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Without a Trace; CDC: 1 in 10 Die From Excessive Drinking; Alcohol-Related Deaths; Crisis in Iraq; Interview with John Kirby

Aired June 27, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO CNN ANCHOR: Armed U.S. drones now flying over Baghdad. If they fire, are we at war again in Iraq?

I'm Jim Sciutto. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead, yes, the U.S. has Predator drones over Iraq's capital right now, but they may soon be sharing the skies with Russian fighter jets. It's getting crowded up there.

The national lead. Feel like starting the weekend with a drink? You might need one when you hear how many Americans are killed by booze each year -- the new numbers just ahead.

And the pop lead. If it gets any more real, Transformers are going to be sitting in it your lap in the movie theater; 3-D movies are so 2010. This weekend, experience movies through space and time in a 4-D theater.

I'm Jim Sciutto, filling in again for Jake Tapper.

And we begin again with the world lead. It's what could be viewed as an escalation of the U.S. involvement in the conflict now tearing apart Iraq. American drones are flying over Baghdad, but not the observe-and-report kind, the kind that can kill. Iraqis have repeatedly asked the U.S. to carry out airstrikes on the terrorist militia called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which has rapidly seized huge sections of Iraq through a campaign of blood.

But airstrikes are not the U.S. mission there yet.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): American drones armed with Hellfire missiles are now patrolling the skies over Baghdad. But they will not go after ISIS targets, flying instead to provide protection for 180 U.S. military advisers deployed to Iraq.

Frustrated by the lack of American air support, Iraq has now turned to Russia, buying secondhand Russian fighter jets, just the latest in a string of American adversaries from Syria to Iran now aiding Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slammed the U.S. in an interview with the BBC, saying Iraq could have repelled ISIS advances if the U.S. had delivered F-16s first ordered three years ago.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): If we had air cover, we could have prevented what has happened in this country.

SCIUTTO: Those F-16s, say U.S. officials, are just weeks away, though Maliki has also asked for airstrikes on ISIS by American warplanes. Syrian jets are already carrying out strikes on ISIS targets. These are some of ISIS' work, two mass graves believed to contain bodies of Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians, murdered in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

A new report by Human Rights Watch analyzed ISIS photos and concluded the militants executed three groups of men numbering in the hundreds, though the group claims a death toll even higher. While the U.S. deliberates military action in Iraq, today, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the president of the opposition in Syria, following a White House decision to seek $500 million to train and equip the moderate Syrian rebels.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talking about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL's presence.


SCIUTTO: Some critics have said that at least part of ISIS' strength in Iraq can be blamed on the Obama administration's failure to act in neighboring Syria.

Joining me now is Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, thanks so much for joining us today. Always good to have you on.


SCIUTTO: So, we have seen a gradual growth of U.S. action in Iraq. The president said no combat troops. You now have 200 military advisers, some of them possibly outside the wire of the U.S. Embassy. No airstrikes, but now you have armed drones flying over Iraq.

And I know that the stated mission of those armed drones is just to protect the U.S. personnel -- personnel on the ground. But let me ask you this. If ISIS threatens, for instance, Baghdad or other critical locations in Iraq, could these drones be used to attack ISIS forces in that scenario?

KIRBY: Well, that's not the goal right now. And you said it right, Jim. The reason we have some armed aircraft over Iraq -- and it's not all unmanned -- some of the manned aircraft that we have flying reconnaissance missions over Iraq are armed as well.

But the main purpose of that is a force protection mission, now that we have introduced additional advisers onto the ground, advisers who will be venturing outside the embassy confines there in Baghdad. It just makes sense. It would be imprudent not to do that.

But I also would say that, in addition to that, we have a job. We have a job to be prepared and to plan for all options. The president has made it clear that airstrikes remain an option that he may want to entertain in the future. We also have to make sure that we are ready to do that as well.

SCIUTTO: So you're saying if a -- necessity arises for them to attack something, they are prepared -- they are prepared to use military force from the air, if necessary?

KIRBY: We're certainly prepared if -- you know, if the commander in chief decides that he wants to employ airstrikes, our job is to be ready to do that as soon as possible.

SCIUTTO: And, to be clear, is it just unmanned drones that are now armed or also manned flights that are armed over Iraq?

KIRBY: No, there are some manned aircraft that are flying in support of reconnaissance missions in Iraq that are armed. It's not just unmanned systems flying that are armed.


So let me ask you this, because the president has said, Secretary Kerry, when I was traveling with him in Iraq this week, have said that ISIS is not just a threat to Iraq, it's a regional threat, and, in fact, a threat to the U.S., because you have terrorists there training possibly returning home to carry out attacks.

If ISIS is a threat to the U.S., why isn't the U.S. prepared -- more prepared to take military action against ISIS to alleviate, to counter that threat?

KIRBY: Well, I think we are very prepared.

As you know, in just the last few weeks, we have intensified ISR support over Iraq. We have flown an aircraft carrier -- flowed an aircraft carrier into the Arabian Gulf, as well as an amphibious ship and several other warships.

We have more than 30,000 troops in the Middle East as a matter of course. We're very prepared, should the president decide that he wants to take action through airstrikes or other kinetic action against ISIL. Clearly, they're a regional threat. And, clearly, they're a threat to our own national security.

But the goal right now, through the troops that we have there, is to the provide some assessments, get us more information about what's going on there, more information about the Iraqi security forces, more information about ISIL and, frankly, more information about how an advise-and-assist mission can go forward. Where would we do it, how many, and what -- and what headquarters levels?

So, right now, we're really trying to get information, more than anything.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you, during that information-gathering phase, then, intelligence-gathering, you have other countries, adversaries of the U.S., in fact, that are moving in to fill that void. You have Iran flying drone missions there and sending military supplies to Iraq.

You have Syria carrying out airstrikes, and now you have Iraq buying used Russian warplanes. Are you concerned that by letting this happen, that the U.S. is in effect pushing Iraq closer to our adversaries, our competitors for influence in the region?

KIRBY: It's not about us letting Iraq do anything in this point.

We're there at the Iraqis' request and we're trying to provide broad- based information support right now. What our message has been to all of Iraq's neighbors, whether they're on the border or not, is that nobody should do anything that's going to exacerbate the sectarian tensions that are already there.

And so I would say to some of those nations that you mentioned, I mean, their involvement is not necessarily helping calm sectarian tensions. And that's the real problem.

SCIUTTO: But let me ask you. You say that you're there in the service of the Iraqis. But, as we have been aware, Prime Minister Maliki has asked the U.S. for airstrikes. And, in fact, in an interview with the BBC just in the last 24 hours, he said that had the U.S. sent the F-16s that were ordered by Iraq three years ago earlier, the Iraqi military would have airpower that would have helped slow ISIS' advance.

It is Iraq that is saying now that U.S. support has been slow in coming.

KIRBY: Well, it just hasn't been, to be honest with you, Jim.

I mean, look, those F-16s, the first two, weren't expected to be delivered until the fall, which is still months away from now. And we were in the process of working towards that delivery. In fact, those contractors that were at Balad Airfield that had to be evacuated because of ISIL advances were in fact setting up the logistical base for us to begin to deliver those F-16s.

So, they were never going to get there until the fall anyway. And I think, if one just looks at the progress that ISIL has made, it couldn't have been stemmed through the use of two particular fighter planes.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me, if I can, take a turn to Ukraine, another crisis zone for the administration. The Obama administration has said repeatedly that unless Russia de-escalates in Eastern Ukraine, that there will be higher costs to pay.

And, in fact, in the last couple weeks, we have seen things that seem to amount to an escalation, the opposite. You have Russian weapons being used to shoot down Ukrainian military transport planes. You have Russian tanks being sent to the pro-Russian separatists inside Ukraine. Has the Pentagon seen any evidence of Russian de-escalation, which is

the red line or threshold that the administration has set for additional sanctions? Have you seen any de-escalation?

KIRBY: Nothing of any import, no, Jim.

I mean, they did move quite a bit of their troops off the border with Eastern Ukraine, but then they redeployed some of them or added some more towards -- towards more of that southeast kind of border. So they're still there. They're still threatening, the activity still destabilizing. They're still supporting these separatist groups inside Ukraine.

So, from our perspective, from a military perspective, no, we have seen no major muscle movements by Russia to de-escalate the tension.

SCIUTTO: Interesting. That's an alarming revelation.

Thanks very much, Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman. Appreciate you joining us.

KIRBY: My pleasure. Thanks.

Coming up after this: a mother unable to protect her child despite doing everything she could -- how kids are using technology to torment each other. And you will be shocked to see that even the most involved parent can't stop it.

Plus, the bear is loose -- President Obama practically daring his security detail to keep up with him as he tries to reconnect with his base. Is it working?


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to the lead, and the national lead.

It's no secret that bullying has long since gone digital. Facebook, text messages, Twitter are all conduits for would-be online tormentors. But what happens when the most hurtful things kids say to each other suddenly disappear?

Mobile apps like Snapchat and sites like have come under scrutiny for allegedly contributing to the suicide of some teens. But's founders tell "TIME" magazine they're the ones being bullied -- by the media.

But as our Sara Ganim shows us, when the hateful messages evaporate into cyberspace, the reality for the parents and police trying to piece together what happened without any trace gets much more complicated.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tricia Norman thought she was being a conscientious mom, keeping tabs on her daughter's social media accounts. But like many parents, she found monitoring online communications was getting harder with things constantly changing.

The recent trend, let's call them disappearing apps where messages sent can easily disappear. These apps have raised alarm about being used to hide sexting or other inappropriate posts.

And it's not just parents. There are problem for law enforcement too, especially when something goes terribly wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had just started sixth grade.

GANIM: Rebecca Sedwick was 12 years old. She was a good student but school was a challenge. Her mother says she was bullied relentlessly.

Her mom closed her Facebook account, pulled her out of school but didn't know about her cell phone messaging apps. The last time Tricia Norman saw her daughter, Rebecca was on her cell phone.

TRICIA NORMAN, REBECCA SEDWICK'S MOTHER: To me, she will always be part of this family. So, I try to include her in everything.

GANIM: Later that night, Rebecca killed herself.

SHERIFF GRADY JUDD, POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA: When you stand at the base of a cement silo and see a 12-year-old chide crumbled on the ground from where she jumped to her death, it changes your life forever. And when find out bullying was behind it, that frustrates you.

GANIM: Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd found out disappearing apps may have contributed to Rebecca's anguish. One of those apps is It was started in the tiny former Soviet republic of Latvia. Its Web site boasts more than 100 million users worldwide. Some of them were Rebecca's bullies.

When news of her death went viral, her mom says the company deleted Rebecca's page, making it impossible for law enforcement to see what was said the night she died.

NORMAN: They deleted everything, her whole entire page.

GANIM (on camera): And to this day, you don't know what was said to her?

NORMAN: I have idea what was said to her.

GANIM (voice-over): In just over a year, there have been more than a dozen news reports around the world linking suicides to bullying All of them were teenagers.

JUDD: They're saying, we don't care if you're victimized. We don't care if your child is victimized.

GANIM: The company says they cooperate with law enforcement and recently added a safety page to its Web site, saying bullies are not tolerated. In a statement to CNN, said, "Reports of suicide cases often tend to present premature and simplified conclusions about tragic events, which are always a complex overlap of different factors."

Suicide is complicated and that includes the circumstances of Rebecca's death, plus without the original records from, no one can say exactly why she took her own life.

It's not just bullies. Hard to trace apps draw call kinds of criminal activity. And there are more apps emerging every day.

SHAWN HENRY, PRESIDENT, CROWDSTRIKE SERVICES: If it's not stored, it doesn't matter what judicial process you have, you're not going to get it.

GANIM: Shawn Henry was the executive assistant director of the FBI.

HENRY: In law enforcement, there's a term we call going dark. In that, law enforcement is losing the authorized visibility into many of these sites, because they're not regulated to maintain data, and law enforcement is losing the ability to lawfully collect information.

JUDD: If we had to depend on the app owners for our criminal investigations, there would be no criminal investigations.

GANIM: Judd did charge two teens accusing them of contributing to Rebecca's death, but the charges were later dropped by the state attorney for lack of evidence. Instead, the girls went to counseling.

Rebecca's mother and Sheriff Judd are now trying to warn parents about the secret world of these messaging apps.

NORMAN: To me, I know she was bullied. I know it was horrific but that morning is just -- is what pushed her over the edge.


SCIUTTO: Heartbreaking for parents. That's Sarah Ganim.

Coming up next: if your weekend plans includes a backyard beer or two, that could make you a heavy drinker. The surprising new report on just how much alcohol is too much and how easily it can kill a healthy adult. Sanjay Gupta explains, right after this.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And in national news, who do you picture when you think of heavy drinkers? Fraternity guys with beer bongs, maybe actor Shia LaBeouf getting dragged out of a theater by security.

Maybe you ought to look in the mirror, because the CDC's definition of how much is considered to be a heavy drinker is probably much lower than you thought. And if you're at a bar, or a patio, or backyard get-together this weekend, look around at everyone because this new report claims that a shockingly high number of them will die from the very thing you're all sipping and could you or I'd be one of them?

I want to bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, you look at these numbers from this report. I think to all of us, it's a surprisingly low number that's required to get over that threshold to be a heavy drinker. Can you explain how they came to that.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think as you said, I think a lot of people are looking in the mirror, sort of saying is that me. This is -- this is an interesting study, and I'll give you numbers in a second.

But what they found over a four-year period, if they looked at the various reasons that people die, that they found, you could see there, about 88,000 people die a year from excessive drinking. And if you do the math, that's one out of every 10 deaths in the United States somehow related to excessive drinking. That was sort of the headline there. Most of them incidentally are men.

But what they went back and tried to figure out, to your point, is what is excessive drinking exactly? And what they're categorizing is they categorized it differently for men and women, although there's some overlap there. But on average, they say men who are drinking 15 drinks a week or more, that's considered heavy or excessive drinking. And for a woman, you can see eight drinks or more a week, that's considered excessive drinking.

So, that's where that low bar you're referring to sort of came from. People look at those numbers and say could that be me.

SCIUTTO: You know, it's interesting because when you do the math on that, say three or four nights a week, and you have -- particularly if you're a woman, you had a couple glasses of wine three or four nights a week, that doesn't sound like to me or you or to friends that that would be over the top. I mean, are they saying this is true for all people in that category or are they just trying to make the group as wide as possible, you know, for the sake of being safe?

GUPTA: Yes, that's a very good point. First of all, these are rough numbers. They're sort of the bottom of the numbers. Drinking at least this much eight drinks or more could potentially lead to some of these problems. Fifteen drinks or more for men a week could lead to some of these problems.

They also say that binge drinking seems to be particularly problematic, men who drink five drinks at a time are going to be more at risk. Women who drink four or more drinks at a time are going to be at risk. But you're absolutely right, because look, you know, we also say as doctors a certain amount of alcohol is fine. And we'll typically say one to two drinks for men. If you maximize that out and do the math, that's 14 drinks a week we say is fine, but 15 drinks is excessive.

So, it's not an exact science by any means. But there does appear to be a tipping point. Up to a certain point, it's OK and even good for you. Beyond that, you can start to have some serious problems. SCIUTTO: When you mentioned binge drinking, five drinks at a time

makes you think of teenagers and college kids, right, who are doing this with some regularity.

GUPTA: Yes. You know, Jim, maybe you'd be surprised but there's a lot of adults that are doing that, as well. That's particularly problematic. You know, we find that the different types of deaths that we're talking about here not just alcohol poisoning, car crashes or violent behavior some sort, but also, it's a risk factor for certain cancers like breast, liver cancer, even some forms of cardiovascular disease.

So, it's -- you can see how the numbers can get so high when you start looking at them like that.

SCIUTTO: Moderation, moderation. Thanks very much, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: Don't let it spoil your weekend, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you spoiled my weekend and probably a lot of other weekends, too.

Don't miss "DR. SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." this weekend for an emotional sit- down with Joan Lunden about her breast cancer diagnosis. That's going to be tomorrow night, tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 Eastern, right here on CNN.

And coming up here today, he says he's a caged bear who's ready to break loose, Secret Service detail or not. Next, the president's latest attempt at being a regular old American. But is grabbing an ice cream cone really about the ice cream?

Plus, interested in some wind, rain and bubbles with that popcorn? How one company is trying to change the way you watch films. But is the 4D movie experience too much?