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American Allies Furious Over Spying; Iran Could Have Bomb-Grade Uranium in a Month; Obamacare Web Fix By End of November

Aired October 25, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now:

Close allies are already upset over reports the U.S. has been monitoring their phone calls, but more leaks about U.S. spying may soon make them a lot angrier.

Also, a stunning new warning. Iran could be just a month away from having enough material for a nuclear weapon.

And a new move to decriminalize marijuana in a major American city. You won't believe where.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: America's allies are furious right now over reports of widespread U.S. spying on world leaders. Some have called in their American ambassadors and Germany's chancellor personally called President Obama this week to ask if her phone was tapped.

With America's friends already complaining of shattered trust, more leaks about U.S. intelligence activity may be on the way.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's in New York following all these developments -- Jim.


Several developments today. On the positive side, Germany saying they are going to send a delegation to the U.S. to discuss these revelations and work out ground rules going forward for what's acceptable and what's not in terms of surveillance like this.

But more worries to come as you referenced. Reports today first in "The Washington Post" of the possibility of other Edward Snowden- sourced documents revealing other intelligence cooperations with countries that are not publicly allied with the U.S. This happening as the White House acknowledging that it has had overreach in NSA surveillance.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Today, the administration in damage control. The president's homeland security advisor Lisa Monaco writing in "USA Today" that the White House will review NSA surveillance, quote, "to ensure we are collecting information because we need it and not just because we can."

U.S. officials confirm some damage has already been done.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: It's created significant challenges in our relationships with some of our partners.

SCIUTTO: What the White House still will not confirm, however, is if the NSA did, in the past, monitor the calls of world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All I can tell you is what the president told the chancellor, the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor communications of the chancellor.

SCIUTTO: That answer not yet satisfying for European allies, who in Brussels today warned the surveillance could jeopardize their crucial cooperation with the U.S. on intelligence gathering.

PRES. FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE (through translator): We have an ongoing dialogue with the Americans regarding both the past, what's been done, but it should also and most importantly deal with the present and the future.

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): But, obviously, words will not be sufficient. True change is necessary.

SCIUTTO: And more shoes may soon drop. The U.S. is now reportedly warning other countries not publicly allied with the U.S. that documents taken by Edward Snowden detail their secret intel cooperation with the U.S. in operations targeting China, Russia and Iran.

VAJI NASR, JOHNS HOPKINS: I think outing these countries would then put their relations with Iran in jeopardy and also could make them open to some form of Iranian intelligence or other retaliation.


SCIUTTO: For some of these countries it can be particularly damaging were it to become public that they're cooperating with the U.S. So the possibility of those revelations, particularly dangerous. Just after the WikiLeaks cables were released, there was a real problem for the U.S. in terms of other officials talking to U.S. diplomats abroad. They were worried that whatever they said might be made public some day.

This potentially even more damaging because we're talking about very secret information here, not just diplomatic cables but top secret information, intelligence gathering, a real danger for American intelligence activities abroad -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, when you have U.S. ambassadors in allied countries, NATO allies, being summoned in by the foreign minister for formal complaints about these reports, certainly that makes John Kerry, the secretary of state, his job as difficult as it already is, even more difficult.

SCIUTTO: No question. We had one more U.S. ambassador summoned today, that in Spain, which gives us another idea of what one of those 35 countries we were talking about yesterday the U.S. was spying on their world leaders, you can surmise that one of those was Spain as well.

BLITZER: Yes, it's one thing to have a U.S. ambassador summoned in in a country not so friendly. But when Spain and other NATO allies do it, that's a huge deal.

Stand by for a moment. I want you to come into this next conversation.

Allies spying on allies -- so does everybody do it? Should they be doing it?

John Negroponte is joining us right now. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, top State Department official, and the country's first director of national intelligence.

Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, he was blunt today on NEW DAY, our morning show.

Listen to what he said.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If you are a U.S. government official traveling abroad, you are aware that anything you have on your cell phone, on your iPad, could be monitored by foreign intelligence agencies, including that of your own allies. So I think a lot of what you're seeing from the European leaders is for the domestic consumption of their own public, but at the end of the day, everyone knew there was gambling going on in Casablanca.


BLITZER: So, is that business as usual, friendly countries spying on other friendly countries?

JOHN NEGROPONTE, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, there's an element of truth to it. It's true that countries spy on each other, including friendly countries. I've been spied upon myself.

BLITZER: By friendly countries?

NEGROPONTE: I have. It's kind of standard operating procedure. BLITZER: When you were the director of national intelligence, let's say you went to Paris, or you went to Rome, you went to Madrid, did you have a cell phone that was -- included all your personal information?

NEGROPONTE: Even as a diplomat, people were surveiling me.

But as director of national intelligence, I was capable of taking a lot of precautions.

BLITZER: But you just assumed that even friendly countries wanted to know what was going on.

NEGROPONTE: The real -- the basic assumption is that the adversarial countries who are capable of spying and eavesdropping globally, just as we are, were engaged in that or might be engaged in that kind of activity, so you take precautions with respect to your telephone, with respect to your computer. Some countries, you don't even bring your computer.

But let me make another point, because there's no question that this is causing -- what Mr. Snowden has done is causing very serious diplomatic problems. In fact, I think the diplomatic problem is more severe than the intelligence problem. It's complicating our relationships.

But there's also an opportunity and here's the opportunity. We have arrangements with four other countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.K., it's called the 5 I's where we don't eavesdrop on each other at all. I think the time has come for us to sit back, take a serious look at the kind of intelligence activities we're conducting vis-a-vis allied countries, and see if we don't want to come to the same kind of arrangements, for example, with our NATO allies as we have with the 5 I's. That would be --


BLITZER: Historically, those five countries, very, very close. The other NATO allies including France were Italy or Spain, they were never on that list because the U.S. did not completely trust them.

NEGROPONTE: But they are strong enough allies that we were willing to lay down our lives for those people. If the Soviet Union had attacked them, we would have attacked the Soviet Union back.

I think when you think of the big threats out there, terrorism, weapons proliferation and so forth, why do we want to collect against friendly foreign countries? It's a question of priorities.

BLITZER: Does Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, have a right to be as upset as she is?

NEGROPONTE: Well, certainly she has a right to be upset. And she's decided to be upset. Now, we have to react to that. Germany is the strongest country in Western Europe and one of our best allies. We have a lot at stake in our cooperation with Germany at this very moment.

BLITZER: Here's what Lisa Monaco wrote in "USA Today". She's assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. "The U.S. government is not operating unrestrained. We are not listening to every phone call or reading every e-mail. Far from it. There are legal limits to what the NSA can and cannot do."

I assume you agree with that.


BLITZER: All right. Here's what -- Edward Snowden issued a statement from Moscow to the ACLU. "No telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong."

That's Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.

NEGROPONTE: OK. So this is the distinction between metadata and content. I suspect the metadata we have extensively, we hold volumes of that but that doesn't necessarily mean we have intruded into the content. But I think that's somewhat separate issue from the question of our relationship with our allies which I think can be made better by the kind of discussion that I think is going to inevitably result from this uproar.

And the second thing I think we need to do is when the decision is made or when we're interested in collecting on a foreign leader, let's say a non-allied foreign leader, I think somebody at a very high level has to give it a good political scrub.

BLITZER: The president of the United States?

NEGROPONTE: Well, the president or the secretary of state. In any event, somebody at a high responsible political level, to determine whether the risk of revelation of that collection activity may outweigh any potential benefit from such collection. I think that's a critical issue.

BLITZER: Would the U.S. be upset, let's say, if they found out that Germany was trying to eavesdrop on Joe Biden's cell phone conversations?

NEGROPONTE: Well, if you look at past practice, you know, over the past years, I don't know about Germany but there are other friendly countries --

BLITZER: I'm just giving that as an example.

NEGROPONTE: There are other countries that have engaged in that kind of activity. I have been to countries in Western Europe where I know that I was spied upon.

BLITZER: How did you know? NEGROPONTE: Well, I found out later, as a matter of fact.

BLITZER: Because you were the director of national intelligence?

NEGROPONTE: No, this was much earlier.

BLITZER: When you were --

NEGROPONTE: When I was working actually as the deputy national security advisor.

BLITZER: To the president.


BLITZER: So -- were you stunned? Were you -- how did you react?

NEGROPONTE: Not really, no.

BLITZER: I assume forever that allies spy on each other. That's just part of the business even though they say oh, I'm shocked, shocked. I just assume they do it.

NEGROPONTE: But when you think about it, there's enough other bad stuff going on out there and when you're trying to create a hierarchy of collection priorities, why on earth do you really need to know through eavesdropping techniques what Angela Merkel is saying or thinking. The president himself said it very well. He said when I want to know what Angela Merkel thinks, I'll give her a phone call.

BLITZER: Yes, I guess one of the issues between the U.S. spying on other countries and other countries spying, the U.S. capability is so much more advanced. Right?

NEGROPONTE: That's right. It's a little bit like one of these huge fishing trawlers that just indiscriminately drags up everything at the bottom of the ocean as it pulls much.

BLITZER: This is my final question. The scheme of things, Ambassador, how much damage do you believe Edward Snowden has done to the United States compared to others who have taken classified information --

NEGROPONTE: I think he's done more than heretofore. I think it's far worse, for example, than the Pentagon papers and done (ph) elsewhere. As you yourself have said, there's still a number of revelations yet to come, maybe many more. So that I think we need to brace ourselves for that. Then we have to think seriously --

BLITZER: That was a major blunder at the NSA that allowed him to gather and collect and take all this kind of information. Has anybody been fired for that?

NEGROPONTE: I don't know the answer to that question. But it's symptomatic of very faulty internal controls.

BLITZER: Amazing when you think about it.

NEGROPONTE: You can't give somebody a key to the whole store who has this kind of administrative function.

BLITZER: John Negroponte, as usual, thanks for coming in.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

BLITZER: What a story that is.

Up next, a new warning that Iran may need only a month to make enough material for a nuclear bomb. Is it time to step up sanctions, step up negotiations, perhaps? I'll talk with an American scientist behind this latest report.

And what happened in the final moments before a Massachusetts high school teacher as murdered? We have new details.


BLITZER: A stunning new warning saying Iran may need as little as one month to produce enough weapons grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. That does not mean Iran could have a bomb in that time span, but it's certainly a chilling assessment coming as the United States and other powers talk directly with Iran right now about its nuclear program.

Joining us once again, our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto and David Albright, a former Iraq weapons inspector who now heads the Institute for Science and International Security here in Washington. That institute has just released that warning. One month. That's pretty ominous. Tell us how you came up with that conclusion.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INST. FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Well, for several years, we've been trying to estimate how quickly Iran could make weapon grade uranium if it decided to do so. And the timeframes have been coming down. And their inventories and capabilities have been growing. And so, our most recent estimate is that they could do it as quickly as one, one and a half months.

BLITZER: So, in other words, they just need a screwdriver and get it ready and they could do that, and then after -- let's say they did it in one or one and a half months, how long would it take to actually build a bomb?

ALBRIGHT: That could take several months more. I mean, they would need to make the components and then it could take even longer if they wanted a deliverable nuclear weapon. The problem, though, is that if they have this amount of weapon grade uranium sufficient for a bomb, what do you do next?

I mean, one of the benefits that we have now is that if Iran was caught doing this and the inspectors would likely catch them before they finished, they -- Iran would risk being bombed, and therefore, in a sense, it serves to deter Iran from even trying. But as their time shrinks further and further, it may reach a point where the inspectors can no longer detect it. So, when people say there's an urgency to get these negotiations going and settled, that's right.

BLITZER: Yes. One month. That's pretty ominous. Jim Sciutto, you've been working your sources on this. What are U.S. officials telling you?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S., the administration's position continues to be very different. The president on the record earlier this month saying the administration still believes Iran more than a year away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, and they say, they acknowledge when they say that that they're more conservative, for instance, than Israeli intelligence is.

But as David knows better than me, it's an inexact science. U.S. intelligence surprised by Pakistan, for instance, and then they overestimated Iraq's progress towards a nuclear weapon before the U.S. invasion. So, certainly an inexact science, but the administration has come back to that point when challenged many times on this, much different from one month.

BLITZER: You want to respond to that?

ALBRIGHT: Yeah. I think we're calculating and estimating the amount of time to make weapon grade uranium. They're often just saying when could they have an actual operational nuclear weapon and those two estimates are different. And so, I think it could take, i don't know if it's a year, but it could take several months to have a nuclear explosive device once you have the weapon grade uranium.

But I think our estimates are based in understanding the Iranian centrifuge program, the basic engineering and physics of producing this and I think the administration isn't actually that far off from us on actually the time to produce the weapons grade uranium.

BLITZER: I've heard, you know, for a while now that the U.S. assessment may be a year, the Israeli assessment may be six months. But when I heard your assessment, maybe a month, or month and a half or so. I mean, that sounded a lot more ominous, but when you're talking about having the capability, the nuclear weapons capability, but not necessarily having a bomb.

ALBRIGHT: Not having finished. But the problem is that if, if the policy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon rests fundamentally on the ability to stop Iran from making weapon grade uranium before they get enough, then what do you do if they have enough?

BLITZER: You confident these talks between the U.S. and others and Iran are going to produce the desired result?

ALBRIGHT: I'm hopeful. I think it's going to be very tough and Iran is determined to have a nuclear program that includes a lot of centrifuges, far more than the U.S. can live with. And I think it's going to be very tough to get an agreement where Iran does not maintain its capabilities to build nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: David Albright, thanks very much.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, the new Obamacare trouble shooters comes up with a new target date for fixing the website mess. Can he keep that promise? We'll also update you on the people you saw here 24 hours ago struggling with the website in the SITUATION ROOM, trying to log on.

We're learning more also about what happened in those final moments before a beloved high school teacher was murdered. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The Obamacare website may be a mess right now, but there's a new forecast for getting it fixed. The administration's new trouble shooter for the site says it should be running smoothly for most people by the end of November. CNN's Athena Jones is over at the White House monitoring this story for us. So, what happened today, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, today, we got the big answer we've been waiting for during all of this commotion about the site not working so well. We learned that by the end of November, the vast majority of folks who are trying to log on and sign up for health insurance should be able to access most all elements of the site. That's according to Jeff Zients. He's the person the president put in charge of this massive effort to fix

We also learned from Zients today that they're putting QSSI in charge of this effort to fix everything. QSSI is one of the contractors involved in setting up the site. They are now going to be put in charge of the general contractor. Basically, essentially taking over from the government, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS has been managing this site and some would say not very well.

Now, HHS Secretary Sebelius has been on tour for the last couple of days promoting Obamacare. She was in Texas today. That's the home state of one of the big opponents of Obamacare, as you know, Senator Ted Cruz. She talked about why some of the problems that we've seen with the website and also took a dig at Republicans. Let's take a listen.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: In an ideal world, it would have been a lot more testing. We did not have the luxury of that with a law that said it's go time on October 1st, and frankly, a political atmosphere where the majority party at least in the house was determined to stop this any way they possibly could, including shutting down the United States government.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JONES: Now, the secretary is going to be testifying before Congress about all of this next week, and if you're wondering where the president is, he's in New York tonight. He'll be kicking off a month- long fundraising swing as the party gears up for 2014. And Wolf, I don't have to tell you that some of those Democrats who've been supporting and defending Obamacare are facing tough re-election fights, they want to see this website fixed all together as soon as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Everybody does. They want to see it fixed. All right. Athena, thanks very much.

So, is the promise to get the Obamacare website fixed by the end of November too little, too late? Let's discuss with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief national correspondent, John King, and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "State of the Union."

Gloria, ten, not nine, ten Democratic senators, some of whom are very close to the president, they wrote a letter to Sebelius today saying, among other things, "as long as these substantial technology glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans. Our constituents are frustrated. Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll."

So, how much pressure does this put on the Obama administration to delay full implementation, the penalty phase of the individual mandate, for example?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let me give you another number. Of those ten, seven are up for re-election. And, a handful of them have very tough re-election fights in red states. So, that's important and that's important to the White House. They want to keep control of the Senate.

These people are saying look, we were with you on the Affordable Care Act, but if it's not working, you need to extend enrollment because we have to be able to go home to our constituents who were skeptical about this plan in the first place or still don't like it, and say you know what, we're working on it to make it work for you.

BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear, and let me know what you think, John, it's not a matter of if but now when, when the Obama administration announces they are going to delay various parts of this because of these problems.

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You have the pressure on the administration. The administration can make the decision to get out front or it can watch as Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, goes to each of those Democrats and says the next time we're in this budget battle, whether it's raising the debt ceiling in three months or whether it's trying to come up with the big budget bargain they're negotiating, the next time I have a bill on the floor and we propose an amendment to delay it, will you be with me if you have to vote on it?

So, the administration can get out front or they can deal with the inevitable politics. When you get to ten, Mitch McConnell can do the math in the Senate. That gives him great leverage.

CANDY CROWLEY, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And here's why they're so reluctant and that is delay is, to them, not working. They don't want -- I mean, you hear them, this is a computer glitch or a big computer glitch, but they don't want it to be an epic fail. And they think every step they take toward, OK, let's delay this or let's do that.

It undermines the people who they need to have get on and sign up. So, they don't like that. I think they'll have to do it. I think we'll come up with another word for delay. Extend.


BORGER: But you know, the HHS --


BORGER: HHS Secretary Sebelius today made the point, look, you know, if you were to do this whatever we call it, it has ramifications for insurers, for example, that any extension has consequences and we have to sort of work through that. And I think, you know, that's a legitimate point.

BLITZER: She's out selling Obamacare, Kathleen Sebelius. She was in Phoenix yesterday, John. I'll play a clip of what she said responding to those who want her to be fired.


SEBELIUS: The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don't work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place. My role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that.


BLITZER: Because the critics are saying she works for the American people. She doesn't just work for the president of the United States.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She does, but she needs to be careful because her own credibility's at stake here. And as a former governor she knows what it's like to implement programs.

She doesn't work for the Congress but Congress does, in our system of government, have a legitimate oversight role, Wolf, whether it's a Republican controlled House or Democrat controlled Senate. This is their job to oversee the administration, to make sure laws are being properly implemented.

And what she said in the earlier bite that Athena tossed to there that, you know, that we're trying to get this up and running. We were rushed. They had almost three years, Wolf.


KING: And that the other party's trying to defund it. Well, even in the government shutdown, none of the money for Obamacare was affected. So that statement just doesn't fly. And the Republican critics will only increase the volume if she's giving answers that don't match the facts.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's what she has going for her. And that is even as a candidate, it wasn't that Barack Obama wouldn't throw someone under the bus. It was that he wouldn't do it when someone else was trying to force his hand. So until you get 10 senators or -- who privately or publicly go, you know what, it's really time someone is held responsible for this, I don't see at this moment when -- he's under pressure, particularly from -- particularly from the opposite party to do something, he tends to go --

BLITZER: Yes. When he's under pressure from his own party, that's different.



BORGER: You know what, you know what, a little bit of contrition in this situation would go a long way. And what we haven't heard is, you know what, we're embarrassed by this, I'm really sorry this occurred, not from the contractors, not from Kathleen Sebelius.

You know, you don't have to fall on your sword and say we're incompetent -- because that's clearly not what they would say, but a little bit of contrition would be, we really apologize to the millions of people out there who are trying to get on the site.

BLITZER: Right. Let me switch gears to another political story we're watching. The former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She's out there very visible the last few days, three major speeches, the University of Buffalo, Colgate University.

BORGER: Colgate. My alma mater.

BLITZER: Where Gloria went.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: The Center for American Progress here in Washington. Let me play a little clip of her.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Politicians choose scorched earth over common ground, families have felt the consequences. We are careening from crisis to crisis instead of having a plan, bringing people to that plan, focusing on commonsense solutions and being relentless in driving toward them.


BLITZER: All right, Candy, she getting ready for something?



The high road is so much easier when you're outside the beltway. Listen, the minute that she definitively convinces people without having to say so herself that she's running for president, her poll numbers go down. I mean, this is -- yes, I think she's more correctly keeping her options open. I'm still in that camp that she's not completely sure. I'm going to hang on to that. But I think she's not completely sure but she's sure enough that she might that she's out there making these speeches.

BORGER: I just love the professional outsiderism. Right?


BORGER: This occurs in a nanosecond and in fact, people who are inside Washington like Ted Cruz are professional outsiders. Ronald Reagan was also. And this sort of looking at Washington from afar, having been gone for like 10 minutes, is looking at Washington from afar and saying oh, my god, look at how they can't get along and isn't this terrible --



KING: She sounds like a grownup but look at our own polling. People hate the Congress.

BORGER: Right.

KING: The president is under 50 percent. She sounds like an adult. Why can't we sit down and work this out and stop screaming at each other. Candy is right. When she announces she's in a completely different environment but right now that's exactly what she should sound like.

BORGER: Outsider. Right.

BLITZER: People ask me, Is Hillary going to run? I always say the same thing, I believe she will run for the Democratic presidential nomination unless, unless she's not healthy. She had a blood clot, remember, in her head not that long ago.

BORGER: She's good.

BLITZER: If she's completely recovered and she's is strong and healthy, I believe she will run for president of the United States.

BORGER: I agree.

BLITZER: That's just me. Guys, thanks very much.

Candy got a big show coming up Sunday morning, right?

CROWLEY: I do. Talking a little about the NSA and tapping the phone calls of our allies with Mike Rogers, House chair. And we're also going to look -- kind of get beyond the reboot and say, how is this going to change your relationship with the family doctor. Will anybody ever hang their shingle out again?

BLITZER: Zeke Emanuel is going to join you as well.

CROWLEY: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: The brother of Rahm Emanuel.

CROWLEY: Yes. And the --


BLITZER: Very quiet guy. Soft spoken.

BORGER: I'm sure he likes to be called the brother of Rahm Emanuel.


BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, thanks very much.

KING: Fought brothers.


BLITZER: When we come back, we have some dramatic new details coming into the SITUATION ROOM of those final moments before a beloved math teacher was murdered allegedly by her own student.

Plus, is another American city about to let you smoke marijuana legally? We're going to tell you where that happens to be.


BLITZER: The family of a student who allegedly murdered his teacher speaking out now for the first time about his past. You're going to find out what his uncle is telling us.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're now learning more about those final moments before a beloved high school teacher was murdered allegedly by a student who we're now told was asked to stay after class.

CNN's Don Lemon is joining us once again from Danvers, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. So what are we hearing now from the suspect's family?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know that uncle is obviously shocked and the uncle, you know, sort of alluded to the possibility, you know, everyone is looking for a reason here, but he sort of alluded to the possibility that some recent family tensions may have led this young man to do this. As well as sources close to the investigation, they say that they are looking at that as well.


LEMON (voice-over): The students are back at Danvers High School.

COLLIN BUTLER, DANVERS HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR: I'm just trying to return to some sense of normalcy.

LEMON: The school's flag at half staff and pink ribbons on the trees reminders that things are still far from normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know why someone would do this to someone so nice.

LEMON: Still more questions than answers as to what made 14-year-old Philip Chism allegedly kill his math teacher, Colleen Ritzer, with a box cutter Tuesday and then dumped her body in the woods behind the school's athletic field. He then went to this theater to see Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."

Chism's uncle in Tennessee among those who still can't understand why.

TERRENCE CHISM BLAINE, SUSPECT'S UNCLE: This is the furthest thing from reality for me to believe that Philip could, you know, get entangled in something like this.

LEMON (on camera): His uncle told CNN that Chism's parents are separated. Chism's father, a former military man, is now living in Florida. The question is, could trouble at home be one of the reasons behind his alleged attack?

CARRIE KIMBALL-MONAHAN, SPOKESWOMAN, ESSEX COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: An investigation is a broad and painstaking effort. So there -- all -- any and all information that's pertinent and relevant to proving our case is taken into consideration.

LEMON: Would something like that be relevant?


LEMON (voice-over): Freshman student Cambria Cloutier sat near Chism in Ritzer's math class. She said he was a good student but that something was different about Chism's behavior on Tuesday.

CAMBRIA CLOUTIER, STUDENT: He was a little bit more quiet than usual. Like he had his earbuds on, he was drawing, he wasn't doing math, he wasn't paying attention.

LEMON: Cloutier says Ritzer asked Chism to stay after class to help him with what he missed, telling CNN's Pam Brown that she walked by the classroom after school and saw the two of them together.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What did you see in the classroom at 3:15?

CLOUTIER: I saw Miss Ritzer standing at her desk computer smiling at me, then I saw Philip slouching in his chair staring at me when I walked by.

LEMON: Just 15 minutes later, according to sources close to the investigation, Colleen Ritzer was brutally killed in the school's second floor bathroom.

CLOUTIER: If I had walked by there 15 minutes later, what could have happened? If I witnessed that, like what could I have done?


LEMON: And here's what sources close to the investigation are telling us. They are telling us that there is nothing in his past, in this young man's past, that would lead them to believe that he was capable of doing this, or would lead them to believe that he would even do this. He didn't have bad grades and they are also saying that that whole theory about him having some sort of crush on her, they don't believe that that's a possibility as well.

They are saying to us that it is a blind alley, Wolf. But we've also learned, too, that her wake will be held on Sunday and her funeral will be held on Monday, both in Andover.

BLITZER: What a sad story. Don Lemon on the scene for us, thanks for that report.

Here's a look at some of the other stories we're monitoring right now in the SITUATION ROOM.

Demolition is under way at the Sandy Hook Elementary School almost one year since one of the worst school shootings in this country's history. The process is expected to be completed by the time of the December 14th anniversary. Twenty children, six adults were killed in that massacre.

The Transportation Department is fining United Airlines $1.1 million for lengthy tarmac delays at Chicago O'Hare International Airport last year. That's the largest fine assessed since the rule limiting long tarmac delays first took effect back in 2010. United says it's committed to complying with the regulations and continues to improve its procedures.

The heavy metal band Metallica plans to play a concert at its most remote location yet. Antarctica. It's part of a December promotional stunt sponsored by Coca-Cola where fans can enter a contest for a chance to attend. No word on whether the band will play its classic hit, "Trapped Under Ice."

Just ahead, the mystery on the high seas after two Americans are taken by pirates. Conflicting accounts of where they and their ship may be. And a move to make marijuana almost legal in a major American city you might not believe that name of that city.

And you have to see the new baby photos from Britain's royal family. They're coming up right here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Getting some new family photos of the royal baby, Prince George, from his Christening. You'll see them when we come back.


BLITZER: Another American city on the verge of decriminalizing marijuana. And guess what? This time right here in the nation's capital.

Let's bring in our regulation correspondent Rene Marsh. She's got the details.

So what's the latest?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you, marijuana, as you know, still illegal under federal law, and it's a criminal offense in D.C., but council members in the nation's capital, right under the federal government's nose, are pushing for leniency, for people caught with it.

Right now possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in the district means six months in jail and a $1,000 penalty but if D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells and Marion Berry have it their way, the punishment would be reduced to a $25 to $100 fine with no jail time. Mayor Vincent Gray supports the proposal.

Now decriminalizing the drug right in the federal government's backyard, well, I spoke with one of the councilmen who is proposing just that. Take a listen.


MARSH: So that means, to say, I have marijuana, I'm steps away from the capitol, like we're not far from it now, you can see it in the distance. And if I'm caught with marijuana, my punishment could be the equivalent of a parking ticket or a traffic ticket?

TOMMY WELLS, D.C. COUNCILMAN: That's right. What we've found, in D.C. in particular is really an issue of social justice. It's really an issue of social justice, where 90 percent of the arrests in Washington, D.C. are African-Americans for criminal possession of marijuana, when we're a city that's only about 48, 49 percent African- American. The over-criminalization of African-American youth is so much due to criminalization. To what end? It means that you're less likely be able to get a job, go to school, get housing. And that just does not make sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARSH: All right. Well, the D.C. council is expected to vote on the proposal by the end of next month. Councilman Wells says that he has the support from most of his council members, but not everyone is for it. A 10-year-old testified before the council pleading with them not to decriminalize marijuana, saying it is very popular in his neighborhood. And he didn't want to be subjected to the smell of weed in his apartment building. That's what he thought would be the end result if they do indeed follow through with this proposal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens right here in the nation's capital, how the federal government may respond if a local official push for it.

MARSH: And not only that, I mean, it creates a tricky situation because we have lots of federal land here, obviously, so you cross the street, you may get that $25 ticket, but if you do the same thing across the street on federal property, it would be a different story.

BLITZER: All right. Rene, thanks for that report. Rene Marsh reporting.

Nigeria says it's searching for a U.S. flagship which was stormed by pirates and kidnapped the captain and the chief engineer. Both Americans. But is the ship really missing?

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us again.

Barbara, you've been working the story since we learned about it. What is the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, murky still. No word on the fate of the captain and the chief engineer, Americans, who were kidnapped in this pirate attack. As for the ship, murky statements out of Nigeria. Some saying that they don't know where the ship is from the government spokesman. And some statements suggesting it may be in an eastern port.

U.S. officials telling us they have good reason to believe the ship now is in port, but they will not say where. Security concerns, of course, still about the crew in Nigeria. But really the key issue, of course, is not the location of the ship, but the location of the two Americans that have been taken captive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will the U.S. consider a rescue operation?

STARR: This is very delicate business, of course. There's no real word about this. And it would be tough to talk about publicly. In past cases, of course, companies, insurance companies, the owners of the ships that have been involved in pirate attacks have sought -- come to private agreements, if you will, paying ransom by all accounts. No public word about whether that is going on in this case, and still U.S. government officials say there is no official role for the U.S. to play, no role for the Obama administration.

But Wolf, I have to tell you, all of this is being kept very quiet -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Barbara Starr, as it should. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, you saw people here attempting to sign up for Obamacare live in the SITUATION ROOM without much success yesterday. Have they made any progress 24 hours later? We're going to have an update for you on what is going on.

And in our next hour, previously sealed court documents released today in the notorious JonBenet Ramsey murder case. Our own Tom Foreman and Jeffrey Toobin, they both covered it extensively back in the late '90s. They're here in the SITUATION ROOM. We're going to break down the new information. That was just released.


BLITZER: Just ahead in our next hour, previously sealed court documents released in the notorious JonBenet Ramsey murder case. Our own Tom Foreman, Jeffrey Toobin, they covered it extensively back in the late '90s. They're both here. They'll break down the new information when we come back.


BLITZER: A portrait of four generations of British royalty. The official photos are now out from Prince George's Christening. One with Queen Elizabeth and the heirs to the throne. The other with Duchess Catherine and the extended royal family.

Britain's Prince Harry -- excuse me -- Prince George was Christened Wednesday in a private ceremony.

We want to update you now our Obamacare signup live event yesterday in the SITUATION ROOM. Remember we have three people trying to sign up for insurance. And they were unsuccessful during our own 90-minute program. But guess what shortly after we went off the air, 29-year- old self-employed Hazami Barmada, she was able to purchase insurance. So far the other two who've also tried to sign up have not been able to get the insurance.

We spoke to the White House today for a response to our segment. They point out that thousands of people across the country have already enrolled in Obamacare and have done so successfully. The number of applications have been so far they say 700,000. Unclear how many have actually purchased insurance of those 700,000, but the White House says it believes most people will buy insurance closer to the deadline at the end of March.

They point to Romneycare in Massachusetts where only 123 people were enrolled in the first month which turned out to be only 0.3 percent of the eventual enrollment.

We'll continue to watch the story for you.

Happening now, Hillary Clinton on stage this hour and on a whirlwind speaking tour. Is it proof she's warming up for another presidential campaign?

And a former spy chief gets on a train and forgets to be stealthy. How Michael Hayden's phone conversation got tweeted to the world.