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Second Terror Attack in Russia; NYT Claims Benghazi Attack Not Al-Qaeda Related; French Tax; Best Dressed Man

Aired December 30, 2013 - 12:30   ET



Our top story, a second terrorist attack in Russia in less than 24 hours, with the Olympic games in Sochi less than six weeks away, want to focus on what is behind the violence as some of the world's top athletes are now preparing to travel to Russia.

Domitilla Sagramoso is a war studies professor at King's College in London, and thank you, professor, for joining us.

The very latest here, 14 people killed in today's attack, this is on a packed trolley. You have another 17 killed yesterday at a train station. Nobody's claiming responsibility.

When you take a look at these two twin attacks, are there hallmarks? Who do you suspect is actually behind this, and what do you think they want?

DOMITILLA SAGRAMOSO, CENTER FOR DEFENSE STUDIES AT KING'S COLLEGE: Well, I mean, usually the prime suspects are the fighters that are leading sort of an Islamic-inspired insurgency in the North Caucasus, not necessarily only Chechens.

And we know there are other nationalities involved like Dagestanis and (inaudible), so there is a high possibility they might be behind -- figures belonging to this resistance movement might want to bring attention to their fight, raise their profile at a time when a lot of the eyes of the world are on Russia because of the Olympics. So in a way, it's a very, very strong sort of propaganda coup for them.

What they're really fighting for is for, at this stage, sort of a separation of the region from Russia, and the establishment of a system which is based primarily on Islamic rules and Islamic law, and which completely changes the dynamics and the situation on the ground.

MALVEAUX: And, Professor, let's take a look at there, because the attacks were in Volgograd. This is about 600 miles from Sochi where the Olympics will be held.

When you take a look here at the map of Russia and you see Sochi, it's less than a hundred miles from the North Caucasus where Russia is fighting the separatists that you had mentioned there. So many people actually believe that an attack at the Games is very likely, is possible, because of the location. SAGRAMOSO: Well, I mean, it is close and it isn't, you know? It's not really very, very close to the Sochi area of the Games, but still you know, it's not far from the area.

I personally wouldn't think there would be attacks straight in Sochi, but still, they might be showing solidarity with the movement of Circassians, which is the people who have inhabited the area before the Russians arrived in the 19th century.

And these people have been deported and they still claim that this is their land and their territory and that, you know, there had shouldn't be any sort of presence of Russia in that area.

So I mean, there might be some connection, but on the other hand, I think that what is most symbolic in this case is that it happened in an area which is really in the heart of Russia. It is not far from Sochi, but it's not that close either, so, you know, certainly they're trying to send a message. It's very hard to know whether there's going to be another attack.

The Russians are going to increase security even more around the area of Sochi, which they have done already, so more likely is that softer targets might become -- you know, might be targeted, so, you know, areas where there is less protection actually than the area of Sochi.

MALVEAUX: And, Professor, is there anything -- aside from security, is there anything that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, can doing to appease these groups, even if it's a temporary gesture before the Olympics?

SAGRAMOSO: Well, I think president beauty tin has always been very, very determined no the to negotiate with these groups.

They have conducted terrorist attacks, and therefore, they have been classified as terrorists. And despite the calls from fighters in the region to negotiate with Russia, this has never really happened. So I don't think this is going to be a moment where Putin is going to sit down and talk to them.

It is interesting that, last year, there was a sort of moratorium on attacks beyond the North Caucasus as a result of the demonstrations against Putin. So it's interesting that almost like the Russian people have more of an influence when they show their displeasure towards the regime than the regime of Putin itself.

I think that Putin will probably try to heighten security to increase checks, to make sure that no one of suspicion is undetected rather than sitting down and getting engaged in some kind of negotiation with these insurgency groups now.

MALVEAUX: Professor, thank you so much. We appreciate your time, your analysis and all this. We certainly hope that it's a safe Olympic Games.

A deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, there is now a new report that says al Qaeda was not responsible, but there are some members of Congress who disagree.

We're going to have a live report, up next.


: MALVEAUX Here are some of the stories making news AROUND THE WORLD right now.

If Santa got you a laptop for Christmas, you might find this a little bit unsettling. The NSA is reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spyware. That is according to Germany's "Der Spiegel."

The operation is allegedly carried out by the NSA's elite hacking unit that has backdoor access to several hardware and software systems from prominent tech companies like Cisco and Dell.

There has been a big turnaround for the government's new health care program. 975,000 people have enrolled in the federal program in December alone. So that brings the number to more than 1.1 million who are now taking advantage of Obamacare through the federal online application process.

Separate programs run by 14 states and Washington, D.C. are also seeing a surge in applications. The government wants to sign up 7 million people. People not signed up by April will face a penalty.

More than a million Americans who depend on unemployment checks have now lost their lifeline. Congress refused to extend the federal help as part of a budget agreement, so benefits ended for 1.3 million people. This happened over the weekend.

Democrats say that restoring the benefits is going to be the first thing they're going to push for when congress reconvenes in January.

Top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are taking issue now with this new report that says al Qaeda was not involved in last year's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Four Americans were killed, you'll recall. Now a "New York Times" report says that the attack was likely carried out by independent Libyan militias.

Our Jill Dougherty has details on the investigative report and, also, what is the government saying.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: "The New York Times" investigation calls into question claims made by both Republicans and the White House about what happened in Libya on September 11th a year ago.

The newspaper finds fault with the Republican case, saying there's no evidence that al Qaeda had any role, that local militias and looters were to blame, that an anti-Muslim video did play a role motivating the attackers, at least in part, and that the attack was not meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous nor without warning signs.

A top Republican insists the intelligence shows al Qaeda was involved.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya. We know that.

The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound.

DOUGHERTY: The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee agrees, but says it's a complex picture.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The intelligence indicates that al Qaeda was involved, but there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al Qaeda that were involved.

DOUGHERTY: The "Times" also says, however, it was not a copycat of street protests in Egypt against the American-made anti-Muslim video as then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice suggested on Sunday talk shows.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially, a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.

DOUGHERTY: The Obama White House isn't commenting or disputing the "Times" report, which notably does not mention then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What difference at this point does it make?

DOUGHERTY: But former White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor blasted Republican demands for Benghazi hearings and for their claims that the Obama administration was lying, tweeting, "They were wrong," and, "We could have avoided months of disgusting demagoguery."


MALVEAUX: Jill Dougherty is joining us from Washington to explain all of this.

And, Jill, I mean, still, it looks like there are more questions than answers regarding Benghazi.

How does this investigative report -- does it change at all the direction of this official investigation that's still taking place?

DOUGHERTY: I don't think it really does, other than that point about al Qaeda, but it's a subtle point. It's a complex -- maybe that's the better word -- point about al Qaeda. Which al Qaeda? Al Qaeda, an organized force, you know, the central command of al Qaeda, or was it these kind of disparate groups who are related to, affiliated with, like al Qaeda, et cetera?

I think you're getting the picture that what this report is doing is saying it's a lot more murky than either side is putting out, and that's where you get really criticism from both sides. But I don't think essentially it changes really the narrative that much.

DOUGHERTY: All right. Jill, thank you. Appreciate it.

Remember when the French actor Gerard Depardieu caused such a stink over a millionaire tax proposed in France? Well, now, a different version of that very proposal has become law. I'm going to tell you who's going to pay and how much.


MALVEAUX: Israel plans to release 26 Palestinian prisoners either today or tomorrow. Now, Israel promised this during peace talks that actually started last summer. This is going to be the third release since then. And some prisoners getting their freedom this week have served almost 30 years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the idea is to resume the diplomatic process. Secretary of State John Kerry, he is headed back to the region later this week to help keep the peace talks moving.

Now, if somebody asked you what Americans see as the nation's most unpopular war, you're likely going to answer Vietnam. But I want you to take a look at this new CNN poll. Only 17 percent of respondents said that they support the war in Afghanistan, 82 percent oppose it. Back in the Vietnam War era, opposition was never above 60 percent in Gallup polls.

Now, the new poll also shows more than half of Americans want U.S. troops to come home from Afghanistan before the deadline. The Obama administration's plan is to have most of them out by December of 2014.

And the French government wants the rich to help pay more to help the sagging economy. So it has now passed a millionaire tax. And while the France president -- France's president, rather, introduced this idea plans to sign it into law.

Zain Asher is joining us from the New York Stock Exchange to talk about the latest version of this because this came about -- first became popular when you had the actor, the French actor, Gerard Depardieu, says, you know, I don't want to pay this. I'm getting out of here. I'm becoming a Russian citizen instead. And, initially, it was very different, right? Seventy-five percent tax on income that was over 1 million euros or about $1.4 million a year. That's not - that's not what we're talking about.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so that was the original plan. The original plan was that 75 percent tax on millionaires. That was ruled illegal. So basically Francoise Hollande has found a way to circumvent that. It's a question of semantics, Suzanne. He's now going to be taxing businesses that pay workers 1 million euros or $1.4 million, 75 percent.

Now, here's a couple things you have to understand. First of all, the tax is only temporary. It's only for wages earned in the year 2013 and 2014. I've been speaking to European economists, one of which tells me that he anticipates that French companies are going to start striking deals with their high income workers to sort of defer some of their wages by a couple of years as a way to get around that tax.

Nothing (ph) you have to understand is that there is some protections in there for small businesses. So even though it is a 75 percent tax, a huge amount, it cannot exceed 5 percent of the company's revenues. So that's important to remember, as well.

But, yes, there is this whole controversy that, if you're rich and you live in France, you know, you are in a sense under siege. But France's president, Francois Hollande, is basically saying that he's just trying to get the rich to pay their fair share. So you look at France's economy. It's basically fallen down a five-year flight of steps in terms of the recession. It is healing, but unemployment is still 11 percent. It has a lot of catching up to do with Germany. So this is Hollande's way of trying to get the rich to pay their fair share. That's what he says.


MALVEAUX: Yes, I can imagine the backlash from the businesses that are going to follow. Never mind the individuals, the big businesses.

ASHER: Exactly.

MALVEAUX: So when you look at this, does it actually help the French government shrink this massive budget deficit that it - that it has? Does it make a dent at all?

ASHER: Well, it's interesting because, as a country, there are two ways to basically shrink your budget deficit. First way is obviously to cut spending. The other way is to raise taxes.

Now, in terms of raising taxes, this tax is only going to raise 200 million euros total. Remember, Suzanne, it's only temporary. That's the first thing you have to understand. It's only going to affect 450 companies.

But this is more about Francois Hollande making a statement within his party, basically increasing his social standing within the socialist party and making a statement on fairness. In terms of whether or not you're going to see French businesses, you know, flee over to the U.K., some people say yes. But it is unlikely given that the tax is only temporary.


MALVEAUX: All right, Zain, thank you. Appreciate it.

ASHER: Of course. MALVEAUX: Here's a switch here. We're talking about this. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, getting paid based on the stock's performance. If Apple's stock takes a hit in the market, Cook's pay actually gets docked. The worse in the performance, the bigger the pay cut.

Now, Cook says he wants to set a leadership example for corporate CEOs. Let's be realistic here, Apple products enormously popular. Even though Cook took a voluntary $4 million pay cut, with the performance plan, he still cleared about $40 million in salary, bonuses and stock. Not so bad.

Well, he has washed the feet of prisoners, he's embraced the poor and the sick. Well, now, Pope Francis being recognized for something unexpected, his sense of style.


MALVEAUX: Well, this in, Syrian President Bashar al Assad sent a private message to Pope Francis this weekend. That is according to London's "Guardian" newspaper. Syrian state run news agency says that the message indicated that Assad was willing to take part in peace talks in Geneva next month, but that countries supporting the rebel groups would have to stop supporting them.

The message reportedly stressed that a solution to the Syrian conflict would only be achieved without foreign intervention. Now, the pope has repeatedly pleaded for peace in Syria, calling for an end to a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Pope Francis, he has achieved, of course, rock star status this year, named "Time" magazine's and "The Advocates" person of the year. Well, now, "Esquire" magazine has actually named him best dressed man of 2013. The pope actually beat out actors like Bradley Cooper and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Erin McLaughlin tells us why.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Move over Brad Pitt, step aside George Clooney, it looks like you have some very serious competition in the style department. "Esquire" magazine has named Pope Francis the 2013 best dressed man of the year. Now, the magazine admits this is an unconventional decision, but they point to Pope Francis' very simple style decisions as signaling new hope for the Catholic Church.

Take a look at Pope Benedict. The elaborate robes, the golden cross. "Esquire" magazine says this look, oh, so last season. Now it's all about Pope Francis, with his very simple garments, his iron cross. Pope Francis has been trying to focus the Catholic Church on helping the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the poor. "Esquire" magazine writes, the holy Roman emperor really does have new clothes and they reflect the people's pope.

Eric McLaughlin, CNN, Rome.


MALVEAUX: Rocking the robe. All right, thank you.

Now this really takes the cake. I want you to check this out. This is folks in Azerbaijan celebrating the president's birthday.

What you're watching here, you're looking at a 170-foot long cake. That is right. The local governor commissions the birthday -- giant birthday cake every year for a president who turns 52 this year. Now the cake was actually 52 meters long. Funny thing, it didn't actually get presented until five days after the president's birthday because it took so long to make.

Several stories caught our attention today, photos, as well. Take a look at this. In southern California, a family may have been photo bombed by a shark. That's right. You got to take a look at this picture pretty closely.

A mom was looking through her pictures on the way home from the beach, right, when she noticed what appeared to be a shark near her son and his friend earlier in the day, literally captured in that photo there. Several have been spotted along the southern California coast actually in recent months. The woman said she told the kids it was a dolphin so they wouldn't be scared to go back to the beach.

In Brazil, thousands of biodegradable balloons were released into the air to float over the city of Sao Paulo. Its tradition of releasing these balloons started back in 1992 to celebrate the new year.

And in India, this photo is of an Indian fisherman walking through a beach littered with trash in Mumbai, India, now becoming more polluted as people flock to the cities to search for work and a better quality of life.

Well, thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now. Have a good afternoon.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the NSA may be targeting some laptop computers before the owners even receive them. We'll have details on reports the agency is diverting laptops that have been ordered online and installing spyware.

Right now, some big name coaches are getting some big, bad news. It's judgment day in the NFL.

And right now, the countdown is on and the last minute preparations are underway.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have cookies and coffee set out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those cookies going to be laced with anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not. No, no.


ACOSTA: Less than 36 hours till Colorado marijuana shops open their doors.

Hello, everybody. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. Wolf Blitzer is off today.

We begin with yet another revelation about the extent of secret surveillance programs carried out by the NSA. This time it involves the agency targeting computers, including laptops purchased online.