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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ineffective U.S. Intelligence Bureaucracy?; North Korea Threatens War
Aired December 23, 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: And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: a major slip and now major concerns about U.S. anti-terror intelligence as millions of people are traveling for the holidays. Is the bureaucracy simply too big to be effective?
Also, a new military drill in South Korea, and a new threat of -- quote -- "sacred war" by North Korea this hour. This hour, I will share with you what I saw of life outside of that country's capital during my exclusive assignment.
And another exclusive, a rare tour inside of the U.S. Supreme Court revealing what few Americans ever see.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
With the U.S. government on alert for terrorism over the holidays, there are serious new questions about the intelligence bureaucracy that has grown up around the terror threat of the last decade.
And a recent embarrassing slip by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is highlighting what critics say is an ineffective U.S. intelligence community.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, what exactly is going on? What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the time of year of course when we have security on our minds, a lot of us moving through airports, train stations, over the highways. And at a time when we may be a little more on edge than usual, we count on our intelligence leaders to show confidence in the security net. Now we are asking, are they really showing that confidence?
TODD (voice-over): At a time when travel volume is at the highest, when tensions over security run white-hot, there are fresh concerns over what the U.S. intelligence community knows and how it communicates.
DIANE SAWYER, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": I was a little surprised that you didn't know about London, Director Clapper.
LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Well, I'm sorry. I didn't.
TODD: In an ABC News interview, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is caught unaware of a major counterterror raid in Britain. That was attributed to his staff simply not briefing him.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked by CNN's Candy Crowley why the coordinator of national intelligence was caught in a disconnect.
JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Let's be fair. I knew. John Brennan knew. We also knew that there was no connect that had been perceived to anything going on in the homeland, and that we were in perfect connectivity with our colleagues in Britain.
TODD: But analysts say there is a deeper problem.
SYDNEY FREEDBERG, MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE WRITER: Clapper is a smart guy in a stupid job.
TODD: Sydney Freedberg, a military and intelligence writer who now heads a research project called Policy at the Sharp End, says the federal government has flowcharted itself into an ineffective intelligence network.
Too many agencies in a tangled weave of responsibilities. The DNI job was created after 9/11 to oversee all those agencies, make sure that dots that were not connected before 9/11 are now. But there's a reason Clapper is the fourth DNI in five years and why heavy hitters like Robert Gates turned down the job when it was first proposed.
(on camera): How is the DNI hamstrung? Not enough budget power, not enough hiring and firing power?
FREEDBERG: He cannot hire or promote people outside of his own office. He can't say, OK, the director of the CIA has to be this guy, or the number two at Defense Intelligence Agency has to be this person. So, all of those are independent fiefdoms. Plus, he has very little budget authority.
TODD: Analysts like Freedberg say the intelligence community is still caught up in rivalries and resentments. And when an official at one agency wants to share a tip, they're not always sure who in another agency to pass it to.
Their computer systems may not connect. As a result, there is plenty of money flowing, but not enough intelligence sharing. In just over a year, U.S. authorities managed to stop Najibullah Zazi and his co-conspirators in a plot to bomb New York subways. But the Times Square bomber, the Christmas Day airline bomber, and the Fort Hood shooter all slipped through the cracks.
TODD: Freedberg says we don't have to get rid of the director of the national intelligence. He suggests one solution would be to have that official coordinate what he called intelligence pickup teams on the fly for different threats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How would that work, Brian?
TODD: Well, Freedberg says if there is a domestic threat, you say maybe get the FBI in the room. If there's a foreign threat, bring in the CIA. If it's a biological attack threat, get agencies involved that are not even in that intelligence network, like the Centers for Disease Control, and make clear who is in charge of that pickup team for that threat.
They do a little bit of that right now, but they need to get a lot better at it, he says. The culture has to change. The agencies have to be willing to work together, right now, too many turf wars still going on.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper on this with David Ignatius of "The Washington Post." He knows this subject quite well.
Clapper's blunder the other day, is that indicative of the serious problem or is just a bureaucratic slip-up?
DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Wolf, it looks like an episode from "Get Smart" in the ABC video. Here is Clapper being asked about something that people have been watching all day on TV, and he doesn't know about it.
I think there is actually less than here than the video would suggest. Clapper's job is to be a kind of chief executive officer for the entire intelligence community. He's not a tactical officer. He's not running any individual agency. In truth, the problems with his predecessor, Admiral Denny Blair, were that he was trying to run the CIA himself from his DNI office.
In this case, Clapper is trying to have an easier management style. The odd thing for me is that this week before this all broke, I had heard from a senior administration official that they were pleased with the changes that Clapper had made in the PDB, the daily brief that he and others give to the president about intelligence.
There are serious problems in the intelligence community. We all are nervous, especially at this time of the year, but I don't think you should blow this out of proportion.
BLITZER: We're not going to blow it out of proportion.
You recently wrote in "The Washington Post" -- and I read your column, every one you write -- you recently wrote that congressional oversight of the intelligence community is a mess. What is going on? IGNATIUS: It is. We all remember, the 9/11 Commission made a whole bunch of recommendations that led to the reorganization of our whole intelligence community.
One of the recommendations was that Congress needed to change the way it oversees intelligence so that we have more effective oversight. That hasn't happened.
BLITZER: Who to blame?
IGNATIUS: Congress is to blame. Congress is unwilling to change its practices here. Congress is more turf-conscious than the agencies it blames for turf-consciousness. And that really needs to be changed.
BLITZER: How worried should we be about the old al Qaeda, the bin Laden al Qaeda, vs. the new al Qaeda, sort of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that apparently have these Americans, like Anwar al- Alawaki, working there, that they may be much more interested in smaller-scale attacks, as opposed to the huge 9/11-type attack?
IGNATIUS: We should be worried about both.
What analysts in our government tell me is that al Qaeda central, the al Qaeda around bin Laden and Zawahri that is based in the tribal areas of Pakistan, remains very dangerous. The plots that the British were rolling up and the arrests that were made that Jim Clapper didn't know about were an offshoot of a plot that originated in the tribal areas.
These new al Qaeda groups that have sprung up in Yemen have more limited targets. They are not trying to take down skyscrapers, typically. They're not thing to find the nuclear materials, but they are dangerous, and especially because they are so proliferated and fragmented. And people are trying to knock out each one individually.
And as we have seen, it is impossible to get them all.
BLITZER: A lot of our viewers right now, they remember the Christmas Day bombing attempt last year. They're worried as they go out getting ready for Christmas and New Year's right now. And let's just review. How worried should they be right now? What are you hearing?
IGNATIUS: What I hear is that in -- our intelligence agencies, but those all over the world, are mobilized, they're listening, they're watching to -- everything that they can.
There's no 100 percent security for anybody in this day and age, but I think we can all be confident that smart people are working hard. At some point, one of these attacks is going to get through. And we need to respond to that as adults. I hope it does not happen. I hope it certainly doesn't happen to our country.
But if it does, it is not the end of our world or anybody's. BLITZER: And it may be Christmas and New Year's, but I know the highest-level U.S. officials in counterterrorism and homeland security, they are working. They are working hard right now to make sure we all get through this period quietly.
IGNATIUS: You can bet that Jim Clapper, our director of national intelligence, is going to have a lot of sleepless nights trying to make up for the embarrassment that he feels by implying that he is asleep at the switch. I'm sure that it is not as bad as it was in that video.
BLITZER: I know personally that Janet Napolitano, she is working hard right now. She is not going to have a lot of rest over the coming days either.
Appreciate it, David. Thanks very much.
IGNATIUS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.
IGNATIUS: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Italian officials says there's a serious threat to embassies in Rome. Two parcel bombs exploded there today, one at the Swiss Embassy seriously injuring one person. Another person was injured by a bomb at the Chilean Embassy.
Investigators say both packages came from Greece, where anarchists sent a series of letter bombs last month. Rome police are now inspecting embassies across the city.
He's a key member of the Obama administration, but the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, has another somewhat surprising dream job. He reveals it to CNN. Stand by.
And North Korea's answer to the Washington Monument, it is just one of the remarkable sights I saw outside the city, inside the city, during my exclusive assignment there in recent days. We will show you more.
BLITZER: President Obama is now home for the holidays. He arrived in Hawaii early this morning, where he grew up and where he will celebrate Christmas and New Year's with the First Family.
He arrived several days later than planned, so he is tacking on an extra day to his trip, will return to Washington on Sunday, January 2.
The president's former chief of staff got an important boost today in his bid to become the next mayor of Chicago.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is in Hawaii with the president.
Ed, update our viewers on the good news for Rahm Emanuel.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Rahm can run. That is the bottom line. And this comes after a brutal legal challenge to whether or not he was a Chicago resident, given the fact that he has been living in Washington at least physically the last couple of years. The Chicago Board of Elections today declared that Rahm Emanuel, in fact, his intent all along has been to move back to Chicago.
And they say he can -- they're clearing the way now for him to run for mayor, saying -- quote -- "The preponderance of evidence suggests he had never intended to end his residency in Chicago."
That came after as you know earlier this month some hearings, including 12 hours of testimony from the former chief of staff, getting down to everything as to including whether or not he had kept some keepsakes in the basement there of the home in Chicago that he owns, but he's been renting out, that sparked this whole legal challenge questioning whether or not he lives there.
But the Board of Elections says, look, he pays property taxes there. He's voted there. His license for his car, all of that still in Chicago, still in the state of Illinois. So he can run. And the good news for him is that he is far ahead right now in the polls. There is a big field of candidates, as you know, to replace the legendary Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Right now, Rahm Emanuel far in the lead. The only remaining question really was, would he be legally allowed to run there on February 22? The Chicago Board of Elections now says yes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The White House obviously had a very good December without Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. I guess some folks are suggesting they may have turned the page. What are White House officials telling you?
HENRY: Look, you talk to some senior White House officials and they say that having the interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, now has been a calming influence. He was a former aide to then-Senator Tom Daschle, maybe not as volatile as Rahm Emanuel, and that maybe it has calmed things down a bit, maybe even paved the way to some of these lame-duck victories the president got in this late-minute session of Congress.
But on the other hand, there is still a lot of White House people who note in private that Rahm Emanuel while volatile was a driving force behind the first two years of this administration and the major victories on the stimulus, health care, Wall Street reform, you name it, would not have happened without at least some of the effort that Rahm Emanuel put in.
So, there is some divided opinion, but I think, by and large, when you talk to a lot of people inside the White House, they say the first two years, a lot of heavy lifting by Rahm Emanuel. And now he has got the option to go out and sort of do his own thing there in Chicago, maybe even be the next mayor -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. His chances look pretty good, at least right now. We will see what happens.
Ed, thanks very much.
We are nearing the end of a wild week in politics.
Let's talk about it with our chief national correspondent John King. He is the host of "JOHN KING, USA," which begins right at the top of the hour. and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, she is the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs Sunday mornings right here on CNN at 9:00, replayed at noon. Let's not forget about the replay, always important, the replay.
John, the president getting a lot of accolades, the vice president getting a lot of accolades, but you spoke with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. He was an instrumental figure. And he's probably going to be very instrumental in the next session.
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": It will be fascinating to see what happens in the next session, when there are more Republicans.
But I talked to Harry Reid just at the end of this lame-duck session. He was exhausted. He was exhausted. He had not slept the night before. He had just pulled off ratification of the START treaty, helped get the compromise on 9/11 first-responders through.
And of course they did the tax cut compromise. It was very interesting. I asked him if he was iced out of those negotiations because Joe Biden cut that deal with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. He said he was deliberately out of those conversations because he knew it was going to be something a lot of Democrats did not like. He didn't want his fingerprints on it.
But I talked to him. He says he had dinner recently with Rand Paul. He is already preparing for the next session, when he will have some Tea Party guys in the Republican Party, a more narrow Democratic majority, a much tougher job getting things done.
He says, I will work with Mitch McConnell as much as I can. And he's already had dinner with Rand Paul.
KING: He says, I don't think he is going to be the flamethrower many people think he is. So, he's calculating, preparing. The one advantage he has, Wolf -- he's not a great communicator. He's not a political dynamo. He knows the rules of the Senate. And he knows how to pull the levers.
BLITZER: Yes. And given the rules of the Senate, as you know, Candy, you covered Congress for a long time, they can delay -- if the Republicans -- even if the Republicans get a few Democrats to join them, there are a lot of delaying tactics that the Democrats will have to prevent the repeal, for example, of the health care law that the Republicans are threatening to go forward with.
Is there a chance right now, given the dramatic achievements of the Democrats and the Obama administration in December, they could get a little cocky or overconfident going into this new session?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's always a chance of that, I mean, you know let's face it, on either side. Getting cocky is not hard to do if you're a politician.
I think, look, here's the problem. It was a great December for the president. He needed a great December. He had such a lousy November after the elections. But here's -- let's just parse it down. If you take the tax cut extensions, we had to have that. There was a mutual survival thing going on there.
The Republicans didn't want to be blamed for everybody's paychecks going down. And neither did the Democrats. So, they had a mutual survival code here that said we have got to do something.
Look at the START treaty. It is a foreign policy thing. It is not -- it does not really track along where the biggest problems are between these two parties. So you can also take a little of the edge off this was not a great month by kind of looking at those two big issues that they did. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a different thing.
So, what do we do? We move forward into January. What is left? Well, gee, it's spending cuts. It is really easy to not raise people's taxes. It is not quite as easy to start cutting spending in places where they are going to have to and it is going to hurt, because you look at some of the entitlement programs.
Everybody has got a dog in the fight when it comes to cutting spending. It is just not as simple as it was in December.
BLITZER: I know you're interviewing Janet Napolitano on "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday. You also have an interview with the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
CROWLEY: I do.
And we have -- one thing we do now on Sundays is, we have a Web site feature called "Getting to Know," where we take one of our guests each week ask them kind of off-the-wall questions. And it goes on our Web site. We usually do it during the commercial.
We did interview Robert Gibbs. He of course is off on Christmas vacation, like a lot of folks. And my question to him was, if you were not doing what you were doing and had been in politics as long as you've been in politics, what did you dream of as a little Robert Gibbs? Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A younger Robert Gibbs dreamt of being in the NFL or something like that, and then unfortunately never grew past 6 feet tall.
But if there was one thing that I would love to do, if I wasn't doing this right now, I would love to be a chef. I think that -- I love to cook. I don't get to -- as you mentioned, the time-suck from the current job. That's something I love to do. I don't know if I would have enough courage to give up everything and go to cooking school and be a chef. But I think it would be a real thrill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Robert Gibbs in cooking school.
BLITZER: I will ask John King if there is something, John, that you could do if you weren't the excellent journalist that you are right now, what would you be?
KING: I'm actually with Robert Gibbs.
KING: I love to cook. I love to cook. I love to cook at home. And it is a great treat to do.
CROWLEY: Where were you guys when I was looking around to get married? I don't understand. All these men that cook now.
KING: I always joke, when I'm done with this, I'm going to open up Johnny's Gin Joint and it will have a great kitchen.
BLITZER: And I will come have a gin with you and eat some food.
KING: I may hire Gibbs.
BLITZER: Who knew?
BLITZER: See you Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION."
See you at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."
Guys, merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Thank you.
KING: Thank you.
BLITZER: We are learning about a side effect of the tax compromise that will impact everyone who files a tax return, especially the early birds.
Plus, what is behind the imposing walls of the U.S. Supreme Court? You are about to get an exclusive look inside.
BLITZER: The sounds of artillery fire today on the Korean Peninsula. We have more of the dramatic video of the latest round of tension-raising drills. Stand by.
And an exclusive look at people and places few Westerners ever see -- more of my tour inside North Korea. We are going to the countryside. Stand by.
BLITZER: Tension ratcheting up once again on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea conducted a long-planned military drill today, prompting a new round of threats of war from North Korea.
CNN's Kyung Lah has more on the drill and the message behind it.
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rolling out heavy artillery, more than 100 types of weaponry on the land and in the air, 800 military personnel engaged in another show of force, what the South Korean army calls its largest winter air and land drill.
A regularly scheduled drill planned since last year and on undisputed South Korean land, it is the timing that concerns the region. Last month, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans, saying the South Korean navy's gunfire landed in the North's water. The South's navy held a similar drill near the island Monday, drawing threats from Pyongyang that it would attack. It didn't happen.
So, just as temperatures appear to be cooling, this second large drill. South Korea's presidential office says canceling a regularly scheduled drill was never an option.
Seoul has no choice but to take the hard line with Pyongyang, says author Gordon Chang.
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Oh, the South certainly is sending a message. President Lee Myung-Bak is going to take a much tougher line. And he really needs to, because, unfortunately, that is the only language that the North Koreans understand.
LAH: Earlier this year, the U.S. and South Korea held joint military exercises to deter Pyongyang. China, North Korea's ally, complained the exercises were too close to Chinese waters. So, Washington and Seoul took a softer stance and moved them.
CHANG: The Chinese just gloated, and the North Koreans saw a big green light for further provocations, which is why we saw the shelling of the South Korean island last month. So, unfortunately, the softer line isn't going to work with the North Koreans. And it's not going to work with the Chinese either.
LAH: China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the South Korean drills were ending, again called for regional talks to resume.
(on camera): South Korea's president, for his part, in a visit to an army base, said that he thought patience would keep peace on the peninsula, but that's not the case, and, in order to contain Pyongyang, he adds, that, if attacked, South Korea could launch a merciless counterattack.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Seoul.
BLITZER: This time last week, I was in North Korea on an exclusive assignment, accompanying New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on a mission to try to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula, and I had the rare opportunity to see what life was like outside the capital of this poor, isolated and very secretive country.
BLITZER (voice-over): We had North Korean officials with us all the time, and I mean all the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER (on camera): Thank you.
(voice-over) They spoke English well, and were very intelligent, polite and even nice. I never felt threatened. Let's not forget: this is a communist totalitarian regime. We were restricted where we could go. They want to showcase the best and keep us away from the worst. We constantly pressed for more access, and they sometimes relented. We saw a lot of the North Korean capital, but we did manage to get into the countryside to see a huge apple and fruit tree orchard where thousands of farmers work what the orchard director said were some 2.2 million trees. That number seemed exaggerated, but whatever it was, it was impressive.
(on camera) We left Pyongyang probably about half an hour ago. We drove out to the countryside, and we're here overlooking all of these fruit trees. It's like row after row after row after row. Obviously, it's snowy out there, and you can't see any fruit. But eventually, I guess once the time is right, you'll see a lot of apples and other fruit growing right behind me.
We're overlooking this ridge looking over all of this area. There's literally acre after acre after acre.
(voice-over) Once you get outside Pyongyang, you see very few cars on the roads. There were no lights in the tunnels on the roads outside the North Korean capital. People are walking along the sides of the roads. Some are riding bikes. It's eerie being in the only car on the road. This is a very poor country.
Even as we feared there could be a war, we were taken to a silk thread factory where 2,000 women worked diligently. They also took us sightseeing. We saw their Arc de Triomphe, supposedly bigger than the one in Paris.
We also went to another source of North Korean pride.
(on camera) We're on top of the world's tallest stone tower here overlooking Pyongyang, and it really is majestic, to see what's going on. You see the river. You see the bitter cold freezing snow, but the buildings are really impressive to see what's going on here in the North Korean capital.
And they built this tower to really highlight what they've -- what they've accomplished over the years. It's very impressive, I must say, to be on top, and someone who lives in Washington, D.C., they make the point of pointing out, this is taller than the Washington Monument. And they constantly point out, it's the tallest in the world.
(voice-over) Huge pictures of the late, Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, and his son, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, were all over the place. I didn't see pictures of the next generation's expected leader, Kim Jong Un.
At stores, I saw lots of books slamming the United States, including "The U.S. Imperialists Started the Korean War."
Later, when it looked like North Koreans would retaliate for South Korea's live-fire military exercise, I thought of all the young people I had seen in North Korea. They seemed so vulnerable, and I worried about their fate if there were a war. I'm not embarrassed to say I got sentimental and emotional worrying about them and their counterparts in South Korea. (on camera) It's a serene, quiet morning here along the banks here of the Botong (ph) River, right at the heart of Pyongyang. Some kids are playing. Some couples are walking by. Families are having a good time. But it's sort of misleading, because it's anything but quiet on the Korean Peninsula right now. It's a very tense moment.
Inside that building up there, Richardson is meeting with North Korean military officers. This may be the most important meeting he's had since arriving here in the North Korean capital. We're watching it every step of the way. The stakes clearly are enormous.
(voice-over) Outsiders have been predicting its demise for 60 years, but I didn't get the impression this country was on the verge of crumbling.
By the way, 2012 is going to be a huge year for North Korea. That's the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung. They're preparing major events. Since they invited me back, I might go back then. Maybe even sooner, though I hope it won't be to cover a war.
BLITZER: There are plenty of other stories from my exclusive trip to North Korea, which we'll be bringing you in the coming days and weeks. And of course, my reporter's notebook is up right now on CNN.com/NorthKorea. You can check out video, a slide show, more pictures. Go there, CNN.com, to see what's going on inside North Korea.
For troops in Iraq, being wounded is a nightmare in more than ways than one. In addition to the physical pain, they leave behind close comrades. We helped some of them send holiday greetings back to their brothers and sisters in arms.
And 2010 has been a good year for Justin Bieber. Some third- world schools are sharing in his success. We'll explain, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN BIEBER, SINGER: ... being too young, you know, to help out. And you know this is urgent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's the season for holiday greetings, but tonight a different take. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, talked to some wounded warriors who are remembering their comrades still in the war zone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once and for all, all of you, thank you for your service. We really appreciate it. BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Holiday time for the wounded. The hard work of getting better doesn't stop.
(on camera) How are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing real good. Holding up very well.
STARR: Marine Corps Corporal Anthony McDaniel stepped on an IED in Afghanistan, grievously wounded but still a smile and a holiday hello for his buddies.
CORPORAL ANTHONY MCDANIEL, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I'm here at Walter Reed doing my rehab, and I want to give a shout out to my unit and the 312, the whole 111 Battalion, my family back in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and my best friend, Bodine (ph), in San Diego. I just want to give you a shout out, and I love you guys. And I'll be seeing you soon.
STARR: A bond unbroken by distance.
LANCE CORPORAL CORY SZUCS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Hi, I'm Lance Corporal Cory Szucs, United States Marine Corps, Combat Logistics Battalion 2. I just want to say hi to CLB 2 back in Afghanistan, especially Orango Man (ph). You saved my life. I love you. I can't wait to see you guys get back. Miss you all, and have a merry Christmas.
SGT. MARCUS HAYWARD, U.S. ARMY: Are you rolling? Cut. No, I'm being funny. My name is Sergeant Marcus Hayward, from 35th Military 5th Battalion, Fort Stewart, Georgia. I want to give a shout out to my boys over in Afghanistan fighting the war and to my one good boy over in Iraq -- well, two good boys over in Iraq, Sergeant Ford and Sergeant Turner. Keep doing your thing, and can't wait to get you guys home.
STARR: Army First Lieutenant Nicolas Massie says this Christmas, he's doing just fine.
1ST LIEUTENANT NICOLAS MASSIE, U.S. ARMY: You know, we're just all thankful to be back and to be alive, really.
SERGEANT JOHNNY JONES, U.S. MARINE CORP: My name is Sergeant Johnny Jones. I'm with 1st COD Company. I'd like to give a shout out to all the Marines and servicemen fighting over in Afghanistan and Iraq.
STARR: Marine Corps Sergeant Thomas Humphrey's unit has suffered one of the highest rates of casualties in the war. Morale and pride, he says, remains high.
SERGEANT THOMAS HUMPHREY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I'm Sergeant Humphrey from the United States Marine Corps, and I just want to say merry Christmas to all my boys in Afghanistan. I think about you guys every day, and I'm praying for you.
STARR: Marine Corps Corporal Gabriel Martinez lost his legs in a blast attack the day after Thanksgiving.
CORPORAL GABRIEL MARTINEZ, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I just want to give the biggest shout-out to all my Marines out there serving in Afghanistan and 1st Combat Engine Battalion, 1st 10 Battalion (Ph). I wish I could be there with you guys, but I wish you the best of holidays, and, you know, Semper Fi. And I'm out here recovering, and I'll see you guys when you come home.
STARR: Sergeant Hayward says it's all about getting home for the holidays.
HAYWARD: I think everybody just wants to get out of here and go be around friends and family for holidays.
STARR: The journey back.
Barbara Starr, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Charity work, it's very personal for one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Halle Berry tells us why she's helping battered women. And a rare look behind closed doors at the highest court in the land, an exclusive tour of the U.S. Supreme Court.
BLITZER: It's become a cliche to talk about celebrities giving back during the holidays, but for some Hollywood stars like Halle Berry, charity is about much more than public praise. For them it's very, very personal.
Our Alina Cho is joining us now with more on Halle Berry's story. Alina, you've done an amazing job on all of these celebrities and what they're doing, but tell us a little bit about Halle Berry.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned personal. For Halle Berry, Wolf, it is very personal. Thank you very much for the compliment, by the way.
You know, Berry grew up watching her mother being abused by her father. It is the reason why she now volunteers at the Jenesse Shelter. That's a shelter for domestic violence victims in Los Angeles.
And at one point, Wolf, she told me this incredible story about how she once saw her dad throw their little dog against the wall so hard that the dog actually bit its tongue off. And she says that, as you might imagine, was frightening to watch as a child, and it had a huge impact on her growing up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: How does that shape you as an adult?
HALLE BERRY, ACTRESS: Well, you know, honestly, I think I've spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that that sort of implanted in me. Somehow I felt not worthy.
CHO: Do you know how many people in the world would say, "Are you kidding me? You're Halle Berry"?
BERRY: I'm sure, but because that's Halle Berry. But before I'm Halle Berry, I'm little Halle, who was a little girl growing in this environment that damaged me in some ways. And I've spent my adult life trying to really heal from that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: Part of that healing does happen at the Jenesse Center. She was just an incredible woman, and it was a thrill to sit down with her.
You know, Wolf, I also sat down with Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Edward Norton and Justin Bieber, who is arguably the hottest music star on the planet right now. It's more than just the hair, Wolf.
You know, you may think, "What does a 16-year-old kid know about charity?" Well, you might be surprised. He's really committed to children's charities. It has a lot to do with the way he grew up, and it was just a thrill, like I said, a thrill to sit down with him and all of the others.
And I know you're about to embark on a well-deserved vacation after your own adventure, Wolf, and so I hope you and Lynn sit down and watch my special. It would mean the world to me. I've spent a lot of time working on it, and it's something I'm very proud of.
BLITZER: We certainly will. We're looking forward to seeing it, Alina, because you do great work.
And let me just tell our viewers when they can see it. You can catch Alina's one-hour special, "Big Stars, Big Giving." It debuts tomorrow night, Christmas Eve, right here on CNN at 7 p.m. Eastern. You will want to see it. You will enjoy it, and it will be significant and meaningful.
Alina, thank you very much.
I'm also thrilled to announce the arrival of a beautiful baby girl, Harper Layla Parks (ph). She's the daughter of my producer, Melanie, and our studio operator, Chris. We all look forward to meeting Harper very, very soon. Excellent production. Great work for this wonderful couple.
The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and the most mysterious branch of our government, dare I say. Just ahead, we'll pull back the curtain a little bit to get up close and personal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
And the weirdest story from this year's football season is unfolding in New York. The coach of the New York Jets and his wife do some "sole" searching after a Web site links them to scandalous series of videos.
BLITZER: It's the pinnacle of American law, where decisions are made that impact all of us, but most people have never seen what lies behind the imposing walls of the U.S. Supreme Court until now. CNN's Kate Bolduan takes us inside for an exclusive look at the nation's highest court.
MATT HOFSTEDT, ASSOCIATE CURATOR, SUPREME COURT: This is part of the architectural plan to try to make the appearance of the court feel monumental and to give the sense that there's important things happening in this building.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court, about to enter the most important courtroom of the land. The Supreme Court's impact is almost immeasurable. Few ever have the chance to get behind the scenes of this iconic building.
Only two pictures exist of the court actually in session, and those cameras were smuggled in, in the 1930s. But on the 75th anniversary of the high court's home, we gained rare access to this place.
(on camera) It's sure to surprise many people that this building, actually, the permanent home of the Supreme Court, is only 75 years old, which is kind of young in relative terms to many of the buildings here in Washington.
CATHERINE FITTS, CURATOR, SUPREME COURT: Right, exactly. And that was one of the tasks that was assigned to the architects. They wanted to make sure that this building blended in with the Library of Congress next door and also with the Capitol.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): For almost 150 years the Supreme Court was basically homeless. The court met in New York City, Philadelphia, and then the old Senate chamber in Washington. Not until 1929 did then Chief Justice William Howard Taft finally convince Congress to fund construction of a permanent home. The building opened in 1935. Catherine Fitts is the head curator here.
FITTS: Marble is most definitely the predominant material that's used. In fact, the original $9.7 million, they spent about $3.5 million just on the marble alone. The design for the building is a Greco-Roman temple, kind of a temple of justice.
BOLDUAN: The high court's associate curator, Matt Hofstedt, then took us to the court's law library, an historic place where justices have long visited to consult the wisdom of justices past in the library's 600,000 volumes.
HOFSTEDT: The library is a very vibrant part of what the court does, because you needs that sort of scholarly input in the opinion- writing process. BOLDUAN: Now with the ease of the Internet, the library isn't used nearly as much, but this room is a different story. It can never be replaced, the courtroom where historic cases such as "Brown v. Board of Education," integrating public schools, "Bush v. Gore" and many more have all been decided.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yea, oh, yea...
BOLDUAN: And the courtroom and tradition and even furniture has gone virtually unchanged since the first case was heard.
HOFSTEDT: Some of the traditions you'll see here in the courtroom are the three justices coming out in three groups from behind the red curtains. And some of the other traditions are, to this day, the court still puts quill pens at the desks of the attorneys who will be arguing before the court. Sort of a throwback to the John Marshall years.
BOLDUAN: Still, the justices are notoriously camera shy, and much of the government building, like their chambers, remains off limits.
And while a grand building, we found the little details hidden from most visitors are what give the court's home its power and charm. Ornate carvings above the courtroom, showing great law givers of the past, like Moses with the Ten Commandments, and a rare image of the prophet Mohammed. Small turtles on the lamppost outside, signifying the deliberate pace of justice. And portraits of every former justice lining the walls where the new justices are sworn in.
HOFSTEDT: This allows you to go through the history of the court in only 16 or 17 people, and we've had 44 presidents now. There's only been 17 chief justices in that same period of time.
BOLDUAN: An ever-evolving court, yet a place built on tradition, and an institution leaving lasting imprints on the fabric of American society.
(on camera) But on rare occasion, that imprint works the other way around. These sweeping doors leading into the court were meant to symbolize access to justice for all, but they've now been closed as a public entrance because of security concerns.
Kate Bolduan, CNN, at the Supreme Court.
BLITZER: Good report, Kate. Thanks very much.
Something's afoot with one of the NFL's most outspoken coaches. Why he's keeping quiet about a video that's all over the Internet.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" with a Santa Claus theme. In Australia, fans dressed up as Santa at a basketball game.
In Baghdad, a man carrying coffee walks past a Santa Claus display in front of a shop.
In India, men dressed as Santa distribute free onions, which have doubled in price recently.
And in Tokyo, check it out: workers dress up as Santa Claus and a reindeer while cleaning windows on a shopping mall.
"Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has seen his share of controversy this football season, but the latest one blind-sided nearly everyone in the Big Apple. CNN's Jeanne Moos has more on this "Most Unusual" controversy.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Football is a game of yards and feet, but when the feet are part of a fetish --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. They're, like, really soft.
MOOS: -- no wonder they're saying, "Now, that's football."
The feet are believed to belong to the wife of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. Talk about a shoe dropping. In videos that surfaced on the sports Web site Dead Spin, the feet are seen waggling, being massaged, even taking a bow. And the "sole" man, the man in a toe-jam facing the agony of de-feet, not to mention the agony of all these puns, is believed to be Coach Ryan, himself, holding the cam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me, ma'am. Can I help you with anything?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no, I'm sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, you don't have to put your feet in. Really beautiful feet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you mind if I touch them?
MOOS: "Say it ain't toe!" screamed the "New York Daily News," but Coach Ryan wasn't denying anything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Ryan, did you and your wife make the foot fetish videos?
COACH REX RYAN, NEW YORK JETS: I -- well, you know, this is a personal matter. This is a personal matter. You know, it's personal.
MOOS (on camera): But when all the foot fetish questions ended they finally got around to talking football. And what was the very first topic after all those embarrassing questions about feet?
(voice-over) An injured player.
RYAN: During the game, I guess he had a toe injury.
MOOS: The ladies of "The View" came out of the foot fetish video...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're really soft.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": You have beautiful feet. Can I touch them?
MOOS: ... with their feet on the desk.
ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I will take -- I'll take a foot fetish with a man and his wife over a foot fetish with a man and his mistress any day.
MOOS: The voice on the tapes is always polite, and women seem to appreciate the 23-year marriage the coach has with the wife.
RYAN: It's awesome.
MOOS: But the parodies have already begun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ah, Andy's feet. Will he go to the Super Bowl?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're digging these puppies, aren't you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really beautiful feet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, thank you. I really like your ears.
MOOS: Imagine having your feet looming over Joy Behar's head, playing footsie in videos so intimate you can hear the knuckles crack.
(on camera) There's one thing you can probably safely surmise about Christmas at the coach's house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): All the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until all the little piggies are going to the Super Bowl.
MOOS: -- New York.
BLITZER: And a quick note: we're off tomorrow, back on Monday, so we'd like to wish all of our viewers in the United States and around the world a very merry Christmas and a happy New year. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.
KING: Thanks, Wolf.
And good evening, everyone.
Tonight, new warnings from the Tea Party and other grassroots players who helped the Republicans to their huge election wins last month. They now accuse the party establishment of ignoring them in the year-end congressional session, and warn things better shift to the right come January.