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New NSA Revelations; World Leaders Head to Nelson Mandela's Memorial

Aired December 9, 2013 - 18:00   ET



BLITZER: Happening now, a security nightmare. President Obama is on his way to South Africa for the Nelson Mandela memorial service. This hour the potential dangers he faces along with three former U.S. presidents and dozens of world leaders.

Plus killing cancer like a cold. A new experimental treatment is saving young lives, patients who thought their options had run out.

And online gamers beware. The NSA may be spying on you. Declassified documents reveal the feds are snooping on players of some very popular games. What or who are they looking for?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It all begins in just a matter of hours, one of the biggest farewells to a world leader ever. The memorial service for Nelson Mandela is bringing together hundreds of powerful people from around the globe, including four American presidents, along with tens of thousands of South Africans. It will be crowded and emotional, and it will be a huge security challenge.

Our senior White House security correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is standing by over at the White House, but first let's go to CNN's Isha Sesay. She's in Johannesburg for us.

Isha, is the mood building on the ground only a few hours before this massive memorial service?

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, I'm outside Nelson Mandela's home in the house and suburb of Johannesburg.

And right now it's just after 1:00 a.m. local. The rain has been coming down for some time. And it's fairly quite here, it has to be said, but there's no doubt about it that whole country as a whole is gearing up for that national memorial service to held at FNB Stadium in the coming hours.

It will kick off at 11:00 a.m. local time. And as you said, Wolf, we are looking at extraordinary scenes potentially, as we look at over 90 heads of state descending here on South Africa, and tens of thousands of ordinary South Africans flood into that location to pay their final farewells to Nelson Mandela.

This is a massive logistical undertaking for the South African government. As we understand it, the leave for all security personnel has been canceled. There will be about 11,000 security officials on hand at FNB Stadium tomorrow, canine units, sniper units, the South African government doing all that they can to try and ensure this goes off without a hitch -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I understand there's even more intense preparations under way right now for this major event, and, of course, the funeral will take place on Sunday. This is the memorial service at this huge soccer stadium.

SESAY: Yes, indeed.

And it's important to give some context to the soccer stadium where this is being held. This is the scene of Nelson Mandela's last public appearance, the closing stages of the 2010 World Cup. That was the last time most South Africans saw Nelson Mandela in public. It's also -- and not many point this out -- it's also the scene of Nelson Mandela, one of his first speeches after he was released from prison back in 1990.

He addressed thousands of people in that stadium as well. This stadium, it is closely attached to Nelson Mandela and his public appearances here in this country. It's a fitting venue for the memorial which will start in a couple of hours, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Isha, thanks very much.

George W. Bush is aboard Air Force One right now President Obama and so is Hillary Clinton. You can only imagine what those conversations must be like. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, they will join them at the Mandela memorial service. They're flying to South Africa separately.

Protecting all of them in this open air soccer stadium will be a security nightmare.

Our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us with more. What are you learning, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, due to the fact that Nelson Mandela's health was ailing for some time, the White House actually had a travel plan in place for his funeral, but according to officials from previous administrations who have planned somewhat similar trips to funeral,s they say it's still a monumental challenge of security and logistics.


KEILAR (voice-over): An historic flight to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, on board Air Force One with, President and Mrs. Obama, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the way to South Africa, they gathered together in the plane's conference room, sharing their stories about Mandela, stories that span three presidential administrations. President's Clinton and Carter are traveling separately to Johannesburg.

The last time these presidents were all together was in April at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, but this event in a foreign country will mean much greater security concerns. Sources involved in planning President Clinton's trip to the 1995 funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President George W. Bush's travel the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II tells CNN it can be nerve-racking to depend on a host country.

TOM DONILON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The United States Secret Service is charged with protecting the president. And they do a lot of planning and they're very good at this. The South Africans have challenges along a number of dimensions. In addition to security, they have logistical challenges.

KEILAR: Nelson Mandela's memorial service will take place in a soccer stadium that holds 90,000 people. More than 90 world leaders are expected to attend. And leaders of six nations will be among those speaking at the service, including President Obama, who was active in the anti-apartheid movement as a college student attending and speaking at a rally.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid.


KEILAR: And President Obama is as we speak, Wolf, en route to South Africa still, and we have learned some about the seating arrangements. He and Mrs. Obama are in their normal cabin. And then in the medical office behind their cabin, that is where the Bushes are. And behind that, the senior staff cabin, that's where Hillary Clinton is, of course, when they were all not gabbing in the conference room, as we also learned that they did.

BLITZER: I'm sure they did.

There's great be potentially an awkward moment, as you know, Brianna. Cuba's President Raul Castro will be sharing the same stage with President Obama, and they will both be speaking at the memorial service. How is that expected to unfold?

KEILAR: That's right. This is something that could be unexpected, Wolf, because previous officials to other trips like this have said, you know, sometimes you can't necessarily keep these foreign leaders apart. It's sort of a feat of maneuvering, but there is a portion of the service where you have six foreign leaders who are paying tribute to Nelson Mandela. President Obama will be the first of the six. Raul Castro is the last to pay his respects, but they are sharing a stage. I think it is interesting that you have, obviously the U.S. and Cuba, which were enemies during the Cold War, certainly not the friendliest of nations, but you have Nelson Mandela who in life was so unifying in South Africa, an inspiration to others, even in his death, he's unifying some unlikely characters.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thank you. Brianna is over at the White House. We will watch this memorial service, of course, unfold. CNN will have live coverage. The memorial service begins 4:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m. Eastern.

Still ahead, an American veteran is back home after more than a month as a captive in North Korea. We have new information about the way he was treated. We're learning more about Kim Jong-un's unpredictable regime.

And he thought he was out of options until doctors tried something new. They killed his cancer in much the same way that our bodies fight the common cold.


BLITZER: Getting some new information on the release of that 85-year- old American Korean War veteran who was held captive by North Korea for more than a month. Merrill Newman is back home with his family and he's speaking out about his time in captivity.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, I understand a new statement has just been released from Mr. Newman?


This statement from the elderly war veteran tells of his captors trying to intimidate him, but him finding ways around that.


STARR (voice-over): Merrill Newman is finally back home in California after more than a month in North Korean captivity.

QUESTION: What's the first thing you're going to do when you make it back through the door?

MERRILL NEWMAN, FREED FROM NORTH KOREAN CAPTIVITY: I think probably take my shoes off. I'm tired, but ready to be with my family now.

KEILAR: In a remarkable new statement, Newman himself explains why he think the North Koreans detained him, saying -- quote -- "I have given considerable thought to this and have come to the conclusion that I just didn't understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn't over, and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner. Newman says he had requested to visit an area where Korean partisans and anti-communist guerrillas he helped train during the war had come from and possibly meet with those who still alive. He says -- quote -- "The North Koreans seemed to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister."

And Newman confirms this so-called confession...

NEWMAN: I can understand that in U.S. and Western countries, there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK.

STARR: ... was written for him by the regime. He said he tried to read it in a way everyone would know they weren't his words.

But no release for Kenneth Bae, another American now held for more than a year.

VICTOR CHA, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Perhaps it's a fact that he is a missionary, and was trying to get North Koreans to defect.

STARR: And a growing sense that North Korea's Kim Jong-un may be increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous. In front of the Communist Party faithful, Kim purged his once all-powerful uncle of all posts.

CHA: To me, it's more concerning that the leader of North Korea sacks the number one man, the man he most trusts, Jang Song Thaek, and then last summer sacked the top general in the system. If you cannot trust your number one and number two man in the system, that clearly means you don't trust anybody.


STARR: And more worrying signs of what Kim Jong-un might be up to, construction at a missile site has now been finished and a reactor restarted that may be capable of making fuel for nuclear bombs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm happy. Certainly all of us are happy that Mr. Newman is home. Let's hope Kenneth Bae is home soon as well.

Let me switch gears while I have you, Barbara. Talk about Afghanistan for a moment. Over the weekend, the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, was in Afghanistan thanking U.S. troops for their commitment there on the eve of Christmas and New Year's. He's visiting Afghanistan, a country where the U.S. has been at war, the longest war in American history, 12, 13 years, where the U.S. has spend hundreds of billions, lost thousands of troops, and the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, doesn't even have time to invite him in for a cup of coffee?

What is going on?

STARR: Well, Wolf, what the Pentagon will tell you is that Hagel never planned to meet with Karzai during this trip, that it was simply a trip to thank the troops. He did, however, meet with some top Afghan government officials to discuss what is going on and why Karzai won't sign the security agreement that the U.S. needs that signature on in order to keep troops there after the end of 2014.

Let's be very clear. The U.S. isn't so anxious to stand right next for Karzai right now. He is so unpredictable that they really don't understand fully, they say, what he is up to. So, right now, they're working with the second tier of Afghan officials trying to get all of this resolved -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will see what happens, at stake, thousands of U.S. troops could be stuck in Afghanistan for another decade right now, at the cost of billions of dollars year, and Hamid Karzai won't even talk to the secretary of defense. It's pretty shocking when you think about it, but we will continue to follow the Afghan story, because it is so important.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's go to a groundbreaking and lifesaving new treatment potentially for cancer right now. It effectively trains a patient's body to fight off the disease, a lot like the way our bodies fight off the common cold.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us.

Elizabeth, how sick was this patient before trying this new treatment?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this patient like all the other ones in the study was very sick. His cancer was impervious to everything that they tried.

So, the young man that I met with, his name is Nick Wilkins. He lives in Virginia, and he had had chemotherapy, he was diagnosed at age 4. You see him here right at age 4. Chemotherapy, and it came back. He then got a bone marrow transplant from his older sister. And still the cancer came back.

He and his parents were at the end of the road. There was nothing left for them to try, when they found out about this clinical trial at Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania. And he got the treatment in May, and it's decent. And he is now cancer-free. And, of course, everyone is praying that he doesn't relapse like he did before. Now, it's interesting, when you talked about the common cold.

The way that this treatment works is that it teaches Nick's immune system to get rid of cancer like we get rid of a cold. When you have a cold, somehow your immune cells, they know how to see the cold and how to attack it. And so this treatment teaches Nick's cells how to see cancer and how to attack it.

But, you know, Wolf, I'm going to actually let Nick explain it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NICK WILKINS, CANCER PATIENT: They took out T-cells out of my body, and then they engineered them to kind of track down the cancer cells and kill them off.

COHEN: Did they get them?

WILKINS: I hope so. I'm feeling good now. So, I think they did pretty well.


COHEN: Now, Wolf, they tried this treatment in 59 patients total, and it worked in 25 of them. They still are cancer-free. Some of them have been cancer-free for more than three years and counting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope for the best. Sounds pretty significant to me. Elizabeth, thanks very much.

Just ahead, if you or your kids or grandkids play some popular video games online, you may be a target of some NSA spying.

And guess what? My long-simmering rivalry with the fake TV anchor Ron Burgundy, it's all about facial hair and stolen dreams. We will share the details.


BLITZER: We're learning about another way that federal spies are keep tabs on -- potentially at least -- some everyday Americans as part of their mission to track down terrorists overseas. If you play some popular video games online, it turns out the NSA may be watching.

Our Brian Todd is looking into these new revelations.

What is going on, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they can track us online, they can pinpoint our locations through our cell phones. And now the NSA can track us through the video games kids and young adults play.


TODD (voice-over): Anyone playing the game "World of Warcraft" as druids, death knights, warlocks, could also have another designation, surveillance targets. According to newly disclosed classified documents, the NSA and its British counterpart have been infiltrating "World of Warcraft," Another online game called "Second Life," and the Xbox Live console.

They have gathered metadata, according to the documents, but also used human spies to go undercover and create their own avatars, make- believe characters, so they could interact with possibly terrorists playing games.

The documents were obtained by "The Guardian" newspaper from NSA leaker Edward Snowden and shared with "The New York Times" and ProPublica. Why did the NSA do this?

E.J. Hilbert once chased gaming cyber-criminals for the FBI.

E.J. HILBERT, KROLL CYBER: In the online gaming world, you can communicate openly between two characters. And this is not something that goes over the line. It's in a smaller group. You can also gift money in the form of gold or characters or online currency.

TODD: And conceivably terrorists could plan real attacks through thinks fantasy games. Experts say the fake identities, voice and text chat capability, the ability to speak to others in real time are all features of game play that terrorists find attractive, but the NSA's spying program raises privacy concerns.

MARC ROTENBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER: It's a privacy violation, because people who participate in these gaming worlds think of the game interactions as ephemeral. You participate in the game, it disappears, you don't know who the characters are. Everything is fantasy.

And if it turns out that in fact the government is routinely storing all of that activity, analyzing it, linking it up to actual individuals with known identities, then I think people would be concerned.

TODD: And According "The Guardian" and "The Times" with all those elves, trolls and gnomes being surveilled, there's no indication of any terrorists caught or plots foiled.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, the NSA would not comment on the reports or the privacy complaints. It did say that its foreign intelligence mission is centered on -- quote -- "valid foreign intelligence targets."

A spokesman for the NSA's British counterpart would not confirm or deny the reports, but says that agency's activities are necessary and legal. Xbox maker Microsoft and the maker of "World of Warcraft" say they are not aware of any surveillance and they would not have given permission for it. The maker of "Second Life" has not commented -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us on that story, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, anticipation is building for the release of "Anchorman 2" about the legendary newscaster. You may not know it, but Ron and I are very longtime rivals. Not keeping our simmering feud a secret anymore. Watch this.


BLITZER: When we were coming up in the late '70s, Ron Burgundy got the lead anchor position at KVWN because his moustache was slightly bigger than mine. You have to understand, this was the '70s. People found comfort in a mustachioed man delivering the news. That's actually why I grew the beard. I love my beard, but I would trade it for Burgundy's moustache in a heartbeat.

Burgundy and I hit the national spotlight about the same time. Today, he has the most awards of any anchor. Some of them, honestly, I think belong to me, because they're literally mine. He just took them off my shelf, right in front of me, and acted like I didn't see it.


BLITZER: All stuff you can see -- by the way, you can see more of my true confessions about Ron Burgundy on the Web site Funny or Die. You can also go to You can see them there.

You can also see Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo. They trash Ron Burgundy as well. These are very powerful statements. Go to You can watch them, if you're interested.

By the way, I will come face-to-face with the man behind the movie character. Be sure to watch my interview with Will Ferrell here in THE SITUATION ROOM later this week. I think you will enjoy it.

Remember. You can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.