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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/21/13

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 over time. 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 attack. 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 that. 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 terrible. 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 Syria. 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 chemical agent. 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 country? 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 attack? 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 happened. 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 Engel. Richard, thanks very much for being with us tonight. RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It is a pleasure. 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 people`s arms. 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 against civilians. How do you distinguish what you`re hearing today from what you`ve previously heard? 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 your time. 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 itself. 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 interesting. 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 components. 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 degraded type. 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 appreciate it. BLAIR: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. Lots more ahead tonight -- including our guest, Dan Rather, who is here just ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 Party. 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 sites. CAMPBELL: Right. And how much will it save money to close one of those sites? 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 minutes. 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 local newspaper. 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 record? 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 officially. 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 state. 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 those sites? 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. government. 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 collection program." 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 our society. 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 do? 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 did. Do these two things dove tail in terms of how aggressively this administration -- RATHER: Well, I think they definitely do dovetail. The administration has been successful in keeping the focus on the individuals, Snowden, Manning -- MADDOW: Yes. 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 se. 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 revealed. 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. MADDOW: Yes. 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 up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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, seriously, guess. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Chances are, you probably do not recognize this guy, look familiar? Anything? 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 is measured. 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, mission accomplished. 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 O`DONNELL." Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END