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Limit on President Obama's Clout; Dems: CIA Misled Us for Years; Jackson's Final Resting Place

Aired July 9, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, renewed allegations that the CIA lied to Congress. Democrats reignite a firestorm over top-secret briefings and accusations of torture. Republicans call it a bizarre attempt to protect the House speaker.

Also this hour, will Michael Jackson ever return to Neverland? This hour, new inquiries about burying the pop star on the grounds of his dream home.

And anti-government protesters in Iran make a powerful comeback. New clashes and defiance as authorities vow to crush this unrest just as they did last month.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.


Some tough lessons today for President Obama and the limits of his international star power. He made a big pushover at the G8 Summit in Italy for an agreement on reducing global warming and he got pushed right back by countries that don't have the will or the wallet to worry about pollution, especially in the midst of a global recession.

Our White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Among world leaders here at the G8 Economic Summit in Italy, President Obama is the rookie, but also the star.


MALVEAUX: Playful applause for Mr. Obama, who showed up late for the class photo. The president's newbie status didn't stop him from acting like the class president, arranging this photo op. But the gathered leaders did not move far from their entrenched positions.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've made a good start, but I'm the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy.

MALVEAUX: After chairing a forum on climate change, a dose of reality. OBAMA: It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change.

MALVEAUX: The world leaders watered down the group statement committed to tackling global warming. Just the day before, the U.S. and other G8 leaders signed on to the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. But today, joined by leaders from rapidly developing countries who are also big polluters, like China, India and Brazil, they had to scrap the commitment.

Instead, adding language that said they'd figure it out later at another summit in December. Poorer nations believe the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions will unfairly fall on them.

PHIL RADFORD, GREENPEACE USA: I think that India and China won't come on board and help us solve global warming unless they see that the people responsible for most of the pollution, the U.S., which has emitted 30 percent of the world's pollution in the atmosphere to date, are actually taking a leadership role and getting serious about the problem.

MALVEAUX: President Obama says he gets it.

OBAMA: We have the much larger carbon footprint per capita. And I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibility. So let me be clear, those days are over.


MALVEAUX: The president points to his administration's efforts to promote fuel efficiency, as well as clean energy, and to try to get the climate bill through Congress. All of these points he's going to be making again when he meets with these world leaders the next go- round in September in Pittsburgh -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president in Italy for us.

Thank you.

Whatever successes or setbacks he may face, President Obama is big. Literally.

In Italy, check this out. Mr. Obama's face edged in a field near Verona in northern Italy. An artist used a tractor to create this tribute, covering about 88 square feet. He calls it a show of respect for the land as well as for the American president.

The Obama administration is looking ahead to a decision that could possibly make or break America's economic recovery. Will the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, be reappointed when his term expires in January? The Bush administration holdover has gotten mixed reviews for his handling of the federal bailout of the financial system.

Today, CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked the Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, about Ben Bernanke's future.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": You need a good Fed chairman. You have any ideas?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: We have an excellent Fed chairman now, and he's doing a terrific job. And I think this is important to underscore.

I think what the Fed did in this crisis, which was without precedent, subject of enormous controversy, important for people to look back over time and, you know, evaluate this -- but I think what the Fed did this period was absolutely essential and helped stave off a much more catastrophic outcome. But I think what the Fed did was not just essential, but extraordinarily helpful this helping contain the risk, help slow the -- reduce the risk of a more catastrophic...


ZAKARIA: That sounds like a vote for the reappointment of Ben Bernanke.

GEITHNER: Well, again, I said I think the chairman has done an exceptional job. And I think he deserves a lot of confidence.


BLITZER: Pretty strong hint from Timothy Geithner.

You can see the entire interview with Fareed Zakaria on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." That's Sunday at 1:00 p.m., replays at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Now to an explosive allegation being leveled once again at the CIA. Some top Democrats now accusing the spy agency of misleading or outright lying to Congress. And they say the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, has admitted it. But Republicans say this is purely a political case of Democrats trying to protect one of their leaders.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Brianna, this is causing quite a stir up there.


The House is set to take up a big intelligence agency bill. And since this is an opportunity for Republicans to again attack House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for comments she's made about the CIA, Democrats are launching a preemptive strike.


KEILAR (voice-over): To hear Democrats tell it, the CIA has been keeping Congress in the dark for the last eight years.

(on camera): What does this mean?

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It means that something very serious broke down.

KEILAR (voice-over): Anna Eshoo and six other Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say Leon Panetta himself revealed in a closed-door briefing last month that the CIA misled members of Congress. In a letter to Panetta, they say, "Recently, you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress and misled members for a number of years."

ESHOO: He informed us that there was an operation that was in place from 2001 until the day before he came to notify us.

KEILAR: But Pete Hoekstra, the committee's top Republican, downplayed the significance of Panetta's briefing.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I heard about a concept and a plan and some preparation on a program, a program that was never implemented. So, basically, we were briefed on a program that never happened.

KEILAR: Democrats and Republicans wouldn't give specifics because they say the information is classified.

The partisan sniping reignites another controversy -- Nancy Pelosi's accusation that the CIA essentially lied to her in a 2002 briefing about so-called harsh interrogation tactics such as waterboarding used on terror suspects. After facing weeks of scathing criticism from Republicans, Pelosi was less than eager to reopen the debate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The Intelligence Committee has the oversight responsibility for intelligence in the House, and an equivalent committee in the Senate. I'm sure they will be pursuing this in their regular committee process, and that's the way that it will go.

KEILAR: House Republican Leader John Boehner said the new information does not vindicate Pelosi.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: I do not believe that the CIA lied to Congress. I'm still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to either put up the facts or retract her statement and apologize.


KEILAR: Now, the truth is, since we're dealing with a classified briefing here, Wolf, it's really hard to make heads or tails of this, because not only are you not getting specifics from folks up here on the Hill, but the CIA doesn't comment on classified briefings, saying only that it's not the practice or policy of the agency to mislead Congress. BLITZER: Despite all that classification, Brianna, you and I know -- I suspect in the next few days much of that information will be leaked to the news media. And we'll, of course, report it once it is.

KEILAR: We will.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Brianna, very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It is perhaps the centerpiece of President Obama's agenda for his first term in office -- reform the nation's health care system before it bankrupts the country. It also comes with a hefty and as yet undetermined price tag which has been estimated as high as $1 trillion.

With all the negotiating over who should be taxed and what provisions will stay or go, the plan to provide better health care for all Americans is also adding up to billions and billions of dollars in something that's being called health infrastructure. Now, this includes things like walking paths, streetlights, jungle gyms, even farmers' markets. Some suggest a better name for all of this would be pork.

Advocates, including Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, say all this stuff's needed to promote healthier lifestyles and cut medical spending down the road with lower obesity rates, less heart disease and other health problems. Critics, including Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, say it's pork and these are simply public works projects dressed up and disguised to be stuffed into this health care bill.

The way it stands, local and state governments would have to submit proposals for these bike paths and stuff to the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. And then she would be the final say on who gets what.

You suppose there would be the potential for any sort of a bottleneck there?

It's far from a done deal, but with an eye toward next year's midterm elections, it is never too late, or early, I should say, for the folks in Congress to think about keeping their constituents back home happy. So get ready to build those bike paths.

Here's the question: Should health care legislation contain billions of dollars for parks, walking paths and farmers' markets?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

What do you think, Wolf?

BLITZER: I like bike paths. I like walking paths, farmers' markets. They're all lovely things, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You like these? Do they belong in the health care bill?

BLITZER: I'm not so sure about that, but I think they belong somewhere because they're useful. Parks are nice, walking paths.

CAFFERTY: Well, I agree. Ducks are good.

BLITZER: Ducks are lovely.

All right, Jack. Thank you.

Two days after Michael Jackson's memorial, there's mystery surrounding his final resting place. We have new information coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now about whether a burial at Neverland is in fact still possible.

Also, why your Social Security number isn't very secure. Researchers say they've cracked a code that could make identity theft even more common.

And in our "Strategy Session," is Sarah Palin a renegade or just another politician who won't give up the spotlight?


BLITZER: Fans mourning the death of Michael Jackson are wondering where the "King of Pop" will finally rest in peace. We all saw his rose-covered casket at the memorial on Tuesday, but his burial site, if indeed he's buried, remains a mystery. A lot of speculation centers around Michael Jackson's former home, Neverland.

Let's go out to California. And CNN's Ted Rowlands is taking a closer look at this story for us.

What are you finding out, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the family continues to be very secretive about where the body is now and their burial plans. But we have learned that someone from the family has contacted the state of California about possibly burying Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): According to the state, an attorney for the Jackson family has inquired about burying Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch, something Jermaine Jackson told CNN's Larry King last week he'd like to see happen.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you have a place for him here?

JACKSON: Yes. There's a special place right over near the train station, right over there. ROWLANDS: To bury someone on private land in California, there are two steps. First, you need what's called a certificate of authority from the State Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. That's no big deal. Just fill out this two-page application and shell out $400.

The other thing you need is approval from the county, which in this case is Santa Barbara. At this point, nobody from the Jackson family has contacted the county. If someone does, they say it's possible they'll give the OK.

WILLIAM BOYER, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We have had no formal application either from the Jackson family or from the property owner. And at that point in time, we would review the application and make a determination.

ROWLANDS: What's unclear is if everyone in the family wants Neverland to be Jackson's final resting place. Joe Jackson seemed to shoot it down when asked about it in the days after Jackson's death.

JOE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FATHER: That's not true. That's not true.


ROWLANDS: The bottom line here, Wolf, is in terms of the state of California, they say it's really no problem if the family wants to pursue this. The only hurdle could be Santa Barbara County. It just doesn't happen very often. That's the key here.

So, the county says if they get a proposal, they'll look at it. The last person to be buried on private land, according to the state, was Ronald Reagan at Simi Valley.

BLITZER: It's doable, but we'll see if it's done.

All right. Thanks, Ted, very much.

The final official word on why Michael Jackson died may still be a few weeks away. No matter what the outcome, though, Michael Jackson's death has certainly highlighted deep concerns about prescription drug use and abuse.


BLITZER: And joining us now, President Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske. He has got an important job. And it has been underlined right now by this abuse of prescription drugs. The Michael Jackson death certainly has brought that to all of our attention.

How big of a problem is this?

GIL KERLIKOWSKE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: It's very significant. Across this country, young people are starting more into drug problems through their parents' medicine cabinet than anywhere else. The death rate from drug overdoses or drug-induced deaths is very high. BLITZER: How high is it?

KERLIKOWSKE: In fact, it's greater than gunshot wounds.

BLITZER: How many people a year die from drug abuse?

KERLIKOWSKE: This was -- literally thousands. One of the problems, of course, is the ability of the United States government to collect the data. So even looking at 2006 deaths, it's greater, in the 30,000 range, than gunshot wounds.

BLITZER: Because we look at these celebrities like Michael Jackson or Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, drug abuse, the allegations of addiction, and it's going on in part because doctors are not doing what they're supposed to do.

KERLIKOWSKE: There are a number of parts. One is that there are doctors that abuse their -- the law and abuse their patients. There are patients that "doctor shop." There are drugs that are taken out of extended care facilities, or parents' medicine cabinets. There is a whole host of these problems.

BLITZER: How do you punish these doctors who just give prescriptions for really serious drugs they shouldn't be giving?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, the Drug Enforcement Administration does a very good job on that. And in fact, when I was police chief in Seattle, we had several cases that we worked with them.

But the one thing that really looks very bright for that is the prescription drug monitoring programs. Thirty-eight states have passed laws, 33 have operations. That gives the public health services and sometimes law enforcement the ability to find out about doctors that are perhaps over-prescribing. And it also gives the opportunity to find out about patients who are going to multiple doctors.

BLITZER: Because if you have money, you can get a prescription basically. You'll find a doctor who is willing to write a prescription basically for almost anything.

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I wouldn't go that far. I would hope the vast majority of physicians, I mean, clearly take care of their patients...


BLITZER: But there are doctors who abuse the system...

KERLIKOWSKE: There are, yes.

BLITZER: ... to make a buck.

KERLIKOWSKE: Yes. But there are a lot of other ways these drugs, these powerful painkillers, these prescriptions that are getting out into the hands of young people.

BLITZER: All right. So tell us what you're doing. You're the drug czar, you're in charge of the federal government's program.

How do you stop this?

KERLIKOWSKE: We're advocates of the prescription drug monitoring programs where these states are passing these laws. And we're going to work very closely to make sure that they have the tools to put these into effect.

The other is our media campaign. The Anti-Drug Youth Media Campaign ran a number of ads both in February of '08 and also in April of '09 to educate parents about, look, be concerned about what's in your medicine cabinet, talk to your kids.

BLITZER: But should parents put a lock on their medicine cabinet?

KERLIKOWSKE: You know what? There are parents that do put a lock. And in fact, I've talked to people that actually, before they hold a party, they actually clean out prescription drugs and put them in a different place in their house. And these are adults.

Because remember, these aren't just affecting young people. You know, it can affect all ages. This prescription drug problem doesn't know boundaries of race or ethnicity or economic class.

BLITZER: Is there enough federal regulation of this whole prescription drug industry?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, there are a couple of things going on. One is that there are several pieces of pending legislation about, how do you get rid of a drug? Well, one, we don't want people flushing drugs back down the toilet because that -- the EPA, others are very concerned about that.

BLITZER: What do you mean? What's their concern?

KERLIKOWSKE: Right. The pollution of the -- and the infection of the chemicals into the water system, that's very serious.

BLITZER: So what do you -- if you have drugs in your medicine cabinet that you don't need anymore, what do you do with them?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, there are a couple of things that can be done. One is that they can be concealed and not left where they're entirely visible. The other is that a lot of law enforcement agencies are actually holding kind of local -- because they're authorized to receive these drugs, they're holding these local collections and picking them up. But when some new legislation is passed by Congress, I think we'll see some easier ways to do that.

BLITZER: Knowing what we know about the Michael Jackson death -- and you've studied it, all of us have, you know, watched it over these past couple of weeks -- is there anything that jumps out in your mind what we should be doing, what we -- a lesson learned from his tragic death?

KERLIKOWSKE: You know, the very sad and untimely loss of Michael Jackson is a wake-up call to the country about prescription drugs. But I would not be in a position to really comment about any of the specifics. And I really don't know anything more than I have read about this.

But if we can save lives and if we can bring to the attention of the people the dangers of prescription drug abuse, I think there is some benefit to this country.

BLITZER: Gil Kerlikowske is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the drug czar.

Thanks very much. Good luck.



BLITZER: And coming up later in the next hour, we're going to be speaking with Bryan Monroe, our CNN contributor, more on the investigation into the death of Michael Jackson. And then Jim Moret will be joining us well. So we'll have a lot more on this story coming up.

But when we come back, Iran. It's erupting once again with protests and more angry demonstrators in the streets. Police battling their advances and chants of "Death to the dictator!" We're getting brand-new video coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the streets of Tehran.

And tales of sex, lies and money. The scandal hovering over Senator John Ensign of Nevada takes an unexpected new twist. Wait until you find out what the husband of his former mistress says about cash payments.




Happening now, workers at an historic African-American cemetery are accused of digging up graves, throwing out the buried remains, reselling the cemetery spaces, and pocketing the cash.

We'll have a full report.

And new developments regarding a disgraced senator's adultery. The husband of Republican Senator John Ensign and his former mistress, they're talking about cash payments. Now others are asking if there was some sort of cover-up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The health and human services secretary tells about 500 officials at a health summit here in Washington, plan for the worst-case scenario regarding Swine Flu, the H1N1 virus.

Kathleen Sebelius says, a vaccine could be ready in October, but that's -- the virus, it's never actually gone away. And the fear is, it will reappear with renewed strength in the United States come the flu season in the fall.

Let's talk about this and more with the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.

Madam Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: It looks like it's -- it's pretty bitter in Argentina, Brazil, South America, below the equator right now. Is that what we should be gearing up for come the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we have scientists monitoring what's going on in the Southern Hemisphere very carefully, also places like Australia, to see if that gives us some clue as to what form of the virus we can expect to return to the United States in the fall.

The -- the scientists tell us there will be some form of mutation or change, but they can't tell us yet what kind of mutation or change. So, today's summit was designed to really prepare and begin preparing for a worst-case scenario, even though we hope we don't see that.

BLITZER: Because, already, about 40,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the H1N1, almost 100,000 worldwide. And those are the formally diagnosed cases.

How concerned are you that it will mutate and become more dangerous, though, as the flu season here approaches?

NAPOLITANO: Wolf, I don't know what numbers you're getting, but, actually, what the scientists tell us is, they think about a million Americans will have H1N1.

And there is concern about mutation. We always think about what happened in 1917, '18, where the -- the flu appeared in a new strain in the spring. It was relatively mild, came back in the fall with a vengeance.

Now, our modeling and what -- and what we're seeing is that we don't think that will happen or is likely to happen. But what we do think is going to happen is, there's going to be a return of H1N1 in some form. And we need to be ready. Families need to be ready. Schools need to be ready. Communities need to be ready. Businesses need to be ready.

Let's not get caught by surprise here. BLITZER: Well, because I was getting those numbers, by the way, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, their Web site today. But we don't have to -- a million Americans already, you're saying, have been -- have been formally diagnosed? Or is that the fear of what could happen?

NAPOLITANO: No, that -- that is the -- those who have actually been -- have had some form of the flu. I think you're looking at those who have actually gone in and gotten reported.

But there's a larger number out there, of course, that probably have had it and -- and haven't reported it directly. Why? Because it's been a relatively mild, like a seasonal flu, at least in its first iteration.

However, it has gone and -- to the Southern Hemisphere, as we predicted that it would. It's the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere. We're watching very carefully there to see what it looks like. And, as Secretary Sebelius said at the summit today, plans are already being made for a vaccine.

BLITZER: How confident are you that there will be a vaccine available by the time the flu season arrives here in October?

NAPOLITANO: Well, the flu season may be a little bit in advance of the vaccine, because the vaccine, at the earliest, won't be available until mid-October.

You know, school starts earlier than that. And this flu in particular strikes children, the school-age children. So, we really want to work with our schools, our school districts to make sure they have plans for what to do if a child arrives who has the flu and a strategy for keeping a school open, but children at home.

BLITZER: I want to switch gears and talk about this GAO report that came out -- we reported on it yesterday -- that apparently federal buildings all across the country are not well-prepared to deal with terrorist attacks, if you want to smuggle in material for explosives in a building.

What is the Department of Homeland Security doing about this?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I have ordered an immediate review. This is the Federal Protective Service. It actually is a department within the Department of Homeland Security.

And the results of that GAO report are -- are unacceptable. And, so, we're -- we're drilling down and we're reviewing. And we're going to fix this problem.

BLITZER: Were you as stunned as I was when I read that GAO report?

NAPOLITANO: It was an unpleasant surprise, particularly for somebody like me, who has, when I was U.S. attorney, helped participate in the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, of course, which took down the Murrah Building and hundreds of lives in -- in Oklahoma City. So, we're going to get to the bottom of this. We're going to fix it.

BLITZER: I hope so.

All right, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, joining us from Capitol Hill, thank you.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: It's been two weeks since the Washington Metrorail collision killed nine people here in the nation's capital. And now passengers are using cell phones and digital cameras to highlight other safety concerns, images that appear to show train operators texting or even dozing off at the controls.


Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, show us some of these videos that average citizens are just relaying to us.


For passengers who are still shaken by that deadly June 22 crash, these videos aren't helping. Let me show you what's been posted on YouTube. The first one is down in the Alexandria area of Virginia. This video posted, it's recorded early June, posted on YouTube with a caption that said, he appears to be sleeping. He's actually holding a BlackBerry.

Then there was a second one that was posted last night. That first video, in fact, a Metrorail spokeswoman said that that -- that operator was identified and then later suspended without pay for five days.

The next video that was posted, also on YouTube, was given to Washington station WTTG by a teen who said, this Metrorail operator appeared to be sleeping. The Metrorail spokeswoman saying they don't want to jump to any conclusions on that one. It's hard to tell what's happening there, but he doesn't appear to be paying attention, and that they're following up on that one, too.

BLITZER: Now, I just want to be precise. No one is suggesting that the operator of that June 22 train...

TATTON: Right.

BLITZER: ... that -- that had that collision was -- was responsible for this.

TATTON: Absolutely not. The preliminary investigation there showing that that Metrorail operator was not at fault. She lost her life during that crash. She's actually been hailed a hero. But, because of these videos, because -- also citing separate incidents around the country involving texting incidents that were fatal, because of those, Metrorail in D.C. is now saying they have got a zero-tolerance policy on drivers texting. And they're inviting anyone to send in videos like this, because Metro's saying they want to see them.

BLITZER: Yes. Don't text while you're driving a car...

TATTON: In any circumstance.

BLITZER: ... riding a bike, or certainly not driving...


TATTON: ... the road.

BLITZER: ... a -- a train or anything like that.

All right, Abbi, thanks very much.

It's easier than you might think for crooks to figure out your Social Security number. A professor reveals how he says he cracked the code and why all of us should be even more concerned about identity theft.

Also coming up, disturbing allegations of racism at a swimming pool -- dozens of kids may have been embarrassed, or even worse.

And how Michelle Obama is making sure her fellow first ladies aren't left out over the G8 Summit in Italy.


BLITZER: There are things you likely never worry about sharing with friends or others, when you were born, where you were born. But what if those innocent things about you could be used to victimize you in an entirely new and very wicked, wicked way?

We asked our Brian Todd to investigate this story, because this as an impact on potentially millions of people out there.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because we all get Social Security numbers, Wolf.

A 36-year-old professor from Italy has opened a new battle front against identity theft by exposing the predictability of how we currently get assigned our Social Security numbers.


TODD (voice-over): Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University says all he needs to get started in finding your Social Security number is your date of birth and the state where you were born, information that millions of Americans freely give out by registering to vote or putting it on their Facebook or MySpace pages. (on camera): We're going to try to at least get in the ballpark of my Social Security number. I was born in Virginia. And, OK, guys, leave out the date here, October (AUDIO GAP) 19 (AUDIO GAP). So, OK, how would you kind of at least come up the couple of digits, first maybe three, four, or five digits?

ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND PUBLIC POLICY, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: So, we would know from publicly available information that your SSN should be likely between 22 -- the first few digits 223 and 231.

TODD: That's right.

ACQUISTI: Is that the case?

TODD: That's right.

(voice-over): Those are the area numbers, assigned based on the state where you were born. The last six numbers are given in chronological order.

To find them, Acquisti and his team of researchers used statistical techniques, and they mined publicly available data from the Social Security Administration's death master file. That shows the patterns in which people who are deceased got their numbers.

Acquisti says it's much easier to narrow down numbers for people born after 1988, when most Americans started getting assigned Social Security numbers at birth.

ACQUISTI: If you consider the entire nine digits, we can predict with fewer than 1,000 attempts 8.5 percent of all the SSN issued after 1988.

TODD: And it's even easier to track people born in less populated states.

His point in all this?

ACQUISTI: The bottom line is that Social Security numbers are very bad passwords. They were not designed to be used the way we are using them now.


TODD: So, Acquisti and the Social Security Administration have been cautioning people to stop using Social Security numbers as -- as passwords at the bank and at other places.

Now, officials from the Social Security Administration did not respond to our request for an on-camera interview. But, in a statement, a spokesman said -- quote -- "The suggestion that Mr. Acquisti has cracked a code for predicting an SSN is a dramatic exaggeration."

But he says, for reasons unrelated to professor Acquisti's report, they will start randomly assigning Social Security numbers next year. And the professor says, it's about time. They have got to do that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because the numbers are staggering, the identity theft is going on.

TODD: You -- you just don't believe them when you look at them. This firm called Javelin Strategy and Research issued a report recently on Social Security and -- well, actually identity fraud theft just in the U.S. last year.

Here are some of the numbers. We have got 9.9 million victims in the United States last year. That represents about 4.3 percent of the U.S. population. And the numbers, $48 billion in losses just for identity fraud among Americans last year, about $5,000 a person, Wolf.

This is why you have got to just try to think of some random numbers. And the Social Security Administration is going to do its part by issuing random Social Security numbers, not based on where and when you were born, starting next year.

BLITZER: Got to just really protect that Social Security number as best as you can...


BLITZER: ... your date of birth, probably, as well.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

You like him personally, but far fewer of you appear to be happy with President Obama. Your thoughts on his strengths and his weakness, his toughness, that's coming up.

And is Sarah Palin the renegade? She often criticizes the news media for its coverage of her, but often appears on magazine covers and gives news media interviews. Is there some sort of contradiction? Take a look at the new cover of "TIME" magazine.


BLITZER: President Obama remains very popular, but guess what? Not as popular as he was only a few months ago. What's going on?

Let's discuss it in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us now, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Some new numbers just out today, Donna, our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Take a look at these contrasts between -- we asked the question, is President Obama a strong leader? Back in February, 80 percent said yes, now down to 70 percent. Is he tough enough? Back in February, 73 percent said yes. Sixty-four percent said yes now. Has -- does he have a clear plan for the country? In February, 64 percent said yes. Fifty-three percent said now.

I see a trend there that the White House may not be happy with.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I think the White House should be satisfied right now that -- that things seem to be leveling off from the astronomical numbers that he started off with.

But, Wolf, it's the economy. People are dissatisfied. They're worried. They're worried about their own, you know, standards of living. They're worried about their jobs. They're worried about their health care.

So, part of the problem with -- with the president's numbers right now is that people are just worried sick.

BLITZER: If his numbers are going down, I don't see any evidence that numbers for Republicans, though, are going up, do you, Kevin?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, not yet. But, I think, with those numbers presents an opportunity. Republicans have a chance now to -- like, on health care, on energy, on the economy, to offer our vision for a better future, because I think the numbers are going down on the economy because the president has overpromised and under- delivered.

What's most troubling, I think, to the -- if you're sitting in the White House right now and you're looking at those numbers, is, again, it's the trend line. And, if you look at places like Ohio, Virginia, those are leading indicators of where the rest of the country may be going.

And his -- also, what I think is most troubling is the fact that -- and Donna's heard me argue this many, many times -- President Obama's real base right now is the middle, independents. And he's losing independents. They're breaking away from him at a -- at a troubling pace.

BLITZER: I know that they're deeply worried. If the unemployment rate goes nationally to 10 percent -- it's already above 10 percent in several states, including California, Michigan way up -- but, if it goes nationally up to 10 percent, that -- that's an indication that the president's political popularity could suffer.

BRAZILE: Well, the president said it last week, that he's not satisfied. He's not satisfied with these unemployment numbers.

And that's why the White House is redoubling their efforts right now to make sure that this money is going to the states, going to the people who need it most. I don't think the White House should be worried about their poll numbers. They should be worried about whether or not people have food on their tables. That's what the president of the United States should be concerned about.

BLITZER: Folks still admire him a great deal. In fact, this question we asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of -- of the president as a person, as a person?"


BLITZER: Seventy-nine percent approve. Seventeen percent disapprove.

So, personally, he's well-liked. Here's the question. Does that translate into getting health care reform done by the end of August, as he says he wants to do?

MADDEN: It helps a little, but it doesn't help enough.

I think that a lot of people will afford the president a certain degree of admiration on his personals attributes. He's got what they used to describe with John F. Kennedy as vigor. He's somebody who is young and charismatic. But young -- you know, youth and charisma are not going to help very troubling policies.

We have seen lots of spending. We have seen the specifics of the health care plan not match up where the American public wants to see health care go. And that's what's creating this deficit between his personal charm and his -- and his political popularity.

BLITZER: Donna, do you agree that he's got to get health care reform done this year and energy reform done this year, because he's got to take advantage of that personal popularity? If he waits until next year, which is an election year, a midterm election year, the chances are reduced that he will get it done?

BRAZILE: What's unacceptable, Wolf, is -- is the -- the notion that, somehow or another, we have to put these major policy decisions on hold.

Fourteen thousand Americans are losing their health care every day. Millions...


BLITZER: But this is the moment he's got to do it. If he can't do it between now and -- and the end of the summer, let's say, he's in deep trouble.

BRAZILE: I mean, why accumulate capital if you're not willing to use it? And, if the critics are only going to sit around and just complain and whine, and then beg for forgiveness come next election year, because they were not at the table when the president said, let's get these problems solved...

BLITZER: He's got a window right now to do it, right?

MADDEN: Right. I mean, I think -- I saw somewhere the other day where I think there's only like 22 legislative days left to get something like health care done. That is a very short time.

Every single day that there's not significant progress made on health care, I think, is another day where it's a chance they may not get it.

BRAZILE: The Democrats will get it done.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.

I want to show our viewers the cover of "TIME" magazine, our sister publication. Let's put it up on the screen. There it is, "The Renegade." She's standing there up in Alaska. She's giving interviews, including an interview to "TIME" magazine, gave an interview to most of the major television networks earlier in the week.

She says she wants to be out of the spotlight, but she's in the spotlight, isn't she?

MADDEN: Right.

BLITZER: And a lot of that is her own doing.

MADDEN: I think so. And I think that Sarah Palin has one of the -- she has -- she has in spades what every politician wants. And that is options. She has an incredible amount of flexibility of what she can do now, now that she's no longer -- she can make the argument she's no longer tethered up in Alaska. She can travel the lower 48 and build grassroots. She can raise money, do whatever she -- she needs to do and to -- to help build a profile.

I think the big problem right now is what does that profile look like and whether or not it's going to be for elective office or if it's going to be for other things.

BLITZER: Never too -- no -- never too early to go to Iowa.


BLITZER: And Republican leaders in Iowa right now, they're inviting her, saying -- they're saying, Governor, come on down.

BRAZILE: And, let me tell you, the barbecue there is just as good as it is in Chicago.


BRAZILE: But Kevin is absolutely right. She has time now to plan for a more successful future, to rebrand herself, and to make sure that this transition out of public office is smooth, and that the next governor will be able to continue her legacy. That's important.

And, also, she needs to have a blockbuster, a good-selling book, so that she can come on the Wolf Blitzer SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: I suspect that book will be a bestseller.


BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: We're learning of a startling new kind of grave-robber. Dozens of bodies allegedly were ripped out of a ground -- out of the ground over at a cemetery, so that the plots could be sold again. What is going on? We're investigating.

Also ahead: Anti-government protesters in Iran are refusing to stay silent, despite the threats. They're back on the streets big- time today, defying a government crackdown and possibly risking their lives.

And a retired football star's final message before he was killed in what police are calling a murder-suicide -- wait until you hear what Steve McNair wanted you to know before he died.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, should health care legislation contain billions of dollars for parks, walking paths and farmers markets?

Martin in Washington writes: "Are liberals ever going to wake up? They tend to be more educated than conservatives, so why are they so stupid? This is the kind of spending that gets them removed from power every time. Democrats could rule for decades if they wanted to. But, when they use taxes to steal from one group and give to another, then American voters throw them out of office."

Jill writes: "Yes. Weight management and good nutrition are critical components of health. Walking has one of the lowest dropout rates of any exercise program. Farmers markets provide access to fruits and vegetables that may not be readily accessible to many inner-city stores. Together, they provide an integral part of health management, thereby keeping the nation's" -- that's enough.

James in Tennessee writes: "The push to reform health care should focus on making quality health care affordable to all citizens, not building parks, playgrounds and fitness centers. Send the lobbyists home, let the Congress work for the people who actually voted for them, instead of the corporations with the most money to spend, circumventing the intent of the law. If we find a need for such infrastructure, there are a lot of unemployed folks who might be happy to have some honest work in a CCC type program. That's supposedly what the stimulus package was designed to do."

Agnes in Arizona: "I don't think the concept of public works projects in support of health reform is such a bad idea. During the Depression of the 1930s, a number of parks and recreational projects were built in and around New York City that are still in use to this day. We say we're concerned about children. Maybe they will be healthier if they had well-designed recreational areas to play in. Is that so bad?"

Alex in Washington: "Please focus on health care. I go to the VA for my health care, and the government bureaucrats do a fine job of getting me the care I need. On the other hand, I just paid $1,300 for anesthesia for my stepson's wisdom teeth removal. Evidently, my wife's health insurance plan considers anesthesia a luxury while removing impacted wisdom teeth."



If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog,, and look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Literally ouch.

CAFFERTY: Right on time today.

BLITZER: Literally.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Can you imagine? Oh.


We will be right back with you.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.