THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
August 21, 2013
Guests: Charles Blair, Dan Rather
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for staying with us
for the next.
There is a lot going on in the news today. But we`re going to start
here in New York City where the United Nations has today called an
emergency session to convene the Security Council of the U.N. on an
emergency basis late today to respond to what looks like it may have been
the largest chemical weapons attack in the world since Saddam Hussein
gassed his own people back in 1988.
And it looks like is the key phrase here. It`s hard to prove. It is
hard to tell conclusively when chemical weapons have been used especially
if you are trying to tell from a distance. In that Iraq case you just saw
a footage of from 1988, it took four years for experts to confirm that
chemical weapons were, in fact, used then.
Physicians for Human Rights is one of the first groups to get into the
site. They collected soil samples and they tested them. The soil samples
did show trace evidence of the elements that sarin gas breaks down into
And with those soil samples, they were able to conclude that Saddam
Hussein had used sarin and also mustard gas, like from World War I, mustard
gas, on the Kurdish-Iraqi civilian population that lived in the town called
Halabja. They estimated that Saddam killed about 5,000 people in that gas
Lots of countries have sarin gas or have had it at some point. The
United States and Russia both used to mass produce sarin during the Cold
War. Now, technically, sarin is illegal. The International Chemical
Weapons Convention banned in 1993.
But a handful of countries refused to sign on to that convention --
Angola, North Korea, Egypt, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. Those
countries did not agree that sarin should be illegal. They didn`t sign on
to that convention making it illegal, and that last country on the list
there in the lower right, Syria, they are thought to have some of the
largest stockpiles of sarin gas in the whole world.
Syria reportedly started making chemical weapons in the 1970s. They
really stepped it up during the 1980s. And now, they are thought to have
some of the largest stockpiles on earth.
In the civil war that has been raging for more than two years in
Syria, there are frequent allegations that the government is using chemical
weapons against the opposition forces and specifically against civilians.
The Syrian government itself denies ever using chemical weapons. They do
say however that they think chemical weapons have been used during their
civil war but they blame the rebel side. They say it`s the rebels that
have been using WMD.
Either way, these things are much easier to allege than they are to
prove. Many countries do have chemical weapons but the actual use of them
is pretty rare. And a number of things like tear gas and other riot
control gases, they may not count as WMD. They may not count as chemical
weapons technically but when those things are misused, they can still cause
some of the same superficial effects as proper chemical weapons, especially
if they`re used in concentrated doses.
There are things that can happen in war, even in civil unrest, that
can look like chemical warfare agents being deployed that aren`t actually
This spring, the allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria hit a
high enough pitch and caused enough international concern that U.N. weapons
inspectors are finally able to start negotiations to get into Syria, to try
to conclusively determine if chemical weapons were being used in that war,
because you can`t tell from pictures. You really do need physical samples.
You have to go there.
And so, the U.N. inspectors started negotiating about five months ago,
but they were let in. They got in this past weekend, and they are there
now. They were there today, early this morning when opposition groups say
that around 2:00 a.m., at around 2:00 a.m., the Syrian government started
launching attacks on a rebel-held area just east of Damascus, shooting
surface-to-surface rockets that allegedly contained chemical weapons.
Civilians shot amateur video, the images that have been coming out of
that part of Syria have not been verified as real by NBC News. They appear
to have come from cell phone cameras. In most cases, footage is gruesome
and upsetting. Dozens of videos showing dozens if not hundreds of victims,
almost all of whom appear to be dead, and those who do not appear to be
dead appear to be dying or at least in very great distress.
Regardless of what caused these deaths, the deaths themselves
especially of so many children shown in this footage, it`s unspeakably
At this juncture, the death toll overall is still unclear. However,
the estimates range from the hundreds to more than 1,000 killed today in
And, of course, what is notable about these images other than just how
terrible they are is that the people who appear to have been killed in this
attack do not show any outward signs of violence. They`re not bloody.
They don`t show signs of the kinds of things that kill you from explosions
and debris and shrapnel -- the other causes of death that typically occur
in a conventional military attack of the size that would cause this many
casualties. They don`t look hurt but they`re dead.
And so, the U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting this
afternoon to look into this alleged chemical weapons attack. If this was a
chemical weapons attack of this scale in Syria today, it is the worst use
of WMD against civilians anywhere in the world in the past 25 years.
But, again, we do not know if this was definitely chemical weapons.
You cannot tell from looking.
Some experts are suggesting that it could potentially be a crowd
control agent like tear gas, maybe used in a confined space and, therefore,
its effects were heightened, possibly a weakened form of a more powerful
It was this interesting quote from "The Washington Post". Look, Ralf
Trapp, an independent expert in biological weapons based in France, says
the video broadly appeared to show the aftermath of intoxication from a
nerve agent. He said it`s certainly consistent with what you would see if
a nerve agent was used.
However, he says, questions remain as to why medical staff who appear
in close proximity to the victims in the videos wearing little protection
do not themselves appear to show symptoms. Quote, "If it was sarin, there
would be a certain amount present on the hair and skin and whoever handles
them would pick up some of the effects."
Here is a question, also, strategically. We know Syria has chemical
weapons. If Syria did use them today, why did they pick today? Why now?
Why would they use them when the U.N. inspectors just arrived in their
U.N. inspectors are in Syria right now able and eager to investigate
exactly this sort of thing. Why pick now to launch this large scale
And with this emergency meeting at the U.N. convened today, the short
term question is whether those investigators who are in Syria already,
whether they will allowed into the site of this alleged internationally
important atrocity today to see if what seems to have happened actually
The Syrian government is denying they did anything wrong here, denying
they have used chemical weapons at all. If so, they should let the
inspectors go check to see for themselves, to prove it, to verify it, if
those increasingly implausible denials are, in fact, true.
Joining us now from Cairo is NBC News chief foreign correspondent
Richard, thanks very much for being with us tonight.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It is a
It seems to be a very important story, and we`ve spoken to doctors and
members of the Syrian opposition who are in these affected areas and they
have expressed no doubt whatsoever that something awful happen. They
believe a chemical weapon attack, those death toll estimates they believe
are in the higher end 1,000-plus.
But as you`ve been saying time and time again, we`re here in Cairo
doing the best we can. The Syrian government does not allow independent
access to these areas. They`re not allowing the U.N. weapons inspectors
into these areas.
So, based on phone calls, witness accounts, videos we`re piecing
together what seems to be an atrocity that took place.
Some of the video you showed, all those toddlers and infants lining up
still, apparently dead, you can`t fake that. You can`t convince children
to play dead for long periods of time.
There`s just some of the videos you were showing, these are the most
sanitized because other videos are so disturbing that they`re not fit for
broadcast. But we saw dozens and dozens of children limp, being carried in
MADDOW: Richard, talking to experts doing the interviews that you did
today, making the phone calls, talking to your contacts and your trusted
sources in Syria, how do you distinguish what you are hearing about this
potential attack today, this attack today from what we`ve heard before
because we have heard allegations in the past from rebel groups that
chemical weapons have been used? They`ve been trying to convince the world
that Assad has been using chemical weapons regularly and on a large scale
How do you distinguish what you`re hearing today from what you`ve
ENGEL: A completely different scale. In the past, there were many
allegations, not just one or two but more than a dozen allegations of
chemical weapons being used in very small doses. And it was always
something that I`ve struggled to understand why the Bashar al-Assad regime
would do that, why bother using an internationally banned weapon to kill a
person or two people, or even a few people.
And U.S. officials I have spoken to and some intelligence officials
suggested that this was being done, and the U.S. just in June came out and
said they believe this was happening, that the Syrian regime was using
chemical amounts in small doses in order to terrorize the opposition, to
terrorize their enemies, to convince them to stop fighting, to leave, to
leave the country, to become refugees.
This was a different scale of attack. This was designed to punish a
group of people, to stop a rebellion that was right on the outskirts of
Damascus. This is according to the Syrian opposition a different kind of
attack to prevent the rebels from moving on to the capital. That`s what
the opposition is telling us when we`re talking to them in Syria today.
MADDOW: Richard, strategically, thinking about not just the scale of
the attack but the timing of the attack, what do you make of the fact this
has happened literally just days after the U.N. weapons inspectors arrived
in Syria? I can`t make sense of that at all.
ENGEL: I can`t either. It either means that the government doesn`t
care, that the Bashar al-Assad government feels so emboldened that it
really isn`t concerned at all, and there have been critics of the
international policy -- not just U.S. policy -- towards Syria saying that
Bashar al-Assad should have no reason to be concerned. He`s crossed red
lines in the past and survived it.
If you look at the larger situation in the Arab world, the military
especially here in Egypt are making a comeback. Nobody really seems to be
overly sympathetic toward the Syrian rebels. So, why it did he do it?
Because he could. That`s one argument.
The other argument that Russia seems to back, that Assad seems to be
arguing is that this is all a fabrication, that the Syrian rebels are
killing themselves or faking all of these videos and faking all of the
witness accounts, including convincing people who I know and trust to lie
to me in order to get more sympathy from the international community.
MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent reporting
for us tonight from Cairo -- Richard, thank you so much. It`s really good
to have you weighing in on this, man. Thanks.
All right. I want to bring into the conversation now, Charles Blair.
He is a chemical weapons expert. He`s a senior fellow at the American
Federation of Scientists.
Mr. Blair, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Appreciate
CHARLES BLAIR, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF SCIENTISTS: Thank you so much
for having me.
MADDOW: We`ve been talking in layman`s terms about how difficult it
is to determine if chemical weapons have been used from afar looking at
secondhand material, looking at cell phone videos, the kind of evidence
that we have out of Syria, what should we be looking for and how much can
you as an expert tell already from what`s been made publicly available?
BLAIR: Well, let me start with your second question first, what
should we be looking for in general. It`s very difficult from a visual
context to ascertain what`s going on. In fact, it`s impossible to draw any
sort of definitive conclusion.
Some governments have relied entirely on visual confirmation to assert
that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.
But essentially what you need to do is you need to get people from the
U.N., the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to go to
these sites and conduct highly rigorous scientific investigations, and they
determine only if an agent has been used or not used. But what they don`t
tell us -- which is the most important story, I think, that`s not being
captured -- is even if the U.N. team were to go into the alleged area that
got struck today, they could not verify nor are they charged with
determining who was responsible for the act.
So, they can tell if you an act has occurred, but we will never have
this conclusive evidence of who was responsible for it.
MADDOW: In terms of the U.N. inspectors, we know that negotiations
are under way right now for them to try to get to where these events took
place today. Again, this attack was 2:00 a.m. local time today. It`s
still very short notice but they are in country and trying to make -- get
negotiate -- trying to negotiate and get close to the scene or the scene
Scientifically, how long do they have? Is there a time at which it
won`t matter whether or not they get there because essentially the
scientific statute of limitations has expired on whether or not they can
determine whether it happened?
BLAIR: That`s a great question. Let`s just assume that the agent was
sarin, for example. So, sarin, it evaporates rather quickly. You had
mentioned that before. There had been a discussion that I thought was very
But then also it does linger in soil, depending on whether it`s in
acquiesce (ph) or an acidic environment. So, there are reports that
lasting up to 22 weeks, in some cases possibly two years, but it`s highly
doubtful. You have to know where to go after a certain point in time,
after a few days really to get confirmation that the degradation
components, what sarin dissolves into, are present. You can do it, but --
and this is an interesting case because before when the inspectors were
coming in, they were going to be looking at three areas that had
experienced alleged sarin attacks in December of 2012 and then back in
February. So, it`s very doubtful they were going to find those degradation
Now, if by some miracle they were able to get into the area even
today, they could find actual fresh sarin. They could not even the
But you do have to act fairly quickly. If you don`t, then you have to
be a better sleuth at finding out where the crater is or where the
particles may have gone. But you can, with enough investigation, up to 22
weeks, possibly longer, you can still find if the atmospheric conditions
are the right way, evidence of sarin.
MADDOW: Charles Blair, chemical weapons expert, senior fellow at
American Federation of Scientists, thank you very much for your time
tonight. It`s helpful to have some expert opinion in sorting this out. I
BLAIR: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Lots more ahead tonight -- including our guest,
Dan Rather, who is here just ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: You want to see the memory hole in action? Do you want to
see something disappear from history?
All right. Here is what actually happened. This is an elections
board meeting in North Carolina. And this elections board, like all of
them all across the state, has just been taken over by the Republican
Now that the Republican Party has taken over in this one county in
North Carolina, what the Republicans on the board want to do is they want
to take three Democratic-leaning precincts in their county and combine them
all into one giant mega precinct. It would become one of the biggest in
the whole state.
College students on the local campus who are used to being able to
vote on campus, they will not be able to vote on campus anymore. They are
going to consolidate three different precincts, including the one that was
at the school, into one big one that`s going to be in the town.
That is what they are fighting about at this meeting, and the fight
over whether or not to do that, and the fight over whether or not that is
fair, and the fight over whether or not that is a good idea is the fight
that has just been disappeared from history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHLEEN CAMPBELL, WATAUGA CO. BOARD OF ELECTIONS: And do you not
already have it budgeted to use both the student union and --
JANE ANN HODGES, BOARD OF ELECTIONS DIRECTOR: We did budget for two
CAMPBELL: Right. And how much will it save money to close one of
HODGES: Really none.
CAMPBELL: So it doesn`t, it doesn`t save any money. OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that actually happened in real life. The lone Democrat
left on the local board questioning the local nonpartisan official who has
run elections for decades, saying, if we go ahead with this plan is it
going to save any money? And the local official says, no, no, it`s not
going to save any money.
So that happened in real life last week. And the minutes kept of that
board meeting reflect the fact that that happened in real life.
Member Campbell asked Director Hodges how much money would the
establishment of the super precinct save. Director Hodges answers: none.
So, here is how the memory hole works. These minutes exist. These
are the minutes of the meeting you just saw on tape. The Republicans have
just taken over that board, sent those minutes back to be redone.
No, thank you. We don`t approve that this actually happened. We do
not approve of the fact that what we are saying we need to do to save money
will not actually save any money and that`s on the record. We would like
to change the record. We would like the minutes to be expunged.
So, they sent the minutes back and said, please can you make them
smaller? The local nonpartisan election folks said, OK, and they shortened
them up a little bit, made them more concise. Then, the Republicans who
run the board said, no, no, no, no, no. That is not enough.
They went through the new shortened minutes and cut out more things
out of them, things that they did not want to be in the minutes. They
produced their own version which is much, much shorter, which looks like
this, and does not have any of those pesky details of the things that
actually happened in real life for which they do not want to be a record.
In the new minutes, that whole discussion about how it`s going to save
any money, the way that appears in the new minutes is this. There was
discussion by the board. And that`s it. That`s all that`s in the new
And this is the part where -- are you watching? If you`re watching me
on DVR hit pause. If you`re watching me on DVR on podcast or something you
can pause, you`re going to want to pause me in a second. If you`re
watching me live, hello, thank you, and you maybe just want to grab a piece
of paper and make a note to yourself to take care of this during the
commercial break, because what I need you to do and what you should want to
do when I tell you this, is that you need to pay and subscribe to your
Whatever it is your local paper needs you. It needs to exist. It
needs to have enough reporters on staff to have enough subscriber income to
pay for local reporters and to pay for editors so you can actually get
coverage of what goes on at these usually pretty boring meetings in your
county and in your town because sometimes they`re really important.
And God bless "The Winston-Salem Journal," God bless that local
newspaper. They sent reporter Bertrand Gutierrez to that freaking board
meeting in Boone, North Carolina, and he heard the big fight over the
minutes -- about trying to make these things disappear from the record,
these things that actually happed, they`re going to be disappeared from the
And that reporter did the reportorial thing you are supposed to do in
that circumstance and he filed a public records request and he got all of
the different versions of the minutes released to him, released to the
newspaper, all three different versions. So, he`s got the minutes that
show what actually happened and he`s got the proposed nonpartisan
revisions, and he`s got the way the Republicans want it remembered
So these are the original minutes of what actually happens, and these
are the approved minutes, the Republican Party`s approved history of this
discussion which doesn`t include any of the embarrassing stuff. That would
be all that we knew about if it were not for "The Winston-Salem Journal."
Thanks to their good reporting.
This is really embarrassing. For what the Republican takeover of
elections in North Carolina looks like right now.
I mean, it`s embarrassing to try to cover up what actually happened.
I mean, even beyond the paper, though, what ends up being truly
embarrassing is some activist also thought to record the entire meeting on
camera and post the video online. It`s more than an hour long and that`s
long for a YouTube video of a fluorescent lit local board meeting, but this
video has had tens of thousands of views on online, and maybe that`s
because local government is riveting, especially if you`re a civics dork.
But I think it`s because county elections boards are doing stuff
that`s really controversial, that`s really making a lot of people very
angry and a lot of people want to know about it.
Today in Cary, North Carolina, the new Republican appointee who`s been
put in charge of elections statewide by the Republican governor there, he
convened a meeting in Cary, North Carolina, of all the new elections boards
across the state. Again, they`ve all just become Republican dominated
board. They`ve installed a Republican majority on all 100 county boards in
North Carolina. They`ve all been taken over.
And at their statewide meeting today, the Republican chairman of the
state board of elections summarized what they all need to know as they
embark on this complete Republican takeover of the elections in their
According to "The A.P.", the elections chairman said to this
conference, quote, "The real theme of our conference needs to be: let`s not
have anymore of our meetings show up on YouTube."
Let`s not the have -- that`s what we need to focus on. Yes, if for no
other reason than when you try to erase the history of what actually
happens at those meetings and pretend it didn`t really happen that way, it
is way more embarrassing when somebody can roll the tape on you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMPBELL: Right. And how much will it save money to close one of
HODGES: Really none.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: None. That really happened. You can pretend it didn`t but
you`re going to be laughed at, in case they`re pretending. They`ve made it
the official minutes that that never happened but that happened.
In Winston-Salem proper last night, there was a really big turnout at
their elections board. There, the new Republican majority is also talking
about taking away the local voting site at the college.
In Winston-Salem, the local college happens to be the local black
college, Winston Salem State University. Last night, dozens of students
from the school showed up and packed the house for that local elections
board meeting. The students were only back at school this week but they
showed up in great numbers last night at their local elections board
meeting, showing their faces to show that they are paying attention.
As "The Winston-Salem Journal" put it, they wanted to show the board
that they are paying attention.
The board appears to be paying attention, too, even though they have a
new Republican majority, like every elections board in the state now. They
tabled their proposed measure about closing down voting at the local black
college. They tabled that until next year.
Another idea they had was to station cops at polling places now. The
new Republican majority on the board had planned on doing that. They
apparently looked out at the crowd at the meeting last night and decided,
yes, maybe not.
The president of the student body at Winston-Salem State said the
students will remain interested to see if other policies will affect them
from their local county board. He said, quote, "We will be watching."
MADDOW: You know, it is a weird thing about what`s going on in North
Carolina with this radical effort to upturn voting rights there. I mean,
the Republicans are doing this in a very systemic way, right from the
governor down to the legislature, border to border, across the state, in
every county in the state, but nobody from their side is really
articulating and defending what it is they are doing. They`re trying to do
it without having to talk about it too much or without at least explaining
what they`re doing or maybe trying not to explain it honestly.
When the Republican Governor Pat McCrory got asked by "The A.P." about
the radical change in voting rights that he was signing into law last week,
one of the questions reporters asked him was why there was any reason to
make it harder to register to vote in the state. He responded by saying
that it`s not hard to register to vote in the states. He said Republicans
are not trying to change that. He said there`s plenty of opportunity for
voter registration online, off line, through many methods.
Actually, no, you can`t register to vote online in North Carolina.
The governor says you can, which makes it sound like it`s super easy, but
it`s not true. You can`t.
When reporters pressed him about why North Carolina was ending its
civics program which preregisters 16 and 17-year-olds so they can vote as
soon as they turn 18, the governor responded by saying, quote, "I don`t
know enough. I`m sorry I haven`t seen that part of the bill."
When someone will not explain what it is that they are doing, it`s
sometimes the clearest sign you are ever going to get that they can`t
defend what they are doing.
If you have to expunge from the record or pretend like it didn`t
happen when you were challenged on what you were doing, if you have to say
you are pursuing policies you are not actually pursuing. If you have to
deny knowledge of the policies that you are pursuing, that you are signing
into law, it probably means that you don`t have a good argument for those
policies, which means you can only hold on to those policies and justify
them through muscle, right, through pure political force.
And political ends that can only be sought and held on to by pure
political force are weak and vulnerable.
It is not an accident that when Hillary Rodham Clinton chose to give
her first speech on policy issues since she stepped down as secretary of
state, essentially her kickoff speech for what everyone assumes is going to
be her run for president, I think it is not an accident that the topic she
picked for her first policy speech, for her first step back onto the
political stage, was voting rights. Her first speech was voting rights and
she called out North Carolina by name for its indefensible radical roll
back of voting rights.
What`s happening in North Carolina is so interesting and is of such
national importance not just because of how hard Republicans are pushing on
this issue, I think this is also of national importance now because of the
magnitude of what the Republicans are experiencing right now as the push
back against them.
MADDOW: If you are going to be trusted with great power, you have to
prove yourself to be trustworthy. The more responsibility you are given,
the more responsible you have to be. And that works in reverse, too.
Great, great high and mighty irresponsibility is unfolding before our very
eyes, and that story is next.
MADDOW: In a non-democratic country, whoever is running that country,
just asserts whatever power they want. Whether it is a king or a ruling
military junta or religious supreme leader or something, they just declare
what their powers are with or without justification for why they should
have those powers and then those are the powers that they have.
Our own Bill of Rights is kind of a nice, early American guide to the
powers that King George claimed for himself that really rubbed the
colonists the wrong way. We wouldn`t need our Bill of Rights, for example,
to ban the government from the power to quarter soldiers in our houses
unless King George had said he had that power and had been doing that to
the colonists and that had really annoyed them. But that`s what it said in
the Bill of Rights because he did that and hated it.
In our democratic country, the government does not just get to claim
whatever powers it wants. Its powers are circumscribed from the
Constitution. But also from us, from the laws that we consent to, that we
can revoke, that we vote for legislatures to enact and repeal.
We have to go along with it, we have to go along with the powers of
our government or our government cannot hold on to those powers, at least
for long. That`s democracy, right? Ruled by consent of the governed, we
have to consent.
And when the government wants to assume some new, broad power of some
kind, part of us deciding to trust you with that new real broad power is us
believing that you`ll use that power for the purpose you said it was
needed. That`s why, for example, Britain detaining journalist Glenn
Greenwald`s partner at an airport for nine hours this week under some new
British anti-terrorism law was not just objectionable to the journalists
who are involved, it was also bad for the U.K. and to some extent the U.S.
If you guys only got this new power because you said you needed it to
fight terrorism, using it to fight Glenn`s boyfriend, use it for something
other than fighting terrorism makes people want to take that power away
from you. You are misusing the power that you`ve got so you don`t deserve
to have that power.
But being trusted with really broad power also depends on you just
seeming like you are competent and capable of handling heavy
responsibility. I mean, if your mom lets you borrow the keys to the car
and you take the keys to the car, you start up the car and you smash it
into a ditch on your first outing, then maybe mom is going to bump you back
down to riding a bike for a while, right? You have not proven yourself
capable of handling that responsibility.
Well, that`s what it feels like is happening right now with the
National Security Agency. A few days ago there was "The Washington Post"
scoop about the agency admitting thousands of mistakes, mistakes, errors
that led them to accidentally end up with Americans` private data when they
weren`t supposed to have it. Oops, sorry. Human error -- thousands and
thousands and thousands and tens of thousands of times, all of which
resulted on us spying on you more than we`re supposed to.
Now, today, it`s "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that it isn`t
just metadata that the NSA has been grabbing from our e-mails, it`s also
the content of our emails, the actual stuff you write. Now, the Obama
administration late today has just declassified a previously secret court
ruling which chastises the NSA for screwing up even more. Quote,
"Mishandling as many as tens of thousands of unrelated and purely domestic
communications collected on U.S. soil and without warrants."
The court also says it is troubled that this represents, quote, "The
third instance in less than three years in which the government has
disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major
And, even better, which I mean this isn`t any better, new
investigative reporting from NBC News today, finds out that in the whole
kerfuffle over the NSA leaker, who now has asylum in Russia, and who the
U.S. so desperately wants to persecute here, one seriously sobering new
detail about that whole story is that even now, more than two months after
he started leaking about the NSA to the press, the NSA has no idea what
data they took from them. They do not know how many documents he took.
They do not know what the documents are.
Government sources telling NBC that the NSA has, quote, "poor data
compartmentalization and poor audit capability, and that they have not been
able to do a complete damage assessment" of what this guy took. And this
is who we have given the power apparently or at least who has claimed the
power to monitor and capture all your phone calls, all your e-mail, all
your communications. They got the keys or at least they took the keys and
it turns out they can barely reach the pedals let alone steer.
In a democratic society, rule is by the consent of the governed.
Power is given. It is lent with the consent of the governed. And we are
not likely to continue consenting to it if you misuse that power or, more
importantly, if you are the freaking Keystone Kops who have no idea what
you are doing with that power.
Joining us now is Dan Rather. He`s the anchor and managing editor for
"Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV.
Dan, it is always a pleasure to have you here.
DAN RATHER, AXS TV: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Should it be comforting in a way that the government is
incompetent at overreaching? Is that better than if they were great at it?
RATHER: That`s better than being great at it. But, you know, as
reporters we get paid not to be cynical but to be skeptical and I am at
least somewhat skeptical that this was all just ineptitude, the Keystone
Kops, as you say. And I think the public at-large, certainly a large
percentage of it, is also very skeptical.
This is one of those situations where I think when you look at the
Snowden case, you look at the Manning scandal -- we`ll call it that --
what`s happening with NSA, for a lot of Americans this is demolishing the
trust in the government. And we know in our society, a constitutional
Republic based on freedom and democracy that it`s absolutely imperative to
a high degree of communicable trust between the leadership and the led.
These cases, including this most recent information, the new
information by the NSA, leads more and more Americans to distrust their
government. This is not healthy for us. And we immediate to slow down,
step back and have an ongoing dialogue about what kind of country do we
want, because deciding what our country has become in the post-9/11 era and
what we want it to be in the future is one of the overriding questions of
And I`d say we need to engage. A lot of people are on different sides
of this, that with the Manning verdict, you could see -- I think about 50
percent of the people see him as a hero. About 50 percent as a traitor.
But this is one of the situations where we can`t get locked into these
positions. You and I will probably get targeted on Twitter for having this
discussion but this is the kind of thing we need to be talking about.
What`s happened to us post-9/11? Where are do we want to go? What
kind of country should we become? What should the government be allowed to
One person`s opinion, the national security state has gone far too
far. You can argue in the first weeks, months, maybe the first years after
9/11 we needed to move to some extreme national security state position but
now in 2013, it`s going too far and I think there`s a sort of sinking
feeling with a lot of people that`s the case.
MADDOW: I think that when you balance what the government needs to do
in order to keep us safe, one of the things you need to do in order to even
have the argument reasonably is to know whether what they are doing
actually does keep us safe. And that`s why the NSA`s failures to even know
what Ed Snowden took from them seemed to me like an important -- seemed to
me like an important thing. If they don`t even know what they`ve got, and
they don`t know when something is gone, I`m not sure I want to trust them
with everything that they`re taking.
RATHER: Well, I think a lot of people have that view. Keep in mind
that we know that there`s vast over-classification that although the
Manning documents, I think, those combined with the Snowden documents, if
you will, I think about 1 percent of what`s been classified. There`s
something like 77 million different documents that have been classified.
Now, this over-classification I think is unhealthy for society. But
it also leaves these situations but even the agency supposed to be keeping
up with it doesn`t know where they are. They can`t handle it. They can`t
keep track of it.
MADDOW: I wonder if the government`s own demonstrated
irresponsibility on some of these secrecy and surveillance issues interacts
at all with how vociferously they have prosecuted the individual citizens
who have leaked government secrets. Bradley Manning got 35 years today,
which is more than some people have gotten for spying for Russia, for being
paid to spy for foreign countries, with which is nothing near like what he
Do these two things dove tail in terms of how aggressively this
RATHER: Well, I think they definitely do dovetail. The
administration has been successful in keeping the focus on the individuals,
Snowden, Manning --
RATHER: -- on individuals, keeping the focus on them and not on the
big question of whatever you think of them, have your opinion about them,
what do we think of the information about our government that has come out?
Some of these things, some of them not having to do with war and peace per
For example, that the government got the in bed, if you will, with a
large corporation, Monsanto Chemical, to, in effect, declare kind of a
trade war on any country that refused to have chemically doctored food. I
think most Americans say, listen, we don`t want our government doing that
if a corporation wants to do it. So, the concentration has been on the
personalities not on what they revealed and what we think about they
This has been very, I think, shrewdly and successfully done by the
Obama administration. It doesn`t say much about the rest of us. Although
some good journalism has come out of this that with the Snowden leaks and
the manning leaks, journalists went through raw data, if you will.
RATHER: Raw information. And did their own reporting.
And so, some good journalism has come out of it.
MADDOW: Dan Rather, the host and managing editor of "Dan Rather
Reports", airing Mondays on AXS TV. Dan, thank you so much for being here.
RATHER: Thank you for having me again.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We`ve got something totally different and slightly
ambitious lined up for tomorrow night`s show here. I`ve got details coming
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Programming note: tomorrow night at this that time, on this
that channel, I will not be in this that seat. That chair, I won`t be at
my desk, I won`t be here. Anyway.
Tomorrow, we are taking the show on the road, to chase down a story
that we have been after for weeks now. We`re going to be live tomorrow
tonight from somewhere other than here. Guess where we`ll be? No,
MADDOW: Chances are, you probably do not recognize this guy, look
You may not recognize his face, but his name will ring a bell,
especially if you live on the West Coast. This is Charles Francis Richter,
as in the Richter scale.
Charles Richter is the name sake of the scientific method once widely
used to determine how strong an earthquake is, 7.1 on the Richter scale,
8.3 on the Richter scale, right? This is the guy.
And if you do something that cool in life, your gravestone is likely
to be this cool after your life. Look, Charles Francis Richter,
seismologist. He devised the scale by which the magnitude of earthquakes
Yes, what did you do with your life?
Charles Richter may have passed away 30 years ago, but his scale
leaves on. As does the scale that was developed by this gentleman,
Japanese-American researcher named Ted Fujita. Mr. Fujita is the F in the
EF tornado scale. When you hear that an EF-5 tornado just touched down
somewhere, that rating is based on Ted Fujita scale.
Disaster scales, this ratings system, they help give us prospective on
how bad a given disaster is. Something as a one on a scale, versus a five,
that tells us how seriously we need to react, how we can rank that disaster
against the others.
I`ve always thought that the granddaddy of the doomsday disaster
scales was this one. This is the nuclear disaster scale. When this scale
is in the news, something has gone really wrong. It goes from one, which
is labeled an anomaly, that`s the green part down at the bottom, all the
way up to 7, which is a major accident. That`s the red part at the top.
In the history of this scale, there have only been two incidents that
have reached a level 7, one was Chernobyl, the nuclear meltdown that took
place in the Soviet Union in 1996. The other one was Fukushima, the
nuclear disaster that hit Japan two and a half years ago. The March 2011
nuclear meltdown in Japan was triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami. It
was the most serious nuclear accident the world had seen since Chernobyl, a
seven out of seven on the nuclear reactor scale.
Fukushima was basically a slow motion radioactive horror film that
stretched on for months. But, finally, in December 11th, nine months after
the initially incident happened, Japan declared that everything was cool.
They said their crippled nuclear plant was finally stable. All good,
Shortly after that, Fukushima was downgraded from a seven on the
nuclear scale, all the way down to a one. It went from major accident to
anomaly, and that is where the continuing cleanup efforts have remained
until today. Despite saying that everything was cool at Fukushima a year
and a half ago, things are not cool there.
Things, in fact, seemed to be spiraling slightly out of control. The
Fukushima complex has hundreds of storage tanks on sites that have been
collecting radiation-contaminated water from the plant ever since the
reactors there were de-commissioned. The water that`s used to cool down
the plant`s highly radioactive fuel rods get pumped into these giant
storage tanks, where it can then presumably be decontaminated. At least
that`s the idea.
But earlier this week, crews at Fukushima noticed a number of big
puddles forming outside one of those big storage tanks, highly radioactive
contaminated water leaking uncontrollably into the ground. The water was
so radioactive that a person standing close to it for an hour would get an
amount of radiation that a plant worker is only allowed to be exposed to
over the course of five years.
Today, Japanese officials confirmed that the giant storage tank in
question has leaked 300 tons of radioactive water -- 300 tons of highly
radioactive water have escaped into the surrounding area.
And this is not the first issue that they have had when it comes to
leaking radioactive water. Last month, the company that owns the plant
claimed that hundreds of tons of contaminated groundwater were not just
leaking, but leaking into the ocean, the ocean that we all share.
This new crisis at Fukushima with all the radioactive contaminated
water leaking everywhere has led the Japanese government to escalate the
situation there from a level one event to a level three event, which is
described as serious incident. For context, the Three-Mile Island nuclear
disaster in the United States back in 1979, that was a level 5 incident.
What`s happening at Fukushima right now is the most serious crisis since
the original meltdown took place two and a half years ago.
This was a really, really bad thing when it happened. It is still out
of control right now. Just for some perspective.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night
from our undisclosed location on the road that you probably are already
figuring out in your mind.
Right now, it is time for the Lawrence -- "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE
Have a great night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copyright 2013 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.
WATCH 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW' WEEKDAYS AT 9:00 P.M. ON MSNBC.