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More Troops Headed to Mexican Border?; Korean Truce Gets Shakier

Aired May 25, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: BP is doing critical testing at this hour to see if it can go ahead with its urgent attempt to kill the Gulf oil leak by choking it with thick, heavy fluid.

There's new word that the president plans to send troops to the border with Mexico, but will they make life any safer for U.S. citizens in the area?

And they have been technically at war for more than half-a- century, and their uneasy truce suddenly become a whole lot shakier -- how the U.S. is trying to defuse tensions between North and South Korea.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The desperate rush to plug the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has come down to this. It's called top kill and it may begin within hours. BP may pump very dense fluid into the site to smother the oil flow. If -- and it's a huge if -- if it works, and BP says the chances are only about 60 to 70 percent, the well could then be sealed with concrete.

CNN's David Mattingly is tracking all of this for us.

David, what's going on behind the scenes right now? And more important, what's going on under the water?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're giving their very last important look at all of the equipment that they have down there. They're doing pressure testing. Essentially, this is an operation where they are going to try and drown the well with heavy liquid. So, they have to make sure that everything inside their equipment down there, inside that blowout preventer that we have heard about can take the pressure that they're trying to exert, and push that oil back and hold it in place while they later try to cement that well.

Anything they find right now that gives them pause could delay this operation. But right now, they are testing everything to make sure that their equipment can handle this top kill.

BLITZER: What about what's going on under the water, David, right now?

MATTINGLY: Well, Wolf, underneath the water, the blowout preventer has five access points for all of this liquid that they are going to try to pump into that. So, they are testing the pressure, the connections with each of those five locations to find out how best to put that liquid in there, how much they can pump in there, how fast.

And, again, it's all about the pressure, how much pressure can their equipment down there take, and will it be enough to push that oil back. Those are the questions they are trying to answer. And if the answer is yes, they will have a great deal more confidence as they go forward and try this top kill.

BLITZER: David Mattingly is on the scene for us. We're only hours away from this effort. Let's hope it succeeds. Federal inspectors responsible for keeping an eye on the drilling in the Gulf had close, even inappropriate ties with the oil industry they were supposed to be monitoring, that group from a watchdog group out today.

And the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, is calling it -- quote -- "another" -- "yet another reason to clean house."

Brian Todd has been digging into this story for us.

So, Brian, I have got to tell you, these are shocking findings.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are shocking, Wolf. In addition other more information on just how intertwined the Minerals Management Service was with the oil industry, the findings detail personal behavior that was inappropriate.


TODD (voice-over): A blistering new report about inspectors for the government agency overseeing oil drilling, documenting what the interior secretary calls reprehensible behavior on the job.

(on camera): What he could have been referring to, other than the findings that MMS employees got gifts from oil industry executives, were findings that they also on occasion used government computers to view pornography, and that at least one MMS inspector used drugs, including crystal methamphetamine, and that he might have even been under the influence of it while he was at work.

(voice-over): That new report from the Interior Department's inspector general found the relationship between the Minerals Management Service and the oil industry was more than just cozy. It found that inspectors from MMS offices in Louisiana accepted tickets to sporting events from an oil company and admitted to receiving lunches and accepting gifts from them.

We ran that by a Democratic senator on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who has been critical of MMS.

(on camera): One phrase here says, we found that a culture of accepting gifts from oil and gas companies was prevalent throughout MMS.

What does that say to you?

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: It is long past time to drain the safety swamp that has become the Minerals Management Service.

TODD (voice-over): The report says, in 2008, an MMS official in Louisiana inspected four offshore platforms for one oil company while in the process of negotiating and later accepting employment with the company.

The report's findings refer to periods between 2000 and 2009, well before the Deepwater Horizon exploded. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is asking for another inspector general report covering the period he's been in office, since early 2009.

I asked a Republican congressman from Louisiana about Salazar's other MMS reforms.

(on camera): Is it enough for Secretary Salazar to now undertake this overhaul where he's breaking MMS up to avoid some of these conflicts?

REP. JOSEPH CAO (R), LOUISIANA: I believe that the breaking up of MMS is only the beginning. I believe that greater regulations need to be implemented to ensure that MMS employees are working at the highest level of professionalism.


TODD: Congressman Joseph Cao believes the Coast Guard should also join in on MMS inspections of oil rigs. Contacted by CNN, a current MMS spokesman wouldn't go beyond what Secretary Salazar said when we asked him to respond to this report.

We also called the two former MMS directors who were in charge during the period covered in this report. Now, an aide to Randall Luthi said he's preparing for congressional testimony, and they have not had time to review this report.

Rejane "Johnnie" Burton, who was director between 2002 and 2007, said she was in the meeting, didn't have anything to say about the report, and then hung up on us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, this latest report is just an additional one following up on a blistering report, what, two years ago?

TODD: That's right. This was after a sandal in 2008. And then another inspector general's report found MMS officials in the Colorado office got improper gifts from the oil industry, and at least one of them was having sex with an industry executive.

This was all part of what Ken Salazar says is a culture of corruption there and he's trying to clean it up.

BLITZER: Way too cozy. Way too cozy. All right, Brian, thank you.

The federal government has butted heads with BP over the use of dispersants to break up the oil spilling into the Gulf. After ordering the company to find less toxic chemicals, the Obama administration has backtracked, saying the alternatives may not be available in the necessary quantities.

For a closer look at how the dispersants actually look, let's turn to CNN's Dan Simon.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here with Thomas Azwell. He's a researcher from U.C. Berkeley. He's brought an aquarium, about a 60-gallon aquarium, filled it up with seawater. We have some crude oil here. We're going to put it inside and then add some dispersant to see what happens.

THOMAS AZWELL, RESEARCHER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY: Chocolate syrup when it first comes out into the water.

SIMON: In general, how does oil react to water like this?

AZWELL: It will actually stay together as much as possible. So, it will adhere to itself.

SIMON: All right, we have the oil inside. Let's add the dispersant. Tell me what's happening as do you that.

AZWELL: So, the dispersant immediately starts to emulsify the oil.

I'm going to simulate the wave action that happens in the ocean here. It helps the chemical dispersant to break up the oil. As you can see, it doesn't take long for it to continue to emulsify. The consistency of the oil has changed. The viscosity is different.

SIMON: You have to be cautious when you're dealing with dispersants. They're toxic.

AZWELL: Toxic, highly functional with the oil, but toxic to organisms that are in the -- that are near it.

SIMON: We don't know how they are going to affect -- these dispersants, how they are going to affect aquatic life and plants, et cetera.

AZWELL: Sure. And our hope would be it would be less toxic than the oil not being emulsified. It's a lot easier to clean up oil or to deal with oil when it's in the water than it is when it comes to land. Once it attaches to shorelines, wetlands, it's very difficult to clean up at that point.


BLITZER: The oil spill is already catastrophic for the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Within the last half-hour or so, the federal government closed off more waters to fishermen. Now more than 20 percent of federal waters in the Gulf are closed to fishing. And the commerce secretary has declared a fishery disaster for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In 2008, commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than a billion pounds of fish and shellfish and there are millions of people who are engaged in recreational fishing in this Gulf area. Louisiana alone has a $2.4 billion commercial seafood industry involving tens of thousands of jobs. Fisherman in fishing communities are now eligible for federal funds.

Economic fallout is disastrous.

More on the Gulf oil spill coming up. I will speak with one lawmaker who wants BP banned permanently from offshore oil drilling.

Also, beefing up border security here in the United States. We will have details of President Obama's plan to deploy more U.S. National Guard troops and why critics say it's simply not enough.

And a drastic move ticks up tension even higher on the Korean Peninsula after the sinking of a South Korean ship. Now the U.S. is looking for help trying to keep the North and South from going to war.


BLITZER: Just like President Bush before him, President Obama now plans to deploy troops to the border with Mexico, a senior administration official saying up to 1,200 troops would be sent and that the president will also request another half-a-billion dollars for border protection and law enforcement.

Lisa Sylvester is looking into this for us.

What are you finding, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one U.S. lawmaker said, you know, after dark, sections along the U.S.-Mexican border turn into the Wild West.

Representative Ted Poe said drug cartels dominate the human and drug smuggling market. And that's making it very dangerous for U.S. families who live there. Poe is among the lawmakers, along with Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who have asked the president to deploy National Guard troops on the border. Today, Mr. Obama agreed to send 1,200 troops in the coming weeks.

Senator John McCain of Arizona is in a close reelection race. And McCain says 1,200 is a nice start, but it's not nearly enough. He wants 6,000 troops on the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: But the point is, the point is that the citizens in my state have -- deserve the right to live a secure existence, not to be threatened, not to have their property overrun, not to have their homes broken into.


BLITZER: Lisa, National Guard troops have patrolled the border before.


This is right. There were National Guard troops on the border from 2006 to 2008 as part of the federal government's Operation Jump Start. That's a program that began under President Bush. Troops were posted in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. And at its max, there were about 6,000 troops.

But they were tasked with facilitating in administrative capacities, not actually in the field. Representative Giffords says that needs to change this time around. She wants the members of the Guard to have a much bigger, a much more involved role, instead of just working in a back office.


REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA: I believe that the Guard members need to be armed. There need to be strict rules of engagement and they need to be on the border. They need to be preventing illegal immigrations and drug traffickers from coming into our country. And that has not been the strategy with the Department of Homeland Security. We have had a lot of resources way back 20 and 30 miles away from the border, allowing to come into the country, and then work to detain them and apprehend them. That is not what we're calling for. We want the Guard directly on the border.


SYLVESTER: All of that, though, needs to be worked out, what is their exact role and what will be the rules of engagement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How is Mexico, Lisa, reacting to all of this?

SYLVESTER: Well, the Mexican Embassy put out a statement saying it appreciates the sovereign decision of the United States to send National Guard troops to the border, but added -- quote -- they expect that the National -- they expect that the National Guard personnel "will strengthen U.S. operations in the fight against organized crime on both sides of our common border, and that it will not, in accordance to its legal obligations, conduct activities directly linked to the enforcement of immigration laws" -- that statement coming from the Mexican Embassy.

So, the translation, Wolf, is, they're saying, go after the drug dealers, not the illegal immigrants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester. Don't go away.

They have been technically at war for more than half-a-century. And their uneasy truce has grown shakier since investigators concluded that a South Korean ship was sunk by a North Korean submarine. South Korea responded with a series of tough steps. Now the North says it's cutting all ties with its neighbor.

The United States is looking closely towards China for help in trying to defuse tensions.

Let's go live to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

Jill, what are you picking up?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, for more than a year, the Obama administration has been pushing China to use whatever influence it has with North Korea to halt its nuclear program. And now they're urging China to help avert a potential war on the Korean Peninsula.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Chinese understand the gravity of this situation.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hillary Clinton wants Beijing on board condemning North Korea at the U.N. Security Council for the deadly sinking of a South Korean ship. But after three days of talks with the Chinese leadership, she couldn't point to any commitments.

CLINTON: We expect to be working together with China in responding to North Korea's provocative action and promoting stability in the region.

DOUGHERTY: But is that wishful thinking? Even as North Korean state television reports its troops are ready war, U.S. officials say there's no sign of any large movement of North Korean troops toward the border. But Beijing is treading cautiously, fearful that getting tough on Pyongyang could unleash a wave of instability in the North, sending millions of North Koreans streaming over the border into China.

Plus, China watchers say, a united Korea could strengthen U.S. influence, potentially weakening China's region role in the region. But, right now, they say:

HAN PARK, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: China seems to be only entity remaining that can be constructive in mediating and perhaps averting a possible military confrontation.


DOUGHERTY: So, Wednesday, Secretary Clinton travels to Seoul for consultations with the South Korean president. And then Friday, the Chinese premiere heads there, too. And U.S. officials are saying that that meeting could speak louder than any of these cautious statements that have been coming out of Beijing so far, at least fingers crossed, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fingers crossed, indeed.

All right, Jill, thank you.

It's enormously, enormously complicated and sensitive right now.

Meanwhile, a state of emergency and a rising death toll. We're going live to Jamaica, where police are battling backers of an accused drug lord wanted by the U.S.

And the first lady, Michelle Obama -- Michelle Obama encouraging kids to get on the ball when it comes to exercise. We are going to show you what she was doing over at the White House.


BLITZER: At least 27 people are dead and there's a state of emergency in parts of Jamaica's capital, as police and troops clash with supporters of a suspected drug lord wanted here in the United States.

CNN's Rafael Romo is joining us now from Kingston, Jamaica.

Rafael, does Jamaica intend to ask the U.S. for help right now?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: I spoke with the minister of information just a few moments ago, Wolf, and he says that at this point they are not specifically asking any country for help.

What he told me was that there are ongoing agreements not only with the United States, but with countries like Spain and Great Britain, that -- support them with weapons and intelligence when it comes to operations. Now, he also mentioned the state of emergency here in Kingston has been extended until the end of June.

But at the same time, he said that police and security forces here in Kingston expect to bring the situation under control in the next two or three days. Again, the reason why we have had this violence here in Kingston is because police are looking for Christopher Coke, a man believed to be the leader of an international crime syndicate and somebody who the United States Justice Department is trying to extradite to the United States.

A few moments, like I said before, I spoke with the minister of information. And this is what he had to say regarding the situation here in Kingston.


DARYL VAZ, JAMAICAN MINISTER OF INFORMATION: It's a situation where we -- the police and military are confident that they are restoring order. It has taken a few days. And it will probably take another day or two. But the operation will continue.

And, of course, other areas that have had sporadic incidents of violence will also be targeted to make sure and try and clean out and purge this situation with criminal elements with the lawlessness.


BLITZER: Rafael, what's the relationship between the drug lord and the Jamaican prime minister?

ROMO: There's been a very close connection for about three decades, Wolf, between the ruling party, the Labor Party, party of Prime Minister Bruce Golding, and this area where Christopher Coke has his dominion.

I spoke with the -- when I spoke with the minister of information, he didn't deny this connection, but he didn't -- say that the prime minister doesn't have anything to do with the criminal aspect of Mr. Coke's life. He says that, in that particular area, which is Tivoli Gardens here in Kingston, there are a lot of supporters for the Labor Party, and that's as far as the connection goes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Rafael Romo on the scene for us in Kingston, Jamaica, thank you, Rafael.


BLITZER: He's a sharp critic of BP, and he's even said the oil giant should be banned from further drilling in federal waters. I will speak with Congressman Luis Gutierrez. He's standing by live.

And new developments in a major drug recall, with new concern about serious side effects and perhaps, perhaps even death.


BLITZER: Let's get back to OUR top story.

BP is carrying out critical testing right now to see if it can go ahead with what is called the top kill plan, the plan to smother the leaking oil well with thick dense liquid. BP gives that approach a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of success.

But the oil giant is under increasing pressure from critics.

One of them, Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, what else do you want BP to be doing? They're -- they -- nobody else wants to stop this flow more than BP.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: Yes, well, and -- and I wish them lots of success tomorrow. I hope that after nearly 40 days, they can try to figure out what the -- do something right and to save our environment. Look, Wolf, these are serial polluters. They have violated the rules, worker safety standards. Eleven people lost their lives.

But wait, 15 people lost their lives at an explosion in Texas. And then at the plant that they had -- the refinery they had in Ohio, this -- they were fined for doing the same exact things that caused the lives of 15 people in Texas.

And then we had the spill in -- in Alaska and it was only the -- the refusal -- because the EPA and many people encouraged the U.S. Attorney to file criminal charges.

So, look, this isn't the first time. And we can't allow it to be the last time.

So what we have said is two things. A, the Department of Interior can say no more drilling. We want to inspect all your plants. No more drilling. These are leases that are granted by the federal government. These are like money making machines. They make $62 million a day in profit and they can't figure it out.

The other thing is today I talked on the House floor -- I spoke on the House floor and I have an amendment. This week, Wolf, we're going to be doing the Department of Defense appropriations bill. I have an amendment. And the amendment is real simple. It allows Secretary Gates to do the following, to say we will no longer buy oil from you. We will no longer allow you to profit from the drilling of the oil by selling it to the American public.

It allows them to basically disbar them so that we don't allow them to profiteered any more from the taxpayers of the United States.

BLITZER: All right. But the immediate need right now to stop this -- to stop this leak, both Thad Allen, who's the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Carol Browner today, the president's adviser on energy, they both said BP has the expertise, the federal government doesn't have the equipment, the expertise, the know-how to get the job done, so they have no choice but to rely on BP.

I assume you agree with them.

GUTIERREZ: Well, you know what?

I think it's a sad commentary when the federal government allows people to engage in this kind of exploration, which can have these kinds of consequences and does not have a backup plan.

You know, we cannot allow industry, whether it's financial or, in this case, the oil industry or the housing, any industry, to run amok. You know, we watch how people manufacture cars. We watch how people manufacture drugs in this country. We have to watch how people explore. And if they're not doing it right, we have to be able to intervene and shut them down, because look at the consequences.

If nothing else, we have learned -- and we've learned about the cozy relationship with the inspector-general's report that was issued today, talking about the cozy relationship between the Minerals and Management Service under the Department of Interior and the oil industry -- accepting gifts, pornography.

I mean what -- what is (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: All right, Congressman...

GUTIERREZ: Of course they weren't watching what was going on.

BLITZER: Congressman, what else do you want the president of the United States to do that he's not doing?

GUTIERREZ: I -- A, he should put together the best team that exists in the world and use the kind of...

BLITZER: He says he's doing that.

GUTIERREZ: Well, then they're not...

BLITZER: They say they're doing that.

GUTIERREZ: Then I'm happy that he's doing it. My point right now is let's look forward to the future and let's say that BP stands for banned permanently -- banned permanently from being able to gain monetary value and -- and exploration on behalf of the American taxpayers.

BLITZER: As far as I know, Congressman, offshore drilling has not slowed down anywhere around the -- the coasts of the United States. It's still business as usual, including the same kind of rigs that exploded in this case.

GUTIERREZ: And that is why last week I said two things -- stop giving them any more exploration rights and if you knew this thing blew up and you knew it went amok there, why don't you check every other rig and exploration that is going on, everywhere else they're drilling?

We should check them. Tomorrow we could -- end one catastrophe, hopefully, successful tomorrow, and another one can blow up.

You know, this just happened a week before the president was calling on future exploration and drilling for oil offshore. I think we need to check every plant today to make sure that tomorrow we don't have future catastrophes.

BLITZER: Congressman Gutierrez, thanks for coming in.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: I want to just let our viewers know we have repeatedly asked representatives from BP to come here, to appear in THE SITUATION ROOM with me. They have repeatedly declined, for whatever reason. We hope they will reconsider -- someone from BP will be willing to come forward and answer some questions here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much, Congressman Luis Gutierrez.

President Obama meets with Senate Republicans. We'll get some insight into what went on behind closed doors from CNN's John King.

And exclusive details of that Tylenol recall and deep concern about serious side effects, possibly even death.


BLITZER: President Obama met with Senate Republicans behind closed doors today -- a meeting the White House portrays as trying to reach across the aisle. But some GOP lawmakers see it differently.

Let bring in CNN's John King.

He's the host of "JOHN

KING USA," which airs right at the top of the hour -- first of all, John, what are you hearing about this meeting that was taking place today behind closed doors?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Wolf, I had a conversation with the president's host, the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell. And I asked him -- because some have described the meeting as testy. He said I wouldn't use the word testy. But, look, he said, we had some very real differences and they were aired out at that meeting.

I'm told there are disagreements about the immigration issue. There were disagreements when some of the Republicans said they wanted the president to accept a tough package of sanctions against Iran from the Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans are working on that package.

Senator McConnell says the president pushed back and said he didn't want Congress to interfere with his diplomacy going on right now.

And, as I think you've heard earlier in the program, the senator also was confronted by Bob Corker, the Republican senator from Tennessee, who said look, Mr. President, you come up here and talk to us in this room about bipartisanship, but the White House and Democrats pulled the rug out from us, in Senator Corker's view, on the financial reform negotiations.

So Senator Corker says he essentially told the president, you're trying to use as props to say you're trying to be bipartisan and we don't buy it.

BLITZER: It's go to get a lot more testy between now and November.

I assume you agree with me on that?

KING: I don't suspect this invitation -- the president asked to go up to talk to the Senate Republicans. He wanted help on immigration and climate change and some other issues.

It was made crystal clear to the president in that room that the Republican Caucus is no mood -- zero mood, Wolf -- to move on those two particular issues, immigration reform or climate change, before the November elections.

So I think we will now see the public jousting. I don't think you'll see any more private meetings -- private visits up by the president of the United States to see his -- the opposition, the Republican opposition.

BLITZER: John is going to have a lot more coming up right at the top of the hour on this and -- and the day's other important news.

John, we'll be watching.

Thanks very much.

KING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The nation's spy chief was eased out of his post, but does the Obama administration even have a plan for replacing Admiral Dennis Blair?

CNN's Fran Townsend is standing by.

And highway hacking -- Jeanne Moos looks at what happens when vandals change roadside signs.

Stick around.



BLITZER: It may be a thankless, maybe even impossible job -- coordinating the actives of 16 separate U.S. intelligence agencies. Since word came last week that Dennis Blair was leaving as director of National Intelligence, it looks like it won't be an easy job to fill. Some people are turning it down.

Let's discuss what's going on with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend -- Fran, Dennis Blair was basically pushed out.

It doesn't look like the Obama administration had a plan for replacing him.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, as you sort of said -- and, you know, it turns out it's not so easy when you're trying to fill a job where the authorities are not clearly defined and you're likely to be the person that gets blamed if there's another terrorist attack.

We've now confirmed, Wolf, that CIA Director Leon Panetta was spoken to not once, but twice, most recently before he left the country to go on a business trip, and turned it down. He said no.

Not, that doesn't surprise me, Wolf, because you know I sit on the CIA's external advisory board. Director Panetta is a guy who clearly loves his job and is pretty beloved by his workforce. So it doesn't surprise me he doesn't want to move.

Then we heard rumors that it was potentially deputy Defense secretary -- former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamry. He's now at a local Washington, D.C. think tank -- that maybe it would be him.

Well, I called him today and spoke to Dr. Hamry and he said he's not even been spoken to. And, by the way, he doesn't think he's the right guy for the job anyway. Dr. Hamry made pretty clear that, like others have said in town, without the clear authorities, without budget authority and personnel, this is an ill-defined job that is going to be difficult to fill.

Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement on Monday, going through the lack of authorities.

So what does that leave us with?

Well, General Jim Clapper, who's the undersecretary of defense for intelligence now, a retired general -- Air Force general and a career intelligence professional. The problem now, Wolf, is sources are telling us on Capitol Hill that the folks on Capitol Hill -- Senator Lieberman, Senator Feinstein -- are saying not so fast. It's not that he's not qualified, but if you've got a problem with authorities, then fix the underlying problem before you send us a nomination.

BLITZER: I've heard some people say you know what, you don't need someone to take over that job. Let's see how -- how the country survives without having a director of National Intelligence for a while. Maybe it will even be better.

I -- I assume you've heard some people say that to you, as well.

TOWNSEND: I have, Wolf. The problem with that is really a political risk for the president. Imagine, you know, we've been -- there have been two attempts on this -- in this country from terrorists in the last five months or so. Imagine if you didn't have that position filled. I mean, presumably, this was thought through before Dennis Blair's resignation was accepted. I think they thought they had their next nominee in General Clapper. And I think the administration has been caught a little bit by surprise by the push- back from Capitol Hill about the authorities issue.

BLITZER: It's a mess, to put it bluntly.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Fran.

Fran Townsend doing some work for us.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what else is going on?


Well, Super Bowl XLVIII is bound to be a cold one. The National Football League has picked Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey to host the game in 2014. Game organizers say February temperatures in Northern New Jersey are usually about 24 to 40 degrees.

And Britain's Queen Elizabeth opened a new session of parliament for the 56th time. The highly anticipated queen's speech set out the new coalition government's agenda. It includes deficit reduction, economic growth and a new office for budget responsibility. There are also plans to modernize and possibly privatize the royal mail and there are also limits on foreign workers.

In Baghdad, a deadly series of jewelry heists. A team of gunman stormed almost a dozen stores, killing 14 people and fleeing with gold and cash. Officials say the robbers planted bombs in the area to create chaos and to ease their escape. Government officials believe insurgents might have carried out the robberies to fund their operations.

And, so, Wolf, what do you think of the Meadowlands for 2014?

BLITZER: It's going to be cold. But as I like to think, I went to a lot of cold games when I was living in Buffalo, New York at the old War Memorial Stadium. You dress warmly. You get a lot of layers. You enjoy football. And maybe there will be some global warming -- you never know -- by 2014 and maybe it will be a beautiful sunny day...


BLITZER: -- by February.

Thanks very much.

Growing concern about some serious side effects -- we're learning exclusive new details about that massive recall of Tylenol, Motrin and some other drugs. Now the government is investigating whether it may be linked to some deaths.

Plus, sign hackers strike again, but what does that really mean?

What about that message?

CNN's Jeanne Moos is getting ready to take a Moost Unusual look.


BLITZER: CNN Money has learned some exclusive new details about the government probe into a massive recall of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl. The source says there are new concerns about serious side effects, possibly -- possibly even death.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has the latest -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's top of mind for many of us, especially parents -- recalls of drugs like Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl -- popular drugs commonly used among both adults and children.

Well, now reporter Parija Kavilanz says that she's talked to the FDA and the FDA says that they've received reports of more than 30 deaths regarding these drugs.

Now, the FDA has looked into these reports and they found that the vast majority have nothing to do with the drugs, that people may have taken the drugs and died, but they said the vast majority of the time, the deaths weren't caused by the drugs. They're still investigating nine of these deaths.

Now, in addition, the FDA says that they've received reports of more than 700 other so-called adverse events. That's FDA speak for serious side effects -- being disabled or something else terrible like that. So the FDA is continuing to investigate. But, again, they say the vast majority of these deaths were -- that were reported to the FDA have nothing to do with the drugs, even though these drugs have had their safety problems -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's a story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

A judge in Peru has granted parole to the American, Lori Berenson, who has spent the past 15 years in prison for aiding Peruvian rebels. The judge's order says she must stay in Peru, at least for now.

When asked by the judge if she accepted the decision, Berenson nodded but did not speak.

Berenson gave birth to a son a year ago. Her lawyer is the father. She was arrested in 1995. A military court sentenced her the following year to life in prison on terrorism charges. A civilian court later reduced that to 20 years, but apparently she's out. She has to stay in Peru -- at least for now.

There's another story we're watching right now that involves an Iranian filmmaker who has just been released from prison, as well.

CNN's Ivan Watson has details.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Photos taken of the filmmaker just hours after his release from prison. He looks visibly gaunt after spending nearly three months in an Iranian jail and also after going on a hunger strike earlier this month.

In an open letter, Panahi said he was going on a hunger strike to protest against conditions in the prison. He claimed that interrogators had threatened to detain his wife and daughter to get him to cooperate. He demanded access to a lawyer after being held for nearly three months without any formal charge against him. And he added, quote, "I swear upon the cinema in which I believe that I will not stop my hunger strike. My only demand is for my body to be delivered to my family to bury wherever they like."

Now, at the time of Panahi's arrest at his home in early March, Iranian officials -- they insisted that he was not being detained for political or artistic reasons, even though he was a vocal supporter of the opposition Green Movement in Iran, which has been the target of Iranian government repression.

However, last week at the Cannes Film Festival in France, another acclaimed Iranian film director, Abasta Hastani (ph), he publicly called for Panahi's release and added when one puts an artist in prison, it's art itself that's in prison. And for that reason, we must act." He added that Iranian artists, quote, "live under constant pressure and cannot do their jobs."

According to Iranian state media, Panahi was released after his family paid $200,000 in bail. A friend that CNN has spoken to says that Panahi is asking to thank his supporters for their support throughout his ordeal.

He is but one of the thousands of critics of the Iranian government to have been detained since Iran held controversial presidential elections last June.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.


BLITZER: And coming up on "JOHN KING USA" right at the top of the hour the Senate GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, joins John to talk about what really went on behind closed doors during that meeting between the president and Republican senators.


BLITZER: Highway sign hackers striking again, but no one is sure exactly what their message means.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Instead of a highway advisory, it was highway hacking. Someone changed this sign along a Miami expressway to read, "No Tacos -- No Latinos."

Talk about the low road.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's absolutely crazy. I mean it hurts to see something like that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The sign was changed in the wee hours of the morning. Police turned the sign around since there was no one on hand at that hour who knew the password to login and turn it off.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's a joke, that person could be completely ignorant.


MOOS: But on a Web site that posted instructions for how to hack an electronic road sign, there was debate over whether the sign changer was against both Latinos and tacos or was supporting immigration by saying without Latinos, there would be no tacos.

Usually hackers prefer to warn of zombie attacks, cautioning, "Zombies Ahead."

(on camera): I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised to learn that there's an entire Web site devoted to nothing but hacked signs called -- what else --

(voice-over): Signhacker puts favorite photos to music. The site features a guy who made a Halloween costume consisting of a wearable hacked sign reading, "Zombies Ahead."

A drugstore's response to having its letters changed was posted: "If you see anyone messing with our sign, call this number."

In New York the other day, the sidewalk got hacked. Someone stenciled lanes for slow-moving tourists and fast-paced New Yorkers on a block of Fifth Avenue. At least that was easy for authorities to erase.

Signs have even been hacked to say, "Report Sign Hackers."

Hackers post themselves. Hacking on YouTube. Remember when hacking was something you did when you had a cough?

Forget zombies -- beware of the gay bear ahead.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's all the time I have.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.