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Behind Twitter's Success Story; Why Only One Bluefin?

Aired April 16, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In other world news, all but eight of the 129 school girls abducted by extremists in Nigeria are now free, according to the military there. Members of the Islamist group Boko Haram, seen here in a training video, kidnapped the girls from their school in the middle of the night on Monday. Witnesses say the attackers got into a firefight with soldiers guarding the school, then forced the girls into buses and vans and took off with them.

The military has been sweeping through the woods for them in northeast Nigeria. A military official says one of the kidnappers has been captured. Boko Haram is notorious for attacking schools; loosely translated, their name means "Western education is sin." The Obama administration designated them a terrorist organization last fall.

Coming up, Ukraine on the verge of civil war, according to Russian president Vladimir Putin. But is the real war being waged by Russia on its own citizens? A close look at the propaganda that the U.N. says is being passed off as truth, coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In World, call it a geopolitical carjacking of sorts. Yesterday, the Ukrainian government sent six armored vehicles into a border town to knock back separatist protesters. Today, those same vehicles showed up in another city, flying Russian flags. We still do not know what happened to the soldiers inside, but it's a sign -- it's just one more sign that pro- Russian militants are tightening their grip on eastern Ukraine.

Our Nick Paton Walsh has been watching the chaos unfold from Donetsk. Nick, that's a pretty embarrassing turnover with those armored vehicles. Who's winning the standoff so far?

NICK PATON WASLH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly pro-Russian protester militants having momentum behind them for a number of days now. A shoddy day for the Ukrainian army. You mentioned that instance where an armored column ran into local residents who slowed them, then pro-Russian militants took the whole thing over, drove it in with Russian flag. And the flag impacted that Ukrainian paratroop unit over those vehicles into Slavians (ph) where they paraded them around. Locals had picture taken next to them. These very well-equipped, disciplined, organized, pro-Russian militants running the show. And finally relaxed enough to let foreign media like us to go in and actually film what was going on. But that's just one instance, Jake. Not far from there, too, another Ukrainian armored column moving toward an airfield where other troops have landed recently, they ran into a village. It seemed they shot in the air a little bit when residents went near them. Also ran into a car damaging that there, too. The locals then came out and surrounded it, entirely marooning them. Couldn't go anywhere at all.

Negotiations with local police chief and Afghan war veteran, and even a representative of the pro-Russian militia turned into a solution where they agreed to give up -- you won't believe this -- give up the firing pins of their small arms and armored vehicles in exchange for being allowed to leave the way in which they came in.

So on two counts there, pretty disastrous day in terms of the Ukrainian armored presence, trying to establish authority. And bear in mind, that last group I talked about, they're supposed to be elite paratroopers. Pretty atrocious all around.

TAPPER: Nick, where you are right now, the shot we set up, it looks relatively calm, almost like you're almost in Prague. But the State Department is issuing a travel warning for U.S. citizens, telling them to defer all nonessential travel to Ukraine. Are people there, where you are, concerned that they are on the edge of a war?

WALSH: I think there's concern if things get out of hand here, the Russians, who still have got 40,000 troops across the border who (INAUDIBLE) at a high state of readiness, may intervene if it gets out of hand. You know, these are moving extraordinarily fast, and there's always just one step away from lives being lost. Comparatively few cases of that so far.

Certainly in Prague, Jake, you're not going to find the level of anti- American sentiment you do see here. There's lot of misinformation fed by pro-Russian media out here, pro-Russian individuals, which means a lot of hostility toward the West and towards the government in Kiev.

The problem is we keep seeing towns falling one by one by one. Everybody's waiting for the Ukrainian government to step in. They seem to have been completely unable to do that in the fast few days. And any (INAUDIBLE) effective at all? Will that last? Will they finally muscle the firepower to actually do something of use here, or the manpower? We don't really know.

It looks a little bit like talks tomorrow come in Geneva between the U.S., E.U., Russia, and Ukraine, that people are looking for some sort of political solution to this, although it's moving so fast on the ground, you have to wonder if anyone will listen here. Jake?

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you my friend. Stay safe.

Let's talk about that misinformation Nick was just referring. If there's one thing communists really excelled at -- beyond murdering millions of their own people, I mean - it's been propaganda. The Soviets turn indoctrination into an art form, one that's still appreciated by some today, as just that, an art form. Now, from Crimea to the tense stand-off we're watching in eastern Ukraine, it's clear that Moscow is taking a page from the old masters and bringing this fight to the airwaves.

Let's bring in Leon Aron. He's director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Leon, thanks for being here. Let's look at one glaring example from Three different Russian TV channels have reportedly aired three different interviews with this guy. He's identified in all of them as Andre Petkov, shown lying wounded in a hospital in southern Ukraine. In one interview he's a German spy. In another exclusive, he's a repentant extremist, beaten to a pulp. In yet another one, he's a pediatric surgeon who was attacked by neo-Nazi extremists. Explain how this propaganda's being used in the stand-off.

LEON ARON, DIRECTOR OF RUSSIAN STUDIES, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Actually, he kind of encapsulates the overall story, because from the moment Putin started the Crimean escapade, the story was, the government is a neo-Nazi fascist government supported by the U.S. in the West. And by the way, also supported by arms, and Putin used a term (INAUDIBLE), which is what they apply to the Muslim terrorists in Chechnya. And the third is that they're all -- it's all against Russia. It's all against the Russian-speaking population of the Ukraine.

So we see -- we see incarnations here. He's a German spy, or something to that effect. He's a pediatric surgeon, attacked by neo- Nazis. He could have been an ethnic Russian attacked by Ukrainian Nazis. This is all there. But I tell you, I was there in 1968, a teenager in Moscow, and I don't recall the level of propaganda reaching this amount of frenzy and brazenness and hysteria. For example, no used, you know, a term for sexual - for forced sexual intercourse to describe U.S. policy as Putin did on March 18th.

TAPPER: So obviously, every country uses propaganda. The United States government uses propaganda. What's the difference between what our government does or has done historically and what Putin's government is doing? And is it working, do you think?

ARON: The basic difference is the U.S. government -- I remember I used to do a show in Russia for the Voice of America. You know that the Voice of America is not allowed to broadcast in the United States because it was considered by Congress too dangerous and it was licensed only to do it outside.

Well, flip it around. There are no television channels from where Russians take 95 percent of its news, no television channels that are either not directly owned by the government or censored by the government. No criticism of Putin allowed, no critic of the regime is allowed. That's the basic difference.

TAPPER: But people in Russia know that. It's still working? Still effective?

ARON: It's still effective, because -- especially with the older generation. Because Putin uses certain kind of overarching themes, you know? The West is against us. NATO is now almost always used in conjunction with Nazis. So that appeals to the historic memory.

TAPPER: And that's very resonant.

ARON: Very resonant. Very -- there are 20 million. It's very resonant. And the -- to the extent the younger people or the intelligence want to check it on the Internet, he does not care. Those two-thirds of Russians, by the latest poll, believe is his base. He doesn't care about what you think, what U.S. thinks. It may seem ludicrous and ridiculous, he doesn't care.

TAPPER: And lastly, quickly if you would, Putin's an old KGB agent. He's fond of appearing in his own propaganda as a bare-chested, tiger- hunting bad boy. There he is, hunting, playing hockey. We laugh at it in this country. Does it work over there?

ARON: It doesn't matter that you laugh. And by the way, that's the difference with the Soviet leaders. They cared very much whether the West laughed at them. Putin doesn't care. He cares about his political base. And the idea is here's our guy, he's strong, he's macho, he knows how to do things. And he is the image of a new Russia. Remember, Mussolini liked to show his muscles as well.

TAPPER: Interesting. All right, Leon Aron, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Wolf Blitzer here with a preview of THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf, you have some breaking news in your show - you had some yesterday. The video surfacing of a high-level al Qaeda meeting in Yemen. What more do we know about this?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Barbara Starr broke that story yesterday in THE SITUATION ROOM. It's amazing video. These are 100 al Qaeda terrorists. They're training, including the number two al Qaeda leader, all out there, high-definition video. This is good quality video, posted on YouTube.

The question, did the U.S. intelligence community really know about this? If they did know about it, why weren't drones sent to strike some of those terrorists, which the Obama administration does a lot of the drone assassinations of suspected terrorists, whether in Yemen or elsewhere. So, Barbara's got some more on that. Peter Bergen, our terrorism analyst will be joining us. He's got some strong thoughts on what's going on now. The video, you've seen it, a lot of our viewers have already seen it. It's very dramatic.

TAPPER: It's certainly not al Qaeda on the run.


TAPPER: Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much. We'll watch THE SITUATION ROOM, coming up next.

Coming up on our show, in Money, he was a college dropout, living in his mom's basement. And then he became a dotcom billionaire - that's with a B - billionaire. I'll talk to one of Twitter's co-founders, Biz Stone, what the social media app is really worth.

And in World, the hopes of flying Flight 370 hang on one robot. So far, things have not been going so smoothly for that robot. We'll have the latest, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The "Money Lead" now, #chaching, Twitter suddenly flying high on Wall Street. The social media company stock soared by about 10 percent this week, its biggest leap since its rough IPO back in November. Investors are now crowing over Twitter's acquisition of its data partner, which analyzes the more than 500 million tweets that users fire off each day. And shares that data with advertisers and other companies hungry for all of that information.

The price jump is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that 44 percent of the Twitter accounts out there have never even sent out a single tweet. I had the chance to ask Biz Stone, one of the company's founders about Twitter's meteoric rise, which he writes about in his new book "Things A Little Bird Told Me, Confession of The Creative Mind."


TAPPER: There is a great anecdote in the book, you meet with Mark Zuckerberg, when you were at Twitter, and he wants to know what kind of money you want to sell Twitter to Facebook, to him.


TAPPER: And you just made up --

STONE: Made up a number on the way there.

TAPPER: At $500 million.

STONE: On the way there. We had a quick chat with Evan William, my co-founder at Twitter and we were going down there, I was wondering why we were going down there. He was wondering that, too. But we agreed to go down there.

TAPPER: Mark Zuckerberg wants to meet you.

STONE: We know what it's going to be about. What if it come up? Do we want to sell the company? And we didn't. And so, I thought, well, what's an easy way out? Just -- what's -- just come up with a ridiculous number no one would agree to. Honestly the biggest number I could imagine in my head was $500 million. We had a great laugh about that. We were -- we couldn't breathe we are were laughing so hard. Who would pay that money? The offer came through. We had to be polite and, you know, say thank you so much, but we want to take this company all the way, build a company of enduring value.

TAPPER: What's it worth now, Twitter?

STONE: It's north of $25 billion, I think.

TAPPER: I mean, $500 million, when you look at some of the other companies, Yahoo! bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion. EBay bought Paypal for $1.5 billion.

STONE: The biggest number I could think of, it was huge. I mean, I grew up with nothing. That's crazy.

TAPPER: In the book you write about, it's your last day at Twitter, you're upset to learn that Twitter's doing a town hall meeting with President Obama and Jack Dorsey, a fellow official at Twitter, is going to be moderating it. That bothered you because you wanted Twitter to be government neutral. Why was that important to you?

STONE: I spent five years working there. I have this general philosophy that it's really all about people, not technology. You know, I believe in the triumph of humanity with a little help from technology. So whenever things happen around the world and Twitter gets mentioned along with it, I always try to make sure that the look. It's people that are doing this stuff. When the Berlin Wall came down, AT&T wasn't saying they used phones, phoned helped. I said, look, it's about the people and they'll use whatever they use. Let's not use this -- any of this stuff as like an ad.

TAPPER: That's not entirely genuine, right? You're proud of the fact that Twitter is part of the revolutions out there, part of empowerment of the people.

STONE: Yes, I'm certainly an advocate for the power that free speech gives everyone, especially when you lower the barrier to it so extremely low. Getting back to the question, we spent just a lot of effort trying to -- trying to stay neutral and trying to -- invited multiple times to do like these very, you know, impressive things that are very -- like big compliments. So, yes, I got upset when it turned out that we're going to be sort of visually linked. The company worked really hard to try to not do that. They explain to me later this happened and that happened. At the time, it didn't matter because I was upset.

TAPPER: New app is jelly. We used it on the "State Of The Union" night. Explain to people what "Jelly" is and why you're passionate about it.

STONE: Well, my co-founder and I realized that in over 15 years, no one has completely reimagined the way that we get answers to our queries, completely reimagine it. We're living in an entirely different time. Everything is mobile. Everyone is connected on social networks. Jelly uses photos, maps and people in all of your social networks to route queries to people who know what they're talking about and can answer anything. It works better than computers in some cases because, you know, you can't just show a computer a leaf and ask what tree it's from, but you certainly can take a picture.

TAPPER: Biz Stone, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

STONE: Thanks for having me, Jake.


TAPPER: When we come back, as the days go by in the search for missing Flight 370, is enough being done? Some countries including the U.S. are saying they have more resources available but nobody's asking. Stay with us. That's next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now back to our continuing coverage of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It's not the final frontier, but in many ways we know much less about the ocean floor than we do about space. And mapping the bottom of the sea's a slow and painstaking process. It's part of the reason why finding the possible wreckage from Flight 370 has proven so difficult.

So why is the Australian team heading the efforts only using one single robot? The U.S. and Japan are offering up underwater vehicles like the Bluefin to aid in the search, but so far the Aussies have yet to ask for those. Our Will Ripley is in Perth, Australia and has the latest -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, those very same questions you're asking the United States, we are asking here in Perth, Australia. Why is the Bluefin-21 left alone to handle this massive task of mapping out a section of the Indian Ocean, roughly the size of Chicago, when there are other assets available in the area? We know the Bluefin has run into trouble, dive one cut short after about eight hours because the water was too deep.

Dive number two cut short because of a technical glitch that had to be fixed. That dive only lasted 11 hours. Dive number three, under way right now, as far as we know, this would be the first full dive completed. We know there are more challenges that could lie ahead, as winter weather moves in, making it difficult to launch the Bluefin with conditions expected to worsen in that area.

So, with the United States and Japan, both saying they have assets that might be better suited to a task like this, standing by, ready to be deployed, but the Australian government has not asked to bring that help in yet, we reached out to the Joint Agency Coordination Center and asked, why aren't any more assets brought in to assist with the search? We are still waiting to have that question answered, but we'll stay on it -- Jake.

TAPPER: Will Ripley in Perth, Australia. Thanks. That it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jake.