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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf; American Jihadi; Audio Recording of Ferguson Shooting?; FBI Analyzing Alleged New Audio of Brown Shooting; American ISIS Fighter Killed; White House Confirms Death of American ISIS; Obama Vows to Change the V.A.; New Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Underway
Aired August 26, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I will ask a top State Department official about the murderous group's reach inside the United States.
And we're told U.S. air strikes could be launched against ISIS in Syria at any time. We have new information about the spy flights that are scoping out the possible targets.
And a possible clue in the investigation of Michael Brown's death. A Ferguson, Missouri, resident says he heard the gunshots fired by a police officer and recorded them during a Web chat.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty. You are so fine. Just going over some of your videos. How could I forget?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following two major developments this hour in America's battle against ISIS terrorists.
The breaking news, an American believed to be fighting with ISIS has been killed while waging holy war, as they call it, in Syria. At the same time, U.S. air strikes in Syria may be imminent now that President Obama has approved aerial surveillance of ISIS targets.
We have our correspondents and analysts standing by along with the State Department's deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, to share new details about the ISIS threat in the United States and around the world.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd first. He's got the latest information -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, very disturbing information tonight breaking now from U.S. officials.
They believe this man, Douglas McCain, was fighting with ISIS in Syria when he was killed. We have other details now on McCain's death and on other Americans who have joined up with the lethal terrorist group.
TODD (voice-over): Douglas McAuthur McCain, a young American killed while fighting in the terrorist group ISIS. U.S. officials say they believe he died in Syria. He's thought to have been killed in a battle between rival extremist groups near the city of Aleppo, according to a human rights group. McCain's uncle telling CNN his death occurred this past weekend.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This ratchets up concerns with Americans involved in ISIS, because now you have a confirmed example of an American killed fighting with ISIS in Syria. The worry is that this is somebody who becomes a trained killer.
TODD: U.S. counterterrorism authorities were investigating McCain for some time before his death. He was on a list of Americans believed to have joined militant groups and who would be suggest to additional scrutiny if they traveled. U.S. officials have told CNN more than 100 Americans have gone to Syria to fight with various jihadist groups. A 22-year-old from Florida blew himself up while fighting with the al Qaeda-linked group al-Nusra.
U.S. officials believed a handful of Americans have fought with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a recent propaganda video, this man, identified as Abu Abd Al Rahman Al Trinidadi, is referred to by ISIS as an American. He called on Muslims to join the fight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, all believers come who can make it come. Come to Sham as soon as possible.
TODD: A senior U.S. intelligence official says the intelligence community is tracking this man, but cannot confirm or deny he's an American.
CNN's Peter Bergen says others have tried to help ISIS.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Here, you have got three Americans who have been indicted for joining ISIS within the last year, including, by the way, a woman, which is quite unusual. Luckily, they were arrested before they could leave the country, but clearly, ISIS is sort of -- if you are interested in this ideology, that is the most exciting thing go and join right now.
TODD: Now experts worry about revenge, if there is an escalation of air strikes against ISIS.
CRUICKSHANK: The concern is that is if the United States launches air strikes in Syria, that could be a red line for ISIS. And they could use these Americans, not for attacks inside Syria or Iraq, but back home in the United States.
TODD: Experts also say McCain's death could be a big propaganda victory for ISIS and they could use that to recruit other Americans to the fight. Now, Wolf, this is really ratcheting up concerns about Americans in ISIS.
BLITZER: What else do we know about this guy, Douglas McAuthur McCain?
TODD: His uncle Ken McCain told our Jim Sciutto that Douglas converted to Islam several years ago and that the family didn't really express any alarm at the time that he converted, but they later became aware of his social media postings, sympathizing with ISIS after he moved to Turkey. The uncle says now the family is devastated. They didn't know at all that he was going to travel to Syria to join the fight.
BLITZER: Brian Todd with the latest on that. Much more on this story coming up later.
But let's go to some new information we're getting about U.S. planning for possible air strikes against ISIS in Syria.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, of course, the president now well known he has authorized reconnaissance flights over Syria to spy, to essentially gather intelligence about ISIS targets for potential air strikes. But will he take the next step and order bombing?
STARR (voice-over): From President Obama, a threat and a promise.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what's necessary to capture those who harm Americans. And we will continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.
STARR: But, as the U.S. prepares to potentially militarily confront ISIS, the Pentagon will say little about the reconnaissance flights President Obama authorized over Syria.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I am not going to talk about intelligence matters.
STARR: An administration official tells CNN that drones have flown over Iraq near the border with Syria to pick up whatever intelligence they can about ISIS troops, convoys, weapons and training camps just inside Syria, anything on targets that could be hit to disrupt their brutal campaign of murder and intimidation.
U.S. satellites have already gathered some information. ISIS communications are also being monitored. But now the U.S. needs to get real-time intelligence. It will be tough. One of the type of drones being used, sources say, a Global Hawk like this. It can fly at up to 60,000 feet and is specially equipped to gather targeting information on fixed and mobile targets, exactly the type of information on ISIS the U.S. wants.
Washington will not acknowledge if drones have penetrated Syrian airspace, a move that would violate Syria's sovereignty, U.S. officials say. But once the intel is in hand, would U.S. bombers have to cross into Syria to strike? Perhaps. One option, B-1 bombers flying at high altitude dropping precision bombs. But many say air strikes alone will not defeat ISIS.
REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), OHIO: These isolated military actions can only result in more difficulty. The president needs to put together his national security team, the Department of Defense, and put together a plan.
STARR: And there is the law of unintended consequences. U.S. air strikes against ISIS inside Syria could actually benefit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are also battling ISIS -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very complicated, strange situation, I must say. Barbara, thanks very much.
While President Obama's vowing to punish ISIS, U.S. and British investigators are scrambling to identify the terrorist who beheaded the American journalist James Foley. British officials continue to say they are close to doing that.
Let's check in with our senior national correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He is joining us from London.
What's the latest there, Nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, remarkably little information from British authorities since we heard U.K. Ambassador to the U.S. saying they are "close" to finding the killer.
But some forensic experts have pointed out that if you look at the video, there is a clear edit between the speech given in the haunting English accent and the execution and the potential that the actual physique of the man giving the speech and the man who appears to carry out the murder is in fact very different indeed.
But many are looking now to work out quite how that British-accented killer emerged from British society. And I spoke earlier on today with a number of individuals who, in many ways, support the extremist ideology that fostered ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH: Given your faith and given the United States has attacked the Islamic State, do you consider yourself at war with the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: USA has been at war with me and every Muslim around the world for the last 10 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you attack someone, you should expect to be fought against.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not condemning it. I'm not condoning it. But if you drop a bomb on someone, do you think they are going to like thank you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly two camps in the world today, a camp which believes that sovereignty and supremacy belongs to God. They are the Islamic State, at the head of which is today Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (INAUDIBLE) Allah protect him.
On the other camp, you have those people who believe sovereignty and supremacy belongs to man. At the head of that camp is Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH: That is a minority opinion, but it does have a constituency here in the United Kingdom. These are people who all said they would surrender their British passports for a safe chance to go and live in what they refer to as the Islamic State.
That's the Syria-Iraqi area that ISIS now control and were all absolutely clear that they abhor effectively military action taken by the U.S. over the last decade -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in London with the latest there and I know he is working his sources. Thanks, Nick, very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper now on the ISIS threat, the U.S. response. Joining us, the State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Marie, thanks very much for coming in.
MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Thank you so much for having me.
BLITZER: First of all, what do we know, what do you know, the United States government, about this American Douglas McAuthur McCain who died over the weekend fighting along side these ISIS terrorists?
HARF: Well, we are aware of the situation.
We at the State Department have been in touch with his family and are providing any assistance we can. Don't have more details we can share at this time, out of respect for the family's privacy. But we do know that there are dozens of Americans, perhaps up to a hundred, who have gone to Syria to join groups there are that fighting.
This is the latest example of that and it is something we are very concerned about.
BLITZER: So the State Department still feels a responsibility to assist the family of someone who actually became a terrorist and started fighting to kill Americans, if you will, and all sorts of others, as part of an ISIS group? Is that normal procedure? Is it?
HARF: We have reached out to the family once we knew about the situation. This is something, it's standard procedure we do for families like this in this case. Thankfully, there haven't been that many.
But broader picture here, Wolf, that we are very focused on is the threat that there are Americans that have gone to fight with ISIS or Nusra and who have American passports and might come back to the United States, in the worst-case scenario, and try to promote their ideology here. That's a threat we are very focused on right now.
BLITZER: Does the U.S., the State Department know how many other Americans might be like this guy who leaves the United States, this guy converted from Christianity to become Muslim, to go over there and start working with the al-Nusra, a terrorist group, or al Qaeda, if you will, or is?
HARF: We know of several dozen, possibly up to a hundred Americans who have gone to Syria to join the fight there. That's all of the extremist groups, though. That's not just ISIS. It's Nusra. It's other smaller splinter groups as well.
It is a threat we are certainly tracking. It's something we are very focused on. But we're also focused on other Westerners, whether it is British citizens, other residents who might have a Western passport that could potentially allow them to travel somewhere else from Syria and promote their ideology in the West.
BLITZER: So the Americans who are there, you say maybe a hundred are there, do you have their names, their passport numbers? Do you have that kind of specific information?
HARF: We try to get as much information as possible for any Americans that might have gone overseas to join terrorist organizations.
Unfortunately, we have seen this in other organizations as well, whether it is al Qaeda, whether it's AQAP in Yemen. It's threat we are very focused on. And we do try to gather as much information as possible to prevent this threat of them returning home.
BLITZER: Was this guy, Douglas McAuthur McCain, on a State Department terror -- or U.S. government watch list?
HARF: I can check on the details, Wolf. We don't always make those public about what we know and don't know.
BLITZER: But he's dead now.
HARF: That appears to be the case. here. We don't always make public what we know and don't know, because there are a variety of ways we get information, including from intelligence.
BLITZER: Are most of the Americans who went over there -- you say about a hundred -- in Syria, or have they all actually moved from Syria into Iraq?
HARF: We judge that up to a hundred may have gone to Syria to join extremist groups. We don't have exact numbers for how many may have crossed that very porous border from Syria into Iraq.
That is also a threat we are very focused on. As you well know, we are taking direct action against ISIL inside Iraq already.
BLITZER: And potentially you might start taking direct action against ISIS, or ISIL, whatever you want it call it, in Syria as well. The U.S. president has authorized these surveillance flights over looking at these potential targets. How close is the U.S. now to launching air strikes against ISIS or ISIL targets in Syria?
HARF: Well, the president hasn't made a decision yet.
Obviously, the Defense Department maintains a range of planning options. And it has prevented -- excuse me -- has presented those to president.
BLITZER: Already presented the options?
HARF: Well, we are having a constant conversation inside the administration about what options could be necessary to go after ISIS, whether it is Syria, Iraq, anywhere they train and operate.
As you know, we have said we're not going to be restricted by geographic boundaries here when it comes to protecting American citizens. The president hasn't made a decision yet. And the last point I would make is that there is not a military solution entirely to the ISIS problem. Obviously, we have to take the fight to them. We are doing that in Iraq.
But we need to cut off their funding; we need to cut off the flow of foreign fighters. We need an inclusive government in Iraq who can come together and really push them out of Iraq. All of these pieces need to be a part of the strategy in the long-term.
BLITZER: I want to play for you what the president said almost exactly one year ago when he was considering launching air strikes against targets inside Syria. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: I know the president has met with your boss, Secretary Kerry, at least a couple times, I believe, today. Does the president believe, based on everything you heard, that he needs congressional operation before launching air strikes inside Syria?
HARF: Well, I don't want to get ahead of a hypothetical on a decision that hasn't been made.
We have been consulting with Congress on this. We have been very clear about the importance of that. We will continue doing that. And obviously we will do so as we get closer to making decisions about how to fight ISIS long-term.
The situation last fall was a very different one. We were talking about looking at Syrian regime targets in the aftermath of their use on chemical weapons. We have also said that the president maintains the capability to act very quickly if American lives, if American personnel are at risk. That right is enshrined in the Constitution and that really has guided so much of what we have done recently against ISIL.
BLITZER: This is hypothetical, but you can answer if you want. If the president does decide that U.S. interests require air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, would the U.S. coordinate or at least inform the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad what it is doing?
HARF: We are not going to be coordinating with the Assad regime, period. I think there's been some misinformation out there about that notion.
The answer to ISIS is not the Assad regime. They have allowed them to grow. They have allowed them to flourish. And we're not going to be working with them to root out this threat. We are going to be taking action that we reserve the right to take to protect our people against ISIS.
BLITZER: The president said today the U.S. should support moderate operation elements, forces, rebel groups inside Syria. Does that mean providing them with actual weapons?
HARF: Well, we have had this conversation for a long time. We have increased our support to them.
You had Senator Reed on earlier talking about conversations we are having with Congress. The president made a request for a train-and- equip mission. The Defense Department...
BLITZER: Training is one thing. What about giving them tanks, armored personnel carriers?
HARF: Training or equipping? BLITZER: So you are going to give them weapons?
HARF: So that the president presented to Congress a proposal to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria. We are working with them on that right now. We need congressional action to put that into place.
But we think it's important to continuing increasing our support to the opposition.
BLITZER: So, you feel you need the authorization from Congress in order to train and equip these moderate opposition forces?
HARF: For that specific Defense Department proposal.
BLITZER: An actual roll call vote in the House and Senate? Is that what you are seeking?
HARF: Well, we are seeking authorization from Congress for this Defense Department proposal.
We are working very closely with them now. I think we all share the goal of increasing our support to the moderate opposition. But one reason we have done this in such a careful way is that there are a number of groups operating in Syria and we need to vet the people we are giving any assistance to so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
BLITZER: As it did in Iraq when all of those weapons the U.S. provided to the Iraqi military wound up in the hands of ISIS.
And that's a great concern you could be doing the same thing as far as these moderate elements in Syria. They could lose the weapons. ISIS or Nusra or some other group could get them.
HARF: That's always a challenge. That's always a possibility that we try very hard to guard against. That's why we vet people we give weapons to. That's why we vet people we provide assistance to.
But it is always a challenge that we're dealing with. We believe here though that we need to keep supporting the moderate opposition in Syria who are fighting not just ISIS, not just Nusra, but also the Assad regime. They really have a tough fight on three fronts here.
BLITZER: Does the United States government know the identity of the terrorists who executed James Foley, the American journalist?
HARF: We are working very hard with our British counterparts right now. We can't, at this point, come out and say exactly who we think that is.
But we are all working very hard to identify that person. We have said he is a British citizen. We have many tools at our disposal to do that, and hopefully we will able to, because as the president and the secretary said, we will hold this person accountable. We will hold ISIS accountable when they do this to our people. BLITZER: Because on Sunday, the British ambassador to the United
States said they were close to identify -- getting an identification of this terrorist who beheaded James Foley.
Since then, has the British government reached a final conclusion? Because we know the British government and U.S. government are very close. They would share that information with you.
We are working on this together. We are trying to determine who did this together. We don't have information at this point to share about who we think this might be. But as that time comes and we're able to do so, I'm sure we will be having that conversation.
BLITZER: I know you don't want to share the information, but just as a matter of, do you know, do you believe you know the identity, without sharing any name or anything like that? Does the British government and U.S. government as a result of what the British government is doing, because you cooperate very closely, know the identity of this killer?
HARF: We can't say for certain yet who this person is. Obviously, we are looking very closely to see if we can do so. That work is ongoing.
BLITZER: Do you know where the body is of James Foley?
HARF: We don't have details on that to share. Obviously, we would want James Foley to be returned home to his family, so he can be given the proper burial and all of that back here. But we don't have details on that at this point. It is a very tough challenge, Wolf.
BLITZER: The other American who was freed over the past couple days was taken into custody, I believe, by the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv. Is that right?
U.S. government personnel met him in the Golan Heights. He was handed over from Nusra to U.N. personnel who facilitated the handover. Then they brought him to U.S. government personnel. He was then brought to Tel Aviv and will soon be returning home.
BLITZER: You say soon. Is he going through hospitalization now? What's going on?
HARF: He is having some medical evaluations done.
BLITZER: In Israel?
HARF: In Tel Aviv, yes.
BLITZER: He is still there?
HARF: To my knowledge, yes. I can check on the latest, obviously.
But he appears to be in good health, but being held captive by a terrorist organization for two years clearly takes a toll on people. So, he is talking to our folks there, but soon will be returned home and reunited with his family.
BLITZER: And finally did the Qataris pay ransom, pay money to Nusra to release this American?
HARF: They have told the family very clearly they did not pay ransom.
We have made very clear to the Qataris that we don't support anyone paying ransom and just have been very clear about our position on that. And the Qataris again have assured the family they did not do so.
BLITZER: Do you believe there are individuals though in Qatar that finance Nusra, al Nusra, this terrorist organization?
HARF: We are very concerned about private citizens in Qatar and other countries as well who might fund Nusra, who might fund ISIS.
One of the things, though, we have been doing, when our citizens are held captive overseas, is reaching out to any country, over two dozen countries at this point, who may have influence, or leverage, or contacts to help us get our citizens home. And in this case, thankfully, Theo Curtis will be coming home.
BLITZER: One final question while I have you. These Hellfire missiles that are supposed to be delivered to Israel, there was a delay in their delivery. Are they now on the way to Israel?
HARF: I don't know where they are physically located at the moment. But I know the process for approving them was moving forward, because we are very committed to Israel's security.
We have stood by them. You saw the news today about a new cease-fire that we hope will stop the rockets coming into Israel. We are very focused on helping them defend themselves.
BLITZER: Marie Harf, thanks very much for joining us.
HARF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Still ahead, the FBI now analyzing a newly released audio recording. What clues could it hold into the moment that the Ferguson police officer opened fire on Michael Brown?
There's a fresh round of protests on the ground in Ferguson after the funeral of Michael Brown. We are taking a closer look at what is next.
BLITZER: The now FBI poring over an audio recording that could potentially alter the investigation into Michael Brown's shooting.
A Ferguson man who lives nearby was video chatting with a friend when he heard gunfire. In the tape, you hear a quick series of shots and then a pause, then another round of shots. CNN cannot independently confirm its authenticity, but we know the FBI is now investigating.
Protesters meanwhile marched today as crowds demanded justice for Michael Brown.
Let's bring in our panel, CNN anchor Don Lemon, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of FBI.
Tom, let me play a clip. Listen to the background, the actual shot,s not necessarily the conversation, but try to listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty. You are so fine. Just going over some of your videos. How could I forget?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: So you're an FBI guy, so you understand what's going on. What's your analysis when you hear six shots, pause of about three seconds, then another four shots?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: My first, you know, response to that would be that possibly the officer is firing shots, then stops when maybe he thinks that Michael Brown is going to surrender or give up and something changes then and he resumes fire.
Most police officers carry pistols that have a 15-shot capacity in them. If he fired one shot in the car which witnesses have said happened and the forensic investigation would show that definitively, that would still leave 14 shots in the magazine that the officer could fire without reloading. And the witnesses I think would see reloading. That's a pretty definitive step to eject the old magazine, put in the new one.
BLITZER: Can you do that in three seconds?
FUENTES: Yes. You could do that in three seconds. But people would see that. They would see that he was reloading, getting ready to resume fire. I think he probably -- most uniform police officers carry a 15-shot capacity pistol.
BLITZER: You're a former federal prosecutor, Jeff. Let's say it's authentic, that audiotape that we just heard, would that be admissible as evidence in court?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think so. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be admissible. I'm not sure
exactly what it proves. It is a pause. It's not a long pause. You know, an incriminating version of that would be that even though he paused, and even though Michael Brown had been shot, he kept firing. That would be an incriminating version of -- interpretation of that.
An alternative view, Tom outlined it, is that he was just assessing the situation and Michael Brown kept coming at him, so he fired again. So I don't think that this tape proves a lot one way or the other. But it is certainly relevant evidence that the grand jury and prosecutors and investigators are going to want to consider as they try to look at all of the evidence in the case.
BLITZER: Don, you're back in New York now. But you spent almost the last two weeks there in Ferguson. When you heard this audiotape, you reported it first, tell us what went through your mind. You have been studying it over the past several hours.
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I sat there with my producer, and we listened to it. He said he couldn't hear it. And I said, "You can't hear it right after he says, 'You know, you're pretty.' Listen."
And then finally, he says, "Oh, my gosh, yes, I can hear it."
And we immediately called, because we got that tape from a source, and so we immediately tried to find the attorney. And we got in touch with the attorney.
And what's interesting about that, Wolf, is that I called the attorney and got the -- someone in our office on the phone at the exact time that they were being interviewed by the FBI.
And so once, you know, the FBI is involved and we got to confirm that the FBI was involved, then you know, it became relevant because they are looking into it. Because obviously, they think this may make a difference in the investigation.
BLITZER: Tom, if this were a phony tape, and you show up with the audiotape with the FBI with an attorney present, that potentially could be a crime if you're just trying to fool someone with a fake audio, if you will, of gunshots.
FUENTES: Absolutely. That would be a crime. But the other question here is that, if this witness just now is coming forward to the FBI with the tape, you know, you would think that the person would be aware of everything that's happened in Ferguson for the last two weeks...
LEMON: I can explain that.
BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Don.
LEMON: I can explain that. So here's what happened.
So the person had seen us out in the field, CNN. And they gave the tape to a CNN producer, thinking that it was my producer. And somehow it did not get to me. But -- but he was concerned about his -- about his identity being out there. He did not want people to know who he was.
So after I didn't contact him, because I didn't get the tape, he went to a friend -- I think it was a roommate -- who is an attorney, who happens to be that attorney. And they explained what happened, and the guy said, "I don't want to be identified. I'm concerned about my safety. And I'm concerned about my identity being out there."
And so it was this sort of just weird confluence of events that led me to them and then them coming on to do it.
But listen, the guy did not want to be identified. He does not want publicity. He was involved in a chat, which many red-blooded American men do with their sweethearts or women, with their sweethearts. "How are you, honey?" You send a selfie. You do whatever. So he was a little bit embarrassed about that. I don't see why he was embarrassed, because any -- everybody -- not everybody but many people do that.
So that's what happened. He was trying to get in touch with someone who he thought was an authority figure. But not -- most people don't just know how to pick up the phone and call the FBI. And so once he got in touch with the attorney, then the ball started to roll.
BLITZER: You want to add something?
FUENTES: Yes. I wasn't -- I wasn't going to question that. What I was going to say is that here, two weeks later, with everything that's going on in Ferguson and the importance of the investigation, you just now have this come to the attention of the media.
LEMON: Tom, I think there is more out there.
FUENTES: What I'm trying to say, Don, is that there could be other people come forward yet, that have not been located, that may be sitting on it for the same reason. Sitting on something important. That's all I was going to say.
LEMON: Right. Because a lot of people are nervous to come forward. A lot of people are nervous about coming forward because they're worried about police...
FUENTES: Frankly, yes.
LEMON: ... and authority. And also they don't want to be a part of the -- they don't want to be a part of the media.
TOOBIN: I just want to show that this underlines why the October deadline that the prosecutors in -- the Missouri prosecutors have established, shows it's hard to do this quickly. A lot of things are going to surface. This is a complicated investigation for a very quick event. There may be other tapes out there, as Don has said.
And it's important to integrate it all. There's lots of scientific evidence that -- tests that need to be done, evidence collected. People need to wait and to draw any final conclusions before all the evidence is in.
BLITZER: Good point. Jeffrey Toobin, Tom Fuentes, Don Lemon. Guys, thanks very much.
Important note: you can catch a lot more of Don's reporting on Ferguson, what's going on. A full report later tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
Just ahead, more on the breaking news. An American killed while fighting with ISIS terrorists inside Syria. Can the U.S. track citizens who are being recruited by the terror group? The former director of the CIA and the NSA, General Michael Hayden is here, joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have a lot to discuss, gentlemen. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. A young American killed while fighting with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria. The man's uncle tells CNN he traveled to Syria to fight as a jihadi, and his family was surprised, devastated by what wound up happening.
We're joined now by the former director of both the CIA and the NSA, retired General Michael Hayden. He's a principal now with the Chertoff Group in Washington, global security and risk management advisory firm.
Thanks very much, General, for joining us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA AND NSA: Thank you.
BLITZER: We've been hearing this number of a hundred Americans who are now fighting with various terror groups alongside terrorists in Syria. Some with al-Nusra, some with ISIS and others. Does that number sound realistic to you?
HAYDEN: It sounds about right, Wolf. Actually, this force is best explained in multiples of 10. Ten thousand armed individuals. About a thousand from the west, about a hundred from North America. So yes, it sounds about right.
BLITZER: And did you accept this notion the U.S. knows who these hundred Americans are, that the U.S. government has their names, their passport numbers, stuff like that?
HAYDEN: I would never accept that notion. Look, the government's working very hard on this. I know some of the people are doing this. They're doing the best they can. But it'll be irresponsible to claim that we've got this nailed. We know exactly who these people are.
BLITZER: Because the great fear is that one or two or 10 of them might leave Syria, go to Turkey, get on a plane back to the United States.
HAYDEN: Come back with their American passport, enter the United States, be motivated and trained to do evil here in the homeland.
BLITZER: How good would you say, without providing sensitive information, is U.S. intelligence on what is actually going on inside a group like al-Nusra or inside ISIS right now?
HAYDEN: Tough target. Very, very tough target. You've got national tactical means. You've got imagery. You've got national intelligence. You wouldn't want penetrations. You want human sources. That's very hard to do.
I would think that my old agency is trying to work that through our friends in the region. The Iraqis, the Saudis, Jordanians, to get the best on the ground information we have. But this is always a really tough thing to do, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is this ISIS group a direct threat -- I keep asking this question, but I'm anxious for your thought for the United States homeland security, to U.S. national security. I know it's a threat to people inside Syria, to people inside Iraq, but is it a threat to the United States?
HAYDEN: Here's the way I would describe it. No question, the will and the capacity to be a local threat. I think now they have the will and the capacity to be a regional threat. I think they have aspirations to be a global threat.
Now look, we've underestimated these groups in the past. We lacked imagination prior to 9/11. The Christmas bomber, we knew (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We knew al Qaeda, we knew it was up to something. We just didn't nail that it was a Nigerian in an airplane over Michigan.
So this threat is coming. At our peril, we underestimate it or think that it's somewhere in the distant future.
BLITZER: Would U.S. air strikes against these ISIS targets inside Syria, as opposed to Iraq, make a difference?
HAYDEN: It would make a difference. Now, it doesn't make an immediate difference on that lone wolf who gets on the airplane in Istanbul and flies to the United States, but it begins to degrade this group's overall capability.
And beyond that, Wolf, we've seen this with al Qaeda. We've taken this action against them in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Make them worried about their own survival rather than having the freedom to operate on whatever they have in mind.
Look, you treat this like an -- like an insurgency. You try to do three things against an insurgency. One is, decapitate it. Take care of the leadership.
No. 2, deny it safe haven.
And then No. 3, try to change the conditions on the ground that created it. And that No. 3 takes a very long time. But I think we're now at a point where we've got to begin to do No. 1 and No. 2 in order to prevent their coming at us in a very dangerous way.
BLITZER: When I heard you were going to use the word "decapitate." When I heard the president earlier in the day at the American Legion speech warn terrorists who kill Americans, like the American journalist James Foley, the United States will take direct action against you.
Direct action is sort of code phrase for a targeted killing or assassination. They're going to try to kill these guys.
HAYDEN: Yes. But not just in retaliation, Wolf. Not just as punishment. We have got to take these folks on to prevent them from doing these kinds of things to American citizens.
BLITZER: Even as a preventative measure, go ahead and launch Hellfire drone missiles or whatever and just kill these people, targeted assassinations, if you will.
HAYDEN: My view is that is where we are heading. My view is that is where we need to be. Now look...
BLITZER: Every one of these ISIS leaders right now, or ISIL leaders, they should be worried that the United States is going to try to kill them?
HAYDEN: I hope that they are worried. Now, we've got some policy and legal questions that we've got to work our way through before we take on that kind of campaign. That's why I think it's really important for the president to engage the Congress and engage the Congress as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: How good is Syrian air defense?
HAYDEN: I actually think we give it a little too much credit. The Israelis conducted an air strike before this air defense was degraded in any way against that nuclear reactor in Syria, and they got away with it without any Syrian reaction, let alone Israeli casualties.
BLITZER; They're using the F-16s and F-15s, U.S. aircraft, in an operation like that.
General, thanks very much for coming in.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a scathing new report on wait times at the V.A. Has anyone been held really accountable?
After buildings were razed, rocket fire was exchanged, peace. At least the cease-fire seems to be holding between Israel and Hamas in Gaza right now. We're going to Gaza for the very latest.
BLITZER: Let's have breaking news over at White House. Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. What's the latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's about this apparent American jihadi, Douglas McArthur McCain, who died fighting for ISIS it appears, according to U.S. officials, in Syria. The White House is saying, and I've been talking to sources earlier, Wolf, who have been saying that they were aware of this man's travel overseas.
And I'll just read you a quote from Caitlin Hayden, the NSC spokesperson over here at the White House. She says, we're aware of U.S. citizen Douglas McArthur McCain's presence in Syria and can confirm his death. We continue to use every tool we possess to disrupt and dissuade individuals who are traveling abroad for violent jihad, and detract and engage those who return."
Wolf, this underlines the problem that has been identified by White House officials of people with Western passports who go back and forth between the United States and the West and these ISIS battlefields and have the potential to come back and cause damage on the home front, and that is why senior administration officials say the battle against ISIS will not be limited to geographic borders.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a speech designed to deal with two threats -- one abroad, the other closer to home.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy and it won't be quick.
ACOSTA: First on ISIS, the president prescribed more air strikes in Iraq, perhaps some in Syria, but no boots on the ground, and vengeance for the killers of American journalist James Foley.
OBAMA: Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done.
ACOSTA: But the veterans in the audience were also looking for answers to what's ailing the V.A., as in the scandal first reported by CNN that officials at the agency's hospital in phoenix and others around the country were cooking their books to hide long wait times for patients.
OBAMA: We're going to fix what is wrong. We're going to do right by you, and we are going to do right by your families.
ACOSTA: An hour after the president's speech, a report. The V.A.'s inspector general found inappropriate scheduling practices are a nationwide systemic problem at the department. Of the 3,400 patients reviewed in Phoenix over a year period, the report noted six deaths after long delays. But the I.G. cautions, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.
The agency's conservative critics are awaiting the outcome of the FBI's V.A. investigation.
DAN CALDWELL, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: I think it is pretty clear that veterans suffered and died while on wait lists. Veterans were harmed as a result of these practices. I think that's criminal.
ACOSTA: To fix the V.A., the Obama administration is vowing new standards for veterans care, protections for whistleblowers and improved mental health services.
The quick trip to Charlotte included an encounter with endangered Senator Kay Hagan, who got a peck on the cheek from the president after she complained his administration wasn't doing enough to fix the V.A.
But the V.A.'s new secretary, Bob McDonald, insisted reform is already happening that will change the agency for good.
BOB MCDONALD, V.A. SECRETARY: If we fail at serving veterans, we fail. They're our only reason for being.
ACOSTA: Not surprisingly, that I.G. report is already becoming mired in politics. The Republican chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee accused the V.A. of trying to continue to cover up the agency's problems and his Democratic counterpart in the Senate said he was relieved there was no direct connection found between the delays and the deaths, Wolf. It doesn't matter what that I.G. report says. Both sides on Capitol Hill are going to be arguing over this one for some time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta with the latest from the White House -- thanks very much.
Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin was there in Charlotte for the president's speech today. He broke the story of the wait times at V.A. hospitals months and months ago.
So, what was your impression, what was your reaction to this report that finally came out today, Drew?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it details and confirms a lot of what we have been reporting and our sources have been telling us on the ground in Phoenix took place there -- a long list, Wolf, of terrible things that happen to the veterans in Phoenix as they waited to get a timely appointment at that facility.
The majority of patients the investigators reviewed were on all sorts of different lists -- waiting lists, official lists, secret lists, lists held in drawers and this is what they found out. They reviewed, as Jim was alluding to, 3,400 patient files including the 40 who did die on the waiting list. They found 28 instances where patients were adversely affected by what they call clinically significant delays in care. Six of those patients died. There's something new, though, that we didn't know about, Wolf -- 17
cases for other kinds of problem in treatment not associated with delays and of those, 14 patients died. They can't say directly that the delays in care are what caused these deaths, but you have 20 veterans out in Phoenix who died because of substandard care. While they don't exactly link them, they have some chilling, chilling cases in these reports.
Let me just go through a couple of them.
Patient number three, here's a guy that waited nine weeks after doctors found a massive lump on his chest before he was finally given a biopsy. Of course the biopsy determined he had cancer. He dies.
Another patient, patient number four -- he goes to a V.A. emergency room four times for four different things. Each time he was there, Wolf, they noted he has very high blood pressure and that he needed an appointment to a follow-up. He never got the follow-up. He died.
Those are the cases outlined in this that the inspector general says, even though there was delay in care on these, we can't determine if it was the delay that caused it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We know the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, he was forced to resign. But has anyone been fired yet?
GRIFFIN: You know, we've told that about 30 or so people across the country have been disciplined. That means either removed from their positions or they resigned or they are on administrative leave. Oddly enough, the woman in Phoenix who ran the Phoenix V.A. is still on administrative leave, means she's home getting paid -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Drew Griffin reporting for us -- thanks very much.
Just ahead: scenes of celebration in Gaza. In Israel, two parties announce an unlimited cease-fire. But will peace hold?
BLITZER: We're keeping a close watch on a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that took effect just a few hours ago. And unlike recent cease-fire, all of which have failed, this one has no expiration date. An Egyptian official tells CNN Israel has agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza, open the border crossings for more aid -- humanitarian aid -- to pass through and to extend the fishing limit off the coast to six miles. Hamas agrees, promises not the launch rockets and missiles into Israel.
Both sides will resume indirect negotiations in the coming weeks in Cairo for some sort of long-term agreement. Let's see if this cease- fire can hold.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.