tv 60 Minutes CBS December 15, 2013 7:00pm-8:01pm PST
captioning funded by cbs and fo >> miller: how long have you been with the n.s.a.? >> for 25 years. >> miller: how many television interviews have you done? >> one, this one. >> miller: it's the most secretive spy agency in america, but the n.s.a. opened its doors to "60 minutes," and we talked to people who have never spoken publicly and brought our cameras into places that no one without a secret clearance has ever been. >> the pakistani government has asked the u.s. government to relook its drone policy. >> miller: it's been said n.s.a. stands for "never say anything," until now, at a time when there are a lot of serious questions about the agency's reach into the lives of the american public. >> the fact is, we're not collecting everybody's email, we're not collecting everybody's phone things, we're not listening to that. our job is foreign intelligence and we're very good at that.
>> simon: like the greeks and the russians, copts are orthodox christians. but they have one thing in common with the roman catholics- - they elect a pope. the final choice is made by a boy who is blindfolded and led to a crystal chalice containing three names. the name on the piece of paper the boy picks becomes the next pope. the copts believe his choice is not a roll of the dice, but is inspired by the divine. ( cheers and applause ) >> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm morley safer. >> i'm bob simon. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." there's a saying around here, you stand behind what you say. around here you don't make excuses.
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>> kroft: tonight, cbs news national security correspondent john miller on assignment for "60 minutes." >> miller: no u.s. intelligence agency has ever been under the kind of pressure being faced by the national security agency after details of some of its most secret programs were leaked by contractor edward snowden. perhaps because of that pressure, the agency gave "60 minutes" unprecedented access to n.s.a. headquarters, where we were able to speak to employees who have never spoken publicly before. full disclosure-- i once worked in the office of the director of national intelligence, where i saw firsthand how secretly the n.s.a. operates. it is often said "n.s.a." stands for "never say anything," but
tonight, the agency breaks with that tradition to address serious questions about whether the n.s.a. delves too far into the lives of americans. >> keith alexander: the fact is, we're not collecting everybody's email, we're not collecting everybody's phone things, we're not listening to that. our job is foreign intelligence and we're very good at that. >> miller: the man in charge is keith alexander, a four-star army general who leads the n.s.a. and the u.s. cyber- command. there is a perception out there that the n.s.a. is widely collecting the content of the phone calls of americans. is that true? >> alexander: no, that's not true. n.s.a. can only target the communications of a u.s. person with a probable cause finding under specific court order. today, we have less than 60 authorizations on specific persons to do that. >> miller: the n.s.a., as we sit here right now, is listening to a universe of 50 or 60 people
that would be considered u.s. persons? >> alexander: less than 60 people globally who are considered u.s. persons. >> miller: but the n.s.a. doesn't need a court order to spy on foreigners. from its heavily protected headquarters in fort meade, maryland, it collects a mind- numbing amount of data from phones and the internet. they sort through it all looking for clues to terrorist plots and intelligence on the intentions of foreign governments. to do all that, they use a network of supercomputers that use more power than most mid- sized cities. general alexander agreed to talk to us because he believes the n.s.a. has not told its story well. >> alexander: we need to help the american people understand what we're doing and why we're doing it. and to put it simply, we're doing two things-- we're defending this country from future terrorist attacks, and we're defending our civil liberties and privacy. there's no reason that we would listen to the phone calls of
americans. there's no intelligence value in that. there's no reason that we'd want to read their email. there is no intelligence value in that. >> miller: what they are doing is collecting the phone records of more than 300 million americans. why do you need all of those phone records? >> alexander: how do you know when the bad guy who's using those same communications that my daughters use is in the united states trying to do something bad? the least intrusive way of doing that is meta-data. >> miller: meta-data has become one of the most important tools in the n.s.a.'s arsenal. meta-data is the digital information on the number dialed, the time and date, and the frequency of the calls. we wanted to see how meta-data was used at the n.s.a. analyst stephen benitez showed us a technique known as "call chaining" used to develop targets for electronic surveillance in a pirate network based in somalia. >> stephen benitez: as you see here, i'm only allowed to chain on anything that i've been
trained on and that i have access to. add our known pirate. and we chain him out. >> miller: "chain him out," for the audience, means what? >> benitez: people he's been in contact to for those 18 days. one that stands out to me first would be this one here. he's communicated with our target 12 times. now, we're looking at target b's contacts. >> miller: so he's talking to three or four known pirates? >> benitez: correct. these three here we have direct connection to both target "a" and target "b". so we'll look at him, too, we'll chain him out. and you see, he's in communication with lots of known pirates. he might be the missing link that tells us everything. >> miller: what happens in this space when a number comes up that's in dallas? >> benitez: so if it does come up, normally, you'll see it as a protected number-- and if you don't have access to it, you won't be able to look. >> miller: if a terrorist is suspected of having contacts inside the united states, the n.s.a. can query a database that
contains the meta-data of every phone call made in the u.s. going back five years. so you understand, then, there might be a little confusion among americans who read in the newspaper that the n.s.a. has vacuumed up the records of the telephone calls of every man, woman and child in the united states for a period of years-- that sounds like spying on americans. >> alexander: right, and that's wrong. that's absolutely wrong. >> miller: you don't hear the call? >> alexander: you don't hear the call. >> miller: you don't see the name. >> alexander: you don't see the names. >> miller: you just see this number called that number. >> alexander: the... this number-- the "to-from" number, the duration of the call and the date-time-- that's all you get. and all we can do is tell the f.b.i. "that number is talking to somebody who is very bad. you ought to go look at it." >> miller: but privacy advocates argue american's phone records should not sit in bulk at the n.s.a., searchable under a blanket court order. they believe the n.s.a. should
have to get a separate court order for each number and that the record should stay at the phone company. you get the... the bill from whatever the service provider is and you see who it's calling in america. you don't need to collect every american's phone numbers to do that. >> alexander: well, the reality is if you go and do a specific one for each, you have to tell the phone companies to keep those call detail records for a certain period of time. so, if you don't have the data someplace, you can't search it. the other part that's important, phone companies... different phone companies have different sets of records. and these phone calls may go between different phone companies. if you only go to one company, you'll see what that phone company has. but you may not see what the other phone company has or the other. so by putting those together, we can see all of that, essentially, at one time. >> miller: before 9/11, did we have this capability? >> alexander: we did not. >> miller: is it a factor? was it a factor? >> alexander: i believe it was. >> miller: what general
alexander is talking about is that two of the 9/11 hijackers, khalid al-mihdhar and nawaf al- hazmi, were in touch with an al qaeda safe house in yemen. the n.s.a. did not know their calls were coming from california, as they would today. >> alexander: i think this was the factor that allowed mihdhar to safely conduct his plot from california. we have all the other indicators, but no way of understanding that he was in california while others were in florida and other places. >> miller: edward snowden revealed another program called "prism," which the n.s.a. says is authorized under the foreign intelligence surveillance act, or fisa. prism is the program the n.s.a. uses to target the internet communications of terrorists. it has the capability to capture emails, chats, video, and photos. but privacy experts believe the n.s.a.'s dragnet for terrorists on the internet may also be sweeping up information on a lot of americans. >> alexander: no, that's not true.
under fisa, n.s.a. can only target the communications of a u.s. person with a probable cause finding under a specific court order. >> miller: a judge in the fisa court, which is the court that secretly hears the n.s.a. cases, and approves or disapproves your requests, said the n.s.a. systematically transgressed both its own court-appointed limits in bulk internet data collection programs. >> alexander: there was nobody willfully or knowingly trying to break the law. >> miller: the n.s.a. says their analysts use highly technical systems under increasingly complex legal requirements, and that when mistakes are made, they're human errors, not intentional abuses. the snowden leaks have challenged n.s.a. officials to explain programs they never intended to talk about. so how did an obscure contractor and computer specialist pull off the most damaging breach of secrets in u.s. history? few have spent more time thinking about that than rick
ledgett. how long have you been with the n.s.a.? >> rick ledgett: for 25 years. >> miller: how many television interviews have you done? >> ledgett: one, this one. >> miller: ledgett runs the n.s.a. task force doing the damage assessment on the snowden leaks. and until this interview, the n.s.a. has never discussed the specifics of the extent of damage they believe snowden has done and still could do. there've been all kinds of figures out there about how much he took, how many documents. we've been told 1.7 million. >> ledgett: i wouldn't dispute that. >> miller: how is that possible? >> ledgett: so, the people who control that, the access to those machines, are called system administrators, and they have passwords that give them the... the ability to go around those security measures, and that's what snowden did. >> miller: edward snowden worked for the n.s.a. in hawaii. part of his job was to help maintain the n.s.a.'s computers, and also to move large sets of
data between different systems. did he take everything he had access to, or was he a careful shopper? >> ledgett: he did something that we call "scraping," where he went out and just went... used tools to scrape information from web sites, and put it into a place where... where he could download it. >> miller: at some point, you then understood the breadth of what was missing and what could be missing? >> ledgett: yes. >> miller: of all the things he took, is there anything in there that worries you or concerns you more than anything else? >> ledgett: it's an exhaustive list of the requirements that have been levied against... against the national security agency. and what that... what that gives is what topics we're interested in, where our gaps are. but additional information about u.s. capabilities and u.s. gaps is provided as part of that. >> miller: so, i'm going to assume that there's one in there about china, and there's one in there about iran, and there's another in there about russia. >> ledgett: many more than one. >> miller: many more than one?
>> ledgett: yes. >> miller: how many of those are there? >> ledgett: about 31,000. >> miller: if those documents fell into their hands, what good would it do them? >> ledgett: it would give them a roadmap of what we know, what we don't know, and give them, implicitly, a way to protect their information from the u.s. intelligence community's view. >> miller: for an adversary in the intelligence game, that's a gold mine. >> ledgett: it is the keys to the kingdom. >> miller: so far, none of those crucial documents have been leaked. in hong kong last june, snowden claimed that exposing the secret programs of the n.s.a. did not make him a traitor or a hero, but an american. >> edward snowden: the public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong. >> miller: snowden, who is believed to still have access to a million and a half classified documents he has not leaked, has been granted temporary asylum in moscow, which leaves the u.s. with few options.
he's already said, "if i got amnesty, i would come back." given the potential damage to national security, what would your thought on making a deal be? >> ledgett: so, my personal view is, yes, it's worth having a conversation about. i would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. it would be more than just an assertion on his part. >> miller: is that a unanimous feeling? >> ledgett: it's not unanimous. >> miller: among those who think making a deal is a bad idea is ledgett's boss, general alexander. >> alexander: this is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting ten, and then say, "if you give me full amnesty, i'll let the other 40 go." what do you do? >> miller: it's a dilemma. >> alexander: it is. >> miller: do you have a pick? >> alexander: i do. i think people have to be held accountable for their actions. because what we don't want is the next person to do the same
thing, race off to hong kong and to moscow with another set of data knowing they can strike the same deal. >> miller: this happened on your watch. a 20-something-year-old high school dropout contractor managed to walk out with, in essence, the crown jewels. did you offer to resign about the snowden incident? >> alexander: yes. >> miller: the secretary of defense, the director of national intelligence, what did they say? >> alexander: they said, "we don't see a reason that you should resign. we haven't found anybody there doing anything wrong. in fact, this could have happened to anybody in the community. and we don't need you to resign. we need you and deputy director to help work your way through this," which is what we're doing. we'll do everything we can to fix it. >> miller: besides edward snowden, general alexander has growing concerns about a number of increasing threats to the united states and the n.s.a.'s ability to stop them. that part of the story when we come back.
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start today with a free one-on-one review of your retirement plan. >> miller: inside the n.s.a., where getting hired requires swearing an oath to your country and signing a vow of secrecy under the penalty of law, the very concept of what edward snowden did was hard for many to grasp. general keith alexander felt he had a big stake in understanding snowden, so he and rick ledgett, who runs the snowden task force, got on a plane to hawaii. they wanted to see the scene of the crime, edward snowden's desk. did you sit in his chair? >> ledgett: i did not. i couldn't bring myself to do that. >> miller: for ledgett, the trip was important to understanding who snowden was, and going back through the bits and the bytes,
they discovered the first secrets snowden stole was how to cheat on a test to get a job at the agency. >> ledgett: he was taking a technical examination for potential employment at n.s.a. he used his system administrator privileges to go into the account of the n.s.a. employee who was administering that test, and he took both questions and the answers, and used them to pass the test. >> miller: at home, they discovered snowden had some strange habits. >> ledgett: he would work on the computer with a hood that covered the computer screen and covered his head and shoulders, so that he could work and his girlfriend couldn't see what he was doing. >> miller: that's pretty strange, sitting at your computer kind of covered by a sheet over your head and the screen. >> ledgett: agreed. >> miller: we also learned, for the first time, that part of the damage assessment considered the possibility that snowden could have left a bug or virus behind on the n.s.a.'s system, like a time bomb. >> ledgett: so, all the... the machines that he had access to, we removed from our classified network.
all the machines in the unclassified network, and including the actual cables that connect those machines, we removed as well. >> miller: this has to have cost millions and millions of dollars. >> ledgett: tens of millions, yes. >> miller: while edward snowden's leaks have been a disaster for the agency, the rest of the n.s.a.'s mission has not slowed down. >> meanwhile, the pakistani government has asked the u.s. government to relook its drone policy. >> miller: twice a week, under the dim blue lights of the n.s.a.'s operations center, the director is given a briefing. >> sir, we added three new hostage cases this week. >> miller: with his deputy, chris inglis, general alexander listens to a rundown of global issues and international crises the n.s.a. may be asked to collect intelligence on >> sir, moving to afghanistan... >> miller: the meeting is called the "stand-up," because no one sits down, which is almost a metaphor for the pace of daily life in the n.s.a. operations center.
howie larrabee is the center's director. >> howie larrabee: this is a 24/7 operation center. we haven't had a day off, we haven't had a christmas off, and we haven't had a major snowstorm off in more than 40 years. >> miller: while the operations center grapples with terrorist plots and war zones, another team of analysts is monitoring what the agency says is the rising threat of a cyber attack that could take down anything from the power grid to wall street. could a foreign country tomorrow topple our financial system? >> alexander: i believe that a foreign nation could impact and destroy major portions of our financial system, yes. >> miller: how much of it could we stop? >> alexander: well, right now, it would be difficult to stop it because our ability to see it is limited. >> miller: one they did see coming was called the "bios plot." it could have been catastrophic for the united states. while the n.s.a. would not name the country behind it, cyber security experts briefed on the operation told us it was china. debora plunkett directs cyber
defense for the n.s.a., and for the first time, discusses the agency's role in discovering the plot. >> debora plunkett: one of our analysts actually saw that the nation-state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability to destroy computers. >> miller: to destroy computers. >> plunkett: to destroy computers. so, the bios is a basic input- output system. it's, like, the foundational component firmware of a computer. you start your computer up, the bios kicks in, it activates hardware, it activates the operating system, it turns on the computer. >> miller: this is the bios system which starts most computers. the attack would have been disguised as a request for a software update. if the user agreed, the virus would've infected the computer. so, this basically would have gone into the system that starts up the computer, runs the systems, tells it what to do. >> plunkett: that's right. >> miller: and basically turned it into a cinderblock. >> plunkett: a brick. >> miller: and after that, there wouldn't be much you could do with that computer. >> plunkett: that's right.
think about the impact of that across the entire globe. it could literally take down the u.s. economy. >> miller: i don't mean to be flip about this, but it has a kind of a little "dr. evil" quality to it that, "i'm going to develop a program that can destroy every computer in the world." it sounds almost unbelievable. >> plunkett: don't be fooled. there are absolutely nation- states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that. >> miller: and based on what you learned here at n.s.a., would it have worked? >> plunkett: we believe it would have, yes. >> miller: is this anything that's been talked about publicly before? >> plunkett: no, not... not to this extent. this is the first time. >> miller: the n.s.a., working with computer manufacturers, was able to close this vulnerability, but they say there are other attacks occurring daily. so the n.s.a. has hired 3,000 young analysts as part of cyber defense. three of those analysts-- morgan, charles, and natalie-- describe to us how country's
like china, russia and iran use social engineering to get inside a network. they're looking for a disguise to get in? >> charles: exactly, yes. >> miller: and at what point will they ask the question that will cause the adversary to hand over that vulnerability? >> morgan: so, if i want to craft a social engineering message to lure you in so that i could potentially steal your username and password to gain access to a network, i may go on your facebook page and see if you like golfing. so if you like golfing, then maybe i'm going to send you a email about, you know, a sale at a big golf retailer near you. >> miller: so you're trying to develop that little box that's irresistible... >> correct, mm-hmm. >> miller: ... that the person has to click on and open, because... >> morgan: they'll take, yeah. >> miller: ...they need to see what's inside? >> morgan: right. >> miller: and that is going to let loose all the gremlins that are going to take over whatever they're capable of taking over. >> morgan: yeah, that's their door in. >> charles: the other real trick is, it's not necessarily one email, it could be 50 emails. in the new cyber paradigm, you can fail 50 times.
you can ignore 50 emails. but if that 51st one is clicked, then that's it, game over. >> miller: but before computers, before phones, there were codes. the n.s.a. was born out of the code-breakers of world war ii. and even today, the most secret room inside the most secret building at the n.s.a. is called the "black chamber." this is where the nation's top code-breakers work. we were able to look inside, but for obvious reasons, the n.s.a. asked us not to show the people who worked there. outside the black chamber is this ordinary-looking file cabinet. but it can only be opened with a code known by a handful of people. bob, who watches over it, explains it holds the records of the codes america has broken over the last 60 years. if i was russia, china, iran, north korea, would i want what was inside there? >> bob: you would be greatly interested in what's in this box. this would be the ark of the
covenant. >> miller: when you walk around the n.s.a. research building where the code-breakers work, you see some very young people and very smart people. how long would it take you to do this? >> about a minute. >> miller: are you serious? >> yeah. >> miller: go. many of the cryptologists skipped grades in school, earned masters degrees and ph.d.s, and look more like they belong on a college campus than at the n.s.a. actually, the rubik's cube took him one minute and 35 seconds. you know, i didn't like you before... ( laughter ) for this group, the rubik's cube was the easiest problem that day. >> so the idea here is we're looking at a sequence of numbers, and we want to determine whether they're random or not random. >> miller: how are you approaching that? can you show me? >> we are looking at this data right here, and it is a bunch of random numbers on the screen. >> miller: that looks a tad overwhelming. >> it is.
>> miller: can you actually imagine solving this? >> definitely. we solve hard problems all the time. >> miller: is there an unbreakable code? >> chris inglis: theoretically, yes. there's always been an unbreakable code. >> miller: chris inglis is deputy director of the n.s.a. among the areas he supervises are the code-breakers. he says, each summer, 10,000 high school students apply for a few openings. >> inglis: we clear them fully. we give them full access to our problems. we give them problems that we could not solve. and they solve some number of those problems, the principle reason being that they bring a different perspective and audacity to it that we hadn't thought about in all the years of experience that we've brought to bear. >> miller: so you've had occasions where you've given a difficult problem to a high school kid with a top-secret clearance whose come back and said "hey, i think i got this one"? >> inglis: for any given summer, that's more often the rule than the exception. we're always pleasantly surprised. >> miller: while high school kids on summer break may be cracking secret codes, this is still a spy agency that steals
secrets, reads emails, and listens to foreign leader's phone calls. among the snowden leaks, perhaps the most embarrassing for the white house was that the n.s.a. monitored some of german chancellor angela merkel's cell phone calls. but general alexander says the n.s.a. doesn't choose who to spy on. they target the subjects and the countries that other u.s. agencies, including the state department, ask for intelligence on. >> alexander: that's one of the ones that the white house and i think our principals are looking at. what is the appropriate measures? what should we do? and what are we going to stop doing? from my perspective, when we look at that, it has to be both ways-- our country and their country has to come to an agreement to do the same. it can't be either way. >> miller: well, does that mean that we'll just agree to stop spying on everybody, including our friends, if they all agree to stop spying on everybody, including us? >> alexander: well, i think that's got to be part of the negotiation. and i think that's fraught with concern. what do you mean by "stop spying"?
>> miller: do you think chancellor merkel hears president obama's calls? >> alexander: well, i don't know. but i know they have a great intelligence capability and that they collect foreign intelligence just like we do. >> miller: this week, the c.e.o.s of eight major internet providers, including google, apple and yahoo, asked the president for new limits to be placed on the n.s.a.'s ability to collect personal information from their users. one of the snowden leaks involved the concept that n.s.a. had tunneled into the foreign data centers of major u.s. internet providers. did the leak describe it the right way? >> alexander: no, that's not correct. we do target terrorist communications, and terrorists use communications from google, from yahoo, and from other service providers. so our objective is to collect those communications, no matter where they are. but we're not going into a facility or targeting google as an entity or yahoo has an entity. but we will collect those communications of terrorists that flow on that network.
>> miller: sources tell "60 minutes" the president's intelligence review panel will recommend new limits on the bulk collection of u.s. phone records, which concerns general alexander. after all of this controversy, you could come out of this with less authority than you went into it. what does that say? >> alexander: well, my concern on that is specially what's going on in the middle east, what you see going on in syria, what we see going on in egypt, libya, iraq, it's much more unstable. the probability that a terrorist attack will occur is going up. and this is precisely the time that we should not step back from the tools that we've given our analysts to detect these types of attacks. >> how did "60 minutes" get its cameras into a spy agency? john miller talks about it on 60minutes.com.
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but after the advent of islam, it came to mean "the christians of egypt" and the name has stuck. copts have never had it easy there. they've been persecuted and discriminated against by the muslim majority for centuries. they'd hoped the egyptian revolution would change that. but it hasn't. instead, the last year has been one of their worst ever. copts have been murdered by islamic extremists. dozens of their churches have been gutted. but we're going to begin our story before the onset of these horrors with a coptic rite we witnessed, one of the most unusual events in all christianity. like the greeks and the russians, copts are orthodox christians, but they have one thing in common with the roman catholics-- they elect a pope. and in egypt, it's a public
ceremony. it all happens in cairo's grand cathedral. this was the first papal election in 41 years, and copts from all over egypt had come for what was likely to be a once-in- a-lifetime experience. it's the last step in a process that has narrowed the candidates for pope down to three. but the final choice is made by a boy who is blindfolded and led to a crystal chalice containing the three names. the name on the piece of paper the boy picks becomes the next pope of coptic christians. they believe his choice is not a roll of the dice, but is inspired by the divine. when the name is read out, pandemonium reigns. ( cheers and applause ) the new pope, called tawadros ii, is a 61-year-old pharmacist
turned monk, and the 118th pope in a line stretching back to the 1st century. now, in the roman catholic church, a pope is elected, as you know, by secret ballot behind closed doors. and you are selected by a boy... >> pope tawadros ii: yes. >> simon: ...putting his hand in a box. how did that come to pass? >> pope tawadros ii: this is a tradition in the coptic church, choosing the pope through a boy, because the boy is the symbol of purity. >> simon: purity and a young child-- the association is as old as christianity itself. copts believe that the baby jesus came to cairo, that his life was saved here. febe armanios, an expert on copts from middlebury college, took us down to the underground chapel of the abu serga church, where the pastor, father angelos shenouda, showed us where the
holy family sought refuge from king herod after their flight into egypt. >> febe armanios: local traditions say that they lived here, that the virgin mary may have even bathed the baby jesus in that spot there, that you can hear his voice in this room, that he breathed in this room. all of this is part of that memory. >> simon: that's why christians from all over egypt come to coptic cairo to pray. to them, the abu serga church is as sacred as the church of the nativity in bethlehem or the holy sepulcher in jerusalem. but while foreigners used to flock to egypt to see what the pharaohs left behind, very few came here or even knew about egypt's christian past. >> armanios: i don't think there's a lot of awareness of egypt's role in the christian story. it's a forgotten community, as many people have called it. >> simon: are coptics a little bit upset about that? >> armanios: i think they would
be eager to share their stories. they want to share this story with the world. >> simon: they want people to know that christianity has deep roots in egypt, in places like the eastern desert next to the red sea. we visited st. anthony's, the first christian monastery in the world. father maximous el-antony has been a monk here for 35 years. now, i think most people think that the monastic tradition began in what we call "the holy land"-- israel/palestine? >> maximous el-antony: yeah. >> simon: but it began here? >> maximous: yes, it began here, of course, in egypt. >> simon: it began in these mountains, 450 feet above the sands. the monks believe it was in that tiny cave that st. anthony, the first christian monk, followed god's instructions to seclude himself in the desert. every night around midnight, monks and novices climb through the darkness to pray here and honor his memory. it was very crowded and very cold.
( chanting ) >> simon: the monks believe that st. anthony's remains are buried near here, and they've been searching for them for centuries. ten years ago, when they probed beneath the monastery's floor, they made an amazing discovery-- what are believed to be the oldest monk cells in christianity, dating from the fourth century. they lived here. >> maximous: they lived here. >> simon: and there was no church? >> maximous: no church, no cells, no walls, nothing. ( chanting ) >> simon: from nothing, the copts developed a religious culture that's distinctly egyptian-- everything from music to art to some of the most magnificent churches of the early christian era. scholars have called the red monastery, "the coptic sistine chapel." its walls are covered with paintings of the church's prophets, saints and martyrs.
today, the traditions that were planted in the desert 1.600 years ago have hardly changed. the estimated eight and a half million copts form the largest christian community in the middle east. but in egypt, they are a distinct minority, 10% of the population. when we first met pope tawadros, egypt's first islamist president, mohammed morsi, was still in power. christians were terrified islamic rule was coming their way. by late june, the economy was a shambles. millions of egyptians took to the streets demanding that morsi leave. on july 3, egypt's army leader, general el-sissi, announced a military coup on national tv. lending him their support-- civil, military, and religious leaders, including pope tawadros ii.
wasn't the mere fact that the pope's picture was taken next to general sissi...? >> heba morayef: dangerous. >> simon: wasn't that enough...? >> morayef: yes. >> simon: ...to incite the brotherhood? heba morayef, who heads human rights watch in egypt, says the pope's support of the military was denounced at muslim brotherhood rallies, which often blamed christians for conspiring to overthrow morsi. when you talk about anti- christian dialogue, what are you referring to specifically? >> morayef: accusations that christians were responsible for the coup, chants that would call christians the pope's "dogs." >> simon: it all came to an abrupt end on august 14, when the army crushed two huge muslim brotherhood encampments. close to 1,000 protestors were killed. >> morayef: the dispersal of the two sit-ins on august 14 were the most bloody incidents of police violence we've ever seen in egypt. >> simon: as word of the killings spread, all across egypt, muslim mobs began
attacking christian churches. this cell phone video shows one surrounding the coptic church in sohag, 245 miles south of cairo, battering their way in, setting it on fire. it took a while to destroy the cross, but when it finally came down, the crowd began shouting "god is great." over the next two days, devastation like this was visited on more than 40 churches. >> youssef sidhom: we never expected that they will turn so fierce and vicious in their attacks. >> simon: youssef sidhom is the editor of egypt's most important coptic newspaper. well, how did you explain it? i mean, why was there such violence? >> sidhom: they were furious about the copts, and they wanted really to punish them for that. >> simon: and right outside cairo, in a town called kerdasa, a mob broke down the gate of
another coptic church complex. redha girgis, a caretaker, was there. >> redha girgis ( translated ): they looted everything, from chairs to pews. they stole anything that could be carried. what they couldn't carry, they destroyed. >> simon: how did they set the church on fire? >> girgis: they set the whole place on fire, with molotov cocktails and gasoline. >> simon: and on their way out, the attackers left behind a calling card, graffiti saying that egypt is islamic. the whole complex was gutted. everything was incinerated-- pews, paintings, bibles. the copts had supported the overthrow of muslim brotherhood rule, were overjoyed when the army took over. but when they saw their churches in flames, they realized they were paying a price for siding with the military and that they were on their own.
no one was going to help them. but martyrdom has always been at the core of the coptic religion. suffering, copts believe, deepens their faith. the day we were in kerdasa, they held a service in the only place that hadn't been destroyed. but we were surprised there was no anger, no call for revenge. bishop thomas, one of the church's senior clerics, says whatever pain copts are suffering, they must turn the other cheek, at least for now. >> bishop thomas: forgiveness is a very important principle in the christian life. when you are able to present forgiveness and love, you are able as well to ask for justice. one day in this life, justice has to be fulfilled. >> simon: one day, perhaps. but it's not happening now. four copts, including two children, were killed recently
when masked gunmen shot them as they arrived for a wedding. thousands attended the funeral for the church's latest martyrs. >> pope tawadros ii: in every period, we must present some martyrs. >> simon: so you think that christianity in egypt requires martyrs today as it has in the past? >> pope tawadros ii: yeah, every day. every day. >> simon: febe armanios believes the violence is one reason people are flocking to charismatic coptic services. she took us to one at st. simon in muquattam in cairo, one of the largest churches in the middle east. 2,000 people attended the night we went, and the service was broadcast all over the country. it went on for three hours and ended like no other we had ever seen... with public exorcisms. ( screaming )
have you ever seen anything like this? >> armanios: i've attended some of these ceremonies in this church before. >> simon: and it always ends like this? >> armanios: yeah, there's just a sense in the community of helplessness, of people in need of the priest's blessing, people in need of healing from god, people in need of support. >> simon: they find support in their own history. in a rite of passage unique among christian churches, the cross is tattooed on children's wrists. it hurts a little, but the pain doesn't last. it's a tradition that dates back to the middle ages when muslims forced copts to wear the cross as a sign of identity. today, they wear it as a sign of pride.
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