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THE SITUATION ROOM
Israel's New Drone; Could Toyota Recalls Free Jailed Driver?
Aired February 22, 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: To our viewers, remember, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to have a lot more coming up, including raising the stakes in a dangerous standoff. As tensions soar over Iran's nuclear program, Israel unveils a giant high-flying high-tech drone that can reach the Persian Gulf. Stay here. We have details.
A Minnesota man is in prison for a crash that killed three people. He now claims that the gas a pedal on his Toyota got stuck. Given Toyota's massive recalls, could he really be innocent? What's going on? We have new information.
And if the U.S. and NATO allies pull out of Afghanistan, how many years might it take for Afghan troops to stand on their own? The answer may stun you in my exclusive interview with the chairman of NATO's Military Committee. He's here.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In a war of nerves over Iran's nuclear program, Israel shows off its newest strategic asset, a pilotless aircraft with a wingspan like an airliner. It can fly nearly eight miles high and stay over a target area for many hours. And the Israelis say Iran is within range.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has been looking into all of this for us.
Potentially very significant development. What are you learning, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because you know Iran is within range. I know it. Everybody knows it. But the Israelis won't actually say the word Iran.
And when you think of this new pilotless airplane, don't think of some kind of model plane. This thing is the size of a 737 passenger jet. It can fly at an altitude of over 40,000 feet, and it's got the capability to stay in the air for more than a day.
That's more than enough time to fly to the Persian Gulf and not only conduct extensive surveillance operations in that area, but also possibly jam enemy communications or even provide connection between, say, ground control and actual Israeli air force pilots. Now, Iran has come out publicly, some of its leaders have come out publicly calling for Israel's destruction, but in talking about the capabilities of this new drone, the Israelis won't actually say the word Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPTAIN OMER, DRONE OPERATOR: I won't be specific on any destination. I can just tell you that the Eitan will know -- will be able to fly farther than any other plane in the Israeli air force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: Iran obviously well within range. The Israelis say it's versatile and could adapt to many missions.
BLITZER: So this drone could fly, let's say, from Israel over the Arab world, if you will, whether Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, toward Iran without refueling? Is that what they are saying?
LAWRENCE: That's right. That's right. It can fly for more than a day. So, it allows you to have that kind of surveillance constantly.
BLITZER: And, presumably, they could have bombs or they could have missiles or whatever. It's not just a surveillance kind of drone. Is that right?
LAWRENCE: It's a platform. It's a platform. But, again, you know, when you look at this, just a few hours ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said no strike against Iran, no matter how effective, could be decisive. But that doesn't mean he doesn't share some of Israel's concerns about Iran. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I maintain my convention that Iran remains on a path to achieve nuclear weaponization and that even this very pursuit further destabilizes the region.
But, like us, it isn't just a nuclear-capable Iranian military our friends worry about. It's an Iran with hegemonic ambitions and a desire to dominate its neighbors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: The problem is a lot of these unmanned drones have been very effective in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where there is basically nothing to shoot them down, much less effective over nations like Iran that have anti-aircraft capability.
BLITZER: But if you say it's flying at eight -- eight miles high, you need a good surface-to-air missile.
LAWRENCE: That's true. BLITZER: I don't know if the Iranians have the capability. Do they?
LAWRENCE: Not sure if they do or not. But, again, you're talking about -- if you look back to some of the drones that were used over Serbia, Serbia took out a lot of drones right off the bat because they had the capability to use anti-aircraft weaponry.
BLITZER: Yes. But if these Israeli drones are flying that high, it's not going to be that easy.
All right, Chris, thanks very much, an important potential development.
Call it the Persian Gulf or else. Iran's transport minister is warning airlines if they don't use that term to refer to the waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, they will be banned from Iranian airspace. The warning was directed specifically toward the airlines of neighboring Gulf Arab countries, who have a history of referring to the water, that body of water as the Arabian Gulf, as opposed to the Persian Gulf -- sensitivities in Iran over that.
Some other news here in the United States, a significant development. A Minnesota man is in prison for a fatal high-speed crash that he now blames on a faulty accelerator in his Toyota Camry. After recalls involving millions of vehicles, should his case now get a fresh look?
Brian Todd has been digging into this story for us.
Now, Brian, this is a significant development. What's going on here?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, his attorney is pressing hard for a fresh look at this case. In fact, he's pressing for a new trial,. Even though the car in question was made long before those in the current Toyota recalls, this defendant's attorney says there are enough similarities to prove his client is innocent.
TODD (voice-over): Koua Fong Lee, in prison more than two years for vehicular homicide. In June 2006, Lee's Toyota Camry, going between 70 and 90 miles an hour, slammed into another vehicle that was stopped at a light at a highway off-ramp near Minneapolis.
In the other car, Javis Adams and his young son Javis Jr. were killed. A niece, Devyn Bolton, fought her injuries for several months, then died. At the time of Lee's trial, the jury didn't know some 1996 Toyota Camrys made the same year as Lee's had been the subject of an earlier recall. A document from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says of some 1996 Camrys, "Cruise- control systems fail to hold the speed set by the driver and can accelerate above the intended set speed."
It says the consequence, "Unintended acceleration can increase the potential for a vehicle accident."
Now Lee's current attorney wants a new trial.
BRENT SCHAFER, ATTORNEY FOR KOUA FONG LEE: Accident is now explainable, I think, by looking at the Toyota that Mr. Lee was driving. And, based upon that, one would conclude there is a high likelihood there is an innocent man in prison.
TODD: Brent Schafer wants Lee's Camry reexamined for accelerator problems. The victim's family is on board, now siding with Lee. The prosecutor tells CNN he supports having all parties look at the car.
Lee's attorney tells us he's found several complaints from drivers of the same model Camry of sudden acceleration. But proving Lee's innocence isn't a slam-dunk. It's not clear if his Camry was covered in that 1996 recall. That NHTSA document we found mentioned only about 5,000 vehicles. Lee never told investigators that his car accelerated out of control.
He did say he tried to hit the brakes, which he said didn't work. Investigators found the brakes were functional. But Lee's attorney counters that, citing drivers' accounts of Toyota problems from 1996 to now.
SCHAFER: Everybody who reported rapid acceleration stepped on the brakes, and the car would not stop. Is that a brake failure, or is it simply the rapid acceleration taking over the ability of the brakes to stop the car?
TODD: Those are all questions that Brent Schafer wants to look at if and when this case is reopened. We are told by the prosecutor that Toyota wants to be part of that inspection as well. Contacted by CNN, a Toyota official wouldn't comment on that or on any other aspect of this case, Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume folks are getting ready to sue Toyota in this case as well.
TODD: The victim's family is getting ready to sue. They say publicly that they side with Lee, that they now believe he is innocent, but, in fact, they are planning to sue Toyota after this re- inspection takes place. Not sure when that will be.
BLITZER: Did anyone else take a look at the car in this particular case after this accident?
TODD: It was interesting. We did find out from the prosecutor and others that his insurance company brought in a mechanical engineer to look at the car. That engineer did not write a report. The prosecutor says that usually means they didn't find anything.
Also, a mechanic hired by the city took a look at this and found a partially stuck throttle, but that mechanic concluded that that was the result of the accident, not a cause of it. Still, Lee's attorney says that was a cursory examination. They want this whole thing looked at again.
It still may be a long shot to prove his innocence, but they are going to give it a shot.
BLITZER: And they're going to see if they can reopen this case for him. He's in jail in the meantime.
TODD: That's right, serving eight years total.
BLITZER: All right, Brian.
Yes. Well, Brian Todd, thank you.
For an in-depth look into the Toyota recall, you can always go to CNN.com/Toyota. There you can find out if your car has been recalled, as well as what to do. It all comes to you from the worldwide leader in news, CNN.
The Republican Party gets a tongue-lashing from Glenn Beck, but our own political contributor Bill Bennett is taking issue. Here is here with some thoughts. Stand by.
And a stunning guilty plea in what has been called the most serious terror plot since 9/11. We're taking a closer look at the big picture with our national security contributor Fran Townsend.
And U.S. commanders now apologizing for new civilian casualties in Afghanistan. I will talk about that and more in my exclusive interview with the chairman of NATO's Military Committee.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Almost nine out of 10 Americans think our government is broken beyond repair. We are looking at clearly a crisis of confidence in the way we run this country.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows an overwhelming 86 percent of those surveyed say our government is broken. That's an increase of eight points from four years ago. On the plus side, out of those 86 percent, 81 percent say the government can be fixed. Five percent say it's beyond repair.
According to the poll, the increase in those who say the government is broken is highest among wealthier people and those who live in rural areas. Well, guess what? That's the same group of people who make up the Tea Party movement.
Americans are disgusted. They're tired of politicians playing games while the country slides ever closer to catastrophe. The list of problems is daunting: skyrocketing record deficits, $12 trillion- plus national debt, two wars, a still-fragile economy, millions of unemployed, millions more underemployed, health care, education. The list is a long one. And on so many of those fronts, our government chooses partisanship and politics over real solutions, while the problems just get worse and worse and worse. They spend their time raising money and campaigning for the next election, so they can stay in Washington and do nothing for a few more years.
One day in the not-too-distant future, it won't matter what they do. Here's the question. Is our government broken beyond repair? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.
This important programming note to our viewers: Friday night, Jack will host a special "Broken Government" program. No more politics. It's time for answers. Be sure to join Jack for an hour you won't want to miss. It's "Broken Government" Friday 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.
Broken government was a major theme at the just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. We are going to have more on that coming up.
But let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. There's a developing story on the Hill.
It looks like a big win, Dana, for the Democrats on jobs.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the number-one issue this election year. And for the first time in quite a while, we have seen a key procedural vote actually get through the United States Senate. And it is on this $15 billion jobs package -- 62-30, that's what this key procedural vote just passed by.
It clears the way for this jobs bill, which has some tax credits for small businesses who hire new workers and also some money for highways, to build highways. And it's not as big as many Republicans wanted, especially when it comes to tax cuts. and that's one of the reasons why so many Republicans voted against it, but Democrats took a chance. And they decided to put the smaller bill on the floor and a handful of Republican senators crossed party lines, and they decided to vote yes, including, as we reported earlier, the newest Republican senator, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
BLITZER: It sets the stage for a jobs bill passing the Senate.
All right, Dana, thanks very much.
Let's get to that CPAC conference that took place over the weekend. A leading conservative talk show host, Glenn Beck, had some very tough words certainly for the Democrats, but also for Republicans, saying they are as much to blame as the Democrats.
Our CNN political contributor Bill Bennett is here to talk about that. Bill is the author of brand-new book entitled "A Century Turns." There it is. Take a look at that book jacket, "A Century Turns: New Fears, New Hopes."
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
BLITZER: We will talk about that book. I know you love...
BENNETT: A lot of CNN and Wolf Blitzer in that book.
BLITZER: But let's talk about Glenn Beck, because this has caused a little bit of a buzz or firestorm among conservatives.
BENNETT: Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: He was very tough, not only on Democrats, but also on Republicans. Among other things, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": I'm a recovering alcoholic. And I screwed up my life six ways to Sunday. And I believe in redemption.
But the first step to getting redemption is you have got to admit you have got a problem. I have not heard people in the Republican Party yet admit that they have a problem. And when they do say they have a problem, I don't know if I believe them.
BECK: I haven't seen the "come to Jesus" moment of the Republican Party yet. I have voted Republicans almost every time I have gone. I don't know what they even stand for anymore. And they have got to recognize that they have a problem.
Hello. My name is the Republican Party and I got a problem.
BECK: I'm addicted to spending and big government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You listen to that and you responded. You wrote a little essay of yourself saying, you know what, he's wrong.
BENNETT: Yes. I think he is. I have known Glenn not a long time. You've known him. He was at CNN. Now he's at the other network or other cable network. He's very talented. He's very entertaining and has a powerful influence. That's why I took pen to paper.
BLITZER: Let's go through specifics. Where is he wrong?
(CROSSTALK) BENNETT: I think he's wrong, because there is a difference between the parties. It's fundamentally clear. There is a difference between Republicans and Democrats. Just ask Republicans and ask Democrats whether they think there is a difference.
Can he tell the difference between Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank? I would think so. Second, he says there has not been any acknowledgment by Republicans about their wayward ways of spending and so on.
There absolutely has been. There have been a lot of confessionals. A lot of people have said during the Bush years people went too far. And then, finally, I think he's just too bleak. Look, whether one agrees or not, the Republican Party is on the move. It's on offense. Conservativism is on offense. Look at what happened in Virginia. Look at what happened in New Jersey. And, of course, look at what happened in Massachusetts.
BLITZER: But on the basic premise that he makes, though, that when Republicans were in control, the spending was out of control, is he right on that?
BENNETT: He is right that there was way too much spending, I agree, Wolf. But it pales in comparison to the spending of Barack Obama. I mean, Barack Obama will, in one year, do more deficit spending than Bush did in four.
So, I think that's an inaccuracy as well. But to say there is no difference, when you have got every Republican voting against the stimulus bill, almost every Republican voting against health care, is just inaccurate and again it's too dark.
BLITZER: We will do the math, but I think your math is a little bit too unkind to Obama. He is going to have about a $1.6 trillion deficit, but in the last year of the Bush administration it was over $1 trillion, too. So, it's not exactly like that, but you're right. The spending is out of control.
BENNETT: OK, if we do projections in the years to years.
BENNETT: It's more spending. It's much more deficit spending.
No one -- no one excuses the spending during the Republican era. And I think that's accurate. But can it be worse? Yes, it can be worse.
My worry about Glenn Beck, as a conservative and as a Republican, is if he suggests there is no difference between the parties, people may sit on their hands. There are now predictions from people like Charlie Cook and others that Republicans have a chance to take back the House. You want people to understand there is a difference between these parties and it matters. BLITZER: Well, do you think he's trying to set the stage for a third party?
BENNETT: I don't know. I don't know that he knows.
But what is very interesting, what was interesting about the tea parties is that when you talk to the leaders of the Tea Party movement, they said they had no interest in a third party. Conservatives have a lot of interest in gaining more influence in the Republican Party. And they're getting it.
BLITZER: You getting a lot of negative feedback, positive feedback?
BENNETT: I'm getting both.
BLITZER: What kind of feedback are you getting?
BENNETT: I'm getting both. But this is a healthy thing in a party. It's better than having resignations and people walking away. So, a good debate is good.
BLITZER: Good for you.
All right, Bill Bennett, thanks very much.
BENNETT: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: He is the author of a new book, "A Century Turns." There it is...
BENNETT: There it is.
BLITZER: ... up on the big screen.
BENNETT: There it is. Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Gays in the military, it is not a problem for many of Washington's closest NATO allies. We will talk about that and much more in my exclusive interview with the chairman of NATO's Military Committee.
And top military commanders in Turkey are accused to plotting to bomb mosques -- details of an alleged coup plot.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: When will Afghan troops be ready to fight on their own? The answer may surprise you. My exclusive interview with NATO's military chairman, that is coming up.
And then a terror suspect comes clean to a federal judge -- his shocking admission of what he planned to do with weapons of mass destruction.
BLITZER: America's top military officer says the allies are gaining ground in efforts to retake the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, but he calls the operation in Southern Afghanistan -- and I'm quoting him now -- "messy."
Joint Chiefs chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, also voiced regret over the latest NATO airstrike gone wrong. An attack on a convoy in Southern foreign yesterday killed more than two dozen Afghani civilians. A senior U.S. official says the strike was ordered because there was intelligence that Taliban insurgents were in the vehicles.
There are now 85,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan -- 47,000 of them are from the United States. The other largest contingents, Britain has deployed 9,500 troops, Germany 4,400, and France 3,700.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola. He's the chairman of NATO's Military Committee.
Admiral, thanks very much for coming in.
GIAMPAOLO DI PAOLA, CHAIRMAN, NATO MILITARY COMMITTEE: Thank you, too, for inviting me.
BLITZER: More Afghan civilians are killed in this latest NATO airstrike. There has been a series of these mishaps. What's the problem?
DI PAOLA: Well, this is very unfortunate, because this -- we want to stress once again -- and I think General McChrystal did very clearly -- one civilian casualty is one too much.
We are doing a lot. We are really seriously trying to minimize the civilian casualties. We will not be happy until that minimizing will mean zero. That needs to be clear.
BLITZER: But it's happened so many times. And it's really annoying, if not irritating, it's destructive to the whole Afghan attitude towards NATO, as you fully appreciate.
DI PAOLA: Yes, I do.
But we have also to understand that it is easy, as I say, to speak and criticize sitting in a chair, as we are. On the battlefield, sometimes, the situation is not as clear as it looks like behind the scenes and after what happened. So, we have also not to have -- we need to have an understanding of what's going on. We have also to appreciate we are doing the maximum we can to bring casualties (ph) to zero.
BLITZER: Are there any new procedures the NATO troops should enact in order to prevent this?
DI PAOLA: There has been. The fact of the matter is that these are human being mistakes. Because the procedure, the directive that McChrystal has brought in is very severe. We have to try to avoid to the maximum any kind of strike which is not definitely confirmed the target. So the procedure is there but the human beings make mistakes.
BLITZER: How are the Afghan troops doing? In other words, when will they be ready to take charge?
DI PAOLA: They are doing much better than we normally think about. Actually, they are in the lead. It is not me who is speaking. I think it's important to understand. It's McChrystal saying the Afghans are in lead. They are the ones-
BLITZER: Except this current operation, in Marjah, that is going on, everything I have read and everything I have heard from our reporters is that the U.S. is in the lead. The Afghan troops are helping. They are there, but they are certainly not taking the lead in this current military offensive.
DI PAOLA: I don't think this is true. I don't think this is the reality. The reality is the soldiers ILF soldiers and the Afghan soldiers are fighting side by side. In the operation, strategically, the operation has been planned together and the fighting, they stay together. It's clear that the alliance and in particular the U.S. allies, they do have certain ability, and capability that the Afghans don't have it, so you see the difference. But they are fighting side by side on the front line. They are infantry company, by the infantry conducted by the Afghans. That's the reality.
BLITZER: If the U.S. and the other NATO allies were to pull out of Afghanistan, could the Afghan troops handle the situation by themselves?
DI PAOLA: Not today.
BLITZER: How long do they need?
DI PAOLA: It's a matter of questioning here. Probably will be a matter of from three to four, five years. That's what-today is-a
BLITZER: Is that what you are planning for, a NATO presence-at least another three, four, five years?
DI PAOLA: I would say that NATO is expecting to be able to transitioning the responsibility of the security to the Afghan security forces progressively as the conditions there. We are not in a time-driven process. We are in a condition-based process. The transition will not be the same all over the country. There will be provinces in which the transition will come sooner, and others will come later. But we have to put ourselves in an expectation of certainly three to five years.
BLITZER: You know the criticism that has been leveled against NATO. That it is the United States which is building up now to about 100,000 U.S. troops, maybe 40,000, 45,000 non-U.S. NATO troops, but many of them are restricted in what they can do. They can train Afghan troops but they don't really go out on combat military offensive operations. You understand the criticism from the U.S. that NATO is not really stepping up to the plate?
DI PAOLA: Well, first of all, I would like to remind that the U.S. are an ally. When we speak of alliance, we speak also of the U.S. troops. It is not U.S. and the alliance. It's U.S. as part of the alliance. So, therefore, two, the non-U.S. allies are engaged in the Afghanistan mission like the Americans. Some of them are fighting side by side in the south, but the mission of the alliance is to provide security and to help the Afghans provide security.
Afghan is around. It is not only Helmand. So other allies are in Kunduz, they are in Farah (ph), they are in other provinces, where also it is necessary to stay side by side to provide security. So the criticism of making it coinciding Helmand with Afghanistan is not correct.
BLITZER: Because the impression you get-and correct me if I'm wrong-is that the Canadians, the British, they are out there fighting aggressively with the U.S., but the Germans, for example, aren't.
DI PAOLA: Well, because at the present the activities are in Helmand. But if tomorrow should McChrystal and the situation request the fighting taking place in an area where the German are, the Germans would fight.
BLITZER: Even though the German parliament says they shouldn't engage in offensive combat operations. They should be there for training?
DI PAOLA: They are there also to provide security. If there is a necessity of an operation in the north where the Germans are I'm sure they would step up to the plate.
BLITZER: So, you're satisfied with NATO's contribution? I'm talking about the non-U.S. part of NATO?
DI PAOLA: I'm never satisfied. But I'm saying the harsh criticism that only some of them are doing the lifting is not correct.
BLITZER: Let's talk about gays serving openly in the military. It's a big debate here in the United States as you well know, right now. Most of the NATO allies, including in Italy, allow gays to serve openly in the military. How is that working out in the NATO alliance?
DI PAOLA: I think it's working out quite well. In the end, fundamentally, the issue here is the sexual orientation is not an issue insofar as you being a soldier or whatever you would be in the environment you are working for, that is not a problem. Sexual orientation is a personal matter, not a matter for state policy.
BLITZER: So it hasn't undermined unit cohesion, combat readiness?
DI PAOLA: Absolutely not. If there is misconduct, applied to a gay or non-gay, that would be treated as misconduct. So your sexual orientation does not have to influence the environment in which you work.
BLITZER: When NATO troops, whether from Canada, Britain, or Germany, or France or Italy, serve in Afghanistan, for example, with U.S. combat troops and there are gays serving side by side, have you seen one example of an incident that has undermined the ability to fight?
DI PAOLA: I have not seen it. I am not aware of it. Of course, I don't know all the cases that might have happened. But I'm not aware of any cases of any relevance.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but a quick question on Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency, now suspects Iran may be building a warhead. And there are reports capable of reaching Europe, at least parts of Europe right now. What is NATO doing in terms of preparing for that possibility?
DI PAOLA: Well, at present, as you know, NATO is not directly involved in dealing with a nuclear issue of Iran. But certainly and we have stated clearly we are concerned. NATO is concerned. NATO members are concerned of a potential evolution of the Iranian threat. Therefore, the issue of the way to counter the threat including the possibility to have a missile defense is certainly part of the debate in the alliance in this moment.
BLITZER: Is there any serious division within the NATO alliance as far as Iran is concerned?
DI PAOLA: I don't think so. Not at all.
BLITZER: So, all of the allies?
DI PAOLA: All of the allies are seriously concerned, seriously concerned. Although the alliance per se, is not dealing with the issue, but the concern is commonly shared by all allies.
BLITZER: Admiral, thanks very much. Good luck to you and all the NATO troops.
DI PAOLA: Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
DI PAOLA: Thank you.
BLITZER: Federal officials call it the most serious terror plot in the United States since the attacks of 9/11. Now, a day in court and some chilling revelations. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Stunning admissions today before a federal judge as a terror suspect pleads guilty to a plot to bomb targets here in the United States. Our Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve is following the story for us.
Jeanne, tell our viewers what happened.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in a New York City courtroom Najibullah Zazi admitted he was a suicide bomber trained and equipped to blow up that city's subways. This afternoon the attorney general said the plot was real, in motion and would have been deadly. He used the plea deal to bolster his argument that federal courts are an appropriate venue to try terrorists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our federal civilian criminal justice system has the ability to incapacitate terrorists, has the ability to gain intelligence from those terrorists, and is a valuable tool in our fight against terrorism.
It doesn't means the only tool that we should use. We have to couple it with what we do on the military side, what we do on the intelligence gathering side. But to take this tool out of our hands, to denigrate the use of this tool flies in the face of the facts, flies in the face of the history of the use of this tool, and is more about politics than it is about facts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: In court, Zazi pleaded guilty to three charges, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to a terrorist organization, Al Qaeda.
The former airport shuttle driver told the court he went to Pakistan in 2008 intending to join the Taliban but was recruited by Al Qaeda for a suicide mission. He got explosives training, moved to Denver where last summer he purchased components for bombs at beauty supply stores and mixed them on a hotel stove into TATP. He headed to New York intending to strike the subways on September 14, 15 or 16, but when he got wise to the fact he was being investigated he threw away the chemicals, went back to Denver and was arrested just days later.
The plea agreement is sealed at the request of the government. So, we don't know what incentives the government used to win his cooperation or what his sentence might be, but two of the charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know why he decided to plead guilty instead of fighting it out in court?
MESERVE: No. We have not been given those details. There's been speculation that perhaps they used his parents, the specter of, let's say, immigration charges against his mother. But because the plea deal was sealed we do not have the specifics of that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our National Security Contributor Fran Townsend.
Does this sound reasonable to you, that the U.S. accepts a plea deal in exchange -- presumably he'll cooperate. Might it be worth it to the American public to see him get a reduced sentence?
FRANCIS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It might, Wolf, especially if what they will learn from him is who he was dealing with oversees, who were bomb makers, what was the kind of communications, the finance chain. There are a whole bunch of things they could learn from him that would be incredibly useful not just in uncovering this plot but other operatives and potentially other plots.
BLITZER: Because usually when U.S. prosecutors accept a plea deal the defense attorneys want something in exchange for that. It's either a reduced sentence for him, or they are not going to file charges, or have reduced charges against someone he cares about.
TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. That's why you see the plea deal -- whatever it is -- has been sealed. He won't get the benefit of that until he actually produces and the government is in a position to assess for the court and make known to the court their view on the value of it.
BLITZER: Is there going to be an opening here for the Obama administration to be criticized for letting him plead guilty and avoiding a trial and maybe giving him a reduced sentence?
TOWNSEND: There may, Wolf. But it's hard to imagine there would be a credible argument. You know, look, welcome to Washington and the politics, the way this gets played. It's possible. But giving him the opportunity to cooperate, and reveal others, and the organization, and other plots, hard to imagine how they could be seen as being criticized for that.
BLITZER: Based on what you have read about it, and now we have seen the filing, as part of the plea agreement, based on what you know about Najibullah Zazi is this, in fact, the worst potential terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11?
TOWNSEND: I do think it is. Based on what we know. Based on the connections overseas, and this was pretty far along, Wolf. I think it is also a good example of how they work between intelligence and law enforcement across the federal government. They worked with state and local authorities and the NYPD. I actually think this is a good example of how you want a threat disruption to take place and how you would want to see it pursued.
BLITZER: Basically, what I hear you saying as someone who worked for President Bush in the former administration, you think the Obama Justice Department, Eric Holder and his team got it right this time. TOWNSEND: I do think they got it right this time. I don't have a problem with saying that Wolf. I mean, look, we saw in Jeanne's piece the attorney general clearly a little bit frustrated and defensive about using the criminal process. I think that is because, while he says the criminal justice option is one tool -- and he's right about that, he's got to do more than say the intelligence and military options are other tools. He's got to actually be willing to use them.
After all, right now he's investigating intelligence officials from the prior administration for their conduct. We haven't seen an aggressive use of military commissions. If he wants to not be criticized, he has to show his willingness to use the tools effectively.
BLITZER: Fran, was the Homeland Security advisor to President Bush. Thank you very much, Fran, for coming in.
BLITZER: 14 million people ride subways every day. But is anyone looking after their safety here in the United States? What passengers need to know.
And Michael Jackson is back at Disneyland. Part of the king of pop's legacy getting a new run. Stay with us, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hi there, Wolf.
A Delaware pediatrician is accused of child molestation. Prosecutors say a grand jury has indicted Dr. Earl Bradley on 470 felony counts in the alleged sexual abuse of Haitians. He's accused of victimizing 103 children. The charges range from rape and sexual exploitation of a child, to endangering child welfare and assault. Dr. Bradley has had a practice in Lewes, Delaware for more than ten years.
And this is the scene in Lake Placid, Florida where a tour bus carrying senior citizens crashed and rolled over killing two people. The crash happened about a 100 miles south of Orlando. A number of the passengers were flown to nearby hospitals. The cause is still under investigation.
A suicide bombing in Pakistan killed eight people at a market in the volatile Swat Valley; 45 other people were wounded in the attack. The army said it believed the bomber was targeting military vehicles.
And 42 people are now confirmed dead after a flood disaster in Portugal. More than 30 others are missing. Torrential rains unleashed these massive mudslides and floods which swept through the island of Madeira over the weekend. More rain is in the forecast this week. The Portuguese government announced three days of mourning for them.
And the Michael Jackson musical, Captain Eo is returning to California's Disneyland. The park says it will show the 1986 movie starting Tuesday. It will run indefinitely. The late pop icon stars as a spaceship captain fighting a witch played by Angelica Houston. It will replace the 3-D show "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience." So something for folks of they are visiting California, Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure they'll enjoy it. All right. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.
Jack Cafferty is coming up next with your e-mail. Also calls to build a better hot dog. CNN's Jeanne Moos will take a most unusual look.
BLITZER: Time to check back with Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File". Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: The question this hour is our government broken beyond repair?
John writes from South Dakota, "Though our government is assuredly badly broken it is a long way from being broken beyond repair. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom created a system that is imperfect but one that has stood the test of time despite repeated mishandling and ineptness by Congress over nearly the entire time our country has existed.
Only a wholesale change in our leadership in Congress can accomplish a turn around in our national direction. However, I'm skeptical we have the conviction or the bravery to take this necessary step."
Kyle in Dublin, Pennsylvania: "Yes, it's broken beyond repair, but this is the government we deserve. Voters don't educate themselves to the issues. We vote for the candidate who slings the most mud, or who looks better on TV. Washington has turned into "The Jerry Springer Show" because deep down that's what the average American will vote for."
Aldo writes: "The system is not broken, the people running it are. We need to limit how long politicians serve."
Dennis says, "If you want to talk about a broken government and country, try what Abraham Lincoln faced. And yet we survived and flourished in time. We'll solve this problem, too."
Nathan writes, "What truly seems broken beyond repair is common sense within our American society. We want no deficit spending, but how dare we cut Social Security or Medicare. We want no new taxes but complain when cops are laid off. We say kick out all the incumbents but then routinely give our local congressman high marks. In other words, we each think we're OK, and that it's our neighbors who are sucking the country dry. What appears to be fundamentally broken is our collective logic."
And S writes from Tennessee, "The government is a train wreck and it ought to be treated as such. Clear the debris, salvage what we can, and then lay some new transparent rail."
If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it at my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, with "The Cafferty File". Thank you.
Trouble is mounting for Toyota with new allegations the company has known about sudden accelerations in some of its cars for years.
But up next, CNN's Jeanne Moos calls for a change to an American icon.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.
At a center for blind service members in Wales, Britain's Prince William shoots a bow and arrow blindfolded.
In Cincinnati at tugboat moves down the foggy Ohio River.
In India, students smear colored powder on each other during a festival.
And in Pakistan, check this out. Geese are seen crossing the street.
"Hot Shots", pictures worth 1,000 words.
Americans eat them by the millions each year. Now there's a push to build a better hotdog. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): You may think of it as a tasty treat, but to pediatricians, it's a missile that chokes toddlers.
(On camera): Doctors say it's the perfect size to get down your throat, and then get stuck.
(voice over): Pediatricians say hotdogs are the biggest culprit among foods that toddlers choke on, but to suggest the redesign of an American icon?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not. I love the hotdog just the way it is.
MOOS: Now the doctors are saying to the meat industry-
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, come on?
MOOS: You have to redesign the hotdog.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, tell these doctors to go back to school.
MOOS (voice over): The hotdog got its distinctive forms because tube shaped sheep intestine were originally used as casing. That's rarely the case now, but the shape has become iconic.
We call dachshunds, wiener dogs, because that is how they look like hotdogs are identified, by that sort of long shape.
MOOS: Put that in your bun.
(On camera): What could they do to redesign a hotdog?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make it a square one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would twist it.
MOOS: Twist it? Twits it how?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you'd need a longer one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Puree.
MOOS: Puree it? How would you eat it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slop it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make it look like a hamburger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a hamburger patty. But I've choked on hot dogs.
MOOS: Did you have to get the Heimlich maneuver?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No! I choked it up.
MOOS: The pediatricians want better labeling. Right now, about half of hotdogs come with a fairly small child safety warnings for parents to cut up the dogs into easy to swallow pieces.
Trying to figure out how to redesign the hotdog left folks perplexed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In order to put the meat inside the cotton- picking thing, you're going to have to squeeze it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what parents will have to learn how to do? They are going to have to learn how to watch their kids. It's ridiculous. I have been eating hotdogs my whole life.
MOOS: He's probably been eating pizza, too, but they just redesigned it for the first time in New York, selling pizza in a cone. You just stuff in the ingredients. You're more likely to strangle yourself with the cheese than choke on a pizza cone.
If they can redesign pizza, why not the hotdog? But the hotdog counsel isn't biting.
(On camera): So basically don't hold your breath?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that's a safe statement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Because if I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner -
MOOS (singing): Everyone would be redesigning me. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Happening now, the newest Republican senator from Massachusetts helps Democrats. Scott Brown votes yes to advance a jobs bill Democrats desperately want and they desperately needed Republican support.