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Interview With Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson; The Homegrown Terror Threat

Aired December 9, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: the five young Americans under arrest in Pakistan, suspected of plotting terrorism. Now, we have been tracking these cases for more than a year. And the truth is, the trend is unmistakable. This country has a real problem on its hands, more and more Americans plotting terror here and abroad. Has the U.S. become a breeding ground for would-be terrorists? We are going to show you the evidence tonight and what can be done to reverse the trend.

Also, health care and "Raw Politics" -- a deal is within reach, but may hinge on what one Democrat decides to do. We're talking about Senator Ben Nelson. Will he really block a deal that the rest of his party now seems to support? We will ask him that tonight.

First up, though, the arrest of five young Muslim Americans in Pakistan and the fear that they are part of a larger and growing trend, American Muslims becoming radicalized and taking up jihad either here at home or overseas.

Now, Randi Kaye is going to bring us the latest on the case. We're also going to talk to Peter Bergen and a man who tries to bring young radicals back from the brink.

But, before that, we want you to look at this trend that we have been tracking now for months. And I have got to tell you, it is deeply, deeply troubling, the picture that we are seeing. Take a look at this map. It shows terror arrests, terror charges, alleged acts of terror and alleged terror connections in this country dating back a year.

We have seen them in Detroit; Minneapolis; Denver; Little Rock; Dallas; Chicago; Springfield, Illinois; Alexandria, Virginia; Raleigh; Patchogue, Long Island, New York. We first started tracking this stuff back in October of 2008. That is when a group of young Somali Americans disappeared and suddenly showed up fighting in Somalia.

Then, on October 29 of 2008, a Minnesota man named Shirwa Ahmed -- we don't have a picture of him, but blew himself up in northern Somalia, and he was the first known American suicide bomber. So, that got us thinking about this, raised a lot of eyebrows.

Just a month later, an Army dropout, a guy named Bryant Neal Vinas from out on Long Island, he was arrested after taking a part in a rocket attack against American troops in Afghanistan, pled guilty to training with al Qaeda and giving them details of the New York subway system. Then, in June of this year, a Muslim convert, a guy formerly known as Carlos Bledsoe, this is the picture we have of him. It's kind of grainy. It's hard to see. He is a Muslim convert. We also have this video of him later on in court. He shot two soldiers outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas. One of those soldiers died.

Then July, near Raleigh, Daniel Boyd, alleged ringleader of an eight-man terror cell, this is what he looked like, red-haired guy with a long beard, accused of planning an attack on the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia.

Then there's another guy, Najibullah Zazi. He was a shuttle bus driver at Denver Airport, arrested in September, accused of plotting terror bombings on the 9/11 anniversary.

Here is the one that caught on tape -- he's the one that was caught on tape by buying huge amounts of peroxide. That is him actually buying the peroxide, which is used in an explosive.

Then, in September, you have Michael Finton, also -- AKA Talib Islam, who was arrested outside a Springfield, Illinois, courthouse after trying to detonate the truck he thought was packed with explosives. That was a sting operation.

And, in Chicago today, David Headley arraigned, pleading not guilty to charges he helped plan last year's attacks in Mumbai. He is being tied to the group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Now, no one is saying that there are links or connections between these separate incident, but we are seeing more and more of these cases.

So, with that in mind, let's get to the latest on five young Americans in Pakistan today and the discovery of a chilling videotape.

Randi Kaye has the latest.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Pakistan, they are being painted as terrorist wannabes. The FBI has not confirmed the five men arrested in Pakistan are the same men that mysteriously disappeared from Virginia, one official saying, "We think they are, but we don't have it firm."

Pakistani officials there tell CNN it appears the men tried unsuccessfully to hook with two terrorist groups, including Jaish-e- Mohammad, the group believed to be responsible for the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross studies homegrown terrorism and radicalization.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, SENIOR CONSULTANT, GERARD GROUP INTERNATIONAL: This is a bad group. And it is a group that is known to be a bad group. It raises the red flag of perhaps them undertaking training or in some other way preparing themselves for battle.

KAYE: If it's true and the missing men did make their way to Pakistan, their motive is still unclear, though Pakistan police say they are -- quote -- "confident" they were planning terrorist acts.

If so, U.S. law enforcement believes their intent was to wage jihad overseas, not at home. Of great concern to authorities, a videotape left behind by one of the missing men that is described as a farewell tape.

NIHAD AWAD, SPOKESPERSON, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: I have seen the video and I was disturbed by the content.

KAYE (on camera): According to CAIR, the Council on American- Islamic Relations, the video is about 11 minutes long and shows just one of the missing men talking about conflict in the world and referring to the Koran. The council's executive director says the man's parents found it and got it to authorities.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: He could have filmed the video intending to return to the United States and carry out a martyrdom operation or a suicide bombing here.

KAYE (voice-over): The man on the tape and four others, who all apparently knew each other, disappeared last month. CAIR says all of the missing men are from Virginia. A U.S. law enforcement source says one of those missing is Ramy Zamzam. We have learned he is a dental student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. This photo is from his Facebook page.

(on camera): We have learned, at least one of the men, maybe more, worshipped at the Islamic Circle of North America, which has a chapter in Alexandria, Virginia. The men range in age from 19 to 25. Pakistani police say two are Pakistani Americans, two Yemeni Americans, and one Egyptian-American.

(voice-over): A Pakistani official says the men arrived in Karachi on November 30, then went on to Lahore, and then Sargodha, an area well-known for militant activity. That's where they were arrested during a police raid yesterday.

CAIR says the missing men had never shown any outwardly radical or suspicious behavior. If that's the case, and they are in Pakistan, what were they doing there, and why was it such a big secret?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: So, as you saw at the top, if, in fact, these five were training for holy war, they are not exactly pioneers. We have seen an American Taliban, an American al Qaeda mouthpiece, an American suicide bomber.

Let's get some perspective now from national security analyst Peter Bergen, who joins us now. Peter, you know, when you look at that timeline, I mean, there clearly is a trend. We are seeing this more and more and more.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. And, as -- you know, as you pointed out, it is every kind of variety, Americans who have trained directly with al Qaeda, two American suicide bombers, it appears now in Somalia.

You know, the case in Chicago is fascinating, a guy called David Headley, who changed his name from a more Pakistani name to this more kind of Caucasian name, who is -- who looks like he was almost the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks.

I mean, he was the guy who, if the allegations are correct against him, he scoped out not only the famous hotels in Mumbai, but, very importantly, the Jewish center in Mumbai, which was a very hard place to find. He did the scoping videos. If the allegations are correct, he went back to the Pakistani militant group and gave these videos on a very regular basis over the course of a couple of years.

So, you know, we used to worry about, you know, people coming into the country to do attacks in the United States. Now we have got Americans exporting the jihad quite seriously overseas. And that is a major development.

COOPER: And not just exporting overseas. We have now seen cases of attempts, at least, and in the case of the recruit -- or the military recruiter, an actual death of a soldier here at home. It seems like that is the next wave of this that -- that police are worried about in a lot of different major cities.

Why do you think we are seeing this rise?

BERGEN: Yes, I'm puzzled, Anderson. I mean, we have talked about this issue many times over the years. And we have -- it's why -- we agree and I think most people agree American Muslims are pretty well-integrated, higher incomes, better educated than most Americans on average.

And, you know, why is it? And I just don't have a good answer, because the -- there are a lot of cases, but these cases are not really linked. I mean, the Somali cases are not linked to the Pakistani cases. The Pakistani cases are not linked to these homegrown people who never leave the country. And, so, you know, I don't know the answer.

COOPER: We are going to talk to a Muslim-American who actually works to kind of de-radicalize young American Muslims and others. We are going to put that question to him.

Peter, stick around, because I want to talk to you about some other things right when we come back from a break.

You can join the conversation online right now, the live chat, at Also ahead in this hour, an exclusive interview with the young guy who I just talked about fighting to keep young Muslims away from terror.

And, later, will he be Senator No? We're going to ask perhaps the key Democrat in the fight over health care reform if he will be the one who is going to torpedo his party's plans. Senator Ben Nelson joins us tonight.


COOPER: The big topic tonight is homegrown terrorism, an American in court today answering charges that he helped plot the attacks in Mumbai last year that killed six Americans and many more Indians. Peter Bergen was just talking about him, David Headley, also today, five Americans arrested in those terror charges in Pakistan.

This afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about them. Now, she refused to comment directly about those cases, but did address the larger question of homegrown terror. Take a look.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's always been a concern. We have been well aware of the threats that we continue to face along with friends and allies around the world. We know that much of the training and the direction for terrorists comes from Pakistan and the border area with Afghanistan.


COOPER: Secretary Clinton today.

Now back with Peter Bergen, terrorism analyst.

Peter, you say, despite this increased threat, it is harder than ever to actually commit an act of terrorism in America.

BERGEN: Yes, I mean, between the no-fly lists and the fact you have got, you know, 100 sort of fusion centers around the country that involve the FBI, local police forces, joint terrorism task forces, the National Counterterrorism Center, DHS, I mean, you have just got a huge amount of resources that are addressed to the problem.

I mean, some of these cases that we have seen would have been successful in the pre-9/11 time period. But, right now, it is pretty hard to pull -- pull it off. On the other hand, you know, the guys, if the allegations are true about these guys in Pakistan, the American citizens, they weren't, you know, known jihadis. They didn't have a criminal background, it looks like.

And it is very hard, if you have a so-called clean skin, to track somebody like that.

COOPER: It is a common assertion that there has been no successful acts of Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil since 9/11. You say that's -- that is just not true?

BERGEN: I don't think it is true. There was an attack on an El- Al counter at LAX, you may remember, Anderson, back several years ago. It was conducted by an Egyptian. He did have mental problems, but he also had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I think that might have been a jihadi terrorist attack. You mentioned earlier in the program the guy Carlos Bledsoe, who changed his name to actually -- he changed -- one of his names was Mujahid, which means holy warrior. He went to Yemen, came back, shot up a Little Rock recruiting center, Army recruiting center in Arkansas, killed an American soldier.

That seems to me like a jihadi act of terrorism. Major Hasan in Fort Hood, still a lot of stuff we don't know about him, but I think, if you take it all together, I would put him in the terrorism camp as well.

COOPER: Do you -- do you see this trend just increasing?

BERGEN: It's -- there is no denying it is increasing. I mean, that is just a fact. It's -- it's sort of grown exponentially in the last two years.

COOPER: And, you know, when you look at Europe, that is home to a lot more acts of homegrown terrorism than the U.S. What are we doing differently that seems to be working?

BERGEN: Well, I think that, you know, it is not so much what -- part of it is what the government is doing, but part of it is the nature of American society. I mean, there is no British dream. I grew up there. I can say that with some certainty. There is no E.U. dream. There is no French dream.

There is an American dream. It has worked pretty well for most American Muslims. And that does make a very big difference. So, it's not just what the government does. It's also kind of attitudes within the Muslim American community and attitude of Americans to Muslims, which, by the way, in Europe, you know, a British Muslim is really often a second-class citizen, compared to the way that they are treated here in this country.

COOPER: And yet we are seeing increasing numbers of problems here.

Peter, appreciate that.

Up next, we are going to talk to a man who is fighting homegrown terror from within, our big 360 interview working with a Muslim American working to keep young men in his community from radicalized. He will try to describe the process of how you sort of de-radicalize, or disengage is the term he uses.

Also ahead, fallout from that huge airport security breach -- find out what happened to the people who posted that TSA screening manual on the Internet -- coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're covering all the angles tonight on the deeply troubling trend, the growing number of Muslim Americans who seem to be becoming radicalized, who, as you will hear our next guest put it, consider jihad cool. He's a Texas Muslim leader named Mohamed Elibiary who was involved in the Virginia disappearance case. He's a leading voice for moderation in the American Islamic community, and works with young Muslims at risk.

Take a look.


COOPER: How are these young men in America becoming radicalized? I mean, is it -- is it through mosques? Is it on the Internet? What is it?

MOHAMED ELIBIARY, CO-FOUNDER, THE FREEDOM AND JUSTICE FOUNDATION: There is no single path to radicalization, but there's several factors that you kind of see across most, but not all of the cases.

Institutions, like mosques or Islamic schools, are not really conduits of radicalization, because, generally, the management of these institutions have a lot to lose, legally speaking, if they are uncovered in a community as being fountains of this kind of radicalization.

So, the messaging is essentially happening largely through the Internet, or e-mails, and -- so, Web sites, forums and news chats and social networking and the rest of it.

COOPER: I mean, do you see cases of -- of recruiters coming from overseas, or a recruiter within a community trying to reach out to young people, or is it -- or is it all pretty much Internet, ideological-based?

ELIBIARY: You know, we have had like three kind of cycles since 9/11.

And the phase we're in right now, where you see a whole lot of youth radicalization, as opposed to a little bit older, say late 20s or early 30s, where they are much more sophisticated, this phase is called jihadi cool by...

COOPER: Jihadi cool?

ELIBIARY: Jihadi cool -- by experts.

COOPER: Because, what, it seems like it is cool to young people?

ELIBIARY: Yes. Marc Sageman, a noted expert in this field, was the one that coined the term in "Leaderless Jihad," his -- a book on the subject.

The path for a lot of these kids is essentially like at-risk gangbangers, who want to stand up for their community to address grievances of the ummah, or the global Muslim community, more effectively than they have seen the elder generation address them since 9/11.

They would like to see more spine, so to speak. It is like the -- the second wave in the civil rights movement, for example, when the youth that were coming up in the late '50s and early '60s were becoming more attracted to the Malcolm X-type of message and later the Black Panther Party, vs. following in the more softer and moderate messages of the Martin Luther Kings...


COOPER: Well, I mean, honestly, what it sounds more like is sort of neo-Nazis or skinheads. I mean, it sounds like young people attracted to a more violent form of expression, you know, who might be joining a gang in past generations or getting into trouble in other ways, and their knowledge of what they are actually talking about, I mean, their potential intelligence level, is not that high.

I mean, do a lot of these young -- young jihadis from America actually know much about Islam?

ELIBIARY: No. And the overwhelming majority of the youth that get caught up in this third wave, so to speak, the jihadi cool wave, are extremely shallow theologically, and, frankly, even ideologically.

COOPER: When I really started focusing on this stuff a lot was -- it was the group of Somali kids, or teens, who disappeared, ended up fighting in Somalia. First American suicide bomber, reported at least, was one of these -- these young men.

And when you heard from their parents, you know, their parents were saying, these kids don't even know what Somalia was really like, and they kind of went over there without -- I mean, they have no -- really no memory of it. Their parents came over long ago. They -- they grew up in America.

So, they are kind of fighting for a cause that they don't really know anything about or have any personal experience with.

ELIBIARY: A grand utopian vision that never really existed.

COOPER: But now we are seeing more and more of these cases. So, I mean, what can be done about this?

ELIBIARY: Well, the American Muslim community is, by far, still and will continue in the foreseeable future to be the most integrated, affluent and higher-educated of the rest of those Western Muslim communities.

But I think that there's a couple of different challenges, one of them is, our government has never really adopted a comprehensive counter-radicalization policy or strategy. So...

COOPER: A counter-radicalization policy? I have never even heard the team. How do you go about de-radicalizing someone?

ELIBIARY: Well, it's -- in my experience, it has been more of an art than it is a science, because, just like there is no single path to radicalization, I'm personally a bigger fan of using the word disengagement vs. de-radicalization, because radicalization is essentially not violent extremism or terrorism. It is holding outside-the-mainstream political viewpoints.

You cannot deconstruct the world view of a person who sees that there is a war on Islam, when there's so much political rhetoric out there reinforcing that, as well as, you know, like the war in Iraq at one point and the rest of it.

What you can do is disengage them by reorienting their priorities. So, if they have a child, for example, you can then say, all right, along the path of jihad, you can then say, all right, now you're responsible for a wife and a child. Next to you wanting to go out on this jihad, well, let's look at your Islamic responsibilities here.

COOPER: It is a good conversation for us to have and one we should continue to.

Mohamed Elibiary, I appreciate you being on. Thank you so much.

ELIBIARY: You are very welcome.


COOPER: Next on the program: Sarah Palin weighing in on climate change. She says polar bears are not under threat. Government scientists, however, disagree. We are going to take you to the Arctic firsthand, see you -- show you how scientists are actually monitoring polar bears and their shrinking habitat. We will show what we found.

Plus, lawmakers voted today on whether to subpoena the White House party-crashers. Will they be forced to show up, will actually get an invitation? Find out ahead.


COOPER: A key vote today in South Carolina has huge implications for the future of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Will he face impeachment because of his mistress in Argentina? We will have the developments on that ahead.

But, first, Erica Hill has a 360 news and business bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson -- Anderson, expect progress to be slower and the fight to be harder before it gets better in Afghanistan. That is the assessment from General David Petraeus, who led the surge in Iraq in 2007.

Speaking today about the coming surge in Afghanistan, General Petraeus telling a Senate committee he supports the upcoming escalation of troops there, but would not given a estimate of how many years he thinks it will take for Afghan forces to fully take control of security.

General Stanley McChrystal, who will command the surge in Afghanistan, spoke exclusively today with Christiane Amanpour about the challenge ahead.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think now that you can achieve this mission?


AMANPOUR: You have all the resources you need?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, we have all the resources programmed. They will begin to flow in, but I absolutely do. I'm confident we can.


HILL: And a 360 follow tonight: Five TSA employees are on administrative leave, in the wake of an airport security manual which was posted on the Internet. And we told you about that last night.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano grilled today by House lawmakers about the security breach. She says the information that did appear online was outdated, saying the public was never at risk, but is considering ordering an outside review to determine what, if any, edge those -- that potential enemies could have gained from the breach.

Bank of America has now repaid in full the $45 billion in bailout funds it received from the government the past -- in the past year. That means the bank is no longer obligated to follow government demands. And, yes, that does include caps on executive pay.

And critics of MTV's controversial new reality series "Jersey Shore" now calling for advertisers to boycott the program. An Italian-American interest group which also protested "The Sopranos" on HBO in the past calls the show a disgrace and an insult to Italian- Americans. There are reports that at least two advertisers have pulled out.

The series follows the exploits of a group of Italian-Americans, or Guidos and Guidettes, as they call themselves, in a New Jersey beach town. In response, the network's programming director said, the cast takes pride in their ethnicity.

I have not seen it.

COOPER: I have not watched it either, yes. And it's not going to be -- it's not on my TiVo.

HILL: Not yet. COOPER: No, not for me.


COOPER: Coming up next...

HILL: That is what he says on TV.


COOPER: No, it's true.

Coming up next on 360: a major player in the health care battle. Senator Ben Nelson introduced the amendment to restrict abortion coverage that got defeated, but now the Democrats need his support to get any kind of health care bill passed. So, what is it going to take? We will ask him.

And, later, Sarah Palin says polar bears shouldn't be endangered. We're going to take you to where the polar bears roam to see for yourself why they have been put on the threatened species list. You can decide for yourself.


COOPER: The "Raw Politics" of health is heating up in the Senate. Just before air last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a group of ten liberal and conservative Democrats had reached a deal to replace the hotly-debated public option with a package of alternatives.

Senator Reid offered few details, but today, President Obama praised the emerging compromise.

Now, the public plan deal came just hours after the Senate killed a controversial amendment to restrict abortion coverage in its health- care bill to ensure that no federal funds go toward covering any kind of abortion in this new form.

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson had introduced that amendment. He called it a deal breaker. He's also one of the ten senators who hammered out the deal to drop the public plan.

Senator Nelson joins me now.

Senator, your abortion amendment failed. So to be clear, as this bill stands right now that you've been working on, do you support it?

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Well, I certainly can't support it. My position hasn't changed. But what I am hoping we will do is that the principle of the House version of the language can be achieved by other language.

COOPER: The House version is the Stupak Amendment, just for those who haven't been following? NELSON: Exactly. The principle is there. This language was turned down by the Senate on a vote to table. The question is, is there another way to word the language that will be successful? So many people are trying to explore that. I don't know whether that's possible, but my position hasn't changed.

COOPER: So unless there's some sort of a new compromise with new language which meets your requirements on the abortion issue and funding for it, this is a deal-breaker still for you? You will not support this legislation?

NELSON: My position hasn't changed. I stated it early on, and that's still my position.

COOPER: It -- there are a lot of Democrats who say, "Look, the Hyde Amendment makes sure that no federal money will be used to fund abortion. And that even without the language that you wanted, that will stay," that if there is a plan that does offer to cover abortion, the way it will be structured is that only the private money that an individual puts into that plan would be used to fund that procedure, not any of the federal amendment -- not any of the federal money. You don't buy that?

NELSON: Well, the devil is in the details in how the money is accounted for. Right now, under the current bill, the language would give it to the -- to the secretary of HHS to determine whether the money is being counted for separately and could make certain decisions that I think should -- would really exceed what any of us would expect.

COOPER: As you well know, liberal Democrats are upset. They say that health-care reform without a public option really isn't health- care reform. How do you respond?

NELSON: Well, I don't agree with that at all. As a matter of fact, what we've tried to do is make sure that we extend the private markets wherever possible and allow the states to have a great deal of latitude to be -- be able to deal with this. Relaxing some of the regulations that would permit companies to cross state lines and states to enter into interstate compacts to facilitate the delivery of the insurance product across state lines.

People have been asking for it; this would do t.

COOPER: We've been looking at the votes on the Democratic side. By our calculations and what we're hearing from the White House and what we're reporting by Dana Bash, the crucial votes are you, Senator Olympia Snowe, and Senator Joe Lieberman.

Now, Democrats need any two out of these three. Senator Lieberman seems cautiously supportive of what's on the table, so assuming he's a yes vote and Senator Snowe is a no, that leaves it all up to you. Are you worried about being labeled the Democrat who killed health-care reform?

NELSON: Well, or who insisted on the most appropriate way of doing it. And keep in mind, that -- that vote isn't necessarily the only way to go. There is still reconciliation. And a 51, a simple majority threshold.

So, I wouldn't be the one that killed thresh -- killed health- care reform at all. I -- it would maybe force it into another plan, another way to go about doing it. But we could also bring it back, and we could -- we could make those adjustments that I've asked for.

So I think that it's not fair to say that any one of us would kill health-care reform. What we are seeking is to get it in the best shape that we can possibly have it, and I hope that that's possible.

COOPER: Senator Ben Nelson, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

NELSON: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: We should also mention that today some key interest groups, including the American Medical Association, said they opposed one part of the deal announced by Senator Reid, expanding Medicare to people as young as 55. Dana Bash, Joe Johns have been digging all day to try to find out more about the details of the compromise. They join me, along with senior political analyst David Gergen.

Dana, you heard Senator Nelson say he doesn't support the bill as it stands right now. I know you've been talking to your sources all day. Senator Nelson isn't the only big question mark. Some senators say all this talk about a breakthrough deal is actually premature?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right. Several Senate negotiators, both liberal and moderate Democrats, told us today they don't think this is a done deal at all. They say they won't go there until the Congressional Budget Office gives them an analysis of how much all this is going to cost.

And you know what, Anderson? That may not happen for a week. So until liberals are reassured by the CBO they can achieve affordable health care without a public option, they're not signing on. Until moderates are reassured there isn't too much government intervention, they're not signing on either.

COOPER: So David, this two out of three combo that's needed, I mean, you have Senator Nelson, you have Olympia Snowe, and you have Lieberman. They each have their own sticking points, so how does the Democratic leadership deal with this? They're mostly (ph) liberals?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, I must tell you there was a notable air of optimism in the White House today about this framework that's been reached, I think as Dana so correctly called it. It's not a deal. But it's moved in the right direction. That's why the president praised it today in a congressional meeting.

And the White House feels like there's still a lot of negotiations to go. If they don't get Senator Nelson on this round, they think there's a good chance they can get Joe Lieberman, and maybe they can persuade Olympia Snowe to come in. In order to get Olympia Snowe, though, she's got to make sure this Medicare doesn't cost too much, this Medicare proposal. So she wants to wait. A lot of people want to wait to get these numbers and see what the cost looks like, but there's any -- and it is conceivable you could get Ben Nelson on the second time around.

There is a theory going around, Anderson, that even if the Senate were to pass it without Stupak, without the Ben Nelson amendment, that you then couldn't get it through the House unless you have Stupak in it. And the Senate may eventually, way down the road, two or three iterations down, they have to accept something like Stupak. And if Nelson knew that up front...

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: ... he might go with it anyway, so that there's -- there are a lot of different combinations. As you can imagine, there are a lot of different heads trying to figure out, "How do we put this jigsaw together?" But there is some sense now that they're closer to getting it than they were.

COOPER: Joe, it's interesting. I mean, there are still a bunch of things that could sink this bill. I know you've been digging into this idea of Medicare buy-in for people aged 55 to 64, which would be a big expansion of Medicare. What exactly would that entail, and how tough a sell would that to be a moderate like Olympia Snowe?

JOHNS: It's all about the money, Anderson, and insurance. The most important question is always who pays. So if these new buy-in people are paying a bunch of money for Medicare, not writing it off on their taxes, say, they're propping up the program. They're the ones paying, and that's the upside.

The downside, what Senator Snowe, people in the health-care business are apparently worried about is that, by expanding the program, you're going to get the sickest people possible signing up for Medicare, aged 55 to 64.

So while they're paying a lot, they're also getting a lot of medical benefits at the cheaper reimbursement rate. Somebody gets squeezed. Who does that end up being? The consumer, because the consumer gets those higher prices passed on to him or her.

COOPER: Dana, you heard Senator Nelson basically saying tonight, "Hey, the Democratic leadership can't get this through with 60 votes, don't blame me. Because they could still do it with reconciliation."

Now, a lot of folks at home maybe lost him on that reconciliation. It's a procedural tactic that a lot of people don't really know much about. Basically, the bill would be rammed through, kind of piece by piece, without having to worry about breaking a filibuster. But it's a very controversial move, and leadership sources say that's not going to happen.

So as much as Senator Nelson says, look, this doesn't, you know, come down to him, it very likely could come down to him, right? BASH: It absolutely could. You know, Democratic leadership sources are telling me that they're not considering that tactic, reconciliation, trying to push through health care right now with 51 votes. They say maybe it 's wishful thinking for Ben Nelson, because that would mean he could vote no on health care and not be the one to vote it down.

But one thing I just want to just mention that David brought up about Joe Lieberman, there is something else that we haven't talked about, and that is that there actually is a provision that would allow a public option to kick in or trigger if this idea of not-for-profit private insurance didn't work for any reason. And that is something that Joe Lieberman even restated today he is absolutely against. So that stays in this bill to help liberals, Joe Lieberman may walk.

GERGEN: I do want to add, Anderson, that the liberals are pretty pleased with this outcome, and because of the Medicare provision.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: It would be the biggest expansion of Medicare in 44 years. And from a liberal point of view -- many liberals in the House are saying this now -- hey, this is a good step forward towards single payer, toward having everyone...

COOPER: From a conservative point of view, though, I mean, it's an expansion of a system which is already broken?

GERGEN: That's exactly right, but it's very popular in the country.

COOPER: Right.

JOHNS: Anderson?


JOHNS: Just one other note. The CBO has already tinkered around the edges of this thing. Without getting too far down in the numbers, as a takeaway here, and that expanding Medicare is just not going to be cheap.

CBO estimated last year in December, 2008, the expanded Medicare just for people ages 62 to 64, that monthly buy-in payment would be something like $634 a month, $7,600 a year. So, it won't be that much for a larger group, but it's just not going to be cheap at all.

COOPER: All right. Joe Johns, Dana Bash, appreciate the reporting. David Gergen, as well, thank you. A lot to cover.

Go to if you want a side-by-side comparison of the House bill and the Senate health-care bill, what we know about it at least.

Next, Sarah Palin on polar bears. The U.S. Climate Commission is heating up. Palin is weighing in, saying polar bears should not be on the endangered list. We'll show you what's happening to their habitat. You can judge for yourself.

Plus, they enjoyed the White House, so, will the Salahis accept the invitation to Capitol Hill? The latest ahead.


COOPER: A noise machine from deniers what, Al Gore said if people believe scientists are trying to distort the claim of climate change. E-mails leaked from a British climate research center with language like "trick" and "hide the decline." They surfaced because they were hacked.

Gore spoke to CNN today about those e-mails.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of those exchanges you're talking about had to do with, years ago, whether or not a study that they thought was of poor quality and shouldn't belong in the scientific report should be excluded from the report. Well, they had exchanges back and forth and it ended up in the report, fully analyzed and discussed.

So if you take one little thing from ten years ago out of context and describe it inaccurately, then it becomes a controversy without any real substance.


COOPER: Well, others disagree, insisting these e-mails are proof of a scientific cover-up.

In a "Washington Post" op ed, Sarah Palin said President Obama should boycott the climate convention in Copenhagen. And on her Facebook page, she said, and I quote, "Policy decisions require real science and real solutions, not junk science and doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that capitalizes on the public's worry and makes them feel that owning an SUV is a sin against the planet."

In the same post, Palin blasts the government's decision to add polar bears to the endangered list. She said the popularity has actually increased. Now, most scientists say the data on polar bear populations is hard to track accurately.

The reason they were put on the endangered list, however, is that their habitat is threatened, say scientists and as projected by U.S. government scientists that since their habitat is threatened, their numbers in the future will decline.

So we wanted to go to the front lines of the debate on polar bears. And so as part of our "Planet in Peril" investigation, our team went with Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin to meet Steve Anstrep, a scientist who tracks these bears after tranquilizing them to see what's happened to them, as well as the ice they depend on.


JEFF CORWIN, ANIMAL PLANET (voice-over): With the bears safely sedated, Anstrep gets to work.

STEVE ANSTREP, SCIENTIST WHO TRACKS POLAR BEARS: This is a female cub. Polar bears are probably the most important symbol of the arctic, from the standpoint of a measure of the health of the arctic ecosystem, because they're entirely dependent on the surface of the sea ice for catching all of their food and the food that they eat, the seals and other marine mammals are entirely dependent on the ecosystem below them. So as the apex or top predator in the ecosystem, polar bears sort of integrate everything that's going on in the ecosystem underneath them.

Fifty-six even.

CORWIN: Anstrep has been studying the polar bear for the past three decades.

ANSTREP: Three seventy.

CORWIN: His data indicates an animal that's changing along with the habitat around it.

ANSTREP: We're starting to see some changes that may result in future concerns for this population. We've seen declines in the survival of cubs, and we've seen adult males and cubs a little bit smaller in recent years than they used to be. And those are things that would be consistent with a population that might be under nutritional stress.

CORWIN: Under nutritional stress because it's simply getting harder for bears to eat.

(on camera) This is an impressive opening in the ice here. This is a lead. And of course, as you can see, we're not alone.

(voice-over) A polar bear's primary source of prey are seals. They have the most success hunting seals in the 20- to 50-mile gap of water between coastline and ice. The water is more shallow there, and the seals are more plentiful. The problem is though, just like in Greenland, that ice is melting.

ANSTREP: When the ice melts in the summer, it used to be that it only withdrew from the Alaska coast a little ways. You know, maybe 10, 15 miles, sometimes a little farther than that. But in recent years, we've had a gap of sometimes as much as 200 miles north of the Alaska coast.

CORWIN: As a result, biologists are now witnessing some very strange bear behavior. Some of these animals are actually drowning, trying to swim these new open waters. Now remember, these are marine mammals, so they're not supposed to drown. There are even cases of polar bears cannibalizing each other when the food runs short.

ANSTREP: Ultimately, they're all dependent on the sea ice, and if the sea ice continues to decline, as it has, it's going to affect polar bears.


COOPER: As the climate conference continues in Copenhagen, we're going to continue to bring you our "Planet in Peril" reporting, giving you a first-hand look at the crisis and let you make up your own mind.

Tomorrow, a 360 exclusive. We're going to be live on the Mexican border and below the border. Federal agents have uncovered a new massive tunnel nearly 1,000 feet long. It was apparently for smuggling humans as well as drugs into the United States. We're going to take you inside. We'll be the first ones to take you that.

We've shown you tunnels like this before. Back in 2006, we got an exclusive look at a tunnel, as well. Take a look.


COOPER: As you talk deeper down into the tunnel, it really slopes down. It gets to about 60 feet deep here. On the Mexican side, it gets as far as 90 feet down, 90 feet deep. They've actually poured concrete here and they've formed steps, which makes it easier for whoever was bringing drugs into the United States to actually climb up through the tunnel. It's a really sophisticated tunnel, though. There are also electrical cables running all through the length of it.


COOPER: That was three years ago, and I've aged rapidly.

As you'll see tomorrow, the tunnels keep being built. We'll have the exclusive tomorrow night on the program.

Coming up next, an affair to forget. Governor Mark Sanford's tryst, well, may soon be forgotten. New details tonight on his official punishment.

Also a world away from the old Appalachian trail. Take a look at this: a mystery you have to see to believe, and if you've got no idea what you're looking at, we'll tell you what it might be. I'm frankly not too sure. And mainly, we'll just show it to you because it's kind of cool. We'll be right back.


COOPER: A quick look at some headlines. Erica Hill has the "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, nasty weather in much of the U.S. continuing tonight. More than a foot of snow has fallen across parts of the Midwest and New England. That same storm system led to dangerous wind-chill readings. We're talking as low as 35 degrees below zero in North Dakota and Minnesota.

South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford will not be impeached. Instead, state lawmakers have decided a formal rebuke is the punishment he should face for his tryst with his Argentine mistress and use of state aircraft for those travels. Lawmakers also say the scandal brought the state, quote, "dishonor and shame."

On Capitol Hill, the House Homeland Security Committee has voted to subpoena Tareq and Michaela Salahi to try to get them to testify on just how they got inside the White House state dinner last month, but the Salahis say they do plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions.

The state House panel voted down a motion to subpoena White House social secretary Desiree Rogers.

President Obama will accept the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow morning in Oslo, Norway, which is creating quite a bit of buzz. But frankly, what really has people talking in Norway is this mysterious blue and green light display last night. Anderson showed you a little bit before the break.

This photo is from the Web site, Norway, of course. Russia denies it was conducting missile tests in the area. That was one theory. Astronomers said the strange sight doesn't appear to be connected to the northern lights. So I don't know. Anderson Cooper, you've got any ideas?

COOPER: Cylons, from...

HILL: I knew it.

COOPER: Having been watching "Battlestar Galactica" for now several months, I can tell you, I think it's Cylons.

HILL: Well, I feel better, knowing what it is, so thank you.

COOPER: You don't even know what a Cylon is.

HILL: I have no idea.

COOPER: So naive.

HILL: It's a person, apparently, like a being? No?


HILL: You were worried they were in the future.

COOPER: Some of them look like people. Anyway, I'll explain later.

Tonight's "Shot," the year in autotune. No matter the story, no matter the subject, with a little audio magic, they all sound like singing robots. We got this from Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That really happens. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Experimental aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Six-year-old boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unacceptable.


JON GOSSELIN, FORMER REALITY TV STAR: I don't trust her anymore. I was abused.

KATE GOSSELIN, FORMER REALITY TV STAR: You've left your children and your mother and unable to pay for the roof over their head, it's unacceptable.

J. GOSSELIN: I was abused.

K. GOSSELIN: It's unacceptable.

J. GOSSELIN: I was abused.


K. GOSSELIN: It's unacceptable.

LADY GAGA, MUSICIAN: All the time.


HILL: That remix?


HILL (singing): Richard Heene, science detective.

COOPER: I'm surprised they didn't put that in.

HILL: I know.

COOPER: Or I'm surprised they didn't put in "Who the hell is Wolf?" Oh, they did?

HILL: They did.

COOPER: Here, do we have it? OK. Let's put it.


RICHARD HEENE, HOAXER: Said hi to Wolf. His name is Wolf.



FALCON HEENE, BALLOON BOY: Who the hell is Wolf?


HILL: He's a Cylon, kid, look out.

COOPER: Oh, what was his name? Falcon. Little Falcon.

HILL: How could you forget Falcon Heene? He's just balloon boy to you, isn't he?

COOPER: Out of sight, out of mind.

All right. At the top of the hour the serious stuff, the latest in the arrest of five young Americans in Pakistan. We'll be right back.