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CNN NEWSROOM

Analysis of Press Conference Held by Senator Collins; Strange Court Case Involves CIA; Storms Out West

Aired November 28, 2012 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS, (R ), MAINE: when you read the Accountability Review Board report, they say that Washington and headquarters underestimated the threat to our people in Africa. So these are issues that I believe deserve further investigation and remain troubling to me.

QUESTION: At this point in time, if President Obama were to nominate Susan Rice to be the next secretary state, could you support that nomination?

COLLINS: I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination. She's not been posted yet. Our Homeland Security Committee investigation is ongoing. There are many different players in this, and there's much yet to be learned. So I think it would be premature for me to reach that judgment now.

QUESTION: Your chairman came out, Joe Lieberman, and said obviously he won't get a vote because he is retiring. He asked the same questions, presumably got the same answers, and said he thinks she is (inaudible).

COLLINS: Well, I didn't sit in on his briefing, so I don't know that the exchanges were the same.

QUESTION: Would you go as far as some of your colleagues and place a hold on her nomination?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

COLLINS: I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues.

QUESTION: Senator --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She'll be back this afternoon to answer other questions but she has a meeting-

(END LIVE FEED)

BANFIELD: All right. So that was great timing on behalf of our Dana Bash, getting those -- that lineup right away of Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who is the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. And her comments were clear, in fact, crystal clear.

One of the things she brought up that was very significant and somewhat different from what we've heard in terms of criticisms from other Republican senators has been that she was very troubled over the 1998 series of embassy bombings in Africa. Why did she bring that up? Because at the time, Ambassador Rice was holding the position of assistant secretary for African affairs, and also at that time where 12 U.S. citizens were killed and thousands of other people injured in those bombings, the Benghazi attacks seemed very similar in terms of the requests for additional security. In those embassy bombings in 1998, there were several requests for additional security that were denied, and of course in the case of Benghazi there were requests for security that were declined as well, or at least were assuaged in some way.

Dana Bash, still live with us. Qualify for us the significance of the comments from Susan Rice and whether you thought she would be as strident or maybe this isn't strident. Whether you thought this was exactly what you expected to hear.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you and I were talking about just moments before Susan Collins came out, she is a very, very important player for several reasons, but the primary one is because she is one of the remaining moderate Republicans in the Senate.

So the fact that she came out and said that she is still, in her words, troubled by a number of questions that she had that didn't get answered or did not get fully answered is significant. There is no question about it.

She didn't go as far as Rice's fiercest critics like Senators Graham and Ayotte, saying that she would actually block the nomination, meaning she would support a filibuster. But she didn't say she is ready to support her nomination yet.

She has wiggle room because Susan Rice has not been nominated officially. But this is -- these are important, important political dances that are going on right now, because they're signals to the White House about how big of a fight it would be if Susan Rice were nominated. And the fact that Susan Collins, one of the chief potential Republican votes that the White House would need to approve her nomination, the fact that Susan Collins said she is not sure is not a good sign for the White House. And the fact she also, in response to another reporter's question, said that she thought John Kerry, who is one of the senators in the club here, who has been very public about wanting the job, would sail through, that is another interesting wrinkle in the drama that has been going on.

BANFIELD: Yes. And also, I heard your followup question as well, that I thought was intriguing too, and that was that the chairman of her committee, Joe Lieberman, the independent, who has been seemingly very moderate on this, has emerged to say that Susan Rice would be a terrific candidate. I'm not sure if those were his words, but essentially a great candidate.

Qualify her reactions, characterize whether you expected the reaction you got from Senator Rice -- Senator Collins.

BASH: Yes, because the two -- it's interesting because I guess the point I was trying to make is that the two of them, there is almost no partisanship between the Democrat and Republican who run that committee, Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins. They pretty much go after things in a joint way. You know, it's just the way they operate, it is where they are in the political spectrum, and it is the nature of their committee, Homeland Security.

And why was it significant? Because, look, Democrats have been saying that Senators McCain, Graham, and Ayotte, who have been very aggressive in going after Susan Rice, have been doing it for political reasons. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, put out a statement yesterday saying, guys, the election is over, enough already. That is the other reason why Susan Collins is significant. She is not someone who is known to go after people, particularly somebody who has the potential to be in the President's cabinet, for political reasons. She's not been that way, and so that is why what she said is important, because it is very hard for Democrats to say that Susan Collins is doing this for political reasons.

BANFIELD: All right, Dana Bash, great questions, live on the spot and also great reporting. Thank you for that. In case you are wondering, yes, the Secretary of State is currently Hillary Clinton, but Mrs. Clinton has said that she does plan to step down just as soon as her successor is lined up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: So this next story could be straight out of the pages of a gripping, terrifying spy novel. You got a bioweapons scientist and covert CIA officer who is working on developing all sorts of biological weapons that are used in extreme interrogations. Some of those interrogations with the bioweapons result in death. And the CIA, what does it do about this? The agent who is involved, and apparently who has a discomfort with what he's been doing, he gets his drinks spiked with LSD by the CIA. And then later, he plunges to his death from a hotel window in New York. It is a very suspicious death, but it's ruled a suicide.

Everything I just said to you is actually fact, it's not fiction. It's been proven, it's been admitted to. It happened during the Cold War in the early '50s. The program that this guy was involved in had the sinister title of the MK Ultra. It also included brainwashing and mind control and other human behavioral control experiments. It was extremely controversial, and it was the stuff of spy movies and spy novels.

And today, the family of that agent, Frank Olson, that agent who died, is suing the government, half a century later. Suing because they are alleging that their dad was murdered by government agents, that it was no suicide. And joining us now is H.P. Albarelli Jr., who is the author of the book, "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments."

I'm not kidding, H.P., when I say it's the stuff of novels, and there it is right there, that you actually wrote the book on the case.

The fact that the family is planning to file this lawsuit against the government today, it's a long time since this happened. What chances does this family have of actually presenting evidence that could get them to where they want to be, which is ultimate justice in their minds, and an admission from the U.S. government, or at least by the courts, that the government killed their dad?

H.P. ALBARELLI JR., AUTHOR: Well, actually, thank you for having me on. That's the $64,000 question, and in a nutshell, it's going to be extremely difficult to cross that threshold and perhaps to even get into court against the CIA. It's an extremely convoluted -- it's an intriguing case, as you well outlined it, but it's extremely convoluted. And unfortunately, it's 60 years old. It's ten years older than the Kennedy assassination, and many if not all of the key players are dead today.

BANFIELD: And that is my next question. Since it's so old, first of all, a number of witnesses they would need in this case, say some of his fellow officers, who now if they were in their 20s or 30s would be in their 70s or 80s. Not only could they be dead, but their minds are certainly not what they used to be, which is always a problem in an old case that comes to court after decades. But in this particular case, just getting evidence, you're talking about getting evidence from the CIA.

ALBARELLI: Well, the family is having an extremely difficult time getting evidence from the CIA. I spent nearly 12 years researching the case and writing the book, and gathered a tremendous amount of evidence, and interviewed a number of the key people who had -- who would be extremely valuable in court today. Unfortunately, those people, all of those people have died in the last three or four years.

BANFIELD: So what is critical here is that the death of this CIA operative was ruled a suicide, and it was said he jumped out of a window while on a visit to New York to see a psychiatrist, because apparently his colleagues told his family they thought he was going a little loopy. And the LSD that had been administered to his drink had been done days and days prior. So how is it that the government made the connection between this guy jumped out of a window on LSD to the fact that it was days and days beforehand he had taken the drug? Clearly it had worn off.

ALBARELLI: That's where the case becomes extremely convoluted, and you have to jump back and forth in time.

Nobody knew that this officer was dosed with LSD until 1975. This incident happened in 1953. In 1953, from the moment it happened, the CIA presented it strictly as a suicide, and said that Frank Olson had psychological problems and had gone to New York to seek psychiatric treatment. And one night at 2:30 in the morning jumped through a closed window and fell 130 feet to the sidewalk below and died. But there was no mention whatsoever of LSD until 1975, when a presidential commission uncovered that inadvertently -- and it was revealed in the pages of the "Washington Post." So again --

BANFIELD: Just amazing. It's amazing. H.P., thank you. You know, I have to wrap it there just because we have got so much breaking news today, but --

ALBARELLI: Sure thing.

BANFIELD: But your book is fascinating reading. I should just add as well that Mr. Olson, the CIA operative, had told his family, according to this lawsuit, that he wanted to resign. He wanted to leave the CIA.

ALBARELLI: That is correct.

BANFIELD: He had also told -- he had also told some of his colleagues, according to the lawsuit. So we'll see what happens today. We'll have to have you back to see how this thing resolves. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

ALBARELLI: Thank you, thank you very much, Ashleigh. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Also, in complete fairness to the CIA, of course we reached out to them, of course we reached out to the CIA. And that is not an easy thing to do, but they did respond, and they gave us this comment. They said this. "Without commenting on this specific legal matter, CIA activities related to MK Ultra" -- that is that program I told you about that the CIA operative was involved in -- these programs "have been thoroughly investigated over the years, and the agency cooperated with each of those investigations. MK Ultra was investigated in 1975 by the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee, and in 1977 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research. In addition, tens of thousands of pages related to the program have been declassified and released to the public." And our thanks to Jennifer Youngblood from the CIA for getting us that formal comment from the CIA. It remains to be seen how many more comments they may have to make, though, if this thing gets into court. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE PUTIGNANO, GYMNAST: I started gymnastics when I was 9 years old, and I was watching the 1984 Olympics, and it spoke to me as if it was like broadcasted directly to me. And I immediately took the cushions off the couch and started flipping around.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joseph Putignano's foray into gymnastics got serious after that. At the Olympic training center just two years later, he realized he had a natural gift. But his insatiable need to perform perfectly took over his life.

PUTIGNANO: For me it kind of became a darkness, that I have to be perfect.

GUPTA: And that's where his downward spiral began. PUTIGNANO: I had my first drink, and all that desire for me to be perfect and to be the best was just washed away in a moment.

GUPTA: Within months, things got worse.

PUTIGNANO: I was drinking and using prescription drugs and a lot of cocaine. And it was that thing where I came to a crossroads, where it was like I can't use and perform, so something's got to go.

One of the worst moments of my entire life, which I'll never forget, is actually calling the coach up and quitting. Because it's like you're giving back your gift.

GUPTA: Alcohol, pills, and cocaine led Joe to heroin. In 2007, after several failed stints in rehab and two life-threatening overdoses, recovery finally stuck.

PUTIGNANO: I'm 27 year old. I hadn't been -- I hadn't done a hand stand in almost 10 years. I started to do hand stands and splits, and the more sobriety I maintained, the more this like light, I'll call it, I don't know what else to say, kind of pulled me in a better direction.

GUPTA: Joe honed his body and his mind, and he started to work on Broadway as a dancer. But it was a chance meeting with a Cirque du Soleil producer that changed his life forever.

PUTIGNANO: He saw something in me that was sort of inspiring and brought hope.

GUPTA: Today, three years after that chance encounter, five years of sobriety, Joe is starring as the Crystal Man in the Cirque du Soleil's touring show, Totem.

PUTIGNANO: Crystal Man is the spark of change. It's like some of the darkest of men carry the brightest of light. And here I was, the darkest of men, and now I get to come down and shine.

GUPTA: And while he says his addiction will never disappear, he's now living a life he thought he'd lost forever.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Now, for weeks people on the West Coast could only watch as their fellow countrymen over here on the East Coast were absolutely hammered by superstorm Sandy, and then the nor'easter that added insult to injury. And now the tables are turning as the West Coast is going to be bracing for a monster weather pattern that has several states locked on to its radar for a five-day assault. Chad Myers is watching the rain, the wind, and the snow that is coming. They are really going to get it. How bad is it expected to be, Chad? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, there could be 20 inches of rain in spots. You put that up in the mountains, and you're talking ten feet of snow, and all of a sudden you have mudslides, snow slides, avalanches. It could be an ugly mess.

And you said a couple of days. I see four storms, four separate storms over the next 16 days hitting relatively the same area. One storm after another, out in the Pacific, now the rain is all the way to San Francisco, headed up to Truckee. You're going to need chains. You don't even go anywhere in the Sierra this week without the chains in the car, because you will be -- you'll be -- they are going to be chaining everything up there, up and down, even probably the I-80 pass here.

There's all the flood threat in the green, because it's not going to be snowing there. It will be all rain. And there literally could be a foot of rain before it finally stops.

We are seeing all of this purple area. You go here, that's eight to 10 inches. That's only in the next probably 72 to 120 hours.

And it just keeps raining, Ashleigh. It just keeps going. It keeps going for the next week and a half. So here we go, river of moisture, not going to stop. It's going to be coming on shore just one storm after the next. We will see flash floods, rock slides, Southern California rain, 20 to 30 foot waves on the shore. Now, that could be affecting you if you're there, even from Oregon down through Washington coast, and into California. We're talking a lot about the Sierra, but this storm will affect all the way from British Columbia all the way down even south of San Francisco here. One storm after the other. Those are the huge waves. High surf warnings here will be along the coast. Basically, you need to stay out of this water, and all surfers are going to want to be in the water, but kind of give it a couple of days to let it settle down as the storms come on by.

A big, big event for the west. We haven't talked about this big of an event, I don't think, probably for years for the West Coast, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: For years, really?

MYERS: Yes. Yes.

BANFIELD: So, when you -- God, I couldn't believe it, you said 20 inches of rain, ten feet of snow. That usually translates into landslides for a lot of people in California.

MYERS: Yes. No question about it. And they are not really -- this heavy rain isn't over all of the burn areas, but there are burn areas that are affected.

So what I mean by that, if you're on the East Coast, is that once you have a fire in some of the higher elevations, the very steep slopes of the Sierra, or anywhere up and down from California to Washington, you then all of a sudden you don't have the roots of the plant trying to hold that dirt in, and that dirt just want to move, and that's one bad thing -- it's a one-two punch. All of a sudden, you've lost all of the vegetation around your house, now you're going to lose all the dirt around your house, because there's no vegetation to hold that dirt, hold that mud in place.

BANFIELD: Can you give me like 30 seconds on what's going on to the -- to the left of you on screen? It says the water vapor satellite. It just looks like a huge hurricane. But what is it exactly?

MYERS: Well, you know, people kind of want to put this in perspective as the pineapple express, but in fact, right now it's not the pineapple express. But you see a spin there, a spin there, one coming on shore right here and another one out west. So, yes, there are four, four spins out there waiting to be, one after the other, like planes lined up at LaGuardia.

BANFIELD: I'm so sorry to hear that, because we've been through it here, and our hearts go out to those on the West Coast who are about to brace for it.

Chad, thank you for watching it for us, appreciate it.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: And thank you, everyone, for watching NEWSROOM with me. "NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL" starts right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)