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President Obama Demands Answers; Newark Airport Security Breach

Aired January 5, 2010 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight...


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American lives are on the line.


KING: ...President Obama on the intelligence breakdown that could have killed hundreds.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The system has failed in a potentially disastrous way.


KING: What went wrong and what's he doing now to prevent future attacks?

Journalist Bob Woodward and former government insiders Michael Chertoff and John Negroponte tell us what they'd do to make America safe.

And then Joan Rivers -- a security threat?

She was kicked off a plane.

Could her travel nightmare happen to you?


Good evening.

By the way, I want to remind you that Richard Heene, the father who led the whole country to believe his son was trapped in a runaway balloon will be here Friday, his first interview since being sentenced to jail. And he says, it wasn't a hoax. That's Friday's LARRY KING LIVE.

Following a meeting with his national security team about the ongoing review into the failed Christmas Day bombing attack, President Obama summed up what went wrong and his response to it. Watch.


OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. I just concluded...

The bottom line is this. The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no fly list. In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.

The information was there. The agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together.

I will accept that intelligence, by its nature, isn't perfect. But it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable and I will not tolerate it.


KING: The famed journalist, Bob Woodward, will join us in a couple of moments.

Let's go to Dan Lothian, our CNN White House correspondent -- Dan, what struck you about the tone and the content of those remarks?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president was very firm. And I think what was -- was really important and what came out of that statement and what appeared to be new was the fact of what you just heard there, that the president said that the U.S. intelligence community did have the information and could have connected the dots.

We heard over the last few days that there were bits and pieces of information, but no smoking gun. And now the president comes out and says that there were these red flags, that there was information that showed that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did seek to not only strike U.S. interests in Yemen, but also here on U.S. soil, had been working with an individual who now turns out to be the suspect.

So the information was there, it was just what was done with that information. The dots were not connected that could have placed this suspect on a no fly list.

KING: Thanks, Dan.

Dan Lothian, our senior White House correspondent -- always on the scene.

Joining us now in Washington, Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with "The Washington Post." His number one "New York Times" recent best-seller was "The War Within." What struck you about the president today, Robert?

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is a problem he thought was solved, that they really had set up all of this apparatus and process, as everyone says, to connect the dots. And it turns out that, as he said, there are system failures and there are human failures.

I remember one of the former CIA directors used to say, in dealing with something like that -- this, the solutions are middle management having good middle managers; in this case, watch officers, who are there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and -- and then having the data to sift through.

Clearly, people were asleep.

If you listen to the president's remarks at length, I think he used the word failure or failed about eight or nine times. I mean that is -- he's giving a knee to the whole intelligence community and the system that is set up to keep something like this from happening.

KING: What do you make of him?

You -- you know presidents as well as any journalist.

What do you make of him in tone and style?

What's your read on this man?

WOODWARD: That -- I mean, specifically on this issue, you can't live in the modern presidency in the age of terror -- and you get -- he gets daily briefings. He has to make daily decisions about things that are being done. So he's up on his toes here about all of this.

The problem is, you've got to draw back and say, long-range, how do you solve the Al Qaeda problem?

Obviously, it's something that this country has been working on for decades. We have not solved it. There are tactical efforts made. These drone strikes in Yemen, in Pakistan -- these are unmanned aerial vehicles with missiles where they attack Al Qaeda camps and leaders and so forth. But that's a tactical solution. And -- and they run around and they high five each other and say, oh, we killed five today, we killed six. It's not a strategic solution, where you've got to develop some way to say, OK, how do we really defeat Al Qaeda?

And I don't think they've got that.

KING: What do you make of -- of the Cheney criticism?

WOODWARD: I think he's a -- Cheney is a little out of the loop, quite frankly. The reporting I've done on this, Obama is very, very aggressive and done all kinds of things that Cheney would approve of. But to Cheney, it sounds like Obama is soft. And he's always thought of Obama as soft. He opposed -- Obama opposed the Iraq War, something that Cheney, you know, encouraged, to say the least. So he looks at Obama as soft and, oh, he's going to do these things with interrogation in Guantanamo.

I think when you get into the details of it and I think if somebody briefed Cheney, he would find out that the administration acquitted itself quite well on most of these matters.

At the same time, you're going to have some of the government experts on and I think they would tell you, in the end, you can be lucky or unlucky on something like this. It could have -- in this case, it could have been one person on watch that Christmas holiday who said, gee, this is strange, let's look at this and let's look at that and gone on alert. It just didn't happen.

KING: We'll take a break and be right back with Bob Woodward. Not surprising, Bob is doing a book on the early days of the Obama administration.

Comparing Presidents Bush and Obama, how much difference is there between them as the way they command-in-chief, so to speak?

We'll ask, when we come back.


KING: This is between George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

WOODWARD: I said he was a gut player, not a textbook player. He would go on his instinct and in reporting what he was doing, you had to find out what his instinct was and then almost always it was, OK, how are they going to carry that out?

In Obama's case, he's obviously much more analytical and systematic. He comes at it from -- you know, he's the law professor, to a certain extent, in all of these dealings. So you saw the law professor today scolding the class -- the intelligence community and his national security team.

KING: Well put.

How about those who say that he appears to lack passion?

Do you see that?

WOODWARD: I -- I don't think we saw any lack of passion today. I think David Gergen was on CNN earlier saying he was smoldering. I don't know whether he was smoldering. I think there's a -- he knew he couldn't smile and he knew he had to present a real atmosphere of utter, utter seriousness, which I -- I suspect he did.

But, you know, here's the -- if you kind of try to get to 30,000 feet on this, the issue is Al Qaeda and their safe havens. And they have safe havens, particularly in Pakistan, where they believe Osama bin Laden is now. Now and this is, you know, after almost a decade of chasing him, there are safe havens in Yemen.

How do you deal with these safe havens?

And that's something I think they're still wrestling with. And as I said earlier, I don't know that there's a real plan other than these drone strikes and to get other countries, like Pakistan or Yemen, to use their own military force to go after the safe havens, which lots of countries are not anxious to do, to say the least.

KING: Bob, is -- you've covered and written about war so frequently and so well.

Is, frankly, the war on terrorism, is that a winnable war?

WOODWARD: Well, George Bush and Barack Obama agree on one thing -- they've both said we are going to defeat Al Qaeda. And that is the chief terrorist threat.

You know, I don't know. I mean, you know, there is -- if you dig into some of this, Al Qaeda has been setback at certain times, but they're also growing. They're -- they're quite talented in some of the diabolical things they do. And somebody was telling me just this week that they're spreading into North Africa. Now, North Africa is almost -- it's a little smaller than the whole United States. This is a big area and there are Al Qaeda cells springing up in -- in new places.

So what do you do about that?

KING: Hoping to do what?

WOODWARD: Hoping to, you know, somehow eliminate them, degrade them and defeat them and, you know, a giant task. I'm glad it's not mine.

KING: Do you fear them going to do other things in the United States?

Forget planes -- how about shopping centers?

WOODWARD: Yes, exactly. I mean this is...

KING: Ball games?

WOODWARD: We -- we've talked about this, that you become generals fighting the last war. We're all worried about airline security and you go through an intense scrutiny getting on an airplane. But go on a train or go to a power plant or go to a mall...

KING: Yes.

WOODWARD: ...where there are many more people than are on one of these aircraft and something could happen. Now, you can't get on a train in Yemen and make it to the United States. So that's a problem for Al Qaeda. But this is the great question. You can ask the experts. There -- there have been Al Qaeda cells or Al Qaeda affiliated individuals in this country operating.

KING: And watching us tonight now, maybe?

WOODWARD: You know, who knows?

I mean that's the problem. That's why this, I think, has really shocked President Obama, because he realizes, look, if that plane had gone down, Dick Cheney would be on the airwaves saying, see, I told you, this guy is weak, he let it happen.

And the political implications for President Obama if this doesn't work, if he doesn't solve this problem, are off the charts.

KING: Thank you, Bob.

We'll be calling on you frequently.

Good luck with the book.


KING: Bob Woodward.

Michael Chertoff and John Negroponte are here in 60 seconds.


KING: Some breaking news for you before we meet two outstanding public services -- public servants. On the day that President Obama called his top security team for a breakdown in intelligence gathering, CNN has learned that security cameras that would have recorded the man who walked through Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport were working, but they were not recording. That's according to a spokeswoman for Transportation Security Administration.

The former homeland and security chief, Michael Chertoff, is with us. Also with us is Ambassador John Negroponte, who was the first director of National Intelligence. Both are veterans of the Washington scene and dealing with topics like this.

Michael, what do you -- what do you make of that?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, CO-FOUNDER, THE CHERTOFF GROUP: Well, you know, we have occasionally had a breakdown -- had breakdowns at airports. It happens. I'm quite sure that the TSA director in that particular airport will be looking over not only the mechanical failure, but if there was a human failure on someone slipping into an exit door that should have been locked.

KING: Ambassador, is this kind of a -- an overwhelming attempt here?

It seems that with all the people in the world and the terrorism they're moving here and he's going there, that you're kind of up against it.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, 2005-2007: I -- I wouldn't call it overwhelming. I think it was -- if you took it in aviation parlance, it was a -- a near miss. It was too close for comfort. It's like two airliners flying 100 feet from each other. And you sort of -- after you see that happen, you say well, how did that happen?

You've got to look into it. You've got to take corrective measures. I think signals were mixed, which so often happens in these kinds of situations. And I think -- I took the president's appearance today to -- to be a stern message about how we've just got to tighten things up here. And that's what they seem to be preparing to do.

KING: By the way, Michael Chertoff is co-founder of The Chertoff Group, a security and risk management firm. Their clients include a manufacturer of body scanning machines.

And Ambassador Negroponte is now vice chairman at McLarty Associates, an international strategic advisory firm.

Body scanning is going to be widely used, Michael?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, we started to advocate for this in 2005 and we began the process of deploying scanners in 2007 and 2008, because what they allow you to do is to see what might be concealed in clothing, including non-metal, which is what we had, of course, as the components of this particular bomb.

It has hit a lot of resistance from a small group of very determined people who have privacy objections. But you have to weigh, in the balance, the need to be able to assure people they're not smuggling on bombs against the concern that some people have that you're intruding.

And we did put privacy protective measures into the system so that we blur the face and we, you know, don't retain the image. So I think we did a pretty good job of balancing. But it's slowed up the deployment quite considerably.

KING: Mr. Ambassador, what about the White House decision that would the mandate extra scrutiny for travelers flying into this country from 14 mostly Muslim countries?

Is that effective or is it, as critics say, profiling?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I don't know. I was traveling myself this weekend and I was a beneficiary of some of these enhanced measures. And I was coming from -- from Europe. I think that's quite a natural thing to do under the circumstances.

But I think the principal problem here was the missed signals that we were talking about earlier. But any of these situations require both better intelligence, better analysis, on the one hand, and better physical security measures on the other, because you never know which of those two elements is going to be decisive in the end in preventing a terrorist attack from happening.

For example, if there had been scanning devices that could have detected the material that was in this terrorist's undergarments, then that would have prevented him from boarding that aircraft.

KING: Michael, is profiling going to be a fact of life?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, I don't think that they're planning to do religious or ethnic profiling, which is something that we haven't done because it's not particularly effective. But what I do think they're going to do, which makes sense and which we have done, is to look at things like where has someone been?

Where have they traveled?

Who have they traveled with?

If they are a foreign citizen, of what country are they a citizen?

Those are all legitimate things to look at. We have used them from time to time based on intelligence. And I certainly think it's appropriate for the administration to consider these factors as part of the total intelligence mix.

KING: We'll be back with more of our two outstanding guests after this.


KING: Ambassador Negroponte, we talked with Bob Woodward about safety measures and what might happen -- shopping centers, power plants, train stations, ball parks.

What -- what do you fear the most?

NEGROPONTE: Yes, I was a little bit -- I thought that was maybe a little bit over dramatized, if you will. I mean, after all, it's -- I don't think that they've got the kind of infrastructure and people here in this country to carry out those kinds of activities, at least not on an extensive basis. There could be one off situations like what just happened here. But I don't think we're at the stage where those kinds of things could happen on kind of a regular basis.

So it's -- obviously, we can't let our guard down. That's what this is all about. That's what we're talking about this evening.

But I think the -- the threat is more against United States' interests abroad, in different parts of our world against our friends and our allies. I think that's a much greater threat than any threat we confront internally.

KING: What worries you the most, Michael?

CHERTOFF: Well, I agree with John that in terms of sophisticated plots, the ones launched and guided from overseas are still the ones we worry about most. And, of course, the real fear has always been a weapon of mass destruction, like a biological weapon or something of that sort. But I do have to say that we are beginning to see the -- a glimmer of a homegrown problem in this country, as we've seen overseas in, for example, Great Britain, although it hasn't reached that level yet. But in the last few months, we have the Zazi case disrupting an Afghani living in the U.S. who was going to potentially blow up some buildings in New York. And we had the five young men who went over to Pakistan to fight. We have David Headley, who apparently was involved in the Mumbai attacks.

So we're beginning to see this problem in the U.S. And that's something which, in addition to being concerned about overseas threats, we're going to have to focus on here at home.

KING: Ambassador, is homeland security working, in your opinion?

NEGROPONTE: Well, we're certainly safer than we were prior to 9/11. I think intelligence is better integrated. And I think information sharing between the agencies is working much better than it did before. So in that sense, I think, yes, homeland security is working.

But just as we've seen in this episode that we're living through right now, the system is -- it can always benefit from improvements and that it is subject to human error and human weakness. And so we've got to stay on top of it.

And I think the president himself personally has got to stay on top of it. And if there's any real outcome from this, I suspect. You're going to see President Obama devoting a lot more personal attention to overseeing these matters than he might have done heretofore.

KING: Michael, when you left office, what problem, in your mind, still existed?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, I think we had accomplished a lot in terms of driving the recommendations that the 9/11 Commission put forward. But we had not completed the job. And what concerned me was the resistance that was beginning to mount from certain special interests to some of what we wanted to do.

By way of example, one of the core recommendations of the Commission was secure documentation. We got a lot of that done. But it became very difficult in the last year or two. There was a lot of Congressional resistance. Local communities complained that if the border security was enhanced, it would affect commerce across the border. We still haven't gotten the secure driver's licenses done.

So I worry that we lost some of the momentum. And I'm hopeful, frankly, as Tom Kean said, that this near miss will serve at least the positive value of being a wake-up call and reinvigorating the effort.

KING: Ambassador, in the near future, are you optimistic or pessimistic?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I'm -- I'm hopeful that we'll be able to address the problems that -- that arose in this particular case. I think we mustn't forget this is not just a domestic American problem, but an international one. We're talking about international terrorism. And it requires working with our friends around the world to deal with this situation, just like we're working with Pakistan and Afghanistan to deal with a threat emanating from the federal administered tribal areas of Pakistan; so, too, now are we going to have to reinforce our efforts with countries like Yemen to deal with the Al Qaeda threat in that area.

And Bob Woodward mentioned what was happening in Africa. And it's not only in North Africa, Algiers and Algeria, in particular, but also in Sub-Sahara Africa, where the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, as they call it there, has strengthened in -- in the last couple of years.

So our plate is full, but it requires proactive efforts internationally. It's not just defensive measures taken domestically. But we've got to work proactively with other countries around the world to deal with this threat.

KING: We thank Michael Chertoff and Ambassador John Negroponte and we'll be calling on them again.

Two outstanding public servants.

Observers from the left and right face off on terror and President Obama's response to it, right after the break.


KING: Now to discuss the politics of all of this, in New Orleans, James Carville, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, in Washington, Nancy Pfotenhauer, Republican strategist. She served as senior policy adviser in the McCain campaign. How do you assess, James, the tone and content of the president's remarks today?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I liked it. From day one, I thought that they should, you know, get to the bottom of this. And that's apparently what he's doing. I thought he was aggressive. I liked to see the president saying, you know what, something went wrong here. I'm not happy about it. Let's find out. And I think the word will reverberate through the agencies.

Clearly, as something like George Clooney, I'm up in the air all the time. When I see something like this happen, I want to know what happened. I want to know what to do to make it safer. So I liked his remarks, I really did.

KING: Nancy, on Republican criticism of Obama is weak on national security -- Bob Woodward, who is kind of objective, I guess, said that's kind of a misnomer, that he's strong in that area. How do you assess him?

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR POLICY ADVISER: I think the jury is out, for sure. Look at the fact that the American people, about 55 percent of them, thought we were winning the war on terror when President Obama was elected. Only 36 percent believe that today.

The bottom line is, no matter how deeply you bow from the waist, there are still people out there who are intent on our destruction. And I think there have been really mixed signals sent by this administration. You've got Janet Napolitano, who would not mention the word terrorist or 9/11 in her Congressional testimony. You had her coming out with a report a few months later saying that American veterans were as great a threat, if not greater than radical Islamists.

You just had incident after incident. And the fact that the president did not respond for as long as he did not respond, I think, has hurt him with the American people. This was a step to try to heal that.

KING: James, what do you make of Vice President Cheney's actions?

CARVILLE: Let's give President Obama credit; he didn't invade the wrong country. And let's further give him credit that he didn't have Osama bin Laden caught and backed away from it, as Vice President Cheney did. We'll give him a big round of applause there.

I don't know what -- I think they got a vice president and Michael Steele and Sarah Palin out. Democrats couldn't pay for better criticism. Again, I think the president stepped up fine. Secretary Napolitano, I actually owe her an apology. I was critical because she said the system worked. I was misinformed. She was talking about the system after this incident happened. It clearly didn't work before it happened. That happens often in pundits.

KING: Another area, Nancy -- we're going to throw to a toss here. But even before he took office, Mr. Obama was under fire from some quarters for the pledge to close the prison in Guantanamo. He spoke about that today. Watch.


OBAMA: Given the unsettled situation, I've spoken to the attorney general and we've agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time. But make no mistake, we will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.


KING: Nancy, should he have -- based on his promises, have closed this sooner?

PFOTENHAUER: I think it was a mistake. And I think the fact we're shipping these people to northern Illinois is ridiculous. You know, we're all concerned about traveling at this point. But I'm sure not flying through Chicago, as much as I love the people and the food there. This was the type of thing where it was press release policy. You know, he came out with the press release because it was a campaign promise, before they thought through how they were going to handle it. You've got serious, serious national security concerns related to this. And I just think that, you know, they're trying to kind of do clean-up after they've made a mess, and they feel like they can't back away from it.

It's somewhat similar to that presidential debate where the commentator asked him if he would sit down and have direct talks with the three or four worst tyrants in the world, and he was the only Democrat who said yes. And then instead of saying, I made a mistake, he tried building a foreign policy around it. We're not safe with North Korea, with Iran. You name it, we're in worse shape.

CARVILLE: You know, I fly to Denver all the time. I feel very safe there. They have some of the worst criminals in the world in the federal penitentiary in Denver. So I'm perfectly comfortable that we can handle prisoners of any type in this country. We're a great nation and able to do that.

Look, these kinds of things -- I think he's right to use it as a recruiting tool. It wasn't this administration that released the two people that trained these people, by the way. I think we're perfectly capable of doing that. And I do think Guantanamo prison -- Bush said he wanted to close it. You know, it takes a while to wind this thing down, but I think they're working hard. And when they get it closed, we can transfer the people. In fact, the people in Illinois requested that they were perfectly capable of taking care of these prisoners, which I'm sure they are.

KING: We'll be back right after this. Don't go away.



OBAMA: Time and again, we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary. So we have to do better. And we will do better. And we have to it quickly. American lives are on the line.


KING: Nancy, the administration is taking some flack for treating the Christmas day bombing suspect as a criminal defendant, rather than an enemy combat ant. What do you make of that?

PFOTENHAUER: Again, I have to say I just seriously disagree with the approach that the administration has taken. When I was reading the news reports, and they said that this individual was charged with destroying an aircraft, quote, unquote, rather than a terrorist attack, it's like there -- this news conference was one of the first times I've heard the president or one of his cabinet secretaries actually acknowledge that we're in a war on terror and use the word terrorists. The American people are responding to that. They are not going to feel safe until they believe that the president understands the nature of this threat.

So I think it is a problem. I think all the pretty words and the press conferences where you don't take any questions aren't going to fix the problem, that he's got to start calling this what it is, and that's a war on terror. These people are intent on destroying us.

KING: James, is he soft on this topic?

CARVILLE: I'm very passionate about this. They are criminals and they should be treated as such. The Nazis, we didn't have war soldier trials; we had war criminal trials. I don't know where anybody else is from. But where I come from, the Appalachian criminal is much more degrading than the Appalachian soldier.

What's really interesting is Chief Justice Jackson directed those. He was a civilian. When the Israelis caught Adolf Eichmann, a war criminal -- a war criminal -- they took him into Israel and they gave him a trial and then they hung him. And that's the way this man should be treated. He is a criminal . Our courts are perfectly capable of trying and convicting and punishing criminals.

So I feel that this is exactly the right thing to do. This is what the Bush administration did with Richard Reid. if our federal courts, if they can't protect us, with this much evidence, how can they protect me when I'm living in New Orleans, and I walk out on the street? I'm very, very passionate about this. I think this is the absolutely right way to do this, to treat them as they are, criminals.

KING: Nancy, what do you make of this? Go ahead.

PFOTENHAUER: I do not think these individuals deserve the same rights that any American would have brought before a court in this land. And that's the bottom line. And you can either treat this as an act of war or as a mugging. The fact that this gentleman -- this gentleman -- listen to me -- this individual was charged with destroying an aircraft, rather than an act of terrorism, is an a abomination, in my opinion. It's swinging way wide.

The American people don't agree with it. And that's why those numbers have plummeted from 55 percent who thought we were winning the war on terror to 36 percent who think we're winning it today. By the way, that mirrors a lot of other numbers that are plummeting for President Obama and the Democrats. They have to get more in line with mainstream America.

CARVILLE: Again, I would register vehement disagreement. They're criminals. Nazis were not -- the people that ran these camps were not soldiers. They were criminals. We treated them as such. That's the fate that he deserves. That's the -- he deserves. And that's the one he'll live with.

KING: Do you think he would not get a fair trial, Nancy? I mean, what's your concern if he's tried as a criminal or tried as a terrorist? PFOTENHAUER: I believe that he has not earned the right to have the same protections that an American citizen has. I think there is an obvious reason why there is a disagreement here, where you have people who are, by and large, with a military background, saying this needs to be treated differently. This can't be treated as a common thug.

There is a greater intent here. There is a greater threat here. As horrible as it is, when one human being decides to take the life of another human being, it is different from when a nation decides to destroy another nation. Our country and our culture are under attack. And if we do not correctly assess the threat, we will not correctly protect ourselves.

CARVILLE: Again, in other words, if we can't be protected from him, how can we protect anybody? Eichmann was a war criminal. He was given a trial. He was actually given a lawyer. And that is what Chief Justice Jackson did with Nazi war criminals. We're perfectly capable.

By the way, justice should be public. People should see us do that. They should see us mete out the punishment. You know that's what happens when you do that. It's very important they be treated as such. Thank you.

KING: Thank you guys. Nancy Pfotenhauer, always good seeing you, and James Carville. Joan Rivers a security threat? She's here with her own airport screening nightmare, and that's in 60 seconds.


KING: You know Joan Rivers is the star of "How Did You Get So Rich," winner of "Celebrity Apprentice," and the recently named host of "Fashion Police," which will bring her back to E-Entertainment Television. With us tonight for a different reason. Joan was denied boarding from her commercial flight from Costa Rica to New York on Sunday because of a, quote, suspicious passport. Her passport lists her name as Joan Rosenberg, AKA Joan Rivers. She claims that even after she explained to the gate agent that her married name is Rosenberg, her seat was still given away and she could not fly.

You were on vacation, right, in Costa Rica with your family?

JOAN RIVERS, "HOW DID YOU GET SO RICH": A wonderful vacation. We were told to get to the airport with a lot of time, because it was already after there was trouble. We did. Bring all kinds of identification, which we did. I was taken through four different checkpoints, all of which I was glad to do, took off my shoes, took off everything.

Then, at the last minute, some moron idiot decided, as we're literally going onto the plane, and ripping your ticket, they didn't understand why my passport had two names on it. And I was denied access to the plane.

KING: Has this ever happened to you flying before? RIVERS: Never. I've been all over, Larry, India, China, Nepal, Korea, you name it, Russia, never.

KING: What was the gate agent's point of view, then? Was it a he or a she?

RIVERS: It was a woman. And I think she was premenstrual. And she was just in a terrible -- she just wasn't going to understand that I was flying under two names with my passport that the United States government says also known as, AKA.

KING: So you never boarded the plane?

RIVERS: I was not allowed to board the plane. I was left in the airport, which closed on Sunday night. It was a very small airport. And I was told, that's it. That's it.

KING: More on this -- hold it, Joan. We'll come right back. More on this in a moment. Joan Rivers is our special guest. Don't go away.



KING: Back to the dilemma of Joan Rivers. Joan, your passport reads Joan Rosenberg, AKA Joan Rivers. What name was on the ticket?

RIVERS: The ticket was Rosenberg. But they had mixed it up and I didn't see it. They put a man's name on it, Joseph. So I went through five -- I think four or five security points where they looked at my passport and didn't notice that it wasn't even my name. So they --

KING: In these kind of frantic times, do you think maybe the agent, strictly going by the letter of the law, it didn't match?

RIVERS: But Larry, it should have not matched at the beginning. You don't make me go through the immigration, the customs, the check in, the seat assignment, and then, as you're boarding the plane, they say, wait a second, something is wrong here. That should have been told to me two and a half hours before I arrived -- when I first arrived at the airport.

KING: They didn't know you in Costa Rica? The agent didn't know who you were?

RIVERS: No. All the people in line knew me and were asking for autographs and taking pictures. At one point, I got so frustrated, I said, get the pilot. Call the pilot. He will know me. They refused to do that. I said call the airline in New York City. They refused to do it.

KING: Did the rest of your family fly home?

RIVERS: They had flown home a half-hour ahead of me, so I was totally alone.

KING: Joan, we spoke to Continental Airlines about what happened. And we're told, they provide names and information to the local immigration authority. And if there is a discrepancy with a name on their passenger list, they may have to hold someone from boarding.

RIVERS: Absolutely fine, Larry. Absolutely fine. But they should have told me that when I checked in. And don't tell me I'm Joseph Rosenberg and then, when I get to the gate, they suddenly say, oh, wait a second, this is wrong. I had my ticket. I had my boarding pass. I had gone, as I said, through all immigration and customs.

This is nonsense. And how dare they! How dare they! I find this outrageous.

KING: What happened after? The plane takes off.

RIVERS: The plane took off and I was told -- I said, what do I do? I had 100 dollars. I had given Melissa all my money because she was going to change in Atlanta. I said you'll need tip money. I had 100 dollars and nothing in the middle November where, in an airport that was an hour and a half from the hotel. I said what do I do? And they said -- they closed the airport on Sunday night. They said maybe we can get out a plane on Friday. How about that one?

Luckily, the man who was -- I had one man who was pushing my luggage. And out of kindness of his heart -- this man named Elton. He started getting me phone numbers and he went in the back. And he said, if you drive -- if you drive to San Jose, there is another airport there. So I drove for six and a half hours at night, in a car with a man I didn't know, over back roads and got myself to San Jose.

KING: What happened at the airport there?

RIVERS: The airport there -- the next morning, Continental had a wonderful man named Joe Arensik (ph), who from 4:00 on was on the phone with me. But they had sent me to Houston. Even that got screwed up.

KING: But they allowed you to get on with the name differential from the ticket?

RIVERS: Of course. Of course. If it is good enough for Russia and Nepal and China and Japan and Korea and everywhere else I've been, I think it should be good enough for Costa Rica.

KING: We'll ask Joan in a minute if she throws it up to the nature of the times. Right after this.


KING: Joan, a couple of things in this incredibly puzzling story. Who was the guy who drove you six and a half hours on back roads? RIVERS: I don't know his name. He was a lovely man. And I'm sorry that I said the man named Elton helped me in Liberia, and a lady named Cindy helped me in San Jose. And the other gentleman, I got his card -- and in my hysteria, I lost it.

KING: He just said, I'm driving to this airport. I'll give you a lift.

RIVERS: This man Elton arranged for it and got me there.

KING: Was it true that when you were in your anger, you told the gate agent you were having a heart attack? She called the paramedics?

RIVERS: No. What it was, again -- it was about rich tourists, Larry. They didn't know who I was. And I said to her, you must be kidding. I'm going to have a heart attack over this. And the woman said, click, woman having a heart attack. Let's get the paramedics. And they brought them in. She knew perfectly well --

KING: Frankly, Joan, do you think this is the nature of the times? This is just what the world is now.

RIVERS: Let me tell you -- it is a joke, but it is not a joke -- that we can have a couple break into the White House and they're not arrested? I find this outrageous. Outrageous. First time in our history that a white couple -- my joke is -- broke into a black man's house and it's ha-ha-ha. But it is not funny. It is serious times and let's take them seriously and let's be careful. But they --

KING: Let's get a quick call in. Redding, Pennsylvania, hello.

CALLER: Joan, don't you feel ashamed of yourself that you're calling a poor woman who is just doing her job, the way the federal guidelines are set up, and calling her a moron?

RIVERS: No, I don't, my darling. Just hold it, mister. I was given a boarding pass with the wrong name on it. I went through five different security passes. And then a woman at the gate, who will not look at my passport, who will not call Continental, who will not call for help, who will not recheck into their records, says to me, you cannot go on? No, she is a moron. And I stand on that.

KING: Sorry, we're out of time.

RIVERS: Don't you tell me that.

KING: To find out where Joan is appearing next, including her QVC dates this weekend, go to our website, Congratulations on 20 years on QVC.

RIVERS: Thank you, my darling.

KING: It's time now for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?