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IN THE ARENA

Bin Laden Plotted New Attack; Bin Laden's Wife Questioned; A Private Moment with the President

Aired May 5, 2011 - 20:00   ET

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


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Eliot Spitzer. Thanks for joining us IN THE ARENA.

Tonight, breaking news. Word of a new terror plot that comes directly from Osama bin Laden himself. It's the first nugget from what may be a treasurer trove of information seized at bin Laden's home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

More on this in a moment, but first, a look at all the stories we're drilling down on tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER (voice-over): Bin laden is dead. The lawyer who said torture was legal. Do you think he's satisfied?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There wasn't a lot of thought given to the idea of capturing him.

SPITZER: Guess again.

And it's a bird, it's a plane, it's America's secret weapon. The mystery chopper. What's under its hood and how did it fly under the radar?

Then, can you win the war but lose the election? It happened to Churchill and Bush 41. E.D. Hill asks if history will repeat itself with President Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Now back to our top story. Reports of an al Qaeda threat to the American rail system. Ironically even President Obama was laying a wreath at Ground Zero today, authorities were learning of an assault planned to take place on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a mere five months from now.

Sources tell CNN that the threat is not operational. Meaning it was still in the planning stages but perhaps most remarkable, we now know that Osama bin Laden was still active, still plotting to destroy us and our way of life. And no doubt, be learning much more in the coming days.

CNN's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is in our Washington bureau with some bran new information.

Jeanne, fill us in.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Eliot, what we're told is that in February of 2010, some members of al Qaeda discussed a plan to derail trains by putting obstacles on the tracks. A U.S. official tells me that they made specific reference to doing this over valleys or on bridges where this would have the most catastrophic effect. The plan was to coincide with the 9/11 attacks.

I've been told by officials that no specific cities or rail systems are mentioned in this information.

Now U.S. officials are going out of their way to say this evening that this was aspirational, this was not operational. There is no indication that any sort of attack is imminent.

When I asked whether Osama bin Laden or some other top officials in al Qaeda had signed off on this, I was told there was no indication that this was what they call a blessed operation by the top guy.

Some other information about some of the material they are finding in that house, I'm told by a U.S. official that it makes specific reference to four cities, not the rail plot here but the more generic information. The four cities that they tend to mention are New York, L.A., Chicago, and Washington.

I'm also told that in addition to September 11th, there is some other dates where al Qaeda was apparently interested in making a strike. Some of the dates that were mentioned, Christmas, July 4th, and the opening day of the United Nations.

Now they are at the very beginning of exploiting the information that they obtained in the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed. We are told that there may be many more notices of this nature that go out in the future but this was not considered significant enough to send out any specific terror alert.

Eliot, back to you.

SPITZER: You know, Jeanne, it is fascinating. It gives us an insight into how much we will learn from those computer documents and the records taken out of that treasure trove of information that was seized just a couple of days ago.

And also even though every one of their plots seemed to be a little different, what is uniform is they all attack people and our infrastructure.

Is that a common theme that you're seeing as well in this?

MESERVE: Well, this is the only specific threat information that we've been advised of so far. But certainly al Qaeda has had a history of hitting rail in particular. We can think of the London bombings of a few years ago. In addition there have been terror strikes in Madrid, in India, and many other places. Rail seems to be a favorite target.

Where this one differs a little bit, is that in the past it's involved explosives on board a train. In this instance, what these operatives were discussing was putting something on the track to send a rail car off the tracks and into a valley or into water.

SPITZER: All right. Jeanne, that's so much. Fascinating stuff. I guess one of the things about the rail is that it's just so big and expansive, hard to protect, that enormous thousands of miles of rail track across this nation.

All right, thanks so much, Jeanne.

Now to dig into what this new threat may mean, we're joined by CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, thanks for being here.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Good to be here.

SPITZER: You know, one of the amazing things about this is, as well, is that it shows us that bin Laden was involved much more than many people had begun to thin. I mean the metaphor I used is, how do you become the chairman of the board, sort of distant from day to day operations, or was he the CEO, really running this company every moment?

CRUICKSHANK: He was the CEO being briefed on the (INAUDIBLE). I mean this is quite extraordinary, even though it's quite small scaled plot, some sort of destruction on our railway in the United States.

Bin Laden has been briefed on this by his subordinates. The question is, was he also sending out instructions via these thumb drives to operatives to actually authorize plots as well? So bin Laden much more operationally involved than we perhaps thought, Eliot.

SPITZER: And, you know, it also proves -- you mentioned these thumb drives. It doesn't matter what type of organization you're running, information has to be written down. And when we get our paws, our hands on that information, this treasure trove, what do you think is going to be in there?

The names of their accomplices, targets, money flows, phone numbers? It's just incredible how much I imagine is in there.

CRUICKSHANK: That could be a lot of valuable information, both in terms perhaps of plots perhaps against the West, but also the location of some other senior al Qaeda operatives.

And here I think of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Western intelligence in recent years have believed that Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden continued to be in contact and perhaps continued to be in close geographic proximity. So this information may put Zawahiri in some jeopardy, Eliot.

SPITZER: And tell us who he is. I think all of us know bin Laden. Bin Laden was the public face to the world of al Qaeda. Who is the rest of the leadership team that we want to target now?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Zawahiri is al Qaeda's new number one and the new de facto al Qaeda number one. He will likely take over this organization.

SPITZER: Stop one second. But he is reputed to be very different than bin Laden. Bin Laden was described as charismatic figure. Crazy as that sounds to us. I mean we all -- we see nothing but venom in his eyes. He was described as a charismatic figure. Not so much for the new number one?

CRUICKSHANK: Not with Zawahiri. He's a much more polarizing figure. He doesn't have the charisma of bin Laden, nor the war fighting record of bin Laden. Bin Laden already earned his reputation fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1980s. And Zawahiri didn't on the frontlines. He's a much more divisive figure.

So there are always been these centrifugal forces within al Qaeda. Under Zawahiri, al Qaeda may start to unravel, Eliot.

SPITZER: And how about recruitment? An organization, I don't care where it's a terrorist organization, venomous and heinous as this one, or any other organization or major corporation, you're only as good as the people you can get into that organization.

Will they be able to recruit when people say, my goodness, the West, the United States, the CIA knows our names, our phone numbers, where we are? Who is going to join that group?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's a good point and also the fact bin Laden is gone. You know he was the charismatic guy.

The people who went to the tribal areas of Pakistan -- to Afghanistan in the 1990s were really drawn to bin Laden and to his jihad. They wanted to meet him. And so with bin Laden now gone, they've really lost a lot of that now, Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Let's certainly hope that is the case. Paul, thanks so much for joining us.

Well, top security officials pour through the information seized from bin Laden's compound. The Pakistanis are questioning Osama bin Laden's youngest wife. She has given them some shocking information.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Abbottabad and he has the story -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Eliot, it couldn't be much more shocking or even disturbing, given the latest revelations of what's on these thumb drives.

The wife -- the youngest wife of Osama bin Laden has told, according to the Pakistani military, has told them during questioning that she had been living in this compound for five years with Osama bin Laden. So rather than that impression of skipping from safe house to safe house, cave to cave, in the border region, he's actually been sitting for fives years here in this house, apparently with very little else to do than to fill these thumb drives with ideas, plans, possible targets, et cetera. He's had time on his hands to focus on operations and places to target -- Eliot.

SPITZER: Nic, what that would suggest, of course, is those computer documents that were seized are going to be replete with the entire history of the past five years of their terrorist activity.

You know this is not just a one-week download. We have records there that go back five years. This is the entire organizational history of the most feared terrorist group in the world. So this should make it all the more interesting for the CIA to pour into those records.

ROBERTSON: It should do. I mean, it would seem to be counterintuitive that somebody who's been so secretive about his own security, safety, well-being, location, would fill his computer with information that would lead -- that would lead counterterrorism operatives to essentially dismantle his organization.

That would seem to be surprising. But we're already getting these nuggets about the threat to the rail network. We know that bin Laden in the past has accumulated a wealth of material about himself, video material about himself, about groups, other jihadist groups that have aligned with al Qaeda. So perhaps we're going to see that sort of material in that trove as well -- Eliot.

SPITZER: You know, Nic, you're exactly right. It is counterintuitive but in my years as a prosecutor I always found that all the groups, I don't care if it was a drug gang or organized crime, the groups you say should never write anything down. They do for the simple reason you cannot run any organization without the records. And so they make the fatal flaw of writing it down and then you seized it and you have the track record and the map to where you need to go.

Question for you. Are the folks who were seized in his house cooperating? Any word from the Pakistanis whether they are getting the sorts of responses and honest answers that you would hope to get from the people you seize in that context?

ROBERTSON: Well, given that these people that have been seized are close to bin Laden, the wife, the daughter, the ones that the Pakistani officials are telling us that they questioned, that they've got information out of, the daughter saying she was in the room when her father was killed, it's hard to know how truthful this information is.

They've got a vested interest in presenting their own point of view and then you also have the layer on top of that, the fact that the Pakistanis intelligence network are not going to tell us everything. They are going to tell us what they want us to know. So we're only going to get partial pieces of information.

And that's going to be frustrating for other intelligence operatives around the world who would like to get a clear, a bigger picture of what these women are saying now they're being questioned. But, yes, they are talking but it is -- we understand -- any Pakistani interrogators that have their hands on them right now -- Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Thank you, Nic.

The Pakistani military is enraged by the American raid. Officials there even say the relationship with us is in jeopardy. Why are they so angry? Not only were they embarrassed by bin Laden's location near their own military academy, but the U.S. left them completely in the dark about the operation.

Tom Foreman has been looking into what Pakistan knew and when they knew it -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were in the dark for a long time, Eliot.

Let's lay it for our board back here and take a look at what's being happening with this.

Pakistan is out here when this raid begins. It launches from over here in Jalalabad. We don't know exactly how long it took to get over there, but let's say starts 1:15 a.m. Let's say it's 60 minutes roughly to get over here, maybe, maybe not. Doesn't really matter. The point is the helicopters came into the airspace. We're here for quite a while.

They get here to Abbottabad, and then they go into the compound and we know they were there for 40 minutes, 40 minutes doing what they're doing. We were told by the Pakistani foreign secretary. He had a news conference. And in that news conference he said the first they knew about it, the Pakistani government, was when they started getting media reports that there had been some sort of helicopter crash in the country.

Look at this. We're already talking about a lot of time. So five minutes or so after they get news there's a helicopter crash, they reach out to their own air services and say, what do you know about a helicopter going down somewhere? They call the military. The military says, that chopper is not Pakistani.

That has taken another 10 minutes.

So at that point they finally scramble some jets. They get some -- they call the air force and they say, get these F-16s in the air. We want them coming to the area of this crash, tell us what's going on. If it's a helicopter and it's not ours, and we don't know what it is, we need air power in there to look over it.

They also scramble troops from nearby. They said get in there. We want you to look at what's going on the ground. Again it adds up. Another 10 minutes, 15 minutes.

In all, if you add this up, Eliot, two hours and 10 minutes from the time U.S. helicopters enter their air space, even if we say we have a lot of these numbers wrong, although we're basing this on what the Pakistani foreign secretary said about their timeline, even if you cut that in half, you're still talking about more than an hour that a military operation was taking place in their country but they didn't know about.

So, again, Eliot, it comes to the same question you raised last night. You have to ask, what was going on in the Pakistani military and in their intelligence services if this is how surprised they were about the raid itself.

SPITZER: Well, it certainly also explains, Tom, why they are so upset right now and doing -- desperately trying to cover themselves and save face. But you know it's also true, I've seen reports, I don't know if it's true, obviously, that there was somebody, one of the neighbors who heard the helicopters who started tweeting saying, something is going on there. So he knew long before the military.

Any reports of aircraft other than choppers? Because I saw one report that said a C-130 was being used to provide technical support, perhaps from a greater distance. Any word of that from our military?

FOREMAN: There were -- there were other aircraft that were operating, as I understand it, just outside of Pakistani air space and that we had our own fighter jets, things like that, as I understand it, flying outside that area in case they were needed but they weren't necessarily in Pakistani air space.

And of course there'd be a question of what kind of drones we had way up above there, maybe like Global Hawk drones, which can fly very high and not be detected. They're sort of the model of the old Blackbird spy plane in a sense. They could fly way up above there and keep an eye on what was going on.

But nonetheless, I mean this was a big military operation in its own way, Eliot, even though they only had a couple dozen troops. You have big machinery coming in for a quick period of time, in military terms, but sort of a long period of time in terms of somebody being inside your country.

You know in this country, if any jets from anywhere or helicopters from anywhere came in and they were on the ground doing what they were doing for an hour before the authorities even knew they were there, you can imagine what the response would be.

SPITZER: Indeed, Tom. You know what, I think there is a lot we don't know about this operation and frankly I hope there's a lot that we never find out.

All right, Tom, thanks so much.

E.D. Hill has an interesting interview tonight with a man some consider a political psychic.

E.D., what's he predicting?

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's pretty accurate way of describing. You know, we in America I think have all process bin laden is dead and now all the political implications come into play.

We know the president's poll numbers have gone up. The most accurate political prognosticator is going to join us and tell us what this means for President Obama's reelection hopes.

SPITZER: All right. We're going to find out what the betting line is.

Coming up next, the former head of Pakistani intelligence calls President Obama a liar. He tells me, get this, that we didn't even kill bin Laden. You won't want to miss it. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: What did Pakistan know and when did they know it? Tonight that's what we're asking General Hamid Gul. He led Pakistan's powerful intelligence service, the ISI, and at one time he worked closely with the CIA.

It's clear he has an inside connection into Pakistan intelligence that few have. And when I spoke with him a short time ago, what General Hamid Gul told me, what he apparently believes about us, totally shocked me.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: General, thank you so much for joining us.

HAMID GUL, FORMER HEAD, PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE SERVICE: You're welcome.

SPITZER: So let me ask this very first question. Do you believe that Osama bin Laden was killed just a few days ago by the United States' raid in Abbottabad?

GUL: I believe so. But there are stories. People don't tend to believe this. But I think the third wife of Osama bin Laden has given the version -- her version and she says that it was bin Laden, no doubt.

SPITZER: But I'm asking what you specifically believe because I saw a quotation from you in which you said that you believed bin Laden had died several years ago. So I'm just trying to determine what you individually believe on that issue.

GUL: Yes, I think he died -- he perished some years ago, and I think this was a story which was created and I think this was -- because they themselves are saying, I mean, their versions, nobody would want to believe this version.

Initially they said that he fought back, and there was a firefight. President Obama himself said that in his initial statement. And now they say that he had no weapons, he didn't do any of those things. Then ISI says that he was living there for the last five years. So -- and they said that we have informed the CIA and the American partner in 2009 about it.

So there are so many versions floating around. As far as I think, I think he had -- even if he didn't kill or didn't die a natural death, I think it was totally irrelevant to the operations of al Qaeda and I think it is quite futile to have gone and killed him. But I still doubt the story which was given out by the American media and by the American administration.

SPITZER: All right. You believe he died a few years ago in the United States?

GUL: Yes. I don't think he was there. I think it was probably somebody else.

SPITZER: OK.

GUL: Why did they not take him alive?

SPITZER: Why would the United States government fabricate this entire story, in your view?

GUL: They must have known that he had died some years ago so they were waiting. They were keeping this story on the ice and they were looking for an appropriate moment and it couldn't be a better moment because President Obama had to fight off his first salvo in his next year's election as he runs for the presidential and for the White House and I think it is a very appropriate time to come out, bring this out of the closet.

At the moment, people simply not in Pakistan alone but around the world people don't believe the stories that have been put out.

SPITZER: General, let me interrupt for one moment. I want to ask specifically about the compound in Abbottabad. Do you believe that Pakistan intelligence knew who was living there?

GUL: Well, there are -- this is a huge intelligence failure. I can't definitely say whether they knew or not, so I have no idea. But the fact is that there is an intelligence failure. I mean, I cannot say whether it was --

SPITZER: General --

GUL: -- a deliberate hiding or it was an intelligent failure. But my hunch is, my experience tells me that he was very smart finding a place to hide which was to be least suspected because he was in a military town and very close to a military -- very important military establishment and this was a smart move on his part. Cut off all linkages from with the rest of the world, because no cell phone have been found there, no Internet connection, therefore he was able to probably -- to hide out for so long.

SPITZER: General, here's my last question. Did the ISI feed information to bin Laden and al Qaeda to protect him? Yes or no, sir?

GUL: How could I know that? It's wrong to assume that I knew about it. Of course they're wrong. No, not at all.

SPITZER: So you can't even -- GUL: I don't know anything about the operations of the ISI. I maintained no contacts after my retirement. After I left them in 1989, I have never once visited the ISI office.

SPITZER: All right, General, we're going to lose our satellite link. I thank you so much for joining us. And we will talk in the future. And I look forward to sharing some thoughts with you.

GUL: OK. Thank you very much. Nice talking to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: When we return, a 9/11 widower has a private moment with the president at Ground Zero today. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: On September 11th, 2001, Charles Wolf said good-bye to his wife Katherine as she left for her knew job on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center. She'd been working there for just three weeks.

A short time later Charles heard a low-flying plane passed over his Greenwich Village apartment. He ran out to his balcony and saw the plane had hit the north tower. In an instant, he knew he would never see his wife again.

Charles Wolf was at Ground Zero today with President Obama. He joins us now.

Charles, first, thank you for being here. I can only imagine this has been a week of wild and sort of disparate emotions. Tell us what you were thinking when you first heard the news that bin Laden had been killed.

CHARLES WOLF, HUSBAND OF WORLD TRADE CENTER VICTIM: Well, a friend from Atlanta, Georgia, called me and said, hey, you know, the guy that killed your wife, they got him. And I said, what, what? And he said, they got it. And I just had one -- I just thought it was just wonderful.

SPITZER: Yes.

WOLF: Cam out -- it just came out of the blue. It is absolutely wonderful news.

SPITZER: And how did it sink in? Did it grow? Did it evolve into --

WOLF: Yes. No, it's just like -- it's like then -- and then our local CBS affiliate here in New York called me and says, you know -- you know, and I said, do you want to come up here? And they said yes. So I jumped in a taxi. And the taxi driver was the first person I actually got to talk to about with. And I got a friend from -- text message from a friend out of town who said something, too. And the taxi driver is excited. Then I called my dad. And you know, my dad was like, huh?

(LAUGHTER)

WOLF: You know my dad wasn't sure quite how to take it. And --

SPITZER: You have made an important distinction, I think. You said you don't like the word closure. There is no closure. But there's healing.

WOLF: Absolutely.

SPITZER: What do you mean by that? What do you mean by that?

WOLF: OK, closure to me, and pardon to the psychologists around the country. Closure is like, OK, you break up with somebody. You've been dating somebody, you've been engaged with somebody. You break up with somebody, you no longer love them, you finally get over them. You know and they're no longer in your heart, that's closure.

SPITZER: You forget.

WOLF: Yes. You forget about them. You just put them aside. Are we going to forget? Am I going to forget Katherine? The husbands, the wives, the fathers, the mothers, the sons, the daughters, no. No. There's no closure here. There's no closure here. But there certainly isn't any forgetting because every year we have stuff happening.

But there's healing that goes on. There's healing. And I think that what happened here, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, I think it serves -- a leap forward in healing, maybe not immediate, but it certainly brought emotions up in a lot of people.

SPITZER: Brings cathartic.

WOLF: Cathartic. It brought up deep emotions that were probably repressed out in there and -- you know, but different things for different people.

SPITZER: And how did you express this or did you express this to the president today?

WOLF: I just said thank you. I mean I just -- I said to him, thank you. Thank you, thank you. It's -- I told him, I says, it was a gutsy decision.

SPITZER: Right.

WOLF: I might have used another word but --

SPITZER: Right.

WOLF: We'll not discuss that.

SPITZER: Right.

WOLF: And I just -- I let him know as a man who lost his wife, I says, I'm so glad that you got the man that --

SPITZER: Right. Right.

WOLF: You know? And I hugged him and I -- it was -- he's very genuine -- he's a very genuine man, OK? You know? I may not agree with all his policies, but I -- boy, do I agree with this one.

SPITZER: Right.

WOLF: I just -- I give him all the credit because I found out that he actually a month or two into his administration he ordered all the agencies to start -- whatever we needed to do to redirect resources to start finding this guy. And in August they got their lead, August of '09 they got his lead, or was it August '10, I'm not sure. And then it happened. You know, he said go, and it was a risky move.

SPITZER: Right.

WOLF: And it happened. And he did it. I said that's -- I think this is a turning point in his presidency.

SPITZER: Is it justice?

WOLF: Yes, it is justice. I'll tell you why it's justice. There's no court. There's no court on this planet that could do -- met out the type of justice as happened to his soul right now. He's been thrown into the depths of hell and being tormented because whatever you did to land you there gets done to you over and over again.

SPITZER: Now, you say this, I gather, as somebody of faith.

WOLF: I --

SPITZER: Has that helped?

WOLF: Oh, yes. In fact, if anything, 9/11 has certainly strengthened my faith. It's strengthened my faith. I don't know exactly how it's happened but it has happened. And I understand that, you know, we get angry at God. Why does God let the tornadoes happen? Why did God let 9/11 happen and so forth? However, the thing is, we're just visiting here. I mean, we're spirits of his body, this vehicle we call a body and then we go back.

SPITZER: Right.

WOLF: So we started out there. We, you know -- and so this isn't the center of it all, is what I'm saying.

SPITZER: As somebody of faith, how do you deal intellectually with the notion that bin Laden invokes faith? Invokes the Muslim faith?

WOLF: He invokes it falsely. OK. He invokes it falsely. It's justice -- I know some place in the bible they talk about, you know, people -- you know, false prophets. There's, you know, pretending to be who you're not and so forth. I mean, this is the way evil works. It disguises itself. It's a master of disguise. You know, it reminds me of that old song, you know, smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend. And this is the way evil works.

SPITZER: Right. Switching gears a little bit. The release of the photos has been a point of controversy the past couple of days. You had a creative idea. Tell us what it was that could address the concerns on both sides?

WOLF: Well, first of all, those photos should never, ever be released.

SPITZER: Why?

WOLF: Those are photos -- think of this. This is a religious group. OK? It's a section of Islam, very strong faith, very strong ideas, rather, and their leader has just been killed. And now you're going to put out a picture of their deceased leader. Does that sound like something else that's been around for 2,000 years? OK. For instance, the Christians revere a crucifix. I'm a Christian, OK. This would have -- this would have sparked all sorts of riots, demonstrations for years to come.

SPITZER: So what is your idea?

WOLF: Oh, my idea, my idea, my idea basically, is to -- if it ever comes -- first of all, don't ever put it out. But if it ever came to it that the press should be allowed to see it in a private room with no cameras, no pads, no pens, no recording devices, see them and then the press report out on it. Kind of like listening to a ball game on a radio. OK? Any credential -- any presidentially credentialed press person could see, they would organize it, the White House would, and they would go in and see it and then you guys could vouch but you could never -- you couldn't take any kind of recording devices at all in with you.

SPITZER: Right. All right.

WOLF: That's my idea.

SPITZER: Charles Wolf, thank you for your emotional, powerful, profound observations. Thank you, sir.

WOLF: Thank you.

SPITZER: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: He authored the infamous memo that said torture was legal, but now he's saying Osama bin Laden should not have been killed. Go figure.

John Yoo was deputy assistant attorney general during the Bush administration. In an editorial in the "Wall Street Journal" this week, he takes on President Obama for killing bin Laden and even questions the manner in which the Navy SEALs conducted the operation. I spoke with him a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Joining me all the way from Fairbanks, Alaska, is John Yoo.

Mr. Yoo, thank you so much for joining us.

JOHN YOO, DRAFTED BUSH "TORTURE MEMO": Thanks for having me.

SPITZER: You have said very clearly that you feel that bin Laden should have been taken alive. Why is that?

YOO: Because I think the most important source of intelligence that we can get on Al Qaeda and its future plans as coming from their leadership, from interrogations that we conduct the very leadership. This is a covert enemy that hides among the civilian population and wants to lodge surprise attacks on our own civilians. The best, most reliable information we can get is from interrogation and I'm worried that we have, this administration has closed off that flow of intelligence since President Obama took office.

SPITZER: All right. Now, look, I think that most people would say, yes, if we have the opportunity to interrogate him, that would be wonderful. We should have aspire to that. But it's the next step you take that does trouble me because you then suggest in the op-ed that you wrote, that because this administration is unwilling to incur the legal risks of actually taking him alive, they affirmatively chose to pursue a path of sending in fewer SEALs hoping, therefore, they would have an excuse to kill him rather than take him alive. And I'll quote, I'll quote the passage here. You say this, meaning the concerns of what would happen if he were taken alive, may have dissuaded Mr. Obama from sending a more robust force to attempt a capture. So you are now critiquing the very methodology and tactical decisions they made to send in the Navy SEALs this way as opposed to some larger forces. Is that really what you're doing here?

YOO: Yes, I am. I think that if you look at the size of the force that went -- I'm not questioning the decisions that the SEALs made when they were on the ground. Obviously if the SEALs felt that this guy had a gun near, was standing, was about to try to shoot them, then, of course, they should shoot him in self-defense. But if they were going in with no options other than to kill him, then I do think that's a problem. And that's what it's starting to sound like from the information that's coming out of Washington right now. Obviously we're going to learn more over the next few days, or I hope we're going to learn more over the next few days, but it does seem from the initial reports that a deliberately small force was sent in and there wasn't a lot of thought given to the idea of capturing him.

SPITZER: You're second guessing every person in the chain of command who came up with this most successful --0

YOO: Obviously -- obviously I'm not. SPITZER: That's what you just said.

YOO: No.

SPITZER: That's what you just said.

YOO: You're putting words in my mouth. I'm not ridiculing the Armed Forces. I think this is a decision that was made by civilian leadership. They have a number of options. They can say, we're going to go and try to kill him or we could try and capture them. If you have to capture, you want to try to capture him, you would send in a different kind of force and a different configuration. I don't think this is a problem with the military or the intelligence professionals. I think this is a decision that's made by President Obama and the civilians (ph) as it should be actually in our system. I do think that they don't want to capture high-level Al Qaeda leaders. They have not captured a single one since they've taken office. They don't want to take anybody and send them to Guantanamo Bay. They haven't added anyone to Guantanamo Bay. They have made choices in previous cases to kill Al Qaeda leaders when they've had the option to capture them.

SPITZER: You know, John, I just got to say I think it is remarkable that the person who wrote the legal opinion that rationalized torture, perhaps the most ridiculed legal opinion in many years that I'm aware of, is now second guessing the tactical decisions made by the president that has been the single most successful counterterrorism effort in the past decade. Your president, for whom you work, and I mean no disrespect to mean, did not succeed and doing what President Obama has just done. And you're now second guessing down to the number of Navy SEALs he sent in saying they should have done it a different way. I just don't know what possible credentials you have to second guess the number of Navy SEALs who should have gone in to Abbottabad to capture bin Laden.

YOO: Well, I don't know if you want to question my credentials and use me as a punching bag. This might be the last time I'm obviously going to be on your show, because you obviously don't think it's worthwhile to hear from me at all. But I do think that these are legitimate questions that a lot of people are raising in Washington. I think that the Obama administration had several options. I think it's bizarre that you would say that in our democracy that people shouldn't raise questions and ask whether something could have been done better. And I do think that this administration has put itself into a bit of a corner because they really don't want to capture Al Qaeda leaders. I mean, I think the record seems pretty clear on that.

SPITZER: John --

YOO: They've done everything they could to try in the past to transfer this over into a law enforcement operation, and so they don't want to face those kinds of legal questions.

SPITZER: John, a couple points. One, I have never said nor would I ever say anything that challenges your right to question this judgment. I'm just amazed that you would do so in the context in which we see a successful mission that accomplished what we wanted, that recovered the single greatest treasure trove of documentation about Al Qaeda that we have ever gotten our hands on that will lead once it's decoded to the entire dismantling of that organization and now you're second guessing the operational decisions about which you have not the foggiest idea because you couldn't.

You have been struggling mightily since Monday morning to justify and rationalize the Bush administration's policy, your legal doctrine that torture and waterboarding was not only legal but also necessary to the location and to the fact that we were able to find Osama bin Laden. The predicate, it seems to me, of your entire argument is that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, KSM, himself gave up the identity of the courier. I've read all your writings. Isn't that fact that you claim that completely false?

YOO: Well, first let me say we didn't try to justify torture. We didn't think we were committing torture. What we thought we were doing is carrying out interrogation methods to pressure people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that was short of torture. But secondly, I think in terms of the effectiveness of the interrogation methods, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, has gone on the air on national television and said that the identity of the couriers were given up by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and then another Al Qaeda leader named al-Libi, both of whom were subjected to enhanced interrogation measures. So I don't why you think that --

SPITZER: John --

YOO: -- the factual claim is false. This is what the Obama administration is putting out.

YOO: John, with all due respect, that is not what the director of the CIA has said.

Let me make it very clear, KSM continued to lie about the importance, the identity, and the role that was played by the courier even after 183 instances of waterboarding. Is that not the case? He lied after waterboarding just as he lied before waterboarding about this very courier? Isn't that the accurate statement?

YOO: No. No. First of all, before he was subjected to any enhanced interrogation measures, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed actually refused to answer any questions at all. He actually invoked his right for a lawyer and to remain silent and said, I'll see you guys in New York City. After enhanced interrogation measures, he became cooperative. That doesn't mean obviously that he wasn't trying to downplay the significance of the couriers. But that's the whole point of the intelligence operation is that you pull together a mosaic of everything Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said, this al-Libi said. Another guy named Ghul (ph) who was captured said you put it all together it allows you to put things into focus. The fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these other leaders were trying so hard actually to downplay someone that intelligence suggested was important signified why we had to find this courier's identify and where he was.

SPITZER: John, when you interrogate people, you need truthful answers and the whole purpose of the enhanced interrogation, your word what we call torture, waterboarding, most people have absolutely no doubt dispute that waterboarding is torture. The fact of the matter is, after 183 instances of waterboarding, he lied about this guy. He tried to distort, twist, and would not tell the truth but John, anyway, I appreciate you having the good humor to come on this show even though we disagree fundamentally on some of these issues. And have a good trip up in Alaska. I appreciate you coming on.

YOO: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: I have to say it is kind of amazing how some folks from the prior administration cannot ever summon the basic decency to say to President Obama, job well done. We have done something amazing. The president succeeded.

John Yoo, please just stand up and say, president, you did it right.

All right. Coming up, the political implications of President Obama flexing American muscle and taking out bin Laden. E.D. Hill joins us. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The dramatic events over the last few days have a lot of people wondering, some wondering, about how much of the impact the killing of Osama bin Laden will have on the 2012 presidential election.

Well, the best person to ask in the business is Larry Sabato. He is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, good to talk to you again.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIV. OF VA. CENTER FOR POLITICS: Thank you, E.D.

HILL: So, we've got a new poll out, says the president is looking better than ever in terms of his approval rating. Does this mean anything?

SABATO: Yes, it does mean something. Obviously short term he can take this political capital and spend it, maybe on the deficit and debt, maybe on some other foreign policy issues.

You know, for the long run, you know as well as I do, all bumps fade and they generally fade pretty quickly, within weeks or months. But, you know, there's one aspect that will last. I think the Republicans had been planning on using national security policy as a secondary attack on Obama after the economy. It's more difficult to do that now. He's had a major national security success that eluded his predecessor, President Bush. HILL: Well, if we take a look at this particular poll, the Quinnipiac poll comes out and it shows that the president's approval rating goes up six points to 52 percent from the previous week. The disapproval, I think that's just as important, goes down eight points. But can the president maintain that? Isn't that something that you've seen historically?

SABATO: Yes. If you trace this back, at least for the last three presidents who've been very polarizing, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, these bumps really don't last very long, especially in bad, economic times. I think that's the key condition.

We used to get -- we used to see bigger bumps for presidents when something really good happened. Sometimes it would be 20, 30 points and it would last a long time. With the one exception of 9/11, when President Bush did get a giant bump and it did last for more than a year, we really haven't seen that in these last three presidencies.

HILL: You do such a great job. Not only taking a look at what's happening that moment but then figuring out what really is going to impact voters down the road, short term and long term. If you were to rank what they really care about when they walk into that booth and they decide who they're voting for, what's at the top of the list?

SABATO: We all remember that James Carville slogan from 1992 for Bill Clinton, it's the economy stupid? Really it's their economy. Not just the U.S. economy. People are concerned about others naturally but they're looking at their present state. Are they better off today or worse off today than they were four years ago? Do they have a job? Do people in their family have a job? Do the kids who've gone through college, do their job prospects look good? Are they making more money or less money? All of these things are front and center. It's not selfish. It sounds selfish. It's really called retrospective judgment. How else are people to decide for whom to vote?

HILL: And that's where it doesn't look so good for President Obama right now. When asked about how he's handling the economy, most people rank President Obama now not that great. Fifty-seven percent say they don't like the approach he's taking, and only 38 percent say they do. And I'm assuming that when you take a look at all these numbers and put them together, that's a big number.

SABATO: Yes. Those are the ones I really look at. What was interesting to me was at least in one poll he actually went down in economic approval despite the euphoria about the killing of Osama bin Laden. So that's what President Obama has to focus on. Of course, he knows it. Sixteen months is a long time. But I'd say this. You know, barring, God forbid, some other terrorist attack that's major or something like that, the election is going to be about the economy. If we have a stronger economy, moving forward, economic growth, substantially lower unemployment, it really doesn't matter who the Republicans nominate. President Obama is going to win. But if those factors are in the other direction, then President Obama would be a one-term president. HILL: I tell you what, I love that you say exactly what you think. A little harsh at times but you're the best out there when it comes to figuring out who is going to win, what party is going to be victorious and it is great to talk to you again, Larry Sabato. Thank you.

SABATO: Thank you, E.D. Thanks so much.

HILL: And coming up, the mysterious new helicopters that helped that team pull off the bin Laden mission. We'll get details from a special ops expert when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: This just in. The "Washington Post" is reporting tonight that the CIA had a safe house in Abbottabad, the Pakistani suburb where Osama bin Laden's compound was located. Apparently a team of American spies was conducting extensive surveillance of the terrorist house and the operation went on over a period of months. We'll have more on this news story as the night goes on.

Now, to the actual takedown of bin laden and what got left behind? The fragment of a U.S. helicopter that crashed during the operation appears to be an aircraft nobody even knew existed. We found the best person to explain what a big deal this is. Military expert John Gresham is editor of "The Year in Special Operations." He joins me now from Washington, D.C., studios. Welcome, John.

JOHN GRESHAM, MILITARY EXPERT: Thank you for having me.

SPITZER: So give us a window into stuff that most of us only read about in Tom Clancy novels. What was special, unique about this chopper?

GRESHAM: Well, it appears to be a rebuilt M-860 Black Hawk, similar to the ones that you saw in the movie "Black Hawk Down." In fact it's very possible that those aircraft were used to make these converted aircraft stripped down, had new skin, new structures, new systems put into them specifically to go and make them more able to penetrate denied air space, particularly avoid radar, infrared detection, and even acoustic detection.

SPITZER: So what you're telling me, John, if I understand you is that even if the air traffic controllers were awake, they still couldn't see these choppers?

GRESHAM: The radar cross-section combined with good mission planning and flying close to the terrain probably no more than 500 feet above ground at any moment they were in Pakistani air space meant that they were extremely difficult to see, especially on something like a conventional air traffic control radar.

SPITZER: All right. Now, there's been some consternation expressed because of the fact that a piece of this chopper was not destroyed. The SEALs tried to blow it up. Most of it was destroyed. Will any of our enemies be able to do anything with the piece of it that was left behind in this compound?

GRESHAM: Well, undoubtedly you don't want to leave evidence like this behind of any kind of operation. In fact, the best operations are the ones that people never knew you did. But in this particular case, I think that they protected operational and technical security fairly well. They obviously destroyed the cockpit and mission- equipment based sections of the aircraft, and that's where the encryption gear as well as a variety of other sensitive electronics were. And I guarantee you those were reduced to a puddle of metal and plastic by the explosives they use.

SPITZER: So let me ask you this, did you know that this chopper existed. Was this something that was such, you know, so far in the background that even you, who are the leading expert on this, was unaware of it?

GRESHAM: Well, I have to be honest with you. The actual existence of the aircraft was not something I had suspected much about until just a very, very short time ago. Originally, I thought this was nothing more than a bolt-on kit that is very commonly a procedure done by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regimen at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. But a closer inspection and comments from some of my peers clearly show that this is an aircraft that was much more than just modified with a bolt-on kit. It was clearly a major air frame modification of the existing Black Hawk aircraft.

SPITZER: So, John, look, it's fair to presume stealth technology is being applied to everything out there just so you can go in and do sort of black bag operations like these. Real quick because time is running short, were there other aircraft there, anything other than the choppers we've already heard about? Any aircraft to provide technical support, hovering up at a higher altitude?

GRESHAM: We believe that there was something that's been dubbed the RQ-170. It's supposed to be a Lockheed design. It's a flying wing. Probably similar capabilities to the predator or reaper drones that you're familiar with. It's known as either the monster of Kandahar or the Bagram monster. And I'd be surprised if that was not what was providing the live feed that you saw everybody watching in "The Situation Room" at the White House.

SPITZER: All right. John, thanks so much for that insight. And we're going to have to read your books to figure out what's coming next.

GRESHAM: Thank you for having me.

SPITZER: Thank you all -- my pleasure.

Thank you all for watching. Good night from New York.

"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.