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Interview With Richard Myers; Interview With John Kerry

Aired December 21, 2003 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Tripoli, Libya, and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, in just a moment. But first, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: We begin in Iraq, where coalition forces rounded up dozens of suspected insurgents overnight. CNN's Rym Brahimi is in Baghdad. She's joining us now live with the latest.

Rym, tell us what's happening.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes, definitely, dozens of insurgents captured, more than 100, in fact, in three different places, according to coalition officials. Let me just go through them.

Al Anbar, in the west, it's Al Anbar province. More than 200 patrols during that time. One Iraqi person was killed. Three were wounded. Coalition authorities say 100 terrorists were captured in that area.

And then in Fallujah -- Fallujah, which is a hotbed for insurgency, as you know, Wolf, paratroopers captured 14 insurgents and confiscated weapons.

And in an area, also, that's basically on the road toward Syria, toward the west as well, known as Roah (ph), well, the Operation Rifle Fury was launched, coalition officials say, in order to capture or kill anti-coalition forces and also destroy their terrorist camps there.

Now, the situation isn't getting much better with regard to the oil shortages, the fuel shortages, that people in and around Baghdad are facing. And it's not being made better, either, by the fact that there have been more attacks against oil facilities.

First of all, an oil storage facility northeast of the capital just caught fire. No reason cited yet, so far, but 350 barrels of fuel basically went on fire in that area. And then, in the north of Baghdad, a pipeline exploded, not clear, again, what the reason was.

And in the south of Baghdad, a rocket-propelled grenade hit a supply line, basically, causing the loss of 10 million liters of gasoline, or 2.6 million liters of gasoline there.


BLITZER: Bottom line in all of this, Rym, a week after Saddam Hussein's capture, does it appear to have made much of a difference on the ground?

BRAHIMI: Well, it's very difficult to -- probably too early to say for the time being. The acts of violence are still there. There are massive roundups. In fact, those roundups seem to have increased in the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein by U.S. and coalition forces. But that hasn't stopped the violence for the time being. So it's probably going to be a matter of looking at the weeks to come.

As you know, also, they're now setting up the tribunal to try Saddam Hussein, and maybe that will also trigger some reaction from the insurgency.


BLITZER: CNN's Rym Brahimi on the scene for us in Baghdad.

Rym, thank you very much for that. Please be careful.

The Bush administration is expressing confidence that the capture of Saddam Hussein will, in fact, be a positive turning point for postwar Iraq. But at least in the short term, we've just seen a very serious security situation remains, both for Iraqi civilians as well as U.S. and coalition troops. The situation continuing to be very dangerous.

Just a little while ago, I spoke with the top U.S. military officer, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.


BLITZER: General Myers, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Welcome back to the United States. You've just come back from a trip around the world, including Iraq.

Let's get right to the issue of what's happening on the ground in Iraq right now. Reports of a serious sweep, a U.S. military sweep designed to capture insurgents. What can you tell our viewers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well, as we've said before, the main opposition right now are former regime elements. And with the capture of Saddam Hussein, we learned a little bit more about how they're organized and some of the individuals involved. And what you see now is forces taking advantage of that intelligence and going out and rounding up people. We've got over 200 detainees so far.

BLITZER: Only within the last day or so?

MYERS: The last several days, yes.

BLITZER: And the information came from that briefcase that was near him when he was captured, is that right?

MYERS: Well, it came -- part of it came from that, and then that leads you to other things. And so it's just like all intelligence work. You know, you get one clue that leads you to another clue, leads you to another clue. The same way we found Saddam Hussein, that's what's going on here.

BLITZER: How did you find Saddam Hussein?

MYERS: Well, we got a hold of some very good work by folks in the 4th I.D., but intelligence analysts that were trying to find people close to him, people that either we could get to tell us where he was or that would come forward willingly and tell us.

And we've been on his trail for some time. And we've been close before. But we finally got a hold of the right individual after a while. It came down to one individual who was able to lead us to him.

And then it became an issue of searching. And you saw how difficult -- if you saw some of the overhead pictures of where this little hole in the ground was in this grove, in this orchard, if you will, tough work.

BLITZER: Was that individual who led you to Saddam Hussein coerced to cooperate, or did he voluntarily come forward? The question's significant, as far as the $25 million reward.

MYERS: Yes. I don't -- I can't talk -- no, he did not come forward.

BLITZER: Voluntarily?


BLITZER: He was coerced to talk. So he's not going to get any reward, obviously.

MYERS: Well, I don't know. That will be up to other authorities.

BLITZER: Who is it up to?

MYERS: He was captured.

Well, we'll have to look at all the facts and see if he qualifies under the terms of that reward.

BLITZER: But but if he didn't cooperate, he shouldn't get any money out of it.

MYERS: It doesn't seem like it. I mean, he was captured and then led us -- provided us the intelligence we needed.

BLITZER: And when Saddam Hussein was first captured right at the beginning, how much cooperation did he show?

MYERS: I don't -- my understanding is that he was not particularly cooperative. In other words, other than not putting up a fight and so forth, but he was not forthcoming with other information.

BLITZER: Because there's a story in Time magazine, the new issue coming out, that at one point he spat on a U.S. soldier who, in turn, slapped him. Is that true?

MYERS: I have no knowledge of that. And, I mean, I just don't know. I was just in Iraq. We talked to the folks over there. That never came up.

BLITZER: So you would know if that were true, obviously.

MYERS: I think I would know if that were true.

BLITZER: So that sounds like it's just a story.

MYERS: He came out -- the one thing we can say -- I mean, he was in this hole. He came out of this hole. He had to be very, very frightened. He had to be disoriented. He did bump his head coming out of the hole. So my guess is he was pretty docile.

BLITZER: Did you know -- how long had he been in that hole when he emerged?

MYERS: I don't know. I don't know that.

BLITZER: You don't know if it was days or hours.

MYERS: No. But we do think that he moved around quite a bit, and that the room you saw, that was some distance from that hole, was probably where he spent most of his time. The hole was if he thought he was under imminent threat.

BLITZER: Our Rym Brahimi went to Amman, Jordan, to interview his daughter, who said this -- and I want to play this sound bite. Listen to what she said.


RAGHAD HUSSEIN, SADDAM HUSSEIN'S DAUGHTER (through translator): Anyone with insight could tell from the first instance that my father was not fully conscious. As a daughter, I told them from the start, my father is drugged. I am 100 percent convinced.


BLITZER: Was he drugged? MYERS: Well, not by coalition forces. I mean -- and all indications are that he was perfectly sober and sane. And the medical examine, of course, would be routine for anybody that we pick up.

BLITZER: What is his status right now legally? Is he a POW?

MYERS: They're working through all that, at this point. And as you know, he's under interrogation by another government agency. And we'll just have to see how that plays out.

BLITZER: He's under interrogation by the CIA, but are U.S. military personnel involved in that interrogation detailed to the CIA- led interrogation?

MYERS: Well, the CIA has a lead for it. And it could be that there are Department of Defense individuals that are involved. But the CIA's got the lead.

BLITZER: But is he accorded the rights of the Geneva Convention?

MYERS: He's being treated as if he were an enemy prisoner of war. So he has all -- we're treating him with all the rights that he would have under Article 5 of the Geneva Convention. And that's how we'll treat him.

BLITZER: There's some suggestion, as you've heard from critics, that the picture of him with the tongue depressor, with checking his lice, with a full beard, that he was humiliated, and that that was in contravention of the Geneva Convention, the visual image that we all saw.

MYERS: Yes, and I don't think that's right. I think the most important thing we could do for the security of Iraqi people, for the security of our coalition forces, for all those people in Iraq that are trying to make a better Iraq, is to show the fact that Saddam Hussein is, indeed, captured.

And that's what we did. And we had to do that. That made so many people much safer, that that was absolutely the right thing to do.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, some in the Arab world think it was humiliating to the entire Arab people the way he was exposed, shown.

MYERS: I understand that. And at the same time, just like with his sons before with him, he was such a -- at one time, such a powerful figure in Iraq, it was important to show the Iraqi people that he's no longer going to be an influence in their life, that the Baathist regime that he led is gone forever.

BLITZER: Was that pistol on his side loaded? Could he have killed himself?

MYERS: My understand is he had weapons. I don't know if they were loaded. I didn't ask that question. But my guess is he sort of could have killed himself if he wanted to.

BLITZER: All right. What kind of rights, if any, does he have right now?

MYERS: Well, that all -- this is outside -- almost outside military channels at this time. It's going to go into deals with the Iraqis and their judiciary, and the advice that we're going to help provide them. So that will be determined.

BLITZER: In terms of the interrogation, before there's any trial, he's going to be interrogated for some time. Now, how does that work? How do you go through that interrogation? Can you use methods like sleep deprivation to try to disorient him? Is that acceptable?

MYERS: There are certain interrogation techniques that are acceptable and certain that are unacceptable. It's very clear; our interrogators understand that. We have very explicit instructions out there. Everything is in accordance with international law, as we understand it.

And as you know, all our prisoners, to include the ones at Guantanamo, are monitored almost continuously by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which gives us feedback on our treatment of those individuals.

BLITZER: There is one report out, CBS News, suggesting that in his cell where he's being held, on one wall there's pictures of a whole bunch of Iraqis, his loyalists who have been captured or killed from the deck of cards, and on another wall there's a picture of President Bush.

Is that right?

MYERS: I have no idea. I've heard the same report. I just don't know.

BLITZER: Is he talking right now? Can you give us a general sense, without saying what he's saying? But is he cooperating or is he being defiant?

MYERS: My last report was that he was not being cooperative, that "defiant" is probably a pretty good word.

BLITZER: What is the most important information you'd like him to share with you?

MYERS: Well, I think there are lots of it. I think more about how the Baath Party is structured, to know what his involvement was in the former regime elements and their attacks on the coalition, on the infrastructure, on the Iraqi -- the people in governance positions and so forth, to understand that better. Clearly, anything he knows about weapons of mass destruction.

All those sorts of things would be very interesting, to include information on Scott Speicher, the Navy pilot who was shot down during Desert Storm.

BLITZER: Has he given you any indication about that first American pilot who was killed during the first Gulf War?

MYERS: My understanding is, up to now, he has not.

BLITZER: So you still believe it's possible Scott Speicher could be alive?

MYERS: We're operating on that premise, and we have folks that work that every day.

BLITZER: Is it your sense right now that Saddam Hussein is ready to negotiate? I say that because, when he emerged from the hole, he said, "My name is Saddam Hussein. I'm the president of Iraq, and I want to negotiate." Is there anything to negotiate with him?

MYERS: Well, this is outside my lane again. But my guess is, no. I mean, there was plenty of time to negotiate, to work out things with the United Nations, and he never took that opportunity. And I think it's probably -- my judgment would be it's way too late. But that would be for somebody else.

BLITZER: Was he personally ordering the insurgency, in charge of the insurgency, giving instructions to his loyalists? Or was he simply trying to save his hide?

MYERS: We're still trying to learn, Wolf, those intricacies of that relationship. We have some information. We'll learn more as we pick up more individuals and find out exactly how much he was involved. I don't think we have a totally clear picture at this point.

BLITZER: In the short term, is it better or worse that he was captured alive? In other words, the level of resistance, what has been their level of resistance over the past week? Has it escalated or gone down?

MYERS: Well, I think the important thing was that he was captured. Whether dead or alive I think is almost immaterial. The fact that he was captured is a huge deal for the effort inside Iraq. It's a huge deal for Iraqis to know that this dictator, this individual that ruled through fear and through terror, is out of the picture.

It's also good for the coalition. We have found since his capture that those willing to come forward with more information, that's actually gone up, just like it did when we killed his sons.

BLITZER: So people are willing to cooperate now that they no longer have to fear about Saddam Hussein making a comeback. Is that right?

MYERS: Sure. I think that is working, at work inside Iraq. I think that you remove the fear, and then people will want to come forward and say, hey, this is over. And we're seeing that phenomenon right now.

BLITZER: What about the money? There is a lot of money that he was found with, hundreds of thousands of dollars in crisp U.S. $100 bills. But there's still a lot of money out there, isn't there?

MYERS: You bet. And the money trail is important, and we chase that down. And we don't know if that was the only money trail. I doubt it, myself, knowing that there's a lot of things going on in that country and lots of other access to financial support.

BLITZER: You were just there. We got the report that Ambassador Paul Bremer confirmed that his convoy came under attack. He could have been killed. Fortunately, he wasn't.

A few weeks earlier, the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, was there at the Al Rasheed Hotel. His location was attacked. He was OK. Somebody else, a U.S. military personnel, was killed.

There's some suspicion, as you know, that the insurgents have infiltrated the security apparatus and has inside information. Is that a concern?

MYERS: I think it is always a concern. It's a concern anytime you have operations going on where you want to maintain security, wherever they are in the world. It's certainly true in Iraq. We're working very closely with many Iraqis, and so that's always something that we have to take in consideration. We have to work our counterintelligence people very hard to ensure that we maintain operational security, that we protect people the best we can.

BLITZER: But do you think they had inside information on those two attacks?

MYERS: I have no idea. I have not seen any indication that they have had inside information.

But I do know that's a very important part of what we try to do in our operation, is make sure we properly vet people, and that we have procedures and processes in place to thwart those who might want to take that information and turn it against us.


BLITZER: Just ahead, more of our my interview with General Richard Myers.

Then, now that Saddam Hussein has been captured, what's next? We'll talk with two key U.S. senators.

Plus, political enemies confront each other. We'll talk with Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, who's met face to face with Saddam Hussein.

And my exclusive interview with Democratic presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry. All that, much more, coming up on "LATE EDITION."


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

And we return now to my interview with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.


BLITZER: Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, reported the other day, you probably know, a surprise: 3,500 members of the 82nd Airborne are about to head out there to replace or to take over for some National Guard personnel who aren't apparently ready yet.

Do you have enough troops -- 130,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. Do you have enough troops there to get the job done?

MYERS: Oh, absolutely. And that's one of the things -- you know, I was out there. I saw every major commander in theater, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's one of the things you talk about. Now, generally I rely on General Abizaid for these judgments. But when I was out there, I talked to all of them, too, including General Sanchez.

This is not a question of more troops. What we're trying to do is ensure when we change out from this first rotation in Iraq to the second rotation that will start here in January and go through about April, that we have the continuity of operations we need.

So we're going to have to plug and fill some gaps to make sure we have that continuity. But no, we have sufficient troops for that, and we have sufficient troops for other contingencies around the world.

BLITZER: Because you know there's going to be a learning curve. The guys who have been there for a year know the situation, and the new people coming in, men and women, it's going to take a while for them to learn what to do.

MYERS: Oh, absolutely. And they're going to work those personal relationships. So we're going to have what we call a left-seat-right- seat (ph) ride. The new folks will be riding along with the folks that have been there for some period of time, until they get a really good feel for what's going on, they've met the Iraqis that they're working with.

Some of the intelligence people from these units will go in earlier so they can start to become familiar with that intelligence environment. They already are back home, by the way. All the training they're doing at home station is based on what's going on inside Iraq. So they'll be familiar with all the names, and it'll be a very smooth transition.

BLITZER: A quick question on Afghanistan. You were there, as well. It sort of defies logic. You say there's enough U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They have French troops there, German troops, others, NATO involvement. But if you had a lot more, wouldn't you be closer to finding Osama bin Laden?

MYERS: Well, I don't think it's -- it's not the number of troops that are going to find Osama bin Laden. It's going to be good intelligence to find him. He's one individual probably hiding in a very small area in very rugged terrain.

And so, no amount of troops is going to help solve that problem. We need very good intelligence. We need good cooperation from the Pakistani government and so forth.

BLITZER: Are you not getting that cooperation...

MYERS: We are getting that cooperation.

BLITZER: So do you have a sense you're getting any closer to Osama bin Laden?

MYERS: Well, you know, it's like Saddam Hussein. Many times before he was captured I said, you know, we're on his trail. We sometimes get there right after he's left. We're working the same thing with bin Laden and we will continue to do that.

BLITZER: A quick question on Libya and its weapons of mass destruction, which Gadhafi now says he's willing to dismantle. How sophisticated is that arsenal?

MYERS: Well, he's got the delivery means with ballistic missiles. We know or we think he has chemical, perhaps biological, and the start of a nuclear program. And it's significant that he's willing to give that up, to give it up to inspections, and to join the normal nations of this world. That's a huge event, if it takes place, as been described.

BLITZER: What's your assessment, your intelligence analysis, why has he agreed to do this now?

MYERS: Well, this has been something that's been worked by outside the Department of Defense and by the British government. And I don't have a lot of insight into that.

BLITZER: What's your reaction to the Time magazine person of the year, the American soldier?

MYERS: I think it's terrific, and I think it's absolutely well deserved. As you know, I just got back from a region we visited, came in contact with about 25,000 troops. They are doing superb.

I mean, we saw the 101st Airborne up in Mosul, Iraq. They looked like they could have been ready for inspection. These folks don't look like they fought for nine months, fought their way through Baghdad and are now in northern Iraq, doing what they're doing.

The troops look great. They're confident. I think it's a fitting tribute to the last year of what these folks have gone through. In many cases -- not in all cases -- but in many cases, it's American military that stands between the terrorists and the terrorists' goal. And I think the American public understands that, and I think this is fitting tribute.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers the 1950 Time magazine cover. Their Person of the Year that year -- in those days, it was called the Man of the Year -- the American Fighting Man, it was called. So this isn't the first time.

As a member of the Air Force and airman, you feel snubbed that they called the person of the year the American soldier, as opposed to the Marine, the sailor, the airman? Although they say it's a generic use of all of the military.

MYERS: Not at all. I think this is a -- for the American armed forces member, and I think it's very appropriate, and I'm just delighted with that cover. I think it pays tribute to these young men and women who have volunteered to serve their country and are over there doing a superb job.

BLITZER: One final question, lest we forget. Operation Iraqi Freedom -- we'll put these numbers up on the screen. Since the war started back in March, 461 U.S. troops have died over in Iraq.

You're the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You see those numbers. What goes through your mind?

MYERS: Well, of course the first thing that goes through your mind is the tragedy to the individual and to the individual's family and the extended family and friends. That's tough business, and we all acknowledge that.

On the other hand, we know, trying to bring a country that's been in dictatorship, that's been ruled by fear and terror, that if you want to change it to a democracy, that it's going to take a lot of sacrifice. Not just American blood and treasure, but Iraqi blood and treasure. They've killed many Iraqi police chiefs. We hear threats now to some of the people in the Governing Council.

We know every time you try to bring a democracy out of a regime that was hideous before, that it's going to take a lot of personal courage. Our soldiers saw that every day. They're not going to back down from this. I think we have, I know we have, the resolve and the will to carry this through. And I know the international community does, as well.

BLITZER: General Myers, thanks very much. Welcome back to the United States.

MYERS: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be back. Thank you.


BLITZER: Still ahead, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar, and Democrat Senator Evan Bayh. They weigh in on Saddam Hussein's capture, the mission in Iraq, what's happening in Libya right now and much more.

First, though, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories, including the continuing crackdown, unfolding right now, against insurgents in Iraq.

"LATE EDITION" will continue after this.



BLITZER: Up next, we'll talk with two leading members of the United States Senate about Saddam Hussein, the war in Iraq and much more.

Also ahead, what's U.S. Senator John Kerry's game plan for winning his party's presidential nomination? We'll have my exclusive interview with the Massachusetts Democrat.

All that coming up. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're getting a breaking news development right now coming in. Our correspondent over at the White House, Kathleen Koch, is standing by.

Kathleen, tell our viewers in the United States and around the world precisely what you're hearing.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned just a few minutes ago that the secretary of homeland security, Secretary Tom Ridge, is expected to go before cameras at 1:30 Eastern time and announce that he is raising the threat level here in the United States from the level of yellow, which is elevated, to the level of orange, which is high.

According to a press statement that they just put out, it says that he will discuss concerns about continued al Qaeda threats to the homeland.

Now, you will be -- you obviously remember that recently U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia had been warned that they were not safe to stay in that country. The State Department brought home a lot of nonessential personnel family members, were asked to return home, and we don't know if this has any connection to that.

It was back in May, the last time the threat level was raised to orange. It was up, at that point, for only a level of about 10 days. But, Wolf, there will be a lot of additional precautions taken nationwide because of the raising of this threat level. It means a lot of additional expenditures on the part of state and local law enforcement and, also, of course, definitely federal, here in Washington.

Back to you.

BLITZER: So in a little bit less than an hour or so from now, 1:30 p.m. Eastern, we anticipate that Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, will be meeting with reporters to make this announcement. We anticipate he will raise the threat level in the United States, presumably from yellow to orange.

Any indication this is the result of the holiday season -- Hanukkah, Christmas -- coming this week?

KOCH: Wolf, those are precisely the questions that I was addressing to a homeland security official a few minutes ago, but they would not give me any further information. They just said, stay tuned, speak more to the secretary about that at 1:30.

BLITZER: And we had been hearing over the past few days that all sorts of new intelligence was coming in, suggesting increased chatter, increased threats out there.

We'll wait for the specific details from the secretary of homeland security at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, about 40 -- almost 50 minutes or so from now. CNN, of course, will have live coverage.

Kathleen Koch at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining us now, two key members of the United States Senate. They may have some insight into what's going on right now, as well. Republican Richard Lugar is the senior senator from Indiana. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democrat Evan Bayh is Indian's junior senator. He serves on both the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Lugar, what's going through your mind as you hear that Tom Ridge is about, we anticipate, to elevate this threat level right here in the United States?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, as you mentioned, Wolf, throughout the week there have been reports that al Qaeda wants to do attacks that would be conspicuous on Americans and on the American homeland. I think when General Myers asked about this earlier today, he said this is the area for Tom Ridge. And so Tom Ridge is about to respond to that.

But my guess is that we're -- our government's taking this very serious, both in Saudi Arabia as well as here.

BLITZER: There have been, as you well know, earlier elevations in this threat level -- before the July 4th holiday weekend, other holidays.

Do you sense, based on what you know, that there is some increased threat out there? Or this is maybe just the result of an abundance of caution right now?

LUGAR: If I were to speculate, it comes because the setbacks for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and al Qaeda have been substantial.

BLITZER: There have...

LUGAR: And the past week has been a bad week for them. Now, my guess is there's a feeling of counterattack, or at least threat of that.

BLITZER: There had been, as you well know, Senator Bayh -- you serve on the Intelligence Committee, so you're privy to all this, this kind of sensitive information. There had been a sense that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda wanted to make some sort of big splash at the end of this year. But it was unclear if there was specific information to corroborate that or that was just a fear that was out there.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Very often, Wolf, and it's what makes it so frustrating, the information is general in nature. We do see an increase in volume, as you mentioned, in the traffic.

As Dick was pointing out, our very successes can sometimes lead to the elevation of the threat level, because we know more, and they feel as if they're under greater threat.

So they need to prove they're still effective to their supporters, to rally morale, to convince their financiers that they're still a good bet.

The greatest risk is probably abroad. But they would like nothing better than to have an attack here at home.

If I had to guess, something low-level, if it does happen, God forbid, like the Israelis face, instead of a large, elaborate plot.

BLITZER: When you say low-level, you mean like a supermarket or a cafe or some sort of movie theater, some sort of suicide bombing?

BAYH: A transportation hub. Something like that. A suicide bombing. A truck bombing.

I don't want to get people afraid, but I think we've probably reduced their ability to carry out the large, coordinated, elaborate attacks. But in a free society, it's very difficult to protect against the lone wolf who's willing to kill himself in the process of killing many others.

BLITZER: There's no doubt, Senator Lugar, that the American people are much safer today than two years ago, right after 9/11. But this is by no means a perfect system, the security system.

LUGAR: No, it's not.

BLITZER: There's still vulnerabilities out there.

LUGAR: Yes, there sure are. But I think, just picking up Evan Bayh's thought, that we have made a lot of headway in interdicting funds, in probably trying to disrupt the international cabals. There's much intelligence, at least in the past, that's been published in the newspapers, that suggested that they've broken up their leadership situations. Various cells take more authority. And we don't know which ones.

So it's a more disparate, disjointed thing, but probably without the authority to commandeer aircraft and to do a 9/11.

BLITZER: For Secretary Ridge to go ahead, raise the threat level, this is by no means an easy decision, because there are all sorts of ramifications -- financial ramifications, security ramifications, jobs -- all around the country that have to go into effect once you go from yellow to orange.

BAYH: Wolf, it's a true dilemma. No one wants to raise the threat level and alarm people needlessly, particularly at the holidays.

On the other hand, if you start getting in information, you have the public responsibility to let people know, to be more vigilant and to take reasonable precautions.

So, I can only assume that it's on the basis of additional volume, perhaps some specific information, and we'll know more in about 45 minutes.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be patient and await Tom Ridge's news conference. 1:30 p.m. Eastern, about 45 minutes or so from now, here in the United States, the secretary of homeland security will have a news conference.

We anticipate he will announce that they are going, in fact, to raise the threat level from yellow to orange, a higher level of concern, especially around the end-of-year holiday season here in the United States.

Much more coming up, including Saddam Hussein, what's next for the Iraqi leader.

We'll take a quick break. More with our two senators when we come back. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're standing by to hear from the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, in about 45 minutes or so, 1:30 p.m. Eastern. He's expected to announce that the United States government, the federal government, is increasing the threat level from yellow to orange, presumably heightened security concerns around the Hanukkah- Christmas time, this end-of-the-year season.

We'll stand by for Tom Ridge's statement, his news conference. We'll have live coverage here on CNN.

In the meantime, we're continuing our conversation with two influential members of the United States Senate, both from Indiana: the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar; Indiana's junior senator, Democratic Evan Bayh. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.

We'll get more on the homeland security issue in a little while, Senator Lugar, but has the world really changed, really changed since the capture of Saddam Hussein a week ago today?

LUGAR: Yes, I believe so. I think the drama of that situation influenced clearly the success of Jim Baker's mission to the British...

BLITZER: To reduce the debt Iraq...

LUGAR: ... the French -- yes. And he apparently had a good bit of success.

Now, a lot of people were predicting not much success after the week before we indicated that those countries might not have contracts in Iraq, because they hadn't been a part of the coalition, that is, the French and the Russians, for example, but much more cooperative than anticipated.

Then the announcement of the Libyan situation increased the fact that Britain and the United States had been working together for nine months, a multinational affair there, somebody giving up weapons of mass destruction rather than testing new ones.

And some optimism that that kind of formula might still work, in Iran, North Korea, in various other places, in some form or other.

Now, beyond that, clearly in Iraq itself, there have been many fewer American soldiers killed, thank goodness, in the last week. There have been incidents, but...

BLITZER: So you're basically suggesting it's been a very, very significant development.

LUGAR: I believe so.

BLITZER: All right.

There's a poll out in the new issue of Newsweek, Senator Bayh: Will Saddam's capture lead to evidence of a link between al Qaeda and Iraq? This is a sensitive issue under debate, as you well know. 56 percent say yes, 32 percent say no.

Is there a real connection between Saddam Hussein -- was there -- between him and Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda?

BAYH: Wolf, this is a developing story. There is some smoke. The question is whether there's fire. There were at least some tentative communications, a few meetings with underlings, that kind of thing. How far it matured, though, we're still following up on.

There was a commonality of interest. They both hated us, and so our fear was that the old, you know, enemy of my enemy is my friend might bring the two of them together in sort of a mutual exploitation, al Qaeda seeking the kind of weapons only a nation-state could provide them; Saddam perhaps seeking to use them for his own purposes.

So it was something that was a real potential. How far it had developed, as I say, is a continuing story.

BLITZER: Senator, you were well briefed on this. What do you say?

LUGAR: I think it is developing, but there is the fact that al Qaeda had been in Iran, and they're not far away. It's hard to tell what they're doing there. You know, that's an interesting story all by itself; the Iranians seem to have them cooped up fairly well.

You know, they're everywhere. The real question will be, how significantly did the conversations affect what happened in the country...


BLITZER: If there were serious conversations.

LUGAR: Yes, despite the fact they probably were all tied up, knew who each other were and made use of each other, so long as they were doing devilment with regard to the United States.

BLITZER: I'd like both of you to weigh in on what should happen to Saddam Hussein right.

But let me play for you and for our viewers what the president of the United States said this week in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC News. Listen to this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty, and -- for what he's done to his people. I mean, this is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice.

But that will be decided not by the president of the United States, but by the citizens of Iraq in one form or another.


BLITZER: Senator Bayh, do you agree with the president?

BAYH: I do agree with the president, Wolf. I think the Iraqis need to establish a judicial system, a set of laws and a constitution to try all of their citizens who violate the law, including Saddam, and then dispose of Saddam in accordance with their own laws.

My own personal feeling is very much the same as the president's. This is a man who was involved in mass murder, torture, rape.

BLITZER: So you don't have a problem giving him the death penalty?

BAYH: That's for the Iraqis to decide. I personally think that would be appropriate, but it's not my place to say. It's theirs to determine.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar?

LUGAR: Well, the president gave that answer, too. He said, not up to him. But clearly, by having the venue in Iraq, they permit the death penalty, it's an option. And my guess is, if the trial is well conducted and we spell out all the atrocities, on and on and on and on, the penalty is evident.

BLITZER: Let me get both your quick assessments on Libya right now. Colonel Gadhafi agreeing to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction, whatever he has. We're not exactly, precisely sure what he has.

Why do you think he agreed to do that at this time?

LUGAR: Well, he had shown some willingness to try to come back into the world community because he was hurting economically. The sanctions had been very tough on Libya for a long time.

My own guess is that, this coming in March, and he gave the signal to the British, that he was influenced by the fact it appeared that the United States and the coalition of really were going to go after Saddam.

BLITZER: So he was scared?

LUGAR: Yes. And so this is a good time, if you're going to wrap one of these things up, to get on with it and to get some negotiations going.

BLITZER: Senator Bayh?

BAYH: I think that's right, Wolf. Twofold, number one, his economy was a shambles because of the international sanctions. There was no other obvious patron out there, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. And concerns about regime survival. We've demonstrated our seriousness of purpose and he had to be somewhat concerned about his...

BLITZER: And he may have seen the picture of Saddam Hussein and figured, you know what, George W. Bush means business, when he makes those threats.

BAYH: That was always in the background, I'm sure.

BLITZER: Senator Bayh, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Lugar, thanks to you, as well. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to both of you.

LUGAR: Same to you.

BAYH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Remember, we're standing by for a news conference, 1:30 p.m. Eastern, about a little bit more than a half hour or so from now. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, expected to announce an increase in the threat level status here in the United States. We'll stand by for those details. CNN will have live coverage.

Still ahead, is John Kerry's presidential campaign running out of steam? We'll bring you my interview with the Massachusetts Democratic senator.

Plus, a special conversation with the Iraq Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, who has now met with the captured Saddam Hussein. We'll talk about Iraq's political future and the fate of the former Iraqi leader.

But up next, Bruce Morton's essay: When just being in charge matters most.


BLITZER: We're standing by. We anticipate that the federal government, here in the United States, shortly, is going to elevate the threat level status in the United States, as a result of terror fears, from the current yellow to the higher orange.

The secretary of homeland security expected to have a news conference around 1:30 p.m. Eastern, about 35 minutes or so from now. Tom Ridge will be speaking with reporters. CNN, of course, will have live coverage.

We'll get to all of that. In the meantime, Bruce Morton's essay on why other nations may reject America's definition of democracy.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush is fond of saying that democracy is the best political system for everybody everywhere. But there is some evidence that the Russians, after their recent election, may not agree.

President Vladimir Putin, whom Bush likes...

BUSH: I was able to get a sense of his soul.

MORTON: ... President Putin called the election free, honest, open and democratic. Short translation: My party won.

Outside observers, two groups, said the results showed the extensive use of the state apparatus and media favoritism to benefit the largest pro-presidential party -- Putin's, in other words. But pro-democracy, with a small "d," parties did very badly, and the head of one of them, Gregory Yavlinsky, noted, "We now have, again, a one-party parliament. Russia has had no such parliament since Brezhnev."

That strikes a chord. No doubt, government pressure, government media helped Putin's party win. But it's a party that really is only about him, not about issues like trade or education or whatever.

And authoritarian leadership is something that appeals to many Russians. There's a phrase in the language, which translates, "Strong boss, strong leader." Russians often use it favorably. A strong boss is a good thing to many.

Talking to workers in the old Soviet Union, West reporters like me were often struck by how much they valued security, preferring a guaranteed job, even a modest one, to the uncertainty and freedom of job hunting in the West.

So it may be that, along with slanted media and all that, some Russians were saying, we want a strong leader, never mind this democracy stuff. And so, maybe democracy isn't a system all the people of the world want. They may prefer security.

Some may refer religious leadership, as many Tibetans apparently did before China took over that country and the Dalai Lama left.

It's easy to look around America and think that it works pretty well. We're all somewhat free, though blacks are not as free as whites, even decades after legal segregation ended. Still, we have some freedom, some optimism, some hope, some reason to think we can rise in the world.

And mostly, that's what we want. But it may not be what everybody wants -- a fact worth remembering as Americans try to sort through the religious and political tangles in Iraq and create a government there that can endure for a while.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.

Still to come, the second hour of "LATE EDITION." We're standing by for a news conference. The secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, expected to elevate the terror threat level in the United States.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're standing by for a statement from the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge. We anticipate he will elevate the terror level here in the United States. CNN will have live coverage of that this hour.

We'll also have my exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in just a moment.

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: And we're standing by for that 1:30 p.m. Eastern news conference with the homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, expected about 30 minutes or so from now, expected to announce a change in the terror threat level, right here in the United States.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is over at the White House. She's following this story.

Kathleen, tell us what you've learned.

KOCH: Wolf, a senior homeland defense official tells CNN that the U.S. intense community has received a, quote, "substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports." The official says there are also credible reports of the possibility of attacks against the U.S. in holiday season.

There is also significant concern, says the official, about al Qaeda's continued desire to use aircraft as weapons. There is also concern, says the official, about the acquisition and development of both chemical, biological and radiological weapons, in particular because acquiring them continues to be, according to the official, an al Qaeda objective.

Wolf, now, this marks the fifth time since the terrorism alert system was developed that, apparently, if what we're hearing is true, that the threat alert level will be raised to orange from yellow. The last time it was raised was back in May around Memorial Day. It was raised for about a period of 10 days.

Now, it was back just in early November that there was an alert put out to airlines, and in particular to cargo carriers, from the Department of Homeland Security about a concern that terrorists might hijack cargo planes and use them to target strategic targets like nuclear power plants, dams and bridges, a concern that they might be hijacked outside the U.S. and brought into the U.S. to hit these strategic targets. But there has been no confirmation if that is the sort of continued concern about the use of aircraft that we will hear about later today.

BLITZER: Any word yet, Kathleen, whether this could be related to the start of the holiday season here in the United States? Christmas, Hanukkah unfolding this week.

KOCH: Wolf, that is specifically what this Homeland Security official did tell CNN, that there is concern that, because of the holiday season, that there could be the potential of attacks. But again, we'll be hearing more about that.

We also don't know if this is related at all to these warnings that we have gotten from the State Department to U.S. personnel and U.S. employees in Saudi Arabia, about them being potential targets of terrorism there. But obviously, we'll be hearing more about that at the bottom -- well, at the half hour.

BLITZER: A damper at the start of this holiday season, to be sure. CNN's Kathleen Koch over at the White House, stand by. We'll be getting back to you.

Once again, at the bottom of this hour, 1:30 p.m. Eastern, about that time, we expect to hear directly from the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge. CNN will have live coverage.

When Senator John Kerry first announced his intention to run for the U.S. presidency, he was widely considered to be the front-runner for his party's nomination. But a series of campaign missteps and the unexpected rise of his rival Howard Dean has left the Massachusetts Democrats languishing in many of the polls, with just about a month or so to go before the official presidential -- first official presidential contest gets off the ground.

Just a little while ago, I spoke with Senator Kerry from the campaign trail in Iowa.


BLITZER: Senator Kerry, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

It's been a week now since the capture of Saddam Hussein. What, if anything, has that done to the Democratic campaign, the Democratic contest?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think it's focused the campaign on national security issues, and it's made it more compelling for the Democratic Party to have a nominee who has the ability to be able to take on George Bush and prove that we can keep the country safe.

It also underscores, I think, the weakness of some candidates who don't even see in the capture of Saddam Hussein that America has been made safer.

And I think we need to stand up to George Bush, because I think his foreign policy, overall, has moved us in the wrong direction and has not made America safer.

BLITZER: The latest Newsweek poll out this week has these numbers. "Does the capture of Saddam make you more or less likely to vote for Bush?" More likely, 52 percent; less likely, 12 percent; no effect, 33 percent.

So clearly, there's been a bounce for Bush as the result of the capture of Saddam Hussein. KERRY: Oh, sure, Wolf, and one would expect that. But that doesn't mean that the war on terror itself is being waged the way it ought to be.

I believe the Bush administration, overall, has run an arrogant and reckless and, in fact, ideological foreign policy. We're less safe with North Korea. We are less safe, in terms of loose nuclear materials in the world. We've not shown the leadership that we need to show with respect to the Middle East. There are enormous numbers of issues.

And, most importantly, I know how to run a far more effective war on terror by finding larger cooperation with other countries. If we were doing a better job of diplomacy, we would have other countries on the ground in Iraq, we would end the reality of America's occupation of a Middle East country, and we would take the target off our troops and make our own troops safer and our military less overextended.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, though, you could argue -- and the Bush people are arguing -- that what the United States has done to Iraq, capture Saddam Hussein, overthrow his regime, has sent a powerful signal out there to other despots around the world.

Take a look only in recent days. This weekend, Moammar Gadhafi, now, for the first time, willing to cooperate and dismantle his weapons of mass destruction. Some argue it's the direct result of his fear of President Bush.

KERRY: Well, of course they're going to argue that. And that's clever politics, but it's not the truth. The truth is that Moammar Gadhafi has been looking for a deal for four years. He began negotiations with Bill Clinton, unfortunately toward the very end of the administration.

This administration, had it truly wanted to pursue proliferation and create a cooperative effort on proliferation issues, would have been engaged in bilateral negotiations with North Korea over two years ago, and we would be in a less dangerous world than we are today with North Korea.

And the deal with Gadhafi, mostly, might I add, pursued and brokered by Tony Blair and the British, could have been achieved some time ago. It's now happening partly to make it look like it's causal with respect to the war on terror. I disagree.

I think there's a much broader agenda that could be achieved on proliferation issues if this administration would engage more thoughtfully with the rest of the world. And I know they're going to try to make it look the way they are, but that doesn't make it truthful.

BLITZER: But you still applaud the decision by the Libyans now to come clean...

KERRY: Absolutely. Of course I do.

BLITZER: ... and allow inspectors to come in there and destroy their chemical, biological, nuclear capabilities, if they have any?

KERRY: For heaven's sakes, yes. Of course I do. It's a very welcome step. And I hope it will show the administration that good diplomacy, in fact, works.

We need to do this with North Korea. We need to show greater leadership on a global basis.

I wish they'd put the money up to secure the loose nuclear materials in Russia. There's an enormous amount they could have done over the last two years. They're way behind the curve on that. And the world is less safe because of it.

BLITZER: In the latest CNN-USA Today Gallup poll, that bounce we were talking about for President Bush, his job approval rating now is at 63 percent, up only from a week earlier, 54 percent. So clearly, the American people have responded, at least in the short term.

But I want to get back to the issue that you raised. Howard Dean, he's your chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. You criticized him for his reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Let's listen to what he said only the other day.


HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to continue to tell the truth, because America's position and the world leadership is at stake. And most of all, because the safety and security of American citizens are at stake. And the truth is that Americans are no safer today from these serious threats than they were the day before Saddam Hussein was captured.


BLITZER: Now, you disagree with him on that?

KERRY: I think that The Washington Post editorialized and called Howard Dean's view "ludicrous."

I think that for a major candidate for the presidency of the United States not to understand that the removal of a dictator who required our troops to go to war and die in the early 1990s, who invaded another country, who attempted to assassinate a former president of the United States, who lobbed 36 missiles into Israel to destabilize the Middle East, who developed and used weapons of mass destruction against another people and his own people, and who was pursuing a further nuclear program than we thought he was, when our own inspectors were in his country destroying those weapons -- for a major candidate not to understand that the capture of that man makes America safer, I think, shows an extraordinary lack of understanding of foreign policy and national security.

We are safer with the removal of Saddam Hussein. Do we still have very significant issues with the war on terror? Of course we do. But to confuse the two, I think, shows a lack of understanding. The fact is that we can run a far more effective war on terror. I wrote a book six years ago about how to do it. There's much that we can do that we're not doing. The most important thing we need is cooperation with other countries, the very thing that this administration is worst at.

BLITZER: All right.

KERRY: They've left relationships tattered across the globe, Wolf. I will repair them, and I will fight a more effective war on terror.

BLITZER: Are you among those Democrats who fear that if Howard Dean were to get the Democratic presidential nomination, he would lead the party into disaster, along the lines of Michael Dukakis or George McGovern?

KERRY: Well, Wolf, look, in order to win the presidency of the United States, we have to convince America that our party has the ability to make America safer and stronger in the world. Traditionally, we have had Democrats who have done that, with Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy. We need to stand up in that tradition this time.

Since September 11th, the issue of national security is going to be much more a part of the campaign than ever before. And I believe we need a nominee who has the experience, has the ability, the proven consistency of policy.

Howard Dean has said one thing on one day, another on the other. In fact, he took a similar position to most of us, originally, about using authority to remove Saddam Hussein, and then he flipped his position later.

The American people want consistent leadership. They want strong leadership. And that's what I intend to provide.

BLITZER: So is he qualified to be president?

KERRY: I can fight a more effective war on terror.

BLITZER: Is he qualified to be president?

KERRY: That's for the American people to decide. What I'm talking about are my credentials and my experience. And I believe I have shown and demonstrated proven leadership that can make America safer than we are today.

I know we can run a more effective war on terror than George Bush's. I've shown how to do it, I know how to do it, and I intend to do it.

BLITZER: Let me show you these two polls that are out now. Newsweek, this poll this week, registered Democrats' choice for the presidential nomination: Howard Dean's at 26 percent; General Clark's at 15 percent; Lieberman, 7 percent; Sharpton, 7 percent. John Kerry, you're down at 6 percent.

But take a look at this. In New Hampshire, which is very important for you, obviously, a recent poll showed Howard Dean at 41 percent, you at 17 percent. That's a pretty lopsided lead, tough to overcome. How are you going to do it?

KERRY: Wrong. We are overcoming it. Look, Wolf, of all people, you know that polls change rapidly. The national polls are absolutely meaningless right now because they reflect exposure and publicity.

My campaign is moving. I'm here in Iowa right now. I'm campaigning for the next four days, talking about the problems of working people. Working people are not better off today than they were three years ago, and everyone in America knows it.

And I'm meeting with people who desperately need health care. They are losing their jobs to other countries. This president is not responding to their needs.

My campaign is growing here. It's growing in New Hampshire. If you folks will focus on what we're talking about, and not on the daily snapshot of polls, that's exactly how I'm going to do it. I'm going to reach voters.

And I'm fighting hard to reach every single voter that I can over the course of the next days. And I'm quite confident about it. We're doing very, very well here in Iowa, and we're growing in New Hampshire. So, stay tuned, it's going to be a good ride.

BLITZER: I read an interesting column by David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register the other day, suggesting that you were doing remarkably well, surprisingly well in Iowa, coming up, that Howard Dean and everybody is assuming that it's a battle between Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt, who won Iowa in '88, but you're just slightly behind, according to this one poll in Iowa.

What do you expect to emerge from Iowa?

KERRY: Well, the voters of Iowa will decide that. But what I will say to you is, I notice that Howard Dean, who yesterday called on people to not be negative, just sent out -- I have it right here -- a negative advertisement about me and Dick Gephardt.

So it looks like Howard Dean is trying to have it both ways. And the fact that he's attacking me, I think, indicates that I'm nipping at his heels and he's worried about it.

We're growing out here. I've got increasing momentum, and I look forward just to talking about real people's problems. This isn't about me. This is about people who desperately want jobs, people who need health care. This is about kids who aren't getting the education that they need. And I know how to provide a better set of choices that are going to help the people of Iowa and our country.

We deserve a real conversation, an honest conversation. And I think if you can't answer questions now during this campaign, honestly, to the voters, how are you going to answer them to George Bush later on?

BLITZER: I want you to respond to the criticism you took in a Rolling Stone interview, in which you said this, the December 2nd issue. You said, "When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect George Bush to" -- you used the "F" word -- "as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."

To which, a few days later, Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, was on this program, "LATE EDITION," and he said this. Listen to what he said.


ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I have known John Kerry for a long time, and I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language. That's beneath John Kerry, and I'm disappointed that he did it.


BLITZER: Like you, he's from Massachusetts, as you well know.

Give our viewers your perspective.

KERRY: Well, it's very interesting. I wonder if Andy Card is disappointed in George Bush for using a bad word on a stage in Pittsburgh, when he called a reporter a certain name.

Look, sometimes we say things. But the fact is, that's exactly what they did in Iraq. And I think they owe the American people an apology.

They owe the American people an apology for telling them lies. They owe the American an apology for not building a real coalition. They owe the American people an apology for putting our young men and women at greater risk than they need to be. They owe an apology for our breaking alliances and relationships around the world. They owe the American people an apology for spending $87 billion of our tax money, that we didn't need to spend if we'd done the hard work of diplomacy.

I'm looking for an apology for this administration's bad foreign policy, and I think we deserve a better deal.

BLITZER: One final question, the money. You're mortgaging your home to raise money for the campaign. How much of your own personal wealth do you anticipate having to use in order to try to get the nomination?

KERRY: That's not important, Wolf. What's important is that I believe in my own candidacy, that I believe in the need for change in America enough that I'm prepared to put some of my own money in it. Frankly, it's better to put some of my own in, than a lot of special interest money that you see going to George Bush around the country.

This administration has the greatest feeding frenzy in modern history with special interests. And I have a record of taking on those special interests.

You know, I proudly stood up and stopped them from drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I took on Newt Gingrich when he wanted to tear apart the Clean Air and Clean Water Act.

We need a president who knows how to fight for the average worker of our country, not for special interests that shove people off of Medicare into HMOS and then wind up giving the oil industry...

BLITZER: All right.

KERRY: ... $50 billion of incredible subsidies.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, we're almost out of time. So bottom line, how much money do you anticipate going out of your pocket, your wife's pocket, in order to finance your campaign?

KERRY: Wolf, I don't know. I'm going to put in what I need to put in. I intend to win the nomination. We're doing very well here in Iowa. We're going to grow in New Hampshire, because I'm fighting for real people's needs.

And people who are working in America are getting hurt by this administration's relationship with special interests. And we need a president who is going to fight for people. That's why I'm spending some money, and I think it's a worthwhile fight.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, thanks for joining us from Iowa.

KERRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."


BLITZER: And I spoke with the senator just before we got word that the federal government in the United States is about to elevate the terror threat level.

You're looking at a live picture over the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington. We're standing by for a news conference. Tom Ridge, the secretary, expected to announce that the threat level is being elevated from the current yellow to orange, an elevated, heightened level of concern coming around the holiday season. He will spell out details, precisely what this means.

CNN will have live coverage. That's coming up. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're following a developing story, breaking news here in the United States, the threat level about to go up from yellow to orange, from the high level to an -- from an elevated level to a high level.

You are looking at a live picture over the Department of Homeland Security. The secretary, Tom Ridge, expected very soon to emerge to head to that microphone, make the official announcement, explain why, around this holiday season, the United States fears terrorism once again and the threat level is about to be increased.

Covering the story for us is Kathleen Koch. She's over at the White House, and she has fresh details.

What is generating this kind of increased threat concern, Kathleen?

KOCH: Wolf, this is some new information that CNN has gotten from a state official who is involved in homeland security, who has had a briefing from the Department of Homeland Security.

And this official says that authorities are telling state officials that the U.S. has received the, quote, "highest volume of credible threats since 9/11."

However, this same official says that is what they have heard each of the last four times that the level has been raised from yellow to orange.

The official went on to say that the volume and the credibility of the intelligence is up with multiple credible sources. And the same official says, as I'd reported earlier, that there seems to be an increased focus on using aircraft to do something of the magnitude of 9/11 or greater, according to the state official.

The official said that for that very reason, that this official is being told that airports may need to call on state and local law enforcement to assist them in bring up additional security during the holidays. There also may be security beefed up on the U.S. border.

And apparently, according to the state official, Secretary Ridge, I don't know if it's before or after this press conference he's about to have, he'll be soon making calls to Canadian and Mexican authorities to discuss with them the need to beef up the border security.


BLITZER: From what you're hearing, Kathleen, and all of our other reporters who are now trying to this cover this story, is there a specific threat out there with credible information, or is this once again more of the vague kind of so-called chatter that the U.S. intelligence community, the law enforcement community, has been picking up, and as an abundance of caution, they simply want to raise this threat level before Christmas, New Year's, to make sure that everyone is as cautious as possible?

KOCH: Wolf, this is the sort of thing that often does happen around the holidays. The last time that the threat level was raised was back in May, around the Memorial Day holiday.

But again, as the State official said, and as some Homeland Security officials have told us, there are these, what they consider to be, specific and credible threats. But, again, that is what we have heard in the past.

The specifics, again, that we have are the possibility of the use of aircraft. And then, as this Homeland Security spokesman told us earlier, also concerned about the acquisition and development of chemical, biological and radiological weapons, simply because al Qaeda seems to be staying very focused on those, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there was this tape, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number- two al Qaeda that was released in recent days, Al-Jazeera putting that out. It made a specific threat in that tape.

Do you know whether or not that tape, in part, resulted in this decision by the federal government to raise the threat level?

KOCH: We don't know, Wolf, if that tape had any part whatsoever. But again, it was just back in early November that these concerns were raised by the Department of Homeland Security about the continuing threat presented by aircraft.

While security has been beefed up quite a bit at airports for passenger carriers, there was a lot of concern about cargo carriers that don't have quite the same security. They -- many of them don't -- not only not have reinforced cockpit doors, but they don't have cockpit doors at all.

And then it was pointed out to me, in reports that I was doing early in November on this subject, that many of these very, very large planes that the cargo carriers use, like a 747, carry an immense amount of fuel. One 747, more fuel than all of the aircraft that were crashed on 9/11 combined.

BLITZER: All right.

KOCH: So it could do a lot of damage.

BLITZER: Kathleen, stand by at the White House, because we're going to be getting back to you.

The live picture we're showing our viewers is of the Homeland Security Department. They're standing by. They're getting ready to hear from Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, on an announcement elevating the threat level, the terror threat level here in the United States from yellow to orange. Presumably credible information coming in, supposedly from multiple sources, saying there could be an attempted terrorist attack. We're going to continue to cover this story.

Much more coming up. We also have with us the former attorney general of the United States, Dick Thornburgh.

Stand by. Much more coming up.


BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. We're continuing to cover a breaking story here in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security about to announce that the terror threat level in the United States is being elevated from yellow to orange, from elevated level to high level.

CNN'S Jeanne Meserve is standing by.

As we await Tom Ridge's arrival at that microphone, Jeanne, what are you hearing from your sources?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, an official with the Department of Homeland Security does confirm that the threat level is going up. He says that the U.S. intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. These are considered credible reports, about the possibility of attacks against the homeland during the holiday season.

There is, he says, significant concern specifically about the use of aircraft as weapons here. And there's also a mention of weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, radiological weapons -- which he says al Qaeda is continuing to try to acquire and use.

Now, I've also talked with a state homeland security official who has been briefed by federal officials. He has a little bit more detail, saying that the volume and credibility of the threats has gone up. He does not mention the specificity of the threats, just that the volume and credibility is up, that there are multiple credible sources here.

Again, the focus on using aircraft, what he has heard is that al Qaeda is looking to do something on the magnitude of 9/11 or perhaps even greater. Aviation the big concern here, to such an extent that airports are being advised that they may need to call in state and local law enforcement to help them beef up their security levels.

Also concern about the borders. I am told that officials in Canada and in Mexico are going to be called, or perhaps have been by now, by Tom Ridge to discuss tightening up those borders.

In the past, what's happened when the threat level has gone up, there have been phonecalls to the states with specific lists of concerns about possible targets. States are anticipating that they will be getting those calls in just a little bit.

This, of course, is going to be the fifth time the threat level has gone up. They have done it less and less frequently because there has been such significant concern on the parts of states and localities, and also private industry, about the extraordinary expense of doing this.

It will be interesting to hear in the secretary's comments today the degree of specificity in these threats. This is what state and local officials and industry has said in the past has been missing...

BLITZER: All right.

MESERVE: They've want to know specifics of what's going on, so they can gear up specifically to counter it. Well, let's see if he has it.


BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, stand by, because we're going to listen to this news conference.

The secretary of homeland security will be coming into this room, over at the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington, to make the formal announcement, elevating the terror threat level of the United States from yellow to orange.

Dick Thornburgh is the former attorney general of the United States. He's joining us here in Washington. In Kansas, in Wichita, is David Scheffer, the former U.S. ambassador at large for war-crimes issues during the Clinton administration.

While we await the arrival of Tom Ridge, a man you know quite well from Pennsylvania, Dick Thornburgh, there are very specific ramifications of this kind of announcement, especially coming just as the holiday season gets under way here in the United States.

DICK THORNBURGH, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Wolf, it was 15 years ago to the day, when I was serving as attorney general in the first Bush administration, that we received word of the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland -- the very first mass attack on the United States citizens. So this news resonates with me personally, as well as in terms of the history.

I think, clearly, Secretary Ridge is a cautious individual, but he's also a prudent individual, acting upon the intelligence, the massive intelligence-gathering agents that we have in our government -- highly sophisticated and analytic skills that have been ramped up considerably since 9/11. This is something to take seriously.

BLITZER: David Scheffer, you're a former ambassador. You know how the intelligence community works. They have to have pretty good reason at this holiday season to go up and make this announcement and put damper on a lot of holiday spirits.

DAVID SCHEFFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR AT LARGE FOR WAR-CRIMES ISSUES: Yes, it's a very significant move by them, and it must mean that the volume and the quality of the intelligence is at a very, very high degree.

I might also add, by the way, that just to connect this to some of the news we've been reading over the last week or two in the federal courts, you know, there's this whole issue of whether Americans are enemy combatants, connected to these kinds of terrorism activities.

If there is, indeed, a lot of this going on, on U.S. territory or it's perceived to be, you do have that question, are any American citizens engaged in this? And then how do the courts handle them as enemy combatants?

BLITZER: What's your point, Ambassador Scheffer? Elaborate a little bit.

SCHEFFER: Well, my point is simply that we're seized now with a very real argument as to if American citizens are engaged in this kind of activity on American territory, if they're part of this increased traffic that seems to give rise to an increased threat level here on U.S. territory, then our courts are struggling at this moment with how exactly to handle Americans who might be engaged in the war on terrorism as, quote, unquote, "enemy combatants." And it's not a simple formula. The courts are struggling with this, as to what their rights are.

So it just means that, in the long term, what is happening today, we may see a fallout on this in weeks or months to come, if American citizens are implicated.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Ambassador Scheffer.

I've got Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner -- he was the commissioner at the time of 9/11. He's on the phone.

When you hear word that the threat level is going to go up around this holiday season, Commissioner Kerik, what goes through your mind?

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I think you have to think about what's being heard through the intelligence community. You know, you have to remember, we're doing a lot better today, post-September 11th, than we were pre-, with regard to communications intelligence, coordination between agencies.

So I would imagine that there's a lot of chatter, there's a lot of things going on in the intelligence community that we're unaware of, that the authorities are aware of, Tom Ridge and his office, Homeland Security, and that's what they're reacting to.

But you also have to keep in mind, Wolf, you know, on September 10th of 2001 we had no advance warning. You know, we should be elevated constantly. You know, going up and down, you know, having some insight about what's going on in the future is a good thing, but people in this country have to remember that we're living in a new world now. That threat is constant, should be constant, in the back of our mind. There is an element out there that despises this country, despises what we do, who we are, and we have to be prepared for that.

BLITZER: Commissioner Kerik, we're only a few seconds away from the start of this news conference. New York City is always, I think, since 9/11, at that heightened level, at that higher level of orange, as opposed to yellow. I guess there's not going to be an immediate change in New York City as a result of this announcement today?

KERIK: No, I don't think so, and I think Ray Kelly (ph) and Mayor Bloomberg, they're reacting appropriately. New York City has been a target of international terrorism twice now in the last 10 years -- the '93 bombing, the 2001 bombing. They've...

BLITZER: Commissioner Kerik, stand by. I want to interrupt, because here's Tom Ridge, the secretary.

Well, actually, it's not him, it's one of his aides, who just walked in. Let's listen to see what he says.

I guess he's not -- they're not yet ready. Finish your thought. I apologize, Commissioner Kerik.

KERIK: But, you know, we've got to think proactively now, and that's what New York City does.

BLITZER: All right. We're standing by to hear from Tom Ridge. He's going to be walking in this room at the Department of Homeland Security literally any second now, we're told, and he's going to make the announcement and explain to the American people and to people around the world why the United States is elevating, going up to a higher threat level just as the holiday season gets under way here in the United States.

Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, someone who's been on the job now for some time. It looks like they're getting ready to move in. Reporters presumably will be allowed to ask some follow-up questions as the secretary emerges.

We're told he will have a carefully prepared statement explaining this decision, why it's being announced right now, and the basis of what -- some of this information, clearly very, very sensitive, so it's doubtful he'll be able to go into a whole lot of detail without fear of compromising national security, but he will explain what's going on. And here he is.


BLITZER: Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, very serious. Clearly, a very, very important announcement on the eve of the holiday season here in the United States. The federal government elevating the terror threat level from yellow to orange, from an elevated level to a high level, as a result of what he calls a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related information out there.

Perhaps greater now than it's been since 9/11. It rivals, he said, or exceeds that level since 9/11. Specifically, the potential of the use of aircraft, once again, in some sort of terror plot against the United States and its citizens.

Brian Jenkins is one of the foremost experts on counterterrorism. He's joining us on the phone. He's with the RAND Corporation.

Brian, as you listen to the very sober, serious words from Tom Ridge, give us your perspective.

BRIAN JENKINS, TERRORISM EXPERT: In the case of elevating these alerts, what they do is they look at the volume of communications between known or suspected terrorists. They look at the credibility of various sources reporting information. And they look at specificity. That is, is there any specific thing with regard to tactics, location, targets, timing?

In this particular case, they're talking about the volume going way up, about the credibility of some of the sources being very high. And while we don't have anything specific, in terms of a specific tactic or city, they believe it's specific enough with regard to timing -- that is, near-term -- to call this alert. But that's a judgment.

BLITZER: The judgment, the difficult decision to make, because, once you elevate that threat level nationwide, all law enforcement agencies around the country -- local, state, federal -- they have to take specific action, which can be quite expensive, in making sure that they're prepared.

And he also pointed out -- and I was listening very carefully, as I'm sure you were, Brian -- that he said the threat level has to go up because the threats involve this current holiday season, and he added, "and beyond," which is a -- indefinite amount of time beyond. Those are very difficult decisions to make.

JENKINS: You're exactly right. Of course, the "beyond" we know is always there. This is not going to be something that we can easily, in the future, say we are at an end to the war on terrorism, to combating terrorism. It is going to be an enduring task. This is something that we are going to live with for a long time.

So the beyond is a given. But what the immediate concern is, the holiday season, and, again, you're exactly right. The primary purpose of this communication is not to scare the American public, because, in fact, even the heightened risk of an attack does not automatically translate into significantly increased risk for every American citizen.

But this is primarily a communication to the more than 18,000 law enforcement jurisdictions in this country, to all of the agencies -- the federal government and state level -- as well as to those in the private sector who have security responsibilities. And they have specific menus of security measures that they will go to, based upon these alert levels.

And sometimes, we know from some previous reporting, sometimes the mere fact that we go to a higher level can have an important deterrent effect.

BLITZER: Brian, I want you to stand by, because Dick Thornburgh is here in the studio with us, the former attorney general of the United States. He was listening very carefully to what was going on.

I couldn't help but notice, Mr. Attorney General, that the secretary of homeland security did not at all distance this threat that we have been hearing over the past few days from New York City, in particular, and Washington, in particular, that a lot of the chatter seems to be directed at high-profile targets, once again, in two of the -- the two cities that were hit on 9/11.

THORNBURGH: Yes, I want to pick up, Wolf, on a remark made earlier by Ambassador Scheffer, talking about the challenges that the courts have.

You know, just this past week, a court held that we were not entitled to restrain Jose Padilla, who was the suspected dirty bomber that was picked up in Chicago. And the reasoning there was that, while he was an unlawful combatant, he was not taken into custody in what they called a zone of combat or a battlefield.

BLITZER: He was taken into custody at O'Hare Airport.

THORNBURGH: O'Hare Airport. But today, I think, reminds us just how broad that definition has to be, if we're going to be able to prevent and thwart these terrorist attacks. That that's really an unrealistic and artificial distinction.

BLITZER: All right, we're not going to get into a whole discussion of that. Right now we don't have time.

But, Brian Jenkins, when the secretary says Americans should go ahead with their travel plans around this holiday season, as they hope to do, and a lot of people will be traveling this week, as you well know, is that good advice?

JENKINS: I think it's realistic advice. We can't shut down the country.

And keep in mind, part of the terrorist arsenal is threat itself.

That is, even -- we know they're always out there planning these things. Their ambitions remain to inflict blows upon this country. They are constantly issuing threats. We just had, last week, a new audiotape purportedly coming from the number two in al Qaeda, Sheik Zawahiri, warning of attacks in the United States.

That inspiring fear is part of their arsenal. And therefore, they would be be delighted, in fact, they would be imposing huge economic costs on us, as well as social disruption, if by making those threats, if through the volume of this chatter, they were able to shut us down as a country. So, I think that's realistic advice.

BLITZER: Attorney General Thornburgh, a lot of Americans are going to be totally confused right now. A week ago, the U.S. captured Saddam Hussein. A week later, the United States elevates the threat level from yellow to orange, from elevated to high. What's going on, they will ask.

THORNBURGH: Well, I think it's an important reminder of the nature of our adversary. We're dealing with fanatics who have no regard for innocent human life; no regard for their own lives, through the demonstrated suicide bombing; and that our alert capacity has to be at 100 percent all the time as individuals and as institutions, within the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

This is not the kind of war, if I can use that term, that we're used to fighting. There is no battlefield. There is a constant need to keep on the alert, and I'm confident we can do that. BLITZER: All right. I want to just recap for our viewers. Tom Ridge, making the official announcement just a little while ago, the threat level, the terror threat level in the United States has been elevated. Let's listen to what Ridge said.


TOM RIDGE, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Today, the United States government raised the national threat level from an elevated to high risk of terrorist attack, or as more commonly known, from a yellow code to an orange code.

We know from experience that the increased security that is implemented when we raise the threat level, along with increased vigilance, can help disrupt or deter terrorist attacks.

The U.S. intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland, around the holiday season and beyond.


BLITZER: Tom Ridge making the official announcement just a little while ago. I want to thank Dick Thornburgh, Brian Jenkins for their assessment.

Much more coverage of this important story coming up throughout the day here on CNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. After a short break, CNN presents Time's Person of the Year. Stay with us.


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