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THE SITUATION ROOM
Official: Obama OKs Syria Spy Flights; American ISIS Fighter Killed in Syria; Spy Flights Could Lead to Syria Air strikes; American ISIS Fighter Dies in Syria; Recorded Gunfire May Be Brown's Shooting; Interview with Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Recorded Gunfire May Be Brown's Shooting; Alarming Increase in Near-Collisions>
Aired August 26, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, American jihadist killed. He born in the United States, but died in Syria fighting for ISIS.
How many other Americans are out there doing the same thing?
Spy fights over Syria -- the president gives the go-ahead for U.S. planes to scout ISIS targets.
Will air strikes soon follow?
And gunshot audio -- a series of shots apparently recorded accidentally.
Are they from the weapon that killed Michael Brown?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following two major developments at this hour.
The breaking news, we're learning that an American who converted to Islam several years ago has been killed fighting for the terror group in Syria. We have details momentarily. Stand by for that.
But first, a U.S. official says President Obama has authorized reconnaissance flights over Syria to scout possible ISIS targets.
Will air strikes be next?
Our correspondents and guests are standing by for full coverage.
But let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara So there are -- how close, Barbara, is the United States, is President Obama, to ordering air strikes in Syria?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a question at this hour no one knows the answer to, perhaps except the president himself. Air strikes, according to U.S. officials, not yet approved by the president, but he has authorized those reconnaissance flights to begin in order to begin collecting intelligence on potential ISIS targets on the ground inside Syria.
The president today spoke about Jim Foley's killer. He had a bit of a promise, he had a bit of a threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again, we will do what's necessary to capture those who harm Americans, to go after those who harm Americans.
OBAMA: And we'll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: So still, the question, does ISIS pose a direct threat, at this time, to the homeland?
Does the president want to go after Jim Foley's killer?
What is the trigger that will lead to a decision about -- from President Obama one way or the other about proceeding to the next step, air strikes inside Syria -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And when he says direct action, potentially, that means targeted killings, assassinations, going after those responsible for killing Americans, direct action clearly being a code word -- a code phrase, if you will, for targeted killings of these guys who kill Americans -- what are you hearing at the Pentagon, Barbara about the potential end game if, in fact, the president does order air strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria?
STARR: At this point, Wolf, all indications are there's no effort to, at the moment, put Special Operations on the ground, any kind of ground troops inside Syria. It would, in fact, all come from the air, if they can get the intelligence to go after the targets they want.
But right from the top, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has continued to warn time and again air strikes will not defeat ISIS on the whole.
If there's anything the U.S. military has learned since 9/11, air strikes do not defeat a radical ideology. You cannot kill your way to victory. It can take years. It requires political and economic progress. And inside both Iraq and Syria, that may it be very difficult to come by -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr with the latest at the Pentagon.
You're working your sources.
We'll check back with you shortly. Meanwhile, an American who converted from Christianity to Islam has died in Syria fighting alongside a jihadist group. The United States believes that group was, in fact, ISIS.
California relatives of Douglas McAuthur McCain had seen pro-ISIS Facebook postings, but they say they were shocked at how things actually turned out.
The big concern, how many other Americans are following the same path?
How many Americans are jihadists with ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
Right now, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
He's working the story for us.
What are you learning -- Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really a remarkable story, an ominous story, an American with an all- American name, Douglas McAuthur McCain. I spoke with his uncle a short time ago, Kenneth. He told me the family was notified in the last 24 hours by the State Department that McCain was killed fighting in Syria over the weekend.
I've spoken to U.S. officials who confirmed that he was fighting alongside ISIS, an American fighting for a group that U.S. officials have identified as a grave threat to America. U.S. officials also tell us that he was on a terror watch list, that U.S. officials, intelligence agencies, were aware of him and his travel to Syria.
You know, but you speak to the family, Wolf, they say they're devastated by this. They say they're just as surprised by the country and what he decided to do.
He was raised a Christian. His uncle says he took his faith very seriously and it was a few years ago that he converted to Islam. And at the time, that didn't raise red flags for the family. They respect all faiths.
And then he told them recently, months ago, that he was traveling to Syria -- sorry, rather, to Turkey, not to Syria. And they only found out that he had gone into Syria when they got that sad phone call from the State Department that he died there.
BLITZER: We've spoken to British officials who say there are hundreds of British citizens serving with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Do we have any idea how many other Americans are jihadists serving ISIS right now, whether in Syria or Iraq?
SCIUTTO: We do. The best estimate from U.S. intelligence officials is something in the order of 100 are fighting for ISIS and other extremist groups there. So, you know, as remarkable, as unique as this story sounds, there are dozens of Americans who have made this incredible decision to go there.
And remember, we saw just how brutal a group like ISIS could be just a few days ago when you had this terrible -- this grisly beheading of the American, James Foley.
So we have this remarkable situation now, Wolf, you have a -- where you have Americans on both sides of this conflict, fighting ISIS, but also fighting for ISIS.
BLITZER: And the great fear is that they, all these Americans, they have U.S. passports. Potentially, they could leave Iraq, Syria, go back to Turkey, get on a plane in Istanbul and fly nonstop to the United States and nothing would stop them, right?
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And they might be missed. Also, the possibility of other Westerners returning to Europe to do the same thing.
BLITZER: But they do try, the U.S. intelligence community, to monitor these guys going in and out of Syria, for example.
This Douglas McAuthur McCain, supposedly, he was on some sort of watch list, right?
SCIUTTO: He was. But, you know, there was another American who was killed in a suicide bombing a number of months ago from Florida. And we learned the alarming fact after the fact that before he did that, he returned. He went to Syria. He returned to the States, then went back to carry out the attack. So there are holes in the system.
BLITZER: Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and retired brigadier general, Mark Kimmitt. He was the chief military spokesman during the Iraq invasion, a former Pentagon and State Department official. General Kimmitt, what do you make of this American, converts from Christianity to Islam, goes to Turkey, goes into Syria and joins ISIS?
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think Jim said it right. It is not only a current phenomenon that's happening, but the ability to travel into these countries demonstrates how porous the borders are. I think we need to understand that there's going to be more of this rather than less of this. And I would hope that customs and the FBI are prepared for this.
BLITZER: You agree there may be 100 U.S. citizens serving ISIS right now?
Is that a number you've heard, Peter?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think we need to break it down a bit. It's 100 Americans who have either attempted or have actually gone to fight in Syria. And it's not clear even to the U.S. government if they're fighting with ISIS or other militant organizations.
What we can say as a fact, we've had an American suicide bomber dying for an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. We've had this guy now dying -- fighting for ISIS that we're talking about, Douglas McCain. We've had four Americans indicted for trying to join ISIS, who were stopped, basically, at the airport, and four other Americans stopped trying to join an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, also at the airport. That's the -- those are the hard facts we have.
BLITZER: There are obviously a lot more Europeans, from Britain or whether from the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries, other places in Europe, that have gone over and started serving as a jihadist in Syria or Iraq.
KIMMITT: That's true. And David Cameron, in London, has been very, very vocal about his concern about these returnees and the threat they pose to the United Kingdom.
BLITZER: Do you think the European intelligence community has a better handle on what's going on over there?
Do they really -- are they on top of it?
BERGEN: I don't think they are because of the volume of people. I mean the Brits say 450. They've started saying the number of 500. You can't follow 500 people. A lot of those people have returned to the UK.
But one thing I will say is that if you're a military age male who's coming from Turkey to the United States, you're going to be put into secondary almost without exception now so...
BLITZER: Secondary meaning extra screening?
BERGEN: Meaning extra screening. So even if there's no reason to suspect anything, if you are coming from Turkey, that's a big red flag, if you're coming into the United States, if you're a military age male.
BLITZER: And if you go through Turkish customs over there, they can question you, they can do stuff. They can ask you a whole bunch of questions they might not necessarily ask at JFK or LAX or some place else in the United States.
Guys, stand by.
We have a lot more to talk about.
How close is the United States to launching air strikes against these ISIS terrorist targets in Syria right now?
Much more coming up.
BLITZER: Our top story, an American jihadist killed in Syria. U.S. officials say he was apparently fighting for ISIS. And a U.S. official says President Obama has OKed spy flights over Syria right now to gather intelligence on ISIS. Air strikes may soon follow. Let's go in depth once again.
Joining us, our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He was the chief military spokesman during the Iraq invasion, also a former Pentagon and State Department official.
So the president authorizes surveillance, reconnaissance, spy flights, whatever you want to call it.
Isn't it only a matter of time before they collect enough information to actually start launching air strikes against some ISIS targets, not only in Iraq, but in Syria?
KIMMITT: Well, before you do the attack, you have to have the intelligence.
BLITZER: You wouldn't do the reconnaissance unless you were planning on attacking?
KIMMITT: Oh, you do the reconnaissance and you do the surveillance in case you wanted to attack one time. That's a...
BLITZER: So it's not a done deal...
KIMMITT: Not necessarily.
BLITZER: -- that he's going to order the air strikes?
KIMMITT: But he certainly isn't going to order the air strikes until he's done the reconnaissance.
BLITZER: It makes sense to me that if he's doing the reconnaissance, because that's a major step, he's going to do the -- he's going to at least launch some air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, because that's where the command and control center of ISIS is, in Syria, not in Iraq.
BERGEN: There's legal problems with launching air strikes willy- nilly. I mean, there's no U.N. resolution that covers this. There's no NATO operation that covers this. And in the past the president has wanted to go to Congress, and I think he will, because this is not -- the authorization for use of military force that covers other military action.
BLITZER: You saying he doesn't have the authority to launch air strikes in the sovereign nation of Syria, as opposed to Iraq where he has -- hasn't gotten authorization.
BERGEN: White House lawyers could say, "Hey" -- could say, "Hey, sir, you do have the authorizations." But I think the president is not going to just do this.
BLITZER: The president authorized a lot of air strikes, killing a lot of people in Pakistan without necessarily a U.N. resolution, without necessarily any congressional authorization. Why, if he can do it in Pakistan, a sovereign nation, why can't he do it in Syria?
KIMMITT: Well, in many ways, what he did in Pakistan was either with the explicit or implicit understanding of the Pakistani government. At this point, the Syrians have been very, very insistent that, even though they would like to work with the Americans and jointly go after these targets, no unilateral action on the part of the Americans would be permitted by the Assad regime.
BLITZER: Wouldn't the Assad regime be thrilled if the United States came and helped them in destroying their No. 1 enemy right now, which happens to be ISIS?
BERGEN: Yes, they would be. But, you know, adding to General Kimmitt's point, I mean, the authorization for the use of military force was what allowed the United States to do what it did in Pakistan and Yemen, because it was forces allied to al Qaeda that are allowed to be hid under that authorization.
ISIS is a slightly different matter. They've divorced themselves from al Qaeda, and al Qaeda's rejected them.
BLITZER: So what you're saying, if they launch air strikes in Syria, that's an act of war that requires authorization from Congress and maybe from the U.N. Security Council? Is that what you're saying?
BERGEN: At an absolute minimum from Congress.
BLITZER: Absolutely minimum. Do you agree?
BERGEN: Yes, I do.
BLITZER: So in other words, the president's not going to order air strikes unless he gets resolutions of approval from both the House and the Senate? You believe that?
KIMMITT: Unless something significant changes between now and that time period. If, for example, an ISIL attack on the American embassy inside of Baghdad, at the consulate in Erbil or perhaps more slayings, he may feel he has the extraordinary authority to go after ISIS.
BLITZER: That's what I've been told. He could do it and then go to Congress, report to Congress under the War Powers Act: "Here's what I've done." But not necessarily wait for the House and the Senate to pass resolutions.
KIMMITT: My assessment is right now, he doesn't have, as Peter said, the inclination to do that. There is no immediate need to go after the ISIL targets. They're not going anywhere. So why not do this properly and methodically?
BLITZER: Do you think he'd get the votes in the House and the Senate if he were to ask for authorization like that? Because a lot of members regret the vote that they took in 2002, authorizing the war against Saddam Hussein in March of 2003.
BERGEN: You raise a good point, which is Congress may not actually want to vote on this issue, despite all the calls to do something.
BLITZER: Right. How good is the Syrian anti-aircraft missile system? Because you're flying reconnaissance planes about to start -- I don't know, maybe they already started for all we know. Pretty sophisticated U.S. aircraft, whether drones or manned aircraft.
How good is the Syrian anti-aircraft batteries, shoulder-fired missiles, other surface-to-air missiles that could endanger U.S. pilots, U.S. aircraft?
KIMMITT: Well, for years and years, Syria has developed probably one of the most robust air defense systems in the region, primarily against their major enemy inside of Israel.
The Russians have been very, very glad to provide them with the most advanced technology. They've tried to get the most advanced S-300s, S-400s, but have not been able to do this.
Bottom line, it's not a great system. The U.S. could probably avoid most of the shots. But there still is a medium to medium low risk that an American plane would be shot down the way that the Syrian airplanes have been shot down by those missiles that have fallen in the hands of the rebels.
BLITZER: That's what -- that's what people have to worry about. They also have to worry about the president said today he wants to strengthen support the moderate opposition forces in Syria. But there's great fear -- and I've been told this by U.S. intelligence officials, military officials. You give them some sophisticated weaponry, potentially it's going to wind up in the hands of ISIS.
BERGEN: It's a very reasonable fear. Just look at the weaponry that they've already taken from the Iraq army and from the Syrians.
BLITZER: So would you be willing to give the moderate opposition forces, the rebel forces the pro-Western forces in Syria tanks, armored personnel carriers, shoulder-fired missiles, stuff like that, worried that maybe they would -- they would run away from their bases or give them up, and ISIS could wind up with all that kind of equipment, as they did in Iraq?
As you know, the Iraqi military ran away from their bases in Mosul and elsewhere and left tons and tons and tons of U.S. hardware there for ISIS to use.
KIMMITT: That's right. And I think that's why it would take some measure of end-use monitoring when we give this equipment over. And that might require American personnel to be with those units to maintain security and to maintain accountability of that equipment.
BLITZER: What's the difference -- and you're an expert on terrorism, an expert on al Qaeda -- between al Qaeda and ISIS?
BERGEN: Well, in some ways there's a distinction without a difference, but it's very important to the people involved. I mean, Al Qaeda has rejected ISIS. They've said, "You're not under our control." They're, in fact, objecting partly to ISIS's very brutal tactics, which is kind of ironic.
And ISIS has said, you know, "Great, we're not under your control." And in fact, we're seeing a number of jihadi groups saying ISIS is really kind of the leader of the movement right now. We've seen Al Qaeda in Yemen saying it: "We like ISIS." We've seen other groups.
So, you know, Al Qaeda core is basically yesterday's story. ISIS is a big deal now. And the reason we're seeing all these foreign fighters come to Iraq and Syria is because ISIS is succeeding, and they're the flavor du jour.
BLITZER: And ISIS and al-Nusra?
BERGEN: ISIS and al-Nusra are fighting each other.
BLITZER: Al-Nusra is also a spinoff of al Qaeda.
BERGEN: Yes. They're fighting each other right now. So Al-Nusra is the al Qaeda core group in Syria, which is fighting ISIS.
BLITZER: It's amazing, when you think about it, that a group like al Nusra or al Qaeda thinks ISIS is too radical even for them. And we know where they're coming from.
Guys, thanks very much.
Celebrations in the streets of Gaza after the announcement of a cease- fire deal between Israel and Hamas. After seven weeks of war, marked by temporary truces this one is open-ended, at least supposedly. The Egyptian-brokered deal calls for Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza, open border crossings for humanitarian aid.
Israel says it's the same framework that Hamas rejected a month ago. More than 2,000 Palestinians, dozens of Israelis have died in the conflict. We'll go live to Gaza later in the situation room. Ian Lee is standing by. He'll have a full report. Coming up, a risk assessment from U.S. Senator Jack Reed that
specializes in how the United States military responds to emerging threats. There you see him. We'll talk with him live.
Later, a potential clue in the Michael Brown shooting investigation. You're going to hear an audiotape that raises some important new questions. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're tracking two big stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The breaking news: an American dies in Syria fighting for ISIS. That's the terror group.
And officials say President Obama gives the go-ahead for spy flights over Syria to gather intelligence on ISIS that may soon be used to actually launch U.S. air strikes.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks very much for joining us. I know you're well-plugged
in. Just give me a sense, this American citizen who joined ISIS dies over the weekend fighting for these ISIS terrorists. There's a picture of him, Douglas McArthur McCain. Do you have any idea how many other Americans may have gone into Syria and Iraq to fight for these terrorists?
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: I don't think -- I don't have a precise idea. I've heard several dozens. And then there are, of course, Europeans, many more Europeans. And they're another aspect of the complicated problem here, not so much ISIS itself but individuals who radicalize and then have American or European passports and don't fit the stereotype of a jihadist radical but then can come back into Europe or the United States. So it's another dimension of the problem we face in that region.
BLITZER: Do you believe ISIS represents a direct threat to the U.S. homeland?
REED: We have to look at it very critically to see if, in fact, it does represent such a threat. And at this juncture, that's one of the reasons why I believe the president is devoting intense intelligence efforts, as you indicated previously, beginning to surveil Syria itself, beginning to develop the kind of intelligence that will allow us to make a sound judgment about the intention and the capabilities.
That's something I think we have to assume, frankly, the worst and then to work to see what, in fact, on the ground they're capable of doing and what they will do.
BLITZER: Should the U.S. launch air strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria just as the U.S. is doing against ISIS targets in Iraq right now?
REED: If the president feels that there is a direct imminent threat to the United States and to our interests, the same rationale he used with respect to the defending the legation of Erbil, then I think he has that authority.
But once again, using these overflights beginning to develop very comprehensive intelligence is a way to make an assessment of the capacity and the capability and the intentions of ISIS. But short of an immediate direct threat to the United States, I think his preference would be to use every and all means short of that.
Regional partnerships, trying to develop an effective resistance within Syria to both the Assad regime and to ISIS, all of these things together. And as he said, this is going to be not a short one- or two-shot affair. This is going to be over many, many months if not years.
BLITZER: Should the president seek congressional authorization before ordering air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria?
REED: Well, again, it goes back to the immediate threat to the United States. If there is an immediate threat, then he has, I think, under his powers as the commander in chief, the ability to conduct an attack and then, under the War Powers Act, notify Congress. He's been doing that with respect to the operations in Iraq. If it's a situation where he feels that this requires a long-term intense operation, then again, that's another issue. And at that point, a congressional debate and congressional support, I think, would be very useful and very critical.
BLITZER: Here's what the president said almost exactly one year ago to the day about going, launching air strikes against targets in Syria. Listen to the president back in August of 2013.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate. Because the issues are too big for business as usual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree that what the president said then should still stand a year later?
REED: Well, again, if there is an immediate threat to the United States then he has to act. That's his constitutional obligation.
But if this is a longer term, more complicated comprehensive approach, then as you said back then, the debate issues -- well, not only the debate. Having the support of Congress on a bipartisan basis -- that's the only way you can get something through Congress -- would be very much more effective than a singular action by the executive.
BLITZER: Would he get that? Let's say he went this week to the United States Congress and asked for a vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate to authorize U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, claiming this is -- ISIS represents a threat to the U.S. homeland, to U.S. national security. Would he get a vote of approval? Would he get a majority in both chambers?
REED: Well, that's where this whole process of developing the intelligence, developing the profile, specifically identifying the capabilities of ISIS, is so critical, because without the facts, without the good analysis, I don't think that you could get that kind of automatic instantaneous reflexive support.
And the president would have to make the case and make it compellingly that this represents the only alternative that we have in the face of a very grave and serious threat.
He's beginning to develop the analysis. I don't think he's made a decision about the course of action, but he's made the first step and the right step, was let's get all the facts we have so that we can make the case and make the case accurately. One of the problems, and you mentioned it before, talking to Mark
Kimmitt and Peter Bergen, is that in 2002 and 2003, the information was sketchy, and it turned out in many cases to be not only inconclusive but erroneous. We can't do that again.
BLITZER: Would you support arming the so-called moderate Syrian opposition forces, the rebels? The president said today he wants to strengthen them. But would you support providing them with sophisticated U.S. weaponry?
REED: We are in the process of following up the president's request for resources, money to provide support to these groups within Syria. I think the more so than simply arming them is training them or helping them to be a cohesive effective group. That's just as much, in fact, in many cases it's more important than having the weapons.
We saw an example of Iraq where they had plenty of weapons. They just didn't have a cohesive chain of command, and they weren't willing and able to fight.
So this combination of both training and also weapons that, as one of the previous speakers suggested, can be monitored and controlled is an appropriate, I think, to begin to help resolve the situation in Syria.
BLITZER: Because there's great fear, as you know, that just as so many of the tanks, armored personnel carriers, sophisticated weapons the U.S. left behind for the Iraqi military use was abandoned by the Iraqi military. Now in the possession of these ISIS terrorists in Iraq.
There's great concern that if the U.S. were to provide weapons to these moderate Syrian forces, those weapons could wind up in the hands of ISIS, as well. And you know that concern exists.
Senator Reed, thanks very much for joining us.
REED: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, the FBI is questioning a man who says he recorded the gunshots that killed Michael Brown. You're going to hear that recording. That's coming up.
Later, an alarming new study points to a sharp increase in what are described as near collisions of passenger jets.
BLITZER: An intriguing new clue surfaced in the Michael Brown shooting investigation. It's an audio recording where we hear gunshots in the background, presumably the shots that killed the Missouri teenager. The FBI is now investigating. CNN has obtained a copy of the recording.
Let's go to CNN's Don Lemon. He's got the very latest.
And I know you've been listening. A lot of our viewers have been listening. What is the very latest on this whole new twist in this investigation?
LEMON: We've even had an audio expert, Wolf, listen to it. And I have to say that CNN has not been able to independently authenticate the tape, but the FBI is looking at it now. And they're saying they're taking it very seriously. This tape purportedly is the gunshots, the sound of gunshots that killed Michael Brown. Listen closely.
LEMON (voice-over): The FBI has questioned a man who has given them a tape which he claims was recorded at the exact moment a police officer opened fire on the unarmed Mike Brown. It was recorded unintentionally during a video chat by a man who lives near the scene of the shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty. You are so fine. Just going over some of your videos. How could I forget?
LEMON: Audio expert Paul Ginsburg is a veteran of the CIA, FBI, and ATF.
PAUL GINSBURG, AUDIO EXPERT: There were six gunshots, and then there was a pause for a little over three seconds, followed by another four gunshots. All of the gunshots seemed to be identical in nature, but there was this pause.
LEMON: And what about that pause?
GINSBURG: There could have been a reloading of the weapon, or there could have been movement or getting into another position or any -- any number of different reasons.
LEMON: The FBI is working to validate the recording. The man who recorded it wants to remain nameless.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty.
GINSBURG: The lawyer for the man who recorded the audio says she believes it could be significant to the investigation.
LOPA (ph) BLUMENTHAL, ATTORNEY: It's not just a number of gunshots. It's how they're fired. And that has a huge relevance or how this case might finally end up. You can analyze the information and take stock of what you hear and how important that is.
LEMON: A key witness in the investigation is Dorian Johnson, Brown's friend, who was walking with him at the time of the shooting. Johnson says Brown was struck in the back and then put his arms up after the shooting.
But Ferguson police say Brown attacked and injured Wilson before the shooting took place. Johnson says looking back on that fateful day, he'd do things differently if given the chance.
DORIAN JOHNSON, EYEWITNESS: That day was like a regular day. If I'd known what would have happened that day, I would have just stayed in the house, probably told him to go back in the house. If I knew he would have died that day, I would have told him to stay in the house.
LEMON: And again, Wolf, you hear, according to the audio expert, ten shots. Of course, we know, according to the autopsy, at least six shots fired, or at least he was shot six times. So now they're going to look at -- every expert we spoke to said they're going to look at the number of shots and also that three-second pause there. Does that corroborate Dorian Johnson's version of the story or does it corroborate the officer's version of the story? That's what experts will be looking at.
BLITZER: Remind me, because you've been following this very, very closely, Don. Weren't there some initial reports from eyewitnesses who said that a shot had been fired inside the vehicle before the other shots were fired? Is that right?
LEMON: You got it right, Wolf. That was the first accounts we heard was that -- the first account, some of the first accounts we heard, that a shot was fired inside the car. There was a struggle for the gun. And then the officer got out of the car and chased him and then shot him.
But yes, you are absolutely right. But on that tape, we don't hear an initial shot, at least in that the 12 seconds. We hear that series of five or six gunshots, that pause, and then a series of more, three or four, four more gunshots.
So the audio expert says 10. I hear 11. But they're saying that is, you know, maybe we're hearing an echo in there. But I heard 11. He heard ten.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Don. Because I want to continue this conversation. We'll dig a little bit deeper with our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also joining us from Ferguson, Missouri, the NAACP board member, John Gaskin.
Tom, what do you make of this? You worked at the FBI for a long time. Does it sound credible to you? I know the FBI is taking it seriously. They're investigating. What's your appreciation of this audiotape?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It sounds so unusual that in the fact it's coming out right now, it does sound a little bit like it could be skeptical about it. But they'll evaluate it, the FBI, and determine if they can attach authenticity to it.
Does it look like this was authentically recorded, not tampered with, not dubbed over, taking a recording and dubbing over gunshots from another recording? They'll take a hard look at being able to determine that.
As Don mentioned, the report of the first shot being made in the car, that's -- that's also in Dorian's first account the day after the shooting when you interviewed him.
Forensically, I think the investigators already know if that happened or not. They'll have gunpowder residue in the car, up close on his clothing from the car, probably Officer Wilson's clothing, if that shot took place. So that sounds like that shot is not in this recording. That maybe the recording started afterward.
BLITZER: Maybe it started after, if there was, in fact, a gunshot inside the car. Ten shots, we heard ten shots or 11, depending on if there was an echo or not.
But the private autopsy commissioned by the family of Michael Brown said there was six gunshot wounds in the body that they saw. Which means that four of those shots, bullets must have gone someplace else. I assume police are searching that whole area to see if they can find any residue.
FUENTES: Right. Right. They would be counting the bullet casings on the ground and then also trying to find where they lodged if it was in another building and that would be very difficult in a fairly wide open space like that street was.
But if the first shot took place and was not recorded, then the sequence that you have later of maybe six shots with a pause, as the expert said, it could be reloading, most police officers carry semi- automatic pistols with a 15-shot capacity. So if he fired one at the car, he could still have 14 more before he would need to reload.
It also could play into Officer Wilson's third party account that maybe he paused, maybe Brown stopped, turned around and then charged the officer. That could be the pause that maybe he was going to give up. Maybe --
BLITZER: But it shouldn't very take long for the FBI to determine whether this is a real audiotape or not.
Let me go to John Gaskin of the NAACP.
What's been the reaction over there, John, to this audiotape? On the scene, you're right there.
JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: Well, first of all, I've got to give your network some credit on getting access to that tape. And it's just -- you know, and you all's coverage as a whole. But it just goes to show that there are so many details that are going to be forthcoming. There's so many questions that haven't been answered.
Many people on the ground have said that they -- you know, that they heard more shots. Especially in that -- the video obviously that's come out of the recording certainly supports that. And so, you know, it really makes you question what the officer was doing. If you listen to the tape, it's obvious that there was somewhat of a pause there. So it makes you wonder was he changing his position when he was shooting at Mike Brown? Was he reloading his weapon?
Those are all questions that will hopefully come out during the trial. But I think this video will be very, very helpful for this trial and for trying to bring justice to this family. There are a lot of questions here. A lot of people here on the ground. The reaction has been great, there's more information coming out because a lot of people have a lot of questions. A lot of questions.
BLITZER: Certainly do. And John Gaskin, you've been very helpful to us over these past several days. We'll check back with you tomorrow.
Let's hope it stays quiet in Ferguson and St. Louis County area. And I'm going to have Tom Fuentes stand by, Don Lemon stand by, as well.
Just ahead, much more on what may be a new clue in the Ferguson shooting. The sounds of those gunshots apparently recorded accidentally. Are they from the weapon that killed Michael Brown?
And way too close for comfort. There's been an alarming rise in near- collisions involving airliners. We have the results of a brand new study.
BLITZER: There's been an alarming increase in near-collisions involving airliners.
CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has been going over the latest numbers that have just come out.
Rene, what are you learning?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, this is not supposed to happen. Passenger jets getting dangerously close in the skies. Well, tonight new statistics from the FAA shows just how often it happens.
MARSH (voice-over): A near midair collision in April over Newark. A United Airlines 737 landing with 160 passengers comes within 150 yards of a United Express Regional Jet preparing to take off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we were putting the nose down, and yes, he's real close.
MARSH: It's the fourth time this year a near-collision has made headlines. CNN has learned the number of close calls nearly doubled in 2013 over the previous year.
A closer look at the FAA's newly released stats show 38 were considered high risk. That's actually three fewer than the previous year. But the number of medium and low risk incidents soared. And in 2014, there have been other close calls.
April 25th, a United flight cruising at 33,000 feet over the Pacific gets too close to a U.S. Airways plane. Passengers say the aircraft plunged to avoid disaster. May 9th, in Houston, two United Airlines flights come less than a mile of each other when a controller gives one pilot the wrong instructions. The mistake quickly corrected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United 601, stop your turn. Stop your climbing. Stop your turn, United 601.
MARSH: May 10th, in New York, two JetBlue planes come within a mile of each other as one takes off and the other prepares to land.
All of those close calls are what the FAA calls loss of separation. Usually come down to pilot or controller error.
ROBERT SUMWALT, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Any time there is a loss of separation we are concerned about it because it's not supposed to occur.
MARSH: The FAA attributes the spike to its Voluntary Safety Reporting System, which allows employees to submit safety incidents confidentially. The FAA says that's led to increased reporting. So it's not known if the actual number of incidents have gone up.
The agency tells CNN more than 99.99 percent of all air traffic operations occur with no loss of separation which helps make the U.S. airspace the safest in the world.
MARSH: While some air traffic controllers agree, the FAA may be receiving more reports about those close calls and that's created the spike in the numbers but some of those same controllers say other factors are at play. Some of the towers they say are understaffed. They say that leads to fatigue and eventually mistakes.
BLITZER: Rene Marsh with that report. Thanks very, very much. Important information.
Coming up, an American jihadist is killed fighting for ISIS. So what led him to go to Syria? And how many other Americans are following that same path?
And President Obama gives the go-ahead for U.S. spy flights over Syria. Are airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria the next step?