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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Interview with Rep. Barney Frank; President Obama's Bombshell Announcement; Risky Move or Not?; Mystery at Churchill Downs; Al Qaeda's Bomb-Maker CIA's Top Target
Aired May 9, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT an exclusive with Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, tonight on the president's announcement.
And then the man becoming the new face of terror, so who is the al Qaeda bomb-maker whose mission is to attack this country with a bomb on a plane?
And an exclusive look at how CIA spies turn into double agents. We tonight have a CIA double agent who is so concerned about his safety and his life that we cannot show you his face or let you hear his real voice, but his story is worth it.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
OUTFRONT tonight, a bombshell from the president. He has made it clear finally that he supports gay marriage. Now, the announcement comes after days of mounting pressure to explain his, quote unquote, "evolving position", his words, on the controversial issue. Here's how he put it to "ABC News' Robin Roberts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The Human Rights Campaign immediately released a statement saying "Obama's presidency has shown that our nation can move beyond its shameful history of discrimination and injustice." And celebrities and politicians took to Twitter to celebrate. Ellen DeGeneres tweeting "thank you, President Barack Obama, for your beautiful and brave words. I'm overwhelmed."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote "President Barack Obama's announcement is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights." There were even tweets from former Bush administration officials including Tony Fratto (ph). But with the praise came immediate outrage.
The Family Research Council released a statement saying "redefining marriage remains outside the mainstream of American politics." Mitt Romney wouldn't comment on what the president said, but he did take the opportunity to explain his position on this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have the same view on marriage that I have when I -- had when I was governor and that I've expressed many times. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight we're going to go straight to Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the first openly gay member of Congress. Chairman Frank, good to talk to you again, sir. It's been a while and I'm glad it's under circumstances like this. What does this mean to you personally that the president did this today?
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I'm very pleased. It's a -- it's both a cause and an effect. Obviously as well intentioned as the president is, as much as he is personally opposed to discrimination (INAUDIBLE) constrained by public opinion although they -- the good ones like Barack Obama tried to move it. It is a sign that things have evolved. No president could have done this 10 years ago.
Secondly, it will be very helpful because it will help persuade other people about this and you know I think about 15-year-olds in school somewhere being picked on and bullied. Now the president of the United States has said, hey, you know what, you're as important as anybody else. You have the same worth as anybody else. That has an enormous impact.
BURNETT: Did the president talk to you about this before? Any one in his senior staff, did anyone reach out to you before he decided to say this?
FRANK: Not recently. I have had conversations with him over time. Back before he took what was actually the most important step, which was his repudiation of the discriminatory piece of legislation known as DOMA, the one that says that people of the same sex who were married don't get any federal benefits. At the time I told people in the White House who had asked me that I thought that (INAUDIBLE) over this. I haven't talked to them recently about it.
BURNETT: It's interesting we were looking back at some of the things you said before; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (ph) came out in favor of gay marriage, same-sex marriage for the first time in 2004. At the time you said it was a symbolic point but it diverted attention from the real struggle for gay rights.
FRANK: No, no, no, you've (INAUDIBLE) gotten the quote wrong. I'm sorry I have to make it clear. I was all in favor of his being for same-sex marriage.
FRANK: That was not a dispute about whether he was for it. My problem was at, at the time when we were fighting hard to save same- sex marriage in Massachusetts, which had already been legally decreed and where we were trying to defeat Mitt Romney's effort to undo it and defeat a constitutional amendment, Gavin Newsom (ph) and what I objected to -- it wasn't that he said he was for it. I was glad he was for it. I objected to his announcing that the city of San Francisco could now, regardless of California law, allow same-sex marriage. That was the problem. He was wrong. He said you can all get married. People got married. Their marriages were annulled. There was a great deal of heart break.
I thought it was an irresponsible thing to do because there was never any chance that those marriages would be valid. So what I was critical of was not support of same-sex marriage, at the time I was in the federal Congress and in Massachusetts fighting to protect it but doing it in a responsible way. And what Gavin Newsom (ph) did was to announce to people I can marry you, when he couldn't and that was a very irresponsible --
BURNETT: That's the symbolic move you were referring to. And you said something else, Chairman. When you said you know 15-year-olds could look at what the president had said and it would make a difference for them. You know, if you're at that point a teenager and you realize that you're gay, that you have the same rights as somebody else and it really could change the way that you see the world and the way that you deal with people who are bullying you or looking down on you, what was it like for you? You have been someone who has been a trail blazer in this; a person who is open about your sexuality before pretty much anybody else was in what really is an old boys club and it couldn't have been an easy thing to do.
FRANK: Well, you're right. Let me put it this way; I didn't think it was going to be easy. I agonized over it. I'm about to have a 25th anniversary of my voluntarily coming out. I told (INAUDIBLE) if they asked me, I'd tell them. And I thought it would be a problem. I think I caught the wave. That is, things are getting better. And I hope I've helped with that, but I've also been the beneficiary of it. But for me now, look, I'm getting married in a couple of months. When I was 15, when I was 35, even when I was 55 --
FRANK: -- if someone had had said to me, you know what, you're going to be retiring from Congress. You have been chairman of a very important committee, you will have done some very significant work in the field of financial services and you're going to get married to a man whom you love very much as a member of Congress, I would have been disbelieving. So, yes, that means a great deal for me and I must say it makes me feel even better about my country, that this is a country that has the capacity to deal with it (INAUDIBLE) in a constructive way and help things get better for all of us.
BURNETT: You know I had an experience today that happened before the president's interview, so I don't know, maybe it was an omen that it happened today, but I ran into a friend I haven't seen in a long time on -- I was walking on Fifth Avenue from a doctor appointment and I ran into him and he said he got engaged this weekend. You know, sort of like you. Now that he can get married. He got engaged and he had this -- it was a really great ring and he was showing me his ring and we were joking about you know masculine and feminine engagement rings and what they looked like and it was -- it was a great conversation and I loved seeing his ring --
FRANK: Well let me get into --
FRANK: Mine it's Tungsten. Tim, the man I'm going to marry is a welder. He puts up (INAUDIBLE) and he does welding and he picked out these rings. Tungsten is kind of symptomatic of where he'd been (INAUDIBLE) and also he's a very practical guy. He knows my propensities. I break things. So this is -- he told me this is unbreakable. We'll see.
BURNETT: I love it. I love it. Well thank you for sharing that. I got engaged myself recently, so I was curious. Thank you for showing us.
FRANK: Mazeltov (ph).
BURNETT: And to you as well, wonderful to talk to you again.
FRANK: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT ahead, an exclusive investigation into a murder at the Kentucky Derby. We found the dark side of horse racing and have an exclusive report for you of what we found in the past 24 hours.
And the new face of terror. Just who is the al Qaeda bomb-maker who's determined to attack this country?
BURNETT: "OutFront 2", the political fallout from the president's announcement today. The National Organization for Marriage was quick to point out saying "President Obama has now made the definition of marriage a defining issue in the presidential contest, especially in swing states like Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada and Florida." All right, but was this move really risky or not? John Avlon, Roland Martin and Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans are with us now. Good to see you all of you -- John Avlon risky or not risky?
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This was a profile encouraged with considerable political risks. There's no question. I mean you know you look at some of the swing states at play in this election. North Carolina, which last night overwhelmingly voted to ban same-sex marriage. Virginia, even Ohio, Pennsylvania, so this is high stakes. But this is where also moments where character is revealed. You know I'm reminded about a quick story of Lyndon Johnson when his advisers told him not to do civil rights after becoming president because they said it wasn't pragmatic. He said well what the hell is the presidency for? Well I think we just had one of those moments.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Here are the differences. Lyndon Johnson signed a law passed by Congress. We talked about all these national polls showing that the majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, yet there have been 32 referendums where the voters have gone to the polls.
AVLON: That's true.
MARTIN: Same-sex marriage supporters are 0 for 32.
AVLON: That's the political risk.
MARTIN: And so it's hard to sit here and say what a poll says when really in politics, votes matter.
MARTIN: That's the real issue.
BURNETT: People get motivated not pro this issue, but --
MARTIN: When you have -- you had 2.1 million people who voted yesterday.
MARTIN: President Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008. Literally if 15 to 20,000 people decide I don't want to vote for him this time around, he loses North Carolina.
AVLON: That's why it's a profile in courage, because it's going against the polls and many of the votes.
BURNETT: All right, well Clarke, let me get you in here because let's talk about what the president has done on this issue in the past. I am one who believes on some issues it's OK to flip-flop because you do evolve as a person. That being said, 1996 while running for state Senate the president wrote in a questionnaire I favor legalizing same- sex marriage, so he was on this side of the issue. Two years later he wrote undecided and since then, here's the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are a whole host of things that are civil rights and then there are other things, such as traditional marriage, that I think express a community's concern and regard for a particular institution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So marriage is not a civil right as far as you're concerned?
OBAMA: I don't think marriage is a civil right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.
There's no doubt that as I see friends, families, children of gay couples who are thriving, you know, that has an impact on how I think about these issues.
I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So lots of back and forth there, but Clarke, you've been -- you're frustrated because you think he waited to late, a day late, a dollar short.
CLARKE COOPER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: Well we're talking about what happened yesterday. There's North Carolina, we talked about that ballot measure that took place. So there was some calculus there. But to go back to the issue of where elected lawmakers, where policymakers can get to the point where they're actually saying they're for marriage equality isn't unique. And we certainly saw it happen at an extremely high level, at the highest level so far to date.
So you know prior to today and Joe Biden earlier in the week, the most senior voice out there for a while on marriage equality was Dick Cheney. And so this has really turned it up a notch. But we have seen this -- we've seen this on both sides of the aisle. My former boss, Elaine Ross Slayton (ph), she's the most senior woman in the GOP Conference, she's a committee chair, she was not initially in favor of same-sex marriage and she's there now and she's the first Republican on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. So people are getting there and it does reflect a trend analysis not just in the general electorate but even amongst self-identified conservative voters.
BURNETT: So Clarke, what are you going to do in terms of your endorsement? I mean the president of the United States now says he's for marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman and Mitt Romney says I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name.
COOPER: Well on this particular issue we do differ with Governor Romney. In fact this is -- he knows that not only from our positions but we had that conversation in February when he spoke at the American Conservative Union CPAC. So he knows where we are. He knows we're working to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and that we are for same-sex marriage and that freedom means freedom for everyone. So with that said, when it comes to the endorsement process, it's not unilateral. I have a board of directors. We have chapter leaders that do this and there's a multi-step process, Erin. It's not just one issue, but does this factor in? Absolutely it factors in --
BURNETT: Are you going to vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?
COOPER: Well, I can tell you right now we are looking at all the issues on the plate. And as I said, the economy is the number one issue right now.
COOPER: Marriage does factor in, so I'm not -- I don't want to -- I don't want to belittle this at all. It's very important. It is part of our portfolio, but it is not the only issue.
MARTIN: Clarke -- Clarke, you said we -- you.
MARTIN: The question for you, as an individual, not as the head of a group, will you support Mitt Romney or President Obama as a result of this announcement?
COOPER: That's a point I'm not just an individual. I do represent a constituency within the Republican Party so at this point we're working with a number of Republican candidates up and down, including openly gay Republican candidates for Congress, which is a first from our party. So I -- as far as the endorsement process is concerned, we're not there yet and we won't be until August. So you know this is not completed and there's some room to grow for candidate --
BURNETT: OK --
COOPER: There's room to grow for Mitt Romney on this portfolio.
BURNETT: Well, he could -- he could -- that would be a huge flip-flop if he goes back on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BURNETT: But Roland, I mean this is interesting. When we talk about a party that's becoming more owned by its base and a platform that continues to be defined by social issues, I think this is a very key example of that.
MARTIN: Of course, but this is what we've heard though. We've heard this though from Democrats and Republicans that one issue will not determine who they actually vote for. I mean you have pastors out there who are surrogates of President Obama in 2008 who are not happy at all today and when they --
MARTIN: When they go into that pulpit on Sunday, they have a decision to make.
BURNETT: Right. MARTIN: That is will I stand here and criticize the president but then say I still support him or am I putting my prophetic voice before my partisan voice.
AVLON: And that's one of the reasons this is so politically risky. But let's just recall the (INAUDIBLE) here. Here the Republican candidate Mitt Romney wants a constitutional amendment and the president seems to be standing for states' rights so I mean there are all sorts of --
BURNETT: There's an irony.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
AVLON: And (INAUDIBLE) you know Log Cabin Republicans in 2004 when Bush/Cheney went with their battleground state (INAUDIBLE) on the issue of marriage equality, you know Log Cabin Republicans sat that one out. They did not endorse Republican president.
AVLON: So this is an issue where you know principles get skewed --
MARTIN: And Senator John Kerry can tell you what happens when there's a ballot initiative.
AVLON: That's right.
MARTIN: 2004, the gay marriage issue was on the ballot in Ohio. He lost by about 100,000 votes to Bush, many people say because of this initiative. And so again, it's very risky for the president. And I think today he's helped Mitt Romney out in terms of closing the gap. What I'm looking out for the next seven days, those first round of polls in those battleground states, if we see some shrinkage there, I think we can tie it to today's decision.
BURNETT: Yes. Well that's going to be amazing. It goes to show you learn in economics (INAUDIBLE) people focus on the negative, you know if there's outsourcing overseas, negative on their own (INAUDIBLE) and positives of prices (INAUDIBLE) example, right?
BURNETT: Negative on gay marriage, negative on abortion. The people who care for are less passionate --
MARTIN: So guess what, all the talk (INAUDIBLE) this election will be about the economy? It might be about a social issue.
BURNETT: The American way. (LAUGHTER)
BURNETT: Thanks to all three of you. We appreciate it.
And coming up, the dark side of horse racing, we have an exclusive investigation OUTFRONT tonight. And how did a mole get inside al Qaeda and foil a bomb plot? Well, tonight we have a double agent, former double agent, coming OUTFRONT. You're going to see him in shadow and his voice will be disguised.
BURNETT: "OutFront 3", the money and horse racing is big-time. For example, the New York Horse Racing Association recently increased the purse size for the Belmont Spring meet by more than 26 percent to $9 million. The average daily purse for this meet will be 620,000. But it comes with a lot of risk. The most expensive horse -- a racehorse called "Green Monkey" -- really "Green Monkey" -- sold at auction for $16 million. That horse raced for just two years. It won only $10,000.
Tonight we have a special report on a story that began this weekend in the dark of night after the world watched the pomp and circumstance of the 138th Kentucky Derby. When the crowd left Churchill Downs, one man stayed behind, 48-year-old Adan Perez (ph) was a stable worker from Guatemala. He was found murdered early Sunday morning just steps away from where the winning horse, "I'll Have Another", was being kept.
Our Ed Lavandera had an exclusive interview with Perez's son who gave us new details on this murder mystery and a look at the darker and seedier side of horse racing.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mystique of Kentucky Derby day draws tens of thousands to watch a millionaire's game, the glamorous fashion, a tip of the hat to a bygone era.
(on camera): What many people might not know about horse racing is that on that side of the racetrack, it's a completely different world. That's where all the fanfare and the beauty of race day takes place. It's a different story on this side of the track.
(voice-over): This is the forgotten side of a horse track. It's called the back side, a secluded world of transient workers in the horse racing industry. Some 600 people live on the back side of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It's where 19-year-old Wilson Perez worked alongside his father, Adan Perez, until Adan's body mysteriously turned up in barn number eight just hours after one of the most famous horse races in the world. Wilson Perez is speaking about his father's murder for the first time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
LAVANDERA (on camera): How difficult have these last days been? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Wilson says it's been very hard supporting everyone in my family I need to stay strong. Wilson Perez is one of Adan's seven children. Their family lives in Guatemala. Wilson begged his father to bring him to the United States two years ago so they could work together. They groomed horses, son walking in father's footsteps.
Wilson says the last time he spoke to his father was around 11:30 Saturday night, just a few hours after the final race of Derby Day. Wilson says his father called from a restaurant. He was out with friends.
WILSON PEREZ, MURDER VICTIM'S SON: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
LAVANDERA (on camera): (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
W. PEREZ: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
LAVANDERA: He said everything sounded normal in that phone call. That he called to ask him where he was and what he was doing and but everything sounded normal.
(voice-over): About five hours later, Adan Perez turned up dead.
(on camera): This is barn number eight where the body of Adan Perez was found and the barn backs up to the racetrack itself. This is the back stretch. You can see the twin spires in the background there. This is where the horses ran on the back stretch of the Kentucky Derby.
(voice-over): Stable hand Oogle Hernandez (ph) shows us where Perez's body was left. Access to the back side of Churchill Downs is mostly restricted. Workers are registered and carry special identification, which heightens the mystery. Is the killer living among those who work here?
KEN BOEHM, CHURCHILL DOWNS CHAPLAIN: The outside world doesn't see this world. They don't know what the back side of a racetrack is like.
LAVANDERA: Churchill Downs Chaplain Ken Boehm says this mostly Hispanic immigrant community keeps to itself. Workers here are transient, move from horse track to horse track.
LAVANDERA: The work is exhausting, seven days a week, no vacation. Some clean barns, groom and feed horses. Workers can live for free on these grounds. Most come from Central America. Workers tell us most people earn between 250 and $800 a week. Wilson Perez hasn't stopped working, even as he tries to get his father's body buried in Guatemala.
W. PEREZ: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) LAVANDERA (on camera): He says he wants answers for what's happened here and he wants whoever is responsible to be found guilty.
(voice-over): He can only wait for investigators to solve his father's mysterious murder.
Ed Lavandera, CNN, Louisville, Kentucky.
BURNETT: And ahead OUTFRONT a massive manhunt underway for a man wanted for the deadly kidnapping of a Tennessee family and who is the al Qaeda bomb-maker?
BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT.
We start with the stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines.
First up, a bombshell announcement from the president tonight. He says he now supports gay marriage. The announcement comes after days of mounting pressure to explain his evolving position on the issue. We spoke to Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, who praised the president, saying the president -- no president could have done this 10 years ago.
Barney Frank is getting married in July to his long-time partner and he opened up and showed me his own engagement ring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Here's mine, it's tungsten. Tim, the man I'm going to marry, is a welder. He puts, he does welding and he picked out these rings, tungsten is kind of symptomatic of where he's been and also he's a very practical guy. He knows my propensity, I break things. So, this is -- he told me this is unbreakable. We'll see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Adam Mayes, the man suspected of kidnapping a mother and her three children is on the FBI's 10 most wanted list. Mayes is accused of killing the mother, Jo Ann Bain and her oldest daughter Adrienne.
Mayes and his wife have each been charged with two counts of first- degree murder and two counts of aggravated kidnapping. A police officer arrested his mother.
Now, the reward for information leading to the arrest of Adam Mayes is now $175,000.
Well, the U.S. Postal Service is changing course, so instead of closing thousands of low revenue rural post offices, like the one in my hometown, they are instead going to trim the office's hours. We check the plan. It's going to take a while for the changes to be implemented. The new strategy will be phased in over the course of two years. It won't actually go into full effect until September 2014.
Early retirement packages will be offered to 21,000 people. The changes will save the post office half a billion dollars a year.
Well, jurors have become deliberating in the case of the man accused of killing the family of singer Jennifer Hudson. The jury consists of six women and six men. They had to give up their cell phones before deliberations. William Balfour is charged with killing Hudson's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew.
CNN's Ted Rowlands says Hudson was in the courtroom but kept her head down throughout the prosecutors closing argument.
Well, it's been 279 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?
Well, the market is not helping. The Dow has closed down for six days in a row. We are solidly below 13,000. Thanks, Greece.
OUTFRONT 4: al Qaeda's top bomb maker and why he's America's worst nightmare. Let's tell you a little about this man because there's a lot in hands right now. His name is Ibrahim al-Asiri. He is believed to be behind this week's foiled plot to get a bomb on board an American-bound plane.
Tonight, ABC News is reporting he may be trying to get a bomb on a plane hidden inside a pet carried on board.
Here's how the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee describes him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: He is clearly -- I hate to use a term -- but he's a genius at this and it's important that we do what we can. We are doing everything we can to get him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: This is what might amaze you. He's only 30 years old. He is originally from Saudi Arabia and he's ruthless.
Once he used his own brother in a suicide bomb attack against a member of the Saudi royal family. He is believed to be the man behind three attempts to blow up airliners headed for the United States.
The first was the 2009 Christmas day plot by the so-called underwear bomber. In 2010, he hid bombs inside printer cartridges. You may remember this. He tried to get them on cargo planes bound for Chicago. They were found before they could be detonated.
And then, of course, there was this week's plot, that bomb now in the hands of the FBI. They say it's similar to the one used by the underwear bomber but much more sophisticated. That's why intelligence officials are so worried.
They say al-Asiri is smart and adaptable. But the biggest worry of all is that he's still on the loose and they know that he is working on making bombs and training others to make bombs and perhaps even speeding all of that up because he's worried he could be killed.
OUTFRONT tonight, Alex Berenson, author and former reporter for "The New York Times," and Fran Townsend, CNN's national security contributor, member of the boards for the DHS and CIA.
OK. Thanks to both of you for coming on to talk about this.
So, this is a race against time, you're saying, Alex, because he thinks he could get killed?
ALEX BERENSON, AUTHOR: This is as close to a movie as you can have in real life. He knows we are after him. He knows we have the power to hit him with a drone at any time if we can find him.
And he knows that he may only have time to get one bomb out there onto a plane. If he can get that bomb onto a plane from Cairo or Nairobi, hundreds of people will die. So we have to get to him before he figures out how to get that bomb on that plane.
BURNETT: And, Fran, you were saying that one bomb was found even before he had this pressure. Traditionally, he's been known to do bombs in clumps, more than one.
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. Well, and al Qaeda is known for multiple simultaneous attacks, so rarely do they launch an attack where they only have a single bomb. So, one of the concerns of investigators now in the intelligence community is: was there -- were there other volunteers to carry more of these sorts of devices that would have been put together by Asiri.
Look, Asiri has been under pressure since 2009. Since the assassination attempt he's been at the top of the Saudi list, who have very good information inside Yemen, but he's also been at the top of our list since the Christmas Day, 2009, attempted bombing.
BURNETT: Now, the Saudis, Fran, they had known who he was, jailed him and actually let him go?
TOWNSEND: Well, in 2007, they have a program where they take guys into custody and they put them through sort of a brain wash --
TOWNSEND: Rehabilitation program.
BURNETT: Saudi Gitmo or something? Sorry, I know --
(CROSSTALK) TOWNSEND: It's actually been a pretty successful program in the sense of what the Saudis will tell you is if you stop one in ten from going back to the battlefield. We've taken one off the battlefield.
And so, for a time, they were pretty up on this program. Now, this is not a success story. These guys flee across the border where they have more freedom of action inside Yemen and return to the --
BERENSON: I think the Saudis have taken these threats a lot more seriously since the bomb that almost took out Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of the (INAUDIBLE).
BERENSON: I think -- since then we've gotten a lot more cooperation from them, because they have seen the threat is really at their most senior members of the monarchy.
BURNETT: Tell me a little bit about this, he used his own brother.
BERENSON: So he did. There's differing interpretations of whether the bomb was actually inside his brother or whether it was carried closely on his brother's leg. But he strapped the bomb to his brother. He sent his brother on a suicide mission to try to kill this very senior Saudi royal.
And he did it, knowing his brother was going to die. You have to be pretty cold.
BURNETT: Yes, where did he -- what do we know about his education? I mean, 30 years old, is very young. He's been doing this for a very long time.
Making bombs is not something you can just -- at this level of sophistication -- just do.
TOWNSEND: No, that's right.
BERENSON: He grew up in Riyadh. Beyond that I don't think there's been very much disclosed.
You may have sources.
TOWNSEND: No, but that's right. I don't think we know very much about him. We know that he's been very active in al Qaeda and because of his incredible bomb-making skill, he's also been sort of mentor to others. So the fear is even if you get Asiri, look, he's at the top of the target list, you know who you're looking for and we will eventually get him.
BURNETT: But he's trained others?
TOWNSEND: He's likely trained other, who may not have his creativity, right, or innovation, but they'll have some of his skills. BERENSON: But these bombs are much more difficult to make than a big truck bomb would be. So taking him out would be helpful.
TOWNSEND: How significant is he for al Qaeda? You know, the president -- I brought this up recently, you know, 30 of the top members of the al Qaeda are out. Is he someone who could become a figure head like bin Laden, like a leader?
BERENSON: I don't think so. He doesn't have to set strategy though. He's a lot closer to killing people than Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is somebody who actually could kill Americans and that's not something you could say about too many people in al Qaeda right now.
TOWNSEND: Think of Zawahiri is the CEO. He's the strategist. He's setting sort of intent.
TOWNSEND: This is a tactician. This is the execution guy. When they get a great idea, the guy they go to for execution and to build the device is al Zawahiri.
But he's critical important to their success. And although none of these have worked, what you see, Erin, is his sophistication. He's adaptable, he's learning.
TOWNSEND: And he adapts to our measures.
BURNETT: Is the window in which if he were successful was got to be pretty quick?
BERENSON: Listen, I think he knows he might have -- if he survives 2012, I think he would consider it a great accomplishment.
TOWNSEND: Yes. This is -- I like to say this is a game of beat the clock, right? He's got a very short window in which he can try to launch a successful attack. But he knows all of the resources of the U.S. government and our allies in the region are targeted at capturing or killing him.
BERENSON: And we did think we killed him.
BERENSON: Last year, we thought we killed him and we were wrong.
BURNETT: How are we going to find him?
BERENSON: NSA drones, maybe some human intel, maybe some help from the Saudis.
TOWNSEND: Righty, it's all of the above. I mean, human will be incredibly, which is feel like they're put at risk. BERENSON: One good thing about this leak is it puts pressure on the organization. Now if you're inside al Qaeda, you can't be sure, is this person who came to us two years ago a Saudi mole. Is this person working for the Jordanians who we thought we could trust?
BERENSON: Right. And that is good for us. So I'm not sure this leak was all bad. I'm not sure this leak was unintentional either.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to both of you.
And a lot of you are probably wondering how does a spy operate? How do you infiltrate al Qaeda and actually have them believe that you believe everything that they believe and get them to have you be the guy to blow up a plane? Well, we wanted to know, so we found a former double agent for the CIA.
He's next. You'll see him blacked out with his voice distorted, but he's going to tell you how he got recruited to work for this country, betray his own, and what he did.
Plus, the man who changed an industry. We honor the passing of Vidal Sassoon.
BURNETT: We're back with tonight's "Outer Circle" where we reach out to our sources round the world.
And we go to Indonesia tonight. A new Russian civilian plane disappeared during a demonstration flight today. The Sukhoi Superjet 100 had 50 people on board. A lot of bigwigs for the airline, when it dropped off the radar while flying south of Jakarta. Officials think the plane may have crashed but they haven't found it yet. The Sukhoi was supposed to be the new hope for Russia's commercial aviation industry and, obviously, this accident can cause real damage to the plane's reputation.
Phil Black is following the story from Moscow and I asked him what he knows at this moment about what actually happened to the plane.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 was on a demonstration flight out of Jakarta, its second of the day. It was only supposed to be in the air for 30 minutes, but 21 minutes into that flight, it dropped off radar and stopped responding to radio calls. There were 50 people on board, including the crew. Most of the passengers, we're told, were Indonesian.
An initial search had to be called off because of low light and poor weather. This is a new model aircraft that's considered high tech and sophisticated. It is designed and assembled here in Russia but with lots of international input. The U.S. company Boeing is a consultant on the project. It was in Indonesia as part of a six-country tour through Asia designed to drum up business and publicity, aircraft sales. Before beginning the tour, Sukhoi said this aircraft and its safety performance so far has been remarkable -- Erin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Thanks to Phil.
Now let's check in with Anderson with a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360."
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, Erin.
Of course, we're going to be following and have a lot more on the president' reversal on same-sex marriage. He now says he supports it. We'll talk about the political implications and what could have influenced the president to make this announcement now.
Also, a new congressional report outlines government waste at the TSA. Nearly $200 million worth of airport screening equipment sitting inside a warehouse not being used. How is that possible? We're keeping them honest.
And a pretty mind-boggling response to a report we brought you this week. It's about a group that claims to be raising money for disabled veterans. So far not a penny has gone directly to those vets despite the tens of millions they have raised.
Today, that group's president responded to the accusations directly and her response is, frankly, shocking. You'll want to tune in for that.
Tonight's "Ridiculist" as well. A lot more at the top of the hour -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Anderson. Looking forward to seeing you in a few moments.
And now, OUTFRONT 5: the mole who foiled al Qaeda's plot to blow up an American-bound jet. Now, the details read like a Hollywood movie. U.S. intelligence working with Saudis were able to get a spy inside the ranks of al Qaeda. The scenario, though, is all too real for our next guest.
He led a double life for years, as a CIA agent. Reza Kahlili -- now that's what he goes by but it's a pseudonym and he uses for his own safety -- made his way into the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards of Iran as a spy for the American government. He wrote about his experiences in a real-life spy novel, "A Time to Betray."
Now, of course, it's difficult to verify his account, but we've checked with sources. We trust who say his story checks out. Reza Kahlili is OUTFRONT tonight and what you see here is going to be a little bit strange. His face cannot be shown so you'll see him in the dark and we've also distorted his voice for his safety. He's going to talk to you about that.
I spoke to him and asked him how difficult it was or it must have been for the Saudi agent to keep his cover in al Qaeda.
"REZA KAHLILI," SPIED ON IRAN FOR US: It's a complex operation, a lot of risks. They have the paranoia of infiltration, so everyone is vetted. You've got to be able to behave like them, dress like them, think like them in order to infiltrate them. You've got to have a history of being in the region and communicating with the same type of people. So it is very difficult to infiltrate.
But nonetheless, as I've explained in my book "A Time to Betray," I did even recruit for the CIA deep within the Revolutionary Guard.
So, CIA obviously tries its best to infiltrate, to gather intelligence and to prevent disaster, such as this one.
BURNETT: How did you, Reza, make the decision in your mind, in your heart, to do what a lot of people would say is betraying your country. In this case your country was Iran. How did you decide to become a spy to work for the CIA?
KAHLILI: Well, I had a lot of anxiety about it. Actually, you are right because part of me felt that I'm betraying my country. I always tried to think that I was betraying the system, trying to help my people.
But on horrific events, I saw suppression, I saw rape, torture, execution, and I saw injustice, and I couldn't stand by and witness it and just come to U.S. and live my life. So, I contacted the U.S. authorities on a trip in the U.S. and one thing led to the other and I met with the CIA officer and I passed on everything I knew about the guards.
Then he asked me if I was willing to become their eyes and ears and he told me point blank that should I get arrested, they would deny any relationship and that there won't be a Navy fleet coming to my rescue. So I knew that my life was in my own hands, but I made the decision because I was desperate to do something to bring change to Iran.
BURNETT: And was, at that point when your case officer said to you if you're found, we're going to say we don't know you, you know, you knew death would be the outcome. What made you feel the mission was worth dying for? And even now, we can't look at you. Your voice here is modulated for our viewers.
Was it worth it?
KAHLILI: You know, my life has changed. I live two lives, both in shadows. A lot of anxiety still. I can't tell you if it was worth it or not, but I can tell you if I had to do it all over again, I would have, because that was the right thing to do. Even if any information I passed saved human lives, if I were able to bring awareness to the West on the atrocities going in Iran, if I was in any way helped in protecting people, then yes.
And still I have hopes that even my activities now will result in a change of policy by the U.S. administration, in helping the Iranian people to bring change from within.
BURNETT: And, Reza, how did it work? You said you were in the United States. You met someone, you reached out to U.S. authorities.
Then from there when you were back in Iran being their eyes and ears, how did you communicate with them? How were you able to get information back? How were you sure you weren't observed?
KAHLILI: Well, you see, I was sent to Europe. I was trained there to write invisible letters and decipher codes. I would receive my codes in the middle of the night and I would decipher and see what the request was.
But more so it was the flow of information. Sometimes I would write four or five letters a week, passing information to the U.S. and looking at the Saudi infiltration, I can tell you that some of my reports prevented disaster. One was that they had planned attacks in Saudi Arabia during Hajj. Another one was collaboration with China.
And so there are many people risking their lives, trying to make a better world and help the West in realizing the threat in Iran.
But there is a lot of anxiety and there is a lot of anger. Death would be an easy way out. Torture is like dying over and over again.
BURNETT: Did you -- does your family know, Reza, what you were doing?
KAHLILI: No, because I would have been risking their lives. I know my mother, she died without knowing what I was truly doing and she always objected to me by collaborating with the regime. My wife resented me collaborating with the regime. Now she knows and still she's anxious about what I'm doing today.
BURNETT: And do you still -- do you still fear for your life now?
KAHLILI: Absolutely. I have no doubt that should my identity be revealed, they're going to take me out. They're going to take out a lot of people who are in contact with me within the Revolution Guards, as I still reveal their secrets. And all my relatives, innocent people who have no idea what I've done, their lives would be in danger.
BURNETT: And was there ever a moment, Reza, where you said, oh, my gosh, they know what I'm doing, they're on to me? Where your heart fell and you thought that moment had come?
KAHLILI: Absolutely. There was this one time that I thought I was arrested. This guy who was always looking into my activities took me to a Evin prison. It was a soft interrogation and I can tell you honestly, had I had some kind of poison pills, I would have taken it at that time because I thought that I have come to an end, they have arrested me.
And In order to save my wife and child, I would have killed myself because when they arrest you, they bring your wife, they bring your child and they torture them. They rape them in front of your eyes just to break you down. And so, it came very close. But I thank God every day for being here today.
BURNETT: And that's a double agent.
OUTFRONT honors the passing of legend Vidal Sassoon. The E-block is next.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT is the title of our show and it's also our mission statement, because we try to showcase people and ideas that best represent being OUTFRONT. Innovators, trail blazers and style makers. And we lost one of those today.
Vidal Sassoon has been described as a craftsman who changed the world with a pair of scissors. He was born in London in 1928. He spent the first part of his life in an orphanage and then eventually trained with what became the Israeli defense forces.
At the end of his service, he began studying hair design. In 1954, he opened his first salon, and that was in London. One time he was asked about that first salon, and Sassoon said, "I gave myself five years. If I couldn't change anything, I was out of there."
But, of course, he did change things. During the '60s and '70s, he revolutionized the industry with his cutting-edge hair styles and hair care products. And by the 1980s, his name was on shampoos and conditioners worldwide.
Vidal Sassoon, a lot of people probably didn't know it was a person, right? I mean, it just became synonymous with brand. In recent years, he distanced himself from the products and salons that bear his name, and he focused on charity work. In fact, he was scheduled to attend a fund-raising event on Monday but he cancelled because he was very, very tired.
Now, we actually spoke with someone who was going to be seated with him at that event. One of our economic strike team members, John Paul DeJoria, the co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products.
John Paul told us this, "I've known Vidal Sassoon for 40 years. He was probably the brightest light in the beauty industry and the most famous hairstylist ever. He helped change the entire industry. He was kind, considerate and couldn't do enough for you. He'll definitely be missed. I never met anyone in 40 years who didn't like Vidal Sassoon."
When I was thinking about what John Paul said, I was realizing that was true. It was the coolest thing to have, my sisters had it, I wanted it. Here's hoping that the name Vidal Sassoon remains on that wonderful brand and a man who really made a big difference.
Thanks so much always for watching. We'll see you again tomorrow night.
But "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is ready to start right now.