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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Strategy for Romney Campaign?; Obama's Poll Numbers Rising; Tracking Down Killers in Libya; Obama And Romney Court Latinos; GOP Split On Romney Secret Tapes; Obama Campaign's Personalized Flag; Syrian Warplanes Strike Gas Station; Foreigners Fight Against Syrian Regime; Anti-U.S. Protests Rage In Middle East; Producer Jailed For Gay Play; Mom Attacks Teen At Bus Stop

Aired September 20, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: another day, another new strategy for the Romney campaign. Voters are about to see a lot more of the Republican nominee.

Also, recent polls show momentum shifting to President Obama. We're about to find out which way the state of Nevada is moving.

And new developments in the hunt for the suspects in the attack that killed the United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

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

With only 47 days to go until the election, the Romney campaign's about to roll out another new strategy. Voters will be seeing a lot more of Mitt Romney. In fact, we're only minutes away from his speech at a rally in Florida.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now live from Sarasota to set the scene. Jim, what's going on?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we expect Mitt Romney to be out here in Sarasota, Florida, in just a few minutes from now. This is where his advisers say after a relatively light schedule over the last couple of weeks, Mitt Romney and his campaign will be picking up the pace.

And after seeming to defend those comments on that hidden camera video on government dependency, Romney appears to be shifting again on that message, as well looking for something that will stick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): After being caught on tape writing off 47 percent of voters as Obama supporters who are dependent on government, Mitt Romney was checking his math at a candidate's forum with the Spanish-language TV station Univision.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a campaign about the 100 percent. My campaign is about the 100 percent in America. And I'm concerned about them. ACOSTA: Later, in front of a crowd in Miami, Romney went on to share a personal story about how his father received government assistance after moving to the U.S. from Mexico as a child.

ROMNEY: They came back to the United States and my dad had to get help, financial help. The government helped his family to be able to get on their feet again. By the way, that's the way America works. We help people. We get them on their feet. And then they build a brighter future.

ACOSTA: But the Romney campaign is doing more than cleaning up that video leaked to "Mother Jones" magazine. Consider what the GOP nominee said on the similarities between the president's health care law and his own.

ROMNEY: Now and then, the president says I'm the grandfather of Obamacare. I don't think he meant that as a compliment, but I will take it.

ACOSTA: After the Obama campaign noted what Romney has said in the past about the law.

ROMNEY: I will repeal Obamacare and I will kill it dead on its first day.

ACOSTA: One of Romney's top surrogates, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, hopped on a conference call with reporters to say the candidate is not trying to have it both ways.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Governor Romney's made it very clear one of his very first actions will be to repeal and replace this bad law.

ACOSTA: After a rocky couple of weeks that's seen more fund- raisers than rallies, the campaign is planning to pick up the pace. In a swing state blitz dubbed by the press as more Mitt, the GOP ticket will wrap up a series of stops in Florida this weekend moving onto a bus tour across Ohio next week. It's a road trip that offers a chance for a wayward campaign to get a message back on course.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Both campaigns on both sides say things that get off the message. The message is, let's stay focused on jobs, because that's what the American people want us to stay focused on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for that schedule, Romney won't have much time to put the pedal to the metal with less than two weeks to go until his first presidential debate with the president. Mitt Romney will also need some time to prepare for those face-offs.

Earlier this afternoon the Obama campaign put out a strategy memo on those debates, saying that the GOP nominee appears to be ready with what they called a pretty good attack line on the president, Wolf. BLITZER: Florida is such an important state in this race for the White House. Sarasota, where you are, a critically important part of Florida, how is the crowd turnout for Romney today?

ACOSTA: This is a big crowd for Mitt Romney today.

We don't have a crowd estimate just yet. We should get one from the campaign shortly. But last night in Miami, he had about 3,000 people there as well, and it was a loud and boisterous crowd.

I talked to Ana Navarro, who as we know is a CNN contributor, also a Republican strategist, and she noted that even though there has been a sense of malaise surrounding this campaign that Republicans have been concerned about what Mitt Romney said in that hidden camera video, that the crowd last night in Miami did seem charged up and that would be the same case here as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, we will stand by. Once Romney starts speaking, we will check in, hear what he has to say.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, right now.

She's been talking to her sources about the Romney campaign and what's going on.

Do you have any sense what the new message and the new recalibration, whatever we want to call it, is going to be?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I have been talking to people in the Romney campaign and outside advisers who talk to the Romney campaign.

It seems to me what they're trying to do is broaden the economic message, particularly after that 47 percent secret videotape, and to personalize the message. As one senior adviser said to me, we need to reassure all Americans that Mitt Romney can fix things.

They want to be less reactive. They want to speak in a more specific way about policy, for example about energy, maybe talk about the Keystone pipeline for example or lifting a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf, things like that, and telling people we can help you, because they understand that they have a deficit by about three to one about when you ask people who understands your problems, Barack Obama wins that by that huge margin.

And you cannot sustain a winning presidential campaign if people don't believe you understand their problems.

BLITZER: You know, there was a lot of speculation that they were going to try to jump-start the campaign October 3, which is the first presidential debate. But I take it that timeline has changed.

BORGER: No, there are a lot of people saying you can't wait that long. You have got a couple of weeks now where you can actually try and set the agenda, instead of just react to the agenda. So one senior adviser I spoke to, Wolf, did not rule out a major domestic policy speech, for example, from Mitt Romney, maybe some more ads in which Mitt Romney talks directly to the camera to the American people. You know, they now believe you can't wait.

It's also putting way too much pressure on the candidate to say, OK, you have got to jump-start your campaign in that first debate. I mean, debates change things. Al Gore learned that. He lost a lot of altitude after his first debate, I think eight points. But you can't depend on that. You have to have something at your back going into a debate.

BLITZER: He needs to work in certain, specific areas.

BORGER: He does.

BLITZER: And you have been doing some research.

BORGER: I have.

First of all, he's got some discouraged Republicans he has to worry about. But look at this graphic. We put together a bunch of polls on key groups on Obama vs. Romney. If you look at women, look at the large difference there, Obama, Romney. Hispanics, even larger.

Independent voters, this is where Romney has his opportunity. You see it's only four points there. And Catholic voters, of course, who are so important in that key battleground state of Ohio. So while Mitt Romney does well with -- some places with men, if he can't raise his numbers with women just a few points, even his advantage with men in certain places is not going to help it out.

So these key groups are places they are looking at. We saw Romney speak in a Univision event yesterday. These key groups are things they know they have to do better with.

BLITZER: Yes. If the Hispanics are going to be 66-26, he's in trouble.

BORGER: Right. On top of it, Wolf, they have also got a bunch of Republicans who are not as enthusiastic about coming out and voting. So they have got to get their base fired up.

And that's why you see Mitt Romney out there on the stump today. They have to get some enthusiasm back.

BLITZER: He's going to be a lot more visible, according to Jim Acosta. So, we will see how that works out.

BORGER: We will be watching.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very, very much.

More trouble in the Middle East, meanwhile.

Jack Cafferty is following that in "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, anti-American protests, some of them violent, raging on in the Middle East today.

And it could get worse tomorrow on the Muslim day of prayer. In Islamabad, Pakistan, thousands protested the anti-Islamic film and cartoons of Mohammed outside foreign embassies, including America's.

And police responded with tear gas and warning shots. In Kabul, Afghanistan, hundreds chanted, long live Islam, death to America. In Iran, demonstrators in Tehran protested against the same film, shouting anti-American and anti-Israel slogans, all of this following the killing of America's ambassador and three others in Libya last week, along with more anti-U.S. protests in Yemen, the Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia, just to name some.

Back here in the United States, the Obama administration is facing questions about embassy security in the wake of those murders at the consulate in Benghazi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to testify to Congress in a closed intelligence briefing today.

It's been suggested the U.S. was warned about that attack in Libya three days before it happened. The administration insists they haven't seen intelligence about -- quote -- "significant advanced planning" -- unquote. for that attack.

But interestingly the White House is now calling the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a terrorist attack for the first time. And it happened on the anniversary of 9/11. Fancy that.

U.S. relations with Israel at least on the surface appear to be getting much worse, as President Obama continues to say he doesn't have time to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Iran continues marching toward nuclear weapons. Syria continues to murder its own people. It all suddenly feels much worse than it has for some time.

Here's the question. How satisfied are you with U.S. policy in the Middle East? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Meanwhile, there's another important development in the race for the White House. We have brand-new poll results that have just come in from the state of Nevada, the state Mitt Romney's hoping to take away from President Obama. We will see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just as Mitt Romney gets ready to speak in Orlando -- we will go there live in a few minutes -- we're getting a new poll that is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the all-important swing state of Nevada, which President Obama won in 2008, but could go either way this time. Our brand-new CNN/ORC poll shows that right now the president leads Mitt Romney 49 percent to 46 percent among Nevada's likely voters.

There are some interesting trends if you dig a little bit deeper.

Let's do that with our chief national correspondent, John King. He's over at the magic wall following these numbers for us.

What are you seeing in Nevada? Because that's a pretty important state.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An important state and as close as they come in terms of the battleground. You just noticed right there that's a statistical tie. You have a dead heat between the candidates.

Let's take a closer look at Nevada and see just what's driving the poll. Let's start here. This is fairly typical when you look at some states. We have seen some changes in this recently. But Nevada among men, Governor Romney leading with 52 percent for 43 percent for the president. Among women, you see the gender gap swing the other way. President Obama leading rather comfortably among women 54 percent to 41 percent.

Wolf, you look at some other parts of the poll as well, and you look here, income, income, those under $50,000 a year, the lower- income voters, they support the president by a 20-point margin there. Those making $50,000 a year or above, they support Governor Romney, but not quite as big of an edge, but you see an income gap as well.

One more point we want to show you here is the age difference here. Younger voters decidedly for the president, 53 to 42. Those 50 and older, not influenced so far in Nevada as yet, at least yet not widely, 51 to 45, a narrow lead for Governor Romney. So perhaps some impact of the whole Medicare debate, Social Security debate, but Governor Romney holding a constituency he needs to hold.

So, you know, the state well, Wolf, we've got the Latino vote the president's counting on, also one of the states where you have a large Mormon, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints population, that's part of Governor Romney's base. As today, 47 days out, as close as it comes.

BLITZER: How does the race look like in other key states?

KING: That's what's interesting. Let me move these polls out of the way. So, in Nevada, you know, it's a dead heat. If you look at the trend this past week, it's troubling for the Romney campaign. The national polls show a very close race. But we presidents pick state-by-state. So, let's go through some.

I just got back an hour ago from Michigan. Our new poll yesterday shows the president comfortably ahead in Michigan. Move down south to Ohio, there's been a new polling in Ohio the past week, and you look right here, again, the president with a slight edge there -- slight edge just outside the margin of error, an advantage for the president there.

Out West like Nevada, Colorado is a battleground. I pull this one out, it's going to get crowded in a minute. This one's a dead heat, 48 to 47 in the state of Colorado.

If you go through the battleground states, the only one where we find Governor Romney actually on top and this is within the margin of error. So all of these except for Michigan and perhaps Ohio, statistical dead heat, Governor Romney is leading slightly in the state of New Hampshire.

Again, I told you, it's going to get crowded on the screen. I'm going to come down here and look at the state of Virginia. This one here, the president, this is a must-win for Governor Romney. He can get to the presidency without Virginia, but, boy, is it hard? And the president, this is a compilation of several polls that show the president ahead there.

You've been talking to Jim Acosta in Florida, Wolf, that's the last one I'll pull up. In this state, I've got to make a little room for it here, the president also seems to be edging ahead in Florida. I want to caution everybody, you know, in most of these cases the president has a three-point, four-point, maybe five-point lead. That means it's very close.

But if you look at the electoral map and you're the Romney campaign, Wolf, you're figuring you need to win most of these states. The president can give up in several of these states and still get to 270. For Governor Romney, the path is much more difficult.

So, when you're behind a little bit in Colorado, you're behind in Ohio, you're behind in Michigan, you're behind in Wisconsin, you're behind in Virginia, you're behind Florida, you can do the math at home. That means Governor Romney's task is much tougher.

BLITZER: He's got a struggle ahead of him.

All right. Thanks, John.

Romney speaking right now at a rally in Sarasota, Florida. Let's listen in.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: -- a lot more money and Obamacare does, you've got to find a way to pay for it, so he raised taxes by $500 billion. But then this, I hope the people in Florida understand this, he cut Medicare by $716 billion.

And if I'm president of the United States, we're going to put that $716 billion back into Medicare, back into the care of our seniors.

(APPLAUSE)

That $716 billion represents $1.4 billion in Sarasota County alone. Think of that. And what it means, the Medicare actuary and the Medicare trustees looked at what's going to happen by virtue of this $716 billion cut to Medicare. What they say it's going to do is that about 4 million people who have Medicare Advantage are going to lose it.

And in addition about 15 percent of America's hospitals and nursing homes will stop taking new Medicare patients. What he has done to Medicare to pay for Obamacare is wrong. I will reverse it. I will save Medicare and protect it for our seniors of today and our seniors of tomorrow.

(APPLAUSE)

And so with all the challenges we face in our economy, with all the challenges we face around the world, the president came to give the address to the America people at his convention in Charlotte, and I expected him to lay out a vision, to describe his plan for getting America working again. Perhaps it had been two steps or five steps or some ideas. In fact, after his long speech was finished, there was no plan. He has no plan to make Washington work. He says he can't change it from the inside. He has no plan to get our economy working again.

Well, I have a plan. I have five steps that will get this economy going, create 12 million new jobs, save Medicare and get our incomes rising again.

There are five things and you've probably heard them by now. If you haven't, I want you to learn them. Number one, to get this economy going in a big hurry immediately, we're going to take advantage of our energy resources, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables. We're going to rebuild America's energy economy.

(APPLAUSE)

CROWD: USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA!

ROMNEY: And secondly, and number two, to get this economy going, we believe in the USA, we believe in the ability of American men and women to compete. We're going to open up trade around the world. And we're going to crack down on China or any other nation in trade when they cheat.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to listen in. Hear what Mitt Romney has to say. He's going through his stump speech. We'll watch what's going on, share any news that emerges from this speech, Mitt Romney in Sarasota, Florida, a key battleground state.

So, what exactly happened in the days and hours before the deadly attack in the U.S. consulate in Libya?

A top official makes a major admission as investigators try to figure out who's to blame.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to Capitol Hill today. She and other officials briefed lawmakers with the latest on the attack in Benghazi that killed the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Our intelligence correspondent Suzanne Kelly is joining us now.

What's the latest, Suzanne, on this fast-moving investigation?

SUZANNE KELLY, CNN INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

Well, a source in the intelligence community today acknowledged contradictory information on whether there was a protest prior to the attack. The source is saying that intelligence officials are continuing to collect information and to evaluate exactly what the circumstances were prior to the attack itself. This as officials try to collect further evidence about just who was behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY (voice-over): Officials are looking closely at individuals who may have had connections to al Qaeda affiliate groups like al Qaeda's North African affiliate better known as AQIM.

Another group getting scrutiny, Ansar al-Sharia, a jihadist organization led by a former Guantanamo detainee.

But an intelligence official insisted Thursday that no one person or one group has been zeroed in on. The source telling CNN there's no evidence to suggest that the leader of that group. Sufyan Ben Qumu, was either at the scene or directly involved in the attack.

National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told a congressional committee Wednesday that the intelligence committee is still looking at several potential suspects.

MATTHEW OLSEN, NCTC DIRECTOR: A number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area.

KELLY: The FBI is leading the investigation. Their team now on the ground in Libya responsible for collecting the evidence intended to help whittle down that suspect list.

KEVIN PERKINS, FBI ASSOCIATE DEPUTY DIRECTOR: We are conducting interviews, gathering evidence and trying to sort out the facts, working with our partners both from a criminal standpoint as well as in the intelligence community, to try to determine exactly what took place on the ground that evening.

KELLY: There are significant challenges facing U.S. investigators and the intelligence community. For one, getting a level of granularity that will allow them to identify individuals and their associations with various groups. Another challenge, sifting through whatever information or evidence was left behind at a crime scene that was never really secured. All against a backdrop of concern for the investigators' safety.

DON BORELLI, THE SOUFAN GROUP: The FBI has a track record of being able to go into these places that are volatile and be able to put together a criminal case. We've done it in Yemen with the coal bombing. We did it in East Africa with the embassy bombings.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY: Now, more than a week after the attack and the details are just as tough to nail down as they were in the hours after it happened, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Olsen, head of counterterrorism, he yesterday said flatly, this was an act of terrorism. Other officials are now jumping on that bandwagon?

KELLY: That's right. He was the first official to say that yesterday during that congressional hearing. He said, according to the administration's definition of terrorism, that it does fit within the definition, saying it was carried out for political reasons, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know there's more going on. We'll check back with you. Thanks very much.

The stars and stripes go political. The Obama campaign is selling its own version of the American flag. Is that appropriate? Our strategy session is standing by to break it all down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now two CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist, Ana Navarro.

Ana, you're down there in Sarasota, you heard Romney speak before the Univision forum yesterday, the president today. Give us a little flavor of how those went what was the reaction inside the room?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Actually, Wolf, I'm in Miami. Both of those forums took place at the University of Miami down here. The one with Obama just ended right now. And the president's forum will be played tonight at 10:00.

They were two completely different moods in the room. Yesterday, the Romney folk did a very good job of packing that room with huge supporters. Each of the campaigns got 300 tickets from the organizers.

But today's crowd, the Democrat crowd, was much more subdued. There was a lot less energy in the crowd. The Obama forum was significantly longer than the Romney forum. I think in part that was because of the time that each candidate allowed and allotted them.

They both got pressed. They both got asked tough questions, a lot of them on immigration, some on foreign policy. "Fast and Furious" was discussed.

I saw in both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney preparation -- debate preparation that has happened. They were both cool and prepared. And they answered some very tough questions.

BLITZER: You know, Donna, the president obviously does a lot better with the Latino vote out there than Romney does. But the question and Ana just raised it is enthusiasm, getting that vote out. There was enthusiasm in 2008. Is there going to be that similar enthusiasm this time that will make a difference?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, Wolf. I think the enthusiasm gap has narrowed over the last couple weeks following the Democratic convention. There's still a level of intensity.

And some of us know that when it comes to getting Democratic voters and many independents who lean Democratic, we have to call them a couple times, knock on the door. And of course help them make sure they can navigate all of the new voter ID rules. I had a couple friends also in attendance last night as well as today.

The difference is, of course, that the Democrats gave some of their tickets to the lottery. The Republicans insisted that only partisans get in. So we did provide tickets to people who were so- called independents.

So that all of tickets were not given out to just quote/unquote, "Democratic partisans," but when it comes to turning out on election day early voting, the Obama campaign, the Democratic Party, we have a really good A-team, a good ground game.

And I believe we'll narrow that enthusiasm gap in the closing weeks of the campaign.

BLITZER: Ana, let me play once again a little clip from the secretly recorded fundraising event that Romney attended in Booker Raton, Florida last May. This is probably the most controversial line of what he said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My job is not to worry about those -- I'll never convince them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to those so-called 47 percent. They should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. The past couple days we've gotten various reactions from Republicans.

Mary Matalin said that Romney was right. There are producers and parasites, she said, referring to the 47 percent presumably as parasites.

David Frum who wrote speeches for President Bush, he called Mary's remarks unfortunate and deplorable. I'm curious, Ana, where do you stand?

NAVARRO: I absolutely do not think that 47 percent are parasites, Wolf. I think it was misstated. I think it was inelegantly worded as Mitt Romney himself has stated.

There are many in the 47 percent that are Hispanics. Many are folks that are serving abroad, serving our country abroad in the military, many are senior citizens. These are not moochers. There are some people who abuse the system.

And that is something we must recognize. But certainly not all 47 percent are abusers of the system and also pay taxes in other ways. So I don't agree with the gist of that comment. And actually that comment came up yesterday in the Univision forum.

It was asked of Romney and he immediately pivoted back to 100 percent. He's changing the conversation to 100 percent. It also got asked today of President Obama his thoughts on that 47 percent remark.

And I think a president needs to worry about 100 percent of Americans regardless of race, of income level and I think that Mitt Romney is acknowledging that.

BLITZER: Yes. He certainly did not phrase whatever he was trying to say well. Donna, there's another issue that's come up. I don't know how serious it is, but anxious for you to weigh-in.

The Obama campaign now selling a version of the American flag complete with an "O" presumably for Obama, there it is right there. That's the version of the Obama, the American flag.

A tweet from the Obama campaign saying a poster to say there are no red states or blue states, only the United States. Then there's a link to buy the poster. I guess the question is, is it appropriate to use the American flag like this for campaign purposes?

BRAZILE: You know, free speech, Wolf. Look, I know there are some right wing bloggers who are already gone through their level of outrage. I often think of this as just another distraction.

But this is just artist for Obama to generate excitement, interest and of course, get a couple dollars into a campaign that really needs a lot of money right now.

I hope this is not another distraction like God in the platform, which didn't really look at the fact that we had more than six chapters on God. But we often get called into these sidebar conversations because we don't want to talk about the big issues facing this country.

Ana is absolutely right, it's 100 percent. We're all in this together. While Mitt Romney is talking about people not paying taxes, we should talk about corporations that don't pay their fair share.

It's time he releases his own taxes to the American people to show what he's paying as well. BLITZER: Ana, very quickly, what do you think of that Obama campaign flag?

NAVARRO: I don't like it, Wolf. Look, I'm a naturalized American. I think one of the things that unites us all as Americans is the love and respect for some of our national symbols like the flag, like the constitution.

I don't think having the Obama states of America is a good thing. Do I think Mr. Obama is unpatriotic because of this? No. I think both Governor Romney and President Obama love this country and want to serve this country.

But I don't like our national symbols being used as political paraphernalia and being sold as that.

BLITZER: Ladies, thanks to both of you for coming in. Appreciate it.

So who are the foreigners fighting alongside rebels in Syria? We're going to the front lines of this deadly civil war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Thick black smoke and burned out cars. This is the aftermath of a government air strike in Syria today. War planes targeted this gas station triggering an explosion that killed at least 55 people.

It's a fraction of the more than 184 people opposition forces say were killed today as well. CNN has obtained video from a journalist who spent time with the rebel units in Aleppo.

CNN's Nick Payton Walsh is joining us now live. Nick, who did this journalist find?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He spent time with a Libyan student who still by his own civil war decided to join the ranks of Syrian rebels to assist in their fight. He doesn't perceive himself as radical, seeing himself as another Muslim trying to help his fellow Muslims -- Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): Here in Aleppo, the fight is mostly Syrian- to-Syrian, street-to-street, but on the radio is a foreign fighter. He is Libyan. He says he braves the regime's tank shells because his fight for Libya compelled him to also fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lived this moment, you know, we felt this moment so, you know, as it was in Libya. You cannot say this is not freedom fighters. They protest to go free. I don't know why they only watch. They don't give us support. They don't give a no-fly zone.

WALSH: Libya got NATO's help, Syria for now gets his. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He looks like to speak, he likes to bark. You know, barking. For one, one, two hours. He never stops. He never stops lying.

WALSH: The Syrian regime blames foreign radicals for the uprising trying to conjure up fears of a takeover by Islamic extremists. While he embraces religion, he expresses extremism and al Qaeda altogether.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm only student. I left my money, my student, my family. We're not al Qaeda. We're not coming to broke this country. We came here to help.

WALSH: There could be thousands of foreign fighters in Syria, some radical, some not. While rebels may want battle hardened fighters here now, they may regret that when the extremists decide to stay says one expert.

PROFESSOR AHMAD MOUSSALLI, EXPERT ON ISLAMIC MOVEMENTS: I don't think they have any benefit in having them. But I think at this point because of their weaker weaponry and training and ability, they may need them to fight.

If you assume the fighting is going to be finished, I think they are there to stay. And what we might witness is something like Yemen where the foreign fighters will be able to control certain areas or cities.

WALSH: He does say he wants an Islamic government for Syria, but he wants to go back home. That's where he learned about loss. He still wears the shirt of his brother who died fighting in Libya. And in Syria he's already lost a Libyan friend to a sniper's bullet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the sniper was shooting, one here and the second one here. And the third one -- you can see this.

WALSH: In the brutal Syrian battle for every corner, the foreigners here and the concerns they bring of radicalism might be attracting more attention than their numbers merit.

But the U.N. believes their influence is growing and that some of it is radical and that as this war drags on may well grow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: The Syrian regime seizes upon the presence of foreigners, Libyans, to support their contention that the rebellion is effectively of foreign extremists. Today, in fact they claim they killed 100 Afghans in the commercial heart of Aleppo.

Highly unlikely they killed that many rebels on one occasion and they would exclusively be from Afghanistan, but great controversy here. Many observers really aren't sure about the numbers here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So bottom line, Nick, how much influence do these foreigners have when it comes to fighting in Syria?

WALSH: I think on the ground at this point they're really limited. You can't really get a comprehensive view as to many of them are and exactly what their ideology as it spread it seems to spectrum to have some sort of al Qaeda affiliation and very small minority that are helping fellow Muslims.

Interest is pretty extreme particularly on the Obama administration at this point many U.S. officials suggesting the presence of these radicals might be a reason not to arm the Syrian rebellion there.

And perhaps step back and in fact many observers say that's convenient because the Obama administration doesn't really want to intervene at this point.

The U.N. though clear in assessment earlier on this week that the longer this conflict goes on, the more opportunities it provides for potential foreigners, potential extremists come in and radicalize the Syrian rebels -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thanks very much. Amid the rising tension, the anti-U.S. demonstrations across the Islamic world, we're going to hear from a crucial U.S. ally, the Pakistani foreign minister, she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is, how satisfied are you with the current U.S. policy in the Middle East?

Bob in Ohio says, "I have a basic understanding of the theory of relativity and dark matter, but I have yet to figure out exactly what our policy in the Middle East is. It's hard to be satisfied with something that seems to make no sense."

Another bob, this one in Florida, "I think we should bombard the Middle East with thousands of images, cartoons and videos daily in an effort to desensitize them so they can get it all out of their systems. Maybe then they can live in a world with civilized people."

Sara writes, "Not happy. President Obama needs to do a 360 on his playing nice-nice with the Middle East. We're the United States of America, for Pete's sake. We value freedom of speech. If a little movie trailer sets off the Middle East like a powder keg after all the billions of dollars we pour into that place as well as the lives of our precious soldiers we forfeit every day, we need a reset over there as well as with our presidency."

Dave in Florida writes, "I'm not at all satisfied with our policies. I'd like to halt any and all aid to any of those countries that have done harm to us either by their actions or inactions.

I realize that many or even most of the citizens in these countries harbor no ill will toward us and may even like us. But if they can't keep in order their own house by dealing with their lunatic fringe, that shouldn't be our problem. We have our own lunatic fringe to worry about in this country, let alone there's."

Laura in Massachusetts says the fact that U.S. ambassadors fear for their lives speaks volumes about a failed foreign policy. Are we not supposed to protect these people when they're serving abroad? They're supposed to be protected under U.S. law. I have zero faith in the current foreign policy."

And Derek writes, "What U.S. policy in the Middle East? Flying by the seat of your sand dune doesn't count." If you want to read more about this, go to the blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Thanks very much.

In Pakistan meanwhile, police use teargas against hundreds of angry anti-U.S. protesters. The country's foreign minister is here in Washington. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

Look at this surveillance video, police in Florida say a woman attacked a teenage boy on a school bus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A man is arrested in Uganda because of a play. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, that British producer is now facing two years in prison for putting on a play showing the challenges homosexuals face in Africa.

Authorities in Uganda jailed the man for staging the play without permission. Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda where most gays and lesbians are physically attacked and treated as social outcasts.

A Florida mom says her teenage son was being bullied. So on Wednesday, she walked him to his bus stop and she took matters into her own hands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FELECIA PHILLIPS, MOTHER INVOLVED IN FIGHT: Words kept going back and forth, whatever. He called me out my name and I smashed him in his face or whatever. That's what they need. A good old fashioned whooping and we're not able to do that because we end up in jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Wow. OK. She is a 35-year-old woman. The boy she went after is only 17. She now faces charges of child abuse and trespassing on school property. She says she doesn't regret attacking the teen whose family says he is not a bully.

You know things are out of control when the parents are getting involved in all that, the bullying, the attacking, the fighting, way too much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, but when the parent sees the kid being bullied, you know, the instinct, the parental instinct does sometimes manifest itself in an inappropriate way.

SYLVESTER: Yes, the best solution I've ever heard for a parent taking action, there was a lawyer in Houston. And what he did was his daughter was being cyber bullied on the internet.

He actually filed a lawsuit against the parents and girls who were cyber bullying his daughter. You better believe that stopped that activity right away, Wolf. That's the way he handled it.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Lisa.

Each year "CNN Heroes" receive thousands of nominations from you, our viewers, around the globe. Today, we're revealing our top ten nominees. They each received $50,000 and a shot at the top honor. You'll choose the "CNN Hero of The Year" who takes home another $250,000.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. All year we've been introducing you to everyday people who are changing the world. We call them "CNN HEROES." Now we announce the top ten "CNN Heroes" for 2012.

The honorees are in random order. Connie Siskowski is helping for children caring for ill or aging loved ones to stay in school and hold onto their childhood.

Pushpa Basnet saves innocent children from growing behind bars with their incarcerated parents. Thulani Madondo organizes his community to educate hundreds of their next generation.

Mary Cortani enlists man's best friend to give fellow veterans a way to move beyond PTSD and into life again. Malya Villard-Appolon has turned personal trauma into a fight for justice for thousands of rape survivors in Haiti.

After using sports to fight his own addiction, Scott Strode now helps former addicts to stay fit and sober. Wanda Butts brings water safety and swimming lessons to those most vulnerable, black and Latino children.

Catalina Escobar ensures healthy deliveries and solid futures for Columbian teens already facing mother hood. Leo McCarthy's tragic loss of his daughter sparked his mission to end the culture of underage drinking.

And where terrorists stop at nothing to keep girls from being educated, Razia Jan fearlessly opened her school each and every day.

Congratulations. The top ten "CNN Heroes" of 2012. Tell us who inspired you the most. Go to cnnheroes.com online or on your mobile device to vote for your "CNN Hero of The Year."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All ten will be honored live at "CNN Heroes, All-Star Tribute." It's hosted by Anderson, Sunday, December 2nd, but only one will be named CNN Hero of the Year. Go to CNNHeroes.com to vote, up to ten times a day, by the way, every day for the most inspirational hero.