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THE SITUATION ROOM

Target Security; 'Duck Dynasty' Decision; New NSA Ruling

Aired December 27, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A massive breach of credit and debit card data, and now Target is confirming that PIN numbers also were stolen from some of the 40 million customer accounts that were compromised.

But the company says those PIN numbers were strongly encrypted and it believes they're safe and secure.

CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns following these new developments for us.

But I have to tell you, we heard yesterday they didn't believe any of the information had gotten out. Now we're learning they have it, but it's encrypted. I'm still a little worried if I'm a Target customer.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's alarming, yes.

It's alarming that PIN code information was accessed as part of the Target hack, but here's the important thing. The PIN code information, as you said, was strongly encrypted and the key to the encryption was not accessed as part of the breach. In fact, Target says the key to the encryption never even existed within the company's systems.

The way this works is, when you swipe your card at Target and punch in your PIN, there's a process that translates it into a nearly indecipherable string of characters so it can't be accessed. Target says it uses something walled the triple data encryption standard, or triple DES, to encrypt its PIN Codes.

Experts say it would be difficult to impossible to break the encryption if the payment processor's key was robust enough. Target has declined to comment on that further. What a lot of people, though, are wondering right now is how close the authorities are to identifying the thief who may have accessed up to 40 million customers.

The Secret Service, the U.S. Justice Department aren't commenting on that. However, Brian Krebs, the cyber-security expert who broke the Target story, says he believes he's identified someone in Eastern Europe who is behind the Web site that's been selling the Target data. That doesn't mean he knows who the hacker is, but it's a possible lead. A number of cyber-security experts said early on the initial attack probably came from Russia, where several groups are pretty good at this thing.

KEILAR: Bottom line, though, if you have one of these debit cards, get a new one.

JOHNS: Yes, or change your code, change your PIN Code. That's another precaution you can take.

KEILAR: All right, Joe Johns, thanks so much.

The NSA's bulk collection of data on nearly every phone call made in the U.S. is legal. That's the ruling of a federal judge. But just last week another judge called the surveillance program almost Orwellian, and said it's likely unconstitutional.

Let's sort this out with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

These two decisions, Jeffrey, are like night and day. So make sense of this for us.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Impossible, can't be done.

No, this is a very unusual situation. Here, you have two very respected federal judges addressing exactly the same issue within a week of each other, and coming to completely opposite conclusions.

The judge today said, look, there's a Supreme Court decision that says when you dial the phone, you are telling the phone company what number you are dialing, so you don't have an expectation of privacy in that number. This bulk collection of data is simply just collecting the numbers that you dial. It's not collecting the contents of the call, so this is not a violation of the Constitution.

The judge last week, Judge Leon in Washington said, yes, you do have an expectation of privacy. That decision is now -- from 1979, the Supreme Court decision is obsolete. They're just obviously in conflict and we're going to wait for the appellate courts and perhaps the Supreme Court to sort it out.

KEILAR: Now, the ACLU is the plaintiff in this decision in today's ruling. They have already announced that they're going to appeal the judge's ruling. How do you think -- how likely is it that their appeal could be successful?

TOOBIN: It's really hard to say. I think the fact that two judges have come out so differently suggest that this is a really different legal issue.

It doesn't break down along the traditional/liberal conservative lines that those of us who follow the Supreme Court are so familiar with. There are a lot of people on the left and right who are very upset about this very large data collection program, but it is also true that it is hard to get a government program aimed at protecting national security overturned.

National security is a powerful interest in the courts. So this decision will be appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision in Washington will be appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. We will see what they do. If they come out differently, the Supreme Court will almost certainly have to take the case.

KEILAR: And so what do you think the likelihood is that this goes to the Supreme Court?

TOOBIN: I would say it's likely, but we really don't know yet, because the Supreme Court always waits until the circuit courts of appeal address the issue.

It may be that both courts find the same way, in which case it's unlikely the Supreme Court will step in. If they both uphold the program, I think it's less likely that the Supreme Court gets involved. If they disagree or if both find that it's unconstitutional, I think the Supreme Court will almost certainly take the case.

But we're talking about a year until it's before the Supreme Court. These appeals take a while.

KEILAR: So, some time.

But you said that courts aren't normally in the habit of overturning something like this. You would expect going in that the deck might be, say, stacked against the ACLU or someone arguing on behalf of privacy? Is that right?

TOOBIN: I think that's right.

When the executive branch, here, the NSA, invokes national security, that's something most courts are very reluctant to disturb. It's true the judge in Washington did say this is Orwellian, this is too much, but most courts defer to the executive branch. I would say the odds favor both appellate courts upholding the program, but, you know, we have seen two judges. I expect there will be more district court judges addressing the issue.

This is obviously a big major controversy. It's not an obvious result how it should come out, so we will see.

KEILAR: We will see. And it may be some time, and we will be talking about this for a while.

TOOBIN: I expect so.

KEILAR: I think there's more to come in this controversy involving NSA programs.

Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much.

TOOBIN: OK, Brianna.

KEILAR: We're following an unfolding drama at sea.

This is one we have been following this with a lot of interest here the last couple of days. An expedition ship trapped by ice near the bottom of the world, help is within sight, though. An icebreaker is only six miles away, but even it cannot break through the ice.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is here with more on this.

Sunlen, what is the latest? They can see each other, right, these ships?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They can see each other, and that is what makes it so hard. They so close to rescue. This is really going to be an agonizing mission. The heavy ice that originally stranded the Russian ship, it is now hurting the rescue ship.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): The end is in sight, but not within reach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the icebreaker coming to rescue us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brilliant.

SERFATY (voice-over): That tiny dot out there, that's the Snow Dragon, the Chinese rescue icebreaker, seen from aboard the stranded Russian ship.

An icebreaker that uses the ship's weight, as much as 10,000 tons, to break through heavy ice, but the Chinese ship is still six nautical miles away, itself blocked by ice up to 10-feet thick, the Chinese captain telling CNN earlier today: "The current ice condition is exceeding our capabilities to break through further."

It's been nearly 100 hours since the Russian vessel first ran into trouble between Antarctica and New Zealand. Temperatures dropped quickly, freezing the ship in place.

CHRIS TURNEY, EXPEDITION LEADER: We moved as quickly as we could, but the ship just couldn't get through it.

SERFATY: Seventy-four researchers are on board on a mission to study climate change. The ship and crew are safe and surprisingly in good spirits, posing for photos, tweeting, and even collecting date while they wait to be rescued. But they endured a blizzard Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vessel hasn't moved for the last two days and we're surrounded by sea ice. We just can't get through.

SERFATY: And now the ice is building, closing in.

TURNEY: We have about two to three meters, maybe four in places surrounding us. And at one point yesterday, the ship was tilting a bit because of the pressure on one side because of the strong easterly winds. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And it's hard to predict exactly when the Chinese ship may reach them. The captain says it likely will be Sunday at the earliest unless the weather improves dramatically. Brianna, the Chinese ship does have a helicopter on board. So, if they're not able to reach them, they can fly in some supplies.

KEILAR: Yes. They have been sort of reenacting in a way this Australasian Antarctic trek. That in itself would have been a great story, right, if you're on the ship?

SERFATY: Absolutely. And you have to imagine that this is an even greater story.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Exactly. Yes. That's what I think, I think as well.

Sunlen Serfaty, great story. Thanks so much.

KEILAR: Breaking news next, a major new development in the controversy over "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson and his remarks about homosexuality and race. We have just learned of a new move by A&E.

But, first, Christina Aguilera is on a mission to fight hunger in this "Impact Your World."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINA AGUILERA, SINGER (singing): Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christina Aguilera is lending a hand and her voice in the fight against world hunger.

The Grammy winner says becoming a mother played a key role in her decision to get involved.

AGUILERA: When I look at my son, I realize all the opportunities that he has around him.

Every child deserves the chance to dream and to hope.

CUOMO: Aguilera recently traveled to Rwanda as an ambassador for the U.N. World Food Program.

AGUILERA: It's so lovely to see them smile and their eyes light up and for them to be eager to get a good education and in the long term try to provide for their family and break the cycle of going hungry.

CUOMO: This is Aguilera's third trip with the World Food Program. She previously visited Guatemala and Haiti.

AGUILERA: Why not do all I can to give these children a voice of their own, to be heard and to have the same opportunities everyone else should have?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're following breaking news.

The A&E network has just announced it's lifting the suspension of "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson, who was sidelined for controversial remarks about homosexuality and race.

Joining me on the phone to talk about it, Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign.

Fred, thanks for chatting with us so soon after this news broke. Your organization, as well as a number of gay rights groups applauded A&E's initial decision. How are you responding to this reversal?

FRED SAINZ, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Well, it's not really a reversal. We think it's actually a positive outcome.

KEILAR: OK.

SAINZ: And we want to thank A&E for their attentiveness and collaboration over the course of the last few weeks.

You know, from the moment that Mr. Robertson's remarks appeared, we felt that we had an obligation to speak out say that it was not accurate or appropriate for a person with his platform to use the kind of racist and homophobic language he did, and, as we all know, A&E agreed and put Mr. Robertson on hiatus.

As a result of our conversations with A&E over the course of the past few weeks, they have really reiterated their commitment to thoughtful and inclusive programming that's respectful of all Americans. We're heartened by the PSA campaign that they announced today that they will be running.

And unstated in the A&E statement, but as a product of our discussions with them, we have received assurances also that the Robertson family is now open to working with African-American and LBGT people to address the real harm that such anti-gay and racist comments can cause. That's been our ask since Phil's comments ran in "GQ."

And while it's a positive step, it certainly cannot and shouldn't be the last one.

KEILAR: All right, Fred, that's a pretty measured response, I will say. Let me ask you this, because many of the defenders of Phil Robertson said, hey, he was just paraphrasing what's in the Bible. What do you say to them?

SAINZ: Well, that would not be an accurate interpretation of what's in the Bible.

Certainly if one looks for other verses in the Bible, the golden rule perhaps stands out perhaps being a more important one, which is to treat each other as we would like to be treated ourselves. We really believe that this would be a lost opportunity if there was not a path forward.

We clearly understand that Americans may also have these beliefs, and the secret to the success of the gay rights movement over the last four decades has always been that we will meet people where they are at, and we will show them that, you know, there is another point of view, that LGBT people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and equally in American society.

And so we wanted to meet Mr. Robertson and his family where they were at, but also kind of continue their evolution in terms of their thoughts and their feelings toward LBGT Americans, and luckily A&E has really been a wonderful collaborator and been incredibly attentive towards what we have been trying to achieve.

I should also mention that Mr. Robertson's comments were not limited to gay people. They also included inaccurate statements about the journey that African-Americans have had in this country as well. And A&E has been equally attentive to that, and has been working with our partner at the NAACP in order to make sure that those comments are addressed as well.

KEILAR: All right, Fred Sainz with the Human Rights Campaign reacting to this news that Phil Robertson reinstated on the A&E program "Duck Dynasty," thank you, Fred.

I want now to turn to CNN senior media correspondent and the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Brian, you actually just spoke with an A&E spokesperson. What did you learn?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: One of the interesting choices, I suppose, both sides are making is they will just let their statements speak for themselves.

I think we can put up part of it on the screen if we want and share what they were saying, which is that one person's comments do not reflect the entire show, and do not reflect the entire family. I think they're going to leave those words there publicly as their comment.

But, behind the scenes, this is the product of a week of conversations between the family and A&E. There were talks up until Christmas Eve. They took a one-day break for Christmas, of course, they came back yesterday, and now today they have reached this point where they can say we're going to come back, we're going to film in the spring and the whole family will be there.

KEILAR: And they will be having these PSAs, these public service announcements talking about tolerance. So then you wonder, is Phil Robertson going to be part of that? Do you know?

STELTER: I wonder that as well. I didn't get a firm answer on that. I think A&E expects to have some of the Robertson family in those PSAs. I don't think they will say whether Phil Robertson will be in those PSAs or not.

The network says these will be all across all of their channels. They also own History and Lifetime and channels like this. So, they say they will involve talent from all those networks in the public service announcements about unity and tolerance. And I guess we will see in a few months if the Robertsons are a part of those or not.

But it was interesting to hear the Human Rights Campaign spokesman say there will be some sort of dialogue between the Robertsons and these groups.

KEILAR: Yes. And also he said he didn't see this as a reversal at all.

STELTER: Yes.

KEILAR: I know in a way a lot of time you talk to groups that have worked on something, and if something sort of appears to maybe not go their way, or you could what would the end point be maybe if the program goes away or Phil Robertson goes away?

Maybe they realize that's not realistic, but they certainly want to I guess say they have had an impact on the dialogue. Is that accurate, that this is not a reversal?

STELTER: You know, it's the kind of thing, when A&E came out nine days ago, they said this was an indefinite hiatus, indefinite. Clearly that's not the case.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: They have given up quite a bit of ground. This was a very quick hiatus. They're going to be back filming in the spring.

You know, I think that kind of says it all, but at least these groups can come back and say the PSAs will be airing and there's this possible dial dialogue. But Bill Carter, my former colleague at "The New York Times," said it really well on Twitter a minute ago.

He said when do the network swallow their pride and their principles and give into a star on a show? At Friday at 5:00 p.m. on a holiday weekend. The timing kind of also says it all.

KEILAR: What do we call it, a Friday news dump, right?

STELTER: That's right.

KEILAR: How did social media play into this? We saw at one point Cracker Barrel pulled "Duck Dynasty" items they were selling. Then they put them back in, responding to the reaction. A lot of it comes through social media. Was that a big thing? STELTER: That's right.

I think it definitely was. A&E is once again trending on Twitter now. Maybe that's a good thing for them in their minds and maybe this is free publicity.

But the headline on the Drudge Report tonight is A&E caves. That can't possibly be a good thing from them. I think in this case what we saw from Twitter, Facebook and the Internet in general was that it organized groups on both sides. First, it organized people who were outraged by what Phil Robertson said, groups like GLAAD and the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign.

Then once he was suspended it galvanized groups that were disturbed by this. We saw petitions online at istandwithphil.com that had over a quarter of a million signatures. We saw a lot of conservative politicians come out and stand with Phil Robertson as well.

The Internet allowed all that organization to happen a lot quicker than it would have happened otherwise.

KEILAR: I think it's been also a fascinating conversation to witness sort of what a reality show and, you know...

STELTER: That's what culture does for us sometimes. It gets these conversations going, even from the unlikeliest of places, like a "Duck Dynasty" reality show.

KEILAR: "Duck Dynasty," all right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thank you.

KEILAR: Ahead, a car bomb kills a former ambassador to the U.S. Who is behind this Beirut attack?

And anti-government rage boils over, leading to riots in the streets of Istanbul. We will be taking you there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Deadly violence across the Middle East, a car bombing in Beirut, riots in Istanbul, clashes in Cairo.

We have correspondents and Middle East experts standing by with details and analysis.

Let's begin with CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom. He's in Istanbul.

Mohammed, start by telling us about this car bombing in Beirut. Who was the target?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the target, Brianna, was a former Lebanese ambassador to the U.S. named Mohamad Chatah. He was killed earlier today when a car bomb struck in the heart of a commercial district in downtown Beirut. There were at least six people killed, over 70 people injured, and many of the officials I'm speaking with are speculating that Mr. Chatah was killed because he is a staunch opponent of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, and that this is yet another example of the spillover of violence from Syria's civil war into neighboring Lebanon.

We must remember the sectarian divisions in Lebanon mirror those of Syria and as the war in Syria has gotten worse, violence has spread throughout Lebanon.

But this is not the only official who has been opposed to Bashar al-Assad who's been killed in the last 13 months. Just a year ago, an aid to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he was killed in a targeted assassination. Many people I'm speaking with are worried these types of killings will only continue.

We have seen sectarian violence in Lebanon really increase with a lot of car bombs going off in the past few months. The residents I'm talking to very concerned this will continue, and many of the residents I spoke with in Beirut earlier today said they could feel that blast from miles away in different parts of the city.

KEILAR: Catch up us on what's going on in Turkey right now, Mohammed.

JAMJOOM: Yes, Brianna, this was another day the fierce clashes and lots of protests in several cities in Turkey.

Behind me, you see Taksim Square. That was the epicenter of the huge anti-government demonstrations that happened this past summer, but today you had more protesters appearing in and around this area protesting the government, calling on the prime minister here to resign because of this corruption scandal that has consumed the government and the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, here in Turkey.

Now, as this was going on, we were out in the crowd. In fact, me and our cameraman, we actually got hit by rubber pellets that were containing this powder that made us cough. There was a lot of tear gas that was deployed. There were water cannon trucks were all over the place. There were violent clashes.

But as a backdrop to this, you had the prime minister speaking earlier in Istanbul, remaining as defiant as ever, unapologetic, saying that the majority of Turks supported him, he wasn't going anywhere, and saying that really the crisis that going on in this country was because of outside forces that were trying to destabilize Turkey.

The question now is will these protests continue in the days ahead? I can tell you there's a lot of anger, especially in the city. Many people we are speaking with say they will continue to come out and demonstrate until the prime minister resigns.

KEILAR: And you will be following that, Mohammed, and certainly please stay safe as you do, Mohammed Jamjoom for us in Beirut.

Deadly unrest also in Egypt. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood battled with police in Cairo today. Three people were killed, more than 265 arrested. The violence follows the government's decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the country's largest political party, a terrorist group.

CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is following the story for us.

Elise, what does this recent violence mean for Egypt's political future?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't look good, Brianna.

As you note, it's the biggest political party in Egypt. It's a huge social movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and so you're not just talking about a wide swathe of supporters that you're alienating, but also a lot of social services, charities. Nongovernmental organizations in the country will be shut down.

And it just further alienates the population. And the concern is that these people are going to be more radicalized. If the Muslim Brotherhood goes underground, who are going to they turn to? They could turn to these radical jihadist groups in the Sinai. They started in the Sinai, but now al Qaeda-related groups are gaining influence throughout the country.

These are the groups that are believed to be responsible for some of these bombings. And the concern here is this could further radicalize the population.

KEILAR: And Elise, there's long-standing ties between the U.S. government and the interim military government there in Egypt. The U.S. has suspended some aid. What is the plan for dealing with this government in Egypt moving forward?

LABOTT: Well, it's really unclear, Brianna. Because the U.S. has very little influence here. You saw this with the cutting of aid. It was a very symbolic amount of weapons and loans, a very small amount that countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf, they share the concern about the Muslim Brotherhood. And so they're making up the shortfall and more for the Egyptian government.

And the U.S. doesn't really know what to do here. Because this struggle that the military has against the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as so big, they're really not sensitive to the U.S. concerns about democracy. They're fighting this on their own. And the U.S. really needs to keep a good relationship with the military, because you know they need them to be guaranteeing the peace treaty with Israel and those type of things. So it's unclear how far they're really going to push the government.

KEILAR: All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much. And let's now talk about the Mideast turmoil with Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He's joining us from New York. And from Los Angeles, David Keys. He's the executive director of the Organization Advancing Human Rights. He's also a contributor to "The Daily Beast."

So as we watch this chaos unfold onscreen, David, looking specifically at Egypt, is there anything that the U.S. can do to exert influence on the situation?

DAVID KEYS, ORGANIZATION ADVANCING HUMAN RIGHTS: I think there's an enormous amount the Unite States can do. It has to stay true to its principles.

Going back decades, the United States have supported some dictators throughout the Middle East, whether it's in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. The most important thing for the United States to do is uphold maximum pressure on the Egyptian government to uphold civil liberties, to increase space for freedom of expression, freedom of the press.

It's not just the Muslim Brotherhood which has been decimated in this latest crackdown. It's also liberal activists like Ahmed Mahar from the April 6 movement and Ahmed Douma. Young bloggers. It starts out with the radicals, but I think that this is the same Egyptian military which had an iron fist clamping down on civil society and democracy going back decades.

So the United States should link foreign aid to human rights, and it should stay true to that great principle of Andrei Sakharov that we should trust states as much as they trust their own people. And by that standard, the Egyptian government cannot be trusted. It is reverting back to the same military dictatorship. So again, the United States should stay true to its principles and not the person who happens to be in power.

KEILAR: And how much leverage does the U.S. have when it comes to aid?

KEYS: I think it has a lot of leverage, not just in its aid but also rhetorically and morally. I think a lot of people in the Middle East look to the United States for leadership. I've spend the last many years working with democratic dissidents in the Middle East, and many, many people are disappointed. They look at historical appeasement of Bashar al-Assad. They look at upholding this theocratic agenda, apartheid tyranny in Saudi Arabia. They look at $50 billion of aid sent to Hosni Mubarak. And they are pleading with America to take a greater role when it comes to upholding human rights in the Middle East.

When we stay true to our own fundamental principles, that is when the United States has the most power in the Middle East. There's a lot more that can be done. And I think a lot of people are being proven wrong. Going back years, people said of Assad he was a reformer. People said that this was someone we could work with.

KEILAR: Yes.

KEYS: And now we see that he's -- he is the monster that the dissidents knew all along that he was.

KEILAR: So what I want to ask you about what we saw in Beirut, Tremendously concerning that we see this ally of the U.S., an opponent of both Hezbollah and Assad, taken out. How concerned are you that violence is spreading across the Middle East?

FOUAD AJAMI, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I see Beirut, for Beirut and for the Lebanese, you have almost the horrific prospect of the return to the past. Car bombs, the assassination of prominent figures.

And the truth is any opponent of Syria and Lebanon, any major figure in Lebanese politics who opposes Syria is endangered. The death of this Mohammed Chatah, former ambassador to Washington, a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, a very, very decent and moderate man, targeting him means that the Syrians are back in the business of killing people in Lebanon, and the Syrians feel emboldened.

They've been spared. Bashar Assad has been spared. Bashar Assad has been spared the wrath of the Obama administration, and he is now back to what he knows best, which is terror, assassinations, car bombs and the like.

KEILAR: And it doesn't appear, Fouad, that that's going to change. So where does the U.S. go from here? What do you see really happening versus what you think should happen?

AJAMI: Well, you know, Brianna, I think the U.S. has in a way, for better or worse -- we have to be honest about this -- has taken time-out from the Middle East. I think there is a kind of an almost admission on the part of the Obama administration that the troubles in the region are very huge.

And the troubles in the region are huge because of the abdication of American policy toward Syria. It all begins and ends, to a considerable extent, in the fertile crescent. It all begins and ends with Bashar al-Assad. We spared Bashar al-Assad. American power spared him, and now he's on a rampage.

KEILAR: What do you think about that, David? I mean, obviously, the foreign policy concentration of the Obama administration has been to turn away from the Middle East to Asia, but at every turn, you have the Middle East trying to grab that attention back. What does the U.S. need to do?

KEYS: I think what Fouad has said is spot on. And what you say is true, as well. There's been a pivot to Asia. That's what they call it. And yet, the Middle East keeps dragging the United States back into its tentacles.

I think there are a number of things the United States can do to re-claim its moral clarity in the region. No. 1, it has to support, unabashedly and unreservedly, true liberal democratic forces throughout the region. It has to cease its support for dictators throughout the region. It needs to speak up on behalf of those political prisoners denied freedom across the Middle East. They should begin bilateral meetings by raising the names of political prisoners, much as the United States did during the Soviet era.

It can condition aid to human rights, much like the Jackson-Vanik Amendment did back in 1975. So instead of given a blank check to these autocratic regimes, the United States can play a much more important role by not appeasing dictators throughout the Middle East, and by speaking clearly about how dangerous they are.

KEILAR: And let me ask the last question here of Fouad on that point. Fouad, is there really a way -- how does the U.S. sort of find these liberal proponents of democracy. I mean, this has obviously been -- been something that's very difficult for the U.S. government and its allies.

AJAMI: Well, I think David has it right. Where do we begin, if you will? We begin now. Because I think the past has not been very encouraging. We stayed with Mubarak for 30 years or so. We have tended to be comfortable -- I think we have to be honest about this -- with authoritarian regimes.

And again, as David said in reference to Bashar al-Assad, this is a man that our secretary of state and our diplomats told us that this man was a reformer. We have to -- we have to really begin to know the region as it is.

And we have to turn to the Egyptians in particular, because we haven't really said enough about them. We have to return to the Egyptian regime now and make it very, very clear that the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood is no solution. Because the dream of an Egypt without beards or veils is illusory.

KEILAR: Yes. Fouad Ajami, David Keys, thanks to both of you for being with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

AJAMI: Thank you.

KEYS: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Now ahead, the star of the Dallas Cowboys' big comeback won't be on the field for this weekend's win or go-home game. We have the latest on Tony Romo's surgery today.

Plus the frat house living arrangements that inspired the series "Alpha House." You won't believe where some of the most powerful people in the country really hang out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Let's get to some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The NFL's Dallas Cowboys have suffered a big blow. It actually took place Sunday when star quarterback Tony Romo took this hit in a game against Washington. Romo underwent back surgery this morning. He will be out for the rest of the season. And that means that Kyle Orton will start against Philadelphia in Sunday's NFC East title game.

But all eyes will be on his backup, Jon Kitna, a high-school football coach coming out of retirement to help his old team. He'll donate his salary to his school.

And a murderous python is on the loose in Bali. A security guard at a luxury hotel on the Indonesian island was killed while trying to capture the snake. The snake choked the man to death. His employer, the Bali Hyatt, expressed condolences, but a spokeswoman made clear the incident was not on hotel grounds. The hotel is under renovations and is closed.

It is summertime in Argentina, but a large crowd trying to escape the 100-degree heat there couldn't escape -- you see that there -- a swarm of those things, carnivorous fish. There were about 70 people who were injured when they were attacked. Some of them actually lost parts of fingers and toes. These are fish, they look like piranha. That's because they're related to the piranha, and they have very sharp teeth.

During the Christmas holidays, Washington is like a college campus. It is really very quiet, because everyone has gone home for the holidays. But there's a similarity to college even when Congress is in session. Some of the nation's most powerful men share living quarters in a frat-style house, and it's inspired the new series "Alpha House."

CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash takes us inside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paint peeling off the walls, sheets covering the windows, broken blinds, a mangled chair covered up with a wood board, an ancient stove with a giant hole, and yes, that's underwear in the living room. What looks and feels like the most rundown frat on campus is actually the Capitol Hill home of some of the most powerful men in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Omega House.

BASH (on camera): I love what you've done with the place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BASH: Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, the second- and third- ranking Senate Democrats, live here together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys get the rent from him?

BASH: Their landlord and third roommate is Democratic Congressman George Miller. The house is so legendary, it inspired a new TV series "Alpha House," except the Senate roommates in the Amazon.com show are Republicans. SCHUMER: We want to say they are nothing like us. Don't even begin to think so.

BASH (on camera): When people see this house, they're going to know, because in the show, it's a little bit nicer. They have a thing where --

SCHUMER: Now, wait a minute.

BASH (voice-over): Miller, the owner, started taking in tenants more than 30 years ago. The house hasn't been updated since.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: We stop buying LPs. That's when the music stopped.

BASH (on camera): But you actually have a record player.

SCHUMER: Yes, the same exact records are there now as the day I moved in in 1982.

BASH: The best part about it are the products that are on the cassette player. This is an A-track.

SCHUMER: This is my medicine cabinet --

BASH: I didn't know you were a metro sexual.

SCHUMER: As smooth as could be.

BASH: Whose closet is this?

SCHUMER: Mine.

MILLER: Oh, Mr. Neat's closet.

SCHUMER: Hey.

BASH: Schumer's stuff is strewn all over the living room.

(on camera): Seriously, this is where you sleep every night?

SCHUMER: Every night.

BASH: And you wake up to Barack Obama staring at you in your face?

SCHUMER: Exactly.

BASH: Senator Durbin did out you a little bit. He said this is the most you've ever made your bed.

SCHUMER: Just for you.

BASH: Thank you. The blinds are particularly beautiful.

SCHUMER: Well, that way you can see the weather, not having to get out of bed. It's a special effect.

BASH: The phone is still plugged in, but hasn't worked in years.

SCHUMER: 546-2543. I still remember the number.

BASH: You don't use the phone? No? What's the point?

SCHUMER: Hey, he's always saving money.

BASH (voice-over): Their couch was a money saver, too.

DURBIN: My son wanted to throw it away, put it out in the trash, and it had to be 12, 14 years ago. I said it's better than anything we have.

BASH: The refrigerator? Well, it's a scary sight.

(on camera): That baguette, yes, that looks a little aged.

SCHUMER: It's a lethal weapon.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH (voice-over): No wonder they have a problem with rats.

MILLER: The rats may have done that.

BASH (on camera): Wow, how many rats did you have?

MILLER: Don't ask.

SCHUMER: I had a dream literally two nights ago, the rats were back.

MILLER: I knew the rats were in the Senate. I didn't know they came to the House.

BASH: What year was this from, Congressman?

MILLER: Well, Ben Franklin gave that to us.

BASH (voice-over): Since this is not a kitchen fit for cooking, the congressional roomies take the easy route, cold cereal, they buy it in bulk.

(on camera): So, you're the Raisin Bran. Senator Durbin, which one are you?

DURBIN: I prefer Raisin Bran. But I like the Mini-Wheats.

BASH (voice-over): The fictitious lawmakers in "Alpha House" have breakfast together, watch sports at night, not so much here.

SCHUMER: I come in about midnight from my office usually.

DURBIN: And we leave while he sleeps. (LAUGHTER)

SCHUMER: You do it by design.

BASH: An opening scene of "Alpha House" shows a bowl of flag pins on the counter. This is what they have on their counter.

(on camera): Screws and a random pill, and a pen in case you need one.

SCHUMER: It's modern art.

BASH (voice-over): It's hard to believe such prominent politicians leave in these conditions.

SCHUMER: When my wife comes, she will not stay in here.

BASH: But they're only in Washington about three nights a week.

(on camera): What makes it work?

MILLER: We're friends.

DURBIN: We love it. It's home.

BASH (voice-over): Dana Bash, CNN, at the real "Alpha House" near Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Ugh, how old are those spices above the stove, right?

Well ahead, canine combat vet who used to sniff roadside bombs, he's now patrolling the Pentagon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: A canine combat vet who used to sniff out roadside bombs in Afghanistan is now patrolling the halls of the Pentagon.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Emmy (ph) comes to work at the Department of Defense alongside Pentagon police officer Eric Harris, her nose is already on alert -- checking, pausing, sniffing. Emmy is trained to detect explosives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good girl. Stay.

STARR: But this 6-year-old lab is also a combat veteran, the first on the Pentagon's K-9 force.

(on camera): What do you know about Emmy before she came to you? ERIC HARRIS, PENTAGON FORCE PROTECTION AGENCY: Before she came to work with us, she did two tours in Afghanistan with Marine Corps unit over there. She was an IED dog. That's what they called them there. Her sole purpose was to find IEDs along the roadsides in Afghanistan.

STARR: Officer Harris, an Army vet, says when Emmy arrived, she brought her war zone work habits with her.

HARRIS: She is nonstop working. I will say that. Pretty much like any other Marine or soldier, 24/7.

STARR: Emmy brought one has been she developed herself to cope with the blistering heat in Afghanistan.

HARRIS: Really hot. She will dunk her face in a bowl of water and she'll dip her front pads in the water as well, I'm assuming, to cool them off.

STARR: Harris says Emmy's partner in Afghanistan, Marine Corporal Andrew Lindstrom contacted the military when he came home.

HARRIS: He was very concerned of how she would be treated once she retired as a Marine Corps dog. For him to go through all that trouble to find out just how Emmy was doing and sure she was taken care of shows me what kind of bond that those guys had over there.

STARR: Even now, as she protects the Pentagon, Emmy likes to stop and visit. Her special attention, devoted to other marines. She makes sure there is time for officer Harris to tell about her old unit.

HARRIS: The reserve unit out of Hawaii, now we'll give her a job here and keep her working. She is not ready to quit yet.

Emmy.

STARR: But then, it is right back to work -- sniffing, searching, patrolling -- to make sure everyone stays safe.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: A great story.

But what do you think were the top stories of the year? Go to CNN.com and vote for your top 10 choices. You have until midnight Eastern Time tonight. The top 10 will be revealed on Monday.

Here are some of our picks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A funnel cloud that has just developed. It appears to be on the ground in Oklahoma City. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a populated area. We just fear that not everyone may have gotten the word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I got home, I realized there is nothing left of my house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Luckily, the only rooms that were spared was the room we were in.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're at the end of a searing day, standing in a neighborhood that is almost unrecognizable.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's on me. I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to have the opportunity to have insurance. I don't have insurance at all.

OBAMA: We should have done a better job getting that right on day one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking news, a super typhoon is slamming into the Philippines right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have the words for it. It is really horrific. It is a great human tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is really, really bad, bad -- worse than hell. Worse than hell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His papacy is being hailed by many as a fresh start. His demeanor, style and words have garnered attention the world over.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): If a person is gay and accepts the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a kind of rock star quality to this man, a sense of a new day dawning, you know, wherever he goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just absolutely surreal. No one really knew what had happened.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There has been some significant progress in the case.

COOPER: It is over. The second of the two Boston suspects is in after a harrowing 24-hour chase and manhunt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury find George Zimmerman not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Completely shocked. Utter shock. I cannot believe he was not found guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The not guilty verdict ends a trial where Zimmerman claimed he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

The Martin family believed their son who was not armed at the time was profiled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Around 30 students had gone from an elite school here in eastern China on a study group tour to the U.S. Tonight, they held a vigil in (INAUDIBLE), lit candles and sent messages to their friends who they say are in heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no doubt that the arrival of this royal baby has the world waiting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new royal heir in the United Kingdom.

PRINCE WILLIAM, UNITED KINGDOM: It's nice that people want to see George. So, you know, I'm just glad he wasn't screaming his head off the whole way through. For me, Catherine and now little George, my priorities.

BLITZER: The key players in the shutdown standoff are faring fairly poorly right now in the American public's eye.

OBAMA: If the United States Congress does not fulfill its responsibility to pass a budget today, much of the United States government will be forced to shut down tomorrow.

BLITZER: We're expecting South African broadcasting television to be making a statement on the health of Nelson Mandela.

PRES. JACOB ZUMA, SOUTH AFRICA: Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has departed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, remember, you can follow us in what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. You can tweet me @BriKeilarCNN, and tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTRONT" starts right now.