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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Identity of Leaker of NSA Documents Revealed; South Africa Prays for Nelson Mandela; Violence Erupts in Kabul Airport; Children Need Vital Lung Transplants; NSA Leaker Identified

Aired June 10, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning, the NSA leak, one of the biggest leaks In U.S. history of key intelligence. Edward Snowden's claim he had the authority to wiretap anyone, even the President of the United States. He has fled the U.S. for Hong Kong. And this morning, we hear from the reporter who interviewed him overseas to find out why he did what he did.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Was itself defense or was it murder? The George Zimmerman trial begins today. Will the man who admitted to shooting and killing Trayvon Martin be cleared of murder? We're going live to Sanford, Florida.

BERMAN: And then, is Apple still cool? The company's annual worldwide developers conference gets under way, and there are serious questions this morning about its future.

Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, June 10th. Welcome to STARTING POINT.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with the NSA leaker. He is Edward Snowden, a former defense department employee and defense contractor. Why did he give the British information about NSA programs that he says spy on Americans? Correspondent Barbara Starr joins us live from the Pentagon. A lot going on overnight.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Good morning, John. Was he a leaker, an idealist? I want you to meet the man who turned the intelligence community upside down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: When you're in positions of privileged access --

STARR: This is 29-year-old Edward Snowden, the high school dropout who worked his way into the most secretive computers of the U.S. intelligence community as a defense contractor and then blew open those secrets by leaking unprecedented details of top secret government surveillance programs. He now risks never living in America again as a free man.

SNOWDEN: I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have.

STARR: Snowden didn't leak that, but in an interview with the British newspaper "The Guardian" Snowden reveals himself as the source of several documents leaked to journalist Glenn Greenwald outlining a massive effort by the National Security Agency to track cellphone calls and monitor e-mail and internet traffic of virtually everyone.

SNOWDEN: I sitting at my desk certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal e-mail.

STARR: Snowden says he just wanted Americans to know what the government was doing.

SNOWDEN: Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded.

STARR: And he wanted to be up front that he was behind the leaks.

SNOWDEN: I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening, and goes this is something that's not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.

STARR: "The Guardian" says during the interview Snowden watched CNN's Wolf Blitzer ask a panel who the leaker was.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Do you have any idea who's leaking this information?

STARR: Snowden, watching, did not react.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong three weeks ago after copying a last set of documents and telling his boss he needed to go away for medical treatment. Before all this, Snowden says he had a comfortable life working for the NSA in Hawaii with a $200,000 salary and a girlfriend. He told "The Guardian" he never got a high school diploma, attended community college, but didn't complete his computer studies. He joined the army in 2003 but was discharged after breaking both legs in an accident.

He says he worked as a security guard for the NSA and then moved to the CIA in a computer security job. In 2009, he left the CIA, eventually joining the contractor Booz Allen in Hawaii. He began to see top secret documents on the extent of the NSA surveillance, including details that the government also had data on Americans. President Obama insists his administration is not spying on U.S. citizens, only looking for information on terrorists.

For now Snowden believes Hong Kong's climate of free speech will protect him. But there's no guarantee he won't be arrested, taken to mainland China, or sent back to the U.S. it appears to be a risk he's willing to take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're living in Hawaii in paradise and making a ton of money. What would it take to make you leave everything behind? SNOWDEN: The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: We found out that he only had this job at Booz Allen, the contractor, for some three months, and he started downloading these documents weeks ago. Big question, how did nobody notice? John?

BERMAN: Not a lot of time on the job there to do what he did. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning, thank you so much.

ROMANS: And now to the life Snowden left behind. We know that he had a six figure job, he used to have a home in Hawaii, and he shared it with his girlfriend. Miguel Marquez is in Honolulu following Snowden's life before he fled to Hong Kong. Good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, there, Christine. That building behind me, that's where Booz Allen is based in Honolulu. That's where he says that he copied those final documents before turning them over to "The Guardian." He gave his boss notice that he was going away because he suffered from epilepsy and needed medical attention, and that's when he left.

Last Wednesday, the day before "The Guardian" posted its documents to the world, police, one plainclothes, one in Honolulu police uniform visited his home, very quiet neighborhood in Honolulu just outside of it, to ask his whereabouts. They clearly had not known or suspected that he had leaked these documents at that point. They were checking on his welfare because he hadn't returned to work as he told his boss he would.

His girlfriend who had lived with him for a year here, she had left for the mainland by that point. The house was completely empty. It is now up for sale in that neighborhood.

One thing that doesn't quite jive with his story is that he told his girlfriend that he was going away for two weeks, and she said that was fine and it was part of his job, but she also left for the mainland. So it's a big question as to why she left for the mainland.

Neighbors describe both of them as completely normal, very nice, respectful, hard working. Booz Allen Hamilton says he only worked for them for three months, as Barbara said, but they are now investigating it fully, that he broke their code of conduct, and they are going to work with both their clients and authorities to investigate this. Back to you.

ROMANS: Starting to put the pieces together of just what his life was like before he left, now a very high profile departure from Hawaii, no question. Miguel Marquez, thanks.

BERMAN: As you might imagine, the Obama administration is looking into the leaks now with the Justice Department launching a probe. Top lawmakers in the U.S. say Snowden should be prosecuted. They and the NSA's former chief insist the leaks did not give an accurate picture of the work the NSA does. Brianna Keilar is following the political angle for us this morning from the White House. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The White House is not officially commenting on the identity of Snowden, but certainly the justice administration is pursuing options for prosecuting and extraditing him. This comes on the heels of three other controversies further pushing the Obama administration off message in these early key months of his second term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: As Edward Snowden stunned the world with his admission, the administration intensified calls to hunt down the leaker of an NSA surveillance program. Sunday night the Justice Department formally announced they were launching an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. President Obama after returning from California after a two-day mini summit with the Chinese president had no comment, but he recently announced he's upset with the spate of high profile leaks.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't welcome leaks because there's a reason why these programs are classified.

KEILAR: Making the Sunday talk show rounds, the chairman of the house intelligence committee said the leaks don't give a full picture of the NSA program.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) MICHIGAN: I know the reporter that you interviewed, Greenwald, says he's got it all and is now an expert on the program. He doesn't have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous.

KEILAR: Something the former NSA chief agreed with.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER NSA/CIA DIRECTOR: There are no records of abuse under President Bush under president Obama.

KEILAR: But how the NSA gathers its information and what it does with the data remains a point of contention.

SEN. MARK UDALL, (D) COLORADO: I'm not convinced this vast trove of data has led to the disruption of plots.

KEILAR: And on Capitol Hill the fight is just beginning.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: Don't troll through a billion phone records every day. That is unconstitutional. It invades our privacy. And I'm going to be seeing if I can challenge this at the Supreme Court level.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And all of this, of course, puts President Obama off message. He has come out insisting to Americans that the government is not listening to their phone calls. And certainly this runs counter to their narrative his administration has worked so hard to promote, a narrative of transparency.

BERMAN: He wanted to be talking with China diplomacy over the weekend and wants to talk about immigration today and tomorrow, but it's hard to do. It's a distraction, to say the least. Brianna Keilar at the White House, thanks so much.

ROMANS: For more what's ahead for Edward Snowden, let's bring in senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and New York Republican Congressman Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on counterintelligence and terrorism. Congressman King, could he really have wiretapped the president if he wanted to? This guy claims to have extensive wiretapping access all the way to the top of the political food chain. He said, if he wanted to, he could wiretap the president. Is that true?

REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: No, it's not true. And so much he said is untrue. Again, this person is dangerous to the country. He had, I think, real questions as to why he left the CIA. The fact he's in China right now, or Hong Kong, which is a sub-state of China. He knows who our intelligence assets, who our intelligence agents are around the world. The fact he has allowed our enemy to know our sources and methods is extremely dangerous. I believe we should prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. I consider him right now to be a defector.

ROMANS: You consider him a defector. You were the first to call for prosecution after "The Guardian" revealed him as the NSA leak. What prosecution would you like to see?

KING: I think he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If you disclose classified information, you could be subject to the most severe penalties. He could face 15, 20 years in prison as a result of this. I think he should be prosecuted. Also, we should begin extradition proceedings as soon as possible. We do have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. My concern is that in the meantime, China could be holding him and getting information as to what he knows about our asset as round the world.

ROMANS: We're hearing now that maybe Iceland. He could be seeking asylum in Iceland. He's looking for his next step. Will he ever be back in the United States?

KING: If he does he should be in jail. We need to make it clear to our NATO allies they should not be granting asylum to this person who is such a danger to the United States.

ROMANS: Peter King, thank you so much, Congressman King.

BERMAN: Let's bring in our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. So you heard Congressman King call him a defector. We've also heard people call him a hero, a whistleblower shining the light on practices the government shouldn't be doing. How much trouble is he really in?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SECURITY LEGAL ANALYST: He's in enormous trouble. He broke the law. He had an agreement. When he received classified information, as any of us do when we receive access to classified information, you sign extensive documentation saying unauthorized disclosure is a crime. At a minimum, he has engaged in the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. That's a crime. He will certainly be investigated for it.

Because he's in Hong Kong, which occupies an unusual diplomatic space, it's not clear whether or how he can be extradited, but whether he committed a crime, there's no question.

BERMAN: Explain the extradition, because this is a serious issue.

TOOBIN: It's very hard to explain. China owns Hong Kong. Hong Kong has some quasi independence. We do have an extradition treaty with Hong Long as opposed the People's Republic of China. How that all works in the real world is very difficult to say. The one thing for sure is that it doesn't work quickly. So I don't think we'll know exactly his status for quite some time.

ROMANS: Wouldn't it be ironic if Chinese kept someone who is now infamous for trying to promote government transparency --

TOOBIN: And I think Snowden's bizarre ideology makes it even more bizarre. Here's some who is supposedly concerned about free speech and transparency, and he goes to a place that's under the control of one of the most repressive governments in the world. So I don't think we're looking at a coherent ideology here. He's upset. He doesn't like government policy. But we don't usually make 29-year-old high school dropouts decide what our policies are.

BERMAN: Espionage, is that on the table here?

TOOBIN: I suppose it's possible. In these series of leaks, the question of prosecution under the espionage act has been raised. You can go to prison for many, many years without the espionage act. So the actual charges probably don't matter that much.

BERMAN: What about the reporter Glenn Greenwald here, who says he's protected by the constitution? Any charges against him?

TOOBIN: I don't think Glenn Greenwald is going to be prosecuted or should be prosecuted. It is true that we have been -- that some journalists have been investigated over the course of the last few months, that's what the controversy is about. But both President Obama and Eric Holder say we don't want to prosecute journalists for doing their job. I don't think Glenn did anything unlawful, but the leaker is a completely different story.

BERMAN: You don't seem to have much ambiguity here. You think this is a clear-cut case?

TOOBIN: He's engaging in an act of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is disobedience. You can argue that maybe it was justified and there's some higher calling. But you certainly can't say it wasn't against the law.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, he's the man who broke the story of the NSA surveillance program by landing the interview with the leaker Edward Snowden. We were just talking about him. Glenn Greenwald joins us live with the details of this explosive story.

ROMANS: And prayers in South Africa as Nelson Mandela is in the hospital. We'll have the latest on his condition. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: New this morning, a bloody battle breaking out overnight between a handful of Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces near the airport in Kabul. TheTaliban putting out a statement saying the attack was intended to target Americans.

"Times of London" reporter Jeremy County (ph) on the phone for us this morning from Kabul. What can you tell us at this hour, Jeremy, about this fire fight?

We don't have him on the phone right now. Four hours of intense fire fights. Two civilian casualties, officials there are saying. We'll get the latest as it develops.

BERMAN: This morning former South African President Nelson Mandela remains in serious but stable condition. Two days after he was hospitalized again with a chronic lung infection. Mandela is 94, and this is his fourth stay at the hospital since December. There has been concern that Mandela's condition was worsening. A South African newspaper quoted a friend who said, it's time to say good-bye. And the current South African president has called on the entire nation and the world there to pray for Nelson Mandela.

ROMANS: A crane operator with a lengthy rap sheet is being held without bail this morning in connection with a deadly building collapse in Philadelphia. 42-year-old Sean Benschop faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter. Law enforcement sources tell CNN that Benschop had marijuana and pain medication in his system following that collapse. Prosecutors say he was operating the crane used to tear down the building that then collapsed onto a Salvation Army thrift store. Six people died, more than a dozen injured.

BERMAN: Desperate times for two young children in a Philadelphia hospital in need of life-saving lung transplants. The mother of 10- year-old Sarah Murnaghan says her daughter had a very difficult weekend and at one point, she thought they'd lose her. The mother of another child, 11-year-old Javier Acosta says her son also running out of time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILLIE MARTINEZ, 11-YEAR-OLD SON NEEDS LUNG TRANSPLANT: Simply put, if Javier does not receive the transplant, he will die. That's as simple as I can say it (ph). He's 11, and he's very sick. I don't think I have to remind you guys his brother was 11 and passed away waiting. I think he would definitely benefit from receiving a transplant right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: A group that oversees organ transplants is meeting today to consider changes to its national donor policy giving top priority to lung transplants to people 12 and older. Last week a federal judge issued an order making Sarah Murnaghan an exception to the 12 and older rule. That is set to expire on Friday.

ROMANS: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, he's the man who broke the NSA surveillance story. Glenn Greenwald will be here. How did he track down leaker Edward Snowden, and what's next for Snowden now that he's the face of the leak? We'll ask him.

BERMAN: And we're going to show you some live pictures right now from Sanford, Florida. That is where jury selection finally set to get under way in trial. The trial -- the case that has captivated the nation. George Zimmerman on trial for killing Trayvon Martin. Was it self defense? Was it murder? You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Minding your business this morning. Wall Street finally gets a win. Stocks set of the week (ph) higher after two straight weeks of declines. News that the labor market is moving ahead, albeit slowly.Circling the globe, and that's sending Japan's Nikkei up nearly 5 percent. Looking at Dow futures right now, they're up about 50 points.

The forced government spending cuts, also known as the sequester, could get worse next year. Defense and domestic discretionary spending is said to be cut by $19 billion. That could affect the national parks and the FBI. Also subject to cuts, some mandatory spending like unemployment benefits, farm subsidies, and WIC, a supplemental nutrition program. No details yet on how big the cuts could be. Of course, all this could change if Congress scales them back.

A new appointment on President Obama's economic team. Jason Furman will be named chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. That's a big job. He's going to take over for Allen Kruger, who is leaving to teach at Princeton University. Furman currently served as deputy director of the National Economic Council. He helped craft the stimulus bill that was passed back in 2009. This is the president's fourth chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

BERMAN: A big job.

ROMANS: It really is.

BERMAN: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, the man behind one of the biggest security leaks in U.S. history says he had the power to spy on anyone, even the president. We'll talk about Edward Snowden's shocking revelations with Glenn Greenwald, the columnist for the newspaper "The Guardian," who broke this story wide open.

ROMANS: And you're looking at live pictures from Sanford, Florida, where jury selection about to get under way in the George Zimmerman murder trial. We're going to take you there live. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to starting point. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with the man who has said that he is the NSA leaker. His name, Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who worked for a defense contractor. In a riveting interview, Snowden said he can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom, and basic liberties. Those are his words. What he did was he decided to come forward. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now. Good morning, Barbara.

STARR: Good morning, John. Good morning, Christine. Edward Snowden says he just wanted Americans to know what their government was up to, and he says he knew it all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, SOURCE OF NSA REVELATIONS: You recognize that some of these things are actually abuses, and when you talk to people about them in a place like this, where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously, and you know, move on from them.