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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Interview with Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Dick Cheney Blasts President Obama; Rush Limbaugh in Hospital; Iran on the Brink
Aired December 30, 2009 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Tonight, the warnings. It turns out they were there all along with a step-by-step, point-by-point guide on how to make air travel safer. And yet, five and a half years after the 9/11 Commission published its groundbreaking report, a guy practically covered in warning signs manages to board a U.S. airliner and nearly take it down.
Tonight on 360, the man who read that report and whose job it was to implement the recommendation. We are "Keeping Him Honest".
Also tonight: former Vice President Cheney, accusing the president of not taking terrorism seriously enough. Should you take his allegations seriously? The "Raw Politics" and two sides of the debate; we'll let you decide.
And then a little bit later, she and AC know how to light up Times Square, but can Kathy Griffin top last year's show? We'll ask her, live.
First up tonight though: breaking news in the Christmas bombing attempt. CNN has learned the U.S. had intelligence indicating terrorists in Yemen were discussing an operation involving someone they called the Nigerian. And there was also a partial name among that information, Umar Farouk, as in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Tonight, there are also new and striking photographs, including this one. This is seat 19A aboard Northwest Delta Flight 253. That is the seat where Abdulmutallab sat with 80 grams of the explosive PETN sewn into his underwear, a seat directly above the plane's center fuel tank. The other photos show what might have happened had that bomb gone off.
This is the scene after a suicide bomber, also wearing PETN underwear, blew himself up in hopes of killing Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism chief back in August. That Saudi Prince survived. Metal detectors and pat downs rarely find these kinds of bombs, but a full body scan could.
Today, the Dutch government moved to require all passengers on U.S.- bound flights go through those scanners and they promised full implementation in about three weeks. Now, by contrast, it has taken years to even begin to move in that direction here at home. But frankly, the idea isn't anything new.
Remember this? This is a copy of the 9/11 report published by the bipartisan National Commission on terrorist attacks from the United States. It is thick, as you can see. But frankly, it's pretty basic stuff, including this recommendation, check it out. It is on page 562, where they say, "The TSA and Congress must give priority attention to improving the ability of screening checkpoints to detect explosives on passengers."
Keep in mind, this was written back in 2004. In this morning's "USA Today", Janet Napolitano, the current Secretary of Homeland Security writes, "The administration is determined to find and to fix the vulnerabilities in our systems that allowed this breach to happen." That makes her the third DHS Secretary to say that, not the first.
So, why are we still talking about these same problems when we were told how to fix them more than five years ago? In a moment, you'll hear what her predecessor has to say for himself.
But first, we want to get more of those 9/11 commission recommendations, and frankly, more un-kept promises. Joe Johns is "Keeping them Honest".
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, steps to keep us all safe. At the time, they did not seem optional, but apparently, they were.
Take this recommendation. "Improved use of no-fly and automatic selectee lists should not be delayed." Translation, hurry up and figure out how to use the security screening list to keep track of who's trying to fly.
The commission wrote those words in 2004. And now, just one week away from 2010, a guy on a watch list but not on a no-fly list was actually able to get on a plane with a bomb in his underwear. How in the world does that happen?
Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste was a member of the 9/11 Commission.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: In view of the fact that he had traveled to Yemen, he had been in possession of a valid visa, he had purchased his ticket under circumstances that raise red flags. And, of course, his father had been concerned enough about him to have gone to the U.S. embassy and had follow-up conversations with CIA.
JOHNS: And then there's this 9/11 Commission recommendation. "The TSA and the Congress must give priority attention to improving the ability of screening checkpoints to detect explosives on passengers." They have given it priority, all right, but haven't even come close to getting it over the finish line.
TSA bought a bunch of so-called puffer machines to detect explosives by blowing air on passengers, but they didn't work very well. Other scanning technologies allowing authorities essentially to see underneath the clothes of departing passengers have been bottled up; just 40 scanners in 19 airports across the entire country right now. Why? Privacy concerns, mostly.
Richard Ben-Veniste says get over it.
BEN-VENISTE: I think we need to put aside puritan concerns and get down to the reality of people trying to kill us and balance those two issues.
JOHNS: And while the investigation is far from over, it's also looking like one of the commission's most important messages of all got lost in translation, even before Northwest Flight 253 hit the skies between Amsterdam and Detroit.
The Commission urged over and over again that federal agencies collaborate instead of compete, writing that, "Information procedures should provide incentives for sharing."
JOHNS: Translation, if you have information, share it. Clearly, that didn't happen, as the CIA wrote a report on the suspect but did not send it to other agencies; seemingly, a major failure in the eyes of the 9/11 Commission, which decided that forcing federal agencies to talk to each other about stuff like this was its most important mission.
BEN-VENISTE: To break down those barriers and to make sure that information gets shared, that was our principal recommendation in 9/11 and one of the principal reasons we were unable to exploit the mistakes made by al Qaeda prior to 9/11.
JOHNS: It makes you wonder what it might take for us to actually learn our lesson.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
HILL: "Digging Deeper" now with Michael Chertoff, the country's second Secretary of Homeland Security, he had the responsibility of fixing a great deal of what was broken. The buck was supposed to stop at his desk. We spoke earlier tonight.
HILL: Why is it in the eight years since 9/11, so few of the recommendations in that 9/11 report seem to have been implemented at this point and so few of those changes seem to have been made where they are really needed?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, we actually did implement a lot of the recommendations, but frankly, it's been much more difficult than it should have been, because what we discovered is that interest groups that have very strong views, either from a business standpoint or civil liberties standpoint, mobilize and set up road blocks. So, for example, we had to work very hard to implement the requirements with respect to secure documents. And it was delayed by a couple of years because the ACLU and other groups went up to Congress and got Congress to put delays in or to block the money.
HILL: In an op-ed piece -- that op-ed that you wrote for the Daily Beast, you write, "Squeamishness about any slight to privacy or worries about whether the evidence meets judicial standard induces the kind of bureaucratic paralysis that allows a terrorist to slip through our existing defenses."
How though, do you balance individual rights and national security? This is part of what you alluded to before. And frankly, it's still an unresolved issue since 9/11 and a lot of that -- a lot of those unresolved issues surfaced around the Patriot Act.
CHERTOFF: Right, I think, Erica, you're exactly right. And unfortunately, the way we've resolved this in the last few years is by having a pendulum swing back and forth.
Right after 9/11, there was an almost unanimous call to unshackle the intelligence community, allow them the freedom to pursue the enemy and to do what they need to do to protect the country. We changed some of the laws to give them that freedom.
And then as they became more and more successful and we had no attacks, the critics began to complain that there was too little attention to the restraints and they wanted to go back to a pre-9/11 mentality.
So, we need to have a candid conversation with the American public. If you want to be safe, you have to unleash a certain amount of flexibility for the agents and the operators to do what they have to do.
HILL: But if you see that as a problem and if you saw that as a problem when you, in fact, were in office and were in charge of many of these things, why not push harder to make these things happen to make the changes -- have the changes made that you felt were necessary to keep the country safer and to make it work better?
CHERTOFF: Erica, I have the scars on my back from the push I made. I built 601 miles of fence. And, believe me I was hung in effigy in parts of the border. I demanded and got secure documentation to cross the border from Canada and I got vilified in the northern -- by some of the Members of Congress from the northern districts for doing that.
We pushed hard for increased capability to get information from Europe and the Europeans condemned me for that. So I know what it's like to go through the battles. We did accomplish a lot of things, and, you know, I know my successor now got this on her plate and she's going to have to do the same thing.
HILL: Should fingers be pointed at her solely as being responsible for this or is there a broader responsibility here? CHERTOFF: Well, yes, I think everybody has some role to play in the process, it would be a mistake to single out one cabinet secretary and say this was her particular responsibility. I think you've got to look at the way everybody plays together to make sure that they are carrying out their job.
And frankly, it's the job of the president to lay down the law and to make it a personal mandate to get these elements of cooperation fully working.
HILL: So, you think that more needs to be done by the president himself to make people work together?
CHERTOFF: I don't know what the president says privately to his people. But I can tell you President Bush always made it very clear and we had weekly meetings on this, that he took a keen, personal interest in the details of what happened, in terms of intelligence collection and sharing. And believe you me, the bureaucracy got that message.
HILL: Do you feel that President Obama is taking a keen, personal interest?
CHERTOFF: As I said, I don't know what he says behind the scenes. I think what he said when he came out a couple of days ago suggests he understands he needs to do it. And I've every reason to believe that he is going to take that personal interest to make sure the job gets done.
HILL: It sounds like, though, you're not -- I mean, just to read between the lines here, it sounds like you're saying you're not necessarily confident, pardon me, that he's been doing that up until this point. Is that accurate?
CHERTOFF: No, Erica, I think what I'm saying to you is since I'm not in the meetings I don't want to speculate about what his style is.
CHERTOFF: I have every reason to believe he's committed to this and I know he knows the responsibility that he has. And so, I'm going to leave it to him and his spokesman to speak for his administration.
HILL: Former Secretary Michael Chertoff, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
CHERTOFF: Good to be on.
HILL: More somber breaking news tonight compounding an already grim story. We are just learning now that the eight Americans killed by a suicide bomber in eastern Afghanistan today all worked for the CIA. They were actually in the gym at Forward Operating Base Chapman that's in Khost Province, when the bomber, wearing a suicide vest, struck. There is no word yet on how he got through security. Six other Americans were wounded in that attack.
And as always, we want to know what you think, whether it be about that suicide bombing or anything we're talking about tonight here on the show, you can talk about it on the blog. Join the live chat; it's under way now at AC360.com.
Up next, Dick Cheney's statement that President Obama is trying to pretend we're not at war touches off a bit of a war of words. James Carville opening fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: They just dust him off every month and he is going to crank some kind of statement out. And let former Vice President Cheney flop around out there and issue all his press statements. I don't know if it's really relevant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: The question is do you think it's relevant? Your take on the former vice president; his take, a prominent conservative blogger will join the fray as well.
And a bit later, is Iran on the brink? Huge new demonstrations there and a chilling new warning to the demonstrators: stay home or be crushed.
HILL: Former Vice President Dick Cheney now joining the slam fest directed at President Obama over his reaction to the botched Christmas Day attack.
In a statement, Mr. Cheney said, quote, "It is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe."
This, of course, is not the first time Mr. Cheney has accused the Obama administration of weakening the country's security. And he is not the only Republican using this moment to slam the White House.
Joining me tonight for this "Strategy Session," CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, James Carville and Eric Erickson, he's editor-in-chief of RedState.com. Good to have both of you with us.
James, in the written response to this statement from the former vice president, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House Communications Director said, "Too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers," but then, he goes on to say this quote, "Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now at a time when our country is under attack for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president."
How is that finger-pointing by the White House, James, any different than the finger-pointing that they're condemning?
CARVILLE: Well, I guess it's finger-pointing back. Look, if you ask me, I wouldn't have responded. They just dust him off every month and he sought to crank some kind of statement out.
The president said there was a systemic breakdown. I thought that was a very smart and courageous thing to say. And let's find out what is breakdown is to get out and let former Vice President Cheney flop around out there and issue all his press statements. I don't know if it's really relevant.
HILL: Eric, in terms of the former vice president's statement, which we just read part of there -- it's interesting and this has gotten a little bit of play today -- that he does criticize the present administration but doesn't directly criticize the failed attack itself. How do you take that?
ERIC ERICKSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I think the presupposition should that Dick Cheney is opposed to terrorist attack on the United States. I think everyone can agree on that point. I think Dick Cheney's point though, is that the president, he doesn't want to talk about the war on terror. He seems to have conveyed this image around the world that he is not a big fan of the idea that America is the world leader, which we are, that we are one of a couple hundred.
And I mean, to James' point, I don't think anybody has to worry about the president invading any country. He seems to be totally opposed to being in the countries we are in right now, including Afghanistan.
CARVILLE: Well, I don't know, maybe I misread it. I thought he sent 30,000 more of our young people over there. By the way, this administration's blown up more terrorists with drones in Pakistan in the last year than probably any year in the past.
Just -- I think there's this thing, just because you don't go out and run your mouth every day and you sit and you do the job, that's fine with me. All these bellicose speeches and invading countries and you know, torturing people, I don't think that's necessary.
If, in fact they find out where this systemic breakdown is, that is going to be fine with me.
HILL: What about...
CARVILLE: There's every evidence -- every evidence that they are very aggressively killing these guys in Pakistan. He have committed 30,000 more; that was on top of the 20,000 troops that he committed to Afghanistan, but it's something that makes me a little queasy.
ERICKSON: No matter what you think...
CARVILLE: No matter what he does, no matter what he does, these guys are going to criticize him.
ERICKSON: They are doing so -- yes they are doing so well, James, at killing folks overseas that they are inspiring them to come here. Because if they come here, they're going to get indicted, they're not going to get thrown in Gitmo.
HILL: Listen let's stop all that for a second though...
CARVILLE: That sounds like Richard Reid, right?
HILL: ... because that's honestly, hey guys, that's a separate conversation. One of the things we really want to focus on here is this political blame game that has come out and really seems to be, at this point, such an established part of the rhetoric in this country, especially for the last few months.
And as we head into the 2010 elections, Eric, why does it have to be that everything is about pointing the political finger when it seems everybody can agree that at least one of the things they want to get to the bottom of is where is this systemic failure?
ERICKSON: Well, you know, that is the unfortunate thing. When you go back even to the 9/11 Commission, it was stacked with Democrats who blamed Republicans and Republicans who blamed Democrats. It is very, very hard in Washington these days to have an honest conversation with anything.
James is right to the extent, we need to find out that -- where the systemic failure was in this situation. At the end of the day, someone's got to be held responsible. The problem is that right now, there is a Democratic administration, so it'll probably be a Democrat held responsible.
So, the Democrats will defend against that. The Republicans will attack against that. And I mean, we have to look at this that both Democrats and Republicans collaborated in building this massive ineffective bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security that all of Washington needs to be held accountable.
CARVILLE: Yes, I'm for finding out who's responsible. It might be some -- I don't know who it is, but let's find out what the facts are and address them.
And I don't know why and every time the Republicans attack on this, it blows back up in their face. They ought to just say, let's get to the bottom of this. And I suspect when we get to the bottom of this, there will be plenty of people to attack.
But right now, I fly a lot, I'm sure Eric does, I want to know how a guy can get three ounces of plastic in his underwear and literally come close to blowing up an airplane. I'm curious and concerned about this.
HILL: So then you see, either one of you, because you do -- it seems that we can agree on that point at least, that this is what people want answers to. Is either side going to call off the political attack dogs?
CARVILLE: You know, I don't know and first of all, I guess I would point out the obvious that the Democrats didn't start the attack. Maybe so -- maybe somebody...
HILL: But as you said even the response from the White House is not the way you would have done it and you know they are coming back on certain things.
CARVILLE: I agree. I wouldn't have done it that way. I would have been in a much different way, but that doesn't detract from the fact that I think the president's response has been, he's trying to get to the bottom of this. Let's get to the bottom of it, and then -- look, somebody needs to swing at the end of a rope here.
I don't mean literally, I mean, somebody's got to lose their job over this or something's got to happen. Somebody's got to be held accountable here. There was some breakdown somewhere. And let's find out where it was.
ERICKSON: This is really the first time the Democrats are in charge to deal with the war on terror and missteps happen and that's natural. But it doesn't help when the president refers to this guy as an isolated extremist and we find out the next day al Qaeda is willing to take responsibility.
And that really doesn't help when the Secretary of Homeland Security who says she doesn't like to use the word terrorism, goes on TV on Sunday and says the system worked when it clearly didn't.
HILL: And who has since retracted that. And that's something we're going to continue to dig into. James Carville, Eric Erickson, many thanks.
Ahead on 360, the year in politics, from the election that made history, to the bitter battle over health care to the scandals that crushed more than one presidential dream.
Plus, Kathy Griffin is here in the studio to share her take on the top stories of 2009 and hopefully a tidbit or two about her plans for tomorrow's big night in Times Square with Anderson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you do? What did you do to him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't want this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we do, what did he do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both of you calm down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing. He told me nothing because he's scared of you. (END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: That is a scene from the "Twilight Saga: New Moon", it's the fourth top grossing movie of 2009, those vampire kids getting plenty of attention this year.
We are counting down, in fact, to number one. Can you guess the next three? Put your thinking caps on.
We're also going to take a look back at some of the year's top political moments from the historic to the scandalous.
Candy Crowley now with the "Raw Politics" we're leaving behind.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was the moment of 2009, literally changing the face of the American presidency.
BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear.
CROWLEY: The new president, Barack Obama, began with a 75 percent approval rating, considerable capital that he spent to create more history.
OBAMA: We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time.
CROWLEY: It was one for the books, a massive $787 billion stimulus plan to fuel a failed economy, a huge victory for the neophyte president and the flashpoint for an emerging political voice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama, can you hear us now?
CROWLEY: The TEA Party people were first out in force on tax day. An umbrella group of furious fiscal conservatives, they protested big government spending and by August, Big Brother overreach; the Tea Party at Town Halls.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute.
CROWLEY: They were as effective as they were loud. The right left for dead at the side of the 2008 campaign trail stirred, sometimes a bit too vocally.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lie.
CROWLEY: It was that kind of year, bare-knuckles politics, nation- defining moments.
JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.
CROWLEY: The president wrote more history with the nomination of the Supreme Court's first Latina justice. And he saluted history after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, a political "Tour De Force", one of the most accomplished lawmakers of the 20th century.
SEN. TED KENNEDY: The work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. And the dream shall never die.
CROWLEY: Beyond history, there were the politics of the moment. The president made nice at a beer summit with a Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. And he won a Nobel Peace Prize even he didn't think he'd earned.
It wasn't always about the president.
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: Only dead fish go with the flow.
CROWLEY: Who could quit their job as colorfully as Sarah Palin, who left the governor's office in Alaska 18 months short of her first term?
PALIN: Thank you so much for being here.
CROWLEY: She promptly wrote a best seller, slammed McCain aides for bungling the 2008 campaign and laughed all the way to the bank.
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I won't begin in any particular spot.
CROWLEY: Two family value conservative Republicans, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign. They looked like presidential material in January and toast by September. "Cherchez la femme."
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage.
SANFORD: I have been unfaithful to my wife.
CROWLEY: Despite diminished numbers and some boys behaving badly, it turns out the Republican Party did not die this year. The GOP won governor seats in Virginia and New Jersey and the president who enjoyed in February the approval of three out of four Americans had dropped by more than 20 points in December.
So ring out the old, ring in the new and strap yourself in. 2010 is an election year.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
HILL: Up next, violence on the streets in Iran. Incredible pictures from anti-government protests, serious injuries, even fatalities as protesters clash with authorities. Sound familiar? We'll have the latest details for you from the ground. And then a bit later, a 2009 rewind: from Sully's heroic landing on the Hudson to balloon boy's bizarre flight. The highlights and yes, the lowlights.
Plus, Kathy Griffin's unique take on the news and a preview of her special New Year's Eve plans.
HILL: More breaking news tonight, this time coming to us out of Hawaii. There is word Rush Limbaugh was taken to the hospital there.
Ed Henry, who is in Hawaii covering the president, is on his way now to the hospital where Limbaugh was reportedly taken. Ed joining us now by phone.
Ed, what can you tell us about Rush Limbaugh's condition and why he was taken there?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Erica, I've just actually arrived at Queens Medical Center here in Honolulu. There's a report from our affiliate, KIPV, that paramedics responded to a call at about 2:41 p.m. here. That's five hours back, so about 7:41 p.m. Eastern Time at the Kahala Hotel and Resort.
They're saying Rush Limbaugh was complaining of chest pains and has been taken to this hospital, Queens Medical Center, in serious condition, according to our affiliate KIPV.
Limbaugh has been vacationing here. Various people around the island of Oahu have seen him golfing. I reached out to his attorney, Roy Black, who told CNN he's aware (INAUDIBLE). He does not have independent confirmation of it, but said he's, quote, "worried" about it, as are others around Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host.
Obviously, a strange coincidence that his nemesis, President Obama, is vacationing on this very island, as well, Erica.
HILL: All right. We'll continue to follow it. Ed, glad you're on the scene there for us.
Ed Henry live in Honolulu, as we continue to follow this story. Rush Limbaugh rushed to the hospital in Honolulu.
Want to get you caught up now on some of the other headlines we're following tonight. Randi Kaye standing by with the "360 Bulletin".
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, a British hostage held in Iraq is now free and in good health. Computer expert Peter Moore was one of five men abducted in 2007. Officials say his release is the result of a reconciliation program aimed at convincing insurgents to lay down their arms. GMAC gets a third round of federal bailout funds. The troubled auto and mortgage lender is set to collect $3.8 billion in aid. If you're keeping track, that's on top of the nearly $13.5 billion already received. According to officials, the fresh lifeline is intended to return the company to profitability by first quarter, 2010.
Well, it's official: Michelle Obama, more popular than the president. A CNN poll out today shows 68 percent of the public have a positive view of the first lady, a good 10 points ahead of her husband. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also beat out the president, scoring a 64 percent favorability rating versus his 58 percent.
And Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is now a national treasure. The iconic graveyard dance, directed by John Landis, is one of 25 films selected for the preservation in the Library of Congress's 2009 National Film Registry.
No word, of course, on whether the famous Filipino prisoner dancers' tribute, which we all know well here on 360, will accompany it.
HILL: We do know that. Well, you know, if it didn't work for 2009, maybe they can get it in 2010.
KAYE: Maybe in the next decade somewhere.
HILL: Could be. It could be. Randi thanks.
Just a reminder: you can join the live chat happening now at AC360.com. Let us know what you think about tonight's stories. Let us know what you think about the Filipino prisoners and their dancing.
Still ahead, we are bringing you the latest from Iran, where pro- government protestors taking to the streets again today. Why this moment could, in fact, be a crucial turning point.
Plus, we're taking a look back at the stories that stood out this year, from the major news events to the simply bizarre. Newshound Kathy Griffin here with her take on the stories we'll all remember from 2009.
And as we do look back at the year, here's the movie "Up," which was the third -- the year's third highest grossing film, as we count down to the No. 1 money maker. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(EXCERPT FROM THE MOVIE "UP")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: It looks tonight like Iran is on the brink, again; millions taking to the streets this summer to protest rigged presidential elections. This is video from back in June, the chaos throughout the capital of Tehran. Well, those scenes actually being repeated again this week, both in their size and in brutality. And I want to warn you what you're about to see is graphic.
This is amateur video. It was posted on YouTube, apparently taken on the streets of Tehran. There you can see a protester, as you watch this here, apparently run over by a police truck. That is when another police truck drives right over him.
That's not the video. That's some of the video we had talked about a little earlier this week. But this is, of course, more protest video that you're seeing right now. We will try to get that up for you.
In the meantime -- here we go. I think this is it. You can see as we focus in there. And that vehicle appears to run right over that person who was already down in the street.
CNN's Reza Sayah is following the fast-moving, explosive story, joining us right now.
Reza, when you look at this, it's hard not to say that it looks like a replay of what we saw six months ago. What exactly is going on?
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, I think based on what we've seen over the past few days, especially over the weekend, things have changed dramatically in Iran. These protests are getting to be more intense.
And what's remarkable about these protesters and this opposition movement, they know very well that security forces are out there to hurt them and, in some cases, kill them. Of course, human rights groups have said scores of people have been killed.
And we're going to show you another piece of video that really drives home how nasty things are getting. This is amateur video that reportedly shows the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi shot and killed during the protest on Sunday.
The opposition movements say he was killed by security forces. Iranian police this week are saying, no, his death is suspicious. They're suggesting it was staged by groups who want to spark more unrest, and they're saying they're investigating.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ali Mousavi was buried. Hours later, you saw this: a mass pro-government demonstration in a major square in downtown Tehran. Tens of thousands of people, at least, showing up, chanting slogans against opposition movement, the familiar chants of "death to America"; also calling for the arrest of opposition leaders.
There was some talk today that some of the opposition leaders have fled Tehran. A spokesperson for the opposition movement based in the U.S. says those claims are false, that Mir Hossein Mousavi is still at his home with his family.
But here you see two sides, Erica, that are digging in; neither side wanting to back down. HILL: And this is something you know really well, because you were there in the thick of it, of course, right after the elections.
The sun is rising right now in Tehran. The government has promised to crush that opposition. Are more protests and, frankly, more bloodshed expected today?
SAYAH: Well, we haven't seen widespread violence over the past three days, but you can look for the turmoil to continue. There's going to be a lot of religious holidays, big calendar days. Look for the opposition movement to take advantage of those days to come out en masse.
And look for the government to continue a strategy that's really been ineffective, this strategy of violence, this campaign of repression and arrests, hundreds of more people arrested over the past few days. But the problem is it hasn't worked, and the opposition movement is gaining momentum.
This is really like a heavyweight prize fight, where you have an underdog taking on an opponent. It's outweighed by the opponent, out- muscled, but the opponent can't knock out this underdog, in this case the opposition movement.
And as you go to the later rounds of the fight, what happens to the opposition movement, this underdog? It gains momentum; it gains confidence. Neither is on the brink of winning or losing, but unfortunately, Erica, look for more bloody and violent rounds to continue.
HILL: Neither one giving up, either. Reza thanks.
Just ahead, a view of the news you will only see here. We're going to lighten things up just a bit. The one and only Kathy Griffin joining us to dish on her favorite stories of the year and also what she has planned for Anderson tomorrow night as they ring in 2010 together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR: ... in the library in the restricted section, and I came across something rather odd about a very rare piece of magic. It just got me wondering. Are there some kinds of magic you're not allowed to teach us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think your question is meant to be boastful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Oh, Harry and your questions.
Tonight, we're counting down the top movies of 2009. That, of course, was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". It's the year's second highest grossing film, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. Even Harry Potter, though, is no match for the real-world events demanding our attention this year: the heroes, the history and that monumentally stupid hoax.
Comedian Kathy Griffin joining us in a moment to weigh in. First, though, Anderson Cooper takes a look back at the biggest moments of 2009.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Sully becomes a household name. Captain Sullenberger lands U.S. Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson, despite losing power minutes after takeoff.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly...
COOPER: Barack Obama's sworn in as the 44th president.
"Slumdog Millionaire" wins eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
Stock market bottoms on March 9, soars the rest of the year.
Daring rescue: Navy SEALs free the captain of the Maersk Alabama, killing three pirates.
Carrie Prejean wins first runner up in Miss USA 2009, where she famously objects to...
CARRIE PREJEAN, FIRST RUNNER UP, MISS USA 2009: Opposite marriage.
COOPER: H1N1 or swine flu is deemed a global pandemic.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected as president of Iran.
On the verge of a comeback tour, music legend Michael Jackson dies at 50.
Legendary sex symbol and "Charlie's Angel", Farrah Fawcett dies at 62 after a long struggle with cancer.
A hundred and fifty years, that's the sentence for Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff, who bilked investors of at least $13 billion.
WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: And that's the way it is.
COOPER: America's most trusted man in news and former host of "CBS Evening News", Walter Cronkite, dies at 92.
EDWARD KENNEDY, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS SENATOR: The hope rises again.
COOPER: Long-time Senator Ted Kennedy, champion of civil rights and universal health care, dies of brain cancer at 77.
A surprise winner, President Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize. Many ask why.
FALCON HEENE, BALLOON BOY: We did this for a show.
COOPER: Balloon Boy and the Heene family. Need we say more?
Tiger Woods crashes a car, admits transgressions, and takes an indefinite leave from the PGA tour. Stay tuned.
HILL: Add to that this week's big story, the Christmas-Day bomb plot, and that is 2009 in a nutshell, at least as we see it here at AC 360.
Joining us now, though, a woman who's created some rather unforgettable moments of her own, not just this year but every year, Emmy Award-winning comedian Kathy Griffin.
KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: Double Emmy. It's double Emmy.
HILL: So you have two and Cooper has how many?
GRIFFIN: I don't think he has any. I think he has a Clio award or a Cable Ace Award maybe.
HILL: He's got them, yes. So what was your -- what was your big moment of 2009? Was it when CNN came to you and said, "You know what? We're going to let you come back this year?"
GRIFFIN: Can you believe it?
GRIFFIN: OK, so this...
HILL: But I'm happy that they did.
GRIFFIN: Well, thank you. I appreciate it, and I can't wait to see you out there on the riser tomorrow night. I mean, it's going to be cold. Wear your parka.
HILL: Yes, not going to be there.
HILL: Because I have something cooking here. And you know, when you're seven months pregnant, you don't really feel like standing out in the freezing cold and the rain. Not that I don't...
GRIFFIN: ... you don't know who the father is, or is this the wrong time to bring that up?
HILL: Probably not a good time to bring it up, because my husband is watching.
GRIFFIN: Husband? OK, I'll play that game.
Now, look, here's the announcement. I am thrilled to be back co- hosting with Anderson Cooper. And frankly, putting him on the map in a way he can't do for himself.
HILL: Need we know where...
GRIFFIN: This year, I'm very open about the contract that CNN made me with me, which I'm sure they're not thrilled that I'm spilling the beans. But I just think it's funny, so I'm going to say it.
This year, there's a stipulation in my contract, which I'm almost sure is not in yours or Wolf's or Jack Cafferty's, which is if I cuss like I did last year, by accident -- I have to write the check back.
GRIFFIN: No joke. And so I actually brought my checkbook.
HILL: So you're ready to go?
HILL: Are you thinking you're actually going to have to write a check out?
GRIFFIN: I don't know if I'm man enough to be able to do it. But we're on...
HILL: To be able to write the check?
GRIFFIN: I can write the check. What do I care?
HILL: Or to not cuss? OK.
GRIFFIN: I enjoyed being a YouTube sensation, but I'm going to try not to cuss.
GRIFFIN: But it's a struggle. It's an uphill climb.
HILL: Well, I'll be watching. So I look forward -- I look forward to...
GRIFFIN: Root for me or not. It's up to you.
HILL: No, I'll root for you.
GRIFFIN: And whoever that guy is that you have a baby with.
HILL: We'll talk about that in the break.
HILL: But what I really need to know, speaking of guys, whose team are you on, looking back at 2009? Are you team Larry King or team Carrie Prejean? Who was inappropriate?
GRIFFIN: Right. I'm a gay dude. I'm not team Prejean, please. She's a moron.
I'm team Larry King all the time, even though he thinks I'm Kathie Lee Gifford.
Larry, don't argue. You know that you're never quite sure.
So yes, I'm -- I'm also team Blitzer. I like "THE SITUATION ROOM".
HILL: Who's not team Blitzer?
GRIFFIN: I like...
HILL: Can you believe Balloon Boy didn't know who he was?
GRIFFIN: OK. I think that's a good relationship for me after I dump Levi.
HILL: Balloon Boy?
GRIFFIN: No, the dad. I think that's a good...
HILL: Richard Heene, science detective?
GRIFFIN: Kathy Heene. Do you like the sound of it?
HILL: It's nice. You know, he's got his own theme song, "Richard Heene, science detective".
GRIFFIN: And the wife rocks, shredding.
GRIFFIN: So we are going to cover so many things tomorrow night. I'm going to be honest, my lover, fiance, Levi Johnston...
GRIFFIN: Because I'm this close to living in the White House, he is going to be so jealous when he sees me with Anderson that Anderson is going to have to wear his Afghanistan body armor because Levi might...
GRIFFIN: Levi is very jealous.
HILL: I want to hear a little bit more about Levi in a second, but before I get to that, you mentioned things that you're going to be wearing.
HILL: We talked a little bit. It's going to be cold tomorrow.
HILL: It's going to be raining.
HILL: So I thought you should have a little extra protection. Here's what we have got for you.
GRIFFIN: Some of your afterbirth?
HILL: Yes. No, so there's this CNN hat...
GRIFFIN: Do I get -- I can't get canned for that. Sorry.
HILL: No, I don't think it's swearing. It's a word. It's a medical term.
GRIFFIN: OK. Thank you.
HILL: I didn't want you to have to wear that and mess up your hair.
GRIFFIN: My hair is my fortune, Erica.
GRIFFIN: That and my rack.
HILL: I got you some ear muffs.
HILL: Like Tinkerbell.
GRIFFIN: Adorable. It's like I'm a little angel.
HILL: Well, yes, or a fairy. So I thought you'd like that.
And then also, just so you're that in keeping with team CNN here, a little CNN parka.
GRIFFIN: I would love to wear that.
HILL: Word on the street is that they might make you give it back, but don't blame that on me.
GRIFFIN: That is so typical. That's so D-list. I don't even get to keep it?
HILL: Well, you are on the D-list. It's your life.
GRIFFIN: I know.
HILL: So those are some things that you can -- you can think about...
GRIFFIN: Look, it's all about whether or not I write the check back.
HILL: I look forward to the show.
GRIFFIN: And you know we're doing tweet. You know normally I don't say tweet. I have a different word.
HILL: Yes, but on this show you say tweet, because you're not writing the check yet.
GRIFFIN: I know. But what I do is I say the people can...
HILL: Eat. Yes.
GRIFFIN: They can -- they can send me...
HILL: So that's the Twitter?
GRIFFIN: OK. And so we're going to read questions from the...
HILL: Twitter page. GRIFFIN: Anderson's and mine.
HILL: OK. I look forward to it. We're not done with you yet, by the way.
HILL: We're going to put you to the test a little bit, because Anderson is not here tonight. So you're ready for him tomorrow.
GRIFFIN: Yes, where is he? Did he get canned? What happened?
HILL: He took a vacation.
GRIFFIN: A vacation?
HILL: Like he deserves a vacation.
GRIFFIN: I thought he was supposed to be a newsman.
HILL: He only works 360 days year, not 365.
GRIFFIN: Oh, I get it.
HILL: AC 360.
GRIFFIN: Yes, fine.
HILL: We'll be back with more from Kathy Griffin. And just a reminder, too; tomorrow, Anderson -- he's back tomorrow -- and Kathy Griffin teaming up again to host CNN's New Year's Eve coverage. They are live from Times Square. That countdown begins at 10 p.m. Eastern.
It's going to be a lot of fun, and I am confident there will be a few surprises, too. Kathy has her checkbook ready. We can't make any promises. Some people think Anderson Cooper just might dance this year. I think pigs could fly, too. But who knows?
Up next, one simple idea; how organic charcoal may actually help global warming. We'll show you, when 360 continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(EXCERPT FROM THE MOVIE "TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: And there you have it, the top grossing movie of 2009. In case you can't tell or, like me, you didn't actually see it. It's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen".
We want to return you now to our special series which is "One Simple Thing". It's A look at how one idea could truly change the world.
Tonight, the focus is on organic charcoal and how it could actually help fight global warming. Here's Liz Neisloss.
LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the fields of Andra Pradesh, they're harvesting rice and plowing the muddy plots preparing for a new crop.
Shrinavas (ph) follows in the steps of generations before him; he and his wife burn waste from rice plants making lots of thick polluting smoke and a little ash to fertilize the soil. But now he's testing a different approach, making a compost mixed with organic charcoal; an old idea getting new attention. These days the charcoal is called biochar.
These farmers are making biochar; they've taken a giant mound of plants and soil and buried a smoldering fire deep within. This is an ancient practice, but it may hold a lot of promise for the future when it comes to slowing global warming.
Biochar is made by burning material with little or no air. So oxygen stripped from the plant waste fuels the burning. The result -- a rich charcoal. Pure carbon locked in and not released back into the atmosphere. Another benefit? Biochar improves soil quality.
SAI BHASKAR REDDY, ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST, GEO: You can see the pieces of biochar?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dark colored pieces?
NEISLOSS: Dr. Sai Bhaskar Reddy has brought biochar testing to the fields of this village. He says adding it to the soil allows air to circulate, keeping soil moist and drawing microbes and worms.
REDDY: ... in the air and there is life in the soil. Ultimately we have healthy soil.
NEISLOSS: Farmer Shrinavas say his cotton field of biochar has nearly doubled the cotton buds of his non-biochar field.
He tells me, "Our costs are lower because with biochar, we are seeing a healthier crop, so we've been using 50 percent less chemical fertilizer.
But critics say a boom market for biochar will encourage the cutting down of forests and giving up farmland to grow crop just for biochar.
Reddy says the forest can be spared if only local plant life is used. He's introduced a low cost, low polluting stove that produces biochar during cooking.
Baorash (ph) uses one in his tea shop. He tells me it requires less wood and it has more heat than the traditional stove. So cooking is faster.
An idea revived from tradition, that just might slow down the warming of our planet.
Liz Neisloss, CNN, Peddamaduru, India.
HILL: That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks so much for watching.
"LARRY KING" starts right now.