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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Details of Plane's Final Seconds; Hero Pilot on Asiana Crash; GOP Vs. GOP On Budget Deal; Obamacare Enrollment Still Filling Short;

Aired December 11, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake, thank you. Happening now, new crash video, chilling images of the Asiana Airlines disaster plus new details of the final seconds why weren't repeated cockpit warnings enough to prevent the crash? The hero pilot, Soley Solenberger is here. We'll talk about it with him.

Area 51 secret revealed, we're learning new details about what's inside a hanger at the ultra-secure Air Force facility right now. Why it might make America's enemies nervous.

Behind the scenes on Air Force One, candid images of the remarkable flight carrying President Obama, George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton to Nelson Mandela's memorial. What went on during the long journey to South Africa?

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

We begin with chilling new video and details of the final seconds of Asiana Flight 214. Federal investigators have released this previously unseen surveillance recording showing the plane's tail hitting a sea wall, sending the jet careening down the runway at the San Francisco International Airport. Three people were killed in the July accident. Hundreds were injured. And now we're learning there were repeated warnings in the cockpit of looming disaster.

But why didn't those warnings prevent the crash?

CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us. She's got details. What are we learning -- Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the details make you shake your head and ask, how could this happen?

The pilots got the warning. They were aware they were going down too fast. But the problem wasn't corrected.

And it may just be because they didn't fully understand how the automated systems in the cockpit work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Newly released security camera video shows Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashing last July in San Francisco. Now we know more about what was happening inside the cockpit. It's clear the plane was descending too quickly. And today we learned someone noticed.

The cockpit voice recorders say 52 seconds before the crash, a relief pilot in the back seat of the cockpit called out "sink rate," warning the plane was dropping too fast. "Yes, sir," the pilot flying responded. The warning repeated in English and Korean.

The pilot at the controls, Lee Kang Kuk, was a trainee on the 777, but had substantial experience in other aircraft. He told investigators he was not confident in understanding how the plane's auto flight system worked and he felt he should study more. He also said it was, quote, "difficult and stressful" to land the plane visually, without an instrument approach to guide them.

But he felt pressure to do it because other pilots were.

CAPT. JOHN CASHMAN, FORMER BOEING 777 CHIEF PILOT: As we apply automation as a tool to aid the pilot, not replace the pilot.

MARSH: NTSB investigators questioned if the pilots were too reliant on technology. The pilot flying thought the auto throttle, similar to cruise control in a car, was engaged, but it wasn't, dramatically slowing the plane.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRMAN: Are there certain phases of flight where airspeed is going to be a do or die situation?

BOB MYERS, BOEING, FLIGHT DECK ENGINEERING: Absolutely. So when we designed the airplane, we assumed that air crews are very good at monitoring when it's a critical phase of flight.

MARSH: Crash survivor Ben Levy took these photos immediately after the plane went down. Like most passengers, he didn't attend the hearing, saying he wants to focus on work and family. But he still hopes to find out what caused the crash.

BEN LEVY, CRASH SURVIVOR: I've got a sense of what happened. I just want to get to the bottom of it and, you know, everything that went wrong that day.

MARSH: The NTSB investigation continues for months. A final determination of the causes of the crash will come next year.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MARSH: All right, Wolf. And that hearing is not over yet. They started early this morning. And we know that it should go on for about another three hours or so.

BLITZER: We also understand, also, that the investigation will focus while so many survived this crash. Three people died.

MARSH: That's right. They are going to be looking at the crash worthiness of the cabin, as well as the seats and how did the seat belts perform. They're going to be looking at all of that sort of detail to figure out if there's anything that needs to be improved as far as the internal components of this airplane -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They've got to learn the lessons in order to prevent these kinds of disasters down the road.

MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: Rene, thanks very much.

Let's get some more insight into what we learned today.

We're joined by Captain "Sully" Sullenberger.

He's the hero pilot who safely and famously landed U.S. Airways Flight 1548 in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out the engines.

He's now an aviation and safety consultant for CBS News.

Captain Sullenberger, thanks very much for joining us.

CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, CBS NEWS AVIATION AND SAFETY CONSULTANT: Hi, Wolf.

Good to be with you.

BLITZER: So what's your immediate reaction when you hear these initial results from this investigation?

SULLENBERGER: Wolf, I've been saying for decades that automation in the cockpit is not a panacea, it's a mixed blessing. And while it and many other things have helped make aviation much safer, in certain ways, it's introduced new risks, especially as the complexity of these technological systems has increased.

And right now, airline pilots are not getting enough in-depth training and knowledge about these complex systems. And it's also important that they know how to monitor them and be ready with well learned manual flying skills and able to quickly and effectively intervene when it's not doing what it should be doing.

BLITZER: Because it sound like when the automated part screws up, these pilots, in this particular case, if something happened, they didn't know how to manually land the plane correct, is that right?

SULLENBERGER: My take on what the NTSB has said is that they didn't realize that their actions had made the auto throttles inactive and that the auto throttles in this case were not going to control speed. They assumed, wrongly, that auto throttles were going to control the speed. And they weren't watching when it didn't. And they didn't act quickly enough. Unbelievably, they waited until they were 30 knots slowed, 25 percent too slow, before they began to take action. And by then, it was too late. It was only seconds before impact.

BLITZER: We all remember that when your plane was in trouble over the Hudson and you landed on the Hudson, once there was a serious problem, you immediately realized it and you took charge of that plane directly. That should have happened in this particular case, but apparently it didn't.

What was the difference?

SULLENBERGER: Well, automation is a tool. But ultimately, the pilots must make sure you have a safe flight path. And we're responsible for that, no matter what happens, whether the auto throttles are working or not.

Someone should have taken action much sooner. In fact, there are safeguards that could and should have been in place. At certain points in the approach prior to the runway, you're required to be at a certain speed and a certain altitude. And at one point, if you're not at the proper speed and altitude, you're required to begin going around, abandoning the approach and climbing away and trying it again.

And that just wasn't done in time.

BLITZER: There were -- there seems to have...

SULLENBERGER: So your teamwork skills...

BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead. Finish your thought.

SULLENBERGER: There are teamwork skills that weren't -- there are teamwork skills that weren't done properly. And the NTSB is rightly looking at the culture of the organization and of that society to see what reasons, what inhibitors there were to doing the right thing. It might be that they were trained to do teamwork skills properly, but in practice, they weren't being done. And that's something else that they need to find out in the investigation.

BLITZER: Because, as you point out, there isn't an investigation into what's called the Korean culture here, that the junior pilots, they were deferring to the senior pilot, the chief pilot, and they didn't want to question the chief pilot, because that would have been seen as inappropriate. That, potentially, is a serious problem.

SULLENBERGER: In fact, that's a problem that we solved in this country about 30 years ago. I, along with dozens of other pilots in my airline, helped to implement and to teach this leadership and team building course at my airline. We changed the cockpit culture, because the captain didn't used to be approachable, didn't used to listen to others. And now we have to, because the accident rate demands it.

Apparently, in this case, they are not there yet.

BLITZER: We heard in Rene's report, the pilot said he was not confident in fully understanding the auto pilot -- the auto flight systems in this plane, he wanted more education, more study, more practice, if you will.

Here's the question, should he have been flying this plane into the San Francisco International Airport? SULLENBERGER: Well, at many airlines, there's not sufficient training in all the nuances, the intricacies, many of which are counterintuitive, in the automation technologies. The airlines give pilots more basic understandings. And then, on their own, through OJT, they have to, over a period of time, gather these knowledges -- gather this knowledge on their own.

So it's not surprising that he didn't have an in-depth knowledge of the airplane's systems in every case.

It's not surprising that he was flying the airplane with this number of hours in it. In fact, when I was an instructor, a training captain, at my airline, I would be able to sign off people with only 25 hours on a new airplane if they were able to meet all the standards. So the fact that he had less that 60 hours, which I believe was their case, is not necessarily a problem, if he had met the standard all along the way.

BLITZER: One final question.

Is there a serious problem with the newer generation pilots as they're coming through, with all the new high technology, the automated systems, as you will, as opposed to when you were learning how to be a pilot?

SULLENBERGER: Well, when I learned over 40 years ago, my generation and I learned these fundamental skills very well. They were deeply internalized and became immediately available to us even decades later. We didn't have to learn the technology until later.

But it's important that each new generation of pilots has these well learned fundamental skills and can exercise them and have enough practice using them that they can quickly manually fly the airplane if they need to, in addition to understanding very well the automation technologies.

And that's a concern as we transition from one generation of pilots to the next.

BLITZER: And we've got to learn from these tragedies to make sure they don't happen again. That's why these investigations go on.

Captain Sullenberger, thanks very much for joining us.

SULLENBERGER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the House speaker, John Boehner, has had it. He's had enough. He's fed up with some conservative groups that are trying to kill Congress's new budget deal. Wait until you hear what he's accusing them of doing.

And candid photos from behind the scenes aboard Air Force One.

What was George W. Bush showing Hillary Clinton on the way to South Africa?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's barely 24 hours old, but the budget deal hammered out by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray is already coming under sharp attack from some powerful conservative groups trying to kill it. They've had huge influence in past budget battles. But this time, they may not get their way because the House speaker, John Boehner, seems to have had enough.

Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill.

What's going on up there -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to say that these conservative groups have had influence is an understatement big time, Wolf, because, really, so much of the atmosphere has been shaped by lawmakers on the Republican side in the House, particularly in the leadership frankly trying to tiptoe around these groups, not cross them for fear that some of their rank and file will be threatened by them, even primary by the Republican right.

That changed big-time today when the House speaker came out and lashed out at these conservative groups for coming out against the budget deal even before they saw it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: You mean that groups that came out and oppose it before they ever saw it?

BASH: Yes, those groups. Are you worried that they're --

BOEHNER: They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you're for more definite at this time reduction, you're for this agreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, this is something we're also told that the speaker said in private in a meeting with all House Republicans this morning, essentially saying, don't worry about thins outside groups, they don't have a voting card, you do. And other dyed in the wool conservatives who we talk to in the hallways here, Wolf, agreed.

They said that in this particular issue, these outside groups -- and we're talking about the Heritage Action Group, the Tea Party-backed groups -- those who have had so much power may not have it this time, because there really is fatigue, even among conservatives about lurching from crisis to crisis. They want to get back to regular order the way things are supposed to be done here, and this deal does that.

The question, of course, is whether or not that is going to have a major influence on the votes, which are going to be tomorrow. We're going to see just how all these Republicans vote and that will determine just whether or not this is a sea change or not with the way these conservatives really do appeal to the members.

BLITZER: With these two members, the House Senate conferees on board, with the speaker on board, Eric Cantor on board, President Obama on board, is there really any danger that this bill won't pass the House tomorrow?

BASH: There is always danger, because you never know what is going to happen at the end of the day, but, by all accounts, Democrats and Republicans, despite the fact that nobody is entirely happy with this deal for the most part, enough Democrats and Republicans will likely vote for it in order for it to pass the House.

BLITZER: Magic number, 218 votes, that's the majority, unless, there's some absentees, right?

BASH: Right. There are some absentees, so it will probably be a little bit less, but that's the ballpark.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. All right. Thanks, Dana.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker."

In the end, Gloria, Republicans at least the leadership here, Paul Ryan and the others, they seem to be weary of allowing any more government shutdowns at least over the next two years.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, you could hear the frustration from John Boehner there. It's like I've had enough of you guys. I did that in October. I don't want to do this again. They understand that the appetite in this country right now for going to the brink is a big zero.

And I think they also understand politically that if they cool it, they might actually be doing themselves a favor politically, that it could help them in a midterm elections to a great degree. I mean, don't give the public a reason to hate you. Well, no, right. So, I think, you know, Boehner is speaking for the leadership saying, enough, guys, you made your point.

BLITZER: His words were strong. I was pretty surprise to see how harsh he was on some of these conservatives.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is an amazing moment in our politics right now. I mean, this is Boehner's Sister Souljah moment. Remember Bill Clinton back in the 1990s when he wanted to tell the Democratic Party he was in charge, that he was in charge not the far left, he made a point of attacking someone -- Sister Souljah. This is Boehner saying, I'm the speaker of the House.

We did it your way earlier this year, and it led to a disastrous shutdown that put our approval members into the single digits, and if he's going to continue as speaker, he's got to control the votes in that House, not the outside groups.

BORGER: If he wants to continue the majority for the Republican Party, he's got to control them, not only the speakership.

LIZZA: Absolutely. And look, Boehner's been criticized all year as being a weak speaker, someone who doesn't have control over his conference. And he's tried various ways to get that control. He'd fight to do it the way of the far right group. It ended in tears. And now, he's trying to exercise --

BLITZER: Gloria, how did this play into Paul Ryan and presidential ambitions potentially for 2016?

BORGER: Well, you know, Paul Ryan has been walking this fine line, because you remember during a budget shutdown, Paul Ryan actually voted against the leadership in the end on that and that was a move where he had to appeal to the right. Now, he's kind of moved to the center.

What I see from Paul Ryan is kind of an admission that all of the transformational things he'd wanted to do -- not unlike Barack Obama, by the way, which was he wanted to reform Medicare, he wanted to reform the tax code, he knows he can't do it, so he is sort of OK, and in fact promoting an incremental approach to the budget which I think is going to be the way to the future here.

BLITZER: You spent a lot of time with Paul Ryan, wrote some major pieces for "The New Yorker" about him.

LIZZA: This is the big difference. Both Ryan and Cantor have moved.

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: Remember, they were really -- from 2011, 2012, those guys were defining themselves an opposition to Boehner, sticking with the more conservative members. And now, Boehner has got his leadership team all in the same place and that's the big accomplishment. This is reality-based governing.

These guys are realizing they control the House, they don't control the Senate and they don't control the White House, and this is the best they can do, and it prevents us from having these serial crises through 2015.

BLITZER: Gloria, the president, he's had a bad several weeks as a result of the Obamacare rollout or the website and all that. It seems to be, I guess, mellowing a bit, turning the corner.

BORGER: He has turned the corner, perhaps. I mean, I think what we're seeing with this president is a set point, that maybe he's reached, that he's somewhere between 32 points and 42 points, and that the public and going into the sixth year of a presidency figures they know who the guy is and they like him more than they like the Democrats. They like him more than they like the Republicans, but he is who he is.

Now, it all depends on the economy. If there's three percent GDP growth, there's an Iranian nuclear deal, and the Affordable Care Act is really headed on the right track, he could raise his numbers, but I think this getting back into the 60 percent zone or high 50 zone may not be reachable for him.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- people don't trust him. It's trust and confidence are hard to get back.

BLITZER: Important fact. Very quickly.

LIZZA: I was just going to reiterate, the economy is what will make or break the president in the final years and that will determine his --

BLITZER: Three years to see what's going to go on.

LIZZA: There are positive signs --

BLITZER: Yes, there are -- very positive signs. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Coming up, a secret project that the air force's top-secret area 51. We're learning new details about how it could give the U.S. military an extra edge when it comes to spying.

Plus, the story behind this candid photo from onboard Air Force One. We now know what George Bush was showing Hillary Clinton that put that big smile on her face.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting new numbers on the Obamacare signups through the troubled healthcare.gov website. And while the pace is picking up, it's still falling short of where the administration expected to be at this point. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us. He's got the latest numbers. What are those numbers, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House has got to be hoping for some sort of surge in all of this, because they've made these improvements, and yet, the numbers really are not yet what the doctor ordered. Let's take a look at the targets that were involved here. The Congressional Budget Office said you needed to have seven million signed up by the end of March next year.

They projected this by the end of March 2014. At November 22nd, they were at three percent. By the end of the month, it only went its way up to five percent. Now, it's important to remember, the website has been having problems, and the White House has always said they expected slow sign-ups at the beginning and then a surge later on. And the short-term goals maybe give them a little more confidence.

They wanted to have 800,000 signed up by the end of November. On November 22nd, they were at 23 percent of that goal. But as we counted up these numbers, you go past that and you go to the end of the month, they went up to 46 percent. So, that was really a substantial jump in a short period of time, showing a lot more people signing up faster -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what is the grant total at this point?

FOREMAN: Yes. That's really what matters at this point. Let's go past that and look at the bug numbers. So far, all in, 1.8 million people have registered through the federal or the state sites. That doesn't mean they completed it. They've just started the process. They represent 3.7 million people if you count all their families. Here's the tough part. Of this, more than half have been determined to be eligible, but only about 365,000 people have actually completed the process.

Meaning, they're in a position to make a payment and actually get insurance. The gap between these numbers and the 365,000, that's the big challenge right now, Wolf, and those are the numbers we'll be watching very closely as we move toward the end of the year.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman, with those numbers.

We're also getting some very candid photographs taken during a remarkable flight on Air Force One to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service. Photographs coming from the official White House photographer. Onboard, president, Mrs. Obama, and George Bush and Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, several other top White House officials, and many other members of Congress.

Let's take a closer look at them with our chief national correspondent, John King. And I want to just let our viewers -- these were not taken by White House journalist photographers, but these are the official White House photographer who took these pictures and then released them to all of us in the media.

Here's one we'll put up right there, John, because you and I flew aboard Air Force One on many occasions. There you see the president and the first lady, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, Hillary Clinton. That's a room you're familiar with. You've been in that room.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the office, the president's office. It's nice, I think, for the American people regardless of your politics, to get a peek at these. It's a VIP plane when you have two presidents, perhaps, a future president, two first ladies -- three first ladies, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush.

By all accounts, pleasant conversations and pleasant dinner conversations as well. And I think we have the photo of George W. Bush showing off his favorite new pastime. I talk to -- there it is there.

BLITZER: On his iPad or his tablet.

KING: -- and he e-mails some of this, a little bit less, because he had a hacking incident, but he e-mails this around. He paints people's pets mostly and then some other self-portraits, and he loves to e-mail them around to close friends and show them to close friends. I talk to him about this at the opening Bush library and he's modest but proud about his work. Laura Bush is making a lot of fun about it.

As you can see, the president wanted to share it here. A lot of people who look at that photo, especially given how Washington works nowadays and say, they look like they're getting along just great.

BLITZER: Now, this is in the conference room on Air Force One, nice conference room, nice big table. And they spent a lot of time there. You see Eric Holder directly across from Hillary Clinton over there, Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States. Another White House photo released shows tow casual presidents.

KING: And remember, when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he ran as much against George W. Bush as he did against John McCain. He ran against the Iraq war. He ran against the Bush response to Katrina. He ran against what he called an incompetent administration.

But, as you know this, Wolf, you know this, as well as I do, this is an exclusive club. The presidents in the form of presidents club. President Bush has been around a lot of campaigns, his dad's campaigns, the Reagan campaigns, back in those days. And so, he has let bygones be bygones. And this President Obama is grateful for President Bush that he's stayed out of the daily conversation about the big issues of the day. And by all accounts, again, that every time they've had met including this one, they had very pleasant conversations.

BLITZER: All right, now, there is a congressional delegation that went as well, including two Republicans, Aaron Schalk and Ted Cruz was on the delegation as well. There's usually other planes besides Air Force One that are flying over there, but Elijah Cummings, one of the Democratic members who went over to South Africa, he told "the Baltimore Sun," it's clear to me Senator Ted Cruz is running for president. I don't have any doubts about it. I know he got an earful for 20 hours out and he's just going to get another earful for 20 hours on the way back. I just reminded him I'm concerned about the many people in my state and his state and his state who have no health insurance.

Traveling in those close quarters, you can get an earful unless you put on a headset, close your eyes and --

KING: That's your graceful segue from the pleasant conversation on Air Force One to the not so pleasant conversation on the congressional plane. I to spoke a top aide for Ted Cruz, who said, it was a spirited and fruitful dialogue for all concerns. So, he is making lighter, at least, not to poking back, if you will, analyze your coming.

But look, there's no doubt Ted Cruz is preparing to run for president, and there's no doubt that Democrats like Elijah Cummings have a lot of policy differences with them. But you know, even though they debate sometimes, maybe even argue sometimes when they get together like this, everyone you talk about these long trips, as they learn something about each other that helps out down the road.

BLITZER: It's a good idea. Let them spend some quality time together and maybe they'll be a little more compromise and cooperation by courtesy.

KING: Or at least understand and respect, things that are missing too often.

BLITZER: I agree. Thanks very much, John.

Let's look a closer look at some of the other stories we are following in the SITUATION ROOM.

The chief of staff for Republican senator Lamar Alexander has been placed on leave without pay after law enforcement raided his house here in Washington as part of a child porn investigation. (INAUDIBLE) has worked on Capitol Hill for years. Senator Alexander released a statement saying he was stunned and disappointed at the allegations, and his office is fully cooperating with the investigation. Just a short while ago, Senator Alexander announced a new chief of staff.

Thousands of defiant protesters are back on the snow covered streets of Kiev, Ukraine. They rebuild the barricades. Riot police tore down using brute forest and chain saws. The crowds have been aggressively demonstrated for days calling for the resignation of Ukraine's president who suspended talks with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

The food & drug administration is announcing a plan to end the use of certain antibiotics in animals raised for food. Antibiotics are meant to treat disease, but the agency says bacteria can become resistant if antibiotics are overused. It's the FDA's latest move targeting food production. Last month, it took a step toward eliminating most trans fats.

And Prince Harry's journey to the bottom of the journey is almost complete. The young royal says he is about three and a half days away from reaching the south pole after spending nearly a month in Antarctica already. Prince Harry went there to compete in a charity race to benefit wounded veterans, but the race was canceled a few days ago for safety concerns. Now all the teams are finishing the trip together.

Tonight on CNN, Sandy Hook parents on missions of love to turn their heartbreak into lasting legacies.

An Anderson Cooper Special Report, "honoring the children, Newtown, one year later" that airs tonight 10:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, details about a super secret program the military won't even acknowledge exists. We're going to show you the new spy plane that may be sitting on a hangar at the famed area 51 test center.

And could your milk soon cost $7 a gallon? Possibly, if Congress doesn't act.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A nuclear deal with Iran, a handshake with Raul Castro, is gauging America's post shaping up to be President Obama's foreign policy right now, at least part of it.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto is here in the SITUATION ROOM.

So Jim, what's behind this latest sort of nuanced twist in U.S. foreign policy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the one thing, you have a president in his second term thinking about his legacy. There are others who say he's driven to foreign policy by stumble domestically, particularly on health care. But you do have a president who is a risk taker on diplomacy, and more so than with military reaction. Remember his reluctance on Syria, and now he is working with some of America's most difficult adversaries -- Iran, Syria and possibly Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): On the surface, it was just a handshake, but there may be more going on between the U.S. and Cuba than meets the eye. President Obama recently called for an update to America's Cuba policy. Secretary Kerry said discussions are under way for the release of American Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. And other steps are on the table from reestablishing direct mail service to relaxing immigration rules.

JULIE SWENG, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: From Cuba's perspective, reconciliation with the United States is absolutely essential for a long-term strategy of economic growth and building a society. From the American perspective, it's about foreign policy, it's about reaching out to adversaries.

SCIUTTO: In Havana, Cubans told CNN's Patrick (INAUDIBLE), they welcome the news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The countries get along, it's our government that don't. Hopefully that can be fixed.

SCIUTTO: The diplomatic flirtation with Cuba fits in with a broader outreach to historically bitter enemies, netting surprising results. Mr. Obama's historic phone call with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was soon followed by a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. Secretary Kerry's offhand comment about Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad --

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community.

SCIUTTO: Helped spark an unlikely agreement to destroy all of Syria's chemical weapons.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security advisor to President Carter.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT CARTER: The president doesn't believe that reliance on the use of military force is necessarily the most productive way of trying to deal with these problems. And I believe that he is right, because we live now in an age in which the use of force is not quite as decisive as it used to be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Historically it's Cuban-Americans most ardently opposed to improving relations with Cuba. But in 2012, Obama actually won Cuban- Americans in Florida 49-7, a record high for a Democrat. And Wolf, that gives him political cover, he didn't have before to pursue something like this which shouldn't pass as then politically risky.

BLITZER: Yes, 49-47.

SCIUTTO: I misspoke. Tight but historically well ahead of where Democrats have gone before.

BLITZER: Yes. And they say a lot of younger Cuban-Americans are more inclined to this opening than their parents or grandparents.

SCIUTTO: That's right.

BLITZER: Thank you. All right, Jim, thanks very much.

We're also learning new details about a covered military project that the Pentagon won't even acknowledge exist. It's a secret new stealth drone that could change the field of espionage as we know it.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been digging on the story.

Barbara, what are you learns?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it could be flying as soon as 2015. This may be one of the most important programs ever for the U.S. in staying one step ahead of its adversaries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): This is what the new super-secret air force drone is believed to look like. CNN has learned this unmanned spy plane is designed to fly for up to 24 hours behind enemy lines, in countries like North Korea, Iran and Syria. Military sources tell CNN, it would give the U.S. a critical stealth advantage to spy on countries which have strong air defense systems that can shoot down more conventional aircraft.

AMY BUTLER, REPORTER, AVIATION WEEK: This air craft will actually be able to penetrate that border and go in and do operations in and around an enemy's airspace without being targeted.

STARR: The new drone was first unmasked by "aviation week." It's so secret, the drone is believed to be at this hangar at area 51, the air force's highly secure flight test center in Nevada.

Reporter Amy Butler says the shape means enemy radars can't easily see the drone, and unlike the U2 spy plane, this has no pilot and advance sensors. It will make those long flights at more than 11 miles above the earth unconstrained by human limitations or the weather.

BUTLER: This aircraft will likely be able to take pictures using radar. Radar pictures are great because they don't get muddied up by cloud or dust cover. It could probably also take pictures with, you know, just what we know as thermal cameras, so it did see heat, and it probably has the kinds of boxes that do things like listen to cell phone calls, listen to activities basically going on on an enemy's frequency, radar activity, that sort of things.

STARR: Although it crashed, the stealth helicopter that brought Navy S.E.A.L.s to Osama bin Laden to Pakistani compound showed the crucial need to sneak past those air defenses officially the air force won't comment on the drone effort, but several U.S. officials tell CNN its capabilities are now a tough intelligence-gathering priority, especially after a less sophisticated stealth drone went down in Iran in 2012.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So if it all works, Wolf, this drone will be able to gather record amounts of covert intelligence information, which is exactly why the air force isn't talking about it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All Barbara, thanks for that report. Interesting stuff.

Just ahead, stunning progress in the fight against malaria. I want to speak with an expert who calls this breakthrough one of the great success stories in human history.

And a surprising story emerging from the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. He's supposed to be signing for the deaf, this guy, but is this interpreter just making it all up?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: By some accounts, malaria has killed more people than anything else in human history, more than war or famine, but a new report is out today that reveals dramatic progress in the fight against the disease is taking place.

The report says the lives of three million children have been saved since 2000, cutting the malaria death rate among young children in half.

And joining us now is Martin Edlund, he's the CEO of the organization "Malaria No More."

Martin, thanks very much for coming in.

MARTIN EDLUND, CEO, "MALARIA NO MORE": Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the significant of these new numbers from your perspective? Someone who's been fighting malaria for a long time.

EDLUND: You know, it's really hard to overstate the significance of these numbers. Here we're talking about, as you said, a disease that's perhaps killed more people than any cause in human history, something that threatens half the world's globe, 3.4 billion people, and in the space of only a decade we've cut deaths among kids by 51 percent, so we're talking about one of the top three killers of kids worldwide down by half.

BLITZER: And so how many children die every year from malaria?

EDLUND: So this may not sound like a good news story, but the good news is we're down under 500,000 kids dying here. 485,000 kids.

BLITZER: And it used to be -- not that long ago, million kids, children, every year.

EDLUND: Yes.

BLITZER: So now it's under -- so this raises the question of, I've heard experts saying, is this going to lead to complacency now? The numbers are going down, maybe, you don't need that much money, maybe international organizations don't need that much money. The U.S. government should cut back. How worried are you about complacency?

EDLUND: You know, Malaria is an issue that you cannot be complacent with. In fact, we've seen again and again if you take your foot off the pedal, malaria rebounds. And it's even more dangerous because people who've been protected don't develop natural immunity, so they're even more at risk.

One of the good -- one of the elements of this story that's so encouraging is it's not only a good news story, it's a bipartisan good news story. This started under President Bush in 2002, with the Global Fund in 2005, with the U.S. Presidents Malaria Initiative. It's only expanded under President Obama. And so this is really something that all of America should be proud about and something we should certainly continue to invest in.

BLITZER: There's now a new strain, a new drug-resistant malaria that's out there? What's going on with that?

EDLUND: There is. So one of the threats to our progress is we have -- we have really exceptional pools at work. I have here a full course of child treatment for malaria.

BLITZER: Those are pills?

EDLUND: These are pills taken over three days. And the simple fact is it costs less than a dollar to buy and deliver this treatment. If a child gets that in time, they do not die from malaria. But we're starting to see some alarming results in the Mekong Delta Region of resistance to this frontline treatment for malaria.

So that's something we're monitoring closely and we have to stay ahead of it. That means monitoring it but it also means developing the next generation of treatments, tests, insecticides, nets, to keep this effective.

BLITZER: Can you see a time when the world will be malaria free? EDLUND: I can. In fact we named our organization "Malaria No More." At the time we did that seven years ago, it seems a little bit foolhardy, a bit overambitious, but today we've seen so much progress that that reality is a possibility, a distinct possibility, in fact, it's a responsibility for us. We can't let up now. We have to stop kids dying from mosquito bites.

BLITZER: Has President Obama done enough?

EDLUND: He's done a lot. We are at historic high in terms of funding for the Global Fund and TMI, but there's certainly more that we can do. One of the things that's encouraging to us is that the world is really answering the call that America issued, increasingly African governments themselves are funding this. The U.K. is huge supporter to the world's rallying and together we can certainly get this done.

BLITZER: Martin Edlund, thanks for the good work and thanks for coming in.

EDLUND: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, is this interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial service faking the sign language?

And why would the TSA confiscate a toy gun the size of a stick of gum?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's the TSA versus a puppet.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Airport security socked it to this cowboy sock puppet for packing a pistol while being packed in a carry-on bag. And it wasn't just any sock puppet.

JOHN WAYNE, ACTOR: I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned.

MOOS: He was modeled after the one-eyed star of "True Grit," Rooster Cogburn. Rooster Monkburn, as in monkey, is what his creator calls him.

Phyllis May sells pop culture sock monkeys out of her home in Redmond, Washington. On her way through security in St. Louis, the TSA disarmed her monkey.

(On camera): Drop it, Rooster. Actually Rooster's pistol was about this big.

(Voice-over): Not nearly as impressive as the one favored by Rooster's namesake.

(On camera): Phyllis describes the TSA agent as saying, this is a gun, and Phyllis replies, it's not a gun, it's a prop for my monkey, but security confiscated it nonetheless.

(Voice-over): TSA's policy is that out of an abundance of caution, realistic replicas of firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags. Here's one reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To show you hose lethal these are.

MOOS: Miniature pistols can pack a punch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go. Cover your ease. Those are bull's eye. There is the exit wound.

MOOS: A few years back a traveler at LaGuardia had a necklace similar to this one confiscated. He was planning on wearing it in a Kanye West rapper skit with his niece. No dice.

The sock monkey got lots of sympathy. "Good job there, Officer TSA. You really protected us from the terrorist sock puppet."

Not since sock puppets were used to re-enact the movie "Flight" have puppets caused such a brouhaha. In aviation circles, if it hasn't been Rooster, it could have been Wonder Woman, suspected of being an underwear bomber. Moral of the story, don't let your sock puppets carry when they're being carried on.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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