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U.S. Troops Killed; Obama to Berlin; NSA: Program Worked; Ready for Game 7

Aired June 19, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, four U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The Taliban taking credit, just one day before they were supposed to hold peace talks for the very first time with the U.S.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Crash cover-up. Two hundred thirty people killed when TWA flight 800 exploded midair near Long Island. That's 17 years ago.

Now, those who investigated the crash, revealing the report was falsified. What they say really took down the plane.

BERMAN: And what a game? Five seconds away from ending their season. The Heat stay alive with the sweetest three-pointer you will ever see. I am telling you, they will be talking about this game for generation. Ray Allen may be the greatest shooter ever.

ROMANS: Wow, that is quite a statement. That is quite a statement from John Berman.

BERMAN: He played for the Celtics.

ROMANS: Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Wednesday, June 19th, it is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: Let's begin with the breaking news from Afghanistan this morning, where the Taliban has now claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Bagram Air Base. Four U.S. soldiers killed when a mortar or a rocket hit the airfield.

That is just one day ahead of planned meetings with the Taliban to end the fighting in Afghanistan. It would be the first formal talks with the group -- something President Obama called a very early step toward reconciliation.

Meantime, Afghan President Hamid Karzai saying today that suspending its talks with U.S. over a new security agreement, the Afghan saying there have been too many, quote, "contradictions between acts and statements by the U.S. government".

BERMAN: New this morning: what brought down TWA flight 800? You'll remember, it exploded midair near New York's Long Island back in 1986, 230 people died. It's been long the subject of conspiracy theories. Now, a group of experts who took part in the original investigation are saying the explosion that took the plane down was likely outside the plane, outside. That contradicts the official cause, a gas tank explosion caused by an electrical short circuit.

Investigators claiming in a new documentary that you can't blame faulty wiring for what happened. They want the NTSB to reopen the investigation. The agency now saying, "While the NTSB rarely reinvestigates information already examined, our investigators are never closed and we can review any new information not previously considered by the board.

ROMANS: President Obama is in Germany this morning where he'll make a speech at the Brandenburg gate. But he spent last two days involved in high level diplomacy meetings with world leaders at the G8 Summit.

Brianna Keilar live this morning for us in Berlin.

Good morning, Brianna.


You know when an American president comes to Berlin to give a speech, the bar is set very high, and the aim of this speech of President Obama's is to be a grand speech in the vein of what you have seen in the past several decades, as American presidents have come here to Berlin. Berlin's post-war historical significance makes it a place where we've seen American presidents really kind of do a status check on the state of the free world.

And that is what President Obama is aiming to do society with a forward look. He'll be talking specifically about the U.S. wanting to see a reduction in nuclear weapons. So, he'll be talking about wanting to negotiate with Russia to bring the number of weapons in the world down. He'll be talking about pressuring North Korea and Iran to let go of their nuclear weapons ambitions.

And I think above all, Christine, though, this is just very much a big deal when you're talking about the historical significance here. This is almost a week away now, from the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's speech here his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech that he gave not far from the Brandenburg Gate where President Obama will be speaking today.

The Brandenburg Gate itself is significant. This is where Reagan gave his speech, the "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech. Clinton, President Clinton spoke here.

And the interesting about where President Obama will be speaking today is that he will be on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate, something that would have been impossible in 1963 when President Kennedy gave his speech. He will be the first president to do that.

And you may recall back in 2008, when Obama was then Senator Obama, he gave a speech not too far from where he'll be today, at the Victory Column, the Tiergarten, garnering an amazing crowd of 200,000 people.

I will tell you the interest level here not that same level, although this morning, there are a lot of people ling up to get through security to see the speech here in Berlin.

ROMANS: Brianna, it's interesting. You know, it was 50 years ago that JFK also gave that famous speech about how our problems are manmade and they can be solved by man -- interesting the parallels from 50 years ago to Washington. Thanks, Brianna Keilar.

BERMAN: Turning now to the controversial spying program.

Intelligence officials today will send more information to Capitol Hill about the 50 some plots they say were thwarted in part, thanks to the collection of phone records and online information. The information will be classified. So the public may never know any of the details but Dana Bash said the NSA's leader did talk openly about the programs and their impact.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange was disrupted, the planners arrested and convicted, thanks, in part, to a secret program monitoring Internet activity abroad. That's one of two new terror plots top intelligence officials declassified in the hopes of convincing Americans unprecedented government surveillance is worth it.

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: These programs are critical to the intelligence community's ability to protect our nation and our allies' security. They assist the intelligence community efforts to connect the dots.

BASH: Intelligence officials described safeguards preserving civil liberties while tracking millions of phone records, numbers, dates and length of calls.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Does the NSA have the ability to listen to Americans' phone calls or read their e-mails under these two programs?

ALEXANDER: No, we do not have that authority.

ROGERS: Does the technology exist at the NSA to flip a switch by some analyst to listen to American's phone calls or read their e-mails?


BASH: This lawmaker was unconvinced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Verizon disclosures which, quite frankly, trouble me, they trouble me because of breadth and the scope of the information collection, if a capability exists from time to time, it will be abused. BASH: To really reassure the public, the bipartisan committee heads wanted to declassify more terror plots the programs helped foil, but they couldn't.

ALEXANDER: If we give all those out, we give all the secrets of how we're tracking down the terrorists as a community, and we can't do that. Too much is at risk for us and our allies.

BASH: All they got is a new number.

ALEXANDER: Over 50 times since 9/11.

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ROMANS: The House passed a controversial measure banning abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. The bill was approved mostly along party lines. The Obama administration is against it and a Democrat- controlled Senate is not expected to consider it.

BERMAN: Could immigration reform be good for the nation's bottom line? The Congressional Budget Office says the proposed overhaul would cut over a trillion dollars from the federal deficit for the next 10 years by adding millions of additional taxpayers. However, it would cost about $22 billion to implement.

That news coming as John Boehner told reporters he would not bring a bill to the floor in a majority of Republicans in that House do not support it. That could be a huge barrier.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right. A self-described conservative Republican is defending the IRS for its controversial scrutiny of some Tea Party groups. John Shafer was a manager of IRS's Cincinnati office. He told them that politics never played a role and they were not directed by Washington to go after conservative groups.

BERMAN: A pro football player under scrutiny in that death investigation. Police descended on the home of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez Tuesday night. They are investigating the death of a 27-year-old man found at an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez's home. saying Hernandez is not believed to be a suspect but a vehicle rented in his name is said to be a key piece of evidence.

ROMANS: It's all hands on deck in the battle against a spreading wildfire near Yosemite National Park. More than 2,000 firefighters are fighting this one, this fast moving blaze. It's being fueled by hot and dry conditions, strong winds. The Carstens Fire has burned nearly 1,900 acres. Some 800 structures threatened by these flames. It is 40 percent contained.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, a wildfire burning out of control in Arizona may have been deliberately set. This one has already consumed 5,000 acres and firefighters have it zero percent contained. Officials say the fire was started by people. The exact cause is still unknown.

ROMANS: Scary sights in the skies over Denver's airport. A tornado --

BERMAN: Oh, wow.

ROMANS: Yes -- touching down briefly between two runways. People rushed to take shelter in airport bathrooms, stairwells, and other safe spots until the violent weather passed. Winds of nearly 100 miles an hour were measured on the ground. Flights, of course, were diverted elsewhere for a short time. No damage or injuries were reported.

But people last night, you can see online, social media, people sharing their photos from, you know, the airport.

BERMAN: Look at the tornado on the runway, honey --

ROMANS: Terminal of the airport.

BERMAN: We've got fires, we've got tornadoes, we have Indra Peterson tracking all the weather for us.

What's going on today, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unbelievable. How incredible would that video, too, by the way? I mean, unbelievable. I can't imagine being at the airport and seeing that. No, thank you.

Yes, we do have a slight risk out there today. Again pretty much in the same area. Remember, it's a slight risk. A lot of people don't pay attention to a slight risk, but a slight risk just means just that. There is a chance. And today, we're going to be looking at that threat again.

And look how quickly it happened yesterday. This is the radar from yesterday over Denver, just about 1:00 to 3:00, you can tell how quickly around 2:30 that tornado spawned up. Even without a lot activity around the area. So, again, we're going to be looking for that today.

Now, the big story still remains that dry weather, that fire danger. And, look at this. Unfortunately, we're getting drier conditions we knew this was going to happen about midweek and we are looking at it. Notice Yosemite, into the teens, notice Colorado, getting closer to single digits there. That is not helping firefighters. On top of that, we're going to be adding warmer temperatures and some gustier winds.

Speaking of California, we keep talking about this. Why are we looking at fires so early? Typically, in California, you don't see fires until after the summer, and then when you get into the fall, the Santa Anas pick up. Well, we didn't see a lot of rain. Look how low they are for rainfall.

When you see this, you know, the brush is already dry and we're already seeing those fires way dealing with that. Typical pattern pretty much throughout the four corners, fire watches, red flag warnings up already.

BERMAN: A bad start.

PETERSONS: Bad start.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks a lot.

Championship interrupted. The Miami Heat, they beat the San Antonio Spurs. It was not easy. It was an overtime thriller, 103-100, forcing a game seven in the NBA finals, winner take all.

This was down, they were down by three points in the closing seconds of regulation when this happened -- Ray Allen, as clutch of a shot as you will ever see, he has done that for years. I liked it more when he did it for the Celtics. But that last three-pointer tied the game.

LeBron James, he was up and down, but his final stats quite good. He had a triple double, 32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists. Chris Bosh had been absent for a large stretches of the entire season. He came up huge. He blocked Andy Green's three-point try at the end of overtime to seal the victory for the Heat.

This sets up what will be an amazing game seven tomorrow night in Miami.

ROMANS: You know, I have to ask you something, every story in its course somehow goes back to Boston athletics.

BERMAN: It's the hub. That's why we call it the hub. It is the hub of existence.

ROMANS: Every story, you watch, you watch. Every story, he'll find a (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Only the good one.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, Paris Jackson in her own words in the wrongful death case of her father.

BERMAN: And new surveillance video of the Times Square bombing five years later. Can police track down the terrorists?


BERMAN: Michael Jackson's personal chef, just the latest to testify in the family's wrongful death trial against concert promoter AEG Live. Kai Chase telling jurors that Jackson's children continue to feel the pain of his death. Paris Jackson apparently no longer wants to celebrate birthdays. Younger son Blanket wears a t-shirt with his father's image on it every Friday.

The court also hearing from Paris Jackson, a lawyer for AEG, playing video from her deposition from last March. Jackson was asked about her father's relationship with their nanny. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did your father say why he didn't like her?

PARIS JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S DAUGHTER: Yes, he said she was sneaky. She wasn't an honest person. And she lied a lot.


BERMAN: The Jackson family's lawyer hinted the nanny was fired by AEG, not Jackson.

ROMANS: The FBI is asking for your help in trying to solve a mystery. Who was behind a series of bombings in New York City.

Here's Mary Snow.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new push if there in an unsolved case of a possible serial bomber in New York City. The FBI is hoping a surveillance video and a $65,000 reward will nab the person responsible for setting off a bomb in 2008 outside a military recruiting station in New York's Times Square.

Authorities also believe it could be linked to similar incidents, one in 2005 at the British consulate, and another in 2007 at the Mexican consulate.

In the Times Square case, the device was set off in the middle of the night and no one was injured. What is known is that someone was seen riding on a bicycle before the device was detonated.

Carlos Fernandez is the FBI's acting special agent in charge in New York.

(on camera): How powerful is that device?

CARLOS FERNANDEZ, FBI: It was -- it was, according to our forensics people and our explosive experts, it was powerful. And we're very concerned about a device like that going off in New York.

SNOW (voice-over): The FBI says the device was built using an ammunition can, black powder and a time fuse. A federal law enforcement source told CNN that bomb technicians say the Times Square bomb was stronger than the device detonated during off in the Boston Marathon in terms of destructive capability. But unlike the bombs used in Boston, it contained no shrapnel.

After the recruitment center was targeted, a possible motive emerged as being military-related.

But the NYPD's Matthew Pontillo says that's just one theory.

DEPUTY CHIEF MATTHEW PONTILLO, NEW YORK POLICE: The military type ammunition can is a very, very common device. They're available in hardware stores and army/navy stores. It's essentially a steel box. And it may have just been something that was available to the person, but we really don't know for certain.

SNOW: The FBI is looking to the public for help. It's a tactic the agency used in other cases, including Whitey Bulger, when a tip led to Bulger's arrest after being on the lam for decades.

Now the FBI is turning to social media, putting up hash tags and billboards, hoping someone will come forward.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Mary for that report.

The big dig in Michigan resumes in just a couple hours. Federal agents have been searching a Detroit area field since Monday for the remains of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. The mobster who tipped them said he hopes his friend is exhumed. Hoffa's disappearance back in 1975, it really does remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time.

ROMANS: All right. Air travel can be frustrating, it's even more aggravating to get to your destination and find your checked bags didn't arrive with you. Here's advice to prevent that from helping.

Check out Trakdot. It's a luggage tracking device. Just register it on the Trakdot Web site and drop it into your bag. When you land, you can check an app or have a message sent via text or email to let you know if your luggage.

But there's a price. The device costs 50 bucks. There's an annual fee, along with one-time set up fee.

Of course, you don't always have to go high tech. Find out, you fill out those ID tags on your luggage. It's the easiest to make sure you and your bags are reunited. And you'd be surprised how many people don't do that.

And what you can do if you find a lost item? is a free online system. You register your items, give each a unique ID code. If someone finds something you've lost, they can just logon to the Web site and entire that code to let you know it's found.

There's some good news. According to the air travel consumer report, in 2012, airlines reported the lowest mishandled baggage rate in 25 years. So, it looks like the chances of having your checked bags when you get there are improving.

One reason why that rate I think is going down is because people are traveling more light.

BERMAN: You have to pay for your checked baggage.

ROMANS: Absolutely. You're paying 25 bucks a bag, suddenly, you're packing fewer bags.

BERMAN: That's right. They can't lose the bag that you're not checking.

Coming up, Chrysler announcing a major recall, nearly 3,000 vehicles involved. We'll tell you which ones.

ROMANS: Yes. They caved. Chrysler caved to the government, right?


ROMANS: Beautiful morning. No yawning. It's 5:23 in the East.

BERMAN: Gorgeous.

ROMANS: Everyone wake up. Do another mile.

Good morning, it's Wednesday. Welcome back to EARLY START.

It's money time. Today, Wall Street is all about one thing -- one thing only. The Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke needs to detail just how soon to pull back the Fed stimulus. It's pumping $85 billion a month into the economy but with the economy recovering, there's talk the Fed may soon turn off that spigot. But when, when, when?

Investors hoping not soon. And that think sparked a rally yesterday. There was no clear answer. Wall Street has hit a lot of volatility. The Dow moving up and down 100 points the past six sessions.

Today, it's B-day, all about Ben Bernanke. To taper or not to taper? That's the question on Wall Street. That's the way the Bank De Generale puts it.

All right. Chrysler caved. It took it down to the wire but in the end, Chrysler decided to recall 2.7 million Jeeps. The automaker had resisted pressure from the government, waited until just the deadline. The government could have forced the recall of all of those Jeeps and could have gone to court over it. The Jeeps in question are the 1993 to 2004 Grand Cherokees, and the 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberties.

The government says the Jeeps have a high risk of catching fire when hit from behind resulting in 51 deaths. Chrysler still maintains they are safe but will look over the vehicles -- voluntary recall to look over the vehicles and fix anything that needs to be fixed to avoid a fire.

All right. The NSA snooping controversy continues. Google filed a First Amendment plea against the NSA. Google wants to share information with the public about secret government programs. Google said its reputation and business have been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media.

So, it wants to set the record straight. Right now, the company can only say how many government inquiries it received but can't give details on which accounts and why. And call it loopty Lew. It's official. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has a new signature. Lew, whose penmanship has been punned in the past unveiled his new John Hancock at a ceremony yesterday. Here's the old signature.


ROMANS: The loopty Lew.

There's the new one, a little more legible. The new signature will appear on the $5 bill this fall.

BERMAN: Cue that up for a second, I think it's a vast improvement, I don't think it's a little improvement, because there are actually, there are things close to letters in the new one. In the other one, really, nothing remotely similar to a letter, just a bunch of circles.


BERMAN: I see what maybe a "J" and what could very well be an "L."

ROMANS: You could say the "J" and the "L" and the old and the new pretty much match. So, he had the hallmarks of a John Hancock on the left side, but it does look like a --

BERMAN: I think the new one is a vast improvement.

ROMANS: I think it is, too.

He had to clear that up before it goes on $5 bill.

BERMAN: No one would want on the dollar bill.

All right. Coming up, just a horrifying story out of Ohio. A disabled mother and her daughter held captive, forced to work as slaves. This abuse went on for years.

I want to tell you how they finally found their freedom.


BERMAN: Breaking news overnight. Four U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The Taliban apparently claiming responsibility, just one day before they were supposed to hold their very first peace talks with the U.S.

ROMANS: A real life house of horrors.