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NSA Defends Surveillance Program; President Obama Visits Germany; FBI Finds Concrete Slabs, Not Hoffa; Four Americans Killed at Bagram Air Base; Pentagon Announces Plans for Women in Combat; Congressman Survives Popcorn Choking Scare

Aired June 18, 2013 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new details of foiled plots to attack the New York Stock Exchange and other targets. Are U.S. officials overstating the value of phone and Internet spying?

Plus, the shocking charges against an Ohio man accused of holding a mother and child captive for years. It's being described as modern- day slavery.

And we're live at the dig for Jimmy Hoffa's body talking to a cop who's been searching for the missing union boss for decades.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I am Jake Tapper. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

America's top national security officials are exposing their own secrets to try to prove that controversial surveillance programs stop terrorists. Today, they revealed that more than 50 potential attacks worldwide have been prevented since 9/11, because of those programs, they claim, including plots targeting the New York Stock Exchange and the city's subway system. And they accused the NSA leaker of helping America's enemies.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more on the startling details made public today at a congressional hearing -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we all watched it. The NSA is saying that its surveillance programs are vital to stopping terrorism, that regular, traditional law enforcement just isn't enough.


STARR (voice-over): Could Edward Snowden be right?

EDWARD SNOWDEN, LEAKED DETAILS OF U.S. SURVEILLANCE: Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded.

STARR: Is the National Security Agency's collection of massive amounts of telephone and Internet data really necessary to keep the country safe?

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: The information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: What is less clear is whether these specific programs now in the news were themselves crucial to breaking up these plots.

STARR: The NSA tried to make its case by offering some details on terror plots it says would not have been uncovered solely with traditional law enforcement.

In the matter of Najibullah Zazi, who plotted to attack the New York subway?

CRUICKSHANK: The Zazi plot was intercepted as a result of an e-mail which was sent by an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan to Najibullah Zazi in Denver, Colorado. Before that e-mail was sent, the United States had no idea a plot was in the works to attack New York.

STARR: Case number two, the U.S. monitored an extremist in Yemen communicating with a man in the U.S. who was arrested for plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange. Case number three, monitoring of an al Qaeda terrorist led to American David Headley's plan to bomb a newspaper office that published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: This is going to have to be the beginning of a campaign by the government to make their case to the American people. And I don't think that the small amount of details that were given today in an unclassified setting are going to be enough to satisfy the American people.


STARR: In a fourth case, officials offered very few details about another plot in which electronic surveillance, they say, was used to stop overseas terrorism -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you, Barbara.

Let's bring in national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Peter, you co-wrote a piece. You wrote -- quote -- "The NSA surveillance programs are wide-ranging fishing expeditions with little to show for them."

Did you hear anything today in the hearings that changed your point of view?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think NSA and FBI officials moved the ball forward a little bit today. They did point to two cases we hadn't heard about, one notional case to attack the New York Stock Exchange.

By the way, I don't think that that -- there wasn't a real plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange. It was probably very much on the drawing board. (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: The individual didn't go to jail for that.

BERGEN: Right. He went to jail for sending money to al Qaeda, which is bad enough, of course.

And then the other appears to be a case in San Diego where somebody was sending money to an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia in 2007, again, worrisome, but not an attack in this country. And I think the program is generally being sold as something that protects Americans here. I don't think we heard a lot more about that other than assertions that 50 plots have been averted.

But they're all classified and we can't discuss them publicly. And as a general proposition, when the government says just trust us, there are 50 things we can't tell you, people have reason to be skeptical.

TAPPER: General Alexander, the head of the NSA today, suggested about 10 of the plots of the 50 plots that they claim were thwarted because of these programs were homeland-based here in the U.S.

You did a breakdown about how many of these failed plots -- you obviously wrote your piece before today's testimony, but how many of these failed plots had nothing to do with these foreign surveillance programs and domestic surveillance programs.

BERGEN: Yes. Jake, overwhelmingly, these plots are averted by traditional police work, which is a tip from the community, some kind of -- somebody makes a mistake. There is an informant inserted into a group. There is an undercover officer.

I mean, that said, the Zazi case which they pointed to today is a serious case. It was the first al Qaeda case for a long time in this country. They did have a plan, a serious plan to bomb the Manhattan subway. And so I think the debate is going to continue. I don't think it was settled by the hearing today.

TAPPER: Yes. I think one of the questions is, is all this surveillance, assuming that the Zazi plot would not have been uncovered without the surveillance programs, is that enough? Or do they need to be more than just one? And that is a discussion that is difficult to fix out right here.

BERGEN: Right.

TAPPER: But intelligence officials would say if you save one life with these programs, why not?

BERGEN: Well, that's a very reasonable point.

The question is, will some -- 10 years down the road, will the fact that your data, your Internet data and your phone data be used in some way that, you know, we may not agree with right now? I think that's the sort of larger problem. Of course, there are safeguards and we heard some about that today. So, the phone data is only kept for five years.

Clearly, there's a lot of very careful people monitoring this system. But that said, it wouldn't be the first time in American history that this kind of government power has been abused eventually in some shape or form.

TAPPER: Right. The wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. started out as a legitimate national security concern. It became something else entirely.

I want to play some sound from House Intelligence Chairman -- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers. This is what he said to reporters after today's hearing.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: We still need secrets in the United States. If we're going to protect Americans, our national security apparatus still needs to keep secrets about how we do things. It's called sources and methods. So the disclosure, as you heard today, has been devastating to that end. So this was just the result. This was cleanup on aisle nine.


TAPPER: But we hear from government officials that they are continue to try to press for more declassification to explain to the American people what exactly is going on. Obviously, the poll numbers show that a lot of Americans have serious concerns.

Do you think that this further declassification poses a risk to the United States?

BERGEN: Well, not if it reveals sources and methods. And there's a way...

TAPPER: You mean only if it reveals sources and methods.

BERGEN: Well, yes. If it reveals sources and methods, clearly, that's a problem.

But I think there's a way to talk about these programs with more specificity. Let's even just start with the 20 countries we're talking about around the world where other plots have been stopped. Which countries are they? And you can -- I think right now, we -- it wasn't a great deal of information released today that we didn't know.

The two big plots, the Najibullah Zazi plot, the David Coleman Headley plot, who was involved in the Mumbai attacks, we knew about these already. And some of that, by the way, we have known about for a long time.

TAPPER: Right. Right. All right. Peter Bergen, thank you so much. Much appreciated.

BERGEN: Thank you. TAPPER: President Obama is about to get an earful from the German chancellor about his administration's secret surveillance programs. President Obama is now in Berlin after wrapping up talks at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is traveling with the president.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jake, President Obama has just landed in Berlin, his first visit since he spoke to a cheering crowd of 200,000 as a candidate five years ago. His star has since dimmed in Germany.

There's outrage over the NSA surveillance program and it's especially intense given their history with East Germany's secret police. NSA surveillance a topic the president will have to address with Germany's chancellor in their meeting tomorrow. The president defended the programs in this PBS interview.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your e-mails.


OBAMA: And have not.

YELLIN: Critics say that answer is a bit of a distraction from the overall issue that the government is saving the records of every phone call made by every American.

Experts say the government can learn just as much about your life from those records as they can by listening. Now, the president has wrapped up two days at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Headlines from there, the U.S. and West clashed with Russia's President Putin over the way forward in Syria, though all sides put out a statement agreeing they want peace.

President Obama accepted an invitation to visit Moscow in the next few months, and there is an announcement that the U.S. is backing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Up next, the's big speech comes almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy gave his famous remarks in Berlin also at the Brandenburg Gate -- Jake.


TAPPER: Thank you to Jessica Yellin.

Up next, a mother and her child held captive, allegedly threatened with pit bulls and death, the shocking case described as modern-day slavery.

And angry protests that could ultimately threaten some of the world's biggest sporting events.


TAPPER: Authorities in Ohio are releasing sickening details of a case of alleged modern-day slavery.

These are two of the three suspects who have been charged. They're accused of holding a mother and her child captive for years using beatings, death threats, and other kinds of abuse. It happened in Ashland, Ohio, about two hours outside of Cleveland.

Scott Taylor of CNN affiliate WOIO joins us from Cleveland.

Scott, thanks for joining us. What was happening inside this house for two years?

SCOTT TAYLOR, WOIO REPORTER: Well, according to the FBI, agents told me that they kept this mom and her daughter in the basement. They actually allowed them to sleep on cement floors, no mattresses.

And they used mom, 30-year-old mom from Ashland, Ohio, as a slave. They told her to cook, to clean, to do the laundry, actually, Jake, timed we are when she left the house to do shopping. She actually did their shopping and then timed her to get back, never let her daughter go. They threatened her, actually beat her and her daughter, threatened her by saying that I might sic my pit bulls on you.

They had snakes, a large python. They tried to scare her with that and also a poisonous coral snake. And you have to understand this 30- year-old mom had a brain injury when she was 16, so she has some mental issues. And, unfortunately, it looks like, according to investigators, they took advantage of that.

TAPPER: Scott, how did she ultimately get away?

TAYLOR: Well, last October, she actually went into a Family Dollar store in Ashland and shoplifted. The store security caught her. She talked to police. And she told police that somebody at my house is mean to me.

So, some good investigative work by local police with the Ashland Police Department, they went back to the house and discovered what they believed was going on. Now, I do want to mention I did talk to Jake Callahan's attorney, one of the suspects, and, Jake, he tells me -- Jordie Callahan -- and, Jake, he tells me that the allegations are ludicrous. He thinks the feds are really grandstanding, that mom was just a roommate and she was able to come and go as she pleased. But right now agents don't believe that.

TAPPER: And, obviously, Scott, this comes on the heels of another story you covered very closely, the three girls held captive for years in Cleveland. This is a remarkably horrific turn of events.

TAYLOR: Yes, it is. Cleveland is really getting smothered with bad news right now. Ariel Castro is back in court tomorrow for a pretrial. So you hit the nail on the head. Cleveland is really taking its toll right now with extremely horrible and bad news.

TAPPER: All right, Scott Taylor, thank you.

Tomorrow on my show,"THE LEAD," we will have a special investigation into a form of slavery not much discussed at fancy parties here in Washington, D.C., foreign diplomats using slaves right here in the U.S. That'll be on "THE LEAD" tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, 1:00 p.m. Pacific.

Still ahead, the national fascination with a nearly 40-year-old unsolved mystery, it has FBI agents digging for clues again today.

Plus, massive demonstrators against higher bus fares and lavish spending on sports stadiums and the Olympics.


TAPPER: Take a look at the size of this crowd, literally people stretched as far as the eye can see for block after block last night coming together to protest what they see as the large and growing gap between their needs and their government's priorities.

It's happening across Brazil.

CNN's Shasta Darlington is in Sao Paulo.

Shasta, thousands of people still on the streets there. What do they want?

I'm not sure if Shasta can hear us.

Shasta, what do the protesters want? Can you hear me?

It sounds like we're having a problem with Shasta's uplink. We will get back to her later in the program.

Up next, law enforcement officials hope they will finally solve the decades-old mystery of Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance. We're at the big dig in Michigan.

Plus, a turning point in war-torn Afghanistan for U.S.-led forces and for the Taliban.


TAPPER: Happening now: new hopes that one of America's most mysterious cold cases may be solved. We're live at the search for the body of union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

Plus, a new timeline and guidelines for women in combat. The U.S. military reveals specifics about its historic change in policy.

And the story of a tough-as-nails congressman who nearly died because of a kernel of popcorn.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jake Tapper, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You're looking at live pictures right now of massive protests across Brazil. We have reestablished the uplink connection with CNN's Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo.

Shasta, thousands of people still on the streets protesting. What are they protesting? What do they want?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this actually started as something pretty simple. People were angry about a 10 cent hike in bus fares.

But it has snowballed into something that nobody could have imagined even 10 days ago. We have had Brazilians from all sections of society pouring into the streets. And what they say is they're just fed up with paying into a system, paying high taxes and getting very little in return. They say they see the government turning around and spending huge amounts of money on these big sporting events when they don't have good education, they don't have good health care and they don't have good public transportation.

There's also been a backlash against initial police violence at some of the first protests. So we have got all these ideas coming together, people carrying signs and really getting behind this movement, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Shasta, will the government give in on any of these issues, do you think?

TAYLOR: You know, it's a good question. Today, we heard the president, Dilma Rousseff, come out and say that she was with the people, she was with the protesters, she understood where they were coming from.

And you have to remember she has an interesting history. She was tortured by the military dictatorship here in Brazil. So, she said all of these protests are a sign that democracy is stronger, that she, too, wants better education, better health. But the fact is on the specifics no one is budging. The organizers of some of these protests met with local officials this morning. And they said, no way, we're not going to lower that bus fare.

And that's the symbol, that's the sign that everyone here wants before they agree to stay home at night, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Shasta, thank you so much.

Now to the never-ending search for Jimmy Hoffa. The one-time boss of the Teamsters union has not been seen publicly since 1975. The latest tip about where his body may be hidden has the FBI digging up a field near Detroit. Nobody -- no bodies have turned up yet, but they did find some concrete slabs. Is that significant?

Let's go to CNN's Poppy Harlow.

Poppy, is it significant that they found some concrete slabs in this field?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a good question, Jake. It could be. We really have no clarify from the FBI on that at this point.

Day two of digging here in this field right behind me outside of Detroit just wrapped up in the past few minutes. This was all because of a tip that came from alleged mob underboss Tony Zerilli. He is 85 years old. And he, we are told by a law enforcement source, went to the FBI months ago with information that he says that Jimmy Hoffa was taken to this field, hit on the head with a shovel, and then buried alive and concrete was apparently poured over his body.

That is why the fact that authorities say that some concrete was found in this field, that's why that is so important, because it seems to corroborate that story. However, I asked the sheriff here do we know if this is concrete that may have been there from previous structures? And they don't know.

But I also had a chance, Jake, to talk today with John Anthony. He searched for Hoffa back in 1975 when he disappeared. He served as a special agent in the FBI for 25 years. He agrees with law enforcement that this tip is highly credible. Listen.


HARLOW: What do you make of the credibility of Tony Zerilli's story?

JOHN ANTHONY, FORMER FBI AGENT: Well, first -- when I first heard about it, I thought, gee, this is great. This is the first made member of the Detroit organized crime family that I'm aware of that spoke freely and openly with the FBI in detail about the Hoffa disappearance.

Keep in mind, he was in jail on a racketeering conviction when Mr. Hoffa disappeared. When he got out, his father was still the boss. He was the underboss. It would make sense that if he asked -- and I'm sure he did -- what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, those individuals -- and there's probably no more at that time six that actually knew what happened -- would have told Tony Zerilli exactly what happened. They wouldn't have lied to him.

He was the son of the boss and he would have been told the truth. So, I think that he is now relaying what he was told and what he believes to be true. And I believe it's credible.

HARLOW: Do you think it is the most credible tip the FBI has had since Hoffa disappeared?

ANTHONY: Yes, I would agree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Now, the part of this, Jake, that doesn't sit well with John Anthony is the fact that he knew Hoffa and he said that there's no way that they would have buried him alive, and that he would have gone down kicking and screaming. And he certainly, no matter how many men were around him, John Anthony says, would not been able to have been buried alive.

TAPPER: And, Poppy, you also spoke with the lawyer for Tony Zerilli, who is the source of this information. What did the lawyer have to say?

HARLOW: Right.

Well, the main question I had for him is, why now? If Tony Zerilli is such a good friend of Jimmy Hoffa, why is he only coming forward in the last year to the FBI with this information? And he said, I don't know. I can't answer that. But he's coming forward because he wants the Hoffa family to have some peace and some closure.

What makes this story even more odd, Jake, is the fact that there's this Web site, And on it -- and it's claimed to be created by Tony Zerilli. That's what his attorney says. On it there is a manuscript for $5 for sale. A 20-page manuscript, basically of Tony Zerilli telling his story to the world of how he says Jimmy Hoffa was taken here and buried alive.

I was told that writers put that together from tape -- hours and hours of tapes from Tony Zerilli. But still, no clarity here. The hunt begins again. FBI agents 8 a.m. tomorrow morning -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Poppy Harlow, something of an e-book there.

Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance is one of the most baffling mysteries in recent U.S. history and one that never seems to stop producing possible clues. Let's bring in our Tom Foreman.

Tom, this is the 15th one of these serious digs?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know what the problem is, Jake? The problem is that word "credible." Credible. They've all been credible, but so far not one has been true.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Like a magician in a blue shirt and white socks, James Riddle Hoffa -- yes, his middle name was Riddle -- stood outside the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Michigan on July 30, 1975, and vanished without a trace.

And now, in a field not far away, investigators are following yet another lead, digging up yet another possible grave, yet again spending taxes trying to solve the riddle of where Jimmy Hoffa went.

SHERIFF MIKE BUCHARD, OAKLAND COUNTY, MICHIGAN: It's my finest hope that we can give that closure not just to the Hoffa family but also to the community. To stop tearing that scab off with every new lead and bring some conclusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you do for entertainment?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is entertainment?

HOFFA: Seven days a week I have more fun here working than anybody can have on a golf course or sport you can name.

FOREMAN: That was labor boss Hoffa on the CBC in 1960. So how many searches have law enforcement conducted for him? They've responded to at least 15 substantive leads.

In Michigan, where most of the digging has been done, one tipster suggested his body was trotted off to a horse farm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is probable cause to believe that the body of James Hoffa might be buried here.

FOREMAN: Some accounts put Hoffa's final resting place in New Jersey in the concrete of Giants stadium.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The FBI says the Hoffa case remains an active investigation.

FOREMAN: Other versions have him sunk in the swamps of Florida. Carted off to California. Even crushed in a car and shipped overseas.

How much has all of this searching cost? Based on just one search as reported by "The Detroit News," it's not unreasonable to estimate that police agencies, including the FBI, have spent well over $3 million trying to find Jimmy Hoffa with no luck. So do they have to do this every time there's a tip?

DAVID CHASNIK, LAWYER FOR TIPSTER: Hoffa body is in that field. No doubt about it. There used to be a barn in the field. Buried under the barn, under a cement slab. And that's where our understanding is that the body should be.

FOREMAN: Maybe so. After all, it's still an open case. His family still wants answers. And Jimmy Hoffa is still hiding.


FOREMAN: Although in truth, Jake, you do have to ask about the diminishing return on this. If Hoffa were alive today, he'd be 100 years old. And anybody who was involved in killing him, if he was, indeed, murdered, was even near his age, they'd be 100 years old. So at some point law enforcement is going to have to say we may be able to close this case but how are we ever going to close it with all the players at that age?

TAPPER: Indeed. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Coming up, details of a close call for a U.S. congressman. It was literally a matter of life and death. It's one of these things that could happen to anyone.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Breaking news from Afghanistan. We have our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, and our international correspondent, Reza Sayah, in Kabul for some breaking news that four Americans have been killed at Bagram Air Base. Let's start with you, Chris. What have Pentagon officials told you?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. This was supposed to be a day where U.S. officials were highlighting the fact that they were stepping back from the front lines in Afghanistan. Instead, they're now trying to explain how at least two more American service members have been killed.

Sources are saying this was an indirect fire attack in eastern Afghanistan. That suggests that it could be a mortar attack or RPG attack. We know at least two of the dead are U.S. service members. Four casualties in all -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Reza, what are you hearing there?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just got off the phone with ISAF officials. And they're not revealing anything other than what Chris just told us. They said it happened late last night. It's 3 in the morning right now. So we know it didn't happen within the past three hours. They said late last night. This was an incident that took place and they said they could have details in the next 24 hours -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Reza, while I have you, there was also a major handover today in Afghanistan. Tell us about that.

SAYAH: This is the moment of truth for Afghan security forces, and in many ways what U.S. military officials forces and NATO forces have accomplished over the last 12 years is now riding on how these Afghan forces do in the coming years.

In a ceremony this morning, NATO officials handing over the lead role for security to Afghan forces. That means for the coming 18 months, U.S. and NATO forces will still be here, but only as a backup role. In the driver's seat leading the charge, it will be Afghan security forces. Coalition officials say they're improving.

Critics of this force say they have a lot more work to do, that they're not ready to defend the country on their own. But ready or not, Jake, they're in the driver's seat now.

TAPPER: All right, Reza. Thank you.

Here in the United States, a dramatic moment at the Pentagon. And another milestone for women in the military. Declaring quote, "The days of Rambo are over," unquote, officials announced that in a few years women will be allowed in combat units. Eventually, that may include the country's most elite Special Forces.

I want to bring CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence back to explain how long this transition will take.

LAWRENCE: Well, Jake, for at least one job it's literally a matter of weeks. Next month the Navy is going to open up its Wolverine force to women. That's a job that could include close-quarters, combat and security operations. But for the most elite positions, that could still be a long ways off.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Women may soon be on the ropes, in the sand with the men training to be SEALs.


LAWRENCE: But the opportunity won't come for several years, if then.


LAWRENCE: Officials in Special Operations command are pushing back on the Pentagon's plan to open combat jobs to women.

SACOLICK: We send a 12-man, 18 or even smaller into very austere, remote environments by themselves.

LAWRENCE: General Bennett Sacolick says troops like these may be the only Americans in a particular country.

SACOLICK: So I think we have to -- you know, that complicates, you know, integration.

LAWRENCE: He wants to gauge the feeling of current Rangers, SEALs and Green Berets.

SACOLICK: I'm actually more concerned about the men and their reaction to women in their formation.


SACOLICK: The movie "G.I. Jane" told the story of the first fictional female SEAL candidate. But some troops are concerned the reality is a long way off.

COL. ELLEN HARING, U.S. ARMY: This is really a young person's kind of challenge. And so the longer they wait, the less likely the opportunities are.

SACOLICK: By 2015, the Army will develop gender-neutral standards for its Rangers. And the following year, qualified women could begin training for the Navy SEALs if officials approve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Execute. Get up. Get up.

LAWRENCE: The Marines are using specific tests of strength to develop one standard for combat jobs that men and women must meet.

COL. JON AYTES, U.S. MARINE CORPS: In a cramped compartment, a tank gunner must reach over to the rack, lift that 55-pound shell from the rack, pull it out, flip it over, and insert it into the breach.

LAWRENCE: But Special Operations remains, literally and figuratively, the hardest hurdle to cross.

SACOLICK: The days of Rambo are over.


LAWRENCE: And the general did say he is keeping an open mind and Special Operations is keeping an open mind to bringing women into the force. And ultimately, if any job wants to be kept, you know, off limits to women, that command is going to have to submit a request to the secretary of defense, and the defense secretary is going to have to personally approve it. So ultimately, all the decision on these jobs are going to come back to the Obama administration one way or the other -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Chris, you said there's going to be one standard for women and men to meet if they want to join any of these elite groups. But is that standard going to be different than the one that men have to meet right now? Or is it going to be changed and maybe brought down a little bit, because women and men have different physical capabilities. It's why men and women compete in different events in the Olympics.

LAWRENCE: It's a good question. And it's really going to depend; it's going to go job by job. You heard the Marine colonel mention that, look, if you want to be a tank gunner, you've got to be able to pick up this 55-pound shell and perform this mission. There's no two ways about it. If you can't lift that and do that on a consistent basis, you cannot be a tank gunner.

It's hard to see where any of the standards would be raised, but it is possible. And some of the officials talked about perhaps lowering some of the physical standards in certain jobs where perhaps you don't need as much strength in the technically-proficient military of today that maybe you needed for that job 10 to 20 years ago.

TAPPER: It'll be interesting to see how this develops. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Still ahead, the Oxford Dictionary breaks its own rules to keep up with technology.

And a congressman opens up about his brush with a potentially deadly threat.


TAPPER: A Republican congressman who has stared down some pretty nasty threats before nearly didn't survive this one. And it wasn't politics that put Ted Poe in danger. It was popcorn. CNN's Brian Todd is here to pick up the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, Congressman Poe laughs about it now, but a single piece of popcorn nearly killed him just a few days ago. It would have been an unworthy ending for a law-and-order congressman who's taken on some pretty frightening characters.


TODD (voice-over): Ted Poe is a tough-as-sagebrush former county judge from Texas. He's stared down murderers and drug dealers, ordered offenders to carry signs admitting their crimes. But what was it that almost did him in recently?

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: I was choking on a piece of popcorn.

TODD: Nothing but the truth. Poe, a five-term Republican congressman from Houston, was in the Capitol Hill Club having dinner by himself. He threw a few grains of popcorn in his mouth, and one became lodged in his throat.

POE: I couldn't inhale, and therefore, several people noticed that. And I don't know how long it was.

TODD: At that point, witnesses say, fellow Republican congressman Matt Salmon and another person tried to give Poe the Heimlich maneuver. It didn't work at first. Then congressional staffer Nick Muzin, who happens to be a licensed doctor, joined in.

(on camera): According to a congressional aide with knowledge of the situation, at one point when Nick Muzin was giving the Heimlich maneuver, during intervals of that, Congressman Salmon, gave Congressman Poe back blows, trying to dislodge it. We'll demonstrate it on photojournalist Mark Walz, hitting me on the back. Ow, that hurt, Mark.

They tried all that just to dislodge this one piece of popcorn.

Did you think then or at any point maybe this is it?

POE: No, I wasn't thinking that. I was -- I was encouraging them to keep trying. I was actually waving my hand for them to keep trying, and they did.

TODD (voice-over): Finally, Nick Muzin's Heimlich rotations jettisoned the popcorn.

Muzin and Congressman Salmon didn't want to go on camera with us, and the Capitol Hill club refused to comment. But Ted Poe says this about that place and that moment.

POE: I'm certainly glad that it happened there, where I was around some friends, rather than maybe around some of my former defendants that I saw at the courthouse. They might not have moved quite so fast to help me out. TODD: That's two prominent Republicans from Texas who have colorful and scary choking stories to tell. Former President George W. Bush once choked so hard on a pretzel that he passed out and injured his face.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow.

TODD (on camera): Is this something now that you may want to share stories with the former president about?

POE: Well, we could exchange those conversations about that, as well. And of course, I'm glad that I didn't actually have any other problems. Didn't throw up on anybody. I was just choking a little bit.


TODD: Poe says he went on to finish his meal. For the record he had a hamburger for dinner.

He joked later that the reason for his accident was that he had just heard the result of the congressional baseball game that very night where the Democrats beat the Republicans 22-0.

Jake, he also says he was watching the Miami Heat playing his favorite team the San Antonio Spurs, in game two of the finals, and that's the game that he won the series.

TAPPER: People joke about this. But it's the kind of thing where he might not ever want to eat popcorn again. It almost killed him.

TODD: And for the record he says he's off popcorn from now on. Not off hamburgers but off popcorn. That's how bad it's been.

TAPPER: Brian Todd, thank you so much.

Let's take a quick look at some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM with CNN's Mary Snow -- Mary.


There's a new attempt to solve a 2008 bombing case. The FBI and the New York City Police Department today released never-before-seen surveillance video of the attack at an Army recruiting office in Times Square. No one was injured.

They also released images of a suspect riding a bicycle around New York in the early morning hours and offered a $65,000 reward for information.

A U-turn from Chrysler's management today. It agreed to recall almost 3 million Jeeps to fix a problem that causes some gas tanks to leak and cause fires after collisions. The government says at least 51 people have died in such accidents. But Chrysler resisted the recall, contending its Jeeps are safe. The recall affects Jeep Grand Cherokees made between 1993 and 2004 as well as Jeep Liberties from 2002 to 2007.

Well, it turns out that nothing improves your penmanship more than the prospect of putting your signature on a dollar bill. Now take a look. This was treasury secretary Jack Lew's signature before he got the job. Here's what it will look like on the new $5 bill. He's using his full name, Jacob J. Lew. And while his grade-school teachers may be quibbling, it's a huge improvement. The treasury revealed the new look via Twitter this afternoon.

And speaking of Twitter the ultimate arbiter of the English language is catching up with technology. The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "tweet" now includes what you do on Twitter. Officials say they're breaking their own rule that a new word has to be current for ten years before it's even considered for inclusion. Twitter's only been around since 2006. And in its explanation, the dictionary said, it seems to be catching on -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Mary, thank you.

You can also use Twitter to follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tweet the show, @CNNSitRoom, or tweet me, @JakeTapper, all one word.

CNN's Erin Burnett is going "OUTFRONT" on the story at the top of the hour. Erin, what do you have? And we should also note erinburnett, all one word, that's your Twitter handle. What do you have tonight?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Wow, you are amazing. Look at that. That was just, like, totally uneven, unasked for. Thank you. You can follow us on Twitter. But we are going to talk about whether the government is watching you on Twitter, on your phone calls, on your e- mails and everything else.

The NSA scandal, as Jake's been talking about, they say that they have thwarted 50 terror attacks because of collecting all of that data on American citizens.

Obviously, Americans are pretty frustrated with the president for doing this. Democratic congressman Adam Schiff on the intelligence committee is going to be our special guest tonight.

Plus, Jake, another bizarre and horrible story out of Ohio tonight out of Cleveland. We're going to tell you about this young woman, her daughter held hostage by a man. They have just been freed, and we're going to tell you that, that bizarre and horrible story, just unbelievable, coming out of the same place as those three women who were held hostage for a decade.

All that coming up at the top of the hour. But in the meantime, back to you.

TAPPER: Thanks, Erin. Sounds like a good show.

It seems safe to call "freedom fries" French fries again. So why are some people campaigning to send the Statue of Liberty back to France? Jeanne Moos has the answer, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Finally tonight it's one of the country's most recognizable landmarks, so why would anyone even think about deporting the Statue of Liberty? Well, CNN's Jeanne Moos is on the case.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know that French lady out in New York harbor? Somebody wants her deported.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No habla espanol.

MOOS: In fact she's getting grilled by immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you speak English?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course. I was just saying hello.





MOOS: The campaign is gathering momentum. Ship her back to France before she has an anchor baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Preserve American culture. Deport the statue.

MOOS: This reminds me of the glory days of "freedom fries."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I see your entry papers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have any. I came here in some crates by boat.

MOOS (on camera): Give me your tired, your poor, your gullible?

ISHITA SRIVASTAVA, PRODUCER, BREAKTHROUGH: Other goal was never to trick people. It was really to do a spoof and use satire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any education?

SRIVASTAVA: I have over 120 years of experience in my field.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were people like, "Oh, my God, I almost believed this."

MOOS: Ishita Srivastava is a producer for a human rights organization called breakthrough that's trying to break through the immigration debate with humor. They created a fake campaign with fake Twitter accounts, and called themselves Legals for the Preservation of American Culture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am an icon of American freedom.

MOOS: The campaign to deport the statue is really in favor of immigration reform. The statue's grilling is supposed to represent what immigrants experience.

Cartoonist Mike Luckovich had the same idea last year. "She was here illegally and got deported back to France."

(on camera): But Lady Liberty could suffer a much worse fate than deportation.

(voice-over): How about decapitation? That's happened to Liberty in movies ranging from "Cloverfield" to "Deep Impact," when she lost her head to a giant tsunami. Charlton Heston found her beached in "Planet of the Apes."


MOOS: After all of the liberties that have been taken with this lady, what's a little fake deportation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you prove that you are not taking a job away from an educated American statue?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


TAPPER: And Jeanne says the actress who played Lady Liberty is an American with a decent French accent. She went to her next job interview slightly green because they could not remove all the paint.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Jake Tapper in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.