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THE SITUATION ROOM

Costas Speaks Out on Gun Controversy; U.S. Declares Syrian Rebel Group Terrorists; WMD Threat Prompts Desperate Measures; Diva Killed in Plane Crash; Safety of Rivera's Jet Questioned; What the Fiscal Cliff Really Looks Like; Possible Mass Graves Found at Old Reform School; American Tech Mogul Wants to Return to U.S.

Aired December 10, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the U.S. names a new terrorist group.

Who are they and where are they operating?

Also, new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the crash that killed a Latina superstar. We're now learning the jet suffered substantial damage in a previous accident right here in the United States.

And Bob Costas, he's now speaking out to our own Piers Morgan about the huge controversy he sparked with his halftime remarks about gun control. Piers is here this hour to tell us what Costas is saying right now.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're some of the fiercest rebel fighters in Syria, waging a deadly battle to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. But the U.S. now says they are also terrorists. We're now learning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared a hard line Islamist organization called the al Nasra Front a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda.

CNN's Nick Payton Walsh is joining us from Beirut right now.

He's got some details.

What are you picking up over there -- Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the al Nasra Front are, in many ways, the more effective part of the Syrian rebel movement, behind many of the victories we've seen over the past few weeks, particularly one near Aleppo in the last 24 hours, overrunning much of a base there. What's interesting is how the U.S. government has chosen to designate them. They've not said the al Nasra Front is a whole new separate terrorist entity, they've just said the al Nasra Front is another name for al Qaeda in Iraq. Remember them, four to five years ago, behind the deaths of so many American soldiers there?

That, of course, points out to what they believe are many of the links between those insurgents in Iraq, who they now think are fighting with Syrian rebels against President Bashar al-Assad.

Al Nasra, radical (INAUDIBLE) in their ideology, behind suicide bombings, which many say have caught civilians in their blasts. But this move deeply complicating, because it says to many Syrians that while America supports you and your rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, it doesn't like about 10 percent of the fighters doing the most effective job in that fight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what -- what's the bottom line over there?

What are the rebels, the opposition forces, saying?

How are they reacting to this news about the al Nasra group?

One of the leading rebel organizations over there now being declared formally, by the United States a, terrorist organization with ties to al Qaeda?

PATON WALSH: Well, certainly online, we've seen some reaction from some Syrians deploring this move. And, of course, I think on the ground, it's fair to say there's been much reporting from Arwa Damon in Aleppo recently saying that many people there actually find some sympathy with the al Nasra Front. They're effective. They're disciplined. They provide services. I've seen videos recently of them handing out food to aggrieved Syrians.

So there is much sympathy for these individuals. They are accused of radicalism, of ties to al Qaeda, certainly. But that's not really going to make life much easier for the United States in the months ahead. They're desperate to influence the fighters on the ground, to try and be sure that they have some kind of voice in the post-Assad world. Many think, inevitably, President Bashar al-Assad will fall. And this move, declaring them a terrorist group, will just make that job harder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what deeply concerns U.S. officials is a group like the al Nasra group getting its hands on some of those chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria when.

Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut watching what's going on.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is on the ground inside Syria right now.

She has more on the al Nasra Front, the group declared a terrorist organization by the Obama administration.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're incredibly secretive. It's very difficult to actually get access to their leadership. We have been trying that. When you speak with the other fighting units, they have enormous respect for the al Nasra Front's capabilities, because their fighters are deemed to be the most professional, the most dedicated. They're often on the deadliest and most dangerous front lines. And even amongst ordinary activists, who most certainly do not support al Nasra's ideology, that same level of respect is echoed, with people believing that were it not for the presence of the al Nasra Front, they, perhaps, would not have been able to see the success that they've seen so far in the battle for Aleppo.

These are the dynamics that the country is going to have to deal with moving forward.

It is important to point out, though, that when it comes to the U.S. designating the al Nasra Front as a terrorist organization, that is not going to change the battlefield dynamics in Syria. The opposition activists, the Free Syrian Army, do not feel, at this stage, that the U.S. has any right to begin meddling in the internal affairs happening here, trying to shift the dynamics of this nation, since they view America as very much choosing to take a sidelines role and effectively being as responsible for the deterioration of the situation here as the Assad regime itself is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as the civil war rages on, winter is now setting in and the toll on the population is growing.

Once again, here's Arwa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): Crammed inside a tiny two room home, the adults say that they can handle the hunger. It's the children they worry about. There are 13 of them, as relatives moved in together after one family's home was destroyed.

When we asked the kids what they ate today, the response is, "Nothing." Mohammed Salma (ph), father of about half the children here, tells us, "Today, I sent my brother to get bread at 6:00 a.m.. Look, it's 3:00 p.m. right now and he hasn't gotten any. The kids haven't eaten."

The power is out, as it has been for weeks. And now the water is cut, as well. There is a growing sense of desperation among people here, stalked by both hunger and danger.

"God gave me these children. These children are my responsibility," Salma laments. "Now I can't even get them a loaf of bread. Before, I could. Now, I can't."

The price of bread has skyrocketed due to a flour shortage; along with it, a population's anger.

(on camera): The situation is so dire that people say society is beginning to disintegrate. This is yet another bread line. We were just at one further up the road, where the crowd ended up mobbing around us, furious. They said that they wanted us to leave, because they were fed up with people filming them. They feel as if the world is simply mocking their misery. (voice-over): In just four days, the cost of fuel jumped from 85 Syrian pounds to 150. But beyond the now astronomical cost of survival, it's the constant fear and insecurity that has come to define life here -- snipers seemingly everywhere, the threat of random artillery or air strikes constant. And then there is the daily assault on human dignity, in a city once known for its beauty and heritage.

Children pick their way through the streets, that are now a massive garbage dump. What makes it more unbearable is that few can see an end in sight.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Aleppo.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And the potential threat of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime has the U.S. taking some desperate measures right now, forcing it to rely on rebels who may or may not be trustworthy.

Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us -- Brian, what's the latest on this entire chemical weapons dilemma that the U.S. is seeing unfold in Syria?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several sources tell us that President Assad seems to be backing off, at least for now, on the possible use of chemical weapons. That is after President Obama's warning and a warning from the Russians.

But it's the prospect of Assad taking more losses on the battlefield and losing control of those weapons that has the U.S. and its allies taking some preemptive measures.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Even if Bashar al-Assad doesn't use chemical weapons in this civil war, there's enough chaos afoot to alarm Western officials about what may happen to those munitions. A senior U.S. official and top diplomats tell CNN the U.S. and its allies are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles.

Our sources say the training is taking place in Jordan and Turkey. They tell us the Syrian rebels are being trained on how to monitor and secure stockpiles, but also on handling the weapons sites and weapons materials.

(on camera): How dicey is it to train Syrian rebels on actually handling the materials?

LEONARD SPECTOR, MONTEREY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think, on the one hand, these may be individuals that are going to be the first ones into some of these sites and they have to know what safety precautions to take. Otherwise, they're not going to want to go in. And they also have to know what to look for. TODD (voice-over): Leonard Spector is a chemical weapons expert with the Monterey Institute. He says Western intelligence is confident the Syrians have sarin and mustard gas, which is a blistering agent. He says they may also have cyanide and VX, a nerve agent that Spector says can break down your muscle control and kill you like bug spray kills an insect.

If these materials are mishandled...

SPECTOR: Probably what would happen is that individuals nearby would be terribly affected, perhaps killed, or certainly injured in some serious fashion. But there might not be too much by way of more distant consequences because these would not exploded, perhaps.

TODD: Our sources say one objective of training the rebels is to try to get real time surveillance of Syria's chemical weapons sites, because the international community would not have time to prevent the use of the weapons otherwise.

(on camera): But there are serious concerns about the reliability of the rebels. Syrian rebel forces are a confusing mix -- moderate freedom fighters battling alongside hardened jihadists, some of whom are suspected of terrorist ties.

(voice-over): Philip Mudd, a former CIA and FBI counterterrorism official, says there's a huge concern over who to trust with chemical weapons.

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA/FBI COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICIAL: When you've got roughly 10 percent of the opposition in groups that the U.S. government is declaring is terrorist groups, you're going to be concerned that they have infiltrated the groups that you're trying to train. There are ways to get around that, but in any case like this, there's a lot of risk.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: But Mudd says it's still better to train the rebels on how to handle those materials than to do nothing. And Leonard Spector says the U.S. and its allies are likely screening the individuals who are being trained very carefully, Wolf. At least that's the hope.

BLITZER: Yes, but despite all that, there's still a potential for these chemical weapons getting into the wrong hands, despite what the U.S. is trying to do.

TODD: That's right. Philip Mudd says if the Syrian regime loses control of these weapons, that's a huge worry here. And if they fall into the hands of rebels or others that are not trusted by the U.S. and their allies, they could float around across the border into Iraq, into other potentially dangerous places where they don't have as much control over these things. A lot of potential danger here.

And if Assad loses control of these things anytime soon, watch out.

BLITZER: Yes. A good point, Brian. Thanks very much.

Bob Costas ignited a firestorm with his controversial remarks about the gun culture in the NFL. Now he's speaking out about the uproar to CNN's Piers Morgan. Piers is standing by to join us live. That's next.

Plus, serious new safety questions about the plane that crashed, killing the Spanish language superstar, Jenni Rivera. We now know her jet was more than 40 years old, had problems in the past.

Should it have been flying?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Certainly one of the most controversial NFL halftime shows since Janet Jackson's notorious costume malfunction, but the topic this time is deadly, deadly serious. In the wake of the murder/suicide by the Kansas City Chiefs player, Javon Belcher, NBC broadcaster -- sportscaster, I should say -- Bob Costas criticized what he called the gun culture.

And he said that -- he said contributed to the tragedy. His remarks set off a bitter and heated debate. He sat down to talk about it with CNN's Piers Morgan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Seventy percent or more footballers, apparently, carry guns. Clearly, most of them have a lot of money. They drive fast cars. They go to nightclubs. They party and all the rest of it. Again, I guess, it comes back to an overriding sense of the culture of the game is slightly out of control.

These statistics of arrests, for example, suggests that. What can you really do about it?

BOB COSTAS, SPORTSCASTER, NBC SPORTS: I'm not sure what can be done about it exactly. The NFL prohibits the carrying of firearms at any facility, practice facility, any event that's connected to the team. You make a public relations appearance. In the stadium, I don't know how closely they enforce that. They do prohibit it.

And they do tell their players in their stated policy that while it is legal to possess a gun, we actually urge you not to. We urge you, if you do possess a gun, that you use it strictly for protection of home and family, or possibly, if you're a hunter. That is infinitely more likely that something bad will happen if you're armed than something good will happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Piers is joining us now from New York. Piers, Bob Costas has inadvertently become the spokesman for fighting against that so- called gun culture in the NFL. And you asked him about that. Let me play one additional clip, and then, we'll discuss. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSTAS: It wasn't my intent to become a spokesperson in any way for this issue, but if, no matter how imperfectly I may have done it a week ago Sunday, if this has sparked a conversation and in some small way influenced people's behavior, so much the better. Front page of the paper, not the sports section, front page of the weekend edition of the "USA Today" is about guns in the National Football League. There is a gun culture in the National Football League.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Piers, did he talk about the reaction he's received not only nationwide but from within the NFL to his comments?

MORGAN: Well, look, I really admired his courage, actually, because you can see that as we finished the interview, he said to me, you know, I'm probably going to get more heat for this, and I'm sure he will. And I've been debating this on my show now for several months. And, every time you raise even the debate about gun control in America of any kind, you get this fury back at you.

And I think Bob Costas knows that, but he's prepared to stick his neck out because the sport that he loves that he's so expert in has a gun culture problem. And to pretend, otherwise, is to ignore the facts. Seventy percent of footballers carry guns. You know, you saw this guy, Jovan Belcher (ph) that murdered his girlfriend, the mother of his child, and then himself.

He had eight guns. Now, the argument goes on the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. Every American should have the right to defend themselves. You don't need eight guns. And as Bob went on to say, you don't need high-powered assault weapons to do that. And, there's just a real frightening lack of debate, I think, in America about this.

And, you know, I was stunned coming from a country that has strict gun control like Britain and has 35 to 40 gun murders a year compared to 11-12,000 murders in America. I was stunned that after the horrifying scenes in Aurora and Colorado, and I talked about this with Bob Costas, that this guy can -- a young man can go and buy four high- powered weapons. He could buy thousands of rounds of ammunition on the internet and go shoot up a movie theater.

And the reaction was that there was a 44 percent spike in gun sales in Colorado in the following four weeks. That just cannot be a healthy thing for America. And, the lack of any debate also irritates Bob Costas. And he believes that he's putting the debate out there. He called on President Obama to now really try and take some decisive action.

Not to prohibit Americans from arming themselves at home to protect their families but to prohibit the wholesale and easy way that you can go out and buy, you know, an AK-47, whatever it is you may want in the high powered-assault riffle states. Nobody needs that, as he said, outside of the military or the police. BLITZER: The argument that I've heard from NFL players, current and former, retired NFL players, these are young guys. They're making a lot of money. They're pretty well known in their communities. And a lot of times they say, you know what, they buy a gun to protect themselves, because they're afraid of what potentially could happen. They need it, they believe, for self-defense. What does Costas say about that?

MORGAN: Well, I think it's really a more case of bravado and showing off as much as anything else. There's an amazing statistic in "USA Today." 624 arrests of NFL players since 2000. So, that's in 12 years, 42 this year along. Of those, 177, 28 percent were drink or drug related involving usually driving.

And we saw this horrifying incident again in the weekend with another NFL player, two from Dallas Cowboys. Josh Brent was driving the car, allegedly, under the influence of alcohol, and his great friend, Jerry Brown, also a Dallas Cowboy, died. And, you know, something I think is wrong in the culture as Bob Costas said of the NFL.

And it is down to the authorities to try and deal with that. Now, he also expanded, I thought, in a very thoughtful way about what may cause some of these problems. And, you know, there's no doubt the relationship between the heavy impact of these players with their helmets, the concussions that follow, there is now more and more evidence that is leading to genuine psychological trauma and damage.

And there are hundreds of lawsuits outstanding now from former players and their families. And you know, you cannot say it, I don't think anymore, Wolf, with any credibility, that there is no link between this and some of the behavioral pattern and dreadful incidence that you're seeing. So, Bob Costas really, I think came to my show tonight, and it's a riveting interview.

He just came really not to say I hate guns. He goes the opposite. He says, I respect the Second Amendment, but he does love his sport and he doesn't like what is happening with the gun culture and with general behavioral issues which he thinks are all interwoven with the concussion issues and everything else. And, he wants the authorities to do something about it.

BLITZER: He's a great sportscaster. A really smart guy as well. I'm really looking forward to the interview later tonight, Piers. Thanks very much.

And I want to alert our viewers. The entire interview will air tonight at 9:0 p.m. eastern right here tonight, "Piers Morgan Tonight" only here on CNN. I recommend you watch it.

Up next, a famous New York City landmark, Columbus Circle, right at the center of a new murder mystery. A man shot in the head in the middle of the day right outside the Time Warner Center. Not very far away, a block or two away from our New York studios. We have the latest on the manhunt that is now under way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A brazen daylight shooting on the streets of New York City. Kate Bolduan is back. She's monitoring that story and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. It's a shocking development. What happened?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Scary when you hear these details, Wolf. A law enforcement official tells "The Wall Street Journal," quote, "it definitely looks like a hit." Police say a 31-year-old Black man was unconscious and unresponsive when they found him along 58th street in 7th Avenue near Columbus circle, one of the busiest parts of the city, especially during the holiday shopping season. He, apparently, was shot in the head by a gunman who witnesses say jumped into a car and took off.

In other news, the National Weather Service says a tornado may have touched down early this morning in North Birmingham, Alabama. High winds damaged several houses, ripped off troops, and downed trees and power lines, but there are, fortunately, at this point no reports of injuries.

And in Venezuela, Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, arrived today in Cuba where he's scheduled to undergo another round of cancer surgery. Cuba's president met his plane. The socialist leader declared himself cancer free last July and won re-election in October. For the first time ever, Chavez is speaking publicly about a possible political successor, asking Venezuelans to embrace and elect Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

And if you find iPhone's latest maps challenging, it appears you are not alone. Police in Australia go one step further, calling Apple's map app, quote, "potentially life threatening." That's because several drivers there had to be rescued when the map took them miles from their destination into a desert wilderness. Some folks were stranded for a day without food or water.

Apple has told CNN its working very hard to fix its maps. I think that goes to show it never hurts to have the old handy dandy real physical map in your hand.

BLITZER: Or somebody tell you make a left turn at this street, make a right turn --

BOLDUAN: If you're trying to get into the city and you're amongst the brush, you may have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

BLITZER: Apple, we have a problem.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely have a problem.

BLITZER: Thank you.

You may not know her name, but she was certainly one of the most influential Hispanic women on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Up next, Jenni Rivera's rise from poverty to superstardom

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Fans of singer and reality TV star Jenni Rivera are stunned by her death in a plane crash in Mexico. She and six others were killed when her private jet went down in a remote mountain area in the northern part of the country.

We'll get in the investigation in just a moment but first, our senior Latin American affairs editor, Rafael Romo, is joining us. He has more on the award-winning artist who fans simply called the Diva.

Rafael, tell us a little bit more about Jenni Rivera.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Well, Wolf, it was just an incredible life. She was only 43 years old, but already had accomplished quite a lot as a singer, also as a business woman and as the star of a reality show. She was 43, like I said before, and had already five children, two grandchildren, and was just as popular in Mexico as she was in her native state of California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO (voice-over): They called her Diva. And for anyone who ever saw her on stage, it was easy to see why. She sang heart wrenching ballads that spoke to the common woman, especially Mexican Americans.

JENNI RIVERA, SINGER (Through Translator): Every song, every lyric, I'm thinking of them, and how I can relate to them with my music.

ROMO: Jenny Rivera was born in Long Beach, California, to Mexican parents. Their story, that of many Mexican immigrants of humble origins. In an interview with CNN Espanol 2010 She spoke about how she sold music records at a Los Angeles flea market and how the family collected cans for the meager income they could bring in selling the metal.

RIVERA (Through Translator): It is very flattering when they tell me that I'm a great artist, a great entertainer. That when I'm on stage, I can entertain the audience. That I can get in the recording studio and come up with a great production. But before all of that, I was a business woman. I'm primarily business minded.

ROMO (on camera): Jenni Rivera sold 15 million records and won two Billboard Music Awards in a career that spanned just over a decade. But she was a very successful business woman. She started several of her own companies including Jenni Rivera Enterprises which produced and marketed her own music. A fragrance brand. A jeans factory. And a TV production company.

(Voice-over): In October, "People Espanol" named Rivera on its list of the 25 most powerful Hispanic women. She was famous for her electrifying performances on stage. But her image was also battered by scandal. A mother of five, she married three times but the relationships were rocky and caused her much anguish and embarrassment.

RIVERA (Through Translator): Staying defeated, crying and suffering, was not an option. I had to get back on my feet, dust myself off and press on. That's what I want to teach my daughters.

ROMO: During her last interview Saturday night, she told Mexican media that she needed time to get emotionally well. Asked about her Christmas plans, she said, "I want to be with my family, but God only knows what's going to happen."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO : And more recently, Jenni made headlines in October when she announced that her marriage to pitcher Esteban (INAUDIBLE) was coming to an end. She's survived by five children, four brothers and her parents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A great talent and a great loss for so many people. Thanks so much, for that, Rafael.

Let's get some more now on the crash. CNN's Tory Dunnan has been working this part of the story for us.

Tory, what are you finding out?

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, investigators are actually at the scene of the crash today. And one thing we've learned today is this was not the first incident for this particular jet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DUNNAN (voice-over): Early Sunday morning, minutes after takeoff, the Nevada-based Learjet 25 crashed in a remote mountainous area of northern Mexico. It was headed to Mexico City but crashed 70 miles south of Monterrey. All seven on board died. Personal items including Jenni Rivera's driver's license were found in the wreckage.

NTSB investigators are assisting the Mexican government to determine what happened. Seven years ago, this same plane was involved in an accident after the pilot lost ability to steer during landing in Amarillo, Texas. The NTSB report at the time said the plane was substantially damaged.

JOHN MCGRAW, FORMER FAA DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF FLIGHT STANDARDS: The fact that it had an accident a few years ago I'm sure will be a focus. They'll make sure that the maintenance records and the repair records are all looked at carefully. These airplanes can be repaired after substantial damage.

DUNNAN: John McGraw is a former deputy director of flight standards for the FAA.

The plane was built in 1969, making it 43 years old.

MCGRAW: Age itself is not an indicator of the safety of the airplane. You know, even the older airplanes have to meet safety standards. If -- you know, they're in place for the planes in operation today.

DUNNAN: As investigators piece together what happened, fans are left with this photo, taken minutes before takeoff. And a message from those on board. The caption reads, "Los Almo." It means, "I love you all."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DUNNAN: of course investigators will be looking at the aircraft's instruments and if it had flight data recorders. There were no major thunderstorms at the time during that crash but the mountainous region where the wreckage is located could really make things more difficult during this investigation.

And, Wolf, we're told it could take days for investigators to gather the evidence they need.

Investigation could take days for investigators to really gather the evidence they need for this crash.

BLITZER: And so this investigation could go on for months and months and months to determine the cause of this tragic collapse.

DUNNAN: Wolf, we're told it could go up to 10 days for them to actually gather this evidence. But if you look at the video, you see all these mountains and people having to climb through. And really, the wreckage is scattered for yards and yards beyond the initial point.

BLITZER: Tory, thanks very much.

A Navy SEAL killed while trying to rescue a doctor who had been warned against going to Afghanistan. Should the mission have been undertaken at all? Details of the tragedy and the controversy. That's coming up in our next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama and Congress have just three weeks left to find a way to walk the country back from that looming fiscal cliff. And with private talks underway it's hard to know whether any progress is being made.

CNN's Tom Foreman is breaking down what's on the table and the balancing act at stake.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. What you're looking at here is everything that the federal government spends money on. And that scoreboard back there shows you the problem.

Last year, we spent $3.6 trillion on all of this stuff. But we only brought in $2.3 trillion in revenue or taxes.

Now, Democrats, when they want to solve this deficit, they liked to talk more about that revenue side. They say, let's get the rich to pay more. Let's gin up some more taxes. That's one way of dealing with the deficits. But Republicans, they say, let's look a little bit more at everything in this room, even if we're going to increase revenue. Because maybe by doing some strategic cutting we can make a bigger difference. One of the first thing you may notice is that not all spending is equal. You can have dramatic cuts in things like homeland security and the Energy Department and the Interior Department. If you cut those programs out entirely, yes, you'd save $80 billion but that's only a small fraction of the deficit.

That's why the talk is largely about this back row. Where the big ticket item reside. Such as Social Security, Health and Human Services, home to Medicare and Medicaid, and Defense. Each one of these accounts for more than $700 billion in spending. So yes, if you could find a way to somehow chop about 25 percent out of each program here, you'd get real savings. About half a trillion dollars.

But doing that would be unbelievably tough. The simple truth is some of them are protected from cuts. Social Security is something that Democrats and Republicans alike have been very afraid to go after. The social programs are very much protected by Democrats. And the Republicans are equally protected of Defense.

That's why these talks are so tough. The simple truth is, every program in this room has constituents who will fight tooth and nail to hold on to the funding.

But there is this, if no deal is struck, and the fiscal cliff comes, then $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts will kick in. That could affect a lot of programs in this room.

And that, Wolf, is going to lead a lot of voters, Democratic and Republican, unhappy.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman. Dramatic way of explaining what's going on. Love that virtual studio he's got over there. Thank you.

New clues potentially uncovered in a deadly decades-old mystery haunting a reform school. You'll find out what researchers think they have found. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Researchers may have uncovered shocking new evidence of a mass -- mass graves, I should say, at a now closed Florida reform school where years ago former students and family members say dozens of young boys died or disappeared mysteriously. Many of them are still unaccounted for today.

Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's been working this story for us. He's got some new information.

What are you learning, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a story we've been looking into for several years. And this follow-up is really just amazing. And the results and -- the results that were announced earlier today, for many people suggest that what happened at this school many decades ago was much more sinister than anyone could have imagined. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): A mystery haunts the grounds of this now- defunct reform school for boys in the Florida Panhandle town of Marianna, involving teenage boys sent here decades ago, some never seen again.

In recent years, former students now in their twilight years have come forward with horrific stories of punishing abuse doled out by school leaders and of friends who vanished. Stories told by CNN. They accused former school leaders of beatings, sexual abuse, and even murder.

Which brings us to this cemetery on the school grounds, the bodies of 31 boys are buried here. Florida authorities claim they know how all the boys died. Some killed in a fire, others in a flu epidemic. Nothing criminal. But new research shows other bodies could be buried in this area, too. And dozens of former students and families say that's proof of a more sinister story hidden in these woods.

(On camera): Back in the early 1960s, the leaders of the Boys Reform School had a local Boy Scout troop come in here and clean up the cemetery. They put up these 31 crosses. But now a team of anthropologists over the last year has been going through all of this area, cleared out all of the woods around here, and they're finding the possibility of many more grave shafts which is only leading to the mystery of what happened here in Marianna.

(Voice-over): Untangling the story may be lost to time. The school closed last year. These events happened from the 1940s to 1960s. Most of the school leaders from then have died. But a research project led by University of South Florida anthropologist Erin Kimmerle turned up evidence of additional gravesites during months of searching the school grounds.

Kimmerle says at least 19 more bodies could be buried here and that the research team believes a second cemetery could also be hidden on the school grounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got something right there.

DR. ERIN KIMMERLE, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: We've found burials within the marked -- current marked cemetery and then we've found burials that extend beyond that.

LAVANDERA: Kimmerle has traveled the world investigating war crimes for the United Nations, searching for mass graves in places like Yugoslavia and Peru.

(On camera): Have you done just this area or has all over?

KIMMERLE: All of it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Her team used high-tech equipment to scan into the ground. All the red you see suggests the location of possible gravesites. But we won't know for sure unless exhumations are ordered. Florida state officials won't comment until they can review Kimmerle's findings.

KIMMERLE: These are children who came here and died for one reason or another. And quite literally have just been lost in the woods. And it's about restoring dignity and helping -- if not putting a name to them, at least marking them and acknowledging that they're here.

LAVANDERA: The anthropologists also studied historic documents and public records and discovered a disturbing discrepancy. Boys unaccounted for.

OVELL KRELL, SISTER: This was long about the last pictures we had of him.

LAVANDERA: Ovell Krell's brother was sent here in 1940. She says Owen Smith dreamed of playing guitar at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The 14-year-old had a musician's vagabond soul. He was shipped to reform school for stealing a car. Ovell never saw him again.

Her family was told Owen had run away. She still has a letter sent by the school superintendent more than 70 years ago.

(On camera): "We have been unable to get any information concerning his whereabouts. We will appreciate your notifying us immediately if you receive any word from or concerning him."

(Voice-over): But Ovell Smith believes her brother was already dead. A few weeks later, his family was told his decomposed body was found under a house near the school.

KRELL: They think he crawled under there trying to keep warm and that he got pneumonia and died. And that was their official cause of death was death from pneumonia and exposure.

LAVANDERA (on camera): But that wasn't based on anything scientific or any kind of autopsy?

(Voice-over): Ovell says another student told them a far different story.

KRELL: He looked back and my brother was running out across a field, an open field. And there was three men shooting at him with rifles. I believe until this day that they shot my brother that night and I think they probably killed him. And they brought him back to the school and buried him.

LAVANDERA: Against the family's wishes, Owen Smith was buried on the school grounds. She's never figured out exactly where.

No one was ever charged in his death back in 1941. But because of that case, along with other accounts of alleged abuse, beatings and killings, the Florida State Law Enforcement Agency launched an investigation in 2008.

Its report concluded there was no evidence to suggest that any of the deceased died as a result of criminal conduct. The agency also said it couldn't find evidence to prove claims of physical or sexual abuse at the school. But many former students like Robert Straley say that report is a whitewashed cover-up. State officials say they stand by the report's findings.

ROBERT STRALEY, FORMER STUDENT: I am mad at the state, yes. I'm angry at the state because they let this go on for 68 years. And did nothing about it.

LAVANDERA: Straley says he was beaten with a leather strap and that some school leaders killed young boys and made them disappear.

STRALEY: It is important to find all of the boys that were buried there. I mean, they were practically crawling out of their graves crying out, help, remember me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: So, Wolf, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says it's still reviewing the report that they just got today and said in the absence of any additional evidence, we do not anticipate to investigate this matter further. That will anger many former student and family members of students that went to this school who many are still trying to figure out where their loved ones might have been buried if at all on the school grounds there.

And at this point, it would be up to them to ask for exhumations. Ironically enough, the state of Florida has been trying to sell this property where this now defunct school sits but all of that has been tied up because family members haven taken that to court and -- allowing this type of anthropological work to take place here on the school grounds -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Who would buy that kind of property knowing that there are going to be litigation for so many years to come down the road?

LAVANDERA: Exactly. At this point, you know, this story has garnered so much attention there in that area that it would be very hard to imagine that at this point something like that might happen. The thing to watch out for is how families will react to this and whether or not these requests for exhumations will start coming in because I think that will complicate things even more.

BLITZER: What a horrendous story. Ed, excellent job reporting.

Ed Lavandera, joining us today as he always does.

LAVANDERA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The GOP takes action in the wake of the party's dismal showing in the elections. Stand by for new information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An American tech mogul wanted for questioning in Belize after his neighbor's sudden death now says he wants to return to the United States. The latest twist in this bizarre case is playing out from Guatemala where he's currently behind bars fighting possible deportation.

Here's CNN's Martin Savidge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Was this food for John?

(Voice-over): In the darkness, outside of a Guatemala City detention center, John McAfee's dinner arrives in a paper bag. A reminder of how far the wealthy security software inventor is from his home in Belize and his lifestyle of money, guns, and girls.

The spiral started last month when 52-year-old American Greg Faull was found shot to death in his home 200 yards from McAfee's place. The two men had a well-known feud in part over McAfee's dogs. Police came to question McAfee but he had already taken off.

(On camera): You are John McAfee?

JOHN MCAFEE, DETAINED MILLIONAIRE: I think so, yes. I am John McAfee.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): I found him three weeks later hiding in a rundown part of Belize City convinced police would kill him if they found him. Even though he had not been named a suspect.

(On camera): Are you afraid?

MCAFEE: Wouldn't you be so?

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He denied any involvement in his neighbor's death and said the Belize government was trying to pin Faull's murder on him because McAfee had refused to pay money to a local politician.

(On camera): Do you really believe the government is -- this is a vendetta by the government of Belize to take you down and kill you?

MCAFEE: Absolutely, sir.

SAVIDGE: McAfee escaped to here. Guatemala City. He hired himself a powerful attorney and even felt secure enough to go out in public.

MCAFEE: They have attempted to charge me with --

SAVIDGE (voice-over): It was a mistake. Guatemala wasn't the safe haven McAfee thought. Authorities arrested him for entering the country illegally and plan to deport him back to Belize.

McAfee asked for asylum. When the government turned him down, he suddenly fell ill and was rushed to hospital. Doctors diagnosed the 67-year-old as suffering from stress and returned him to detention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. How are you? SAVIDGE: While his attorney says that at least for now he's been able to stop McAfee's deportation back to Belize where police are still waiting to question him.

(On camera): So a judge has given you a stay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Yes.

SAVIDGE: Just what comes next in this murder-turned-soap opera, no one can say.

McAfee saga shares something in common with the software he helped to create. Staying current requires constant updates.

Martin Savidge --

(END VIDEOTAPE)