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Changes in the War on Terrorism; Musharraf Interview; Colin Powell Speaks about Obama

Aired January 24, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Obama's vow to fight terrorists on the moral high ground. This hour the top member of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the president's dramatic break with the Bush administration on national security.

Plus Colin Powell gets emotional about President Obama's inauguration. The former secretary of state tells me about the moving experience of witnessing history.

And my exclusive interview with the former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. His insight into President Obama's efforts to keep the region from exploding.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: The message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly. We are going to do so effectively. And we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideas.


BLITZER: The new president of the United States moving aggressively to overhaul the war on terror. We want to welcome you to our new Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Mr. Obama signed several executive orders in his first days in office, including a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp within a year.

Critics, though, are raising some red flags, fearing Mr. Obama won't be tough enough on terrorists. But many of his Democratic allies are applauding him.

And joining us now, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. He spent a long time as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. You are giving up the chairmanship but you're still going to be a member. Is that right, senator?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, (D) WV: Absolutely. I would not leave the Intelligence Committee for anything.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable by the new orders that President Obama has given that the enhanced interrogation techniques, as they were called during the Bush administration, many of them are going to go away and that the CIA and other U.S. officials will have to abide by the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogations.

ROCKEFELLER: Not only am I happy that all of these things have been done so quickly, so promptly by the president, not rashly, because he's been thinking about it a long time. But also the fact that for frankly for some years we've been trying to do that in the Intelligence Committee is to get the Army Field Manual substituted so that the so-called extremely enhanced interrogation techniques cannot be used.

But every time we pass it, we try to pass it, we lose.

BLITZER: Because the former vice president, Dick Cheney, he said this on one of his exit interviews. He said, "If Obama were to seek my advice, I would say, look, before you go out and start to make policy based on the campaign rhetoric we heard last year, what you need to do is sit down and find out what we've done, find out how we did it, what the justification was for it, what kind of results it's produced and then make an informed judgment about whether or not you want to keep these things."

Is the former vice president right?

ROCKEFELLER: I think the former vice president is quite wrong because I think there are people like yourself, Wolf, the press in general, the Congress as a whole, hundreds and hundreds of books that have been written on these subjects, Barack Obama reads voraciously, he knows all of this stuff. He has picked the best people possible for his national security team and they will advise him to do what he has already done today with these three executive orders in a calm, smart, sensible way.

BLITZER: When I interviewed Dick Cheney a few weeks ago, he said Americans are alive right now because of the waterboarding of three of those al Qaeda suspects picked up and if you move away from those kinds of policies it will make American more vulnerable down the road.

ROCKEFELLER: Well, the vice president presumably is back in Wyoming and comfortable. My point of view would be very different on that. My point of view would be the more we did those kinds of tactics which the Bush administration used, the more enemies we made around the world, not just through having Guantanamo but what happened in Guantanamo and the renditioning, that is sending to other countries prisoners, torturing them. And other countries getting the credit for it. That we've made enemies that have made us less safe than we were before.

BLITZER: If the U.S. were to capture Osama bin Laden or Ayman al Zawahiri, his number two, on the battlefield right now and bring them to the United States, would you say they could only be questioned according to the U.S. Army Field Manual techniques?

ROCKEFELLER: I would because the U.S. Army Field Manual technique has been by - I mean, I can't recount to you the number of groups that have come before the Intelligence Committee to testify and to swear that treating people decently, toughly, depriving them of a lot of comfort but not doing some of the most extreme measures, gets you much more information than just having them beaten into pulps and in some cases dying.

BLITZER: President Obama says he will shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year. What do you want to see happen? There are about 250 or so detainees there right now. What do you want to see the U.S. do with that?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, he did - the president did a very good thing, I think. He set up - one of his executive orders was setting up a very high level national security team to go through each and every one of the prisoners, 254 prisoners in Guantanamo, figure out their status, which of them are prosecutable, which of them are not, where they should be put. In other words, do it on a case by case basis and that's why you don't - you don't close it down immediately.

I think a lot of those people could be returned to their countries. I think Europe will agree to take some of them. We'll have to put some of them in safe places in our country. But it will be done rationally, case by case, thoughtfully and ...

BLITZER: Would you - I was going to say, senator, would you take some of them and put them in prisons in West Virginia?

ROCKEFELLER: If that was in the national security I certainly would.

BLITZER: On warrantless wiretaps right now are you confident - and you are privy to the most sensitive information - that the National Security Agency and other U.S. government agencies are doing it only as a result, legally, with prior warrants for these kinds of surveillance?

ROCKEFELLER: We - it's been, I think, at least a half a year since we've heard from the National Security Agency.

Wolf, you and I know because we've been talking for years, that the amount of information that we got was absolutely minimal, minimal and - for example, when the word waterboarding would use, they would often say we do that to soldiers all the time just to get them ready.

Obviously the difference is the soldiers went through it maybe once and the next day they were reporting for duty. They knew there was no threat to their lives, they couldn't possibly be scared. It was just kind of a technique to get them ready in case they get caught. But there's a lesson in that.

The lesson is the more of the Guantanamo and torture type stuff that we do, the more we endanger our troops not just now but also in the future.

I think it's remarkable what the president's done. What's he been president for, 48 hours? I mean, it's absolutely astounding.

BLITZER: One final question, senator, before I let you go. Should the government right now, whether the executive branch or for that matter the legislative branch be investigating former Bush administration officials, high ranking officials for possible criminal activity while they were in office?

ROCKEFELLER: My answer on that is very I think clear and to give myself some credit, quite thoughtful.

I think what we should do is to plow our way ahead, figure out what we have to do, what are the problems we have to face, how are we going to make sure that we have the proper oversight on the intelligence committees, how are we going to do all of these things? And get them in place. And then when tempers have cooled just a but then let's look back, figure out who are the people that were responsible for creating some of these situations and figure out what we want to do about it.

BLITZER: So you're leaving open that option. Is that what you're saying?

ROCKEFELLER: I am leaving it open.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, good luck in this new Congress. Appreciate you joining us. We hope you will be a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ROCKEFELLER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: U.S. missiles strike Pakistan just days into the new Obama administration. I'm about to get exclusive reaction from the former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf.

And the threats to U.S. security in Mr. Obama's first 100 days. The author and journalist David Sanger of "The New York Times" on the global challenges the new president is inheriting. And former secretary of state Colin Powell, he shares his thoughts and emotions after witnessing the inauguration of America's first African American president.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



OBAMA: Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met.


BLITZER: The new president of the United States, Barack Obama, has made it clear his line in the sand will be Afghanistan and that he intends to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban and it didn't take very long for the first U.S. missile strike to be launched in nearby tribal areas of Pakistan. I asked the former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about that in an exclusive one on one interview.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, FORMER PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: But nobody in Pakistan is comfortable with a strike across the border. There is no doubt in that. Public opinion is very much against it. But as far as this issue of the new president, President Obama having taken over and this country (inaudible).

But I have always been saying that policies don't change with personalities. Policies have national interests and policies depend on an environment. So the environment and national interests of the United States being the same. I thought policies would remain constant.

But however, we have to find a way out towards why we would like to deal with al Qaeda and Taliban. Public opinion is certainly against the methodology being adopted so we have to find a wire (ph) media (ph) which satisfies the public opinion as well as our resolve to fight terrorism.

BLITZER: But you understand why the U.S. is interested in locating and going after these al Qaeda or Taliban suspected targets inside Pakistan. You understand the U.S. interest in this particular point?

MUSHARRAF: Yes. We understand the interest of fighting militants, fighting terrorists, fighting the foreigners in the Pakistani territory. It is common. It is common with Pakistan. It is in Pakistan's interests that we hit militant targets but as I said we have to find a wire (ph) media (ph) of satisfying public opinion also. These attacks continue (ph) to a situation and we must find an answer, a wiremedia (ph) to.

BLITZER: Here is what President Obama said in his inaugural address. Listen to this.


OBAMA: To the Muslim World, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those - to those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we are willing to extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


BLITZER: That was his message to the Muslim World. What's your message, President Musharraf, to President Obama.

MUSHARRAF: Well, I would like to really get involved in giving a message to President Obama. He understands best for himself for the next four years what he wants to do. I am not here to really advise him but certainly the Muslim World expects justice because it is the political uncertainties, political injustices which have - which are spawning terrorism and extremism. So I hope that he addresses the core issue of resolving political disputes involving all the Muslim - almost all political disputes involving Muslim countries.

BLITZER: There is no doubt, I assume you will agree, President Musharraf, that there are al Qaeda and Taliban bases now that have been established in some of these areas inside Pakistan and only last October in one of the presidential debates, then candidate Obama said this, listen to what he said.


OBAMA: If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden, we will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.


BLITZER: Apparently now that his administration is launching these missile strikes against these suspect al Qaeda sites, as I said, but whatever the reason, there are al Qaeda and Taliban bases now along these tribal areas inside Pakistan. Is that right?

MUSHARRAF: Well, Wolf, let me put it this way. I think we confuse, or we mix strategy with tactics. Now what President Obama has said, strategically, yes, we need to eliminate al Qaeda and Taliban. Who is helping that? So we are onboard on strategy. Is the tactical part that we mix up and we get confused with Pakistan being onboard or not being onboard. Let's not mix tactics with strategy.

We can differ on tactics, on how to deal with a situation, how to deal with al Qaeda on the ground. There may be differences of opinion. But that has nothing to do with our overall resolve on the strategic plan that we must defeat al Qaeda and Taliban.

So I feel that we mix the two and that is where the acrimony or that is where the differences of opinion start and we confuse the whole issue.

BLITZER: But you acknowledge that there are al Qaeda and Taliban bases ...


BLITZER: ... now established in Pakistan.

MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed. There are bases in the mountains. Al Qaeda is there. I have been always saying that and everyone knows it and therefore we have been striking out them. We have created a force called Special Operations Task Force that has been created with assistance from you.

So we have certain means of dealing with terrorists (ph). But what I have said is, why strategically we must deal with al Qaeda and Taliban, there is no doubt. Now on the tactics on the modalities of dealing with them, your coming across the border doesn't go well with the public. So let's find out some methodology which satisfies public opinion as well as we are able to deal with them.

So we must find out our methodology of doing this.

BLITZER: Is a nuclear arsenal, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal totally secure from your perspective? Do you believe there is any threat that these weapons could get into the hands of terrorists?

MUSHARRAF: No. They are absolutely secure. As secure as any other country's nuclear assets. They are that secure. We have adopted the best practices from around the world. Maybe from whatever you practice also and we evolved the system where the development of our assets and the handling, holding of our assets both are under exceptionally good custodial controls and there is no doubt these cannot fall into the hands of extremists or terrorists. Unless the whole country goes terrorist and extremist.

And this is what I again need to warn. That undermining the Pakistan Army, undermining our intelligence organizations, especially the ISI, is undermining Pakistan and it is most dangerous.

BLITZER: The former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf.

Coming up, the former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, he gets emotional, emotional in reflecting on a moment in American history.


GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: A lot of people said, white folks would go into the booth but they wouldn't pull the lever for him, no matter what they said outside. Well, they did.


BLITZER: My Inauguration Day interview with the former secretary of state, General Powell. That is coming up. And the new president faces some daunting foreign policy challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, elsewhere around the world.

I'll speak about that and more with the "New York Times" reporter David Sanger. He has a brand new book entitled "The Inheritance". Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Each of you have the power to make change. If you remember our motto, "yes, we can."


OBAMA: Yes, we did, in this election. And yes, we shall, in creating the kind of country that our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren can all thrive in.


BLITZER: Shortly after President Obama was inaugurated, I spoke with former Secretary of State and former Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Colin Powell. I asked about the emotions he was feeling at that moment.


GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm enormously excited, Wolf. And I think the whole country is excited. This is such a momentous occasion for all of us, a new generation taking over, a new president coming in, a solid team coming in with him.

And he happens to be African-American. You can't ignore that fact, particularly the day after the holiday that celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. So all of us were deeply touched at the speech that he gave, at the very act of him taking the oath of office.

And looking where I was up on the stand, looking down the length of the Mall at a million or 2 million people, it was a deeply moving experience. And I think the whole country is going to be touched by it.

And now the difficult work begins tomorrow. And we now need to come together as a nation and help our new president.

BLITZER: Did you ever think, General Powell, that you would be alive to witness this day?

POWELL: I didn't know if I would or I would not. I knew the day would come eventually. I watched over the last 50 years, the 50 years of my adult life as my country went from Jim Crow and discrimination and segregation and I couldn't get a hamburger in a hamburger joint in the South, and slowly but surely things changed, things improved, America looked at itself with Dr. Martin Luther King holding the mirror up for us to look at ourselves.

And we said, this is not who we should be or what we should be. This is not the inspiration to the world that we present ourselves as. And so slowly but surely, we changed.

And then in recent years more rapidly to the point where a man of enormous skill and enormous capability was elected president of the United States, and not just because he is black, but it's a sign of our society and our democratic system that he is black and he made it.

A lot of people said, white folks would go into the booth, but they wouldn't pull the level for him no matter what they said outside. Well, they did. And he ran a brilliant campaign, an organized campaign. And it was a very successful campaign.

And, Wolf, let me just say how touched I am at the way in which he has reached out to the other side, if I may call it that. The very act of having a dinner in honor of John McCain last night, and for John McCain, acceptance of that invitation showed that President Obama intends to reach out to all Americans, across all racial, ethnic, social, and economic lines and bring this country together in a unifying effort.

BLITZER: Secretary Powell, he did deliver a strong message to friend and foe alike in his Inaugural Address. I wonder what you thought about that?

POWELL: I think it was a very powerful statement. And I think it was a proper statement. We do have foes out there and they should be on notice that America will deal with them. We will fight for our interests, and we will fight for the interests of our friends.

But I think he also made it clear that his preference is to find peaceful ways to talk to people and to work with our friends and allies. But America will defend its interests. And I think it was most appropriate for him to say that so that there is no mistake on the part of any of our potential foes.

BLITZER: Are you going to be there for him if he calls you, General Powell, and he says, you know, Colin, I need your help, I want you to do something? What are going to say to the commander-in-chief?

POWELL: What would you like me to do, Mr. President? And I would consider anything that a president would ask me to do. I tried in the course of my career, when consulted by a president or a senior official in government, to give my advice, and if I can, to provide my assistance.

BLITZER: He has been saluting a commander-in-chief almost his entire life, he will continue to do so right now. General Powell, thank you so much for spending a few moments with us on this historical day. I know how significant and meaningful it is to you and to our viewers, not only in the United States, and around the world.

We'll talk down the road. Appreciate it very much, and good luck.

POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: President Obama is vowing to confront the threat from terrorists head on.


OBAMA: We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.


BLITZER: From the hunt for bin Laden to the conflict in the Middle East, stand by for insight into the global challenges Mr. Obama faces in his first 100 days.

Also, my exclusive interview with the outgoing pilot of Air Force One, he opens up about the fear and uncertainty aboard the flying Oval Office on the day America was attacked.

Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



OBAMA: Our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause. And that we the people will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again, America's moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership.


BLITZER: The new president wasting no time making one thing clear, diplomacy will be a centerpiece of his foreign policy. Joining us now, David Sanger, he's the chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, and the author of the new bestseller "The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power."

David, congratulations on this excellent new book.


BLITZER: Do you think it's a -- are you surprised that the Obama administration, only days in, is continuing the Bush administration's strategy of launching these drone missile strikes against suspected al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan?

SANGER: You know, I'm not, Wolf, and the reason is that during the campaign, one of the fascinating elements of then-candidate Obama's approach was to say that he would continue strikes.

In fact, he was at one point accused of being a little bit naive for saying that he would go into Pakistani territory. What he was doing at that time was basically annunciating Bush administration policy.

But the question is whether he's going to go further than that. Last July is, as we recount in "The Inheritance," President Bush signed a series of secret orders authorizing ground action.

And you'll remember in September there was a very nasty firefight in which Pakistani forces actually shot back at the United States. These are our allies, right? The question is, is he willing to go in on the ground as well?

BLITZER: Do you think he is?

SANGER: I suspect in the end, he is going to determine that he has to, because despite what you've heard from President Musharraf, the Pakistani military has not made much progress there. And you can't do this by air strikes alone.

BLITZER: He reacted angrily, President Musharraf, in the interview I did with him, when I read to him from your new book, "The Inheritance, a section of which you say that former President Bush misjudged President Musharraf.

Listen to how he responded to what you wrote.


GEN. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, FORMER PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: This very army has apprehended more than 600 al Qaeda people. This very army has fought the Taliban. I, as a person, have suffered suicide attacks on me, on my person.

Now telling such an army, such an intelligence organization, and such an individual that we didn't have our hearts and minds in the fight against terrorism, can only be said by a person who is totally divorced from realities.


BLITZER: All right. That must be you, totally divorced from reality.

SANGER: That must be me.

BLITZER: All right. So go ahead, because he defended not only the Pakistani military, but the intelligence services, this notion that they've been infiltrated with sympathizers to Taliban or al Qaeda, he says, is ridiculous.

SANGER: That's right. No, I interviewed President Musharraf when he was here, when he was still in power. And I went to Pakistan for the book and spent a fair bit of time talking to people about this issue.

There is a story in "The Inheritance" that I think probably gives you the best answer to President Musharraf. Mike McConnell, the outgoing director of national intelligence, goes to Pakistan in May or so.

And he is meeting with a group of generals during one of this secret trips there. And they begin talking to each other, knowing he's in the room, and saying, you know, we have to support the Taliban.

Why? Because the Americans are going to lose heart. They're going to pull out of Afghanistan. When they do, India is going to move further into southern Afghanistan and surround us and crush us.

So the result is that you have an ally here that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, has been with us in this fight, just as President Musharraf said -- former President Musharraf said, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, has been funding the Taliban. And in fact, the ISI was found to have provided a lot of the material that was used to do the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

BLITZER: So that -- so you reject what he said, President Musharraf.

SANGER: I think he is sincere in believing this. But certainly there are members of the ISI, senior members, and some senior members of the military, who are clearly tied in with the Taliban as a hedging strategy.

BLITZER: And the ISI the Pakistani intelligence service. Let me read from "The Inheritance" this line: "Since the Taliban has been allowed to regroup and develop a symbiotic relationship with its al Qaeda neighbors and other insurgents in the Tribal Areas," we are referring to in Pakistan, "it will take years maybe decades before America can leave without risk that the country could collapse and revert to its pre-9/11 status as a Petri dish for terrorists."

You're talking about Afghanistan here.

SANGER: That's right.

BLITZER: Years, maybe decades?

SANGER: That's right. You know, the people who I interviewed for this book leaving the Bush administration, although some of them have obviously stayed over into President Obama's time, all had the same line to me: We can be out of Iraq in four or five years, we're lucky if we're out of Afghanistan in 20 or 30.

BLITZER: Wow. I mean, that's pretty depressing when you think about the potential for disaster there.

SANGER: That's right, because it's -- you know, it's a large country. It's much more unstable than even Iraq is. And it's spread out, Wolf. It does not have the kind of city life that Iraq does. And so you -- it requires deployment in a much broader area.

BLITZER: I was fascinated by the section in your book on Iran. And you write this in "The Inheritance": "Bigger sticks and carrots might not work. But what we've tried for the past eight years has clearly failed. If we stay on the current path, Iran is getting the bomb."

SANGER: That's right.


SANGER: Well, on the day that President Obama was inaugurated, they had roughly the amount of uranium necessary to build one weapon. Now you don't declare yourself a weapon state with one weapon.

They have 4,000 to 5,000 centrifuges running. You do the math with the experts, they tell you that's one-and-a-half to two bombs a year. And they're already building more centrifuges.

So as time goes on, it's going to get harder for President Obama. On top of which, he has got the same problem he has in Pakistan. He has been left with a huge covert operation. We report in the book, also report in The Times, the Israelis came to President Bush seeking the equipment and the rights to go over take out the main nuclear plant in Iran.

BLITZER: And didn't get the permission from the Bush administration.

SANGER: And didn't get the permission. But President Bush said to them that one of the reasons he wasn't giving them the permission was that he had started a major covert operation that he hoped would solve the problem a little less violently.

The question that President Obama has to decide now is, can you engage the Iranians while you're also continuing this operation, or is that sort of too much like the Bay of Pigs problem for President Kennedy?

BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power." The author, David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent from The New York Times.

Good work, David. Thanks.

SANGER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Air Force One all spruced up for President Obama. In a CNN exclusive, we're going to take you inside the flying White House and show you where the president eats and sleeps. And we'll also hear about the desperate hours on 9/11 from the pilot who flew President Bush to safety.

Plus, the new president shares a moment with former President Bush right after the swearing in ceremony. One of our "Hot Shots," pictures of the week.



OBAMA: To all of those watching from around the world, know that as president I will have no greater honor or responsibility than serving as your commander-in-chief.



BLITZER: When America was attacked on 9/11, he scrambled to fly President Bush from Florida to a safe location at a time when no one knew just what was safe and what wasn't.

And there was harrowing top secret flight with the president into Iraq's combat zone. Retiring U.S. Air Force One pilot, Colonel Mark Shulman (ph) has flown three presidents. In a CNN exclusive, Colonel Shulman invited us on board the world's most famous plane and I began by asking him about those desperate hours after the terrorists struck.

You learned a lot I assume on 9/11. Let's go back to that day, September 11, 2001. It started off as a normal day in Florida. Then what happened?

PILOT: It was in Sarasota, Florida and the intent was -- we had been in Jacksonville earlier (INAUDIBLE) we were to depart Sarasota and as the first plane hit the towers, the com started coming alive on the aircraft. Everybody on our aircraft were out at the plane pre- flighting. We started getting information that there had been a terrible accident in New York City and we started seeing it on the television and at that point we just started working with the staff, getting more and more information as to the amount of planes that were hijacked, where the planes where and then we slowly started working it to getting the president back to Washington, DC as soon as possible. And as the scenario started to unfold, we realized getting him back home wasn't the answer right away. We needed to move him around in the country to figure out exactly what the entire - what the entire plot was, to make sure that the president wasn't part of that, that he wasn't the next target of the day, as such.

BLITZER: So as a result you made that decision, you're not going to go through Florida or right back to Washington, you had to call an audible as they say ...

PILOT: Right.

BLITZER: ... and go someplace else. Talk about that.

PILOT: Absolutely. When we left Sarasota in an attempt to head back to Washington, at least get him out on the East Coast, land him somewhere so he could be close to Washington so once we got the all clear and it was safe, to get him back in. The problem is at the time there were many airliners that were still flying in the United States. At that time there were airliners that were hijacked. Sadly, they'd been taken over and we were unsure of other airlines.

So the FAA was constantly giving us information. The president was in full contact with everyone he needed at the White House, the vice president, etc. So he was getting information from Channel 2 on Air Force One. So as a threat scenario would develop, we countered it. So that the term (ph) was that we may be a target so I took him out to the Gulf of Mexico just because there were no airliners out in the Gulf and then we started working a final location so that he could land and address the nation and let them know that basically what the status of the nation was, was my understanding.

BLITZER: How long could you have stayed in the air if necessary? What kind of capability, without aerial refueling?

PILOT: I'm going to say we took off with a little over seven hours worth of gas. So I basically could have taken him anywhere in the United States and landed. The first location, Barksdale Air Force Base, once we landed we filled the plane up with gas. So I had 14 hours worth of gas, so I could have taken him halfway around the world. From Barksdale we were still waiting to get the all-clear from Washington, D.C. So our goal was to take him to locations that I knew had underground capability. And we still weren't sure what the entire plot was against the president. We all just assumed that since we had the president that there was an excellent chance that he was part of some kind of plot to harm him or his staff.

So when I took him to -- the next stop was Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The goal again was to get him on the ground so that everybody could figure out exactly what needed to be done and he no sooner got on the ground, talking with the military leadership and then he decided to come back and he came back on the plane and then we rushed him back to Washington, DC at that point.

BLITZER: You flew him back right here to Andrews Air Force Base.

PILOT: Absolutely. So we came way back across the country as fast as we'd go. We had fighter support throughout the day. They all joined up on us and they escorted us to the Washington area.

BLITZER: F-15s, F-16s.

PILOT: F-16s from his guard unit, mission one, the president's guard unit in Houston. When we went over the Gulf of Mexico the fighters joined up on us. Houston Center basically at that point told us that the air space was ours so we were just flying with F-16s on our wing and they were protecting us.

BLITZER: Was that the most nerve wracking day in your history as a pilot?

PILOT: Absolutely just because there was no - we had no idea - we had all trained for different emergencies for the president and just no one has ever trained for the fact that a country sounds kind of bad, the country was in chaos at that point.

BLITZER: Correct me if I am wrong, there is another plane, I guess they call it the Doomsday Plane for continuity of government, to get the top leadership out of the United States, up in the skies, and it has nothing to do with Air Force One.

PILOT: It does not, no.

BLITZER: Are you familiar with that program?

PILOT: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I don't know what you can tell us about it. But what would be the scenario to get that plane to take off?

PILOT: There's a lot of emergency operations for the president that are still, as expected, sensitive and classified so I really can't talk about what their mission would be. My mission is basically to keep him safe, get him to different locations to ensure that continuity of government remains the same. As far as the Doomsday Machine or the E-4, their mission is well, basically in the press (ph) as well. Their mission as well is also the continuity of government also. But the interrelationship between us is all sensitive and classified.

BLITZER: The president's plane certainly has some extraordinary capabilities. Let's talk about Air Force One. We've seen some of the movie, Harrison Ford, the escape pod.

PILOT: Right.

BLITZER: Is there such an escape pod?

To find out what the real Air Force One can and can't do and take you aboard for a tour of where the president eats, sleeps and works.

You actually started flying Air Force One as a copilot back when the first President Bush was still president.

It has extraordinary capabilities and let's the president of the United States to run the country in midair and it's ready to go for Barack Obama. My exclusive inside look at Air Force One with retiring presidential pilot Colonel Mark Shulman.

You actually started flying Air Force One as a copilot back when the first President Bush was still president.

PILOT: yes, started flying 747 and then stayed in the unit for President Clinton and actually took over the unit for - during President Bush 43

BLITZER: So the last eight years you've been the pilot, the chief pilot for Air Force One.


BLITZER: From your perspective, what's it like to fly the president of the United States?

PILOT: It's an amazing honor that the United States Air Force gave me to be in command of a unit of just unbelievable people, 235 of the Air Force's finest. It's a great opportunity to work in the government and flying, truly honored to fly for President Bush and Mrs. Bush. Whatever he's asked us to do we've made happen. So we've gone a lot of places around the world representing the United States of America.

BLITZER: Tell us about this plane. It's basically a Boeing 747.

PILOT: Absolutely. It's similar to what the airlines have. It's a 747-200, has the same configuration of the majority of the airliners with the exception that we've got a few extras for the president.

BLITZER: A big bedroom where the commander in chief can pull down the shades and get some shut eye during those long overseas trips. They can covert the couches, but President Bush (INAUDIBLE) prefer to keep them as beds, a special spot for the Secret Service. They are never far away. And here, one of the two galleys on plane capable of feeding up to 100 passengers. When the president or a top aide asks for coffee, there's no need to ask how they like it. It's already posted on the (INAUDIBLE) President Bush, it looks like he takes it black with Equal. Since the president can never leave the job behind, the flying oval office is ready for briefings and secure phone calls. His flight jackets are ready, along with the first lady's.

Just down the hall is a conference room for meetings with aides. Up the stairs from the president's quarters the cockpit where the pilots can chart a course halfway around the world without refueling and behind that, the crew quarters.

You see some of the movies which depict Air Force One, Harrison Ford, for example, the escape pod.

PILOT: Right.

BLITZER: Is there such an escape pod module aboard?


BLITZER: To get the president to parachute out?

PILOT: No, there's no escape pod whatsoever. There is no parachute for the president. So it is an aircraft similar to the airliners and that's what he'll do. He'll - (inaudible) plane is highly capable. No, he does not need an escape pod. But it was a nice movie.

BLITZER: It was a great movie. What are some of the other misconceptions that folks out there have about Air Force One?

PILOT: It's a flying White House. There are no gold-inlaid sinks. There are no - we don't have anything amazing on the aircraft. It is flying White House. The design of the plane is just that. The president has sleeping quarters. The staff have quarters to carry out their work. But it is not a king's plane as such. It is a flying White House.

BLITZER: And since you flew for President Clinton, the first President Bush and the second President Bush, you make sure that the plane is suited to their needs?

PILOT: Absolutely. It's the same thing with President-Elect Obama. When he comes onboard now, we will take a good like at what his likes and dislikes are and we'll make sure we have everything available to the first family.

BLITZER: So you know what kind of soda he likes and what kind of food he likes. He'll be well taken care of.

PILOT: Absolutely. We're already ready to go. We're stocked and whatever he needs we'll take care of.

BLITZER: When the beige carpet turns to blue, it means you're leaving the flying White House and entering the area for guests and the press. Passengers may walk behind their assigned seats but should ask permission before walking forward. The seat belts here do not have the presidential seal.

There's also a space that can be converted for the most sovereign mission of all, transporting the remains of a president. The tables and chairs are removed to make enough space for the remains to lie in state.

What are you going to miss most about this plane?

PILOT: I think what I'm going to miss most is working with the staff. I mean, there's just great people on the staff and the Air Force One family. We're a unique family of folks dedicated to perfection so it's - what I'll miss most is driving into the complex every day and I'll drive around the complex and the plane is being waxed, the plane is being taken care of. The amazing part is we've done a little over 1,600 sorties with the president of the United States onboard, a little over 1,670 Air Force One flights and we've never delayed the president yet. There's no organization in the military that can make that statement and the only way I can say that is that I have 235 of the finest airmen and officers that the military can offer.

BLITZER: Colonel Mark Shulman, a pilot that three American presidents flew his last Air Force One mission a week ago. On Tuesday, he flew former President Bush back to Texas. That flight of course did not have the Air Force One designation. Colonel Shulman is retiring from the Air Force (ph). We want to thank him, his entire unit, for their service to the country.

It was a day that none of us will ever forget. Stand by for inauguration day images, dramatic snapshots of history.

Take a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. Senator Obama takes the oath of office with his hand on the same bible used by President Liincoln. During the inaugural ceremony, the president's daughters Sasha and Malia enjoy the sights and sounds.

After being sworn in, President Obama shares a moment with the outgoing president, George W. Bush. And at Wednesday's White House greeting ceremony, President Obama works the room and talks with visitors. Some of this week's hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in the SITUATION ROOM. Remember to join us weekdays in the SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Up next, CNN NEWSROOM with Don Lemon.