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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Al Qaeda Plot Revealed; Worst Campaign Mistakes

Aired December 3, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Top Obama and Romney campaign officials reveal the best moves and worst mistakes during the campaign.

And find out why a homeless man given boots by a generous police officer is barefoot once again.

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

Al Qaeda terrorists planned to strike days after the U.S. presidential election with an attack on the American Embassy in Amman, Jordan, and on other targets in the capital. We are learning more about this plot right now and just how deadly it could have been.

Brian Todd has been digging on this story.

Brian, update our viewers what you are learning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's some disturbing new detail emerging now on the plot that was foiled by Jordanian authorities several weeks ago. Al Qaeda called it 9/11 two, meaning it would have been Jordan's second 9/11-style attack and the coordinated nature of the planned attacks brings to mind one of the ruthless terrorist operations in recent memory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It was supposed to be on the scale of the devastating 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, when terrorists killed more than 160 people and menaced a huge city for days. This one planned to target the American embassy in the capital of one of the top U.S. allies in the Middle East. Now, new details are emerging on an ambitious plot to attack Amman, Jordan.

Jordanian officials tell CNN the plot called for three waves of attack, first, coordinated bombings at large shopping malls in Amman. Almost simultaneously, machine gun and bomb attacks on cafes and luxury hotels frequented by diplomats and tourists.

(on camera): Then, with the city's police responding to those attacks, Jordanian officials say the terrorists plan to launch the main assault on the U.S. embassy in Amman. Bombs, machine gunfire and mortar shells would rain down on that compound, one of America's biggest embassies in the world.

Terrorism analyst Tom Sanderson says the motivation for the attack was to show capability.

TOM SANDERSON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: To inflict damage on the United States, to inflict damage, physical and reputational, on the Jordanian government in an environment in which all other governments are certainly dealing with their own difficulties right now.

TODD: All 11 suspects were rounded up by Jordanian security forces in mid-October. Jordanian officials say they'd planned to strike on November 9, the seventh anniversary of the last al Qaeda attack in Jordan, when suicide bombers struck three hotels in Amman, killing about 60 people.

The man who claimed responsible for that 2005 attack, Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, a Jordanian who led the group al Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in 2006. But analysts say the recent resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq now shows an unsettling pattern. SANDERSON: We thought we had them, you know, essentially pushed to the wall and snuffed out to a large degree. Some individuals were released from prison in Iraq and rejoined this group.

And certainly when you have a country that is unstable like Iraq and you have tremendous sectarian tension there and violence, the more from the Sunni side on to the Shiite side, you can't be surprised that a group like al Qaeda in Iraq or the Islamic state of Iraq would replenish itself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Raising questions of whether America's efforts in Iraq paid off, at least as far as combating terrorist cells is concerned, and whether the U.S. may need to get back in to Iraq militarily with small special-ops forces to attack those cells again.

Another ominous detail on this plot in Jordan, all the suspects according to Jordanian officials had moved in and out of Syria where weapons and jihadist fighters are very plentiful. That's another sign that the Syrian civil war could be spilling over into Jordan, a country where analysts say the U.S. has a large stake in the survival of that government, Wolf.

BLITZER: To put it mildly, indeed.

The Jordanian government is -- if it is destabilized, Brian, that would be a huge intelligence, political disaster for U.S. interests in that part of the world.

TODD: Absolutely it would be, Wolf. Analysts say the Jordanian intelligence service is one of the best in the entire region. It works very closely with U.S. intelligence to share information on terrorist cells there. If that government falls, a lot of that is compromised or lost. It would be a huge loss for U.S. intelligence in that region.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you. I spoke a little while with the Jordanian foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, and I asked him about the scope of the foiled terror plot in Amman, Jordan, and how al Qaeda in Iraq is managing to make a comeback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NASSER JUDEH, JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The thing is that they were affiliated with groups affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. They were getting the technology and the weapons and a new type of explosive that wreaks havoc and results in the maximum damage in terms of loss of life and in terms of destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in Kate Bolduan. She's watching what is going on. And also joining us, Peter Bergen, our national security analyst.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, they seem to be making a comeback right now, after we thought after Abu Musab al Zarqawi they were gone. But they're coming back.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They're coming back, but I think we need to put it in a little bit of perspective, Wolf, which is, in 2006, they controlled a third of the country, Anbar province, which they basically ran according to the Marines' assessment as the time.

They're no longer in control of territory. That said, they're clearly an effective terrorist group. It's not just the events -- the failed plot in Amman, but we're also seeing fairly regular big car bombs in Baghdad which are al Qaeda in Iraq's handiwork.

BLITZER: Because, in Amman, it was like a multipronged terror plot, go after malls, shopping districts and government buildings and then blow up the U.S. -- you have been to the U.S. Embassy in Amman. It's a huge complex. There are a lot of Americans who work there. They wanted to make a point.

BERGEN: Yes. And, you know, these groups have capabilities. We saw as Brian pointed out in his piece that this is a group that pulled off an attack that killed 60 people, mostly Jordanians in 2005, the group of American-owned hotels.

Certainly this is a group that's successfully carried out attacks on American targets in Jordan in the past. Balanced against that, you know, they lost a lot of credibility in Jordan as a result of that attack. Almost all of the victims were Jordanian. So, you know, it is worrisome. It is worrisome what they're doing in Syria. It's worrisome what they're doing in Iraq. They're certainly not out of business.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I wanted to ask you about Syria. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel said that Syria's the fastest growing al Qaeda group. And the Jordanian foreign minister just told Wolf the situation in Syria is ripe for al Qaeda. Is that where the real concern is for you? Do you agree with what he says?

BERGEN: Yes. I think that's basically right because they can frame it as a -- you know, basically a Sunni rebel movement against a Shiite sort of heretic government which, you know, the Assad government would easily fall under that framing.

And there is plenty of money coming from Qatar and Saudi Arabia going to some rebels who are sort of legitimate and some who may be more of a jihadist bent. And you can't -- there's more than 800 sort of opposition military armed movements in Syria and it's very hard to sort of discriminate between ones that are kind of less Salafist than others.

BOLDUAN: The U.S.' big concern.

BERGEN: Yes. So, you know, it's in the middle of the Middle East. We saw during the Iraq civil war that this was very attractive for foreign fighters. I think we will begin seeing not just people from Iraq but also from other people in the Middle East coming in to fight against this -- the government they deem heretic.

BLITZER: You were there when I interviewed Admiral McRaven back in July in Aspen, Colorado. He thought hopefully the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could contain al Qaeda in Iraq. He used the word hopefully. Are you confident that the regime there can?

BERGEN: No, I'm not, actually, because, I mean, contain is an interesting term.

You know, I mean, maybe manage to some degree, but, I mean, you know, this group is clearly having some kind of resurrection and, you know, I don't think the central government of Iraq can do much to stop that. The United States is out of there. That surely doesn't hurt al Qaeda in Iraq.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a worrisome situation. The U.S. fought for many years, lost a lot of lives in Afghanistan, spent at least a trillion dollars if not more and it looks to me like that situation -- I know you're more optimistic about the future of Iraq than I am, but I'm very, very worried about when's going on.

Thanks very much.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, by the way, is the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad."

BOLDUAN: An Iranian national and a U.S. citizen pleaded guilty today in a scheme to sell aircraft and parts to Iran in violation of the U.S. trade embargo. Prosecutors say the helicopter and aircraft engines were intended for civilian and not military use. The two men could face up to 40 years in prison and a half-million dollar fine when they're sentenced which could be in March, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you. We have new information, also, about Syria's latest moves that could be a step toward chemical weapons attacks. We're going to show you what the Syrians are capable of doing and the threat just issued by the president of the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama issued a new warning to Syria just a little while ago amid growing fears that the Bashar al-Assad regime may attack rebels and civilians in Syria with chemical weapons.

A U.S. official tells CNN Syrian forces have begun mixing chemicals that could be used to make the deadly gas sarin. If Syria goes ahead with a chemical weapons attack, President Obama promises there will be consequences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And on Syria, let me just say this. We will continue to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people engaging with the opposition, providing them with the humanitarian aid and working for a transition to a Syria that's free of the Assad regime.

And today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Opposition activists say at least 150 people were killed in fighting across Syria today.

United Nations pulled its nonessential staff from the country because security is clearly deteriorating and neighboring Turkey has asked NATO for Patriot air defense missiles to bolster its air defenses against attacks along its border. NATO's expected to approve that request tomorrow, though Russian president Vladimir Putin says the move might make tensions along the border even worse.

BOLDUAN: Wolf, Syria denies they has any plans to use chemical weapons, but U.S. officials say their intelligence suggests otherwise.

Tom Foreman is looking into this for us and looking at Syria's chemical weapons capability.

Tom, what are you finding out?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, military analysts that Syria in fact may have one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world and they're spread through production and storage facilities throughout the country there. This is the result, they say, of an aggressive development program that started in the 1980s and was assisted by the Russians and Iranians. So if you look at these facilities throughout the country right there, this has been a cause for concern before as well, not only that the Syrian government might use such weapons, but that they could also fall into the hands of terrorists.

So what exactly are we talking about when we say we might be dealing with chemical weapons? First of all, there's mustard gas. This is one of the things they think they might have. This was commonly used in World War I. It's not a very fast-acting chemical agent, but it's extremely painful. It burns the skin, it burns the eyes and it burns the lungs when it is inhaled.

It can be fatal, but more often this disables an enemy combatant of some sort and it can produce lifelong chronic problems, like respiratory illness, cancer and blindness. Beyond that, let's look at some of the other things that they believe they might have out there.

Sarin gas. This attacks the nervous system. That is a nerve agent and that's a big deal because it happens very, very quickly and it's overwhelming to the person. Immediately, you can nerve tremors, unable to control your muscles and then you can have general convulsions and then you can have unconsciousness and fatalities with relatively low doses of it.

And beyond that, one of the really big concerns is that they may have even V.X. gas. V.X. gas is considered by many scientists to be one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet. It was originally developed as a pesticide and then it was weaponized. This can be applied in a liquid form and even a tiny few drops of it on your skin can immediately be absorbed and produce the same affects of sarin, but even more so. And of course if it's inhaled, it will absolutely be lethal. These are the big three right now, Kate, when you talk about Syria and their potential for chemical weapons.

BOLDUAN: And, Tom, again, even though the Syrian government continues to say it would never use such weapons against its own people, there is very much a concern there. How are these chemicals deployed in combat?

FOREMAN: The sad truth is the way they're deployed is actually quite easily. If they wanted to send a large amount over a long distance, they could certainly turn to things like their Scud missiles or other rockets and they simply put them in a warhead and launch them that way.

Beyond that, they can be dropped from airplanes or they can actually be loaded into artillery shells and fired into areas. And here's an important thing to bear in mind. Some of these chemicals don't necessarily last a long time, but others do. So if they explode over an area or carried by wind over an area, spread over an area as liquid, they in fact can poison the ground there for days or weeks so that people long after that battle is over simply walking by can find themselves poisoned and feeling the effects -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's a horrible threat to a country has already suffered so much. Tom Foreman, thank you so much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Huge news from the world's most famous newlyweds. A new royal heir is on the way and the duchess is in the hospital. We will have the latest information live from London. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, we're getting new lessons from the presidential election that just unfolded here in the United States. Former top officials from the Obama and Romney campaigns talked about what they did right, what they did wrong, very blunt conversations. Gloria Borger was there. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republicans are out with a new plan they say will save $2.2 trillion and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

BOLDUAN: Yes. The so-called fiscal cliff, those across-the- board spending cuts and sharp tax increases that are scheduled to take effect just 29 days from now. We are definitely keeping count of the days as they tick down.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who has much more on this.

Dana, the biggest sticking point has been the tax rates for the rich. Does their plan change anything?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't. It's about $2.2 trillion, they say, in savings to the deficit, but on that fundamental as you say key sticking point, it doesn't change anything. They simply do not propose to raise any tax rates.

Let's just look at some specifics on this tax issue. The House GOP counterproposal which came out this afternoon does put out $800 billion in new tax revenue effectively from tax reform, nothing, nothing on Bush era tax rates. Those would continue.

Just look at that compared to the White House offer, which -- last week, which was $1.6 trillion in tax revenue. The majority of that was from raising tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. So that still is the absolute biggest divide between the two sides, no question about it.

BOLDUAN: And so when you really look at where we are, Democrats, they want tax rates to go up for wealthier Americans. Republicans, they have long been pushing for changes to entitlement programs. So, what else is in this Republican proposal then?

BASH: Some of that as well. Let's look at that, $600 billion in what Republicans call health savings. We don't have a lot of specifics on it, but Republican sources say that much of that will come from Medicare savings, things like raising the eligibility age for Medicare, means testing, things like that.

Also, $600 billion in overall spending cuts, and $200 billion in revising the consumer price index. Now, that sounds mind numbingly technical, but it has very real world consequences, Kate, because it could affect how much people's Social Security benefits, for example, could go up every year, depending on inflation.

BOLDUAN: And the response and reaction has been swift from Capitol Hill to the White House, right?

BASH: Absolutely. The White House is not happy with this, as you can imagine.

I will read the statement that they put out in part, saying: "The Republican letter released today" -- because this went to the president in the form of a letter from the speaker -- "does not meet the test of balance. In fact, it actually promises to lower rates for the wealthy and sticks the middle class with the bill."

And this statement goes on to say: "Until the Republicans in Congress are willing to get serious about asking the wealthiest to pay slightly higher tax rates, we won't be able to achieve a significant, balanced approach to reduce our deficit and our nation's needs."

Now, Kate, I can tell you that is the public, on-the-record statement from the White House. Privately, I talked to -- just got off the phone with a Democratic source here who actually admitted that this Republican proposal does pass the laugh test, in that they did decide not to put forward, for example, the Ryan budget or something that there's no way any Democrat could support.

So they actually are giving Republicans -- or at least this one senior source I talked to -- are giving Republicans the props on the tactics but not the strategy, and that's really what we have to keep in mind here.

Democrats from the White House, people Jessica Yellin is talking to, here on Capitol Hill, are absolutely insisting the president and Democrats here mean it when they say they will not go for anything that includes -- that doesn't include raising taxes on the wealthy, that they are perfectly willing to go off the fiscal cliff at the end of the year if Republicans won't give on that fundamental issue, and until then they're just not going to be able to come together.

BOLDUAN: That is the major hurdle and will continue to be. Dana Bash on Capitol Hill for us. Thanks so much, Dana.

As one Democratic aide put it to me, they're ready to talk, but they're not going to bend on any concessions until Republicans take off the Band-Aid on rates.

BLITZER: Paraphrase what one of our guests told us. He said it's going to get worse before it gets worse.

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right, Wolf. BLITZER: And nearly one month after the presidential election, both campaigns are looking into the rearview mirror, analyzing what went right, what went wrong.

While President Obama and Mitt Romney were having lunch at the White House last week, their top campaign officials at Harvard University talking about lessons learned. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, was one of the moderators, together with Ron Brownstein, who was also there.

So what struck you, as someone who covered from A to Z this campaign? You learned some stuff.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I did. First of all, Wolf, this is the first time a lot of these people who are running these campaigns actually have met each other face to face. They sat around a big square table and had to kind of look at each other, and it is so hard when you're on the losing side.

You've spent years of your life. There's a picture of the table. You spent years of your life devoted to running a presidential campaign. And if you're the loser, it's really hard.

So one of the questions I asked at this -- at this panel discussion was about the infamous 47 percent tape, in which Mitt Romney said that 47 percent of the people wouldn't vote for him, that they felt entitled. And Matt Rhodes, who ran his campaign, answered that question, and we only have audio of this, so listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT RHODES, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: And I remember speaking to him and, you know, there was a lot of negativity about our campaign as a whole, but he's a person that takes personal responsibility about it. And he would tell me, you know, to me, like, "You didn't say 47 percent, Matt. Stuart didn't say 47 percent. I did."

And obviously, it was not a high moment for our campaign, but I think it speaks a lot to who Mitt Romney is, and I also like to think it speaks a lot to who this campaign team is that we were able to make a run and come back from that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: And if you remember, the campaign went into a real trough after that. And they had to struggle to get out of it. They had a big meeting and said, "Here are the five things we need to do." And they tried to do it.

BLITZER: We all remember the first debate.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: The president barely showed up for that first debate.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You went in detail. You reviewed what happened.

BORGER: Of course. Well, we, obviously, asked about that. And David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, actually kind of fell on his sword about the president's lackluster performance. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: What we assumed was that, these guys having practiced for as long as and as hard as they had, had an answer prepared. and we just felt like we were going to lead into something that might not be productive.

So, you know, there were answers that we could have given, but they would have been more personal in nature and, you know, that was part of it. I mean, I that was -- if there was a preparation problem, it was on that strategic level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: So it was a strategic decision not to engage on 47 percent or Bain Capital or Mitt Romney's tax returns. He said, you know, don't blame the president. Yes, there are problems. He wasn't used to somebody getting in his face like Mitt Romney did, yes, we get that, but actually, strategically we decided not to engage.

BOLDUAN: Then when we move to election day, there we've seen a lot of conversations after the election that there were, at least some within Mitt Romney's campaign, that really believed that they were ahead, that they were -- they had this in the bag, that they were going to win.

BORGER: Well, they believed that they could win.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BORGER: And I put it in directly to Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney's pollster, and I said -- so the question was, did you believe on election day that you were going to win? And listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL NEWHOUSE, ROMNEY'S POLLSTER: I was cautiously optimistic. I was -- here's what we saw in the data that's really interesting, and you've got to give credit to the Obama campaign for, you know, undercutting it.

We saw throughout the last two weeks of the campaign, intensity advantage, a campaign interest advantage and an enthusiasm advantage for Republicans for Mitt Romney. We thought that that would -- had the potential to tilt the partisan makeup of the electorate a couple of points our direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BORGER: Of course, this is going to be the story of this campaign, which is that the Romney campaign was looking back to the 2004 voter model, never believing in its wildest dreams that the Obama campaign could build on 2008 and turn out African-Americans in the numbers they did and turn out women in the numbers they had done in 2008. And that the minority vote would increase by two full percentage points.

They were not even aware of what the Obama campaign had been doing for an entire year while they were fighting the primaries. They were depending on enthusiasm. Their internal polls showed up six points in New Hampshire on election day. Two points in Iowa. And on and on and on. So they really, in a way, didn't know what hit them.

BLITZER: Yes. And you also pointed out to me earlier, when we were talking about it ourselves...

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... you said the Obama campaign was on one level in terms of getting out the vote.

BORGER: Totally, totally.

BLITZER: Data mining, social media, all of that. The Romney campaign was years behind.

BORGER: All the analytics -- and I think what you're going to see at the Republican National Committee is Reince Priebus, he's going to get reelected, but I think you're going to see a lot of changes over there. Because they know they've really got to catch up when it comes to getting out their voters.

And of course, with the Hispanic vote, and of course, that was another issue that came up was, the question was, was there any regret about going to the right on immigration. And it was clear from some quarters of the Romney campaign, yes, there was.

BLITZER: Self-deportation, not a good phrase.

BORGER: Not a good phrase.

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: Although they said they never considered taking it back.

BLITZER: Historians will love this seminar. You and Ron Brownstein.

BORGER: And others. There were other panelists.

BLITZER: And it was posted for political news junkies who want to review.

BORGER: It's all there.

BLITZER: OK.

BORGER: For history.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, thank you.

Still ahead, a weekend tragedy shocks professional football, and while the investigation's only started, people already are asking questions about the effects of head injury. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us in just three minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Football fans and players, they're all saddened, and they're baffled by a murder-suicide involving an NFL linebacker over the weekend.

Jovan Belcher shot himself in the head outside the practice facility of his team, the Kansas City Chiefs after killing his girlfriend, the mother of his child.

CNN's Ed Lavandera spoke with Belcher's coach and some of his teammates, who are now struggling to try to figure out why this happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Young age, high-profile jobs. He's a young father. I mean, did you ever get the sense that he was struggling to kind of deal with all, you know, pressures?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never seen anything. He never gave off a sign like he couldn't handle anything or pressure was too much. He was always happy.

LAVANDERA: Did Jovan Belcher ever express to you any troubles that he was having in his personal life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No major troubles. In his life. Everybody has some issues in their personal life. I mean, all of us here have issues in our personal life. And everybody handles issues differently. He seemed like a strong-willed individual to me. He's a leader. He was sitting in the front of the classroom. He's a first to the drills.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Some wonder if Belcher might have suffered from brain trauma, a very serious problem for NFL players who repeatedly get hit in the head. We don't know if that's the case right now, but there is a new study on brain trauma.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon. He's done extensive reporting and researching on this subject.

Sanjay, what is the study saying specifically? Is it more definitive evidence in this study of a link between repeated brain trauma and this brain disease?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the definitive is a tough word in science, because that establishes a very direct cause-and-effect relationship.

Keep in mind, when you look at these, for several years now, these brains have been studied of players who have died. Sometimes prematurely. Their brains are studied, but oftentimes they were studied because there was some sort of suspicion in the first place. So it biases the study a little bit.

And that's what, you know, a lot of researchers are saying. Be a little bit cautious when interpreting these results and compelling stuff.

Wolf, as you mentioned, I'm been investigating this for some time. There have been a lot of players over the years that you were familiar with, that we heard about, Dave Duerson, for example, you know, he was -- he had written a letter about this. He served on some of the committees that evaluated head injuries, and he is someone who himself donated his brain. He said -- he committed suicide but left a note saying he was going to donate his brain. John Mackey (ph), the same sort of thing.

I think one of the most compelling things about this study, Wolf, I read it, is that they're now looking at this in stages. So instead of saying someone has chronic traumatic encephalitis or they don't, they're actually creating stages: stage I to stage IV, to sort of give an indication of severity.

And as you might guess, Wolf, it's sort of based on usually how many of these injuries, blows to the head you've had and how long typically you've been playing football in this case, Wolf.

BLITZER: So can we presume, Sanjay, that someone in the later stage of the disease is at the highest risk of suicide?

GUPTA: You know, you would think that, Wolf, but I asked the same question, but not necessarily. And this makes it a little bit more confusing, probably more research is needed.

But Wolf, let me show you a couple of images here. For example, this might show you what we're talking about specifically.

On the left is a normal brain. On the right is the brain of a 21-year-old person with who did commit suicide. Up in that upper right corner, again, of the brain on the right, you see that dark spot, Wolf? That's what we're talking about. That's a deposit of protein. That's very similar to someone, for example, who has Alzheimer's disease, but it's just that one spot. Early stage of disease. This person did commit suicide.

Take a look at the next set of images, Wolf. Again, you're going to have a normal brain on the left. You can see probably right away with just even the naked eye how much more disease there is in this brain. A 50-year-old. It's actually the brain of Dave Duerson, and he also committed suicide.

So it's a little bit tough to say that the stage absolutely correlates to the outcome in case, suicide. That's an area that needs to be researched more, Wolf.

BLITZER: Does having a history of head trauma, Sanjay, or concussion, automatically mean you're going to be diagnosed with CTE?

GUPTA: You know, Wolf, of the 35 football players, for example -- again, keeping in mind, these were people who probably had some suspicion of this -- but of those 35 players, 34 did have it.

Of the 85 brains that were studied in total -- some of those include athletes but also military veterans who had had head injuries during the battle -- about, you know, about 75 percent of them had evidence of CTE.

It's a little bit hard to say, again, just how likely you are to develop this if you are an athlete, if you have these sort of blows to the head for any different number of reasons, but the -- but again, the numbers are becoming increasingly compelling.

When I first started investigating this, only a small number of brains had been examined. And now you're getting dozens and dozens of brains and you're seeing this.

I asked Dr. McKee, who's one of the authors of the study, had she ever seen anything else that could cause this sort of phenomenon in the brain. And she said, no. She thinks this is almost absolutely the result of repeated blows to the head, Wolf.

BLITZER: A tough question for you, Sanjay. You've researched this issue. You're a neurosurgeon. If parents come to you and say, "Should we let our son who's in junior high or high school play football?" what do you say?

GUPTA: I'd say, you can, except there are two very important things. And I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. One is that, you know, a significant number of these blows to the head occur during practices. Not just games. Drills where you're banging your head over and over again into another person or into an immovable object of some sort. That could -- if you reduce that, you could dramatically reduce the number of blows to the head.

Also, the idea that someone who has a concussion or somehow, you know, has had a brain injury, as we call it, as a result of football, that they be allowed to play only after the brain is completely healed. And there are sophisticated tests and exams to be able to determine that. A player should never go back in unless the brain is completely healed. Those two things, I think, have to be absolutely the culture of football, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta with good advice for parents out there. Appreciate it, Sanjay, very, very much.

GUPTA: You got it. BLITZER: It's a tough issue.

BOLDUAN: It's a very tough issue. And again, with Jovan Belcher, there's no way of linking this now to that brain disease, but still an important issue to be talking about, regardless.

Still ahead, it's a picture that went viral, but it turns out we only knew half the story. Now the rest is revealed. New details of the homeless man, the police officer, and a touching act of kindness.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: People all over the world have been touched by the photograph of a good deed.

BOLDUAN: And the picture of a policeman giving shoes to a homeless man not only went viral; people wanted to know about the man the officer was helping. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us live from New York with more on that. So Mary, what have you learned?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kate.

Well, you know, he lived anonymously on the streets until that photograph circulated, and it's made its way to a relative who says he was stunned when he realized who was in that photo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): It was a photo that captured interest around the globe: Officer Lawrence DiPrimo buying boots for a barefoot homeless man in New York's Times Square. The officer was swarmed by the media, the homeless man went nameless until now. We now know him to be Jeffrey Hillman, age 54. His brother, Kirk, says he was pained to recognize his brother in the photo that went viral.

KIRK HILLMAN, BROTHER OF HOMELESS MAN: My brother has full access to us, so usually he will call me and let me know things are fine or things are not fine, so -- but just seeing him on street the way I saw, that was a shock, at that particular time, with no shoes and in the cold, but my brother has been homeless for a while. And he's been on the street for many, many years in his life.

SNOW: Kirk Hillman, who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, says he last spoke to his brother, Jeffrey, about a year ago. He says he served several years in the military, is a father of two grown children, and is at a loss to explain how his brother ended up like this.

Sunday night, "The New York Times" found Jeffrey Hillman on the streets of Manhattan, once again, barefoot and without the boots the officer bought him. He told the "Times," "Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money. I could lose my life."

PATRICK MARKEE, COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS: This homeless man is telling news reporters he's afraid that his boots might get stolen. Well, you know what? Homeless people are far more likely to be the victims of violence and a violent crime than non-homeless people.

SNOW: Patrick Markee is with New York City's Coalition for the Homeless. He says roughly 47,000 people stay in New York City shelters each night. Roughly 20,000 are children. He says it's unknown how many people live on the street, but the majority are living with serious mental illness.

Jeffrey Hillman's brother, Kirk, is a Baptist elder. He says he prays for his brother every day.

HILLMAN: I would pray that my brother can, you know, hopefully, one day be moved in his heart to want to change his life, but you know, that's about -- that's my desire for him. But you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, Kirk Hillman says he hopes his brother calls him again.

As for Jeffrey Hillman, he told "The Times" he was very appreciative of what Officer DePrimo did, but he said he never gave permission to a tourist to take that photograph and he says, in his own words, he now wants a piece of the pie -- Kate and Wolf.

BOLDUAN: Quite a story. Mary Snow, thank you.

BLITZER: You know, it's great what this police officer did and I applaud this business, but the fact that it's such a big deal, you know, it's sort of sad to me. People should be doing these acts of kindness to homeless people all of the time. Shouldn't be a big deal. You see somebody lying there, it's freezing outside, barefoot, you go help that person. You bring them inside, you do something. The fact that it's such -- it's become such a big deal is sad to me.

BOLDUAN: It's so unusual.

BLITZER: It's so unusual that a police officer helped somebody who was homeless and he was freezing to death. And -- just saying.

BOLDUAN: That needs to happen more, and we should cover it more, as well, I think. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Reality TV heads for the hills. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's as if they crossed Honey Boo-Boo.

ALANA THOMPSON, REALITY TV STAR: Our cat is (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MOOS: With "Jersey Shore." UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) craziest guidos.

MOOS: And got the whitest, craziest hillbillies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I know around here is whatever happens, happens.

MOOS: What happens is fighting, licking, rolling down a hill in a tractor tire. With its run ending, MTV needed a replacement for...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to Jersey shore!

MOOS: But "I'm going to Sissonville, West Virginia" doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Better to name the show...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Buckwild."

MOOS: The new reality series starts January 3 in the time slot now occupied by "Jersey Shore." "Buckwild" features nine young adults, as MTV puts it, "a whole new hell-raising group of friends for you to fall in love with."

(on camera) "Jersey Shore" sand. Make way for West Virginia mud.

(voice-over) But West Virginians are worried their reputation will be mud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of trashy like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ridiculous?

MOOS: Posted one critic, "I am so humiliated. As a native of Sissonville, West Virginia, where they are filming this train wreck, I am just devastated that my hometown is going to be slandered by this show. Never have I ever done any of those things, especially swim in a dump truck."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y'all want a swimming pool?

MOOS: MTV wouldn't comment on the criticism. The West Virginia Film Office twice tried to discourage the show's producers by rejecting their request for state tax credits, but the show barreled on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MOOS (on camera): The bleep was the only part of that I understood.

(voice-over) "This show needs subtitles," suggested one poster. But it may be more civilized if you don't know what they're saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys (EXPLETIVE DELETED) my (UNINTELLIGIBLE). How disrespectful is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry. MOOS: It's either a barrel of laughs or the bottom of the barrel.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y'all want a swimming pool?

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Oh, Jeanne.

Guess who Kid Rock hung out with this weekend at the annual Kennedy Center honors?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KID ROCK, SINGER: I was partying with Wolf Blitzer last night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you?

KID ROCK: He tweeted a picture of us. We broke him in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I get to say I partied with Wolf every night, but yes, Wolf did, indeed, tweet about the quality time he spent with Kid Rock. Here's a photo of them together.

BLITZER: Very nice guy. I liked meeting his mom, as well. From Michigan.

That's it from us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.