Return to Transcripts main page


NSA Reveals Foiled Terror Plots; U.S. to Attempt Peace Talks with Taliban; Afghanistan Security Handover; Generational Divide Over Immigration Reform

Aired June 18, 2013 - 12:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Details of terror plots that they say were prevented by the surveillance programs now causing so much controversy.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Just a short time ago we saw the deputy director of the FBI. He told a House panel that more than 50 plots now have been disrupted. He outlined specifically four of them, including two targeting New York. Listen to this.


SEAN JOYCE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: In the fall of 2009, NSA, using 702 authority, intercepted an e-mail from a terrorist located in Pakistan. That individual was talking with the individual located inside the United States, talking about perfecting a recipe for explosives. Through legal process, that individual was identified as Najibullah Zazi. He was located in Denver, Colorado. The FBI followed him to New York City. Later, we executed search warrants with the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and NYPD and found bomb making components in backpacks. Zazi later confessed to a plot to bomb the New York subway system with backpacks.

Another example, NSA, utilizing 702 authority, was monitoring a known extremist in Yemen. This individual was in contact with an individual in the United States named Khaled Hosseini (ph). Hosseini, and other individuals that we identified through a FISA that the FBI applied for through the FISC (ph), were able to detect a nascent plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.


HOLMES: And Dana Bash was the first the report this story. She joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Dana, you know, the other two plots that we heard about involved plans to attack a Danish newspaper that published that controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed and unspecified terrorist activity after 9/11. Two of those plots we hadn't heard about before. How significant in the big picture are these revelations and how much did the surveillance program have to do with it as opposed to traditional law enforcement?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I honestly think the jury is still out on the answers to both of those questions, Michael. Two - as you mentioned, two of the plots that we just heard about in public testimony were ones that we didn't know about. One with regard to the national - the stock exchange and then one with regard to some surveillance that they were doing after 9/11. It was a dead end - a dead end investigation and then it was brought back to life because of, they say, surveillance of phone records.

But, you know, they're certainly -- they put some more meat on the bone. They made this more tangible for Americans to understand. They certainly went through a lot of the details and the safeguards in these programs about why it really is, for example, in a kind of an easy to understand way. One of witnesses said it's really just like - and with regard to the phone records - just like what's on your phone bill. It just has numbers. You don't know whose names are attached to those. You certainly don't know the content of the phone calls.

Still, you know, with the people that they're talking to on this panel, they're preaching to the choir effectively. Almost all of the people on this panel are members of the Intelligence Committee, obviously, but they are supporters of this program. And that's the whole reason they're having this particular hearing because they want to have some of the details put out there so that people understand really how it works and, more importantly, people, they hope, come to support the program because they become convinced it saved lives. Unclear if this hearing, so far, has done that.

MALVEAUX: And, Dana, there's been a lot of talk about - and you mentioned this before early this morning, unpacking or more digging behind these terror - these alleged terror plots. Do we expect that they are going to go before this panel and provide more information or there will be more information made to the public, more specifics, more details in terms of how they are linked to these surveillance programs and what actually was the plan?

BASH: Well, it sounds as though, at least right now, it's just these two terror plots, these two new terror plots, four altogether that they talked about today, that they are giving details about in public testimony, that they've declassified information about. But as you mentioned at the top of this program, the NSA director did say that there are at least 50 terror plots that they know of that these programs were involved in, debunking and stopping, but they can't talk about that in open session. So they're going to come to Congress tomorrow, come to the Intelligence Committee and give that information to members of the Intelligence Committee in a classified setting.

That certainly will help them in sort of alluding to these things in public and to their constituents, but it's not going to help make the case to skeptical Americans that these programs are worth it. That they have the right balance between civil liberties and protecting their safety.

MALVEAUX: And just want to remind our viewers here, those four terror plots that were uncovered here - if we can put that on the screen again - it was a plot to bomb a New York subway system, which we already knew about. The second one, which was the new information coming out of the hearings, the plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. We learned more details behind that. And then the other one, a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoon. Of course that was very much in the news and a lot of details that we already knew about that one. And, finally, this one that seemed to be some new information. This was the terrorist activity shortly after 9/11 attack that was thwarted.

Dana, thanks.

We're going to delve a little bit deeper into this. This is all a part, of course, the effort to quiet the uproar over these secret surveillance programs. A lot of people have questions about this. The NSA says they are really trying to balance the issue about privacy, but at the same time national security.


MALVEAUX: Let's listen in a little bit more from early this morning.


GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: As American, we value our privacy and our liberty - our civil liberties. Americans - as Americans, we also value our security and our safety. In the 12 years since the attacks on September 11th, we have lived in relative safety and security as a nation. That security is a direct result of the intelligence community's quite efforts to better connect the dots and learn from the mistakes that permitted those attacks to occur in 9/11.

In those 12 years, we have thought long and hard about oversight and compliance and how we minimize the impact on our fellow citizens' privacy. We have created and implemented and continue to monitor a comprehensive mission compliance program inside NSA. This program, which was developed base on industry best practices in compliance, works to keep operations and technology aligned with NSA's externally approved procedures. Outside of NSA, the office of the director of National Intelligence, Department of Justice, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court provide robust oversight, as well as this committee. I do believe we have that balance right.


HOLMES: All right, let's bring in national security analysts Peter Bergen in Washington, Fran Townsend via Skype from New York, a lot chief political analyst Gloria Borger is standing by in Washington.

Peter, let's start with you. Your assessment of the information that we heard. I know you've written in the past about how a lot of these plots were uncovered by traditional law enforcement, not so much the dragnet, if you like. What's your read after hearing it?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the ball was advanced very slightly today by what we heard on Capitol Hill. We knew about the Najibullah Zazi plan to attack the subway in New York. We knew about David Coleman Headley's plan to attack the Danish newspaper. Both have been said to have been stopped by NSA surveillance. I think on the latter plot, it's the reporter (ph) whose done the best reporting on this, Sebastian Rotella (ph) ProPublica (ph) actually says that it was a tip from British intelligence that led us to David Coleman Headley, rather than NSA surveillance.

But be that as it may, the third plot we heard about, to plan to attack the New York Stock Exchange, is new. The case itself is not. There were a group of guys who were sending money to al Qaeda. There were court documents in the United States show in 2007 that these guys did some - you know, plead guilty.

What we did find out today is they had some sort of nascent plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange. But does that amount to literally dozens of terrorist plots being averted, which I think was the message that we received last week. And I think that the 50 plots that were eluded to today, obviously they're going to be -- remain classified. But my guess is, most of those are overseas or perhaps people sending money to overseas terrorist organizations. The plots that we know exist in the United States have almost overwhelmingly been stopped by traditional law enforcement. Tips from the local community, you know, informants, undercover officers, these kinds of traditional police methods.

MALVEAUX: Fran, I want to bring you into the conversation here. One of the things that we were hearing about, we've heard about these four different plots, and the number 50 that stands out, at least 50 terrorist incidents, and then the four, why were these four selected? What makes these four different? Why do you suppose they're highlighting these particular four as opposed to the 50? Will we learn more about these other alleged terrorist plots that are interrupted?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, Suzanne, I - look, General Alexander made pretty clear this morning, members of Congress will get briefed on the - what he called - describes as more than 50 examples. I think that they picked the four that they picked because two of which, as Peter Bergen just mentioned, that the Zazi case and the Headley case, we knew already.

The other two they picked one that was what they call a 702 case. That's, yes, you have to target someone, a none U.S. person, overseas involved in terrorist activity. That's the case where the individual had contact from Kansas City, Missouri, to some unknown terrorist in Yemen. And they lured them and they arrested them and prosecuted them. So that case is over. That's why they picked that one.

The other one is a 215 case. That's the business records session of the Patriot Act where they got subscriber information for a San Diego telephone number. This is a case that had gone cold after 9/11. And not until 2007, when they got a lead from NSA, were they able to get the subscriber data that ultimately led to an electronic surveillance. Clearly involving material support, financial support for terror - the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.

You know, that one is -- they haven't given as much detail. They haven't really made the case why the expansive authority for the telephone toll records. And I think the details are what are going to persuade the American people that this is necessary. So they - as Peter says, we advanced the ball some today, but, frankly, they're going to need to do more, I think, to persuade the American people about the necessary of these programs.

HOLMES: And on that note, Gloria Borger, on the political aspect, does this help this president politically or is he going to have to do more?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it -- look, it's hard for them because what they'd like to do is put the genie back in the bottle and they'd like not to talk about any of this at all. But they can't. It's out there. We know it's out there.

And the American public doesn't trust its government. I mean you see the numbers on that. And so - but they want to be protected. And, you know, a majority of Americans say, OK, this is fine. But if we're going to approve a certain amount of big brotherism, if you will, you've got to kind of show us why. Help us out here a little bit.

And I believe actually that it's good to have General Alexander talk about it. We understand the problems with declassifying everything. But I also think it had to come from the top. And we know that the president has given some press interviews, he's encouraged this conversation about the balance, you know, between liberty and national security.

But at some point the president's going to have to lead the conversation because after all this is the same person who railed against a form of these kind of surveillance when he was a United States senator. So I think it may be more incumbent upon him at a certain point after they unroll this, as they're clearly trying to do, to come out and speak some more about it to the American people.

HOLMES: All right, Gloria, thanks so much. And Fran and Peter as well. Appreciate your contributions on this. There's a lot more to come, one imagines, isn't it?

MALVEAUX: It's ironic, actually. I mean, you know, under President Bush, all this really put into place. Under President Obama pushed more so now.

HOLMES: Uh-huh. Yes. Uh-huh. Yes.


HOLMES: And it's still unfolding as we speak and there's going to be a lot more on this story throughout the hour. We're going to get reaction from workers at the New York Stock Exchange for the news that, as you were just saying, they were apparently targeted in one of these thwarted terror attacks.

MALVEAUX: We're also working on other stories for AROUND THE WORLD. Watch this. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Riot police. These are protesters filling the street in Brazil. They say the government is spending too much on the World Cup and the Olympics and making the poor foot the bill. Stay with us. We'll have more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're looking at live pictures there. We've been following these hearings. This is from Capitol Hill and, of course, these are top intelligence U.S. officials who have been brought before members of Congress to testify and to justify, essentially, the surveillance program, U.S. surveillance program of phone records as well as Internet, e-mails overseas.

And so far what we have learned from top intelligence officials is that there were at least, they said, 50 incidents of terror plots that had been interrupted or disrupted from this information.

But at least (inaudible) they're giving some details to members of Congress and the committee.

HOLME": Yeah, Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange. We're going to bring you in here, Alison.

What kind of reaction is the news getting that the stock exchange was a potential target here?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the official word from the New York Stock Exchange is a no comment on the thwarted terror plot.

But I talked with some traders who have been coming here for years and years and years, coming here to work just like anybody would come to an office, and really not a lot of reaction, you know, not really any fear.

Because the way the New York Stock Exchange is, is the building, it's treated like a target every day. This is really an iconic symbol of American capitalism, and just to get into this building, there are layers of security. You have to go through for a badge check and a bag check. And then you have to go through a metal detector and you have to scan your badge in yet again.

So there are these layers of security, and even to get to the building, you can't really drive close to it. You have to go through checkpoints, so not really a huge surprise from the traders on the floor here that there was this kind of serious threat.

It's not the first time we've heard of a threat. The U.K. man was -- you've been talking about was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to planning to attack several targets, including the NYSE.

The New York Federal Reserve just around the corner from where we are right now, that was targeted in a plot last year, so I mean, the security here is very strong. And what's interesting about the security is that I come here every day, so I can really see sometimes there's more presence of security than others.

Sometimes there are more police officers with their dogs on one day as opposed to another. It doesn't mean that there's a threat that day, but it is interesting to see the amount of security -- the ability of the amount of security to change -- to really just change on a dime.


MALVEAUX: Imagine, Alison, that that really is a target. I mean, it's one of the financial ...

HOLMES: Iconic.

MALVEAUX: institutions -- absolutely.

Alison, appreciate it. Thank you.

KOSIK: Sure.

MALVEAUX: We're also getting information the United States is going to take part in talks with the Taliban, the Afghan government saying that it's also going to take part in those talks. It's going to happen out of Qatar.

HOLMES: Yeah, this is important news, significant that these talks are going to happen at all. A U.S. official does say that reconciliation, the process, though, is likely to be long, complex and messy. Of course, the trust between Afghans and the Taliban, and between the U.S. and the Taliban, of course, is extremely low.

MALVEAUX: And it comes at the same time Afghan forces formally take over their security responsibilities from their country from NATO troops. U.S. and coalition forces move into a support role, helping the Afghans, they say, when it's necessary, when it's needed. Remember, the U.S.-led combat mission set to be over by the end of next year.

NATO's chief says the Afghans are ready.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: Five years ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today. Now you have 350,000 Afghan troops and police, a formidable force, and time and again, we have seen them dealing quickly and competently with complex attacks.


HOLMES: Not everyone agrees completely with this.

And have a look at this. While they're talking about talks, the Taliban had their say today in the form of a suicide attack ahead of that handover ceremony, sending a message, a bomber targeting the convoy of a member of parliament. Three people were killed. Twenty- one were wounded.

MALVEAUX: And we're going to have more of all of this later in the hour, a live report from Kabul as well.

President Obama heads to Germany this hour. This is after wrapping up the talks. This is the G8 summit out of Northern Ireland. HOLMES: Yeah, the war in Syria was a major focus of that meeting, of course, world leaders trying to put the pressure on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over his support for the Syrian government and his opposition to weapons going to the rebels, the U.S. promising more help for those rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad.

MALVEAUX: And President Obama and the Russian president also discussed, of course, Syria, but they didn't walk away with any major breakthroughs.

`Both leaders say they are, however, going to push the parties in Syria toward negotiations to the end of the bloody civil war that is taking place.

HOLMES: And there's a generational divide on immigration reform. Check this out. Young Americans feel very differently than older Americans. Maybe that's not really a surprise.

We're going to have a look at the results of a CNN, brand-new poll on this.


MALVEAUX: We're getting new details today about a big generational divide. This is over immigration reform.

HOLMES: Yeah, this, of course, coming as the Senate considers a bipartisan bill that would offer an eventual path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

MALVEAUX: So Juan Carlos Lopez from CNN en Espanol joins us from Washington. So let's first talk about the age gap here. You've got this new poll, CNN/ORC poll, 54 percent of people who are younger than 65 favor the bill. Only 40 percent of those older than 65 are in favor. So what's -- how do you explain the difference?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL: I believe, Suzanne, it's a generational gap, and it's a very specific question on what people have heard or read about the specifics in the bill that's being debated. It's not final yet, and I guess if you if you ask people if they believe that border security -- if border security should come first or creating path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, I guess the natural reaction is to say border security first.

HOLMES: You know, let's talk a little bit more about that because, as you say, 62 percent say border security is the most important issue, but 36 percent say the path to citizenship should be the bigger priority. Is there a way you can interpret that yet?

LOPEZ: The bill as is being discussed and it's being debated in the Senate includes a very important component of border security. And there are amendments that are being filed to make it even stronger on border security.

Now there are recent reports that show that immigration to the U.S. at the U.S.-Mexico border is down to net zero between the people that are being deported. And you have to highlight this government, President Obama, has been the government to deport the highest number of people per year.

And the number of people coming into the U.S. has also gone down, so it's an issue more, I think, of perception than what really is happening on the ground, but that is what the Senate is actually debating, how are they going to make the border safer when many believe it's as safe as it can be. And that's what the government says.

MALVEAUX: And finally, Juan Carlos, we see it's not surprising here, this political breakdown on party lines, essentially, 59 percent of Democrats favoring the bill. 48 percent of both Republicans and independents both favor it. But if it passes in the Senate, it's probably going to have a pretty tough sell in the House, right, where Republicans are in control?

LOPEZ: Definitely. Speaker Boehner today, after that the GOP conference meeting, told reporters that this bill needs a majority of a majority from the Republicans in the House.

Now if the vote were today, it probably wouldn't pass, but the Senate is still working on its version. We're going to have several weeks more of the Senate trying to craft out a bill. And then Speaker Boehner said it's after July 10th that they will consider it.

Will it happen? It's still not a done deal. But you have to keep in mind that a month is a long time in Washington, and we'll see what happens after the Senate finishes its debate. And if they approve it, as the believe they will, there is, Suzanne and Michael, a big difference.

At the national level, Republicans understand that they need immigration reform to attract the Latino vote. The Latino vote went over 70 percent for the Democrats for President Obama. At the local level, at the House level, there are many districts where Latinos are not decisive, where they're not a majority, and I think that's what the Republicans are dealing with.

MALVEAUX: All right.

HOLMES: Thank you, Juan Carlos. Good to see you. Juan Carlos Lopez there ...

LOPEZ: A pleasure.

HOLMES: ... on CNN en Espanol.

All right.

MALVEAUX: One month, an eternity in Washington.

HOLMES: A long time in politics, exactly. Coming up, a nine percent bus fare hike sends Brazilians into the streets to protest. You can see the result there. MALVEAUX: We're going to take you live to Sao Paolo to find out why there's so much anger towards the government there. Stay with us.