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Protests in Egypt; Rahm Emanuel Back on Chicago Ballot

Aired January 27, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now, a key U.S. ally faces more protests. The tensions in Egypt may be about to get a whole lot worse. We're live in Cairo to explain.

And a cheating scandal turns up much more serious allegations inside the FBI. Wait until you see what we found involving sex, lies and a videotape.

And snow puts the squeeze on already-tight state budgets. Just How bad is it? We're about to show you and what it could mean for all of us.

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

We may be just a few hours away from a critical showdown in Egypt. Massive anti-government demonstrations are planned to follow Friday's midday prayers in defiance of a ban on gatherings.

There were scattered clashes today in Egyptian cities, as riot police made a show of force. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition block, has for the first time now called on all of its followers in Egypt to march.

And the Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader, returned to Cairo today and plans to join what have so far follow been loosely organized street protests. Saying the barrier of fear is broken, he called on Egypt's regime to listen to the people and start making changes.

But the main change that demonstrators seem to want is for President Hosni Mubarak to simply go away and step down.

And now word that the Internet is shut down across Cairo right now.

Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us on the phone.

Ben, what about this? What do we know about this crackdown on communications?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, just a few minutes ago, the Internet went down central Cairo. And I have been contacting people elsewhere in the country and in the city. In fact, even in Upper Egypt, the Internet is no longer functioning. So, that went into effect about seven or eight minutes ago.

In addition, about four hours ago, SMSes stopped functioning. What is interesting is, you get a message that SMS was delivered. But when you check with the recipient, they haven't seen it. And of course, Wolf, this comes a few days after the Twitter account, Twitter page was disabled.

It's been sort of up and down, sometimes working, sometimes not. The same with Facebook. So it does appear -- we haven't yet gotten any reaction from Egyptian officials. I have tried calling them -- but maybe their cell phones aren't working -- to see if they have any explanation for why this is the case now.

But certainly it does seem to be part of a concerted effort to cripple this movement that has depended so much on things like Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and to organize these unprecedented demonstrations around the country.

BLITZER: Now, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who used to be the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, he is now back in Cairo. He's an opposition leader. He wants Mubarak to go away.

What is his role in all of this?

WEDEMAN: Well, many of the protesters will tell you that his role has been marginal.

He returned to Egypt early last year, to much expectation and fanfare. People were hoping that he would be able to draw together the fairly scattered, divided and disorganized opposition Egyptian into a real effective political bloc.

But the complaint is that in the last year he really hasn't taken the lead, hasn't been able to do that. And many people complained that he was not in Egypt for the demonstrations on Tuesday that set this whole uproar up. And he has expressed a willingness to play a role in transition in Egypt if the regime decides to compromise on the demands of the protest movement.

But many of the protesters say he's come too late for that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know everybody is bracing for huge demonstrations on Friday, tomorrow, after prayers. Walk us through what may happen as early as tomorrow.

WEDEMAN: Well, word has gone far and wide. And, in fact, I'm hearing that people are going from door to door in some Cairo neighborhoods, telling everyone to come out and join this protest, which will begin after Friday prayers, which is -- they end around 1:00 p.m. local time. And in various mosques, churches, other public areas, people will gather. And, for instance, here in Cairo, the objective is for crowds to slowly make their way to Tahrir Square, which was the sight of the huge demonstration on Tuesday.

But with communications being interrupted, with the Ministry of the Interior saying it will not allow any protests tomorrow, we could be approaching a major confrontation in the streets, not just of course Cairo, but other major Egyptian cities, like Alexandria and elsewhere -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman, be careful over there. We will stay in close touch with you.

Ben Wedeman is our correspondent in Egypt. He has been there for many years, speaks Arabic. So we appreciate his reporting.

The spark that may have touched off a powder keg in Egypt was lit in Tunisia. The strongman of that North African nation was in power for 23 years, but street protests over unemployment, corruption and repression sent him fleeing this month.

Then a grassroots fury in Lebanon this week for a different reason, anger over the naming of a new prime minister backed by Hezbollah. Many see that as a power grab by the Iranian-backed Shiite movement, which toppled a pro-Western leader. And just today, protesters demanding change in Yemen. The president of that poverty stricken nation has been in office for 32 years. And Yemen is a front in the terror war as al Qaeda has gained strength in the Arabian Peninsula.

There are terrorist elements in Egypt as well. That's just one of the many concerns that the United States has. In fact, the White House says President Obama had been closely, very closely indeed, watching all of this rest in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, where the United States has critical strategic interest. He sent a message, though, to Cairo today during a YouTube interview.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Political reform, economic reform -- is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt.

And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets. My main hope right now is that violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence, and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence.


BLITZER: All right, let's go dig deeper a little bit with Tom Foreman, along with journalist and author and scholar Robin Wright. She's reported from 140 countries. Her most recent book is "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East." All right, you heard what the president had to say. The future of the Middle East seems to be changing very, very quickly, dramatically. What do you think?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Oh, this is an extraordinary moment in the Middle East.

And what is so interesting is that the common denominator in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is the fact that you have popular street protests that have no ideology, that have no genuine leadership. They're emerging in some ways because of common denominators, corruption, government mismanagement, opposition to the regime leadership specifically.

So you have Tunisia starting off the Jasmine Revolution through popular social media, access to ways of communicating beyond the state. Then you find Egypt and this very dynamic movement, which is important because, of the 22 Arab countries, one-quarter of the Arab world's population is in Egypt.

BLITZER: Eighty million people. It's the largest of all of the Arab countries.

And, Tom, I want you to be part of this conversation as well, because as we look at Cairo, is it possible that President Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years, Robin, that he is on his way out now? Because we don't know what would follow.

WRIGHT: Well, I think that's going a little bit too far. We need to take one day at a time.

Egypt has twice used its army, in 1977 after food riots and in 1986, to intervene and try to restore calm. Egypt has the means to do that in a way that Yemen and Tunisia don't.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you a question about that, though.

We talked about the shutting down of the Internet over there. Ben Wedeman talked about it and how this began with Facebook, Twitter, that sort of thing. Earlier today, "The Guardian" was reporting that now, just as Ben said, door-to-door campaign, leaflets are being passed out. And one of the emphases of these leaflets is to co-opt the troops, to basically say, reach out to the troops who come to suppress this and say, you are our families. Join us in this revolt.

When you look at a place like this, and this really is right now sort of the ground Zero of this, is that possible?

WRIGHT: I know that square very well. And it's always a place where demonstrators gather. And when you look at the numbers, there are 340,000 in the army, 300,000 in the Central Security Forces. And that's beyond the police.

They could use those forces. But this is a country of 80 million people. And so the big question is to what degree do you maybe not challenge the leadership of the army, but you challenge the rank and file, those who do have brothers, cousins, sisters who are part of the popular protest?

BLITZER: Let's go through the region right now, because Tunisia, we saw what happened very quickly. Lebanon, we see dramatic changes. Egypt could be on the verge of a revolution right now.

And Yemen, this is small country, but it's strategically located. It has got a big al Qaeda presence, growing right now. And the leader there, he could be removed as well. Ramifications for the U.S. would be what?

WRIGHT: Well, I think again we're going too far, too fast. Yemen is a country that is important for geostrategic interests because it is the home of al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula.

And the thing that the U.S. has always faced in the region is, what is more important to us? Is it our national security interests, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, our campaign against extremists, or is it the values of freedom of speech and so forth?

FOREMAN: Well, with 23 million people here, isn't this also the one that of the ones we're talking about right now is also generally seems the most unstable?

WRIGHT: Yes. Absolutely.

You have a rebellion in the north, a secession in the south. And you have al Qaeda. So there are three components already creating instability in Yemen.

BLITZER: Because if al Qaeda were to take over, and their supporters in Yemen, it would be a huge disaster.

WRIGHT: I just don't think we're that far yet. Al Qaeda is -- uses Yemen as a base in the same way it did with Afghanistan.

And, yes, it is also opposed to the leadership of President Saleh. But that's -- you know, I don't think al Qaeda is going to step in and fill the vacuum. One of the things that is so much in doubt right now is because these groups are so amorphous, they are leaderless, that we don't know who would step in.

BLITZER: Is this likely to spread, not only to Yemen, but to other friendly countries like Jordan, for example? Is it likely to go all over the region? Because these are changes that are moving boom, boom, boom.

WRIGHT: Much faster than anybody anticipated. And, yes, you have seen a real nervousness.

You saw in a place like Jordan some protests as well. In little Kuwait at the top of the Arabian Peninsula, the government decided to literally buy out its citizens by offering over $3,000 literally to every citizen. There's the Arab League Summit in Cairo just this month. They focused heavily on the economic conditions and the turmoil they saw.

FOREMAN: Let me ask you a question about that, because there are big differences. Egypt, where we're seeing these protests, has about 10 percent unemployment. If you look at Yemen down here, they're like at 23 percent, 25 percent unemployment. And up here in Jordan I think it's around 12 percent. But these are very different places. What is the central uniting theme? Why are they all catching fire from each other, when they really are different places?

WRIGHT: I think one of the most important things we don't look at is the fact that the literacy has gone up, that you have an educated class. In Egypt, for example, the government promises a job to every college graduate.

But the time between graduating from college and getting a job with the government, which may not necessarily be a good job, is three years. And so there's a literate body. There's a means of circumventing state-controlled media through Twitter, the Internet and so forth. So you have all these things coming in at a time of real dissatisfaction, of globalization. And people see how others are living.

FOREMAN: We will talk to you more, Robin Wright, as we this goes on.

But now we have to get back over to Wolf for some breaking news.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, the Illinois Supreme Court has just ruled in favor of Rahm Emanuel, allowing him to run for mayor of Chicago.

Jessica Yellin is here. You're going through the document right now as we speak. Great news for the former White House chief of staff.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously very momentous for Rahm Emanuel and also the fact that this seven- person Supreme Court found -- six of the seven justices by my count found with him.

They overturned the decision of an appellate court. The big issue here is, is Rahm Emanuel a resident of Chicago or not? The court finds -- I have just been reading through it quickly. The court finds a few reasons why they say he is a resident and can run.

One is that while the appellate court said no, two lower bodies said yes, the Board of Elections and the circuit court. But they also said this was simply settled law. They said that this has been decided. It was more than 100 years of case law has said that these circumstances, you are a resident and that it was only in this appellate court decision that you would see a cause to overturn it.

They say that the decision of the board and the circuit board was proper. And they say, "Given the record before us, it is simply not possible to find erroneous the board's determination" and the objectors failed to prove that Rahm Emanuel had abandon his Chicago residence.

Bottom line, he can run for mayor. There's a mayoral debate tonight. He will take part in that and game on. Early voting is on Monday.

BLITZER: And all the polls show he was way ahead. And he certainly has a lot more money. And he's getting close to that 50 percent that he would need to avoid a runoff. And if he got that, he would be the next mayor.

YELLIN: May I make one point? Yesterday we did a story talking about one justice in particular whose husband had endorsed Emanuel's opponent. She found in favor of Rahm Emanuel.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, thanks very much.

Good news for Rahm Emanuel, running for mayor of Chicago.

It's the first meeting of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, as they're called, but not all the people you would expect to be there showed up.

And an FBI employee faking an investigation inside a strip club just to have some fun, and you still pay that person's salary? Yes, you do. It's a CNN investigation coming up. You will want to see this.


BLITZER: Turning the tables on parents.

Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What if, on your child's next report card, his teacher gave you a grade along with the child? A Florida state lawmaker is proposing exactly that.

Representative Kelli Stargel thinks that public school teachers should grade parents of students from kindergarten through the third grade. These grades of "satisfactory," "unsatisfactory" or "needs improvement" would show up on the student's report card.

The Republican lawmaker says parental involvement is key to educating children. She's of course absolutely right.

According to the proposed legislation, the grading system would be based on three things, one, the student should show up to school on time and ready to learn, well-rested and fed. Two, the student should have done his homework and be prepared for any tests that might be given. And, three, there should be regular communication between the parent and teacher, all of which seems perfectly logical and reasonable.

Some experts call this a unique idea, but others object, saying that teachers are in no position to judge parenting.

Florida has been trying to overhaul its public school system for years to make teachers and schools more accountable. But a lot of parents, teachers and lawmakers are opposed. Last year, Governor Crist vetoed a bill in Florida that would have tied teachers' pay to students' achievement.

The sad fact of all of this is the United States needs major changes like this if we want to be competitive in the global economy. And we need these changes yesterday.

A recent international test showed 15-year-olds in this country rank 25th out of 34 countries when it comes to math. They rank 14th in reading and 17th in science. It's disgraceful.

Guess where China placed? The Shanghai region finished first in all three categories.

So, here's the question: Should teachers grade parents when it comes to their child's education?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: You need the parents.

All right, Jack, thank you.

Nelson Mandela is spending another night in the hospital, but his condition right now clouded in secrecy. We will update you with what we know.

And another snowy mess costing states millions and millions of dollars. How much more can they take?


BLITZER: Some of the political upstarts who stunned the political establishment showed off their new power today here in Washington.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She has got that story for us -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I don't remember seeing anything quite like this before inside the halls of Congress. It was part campaign rally, part Senate hearing, members of the newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus inviting people who elected them to tell that they are here not as tourists or visitors, but stockholders.


BASH (voice-over): Anyone questioning whether Washington is different now hasn't seen this.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Some said when people who came from the Tea Party were elected that Washington would co-opt us. Are we going to let that happen?


BASH: The very first meeting of the first ever Senate Tea Party Caucus. And senators invited some 150 activists used to rallying outside the Capitol now inside one of the Senate's storied meeting rooms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was one of the people outside yelling kill the bill. Always, we were on the outside and didn't feel like anybody was listening.

BASH: That's exactly why three GOP senators the Tea Party helped elect had them here.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: We can get there. And we must get there. And we will get there to return to constitutionally limited government.


SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But, hopefully, because of the incredible debt that's about to sink our country, that we can muster up enough votes to stop raising the debt ceiling.

BASH: It was a festive atmosphere, pictures snapped, Constitutions signed, but activists also made clear they expect senators to deliver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're here to hold them accountable. What is to prevent us from putting forth $1.5 trillion worth of cuts?

DEMINT: I would balance it this year if I could.

BASH: Rand Paul told us they're trying to keep activists involved for the next election and more immediate legislative battles.

PAUL: We're going to say to them, here's what our plan is. We want a balanced budget amendment. Can you help us? Write your congressmen, your senators. Call them. Jam the phone lines.

BASH: Still, despite Tea Party fervor, only a handful of senators joined the new caucus. Freshman Senator Marco Rubio, a Tea Party darling, is reluctant, saying he's worries:

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: And if the Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement runs by politicians, it's going to lose its effectiveness. And I'm concerned about that.

BASH: Jim DeMint dismisses that.

DEMINT: It's not going to be a caucus where it's run by politicians. We wanted to create a forum for people to come in and unload on us, and for us to tell them what we're doing.


BASH: Still, some GOP senators worry that this Tea Party Caucus will unnecessarily fracture Senate Republicans. They say that there already is a group established of conservatives known as the Steering Committee, which is chaired by Senator Jim DeMint. DeMint insists that this is different, Wolf, and he says that there will be more forums like this in the future.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. All right, thanks very much for that, Dana.

Serious, very serious allegations of misconduct inside the FBI. Wait until you see what some agents are doing on your dime involving strip clubs, exotic dancers, even a sex tape.

And you can forget the old color-coded threat levels. We're about to get a whole new terror alert system right here in the United States.


BLITZER: A recent scandal in the FBI revealed widespread cheating among agents and top supervisors on a written test about how the bureau conducts domestic investigations. A government investigation led to the reassignment of two high-ranking supervisors who received help on the test.

But CNN has uncovered details that show that cheating is just one example of years of misconduct inside the agency.

As CNN's Kyra Phillips found, despite one of the toughest government screening processes, FBI employees, including agents and supervisors, have gotten into deep trouble for blackmail, misuse of government computers, security violations, and even a sex tape.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is the FBI we know and trust, agents who take down bank robbers...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shots are being fired.

PHILLIPS: ... the mob, Russian sleeper cells, agents who swear to uphold fidelity, bravery, integrity.

But what we found inside one of the most respected federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies doesn't always match that image.

(on camera): Why did you lie?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I panicked. I lied about speaking to somebody about a piece of information.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Ashamed that he was caught, fearful that he will be identified, the story of this former agent who illegally searched the FBI database for personal use, and then lied about it, is not unique.

Matter of fact, the FBI confirms about 1,000 cases of misconduct over the last three years.

(on camera): Many are highlighted right here in confidential summaries of disciplinary reports that we obtained, bad behavior that may have you wondering why many of these employees didn't lose their jobs.

(voice-over): These internal reports that include a sex tape, sleeping with informants, tapping into FBI databases for unauthorized searches, viewing pornography on bureau computers, even driving drunk.

We went to the president of the FBI Agents Association.

(on camera) It was pretty appalling, reading some of the acts of misconduct. Is that ever acceptable?

KONRAD MOTYKA, PRESIDENT, FBI AGENTS ASSOCIATION: No, it isn't acceptable. Specifically, demonstrable incorrect conduct or criminal conduct is not acceptable and never should be.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Here are just a few examples. An employee had a sexual relationship with a source over seven months. The punishment: 40-day suspension.

An employee who was drunk exploited his FBI employment at a strip club, falsely claiming he was conducting an official investigation. His punishment: suspended for 30 days.

A supervisor viewed pornographic movies in his office during work hours while sexually satisfying himself. Punishment: 35-day suspension.

And an employee in a leadership position misused a government database to check on two exotic dancers and then took them into an FBI office after hours. That penalty: 23-day suspension.


PHILLIPS: Assistant FBI director Candace Will oversees the Office of Professional Responsibility, which handles disciplinary proceedings.

(voice-over) When you hear those type of allegations, suspension seem right to you versus being fired?

WILL: When I hear those types of allegations, I'm deeply aggrieved. I don't -- I don't want to hear about any of our employees doing anything like that.

But again, I -- my job is to look at the full file in the case.

PHILLIPS: To some you could hear allegations like this and think, "Wow, it takes a lot of bad behavior to get fired from the FBI."

WILL: That is so not true. If I get any type of criticism on a routine basis, it is that I am the hammer. I don't -- I don't ever hear that I am light or that I take any zeetag (ph) ever.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Will says she receives about 500 cases of alleged misconduct a year. And about 70 percent result in some kind of discipline. Just a fraction, she says, of the 34,000 FBI employees.

WILL: The vast majority of our employees do not lie. The vast majority of our employees do not cheat. The vast majority of our employees do not steal.

PHILLIPS: But the internal reports we obtained do detail serious misconduct. Misuse of position. Fraud. Even abuse of a government credit card. In one case, an FBI employee used government databases to get details about celebrities the employee thought were, quote, "hot."

WILL: I have seen allegations in my office where I have been surprised by what I've read. I have seen allegations in my office where I've been very saddened by what I've read.

PHILLIPS: Like the FBI employee who leaked law enforcement sensitive information to his girlfriend who was a news reporter. And after breaking up, threatened her with the release of a sex tape the two had made.

(on camera) How could someone like that even work for the FBI in the first place?

WILL: Well, that someone is a former employee.

PHILLIPS: Director Will, why not a no-tolerance policy?

WILL: We do have a no-tolerance policy. We don't tolerate our employees engaging in misconduct. It doesn't mean that we fire everybody.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): But one sure way to get fired is to lie under oath.

(on camera) Why did you make the mistake? You took the oath. You knew what you were doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you're a human being, and you make a mistake. You fail. You fear. It's a fit of panic. That's all.

PHILLIPS: Kyra Phillips, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: After years of unstable government and terror attacks, there's a mounting fear right now of something else under way in Pakistan. Stand by.

And states are losing lots of money thanks to this winter's series of snowstorms. You're going to find out just how bad it is.


BLITZER: You cannot forget about that widely-criticized color- coded homeland security advisory system. The threat-level warnings introduced after 9/11 will now be replaced by a new terror advisory system that will focus on specific threats.

Listen to the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The new system reflects the reality that we must always be on alert and be ready. When we have information about a specific credible threat, we will issue a formal alert providing as much information as we can.

Now, depending on the nature of the threat, the alert may be limited to a particular audience, like law enforcement, or a segment of the private sector, like shopping malls or hotels.


BLITZER: President Obama was in his own situation room today meeting with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meantime, the U.S. ally Pakistan is making gains against the Taliban, and horror stories are emerging, though, about what happened in areas that were under Taliban control. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is just back from Pakistan. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM, joining us with this report.

What did you learn, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we got a chance to spend a whole lot of time with the Pakistani military and really saw firsthand that, when they get serious about fighting militants and put the full force of the military behind that mission, they can defeat the Taliban.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): This is Taliban justice. A cell-phone camera captured Saira Bibi's public flogging when the Taliban ruled Pakistan's Swat Valley.

We went back to that remote area, winding around rugged cliffs and coming uphill to a house built into the side of a mountain. Now that the Pakistani army controls Swat, Saira Bibi feels free to talk to us.

(on camera) What was going through your mind when the Taliban was hitting you over and over again?

SAIRA BIBI, FLOGGED BY TALIBAN (through translator): When I was being flogged, I was only thinking of God, and I kept saying, "I don't know what I've done to deserve this."

LAWRENCE: They accused her of adultery, but offered no proof.

(on camera) Are some of the Taliban still out there?

MAJ. RASHEED DULA, PAKISTANI ARMY: There are few Talibans who are at large.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Vita (ph) Rasheed Dula tells me there were tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers in Swat, but they started to leave, training local police to take over.

DULA: And I think that they are coming up to the standard, but still there is a lot more to be done.

LAWRENCE: Thousands of people who escaped Taliban oppression have come back to Swat, but no one here trusts the police to do what Pakistan's army can, especially Saira Bibi's husband.

FAZAL AZIM, SAIRA BIBI'S HUSBAND (through translator): If the army stays, we will be secure. And if the army goes back, it will return to being bad, like it was before.

LAWRENCE: Like when they lashed his wife 34 times.

BIBI (through translator): I absolutely despise the Taliban, because they were so cruel to me.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Do you worry today that the Taliban may come back?

BIBI (through translator): Only God knows whether they'll come back or not. But if the army leaves, it's possible the Taliban may come back.


LAWRENCE: And there's the problem, because the failure of Pakistan's civilian government to step in and take over, like American troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan's army can't stay posted in these areas indefinitely, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you know, the U.S. would love Pakistan to do the same thing in North Waziristan where they launched these assaults into Afghanistan, the Taliban. What's going on?

LAWRENCE: Well, mid-December a high ranking Pakistani general told me that he saw possibly a high possibility that they would make a move into North Waziristan by summertime.

But then just a few weeks later you had the very public execution of a popular Pakistani governor in broad daylight, and the reaction on the street supporting the killer who did it. It really showed that Islamic militants have infiltrated every aspect of Pakistani society.

And when I went back to that general to talk to him again, he said now they are worried that going into North Waziristan and making a move on the Taliban there will allow those Taliban leaders to unleash their forces in the heart of Pakistan, and they don't know if they're prepared for that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much. Glad you're back safe and sound from Pakistan. Good work.

Another snowy mess in the northeast. And it's not just a pain for people. How it's all hitting states and cities really hard at a time when budgets are so tight.

And a bizarre scene on the border. What police caught some people doing with a catapult.


BLITZER: They're digging out in the northeast once again from under as much as 20 inches of snow. And with almost two months of winter still left, many local governments are watching their snow removal budgets simply melt away. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York City.

Mary, New York and the entire area has been very hard hit.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So many storms in the span of a month, and you know, Wolf, New York has gotten 36 inches of snow since the start of January. That's something the city has never seen before. The story is similar across the northeast. It's putting cities and towns in the red. And in some cases, smaller towns are looking to unusual solutions.


SNOW (voice-over): Another storm, a new record. New York City has had the most snow ever for the month of January. But even before this latest storm, the city blew through its nearly $39 million snow budget for the entire year. Making no secret of its desire to see the winter end, the city's mayor joked he hoped next week's Groundhog Day might spell relief.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: And if the woodchuck can help, we'll do it. We'll use him. We are not ashamed to include everybody. Even woodchucks.

SNOW: Boston has received more than 50 inches of snow this winter. Massachusetts has also plowed through the money set aside for snow removal and is digging into other state funds to pay for it. New Jersey is seeking federal money for cleanup costs for December's blizzard. Connecticut is also asking for federal help.

The costs are prompting cash-strapped towns and counties to get creative. New Jersey's Bergen County is turning to what many call pickle juice, a mixture of brine and water. Kathleen Donovan is the county executive.

KATHLEEN DONOVAN, BERGEN COUNTY EXECUTIVE: What that does is prevent the snow from sticking for up to two inches so it buys us time in terms of having to have our crews go out and plow, but it also saves money. SNOW: It's used on sidewalks and parking lots, and in some cases roadways. The county is hoping to expand its use.

JOE CRIFASI, BERGEN COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS DIRECTOR: It's $63 a ton for salt, and about $16 a ton equivalent for brine.

SNOW: So you're saving money.

CRIFASI: You're saving about $40-something, $43 a ton.

SNOW: Pennsylvania's Derry Township is giving its salt trucks a good dose of sugar beets, all in hopes of saving money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We found that it extends the life of the salt on the roadway, thereby reducing our need to revisit the street quite as often as we do without it.


SNOW: A little unusual. But Derry Township's public works director says, besides smelling like bad coffee, the beet extract seems to be working well. And in the case of Bergen County, New Jersey, the county is actually asking for ideas from the public, since that's where that pickle juice idea came from -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Who knew about pickle juice? Thanks very much for that, Mary.

New information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on the WikiLeaks investigation. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are just getting word of FBI searches targeting some supporters of WikiLeaks. A federal law enforcement source tells CNN agents have served 40 warrants as part of an ongoing investigation into recent cyber attacks against major companies and organizations.

The source says, though, the attacks were allegedly carried out by a group calling itself Anonymous, whose members support WikiLeaks but are not affiliated with the Web site.

And we are monitoring the condition of Nelson Mandela, who is spending a second night in a Johannesburg hospital. The 92-year-old former South African president was admitted yesterday. Family and friends have been arriving to see him throughout the day, but doctors have been virtually silent about his condition. We will be staying on top of this story for you.

A gay rights activist in Uganda has been found bludgeoned to death in his home. Just a few months ago David Kato told CNN he feared for his life in his country, where homosexuality is illegal, and many gays and lesbians are closeted and living in fear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID KATO, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST: The problem here is identity. I can be with you and my friend. You do not know I'm gay. It's fine. You can drink and eat together. But the moment I'm identified as gay, that's when the problem comes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So people cant be open?

KATO: No. It's difficult.


SYLVESTER: Kato was among 100 people identified by a Ugandan tabloid, which published their names and addresses and called for gays to be hanged.

And our next story is a story you have to see to believe. Drug smugglers using a catapult to hurl marijuana over the border from Mexico to the U.S. It was all caught on government surveillance tape. Take a look at this here. Authorities from both countries worked together, seizing the catapult, an SUV, and 45 pounds of marijuana, but the smugglers, they got away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very creative, these smugglers. I got to say.

SYLVESTER: Yes. We've seen it all. We've seen ladders, tunnels, and now a catapult. Add that one to the list.

BLITZER: And they'll come up with new ways down the road, I'm sure. Thanks very much.

Turning the tables in school. When it comes to a child's education, should teachers grade parents? Jack with your e-mail, that's coming up.

And a Florida parent is dealing with a teenager behind the piano on a sandbar mystery. What police are making the teen now do.


BLITZER: Jack is back. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting idea being advanced by a legislator in Florida. Should teachers grade parents when it comes to their child's education?

Charlene says, "This is a ridiculous idea if I ever heard one. What would the teachers know about the parents, home life, pressure and hardships? It's none of the teachers' business. As a former teacher, I can't think of a worse idea."

Barb in Texas: "As a parent who made sure that all three items were accomplished for all three of my kids and now have one who's actually become a teacher, I say yes, grade them. My daughter calls parents all the time. She lets them know how their children are performing. Very few respond or ever come in to talk to her."

A.J. writes, "Not only should teachers grade parents, they ought to put the results in the local newspaper."

Jessica in Texas: "I hope they don't bring that to Texas, because it's not fair to parents. I would probably get a poor grade. My husband is in Iraq. I have five kids, ages 15, 9, 7, 5, and 8 months. I try my hardest to help my children with their homework, but I can't always help them because I'm also trying to cook dinner and tend to a baby when they all come home."

Bob writes, "Some wealthy politician whose own children go to private school and have their own tutor must have come up with this idea. They don't have to deal with old clothes and an empty stomach. Let alone the threat that their guardian would fail in his grade and their buddies would find out."

Tim in Iowa writes, "Teaches grade parents? I think we ought to grade the teachers. Having gone through the public school system, I had good teachers and bad. It isn't always the parent's fault. Yes, I think we ought to do more at home, but this is crazy."

And Robert writes, "My wife was a teacher for 40 years. The students that did the best were those whose parents were interested and on top of what was happening in school. Why not try this? Nothing else has worked."

If you want to read more on this subject, you can find it on the blog: -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of folks always do that, Jack. Thank you.

A mystery now has been solved in Florida. We told you about it last night. A piano appearing in the middle of a bay. You're going to meet who's behind it all. That's next.


BLITZER: The piano man emerges. The mystery is solved, and now the ivory is gone. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is this any way to treat a world-famous piano that struck a chord with millions? Dragged away by Biscayne Towing with photographers capturing every moment.

The kid who planted the piano on a Florida sand bar never took piano lessons, but he has learned a lesson.

NICK HARRINGTON, DUMPED PIANO: I learned not to dump pianos in the bay for it is against the law.

MOOS: Sixteen-year-old Nick Harrington has the video to prove he did it, footage of the old piano being picked up from his grandmother's, footage of it being burned up at a New Year's Eve party.

HARRINGTON: It looked great. We took some great photos. MOOS: Then Nick and three others loaded it into his dad's 22- foot boat...

HARRINGTON: Two legs, like here and here.

MOOS: ... and hauled it onto the sand bar to be left as an art project. Nick planned to use photos of it for a portfolio when he applied to Cooper Union Art and Engineering School in New York. The school had no comment.

HARRINGTON: I hope they see that I'm the -- their kind of material.

MOOS: Yes, well, this kind of material was catnip to the media, and we were played by a filmmaker who claimed he was the one who placed the piano. Turns out Billy Yeager was also the guy who once passed himself off as the illegitimate son of Jimi Hendrix, even dyeing himself black.

BILLY YEAGER, FILMMAKER: I soaked my body in the bathtub with RIT clothes die.

MOOS: But Yeager's lie about the piano did help unearth the truth.

(on camera) So imagine the kid who really put the piano on the sand bar sees this guy on TV claiming he did it.

HARRINGTON: That's just not right. I mean, but what people would do for publicity. Who knows?

MOOS: We asked his mom if he's in the dog house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, he's not. I think it was -- it was something brave that they did.

MOOS: The family watched as someone else did the dirty work of towing away the piano. A Miami rock 'n' roll musician paid for its removal. The musician, named Joe Bee (ph), told the towing company his 10-year-old son asked him to rescue the piano. He may take it on tour, but it sure had more allure when there was mystery about the identity of the piano man.



BILLY JOEL, MUSICIAN (singing): Sing us the song. You're the piano man. Sing us a song tonight.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

JOEL: ... man, what are you doing here?

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: Love that song. Great piece. Thank you, Jeanne.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. You can get my tweets, @WolfBlitzer on CNN. You can certainly also follow THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook. Go to It is there where you can become a fan.

We'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.