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THE SITUATION ROOM
Courting Social Conservatives; Bill Clinton: Obama's Big Gun; Bin Laden Revelations; Interview with Newt Gingrich; Bin Laden's Letters; Obama Goes to Afghanistan; Obama's Ex-Girlfriends Speak; Children at the Zoo
Aired May 5, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We go behind the scenes of President Obama's clandestine trip to Afghanistan this week and we take a closer look at the extraordinary precautions and the extraordinary risks of taking a president into a war zone.
Also, Osama bin Laden and surprise revelations and documents recovered from the house where he was killed by U.S. forces one year ago this week.
Plus, Mitt Romney courting skeptical social conservatives. I'll talk about that and more with this former rival who just dropped out of the race Newt Gingrich.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Normally, this week's headlines would have been dominated by the race for the White House and the increasingly heated battle between the Obama and Romney campaigns. But President Obama himself rewrote the script, catching the world by surprise with an unexpected trip to Afghanistan where he signed a new strategic partnership agreement and marked the one-year anniversary of the death of the world's most wanted terrorist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year ago, from bases here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat al Qaeda and denied a chance to rebuild is now within our reach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But the trip wasn't without controversy, some critics accusing the president of playing politics with the anniversary of bin Laden's death, with the trip coming as the Obama campaign questioned whether Mitt Romney would have ordered bin Laden killed. Romney hit back forcefully, insisting he would have done the same thing President Obama did. Meanwhile, Romney is courting social conservatives who've largely been lukewarm toward. But this week, he picked up an important endorsement that could help, the endorsement of the formal rival Michele Bachmann.
Joining us now, our national political correspondent Jim Acosta.
Jim, Romney still has an enormous amount of work ahead of him.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Endorsements do help, but as many campaign veterans will tell you, it's the candidate who has to win over voters one by one.
And looking at his schedule this week, it's no secret Mitt Romney is trying to rally social conservatives to his campaign. But for now, it is a work in progress -- something Republicans normally see a contender doing while running for the nomination, not after it's locked up.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Good morning!
ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney was doing more than just sizing up a new running mate in Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and taking shots at the president's new one-word campaign slogan "forward".
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the last three and a half years are his definition of forward, I'd hate to see what backward looks like.
ACOSTA: He's also out to win over social conservatives, picking up the endorsement of his one-time rival Michele Bachmann.
BACHMANN: This is what victory looks like!
ACOSTA: Just four months ago, Bachmann predicted Romney couldn't win.
BACHMANN: He is the only governor in the history of the United States that has put into place socialized medicine in his state.
ACOSTA: This week, the presumptive GOP nominee has taken some hits from evangelical leaders who were outraged over the hiring of Romney foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell, a supporter of same sex marriage who also happened to be gay.
Grenell's resignation prompted one Christian conservative blogger to declare victory.
BRYAN FISCHER, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION: I will flat-out guarantee you he is not going make this mistake again. There is no way in the world that Mitt Romney is going to put a homosexual activist in any position of importance in his campaign.
TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: It did send a message. I don't think it was an in-your-face message. I think it could have been an oversight, but nonetheless, a troubling oversight. ACOSTA: Tony Perkins, with the Family Research Council, says the recent conservative backlash was partly because some evangelicals still don't trust Romney who changed his position on abortion or other issues.
PERKINS: He has, you know, basically checked all of the conservative boxes on the issues of life and marriage and family. But his past policy positions are still, you know, kind of cloud that.
ACOSTA: Romney is trying to mend fences fast, sending top aides to meet with Newt Gingrich and setting a private session with Rick Santorum. The Romney campaign also confirms the GOP contender went behind closed doors with conservative bloggers, all part of an effort, an aide says, to improve relations with the Republican base.
ROMNEY: Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes.
ACOSTA: Nobody is enjoying Romney's run to the right more than Democrats, who have a new web video that seeks to sound the alarm for women voters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some women across Virginia are outraged as Governor Bob McDonnell signs that controversial bill requiring women seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound.
ACOSTA: Evangelical leaders say Romney's next test comes a little more than a week when he speaks at the Christian conservative Liberty University. But the Romney campaign says it's not worried, it is confident the GOP is motivated and rallying to beat President Obama in the fall -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
He was one of candidate Obama's sharpest critics in the 2008 campaign, but what a difference four years has made. Now, former President Clinton is one of the biggest guns in President Obama's reelection arsenal.
Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar takes a closer look.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 2007, Bill Clinton took aim at Barack Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, I'm old- fashioned. I think it really -- I think a president ought to have done something for other people and for his country, when you pick a president.
KEILAR: President Clinton questioned Obama's inexperience.
B. CLINTON: I mean, when is the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?
KEILAR: In early 2008, Obama won Iowa and entered an all out feud with the former couple.
HILLARY CLINTON, THEN-U.S. SENATOR: I'm here, he's not.
BARACK OBAMA, THEN-U.S. SENATOR: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.
KEILAR: Not surprisingly, Bill Clinton and President Obama have never been especially close. But appointing Hillary Clinton secretary of state helped some wounds heal. And since taking office, Obama has looked to the former president for help, hosting him at the White House during contentious negotiations with Congress in 2010.
OBAMA: You're in good hands. And Gibbs will call last question.
B. CLINTON: Yes. Help me. Thank you.
KEILAR: Having President Clinton on board might help attract voters in areas where Obama struggles, the South and some Rust Belt states. The Obama campaign is featuring Clinton in ads and hitting up his network of wealthy donors. Obama and Clinton appeared at a fund- raiser together Sunday at the home of longtime Clinton supporter Terry McAuliffe. Obama joked the crowd would be getting two presidents for the price of one.
(on camera): President Clinton will be a primary defender of President Obama on the topic of the economy. He'll be heading out to multiple swing states targeting moderate Democratic voters. His message will be this: that he knows what it takes to build a good economy and he'll say President Obama is on the right path.
Brianna Keilar, CNN, the White House.
BLITZER: Let's dig deeper now into all of this. Joining us, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein.
You know, late in the week, Gloria, the job numbers came out, sort of disappointing to a lot of folks. Even though the unemployment rate went down slightly from 8.2 to 8.1 percent.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And that's very disappointing for the White House, not the fact that the number went down, but the fact that they're not creating the number of jobs that they need to be creating to give people a sense of optimism. It may also be a signal that job creation is going to continue to slow down.
If that's the case, you know, the one opportunity Mitt Romney has is really on the economy because if you go and ask that question in some of the battleground states and we did, somebody asked it in Florida and Ohio, and who's better able to handle the economy, I believe it was Quinnipiac, the numbers were in Florida that Mitt Romney is better able to handle the economy and in Ohio, again, that Romney is better able to handle the economy. That is Barack Obama's real weakness.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the core reason Obama's position is stronger this spring than it was last fall, why his approval rating is better, is because Americans are more optimistic about the forward trajectory of the economy than they were a year ago. And one of the principle reasons for that optimism is the job news were getting better over the winner, seeing 200,000 a month.
As that rolls back now to a lower level, the big threat to the president is that it will erode that forward looking optimism because I think almost all political strategists and political scientists will agree trajectory matters more than level in presidential politics.
BLITZER: Right track, wrong train (ph).
BROWNSTEIN: The expectations about where we're going. And as Gloria says, if, in fact, this is the beginning of a sustained period where job growth is going to be less robust than it was, the risk to the president is that it undermines that growing sense, which is underpinned this gain that we are at least heading in the right direction.
BORGER: And, you know, our CNN poll showed that over half of the American public is now willing to give Mitt Romney another look. That's really important. Because what he's going to emphasize is his business experience. During the primaries, he got kind of taken off on a track on cultural issues and all the rest. Now, he's going to talk business experience, that he can fix the economy and --
BLITZER: I don't think there's any doubt at least in my mind that the Romney campaign now is trying to move away from the far right and trying to reposition itself towards the center.
BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. And that is where presidential elections are won, of course, historically. But there is not a complete etch-a- sketch, to use the analogy from Eric --
BLITZER: The pivot is not complete.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. No. There are things that -- some of the things that happened during the primary are going to be difficult to undo, particularly what happened with Hispanics on issues relating to immigration and what happened with socially liberal women relating to issues of contraception. He will I think try to shift the focus not only for the economy, but essentially the focus from a choice to a referendum. His goal always every day is to encourage voters to simply look at this as an up-or-down referendum of has President Obama delivered what he promised four years ago.
BORGER: But when you look at the problems Mitt Romney will have and it is because of the primaries and it is because as Newt Gingrich called him, remember this, Newt Gingrich called him the most anti- immigrant candidate, don't think the Obama campaign won't be using that -- battleground states, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado all very large Hispanic populations, things that Mitt Romney is going to have difficulty explaining in a general election context.
BLITZER: You wrote this on your column on CNN.com, Gloria, let me read a line. "After this combative primary season, watching Mitt Romney's former GOP rivals struggle with ways to endorse their one time nemesis is painful. It's like they're trying to find ways to snuggle with Darth Vader."
BORGER: It's kind of tough.
BORGER: It's been, don't you think?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it is.
BORGER: It's been kind of tough for them. I mean, they're trying to find ways -- you saw Michele Bachmann do it. Rick Santorum has not endorsed but they're trying to sort of trying to find a middle ground. Rudy Giuliani, who called him a flip flopper.
They're never going to love each other but they're united in their want to defeat Barack Obama.
BLITZER: But they dislike the president a whole lot more.
BROWNSTEIN: And that's why at some level, there's probably, the longer this draws out, the greater -- I think the risk becomes greater for, say, Rick Santorum than it does for Mitt Romney, because we are in a kind of all hands on deck era of modern politics, where you have two teams that mobilize primarily the motivation is to defeat the other side.
If these Republican leaders are not seen as doing everything they can to contribute to overriding goal of beating Barack Obama, I think in the end hurt them more than Mitt Romney. He's already running at 90 percent, let's be clear.
BORGER: Can I just say -- it just reminds voters, though, of why they don't trust anything politicians say. Because if you can turn on a dime from saying, by the way, as Michele Bachmann did to ABC News that Mitt Romney could not beat President Obama, if you can turn on a dime and suddenly embrace somebody and say, yes, he can --
BROWNSTEIN: She might still believe that.
BORGER: Well --
BROWNSTEIN: We don't know.
BORGER: But, you know, people are cynical for a reason.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very, very much. Al Qaeda plans hidden inside pornography. We have details of a surprise (INAUDIBLE) terror leaders encouraging their followers to attack the United States with wildfires.
Plus, the Obama campaign using Newt Gingrich's own word to attack Mitt Romney. I'll talk about that and more with the former House speaker, the latest casualty of the Republican race for the White House.
BLITZER: We turn now to stunning revelations about secret al Qaeda attack plans hidden inside a porn video. The digitized coded files give details of past plots and chilling hints of future threats. They're tied to a pair of al Qaeda suspects on trial for allegedly plotting more blood attacks.
Here's CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As U.S. Navy SEALS were preparing to storm the now infamous compound in Pakistan a year ago, two of his recently trained European recruits were sneaking out of the country on a mission to cause carnage. They were headed for Vienna and Berlin.
(on camera): But not long after they returned to Europe, one of them was being questioned at this police station. He was arrested and searched. And hidden in his underwear, police found memory recording device like these. Buried deep in the devices was a pornographic video and hidden in files inside that were what police believe were more than 100 secret al Qaeda documents.
(voice-over): Documents that included detailed accounts at the planning for some of al Qaeda's biggest attacks, and ideas for future operations, apparently drawn up by some of the terror group's most senior operatives three years ago.
YASSIN MUSHARBASH, DIE ZIET NEWSPAPER: According to the Germany federal criminal police, it must have been written up by the inner core of al Qaeda.
ROBERTSON: Investigative journalist Yassin Musharbash works for German "Di Zeit" Newspaper and was the first to report on the documents.
Among al Qaeda's plans, attacks like the one in Mumbai, India in 2008 when 10 Pakistani militants armed with automatic weapons on a suicide mission stormed three hotels, killing more than 160 people.
And another plan, the most chilling yet.
MUSHARBASH: He said that we could hijack a passenger ship on the sea and then use it to pressure -- to pressurize the public. What he most likely means is that, you know, that they would then start executing passengers on those ships and demand the release of particular prisoners.
ROBERTSON: They would dress passengers in orange jump suits, mimicking al Qaeda prisoners in Gitmo. Executions would be quickly uploaded to an al Qaeda Web site.
Also in the planned document titled "future works," to flood Europe with trained terrorists and overwhelm counterterrorism agencies.
MUSHARBASH: The author seems to be convinced that al Qaeda should be pursuing a two-track strategy of low cost, low damage attacks and large- scale attacks.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Like the 9/11.
The reason being that if al Qaeda were to pursue only large-scale attacks and those are foiled, then they have nothing.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): And that's where these two men sent back to Europe fit into al Qaeda's planning. Yusuf Ocak, seen here in a militant video threatening Germany, and 22-year-old Maqsood Lodin, the man found with the memory sticks. German prosecutors allege their job was to recruit a network of suicide attackers.
MUSHARBASH: We do not know what these two young men were actually up to, but there are certain information in those files that would make it plausible to assume that they probably were thinking of the Mumbai attack.
ROBERTSON: They are currently on trial in Berlin and have denied being members of a terrorist organization.
Other files hidden deep in that porn video show not only al Qaeda's thinking about the future, but also shed light on the planning of past attacks and elaborate efforts to fool intelligence services.
(on camera): U.S. intelligence sources tell CNN this information is pure gold, but it contains details of some of al Qaeda's most dangerous attacks, including the attack on the London subway seven years ago.
(voice-over): Fifty-two were killed, several hundred injured. The mastermind of that attack: Rashid Rauf, a British member of al Qaeda. In one of the documents found in Berlin he spells out his role in that attack -- as this bomber recorded his martyrdom statement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you have witnessed now is only the beginning.
ROBERTSON: Rauf writes he was in the room off camera. He set up a computer and put the scripted statement. Rauf also reveals there was a shortlist of three targets: the Bank of England, the G8 Summit that would be taking place in Scotland, and the London subway. They picked the subway because it required less explosives.
(on camera): Rauf's big takeaway of the success of this team was the time he spent with them helping them memorize codes so they could communicate securely, teaching them counter-surveillance techniques to switch their phones, how to use email accounts and Internet chats.
He also reveals that two of the bombers were sure they were being watched by British intelligence, because some of their associates had been arrested in connection with another plot. They acted up that life was normal, going to the movies, joking out loud a lot.
A subsequent inquiry in Britain found that the intelligence service, MI5, were aware of the two men and their connections, but didn't think they posed a threat. Even as London was recovering from that terrible day, Rauf was planning a devastating follow-up.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting for us. He also reports al Qaeda is setting up new training camps in Yemen and Libya right now.
Into a war zone and back, how President Obama pulled of the dangerous trip to Afghanistan. And Newt Gingrich drops out of the race for the White House, saying he might be backing Mitt Romney, but does Newt Gingrich still think Romney's a liar? I'll ask him.
BLITZER: He's officially out of the Republican race for the White House but some of Gingrich's sharpest attacks of Mitt Romney are living on -- thanks to the Obama campaign.
I sat down this week with the former House speaker.
BLITZER: And you shouldn't be surprised because you've been in politics for a long time, the Obama-Biden campaign now using your words in a new commercial hammering away at Mitt Romney. I'll play a clip.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: The Romney machine can drive down turnout, it can run over opponents with negative ads, it doesn't seem capable of inspiring positive turnout. And the result is I think very, very worrisome if you're thinking about the fall campaign.
BLITZER: Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?
GINGRICH: I think of the four of us, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Obama/Biden, the truth team, they call it. How do you like to see your words used in a campaign commercial like that to hammer away at Mitt Romney?
GINGRICH: You have a rough-and-tumble primary season, you're going to get words like that. I think when McCain tried to use Hillary Clinton's words against Obama, it didn't work all that well.
The fact is you have a president with the worst unemployment record of any president since the Great Depression. You have a president with the highest price of gasoline of any president in American history on average. You have a president who is running up huge deficits to crush the children and grandchildren with the level of debt we've never dreamed of before.
This president will say anything in order to make sure we don't pay attention --
BLITZER: Do you still believe Romney is a liar?
GINGRICH: I still believe that the Romney campaign said things that weren't true.
BLITZER: Forget about the Romney campaign. Is Mitt Romney -- is Mitt Romney a liar?
GINGRICH: The governor said things at times that weren't true. I think that's --
BLITZER: So the answer is yes.
GINGRICH: I also believe that compared to Barack Obama I would trust Mitt Romney 100 times over.
BLITZER: That reference to him yesterday was sort of a lukewarm -- it wasn't really an endorsement that you made.
GINGRICH: I said I want to campaign for him. I said he will point dramatically better judges than the president, and he'll do a better job creating jobs than the president. He'll do far more to balance the budget than the president.
I went down a pretty long list of why I think Mitt Romney is better than Barack Obama. This is a comparative business. Our choice isn't Mitt Romney or Ronald Reagan.
BLITZER: Would you consider what you said yesterday an endorsement?
GINGRICH: I thought I was endorsing -- the only distinction I think people draw is at some point in the next couple of weeks, Mitt and I are going to be together and there will be some kind of endorsement.
But I tried yesterday to send every signal I could that if you were a conservative and you do not to re-elect Barack Obama and you had one choice and that's Mitt Romney and we need to find a way to beat Barack Obama. BLITZER: So from your perspective, you endorsed him yesterday even though there will be a more formal endorsement. Have you been speaking with him and do you have a date yet when you're going to get together with him?
GINGRICH: We don't have a specific date when we're going to do that, but I've talked with the governor. I've met with his campaign manager. We're coordinating with his policy team.
And in some areas, I mean, they've been very generous in pointing out on the issue of American energy independence, I was way ahead of them. I developed a much more comprehensive plan. They are eager to work with us on those kinds of platforms.
BLITZER: Will we see Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich together out there on the campaign trail?
BLITZER: Will you go out there and campaign for him independently and go to areas where you are well liked?
GINGRICH: I will do everything I can to help defeat Barack Obama and to help elect a Republican House and a Republican Senate.
BLITZER: Newt Gingrich speaking with me earlier in the week. Meanwhile, President Obama -- he's now back from a dangerous trip to the Afghanistan war zone. Why his visit was cloaked in such high secrecy.
And love letters from a young Barack Obama. His ex-girlfriends are now sharing stories about their relationships.
BLITZER: Inspiring terror from the grave, Osama bin Laden's letters seized in the raid that killed him, revealing he was plotting more attacks on the United States. And we're now learning about a chilling call to set fire to America from another terror mastermind who's been dead for months.
Brian Todd has been digging through all of this for us. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Even as Osama bin Laden is providing compelling insights from the grave, Wolf, so is another well-known terrorist, and this one is an American. Anwar al Awlaki was killed in a drone strike about eight months ago, but in an on-line magazine that could compete with America's best in terms of style and layout, he's giving terrorists some chilling ideas for attacks.
(voice-over): From his grave, he's still a jihadist rock star, still a major player in a sophisticated, glossy on-line magazine for terrorists. American-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, a leader of one of al Qaeda's strongest branches in Yemen, is featured in two newly released editions "Inspire" magazine, despite the fact that he was killed in a drone strike last September.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Awlaki really is able to still get out his message beyond the grave that the United States needs to be attacked, that radical followers of al Qaeda in the West need to take jihad into their own hands to launch strikes.
TODD: CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, who's combed through the new editions, say there are pictures of al Awlaki we haven't seen before, like this one of him with the top leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Basir al Wuhayshi, the two of them key players in the Christmas Day underwear bomb plot and the cargo printer bomb plot against the U.S.
In these editions, one of which was finished before his death, al Awlaki writes that women and children shouldn't be deliberately targeted, but if they're among combatants, it's allowed for Muslims to attack them. He advocates using poisons, chemical and biological weapons. And in these editions, another suggestion.
(on-camera): One section of the magazine deals with something you may not think of as a terrorist weapon. It suggests that followers set wildfires in the United States to do damage, and it even instructs people on how to make so-called "ember bombs."
(voice-over): The threat to people and property from wildfires is something ecoterrorists and arsonists have known about for years. They're an economic weapon, too, stretching emergency response budgets, leaving insurance companies with multi-million-dollar claims.
GREGORY CADE, NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION AGENCY: You can see where, you know, stuff is eating into it. It's a huge, you know, fire problem.
TODD: Greg Cade, once the U.S. government's top official in charge of dealing with wildfires, says terrorists can easily target areas where urban sprawl meets the wilderness.
CADE: They would have to make sure to look at kind of the weather conditions and see what's going on. But when the weather conditions are right, when it's dry, the wind's starting to pick up, it's going to be sunny, no rain, they certainly could use something like that in a major metropolitan area to start a wildfire. And it wouldn't take more than maybe one, two people at the most to kind of get it going.
TODD: And Cade says other than local citizens keeping watch on their wilderness areas, it's very tough to foil a wildfire attack before it happens. But he says authorities do now have better trained personnel, better equipment than ever to prevent them from doing major damage, so that may steer some potential terrorists away.
And we have to say that to date, there's no evidence that al Qaeda or other terror groups have set wildfires inside the United States, Wolf. But al Awlaki was planting kind of a dangerous thought in their minds.
BLITZER: He certainly was. And we're learning more about what bin Laden thought about this American-born Anwar al Awlaki.
TODD: That's right, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which released the bin Laden tapes, has made a comment about the tapes regarding al Awlaki, saying that bin Laden did not hold Anwar al Awlaki in great esteem. He didn't think much of the "Inspire" magazine, saying that it had dangerous ramifications to it, or something like that.
Paul Cruickshank believes that it may have been because bin Laden didn't feel al Awlaki had enough experience as a jihadist leader, but he also may have been a little jealous of al Awlaki and all the attention he was getting.
BLITZER: He was getting a ton of attention.
TODD: He was.
BLITZER: He's dead in a drone strike. Bin Laden's dead by the Navy SEALs.
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Those letters from bin Laden, by the way, made public on the anniversary of his death, revealing that he was plotting destruction until the very end, but also that he was worried. While you can now see some of these bin Laden documents on line, terrorism professionals have been studying them for some time now and they've been finding some stunning revelations.
And our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, is joining us. He's the author of a new best-seller already out entitled "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad." Peter, excellent book once again.
What surprised you the most in going through these documents? Because like any other journalist -- unlike other journalists, you had access to these documents long ago, and part of them became the basis for your book. What jumped out at you the most?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the biggest thing that jumped out at me was the realization internally in al Qaeda how damaging the American drone strikes have been on the organization.
I mean, you know, bin Laden was advising his team, basically, to leave the Pakistani tribal regions where all the drone strikes are happening and depart for the eastern province of Kunar in Afghanistan, which is a heavily forested, mountainous area which bin Laden himself had escaped through in -- escaped through after the battle of Tora Bora in December of 2001.
Why Kunar? Because it's heavily forested, mountainous, exactly the sort of place that it would be difficult for U.S. drones and satellites to find his guys. So I mean, they were very much aware, Wolf, about the problems that they were suffering as a result of these strikes.
BLITZER: Yes, he even wanted his own son to get out of there, to get to some secure area in Qatar, right? Is that what you write?
BERGEN: Yes. I mean, you know, it doesn't get any safer than Qatar, which is like the Switzerland of the Middle East, and he's advocating his own son to move there. So you know, bin Laden knew that this was a big problem for them.
BLITZER: You write -- he wrote -- and you have a copy of this -- he wrote a letter, bin Laden. He said this, "I plan to release a statement announcing that we are starting a new phase to correct the mistakes we made. In doing so, we shall reclaim, God willing, the trust of a large segment of those who lost their trust in the jihadis."
Give us some perspective on this.
BERGEN: Well, I think bin Laden -- and a lot of these documents reveal bin Laden or other leaders of al Qaeda are essentially saying to their various affiliates, You've got to stop killing Muslim civilians because it is killing our brand.
So for instance, he wrote to the Somalia affiliate of al Qaeda, said, Stop having, you know, big battles in the central marketplace in Mogadishu. Go and kill the African Union troops. Stop doing things that are counterproductive.
He said to his Yemeni affiliate, Don't make the same mistakes that you made in Iraq, that al Qaeda made in Iraq. Don't kill local tribes members.
He was -- some al Qaeda leaders wrote to the Pakistani Taliban saying, You've got to suspend your operations killing Pakistani civilians in mosques and markets. So that -- they were keenly aware that this was their Achilles heel.
BLITZER: He was also planning -- and you go into specifics in the book -- a media propaganda extravaganza in coordination with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And it demonstrated that some of his aides -- he and some of his -- they were pretty sophisticated in the American television networks.
BERGEN: Bin Laden wrote that, in his view, CBS was the least biased of all the networks. Adam Gadahn, his sort of media adviser, an American member of al Qaeda, wrote him sort of doing an analysis. Luckily, he didn't mention either you, Wolf, or me, by name. He did mention Brian Ross of ABC News as somebody that they might try and reach out to.
He mentioned some journalists in Britain, some journalists in Pakistan, and did a sort of media analysis. Fox, of course, was not somebody -- a network they liked. They had some mildly disparaging statements about CNN being too close to the U.S. government. I think they liked CNN in Arabic a little bit more in these documents.
So you know, a fairly sophisticated kind of look at the American media scene as they were planning there. Well, they were -- the whole point of this is, How are we going to celebrate the 10th anniversary of 9/11? What sort of media outreach are we going to do?
BLITZER: Lots of fascinating information in this new book. Peter, thanks so much for writing it, "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad." Appreciate it very much.
BERGEN: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: President Obama this week paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan, but the visit was also a reminder that Afghanistan remains very much a war zone.
And love letters from Barack Obama, his ex-girl friends now sharing their stories.
BLITZER: Under extremely tight security and a cloak of secrecy, President Obama this week paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan. It came on the first anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The visit was certainly a reminder that Afghanistan remains full of dangers.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It doesn't get much riskier than sending the president of the United States into a war zone. President Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, under cover of darkness with extraordinary security measures. Reporters traveling with the president were sworn to secrecy.
The Secret Service is prepared for anything that could happen. It starts with getting in. U.S. planes landing in Afghanistan perform a corkscrew-type landing, making sharp banks and turns to avoid heat- seeking missiles
Colonel Mark Tillman knows firsthand how dangerous it can be. Now retired, he told Wolf Blitzer about secretly taking President George W. Bush to Baghdad in 2003 while combat raged.
COL. MARK TILLMAN (RET.), FORMER AIR FORCE ONE PILOT: The challenge wasn't so much to get him in there, because we easily fooled everybody and got him in there. The challenge was once he was on the ground, and everybody knew he was there, to get him back out again. So we worked very hard to make sure he had minimum time on the ground.
STARR: Any longer, and terrorists might be able to set up an attack. And over the years, Bagram, right where the president landed, has come under repeated rocket and mortar attacks. So the president quickly boarded a heavily armed helicopter for a half-hour ride to Kabul with Apache gunships providing escort.
Even the heavily protected area where the president headed to meet with President Hamid Karzai is not totally secure. Just last month, the Taliban pulled off multiple attacks in the Green Zone, where the presidential palace, NATO headquarters, and the U.S. embassy are located.
But the Secret Service, of course, works to make sure there are no attacks. Only a handful of U.S. officials and top military commanders even knew the president was coming. Less information, more security is the way the president's men make it happen.
(on camera): The president, of course, is running for reelection as commander-in-chief. So like all things White House in this election year, there is also a political dimension to this trip.
Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
BLITZER: And if you've ever dated someone you think could eventually become president of the United States, here's some advice: Save the love letters. We have fascinating details about an ex-boyfriend named Barack Obama.
And a piece of glass is all that's keeping this lion from getting its teeth on a child.
BLITZER: Before Michelle Obama entered the picture, Barack Obama had some other serious relationships. Now two of his ex-girlfriends are opening up. They're revealing a fascinating side of him we're going to get a chance to see for the first time.
Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's got the details -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these are two women whose names haven't surfaced until now. One shares letters a young Barack Obama sent her, mostly focusing on philosophy and literature. Another opens up her diary in the year she dated him. Both are featured in a new book. "Vanity Fair" printed an excerpt.
(voice-over): A new glimpse of the young Barack Obama. Two ex- girlfriends during the 1980s are sharing their stories for the first time in a new book, "Barack Obama: The Story." Australian-born Genevieve Cook was his more serious relationship. She's shown in this yearbook photo put out by Buzzfeed with another man and not Barack Obama.
They met at a Christmas party in the months after Obama graduated from Columbia and was living in New York. The couple eventually lived together for a short time in this Brooklyn brownstone. And throughout their nearly 18-month romance, Cook kept a journal. "How is he so old already at the age of 22," she wrote early on in their relationship.
There is one theme, though, that continues to come up in her writings about Obama, distance. She writes, "But I feel that you carefully filter everything in your mind and heart, legitimate, admirable, really a strength, a necessity in terms of some kind of integrity. But there's something also there of smooth veneer, of guardedness. But I'm still left with this feeling of a bit of a wall, the veil".
"New York Times" reporter Jodi Kantor, who wrote a book about the Obamas, says that period of Obama's life was a search for identity.
JODI KANTOR, AUTHOR, "THE OBAMAS": During the New York years, not a lot actually happened. There's not a lot of drama. There aren't a lot of big scenes. A lot of what's happening with Barack Obama in this period is taking place inside his own head.
SNOW: Obama and Cook eventually grew apart, with Cook writing in the journal at one point, "I can't help thinking that what he would really want, be powerfully drawn to, was a woman very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced, a black woman I keep seeing her as."
With a slice of Obama's past coming to light, it's also brought until now an unknown history to this Brooklyn neighborhood where Obama used to live, surprising the owners of Obama's former home.
MICHAEL ROBINSON, OWNER OF OBAMA'S FORMER RESIDENCE: I was, oh, amazed and just, you know, kind of amused. It's just one of those things where, you know, you never know, and I just thought it was funny.
SNOW: Well, Barack Obama left New York in 1985 for Chicago and a job as a community organizer. He met Michelle Obama in 1989. And Wolf, I guess it just goes to show that nothing really is off-limits.
BLITZER: No. When you become president of the United States, that is certainly true. Thank you very much, Mary, for that.
Here's another story we're watching. It's why they keep the animals behind glass. Take a look at what happens when this hungry lion sees a toddler in a zebra-striped sweatshirt.
BLITZER: When you go to the zoo, there's a reason why you're on one side of the glass and the animals are on the other side of the glass. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's the new "Jaws."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.
MOOS: Kaya, the lioness at the Oregon Zoo...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jack, look behind you!
MOOS: ... obviously thought Jack was a tempting morsel, a prey item, says zoo director Kim Smith.
KIM SMITH, OREGON ZOO DIRECTOR: It's just like if you had your house cat looking at birds outside the window.
MOOS (on camera): Does that kid's hoodie outfit remind you of anything.
(voice-over): Jack's mom says ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looked like a tasty baby zebra.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say, Hi, kitty, kitty.
MOOS: Kitties and kids make for popular viral videos, whether it be fearless Sophia or an understandably freaked-out boy named Harper.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK. He can't get you through the glass. It's OK.
MOOS: Kids are dangled like bait.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, throw (ph) towards the glass.
MOOS: Parents give instructions. They put patty-cake with paws to music. And it's not just lions. It's black leopards. It's grizzly bears. It's polar bears. A Japanese TV show even dressed up a girl as a baby seal to tempt a polar bear.
MOOS: And while an orangutan might spit, a gorilla can really give you a scare.
(on camera): But maybe you'd like to see things from a gorilla's point of view.
(voice-over): Those silly humans, mocking, beating their chests, and often...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lay on the ground.
MOOS: ... Mom and Dad argue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is this not funny?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's terrifying! What if he broke the glass?
MOOS: Like in "The Family Guy" as he drew a face on the octopus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so sucky and squeezy!
MOOS: Oregon zoo director says that's not going to happen with a lion. The glass is designed to standards, and even if it did, it would crack, not break, sort of like what happened when Taz the gorilla charged the glass two years ago at the Atlanta Zoo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The glass held. I mean, it's actually three panes of glass fused together, and the interior pane is the one that actually got a crack in it.
MOOS: So knock yourself out. A one and a two and a three...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holy crap!
MOOS: ... CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants to eat our baby.
MOOS: ... New York.
BLITZER: Take that baby away from there. It makes me a little bit nervous.
That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our viewers in the United States, please be sure to join us every weekday from 4:00 to 6:00 PM Eastern. The news continues next on CNN.