Charlie Rose Transcript 20 March 2013


March 20, 2013
Guest: Rep. Mike Rogers
CHARLIE ROSE, PBS NEWS HOST: Welcome to the program. We begin this
evening with a look at the question of chemical weapons in Syria and start
with a conversation with Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence
You have this -- this horrible possibility that if Assad falls and there is a huge
vacuum and chaos ensues, that you have Hezbollah there, you have al Qaeda,
Al-Nusra Front folks there, you have some Hamas elements there and you have
lots of chemical weapons and lots of very sophisticated conventional
weapons that will be up for grabs. And that chaos will cause huge trouble
for the Levant, for the Middle East, for southern Europe and, I argue,
for the United States.
Remember, these are sophisticated weapon systems, would make Libya look
like an antique gun show when all of those weapons spread across Northern
Africa -- really dangerous, destabilizing stuff.
ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York City, this is CHARLIE ROSE.
CHARLIE ROSE: The Syrian conflict reached new levels this week. The Assad
regime and the Syrian opposition groups accused each other of using
chemical weapons. The allegations were made only hours before President
Obama’s departure to Israel yesterday. The White House has yet to verify
the claims but lawmakers are increasingly calling for action.
Here’s what President Obama said earlier today in a joint press conference
with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
weapons, we intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened.
Obviously in Syria right now, you’ve got a war zone. You have information
that’s filtered out. But we have to make sure that we know exactly what
happened, what was nature of the incident, what can we document, what can
we prove.
So I’ve instructed my teams to work closely with all other countries in the
region and international organizations and institutions to find out
precisely whether or not this red line was crossed.
I will note without at this point having all the facts before me that we
know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon
attacks. We know that there are those in the Syrian government who have
expressed their willingness to use chemical weapons if necessary, to
protect themselves. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was
the opposition that used chemical weapons.
Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapon stockpiles inside of
Syria as well as the Syrian government’s capabilities I think would
question those claims, but I know that they’re floating out there right
The broader point is that once we establish the facts, I have made clear
that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.
CHARLIE ROSE: Joining me now from Washington, Michigan Congressman Mike
Rogers. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I am
pleased to have him on this program. Welcome.
MIKE ROGERS: Charlie thanks for having me.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is it that caused you to say, you know, there’s a
MIKE ROGERS: Well, there is a growing body of reporting for really about
18 months about what we believe the Syrian intention is, the fact -- the
public reports that last year they brought in and -- and put the weapons in
a configuration that could be used on short notice and I’m talking about
chemical weapons now.
And clearly the reports all along that there had been chemical weapons by
the opposition, some we didn’t find credible, but I just believe now,
Charlie, there’s a body of evidence, a body of reporting, that leads me to
believe as of yesterday that now the Syrians have in fact throughout this
conflict that in a small number of times used some quantity of chemical
CHARLIE ROSE: But they have not used the level that would make the world
community fearful of what could be extraordinarily damaging yet, obviously.
MIKE ROGERS: Yes and I think that’s right. And there’s some debate about
what level of chemical weapon may have been used in the case just recently.
And that’s -- that’s a fair debate to have. Here is my concern, though, is
that given, again, this whole body of reporting over the last two years,
that they have chemical weapons. I believe they have the intention to use
them under the right circumstances and I think that leads us to have to do
something about at least disrupting their capability to deliver those
chemical weapons. And we’re talking about thousands of people, a horrible
humanitarian crisis.
And I -- if we have the capability and I’m not talking about whole scale
war, boots on the grounds, none of that -- but if we have the capability to
disrupt it, I think we’re obligated to the international community,
certainly to our own national security interest, to prevent the use of a
weapon of mass destruction, chemical weapon.
CHARLIE ROSE: Are you calling for an airstrike at this time?
MIKE ROGERS: Well I think the United States has a whole series of
capabilities, Charlie that other countries don’t have. Some they do. Some
they don’t. It would be better in an international effort. But I -- there
are ways that we could -- we could make it so that they would not have the
ability to deliver those weapon systems. And I would argue that we ought
to pursue those -- those capabilities that the United States has,
especially given the debate that we’re having today that high probability
that chemical weapons have been used in the country of Syria.
This is probably the time, as the President called for that red line this
is the time we need to take action, if we’re going to prevent needless
civilian casualties.
CHARLIE ROSE: You see, the reason you are more credible than many on this
is because you’re chairman of the house intelligence committee and
therefore you have access to the information, the chair of the committee
has access, I think, more than anyone else and the President, obviously
sees more information -- the President probably sees more information that
you haven’t seen. And they seem to be careful about this and they’re not
wanting to -- to take it to the next step. Why is that?
MIKE ROGERS: Yes and I would dispute the President sees more -- the
President gets a daily briefing that’s certainly narrowed down. And I
don’t have those same restrictions on the narrow down. So we have the
opportunity to get more broadly into these issues and look at all of the
reports as they come in. And I argue that’s my job as chairman of the
house intelligence committee to do just that.
CHARLIE ROSE: So there’s nothing -- just let me interrupt you only because
there’s nothing that the DNI would tell the President that you wouldn’t
have seen as well?
MIKE ROGERS: That’s probably likely, yes. At least when it comes to this
issue over the course of the last two years, I believe that’s right and
accurate. And I have the ability to follow up with other information and
questions. That being said, what I think you see happening now is that
that you have the Israeli official who said that he believed chemical
weapons were used. You have certainly Dianne Feinstein yesterday said
there’s a high probability. I have said there’s a high probability, based
on a whole couple of years’ worth of body of reports that I have seen.
I mean, it’s clearly, there’s many of us who believe they’ve crossed that
threshold. And I understand the President’s reluctance to say today and
would like to look at his options and I think he should do that. But at
some point we need to -- we’ve all acknowledged he has those weapons.
We’ve acknowledged now that there’s intent to be used, many across the
intelligence communities believe they have used these weapons.
You can’t wait for a pile of corpses to decide that that’s the evidence
that you have to move forward. I think that’s a disaster for us. And it’s
really concerning to me that -- this is the time and we have a very short
window here I think to make a decision and I’m encouraging the President to
take action with the special capabilities that we have.
CHARLIE ROSE: I’m just trying to nail this down.
CHARLIE ROSE: So I mean, when you say they’ve been used, what are we
talking about -- what are we talking about specifically and how serious was
it and why wasn’t there more discussion of it?
MIKE ROGERS: Yes, I think and again this is over a whole body of -- I want
to make very clear a whole body of report over the last 18 months to two
years. We believe that there are -- I believe there were instances where
small quantities of chemical weapons have been used and I believe there’s
some validity to what has happened recently and certainly they had
intentions. Certainly they had the capability. Certainly they had the
weapons and I think they had the intention and I do believe some quantity
has been used.
CHARLIE ROSE: And used with all the killing capacity of these killing of
these chemical weapons?
MIKE ROGERS: No I don’t -- yes that’s the one argument I think-- not
argument, but debate that we’re having amongst ourselves about why to this
level, why not use something bigger, stronger? And I think there’s a whole
series of reasons that could be, including, you know, the possibility of
mishandling the -- the weapon itself and trying to stay under the radar of
international condemnation. I think all of those things are probably
factors in this.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do we have evidence that they have moved the chemical
MIKE ROGERS: Well, last summer, as was publicly reported, they had -- they
had been moving chemical munitions from sites. The Syrians publicly said
that was to make them more secure, but we also know, according to public
reports that they had configured the weapons -- you know there takes some
configuration in order to make them viable to be used as a chemical weapon
in a -- in a missile or -- or other projectile. We think that, according
to these public reports happened.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right, so the Russian foreign minister sat at this table
that I’m sitting at now, as well as the Russian ambassador to the United
Nations and they have said to me that they have communicated to Bashar al
Assad that absolutely chemical weapons were not to be used. You have said
that there is a clear intent. What’s between the two?
MIKE ROGERS: Well, you have to remember this is a regime that has you know
continuing giving a more isolated in the international community. They do
have Iran and Russia as a -- on each shoulder trying to prop them up, but
at some point, that pressure is -- is put on senior officers, midlevel
officers, this unit that handles chemical weapons.
And so there’s some debate in the intelligence community if Assad has
complete and full control or if he’s expressed the use to use everything
that we have to stop the rebels and that is interpreted somewhere down that
chain of command that well, we have chemical weapons, let’s use those.
And there are some debate that they look at it just as a weapon, any other
weapon they would use to either secure -- secure territory and/or try to
disrupt and certainly hurt the morale of the rebels that are you know doing
the fighting.
And so we think all of those combination of details are going on right now
as we speak. So just the Russians coming in saying hey don’t do it is
probably as strong as the American say hey, don’t do it. And now we have
to decide if there’s a red line, what do we do now?
CHARLIE ROSE: OK I want to say -- one more question about that. Is there
any evidence that you have seen, from U.S. sources or anywhere else, that
Bashar al Assad has said or communicated that he would in fact at some
point be willing to use chemical weapons?
MIKE ROGERS: I can’t talk about any specific source of information. I can
tell you that over a long body of reporting, I have come to the conclusion
that they have the intent to use chemical weapons under the right
circumstances and that’s what’s so concerning.
CHARLIE ROSE: And what are the right circumstances?
MIKE ROGERS: Well, we don’t know. I think -- again, the regime is under
pressure. And it is -- there is some again, some debate, if there is some
interpretation what that means even amongst themselves. But again, they
have them. They have configured them. They have fired scud missiles
before and I believe they have the intent to use them if they believe that
will help their end game of defeating the rebels.
CHARLIE ROSE: Your advice to the President is what?
MIKE ROGERS: I would -- you know if you issue a red line for our allies
and our adversaries, it can’t be a pink line. It can’t be a dotted line.
It can’t be an imaginary line. It has to be a red line. And that’s always
the danger in issuing red line statements.
But now it’s more important than ever. So the opposition is clearly
watching and wondering. And I think our allies in the region, who are
really angry with the United States about their lack of participation and
I’m not just talking about military, but in the whole sense of being a
center of influence for an outcome in Syria, they’re pretty frustrated.
That tells me that at the very least, we need to take action to disrupt
their ability to deliver chemical weapons. I don’t want to be on the wrong
side of that. I don’t want the President to be on the wrong side of it. I
don’t want the United States to be on the wrong side of that, for our own
national security, as well as the humanitarian issue of having this massive
chemical weapon go off and kill just thousands of civilians.
CHARLIE ROSE: And so what is the response if that fact happens, if
chemical weapons go off and they go past the red line and they do it before
the administration has acted? What is our response then?
MIKE ROGERS: Yes I think that’s a whole different discussion. I still
think you’d have to at the bare minimum try to disrupt their ability to
deliver any further munitions. And then I think we would have to have a
long, sobering conversation about what would come next.
I can tell you this, Charlie, I mean, I did call for -- this thing is going
bad. And let me tell you, you know people are probably wondering why is
there a national security interest here and why are we so eager -- I mean,
clearly I think people understand the moral obligation to stop a weapon of
mass destruction and chemical weapons for being used but what about the
broader national security interest to the United States?
Right now, we’re in a horrible spot. You have the opposition who have lost
faith in the United States. They even at one time denied a meeting with
the Secretary of State of the United States. That’s -- that’s not a good
sign. Then you have our allies in the region, the Arab League, really
frustrated with the United States don’t think we’re doing enough. That
means that our any diplomatic solution and I’m for a diplomatic solution we
have no credibility to do it.
So you have this -- this horrible possibility that if Assad falls and there
is a huge vacuum and chaos ensues, that you have Hezbollah there. You have
al Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front folks there you have some Hamas elements there and
you have lots of chemical weapons and lots of very sophisticated
conventional weapons that will be up for grabs. And that chaos will cause
huge trouble for the Hamas, for the Middle East, for southern Europe and I
argue for the United States.
Remember, these are sophisticated weapon systems, would make Libya look
like an antique gun show when all of those weapons spread across Northern
Africa, really dangerous, destabilizing stuff.
So all of these things I think have to happen at the same time. I would
like to see a safe zone with a no-fly zone in the North so you can train
and vet and properly equip soldiers that have U.S. training to reengage in
the battlefield and prevent the use of those scud missiles. And we have
the capability to do all of that. No big boots on the ground. No major
military involvement, well -- and I think at the end of the day it would
serve our purpose.
CHARLIE ROSE: I think you know that there is a debate as to whether you
can do this without boots on the ground. I mean clearly, there are
military possibilities of using air power here, but there are many who
question whether you can do it and safely coral those chemical weapons
without boots on the ground, coming from somewhere.
MIKE ROGERS: Well, here’s the difference. If you’re talking about trying
to provide a platform for reasserting our credibility with the opposition
and our allies -- remember, our allies are in there, but it’s a little bit
confusing about who is getting weapons and why they’re getting weapons.
Now you have all of these bad actors there. We all agree on that.
This would be that interim step. So it would be the ability to take folks,
train them to U.S. standards in a very quick way. Equip them with the
right kind of equipment to get back into the fight so that we regain and
re-establish that support from opposition. When this falls, we’re going to
need opposition folks to help us secure these weapons system. Not as the
Pentagon would tell you, let’s take 70,000 U.S. troops. That would be a
mistake. I wouldn’t be for that.
So in order for that not to happen we have to immediately go in and try to
square the confidence of these opposition forces and do it in a way that
protects U.S. national security interests. You don’t want to arm the bad
guys. But we do want to have some influence when this is over so that they
can help us secure both conventional and chemical weapon stockpiles.
CHARLIE ROSE: But -- are you -- when history looks back at what happened
in Syria we do not know the end yet but when history looks back is it
possible that they will say if the United States had -- had come in early
on the side of the rebels, we might have had a different circumstance
because now it’s changed and the timeline is different because so many
people who are not friends of the United States have come in on the side of
the rebels?
MIKE ROGERS: I think that’s right. I really do. And unfortunately so
because what happened is -- and in any event -- so we saw this in Northern
Mali. When they get success, they use that as a recruiting tool and I’m
talk about they, I’m talking about al Qaeda and those types of groups.
Well al-Nusra Front is really a front for al Qaeda in Iraq who came in they
were the best trained fighters, the best equipped fighters and the most
committed fighters.
So you had this relatively secular opposition forces who were engaging and
embracing these folks because it was really the best chance they had,
especially in tough fighting. And so once those successes started to
happen, it got worse. It inflamed. So had Hezbollah coming in from the
north. They’re interested in getting a hold of these weapons and they have
their interest in supporting the Alawites. You have al Qaeda coming in
from Iraq there’s -- I believe some elements at least of Hamas up in there
looking for certain weapons systems that they can get their hands on, all
at the same time.
And the void and the vacuum was U.S. leadership. It just wasn’t there.
And that’s what our allies will tell us, the Arab League allies who are
trying to do something about this. So now is at least the chance to try to
repair some of the damage and position ourselves to be in a better outcome
when Assad does go and he’s going to go. We just don’t know when.
CHARLIE ROSE: And if you looked at it today apart from the chemical weapon
debate, where would you -- what’s the win component?
MIKE ROGERS: The win component to me if you look at our national security
interest is to make sure all of those sophisticate weapons systems stay
there. And that chemical weapons as well.
Candidly, Charlie and I’ve come a long way on this I argued, listen, if we
want a diplomatic solution you know the Russians are probably have to be a
part of that. They’re the one folks that could walk into the room with
Assad and say, "Come on. You’re coming with me. This thing is over." And
not have a chaotic breakdown, a fundamental chaotic society breakdown that
costs us any chance of securing weapons systems.
I think that ought to be the number one priority of the United States going
into this now. Saving those lives and securing those weapon systems so we
don’t have a bigger, broader problem that costs more lives, huge
humanitarian crisis -- imagine the refugees fleeing in all directions the
doomsday scenario of this is real and quite concerning. This other
alternative I talk about is really to me the best possible outcome so that
you have Syrians and Arab League soldiers helping secure the sites that
we’re concerned about and some interim government that doesn’t bring chaos
so you still have police forces. You still have some sense of security,
which is really critical.
That to me would be best possible outcome at this stage of the fight. And
we’re not ready for that to happen yet, candidly.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well when I went to see King Abdullah of Jordan, where the
President is going it see him in a day or two, one of the things that he
said to me at that time was the key to this were the Alawites and that the
U.S. and the Russians have to convince them, convince them that this is not
a fight to the end. Because that’s what they fear that they will be wiped
MIKE ROGERS: Clearly. And who fans that flame but Iran right. The
Alawites are a Shiite sect closer to Iran than they are to the Sunnis. And
so Hezbollah has been working on that psychological effort. Iran is
working on that psychological effort. And they’re fanning the flames. And
we’re really, the Alawites have been the main fighting force and most loyal
troops that Assad has.
And part of that is because they do passionately believe that if they lose,
they get literally wiped out, that there will be retribution killings and
it will be awful. And so that’s why some are arguing, well, they’re trying
to build an enclave in the north.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right, right.
MIKE ROGERS: So when Assad goes they all go to the north and hunker down
for a fight and moving weapon systems that would allow them to sustain
that. All of those things are concerning. That’s why I think that there’s
a diplomatic solution that could go in with the Russians and let them
understand that we will protect the Alawites just as we will anyone else in
the country, as long as we get no chaos in the process.
Now, you won’t be able to stop it all, but in the perfect outcome, that
diplomatic solution and again, in order to get there you have to have the
credibility of the opposition, credibility of the Arab League, which we do
not have today -- that would be the best outcome.
And tough outcome at that, because the Alawites are going to still be very
hard to convince that they are -- they don’t have to fight to the bitter
CHARLIE ROSE: How do you convince the Russians to do this?
MIKE ROGERS: You know I would -- the Russians are in the mode now of not
allowing you know they see that the United States would have influence,
Assad leaving, which is their toe hold in the Middle East. And that’s one
of their concerns. They have a strategic concern in their mind. They also
have a sense of pride in their minds but I will tell you that warm water
port for them is important.
MIKE ROGERS: And I would argue they have a 10-year lease, maybe part of
that negotiation is to allow them to keep that 10-year lease, and then this
next Syrian government could negotiate what happens next at the end of 10
You know they -- I think they have to have something to save face. If they
could be seen as part of the arrangement where Assad peacefully leaves the
country and everything is stood down. That would be I think equally
important part of the conversation.
The Russians aren’t there yet. Don’t get me wrong. Mainly because I think
they think that this is a long, protracted fight and in their mind, that
benefits them. If we can show them that this is not a long, protracted
fight and they’re going to be on the wrong side of history here, we might
get them motivated to help us in a diplomatic way.
CHARLIE ROSE: They also have the element of Libya which made them very
unhappy the way that Libya unfolded.
MIKE ROGERS: Oh clearly and they look at it as the United States you know
had a -- had a regime change, if you will -- this is the Russian
perspective in Libya. That -- that wasn’t good for them. They don’t want
to see another one in -- in Syria. You know, they do have a pretty good
cache weapons business in Syria that they don’t want to lose, either. And
of course their efforts a strange alliance with Iran; they’re talking about
enriching their uranium and bringing it to them and all those kind of
So the Russians are up to no good, but I think we can get them to a place
where I think it’s in their best interest, that would be a diplomatic coup,
I think.
CHARLIE ROSE: And it is said that it’s listing post for them as well.
MIKE ROGERS: Oh absolutely -- that’s their toe hold in the Middle East --
they -- that’s the one place they have almost absolute freedom of movement
-- at least before the civil war -- they could do what they needed. They
were an integral part of training the Syrian military on their weapons
It’s quite a coup for them to have that, especially in that pretty tough
neighborhood. They would lose that in their mind and that’s worst of all
outcomes and that’s why I think we’ve got to convince them that this thing
isn’t going to last much longer. You’re on the wrong side of chemical
weapons. It’s not going to -- you’ll have that stain on your international
reputation if you let this go forward, this might be the time to convince
them we’re in the right spot.
CHARLIE ROSE: Mike Rogers, thank you so much. It’s good to have you on
this program and have a real conversation. So I thank you very much.
MIKE ROGERS: Charlie thanks for having a real conversation. It doesn’t
happen in the news business too much anymore, thank you.