CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

U.S. Intelligence Agencies Mining Data; White House Defends Surveillance Program; TS Andrea Drenching the East Coast; EPA-Funded "Man Cave"

Aired June 7, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Data mining is a big controversy unfolding this morning on Capitol Hill, with new reports that the United States intelligence agencies are tapping directly into the servers of the country's biggest Internet firms. And it's been happening for years. That means your e-mails, photos, Facebook posts may have been mined.

According to "The Washington Post" and "The Guardian," nine Internet giants are involved in the government intelligence operation known as PRISM. And this morning, CNN working to confirm a "Wall Street Journal" report that the agency maybe collecting credit card transactions as well. It's not known whether the credit card data was also collected once or as part of an ongoing effort.

Our Barbara Starr has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A potentially explosive disclosure about how easily the government can collect information online.

"The Washington Post" and the British newspaper "The Guardian" are reporting that the NSA and the FBI are tapping directly into the servers of nine leading Internet companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. That's according to a top secret NSA presentation. Intercepting data like video, photographs and e-mails flowing online.

GLENN GREENWALD, REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: What this program enables the national security agency to do is to reach directly into the servers of the largest Internet companies in the world, things that put virtually every human being in the Western world now uses to communicate with one another.

STARR: The program appears to be intended to grab non-U.S. intercepts, many of which flow through the robust U.S. Internet. One slide in the NSA presentation explains your targets communications could easily be flowing into and through the U.S.

CNN has not confirmed the authenticity of the documents. Several of the companies reportedly cooperating with the government issued denials of involvement.

This follows the stunning news that a secret federal court order directed Verizon to hand over phone records of millions of Americans.

Former intelligence officials and privacy advocates say it's reasonable to presume other telephone companies got similar orders.

STEVE AFTERGOOD, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS, SECRERY AND INTELLIGENCE: If this is an open-ended and indiscriminate collection process as it seems to be, then logically one would expect it to be much bigger than Verizon business.

STARR: And it all leaves the administration needing to explain this exchange in March.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all and millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

JAMES R. CLAPPER, DNI: No, sir.

WYDEN: It does not?

CLAPPER: Not wittingly.

STARR: That Verizon program, lawmakers say, having access to that data helped law enforcement stop terrorist plots from being carried out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Here is the crux of it, of course. The government saying they are looking to stop terrorist plots so really collecting on non-U.S. entities, non-U.S. personnel. The Internet, of course, does not recognize international boundaries.

And, Clapper, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, because of all of this, has to issue an extraordinary statement overnight, publicly clarifying this. I want to read some of it to you.

He says, quote, "The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks associate and risks important protections for the security of Americans. The program cannot be used intentionally to target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States."

So, they're saying say they're not targeting Americans, but certainly American U.S. data falls within this net -- Christine, John.

ROMANS: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us -- thank you. Barbara.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Some pretty big words there, intentionally, wittingly, words that pervade this entire discussion. Obviously, there is a political angle to this.

And the White House is pushing back pretty strenuously this morning. They're saying there is oversight to the program. They are saying it is necessary to prevent terror attacks.

CNN's Dan Lothian is tracking all of this for us. He's at the White House this morning.

Good morning, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

You know, the White House has been trying to move beyond all these controversies to focus on the economy, to push the president's second- term agenda. But it seems every day, there are new revelations. And while some here in Washington think some of this is good in order to protect Americans, others are very concerned. They think this kin of information gathering is going too far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): This morning, President Obama is waking up in California as a political firestorm over the government's collection of phone and Internet data intensifies.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: The bottom line is that the United States government now has phone records and other records of tens and tens and tens of millions of American who have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.

LOTHIAN: The political fallout after news that the NSA was collecting Americans' phone records from Verizon was quick. Public privacy advocates are already taking form online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear me now?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear me now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your call goes through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear me now?

OBAMA: Yes, we can.

LOTHIAN: A stinging editorial in "The New York Times" proclaims "President Obama's dragnet" and says the administration has now "lost all credibility."|

And the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from the author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who writes he's "extremely disturbed by what appears to be an overbroad interpretation of the fact."

Even the president's liberal base piled on. "The Huffington Post" ran a photo on its cover page showing Obama morphing into George W. Bush.

But the program has its defenders. REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN: This program was used to stop a program -- excuse me, stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that.

LOTHIAN: The White House says these types of orders include data, not phone calls, and have been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats.

But some lawmakers want more answers and Attorney General Holder, already under pressure for snooping on reporters, is on the hot seat again.

SEN. MARK KIRK (R), ILLINOIS: Could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored of members of Congress?

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: With all drew respect, Senator, I don't think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: So, these senators asking for a full briefing from Attorney General Holder, from the NSA, from other agencies. Again, they want answers to a lot of questions to a lot of questions out there, to get a sense how far these programs have gone and why -- John.

BERMAN: Again, what the president wants to be talking about today is China. He's got a big meeting with the Chinese leader, but this is what the White House wakes up to. You can see how it moves the agenda, or pushes it away from where they want to be.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BERMAN: Dan Lothian at the White House, thanks so much.

ROMANS: That's really good point, John.

Let's bring in CNN's Candy Crowley. She's CNN's chief political correspondent and the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs Sunday at 9:00 a.m.

You know, President Obama has said many times that the government was too intrusive in private lives. I want you to listen to some sound we have from 2007 to 2008, Candy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short cuts to protecting America.

I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: So, you have opponents of the president -- you know, progressives who will even come back and supporters of the president who will say, wait, this is not -- what this administration is doing right now, are apparently doing right now is not what the president said this is going to be like.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Things look very different on the campaign trail than when you do in the Oval Office. He's not the first president that has found that out, or that has continued something that they argued against on the campaign trail.

I think the problem for this administration is that they are getting hit from both the left and then from the right, although not conservatives, but more the independents, the Rand Paul types f libertarians who think this is too much of an intrusion. But it's like everything, it gets down to the definition of is is. What's an intrusion on civil liberties? Where's the balance? And it's simply not a conversation that the conversation really has had in any depth, partly because we don't know exactly what the federal government is doing, clearly in the name of keeping us safe.

So, the conversation has not taken place and you have had a couple senators hint at it, but you know, the truth is that when you say to the American people, this is in the name of safety, that carries a lot of sway, and civil liberties is a broad terminology there. And so, if you say, well, will you give up this and this and get down to specifics, sometimes Americans are willing to do that if they think it will keep them safe, which we haven't had that conversation.

BERMAN: We have a poll on that actually. When you ask people if they're willing to give up some civil liberties to curb terrorism., 40 percent say no -- 40 percent say yes, they'd be willing to give up civil liberties, 49 percent say no. So, you know, the plurality there is saying no.

But, Candy, let me just ask this. There's some really interesting alliances being built. You talked about progressives, you know, people on the far left, and you talk about sort of libertarians on the far right, they're against what the administration is doing.

But there seems to be a fairly broad middle. You have people like Lindsey Graham saying you'd be crazy not to do this. You have people like Harry Reid saying everybody has to calm down. And it really seems the chair and ranking members of all key committees that deal with intelligence and defense seem to be supportive of this.

CROWLEY: Since they knew about it and approved it, yes, because they did. And -- but there have been other who's have known about it, who are then sworn to secrecy, not to talk with these programs, who have clearly felt that it went too far. Interpretation of the Patriot Act has gone too far, the Bush administration, and the Obama administration, there is that act.

So, you are right. There is this coalition that is someone unusual that finds this having gone too far. But in the middle, these are the folks when you look at the intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein and when you look at Lindsey Graham, folks who knew about it and thought it was a good idea. You saw Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee on the House side say, look, this has stopped a terrorist attack -- well, how can you argue with that? Except no one really knows what we're arguing about which is what is it really mean?

BERMAN: We can't argue with it because everything is classified and we just know most of the facts in this case.

Candy Crowley, a lot to discuss here. I know you'll be talking about it next Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" -- thank you so much for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

BERMAN: I want to turn now to the other big story of the day.

If you live on the East Coast, prepare to get wet, prepare to stay inside, prepare to cancel a lot of those weekend plans. Tropical Storm Andrea, is the kind of rainmaker that the East Coast has not seen since hurricane Sandy. In other words, brace yourselves. The storm has already walloped Florida, seriously injuring one woman. It made its way through Georgia overnight.

And today, it's zooming up the East Coast, bringing with it heavy, heavy rain, flooding, and the possibility of isolated tornadoes.

Our Nick Valencia is in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, right now. The surf kicking up behind him.

Nick, what else -- what else are you seeing out there right now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Yes.

Well, the wind starting to pick up here in the last couple of minutes. We've been out here since the early morning hours and this is the strongest we've felt the win. It's also, as you mentioned, caused angry waves to develop behind us.

But as you can also see, the sun starting to creep out, trying to make it's way here. Officials do expect to get between 1 and 3 inches of rain in this area. Having said that, there are no evacuation orders for this particular part of North Carolina. Residents have decided to get out of town ahead of the anticipated wet weather.

Other residents, though, John, they've decided to stick around. I spoke to one resident who was coming here for a fun weekend, and he said that there's no weather would impede that, no weather is going to stop that.

You have to remember, after all, this is a -- a section of the United States, very accustomed to tornado -- I'm sorry -- to hurricanes, very accustomed to hurricanes.

So far, it hasn't been too bad out there. It was raining just a short time ago. But meteorologist predicted sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour. So far, so good, though, out here, John. We're waiting for weather to get worse as it makes its way up the Eastern Seaboard.

It's coming your direction. So you guys better watch out. John, back to you.

BERMAN: Not very happy about that, Nick. But, thanks, we appreciate it. Great to see you this morning.

ROMANS: At least it's moving fast.

BERMAN: At least it's moving fast.

ROMANS: So, the potential for maybe clear skies on Sunday.

BERMAN: Certainly Sunday, may save a little Saturday also.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, who doesn't love a man cave, right? Every man dreams of this, but when it's put together with government property, paid for by taxpayer money, maybe not so much.

ROMANS: And why is the Norwegian navy blowing up its own ship? We're going to have details right after the break.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: It was like a private playground we're finding out this morning about with a group of contractors did to turn an EPA warehouse into an elaborate man cave. CNNs Brian Todd has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How's this for a man cave? A private space with a couch, chairs, TV, a weight set. This isn't your cousin's basement, it's a U.S. government facility, a warehouse in Landover, Maryland, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, leased and operated by a private contractor for $1.6 million of your tax dollars a year.

ROBERT ADACHI, EPA INSPECTOR GENERAL'S OFFICE: When the auditors first saw it, it was overwhelming.

TODD: Robert Adachi was the lead auditor for the EPA's inspector general who just issued a report on the facility. The document looks like a brochure with pictures of other man caves in the same warehouse. Here's a space with an even larger TV, a chair, artwork on the wall. Some had personal photos and pin-ups and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had put in a refrigerator, microwave ovens.

TODD: That black object, bottom center, that's a hair trimmer. I spoke about all this with taxpayer advocate, Ryan Alexander. RYAN ALEXANDER, TAXPAYER FOR COMMON SENSE: We hired these people. We paid taxpayer money for these people to manage our inventory, take care of the warehouse. And as far as we can tell from what the inspector general found, they didn't do any of that.

TODD: And the report says these personal spaces were hidden from security cameras by partitions, curtains, and piled up boxes.

(on-camera) The EPA said we couldn't get access inside this warehouse, but EPA officials say as soon as they learned what the inspector general found, they had the private contractors who operated this building escorted out. They prohibited them from coming back and they began taking inventory of everything inside

(voice-over) It's not just a little the getaway spaces that raised concern. Those little specks on the box, lower right --

ADACHI: We did take pictures of places where they had taken rat traps and where there were rat feces all throughout the building.

TODD: One place the contractors did keep immaculate, their 30 by 45 foot gym with updated equipment including --

ADACHI: Pictures show also a computer that was attached to some speakers. And, it appeared to be used for music.

TODD: There was a security breach, expired passports of EPA employees with all their identity information lying there in open boxes. Oh, and did we mention the seemingly inexplicable inventory?

(on-camera) Pardon my language, but what the hell do we need with pianos in an EPA warehouse?

ALEXANDER: it's a big question. Why the EPA has pianos and why they had all this other inventory in the warehouse? Why do they have all this stuff that we weren't using?

TODD: An EPA spokeswoman says the pianos have been at EPA headquarters for award ceremonies, receptions, and other functions there and then they were moved to the warehouse. The agency said in a statement that it moved quickly to address all these problems. And indeed, the inspector general gives the EPA high marks for its fast response.

We called and e-mailed several times the private contractor that operated the warehouse, Apex Logistics of College Park Maryland. We never heard back.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our thanks to Brian for that report.

Now, I want you to look at something here. Take a look at the latest weapon in Norway's military arsenal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (EXPLOSION)

BERMAN (voice-over): That's just kind of cool. And that's the Norwegian navy blowing up one of its own ships to test out a new long- range stealth missile, the stealthy 880-pound naval strike missile. It kind of inflicted some serious damage on the decommission 300-foot long KNN (INAUDIBLE).

Naval struck missiles like these are the latest generation of surface warfare systems being developed by this in the navy defense firm, Kongsberg. Now, the Polish navy is also set to arm themselves with these fully operational missiles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The pictures are cool.

BERMAN (on-camera): Very cool.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, tropical storm Andrea has already left its mark on Florida. It's churning its way up the eastern seaboard today. We're going to track this expected path for you just ahead.

BERMAN: We will also check in with our very own, Zoraida Sambolin. She's recovering from a double mastectomy. How is she doing? We're going to get an update straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. We are thrilled to share some good news with you. An update about a dear friend of ours. As you may remember, our friend, EARLY START anchor, Zoraida Sambolin, had a double mastectomy last week. She was inspired to choose this really to talk about this procedure by Angelina Jolie's announcement that she'd undergone a double mastectomy as to prevent a new measure.

Early this morning, Zoraida joined us from her home in Chicago via Skype to bring us an update on her recovery. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: In my left breast, I have breast cancer stage one grade one. Invasive. The good news is that my lymph nodes are free and clear, so --

ROMANS: Great.

SAMBOLIN: So, I'm good. You know, I guess, the next stage now is I have to meet with an oncologist and find if I do want to go out any drugs like tamoxifen, because I have a higher risk for developing more cancers in the future. So, that conversation needs to happen. But, you know, all of the breast tissue was gone, and so, all of the cancer in my breast is gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Her son is graduating from middle school today. It was so great to see her. It's so nice she got up early. She told us she brushed her hair and brushed her teeth especially for us.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: So, we feel so honored. So great to have her.

ROMANS: All right. Anchorman, Brian Williams is more than just a news guy. He's also, I guess, an accidental wrapper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(RAPPING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: -- with this brilliant matchup of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre's --

BERMAN: That's the thing. If they found Brian Williams using the word funk --

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: That's the record that I want to see.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, high excitement here. One of our ROMANS' favorite times of the month. We are just minutes away from finding out how the job market did in May. Details of the all-important jobs report, coming up.

ROMANS: I'm calling it.

BERMAN: She's making a call right now.

ROMANS: I'm calling it now.

BERMAN: Right now.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Let me tell you what's going on here. Christine Romans on the phone. Why? Because the mother of all economic reports. The monthly job reports come up in about seven seconds right now. This is what we're expecting, 158,000 positions added in May. That's what economists tell us they expect.

They expect 7.5 percent unemployment. That would be the same as April. Again, that's the expectation. The good news is, the jobless rate has been falling steadily since peaking (ph) at 10 percent in 2009. Most states actually have unemployment rate below the national average. You can see them here in green. I think Christine Romans suggesting that, perhaps, we have some news already?

ROMANS: I do. I'm looking at a tweet, actually, for the Bureau of Labor Statistic. It says May, the payroll employment increases 175,000. The jobless rate essentially unchanged at 7.6 percent. That's actually a tweet from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Let me get back on the call with the labor producer, and you talk a little bit about that.