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Sen. Blumenthal On Syria Chemical Attack, Zuckerberg's Testimony


So what exactly is the big price that Syria and its supporters face for an alleged chemical attack? President Trump said there would be a big price. On Twitter, he blamed not just Syria's government but its backers, Iran and Russia, for the attack over the weekend. In a rare move, he even criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin by name. But what's his strategy in Syria that makes sense? Just the other day, the president was talking of leaving Syria. Democrat Richard Blumenthal sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he's on the line.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Wonderful to be with you. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Is it appropriate to hold a military strike against the Syrian regime after this attack over the weekend?

BLUMENTHAL: Some kind of military response ought to be considered. It has to be robust and unmistakable in holding accountable a war criminal - truly, a war criminal who should be prosecuted - Bashar Assad - but also his Russian and Iranian enablers. They have to be targeted, as well.

INSKEEP: Although this leads to a few follow-up questions. One of them - we heard from Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, who pointed out that if you want to deter Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons, you would have to strike him every single time that he uses them, and he's used them a lot over the last few years. Is the United States ready for that - in effect, as Rachel Martin pointed out, ready for a war against Bashar al-Assad?

BLUMENTHAL: War is never to be sought. But strikes, either covert or clearly done on the battlefield, are appropriate when chemical weapons are used in violation of international law and the agreements that we have specifically with the Russians in that domain. So constant or repeated attacks are not necessarily going to follow if we sufficiently deter Assad right now.

INSKEEP: You know, you just said the agreement with the Russians. Let's remember that the Russians undertook to get chemical weapons out of Syria - wow - five years ago back in 2013. What consequences should Russia face?

BLUMENTHAL: Russia should face the consequences that I and others have been recommending in sanctions. The funneling of money by Russian oligarchs and Putin himself out of Russia ought to be stopped. His hidden assets in this country ought to be exposed as a sign of the corruption for the Russian people to see. Other steps - disconnecting Russia from our financial institutions ought to be pursued. There are a variety of noncombative or kinetic measures that can be taken in terms of sanctions and others, but we have to consider what additional covert means may be available.

INSKEEP: OK, that's Richard - we're talking with Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democratic senator from Connecticut. And I want to ask you about a different topic, Senator, because I know that you are on one of the congressional committees that is going to hear this week from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. He's going to face questions about how it was exactly that Facebook data ended up being shared - 87 million people's data that was with Facebook ended up being shared with a company called Cambridge Analytica. I'd like to ask you, Senator - we heard from Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, on the program Friday. She said she was really sorry and that the company had just been too idealistic in the way that it used data. Does that satisfy you?

BLUMENTHAL: No. The company obviously is on an apology tour. It's a kind of contrition sonata, and Sheryl Sandberg very ably and articulately did it on your show - excellent interview. But the point is that the company really is at a moment of reckoning. It is comparable to what the automobile industry faced at "Unsafe At Any Speed." The question is one of responsibility for individual data, and it goes well beyond Cambridge Analytica. Obviously, the company still has failed to answer many questions about whether there are other Cambridge Analyticas out there. But there have to be rules of the road, structural changes, organizational responsibility to make sure that users are in control of their own data, that they have guarantees of privacy, that they can not only opt in but that their opt-in specifically and explicitly ought to be required.

INSKEEP: There ought to be more consent. Now, you said "Unsafe At Any Speed." That was the name of a famous Ralph Nader book that led to big changes in auto safety, including more auto regulation. That raises a question at this moment. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg pointed out that Congress isn't really considering very serious regulation at the moment. Should you be?

BLUMENTHAL: We should be. And in fact, I proposed various measures, such as the MY DATA Act that would impose the kinds of restraints that Europe is considering. You know, Europe is ahead of us on protecting privacy. How can that be? And so there need to be much stronger rules of the road and perhaps regulation, which neither Mark Zuckerberg nor Sheryl Sandberg have ruled out.

INSKEEP: OK, just one thing - can you tell me one question you want to put to Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday?

BLUMENTHAL: If no one else covers it before I do, I want to know how many other Cambridge Analyticas there are out there and how many other users are at risk of loss of privacy.

INSKEEP: How many other companies did what Cambridge Analytica did? Senator, thank you very much, really appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Richard Blumenthal is a Democratic senator from Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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