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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Terror Arrests in Miami; V.P. Interview; Iraq and Politics

Aired June 22, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States, as well as around the world who are watching on CNN International.
If you are just joining us, we've been covering for the last 90 minute or so breaking news about an alleged terror plot inside the United States.

Tonight seven suspects are in custody. That we know. Several of those arrests took place in Miami. One we know was in Atlanta. Five of the arrests we know took place today.

But the alleged threat goes far beyond both those cities, beyond Miami. Beyond Atlanta. The source -- sources tell us that at least one of the targets may have been the Sears Tower in Chicago, the tallest building in North America, the third tallest building in the world.

Anti-terror raids are still under way. The FBI says this is part of an -- at least a four month investigation.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve had been reporting this investigation was going on for about a year. And this group had been infiltrated by at least one person.

A number of people in Miami, of course, are talking about this. A number of people in the area who had seen some of these men are talking about it as well. Let's listen to what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN ANDREWS, AFFILIATE CORRESPONDENT: ... who want to blow up buildings. What do you make of this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know -- truly down in my heart I believe that's a stone lie. I been known Nasia (ph) for better than five years. I never know him to get in any trouble. I never know him to have any problem with anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That is a woman -- is the alleged godmother of one of the people who has been arrested. Affiliate Reporter Brian Andrews had talked to her a short time ago. She is saying she doesn't believe the charges against the man she describes as her godson.

We have also heard from a number of people who were in the area where the raid today took place. We'll hear their sound in a moment.

CNN's John Zarrella is at the warehouse where the raid took place. It's a much calmer, quiet scene right now. But John's been talking to some of the neighbors around there who say that they saw these men and they in fact were hiding in plain sight -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson.

And just to bring our viewers up to speed who haven't been with us the whole time. This is the warehouse that the FBI agents came to, surrounded today. They used torches to try to break through the door over my shoulder here to the right.

Apparently did not gain access that way. Went over to another door behind me, broke the locks, got through into the building, in that door. Now, it is a concrete block structure. There are no windows, front, back or on the sides.

When the police got here, the authorities got here, the federal agents at about 2:00, they cordoned off the entire area. They told people in the neighborhood here to stay inside, not to go outside.

And after the police broke in and went inside, apparently no one was in there. One thing to point out, no bomb-making materiel materials found, no weapons found inside.

But after they came out, the law enforcement officials went to the neighbors in this area and asked them, held up mug shots and said have you seen these guys? Have you seen them?

And do apparently the arrests were not made here. Where in this area of Liberty City the arrests were made, we do not know at the time.

What others were getting information this evening about these people is we talked to one man just a few minutes ago, said he knew one of the guys that was in here and he said that the man told him that he was in fact -- had a change of life. He was on a diet, he was healthy he was feeling very good about himself. And the man we spoke with said he had gone to high school here in Miami with one of the men inside here.

We talked to some other neighbors across the street who told us that every day these men wore black and that they ran a karate school inside here. At least that's what they said. They may have been here from anywhere from three months to up to a year. And that at periods of time during the day there would always be men outside this building, Anderson, watching, standing guard.

And we were told they always flew flags on top of the building behind me, sometimes they flew an American flag. And again, saying that they were hiding in plain sight.

This is a main street here in the Liberty City area. Their building sits on a corner, a big intersection just a block away. So in fact, whatever was going on inside there, whether they were just meeting there, whatever was going on, the people here in the neighborhood saw them coming and going all the time. And again, they told folks in the neighborhood that in fact they were running a karate school -- Anderson.

COOPER: John Zarrella, from the scene, interesting you mention the karate school. We had just heard from sound from the woman who'd said she is the godmother of one of the people that's been arrested, who said that in fact that person had been teaching one of her relatives karate.

But we do have sound from some of the neighbors that John Zarrella was just talking about. Let's listen to how they describe some of these men who have been arrested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, what do you think about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's crazy. Never saw nothing like that before. But right at home. Right across the street from the house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All you could do is just see their eyes. They had the whole head wrapped up. Just their eyes showing. And like they standing guard, one here, one there, like soldiers, you know? Very quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They talked to nobody. They would nod their head if say some of the people said they would speak to them, and they'd just nod their head or something or they just keep their head straight. They was acting like they was in military training.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Mike Brooks joins us now, formerly with the FBI's joint terrorism task force.

Mike, you've been working your sources. What do you -- have some new information?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, we just heard what some of the witnesses said, Anderson. And my sources are telling me basically the same thing. They wore military style clothing, black military style clothing, they kept to themselves, they would come out late at night and exercise and then go back into the warehouse and they would also come out and stand guard and basically they kept to themselves, didn't say much at all to anybody.

Now, whether or not they are involved in any of the groups that the FBI knows of, black separatist groups, that remains to be seen. We'll probably hear some more on that tomorrow.

COOPER: And again, the identity of them, five Americans, one illegal immigrant from Haiti. The other one resident alien, but we don't know the nationality of that person.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has also been getting a lot of information from her sources all evening long.

Jeanne, do you have anything new? And if not, at least just give us a sense of the big picture, what we know now at 6 past the hour.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The big headline from officials is there is no current threat. Not to worry if you're in Miami. Not to worry if you're in Chicago. Not to worry if you're anywhere else in the country. No threat from this group at this point in time.

Apparently these individuals did not have the wherewithal to carry out their plans, which according to sources, included trying to blow up the Sears Tower, the FBI building in Miami and other locations in southern Florida.

We have been told, as you've reported, that there were seven arrests. At least five of them today. Most of them in Miami. At least one in Atlanta. These people are described as radical Muslims. There is a senior official who tells us these people were not related to al Qaeda.

But we have been told by several other sources that they identified with al Qaeda and at least one person in this group had taken a pledge to al Qaeda but we don't know exactly what that means.

In addition, we have been told that there are some people in Chicago who were questioned in connection with this alleged plot, but there have not been any arrests in that city. This investigation under way for quite a while.

We're told by sources at least one informant was involved who went undercover and portrayed himself as an Islamic radical. That's where we are right now.

COOPER: Pat D'Amuro, does it sound like this is a group which has connections to a larger militant group? Or does it sound like they're kind of making it up as they go along? I mean, they're wearing military clothing, they're guarding some warehouse in the middle of the night in Miami.

PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly what it sounds like this is a group that is making it up as they go along and they're affiliating with an international terrorism organization.

I think it's interesting to note and I would be interested to know from our people on scene there, are we seeing boxes of material taken out of this warehouse?

As this goes on, having worked these cases for so many years, I think what we're going to see in this is that there was somebody inside this group that was either making recordings or collecting evidence for these arrests to take place.

I'm not sure we've actually seen hard searches taking place where there's a lost documentary evidence that's going to be used in this type of trial. They probably have, in my estimation, and I'm going out on a little bit of a limb here, but I think we're going to see there were some cooperating witnesses, sources that were collecting intelligence and information that's going to be used later in a court proceeding.

COOPER: And of course to Jeanne Meserve and the sources she's been talking to, there was at least one person who infiltrated this group, posing as some sort of al Qaeda operative or at least that's what this group believed this person was. That person was actually giving information to authorities.

John, to Pat's question, did you see -- did CNN producers see boxes being removed, lots of documents being moved? Obviously, the scene now is gone -- I mean, the police are gone. You're able to be right down in front of it. It doesn't seem like an enormous crime scene that they are still processing.

We're having trouble getting -- John, can you hear me?

ZARRELLA: Yes. Yes, I hear you, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes -- I don't know, did you hear my question or should I re-ask it?

ZARRELLA: No. No. Go ahead, give it to me again.

COOPER: OK. I'm sorry, it was kind of long and rambling anyway. Pat D'Amuro was asking whether you have seen or anyone on the scene has seen, you know, a lot of boxes of documents being removed, a large scale processing of a crime scene?

It seems, you know, it's very quiet where you are now. You're able to get very close to it. There doesn't seem like there are any police around. Did anybody see documents being removed?

ZARRELLA: No, they did not. And that is surprising here at this warehouse. Again, what we were told by the local folks, people that we just talked to who live right across the street who witnessed it all, that when the authorities went in, there was nobody there. They came out fairly quickly.

It's not a large warehouse, as you can tell. And they were shown pictures of these individuals and asked if any of these people in the neighborhood had seen them recently. And then the authorities went about their business.

But no one here apparently saw anyone moving in and out with large boxes of documents and certainly there were no bomb-making devices found inside, no weapons. So we did not see the bomb squad here or anything like that. And again it's deserted here tonight of any authorities.

So, it is kind of interesting that we're hearing of all this evidence that was taken. How much was seized out of here -- people here didn't see much at all come out -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's go to Keith Oppenheim, who's standing by outside the Sears Tower in Chicago, allegedly one of the targets of this group, or a target they had possibly discussed, perhaps even done surveillance on. Some sources saying some surveillance of sites was don. We don't know if surveillance in particular, as Jeanne Meserve pointed out correctly earlier. She's not hearing whether or not the Sears Tower was surveilled, but some surveillance was done on some targets.

At the scene there, Keith Oppenheim, business as usual.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact if you were here on a normal night, you wouldn't see much foot traffic. But tonight there actually has been because a Cardinals White Sox game just got out. And people continue to go by and they're asking why we as well as other news media are here.

In general, the public has not been aware of the story. At least those who are out on the street here.

And it's not only business as usual. The sky deck at the Sears Tower is still open, or at least was up until about 10 minutes ago. So that's just a sign that it did not close early.

Building officials, Anderson, are obviously very aware of the story. They released a very restrained statement, not saying that much, but making it clear that they are aware of all that law enforcement knows, that they've been in regular contact with federal officials.

One thing they emphasized is that this is a very well guarded building. In fact, that could be said about a lot of well known buildings in Chicago since September 11th. But this one is, of course, the tallest, the tallest in the United States.

And I think when they indicate that they are on it, that that is probably very much the case. Back to you.

COOPER: Clark Kent Ervin, a CNN security analyst and former Department of Homeland Security inspector general also is monitoring all of this with us on the television.

Clark, as you hear the little bits of details about this group which have begun to emerge over the last hour, hour and a half or so, possibly running a karate school, wearing military garb, sort of standing guard at night outside this little warehouse, you know, the makeup of this group -- five Americans, one illegal alien of Haitian descent, one national identity unknown, descent unknown. What do you make of it? I mean, does it sound to you like a fringe sect, a radical sect which has sort of sprung up and as Pat and I were talking earlier, are making it up as they go along? Does it sound like something larger to you?

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST (on the phone): Well, it doesn't sound sophisticated to me. It is a little puzzling. I mean, after all, if the whole point is to be anonymous and to blend into the community, so as not to call attention to themselves. If they dressed in conspicuous garb, if they performed in a military like fashion, they're rather uncourteous to their neighbors, it seems to me that's the kind of thing you'd do to attract attention to yourself.

So, as I say, perhaps this indicates that they're not sophisticated and that they ultimately didn't pose much of a threat.

COOPER: I'll be particularly interested, Clark, tomorrow, at the press conference that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is scheduled to give -- and again, we don't know the time, but we will let you know as soon as we do so you can tune in. We'll bring that to you, of course, live.

It will be interesting to know if he says anything about why they chose to act now. I mean, as Pat has mentioned, no bomb-making equipment found, no weapons found. Sears officials are saying that there was -- they have not been informed and had not been informed of any serious -- the credible terrorism threat. That's the word they used against the Sears Tower. So, I guess the question is why now?

ERVIN: Well, of course, we don't know. We'll have to wait until tomorrow. And perhaps we won't know even tomorrow. But, I mean, one piece of speculation is perhaps they were about to do something to make a plot operational. Perhaps they were about to purchase some bomb-making materials. Perhaps they were about to accept delivery of such materials and when it went beyond the planning stage to the operational stage, that would be a logical time and the appropriate time for the government to step in and break it up.

COOPER: We continue to work this story. We have numerous reporters and analysts with law enforcement backgrounds who are checking with their sources, making a lost phone calls.

We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back with the latest information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: We do have an ongoing operation in Miami. We are conducting a number of arrests and searches. And we'll have more about that when the operation is concluded, probably tomorrow morning.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Big concern?

MUELLER: I don't want to get too much -- because it's an ongoing operation, I really can't get into the details. But whenever we undertake an operation like this, we would not do it without the approval of a judge. We've got search warrants and arrest warrants and the like. And so, yes, it's a concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That we heard from Robert Mueller earlier in the evening, informing us of this ongoing operation.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has been following the operation, talking to her sources in various agencies.

Jeanne, just give a sense of the scope of the operation, who has been netted in it, and what we know at this point.

MESERVE: Well, we're told these seven arrests -- most of them in Miami, one in Atlanta, people described as radical Muslims, a religious sect that identified with al Qaeda, although officials have said -- one senior official told us they were not related to al Qaeda. And one, we're told, had taken an oath to al Qaeda, but we don't know exactly that that means. It might have been something quite informal. I suspect we'll learn a little more about that today.

Of course, one of the first questions we asked is, you know, are they part of a web? Are there connect to the recent terrorists in Canada, for instance, to any of the other arrests that have been made in the United States.

What I've been told by officials is at this point in time that does not appear to be the case, that it appears to be concentrated amongst these individuals.

Although, as I told you earlier, there were at least some people who were questioned up in Chicago. No arrests there. But some people questioned.

COOPER: And it's clearly -- well, it's not clear what the level of sophistication of this alleged group is. Sources saying no bomb- making equipment was found, no weapons were actually found. Neighbors saying, you know, they were kind of dressed up in black military garb and running some form of karate school.

MESERVE: Right. It's easy to get inspiration from the Internet. It's easy to get inspiration from things that they see on television.

Robert Mueller is scheduled to give a speech just tomorrow on homegrown terrorism. And this phenomenon of seeing people who may be native born, either in the United States or elsewhere, and deciding to act in their locality. And they're so very tough to find, because, of course they're native, they blend right in. They are operating within their own community.

Now, we're hearing from people in Miami that these people might not have exactly done that, that they appeared to have dressed a little bit differently, behaved a little bit differently.

But some of the other groups that they looked on -- looked at, very hard to detect, because there's no chain of communication, there's no chain of activity that might tip law enforcement off to the fact that they exist.

How exactly they found these people, we don't know at this point. We have been told this was an investigation that had been going on for a considerable length of time, according to some sources, along as a year. But we don't know what triggered it, whether they were trying to buy something, whether something was overheard, whether perhaps a neighbor or friend tipped law enforcement off. Those are all the questions we hope to have answered tomorrow.

COOPER: Pat D'Amuro joining us.

How much has the Patriot Act changed how a group like this or these kind of investigations are conducted?

D'AMURO: Well, the Patriot Act helped in a couple of different areas. What it really allowed was the sharing of intelligence information that could have been derived from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A collection of that information, grand jury material, which is protected by what we call Rule 6E, which prohibits law enforcement from disseminating that type of information to other law enforcement agencies that aren't on the list to share that information. So, it allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share much more freely the intelligence and the information that it was collecting.

One of the other aspects of the intelligence or the Patriot Act, was allowing terrorism investigators to utilize a pocket subpoena to obtain documents from banks and other institutions to utilize in their terrorism investigation. Something that drug investigators have had for years.

COOPER: We're joined now also by Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney of south Florida.

Kendall, thanks very much for being with us. A, what do you make of what's going on in the city of Miami right now?

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, it's got to be a stunning thing. It's a city that's getting ready for tomorrow's celebration. And like so many places in America, we all recall the so-called sleeper cell that was found in Buffalo. You're finding that there can be a group of dedicated terrorists basically operating within a mile or two of your homes.

Sounds like there is a lot we don't know. They could be self- appointed wannabes, rather than a closely network part of an international organization.

But in all of them, it appears that they're very dangerous wannabes and it's pretty clear that the feds have enough to make solid searches, solid arrests and go forward with a very serious case.

COOPER: What did the FBI and law enforcement need to get to this point? I mean, in terms of search warrants, in terms of wiretapping? What can they do under U.S. laws?

COFFEY: Well, I mean the basic elements to get a search warrant or an arrest are probable cause. We're hearing that that is probably founded on the word of an informant who is providing the information to federal authorities. You would assume there have been wiretaps up during the last year. In some respects the Patriot Act has made that easier, especially when people switch from cell phone to cell phone. There are probably other examples of gathering of surveillance through the Patriot Act. But I think that what we're going to see is a case that's largely made on the word of informants and a situation where for whatever reasons, law enforcement decided it was a time to act. One, because they had enough evidence already accumulated. Two, because they probably didn't want to wait too long because activities can get more dangerous and you certainly want to take down a situation before it reaches the boiling point.

And the third consideration when you're doing surveillance or you have an informant, are you continuing to get valuable information that could take you to other terrorists? If you are, you sometimes keep the case going. If the other leads have basically dried up, you got enough evidence, you don't want these guys to do anything dangerous, then it's time to take it down. And that's probably what happened tonight.

D'AMURO: You know, interesting, Anderson, that we're make something linkages to Buffalo here. There are some similarities. We have United States citizens that are involved in a potential attack in the United States.

But what makes this cell a little different is that they -- apparently what we're hearing, they didn't travel to Afghanistan, they didn't go to the camps of al Qaeda and train with al Qaeda individuals over there. They were individuals that were here that started affiliating with that cause. A little bit more difficult to pick up on those type of people.

We have had other people in the United States that have tried to pledge an baad (ph), pledged an oath to al Qaeda and wanted to conduct those attacks. So, again, we're seeing more and more of this type of activity, domestic.

COOPER: Jim Walsh, who is a research associate at MIT Security Studies program.

Al Qaeda has often been described as this multi-headed hydra and if you cut off one head, others pop up. But it certainly evolved beyond that point. It no longer needs -- terror cells no longer need a direct link to al Qaeda to operate. They can, as Jeanne Meserve keeps pointing out, you know, logon to the Internet and start up operations.

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AND TERRORISM EXPERT: That's true, Anderson. But it comes at a cost for them. There is a trade- off. And we've heard tonight several analysts say that homegrown terrorists, whatever, sympathizers, affiliates, they're hard to detect.

But because they lack that direct connection to a central organization, they're also not well trained, not well funded, don't have a lot of experience. And it sounds like this group was unsophisticated.

I mean, the image we're getting here -- we'll know more tomorrow -- but, the image we're getting is that their ambitions were grandiose and probably outstripped their operational capacity. And if they're sort of acting on their own without ties to a central organization that's helping them, then they're going to be more likely to be incompetent and therefore more easily compromised by law enforcement.

So, it's a mixed bag. On the one hand they can elude detection. But on the other hand, they are probably not great terrorists.

COOPER: It's interesting in listening to the descriptions from neighbors, Pat, of this group. It almost sounds like John Allen Muhammad, I mean, sort of a guy who styles himself, sort of a military person and wears military garb and has their own diet and their own regiment and their own belief system. It sounds like sort of a small sect, which who knows the derivation of it.

D'AMURO: That's true. And one of the things that the FBI has been trying to do more and more since 9/11, and it started before, but much more in these days, is to reach out to the communities, to go out to the different communities and contact them and let them know that the Joint Terrorism Task Forces are there for any type of unusual activity that may be taking place. This case, we may find out, may have started in that particular vain.

COOPER: Jeanne Meserve, you covered the sniper case. Am I completely off base and just -- I mean, I don't know why, but John Alan Muhammad sort of popped in my mind. But we hear these descriptions of guys sort of standing guard in a warehouse and running a karate school.

MESERVE: Right. He was a very unusual fellow and he certainly had something of a cult, but his cult, as far as we know, consisted of only one young man, Lee Boyd Malvo. And it was a very father-son sort of relationship.

You saw this latest trial that Muhammad had, that he kept referring to Malvo still as his son, even though they are not genetically related at all. But there is a different -- I don't know anything about this group. So it's hard to know if there is any genuine comparison to be made.

But as far as we know, Muhammad's cult, if you want to call it that, and I have called it that, I guess, was about -- wasn't about a political belief, as far as we know. He talked apparently to Malvo about wanting to start a new community in Canada. But there wasn't a political edge to what he was doing, as far as I recall about that case.

These people, if what we're hearing is correct, if indeed they were identifying with al Qaeda, it seems to me to have a different quality to it. But it's hard to make the comparison and know how valid it is without knowing more about this group in Miami.

COOPER: I'm just reading an article here, a man -- a neighbor who lived across from this warehouse was quoted as saying, they reminded me a lot of the followers of Yahweh ben Yahweh, which I guess it was a cult that flourished, according to a Knight Ridder (ph), that flourished in Miami's Liberty City in the 1980s. It was a group, sort of built around a guy who called himself Brother Love and they committed murders and sort of a reign of terror in that neighborhood.

You know, How much of a linkage there is or not, I don't know. But, it's interesting that in this area, in Liberty City in Miami, there have been other sort of cults, if you will, obviously without some sort of political ideology.

But as Jeanne Meserve rightly points out, the fact that we know at least one person in this group is alleged to have pledged loyalty to al Qaeda, brings it to a completely different level in this day and age.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: So here's what we know at about half past the hour. We know seven people are in custody, five arrests made today. One of those arrests, according to sources, made in Atlanta.

The accusations are that they are part of some sort of a group, a terrorist cell, a domestic terrorist ring, whatever you call it.

Alleged targets -- the Sears Tower in Chicago, FBI offices in Miami. Some sources say there were other targets as well.

But seven people are in custody. No weapons found, no bomb- making equipment found, we are told at this point. But there is a lot of information that we simply do not know.

There will be a press conference tomorrow. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will give that press conference. We, of course, will carry it live. We don't know the exact time.

Also FBI Director Robert Mueller was -- had a speech already arranged at 12:00. No doubt he will be making some comments in relation to this, as well. A speech about the threat of domestic terrorism, homegrown radicalized groups. And that is what appears at this early hour that authorities believe they have on their hands right now.

We're going to continue to cover this story. We have a number of people, as I've said, reporters on the scene as well as terrorism analysts working for CNN with former law enforcement backgrounds who are working their sources as well.

(END BREAKING NEWS)

We're going to check back with them in just a few minutes. But there was a number of other developments today. A number of other news stories that we want to tell you about.

The story out of Miami would appear to confirm Vice President Dick Cheney's frequently stated belief that the world today is a dangerous place. Critics say that he uses that worldview to bludgeon the opposition and obscure failures in Iraq and the war on terror. Mr. Cheney says that to believe otherwise is quite simply naive.

Today the Senate shot down a pair of Democratic resolutions aimed at setting a date to withdraw from Iraq. It's safe to say, as CNN's John King found out during his exclusive interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney was not a fan of either proposal from the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting. And no matter how you carve it, you can call it anything you want, but basically it is packing it in, going home, persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You disagree with the Democrats plan, but they are stepping into a political environment in which the American people clearly, some have anger, some have dissatisfaction, some have doubts about this war and the administration's plan for this war. 54 percent of the American people say it's a mistake, 55 percent say things are going badly in Iraq, 53 percent in our polling say the American people actually support a timetable.

Why is it that the administration has failed to articulate to the American people that? The American people don't think you have a plan, sir.

CHENEY: Well, they're wrong. We do have a plan. It's there for anybody who wants to take a look at it. The Democrats have repeatedly made this charge. It's simply not the case. There is a good plan in place.

KING: You say it's wrong to publicly set a timetable, and I understand the argument for that. You'd queue off -- key the terrorists off to what you're going to do. Has the Iraqi government been told privately you need to meet certain benchmarks, training your troops, improving security by a date certain because the American people are not going to pay for this forever?

CHENEY: No, I think they know full well that we're expecting them to take on more and more responsibility. It's one of the reasons the president went to Baghdad recently. In all of our conversations with them, they know that we're trying to do. And they've stepped up to that task and that responsibility.

KING: One of the key issues facing the world right now in the Bush administration is North Korea. It has a missile on a launch pad. Apparently our intelligence suggests it may test that missile any day now.

Former Defense Secretary Bill Perry, who served in a Democratic administration, writes an op-ed in today's "Washington Post," saying, Mr. President, take it out. Launch a military strike. Take that missile out. You will destroy not only the missile, he says, but a launch pad that is capable of launching nuclear weapons. Why not? CHENEY: Well, I think that, you know, I appreciate Bill's advice.

KING: I bet you do.

CHENEY: I think at this stage we are addressing the issue in the proper fashion and I think obviously, if you're going to launch strikes at another nation, you better be prepared to not just fire one shot. And fact of the matter is, I think the issue is being addressed appropriately.

KING: Do we know what's on that missile? Is it a satellite? Is it a warhead? Is it a test?

CHENEY: We don't know. That's one of the concerns is that this is a regime that is not transparent. We believe has developed nuclear weapons and now put a missile on a launch pad without telling anybody what it is all about. Is it to put a satellite in orbit or a simple test flight? They will obviously generate concern on the part of their neighbors and the United States to the extent that they continue to operate this way. As the president has made clear, this is not the kind of behavior we like to see, given the fact that the North Koreans do have a nuclear program, and have refused to come clean about it.

KING: I have spent a fair amount of time in recent months in court with your former Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who, of course, is charged in the CIA leak investigation. One of the things that his defense has introduced as evidence is this. It is a copy of this "New York Times" article that started all of this by Ambassador Joe Wilson. And these scribbles are allegedly yours. Is that a fact?

CHENEY: John, I'm not going to comment on the case. I may be called as a witness. "Scooter" Libby, obviously one of the finest men I've ever known. He's entitled to the presumption of innocence. I have not made any comments on the case up until now and I won't.

KING: And you say you may be called as a witness. The president urged everyone very early on to cooperate in this investigation. Does that mean if you are called as a witness, that the administration would under no circumstances cite any privileges, either to shield you from testifying about certain issues or to protect certain documents or anything like that?

CHENEY: You're getting into hypothetical now. And I'm not able to answer that. We have cooperated fully with the investigation from day one.

KING: I want to close by asking a few questions about yourself and your image. Critics say Dick Cheney has become this dark and a furious force in the administration that believes in secrecy at all price, that believes congressional oversight is a nuisance. True?

CHENEY: Well, I don't think I've changed any. I think I've been very consistent over time. I think partly it is important to remember how significant 9/11 was. We are now engaged in a constant effort, obviously, to protect the nation against further attack. That means we need good intelligence. It means there have to be national security secrets. It means we need to be able to go after and capture or kill those people who are trying to kill Americans. That's not a pleasant business. It is a very serious business.

And I suppose sometimes people look at my demeanor and say he's the Darth Vader of the administration. It's the other thing that's working here John, is that I'm not running anything. My career will end politically with this administration. I have the freedom and the luxury, as does the president, of doing what we think is right for the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: CNN's John King with the vice president.

As we briefly mentioned, Democratic senators put two of their withdrawal plans to a vote today. As expected, they were both rejected. But Democrats are hoping that the failures will help position them for victory in November. CNN's Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The 2006 election looks like it will be all about Iraq. The unpopular war threatens the Republican's majority in Congress. So Republicans decided to take the offensive.

First, they accused Democrats of having no alternative plan. Then when Democrats started to talk about setting a timetable for withdrawing troops, Republicans pounced.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: If we break our promise and cut and run, as some would have us do, the implications could be catastrophic.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats need to go to the voters with some kind of position on the war. But what? They're facing intense pressure, not just from Republicans on the right, but also from their own left.

The party's antiwar base is energized and angry. They favored the John Kerry amendment which set a date certain -- July 1st, 2007 -- for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: There is no other reason to be in Iraq a year from now than standing up the Iraqi forces or chasing al Qaeda or protecting our facilities.

SCHNEIDER: Only 12 out of 43 Democratic senators present voted for the Kerry amendment. Among the Democratic senators often mentioned as future candidates for president, only Kerry and Russ Feingold voted yes.

Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama, all voted no. But all of the presidential Democrats voted for the Carl Levin amendment which set a date for the beginning, not the end, of troop withdrawal.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: It says by the end of this year, in the next six months, begin the phased redeployment of American forces from Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Thirty-seven out of 43 voted for the Levin amendment, a strong majority. Six Democratic senators voted with the Republicans, against both amendments, including Joe Lieberman, who is facing a furious antiwar primary challenge.

Under pressure from the left and the right, Senate Democrats did something unexpected. They carved out a strong consensus in the middle.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I do not believe that it is a wise policy to set a specific date for withdrawal from Iraq. I do believe it makes sense to begin to redeploy our forces sometime this year.

SCHNEIDER: Both amendments failed to pass. But the Democrats did accomplish something. They found their voice, a position they can take to the voters this far.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, joining me now to discuss all this, a man who has worked for Republican and Democratic administrations. From Phoenix, former Presidential Adviser David Gergen.

David, good to see you tonight.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Thank you.

COOPER: You know, it was interesting listening to the Democrats today because so many of the speakers began by talking about what their proposals were not. That's it's not cutting and running, that it's not early withdrawal, that it's not a position of weakness. And it seems like -- and John Roberts pointed this out to me -- that when you start on the defensive, you've already lost.

GERGEN: I agree with that, Anderson. They've been on the defensive, amazingly, with a very unpopular war in which well over half the country thinks there have been terrible mistakes made in the execution of the war. Yet the Democrats find themselves on the defensive over the war.

It's almost the way John Kerry, who was a legitimate war hero in Vietnam found himself on the defensive in his campaign when those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ads came out.

What this suggests to me, Anderson, is the Republicans may not be very good sometimes on the policymaking, but they sure know how to play the politics of these issues. They know how to box the Democrats in. And without Bill Clinton as the leader of the Democratic Party, the Democrats are a little clumsy sometimes and slow in responding.

COOPER: You know, John, Bill Schneider was saying just in that last piece, that the Democrats sort of finally found their voice on this. But I'm curious to know how that voice is interpreted and how it's heard by voters and throughout the country. Democrats are talking about this phased redeployment. Republicans can just come back and say, well, look, we want a phased redeployment too. We're trying to redeploy our troops too. But, you know, we're not going to set a date on it.

GERGEN: Well, I think that's right too. And you know, General Casey, who is the top commander, of course, of U.S. troops in Iraq, has pointed out in the last 24 hours that we've already begun to draw down some. We're down from about 11,000 from our high and he said we are going to continue shrinking it down this year. He didn't say how much, thought it might be -- and Don Rumsfeld says it may be uneven.

But I do think, Anderson, that you know, only a few days ago the Democrats were being accused of cut and run. At least they've now got a safer place to be, which I thought was a terrible position to be in. But at least they're trying to collect them receives around a position of let's start winding this down, let's increase the pressure on the Iraqis to step up. We ought to be in a wind down phase without setting a date.

It seems to me they're putting themselves on -- from that point of view, there's a lot more support for that in the country than there is for cut and run. The left wing of the Democratic Party is saying, let's get out now. The Kerry amendment, which by the way, I think has hurt him among his fellow Republicans. There's a lot of anger and frustration at John Kerry.

COOPER: Fellow Democrats, you mean?

GERGEN: Among his fellow Democrats, I mean. I'm sorry. Over pushing that amendment. But that amendment, which in effect could be used as a cut and run attack by Republicans, I think if -- to the get out now in effect enjoys the support of only about 18 percent of the country, according to polls. It's just not something -- as unhappy as Americans are with this war, they don't want to get out now. I think that wind down, let's be in a wind down situation, that posture, I think, will attract support and Democrats can't -- aren't as strong a position to do that.

This whole debate in the Senate and the house was a very clumsy debate for Democrats. I do not think -- I do disagree with Bill Schneider a little bit on this. I don't think these last few days have helped the Democratic Party. I mean, if you go -- now, if you say to the voters, let's return the Senate to the Democratic hands, what's the next sentence about why you want to do that? What is it the Democrats really would do differently if they did hold power in the Senate? It's not at all clear from these debates.

COOPER: But are you saying that this wind down idea, if that's what -- it's a clever phrase, is that -- will that inoculate them against the cut and run argument? And if so, have they done themselves a favor because they can at least say well, we're the wind down guys, we're not the cut and run guys.

GERGEN: Well, I think it's a much safer position to be in. I think it's a much stronger position. It's an understandable and intellectually coherent position -- and by the way, it's good policy. So I think that that's a good place to be. But I think the way they got there, trough this debate process, which makes the Democrats look very divided, uncertain of where they want, whereas the Republicans now are getting all this attention, that they're rallying behind the president. They find themselves on offense for a change, on a war that is unpopular.

You know, I think that the whole debate on the future of Iraq, generally speaking, has been a plus for the Republicans and a minus for the Democrats. But the Democrats are heading, I think, for a better position.

COOPER: And it's remarkable when you think -- I mean a month ago, I don't think most observers would have thinking that the Republicans could get a positive out of Iraq, but they seem to have done that.

GERGEN: That's right. The news out of Miami, they're going to jump on that too. They're going to say, well, this proves it's a dangerous world. We need to be tough. And the Democrats are going to have to say, yes, but you know, maybe it became more dangerous because we went into Iraq. Look how much the world hates us now. Maybe we'll have more of these kind of amateur terrorists on our hands because of this.

So, we're going to be into this -- these arguments about who has done what to whom and what's caused what for a long time to come, I'm afraid.

COOPER: Yes, the devil's in details on this one out of Miami. I mean, who knows if these guys are, you know, just operating some karate school and run around and wanted their wannabe terrorists. So, a lot of it will depend and we'll see.

David, it's always good to talk to you. David Gergen, take care.

GERGEN: OK. Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to have an update on the terror arrests and the alleged terror plot against the Sears Tower when we return. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN BREAKING NEWS)

COOPER: And we continue to cover this developing story, breaking story out of Chicago and Miami as well as Atlanta. We're going to hear more out of Washington tomorrow. Seven people in custody in an alleged terror cell in the United States. That's what we are being told. The devil of course is in the details. We are learning more and more about this group.

In fact, CNN's John Zarrella, who is at scene of the warehouse that was raided earlier today has actually someone from the neighborhood who seems to know a fair amount about this group.

John, what do you know?

ZARRELLA: Anderson, he's not from the -- just from the neighborhood. This gentleman standing next to me, he goes by the name Brother Corey. And Brother Corey is a member of this organization, this group. They call themselves the "Seas of David." Am I correct? I'm correct, right, Brother Corey?

BROTHER COREY, "SEAS OF DAVID" MEMBER: Correct.

ZARRELLA: What happened here? Tell us what happened. Many of your members were arrested today?

BROTHER COREY: Yes, sir.

ZARRELLA: What happened? Do you know?

BROTHER COREY: I know that it was supposed to have been a letter sent off to the Sears Tower, which I don't recommend that -- I don't believe my Brother Prince (ph) were -- had to jeopardize his temple as we worship here.

ZARRELLA: This is a temple where you worship?

BROTHER COREY: Yes.

ZARRELLA: And it's alleged, apparently, that your group here was planning to perhaps bomb the FBI building here in Miami?

BROTHER COREY: We are not no terrorists (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We are prince of Allah, that we study and we believe in a word of God. This is a place where we worship and also have business as a worksite, as a construction company we trying to build up.

And my prince, he told me never to come here and observe nothing that the outside that's trying to observe. We had to keep to ourself because we are general. We are generals and we take care of ourselves.

ZARRELLA: So you're saying that there was never any intention by this group to bomb the Sears Tower in New York (sic) or the FBI building here in Miami?

BROTHER COREY: Correct.

ZARRELLA: And you're not terrorists?

BROTHER COREY: We are not terrorists.

ZARRELLA: Not related in any way to al Qaeda?

BROTHER COREY: Sir, I don't want to release none of that information, but I know we are not terrorists. And I don't have nothing else against the same situation that they had to do here, but I don't feel like that was right for the search warrant to go down. Because we are legal citizens here, which I know they trying to say my brothers, they locked up five of them.

So right now I'm sitting here just observing because I have more authority to come here and distribute the things that they have...

ZARRELLA: Aren't you afraid they're going to come now and arrest you, that know you're here.

BROTHER COREY: I'm not afraid, sir. I'm willing to take a stand for my brothers.

ZARRELLA: And this is just a temple? This is just a religious organization that you believe in, that you are part of here?

BROTHER COREY: Yes.

ZARRELLA: No ties to any terrorist groups?

BROTHER COREY: No ties.

ZARRELLA: Why would they think this then?

BROTHER COREY: The way we worship, we come around, we got things we look out for the kids and everything here. So right now I'm just telling you that there is no way they'll -- right now that I can assume that we have this terrorist in our heart. We are not terrorists. We are members of David, Seas of David.

ZARRELLA: Brother Corey, one thing. Anderson Cooper in New York has a question. I'm going to relay it to you through Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it's alleged that one member of this group pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. When you mentioned al Qaeda, he didn't really respond to it. I'm just curious to -- go ahead.

ZARRELLA: It's alleged that one member of the group has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. You didn't really answer when I said to you, is there any affiliation with al Qaeda or anything like that. Do you know anything about that? Is there an affiliation with -- there's no affiliation with that terrorist group from any of your members?

BROTHER COREY: No, sir. Right now, only thing I can tell you is that we worshipers of this temple here. And we allow certain people to come and join our prayers, but we have certain authorities that we run by. ZARRELLA: So you're a peaceful...

BROTHER COREY: We are peaceful. We are Seas of David. That I know my brother has not been treated right in the system. He's been locked up for-- on the sense that he was driving without a license. But this brother of mines, I love him to death. And I tell all of my brother -- I didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) get a chance to talk to them. We have codes. We have everything that's, you know, right now that is trying to establish. We're trying to build up a restaurant here. We really take toll in trying to do things the right way. We are not no terrorists.

ZARRELLA: What are the names of some of your brothers who were arrested here? Do you know?

BROTHER COREY: I will not -- I will not say their names.

ZARRELLA: You don't want to say their names.

BROTHER COREY: No.

ZARRELLA: Have you had any contact with any of them, then, not in the -- since they've been arrested today, but what about your Haitian brother from three days ago?

BROTHER COREY: Yes. We work for his bond money.

ZARRELLA: For his bond money.

BROTHER COREY: For his bond money.

ZARRELLA: Anderson Cooper has one more question -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, what is the purpose of the group? What is the meaning of this -- I'm sorry Sea of David, is that it's called?

ZARRELLA: Seas of David, right.

Anderson wants to know what is the purpose of your organization? And the meaning of the name Seas of David?

BROTHER COREY: Actually I can tell you we are in a bible. And we studied Allah and also the worship of the regular bible. But it is not no terrorist or threat that you guys say that we are threats to this -- any other community. I grew up in this city. I'm a residential citizen. And all my brothers that I have, on my line right now, we are not no terrorist attackers. And I grew up with my brother that's been in the system now, the Haitian guy. They're saying illegal alien. He grew up here. I know or a fact that we are in general as one. We talk as among each other as young men. And we work out and help each other.

ZARRELLA: Did everyone live in Miami, grow up in Miami, the men that were here, that were arrested or were they from other places?

BROTHER COREY: Yes, we have connections to people in Chicago. We're -- so -- this is like we -- we negotiate to help the peace. We try to bring as many brothers in to help them out.

ZARRELLA: But you do have connections with people in Chicago, but not terrorists?

BROTHER COREY: No -- no terrorists. We are not terrorists.

ZARRELLA: But there were connections to other members of this group in Chicago?

BROTHER COREY: Yes, we have soldiers in Chicago.

ZARRELLA: Why do you call yourselves soldiers? What's the -- you know, if it's a peaceful group, why use the term soldier.

BROTHER COREY: Because we study and we train through the bible, not only physical -- not only physical, but mentally. We study and we worship that we have the sense of direction that got other people in the right direction. We are not no terrorists. We come here every morning and we have the sense to go to work. We are not no homeless -- this is not no homeless shelter for a terrorist attack. You hear me?

ZARRELLA: Yes. Brother Corey, thank you very much for coming out here. We know it must be difficult for you what's happening. And you're putting yourself in jeopardy coming out here, I'm sure.

Again, Brother Corey here, a member of this group coming out, Anderson, and telling us at least point blank that they are not -- they are not, he says, a terrorist organization -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, fascinating. Thank you very much. Appreciate that.

Let's just go -- quickly, we got a roundtable here. Let's quickly get some perspective on what we just heard.

Pat, what do you make of it?

D'AMURO: Well, Anderson, I think it's important to note that it's a conspiracy to talk about committing violent acts. You don't actually have to have the ability to carry out a terrorist attack.

COOPER: So under U.S. law, it's a conspiracy just to talk about it?

D'AMURO: If you conspire to conduct a terrorist attack or a violent act in the United States, that's a crime. You don't have to carry that attack out. You can be charged, tried and convicted of a crime if you conspire to do that attack.

COOPER: Jeanne Meserve, you were listening in. What do you make of what you just heard?

MESERVE: Well, it's obviously in sharp contrast to what we've been hearing from law enforcement all evening, which is that this group apparently conducted surveillance over some alleged targets, including the Sears Tower, the FBI building in Miami and elsewhere. They claim to have had an informant inside who helped with this investigation. Clearly, there's a real disconnect here.

COOPER: Let's see, who else? Clark -- Jim Walsh? I'm sort of still trying to figure out what came out of that interview, but it was sort of fascinating. What do you make of it?

WALSH: Two things. I think while it's true that you can be charged with conspiracy, I will want to see tomorrow what the evidence is beyond their discussing whether they actually took any actions and what the nature of those actions were.

Secondly, what came out of this interview big time, was that he claimed to have a connection to people in Chicago. So, I think we're going to want to hear more about the nature of that institutional relationship. Are they an organization? Or are these a collection of individuals? And what is the relationship between that organization? How do they communicate and what were they collaborating on? I think that's probably one of the biggest things coming out of that interview.

COOPER: Yes. I think soldiers was the word he used in Chicago, rightly or wrongly.

Mike Brooks, your take?

BROOKS: I found it very interesting too, Anderson, the use of the word soldiers, especially in Chicago. He talked about his brothers in the system. Now, I'd also be anxious to find out tomorrow whether or not their recruiting base is in the system, if you will, in the prison system, where a lot of radical fundamentalists come from.

And the other thing, too, is, you know, he calls himself a religious organization. And when pressed by John about any affiliation with al Qaeda, he was looking away and I wasn't real comfortable with his answer.

COOPER: Yes, that was a particularly interesting, perhaps telling moment.

Clark Kent Ervin, appreciate it.

Pat D'Amuro, appreciate it.

John Zarrella, of course.

Mike Brooks, as well.

Jim Walsh, Jeanne Meserve, amazing job tonight.

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