Return to Transcripts main page

CNN TONIGHT

CIA Attacked; 7 CIA Agents Killed; Systemic Failures; New Year Countdown; 2009: Year in Politics

Aired December 31, 2009 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the CIA under fire and under attack. A suicide bomber kills seven agents in Afghanistan. The agency vows it will get its revenge.

President Obama gets some answers. How was security so badly breached? A jetliner this close to being blown out of the sky. Who dropped the ball? More importantly, could it happen again?

Times square filling up for the big New Year's Eve bash. Up to a million party-goers expected in the big apple. Security a major concern. The annual ball drop in the big apple just a few hours away.

Good evening and thanks so much for joining us on this New Year's Eve. I'm John Roberts.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kyra Phillips. Happy New Year's to all of you. Complete coverage of celebrations all around the world and we count down to our special live coverage from Times Square as we all ring in the New Year together.

ROBERTS: We begin tonight, though, with serious questions about security in Afghanistan. The Taliban is claiming credit for a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees, including the CIA's chief of post there. The big question tonight, how did a suicide bomber get deep inside a fortified military base near the border with Pakistan? The CIA says the attacks will be avenged. Chris Lawrence reports now on one of the deadliest days in the history of the CIA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unlike their military counterparts in Afghanistan, CIA workers serve in the shadows, their names unknown to most Americans. Some gather intelligence. Others analyze the Intel or recruit Afghans to the American side. Now seven are dead, six wounded, and a U.S. intelligence official is promising revenge, "This attack will be avenged through successful, aggressive, counterterrorism operations." On Wednesday, a single suicide bomber got on to this American base in eastern Afghanistan. A U.S. official described it as a crucial base where the CIA monitored the Pakistani border and conducted intelligence operations.

FRAN FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Even going back as far as 2004, Coast was a very active forward base.

LAWRENCE: CNN contributor Fran Townsend visited the base. She says it was targeted because it's not a military base.

TOWNSEND: I believe that this was a very deliberate strategy on the part of the Taliban to push back on president Obama's strategy to increase the number of civilians and increase the civilian component.

LAWRENCE: President Obama recently announced a civilian surge to train more forces and improve living conditions in Afghanistan. Thursday, he wrote a letter to all CIA workers honoring those who died and telling others, "Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Now, the Taliban claim that they got an Afghan army soldier to put on a suicide vest and he blew himself up inside the American base. Now, if he was really wearing an Afghan army uniform, investigators are going to have to determine whether it was stolen or, even worse, whether this really was an Afghan army soldier secretly working for the Taliban.

ROBERTS: That would certainly be troubling. Chris Lawrence for us tonight.

In a few minutes' time, Gary Bernsen, a decorated former CIA officer and former CIA special agent Jack Rice will join us to talk about the security situation in Afghanistan and what's being done about the intelligence failures that led to the attempted bombing of that Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas day.

PHILLIPS: President Obama got his first preliminary report on the intelligence failures that led to that attempted attack. Systematic failure is how the president described them. As you know, he's still on vacation in Hawaii and has ordered a full review of the nation's anti-terrorism policies. Ed Henry is in Honolulu with the president.

Ed, what have you learned?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, new information today. The president has gotten some of those preliminary findings from his various agency chiefs about what went wrong. Top aides are saying two big themes are emerging. Number one, that they have to do something to overhaul the so-called terrorist watch list. Clearly, this is somebody, a suspect that probably should have been on the no-fly list but wasn't. They realize they've got to make big changes to that. Secondly, they're also wondering why CIA officials got some information about this eventual suspect, suggesting he had extremist ties, yet the information was not shared around the government. Could have helped prevent this attack. Sort of a pre-9/11 mentality. We're told by top white house aides the president is not going to tolerate that. In fact, next Tuesday he's going to have the various chiefs in. The head of the CIA, the head of the director of national intelligence when he gets back to Washington from this Hawaiian vacation. A big meeting in the white house situation room on Tuesday. Sort of call some of these officials on the carpet but also, more importantly, try to find ways to learn from these mistakes and fix it so that the American people are more safe. Along those lines, we've learned today as well the department of homeland security has dispatched top aides to various airports around the world. They're going to be touring Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, and try to come up with some better international cooperation with some of these airports to make sure that on these U.S.-bound flights they've got the same kind of screening procedures, same kind of tight security that's supposed to go on that clearly was not happening from Amsterdam to Detroit, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: I realize what we were talking about had a serious aspect to it but I have to make the turn here to your background and what I'm seeing behind you. It's like you're starring in beach blanket Babylon. You have new friends I see picking up surfing there in Honolulu.

HENRY: Clearly. Well, it's going to be a quiet new year's eve for the president and first lady. We're told they'll celebrate with friends on Kailua, the other side of owe yahoo. He took his daughters to "Avatar." The white house press corps will be here, fireworks over Waikiki Beach. I know you think this is a boondoggle but I've been working hard. I'm going out in the water, I don't care.

PHILLIPS: He really is doing it. Wait, can we stay on that shot just a little longer? I want to actually see Ed ride the big board.

ROBERTS: Maybe we can come back.

PHILLIPS: Yes, Ed?

HENRY: I'm going to have to get on there. I'm going to have to get on there sooner or later or you're going to call me on it.

PHILLIPS: You're darn right we are. I'm looking for a follow-up. Happy New Year, Ed.

ROBERTS: Happy new year to him.

There's not a lot of security on the beach in Honolulu but a lot in Times Square for tonight's New Year's celebrations. Preparations for the famous ball drop are in full swing this hour.

PHILLIPS: Thousands of uniformed and plain clothed police officers are on duty to protect the revelers in the largest New Year's Eve party in the country. I know someone who always knows how to find a big party. That's CNN's Don Lemon in the heart of Times Square. He doesn't have a surfboard like Ed Henry but he has plenty of other things to have fun with.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What are you talking about, Kyra, party? Me? I'm a choir boy. You know that. Kyra, John, I want to show you this. This is a beautiful shot. We have other shots but look how pretty this is right down Times Square. We're told by the Times Square Alliance about a million people are here so far, and they expect even more. So it could be a million plus folks showing up here in Times Square. Security are saying not to worry about it. The Police Commission Ray Kelly has been speaking to the media saying don't worry about it. They started battening down the hatches here earlier in the week. 3:00 today they closed traffic off. 6:00 everything was put on lockdown. Anybody who wanted to come out here to Times Square has to be put in a pen. Once you're inside of that pen, you can't leave. If you have to go out and go to the bathroom, you have to go through security again and be put in another pen. So no alcohol, no backpacks, no nothing. Especially, John and Kyra, no shenanigans. There are bomb-sniffing dogs out here, counterterrorism officers, plain clothed police officers, uniformed officers. They won't say how many but a robust presence of New York City police officers and others out here watching all of this. But it's a beautiful night. 32 degrees. John, you're not here. Kyra, you're not here. It was snowing earlier today, so you got to miss that lovely snow which is now slush on the streets of New York. Back to you. It will be a fun time, though, but they're hoping everybody will be safe and nothing will happen here tonight. We hope so.

ROBERTS: As a matter of fact, they did get a chance to enjoy the snow earlier today. Hour and a half long delay at LaGuardia airport while I was waiting for my flight to take off.

PHILLIPS: He's not complaining, though. He's happy he's here and happy for the celebration, New York or not, right, Don?

LEMON: That's good. Last night, John, I had an hour delay. So no big deal. It was sleeting in Atlanta. I finally made it here. We crossed sort of going this way. So we kind of traded places. And you're sitting next to my old partner there. I can't see you. Are you on the right side, in the same spot?

PHILLIPS: I'm in the same spot. Hurry back, Don. Come on.

ROBERTS: Have a great time.

LEMON: Have fun tonight. Good to talk to you. Thanks a lot.

ROBERTS: Keep it safe.

Londoners have running in 2010. Around the world people are already celebrating the New Year or waiting for the clock to strike midnight. Josh Levs is following all the action and with us now.

How's it looking?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, guys, I have the coolest new video to show you. We're going to take a look at this. It's from London. It's just come in. Let's go right to it. London. I love it. This is one of the hottest new fireworks for New Year's in all of Europe. Look at that. We're looking at the London eye there that is the huge Ferris wheel now the hot place to be. You can see how exciting all that is. Now we're going over to Sydney. What we're seeing here is what is considered the biggest fireworks display for the entire world on New Year's. And Sydney spends 15 months preparing this. It takes 12 computers just to send out all the signals to shoot those off. This is the Sydney Harbor Bridge. A lot of people remember that from the Olympics when you had the fire of rings along the bridge. It keeps going and going and going. It's obviously cost millions and millions of dollars. They were able to get it high enough that more than a million people in Sydney could actually see that display. We've got another one for you now. Take a look at earlier today. Let's go over to Taiwan. Such a happy day. I'm loving these videos. We're looking at Taipei, Taiwan. All the celebrations, all the people out there in the streets who are just filling the streets. You know what, guys. It's been a very good day.

Take a look at all of this. Not everyone can be in a major city, not everyone able to see one of these exciting things going on, right? So how about this? We're going to take a look now at some things happening in at least one example. How about standing underneath 11,000 rubber balls in Roanoke, Virginia. Take a look at that. You can't be at the big ball. How about 11,000 rubber balls. You have people with umbrellas. This is a science museum in Roanoke. They say it's educational for kids because you get to learn about gravity. Every year, more and more people turn out. The science museum in Roanoke, Virginia. I'm loving this. I'll be back next hour with even more of the best, greatest and most unusual ways of celebrating the New Year's, guys.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that. The Sydney Harbor Bridge, wow.

PHILLIPS: Don thinks he has a good gig in New York. I think I'm digging Sydney. But I don't know about the rubber balls. I don't need a lesson in breaking my neck. I've already done that a couple of times.

ROBERTS: We're just around the corner to the Georgia Dome for the Volunteers/Virginia Tech game. That would be a good way to celebrate, too.

Stay with us all night on CNN. Our special New Year's Eve coverage continues throughout the evening. Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin will be here. Text your New Year's Eve wishes to AC360. Or find us on twitter at Anderson Cooper.

PHILLIPS: Also coming up, a tragedy in Afghanistan and one narrowly averted in Detroit. We're going to talk to two former CIA agents about fixing our intelligence agencies.

And from an historic inauguration to all the juicy scandals. We're going to take a look back at this year in politics.

Also, back to the streets in the big apple. Crowds counting down in Times Square for the big historic ball drop

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: There's some soul searching going on at the CIA after two major events -- a suicide attack that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan and now criticism over the failed Christmas day airline bombing.

ROBERTS: Joining us to dig deeper on this, former CIA special agent and nationally syndicated talk show host Jack Rice and Gary Berntsen, a former CIA officer and author of the book "Jaw Breaker." He was in Torah Bora in December in 2001 in the hunt for Bin Laden. Gary, when I reached out earlier today to ask if you would join us tonight, you said you'd make time to be here. Why did you want to be here?

GARY BERNTSEN, FMR. CIA OFFICER: Of course having the largest loss of CIA lives since 1983, I thought it appropriate that someone who had spent their life in the clandestine service would be here at least to state to other members of that service and their families how sorry we are for the loss of those officers of the clandestine service and to recognize the sacrifice that they made during their careers to keep the United States safe.

ROBERTS: Who are these people, Gary, and what were they doing in Afghanistan?

BERNTSEN: The individuals of course everyone says CIA, but in fact they're members of the clandestine service. And people talk about Leon Panetta being the country's lead spy. He's not in fact. The lead spy is the head of the clandestine service, a man who spent 30 years of his life serving all around the globe, working undercover and fighting this nation's enemies. Those men and women who died there in Khost today were on the Afghan/Pak border collecting intelligence against the most dangerous groups we face, Taliban and al Qaeda. And sadly, of course, there was a breach of the facility in which they were serving and they lost their lives because of that breach.

PHILLIPS: So, Jack, in light of what Gary just said, I mean, these are members of the clandestine service. These are highly trained unique agents. This is a huge victory for the enemy. What does it tell us about the bad guy? What does it tell us about this war and the way it's being fought?

JACK RICE, FMR. CIA SPECIAL AGENT: This is an incredibly dangerous place. I'm just back from Afghanistan. I was in a lot of fobs around the country itself. It shows their sophistication and their capability. This wasn't just going after anybody. Clearly they made a decision to go at this particular fob. I mean, my impression is let's go after CIA guys, let's go after D.O. guys, operations people. And they did this very successfully. This talks about capability. And that's really something we need to contemplate as we move forward.

PHILLIPS: I was just going to say, how do you fight that? You and I, John, were talking about advanced IED warfare, advanced warfare in general in Afghanistan and Iraq. So you see an attack like this. How do you prevent another one? These are agents that these type of guys shouldn't even get close to.

RICE: Yeah. But, see, that's part of the problem. If you think about what it is that people do who are in the clandestine service, the whole purpose of them is not to sit behind walls. I mean, if they're good at this, they need to be able to get out into the streets. They need to get very, very close to people, because the whole intent here is to either acquire information or take that information and analyze it and synthesize it and come up with answers from it. If you sit in the United States or in Afghanistan and never get your feet dirty, then all of a sudden you're basically useless. That's what makes this hard. For the future, to address your question, what they have to do is continue to get into the field, to get into the cities, to get closer to the Pak border to understand what's going on, to understand what drives the Taliban and I think most importantly to find a way to give the people of Afghanistan an alternative to the Taliban. That is critical here and really what comes next.

ROBERTS: Gary, there's a report by the Associated Press that the person responsible for the suicide bombing -- we haven't been able to independently verify this -- may have been in the process of being courted as an informant, might have been the first time on this forward operating base and he was not searched on the way in. Does that sound like standard operating procedure to you?

BERNTSEN: That would be very unusual. Any time I handled volunteers or walk-ins, we would conduct a physical search of them. You'll have to wait for an investigation. Three years ago in Afghanistan at one prison, we had a situation where one of the guards at a facility, his family was kidnapped. The Taliban said, look, we want you to kill the commanding officer, it was a U.S. full colonel or we'll kill your family. He of course killed that full colonel in the U.S. army. People take hostages. There's all sorts of reasons and rational for these attacks that may go beyond just the normal fact they came out of a madras or whatever.

PHILLIPS: Gary Berntsen, Jack Rice, thanks for your time tonight.

RICE: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Coming up, it was an historic year in politics. The inauguration of the nation's first black president. We're going to look back at the year in politics.

And 2009 ticking away. Hundreds of thousands of people already in Times Square. We're going to look toward 2010 with a big party. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 2010 just about 4 1/2 hours away on the east coast. So we're going to spend some time looking back at a momentous year. 2009 began with an historic presidential inauguration but quickly moved into a painful slide in presidential popularity. President Obama headlines Candy Crowley's look at the highs and lows of politics in 2009.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was the moment of 2009 changing the face of the American presidency.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I Barack Hussain Obama solemnly swear.

CROWLEY: The new president, Barack Obama, began with a 75% approval rating, considerable capital he used to create more history. OBAMA: We've begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time.

CROWLEY: It was one for the books, a massive $787 billion stimulus plan to fuel a failed economy, a huge victory for the neophyte president and the flash point for an emerging political voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama, can you hear us now?

CROWLEY: The T.E.A. party people were first out in force on tax day. An umbrella group of furious fiscal conservatives, they protested big government spending and, by August, big brother overreach. The T.E.A. party at town halls.

OBAMA: Wait a minute.

CROWLEY: They were as effective as they were loud. The right left for dead at the site of the 2008 campaign trail stirred, sometimes a bit too vocally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lie!

CROWLEY: It was that kind of year, bare-knuckled politics, nation- defining moments.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.

CROWLEY: The president wrote more history with the nomination of the Supreme Court's first Latina justice and he saluted history after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, a political tour de force, one of the most accomplished lawmakers of the 20th century.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die.

CROWLEY: Beyond history, there were the politics of the moment. The president made nice at a beer summit with the Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. And he won a Nobel peace prize even he didn't think he'd earned. It wasn't always about the president.

SARAH PALIN: Only dead fish go with the flow.

CROWLEY: Who could quit their job as colorfully as Sarah Palin who left the governor's office in Alaska 18 months short of her first term? She promptly wrote a best seller, slammed the McCain aides for bungling a 2008 campaign and laughed all the way to the bank. Not laughing --

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I won't begin in any particular spot.

CROWLEY: Two family value conservatives, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign. It looked like presidential material in January and toast by December.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage.

SANFORD: I've been unfaithful to my wife.

CROWLEY: Despite diminished numbers and some boys behaving badly, it turns out the Republican Party did not die this year. The GOP won governor seats in Virginia and New Jersey. And the president, who enjoyed in February the approval of three out of four Americans had dropped by more than 20 points in December. So ring out the old, ring in the new and strap yourself in. 2010 is an election year.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Jay is here to talk more about the momentous year. "Time" magazine, Washington correspondent, Jane Newton small.

ROBERTS: Start with the president now 11 months into his first year in office. Obviously some highs and lows. What do you think the highs were, from your perspective?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly inauguration, as Candy said. It was an amazing moment, the inauguration of the first African-American president. He passed in the short amount of time a huge amount of legislation right off the get-go. You had an expansion of state health insurance plans for children. You had historic Lilly Ledbetter equal pay for women pass. The stimulus passed, the budget. They were sprinting right out of gate, and then hit health care and that's become kind of this giant hurdle they have yet to overcome which will reach into 2010 it looks like.

PHILLIPS: I don't mean to go straight from the highs to the lows. But you bring up first African-American president. Race has definitely been a big issue. It was during the campaign. It continues to be during the presidency. You weren't too hot on how he handled the so-called beer summit. Why?

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, I mean, it's one of those things that -- like the beer summit or -- that you -- he really doesn't need to get involved in these things and I think he didn't realize in the first six months the power of the presidency, the sort of megaphone of the oval office and he would answer questions and say things that he didn't need to say and get himself into these problems that he didn't necessarily need to get into. It's a bit like, for example, the trip to Copenhagen to push for the Olympics in Chicago that was doomed. They obviously lost the first round of bidding on that trip. It's another thing where he doesn't realize the sort of office -- the way the office should be handled and still feeling his way out on those things.

ROBERTS: When you look at, you talk about that trip to Copenhagen where he came back empty handed. You want to make sure if you're a president, you have a reasonably assured chance of success. But contrast where he is at home and where he was with, say, the Copenhagen Olympic announcement and where he was as a candidate when he gave that speech in Berlin before those hundreds of thousands of people. How does so much change in a year?

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, I mean, look, certainly one of the things that has changed overnight with the election of Barack Obama is the way we're perceived abroad. He had another high moment of the year was the historic speech that he gave in Cairo. And he has done a lot of reaching out, reaching across the aisle, talking to different world leaders. Some say perhaps he's a little too easy to take the blame for things. But he has certainly changed the way America is perceived around the world in the last year. And he continues to do so. We've gone from the country that was pretty much universally loathed to a country now where people admire him. I mean tourists flood Washington, D.C. every day from abroad looking to get a peak of Barack Obama.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I think he's done that not only internationally but also here in the United States. In many ways, invigorating Americans when it comes to politics and the presidency.

So, Jane, let me ask you, pushing forward, what do you think his biggest challenge is going to be next year?

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, certainly health care remains a major hurdle. And they had hoped to try to finish it before the State of the Union, which is traditionally the last week of January or the first week of July. That looks unlikely now -- sorry, the last week of January, the first week of February.

That looks unlikely. It looks like it will have to happen sometime in February or even early March. And as soon as they're done with health care, they've been -- you know, Democrats have really been dying to get on to jobs and start talking about how they've, you know, prevented the next great depression, how they've -- you know, helped create or save all of these jobs, because they feel that that's going to be the major issue for the 2010 elections and that's where they really need to focus their attention.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: National security, though, has suddenly jumped back on the plate, too. You know, we weren't talking about 9/11. Now that's all everybody is talking about. How's that going to affect him going forward?

NEWTON-SMALL: Absolutely. I mean, that's something that's certainly -- I mean in the wake of 9/11, for example, we passed the Patriot Act. We've got, you know, Patriot Act reauthorization coming up again still on the plate for this year. So that will certainly be an issue that people will be talking about.

And there's, you know, a lot of -- there's still going to be a lot of debate about the war in Afghanistan coming forward, too. You've got -- we're sending a big surge of troops coming up in the next year. And there's going to be a lot of talk about timelines for withdrawals and what we're going to do there and when we're going to get out.

PHILLIPS: Jane Newton-Small -- thanks, Jane.

NEWTON-SMALL: Thank you. PHILLIPS: Well, coming up, we're live in Times Square where, well, you can probably say probably about a million people already gathering to watch the famous ball drop at the stroke of midnight. We're going to be watching it, too. We hope you join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back. We're counting down to 2010. Let's go to New York's Times Square now.

PHILLIPS: Right. That's where we're expecting probably as many as a million people to be there to watch that ball drop. Our Poppy Harlow is there as well. And I want to tell you Poppy knows everything about that ball, how many lights, how much energy it takes, how green it is.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY: I do.

PHILLIPS: That's right.

HARLOW: I do. I was standing next to that ball yesterday, Kyra. But it is amazing here tonight. First of all, welcome to Times Square, everyone. They're so excited to be here.

Gary, what are you expecting? You know there's about a million people here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I did know that.

HARLOW: You guys came from North Carolina, right? First time, the whole family. Are you excited?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very excited.

HARLOW: Really excited?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've always wanted to come.

HARLOW: Big New Year's resolution?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to see the bright neon lights of Broadway. That's it. That's it.

HARLOW: And, also, you guys -- we have our girls here from Miami. Girls?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, we're from Miami!

HARLOW: They were dancing before. Could we see a little bit?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes!

HARLOW: What are you most excited for tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am so excited to see the ball drop. I'm tired of watching it on TV. I'm finally here!

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: And they were going to sit on their couch and they're glad they're not. And finally, you guys came to us from Atlanta and from Tallahassee, Florida. Did the security concerns unnerve you at all? Do you feel safe here in Times Square tonight with thousands of police officers here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not unnerved at all. There's so many police here, I feel safer here than in my own home. It's fantastic.

HARLOW: Safer than in your own home. Are you excited, do you feel safe and excited tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got dogs walking around, all kinds of security. I mean, it's no concern at all. I mean.

HARLOW: All right. And you know what, Kyra and John, they've been here since 1:00 this afternoon. So a pretty excited crowd here tonight in Times Square. I've got to tell you a big, big show coming up tonight. We'll be reporting here live all night.

Guys, back to you.

PHILLIPS: Poppy couldn't be the perfect -- more than a perfect person to be there would be Poppy. She even knows all the history, by the way.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: What is it? Since...

HARLOW: I do.

PHILLIPS: What was it again? 1904?

HARLOW: 1907.

PHILLIPS: OK.

HARLOW: 1904, the first crowds. 1907, the first ball drop.

PHILLIPS: See?

HARLOW: That's exactly right.

PHILLIPS: That's my girl. She's my go-to trivia gal.

ROBERTS: The one thing she seems to know how to do as well is stay warm. Temperatures in Times Square hovering about the freezing mark right now. And early morning snow came and went without causing too many problems for the New Year's Eve crows.

But what about the best of the country? Our Karen McGinnis is in the CNN Weather Center for us.

Hi, Karen. KAREN MCGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, John. Yes, we've got temperatures that are going to be hovering right around the freezing mark. And you're right on the verge of some of that frozen precipitation.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MCGINNIS: Kyra, John, back to you.

ROBERTS: It's funny, the guy that got on the plane next to me on my way to Atlanta this morning is this -- he's on the phone to a buddy of his who lives in Atlanta. He says, there's inches of snow on the ground here. And I'm thinking, just a little bit of snow.

PHILLIPS: Yes, I think -- you know, move to Green Bay, Wisconsin. That's where you'll inches...

ROBERTS: You know snow over there. Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: That's right. Inches of snow. All right, stay with us here at CNN through the entire tonight. We're going to have complete coverage of the New Year's celebrations around the world. And Anderson Cooper along with our Kathy Griffin will be live from Times Square beginning at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

ROBERTS: All right, on New Year's Day Americans typically wake up and find themselves facing a whole lot of new local laws and regulations that have taken effect overnight while they were out there imbibing. And what a way to sort of really drive home the fact that you've got a bad hangover.

In North Carolina, the nation's largest tobacco producing state, a smoking ban in bars and restaurants takes effect. California restaurants will no longer be able to use trans-fats in table spreads or for fried foods. Cake lovers, though, don't worry because trans- fats can still be used in cake batters.

In New Hampshire, Illinois and Oregon, they're banning texting while driving. They join 16 other states that have already been to practice. And another California law, anti-paparazzi measure takes effect making it easier for celebrities to sue for invasion of privacy.

PHILLIPS: All right. Those will make sense.

ROBERTS: Smoking ban, though, in North Carolina. That's pretty extraordinary.

PHILLIPS: That's going to be tough. Let me tell you, a lot of people are going to argue that.

All right, coming up, yet another defeat today for Tiger Woods. Another commercial giant drops the golf legend and his image.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Yet another sponsor is jumping off what's left of the Tiger Woods bandwagon. AT&T now joining Gillette and Tag Heuer in dropping the golf superstar. AT&T and Woods' agent would not comment on the latest news.

Woods has not been seen or heard from since he admitted to extramarital affairs about a month ago now.

Coming up in our next hour, we're going to be joined by two experts who have been following the story very closely.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's take a look back now at the first year of the Obama presidency and a look ahead at the issues that will probably define 2010.

Joining us now, Ron Christie, president of Christie Strategies and former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Also, Errol Louis of "The New York Daily News" and CNN contributor. Also Hank Sheinkopf, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor.

Errol, let's go ahead and start with you. Obama's first year. How did he do?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I think he gave himself a B- plus. I don't know if I'd give him the plus but he certainly made a lot of progress. If you take the number of very big things that he said he was going to get started -- closing down Guantanamo, expanding a war, moving health care reform forward -- he actually accomplished quite a lot of those things.

And he did it without a whole lot of fuss. There wasn't a lot of drama inside the administration, at least. And so you have to give him credit for moving things forward.

Politically, there are a number of Democrats who are going to suffer, I think, in 2010. No question about that. But the president himself moved his agenda forward as promise.

ROBERTS: Hank Sheinkopf, who is going to suffer as far as Democrats, as Errol Louis said, and why are they going to suffer?

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Southern Democrats, if there are any left, are going to suffer. Some Democrats in the heartland are going to suffer. It'll be the double bang of the economy not doing as well as they would like although people say the economy is better, but there are still out of work in the Midwest and the south and the parts of the west.

And what does the health care reform really mean? People don't know, they're unsure. They're going to take out that lack of sureness on a lot of incoming congressmen.

PHILLIPS: Ron Christie, John and I were talking about an op-ed piece that came out saying Obama is looking a lot like Bush. Do you agree?

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't. I think President Bush was very decisive in the way that he took the country, to take steps to protect the country at a time of war. But the president also made sure to try to cut taxes, to try to stimulate the economy.

I look at President Obama, and if you were to ask me what grade I'd give him, I would give him an incomplete. He started the year with so much promise. He talked about strong bipartisanship. And I think he failed to live up to that obligation.

He came out with the signature issues of health care, global climate change, for example. And he has yet to see either of those bills make it through both chambers of Congress. So I think the president started the year with a lot of promise and a lot of fanfare but the focus on the economy has to be the incumbent issue for President Obama next year.

And if he doesn't look at the economy and he doesn't work in a bipartisanship fashion, I think that the Democrats could suffer very significantly at the polls next November.

ROBERTS: Errol Louis, what are you thinking about this notion that President Obama is, in some ways, looking like President George W. Bush? There have been, as Kyra said, some op-ed sort of written. There's even an addendum in a new book from John Yu, who, of course, was the one in the Bush administration who's trying to expand this notion of presidential powers, also wrote the guidelines for enhanced integration.

But other op-eds talk about the deliberative process, where's the transparency, the Afghan surge, the deal he struck with drug companies. What do you think about all of that?

LOUIS: I think there's -- look, there's a certain amount of transparency that is there. I mean he just declassified about two million pieces of government information going back almost 50 years. I mean that's going to take scholars awhile to sort of -- to reckon with it, but the reality is that is what happened and that's been what's going on.

There also have been all of these town hall meetings all around the country talking about the economy, talking about what it is they plan to do. I mean we know a lot about where he's going and why and that's good enough for a lot of us, you know, just to kind of know what the plan is, what the theory is behind him, and so forth.

I think the deliberative process leading up to the announced expansion of our troop involvement in Afghanistan was a model of openness, frankly. You know, if anything, he got criticized for taking a little too long and being a little bit too thoughtful.

So I see this as night and day. We see a process where instead of simply posturing and laying out broad principles, you know, like look them in the whites of their eyes or catch them dead or alive or these other kind of statements of bluster that we got from the previous administration, we've got somebody who says, look, I talk to everybody I possibly could, I took as long as I needed to because I'm the commander in chief. And here's where we're going to go. And I left everybody uncomfortable in a lot of ways but that's the situation is in Afghanistan. It's ambiguous in a lot of ways.

PHILLIPS: But, Hank, is transparency enough? You've got a really critical public right now.

SHEINKOPF: Transparency is certainly not sufficient. This administration really began its work the day the health care plan finally came into some kind of form where it was passed by both Houses of Congress. The facts are that the entire administration -- it's too early to judge.

Eight years of George Bush versus one year of Barack Obama. What we can say is that there's a lot of work to be done. Guantanamo is still open. A health care plan passed. Let's see, what else? Afghanistan war expanded. He said he'd end these kinds of wars, these external escapades, but you know what? We're still there.

So a lot to be seen yet. And transparency is too mushy a word for a country that is at war and is in an economic war internally.

ROBERTS: So let's go to Ron Christie to wrap us up here. In looking forward to 2010, midterm election year, I saw you on another program last night. You were very hard on the president for his response to the Christmas day attempted bombing, suggesting that the president is soft on terror.

Vice president -- former vice president Dick Cheney made the same charge the other day. Is that going to be the theme for Republicans going forward, taking it back to the same arguments that President Bush was using against John Kerry in 2004?

CHRISTIE: John, I think the key issue for the country right now and in the next year is going to be the economy. Earlier this year we were promised if we passed the $787 billion stimulus package that unemployment wouldn't rise above 8 percent, and of course the economy right now, the unemployment rate is at 10 percent.

I think Americans are very concerned about the ability to find a job, to hold a job, to keep that job. That's going to be the number one issue. But unfortunately, what we've seen with the Obama administration for the past several months leave many to believe whether or not he is serious about fighting, waging and winning a war on terrorism.

We've heard countless speeches on health care. I can't recall a single speech the president has given about the war on terror and the sort of bumbling response, the sort of aloof, the lack of emotion that we've seen from the president.

This administration, I think, has many independents, and Republicans and Democrats questioning is the Obama administration up to the task to keep this country safe.

ROBERTS: A glimpse of the year ahead. Ron Christie, Hank Sheinkopf, Errol Louis, thanks for joining us tonight and Happy New Year to all of you.

CHRISTIE: Happy New Year.

LOUIS: You too.

SHEINKOPF: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: All right, still ahead, we're going to have much more as we count down to 2010. And we'll tell you our favorite stories of 2009. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: We want to do something a little unique for our viewers. We were talking about stories that were special to us in the past year and one that I thought about was concerning General David Petraeus.

You know we both have covered the wars. We both have been on the ground with him, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I got to see a different side to the general when I learned about the soldier that he had met that was hit by a roadside bomb.

He lost his legs, he suffered a brain injury, and he literally was going to die but then Petraeus paid him a visit and a miracle happened. And they told me their story this year and I'll never forget it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I saw him back in the hospital. He was really just -- there comatose. His eyes were open, he was seeing absolutely nothing. And I really didn't see a happy ending to the story in any respect, Kyra.

But, as you know, Sergeant Major and I, before we left, decided just to leave by saying the motto of the regiment, the 506 regiment, the Band of Brothers, that motto is currahee. And when we said that, it seemed to really just spark the life back into him. His stumps moved up and down on the bed, his head was moving all over and it was obviously a very moving moment.

PHILLIPS: Brian, doctors couldn't get through to you, your family couldn't get through to you. Like the general said, he thought you weren't going to make it. Everybody thought you weren't going to make it. And people had been trying to communicate with you every single day, right? And you weren't hearing anything.

LT. BRIAN BRENNAN, U.S. ARMY: No, ma'am, I wasn't hearing much of anything. I think, in my opinion, I have a very strong love for the military. I have a really strong love for my country. And the people that I served with and my soldiers and they were still in Afghanistan, and I wasn't there, I was in the hospital, I was actually in a coma, so I couldn't be there with them.

And the currahee motto, that brought it right straight home, especially coming from General Petraeus. PHILLIPS: And that's what's interesting is, General, you were there whispering other things in his ear. What else were you saying to him before you said that one motto?

PETRAEUS: Well, we said a number of things to him, Air Assault Lieutenant, you know, we need you back. Your troopers need you, be strong for them, and all of the rest. Candidly, it is -- these are phrases that you try in other tough situations and it wasn't until just before we left I just mentioned currahee.

My sergeant major thought he saw a flicker or something and -- so we decided to shout currahee on the count of three. We did that. And that's what really seemed almost to wake him up from this comatose state in which he was.

PHILLIPS: So, Brian, do you remember that moment at all? Do you remember the general shouting that in your ear?

BRENNAN: No, ma'am, I do not. I wish I did but I don't. I -- my closest memory was in July of that year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, he remembers now. And he remembers the meaning, and that is, currahee stands for "we stand alone." You remember from "Band of Brothers." But I just thought that was remarkable when I learned about it. I saw a whole different side, you know, to our commanding general.

ROBERTS: Yes. I mean he's a tough as nails guy who I learned from former senator Bill Frist because he treated him with shots through the chest when he was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, or -- no, he was -- yes, he was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. And he came in and he said to Frist, I want to be doing push-ups in a week and he did.

So here's as tough as nails guy, and to see him really show his human side like that, it was really kind of extraordinary.

PHILLIPS: Tremendous compassion.

ROBERTS: Yes. For me, you know, I think one of the highlights of the year had to be the inauguration, and an opportunity to be right there in Washington right...

PHILLIPS: Literally right there.

ROBERTS: Literally right there.

PHILLIPS: You could have reached out.

ROBERTS: Agree with his politics or not, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, it was an extraordinary moment in American history. We had that perch in the press riser about 100 feet away from the platform where the president was being inaugurated.

And you look back down over the mall and just see the hundreds of thousands of people, you know, as many as two million by some counts, that had come to witness this. And I know that you were in the crowd, a little further back, in the freezing cold as well.

PHILLIPS: Yes. You had the best spot.

ROBERTS: It was cold up there, too. One of the special guests, of course, was Colin Powell. I had an opportunity to speak with him the next day after the inauguration. I have an interview with him.

Of course, many people thought that Colin Powell might be the first African-American president had he had chosen to run in 1996. He chose not to. And I asked him, and I got I think a more complete answer from him than we've ever heard before, of why he didn't run. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Now that we have elected our first president who is African- American, can you tell us, I think for the first time, why you didn't run? What was the...

GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Because I did not want to. Because I'm basically a soldier and because I never found inside of me the kind of internal passion that you got to have to run for elective office.

ROBERTS: And what were your wife's concerns?

POWELL: I never woke up -- she was concerned as well, and it changed our family life. And she was concerned to some extent about our safety. But I'm a soldier, and that wasn't my concern. My concern was I never woke up a single morning to go think about this or talk to people about it and find in my heart and soul the passion that a Barack Obama or a John McCain or a George Bush or a Bill Clinton has.

And just wasn't me. And you know you've got to be true to yourself, John, and I've always tried to be true to myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So there he says it. He just never had the fire in the belly that it took to make it all the way through that long climb to the president.

PHILLIPS: We've heard that saying a few good men when we talk about the military, Colin Powell and General David Petraeus, highlight for my year. That's for sure.

ROBERTS: Yes. I've always wondered what kind of president Colin Powell would have been.

PHILLIPS: I think a lot of people wonder.

ROBERTS: Guess we'll never know, though.

We're going to have much more coming up in our next hour. We're going to take you live to Times Square and around the world as we ring in the new year.

PHILLIPS: And of course, we'll have the latest on the attack in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of seven CIA officers. All that and much more in our next hour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)