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Credible Terrorist Threat

Aired October 29, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. We continue our coverage of this breaking news story, a global terror alert and what President Obama describes as a credible threat to the United States of America. Our sources telling CNN tonight it was an intelligence tip from Saudi Arabia that alerted officials to two packages originating in Yemen and addressed to Jewish synagogues in Chicago.

Those packages were intercepted on cargo planes, one outside London and the second in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Intelligence and homeland security agencies around the world were put on alert and after a tense day that included searching two cargo planes, passenger jet (INAUDIBLE), the president of the United States came into the briefing room at the White House and offered his assessment.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we obtain more information we'll keep the public fully informed. But at this stage the American people should know that the counterterrorism professionals are taking this threat very seriously and are taking all necessary and prudent steps to ensure our security.


KING: The president's top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan says today's incident was more than a dry run. Yet at a political event in California the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said the information in her briefings suggested the packages were more of a test of U.S. defenses.

Our reporters and analysts around the world are working this story, including our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson in London, senior White House correspondent Ed Henry and our correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom in Baghdad. Let's get first to what we know.

We'll show you the latest details right up here. Two packages containing explosive material bound for the United States. The targets again were two synagogues in Chicago and the suspected organization behind this is believed to be al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Let's get straight now to Mohammed Jamjoom in Baghdad for us tonight. Mohammed, when we hear al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, tell the American people, very different than al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.



JAMJOOM: Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?

KING: Let's try to reestablish our --


KING: Mohammed, Mohammed, it's John King. Can you hear me?

JAMJOOM: Yes, hi, John. Can you hear me?

KING: Yes, Mohammed, so explain to our viewers here in that United States the difference. So often they've heard about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Let's explain to them al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

JAMJOOM: Well, John, in the past year and a half, you had Saudi al Qaeda and Yemeni al Qaeda merge operations and they became al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Basically that happened because Saudi al Qaeda had been run out of Saudi Arabia by the Saudi counter terror forces. They went into Yemen and then after they became -- that became basically their base, in Yemen.

Now, they've been very emboldened once they came into Yemen. The reason for that Yemen is a place that attracts militants. It is a place with very porous borders. It's very poor. There's a lot of militancy there, so all the people that were with al Qaeda in Yemen -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they decided to start plotting attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia and against international targets as well.

We've seen it again and again over the course of the last few months. Now, let me say this. One important point to make is that the Yemeni government has really stepped up its fight against al Qaeda in the past several months. You've seen a dramatic shift in tone in how they were originally dealing with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Originally they were saying, we've got this under control, everything's fine, don't worry about it.

Now they're asking for a lot of military aid. They want the U.S. and the U.K. to help them with counter terror training. They're really stepping up their efforts. In the past month alone we've seen several times that they've had counter terror sweeps and raids in provinces in Yemen that are known to be strongholds for militants there.

But the fact of the matter is it's a problem. The Yemeni government is saying if you guys don't help us with this, we could become a failed state. We don't want that to happen. That won't just be a problem for Yemen, it will be a problem for the rest of the world as well -- John.

KING: And Mohammed, when you make that point, make the distinction. In Pakistan, for example, the government is incredibly sensitive in Pakistan to having any public displays of help from the United States. Is the Yemeni government saying help us and help us in a visible way or help us in a much less visible way?

JAMJOOM: John, the Yemeni government right now is saying help us. In the past they said, help us in a less visible way. What happened in the past is they didn't want the U.S. coming in, they weren't admitting that the U.S. had helped in any kind of airstrikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the cases of drone strikes that were happening over the course of the past year.

But in the past couple of months, we've seen that change as well. We were there in Yemen just last month. I spoke to several officials; they said repeatedly we want the U.S. and the U.K. to help us. Also they started acknowledging for the first time that the U.S. and the U.K. had been helping them when it came to airstrikes, when it came to drone strikes.

So the fact that this tone is softening shows that the Yemeni government, even though they're very sensitive about the presence of the U.S. and the U.K. on their soil, whether it comes to counter terror training, whether it comes to drone strikes, whatever it may be, they know they need the help. They want the Yemeni people to start accepting that, and they want the rest of the world to know that so they can get that help -- John.

KING: Mohammed Jamjoom for us -- Mohammed, thank you. We'll continue to stay in touch as this story breaks. Now let goes to our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed, as we watched this play out throughout the day, first we heard about the two planes being searched in Dubai and in London, then those two cargo planes, three cargo planes in Newark, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

The passenger jet that was escorted to the ground just as a precaution at JFK Airport in New York and then in the afternoon the president of the United States came into the briefing room and for the first time not only said it was a credible threat but said publicly that there were explosives found in those two devices overseas. What's the latest tonight?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well absolutely, John. I mean the bottom line is he is trying to project an image from the White House directly from the commander-in-chief on down that they are on top of this. He was briefed starting at 10:35 last night, then from 11:00 p.m., 1:00 a.m. on through the night.

John Brennan, his principal counterterrorism adviser was coordinating among various intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, to get to the bottom of this. The latest right now is that they are still on the search for potentially more packages out there. There have been reports there could be up to 15 packages, not just those two, out on the loose somewhere.

John Brennan as well as Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, after the president spoke said they are still on the hunt for those packages. And they just say it's too early in this investigation right now to know where this ends -- John.

KING: And, Ed, very different visibly. Back around the Christmas Day attempted attack the president did not deliver a statement for several days. On this day, we immediately or within a couple of hours saw the photo released by the White House senior staff of the president in the Situation Room being briefed on this, then the president himself came into the briefing room to deliver the first official word from the administration, a deliberate attempt to be more high profile, no?

HENRY: No doubt about it. I was there in Hawaii Christmas Day when the underwear bomber struck and at that time White House officials were insisting there was no reason for the president to get out there ahead of the investigation, and in fact you're right. It was three days -- we've checked -- it was three days before the president spoke publicly about the underwear bombing situation in Detroit.

This time a much different approach -- now Robert Gibbs got a question about whether politics was at work, whether or not there's something going on here, whether they're being more aggressive, whether they're being more public about all of this because we're just a few days away from a midterm election. He essentially laughed that off and said look this is a serious terror investigation.

We're sharing this information with the public. Nevertheless, while they're pushing that away, there's no doubt they're being more aggressive about at least sharing this with the public, making clear that this is a very serious investigation. That they -- in these early hours they don't know where it ends -- John.

KING: Ed Henry for us at the White House. We'll keep in touch with Ed throughout the hour as well. But now let's bring in our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson in London. Nic, you've got so many years of experience following these organizations around the world.

Tonight we're hearing PETN is the explosive. Tell our viewers the significance of that and why then it makes more sense to you that you would have the White House saying right off the bat that the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is their target organization tonight.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, and the explosive PETN is a very, very powerful explosive. The same explosive used by the underwear bomber, Abdulmutallab, and his attempt to bring down that plane over Detroit at Christmas. He failed. He failed because he couldn't initiate the detonation on it.

But the explosives themselves, had they gone off, if you look at this -- the end of this pen and just take the last few inches of the pen there, fill that full of explosives, it's enough to blow a hole in a thick metal plate, an aircraft fuselage. We don't know the targets were here, perhaps something related to the synagogues where they were addressed.

But a very, very powerful explosives once it's detonated and one of them appears to have been attached to some sort of cell phone that could have been part of a trigger mechanism here. But a very, very dangerous explosive that just small amounts can cause very significant damage -- John.

KING: And, Nic, again, Mohammed started on this theme, help the American people understand al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, how it is similar and affiliated with the al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and how in some ways it is very different.

ROBERTSON: It's different in as much as it's sort of come online later. It's similar in the way that al Qaeda operates in sort of Pakistan that it's able to use the lack of strength of the central government in Yemen, affiliating itself with tribes in those areas that are rebelling against the government to give themselves some physical space, physical space to develop, for example, the underwear bomber's explosives, to develop this other type of explosive we're now seeing, this sort of new delivery method coming via UPS and other carriers.

So again, it is a weak central government with strong regional tribes who are rebelling or at least at loggerheads with the government and this is what -- this is what's giving them the physical space to do it. You've had as well coming from Saudi Arabia disaffected al Qaeda elements from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis have cracked down hard on al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, made it hard for some of the leading figures and the more exposed figures to live in Saudi Arabia. Many of them appear to have gone to Yemen and then joined this sort of -- the global Jihad ideology of al Qaeda, sort of signing up to Osama bin Laden in the last couple of years -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson continue to work their story from London -- we'll check back in with Nic as well. A quick break here -- when we come back we'll continue to tell you what we do know and we'll also explore some very important questions about what we don't know. Why Chicago? How big of a bomb was this? What more do we know about the motivation? We'll be right back.


KING: Continuing to discuss today's breaking news, a terror threat coming from overseas, the White House says from Yemen. With us to talk over the new enemy, our CNN national security contributor Frances Townsend, who was President Bush's homeland security adviser and joining us on the telephone, Republican Senator Susan Collins, who is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. And Senator Collins, I want to go to you first because you've been briefed on this. And I want your sense of how serious a threat this was to the American people.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE (via phone): It's a very serious threat because it shows that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, with its strong foothold in Yemen is operational and is continuing to seek, to probe our vulnerabilities and to attack Americans.

KING: Was this a probe, a dry run, or were these devices -- I guess better put -- were they explosive devices? Were they capable of exploding? Or was it just explosives in these packages to test whether they could get them delivered to the American homeland?

COLLINS: I don't think it was a dry run for this reason. If it were a dry run, there wouldn't be real explosives used in the package. Instead, something innocuous would be sent, so I think this was the real thing. If in fact the explosive was the same one that was used by the Christmas Day bomber, it's an extremely powerful explosive that has the potential to cause a great deal of harm, so I think the fact that two of the packages tested positive for the explosive and that it is likely that the explosive is the PETN, very powerful explosive, shows that this was an attempt and a real attack.

KING: And Fran Townsend, come into the conversation, you've been working your sources all day long. "A", do you agree with the senator's assessment, and then if so, "B", that this was a planned attack, what is the capability of these devices, and why two synagogues in the Chicago area?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NAT'L SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Let's for a start, PETN is an incredibly powerful explosive. And so if that is the explosive that is in these devices and the White House was clear with us that the forensics are ongoing, but if that's what it was, people would have been killed. No question.

It also links it back not only to the Christmas Day bomber, but also the attempt on the minister who runs the Saudi Intelligence Service, by the way, also the same service that passed us the tracking numbers to these devices. The thing that concerns me, John, is given the seriousness of the potential here, if they had gotten through, we wouldn't have stopped them.

Our screening procedures, all that we've done all these years since 9/11 wouldn't have stopped them. What stopped these two packages from hurting Americans was the Saudi Intelligence Service. And so we're very -- we're obviously very grateful to them but we need to understand that vulnerability and why we had to rely on them.

KING: And Senator to that point, cargo screening has been a constant complaint, a constant unfinished task, if you will, since 9/11. Why are we still at a point where these packages with this dangerous explosive can be put on a plane that -- planes that were on their way to the United States? And as Fran noted, absent that tip from an intelligence ally, we don't know what we'd be talking about tonight.

COLLINS: Well Fran is exactly right and this is a gap in our security, and I think it's evident that the American-born cleric in Yemen is very familiar with our security systems and is continuing to try to exploit any vulnerabilities and cargo screening is a vulnerability. Now, it's my understanding that UPS and Federal Express do screen their cargo.

But unfortunately, they also rely on freight forwarders in some countries to assist with the screening and that's not adequate. I was pleased to learn from John Pistole, the head of TSA, that he has sent TSA inspectors to Yemen and put a ground halt on all packages out of Yemen. I think that's the least we should be doing.

But of course, what that can cause is a terrorist to leave Yemen, go to another country and just ship the package from there. So this is an area where we clearly need to enhance our security. But we need the cooperation of foreign governments. And that's sometimes has not been forthcoming.


KING: Sometimes it's not been forthcoming, the senator says. The cooperation when it comes to screening and addressing this threat, but Fran you heard Mohammed Jamjoom at the top of the show say that Yemen wants to be a full partner here. If that is the case, sometimes I understand there are local sensitivities, but we've seen in the case of Pakistan, sometimes it's one step forward, two steps back. In the case of Yemen, are they truly full partners? And if the answer to that is yes, why is it so difficult to track down Mr. Al Awlaki?

TOWNSEND: Well that's right, John. Al Awlaki, who is the cleric the senator referred to, is tied to the Ft. Hood shooter. He's been tied to the Christmas Day attempted bomber. Look, Yemen is a poor country that doesn't have the same capabilities of their neighbor to the north, which is Saudi Arabia, which is very capable. So that's part of the problem, even if they really are committed to it.

I think that the cooperation has grown over time. We heard John Brennan say that he has traveled to Yemen and met with President Saleh twice, four times in the last two years. I had traveled there myself. This is a very difficult place to operate.

It's a very unstable government. So even if President Saleh wants to cooperate, he's got his own domestic, as you point out, political problems that he's got to operate within. And so we have to support them. We have to give them capability, and then we have to help them while they build that capability going forward.

KING: Are we capable -- to Fran first and then Senator Collins as we wrap -- are we capable -- I know this is sensitive, but sometimes in Pakistan there are American Special Forces. We don't like to talk about it publicly because the Pakistani government doesn't like that. Are there U.S. operations inside Yemen if necessary at the level you are confident we are serious about addressing the challenge?

TOWNSEND: Yes. What we're hearing is there is military cooperation that it's ongoing to give them just that capability and to stand by their side. Let's remember Yemenis have lost their lives in this fight, too, and so U.S. forces I believe are helping and providing assistance to Yemen. KING: Senator Collins, do you have that confidence? Is an attempted attack like this proof that it's not at the level it needs to be yet?

COLLINS: Well I'm less confident that the Yemeni president will be consistent in his support for going after al Qaeda. I, too, have been to Yemen and met with the president, and it strikes me that he cooperates when he thinks it's in his interest to do so, and then that cooperation drops off.

He's fighting insurgents from the north and from the south trying to hold his country together, so he has a lot of other challenges in addition to al Qaeda. And I believe that he is cooperating in this case, but whether we can count on him in the future remains to be seen.

KING: Senator Susan Collins with us tonight from Portland, Maine -- Senator thank you. Fran Townsend with us -- Fran will be back with us a bit later. We'll continue to track this breaking news story. We'll also bring you the other day's headline, including the president on the campaign trail tonight in a very difficult House district for Democrats in Virginia.

And later in the program Suze Orman, consumer finance guru gives you some advice on whether or not what's happening in this campaign should affect your decisions around the kitchen table.


KING: Welcome back. Our correspondents here in the United States and around the world continuing to track the attempted attack on the United States, what the president calls a credible terrorist attempt on the United States. We'll stay on that story, but other important stories are developing tonight, including President Obama out on the campaign trail, campaigning for a Democratic congressional candidate, a vulnerable Democrat in Charlottesville, Virginia tonight.

His spokesman says there's an important message here despite that terror threat, the American people should not, the White House says, change the way they go about their lives or change their schedule. Another big story, federal investigators believe a gunman who's fired shots at military-related buildings four times now, including just last night has some sort of grievance against the Marine Corps. Again, we're continuing to track that big terror story, more on that when we come back, and also the politics of campaign finance with Suze Orman.


KING: Just four days now from the big midterm election and while it's names and candidates on the ballot essentially taxes, spending and health care are also on the ballot this Tuesday, so let's get some advice for you at home, whether you need to change things from the guru of all gurus, Suze Orman of "The Suze Orman Show". Looking at the consequences, more Republicans in Washington without a doubt, how many, we don't quite know. But shouldn't Americans be thinking taxes might change. Maybe they'll try to repeal the health care bill. I should or should not change my behavior?

SUZE ORMAN, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: I don't think you should change your behavior and this is the reason why. While I wish I could say that Americans had money and they should be concerned about are the tax brackets going up, are they going to stay the same. The truth of the matter is most people on Main Street they don't have any money.

All they have is debt. They are under water in their homes. Their cars are being leased. They can't even afford the cars they have. They have credit card debt. They don't have a job. Do you know that one out of 34 people who made money in 2008 did not make one penny in 2009?

So stop worrying about what's going on with the administration, with the taxes. Just worry about do you have your eight-month emergency fund? I know I sound like a broken record. But here is my mantra of this year. You need to live below your means, but within your needs.

KING: What about the economy? Two percent growth in the last quarter, the government reported today. If that number stays there, yes, it's positive. But if it stays at two percent, then unemployment will stay right around 10 percent, might even go up. That's pretty sober.

ORMAN: It should be sober, because the truth of the matter is, even if the economy started to go back up again, I don't necessarily think the jobs are going to come back, because during these lean times, all the corporations learned how to be really productive. When productivity goes up, it means you need less people to produce the same amount of things. Have you noticed what all the corporations are doing with all the money that they have? They're taking it to buy back their own stock. Rather than taking it to invest in the economy, create jobs, oh, no, no, that is not what we're doing. So again, bottom line. Sure the economy's going to continue to grow slowly, if at all. You cannot count on what the economy is going to do for you now. You have to look at how do you become your own entrepreneur? What can you do with the new laws, with the SBA loans and certain things that are happening to allow you to open up your own business, possibly easier than it used to be? Make sure your FICO scores are good so you can get that money that you need. You're going to have to count on yourself, because this economy is not going to save you on any level.

KING: One of the things that frustrates the president and the Democrats politically is that if you look at the polling data, if you travel America and talk to people all the time, there's a perception and belief that people's taxes have gone up in this administration, even though for most Americans they've gone down. Do you think federal income taxes have gone up or down in the past two years, 52 percent of Americans say up. 19 percent say down. And 29 percent say not sure. Why?

ORMAN: You know what's so sad, they work 40, 50, 60 hours a week or more to make money. But to learn what to do with their money, they don't want to do it. They just believe whoever they happen to be listening to on TV, if they're watching one particular network, they think that, oh, everything they're saying is true, so their taxes have gone up. If they listen to another network, they believe everything they're saying on that network that their taxes have gone down. Have they taken time to look at their actual tax returns from this year versus last year? They haven't. So most of them don't have a clue what they are saying and haven't a clue of what to do about it.

KING: We knew you were coming in so we went out on the street to ask everyday Americans to ask questions for Suze Orman. Here's one from Annie Stone who clearly, clearly watches a lot of "Suze Orman."

ANNIE STONE: I'm 61; I'm actually self-employed in medical research. But I'm -- I'm dying to retire, and I want to know how much longer I have to work. My husband says for the rest of my life. We've got a good mortgage, we've got time shares, which I know she hates, and you know, and I like to shop.

ORMAN: Are you kidding me? Did you hear her say she's dying to retire? That's the problem. After retirement, most people will spend more years in retirement than they ever did working. And if you don't have enough money to support you in retirement, oh, you will wish that you are dead, so to speak, because there is nothing worse than when you get older and you can't pay for your medication, your electricity. With that said, you need to work for as long as you possibly can. Time shares? They still have a mortgage. You should not retire until your mortgage is paid off in full. So let me put it simply for you. You are denied!

KING: On that theme, approve or denied, one of the big debates in Washington is continue all of the Bush tax cuts. The president says moderate them. But to the question, extend all the Bush tax cuts, approve or deny?

OMRAN: Deny. I would not extend all the Bush tax cuts, but I would not across the board designate that $250,000 for a couple is a lot of money or $200,000 for a single. You have got to look at where that person is living. $200,000 in New York, in California, is not the same as $200,000 in Iowa. Just think about that.

KING: One of the knocks on this president, he doesn't have enough women on his economic team and doesn't have enough people who understand main street on his economic team. If the president of the United States were to call Suze Orman into the oval office and said one piece of advice, what would it be?

ORMAN: Listen to the people carefully, really understand especially for those retirees out there, they are in big trouble. Keeping interest rates low, their income has gone down, you have frozen social security, increases on them. They don't know what to do. Their expenses have gone up because of gasoline and other things. Help them. Figure out a way to help our retirees. Rich today, if you're going to tax the rich, make it $500,000 a year, $1 million a year or more. Forget this $200,000, $250,000 level. It just doesn't fly. But listen to what the people are saying because they are screaming, help me.

KING: Is Suze Orman a Halloween person?

ORMAN: Actually, she's not.

KING: Maybe you won't like this question. Retailers across the country are saying in terms of Halloween costumes that colonial outfits and pirate outfits and the like are on the rise this year and they attribute that in part to the tea party. Is the tea party good in the short term for the American economy?

ORMAN: I have to tell you I think people need to pay attention to the tea party. When any party arises and there's a group of people, whether you agree with them or disagree with them, a group of people are screaming out to say, nobody has heard me, we're doing this ourselves. You've got to pay attention to them because every single person deserves to be heard regardless of their viewpoints.

KING: Suze Orman, thanks for coming in.

ORMAN: Any time.

KING: When we come back, the latest on what the president calls a credible terrorist threat against the United States. We'll check in with our reporters in Washington and we'll have a conversation after we report what we do know about the biggest questions we don't know the answers to.


KING: Let's get the latest on what the president calls a credible threat against the United States and first let's map out how officials believe it should have played out. Originally the packages began in Yemen. We start there. We zoom in, you see Yemen at the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula suspected to be in the organization. You see the lines coming out. There were two packages suspected and seized, the president of the United States said they had explosive devices. One of the planes went to East Midlands Airport outside of London, it was cease seized there. The second went to Dubai. Their destination was Chicago, two synagogues in Chicago. If they arrived. But instead of arriving they were seized by U.S. authorities. The investigation is now continuing. Other planes were searched as well. A passenger jet was escorted to the ground at JKF Airport. Nothing suspicious was found on that. Officials say it was a precaution. Let's get the very latest from our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve in Washington. Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, of course the investigation is continuing into what exactly these devices were made of. You've seen the pictures, you can see the one in the United Kingdom was a toner cartridge that had been modified in some way. The question is what is the explosive that the president said appeared to be on there. Every indication is from all the sources I've talked to that this will turn out to be PETN. That of course is the explosive used by Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who tried to blow up a flight en route from the United Kingdom to the United States. But testing is still continuing, I'm told. This is not definitive yet, but there's every indication at this point in time that's what it's going to turn out to be. In the meantime, you mentioned there had been other flights they were looking at today. They're looking for packages out of Yemen, as yet they haven't found anything of concern on any of the flights or in any of the vans that they've looked at so far. One official told me that they are now looking at any package coming out of Yemen to the United States, but of course they're going to be far fewer than them, because several of the shippers have said we're not bringing anything from Yemen into the United States at this point in time. John?

KING: Jeanne Meserve in Washington; Jeanne, thank you so much.

Let's continue the conversation with our CNN national security contributor Frances Townsend, and CNN international terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. First let's start Paul, to you first, with PETN, it has the signature of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, the capabilities of that size of a package with PETN.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM ANALYST: Yeah, they've use it'd multiple times, we saw that at Christmas day with Abdulmutallab. This is a signature. Richard Reid also in 2002 used this. It's a signature. 80 grams was used on Christmas Day last year. It will be interesting to hear how much was used this time around. Potentially they could have gotten more into this. It could be more explosive.

KING: You heard Jeanne Meserve talking about the carriers at least temporarily will not do business through Yemen, if you will. If we know about the threat from Yemen, why did they this morning?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's exactly right. When the president wants to understand how the packages moved from the point of origination, they want to understand why did screening miss this? How is that we have to rely on our allies, fortunate as we were to have those tips, why didn't we catch this? We have to be careful. We have a real tendency to fight the last fight. These were packages mailed from Yemen. So of course we're going to stop the packages coming in from Yemen for a period of time until we understand it. The answer is we need to understand the systemic problem. Maybe next time they don't mail it from Yemen, maybe it's from another country in the region. Maybe it's from North Africa. We need to understand the problem so we can solve it, not just stop the last attack.

KING: We often see if we look back at the last attacks they're usually directed either at an airplane full of passengers, a public square full of people. To specifically address these packages to a synagogue, does it tell you anything?

CRUICKSHANK: Al Qaeda are really trying to play to the base here, there's great anti-Semitism within the organization and so going after Jewish targets for them is a real propaganda. There's been backlash in the Muslim world against them because they've targeted so many Muslims. Going after Jews in America from that perspective makes a lot of sense, John.

TOWNSEND: That's right. They've -- al Qaeda has killed more Muslims in these attacks than they've killed Americans. So it's really quite extraordinary. They -- and Bin Laden has been criticized, particularly in the east Africa embassy bombings in 1998, for example, the number of Muslims that were killed because of the timing of those attacks. So when you see this, you really have to think, they're going after their base, and he's giving warnings like the audiotape we had from Bin Laden about a warning about a potential attack in France. He gives these warnings, if people are killed as a result, he at least can say he warned folks.

KING: And your biggest question tonight is?

TOWNSEND: PETN. That's -- is that -- is that the explosive? Because if it is, then it does very clearly link back to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

CRUICKSHANK: Absolutely. How viable was this device.

KING: How viable was this device. Paul, Fran, thank you so much. We'll stay on top of this. When we come back, we turn to politics. Four days before an election, the Republican Party has targets all across the country including in the northeast, an area where the Republican Party has almost disappeared in the last decade. We'll be right back.


KING: Four days to the election and Republicans need 39 seats, a 39-seat pickup to take back the House of Representatives and take the speaker's gavel away from Nancy Pelosi. The president of the United States is in one of those districts where Democrats are on defense. He's in Virginia, the fifth Congressional district tonight. That is one target by Republicans. That shouldn't surprise you. Virginia, the president won in 2008 but it's a relatively conservative state. However, Republicans also have a number of targets in New England, in the northeast. Back in 1988, there were 30. 30 Republicans in the house from New York State and the six states in New England. Today, there are seven. One of the districts they are targeting is just about an hour north of here, Dana Bash and Gloria Borger are with me. Dana, you were up in John Hall's district, New York 19. 25 is also a target. I want our viewers to first listen to John Hall and his opponent Nan Hayworth. One of the defining issues in this debate is health care. What makes John Hall unusual is he'll bring up the issue and brag about it before you ask him.

REP. JOHN HALL (D), NEW YORK: This is a good bill in most respects. And I don't apologize for it. I think it needs to be fixed. There's some things about it that I wish were in there that aren't, some things that are that I wish weren't. But I don't think you should walk away from 75 percent.

NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK CONG. CANDIDATE: To do it in the way this bill does it will merely add enormously to the cost. It will take away choice and control. It will thwart innovation. It's really not what Americans deserve or desire from their health care.

KING: And this district is viewed as a tossup. There are a dozen, a dozen seats between New York State and the six New England states. The Republicans think they have a dozen targets, maybe a few more if there's a wave.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And in this state alone, in the state of New York, they think that there are six seats, which is a huge number in a given state, six seats including John Hall's that Republicans think they have a good shot at. What was interesting and the reason I went out to Westchester County to talk to them is because it is really emblematic of not just New York but the country. He's running against Nan Hayworth who has never run before. She speaks exactly like Republicans across the country saying we need to get government out of our lives.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's a former rock star. You got him to sing for you.

BASH: I did.

KING: Gloria, to the point that when you look at the traditional targets for Republicans and you look in the south and maybe mountain west where Obama had a big year. The fact that Republicans think they might be able to have a bit of a resurgence in an area that's been horrible for them, horrible for them. We can show you pictures of the president down in Virginia tonight. We'll show you that picture as he takes his stage. Gloria, the Republicans have such a wide map tells you what?

BORGER: Tells you, one, that the Democrats hold every swing state in this country because they were so successful in 2006 and 2008. This is an anti-incumbent year. It could be an anti-incumbent wave. The folks who were swept in are the most obvious targets to get swept out again and so that's what the Republicans are looking at when they look at their map. The fact that some of them are in New England is kind of amazing to us because it's been so unpopulated as you point out by Republicans in recent years.

KING: And this district here, this district here in Virginia, Tom Perriello wins it. He's one of the most vulnerable Democrats. To have the president in four days later is a bit of a gamble on his part.

BASH: It's a big gamble. It's a huge gamble. The president made history in winning the state of Virginia but not down where Tom Perriello is from. He is from very conservative country. He took every single vote sweating. I can tell you I watched him sweating for the Obama agenda. Most of the agenda items he voted for them.

KING: Let's listen to the president to see if he's saying anything beyond his hellos here.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Now, I love you back. It's great to see you. Thank you.

Now, look, I am here for one reason. I'm not here because Tom votes with me on every issue. Sometimes he disagrees with me. There are times where I know that his first allegiance is not to party labels, it's not to the Democratic Party, it's to the people of his district and the people of Virginia. The reason I am here is because in this day in age, let's face it, political courage is hard to come by. You know, the easiest thing to do especially when you're a first- term Congressman, the easiest thing to do is make your decisions based on the polls. You put your fingers up to the wind and you check which way the political wind is blowing before you cast every vote. That's how a lot of folks think they should do their jobs in Washington. And that's not who Tom is. He did not go to Washington -- he didn't go to Washington to do what was easy, to do what was popular. He went to do what was right.

[ applause ]

Go, Tom, go! Go, Tom, go! Go, Tom, go! Tom went to help make the tough decisions necessary to save this economy from a second depression. He went to fight for jobs in Virginia.

KING: We'll take a quick break and be right back.


KING: Let's close out a busy week by bringing in our Pete Dominick, our offbeat reporter. He's down in Atlanta tonight. Gloria Borger and Dana Bash still with us. Pete hang on just one second. Just quickly, when the president came on there, the first thing he said is Tom Perriello doesn't agree with me on everything. That's what the candidate has been saying too.

BASH: He said the right thing. The president said the right thing. The question is whether just the pure images of the two of them being together is enough to hurt him with the people he needs as swing votes.

BORGER: The notion that a president goes out there and campaigns for someone and the first thing he has to say is he's not my guy.

BASH: "Saturday Night Live" exactly.

KING: As we watch the president live, the president was a guest this week, the first sitting president to go on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Pete Dominick, Jon Stewart is a friend of yours and you are going to his "restore sanity" rally tomorrow. What are you looking for?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: I'm going to be there on behalf of CNN all day starting at 9 a.m. tomorrow John King. I'll be there live all day. I'm looking for people. I'm going to be out there as I am for you talking to people, getting the reasons why they're there and I think if I know their audiences, I know Jon's and Stephen's audiences intimately, warming up the crowds there for years, they're going to be funny. They're going to bring funny signs and do funny things and try to make a point. I'm looking for interesting, funny, probably pretty young people coming from all over the country. We'll see what happens. KING: And Jon Stewart has said this is not political in his view. Of course it's political. It's a couple days before a huge election. He's not shy about his opinions.

DOMINICK: That's true. He starts as a comedian and he'll end as a comedian. He just interviewed the president of the United States. We know he has opinions and we know he has something to say as does Stephen Colbert. I think it will be what they say it will be, trying to restore sanity or fear, John King.

KING: Pete Dominick, safe travels to Washington. We'll see you Monday. Dana and Gloria, thanks for coming in as well. Everybody have a great weekend. If you haven't found your voting place yet, do it this weekend. That's all for us tonight. We'll see you here Monday night right here on the eve of the midterm elections. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.