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THE SITUATION ROOM

The Year in Politics; Experts Debate Rights of Captured Terrorist Suspects; Iranian Protests Continue; Virtual Tour of White House Situation Room

Aired January 2, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Terror investigators report to the president on the failed airline bomb attack. This hour the early evidence of what went wrong, and why the feds failed to connect the dots.

And some call it the bloodiest showdown yet between anti- government protester and riot police in Iran. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime near the breaking point.

Inside the Situation Room, not ours but his, a rare look at the place where the president makes some of his most difficult decisions.

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

The blue ribbon panel which investigated the 9/11 attacks found a number of failures in America's defenses against terrorism. They were shortcomings when it came to watch lists and overseeing visas and, above all, there was the failure of government agencies to pull and share intelligence. Listen to a 9/11 commission member Richard Ben- Veniste back in 2005.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: When we issued our final report, one of the central tenets of what we found was that there was a failure of communication, that we had accumulated a great deal of information, but that it was not wisely used, information wasn't shared, it wasn't effectively utilized.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Ben-Veniste joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That was four years ago when you said that. You put a lot of work into this report. We all remember it very clearly. Are you stunned to hear now that the problems we're facing today are ones of communication? That people just aren't talking to each other?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR. MEMBER 9/11 COMMISSION: Well, it is disappointing. I hope this is an isolated example. I know we have made a lot of progress since we made our recommendations on the 9/11 Commission. Virtually all of them were enacted into law. And now they have been utilized, I think, in great part by our government and its agencies.

But quite clearly there was a failure here. And we need to address it as the president said yesterday. He's determined to hold people accountable, to find out what went wrong, and to take corrective action.

MALVEAUX: Now you studied our intelligence system in depth and in detail. Why is it so difficult for these different agencies to share information?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, there has always been in Washington this intramural kind of feeling of possessiveness about information that is developed within an agency, by its sources, and so there is a tendency to stove pipe, to hoard information, and not to share it. And that has to be overcome. And as we said five years ago, it has to be overcome by presidential leadership, who requires that it be done, to overcome this obstinate tendency in our government agencies to hoard information.

MALVEAUX: The 9/11 commission in December of 2005 gave its final report. And it specifically talked about prescreening passengers before they board the airline. And you gave this country, you gave the grade of an F. Here is what the commission said.

"Few improvements have been made to the existing passenger screening system since right after 9/11. The completion of the testing phase f TSA's pre-screening program for airline passengers has been delayed. A new system, utilizing all names on the consolidated terrorist watch list, is therefore not yet in operation."

That was back in 2005. What grade would you give the Obama administration today after learning of this incident?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, again, it is one incident. We're still finding out facts. But clearly we have not seen implemented with the alacrity that we would have wished the ability to utilize information and then to match it against passengers, particularly those who come from overseas.

Here we had an individual, who had an existing visa, but who had spent time as we know in Yemen, whose father alerted government agencies to his radicalization, who may have been matched up with other intelligence information, suggesting that a Nigerian would be involved in a terror plot, all of which we would have hoped could have been knitted together.

MALVEAUX: Do you have any confidence in the Obama administration that they are, in fact, going to deal with this?

BEN-VENISTE: Oh, yes, I do.

MALVEAUX: This is something the Bush administration dealt with. Clearly, it does not look like they are getting a passing grade.

BEN-VENISTE: Quite clearly I do have hope that the Obama administration takes this seriously. We saw the president's reaction immediately, taking responsibility, looking for accountability, all of which is a sea change from what we saw in the last administration, quite frankly. The ability to effect these changes is certainly no easy task as we have seen. But I think the determination is there. They have very good people there. And I think where the will is not lacking, but is obvious, that we will see some results.

MALVEAUX: Do you think anyone should lose their job over this?

BEN-VENISTE: Let's see what the facts are and then make that determination.

MALVEAUX: Finally, the 9/11 commission had said among the recommendations that the United States should attack terrorists and their organizations, root out sanctuaries utilizing every element of national power. Do you believe that this applies to Yemen now as well -

BEN-VENISTE: I think it does.

MALVEAUX: Where we're seeing a growing increasing in Al Qaeda.

BEN-VENISTE: I think that's a good question, Suzanne. And the president has, in fact, in the past, launched attacks in coordination, we think, with the Yemeni government, which is not the most robust government on the planet to say the least. But we have seen such action and the president has, again, reiterated his commitment to seek out those who have struck against us. Perhaps this was, in fact, blowback for earlier attempts to get al-Awlaki and other individuals who we know are in Yemen, and who are sponsoring terrorism.

MALVEAUX: OK, Mr. Ben-Veniste, thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BEN-VENISTE: Always a pleasure, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: An anatomically correct bomb. The airline bombing suspect allegedly hid explosives in his underwear. Can the latest high tech scanner spot such weapons? We'll take a look.

And President Obama gets criticism from within the African- American community. A well known black actor suggests Mr. Obama is no better than George W. Bush. Rowland Martin and Donna Brazil weigh in.

Plus, another "Situation Room", right here in Washington, as you know. We'll take you inside the president's command and control center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The failed airline bombing on Christmas is renewing interest and adding a new layer of security for airline passengers. Full body scans. What if those scanners were in wider use now? Could they have detected the explosive allegedly hidden in the suspect's underwear? Brian Todd went to a company that makes those scanners to find out. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In stark detail an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by CNN shows pictures of the bomb allegedly carried on board Northwest Flight 253 by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The main charge was sewn into his underwear, according to the FBI, quote, "anatomically congruent possibly to avoid detection during screening".

I asked former TSA Deputy Administrator Stephen McHale, how much of a problem is this concealment for security officials?

STEPHEN MCHALE, FMR. TSA DEPUTY ADMNISTRATOR: It is a huge concern that he managed to get on the plane. You have to look at all of the systems from the intelligence systems all the way up to the screening.

TODD: Whatever primary screening the suspect had in Amsterdam clearly did not detect the explosive. Could secondary screening have picked it up? Rapiscan Systems makes a body scanning machine called the Secure 1000. The TSA has ordered 150 of them for U.S. airports. I go through one with a liquid container and a knife, hidden on my person. This scan, using so-called back scatter technology can see right through my clothing. I have covered my private areas. The knife and liquid bottle are detected, then pinpointed on avatar figures.

Those images are sent to screeners at the check point and tell them which part of the body to search. By phone we asked Peter Kant of Rapiscan, could this machine have detected the explosives in the Christmas Day incident.

PETER KANT, RAPIDSCAN SYSTEMS: We certainly believe so. The system is designed to be able to detect the differences between human and non-human materials. Therefore we do believe that even though it may have taken a certain shape, or certain density, that the system is certainly designed to pick up materials such as explosives as the ones that were allegedly used on this action.

TODD: Another technology available, so-called millimeter wave machines. Microwave radiation technology not as sensitive, but some experts say could have detected this explosive.

The Amsterdam airport, CNN has learned, has millimeter wave machines, but we are told that facility is not using those on a widespread basis because of privacy concerns and are waiting for the European Commission to set rules for using them. Brian Todd, CNN, Arlington, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: President Obama is facing criticism from some African- Americans. What is behind the grumbling? We're going to ask our contributors Donna Brazil and Rowland Martin.

Plus, a look at the year in politics. Who made headlines in 2009, and why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: This image was a source of pride for the world, United States, and especially many African-Americans, the election of the first black president. But is some of the joy turning sour? While President Obama maintains a broad and deep base of support among blacks, some are grumbling. One of them actor Danny Glover; his stinging criticism of President Obama is raising some eyebrows and provoking thought. It was a hot topic when Wolf was here for a strategy session with CNN Contributors Roland Martin and Donna Brazile.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Roland, I'll start with you.

I read that -- those comments by the actor Danny Glover on the web site The Daily Beast. Among other things he says this, "I think the Obama administration has followed the same playbook, to a large extent, almost verbatim as the Bush administration. I don't see anything different, the domestic side. Look here, what is so clear is that this country from the outset is projecting the interests of wealth and property, look at the bailout of Wall Street, why not the bailout of Main Street?"

Tell me if elements of the African-American community agree with Danny Glover that they're disappointed in this president?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The answer is absolutely yes. Look, I host a show on TV, one cable network, on the "Tom Joyner Morning Show" And we have heard this.

Look, it is very complex and nuanced issue, because African- Americans are very supportive of this president, you often hear the comments, we don't want to pull the brother down. We don't want to give more criticism to him because the right is criticizing him.

But, look, African-Americans supported this president more than any other constituency. And there is an expectation in politics that when somebody gives you their vote, there is something in return. Now I heard people say African-Americans shouldn't be asking this question. Gays and lesbians have been very critical of this president saying, look, we supported you, gave money to you, we want something in return.

African-Americans have the exact same right to make demands of this president, because it is not just about him and the symbolism, it is also him breaking down barriers. Because as candidate Obama talked about institutional barriers that exist, he now has the power to break those down and folks are saying use your power.

BLITZER: How widespread, Donna, is this anger, resentment, disappointment, whatever you want to call it?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I would like to characterize it more as frustration.

MARTIN: Right.

BRAZILE: And that is a frustration we hear across the country from a broad group of Americans. It is about jobs, Wolf. And when you see, as we witnessed a day in Detroit, half the people in Detroit are unemployed.

The African-American community in certain parts of the country, they believe it is more like a depression, not a recession. So there is growing frustration to not just to put pressure on President Obama, but also the Democratic controlled Congress, to keep the promises, to keep the pressure on to create jobs. That's why the House yesterday passed $150 million jobs bill. The Congressional Black Caucus pushed for that, in their letter not just to the president, but to the Democratic leaders, to say we expect to hold you accountable. The same way they held Bill Clinton accountable and tried to hold George W. Bush accountable as well.

BLITZER: What else should he be doing?

MARTIN: Wolf, here is --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Roland, go ahead and explain. But what else do you want or do these disappointed African-Americans, what else do they want him to do?

MARTIN: Well, I'll give you an example. When the president talked two weeks ago to Gannett News Service that he thought it would be a mistake to have a targeted economic plan for African-Americans. I would say go back and read the president's speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, when he spoke of a targeted plan to deal with the inequities in the system. His own words, a targeted plan to deal with the inequities in education.

And so when you look at HIV/AIDS in America, you can have a general strategy, but target that, but when you have the most impacted group, you have a targeted plan to affect them. Magic Johnson, two weeks ago on CNN's "Larry King Live," he was at the jobs summit, he said the general plan does not trickle down to affect Latinos and African-Americans. Magic said there should be a Latino plan and African-American plan.

I think what you are hearing African-Americans say is they want the president to voice these issues, not just say a rising tide lifts all boats, but to say, wait a minute, I recognize that certain groups are impacted in a different way. And I'll say this, a lot of people are holding their powder, not saying anything, giving a lot of space, because they don't want to be critical. But as Donna said, the frustration is there. They want to make sure the president is using his power to break barriers down, much like Menard Jackson did when he was mayor of Atlanta. He recognized the importance of political power and economic power, and how one person can make a difference. BLITZER: The president as you know, Donna, has been reluctant to have an African-American agenda or Latino agenda or anything specific like that. He wants to deal with all Americans, because he's the president of all Americans. That's what you hear from White House officials. I'm sure you heard it.

BRAZILE: There is no question that this recession is color blind, because it impacts all Americans, no matter where you live. But there are clearly, you know, people in poor communities who are suffering really hard during this deep recession. And so I think the frustration is to get the administration, the government, but also the private sector, to do more, to not allow fellow citizens to go to bed hungry, or to wake up without a job, or to learn that they cannot get a loan to keep their home.

I think the administration needs to step up a little more to respond to some of this, to not allow all this criticism to go without them challenging some of their critics And say, look, we put all of these things on the table, we put the stimulus on the table, we put a real robust plan to get jobs created, so lets all work together. But I don't think you'll hear members of the Black Caucus, even leading black critics or supporter of the president say that he hasn't done enough. He's done a lot, but he needs to do just a little more next year to create jobs for all Americans.

BLITZER: I'm sure you heard the argument, Roland, from folks in the White House and elsewhere, a lot of white people are suffering right now as well.

MARTIN: Of course. But you look at the stats. You look at the fact that unemployment, African-Americans with college degrees have a higher unemployment rate than whites with college degrees, all these years it was about get an education that equalizes the field. The facts don't bare that out.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters talked about the Defense Department spend something $600 million a year on advertising, none going to black media. Wait a minute. You want all media to benefit, but when black newspapers and web sites are not being part of this process, that's a problem. I interviewed New York Governor David Patterson for my show two weeks ago, it is going to next week. And he said he sat down with his staff and said I -- he looked at the amount of money that was going to black investment companies. And he said, wait a minute, there is an inequity here. He said fix it. African-American firms are now getting 4.5 times more business as a result. That is the whole point. Using your power to recognize an inequity and say fix it. That's the difference.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it.

BRAZILE: And we have to remove -

(CROSS TALK)

BLITZER: Donna, very quickly. Because we're out of time. BRAZILE: You have to remove all the existing barriers that prevent every American from having a head start as well as a healthy start. That's what the president is trying to do. But we need more than just a president at the table, we need the Congress, and the private sector as well to address these critical problems..

BLITZER: A good discussion, Donna Brazile and Roland Martin, guys, thanks very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: President Obama is promising to bring justice for the man who allegedly tried and failed to blow up Northwest Flight 253. Does the suspect deserve his day in a civilian court, or a military one?

And later what is really go on inside Iran? On the heels of a bloody new crackdown on opposition protesters, is the government beginning to crack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Since Christmas, CNN has been using its global resources to bring you all the new developments on the failed airline terror attack. There still are a lot of questions about security lapses and clues that were missed.

I spoke with CNN's Senior National Security Analyst Peter Bergen and George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Joining us now, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen and George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley. Thank you for joining us here on THE SITUATION ROOM.

Clearly, let me go to you, first, Peter, you've obtained some photos, very interesting photos. These are new to our viewer here on a failed attack of a Saudi prince and an alleged assassin who was killed. He had the similar chemical, PETN. He also had it in his underwear. It exploded. The prince survived. He did not. What can we learn from these new pictures that we're seeing about the foiled attack on Christmas?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the pictures we're see on the screen, this is what a PETN bomb looks like when it blows up. You see this room -- it caused massive damage inside the room. Prince Niath (ph), who was the subject of this assassination attempt, on August 27, is very lucky to have survived.

The bomber died in this attack. But the modus operandi was exactly the same as the Detroit attack. PETN, about 100 grams of explosives, concealed in the underwear, go through metal detectors, plastic explosives won't be detected by metal detectors.

Al Qaeda in Yemen took responsibility for the failed assassination attempt against the Prince Niath (ph). And they also have taken credit for the Detroit plot. So in my view it is the same cell of people who did both attacks, the August 27th assassination attempt look like a dry run. They learned from that that you could get through metal detectors, that this would work, and may be the same bomb maker who put this together, since it is the same -- looks like the same cell with the exactly same methodology, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We know in that case it worked, but in the case on Christmas it did not. What do we know about the difference between the two? Is it an obvious difference that the reason why it did not succeed on Christmas and it succeeded then?

BERGEN: You know, it is either operator error, the initiator in both cases was a chemical explosive -- some kind of, and, you know, I'm not an explosives expert, it didn't work exactly as planned in the Detroit case.

MALVEAUX: I want to go to you, Jonathan. Clearly, there is some prominent Republicans who are looking at the situation about Mutallab being tried in a military tribunal situation, as opposed to the federal court system. And they want a military tribunal, they want to be able to question him, perhaps enhanced interrogations. We heard this from the former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge on "LARRY KING". Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: I take a look at this individual who has been charged criminally, does that mean he'll get his Miranda warnings? Does that mean the only kind of information we want to get from him is if he volunteers it? He's not a citizen of this country. He is a terrorist. And I don't think he deserves the full range of criminal protections of our criminal justice system as embodied in the Constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: What do you think about his point that he's making? Are we missing vital intelligence from Abdulmutallab on whether or not there are additional attackers that are out there?

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.; I think it is unlikely. First of all, supposedly he was speaking very freely for some time after his arrest. But what we know from the past -- for the Bush torture program is that it yielded very little information, information it did yield was known to be highly suspect.

But it is not really about the information that you get from special interrogations, which is a nice way of saying torture. It is also not about what rights he deserves. What is really the question is what rights we have to give people to maintain our credibility around the world. That is the way the world viewed the Bush administration was that, oh, George Bush often looked almost Caesar- like, sending some people to federal court, some to military tribunal, some people got no trial at all. In this case we had Richard Reid, who is virtually identical in his act. He went to federal court. Zacarias Moussaoui went to federal court.

And I think that it's a problem if we treat our legal system as sort of improvisational, that we simply go by case by case of what we feel someone should have in term of rights. The credibility of a legal system is its consistency. Without consistency, it lacks coherence.

And I think what Mr. Ridge is saying is that when we don't like you or think we might get some information out of you, then we won't give you the rights into our system. And that creates the type of anger and, frankly, the view of hypocrisy that the United States has faced.

But I think it is very unlikely. A military tribunal doesn't generate intelligence. It is not a way to generate any more intelligence in a federal trial is.

MALVEAUX: Peter, do you want to weigh in on this?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: In the Detroit case, he gave up that he got the device in Yemen, a rather big clues that he was in contact with extremists in Yemen, a rather big clue. That was public information on Christmas Day or maybe on the day after.

And also the idea that -- the other thing is when you investigate a crime, it is not simply what the suspect says. There is a whole forensic apparatus that goes with it, the kind of chemicals that we use, those kinds of explosives, can we match it with other kinds of attacks. There is a whole raft of other things.

Even if the subject says nothing, which is not true in this case, saying that we have to put him in a military tribunal implies that there are no other ways of the United States getting information.

MALVEAUX: There is another debate over the Gitmo detainees, whether or not they should remain there. We know half of the detainees there are Yemen and Yemeni, and that there is a possibility that they be sent back to Yemen.

There is a huge outcry now not only Republicans but from some prominent Democrats. This is from Senator Dianne Feinstein, she said this in a statement -- "Guantanamo detainees should not be released to Yemen at this time. It is too unstable."

I spoke with Yemeni's spokesman yesterday, the ambassador to the embassy, who said that things are very dire in his country right now, and there is a lot of debate in terms of where Mutallab should go. What is the best approach?

BERGEN: I think the problem about Yemen is not simply the government doesn't have much control over its own country. It doesn't have much control over its own prison system. And there have been two prison breaks by people involved in the USS Cole attack in Yemen in that past several years.

And I think it's a appropriate to take a pause and say is this the right time? As a general principle, I think it's important that people be returned, but Yemen is a place which is -- that's the reason there are so many Yemenis in the jail. Saudi Arabia is a much more prosperous country with much more ability to control the returnees from Guantanamo. Yemen doesn't fit that bill.

TURLEY: I think part of the problem is that we also are dealing with people who have never been given a trial. And we know that many of the people in Guantanamo Bay were not terrorists. At one time we were offering thousands of dollars for anyone that could give us someone they said was a terrorist, and many of them ended up at Guantanamo Bay.

And so we need to be cognizant of the fact that a nation like ours can't hold people without a trial and retain our credibility. So if we don't want to give them Yemen, there might be good reasons not to, then we have to try them. If we have evidence against them, then we have to try them.

But we can't leave them in this place that no rights can penetrate.

MALVEAUX: We've got to leave it there. Jonathan, Peter, thank you so much, appreciate it.

Will Iran decide its future in the streets? Many are chanting "Death to the Dictator, "demanding change and political freedom, others changing "Death to America," showing their allegiance to a hard-line regime. Who will prevail in this showdown? I'll speak with the bestselling author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran."

And we'll give you a close look inside the president's command and control center. It is Washington's other Situation Room.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: With the Iranian government controlling information coming out of the country, it is really difficult to gain a full picture. For some perspective, Azar Nafisi is joining us now. She is the author of the bestselling memoir "Reading Lolita in Tehran."

Thank you for joining us in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I want to start off -- clearly you have your fingers on the pulse of what is happening inside of the country. We have seen over weeks these huge demonstrations there turning very, very violent. You have friends and family there.

What do you make of what is happening on the ground inside of your home country now?

AZAR NAFISI, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: You know, Suzanne, I always think how amazing it is about Iran that it always proves to be the exception that becomes the rule. And when the Islamic Republic happened, nobody expected a country that was secular to become the first theocracy, and now the opposite is happening in Iran.

I think that the reports that come from Iran, the important thing, there are four things about it that are very, very different from what happened before. One is the momentum, that despite the crackdowns and violence, the movement keeps growing.

And the second thing is I think it's becoming much more diverse. And the third thing is that despite this diversity, there is a unity among different strata of people with different beliefs, secular, religious people, women with veils, women without veils, old, young. All of them are gathered against what is happening in term of the Iranian government.

And the fourth thing is the leadership is coming from among the movement, that the leaders, like Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi are in fact following the slogans and statements that comes from within the movement.

MALVEAUX: Can you explain to us why we're seeing pictures today of thousands of demonstrators who are pro-government, that they are for the Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the other side. What is that about?

NAFISI: Actually the way the government is reacting is also very telling about what is happening in Iran. Its first reaction has been incredible violence. And that shows that it is moving not from a position of strength but a position of weakness, because why would you kill and torture people who have nothing but their voices if you're so confident?

So because of the continuity of the demonstrations and because of the weakening within the system itself, so many people joining the opposition, the government had to show that, you know, it has people behind it.

And you notice that these people were bused in from all over the places. Rather than bullets, they were welcomed with sandwiches and rewarded and given great welcome on the media. So it shows how frightened the government is.

MALVEAUX: In your book "Reading Lolita in Tehran," you talk a lot about the young women and how things have changed for them and the culture in Iran, and how they have changed. We saw the female protester Neda who lost her life, and it became galvanizing, put a face on the movement, the protest movement there.

What are the women facing there in Iran now? Are they playing a bigger role in the protests on the street? What has changed?

NAFISI: Definitely. What happened with the Iranian women, first of all, they had such a glorious past before the revolution. We had women senators, women ministers, we had women active in all walks of life.

So when the revolution happened, women were among the first group who came out into the streets shouting -- I was in Iran at the time -- they were shouting "Freedom is neither eastern nor western. Freedom is global." And they were throwing acid into their faces, putting them into jail.

And so this has continued right on to children of the revolution, the young women of Iran. And I keep telling people this struggle is not just political, it is existential. If you're a young woman like Neda in Iran, not just your political beliefs but the way you look, the way you talk, listening to music, wanting to become a philosophy majors, all of this becomes a statement against the state. You pay a penalty for it.

MALVEAUX: What do the Iranian people want? When we see the demonstrations taking place, what do they want from the United States, from President Obama who says he wants to engage with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

NAFISI: You know, I think that any democratic president, head of any democratic government, should always leave open the dialogue with even the worst of regimes. So that part of it I think is not something people object to.

But to sort of answer and respond to you very shortly, there are two things I want to remind you of. One, when President Obama was elected, a reformist paper published a picture of him and said "Why can't we have someone like this?" And the government immediately suppressed the paper and closed it down.

So the Iranian people expect Obama to go by the same principles that he does, the slogans that they had in the streets was "Obama, Obama, are you with them or are you with us?" Which means that they don't want intervention, they don't want military action. They want support for their voices.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much.

NAFISI: Thank you very much.

MALVEAUX: What an honor to have you here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you.

NAFISI: It is a pleasure to be here, thank you.

MALVEAUX: From the beer summit to the tea parties. Candy Crowley will look back at the year in politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: New Year's Day has come and gone, but memories of a historic and volatile year in politics live on. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley look back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was the moment of 2009, literally changing the face of the American presidency. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 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.

They were as effective as they were loud, the right, left for dead at the side of the campaign trail, stirred, sometimes a bit too vocally.

REP. JOE WILSON, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie!

CROWLEY: It was that kind of year, bare knuckles politics, nation defining moments.

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, 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, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: 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 the Harvard professor and a Cambridge cop, and he won a Nobel Peace prize even he didn't think he earned.

It wasn't always about the president.

SARAH PALIN, (R) FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: 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? She promptly wrote a bestseller, slammed McCain aides for bungling the 2008 campaign, and laughed all the way to the bank. Not laughing --

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 December.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN, (R) NEVADA: Last year I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage.

SANFORD: I've 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 wring out the old, ring in the new, and strap yourself in -- 2010 is an election year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Joining us now Candy Crowley. It was an excellent piece. It really does take you back to the whole year, everything that happened from start to finish. What do you think was most memorable story, moment for you covering politics?

CROWLEY: You know, Suzanne, when we cover things, sometimes it is hard to remember what you covered the next day what you covered the day before because things happen so rapidly and you really do forget.

But there are some things that just, you know you'll remember until the day you die. And for me it was Grant Park on election night. It was just -- it was like a front row seat to history. It was a truly front row seat to history. So that was amazing knowing that this will be a chapter and I was there. And you don't get that privilege a lot.

MALVEAUX: Sure. And one of the things that I remembered very clearly was really just the first couple of days of his presidency. They didn't know how to work the phones, they didn't know how to work the computers, they were very confused.

But the president got out there and signed this flurry of executive orders regarding Gitmo closing, Guantanamo Bay, banning torture, women's rights, all of that. It was just really amazing the ambition. And I guess we'll see how much of that really translates into what gets done.

But what do you think this is going to look like next year. When you look at the Democrats 2010, how does Obama play into that?

CROWLEY: That's the thing about politics. We don't really know. If the economy gets better, if people believe the economy has gotten better, and that generally will take a dip in the jobless rate -- it can't be 10 percent come Election Day next year.

So the president certainly is always going to be an asset to the core of the party. As you know, he's taken the left and somewhat alienated them on a couple of decisions. He has to bring them back, because those are the people he has to get to the polls. He's been able to that before. That will help.

MALVEAUX: What do you think in terms of all of these things that he's been trying to get done that we're actually going to see something next year that is really going to be concrete?

CROWLEY: Well, we'll get health care, some semblance of health care early on, January, early February, maybe March.

I think what is going to be interesting is financial regulation. I think they are going to have a much watered down version, and I doubt they will get cap and trade, the idea of bringing down carbon emissions at some of the places around the country. I think that's a tough haul.

MALVEAUX: OK, well, they have set the bar very high, so we'll see how they do next year. Clearly there is a lot going on.

CROWLEY: It's the kind of president he wants to be. So we'll see.

MALVEAUX: OK, Candy, thank you so much.

If you're a fan of this "THE SITUATION ROOM," wait until you look at the other one. Stand by for a rare glimpse inside the commander in chief's inner sanctum.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: There is another Situation Room here in Washington, D.C., as you know, the White House Situation Room. We had a close look inside the president's command and control center, where major decisions are discussed and made. This video was provided by the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, Mr. Prime minister. It will be one moment for President Obama. Introducing the prime minister.

JEFF HARLEY, SITUATION ROOM DEPUTY DIRECTOR: We're here in the West Wing of the White House, inside the White House Situation Room. We host about 25 conferences a day here in the Situation Room and some 250 guests attending the different meetings throughout the day. In a month, that's over 5,000 visitors and attendees to the different meetings that we have here.

That's a state of the art facility, the ability to conduct video teleconferences with 1,700 or 1,800 entities throughout the world. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an interagency meeting on H1N1 pandemic. And there you see representatives from the executive branch, departments and agencies. They have the technology here and the capability to bring in other departments and agencies electronically as opposed to having folks face to face.

HARLEY: The White House situation room was created in May of 1961 by the then national security adviser McGeorge Bundy. They had a voracious appetite for information, particularly President Kennedy. And in response to that need they felt the desire to create a communications center here within the White House.

In 2007, the White House Situation Room underwent a major renovation which greatly expanded the square footage and the capabilities of the White House Situation Room. It went from one principle conference room to three principle conference rooms.

This is the large conference room where the president holds the National Security Council meetings. This is the president's chair. He controls the video options, including the microphones.

The traditional lineup of seats is based on the seniority of the different cabinet members attending the meeting.

Tied to the executive conference room is a small breakout room designed to enable the president to take one or two people into a conference room to have a small one on one session with them.

And all of the feel that you see here, the types of wood are designed to replicate the other entities at which the president would participate, places like air force one and Camp David, so wherever the president is, the feel is the same, having the same texture and sound around him.

One of the cool features of this particular room in the White House situation room is the opportunity to provide privacy for the president if he's making a head of state phone call from the Situation Room itself. And what we'll do is we'll be able to fog the windows to give him that level of privacy.

So throughout the White House Situation Room you have a number of phone tubes, we call them "superman tubes," with the capability to have unclassified telephones as well as top secret telephone capability.

This is the watch floor of the White House Situation Room. The watch floor's commodity is situational awareness. We're a fusion center, meaning that we fuse approximately 2,000 pieces of information every day.

We produce three daily reports directly for the president. And it is basically a situational awareness update, perhaps since the last time the president had an opportunity to assimilate any additional information.

The room that you see behind me is called the "surge room," and that's where we literally surge personnel in a crisis. We keep the phones and the computers always on so that we can provide instant access and start fusing information to provide a summary for the decision makers in the White House so that they can make the decisions in response to that situation or crisis, and hence the clever name, Situation Room.

One-third of the personnel come from the intelligence community. One-third come from the department of homeland security, and the remainder come from the U.S. military.

We are sent here because we're apolitical. We're not Democrats. We're not Republicans. We're here to support our nation and the president of the United States and the institution of the presidency. And all of the people who work in the White House Situation Room are simply the best and the brightest that this nation can offer, and they do the very best job that they can do.

Wolf Blitzer sits about a mile away, I think in his situation room, but not the White House Situation Room.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

You can see Wolf Blitzer weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.