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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Investigating the Northwest Airlines Terror Attack

Aired December 28, 2009 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: terror in the skies, errors on the ground. So, just how did a guy on a terror watch list with a one- way ticket paid for in cash, with no luggage, a man who has been barred from Britain, informed on by his own father, how did this guy manage to board a U.S. airliner and allegedly try to blow it to pieces? Simply put tonight, who screwed up? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead: The explosive used, it fizzled this time, but, as you will see, even a small amount can bring down a plane. We are going to take you "Up Close," though from a safe distance.

Plus, we are "Digging Deeper" into those state-of-the-art body scanners. Could they have caught the kind of bomb that made it on to Northwest Delta Flight 253? And, if so, why are so few airports actually using them?

First up, though, the latest at this hour -- what we know at the end of a very busy day, including President Obama ordering review of airport security and terror watch lists, and this: pictures of the actual device ripped burning off the would-be bomber on Christmas Day. You are looking at the underwear with about 80 grams of powdered explosive sewn in.

That's about three ounces of PETN, which is just shy of a third more than Richard Reid had inside his shoe, the alleged shoe bomber. Remember him?

Well, as for this suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year- old Nigerian, he was claimed today by the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group saying he is one of theirs and boasting about the failed attack, in fact, promising even worse.

The group released a statement which reads, in part: "Be prepared to suffer because the killing is coming. And we prepared you men who love death just as you love life. And, by God's permission, we will come to you with more things that you have never seen before, because, as you kill, you will be killed. And tomorrow is coming soon."

"As you kill," those words, some believe, are a direct reference to recent airstrikes on al Qaeda targets in Yemen, the latest of which happened on the 24th. And that date, along with the 17th, a day which also saw airstrikes, may be significant to al Qaeda. But perhaps even more significant, especially to folks in this country, with regard to stopping the would-be bomber, is this date, November 19. That is when the suspect's own father walked into the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and, in so many words, ratted his son out. It seems that would be a giant red flag warning. But it wasn't the only one.

Randi Kaye "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How was a guy with explosives allegedly sewn into his underwear able to board a U.S. airliner in Amsterdam bound for Detroit? Not just anyone, but Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, someone the U.S. had been warned about by his own father, someone whose name was in a database of more than 500,000 people suspected of terrorist sympathies?

"Keeping Them Honest," I asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano why he was allowed on the flight, eight years after 9/11.

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We're ascertaining why it was that he was not flagged in a more specific way when he purchased his ticket.

KAYE: Christmas Eve, the day after his 23rd birthday, officials say Abdulmutallab boarded a KLM jet at Lagos Airport in Nigeria bound for Amsterdam. Airport authorities say he went through -- quote -- "routine screening."

Once in Amsterdam, he boarded Northwest Flight 253 for Detroit, allegedly armed with enough of the explosive PETN to blow a hole in the airplane. These photographs show how the explosive was sewn into his underwear.

(on camera): Abdulmutallab had been issued a two-year multi- entry U.S. visa in June 2008, but, just today, senior administration officials confirmed his father personally visited the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria on November 19, warning, his son may be under the influence of religious extremists in Yemen and may be looking for jihad.

The Yemen Embassy in Washington confirms Abdulmutallab was in Yemen between August and December. The day after the father's warning, November 20, officials say, the U.S. Embassy alerted the State Department.

(voice-over): The result? Abdulmutallab's name was added to the huge database of possible terrorist threats, but nothing was done that would bar him from entering the U.S. And, unlike the no-fly list, the watch list Abdulmutallab was on did not require a secondary airport screening.

(on camera): Why wasn't that visa revoked once he had been tagged in the system?

NAPOLITANO: I have asked the same question. And we all want to know the answer to that question. KAYE (voice-over): Administration officials say the father's warning was noted in the suspect's visa file, so a renewal application would trigger an in-depth review.

(on camera): CNN has also learned Abdulmutallab was placed on a U.K. watch list in 2008 and denied a student visa. The British government said Abdulmutallab applied to study at a school in London that did not exist. It's unclear if the U.S. was notified.

(voice-over): Who is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? He's a Muslim and Nigerian national who grew up wealthy. His father, until recently, was chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria. He studied engineering at a college in London.

Before that, he attended an elite boarding school in West Africa with this young man, a former classmate and Christian, who says he once asked Abdulmutallab about the negative portrayal of Muslims on TV.

MOKEDI EFEMENA, CHILDHOOD FRIEND OF UMAR FAROUK ABDULMUTALLAB: He said, no, do I value -- have you ever seen me come to school with a -- like, with a bomb or something? No, it's always peace.

KAYE: But a former teacher told CNN, Abdulmutallab showed sympathy for extremist groups like the Taliban. Weeks ago, the suspect, according to his family, dropped out of sight.

In a statement, the family said it was -- quote -- "out of character" for him to disappear, that he had never done anything to raise concern.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Now the Yemen connection and some of the other angles to this story.

"Digging Deeper" tonight with homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve, who has been working her sources around the clock since Friday, also with us, national security analyst Peter Bergen. He's the author of "The Oral History: The Osama bin Laden I Know" and is also one of the only Westerners to ever meet Osama bin Laden. Also joining us tonight, Ben Venzke, who is CEO of IntelCenter, which monitors, among other things, communications between radical Islamist groups.

Good to have all you with us tonight.

Peter, I want to start with you. We're learning more about this apparently failed attack last August from a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula against a Saudi prince which used pretty much the same technology. Did that lay the groundwork, perhaps, for this, what appears to be a failed planned attack on Christmas Day?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It did. Back in October, I reported for CNN the fact that the explosive used in the failed suicide attempt by this suicide attacker on the screen that we see aimed at the powerful deputy minister of the interior was PETN.

PETN is used very rarely in terrorist attacks. The only other time that I'm aware is the Richard Reid so-called shoe bomb attack. This was very much a dry run for the Detroit attack, it looks like. This guy on the screen got through metal detectors on the way to try and kill the Prince Nayef. He also had the PETN sewn into his underwear.

He managed to kill himself, but not the -- not Prince Nayef. But, clearly, al Qaeda in Yemen, which had directed this assassination attempt, basically saw, well, this works. This -- we can get through metal detectors. This can work at -- at airports.

And now we know that PETN has been discovered in Yemen at one of these al Qaeda training camps just in the last couple of weeks or so, Erica. So, I mean, you put all that together, clearly, they learned from this assassination attempt. They have they -- they have a bombmaker who can do this.

Hopefully, he may have been killed in some of these attacks, but there's a master bombmaker out there somewhere who has done both of these, both of these terrorist attempts.

HILL: And, Ben, in a statement which it released today, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula wrote -- and I'm quoting here -- "The martyrdom brother was able to reach his objective with the grace of God, but, do to a technical fault, the full explosion didn't take place."

Clearly, though, it sounds, just from reading the statement that they released, that they are still pretty happy with the results. Is this a success in this group's eyes?

BEN VENZKE, FOUNDER & CEO, INTELCENTER: Well, it is, because we have to remember here we're talking about a regional arm of al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as opposed to core al Qaeda.

So, if it was core al Qaeda, this would be seen as a failure. It wasn't as successful as 9/11, something like that. But, for a regional arm that's never struck in the U.S. before, to be able to demonstrate that they have the capability to reach out and attack within the United States, and albeit but for a small technical glitch, it would have succeeded. So, for them, that's something they will herald and -- and possibly seek to carry on again.

HILL: And, Jeanne, as you're speaking to your sources, I imagine, too, this changes some of the things and some of the groups that are on their radar, because as Ben just mentioned, this is the first time that this regional group is reaching out to U.S. or Western interests.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it -- it definitely is something that's of concern to them.

But I have to say that the counterterrorism officials I have spoken to said they are very much still in the investigative mode and trying to figure out exactly how involved this group was with this attempted attack. They think there's good reason to believe they were involved, but they are saying, what was it? I mean, did they actually supply a bomb, or was it something more like a pat on the back or a handshake?

We just don't know. They don't just know, as yet. They are still looking into that.

HILL: Well, we're going to continue looking and "Digging Deeper" into this with -- with all three of you.

Jeanne, Peter, Ben, stay with us, as we talk more after the break.

And just a reminder: You at home can join the conversation. Just log on to AC360.com, rather. Join the live chat.

Also ahead: Did this suspect possibly have help? We will speak with a couple who were on that same flight about what they say they saw. A shadowy figure at the gate in Amsterdam? What could that person have been doing? Also ahead, just what might have happened if this bomb had gone off -- what does happen when a fuse reaches a bundle of PETN and what even small amounts can do to an airliner.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is claiming responsibility for the Christmas Day terror plot, as investigators hone in on connections between Yemen and the alleged bomber.

We're back tonight "Digging Deeper" with our panel, Jeanne Meserve, Peter Bergen, and Ben Venzke.

Peter, I want to start with you.

We look at the second in command -- or who is allegedly the second in command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His name is Said Ali al-Shihri. He was released from Guantanamo in November of 2007, sent to Saudi Arabia for a rehabilitation program.

His likely participation -- or possible participation, I should say, in this attack, what does that say about -- about U.S. policy in terms of releasing detainees and this so-called rehabilitation program which some of them are then sent on to?

BERGEN: Well, so far, there are about 120 Saudis who have gone from Guantanamo to the rehabilitation program. All of them have to go through the program. Eleven of them are now being sought by the Saudi government.

One has actually been captured. And one of them is this guy that you have just shown, who is the deputy commander of al Qaeda in Yemen, and probably played an instrumental role in both the plan to assassinate Prince Nayef and the Detroit plot. He may have been killed, by the way, just the day before Christmas in an airstrike.

What does it say about this rehabilitation program? Well, it's -- the recidivism rate in this country for prisoners in the state system is 66 percent. The recidivism rate for the Guantanamo releasees going through that rehabilitation program is about 10 percent.

You know, you are going to have people who are recidivists when they get out of prison. Generally speaking, the Saudi program has actually done a very good job of reintegrating people into society, getting them to turn against jihadi ideas. And the Saudis tend to monitor the people who are released very carefully. It's a very efficient police state with unlimited resources.

The problem is, of course, is that there are another 100 Yemenis in Guantanamo right now, many of whom, you know, could be released. But Yemen is a very inefficient police state with very limited resources. And, so, you have a problem.

HILL: And it also makes it difficult to work with the Yemeni government, obviously, for those very reasons. There's been so much focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan as being terror hubs when it comes to the U.S. war on terror, the fight on terror.

Ben, should more attention be paid to Yemen? And what exactly is the U.S. doing there at this point?

VENZKE: Well, unfortunately, due to our work with the government, that's not something that I can address directly.

But I can say that, you know, Yemen is -- it has been a concern for quite some time, but it is increasing with the new developments that we're seeing there, specifically with al Qaeda.

And, at the same time, Somalia, as well as a number of other places in North Africa, are growing concerns, while AfPak remains a growing concern. And I think the important point here is that it's not just one place. Al Qaeda is operating simultaneously at strength in multiple countries. So, we have to work in multiple areas simultaneously, not just pick one and then move to another.

HILL: Can't just focus on one area.

Jeanne, there's been so many talk -- so much talk about these dots. And Randi touched on a number of them in her piece. One that stood out for a lot of people, of course, is -- is this man's father going into the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and saying, look, my son has become radicalized.

Where did the failure happen when it came to connecting these dots? Could that have been done?

MESERVE: Well, that's going to be the key question. I mean, there were a lot of dots potentially that could have been connected. It wasn't just the father going to the embassy. It was the fact that, when this guy went and bought a ticket, bought a one- way ticket, he bought it with cash, he didn't leave any contact information. When he got to the airport, he didn't check any luggage.

There were all kinds of things that gave hints that something might be afoot here. Now, I know that passenger manifests are sent to Customs and Border Protection. Customs and Border Protection compares that manifest to the terrorist watch list. And he wasn't on it.

The big question is going to be how they classify these people and why, after all this money that we have spent on technology that was supposed to do exactly this, connect the dots, why isn't the system doing that?

HILL: In terms...

MESERVE: That's going to be the big pressing question.

HILL: In terms of that technology, though, Jeanne, I understand -- and this is sort of a separate piece of technology, but security- related -- that you have some new information on the 3-D body scanners we have been hearing so much about.

Could those scanners actually have detected the fact that there was something sewn into this man's underwear and raised a red flag?

MESERVE: Well, I was just talking to someone who is very familiar with this technology, and he believes it could.

There are two types of body imaging technology. One is called backscatter. It relays -- relies on X-rays. And, with that technology, they have largely blurred the crotch area for privacy reasons. This expert says it would be easy enough to change those settings to bring in a little bit more detail, for security reasons, in order to see something like this.

The other technology is called millimeter wave. That works more like radar, bouncing things back and forth. This individual says that that technology, he believes, would pick up an anomaly. It might not give you a crystal-clear picture of the crotch area, but it would probably, through pattern recognition, be able to tell you that something was amiss there.

HILL: Jeanne Meserve, Peter Bergen, Ben Venzke, good to have all of you with us tonight. I have a feeling this is far from the last time we will be discussing these angles. Thanks.

Yemen tonight, does this mean that it is the new front in the war on terror? Log on to AC360.com for more on the secret U.S. military operations targeting al Qaeda and an increasingly unstable region, including a blog from Peter Bergen.

And right here when we come back: three passengers from Flight 253, a husband and wife who are raising a provocative question tonight. Did the suspect possibly have help getting on to this flight? In fact, did this man even have a passport? That's ahead.

Later, more on what Jeanne was talking about, whether technology may be the answer to better safety. We will take a look at those scanners that can look at every inch of you and look at whether or not you need to still have a problem with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Everyone from President Obama on down has words of praise for the passengers aboard Flight 253, who sprang into action when it became clear something terrible was happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASPER SCHURINGA, NORTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT 253 PASSENGER: When I saw that suspect, he was getting on fire. And, you know, I freaked, of course.

And I -- without any agitation, I just jumped over all the seats. And I just jumped to the suspect, and because I was thinking, like, he's trying to blow up the plane. And so, you know, I was trying to -- to search his body for, you know, any -- any explosives.

And then I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking out of him. And I tried to put out the fire. And then, when I did that, I was also restraining the suspect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Well, joining us now, passengers Kurt and Lori Haskell, who told authorities about a remarkable scene they witnessed at the gate in Amsterdam. Also with us tonight is Richelle Keepman, who was on board that flight as well with her family, including her two newly adopted -- her newly adopted brother and sister from Ethiopia.

Good to have all of you with us.

Kurt, I want to start with you, because you say you witnessed at the suspect at the airport, and -- and you saw something that really made you sit up and take notice. Walk us through what you saw in Amsterdam.

KURT HASKELL, NORTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT 253 PASSENGER: Sure.

Lori and I were sitting near the boarding gate, sitting on the floor. There weren't any seats to sit in. And I saw two men, and they caught my eye because they seemed to be an odd pair. One was what I would describe as a poor-looking black teenager around 16 or 17, and the other man, a -- age 50-ish, wealthy-looking Indian man.

And I was just wondering why they were together, kind of strange. And I watched them approach what I would call the ticket agent, the final person that checks your boarding pass before you get on the plane. And I could hear the entire conversation. The only person that spoke was the Indian man. And what he said was, this man needs to board the plane, but he doesn't have a passport. And the ticket agent responded, well, if he doesn't have a passport, he can't get on the plane, to which the Indian man responded back, he's from Sudan. We do this all the time.

And the ticket agent said, well, then, you will have to go and talk to my manager. And she directed them down a hallway.

And that was the last time that I saw the Indian man. And the black man, I didn't see again until he tried to blow up our plane a few hours later.

HILL: And then -- and when did you put two and two together and realize that this in fact appeared to be the same man you saw, who may not have had a passport?

K. HASKELL: I got a good look at him on the plane when we landed and the FBI was arresting him. And that's when I put it all together. I recognized him as the same man that I had seen before we boarded.

HILL: And I know everyone has been questioned who was on that flight.

Lori, it's tough to understand, I think, especially for a lot of people watching this, and I'm sure for you who were sitting there, how anybody could be allowed on board an international flight without a passport. When you and your husband talked to authorities, when you told them what you saw, what was the reaction?

LORI HASKELL, NORTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT 253 PASSENGER: They seemed really interested in what we had to say. They talked to every family.

A lot of the families was -- they were talking to them for about five minutes or so. They talked to Kurt and I for probably about 15 minutes, maybe a little bit more. At one point, they called over another FBI agent to, I guess, witness what the other one was talking to us about.

So, I think that they were really interested in what we had to say about what we saw in the Amsterdam airport. However, the FBI and no other authorities have contacted us since then.

HILL: And does that seem odd to you, or did you figure that's just part of the investigation?

L. HASKELL: You know, I don't know. It does seem a little bit odd. If my husband is the only one that noticed this happening, I would think that we would have been contacted for further questioning, especially now, with all of the media that's been contacting us.

HILL: It will be interesting to see if they do contact you in the next few days. And we hope you will let us know as well.

In terms of security, though, Richelle, I know you have said -- and Kurt and Lori talked a little bit about this -- but, Richelle, you have said that you thought that security was actually a little bit lax in Amsterdam. How so?

RICHELLE KEEPMAN, NORTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT 253 PASSENGER: Oh, absolutely.

When we had to go through security, we didn't even have to take our shoes off. Also, my mom had a water bottle, forgot about it in her bag, and it scanned right through. So, we brought it in and on to the plane. So...

HILL: Were you concerned about that at all at the time, or was it more, in hindsight, you thought, well, wait a minute. What else could have gotten on the plane?

KEEPMAN: You know, you just -- I compared it to the airports here. And that wouldn't be allowed. But, at the same time, you are just so eager to get home, you don't -- you don't think about that right then.

HILL: And especially for you, traveling with your newly adopted siblings, obviously, an exciting time for you and your family. But, for these kids, I can only imagine how scary that must have been. You were at the rear of the plane, so you didn't see all this happening. But there's plenty of commotion. How did the kids handle it?

KEEPMAN: Well, you know, our goal on the entire flight when this was occurring was to just not let these two children know what was going on.

We agreed that we would just pretend that it was a big game, because these kids have been through so much in their lives, that this just wasn't -- they didn't need to know what was going on. So, we -- we turned it into -- they don't speak English. And we turned it into more of a game and said, isn't this exciting? And we sang songs.

And my dad and I and my mom, we all prayed together for safety and that, you know, if -- if we weren't going to make it, that these children would never know what was really going on.

HILL: And we should point out, we're looking at some pictures of them there on the flight. That was actually the flight that got you to Amsterdam, not the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

When all of this went down, I know that this man was -- the -- the suspect was tackled pretty quickly by other passengers.

Kurt and Lori, you were actually not too far, only a number of rows behind all of them. Was there anything else that you noticed or that stuck out about that incident, Kurt, as -- as this man is being tackled?

K. HASKELL: I think I will let Lori answer that. When this was going on, I was more focused on the fire. And she witnessed more of the altercation between the terrorist and the passengers.

HILL: And, Lori, he seemed to be subdued pretty quickly.

L. HASKELL: Yes, he was. Everything happened, it seemed like, in less than a minute.

We saw smoke. We -- we then saw flames going up the side of the plane near the seat where he was sitting. At that point, two people, one from behind him and one from the side of him, tackled him to the ground.

And that's -- that's pretty much the last time we saw him. We were pretty freaked out by the fire, so we weren't paying attention to that. We were paying attention to the fire going up the side of the plane...

HILL: Understandable...

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: ... obviously.

And we just saw that -- the -- the picture there. There's a still photo of -- of the suspect on the plane.

But I know, Richelle, you believe there may actually be video of the incident?

KEEPMAN: Yes. That was very strange. There was a man that, when we first took off, I noticed about 10 seats ahead of us to the left-hand side, he had a camcorder. And I didn't think much of it. I thought maybe this was his first flight and was just excited.

And then, when the actual incident occurred, I looked up, and he was the only one standing and filming the entire thing.

HILL: Interesting.

There -- obviously, still so much more to come out about this. We really appreciate you joining us, Kurt and Lori Haskell, Richelle Keepman, with your insights tonight.

KEEPMAN: Thank you.

HILL: Good to have all of you with us.

K. HASKELL: Thank you.

L. HASKELL: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: And we do want to point out that CNN has not been able to independently confirm at this point that the suspect -- whether or not the suspect had a passport. That is something that we are working to confirm.

Just ahead: How powerful was the explosive, though, that was smuggled on to Flight 253? We are going to show you what six grams can do, which is far less than the amount the alleged Detroit terror suspect was carrying. But, as you will see, even that small amount is enough to do some serious damage.

And, later, keeping the skies safe -- new security measures already put in place -- plus, those new body scans that actually could be coming to an airport near you, the ones that leave nothing to the imagination.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: We touched on it at the top. President Obama speaking out today for the first time since the bombing attempt, and that three-day waiting period, frankly, drawing fire.

Well, another member of his cabinet members is taking heat for not waiting, for speaking without perhaps thinking it through. "Raw Politics" now from Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Speaking publicly for the first time since the terror threat in the sky over Detroit, President Obama offered reassurance to travelers, a warning to terrorists.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.

CROWLEY: It took the president three days to get to the microphones to say many things he could have said in the early hours of that Christmas day incident. So it came two days too late, even for some Democrats.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC ANALYST: I would have preferred the president say something in the first 24 hours. I think the American public needs to hear from the president.

CROWLEY: Republican Congressman Peter King said over the weekend the administration seems to be making the right policy choices, but he said the president should have understood the need to steady the nation.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: The president, above all is a great communicator, should recognize what President Reagan always did. The country looks for a voice of strength and reassurance.

CROWLEY: Initially the White House said the president did not need to be out front, that spokesman Robert Gibbs and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano could reassure Americans that it was safe to fly.

But Napolitano seemed to dismiss the fear, saying the system worked, suggesting the suspect might have been properly screened.

(on camera) If he was properly screened and he got on anyway with that, it doesn't feel that safe. JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, you know, it should. This was one individual. Literally thousands that fly and thousands of flights every year. He was stopped before any damage could be done.

CROWLEY (voice-over): She was out again within 24 hours, re- explaining. But by mid-afternoon, the president, possibly the most rhetorically blessed politician of his position, took over.

OBAMA: We immediately enhanced screening procedures for all flights, domestic and international. We added federal air marshals to flights entering and leaving the United States.

CROWLEY: Presidents can pay a price if they move too slowly. The bottom fell out of President Bush's ratings permanently when he seemed not to grasp the severity of Hurricane Katrina. Still, that was a calamity; people died. Northwest Flight 253 was an almost calamity. People almost died.

Whatever the rationale, by day three, the White House knew it was time for the commander in chief to find that sweet spot between strength and reassurance.

OBAMA: The American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident.

CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Let's get the latest now on some of the other important stories we are following tonight. Randi Kaye joining us with a "360 Bulletin."

Hey, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Erica.

North Korea is detaining an American it says entered the country illegally last week. South Korean activists identified the man as Robert Park, a Korean missionary from Tucson, Arizona. They said he slipped across the border from China to call attention to the regime's human rights record.

In Iran, authorities are refusing to release the bodies of five anti-government protesters slain during the weekend anti-government demonstrations. At least eight people were killed and 300 arrested in the bloodiest protest since Iran's disputed elections in June. President Obama today condemned the brutal crackdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian civilians, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries and even death. For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: An ambulance called to President Obama's vacation compound in Hawaii today gave onlookers a scare. The president abruptly ended his golf game after learning a friend's child cut their chin while playing on the beach. The White House did not identify the child but said everyone, including the first family, is just fine.

Early estimates show holiday shoppers spent more this season than last year. A report out today shows retail sales were up 3.6 percent, compared with the 2.3 percent drop last year. Online sales fared even better: a whopping 15.5 percent.

And Web rumors fly after AT&T halts online sales of iPhones in New York City. At least one blog reported the phones were pulled because AT&T just can't handle New York's data traffic. Declining to address the sale stoppage directly, AT&T issued a statement assuring New Yorkers the phones are available in its retail stores. And by this afternoon, they were once again available online.

HILL: Whew! Oh, the horror of those few hours, though, Randi. My goodness.

KAYE: Those were some scary times.

HILL: I'm glad we all recovered.

KAYE: Me, too.

HILL: Randi, thanks.

Join the live chat happening right now at AC360.com. Just a reminder there.

Up next, a little bomb show and tell. We'll show you exactly what happens when the explosive the alleged suspect brought on -- the suspect brought on board actually detonates. So just how bad could this have been? You're going to see for yourself.

And then keeping America safe. There are new rules for airline security you need to know about. But how far is too far when it comes to screening airline passengers? In fact, just how much privacy and modesty are you willing to give up to stay safe?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Focusing on our top story now: terror in the skies. The investigation into the botched attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas day.

Earlier this hour, we told you what we've learned about the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old from a prominent family in Nigeria. But what about that bomb?

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HILL: That government test video shows what Abdulmutallab had hoped to do to the jetliner. It is a shocking sight. It underscores the danger averted last week. We're going to take an up-close look now with Nic Robertson.

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SYDNEY ALFORD, EXPLOSIVES EXPERT: It doesn't compress down very well.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What you are looking at is a bomb in the making. The white powder is the explosive PETN, six grams of it. Just a tiny fraction of what alleged Christmas-Day bomber Abdulmutallab intended to use.

ALFORD: If it goes off I expect...

ROBERTSON: At a remote farm in the English countryside, we're getting a lesson about PETN's destructive force.

(on camera) Ready to go. The fuse has been lit.

(voice-over) Everything about the test is real. PETN is dangerous.

(on camera) Not taking any chances. It's going to go off in just a few seconds.

(voice-over) In a moment we'll see the force of the explosion.

ALFORD: People like to exaggerate.

ROBERTSON: A little earlier in his lab, explosives expert Sydney Alford detonates just a few grains of PETN.

(on camera) That was quite a big crack, though.

(voice-over) The core chemical in PETN is hard to make or get your hands on. But although it's an explosive, because it's not volatile, it's perfect for a terrorist on a long-haul flight.

ALFORD: No, no, no, it wouldn't go off accidentally. If I were carrying a pocketful, suitably packaged of just neat powder in my pocket, it blowing up would be the last of my worries.

ROBERTSON: Sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN the working assumption is that the alleged bomber, Abdulmutallab, may have had some 80 grams of PETN.

ALFORD: That will probably be, if it were dry, closer to 80 grams.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Is that enough to blow a hole in an aircraft?

ALFORD: Certainly, it's enough to blow a hole.

ROBERTSON: What we understand he was wearing these explosives in the sort of groin area. Is it -- can you imagine that you could in some way fit these into -- sew them into a set of underpants?

ALFORD: While, certainly you can. Yes, yes, yes. I've done it. I've done it. No problem at all.

ROBERTSON: It looks just like sugar, just like salt and it's easy to imagine how this can be stitched into clothing and hidden around the body. And that's what makes PETN such a challenge for airport security officials to detect.

(voice-over) Alford believes the only reason lives were spared this time is because the alleged bomber's lack of training meant he couldn't detonate the bomb. And that means he probably didn't make it.

ALFORD: On the one hand, he's been given, shall we say, a high- value substance. And on the other hand, seems to be left to his own efforts.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Is it easy to make for the average person?

ALFORD: The average person, probably not.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Back at the farm, Alford's crude six- gram bomb is about to show what PETN can do in the hands of professionals.

(on camera) Very impressive. It's gone through?

ALFORD: ... have burned away.

ROBERTSON: This is what six grams of PETN does to something that's twice as thick as an aircraft fuselage. Just six grams. That's pretty damaging, and that was a tiny amount. Easy to sort of hide about a person.

ALFORD: Yes. Oh, certainly.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The alleged bomber had much more than six grams, and he smuggled it on board an airliner. But he didn't have the expertise to detonate it.

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HILL: Nic Robertson joining us now.

Nic, I know you touched on it in the piece. Obviously, we don't want to give too much away, but the materials to make a PETN bomb, even if you need to be an expert to make it, how hard are those materials to obtain?

ROBERTSON: They're very hard to obtain. There's a sort of core material that's at the essence of PETN. And it's very, very, very hard to get your hands on.

Now if you're a really good expert chemist, then you could probably figure out and learn from textbooks how to make it. But if you don't have that expertise, you're not going to be able to do it.

And this was sort of an interesting point that I learned on this visit with this -- this expert today. Because it's just amazing that al Qaeda isn't giving these operatives. And he said Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, who had PETN, as well, had the same problem. He didn't know properly how to ignite the device.

But he believes al Qaeda is sending these people out with a device that should work, but they just haven't given them any training on how to initiate it.

HILL: Was it more of just a test to see if they can get through security until they can better equip someone to detonate it, or is it just poor training?

ROBERTSON: Here's -- I mean, he was shocked, to be honest. As an expert on explosives, he was shocked. I mean, his analysis is that 95 percent of the time, that a bomb like that should go off. So he thinks it's a lack of training, rather than al Qaeda sort of just seeing if they can get through certain steps. But one shouldn't overlook that as being a possibility.

HILL: Sure.

ROBERTSON: But I think clearly in al Qaeda's eyes, they would far rather have that explosive gone off and made a mess of the aircraft.

HILL: Yes, although we are, of course, thankful that it did not. Nic Robertson, thanks.

Just ahead, securing the skies. New measures that could affect your travel and the controversy over screening techniques that some say leave travelers overexposed.

Plus, the latest details in this terror plot. How the suspect managed to get through security with explosives. And how a guy on a terror watch list makes it that far in the first place.

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HILL: Tonight, the biggest question of all about the botched airline bombing remains this. How did a man with explosives slip past airport security when his name is on the international terror watch list? Well, currently the U.S. maintains four separate lists. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on the largest. It has about 550,000 known or suspected terrorists. More than half a million people.

A consolidated watch list includes a slightly smaller group of about 400,000 people. These are people who are known or suspected of being engaged or preparing to engage in terrorist activities.

Now after that, further narrow it down. There's what's called the selectee list. That has about 14,000 names. People are placed on this list when authorities have enough information about their activities to suggest they may pose a threat to aviation and others.

And then there's the no-fly list, the one you're probably more familiar with. Thirty-four hundred people. The government says these people pose a documented threat to national security.

Today Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised a review of how each list is maintained and enforced. But that's not all that's being discussed tonight. What about the actual security at airports and what about those state-of-the-art 3D body scanners?

Tonight, Joe Johns is digging deeper into the latest efforts to keep you safe.

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JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you fly, pay attention. Things are changing, instantly creating long lines and confusion.

On international flights headed to the U.S., passengers have the normal security screening to enter the departure zone and a second screening at the gate before boarding the plane.

Once on board, the Transportation Security Administration has invoked a so-called one-hour rule, allowing airline crews to prohibit passengers from leaving their seats during the last hour of international flights.

Passengers can also be forbidden from keeping pillows and blankets on their laps. Maps viewed on in-flight entertainment screens must be disabled during flight.

The government also says it's putting additional air marshals on international flights.

(on camera) That's what's being done, but what more needs to be done, like better detection technology?

(voice-over) For years, the TSA has swabbed some luggage for traces of explosives. But it would be difficult to use that technology on masses of people, as well.

CHARLES PENA, THE INDEPENDENT INSTITUTE: It's going to be very time consuming, so if you're already looking at how much time it takes an individual to pass through airline security now, if you can imagine adding on however many minutes per person to be swabbed, multiply that by the number of people standing in line to get through security, and you can imagine, you know, what the back up is going to look like trying to get to your gate.

JOHNS: Technology also exists for TSA to essentially see through the clothes of people passing through airport security checkpoints. It's an effective way to look for concealed weapons but might not reveal a carefully-crafted and concealed explosive device.

PENA: The question is what is it that you are looking for and can you build technology that can actually help you detect exactly what you're looking for?

JOHNS: Privacy is the other big concern with so-called see- through technology allowing authorities to look underneath people's clothes, raising the age-old question of how much personal dignity and freedom from warrantless government searches we're willing to tolerate in exchange for more security.

PENA: Airline travelers in particular have given up tremendous amount of privacy and even rights, certain basic rights to get -- to get on an airplane. We are searched when we essentially when we get on an airplane, without a warrant. And that has become normal operating procedure for all of us now. We accept that.

We're willing to essentially allow authorities to be able to see us naked?

JOHNS: The sad wisdom is we are never going to get perfect airline security. But the closer we get to it, the more we will have to give up.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

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HILL: And our in-depth coverage, "Terror in the Skies," continues tomorrow right here on 360. We're going to look at undermining airport security in America, from fake boarding passes to box cutters, even a device called a beer belly. How the bad guys are trying to get around the TSA.

Also we'll take a look at the obstacles preventing us from making our skies safer and the possible lessons to be learned from places like Israel, places dealing with terror on a daily basis.

That's all coming up tomorrow on 360.

But still ahead tonight: more details about the close call on Flight 253. Just how did the would-be bomber get on board when so many red flags had been raised?

And next, a heated holiday argument lands actor Charlie Sheen in jail facing domestic violence charges. The 911 call that led to his arrest is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Let's get you caught up now on some of the other stories we are following tonight. Randi Kaye back with another "360 Bulletin."

Hey, Randi.

KAYE: Hi, again, Erica.

Tragedy in Mississippi as nine people, including six children, die in an early morning apartment fire. The children were between 4 months and 6 years old. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

In Pakistan, at least 30 people are dead following a suicide bombing in Karachi. The blast, blamed on Sunni extremists, came as Shiite Muslims marched through the streets to mark a key holy day. Pakistan's government accuses Sunni extremists of trying to spark a civil war to derail its anti-Taliban offensive.

Brooke Mueller Sheen reportedly told the 911 operator that her husband, actor Charlie Sheen, held a knife to her throat and threatened her life after she asked for a divorce. The star of TV's "Two and a Half Men" was arrested last week in Aspen, Colorado, on domestic violence-related charges. Police released the 911 call today.

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BROOKE MUELLER: My husband had me with a knife. And I'm scared for my life and he threatened me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Are you guys separated right now?

MUELLER: Yes, right now, we have people that are separating us, but I have to file the report or else...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there other people there? Does he still have the knife?

MUELLER: Yes, he still does.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your name?

MUELLER: Brooke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your husband's name?

MUELLER: It's Charlie Sheen.

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KAYE: A bridge that spanned 80 years is no more. The Lake Champlain Bridge linking New York and Vermont was deemed beyond repair. It took 800 pounds of explosives to bring down its main section this morning. What a picture there.

Supermodel turned daytime diva Tyra Banks is ending her Emmy- Award-winning talk show this spring after a five-year run.

HILL: What?

KAYE: Yes, it's true. Banks said on her Web site she will instead concentrate on launching a movie studio aimed at helping women and young girls feel, in her words here, "as fierce as we truly are."

I'm feeling kind of fierce today.

HILL: Maybe that's because you've been pulling the longest day in the history of CNN, Randi Kaye.

KAYE: Oh, I don't know about that.

HILL: I'm sure everybody here was up at 6 with you on "American Morning."

KAYE: Oh, yes. I'm still feeling fierce, though.

HILL: Well, you are fierce. That's why. You know what else is fierce? Tonight's "Shot" from the producers of JibJab. They're at it again, gathering the greatest hits from '09, including some of our favorites. Some topics we've covered, oh, just a time or two here on 360.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Town halls, finger-biting walls. There's going to be a public option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where'd it go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Oh, boy. Oh, Governor Palin quit. Bill Clinton picked up chicks. While the out swine flu went around the globe.

Yes, there was a late-night bust. And auto kings went bust. In the Hudson, Captain Sully made a splash! Michael hit the bong. There was an Octomom. To '90, we sing, "So long."

Olympic bids were spurned. And Michael Vick returned. Brett Favre's coming back. No wait, he's in.

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HILL: There were also some moments that really, we couldn't show on TV. It just wasn't appropriate.

KAYE: I believe that one.

HILL: But they made the cut. All the things we can talk about off the air.

KAYE: Yes, those are the private -- that's the private version.

HILL: Exactly. Hey, get some sleep tonight.

KAYE: OK. I'll try.

HILL: We'll see you tomorrow.

All right. Randi, thanks. Back to the serious stuff coming up at the top of the hour. The missed signals that allowed a bomber on board Delta Northwest Flight 253.