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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Terror Suspect's Father Met With CIA

Aired December 29, 2009 - 21:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, breaking news. The terror suspect who allegedly got on a plane with a bomb was reported to the CIA by his own father. Did the agency drop the ball, putting hundreds of lives on the line? President Obama demands answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A systemic failure has occurred. There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Plus, the man who did what security couldn't. The hero of flight 253 is here. What does he think now about being the last line of defense between a would-be bomber and a deadly plan? Next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. I'm Candy Crowley sitting in for Larry King. Fortunately for you all his staff is still here so we have a jam- packed show because what we have is breaking news. Helping me walk you all through that, Jeanne Meserve who is our homeland security correspondent and Ed Henry who is out in Honolulu. He is covering of course the Obama administration and the president, who is out there on Christmas vacation.

Jeanne, let's get right to it. Maybe a reset. Where are we? What do we know today?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president came out and said there were pieces of information that had not been put together and we've discovered one of those pieces of information at least. From a very well placed source we've learned that the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, as we know, went to the embassy. And when he went there or in subsequent conversations, he conversed with CIA representatives at the embassy.

What we're told is that the CIA people at the embassy wrote a report and that report was sent on to the CIA headquarters in Langley but it was not distributed more widely to the intelligence community in the United States. And what I'm told is that if that report had been disseminated more widely, it might have been pieced together with some other information that had come in, might not have been name specific. Maybe it talked about a Nigerian. Maybe it talked about a man of a certain age. Maybe it talked about travel to Yemen. We don't know yet. But it seems apparent that there was a failure to put these pieces together and this CIA report, we're told, was part of it.

CROWLEY: So we don't even know if the CIA report mentioned the suspect by name or that did?

MESERVE: The CIA report did. It's the other intelligence. We're not sure. They might not have had a name. In fact, I have a statement from a CIA spokesman who said, "We learned of him in November. We did not have his name before then."

CROWLEY: So is there -- this seems to me a very familiar scenario here that we went through basically in that whole connecting the dots following 9/11. Is there any -- you've been talking to your sources all day long, some of them I'm assuming in the CIA, but you don't have to tell me and wouldn't, but what, you know, what is the sense you are getting here? Is there some tension going on between these --

MESERVE: Oh, yeah. I think there is going to be a lot of tension building between the different components and here is one reason why. That statement from the CIA spokesman that came out a short time ago, he said, "In November we worked with the embassy to ensure he was in the government's terrorist data base including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen. We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the national counterterrorism center."

What they're not saying here is if they forwarded all the information that they had but they are certainly pushing back here. Yeah, I think we're going to see a little interagency warfare that might get bloody.

CROWLEY: Ed Henry, let me bring you in here because of course the man in charge of all this is President Obama. Did you get the sense today? I mean, I was looking at it from afar. That there was just a little simmering anger with the president? Is what Jeanne is reporting part of why it seemed to be ratcheting up out there?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it clearly is for a number of reasons. You're absolutely right. In the president's body language, he is much firmer than yesterday and in his language, calling for accountability, saying there were systemic failures. He didn't touch any of that yesterday.

What happened between yesterday and today? Well just in the last few moments we've learned from senior administration officials that basically late last night, some new intelligence came into the White House basically suggesting as Jeanne is reporting that all of the pieces were not put together by the intelligence community.

What senior officials are now telling us that squares exactly with what Jeanne is reporting is that if more dots had been connected, if more people had been talking in different agencies, they believe they could have thwarted this terror attack much sooner. And so we're also told by these senior officials that early Tuesday morning, today, the president went on a secure conference call with National Security Adviser Jim Jones and others who told him about this new intelligence and that is why we're told the president came out and his aides say in the interest of transparency, telling the American people there's more here. He wanted to get it out there and that's exactly why he came out, Candy.

CROWLEY: As Ed just mentioned, the president was out again today for the second day in a row talking about this incident. We want to play you a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Secretary Napolitano has said once the suspect attempted to take down flight 253, after his attempt, it's clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions.

But what's also clear is this. When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could have cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So jump ball, is there more out there? I mean, is this going to be another thing where we go, I can't believe this?

MESERVE: I think there are definitely other pieces there. He said there are bits and pieces. We found one bit. There's more.

CROWLEY: Ed, do you get the sense that early on the White House sort of saw this as one of those lone wolf attacks or attempts or do you think -- why were they seemingly and certainly got criticized by Republicans -- a little slow to put the president out there?

HENRY: Well, a number of things. Number one, they did initially tell us some senior officials that they thought it was more likely to be a lone wolf. Just in the last hour we've gotten senior officials saying, well, now we're picking up as part of some of this new intelligence, maybe there is a link to al Qaeda, something again that Jeanne Meserve already reported already in detail yesterday. But we're picking up more about that tonight.

And the second point I would make is that initially they didn't put the president out because they said, look, the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who the president just mentioned, she'll be out there on Sunday. And you talked to her on Sunday's "State of the Union" and pressed her on some of it and I was stunned at the time that she talked about the system working and never quite said there needs to be accountability, some things went wrong.

I've been pressing White House officials today. Why didn't she say what the president said today on Sunday? And they said, well she cleaned it up on Monday, which she did, but it seems surprising that the White House in the early stages didn't acknowledge the obvious, that there were specific problems, that dots were not connected, and that maybe heads are going to roll. It is clear though now, the president said it today and he gave the intelligence community a deadline of Thursday, get me some answers. And it's clear, some heads are likely to roll, Candy.

CROWLEY: Jeanne?

MESERVE: Yes, I was just going to say well she couldn't have said what the president said today because they were still vacuuming up information from within the intelligence community and figuring out exactly what they had and what dots weren't connected. So I think that's why she couldn't have gone that far, certainly, as Ed says. She might have been a little bit more transparent about the system.

CROWLEY: The system working was a problem, the saying, well this was just one man, it wasn't her best moment as we all know. We're going to hear from some former government insiders and get their reaction to today's revelations next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Hi, and welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. We have a couple of experts here. As you know, we've got breaking news about this Christmas Day incident which was almost catastrophic in the skies over Detroit. With me right now, Frances Townsend, the CNN national security contributor who also served as chief antiterrorism and homeland security adviser for President George Bush. Also Jack Rice, former CIA officer, journalist, syndicated talk show radio. So we're kind of colleagues.

OK, what is your take on what happened here? You've worked inside the CIA. I have to tell you that right off the bat, I don't understand why on Sunday, the homeland security secretary didn't seem to know that this man's name had popped up in a CIA report and the president didn't really allude to it until today. Is it possible they didn't learn until last night or this morning that there's a report in Langley?

JACK RICE, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Yes. I think that's really the problem here. I think that's the case. If we look back at what we have done over the last eight years, we turned this world upside down deciding we're going to reorganize the government. We're going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars. We're going to do amazing things and yet this fundamental problem seems to still exist, the inability to take a piece of information and put it out there in a place where everybody else can grab it and hopefully connect it to something.

Remember it's not just about acquiring things. That is one of the things the agency does. It really has to be about analyzing them and saying what does this mean? If we -- if all we're doing is acquiring things for their own sake, there is no point. As a journalist, you understand this. If you go and you do an interview but the video camera doesn't work, the interview doesn't exist. If you have a camera and you miss everything? It's the same thing with this. If they don't provide it out there and analyze and understand what it means, it is completely irrelevant. The CIA or somebody fundamentally dropped the ball here.

CROWLEY: These are people, though, who want to protect the country. This isn't like these people who sort of walked into a bureaucratic job. I mean, some of them put their lives on the line. What is wrong here that eight years after 9/11 we had set up this multibillion dollar agency so they will connect the dots and they don't? Why not?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, two things, Candy, I think are worth mentioning here. For one thing, the level of experience at the CIA is dramatically reduced. It is a much younger work force. More than 50 percent of their work force has come in since 9/11. So you've got less experience, a less experienced work force. That's one.

None of this excuses it by the way. None of it makes it any less horrific that it didn't happen. The second is to the point of analysis, that's what the national counterterrorism center was created to do. John Brennan, President Obama's homeland security adviser was the first chief of that unit and helped put these rules in place. John understands very well the importance of this information sharing but it's not just a question of information systems. You know, it really is a question of will and breaking the cultures and requiring the sharing and it's incredibly frustrating so many years after September 11th with so many changes put in place that we still haven't --

CROWLEY: Why do you have to require sharing? These people are sworn to protect the United States whether they're DIA or CIA or FBI.

RICE: But you understand on the inside here in D.C., one of the things that happens inside the Beltway and sometimes it's about a need to know question, certainly on the intelligence side. And that sort of stays with the culture that I think is broken because it's our information, we will figure out what this means, and we will determine whether or not we're going to share this out. That is a failure and it really has been in the past. I know they have tried to fix this and they've talked about fixing this and they've spent billions of dollars saying they're going to fix this, but this is reminiscent of what we were all talking about on September 12th of 9/11 and every day there forward.

CROWLEY: They're not making widgets here. They're trying to protect the country. I just think it's appalling.

TOWNSEND: It is appalling. We continue to see the sort of bureaucratic turf battles that are impeding the sharing process. We've seen a real struggle between the director of national intelligence Admiral Denny Blair who oversees the National Counterterrorism Center and Director Leon Panetta, who is the director of the CIA. There's been lots of friction and it's not a secret. It's sort of an open wound here in Washington. And you know, boy, the American people are right and Congress I think is going to be right to be frustrated if those sorts of personal turf battles between two agencies impede them getting their jobs done.

CROWLEY: OK, 15 seconds each. Magic wand, first thing the president does.

RICE: First thing he does is he forces an answer out of this. He's got to figure out who made the mistake not just on the front end but all the way up the chain. Chief of station back at Langley, why wasn't this spread? What's the standard? Who dropped the ball? Somebody clearly did that.

TOWNSEND: Yes, the president was angry today. I've got to tell you, we've got to get to the bottom and understand where did the ball get dropped so we can fix it.

CROWLEY: Serious stuff. Thank you all so much, Jack Rice, Fran Townsend, appreciate it.

RICE: Thank you.

CROWLEY: At least one member of Congress is calling for the homeland security secretary's resignation. It's Dan Burton and he's here. Our primetime exclusive in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE where we are covering the constantly breaking news about the Christmas day scare in these skies over Detroit where a would-be terrorist tried to blow up a plane. Fortunately, he did not. I want to bring in now from Indianapolis, Congressman Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana. Obviously he is a member of the foreign affairs and oversight and government reform committees. Congressman, let me just ask you this one blanket question. What is your reaction to the news coming out tonight about the CIA report sitting in Langley about this suspect?

REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: Well, first of all, once again, I hear people in the administration and the media trying to make the CIA the scapegoat. This report was made from Nigeria sometime ago and I can't believe since we now have a director of intelligence, that the CIA didn't give that to the director of intelligence. And if that information was disseminated to him, it was his responsibility to make sure that all of the intelligence agencies had that information. And this guy was on the watch list.

And that's one of the reasons why I called for Janet Napolitano's resignation, because as the head of homeland security she should have made sure that anybody that was on that watch list was disseminated around the world so they were watching for them and making sure they were cleared and checked very thoroughly before they got on an airplane. And they did not do that. And I think that's one of the reasons why she should be replaced. I don't think she has the experience to do the job.

CROWLEY: But as I understand it, there are about 500,000 people on the watch list. Is it realistic to think that we would know where they all are at any given time? BURTON: No, it's not realistic to know where all of them are at any one given time. But if you disseminated that information, around the world to the various intelligence agencies, they, through the computers that we have, they can alphabetically go through and check whether someone is getting on the plane. This is not rocket science. And to say, well, there's a half a million of them, we can't check them all is just kicking the ball down the road. We've got to be able to check these people and keep them off of American planes or any planes so that they don't kill hundreds and thousands of people.

CROWLEY: Just to make clear he was not on the no fly list, in fact, and probably even if his name had turned up --

BURTON: That makes no difference to me. The CIA talked to his father. His father went there and told them that he was a risk. They sent that information to Langley. I believe that information did go to the director of intelligence. And that information, because we put that director of intelligence in place, was supposed to disseminate that information all over the place to every intelligence agency.

We did that right after 9/11 because the CIA and the FBI weren't talking to each other and so that's why the director of intelligence was created. This information was sent to CIA and I do not believe Leon Panetta or the CIA would have kept that from the director of intelligence. And if they got it to him I'm confident he would disseminate it to the homeland security and everybody else. And that man being on the watch list should have been checked very thoroughly before he got on there. Not to mention that he didn't have luggage. He bought a one way ticket. And he paid cash. And he came from Nigeria. And he came through -- I mean, come on. This guy should have been checked. He should never have been on that plane.

CROWLEY: Representative Burton is staying with us because I've got lots more questions for him. And we will also be joined by our political observers. Who do they think is to blame? And maybe most important, what do we do about the problem now? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. As promised, Congressman Dan Burton is sticking with us. Also joining us out of Los Angeles Ben Stein, economist. He served as a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford. He is a columnist for "Fortune" magazine. From New York, Marc Lamont Hill, an associate professor at Columbia University and nationally syndicated columnist. And finally, joining me here in D.C., Peter Beinart, senior political writer for "The Daily Beast," professor at the City University of New York and author of "The Good Fight: Why Liberals and Only Liberals Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again."

So we're out of time because you all are way too well credentialed. But moving along, you've written a book that sounds just right for this time. What do you make of what's happened today and the news that a report was at the CIA about this suspect?

PETER BEINART, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, clearly, this problem of sharing intelligence continues to be a major issue. But I think the larger context here is that as we move further and further away from September 11, concerns about terrorism receded on both sides of the aisle. And the balance between privacy and security tipped back towards privacy. That vote in the House on not allowing these body scan machines was a totally bipartisan vote. Democrats and Republicans didn't want to. Now that we've seen that the threat again is quite serious, I think you're going to see the balance tipping back a little bit the other direction.

CROWLEY: Congressman Burton, I want to get back to you just on one thing that we were talking about earlier. I know you want Janet Napolitano to quit as homeland security secretary, but the Homeland Security Department was put together under the Bush administration with some foot dragging albeit.

It has been eight years since 9/11. Isn't there some joint culpability here that in eight years we have still failed to be able to get these agencies to talk to each other, as we have said for years, to connect the dots? Isn't this a joint responsibility?

BURTON: Well, we did create and pass a law to create the head of the intelligence agency, the director of intelligence. He was supposed to coordinate all of the intelligence agencies so there was no break between the CIA and the FBI and DIA and homeland security. And I believe that he has carried that responsibility out. That's why I say I can't believe that the CIA got this information from Nigeria in a report and they didn't tell him about it and if they told him about it, it's his responsibility to disseminate it to the other agencies. And that's why I think Janet Napolitano dropped the ball by not making sure this guy was watched and wasn't on that watch list so they'd watch him very closely.

CROWLEY: Just to make clear, you don't know for sure that Leon Panetta saw this report. You're assuming that he did. Is that correct?

BURTON: Well, his responsibility, he is ordered to report to the director of intelligence and I know Leon. I served with him in the House. And I don't think he would not do that. And I think the people under him, his subordinates would not keep him in the dark.

CROWLEY: Let me veer back with Ben Stein because of something that Peter just said. Ben, I would love to hear how you feel about those imaging body scanning intrusive what do they call that, a digital strip search. How do you feel about those machines?

BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST: It's perfectly fine with me. I travel almost every day. I'm on airplanes literally more than I am at home. And it doesn't bother me a bit. It does bother me a lot we old people are not allowed to use the bathroom for an hour before we land. That's going to be very tough on us old people.

But you know, I hear all this talk about the director of this, the head of this. Look, the responsibility lies with the bureaucracy, with these guys lower down, gals lower down in the bureaucracy. I worked in a bureaucracy for several years after I got out of school. I know what the bureaucrats are like. They've got lifetime tenure. Nobody is riding herd on them. Nobody is very motivated. It's a lifetime gig. And nobody really feels that hopped up to do anything. They don't usually get the smartest, sharpest people and we should not be entrusting our lives to people with this level of motivation and competence. And I'm afraid we are.

CROWLEY: Marc, given and admittedly, we do not know exactly what happened here and who had what and all of that.

MARC LAMONT HILL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR: Exactly.

CROWLEY: But from what we know now, what is your assessment of what went on?

HILL: My assessment is there is enough blame to go around for everyone. This guy had a visa. He shouldn't have had a visa in the first place. That's a State Department issue and can really open up a very provocative conversation about whether the distribution of visas should become a law enforcement issue rather than a State Department Issue.

But there is also the fact this guy was on a watch list yet somehow didn't make it to a no-fly list. There's also the issue that the guy had a bomb strapped to him and somehow made it through airport security. So there is enough to go around for everyone. I think it's too reactionary to call for Napolitano's firing. I don't think that's the actual issue here.

The issue here is that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Part of it is bureaucracy. Part of it is incompetence and part of it is the lack of leadership in the TSA and in the CIA and in the State Department right now on this issue.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I want to play for you all a little bit. The president came out today with a wholly different tone really than yesterday and I want to play just a little bit about it and get your all's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together. We've achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks. But it's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Ben, let me quote you back to you. Last night you said about the president's statement yesterday, and again that was the statement from today, but yesterday when you heard his statement you said, "It was as if someone said after Pearl Harbor, OK, we've all got to be vigilant against the Japanese and the Germans."

Did he do any better today as far as you're concerned?

STEIN: He did somewhat better, although I have to tell you, maybe I am a fool for saying this but I hate the idea of him talking about these national security issues while wearing a polo shirt or a Lacoste alligator shirt or whatever he is wearing. It seems that is emblematic of the fact that he is not taking it seriously enough.

HILL: Oh.

STEIN: This is an extremely serious matter. I'd like to see him address it with dead seriousness. We are at war. We are at war with people trying to kill children, women, innocent civilians. Let's approach it with extreme seriousness. Maybe it's all right that he's wearing a polo shirt but let's approach it with extreme seriousness.

CROWLEY: Time out here. I know you all want to jump all over this. I can hear you groaning, but we've got to take a break. We'll be back with everybody right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. When last you saw us, we were in the midst of a conversation that Ben Stein kicked off by suggesting that the president did not appear, at least, to be as serious as he needs to be about this terrorist threat, whereupon there were groans from two people.

So let me start with you, Mark. Do you think the president has been projecting -- because we all know that it matters what image you project. Do you have a problem with the image projected from Honolulu?

HILL: From a matter of pure political strategy, certainly he has not projected the strongest image. Waiting until Monday to be seen publicly talking about this issue was a problem. Having Gibbs and Napolitano say the system worked, however they tried to backtrack -- saying the system worked on Sunday was a political mistake.

But it would also be a mistake to agree with Ben, and suggest that somehow because the president comes out with a polo shirt rather than a neck tie with a Windsor knot or something, that he is not serious on terror. He has been hawkish on Iran. He has sent troops to Afghanistan. He has launched strikes in Yemen. He's followed the Bush blueprint almost word for word, in terms of militaristic action.

So I can't imagine having any more military gravitas than he has right now.

CROWLEY: Peter, you have to admit, at some level, with Napolitano and Gibbs, the impression that you got coming away was, well, you know, everything is safe and fine. And there wasn't -- you know, this was Christmas weekend. And I talked to a number of people who were frightened. Do you think the administration has handled this badly, has projected the wrong image, whether it has to do with a polo shirt or how long he took? BEINART: I think at a crass political question, it was a big misjudgment. The misjudgement was this: there was no other news this week. Congress is out. There is nothing going on. This is all there is to talk about.

CROWLEY: You don't think this would have been huge news?

BEINART: But if it happened in January, when health care was back and we were moving toward health care, it wouldn't have blocked out the sun like this. I think that's part of the reason, besides Napolitano's bad performance, that they really got behind the eight ball.

I think what Obama did today was the first move, I think, to suggest they're getting on top of it, because by showing he is angry, he's showing he takes this seriously.

Secondly, he is sending a subtle message, this is the problem of my bureaucracy that I'm going to ride herd on, not the problem of my political appointees, which has been where the focus had been before.

CROWLEY: Congressman Burton, let me get you in on this. How do you think the president has done?

BURTON: Let me say this, this issue should blot out the sun. We're talking about American citizens on a plane with a terrorist. And they're not calling him a terrorist. They're calling him everything but a terrorist. This guy was trying to kill Americans. He's tied in with al Qaeda.

This is not an -- even if we were talking about health care or a cap and trade or anything else, this is number one, because this is a security of American citizens. And I don't agree with what the gentleman just said. This is an issue that the president should focus on. This country should focus on. Janet Napolitano should not be saying terrorist acts are man made disasters. That's ridiculous.

This is something we all ought to focus on right now in the Congress, and in the White House, because this terrorism thing is not going to go away. It's going to get worse. It should be the number one issue we're dealing with.

STEIN: It's a war, Candy. It's a war. I'd love to hear the president say, it's a war. Not a war against Muslims. Not a war against any particular country. But a war against evil, sick, warped, crazy, murderous people. And we're going to fight it the way we fought the Nazis.

BURTON: That's right.

CROWLEY: Everybody is going to come back. We have to take another break. We will see what else they've got to say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM RIDGE, FMR. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I'm afraid some of the events over the past couple months have suggested that that old paradigm, the need to know, has maybe been receded in some of these organizations, because it doesn't appear to me that there is a willingness to share that kind of information that we need to make America as safe as we want it to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Suggestion by the former secretary of Homeland Security that we are -- seem to be back at square one. Peter, we were talking during the break. You think there are large implications of what's happened. Everyone is safe. But there is an implication for some other policy.

BEINART: Well, there is a huge implication for Obama's desire to abolish Gitmo, to close down Guantanamo Bay, which I support by the way. The problem is a very large number of those guys are Yemenis now. They would go back to Yemen. Two of the people allegedly involved in this plot supporting this guy were people let out of Gitmo by George W. Bush. The Yemenis are not very good at dealing with these people when we send them back. It's going to make it that much more difficult for Obama to deal with this Guantanamo bay problem.

CROWLEY: They could end up in Illinois though.

BEINART: Some of them are supposed to go back to Yemen very soon.

HILL: Or Saudi Arabia. Another option is Saudi Arabia, who has expressed interest in working more collaboratively in a way that would be much more productive than Yemen, which, as Peter said, absolutely never works. Yemen is absolutely terrible at sustaining prisons.

BEINART: The Saudis haven't done a good job either.

HILL: No, I agree with you. But I am saying that might be another option, rather than keeping them here in Illinois. I think the bigger issue here is will Obama, once again, cave to the pressure of the right? Whenever an issue like this happens, he becomes more hawkish. We saw this with Afghanistan. He ends up sending 30,000 more troops because of the allegation he was dithering. Will we suddenly cave now and not close Guantanamo out of some mass produced fear from the right, which isn't legitimate?

STEIN: It is totally legitimate to keep these guys in prison forever. I don't care whether it's Guantanamo or Illinois or downtown Manhattan, where they keep them in prison, as long as they keep them in prison forever. None of these guys seem to have left and founded a charity to do micro lending to people in small villages in India. These are very bad people. We want to keep them in prison.

You know, my humble thought, again, is a bureaucracy is something you don't know unless you've been in it. I've been in it. When you're in it, it moves like sludge. It moves very, very slowly. The idea that the same people in this bureaucracy are also going to be handling our health care, our carbon tax credits, our cap and trade -- all this other stuff is going to be handled by these faceless, unresponsive bureaucrats -- is quite frightening.

CROWLEY: Congressman, I think you're probably cheering.

BURTON: Well, I am. Ben, You and I are blood brothers. Let me just say that regarding Napolitano, I don't believe that she is qualified. The statements she has been making is not reassuring to the American people. She calls terrorist acts man made disaster.

Now, everybody in America knows we're in a war against terror, except she's not commenting about it. When she talks about it, she says things like the system worked. She says things like this was a man made disaster, when it was a terrorist act.

CROWLEY: Congressman, a lot of this trouble dates back to the Bush administration, doesn't it, as well? Is it fair to go after her all the time?

BURTON: Well, we're not in the Bush administration. That was a long time ago. We are now in the Obama administration. And Napolitano is in charge of the security of this country, Homeland Security. And if she can't do the job, and if she's making statements like she has been making, not reassuring the American people, and letting people on the watch list get on planes because they don't disseminate information that they should, she should be replaced. That's it.

HILL: But, Congressman, that hasn't been confirmed, first of all. We don't know if the CIA had information. That's pure conjecture coming only from you. And if we were to --

(CROSS TALK)

HILL: I'm saying the CIA had information -- you said if the CIA director had information, he would have given it and suggest he did not have it. We don't know.

STEIN: CNN just reported it, sir.

BEINART: We don't know if it was distributed or not. We don't know nearly enough to suggest Napolitano should resign.

HILL: Absolutely. And if we were to reduce people to sound bites, George Bush said "mission accomplished." George Bush said that Brown was doing a good job when people were drowning in Katrina. We don't reduce people to a sound bite and to their worst political moment.

What we need to understand is that the system itself is broken. The system itself is dysfunctional. You can't isolate that with Napolitano.

BURTON: That is why we came up with the director of intelligence to coordinate all of this. And that's his responsibility. CROWLEY: I'm going to -- I want a quick show of hands from all of you. Who believes that anyone on the top levels gets fired over this? Or is this just a big bureaucratic mess? Anybody getting fired?

(CROSS TALK)

HILL: Nobody.

STEIN: Some lower level person will be fired. But the bureaucracy will still be just as incompetent and is going to run more of your lives every day.

BURTON: I hope it changes.

BEINART: I wonder what they should staff these departments with if not bureaucrats? Political appointees? It is an odd statement.

STEIN: Lively, energetic people, who are motivated.

BEINART: I'm sure the people at the CIA would be heartened to hear you don't think they're lively or care about the security of the country.

STEIN: I don't care if they're heartened or not. I don't know them. I don't care if they're heartened or not. They're clearly screwing up.

CROWLEY: More later. This argument will continue, I suspect, for several months. And to the question can we take the politics out of this? I don't think so. We will be back in 60 seconds. Thank you to all my guests, Dan Burton, Ben Stein, Marc Lamont Hill and Peter Beinart. I appreciate it. We will be back in 60 seconds with the man who may have saved the day and hundreds of lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Candy Crowley, sitting in for Larry tonight. Jasper Shuringa helped tackle the terror suspect on flight 253. What he did on Christmas day may be even more remarkable given today's turn of events. Now that he's had some time to think about everything, we want to ask him how he's feeling now about this very close call. It certainly looks as though this suspect did have ties with al Qaeda. Did anything like that occur to you when you lept over some seats and tackled this guy?

JASPER SHURINGA, FLIGHT 253 HERO: No, not at all. First, I thought it just might be a crazy guy to actually carry a fire cracker onto the airplane. It came as quite a shock when I heard he had ties to al Qaeda.

CROWLEY: We will have a lot more with Jasper when we come back. We have to take a quick break. He will be back with us on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWS BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back now with Jasper Shuringa. Jasper, one of the things that occurs to me is I think everybody wonders what they would do in a situation such as you faced. Would they sit in their seat because they were too frightened? Did any of that go through your head? Or did you think this guy may be in trouble? Or what was going through your head when you did this?

SHURINGA: Well, first, I had no clue what was happening. First, it was just bang, and you're trying to look around, like where's this bang coming from? And it took a couple of seconds before someone starts to scream fire, fire.

So we looked to the left and then we saw this person sitting in the seat all the way up to left side of the aisle, and he was in fire. And a normal person would stand up, and he wasn't standing up. So then I knew, this guy is trying to do something. So I directly knew that this was, yes, a bomb attack.

CROWLEY: Were you afraid or you just went over and --

SHURINGA: Well, I think I thought at the moment -- there's so much going on in your mind that you're not afraid. You just don't think and just jump. Yes, it's just a reaction.

CROWLEY: And when you got to the suspect, what was he doing? Did he say anything? Did he do anything?

SHURINGA: Well, he was still sitting and he was getting on fire. And he was still holding the device, the bomb right now. And he was still holding it in his hands. And I had to, like, rip the bomb out of his hands. And I remember him looking at me, staring at me. And he was, like -- he was just, like, being afraid. And it was just a very weird situation.

CROWLEY: So he seemed afraid as you were going after him?

SHURINGA: Yes, he seemed like -- yes, he seemed afraid. And he was not easy letting go of the bomb.

CROWLEY: Do you close your eyes at night and revisit that moment?

SHURINGA: Not yet.

CROWLEY: Not yet. So you've been pretty peaceful since then?

SHURINGA: Luckily, I've been peaceful, peaceful so far, and I hope I will keep it like that.

CROWLEY: Well, it is an amazing story. I know there are a lot of people awfully happy you were there. Jasper Shuringa, appreciate your being with us tonight.

SHURINGA: Thank you. CROWLEY: Another Flight 253 passenger and witness to the terror is going to join us next. You are watching LARRY KING LIVE.

COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Going into this break, I misinformed you. Actually, Jasper Shuringa stays with us now for this segment to tell us more about what happened on that flight. He is joined by Richelle Keepman, also a passenger on Flight 253, along with her parents, and, as I understand it, two children that they were adopting. So your entire family was on this plane.

Let me ask you first, Richelle, your feelings now about what Jasper and others did, now that you've had a little time to reflect on what happened.

RICHELLE KEEPMAN, FLIGHT 253 PASSENGER: I -- well, first and foremost, I just want to say thank you to Jasper, because you're our hero and we just -- from my family, I also -- we're just so thankful that you did what you did and the other passengers who helped, because your bravery saved us. So thank you. I'm just so grateful right now.

CROWLEY: That must feel pretty good, Jasper. Let me ask Richelle the same thing I asked him. When you shut your eyes, do you relive this, or have you found a certain calm after that storm?

KEEPMAN: You know, with children being home and they're seeing snow for the first time and just so many new things, our focus right now is just on the fact that we're here, and we're able to live these moments with them. So I can't say I've necessarily relived it. However, I did have a connecting flight after the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. And at that moment, I definitely relived --

CROWLEY: That must be just very nerve racking, I imagine, to have to get on a plane again. But you are with us tonight, for which we are grateful. You also saw something strange happen when the man -- the fire started and everyone raced for him. What was it that you observed?

KEEPMAN: Well, as this was all going on, I just happened to look over and about ten seats ahead of me was -- to the left-hand side, was a man who had a camcorder and he was filming the entire thing. So it was definitely a little out of the ordinary. I mean, I don't know why he was standing up and we were supposed to be seated. And he was filming it.

CROWLEY: We ought to just tell everybody that Jeanne Meserve has reported tonight that the FBI says it has analyzed a number of videotapes that were shot by passengers on that flight. And none has proven particularly useful to the investigation. Nonetheless, there is a lot of commotion and someone is filming it. Although, in this day and age, I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, since everything shows up somewhere eventually.

KEEPMAN: Right. CROWLEY: Let me ask you, Jasper, as you kind of look back, have you thought about, OK, take another flight? And have you talked to any relatives? They must see that you have gotten some fame.

SHURINGA: Well, I've definitely talked to my family. And I think we're -- like Richelle, I think we're just very happy that we're all still alive and that we're living another day. It's a big shock that a person like that tries to take out our lives. And that's just unimaginable. So, yes, my family is very happy that I'm still here and that we can see each other more.

CROWLEY: Probably more focused on the fact that they can talk to you now than the fact that you helped wrestle this man to the ground. Let me ask you, because so many little bits and pieces are coming out now, in particular, the photos == I don't know if you've seen them -- of the underwear, where he had strapped in -- you can see it there, if you're looking at a monitor -- where he had strapped in the explosives. Do you have any reactions when you see this story? It seems -- does it seem surreal to you as you look at that, Jasper?

SHURINGA: Yes, it does, actually. Because I just saw the device for the first time, actually. And so I was trying to -- when I was interrogated by the FBI, I was trying to think what I was actually holding, because, like, it was very thick. It was like what the actual object is. But it all happened so fast. It's just like everything just happened in the blink of an eye. But it's quite scary to have hold a bomb in your hands. Not something you do every day.

CROWLEY: Richelle, what did you think about the security in Amsterdam? You've had time to reflect on that too? Do you now look back and think, how did this guy get on and go through in your head what you had to go through to get on the plane?

KEEPMAN: Yes, well, unfortunately, when I thought back, we were talking about him, my family and I. And the security was nothing compared to how it is in the United States. We walked through and did not have to take our shoes off. Also, my mother had a water bottle in her bag that she'd completely forgotten about, and it went right through and we didn't realize it until we were on the plane.

CROWLEY: Ricky, we are totally out of time. I am so sorry, because both of your stories are fascinating. We'll have to let you go. But thank you so much.

Thanks, Larry, for letting me sit in tonight. It is time now Erica Hill and "AC 360."