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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Bill Nye; New NSA Leaks; Winter Weather; John Kerry's Peace Mission

Aired January 3, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today was a day, of course, Jim, where many people here were digging out of the snow and are now preparing to be in the deep freeze. Let's have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): After the big snowstorm...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was going to a little one or two inches of snow, but it's like blizzard.

PLEITGEN: ... comes the deep freeze.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First time I have ever had to jump-start it. It's the coldest it's been, I think.

PLEITGEN: Communities in the Northeast found themselves battling heavy snowfall until the morning hours. Now officials warn the cold will become even more dangerous.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It is deceptively cold. It is the coldest it's been all year, and people I think sometimes think it doesn't feel so bad, but if you stay out there too long, it would feel bad and it will be dangerous, particularly to folks who are vulnerable.

PLEITGEN: The weather already caused many accidents. Plummeting temperatures in the coming night will mean that salt used on the roads will be largely ineffective, making things even more slippery.

Crews in the region worked throughout Friday and largely managed to keep roads passable, even with heavy snowfall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, the travel lanes are kind of like the turnpike was. They're windblown. It's the center lane and the shoulders that are covered.

If we can scrape them down, just keep them scraped down so they don't keep building up, tomorrow when the sun comes up it will be that much easier to clean up.

PLEITGEN: In coastal areas, the storm was even more intense with a high risk of flooding in low-lying areas. Most warnings were lifted by the afternoon, with water causing limited damage. Now all eyes are on the thermometers, as freezing air moves in. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: As you can hear, Jim, the church bells are going off here. Many people here in Boston, most probably, are praying for some warmer weather. However, there are some who believe the negative temperature record for this state, the negative temperature record might be smashed in this night and, as you said, some places in New England will go as low as negative -- minus-24.

And some even believe it will feel, because of the windchill, like it's 45 degrees below zero, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Frederick Pleitgen, they should hear that bell and go indoors. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Now a brand-new leak from Edward Snowden. Documents show the NSA is working to build a very expensive supercomputer that could crack most encryption codes used to protect government and business secrets.

Our Brian Todd is looking into that -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it's not just the codes that guard government and business secrets that the NSA will be able to breach. It's also the encryption many of us use every day to access our bank accounts, medical records.

When the NSA finishes the so-called quantum computer, just about all of that encryption can be broken and it may be pointless to try to protect anything.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Encryption, those scrambled codes that protect our most sensitive information online, shield the most top- secret, crucial data that governments possess from hackers and cyber- spies, now the NSA is reportedly developing what is called a quantum computer.

When it's complete, it will be able to break just about any encryption in the world.

(on camera): At CNN we use encryption like this RSA system to get into data that only we should see, like this human resources page, to authenticate us to get into those pages. When NSA gets that quantum computer, what will it be able to do?

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Quantum computing will be a game changer. It will make it a lot easier for NSA to break the codes that foreign governments use, that foreign criminal groups use.

TODD (voice-over): But NSA will also be able to break encryption codes that we all use to protect or bank accounts, e-mails, medical records. A privacy advocate said that may lead to a world with no secrets, where it would be almost pointless trying to protect anything. MARC ROTENBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER: We don't know for the most part in fact what the capabilities are, what steps are being taken to undermine the types of encryption that you and I might rely on, for example, when we go online to purchase a book or download some music.

TODD: The quantum program is revealed in documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden and reported by "The Washington Post." How would this supercomputer work? When a regular computer tries to solve a problem, it has to go through each possible solution one by one by one until it arrives at the correct answer.

What makes a quantum computer so special is that it simultaneously tries every possibility, arriving at the correct answer much quicker. According to the documents, the quantum computer is being developed at this lab in College Park, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Quantum computing is so difficult to master and this computer is so fragile, that it's being built in special room-sized cages that have to seal out any electromagnetic energy in the air, like cell phone or GPS signals.

How close is NSA to finishing the computer? Experts say it could be anywhere from five years away to a decade or more. Contacted by CNN, the NSA would not comment on this project.

ACOSTA: It seems we're doing a story on the NSA every day. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Turning to the Middle East, where Secretary of State John Kerry insists his peace mission is not mission impossible. He's engaging in intense talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

And our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has an update from Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Five months of handshakes and talks already, the ninth time Secretary Kerry has come to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders toward peace.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I plan to work with both sides more intensely in these next days.

ROBERTSON: Only four months to the talks' deadline and no agreement yet. Kerry upping the pressure for compromise, proposing a framework to reach a permanent status peace agreement, addressing core issues, borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and the end of conflict.

KERRY: It would create the fixed defined parameters by which the party would then know where they are going and what the end result can be.

ROBERTSON: A one-way ticket to peace, only Kerry on board so far.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: There's growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.

ROBERTSON: The Israeli prime minister unusually robust in his criticism of the Palestinian Authority president he is being asked to make peace with.

NETANYAHU: In recent weeks, Israel has been subjected to a growing wave of terrorist attacks. President Abbas didn't see fit to condemn these attacks.

ROBERTSON: So far, Kerry has had two long sessions with Netanyahu and one with Abbas, with more to come.

(on camera): No on-camera comments from the Palestinians so far this visit, although Palestinian who quit the negotiations recently says the talks are in crisis, that the gaps are getting wider and Israeli expectations are impossible to meet.

(voice-over): Kerry in no mood to quit.

KERRY: It will take compromise from both sides, but an agreed framework would be a significant breakthrough.

ROBERTSON: A significant breakthrough, though, that for now at least seems a significantly long way off.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Still ahead, President Obama's vacation obsession. We will talk about his golfathon in Hawaii and why his games can drag on for hours.

And then snow in New York, the first big test for New York's new mayor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: At long last, President Obama wraps ups his Hawaiian vacation this weekend. And if the past two weeks are any guide, he may try to work in at least one more game of golf before he leaves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Happy new year, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love you.

OBAMA: I love you back. ACOSTA (voice-over): After a long hard year, it appears President Obama needed an extra round of stress relief during his Hawaiian vacation. He's been spending most days on the golf course honing his swing and escaping the grind of leading the free world.

But even for this president, a day on the links can be frustrating. Mr. Obama is the latest in a long line of first golfers, in a sport many leaders have seen as a getaway from the White House bubble.

This week, "The New York Times" examined presidential styles, and whether their pace on the golf course might somehow mirror their approach to running. President Obama is a very deliberate and methodical player. It can take him up to six hours to finish one round, a stark contrast to some of his predecessors. George W. Bush and his father were known as speed demons on the golf course, though Bush 41 slowed down some when he played in the same tournament with Tiger Woods several years ago.

And then there's the man known as the comeback kid, Bill Clinton, who was famous for do-overs, or mulligans, as they're known to golfers. When President Obama was teeing off with Clinton, he reportedly was teed off by the frequent do-overs. According to the book "Double Down," Mr. Obama was frustrated by the distractions to his very focused style of play.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And all of them are better than me.

But let's bring in golf historian and Golf Channel contributor Martin Davis.

Martin, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

What about this notion that a presidential style or personality can be found in his or her golf game?

MARTIN DAVIS, GOLF HISTORIAN: It certainly can.

You look back at somebody like LBJ, who did play golf, wasn't known for it, but played the game. He would take congressional leaders out to play golf, and in the words they used then, he would jawbone Congress, and he got a lot of his legislation passed for the Civil Rights Act in particular.

ACOSTA: Why is the game so popular with commanders in chief? You know, I have always wondered this. Maybe they just get sucked into the game, you know, because it's a convenient, I guess, escape from the White House. There's several golf courses around the White House. Is that it? What is it?

DAVIS: It's a wonderful game, and I think it's a game that you can play when you're older, and people start to get into it, and it consumes you. I think you will see businesspeople, anyone that plays the games avidly once the bug bites them, it's -- it's got them. You know, every president since Taft has played except for Jimmy Carter. Most were very avid. Most of them weren't very good. A few were. John F. Kennedy was probably the best. Ike was probably the most avid. Wilson played, believe it or not, every day of his presidency, snow or not. He played every day.

ACOSTA: He played. How did he do that? I was just curious.

DAVIS: Well, remember, that was in the early 1900s. He would go out, and security wasn't I guess needed as much as it is now.

ACOSTA: That's true.

DAVIS: And he would go out and people play -- there used to be a group up in Westchester County that was reported every weekend in "The New York Times" at a course called Siwanoy called the Siwanoy Snowbirds. They would play -- they would paint their golf balls and play that way, but Wilson did it.

ACOSTA: And, Martin, we were just showing some pictures there of presidents over the years. We showed Eisenhower, the Bushes and Clinton and so forth. I guess who do you think is the best of the presidential golfers? Is there somebody who just stands out as the best one?

DAVIS: They say that Kennedy was, although he tried to hide his golf. He once placed at this course up at Cape Cod, played 17 holes and said I think I better walk in before the press sees me, because this is really a very -- at the time it was thought as a very Republican game, but given President Obama now, and given President Clinton, it's become a game for both parties.

ACOSTA: Yes, I would definitely say it's bipartisan now, there's no question about it.

And what is your favorite story, just looking back over the years, presidents in this sport?

DAVIS: I would think -- I think one of the great ones is about President Eisenhower. You know, it seems in the late '50s, television, and Arnold Palmer, and golf and Ike all came along together and the Masters.

It really -- it started the second really great golf boom in this country. Ike used to take a couple of weeks, and go down to Augusta and stay in one of the cabins and play. And he was there when the annual meeting was, and someone asked -- the chairman asked, does anybody have any questions or any motions? And Ike raised his hand.

At the time, he was president of the United States, and he said, there's a tree, a loblolly pine tree in the middle of the 17th fairway, just a little bit off to the left. I keep hitting my ball in there. Could we have it cut down? Well, since it was the president of the United States making the motion, they quickly ended the meeting, and they gaveled the meeting to a close. And to this day, that big pine is still there, and it's called Ike's Tree.

ACOSTA: That is great, terrific story. All right, Gary -- I mean, Martin Davis, golf historian, and Golf Channel contributor, thanks very much. A lot of fun looking back at those presidents over the years playing the game of golf. I wish I could play it well. I just need more time.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: We all do.

ACOSTA: All right, Martin, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Thank you.

He makes science fun, but now Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is diving into a serious debate against an advocate of creationism. He's joining us why to explain why. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: More cold is on the way, which means more tough choices for the Big Apple's new mayor. Bill de Blasio made a point to shovel his own driveway. There he is. But how did he manage with the rest of the city?

CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, tells us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York's new populist Mayor Bill de Blasio showing he's no stranger to a shovel, even posting on Twitter, clearing his own Brooklyn sidewalk.

DE BLASIO: In my house, it is my responsibility to keep that walk clear. Shoveling is a fine form of exercise. Let me just tell you. I didn't have to go to the gym today.

CANDIOTTI: An obvious contrast in style from his billionaire predecessor who lives on the New York's tony Upper East Side and got pummeled for a slow snow response three years ago.

DE BLASIO: I'm very proud of the people who work for this city.

CANDIOTTI: In his first test of mayor vs. nature, de Blasio heaped praise on road crews and their bosses, holdovers from the Bloomberg streets, to clear the streets. Ambulances that were stuck or couldn't get through streets back in 2010 were only delayed by a minute or so this time, according to the mayor.

A lot of New Yorkers gave him good reviews so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have been down here a number of times with the snowplows, and opened everything up. So, it's great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess he just got his first big assignment, right? From the perspective of this neighborhood, pretty good.

CANDIOTTI: Yet de Blasio is still getting blasted by critics over the stinging criticism leveled at now former Mayor Bloomberg during de Blasio's inauguration, as Bloomberg sat in a front-row seat.

LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC ADVOCATE: Housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multimillion- dollar condos.

CANDIOTTI: On Friday, the liberal-leaning "New York Times" weighed in, writing -- quote -- "Mr. Bloomberg deserved better than pointless and tacky haranguing from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio's campaign theme."

And progressive Democrats are watching closely too even when it comes to handling a snowstorm, for whether de Blasio can prove government, including hardworking sanitation workers, can work efficiently. For some, snow transcends politics.

JOHN DOHERTY, NEW YORK CITY SANITATION COMMISSIONER: Every mayor I have worked for, all they want is that snow to disappear and the people to be able to get out there as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: And the mayor was also asked about closing schools. After all, that forces hardworking parents to have to scramble for emergency care.

But in this case, de Blasio did close schools, just like his predecessor did during major storms. In this case, he said he did it because of these bitterly cold temperatures. You can see my breath, which could be potentially dangerous, especially for young children and the very old -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Another sign how big the microscope is in New York City, the mayor gets a very thorough review in terms of how he's handling this storm.

All right, Susan Candiotti, thank you very much.

CANDIOTTI: He always does.

ACOSTA: It's an age-old debate, evolution versus creationism. And it will soon play out in a whole new way.

The founder of a Kentucky museum devoted to promoting biblical creation is set to face-off with none other than Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

And Bill Nye joins us live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Bill, thank you very much for joining us.

We appreciate it.

How did this debate come about?

BILL NYE, "THE SCIENCE GUY": Well, a little over a year ago, I made a -- I mentioned something to the Associated Press about my concern about science literacy and people who want to teach that the Earth might be 10,000 years old in science class and how this would not be in the best interests of the United States, or, really, of the world.

And so one thing led to another and -- and this notorious or well-known creationist asked me to debate him.

And I said, OK.

ACOSTA: And let me -- let me bring in what the founder of The Creation Museum, who you will be debating, wrote about all of this. And we want to put this up on screen.

He says, "This debate will help highlight the fact that so many young people are dismissing the bible because of evolution and even many young people who had grown up in the church decided to leave the church because they saw evolution as showing the bible could not be trusted."

What do you make of that, Bill?

NYE: Well, as I say, I'm not going to attack or I'm not concerned about anybody's religion, per se. But the Earth is not 10,000 years old. Evolution is real. You and I are a result of it.

And this is important for our young people to know, because they are the future. And we have to have a scientifically literate populace in order to solve the world's problems, in order to -- to make the world better -- life better for as many people as possible in the coming decades.

So to have a -- to have this scientifically illiterate point of view in your neighborhood or in the state is not in anyone's best interests. And so...

ACOSTA: Right.

NYE: -- we're going to talk about it.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you, Bill, because not all -- not everybody is in your camp on this, even on the evolution side. One science blogger, Greg Laden, he's criticizing your participation in this debate. And he says -- let's put this up on the screen.

It says, "Bill Nye is not really an expert on evolution and is actually not that experienced in debates. Being really, really pro- science and science education is not enough. When they went in after Osama bin Laden, they did not send people who were really, really against terrorism. They sent in SEAL Team 6."

So what do you make of that criticism, Bill?

NYE: Well, for me, I think the word debate is used loosely here. I'm not going to change this guy's mind. I -- I imagine he'll fill the audience with his own supporters. But...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: You're going to be outnumbered there?

NYE: I believe so. Yes, I'd be surprised if I weren't, but bring it on. And the -- the thing is that for the people who live in that area, the Kentucky area adjacent to Cincinnati, you don't want science students exposed to the idea -- or but not exposed, given the idea that the Earth might be 10,000 years old. This is just -- or 6,000 years old.

This is not -- this is an economic concern. We don't want people in the future who are going to become our scientists and engineers to not grasp the importance of the process of science and how (INAUDIBLE)...

ACOSTA: And Bill, you said you were going to be...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- you were just saying...

NYE: -- our place in the world.

ACOSTA: -- you're going to be outnumbered there and you said, "Bring it on."

Are you going to win this debate?

NYE: Well, as I say, I don't think I'm going to be able to change this guy's mind. But I hope I'm able to influence some people in the area that this sort of thinking is not in the national interests. This is -- it's -- I -- I'm not sure -- really, this is one of the things I would like to find out, is if this guy really believes this or is he in it for some other reason, because it's so extraordinary. I mean it's so out of your everyday experience and it's so inconsistent with everything that we observe in nature. So a...

ACOSTA: And it's going to be a fascinating debate to watch, Bill...

NYE: -- I'm interested to see what he has to say.

ACOSTA: All right, very -- we're going to have to leave it there, but thanks for coming in and discussing this. It sounds like it's going to be a fascinating debate. NYE: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And we'll be watching.

Thanks very much, Bill Nye.

And that's it for now. Thank you very much. Bill -- excuse me -- Wolf Blitzer will be in next week.