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Obama Defends the NSA; Afghanistan Milestone: Afghan Forces Take Over Security; Jimmy Hoffa Buried Here?

Aired June 18, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama on defense on the record for the first time about the government's secret spy program. Why he says Americans are not getting the full story.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A day of digging in rural Michigan, as investigators try to unearth one of the biggest mysteries of our time. Where is Jimmy Hoffa's body?

BERMAN: Again.

Plane panic. People take matters into their own hands with a man ranting about the government, the CIA secrets and poison.

ROMANS: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, June 18th. Five a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: We begin with President Obama fiercely defending the NSA's spying programs and fighting back against accusations he's become as hawkish as the administration he replaced.

Here's CNN's Brianna Keilar.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a candid and unusually long interview with PBS's Charlie Rose, President Obama revealed how defending the homeland weighs on him, even as he discussed his goal of helping the middle class.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And that is the thing that I'm going to be focused on for the remainder of my presidency, along with the basics like making sure nobody blows us up.

KEILAR: Obama stood by newly revealed NSA programs that gathered vast amount of phones and online data from millions of Americans.

CHARLIE ROSE, PBS: Should this be transparent in some way?

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

KEILAR: That's the secret court that rules on warrants for surveillance. Its suggestions his administration has been heavy- handed. Obama bristled.

OBAMA: Some people say, well, Obama was this raging liberal before. Now, he's Dick Cheney. My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence, but rather a system of checks and balances.

KEILAR: Obama discussed the bloody civil war in Syria where his administration recently said the government crossed a red line by using chemical weapons against rebels. Some of the U.S. support, long overdue said Republicans like Senator John McCain.

OBAMA: These aren't professional fighters. The notion there was a professional military inside of Syria for us to immediately support.

KEILAR: In Northern Ireland, Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin who's government is supplying arms to Syria.

OBAMA: We share interest in reducing the violence.

KEILAR: No breakthrough, though Obama and Putin said they will push both sides to negotiate a peace.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Sligo, Ireland.


BERMAN: NSA chief, General Keith Alexander, will be back on Capitol Hill today to talk about the NSA spying programs. He'll go before the House Intelligence Committee for a hearing titled "How disclosed NSA programs protect Americans and why." Alexander is expected to detail some of the programs' successes and may address the harm caused by the leaks.

ROMANS: We now know the names of dozens of detainees slated to be held indefinitely at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. A list released by the Obama administration names 46 inmates held without charge and considered too dangerous to be transferred but unable to be tried. Most of them are from Yemen and Afghanistan. There are a total of 166 detainees being held at the prison right now. President Obama, Monday, named an envoy to work toward closing Guantanamo down.

BERMAN: Now to Afghanistan now where a deadly bombing is marring what supposed to be a major milestone this morning. Afghan forces officially taking over the lead for security nationwide, but it comes the same day as a suicide attack in the capital apparently targeting a member of parliament. Three people were killed, 21 injured. The politician did escape unhurt.

Reza Sayah is in Kabul for us this morning. Good morning, Reza.


This is a historic day with a security handover. But we also got a deadly reminder of what's in store for Afghan security forces as they take over. Three people killed, 21 injured in a suicide attack in western Kabul, right near parliament, right near the Human Rights Commission. But police saying the target was a high-ranking political official. He was unhurt.

Despite that attack, Afghanistan and coalition forces marked the milestone today by transferring the lead role for security to Afghan forces. That handover made official in a ceremony today by attended by Hamid Karzai, the president, scores of Afghan dignitaries.

Also, in attendance, the secretary general for NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Here's what he had to say about today's big event.


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, defeating the enemies of Afghanistan and defending and protecting the Afghan people.


SAYAH: This process started two years ago in 2011 when coalition forces gradually started transferring districts to Afghan forces. That process is officially complete. All of this part of the plan to exit by 2014. All troops are to be out of Afghanistan.

But, John, many question whether the Afghan forces are ready to take over the lead in security. Ready or not, they are in the driver's seat.

BERMAN: It will be a crucial summer ahead.

Reza Sayah for us in Kabul this morning -- thanks so much Reza.

ROMANS: Progress on the fire lines in Colorado this morning. The Black Forest Fire already the most destructive in the state's history is now 75 percent contained. It's burned 22,000 square miles near Colorado Springs, destroyed more than 500 homes. It has killed two people. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire. There are indications this fire was started by people.

BERMAN: In California now, a wildfire burning dangerously close to Yosemite National Park, has forced thee evacuation of some 150 homes. More than 700 firefighters are battling the so-called Carstens Fire. Meantime, fire officials are predicting this could be California's worst fire season in 100 years.


Our Indra Petersons is tracking the weather for us.

Good morning. Firefighters are getting a break today, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I mean, we're getting just a hint out there. Still one more day for a chance of thunderstorms over in Colorado. But, again, very easy to see. Here is what it looks like as far as what the nation is expecting for rain over the next 48 hours.

Very easy to see the bulk of it, staying on the East Coast. Notice where it's dry, and again, that, of course, we are looking at the fire danger. Put it in perspective again, and let me show you where the droughts are, where they haven't seen rain in a very long period of time and you can easily see, again, the exact same fortune for that reason.

Here's what our fire watches look like for you today. Of course, you're looking at the exact same regions. And even close to Yosemite, outside the critical fire watch area.

But, again, we're talking about high pressure building over the next several days. And with that, we are talking drier conditions, lower humidity expected by tomorrow, when you have the high close together, we're talking about the chances of winds gusting. But again, today is one more day for a chance of thunderstorms. We'll get a little bit more of that moisture by tomorrow, that shift.

As far as where the rain is, we are talking about Virginia. Look how high some of these numbers could be that are expected, two to four inches possible in Virginia. Even out towards Texas, we're looking at some centrally located areas, three to five inches of rain. Some heavy rain is possible today. We wish it could shift west where they need it.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra.

In Boston this morning, a hit man known as "The Executioner" yesterday took the stand against reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger. John Martorano said it broke his heart when he learned that Bulger was an FBI informant. He called Bulger his partner in crime, testifying, they worked together on several hits. Bulger is charged with 19 murders, racketeering and extortion.

The music industry veteran testifying for the Michael Jackson family and the wrongful death case against concert promoters. David Berman, no relation, told the court it was inappropriate for AEG Live to agree to pay Conrad Murray $150,000 to treat Jackson ahead of his comeback tour. That, Berman said, gave Murray a conflict of interest.

Today, Jackson's long time personal chef is set to testify.

ROMANS: Some frightening moments onboard a United Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Newark about midway through, a passenger started screaming about CIA secrets, the NSA leaker and being poisoned. Part of his rant was captured on cell phone audio. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead.


ROMANS: Stunned passengers helped the crew subdue the man and put him in plastic handcuffs. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACQUES ROIZEN, HELPED SUBDUE UNRULY AIRLINE PASSENGER: I got up along with a few other passengers. At one point, he reached for something in his pocket, his jacket. That's when three or four of us basically tackled him to the ground.


ROMANS: When the plane landed, the unidentified passenger was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation.

BERMAN: Growing anger in Brazil were thousands took to the streets Monday upset at the government. The protests were peaceful, but shut down streets in more than a half dozen cities, including Sao Paolo, Rio and the capital Brasilia. Activists want changes in how government money is spent and more done to stop police corruption.

You know, this comes a year before the World Cup and the Summer Olympics will be held there. So, it's a very, very big deal.

ROMANS: All right. In Turkey, riot police were back on the streets Monday, standing by as labor groups held a one day strike against the government. The protest capped by this man, a performance artist, who took, who stood in Taksim Square for hours, staring at a picture of Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. Many who joined him were arrested.

The protest has now gone on for two weeks. Four people have been killed. Nearly 7,500 injured.

BERMAN: All right. Now, the reason I have a cold this morning. The battle for the Lord Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins are half way there. The Bruins blanked the Chicago Blackhawks 2-zip in game three of their final series last night.

Hopefully, we'll see one of the majestic goals. (INAUDIBLE), the goalie there, he stopped 28 shots for the third playoff shutout. He was unbelievable. That's Zdeno Chara who's 6'9":. That's Brad Marchand getting beat up there by one of the Blackhawks.

The point was, the Bruins won game four tomorrow night in Boston.

I tried to go to sleep, but I can't. I just keep waking up, let me check the score. Then it's 11:00 and I have to wake up in three hours.

ROMANS: And basketball games, too.

BERMAN: Exactly. I have to watch the Heat tomorrow.

ROMANS: All right. A heart warming story from Florida now by a little girl taking her first steps. That's a 2-year-old Ireland Nugent walking on her new prosthetic legs. She hasn't been able to walk since April 11th when she ran behind her fathers riding mower.


JERRY NUGENT, IRELAND'S FATHER: There wasn't any hesitation. That's what I see for her. She's not going to ever hold back. She's going to do everything full on. That's my super -- that's angel.


ROMANS: Ireland apparently growing very attached to her new test legs. When the technician said he needed them back, she said, no, she wanted to keep them.

BERMAN: Good for her.

ROMANS: Best of luck to her.

Coming up, digging for clues this morning. A murder mystery that has baffled detectives for nearly 40 years. Does the FBI finally found Jimmy Hoffa's grave?

BERMAN: And a soldier returning pulled out all the stops to shock his mother with an unbelievably heart warming homecoming.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

In just a few hours, federal agents will be digging again in a field in Oakland Township, Michigan. They are looking for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa. I know that sounds familiar. This time, they are going on the word of an ageing mobster who claims the former Teamsters was buried there shortly after he vanished in 1975.

Hoffa's disappearance nearly 40 years ago has been one of the most enduring mysteries of our time.

CNN's Mary Snow takes a look.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance has confounded authorities for nearly four decades, and there's no shortage of public fascination with the former Teamsters boss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to do what I got to do! Get the union back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to do what I got to do!

SNOW: The life story of the former union boss and convicted felon with alleged mob ties inspired movies on a big screen. And despite his death, the speculation remains alive about what happened to him.

Dan Moldea, author of the "Hoffa Wars", says it's the mystery that's captivated the public.

DAN MOLDEA, AUTHOR, "THE HOFFA WARS": Jimmy Hoffa was an infamous guy, well-known in an area that he was particularly well-known. And he disappeared from a public place in broad daylight and vanished without a trace.

SNOW: Hoffa was last seen outside a restaurant in suburban Detroit on July 30th, 1975. He was supposedly there to meet with a mob figure and a New Jersey Teamster union head. But the FBI says Hoffa was the only one who showed up. Since then, there have been theories ranging from the concept that he wasn't killed to tips about the whereabouts of his remains.

In 2012, authorities tested soil samples in suburban Detroit after someone claimed they saw a body buried the day after Hoffa disappeared. There was a claim that his body was buried in cement at New Jersey's old giant stadium. The FBI also raised a horse barn in 2006. None of the leads panned out.

Hoffa's middle name, by chance, is Riddle.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: Riddle, indeed.

Sixteen minutes after the hour. I am not a murderer. That's what alleged serial killer Joseph Naso told jurors in the opening statement in his trial in northern California. The 79-year-old is defending himself in a death penalty case. He's charged with murdering four young men and dumping their bodies on the side of the road.

ROMANS: Day seven of jury selection of the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Florida. The judge ruled the jurors hearing the case should remain anonymous. But the issue of allowing 911 calls as evidence still undecided. Zimmerman is charged with fatally shooting Florida teenager, Trayvon martin. He claims it was self-defense.

A panel of six jurors and four alternates will eventually be chosen.

BERMAN: A group of teens may have been caught on camera posing for their own mug shot. Cops in Maryland say they used a stolen credit card to snap these pictures of themselves in a photo booth. That's right. They use a stolen credit card. I think it's safe to say they will not be too hard to find.

ROMANS: Their parents this morning are mortified.

Who can forget this video of a naked man running wild at a subway station?

BERMAN: I'll never forget that.

ROMANS: John Berman's favorite video.

BERMAN: Another reason I haven't slept in weeks.

ROMANS: He'll be back in court today, facing charges connected with that incident. Yanir Garizbalo (ph) is an acrobat and given a mental evaluation last, charged with battery and released. But the video went viral. He was rearrested Monday. He now faces seven counts, including two felony counts.

BERMAN: It is in fact serious even though it's crazy to look at.

Now, this could be my favorite story of the day. It's for gamers here. It's been the subject of rumors for years. When the E.T. Atari game flopped, did Atari bury thousands of cartridges in a landfill?

Now, an L.A.-based entertainment company has won the rights to dig up the landfill in search of the truth behind this legend. The company CEO telling "The New York Times" there might not be anything there or there might be something. If there is, it could be the holy grail of video game history.

ROMANS: The resolution of those graphics is stunning.

BERMAN: It's really amazing. But they were fun.

ROMANS: They really were.

BERMAN: Except for E.T., which stunk, which is the whole point.

ROMANS: All right. A happy homecoming for a U.S. soldier. He got quite a reaction when he surprised his mom at work after returning from Afghanistan.


TIKA BURTON, SOLDIER'S MOM: I still can't believe he's here. I can't believe, except I'm holding him. This is amazing. This is truly amazing.


ROMANS: Staff Sergeant Brook Burton says his family is always pulling pranks. But mom didn't seem to mind. More good news, Sergeant Brooks not going back. He finished his second, his final deployment.

BERMAN: Good for him. This is one of those only in New York stories. They are calling it a puppy prom. Yes, folks, a puppy prom. Yes. Well, there were lots of tails wagging at the furry affair, I'm told.

The dogs and their owners dressed for the occasion. They had a puppy prom king and queen. It would be fabulous right there. What happens after this prom?

Anyway, the event raised money for a dog rescue crews. You know what they say.


BERMAN: Never mind.

ROMANS: Tell me in the break.

Coming up, another hint that Ben Bernanke is on his way out. President Obama saying the chairman of the Federal Reserve stayed longer than expected.


ROMANS: Why that man holds the key to your 401(k) as well, when we come back.


BERMAN: Oh. Oh, that is so uncalled for.

All right. So, welcome back to EARLY START.

We have to tell you what that is. That is an alarm clock that will cost you money, if you don't wake up. It shreds whatever cash you leave in it.

A diabolical inventor in Seattle building a prototype of this. It's not for sale yet. There are instructions online if you want to build your own.

ROMANS: Now, if I were to do that, I would have the credit card number to pay me. If you don't get up, I get 10 bucks. That's how it should work.

BERMAN: That seems fair.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

It's money time.

A rally on Wall Street, the Dow jumped more than 100 points yesterday. But you know what, things are really volatile. The blue chips posted a triple digit move in 10 of the past 11 sessions. And here is why. See this guy? That guy right there. The key to your money is in his pocket.

What happens to your 401(k) this week will depend on what he says. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke kicking off a two-day meeting about interest rates today. And policymakers will talk about whether they will continue the stimulus program. Stock futures set to rise so far this morning.

Ben Bernanke may not be in his job much longer if you listen to President Obama. In an interview on PBS last night, Obama praised the Fed chief but hesitated when asked if he would reappoint him.


OBAMA: I think Ben Bernanke has done an outstanding job. Ben Bernanke is a little bit like Bob Mueller, the head of the FBI. ROSE: Yes.

OBAMA: Where he's already stayed a lot longer than he wanted or he was supposed to.


ROMANS: Ben Bernanke's second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve expires at the end of January.

BERMAN: It sounds like it's really over, too.

ROMANS: It's over. The betting is who will succeed him. People talking about Timothy Geithner, the former treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, who is the vice chairman of the Fed right now. A lot of people with talking about who will be the person who will have to withdraw that massive stimulus and what will happen to the economy and the stock market when that happens.

All right. Health care costs are going up. A new study from PricewaterhouseCooper says total costs will rise 6.5 percent next year. That includes everything from doctor visits, prescription drugs or surgery, prices are rising faster than inflation. That's not a news flash.

Here is the good news, though. The growth rate is slowing, Berman, last year. This year, prices rose 7 1/2 percent.

Analysts say it's because people are becoming more cost conscious. They are cutting down on doctor visits and they're choosing cheaper providers when they can.

BERMAN: Here's the idea.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: Coming up, cliff rescue. Two teenage boys stranded at the top of the cliff and they had no way down. We will show you the rescue caught on camera. Look at that. It's coming up next.