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CNN TONIGHT

Keeping Terrorists off Planes; Security Rules; Al Qaeda's New Home?; Terror Plot Probe; Leadership Vacuum; Frigid Weather; Drug Cartel Violence

Aired January 4, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the vacation is over. President Obama returns home as security gets beefed up at airports. Passengers from countries with terror ties will now get the security full monty, but will it work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What matters is that you have a security procedure in place that will prevent an explosive or weapon from being placed onboard an aircraft.

YELLIN: Also, the threat from Yemen, an al Qaeda strong hold, is it the new front line on the war on terror?

And it's cold, record breaking cold. Think freezing in Florida, winter weather warnings from the Northern Plains to the East Coast and it's going to get worse. How long will the extreme cold last?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN TONIGHT live from New York. Here now Jessica Yellin.

YELLIN: Good evening. The Obama administration has moved to tighten up security measures in response to the failed Christmas Day bombing plot. New airport security rules have been indefinitely set in place after an avalanche of criticism. Air travelers from four countries on the state sponsor of terrorism list and 10 other countries of concern will face much more intensive screening.

Now, terrorism officials have moved hundreds of names of suspected ties to more dangerous watch lists. Jeanne Meserve reports on the government's new attempts to keep us safe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Links to terrorism have been added to the list of people who cannot fly or need additional screening. The result of a scrub of government terror data bases in the aftermath of the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing. An official familiar with the process says particular attention was given to certain countries and regions with ties to terrorism. All citizens and travelers from 14 of those countries will now get enhanced screening when they fly to the U.S. that could include full body pat downs, carry-on bag searches, full body scanning and explosive detection swabs. Critics were harsh.

LARRY JOHNSON, FMR. STATE DEPT. COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: What this is doing is already identifying for the bad guys here are the 14 countries that you have to worry about, so as long as you're not one of those countries, you can do a work around.

MESERVE: On the list countries officially designated as supporters of terrorism and 10 others of concern to U.S. counterterrorism officials. But analyst say terrorists can and have come from elsewhere, a notable example, shoe bomber Richard Reid, a British citizen. Some experts believe singling out travelers from 14 nations, most of them Muslim, could backfire on the U.S.

RICK NELSON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: What that might have is the unintended effect of feeding into this al Qaeda narrative that says that Islam -- United States is at war with Islam. We have to be very careful because it's that narrative that feeds the ranks and builds the ranks of al Qaeda.

MESERVE: Meanwhile, news of another potential clue missed by U.S. officials. They now acknowledge being briefed last summer about another bomber who hid explosives in his underwear. He had tried to assassinate the top Saudi counterterrorism official.

JOHN BRENNAN, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: PETN was the substance that was used in that attack. We were looking very carefully at that. There was no indication at the time that there was going to be an attempt against an aircraft.

MESERVE: But one of Brennan's predecessors says that scenario should have been examined.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Given al Qaeda's obsession with aviation targets especially at the Department of Homeland Security, one would have hoped someone in the system would have been responsible for looking at potential for deployment and our ability to detect such a device.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: And some reaction to those new TSA security guidelines. The Council on American Islamic Relations says they amount to racial profiling. The TSA says not so. Its security measures are based on threat not ethnic or religious background. It also notes that the majority of all travelers coming to the U.S. will get enhanced screening not just those from the 14 countries named -- Jessica back to you.

YELLIN: Thank you Jeanne -- and as Jeanne reported, the TSA tonight is expanding sweeping new security measures. A lot of attention is on the intensive passenger screening being used. Our Mary Snow is at New York's JFK Airport and Mary you have been talking to air travelers all day. How are they responding to these new measures?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Most are very accepting, Jessica. Most of the people we talk with had connecting flights that they shared with passengers from countries that were on that list that Jeanne just mentioned with suspected or known ties to terrorism.

Now, what passengers told us the biggest difference that they noticed was a secondary screening right before getting on the plane, but as Jeanne just mentioned, this is not just passengers linked to those 14 countries overall. We talked to people who said they face much more screening than they had previously. Take a listen to what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was way overboard.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How so?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was searched like patted down three times. And I know they do it normally when you first walk through security sometimes but they did it also at the gate and it was just unreasonable.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was security any different?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a little bit different. Everyone got patted down and screened again a second time after the original security screening but it didn't feel like that much of an imposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt that they were very aggressive. They made me unwrap a present that I had gift wrapped and they made me generally open things up and show them. They threw out a lot of my toiletries which they normally would have accepted. You know they were just being more by the book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: And Jessica, one other big difference that passengers told us about was the search of carryon bags and one mother even told us she that had to hand over batteries in her children's toys before she was able to get on a plane -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Wow -- wow. Jeanne Meserve pointed out, Mary, as you may know that Muslim Civil Liberties Organization is calling these new guidelines effectively profiling. I wonder if any of the passengers you talked to also had concerns about profiling.

SNOW: Yes, one passenger we talked with did and he was of Nigerian descent and he felt that there was profiling going on he said that was unnecessary. But we also spoke to another man who said that he tends to be taken aside because of the way he looks. He said though that he didn't have a problem with that. We had mixed opinion from the people that we spoke with, most of them saying that they accepted these new screening guidelines, a number of them saying that they felt more comfortable with more security -- Jessica. YELLIN: All right. Thank you, Mary. I hope you can go inside. You've been reporting outside all day. Take care of yourself.

Meanwhile, security concerns have shut down the United States and British embassies in Yemen's capital city. Other countries have also restricted access after a surge in al Qaeda activity including the failed Christmas Day terror plot. Jill Dougherty has the latest on what is becoming a very dangerous situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The American embassy in Yemen under terrorist threat remains shut. The British, French, German and Japanese embassies follow suit.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: That is in response to ongoing threats by al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula, so-called AQAP that have been ongoing. They certainly predate this holiday season and they are aimed at American interests in Yemen.

DOUGHERTY: That terror group, the same one President Barack Obama blames for orchestrating the Christmas Day failed bombing of a U.S. airliner. U.S. officials tell CNN eight al Qaeda suspects were planning to bomb the embassy. Yemeni forces killed three and captured one more wearing a suicide vest, but four other terrorists were still at large.

Yemen has been a hot bed of terrorism going back at least to the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors and the embassy has been the target of numerous attacks. Yemen's ability to combat the threat Secretary Clinton says is crucial.

H. CLINTON: We see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region.

DOUGHERTY: Which is why the U.S. is more than doubling its aid to Yemen, $160 million in development and counterterrorism assistance over the last two years. Barbara Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen says it's a fragile state on the brink of becoming a failed state but the U.S. should not turn it into a third front after Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight against al Qaeda.

BARBARA BODINE, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO YEMEN: Yemen would be a very difficult environment for U.S. forces to operate in and so I think the president's statement that we're going to be assisting in supporting the Yemenis to do this is really a much smarter way to go about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And U.S. officials say that they will decide within the next few days when to reopen that embassy but they also say the embassy is strong and fortified but they add that the threat against U.S. interests in Yemen is extremely high -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Thank you, Jill.

Well President Obama today back in Washington after his vacation in Hawaii and getting right back to work. The president met with security officials for updates on the botched Christmas Day terror plot and on al Qaeda's expanding operations in Yemen. Many have questioned the administration's reaction to the colossal intelligence breakdown.

Dan Lothian now is at the White House. Dan, I'm sure the White House is trying to keep a tight lid on this, but what are you hearing? What's the latest on the investigation?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right we're not getting any details on where the investigation stands but obviously the president is trying to get to the bottom of this situation to find out just exactly how the system failed. As you know, the president did order this top to bottom review while he was on vacation in Hawaii and now he came back today. He got a report on the early review from the CIA, its internal review.

No details on what was in that review obviously, the president also meeting with his top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan here at the White House -- that meeting lasting for more than an hour and a half. You know John Brennan has been one over the weekend on the Sunday morning talk shows we heard him talk about how he believes that no one connected the dots. The intelligence community essentially dropped the ball while there were bits and pieces of information out there he said, but there was nothing that set off any alarms.

Having said that though, the administration believes that the system is not broken but that it needs to be strengthened, obviously there are critics out there who would have -- take issue with that because they believe that you know some of the same questions are being asked now that were asked after 9/11. So where does the administration go next? Tomorrow the president will meet with cabinet members, other intelligence officials inside the secure situation room. A chance again for the president to meet face-to-face with these officials who are directly involved in the intelligence situation to find out exactly what went wrong and how this can be prevented from happening again -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Big meeting at the White House tomorrow. Dan, tonight you're also reporting on another story, another party crasher from that Indian state dinner at the White House, almost unbelievable. What can you tell us about that?

LOTHIAN: It really is kind of unbelievable. It's the dinner that just won't go away. The U.S. Secret Service today putting out a statement saying that a third individual did manage to make it into that dinner and that person was not on the guest list. They were not invited. How did it happen? Well according to the Secret Service this person went to a local hotel where the Indian delegation was staying, came to the White House with that delegation and they're pointing out that this was a group that was watched over -- supposed to be watched over by the State Department. So this person comes in but they don't believe that they were in the receiving line or had any contact at all with the president or the first lady, but again you know this is a time when we're talking about terrorism, security issues, national security, and here was a situation with someone who was not invited, was not supposed to be here at the White House, was let in. Right now this investigation continues and we're told that they are making the necessary changes to make sure that something like this does not happen again, but certainly an embarrassing situation for the White House.

YELLIN: Yes, someone has got a lot of explaining to do there. Dan, thank you.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

YELLIN: Coming up now, bad timing -- bad timing -- the nominee to run the TSA is being held up over politics, will security suffer?

And a gunman lets loose in Las Vegas, shoots up a federal courthouse killing two people. The terrifying sounds all caught on tape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: The White House is pushing the Senate to confirm its nominee to head up the TSA in the wake of the failed Christmas airliner attack. The administration has been without a chief for nearly a year. But as Lisa Sylvester reports, politics is being blamed for holding up that confirmation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly a year and counting, it's been that long since there has been a leader at the Transportation Security Administration. Acting Administrator Gail Rossides left over from the Bush White House is temporarily holding the spot. Transportation experts say having a permanent TSA chief probably would not have prevented the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing but it is an important step moving forward.

STEVE LOTT, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: During a time of exceptional security threat, we really want somebody to come in, provide a new vision, drive the administration forward in order to increase security for travelers in the U.S. and around the world as well.

SYLVESTER: Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent is President Obama's nominee to head TSA. Senator Jim DeMint has a hold on the nomination. Wanting a commitment that Southers will not advocate collective bargaining rights for TSA employees.

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: All the members -- employees of TSA are free to join a union now and the union can advocate for them, but collective bargaining would bring the security concerns of TSA under the authority of union bosses. SYLVESTER: DeMint put some of the delay on the White House saying it took the Obama administration eight months to name someone to the TSA position. But Senate Democrats accuse DeMint of playing politics.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: This man will get confirmed and he'll get confirmed by a wide margin and playing games with the process all it's doing is hurting the traveling public.

SYLVESTER: Recently Southers acknowledged in a letter to committee members that he had inadvertently given the misleading information about a background check he ran on his estranged wife's boyfriend when he was still in the FBI. The White House is standing by him, saying he regretted "an error that he made in an account of events that happened over 20 years ago."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to close off the debate and call for a vote on the Southers nomination when the Senate returns later this month. But Jessica, this is not the only key vacancy. The top position at Customs and Border Protection, you know in charge of screening cargo and security at the borders that position has been vacant also for nearly a year. The Senate is really busy with health care and it hasn't had time yet to vote on this nomination either -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right, Lisa, some tough political fights on that ahead. Joining me now also for more on the TSA's new security measures and the deadlock over that TSA nominee are Bruce Schneier, security technologist and author and homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve -- thanks to both of you.

Bruce, I'd like to start with you. I am a frequent flier. I am frequently annoyed with the TSA. It often seems that they are closing the barn door after the horse is out. You know box cutters were used. They banned box cutters. They try -- terrorists try liquids, they regulate liquids. Have any of these measures kept us safer?

BRUCE SCHNEIER, SECURITY TECHNOLOGIST: Well they haven't and the problem is instead of focusing on the broad threat, we focus on the story. And this is very human. We fear what happened -- the story. So we protect against box cutters or liquids or people strapping bombs to their underwear and the terrorists just do something else, so all we're doing is moving the threat around, not really making us any safer.

YELLIN: So what -- Bruce to you again, what is the answer then?

SCHNEIER: Well the answer is to step back and look at what the broad threat is. The threat is not airplane terrorism. The threat is not PETN in your underwear. The threat is terrorism. And I like to see a lot of the money that's spent on the specifics be put on investigation and intelligence, stopping the threat before it gets to the airports. A great example the liquid bombers in London, they were arrested in their flats and it didn't matter if they were using liquids or gases or solids or powders. It didn't matter if they were targeting airports or shopping malls or crowded movie theaters. They were arrested and the plot was foiled and that's the right way to think.

And if there's any failure here on Christmas Day it was an intelligence investigation. How did he get a visa? How was he not on the various lists? How did we miss him?

YELLIN: Jeanne, some pressure has been applied now in recent days to step up profiling, for example, or institute profiling in the U.S., put air marshals on planes, use these more invasive body scanners. Do homeland security experts think that that would make a big difference and keep us more secure?

MESERVE: You know there are radically different points of view. You just heard Bruce's and yet on the other side you have someone like the former secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff who admittedly is now working for a company that sells body scanners but he's saying hey I thought imaging was a good idea when I was secretary. I pushed it then.

It would make a difference. It would have protected something like this. This is going to be an incredibly active debate over the next couple of months. It's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out with the hard security folks on one side, civil libertarians and others who are just plain skeptical about some of these technologies in particular on the other side.

YELLIN: Bruce there's -- we just reported on the TSA nominee being held up really over a political fight. It has to do with the fact that there is some concern among Republicans that he would let unions get more power. It really has nothing to do with security mostly. How much of a problem is it that the TSA does not have an acting empowered head right now?

SCHNEIER: Well the problem is you can't really make changes unless there's someone in charge. I mean right now the TSA has been really coasting and doing what it's been doing. And for someone to come in with a new vision, maybe a new way to think about security, trying some new ideas making changes, you're going to need someone in charge, someone who has the support of the White House instead of someone left over from the last guy.

So it is important. I would like to see someone in that position and someone good. Without someone there we're just going to be bouncing along without any real rudder.

YELLIN: Jeanne, to you, do you get the sense that there is a will in Washington to streamline the bureaucracy? One of the recent complaints about why these dots were not connected, why we have security problems is that there's too much bureaucratic bloat. Do you think there's enough pressure after this attack to change the intelligence community? MESERVE: You know I haven't been hearing a lot about streamlining. What I've been hearing about is a need for just better coordination, better sharing. The fact of the matter is that there were a number of different clues that were totally overlooked by intelligence or were not put together so they are talking about creating better systems, but you know I think yesterday some of the experts who were speaking said, no, we have additional personnel.

We need that additional personnel. This is a huge task to put this all together. Information is flowing in at an incredible rate every day. We need people to make sense of it. We need systems that make sense of it.

YELLIN: Bruce, that's basically the point you've made. I'm curious -- you're a security technologist you call yourself. Is there a machine out there no matter how invasive it might be that would be the perfect scanner? Does it exist?

SCHNEIER: Of course not and you have to sort of think broadly. The terrorists will pick a plot that we're not looking for sort of by definition, so you can't get a magic machine just like you can't get a magic machine to prevent murder and you know if there's anything, there's technology we need and intelligence information sharing. Be very careful about people who say we should have connected the dots.

In hindsight after the fact it's really easy to see the seven dots we should have connected. The real question is before the fact, when you have millions and hundreds of millions of dots, can you find the correct seven? And I'm sure there are problems in information sharing. I'm sure there are things we can do better but sometimes you just can't see the plot until after it happens and that's the way reality is.

You know we are never going to make terrorism go away. You're never going to be 100 percent safe. That's life. That's the world. We do the best we can. Sometimes we get unlucky.

YELLIN: All right. Bruce Schneier and Jeanne Meserve, thanks to both of you.

And coming up, record cold is gripping much of the nation. How long will it last? Meteorologist Chad Myers tells us what we can expect.

And a deadly shooting rampage at a federal courthouse in Las Vegas. We'll have the disturbing images next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: The first full week of the New Year is getting off to a frigid start. This winter weather system has already dropped record amounts of snow especially in New England. Temperatures are plunging to new lows from the Great Plains to the Northeast and even in the Deep South. Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center with a closer look ahead. Chad, what's coming up? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's not going to get any better, Jessica. In fact a reinforcing shot of cold air from the north is on its way. Minneapolis, you feel like six degrees below zero right now. Kansas City, it is feeling like now eight below. Get a little bit closer. We'll get you some colder temperatures if you don't think that's cold enough, Des Moines, 15 below; Omaha, 11 below zero.

Look at the numbers out of Western New York with lake-effect snow yesterday; Niagara Falls, 31 inches; Jamestown at 28. That's down near the Panama Rocks State Park. If you've never been, you need to go because it's awesome. In East Aurora, 21 inches of snow and the Buffalo Bills tried to play in this weather.

You know I grew up in Chickamauga (ph) and there's nothing better than a football game when you can't see the lines. And the Bills took it to them. I don't know, maybe they get used to playing in that. I don't know. But here's what the drivers had to deal with though on the way home. It didn't get all that much better. Because at 28 inches, you get up (INAUDIBLE) now at 26 and Niagara Falls at 31, Buffalo drivers do great in snow and it took eight inches of snow (INAUDIBLE) cancel school, but a lot of folks didn't make it through the 26 plus in some spots.

And then if we get down to Florida, the bad news possibly coming up not only tonight but tomorrow night could be the orange crop. Like you need more headaches at the grocery store for higher grocery bills but a lot of things froze last night, night before last and may again be down to about 24, 25 degrees tomorrow night. That would be Wednesday morning and that would be cold enough to make orange juice out of those oranges rather than be able to eat or peel them as they say because after that they're not much good for anybody -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right, too cold for everyone. Thanks Chad.

MYERS: Sure.

YELLIN: Two people are dead tonight after a wild shootout at a federal courthouse in Las Vegas. A bystander recorded the scene on his cell phone. The disturbing part is not what you're going to see but what you're going to hear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SOUNDS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shooting outside of a Las Vegas courthouse.

(SHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(SHOTS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Dozens of rounds fired there. A court officer and the gunman were killed in the firefight. A federal marshal was also wounded. Officials do not yet know the gunman's motive.

And in Mexico's war with violent drug cartels, a reputed drug lord and seven Tijuana police officers with possible drug ties are under arrest and tonight a vigil will be held for one of the latest American victims of violence across the border in Mexico. Casey Wian reports that despite all the efforts to infiltrate the drug cartels, they are still a powerful enemy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): El Monte, California School Board member Ardastine Salsado (ph) was known as Bobby to his friends. Now he'll be remembered as another American victim of rampant violence in Mexico. Salsado was abducted, then gunned down for no apparent reason Wednesday night along with five other patrons of a restaurant in Gomez Palacio, Mexico. Salsado and his Mexican- born wife were there visiting family and friends.

ANDRE QUINTERO, EL MONTE, CALIFORNIA MAYOR: We talked about terrorism in the Middle East. There's terrorism in our backyard right here in Mexico. And people should not be living in that fear. No one deserves to live that way.

WIAN: But as this and two other apparently unrelated incidents over the holiday season show, violence is becoming a way of life on both sides of the border. Two days before Christmas, Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, was having lunch with good friends who are local officials in Piedras, Negras, Mexico. Gunfire erupted outside of the restaurant leaving two people dead and the mayor unhurt. Two days after Christmas, a border patrol agent in Arizona tracking suspected drug traffickers was shot by a rifle and survived. Three days later, the Mexican government captured Carlos Beltran Leyva, a reputed drug lord who was living under an assumed name but later admitted his identity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERROGATOR: Nombre completo. "Complete name?"

CARLOS BELTRAN LEYVA, REPUTED DRUG LORD: Carlos Beltran Leyva.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERROGATOR: (Speaking Spanish) "Louder, please."

LEYVA: Carlos Beltran Leyva.

WIAN: His brother Arturo, believed to be head of the Beltran Leyva cartel, was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines earlier last month. Mexican authorities believe traffickers responded by killing the mother and other family members of a marine who died in the raid. Experts predict the power vacuum at the top of the cartel will only mean more violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE GRAYSON, AUTHOR, "MEXICO: NARCO-VIOLENCE AND A FAILED STATE": They don't have much in the way of firepower. So, we may see the meanest, leanest, fighting machine in Mexico increase their turf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIAN: Increasingly that turf includes the United States where the government says, Drug Cartels are now active in 230 u.s. Cities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: The city of Elmonte, California will be holding a candle light video for school board member Bobby Salcedo tonight. An investigation into his killing is continuing. His family says they expect his killers to be brought to justice but the reality in Mexico is Drug Cartel related murders are rarely solved -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Thank you, Casey.

And still ahead, the Christmas airliner attack suddenly put Yemen on the map. Why has the Middle East nation become a magnet for terrorists determined to attack the u.s.?

And in the middle of a massive financial crisis, the kingdom of Dubai opens the world's tallest building, a massive luxury city within a skyscraper.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: As we've been reporting tonight, the u.s. Embassy in Yemen is closed because U.S. officials believe al Qaeda is planning to attack it. That and the Yemen connection in the Christmas Day, Airliner attack put that Middle Eastern nation at the top of the headlines but Yemen has been a prime concern of u.s. Defense and Intelligence officials for much longer.

Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence joins us now with more. Hi Chris, tell us what's the latest first on the u.s. embassy in Yemen and al Qaeda's militants there.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, possible retaliation. Officials tell us right now, the u.s. and Yemen are looking at fresh targets for a possible strike against al Qaeda. Let's show you where. Here's the capital. Here's the u.s. embassy as Jessica, you just mentioned remains closed. And you can take a look here as we wind out just a little bit. There we go. And you can see what we're told is that back on December 17th, the u.s. coordinated and possibly and most likely took place a missile strike here and here on December 17th.

We're told they were going after some of the al Qaeda militants who are plotting to blow up the u.s. embassy. Now, three were killed. One of them was captured with a suicide vest still on. Under interrogation, he gave authorities enough information to launch a second strike here on Christmas Eve. Now, despite that and those attacks, four of those suspects did get away. They still pose a threat to the embassy. And that's why it remains closed -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right Chris. First of all, good job with the magic wall. I tried doing that. Not easy. Question for you. Is Yemen's government, they are truly committed to confronting al Qaeda? Does the U.S. have a real partner in fighting al Qaeda there?

LAWRENCE: Well, last year the U.S. gave them about 70 million bucks to help beef up the security. Here's where some of our money went. These are Yemen's counterterrorism forces in action last month going after al Qaeda, we're also told that right now today they are fighting in the eastern part of the country over here. In fact, the Yemen government says they have killed two of those al Qaeda members who were plotting to blow up the embassy. But they have other concerns as well. Down here in the south you have a group that is trying to succeed from the national government and ongoing religious civil war here in the north but they got to get a handle on al Qaeda because just over the border Saudi Arabia here are those Saudi oil fields. One of the world's largest oil producing countries and the real worry is that al Qaeda can use instability in the north to start launching more attacks in Saudi Arabia.

YELLIN: All right, Chris. Thanks for that. We're going to keep discussing this. Now, let's turn to Gregory Johnson, he is one of the country's leading experts on Yemen. He co-writes a blog about Yemen. And also with us Marisa Porges with the Council on Foreign Relations, she is a former Pentagon Counterterrorism Adviser. Thanks to both of you for being with us. First to you, Marisa, let me ask you so we understand what we're dealing with. How big is the al Qaeda threat in Yemen? How many al Qaeda terrorists are there?

MARISA PORGES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It is a very serious concern. The threat has been growing lately. We saw al Qaeda and Arabia peninsula unite both the Saudi units and the Yemeni base units of al Qaeda operatives just in the past year or two. And estimates now or in the range of a couple hundred. It's unclear. Some as low as 100 but we heard over the weekend that some experts think over 300 trained operatives that are actively, you know, trying to instigate attacks. But more importantly, Yemen is a major source of recruitment and radicalization. And so, there's a potential that they could use that as sort for lot more al Qaeda operatives in the future.

YELLIN: Right. So, a few hundred and growing.

PORGES: Correct.

YELLIN: Gregory, if you could paint us a picture a little bit. My understanding is Yemen is one of the poorest of all Middle Eastern nations. It is weaving by internal divisions, it has a corrupt government. So, what's the context? What are we dealing with there and do we have a real partner in war against al Qaeda in that government?

GREGORY JOHNSON, YEMEN ANALYST: Right. Well, I think when talking about Yemen, it's really easy to be overwhelmed all of the crisis the government is facing. So, we talked about the war in the north. There are increasingly violent calls for cessation in the south, as well as the al Qaeda researches. The president is weaker now than he's been in recent memory. The government is losing money as oil exports decline. It's losing water. Corruption is ramped. There's massive unemployment. Poverty is there. There's a great and growing birth rate. And so, all of these things are things that al Qaeda has been able to use particularly things like corruption and forming its narrative and really constructing a very persuasive case as it presents itself to the Yemeni public particularly through its videos and its bimonthly journal.

YELLIN: Marisa, why do we close our embassy now? Was it because of the Christmas Eve terror plot or is there more going on?

PORGES: Well, the reports indicated that there is related suggestion of imminent attacks on western targets. We heard a description of some of what was going on there. But I also think there's another layer at play and that's how we are trying to pressure the Yemeni government to do more about al Qaeda and the terrorists' situation. When combine with Secretary Clinton strong statements. Visit by General Petraeus over the weekend. We can see that the closures of the embassies are a signal that we're serious and if security situation doesn't improve, we might pull out our diplomats and with a lot of potential aid and international support. If the u.s. does that to other international organizations might follow and Yemen really counts on international support from us, from the NGO's, from the World Bank. For a lot of the problems Gregory just mentioned.

YELLIN: So, it's almost political pressure in addition to actual security threat. Gregory, if I can ask you, how do you judge the administration's response in Yemen so far? General Petraeus was there and said we are going to double our military aid. Patting on sort of walk that back and clearly it will increase. Is that the right answer?

PORGES: Well, I think it's important when talking about Yemen to realize that there are no easy or obvious solutions and the u.s. should be quite up front and quite clear with itself that it's not going to defeat al Qaeda in Yemen today, tomorrow, next month or even next year. The organization is just too strong in too entrench in Yemen. It's going to take a very patient coordinated response. Something that deals with the local context. Something that's nuanced and multifaceted. Unfortunately to this date, the u.s. Just hasn't shown that it's ready to do that.

YELLIN: Marisa, your prediction, will the u.s. send troops into Yemen and should we?

PORGES: I don't think that's the near term answer. Both because of the realistic constraints that Afghanistan and Iraq have placed on the u.s. military but also to go to what Gregory was just describing. It does take a much more nuance response and I think officials in the u.s. and abroad are thinking along those lines now and hopefully the gathering that will happy in London later this month will come out with a response that's not just military and just not counterterrorism focus but gets at some of the other concerns. So, no, it isn't necessarily a military only answer and so therefore, I don't think it will just be boots on the ground.

YELLIN: Marisa Porges, Gregory Johnson, thank you. And still ahead, the CIA vows to avenge the murders of its operatives but should the spy agency expand its military role? We'll be joined by two experts on the CIA.

And Dubai unveils the world's tallest building as it struggles with a financial crisis. That story next.

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YELLIN: The world's tallest building is now open for business in one of the world's smallest kingdoms. Dubai's new skyscraper is about twice as high as the empire state building. As Bill Tucker reports, some are questioning whether this is a sign of good times to come for the city or just an illusion of prosperity.

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BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a building built to impress. It is 2,717 feet into the air. It cost $1.5 billion to build or about a quarter of a billion more than the new home of the Dallas cowboys. But what cowboys stadium houses what are said to be the world's largest TV screens, Burj Khalifa is build as a vertical city with offices, luxury apartments, four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by fashion designer Giorgio Armani.

MOHAMED ALABBAR, CHAIRMAN EMAAR PROPERTIES: It puts Dubai on the map as a city that's just arrived, you know, to the helm of global city and worldly city.

TUCKER: Burj Khalifa is not the only $1.5 billion project in Dubai. The palm Dubai opened in November of 2008 with a massive party. The resort offers a multitude of restaurants, retail shops, a water park, spas, clubs, and a private lagoon with hotel rooms with floor to ceiling views of the lagoon to beneath the surface. It is a conspicuous display of wealth and an illusion of prosperity. It may not appear like it, but this is a kingdom in the middle of a financial crisis. Dubai's next door neighbor, Sheikh Khalifa, the ruler of Abu Dhabi has authorized $25 billion in direct and indirect aid to Dubai in the past year to save it from insolvency. That kind of money is not free say financial observers.

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: A pound of flesh needs to be paid. It's being paid. That's why it's being called the Burj Khalifa. Now, we and the west say Burj Khalifa, Burj Dubai is still the Burj, still this in a sort of ridiculous building in the middle of an emirates that's effectively gone bust.

TUCKER: Sheik Khalifa is still the president of the United Arab Emirates. The federations of seven small emirates which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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TUCKER (on camera): Now, Abu Dhabi's involvement could have a positive impact on America's strategic interest in the region. Dubai was seemed has been so much sympathetic to Iran. Abu Dhabi has distanced itself from the Iranian regime and its interests -- Jessica.

YELLIN: For $1.5 billion, though you think you would get more than four swimming pools.

TUCKER: It links to fit, don't you think?

YELLIN: I'd say. Thanks, Bill. Thanks for the report.

All right and still ahead, the CIA's vow of vengeance and the spy agency's growing military role in the nation's defense.

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YELLIN: Within days of the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers in Afghanistan, an intelligence official vowed that the u.s. would avenge their deaths. That surprisingly belligerent language from an agency whose main mission is collecting and analyzing intelligence. Joining us now to talk more about the CIA's expanded military role.

Our Jack Rice, a Former CIA officer, and Nationally Syndicated Talk Show Host and Fred Burton, Vice President for Intelligence for Stratfor. He's a former state department counterterrorism official. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

First, let's start with some news tonight. NBC is reporting that the terror suicide bomber in this case was actually a Jordanian national and a double agent for al Qaeda. The CIA was not wear of this. Jack, if we could start with you, what's the significance of this information?

JACK RICE, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, this really highlights just how dangerous it is for the CIA. I think, one thing that some people miss is they think about how dangerous it is for those in the military. The difference is frequently is the CIA has to get even closer. They don't have, you know, m-wraps in the way that you'll see from the military in that they get very, very close because they have to. These are about establishing personal relationships with whoever you have to establish those relationships with. And so the idea that something like this could happen isn't exactly shocking, although it's absolutely tragic.

YELLIN: All right, Fred. There have been a lot of conflicting reports about who this person was and how they got there. Can you give us a little bit of behind the scenes look at how the CIA would begin investigating this now?

FRED BURTON, VP FOR INTELLIGENCE, STRATFOR: Well, there's going to be a lot of lessons learned in this tragedy. And as Jack says, this is a very, very dangerous business, and you're trying to manipulate human behavior. And when you're talking about looking at this source, there's going to be a lot of questions regarding when was the source recruited, what was the exact relationship between CIA and the Jordanians, how come the individual was not searched for weapons or bombs before he was brought into a secure compound? I know how these things happen in the field. You have a trusted, vetted source allegedly, and things go bad. And in this business when things go bad, they're really very tragic.

YELLIN: Tragic, and there's an investigation going on. At the same time, you know, the CIA has vowed to avenge these deaths. So Jack, if you would address this, isn't it unusual for the CIA with a task for intelligence gathering to promise revenge, is that sort of a shift in their role?

RICE: Well, not really. I mean, if we go back to even the first Gulf War. We start to see it really after that. I think, what happened was there was this failure to connect with the military. And so, there was a need to provide more intelligence. But they also became far more muscular after 9/11. The need to actually be out in the field. You take a look at some of the guys where actually working in Afghanistan for the agency. I'm just back from Afghanistan myself. And one of the things that you're going to see is more sort of paramilitary-like. If we're thinking it that way.

These are not just simply analyst, these are not just people taking people out to lunch in restaurants. These people are working in some ways hand and glove with the military. And so, they look like sometimes, they act like and frequently they're all former military. So, in some ways you can't even make a distinction. The only difference is that their role is to do more and essentially shoot people and blow things up. It's also, about actually acquiring pieces of information along the way, which really highlights this sort of expanded role.

YELLIN: Fred, I've heard from folks you are in the field there, I read statements from agents who say, they're deeply concerned that as a result of this attack, there will be new security measures in place that will limit the ability of agents to move freely and gather intelligence as they'd like to in the region. Is that a genuine concern?

BURTON: Well, I think we have to let the facts come out as to what actually happened. No doubt having done these kinds of after- action reports, there's going to be a lot of take-aways here. I would not look for any drastic change right away. Clearly there has been some degree of failure. Why were there so many agency personnel in one source debriefing kind of question? Why wasn't the source screened and so forth? But if you look back on some of the past attacks, whether it be the abduction of William Buckley, the station chief in Beirut, or the killing of the CIA station chief in Athens many years ago, you always learn things when you conduct the after- action investigation to help other clandestine officers do their job better. So, unfortunately, usually you need tragedy like this for change to happen. But I have no doubt that the agency will have a lot of take-aways after they have a chance to study this.

YELLIN: All right. We are going to hear a lot more about this in the days to come. Thanks to both of you, gentlemen.

BURTON: Thank you.

YELLIN: Coming up at the top of the hour now is the Campbell Brown show. Campbell, what do you have in your show? CAMPBELL BROWN, HOST "CAMPBELL BROWN SHOW": Hey, Jessica, coming up, a special investigation into an American cleric who is becoming the new face of terrorism. Plus, more airports adding full body scanners as a security measure, but do they really work, could they stop the terrorist and how did a killer go on a shooting spree at a heavily guarded federal building. Tonight the deadly gun battle in Las Vegas caught on video. We speak with an eyewitness and all that coming up in just a second.

YELLIN: All right, great. Thanks Campbell.

And revealing new look at Tiger Woods tonight. And it's a side we've never seen before. Woods appears shirtless on the February issue of "Vanity Fair." The photo was shot before his sex scandal broke in November. The "Vanity Fair" article recounts Tiger Woods' fall from grace. The issue hits newsstands next Tuesday. I have a feeling it will sell well.

Still ahead, Gordon Brown necklace are cozy and even Kim John all featured in the fashion section of this month's "GQ Magazine." We'll tell you why, next.

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YELLIN: A political milestone in Texas today. Houston swore in its first openly gay mayor. Mayor Annise Parker was sworn in today after winning a runoff election with almost 54 percent of the vote. She called her victory, quote, "One step towards a greater justice." Houston is the largest city in the country to elect an openly gay mayor.

And finally, tonight the U.K. version of "The Men's Fashion Magazine", "GQ" released its annual worst dressed list. And topping that list as the worst dressed man of the year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. According to "GQ," Brown exuded quote, "Anything but a prime example of British style. The competition was tough." Brown beat out French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Comedian Russell Brand and this one is going to hurt, the always stylish North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il. Although, I think those glasses may have earned him some extra bonus points.

All right. Thanks for being with us tonight. I'm Jessica Yellin. Please join us tomorrow. Up next, Campbell Brown.