background, because it's a special it also means the rules for nomination are different.

KAPLAN: Correct.

BOLDUAN: Voters don't decide the nomination, it's the county party leaders who decide the -

KAPLAN: Correct.

BOLDUAN: Who gets the nomination on either side.

But another Democrat vying for the seat is the man who held the congressional seat before Santos won it, Tom Suozzi. Why shouldn't Democrats just go with the guy who already held the seat?

KAPLAN: So, I believe he left the seat saying that he didn't want to be part of Congress. But I can only advocate for what I believe in.

Right now in this country we've seen, in the midterms, and we also just saw last month, choice is a huge deal. We've seen how Americans in red, white and blue districts are angry and are coming out and voting. We need someone who can make sure to fight to the last breath for women's reproductive rights.

Having been someone who left her birth country, coming here, I always was so excited about being here because I knew I had an opportunity in this country and I could do whatever I can to make my dreams come true. Kate, this is very personal for me, as a mother of two young girls,

and really thinking and seeing how a country can go so far to the extreme right, taking women's rights, I would hate to see a 49-year- old law that was taken away from us to continue.

And I also have a message for all those women who believe they live in safe states, like New York, I was part of that party that actually codified Roe, to understand that we're never going to be safe, especially when we see a judge in a small county in Texas is trying to ban a medication that we all take throughout this country.

So, I really would love for your audience to go to and help us in this endeavor.

BOLDUAN: Anna Kaplan, thank you so much for coming on. Let's see what the big issue eventually becomes for this district in this special and what it looks like.

Thanks for coming in.

KAPLAN: Thank you.


SIDNER: All right, the FAA now responding to a stunning report in "The New York Times" that air traffic controllers were drunk and asleep on the job. Is it making flying unsafe? We'll have that story coming up.



SIDNER: A new report by "The New York Times" says there are glaring vulnerabilities in the nation's aviation safety system. The paper reports ongoing staff shortages and working conditions that have stretched air traffic controllers to the absolute limit, physically and mentally. It says a number of air traffic controllers have turned up under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job or they've fallen asleep at work.

I want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean.

Pete, I remember you and I talking about this shortage of folk at -- in the air traffic control and how dangerous it is. How's the FAA responding to this?

MUNTEAN: Well, this morning the FAA's really trying to debunk this story and saying it's really not reflective of the high standard of safety controllers have in the national airspace system. But the bottom line here is something that we have been reporting for months, the air traffic control system is stretched to the limit. Controllers say they are overworked and understaffed.

It was just highlighted again last week in a massive release of data from the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, about a close call in Austin in February. The air traffic controller in that case said he was working an overtime shift on a six-day week. In that incident, a landing FedEx flight and a departing Southwest flight came within about 100 feet of colliding on the runway. And it was the pilots of that FedEx flight that saved the day, not the controller.

Air traffic control staffing is a huge issue that the FAA is scrambling to fix. And the Department of Transportation says the FAA is 3,000 workers short. And when you factor in retirements and attrition, the workforce has really only grown this year by single digits, a net gain of only six employees according to the union.


Now, former air traffic controller union head Paul Rinaldi tells me there is no doubt that workers are stressed right now.



PAUL RINALDI, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION: The shortage is a big problem. The fact that the secretary has come out and said we're 3,000 short, and if you look at how long it takes to get a certified air traffic controller from the academy to certified in that facility, it could take two to three years. And you look at the attrition rates that we're looking at, it's going to be many, many years to catch up unless they do something different.


MUNTEAN: The brand-new FAA administrator, Mike Whitaker, says his focus is getting new controllers through its training academy without lowering the standards.

When it comes to controllers drinking, sleeping and using, the FAA says it's dealt with those problems on a case by case basis. The union of controllers insists that group is extremely professional. And the controllers that I know take the job really seriously. But they do say the staffing problems needed a change yesterday, Sara.

SIDNER: Yes, the stress is a real problem.

Pete Muntean, thank you so much for all your reporting in the past on this and for your reporting now.


BERMAN: All right, a clear path to dictatorship in the United States. The new alarm bells over what a possible second Trump presidency could mean for the country. And the new Trump response, basically, I know you are, but what am I.