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THE SITUATION ROOM

News Mars Pictures; War on West Nile; Aerial Assault on Killer Disease; "Let's Make A Deal" On Romney Taxes; Retired Navy Seals Slam President Obama; Syrian Rebels Improve Firepower; Brand New Pictures From Mars; South Africa's Unlikely Rock God

Aired August 17, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The Obama camp tries to cut a deal to get Mitt Romney to release more tax returns.

An all-out air war is under way against mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. The death toll is spiking higher.

And it may look like the Western United States, but it's actually Mars -- brand-new photos from the Curiosity mission.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Obama camp today is trying a unique way to remind voters that Mitt Romney is refusing to release any more of his tax returns. The president's team is in essence offering to help Romney make the problem go away. But there is a catch, of course.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, has more on that live now -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Joe, Democrats say they want to know more about Mitt Romney's personal finances. They have been hitting him on news shows and in political ads. Well, now the Obama campaign says they will stop asking questions if Mitt Romney releases just three more years of his tax returns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's the political version of let's make a deal. If Mitt Romney releases more tax returns, the Obama campaign promises to back off and stop running ads like this one.

NARRATOR: Did Romney pay 10 percent in taxes, 5 percent, zero? We don't know.

LOTHIAN: The offer came in a letter from Obama reelection campaign manager Jim Messina to Governor Mitt Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades. "Governor Romney apparently fears that the more he offers, the more our campaign will demand that he provide," the letter reads. "So I'm prepared to provide assurances on just that point. If the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more." Governor Romney has been under pressure from Democrats to be more transparent on his taxes after he insisted on releasing only two years of returns. Even some Republicans have urged him to do more to make this issue go away. But Mr. Romney counters that his personal taxes are not what voters care about.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given the challenges that Americans faces, 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty, the fascination with taxes I have paid I find to be very small-minded.

LOTHIAN: He did reveal that he's paid no less than 13 percent of his income in taxes over the past decade. But even Ann Romney admits that making more returns public is a bad political move.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: The more we release, the more we get attacked.

LOTHIAN: Which brings us back to this offer, which was quickly dismissed in a letter from Governor Romney's campaign manager, who wrote: "It's clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney's tax returns, instead of the issues that matter to voters." He signs off with, "See you in Denver," the site of the first presidential debate.

Principal deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked to defend this ongoing line of attack.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The fact is Governor Romney has it within his capacity to put all these questions to rest before the end of the day today. And I do anticipate, I do think that the voters do have an expectation about transparency. That is important.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, Republicans say here you have the White House talking about transparency, when they charge the White House has not been transparent on things such as Fast and Furious or on staffers using their personal e-mails for official business. And these Republicans point out that you won't find a poll out there that shows that voters care more about this than they do about jobs and the overall economy -- Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks so much at the White House, Dan Lothian.

I want to remind our viewers right now Paul Ryan is actually speaking in Northern Virginia. We're going to go to him in just a second. I think we're listening to thank-yous there at the very top of his speech.

We can talk a little bit more about the presidential race until he gets to the meat of that and Paul Ryan as well.

With me right now is John King. You have been out. You have seen Ryan before. And I think we have to work off of Lothian's point there and the tax return issue. How much of this is hurting Romney at this point?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a great question. And feel free to interrupt me when Congressman Ryan hits the meat, as you say.

I just e-mailed with a senior Romney adviser and he said this: "It's stopped hurting. It's not new information." Notice he said stopped hurting. He didn't say it wasn't hurting at all. Their view is it may have moved some voters, but it stopped hurting.

Just before I came out, I got an e-mail from Peter Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster. He conducts focus groups around the country for the Annenberg Center. This is 12 suburban women in Wisconsin, a key swing state we call a tossup right after the Paul Ryan pick.

The issue came up of taxes. He says does -- the issue of Romney's refusal more than two years of his tax returns, which he says among some of these women created a sense of suspicion and doubt. For most of these women the question is what is he hiding? Is he not forthcoming? I look at a president as a leader. That's not how I view a leader.

He said not all of the women said that, but most of them said that. He said it's part of the idea. This is Governor Romney's challenge right now heading into the convention that he's not very well defined. If you're not very well defined, things like this can hurt.

JOHNS: He also has a problem with women voters. That's another story entirely.

But the other question though is, is it too late for him to release these returns? We have heard so much back and forth on it. Are the voters starting to make up their mind on this issue?

KING: Look, I think you have a base election where most...

JOHNS: All right. We want to listen. There's apparently a heckler we hear at the Ryan event. See how he handles it, Paul Ryan.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I want to tell you, I want to tell you about a couple people here. I want to tell you about a couple Northern Virginians. We have Danny Vargas here. Some of you might know who Danny is. Danny rose up out of poverty, joined the Air Force, went to school at nights and weekends, took risks, worked hard, chased his dreams and started VARCom Solutions, and he is a job creator in Northern Virginia. And, Danny, you built that business, didn't you?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) RYAN: We have Mike Jing here.

Mike Jing is a well-known Northern Virginia entrepreneur, started one of our high-tech companies here, CyberData Technologies. Let me ask you, did you and your employees build that business? Yes.

You see, government was there. Roads and bridges, those are essential. But they're not the nucleus of our economy or our society. It's the hard workers of America. It's the hardworking taxpayers. It's the entrepreneurs. It's the small business leaders. It's the people who get up every morning, bring their kids to school, go to work, work hard.

That's what makes our society thrive and drive. That's what we're going to restore with pro-growth economics. Now, we have a very serious choice to make. And what Mitt Romney is offering is to make a decision together. We will honor you with this choice.

Do we want to stay on the path that President Obama has placed us upon?

CROWD: No!

RYAN: I take that as a no.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: It's a path that is putting us deeper in debt, further in doubt and more in decline.

If we get this right, we can turn things around and get us back on the path to prosperity and reignite the American idea.

Here's the problem. The problem is too many politicians in Washington like President Obama have been more worried and concerned about their next election than they have about the next generation.

We're not going to stand for that. We will not do that. Mitt Romney will lead. And what we will do is, we will honor you by giving you the choice. We want to earn your support. We want to deserve victory, so that when we win this election, we have the authority, the mandate from the people to get America back on track, get people going to work and get the American dream turned back on for people.

That's what we're going to do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RYAN: Thanks, man.

Now, no two ways about it, President Obama inherited a very difficult situation. 2008 was very tough. Here's the problem. He made things much worse. So he can't run on his record. He's run out of ideas.

And that unfortunately is why this campaign that he's waging is one based on frustration and anger. Hope and change has become attack and blame. We're not going to fall for it, are we?

CROWD: No!

RYAN: I heard the president talk about Medicare the other day. We want this debate on Medicare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RYAN: We want this debate, we need this debate, and we're going to win this debate on Medicare.

I will tell you why. There's only one person who treated Medicare like a piggy bank. And that's President Obama. He took $716 billion from that program to create Obamacare. That affects current seniors. And his campaign calls this an achievement.

You think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement? Why don't we get just rid of Obamacare altogether?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RYAN: That would be an achievement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No teleprompters!

RYAN: That's right. No teleprompters. Everybody says that everywhere I go, no teleprompters. It's a recurring theme.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RYAN: Here's the story. We can get back to work. We can get back to jobs. We can uplift this society. We have to have the right leadership and the right policies.

That's what this is all about. Mitt Romney has offered very clear solutions to get people back to work. It's the Romney plan for a stronger middle class. The goal is more jobs, more take-home pay. And the goal is to get 12 million jobs created in this country. That amounts to about 345,000 jobs right here in Virginia.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RYAN: Grow the economy.

Now, there's one thing we're going to have to deal with to make sure we protect jobs in Virginia and around America. And that is these devastating defense cuts that President Obama is promising.

(BOOING)

RYAN: That is the lack of leadership that he's providing.

They call it sequester and all of that. Well, I tell you what. In the House, we already passed the bill to cut spending in other areas of government to make sure that these devastating cuts in defense never occur, so we don't put Virginians out of work and so we have a strong national defense.

That's extremely important. Now, it's not just jobs. It also is our national security. This is the first responsibility of our federal government. And one of the critical means and needs for a strong national defense is because the world needs America's leadership.

In the past day, Iran's president called our ally Israel -- quote -- "a cancerous tumor that must be excised." Let me be really clear. Under President Romney, our adversaries will think twice about challenging America and our allies, because we believe in peace through strength.

There will be no daylight between America and our friends around the world.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RYAN: Strong national defense, peace through strength, strong relationship with our allies.

And if we get back to work, we build our defense and we leave our children a debt-free nation, we will look back at this moment as the moment America got herself back on track.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHNS: Paul Ryan speaking there in Northern Virginia today.

And off the top, there was a heckler who was yelling something at him about taking stimulus money.

Interesting, though, there, John, how unflappable he seems to be in situations that. He's been tested before.

KING: He has been.

On the substance of that, Paul Ryan says he opposed the stimulus, and he said it was a huge mistake of President Obama. There have been some reports that he wrote a letter on behalf of a constituent trying to get some stimulus money. Some say, aha, hypocrisy, Congressman Ryan. You saw him.

The bigger point about dealing with the hecklers, I was a couple feet away from him at his solo debut in Iowa the other day when two women tried to rush the stage. Then the entire time he was speaking -- Joe, it was about 14 minutes -- there was a guy standing about as far away as I am from you, three or four feet, screaming in his face the entire time.

And he gave the speech. And I asked him after, how did you -- what did you think of the hecklers?

He said, "John, if you have been to Wisconsin the last couple years, politics is pretty polarized. Fine."

JOHNS: And speaking of substance, he said, "We want this debate on Medicare."

And you reacted to that.

KING: It's risky. It's risky. But, you know, you can run from your problems or run at your problems. Medicare has been a problem for Republicans in recent years. And that the Democrats say they want to end Medicare as we know it. Republican argument is Medicare will collapse if we don't change Medicare as we know it, because finances will tip it over.

But Democrats have used this issue successfully in the past. They say with the pick of Paul Ryan, they can put it front and center. They think it will help in Florida, an older state. They think it will help in Iowa, an older state. Reinforce them in Pennsylvania, even in Virginia, you have an elderly population.

But what Paul Ryan is saying, let's have the debate. Notice what he said, it's about leadership. Not so much about the nickels and dimes, the line by line of Medicare debate, but that the country has to make tough choices habit these programs and they're willing to make them. His argument is President Obama has been unwilling to make them.

It is a risky gamble by the Republicans. But to look people in the eye and say, we want this debate -- look, the more we have policy debates, he's right. He's right. I'm not taking sides. He's right about if you have this debate, whoever wins will be able to say in January the people actually voted for or against something as opposed to more personal stuff we've had the last few weeks.

JOHNS: Chief national correspondent John King, thanks so much for that.

KING: Thank you.

JOHNS: It's the height of mosquito season. And the death toll from West Nile virus keeps going up. We'll tell you what you can do to protect yourself.

Also, YouTube is giving us an inside look at how the Syrian rebels are improving their fire power.

And, find out what NASA is learning from the newest photos from Mars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Madonna and Paul McCartney asked Russia to show leniency to a punk band on trial. But did a Moscow judge listen?

Brianna Keilar is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION right now -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Joe.

No, a Moscow judge today sentenced the three female members of the punk band to two years in prison. They were found guilty of hooliganism, for performing a song criticizing Russian president Vladimir Putin during a protest at a Moscow cathedral. The trial has sparked international concern about freedom of speech in Russia. And the U.S. embassy in Russia calls the jail term "disproportionate."

Facebook's stock price has wrapped up a dismal week with a new low. It fell to $19 a share today. That's actually half its price when it first went public in May. And it's especially significant because restrictions on share sales by Facebook's biggest investors ended yesterday, putting a lot more Facebook shares up for grabs.

Facebook's slide didn't hurt Wall Street though. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all closed higher.

A stunning admission from one of the nation's top colleges. Emory University president says the school's employees inflated data about its students so that Emory would get a higher spot in critical college rankings. He says that's been going on for more than a decade.

Several other schools have also admitted recently to tweaking student data to climb up in the rankings.

And take a look at this. It is a plaque marking the spot where President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had their very first kiss. It happened in 1989 during the couple's first date. They had ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in the Hyde Park area of Chicago.

And, Joe, there's another twist to this tail, Mitt Romney's Bain Capital saved that site by buying Baskin-Robbins' parent company in 2005. Kind of funny, huh?

JOHNS: Yes. So what is the likelihood we'll be seeing that in a political ad any time soon?

KEILAR: You never know.

JOHNS: You bet. Thanks, Brianna.

The Obama campaign made Mitt Romney an offer he could and did refuse. We'll talk about the would-be deal on Romney's tax returns and what the president's team hoped to accomplish.

And the story of a musician who was more popular than Elvis or the Beatles in South Africa. And he did not know it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Dallas is launching an aerial assault on a killer disease. For the first time in nearly half a century, it's spraying insecticide from the air to try to stop the worst outbreak of West Nile virus in years.

Let's find out more now from CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Elizabeth, two planes sprayed areas of Dallas County last night, but they're going back up again tonight?

COHEN: That's right. When they up last night, it started to rain so they had to stop about halfway through to the job. And what they're doing tonight is they're going to send four planes. They're looking to spray about 106,000 acres and that includes downtown Dallas.

JOHNS: Is this insecticide dangerous to people?

COHEN: You know, it's never -- you never want to spray an insecticide unless you have to. And I thought environmentalists might be up in arms, but actually they're not. I talked to one and said you got to do what you got to do.

At least 26 people have died. She didn't sound terribly concerned. And here's why. This is an insecticide that has been -- or pesticide I should say that has been approved by the EPA for residential use. They're using very low volumes. They're using it at night when presumably people aren't usually out. And then chemical breaks down in the sunlight, which means that it wouldn't harm people.

JOHNS: Bottom line question, if you get bitten by a mosquito, what's the danger of contracting West Nile?

COHEN: You know, the chance you're going to contract West Nile from a mosquito bite, Joe, is actually very low. Then reason is that most mosquitoes don't carry West Nile. And then people get bit by a West Nile mosquito, 80 percent of people are just fine, don't even get sick at all. Of the remaining 20 percent, only one out of 150 gets severely ill. Most people get a flu-like illness that goes away.

JOHNS: Any news you can use, tips? What do you do from getting bit by a mosquito?

COHEN: Absolutely. You want to spray bug repellant and it needs to have DEET. Wear long sleeves, wear long pants. And get rid of any standing water. You know, if you've got a bird fountain or whatever, just get rid of that. Mosquitoes love to breed there.

JOHNS: Elizabeth Cohen, little tip there to avoid getting bit by the skeeters, thanks so much for that. Talk to you again.

COHEN: Thanks.

JOHNS: Syria's rebels were badly outgunned. But they are turning things around and showing off their weapons on YouTube?

And startling new images from the red planet. The curiosity Rover is roaming Mars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The Obama team is promising to back off if Mitt Romney releases five years of tax returns. Joining me for today's "Strategy Session" to dig deeper into this, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. And also joining me CNN contributor and redstate.com editor in chief, Erick Erickson. So, about those taxes, we've got the e-mail trail, if you will, the latest talk between the campaigns over this.

I'm going to start out now with Jim Messina, President Obama's campaign manager writing to the Romney team. He says if the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign.

Pretty good deal, you would think. And then Matt Rhoades response, he's Mitt Romney's campaign manager. He says it's clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney's tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters like putting America back to work, fixing the economy, reigning in spending.

Governor Romney will continue to lay out plans for a stronger middle class to save Medicare and so on. Maria, now, what's the point of all this? Surely they didn't really think that Romney was going to release more returns based on this e-mail exchange.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, of course not, Joe. But I think the point is to continue to illustrate to American voters that Mitt Romney clearly is not comfortable with something that is in his tax returns.

And it's not that he's done anything illegal or that even he hasn't paid the tax rate that he has actually said he would pay. What I hope the Obama campaign does a little more aggressively is make the link as to why this is important and the issues in this campaign.

It is a choice now between a campaign that wants to work and fight and do everything they can to make sure that the middle class comes out on top, and a campaign that through their own policies through now that the pick for Paul Ryan is now focused on doing what they can to help the wealthiest.

And this is an issue that is absolutely linked to that. What is it in Mitt Romney's returns that make him uncomfortable? What tax shelters has he taken advantage of that most voters, you and I and Erick can't take advantage of. What secret corporations does he have?

So those are issues that are absolutely relevant issues. I hope the Obama campaign continues to make those issues relevant issues for American voters.

JOHNS: Erick, is there anything you think that would get the Romney campaign to release more returns? Do you agree at least that this is hurting him?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I don't actually think this is hurting him anymore. I think initially it started to hurt him. And the campaign didn't really handle it. I mean, this might be the first time in a while he hasn't flip-flopped. He said he wasn't going to do and he didn't do it. Good for him. I really thought by now they would have done it. You know, he can probably come out -- I don't think he helped himself by saying he's paid at least 13.5 percent in taxes every year.

He probably could have come out and pointed out he's paid more in taxes in the past year or so than Barack Obama's paid in his lifetime, which may or may not be true. I don't know. But I'm sure it's a large number.

But I really don't think this issue helps Barack Obama as much. And I think the reason they're throwing it out today is we started the week with Paul Ryan as a pick. The White House tried to do a Medicare pivot. They didn't do it very well.

Then Joe Biden opened his mouth on Monday and then opened his mouth on Tuesday and then opened his mouth on Wednesday. And they're trying to now get away from the chains comments, the 20th Century comments and the other comments by trying to pivot back to a tax issue that really is more of a distraction.

They could be going after Romney on Medicare, but they're not, which suggests it's not working.

JOHNS: Now, let's take a turn to that controversy involving the former U.S. military personnel who put out the ad. Let's listen to this clip. It involves President Obama. And we'll talk to you on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you did not kill Osama Bin Laden. America did. The work that the American military has done killed Osama Bin Laden, you did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now, this group, which our Brian Todd has actually linked to Republican includes Navy SEALs and there's a lot of talk this could sort of, if you will, mirror the swift boat ads that went up against John Kerry so long ago.

I guess the first question probably is, is President Obama learning the lesson of history, Maria? As you know John Kerry didn't respond to the swift vote ads for a long time. It ended up hurting him and we haven't heard much from the Obama campaign at least so far.

CARDONA: Well, I don't think they're learning it. I think they've learned it. And that's why you've seen such aggressive Obama campaign from the very beginning because they're not going to let this kind of swift voting, if you will, bring down President Obama and his campaign.

They're going to make sure they're the ones to defend or to define the other side, if you will. And I think that this is a disgusting ad. And you're going to hear more from the Obama campaign in terms of how disgusting it is.

And Brian Todd, kudos to him, I think he did exactly the right thing in exposing these Republican operatives for what they are. One was a spokesperson for the Tea Party. One of them worked for the George Bush administration.

And they are clearly very Republican and ideologues in this and the American people will absolutely see through this. This is why they're afraid because President Obama has a huge advantage on foreign policy issues and especially on Osama Bin Laden.

Look at what Admiral McRaven said to Wolf Blitzer not so long ago. He absolutely gave kudos to President Obama on this and the American people know that.

JOHNS: Now, I want to get Erick in here on this. Do you see the situation with these ads as similar or different to the swift vote ads back in 2004 and why or why not?

ERICKSON: I think they're trying to do the same. You know, I've got to agree with Maria on a point though. I kind of -- I'm taken aback by the effort to try to disconnect President Obama from getting Osama Bin Laden.

I see what they're trying to do and a lot of conservatives trying to do that. We gave George Bush credit for getting Saddam Hussein who in turn gave credit to the military for actually doing it.

President Obama made the call to get Osama Bin Laden. And I think conservatives may want to say he doesn't deserve the credit because they don't like him, but he's the commander in chief, he made the call. I think they need to move on to a different argument. There is an argument I think they can make that resonates with the American people.

Polling suggests resonates with the American people and the Democrats have suggested resonates with the American people and that is the national security leaks. There have been a number of national security leaks out of this White House designed to make the president look good that have undermined national security.

And I think there's a way for them to pursue that. The White House will have difficulty pushing back on because there are Democratic senators who have also piled on the White House on this.

But trying to disconnect the president from the Osama Bin Laden decision is a bad move I think. One they can't sell to the American people. They can't sell me on that.

CARDONA: If I could just say that the White House is the first ones to say that any leaks are inappropriate and this is a White House that has been more aggressive than any administration in prosecuting national security leaks. So that's another reason why these ads will not be credible.

JOHNS: All right, thanks. Thanks both Erick Erickson, Maria Cardona, always a smart conversation with you guys.

CARDONA: Thank you, Joe.

The Syrian rebels a outgunned by regime forces, but they're beefing up their arsenal and showing it off on YouTube.

And we'll tell you what photos from Mars reveal about the red planet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: There's a new mediator in Syria. Today, the U.N. named an Algerian diplomat to replace Kofi Annan. On the frontlines, rebel fighters are showing off their weapons and trying to improve their odds against pro-government forces.

We're getting a better sense of the opposition's fire power through social media. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been looking into that for us -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, you know, we've watched these YouTube videos for months now that the rebels have put out. When you go back and look, you can begin to assemble a pretty clear picture of what they have in hand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): You can see it all unfold on the street. Syria's rebels are now heavily outgunned, but they are learning. In this video believed to have been shot near Aleppo last month, the first battle tank appears to have hit a rebel IED.

The second is struck by a rocket. In recent weeks, the Free Syrian Army has attacked and captured perhaps dozens of tanks. This week, a video surfaced showing fighters with a regime tank close to the Turkish border and brandishing a flag often used by al Qaeda.

But among the dozens of rebel videos, the tanks and armored vehicles appear to be often little more than trophies. This one needs to be towed. Some get cannibalized for their heavy caliber machine guns and ammunition.

Rebels also have rocket launcher. Impossible to know how many captured from the regime or smuggled in by supporters. Here large cashes of ordinance in rebel hands. Also captured or smuggled. The U.S. only admits to sending in communications gear.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our goal is to try to do what we can to try to assist them in a way that can make them more effective in this fight.

STARR: Fundamentally the rebel dent in Assad's forces is small. Syria has as many as 1,600 Soviet-made T-72 battle tanks and regular supplies of ammunition coming from Iran and possibly Russia. The Pentagon says the regime is militarily suffering, however. GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: They are having morale problems. They are having the kind of wear and tear that would come of being in a fight for as long as they have.

STARR: In the air, Assad's forces remain unchallenged. This was one attempt to bring down a helicopter from a pickup truck mounted with a heavy machine gun hidden inside a garage.

The regime insists this jet crashed due to mechanical failure, but the Pentagon believes the rebels did succeed in shooting it down, a rare video propaganda victory for a rebel movement still struggling to become a coherent fighting force.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: But there is something else at work here. You know, as long as those high-level defections continue from Syria, that may be one of the biggest propaganda victories of all -- Joe.

JOHNS: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks for that.

An Air France flight is forced to land in a war zone. And passengers are asked for cash to refuel the plane.

And a new campaign to prevent children from dying in scorching cars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: We're getting another fascinating glimpse at Mars. Brand new pictures have been sent back to earth from the rover "Curiosity." Chad Myers has been looking at them. Those pictures are just amazing, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They really are. You have to understand that Mars is farther away from us right now than the sun. The sun's light takes about 7 minutes. This is actually now taking 14 minutes for just one pixel, one little blip of data to make it from Mars back to us.

And then we put it back together and this is what we see. The latest picture from NASA today, this is actually a picture from the rover looking at Mt. Sharp. This is two kilometers from here to here.

It's about a mile and a quarter to give you an idea of the size here. What I see here I seen lines. You can go to nasa.gov and look at these pictures even closer up.

The lines here look a little bit like what we see at the Grand Canyon. Different layers of rock. Different layers of something deposited and eroded so we can see it. That's why NASA is here for the most part.

They want to dig into these layers that as you go down the layers are going to be older. There's the top of the rover from the mastcam taking a look down all these things all put together.

You have to understand these pictures are going to get a lot better as we get all of the other cameras unveiled and unfolded and the lens caps off and that kind of stuff. Couple scours they're going to look at.

Those are actually some of the burn marks, the jet wash marks that blew away some of the top layers of the Martian surface. So now we're down a couple inches. Not as far as that drill certainly will.

No one else believes me, and I can understand why, but I believe that that right there is a dinosaur head. And that this would be the ribs and this would be the hip. But I can't get anybody else to go along with that.

JOHNS: Man.

MYERS: I guess I'm just a dreamer -- Joe.

JOHNS: Well, you certainly got my attention there.

MYERS: It's just a rock.

JOHNS: Well, you know, it would be nice. So are we learning anything more about say the atmosphere or the weather there, the conditions?

MYERS: Yes. This is great. I mean, we have now weather data coming from Mars for the first time in 30 years. We had something a long time ago that gave us some data, but it's gone. It's been dead for a long time.

We found out today that when the sun was out, the temperature was 1 degree, 1 degree above the freezing mark. So you could actually see some of this water being liquid. That's what they want to be able to find, any liquid water.

At any time in this past Martian surface because that way that water could technically have caused and made some type of living thing. So we'll see.

JOHNS: So that means we're going to have to stay tuned and keep looking for the dinosaur heads.

MYERS: Long, long time. This is going for a long time. This is not solar power. This is nuke powered. It's going to go for a long time.

JOHNS: Great. Thanks, Chad.

MYERS: You got it.

JOHNS: He was a superstar in South Africa, more popular than the Beetles or the "Rolling Stones." But a Detroit musician never knew it until a documentary changed his life. Find out how Sixto Rodriguez is getting a second chance at fame. And keeping U.S. troops safe from attacks in Afghanistan. NATO makes a dramatic move.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Sixto Rodriguez may be the most famous musician you have never heard of. His first bid for fame in the U.S. flopped, but he became a true rock star in South Africa only he never knew it. Poppy Harlow has the story of the man fans call "Sugar Man."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought he was like the inner city poet. He was this wandering spirit around the city.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixto Rodriguez, a Dylan-Esque Detroit native who tried his hand at rock history in the '70s.

MIKE THEODORE, CO-PRODUCER, COLD FACT BY RODRIGUEZ: When we walked in and heard the songs he was singing and what he was writing, we had to record him. He's great. We said this is it.

HARLOW: But it wasn't. Rodriguez's albums flopped in the U.S. Somehow though his first album, "Cold Fact" made it halfway around the world and became a massive hit.

MALIK BENDJELLOUL, DIRECTOR, "SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN": In South Africa he was a rock God.

STEPHEN SEGERMAN, OWNER, MABU VINYL IN CAPE TOWN: To us it was one of the most famous records of all time.

HARLOW: The sound track of the anti-apartheid movement fuelling the revolution. At home in Detroit, Rodriguez had no idea. He had given up his music career. That was four decades ago.

(on camera): You used to play across the street there, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I played a lot of places in Detroit.

HARLOW (voice-over): Unaware of his fame abroad and getting no royalties, Rodriguez lived on little raising his daughters doing demolition work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a stranger to hard work.

HARLOW: He made failed bids for mayor, city council and state rep.

(on camera): You call yourself a musical political?

SIXTO RODRIGUEZ, MUSICIAN: Musical political, yes. I don't see now anyone cannot be. HARLOW (voice-over): Then at 57, he was rediscovered by a South African music journalist and a record store owner who found clues in his lyrics. They brought Rodriguez to South Africa and he played to thousands of adoring fans.

RODRIGUEZ: Thanks for keeping me alive.

SANDRA RODRIGUEZ, RODRIGUEZ' DAUGHTER: He's on stage and the crowd is just going wild. They are singing and they are crying.

HARLOW (on camera): It brings you to tears to see something like that happen to someone.

RODRIGUEZ: It was epic.

HARLOW: Do you not think that your story is exceptional beyond belief?

RODRIGUEZ: It's pretty wild the story. You know, I'm a lucky man to be so fortunate at this late date.

BENDJELLOUL: This is a true Cinderella story.

HARLOW (voice-over): Filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul tells it in his documentary "Searching for Sugar Man."

BENDJELLOUL: A man who lives his whole life in Detroit working as a construction worker really hard manual labor without knowing at the very same time, he's more famous than Elvis Presley in another part of the world. That's the most beautiful story I've ever heard in my life.

HARLOW: A beautiful story, but also a mystery. Where are all the royalties?

BENDJELLOUL: I don't know. I don't know. I do think it's an important question because he didn't know he was famous was that he didn't get royalties.

HARLOW: Asked if he feels ripped off?

RODRIGUEZ: No, not in that sense. Hate is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don't like.

HARLOW (on camera): Do you want the fame and the fortune? Now 70, Rodriguez may finally get his due.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Rodriguez.

HARLOW: Do you ever pinch yourself and ask is this real?

RODRIGUEZ: Is it real? It's certainly a different life. It's not what it was.

HARLOW (voice-over): Poppy Harlow, CNN, Detroit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: You know, think about this, being as famous as Elvis in one country, but not knowing it could probably never happen again in the '70s. There wasn't any internet and Rodriguez didn't even own a phone for years. Now with YouTube videos going viral, it's really not very likely that phenomenon could be repeated.