Return to Transcripts main page


Marco Rubio: Marathon Man; GOP Looks for A Strategy; Explosive Sent to "Toughest Sheriff"; Budget Cuts Jeopardize; Budget Deals; Secret Deal Allowed U.S. Drone Strikes; Kentucky Ad Going After McConnell

Aired April 12, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, what once seemed very far-fetched suddenly becoming very worrisome -- U.S. officials grappling right now with the possibility that North Korea may be able to actually fire a nuclear- tipped missile.

He bills himself as America's toughest sheriff, but he's almost becoming the victim of a very dangerous package rigged to blow. You're going to hear how controversial lawman, Joe Arpaio, is now reacting.

And could a hacker with a smartphone manage to gain control of an airliner?

We have a fact check.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


All of a sudden, North Korea may be a lot scarier than most Americans thought. A day after we learned of a Pentagon assessment that the North may have developed the ability to fire a nuclear-tipped missile, Pyongyang is now threatening to set Japan ablaze. Officials are wrangling over just what the North can or cannot do. And that comes as the secretary of State, John Kerry, is visiting Seoul, South Korea, warning North Korea against making what he calls "a huge mistake."

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

She's got the very latest -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, administration officials are downplaying this intelligence assessment that there is moderate -- or modest, I should say -- confidence that North Korea could fit a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile and fire it. Officials saying this is just a snapshot, not an assessment widely accepted by the intelligence community. And today here at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn't say if President Obama was surprised by this assessment, as so many people were. He walked a very fine line between saying the administration is concerned about North Korea's recent bluster and also downplaying it, saying that it's part of a pattern of behavior that has become familiar to the US.

He also downplayed North Korea's potential nuclear weapons capabilities.


KEILAR: Where does the administration think they are in the process of being able to...

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, they have clearly developed nuclear weapons. They have clearly developed some missile technology.

KEILAR: What is the concern, the accuracy, the aim?

CARNEY: Well, I...


CARNEY: -- yes, I'm not going to get into...


CARNEY: I -- it would not be appropriate for me nor...

KEILAR: But we're just trying to ask you. I mean if the cat's out of the bag here...

CARNEY: But what...


CARNEY: -- what I'm saying is, I'm just simply echoing what the director of National Intelligence said, which is that it is our assessment they have not demonstrated this capability.


KEILAR: Now administration officials expect that North Korea may test launch a ballistic missile at any point now, Wolf. But officials say there is nothing to suggest that it would have nuclear capabilities, and, furthermore, officials are skeptical that North Korea would be able to hit a mark with a ballistic missile, you know, even if it wouldn't have nuclear capabilities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The latest assessment from the White House.

Thank you, Brianna.

So just what is North Korea up to?

The stakes are incredibly high. The risks are enormous.

I spoke with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan.


BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Wolf, it's great to be here.

Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Do you have a good sense of what this North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, what his end game is?

ROGERS: Well, I'm not sure anybody really has a good sense what his end game is. You know, when the flowers come out in North Korea, normally every year, the saber rattling begins. But it had a pattern with a beginning and an end.

And what we're seeing -- and that was his father. What we're seeing in the son a very unpredictable pattern when it comes to this aggressive, bellicose behavior. And so everyone is on edge and concerned because he's ramped it up quicker and faster than his father ever did and we're not sure he has a strategy to get out of it.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. and the South Korean allies, the Japanese, are they still bracing for North Korea to launch a missile, or a series of missiles, within the next few hours or days?

What is the latest assessment?

ROGERS: Well, at any time, somebody like this, who has capabilities to launch a missile makes those threats, you have to take them seriously. So, yes, I think U.S. forces are on posture to deal with that. The same with the Japanese. The same with the South Koreans.

And the unpredictable part of this is you see a little bit of a different behavior with the Chinese. Now they've got this on again/off again relationship with the North Koreans over time. But they're their biggest benefactor. And about 65 percent of all their foreign goods come through China.

They are taking a little bit of a different turn here, which is a positive thing, against North Korea. So you have the Japanese on edge, the U.S., the South Koreans. And now you see the Chinese taking a little bit of a different posture, Wolf. And I look at that as a good sign to start trying to unwind this thing.


BLITZER: Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

We're going to have much more. A SITUATION ROOM special report on the North Korean crisis. That comes up right at the top of the hour, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. Meanwhile, the big push for a bipartisan immigration deal beginning this weekend with a TV marathon by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. You may be seeing a whole lot of this Republican senator.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now to explain.

All of a sudden, he's going to be all over the place.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This weekend, Florida Senator Marco Rubio will be following in the footsteps of Monica Lewinsky's attorney, William Ginsberg, who once appeared on all five Sunday talk shows on the same morning. That bit of TV history was dubbed "the full Ginsberg." And whether you call this Sunday "the full Marco" or "the Rubio Round Robin," the subject won't be interns, it will be immigration.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Go ahead and touch that dial this weekend. It might not matter anyway, as Florida's Republican senator, Marco Rubio, will be on five -- count them -- five Sunday talk shows plus the two Spanish language networks. During "the Rubio Round Robin," the senator's aides say he'll be making an opening argument for comprehensive immigration reform. Rubio is partners in the so-called gang of eight. Democratic and Republican senators who are crafting the bill have already been touting its chances for passage.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The key to this on support, you can see almost a 20 point swing, is they have to learn English, pay back taxes, get in line behind everybody else. That's the fairness part of it that appeals to people.

ACOSTA: The compromise is expected to create a 13 year pathway to citizenship and require the undocumented to pay fines, back taxes and undergo a background check. But undocumented workers would not be eligible for citizenship until the border is considered secure. Rubio, a potential presidential contender in 2016, is viewed as the key to selling the package to conservatives, who have rejected immigration reform before.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There are 11 million human beings in this country today that are undocumented. That's not something that anyone is happy about.

ACOSTA: Rubio's chief of staff made an appeal to reluctant Republicans on Twitter this week, Tweeting, "the bill freezes illegal population, no special pathway, no amnesty and no access to ObamaCare."

(on camera): Do you think Senator Rubio is doing a disservice to your party?

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: I think Senator Rubio's heart is right. ACOSTA (voice-over): But it will be a hard sell to many House conservatives, like Iowa Congressman Steve King, who says Republicans are just out to win Latino votes. He believes the bill offers amnesty to people he calls undocumented Democrats.

(on camera): Is that an appropriate term to use, do you think?

KING: I think that's how -- how Democrats view this. And it is their cynical political endeavor. And that people on the Republican side that think they can reverse that, they should also understand that 92 percent of African-Americans, when Barack Obama is not on the ballot, still vote for Democrats for the national election.


ACOSTA: Rubio aides caution while the senator will be making the case for immigration reform, he's not planning any big announcements this Sunday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold its first hearing on the legislation on Wednesday -- so, Wolf, things are moving fast.

BLITZER: They're moving dramatically fast. And we'll see if a deal is done or not done, and how quickly it takes.

Jim Acosta, thanks very, very much.

And this programming note for our viewers. Senator Rubio will be Candy Crowley's guest on "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, only, only here on CNN. Marco Rubio with Candy Crowley, "STATE OF THE UNION."

Joining us now, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger -- as we just saw, Gloria, in Jim Acosta's piece, Republicans are trying to figure out how to do this, this comprehensive immigration reform...


BLITZER: -- without overly alienating their base, if you will.

What's their strategy?

BORGER: Well, I think on immigration reform, at least, they're nearing some kind of consensus, although as Jim points out, there is going to be some controversy over that path to citizenship and how you get there and securing the borders. But generally, Wolf, as you look at all of these issues we've been dealing with -- gun control, the budget, immigration -- you see a Republican Party that looks to me like the Democratic Party of about 20 years ago, after Michael Dukakis lost the presidential election. They're kind of searching for that cohesive voice. They're looking for new stars in the party. They're looking for new policy, because they understand -- and talking to lots of Republicans today, they understand that they cannot be a party that just stands for austerity. But even when it comes to the budget, Wolf, they do have disagreements. And one of them you highlighted the other day, when the president released his budget. You spoke with the man in charge of electing Republicans to the House. And he reacted very strongly to the president's proposals to cut some entitlements.

And then the speaker took him down.

Take a look.

REP. GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON: His budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors. I think you're crossing that line very quickly here, in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine, certainly, and around the country.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I've made it clear that I disagree with what the Chairman Walden said. He and I have had a conversation about it. And I expect that this is the least we must do to begin to solve the problems in Social Security.


BORGER: So it's clear that the speaker took him to the wood shed and said, wait a minute, we've got to agree that we're for entitlement reform. So even on that basic point, Republicans are really having a tough time finding this cohesive voice they're searching for.

BLITZER: And they're -- they're also having a tough time finding a cohesive voice on expanding background checks for gun purchases in the United States.


BLITZER: Nine of 10, according to the polls, of Americans, they want expanded background checks. But the Republicans seem to have different voices on that.

BORGER: When you look at the Republican constituencies, not just sort of the overall poll.

When you look at the Republican constituencies, you see that seven out of 10 Republicans do not favor stricter gun laws. Eight out of 10 Democrats do favor stricter gun laws. So it's easier, in this particular instance, although not for all Democrats, but it's easier for Democrats to be a little bit more united on this, unless you are running for re-election in an antigun control state.

But here's the crux of the problem for Republicans. Nationally, they want to be seen as more flexible. They want to make their brand be seen as more flexible, not extreme. So the national polls are for some sort of gun control. But on the individual state levels, it's a problem for them.

And when you're trying to broaden your base, Wolf, and you want to get, for example, women to vote for you, two-thirds of women in this country favor stricter gun control laws.

The Republicans have had some problems with women in the last election. How do you do that and also keep your conservative base happy?

That's the struggle they're having right now.

BLITZER: There's not an easy answer...


BLITZER: -- to that question for the Republicans.

BORGER: It's very difficult.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

BORGER: It's hard when you don't have a president, also.


Thank you.

Coming up next...


DEPUTY JERRY SHERIDAN, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Had someone opened that package, it would have caused a major explosion.


BLITZER: The man who calls himself America's toughest sheriff almost becomes a crime victim. You're going to hear Joe Arpaio's reaction.

Also coming up, you've heard that Florida has a problem with really big pythons. Wait until you see what these guys do about it.


BLITZER: So when you're known as America's toughest sheriff, you're bound to make some enemies. The question today, which one sent Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio a suspicious and possibly very dangerous package?

CNN crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, has the latest on the investigation -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he says he is a victim and a law enforcement officer now. Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office are on high alert. And federal authorities are looking for a person of interest after a package containing everything you need to create an explosion was discovered on its way to his office.


JOHNS (voice-over): A day after a suspicious package was discovered addressed to him, Sheriff Joe Arpaio appeared before the cameras defiant.

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: I will continue being the sheriff. I am not going to be intimidated by anyone. And that's a promise. That's a fact.

JOHNS: Arpaio is a magnet for controversy, the so-called toughest sheriff in America, the face of hard line immigration enforcement in Arizona. Aides to Arpaio said the package had gun powder, wires, a battery -- all the components for an explosion.

SHERIDAN: Had someone opened that package, it would have caused a major explosion and caused serious physical injury, burns and maybe death.

JOHNS: It was intercepted before it got anywhere near his office.

SHERIDAN: An alert postal employee noticed what they thought was gun powder residue coming from outside that package.

JOHNS: The Postal Service was taking no chances. Arpaio's staff said it was mailed outside Flagstaff and that authorities were pursuing a person of interest in the case.

Known for stunts like parading inmates in pink underwear, the controversial Arpaio has been subject to at least nine threats that were credible enough to be investigated. He was re-elected last year despite questions whether his department violated the civil rights of Hispanics and remains a popular conservative standard-bearer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run for president.

ARPAIO: For president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're damn right.

ARPAIO: That's a demotion, isn't it?

JOHNS: Arpaio suggested his controversial profile and his run- ins with the federal Justice Department, drug cartels or others might have helped create the atmosphere that led to the latest threat.

ARPAIO: I'm not going to get into who these groups are, whether it's the Department of Justice. The tempo out there about this sheriff does cause people to do bad things.


JOHNS: Arpaio's office was not opening mail today, but going back to see if anything suspicious had gotten through the system. Arpaio already has tight security, but his office says it will have to augment, either with more personnel or additional electronic security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe, thanks for that.

The Republican Party has just officially restated its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

So what's going on?


Well, that word comes from the Republican National Committee meeting out in Los Angeles, It passed two resolutions today. One reaffirms the party's position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The other implores the Supreme Court to, quote, "uphold the sanctity of marriage."

And check out this dramatic video of a shrimp boat that caught fire this morning near Galveston, Texas.

CNN affiliate KPRC reports a Good Samaritan on a nearby boat saw the fire and rescued the three people who were on that burning boat. Pretty dramatic pictures there.

And a pair of VPs had lunch today at the White House. We got this photo of actress Julia Louise Dreyfus with Vice President Joe Biden. She won an Emmy for playing a gaffe-prone vice president in the HBO series, "Veep," which starts its second season this weekend.

And you've heard they've had a problem with pythons in Florida. Well, now we've got the proof.

Take a look here.


SYLVESTER: OK. Yes. This wrestling match happened Tuesday during a tour of the Florida Everglades. The guide tells CNN he grabbed the python underwater and let it coil around him, but he had to use the martial art of jujitsu to make it uncoil so he wouldn't pass out before his partner could cut off the snake's head.

And I don't know about you, Wolf, but you couldn't pay me to get in that water.

Why in the world would you be in the water when you know that there's a python there?

BLITZER: Because that's -- those guys like doing it. That's their job.

SYLVESTER: He's pretty good at wrestling that thing.

BLITZER: You've got to make a living doing something. They do.

SYLVESTER: It's a living, right, Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you.

It's been an annual tradition for decades -- thousands of U.S. sailors coming ashore for Fleet Week in New York.

But guess what?

It won't happen this year. We have the story right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow, we have just spotted our first sailors. Fleet Week has begun.


BLITZER: The ladies of "Sex and The City" aren't the only ones who have noticed. Fleet Week, when scores of sailors get shore leave in New York City, it's both a rite of passage and part of America's cultural heritage.

But it's also -- guess what?

It's also in jeopardy right now because of those forced budget cuts.

Mary Snow is in New York. She's here to explain.

What's going on -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, just earlier this week, the Navy indicated that New York City's Fleet Week would go on as usual. But then came an abrupt change in plans for an event that's been around for 29 years in New York. Normally, some 3,000 sailors, Marines and members of the Coast Guard stream into the city, along with several naval ships sailing into New York harbor. But because of across the board forced government spending cuts, celebrations are being scaled back. A Navy spokeswoman cited Defense Department guidance that, quote, "No branch of the armed forces may participate in community relations or outreach events that come at additional cost to the government or rely on anything other than local assets and personnel."

So that means Fleet Weeks in other cities are also being cut.

But they're not the only casualties. Naval air shows, like the Blue Angels, are being canceled around the country as a result of the forced cuts.

Now the prime sponsor of New York City's Fleet Week calls the news "distressing." The mayor's office calls it "a great event." And both the city and the Navy are working now on alternative plans. The Navy is saying that it can only use local personnel.

It certainly will not be the same.

BLITZER: It certainly wouldn't be. And it would be a huge, huge disappointment to a lot of sailors and Marines; also, to a lot of New Yorkers, as well.

All right, Mary, stay on top of the story for us.

Thank you.

Up next. They were on opposing tickets in the 2012 race. But now, Paul Ryan has some positive words about President Obama. You're going to hear what he has to say. That's next.


BLITZER: Happening now, new details about how much money President Obama made last year and the surprising amount he gave to charity.

We're also fact checking claims someone is trying to develop a way to hijack a plane with a smartphone.

And at the top of the hour, don't forget our special report on the North Korean crisis.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

President Obama may have disappointed some liberals out there this week with a budget blueprint that would essentially mean cutting Social Security benefits for seniors. Not necessarily everyone out there is upset.

Let's talk about what's going on in our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

When I say some aren't disappointed, here's Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: What I see this year that's different from the last four years is the president put a budget with some olive branch proposals. This is the first time in -- in this presidency that I've seen a chance at a bipartisan budget agreement, so I am cautiously optimistic about that.


BLITZER: All right, Paul. What do you say?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I say I wish I could say the same thing about Paul Ryan's budget. The House Republican budget that Mr. Ryan put together is a joke, it's not a serious effort. It pretends to eliminate Obamacare. Give me a break. Barack Obama is not going to sign that.

It's still essentially ends Medicare as we know it. So at least Paul Ryan can -- he can recognize a real budget when he sees one. The problem is he -- he can't write one. All the action right now, I still -- because if you're a liberal Democrat from Texas you have to be an optimist. I am an optimistic because I'm optimistic more about the Senate side than the House side. I think Paul Ryan has poisoned the well in the House, maybe he's trying to make up for that now.

On the Senate side you have Mark Warner, the senator from Virginia, is putting together a gang that's working on a bipartisan budget deal. There's already real progress and hope on guns and immigration. So maybe as a congressman, Paul Ryan is looking across the other chamber and saying, hey, the Senate is kind of getting things done. Maybe I can try to actually legislate for once.

BLITZER: Ari, the president says he would be willing to go ahead and make some of those painful cuts in Social Security, Medicare benefits that his liberal base hates but only if Republicans are willing to go ahead and meet him at least halfway further increasing tax revenue for the wealthiest Americans, for the biggest corporation eliminating some of those tax loopholes and deductions.

ALI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, a couple of things, Wolf. First on the substance of it the president proposed no painful reductions in -- in Social Security spending. What he's proposed, and this is an olive branch, is to increase Social Security spending at a slower rate. And it's important that people understand the distinction. Nobody is talking about cutting Social Security.

It is an olive branch because for the president to even talk about increasing Social Security at a slower rate is a major change from any Democrat president before. And I think that is very constructive and I think that's going to become the bipartisan template to get anything done on the issue of Social Security going forward, and he's angered a lot of liberal Democrats by proposing it.

But the fundamental problem in the president's budget is it still taxes too much. It spends too much. It has all kinds of new spending. There is a new entitlement program in it and it still never gets the balance because he increases spending so much.

The House Republican budget does get us to balance, relieves the crushing debt that we're imposing on our children and that's the real problem with it. And Paul's half right. The Senate did a good thing. They passed their first budget in four years. And that is constructive.

You know, at the end of the day their job, all of them, is to talk and try to figure things out. And even though the president's budget was two months late and he sent it up after the House and the Senate passed theirs, they should talk.

BLITZER: Well, they are going to be doing a lot of talking. We'll see if they got any results.

Paul, let me play part of an ad that's been -- that has aired in Kentucky going after Mitch McConnell. And it raises the issue of guns. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most Kentucky residents want comprehensive background checks for gun sales but Republican leader Mitch McConnell is against them. So who does agree with Mitch?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check.


BLITZER: That's Adam Gudan, the former American who is now with al Qaeda out there saying, you know what? Buy guns in the United States. You can use it for terrorism if you want.

Paul, is that ad appropriate?

BEGALA: You know, I hate using images of terrorists. The Republicans defeated Max Cleland, a triple amputee from Vietnam, a war hero with images, using images of Osama bin Laden and images of Saddam Hussein. And this was just months after the 9/11 attack. It's the scummiest thing I've ever seen in politics.

This is nowhere near that bad but factually I have to say they essentially have their facts right. McConnell -- Senator McConnell did filibuster the background checks, which would have extended to gun shows. And there are clearly some terrorists at least who believe terrorists should go to gun shows to exploit that loophole. So in that sense it's right.

I just hate seeing the imagery. I think I'd have made the case without the image and the picture of that Taliban terrorist or whoever he is.

BLITZER: Ari, go ahead.

FLEISCHER: Yes. It's vile. There is no defending it, no defending it on the substance or is somebody going to say because somebody believes in the Second Amendment that they are equated with a terrorist? Those ads are counterproductive. They're foolish to run those ads. They never work. And this one is vile.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, Paul Begala, guys, thanks for coming in.

Coming up could a hacker on the ground with a phone app manage to gain control of an airliner? We have a fact check for you.

And does President Obama personally order drone hits on terror targets? New revelations about the shadow war, that's coming up.


BLITZER: Stunning revelation about U.S. drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's rugged border areas. After years and years of firm and official denials, Pakistan's former leader president Pervez Musharraf now admitting to CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson that he did in fact allow some of those controversial CIA drone strikes and that his civilian successors continue to authorize them.

Those revelations about the secret drone war may double the risk that Pervez Musharraf took when he returned to Pakistan last month after years of self-imposed exile.

Also shedding new light on U.S. drone strikes, a new book by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Mark Mazzetti of the "New York Times." In "The Way of the Knife" he looks at the shadow war being fought by the CIA and America's Special Operations Forces.

Mark Mazzetti is here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Excellent book.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in. How much of a risk do you think Pervez Musharraf takes by now acknowledging that he was in at least on some of those CIA drone strikes in Pakistan?

MAZZETTI: Yes, it's amazing. Not only a physical risk but a political risk because he wants to be president and as Nic said they are -- drone strikes are so wildly unpopular. So for him to say that there were these secret arrangements was quite surprising to me. There's been so many denials over the years of the Pakistani government about the role that they have played. Now to their -- in their defense, the CIA in 2008, the last months of the Bush administration, basically took this war unilateral and they said we're no longer going to consult you in -- in advance of each drone strike.

BLITZER: I know you have some estimates. How many alleged terrorists, suspected terrorists, militants, were killed by the United States in these drone strikes?

MAZZETTI: The estimates are varied. There are estimates of around 3,000 total people killed in Pakistan in the tribal areas. How many were militants, how many were civilians, it's hard to really differentiate at this point. It is certainly true that they have had an effect on killing off senior al Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas.

But what we've also seen, and there's been some further reporting this week about the bar has been lowered and they're not just striking al Qaeda. They're striking Pakistani Taliban, Haqqani Network, sort of the war in Afghanistan being waged from the other side of the border.

BLITZER: These targeted killings by the CIA, they've intensified in the Obama administration as opposed to the Bush administration, right?

MAZZETTI: That's right. They were -- they started to ramp up in the last few months of the Bush administration, but then in 2009 and especially in 2010 the Obama administration dramatically escalated them. Not only in Pakistan when you started seeing strikes in Yemen as well so they sort of reopened this war in the -- the front -- this other front in Yemen. You've seen them in parts of Africa. So this is -- this is one of the really defining legacies of the Obama administration so far.

BLITZER: And the theory supposedly is kill these people. Don't arrest them. Don't bring them to trial. That's too complicated. Just go out there and kill them.

MAZZETTI: It's riskier, it's complicated. There's a lot of reasons why the administration seems to have pursued much more of a kill versus capture strategy. But if you look at the last four years, you can probably count on one hand the senior people who have been captured and been brought to trial.

BLITZER: If you capture them you can interrogate them. If you kill them you can't interrogate them. That's the balance.

MAZZETTI: That's the balance. And some in the Bush administration have to come out and said, well, you know, we were -- we took a lot of heat for interrogations. But you at least get intelligence. The same time, you know, there are different calculations about whether, you know, the risk of an operation whether someone is in an area for instance the tribal areas of Pakistan where Pakistani cops could go in, Pakistani troops could go in and arrest someone. So these are the things that the administration is wrestling with.

BLITZER: The president's personal role authorizing these targeted killings, what is it?

MAZZETTI: The president, when he came in, wanted to at least have the authority to sign off on strikes outside of Pakistan. The drone war had already been given to the CIA under covert action authority. So those were signed off by CIA director. But if you're talking about in Yemen, if you're talking about in Somalia this was discussed at the White House, brought to the president by John Brennan who was the counterterrorism adviser for President Obama, now, as we know, he's the CIA director.

BLITZER: And he wants these -- the Pentagon to take over this responsibility and move it out of the CIA?

MAZZETTI: He's hinted that he wants to move some of the paramilitary functions out of the CIA to the Pentagon. There's been reports that there's proposals being floated to do that. I personally believe that the CIA will not give it up entirely, that they will take key aspects of the drone war and that this is something that probably takes months, even years as opposed to a short period of time.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Way of the Knife." The author Mark Mazzetti, the subtitle "The CIA: A Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth."

Mark, thanks for coming in.

MAZZETTI: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: We know drones are controlled from the ground. But could a hacker on the ground with a smartphone manage to gain control of a manned aircraft? What about an airliner? There is now a lot of speculation about that online.

Lisa Sylvester is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. She's been doing a fact check for us.

What are you learning about this? It could be pretty frightening.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Wolf, so this is a story that is generating a lot of buzz online. The headlines of a man hacking into an aircraft flight system. And we looked into this a little further to find out if this is a real concern to our nation's aviation system.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Imagine your plane taking off but suddenly the onboard computer is now under the control of someone on the ground. Using a smartphone app. That scenario of an aircraft hacking was laid out by German security consultant Hugo Teso at a conference in Amsterdam.

In his presentation he shows how he bought some of the hardware and equipment he needed on eBay and through private vendors. He created an app he is calling "PlaneSploit" in which he was able to on a flight simulator take over some of the plane's operations.

We reached Teso via Skype.

(On camera): Does the operator of this app need to be onboard the plane?

HUGO TESO, "PLANESPLOIT" APP DESIGNER: One of the things in my research is that it needs no physical contact with the target airplane at any moment. Everything can be done remotely without having to access the airplane.

SYLVESTER: So this is what the inside of a 747 looks like. What Teso says he can do is to control the plane remotely. That means changing the display, what a pilot sees, as well as changing the altitude of the plane.

What would be the worst-case scenario?

TESO: Well, the worst-case scenario would be as far as I know that somebody may try to use these security issues in order to attempt against the life of the persons onboard the airplane.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But before you panic there's a few things you should know. Teso hacked into an on-the-ground flight simulator not a real airplane. Security experts say to affect a real plane would be much tougher to do. JEFF PRICE, AVIATION SECURITY EXPERT: So far all he's done is hacked into a PC. So the question now is, would there be some chance that somebody could emit a signal from the ground to an aircraft and somehow get into the software of how the aircraft, itself runs? And that's a big leap between what this guy has done and actually controlling a plane in flight.

SYLVESTER: The Federal Aviation Administration is strongly pushing back in a statement saying, "A hacker cannot obtain full control of an aircraft as the technology consultant has claimed."

Teso himself also acknowledges that a pilot onboard could always override the auto pilot computer and regain control of the plane. But, still, his hacking presentation is getting attention.

PRICE: It's a yellow flag that says, hey, I've done something to your system. Why don't you go take a look at that and see if we can take it the next step to see if it's a real threat.


SYLVESTER: So bottom line for now, you can rest easy if you have to get on an airplane and a reminder again this was done in a simulated setting that is far from a real aircraft. But it does raise the question, you know, do airlines need to rethink security in these terms? Because after all with modern aircraft what is usually flying the plane for most of the flight and we all know this, Wolf, is usually the auto pilot and that is essentially one big gigantic computer.

BLITZER: Yes. If a good, smart hacker wants to try it that is pretty scary stuff.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that report.

President Obama's income last year took a hit. We have a closer look at his tax returns, which have just been released by the White House.

And in our special report coming up at the top of the hour North Korea now expanding its war threats. You're going to find out who they say they will attack first.


BLITZER: So have you done your taxes yet? Monday the deadline. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden, their families, they have now filed their taxes in time.

Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is getting a closer look at how much money they made last year, how many dollars they spent in -- they gave to the government in taxes and a whole lot more.

What are you finding out, Brianna? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Obamas, as you can see, filed jointly for their 2012 tax year. They made about $608,000, most of that from the president's $400,000 a year salary. And a lot of it as well from his book earnings. They paid $112,000 in taxes total. That's state and federal, making their effective tax rate 18.4 percent.

And they donated quite a bit of that, Wolf, about $150,000. And I should also say, this was all prepared by a CPA in Chicago.

BLITZER: They donated, what, to charity -- to 33 different charities, I think. But much of it went to just one charity, the Fisher House Foundation. Explain why that is.

KEILAR: That's right, Wolf. Well, the amount of money that went to the Fisher House Foundation was over $100,000, by far the largest donation. That is proceeds from the president's children's book "Of Thee I Sing." That has gone to this foundation in recent years as well. And it does is it provides free housing for the family members of wounded service members of the military. So that when they're at a military or VA hospitals and they're receiving treatment or they're recovering, their family members can be with them during that time period.

There's also some other interesting charities that the president and first lady donated to. $2,000 that went to a charity called CURE. This is Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy. And it's a charity founded by the wife of President Obama's former top aid, David Axelrod. He and his wife Susan have a daughter with epilepsy so there's a personal connection to that donation.

Also $5,000 went to the Palm Beach County Law Enforcement Foundation. It was last summer, you may recall, Wolf, when there was a motorcycle police officer in Palm Beach County who was actually hit by a car, as he was participating in President Obama's motorcade for a campaign event that President Obama was with.

The White House, once they definitely that that's why this donation was made but it does seem that it was made in connection with that, perhaps in honor of him. And there's also a $5,000 donation to the school of the Obamas' daughters, Sasha and Malia. $5,000 to Sidwell Friends here in Washington, D.C. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if you want more information on the president's tax returns, the vice president's tax returns, you can go to

Brianna, thanks very, very much.

Jeanne Moos is coming up next. And don't forget at the top of the hour, our special SITUATION ROOM report, the North Korean crisis. We'll have the very latest from Seoul, South Korea.

But we're also going inside the propaganda machine that tries to brainwash young North Korean kids. How it works. And a lot more. That's coming up at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: A bridge in North Carolina is nicknamed the can opener.

CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us why.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a bridge over troubled traffic, bridge too low, or trucks too tall. For the past five years, Jurgen Henn, watch your back, has been using cameras to record the results, and posting them on his Web site 11Foot8, that happens to be the official clearance of the Gregson Street railroad trestle in Durham, North Carolina, affectionately known as the can opener bridge.

Some vehicles just get a shave. Others get stopped cold. For nearby businesses it can be --

JURGEN HENN, RECORDS BRIDGE IMPACTS: Almost earth shattering. And people jump out of their chairs.

MOOS: Some get off easy. An RV loses its AC. A pod gets left behind. Trestle was a working railroad bridge and sometimes trucks hit as a train passes by. The railroad Norfolk Southern installed a crash beam to protect the century-old bridge so the bridge always wins.

Not only has Jurgen uploaded about 60 crashes, he also collects pieces of debris and sometimes gets drivers to sign them.

HENN: Just a hobby. You know, to have some fun.

MOOS: Not so much fun for the drivers. Authorities know of no serious injuries. Signs start warning of the low clearance several blocks away, and vehicles that are too tall trigger the "Over Height When Flashing" lights, which drivers manage not to see.

Don't even think of trying to slowly sneak up on the can opener.

(On camera): So you say, why doesn't someone fix it? Raise the bridge, lower the road?

(Voice-over): But the sewer main runs right under the highway and the bridge would cost millions to raise. So the can opener keeps racking up hits that YouTubers enjoy putting to music like "Rocky."

The good, the bad and some ugly crashes. It's enough to make you want to burn your bridges, before the bridge burns you.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.