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Year of Security Challenges; Rush Limbaugh Speaks Out From Hospital

Aired January 1, 2010 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a gaping hole in America's airline security. A critical job is now unfilled, and President Obama's nominee now bogged down in fresh controversy.

Plus, Iraq makes a new threat and demands justice for the 2007 killing of civilians by American security guards. This hour, the backlash now that the guards have been cleared by a U.S. court.

And inside the Situation Room. It's not ours, but it's his. A rare look at the place where the president makes some of his most difficult decisions.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On this New Year's Day, President Obama has new information about the failed airline terror attack to study and a long list of national security challenges to address in the days and week ahead. This hour, we zero in on the new complications for his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and for his nominee to a job that's critical to preventing airline terror.

We begin with our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's been reporting holding up the process, the confirmation process, by the Republicans, but there seems to be yet another hitch.

What is going on?


And the new development, Suzanne, has to do with something that Erroll Southers, the president's pick to head the TSA, something he did back in the 1980s. He was an FBI agent at the time. And he accessed confidential information about his then estranged wife's new boyfriend.

He wanted to see, he said, if the man had a criminal record. Southers said this was because his young son was with his mother at this point and in the company of this man. And the new hitch is that he initially told the Homeland Security Committee that he had a colleague run the background check.

But, right after that committee sent his nomination on to the full Senate, Southers said, actually, he was wrong, he remembered incorrectly. He said he himself accessed the database, and he accessed it not once, but twice. He told the committee this new information about a month ago, though it is only coming out right now.

He insists it was an inadvertent mistake, but certainly there are some people are questioning the fact that he wasn't able to remember this correctly and they're sort of questioning if he's being wholly forthright about it.

MALVEAUX: So, the initial reason had nothing to do with this, right?

KEILAR: Yes, the initial reason was something completely different. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint put a hold on this nomination because of Republican concerns that Southers would allow TSA agents to unionize, something Democrats would be for, Republicans would be against.

But, after this new revelation, DeMint says this is another reason why he might not support Southers' appointment. Overall, though, there doesn't appear to be at this point widespread uproar among Republicans. Remember, Republicans on this committee at least have been aware of this discrepancy for some time, and they didn't really make a whole lot of noise over it.

MALVEAUX: So, Brianna, do we think he's going to get through this, essentially?

KEILAR: Well, and I think right now the prevailing wisdom or the prevailing thought is that he will, especially after this Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a Northwest flight.

There is great concern right now about not having someone to steer the ship at TSA. We heard from actually Joe Lieberman. He is an independent. He is also chairman of the chairman of Senate Homeland Security Committee. And he is certainly not afraid to break ranks with Democrats on issues like this.

His spokesperson put out a statement saying: "Twenty years ago, Mr. Southers committed a serious error in judgment. He admitted that error and was disciplined for it. Senator Lieberman is satisfied that the totality of Mr. Southers' career more than qualifies him for the position to which he was nominated."

The White House of course really backing Southers as well, and we're expecting Democrats to really push this through. They say they're going to. This is going to be a big priority. They're going to get this done early on in the year.

MALVEAUX: OK. Brianna, so, bottom line, it sounds like he is going to get through, but there is that little hitch that they have got to work here.

KEILAR: That is the prevailing thought, that he will get through.

MALVEAUX: OK. Brianna, thank you so much.

Well, now back to the pushback against the president's plan to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Mr. Obama's critics and even some members of his party now are increasingly worried about sending detainees back to the front lines of terror.

Our Brian Todd, you have been looking into that, and clearly there's a lot of controversy over this now and there's a lot of focus. What can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, focus especially on the many detainees who remain at Guantanamo.

Suzanne, the administration almost certain now to miss its previous deadline for closing Guantanamo Bay this month. And with new information on possible connections between Guantanamo and the latest major terrorist plot, those plans get more complicated.


TODD (voice-over): Fresh calls from Republicans for the Obama team to slam the brakes on its plans to close Guantanamo, GOP lawmakers concerned over a flood of new information, the possible connection between the recent plot to bomb a U.S. airliner and the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which had in its senior ranks at least one former Guantanamo detainee, and the fact that the administration transferred some Yemenis from Guantanamo back to Yemen in recent weeks.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: I think sending these -- any quantity of these people back to Yemen would be a huge problem. And regardless of the rehabilitation program that they go through, I think of them many would find their way back onto the battlefield.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, an administration official said in an e- mail, "The president's team closely reviews each case for relevant information about each detainee, including the threat they pose, to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained or transferred."

An attorney for several Yemeni detainees him up.

DAVID REMES, ATTORNEY FOR TRANSFERRED YEMENI DETAINEES: They have reviewed the files of every single man in great detail, all of the evidence, and they have approved for transfer a certain number of men who included my client, as well as the other six who were released. This is not a careless process.

TODD: Yemenis currently make up almost half the prisoner population at Guantanamo, one reason critics say closing the facility is a huge mistake.

But a White House official says the closure is crucial to national security, because, he says, the facility has been used as a rallying cry and a recruiting tool for al Qaeda.


TODD: And, as this debate rages back and forth, some analysts are calling for at least a pause in the transfer of Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo while they take a closer look at the potential dangers posed by them. There's no hard indication at the moment that that's even being considered -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Brian, in light of the controversy, is this White House transferring detainees out of Guantanamo Bay any faster than, say, the Bush administration was?

TODD: By at least one person's account, no, they're not.

David Remes, the attorney who we featured in this piece, who is the attorney for some Yemenis still at Guantanamo, says by his count the Obama administration in its first year in office transferred -- authorized fewer transfers of detainees than the Bush administration did in its last year in office. And this attorney attributes that to these extensive reviews of each individual case that the Obama team is undertaking.

MALVEAUX: OK. Brian, thank you very much.

In Iraq right now, the government is vowing to file a lawsuit against five American security guards in connection with a 2007 bloodbath in Baghdad. Manslaughter charges against the former Blackwater employees were dismissed by a U.S. district court judge yesterday.

Now, Iraqis are saying that that ruling is unfair, and that the killing of 17 civilians was an act of murder.

Our CNN's Diana Magnay is in Baghdad with the story.

Diana, what do we know?


Well, the Iraqi government is very angry at this decision. The Iraqi people are extremely angry. Also, what the government said in a statement today was that they found this ruling unacceptable and that they plan to pursue Blackwater themselves through the courts.


ALI AL-DABBAGH, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: We reserve the right of our citizens through the strategic agreement with the United States to reserve the right of the victims which has been affected during the military operation. The Blackwater is an extension of the military forces of the United States. And we keep them fully accountable for such a crime.


MAGNAY: Now, the Iraqi authorities conducted their own investigation into this and found those five men guilty of murder.

And let's just remind you about that incident. They were looking after U.S. diplomats and said that they came under attack in their convoy from insurgents. But the allegation is that they let off fire unnecessarily and escalated the use of force without provocation, killing 17 people in that incident.

Now, General Odierno gave a press briefing today. He's the commander, of course, of U.S. forces here in Iraq. And he addressed the issue, saying that he was concerned, given the public anger in Iraq over this incident and over the dismissal of this -- over this ruling, that private security details -- private security firms still operating in Iraq might become targets themselves.

He also said, though, that, however disappointing it might be not to have been -- not to have found someone accountable who you believe to be guilty, that that is simply a question of the rule of law.


MAJ. GENERAL RAYMOND ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL CORPS- IRAQ: It's a lesson in the rule of law. You know, we're a country of rule of law. Iraq is a country that is abiding by the rule of law. And that's what protects its citizens in the long run, is having a system where you use the rule of law in order to make your determinations, and I think this is the case.


MAGNAY: Obviously, though, Suzanne, for the families of those 17 people killed, that is not a message that they want to hear this new year -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you. I'm sure this is a controversy that will continue. Thank you very much, Diana.

Well, some fellow Democrats fear that the president has too much on his plate in 2010. How is he going to prioritize his long and difficult to-do list? A veteran lawmaker is offering some clues.

Plus, Rush Limbaugh is speaking out from the hospital where he was admitted for chest pains. We're going to bring you the latest news on the conservative commentator.

And President Obama is expected to be in the Situation Room on Tuesday. Well, that's the one in the White House. Stand by for a rare tour of his command center.


MALVEAUX: Now to a promise kept.

CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" anchor, John King, vowed to visit all 50 states in 2009. And that's exactly what he did. He wanted to tell the stories of Americans outside the D.C. Beltway.

Well, last January, John went to South Carolina, where some dark days in U.S. history have given way to a new beginning.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Greenwood, South Carolina, a monument to heroes, but also a reminder of the dark days of hatred and segregation.

(on camera): That's you right there.

(voice-over): Edith Childs has lived here all her 60 years, knows the divide as well as anyone.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to know one thing, Edith...

KING: And as much as she celebrates the success of her new friend, knows just as well that making history doesn't erase history.

She was 6 or 7 when a noise in the night stirred her to peek out the window.

EDITH CHILDS, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: And there was actually people on a horse with white clothes and all. There was no question who they were. They were the Ku Klux Klan. That was the worst time, because I was so scared.

KING: On walks to school, taunting was common.

CHILDS: You could walk past cars and even children would say, you know, "Mom, those are niggers."

KING: And once in the classroom, more reminders of separate but hardly equal.

CHILDS: We got those things that were left over from the white school. Our books were always secondhand books that came to us. Many times they weren't even worth using, really, but we didn't have a choice.

KING: Edith Childs grew both precocious and defiant. At the five and dime, she waited for when no one was looking.

CHILDS: The white water fountain was nice cold water, and our water was just hot water. I would always get me some cold water. Always.

KING: Always a divide.

(on camera): And if you were black and you wanted to go to this theater, where would you be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would be up here in the balcony section. There was a separate colored entrance from the front of the building.

KING (voice-over): Matt Edwards runs the town museum.

Segregation is a thread in the photographs -- this, a late 1950s all-white snapshot outside a local mill.

I haven't seen one yet that has any African-American folks in it. I know these folks worked at the plants and at the mills, but they weren't in the shift photos that came out. Nursing school was the first time Edith Childs shared a classroom with whites. She's on the county council now and says things are better.

She first met Barack Obama when he visited in 2007. In the back of the room, she began to repeat an old civil-rights chant.

CHILDS: Fired up. Ready to go. Fired up. Ready to go.

OBAMA: Fired up.

KING: Obama adopted the cheer. And even though he lost conservative South Carolina, Childs and Greenwood became part of his improbable journey, and he a part of theirs.

CHILDS: The day after the election, it was so quiet in Greenwood until it was unreal. I just could not believe it was that quiet. I mean, the kind of quiet that you're saying, 'What is going on? ,' you know? But you know why the quiet is.

KING: A shocked quiet, Edith says. Because, while things are better in Greenwood, they are far from perfect. The monument to Confederate soldiers still stands. And even today, in 2009, the stars and stripes flies over two American Legion halls in Greenwood.

Locals know this one as the white post. This one for blacks.

CHILDS: There we go again, John. There are still those that are not going to change no matter what.

KING: But Edith Childs is betting more minds and hearts will change now.

She is off to Washington to watch her friend make history, knowing it won't change Greenwood's past, but maybe its future.

CHILDS: I never thought that I would be able to see this day, so I just need to be there. Don't want to be nowhere near the front. I just want to be there.

It means everything to me, because I want to be treated as a person. Not because I'm Edith Childs and I'm black, but because I'm a person.

KING: John King, CNN, Greenwood, South Carolina.


MALVEAUX: On our next hour, John takes us to New Mexico, where some military students could get their marches orders to Afghanistan. That's at 5:00 p.m. Eastern right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, conservative talk show radio host Rush Limbaugh is getting ready to hold a press conference at a Hawaiian hospital. That's where he was admitted after experiencing chest pains. We are going to bring you the news from that as soon as we have it. Also, the deadline has passed, but talks between two media giants are still going on, at least for now. We are going to update you on the battle royal that could have you swearing off bowl games, "House," "The Simpsons," whether you want to or not.

And new details about the young Nigerian suspected of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas. Now officials say he may have been under the influence of a man called the bin Laden of the Internet.


MALVEAUX: Brianna Keilar is monitoring some of the top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hey, Brianna. What are you working on?

KEILAR: Suzanne, a suspicious package that turned out to be a Christmas ornament diverted a Northwest Airlines flight today. A spokesman says the flight from Detroit to Orlando was sent to Tennessee, where dogs searched the plane. Eighty passengers and crew members reboarded about two hours later. The spokesman says the move was taken out of an abundance of caution. The failed Christmas bombing was on board a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

About -- Suzanne, let's get back to you now.

MALVEAUX: OK. Want to bring you right back to Hawaii, Honolulu. That is where Rush Limbaugh is speaking outside of the hospital. He was suffering from chest pains. He's giving us an update. Let's take a listen.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's been a very humbling experience.

Now, all of my life, I have wondered what a heart attack would be like. I have never had any heart disease. I have never had any problem with it. At 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon, I experienced pain in my upper left chest like I had never experienced before.

I sat down. I walked around. Nothing abated. I got on the phone and called the security staff at the Kahala. And the security people were up there instantly. EMT came in instantly. And I think, within 20 minutes, I was here at the hospital undergoing extensive tests.

They alleviated the pain problem within a half-hour. And yesterday afternoon -- or yesterday morning -- I had an angiogram, which is a catheter treatment through the heart, and they found absolutely nothing wrong.

It was a blessing, no arterial disease, no coronary disease whatsoever. Stayed last legal for observation just to make sure, because the pain was real. And they don't know what caused it. And I think, for everybody out there who -- I'm 58, will be 59 in a couple weeks, and you start thinking about these kinds of things.

Don't mess with it. Any time you have heart pain, it's -- or chest pain and you have no idea what it is, and it's something you've never experienced before, turn it over to professionals right off the bat. Don't tough it out. Don't try to make it go away on your own, because it's not worth the -- it's not worth the risk.

Again, the treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer. And I -- I -- based on what happened to me, I don't think there's one thing wrong with the American health care system. It's working just fine, just dandy.

And I got nothing special. I got no treatment other than what anybody else that would have called 911 and been brought in with the same kinds of symptoms. The care was extensive, it was personal, and it was complete, and it was very confidence-inspiring. And I never once I -- once I got here had any fears, because of the manner in which I was treated.

A cardiologist for this, Dr. Magno (ph), is here. I have gotten to know her very well in the last couple of days. She's absolutely fabulous. Also, another cardiologist on the case was Dr. Wallach (ph), who is not here.

But they are the team. But the nurses, the support staff, the nurses' aides, have made this stay almost like a hotel, other than the problem I had with what I thought was the heart I wish I knew what it was. There's -- all people can do is make wild guesses about it.

Best guess was it might have been a spasm in an artery, but this angiogram showed literally no heart disease or arterial disease whatsoever. For that, I am very grateful, and it's a blessing in disguise that -- that it happened as it did, with no damage whatsoever, because it takes things like this in life maybe to prepare you for the eventuality that you are getting older, not as young as you were, and not as invisible as you once thought you were.

I would like to turn it over to Dr. Magno (ph) now, because she wants to say a couple things about this.

And thank you for respecting no questions, because I -- if we did questions, I know you would ask questions I really don't want to answer in this setting about political circumstances. I just feel very grateful and thankful to be an American and have this happened to me at one of the best cardio hospitals in the world, where I happen to be here. It all worked out for the best. (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everybody. And happy new year.

I just want to make sure to reiterate what Rush said about the importance of calling for help as soon as possible. If you think you're having a heart problem, call for help. Call 911. Get to the hospital. Get to a doctor's attention, because time is very, very important. And the sooner you get to good medical care for your heart, the sooner we know what the problems are and the sooner we can treat it. Thank you.

MALVEAUX: You just heard from Rush Limbaugh out of Honolulu, Hawaii, giving an update on his medical condition, after experiencing chest pains, saying he went through a series of tests, that there was nothing wrong. He said that there was no heart failure, nothing wrong. He says, tough it out, that you should go ahead and if he has -- if you have an experience like these, go through these tests.

Also wanted to make the point that -- that -- he said there's nothing wrong with the health care system. He got no special attention, and it was complete and comprehensive -- Rush Limbaugh saying that he is in good condition.

I want to bring in Ed Henry, who's also in Hawaii at the news conference, to give us an update on what this looks like, Ed. He's standing outside the hospital, where you are. Can you describe for us what's going on there?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP) hospital near where his room was. He was dressed in shorts and a polo shirt. It appears like he will be leaving the hospital soon. He looked very well, and he was very composed.

You probably heard that, but you could see it in person -- and I have been posting pictures as well on Twitter -- that he looks well. He looks sort of normal, like you would see normally him.

He was suggesting in his remarks that it was not a heart attack, that it may have just been a spasm, that they can't quite figure out what -- what it was, but that he feels very thankful. You heard him also sort of make some what could be perceived as political comments about how this is the best health care system in the world, and he doesn't see one single thing wrong it, although he say that he didn't want to take questions because he didn't want to get into politics.

Now, I did shout one question at the end about whether he's on painkillers for his back pain again. There was a report by our affiliate here in Hawaii that he told the paramedics at the hotel that he was taking prescription medication. He said he is not taking those painkillers for his back pain any longer, but that he was taking some other -- I couldn't make out what it was, but he said it was not prescription painkillers -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Ed, thank you so much for the latest update.

And, of course, we will go back to Hawaii as the news warrants. Thank you, Ed.

Well, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: new evidence of a direct link. We have told you about the American-born cleric dubbed the bin Laden of the Internet -- well, now, what counterterrorism officials know about his contact with the Christmas bombing suspect. And time is up. Today is the deadline for Iran to prove to the world it is not building nuclear weapons -- what new sanctions Tehran might face.

And a massive car bomb takes a devastating toll in Pakistan. Police say, the blast was so powerful, it -- felt 11 miles away.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Euphoria over President Obama's victory is losing its luster in some parts of the country. He may have won Colorado and other Western states, but, you know, keeping them is another story.

Last fall, CNN's national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, went back to find support for Democrats somewhat softening.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Why didn't alarm bells go off when the suspect's father...


MALVEAUX: Apologize to our viewers. That was clearly the wrong piece.

We're going to move on to another story right after this quick break.


MALVEAUX: We want to go back to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin's piece, when she went back to the West to find out how Democrats feel about President Obama now.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The West, with its strong independent streak and growing population, is open to rein in politics. President Obama gave Democrats here new hope by sweeping several Western states.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Colorado, the time for change has come.

YELLIN: But has that change come and gone?

WILLIAM CHALOUPKA, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: It's not as though people are lining up at the Republican Party headquarters. It's just that the bloom is off.

YELLIN: According to CNN polling, the West now gives President Obama his lowest approval rating, and it's only the region the Democratic Party scores below 50 percent. (on camera): In the West, the game is all about Independents. Here in Colorado, there are more unaffiliated voters than there are Democrats or Republicans, and many of those Independents have been put off by the president's deficit spending and by the political brawling in Washington.

(voice-over): At a Democratic gathering in Colorado, they're anticipating fierce midterm fights.

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: The West is an independent-minded place. It was never going to be easy. Colorado has, I believe, always been a purple state.

YELLIN: Newly appointed Senator Michael Bennett faces a primary challenge from the left and a brutal contest if he makes it to the general.

Is it your sense that the president helps or hurts out here right now?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT (D), COLORADO: I think people are still very willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. What we have to do is be able to prove that we're taking a pragmatic, independent, You know, relatively nonpartisan approach to the work That we're trying to deal with in Washington.

YELLIN: A sentiment echoed by this small-business owner at a campaign house party.

HOLLY BIGGERS, RESIDENT OF COLORADO: I think the majority of us are kind of middle-of-the-road people. And we decide what's best for us at the time, and then we vote that way.

YELLIN: Which means the fight to win the West is on.

CHALOUPKA: The Republicans are mobilized, too. They have been stung. And so they want to get -- they want this blue period to be as short as possible.

YELLIN (on camera): Democrats here concede they'll likely lose some seats in midterm elections but insist they're looking ahead to the big game in 2012. They say success there largely hinges on something out of their control, whether Republicans feel the candidate who appeals to the West's independent streak.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Denver, Colorado.


MALVEAUX: Well, it was just a week ago that a would-be terrorist almost successfully detonated an in-flight bomb near Detroit had he not been subdued by other passengers. As holiday travelers make their way back home this weekend, there's no doubt much more watchful than they ever were.

Our CNN's Sandra Endo, she's joining us now. And Sandra, tell us what they should be looking for.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, they should be looking for a whole host of things. Specifically, though, behavior.

There's a whole different attitude when it comes to flying right now. And passengers, as you mentioned, do have to deal with extra security measures, but there's also a heightened sense of awareness about the behavior around them on board flights.


ENDO (voice-over): Flying these days shouldn't be a gamble like in the movie "Passenger 57" with Wesley Snipes.

NARRATOR (voice-over): The flight is in the air. Hijackers are on board. One passenger is fighting back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "PASSENGER 57": You want to play roulette?

WESLEY SNIPES, ACTOR, "PASSENGER 57": Always bet on black.

ENDO: But with the threat of terror in the skies, passengers may need to become real-life action heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pretty sure I would spring into action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now people have a little bit more of a proactive attitude. If they even think you're doing something that's unsatisfactory, they're going to pretty much take you down themselves and not wait for air marshals to show up.

ENDO: The Department of Homeland Security is taking added precaution at airports this holiday weekend to prevent that from happening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a special security announcement.

ENDO: Expect more bomb-sniffing dogs, air marshals on flights, and 100 percent screening of passengers traveling into the United States.

Still, even the president admits security measures can't catch everything.

OBAMA: An alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.

ENDO: Which leaves the flying public on the front line, just as on Christmas Day, when a passenger confronted the alleged terrorist on that Northwest flight. One traveler we spoke with says he wants airlines to give passengers better guidance on how to react.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There should be advice given. And if that advice is taken, well, that's a different matter. ENDO: Security experts say being on the lookout is key, not profiling someone based on ethnicity, but checking for out-of-place behavior. And many travelers we spoke with recognize it's important to be vigilant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I try to keep a lookout, you know, for something weird.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of us need to be in it to help, because it's our lives and our country that we're trying to protect.


ENDO: The Transportation Security Administration says more air marshals now in training will be on board in the next couple of months, but, still, not enough for each flight, leaving passengers and crew to fend for their own safety -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Sandra.

And when Congress gets back to work this week, its members are sure to follow up on the Christmas Day's foiled in-flight bombing near Detroit. Who should be held accountable for security protocols that failed to stop the suspect in his tracks?

A suicide bomber kills dozens at a crowded volley ball match in Pakistan. CNN's Arwa Damon has the latest from Islamabad.


MALVEAUX: If you're a sports fan, imagine this being the last week of the NFL season, or ballgames, or perhaps even "The Simpsons." You know, it could happen if a dispute between Fox and Time Warner Cable isn't resolved. Negotiations are still going on, but it's already past the deadline that could end programming for millions of viewers.

Joining me now to discuss this is our CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.

Is there any word on where these talks stand now? Because a lot of people are getting a little nervous about this.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And understandably so. Happy New Year to you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Happy New Year.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you.

No news is good news, you might say, since Fox channels are still on Time Warner Cable. Screens did not go dark, and both sides are saying only they are still talking.

Time Warner Cable is calling it a brief extension. No definition on "brief." But Senator John Kerry, who heads up the subcommittee on communications, issued a statement praising Fox and Time Warner Cable for not calling it quits. "I encourage a long-term, mutually agreeable solution that does not strip consumers of programming unnecessarily and believe that good-faith negotiations should result in an agreement."

But 13 million Time Warner Cable subscribers are wondering what the heck is going on.

MALVEAUX: What's happening? There's a lot at stake if you're a big football fan.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. You can imagine. And we certainly got a range of opinions on the streets of New York today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would hate it because I watch shows on Fox -- "House," "24," "American Idol." I wouldn't stay with Time Warner Cable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to keep subscribing to Time Warner. I wouldn't change just because one channel went off the air. It's just a shame, that's all.


MALVEAUX: So what does Fox want, Susan?

CANDIOTTI: Well, they want to charge Time Warner Cable for the right to carry its programming, including broadcast channels that air shows like "American Idol" and "House" and "The Simpsons." They want to charge $1 per subscriber, 13 million Time Warner Cable subscribers, and the cable company is saying that's way too much money.

But what will this mean, for example, for tonight's Sugar Bowl game if that's yanked from the cable if talks break down? Well, that's doubtful, says "The Washington Post" media critic Howard Kurtz.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": This is a classic case of corporate brinkmanship. I knew they would extend the deadline because neither Time Warner nor Fox wanted to feel the wrath of billions of football fans who would miss their college ballgames. So it was destined that this would go into overtime.


CANDIOTTI: And that, of course, would make a lot of football fans happy.

But we do want to point out, Suzanne, of course, to remind people that Time Warner Cable broke off last year from being a subsidiary of Time Warner Corporation, so they are now an independent operator.

MALVEAUX: OK. Smart move if they don't want to face the wrath of all those viewers there, that they're continuing to talk.

All right. Thanks, Susan. Appreciate it.


MALVEAUX: After the thwarted Christmas bombing aboard a Northwest airliner, Congress is sure to add a review of screening protocols to its agenda. We're going to look at who should take responsibility for failed security measures.

Also ahead, it could be the next wave in passenger screening. CNN's Brian Todd will consider the question, what if body scanners were in wider use?


MALVEAUX: Congress get back to business this month they'll have the foiled airliner attack and all that entails to contend with. Who should be held accountable is the question?

Joining me for today's "Strategy Session" are former House Democratic chief counsel, Julian Epstein, CEO of LMG; and John Ullyot, Republican strategist and former spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's a senior vice president with Hill & Knowlton.

Thank you so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happy New Year to you both here.


MALVEAUX: Clearly, this was a lot for the president to deal with, but also members of Congress. Is this going to be, ultimately, a distraction in terms of what they need to get done on their plate, health care, energy legislation, and so forth, if you're looking at security concerns as top of the agenda?

We'll start with you, Julian.

EPSTEIN: No, this shouldn't be a distraction. This should be the number one issue.

As important as health care is and jobs are, and the other domestic issues, this is the most important issue facing the country. And I think what we should do is, from a Democratic point of view, we should stop pointing the fingers at Republicans.

It's true that the Bush administration and the Republican Congress did not fix the intelligence system, did not get the no-fly system working, did not fully fund airport security. It makes no sense at this point for Democrats to keep looking back and pointing fingers at Republicans. By the same token, Republicans should not be looking to politicize and play politics, even though I think the administration did not handle this particularly well in the aftermath of the Detroit airliner incident. I think what we need to do, what the president needs to do, is call together the congressional leadership, together with the 9/11 Commission, and talk about what things can be done administratively, real quickly, and then what things should be done legislatively, things like body screening and body imaging technologies at the airports. Privacy advocates will have a great deal of concerns on that, but I think if the Republicans can stop playing politics on this, if Democrats can say that privacy should take a backseat to security here, I think we have an opportunity for some bipartisan approach on this as we come back.

MALVEAUX: John, you worked with the Armed Services Committee. What do they need to do when they come back in session?

JOHN ULLYOT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I would say that Julian is exactly right. I mean, I think this is something where, number one, Congress can -- and the Senate and the House -- can both -- you know, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. So I think they should be able to handle everything else.

And this is such an important issue in terms of how people are going to be made safe in the air and other places. And this is just top of the mind for everybody. So, what needs to happen here is that when they do come back, there will be hearings. Senator Feinstein has already said this is a very serious matter, and she is going to by leading a hearing, a long with her ranking member, Kit Bond, in the Intelligence Committee on the 21st, and that's a very positive sign.

I think Julian's right that the president has realized that this is a big lapse, and that's why he came on the so quickly after the initial downplaying by Secretary Napolitano and by his spokesman, Gibbs. But basically, they were able to try to get ahead of this thing, and I think that this shouldn't be a political football. It should be addressed to sort of what can be done constructively by either legislation or otherwise in terms of oversight.

MALVEAUX: You both -- go ahead.

EPSTEIN: Yes. I was going to say, Suzanne, the American public really doesn't want to see politics on this. They don't want to see Democrats pointing the finger at the Bush administration and the failures from those days.

ULLYOT: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Who should they hold accountable though? Who should they call to testify? Should it be the CIA, should it be Homeland Security, should we see Napolitano?

EPSTEIN: Look, I think that the entire system -- I think that the heads of the relevant agencies, the director of Central Intelligence, the CIA, Homeland Security, Justice Department, all play a role here. There was all clearly systemic failure.

While I said, again, this is a system that the Obama administration inherited, the Obama administration has been in power now for a year. A lot of this stuff can be fixed administratively.

The ability of the intelligence agencies -- and this goes back for decades -- the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to talk with one another, that's an issue that has to be fixed directly by the president himself. The president has to intervene on that.

So, a lot of this can be done without legislation. We do need legislation when it comes to things like better technology at the airports, and that's something that both Democrats and Republicans, unfortunately, have held (ph) against in the past, and we need to fix.


ULLYOT: Yes. I was going to say that this -- really, we have two tracks here. One, as Julian says, why were the dots not connected? And that is something that is fundamental, and there was a lot of legislation that, when I was up in the Senate, that we worked directly on the Armed Services Committee to get -- to try to break down these barriers. And that resulted in the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center and the DNI.

Here, the dots were not connected, and so that's one aspect that needs to be looked at. But the second thing is, what are we going to do in terms of body scanners? What are we going to do in terms of dogs at airports, and actually making sure that even when there isn't intelligence to connect, that people are still as safe as they can possibly be?

MALVEAUX: Let me bring in a different point of view here. This is from David Brooks, an op-ed in "The New York Times" today.

He says, "We shouldn't imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency and awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen, and we don't have to lose our heads every time they do."

Has there been an overreaction, do you think, because this has been a light news cycle, if you will, over the last week or so? Or do you think it's been appropriate, the level of criticism and discussion around security?

ULLYOT: I think it's been entirely appropriate just from the standpoint that this is such a fundamental issue, how people are going to be safe in the air and on the ground and in other situations where they may be facing a terrorist who's coming to kill them. But fundamentally, I think David Brooks is exactly right. I don't think there's been an overreaction, but to examine it, and for Congress to take the time to look at it, I think back to what we did with the Armed Services Committee.

We had a lot of Republicans -- and, in fact, the Bush administration, a lot of them did not want the Armed Services Committee to look into that. But it was the Republican chairman of that Armed Services Committee, John Warner, who said, sorry, we are going to hold nine hearings looking into this, top to bottom, and he did that. And a lot of people in the party were upset, but he actually got to the solutions there that led to better policy.

MALVEAUX: Julian, real quick here.

EPSTEIN: Suzanne, David Brooks is my favorite columnist, but I think he's absolutely wrong. What he's saying is that we can't expect a perfect system, there is human failure. That's true. But there's much that needs to be done.

The intelligence agencies need to communicate better. We need more professionalism in the Counterterrorism Center. That's clearly an issue.

Congress needs to step up to the plate. They need to put privacy issues second to security issues. And we need to look at what other countries are doing like Israel and El Al. They use a very, very sophisticated form of passenger interrogation that doesn't involve racial profiling but is very, very effective.

There's a lot where we can be doing much better. I think David Brooks, 99 percent of the time he's spot on. Today's column, I think he was wrong.

MALVEAUX: All right.

Julian Epstein, John Ullyot, thank you so much and Happy New Year to you both.

EPSTEIN: Thanks for having us.

ULLYOT: Happy New Year, Suzanne. Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Well, the mayor of New York is in uncharted territory right now. We're going to tell you what he's saying about the special opportunity that he is getting today.

And what if the man who tried to bomb Northwest Flight 253 had gone through a full body scanner?

And the White House says time has run out for Iran's president and its nuclear ambitions, but Tehran is dismissing the deadline as a joke.


MALVEAUX: On our "Political Ticker," it's the first day of Michael Bloomberg's unprecedented third term as New York mayor, and he's keeping it low key. Instead of an inaugural party, Bloomberg is visiting with volunteers around the city after publicly taking the oath of office at noon. The billionaire mayor got a term limits law changed so he could run again, and he won by just a narrow margin.

Today, the Republican-turned-Independent acknowledged the special circumstances of his reelection. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: I recognize, I understand that this term is a special opportunity, one that comes with extraordinary responsibilities. I realize, too, that the building behind me is yours and the job in front of me is to listen and to lead. And I will not shirk from the hard decisions that lie ahead.


MALVEAUX: Now, here's a political candidate that you may want to Google. Matt Dunne is one of five Democrats running for governor of Vermont. He is a former state legislator, and he's getting attention for his day job.

He's an executive with the Internet search giant Google. Dunne says that he wants to bring Google's culture of being organized, fast and innovative to state government.

And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out

Well, a U.S. intelligence official is promising to get vengeance after the killing of seven CIA officers in Afghanistan. Ahead, how was a suicide bomber able to penetrate security?