Return to Transcripts main page


Behind the Latest Terror Plot; Washington's Involvement in Yemen

Aired November 1, 2010 - 17:00:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: Yemen steps up the hunt for the bomb maker believed to be behind the cargo terror plot. That's led to new fears in the country's stability. Now, a top Yemeni minister warns it could become the next Somalia.

But as authorities across the globe rush to tighten airline security, are passengers likely to bear the brunt?

Going beyond borders on the day's biggest stories, on CNN, this is the hour we connect the world.

Well, Yemen claims it's doing all it can to tackle the insurgents operating in its country.

But how much help is it getting from the U.S. and does it need more?

Joining the dots in London, I'm Max Foster.

Also tonight, as Dilma Rousseff becomes Brazil's next president, we'll look at other women who've risen to the top and how the countries that elected them may surprise you.

And he's known for the hit, "Sweet Caroline," but just who is or was it about?

Singer Neil Diamond reveals all as he answers your questions as our Connector of the Day.

Remember, you can connect with the program online by Facebook. The address is

Germany, France and Britain have all halted cargo shipments from Yemen, as the world weighs its response to a foiled bomb plot.

Let's kick things off with our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, tonight.

He's here in London following developments.

And the British government responding today with more restrictions -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. For passengers now, you will not be able to take a printer cartridge on a flight in your hand baggage if it's larger than 500 grams. That seems to be about the size of some of the printer cartridges that were in these printer bombs. That's a new restriction by the British government. Also (AUDIO GAP) (INAUDIBLE) they're going to apply the same restrictions on banning direct flights from Yemen. That will now apply to Somalia, as well. And the home secretary, Theresa May, saying quite clearly today a viable bomb designed to go off on the air, still investigating exactly some of the technicalities of it. But very clear now, the man behind this bomb had a very dangerous track record.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): He is a man so callous, so fanatical, he made a suicide bomb for his own brother -- an underpants bomb to try to kill Saudi Arabia's top counter-terrorism official, Prince Muhammad. It failed.

But Ibrahim al-Asiri so liked his own handiwork, he copied the design for failed Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. And now, he's widely thought to have made the printer bombs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to find him. We need to bring him to justice as soon as we can.

ROBERTSON: The link -- the explosives. All used PETN. Expert Sidney Alford has shown me its massively destructive qualities. He says intelligence agencies will now search for similarities between the al- Asiri's bombs.

SIDNEY ALFORD, EXPLOSIVES EXPERT: And they will be looking at contaminants. They will be looking to see if they can find nitric and/or sulfuric acid.

ROBERTSON: Al-Asiri's latest effort was intercepted thanks to a Saudi tip-off. And that hints at the biggest breakthrough yet, according to Yemen expert, Christopher Boucek.

CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK, YEMEN EXPERT: Al-Asiri has been spending a lot of money inside Yemen to bolster the Yemeni internal security efforts, but also to recruit assets and he's also spending money with tribes.

ROBERTSON: Saudi and Yemeni officials say a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay provided information about the plot. He'd been a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AKAP, before surrounding a few weeks ago. When the Saudis cracked down on al Qaeda activists several years ago, many fled across the budget to Yemen.

The attack on Prince Muhammad by al-Asiri's brother showed the scale of their ambitions.

BOUCEK: Ever since Prince Muhammad, who runs the counter-terrorism efforts in Saudi Arabia, survived an assassination attempt, I think this became a much more serious situation for the Saudis.

ROBERTSON: So does the better intelligence mean al-Asiri will be caught any time soon?

Not necessarily. Yemen's central government is weak and al Qaeda has tribal friends where al-Asiri can hide. But Boucek warns, getting al-Asiri is not the solution.

BOUCEK: Killing al-Asiri or catching al-Asiri is not going to dismantle AKAP and its -- its ability to target Western, American, European interests. That's going to continue.

ROBERTSON: Where experts and officials agree, AKAP is currently far more operationally active, and, as such, a far bigger threat to the U.S. and Europe than al Qaeda's leaders in Pakistan.

Nic Robertson, CNN.


ROBERTSON: And the question facing the experts and government officials right now is what to do -- take offensive action against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or bolster support for the government. And that's going to be a tough call. And that's the call people are making right now -- Max.


Thank you very much, indeed.

Nic Robertson there joining us from London.

Well, let's pick up the story in Yemen now, where authorities are stepping up efforts to capture the man who's said to have created the bomb, as well as an influential radical cleric there.

Here is Mohammed Jamjoom.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A senior Yemeni government official tells CNN that the bomb signature on those explosive devices sent in parcels from Yemen most closely resembles that of Ibrahim al-Asiri. That's the top bomb maker for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And we've also been told that Yemeni security forces and counter-terrorism officials will be dispatched to an area of Yemen close to Marib Province in an effort to kill or capture al-Asiri.

Now, in a significant development from earlier statements made by Yemen's government, we're also being told that counter-terrorism officials, in cooperation with the army and police in Shabwah Province and tribesmen there, that they will be conducting sweep operations in order to capture radical U.S. Yemeni cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.

Now, the reason this is significant is because Shabwah Province is a stronghold for militants. It has been believed for a while now that al- Awlaki is hiding there. Al-Awlaki's tribe is actually from that province. But al-Awlaki has been a real sore point for Yemen's government. It's very sensitive for Yemen's government to try to announce that they are specifically targeting al-Awlaki because al-Awlaki is very popular, because his tribe is very powerful and the government is afraid that if they specifically target him and let that be known, then that will engender anger from that tribe.

They are now saying that they are actually working with members from his tribe in order to try to capture him.


FOSTER: Mohammed there.

Well, there is another connection to London, too. Months ago, a Yemen conference in -- on development was planned to be held here. But in light of the weekend's developments, the focus was all on security.

Becky was there and she caught up with the country's deputy finance minister, Jalal Yaqoub.


JALAL YAQOUB, DEPUTY FINANCE MINISTER, YEMEN: The three pillars that the government must deliver on the ground are job opportunities, electricity, water and all that. And the third is rule of law. By -- by improving the effectiveness of the government and getting help from our donors in our -- for our own plans, I think we actually can achieve these three points.

And that would reduce the -- the -- the attractiveness to such destructive ideologies.

BECKY ANDERSON, HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: But you are, of course, looking for aid and financial aid from donor countries.

What do you need, $150 million, $200 million a year?

YAQOUB: In the next 10 years, it -- it should be at something around $45 billion to $50 billion. It's not an easy amount. I think if we continue on the current pace of investment, the current pace of investment, I think we would reach a -- a situation like Somalia in -- in the next seven to 10 years.

ANDERSON: So you're suggesting a failed state, are you?

YAQOUB: Well, I'm not suggesting a failed state. What but I'm suggesting a state where citizens don't get the right services delivered to them. But if we -- if we double -- if we double the level of investment, I think we can -- we can reach -- we can reach the -- the beginnings of a -- of a developing nation.

ANDERSON: And you've suggested that give it another decade without the sort of support that you are suggesting, the financial help, that you are looking at Somalia.

YAQOUB: We're looking at Somalia in terms of the -- the economic and development indicators, which, you know, and we have many of -- many challenges related to education, health, water, power, roads, all offer these areas. If we don't -- if we don't, today, double the investment in these areas to Yemen, we can -- we can reach -- we can reach that -- you know, the stage that I -- I talked about.


FOSTER: Yemen's deputy foreign minister there speaking to Becky earlier today at the Yemen conference here in London.

And we're not done with this story. Next, shedding light on Washington's secret activities in Yemen.

And later, how all of this affects you -- we look at the security impact at airports around the world.

Stay with us.



I'm Max Foster.

Well so far this hour, we've brought you the latest on the investigation into the failed bomb plot originating from Yemen.

Now, we're going to look at Washington's involvement in that country.

In a minute, we'll head to the Pentagon. But first, I want to show you part of a report that we first ran on this show back in July.

Jane Ferguson brought us some video that we weren't meant to see.


JANE FERGUSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the mountains outside Yemen's capital city, Sanaa, I was given rare access to a military training ground. But I wasn't supposed to see this -- American and British trainers giving lessons in fighting al Qaeda. Within moments of my arrival, these men behind sunglasses and under hats, ordered me to stop filming and quickly left the scene.

US officials have admitted to their presence, but until now, it has never been captured on camera.

Back at the central security forces headquarters in the city, where the country's top counter-terrorism unit is based, I met with their commander, General Yahya Al Saleh. He spoke frankly, giving details on how the cooperation works.

YAHYA AL SALEH, YEMENI GEN: It's financed and supported by the United States government and the U.K.

FERGUSON: The men at the training grounds are more than advisers to the fighters, he told me. They don't just teach them, they pick them. British and American expats select and train new recruits, so far shaping an elite counter-terrorism unit more than 200 strong. And this is the product of that training -- Yemen's forces in the field conducting raids and reconnaissance.

I was not allowed to join the troops on this mission, but was given exclusive footage of them in action. They would not tell me how many missions have been completed, but General Yahya did say every single operation has been filmed. This is archived in what amounts to a secret library of material, which is used as a training tool by the British and Americans.


FOSTER: And let's get some more just on how much the Pentagon is willing to admit that it is involved in Yemen.

Let's bring in Chris Lawrence -- Chris, what have you learned today?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a pretty strong denial on -- on the part of Pentagon officials as to some reports that the -- they were considering putting U.S. Special Forces units under the control of the CIA. Pentagon officials say that idea is under no serious consideration, these -- this idea of Special Forces taking an active combat role there.

But we know Special Forces troops are in Yemen already. And I was told by another Defense official that those Special Forces, some of which we -- we may have seen during Jane's piece, but that they are -- are taking on a more complex training mission recently, that includes not only air support, but combining that with tactical ground information, teaching the Yemeni forces some of the tactics that they use.

Also, the -- the money has drastically increased. If you go back to 2006, the U.S. military was giving Yemen less than $5 million American for training and for equipment. This year, that's well over $150 million. So the money has certainly increased.

The big question now is -- is drones. And we're told that the White House and the Obama administration is holding some very high level talks on whether to institute a drone program -- an unmanned drone program in Yemen, sort of what they have going in Pakistan.

The thing is, that would take the consent of the Yemeni government, which so far has not indicated that. And some analysts I speak to say there is a real danger in comparing Yemen to Pakistan, where Pakistan they've -- the -- the al Qaeda presence has been there a long time. It's firmly entrenched. He says it's a different situation in Yemen and the drones could end up doing more harm than good.


BRIAN FISHMAN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: If we start up with a drone campaign in Yemen, we're going to disincentive the Yemeni government to take the steps that it needs to take in order to govern these places. And so while I -- I think that there is a natural tendency to look toward a technological solution like a drone strike, a drone strike, drone campaign, I think that we would be making a mistake if we jumped to that immediately in Yemen.


LAWRENCE: And, obviously, as we all -- we've already seen in Pakistan the danger is, if some of those drone strikes were to kill tribesmen there in Yemen, you risk turning a segment of the population not only against the United States, but even more directly against, perhaps, Yemen's government itself -- Max.

FOSTER: OK, Chris, thank you very much, indeed for that interesting stuff.

So what does Yemen think of a foreign presence on its soil?

Well, Becky put that to a man who's been prime minister twice for a total of 12 years and remains an important figure in that country.

Here's her interview with Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani earlier today in London.


ABDUL AZIZ ABDUL GHANI, CHAIRMAN OF YEMEN'S SHURA COUNCIL: Yemen has the capability to fight al Qaeda inside of Yemen provided that we get economic, financial and maybe equipment support. But it will defeat the purpose, really, of fighting al Qaeda if we bring in foreign nationals to fight al Qaeda inside Yemen, including American forces.

Yemen has a strong air force. They have land air forces. They can do the job with the help of -- of the people of -- of Yemen. But we need the support because this is an organization that requires a lot of work to separate and to get it off.

ANDERSON: Right. The problem is, at this point, isn't it, that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is becoming more and more successful.

Do you have time, as the Yemen government, to get the development issues sorted out that would perhaps negate Yemen being this kind of country which is breeding and exporting terrorism at the moment?

Do you have the time, because al Qaeda are particularly...


ANDERSON: -- successful.

ABDUL GHANI: Well, we -- we do have the time. I think the possible - - the latest development, these parcel shipments, from my point of view, it was really overblown in the media and also the reaction to what happened at...

ANDERSON: These were devices that might have exploded on planes.

ABDUL GHANI: Yes, yes, I know. But similar accidents have taken place in the past. And we see that Yemen is being tarnished harshly, really, for acts that were committed by this terrorist organization. You know, Yemen has suffered greatly from this organization. Many people were killed in the last two months, civilian and military, by this organization.

So we are doing all we can. And we are assured that we will succeed, provided that we get the aid.

You know, why do we ask for planning aid?

The country is one of the least developed countries in the world. We need to develop the economy of the country to face the increasing numbers of population that are out of work, to also improve the standard of living of -- of -- of the people and to prevent people from being enlisted in this organization.

ANDERSON: You talked about just how important Saudi relations are with Yemen.

How would you describe or characterize your relationship with Saudi at present?

ABDUL GHANI: I think they're the best. They're standing between the leadership of the two countries, between President Ali Abdullah Saleh, King Abdullah and at all levels of government and different levels of the people. We have more than a million Yemeni citizens in Saudi Arabia. We share a common history, language, border -- a long border line. And we appreciate the aid that we get from Saudi Arabia. In terms of economic aid, they are the biggest donor. And on the international community, for the economic development in Yemen, and they have participated in the last war against the Hosni (ph) groups who had had an incursion into Saudi territory.


FOSTER: Former Yemeni prime minister there, Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani.

Well, much more to come on this story, including a look at stepped up security. And we'll see how governments around the world are trying to keep their citizens safe.

And later, so long Mr. President -- Dilma Rousseff breaks the highest gender barrier in Brazil.


FOSTER: From London to Sanaa to Berlin, authorities are putting tough -- tougher security measures in place after the failed bomb plot. Yemen has announced a crackdown on cargo shipments. It's promising to thoroughly search every single piece. It's also tightening general security at all airports.

Germany, France and Britain aren't taking any chances, halting all cargo shipments from Yemen. Germany and Britain are banning passenger flights from Yemen, as well, and the British home secretary announced even more steps, including banning unaccompanied freight from Somalia because of possible contacts between militants there and Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Britain is also putting new restrictions on passengers' hand baggage.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: From midnight tonight, we will suspend the carriage of toner cartridges larger than 500 grams in passengers' hand baggage on flights departing from U.K. airports. Also from midnight tonight, we will prohibit the carriage of these items by air cargo into, via or from the U.K. unless they originate from a known consignor, a regular shipper with security arrangements approved by the Department of Transport -- for Transport.

We intend that these final two measures will be in place initially for one month.


FOSTER: Well, the United States, meanwhile, is sending a team of experts to Yemen to help screen air cargo.

For more on that part of the story -- excuse me -- Brian Todd joins us now from Washington -- Brian, what are officials telling you?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Max, we're being told by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the United States is now taking additional and what she calls undisclosed security steps in the wake of the explosive devices found in those two air cargo packages. But she says the U.S. is not yet following Britain's lead in halting unaccompanied air freight from Somalia.

Napolitano has told CNN the two devices found last week bore all the hallmarks of a plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula but she said forensic testing is continuing on the detonators of the two explosive devices.

Officials are trying to determine if they were intended to go off while the planes were in the air or after they landed in the United States.

Meanwhile, there is was lot of scrutiny today over the screening of air cargo. Officials have said at least one bomb found last week may have traveled on passenger planes. The TSA says all the cargo in passenger plays -- planes on domestic U.S. flights is screened, but not all cargo from overseas into the U.S. is screened, just what's classified as high risk.

US Congressman Ed Markey says roughly 80 percent of cargo on passenger planes coming into the U.S. on -- is checked.

And I asked him why only 80 percent.


ED MARKEY, U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRAT: I am told that the difficulty is in reaching agreements with other countries that would, in fact, ultimately put in place the screening process for cargo in other countries. They are still working on the remaining countries in order to secure the proper cooperation to achieve the final screening goals.


TODD: Now, other reasons why not all cargo coming into the U.S. on passenger planes is screened. These are reasons cited by TSA officials and outside experts -- probable -- problems in getting security services in some countries to upgrade to U.S. standards and, of course, the costs involved in kind of closing that loophole and getting all the cargo screened. Those come with some monumental costs and not everyone -- not every country and not every security service is up to that yet -- Max.

FOSTER: Brian, thank you very much, indeed, for the U.S. perspective on that.

Let's hear some more from one of those outside experts, aviation safety consultant, Chris Yates, joins me now from Manchester in England, one of the leading experts, certainly in this country, this part of the world.

Chris, just explain to us the complications here, because there's an awful lot of freight traveling around the world, traveling between different pieces of air space and they've all got different restrictions, haven't they?

So it's very complicated.

CHRIS YATES, YATES CONSULTING: Yes, there's no general set of ground rules for air freight that encompasses the entire globe. The British Airline Pilots Association said today that they'd been lobbying for such a -- an international agreement for as long as they can think of. But getting that agreement is proving to be pretty tough going.

Your colleague in the United States talked about agreements between the U.S. and other countries in terms of screening everything that goes into the belly hold on a jet flying into the States. There is something of a spat going on between the U.S. and Europe over that particular issue. The U.S. wants everything screened by very high tech means. We are arguing, on this side of the ocean, that that's not possible. The U.S. may have to accept screening by, for example, canine teams. And the -- the war of words continues.

FOSTER: I've been speaking to an -- one of these companies that creates this scanning equipment. He says that all explosives, pretty much, can be detected at this point, you just need to have the right kit in the airport. And I guess the problem is that they're -- it's very expensive to put in everywhere and it causes huge delays.

YATES: Well, all of these devices have a price tag to them. Some are much more expensive than -- than -- than others out there. You know, there is technology that can find this particular explosive. And it can find it very swiftly, very accurately and, you know, we would like to see that sort of technology perhaps deployed at our airports.

The problem is, who pays?

In the United States, there's always been, since 9/11, the -- the premise that the government pays for security. Everything is paid from or purchased by the TSA. It's not the same elsewhere in the world.

Here in the U.K., for example, the government position is that it's the user who pays. And so they provide the regulation, they tell us what to do and then the airports and the airlines have to go out and purchase that equipment.

FOSTER: There -- having an -- an international standard is some way off, if we ever get it at all. So in the meantime, what sort of gaps are there in the system which are making people -- passengers vulnerable?

YATES: You said an international agreement a long way off, it probably is. But, you know, there -- the aviation industry here would like some multilateral action rather than unilateral action, because all that does is add cost upon cost upon cost and make the -- the -- the system much more complex than -- than it actually should be.

FOSTER: Yes, but I'm just wondering, in the meantime, what's the -- what sort of vulnerabilities are there, if there are different standards in different countries when the planes are flying between those different countries?

YATES: Well, I think the -- the evidence of that is in what happened on Friday. You know, we're looking at possibly a regime in Yemen, a security regime at the airports there, that has crumbled away. It is not meeting international standards. And as such, we had one of these...

FOSTER: OK. We've got a problem there with the connection.

But Chris Yates there joining us from Manchester with his perspective.

Now, coming up next, a glass ceiling is shattered in Brazil. That country has elected its first female president, joining many of its Latin American neighbors in the process. So why do some societies seem to elevate women so easily whilst global giants like the United States lag so far behind? We'll explore that ahead.


FOSTER: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD in London. I'm Max Foster. Coming up, a rising global power elects its first ever female president. We'll see how Brazil is following in the footsteps of other Latin American nations.

Also, being a woman in some parts of the world can mean unwanted advances. We'll meet some harassment victims who are fighting back online.

And then, kicking off our week-long look at music legends. Neil Diamond will be the first of our special Connectors taking your questions ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD.

All those stories ahead in the show for you but, first, we're going to check on the headlines this hour.

Two of Yemen's most wanted militants are the targets of intensified military operations. Officials have long sought the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, although there's no evidence linking him to the recent parcel bomb plot. The other target is al Qaeda bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Yemeni authorities strongly suspect he is behind the terror plot

Voters across the United States head to the polls on Tuesday in congressional elections that are seen as a referendum of President Barack Obama. Polls say the economy by far is the most important issue to Americans.

Iraqi authorities say most of the people killed in a hostage drama in Baghdad -- in a Baghdad church on Sunday were women and children. They said that 58 people were killed, including priests and police officers. An Islamic extremist group with ties to al Qaeda is claiming responsibility.

Police in Greece say they followed parcel bomb attacks on French president Nicolas Sarkozy and three foreign embassies in Athens. A woman was wounded at a courier company whilst handling one of the bombs.

Another glass ceiling shattered in South America on Sunday, when a former fugitive guerrilla who says she was tortured by the military in the 1970s was elected president of Brazil. CNN's Shasta Darlington spent time there covering the election this year.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Historic results in Latin America's biggest country. Brazilians have elected their first female president, Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla during the military dictatorship of the 1960s and 70s. The ruling party candidate won with 56 percent of the vote against 44 percent for Jose Serra, a former Sao Paulo governor.

Now, her victory was due in large part to the support from the current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He's got an approval rating of over 80 percent, and that's because he's kept the economy booming during his two terms in office. This year alone, it's set to grow at 7.5 percent.

And that means millions of Brazilians climbed out of poverty into the lower and lower-middle classes. Those are the people who voted for Dilma Rousseff, and in her victory speech, she promised not to let them down.

DILMA ROUSSEFF, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF BRAZIL (through translator): We cannot rest while there are hungry Brazilians, while there are families living on the streets, while poor children are abandoned to their fate. The eradication of poverty in the coming years is therefore a goal that I take, but for which I humbly ask the support of everyone who can help the country work to overcome the chasm that still separates us from being a developed nation.

DARLINGTON: But for Brazilians, there's still plenty of question marks. Dilma Rousseff was president Lula's energy minister, and then his chief of staff, but she's actually never held elected office. And some analysts say that she could try and give the state a bigger role in the economy, especially the key oil industry.

Either way, they say that she's going to have to tackle Brazil's poor record in health education and infrastructure if she wants to keep the economy booming. All of that while the country prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic Games in 2016. Shasta Darlington, CNN, Havana.


FOSTER: Dilma Rousseff joins a short list of women who've risen to the very top of government all over the world. In fact, Brazil's neighbors in Latin America have a long history of putting women in power. Most recently, in Costa Rica, where Laura Chinchilla was elected president earlier this year.

Great Britain is home to one of the most famous female politicians of all time, Margaret Thatcher, who served as prime minister for 11 years beginning in 1979.

Moving to Africa, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not just the president of Liberia, but the only elected female head of state on the whole continent. She's been in office for five years.

And before all of those leaders came to power, there was S. Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka. She became the first ever elected female prime minister in the world in 1960, when the country was known as Ceylon. South Asia is also home to several other famous female leaders, including Indira Gandhi in India and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan.

But my next guest says even though South Asia may be in first, those nations are not the pioneers when it comes to female leadership. Let's speak to Victoria Budson, she's the executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, and she joins me now from Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States. Thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

Why is South Asia not pioneering when it has had so may female leaders?

VICTORIA BUDSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WOMEN AND PUBLIC POLICY PROGRAM, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, it's a pleasure to be here. What's interesting about South Asia is when one looks at it, one thinks, "Wow, they are really leading the globe when it's come to women's electoral leadership."

But what we actually see is it's less about freedoms and ability for women to participate in politics there, and it's more about a set of elite ruling families enabling and supporting their sons and their daughters.

And when we want to look at and benchmark real political change for women, even looking at the recent election of President-Elect Rousseff, or looking throughout that region, what you can see, for example, is in Argentina, you have more than 30 percent of the seats are held by women in their parliament, and they've had two women who've been elected president. And you see a much more robust, full political representation.

The same if you look at the Nordic countries that have nearly 40 percent. When you come to the Americas, it's much less. We tend to be at 17 or 18 percent.

FOSTER: Yes, talk to us about the United States, because a country of great equality and a pioneering country --


FOSTER: When it comes to equality, and yet, you don't have this sort of -- you don't have any sort of previous presidents who've been women.

BUDSON: Absolutely. And in addition to having no female presidents, when one looks across the globe, there's wonderful benchmarking done, and the United States lags behind. We're 73rd in the world when it comes to women's electoral representation in the parliament. That puts us equal to Turkmenistan. We are way behind.

The US is an interesting case. It's a very young country in terms of its electoral time for women. Women have only had the right to vote since 1920 and, in that time, we've never done better than we have today, with 17 percent. And we continue to do just a little better in state legislatures, at around 24 percent.

But we are not a burgeoning democracy that has women at every level and stage. Things are changing and improving, but it'll be interesting to see what our midterm elections bring tomorrow in terms of women's political power here.

FOSTER: Yes, exactly. And that will develop, won't it? We'll see how that works out.


FOSTER: But it's interesting that you draw parallels between South America and the Scandinavian countries, because they're worlds apart but, obviously, the politics is working in a similar direction.

BUDSON: Worlds apart, but when you look at individual countries and whether or not women are gaining both success at high levels of electoral outcomes and the parliament, the executive branch as well as the deliberative bodies, what it takes isn't just a woman being elected president.

When we look in Brazil, they're 106th in the world, that puts them way behind. But what we do have is for the first time a woman who will become president who can serve as a role model. And even in her opening remarks in her new president-elect status, she talked about how she hoped both fathers and mothers would look at their daughters and say, "Yes, you can do anything that you want to do."

And that in addition to wanting to alleviate poverty, she put right in the center of her agenda, human rights and more equality for women. And that can cause a tremendous amount of change both in what policy comes out, but also in an example. And the US is a really terrific example of a nation that's viewed as having huge advances for women's equality, but lags behind in some really critical roles, and has electoral and policy consequences for that.

FOSTER: So, work to be done there. Victoria Budson, thank you very much, indeed for joining us from Harvard.

Now, while we are increasingly seeing women in positions of power, sexual discrimination around the world does remain a scourge. For instance, advances in harassment laws haven't stopped unwanted male advances in Cairo. We're going to look at how women there are taking the fight into cyberspace now.


FOSTER: Sexual Harassment is a term that was unheard of before 1975. That was the year British lawmakers made it illegal to discriminate in the workplace on the grounds of sex. But 35 years on, is the world any less sexist? That's the question that we'll be exploring all this week on the show, and we're starting in Egypt.

Sexual harassment is rife in that country, and the laws do very little to deter the constant indignities. Our Ben Wedeman takes us into Cairo, where he met a group of women who've found a way to fight back.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walking the streets of Cairo, there are certain givens. Crowds, traffic, exhaust fumes and, all too often for women, groping hands and unwanted advances.

Sexual harassment is a serious and growing problem here, and one that, in recent years, has attracted plenty of attention.

WEDEMAN (on camera): Two years ago, the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights conducted a poll of 1,010 Egyptian and foreign women. It found that 98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women, had experienced sexual harassment. Of the Egyptian women, more than 50 percent of them experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The root causes, experts say, are many. A repressive political system, indifferent police, too many people crammed into too-little space. A mass media full of mixed messages regarding women, and ultra-conservative social attitudes imported from countries like Saudi Arabia over the past 30 years.

NEHAD ABU ELKOMSAN, EGYPTIAN CENTER FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS: Four million Egyptians went to Gulf. They returned with oil money and oil culture as well, which is not very open related to women.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights has published a variety of pamphlets on sexual harassment, including useful tips on how to deal with it. The center is also pushing for passage of harsher laws to combat sexual harassment. New laws backed by the Egyptian government. Two years ago, in a landmark case, a woman took her harasser to court. He was sentenced to three years hard labor.

But this was the exception, not the rule. For the most part, says activist Sarah Eldemardash, sexual harassers get away scot-free.

SARA ELDEMARDASH, ACTIVIST: They don't feel responsible towards their community. So, what's the bother? I can just pass by and sexually harass this lady, and nothing's going to happen. I'm going to enjoy my time, and it's going to be fun.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): It isn't fun for American NGO worker Rebecca Chow, who's lived in Cairo for the past five years.

REBECCA CHIAO, CO-CREATOR, HARASSMAP.ORG: I get everything from verbal harassment, to typical harassment, to indecent exposure, to phone stalking, to being followed in cars.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): She and her Egyptian friends have taken to cyberspace to fight back.

CHIAO: This is our site at That will be the place where people can go and see the map real time, and make a report, if they want.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): They plan to organize visits to areas where harassment is rife and recruit shopkeepers and others to actively discourage it. A welcome tool for women, perhaps. Women who are eager to go about their business unmolested. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


FOSTER: And it's not just women who are victims of sexual harassment. Gay men, too, face discrimination, and in Uganda, it's discrimination of a potentially fatal kind. Under new laws currently being debated, homosexuals could also face the death penalty. Tomorrow night, we speak to a Ugandan blogger who is will to risk his life to give voice to gay rights.

Still to come tonight, though, some beautiful noise. Neil Diamond has been delighting audiences for the last 50 years, and he's still got more to give. The man dubbed "the Jewish Elvis" joins us next as your Connector of the Day.


FOSTER: No matter where you are in the world and no matter what language you listen to music in, chances are, the tunes of our Connector of the Day have touched you. And here he is with a very lucky Becky Anderson.


(MUSIC - "Ain't No Sunshine")

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Legendary singer/songwriter Neil Diamond has been delighting audiences for nearly 50 years.

DICK CLARK, HOST, "AMERICAN BANDSTAND": Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Neil Diamond.


(MUSIC - "Cherry Cherry")

ANDERSON (voice-over): Often referred to as "the Jewish Elvis," Diamond has earned 36 Top 40 hits for songs such as "Sweet Caroline" and "Song Sung Blue."

(MUSIC - "Sweet Caroline")

(MUSIC - "Pretty Amazing Grace")

ANDERSON (voice-over): Over the last four decades, Diamond's been nominated for 12 Grammys and sold more than 115 million albums worldwide. And today, the musical legend is still touring the world, with concerts that draw millions of fans, many of whom sing along to the great classics.

(MUSIC - "I'm a Believer")

ANDERSON (voice-over): Last month, he released his latest album, entitled "Dreams," a string of interpretations from his favorite songs by other rock artists. He talked to me about this new format and his choice to try it out.

NEIL DIAMOND, SINGER: It's kind of a dream album for me because I get a chance to record some of my all-time favorite songs from the rock era, and I'm excited to hear what people think of it.

ANDERSON (on camera): Oh, well, let me tell you, you'll hear from them. We've had hundreds of viewers asking when the next tour starts and where it'll be. So, can you fill us in?

DIAMOND: Yes, well we start to tour Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in February and March, and I'm looking forward to that. And we'll see what happens beyond that. If they don't throw tomatoes, we'll continue the tour.


ANDERSON: I'm sure they won't. Listen, your hits came during the 70s, the 80s, and the 90s, didn't they? And you say you've really enjoyed this last album. You still command huge audiences. To what do you attribute that staying power, Neil?

DIAMOND: Luck and the fact that I refuse to go away.


ANDERSON: Let me get to some of the viewer questions, here, and not hog this interview. It's their part of the show. Hitoshi is a fan from Japan and says, "You once revealed that 'Sweet Caroline' was about Caroline Kennedy. Can you tell us about that?

DIAMOND: Yes, of course. Well, it wasn't about Caroline Kennedy, but the name was inspired by Caroline Kennedy's name, which was, in the 60s, not a usual name. It was kind of unusual and I remember writing it down when I saw a photo of Caroline Kennedy. She was a little girl and I thought that name someday should be in a song.

I happened to be in Nashville -- actually, it was Memphis in the late 60s and I needed a song for the next day's recording session, and "Caroline" came out, and that's what it was. It was a "Sweet Caroline" song, and it's been sweet for me ever since.

ANDERSON: If it wasn't inspired by Caroline Kennedy, who was it for?

DIAMOND: It was inspired by the moment. You know, necessity is the mother of invention, and I needed a song, and it was sitting in the back of my mind for years, the title. And why it was written, I don't know. Only God knows that.

ANDERSON: Do you feel it's more important to put out material that will appeal to new fans? And this is a question from Matt in the States. Or do you want to just give your lifelong fans something you know they want to hear?

DIAMOND: Well, I know it's impractical, but I'd like to make everybody happy. But first and foremost, I'm writing to please myself. Because if I please myself, then I can continue to make the song as good as it can possibly be written and, hopefully, someone else will catch onto it and like it as well. But I'm basically writing for myself.

ANDERSON: Tom in Brazil says, "Is there a singer from the past that you wish you might have made a song with?"

DIAMOND: Well, I've been lucky, I've had Elvis record my music and Frank Sinatra, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, some of my all-time favorites, even my high school buddy Barbara Streisand recorded one of my songs. So, yeah, I guess maybe if I had the chance, Billie Holiday, I would've loved to have Louis Armstrong do one of my songs. I love --

ANDERSON: The Lady Gagas of this world?

DIAMOND: Of course, as long as I don't have to dress like she does.


ANDERSON: Good for you. Ed has written to us. He says, "You've said, and I quote, 'songs are life in 80 words or less.'" He says, "Have you ever written a song that is so personal in nature, that you could not release it commercially?"

DIAMOND: I have not written a song that I could not release, but I have written things in songs that were too personal and I had to change them to take that out of it.

ANDERSON: Barb is a fan in the States. She says, "If you could sit down to dinner with one person, Neil, living or dead, who would it be?"

DIAMOND: I'd have to say George Gershwin. He was one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century, so I would have to pick his brain and find out where and what his modus operandi was in writing.


FOSTER: Neil Diamond, the legend that he is. Music tops the charts all of this week. Joining Neil as your Connector of the Day are Nelly Furtado, Seal, and John Legend. Big names, big hits, big interviews, only on CONNECT THE WORLD, 21:00 London, 22:00 central Europe, all this week on CNN.

Do send us your questions. Remember to tell us where you're writing from. Head to We'll be right back.


FOSTER: Time for your feedback on our top story, the failed bomb plot that triggered a security scare around the world, and some countries are now requiring better screening for air cargo and tighter security at airports in general. But some of you are wondering what took so long.

1cove writes on our blog, "Yemen is only now vowing to check all cargo. They should have begun that process days ago."

Another viewer says, "Sorry, I just don't trust Yemen's new move, especially since terrorists could also be moonlighting as members of their security."

But David says, "The problem is, it's not just Yemen. Terrorists could do the same thing right here in the US and have the same success. That's the scary thing."

Get your voice heard on CNN. Head to our website, Before we go, though, our Parting Shots. And tonight, Lee Westwood has emerged as a man with the best swing. The British golfer has knocked Tiger Woods off his mantle as world number one, bringing an end to Wood's five- year reign at the top. And the injured Westwood did it from the couch.


LEE WESTWOOD, WORLD NUMBER ONE GOLFER: Yes, it's a very strange thing to try to get my head around. It's something you always dream of when you're growing up, to be able to say that you're the best at something. When you get asked a question, it's like, "Yes, I'd like, obviously, to be the best." And then it happens, it all a bit of a shock, and it's not really sunk in yet.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Is that mainly because you weren't playing to get the ranking?

WESTWOOD: No, I don't think it's so much that. I think a lot of people get a bit confused about the world rankings. I've got 46 qualifying events on my schedule, or criteria, and that's more than most people up there in the top 10 in the world.

It's just the fact that I've been off just recently with an injury. I've only missed out three or four tournaments that I normally would have played. If anything, the injuries probably stopped me getting to world number one sooner.


FOSTER: While Woods knew he was on the brink of being toppled, here he's keeping a close eye on Westwood's game at the 100th US Open at Pebble Beach in June. Things weren't looking good for Woods by the time the Ryder Cup came around. Westwood was striding out with confidence at Celtic Manor Golf Course.

And yes, the body language was all too easy to read by the end of that tournament. Woods, there, looking fairly deflated after losing his round. Here's what the former world number one had to say about losing his spot on top.


TIGER WOODS, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE GOLFER: You have to win in order to become number one in the world, and you have to win a lot to maintain it, and that's just the way it goes.


FOSTER: And that is Tiger's and our Parting Shot. I'm Max Foster, that is your world connected. "BackStory" is next, right after this check of the headlines.