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Report on Would-Be Bomber to Look at Security Failings; New Details Emerge about Would-Be Bomber's Past; Illinois Prisoner Release Canceled; Special Needs Cook Impresses with Chili

Aired December 31, 2009 - 13:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: It is so go time. We're pushing forward with the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM with Kyra Phillips.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: How many times have you heard this, Tony: see you next year?

HARRIS: Yes, happy new year.

PHILLIPS: Have a great holiday.

Well, Abdulmutallab in Texas, the well-traveled terror suspect, spent 2 1/2 weeks in Houston in 2008. We're going to show you why.

And in 2009, a decade's worth of political drama crammed into 12 short months. Pushing forward to 2010. We'll take some parting shots.

And check out this shot. A one-man arsenal lays down his arms in Compton, California. Cops call it a holiday gift to the city.

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips. We're pushing forward on these stories and more right now in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with a father's fear and al Qaeda chatter, intel that could have told the story of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab long before he allegedly tried to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas, but it didn't. Why? Well, that's the subject of a government report due to reach President Obama today, if it hasn't already.

The president continues his working vacation in Hawaii, and that's where we find CNN's senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

Ed, have you been able to find anything out?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, Kyra.

Yes, we are picking information up about exactly sort of the broad brush of what the president has been told in the last couple of days and will be told today as they piece together this preliminary report.

First of all, as our own Jeanne Meserve has been reporting for a couple of days now, the CIA had some information, as you suggested in the lead-in, about the father of this suspect, suggesting there were extremist ties. There were warning signs like that, chatter being picked up.

And part of this preliminary report will be about why is it that, several years after 9/11, intelligence officials are still not communicating with each other, still not connecting dots?

And secondly, despite all the warning signs that we saw, Obama officials are saying there was not enough negative information to put this eventual suspect on the no-fly list. So, as the president suggested a couple of days ago, are there systemic failures here to sort of fix all these various terror watch lists that are supposed to be watching the terrorists, but maybe really are not?

And third and finally, the TSA. I mean, post-9/11 they were created, the Transportation Security Administration. Billions of dollars have been spent to try to secure aviation safety. We see kids; we see grandmas being patted down, et cetera. We've all heard those stories.

And yet here this suspect was able to get explosives on a jetliner headed to the United States. And so part of this report is going to be looking at what systemic Changes need to be made in aviation security in order to keep this country safe, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now, Ed, what are we hearing with regard to these Changes that are already in the works? Some conversations going on between Washington and U.S. embassies abroad?

HENRY: Well, the State Department has already stepped up now, and our Jill Dougherty is reporting that State Department officials are saying they're putting in new policies so that U.S. embassies will have information when basically they will be able to send, when there are cables sent back to Washington, with information about suspicious people, potential terrorists. They will also now include whether or not that person has a U.S. visa. In this case, the suspect did, which obviously enabled him to get into the country.

Again, more dots that were not connected before. This is an opportunity where the State Department is stepping forward to make these Changes willingly. But as we saw after 9/11, even after those horrific attacks, there were agencies in Washington still not willing to Change. It took the 9/11 Commission and public pressure to finally get them to Change. I suspect we'll see the same here, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Ed Henry, thanks so much.

Well, long before he boarded a flight to Detroit six days ago, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent 17 days in Texas at a seminar on Islam. CNN's David Mattingly takes a look at that.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Within weeks of acquiring a visa to travel to the United States in 2008, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attended a seminar on Islamic studies in Houston, Texas. Classes similar to this one, photographed in Toronto, were scheduled in early August, by the AlMaghrib Institute, a school that claims to be the largest Islamic studies student body in North America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the AlMaghrib Institute?

MATTINGLY: The institute's Web site promises seminars that are fun, engaging and information packed. One instructor tells CNN Abdulmutallab was very quiet and expressed no radical views during the conference. He was 21 at the time and residing in London.

According to the flight schedule he provided the institute, Abdulmutallab was in Houston 17 days.

(on camera) Have you ever seen this man here?



MATTINGLY: How can you be so sure?

(voice-over) The local Nigerian Muslim association says it's not aware of its members having any direct or indirect link with the suspect. Worshippers at Houston's largest Nigerian mosque tell me Abdulmutallab never attended prayers here during his visit.

(on camera) What could this young man have been could doing here?


MATTINGLY (voice-over): They tell me they're used to defending their reputation as Muslims after acts of terrorism, but a Nigerian suspect was completely unexpected.

RASHEED IBRAHEEM, NIGERIAN MUSLIM: I said, for God's sake (ph), this can't be a Nigerian. I was shocked. I said how somebody can bring a big shame (ph) on our country?

MATTINGLY: Numbering between 100 and 150,000, Houston Nigerians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, fear a backlash of profiling. Community leaders denounced extremism and have pledged cooperation with the investigation.


PHILLIPS: Well, CNN's David Mattingly with that report.

As for Abdulmutallab, he's in a Michigan prison, awaiting his first of many court appearances late next week. We're going to have a public defender at his side. You'll meet her next hour in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The gunman who went on a New Year's Eve rampage in a shopping center in Finland has killed himself. Police say that 43-year-old Ibrahim Shkupolli shot himself after killing his ex-girlfriend at her home and targeting four people at the mall where she used to work. There were six bodies when it was all over. Some people at the shopping center mistook the gunfire for a new year's celebration. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKA APETERSEN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, STT: I have talked to the people who managed to get out, and the -- a lot of people saw this happening. They saw a gunman, very calm gunman, walking out of the grocery store after shooting. And people first thought it was the new year's fireworks that had been -- had been exploding.


PHILLIPS: Well, so far police have refused to identify the shooter's nationality, but they say he's been living in Finland for years.

Far from home and close to the enemy, seven CIA agents killed in a suicide attack on an outpost in Eastern Afghanistan. CIA director Leon Panetta says six other agents were hurt, and it's believed to be one of the worst days in the agency's history. The A.P. is reporting the CIA chief in Khost Province is among the dead. She is a mother of three.

Also yesterday a roadside bomb killed four troops from Canada and a Canadian journalist. The Taliban is claiming both attacks.

Here's an idea. Set free more than 1,000 prisoners before they finish their sentences? Keep the program under wraps, then watch state higher-ups scramble when the whole thing goes public.


PHILLIPS: Clear skies, beautiful mild weather all across the country. Yes, that would be nice, wouldn't it? In our dreams. Karen Maginnis keeping watch on what the weather is doing for new year's.

When you're out partying tonight, well, you can keep your eyes on the skies. You're going to actually see the first December 31st blue moon in 19 years.

You know, these days, the name refers not to the color, but the calendar. It's unusual to have two full moons in a month, so that moon number two is called blue.



ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Kyra Phillips.

PHILLIPS: Well, it may have seemed like a good idea at the time to someone, somewhere. A secret Illinois program granted certain prison inmates early release, but not all the ex-cons stayed out of trouble. Now the governor's calling the whole thing a big mistake.

Leah Hope of WLS has our story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LEAH HOPE, WLS REPORTER (voice-over): Governor Quinn overhauls the prison early release program known as the meritorious credit program.

GOV. PAT QUINN (D), ILLINOIS: We're going to require, by my order, that every prisoner brought to state prison, no matter how much time they've served locally, will serve at least 61 days in state prison.

HOPE: With the mandatory 61 days in prison, the governor ends a recently accelerated release program. He also orders local prosecutors be notified 14 days before releasing an inmate. Ultimately, the governor wants to develop criteria for the types of crimes that can been eligible for early release.

The new policy comes after 1,700 inmates were released in an accelerated release program between September and December. They served fewer than 37 days on average. Since their release, eight are charged with committing new crimes. Much of the discussion of the announcement centered on the person taking the heat for the short- lived prison release program.

QUINN: I did not approve the acceleration, and I think it was bad judgment to do it. And when I learned about it, I suspended it.

HOPE: The current director of the Department of Corrections was the subject of the heat.

MICHAEL RANDLE, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS CORRECTIONS: There were mistakes made in judgment and the planning. It was not implemented the way that the governor had directed. And for that, as director of this agency, I take responsibility.

HOPE: The governor called on former prosecutor and Judge David Erickson to review the program and make recommendations.

PROF. DAVID ERICKSON, CHICAGO-KENT COLLEGE OF LAW: It didn't tailor anything to the individual. There was no correctional benefit in terms of rehabilitation and there was no punishment benefit. Either way, it just moved it faster.


PHILLIPS: And a few of the inmates set free under that program didn't take long to get back into trouble. One inmate was released on October 20. He was arrested the very next day on assault charges.

This case reminds us of North Carolina. Remember this story that we've been all over? The governor is fighting a recent court ruling that nearly two dozen inmates, including convicted killers. must be released under an obscure state law that once defined a life sentence as 80 years or fewer. Well, that law has been Changed, but a court agreed with the inmates that their sentences should have been cut by half, or even more, by good behavior.

Snowflakes coming down as New York gets set to ring in the new year. Live pics from Times Square. It's the place under all that snow. More expected tonight, too, for the big ball drop.

Well, much of the country starting as the old one is ending on a pretty cold note. Karen Maginnis is going to talk about New York along with other places across the country.

Hi, Karen.


PHILLIPS: All right, thanks, Karen.

Well, he can draw. He can write. He can teach. And he'd like to end 2009 on an employed note, or at least he'd like to get the ball rolling on a new job. He's got 30 seconds to make his pitch. coming up.


PHILLIPS: Well, as we bid farewell to 2009, we're looking back at stories that made headlines around the world this year. Today reports from our correspondents in Moscow, Beijing and in Lagos, Nigeria.


CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Christian Purefoy in Lagos Port, Nigeria, where perhaps the biggest story this year was the success of the government-backed amnesty plan in the oil-rich Niger delta region, where armed groups handed in their weapons in return for promises of development, after years of kidnapping oil workers and attacking oil pipelines.

However, the peace is fragile. Along the coast of Nigeria, from the Niger delta to here in the port of Lagos, piracy continues to rise, making West Africa second only to Somalia in the number of piracy attacks in the world. Despite government efforts in security in Nigeria, it continues to rise.

EMILY CHANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Emily Chang in Beijing. The story that had the biggest impact on me this year took me to the heartland of China, where thousands of children are suffering from lead poisoning, in at least five provinces.

We went to Chiangtze (ph), where villagers living near a manganese factory say their children suddenly started getting sick. We went to Funan (ph), where residents near coal and iron plants told the same story. We visited hospitals where children were bedridden and weak.

Lead poisoning can cause severe developmental defects in children, including mental retardation. So far the government has relocated some families, but others say they have no choice but to stay where they are.

In the wake of China's breakneck economic growth, this is a health and environmental disaster that certainly puts the rapid development of this country in perspective.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance in Moscow, and Russia's space program is one of the areas I've been most interested in this year.

You know, between 2010 and 2015, Russia is the only country that will be sending manned rockets to the International Space Station. The U.S. shuttle will be offline, and NASA has had to buy seats on Russian crafts, just to this get its astronauts off the ground.

Already the Russians are training NASA personnel. I can tell you it's pretty intensive stuff, because I've tried it. And it's a good example of how these former Cold War rivals, Russia and the United States, are increasingly working together.


PHILLIPS: All week long in the NEWSROOM, we're remembering the stories that impacted lives around the world this year.

Top stories.

Reports of more clashes today in Iran. An opposition Web site said that police fired tear gas and used batons to stop protesters who'd gathered at a couple of locations in Tehran. And opposition leaders are facing new threats. They're being told to denounce this week's protests or face trial.

In Bali, a somber end to 2009. New Year's Eve celebrations canceled after the U.S. State Department warned of a possible terrorist attack. Two previous attacks this decade killed dozens of people on the Indonesian resort island.

Major fallout today for Tiger Woods over his marital infidelity. AT&T cutting him off, ending its sponsorship deal. No word on just how much money that's worth. AT&T is the second major sponsor to drop him. Accenture dropped Woods earlier this month.

Well, an unexpected bit of jobs news that we head into the new year with, and we'll take it. There were 432,000 new claims for unemployment benefits last week. That's 22,000 fewer claims than the week before, and the lowest weekly total since July of 2008. Economists surveyed by had predicted that that number would go up.

Well, let's see if we can trim the jobless number by at least one. You've got an underemployed creative guy who has written and illustrated a children's book. You're looking right now at one of his illustrations right here. He's also got teaching experience and maybe, most importantly, a wife and two young kids.

Randy English of Stockbridge, Georgia, in the house. He's Mr. "30-Second Pitch," looking to get hired. Good to see you.

Good to see you.


PHILLIPS: OK. The book, can I tell you, is hilarious.

ENGLISH: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: "The Unknown Relatives of the Tooth Fairy," folks. And just to name a few of these, the bellybutton lint fairy, OK, and the -- what else do we have in here? -- the earwax fairy. I never knew all these...

ENGLISH: And the toe-jam fairy. A lot of -- a lot of people don't know that. That's why I want to get the information out there.

PHILLIPS: Yes. How did you do your research?

ENGLISH: I'd really rather not say. It's top secret information. So the fairies would be mad if I told you.

PHILLIPS: Well, on a serious note, I mean, you're so creative. I mean, your book is fantastic; your illustrations are incredible. What happened?

ENGLISH: Well, I've been teaching for the past six years. That school closed. I got a job at another school, and that one didn't work out. And I'm just -- right now I'm looking for something. I'd like something full time.

I'm a hard worker. I'm a quick learner. And I just -- I'm very creative, and I just know that my skill set would be useful in any organization that hires me.

PHILLIPS: Well, you want to get to the "30-Second Pitch"?

ENGLISH: I think we can do that.


ENGLISH: Does that sound good to you? It sounds good to me.

PHILLIPS: It sounds good to me. Randy, take it away. Look at camera three.

ENGLISH: Are we ready?

PHILLIPS: Go for it.

ENGLISH: My name is Randy English. And I'm actually looking for a job right now. I've been teaching for the past six years, but I'm looking at moving to a different direction with my skill set.

I'm very talented. I'm creative. I've written and illustrated a children's book. I'm a hard worker. I'm a quick learner. And I get the job done. And I just know that any company that hires me, I would be an asset. And it would be a wonderful opportunity for both the company and for me.

And I appreciate it. And so if you would get in contact with me and let me know when we can set up an interview.

PHILLIPS: There we go. Not only that, but he can do stand-up comedy. What do you think your best impersonation is?

ENGLISH: I don't know. Which one do you like?

PHILLIPS: I don't know. I was kind of liking all of them.

ENGLISH: No. It's so weird. I'm, like, forget about it, what are you going to do?

You have Kermit the frog talking about rainbows -- and she's laughing. You're laughing at me, what am I, some sort of clown? You're laughing at me.

PHILLIPS: No. You're one of the most entertaining "30-Second Pitches" that we have had so far.

ENGLISH: I'm glad to hear that. You should just hire me here now.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, I'd love to. I'm going to get your stuff to our graphics department.

ENGLISH: Do that. Get the book, and I'd love to sign it for you.

PHILLIPS: You got a deal, Randy. And now we'll make sure we've got your e-mail correct. Hopefully, 2010 is going to be a much better year for Randy. Here's his e-mail. RandyEnglish...


PHILLIPS: We're going to get...

ENGLISH: That's the number one, not the word.

PHILLIPS: Number 1. Let's not forget.

ENGLISH: Number one.

PHILLIPS: Because you are number one. We're also going to have all his stuff posted on our blog in just a bit,

And if you want to be a part of the pitch, just like Randy, all you have to do is send us your resume to Or if you have an impersonation or an illustration or a children's book.

Randy got our attention, obviously, by his great work. We hope you can help him out.

Well, sometimes all you need to score for a new job is just a great recipe and just the right mix of spice and tangy stuff. It worked actually for a young lady in Pennsylvania. Her homemade blue ribbon chili was so darn good that a restaurant just had to hire her. And if the chili's inspired, then the cook is inspirational. Kyla Campbell from our affiliate, WBRE, reports.




KYLA CAMPBELL, WBRE REPORTER (voice-over): Christine Elliott is not afraid to say what tops the menu at 3 C's family restaurant.

CHRISTINE ELLIOTT, COOK: The chili is good here.

CAMPBELL: Elliott is a 20-year-old with a big heart and infectious smile and Down syndrome, and she makes a great chili recipe at the restaurant.

ELLIOTT: After stirring the chili well, put the beans in. Three cans of beans in, and then three tomatoes in.

CAMPBELL: Restaurant owner David Crouse heard about Christine's chili at the Schuylkill County Fair where it won a blue ribbon. He hired her in October.

DAVID CROUSE, OWNER, 3 C'S FAMILY RESTAURANT: It's sweet and tangy with a little bit of spice in it, but hers is hot and spicy. So -- but not too hot.

CAMPBELL (on camera): So they don't compete?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't compete. I thought it was fantastic. I thought it was just the right amount of spice. Not overly spicy but just a little bit of a tang.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): Christine is working at the restaurant with help of the AHEDO Agency, which helps employ people with special needs.

DEBBIE SINKOVICH, EMPLOYMENT SPECIALIST, AHEDO AGENCY: They have done a lot to help bring Christine along. Very understanding. And it's great to work with someone who does that and gives people a chance.

CAMPBELL: Christine is learning every day.

ELLIOTT: I'm learning a lot about the dishes, putting them away and do stuff.

CAMPBELL: And people working here learn from her.

BRIAN CROUSE, RESTAURANT WORKER: She definitely gave me a different perspective on life as far as being able to do what you want to do.

CAMPBELL: Christine hopes to eventually work more hours at 3 C's and help the wait staff on busy weekends, but most people will probably ask her for her specialty.

(on camera) Which one do you like better, your own or Christine's?

B. CROUSE: I don't know. I can't -- can't disclose that.


PHILLIPS: Thanks again to Kyla Campbell with our affiliate WBRE for that great story.

Maybe 2010 should be the year of a healthier you. We're actually going to try to find out how you can make it happen.

And some words that folks got real sick of this past year. Part of a Michigan college's annual list, by the way. A lot of entries from the land of smartphones and social networking. There's the dreaded "sexting," "tweet" and "app."

And some other entries straight out of Capitol Hill: the prefix "Obama." No "Obama-care," "Obamanomics," "stimulus" and "too big to fail," apparently the terms too annoying for words.


PHILLIPS: Well, we still have a few hours on the 2009 left on the clock here in Atlanta, but the clock striking midnight in India. About, well, there's a number of partiers that are counting down to 2010 right now. We're monitoring IBN. It's quite a different scene from a year ago when parties were pretty much muted by security concerns. You remember the Mumbai terror attacks happened just weeks beforehand. But it's a different story tonight and we'll take that live as soon as we get the parties going.

Optimism is so last decade. The new CNN/Opinion Research Poll suggests that hope is fading in the U.S. 30 percent of Americans fearful about what the new year holds for them personally. Compare that to just about 6 percent a decade ago. And about half of us are fearful about what's in store for the world, that's more than twice as high as 1999.

Before we shut the door on the decade, it's time to take stock of what happened in the past 10 years. In the year 2000, a feared doomsday computer glitch fizzled, Americans lived for "Survivor" and a presidential election hinged on hanging chads. Ah, the classics.

Anderson Cooper takes us back to how the zeros started.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Y2K comes and goes. The world doesn't end. Snoopy and the world mourned the death of Charles Schultz. After almost 12 years together, Kathie Lee Gifford leaves "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee." Oprah Winfrey debuts "O" magazine. Federal agents seize six-year old Elian Gonzalez from a relatives' home in Miami. I Love You virus crashes e-mail systems worldwide. The Human Genome deciphered. Vermont legalizes civil unions for same- sex couples. Israel withdraws from Lebanon after 22 years. Signs of water detected on Mars.

Concord crash kills 113 near Paris. Richard Hatch wins the first "Survivor." Olympic summer games open in Australia. The last meow, "Cats" ends its 18-year Broadway run. Strategery (ph). "SNL" coins the word strategery. George W. Bush wins the presidency thanks to the Supreme Court and hanging chads. Madonna and director Guy Ritchie marry.


PHILLIPS: Well, you saw how the decade began and coming up next hour, see how it's ending. Anderson Cooper shows us the best and worst from 2009. That's coming up in about 45 minutes.

January 1 means a new year and a new start and a lot of new resolutions. Maybe one of them is getting a handle on your health. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joining us live from Boston. She's always got a handle on her health.

So, how can we become Empowered Patients in 2010, besides listening to your advice?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what I think actually people need to do, Kyra, is they need to listen and watch the examples of my favorite Empowered Patients from 2009. I'm going to go as far to call 2009 the year of the Empowered Patient.

So, let me introduce you, Kyra, to two of my favorites. First of all, Jessica Terry (ph), she's an amazing young woman. A high school senior with stomach problems and no doctor could figure it out. So she said give me a sample, I'm going to look at it under the microscope. She did in her high school science class and she figured out that has Crohn's Disease. And she's doing much better since she knows her diagnosis.

Also Debra Bader, one of my favorite people from 2009, taking a walk with her husband, he collapses to the ground and Debra all of a sudden remembers that if you pound on someone's chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song "Staying Alive, Staying Alive" that you can revive them from cardiac arrest. And she did and it worked and he's alive today because of her.

So in these days the way health care is, sometimes you have to be your own doctor if you've got to be an Empowered Patient -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, what are your top Empowered Patient tips for 2010?

COHEN: All right, let me give them to you. These are three things that everybody needs to pay attention to. First of all, don't go to the doctor solo for big, important appointments. You're sick. You don't know -- you're often sort of too scared, and you're not thinking. You need someone who's going to be there with you to ask the tough questions, the good questions.

Also, read your own medical records. What we learned in 2009 is that much of the time doctors will get abnormal test results and forget to tell their patients. So you need to read the records. You'll see the test results yourself.

Also, find a doctor who e-mails. It's so important to just be able to e-mail a question to your doctor instead of playing phone tag. I would dare say that these days it's actually hard to be an Empowered Patient with a doctor who does not e-mail -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, a lot of people go on the internet and turn to Dr. Google when they want answers. So, what do you think is the best way to search?

COHEN: That's true. You'd want to be careful how you search because there's some great information out there, but there's also some really bad information out there. So, a couple of tips here.

The first thing that you want to remember is that if you are doing a search on some kind of a web site and they ask for information about you and where you live and whatnot, you want to go to another site, because often it's really just a marketing site. It's not really great information.

Also if you're not sure who are these people when you're on a web site, click on "About Us." You might find out, for example, that they are, let's say, funded by a pharmaceutical company. That's going to color the advice that you get on that site. Also look for sites that end in .gov, .edu, or .org.

And you can see more tips if you go to My colleague Sabrina Rice has written a wonderful article on all the lessons that we learned in 2009 -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Good plug. Thanks, Elizabeth. And Happy New Year.

COHEN: Happy New Year to you.

PHILLIPS: Jihad is his message, the internet's his pulpit. An American-born holy warrior, a force to be reckoned with in Yemen.


PHILLIPS: Checking top stories now.

The State Department directing embassies worldwide to include information about visa status when they send cables to Washington regarding suspicious people. That order follows the Christmas Day terror plot aboard a U.S. airliner. The suspect in that case had a two-year, multiple-entry U.S. visa. A landmark law takes effect tomorrow in New Hampshire. It becomes the fifth state in the Union to allow same-sex marriages. The new law exempts churches and religious groups from being forced to officiate gay marriages.

And today marks the end of the line for Bank of America chief Ken Lewis. He's stepping aside to make way for the new CEO Brian Moynihan. Lewis announced his retirement back in November. He'll be remembered for overseeing the bank's controversial purchase of Merrill Lynch.

Yemen says it's arrested and I quote, "One of al Qaeda's most dangerous members." It happened northeast of the capital, Sana'a, after a gunfight for an attempted attack on security forces. Sources differ on those details right now. This much we do know, though. Yemen is home to a flourishing terror network known as al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. Its claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253.

Yemen is also home to a U.S.-born Muslim cleric who preaches Jihad on the internet. His reach is worldwide.

But as we hear now from CNN's Brian Todd, his impact isn't fully clear.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's been called the bin Laden of the internet, an online Jihadi sensation. American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, believed by U.S. officials to been hiding in Yemen has clearly inspired Muslim radicals through his online postings and other connections.

But does al-Awlaki have a connection with the suspect of the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a U.S. airliner? Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee has said since the Christmas Day incident he believes there is a connection. Hoekstra now says after being briefed by U.S. officials he's heard nothing to change that perception.

U.S. officials say that last August they knew of communications between extremists in Yemen and a person called "The Nigerian." There was no name attached to that. The airline attempt suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is Nigerian. The group al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has claimed responsibility for the airline attempt. But CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen said al-Awlaki may not have been part of that.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's no indication that al-Awlaki, the cleric, is any way involved in operational matters for al Qaeda, but clearly he's operated as an insider to Jihad in the United States by his own account.

TODD: Al-Awlaki had previously exchanged e-mails with U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, who's now charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood. And the 9/11 commission report says he had contact with two of the 9/11 hijackers while they were in the U.S., though there's no evidence he knew of the plot. The imam at the Virginia mosque where al-Awlaki was a leader described his appeal.

JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK, IMAM, DAR AL-HIJRAH ISLAMIC CENTER: Young. Handsome. Californian. Has the benefit of English without an accent. And who also is proficient in the Arabic language. In fact, he is technically an Arab. What better mix?

TODD: al-Awlaki is believed to have fled to Yemen in 2003 or 2004 and since then has been called a rock star among those who incite radicalism on the internet. This is a video lecture appearing on an Islamic web site.

IMAM ANWAR AL-AWLAKI, AMERICAN-BORN CLERIC: It is important that we present the proper role models for ourselves to follow.

TODD: Ben Venske is with a group called IntelCenter, a contractor which gives counterterrorist support to the U.S. intelligence and the Military.

(on camera): How has he done it? How has been so effective on a virtual scale?

BEN VENSKE, INTELCENTER: Al-Awlaki is doing this by putting out video material that people can access, written documents, other kinds of writings and teachings that are then influencing these people and then ultimately corresponding with them directly in some cases.

TODD: But it's unclear if Anwar al-Awlaki is doing that at the moment or if he's even still alive. There's been speculation that he was killed in a strike against suspected Jihadist hideouts in Yemen recently. But a U.S. official says the intelligence community believes he is alive and al-Awlaki's own family is quoted this week as saying the same thing they deny he has any role with al Qaeda.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: A gift for guns exchange draws more weapons this year than the past four years combined and a chunk of them came from one guy. Cashing in on his cachet, next.


PHILLIPS: "Pushing Forward" into the new year, but first we got to make it through the old one in one piece. NYPD has already invaded Times Square ahead of the tonight's big ball's security details, though no party. We're going to look at what's being done to keep folks safe.

Also, a buffet of new laws served up in the new year. Grab a clean plate, we'll tell you which state has its greasy hands all over your fried-food feast.

Plus, a cigarette ban in tobacco country? An unknown subject unloaded weapon after weapon on police this week, and they were just thrilled. The L.A. county sheriff's annual "Gifts for Guns" program really ending with a bang. Officers collecting in Compton the other day when this dude drives up and starts pulling weapons out of the trunk. Not just one, not just two, 58 of them. The program's anonymous, so police don't know who he is or how he amassed his arsenal. They're just glad that his guns and the other 5,279 turned in this year are off the streets. The guns were worth 50 to 200 bucks a pop in Target or grocery store gift cards. Cops say this year most folks went for the food.

Now, this next story you wouldn't wish on anyone. Unfortunately, similar stuff's made out "What the..." file a couple times this year. A Connecticut family grieving its great-grandma arrives for her wake, opens the casket for a final farewell, and they're shocked at different the body looks. That was because it was a different body. But it gets worse. This wasn't just casket confusion they could sort out with a swap. Turns out, the 95-year-old woman mistakenly was cremated. The funeral home says it's working closely with the family to resolve this difficult situation.

A watershed year in American politics. The nation's first African-American president was sworn in as the country faced some serious problems. We're going to look back at the biggest political happenings in 2009.


PHILLIPS: 2009 is a year that started off with a political bang, the nation's first African-American president sworn in, an economy in the tank. And all week we're looking back at the year's top stories, today -- "The Political Year in Review."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation, the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's focusing on issue number one, the economy...

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: CNN's Ali Velshi is back on the "CNN Express" and taking the people's pulse on issue number one...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Issue number one remains the economy, specifically jobs.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With record high unemployment, it's continuing to be more and more of a political problem.

OBAMA: And that's the core of the plan, to put people to work, doing to work that America needs done.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: When TARP was under consideration by Congress, the Bush administration and the Fed told us that the best way to fix the financial crisis was to use TARP funds to buy illiquid assets from banks.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We are going to create more toxic asset.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to see some people going to jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What has happened in the past, $18 billion of this money, of taxpayers' money going out to you is an aberration.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. SECRETARY OF TREASURY: People have lost faith in the quality of the judgments in the leaders of many of the financial institutions.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It is absolutely the worst thing that I have ever done in my life.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I have been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with a -- what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I think that a problem in the country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just kind of hunker down and go with the flow. We are fishermen and we know that only dead fish go with the flow.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Actually a significant factor in 2012 and I think that anybody who underestimates her runs the same thing they did with Ronald Reagan.

PALIN: Hey, but my dad's quote, I think, it sums it up better perhaps than I am summing it up. He says, she is not retreating, but she is reloading.


PALIN: Yes. She is able to get back there and fight for what is right.

PROTESTORS (chanting): Just say no. Just say no.

OBAMA: The reforms, the reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally...


OBAMA: It is not true.

ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: The republican health care plan is this -- die quickly. That's right. The republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick. TED KENNEDY JR.: The last months of my dad's life were not sad or terrifying, but filled with profound experiences -- a series of moments more precious than I could have imagined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teddy Kennedy will now enter the public memory, and I think the history books, as not only the greatest public legislator of our time as Barack Obama said, but also as a very fine human being and a father and friend to so many.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Looking ahead as somebody who watched Senator Kennedy shuffle around the Capitol for several years, it is going to be very difficult this afternoon when that procession goes by the Senate.

PATRICK KENNEDY: There is no doubt in my mind that my dad came out a winner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in the middle of what I think is a political rebellion going on in America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In New York State, Dee Dee Scozzafava was the Republican candidate, Douglas Hoffman was running for the conservative party, and literally with the support of people like Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin and this whole race got turned upside down.

VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's rather telling when the Republican Party forces out a moderate republican, and I think it's becoming more and more extreme and more and more marginalized.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: The Republican Party needs to learn something -- if it's going country-club, blue-blood moderate, it is going to lose. If it goes Regan conservative and commits to it, it's going to win landslides.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Some conservative members of the Republican National Committee want to actually test candidates to see how much they model themselves after Reagan, and they have proposed a list of principles that Reagan supported, we call them commandments. Now the idea, unless republican candidates adhere to at least eight of the ten commandments or principles, well, then they won't get funded by the Republican Party.

GOV-ELECT BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: Tonight, you have given me the title of governor of Virginia, but I pledge to you over the next four years action and results.

GOV-ELECT CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Starting tomorrow, we will pick Trenton up and we are going to turn it upside down.

TIM KAINE, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: While a loss is not easy and the march into change in this commonwealth is not over. It can be slowed but not deterred by one election setback.

OBAMA: As commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interests to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months our troops will begin to come home.

I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda.


PHILLIPS: And as we welcome in a new political year, we will ring out the old one with CNN's Anderson Cooper and actress Kathy Griffin. The fun in Times Square gets under way at 11:00 Eastern tonight. You won't want to miss it.