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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Unrest in Syria; Secret U.S. Operations in Libya?; Violence Follows Syrian President's Speech; Radiation Levels Rising Near Japan Nuclear Plant
Aired March 30, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Breaking news, two major developments involving Libya, reports that President Obama has secretly authorized CIA involvement on the ground, and late word from an inside source that intelligence-gathering operations are already under way.
Also, a top Gadhafi official, his foreign minister flees Tripoli and shows up in London, surprising stuff. We will have all of that ahead.
First, I want to show you some new and disturbing video just in from Syria. It appears to be a peaceful protest that occurred after Syria's president went on TV today and did not announce an end to emergency rule. Protests, however, ended with shots being fired, bodies in the street. We have edited the footage, but I want to warn you, it is disturbing to watch.
We believe what you're looking at took place today in the port city of Latakia, 16 people killed. We know the army has been on the street in that town for several days, according to an eyewitness, shortly after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad spoke to Parliament, in which a speech in which he did not only not address ending emergency rule, but in which he placed blame on the protests on unnamed enemies and he called it a conspiracy.
Just ahead tonight, we're going to talk to a Syrian spokesman, a government spokesman, ask him to back up that claim with facts, "Keeping Them Honest."
But first tonight, the breaking news out of Libya, Moussa Koussa, the country's foreign minister, turning up today in London, according his resignation. That's him meeting with Nic Robertson a short time ago. Koussa was with in Robertson in Tripoli. He's a very high-level official, a former head of Libyan intelligence.
He knows no doubt a lot of secrets. Nic joins us shortly. So does Fran Townsend, who directly with Koussa during the Bush administration. They all say this guy was a very important in the regime and there's no telling what kind of secrets he has to tell, if he's willing to talk.
The other piece of breaking news tonight: word that the CIA is operating in Libya, gathering military and political intelligence. Reuters, "The New York Times" and others reporting that President Obama, several weeks ago, signed a secret authorization or finding permitting covert support for Libyan opposition fighters. We will talk about that with former CIA officer Bob Baer, who says covert action rarely works, and with a different perspective, Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense.
But news for the opposition forces in Libya today has not been good. They are retreating. Last night, it was Bin Jawad and Al Brega that they ran from. Now it is Ras Lanuf, a key oil city they took over just days ago. That's where this video is from. A commander calls it an orderly withdrawal, but let's be honest. There is nothing orderly about this opposition force. They're pulling back from Ras Lanuf and heading west.
The pictures tell the story. The opposition fighters appear exhausted, said to be demoralized, heavily outgunned, reports they're being pounded by artillery, picked apart by snipers, without communications, organization or frequently even the proper training to use their weapons.
Let's talk about the fight, the defection and the possibility of CIA covert action.
Joining us now, Nic Robertson in Tripoli, in Benghazi, Ben Wedeman. And joining us on the phone, former Bush homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, who has met, as I said, with Koussa, Moussa Koussa, and with Gadhafi and many other high-ranking Libyan officials.
Nic, what do you make of this, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa resigning, surfacing in London, fled from Tripoli? You interviewed him when you first arrived in Tripoli. How big a deal is this?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big deal.
When we first arrived here, he demanded that we come and interview him the very first night, and he gave a very robust defense of the regime. A couple of weeks ago, we saw him at a press conference here. He was mumbling, almost reading in a very unconvincing way with his head down a statement at a press conference, refused to take questions, walked away.
At that moment, he gave the impression of a man who wasn't committed to the regime here. It's significant for many reasons, because -- not least of which because he was a former head of intelligence, not least of which is because he is at one time a very wanted figure by European security services.
This is a man whose disappearance here wasn't even known by the deputy foreign minister, who I spoke to yesterday. I asked him, was Moussa Koussa coming back, just yesterday? And he told me, yes, he will be back very soon, he will be back very soon.
Officials here are absolutely scrambling this evening to come up with an explanation. They can't even get confirmation that he's gone, such is the paucity of their information. He will be seen by senior people around the regime here as somebody who has decided to jump ship at a very crucial moment. And there may be others considering doing the same thing.
He will be important too, because this is somebody who might -- might -- just have been able to have a word close enough to Gadhafi to convince him, to restrain him even, of some of his excesses. He's now gone. Those sort of voices are now moving away from Gadhafi. And that leaves his moves, Gadhafi's moves, open to even more question about how drastic and serious they might become, Anderson.
COOPER: Fran, there have been a lot of folks in the West, a lot of leaders in the United States who -- they have been hoping something like this would happen. They're hoping that the people around Gadhafi will crumble, finally force him out.
What do you make of this? You met with Moussa Koussa, as well as Gadhafi, back in 2007 as President Bush's homeland security adviser.
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I think it's a huge development.
For one thing, let's remember, Moussa Koussa is the single most important Libyan official who was responsible for, as head of the intelligence service, the planning and execution of Pan Am 103. He's long been wanted as somebody that the FBI wanted to talk to as part of that investigation.
The other more significant and recent event is he was the individual who was primarily responsible for the turning over of the Libyan weapons program. When I went to see Gadhafi, I had to meet with Moussa Koussa first. He took the measure of me and he was the individual, the single individual who had to approve or disapprove my going forward to meet with Gadhafi.
And so he really does have secrets to tell. He's someone in whom Gadhafi confided and relied on the most sensitive operational intelligence and now foreign policy matters. And so I think this is tremendously significant.
COOPER: Ben, what's the reaction been among opposition forces to the departure?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think everybody was quite surprised at this. And there's a realization that he is a very senior figure, not necessarily in the foreign policy establishment, but, as your other guest said, in the intelligence services, somebody who has lots of secrets.
The opposition is gladdened by this, of course, because, on the battlefield, the news is generally bad coming from the front. So, yes, the opposition has cheered it, but they're really desperate at this point for some sort of advance on the ground to raise the morale of the rebellion that seems to be flagging at that moment -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, Ben, it's pretty stunning that opposition forces are now all the way back at Ajdabiya. One commander I saw today quoted called it an orderly withdrawal. But let's be honest. There seems little command-and-control in this opposition army. I don't see anything orderly about it. I don't see how they can possibly win being so disorganized and so poorly trained.
WEDEMAN: No. If you look at the situation over the last few weeks, there's really no way at this point that they can make significant advances without some sort of major development on the other side, on the side of the Libyan army.
We have seen this for weeks. They rush forward, make stunning advances, and they are usually just drawn into a trap and then driven back in a panic. We saw them this evening regrouping on the western edge of Ajdabiya. And I saw them also preparing to move back in the direction of Brega to try to retake that town.
But there's absolutely no guarantee that they're going to make any progress whatsoever. And this is fairly surprising, given that, before, the real impediment for their advances was the Libyan air force. The Libyan air force is now gone. There's a no-fly zone. There are NATO airstrikes. There are several in the area of Brega today.
But that doesn't seem to be able to provide that critical breaking point they need to move forward. They're still plagued by this chaotic system. They don't have any command-and-control. They don't even have communications, because the cell phone system in this area has gone down. So it is chaos.
And it's hard to imagine how they're really going to make any progress whatsoever, given the lack of command-and-control, given their basic ignorance in how to act, how to function in a battlefield environment.
COOPER: We have talked about this before, but,Ben, has anybody -- people, I'm sure -- I'm sure that some people said to them, don't just keep firing in the air and wasting all your ammunition. And yet we still see them doing that all the time. Why?
WEDEMAN: Well, I have seen this I can't tell you how many times.
I have seen former officers in the Libyan army, professional soldiers, who have tried to tell young men at the front that they shouldn't waste their ammunition, that they should take up defensive positions, that they shouldn't assume that they're always going to be moving forward.
But, by and large, these people are ignored, largely because there is no command structure. There are no heads of units. There are no officers really. It's just the guy with the biggest voice and the biggest gun will lead the boys forward, and then usually lead them back as well, as they rush away from the front when they run into any kind of serious resistance from the Libyan army.
COOPER: Nic, opposition -- there was an opposition colonel, a guy named Ahmed Bani, quoted, saying that Gadhafi has thousands of mercenaries from Chad fighting alongside his government forces. A., do we know if that's true? Do we really have a sense of what Gadhafi's forces look like, how large they are?
ROBERTSON: We don't have confirmation that that's true, but we don't get around the whole of the country, and we certainly don't get to see inside the military bases or very much of the army here.
So, it's very hard to tell and run down that kind of information. Could they be crossing the border from the south? Could they be held out in the desert somewhere? We just don't have access to that kind of information.
On the battlefield, it's very interesting. The limited glimpses that we have had reveal an army that is perhaps -- doesn't have a huge amount of sort of strategic depth in the strength of forces. And I say that because, when you look at the checkpoints that we often pass through, they seem to be manned sometimes by a motley crew of people in sort of civilian uniform, civilian clothes. They might have a uniform jacket, an AK-47.
And we're told they're volunteers. Sometimes, some of these people are quite old. Then you come across some younger troops with better equipment, and they seem to be part of some kind of special forces detachment. Then you come across another group of soldiers who look as if they're not getting properly fed, wild-eyed, as if they're sort of shell-shocked about the fighting that they have been going through.
So, it's wide and it's varied. How many are there? What is the depth? How many more can they keep putting into the fight if they take more coalition strikes? It's not clear. But at the moment, what we can see is there doesn't seem to be a shortage. Beyond that, it's very hard to tell, Anderson.
COOPER: Fran, one more quick question about Moussa Koussa. Do we know what happens to him now, how he will be handled, who will handle him? He's in London, I assume talking to British authorities. Do we know how that's going to play out?
TOWNSEND: Well, Anderson, what I assume will happen -- I don't have any doubt that there would have been -- the president, remember, made a statement in one of his interviews that the inner circle around Gadhafi was crumbling. And we have got to assume now that intelligence and diplomatic sources were reporting when he made that statement to him that they were preparing for Moussa Koussa.
There would have been discussions about whether or not he could have any of his finances that he could bring with him, what would his status in terms of a criminal defendant be, would he be protected? would he be free from extradition?
COOPER: So you think he was in contact with them before even driving to Tunisia?
TOWNSEND: The details of this are yet to be revealed, but would have been worked out well in advance before he would have arrived in London.
He should be handled by the British intelligence service, and they will share the information they glean from him with American officials.
COOPER: We're told he went I think through Tunisia, is what I heard. So you're saying, Fran, you think they would have been in contact with him maybe even before he left for Tunisia just to kind of pave the way?
TOWNSEND: Oh, absolutely. He did not leave Libya without knowing the answers to the questions that I say to you, in other words, his finances, his immunity from prosecution, and his freedom from extradition process. He would have worked all that out before he left.
COOPER: Man, to have been -- to be a fly on the wall during those conversations would have been fascinating.
Nic, Ben, stay safe. Fran, thank you very much.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will also be trying to tweet tonight during the program.
Up next, the latest from inside a Libyan city under siege, an update on the opposition retreat, and two insiders weigh in on the breaking news on CIA involvement on the ground. Former CIA officer Robert Baer and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz join us, two very different viewpoints on how effective covert action can be and whether rebels should be armed.
Also, what became of Eman, the woman taken into custody after going before Western cameras alleging rape at the hands of Gadhafi's troops? We have not forgotten about her. We continue to ask questions about her. The regime claims she's been released. No evidence of that, though. Some of the other things they are saying about her now on state television will take your breath away.
First, let's check in with Isha Sesay -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a lot more hatching tonight, including troubling new developments at Japan's crippled nuclear plant, more radiation, this time outside the evacuation zone, and more about the conditions emergency workers have to deal with. We had a lot of questions last night about why they have only been eating two meals a day and why this food seems more fit for prisoners than vitally important workers. We're getting plenty of new details on that. But frankly the answers are a little puzzling, as you will see when 360 continues.
COOPER: The breaking news tonight, Libya's foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, resigning his post and suddenly showing up in London. He's now talking with British authorities. What secrets he may be spilling, if any, we don't know.
Also word that clandestine CIA operatives are at work on the ground inside Libya, President Obama having reportedly signed secret orders authorizing covert it.
In a moment, we will talk with former CIA officer Bob Baer and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who have very different views on whether arming and running covert opts with the opposition is a good idea.
Meantime, the situation in places like Misrata continues to be grim, with tanks on the streets, snipers making life hellish for fighters and civilians alike.
I spoke with a man named Saddoun El-Misurati, an opposition spokesman in Misrata who asked that we use his name. I spoke to him earlier tonight.
COOPER: What's the level of fighting been in Misrata today?
SADDOUN EL-MISURATI, SPOKESMAN FOR LIBYAN OPPOSITION: It's been quite intense, Anderson. It intensifies normally around early evening, and carries on to the early hours of the night.
COOPER: And in terms of Gadhafi tanks, are they hiding under buildings, so that they can't be gotten out by aircraft?
EL-MISURATI: Normally, they just come out to fire a few shellings. And tanks would disappear as soon as they find coalition forces patrolling the skies.
COOPER: Have you been able to get any supplies to hospitals? In the past, we have talked to doctors who have said that the hospitals are running short of medicine.
EL-MISURATI: Yes, we managed to get two shipments so far of medical -- of badly needed medical supplies to the hospitals. But obviously, we still need more supplies in terms of dealing with the day-to-day casualties and situation on the ground.
COOPER: And what is your greatest hope at this point? Is it that opposition force will be able to come from the east and help? Or do you hope to somehow, with coalition air support, be able to actually take back the city of Misrata fully?
EL-MISURATI: Well, absolutely, our greatest hope will rely and lie mainly on the support of the international coalition forces in the form of change of tactics, from the air to target tanks, sporadic tanks and heavy artillery of Gadhafi's forces, but also take out groups of snipers positioned on buildings in the city, eliminate the kind of threat that has been around against the civilians of Misrata for quite some time now.
COOPER: Saddoun El-Misurati, I appreciate your time. Thank you. Be careful.
EL-MISURATI: Thank you.
COOPER: All right, let's dig deeper now on tonight's breaking news, the CIA working on the ground covertly with the opposition. That information was leaked to various news sources. Whether or not it's arming them -- whether or not arming them is a good idea, however, that is another issue to talk about.
I'm joined by Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense in the Bush administration, and former CIA officer Robert Baer, intelligence columnist for TIME.com and co-author with his wife of "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story."
Bob, not much is known about exactly the makeup of the opposition. Do you think it's a good idea, A., for covert operations to be ongoing with them and to be arming them, if that is what it ends up being?
ROBERT BAER, INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, TIME.COM: Well, good idea or bad idea, we will find out. But I will tell you, this is a nightmare trying to train the Libyans. I tried to do it many years ago.
We had given them rockets. They turned out and they used these rockets against the Sudanese Parliament. These people are very difficult to manage. And putting the CIA on the ground is highly risky. You have to put armed people on the ground. You have to figure out who's going to fight and who's not and it could take a very, very long time. It is not going to be easy.
COOPER: Paul, you support arming the opposition, but say we have been waiting too long to really learn about them, right?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that we should be doing everything we possibly can to support the opposition, including a lot that we could do that's nonlethal.
It seems to me we have two possible outcomes here. One is a prolonged stalemate, which seems to me is very bad for the Libya people, who continue to suffer. It is very bad for the U.S. and the rest of the coalition maintaining this no-fly zone.
I can't see anything good about a protracted stalemate. It's true we don't know what the opposition would be like when they do take over, but there are actually I think some promising signs. But the important thing is we should be in there, we should be working with them. I don't know why what we do with them should be covert at all.
And, frankly, there's a lot that we ought to do that's not lethal, starting with just the fact of recognizing this is a war of momentum. And right after the strikes began, the momentum shifted back to the opposition. It looks dangerously as though it's tilting the other way now.
If the U.S. would have joined Qatar and France and other countries would have come along and recognizing this provisional government, I think it would send a very, very powerful message to the people around Gadhafi that the end is coming. COOPER: Bob, from what we understand, CIA officers are on the ground -- I don't know if there are actual CIA officers or contractors -- trying to understand, I guess, make contacts with the opposition, figure out who all the players are.
How does it work, though, to actually train a force on the ground? You say you have done it. What kind of time does this take? What kind of manpower does it require? Because these are folks who in many cases, it's said there are about 1,000 who have actual -- some level of military training, but by and large we're seeing just young kids and shopkeepers, many of whom don't know how to operate weapons.
BAER: First, I would like to say Paul is absolutely right. We should have done this when the momentum was in or favor, in the opposition's favor, in the rebels' favor.
So this is a catchup ball at this point. And to form a force like this is going to take six months. You just simply can't give them surface-to-air missiles, rockets, automatic weapons and expect them to figure out how to use this stuff. I hate to say it, but, right now, our best chance of ending this conflict is eliminating Gadhafi.
I'm not advocating it. I'm just saying this is the quickest solution. He is the problem. And when you're doing these stopgap measures, like bombing and the rest of it, it's stopping a massacre, but on the other hand, I don't see what -- we're getting pulled into a quagmire. I would rather see the Defense Department on the ground, if you have to be there training. The CIA hates covert action. It rarely works. It worked in Afghanistan, but other times it's almost impossible to do.
COOPER: Why do you say it rarely works?
BAER: We simply don't have control over the rebels. They don't have to follow our orders. They take our money, they take our weapons, and they go shoot who they want.
And in this case, the Libyans are going to be doing the same thing. They're going to be running into a city, firing into the air, coming out again, and that's going to be it. That kind of discipline takes a very, very long time, especially when you're dealing with a foreign force, and you have to have Arabic speakers on the ground. It's tough.
COOPER: Paul, do you agree with that, that it rarely works?
WOLFOWITZ: I'm not sure. Look, each case is different, and Bob has had experience with these people.
But -- and I'm sure there are things that would be tough, but there are some things that are simple. And let me say one which I have been saying over and over again. I don't understand why it is that the Egyptian satellite television, NileSat, broadcast Libyan state television, so that Gadhafi and his son are able to go on the air threatening the Libyans, why we have done nothing to shut that down and done nothing to enable the opposition to broadcast. You heard in your clip earlier that they're dependent on the Libyan cell phone system to communicate among themselves in the field, and that's depending on the people they're fighting. We could be giving them satellite telephones. There's a lot that we could give them that I think would make a difference.
I agree the things that would make a big difference take more time, which is why we shouldn't be wasting time here. But I think moving in a dramatic way and making it clear that we're not going to accept a stalemate, we will work with the opposition, we will work as quickly as we can, might bring an end to this whole thing with less fighting and quicker.
COOPER: Bob, is it tough to shut down Libyan government communications, to shut off their satellite service and to give communication equipment to the opposition?
BAER: No. That would be easy. And I think we could shut down their communications. It would take a little bit of effort, but we can do it with C-130s. I have seen this done before, as Paul knows. It could be a little more effort and we could do it.
We have to close this place down and we have got to get this over fast because it's becoming a very, very nasty civil war.
COOPER: Bob Baer, Paul Wolfowitz, I appreciate both your perspectives. Thank you for being on.
WOLFOWITZ: Thank you.
COOPER: 360 follow now on the woman who stood up in front of Western reporters and tried to get her message out.
Her name is Eman al-Obeidy. If you don't know it by now, you should, telling the world that Gadhafi soldiers gang-raped her. We can't of course independently verify what she is saying. She was hustled away by authorities, some of them apparently undercover posing as hotel workers. She hasn't been seen since.
The government claims she's been released and is with her family. Her actual family, though, who live far in the east who we have tracked down, say that's not true, adding that the regime offered them cash or a house if their persuaded their daughter to recant her rape allegations. They say she refused and today now four days later, there's still no sign of this woman.
However, Libyan television is reporting on her, painting her as a traitor and a prostitute.
I want to show you some of what's being said on air now for Libyans to see. Take a look. This is the anchor, saying: "I said, with all due respect to whores, even a whore may have some sense of patriotism. Even a whore will have a sense of patriotism when it comes to her homeland, Libya. But sister Eman has a political hate agenda," this anchor says. "She's extremely radical." She went on. Again, that was the anchor on state television in Libya calling Eman worse than a whore. Eman remains missing. And we will keep reporting on this until she is found.
A program note now, tomorrow, I will be talking with four "New York Times" journalists who were held captive by the Gadhafi regime for nearly a week, threatened with death. They have a remarkable story to tell. Reporter Anthony Shadid, videographer Stephen Farrell, photographers Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks are speaking out here on 360 tomorrow night about their experience. I hope you join us for that.
Coming up tonight, an eyewitness reports new deadly violence in Syria, right after President Bashar al-Assad gave a long, rambling speech on state television. All that talk about lifting the state of emergency ,it didn't happen. The witness says army and security forces fired on peaceful protesters. We will show you the video. The government denies anyone was killed. We will talk to a government spokesman and a former U.S. ambassador.
And later in Japan, disturbing news, high radiation levels not only in the seawater near the damaged nuclear power plant, we already knew that, but also in a town about 25 miles away. And the importance of that, it is outside the current evacuation zone.
Also, new questions about the harrowing working conditions for those heroes scrambling to try to cool down the reactors. Are they getting enough food? Do they have the right protective equipment? Some serious questions to ask, coming up.
COOPER: Well, in Syria, an eyewitness today says more than a dozen people were killed in the city of Latakia in clashes after President Bashar al-Assad gave a nationally televised speech. This is YouTube video reportedly shot in the village -- in that town. CNN cannot independently confirm this.
The eyewitness says protesters started gathering in the square after the speech, which disappointed many in the country, chanting "we want freedom." Army and security forces, the eyewitness say, started shooting. The eyewitness, who didn't want to be named for security reasons, said at least 16 people died in the violence. The Syrian government denies there were any deaths. This video certainly seems to indicate from the amount of blood on the street and the head wound that this person received at least some deaths.
The eyewitness says the mood in that town is tense, quiet. There's military on the streets. People are afraid because they take today's violence as a message from the regime.
Now, in his 45-minute speech today, al-Assad blamed the ongoing violence in Syria on vague enemies and, quote, "conspiracy," a conspiracy working to undermine the country's stability. As he has often said over the 11 years of his rule, he said the government supports reform and meeting people's needs, but he gave no specifics on how that's going to happen, no timetable.
Al-Assad didn't mention lifting a 48-year-old state of emergency that gives the government sweeping power, and arresting detained citizens, a promise that was made just this past weekend.
After the president's speech in Damascus, another tense scene as a woman approached his car. The woman was restrained, the crowd gathered closer. Look at this, on Syrian state television, the screen quickly faded to black shortly after this incident.
It's not clear what the woman wanted, but it looks like she wanted to give the president some sort of piece of paper. But watch as the screen fades to black.
Earlier, I spoke with Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for the Syrian embassy in London. I should tell you, though, when I spoke to him a few hours ago, we had not yet gotten any word of reported violence after the speech, so I couldn't ask him about that. Take a look.
COOPER: In the past days, your government spokesperson has given a variety of explanations for what is going on in Syria, who's behind the protests. She's blamed unnamed foreign powers attacking Syria because of their opposition to Zionism and the U.S. She's also blamed Islamists, armed gangs, even Palestinian refugees.
In an interview yesterday you gave, you said it wasn't outside forces; it was anarchists. And today your president pointed the finger at satellite news channels and also said that, quote unquote, enemies are behind, quote, "the plots that are being hatched against our country."
Who do you believe is behind these protests? What are the plots?
JIHAD MAKDISSI, SYRIAN DIPLOMAT: Look, we have a problem of miscommunication seemingly, Mr. Cooper. I'm not responsible for anybody else who said what. I'm responsible for my president, what he said. If you go back, please, please go back to his speech. He said that yes, Syria is targeted, and a minority people, a small group of people tried to take advantage of this events to implement their own agenda in destabilizing Syria. But it's not all a conspiracy theory.
COOPER: But who is behind this conspiracy?
MAKDISSI: There is no conspiracy. If you are talking about the anarchists and people who are -- for instance, who killed ten security forces in Latakia by knives and by shooting at them from rooftops, I don't know. An investigation has to go through.
COOPER: According to eyewitnesses, though, there have been dozens of Syrian citizens who have been killed by security forces, shot by security forces, beaten to death by security forces. We've had reports from eyewitnesses in hospitals who say in some places the hospitals have been overwhelmed with citizens who have been shot to death by security forces. Do you deny that that has happened? MAKDISSI: No, I don't deny that this happened at all. People died during the clashes between security forces and the demonstrator. And this is why the president, at first he wanted the gradual reform in Syria. Because Mr. Cooper, Syria is a third-world country. And you have not only to update your legislation to be a democratic country. You have to update the culture of the people, the culture of the soldier who is faced by violent demonstrator who's trying to attack him.
COOPER: You're saying that Syria is a third-world country, and yet this president has been in power for 11 years. His father was in power for 29 years before that. For more than 40 years, the Assad family has ruled this country.
If, in fact, Syria is still a third-world country, doesn't the leadership have some blame in that? In 2005, I read a speech that your president gave, saying that computers were an enemy of the Arab people, that computers were designed to destroy the Arab people.
MAKDISSI: Who said that? Who said that?
COOPER: Your president said that.
MAKDISSI: The background of my president is a reformist, and he's the one that introduced before being president, introduced the Internet service to Syria. He has just recently, one month ago, lifted -- liften (ph) the ban on YouTube, on blogging, on Facebook, and you can see the Facebook now in Syria, and everything. So...
COOPER: In -- in 2005, he said that the Internet is a threat to Arab identity. He said that computers and technology, quote, "overwhelm the Arabs and threaten their existence and cultural identity, which has sincere -- which has increased the doubts and skepticism in the minds of young Arabs."
MAKDISSI: Yes, but you have to finish the sentence. He said only when it is used wrongly. So please read the whole script. He said only when it is used like spreading propaganda or, you know, spreading rumors. This is what he said.
COOPER: You had said just yesterday in an interview on CNN that the president had begun ending marshal law. And the government spokeswoman, Bitana Shivan (ph), also said on Sunday the decision to lift emergency law had already been made. And yet today, we heard no mention of lifting emergency law by the president. Has he now decided not to lift emergency law?
MAKDISSI: Not at all, not at all, Mr. Cooper. Let me explain to you that I can understand where the confusion is coming from. Because the president today, he wasn't addressing the United Nations. He was addressing his own people, and he was showing commitment and leadership and assuring them that he's committed to the reform.
COOPER: But those are the people who are suffering under emergency rule. Those are the people who live under emergency rule. If anyone has an interest in it, it would be his people. I don't understand why he wouldn't say directly to his people, "I'm lifting emergency rule. Here's how I'm going to do it. Here's when it's going to start." Without any kind of timetable, these are just words, no?
MAKDISSI: Mr. Cooper, when it comes to national security, Syria is like all other nations. You have to take the right step and have the right legislation. And that's why we see like, for instance, America, President Obama said he would be shutting down the notorious Guantanamo Bay, but it's not been done yet. You don't do it overnight.
But the difference between there is the Syrian president is fully committed, and he's the guarantor of implementing his own words.
COOPER: I very much appreciate you coming on to talk. Thank you so much.
MAKDISSI: My pleasure, my pleasure.
COOPER: Joining me now on the phone is former U.S. ambassador to Syria Ted Kattouf.
What do you make of what he said and what the Syrian president said today? Because for all that talk of reform, we've been hearing that for 11 years. When Assad came to power, there was talk of reform. In 2005, there was talk of reform. Now he's talking about reform. How much time does reform take?
TED KATTOUF, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA (via phone): Well, apparently, an authoritarian regime, it takes as long as the leader wants it to take. We have a president who has dropped in the polls, according to news reports today, because he can't get jobs restored, even though we had the severest recession since the Great Depression.
But you're right, Anderson. This president has had 11 years, and he's talked about reform. And his reforms have been very tepid. They've been things like allowing private banks, allowing private universities, things, frankly, that Syria had in the 1950s before the Nasareths (ph) came to power and the Mubasaks (ph).
So -- and if you look at Lebanon and Jordan, countries that are much more resource-poor than Syria, they have higher per capita incomes, and particularly in the case of Lebanon, a far more thriving economy, despite civil war and lack of -- almost lack of a government most of the time.
COOPER: What do you think today's speech by the president indicated? Because yesterday, we had talked, and you had said that, if he doesn't give specifics about a timetable and details, and if he -- you know, in this case, he didn't even really talk about lifting the emergency rule -- that it's not real. It doesn't seem real.
KATTOUF: It's not real. You know, I'm not saying that he couldn't come through with a couple of surprise announcements in the coming weeks or months. But essentially, this was an in-your-face kind of speech to those who want change in Syria. He's saying, you know, "I will decide what reforms are made. I will decide when they're made and how they're implemented. And, you know, you guys should just sit down and shut up."
COOPER: He's also using the same -- literally, the same false rhetoric that was used by Mubarak, that's been used by Gadhafi, blaming satellite news channels, blaming foreigners, blaming unnamed conspiracies. Clearly, it didn't work with Mubarak. We'll see what happens with Gadhafi.
Is this government in danger like Mubarak was, or are the instruments of repression so pervasive that they can outlast these protests?
KATTOUF: Well, you -- you've hit the nail on the head. The instruments of repression are greater than in Egypt and Tunisia. And the reason I say that is that Tunisia and Egypt have populations that are largely homogeneous, and the army comes from the people. And these people did not want to fire on their own.
Syria's ethnic and sectarian makeup is more fractured, particularly the sectarian makeup. And you have the Alawis are minorities. They were a very downtrodden and persecuted minority. And now, for 40 years, they've been in the ascendancy.
And when I say the Alawis, I don't mean for a moment to suggest they've all benefited. They haven't.
But he has loyal units that will do what they're ordered to do. And his brother and his first cousin command some of these elite units. And then they have about five overlapping security and intelligence services.
COOPER: They have a military. They have people who will fire on their protesters, unlike what we saw in Egypt.
Ambassador Kattouf, I appreciate your expertise. Thank you for joining us.
KATTOUF: Thank you for having me.
COOPER: CNN, I should point out, has been applying for visas to go to Syria now for more than a week. But now we've been turned down repeatedly. Now the Syrian embassy isn't even responding to our requests.
Coming up, breaking news. Radioactive levels in the seawater near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant. More than 4,000 times the legal limit. Also, new information about those heroic workers who are racing to cool down reactors. You would expect that they would be incredibly well fed, well taken care of. Well, we have learned new details about what their lives have been like while working at this plant.
On top of the pressure and the fatigue, the workers don't seem to be getting much food. Crackers sometimes, that's it. Sometimes just two meals a day. More on that next. Also, Isha Sesay following other stories for us tonight -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the orca that killed its trainer more than a year ago is back performing at Sea World Orlando. Tillicum, the killer whale, went back to work today, performing in a show for the first time since the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. That story and much more when we come back.
COOPER: Breaking news out of Japan. Late word tonight that Japan's nuclear safety agency has found even higher radiation spikes in seawater near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Now, radioactive iodine levels, more than 4,000 times the legal limit in the sea near the plant. Last night, you may remember, those levels were more than 3,000 times the regulatory level.
This followed some troubling news from the International Automatic Energy Agency that today, it found elevated radiation levels in a town 25 miles from the plant, which is well outside the current evacuation zone.
So today, TEPCO's chairman said the company has no choice but to decommission four of the crippled plant's six reactors. He's taken over the fight to bring the crisis under control, because TEPCO's president is back in the hospital once again, said to be battling from, quote, "stress and fatigue."
Also feeling stress and fatigue, no doubt, probably a lot more, the workers struggling to bring those reactors under control on little sleep and just two meals a day. We have new details tonight on just why it is that workers are having such a hard time eating.
The problem isn't just finding uncontaminated food, we're told. It's finding an uncontaminated space to eat it in. TEPCO says the workers will soon start getting three meals a day, possibly tomorrow. This, though, only after the information has been revealed that they weren't getting three meals a day.
The company also says it's hoping to get workers staples like bread and soup very soon. That's right. They haven't had bread or soup. They've had a lot of crackers. For now, they're powering through on meals nothing more than rice and a special protein mix, occasionally crackers, because they come in sealed packages.
As for a reported shortage of protective gear, TEPCO admits supplies may be running short, but they claim there is still enough protective clothing for everyone who's working at the site, and they're buying more as they need it.
Joining us now with the latest in the battle to bring the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control from Hong Kong, former senior nuclear power plant operator Michael Friedlander, and in L.A., our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Michael, do you believe this company, TEPCO, now? I mean, I've got to say, given the lack of information, the lack of flow of information that we've had, really, since day one in this thing, the misinformation that we've been given, and we've seen workers getting doused with radioactive water, do you believe that they have the right protective gear?
MICHAEL FRIEDLANDER, FORMER SENIOR NUCLEAR POWER PLANT OPERATOR: Well, Anderson, I have to say that exactly for the reasons that you said, I have my doubts. What's not clear is whether the equipment that is available is not being deployed properly or whether or not the equipment is just absolutely not available. But in either case, it clearly is an illustration that this incident has not been being managed properly, at the consequences to their employees.
COOPER: So Michael, now they're getting this report that radioactivity and seawater about 1,000 feet south of the plant is 4,385 times more than the legal limit. How serious is that?
FRIEDLANDER: Well, again, Anderson, as we've been talking about, there's really two issues here in terms of the radioactive contamination that we worry about.
The first one is the iodine 131. Now, on the surface, although the contamination is relatively high, iodine 131 converts itself into a noble gas, with about an eight-day half life. So the iodine 131, while for the moment it's something that we worry about over the long- term, by the end of May, it won't pose any problem whatsoever.
The issues, though, that we really need to follow and that give me concern are the reports of cesium showing up in the water and, indeed, some of the samples of seafood. Some fish that have been taken over the last several days have been beginning to show contamination of the cesium. And that is, in fact, the one that I'm worried about, because cesium has a 30-year half life.
And as we've talked about before, you know, the plankton absorb -- absorb the cesium, the fish eat the plankton. Bigger fish eat the smaller fish. And so every step you go up the food chain, the concentration of the radioactivity gets higher and higher. And that's the issue that has me more concerned than the iodine.
COOPER: Sanjay, let's talk about these workers. Only two -- the officials are saying, well, look, they're getting enough calories per day. We're told they really, sometimes they've been only eating twice a day, sometimes just crackers and some sort of a protein mix.
How concerned are you about -- about their health? I mean, how long can they be expected to keep this up? Because now the officials are saying, "Well, we're going to start giving them more of a variety and maybe even three meals a day." I'm stunned that hasn't been happening.
GUPTA: Yes, and me, too. You know, three weeks now we're talking about here. I think it's very concerning. And the type of work that they're doing, as well, you know, turning valves, trying to essentially keep this reactor under control. And you know, it's a constant battle, as we've been reporting for some time.
They have to get non-contaminated food, as you said, put it into a non-contaminated room. People have to be decontaminated before they actually eat the food. So it's a process simply to get them the food.
And I -- I have to agree with Michael, as well, with regard to the protective gear, which I think is also very concerning. It's been running short. You know, what we hear from some of our sources is that they say that there's -- they're trying to buy more gear as they need it, but people have been having to pull out of shifts, not being able to work, because of a lack of protective gear over time, which is incredibly, incredibly hard to believe.
The biggest concern, though, really has to be, you know, still about the radiation. And these numbers that you've cited every night now, you know, while they still are low, you know, in terms of human health, they've been trending in the wrong direction. And these workers within the plant, they certainly know these numbers. They know both short term and long-term risks.
Short term, you know, I think it's safe to say, what we heard, they haven't developing acute radiation sickness that we've been able to hear or confirm, but the long-term risks are there, for sure, in terms of what this is doing to their bodies and the increased cancer risks. I'm concerned on lots of different levels for them.
COOPER: And Michael, the International Atomic Energy Agency said elevated radiation levels were detected in this town about 20 miles from the plant, which is outside the evacuation zone. Should they be enlargening [SIC] this evacuation zone?
FRIEDLANDER: Well, one of the things that we need to find out is how widespread that contamination is, because it's certainly conceivable that, during the days and weeks following the accident, when the containment was being vented, given wind conditions, given potential rain, there may have been a potential collection of contaminated rain water or something like that in a particular location.
If that's, in fact, the case, then perhaps it's prudent to simply cordon off that area, decontaminate it and continue on, as we have been. But if we see those type of levels of contamination over a much wider spread area, I would be a bit concerned more about that.
COOPER: We'll continue to watch. Sanjay, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, appreciate it, Michael Friedlander, as well.
Still ahead, new developments in the investigation to last summer's massive oil spill in the Gulf. Could BP officials actually face manslaughter charges?
Plus Tillicum, that whale that killed a Sea World trainer, performed in front of an audience for the first time since the attack. Is that a good idea? Details ahead.
COOPER: All right. Let's check in with Isha, a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
SESAY: Anderson, President Obama outlined the plan today to cut America's imports of foreign oil by at least a third over the next 14 years. That push will include higher fuel efficiency standards for trucks and cars to be announced later this year.
BP shares dipped for a second straight day amid continued fallout over a Bloomberg report that some company officials could face manslaughter charges over last year's Gulf oil spill. If the company is found grossly negligent, the roughly $5 billion in fines it's now facing could more than quadruple.
Tillicum is back on the job. The orca that killed an Orlando Sea World trainer last year today gave his first public performance since that horrific attack.
The theme park was fined $75,000 for three safety violations, including one relating to the trainer's death. And Anderson, the company is reportedly fighting that fine.
COOPER: Wow. They're fighting a $75,000 fine? Wow, interesting.
A lot more ahead at the top of the hour. Isha, thank you very much. Starting with the breaking news on Libya. A top Libyan official resigns and shows up in London. Details ahead.