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Dangerous al Qaeda Leader Dead; Amanda Knox Trial; Interview with Representative Adam Schiff

Aired September 30, 2011 - 19:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": Thank you for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley. John King is off.

Tonight one of al Qaeda's most visible and most dangerous leaders is dead. A U.S. drone killed him. Does anyone have a problem with that?

Also tonight, Florida's Republicans defy tradition and move up their primary -- Christmas in Iowa and New Hampshire anyone?

Plus, the richest self-made woman in the world and it's not Oprah.

But we begin with breaking news, the news you need to know right now. A just released bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warns that U.S. and western based sympathizers of al Qaeda may attempt to take violent action in the wake of today's U.S. drone strike that killed al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. The bulletin says there is currently no information suggesting retaliatory U.S. based activities, but the government is concerned about the possibility that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could attempt to retaliate directly against the U.S. homeland.

It also says the agencies face an increased challenge in detecting terrorist plots underway by individuals or small groups acting quickly and independently. Anwar al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen who had not been charged with any crime or brought to trial in any court. But he was also a top member of al Qaeda and personally declared war on the U.S., a war he lost today. A missile from a U.S. drone hit his car in Yemen. President Obama makes no apology and calls al-Awlaki's death a major blow to al Qaeda.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He directed the failed attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009. He directed the failed attempt to blow up U.S. cargo planes in 2010. And he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.


CROWLEY: In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the U.S. rationale for killing al- Awlaki without giving him a trial or even filing criminal charges against him.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This individual was clearly a terrorist and yes, he was a citizen, but if you're a terrorist, you're a terrorist. And that means that we have the ability to go after those who would threaten to attack the United States and kill Americans. There's no question that the authority and the ability to go after a terrorist is there.


CROWLEY: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been working her sources to get more details about the drone attack. Barbara, what are the latest details?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Candy, this was a U.S. drone flying over Yemen east -- about 80 miles east of the capital of Sanaa when they spotted their target. Awlaki was apparently in a convoy with other men, at least four operatives were killed, Awlaki and an associate of his. Another American-born member of al Qaeda and two other people at least who are believed to be operatives.

Look, you know, the U.S. intelligence community had been working for almost two years to try and get this guy. There was no secret about that. There had been failed attempts, right after Osama bin Laden was killed, they tried a drone strike and missed him just really by a couple of feet by all accounts. So they had been -- you know eyes peeled of the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. military on Yemen for months now looking for him. And by all accounts, when they finally got their chance, they took the shot -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Barbara, we've heard a lot of talk today about how this was a joint U.S./Yemeni government operation. Can you -- do you have a sense at all about how much involvement the Yemenis actually had? We do know the drone was a CIA drone, at least that's what we're told. What about the Yemenis? What was their part?

STARR: Well you know that's what remains to be seen. Certainly they may have provided some assistance on the ground in understanding where his hideout was. That would be something that would be tough for the U.S. to figure out, pretty -- a little bit easier perhaps for the Yemeni security forces to figure out. They understand the ground. They understand the tribal structure on the ground in Yemen and where Awlaki may have found support in various communities where he was hiding out.

But look, to actually track him and then be able to call in a drone with that kind of firepower, with that kind of precision targeting, with jets over head ready to also drop bombs if it came to that. That's the kind of really sophisticated coordination technology communications and intelligence that I think we will assume by all accounts from every source we've talked to. It's that heavy lifting that was done by the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. military. CROWLEY: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you Barbara.

Anwar al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico and lived in the U.S. until the age of 7. CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson picks up the story of how he became one of the world's most wanted terrorists.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An American citizen born to privilege. The son of a Yemeni government minister, he was educated at several U.S. universities before becoming an imam in California, then Virginia. While a preacher the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks says he met three of the 9/11 hijackers.


ROBERTSON: Awlaki's appeal, his charisma of manipulatively use of English will be sorely missed by al Qaeda's Yemen franchise, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His inspirational messages were popular, selling thousands upon thousands of DVDs, offering both recruitment and money raising opportunities for the radical and his allies. His killing plays into Yemeni politics in a big way.

(on camera): But even with Awlaki's reported killing al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a very potent threat. For example, the sophisticated bomb-maker behind the two most recent attempted attacks on the United States, Ibrahim al-Asiri is still on the loose. And as al Qaeda tightens its grip on the provinces, Yemen threatens to become a failed state.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


CROWLEY: Awlaki's killing is bound to send aftershocks through the sometimes deadly game of Middle Eastern politics. From Istanbul, CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom has more on the repercussions as well as details about the other U.S. citizen who died in today's drone attack in Yemen.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Killed alongside (INAUDIBLE) Awlaki on Friday, Samir Han (ph), a Pakistani-born American citizen, who is the co-editor of "Inspire" magazine. That's the English language magazine used by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to try to recruit new members. Yemeni government officials are saying this is a severe blow to the propaganda operations of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

(on camera): What's yet to be seen is the effect that these killings will have on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's grip on power in Yemen. (voice-over): Saleh returned to Yemen last week after a three month recuperation period in Saudi Arabia after an attempt on his life this past June. Saleh has maintained all along that he is the only effective bulwark against al Qaeda in that country. That he is the key player when it comes to the allies of Yemen in trying to combat al Qaeda in that country.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Istanbul (ph).


CROWLEY: We will have more on the impact of al-Awlaki's death in a few minutes.

The president announced the drone strike during today's transition ceremony for the U.S. military's top brass. Army General Martin Dempsey is the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing Admiral Mike Mullen who had the line of the day.


ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: To those of you who aren't the closest to us, well, maybe you should have stepped it up a notch. It doesn't hurt to have friends with access to drones.


CROWLEY: Today's top story in politics, Florida Republicans set their presidential primary for January 31st. That is ahead of the tentative February dates for the Iowa caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Republicans in all four states say they will move up their contests. New Hampshire is not ruling out a primary as early as this December.

And it's official, the government will not shut down tonight at midnight, but check back with us next week. The bill President Obama signed today only contains enough money to keep things running through Tuesday. The House will have to pass yet another short term spending bill before then.

And first it was cantaloupe and now it's lettuce. The California lettuce grower, True Leaf Farms, is recalling nearly 2,500 cartons of chopped or shredded romaine lettuce, shipped to 19 states and Canada. The lettuce which has a use by date of September 29th may be contaminated with the same kind of bacteria that tainted cantaloupes from Colorado. Today the government said 15 people now have died from eating those contaminated cantaloupes.

Billionaire Warren Buffett says after 20 years of class warfare in the U.S., the rich have won. In an interview with CNN today Buffet also defended Bank of America's decision to start charging customers $5 a month for using debit cards. Buffet is a major stakeholder in the bank.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are 7,000 banks in the United States, and if somebody else offers a better deal, people can go to that. It's just like you can change channels on television.


CROWLEY: And hurricane season is not over yet. Today Hurricane Ophelia strengthened into a category three storm with sustained winds of 115 miles an hour. It is expected to pass east of Bermuda by late Saturday. Tropical Storm Philippe is farther out in the Atlantic.

Today, the paramedic who rushed Michael Jackson to the hospital told a jury he never saw any signs of life during the 42 minutes he spent trying to revive him. But he did see Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray putting items in a bag as Jackson was wheeled out of his bedroom. Dr. Murray is on trial for involuntary manslaughter.

And in Italy today prosecutors said there's really no doubt Amanda Knox is a murderer. The U.S. student is appealing her conviction and is expected to address the court Monday just before the judge's ruling. CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is covering the case. Matthew, Knox has one last chance Monday to make her case. What is her case?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well that's right. On Monday she'll be able to make her plea of innocence, so will her former boyfriend, Rafaello Sollecito is also up for appeal in his murder conviction as well. They're going to be doing that in Italian. The parents of Amanda Knox tell me that Amanda has been making notes and preparing what she's going to say after the past several months and so we're expecting this to be a last final you know kind of plea to the jury to set her free, a last final plea of innocence.

The defense all along, Candy, have said that there's no real physical evidence connecting Amanda Knox to the crime scene. They characterize this as a miscarriage of Italian justice. The trick now, of course, the hope on the part of Amanda Knox and her family is that she, along with her defense lawyers so far can convince that jury to overturn that 26-year sentence that she's serving here in Perugia.

CROWLEY: So Matthew, she gets a chance to have her last say here before this court. We're told a ruling could come as early as Monday, but maybe later. But could you go through -- what are the possible outcomes? What could happen?

CHANCE: It's pretty interesting because there are several possible outcomes. It's not just a question of whether she's released or kept in jail. Obviously she could be -- found to be not guilty of these crimes that she's already been convicted of and released straight away. She could be released -- I mean she could be found guilty, of course, and kept in and made to serve out her 26-year sentence.

The prosecution have in fact asked for an increase in the sentence, too, from 26 to life imprisonment. There's also another possibility, which is that you know the court could find Amanda Knox guilty of a lesser crime, reduce her sentence significantly, or perhaps even reduce it to time already served. So there's a whole range of options on the table for the jury to consider and for the judge to finally rule on. As you say, we expect that ruling to come on Monday night.

CROWLEY: Our CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, a very decisive week for Amanda Knox coming up. Thank you.

Still ahead, in his own words, the man called the American al Qaeda, he is gone. The people he inspired are not.

And later the richest self-made woman in the world -- here's a hint -- she's in business.


CROWLEY: A just released bulletin from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warns that U.S. and western-based sympathizers of al Qaeda may attempt to take violent action in the wake of today's U.S. drone strike that killed al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. Long before he became one of the world's most wanted men Anwar al-Awlaki actually taught at a mosque in the suburbs here outside Washington. Even though he was killed by a U.S. drone strike today his image and his teachings are all over the Internet and the words are chilling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the Muslims in America I have this to say, how can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters? How can you have your loyalty to a government that is leading the war against Islam and Muslims?


CROWLEY: Officials say al-Awlaki is tied to a number of high profile terror attacks, the 2009 shootings that killed 13 people at Ft. Hood in Texas, 2009's failed Christmas Day bombing when a passenger with explosives concealed in his underwear bombed trying to bring down an airliner as it came into Detroit. He has also been connected to last year's attempted bombing in Times Square, as well as the failed attempt to bring down cargo planes with bombs hidden in toner cartridges for printers.

With us now California Congressman Adam Schiff, he is a Democrat and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressman Schiff thanks for being here. We know this is a significant get, a significant moment for the United States. But is it a psychological blow to al Qaeda or is it an actual operational blow?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it's both. It's certainly a psychological blow, but he was very operational as well. He was probably one of the most successful in terms of recruiting westerners, people with U.S. passports to commit acts of violence against the U.S. or against our allies, so in that sense as one of the operational recruiters, it's a very significant loss to al Qaeda.

CROWLEY: And operationally was he able to get things to -- secure plots outside Yemen? Or was he strictly an Internet promoter of al Qaeda views?

SCHIFF: Well, you know he certainly used the Internet very well, and he was very strong in technology, strong in his understanding of the west. That's what made him so dangerous. He you know had communication with the Ft. Hood shooter, so yes he was able to help radicalize, help give a religious patina of respectability in terms of committing those kind of acts of violence. So he did certainly have an effect beyond Yemen's borders, but also in terms of hatching plots in Yemen, like the underwear bomber that could you know have killed many people outside of Yemen.

And I think the real significance is in the context of two things. One is his killing is the most recent of a series of devastating blows to al Qaeda in terms of the losses in their key leadership, both in the al Qaeda central, as well as the franchises. But then you have the dual blow to the ideology of al Qaeda that we see in the Arab Spring. And I think these two things put together really are quite devastating to al Qaeda, the loss of their narrative of the whole Arab Spring, the idea that you can bring about change without these acts of terrorism as we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, and then the loss of these key players in al Qaeda.

CROWLEY: We were told that the bodies in this convoy -- in the cars that were hit in the convoy were burned beyond recognition. And yet from the start, the U.S. said this is Awlaki. We know this is Awlaki. How do we know this is Awlaki?

SCHIFF: Well here I'm going to speculate. We, you know in advance of these kind of attacks -- and obviously we've been going after these targets for a long time. We want to make sure that we can make positive identification. It's no good to us if we don't know whether we have killed the right person. So that may take the form of having DNA that we can match. It may take the form of having dental records or other proof of --

CROWLEY: Couldn't be either of those two because it was before his father even got out to where the killing took place. It was almost instantaneous --

SCHIFF: You know if I had the specific information in terms of how the ID could be made, I wouldn't be able to share it with you. But suffice to say that there's a high level of confidence that the ID is correct here --

CROWLEY: You're convinced that it is Awlaki.

SCHIFF: On the basis of what I heard, yes, and you wouldn't have high-ranked people in the administration expressing such confidence about it unless they had pretty rock solid proof.

CROWLEY: I want to play you something from one of your House colleagues, Ron Paul, and what he had to say today about the U.S. drone attack that killed Awlaki. Take a listen.


REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Awlaki was born here. He's an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. Nobody knows if he ever killed anybody. We know that he might have been associated with the underwear bomber. But if the American people accept this blindly and casually, we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys.


CROWLEY: So the question here, we heard similar reservations from the ACLU saying this was an American citizen who was born in New Mexico, and he was killed by his own government. Any qualms, do you have any qualms whatsoever?

SCHIFF: You know I would only agree with Ron in his comment that Americans shouldn't accept this blindly and casually. This is not a casual thing; this is the killing of an American citizen. At the same time --

CROWLEY: Two American citizens --

SCHIFF: Two American citizens -- at the same time when someone, an American citizen or not, joins a foreign terrorist organization and operationally tries to kill Americans, and they're in a place that we can't reach them to arrest them. I think under the laws of war and the laws frankly of necessity we can use lethal force as we did today. It's not a source of immunity having a U.S. passport. But more than that, you join a foreign militant terrorist organization.

It would be different if we had arrested them and the administration sought to execute them without any core processes. That of course would never be allowed. But in these stateless areas and in this new kind of amorphous warfare that we're in against not nation states, but against these organizational enemies, I think it is legal under the law of war.

CROWLEY: Who is next? In many ways this is like the domestic 10 most wanted. Who now does the U.S. have their sights set on in terms of priority? Who do we most want?

SCHIFF: Well I think al-Awlaki and Zawahiri were probably until today --

CROWLEY: Who is now head of al Qaeda --

SCHIFF: Exactly.

CROWLEY: Zawahiri.

SCHIFF: I think they were the top two targets for different reasons. Zawahiri because he in now the head of al Qaeda central, obviously one of the pioneers of the attacks of 9/11. Awlaki though because he represents the most dangerous of the franchises of al Qaeda. And he also had the window into the western mind and the capability of recruiting and self-radicalizing people in the United States. So for different reasons I would say those were our top two targets before today and now al-Zawahiri is on the top of the list.

CROWLEY: Leaves Zawahiri. Right, Congressman Adam Schiff thank you so much for coming by, appreciate it.

SCHIFF: A pleasure.

CROWLEY: You can make the case that 2011 has been a bad year for terrorists, but what does that mean for the rest of us in the years ahead? We'll explore that next.


CROWLEY: Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, big names, big deaths and big victories for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Today Defense Secretary Leon Panetta summed it up this way.


PANETTA: This has been a bad year for terrorists. You know, we just have seen a major blow, another major blow to al Qaeda, someone who was truly an operational arm of al Qaeda in this node of Yemen.


CROWLEY: But what does a bad year for terrorists mean for the rest of us? We want to ask CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, who was President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser and John Miller, a former deputy director of national intelligence. What is different now than the hours before Awlaki was killed -- start with Peter.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know clearly, this guy was able to recruit people in Britain and (INAUDIBLE) the United States. I'm not convinced -- some people say he's Osama bin Laden number two. I think that's overdoing it. You know in terms of reaction, Candy, there was no reaction really to speak of. When Osama bin Laden was killed there were protests in Pakistan, a couple of attacks, but we're four months after bin Laden's death, so the idea that we should get sort of hysterically worried about a potential attack as a result of Anwar al-Awlaki's death I think is -- it's -- I mean the FBI and DHS have put out sort of a statement, which is --

CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE) little CYA, right --


CROWLEY: You've got to say, but watch out, right --

BERGEN: Due diligence to some degree, I mean it's part of their job, but does that mean that something is you know imminent -- of course not. CROWLEY: Fran, but when you look at it, it just seems to me that this man's basic tool, Awlaki's basic tool was the Internet and guess what? He's still alive on the Internet, so what do we really have here?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NAT'L SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well that's right, Candy, and he's got these tapes that are -- millions of these tapes especially in the U.K. --

CROWLEY: That sell well.

TOWNSEND: And they'll sell better now, but I do think -- look he had become more than just that, more than sort of a charismatic figure. He had really become an operational leader, which is what led to his targeting. Remember he not only inspired and encouraged Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter, but he also had the attempted Christmas Day bomber and the cargo bomber, the cargo plane attempted bombing.

CROWLEY: Who drew at least (INAUDIBLE) who drew inspiration at the very least --

TOWNSEND: Oh I think it's more than that.


TOWNSEND: What authorities are saying is that he was recruiting them. He was organizing these plots. He had become the sort of chief external operations guy, and that's what really leads to his targeting today.

CROWLEY: John, in fact Congressman Peter King sort of spoke to it, Peter Bergen was talking about, he's chairman of the Homeland Security Committee as you know. He said in many ways Awlaki was operationally more important than bin Laden. And Peter doesn't -- he thinks that's overdoing it. Where does he -- how important is this I guess in terms of the war on terror? Are we getting there is sort of the question?

JOHN MILLER, FMR. DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NAT'L INTELLIGENCE: Well I think Peter King makes a good point there, which is, if you have an inspirational messenger who's punching through in terms of the message and getting people to come across in ways that Ayman al-Zawahiri and others, even bin Laden are not, in the post 9/11 world we saw an average of four attacks -- plots for attacking U.S. soil a year. When Anwar al-Awlaki found the democratization of television and started exploiting the Internet and YouTube so effectively, that went to eight plots, nine plots, 11 plots. We're on track in 2011 to beat that. You can trace the inspiration of Anwar al-Awlaki in cases that involved actually about 20 arrests where either that evidence was found, or people like the Times Square truck bomber, Faisal Shahzad said, when I used to watch Anwar al-Awlaki on that computer, I thought he was talking to me.

That's a big deal.

CROWLEY: It's a huge deal. But again, it's kind of still out there, you know, the beauty or the awfulness of the Internet, is it never goes away.

MILLER: The difference is when you remove the physical Anwar Awlaki from the virtual Anwar Awlaki, you take cases like the printer bomb case, where Awlaki and others in the leadership of AQAP were devising this plot specifically because operator error is where they were failing. So, they said, let a machine do it.

When you take the Abdulmutallab case or the underwear bomber from Christmas 2009 and say, was it just Anwar al-Awlaki's message that seduced him or was it actually Anwar Awlaki who got online with him, brought him over to Yemen, introduce him to the trainer?

CROWLEY: Conversation back and forth.

MILLER: And that's where the human element has now been removed, because Anwar Awlaki is gone.

CROWLEY: Leon Panetta in July said this to Congress, that the U.S. was within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda. Would you all agree with that? And are we even more in reach at this point? I mean, how long are we taking? When will we know that al Qaeda is just operationally not a factor any more?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, al Qaeda hasn't had a successful attack in the West since the 7/7 attack, July 7th, 2005, and hasn't had a successful attack in the United States since September 11th. So, you know, I think when he says strategic defeat, it doesn't mean that they are not capable of

CROWLEY: They've moved on.

BERGEN: Right. I mean -- so, look, not only Leon Panetta, David Petraeus said something very similar. You know, World War II did not end when every Nazi was killed. But obviously, it's a different kind of conflict. The point is, is that we can't kill every member of al Qaeda and say that's a victory.

At a certain point, they become -- essentially they're less and less relevant over time. There are still Marxists-Leninists somewhere on the campus in the United States. No one pays any attention.

CROWLEY: Not relevant anymore.

BERGEN: So, that's kind of what we're hoping to achieve.

CROWLEY: Let me -- let's talk about the U.S./Yemen relationship. I find all this fascinating. President Saleh comes back from recovering his injuries that were from anti-government protesters. And within days, suddenly, Awlaki, who the U.S. has been looking for for years is killed. And it kind of looks like a trophy head to the U.S. -- look what I can do for you. And again puts the U.S. a little bit, it seems to me, on the side of a leader with a very bad track record.

Is that -- do you think that's what's going on? I mean, was the timing a coincidence? FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I do you think it was a coincidence. I know that sounds odd, but when you talk to intelligence officials on both sides of this, both U.S. folks and Yemeni folks, they'll tell you they've been working on this target over the last three months. And over the last three months, the intelligence sharing was better than any time in recent history, that this was a building up overtime, that -- these things don't just happen in days when somebody arrives. It really requires the intelligence seating and sources and surveillance, so you build the pressure and make sure when you press that button and release a hell fire missile, it's at the right target at the right time to be effective.

CROWLEY: Sure. But you've got to -- you've got to get that target. And, obviously, someone on the ground is tracking him or maybe we have great sophisticated ways. But it seems to me that this does affect how the U.S. deals with President Saleh, or does it?

MILLER: I mean, if you take Fran's time line, the three months that this was worked on, if that's the right time line, was the time he was away.


MILLER: So, I wouldn't read too much or too little into that. I would also add the context that the day before the Christmas 2009 bombing, there were military strikes targeting Awlaki and other AQAP leaders within 24 hours of that happening. So, he's not a new target, and they have hit for him before.

As we learned in the case of Osama bin Laden, sometimes you have to hit for a target in a lot of times, in a lot of places before you get it.

CROWLEY: I have to stop it there. Thank you all so much, John Miller, Fran Townsend, Peter Bergen, thanks.

In a few minutes, more of the political fallout from the Anwar al-Awlaki killing.

But, next, the richest self-made woman in the world.


CROWLEY: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now:

Tonight, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security is warning today's drone strike that killed al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al Awlaki may increase the overall near term threat to the U.S. homeland.

We learned today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's wife Landra is undergoing treatment for stage 2 breast cancer. And aides say the Senator and Mrs. Reid appreciate people's thoughts and concerns and they ask for respect and privacy. They've been married since 1959 and they have five children.

A 240-point drop ended a bad day for the Dow industrials and a horrible quarter on Wall Street. Over July, August and September, the Dow lost 12 percent of its value, the NASDAQ lost 13 percent, and the S&P 500 was down 14 percent.

But one expert says China's rich have defied the global financial crisis, including the richest self-made woman in the world. The HuRun report, which ranks China's wealthiest individuals, identifies her as Wu Yanjun, executive director of Longfor Properties Company. She is worth, wait for this -- $6.6 billion.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" is coming up at the top of the hour.

Now, it was richest woman. I know you're the richest man, Anderson.


CROWLEY: That's tomorrow.

COOPER: Yes -- $6.4 billion? I mean, I can't even imagine, that's just crazy.

Yes, breaking news obviously tonight on the program, as you are, Candy. New information on what the American-turned-terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was planning when he was taken out by a drone in Yemen. He'd hoped to launch a terror attack on the United States using weapons of mass destruction. We have all the angles on that.

In "Crime and Punishment" today, details from day four of the Michael Jackson death trial. Testimony from a first responder who told the jury that Michael Jackson showed no signs of life by the time they arrived. And the details that Jackson's personal doctor gave him did not add up. A live report from Los Angeles, also talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos.

Also ahead, a student has been suspended in the school district of Jamie Rodemeyer, the 14-year-old who killed himself after years of relentless of bullying. We'll tell you why the student has been suspended. We'll also hear from the school superintendent.

Those stories and tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Anderson. Nineteen minutes from now, we will be there.

Next up, the political fallout of today's drone strike.


CROWLEY: We have our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Star who has new details about today's U.S. drone strike in Yemen that killed terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. Barbara, what are you learning? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, we now know it was code named Operation Troy. And for the last two weeks, the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command had kept a very close eye on Anwar al-Awlaki. They had a good idea of where he was, they were simply waiting essentially to get a clean hit, no civilians nearby. No undue damage.

That's what finally happened today after keeping their eyes on him for two weeks.

This is turning out to be not all that dissimilar from the Osama bin Laden operation. The Joint Special Operations Command, those clandestine military units were deeply involved in this. They were leading some of the targeting efforts to go after him, working hand in hand with the CIA. We also now know that troops, Special Operations, Special Forces from JSOC, from the clandestine military units, were on stand by, ready to go into Yemen if there had been a downed pilot or any U.S. personnel at risk. They were not called in, but JSOC was up to this -- into this all the way hand in hand with the CIA -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So I think -- I have this feeling, Barbara, like so many things, we'll be hearing more and more details coming out. Thank you so much for that.

Joining us now to now to sort of mull this over from a political point of view, three White House reporters: Michael Scheuer from "TIME" magazine, Julie Mason from "Politico," and CNN's own chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

I have been fascinated all day by this dancing on the head of the pin that the administration is doing, which is, we got him, we got him, but really the Yemenis did this. It was our drone, so we killed him with our drone. But even that, you get on background. You get on background.

Tell me why.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think part of it is they want to keep some distance from the Yemenis, because they don't want -- this could be perceived inside Yemen by the people of Yemen as, well, foreign intervention. Look, it kind of is.

CROWLEY: If we're all winking and nodding, they must know, too.

YELLIN: So, you want -- there's a concern about political instability there. And then there's this line about not acknowledging covert operations that they do in this instance, yada, yada, yada.

So, there's -- I think the instability inside Yemen is the big concern. And then there's the fact that we've killed an American, and it gets into the legalities of how do you explain that?

CROWLEY: Right, two Americans.

JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Candy, there's also a discomfort in this administration about appearing to capitalize on these things. We saw it with bin Laden. They thought it was in every to overemphasize the death of bin Laden. And here, we have them kind of not really promoting.

When Jessica and I covered George W. Bush together, we would have been hearing about this for weeks and months and days over breakfast.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: It's also true that Obama's going to get the political credit for this, and that political credit is only going to go so far. It's not going to really help him where he needs the help the most. People already approve of how he's doing on terrorism and foreign policy matters, the things he can control. The things he can't control which are the things Americans care about most, the economy is really his problem.

CROWLEY: Unless somehow this is going to create jobs.


CROWLEY: This may not be helpful.

And you take me neatly to my next point. I want to show you this CNN/ORC poll on approval of how Obama's handling things.

Terrorism, 62 percent; Libya, 52 percent; foreign affairs, 50 percent; and then economy on down the line -- unemployment, 37. So, it drops. And we saw nothing from the Osama bin Laden death.

Do you expect anything from this?

SCHEUER: He got two or three weeks from the bin Laden death. On strong leadership, and then, August came, strong leadership, he was killed because he was looked -- the country saw him as weak.

Behind those poll numbers, another poll number that's in that poll, that 90 percent of the country thinks the economy is not where it should be. That's a number that hasn't been that high since December of 2008. It's a terrifying number for the administration, who came in thinking they would have been able to have fixed it by the time they went into the reelect. Now, we're really back to square one right now.

YELLIN: And that's what voters will vote on, obviously, is the economy. But expect to hear the president tout all these terrorism success on the campaign trail as promises delivered on.

CROWLEY: Sure. And does he not at least get some -- what you know is he's a strong decisive leader. But it seem to me he ought to get some bump up here.

MASON: Well, but as Michael said, the economy is so bad and people feel it. Until they feel their own personal prospects improving, all these other things he's doing are not going to matter. You know, the food control issues and the terrorism suspects and all these other stuff. None of it is going to make a dent.

CROWLEY: I want to -- there were a lot of Republican candidates today that say really glad we got him, the president should be given credit.

But there was a split along the campaign trail. I want to play you a couple bites here. Just take a listen.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Al-Awlaki was born here, he's an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. Nobody knows if he ever killed anybody.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any American who actively advocates killing Americans, places themselves in our Constitution as a traitor.


GINGRICH: The American who the president authorized killing in Yemen was an enemy combatant.


CROWLEY: So, Ron Paul, A-plus for consistency.

YELLIN: Right.

CROWLEY: You know -- I mean, this is what we would have expected. He's on the side of the ACLU. And I do think that there must be some concern as you suggested earlier. It's just kind of a little icky, like everyone thinks this guy -- he was a terrorists. He was killing Americans . He was encouraging the killing of Americans. And yet --

MASON: You heard it at the White House today, Candy. In the briefing, there was a lot of skepticism. There was a lot of demand for justification for the killing this individual, when four years ago, we wouldn't have heard that. It would have been a completely different tenor.

YELLIN: But the bottom line is, if you watch the Republican debates right now, and they are the only debates happening -- how much does foreign policy occupy? Almost not at all. I mean, it's just not where the American people's minds are.

CROWLEY: And Panetta, by the way, did come out and say, totally justified. You know, not even a problem.

SCHEUER: You remember that debate a couple debates ago when Rick Perry was asked the question about the number of people being put to death in Texas and he was applauded, just as the question was asked. Ron Paul's not going to pick up a lot of votes for his position.


YELLIN: They try, but, you know, it's a little different.

CROWLEY: But A-plus for consistency. Michael, Julie, Jessica, stay with us.

Are you happy with your current economic situation? Our bet is you're not. How will it influence who you vote for next year? That's ahead.


CROWLEY: Americans remain disgusted with the economy. And a new CNN poll shows 90 percent say conditions are poor.

The economy is the number one issue for 2012. All of us here agree. What does that say about the president's chances of winning a second term?

Our panel of top journalists is here to discuss it.

I'm saying that at the White House, as you mentioned earlier, this is a panic number to me -- 90 percent of voters of America say economy is in a poor condition. If he won, if these numbers hold or anything like these numbers hold -- it would be historic for him to win?

YELLIN: No question about it. And this race will be a dogfight, they know it. The strategy is a little far out to know, but the strategy right now is a dogfight to position him against Washington, amazingly, even though he's the president. So, the president --

CROWLEY: Ronald Reagan did it very well, by the way. Yes.

YELLIN: It's following the Reagan pattern. So, he's fighting a do-nothing Congress that won't pass his agenda, which is now this jobs agenda.

And also to run on his personal likability, that this is a man of character. And the polling shows that Americans like him as a guy who works hard for them, even if they don't think he's getting the job done yet, he's trying to, and to put those two things together to try to get a second term.

CROWLEY: And, Julie, is there -- there's also, I think, a part of this that is, like, they're just hoping for someone they can paint as crazy?

MASON: Right, exactly.

CROWLEY: Right? There's me or this crazy guy, right?

MASON: They're hoping for the worst opponent possible and they just bank on that. You know, the thinking has always been, if President Obama can just keep his approval ratings around 50 percent and show some limited, even limited progress in the economy, and raise this billion dollars that he's planning to raise, he was just going to win it, and it doesn't matter who he ran against.

But now, with everything cratering, he's going to need that billion dollars. He's going to need a really bad opponent. And it's still going to be a fight.

SCHEUER: When you hear the Obama campaign talking now, there are things like demographics. There are things like grassroots organizing -- everything but the things we'll end up deciding in this election, the big macro issues.

They have to have better numbers by next year. I don't think they can win with 90 percent of the country, it's not just historic -- it's almost impossible. They have to have better numbers by next spring. And they may have slightly better numbers by next spring and they have to be able to convince the American people that the alternative is actually worse. You're not happy with what you got now, but if you pick this guy or this woman, it's going to be worse than it has to be.

YELLIN: The model they keep -- the model not they, but the model people -- Democrats keep pointing to is the Harry Reid Senate race that just happened in 2010, where Harry Reid's numbers were terrible, but he was running against somebody they were able to paint as whackadoodle crazy.


SCHEUER: Latino turnout matters. It's a huge deal. So, it's like they're thinking that. Look, with North Carolina, we can get minority, black and Latino turnout up. We might be able to take. We might be able to take Virginia even if the headwinds are against us.

CROWLEY: I mean, they really are. I mean, I'm told they're -- it's the new voters, the ones that weren't old enough to vote last time around, it's Latinos, it is minorities, and it's the gay, lesbian, transgender community. That's where they're going to sort of pump up that vote.

It's not going to be enough, as we know. He's got to get the swing voters back.

But I want to -- I want to turn you to the Republican race because it's fun. It's fun, right?

OK. And this is a Romney ad going directly at Governor Perry.


NARRATOR: Who supports Governor Perry's decision to give in- state tuition to illegal immigrants?

VICENTE FOX, FORMER MEXICAN PRESIDENT: I want to publicly recognize Governor Perry and the state of Texas


CROWLEY: OK. So, the president of Mexico -- they all get cameos, right? President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the president of Mexico, he's tying Rick Perry. This is fascinating to me. The most conservative front-runner certainly is Governor Perry. And Romney is going at him trying to tie him to Pelosi and Harry Reid and the Mexican president.

SCHEUER: When Perry got in the race, you had the sense that he thought because his poll numbers, he came in very high, that he could kind of coast a while as the front-runner and establish himself, and what Romney is showing is that he can't coast. They really -- he's being hit so hard right now, he's going to have to go negative, hard against Romney. And I think we'll see that in the coming weeks.

He's already being hit now. But we'll see in the coming weeks.

YELLIN: It will be a little counter intuitive. You know, everyone says Perry's too conservative to win, on immigration to win the general. On immigration, you see that he's got some middle ground here. So, this is one area you really could move to the center to capture some independents.

CROWLEY: And I just because we want to end Friday on a good laugh, it came this week from former speaker, Newt Gingrich, also on undocumented workers.


GINGRICH: How many of you have ever tracked a package on either UPS or FedEx? Just raise your hand. OK. So, this is not a theory, right? The federal government has somewhere between 11 million and 20 million illegal immigrants we can't find? And I'm suggesting that we simply send each of them a package.


CROWLEY: Somehow outsourcing. Exactly.


CROWLEY: Jessica, Julie, Michael, thank you.

That's all from us tonight. Remember, our new time slot beginning next week, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday through Friday.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.