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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview with New York Congressman Peter King; NSA Surveillance Changes; Online Avengers: Saviors or Tyrants?; Putin: You Can Feel Free, Relaxed

Aired January 17, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is Edward Snowden permitting himself a smile somewhere in the single-digit temps of Russia?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. His hand forced by NSA leak source Edward Snowden, President Obama today ordering a number of changes to surveillance programs. What it all means for your privacy and security.

The politics lead. Two Bushes in the Oval Office is plenty. I'm not quoting critics of Presidents 41 or 43. I'm paraphrasing the woman one calls of them wife and the other one calls mom. Former first lady Barbara Bush not too keen on her son Jeb running in 2016.

And the pop culture lead. Now, you can blame "Sex and the City" for a lot of things. Unrealistic expectations for romance might be one of them, an obsession with Jimmy Choos, but is a risk of a shortened life span another? Well, the surgeon general says for one group of viewers it's kind of a Mr. Big deal.

Good afternoon, everyone. We're beginning with breaking news coming out of Philadelphia. After a week full of shootings in the headlines, authorities tell CNN that at least two students are hurt after shots were reportedly fired at the Delaware Valley Charter High School in Philly. They also tell us that the shots may have come from outside the school through a window.

Police are on the scene right now. We will, of course, monitor the situation and bring you more information as it develops.

Turning to the national lead, you were never supposed to know that the government was collecting your phone records and putting them in a massive database. It was built in secret, it operated in secret, and it likely would have stayed a secret if former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had not leaked it to the world.

Now, with the cat well out of the bag and coughing up hairballs on nation Oval Office carpet, President Obama is ordering changes to the way the American government spies. He announced a number of reforms to NSA programs today, including the bulk phone record collection that is done under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have directed the attorney general to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency.

Step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself.


TAPPER: So let me try to translate that for you from president-ese.

Up until now, analysts could pull up your phone records if they decided there was a reasonable suspicion about your number. Now they will have to ask Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission. Of course, the FISA court does operation in secret, so keep that in mind.

Also, the president saying he'd like to move control of the NSA phone record database from the government to a third party. He's giving his advisers 60 days to come up with options for that. Bottom line, someone will still be collecting your phone records, but the controls on who can use it are supposed to be tighter.

Other proposed changes include ending surveillance on foreign leaders unless there are specific security concerns. The president also called on Congress to create an independent panel of advocates to weigh in on cases before the secret FISA court. And he says the White House will appoint a senior official to implement these changes.

Now, if it weren't for the man whom the president once dismissed as nothing more than a -- quote -- "hacker," Edward Snowden, the man labeled by many in our government to be a traitor, it's highly unlikely President Obama would have gone before the American public and ordered changes to these spying programs because we would not even have known they existed.

Snowden is presumably still in temporary asylum in Russia with felony charges waiting for him back at home if he ever sets foot here again. And the data he stole is still being used to break scoop after scoop after scoop. Just yesterday, "The Guardian" newspaper reported that the NSA is collecting almost 200 million text messages around the globe every day.

Let's bring in Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist with First Look Media. He was the first to use information given to him by Snowden to break stories of NSA surveillance. In the spring, Glenn has a book coming out called "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State."

Glenn, thanks for being here. Let's get right to it. The president announcing five reforms. Perhaps the most notable one has to do with bulk phone record collection, so-called Section 215. Its collection of metadata is going to continue. It's just a third party may now be in charge of the database.

Here's why President Obama argues this collection needs to continue to be stored.


OBAMA: The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar, made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but it could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the United States.


TAPPER: So the president argues, Glenn, that the data is used to map the communications of terrorists so law enforcement can see who they may be in contact with and see it as quickly as possible.

If it's stored somewhere else, does it make sense?

GLENN GREENWALD, FIRST LOOK MEDIA: (AUDIO GAP) ... that statement that he just made, which is that they are completely contradicted by everyone who has looked at that question, beginning with his own White House panel, as well as a federal court judge, that both said that there is zero evidence, zero, that this metadata program is actually effective in stopping any terrorist plots, as well as leading experts in al Qaeda, such as Lawrence Wright and Peter Bergen, both of whom have said that the idea that this program would have helped stop 9/11 is ludicrous, since the government had all of the data that it would have needed to stop the program and just didn't even know what it had because it had too much, which means collecting more actually makes it harder to stop terrorism problems.

I think the real question is, should the government in any form, no matter who is holding it, be forcing the retention of all of our phone data, even though we are law-abiding innocent citizens? It's really -- the question of who holds it I think is a trivial one. The bigger question is, why should the government be keeping all of this data on us at all?

TAPPER: I guess the counterargument would be, if they had been able to map that call to that known al Qaeda operative and see that that individual who placed the call was actually physically in the United States, maybe something would have been different.

GREENWALD: But, Jake, nobody in the debate at all is opposed to targeted surveillance, meaning taking the people for whom there's evidence to believe they're engaged in terrorist organizations or involved in terrorist plots and placing them under very careful surveillance.

The question really is what kind of values do we have as a country? We could eliminate all sorts of crimes, Jake, like rape and murder and kidnapping and pedophilia if we just do away with the requirement that police officers first get a search warrant before entering our house, or if we let the government put video cameras in all of our homes and offices and watch what we are doing all the time.

We make the choice that we'd rather not do that because we'd rather live with a greater risk of crime than let the government invade our privacy. The fact that there's a half of 1 percent chance that it could have helped a terrorist plot 11 years ago in terms of detection is hardly a reason to do this massive, ubiquitous surveillance program.

TAPPER: Glenn, the president also noted that it's possible Americans may regret weakening the NSA's power if something terrible happens, as seems inevitable. Take a listen.


OBAMA: The men and women at the NSA know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots.


TAPPER: That's true, isn't it?

GREENWALD: This is just fear-mongering.

If you go back and listen to the statements of Bush officials, who President Obama used to routinely mock, when they defended all of their war on terror programs, they would say the same thing. Our responsibility is to keep everyone safe. If we don't do this, we're going to be criticized.

If you're a leader, you don't govern in fear. Oh, my God, I need to do this because if I don't, people might criticize me in the future. No, I don't think Americans after the debate that we have had are ever going to turn to the United States and say why didn't you increase the powers of the NSA or keep the same?

All Americans, polls show, clearly want serious reform and that's what I think Democratic leaders in a democracy ought to be responding to.

TAPPER: Glenn, lastly, I don't know if you have heard from Ed Snowden since the president's speech. But, if you have, tell us about it, and, if not, I know you do communicate with him on occasion. Has he gotten any measure of satisfaction from the fact that the president is being forced to address this, make some changes?

GREENWALD: You know, I will let him speak for himself through his representatives.

But what I will say is I do speak with him regularly. And he's been incredibly gratified by the debate not only in the United States, but around the world that has been obviously triggered exclusively by the courageous whistle -blowing that he's done, by the seriousness with which governments and populations around the world have taken this debate, and the very bipartisan movement in the U.S. government.

There are not very many bipartisan movements these days, but there is a serious bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Congress to impose real limits on what the government can do to our privacy. And he's extremely gratified and I think proud by the role that he played in triggering that debate.

TAPPER: Glenn Greenwald, thank you so much for your time.

GREENWALD: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Members of Congress were in the room today to take in the president's remarks.

Judicial Committee Chairman and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy had a pretty sweet front-row seat. And he took full advantage by snapping some pics the old-fashioned way, with a huge camera. I guess at least he didn't try to take a selfie.

Also in the audience was Republican Congressman and former Homeland Security Chairman Peter King. He sat behind NSA Director General Keith Alexander.

He joins me now from New York.

Congressman King, thanks so much for joining us.

You just heard from Glenn Greenwald, who has been very critical of these NSA programs. He said there is no evidence that this metadata program is effective. What's your response?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I, first of all, entirely disagree with Glenn Greenwald.

And I really have no respect for him or his accomplice, Edward Snowden. I thought the key part, the key takeaway from the president's speech today is that basically the NSA program is going to remain intact.

Now, I didn't think any changes were called for, any so-called reforms. But the fact is, the ones that the president made today are really minimal. First of all, as Glenn Greenwald complained, the metadata program is going to continue. And the president said that it should go to a third party, but he didn't say whom, because his panel recommended the phone companies, and he said they don't want it.

The private sector doesn't want it. I don't know who that third party would be. And, to me, it's much more efficient to have the NSA keep it. Now, if they can find another agency within the government or set up some sort of an apparatus by which this can be done, as long as the NSA can move quickly to protect us against plots, that's all that is necessary, that the data was there and the NSA is able to move quickly.

TAPPER: Now, Congressman, I understand that one argument is, you never know, we might need this data. But can you point to a specific example when having this metadata stopped a terrorist attack?

KING: I can certainly give you one example right away of when it was part of the mosaic and very helpful.

When we had the Zazi-attempted subway attack back in 2009 in New York, it was under Section 702 that the NSA was able to first find out that Zazi was in contact and that he was going to carry out the attack, but then under Section 215C, they were able to find out his accomplice. And that person is now doing a life sentence.

So what it is able to do is, it's part of the mosaic. It can take information and enable you to drill down. We found out who else was involved in that plot because specifically of 215C, which is domestic, and 702, which is foreign.

And there's any number of other cases where it's part of the mosaic that is used. And, again, I think what was significant and what really has only come out in the last several weeks -- and I wish the president had said this sooner -- is there has not been one abuse. Of all the documents that Snowden has released and all of the hysterical talk on the front pages of so many newspapers, there has not been one abuse of the NSA or by the NSA that's been -- that anyone has found.

And that I think is very significant. With all these billions pieces of data that they have, not one abuse, and also we have not been attacked in 12 years. So I really wonder why people like Snowden and Greenwald and others and some others in the Congress and Senate are so intent on making the NSA the enemy when all they are doing is trying to protect us and doing it within the strictest constitutional guidelines.

TAPPER: Congressman, wasn't there an example from an NSA inspector general report where individuals were using some of the surveillance methods to spy on ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, that sort of thing?

KING: Yes, there were five or six people in the entire course of it which had nothing to do with politics. It was people spying on some girlfriends and some other employees.

But you take any police department, you take any government agency, you take any private corporation, and if you can't find five or six incidents over the years where somebody has abused their power, that's one thing.

But here's a case where nothing was done to the general public, nothing was done politically, nobody was done governmentally. There is always, unfortunately, human nature being what it is, no one is going to be perfect. But the fact is, there's been no abuse of the public.

There's been no attempt to use this for political reasons. And I would stack that record against any other either government or even private sector entity.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Peter King, thanks. We will have you back again to keep talking about these important issues. We appreciate it.

We want to take you back to breaking news we're monitoring right now in Philadelphia, where at least two students have been injured in a shooting at the Delaware Valley Charter High School. Police say they do not currently have an active shooter situation there. Authorities have indicated to CNN that the shots may, I emphasize may, have come through a window from outside the school.

The injured students have been taken to the hospital. No word on their conditions. Police are asking the parents not rush to the school to pick up their children. We are keeping a close eye on this story. We will continue to take you back to Philadelphia as more information is known.

Coming up, it's the company responsible for the chemical leak that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands of people. Could they get away without having to pay for it?

Plus, students, faculty, and alumni asking a lot of questions over our investigation over the high number of college athletes who are reading at an elementary school level. Now the university of North Carolina is responding to blowback with accusations of its own. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD."

In national news, you don't need to have an MBA to figure out that when your company spills a nasty chemical into a multi-county water supply, it might hurt your bottom line.

Freedom Industries today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and who knows how that might affect lawsuits or fines levied against the company. The company, of course, owns the facility where an estimated 7,500 gallons of a chemical leaked into a water supply in West Virginia. Three hundred thousand people were warned not to use their tap water. Don't drink it, don't bathe in it. The order has been lifted for all but 80,000 of these West Virginians. They have not been able to use their faucets for more than a week now.

Time now for the buried lead, from Steubenville to Maryville (ph), Canada, to California, we hear all too often cases of sex assault allegations that lead to alleged victims being victimized all over again by cyber bullies.

But the parents of a California teenager who committed suicide a week after her assault, have found a way to channel their grief into action, their daughter, Audrie Pott, was only 15 when she was assaulted by three boys. To make matters worse, pictures of Audrey with lewd comments were spread around were around in text messages. She was hounded at school and social media and eventually she hanged herself.

The boys who admitted to taking part in the assault served a maximum of 45 days a juvenile hall. Pott's parents are now pushing for Audrie's law, which calls for stricter sex crime punishments for juvenile offenders in California. They are also suing the three teenagers involved in the assault, blaming them for Audrie's suicide.

Cases like this have also sparked a separate movement where unknown online vigilantes go after those sex assault suspects, in an attempt to punish them in a way that the law can't or won't, by publicly shaming them or hacking their social media accounts.

This movement is closely examined in a "New York Times" magazine article coming out this Sunday called "Online Avengers", which asks whether some of these anti-bullying activists risk becoming bullying themselves.

Joining me is the author of that article, "New York Times" contributor Emily Bazelon. She got to know the activists and learn a lot about what makes them tick.

Emily, thanks for being here.

How did this online avenger movement get started?

EMILY BAZELON, AUTHOR, "STICKS AND STONES": It really got started in response to some of these cases in the last couple of years of girls who say they were sexually assaulted and then humiliated by images that were circulating online. So, the Internet for them was part of the problem and then people who were activists on the Internet wanted to also use social media to try to help these girls.

TAPPER: Give us an example. Have they been able to make a difference?

BAZELON: They have. There is a case of a girl in Nova Scotia named Rehtaeh Parsons who very sadly committed suicide after she alleged sexual assault and these compromising photos. And the police took a year, investigated, said they weren't going to bring any charges.

Then, some activists started really picking up a fuss online, some of them members of the hacker group Anonymous, and some new evidence surfaced in the case. And the police and prosecutors changed their minds and they reopened the investigation and eventually brought charges against two boys.

TAPPER: So, run through -- I mean, what is interesting is while these groups have gained some notoriety and respect and sometimes families even plead for the help of these groups, you say that the members are just 20-somethings looking for a sense of community.

BAZELON: Right. So these are people who get to know each other online. Usually they have never met in life, although they feel like their online ties are strong, and they're really using Twitter and other forms of Internet action to play this big role. And because they're Anonymous and they're using a mantel of that group, nobody really knows who they are. They have the kind of shadowy power. But they're also people who are really looking for a sense of community and belonging and their relationships with each other become important to them.

TAPPER: Do they ever cross the line, ever become bullies themselves? Do they ever pick the wrong targets?

BAZELON: You know, I think in some -- yes, all of those things can be true. I mean, we're talking about something that's totally separate from an institution. There's no accountability, no one can tell Anonymous to step off.

So, because there's no control of them, yes, sometimes they have accused innocent people and my own sense, based on my reporting, is that it's really case by case. Some of them have been really responsible and careful and others much less so. You just can't really tell what you're dealing with, even as it is unfolding.

TAPPER: As you learned more about this movement, what surprised you the most?

BAZELON: You know, I was struck by how deeply people felt connected to each other by relationships that are entirely online. Where people have never met, they live in different countries and yet their online reality is often more important to them than anything that's happening in their boring day jobs. And that idea that you would have this second life on the Internet, that's something that did surprise me.

TAPPER: It's a fascinating story. It's in the Sunday "New York Times" magazine. It's online right now at

Emily Bazelon, thank you so much.

BAZELON: Thanks so much for having me.

TAPPER: When we come back, as the clock ticks down to the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a warning for gay athletes traveling to Sochi. That's next.

Plus, the politics lead, could we have another Bush versus Clinton campaign in 2016? Barbara Bush says she hopes no. Why Jeb Bush might or might not listen to his mother's advice, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Time now for our world lead. We are, of course, inching towards the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. President Vladimir Putin visited a group of Olympic volunteers earlier today. One of them asked about Russia's attitude towards gays.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): We do not ban anyone or anything. We don't detain people on the streets. We don't hold anyone responsible for those relations, unlike a lot of other countries in the world. That's why you can feel free, relaxed. But leave children in peace, please.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who is in Sochi.

Nic, is anyone over there surprised by President Putin's comments?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're not really. And the bottom line here is there is an upsurge in attacks against homosexuals in this country. A lot of people feel it has to do with the legislation that was introduced in the country last year. And President Putin, some people blame for really this idea of conflating this idea of homosexuality with pedophilia.

So, I don't think anyone (AUDIO GAP).

TAPPER: And we're less than three weeks away from the Olympics, Nic. What's the security like over there? How are they preparing?

ROBERTSON: You know, it's really tight. It's so tight now this airport that they built here, that they upgraded and built a brand-new carport right in front of it, guess what, it's so secure you're not allowed to put cars in that carport. So, it's chaos on the outskirts of the airport because no one can find the right roads to drive in and drive out of the airport. There are police on almost every sort of traffic turn on the major highways here.

Everywhere you look there's a bus that people are trying to finish off the sort of building work here amidst this tightened and heightened security. We had to walk about a quarter of a mile after not being allowed to take our camera equipment into our hotel last night.

Security was so tight we weren't even allowed to take our camera to a hotel and had to walk a quarter mile once we had gone through the security clearance with our hand luggage, if you will. So it's getting really tight, even blips put up in the sky here with those high visibility cameras with really strong lenses on them to kind of scope out the ground, make sure there are no threats and action on the ground. So, it's really stepped up. You feel it and you see it here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nic Robertson in Sochi, Russia -- thank you so much.

We want to take you back now to some aerials of the site of the school shooting in Philadelphia. That is footage from KYW. We're told by police that at least two students were shot at the high school. There does not seem to be an active shooter situation. One of the victims was a male, the other a female police believed that the shots may -- I emphasize may -- have come from outside the school, not from in.

Police have been asking for the shooter to turn himself in. They recently gave a brief press conference asking for whomever the shooter is to turn themselves in.

We want to bring in Jason Carroll from CNN. He will be with us in a second but he's not ready quite yet, so we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, more on the school shooting.

And also, one person has had enough of Bushes in the White House. And she is a Bush, Barbara Bush. Not a fan of her son Jeb running for president.

Plus, sure, Jimmy Choos sold a few more shoes, and bars saw an uptick in Cosmo sales, but now the director of the CDC is saying "Sex in the City" also had a serious negative effect on women's health.

We'll talk to the surgeon general, next.