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CONNECT THE WORLD

Thousands of Passengers Stranded; Interview With Pavel Khodorkovsky

Aired December 27, 2010 - 16:00:00   ET

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


MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Thousands of passengers are stranded as winter blizzard crippled the east coast of America. Many more are stuck at airports across the world waiting for the storm to clear. So as the weather pays havoc on the road and in the air, when will the big storm begin. Going beyond borders on today's biggest stories on CNN, this is the hour we "Connect the World."

This time last week, a blanket of snow grounded planes and ruined plans across Europe. Now, the travel chaos has spread to the United States. So when will one of the world's busiest air corridors re-open. We'll be joining the dots here in London. I'm Max Foster.

Also tonight as a Russian oil tycoon is found guilty of corruption, (INAUDIBLE) Russia is ruled by law or by politics. And they spilled secrets and angered government throughout 2010, so what does WikiLeaks have in store in the year to come.

Plus -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I really make in Russia, yes. Can we do it in India? Definitely. There's a billion people and that would great with that one.

It's time to re-visit one of our favorite (INAUDIBLE) of the day (INAUDIBLE) tells me how "The Office" is doing big business across the globe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Follow the program on our Facebook page. Just head to facebook.com/cnnconnect.

Thousands of flights cancelled. Tens of thousands of travelers stranded. A notorious nor'easter storm shutdown on big cities across the U.S. Atlantic Coast, starting on the day after Christmas. Let's bring in Allan Chernoff from LaGuardia Airport.

Allan, holiday vacation timing could not have been worse, could it?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly as you say, it is going to continue to strand tens of thousands of travelers. Here at LaGuardia Airport, they have just re-opened one of the two runways, by no means that that imply though that planes are taking off and landing. In fact, there are only a couple of aircraft here on the ground here in LaGuardia and only a few on their way here right now. It's going to be a very slow start up to get over this incredible impediment that there has been to air traffic, not only here in LaGuardia but all across the northeast of the U.S..

The two other major airports in the New York area, they'll be reopening within two hours but again, a similar scenario there. For travelers that has certainly meant some very, very long wait, particularly for the people who came yesterday and had to sleep overnight. We spoke to one lady who slept right by the food court last night and the same is going to happen tonight.

Let's have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH SUN, STRANDED PASSENGER: I spent the whole night here last night. I'm going to still stay here.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Tonight?

SUN: Tonight.

CHERNOFF: Before your flight tomorrow morning?

SUN: Yes. Yes. I have no place to go. Yes.

CHERNOFF: That's pretty tough to be sitting for two days.

SUN: Yes. I have no other choice. The only thing I can do is to wait here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Sarah is actually trying to make her way back home to Shanghai via Chicago. It's the part of getting from New York to Chicago that's so tough. Hopefully, she will get out of here tomorrow. Max.

FOSTER: Allan, thank you very much. The story there from LaGuardia. Nearby, JFK Airport should re-open in around two hours, we're told. Typically handles 22 million international travelers each year, making it the busiest airport for international passengers in the whole of the Americas. One of the many stranded there is Eric Schorr. He is trying to get to Israel. He joins me by phone. I gather, Eric, you actually did manage to get on the plane and that was about it.

ERIC SCHORR, STRANDED PASSENGER (ON THE PHONE): Yes, we were on the plane at one point. Actually, we were supposed to go out of JFK yesterday, Sunday afternoon at 6:00 p.m. and we got stuck on the airline on the (INAUDIBLE) plane for nine hours.

FOSTER: You were on the runway for nine hours on the plane.

SCHORR: We were. From 6:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. this morning.

FOSTER: And what were you being told?

SCHORR: We were told that at first, we were originally supposed to fly out and that was going to be one of the last flights out of New York, and out of North America. What happened was JFK completely shut it down around 8:15 last night and the plane was already out and they couldn't tow us back to the gate. The plane was sitting there on the tarmac.

FOSTER: And what were people saying on board?

SCHORR: Well, at first, there was a little - there was some frustration, there were some angst and people were really, sort of up and about exactly what was going on. I got to handle it to the airline crew. I keep saying this, they were phenomenal. They gave out dinner. They handled the passengers very well and the snack and drinks and the captain every so often gave as many updates as he could give. So people were in pretty good spirits for the duration of that stay on the plane. After a while, people just sort of went to sleep and try to deal with it as it was coming along.

FOSTER: And I presumed that you had to get taken back to the terminal eventually and what happened then?

SCHORR: Well, we came back to the terminal around 3:00 a.m. and once we got off the plane, which was great for everyone because after being on the place for nine hours, what can you do? We were back in the terminal, back at the gate and most people sort of camp out. They put together (INAUDIBLE). They put together chairs in the terminal, put in corners, They kind of went to sleep. I mean, people have been here absolutely all day. And JFK has been completely shut down all day. I know my friends over at LaGuardia said they're opening up in an hour to two hours. I don't really see if that's going to be accomplished. I'm looking outside right now and they're clearing the runaways. They got a number of planes already here but they're doing their best to clear the runaways.

FOSTER: And what information or where are you getting your information?

SCHORR: They're sort of (INAUDIBLE) here as well as JFK (INAUDIBLE) just trying to keep everyone up to date and every one is sort of calm, relax. They're giving us information as they get it. You know, it's sort of like (INAUDIBLE) through the grapevine. But as we understand the (INAUDIBLE) that's supposed to leave yesterday at 6:00 p.m. was supposed to leave this morning after they refueled and restock the plane at 8:00 a.m., that was pushed to the afternoon and then they pushed it again to 9:00 p.m. tonight. So hopefully we'll be out of here by then but as it stands, I might be in the same condition as our friend over at LaGuardia staying another night.

FOSTER: Yes. You sound like you're in relatively good spirits considering everything you've been to. But I presumed there are people around you, perhaps young families or older people are really struggling with this, aren't they?

SCHORR: Yes, I think so. I mean, I guess I can speak as a sort of a young adult who has energy and can walk around and deal with the circumstances as they come today but seeing sort of older couples and then couples with children, it can be physical for the youngster and I can understand how that can cause frustration. So you know, people are just trying to get home. They're exhausted. They're trying to be home for the holidays and I can see how that can be a problem.

FOSTER: Eric Schorr, good luck to you. It's a terrible story but I'm sure you will get out, at least, it's not snowing anymore. That's one thing. Eric Schorr, thank you very much, joining us from JFK.

SCHORR: Now, that's the story from one side of the Atlantic but how about people trying to fly into the U.S.. Well, travelers are stuck all over Europe meanwhile. We talked to some of them at Heathrow Airport here in London.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here to fly to New York to see my brother. And I've been (INAUDIBLE) this morning and I just try to check in my bags (INAUDIBLE) at 11:00 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only flight we can re-book on is on the 30th which is in three days and (INAUDIBLE) especially when you know, they're not assuming food or hotels. I have no place to go. I have to stay here and sleep on the airport floor. For some odd reason, they managed to find me a place for tomorrow morning. Thankfully. There was an available plane. (INAUDIBLE) to be able to get on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) yesterday so I had to pay 90 to go to the airport, which, you know, I mean, unfortunately it happened but my flight would have left, I would have been happy to pay that 90 but when I got to the airport, the flight was canceled. I wasn't given the option for a hotel, food voucher or anything. So, it was a pretty bad experience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: We first believed the storm started way out in California with drenching rains and destructive mudslides and look how it ended up. This is a blizzard in progress in Stamford, Connecticut about an hour outside of New York City. Winds gusting about 125 kilometers an hour in some places at some points. The heaviest snowfall totals were recorded in New Jersey. I-reporter Chris Barnett sent us these pictures from Haddonfield. Up to 73 cms. of snow in parts of the state. The storm first dumped snow on the southern U.S. giving some southern cities there first a white Christmas since the 1800, would you believe? For many there, it was more fun than frustration as Shanna Crumley shows us.

As it churned up the coast, snow and ice caused travel problems on the roads. This is what drivers saw in North Carolina as they encountered it on Sunday after the snow moved in, try driving that car. And here are more scenes from New York. Broadway is known as the Great White Way. As you can see from these scenes around Times Square, certainly lives up to its name over the last couple of days. So where is the storm going now? Is the worst of it over? That's what people are asking.

Let's bring in Jill Brown from the World Weather Center. Jill, give these people some hope.

JILL BROWN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Max, it is on its way out for the U.S.. We still think we'll see conditions worsening as you get out to Nova Scotia, for sure. This are of low pressure heads in your direction. But look at this, it looks like it's all winding down. For sure, things should go back right to normal, right away. Well, unfortunately, it doesn't go quite that easily because of some of those winds that you saw continually to blow the snow around the strong winds may last a lot longer than the snow and just getting rid of all that snow on all the right places is it's going to take a while.

So we do think that JFK, LaGuardia and Newark while they're close now should be re-opening, 6:00 p.m.. Washington, D.C., one plus hours delay. I think that you should expect perhaps more than that.

Let's go ahead and take a look at flight stats.com. This is a great web site because it will show you not just where the delays are but it will kind of factor in all of the places that have planes backed up elsewhere in the country and how that might affect you. I think we can take a look at it. Flightstats.com. Well, in any case, we'll move on. If we can get it, great. We'll pop it in. Otherwise, by the way, even if you're not flying, this is what you would have to contend with. This is Weston, Connecticut. I like the (INAUDIBLE) because you can just (INAUDIBLE) step out and think you're somewhere say "never mind."

Wind chill is 10 degrees below zero. So you can see how that might turn you off a little bit. These are some of the snow totals that we have had. We'll probably get our, you know, final totals in the next few hours to come as the snow winds down and maybe we'll get a few more that are up around this 60 to 75 centimeter range. It's just amazing, really. And the drift, of course, much bigger than that.

But this is the classic nor 'easter with the cold air comes in, plenty of moisture from the Atlantic. That combination means very heavy snow but also strong winds as this moves out, it will be a little while before things get back to normal, again, just getting all that snow cleared out of the places that needs to, to get travelers where they need to be. Max, back to you.

FOSTER: Jill, thank you very much, indeed. Now, the northeastern United States was probably the only place in the world where bad weather impacted travel. In Chinese, dense fogs is blamed for a number of deadly traffic accidents. More than 100 vehicles collided in southwestern China. Seven people died in the mass pileup there. 14 children were killed when their vehicle plunged into a creek.

In northern India, dense fog disrupted air and rail traffic. 100 percent of flights were either delayed or diverted. Indira Gandhi International Airport over the past two days. Now, a guilty verdict and an emotional response ahead. We speak with the son of former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He tells us why he finds the verdict shocking.

Also, thousands Zimbabweans fleeing their country for a better life. This is "Connect the World" from London. I'm Max Foster. We're back after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Well, it is the end of one of the most important court trials in modern Russian history involving a former oil tycoon and his business partner and billions of dollars worth of oil. Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance takes a look at what many believe is not just a ruling on the face of two high profile defendants.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside the courthouse, his supporters chanted "Freedom," clasping pictures of Russia's former richest man and his co-accused.

Most Russians may not be watching Mikhail Khodorkovsky's trial but few in this country doubt its national significance.

(on camera): This case, what does it say about the situation in Russia? The state of Russia?

NINA, DEMONSTRATOR: It's very important for me how this trial would finish because according to (INAUDIBLE) country me and my children will live in. Just so we believe that maybe our people can influence this power but when this (INAUDIBLE) it seems that it's impossible to influence.

CHANCE: (INAUDIBLE) the riot police.

NINA: Yes.

CHANCE (voice-over): And with helmets covering their heads like cosmonauts, the riot police moved in, detaining protesters even as the verdict was passed then.

(on camera): Within the last few minuets, Mikhail Khodorkovsky inside has been found guilty of money laundering and embezzlement charges and the police outside are arresting people who are supporters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Do you think that Mikhail Khodorkovsky received a fair trial?

SERGEY, DEMONSTRATOR: No, definitely not.

CHANCE: Why.

SERGEY: Well, according to the lawyers, according to the whole process, he was charged almost the same like (INAUDIBLE) he was in prison all these years.

CHANCE: The charges didn't make a lot of sense?

SERGEY: No.

CHANCE (voice-over): Khodorkovsky has already been in jail for seven years, charged and then convicted of fraud and tax evasion. The human rights group said the original case against him was politically motivated. Khodorkovsky has made allegations of corruption against the Kremlin funded opposition party.

(on camera): The protesters in here - they're shouting (INAUDIBLE) which means shame as the police come and they arrest these individual protesters here. Remember, this trial was never about just the fate of two men, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, it was much more for people around here, about the rule of law in Russia.

(voice-over): International observers have been following this trial closely as well. With the European Union demanding Russia respect it's human rights commitment but few would have been surprised by this guilty verdict and what it says about justice in Russia.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Mikhail Khodorkovsky's eldest son, Pavel, says he is shocked by the guilty verdict. I spoke with him a short time ago from New York and asked him when he last had contact with his father.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAVEL KHODORKOVSKY, SON OF MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: I have sent him a note yesterday night before the guilty verdict was being announced, wished him luck and telling him that my daughter, his first granddaughter, just started walking on Christmas. So I'm hoping that will cheer his up a little bit in the face of this horrifying news.

FOSTER: What was he expecting from the verdict?

KHODORKOVSKY: I believe he was expecting a guilty verdict. Nevertheless, even after spending seven years in jail, it's still a big shock. My father is very realistic and he said already that he will probably spend some other years in jail, but he is ready for that sacrifice because he is fighting for an ideal and he is fighting for something more than his own and Platon Lebedev's freedom.

FOSTER: Is this what some Russians call telephone justice?

KHODORKOVSKY: Absolutely. Before today's news, I had hope that President Medvedev's rhetoric about judicial system reform would actually bear some fruit. However, today, I realized that the judge is completely subservient and as a slave to the political will of Mr. Putin and other bureaucrats in Kremlin.

FOSTER: What evidence though, have you, first of all, that the judge wasn't doing his job properly?

KHODORKOVSKY: I don't have direct evidence, but the day after my dad's verdict was supposed to be announced, on the 16th of December, Prime Minister Putin in his direct line, telephone conference with the Russian people answering the question about my father, stated that he should sit in jail.

And a statement like this coming from a government official is unacceptable because it's influence on court.

(CROSSTALK)

FOSTER: But that doesn't mean that a judge will react to that, does it? If it's an independent justice system?

KHODORKOVSKY: I believe so, but at the same time, everyone realizes that the only legal outcome in this trial would be acquittal, because the prosecution throughout the course of the trial failed to present evidence that supports those charges.

FOSTER: OK. So what happens next? Will there be an appeal?

KHODORKOVSKY: Of course, there will be an appeal. What I'm hoping for right now is the shortest sentence possible. Because I'm really hoping to see my dad as soon as possible, a free man.

FOSTER: If your father accepted a guilty verdict, which may allow the president to issue a pardon, would your father consider that?

KHODORKOVSKY: He is innocent and he has spent so much time in jail that this is just not possible for him. He is incarcerated right now because of his ideals and because he is fighting for something more than his and Platon Lebedev's freedom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Well, the reading of the verdict has also drawn some heavy international criticism. Let's take a look at what's been said so far. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the conviction raises serious questions about selective prosecution and not the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations. Chief European diplomat Catherine Ashton says the EU will be following developments very closely, in particular the sentencing and that the EU expects Russia to respect its commitments in the field of human rights and the rule of law. And Germany's foreign minister calls the circumstances of the trial highly worrying and a setback in the country's way towards modernization.

Now you heard me a little earlier mention Russia's telephone justice was replacing the rule of law with direct orders from high level politicians, as interpreted as. Here's what Masha Lipman has to say about it. She's in the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

MASHA LIPMAN, CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTER: Well, the rule of law (INAUDIBLE) this trial, but from the very beginning of the trial with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which started actually in 2003, this trial has had a deeply eroding effect on even the promise of the rule of law in Russia. I should point out that Russia does not have a history of the rule of law.

This is a problem in Russia. President Medvedev is talking about legal legalism (ph), people having no respect for the law in Russia, no tradition of respect for the law. But even the faintest hope was actually (INAUDIBLE) by this trial, which was such a clear abuse of the law enforcement in the judiciary system by the political interests, by the political interests of the government. Seeing the government, seeing the top executives do this, any administrators got the message that he too can use law enforcement and justice to pursue his (INAUDIBLE) interests, and those with money took it as a message that they can buy justice.

Today, justice in Russia really belongs to those with power and money. And to give one more, I think important fact here, it is inconceivable for a private or individual interest in Russia to win a case against government officials, regardless of the level.

FOSTER: Masha Lipman there speaking.

Our theme week is just ahead. We focus on Zimbabwe. So many there the best part of a better life is to leave. And later, the rise of WikiLeaks. We didn't even know about the web site and its founder a year ago. We do now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: It was once one of Africa's most prosperous country's but now it's a nation facing so many battles on so many fronts. All this week, we're focusing on Zimbabwe, the political struggles, the economic turmoil and why problems (INAUDIBLE) reached and extend beyond its borders and beyond this control.

First up is Nkepile Mabuse, takes a look at one part of better life for Zimbabweans, a journey which starts in neighboring South Africa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 5:00 in the morning and the city of Johannesburg is just waking up. With these Zimbabweans, it's the end of a long night sleeping on the pavement waiting to legalize their stay in South Africa. This man says he arrived at 3:00 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I only find (INAUDIBLE) plenty people, yes. And they now also (INAUDIBLE).

MABUSE: Since April of last year, Zimbabweans living in South Africa illegally have had amnesty from deportation a chance to apply for work and study permits, without which they will be deported. The fear of being forced back to their struggling country has caused widespread fear. Over the past decades, Zimbabwe has seen political violence and economic meltdown and desperation among its people. The unity government formed by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in February last year have been tasked with rebuilding the country but progress is slow.

The Zimbabweans cueing here say making a living in their home country is still near impossible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very difficult to get a job. Here, to get a work permit so that we can also support our families back home.

MABUSE: The Zimbabwean high school teachers serves coffee in South Africa to support his wife and children. He applied for his work permit in October and is still waiting to hear whether he'll be granted a permit.

Without it he can't risk going home for the holidays because he won't be allowed back in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are supposed to leave on the 24th and then come here on the (INAUDIBLE) 10th of January. So which means I'm going to spend all my leave days here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And not with your family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not with my family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which is where you want to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I wanted to go to my family. Also, my daughter (INAUDIBLE)

MABUSE: That is the South African Minister of Home Affairs says she cannot help.

NIKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA, SOUTH AFRICAN HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER: At the border, they will ask you how you came in and they might arrest you and I want (INAUDIBLE) .

MABUSE: She recently visited queuing Zimbabweans desperate to go home for Christmas.

DLAMINI-ZUMA: We are working our best to sort out their issue and if they miss going home this Christmas, it's a small sacrifice.

MABUSE (on camera): Work hours have been extended and staff increased to deal with the more than 100,000 applications received so far while the deadline for submissions which is December 31s is unlikely to be moved, deportation will only begin once all applications has been concluded.

(voice-over): That's a promise made by the Minister of Home Affairs. For the Zimbabweans waiting here, a work permit, a job, maybe among the best things this holiday season can bring. Nkepile Mabuse, CNN, Johannesburg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Job security for Zimbabweans, but what about South Africans? Well, next, we look at why many fear this increased competition could lead to a violent backlash, for South Africa's unemployment rate tips 24 percent, and Nkepile Mabuse joins us again from Johannesburg tomorrow, right here on CONNECT THE WORLD.

Bail denied for nine British terror suspects. Ahead, the landmarks a prosecutor in court says they were targeting. It's a chilling list.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Max Foster in London. Coming up, nine terror suspects behind bars in the UK. We reveal the alleged targets.

Then, the rise of WikiLeaks. We're looking back at the year and how a website became a game-changer.

And we'll also talk to "The Office" bloke who became a megastar. Ricky Gervais is your Connector of the Day. Find out how many countries have adapted his hit TV comedy.

All those stories ahead in the show for you but, first, let's check the headlines this hour.

Major New York airports are starting to reopen shortly after a blizzard shut them down and paralyzed travel in the region. Airlines canceled thousands of flights, stranding tens of thousands of passengers. The storm has churned up the Atlantic coast. Only Maine remains under a blizzard warning.

The son of former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky says his father will appeal Monday's court ruling. A Moscow court convicted him on Monday of stealing billions of dollars of oil. Pavel Khodorkovsky told CNN his father was ready for the sacrifice of more jail time even though he is innocent.

At least nine people have been killed in back-to-back suicide bombings in Iraq's Anbar province. The blast targeted government offices and the local police headquarters just two weeks after a similar attack on the same compound. Dozens of people are wounded.

Italian police have defused a package bomb found at the Greek embassy in Rome. Authorities say it was just like the ones that injured two people last week at other embassies in the Italian capital. Suspicious packages at several other embassies have turned out to be false alarms.

Nine terror suspects in the UK will be held without bail at least through mid-January. Police rounded them up last week in various places across the country. Dan Rivers explains the charges they face and reveals a prosecutor's list of ominous potential targets.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The nine men all appeared here at Westminster Magistrate's Court to hear charges against them. All of them charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion between the 6th of November and the 21st of December. And the prosecutor told the court that the list of targets included the US embassy in London and the London Stock Exchange.

All of them also charged with preparing for an act of terrorism between the same dates, and in detail that involved downloading, researching, obtaining, and discussing materials and methods; researching, discussing, carrying out reconnaissance on and agreeing on potential targets; traveling to and attending meetings and, interestingly, igniting and testing incendiary material.

None of the men were granted bail. Three of them from Cardiff, four from Stoke-on-Trent, and two from London. They've all been remanded in custody, so they'll now appear at the central criminal court, the Old Bailey, on the 14th of January.

This, of course, all relates to dawn raids across the country in three different locations on the 20th of December, just five days before Christmas, carried out by three different police forces. Twelve men were arrested in those raids, initially. Three were released without charge. And now, as I say, those nine men have made their first appearance in court here at Westminster Magistrate's Court. Dan Rivers, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, the year of the whistle- blower. We're looking back on WikiLeaks and how the website changed the world in 2010.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Countdown to the end of the year. CONNECT THE WORLD is looking back on the stories that have resonated around the globe, how they were covered, why they mattered, and what legacy they leave.

So far, we've lived -- relived the jubilation and the upset of the World Cup in South Africa. We've looked at Haiti, how the country's still in crisis eleven months after the devastating January earthquake. So, too, in Pakistan. Monsoon rains in July swept millions from their homes, and still many are living as refugees in their own country.

And tonight, we're looking back at the rise of WikiLeaks. The whistle-blower website has never been far from the headlines this year. It began in April, with the release of a classified video of a 2007 US air strike in Baghdad, which killed two Reuters camera man. Here's how our Barbara Starr reported the revelation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STAR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The organization WikiLeaks posted some additional material, as can be seen. They highlight who various people are on the ground. The Pentagon says it has no reason to think this video is not the real deal. They believe it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: In July came the Afghan war diaries. More than 76,900 documents provided an unvarnished look at what US soldiers were doing on the front line, angering the US Department of Defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE MULLEN, ADMIRAL, CHAIRMAN, US JOINT CHIEFS: Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is, they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Well, the criticism didn't stop WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In October, almost 400,000 documents were released under the banner of the Iraq War Log. Atika Shubert followed the release every step of the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We did have a chance to speak with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on the day of the release of the Iraq War Log, and I asked him what he found to be of significant importance inside these documents. Here's what he said.

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: There is very strong evidence, compelling evidence, of war crimes having been committed by coalition forces and having been committed by Iraqi government forces in this material.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: And just last month, the most sensational WikiLeaks drop was Cablegate, highly sensitive and embarrassing State Department diplomatic cables released for the world to see. This is how Jill Dougherty summed up the US reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Almost all the focus of the WikiLeaks releases has been on how this is going to damage the United States, damage its international policy. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is trying to make the case that this is going to damage not only the US, but alliances around the world.

HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: So, let's be clear. This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: Well, 2010 has been a definitive year for WikiLeaks. CNN's Atika Shubert has been reporting on the revelations and the scandal surrounding the website meteoric rise. I sat down with her a little earlier and began by asking about the role that WikiLeaks now plays in society.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUBERT: This is the big question. What is WikiLeaks? Is it media? Is it a source for media? And when they first came out with Afghan War Diary, their first big leak, everyone was a little ambivalent. Nobody knew how to deal with WikiLeaks. By the second one to come out, people were treating WikiLeaks, really, as a source.

Now, then came the diplomatic cables, and this was the biggest leak of all. I mean, a quarter of a million US diplomatic cables, some of them incredibly embarrassing, much of it classified, but not all of it. In fact, more than half weren't secret or classified at all.

But it was the sheer scale of it that WikiLeaks was able to put out that really seemed to shock the US government, and they really were upset and embarrassed by this, and you saw these really strong statements coming out from Hillary Clinton.

But this is what started the whole debate. What is WikiLeaks? Is it media? Should it be classified as media? How should media treat the information coming out of WikiLeaks?

And it should be pointed out, all of this information that's come out has been verified. These are real documents. WikiLeaks has never been hoaxed. And this is why they have become, at this point, an important tool for journalists.

FOSTER: And over time, Julian Assange, who runs WikiLeaks, is someone that you got to know. But now, the whole world knows who he is. Where does he stand right now? Because his argument is that he's just publishing something that someone else leaked. The Australians have even agreed with that, haven't they?

So, what happens to him now? He's facing trials, it's very complicated. But where does he stand now?

SHUBERT: Well, Julian Assange, of course, the WikiLeaks editor and founder, is basically the heart and soul of WikiLeaks. He's really the driving force behind it. And his whole concept for WikiLeaks is that anonymously, whistle-blowers can provide information to the website, and then he as the editor, with other journalists and other volunteers, will then take that information, verify it, make sure it's real, and then publish it, in full, at their website. That's their policy.

And this is how he's been going forward. There's been some minor things that he's tweaked here and there. For example, the Iraq War Logs were heavily redacted after there was a lot of criticism that a lot of personal information was being published by WikiLeaks. And so, that's always been the policy of WikiLeaks.

But it's coming under legal pressure. The US government has said publishing all this information is dangerous, it's really put a lot of pressure on US diplomatic relations, done a lot of damage to US diplomacy. And for that reason, the US government says they are looking into prosecuting Julian Assange.

FOSTER: Based on what, though? Because he's just publishing.

SHUBERT: This is the thing. What can they charge him on? They have brought up the possibility of charging him on the Espionage Act in the United States.

It's a very broad-reaching -- wide act. And it's something that has only been used very rarely. And there's a lot of criticism that if the United States uses the Espionage Act to charge Julian Assange, then what's to stop them from charging "The New York Times," which also published some of the documents, "The Guardian," or any number of papers.

So, this has become the big question for WikiLeaks moving ahead. Are they going to be charged? Is there going to be legal action taken against them?

Now, separate from that is Julian Assange's other legal troubles, which really have nothing to do with WikiLeaks. But because he's become such a central figure and such a polarizing figure, everyone's sort of focused on these legal problems that he's having in Sweden.

FOSTER: Meanwhile, he's working on his next set of leaks, I presume.

SHUBERT: Well, yes. And this is the big question everyone wants to know. What's coming out of WikiLeaks next? He's already give -- Julian Assange has already given some indications that a bank, a major American bank, will be targeted. No confirmation on which bank that may be.

And, of course, WikiLeaks may still be sitting on more classified US government documents. In fact, they've been rumored to be holding a US military video of an attack on civilians in Afghanistan. This has not surfaced yet, and WikiLeaks will not confirm or deny any information they're currently sitting on. But they have given hints in the past that there are still more classified US government documents to come out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: We wait to see. Atika Shubert, speaking to me earlier. Now, next stop on the show, a change of pace for you. We're going to bring you one of our favorite Connectors of the Day. Stay with us for comic genius Ricky Gervais.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Tonight, a treat. We're going to bring you one of our favorite Connectors of the day. Just in case you haven't heard of him, here's a recap.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER (voice-over): Think of Ricky Gervais and, for many of us, it's this hilarious dance scene which springs to mind.

The British comedian's performance as David Brent in "The Office" catapulted him to fame. The awarded winning TV series was such a hit, it eventually transferred to France, Germany, and the United States.

Ricky Gervais won over even more fans with his series, "Extras," which went on to win a Golden Globe in 2008. The comedian has seduced Hollywood with his British sense of humor, starring in several blockbuster movies, including "Night at the Museum," "Ghost Town," and "The Invention of Nine," a comedy which he also co-wrote and directed.

JENNIFER GARNER AS ANNA MCDOOGLES, "THE INVENTION OF LYING": I'm with him right now. He's nice. Sit back.

FOSTER: A comedian with a host of awards to his name and an army of fans around the world, Ricky Gervais is your Connector of the Day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: And it was back in March when first connected you with Ricky. Since then, "Time" magazine has voted him one of the world's most influential people, while the TV hit that made him a star continues to cross borders. So, naturally that's we started the interview, talking about "The Office." Here it is, Ricky Gervais, take two.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICKY GERVAIS, COMEDIAN: I feel that I manage the estate of "The Office" everyday, you know. If I get 100 e-mails, probably 20 or 30 of them are about "The Office." Can they use this clip for a quiz machine, can we do a remake in Russia? Yes. Can we do a remake in India? Definitely. There's a billion people, the ratings are going to be great with that one.

But, yes, "The Office" is shown in its original format in about 90 countries around the world, and it's been remade in seven now, the latest of which is Israel.

FOSTER: So I remember when it first came out in the UK, and it seemed like a peculiarly British thing. And it really has tapped so into our sense of humor.

GERVAIS: The themes are universal. It's about boy meets girl and making a difference. It's quite existential. Everyone has to work. Everyone has a boss they might not like. Everyone's thrown together with - - with people that they probably wouldn't want to share that much time with if they had a -- had a choice.

FOSTER: You came to this level of success quite late in your career, didn't you?

GERVAIS: Yes.

FOSTER: How old were you -- ?

GERVAIS: Well, no, not -- not -- late in my life. Probably early in my career.

FOSTER: Yes.

GERVAIS: I mean, I didn't really even start with anything you'd -- you'd call show business until I was about 37, 38.

FOSTER: And then you did "The Office".

GERVAIS: That was the first thing, yes.

FOSTER: And then it went stratospheric. And now you're a -- you're a mega star, it has to be said, in the biggest sort of entertainment market in the world. And that -- you're going global around the world. What on Earth is that like?

GERVAIS: That -- I don't go and walk down premiers of films I'm not in having roses thrown at me. I sit at home in my pajamas and -- and find out that so and so --

FOSTER: It's good to hear.

GERVAIS: Yes. Well, I made an effort today. Look at this.

FOSTER: I'm very impressed. Is this a CNN's specialty?

GERVAIS: It's a high brow show. Yes, usually --

FOSTER: We're very high brow.

GERVAIS: Exactly. But I suppose I knew why I was getting in it. I'm in it for the work. I'm in it for the creative process. I wasn't in it for -- for the money and the -- the awards and the fame.

And, in fact, I feared the fame a little bit because I wanted people to know that I hadn't signed this strange contract with the devil that made me famous, and then you can go through my bins and tell lies about me.

FOSTER: But it must have helped, coming into it late, as you said --

GERVAIS: Absolutely.

FOSTER: Because you were -- your personality is sort of set, and you appreciate everything you've got, I guess. And you --

GERVAIS: Oprah Winfrey said, "If you don't know who you are by the time you're famous, it will define you." What does she know?

FOSTER: You were -- you were saying how "Office" got really successful when you were 40. What were you doing before that?

GERVAIS: I worked in an office for eight years. And --

FOSTER: So, you were building up all of that sort of experience for "The Office?"

GERVAIS: I suppose so. And I've always been quite a people watcher. Growing up, the point was to tease people and have a laugh.

FOSTER: Katie from Plano in Texas asks, "What advice would you give to an aspiring comedian in today's society?"

GERVAIS: Find your own voice. Talk about what you know about. Talk about what you know. Don't try and be something else. Don't -- don't try and create an actor or a character for the sake of it. Go out there and tell people what is funny about you, why are you different.

FOSTER: I want to ask you a question from Keira in New York, because you're huge in America now, as well as the UK and other parts. But, "What is the difference between American humor and British humor, if any?" Because people in this country were fascinated to see you translate to the US market, because, as I said, they see you as a real British comedian.

GERVAIS: There's a myth that goes around in Britain that Americans don't get irony, which is totally untrue. I mean you just have to look at "The Simpsons" and "The Daily Show." They get irony.

I think what that comes from is the fact that Americans don't use irony as much as we do. We -- if two Brits meet, it's the first one to get out a dark, sarcastic comment, you know? And that -- that comes from our upbringing.

I think in general, Americans are more optimistic, more down the line people than -- than Brits. And we have this -- this dark underbelly of pessimism that comes out. And, you know, that -- Americans are brought up to believe they can be the next president of the United States. Brits are told it won't happen to you. And -- and that comes out in -- in all art, I think.

And I think a big difference in sitcom is probably that Americans celebrate a winner and we like an underdog until he's not an underdog anymore.

FOSTER: Daniel -- Danielle Sneyd from Toronto in Canada. "My family and I are loyal fans," you'll be glad to hear. "My husband and son constantly quote your shows. My question is, what makes Ricky laugh?"

GERVAIS: People not trying to be funny, really. I think that the least funny thing is someone desperately, desperately trying to be funny, like a clown.

FOSTER: I want to ask you who you don't like --

GERVAIS: Is there anything --

FOSTER: But you're not going to tell me, are you?

GERVAIS: Is there anything less funny than a clown?

FOSTER: I find them quite scary.

GERVAIS: I know. Just -- just stop behaving like that. Carpool between, I think, Louis CK is probably the best standup in the world at the moment. You know, the -- the funniest person you know isn't a comedian. It's a -- it's a friend of yours, it's a family member, because of your investment with that person.

FOSTER: Matthew from Gibraltar. "What actor or actress would you most like to work with?"

GERVAIS: The big obvious ones. Clint. Oh --

FOSTER: Have you been sort of taken aback by an actor coming up to you and being interested in you?

GERVAIS: Yes, well, always. It's funny, every time I go to like the -- an awards show, like the Golden Globes or the Emmys, the people that come up to me and say, "Oh, I would have love to have been in "Extras." And I call Steve and go, "Why did we stop? We -- we've got these people."

FOSTER: You didn't even try.

GERVAIS: I know. No, I -- I'm -- I'm really blown away by that. But as much as you do this for yourself, you do want to be respected by your peers. And that's nothing to do with being a famous actor or a comedian.

I'd want my -- if I was a research scientist, I'd want people to go, "He's a good research scientist, he takes data and he's really, really good, conscientious." And -- and certainly, as an artist, there is a thrill that people like Christopher Guest and -- and Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Connolly and those heroes of yours think that what you do is -- is good.

FOSTER: Mark Paton asks, "After all the awards and successes you've achieved in the last 10 years, do you feel you'd be happy to give up and retire now, or is there still more you'd be able to say -- you want to be able to say that you've done with your life?"

GERVAIS: I -- I feel every day that I haven't got started. You improve, you get better, you have -- different things make you angry. Different -- your perspectives change. My standup isn't now talking about being on the tube and spiriting pints of --

No, I feel I'm just getting started. Also, it doesn't feel like I'm retiring from anything. Winston Churchill said if you find a job you really love, you'll never work again. And that's what it feels like. I feel so privileged to get up in the morning and have an idea and -- and try to put that into practice. It's -- it -- it's still fun. It's still fun. And it's exciting. And I know how lucky I am, as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: The great Ricky Gervais speaking to me earlier this year. Tomorrow night, we'll have another of our favorite Connectors of the year. We'll be revisiting the best of the bunch all this week. Find out who else has made the cut by tuning in tomorrow. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Back to our top story, the travel chaos caused by the storm in the United States. You're weighing in online. Tinkerdental says, "My poor son was to go to Florida with his dad. He was so happy. Now, they're grounded in Boston until God knows when."

Another viewer tells us, "From Europe to the US, I guess the shoe is on the other foot this week. Do you want to borrow some snow equipment?" Assuming they're from Europe.

Teiko says, "It's amazing how we're on a quest to conquer outer space and the rest of the universe, yet things come to a halt with just a snow storm on our own little planet." Just thinking.

Bigsilk says, "Moved back to New York from Austin, Texas. I was hoping for a few inches of snow, but got much more than I bargained for. Nonetheless, still a lot of fun."

And mnright insists, "This is nothing. We call this a dusting here in Minnesota." Get your voice heard on CNN. Head to our website on cnn.com/connect.

Before we leave tonight, it's third time lucky in love for Hugh Hefner. The 84-year-old founder of Playboy is tying the knot with girlfriend Crystal Harris. It's also proving age is just a number. She is 24. You may recognize her as December 2009's Playmate of the Month, depending on what you read.

But she's not the first Bunny to be wed to Hef. You may remember, he divorced Playmate of the Year Kimberly Conrad in 2009.

This engagement was announced in pure style, of course, on Twitter. Hefner wrote, "When I gave Crystal the ring, she bu -- " It says "busted," but it must be "burst." "Bust into tears. This is the happiest Christmas weekend in memory."

Now, he obviously shocked quite a few people with his tweet. He later says, "Yes, the ring I gave Crystal is an engagement ring. I didn't mean to make a mystery out of it. A very merry Christmas to you all."

Now, Hef might have given us a clue, here, on CONNECT THE WORLD about it. Here's what he had to say to Becky when he was our Connector of the Day back in March this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGH HEFNER, FOUNDER, PLAYBOY: I am, essentially, a romantic. So, I think my life revolves and always has revolved around women. I am in a very good relationship. Very good relationship with a young lady named Crystal Harris.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: Good.

HEFNER: She's a keeper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: We never knew we had an exclusive at the time. There it was. I'm Max Foster, that is your world connected. "BackStory" is next, but we're going to check the headlines first.

END