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American Teacher Killed in Libya; Twenty-Five Years for a Crime He Didn't Commit; Cold Snap Moving Across Country; How to Talk to Women

Aired December 5, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Happy repeal day. Take it easy, Obamacare fans and foes. I'm talking about repealing prohibition. It ended 80 years ago this hour. Cheers.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. It's the city where terrorists attacked and killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans more than a year ago. Today, another U.S. citizen has been slain in Benghazi, Libya. Who was Ronald Thomas Smith II? Can his family expect justice?

The national lead. With his son's suicide, this has been the worst year of Pastor Rick Warren's life, but he has relied on his faith to get through it. Pastor warren joins us live to share his theory that faith can lighten the burden, not only on your soul, but on your health.

And the politics lead: how to talk to a woman. No, it's not a book full of cheesy pickup lines. It's a crash course for the men of the Republican Party. They are getting tips on communicating with female voters. Lesson one, lose the idiotic remarks about rape.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the world lead. Ronnie Smith, an American teacher working in Benghazi, Libya, awoke this morning, put on his running shoes, like he's probably done countless other mornings, and he went out for a jog. And he never came home. Gunmen shot and killed Smith right in the streets of Benghazi, Libya. At this point, it's not known who did it or why Smith may have been targeted.

Benghazi is, of course, the city where terrorists attacked U.S. diplomatic posts on September 11 of last year, killing our ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans. No one has been arrested for that attack. In fact, the Libyan government has barred the FBI from entering the country to make arrests.

The government there has struggled enormously since the four-decade reign of Gadhafi came to a bloody end. Armed militant groups and easy access to weapons make it an extremely dangerous place.

I want to bring in Nic Robertson, our expert on Libya, and CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

Thanks so much, guys, for being here.

First to Nic. What do we know about this shooting?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know that he was running on the street, that the gunmen pulled up in a car next to him, they shot him as he was running along.

There are some indications that perhaps they sort of moved up next to him, moved back, moved up and shot him. But he was shot in cold blood, no chance of self-defense. He was a chemistry teacher at the international school there in Benghazi. Benghazi has been getting increasingly dangerous. I was in Libya just two months ago and at that time, Westerners were being evacuated from Benghazi, from hotels there, because it was so dangerous.

But why was Ronnie Smith running on a road in Benghazi? He must have felt to a degree that it was safe, well-liked by his students, we're told, there -- Jake.

TAPPER: What have we learned so far about Ronnie Smith, this teacher with a wife and a child?

ROBERTSON: You know, he's got a young son, a wife. He's well-liked by his students. Many of them have been posting messages on social media Web sites saying that they like him, that he was one of the reasons they came to class, he inspired them, they liked him because he had come to Libya. The principal at the school said that he was a very sweet man.

Every indication that he was -- all those around him liked him, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, thanks so much.

I want to turn to Paul for a second.

Now, American-born al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn recently called for attacks on Westerners in retaliation for the arrest of al-Libi. Obviously, it's very early yet, but based on what you know about terrorism investigations, do you think investigators are looking into a possible connection?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They will be definitely looking at a possible connection.

Benghazi is a city where there's a strong presence of groups who have sympathy with al Qaeda groups, who are linked to al Qaeda, including Ansar al-Sharia, the group thought responsible for the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in September 2012. So they will definitely be looking at that.

These are groups which have extended their influence across eastern Libya, entrenched their position over the last year, Jake.

TAPPER: And in terms of the Smith family, eventually, they are going to get -- I don't know if they will ever get over their grief, but they are going to want justice, they will want answers. We still don't have answers for what happened in Benghazi last September 2012.

What are the odds in a place like Libya that we will ever know really what happened?

CRUICKSHANK: It's pretty unlikely, perhaps. There's still not many answers over Benghazi. Very, very difficult for the FBI to get over to places like Benghazi, very difficult even for the Libyan central government to actually operate in Benghazi.

But there's one encouraging trend in the last couple of weeks, and that's that the people of Benghazi have been rising up against these Islamist groups like Ansar al-Sharia in the city, so it's possible they may be pressured to actually leave the city in the coming months.

TAPPER: Nic, I just want to make sure that I understood when you described how he was shot. He was running. The car pulled up. According to early information, a car pulled up, targeted him and drove away, so it doesn't sound as though there was a robbery. It sounds like he was targeted specifically, maybe just for being a Westerner, but specifically an attack on him for being who he was.

ROBERTSON: Certainly, the intelligence analysts are going to look at this and say, why was he targeted? And one of the reasons that people are going to conclude is that it was because he was an American, and perhaps an easy target.

And one of the things that terrorists do when they are going to target someone is work out and watch for patterns of behavior. If he was regularly running the same route at roughly the same time, that could be something that could play into terrorists' hands.

So if they were responding to Adam Gadahn's message -- and there are certain similarities with that message or the message that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri put out just days before the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens, which was to target Americans in Libya -- then they would have had perhaps a ready-made target there, an American, a soft target, he feels that he's relatively safe, and he's got a routine that they have already calculated and worked out.

So it's very difficult at this early stage to know what the facts are. But when you are analyzing it, that's one of the ways that certainly intelligence analysts are going to analyze what's happened here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Turning to our national lead, if you have a Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn or Yahoo! account, so basically anyone watching right now, you will want to listen to this. The cyber-security firm Trustwave reports that hackers broke into nearly two million accounts of these Web sites and thousands of others over the past month by using a virus that infected computers and captured log-in credentials.

This affects more than 300,000 Facebook accounts, 70,000 Gmail, Google+ and YouTube accounts and 22,000 Twitter accounts. Trustwave said many of the compromised accounts involved weak passwords like the trusty 1234. They recommend updating your antivirus software and maybe coming up with a better password than "password."

I want to bring in Shawn Henry. He's a former executive director of the FBI, where he oversaw computer crime investigations, and now he is president of crowd strike, a security technology organization that helps companies protect sensitive information. We talk to him a lot about cyber-security.

Shawn, good to see you.

You say this is a symptom of a much bigger problem that the world is facing. Explain.


What happened here, Jake, is that it appears that these are home computers that were compromised by this malicious software. They implemented keystroke loggers, so everything that somebody typed into their computer was captured by these adversaries, their credentials, user names and passwords for their -- those accounts that you just described, Twitter, et cetera, going to a server where the adversaries can then go back and look at those passwords and potentially access those accounts, not a breach actually into those companies, but actually into people's home computers.

It is indicative of a much larger problem and that's because we store and transmit data electronically. We're not keeping it in file cabinets anymore. It's done electronically. And it's all done in an infrastructure that is inherently insecure.

And our adversaries know it. They know what the value is and they are constantly targeting our data 24/7, 365 days a year.

TAPPER: So, Shawn, let's go small and then let's go big. People watching at home, what should they do and then what should the U.S. government be doing?

HENRY: So I think it starts with awareness. People need to be alert to the fact that anything that you put on an electronic medium has the potential to be taken, to be revealed.

That's important for people to do. They need to take necessary precautions, and we talk all the time about ensuring that you have got a good password system in place, you just touched on that, that you have got antivirus, et cetera.

What the government needs to be doing is really looking at, how do we identify who the adversaries are and how do we take actions to mitigate that threat? Much like we do in the physical world, we don't merely build up our defenses. We have to have good defenses. That's important. But that in and of itself isn't enough. The most sophisticated adversaries have the capability, they have got the time and they are taking the effort to get on to the networks, and until we actually stop them through some type of actions, whether they be law enforcement actions or actions government to government, some type of civil sanctions, et cetera, until that happens, this continues unfettered.

TAPPER: Shawn, very briefly, if you would, when he was CIA director, Leon Panetta told me that the one thing that kept him up at night were fears of a cyber-attack. Is this related at all to that?

HENRY: It is in that it really highlights the fragility of our infrastructure and the fact that nothing is really safe.

What Secretary Panetta had said, Mr. Panetta had said regarding the infrastructure, it's something that we have talked about for a long time both in and out of government, is the potential for adversaries to access electric power grid, water, sewer, transportation, communications, and look to have an impact on this country, similar to the way they did by flying planes into buildings 10 years ago, 11 years ago.

There are adversaries who are looking to do that, and this type of attack really just highlights the concern we should have about the fact that the infrastructure itself is insecure and we need to be taking stronger action to be much more vigilant.

TAPPER: All right, sobering words. Shawn Henry, thank you so much.

HENRY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up: He spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, even though DNA from the real killer was collected near the crime scene. How many more men and women are behind bars right now and DNA evidence could prove their innocence?

Plus, his faith has gotten him through tough times. Now he's using it to help his health. Pastor Rick Warren joins us ahead to talk about his faith-based weight loss plan.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Time now for the buried lead. That's what we call stories that we don't think have gotten enough attention. In this story, there was actually something literally buried, evidence that proved a man was locked away for a quarter-century for a crime he did not commit.

Michael Morton was convicted in 1987 of killing his wife, Christine, even though he repeatedly denied it. In the documentary "An Unreal Dream" airing tonight on CNN, Morton recounts his confidence that he would be found not guilty.


MICHAEL MORTON, EXONERATED: I didn't think I was going to get convicted. It was going to be a longish trial, but then it would be revealed that there can be no there there. There's nothing to convict. There's nothing hard. There's nothing that says, look, this guy did it. There's nothing beyond a reasonable doubt.

And I couldn't imagine what could possibly be manufactured to make 12 people think that I had killed my wife.


TAPPER: He was wrong. He was sentenced to life and spent 25 years in prison, before his attorneys and a group called The Innocence Project found holes in his conviction.

It proved that a convicted felon named Mark Norwood was the real killer.

Michael Morton was freed in 2011. Norwood was convicted of Christine's murder earlier this year and police believe he killed another woman, Deborah Baker, in 1988.

Our own Ashleigh Banfield spoke with Mark Morton and asked how he felt about being wrongly convicted.


MORTON: A lot of anger inside. I felt like I was justified at the time. But today and now, I understand that that sort of anger and revenge and hate isn't going to help you any. But the one thing that will work that people should and often do latch on to is transparency and accountability.


TAPPER: While this case has a somewhat happy ending with Morton trying to build a relationship with his now adult son, we have to ask how many innocent men and women sit in prison right now when DNA evidence could exonerate them?

I want to bring in Chris Asplen. He's a former prosecutor who's now a director with the Alliance for Rapid DNA testing.

Chris, thanks for being here.

I know you followed this case closely. What do you make of the fact there was evidence, this bandanna with blood and hair that was never tested for DNA?

CHRIS ASPLEN, ALLIANCE FOR RAPID DNA TESTING: Well, it's certainly a tragedy. It's a tragedy in a number of ways. It's a tragedy not only for what happened to Michael's life, but what happened to his son's and his relationship. It was also a tragedy for what happened to Deborah Baker and the fact that she was killed when, if we had identified the right perpetrator early on rather than have this tunnel vision for Michael Morton, we very well may have prevented her murder also.

TAPPER: We should note that the prosecutor in this case from 1987 is named Ken Anderson. He briefly served time in jail last month for criminal contempt of court involving this case. We have a statement from his attorney, Eric Nichols, that we have to read.

Quote, "Mr. Anderson has not been and never will be prosecuted for any alleged crime in connection with the Michael Morton trial or any subsequent proceeding relating to the Morton trial. In light of the DNA results obtained in 2011, Mr. Anderson has consistently expressed and continues to express to Mr. Morton and his family his regret for Mr. Morton's prosecution and incorrect incarceration," unquote.

How common is this, Chris, where a prosecutor is involved in the withholding of evidence for whatever reason?

ASPLEN: You know, it's a system run by human beings, and so there are going to be times when humans fail. We don't know how many times wrongful convictions are the result of prosecutor misconduct. It's really probably not that many. We certainly don't have many instances where prosecutors have been subsequently pursued for their misdeeds originally.

But actually, that's not the bigger problem. The bigger number of cases that we need to be concerned about are all those cases wherein prosecutors do the right thing and they think they've got it right, where witnesses all think they've got the right person, where the other forensic evidence seems to point to that person and we still get it wrong. That's really the larger number by far, are the cases in which the system appears to work well and then just doesn't, because we don't look at the kind of evidence that we can look at now.

TAPPER: And give us an idea of what DNA testing was like in 1987 when Morton was convicted, compared to where we are now.

ASPLEN: Well, it was -- it was very, very, very rudimentary at that stage. Very few places were actually doing DNA testing at all. Admissibility wars were still being fought throughout the country to try to get it legal in the courts.

We are now light years ahead of that. Originally, what we went through with DNA was to try to make it reliable and very discriminatory, and the technology was designed to try to do more with less. In other words, how could we get a good profile from smaller and smaller pieces of evidence?

Now that we can get DNA profiles from evidence we can't even see, now the issue is how do we do it more quickly. Now, it's reliability and speed, because when you're doing DNA testing, how quickly you get to do that testing may literally save someone's life.

TAPPER: All right. Chris Asplen, thank you so much. You can watch the story of Michael Morton tonight with "An Unreal Dream". That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern on CNN.

Coming up, the Republican speaker of the House sees a problem. Too many of his male colleagues need coaching when it comes to women.

And salting the streets and shoveling the snow in Dallas? Weren't people wearing shorts there just a day ago?

We'll have the latest on the storm making its way across the nation.


In national news, I hope you can hear me over the sound of your own chattering teeth, because it's brutally cold across a huge section of the country right now.

This is Dallas, Texas. Take a look. Just yesterday, temperatures there were flirting with 80 degrees. Tonight, it could drop down into the 20s.

That's Dallas. You hear me, folks, Dallas.

I want to get to our meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN severe weather center.

Chad, it's nasty out there.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It sure is. In all my years of talking about ice storms, I'm not sure I have ever heard the Weather Service talk with the word "catastrophic". But Memphis and Little Rock both said that areas in their forecast region will have a catastrophic ice storm.

That's what we're expecting. We're expecting an inch of ice on the roadways, on the branches, on the power lines. There will be millions of people without power and they may be without power for a couple of weeks in the worst possible scenario, because it's also cold. When you don't have power, you don't have heat because your furnace can't blow the heat around even if you have that gas furnace. Typically, that's electric. Without the electric fan you won't get any heat out of it.

There's the storm. It's right along the same front we talked about yesterday. It's the front that took Dallas, Texas, Dallas-Ft. Worth was 80. Right now, they're 31. In 24 hours, they are down now all the way down to 31 degrees and it's now precipitating, we're starting to see ice, we're going to see sleet, and we're going to see freezing rain.

I hope that you get to see sleet because an inch of sleet, you can deal with it. It bounces off stuff. If you get an inch or half inch of this frozen, freezing precip, this is where the catastrophic word comes in. If it's liquid all the way down, but it's find as it hits the ground, it freezes up.

Twenty-five degrees right now in Muskogee, Oklahoma and it's rain. Every drop that's hitting the ground is instantly freezing on branches, on overpasses, on bridges, on everything, and you can't get around in it. And this isn't going to stop for 24 hours. We could get 24 hours with this precip of ice just coming down all across the region.

Sure, there will be snow. I can drive in snow. I can't drive on any ice and neither can you. So, stay home if you can.

TAPPER: All right. Chad Myers, heed his words, people. Heed his words.

MYERS: Thanks.

TAPPER: The politics lead now. For want of a clue, the Senate was lost. Or so believed many Republicans who look at Senate races in Missouri, Indiana and elsewhere last year and some unfortunate talk of legitimate rape and the like and think, why did we nominate these people?

House Speaker John Boehner trying to get ahead of the problem before the 2014 midterms. He wants to make sure the Republican men in the House get a little sensitivity training, to learn how to go toe to toe with female opponents and also to learn how to appeal to female voters.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Trying to get them to be a little more sensitive, you know. You look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democratic caucus than there are in the Republican caucus. And, you know, some of our members just aren't as sensitive as they ought to be.


TAPPER: In the film version, the role of John Boehner will be played by Alan Alda.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins me now.

Boehner being unusually candid there, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is. Sorry, I'm just stuck on Alan Alda. I think we're showing our age. We are showing our age, Jake, because I get what that meant.

He is being candid and that, you know, really was his goal coming out in that press conference. It is not a secret that Republicans since the end of the last election have been licking their wounds and trying to figure out the best way to do two things. One is close the gender gap among voters and also, try to recruit more female candidates here in Congress to be members of Congress.

This is something that came up this morning when I interviewed the House majority leader, Boehner's number two, Eric Cantor. Here's his take.


BASH: Do you not know how to talk to women, sir?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: We have any number of Republican women in our conference who are real leaders on all kinds of issues.

BASH: But from -- is there a problem with men in the Republican Party, your rank and file, who don't know how to communicate to reach female voters?

CANTOR: You know, it is our policies that are going to appeal to both female and male voters.

BASH: But they haven't.

CANTOR: When we're talking about health care right now, our health care starts with people and patients.


BASH: Mr. Boehner a little more candid than his number two there.

Dana, a lot of this is obviously about trying to prevent the kind of gaffes we heard, for example, from former congressman and Senate candidate Todd Aiken in the 2012 Missouri Senate race, when he made a reference to legitimate rape and shutting that whole thing down, et cetera, as if there were types of rape claims that weren't legitimate, as if that wasn't biologically accurate. That became like a national issue, Republicans would argue, aided by a liberal media.

But one way or the other, they're trying to avoid this happening again.

BASH: That's exactly what's going on.

So, what's happening behind the scenes, Jake, is all candidates, this happens constantly, you know this, in both parties, they go through media training. So, what House Republican strategists are doing in their media training is putting an emphasis on learning how to answer questions that they're going to get about abortion, about rape, and not make the gaffe that you just played before.

In addition to that, what we're told that they are encouraging Republican candidates to do, both genders, is to have more events in and around women's issues, to have a women's coalition and not just have like one event per election season as some of these members do, but to do it constantly and really bring these issues to the floor.