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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Americans Accused of Terror; Senate Deal on Health Bill

Aired December 9, 2009 - 23:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight, the five young Americans under arrest in Pakistan, suspected of plotting terrorism. Now, we've 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're 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'll 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 it is to bring young radicals back from the brink. But before that, we want you to look at this trend that we've been tracking now for months. And I got to tell you, it is deeply, deeply troubling -- the picture that we're seeing.

Take a look at this map. It shows terror arrest, terror charges, alleged acts of terror and alleged terror connections in this country dating back about a year. We've 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's when a group of young Somali-Americans disappeared and suddenly showed up fighting in Somalia.

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

Just a month later, an Army dropout, a guy named Bryant Neal Vinas, from Patchogue, Long Island, he was arrested after taking 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's the one that caught on tape -- he's the one that was caught on tape buying huge amounts of peroxide, that's him actually buying the peroxide, which is used in an explosive.

Then in September, you have Michael Finton, aka "Talib Islam," who was arrested outside a Springfield, Illinois, courthouse after trying to detonate the truck he thought was packed with explosive. 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's being tied to the group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

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

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 is 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 up with two terrorist groups, including Jaish- e-Mohammed, the group believed to be responsible for the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross studies homegrown terrorism and radicalization.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: This is a bad group, and it's a group that's known to be a bad group. It raises the red flag of perhaps them undertaking training or 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, EXEC., DIR., CAIR: I have seen the video and I was disturbed by the content of it.

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 Quran. 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've learned he's a dental student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. This photo is from his Facebook page.

(on camera): We've 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 30th, then went on to Lahore and then Sarghoda, 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, as you saw at the top, if, in fact, these five were training for "holy war," they're not exactly pioneers. We've seen an American Taliban, an American al Qaeda mouthpiece, and 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 NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, and 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's -- 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 got Americans exporting the jihad quite seriously overseas. And that's a major development.

COOPER: And not just exporting overseas, we've now seen cases of attempts, at least, and in the case of the recruit -- the military recruiter, an actual death of a soldier here at home. It seems like that is the next wave of this 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've talked about this issue many times over the years and we've, you know -- why we agree and I think most people agree, American Muslims are pretty well-integrated, higher incomes, you know, better educated than most Americans on average. And, you know, why is it?

And I just don't have a good answer, because 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're 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 AC360.com.

Also ahead in this hour, exclusive interview with the 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'll be the one who's going to torpedo his party's plans. Senator Ben Nelson joins us tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: 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 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Secretary Clinton today.

Now back with Peter Bergen, terrorism analyst.

Peter, you say despite this increased threat, it's 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've 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've just got a huge amount of resources that are addressed to the problem.

And some of these cases that we've seen would have been successful in the pre-9/11 time period. But right now, it is pretty hard to 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's very hard if you have a so-called clean skin, to track somebody like that.

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

BERGEN: I don't think it's 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 on the program, this guy Carlos Bledsoe, who changed his name to actually he changed one of his name is 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 and Fort Hood, still a lot of stuff we don't know about him. But I think if you take it all together, I 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's increasing. I mean, that's just a fact. It's sort of grown exponentially in the last two years.

COOPER: And, you know, when you look at Europe, that's 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's 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 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 they are treated here in this country.

COOPER: And yet, we are seeing an 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 with the Muslim-American working to keep the young men in his community from being radicalized. He'll 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: All the angles tonight on a deeply troubling trend, a growing number of Muslim Americans who seem to be becoming radicalized, who as you'll hear, our next guest put it, consider "Jihadi 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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

MOHAMED ELIBIARY, MUSLIM COMMUNITY LEADER: There is no single path to radicalization, but there are several factors that you can 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 some Web sites, forums and news chats, and social networking and the rest of it.

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

ELIBIARY: No, we've 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.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Because, why, it seems like it's 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 OMA or the global Muslim community more effectively that they've seen the elder generation address them since 9/11. They would like to see more spine, so to speak.

It's like the second wave in a 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 versus following in the more softer and moderate messages of the Martin Luther Kings...

COOPER: Honestly, what it sounds more like, it's sort of Neo- Nazis or skinheads. 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're actually talking about -- I mean, their potential intelligence level is not that high.

I mean, do a lot of these young jihadists 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, it was a group of Somali kids or teens who disappeared, ended up fighting in Somalia, first American suicide bomber reported at least, was one of 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 -- they have really no memory of it. Their parents came over long ago. 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're 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've never even heard the term. How do you go about de-radicalizing someone?

ELIBIARY: Well, it's -- in my experience, it's 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" versus "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's 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Up next on the program, lawmakers voted today on whether to subpoena the White House party crashers. Will they be forced to show up? They'll actually get an invitation. Find out ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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'll have the developments in that ahead.

But, first, Erica Hill has the "360 News and Business" bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN: Yes, I do.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: In a 360 follow tonight, five TSA employees are on administrative leave in the wake of an airport security manual which is posted on the Internet. We told you about that last night.

Homeland 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" are 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 insults to Italian- Americans. There are reports that at least two advertisers have pulled out. The series tells 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. It's not going to be -- it's not on my TiVo.

HILL: Not yet.

COOPER: No, not for me. 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 an 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's it going to take? We'll ask him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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 10 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 reform. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson had introduced that amendment. He called it a deal-breaker. He's also one of the 10 senators to hammer 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 have 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 that we will do is that the principle of the House version of the language can be achieved by other language.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: The House version is the Stupak amendment --just for those who haven't been following.

NELSON: Exactly. 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 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 I -- that's still my position.

COOPER: For -- there are a lot of Democrats who say, well, 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 accounted 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 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 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 it.

COOPER: We have been looking at the votes on the Democratic side. By our calculation and what we are hearing from the White House and also 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 a Democrat who killed health care reform?

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

So, I wouldn't be the one that killed thresh -- killed health care reform at all. I -- maybe force it into another plan, another way to go about doing it. But we could also bring it back and 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 hope that that's possible.

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

NELSON: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: We should also mention today that 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 and Joe John 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 sources all day. Senator Nelson isn't the only question mark. Some senators say all this talk of a breakthrough deal is actually premature?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL 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 said they won't go there until the Congressional Budget Office gives them an analysis of how much all of 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 that they can achieve affordable health care without a public option, they're not signing on. Until moderates are reassured that there isn't too much government intervention, they are 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 point. So, how does the Democratic leadership deal with this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: 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 is not a deal. But it has moved in the right direction, that's why the president praised it today in a congressional meeting.

And the White House feels like there are still a lot of negotiations to go. If they don't get Senator Nelson on this round, they think there is 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 costs look 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...

ANDERSON: Right.

GERGEN: ... 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...

ANDERSON: Right.

GERGEN: ... he might go with it anyway. So, that there is -- there are a lot of different combinations. And as you can imagine, there are a lot of different heads sort of trying to figure out how do we put this jigsaw together, but there is some sense now that they are closer to getting it than they were.

ANDERSON: Joe, 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 tell and how tough a sell would that to be a moderate like Olympia Snowe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's all about the money, Anderson. In 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 are propping up the program, they are 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 are going to get the sickest people possible signing up for Medicare, age 55 to 64. So, while they are paying a lot, they are 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, if the Democratic leadership can't get this through with 60 votes, don't blame me because they can still do it with reconciliation. A lot of folks at home may have lost him on reconciliation. It's a procedural tactic 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: Absolutely could. You know, Democratic leadership sources are telling me that they are 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 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, if that stays in this bill to help liberals, Joe Lieberman may walk.

GERGEN: I do want to add, Anderson, that 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...

(CROSSTALK)

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?

COOPER: Yes.

JOHNS: Just one other note. The CBO has already tinkered around the edges on 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, if they 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: Yes.

Joe Johns, Dana Bash, appreciate it for reporting all day. And David Gergen as well, thank you. A lot to cover.

Go to AC360.com if you want a side-by-side comparison of the House bill and Senate health care bill, what we know about it at least.

Up next: How charcoal -- that's right, what we used in backyard barbecues -- might actually help clean up our environment. It's a simple idea that could change the world.

Plus, they enjoy the White House, so will the Salahis make a visit to Capitol Hill? The party crashers' update -- ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, one simple thing to help save the planet. It's our series about changing the world one idea at a time, like using charcoal to actually clean up the environment. Now, if you're thinking, wait a second, charcoal is certainly is a dirty fuel, isn't that part of the problem? Well, not this kind.

Here is Melissa Long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANNY DAY, ENTREPRENEUR: First, we tear.

MELISSA LONG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tin cans...

DAY: We have a scale here.

LONG: ... wood chips, a fire pit.

Atlanta entrepreneur Danny Day is using a camp fire to show us how to make charcoal for science.

DAY: The reason I have a fire pit...

LONG (on camera): Most people have a fire pit to entertain.

(LAUGHTER)

DAY: Well, I have a fire pit to entertain as well.

LONG: OK.

DAY: I do. But I also do fun stuff.

LONG (voice-over): So, what's the fun stuff? Making what's called biochar. A porous material made from organic trash. When waste like wood chips decomposes, greenhouse gases are released. But turn the trash into biochar and experts say harmful carbon dioxides are sealed in, not released into the atmosphere.

DAY: So, we're taking a form of carbon that was normally cycling every 10, 15, 20 years and we're turning it into a form that will last for thousands.

LONG: Day also says biochar can be ground up then used to enrich soil, creating more plentiful crops.

DAY: The average farmer around the world, there are over 3 billion of them, that they can make money from doing this.

LONG: Another bonus when making biochar, the gases, scientists say when captured, they could potentially be used to fuel your car or generate electricity.

(on camera): But this is much bigger than Danny Day's backyard experiment. Here at the University of Georgia, they're working on a much bigger scale, producing up to 1,000 pounds of biochar in a single batch.

(voice-over): So, how do you make this stuff this research engineer Brian Vivens (ph) call black gold? The key is heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this corner, this is where the burner is.

LONG: The temperature sometimes up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the organic trash is baked. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says global carbon levels have been increasing in an alarming rate for the last 30 year. And some researchers predict biochar could make a difference.

But others, like K.C. Das, who runs the University of Georgia program says, it's just one small part. And more studies are needed.

K.C. DAS, PHD, DIR., BIOREFINING & CARBON CYCLING PROGRAM: I don't want to leave with you the thought that this is the silver bullet that's going to solve everybody's problems. It is a component in the spectrum of solutions available.

LONG: Danny Day's company, Eprida, wants to be part of the solution, far beyond his backyard. He built a biochar facility in Australia and has more projects in the works.

DAY: This is something that everybody in the world can agree on. Nobody's going to say, "Oh, my god, no charcoal." Everybody will understand this. This is a simple idea.

LONG: Melissa Long, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Tomorrow a 360 exclusive report. We'll 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 first one to take you to that.

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

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: As you walk deeper down into the tunnel, it really slopes down and 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 formed steps which makes it easier for anybody bringing in drugs to the United States actually to climb up through the tunnel. It's a really sophisticated tunnel though. There are also electrical cables running all through the length of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

Coming up next: an affair to forget. Governor Mark Sanford's tryst may soon be forgotten. We have new details tonight on his official punishment.

And forcing the Salahis to show up. You think it wouldn't be so hard. They seem to like going to events. Congress is setting a date. Will they hear from the party crashers? Ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A quick look at some headlines. Erica Hill at the 360 bulletin -- Erica.

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

In South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford will not be impeached. Instead, state lawmakers have decided a formal review as to 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 Michaele 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 same 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 a little bit before the break. This photo is if the website Yr.no. Norway, of course.

Russia denies it was conducting missile test in the area. That was one theory.

Astronomers said the strange light doesn't appear to be connected to the northern lights.

So, I don't know. Anderson, you got any ideas?

COOPER: Cylons from...

HILL: I knew about that with "Battlestar Galactica."

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: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

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

HILL: I have no idea.

COOPER: So naive.

HILL: Is this person, apparently, huh? Like a being? No?

COOPER: No.

HILL: So, are you worried they were in the picture last night?

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

HILL: Oh.

COOPER: Tonight's shot, the year in auto tune. No matter the story, no matter the subject, with a little audio magic, they all sound like singing robots. We got this from Break.com.

Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: (INAUDIBLE) that remake?

COOPER: What?

HILL: 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?"

HILL: Hello.

COOPER: Oh, they did.

HILL: Oh, they did. We don't have it on...

COOPER: Oh, here, do we have it? OK. Let's do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD HEENE, FATHER: Say hi to Wolf. His name is Wolf.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, guys.

FALCON HEENE, "BALLOON BOY": Who in hell is Wolf?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: He's a Cylon kid. Look out.

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

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

COOPER: Yes, believe me, out of sight, out of mind.

Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.