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EARLY START

Big Winter Storm Targets Northeast; Rescue Is On!; Clemency for Snowden?; Putin Promises Safe Olympics

Aired January 2, 2014 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Brace for the snow. The first major winter storm of 2014 is bearing down on the Midwest and the Northeast, as temperatures plummet. More than 1,000 flights already canceled. We have what you need to know this morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And the rescue is on. A helicopter has started evacuating the stranded passengers stuck on an icy ship in icy Antarctica. We'll have a live report on that rescue operation.

CABRERA: A whistle-blower who should be forgiven or a traitor prosecuted? A provocative editorial from "The New York Times" is calling out the White House this morning. We have details straight ahead.

Good morning. And thanks for waking us with us on EARLY START. I'm Ana Cabrera.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman is hosting NEW DAY today.

It is Thursday, January 2nd, 2014. Bright and early, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

And we're talking about the weather.

Blizzard warnings, snow emergencies and subzero wind-chills to kick off the New Year here in the Northeast. So far, nearly 1,800 flights canceled on Wednesday or pre-canceled already today. Most of them in Chicago.

A blizzard warning now in effect for Long Island. At this time tomorrow, there could be 10 inches of snow on the ground there with wind-chills of 10 degrees below zero.

And a snow emergency already declared in Boston. That area could get socked with two feet of snow drifts starting tonight.

Our own Jennifer Gray is live for us, tracking the storm in Boston this morning, where you've already got quite a bit of snow.

Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning to you.

And you may be able to hear reporter: the snowplow behind me, they are out here and they are going to be busy, busy over the next 48 hours. You're right. It is already snowing in Boston. This is pretty much phase one of the bigger picture. We are going tor tracking the storm for the next 36 to 48 hours.

There's also a blizzard warning for the cape as well. So keep that in mind.

There is your radar. We are seeing snow still in the Midwest. We are seeing snow through Chicago but you can see it does extend into the Northeast. That little swath from Upstate New York and it's heading through Boston this morning but this is just the beginning.

As this storm continues to track to the Northeast, we'll continue to pick up snow. It will become heaviest late tonight and through tomorrow morning, that's also when we're going to get those really strong Northeast winds, so that's what the worry is. The blowing snow, the drifting snow could lead to whiteout conditions in Boston and the surrounding areas as we go through tonight and to tomorrow morning.

So, very dangerous. We could pick up a foot of snow here in Boston, maybe even a little bit more. Less is you head down to the South, New York City could see anywhere from six to 10 inches of snow, and then Washington, D.C. could even pick up about an inch or two of snow as well.

So there are your blizzard warnings. Long Island, as well as the cape. Guys, it is going to be a long couple of days. Just stay off the roads and if you are traveling, good luck to you if you're traveling for the next couple of days.

HARLOW: Exactly. But kids in Boston are happy. They're going to get to play in the snow because school is canceled on Friday. So they may be enjoying this a little more than the rest of us. Thanks, Jennifer. Appreciate it.

CABRERA: Looking at the glass half full there.

Well, let's zoom in to another trouble spot this morning. People in Chicago are bracing for sort of the back end of a bitter 1-2 punch. Close to a foot snow has already fallen on some of the city's suburbs and they're not even close to being out of the woods.

A separate lake effect system is now moving into the Windy City right now. And by tonight, the area could get socked with up to 10 more inches of snow. Just in Chicago alone, hundreds of flights have been canceled.

HARLOW: And it is not much better in nearby Milwaukee. Up to 8 inches could fall in the region, with about six already on the ground there, the condition sending cars swerving out of the control. The storm comes on the heels of a bitterly cold month in Milwaukee.

Get this. The average temperature there in December, 21 degrees, with six days at zero or below. CABRERA: New developments from Antarctica this morning. Good news. A helicopter rescue is now under way for the 52 passengers on that stranded research ship stuck in the ice. The vessel has been trapped since Christmas Eve.

Earlier this morning officials initially had to scrub the mission because of dangerous conditions, but now, a break in the mission to evacuate the passenger is almost complete.

Anna Coren tracking the latest developments live from Hong Kong this morning.

Anna, so the first few rounds of evacuations have already happened?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. They have managed to get 48 people off that stranded ship in Antarctica. As you say, it's been stuck in ice since Christmas Eve. They have another four passengers to get off along with a hundred kilos of equipment and luggage, and then the mission is complete, which is absolutely fantastic.

You mentioned the weather. It's been a problem the last couple of days and, of course, that deep ice, two to three meters deep. But clear, beautiful skies today which has allowed that Chinese helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker, to make its way to that Russian research ship and then fly those passengers to the Australian ice breaker.

From there, they'll go to an Australian post in Antarctica. It's about 1,000 nautical miles, and then they'll make their way to Hobart, Tasmania, which, of course, is the bottom of Australia. That's about a seven-day voyage.

But these people certainly very happy to be off that stranded vessel, Ana.

CABRERA: You got to believe that. What a process and what a journey it's been for them so far.

What can you tell us about how on the passengers are doing now that they know they're safe?

COREN: Yes. Well, look, I mean, at the end of the day, these passengers have been extremely fortunate. You know, they've food, they've had water supplies. Everyone has been in good health.

In fact, if anything, it's been a good news story. We saw them celebrating on New Year's Eve. They spoke to our very own Anderson Cooper during his New Year's Eve special. They composed a song. They've been very active on social media, conducting interviews with international media outlets.

So, it really has been a good news story from the very bottom of the world but, yes, I'm sure those people are very keen to get off that ship and get home to their loved ones.

CABRERA: They certainly had a story to tell, no doubt about it. You almost think they might be disappointed to be getting off that ship with how much fun it looks like they were having waiting.

Thank you, Anna Coren.

COREN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Well, an editorial in "The New York Times" is generating quite a buzz this morning. The newspapers editorial board says Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower and it's time for the United States to offer the former NSA contractor a plea bargain or some form of clemency. The board writes in the paper this morning, quote, "In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing the only way to blow whistle on this kind of intelligence gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his exteriors would not."

CABRERA: Southern Iran rocked by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake overnight. This hit near the town of Lar, more than 50,000 people live there. Right now, it's not clear whether anyone was hurt or died. And we are still working to find how bad the damage might be.

HARLOW: Meantime, the former president of Pakistan was supposed to be in court today, but his lawyer tells CNN Pervez Musharraf is sick and in the hospital, on doctor's orders. His trial has been adjourned until Monday. Musharraf is accused of treason for suspending Pakistan's constitution and imposing emergency rule back in 2007. He faces life in prison or the death penalty.

CABRERA: In the meantime, violence once again tearing an Egyptian city apart. Two people were killed Wednesday in Alexandria. About 200 supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsy clashed with police. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are demanding the reinstatement of the country's first democratically president. Protesters claimed security forces opened fire on them.

HARLOW: And this morning, more than a dozen people are hospitalized after a massive New Year's Day explosion happened in Minneapolis. It happened in an apartment building there. The blast triggered a huge fire in this three-story building. It's right near down.

Fire officials believe some of the victims may have even been thrown from the building by the force of the blast or perhaps jumped from the windows to escape. In all, 14 people were hurt, six critically injured and three people believed to be inside are currently missing. Of course, the frigid weather made fighting the flames much more difficult with the wind-chill making it feel like 20 degrees below zero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JOHN FRUETEL, MINNEAPOLIS FIRE DEPARTMENT: Did the best they could making entry into the first floor. Got in as far as they until the conditions were so poor, it became very, very unsafe that we removed all of the firefighters from the structure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

CABRERA: Thousands of mourners turning out to remember Claire Davis, the Denver teenager who was shot and killed by a fellow student inside her high school last month. The girl's father telling mourners he has forgiven 18-year-old Karl Pierson, the gunman, for killing his daughter, urging everyone else to forgive him too. Pierson killed himself after shooting Davis. She died eight days later.

HARLOW: And long lines snaking around the block as recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state of Colorado. The product, though, does not come cheap. An eighth of an ounce goes for around 60 bucks. One store owner says he can't believe how many people turned out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM CULLEN, CO-OWNER, EVERGREEN: I mean, we know it was going to be a big deal, but we had no idea that there were going to be so many people out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That certainly is a first. Denver's mayor applauded day one, saying pot shops and buyers behaved responsibly.

CABRERA: OK. Listen to this -- more than a thousand people would-be space travelers have survived the first cut for a chance to live the rest of their lives on Mars. A Netherlands-based nonprofit group Mars One wants to launch groups of four-on-one-way trips to the Red Planet by 2023. Now, the goal is create the first permanent settlement on the planet. And of the 1,058 finalist for the program, 297 are from the U.S.

HARLOW: You're on that list?

CABRERA: No.

(LAUGHTER)

CABRERA: I'd like to talk to some of those people who on that list, though.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Me too. What a journey.

All right. Coming up here on EARLY START, Secretary of State John Kerry kicking off the New Year with a Mideast mission. Can he get both sides to agree to a peace deal? We're live in Jerusalem, next.

CABRERA: And more than 4 million snapshot user names and at least partial phone numbers have been leaked online. Could the company have avoided this hack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back to EARLY START.

The New Year is bringing new hope for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will also be meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson live from Jerusalem this morning.

Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Ana.

There's a real sense here that Secretary of State John Kerry is really coming to amp up, to push along these talks. Five months and they began in July, at the end of July last year. They are due to run to the end of April this year.

He is bringing what senior State Department officials describe as a framework agreement with him that is designed to bridge the gaps that exist over the past 20 -- more than 20 sort of peace talk meetings held here, of which Kerry has been president at eight of them. This is his ninth visit here.

This is an effort to bridge those gaps and understanding, a framework agreement that will lay out the road work, the map, if you will, to get to a permanent status solution. It's being described by senior State Department official as sort of taking both leaders to the top of the hill, if you will, so that they can look down and see what this permanent state of solution will look like, this permanent status agreement will look like.

And we are told no specific details but we are told this is designed to be completed by the end of April, that it will address all of the core issues -- the borders, whether Jerusalem can be a capital for both states, the right of return policy of refugees, Israel wanting to be recognized as a Jewish state, security in the West Bank. All of this will be addressed, but I think the State Department officials in the moment are playing down expectations of getting an agreement right now -- Ana.

CABRERA: Well, certainly, there have been years and years of turmoil here. What is the likelihood, Nic, do you know, as far as this actually coming to fruition?

ROBERTSON: I think the expectation here certainly on the street is, well, they are talking again but -- so what?

I don't think that there is a sense here that anyone who shifted their position that anything is about to change significantly. We've seen, in the past few days, there has been a release of a third tranche of Palestinian prisoners released and Israel holding off on announcing new settlements. This continues to be a contentious issue and I think we're going to continue to see the same -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Nic Robertson reporting, we appreciate it.

We have more new out of that region this morning. Doctors in Israel say Ariel Sharon's condition is worsening as the former prime minister fights for his life. Sharon has been in a coma since suffering a stroke in 2006. But in the last few days, his condition has significantly deteriorated due to kidney problems. The 85-year-old Sharon was a highly decorated and highly controversial military figure before taking office in 2001.

HARLOW: In the meantime, former First Lady Barbara Bush remains hospitalized this morning with a respiratory illness. The 88-year-old was admitted to a Houston hospital on Monday after showing early signs of pneumonia. President Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, released a statement wishing Mrs. Bush a speedy recovery.

CABRERA: Fans are remembering TV actor James Avery today. Avery, best known for playing Uncle Phil on the popular '90s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", died at the age of 68.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES AVERY, ACTOR: You big-eared free-loader! You find Jeffrey and you bring him back or they will never find your bodies and, I'm a judge. I can make it happen!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Avery's publicist says he died of complications from open heart surgery in Glendale, California. Avery's former co-stars had expressed great sadness at his passing.

Co-star Alfonso Ribeiro who played his son Carlton tweeted say Avery was like a second father to him.

HARLOW: Well, with five weeks to go before the start of the Winter Olympics, Russian police have rounded up dozens suspects in an anti- terror operation in Volgograd. That is the town where two separate suicide bombings killed more than 30 people last weekend.

Let's bring in our Diana Magnay. She's been covering this from Moscow.

Good morning to you, Diana.

I know President Putin has visited some of the victims. What else is happening?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy.

Well, you're right. Anti-terror operation is a whirlwind is what they're calling it. Thousands of security officials in the city of Volgograd examining buildings, checking people's documents. They said they've already been to 4,500 different buildings, parking lots, houses, trying to find anyone or anything that might have been involved with these twin terror attacks. And as you can imagine, this comes amid quite a lot of criticism of the security forces control of the city of Volgograd. We have these twin attacks over the weekend. There was another terror attack in Volgograd in October so three bombings in the space of two months. It's not far from Sochi.

The Russian president went down there on New Year's Day to visit victims in the hospital and to have a meeting with local officials and the governor, the head of the FSB, the intelligent services was there, also to try to talk about anti-terror measures and how to improve things.

He also said in his New Year's address, Poppy, that he would annihilate all terrorists, which is a pretty big call ahead of these Olympic Games.

HARLOW: Absolutely, Diana. A very big call.

So, given that and given what Putin is promising to do, how serious a threat are militants in the northern caucuses to the Olympics themselves? Because earlier this week, we were talking about the proximity of the attacks in Sochi.

MAGNAY: They are very close. But it was really a question of their capabilities. For a long time, for the last two years, they weren't targeting anyone outside of the north Caucasus, that has now changed. And this weekend's attacks and the fact that they have targeted the same city three times seems to prove that they are capable of attacking outside of that region and attacking even when there are lots of security officials on the ground.

So I think everybody is well aware, Putin himself, that they do pose a threat. Even if they can't target the Olympics, to target elsewhere and overshadow his Olympics, his pet project.

HARLOW: All right. Diana Magnay, appreciate the reporting this morning. Thank you.

CABRERA: Well, there have been another high profile online security breach. This time it's Snapchat that's been hacked. Now, Snapchat, in case you're not familiar, is a popular messaging app. A lot of teenagers use it. It allows people to send each other photos, but then simply disappear.

Now, the names and phone numbers of more than 4 million users appear to have been compromised.

Business correspondent Alison Kosik is joining us now with the latest developments and yet another hack.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, this hacking group is called Snapchatdb.info. And what this group basically did is they put up a Web site saying look at what we did. Happy New Year. We went ahead and installed the user names of the 4.6 million viewers on Snapchat and have their phone numbers. And now, there's a database for anyone who wants to download he that information because they have your phone number, because whenever you register for Snapchat, you put in your phone number that way, it can go in anyone's contact file and they will know you're on Snapchat.

So, this group says it's doing this to raise awareness that there's loophole in Snapchat that allows hackers to get in there. Now, it acknowledged that this is a start-up company, Snapchat is a startup company with limited resources. But this hacker group is saying that security and privacy shouldn't be a secondary goal.

Snapchatdb.info did put out a statement saying, "The company was too reluctant at patching the exploit until they knew it was too late and companies we trust with our information should be more careful when dealing with it."

Interesting, though, the rumor has been out that this loophole has been available on Snapchat. In fact, Snapchat came out with its own statement around Christmas when the rumors really started flying. Snapchat saying, you know what, over the past year, we have implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do and we recently added additional countermeasures and continue to make improvements to combat spam and abuse. But the problem is, it looks like it wasn't enough because the group got in any way.

CABRERA: Hopefully, it was just a warning this time. It sounds like they were just --

KOSIK: Kind of like a red flag.

CABRERA: -- like they were making a point and maybe not do anything with this information.

KOSIK: That's what it sounds like.

HARLOW: What about Skype? Wasn't Skype also hacked this week? That's a much larger established company.

KOSIK: Yes. But none of your information may have gotten out. I think this is all for show. This was done by a Syrian electronic army. They were claiming that they went ahead and did this. The Syrian electronic army targeted actually "The New York Times" and the BBC in the past. And the attack on Skype was apparently linked to revelations last year from Edward Snowden that Skype was part of the NSA's monitoring program.

So Skype, by the way, is owned by Microsoft and this hacking group actually wound up publishing Steve Ballmer who is a retiring chief executive of Microsoft, publishing his information. But more so that, going to Skype's Facebook and Twitter accounts and hacking in there. Skype did tweet its own response to this, saying that you may have noticed our social media properties were targeted today. No user information was compromised. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

But this is yet another way of this group just saying here we are, we are capable of hacking.

HARLOW: With this big business. KOSIK: Exactly.

CABRERA: Fiber security is a big issue already in 2014. Here we go.

HARLOW: Thank you. Happy New Year.

KOSIK: Happy New Year.

HARLOW: All right. Coming up here on EARLY START, an exciting day for college football fans. A recap of all the big games and we're going to tell you what took everyone by surprise in the Fiesta Bowl. That and more coming up in our "Bleacher Report".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Michigan State capping off a dream season by winning the grand daddy of them all yesterday, beating Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl.

And Andy Scholes is joining us this morning with this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Sounds like this was a little bit of an upset, Andy?

HARLOW: Yes.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: You know, it was. Guys, good morning.

The Spartans surprised a lot of people this year and with this win over fifth ranked Stanford, they proved they belong among the elite college football programs in the country. In the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl lived up to all the hype. The game was tied in the fourth quarter until Connor Cook found Tony Lippett for a touchdown. That put Michigan State up by seven and their top rated defense did the rest on fourth and one for Stanford, the Spartans. They're going to come through with a huge stop. Michigan State gets the win 24-20.

And check out head coach Mark Dantonio. He slipped out the Gatorade bath, he avoided it, and he got to celebrate with some dry clothes.

All right. On the lineup section on bleacherreport.com, they check out this highlight from the Fiesta Bowl. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty running for the touchdown. He goes airborne and flips in for the score.

Best part about is, though, the reaction from his mom. Look how scared she is of what he is doing. But he would be fine. However, the Bears, they would get upset by Central Florida 52-42.

In the Outback Bowl between Iowa and LSU, Hawkeyes quarterback John Lowdermilk picked off Tiger's quarterback Anthony Jennings, and he goes 71 yards the other way for the touchdown! Or does he? Take a close look. Lowdermilk got a little too excited and dropped the ball before crossing the goal line. Now, we've definitely seen this before. Now, the blooper wasn't a complete disaster. Iowa took over and the Tigers at the one yard line and scored the touchdown. They scored later and get Lowdermilk off the hook.

CABRERA: Thank goodness.

HARLOW: Thank goodness for that. Absolutely.

All right. Andy, appreciate it. Thanks so much and happy New Year to you.

SCHOLES: Happy New Year to you, too, guys.

HARLOW: Stick with us, folks. The top headlines and everything you need to know for your day, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: A huge winter storm ready to wallop the East Coast and the Midwest, becoming a powerful blizzard in some parts. It could turn into a travel nightmare for a lot of folks. We're live with the latest.