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Obama Talks with Tech Bosses; FEC Computers Were At Risk; Afghanistan Helicopter Crash Kills Six U.S. Soldiers; Concerns About Possible North Korean Nuke Test; Robert Levinson Family Wants Meeting With FBI; Pope Celebrates His Birthday With Homeless; Pope Removes Conservative Cardinal From Committee

Aired December 17, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Cut back on the spying; that is what the leaders of Twitter, Facebook, and more than a dozen other tech companies are talking to President Obama about at the White House today.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Bootleg recordings of never-before- released Beatles tunes hit iTunes. Then they're taken away less than an hour later, then they came back and then they went away again. We'll explain.


MALVEAUX: And happy birthday, Pope Francis. How does the pope choose to spend his 77th birthday? Having lunch with the homeless at the Vatican. Good for him.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

All right now, respecting your privacy while protecting national security. That hot button issue is front and center at the White House right now.

MALVEAUX: President Obama is meeting with top executives of Apple, Google, Twitter, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, just to name a few. Fifteen tech chiefs in all. We're getting video in from the White House. The visit comes just a day after a federal judge ruled that the government's collection of domestic phone records is likely unconstitutional.

So we want to bring in two people to talk about this. Of course, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley and Jim Acosta at the White House.

So Jim, I want to start off with you here because -


MALVEAUX: You - you know, you've got them talking about a number of things, the economy, the problems that they're having with the Obamacare website. But the big issue here, let's face it, is the spying that has occurred here.

ACOSTA: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Does it strike you as ironic really that you have people who are gathered with the president, who collect information, they use it, sometimes they sell it, they all sell it for profit, haven't always been good at protecting their privacy, now they're complaining about the government spying. Tell us what this meeting is really about.

ACOSTA: Well, you know, I think what you're seeing this morning here at the White House, Suzanne, is that these tech executives are reflecting a lot of the feelings that Americans are having right now and reflecting the feelings of that federal judge who issued that scathing ruling yesterday about those phone records that are being collected over at the National Security Agency.

These executives, these companies, wrote a letter to the president just last week complaining about some of this, saying that the balance of security has shifted too far to the state and that this undermines people's freedoms and that there has to be a change. That's almost a direct quote from the letter that they sent to the president last week. And so they're going to be talking about that at that meeting.

Now, I should point out that our cameras -- our TV pool camera was allowed into this meeting for about 30 seconds. The president sort of cracked a joke there at the beginning of this meeting saying that he wished that one of the executives had brought an advanced copy of the second season of "House of Cards."

That produced laughter in the room, but then the camera was quickly escorted out of the room and then this meeting unfolded. So it's -- I think it's fair to say after the laughs were over there, that they did get into the nitty gritty of these issues because these companies are also alarmed about this.

Now, one thing I do want to point out, Suzanne, is -- because this meeting was also about, a little bit of news on that front if I could just throw it in there.


ACOSTA: And that is that a gentlemen by the name of Kurt DelBene, not a household name, he's a top executive over at Microsoft, he is going to be taking over the job of overseeing the repairs and the implementation of in the coming weeks. He's replacing Jeff Zients, an administration official. Just confirmed that in the last several minutes, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: What does that mean to you, Jim, that he's putting more faith in the private sector than the people in the government to make this thing work?

ACOSTA: Well, and I think that's a very good point, the fact that he went to somebody from Microsoft to run or oversee what's happening at is a pretty strong indication that the president would like to get the private sector's input into all of this, sort of take those eyes from the private sector and inject it into a process where that -- I guess that mentality has been sorely needed. And it's something that the president has talked about wanting for some time. And I think that this change reflects that.

Whether or not, you know, this was probably needed sooner, I think that can be debated.

MALVEAUX: All right.

ACOSTA: But clearly this is an issue that's going to be - that's going to be a problem for this White House if they can't get working even better than it's working right now, although it has shown a lot of improvement lately. But that news just coming in the last several minutes.

Jeff Zients, by the way, he's going to be taking over as the president's top economist. But that job was supposed to start at the beginning of the year.


ACOSTA: Now about a month later, it's been pushed back a bit, Suzanne.

HOLMES: All right. That, Jim.

Let's it's bring in now the George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, talk a little bit more about this.

Now, a lot of these secrets, of course, came to light from Edward Snowden. And now we've got that federal judge saying that he believes that the NSA is violating the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He says this. "Today a secret program" -- this is what Snowden says, "a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposes to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many." But what are your thoughts? Do you believe this does violate the Constitution?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I believe it does. And, in fact, I think Judge Leon has the support of many constitutional scholars. When he says that the framers would have been aghast at the size of the surveillance being conducted by the administration, I think that is rather obviously true.

The Fourth Amendment does prohibit this type of unreasonable search and seizure. What Judge Leon is saying is that you're -- you are capturing hundreds of millions of e-mails and phone calls. You derive from that information of, on its face, of location, who people are calling, the numbers they're dialing. And you're putting that into these mosaic profiles. And he said that's really horrific if you look at it from the perspective of the Fourth Amendment. You're doing this without a warrant, without particularized suspicion.

Now, for the administration, this is a big blow. Because while the president has said that he's confident he has this authority, the Justice Department has been putting on a full court press to prevent any judge from reviewing these powers. Well, this judge has and he said you don't have those powers.

HOLMES: So what happens now? I mean he pretty much put it on ice to allow the government to appeal. I mean this could end up in the Supreme Court. I mean how do you see that unfolding?

TURLEY: Well, this is just the beginning. It's going to go to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That court tends to favor police powers or at least national security powers, as does the Supreme Court. So Judge Leon's opinion is going to be put to the test.

But this is what is becoming a relatively rare victory for civil liberties. You know, civil libertarians in the United States are very concerned about the rollback on individual rights and particularly privacy. This is a refreshing victory for that community.

HOLMES: All right, Professor Turley, thanks so much, and also Jim Acosta, who was there earlier at the White House. Appreciate it.

TURLEY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: It really is very embarrassing for the White House. I mean, this was something that happened under the Bush administration, that at first initially that President Obama had campaigned against it.


MALVEAUX: And then eventually just embraced the whole thing. Now he's being smacked down by this judge who says it's not even constitutional.

HOLMES: If it gets to the Supreme Court, that's where it's going to get really interesting.



MALVEAUX: A startling new report might illustrate why it is so important for lawmakers to keep this government running, avoid a shutdown that we saw in October, because what happened then, Chinese hackers might have actually seized the moment that the government shut down when no one was guarding the door, so to speak, to infiltrate.

HOLMES: Yes, almost literally no one guarding the door. The Federal Election Commission is what we're talking about. This report is from the Center for Public Integrity. Officials with that group speaking out about how serious this is. Let's go to Chris Lawrence in Washington.

And when we say nobody was guarding the door, as I said, almost literally, everybody was off, weren't they?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean the FEC only has, Michael, a few hundred employees and almost all of them were furloughed during that government shutdown. Now, you're talking about a warning, then hacking, and now some real new questions because next year we are heading into the congressional elections here in the United States, possibly the most expensive ever.

Following that, you've got a presidential election in which political groups and outside groups are going to be spending massive amounts of money. The FEC, in its computer networks, are supposed to keep track of that, but the Center for Public Integrity found that they had a massive hack. It completely crashed the system. And when officials looked around as they were being sabotaged, they found there was nobody who could fix it.


DAVE LEVINTHAL, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: And it came as the FEC had absolutely no regular employees actually serving at the agency because of the government shutdown. It was one of the agencies that actually went completely dark during the government shutdown. Only had the commissioners themselves manning the doors, manning the systems, and they are not IT experts by any stretch of the imagination.


LAWRENCE: And this came after an independent auditing firm found that the FEC really had not even met the minimum security protocols for its networks. They said the FEC was at an increased risk of being hacked. This came before the hack actually happened. A warning didn't come.


MALVEAUX: Yes. So, Chris, the bottom line here, what kind of information could they get from the FEC? I mean why would this be valuable to the Chinese?

LAWRENCE: Well, it depends. I mean who knows what they were looking for. You know, it could have been hacked for the sake of hacking. But, you know, this is the institution that basically insures free and fair elections. It documents who's raised what money, how they spent that money, politicians, political groups. I mean this is really the group that's supposed to ensure that Americans are getting a fair election and that people aren't abusing the system.

MALVEAUX: All right. OK, Chris Lawrence. Thank you so much, Chris. We appreciate it.

HOLMES: A bit of a worry if it was that comparatively easy to do. That's the thing. Other government departments ought to be having another look at their defenses, as well.

MALVEAUX: Yes, absolutely.

Well, this is an interesting story. First you hear it, then you don't. You got this new collection of old Beatles songs disappearing from iTunes almost as quickly as they appear. You've been following this all morning.

HOLMES: Oh, we have. MALVEAUX: They're here. They're not. They're here.

HOLMES: Here's one of them.


THE BEATLES (singing): Here's a place where I can go when I feel low, when I feel blue.


HOLMES: Love this stuff. That's pre-"Ed Sullivan Show," by the way. Raw low-fi, not even hi-fi. You can tell it's them. Now, given the band's legendary status, releases like these, these were BBC performances from 1963, they're a big deal.

MALVEAUX: Now this (ph) and there are a lot of questions, though. This is kind of a confusing story because why did they become available for such a short period of time in just some countries, just a few countries? And apparently the release we have found out was a business's decision, essentially linked to money. It extended the copyrights another 20 years. That's why they ended up doing this.

HOLMES: Yes, it was 50 years of copyright only if you don't release it. If you release it, you get 70 years of copyright. So you release it, even quickly, you get the extra 20 years of copyright.

MALVEAUX: You're a Beatles fan, I can tell.

HOLMES: Love it. There's some great stuff in there too. Some stuff they didn't even release themselves that --

MALVEAUX: You've got to get back on iTunes though (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: You've got to be quick.


HOLMES: And in England, it came back on again after going off. And so nobody knows what's going on, you know, whether it's going to come back again or go away again. It's all very confusing. But they did get the law on their side by releasing them.

MALVEAUX: Yes. You'll -- we'll be checking.


MALVEAUX: We're going to take you to overseas. Big news out of Great Britain. Remember the claim that British commandos had murdered Princess Diana? Well, it turns out, after a long review, the police say that the bottom line is, it's not true.

HOLMES: It was one of those conspiracy theories around at the time. Diana would have become a royal grandmother, of course, this year, died in 1997 -- gosh, it was that long ago -- after the car she was riding in slammed into a pillar in a tunnel in Paris. Her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul, also died.

Now, this latest claim reported by several British media outlets had alleged that members of Britain's elite SAS, the Special Air Service, they're top flight commandos if you like, were involved in assassinating Diana.

MALVEAUX: But again, the police are knocking down the claim.

And here's more of what we're working for this hour around the world.

A helicopter crashes killing six members of the U.S. military. We're going to have the latest report on this devastating accident in Afghanistan.

HOLMES: And while thousands of protesters demand the resignation of Ukraine's president for pulling away from Europe, he heads to Moscow to strengthen economic ties with Russia and Russia likes that very much. We'll tell you why this could be an east versus west power play.

MALVEAUX: And fists flying in Cuba. Watch. To the cheers of many, professional boxing returning to the communist country decades after Fidel Castro banned it. We're going to take you ringside.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Six U.S. soldiers have been killed in a helicopter crash. One did survive. This happened today in Southern Afghanistan.

MALVEUX: Barbara Starr is covering the story from the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, what have we learned so far?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, Michael, the reports are so preliminary right now, very tragic news, however for at least six American military families, these troops killed when their helicopter went down in Southern Afghanistan. According to the initial reports, there were no reports of enemy fire in the area at the time.

But they are talking to members of another helicopter, flying in the immediate area, asking them what they saw, what they might be able to tell them about all of this, so it's under investigation. You know, the war, everyone says, has been winding down, 42,000 troops still serving, about 129 troops killed so far this year. That's way down because the number of troops are down.

But for the families of the fallen, it makes no difference, very sad, very tragic news as we go into this holiday season.

HOLMES: All right, Barbara, yeah, it takes an while for the full details to come out.

Appreciate you getting that to us, Barbara Starr.

MALVEAUX: It just breaks your heart when you think about those families just waiting.


MALVEAUX: Just waiting, you know.

HOLMES: All right, a warning today that North Korea may it be about to conduct a fourth nuclear test, maybe even launch another missile, that's according to a report from South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

MALVEAUX: You're looking here at images of the nuclear facility.

A South Korea lawmaker says Pyongyang might use a test to draw attention away from the high-profile execution that happened last week of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's uncle.

All of this comes as North Koreans are pledging their allegiance to their dictator in staged ceremonies, a massive show of support that is staged by the government. It comes on the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jung-un's father, the man they called the "Dear Leader."

Anna Coren reports from Seoul.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the ceremony to honor the death of North Korea's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il was always going to be a rare opportunity to see who was in and out of his son's regime following last week's brutal purge by Kim Jong-un.

In a symbolic gesture, the country's supreme commander was flanked by leaders of the military and the Workers' Party putting on a united front, but behind the scenes it was a completely different story.

Incivility, an alleged coup and power struggle is what will analysts forced Kim Jong-un to execute his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, a man who was second-in-command and a mentor for the 30-year-old, the youngest ahead of state in the world.

This audacious act caught analysts and the international community by surprise, proving that no one is untouchable in North Korea, not even family members. There are now concerns that military provocations will follow.

Here in South Korea, the president has placed the military and police on high alert, describing North Korea as reckless and unpredictable, while the United States believes that North Korea, which is trying to develop its nuclear weapons program, will now flex its military muscle.

It believes it will either launch a nuclear test or a rocket launch in the coming months, increasing instability and tensions here on the Korean Peninsula.

Anna Coren, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: And now to Germany where weeks of political uncertainty are finally over now that Angela Merkel has been sworn in as a third term as chancellor. Her conservative party won a majority in September's parliamentary elections.

HOLMES: But she still needed to get together a coalition government. She's been working on it since then. There was little doubt it would come off in the end, and it has.

Over the weekend, Germany's main, center-left party voted to join the coalition and that meant that Merkel could finally be officially sworn in.

MALVEAUX: And the family of a former FBI agent who has been missing since 2007, they want a meeting with the FBI. Now, that request comes after reports surfaced last week that Robert Levinson was working for the CIA when he disappeared in Iran.

HOLMES: The family's lawyer says the FBI previously agreed to meetings, but then delayed them. A U.S. law enforcement official says new FBI director James Comey hopes to arrange a meeting with the Levinson family soon.

MALVEAUX: And the pope, making another big change in the Catholic Church, might not sit well with conservatives.

Plus, wait till you see who he's celebrating his birthday with, up next.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Pope Francis, making another move that may not sit too well with conservative members of the church, what he's done is remove a conservative American cardinal, Raymond Burke, from the Congregation for Bishops. That is the powerful Vatican committee that chooses the bishops.

MALVEAUX: Burke has actually been an outspoken critic of abortion and same-sex marriage. The pope replaced him with another American cardinal who is considered to be more moderate in his views.

Pope Francis, also marking his birthday today, he is 77. He did it by hosting four homeless men to a mass and a meal at the Vatican.

HOLMES: Nothing like it, doing it the right way.

The pope's staff said that Francis wanted to celebrate his birthday with a family environment, so he got in some top aides and a couple of other people and these homeless men.

Let's bring in Reverend Edward Beck, CNN religion commentator, host of "The Sunday Mass."

We keep saying the same stuff. He's been revered as the "People's Pope" already. He's not living in the big papal apartment. He drives that used car, dropping the vestments or some of them, and now a birthday meal with the homeless.

Obviously, that's probably why he was "Time's" Person of the Year. What do you make of all this? It's not surprising, given what we've learned so far.

REVEREND EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: No, Michael, it's so consistent with the man we've come to know.

And as the world gets ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, remember, a homeless teenager gives birth to the savior was what the Christians believe, so it's appropriate ,that as the pope celebrates his birthday, he invites the homeless in. These are the people he's extending himself to.

He said it's where the mission of the church needs to be, so how appropriate. He invited them for mass. He gave a little homily. And he invited them to stay for breakfast.

So it's just the man we've seen all along, doing what he does best.

MALVEAUX: So many people really like this pope. You have this move that he made that really surprised some people. This took a bit of guts here, because he removed a conservative cardinal. That is very rare actually for something like that to happen, and he picked else to replace him who's a little bit more moderate.

What was that move about? What was it designed to do? And I guess he has the authority to do just that?

BECK: Suzanne, let's understand, this Congregation for Bishops is really important because it helps to suggest who the pope should name to be bishops throughout the world.

And this pope is very intent on the principle of "subsidiary," meaning that, if you can handle it on the local level, bishops, do it; don't kick everything up to the Vatican.

So, he needs guys in the trenches, namely, his bishops, who are in accord with his own thinking, his own ideology. So Cardinal Burke last week in an interview with EWTN said, "You could get the impression from the pope that we're talking too much about abortion and same-sex marriage. Well, I don't think we could ever talk too much about that."

So he says publicly in an interview that he's not really in alignment with the direction the pope seems to be, and then we get word this week that he's out and a more moderate, Cardinal Wuerl from Washington, is in.

So was it coincidence? Who knows. We'll never know the full story, probably, but it seems pretty apparent that there's something at work here in the pope's mind.

HOLMES: But is he, Reverend -- is that a sign that you know, if you're not a team player, that you're off the team, or is he open to a bit of dissent in the ranks?

BECK: Well, Michael, not everybody that remains on that congregation is flaming liberal or even moderate.

Remember, from Sydney, we have Cardinal Pell, and he's still on that congregation, very conservative.

So, it's not like the pope said look if you're not totally in accord with me, you're out. But it's important, particularly for the American church, because Cardinal Wuerl now will be the only American cardinal that sits on that congregation.

So, if they're going to be naming the future cardinals, at least in that -- I mean bishops in the United States, Cardinal Wuerl is going to have the voice there and not Cardinal Burke.

And so I think that Pope Francis is simply saying what he was going to do. He said he would shake things up a bit. He wants to reorganize the structure and he wants to make it a bit more balanced.

But he wants to do it about a vision where he wants the church to go, not where others say it has been.

HOLMES: It's an interesting church that -

MALVEAUX: He certainly is shaking things up. Every week, there is something new.

HOLMES: Reverend Beck, thanks so much as always.

Now, if the presidential race were held today -- it's not. It's still two years out.

MALVEAUX: But we're still going to talk about it.

HOLMES: But we're going to talk about it anyway. Imagine if it was Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton running? Who'd win?

MALVEAUX: So, we don't have a crystal ball, but we got something here. We do have a poll from a state that knows how to pick a president.

We're going to bring that for you after the break.