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NSA Defends Surveillance Program; Interview with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger; Study Links Pollution to Autism; Chrysler Caves, Will Recall 2.7 Million Jeeps

Aired June 18, 2013 - 16:00   ET



Here is what you unwittingly traded the privacy of your phone records for.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. With the cat out of bag about NSA programs that monitor domestic phone records and foreign e-mails, top intel officials revealed today specifics of how they claim they used that data to stop terrorism. But did the net have to be so wide?

The national lead, autism, so terrifying to parents because we know so little about what causes it. Could the answer be in the air that we breathe? A new study out today is bound to cause controversy.

And the buried lead. He's in the Everglades. No, wait, under a swimming pool. No, wait, the Giants' end zone. Will the 38-year-long goose chase for Jimmy Hoffa finally end in a field outside Detroit?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin the world lead. President Obama and top intelligence officials, their hands forces by leaks from NSA intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, have been out there trying to justify the vast National Security Agency spying programs. The latest attempt came today at a House Intelligence Committee hearing, where top law enforcement officials made their case.


GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: In recent years these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe, to include helping prevent the terrorist -- the potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.


TAPPER: Kind of some interesting language there. These programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and its allies from threats across the globe, a lot of caveats and expansive trapdoors there. Of those 50 threats mentioned by NSA Director Keith Alexander, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce listed four terror events that he claims were disrupted either by the collection of Americans' phone records or by monitoring foreign online activity.

One, Najibullah Zazi's plot to bomb the New York subway in 2009. Joyce says they caught a terrorist in Pakistan e-mailing Zazi and they used phone records collections to find the co-conspirator. Two, a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange involving Khalid Ouazzani, who was in the U.S., which the FBI found out about through online communication with a known extremist in Yemen. Ouazzani pleaded guilty to providing financial assistance to al Qaeda in 2010.

The Stock Exchange is not commenting on the supposed plot. And for his part, Ouazzani's lawyer told CNN he had nothing to do with any plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange. Three, the plot to bomb a Danish newspaper for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. This involved, as you know, David Headley, a U.S. citizen, which the FBI says it found out about through online contact with an al Qaeda- linked terrorist. Headley is serving 35 years in prison for that and for helping to plan the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

Four, for this one we think Joyce was referring to the FBI using phone records collections to catch an individual convicted earlier this year of sending money to Al-Shabab. Al-Shabab is an al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia, convicted along with three others.

Now, how hard did the committee question these officials? Well, the hearing's official title was "How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans and Why Disclosure Aids our Adversaries."

A tougher audience might have been found in a rare 45-minute interview President Obama gave to PBS' Charlie Rose overnight. The president has watched his approval ratings plummet this month. He defended these NSA programs, especially phone data mining.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happens is that the FBI -- if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone -- it's got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST: But has FISA court turned down any request?

OBAMA: The -- because -- the -- first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small -- number one. Number two, folks don't go with a query unless they've got a pretty good suspicion.

ROSE: Should this be transparent in some way?

OBAMA: It is transparent. That's why we set up the FISA court.


TAPPER: It is transparent. Transparent, that is an interesting word to describe the FISA court, which operates with total near secrecy.


MANDY PATINKIN, ACTOR: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


TAPPER: The FISA court is also not a court in the way most of us understand. There are not two sides to every case and there's no one there to challenge what the government claims before the FISA court.

And joining me to discuss the hearing is ranking Democrat of the committee that held the hearing today, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: So, we're told more than 50 plots disrupted, 10 of them homeland-based. But what's not entirely clear is how many of these attacks definitively could not have been prevented with more traditional tactics, gumshoe detective work. Do you have a sense of that?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, let me give an example.

First thing that we think is extremely important to educate members of the Congress and the public why we need this program and why we need it to protect Americans, the question was -- the question about why we need these programs was asked to General Alexander. Could we have maybe possibly prevented the 9/11 attack?

And his answer was this. You can't look back in history and say for an exact point of view that it could have been stopped or not if we had this program at that time. But what he did say is that if this program was in place, that we had a known al Qaeda terrorist making contact with an individual who lived in San Diego, if, in fact, the program was there at the same time and the -- the NSA got that information, they would then turn that over to the FBI and then the FBI would then go to the courts and then the FBI would start their investigation, which would get phone records and see -- other investigations to see who they were connected to.

Clearly, that would have shown the group that was in New Jersey. It could have shown that based on -- on investigation, that some of the al Qaeda people were taking flying lessons in Florida.

So this is a program that works. It's a program that does not listen to your conversation. It's a program that is overseen by the courts. And our role in government is to protect the country from these terrorist attacks.

Now, there's another issue talking about why do you need all of this data. The first thing this data is not -- your name or your address is not involved in the data.

Why do we need this -- this large amount of numbers?

And what -- how the system works, if you want to find a needle in a haystack, which is a lot of what our intelligence community does, you need the haystack. And the providers who have this information, they keep it only for a certain period of time. So in order for us to be involved and stop these attacks, we need to move right away.

But it's clear, again, we're not listening to any content. When we do, this program does kick in, you don't -- you don't get anything more than a phone number and length of call.

Now, if, in fact, you need to move for the -- further in the program and find out if there is a connection with terrorists, that's then turned over to the FBI and then that's when the courts get involved.

TAPPER: President Obama, in an interview on PBS, called the process transparent because there is this FISA court, which, of course, is a secret court.

Do you think the process is transparent?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, let's talk about what works you don't want to give your sources and methods to your enemy. The whole purpose is to stop these attacks. Unfortunately, what has just happened with these leaks, that the terrorists and our enemies, people who are against us, understand how we operate. So they would do...

TAPPER: You don't think that they knew beforehand that the...


TAPPER: -- American national security might be monitoring their phone calls or their e-mails?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, because they didn't know how and what the -- what -- how we did it, what the method was. They didn't know the systems that we have. And...


TAPPER: Still -- well, they still don't know, really, the systems. We just have a vague idea...

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the -- well, let's talk about the courts, as far as transparency. We have people say oh, the court is a rubber stamp. No way are they rubber-stamped. In the first place, the courts are U.S. district court judges. The -- our -- our forefathers created a great system of government, checks and balances between the administration, Congress and the courts.

So these are judges that are overseeing this process to make sure it's legal, that -- that the intelligence community and the administration are following the rules and the laws. And that's the purpose of where the courts are. And the court -- the way the system works -- and I asked this question to General Alexander today -- why are they not considered rubber- stamped when they approved so many of the requests?

And one of the main reasons is that the courts have a staff and the intelligence community goes to the staff, gives them the information ahead of time. And -- and then they're -- they come back and say, well, the court has a problem with this issue or that issue, so that when they eventually come to the court, most of those issues have been -- have been resolved and looked at.

But, again...

TAPPER: I want to play -- I want to -- before -- I only have time for one more question, sir...


TAPPER: -- and I want to play something that NSA Director General Alexander said when asked today about how many people were in the same position as NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, contractors.

And what he said...


ALEXANDER: There are on the order of 1,000 system administrators, people who actually run the networks that have, in certain sections, that level of authority and ability to interference with the system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many of those are outside contractors rather than...

ALEXANDER: The majority are contractors.


TAPPER: So you said in this hearing, sir, that we need a seal in the crack to the system.

Quickly, if you could, are there too many people with too much access to sensitive information because of all these contractors?

RUPPERSBERGER: No. You -- you need a chain to make sure that we're dealing with this amazing amount of volume that we have in conversations, like finding a needle in a haystack. And what you need -- what we need to do and know now is we had a breach.

We need to develop a system so that when someone like this decides to -- to go against their country to -- to break the law that there needs an alarm system that would go off.

That didn't happen in this case, so we have to learn from that.

The other issue about contractors is that contractors and -- and their relationship between contractors and the government is -- is very important. Contractors do research and development.

What we have to do with contractors, though, is to make sure we held -- hold them accountable for their performance.

Also, contractors save us money in the end, if we have a three year program, you don't hire somebody for 25 years to do a three year program.

So we need to make sure that we -- we oversee, we hold Conga -- contractors accountable. But more importantly, we have a system, is there are going to be branches, that alarm us sooner than they did in this situation.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger...


TAPPER: ... ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you so much.


TAPPER: Coming up, it's an epidemic and parents are looking for answers. But could the air a pregnant woman breathes really be linked to autism? I will get answers from a Harvard scientist about a troubling new study.

And then, what did you do on your summer vacation? The Obama girls hit up the pubs of Dublin with a rock star -- their A-list tour when we come back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now it's time for the national lead. It is a medical mystery, a heartbreaking, terrifying, infuriating medical mystery. I'm referring, of course, to autism, a largely misunderstood neurodevelopmental disorder that experts tell us is very much on the rise.

A recent, albeit controversial, survey of parents by the CDC suggests that as many as one in 50 school-aged children could have some form of the disorder. But, today, a brand-new study has parents and experts talking. According to research conducted by a number of physicians and researchers, including several from the Harvard School of Public Health, living in an area with high levels of air pollution may be linked with a woman's chances of having a child with autism.

The team shared their views in "Environmental Health Perspectives," a journal of peer-reviewed research supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And here to break down the findings and to help us assess the risks is Andrea Roberts. She's a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health. Andrea, thanks so much for joining us.

I just want to make sure I understand exactly what the study is saying. Are you saying pollution is directly linked to an increase in cases of autism?

ANDREA ROBERTS, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, what we found in our study was that there's an association between women living in areas that have high levels of pollution and their children's risk of having autism. We don't know whether this is causal or not.

TAPPER: So there's a correlation but not necessarily causation. The study says that women who were exposed to the highest levels of diesel or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism than women who lived in the cleanest parts of the sample. That's a huge disparity. If it's not the air pollution, could it be that people who live in those areas are more prone to be poor or low income?

What do you think is causing this?

ROBERTS: Well, that's a very interesting question. The main thing we were concerned about that might be causing the association we found, if it wasn't air pollution, was income or education levels because actually people who are wealthy or more highly educated are more likely to have their child diagnosed with autism if the child has autism. Whereas people with lower education or poorer people are less likely to get their autistic child diagnosed.

And since wealthier more highly educated people tend to live in the cities which are more polluted, we thought this could be a cause of the association, but we were able to adjust for these factors and we didn't -- they didn't explain our results.

TAPPER: I guess the bottom line I would ask you is what can expecting mothers do based on your study -- your best estimate based on your study to shield their yet-to-be-born babies from this disorder?

ROBERTS: Well, I think our study needs to be followed up to try to figure out which of these pollutants might actually cause an increased risk of autism, if any of them. But for women who are pregnant, I think they can do things that will benefit the health of their child and might reduce the risk of autism like taking prenatal vitamins or eating foods rich in healthy oils like nuts, or low mercury fish, avoiding cigarette smoke, and maybe trying to maintain a healthy weight while pregnant because gestational diabetes has been associated with autism.

TAPPER: All right. Andrea Roberts, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD: when the government demanded a Jeep recall, Chrysler said no. But today we learn whether the company had the chutzpah to back up that tough talk.

And also coming up, there's a reason why "E.T." is called the worst video game in history. It had horrible graphics, no plot, and the only way you could win was by turning it off. So, why might Atari's biggest flop be once again phoning home?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In other world news, the world's most powerful leaders were all smiles in today's G8 meeting Northern Ireland today. But when it came down to business, specifically the brutal business of Syria's violent civil war, it was all talk and little action. The G8 leaders did promise to convene an international conference on the problem to be held, quote, "as soon as possible".

International conference, huh? Isn't that what the G8 was?

Last week, the White House said the Assad regime had crossed the red line by using chemical weapons and they promised to ramp up military aid to trebles. Exactly what kind of aid the president is planning to offer remains to be seen. Oh, by the way, the U.S. estimates more than 93,000 people have died in this brutal war.

For most of us, an exciting Iris experience might be fish and chips and a pint at a pub in Dublin. For the first family, it's all of those things except Bono is there, too. The U2 front man and his wife met up with Michelle Obama and her two daughters during their tour at the Emerald Isle. The girls kept it traditional with lunch orders of fish and chips while the first lady dined on the lobster appetizer.

When the government initially demanded that Chrysler recall millions of Jeeps, the company defiantly said no. So when the time came to issue a formal recall rejection, one that would set up a showdown with the feds, here's how Chrysler responded. They said take that recall and shove the paperwork in our mailbox because we're going to comply. Yes, pretty anti-climactic.

The recall centers on more than 2 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty models that are at risk of catching fire in a rear end crash. Chrysler agreed to issue what's being called a voluntary campaign to inspect the Jeeps. The company chose not to use the word "recall", insisting the word suggests a defect.

Regardless on what wording Chrysler is using, the feds are still treating this as a recall.

What's the point of having a treasury secretary with a ridiculously awesome signature if he's not going to put it on our money? Treasure Secretary Jack Lew has been mercilessly mocked in the past for his curly Q penmanship. Some say it looks like a slinky. Others say his signature looks like Sally Brown's hair from "Peanuts".

I think it resembles the cartoon symbols when a character is drunk or knockout of maybe curse words. I was looking forward to seeing the curly Q on the dollar bill.

But when the time came for Lew to put his official John Hancock on paper money -- well, Secretary Jack Lew, sad to say, wimped out. Check out Lew's original signature versus the one that will start getting printed on bills this summer.

Jack, be true to yourself.

Coming up, top secret government programs, gathering information about phone calls and Internet usage, all exposed by a hacker. If you ask President Obama, that's transparent. We'll ask two whistleblowers as what they think about the administration's defense of the NSA snooping scandal.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Back now to our "World Lead". We heard the president was going to publicly defend the NSA programs leaked by Hong Kong tourist Edward Snowden. The president did it for 11 minutes in a television interview with Charlie Rose, starting by paying compliments to the agency.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should take pride in that because they're extraordinary professionals. They're dedicated to keeping the American people safe. If you're a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it's not targeting your e-mails unless it's getting an individualized court order.


TAPPER: NSA director, General Keith Alexander, reiterated the president's point today, telling Congress that the NSA does not have the ability to listen in to American's phone calls or read e-mails.

The president also assured the public that while he understands the concerns of privacy, some information is better kept as a secret.


OBAMA: Look, we have to make decisions about how much classified information and how much covert activity we are willing to tolerate as a society. And, you know, we could not have carried out the bin Laden raid if it was on the front page of the papers. I think everybody understands that.


TAPPER: Well, one problem is that everybody doesn't understand what's going on here and why.

For some help in parsing the president's words, we are now turning to two former government whistleblowers and NSA employees.

Thomas Drake provided information to "The Baltimore Sun" about gross waste and fraud at the NSA. He was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but later accepted a misdemeanor plea for unauthorized use of a government computer.

And William Binney worked at the NSA for almost 40 years. He retired in 2001 after his criticism of an NSA program. He has over the years disclosed surveillance programs used by the government.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

First of all, is there anything the president just said in the interview or overheard in the interview that he gave to PBS that you take issue with?

Bill, I'll start with you.

WILLIAM BINNEY, NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: Virtually everything, yes. I mean, with Mark Klein's disclosure of the devices on the fiber optics carrying the Internet, that gave them the capability to collect all of the data onto the Internet and pass it to NSA for storage. That's an NSA room in San Francisco.

TAPPER: So, all of everybody's e-mails are in the NSA room in San Francisco?

BINNEY: Or passed to places similar to Utah or San Antonio or other storage facilities.