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CIA: ISIS May Have Tripled in Size; White House: U.S. is 'At War' with ISIS; Foley's Mother: 'U.S. Wouldn't Let Us Pay Random'

Aired September 12, 2014 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, ISIS triples in size. Stunning revelations from the CIA on the terror group's rapidly growing strength. What the U.S. and its allies are now up against.

And no ransom allowed. The mother of murdered hostage James Foley tells CNN she was warned of criminal charges if she tried to raise money to free her son.

And a new Ferguson controversy after scenes like this. Why is almost no one happy with a proposed civilian board to oversee local police?

Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

After fumbling for a definition, the Obama administration now concedes that the United States is at war with ISIS. But as the U.S. scrambles to put together a coalition of nations willing to confront the terror group, there's stunning new information on the strength of this brutal enemy.

U.S. intelligence calculates that ISIS may have tripled in size to more than 30,000 hard-core jihadists. Even America's top military commander warns that airpower alone won't destroy ISIS, saying the U.S. will need reliable partners on the ground to do the fighting.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage. And we begin with chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto at the Pentagon -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, a new development tonight. We learned today that the U.S. will begin targeting senior leadership of ISIS. The spokesman for the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Kirby, saying that this is no longer a defensive operation; it is offensive. It will be more aggressive.

And as they do that, they now know that they will be facing a more formidable enemy in ISIS than they had estimated just a few months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): The enormous growth of ISIS is, say CIA

officials, a product of its enormous success. As ISIS has swept across Syria and Iraq, and established an Islamic state, it has attracted defectors from other militant groups. It has recruited, sometimes forcibly, new local fighters and attracted new foreign fighters.

The intelligence community estimates ISIS now can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters, up from an older estimate of just 10,000, including hundreds of westerners; among them, a dozen or more Americans.

Now that President Obama has vowed to degrade and destroy ISIS, the new estimate signals a difficult fight ahead.

(on camera): Presumably, it's a longer fight if you have that many more fighters to degrade and destroy.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're not just simply about degrading and destroying them, the individuals, the 20,000 to 30,000. It's about degrading and destroying their capabilities to attack targets, particularly western targets. It's about destroying their ideology. Believe me, everybody here at the Pentagon knows what we're up against and is taking it very seriously.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The CIA's new assessment makes clear that Syria continues to be a powerful magnet for fighters from all over the world. More than 15,000 foreign fighters from more than 80 countries, at least 2,000 of whom are westerners, have flocked to Syria. Some to join the fight led by this man, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

The ISIS leader has not been a target of U.S. military air strikes yet, but with the new expanded mission, that will change.

KIRBY: When you are going after a network like this, one of the things that you also want to go after is their ability to command and control and to lead their forces.

SCIUTTO: Intelligence officials emphasize that while ISIS is a formidable force in numbers and fighting ability, it is still far outnumbered by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, Kurdish and soon, it is hoped, Syrian forces aligned against it.


SCIUTTO: We learned some more details today, as well, about those Syrian forces, the other leg of this strategy, training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels. We're told that the plan and the time line is to train about 5,000 of them, Brianna, and hope that those fighters are ready within a year.

And obviously, a drop in the bucket when you're talking about a fighting force of this size. But, again, officials emphasizing it's not just the Syrians; it's the Iraqis; it's the Kurdish forces, et cetera, which together, greatly outnumber those ISIS fighters.

KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thank you very much for your report.

And after some confusing mixed messages, I will say, on the nature of this counterterrorism conflict and the, I guess, strategy that the White House is pursuing, both the White House and the Pentagon now say flatly that the U.S. is indeed at war with ISIS.

Let's turn to CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. This was this was an evolution, sort of, in language that we witnessed, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. Right. This was in answer to our question, but the administration has been getting this question over the last few days. And each time, they would say, well, war isn't necessarily the word to use or shifting it more to it being more of a counterterrorism operation.

But suddenly today, across the board in the administration, we are hearing this agreement that, yes, the U.S. is at war against ISIS.


KOSINSKI: The administration hasn't wanted to call this a war on ISIS. But is it not a war?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Ultimately, this international coalition will be responsible for degrading and destroying ISIL. So I think what you can conclude from this is the United States is at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and its al Qaeda affiliates all around the globe.


KOSINSKI: Getting to that conclusion took something of a preamble. The administration clearly wants to distinguish this operation from the U.S.'s prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're always pointing to no U.S. combat boots on the ground.

And now today we're hearing virtually the same language from the Pentagon, from the State Department. And that's a big change from what we were hearing only 24 hours ago from Secretary of State Kerry himself; from the president's national security advisor, Susan Rice who, when asked this very same question, answered much differently.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the United States at war with ISIS? It sure sounds from the president's speech that we are.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that's the wrong terminology.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is it fair to call it a war?

SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, Wolf, I don't know whether you want to call it a war or sustained counterterrorism campaign. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: We all know that words are important. And one senior administration official told CNN, in fact, the reason there has been some avoidance in using that "W" word is because they didn't want to rev up ISIS any more in its desire to attack U.S. interests.

And you might also say that that word could panic Americans, in a sense, or make them think that ISIS is a bigger threat to homeland security than the administration believes it is at this point.

So then why now is everyone suddenly agreeing that the U.S. is at war? We don't really know. The administration isn't really saying why there is the change. It could be just they've gotten this question so many times, now they're willing to agree that, yes, OK, what it looks like it is, it is.

But the administration keeps emphasizing that the policy, the strategy, has not changed. That over time, this will look like a sustained counterterrorism operation with broad international support, Brianna.

KEILAR: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you.

And let's go in depth now with a pair of former top officials from the George W. Bush administration. I'm joined by Steven Hadley, who was the president's national security advisor, and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us. I know you're champing at the bit to talk about what we just heard Michelle reporting on. We were told by a senior administration official that this official, not using the "war" word was because the administration did not want to elevate ISIS.

Now obviously, there seems to be more comfort or a need to use the word "war." Do you see the change as a political or a strategic decision?

STEVEN HADLEY, FORMER BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think it's catching up with the reality. What we've seen over the last week is an increase in the rhetoric from the administration, both in terms of what the objective is, which is now to degrade and destroy, and then also in terms of what the threat is.

The president's job Wednesday night was to convince the American people this is a serious threat, and he's got a strategy to deal with it and that he's got the consistency and commitment to see it through. Those, quite frankly, have been in question with respect to Syria, where the administration had been reluctant to engage. So he's had a heavy lift. So you see it in change of rhetoric and in change of discussion of the threat and change in policy.

I think it's a good thing. I think the president is finally on the way to where he needs to be. And Wednesday night, I think he helped himself considerably in this. KEILAR: Is that how you read the change in rhetoric?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think there's a natural impulse around the president's advisers to try to protect the political legacy. I mean, certainly, from the campaign in '08 to today, he never wanted to be seen as a wartime president. His goal was to get America out of two wars. So to the extent, as Steve said, he's really accepted the reality, it is a war.

But I'll tell you this. The pilots and the planes and the advisers and their families think that those men and women are at war. So I think it's the appropriate term. We are at war with ISIS.

But there's still one more dimension that the president, in my judgment, has failed to really talk about. This is -- we're really at war against a belief system, a global jihadist movement. ISIS is probably the latest, greatest and most significant and muscular manifestation of that global jihad. So I'm glad he finally recognized it.

This is not counterterrorism. This is not Yemen. This is not Somalia. This is the real deal. It's the manifestation of a larger global scourge, global Jihadism.

KEILAR: Some of the president's supporters might say that he's reticent to use the word "war," because even though we're seeing support from Americans to take on ISIS, I think there's a concern about whether he might overreach.

The country is also largely war-weary. And part of that, a lot of folks will point to the fact that George W. Bush went to war in Iraq; there were no WMDs. Do you see, in a way, some of his reticence to use the "war" word coming from sort of the lasting effect of the previous administration?

RIDGE: I mean, I personally think there has to be some point in time in history where the president accepts the reality as what happened under the previous administration, whether it was military or economic, cannot always be turned to as the rationale or the cause, justifying the situation you are in now.

He did what he said he would do. He pulled our troops out of Iraq, much to the consternation of military commanders, who wanted 20,000 or 30,000 people there so they could advise the Iraqi army that they're going to try to reconstitute.

So I think -- I just think it's -- America understands that we're at -- this is a terrible, terrible militant, barbaric, medieval group, September it for what it is. And this referring to history constantly, I think Americans are beginning to see through that.

KEILAR: Were you surprised by this number that we're hearing, over 31,000 fighters, that ISIS can muster?

HADLEY: Well, we -- the number had been 10,000 to 15,000. This is about a doubling now to 20,000 or 30,000. I'm not surprised it's gone up, because in the last few weeks, we've been -- added intelligence assets that we did not have in Iraq and looking into Syria. So as we make more of an intelligence commitment, the numbers are going to get bigger.

The problem with ISIS is not just the numbers. It has -- it has got an ideology, and it is operationalizing that ideology, because it actually holds territories, something al Qaeda tried in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. It never achieved.

These folks control territory. And within that territory, they have banks, they have cash, they have oil, they've got extortion. They're self-financing. And they have the romance of establishing a caliphate, which makes them a magnet for extremists.

This is a bigger challenge, oddly enough, than al Qaeda. And I think the American people understand it. The polls say that. And I think the president is playing a little catch-up. And the reason he uses now the "war" word is that he doesn't have to convince the American people he's reluctant to go to war. He's got to convince the American people that he is committed to taking on ISIS.

KEILAR: All right. Gentlemen, stick with me. We are going to continue our conversation about the threat that is ISIS in just a moment.


KEILAR: Our top story, the Obama administration has decided that the campaign against ISIS is a war, and the CIA says the enemy has been growing a lot bigger and stronger than previously known.

We are back now with Steven Hadley, the former national security adviser to George W. Bush, as well as former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge.

Secretary, you, I noticed during the report where we were talking about the plan to train 5,000 Syrian rebels, moderate rebels to take on ISIS in Syria, you seemed to kind of scoff at that number.

RIDGE: I think the notion that we can just suddenly assemble, according to the president's speech, this ground troop coalition with the Syrian Free Army, with the Iraqi army and with the Kurds, I think there are some real challenges there.

The Kurds aren't going to move outside their enclave. The army -- the Iraqi army that we're going to have to rebuild, this is going to be a major problem. Why would it be a major problem? Because Tehran has had more influence in Baghdad than we've had, is a Shiite- oriented government. They've been at war with the Sunnis. They've been at war with the tribal leaders, and pulling that together under the new prime minister is critical. And then the Syrian Free Army, that's a work in progress.

So the only military that's really capable of stepping in right now to have an immediate impact is the United States, and we're certainly not going to do that. KEILAR: Is that your assessment? I've sort of -- I've been

struck by the fact, Steven, that I think if someone knowing your role in the Bush administration, they might expect you to be more critical of President Obama than you've been. You've been -- you've been reticent to criticize him.

HADLEY: Well, I've been pushing for the last three years, saying that Syria needs to be addressed and if Syria isn't addressed, it will get more violent; more will die; it will get more extremist; it will destabilize the neighbors; and it will open the door for al Qaeda. I've been saying that for three years. That's exactly what has happened.

But I want to give the president his due. He has effectively changed the direction of his policy Wednesday night. That's a good thing that he's done.

The point that Tom made earlier is exactly right. You're only going to defeat ISIS if you've got boots on the ground. And the only boots on the ground at this point really that are serious are Iraq. Iraqi security forces, Sunni militia and the Peshmerga.

So this is going to start in Iraq. We're going to start rolling back ISIS in Iraq. It will take a year or two, whatever. And during that time, we're going to have to build the capability we need in Syria by a much more robust training program and by air strikes that keep the Syrian forces at bay.

Now, that's what the president outlined Wednesday. If he's serious about it, if he will continue to talk to the American people about it and if he will implement and execute an effective program, then we're going to be on the road to attack ISIS.

So I want to support the president's decision. But in the end of the day, the proof in the pudding will be whether it continues to be a priority and whether he really implements and executes the strategy.

KEILAR: We've been learning from sources that some of the ISIS fighters or ISIS commanders, I should say, were former generals under Saddam Hussein, pre-invasion; were also members of the Iraqi military post-invasion. I mean, when you look at that, in a way, has the U.S. created this problem itself? What do you think?

RIDGE: I mean, it is an aftermath of the strategy undertaken many, many years ago. It's only part of it. This is a very -- the ideology of the global jihad is attracting a lot of people in from western Europe. And the fact of the matter is that they do have military training.

But the fact of the matter is also that they've got a lot of their weapons because the Iraqi army that needs to be rebuilt abandoned them at Mosul and ran away from the fight.

So we can talk a little bit about a few of the Ba'athist generals being involved: involved in their strategy, involved in tactics. But if we really think we're going to rely on the Iraqi army to muscle up and to make a real difference in the immediate future, I think it's somewhat illusory. The Kurds aren't going to move out of their enclave, out of their bubble. And it's going to take a long time to deal with the Syrian Free Army.

So I think the president -- we're both respectful of our president. We want him to win. But he's going to have to keep America engaged in -- on a regular basis what we're doing. And all these briefings are necessarily a part of that.

KEILAR: Yes. And a quick final word from you?

HADLEY: He -- we are going to have to -- Iraq was stable in 2008, 2009, 2010. It is not stable now because of what happened in Syria and because of some bad decisions by Prime Minister Maliki.

The elements of getting this back on track under the new unity government are there, but it needs intelligence, training; it needs air strikes. And it is going to require U.S. Special Forces on the ground to knit these forces up that Tom Ridge was talking about. And that's going to be the next decision for the president.

KEILAR: Yes. And we will see when that comes and what his decision is.

Steven Hadley, thank you so much, former national security advisor to President George W. Bush. And former secretary of homeland security department, Tom Ridge.

HADLEY: Nice former colleague. Thank you.

KEILAR: Good to see both of you. Thank you so much.

And coming up, no ransom allowed. The mother of murdered ISIS hostage Jim Foley tells CNN that she was warned of criminal charges if she tried to raise money to free her son.

And after incidents like this, a new move to reduce tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, may instead be raising tensions.



KEILAR: New questions are being asked about whether the United States should pay ransom for hostages held by ISIS. Today, Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, is weighing in about a shocking claim by the mother of Jim Foley, one of the Americas beheaded by ISIS terrorists.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Diane Foley says, U.S. officials threatened her family with criminal charges if they gave into the terrorists' demands to pay ransom for her son.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here.

You've been speaking to Obama administration officials about this. What are they telling you?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, U.S. officials who were directly involved in the Foley case say that, essentially they were shocked by this idea that any government official would threaten the Foley family as they were trying to get their loved one back. In fact, today Secretary of State John Kerry said he was taken aback by the claims.


BROWN (voice-over): In her new interview with CNN, James Foley's mother says she was threatened by government officials that she would be prosecuted if she raised money to free her kidnapped son.

DIANE FOLEY, MOTHER OF JAMES FOLEY: We were told we could not raise ransom, that it was illegal; we might be prosecuted.

BRYAN CUNNINGHAM, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: Threatening someone with a criminal prosecution when they're trying to save their child is not only, in my opinion, reprehensible; it's also counterproductive.

BROWN: Today, Secretary of State John Kerry says he's unaware of any official suggesting criminal charges.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I am totally unaware and would not condone anybody that I know of within the State Department making such a statement. So I don't know about it.

BROWN: Bryan Cunningham is a former prosecutor and CIA officer. He says government officials are supposed to help advise families of hostages.

CUNNINGHAM: In my experience, not actually tried to criminalize the process of private citizens paying ransom. No prosecutor in their right mind, no matter what their motivation, is going to bring that case.

BROWN: But overnight, the National Security Council took a harder line, saying, "The law is clear that ransom payments to designated individuals or entities such as ISIL are prohibited. Doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive."

FOLEY: As an American, I was embarrassed and appalled.

BROWN: And Diane Foley says the U.S. needed to do more to rescue her son. Sources say it wasn't the first time Foley had been kidnapped. A few years ago, Libyan militants released him after diplomatic efforts by U.S. officials. And the White House says rescuing Foley this time was such a priority it sent in U.S. Special Forces in July.

JOSH EARNEST, CNN WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The president was so convinced that this was a priority, that he ordered a high-risk mission. Unfortunately, despite the way in which that mission was executed, that is to say successfully, it did not end in the release of Mr. Foley. BROWN: While Diane Foley says she is not blaming the U.S.

government, she says the fact her son is now dead is proof something needs to change.

DIANE FOLEY, JAMES FOLEY'S MOTHER: He was sacrificed because of just a lack of coordination, a lack of communication, a lack of prioritization. As a family, we had to find our way through this on our own.


BROWN: And part of the challenge for law enforcement officials with hostage situations is that they can't share everything they know with the families of hostages.

But, Brianna, that's little solace for the Foley family who were just trying to get their loved one back.

KEILAR: Yes, no solace at all.

Pam Brown, thank you so much.

Let's get some more perspective on this from CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, he is a former assistant director of the FBI.

And most importantly in this case, Tom, you actually ran the FBI program that is in charge of personnel recovery or would be in charge of recovering people like Jim Foley. You hear this claim from Diane Foley where she's saying that her family was threatened with criminal action if they were to try to raise a ransom.

Maybe -- I think some people have even talked in certain cases about almost -- I don't want to say crowd funding but trying to fundraise from other places to do this. When you hear that, what is your thought? Is that possible that it came from the FBI?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, my thought was that, you know, possibly the policy changed from the time I left because when I was there, it was the policy of the FBI to not interfere. If a family wanted to pay the ransom or raise ransom money, they could do so and the FBI would not obstruct it. It took a neutral position with the family with regard to that.

Now we know it's U.S. government policy to not pay ransom. But that's different for the family. They can -- they can pay it if they want to or are able to. So I checked with executives today to verify that that policy had not changed and that in this particular case, that they were involved in the knowledgeable law, the FBI did not threaten. And that's an important distinction to make here, not just to throw stones at another government agency.

But the FBI takes the lead in a case like this, needs to have the lead, needs to have the trust of the families, needs to have the trust of the people out there, to work with the FBI. And if this is misconstrued that somehow if you get involved with the FBI, they're going to threaten you with prosecution, that's just not true. KEILAR: We're hearing from both the Foley family and the Sotloff

family. Steven Sotloff was beheaded after Jim Foley by ISIS. They say that the administration just hasn't done enough. How much of this do you think is a family grieving, which they are, the loss must be unbearable? But how much is it maybe the U.S. not using all of the resources that it could?

FUENTES: No, the sad part of this is that there is so much going on behind the scenes -- I was directly involved in this. There is so much going on that nobody's ever going to see, they're not going to know the methodology that's being employed to try to get people back. And I mean, if we look at the Curtis case being held in Syria and being released by al-Nusra, in that case, you see the extensive involvement of the FBI behind the scenes, the government of Qatar, other governments involved, working with partners in the region to try to get him released.

And in the case of Foley and Sotloff, you know, the government tried to rescue them. So there's a lot going on that unfortunately the family is not going to see and the public is not going to see.

KEILAR: Maybe they do not see.

Tom Fuentes, thank you so much for your insight. Incredible insight on this.

Next, we are looking beyond today's argument about whether the U.S. is at war with ISIS. No matter what officials call it, how do we make sure ISIS loses? How does the U.S. do that?

Later, after all the teargas and anger, critics are calling a new idea to ease the tension in Ferguson Missouri, insulting.


KEILAR: Our top story, the White House and Pentagon are finally conceding that the United States is indeed, quote, "at war", with ISIS. A retired Afghan war commander has been named to coordinate with U.S. allies. But the coalition faces a daunting task. The CIA now says ISIS may have tripled in strength to more than 30,000 fighters.

Let's go in depth now with CNN political commentator Peter Beinart. He is a contributing editor at the "Atlantic" and "National Journal" as well as CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, here with us in Washington, and "New York Times" columnist, Nicholas Kristof.

To you first, Nick, you know, you wrote a piece. It is a called -- it is called -- the headline, it grabs you, "Critique from an Obama Fan" is what it -- what it is. You talk about Obama's Syria policy being a, quote, "mess." You said that that he's been, quote, "painfully passive."

Do you think that he can recover from here and sort of move on in a productive way? NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: I don't know. We'll

see. I mean, frankly one of my concerns is that he'll go from excess passivity to excess engagement. And there are real risks ahead at every step of the way with airstrikes, with arming various factions in Syria. And so I think that -- you know, that prudence that he -- that has held him back, I hope that he continues to follow through with that and that he doesn't get kind of pushed by a lot of the critiques that he's getting into being too engaged. I think he's -- you know, I think he's right to go after ISIS. But he needs to do it, you know, with eyes wide open, boy.

KEILAR: Did you read from his speech that -- and sort of just the tone that we've been seeing coming from the White House has changed from saying it's not a war to it is a war? Are you reading that as, I guess from your perspective, sort of overdoing in a way, over engaging?

KRISTOF: Well, I think that the right prism through which to see this is a counterterrorism initiative. And so, you know, he made the comparison of what they're doing in Yemen, for example. I think that is what we're likely to be able to do. We may be able to degrade ISIS. When he talks about defeating it, when he talks about war, then I'm a little concerned he's going to raise expectations and get engaged in a way that we really can't deliver.

You know, the Bush administration started an effort against a little group in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf, and they tried -- you know, we haven't defeated the Taliban yet. It's a lot harder to do these things. And ISIS is in an area the size of the UK. So -- and if we try too hard, we can create a backlash and create more harm than good.

KEILAR: Peter, you've been looking at this threat that ISIS poses. Give it to us in real terms and tell us as some people are saying that this may be overhyped.

BEINART: Well, there's a striking discrepancy actually between the words that Obama used in his speech and a lot of what we're hearing out of Congress. Obama said, we don't have any evidence of plots from ISIS so far and he said, he used the word "could" twice. He said some of the Western fighters who've gone there could return and launch attacks. That's very different that some of what -- some senators who have said when they said it's a greater threat than al Qaeda was before September 11th.

So I think there's a big discrepancy there. And I think what's happened is since the beheadings, some in Congress have escalated the rhetoric really beyond where any -- you know, credible terrorism expert that I've heard suggests that it is. Now I'm not saying that we don't have to be concerned about, vis-a-vis, ISIS, we do. But I think right now the greater threat is to the region and to the people of Iraq and Syria than to the American homeland.

KEILAR: Then let's talk to a credible terrorism expert, then.

You know, Paul, when you see -- just what do you see the real threat of ISIS being?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it's a potential future threat, not a current threat. They haven't launched any plots against the West. They haven't even explicitly promised attacks against the West. But this is a group with really frightening capability. 1,000 European recruits in its ranks, some Americans, training camps on a scale last seen when Taliban ran Afghanistan. Tens of millions of dollars, bomb makers who could potentially train Western recruits.

So there's a lot of concern that down the road, they could plot very major terrorist attacks. And from a European point of view, it's sort of intolerable to have a potential terrorist state on the southern shores of the Mediterranean.

KEILAR: Is it about -- then is there a case to be made for getting ahead of the threat?

CRUICKSHANK: Absolutely. Getting ahead of the threat, being more intensive in the action to prevent them now from trying to launch attacks in retaliation.

KEILAR: What do you think about that, Nick, getting ahead of the threat?

KRISTOF: Well, it's certainly better to be ahead of it. I do think that there is some legitimate threat to the U.S. and Europe from terrorism. There may be as many as 300 Americans as jihadis in Syria, many of them with ISIS. And we have to be concerned about them coming back. It's a little promising, though, that ISIS seems to be deploying among the battlefield and willing to let them get killed there rather than wanting to send them back.

But you know, that is kind of a potential threat. The much greater threat is that ISIS is slaughtering people in Iraq, in Syria. It's engaged in mass rape and attempted genocide against the Yazidis. So this is a humanitarian catastrophe that also has a real security and terrorism risk.

KEILAR: And do you get a sense -- do you get a sense, Peter, I know you said you supported the Iraq war the first go-around. And you were wrong, you say. Are you worried, knowing that, and that in forming your opinion of this, do you feel like there's any possibility that that could be happening here where a lot of people are supporting this and maybe it's not the right -- the right move?

BEINART: I think it's very unlikely that we would get sucked into anything of that scale. And I think that's partly because public opinion has shifted so radically from where we were back then. And I also think it's because of President Obama. I think that President Obama retains that caution that Nick was talking about, and although he has moved to a more aggressive posture than he had a few weeks ago, partly because I think he genuinely believes it, and partly because of the very changed political climate, my guess is that we're going to see a much more aggressive campaign on the Iraq side of the border where the U.S. actually has some real allies. And a significant degree of caution, at least in the beginning,

on the Syria side. That's not to say we won't -- there won't be strikes in Syria. But I would be really surprised if the United States starts going willy-nilly into Syria until we have a much better sense of the Free Syrian Army and our allies.

KEILAR: And we will be looking certainly to see if that is the case. A lot of questions, gentlemen.

Peter, Nicholas, Paul, thank you so much to all of you.

And next, why experts are condemning a new proposal to heal the anger and distrust between the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and their local police.

And later, it's more than a flash of light. We'll explain why a huge explosion on the sun could leave you in the dark.


KEILAR: An important new effort to ease tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, may be doing just the opposite. In the wake of incidents such as the Ferguson policeman pointing his gun at demonstrators, using profanity, or perhaps the heavy handed use of tear gas and stun guns on crowds protesting the Michael Brown shooting. Citizens demanded some kind of police oversight and now the "Los Angeles Times" is reporting that Ferguson City Council is studying such a proposal.

But here's the thing. The paper quotes experts who say the board would be so weak, it's insulting.

Joining us are NAACP board member John Gaskin and the "Huffington Post's" Ryan Reilly, who Ferguson Police arrested while he was covering the demonstration.

John, first to you. What's your reaction that the police oversight is insulting? Certainly I think you have -- there's both perspectives. I'm sure police are not thrilled about the oversight, and then some people feel as if it's just too little. What are you thinking?

JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: Right. So as I've mentioned, and I'm very much so familiar with that article in "The L.A. Times." It is a step in the right direction. But I can also understand where many people are coming from. It is very weak. There are a lot of details that need to be sorted out in terms of how these types of complaints will be filed, what that process is. At the meeting, very little details were given regarding this board as to who can sit on it, what type of qualifications they will need, how these people will be elected.

As we kind of talk with people that are familiar with these types of boards, for example, Detroit, will there be a charter for this type of board so that there is some type of written regulation, some type of written authority so that they actually have some type of authority in terms of oversight to repeal these types of measures. KEILAR: Yes.

GASKIN: Because there -- like I mentioned, there are an awful lot of questions on how this board will function and how they deal with complaints and will they actually have the power to actually reverse anything or change policies and truly deal with complaints that people bring to the forefront.

KEILAR: Is there going to be teeth in this?

And, Ryan, you were on the ground in Ferguson. You saw it firsthand. What do you think about this police board, what needs to be done and what's being proposed?

RYAN REILLY, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Sure. I think one of the issues is it only affects Ferguson, right? There are a number of smaller -- very police departments in that area and of course there's also a county. So in order to hold people -- police accountable for their action, which it's going to have to extend just beyond Ferguson. And in general, the civilian review boards usually pretty much run the gamut.

In larger police department like New York City, they actually have paid people who are on the board and they have subpoena power and investigative power and that sort of thing. But even those have been critical because often has been criticized because often they won't take the recommendations that those boards actually come up with.

Ferguson is a small town, so they're not going to have any sort of paid position here. But it'll be interesting to see how this plays out in Ferguson.

KEILAR: The "Huffington Post," for which you work, has done something that is very unique, which is essentially crowd funding a reporter position of someone from that area to keep this story, I guess, really sort of in the forefront, to continue to cover this story for a year. You've raised $40,000 to pay for the salary and then "HuffPo" kicks in health insurance and equipment, I think, is how it goes.

Tell us about this effort and how you came to sort of be a part of getting this done.

REILLY: Yes, I mean, this is a very important project that I think that we've seen readers have shown a lot of interest on. That's been demonstrated by how successful the project has been, you know. I don't know if there could have been a ton of commercial benefit, I'm not really involved on the ad side, but to exactly putting a reporter and covering Ferguson directly, and this was something that wasn't, you know, maybe in our normal editorial budget.

Everyone sort of has a limited budget on what they can deal with, but this is a special edition that we thought was very important to cover this going forward because there's going to be so much happening in that community over the next year. KEILAR: All right. And we'll be talking to you, John, as we

continue to see really how the community there also keeps this issue and the police oversight and also just really wanting to be heard there in the forefront.

John Gaskin, thank you so much, joining us from Ferguson, as well as Ryan Reilly with the "Huffington Post." Appreciate it.

GASKIN: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Thank you.

Now if your favorite electronic gadgets start acting maybe a little squirrely tomorrow, well, it may not be their fault. Blame, uh-huh, the sun. Earth is about to be hit by the fallout from not one but two solar flares. The huge eruptions on the sun seen and measured by satellites this week. All of that energy, well, that's heading straight for us.

Earth's magnetic field will deflect most of it, but there is a chance that the storm could damage satellites, interfere with GPS, airliners, radio, even knock out entire power grids. Then again maybe you'll not notice a single thing tomorrow. But if the power goes out, we have warned you.

Now coming up, another brush with the law, two and a half years after the Trayvon Martin shooting, George Zimmerman is allegedly involved in a road rage incident.


KEILAR: Happening now, declarations of war. U.S. officials scramble to clarify their muddled message about America's newest fight against terror.