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New Info Emerges on New York Terror Plot; Clinton and Springsteen on the Trail for President Obama

Aired October 18, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new details on the student accused of trying to blow up a New York landmark.

On the trail, candidates' wives do the talking, Bruce Springsteen does the singing, and Bill Clinton does the math.

And a scathing report about harassment complaints on Capitol Hill -- how bad behavior is costing taxpayers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

New information tonight about the 21-year-old man arrested in a bold terror plot in New York City. Relatives say Quazi Nafis came to the United States to go to college, but authorities say he was here to wage jihad, that he considered targeting President Obama and the New York Stock Exchange, but in the end allegedly settled in on the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan.

Officials say he actually tried to detonate what he thought was a massive bomb. It all happened in New York City and that's where we find CNN's Susan Candiotti -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are hearing entirely different views of who this suspect. Prosecutors paint a picture of someone who was bent on destroying America. This man's family says authorities have it all wrong.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Who's the real Quazi Nafis? He's accused of coming to America to launch a terror attack and then inspire brothers in al Qaeda to do the same.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: Well, from the complaints, it's alleged that his attempt was to launch a devastating attack here in New York City, to destroy a building, to kill men, women and children.

CANDIOTTI: His family in Bangladesh paints a completely different picture.

"It's simply not possible," his sister says, "that he did this. We think it's impossible that it was him and that he's being made a victim here. Maybe he's being set up by somebody." Using a valid student visa, the 21-year-old was majoring in cyber security for one semester at a college in Missouri where one fellow student remembers giving him rides to class and getting a Koran in return.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not an evil person, and I -- but this is such an evil thing, I can't -- I'm just stumped.

CANDIOTTI: Investigators say Nafis abruptly moves to New York over the summer, a source says, to attend a business school. Prosecutors say Nafis has other business in mind, using Facebook and social media, he unknowingly hooked up with undercover FBI agents in July who he thought would help him launch an attack on the Federal Reserve, a landmark and the world's largest holder of gold bullion.

In court documents, Nafis is said to have boasted he "wanted to make sure this building is gone."

After several alleged meetings in places including Central Park, while under constant recorded surveillance, Nafis allegedly gathered bomb ingredients and this week made his move, taking the Long Island Expressway to Manhattan's Financial District.

(on camera): With an undercover agent along for the ride, Nafis parks his truck with that 1,000-pound dummy bomb inside right here on this corner, the corner of Nassau and Liberty Street. The Federal Reserve Bank is on this block. But according to federal prosecutors, Nafis isn't ready to detonate that bomb, not just yet.

(voice-over): Court papers takes Nafis takes his companion to a hotel a few blocks away where he wants to make a video. In it, he allegedly states we will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom.

(on camera): Then it's back to the Federal Reserve and the van. Nafis allegedly tries to detonate the bomb using his cell phone. He tries again and again but it doesn't work because the bomb is just a prop. That's when the FBI moves in and makes the arrest.

RAYMOND KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: He said in the complaint that he wanted to ultimately detonate this remotely because he wanted to go back to Bangladesh. But he was, ultimately, willing to become a suicide bomber.


CANDIOTTI: In the end, neither happened and if found guilty, Nafis could spend the rest of his life in prison -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti, thanks very much.

There's important news on another front in the fight against terrorism as well.

Kate Bolduan is monitoring that -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. Thank you.

You're absolutely right. Today, the U.S. offered multi-million dollar reward for help locating two men based in Iran. According to the State Department's Rewards for Justice Web site, these men helped move people and money and people through Iran on behalf of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

The U.S. says they have helped multiple operatives travel from Pakistan via Iran and Turkey to destinations in Europe, North Africa and Syria. They also solicit money that's used to finance al Qaeda attacks. Now, the U.S. is offering quite a lot of money to track these men down.

BLITZER: They certainly are. Thanks very much.

BLITZER: Let's get a little analysis on all these stories.

Joining us from New York, CNN's Fareed Zakaria and he's the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" and also editor at large for "TIME" magazine, our sister publication.

What do you think, first of all, Fareed, about this alleged plot to blow up the New York Fed?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: There are two things about it, Wolf, one of which is which is heartening and one which is very disturbing.

What is heartening -- heartening is hardly the word, but he was acting alone. This was not a large al Qaeda plot, this was not an al Qaeda affiliate. Those plots have become much harder to do because those organizations are easy to track, it's easier to track money. We can find people when they come in and out.

You have to rely on these lone rangers, this one guy who gets either inspired or indoctrinated and acts pretty much alone, which means the plot has some amateurish quality to it. The worrying part is that today technology makes it possible for one guy with minimal amounts of resources to do very bad things.

So, we're not as worried about the big al Qaeda coordinated attack because those ones we have become much better at figuring out. But just one guy can cause a lot of trouble.

BLITZER: Yes. And it comes a day after an Iranian-American, an individual named Mansour Arbabsiar, pled guilty to charges that he wanted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, at a popular restaurant here in Washington, D.C., and that he was working directly with high-ranking Iranian military officials.

He pled guilty to these charges and he faces I think about 25 years in jail right now. Here's the question, why would the Iranians, the regime over there in Tehran, want to kill Ambassador Adel Al- Jubeir?

ZAKARIA: I think when you go to the region, Wolf, what you realize is there is now a very intense, a very intense rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, if you look at what's happening in Syria, Syria has turned into a cockpit where the Saudis are funding a Sunni- based insurgency on the one hand and the Iranians are supporting this quasi-Shiite regime on the other.

That is infecting so much of the region. I think the Iranians see the Saudis as their principal adversaries and the people funding all the attacks against them. You remember there is a certain amount of insurgent activity even in Iran, MEK and things like that. Again, the Iranians believe it is the Saudis doing it. Adel Al-Jubeir is seen as a very close ambassador to the king of Saudi Arabia.

It was a crazy, amateurish plot, but I would guess there is some real animosity directed toward Saudi Arabia from Iran.

BLITZER: I have been told by U.S. officials because he is so close to King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, he has been his adviser for so many years, the Iranians supposedly really wanted to send a message directly to the king. If they were going to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, that would have been a powerful message, indeed.

Let's look ahead to Monday night. You will be joining us in our coverage of the third and final presidential debate, all of which is supposed to be devoted to foreign policy.

Is there, from your perspective, I watch your show every Sunday and I read all your columns, Fareed, is there is a huge difference on international affairs between these two candidates?

ZAKARIA: I think the one that people talk about is actually, is actually nonexistent, that is on Iran.

Romney has now actually walked back to the same point that Obama is, no nuclear weapon for Iran. He used to say no nuclear weapons capability, but now he and Obama have the same red line. He admitted this to George Stephanopoulos. The big difference, Wolf, has been on China.

Romney has said he would declare, brand, label a currency manipulator on day one. He threatens to get very tough. What we don't know is how the Chinese will react to this. Remember China has the largest second largest economy in the world. They are the largest foreign holders of American debt.

If they didn't show up to the next Treasury auction as a way of retaliating, if they argued what the Federal Reserve is doing is its own form of currency manipulation, we could be in for a kind of trade war between the two largest economies in the world. This is a very scary prospect and it, you know, if Romney follows through on what he is saying, it's not entirely inconceivable that that could happen.

BLITZER: Glad you are going to be joining us in on coverage Monday night of this third and final presidential debate. Fareed, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: My pleasure, Wolf. BLITZER: Please be sure to join Fareed this Sunday night for his special, "Global Lessons: The Road Map for Powering America." You're going to find out what the U.S. could be doing to reduce dependency on foreign oil. Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

I'm looking forward to that, Kate, as well.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, as well as the debate Monday, third and final.

BLITZER: Look forward to everything.

BOLDUAN: You have a very good outlook on life. That's for sure.

Still ahead, Bruce Springsteen, Bill Clinton and the ladies of "The View." Big names help both presidential candidates in the final weeks of the campaign. We're out on the trail live.


BLITZER: In a few hours, President Obama and Governor Romney will be special guests at the Al Smith Dinner in New York. It's held by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

BOLDUAN: It could get a little awkward and it's always fun, though. The church, though, adamantly opposes abortion, as we all well know and abortion rights are turning into a major issue in the presidential campaign.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is tracking that today.

What is the latest, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, with Mitt Romney behind closed doors for most of the day to work on his debate preparations for his third and final debate with President Obama, arguably his campaign's best political weapon was taking to the airwaves to help the candidate get out of a bind with women.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Supporters have long called Mitt Romney Mr. Fix-It. But on this day it was Ann Romney on the daytime talk show "The View" playing the role of Mrs. Fix-It.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I would say 95 percent of what I hear from women is help. Please help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Economic help, you're talking about.

A. ROMNEY: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: Repairing some of the damage from her husband's awkward response on a question for pay equity for women at this week's debate. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks?" and they brought us whole binders full of women.

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign instantly saw an opening to press Romney on women's issues, namely abortion rights. When Mrs. Romney was asked about her husband's evolving position on the issue:

A. ROMNEY: Mitt has always been a pro-life person. He governed when he ran as pro-choice.

ACOSTA: She argued there is more at stake in the election.

A. ROMNEY: It's about economic issues and making a better future for your children and making sure that we have this. That's the beauty of what we have in this country is being able to have those choices.

ACOSTA: But according to a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll, women in battleground states cited abortion as their most important issue followed by jobs. Contrast that with men, who picked jobs first, the economy second. The Romney campaign released an ad earlier this week that accused the president of mischaracterizing the GOP contender's stance on the issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turns out Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life.

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign fired back with its own spot.

NARRATOR: Seen this from Mitt Romney?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: If Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Congress passed a federal ban on all abortions that came to your desk, would you sign it, yes or no?

M. ROMNEY: Let me say it. I would be delighted to sign that bill.

ACOSTA: But the ad leaves out some context.

M. ROMNEY: But that's not where we are. That's not where America is today.


ACOSTA: Now, later on this evening it will be the husbands' turn and as we have been reporting all day, both President Obama and Mitt Romney will be taking the stage at the Al Smith Dinner here in New York City.

It is a benefit put on by the Archdiocese of New York to help needy families, but it's also an opportunity for both candidates and this happens every four years to sort of put the verbal jabs aside and try some jokes for a change. We will be hearing that later on this evening, Kate.

We understand that just a few moments ago, Mitt Romney did arrive at the Waldorf here in New York for his remarks later on this evening and he will be taking the podium, as it were, at 9:00. He gets to go first and the president goes second.

BOLDUAN: We will all be waiting to, obviously, watch that.

But the vice presidential candidates were also on the campaign trail today, Jim. Joe Biden made some comments about Paul Ryan that are getting quite a bit of attention. Listen to this.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're not bad men. They're decent men. They're good fathers. They're good husbands.

But I don't understand how they believe, and they do believe -- Ryan has written a book called "Young Guns" with two other members of the House. No, these are the Republican leaders in the House. You had -- you had -- unfortunately, the bullets are aimed at you.



BOLDUAN: Bullets are aimed at you. What kind of reaction are you getting from the Romney campaign about this?

As you might expect, Kate, they instantly seized on those comments that sounded a lot like when Joe Biden earlier this eye talked about people being put back in chains or the middle class being buried. This is yet another gaffe for the vice president.

And the Romney campaign did put out a statement and we will put it up on screen. It says: "In the absence of a vision or plan to move the country forward, the vice president is left with only ugly political attacks beneath the dignity of the office he occupies."

A tough statement from a spokesman for Paul Ryan with the Romney campaign, but in just the last 10 minutes, Kate, I did get a response from the Obama campaign, actually a spokesperson for Vice President Joe Biden. She said that Vice President Biden's comments were clearly a reference to Paul Ryan's book, along with the two other leaders in the House who put that book together called "Young Guns."

And she said it was a reference to the policies in her words, that would devastate the middle class. So, the Obama campaign having to clean up, once again, after a gaffe from Joe Biden.

BOLDUAN: They will grab at any comment they can at this point in the campaign.

Jim Acosta for us tonight, thanks so much, Jim. BLITZER: We have much more on this story and much more on the world of politics and the race for the White House and we will see what the president of the United States has been up to, right after this.


BLITZER: President Obama may be trading jokes with Mitt Romney tonight, but he was pounding away at him throughout this afternoon in New Hampshire.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he absolutely was.

The president also got high-profile help from Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen in another battleground state of Ohio.

BLITZER: Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She is on the scene for us in Manchester, New Hampshire.

How did it go, Jess?


It was a good rally for the president. He said so at least, to the crowd. He told them he was fired up. Both candidates here have a claim on the state. Governor Romney, he has vacationed here for years. Candidate Obama in 2008, well, he won the state, but now it's all tied up in the latest polling that we have seen. So, the Obama campaign says they're here taking nothing for granted.


YELLIN (voice-over): An energized President Obama was tossing off quips all day Thursday.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have heard of the New Deal. You have heard of the square deal and the fair deal. Mitt Romney's trying to sell you a sketchy deal. He took another swing at it and he whiffed.

YELLIN: Trying to build momentum, the campaign is hitting the battleground states, including tiny New Hampshire.

(on camera): There are just four electoral votes to be won here in New Hampshire. Why is it frankly worth the president's time to be here?

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, this is a battleground state. I was governor here in 2000 when if Al Gore had had the four electoral votes in New Hampshire, he would have been president.

YELLIN (voice-over): So the Obama camp is fanning out. The president's number two stumping for six electoral votes in Nevada. JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the president said the day after the debate, Romney's plans were awful sketchy. Sketchy. Well, folks, I don't think they were just sketchy. I think they were Etch A Sketchy.

YELLIN: And two marquee names wooing 18 electoral votes in Ohio. The explainer in chief was the warm-up act for the boss.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was born in the USA, and unlike one of the candidates for president, I keep all my money here.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: I'm thankful GM is still making cars.


SPRINGSTEEN: What else would I write about? I would have no job without that.

YELLIN: The focus on women voters remains intense.

OBAMA: We don't have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women who can learn and excel in these fields right now.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, from here the president went on to New York City where he taped an appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and they covered some serious topics as well as a few light ones.

On the attacks in Benghazi, the president said -- let me read it to you. He said: "Every piece of information we get, as we got it, we laid it out to the American people. The picture eventually gets fully filled in. When four Americans gets killed," he went on to say, "it's not optimal."

Optimal is a word that Jon Stewart used in asking the question. The president repeated it and the president also went on to say that he wishes Guantanamo Bay could still be closed and then he made a joke with Jon Stewart about Vice President Biden showing up to meetings in a wet bathing suit.

BLITZER: I'm sure it was very funny indeed.

All right, thanks very much, Jessica Yellin, on the campaign trail.

By the way, we will have live coverage tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, a special "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," special because I'm going to be filling in for Piers. Both of these presidential candidates, the president and the governor, will have some lighthearted remarks. We're anxious to hear what they have to say, the Al Smith Dinner tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Today, the president said al Qaeda is on the path to defeat. But one of our next guests argues that reports of al Qaeda's demise are at least premature. Stand by. We will have a serious discussion, information you need to hear.


BLITZER: Less than three weeks away from Election Day and with the race so close, both campaigns know every vote counts.

BOLDUAN: Exactly right. There's one particular segment of voters that both campaigns are courting. Listen here.


OBAMA: When these young women graduate, I want them to receive equal pay for equal work.

BIDEN: We're absolutely positive. Make no mistake, absolutely positively committed to making sure that my daughter, his daughters and my four granddaughters have every single right my sons have.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But it starts with a growing economy. The best way to help women, the best way to help people who are out of luck...

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I would say 95 percent of what I hear from women is help. Please, help.


BLITZER: All right, but is it anything new?

Let's get some perspective right now from Ryan Lizza. He's CNN contributor and the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. Are you hearing any new positions on this critically important subject right now?

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": Not really. I mean, what you're -- I guess what's surprising to me is, for all the talk that this election is going to be strictly about the economy. These issues of contraception and abortion that both sides are -- Romney is defending himself on and Obama is hammering him on have become front and center.

Looking at some stats before I came on, 10 percent of Obama's ads have been on those two issues. You know, we all know the poll numbers behind this. Democrats need to drive up double-digit victories among female voters in order to win the presidency.

BLITZER: Because men are inclined to vote for Romney.

LIZZA: Yes. This is the gender gap. So Obama in the last set of polls, depending on the poll, he's anywhere from -- he's winning women by about five to nine points. That's not enough. He needs to be up closer to 10, 11, or 12, 13 which is what he got in 2008. So that's why we're seeing this debate play out right now. BOLDUAN: And that also begs the question, I mean, with so much talk of this election is about the undecided in swing states, when you look at women voters, how movable is this segment of voters at this point in the race?

LIZZA: Well, Romney did an incredible amount of work in that first debate by moving the needle on women voters. During the primaries, he went pretty far to the right on the social issues, on abortion, on contraception, and the Obama campaign made sure that women voters knew about it.

In that debate, a lot of people got a look at Romney and said, you know what? This isn't the same guy that I've been told about by Obama and all those ads. It's one of the reasons why the debate can work for you. You know, if you don't live up to the caricature that the other side has painted about you, the voters say, "Hey, wait a second. This kind of isn't what Obama told me about."

And, you know, we've been talking for the last two weeks since that first debate about the movement in the polls. A lot of that movement was among female voters who started to rethink this guy.

BLITZER: So is it fair to say that, among women voters out there right now, the economy is much more important issue than some of these social issues, whether contraception, abortion rights for women.

LIZZA: You know, I think it's mixed. It depends on who you are. I think that the surprising thing is that the economy for a certain segments of undecided voters has moved out of the forefront, and these social issues are driving their vote. And otherwise, the Obama campaign wouldn't be spending 10 percent of their ad dollars on this and Romney wouldn't be doing so much work defending himself.

BLITZER: Could be a winning issue for women.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: We will see.

BOLDUAN: All right, Ryan Lizza, thank you so much.

The final matchup between the two candidates just days away. Be sure to join us Monday night for the third and final presidential debate -- Ryan said just how important these debates are -- this time in Boca Raton, Florida. Special coverage begins at 7 Eastern, 4 Pacific.

BLITZER: A scathing report about harassment and discrimination complaints up on Capitol Hill. Up next, how the bad behavior may be costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.


BLITZER: If you're frustrated with what's happening or isn't happening up on Capitol Hill these days, a scathing new sexual harassment and discrimination report may only fuel your outrage. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us from Capitol Hill. She's got details. What's going on, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned that Congress is in pretty bad standing with the American people. They're barely breaking double digits when it comes to the approval rating. And if they get a look at this new report on the state of the congressional workplace, Americans are likely to be even more disgusted.


BASH (voice-over): Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings accused of sexual harassment last year. The case was dismissed in court, but it's one example of a sharply rising number of harassment and discrimination complaints by congressional employees.

One hundred forty-two people made claims in 2011, and settlements last year cost taxpayers $461,366.

(on camera) Why are my taxpayer dollars going to settle cases of people who are not treating their employees well?

DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY: Well, in an ideal world, members of Congress would not be discriminating against their workers.

BASH (voice-over): Debra Katz is an attorney who represented congressional employees in harassment cases, including some against former GOP Congressman Eric Massa, who two years ago admitted to tickling his male staffers.

Katz thinks the real number of harassment cases is much higher than a new report states, but congressional aides are too intimidated to formally complain.

KATZ: It's young, aspiring people who want political careers, who want to do great things, who believe in the parties of the offices that they work in. They don't want to be disloyal, and they know by filing a complaint against these very powerful people, it's the end of their careers, functionally.

BASH: Before a complaint is filed, the first step is a request for confidential counseling, and often a person alleges more than one claim.

In 2011, there were 196. That's up from 2010. And if you look at this graph, a significant climb since 2008.

The report also tracks retaliation. Last year there were 108 cases of bosses retaliating against employees. Most complaints come from police officers and Capitol support workers and less political jobs with unions who inform them of their rights. That's not the case for congressional employees.

See this? Workers' rights on the wall at CNN, that's required by law. But members of Congress are exempt from posting that. The report also unearthed how inaccessible the Capitol is to people with disabilities, listing 154 so-called barriers to access. Eighty-four posed safety risks.

(on camera) This curb ramp right outside the House Longworth Building is a classic example of a safety risk. Look at this. The cracks are so wide, and this slope is so steep that wheelchairs can easily flip over.

In fact, 93 percent of all curb ramps outside House office buildings are not compliant with the American Disabilities Act. This is a law, of course, that Congress itself passed.

The fact that people in wheelchairs can't get up on a curb to get to what's supposed to be the people's house...

KATZ: Is disgraceful.

BASH (on camera): One bright spot. We did happen to see one curb ramp being fixed.


BASH: Now, the Office of Compliance, which did this report and monitors all this says that part of the problem is that they're really, really limited in resources, even to do inspections. For example, they say that they haven't even been able to inspect the ramps outside the Senate office buildings.

And, of course, this is inspecting to make sure that Congress is complying with the law that it passed, specifically in this case, to make sure that people with disabilities have access and rights.

BLITZER: Excellent report, Dana, appreciate it very, very much.

BASH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Osama bin Laden is dead, but is al Qaeda on the way out or just as dangerous as ever? We'll talk about that and more with Peter Bergen, Cliff May, coming up next.

BLITZER: They're walking into THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Since 9/11 every American wants to be assured that al Qaeda is on its way to extinction.

BOLDUAN: President Obama considers his administration's record on fighting terrorism a strength, as he often reminds voters on the campaign trail.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said we'd refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have. And, today, a new tower rises above the New York skyline. And al Qaeda is on the path to defeat. And Osama bin Laden is dead.


BLITZER: So, is al Qaeda on the decline? Let's get some analysis from two experts. Cliff May is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Here in Washington, Peter Bergen is a CNN national security analyst and the author of the best- selling book, "Man Hunt: The 10-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. You've heard the president say al Qaeda is on the path to defeat. He's softened that a little bit. They used to say decimated for all practical purposes. What do you say?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's very hard for a politician to say that it's defeated because what if you're even 1 percent wrong? The political cost of that statement will be very hard. But I believe that al Qaeda, the organization that attacked us on 9/11, is not capable of anything remotely close to that. And the incident that we saw yesterday in New York, I think is confirmation. This guy was a lone Wolf and, I'm sorry to use that word. I want to be...

BLITZER: I don't take it personally.

BERGEN: I want to be, you know, who just, you know, he said that he was in touch with al Qaeda. That was false. And he, you know, he failed.

BLITZER: He was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda operative who was killed by U.S. drone.

BERGEN: Yes, yes, but clearly that wasn't enough. And in fact, Wolf, this year is actually the smallest number of jihadist terrorism cases in the United States. Three since the beginning of the year.

BLITZER: You have a different perspective.

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I do. Peter whom has great respect al Qaeda's capabilities have been diminished. I agree with that. But he said he'd been defeated and even that it's dead. And I think what has happened instead is it's a change in strategy and a change in its capabilities, but it's fanned out across the globe.

Al Qaeda in Iraq was up to 140 attacks per week. Not quite as much as it was earlier this year. Al Qaeda has boots on the ground in Syria. Al Qaeda has taken over most of Malawi and is bombing Sufi mosques and shrines. Al Qaeda affiliates are blowing up churches in Nigeria.

In Pakistan, we had a girl killed by -- not killed, thankfully, but shot by the Taliban, very close symbiotic relationship with al Qaeda -- because she believes in education for little girls. And we had a bombing just the other day in northwest Pakistan. Seventeen people killed. They attacked tribal leaders who were not jihadists.

So, we're seeing changes. We're seeing the organization morph. I'm not sure they can do what they did on 9/11. I hope that's true. But to say they're dead, to say they're defeated, I think that misses a very important point.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Peter.

BERGEN: Well, I think, you know, everything that Cliff has just said is true, but, what does that mean for American national security? I mean, the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq is -- by the way, used to control a third of the country in 2006. Now it controls nothing. Is certainly capable of a terrorist attack.

But, you know, we're sitting here in the United States, and we're concerned about American national security. And the fact is, only 17 Americans have been killed by Jihadi terrorists since 9/11 in his country. You know, considering more Americans die every year of accidental bathtub drownings and we don't have an irrational fear of dying in our bathtubs, then we shouldn't have an irrational fear of terrorism. Yes, it's a problem, but it has been managed and contained because of the efforts of, you know, a lot of people.

MAY: Two points I want to make. One is we shouldn't have an irrational fear of terrorism, absolutely right. And we should also understand that al Qaeda has not just a strategy, not just an organization but an ideology. And I would call that ideology Jihadism. And that ideology has not been delegitimized. It has not been discredited. It's still alive and well, and I would say it's spreading and too few politicians will discuss Jihadism, much less say it has to be destroyed as an ideology. We're not there yet.

And by the way, today the Treasury Department designated about the fifth time in a row an al Qaeda representative who was part of a network in Iran. Iran also has a jihadist ideology, and al Qaeda and the regime that rules Iran, they are rivals, but they also collaborate in significant ways, which most people don't know.

BLITZER: On that specific point, do you agree? The Iran/al Qaeda connection.


BLITZER: Because, Cliff is right, they have been rivals over the years. No great love for al Qaeda in Iraq.

BERGEN: No, except that it is a fact, not only that bin Laden's family, many family members are living in Iran, but also some senior members of al Qaeda have been living in Iran, and they seem to be under sort of some form of house arrest. So that's a fact.

But, again, you know, eradicating Jihadism as an ideology, that would be a great idea. But you're never going to completely get to zero in this. And we've already spent a great deal of money. There's always been somebody attracted to these ideas.

The question is, can they really do damage to the United States? And the answer is, and you know, we've just seen it confirmed yesterday, that the types of people attracted to this ideology are not particularly effective in terms of attacking America.

BOLDUAN: Well, let me ask -- let me ask you on that. I mean, you -- you say that al Qaeda is very weakened. I mean, you've even written, as you said, that only, you know, 17 people in the United States since 9/11 have been killed by al Qaeda, inspiration. More people are killed every year by dogs.

I mean, to that point, if al Qaeda shouldn't be necessarily the focus, where should we be focusing in terms of our national security? Where do you think is the biggest threat?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, I think that's a very good question. You know, as Yogi Berra said, it's hard to make predictions, particularly about the future.


BERGEN: And so, but, you know, cyber security is creating an issue. I think bioterrorism is a sort of lost law in biology right now where it can become easier. So I don't want to pretend that there are no threats, but I think we are living in a very unusual moment if you, compare to other moments in our history, we don't have existential problems, as we did in the Cold War or against -- the war against the Nazis or the American Civil War.

MAY: My fear is that if you tell people that al Qaeda is dead and if you also have it out there that the tide of war is receding, we're going to grow very complacent. And I think we were complacent on the anniversary of 9/11. After all, al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates did kill an American ambassador for the first time since 1973 -- '73 it was...

BERGEN: Seventy-nine.

MAY: ... that an American ambassador was killed.

We had the al Qaeda flag hoisted on top of the embassy in Cairo. We had demonstrations in more than a dozen other countries. I think we have to take this seriously. Now that doesn't mean -- I agree with you on this -- we should walk around every day, fearing that we're going to be killed by a terrorist act tomorrow.

On the other hand, we can't get complacent. What we do have to do is try to understand how the terrorist organizations and Iran are morphing, how they're changing, and we have to think ahead of them. We've got to not be reactive. It's not enough to say we had a suicide bomber who almost blew up a plane with his shoe, so let's take our shoes off people who are getting on the planes. We have to think ahead.

You're right about cyber terrorism. But by the way, where is cyber terrorism coming from? Among other things, from Iran, a jihadist state. And again, you're right. There are those al Qaeda members under house arrest, and there are those not under house arrest. Look at what the Treasury Department said about the network for funding and organizing and taking terrorists and moving them around the world. That is taking place inside Iran where Iran thinks al Qaeda can help its causes.

BLITZER: I've heard various experts suggest, including U.S. government analysts suggest, Peter, that al Qaeda may be more dangerous now because it has spread out. There are different al Qaedas, not just the central al Qaeda like bin Laden had based in Afghanistan. But there's an al Qaeda in North Africa, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. All these franchises that have developed. Al Qaeda Sharia or whatever. And that these lone wolves who were inspired by them, they could potentially cause some major damage.

BERGEN: No, I mean, certainly al Qaeda in Yemen has attempted attacks on the United States, but they've also suffered a major series of setbacks because of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces activity, in collaboration with drone attacks. They've lost a lot of territory.

Similarly al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, you know, hasn't shown an ability to attack in organization. It's an organization that has ties to France. But it has never attacked in France. You know, doing these kinds of attacks overseas, they have local strengths. But other than al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula, none of them have shown any ability.

BLITZER: Do both of you agree that the killing of the U.S. ambassador at the consulate in Benghazi was al Qaeda?

BERGEN: I think the jury is still out on that. I think that, Ansar al Sharia is a group that acts like al Qaeda. At the end of the day, if you're killed, it doesn't matter if it's al Qaeda or an organization that's quite like al Qaeda.

MAY: There are any number of organizations that have pledged idea allegiance to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb would be one. Ansar al-Sharia is indistinguishable from al Qaeda, but it may be. Similarly, Al-Shaban (ph) is -- has allegiance. But Boca Haram (ph) in Nigeria has not.

Saying that something hasn't happened yet when we have these enemies who are swearing that they are going to kill us is not the same as saying it won't happen. On 9/10 one could say bin Laden is not such a great danger. He's never done anything big. Eventually he did.

BLITZER: Gentlemen, we've got to leave it there. Cliff May, Peter Bergen, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you both so much.

An unbelievable -- an unbelievable rescue when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: Take a look at this video from Northern California. Eerie. It's parts of a series of dramatic meteors that could be seen shooting across the sky last night. The light show is expected to last until Sunday. Astronomers say the meteor shower, which occurs every year at around this time, is hitting the earth at approximately 148,000 miles per hour. It will peak early Sunday morning.

BLITZER: Meteor shower. A likely story.

BOLDUAN: Likely.

BLITZER: Looks like a UFO to me.

BOLDUAN: Likely tale. Well, you're still looking for aliens on Mars.

BLITZER: Looking for them. Haven't spotted them yet.

You can find plenty of animals when you're out at sea: birds, fish, maybe seals. Not it's not every day you find a puppy. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a doggy rescue at sea.


MOOS: Charlie Herd was on his paddleboard off the coast of England making a 600-mile trip. Next year he's planning a 3,000-mile paddle across the Atlantic. The water sports instructor had been followed by a playful seal, chased by stormy weather...

CHARLIE HERD, WATER SPORTS INSTRUCTOR: "Rawr!" And then "Aaaa!" "Rawr!" "Aaaa!"

MOOS: But the real "Aaaaa" moment was when Charlie spotted a little dog stranded on rocks as the tide came in.

HERD: And he just sat there like a little dude, wondering what the hell to do. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK.

MOOS: The Shih Tzu, later identified as Bam-Bam, was marooned at the tip of a rock jetty submerged by high tide.

(on camera) How surprised were you to see a dog there?

HERD: Absolutely shocked. It's just a -- just a remarkable, ridiculous place.

MOOS (voice-over): Though the dog was panicking, Charlie managed to lift her into his paddle boat.

HERD: Come on. It's OK, it's OK. It's OK. It's OK.

MOOS: His iPhone camera, in a waterproof case, was strapped to his neck. Between the tide and high winds...

HERD: Literally had about ten minutes until -- until he would have been a goner.

Just relax. It's OK, it's OK.

MOOS: Charlie doesn't know how Bam-Bam got left on the rocks more than 100 yards from shore.

HERD: Well, it's very suspect, you know. It's sort of a little dog that -- that would barely he leave a woman's handbag.

This little dude is absolutely terrified.

But it's also quite hard to believe that somebody would leave it out there deliberately.

HERD: Charlie paddled to the shore and brought the dog to the nearest pub, at the Hampton Inn. An embedded chip helped animal rescue folks identify the dog, though the owner hasn't yet been found.

(on camera) The rocks on which the dog was stuck were part of a man-made sea wall called a groin, and the pooch ended up going from one groin to another.

HERD: That's it, boy. What are you doing out here? All right. Let's get you in.

He realized that I was there to help him and nuzzled up in between my legs in a nice way, and off we went.

MOOS: When the Shih Tzu hit the fan, Charlie Herd was in the right spot.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

HERD: Aww, lookie. What are you doing out here?

MOOS: ... New York.


BOLDUAN: Aw, Jeanne. Very, very sweet.

So we have to take a moment...

BLITZER: Please.

BOLDUAN: ... to talk about the very important things in life and wish Grandma Bea a very, very happy birthday. My grandmother -- that's her...

BLITZER: Lovely.

BOLDUAN: ... at my sister's wedding earlier this year. She's 99 years old today. BLITZER: God bless her. Grandma Bea, happy birthday.

BOLDUAN: Still a firecracker.

BLITZER: A wonderful woman.

That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.