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Investigation Into Suicide Bombing on U.S. Base Continues; Car Bomb Kills 75 in Pakistani Village

Aired January 1, 2010 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, an urgent investigation into how a suicide bomber managed to get inside a U.S. base surrounded by barricades and barbed wire.

Was it a double agent who dealt such a devastating blow to the CIA in Afghanistan?

The blast was felt 11 miles away -- a suicide car bomber turns a volleyball court into a killing ground. At least 75 people are dead in a Pakistani village.

And he is known as a rock star for his radical postings on the Internet.

Is this American-born Muslim cleric connected to the alleged bomber in the Christmas Day airliner plot?

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


US intelligence officials may speak about revenge, but right now, there is still shock over the death of seven CIA officers in the suicide bombing at a base in Afghanistan.

And the urgent question, of course, how did the attacker penetrate the defenses?

Our CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, he is joining us now -- Chris, what do we know today about this and how this happened?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the U.S. intelligence community has launched an intense investigation, trying to figure out how security failed so completely. This was not a military base, but we're getting some new information about why it may have been targeted.


LAWRENCE: (voice-over): A U.S. official tells CNN the main purpose of a CIA base like this is to recruit potential informants and plan covert operations like unmanned drones. And that may have made it a target for retaliation.

One of the prime suspects in the suicide bombing is the Haqqani network, based across the border in Pakistan, where the U.S. has dramatically increased its drone attacks. The Haqqanis, led by Siraj Haqqani, are aligned with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda and have a strong presence in Khost.

Some reports say the bomber was being recruited as a potential informant. But that doesn't explain the security failure.

KEN ROBINSON, FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: There should be multiple rings of security in multiple locations and a separation between those who are working in the clandestine service and those who are being brought on to be interviewed.

LAWRENCE: Ken Robinson is a former Special Forces and CIA officer. He says a potential informant coming on the base is normally checked head to toe and someone would supervise them the entire time.

ROBINSON: These are the questions that will be answered in the next 24 to 48 hours, as to what specifically broke down or whether this person had already been vetted and was already trusted and was already a member of the Afghan National Army.


LAWRENCE: Now, the Afghan defense ministry says none of its forces were involved in this attack. But one Taliban group says it did convince an Afghan National Army soldier to put on that suicide vest and blow himself up. And yet another Taliban group, this one based in Pakistan, says it was responsible, saying it turned a CIA operative.

MALVEAUX: And, Chris, you've been talking to a lot of people today.

How is the CIA responding to this attack?

It must be a very difficult at the time for this organization and for this community.

LAWRENCE: Yes. It's not only a devastating personal loss for the families, but the U.S. also loses their expertise in that part of the region. But one CIA -- one intelligence official told me they are galvanized. They're devastated by the loss, but they are galvanized. In fact, he said there are some very bad people who are going to have a very bad day and these people will be avenged. So a real galvanized spirit among some of the intelligence community now.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Chris.


MALVEAUX: A suicide bomber turns a volleyball game into a bloodbath. At least 75 people are dead in a village in Northwestern Pakistan.

CNN's Arwa Damon -- she has the latest from Islamabad -- Arwa, what do we know?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the attack happened during a volleyball game. We hear that it's the favorite sport in this area in Pakistan. And some 200 people had been gathered for an evening match when a suicide car bomber drove into the middle of the spectators and detonated, the attack happening in a residential neighborhoods. And police officials are saying that they fear the death toll will only continue to rise because the attack happened in the evening and then it was getting dark and it's become very difficult to ascertain exactly how many people may have died because of the force of the explosion.

Local leaders are saying that they firmly believe that this devastating attack was in retaliation for an earlier military operation that took place in October. It was largely supported by residents in this area and they said that they had begun receiving threats from the militants.

Now, Pakistan has been fighting its own homegrown terrorist networks for quite some time. And it has largely been the civilians that have been bearing the brunt of the violence. When we speak to many Pakistanis these days, they are quite simply in shock at the state of their country -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: A devastating story.

Thank you, Arwa.

Well, fresh fallout from that thwarted airplane incident just one week ago today -- details of new developments in Washington, London and beyond.

Also, we are learning more about the alleged contact between the suspect and a radical American-born Islamic cleric urging jihad on the Internet.

Plus, the high stakes showdown between Washington and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program -- a critical deadline arrives.

What happens next?


MALVEAUX: It's been one week since the botched attack on a U.S. airliner. Here are some of the latest developments.

A U.S. counterterrorism officials tells CNN that the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, appears to have had direct contact with an American-born Muslim cleric known for his radical Internet postings. President Obama says he'll convene a meeting Tuesday with agency heads to discuss security enhancements and intelligence sharing improvements. And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls for a high level international meeting at the end of the month to discuss how to counter radicalization in Yemen.

More now on the apparent links between the airliner bombing suspect and a radical cleric who gained notoriety as "the Internet imam."

Our Brian Todd has been digging into this story -- Brian, what are we learning about this connection between these two?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, CNN has learned now of direct contact between the Christmas Day airline plot suspect and that cleric you just mentioned named Anwar Awlaki. This man is known to have also corresponded with the alleged Fort Hood shooter and is considered a very popular Internet attraction for jihadists.


TODD: (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 have been hiding in Yemen, has clearly inspired Muslim radicals through his online postings and other communications.

Now, a U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN there are indications there was direct contact or communication between Al- Awlaki and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a U.S. airliner. The official could not give details about nature of the contacts, how frequent they were or when they occurred. Al-Awlaki had previously exchanged e-mails with U.S. Army major, Nidal Hasan, who is now charged with killing 13 people at foothold. The official says even before his name came up in the Fort Hood investigation, Al-Awlaki was closely scrutinized by the counter- terrorism community as he moved into what's described as more of an operational role for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That group has claimed responsibility for the airline bombing attempt.

What kind of operational role would Al-Awlaki have with them?

The counterterrorism officials says he seemed to have been trying to mobilize his cohorts to conduct attacks, but the official gave no other specifics.

CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, offers another possibility.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, as an inciter to jihad who is also a religious cleric, he would, you know, be able to sanction attacks because, of course, Al Qaeda and like- minded groups, you know, they're -- they're looking for religious sanction for their -- for the kinds of attacks they do.

TODD: The 9/11 Commission report says Al-Awlaki 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.

IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK, 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 left the U.S. for 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 Venzke is with a group called IntelCenter, a contractor which gives counter-terror support to U.S. intelligence and the military.

(on camera): How has he done it?

How has he been so effective on a -- on a virtual scale?

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


TODD: But it's unclear whether Anwar 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 on suspected Jihadist hideouts in Yemen recently. But a U.S. official says the intelligence community believes Al-Awlaki is alive. His own family is quoted this week as saying the same thing and they deny that he has any role with Al Qaeda -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Are there any other plots -- major plots that he is linked to, provides an inspiration for other jihadists?

TODD: His name has come up in the 2005 investigation into the bombings in London. But Ben Venzke and others have said that in most cases, jihadists look at his postings online. They don't have, necessarily, direct contact with him. They look at those postings. They get inspired that way. We do know that he corresponded with the alleged Fort Hood shooter directly via e-mail.


Thank you so much for that update.

Appreciate it. Well, political protests have led to bloody violence in Iran's streets and a deadline has arrived for Iran to come clean about its nuclear program. But the hard line regime is openly defying the Obama administration.

Our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, she is here -- Jill, you know, we've been watching this and obviously this deadline has come, now it's gone.

Is this a case of who's going to blink first?

What do you make of this?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just put it this way, Suzanne. You know, New Year's resolutions -- we talk about those. OK, New Year's resolutions could take on a new meaning very soon. It could mean the United Nations resolutions on Iran and its nuclear program. That's what President Obama is facing as his deadline for Iran expires.


DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): Even as Iran's political upheaval continues, President Obama says the clock has run out on its nuclear ambitions -- his New Year's deadline for Iran to prove to the world it's not racing forward to develop a nuclear weapon.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are now running out of time.

DOUGHERTY: Iran's president scoffs at that deadline.

The White House says it's no joke.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That is a very real deadline for the international community.

DOUGHERTY: But will the international community, especially Russia and China, support much tougher economic sanctions on Iran?

That's still unclear.

REP. HOWARD BERMAN (D-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: With each passing day, the situation becomes more urgent.

DOUGHERTY: And Mr. Obama is under pressure himself from Congress, which is champing at the bit for the U.S. to punish Iran on its own, even without international support.

Another move in this chess game, signals that Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might travel to Tehran.

The Obama deadline comes in the midst of the worst political violence in Iran since its disputed elections in June, making it harder for the Obama administration to calibrate its next step -- whether punishing the Iranian government might actually strengthen hard-liners, undercut reformers and hurt average Iranians the most.

OBAMA: We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there.

DOUGHERTY: Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose own nephew was killed in demonstrations, says on his Web site, he's ready to die to defend the people's right to peaceful protest. "My blood will not be any redder than the blood of the other martyrs," he says.

But Friday, deadline or no Obama deadline, pro-government supporters focused their anger on America, chanting "Down with USA!".


DOUGHERTY: And that symbolizes Mr. Obama's deadline dilemma. Sanctions can be a delicate balancing act -- potentially hurting not just Iran's leadership, but the Iranian people, injecting the American president directly into that country's volatile domestic politics -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Jill, do we know what kind of sanctions that the administration is considering right now?

DOUGHERTY: It appears right now they're considering targeted sanctions, as they call them. These would go after the leadership. They would go after groups like the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has really been responsible a lot for the crackdown and also has its hands in a lot of business deals.

What they're trying to do is avoid hurting the people.

MALVEAUX: I understand White House officials say they're going to go after some international banks, as well -- sanction them if they're doing business in Iran, as well.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. Right.

MALVEAUX: OK. Jill, thank you so much.

Appreciate it.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. Thanks.

MALVEAUX: Well, outrage in Iraq as manslaughter charges are dropped against a group of American contractors. We'll talk to an expert who literally wrote the book on Blackwater.

Plus, alcoholism taking a staggering toll on Russia. Now the government makes a controversial move to fight it.


MALVEAUX: Brianna Keilar is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now hey, Brianna, what are you following?

KEILAR: Hi there, Suzanne.

Former hostage, Peter Moore, returned home to Britain today after more than two-and-a-half years in captivity in Iraq. He's believed to be the only survivor of a kidnapping in Baghdad back in 2007. Britain's foreign secretary says no deal was made to secure Moore's release, but it does coincide with the transfer of the leader of the militant group behind the kidnapping from U.S. to Iraqi government custody.

The price of the cheapest vodka in Russia more than doubled today, to about $3 for a half liter. As our correspondent in Moscow, Matthew Chance, shows us, it's part of the government's effort to battle widespread alcoholism.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kremlin says that Russians, on average, drink about 18 liters of pure alcohol every year each. Now, to give you an idea of what that means, we've lined up all these bottles of vodka because vodka, remember, is only 40 percent proof. And it amounts to 45 liters of Russian vodka for every man, woman and child in this country.


KEILAR: A study last year in the "Lancet" medical journal found that drinking caused more than half the deaths among Russians aged 15 to 54 since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents are demanding full democracy from China. Police say 9,000 demonstrators marched to the Chinese government's office chanting, "One Man, One Vote!" and "Democracy Now!" Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing has ruled Hong Kong cannot elect its leader until 2017 or its legislature until 2020. And the protesters say China's timetable is too slow.

The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for a cruise ship passengers who reportedly jumped overboard in the Bahamas. A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean says the woman's husband reported her missing. The ship is headed from Nassau to Coco Cay. She says Bahamian government officials reviewed the ship's security tapes and concluded the woman did jump overboard -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brianna.

A milestone month in Iraq this month -- or, rather, December. For the first time since the start of the war, there were no -- no combat deaths among American troops.

Does that mark a turning point?

We're going to go to Baghdad.

And giant snakes that crush their prey -- are they putting a stranglehold on Florida's wildlife?

Why Congress may act. We're going to take you into the Everglades.

And 50 states in one year -- John King visits a military institute in New Mexico where the war in Afghanistan is a hot topic.



Happening now, Rush Limbaugh is speaking out about his heart attack scare -- new details of his condition and what doctors found. We'll hear Limbaugh in his own words.

Also, new complications for President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay terror detainee camp. Critics are growing louder, some of them from the president's own party.

And an alarming twist in a custody battle pitting mother against mother -- now one of them has disappeared with the child they both claim as theirs.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


For the first time in the history of the Iraq War, a month without a single -- a single American soldier killed in combat.

Our CNN's Diana Magnay is in Baghdad with the details -- Diana, explain to us how that happened.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the commander of U.S. forces here in Iraq, General Odierno, announced today that December was the first month since the war began where there were no U.S. battle deaths -- a significant milestone, he called it. That does really reflect the fact that the U.S. is pushing through its drawdown program. It has removed its troops from the cities, effectively the front line here in Iraq. They do go out on patrols with the Iraqi security forces, but they have a much lower profile now. And it is the Iraqi security forces who are the targets of extremist attacks.

Just to give some kind of context here, there were 61 deaths amongst the Iraqi police and the Iraqi Army this month, in comparison to that statistic from the US.

Looking forward, though, it is probably a trend that we can expect to continue as the U.S. pulls its troops out of Iraq. The first real significant steps in that will be in August 2010, when they will just leave 50,000 troops in the country. There are 110,000 now. And the plan is to remove them completely, of course, by the end of 2011 -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Diana, thank you so much.

A very significant milestone -- three Americans did die in Iraq in December. Two soldiers died of non-combat-related injuries and one Marine died of unknown causes.

Now, that brings the total number of American who have died in Iraq since the war began to 4,373.

Well, 50 states in one year -- that's right, CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" anchor, John King, made it his goal in 2009 to tell the stories of Americans outside the Washington, D.C. beltway. Shortly after President Obama announced a troop surge for Afghanistan, John visited the New Mexico Military Institute, where the war was a hot topic.


JOHN KING, ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION" (voice-over): For Jon Huntsman, every pushup has a purpose.

JON HUNTSMAN III, CADET RECRUIT, NEW MEXICO MILITARY INSTITUTE: I want to go some route in the Naval Special Warfare program.

KING: It's a passion born of watching Navy SEALS training during family vacations along the California coast -- one he knows could ultimately land him in Afghanistan or another war zone.

HUNTSMAN: If you're in Special Forces you -- you train -- you train to be in those parts of the world in times of war.

KING: Huntsman is at the New Mexico Military Institute because he needs to boost his academic standing before attending the Naval Academy at Annapolis. At afternoon workouts, new friends on a similar path to service.

Jantel Ferguson (ph) is committed to the Coast Guard Academy; Michael McGann to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; Even Reardon's (ph) next stop is the Air Force Academy; where Debra Wright also hopes to earn a spot and learn to fly.

DEBORAH WRIGHT, STUDENT, NEW MEXICO MILITARY INSTITUTE: I have always wanted to fly planes. So I've just had my heart set on the Air Force. And I really want to go there. And the fact that the country is at war right now really hasn't hindered that decision at all.

KING: NMMI is their stepping stone. Some come here for high school, others for two years college or for a one year program specifically designed to prepare students for the major military academies. The uniforms are a requirement, as is intense physical fitness training.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know the initial velocity.

KING: But the foundation is a tough academic environment, with an emphasis on math and science -- an approach Superintendent Major General Jerry Grizzle says stresses both learning and leadership.

MAJ. GEN. JERRY W. GRIZZLE, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW MEXICO MILITARY INSTITUTE: My entire faculty, every one has a master's degree and more than half have a doctorate degree. And they're teaching ninth graders as well as they're teaching freshmen and sophomores in college. And so the quality and the value of that education is what people seek. And they kind of accept the fact that we do that in a military platform.

KING: The president's new Afghanistan strategy is of high interest. Just shy of 20 percent of the students here go on to military service -- some directly into the Army through an ROTC program; others after moving onto the academies.

HUNTSMAN: Being at a military school, obviously, I think everyone is all for the president sending 30,000 more troops over there.

KING: And yet Huntsman is skeptical of the president's pledge to surge now then start drawing down U.S. troop levels in July, 2011.

HUNTSMAN: When I heard the date, well, I know we're not going to be out there in 2011. I think they just kind of threw out a date there just to kind of give the American people like a promise, you know -- we're going to try and get out of this mess.

KING: Huntsman knows a thing or two about politics. His father and namesake was Utah's Republican governor until he was tapped to serve this Democratic president as U.S. ambassador to China.

While skeptical about the timeline, young Huntsman gives the commander-in-chief high marks for adding 30,000 troops against the wishes of most liberal Democrats.

HUNTSMAN: It's risky, but, now it's for the better of his country, not for the better of his party.

KING: The college students here had lived in the country at war since they were 10 or 11; the high school students, even younger. And those heading next to the service academies say friends often question their choices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CADET RECRUIT: Many people are like, why are you going to the military service? Why would you give your life? But this is what we want to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CADET RECRUIT: Some of my friends are kind of, wow, are you kidding me? You're going into the Armed Forces?

STEPHEN REARDON, CADET RECRUIT, NEW MEXICO MILITARY INSTITUTE: When I go home, and get questioned all the time, like, why do you do it? Why would you do it?

KING: They answer that they feel a call to serve, they come here to learn, and to prepare for the challenges and risks of wearing the uniform in wartime.

John King, CNN, Roswell, New Mexico.


MALVEAUX: And coming up in the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, John King travels to Hawaii. Now, that state has the highest energy costs in the country. And it's spurring individuals and businesses to find some innovative solutions to Hawaii's energy dilemma.

Brianna Keilar is monitoring other top stories that are coming in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hey, Brianna. What do you got?


Relatives say a southern California school official was abducted and killed while family in Mexico. Carlos Salcedo says his brother Bobby and his wife were out to dinner in north central Mexico and gunmen stormed the restaurant. Bobby Salcedo and five others were abducted. Carlos Salcedo says police told his sister-in-law their bodies were found today.

Bobby Salcedo was a member of the El Monte school board.


MAYOR ANDRE QUINTERO, EL MONTE, CALIFORNIA: Bobby was a natural- born leader. From a very young age, he was student body president of Mountain View High School. He went to Boys State. Wherever he went, he was leading. He took that leadership role back to this community and did so many wonderful things.


KEILAR: Salcedo was first elected to the school board in 2004.

Washington police are investigating a report that two Washington Wizards basketball players drew guns on each other during a Christmas Eve practice. "The New York Post" reports Gilbert Arenas refused to pay a gambling debt to Javaris Crittenton. "The Post" quoted multiple sources that saying Arenas drew his gun first. Neither Arenas nor Crittenton could be reached for comment.

Italy's prime minister is using retail therapy and an old passion to recover from last month's attack. Italian newspapers report Silvio Berlusconi's first public appearance since the attack was a two-hour visit to as shopping mall in Milan. The reports also say he's working on a new C.D. of Neapolitan love songs. In the attack, a mentally unstable man threw a statuette at Mr. Berlusconi's face, breaking his nose and two teeth.

Retail therapy, I understand that, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's good to see that he's doing well.

KEILAR: It sure is.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you.

Well, charges thrown out against private American security guards who have been accused of killing Iraqi civilians. Now, Iraq is threatening to sue.


MALVEAUX: A day after a federal judge dismissed manslaughter charges against five Blackwater security guards, saying their rights were violated, the Iraqi government is blasting the ruling, saying the security guards murdered 17 civilians in 2007. Iraq is now threatening to take action.

Our CNN executive producer Suzanne Simons wrote about Blackwater in her book "Master of War." She's joining us now in the CNN Center in Atlanta.

And, Suzanne, thank you so much for being with us here. I want to read to you what the Iraqi government said now threatening to sue Blackwater. Here's the spokesman. He said today, "The Iraqi government has begun taking the necessary measures to use Blackwater for the murder of 17 Iraqis on September 16tj, 2007 in Nusoor Square."

Where does this go from here? What does this mean that they have taken such aggressive action now?

SUZANNE SIMONS, CNN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Well, it's going to be interesting to see what they mean by "go after them." It's going to have to obviously be a civil case. They can't bring a criminal charge these men. They're in the United States, they're Americans.

The Iraqis were clearly outraged after this happened. And, you know, the thing that really the prosecutors in the U.S. failed to do, at least to convince this judge, that they were able to extract the statements, and then they would have had to go to court to prove that the men intentionally fired against the Iraqis, which would have been really difficult. And, you know, it's a horrible situation, it was a horrible loss of life that day.

So, you can understand why the Iraqis would be outraged and want some answers, but it's very hard to get inside someone's head and figure out at that moment whether or not they felt they were under threat or just wanted to get a little trigger happy.

MALVEAUX: Well, how significant is the court decision for Blackwater to dismiss this?

SIMONS: Well, it's significant not so much for the company, even though the Iraqi government is still very upset with the company, prosecutors in the U.S. never brought charges against the company itself. It was always these individual contractors.

So, in terms of the company, you know, they might face some problems with the Iraqis who were so quite upset with them. They've already kicked them out of country. Also some of them are still operating there.

But I really can't see how they will be able to come back after them. MALVEAUX: In light of the fact that this company, Blackwater, formerly Blackwater, now called Xe, has had so many problems when it comes to image problems, when it comes to this particular incident. Why is it, do you suppose, that the U.S. military continues to use independent contractors? It seems as if they need and are almost dependent on these independent contractors to get the kinds of things done that they need inside Iraq? Why does that still exist today?

SIMONS: Yes, it's almost a little scary where when you think about it. But the contractors have become so ingrained in the system and they work not only for the Department of Defense, they work for the Central Intelligence Agency, they work for the Department of State. And it's not easy to simply find somebody else to do that job.

The reason why the U.S. started using contractors so much in the first place was because they didn't have enough military personnel to complete the tasks that needed to be done in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the same with the Department of State, their diplomatic security service just wasn't bulked up enough to be able to handle these jobs.

MALVEAUX: President Obama said he's committed to pulling out most U.S. troops out of Iraq by August of this -- now -- of this year. So, do you know what the -- what the percentages of those who are independent contractors, who are still on the ground inside of Iraq compared to the U.S. military?

SIMONS: Well, they are now, as we speak, more private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than there are U.S. troops. So, you can imagine, as the president's strategy gets implemented and they pull more troops out of there, they're going to have to backfill somehow. Some of those jobs are still going to have to be done.

So, likely, we're going to be more contractors in the future, which makes this case, actually, all the more important. It was significant legally, because it was one of a very few prosecutions of contractors for doing anything wrong. The legal structure has never been clear, and now the Department of Justice has a little bit of a mess on its hands in terms of where it goes from here. This was kind of a case that was going to set precedent for others in the future.

MALVEAUX: OK. Suzanne, we're going to have to leave it right there. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

SIMONS: Thank you.


Well, full body scanners that can see through clothing. What if they were in use right now? Could they stop the next airline bombing attempt?



MALVEAUX: The failed airline bombing on Christmas is renewing interest and adding a new layer of security for airline passengers. That is full body scans. But what if those scanners were in wider use right now? Could they have detected the explosives allegedly hidden in the suspect's underwear?

Our Brian Todd went to a company that makes those scanners to find out.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In stark detail, an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by CNN shows pictures of the bomb allegedly carried onboard Northwest flight 253 by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The maybe charge was sewn into his underwear, according to the FBI, quote, "anatomically congruent, possibly to avoid detection during screening."

I asked former TSA deputy administrator, Stephen McHale, how much of a problem is this concealment for security officials?

STEPHEN MCHALE, FORMER TSA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: It's a huge concern that he managed to get on to the plane. You have to look at all of the systems, from the intelligence systems all the way up to the screening.

TODD: Whatever primary screening the suspect had in Amsterdam clearly didn't detect the explosive. Could secondary screening have picked it up?

Rapiscan Systems makes a body-scanning machine called the Secure 1000. The TSA has ordered 150 of them for U.S. airports. I go through one with a liquid container and a knife hidden on my person. This scan, using so-called backscatter technology can see right through my clothing. I've covered my private areas. The knife and liquid bottle are detected, then pinpointed on avatar figures. Those images are sent to screeners at the checkpoint and tell them which part of the body to search.

By phone we asked Peter Kant of Rapiscan, could this machine have detected the explosives in the Christmas Day incident.


PETER KANT, RAPISCAN SYSTEMS, INC.: We certainly believe so. The system is designed to be able to detect the differences between human and non-human material. And therefore we do believe that even though it might have taken a certain shape, or a certain density, that the system is certainly designed to be able to pick up materials such as explosives as the ones that were allegedly used in this action.


TODD: Another technology available, so called "millimeter wave machines." Microwave radiation technology, not as sensitive, but which some experts say could have detected this explosive.

The Amsterdam, CNN has learned, has millimeter wave machines, but we're told the facility is not using those on a widespread basis because of privacy concerns and they're waiting for the European Commission to set rules for using them.

Brian Todd, CNN, Arlington, Virginia.


MALVEAUX: Well, he went to the hospital fearing a heart attack. Now, Rush Limbaugh is feeling better and speaking out about his health scare and what doctors discovered.

Plus: a major setback for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he faces the biggest budget crisis in state history.


MALVEAUX: New developments in California's unprecedented budget crisis and a major setback for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CNN's Kara Finnstrom is working that story for us out of Los Angeles.

And, Kara, what is the latest for the governor and his state?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the California's governor was hoping the New Year might bring some new relief for the state's budget woes, a rude awakening on it's eve. Today, Californians woke up to headlines that a judge has ordered the state to halt its worker furloughs.

California has already painfully trimmed, chopped different state services and agencies back, and the furloughs were one way that the governor was hoping to ease the state's remaining multibillion dollar budget shortfall. These are essentially paid days off, three days a month, for tens of thousands of state workers.

Now, as soon as furloughs actually took effect last February, in the midst of a tough economy, workers did begin to picket. Some of them are saying they couldn't pay their mortgages or other bills. The unions represent them filed suit, calling the furloughs illegal.

Well, now, an Alameda County superior court judge is agreeing, saying that at least a quarter of the 200,000 furloughs were improper. The judge says the administration overstepped its authority in two ways. First, that the furloughs should have taken individual agency needs into accounts, not just been a sweeping order. And second, that the state erred when it shifted money saved by the furloughs between different agencies with different funding sources.

Now, the spokesperson for the governor has been downplaying the court decision, saying that state will appeal it and that the ultimate decision will be made in California's Supreme Court. He does say that until those furloughs are appealed, this will -- they will continue -- be continued.

We did hear from the governor a short while ago, a number of months ago, when these layoffs were first being considered.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We only have a limited amount of money. So, I cannot promise to pay them the same amount of money, have all the holidays, and keep everyone working. I cannot promise that, because we have a limited amount of money, and will be running out of money.


FINNSTROM: Now, the state does say that the -- they were hoping that the furloughs would save them $1.4 billion, Suzanne.

MALVEUAX: And, Kara, given the court decision, what kind of financial shape is California going to be going into this New Year?

FINNSTROM: Well, even if the governor is successful in overturning this, California is still facing a lot of budget troubles. They were issuing IOUs during the summer because they are so cash- strapped. The governor is expected to issue a type of plan later on this month, in January, really kind of laying out what the measures are that he hopes will help, you know, reverse some of this. He has asked the federal government for billions of dollars in help, and he is saying if he doesn't get that help, he's going to have to severely make some cuts.

MALVEAUX: OK. Kara, thank you very much.

Well, Congress is weighing a snake ban in Florida. The legislation would make it illegal to import nine kinds of giant constrictor snakes. That includes pythons, whose population is exploding and posing an increasing threat to the Everglades. Well, some Floridians are already taking matters into their own hands.

Our CNN John Zarrella went on patrol with a python hunter.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Wasilewski drives along a narrow stretch of road that bisects Florida's Everglades. Night is coming on quickly. He's looking for snakes, one in particular.

JOE WASILEWSKI, PYTHON HUNTER: The next 10 miles seem to be the hot spot for Burmese pythons.

ZARRELLA: Wasilewski, a reptile expert, is one of a handful of men sanctioned by the state to hunt down and rid the Glades of pythons -- an extraordinary move in response to what scientists believe is a rapidly growing threat to the delicate ecosystem.

WASILEWSKI: It's a large predator, and they are eating basically everything in sight. That's the problem.

ZARRELLA: Twenty years ago, there were none here. Today, perhaps 100,000, and no one is quite sure.

Night is the best time to catch these non-venomous snakes. That's when they are on the move.

Wasilewski spots something. He jumps from the truck, runs to it.

WASILEWSKI: This is not a python, it's a banded water snake.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Banded water snake?

WASILEWSKI: Yes. Do you want to pick him up?


WASILEWSKI: He'll bite you.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): An hour driving back and forth across the road, still no pythons, at least not alive, there's a dead one, and several more small snakes, a baby alligator, too.

WASILEWSKI: Oh, man, and he got hit by a car.

ZARRELLA: Two hours into our hunt, suddenly, Wasilewski is on it. He sees one.

WASILEWSKI: Yes, baby! Ya hey! Look at the size of this one.

ZARRELLA: Skillfully, he grabs it by the head. It instantly coils around his arm. Wasilewski will lock the snake in a crate and take it to the national park biologists to be studied and destroyed.

But first, we've got to untangle it from his arm.

(on camera): Wow, look at this.

WASILEWSKI: And this isn't even a big one.

ZARRELLA: This is a good 10 feet.


ZARRELLA: Oh, yes.

WASILEWSKI: At least 12.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Wasilewski doesn't get paid. It's voluntary. While he knows they've got to be eliminated, he's got a soft spot for the reptile.

WASILEWSKI: And guess what? It's not this snake's fault. He did not mean to be here.

ZARRELLA: Some are believed to have gotten here when the reptile breeding facilities near the Everglades were destroyed during Hurricane Andrew.

WASILEWSKI: Well, why don't take this side?

ZARRELLA (on camera): No, you take that side. You take the head in and I got the back end.



ZARRELLA (voice-over): Others from pet owners who disposed of them when they got too big. They can grow up to 200 pounds. But this one is no longer a problem.

WASILEWSKI: One down...

ZARRELLA (on camera): Yes, hey.

WASILEWSKI: A hundred thousand more to go.

ZARRELLA: Hundred thousand to go.

(voice-over): John Zarrella, CNN, the Florida Everglades.


MALVEAUX: Well, he went to the hospital fearing a heart attack. Now, Rush Limbaugh is feeling better and speaking out about his health scare and what the doctors discovered.

Also, a potential new glitch for President Obama's pick to head the Transportation Security Administration -- what he did decades ago that could impact his nomination now.

Plus, the growing backlash of the president's plan to close Guantanamo. It's not just Republicans who are critical.


MALVEAUX: Well, you ever wonder what happens on a new set during the commercial break? Well, you'd be surprised.

Jeanne Moos takes an unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you think listening to the news is depressing, imagine delivering it.

ROBERT JORDAN, WGN NEWS ANCHOR: The burning building...

JACKIE BANGE, WGN NEWS ANCHOR: Three patrons were stabbed.

JORDAN: An undercover drug operation...

BANGE: The toxic dirt ordinance.

MOOS: Give us a break, a commercial break. There is a name for this.

JORDAN: What anchors do during commercial breaks.

MOOS: Well, maybe not all anchors.


MOOS: At WGN in Chicago, the weekend anchors do this in the first commercial break of every show, started a decade or so ago.

BANGE: We were so tickled to hear our names, we went, ah, ah.

JORDAN: And we started pointing.

ANNOUNCER: You are watching WGN news at 9:00 with Jackie Bange and Bob Jordan.

MOOS: This used to be something that only the crew got to see, but then it landed on YouTube. They have between two and 2 1/2 minutes until the commercial break ends.

JORDAN: Oh, getting close. Boom, boom, hmm, hmm, rah.

MOOS: Moves range from...

JORDAN: Remember the John Travolta.

BANGE: Yes. You missed that.

MOOS: ... to the Dick Cheney...

(on camera): Hold it, that is the famous fly move based on a national incident when Robert got caught on camera when he thought he was off camera.

JORDAN: I see the fly zooming around and I started reaching for it.

MOOS (voice-over): Sure, there have been dancing weathermen on YouTube, even dancing Iraqi anchormen, and one of WGN's own reporters couldn't keep still.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: I got to do my thing, I'll be right back. I got to wrap this up.

MOOS: But this takes choreography.


JORDAN: She would try to go with me, and poke my eyes out.

MOOS: Borrowed from "The Three Stooges."


MOOS: But don't call these two stooges. JORDAN: I try to add moves, and she won't let me add new moves. The ones that I like.

BANGE: I ask him what his move was, please.

JORDAN: I want to do the chest bump.

MOOS: So, the next commercial when you take a bathroom break, remember these two breaking into their routine, working it right down to the last second...

BANGE: And 10 seconds coming up to a voiceover.

JORDAN: We made it.

MOOS: Back to the world of mayhem and destruction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one...

JORDAN: Several hundred people...

MOOS: Two anchors who aren't quite anchored to their desk.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


MALVEAUX: Don't you wish you knew what we did here? Oh, well.

Happening now: airline security and a presidential nominee at risk. The revelation that could make a critical administration job even harder to fill.

Plus, an unprecedented custody battle hitting a woman who denounced homosexuality against her former Lesbian lover. A 7-year- old girl's fate is at stake right now.

And we're just hours into 2010, who will drop the best political bombshell of the year? The election season surprises that maybe just around the corner.

Welcome to our viewer in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.