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THE SITUATION ROOM
The Other Republicans; GOP Showdown Monday Night; Your Personal Information at Risk; U.S. Airstrikes against Al Qaeda; Fresh Al Qaeda Warning to U.S.; Allegedly 120 Syrian Security Forces Killed By Protestors, Media Blackout Hinders Facts
Aired June 11, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: The GOP presidential candidates get ready to square off only here on CNN. Just two days before our first Republican debate, we're taking a closer look at the White House contenders. Who's in and who could be out?
Plus internet hackers break into a banking giant and access a treasure trove of customer information. We're investigating is the rash of cybercrime and how companies can do more to protect all of us online.
Also, tough new international calls are for action in the wake of escalating bloodshed and allegations of human rights abuses in Syria.
We want to welcome viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There's some unsuspected is suspense as Republican hopefuls get ready for the CNN New Hampshire Presidential Debate. You'll see them Monday night when they gather to size one another up and hash out the issues. But in a stunning twist, newt Gingrich is scrambling to rebuild his campaign staff after his top advisers suddenly quit and his campaign co-chairman defects to the Tim Pawlenty campaign. Gingrich says still intends to attend the debate.
Meantime, you can't tell the players without a scorecard and that's certainly the case with the crowded field of Republican candidates. There are some familiar faces but no one has emerged as an all-star, at least not yet. Our Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley gives us a look at the line-up.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No arguing the field has breadth.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who's the chili guy?
CROWLEY: There is Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of liberal Massachusetts who needs to convince primary doubters of his core conservatism.
ROMNEY: We're going to return the authority to the states for dozens of government programs. And that will begin with a complete repeal of Obama care. CROWLEY: And there is Texas Congressman Ron Paul on his third run at the Oval Office. Sometimes referred to as the intellectual godfather of the Tea Party, he'll need to convince doubters he's more than a conversation mover.
RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are many who would like to belittle this effort, but let me tell you, there is an old saying "three's a charm."
CROWLEY: It's largely a field of formers, not a contemporary marquis name nor a perfect fit in the bunch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are you going to announce?
NEWT GINGRICH (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 9:00 o'clock tonight.
CROWLEY: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a conservative big idea guy who often careens off message and carries some personal baggage.
TIM PAWLENTY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we want a new and better direction, we're going to need a new and better president.
CROWLEY: Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, chief executive material, he maneuvered his way through two terms in one of the bluest states in the country. But he'll have to defend some of that record to a conservative base and work on upping his campaign skills to the national level.
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who are you, Mr. President, to say that you, and your administration, should take 40 cents out of every dollar and borrow it from future generations to prop you up?
CROWLEY: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a fave of social conservatives whose first pressing problem is convincing people he has a shot at powerhouse team Obama.
HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hope and change is not a solution. Hope and change is not a job.
CROWLEY: And the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, Herman Cain, a conservative radio host, dismissed by Republican stalwarts as entertainment, he has nonetheless found some poll traction. Almost 40 percent of Republicans say they're not satisfied with this field. Critics have called it weak, but a top Republican strategist thinks it's more like wide open, American style.
ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: People like to have a lot of choices when they go into the grocery store and they are looking at cereals. They want a lot of-a big array of choices. The same is true for, you know, activists and others. They want lots of choices and that will be the case, you know, until things are settled.
CROWLEY: Tea Party star Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman are two of the premiere unsettled pieces of the Republican puzzle, but they need to get in now if not earlier. People are choosing sides, campaign money is finite and time is almost up.
GILLESPIE: The Ames straw poll is less than three months away, which is you know, the first, you know, the real event of the primary cycle. So yeah, time's beginning to -- the calendar is beginning to accelerator.
BLITZER: The Candy Crowley reporting for us.
Meanwhile the Republican Mitt Romney pressing his economic attack on President Obama this week. He told Michigan voters the Obama administration had failed the hard hit state and the nation. The economy is clearly one of the biggest challenges for the president's re-election bid right now. Here's our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Launching anything into strong headwinds is never considered ideal, but the Obama campaign with its slick Chicago headquarters is doing just that, facing down a bad economy in the race to 2012.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously we're experiencing some headwinds, gas prices probably being most prominent. It has enormous impact on family budgets and on the psychology of consumers.
LOTHIAN: Dealing with the psychology of the consumer before he or she heads to the polls is a daunting challenge.
CROWD CHANTING: Four more years, four more years!
OBAMA: Well, actually, technically, it's about five and a half.
LOTHIAN: While fundraisers from Michigan to Miami have put the president's campaign on an impressive track to a $1 billion target, the U.S. economy is still faltering. And that, says Republican strategist Kevin Madden, will be the fundamental issue GOP candidates use to show the president's economic policies have failed.
(On camera): The problem that he says he is has inherited is now his, and he'll be judged by it.
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right, you're going to look at an election as very much about the present, and then the future. Where are we going to take the country? And in the present, right now, he can no longer make the argument he made when he was a candidate in 2008, which this is George Bush's economy. This is President Obama's economy.
LOTHIAN (voice over): You don't need a poll to tell you Americans don't like this economy. They want jobs yesterday. Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons says as long as people are can looking for work, they'll keep their minds open to another candidate. JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He's got to the convince policies are actually helping the country turn the corner and do better. At the end of the day, he's going to have to also run against a real-life Republican, who's going to having flaws and other problems, that the president has to exploit.
LOTHIAN: The what about national security? Doesn't the killing of Osama bin Laden prove President Obama is a strong gutsy leader who took a chance to keep America safe? Madden says getting the elusive terrorist was good news. But voters like good jobs much better.
MADDEN: It may have been a temporary benefit, but it's actually not going to drive the long-term debate of this campaign.
LOTHIAN: But Simmons doesn't see dark clouds hanging over the president's campaign. While Republicans will hit him on the economy --
ROMNEY: I understand how jobs come and I understand how jobs go.
LOTHIAN: He can hit back with his achievements.
SIMMONS: What the president can say is he can come back at them and say I put two women on the Supreme Court. I passed health care for 30 million people. I have turned the corner, helped the country turn the corner when it comes to the economy, and we're growing not as fast as we need to, but we're doing much better than we were when George Bush was in office.
LOTHIAN: Republicans may not see health care reform as a positive achievement. But Simmons says what the president needs to do is make the case this is good for millions of Americans, it's good for the economy, and that people should be patient because they'll start realizing many of the benefits over the next year and beyond, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dan, stand by for a moment. Our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is joining us, as well.
Gloria, this is Republican field, it's wide open and there could be a bunch more candidates making a decision to jump in because as you heard Candy say, there's still not complete satisfaction that the current field is the best.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it's kind of getting to put up or shut up time though, Wolf. There are lots of candidates, for example, Sarah Palin, who believe that an organization will spontaneously emerge. And they can compete in an unconventional way. Maybe that is what Newt Gingrich is thinking, as well, after all his troubles this week.
But you know, you still have to run retail to run for president in this country. It's a lot of fundraising, it is a lot of door knocking, and it is a lot of getting out there and meeting people. And so it's about time for this field to gel because the candidates who are going to get in late are going to find that all the organizers and big money people are gone.
BLITZER: Seems to me, Dan, that White House officials, Democrats, the president's re-election team they probably most worried about Mitt Romney emerging as the Republican candidate. I say that only because the talking points against Mitt Romney, you're hearing from these Democrats are so consistent. It looks like they've already got a game plan in mind.
LOTHIAN: That's right. I think because when Mitt Romney first announced he was running for president, you heard him right out of the gate hit the president on the issue of the economy, that the president has not been good for this country. And that's why you will hear the narrative from this administration as the president goes out there that yes, things are not good. There's a long way to go with this economy.
But the one example they want people to focus on is the auto industry. You heard that recently from the president when he was out in Toledo, Ohio. He was explaining how backing in 2009, a lot of people didn't think the that it was a good investment for taxpayer dollars to be pumped into the private sector to bolster the auto industry. And now look what has happened. A lot of people were against it. But you have to be patient. And now they believe it has paid off.
BORGER: Well, and Romney-
LOTHIAN: That is what they believe will happen now.
BORGER: You know, and Romney was just in Michigan talking about how he was opposed to the bailout and it didn't go over real well.
BORGER: Michigan is clearly going to be a battleground state. By the way, Mitt Romney also has another problem which is health care reform. His health care plan in Massachusetts was a plan that focused on mandates, which is something Barack Obama actually took from his plan, and that does not go over well with Republicans. And I guarantee you at the debate next week that Mitt Romney is going to have to defend that to the other Republicans up there with him, Wolf.
BLITZER: He seems, Gloria, to have a bigger problem getting the Republican nomination. He's not going to be at the Iowa straw poll in Ames, that is coming up. He seems to be sort of the mixed about the entire Iowa caucuses right now though. He's doing very well in what effectively is his home state of New Hampshire.
BORGER: Yeah, look, he's doing very well there. He's the front- runner. And what he's got to hope for, quite honestly, is for someone like a Rick Perry to get in or a Sarah Palin to get in, somebody who would freeze the rest of the race. Because then he could make it a two-person race. And if it becomes a race about electability-and Republicans overall and most of all want to beat Barack Obama-then Mitt Romney would do very well against a candidate who was really a Tea Party candidate, who could do well among certain sectors of Republicans. But in the end, the Romney campaign believes that Republicans are going to go for somebody they think can win.
BLITZER: Dan, we're going to see the president do a whole lot of fundraising even though he doesn't have any Democratic opposition for his party's nomination. This whole notion though of raising $1 billion to go the himself re-elected, a lot of folks think that that number, whoever put that number out there on the Democratic side, it's almost obscene in this time of economic crisis to have a president without any Democratic opposition trying to raise $1 billion. What are they saying at the White House?
LOTHIAN: You're right, Wolf. In fact, when that number was first put out there, that was something that I asked White House Spokesman Jay Carney. I said, listen, how can you guys be talking about $1 billion at a time when people don't have jobs, don't even have $100 in their pockets. That is not a number you hear the White House throw around. But they do point out, but listen, this is a very competitive race. A lot of money is needed in order to run in all of these states. So that's why the president is out there fund-raising. This is not just a campaign about rich people who are coming to these $34,000 a table meals and fundraisers, but also about individuals, small donors across the country who are giving $25 as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: He'll be in New York City Monday night during the Republican debate. He's got a bunch of fundraisers with some rich people up there.
All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.
This programming note. Please join us Monday night as the Republican hopefuls square off on the issues in CNN New Hampshire's Presidential Debate, Monday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Syria in turmoil: Allegations the government is getting away with murder while shifting blame to protesters.
Also, a former U.S. Secret Service agent who protected presidents wants a new job. He's running for the U.S. Senate.
Plus, a GOP showdown, we'll preview CNN's upcoming Republican Presidential Debate. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A new call this week for the International Criminal Court to investigate human rights abuses in Syria. Activists say President Bashar Al Assad forces should not be allowed to get away with murder. But his regime is trying to turn the tables on anti-government protestors, blaming the opposition for dozens of deaths in one city. CNN's Arwa Damon has the latest on that.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): We don't want the military in the city, the crowd chants. Carrying what appeared to be olive branches. They also shout, there are no armed groups here, or terrorists. Peaceful, peaceful, they chant. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this the video. But the posting says, it was shot in Jussin Asagul (ph), a town in northern Syria that has seen intense violence in recent days. Syrian state television on Monday reported that 120 members of the security forces had been killed there, describing it as a massacre at the hands of armed gangs.
This video appeared on YouTube and was then broadcast by state TV, which claimed that Syrian security forces had entered the area to save residents who are being used as human shields. We hear a voice taking credit for the killing.
One activist we spoke to said that residents had armed themselves and were fighting the security forces. While another said, members of the armed forces tried to defect and clashed with loyalists.
This video is said to be of residents of Jussin Asagul (ph) who fled to the Syrian Turkish border. One woman shouts security forces killed their children. And another yells, "There were helicopters flying over our heads. Tanks were striking us!"
(On camera): What actually transpired in this part of northwestern Syria remains impossible to tell. CNN, like most foreign media, has been prevented from entering the country. But one constant that is emerging is that many civilians are fleeing, especially in the border areas fearing the full wrath of the regime as this uprising enters its third month.
(Voice over): A team of activists, Syrian and international, has presented the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court with documents on thousands of cases of alleged abuse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The officers were the people who are committing these crimes and following the order. Now they feel that they will be accountable, that justice might emerge.
DAMON: But for now, justice is taking second place to survival, for thousands of Syrians whose towns are surrounded or occupied by the security forces, amid signs that the regime of Bashar Al Assad is preparing for an even heavier clampdown on dissent. Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.
BLITZER: A fresh wave of protests and a new military offensive. Let's talk about it, the crackdown in Syria. Hala Gorani is joining us once again. She has reported extensively from the Middle East.
Hala, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What do we know about this incident?
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know about the city is it's a city in the '80s had its own sort of insurgency and revolt against the government that was crushed. In the very early '80s before Hama. So this is a city that has a long memory. There's several theories as to what happened; 120 security personnel killed, this suggests a level of organization. Is it possible, for instance, that some of the demonstrators and the protesters have armed themselves? That's what some are saying. Is it possible that there was a split within security forces and that one side of the security forces decided they would not shoot on protesters, the other side fought against them, and there was some sort of violence that led to 100, 120 possibly security forces killed.
BLITZER: Because if there's a crack in Bashar Al Assad's security forces, whether the police or military, that would be huge.
GORANI: It would be huge. It is huge if it happens in only one city and the question is, if that's what happened, will it spread? In other words, will we start to see one side against another in Syria?
BLITZER: How much support does Bashar Al Assad have from the rest of the Arab world, right now? We know so many of the Arab countries turned against Gadhafi in Libya. Are they turning against Bashar Al Assad or are they more cautious?
GORANI: They are not. But we're seeing, for instance, from Turkey's prime minister now very interesting statements saying that what's happening in Syria constitutes, in certain cases, atrocities. We are starting to see some old friends, now there is a split between Turkey and Syria right now, but there had been a reconciliation. So there is now clearly a cooling of those relations. The question is, if we start seeing cracks, as you said, among the security forces, what will the countries around Syria start doing? But the Western powers, as far as they're concerned, have only reached the level of verbal condemnation, and even a U.N. Security Council only has the support of a few of the permanent members of the Security Council.
BLITZER: I want to remind our viewers here in the United States and around the world, the Syrian regime is not letting international news media in. Not CNN, nor anyone else, so we can't get a personal eyewitness account of what's going on.
BLITZER: Hala, thanks very much.
GORANI: Thank you.
BLITZER: He would have taken a bullet for President Obama. Just ahead, why a former U.S. Secret Service agent is now running for the U.S. Senate.
As the GOP presidential field gears up for Monday's debate, we're taking a closer look at what could shake up as an already dramatic race for the White House.
BLITZER: A critical Senate race is drawing new national attention because of an unexpected Republican candidate, President Obama's former Secret Service agent. Let's bring in our own Brian Todd. He's got the details for us, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Daniel Bongino is going from one tough job to another. As a Secret Service agent on the president's detail, he saw firsthand the personal toll that politics takes. But he's diving head first into it right now as an underdog Republican in a Democratic state.
TODD (voice over): It wasn't long ago that Daniel Bongino would have taken a bullet for president Obama literally. Now --
TODD (on camera): Are you disappointed in him?
DANIEL BONGINO, FMR. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: I want to say personally that I have enormous respect for him. He treated me with dignity and respect. And he is a wonderful man. His family was great to me. But I disagree with the ideology. It's a simple ideological play. That's it. The country is going on the wrong path.
TODD (voice over): Bongino says it repeatedly, this isn't personal. As part of the Secret Service's presidential protective detail until 2010, Bongino literally shadowed President Obama for two years and President Bush before that. He's got nothing but compliments for both men personally, but there's a political fire in Daniel Bongino and he's quit a rising career as an agent to make a run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. Odds don't favor him. Bongino is a Republican in a state that hasn't had a GOP senator since 1987. If he wins the nomination, he'll challenge Democrat Ben Cardin who's been in Congress for a quarter century.
When we questioned whether he has enough experience, Bongino he talks health care and economic recovery in Tea Party terms, which he says he agrees with.
TODD (On camera): People might be wondering, what are you going to be able to do coming from the Secret Service policy wise that will make you legitimate?
BONGINO: I've done an enormous amount of research on macro economic policy. We've got to get government out of the way. They're in the way. They're standing in front of the American entrepreneur. We've done this before. We know how to get out of this.
TODD: Aside from saying they don't agree with Bongino's politics, Cardin's office wouldn't comment on his candidacy. As we walked just a few feet from the White House, I pressed Bongino on the toll he's seen politics take on families as an insider.
TODD: Why drag your family through this?
BONGINO: It was a tough decision. You know, a really tough decision. My wife and I thought about this for a very long time. I had never thought about jumping into politics, but I'd always followed the issues. And when I left the job, we said we're going to take a week and we are going to calmly think about this. And she was willing to get in with me. She really was. We he had that Rocky Adrian moment, in "Rocky II" when the Adrian wakes up from the coma and tells him to win.
TODD: Bongino says he and his wife had have no illusions about how hard it is to be in politics. He said he's had to travel to 27 countries as a Secret Service agent. That it's been rough on his family, but they've stuck it out and ready to do it again, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know how hard those Secret Service agents work.
TODD: They do.
BLITZER: They do a fabulous job. What does the Secret Service say about all of this?
TODD: The agency is known for being fiercely nonpolitical. We called the agency. They would not comment on his candidacy. One former Secret Service officer, though, said as long as he doesn't reveal any privileged information that he heard while he was on the detail, there shouldn't be an issue. Other Secret Service agents have run for public office and held it. So the he can do it, if he can win. That's going to be tough.
BLITZER: That's a big if.
BLITZER: Thanks very, much-especially in Maryland.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
A banking giant hit by hackers. Details of the latest attack that could be compromising your personal data.
Plus, Republican presidential hopefuls about to face off in New Hampshire. We're going to preview CNN's GOP debate.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican field is already crowded. The 2012 candidates jostling for elbow room on the campaign trail. You'll see them Monday night in CNN's New Hampshire debate.
But there are other would-be candidates, wannabe candidates waiting in the wings and one of them could end up as the GOP standard bearer. CNN's Jim Acosta takes a closer look.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, according to a new CNN Opinion Research poll, GOP voters seem to have an appetite for some alternatives.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): The Ronald Reagan bumper sticker on the Cadillac parked out front is just the first sign. Tammy's Diner in Round Hill, Virginia serves conservative politics right along with the country ham.
It's a good thing the current list of likely GOP candidates isn't on the menu. Some of these Republicans just might stick with coffee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like somebody who's a staunch conservative, staunch Republican. There's no model, no perfect guy sitting right there right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama's going to get elected again. None of these guys can beat him.
ACOSTA (on camera): You don't think so?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Not right now.
ACOSTA: There may be another reason why voters in Round Hill are looking for some other options for 2012. A few big-named politicians are acting like presidential teases.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about when the session is over? Governor, are you going to think about it?
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About running for president.
PERRY: I'm going to think about it, but I think about a lot of things.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Texas Governor Rick Perry is stoking speculation with plans to stage a national prayer event later this summer. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani keeps popping up in New Hampshire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi there. How are you?
ACOSTA: And Sarah Palin not only has a campaign style bus, there's a pro-Palin movie coming soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think the odds are that you will run?
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I don't know. I honestly don't know. It's still a matter of looking at the field and considering much.
ACOSTA: Jersey Governor Chris Christie is headed to Iowa for an education conference next month, but insists he's not running.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I made a commitment to the people of New Jersey when I asked them for four years as governor.
ACOSTA: Think of these Republicans as specials of the day, not quite on the GOP menu, but not quite off. A new CNN Opinion Research poll shows Republicans do want alternatives.
Two-thirds of GOP voters would like to see Giuliani jump into the race. A slightly smaller though not too savvy majority wants Palin to run as well. Another recent poll found nearly 40 percent of Republicans aren't happy with their choices.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the election were tomorrow, it would probably be Mitt Bomney, but that's only because there's the lack of choice.
ACOSTA: Back at Tammy's Diner, even the prospect of some new choices like Palin don't sound too appetizing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to get elected to president and leave halfway through? Give me a break, shouldn't do that.
ACOSTA: A sign that when it comes to the GOP field these days, not every Republican is a satisfied customer.
ACOSTA: While the field has its critics, it may also have a front runner. Mitt Romney is the leading Republican according to a slew of new polls. The only question is whether he can fight off any new flavors of the month that are added to the GOP menu. Wolf --
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you. Monday night's Republican presidential hopefuls will certainly face off in New Hampshire in that debate that CNN is co-sponsoring with WMUR and the New Hampshire union leader.
Let's get a preview now from CNN's John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA." He'll be moderating the debate for us and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
John, what are you going to have, seven Republicans up on the stage with you? Is that the final number?
JOHN KING, HOST, JOHN KING USA: That is the final number, Wolf. Seven Republicans as Jim just noted, Governor Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts without a doubt, the front-runner here in New Hampshire.
He's nationally the front-runner, as well, but here in the state of New Hampshire, which is critical to him especially now that he says he won't participate in the Ames, Iowa straw poll. He's essentially saying, sorry, Iowa. You're going to take a backseat, New Hampshire is number one.
So the state is critical to him. He has made the economy the centerpiece of his campaign. Watch for him, the front runner, to be the target as the candidates meet Monday night. Wolf, yes, a lot of issues to cover.
The social issues always play in the Republican primaries. There are big foreign policy issues we want to discuss with these candidates. But the economy, the economy, the economy, will be a big focus of this debate and certainly of the 2012 campaign.
BLITZER: There's no doubt, Gloria, based on all of our experience that the most serious voters out there, the people who show up in the caucuses, go to the primaries, they watch these debates because they want a better sense of who these candidates are. So some of the lesser known candidates, they have an opportunity Monday night.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, as Jim Acosta's voters were saying in their piece, they really don't know the field very well yet. They know Mitt Romney because he's run before.
But somebody like a Tim Pawlenty who really doesn't have the much national visibility, who probably will try to distinguish himself I would think in this debate.
Because all of them are going to be looking for a way to kind of make that connection with those voters who just see it as a great big field out there with one guy who ran and Sarah Palin who's not yet in it.
BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand, John. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who became the U.S. ambassador to China, he's clearly running. He hasn't announced officially.
But since he's skipping Iowa for all practical purposes, I would have thought he would want to be in a Republican debate in New Hampshire, which is a state perhaps better at tuned for his credentials.
KING: He is taking a lot of New Hampshire. I spoke to him here in New Hampshire a couple weeks ago. He's back in New Hampshire just before the debate to campaign to raise his profile, but he decided to skip this debate.
His advisers say in due time he will join the field, but he doesn't want to get into a debate just yet. But it is raising a lot of eyebrows here in New Hampshire, Wolf.
A lot of the voters and a lot of the strategists you talk to say wait a minute, if our state's so important to you, this is our kickoff debate here, why aren't you in.
We'll see if he pays a price down the road. This is an important curtain raiser to this campaign and he certainly has, I wouldn't say insulted, but offended some New Hampshire people by not being part of it. But he has time probably to make it up.
BORGER: John, let me try out this theory with you, which somebody posed to me, which is that maybe Huntsman has decided to stay out because he wants to appeal to those independent voters who are able to vote in Republican primary in New Hampshire and may not want to alienate them at this particular point and wants to be seen as sort of a broader candidate, if you will. What do you think about that?
KING: Well, there is no question that he wants to reach out to the middle. Without a Democratic primary this time, Wolf and Gloria, that's a very important point. Undeclared voters, they call them in New Hampshire can vote in either primary. Since you won't have a competitive Democratic primary, the question is how many will come into the Republican primary. Will even Democratic- leaning voters who are listed as undeclared, will they vote in the primary.
Governor Huntsman would love to appeal to those and that is one way to look at it. Why get involved in a Republican debate if you're trying to be more of an independent Republican candidate.
However, it's also a great chance to get well-known as we've all noted, these candidates are just barely getting known. It's a fascinating debate about why not take the opportunity not only to introduce yourself to the voters here in New Hampshire, but to introduce yourself to voters all across the country.
BLITZER: It's intriguing to me also, Gloria, Rudy Giuliani currently thinking of once again of running. He effectively four years ago, he skipped Iowa, skipped New Hampshire, South Carolina.
He basically built all of his hopes on Florida. It didn't exactly work out all that well for him. If he's going to get in, he's got to get in and he's got to go all the way.
BORGER: You know, I think if anybody's got to get in, honestly, they have to get in soon. Not just Rudy Giuliani, but I think you're getting to kind of a point of no return.
I know some candidates believe that campaigns will spontaneously emerge the minute that they put their hat in the ring, but lots of good people are getting grabbed by campaigns very early.
You've got a lot of retail politicking and a lot of retail fund raising to do, and so I think whether it's Giuliani, Sarah Palin, Governor Perry, you know, people need to figure it out pretty soon.
BLITZER: All right, John, you got all your questions ready to go? You got two hours of questions. You got seven candidates. You get some help from WMUR, our affiliate there, the New Hampshire union leader. But I assume you're going to be working hard this week and thinking of the best questions.
KING: Be working hard throughout the weekend. Wolf, we're also going to have the help of the greatest asset in any election campaign and that's the voters.
We're going to involve voters here at New Hampshire at our site here in the college and at three different remote locations across the state. I'll be working hard all weekend and mostly just trying to figure out what is first and foremost on the minds of Republicans and eligible independent voters here in New Hampshire and people across the country.
There are some issues that might come up your in state if you're not here in New Hampshire that aren't as prevalent here in New Hampshire. So we'll focus largely on New Hampshire, but we'll expand it out as well too. BLITZER: I'll be up in New Hampshire on Monday, as well. All right, guys, thanks very much. I know Gloria is going to be there with all of us as well as she should be. Guys, thanks very much.
At 8:00 p.m. Monday night. Two hours, our CNN New Hampshire Republican presidential debate. There's growing fear right now that al Qaeda will take advantage of a power vacuum in Yemen. Now the U.S. is launching airstrikes to make sure it won't.
Plus, a major U.S. bank hit by hackers. Hundreds of thousands of customers are impacted.
BLITZER: Growing fears about the safety of your personal information following a string of recent corporate hackings. The banking giant Citigroup announcing this week it was hit and hundreds of thousands of customers were affected.
Let's bring back CNN's Brian Todd. He's got details of the story that's worrying a lot of us.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. One expert calls this cyber civil unrest and for good reason. The actual hacking of Citigroup took place in early May. The bank is just now announcing it because they had to take the appropriate steps to assess the damage. It illustrates the increasing vulnerability of the entire banking system.
TODD (voice-over): If you do any banking online, you'll see that will reassuring template. Here's how we'll protect your money, your identity. Citigroup's got it, but Citigroup just got hacked.
The company says someone accessed the personal information of about 200,000 North American customers. It won't say how much money was lost. The hackers didn't see social security numbers, dates of birth or card security codes, the company says, but did view customers names, account numbers and contact information.
(on camera): Can they still doll damage getting names, account numbers, contact information?
MARK RASCH, CYBERSECURITY CONSULTANT, CSC: Sure, with just your name and your contact information, what hackers can do is sell that information for identity fraud or identity theft.
They can trial to poach customers from Citibank, but more importantly they use that information to try to trick Citibank tellers or other operators into believing that they're the actual customer.
TODD (voice-over): Mark Rasch is a former cybercrime prosecutor at the Justice Department. He says the banks' built in protections only go so far. (on camera): On the same page of its web site where it says how you are protected, Citigroup says it uses 128-bit secure sockets layer encryption technology.
The most widely used method of securing internet transactions available today. Sounds impressive, but can it really protect you? What does this even mean?
RASCH: What SSL is, it means that from your browser from, this window here to their computer, there's like a secure pipe that's really hard to break into.
It doesn't mean anything about -- it's like driving to the bank. When you're driving to the bank, you're secure. Once you get inside the bank and engage in a transaction, it doesn't mean anything about the security of that transaction or the files when they're stored in their filing cabinet.
TODD (voice-over): Hacking is everywhere and constant. While we were interviewing Rasch, he spotted an attempt to hack our computer using a fake virus warning.
Mark Maiffret is a former hacker who co-founded a firm called "eEYE Digital Security." He and other experts say the recent hackings of Citi, Lockheed Martin, Sony Playstation and Gmail are likely not related, but do have common threads.
MARC MAIFFRET, EEYE DIGITAL SECURITY/FORMER HACKER: What we continue to see is an increase in folks actually targeting intellectual property that can lead to economic growth.
That's something that a variety of different countries have kind of become aware of and hacking is very much at the forefront of that and increasing sophisticated attacks.
TODD: Experts say one reason why everything is now at risk is because the defenders like the banks and the military have to protect themselves against every possible threat every possible way into their system. The hackers they say only have to get lucky once. It's like the terrorist threat, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. So what can we do, all of our viewers out there, here in the United States and around the world to better protect ourselves?
TODD: Mark Rasch says you should always run constant credit reports, credit checks to make sure no one's using your identity or your credit information for unauthorized transactions. That's what you can do with your own accounts.
For everything else he says, cross your fingers. It's daunting to hear that from a cyber security expert, but it's so hard to protect your personal information these days, your phone number, your address. It's almost impossible. BLITZER: Yes, and don't share your passwords or your social security number, your date of birth, your mother's maiden name unless you know exactly what you're doing. Just really, really be careful especially online. Brian, thanks very much.
Al Qaeda's long-time number two leader eulogizing Osama Bin Laden and issuing a fresh warning to America. And after a lull due to political chaos, the U.S. steps up its airstrikes against al Qaeda's branch in Yemen. What's going on? Will Yemen be the next big battleground?
BLITZER: After weeks of unrest and political turmoil in Yemen, the United States decides it can't hold back its fire against al Qaeda insurgents anymore.
The U.S. launching new airstrikes against top Islamic militants, desperate to prevent terrorists from gaining strength in Yemen's leadership vacuum. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more. Barbara --
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the incoming secretary of defense says Yemen is a country that now poses an immediate threat to the United States.
STARR (voice-over): In Yemen, it's now a race against time. With the Yemeni government near collapse, and local al Qaeda operatives on the rise, the U.S. military has resumed airstrikes, hoping to put the terrorist organization out of business before it can attack the United States.
Strikes stopped last May. Now the Pentagon, backed up by the CIA, is again turning to its fighter jets and drones to go after key operatives in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP.
LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: We are continuing to work with those individuals in their government to try to go after AQAP, and we are continuing to receive cooperation from them.
So at this point in time, I'd have to say that, you know, while obviously it's a -- you know, it's a scary and uncertain situation, with regards to counterterrorism, we're still very much continuing our operations.
STARR: A top target? Anwar al-Awlaki, at his confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense, CIA Director Leon Panetta warned the American-born cleric poses a direct threat.
PANETTA: He's very computer oriented and as a result of that really does represent the potential to try to urge others, particularly in this country, to conduct attacks here. So that's a concern.
STARR: Last month, the U.S. failed to kill him using a missile fired from a drone. U.S. officials say they were successful a few days ago in killing another key al Qaeda operative.
There is good reason to worry about AQAP. Last October, it was behind a plot to blow up a U.S. cargo aircraft. In December 2009, AQAP sent a Nigerian man on a Detroit-bound aircraft with explosives in his underwear.
STARR: Now Al Qaeda in Yemen has proven to be such a danger because it has shown it can recruit individuals and then provide the financing and organization for them to try and launch attacks inside the United States. Wolf --
BLITZER: A lot of stake here. Barbara, thank you.
Al Qaeda's long-time number two leader appearing in a new video with a poem eulogizing his late boss. He's also issuing new threats against the United States. Our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is tracking the story for us.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The video is in large part a tribute to Osama Bin Laden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He went to his God martyred because he said no to America.
MESERVE: Ayman al-Zawahiri does not proclaim himself Bin Laden's successor, but with the tape he appears to be positioning himself.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: He wants to show to the al Qaeda membership around the world, their supporters, that he's the paramount leader of al Qaeda. That he's the one that's delivering the eulogy for Osama Bin Laden.
MESERVE: In the video, Zawahiri cheers the uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to continue their struggle, their rage, and their sacrifices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Al Qaeda doesn't like these movements, but they recognize they have no option but to say if we want to be relevant we better stick with the population and the population has spoken so let's pretend like we're with them.
MESERVE: In the tape, Zawahiri pledges support to Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, urges the Muslim passes to rise up against what he calls a treacherous Pakistani regime, and he makes repeated but unspecific threats against the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call for Jihad, my beloved people, to fight those who fight Islam.
MESERVE: Since the raid that killed Bin Laden, U.S. counterterrorism officials have assumed Zawahiri was in deep hiding, afraid for his safety.
Analysts believe he must have been very anxious to be seen and heard, because releasing this video involved risks, for instance, using a courier, like the one that led the U.S. to Bin Laden.
MESERVE: Intelligence analysts have pored over previous al Qaeda videos trying to determine where they were taped. This video does not provide any obvious clues. The background is nondescript. Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Prince Harry meets up with former members of the British Army. Just ahead more of our hot shots standby.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this hour's "Hotshots."
In Belarus, firefighters extinguish flames during an exercise. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, a girl lights candles during an annual Hindu festival.
In London, Prince Harry meets former British Army members at the royal hospital Chelsea Founders Day Parade. And in India, check it out, a peacock shows off its feathers. The peacock, by the way, is the national bird of India.
"Hotshots" coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.
Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN, and at this time, every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.