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Basketball Diplomacy; President Obama's Brother; NSA Changes?

Aired December 19, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dennis Rodman returns to North Korea just days after the execution of the leader Kim Jong-un's uncle. Rodman is now speaking out. So, what does he plan to do inside one of the world's most secretive countries?

And Obama's brother, he talks to CNN about his famous half- sibling and their abusive father. He says he loves the president, but why does he call him -- and I'm quoting him now -- "a lousy brother"?

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following the breaking news, a ceiling collapse in a packed historic theater in London. More than 700 people were watching a play when parts of the ceiling came crashing down, bringing balconies down with it according to the London Fire Brigade. Dozens of people are injured, some of them seriously.

Officials updated us just a few moments ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been a collapse of heavy plaster from what appears to be the roof of the auditorium within the theater. That's fallen down to the upper circle, the dress circle and the stalls. Consequently, we have a large number of casualty, many of whom are walking wounded, that have been rescued by firefighters, paramedics and police officers and are currently being treated and sent to hospitals in the area.


BLITZER: Let's get to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's on the scene in London for us.

What are you see there, Nic? What's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me try and get you the latest details here. I'm talking with Nick Harding, the press officer for the London fire service here.

You're on the scene here, Nick, Mr. Harding, and what can you tell us, what happened here tonight?

NICK HARDING, LONDON FIRE BRIGADE: Good evening, Nic. What appears to have happened tonight is an area of ornate plaster ceiling inside the Apollo Theatre has collapsed. It's landed on the balconies down there and onto the main floor itself. It was a quite chaotic scene in there.

We have had about 50 firefighters on the scene, eight fire engines, and a number of specialist units, so now our urban search and rescue units are making sure that the building is safe before we hand it back to the occupiers.

ROBERTSON: What is the situation with all the casualties? Are they out of the building and are they safe now?

HARDING: I can confirm that everybody is out of the building, and everybody is safe. A number of people are still being treated and triaged by London ambulance service, and they will be able to give more details about themselves in due course.

ROBERTSON: From what you have seen so far, can you see why this roof collapsed tonight?

HARDING: Not from what I have seen so far. It's an ornate plaster ceiling above the auditorium and some timber frame behind it seems to have come down, but as to the cause of that, that's being investigated as we speak. And that investigation will go on through the night and into tomorrow, I imagine.

ROBERTSON: We have been talking so far about the roof collapsing. Can you describe the roof? You talk about ornate plastering. Is it the whole roof itself or just parts of it?

HARDING: No, it's parts of it, probably by 10 meters by 10 meters, and it's above the main part of the auditorium. So part of has landed in the balcony layers, and the rest of it has gone all the way down probably from the height of about five stories onto the stalls on the ground floor.

ROBERTSON: What does it require of the fire services now to ensure the safety of the building?

HARDING: We're making an assessment along with the surveyors to make sure there's no danger of further collapse. Once we have established that, we will give it back to the surveyors and the theater managers.

ROBERTSON: Nick Harding from London fire service, thank you very much indeed.

HARDING: Thank you.

ROBERTSON: Wolf, that's the latest details. The fire service on the scene here, they have more than 50 firefighters and they're now securing, making sure that roof is safe, 10 meters by 10 meters square of the ceiling, above the balcony collapsing on the very packed auditorium there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, this is a theater that's more than 100 years old.

Nic, thanks very much for that update. We will stay in close touch with you.

Dozens of recommendations for sweeping changes to the NSA, but how many if any will the Obama administration heed? The uproar over the agency's most controversial surveillance program is heating up with some lawmakers calling for a high-level resignation.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us with the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, the White House says it's open to all 46 of these recommendations from the panel, but we already have an early sense of the ones they are going to accept and not accept.

We know, for instance, they're open to having White House approval being necessary for any monitoring of the communications of foreign leaders. On the other side, the White House has already dismissed a couple of these recommendations, including placing a civilian leader at the top of the NSA.

Now, at the same time the president's own director of national intelligence who oversees all of these intelligence programs, James Clapper, under new pressure, long before a man named Edward Snowden revealed this surveillance to the world, when Clapper denied that any of this mass surveillance was taking place.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Today, House Republicans demanded an immediate investigation of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for "lying" to Congress. In March, when asked if:

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: The NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

He responded:


SCIUTTO: After Edward Snowden revealed mass surveillance by the NSA, Clapper retracted his remarks, saying "My response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize."

Senator Rand Paul told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Clapper should pay.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I do think what our government is doing is unconstitutional. And I think really think that in order to restore confidence in our intelligence community, I think James Clapper should resign.

SCIUTTO: The growing calls for the director of national intelligence to resign come as the White House begins pushing back on some of the recommendations to reform the NSA made Wednesday by an independent panel reviewing the fallout from the Snowden scandal.

The administration says it will not place the NSA seen here in rare images filmed by CBS under civilian control, recommendation number 22, after already refusing to split it from the military's Cyber Command, number 24 on the list.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Over the next several weeks, we will study the review group's report and determine which recommendations we should implement. As we do this, we will make sure that we are focused on threats to the American people.

SCIUTTO: Oddly enough, the president gained an unlikely supporter today in Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who said the surveillance is necessary to fight terrorism, though he added he envies how Obama gets away with spying on his own allies.

There is still bitter debate in the U.S., however, on whether mass surveillance prevents terror attacks at all.

WYDEN: The authors make it very clear that metadata, the collection of all these phone records on law-abiding Americans, is clearly not indispensable to preventing attacks and the reality IS that information can be gathered in other ways.

SCIUTTO: Former NSA Inspector General Joel Brenner sharply disagrees.

JOEL BRENNER, FORMER NSA INSPECTOR GENERAL: If these recommendations were accepted in bulk, we would be back to a pre-9/11 situation.


SCIUTTO: Now, the spokesman for the director of national intelligence, Shawn Turner, gave us a statement in response to the renewed pressure on Clapper.

He said that James Clapper has been testifying for more than 20 years and -- quote -- "He has a well-earned reputation as a doggedly honest and honorable public servant." He goes on to say that Clapper in effect misspoke, thinking that the question was about what is Section 702 of the FISA legislation, which applies to persons outside the U.S., and not Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which applies to U.S. persons.

That was his explanation for the why he answered that question in the way that he did.

BLITZER: As you know, there's another national security issue that came up today, legislation introduced in the Senate that would authorize new sanctions against Iran. So where does all of this stand? Because I know the Obama administration strongly opposes this legislation.

SCIUTTO: They do. They were lobbying right up to the final minute.

In fact, I spoke to a senior administration official yesterday who had the impression they had successfully headed this off, but now you have 26 senators come out today, 13 Democrats, 13 Republicans, bipartisan, a real show of support for these sanctions, and they're tough. They would apply in effect a global oil embargo on Iran. Oil is the only way Iran has to make money, in effect.

I have been told that the Iranian government is really under severe pressure now. To lose more of that revenue would be destabilizing for that government. What's interesting about this, Wolf, is that it has a 12-year timeline on it. In effect, it gives the president 12 years to negotiate, six months for the initial -- 12 months, I should say, not 12 years -- six months for the interim deal and another six months, but at any point during that deal that they believe or the president believes that the Iranians are cheating, that's when these new sanctions would come in.

And one final thing, if I can add it, also in this sanctions bill is an opportunity for Congress, even if the president comes to an agreement to vote to negate that agreement with two-thirds majority.

BLITZER: Yes, 12 months to do it, not 12 years. I just wanted to make sure that we are precise on that. Jim Sciutto with that report, thanks very much.

Still ahead, severe weather moving in just as millions of Americans getting ready to embark on their Christmas travel. Snow, ice, thunderstorms, even, get this, all tornadoes possible this weekend. Who is going to get the brunt of this powerful storm?

Plus, President Obama's half-brother has now written a tell-all book about his family with some shocking revelations. He talks about it with our own Brian Todd.


BLITZER: Snows and ice, thunderstorms and tornadoes, all that and a lot more possible this weekend, threatening to create a travel nightmare for the millions of Americans who will be traveling ahead of Christmas.


BLITZER: There is certainly a long history of presidential siblings embarrassing the White House. And president's half-brother may be the latest. He's now written a tell-all book revealing some rather unflattering new details about their father, as well as his relationship with the president.

CNN's Brian Todd spoke with the president's half-brother today.

What did he have to say?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he spoke of the distance between him and the president and of some of the strains between them. Mr. Obama's half-brother, Mark Ndesandjo, has come out with some gritty details from inside their extended family, including the mental and physical abuse allegedly handed out by their father.


TODD (voice-over): They're close in appearance. That may be about it. Barack Obama's younger half-brother, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, in a new book and an interview with CNN, has some less-than-flattering things to say about the president, their past and their current relationship.

MARK OBAMA NDESANDJO, BROTHER OF PRESIDENT OBAMA: I love my brother. He's a great president, but sometimes he's a lousy brother.

TODD: Why does he feel that way? Mark Ndesandjo feels there's distance, a lack of acknowledgment from his half-brother. In the book which comes out in February, Ndesandjo details abuses at the hands of their father, Barack Obama Sr., abuses he believes the president hasn't fully recognized.

NDESANDJO: Barack, I don't think accepts or at least does not want to know the details of the beatings that occurred in our family.

TODD: Ndesandjo is not talking about the president's immediate family. He's speaking about his own.

The president, by all accounts, had very little contact with their father, only one visit when the president was a boy. The alleged abuse Mark Ndesandjo speaks of was toward his mother, Ruth. She was Barack Obama Sr.'s third wife, after his marriage to the president's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

Mark remembers one day in particular when he was 6 or 7 in Kenya.

NDESANDJO: My father actually broke -- came in the door against a restraining order, and he held a knife to my mother's throat. I will never forget the fact that I could not protect her.

TODD: Barack Obama Sr. died in 1972. The president previously said this about his father.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had as alcoholism problem, that he didn't treat his families very well. And, you know, so obviously it's a sad part of my history and background, but it's not something that I spend a lot of time brooding over.

David Maraniss wrote a biography of the president.

DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY": In some very important ways, President Obama is lucky he never lived with his father, who was abusive toward women and mentally abusive towards his own children. It would have been a very much more difficult upbringing than the one he endured searching for something

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Now, the president has written and has often spoken about his search for who his father was and how that's influenced his own experience as a parent.

As for Mark Ndesandjo's latest assertions, we could get no response from the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the president's relationship now with his half- brother?

TODD: Mark Ndesandjo says it's -- quote -- "a little cold."

Ndesandjo believes that his own writings have alienated the president in recent years. It's interesting. In our conversation, Ndesandjo recalled his first meeting with his half-brother in Kenya in 1988. They were both in their 20s. He said they did not hit it off. He said Barack Obama came on very strong, asked him some very strong, aggressive questions, and kind of brushed off the music and literature that Mark said he liked.

Again, we tried to run all this by the White House today, and there's nothing from them on any of it.

COOPER: No reaction. That physical similarity, though, is amazing when you look at...

TODD: Sure is. it's extraordinary.

BLITZER: Thank you. All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

Just ahead, Dennis Rodman, he is now speaking out about his controversial return to North Korea. We're digging deeper into his relationship with Kim Jong-un, Rodman's so-called longtime friend. Kim Jong-un and Rodman, we will discuss all of this with someone who knows Dennis Rodman, the former NBA player Kenny Smith.


BLITZER: It's a birthday gift to the head of a brutal isolated totalitarian regime, an exhibition basketball game for North Korea's Kim Jong-un. It's being arranged in North Korea right now by a self- described friend, the former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

He arrived today from China, where he spoke about his trip and the controversy over visiting just days after the execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle for treason.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: It has nothing to do with me. That has nothing to do with me.

I mean, whatever his uncle his done and whoever done anything in North Korea, I have nothing -- I have no control over that. These things have been going on for years and years and years. And (INAUDIBLE) for America or somewhere in the world want to come over here and try to get ahold of it, great. I'm just going over to do a basketball game and have some fun.


BLITZER: Rodman also said he also won't bring up the case of the American citizen Kenneth Bae, who is serving 15 years hard labor in North Korea after being convicted of hostile acts towards the country. Rodman said that would give the wrong impression to Kim Jong-un.


RODMAN: I don't want him to think I'm over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as maybe his friend, and all of a sudden I start talking about politics. It's not going to be that way.


BLITZER: To talk about all of this, I'm joined by one of the host TNT's "Inside the NBA," Kenny Smith. He has known Dennis Rodman for many years, played against him in the NBA for about a decade.

But let's get an update first from our foreign affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

How significant, Elise, do U.S. officials see this trip?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. officials in the State Department, Wolf, don't see it as significant as all, because he's not representing the U.S. government.

He's shown absolutely no interest in ether talking to U.S. officials before the trip or raising the issue of Kenneth Bae. And what they say is that this is a distraction from the real concern of North Korea, which is its destabilizing behavior, its nuclear program and the issue of Kenneth Bae.

But it's kind of significant, because absolutely no Americans, Wolf, are talking to Kim Jong-un right now. You know, it's really a mystery. He's the only one that has any insights into this leader.

BLITZER: We will see what if anything he accomplishes.

All right, Elise, thank you.

Let's bring Kenny into this conversation.

What do you make of this trip? Take us inside Dennis Rodman's head a little bit. You know this guy. Was going on?

KENNY SMITH, TNT ANALYST: Well, if I knew what was going on in Dennis Rodman's head, I probably wouldn't be sitting here. I would be the greatest psychologist of the world.

But I think, overall, the thing that we have always seen is that sports can merge people together, it can kind of break down barriers, it can break down different things. But the problem is I think that Dennis doesn't recognize that and how he can use his influence not just for his financial gain and being over there for a basketball game, because the way things have gone in North Korea and with the secretive human rights issues that go on over there, I think that he can really think about it as a bigger plan and then just as a check.

So, for me, him not recognizing that, even at all is to me a little bit disturbing.

BLITZER: They love, they love the NBA basketball in North Korea. I was an eyewitness to that. I was there three years ago exactly, and the North Korean leader, they had a basketball that had been signed by Michael Jordan. It was revered. They would have loved Michael Jordan to come.

But I think they settled for Dennis Rodman. Can you understand what is going on right now, because U.S. diplomats are totally perplexed?

SMITH: Sports has always been, like I said, a vehicle that can break down a lot of barriers.

It's been used in the Olympics in terms of some political issues and power, but also people love sports regardless. And when people are inside the field or the court or the match, they seem to feel colorless. They seem to feel, think political views go out the window and gender and everything else.

But there is a recognition that you have a responsibility to have as an athlete to realize that power. And not saying that Dennis Rodman can go over and be an ambassador and do all the things and change, but a recognition of it, knowing that there is something else going on bigger than him going there, and not he's just going to have fun with his friend.

BLITZER: Do you think -- because a lot of us do remember -- and you're right in pointing out sports as a part of diplomacy potential, ping-pong diplomacy, as practiced in the bad old days when the U.S. had no relations with China, but it started with a little ping-pong diplomacy.

Do you think Dennis Rodman appreciates the potential that he has?

SMITH: Well, I think he appreciates the fact that people around the world revere him, but it's obvious that he doesn't recognize what that power always brings.

And he -- I think he does have an obligation to recognize it. He doesn't have an obligation to possibly do anything about it, but his lack of recognition, like I said, is more disturbing than anything else.

BLITZER: Kenny Smith, the TNT analyst from our sister network TNT, former NBA player himself, Kenny, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

SMITH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.