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WikiLeaks Documents Create Firestorm of Controversy; Iranian Scientists Attacked

Aired November 29, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack, thanks very much.


Happening now: Cut off the head of the snake, a stunning appeal from an Arab leader for the U.S. to attack Iran's nuclear program -- just one of the hundreds of thousands of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables that may change the equation in the Middle East.

And someone may already be striking at Iran. Assassins on motorcycles launch bomb attacks on professors, including a scientist said to be involved in nuclear activities.

And reversing the aging process in mice -- the new study yields dramatic results, but can the methods one day pay off for people?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

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

They are confidential, classified and highly embarrassing. More than a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic cables are being published by the online whistle-blower WikiLeaks. The documents shine a harsh light on behind-the-scenes contacts and conversations involving U.S. officials and foreign leaders.

Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the disclosures, but the information is now way out in the open. The White House says that, to put it mildly, the president is -- quote -- "not pleased" by the leak. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, calls the disclosure an attack on the international community.

But she goes on to suggest the fallout may not be that bad.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I can tell you that in -- in my conversations at least one of my counterparts said to me, "Well, don't worry about it. You should see what we say about you."

(LAUGHTER) So I think that this is well understood in the diplomatic community as part of the give and take. And I would hope that we will be able to move beyond this and back to the business of working together on behalf of our common goals.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss what's going on our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. She's a member of the Homeland Security External Advisory Board. And our CNN contributor, David Frum.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Jeff, let me start with you and play this little clip, the attorney general, Eric Holder, talking about these -- these alleged crimes that were committed. Listen to this.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me very clear. It's not saber-rattling. This is, as I said, an active, ongoing investigation. To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law and who has put at risk the assets and the people that I have described, they will be held responsible.


BLITZER: Well, how do you do that to someone who is in Sweden right now, Julian Assange, who is the head of WikiLeaks? What is the process, if any legal process, to go after this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are a lot of options for the federal government.

And, remember, there already is one person under arrest. Private 1st Class Bradley Manning has already been charged in an early WikiLeaks disclosure. It's unclear whether he will be charged in subsequent disclosures.

But, you know, given the magnitude of what certainly appears to be criminal behavior, you can expect lots of governments will be cooperating here, including perhaps the Swedish government. The Australian government -- and, remember, Assange is already -- is an Australian citizen -- they have indicated that they want to cooperate.

So, I think it's going to be really difficult for him to hide from American justice. It could be long. It could be complicated, but I find it hard to believe that he is going to remain a free person for the rest of his life.

BLITZER: Fran, you know Congressman Peter King. He is going to be, we believe, the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He was on the radio yesterday saying WikiLeaks should be branded a terrorist organization. Listen to this. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute WikiLeaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I'm calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization.


BLITZER: Is that realistic, to brand WikiLeaks, sort of like al Qaeda, call it a terrorist organization, and presumably all of the ramifications that fall out from that?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what you're hearing in Congressman King is what you're hearing from lots of people both currently and formerly in government: frustration.

I don't think it's realistic that -- it's never been used in that way. I'm not saying it can't be, but I think that's unrealistic to actually think that we're going to brand WikiLeaks a terrorist organization.

That said, in addition to Julian Assange, I think anybody related -- they're going to look at all the communications they can find to figure out, are there others? In addition to the private 1st class and the head of WikiLeaks, who in between these two are potential targets of prosecution?

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, because among the more stunning revelations, the degree to which Arab leaders are deeply worried about Iran's nuclear program.

Our Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Arab leaders are worried enough about the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons that, according to these leaked cables, they have badgered U.S. officials to attack Iran.


TODD (voice-over): They're neighbors and fellow Muslims, but that's about where the kinship ends. Newly leaked diplomatic cables posted on WikiLeaks show Middle East powers like Saudi Arabia don't trust Iran and fear that Iran will soon threaten them with a nuclear bomb.

One cable from April 2008 refers to Saudi King Abdullah urging officials to attack Iran and put an end to its nuclear program, to -- quote -- "cut off the head of the snake." Similar comments came from the leaders of Bahrain and UAE. John Limbert, a Middle East expert and one of the American diplomats taken hostage in Iran in 1979, is not shocked that Iran doesn't get along with its Muslim neighbors.

(on camera): There are several complicated reasons why the Iranians and the Gulf Arab leaders don't trust each other, right?

JOHN LIMBERT, PROFESSOR, U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY: Of course. You can -- part of it is religion, that the Iranian -- Iran is an officially Shiite state. Many of the Gulf countries have large Shiite populations, but the ruling families tend to be -- are usually Sunni. And their relations with their Shiite subjects are not always easy.

Also, there's an ethnic part of it. The Iranians are not Arabs and have their own tradition, their own language and their own history. It's not shared by their Arab neighbors, not always appreciated by their Arab neighbors.

TODD (voice-over): To put it mildly. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to a cable from last year, told a U.S. envoy he didn't mind if the Americans talked with the Iranians, as long as -- quote -- "You don't believe a word they say."

The cable from the U.S. ambassador said, "Mubarak has a visceral hatred for the Islamic republic, referring repeatedly to Iranians as liars."

Despite our calls and e-mail, we got no response to this from an Iranian official at the U.N. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. government of leaking the documents and said this.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): People are well-informed these days, and these games will not affect relations.

TODD: Relations between Iran and North Korea seem to be just fine. In one leaked cable, U.S. officials said North Korea had shipped several high-powered ballistic missiles like these to Iran. Experts say these missiles have a long range, far enough to hit Berlin or Moscow from Tehran.

We got no response from the Iranians on the missiles, but I did ask former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright about them.

(on camera): If Iran has gotten missiles like this from North Korea, what does it do for their nuclear program?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Well, if Iran can import missiles with longer ranges and able to carry larger payloads, it allows them that, once they can build a nuclear warhead, to be able to threaten many more countries.


TODD: And now escalating this tension, two attacks in Tehran today. Two scientists, at least one of them involved in Iran's nuclear weapons program, were hit separately. An Iranian news agency says assailants on motorcycles sped up to cars carrying the scientists and attached bombs to them.

One of the scientists was killed, the other badly injured -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Who is believed, Brian, to be behind these attacks in Tehran?

TODD: The Iranians have blamed the attacks on the U.S. and Israel, predictably. But according to "The Washington Post," opposition figures accuse the Iranian government of plotting these hits to spread fear and intimidation in the capital.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's bring back David Frum to talk about this.

You wrote a very provocative column at today suggesting that these leaks make war between the United States and Iran more likely, as opposed to less likely.


You know, obviously it is very embarrassing for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to have to call up Silvio Berlusconi and people like that and say, sorry about all the things we said about you, just because they were true.

But the real embarrassment should be on those who have said things like there is no connection between Iran and North Korea; by the way, the Israelis were wrong to search ambulances, when it turns out Iran uses ambulances to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah.

What these leaks do among other things is they reveal to the whole world that it is not a Jewish lobby that is behind the concern about Iran, that this is a concern shared by all of Iran's neighbors. They reveal to the whole world that the turn in Turkish policy, what has really happened there.

They reveal how intransigent the Iranians have been, how difficult they are to deal with, and how determined they are to get a nuclear weapon. In a way, these are things that no one would have believed if the United States had said, but having them divulged in this way, I think -- obviously the United States couldn't leak them, but you can see why a paranoid person like President Ahmadinejad might feel so, because I think the noose has tightened around him a little bit as an inadvertent result of the leak.


BLITZER: Fran, you were actually -- you were actually mentioned in one of these leaks, this WikiLeaks document, April 22, 2006, when you were still working in the White House for President Bush.

It says this on this leaked cable. "MBZ," which is Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed, "told Townsend" -- that would be you -- "April 22 that the Iranians think that the U.S. will not do anything about their recent declaration, that they have successfully enriched uranium." He added, he thought the Iranians were wrong.

How does it feel to see all of a sudden confidential, secret conversations you're having with leaders in the Persian Gulf, U.S. allies, U.S. friends, all of a sudden it comes out like this?

TOWNSEND: Well, I understand perfectly well by President Obama and Attorney General Holder are so angry and so committed to pursuing the leak.

After all, we need our allies to be able to speak to us confidentially and say things they don't want to say in public. And that's what makes the leak so damaging. That said, Wolf, I have to tell you, in my own experience, oftentimes, if I was carrying a message from the president of the United States, it was not unusual for me not to take anyone with me, so that there wouldn't have been any diplomatic reporting. I wouldn't have had a note-taker with me because we were concerned about potential leaks.

BLITZER: Here's what's shocking to me.

And you worked in this area. This little device, you can -- you can download hundreds of thousands, millions of documents on to a little thing like this. And apparently this is the accusation against this 23-year-old private 1st class. He's sitting at a computer outside of Baghdad at a U.S. Army base. He's pretending to be listening to Lady Gaga. Maybe he's listening to "Bad Romance" or some fun song like that.

He's humming along, but he's downloading thousands, millions, literally, allegedly, of these documents. And he can put them all on a tiny little thing like this and then just give it away. And all of -- I mean, this is a horrendous security failure on the part of the United States government.

And here's the question to you. Has it been fixed? Could someone tomorrow continue doing what this private 1st class allegedly did?

TOWNSEND: What's stunning to me was, Wolf, was that it was supposed to have been fixed. If you recall, the Central Command, the commander of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had had an incident where a thumb drive was used to introduce malware, a virus, into CENTCOM's system some years ago.

And as a result of that, these thumb drives were banned. And so the question is what about the implementation? What about the follow- up? Why is it that it doesn't it work like the old traditional safe deposit box where it requires two keys to turn if you're going to download? In other words, you and somebody else would have to be there to understand what you were downloading and that it was appropriate.

Clearly in the Department of Defense, this has not been adequately implemented and policed. And they're going to now have to fix that.

BLITZER: But has it been fixed yet? Could another private 1st class tomorrow do exactly the same thing?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, I don't think we know. I don't think there's been a clear stand from the administration.


BLITZER: Well, it shouldn't be that complicated to find out if someone can simply go to a computer and download thousands of documents and pretend to be listening to Lady Gaga.

TOWNSEND: No, that's right. And that's the question today for the Department of Defense. Have they fixed this and implemented it in a way that it can't be gotten around again?

BLITZER: I don't know if the answer -- it's a pretty shocking -- I'm sure, David, you agree.

And I know, Jeffrey Toobin, everybody, you know, sees what can happen and you say, where was the U.S. government? Where was the national security apparatus that could prevent this and could it happen again? And I haven't got a straight answer. I have been trying to find out all day today whether it could happen.

FRUM: We're living through the future of cyber-warfare. We saw that with the worm that was introduced as an offensive weapon by U.S. computer technology against Iran. This is now what it's like to be on the receiving end. It's going to be breaches of security, as well as technological attacks.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

We're going to have much more on this part of story, because, as you can see, I'm pretty passionate about this, coming up later this hour. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon has been digging and digging and digging. We are hoping to get some answers.

The potentially game-changing leak about Iran is just one of the secrets spilled in this massive document leak. We have reporters around the world. They're digging into the startling revelations contained in these U.S. upcoming cables. They're standing by. We are going to tell you what they have learned. We're going around the world.

And this just in. The founder of WikiLeaks indicates the next target will be a major U.S. bank. According to, Julian Assange says in an interview that the upcoming leak -- quote -- "will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms" -- a direct quote.

Assange also adds -- and I'm quoting -- "There's only one similar example. It's like the Enron e-mails."

Looks like more leaks on the way.

The report on slashing the massive budget deficit is due this week.

Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: President Obama's deficit commission may well be dead on arrival. Apparently, the differences among members of the commission are so great that this toothless bipartisan outfit canceled its last scheduled meeting for tomorrow.

Instead, they will continue to meet one-on-one and try to twist each other's arms ahead of the panel's final recommendations, which are due on Wednesday. A piece on asks if the panel might have been doomed from the very beginning.

After months of reports about how bitterly divided the commission members are, it's hard indeed to imagine that 14 of the 18 members will come to a consensus on much of anything meaningful. And this being Washington, of course, there's plenty of finger-pointing to go around.

There are the Republicans who co-sponsored the bill to create this commission and then voted against it. Some even wonder if President Obama himself designed the commission to fail, to save him from having to make the tough decisions.

He set the December 1st deadline for their recommendations, which meant the decisions about the deficit wouldn't factor into the midterm elections. Also, the president has ruled out tax increases for 98 percent of American taxpayers.

As for the panel itself, Republican members have made it clear they don't want to consider tax increases. Democrats don't want to touch Social Security. And that leaves not very much common ground, now, does it?

All this makes it increasingly difficult to believe that the deficit reduction commission will make a serious dent in our 13-plus trillion dollar deficit. Nevertheless, some close to the commission are sounding upbeat, saying they have made significant progress in the last week and that they -- quote -- "have got a chance" -- unquote.

Don't bet on it.

Here's the question. Was the deficit commission a pointless exercise from the start? The answer is yes.

Go to and give us your thoughts.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. Stand by.

So, who is behind the stolen secrets? We're taking a closer look at a young U.S. soldier already held as a prime suspect in previous leaks accused of removing information from military computers. Stand by. And a teenager is indicted for allegedly plotting a car bomb attack on a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon -- new information coming in.

And tweaking genes to reverse the aging process, scientists say they have done it now in mice -- how the research may one day help humans.


BLITZER: A 19-year-old Somali-born U.S. citizen could face a life sentence if he's convicted of plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon. The suspect was indicted today by a federal grand jury.

Let's go to CNN's Thelma Gutierrez. She was one of the few reporters allowed in the courtroom.

Thelma, what happened inside?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you, it was very interesting.

There were more than 100 people who had crowded the front door of that courtroom waiting to get inside. Only six reporters were allowed in, a group from the Somali community. We believe that one of those was people Mohamed Osman's mother, who was sitting right behind him.

What I found curious, Wolf, is that when he entered the federal courtroom for the very first time, he was wearing a light blue shirt, dark blue trousers. He shuffled in. His legs had leg irons all. He shuffled in, looked at his attorney, smiled, shook his hand. That's the only time we saw any emotion from him.

Now, the judge then asked him if he understood why he was there and what the charges were. He very quietly said, "Yes, Your Honor," and he looked straight ahead. Now, they waived the right to have a formal reading of the charges. Of course, the charge is attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in this case to detonate a van full of explosives at a packed tree-lighting ceremony.

Now, in that -- the affidavit that was filed by the FBI, they describe Mohamud as this scheming terrorist. They said that he wanted to hurt people, that he wanted people to leave that square once that alleged bomb was detonated either injured or dead.

But his attorney, the chief defense attorney, said today, he says this is clearly a case of entrapment. This guy was directed by sophisticated government agents who were basically grooming a young person who was just 18 at the time to move forward with this plot. They provided money to him. They provided transportation.

That is what the defense attorney is saying. So, you can see that he's laying out his defense strategy, which will be entrapment. He also said that affidavit was timed to be released to the media for maximum publicity and maximum exposure and impact, because it was released, Wolf, right after Thanksgiving, as you recall that Friday night when this thing allegedly went down.

So he says, you know, that's -- it was just nothing more than a glorified press release, to which then the U.S. attorney said not true. He said it was Mr. Mohamud who decided when this action was to occur, when this plot was to take place. He's the one who decided the timing.

Now, everyone is due back in court on February 1 for a 15-day jury trial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If he's convicted, he could face the rest of his life in jail.

All right, thanks Thelma -- Thelma Gutierrez on the scene for us in Oregon.

Hundreds of thousands of classified documents, all stored on a memory stick the size of a thumb, but who leaked them to WikiLeaks? Stand by.

And still ahead, also, the 22-year-old private accused of hacking his way to all that information, if he did it, how did he do it? Why did he do it?

And later: stunning new research. Could laboratory mice hold the secret to longer life?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story right now.

A quarter-million sensitive U.S. documents are being made public by the online whistle-blower WikiLeaks. And the fallout is being felt worldwide.

We have reporters around the world. They're digging for the latest.

Let's turn first to CNN's Reza Sayah in Pakistan.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in one of these diplomatic cables, Saudi King Abdullah doesn't hold back when it comes to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Remember, these are two men who publicly present themselves as friends and partners.

But, in this one cable, King Abdullah describes President Zardari as the greatest obstacle to progress in Pakistan, the king saying, if the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.

Pakistani officials dismissing the document, saying it doesn't reflect the essence of the relationship between Mr. Zardari and King Abdullah. A spokesman for the president telling CNN that, to Mr. Zardari, King Abdullah is like a big brother.

In other documents about Pakistan, really no earth-shattering revelations. You see over and over again that the U.S. doesn't always trust Pakistan and is concerned about its nuclear material falling into the hands of extremists.

On Monday, Pakistani officials again said Pakistan's weapons are in safe hands.


JAMJOOM: Wolf, I'm Mohammed Jamjoom on assignment in Istanbul. But continuing to keep a close eye on developments in Yemen, in those U.S. cables released by Wikileaks.

Now, while Yemeni officials have consistently downplayed the role of the U.S. against al Qaeda targets in Yemen, one of the cables released presents quite a different picture and is bound to cause embarrassment for Yemen's president. In one of the cables released, it cites a meeting that took place this past January between Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and U.S. General David Petraeus in which President Saleh agreed to continue to cover up plans to use U.S. fixed-wing bombers in bombing campaigns against militants there in Yemen.

According to the document, President Saleh also said, "We'll continue to say the bombs are ours, not yours."

Now, while Yemeni officials are bound not to be happy about these revelations, no official statement has been made yet. Yemen's government has in the past few months begun to acknowledge the role played in past air strikes by the U.S. in Yemen against al Qaeda targets. Still, Yemeni and U.S. officials have been very reluctant to publicly comment on the extent of the U.S. presence and the role in these air strikes because they fear a major backlash.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance in a freezing Moscow, where there's been a decidedly cool reaction to Wikileaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables about Russia. They're reported to contain unflattering descriptions of the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, as an alpha dog and of a pale and hesitant President Medvedev playing the Robin to Mr. Putin's Batman.

So far, though, the contents of the cables that have been made public have offered only glimpses of sensitive negotiations between Russia and the United States about missile defenses and tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. diplomats tell CNN they do not believe there's anything in the disclosures yet that are likely to cause lasting damage to U.S./Russian relations.


BLITZER: Matthew Chance and company, thanks very much. The global implications of these documents are allegedly thanks to a young Army private first class in his early 20s suspected of using a CD labeled "Lady Gaga" to download hundreds of thousands of classified files.

And scientists say they've reversed the aging process in mice, tweaking genes to restore lost functions. Can humans hope to benefit from similar techniques?

And he was wide open in the end zone when he dropped the pass. Now he's blaming it on God. Jeanne Moos finds it Most Unusual.


BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands of stolen U.S. documents causing shockwaves around the world. Could it all be due to a young U.S. soldier and a CD labeled "Lady Gaga"? Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is looking into the allegations o what's going on.

What are you finding out, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you take a little bit of smarts. You put those smarts in the right circumstance in an area where there is a lack of security. You add those two things together, and what you come out with is Wikileaks.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): If the accusations against Bradley Manning are true, the seeds of the Wikileaks debacle began back in high school.

JAMES KIRKPATRICK, MANNING'S SCHOOL FRIEND: He was doing hard coding as a programmer, hard coding. It's the most complicated stuff. And he was just 14 or 15. He was a really talented guy.

LAWRENCE: When he enlisted, those smarts got him into U.S. Army intelligence. Now, if he was assigned to a big base back in the U.S., there'd be a lot of eyes on him. But Manning deployed to a small base just outside Baghdad.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: On the front lines, where as a practical matter, there are fewer restrictions and controls than at rear headquarters.

LAWRENCE: The Army granted him sensitive departmentalized information clearance. That's even higher than Manning's top secret clearance. And it means he could access need-to-know information, some of it so restricted you needed codes to open the files. A young man barely old enough to drink on a dusty base in Iraq now had access to secret State Department files on everything from Iran to North Korea.

GATES: Our military culture is one that, on the battlefield, places great responsibility on the shoulders of even junior service members to include entrusting them with sensitive information. LAWRENCE: According to the account of a fellow hacker who Manning contacted, he'd come into the office with a few read/write CDs, the kind we all used just a few years ago. They'd be labeled something like "Lady Gaga." And Manning would pretend to listen, even as he erased the music and dumped tens of thousands of files onto his disk. No one suspected a thing.


LAWRENCE: So big question. Would a 21-year-old private like Bradley Manning have access to the same sort of information today, right now, as he did? Short answer I got from the Pentagon is generally yes, with some new safeguards.

What they're doing now in the process is limiting the amount of people who have access to certain classified material. They're also disabling the ability to sort of download things onto thumb drives and discs. And they're instituting some software that will check for suspicious behavior, sort of like the credit-card companies do with our credit cards when you get an unusual charge, and they call you to make sure that that charge is accurate.

BLITZER: In other words, an alarm bell would go off as somebody starts downloading hundreds of thousands of documents into a thumb drive or disk? All of a sudden, somebody would pay attention, as opposed to what happened the last time; no one paid attention to what he was doing?

LAWRENCE: That's right. He had -- he had perfect access. What they don't want to do is get to the point where they say they're not going to trust these young men and women, because that's the way the military operates. They put a lot of trust in young people to do these jobs. But again, there's got to be more oversight.

And really, when you look at -- specifically at Private Bradley Manning, even before his arrest earlier this year, he was disciplined twice. And one of those disciplinary actions had to do with saying and posting certain locations about buildings and like that that he was not supposed to do. So some red flags did go up. Apparently not enough people paid attention.

BLITZER: What a security and intelligence blunder on the part of the U.S. government. It's amazing. It's amazing the damage that's going to result from this, as well. Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence, for that.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Scientists say they've reversed the aging process in mice. We're going to find out what this may mean one day for you.


BLITZER: For the first time, scientists have found a way to reverse the aging process. There's only one catch. They did it in mice. Researchers are now focusing in on how to apply all of this research to humans. Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

It sounds extraordinary. Tell us what these researchers have discovered.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What they've discovered is that there is a way to take an old mouse and basically make him young again. If you take a look at these mice right here, Wolf, do you see how the one on the right is kind of graying and has bald patches, much like, of course, you know, old people? And then the one on the left looks like new. Well, that's -- you can think of it as sort of a before and after.

It was genetic engineering that turned an old mouse into a new mouse. Specifically, here's what they did. A little science lesson for you, Wolf.

They took a look at the telomeres. If you take a look. This is a chromosome, and at those caps of these nice, big, red, healthy caps at the end, and that means that that is a young chromosome. As we age, those caps begin to kind of fray away and degenerate, and so you don't have them. And they look more like this. And so what they did at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston is that they managed to make those telomeres grow again, and that signaled the mouse to become young again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The lead researcher, as you know, calls this a dramatic reversal in the aging process. I know you had a chance to speak with this researcher today. I want to play a little bit of that interview. Listen to this.


DR. RONALD DEPINHO, DANA-FARBER CANCER INSTITUTE: What we've learned is that there is a point of return for even aged tissues, that tissues retain the remarkable capacity to rejuvenate, if you remove the underlying cause of the aging, which in this case was excessive DNA damage in the mice. And DNA damage is a major cause of aging.


BLITZER: They say that they saw new neurons being developed in the brain. Is that right?

COHEN: That's right. And it really is exciting if you're a mouse, Wolf. You know, it's a great, great day if you're a mouse. But if you're a human being, I will tell you right now, do not get on a plane to Boston to go to Dana-Farber. They can't do to humans what they did to these mice. They went into the very DNA of these mice and messed around with it. You wouldn't want to do that to human beings.

So what they're hoping is that they can take the principle of this and develop drugs that might work for humans. Not to make them live forever, but to help them age more healthfully. But even if they can do it, and that's a big if, we're talking years and years, if not decades away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elizabeth. Thanks very much for that fascinating science, I must say.

There's new information we're getting right now about the U.S. government's bailout of the big banks. That's straight ahead.

And Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man, we're learning how close the U.S. may have come to actually taking him out.


BLITZER: This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. The Congressional Budget Office is now drastically downgrading its estimate of the cost of the $700 billion U.S. Troubled Asset Relief Program known as TARP. The CBO now reporting it will actually wind up costing taxpayers only $25 billion. That's a sharp drop from the $66 billion it said TARP would cost taxpayers in the last estimate issued in August. In other words, most of the money of the $700 billion will be repaid to U.S. taxpayers.

The U.S. has come close to taking out al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on more occasions than had previously been acknowledged. Current and former U.S. officials are now telling us there was a near miss back in early 2003, which came when the U.S. was tracking the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Another opportunity arose in March 2004 when the U.S. gave intelligence to Pakistani officials indicating Zawahiri might be hiding out in an area of south Waziristan. A U.S. official says the Pakistanis bombed the area, but Zawahiri, if he was in fact, there, survived.

Its members remain bitterly divided over how to tackle the nation's gigantic debt problem. With its report due this week, was the Deficit Commission a pointless exercise? Jack Cafferty, coming up next.

And he dropped the ball and lost the game. But is it really God's fault? Jeanne Moos will have that.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, "Was the Deficit Commission, whose report is due later this week -- was the Deficit Commission a pointless exercise from the start?"

Mike in Denver writes, "Let's see. A government-funded group tasked to find out where the government is wasting money. Their commission should have been at the top of the list. Everybody knows where the problems are. It's just that nobody wants to get their hands dirty solving them."

Will writes, "When the president, Senate, or Congress doesn't have the political will to do something, they then just kick the can down the road with a really big show commission. History shows that very few of their recommendations actually ever get implemented. It is nothing but political theater, which is a waste of time and money."

John in Alabama writes, "The only pointless thing about the Deficit Commission is the need for 14 votes out of the 18 to bring it forward for final consideration of the entire Congress. I think ten votes should be enough for government. Changes to the entitlement programs ought to affect those who went into the workforce in 2014."

Dick writes, "I just saw the senator-elect from Illinois this morning on national television. He said he wanted tax cuts for the rich because other the country would go into a double-dip recession. In the next sentence he said that unemployment benefit extensions had to be paid for with other cuts to social programs. If we keep electing these morons, any commission or reasonable idea is pointless."

Paulette in Pennsylvania writes, "It's a total waste of time. It exists only so President Obama can say he did something."

Joe in Houston writes, "Re-election requires scapegoats to excuse unpopular decisions. Therefore, the Deficit Commission is not pointless."

And Cheryl in Bluffton, South Carolina: "At least the commission's findings have begun a national conversation about realistic ways to cut the deficit. Will the politicians treat us like grown-ups and actually implement some of the good ideas put forward? We can only dream."

If you want to read more on the subject, find it on my blog:

BLITZER: We'll do, Jack. See you tomorrow. Thank you.

John King coming up right at the top of the hour. John talks to the Portland, Oregon, mayor, Sam Adams, about the teen accused of trying to bomb a tree-lighting ceremony.

But up next, heartbreak. Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson drops a key pass, goes on a rant aimed at the big guy.


BLITZER: He dropped the game-winning pass and his team lost yesterday. But the Buffalo Bills' receiver Steve Johnson had a "Most Unusual" reaction. CNN's Jeanne Moos says he blames his butterfingers on a much higher power.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Steve Johnson didn't just drop the game-winning pass; he passed the blame to God. Sure, he was sorry.

STEVE JOHNSON, BUFFALO BILLS PLAYER: Me, I never get over it. I'll never get over it. Ever.

MOOS: But Johnson's tweet to God was what everyone else can't get over. A tweet recited by anchors with gusto.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And this is how you do me? You expect me to learn from this? How?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll never forget this ever. Thanks, though.

MOOS: At least he said thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What an absolute moron!

MOOS (on camera): Steve Johnson violated two commandments: thou shalt not drop a touchdown pass and thou really shalt not blame God if you do.

(voice-over) Headline writers had a field day: "God Dropped Steve Johnson's Pass," "Blame God for Your Butterfingers," "Football Player Picks Fight with God on Twitter."

Usually, celebrities are giving God credit.

MARIAH CAREY, SINGER: I have to thank God, as always, because this is a blessing to be here tonight.

MOOS: We can't imagine how God feels about being thanked, but the folks at "MadTV" did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop thanking me, OK. Just stop thanking me. I don't know any of you people and, quite frankly, I think all of your music sucks.

MOOS: Reminds us of what comedian Kathy Griffin said when she won an Emmy.

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: All I can say is suck it, Jesus. This award is my God now.

MOOS: Kathy got lots of grief for mocking those who thank Jesus, and now Buffalos' wide receiver, Steve Johnson, is on the receiving end. TMZ did a poll asking who's to blame? Steve or God? Steve was way ahead of the Lord.

JOHNSON: When the biggest play that needs to be made, you don't make it, you know. You feel bad. Devastated right now.

MOOS (on camera): Well, at least comedian George Carlin finally got his prayer answered.

GEORGE CARLIN, COMEDIAN: And what can we do to silence these Christian athletes who thank Jesus whenever they win, never mention his name when they lose? Not a word. You never hear them say, "Jesus made me drop the ball."

MOOS: Well, now you have. HARRIS: And this is how you do me?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

CARLIN: The good Lord tripped me up behind the line of scrimmage.

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: My heart goes out to all my fellow Buffalo Bills fans.

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"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.