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Syrian Children in the Crossfire; U.S. Drone in Iranian Hands?

Aired December 9, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

And begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with the murder of a child. We know his name. It's Maher al-Husseini. And we're told he was 10 years old. We don't know what he wanted to be when he grew up. But tonight we only know that he will never grow up.

We have seen so many children killed in Syria. He is not the first. He will not be the last. So many children have been killed in Syria, shot by snipers, killed after being arrested by the regime. Some have been tortured. So many children have died, it risks becoming mundane, murder that doesn't even make headlines anymore.

But that should not be. So, tonight, we're leading off this broadcast with video of the death of Maher al-Husseini. Now, some of you will say we should not show this video. And I understand that. It is sickening. It is hard to watch. It is horrific. But we believe what is even more horrific is dying in silence, murder that is then covered up by lies, lies from a dictator who says it isn't happening, a dictator who says, we're not pulling the trigger on sniper rifles that kill children. We're not shooting on funerals.

He says it's not happening and yet, every day, in hundreds of homemade videos, we have seen it happening. You will see it happening tonight. Maher al-Husseini's only crime, it seems, was being at home in Syria in the city of Homs in the middle of a war being waged by a brutal dictator against his own people, a dictator who in the face of evidence that grows daily continues to deny everything.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: We don't kill our people. Nobody kill -- no government in the world kill its people, unless it's led by a crazy person.

For me, as president, I became president because of the public support. It's impossible for anyone in this state to give order to kill.


COOPER: He became president because his daddy was president before him. Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad talking to ABC's Barbara Walters denying what by now has become obvious around the world. Syrian troops, security forces and secret police are killing people every single day. According to the U.N.'s top investigator, they have killed more than 300 children since this uprising began, 56 last month alone. Many more in the last week or so and several today, including apparently Maher al-Husseini, upstairs in his house in the surrounded city of Homs.

Again, a warning. This is very tough to take. "A sniper bullet hit an 8-year-old child," he's saying. "He was at home and got hit." He then points to a bullet hole, the bullet that apparently came through the window. He then begins to show you bloodstains. "We cannot aid the child," he says. "We do not know where to take him because of the firing on the building and in the streets."

"Three others were wounded," he tells us, following the bloodstains down several flights of stairs. He continues talking on the way down, saying things like "We're not safe" and "This government is murderous. It is killing people. It is killing its own people."

We then see whose blood this is. We see Maher's body, the streets too dangerous even for a funeral, he says. We can't say for certain who pulled the trigger on the rifle that killed this child. Some opposition forces are now arming themselves to fight the government. Syria won't let outside reporters into the country, won't let international observers in to document what is truly happening there.

Also from today, there is more video, video that captures the stress and panic of mourners and worshipers inside a mosque. They're part of a funeral procession, a procession that is apparently being shot at by security forces. You can actually hear the gunfire just outside the door when the videotape starts. You can hear the terror inside.

"Shooting at funerals," he's saying. "They're shooting at funerals, raiding the neighborhood. The army and security forces are raiding the neighborhood."

Then, moments later, bodies from the funeral are rushed inside the building. Three bodies come through the door, two men first carried on the shoulders of mourners, some themselves wounded and bloody. Then a third body is brought in, a boy. Mohammed Nasr (ph), we are told that is his name. He is apparently just 12 years old.

Earlier, I spoke with an opposition member who has been our eyes and ears inside Syria throughout the uprising because our continued requests for visas have been denied. As always, for his protection, we're only using his first name, Zaidoun.

I also spoke with a woman named Ramita Navai, a PBS reporter who spent two weeks undercover in Syria in September and shared her story in a "Frontline"documentary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Zaidoun, yet again, we're seeing video of children who have been shot to death in Syria. When you hear the government of Syria, the regime of Syria saying they're not killing people, that they're not killing innocent people and that they're not ordering the deaths of any people, how can they say that when we constantly are seeing these videos?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Well, I mean, they keep lying and lying until they believe what they lie about. I don't know, I mean, whether they believe it or not, but everybody knows that the killing is happening on a daily basis. And we can see it just in front of us.

Today, we lost seven children, two women amongst 45 killed today. And the worst is the funeral in one of the kids, another kid was shot. And if they really say that these videos are fake, then let the media go in and let us see whether this is real or not. Everybody knows that the regime is doing systematic killing on a daily basis.

You can also measure it from the number of people killed, as if they just measure it. They want today 30 -- every day 30 to 40 people dead. And we hear the same figure on daily basis, between 30 and 40 people killed on daily basis, as if there is a clear, you know, command, kill between 30 and 40 people every day. And this is what is happening.

COOPER: Ramita, you were able to get into Syria. You saw for yourself, with your own eyes, what is happening there. Can you describe what life is like on a daily basis now?

RAMITA NAVAI, "Frontline": People are terrified. In a lot of the towns outside Syria, the economy has ground to a standstill. There are daily violent house-to-house raids.

Activists and protesters are too scared to leave their houses during the day, so they live life on the run, living in safe house, moving from safe house to safe house. Life is not as normal. In fact, it feels like a wartime era there.

COOPER: And, Ramita, when you hear the Syrian leader, the dictator of Syria saying, we're not ordering the deaths of people, there are no house-to-house searches, people are not being arrested and killed in their homes, what do you think? You have seen it for yourself.

NAVAI: Yes. I mean, on some level, it's quite laughable. I was watching an Assad interview and I was laughing at the same time as screaming at the television, because, of course, what is happening there is absolutely undeniable. It's all around you.

You can't escape it. It's impossible for somebody to be a member of the government and not know that these killings are happening and, of course, not just killings, but the detention of thousands and thousands and the torture of thousands.

COOPER: Zaidoun, President Assad said this week to Barbara Walters that it's impossible for someone in the Syrian government to give an order to kill people. How do you respond to that?

ZAIDOUN: I can just say it. I mean, he has all authority in Syria. And he has full responsibility for what is going on. And when they say that there is no torture, just a few days ago, my friend came out of a jail because of again demonstrating peacefully. He was crucified for one full night. He was crucified for one full night.


COOPER: When you say crucified, what do you mean?

ZAIDOUN: Yesterday, I was about to travel to my home village in Daraa, and then I received a call from my family do not try even to do so because the village is being raided right now. And they arrested -- they arrested 20 people. And they burned bikes just like that, just to tease people or I don't know why.

And the entire city is just occupied. You cannot cross into Daraa unless you go through four or five checkpoints from every entrance of the city. Now, the question is, is this all done without the president knowing about it? This is unbelievable. No one can believe that.

COOPER: Daraa is where these demonstrations began. At the time, initially, it was not calling for the overthrew of the regime, it was not calling for the ouster of Assad. It was only after he cracked down and started killing people that that became the rallying cry.

But, Zaidoun, Syria's leading opposition group is saying that the military, the government has now surrounded the city of Homs and that the military has issued a 72-hour deadline for people to stop protesting and a lot of people there fear a massacre. From what you're hearing, what is the latest going on in that city?

ZAIDOUN: Well, everything is believed about this regime.

My information says that this city, Homs, which is the biggest city in Syria, which has from all religions, from all sects -- you have Muslims, Christians, you have orthodox Catholics, Protestants, you have Sunni, Shia, Alawi. Everybody is there, OK?

This city is well known for coexistence. People lived with each other for centuries without any sectarian sensitivities. Now, unfortunately, the regime is dragging the entire people over there for some sort of sectarian, I don't know, conflict or more than that even.

So I can believe everything now. My information says that the local authorities in Homs is watching Shabiha during the daily killing without doing anything, so that they evoke more sectarian problems.

COOPER: That is the government militia.

Zaidoun, I appreciate you joining us again. Please stay safe.

And, Ramita Navai, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ZAIDOUN: You're welcome, Anderson. Thank you very much.

NAVAI: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, let us know what you think about the killings in Syria. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles, or follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight as well.

Up next, is a high-tech American stealth drone now in the hands of Iran? The Iranians say yes, that they brought it down. American officials, well, let's just say their story is evolving. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And later tonight, the deadly epidemic of driving while distracted, cell phones, texting, even tuning the radio. Tom Foreman is actually going to show you firsthand how dangerous it can be to text while driving.

Let's also check in with Isha Sesay -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, sentencing today for the second of two killers in the home invasion murder that left a woman and two daughters dead. The jury made its recommendation today. Reaction afterwards from the father, Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor.


DR. WILLIAM PETIT, SURVIVED DEADLY HOME INVASION: We certainly have been criticized over the years that this is vengeance and bloodlust. But this is really about justice.


SESAY: That and much more when 360 continues.


COOPER: Hey, welcome back. We're "Keeping Them Honest" in Washington tonight as well, tracking the evolving story of what became of an American drone like this one. It's called an RQ-170 Sentinel. It is also known as the beast of Kandahar.

Reports are sent that it was orbiting over Osama bin Laden's compound gathering intelligence while the stealth technology made it invisible to Pakistani radar. Tonight though, that cell technology may be in the hands Iran. Iran claims, they tracked and RQ-170 last week as it flew, they claim across the Afghan border deep into Iran. Then they say they brought it down mostly in one piece and this, they say, is it.

You can see it. It looks more like it landed than it actually crashed, doesn't look like there's much damage. Is it for real? Well, the experts differ. Was it spying on Iran, especially Iran's nuclear program? American officials are not saying. But as we said, their story is evolving.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S., using the NATO alliance in Afghanistan to issue a statement is only saying, "the UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week." The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status, that according to the statement.


COOPER: That is Barbara Starr on Sunday. The drone in Afghanistan and not down by Iran. By Tuesday, for inside sources were telling a different story.


STARR: The U.S. stealth drone that crashed in Iran last week after the U.S. lost control of it was part of a CIA reconnaissance mission using both CIA and military personnel. Two officials have now told CNN. Confirming also it was an RQ-170, the stealth drone that is so important to the CIA. No one will say whether the drone was actually flying over Iranian airspace.

We also know that when the drone went down, the U.S. did consider some type of mission to recover the wreckage or bomb it to keep it out of the hands of the Iranians. That's how important it was. But all those options were discarded because it was inside Iran.

The question now, of course, is if Iranians have their hands on the wreckage which the U.S. believes they do, what do they really have? How intact is it?


COOPER: Well, so now the drone is acknowledged to be a stealth grown and Iranians have it. The question, is it a pile of wreckage or pretty much in one piece? Here was the answer at about 10: 00 this morning.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And one U.S. officials says they have satellite footage of that crash site and it shows that the drone suffered significant damage.


COOPER: That is Chris Lawrence from the Pentagon this morning. Significant damage the word. But now listen to the state department briefing just a couple hours later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Press TV has paraded what they claim is your drone or an American drone that appears to be intact. Do you have any comment on that? I suspect you may not.



COOPER: Well, that's where we stand tonight. Some of America's most carefully guarded stealth technology possibly now in the hands of an adversary nuclear rendition in which become many, cold war. More than half a century ago, our co-advisory, the Soviet Union, put pieces of an American spy plane, the U-2 on display, state-of-the-art technology back then.

Unlike today, they also had a pilot, Francis Gary Powers. But also like today, the story of how he went down evolved and it took a while to learn the whole truth.

Earlier tonight, I talked about what the Iranians may have and what its mission might have on his mission might have been with former CIA officer and time. com intelligence columnist Robert Baer, co- author of the company "We Keep a Husband and Wife, true life spy story." Also, Fareed Zakaria, editor at large to "TIME" magazine and host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."


COOPER: Bob, do you think the drone shown on Iranian TV is the real thing?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Oh, I think it absolutely is. I mean, it's not something that they could imitate and fake this thing. I think what happened is it was either forced down by hacking or in fact landed these drones have a programmable to land on flat ground. There is no evidence of damage though. That's my question.

COOPER: So you think the Iranians actually hacked into the system?

BAER: There's a possibility they did. This is -- you know, Washington has denied it so far. But they can hack into these things and order them to land. They can override American controls.

COOPER: It's interesting, Fareed. I mean, this is kind of a glimpse of if in fact this is a real drone and they did hack it or bring it down somehow. This is just a glimpse into what is basically a stealth war, covert war between the U.S. and Iran, isn't it?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Absolutely. This is something we sometimes forget. The United States is very actively engaged in cohort operations against Iran. The drones are one part of it. They are also funding certain kinds of groups that operate on Iran's borders.

The other sense in which, Anderson, this is a glimpse of the future perhaps is Iran is using symmetrical methods, a symmetrical warfare to bring down America's advantages so they can't build a drone. But they figured out a way to hack into the system and bring down the drone.

I agree with Robert. I'm clear what happened. Because it does not seem to be significant damage, there is at least a decent chance that what happened is that the Iranians figured out some way to do this. And that's a very interesting example of this warfare. It's what the Chinese study when they look at how to do battle with us. It's what the Iranians are studying.

COOPER: There is also, Bob, been hacking of -- by some whether it's the U.S. or Israel or someone else of Iranian nuclear facilities. And in fact, Iranian nuclear scientists, some of them have been killed in the streets in Iran, haven't they?

BAER: Yes, I think this undoubtedly the Israelis. The United States is not waging a lethal war against Iran right now. There's no authority for it. If there were, we would have seen leaks of this so far. So, I think it's our best guess is it's the Israelis. But in the Iranian's eyes, we're allied with them and we may as well be responsible. I think, you know, Fareed is absolutely right. We're seeing this shadow war starting to escalate and in a serious way.

COOPER: If Iran does, in fact, have the U.S. drone from an intelligence standpoint, how bad is that? Somebody compared it to dropping a Ferrari in an ox part technology culture, basically saying Iran wouldn't have any idea what to do with it. Do you agree that?

ZAKARIA: Not at all. I think that's absurd. Look, remember, this is a fairly advanced country. This is an advanced society. It is 90 million people. They are producing centrifuges by the dozens. They are, you know, moving on a nuclear program.

The drone is also very advanced the technology that they would be very interested in. It's very recent. I think it was unveiled in 2009. This is a big deal. I think I would be interested to know what Bob thinks. But it strikes me that this exposes very vulnerable, very new American technology.

Also remember, the Iranians now have something that the Chinese and Russians want. And there are various ways they can share it with plausible deniability. They can do photographs. They can do blueprints. So, all of a sudden they have something that the Russians envy and the Chinese want. So guess what? The next time there are U.N. Security Council sanctions the Russians have something, interesting conversations with the Iranians.

COOPER: Bob, do you agree with that? This is technology that Iranians might share with the Russians, the Chinese?

BAER: Absolutely.

I mean, if the Iranians themselves can't get into this and figure out how it works, they'll invite the Chinese in from one parastatal companies. They'll look at it. And this is extremely damaging because this drone had, you know, thermal imaging cameras. The resolution on the photography is very, very good. And as we know, it's the same drone that was used to surveil bin Laden's compound before the raid. And it plays a key role in collecting intelligence as it does against Iranian nuclear facilities.

COOPER: So, Bob, I mean, courteously trying the Russian, they don't have this drone technology already?

BAER: Not this good, no. I mean, we truly are at the best. We've been working at it for ten years. It's been a key element in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and over the tribal areas of Pakistan. I think this is another intelligence catastrophe.

COOPER: Fareed, it is amazing the extent to which the drones have really impacted the battlefield in Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

ZAKARIA: I think one forgets that terrorist organizations, you know, they're very small groups with leaders who are absolutely crucial. And what the drone is able to do is to exploit that disadvantage that terrorist organizations have. They have large institutional instruction that can go on. So, you can target a few key people with a drone. And the drones are gotten increasingly accurate.

You have enormous advantages because can you disrupt the entire organization. And that's really what the war against al Qaeda has been a war against the senior leadership using drones. And so the drone is -- you can't underestimate the importance of it. And this is one of the unique weapons in America's arsenal. The Chinese don't visit. The Russians don't have it. To the best of our knowledge, nobody in the world has something like this.

COOPER: Bob Baer, Fareed Zakaria, guys, thanks very much.


COOPER: Well, one other note about Iran -- there is newly released video showing a man named Robert Levinson, who is a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nearly five years ago. His family says they received this video last year. This is the first publicly known evidence that he's alive. It seems like he is being held.

The Obama administration says the government is still working to bring him home safely. It's unclear, at least to us, or publicly it's unclear who is holding him or where he's being held. A U.S. official sells CNN that one e-mail sent by captors to his family is believed to have originated in Internet cafes in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Up next tonight: The suspected gunman in yesterday's deadly Virginia tech shooting is identified by police. We have the latest on the investigation.

Also tonight: driving while distracted. A new study showed just how dangerous it can be on our roadways, all the texting, sending e- mails putting you at risk. What's interesting tonight is, Tom Foreman gets behind the wheel, shows you firsthand how dangerous it really is.


COOPER: "Up Close" tonight: new data about a hazard that is not getting away and may actually be getting worse, texting, talking, e- mailing while driving.

There's a new federal study that shows that nearly 20 percent of drivers send text messages or e-mails behind the wheel.

Almost half of drivers 21 to 24 years old report doing that. And more than three-quarters of drivers say they're willing to answer a call while driving. Two-thirds said they keep driving as they talk. It is obviously a deadly habit. More than 3,000 deaths, one-tenth of all roadway fatalities, last year involved distracted drivers.

But Americans aren't just driving while distracted. They're apparently driving in denial. More than half of those who reported texting or e-mailing while driving believe that using a cell phone has no impact on their driving performance.

Tom Foreman is here to show exactly why that belief just does not hold up to the facts -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, but it does hold up. I'll tell you that. People continue to insist they do a great job.

Well, there have been a lot of studies about this. And a few years back, the folks at Virginia Tech did a great study on how much time you lose doing these simple things that distract you. And what a difference it makes, Anderson.

So we went to a parking lot. And we sort of replicated it.

The first example had to do with loading a CD into your player. So we took this SUV. We got it up to about 25 miles an hour. And then I put a CD in, which the researchers at Virginia Tech found took about a second and a half.

As soon as I was done, I stood on the brake. And look where I stopped, right here, basically in front of our camera position. So that gives you a point of reference on how fast I could stop after this really quite simple task.

Well, the second thing we did involved a little bit more. In this case, we got to 25 miles an hour, and I dialed a number on my cell phone, which the researchers at Virginia Tech found took about three seconds. And then I stood on the brake, and look at the difference here.

By the time I'm able to get my eyes back on the road and stop, now I am much, much further down the path from our camera position than I was in the first one.

So, Anderson, you can see right away in these two simple tasks, big difference. COOPER: It's a huge difference. The biggest concern, though, from safety experts is texting. Did you test that out? How does it compare to dialing the phone?

FOREMAN: Yes. Texting is where it just blows your mind. Because again, it really takes your eyes off of the road.

Look at our texting experiment. The Virginia Tech researchers found that this took about six seconds. So I get up to 25 miles an hour. Once again at the cone. I start texting. I take about six seconds to write a message. Once again, I stand on the brake as soon as I'm done, and look where I wind up. Huge, huge difference. Look at them all next to each other. That's where I am in the last shot. This is where I am after just dialing a phone. And this is where I was after doing the basic task of loading a CD.

The difference is profound, Anderson, and at highway speeds, you can cover the length of an entire football field driving blind, trying to send a simple text.

COOPER: Really? A whole football field?

FOREMAN: Whole football field. It's a huge difference.


FOREMAN: And until you actually do it, it's hard to believe this research. But get in a car, try this in a safe place, and you'll be astonished. It made me stop texting.

COOPER: Yes. In a safe place is the key word -- key phrase there. Tom, thanks very much.

Following a number of other stories tonight, let's check in with Isha with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, investigators have identified the suspected Virginia Tech shooter. He's 22-year-old Ross Truett Ashley. They say he did not attend the school. He's suspected of killing a Virginia Tech campus police officer Thursday before turning the gun on himself. Police are looking for a motive for the killing.

A former Rutgers university student suspected of using a Web cam to stream footage of his roommate's sexual encounter with another man has turned down a plea deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail time. Instead, Dharun Ravi will face trial in February. His roommate, Tyler Clemente, killed himself after the incident.

The Dow climbed 187 points today after most European Union countries agreed to a new deal to end its debt crisis. Britain is refusing to support the plan.

And pending a safety review, NASA announced today, it will green- light a plan for the first private company to make a trial cargo run to the International Space Station. Space X plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a capsule that will rendezvous with the space station in February.

If successful, NASA will no longer have to pay Russia and other countries to ferry supplies. It's been doing that since the end of the space shuttle program. Very exciting.

COOPER: Yes. Interesting. We'll see if it works.

Isha, we're going to check back with you a little bit later.

Still ahead tonight, "Crime & Punishment" in a small Texas town. The new police chief discovers an unexpected enemy in the fight against drug cartels: corruption within his own ranks.

Also tonight, a jury recommending death for the man convicted in that deadly home invasion. What the family of his victims is saying tonight when we continue.


COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" tonight, the botched federal gunrunning operation called Fast and Furious, it was the focus of a heated hearing where critics of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder accused him of withholding information and called for heads to roll. Take a look.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: My committee just next door was systemically lied to by your own representatives. There is a high likelihood an individual was deliberately duped, but he was duped by people who still work for you today. Still work for you today.


COOPER: That was Congressman Issa. He didn't stop there. Listen.


ISSA: There has been recrimination. There has been an attempt to find scapegoats. Many of the people have been pointed to do share in the blame. But Mr. Attorney general, the blame must go to your desk, and you must today take the real responsibility.


COOPER: Well, later, Issa compared Holder to John Mitchell, the disgraced attorney general who served under Nixon, and Holder shot back.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We'll respond in a way that other attorneys general have, other...

ISSA: John Mitchell responded that way, too. HOLDER: Regular order, Mr. Chairman. The reference to John Mitchell, let's think about. Think about that. At some point, as I said in -- the McCarthy hearings, at some point you have no shame, you know?


COOPER: That was, of course, a referenced to the famous retort to Senator Joe McCarthy, who was censured in 1954 for leading what his critics called a communist witch hunt.

Fast and Furious was supposed to track the flow of illegal guns across the U.S.-Mexico border. But hundreds of weapons were lost. Two were later found at the site where a Border Patrol agent was killed last December. It's the last thing law enforcement needs: more weapons in the hands of drug cartels, obviously.

In the southernmost tip of Texas, the battle against the cartels is constant. And the enemy is sometimes a lot closer than you might think. That's what a new police chief told Martin Savidge. Listen.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Sullivan City, Texas, population two shy of 4,000, there's a new lawman, a former an AK-47-toting former Marine named Jose Anaya.

(on camera) Is that a standard issue?


SAVIDGE (voice-over): It's what he carries because of the kind of crime he's up against. He says hardly a day goes by he's not chasing heavily armed human traffickers or drug runners through the streets. Anaya has been chief of police just four months.

ANAYA: It's outrageous. We just have so much going on, and we need help.

And the river is down there.

SAVIDGE: From a nearby hilltop, he shows me just how vulnerable his town is, sitting on two main cartel smuggling roots from the border three miles away.

ANAYA: So everything comes up here.

SAVIDGE: And he knows from this same place cartel informants watch him and his men.

ANAYA: And they look at our police department just down there. And all they were doing is just checking when the patrol cars come in so they could use their Nextels and call and say, "Hey, you know what? They're in the station, go. Go. Go."

SAVIDGE (on camera): What kind of feeling is that for you to know somebody is up here?

ANAYA: I mean, it's -- it's one of the things we deal with every day.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): But it's not the only thing he deals with everyday.

ANAYA: It's the wild west out here.

SAVIDGE: On top of the smuggling and the killing, corruption is bleeding into his department.

(on camera) You're outnumbered.

ANAYA: Outnumbered.

SAVIDGE: Outgunned. You need more help?


SAVIDGE: And then on top of that, corruption?

ANAYA: Yes. Corruption. That's a real big part with us.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): And it's not just Sullivan City. In a number of small towns here in the southern tip of Texas, residents have seen a troubling trend. Cops convicted of corruption, on the take from Mexican drug cartels, leaving the people they swore to protect and serve afraid and alone.

(on camera) Do you trust the police department here?

ELJAMAR HERNANDEZ, GRANDE VALLEY RESIDENT: Trust them completely? No. Complete trust, no.

SAVIDGE: Trust here is hard to come by. Long-time residents say the cartel influence from across this tiny border crossing on the Rio Grande is too tempting for police to turn down.

In 2008, FBI agents arrested the sheriff of Star County, Texas, a job he'd held for 17 years. Fifty-two-year-old Raymundo "Ray" Guerra (ph) was convicted of giving information to a drug gang and deliberately botching investigations. He had replaced the previous sheriff, who also went to prison for corruption.

In Farr, Texas, police officer Jamie Diaz was arrested for using his badge and squad car to escort shipments of cocaine.

And last year in Sullivan City, federal agents handcuffed the previous chief of police as he sat in the town's police station. The charge: helping to move two tons of marijuana over city streets. The pain of betrayal still haunts the former mayor who hired him.

(on camera) Was he a good man?

GUMARO FLORES, MAYOR, SULLIVAN CITY: He was a good man. I don't know what happened.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): So what's turning good cops bad on the border? It's not easy getting people to say.

(on camera) So we spent the better part of an hour in this market here, trying to get people to talk to us. But nobody will. Which kind of gives you an idea of the influence that drug cartels have, even in an American town. Everybody knows what's going on. They're just too afraid to talk.

(voice-over) It probably won't shock you that money from drug cartels is the main corruptor. After all, take-home pay for a top cop is about 500 bucks a week here. According to law enforcement, a standard 100-pound shipment of marijuana could net the cartels $250,000.

But there's something else harder to resist: blood. Almost everyone in these towns has relatives on the other side of the border. Many here have an uncle, a cousin or someone in the cartels there, and family is everything. And that's the type of influence that a fence or even boots on the ground can't keep out.

(on camera) Do people openly admit they work for the cartels?

HERNANDEZ: Well, usually a lot of them do. They just tell you we really need the money, you know, and we have to go in or stuff like that because there is nothing else to do.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): All of this would seem to make Chief Anaya's job almost impossible.

(on camera) Do you think there are people who look at you and say, "It will be you eventually"?

ANAYA: You know, everybody's got opinions. But, I mean, I'd rather quit and not be involved in anything illegal than, you know, come out on TV and, you know, be an artisan.

SAVIDGE: Have you been approached?

ANAYA: You know, not yet. But, I mean, out here, I mean, somebody always comes out.

SAVIDGE: You think it's a matter of time?

ANAYA: It's just a matter of time. But like I said, I mean, I will.

SAVIDGE: A tough stand in a tiny town on a long border.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Sullivan City, Texas.


COOPER: Wow. Fascinating look at the threat of corruption on the border. Coming up, Rick Perry on the campaign trail. Once again, he is caught on camera struggling to kind of jog his memory. What got him tripped up this time? We'll show that you ahead.

And the jury is back with their sentence recommendation in that horrible, horrible, horrific Connecticut home invasion trial. The reaction from the sole survivor of the attack when we continue.


COOPER: I hope you join me this Sunday night. I'm going to be hosting An all-start tribute to this year's "CNN Heroes." You can learn all about the top ten heroes at They're really an extraordinary group of people, and they're making a huge difference in other people's lives.

Tonight, we're going to have a closer look at top ten hero Diane Latiker through the lens of Getty photographer Chris Ann Johnson.


CHRIS ANN JOHNSON, GETTY IMAGES PHOTOGRAPHER (voice-over): I was sent to photograph the vivacious Diane Latiker, who's outside Chicago neighborhood of Roseland.

DIANE LATIKER, CNN HERO: We're losing a generation to violence.

JOHNSON: Diane has expanded a nonprofit community program called Kids Off the Block to help young people to get off the streets, to put down the guns and to make a life change.

The streets of Roseland are no joke. These are violent streets, and there were reports of gunfire each night we were there. Diane is a bit of a warrior on these streets. She's brave, and she's tough. And she has set up this program for those caught in the middle of this violence and for those who want out.

She has an open-door policy. She provides a safe place. And she will sit down and really listen to these kids. I was struck by how many said that Diane allowed them to believe in themselves again and to go after something they felt passionate about, whether it was music or finishing school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diane, she changed my life. I love her for that.

JOHNSON: Major things can happen when you start with even the smallest numbers. Or as Diane says, that little bit of hope.


COOPER: Diane and the rest of the top ten heroes, they're going to join me in Los Angeles this Sunday night, December 11, for "CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute" starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. It's going to be a remarkable broadcast. Really inspiring night. I hope you join me for it. Let's check back in with Isha. She has a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, a jury has recommended that Joshua Komisarjevsky receive the death penalty. He was convicted in October of six felony charges in a deadly home invasion in Connecticut.

Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters were murdered. Their home was set on fire. Dr. William Petit was the only survivor. Here's what he said earlier tonight.


DR. WILLIAM PETIT, VICTIM: We certainly have been criticized over the years that this is vengeance and bloodlust. But this is really about justice. There was a number of people, if you sat through all of the voir dire, there was a number of people on that jury who really -- weren't really sure where they sit at death penalty. But after they looked at the facts of the case, they can only see their way to find one appropriate punishment that will serve justice.


SESAY: In Georgia, a vigil for 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, who was brutally slain. Her funeral is tomorrow. Her body was found on Monday in a trash compactor at her apartment complex. Authorities have charged a 20-year-old maintenance worker in her killing.

On the campaign trail, a new stumble by GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry. He couldn't remember the name of a Supreme Court justice today.


PERRY: Notomayor...


PERRY: Sotomayor. Sotomayor.


SESAY: After he railed against President Obama today for appointing, quote, "activist judges to the Supreme Court."

In our "Connection" tonight, Apple's newest store. It opened today at New York's Grand Central Station. More than 2,500 people were waiting in line before the doors were opened, and there were nearly 4,000 visitors before noon.

And at the San Diego zoo, a winter wonderland for two giant pandas. Not what you expect to see in southern California. The younger panda, just two years old, loved the special treat. It was the first time he got to play in the snow. Very cute. He played in the snow and then he had a nap.

COOPER: Life of a panda. Not bad.

SESAY: Not bad. They've got it good.


SESAY: See you tomorrow.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

All right, coming up, a guy prone to get in trouble with the law, literally what could be the first ever planking conviction winds up on "The RidicuList" next.


COOPER: Time for "the RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding what is being called the first-ever planking conviction. And by conviction, I do not mean someone who had a very strong belief in planking. I mean someone was convicted by a judge because of a bunch of planking photos. More on that in a moment.

But first, for those of you who are over 40 and/or have better things to do than follow the wildering Internet fads, I feel like maybe I should explain planking. Planking is when people get face down on the ground, sometimes in strange places, and they post the pictures or videos online. And you know what? I'm just going to let Oscar from "The Office" describe it. I think he says it best.


OSCAR NUNEZ, ACTOR: For God's sake.

Planking is a very stupid and dangerous trend. Basically, you lie like a plank in weird places. That's it. Sometimes you get run over. Welcome to the Internet.


COOPER: So this week, a guy in Wisconsin was convicted in an all-out planking spree. Here's just a few of the photos. Here he is on an ATM. Here he is on the belt in a store checkout line. And here he is on a police car. The police didn't really think that one was funny. No, they didn't. So they went and talked to the guy. He said it was PhotoShopped. Nevertheless, a judge convicted him of disorderly conduct and fined him $303.

The Web site The Smoking Gun calls the guy the first victim of the planking craze, legally speaking.

But this isn't something that only bored kids in Wisconsin find amusing, not by a long shot. Justin Bieber has planked, Katy Perry, Rosario Dawson. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey is a planker. Even Hugh Hefner has been seduced apparently by the mystifying wiles of planking. He looks almost dead there. Ominous.

OK. Maybe I'm not hip. Maybe I'm not hip. Maybe I'm not a cool cat with wicked rad mojo or whatever the kids say today. I just don't get the planking thing. But still, I'm not sure people should necessarily be charged with crimes for planking. I much prefer the Dwight Schrute method of dealing with the situation.


RAINN WILSON, ACTOR: Kids, don't try planking. It's dangerous.

Especially with me around.


COOPER: That Dwight Schrute.

Then there's the anti-planking initiative from called -- what else? -- "Straight Up."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Straight Up is introducing the anti- planking industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply have a friend take a picture of you standing straight up.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hands by your side, and upload it to your favorite social network.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have fun with these pictures. Try standing up against planking in an interesting or unusual place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just look at this spontaneous flash mob of anti-planking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do I want to plank? No plank you.


COOPER: So the next time you think, "Hmm. I wonder if I should plank on this police car?" remember the guy in Wisconsin. Just say, "No plank you" and stand up for what's right on "The RidicuList."

OK, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.