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Obama to Unveil NSA Reforms; "Rich Hill" Explores the Lives of Three Boys in Missouri; Google Tests "Smart" Contact Lenses

Aired January 17, 2014 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me. In just about half an hour, President Obama will unveil reforms to the NSA. The spy agency and the Obama administration came under heavy scrutiny after leaked documents from Edward Snowden showed the agency collected data on phone calls and e- mails both here and abroad.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta joins us now with a preview what the president might say. Good morning.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. About 30 minutes from now, you're going to hear the president come out over at the Justice Department and lay out these reforms for what he would like to see take place in terms of changes over at the National Security Agency. And Carol, as we know, we have been reporting all morning what some of those changes are going to be like.

But I wanted to direct you if I could to that live shot of where the president will be delivering that speech inside the Justice Department. We understand that the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper; the director of the CIA, John Brennan; and Congressman Peter King, who has been very much involved on this issue, have all been spotted in the audience there or milling around in that area.

So this is going to be a pretty big event in terms of who was going to be watching the president deliver these remarks. But Carol, getting back to some of these changes we've been talking about this all morning. I think these are significant changes that are going to be happening over at the NSA.

The president, from what we understand, by talking to senior administration officials, he is going to be looking for ways to hold that bulk phone metadata that is collected at the National Security Agency, that that data be held somewhere outside of government hands. The -- the administration hasn't really laid out at this point we'll look for the president to lay out exactly where that might take place. That absence of that information might indicate to you, Carol, that they are going to need some time to develop that in terms of where that data may be stored over the long haul.

Also, another big, significant development here the NSA will have to go to a federal surveillance court in order to access that metadata, that is something that the NSA was not required to do before and so they will have to do that. And then when they go to that surveillance court, Carol there will be a new person on hand for those proceedings, a privacy advocate to sort of represent the privacy concerns of everyday Americans.

And also, one thing that we do know from talking to administration officials and they have been talking about this for some time, they've been hinting at this for some time, they are going to be scaling back their surveillance of foreign leaders or heads of state as they call them.

So there are a lot of critics out there who are saying the president is punting a lot of these issues or really is sort of glossing over some of the problems at the NSA. But these are some changes that are going to be happening over at the NSA that you are going to hear the president talk about in about 30 minutes from now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right Jim Acosta thanks for the preview live from the White House. I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer now. Good morning Wolf.


COSTELLO: I just interviewed the former Secretary of Defense who said any change in the law in regards to the NSA would endanger the country. So how -- go ahead.

BLITZER: The president obviously is going to disagree with that because he's going to make some significant changes. Clearly the changes won't go far enough from those who are upset about the privacy violations if you will. On the other hand, it can't go too far from those who say as you just heard that any of these changes are going to undermine U.S. national security.

What he is going to try do is find that fine line where you can make some of these reforms without undermining national security. You see some of the proposed changes that he's got in mind right now revamping programs in order to address the privacy and civil liberty concerns.

They'll also seek as Jim Acosta was just telling us former FISA court approval before going in and actually reviewing some of the data that's been collected. And find a way and this is an important point, Carol, find a way to have this data stored outside of the NSA but in an area where the government can quickly get to it if they deem there is a national security requirement.

If for example, they see a phone number of a suspected terrorist some place overseas, let's say Somalia or Yemen, or any place else, they see that that call was made to somebody in the United States. They then want to go -- go to that FISA court, that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, get permission, find out who the recipient of that call was and then they could presumably, if there is some sort of terrorist threat, work on that front. So they are trying to walk this fine line. It's obviously very complicated, very complex.

But even the president, I think, has shifted, has moved over these past six months since the initial Snowden leaks to an area where I think he is going to want to see some more transparency and some greater protection of privacy.

COSTELLO: Of course the big irony here the president is doing this because of Edward Snowden, who is still a wanted man and the president wants to file criminal charges against him. It just seems odd.

BLITZER: Well those charges have been filed. And he is a wanted man. And if he comes back to the United States, brought back to the United States, there is going to be a trial and he could serve many, many years in prison unless there is some sort of clemency or plea bargain or whatever.

I don't necessarily completely rule out those possibilities but he's been charged. He has major charges he is facing right now. He's got the protection of the Russians right now and maybe at some point, he will get the protection of some other foreign government that we know. He would like to go to Brazil, for example. But the U.S. would like to get Snowden.

To so many in the national security area he is considered a traitor, someone who betrayed national security secrets, secrets that he had sworn to protect. Others see him as a whistle-blower, someone who sparked this debate that's now unfolding for the past six months. And I don't think there is any doubt that if it hadn't been for Snowden, we probably wouldn't be hearing from the president today with these kinds of changes. So it's just one of those ironic points you point out.

COSTELLO: Wolf Blitzer, we're going to see at the top of the hour, thanks so much. And I'll just reiterate stay with us. Our special coverage of the president's announcement anchored by Wolf starts in about 20 minutes. We'll be back in a minute.


COSTELLO: It's one of the largest and most well-known independence film festivals in the United States. The Sundance Film Festival kicks off this weekend it's celebrating its 30th birthday. Among the more than 100 films premiering is "Rich Hill", it's a story about three boys navigating the road from boyhood to adolescence in a small Missouri town.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People think that we're poor around here but definition of poor is no roof, no lights, no water, no food. We have lights, we have water, we have a roof, we have food, we have money. We're not poor.


COSTELLO: CNN's Miguel Marquez is live with the makers of "Rich Hill" from Park City, Utah. It sounds like a fascinating film actually especially in today's world right.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it says a lot there Carol. We are actually at the CNN film's lounge as well which I will say will be the hottest place, at 8:30 in the morning right now. But later on, it's going to be very, very cool here. But right now I have two filmmakers who are in competition here, 16 documentaries were selected out of thousands of films. "Rich Hill" is one of those. It is a very, very intimate portrait of the wrong side of the tracks.

Who are these characters?

TRACY DROZ TRAGOS, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, "RICH HILL": There is Andrew, Harley and Apache, and these are young kids that are coming of age. And they are just like a lot of American kids but they are also struggling to survive.

MARQUEZ: And I will it is -- its' hard to watch at times but you also feel it is emotional. And you feel -- you feel for them and you feel a little hope at the end. What's the takeaway? What's the -- you guys worked two years on this film. What did you take away? What did you come away with?

ANDREW DROZ PALERMO, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, "RICH HILL": Yes, I think -- I mean, for us it was just how -- how much love is within these homes despite having so little. I found that really beautiful and touching and continually surprising throughout production.

MARQUEZ: The other thing that's amazing is that these individuals are coming here to Sundance. First premier of this film is tomorrow -- Sunday night. They are coming here.

TRAGOS: Yes they are.

MARQUEZ: What is that like? What are they talking about?

TRAGOS: They are really, really, really excited about it.

PALERMO: Super excited.

TRAGOS: Yes and this is the first time that you know they have been on airplanes. And it will be an experience. We are also trying to be sensitive to it. Because I think it might be very shocking, what they see here. It's shocking for any of us but --

MARQUEZ: Two years to make this documentary?


MARQUEZ: That's a labor of love?

PALERMO: Yes of course, yes Tracy and I are first cousins. And we wanted to go to our hometown, our family's hometown. And that was two years ago when we first met Apache and have followed him since then. And it's been just passion for us.

MARQUEZ: It is also a very personal story for you both.

PALERMO: Absolutely.

MARQUEZ: All right thank you very much. Very good luck to you. TRAGOS: Thanks.

PALERMO: Thank you very much.

MARQUEZ: Carol, they are one of 16, in thousands of films submitted for entry.

COSTELLO: Don't let them go. Miguel, don't let them I understand well hold on a second.

MARQUEZ: And they actually -- I'm not letting them go at all.

COSTELLO: Because I would like to ask them one more question. And I hope you can pass it along because I know they can't hear me.


COSTELLO: I was struck by that --

MARQUEZ: Carol has a question for you all.

COSTELLO: OK I was struck by the boy's definition of poor. Poor has become sort of a dirty word in this country.


COSTELLO: People don't like to admit that they are poor but we have a big problem with being poor in America right now. What is -- I mean can you ask them to talk about that? What is their definition of poor?

MARQUEZ: Andrew, so their from "Rich Hill" as well Andrew when he talks about being poor and the definition of poor, it's something that reminds me of LBJ and the war on poverty from 50 years ago as well -- echoes of that.


MARQUEZ: What did you come away with on what is poverty in America?

PALERMO: That's a hard question to answer.

MARQUEZ: How did they define it and why does he not see himself as poor?

TRACY DROZ TRAGOS, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, "RICH HILL": I mean I think poverty in America doesn't look like it did 50 years ago. One thing we've noticed is that our kids, our subjects really look like every other kid at the high school, for example. They were very much able to blend in. And there is some shame about not having as much as everybody else.

Because when you are in America, you see it is the land of plenty and there is media and what everybody else has. But when you go into the homes, they don't have very much. They have very, very, very little. That's where you can really see the circumstances and the challenges and that's when we really found the direction of our film, was in going into the homes and seeing how hard it was.

MARQUEZ: It is that veil that you cannot pierce. We see it as we drive by on the freeway but we can not see it. You guys, because you are from that town, because it is such a personal story, you got in.

It is an amazing film. If you don't see it here, you will see it somewhere very soon in months to come -- "Rich Hill". Many other great films here at Sundance -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Thanks so much, Miguel. I appreciate that. We'll be right back.

Marquez: You got it.


COSTELLO: Forget Google Glass, the tech company has just announced it is testing contact lenses, not to make you see better or connect your eyes to the Internet but to help people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels. This is amazing. Joining us to discuss this is Brett Larson. He is the host of TechBytes.


COSTELLO: So Brett, how would this work?

LARSON: It is kind of fascinating -- right? It is a contact lens. It's got censors on it that detect the glucose levels in your tears. So it's -- for someone who's diabetic it means no more pinpricks on the finger to check the glucose levels or that constant need to find out how much sugar they have or how much -- I'm sorry -- how much insulin that they need to inject themselves with throughout the day.

COSTELLO: How does it -- like it doesn't have a battery. How would it charge up?

LARSON: Right. Unfortunately, you don't need to stand next to a wall outlet all day and power this thing up. But if you take a look at it, it's got these tiny little dots you can see right there, those two little censors. There's a sensor there and then one of them is actually power supply.

So we are assuming that when it sits overnight or when its' cleaned, it charges up. You can see there's the censor. Then the ring around your eye is actually going to act as an antenna. So it's going to be able to transmit whatever this censor picking up, the data that it's picking up from your tears, finding out about your glucose levels and then that tiny little chip is what does all the censors.

So it's going to have a tiny little amount of power on it, probably just enough to keep the stuff working. And what's fascinating about this is it may actually be able to work without a whole lot of power, without the need for even a battery because it could just be a matter of these materials sort of changing how they flex or how they respond when they come in contact with different levels of glucose so that the censor can say "OK, it's too high, send out the alarm." COSTELLO: So how do you get the results then? How are those recorded and where can you see them?

LARSON: Well now they're talking about a couple of different things. In one instance, it would transmit that information. So we could say it could go to a censor you maybe wear on your belt or maybe an app that you have running on your Smartphone.

In another instance, they are talking about actually putting tiny little LEDs inside the contact lens so that it can change color depending on your glucose level. This is very fascinating, a little frightening at the same time that we are going to put this kind of stuff into our eye but what a great use of technology.

COSTELLO: Oh you're not kidding and what a great way for Google to expand its business, right?

LARSON: Right. Absolutely. And you know, we have heard a lot about Google lately. They just purchased Nest. They want to get into our homes. The Google Glass has been sort of lukewarmly received. So something like this, they are going to go into the medical field, which is huge.

And I think there is also going to be a lot of other applications that we could use for this. Imagine if we could wear a contact lens or put a contact lens into a senior patient who is at a stroke risk or someone who's at a risk for heart attack where it could still have that same ability to sense what's going on in your body and tell you before something becomes critical.

Hey this is becoming a problem. These levels are up, this has spiked. You need to sit down. You need to call 911.

COSTELLO: It's fascinating. Brett Larson, thanks so much for -- really thank you so much.

We're back in a minute.


COSTELLO: I want to thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. Of course we are just minutes away from President Obama and his unveiling of new limits on NSA surveillance. We are going to carry that announcement live for you.

So I want to hand it over to Wolf Blitzer in Washington to start our special coverage. Take it away, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington. We have important news we are following right now. We have all of our reporters standing by.

This is an important day here in the nation's capital because the president of the United States only moments from now is about to deliver a major speech on privacy, diplomacy, politics, and technology, most of all on national security.

Six months after Edward Snowden shocked the world with his secrets, he exposed U.S. government surveillance, President Obama is now unveiling reforms aimed at four key audiences: the U.S. Intelligence community; a vocal and bipartisan coalition of privacy defenders in congress; foreign leaders who found themselves the subject of NSA surveillance; and technology companies that feel pressured, compromised and violated by U.S. demands.

A senior administration official says this morning that the president plans to require the NSA to get approval from the secret intelligence court to access what is called metadata on American's telephone calls -- that information about the calls, the numbers, the times, the durations but not the content of the calls. At some point, the president will require that that data be transferred out of government hands.

I want to bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's standing by. Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta; our chief political analyst Gloria Borger -- we're awaiting the president.

Jim Acosta -- he's over at the Justice Department. That's where he's delivering these remarks. Explain why he selected the Justice Department to deliver important reform proposals to NSA surveillance.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OCRRESPONDENT: A couple of reasons why -- Wolf. The president wants to send two messages and one is about law and order and national security. The president I think, in addition to these reforms he's going to lay out is also going to present a stout defense of these programs in terms of what they do for the American people, that they do provide national security for the United States, not only to Americans domestically but around the world, that these programs are also necessary to protect U.S. allies.

I think you are going to hear the president talk about that. But he is also in addition to that Wolf, going to talk about how technology is advancing so quickly and we've seen that in these disclosures from Edward Snowden. That is now time for reform.

And that is why the president is moving forward with these proposals that he's going to lay out in a few minutes over at the Justice Department.

The other reason why he's at the Justice Department is because he wants to tip his hat to these privacy concerns that you just talked about. The administration has been telling us for several days now that the president believes that a part of a national security is that people feel secure in terms of their own privacy. So I think you're going to hear a nod to that as well.

And Wolf as you mentioned, these reforms that the president is going to talk about, yes, he is going to talk about the need to store that bulk phone metadata at an outside of government location. The question at this point, Wolf, and it will be interesting to hear just how the president addresses this is where that data is going to be held. Because at this point, the phone companies, the carriers have been saying we don't want that data, we don't want to have the liability for holding that data.

And so, the government is going to basically have to engage in this review process where the president is going to take input from the Attorney General, the intelligence committee, also Congress as to where that collection will be held. And for now that means for all practical matters that this data is going to at the National Security Agency.

The other very important part of all this when the NSA wants to access that data, you keep in mind, they are going to continue to collect that data. When they want to access that data, they are going to have to go to that federal surveillance court. That is another big part of these reforms. That is something that did not exist before -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And the president has until the end of March to go ahead and find out where that data will be stored.

Jim Sciutto, you are watching what is going on. Are the reforms the president's expected to announce today like to satisfy those critics like Edward Snowden for example?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a good question. I mean clearly these reforms are a bit more aggressive than I think some people watching this. And it is my information they were debating some of these key issues right up until the final hours. It shows you the sensitivity of them.

And as you look at them they did -- it does appear the president is accepting the two most significant recommendations from his own intelligence reform panel. One of them was to have judicial review for these searches. Senior administration officials have indicated he's going to do that.

Two, they recommended moving that data out of government hands. The trouble is he's punted on the most difficult question there which is, where do you then put it. Because as Jim noted, telephone companies don't want it. Do you create a third entity? That's going to be a difficult question to answer.

And a final thing just for our viewers out there, at the end of the day, this metadata will still be collected. And the NSA will still have access to it. They're going to have to go through more safeguards. They're going to have to get judicial review but when needed, when they determine that there is a national security interest, they are still going to be able to do that. And I think that's just something that needs to be made clear.

You know, it is a change. It is a step forward but will that satisfy some of the most severe critics? I don't think so.

BLITZER: We've seen a significant shift in the president, I think over these past many years. One stance he had, very concerned about privacy violations when he was a United States Senator from Illinois.