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State Department Issues Travel Alert For Sochi Olympics; Interview with Ron Wyden; CDC: Widespread Flu Activity in 35 States; "Lone Survivor" Hits Theatres Today

Aired January 10, 2014 - 16:30   ET



SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But she shared this document with us. It shows she did have permission. Meanwhile, Willingham says the public safety department has called her. A police spokesman told CNN they will look into the threats against her.


GANIM: Now, Jake, of course, CNN's investigation was much, much bigger than just UNC. We interviewed dozens of people at several different universities and collected data on more than 1,000 different athletes across the country. We looked at the reading levels of many athletes and since that story has aired, I have heard from even more people who are either currently or used to work with athletes, all thanking us for talking about this issue -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sara, let's be honest here. Let's be frank. Student athletes not being the strongest academically, graduating barely able to read, is this ever going to change?

GANIM: You know, that is the question that I hear over and over and over again when I talk to a lot of people. People do not have a lot of faith that with so much money to be made in collegiate athletics, but things will change. However, I have to say, there is hope. There is hope when we talk to people.

TAPPER: Sara Ganim, thank you so much. Keep up the great work as always.

Coming up on THE LEAD, a new warning from the State Department for Americans traveling to Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. What prompted this alert? I'll ask a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Live in Los Angeles. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for your World Lead. Do not focus all your attention on nabbing one of those Olympic branded Russian nesting dolls just yet. Less than a month away from the start of Sochi Olympics, the State Department today issued a travel alert to Americans planning to attend the games. While saying there's no indication of a specific threat to U.S. citizens or institutions, state advises Americans should remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times. Now, the warning comes in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Volgograd just 600 miles from the site of the games and a main transit point for some people traveling to Sochi.

Here to talk about this, Democratic senator from Oregon, Ron Wyden, who is also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. You stated on the Intelligence Committee, Russian extremists have vowed to disrupt the games. Now we understand, of course, the classified nature of a lot of the information you know, but what can you tell us, if anything, about the threat and the State Department's warning today?

SENATOR RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Without getting into classified matters, I do believe that the threat of terrorism and the very, very hostile actions Russians have taken towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious about traveling over there.

TAPPER: So just to break it down, if a loved one of yours were planning on traveling to Sochi, what kind of advice would you give him or her? Would you say avoid crowded buildings, avoid crowds, always have an escape route? Don't go? What would you say?

WYDEN: I would say certainly follow the State Department travel advisories. I think they have consistently been on target and, as I have indicated, without talking about classified matters, the combination of the threat of terrorism and these exceptionally hostile actions towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious.

TAPPER: Do you think gay and lesbian Americans, LGBT Americans going to the games should be particularly on their guard?

WYDEN: Certainly the fact that the Russians have indicated that gay people are second-class citizens and exposed them to violence is certainly cause for gay folks to be thinking carefully about going there.

TAPPER: If we could, Senator, I'd like to shift the conversation to the National Security Agency. You met with President Obama in a meeting about possible reforms to the NSA programs in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations. You said you thought President Obama was still wrestling with these issues. Why do you think that is?

WYDEN: We had a 90-minute discussion yesterday, Jake, very specific, very focused. I was trying to communicate that yesterday is that our government has to be able to get all of the information it needs, when it needs it to protect our people, but the reality is collecting these millions and millions of phone records on law abiding Americans is neither effective and it certainly violates the rights of our people.

What we need to do, in effect, the intelligence community is always talking about getting a bigger and bigger haystack of information. What we need to do is focus on making sure that we can find those needles, so to speak, that really are the threats. TAPPER: Senator, as you know, people in the national security community argue that national security would be damaged if we stopped these programs, including the bulk collection metadata program. You know more about these programs than others. We were just earlier talking about terrorist threats. Is there a possibility that these bulk collection programs could help prevent a terrorist attack?

WYDEN: Jake, the president appointed five individuals, five experts on national security who certainly aren't shrinking violence on defense. I tell everybody, go read page 104 of their report. What they say is, number one, collecting all these phone records is not critical to preventing attacks.

Number two, you can get the information we need to protect our country with existing authorities, particularly emergency authorities. And number three, at the end of that page it says, even if you're trying to rule out dead ends.

In other words, you want to make sure you're not pursing approaches that won't work. You can't use metadata particularly well because it doesn't involve all of the phone companies.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. President Obama giving a speech on this next week. We hope you'll come back and talk to us in a week.

WYDEN: See you next week, count on it.

TAPPER: All right, it sounds good, Senator.

All right, when we come back, if you're young and healthy, watch out. The flu is spreading and it's the part of the population that is not terribly affected that is getting the worst of it.

Plus, surrounded by the enemy, only one man made it out alive. The true story behind the latest Hollywood blockbuster "Lone Survivor."


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Live from Los Angeles. In national news, in case that guy hacking in line in front of you or the co-worker who came to the office looking like an extra from "The Walking Dead," didn't give you a clue, we have reached the peak of flu season and in some areas it is hitting hard and spreading fast.

Ten children have already died from flu-related illnesses and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half the country now reports widespread flu activity. Now, while that's fairly normal for this time of year, in certain parts of Texas and in the Bay Area, overflow tents are being set up to deal with the growing number of flu patients.

The flu is more likely to affect young, healthy adults this time around that's because the most common strain being spread is H1N1, also known as our old nemesis, the swine flu. Joining me now live from Atlanta is Dr. Anne Schuchat. She is the director for National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Doctor, thanks for being here. Do we know why we're seeing more H1N1 cases this season compared to last?

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES: No. It's one of the good questions there is about influenza. The strains change year to year and this year it's a big H1N1 year here in the U.S. In Europe, they are seeing more of H3, but we know that the majority of cases we're seeing are H1N1 and that affects people under 65 more than the elderly. So it's really important for people to know it's not too late to get vaccinated and we know that people under 65 aren't as likely to get vaccinated as the elderly are. So remember it isn't too late to protect yourself against the flu this year.

TAPPER: That message for everybody listening right now, get a flu immunization if you haven't gotten one already. But it is odd to me and counterintuitive, what makes young and healthy people more susceptible to the H1N1 strain?

SCHUCHAT: There are probably two reasons. One is that the elderly probably were exposed to an H1N1-like strain when they were young so they have some natural immunity that has persisted and then in terms of the other reason is that nonelderly people are not just as likely to get vaccinated. We're doing better and better with children right now. Each year we're seeing rising rates of children getting vaccinated.

It's becoming a norm really for parents to know that getting their kids vaccinated is the right thing to do. But adults it's a little slower going and so we're really encouraging people, especially pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, the extremely obese. These are groups that can be very hard hit with flu when they get it and we're seeing a lot of hospitalizations in those populations.

TAPPER: How would somebody know that they have H1N1? Are the symptoms different than other flu strains?

SCHUCHAT: The flu looks like the flu whichever strain you are getting and so this isn't something that a person is going to know. We treat the different strains of flu the same way. If you are developing flu- like symptoms and are pregnant, elderly, very young, have medical conditions like asthma, you want to check with your doctor because you might need to be treated with anti-viral medicines. So flu doesn't look different if it's H1N1 or another strain.

TAPPER: Even with all of the warnings about the necessity of getting the flu vaccine you have already given to and I give you as much permission to issue as many as you want before our time is up. People still seem reluctant or hesitant. Do you have any idea why that is?

SCHUCHAT: I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about the flu vaccine. You can't get flu from the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine won't protect you against everything. Some people think that the stomach bug is a flu. Influenza is very different. It causes fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, but not everything that causes a cough or sore throat is influenza.

So there are misconceptions about the flu vaccine and that may be one of the key barriers. It's important for people to know the flu vaccine is safe. It's not perfect in terms of its effectiveness, but it's the best thing you can do to protect yourself from flu and to protect yourself from spreading flu to the people that you love.

TAPPER: And we talked about how ten children have died from flu- related illnesses. What's your advice for parents out there? How young is too young for a flu vaccine? At what age should they start to get one?

SCHUCHAT: Each one of these deaths are so tragic and we have already lost ten children this year from influenza. Only one of those children was vaccinated. So I strongly recommend parents to make sure your children are vaccinated appropriately. We recommend everybody 6 months of age and over get a flu vaccine. It can be a shot or a spray depending on your age and your medical conditions.

And some children under 9 years of age need two doses. So if you're a parent and your child already got a flu vaccine, you might want to make sure, check with your doctor or nurse about whether the child needs a second dose during the season.

TAPPER: All right, listen up, folks. Dr. Schuchat knows what she is talking about. Thank you so much, Dr. Schuchat, for coming on the show.

SCHUCHAT: Thank you.

TAPPER: When we come back, not only do we have actor, Mark Wahlberg, joining us, we also have the Navy SEAL he portrays in "Lone Survivor," Marcus Luttrell as the harrowing true tale opens in theatres everywhere today.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Live from Los Angeles. Time now for the Pop Culture Lead, the new film "Lone Survivor" opens today in theatres and is expected to take the weekend Box Office. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg and details real Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's incredible fight for survival and the deadly battle that claimed the lives of 19 service members.

I recently sat down with Luttrell and Wahlberg in New York City to talk about the film and at one point it got a little tense.


TAPPER (voice-over): It was an operation that went wrong in almost every way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you serious? TAPPER: It started into a mountainous part of Eastern Afghanistan that they were entirely unfamiliar with Navy SEALs Marcus Luttrell, Michael Murphy, Danny Deets and Matthew Axelson were supposed to quickly and quietly confirm the presence of a high ranking Taliban target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad guy, senior Taliban commander.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Killed 20 Marines last week.

TAPPER: What they got instead was an all-out assault.


TAPPER: Battling 50 fighters down a 10,000 foot mountain. There would be rescuers who were shot down when a rocket grenade took out their helicopter. "Lone Survivor" is based on the book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell. The film tells his harrowing true story. Marcus and his battle buddies outgunned and fighting for their lives.

In all, 19 Navy SEALs and soldiers died in the operation. Luttrell, the lone survivor, was saved by Afghan villagers who risked their lives to save his when he crawled into their community.

(on camera): Marcus, it must have been a difficult decision to let them make the movie. How close is to what happened?

MARCUS LUTTRELL, U.S. NAVY SEAL (RETIRED): I would say it was as close to as it could have been without having to kill some of these guys up on the mountain filming it.

TAPPER: What do they think?

LUTTRELL: From my understanding, everything was positive and that's all you can ask for.

TAPPER: One of the big questions that I have, as someone who covers the war in Afghanistan, do the American people want to hear these stories? They are incredibly powerful. This movie is very, very compelling. Do they want to know about it?

MARK WAHLBERG, ACTOR, "LONE SURVIVOR": Well, they should know about it. They need to know about it and it's my job to get as many people into the theatres to see it as possible. I've never felt more strongly about something that I've been a part of. I've never been more proud to be a part of a project like this. This is the first time I've ever made a movie about me as an actor, as a performance. It was always about telling my story.

TAPPER (voice-over): There are some buzz Wahlberg may be up for his third Oscar nomination for this role, yet more recognition for a wild show business career that launched as a rapper with roles along the way as a boxer, a thief.

WAHLBERG: It's over when I say it's over.

TAPPER: And a porn star.

WAHLBERG: I want you to know I plan on being a star, a big, bright shining star.

TAPPER (on camera): You're a devout Catholic. How important is your role does your faith play in picking parts?

WAHLBERG: I try to be as open as possible in the kind of roles that I consider. I don't want to limit myself as an actor. I have made some roles that I think would be questionable. Certainly to my parish priest and other people, but I hope that God is a movie fan.

TAPPER (voice-over): It's clear for Marcus Luttrell the battle, almost a decade ago, still cuts close to the bone today.

(on camera): One of the emotions I felt while watching the film is, first of all, just the hopelessness of the situation, how horrific it was and also just all that loss of life of these brave American men. And I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don't want any more senseless American death and at the same time I know that there are dead people there and good people who need help. Was that intentional?

LUTTRELL: Well, I don't know what part of the film you were watching, but hopelessness really ever came into it. Where did you see that? We never felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like we were losing unless we were actually dead. That never came across in the battle and while we were fighting on the mountain and it was just us against them.

TAPPER: Hopelessness, just the sense of all these wonderful people who died. It seemed senseless. I don't mean to disrespect in any way but it seemed senseless, all of these wonderful people who were killed for an op that went wrong.

LUTTRELL: We spend our whole lives defending this country so you tell me because we were over there doing what we were told to do was senseless and they died for nothing?

TAPPER: No, I'm not saying that at all.

LUTTRELL: That's what you said. So, let me just say that, yes, it went bad for us over there but that was our job. That's what we did. We didn't complain about it. We went out there and did what we did best and at the end, we weren't standing. They were. We were lucky. I was lucky. And the rest of the guys, we fought as hard as we possibly could. Never felt sorry for ourselves while we were out there. This was a job we were going after a high value target and, you know, it got switched on us.

TAPPER: Maybe it's just the difference between what a civilian feels when he watches this versus what a soldier does.

LUTTRELL: Absolutely. WAHLBERG: I mean, I completely agree, but I don't think his opinion is ever going to change. That's his job. I respect that. I understand. I understand. The more time I spend with Marcus, the more I really start to understand who they are and what they do for us and it's pretty amazing.


TAPPER: I found the film, "Lone Survivor" very, very compelling as I found the book by Luttrell. The film, of course, being a movie took liberties with the true story that led to that horrible day with 19 Americans killed, the largest single loss of life since World War II for the men of Naval Special Warfare. There are some important facts about the actual "Operation Red Wings" to keep in mind when and if you see the movie. You should see the movie.

Facts that don't necessarily fit into the narrative ark of the film, I'm not faulting the moviemakers for that. Their job is different from mine. Keep in mind, these four Navy SEALs were inserted into these mountains to try to get eyes on an insurgent leader named Ahmad Shah and they did not have enough backup and they were put into treacherous area that they and the U.S. military knew precious little about.

A military source deeply familiar with the operation told CNN that there are reasons to seriously question the decision making at the command level that led to the operation, the planning, the supplies, whether he was at that point worth the effort. As Ed Derek wrote in "Marine Corps Gazette" in 2011, the opening phase of "Red Wings" was an unmitigated monumental disaster, one of the greatest, if not the greatest in recent military history.

Because so many resources were pushed to aid the recovery effort, other planned operations throughout Afghanistan had to be delayed and many cancelled altogether, Ahmad Shah, a once unknown local Taliban aspirant, gained instant global fame and saw his ranks, finances and armaments enabling him to renew his attacks with greater intensity and frequency.

Sadly, many of my military sources agree with Derek's assessment. Shah was killed by Pakistani security forces in 2010. To this date, no one in the command structure of the U.S. military has been officially held accountable for the very questionable planning that cost 19 good men their lives. May they rest in peace and may their families and Marcus Luttrell find peace here on earth.

Makes sure to follow me on twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. Check out our show page at for video, blogs and extras. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper in Los Angeles. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is also here in Los Angeles in "THE SITUATION ROOM."