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More Fees for Checked Bags; Reid's Racial Remarks; Double-Agent Deception

Aired January 12, 2010 - 09:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, guys, and good morning to you, everybody. Here's what we're working on in the CNN NEWSROOM.

If you are an air traveler, not the greatest of news because more charges for checked bags. And one carrier may be doing this. What does that mean for the others? We'll keep our eye on that.

And also, mea culpa to the max. So why must Harry Reid spend so much time apologizing for those racial remarks he made? We'll get to that story as well.

Also taxing your patience. A new report says you'll be on hold longer with the IRS if they take your call at all.

Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins, it is Tuesday, January 12th, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Along with increased security, many airline passengers will now have something else to put up with. New fees. Delta Airlines, the world's biggest carrier, has announced it will raise the cost for checked baggage.

Could other airlines be far behind?

CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us now live from New York with more on this story.

Boy, this is definitely going to be a talker today. I am willing to bet, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I am sure, Heidi. I'm sure it's probably raising the dander of a lot of people in Atlanta, too, because Delta is based there as well.

But this is -- these are pretty high fees. Let me tell you about it. First checked bags now, going up as of today, if you purchased your ticket January 5th and later, going up to $23. They are hiking it by 8 bucks there. And if you have a second bag you're going to check, then that's going to go up 7 bucks to $32 for that. So it's -- already a lot of fees there. But get this...

COLLINS: You're choking already, Stephanie.


ELAM: What did you say?

COLLINS: I said you're choking on the words already.

ELAM: I know, I am choking. I'm choking about it.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes.

ELAM: And then if you think about this, though, it's not done because if you take a look at the added fees, if you go ahead and check your bag at the airport, if you go to the ticket counter, if you go to the curb side counter there.


ELAM: All of that will add additional fees to it as well. So this is really kind of crazy when you think about it that way. Now there are some people who will be exempt. Those people who were the elite travelers on Delta. People who buy a full-fare ticket and of course active military personnel who are traveling for their work.

Then they will be out of this loop here. But Delta is saying that their fares are competitive and that they have to do this because of economic concerns -- Heidi.

COLLINS: OK. So economic concerns. A lot of thoughts go through my mind on this. We've been talking so much about the TSA and some of the increased security issues that have come up, obviously, because of the most recent bombing attempt.

President Obama saying we're going to change things around, review some of these new strategies, and basically put more security into place. Is this what this is about or is this just flat-out the airline trying to make more money for themselves?

ELAM: Yes, well, they'll tell you that this is what they have to do when they compile all of those things. When they compile airline fuel, when they compile all these things together, this is what they need to do to stay competitive.

Now this does take them to a new level. They're saying it's pricing competitively. But what we will be watching to see if any one else of these other airlines try to tack on their fees as well.

Now you've seen in the past where someone will try to institute a new fee and it doesn't stick? And then you see everyone remove back down. We'll have to see what happens here. But take a look at this. This is the third quarter of last year here. $740 million. That's how much airlines made in baggage fees. And that's up 111 percent from the year before.


ELAM: Airlines made $2 billion in ancillary fees. And that's up more than 36 percent and that -- ancillary fees are basically the baggage fees, the reservation change fees, if you're flying along with your pet, those are the fees that we're talking about there. Last night we've been talking about the step on board about the pillow, the blankets, the food. That's a separate category. Just to keep your eyes on there.

So it's interesting to see how they're going to do this and if it will stick. For a lot of people who travel a lot, this may be a reason to, A, look at different carriers, or, B, learn how to pack a bag...


ELAM: ... carry on.

COLLINS: You know, you say look at different carriers. I mean you couldn't really do that because a lot of people already have tickets that they bought on this airline and you didn't know that these charges were going to...

ELAM: Yes, well, if you bought your tickets before January 5th, you're safe. If you bought it after -- you just have to pay the old fees that they have...


ELAM: ... before the $7 and $8 hikes. But if you bought it after January 5th, starting today, yes, then you have to worry about those fees.

COLLINS: Yes, no kidding. All right. Stephanie Elam, thank you.

ELAM: Sure.

COLLINS: And of course, we are talking about this story on my blog this morning. Asking you to fill in the rest of this sentence. "Delta's new baggage fees are," and no profanity, please.

Just go to, post your comments there, I'll go ahead and read some of them coming up in the next hour.

The crowded skies are being blamed for an increase in plane bird collisions now. Government figures for 2009 could top 10,000 for the first time. The US Airways jet that landed in the Hudson River was one of three aircrafts destroyed by birds last year.

And though no one lost their lives in the Hudson landing, at least eight people died in other collisions. The experts are linking the increase in strikes to more thorough reporting by the airlines and a larger population of birds big enough to knock jet engines.

Rob Marciano standing by now. This is one of my favorite things that we do, looking at all the airplanes in the skies. Because every time we look at it, it's just, it's like -- it covers the entire map.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. And you're talking about the potential of birds getting in engines, and so airplanes having to avoid birds in order to fly safely, and I look at this map, and I think well, they've got to worry about themselves running into each other here.


MARCIANO: Here's your shot from Miami. It's starting to look a little warmer, I guess. Starting to see some fair weather queues pop in there. Cold, cold stretch for those folks. To be below 50 degrees for a 48-hour stretch is extremely rare and may very well be a record. But you not only keep those kinds of records, but everybody in Florida, at least in the meteorologist community, is saying that's kind of crazy, for sure so.

COLLINS: Yes, no question.

MARCIANO: Warmer days ahead.

COLLINS: We like to hear that, very much. We'll check back a little bit later on.

Thank you, Rob.


COLLINS: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to get past controversial racial remarks he made about the then candidate president Obama. And the president also wants to turn the page on this.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joining us live with more on this morning.

Hey there, Suzanne. So how is the president dealing with the controversy? Obviously, we know that he already accepted the apology from Harry Reid?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is. President Obama says he accepts Senator Reid's apology, that he is closing the book on this, and that clearly, people who I have spoken to, say that the president's feeling is is that if it was a teachable moment, if it was necessary for him to come out and talk about race in some sort of meaningful way that he would.

But he feels this is one of those gotcha moments. He doesn't believe that this rises to the occasion. Just a side note, you may recall back in the day when they had that racial incident where the black professor and the white police officer, it was the First Lady Michelle Obama and some close friends who gave the president a little bit of a nudge there to get more involved in that racial incident that led to the beer summit back in July.

This a whole different kind of situation here. They do not believe that this the same kind of thing that they're dealing with here. Nevertheless, Heidi, it is important to note that this has caused some of Obama's greatest supporters to come forward and to at least debate the role of the president whether or not he should be more actively involved in debating the issue of race. Take a listen.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: We can't have an open, honest real discussion about race in this country. And I think this is, quite frankly, one of the failures of our new president. He is a remarkable man. He's an insightful man, but I think he's loathed to speak about race.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, President Obama clearly cannot have a beer summit every time there is problems or the issue of race come up as he did last year when the situation involving Professor Gates and Officer Crowley.


MALVEAUX: And Heidi, many people believe that the president is uniquely suited to talk about race, to deal with this issue, being biracial, being a very strong order as well as having the bully pulpit, essentially, of the presidency to outline this and discuss what so many Americans have a very difficult time doing and struggling with this issue.

Now the black leaders that I spoke with -- a lot of people who I have speaking with say that look, they believe that Senator Reid's comments were offensive, but they also believe that he spoke the truth. And we're going to be getting that -- into that a little bit more in the next hour or so.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes, very interesting there. You can't help but ask, though -- although, I mean, if we're being honest, we don't know the real answer to this question, but you have to wonder if it will change the relationship between Obama and Reid.

MALVEAUX: Well, all we can do is go from what he said and how these two people are interacting with each other. Clearly, the president is going to be working with Senator Reid. He needs Senator Reid to pass through the health care legislation bill.

That's going to happen in the next couple of weeks. That is critical. And of course, Senator Reid needs President Obama for his reelection. And we've been told by a senior administration official that President Obama is still going to keep his word, he's promised to campaign for Senator Reid out in Nevada sometime in February.

So these are two individuals who need each other politically as well. But the president does describe him as a good friend.

COLLINS: Yes, that's where the trouble really is, it seems, for Harry Reid, in Nevada. All right, we will follow this story throughout the day, of course, right here.

Suzanne Malveaux, thank you.

President Obama defended Senator Reid during an interview with CNN contributor, Roland Martin. The president said Reid was a good friend.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a good man who has always been on the right side of history. For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me, and for people to try to make hay out of that, makes absolutely no sense.

He's apologized for recognizing that he didn't use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited on what he had to say and he's always been on the right side of the issues.


COLLINS: President Obama also praised Senator Reid for using his political capital to push for health care reform. The health care issue could, of course, play a big part in Reid's reelection bid.

Getting behind enemy lines. A suicide bomber did just that. Tricking spies with big lies, gaining their confidence and then getting inside their camp.


COLLINS: Iran blames a deadly bombing this morning on a group it says has been active in post election riots. Massoud Mohammadi was killed by a bomb rigged outside his home. He was a nuclear scientist who taught at Tehran University and publicly backed Iran's opposition movement.

Since last June's elections, thousands of Iranians have protested those results prompting a sometimes government crackdown.

Leaders of that Islamic republic today said nothing would be accomplished by imposing more sanctions on Iran that come up Saturday. One representative from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. meet to talk about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Despite three rounds of sanctions, Iran continues to expand its nuclear program insisting it is for peaceful purposes only.

The west on the other hand suspects Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons. In October, the United Nations offered Iran a deal. No sanctions if it would agree to ship most of its low-enriched uranium abroad to be converted into fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.

Iran countered that. It wants that deal renegotiated, in fact, or it will enrich nuclear fuel on its own.

A drone attack kills 13 suspected insurgents in Southern Afghanistan. The missile strike came in the volatile Helmand Province. NATO says its troops saw insurgent mortar teams moving equipment. They also saw other insurgents gathering together ammunition.

A master of deception. That's what's being said about the suspected Jordanian double agent who killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan.

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has more now from Amman, Jordan.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): In the murky world of spying, there are few rules. No right. No wrong. Only shades of gray.

Success is by its nature rarely noticed, but failure is catastrophic.

(on camera): So how was a Jordanian doctor from here in Amman able to play double agent? Apparently outsmart his CIA handlers and prove that he was better at the deadly game of espionage.

HASSAN HANIEH, REFORMED EXTREMIST (through translator): This is the biggest deception ever of intelligence agencies. Whether CIA or Jordanian intelligence. From the beginning, he was deceiving them.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Hassan Hanieh should know. He was once an Islamic extremist but not a member of al Qaeda. He has read the bomber's radical blogs and says intelligence agencies made an obvious mistake in believing Dr. Humam al-Balawi could change.

HANIEH (Through Translator): We have never seen in the history of al Qaeda a person who changed his ideas completely in this sudden way. A person who writes jihadist stuff then suddenly switches sides.

ALI SHUKRI, FORMER ADVISER TO KING HASSEIN: This is always a red flag. It should always be that. For somebody who's been doing this, to be turned is not an easy thing to do.

ROBERTSON: According to Shukri, a veteran of Middle East espionage, it wasn't the only mistake intelligent agencies made. Al- Balawi was in Pakistan only a few months before offering high-grade tips, too soon for him to be trusted by al Qaeda.

SHUKRI: Was he really on the inside, that much on the inside? Or was it a competent intelligence operation?

ROBERTSON (on camera): Would that have been a warning sign for you?

SHUKRI: Exactly. Yes.

ROBERTSON: Because he was providing apparently good information so quickly?

SHUKRI: So quickly. Exactly.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Sources familiar with intelligence operations here tell us that al Qaeda takes at least a year to screen new recruits, check out their family background, get input from jihadists who know them. (On camera): And al Qaeda would never trust an outsider who'd been arrested. And al-Balawi blogged about his own arrests by Jordanian intelligence. Ignoring that, sources say, was another fatal error by the spy agencies.

(Voice-over): In this picture taken two years before the attack, al-Balawi looks calm, relaxed, but his family say he was under pressure. Sources say if he was pushed by Jordanian intelligence into infiltrating al Qaeda, it's his family believes that made him potentially unreliable.

And tempted by the possibility that al-Balawi might lead them to al Qaeda's number two, American and Jordanian spies dropped their defenses, desperate for what he said he had to offer.

SHUKRI: And so rules are broken when you put something on the fast track. You tend to break rules. Maybe this is what happened.

ROBERTSON: Another of the basic lessons of espionage. Patience and caution are everything.


COLLINS: Nic Robertson joining us now from Amman.

Nic, great piece there. Just wondering, were there potentially other warning signs that were missed here?

ROBERTSON: There were. The sources we have been talking to here, some of them have been familiar with running agencies in this region, and one of things they say was al Qaeda is an incredibly tough nut to crack.

And this Jordanian doctor was relatively young, just 32, and they say from their experience, he really wouldn't have been up to the job, learn this sort of trade craft, and perhaps sort of deceptive as he needed to be with al Qaeda to get to the upper echelons.

And the other thing they say, the agents here in this region have never had success outing an agent, inserting an agent into al Qaeda. They say that the only way you can really get that information is by recruiting somebody already on the inside of al Qaeda. Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes, it doesn't seem like, Nic, anybody should be all that surprised that they have this tough of a counterintelligence -- you know, the way that they run things?

ROBERTSON: Yes, it shouldn't really be too much of a surprise to people that al Qaeda has got a sophisticated counterintelligence. Certainly according to a couple of analysts here.

The reason for that, they say, is look, the Taliban had its roots almost 20 years ago now with the help -- in Pakistani with the help of ex-Pakistani military officers. They knew counterintelligence operations. This was imbued, taught to them, taught to the Taliban, taught to al Qaeda as well, by these former intelligence officers that work within the Pakistani military and intelligence structure.

So they already have sort of top class knowledge and trade craft passed on to them. Incredible, however, still, that they manage to take on -- apparently here -- perhaps the best intelligence agency in the world, the CIA. Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes, boy, it's such an incredible story. Nic Robertson, thanks so much, Nic.

A slugger strikes out. Mark McGwire admits he used steroids while hitting all those homeruns. He talks about his reasons forgetting juiced and for not telling Congress all about it.


COLLINS: Time now to check some of the top stories that we are watching this morning.

New York City says it's worried about your health. The city's health department, that is, kicking off a new initiative to remove salt from your food. They want food companies and restaurants across the country to lower the salt content in their prepared meals. High salt levels, of course, could increase blood pressure and the threat of heart disease.

President Obama and the First Lady will be in Wilmington, Delaware today. They're attending the funeral for Jean Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's mother. She died Friday at the age of 92.

Dozens of people showed up for the wake in Wilmington yesterday. The funeral is scheduled to get under way at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.


COLLINS: An admission from one of baseball's all-time best sluggers. Mark McGwire now say he used steroids for several years during his playing career, including when he broke the record for most homerun in a season.

But most people just remember McGwire refusing to talk about that issue in front of Congress five years ago. He says he was told by his attorneys not to say anything about it for fear of prosecution.


MARK MCGWIRE, SAYS HE USED STEROIDS BECAUSE OF INJURIES: We agreed to not talk about the past. And it was not enjoyable to do that, Bob. I'm going to tell you right now, standing up there -- or sitting up there, listening with the Hooten family and the other families that were behind me that lost their loved ones, and every time that I kept on saying, I'm not talking about the past, I hear these moans. It was killing me. It was absolutely killing my heart. But I had to do what I had to do to protect myself, to protect my family, and to protect my friends.

Anybody that was in my shoes that had the scenario set out in front of them would have done the same exact thing. The toll that my body was going through and the level that I had to play at, and the injury plagues that I was plagued with for many, many years, I mentally thought that by taking the low dosages that I did would make me feel normal.

And that's what I felt like. I did not take this for any strength purposes at all.


COLLINS: McGwire's admission did not come as a big surprise for many people. The steroid suspicion has kept him out of the Hall of Fame so far. But he will always be remembered for that 1998 season. That's the year he and Sammy Sosa put on a show that brought many fans back to baseball after years of labor unrest.

McGwire hit 70 homeruns that year to break the record held by Roger Maris. McGwire says he called the Maris family yesterday to apologize. That record has since been broken by Barry Bonds, whose career is also clouded by steroid allegations.

Devastated by the freezing cold, the lower the temperature drops the more money one man loses. The toll this weather is taking on some businesses.


ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Heidi Collins.

COLLINS: Wall Street's big focus for the next few weeks, what corporate America has to say about the economy at the end of 2009. And the first one to weigh in on the matter is a big disappointment.

Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange with more details on this now.

Hi there, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Heidi. Well, we're going to hear from hundreds and hundreds of companies over the next few weeks, Heidi. But there is fear Alcoa's results could set the tone for everybody else.

The aluminum giant reported a nearly $300 million quarterly loss. That's much smaller than the year before. But revenue fell because of weakness in the aerospace and construction sectors.

To cope, Alcoa is in the process of cutting nearly 25,000 positions.


LISOVICZ: Alcoa shares right now down nearly 8 percent.

Video game publisher Electronic Arts says sales fail to rebound during the holiday season and so it slashed its full-year outlook. Electronic Arts shares tumbling 8 percent.

Do you detect a theme here, Heidi?


LISOVICZ: Wal-Mart planning to close some 10 money-losing Sam Club's stores next week, a move that will affect 1,500 jobs. The stores are all across the country from New York to California. Their earnings disappointments, well, they're not being well received here. No surprise.


LISOVICZ: Now the NASDAQ and S&P 500, each down about half a percent in the first minute of trading. This is the kind of -- we get into this season here, and it's tunnel vision. You know?


LISOVICZ: You hear from a company and the reaction is pretty swift. Sometimes it's punishing.

COLLINS: Yes, no question. All right, Susan, we are watching those reports as they continue to come out. Thank you.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Seems like the bitter cold weather is not letting up. Many of you have been sending us great pictures of where it's like where you live.

In St. Louis, Missouri, iReporter Wes Alman captured these pictures of the Mississippi River frozen solid. And in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, iReporter Brittany Christi took a picture of this frozen jeep which is being used as a piece of art outside an art studio.

In San Antonio, Texas, iReporter Karn Clausen sent us these pictures. Cold enough for him, playing a game of pool on his frozen pool. Definitely my favorite. Not quite sure what happens, Rob, when you actually go to break, because I think everything slides onto the floor but maybe not.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, no, you deal with thin ice, and those falls are heavy, and you've done trick shots. You know?

COLLINS: Yes, forget it.

MARCIANO: Forget about tearing up the felt, I mean, you could punch a whole right through, and then the whole game is over.

COLLINS: But you say it's warming up?

MARCIANO: Yes. Slowly. I mean, it is so agonizingly slow how long this is taking.


MARCIANO: And actually our forecast from yesterday for today was probably a couple of degrees off, meaning it's colder than what we were thinking.


MARCIANO: And with that we are looking for temperatures to be still below normal again today, but tomorrow and then especially on Thursday, I think this will start to push off towards the north and east, and that will help make people feel just a little bit more warm, which is good news.

COLLINS: All right. Yes, very good news. All right, thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: OK. See you.

COLLINS: We've been telling you about the impact, though, the cold snap has been having on Florida's citrus and vegetable industry. But another type of farming there is also being affected by this weather.

Our Martin Savidge is near West Palm Beach this morning to talk a little bit more about exactly what is going on there.

Hi, Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. As you mentioned, there's been a lot of speculation about the impact of the cold on citrus and on vegetables here in Florida, but there is another industry that already knows that it has been heavily damaged, in fact, devastated might be the word that comes to mind.

The tropical fish industry. A lot of people may not know this, but Florida is the largest supplying state of tropical fish in the United States. In fact, it's an industry that generates revenues above $43 million annually.

This is one of those tropical fish farms. If you have an aquarium of -- fresh water aquarium, it's probably a good chance that your fish came from Florida. And this is called green acres. And it had, up until a few days ago, 125,000 varieties, or actually 25,000 fish, and they all died in a span of about four nights.

That has wiped out Michael Breen, a man who has spent 14 years farming in this industry. Put everything he had. Last year they had a cold snap, so all the money he had saved up went to recover from that. He's got no insurance, he's got no money, and now it looks like he's pretty much done with this business.

Here's what he had to say.


MICHAEL BREEN, FISH FARMER: It would take normal sort of a catastrophe, it would take us about six months with the proper funds. And I've always had those funds. I've always kept some in the coffers. And the last freeze really hit us hard. And I took everything out of my coffers. And I just watched it all die.


SAVIDGE: This was his dream, you know, some people might look at fish and say, well, what kind of business is that? But to him it was farming. It was his life. He'd saved up, it's something he always wanted to do, and it is big business down here.

And they estimate that about 70 percent or more has been wiped out. And that will be felt in pet stores all across the country, an impact that will be probably suffered for years to come -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, and who hasn't had a goldfish for one of their kids growing up, too.

SAVIDGE: Exactly.

COLLINS: All right, well, we're thinking about this and all of the impact of the cold. Marty Savidge, thanks so much. Live from Florida for us this morning.

Stealing unemployment. New York state has already arrested 53 people for double-dipping. Another 70 cases are being processed. Authorities say those people didn't tell the unemployment office when they got new jobs. They were caught when the state crossed checked unemployment records against new-hire tax filings.


WILLIAM FITZPATRICK, ONONDAGA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I guarantee you that sometimes this week there's going to be a number of phone calls to state department of labor people suddenly deciding that they're no longer eligible for unemployment insurance, especially when you have a toll free number and you probably have a big mouth and bragged to everybody how you're ripping off the state.


COLLINS: Investors say some of the $250,000 lost so far was used for casino trips and online dating services. Most of the people will just have to pay the money back but some could face charges.

The father of one of the world's most wanted men talks exclusively to CNN. Why he says his son is just an all-American boy who's been misunderstood.


COLLINS: Let's get a look at some of our top stories now.

Charges could be upgraded against a soldier accused of attacking an AirTran gate agent. The agent Rita Maxwell says Michael McDonald cursed her, spit on her and knocked her into a wheelchair after she said she was unable to help him get on a flight in Atlanta's airport.

McDonald says Maxwell attacked him. The soldier also says he suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome and have not taken his medication.

Punishment for adultery in New Hampshire used to be standing on the gallows with a noose around your neck. Today state lawmakers will hole a hearing in repealing the 200-year-old criminal law.

A co-sponsor of the refill, though, thinks the state should not regulate people's sex lives. But an opponent believes the repeal would weaken families. Though the law is unenforced, offenders can still face a $1,200 fine.

Getting you up to speed on the failed Christmas day attack on Flight 253. Here's what we know at this point now.

On November 18th, the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab warned the U.S. embassy in Nigeria about his son. Then on December 25th, Abdulmutallab allegedly tried and failed to blow up Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear.

January 7th, the White House released preliminary findings in the case. The president gave remarks citing failures in security and intelligence. The final report still pending.

And January 9th, Abdulmutallab pleaded not guilty in a Detroit courtroom. Before Abdulmutallab made the trip into the U.S., he traveled to Yemen. There he met with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, according to officials that is.

Al-Awlaki is one of the most wanted man in the world. But in an exclusive interview with our Paul Newton in Yemen, his father says the perception of his son is all wrong.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This man, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born Muslim cleric is one of the most wanted fugitives.

Counter terror forces in Yemen are training to track him down, though he is hiding somewhere up there, in the rugged mountains of southern Yemen.

In the capital of Sana'a, we went looking for his family to learn more about the man who praised the alleged Fort Hood shooter and may have encouraged the bombing attempt on the Christmas flight to Detroit. His father, a former government minister here, says the west is mistaken that his son is not the new Osama bin Laden.

(On camera): For al-Awlaki's father, Nasser al-Awlaki, has agreed to an interview but he said this is only courtesy and he doesn't want any cameras. But we're about to go to a neutral location just around the corner from here in the capital Sana'a.

Let's see what he has to say.

(Voice-over): Al-Awlaki's father told me his son is not a member of al Qaeda. He says, "He has been wrongly accused. It's unbelievable. He lived his life in America. He's an all-American boy. My son would love to go back to America. He used to have a good life in America."

(On camera): And yet an American security official tells CNN that al-Awlaki did meet with the man accused of trying to blow up that airliner to Detroit on Christmas day. This officials believes that al-Awlaki is one of the top leaders here of Al Qaeda in Yemen, one of only five, and that he sometimes last year transformed himself from an Internet preacher to a hands-on operative who not only recruits, but also helps plan attacks on the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Voice-over): All of that, of course, is not what his father wants to believe. He told me, "What do you expect my son to do? There are missiles raining down on the village. He has to hide. But he is not in hiding with al Qaeda. Our tribe is protecting him now."

This man is a journalists from Yemen. He is the last reporter to speak with al-Awlaki before he went into hiding with this tribe.

The tribe issued a statement saying if anybody touches on hair on al-Awlaki's head, the tribe will respond to a force.

NEWTON: And that means even with the most aggressive manhunt, al-Awlaki may be as well protected right now as Osama bin Laden.

(On camera): No matter how effective the counterterrorism forces, no matter how good the training, much of this really won't matter in the tribal regions, which the government has little or no control over.

His father holds some hope that he can convince his son to surrender without more bloodshed but he needs time, he says. He claims he hasn't spoken to him in weeks, the son who he says has always loved America.

Paula Newton, CNN, Sana'a, Yemen.


COLLINS: As if tax season were not enough fun already, a new report says the IRS will offer less help and more waiting this year.


COLLINS: If there is one thing positive to say about NBC's late- night shake up, at least it's giving the hosts plenty of material to work with. Last night was Jay Leno's first show after NBC announced it's yanking him out of the 10:00 p.m. Eastern spot. And he didn't hold back the zingers.


JAY LENO, NBC HOST: Supposed that we we're moving to 11:30 but even this is not sure.


LENO: You see my people are upset. Conan's people are upset. Hey NBC said they wanted drama a drama at 10:00, now they have got it. Now they got it, everybody is mad. Exactly.

I'll tell you what, I'll tell you one thing, I take pride in one thing. I leave NBC primetime the same way I found it, a complete disaster. So I'm leaving it exactly as it was.


COLLINS: The current plan is to put Leno back at 11:30 p.m. -- 11:35 that is, p.m. Eastern and move "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" back to 12:05 and stick Jimmy Fallon's late night in that 1:00 a.m. hour.

Tax season as you know, right around the corner. In the forecast: longer wait times and less help from the IRS. Personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, joining me now to talk more about this fantastic news.

Gerri, not a very good outlook here, obviously; tell us more about the report.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, Heidi, the National Taxpayer Advocate, this is a federal official that represents taxpayer interests. They released their annual report on the IRS and here's what they expect for this upcoming tax year.

They expect staff, IRS staff to answer only 71 percent of calls from taxpayers with issues. In other words, the IRS is planning to be unable to answer about three out of every ten calls it receives. And the average phone wait time will be 12 minutes -- Heidi.

COLLINS: So I imagine there might have been some other glitches that were outlined in this report?

WILLIS: Lots of complaining about poor levels of customer service. The report criticized the IRS for what it called excessive use of liens. And liens are simply claims on property or income if you owe the government money. These liens are automatic. They're processed by a computer and not by people this way people with fewer assets are impacted more. In addition to the IRS system of paying refunds first and later verifying data from employer W-2s and bank and brokerage tax statements, well, it's not really good for taxpayers. That's because taxpayers may learn later they owe more in taxes, including interests and penalties.

The report wasn't all bad, though. The report did say that the IRS pulled-off what could have been a disastrous tax filing season last year. They dealt effectively with the making work pay credit and quickly processed claims and (INAUDIBLE) returns for that first-time home buyer tax credit.

Now, we also talked to the IRS to see what they had say, right? For their part they say, that over the last two filing seasons they have assisted an unprecedented number of taxpayers through toll-free telephone service and they say overall taxpayer satisfaction is high.

In addition, for the first time the IRS will require registration testing and continuing education for all paid tax preparers who sign returns. That's a new thing and a big change for tax preparers out there.


WILLIS: But you're going to have to watch out this year and you going to have to get your advice before the 15th of April.

COLLINS: Definitely. Don't wait around on this one, huh. Gerri Willis our personal finance editor. Thank you.

A lot going on in the NEWSROOM this morning, staying on top of a lot of big stories too. We want to get to our correspondents now.

We begin in the weather center with Rob Marciano. We want to hear warmer temperatures.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we'll start with record cold again this morning across parts of Florida, back into the mid- 20s, but warmer temperatures are on the way at some point. We'll tell you when this week they'll arrive in the next hour.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. President Obama calling Senator Reid a stalwart champion of civil rights, a friend. He say, he has forgiven him for his apology and is closing the book on this. But some of the president's greatest supporters say this is a new opportunity for Mr. Obama to lead when it comes to the issue of race. I'll have more of that at the top of the hour.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Elizabeth Cohen in Atlanta. A new study shows that young people today are more depressed, anxious and tense than ever before. What's going on? I'll have that answer at the top of the hour.

COLLINS: All right, thanks, guys. Also how to stop the killings: 69 people dead in one day in Mexico, all drug-related. We'll take you to its most violent city and see what authorities have planned.


COLLINS: We know Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is sorry for what he said about President Obama. That's what he said. But was it racist? Was it true but crudely phrased or was it just plain clueless? Our Soledad O'Brien looks closer at what's really motivating his apology.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: I've apologized to the president.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So why exactly is Harry Reid spending so much time apologizing?

Author and blogger, Keli Goff.

KELI GOFF, CONTRIBUTOR, HUFFINGTON POST: First of all, apologizing because it's politically necessary to do so. But second of all he's really apologizing because he used essentially antiquated racial language.

O'BRIEN: Problem number one for Senator Reid, race and privilege. The senator suggesting the light-skinned candidate has a better chance of winning.

PETER BEINART, SR. POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: I believe that Harry Reid was revealing a very ugly truth about how white Americans tend to view African-American candidates. It's not a surprise that even in recent memory if you look at Doug Wilder in Virginia, for instance, or the success that Harold Ford has had, it has often been more light-skinned African-Americans that had greater success or the extraordinary success that Colin Powell had amongst White Americans.

GOFF: What I thought was fascinating about his comment and the reaction to it is I think a lot of black people have long believed that it's sort of an inner community secret, right?

O'BRIEN: Problem number two, the senator's use of the phrase "negro dialect". what exactly does that mean? We asked famed Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree.

CHARLES OGLETREE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW: You have to ask Harry Reid. It certainly makes no sense in my sense of what the dialect of African-Americans are, because it's as varied as the dialect of any ethnic group anywhere in the world.

O'BRIEN: Professor and preacher Michael Eric Dyson says it's not just how you say it, it's what you're talking about. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It's not just intonation. If Barack Obama were speaking about affirmative action and bussing and housing and unemployment and stuff, he'd be seen as more black.

O'BRIEN: By Negro dialect, maybe senator Reid meant this.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time.

O'BRIEN: Barack Obama speaking to a mostly black crowd at the NAACP may be the biggest problem of them all. Problem number three for Senator Reid. That word, Negro. Who even says that any more?

According to the U.S. census in the year 2000, about 50,000 Americans wrote in the word "Negro" to describe themselves, but a savvy, white politician?

GOFF: What I do find somewhat comically ironic about it is you know, I can't tell you how many times I've been told I speak so well, I speak like a white person. And he essentially...

O'BRIEN: You're so articulate.

GOFF: I'm so articulate.

O'BRIEN: Soledad O'Brien, CNN, New York.