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THE SITUATION ROOM
Terror Watch List Expanded; Yemen Terror Threat
Aired January 4, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama lands back here in Washington, and U.S. officials expand the terror watch list, urgent new security moves under way as the suspect in the failed airline bombing prepares to go to court.
Hillary Clinton sounds the alarm about the threat in Yemen. We have new information about al Qaeda's growing strength there and the bombing plot that forced the U.S. Embassy to close.
And were CIA employees massacred by a double agent? This hour, we're digging deeper on how a suicide bomber was able to attack a sensitive base inside Afghanistan.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama is now back from vacation. And he faces this harsh reality. Terrorists are bent on killing Americans and attacking U.S. interests here in the United States and around the world. The president has an important meeting with his top counterterrorism adviser. It's John Brennan's job to figure out what went wrong after that failed attempt to blow up an airplane near Detroit on Christmas.
The president is also meeting with the CIA for a briefing. We will have more on those meetings in just a moment.
But, first, depending on who you are and where you're from, it's just gotten a whole lot tougher to get on a plane, maybe even impossible.
Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, for some details.
New information coming out, Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some concrete steps by the U.S. government to try to prevent another terror attack, but there are some objections.
MESERVE (voice-over): Hundreds of people with links to terrorism have been added to the lists of people who cannot fly or need additional screening, the result of a scrub of government terror databases in the aftermath of the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing. An official familiar with the process says particular attention was given to certain countries and regions with ties to terrorism. All citizens and travelers from 14 of those countries will now get enhanced screening when they fly to the U.S. That could include full body pat-downs, carry-on bag searches, full-body scanning and explosive detection swabs.
On the list, countries officially designated as supporters of terrorism, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.
But analysts say terrorists can and have come from elsewhere. A notable example? Shoe bomber Richard Reid, a British citizen.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: The threat is more from Britain than, let's say, Afghan citizens, who have never brought down or tried to bring down an American airliner.
MESERVE: Some experts believe single out travelers from 14 nations, most of them Muslim, could backfire on the U.S.
RICK NELSON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: What that might have is the unintended effect of feeding into this al Qaeda narrative that says that Islam -- the United States is at war with Islam. And we have to be very careful, because it's that narrative that feeds the ranks and builds the ranks of al Qaeda.
MESERVE: Meanwhile, news of another potential clue missed by U.S. officials. They now acknowledge being briefed last summer about another bomber who hid explosives in his underwear. He had tried to assassinate the top Saudi counterterrorism official.
JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: PETN was the substance that was used in that attack. We were looking very carefully at that. There was no indication at the time that there was going to be an attempt against an aircraft.
MESERVE: But one of Brennan's predecessors says that scenario should have been examined.
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Given al Qaeda's obsession with aviation targets, especially at the Department of Homeland Security, one would have hoped someone in the system would have been responsible for looking at the potential for deployment and our ability to detect such a device.
MESERVE: Some reaction this afternoon to those new security guidelines from the TSA. The Council on American-Islamic relations says they amount to racial profiling, although the TSA says the majority of all travelers coming to the U.S. will get enhanced screening, not just those from the 14 countries named -- Wolf.
BLITZER: PETN was also the same explosive that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, used, right?
MESERVE: He had some of that, that's correct, and certainly the explosive was used by this guy who was on this aircraft that was going into Detroit on Christmas Day.
BLITZER: Jeanne, thank you.
Let's go to the White House right now, where the terror threat is the president's most urgent priority now that he's back from vacation.
Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.
Dan, what are you learning about the president's meeting this afternoon with his top counterterrorism adviser?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John Brennan, that's right.
There had been indications that that meeting wrapped up. But I'm told by a senior administration official that that meeting is still under way. It's been ongoing for an hour-and-a-half. The president trying to get to the bottom of how the system failed. Now, as you know over the weekend on the Sunday talk shows, Mr. Brennan was saying that clearly the dots weren't connected.
But he also defended the system, the intelligence system, saying that there were bits and pieces of information out there, but obviously those pieces of information were not put together. Nothing was there, no smoking gun that set off any alarms.
Now, this administration does believe that the system is good, that it is not broken, but that it needs to be strengthened. Obviously, there are critics who don't agree with that, because a lot of questions that were asked after 9/11 are still being asked.
But, nonetheless, the president wants to find out what went wrong here, how the system can be fixed. And that's why he's sitting down with top Cabinet officials tomorrow in the secure Situation Room face to face. You know there's been this ongoing review while he was on vacation. But this is a chance to listen to all of his top advisers and to his Cabinet members to ask probing questions and hopefully as the administration sees it prevent another situation like this from happening again.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect there is going to be a bunch of meetings on this as well. Dan Lothian, thank you very much.
We're also learning more about the terror threat inside Yemen that prompted the United States to close its embassy there. U.S. officials tell CNN eight al Qaeda suspects were planning to bomb the embassy. We're also told Yemeni forces killed three and captured one more wearing a suicide vest, but four other suspected terrorists remain at large.
The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, warned today that al Qaeda's influence in Yemen could pose a risk to the entire world. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We see global implications from the war in -- in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's zero in on this important front line on the war on terror, Yemen suddenly getting a lot of attention after local al Qaeda militants claimed responsibility for the failed airline bomb attack on Christmas.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is here. He's over at the magic wall for us.
All right, Chris, show us right now where al Qaeda is believed to be in Yemen.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
Right now, senior U.S. officials are telling us that the U.S. and Yemen are looking at fresh targets for possible retaliation. Let's take a look. Where might that be? Here's the capital. Here is the U.S. Embassy, which remains closed. We will tell you why in just a second.
And if you want to know where some of the targets could be, let's look at where they have hit already. This is where a counterterrorism operation was launched by Yemen's forces just last month. As then as we take a -- further widen out, we can show you where some of the other attacks have been, some of the other strikes.
There was a missile strike right here on December 17. They captured one al Qaeda member and used the information they got from him to launch a second strike on December 24. And, again, so those are areas where you might likely see some efforts at U.S. retaliation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Based on everything, Chris, you are hearing from U.S. sources and other sources, is the Yemeni government really committed to this war on terror?
LAWRENCE: Well, they have definitely stepped up efforts recently. You can look at the counterterrorism operation they launched there. Take a look. Those are Yemen's counterterrorism forces launching an operation.
Yemen's government says that just today they launched another operation which killed two of those al Qaeda terrorists who were plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy. So, yes, they are making efforts, but they have got problems, Wolf.
Along the southern border, you have got a group that has been trying to succeed from Yemen proper. Along the north, you have got an ongoing civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. All of that is taking attention away from Yemen's fight against al Qaeda.
BLITZER: What's the biggest potential nightmare scenario if al Qaeda gets a real significant base in Yemen?
LAWRENCE: Look no further than just go right north, Saudi Arabia, one of the world's largest oil producing regions. See all these black dots and black spots? Those are the Saudi oil fields.
The danger is that al Qaeda could launch attacks there. Also, the Suez Canal, one of the world's most important shipping lanes, when you look at that, at its narrowest point down here, it's only 1,000 feet wide. There is a danger that al Qaeda could attempt some sort of blockade.
And when you look at Saudi Arabia, that border is 1,000 miles of mountains, caves, valleys, very, very, very difficult to try to secure. And when you look at its place, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, very strategic and very important part of the world.
BLITZER: Yes, it doesn't get more strategically critical than that tip over the Arabian Peninsula right there.
BLITZER: Chris, thank you.
Out of detention, U.S. detention, back to a hotbed of terrorism? Should detainees from Guantanamo Bay be sent back to Yemen, especially after that failed attempt to blow up a plane near Detroit?
And one man says people who look like him now face even more security at the airport. We asked some international flyers what they went through today to get into the United States.
And it sounded like a war zone, but it was actually a deadly incident in Las Vegas. A man dressed in black walked into a federal courthouse and opened fire. Then the sound of gunfire rang in the streets.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, some children are reaching the age of 3 years without being able to say a word.
"The London Times" reports on a survey that also shows boys are almost twice as likely as girls to have difficulty learning to speak. The average baby speaks their first word at around 10 or 11 months, but this poll done in the U.K. shows 4 percent of parents report their child said nothing until 3 years old.
At that age, toddlers should be able to use up to 300 words, including adjectives, and be able to string them together. The poll of more than 1,000 parents shows that almost one in six parents say their child had problems learning to talk. And that figure rises to one in four when it comes to the parents of boys.
On average, girls say the first words sooner and string words together at a younger age. The experts say late speech development can lead to problems, like low academic achievement or mental health issues. They say that it takes a lot of help and encouragement for children to learn how to talk. Parents need to talk to their kids, read them stories, play word games, point out new objects, et cetera.
The translation? Some parents need to focus on their kids and engage them more. This is scary stuff, I think. If some kids aren't talking until they are 3 years old, it follows that that could cause issues for them later in their life, when it's time to read, write, communicate, et cetera.
So, here is the question. How serious a problem is it if some children reach the age of 3 without saying a single word? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I would say it's a pretty serious problem, Jack.
CAFFERTY: It's troubling. I don't know what's behind it. But I was stunned when I happened to stumble across the story early this morning. I thought, gee, maybe the people out there who watch the show have some ideas about...
BLITZER: I don't want to overly alarm folks, because my mother always likes to tell me I didn't say much until I was 2, and I haven't shut up since then.
CAFFERTY: I was going to say, you have more than made up for it, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right.
CAFFERTY: It's not a problem.
BLITZER: But it is a serious subject. All right, Jack, thank you.
BLITZER: Let's get some more now on those new government rules requiring enhanced screening for passengers flying from countries with known or suspected ties to terrorism.
Mary Snow has been talking to some passengers over at New York's Kennedy Airport that just came in.
Mary, what are they saying to you? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they noticed some big changes. And most of the people we talked with here at JFK shared connecting flights with travelers who were on flights that originated in one of the 14 countries on that TSA list. Two major changes that they noticed, one, a second screening.
They say when they got on to board the plane, right before they boarded the plane, that passengers were once again screened. They described men being divided from women and having full-body searches, where they were patted down.
The other big change they noticed was that carry-on luggage was also screened and everything taken out. One man said that he had to unwrap a present that he was bringing home. Another mother said that she had to actually hand over batteries in her children's toys before boarding the plane. Some say that this led to delays of more than an hour -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are these passengers saying they were offended by this scrutiny?
SNOW: I would have to say, for the most part, most of them say that they have come to accept these new screening rules, but there were some complaints, including one man we met up with who is of Nigerian descent.
Here is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUSTAPHA AKINKUNMI, TRAVELER: Definitely, security has tightened up. However, I think there's a lot of profiling of black folks, which I think is totally unnecessary. I mean, the recent case is an exception. And I don't think it's valid enough to profile every black people getting on the flights.
ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ, TRAVELER: Generally speaking, people that tend to look like me or my complexion, I think they get a little bit more attention than others do, yes.
SNOW: How do you feel about that?
RODRIGUEZ: You know, I guess it's one of those fit the profile kind of things. You have got to be really careful. I don't mind it at all. But, if it's too much, it's too much. But they got to do what they have to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: You see some mixed opinion there.
Wolf, we should point out that some of the passengers we spoke with who say that they went through enhanced screening say they were not on any of the flights that had anything to do with the countries on that TSA list -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Mary.
Mary is at Kennedy Airport in New York.
A security breach at the other area -- international airport in the New York area, that would be at Newark. A TSA officer now has been reassigned after a man walked through an exit into a secure terminal. There was chaos as authorities had to close the terminal for hours while thousands of passengers were rescreened.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here. She spoke with some of those folks. There are also some iReports that we're getting in.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: From the people who were actually there for hours last night. Take a look at this. Imagine being in a scene like this for four-plus hours with six children.
That was iReporter Chris Kager's experience last night trying to fly out of Newark Airport. And you know how he found out that there had even been a security breach? Not from airline staff, but from the fact that the TVs in the terminals, terminal C, where he was, were tuned to CNN, and CNN started talking about it.
He was then one of the couple of thousand people who were evacuated through scenes like this. And it wasn't just the people already in the airport affected. People that were trying to land at Newark, same thing. Adam Goldberg shot this video after he had been sitting on the tarmac at Newark for two-plus hours.
Now, with a few hours' wait and not much other information, people were entertaining themselves. This video on YouTube of a guitarist who had his guitar with him entertaining the crowd with a quick rendition of "Hey Jude." So, it wasn't all miserable. People were trying to make the most of it, Wolf. But Kager, the first iReporter that we talked to, said that he ended up just renting a car and driving his family back to Pennsylvania, because they had no information about when this was going to improve.
BLITZER: What a nightmare that was. Fortunately, it worked out OK. Nobody was hurt.
TATTON: In the early hours, people were taking off again, yes.
BLITZER: They never did find the guy who walked in.
TATTON: Never found him. But they rescreened everyone, so they figured, at that point, it was safe.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.
Five young Americans suspected of planning terror attacks are appearing in a Pakistani court today. They're giving their version of what happened. Stand by. We have new information.
Guantanamo detainees released and allowed to return to Yemen. Some have returned to terrorism. I will speak an American attorney for some of those detainees.
And the Secret Service now says a third, yes, a third uninvited guest crashed that White House state dinner. The best political team on television is standing by.
BLITZER: The man who allegedly tried to blow up Northwest Flight 253 goes to court on Friday. Some critics are complaining already he's being treated more like a common criminal than a suspected terrorist. Just ahead, will a civilian trial be a mistake?
And an NBA star's legal and P.R. nightmare after pulling out guns in the locker room. Now Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas has something new to say about the incident.
BLITZER: We're getting some new information into THE SITUATION ROOM right now about the suicide bomb attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan that killed eight people. There have been a lot of questions about how the attacker actually got inside and whether he might have been some kind of double agent.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging into this story.
Barbara, what are you picking up?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I have to tell you now that a former, former senior U.S. intelligence official has confirmed these details to CNN, that these seven employees working for the Central Intelligence Agency were killed by a Jordanian double agent in this attack last week at a forward operating base near the Pakistan border inside of Afghanistan.
Let's walk through the details about what the understanding is now how this incident occurred. It's all still under investigation, but this former senior official tells us these essential details have been confirmed.
U.S. intelligence was working with this man who had been working for both them and the Jordanians. They drove off base, the U.S. intelligence operatives, to go meet him off base. They put him into a car without searching him and drove him back onto base. He entered the base, therefore, without being searched, detonated his suicide explosives, killing himself, seven people, Americans working for the CIA, plus a Jordanian military officer.
What's very important is, that second Jordanian, the military officer, was basically the handler for this double agent. He had been working deep undercover with U.S. and Jordanian intelligence. The Jordanians very quietly, very effectively provide a lot of help to the United States in that region. But it was, by all accounts, the failure to search the perpetrator when he got into a vehicle and was driven back on base that led to him getting so close to so many and this tragic incident -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very tragic, indeed. All right, Barbara, thank you.
The Obama administration is treating the suspect in the botched airliner bombing as a criminal defendant, not as an alleged enemy combatant. That means a trial in federal court with all its various legal protections, instead of interrogation by the U.S. military. And that decision is already sparking lots of controversy.
And one who's not very happy about all of this is Republican Senator Jim DeMint. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we had treated the Christmas Day bomber as a terrorist, he would have been immediately interrogated, military-style, rather than given the rights of an American and lawyers. We probably lost valuable information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But the president's senior counterterrorism adviser is voicing confidence in the court system, says suspects in the previous cases have provided valuable information in the process.
Al Qaeda militants in Yemen are claiming responsibility for the botched airliner bombing. And former Guantanamo Bay detainees are said to have returned to terrorism after returning to Yemen.
So, what should be done with the remaining Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay?
The human rights attorney David Remes is joining us. He represents many of those Yemeni detainees -- about 20 of them, is that right, David?
DAVID REMES, HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY, LEGAL DIRECTOR, APPEAL FOR JUSTICE: Yes. Yes, Wolf.
BLITZER: There are about 90 Yemenese still being held at Guantanamo Bay right now.
REMES: That's correct. Ninety-four percent...
BLITZER: All of the...
REMES: ...of the population.
BLITZER: All of a sudden, your job got much more difficult because pressure is mounting not to let any more of them go back to Yemen. REMES: Our job has been pretty difficult since the very beginning. At this point, at least, the administration has in place a process that guarantees rigorous review, file by file, man by man. The administration is not simply opening the gates and letting all the men run free. It's got a panel of the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the director of National Intelligence, all making sure that any man who's released does not present a danger to the U.S.
BLITZER: But some who have been released have returned to the battlefield, if you will.
REMES: Well, that assumes they were at the battlefield in the first place. I think that the men that you're talking about, Wolf, were freed by the previous administration, which dealt with this more as a diplomatic issue. Ninety-four percent of the Saudis who are detainees are home. They're not all home because they were all judged to be not dangerous, they're all home because of diplomatic deals. The Obama administration has taken a different stance.
Plus, there have been trials in federal court now in 42 cases and the detainees have won in 31 of them.
So I think four out of five is a pretty strong track record.
BLITZER: But the government in Yemen is very weak. A lot of people are fearing that there could be a failed state right now. So if the Yemeni government says, you know what, we'll take responsibility for these Yemeni detainees, some of whom you represent, can you trust them?
REMES: There's no reason not to trust them...
BLITZER: The Yemeni government?
REMES: The Yemeni government. I'm not sure why the Yemeni government has to be responsible for men who have been determined not to be dangerous to the United States...
BLITZER: But there was a prison breakout. Some of those Yemeni detainees got out and a few of them are now the leaders, in effect, of Al Qaeda in Yemen.
REMES: But you can't just lump all individual Yemenis together. Just because some are al Qaeda and some are terrorists doesn't make them all terrorists. And, again, I'm saying that there's a very careful vetting process in place for determining who should be released from Guantanamo.
BLITZER: Would you rather see your clients -- these 20 or so Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay -- serve in Guantanamo Bay -- and you've been there, what, about 20 times yourself over the past several years -- or moved to that prison in Illinois?
REMES: Well, I don't think the question is what the zip code of the prison is. The question is, can the men be repatriated?
Can they be sent home?
I don't think it makes a difference whether they're in Guantanamo or Illinois if they're still being treated unjustly.
BLITZER: Because Jane Harman, the Democratic congresswoman from California, she was here in THE SITUATION ROOM today. And said she wouldn't return any more of those detainees to Yemen right now given the current situation.
REMES: Well, I think that's to misjudge the process that's in place and it's also to treat all of these Yemenis not as individual men, who no one's met except for lawyers like me, but to treat them as an undifferentiated mass. I don't think that's fair. I don't think that's just. And I don't think that's the American way.
BLITZER: Based on your conversations with officials in the Obama administration and the U.S. military, do you suspect that, any time soon, any of your clients will be allowed to go back home to Yemen?
REMES: Well, I hope the administration stays on track. Administration officials have said publicly that they intend to close Guantanamo and that they do intend to stay on track for releasing detainees.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens.
David Remes represents many of those Yemeni detainees at GITMO.
Thanks very much for coming in.
REMES: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The NBA player who pulled a gun in the locker room is now speaking out about the incident. We're going to get his side of the story. That's coming up.
And should heads roll when President Obama meets tomorrow with top advisers about the attempted Christmas Day terror attack?
I'll ask the best political team on television.
BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.
Well, basketball player Gilbert Arenas says it was a mistake to draw guns in his team's locker room. The Washington Wizards' star says he was just kidding around. He says contrary to reports, he never threatened anyone with the gun. Now, authorities continue to investigate the incident. Iraq's prime minister vowing to seek punishment for Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 people back in 2007. This after a U.S. judge last week dismissed manslaughter charges against five former Blackwater security guards. The judge said that he also consid -- is considering whether repeated government missteps amount to misconduct. The decision triggered anger across Iraq and the government is warning former Blackwater employees to leave while they can.
Well, the Census Bureau is launching its once a decade head count and is using a $300 million campaign to get the nation's more than 300 million residents to fill out their census forms. The first forms will be mailed in March. Now, back in 2000, about 67 percent of households mailed the forms back. This time around, the Bureau expects challenges in finding residents because of the high number of foreclosures.
And Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, is being -- actually, behind in the polls politically. But here's one poll that he is at the top of. The British edition of "GQ" magazine named him the worst dressed man of the year. Ouch. Brown topped the list -- the 2010 list for being anything but a prime example of British style. He beat off competition from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and comedian Russell Brand. The best dresser this year was Twilight heartthrob, Robert Pattinson -- now, Wolf, you're a pretty good dresser yourself.
BLITZER: Yes, he was...
NGUYEN: You won't be on that (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: He doesn't look that badly. This...
BLITZER: The tie is sort of sort OK, I guess, but it's a little (INAUDIBLE)...
NGUYEN: Sort of OK?
BLITZER: Yes (INAUDIBLE).
NGUYEN: Maybe that's why he made the list.
BLITZER: Thank you, Betty.
All right. Good point.
BLITZER: The Secret Service now says a third -- yes, a third uninvited guest crashed that White House state dinner. The best political team on television is standing by.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Potential fallout from the attempt to bomb an American plane on Christmas Day -- will heads roll when President Obama meets tomorrow with his top advisers?
Let's bring in the best political team on television.
Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; conservative commentator, Terry Jeffrey, the editor-in-chief of CNSNews.com; Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Paul Begala; and Joe Johns of CNN. He needs no introduction besides that.
Thanks very much, guys, for coming in.
Should heads roll -- let's start with Joe -- tomorrow as a result of this presidential meeting?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean this was a system failure, quite frankly, when you look at it. And the truth of it is that the 9/11 Commission put out all kinds of recommendations. A number of those were not followed. And these have been around for a very long time.
They didn't use the no fly list correctly. They -- there are a variety of different things they didn't do.
So, if the president was going to start chopping off heads, there would be a lot of people. It's probably better to just go ahead and say, we're correcting the , which they seem to be doing, and they're putting in some tough new procedures and recognizing that it could have been a disaster and it was narrowly averted.
BLITZER: Because the former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Gloria, Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, a Republican, he said this yesterday -- and you know this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "STATE OF THE UNION")
THOMAS KEAN, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: This guy, in some respects, the -- looking at it in retrospect, probably -- probably did us a favor. I mean, look, we had an administration which was not as focused as it should be on terrorism. And that's understandable. They were focused on health care and on global warming and the economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oops.
BLITZER: That's a real slap.
BORGER: It is -- it is a real slap. And people in the administration are saying, excuse me, we know -- knew about the threat in Yemen. We're the folks who understood the threat in Afghanistan and that's why we're there and that's why -- you know, we took our eye off the ball in Iraq. And, look, they admit and have admitted that there was a systemic failure. I think the problem is in trying to figure out where that failure exactly was.
You know, yesterday, John Brennan, who runs the counter-terrorism unit at the White House, said there was no smoking gun. But a lot of people believe that, for example, Abdulmutallab's father going to the Nigerian embassy was, in fact, pretty much of a smoking gun.
BLITZER: That sounds like a pretty good smoking gun to me -- Paul.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But how many dads say my kid's a little crazy, you know what I mean?
BLITZER: But this is not just any dad.
BLITZER: This is a former high-ranking Nigerian official with close ties to the U.S. embassy, one of the most prominent bankers in Nigeria.
BEGALA: Right. Let me -- let me be on record, as I have been many times, as being for finger-pointing, OK?
In other words, I want an after action report. But, also, let's not say ready, fire, aim. Let's let them get the information.
If heads are going to roll, one of the first things you think of is the head of the TSA. Well, whoops, we don't have one. First, President Obama didn't put one up for eight months. But now the Republicans, led by Jim DeMint, the Republican conservative senator from South Carolina, have been blocking even a vote on the person who would be running the Transportation Security Administration.
So rather than just like tomorrow lopping off heads -- sources I have at the White House say the president is angry about this, both the systemic and the human failures, as they described them to me. And I think that's noteworthy. This is a very low blood pressure president in Barack Obama. He is not one to hyperventilate. And when they described him as angry, I take it seriously.
BLITZER: Yes, I'd be angry, too. And I think the president should be angry.
TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNSNEWS, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Wolf, the person who really needs to provide some answers is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The real U.S. line of defense over there before someone gets on a plane is the State Department. It's the U.S. embassy. The question is whether the person gets a visa.
This guy was given a visa in 2008. His father came to the embassy in Nigeria and said my son has been radicalized in Yemen. He's a threat. We did not pull the visa. The British did not give him a new student visa.
We know from the 9/11 Commission report that every single one of those 9/11 terrorists got a visa to come to the United States. And they may have been out a visa at some point, but they got a visa. We knew that was a big mistake.
It is the State Department here that needs to answer...
JEFFREY: ...some of those questions.
BORGER: But the British also didn't inform us that they had revoked his visa so...
JEFFREY: I would personally not have given that guy a visa. If I were in the embassy, I don't give that guy a visa.
BORGER: Well, OK, but...
JEFFREY: I want to talk to the person who gave that person a visa, send (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: But -- but he got...
JEFFREY: ...Secretary Clinton...
BLITZER: ...but he got the visa when he was a student or just after he was a student.
BORGER: Secretary of State Clinton...
JEFFREY: But, Wolf...
BORGER: ...was not the one who gave...
JEFFREY: ...it should...
BORGER: ...him the visa.
JEFFREY: It should have been pulled. She is the secretary of State. She oversees this.
JEFFREY: She is where the buck stops in this (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: He comes from one of the most prominent families in Nigeria.
BEGALA: He does, apparently, and reportedly.
But how about we find out the facts before we decide -- miracle of miracles, it all happens to be Hillary's fault, right? I mean, come on. Why don't we just actually figure out what happened. The president has enormous responsibility here. And, at least according to the people I've talked to, he's taking it very seriously. And he's calling in his national security team tomorrow (INAUDIBLE)...
JEFFREY: Should the State Department have pulled his visa?
BEGALA: I don't...
JEFFREY: Should they have pulled it?
BEGALA: We don't know the facts here...
JEFFREY: Do you think...
JEFFREY: But he shouldn't have been able to keep the visa.
BORGER: This is...
BLITZER: But we're all...
BLITZER: We're all, obviously, a lot smarter with hindsight.
But go ahead (INAUDIBLE).
JOHNS: Right. Yes. The...
BORGER: That's right.
JOHNS: ...the other thing and what we've been hearing about for, what, six, seven years, is information sharing.
Why weren't these agencies communicating with each other?
If one knew something, why didn't the other one know?
BLITZER: Well, John Brennan says that, unlike before 9/11, they were talking with each other and there was no turf battle.
BLITZER: That's what he told you yesterday.
BORGER: Right. He said -- he said it wasn't a matter of turf. Then when I asked him whether it was a matter of sloppiness, he wasn't quite as clear, because I don't think they've kind of bottom lined this. JOHNS: It's not about intent, though.
BORGER: But they will for the president.
JOHNS: It's not about intent, it's about whether it happened.
BLITZER: Let me just make a turn -- and this is a dramatic turn. A third uninvited guest shows up at the White House at that state dinner, not just the Salahis. This time, one of the Indians apparently brought someone on the bus over to the dinner and they let them in.
BEGALA: Yes. And -- and when I talked to people at the White House, they mostly say, well, that's a Secret Service matter. By the way, they say it's a State Department matter, as well, because it was, in this case, apparently someone who came over with the Indians.
I would take this just as seriously. I mean this is our president and his family and any other number of dignitaries, including the prime minister of India. Now we know of three people who were unauthorized who got in there. This is an area, I think, where we need independent oversight.
I'm glad the Secret Service is looking into it. I have a huge amount of confidence in them. They protect our president's life every day. But I think that Congress ought to look into this. I think that someone independent of the executive branch ought to look at this. This is, I think, easier to figure out, frankly, than this -- this al Qaeda...
BLITZER: But it is quite alarming...
BEGALA: ...Yemen connection (INAUDIBLE) Nigeria.
BLITZER: ...that three people actually got into that White House...
JEFFREY: Well, it indicates there must be some kind of cultural change in the Secret Service. Usually it is so difficult for a civilian to get into the White House. They screen everybody. They have heavy security. They check their names. They look at if they have a criminal record.
How did three people on one day get into the White House...
BORGER: How would it be cultural?
JEFFREY: Because these are the guys who are responsible. They -- they -- they historically have had a culture of being very, very sensitive about protecting the ground of the White House. It is not easy...
JOHNS: The Salahis...
JEFFREY: ...to get in there.
JOHNS: The Salahis are probably a very different case from this other person, because, as you said, this is a person who would have come through the diplomatic core. So there is a State Department question there.
But, you know, overall, that doesn't make that much difference to people, when they look at and see, oh, the president had people he didn't know who weren't supposed to be there.
So, yes, it's a problem for their (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there. But there's no evidence this third person actually got anyplace close to the president or the vice president, for though -- that matter, as the Salahis...
BLITZER: ...clearly did.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.
Let's check in with Jessica Yellin.
She's here with a preview of what's coming at the top of the hour.
What are you working on -- Jessica?
YELLIN: Hi, Wolf.
Hey, coming up at the top of the hour, we'll have much more on the government's new moves to fight terrorism. The botched Christmas Day bombing did expose some serious security and intelligence failures. So we'll look at the new intense airport screening measures now in place. If you're coming in from one of the 14 countries on terror lists, well, you can bank on a full body scan. So hundreds of names have been added to the no fly list.
And the big question, of course, is will we actually be safer after all this?
So join us for all that and more at the top of this hour.
And to you, Wolf, hey, Happy New Year.
BLITZER: Thank you.
To you, too, Jessica.
Appreciate it very much. We will, of course, be watching.
Out of the governor's office and on to reality TV -- details on where you're going to be seeing Rod Blagojevich.
That's coming up next.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, Houston, Texas now has its first openly gay mayor. Annise Parker was sworn in publicly today after a private ceremony over the weekend. She won a runoff last month to succeed Bill White.
Kasim Reed was sworn in today as mayor of Atlanta, extending a line of African-American mayors that goes back almost four decades. Reed won a runoff to replace Shirley Frank.
It looks as though former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will, in fact, become a reality star after all. NBC says he'll be one of 14 contestants on the new season of "Celebrity Apprentice." The disgraced ex-governor will compete against bass -- baseball great Daryl Strawberry; singer, Cyndi Lauper; and TV personality, Osbourne, to name a few. The court barred Blagojevich from traveling to Costa Rica in the spring to appear on another TV reality show. He's charged with scheming to sell President Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder. He denies wrongdoing.
Remember, for the latest political news anytime, you can always out CNNPolitics.com.
Let's check out Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File right now -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Somebody dubbed this the vast wasteland.
Was it Agnew or Newton Minow?
BLITZER: Newton Minow.
CAFFERTY: The former FCC commissioner?
CAFFERTY: He was prescient, wasn't he?
BLITZER: He knew about this reality TV thing.
CAFFERTY: Yes, he did.
CAFFERTY: I mean the guy ought to be in prison. Come on.
The question this hour, how serious a problem is it if some children reach the age of three without saying a single word?
Lou writes: "Einstein was four or five before he spoke. They thought he was retarded. My daughter was a late speaker. She's 12 now. Can't turn off her motor mouth. I hate that the experts are always worrying people that their kids should meet certain guidelines and conformities or else something must be wrong with them"
Clay writes: "Kids need human interaction, not cyber interaction. I'm surprised they talk at all, save for a few odd bleeps and bloops uttered to emulate their silicon siblings."
Larrie writes: "I had older sisters that spoke for me until I was around three years old. The only side effect I had was a slight speech impediment that was corrected in grade school. I don't feel it caused me any problems into my adult life. Children learn and develop at different stages. And if they're communicating in other forms, there should be no reason for concern."
Larry in Alabama says: "The statistic is not so strange when you consider an increasing prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder, currently estimated to affect nearly 2 percent of children. Rather than looking for problems with parents, we should be investigating possible causes of the autism epidemic." Dave in Maryland writes: "There are many of us who didn't talk until three or later who have been successful. My Ph.D. is in mathematical statistics and I run a communications training company. There's even a book on the subject of people who have been very successful and were late talkers. Parents of people like me should remain hopeful."
Kris, in Ohio writes: "I'm a special ed teacher. Believe me, it's a serious problem not saying a word until the age of three. My class is too full already. Read and talk to your kids and they will respond long before they turn three."
And Dave writes from Pennsylvania: "We spend the first two years of our kids' lives teaching them to walk and talk. Then we spend the next 18 years telling them to sit down and shut up. When they talk is not as important as what they say when they do."
If you'd like to read more on this subject, we got a lot of e- mail. You can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.
And I'm not going to talk now anymore until tomorrow, when I see you at 4:00.
BLITZER: You're going to remain silent, Jack.
See you tomorrow.
Beware the full body scan -- Jeanne Moos finds the new airport security measures Moost Unusual.
BLITZER: Beware -- full body scanners might -- repeat -- might be coming to an airport near you.
CNN's Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Is it a woman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looked like an alien.
MOOS: Is it a man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, it looks like a group of four robots.
MOOS: It's sort of like Superman -- the first time young Clark Kent experienced x-ray vision and penetrated the girls' locker room.
(on camera): This is the airport scanning device now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is gross.
MOOS (voice-over): But he was pretty much the only one we talked to who objected -- and even he changed his mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not as though we're naked. It's just -- it's an x-ray.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The thing is, we all go to doctors. I'm old. I don't care.
MOOS: Life has finally caught up to Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Total Recall."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "TOTAL RECALL," COURTESY TRISTAR PICTURES)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get him. Hold it. Don't move.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: The technology has had reporters doing exposes exposing themselves.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The monitor displays my humble contours.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY BBC/YOUTUBE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apart from my manly physique, you can actually see the porridge I had for breakfast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Porridge is one thing, but hide those private parts.
TODD: I should put a metal plate in my pants.
I'm going to do that now, right before I get screened. MOOS: A metal plate in your pants is nothing compared to bomb in your underpants -- suicide underwear, crotch bomber, fruit of the boom.
(on camera): He obviously wasn't listening if and when his mother told him to always to wear clean underwear.
You know the guy that got caught with a bomb in his underwear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, wow! I didn't -- I didn't know that. I...
MOOS: You've been out of it over the holidays.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I just watched the Disney Channel more than anything.
MOOS (voice-over): Maybe he should watch this old Bud Lite commercial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM bud LIGHT COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Superior drinkability. And now, x-ray vision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: X-ray vision no longer available in Bud Lite.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Now available at airports. Last year, need to get in shape for spring. This year, need to get in shape for airport screenings.
But most don't mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, if it meant that I might not have my ass blown out of the sky.
MOOS: And speaking of that body part, an MSNBC anchor compared JLo's New Year's Eve outfit compared to a scan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP COURTESY MSNBC/ABC)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looked like a TSA body scan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Hey, if we looked like JLo, we'd be clawing and crawling our way toward the scanner.
Jeanne Moos, CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they see my underwear?
MOOS: ...New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.
Remember, we have another way for you to follow what's going here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my Tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -- wolfblitzercnn all one word.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."