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THE SITUATION ROOM

New York and Washington on Alert for Terror Threat; Republican Candidates to Face Off in Tea Party Sponsored Debate; Massive Flooding in Pennsylvania; Potential Stumbling Blocks for GOP Presidential Candidates; Scientists Still Working to Identify Remains of 9/11 Victims; 9/11 Anniversary Terror Threat; "We Refuse To Be Intimidated; "The Time for Deadlock and Games Is Over"

Aired September 9, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, America is once again on alert, a decade after 9/11, as authorities rush to investigate a possible al Qaeda terror plot tied to the anniversary, security is stepped up dramatically in New York and Washington.

So many years later, scientists are still working nonstop to identify the remains of 9/11 victims. And that's enabling some loved ones to find closure. We're taking you behind-the-scenes.

And President Obama hits the road to drum up support for his job creation plan. His first stop is the home turf of one of his sharpest critics -- the House majority leader, Eric Cantor.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tampa, Florida, the site of Monday's CNN/Tea Party debate.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Searches, security sweeps and a frantic scramble right now now for more intelligence. A decade after 9/11, America once again faces a threat. Precautions were already ramped up ahead of this weekend's anniversary, But new information just emerging is shifting those efforts into overdrive. Officials say the threat is specific and credible, apparently focused on New York City and Washington, DC. It may involve three people, including one U.S. citizen. And it may involve a car bomb.

Let's go straight to CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.

She's on the scene in New York for us -- Susan, what's the latest?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest information we have involves the chatter that you know has been ongoing leading up to this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And the new information is that the chatter surrounding this possible threat may very well be coming, a lot of the chatter says, that the threat may be originating with the current leader of Al Qaeda, who took over for Osama bin Laden, Mr. Al-Zawahiri.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Stepping up security, running down leads leading up to 9/11/11, the 10th anniversary of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil. And the security mindset has never been the same since.

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE: Terrorism is theater. And this is a stage. This is, right now, probably the world's biggest stage. We're going to have the opening of the 9/11 Memorial. We have the president and two former presidents here. Obviously, a lot of high profile public officials will be here. And so we have to be concerned.

CANDIOTTI: Among the concerns, who are the three possible plotters?

When do they plan to attack?

Are they in the U.S. already or still trying to get in?

The information authorities do have came from an intercepted communication in Pakistan from an Al Qaeda operative with a credible track record. The names of the three mystery plotters have been described as generic, making searches of databases and manifests difficult.

Authorities have known Al Qaeda had an interest in attacking on the 9/11 anniversary since the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in May.

JANIS FEDERACYK, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI NEW YORK: We take all threat reporting seriously. And we have taken and will continue to take all steps necessary to mitigate any threats that arise.

CANDIOTTI: Part of that vigilance, additional searches and stops near bridges and tunnels and on the subway, using technology that tracks down stolen cars and identifies radioactive material, playing defense until more specific information comes to light.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CANDIOTTI: And authorities say that these added security procedures will likely be in place at least through Monday. They've also passed on their information to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States about this new possible threat. The important final word they want to get out to everyone, Wolf, however, is that they want people to carry on as usual. Don't stop what you're doing. Don't panic, but just be more watchful of your surroundings.

BLITZER: Susan, when was the last time -- and you've been in New York for a while. You've been covering the threats from terrorism for a while.

When was the last time you saw this kind of precaution in New York City?

CANDIOTTI: Oh, I haven't. I mean I've not been to every anniversary ceremony here. But certainly, this year, I'm seeing more people around it. And for obvious reasons. After all, it's a very significant anniversary here.

But these kinds of security precautions I can't recall seeing before. They appear to be unprecedented and certainly going on for this length of time, they certainly are tying up parts of the city.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

All right, Susan, we'll stay in close touch with you.

Thank you.

The financial community in New York, which was hit so hard on 9/11, marked the anniversary with a minute of silence at the New York Stock Exchange. The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was there, and spoke with CNN's Alison Kosik about the new threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The reason that America and this great city has shown such resilience is because we refuse to be intimidated. But that doesn't mean we're stupid. We're going to keep our eyes open. We're going to be vigilant. Part of the reason we go public with this particular threat information was to tell people, go on with your lives, keep your eyes open and let us know if you see anything suspicious.

Remember, the Times Square bomber was stopped by a food vendor who saw something suspicious reported it. And thank goodness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: From the streets to the monuments, police are out in full force in the nation's capital, as well. They're also using some old- fashioned foot patrols, as well as high tech surveillance.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us now live from Washington, DC -- Athena, what's going on there?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're here at the Lincoln Memorial. Park Police have said the public should feel free to come on down, enjoy the monuments and the memorials this weekend, but they shouldn't be surprised if, over the next several days, they begin to see an increase in police presence at places like this one and all around the city -- Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: have a good day.

JONES (voice-over): A heightened state of awareness at the Washington Metro; significantly increased vigilance at the Capitol and stepped up security near the White House.

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY (D), WASHINGTON, DC: We were ready for this. And if there are other measures that are necessary, we're prepared to take them. JONES: With a new credible threat, the nation's Capitol could come under attack, potentially using a truck or car bomb, officials have been eager to assure the public the city is ready.

CHIEF CATHY LANIER, METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, DC: This has been 10 years of preparation and planning, essentially, from local and federal law enforcement on how to do the best that we possibly can to keep our city safe. We have a very robust plan. We have a lot of experience here.

JONES: This weekend, as the 10th a anniversary of 9/11 approaches, unattended vehicles around government buildings and bridges will be towed. And there is an increased law enforcement presence everywhere.

Capitol Police have more officers on patrol, more police cruisers in the field and more canine, bomb squad and other special units deployed. The U.S. Park Police has, quote, "a substantial number of officers on patrol, in uniform and plainclothes, on foot, horseback and motorcycle and is using cameras and other technology for surveillance."

And Metro Transit Police are patrolling with canine and special operations units and conducting unannounced bag searches, among other steps.

CHIEF MICHAEL TABORN, DC METRO TRANSIT POLICE DEPARTMENT: There is a protective measures list. That's talking about background checks. That's talking about training, preparing our employees, preparing our people, public awareness.

JONES: Officials say they are sharing information and coordinating closely with their counterparts in departments and agencies citywide.

Metro riders here have noticed the change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see an officer to my left. I see an officer to my right. I've noticed an increase in security at the station. I think that's good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have nothing to hide, so it's like all right, use -- ramp up as much as you want, I guess. You're trying to keep us safe, so that's good.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

JONES: Now, Wolf, DC Police Lanier just had another press conference. She said that police here have already been briefed twice today so far by federal authorities.

She also said there's been an up tick in the number of people who have been reporting suspicious activity, particularly suspicious cars. Officials have been checking that out. This is the kind of thing they want to see. Nothing has turned up so far, though -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any indication, Athena, that people canceled visits to Washington, DC this weekend, tourists coming in, for example? Any early indications on that?

JONES: Well, not so far. We've been here for a while here at the Lincoln Memorial. You can see, it's pretty much crawling with tourists. So this is what the Park Police want to see.

There were several officers up the stairs by the statue, but no real visible strong presence yet and certainly no -- no real big indication that -- that tourists are staying away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. That's good.

All right, thanks very much, Athena.

We'll check back with you, as well.

"Specific and credible" -- "specific and credible" -- that's how authorities describe the possible new 9/11 terror threat against Washington and New York.

But how do they know the threat is real?

CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank is standing by.

And President Obama goes on the road to try to rally support for his jobs plan right in the backyard of a key Republican critic.

Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there.

I'm Lisa Sylvester.

Wolf Blitzer, he's been reporting from Tampa, Florida. He's been reporting outside, but the weather is a factor, so we're going to give Wolf a few minutes to get back inside our bus, to get out of the rain for a little bit. And he will be joining us in just a brief bit.

But in the meantime, continuing on with the news. Just hours after challenging Congress to act quickly on his $447 billion jobs plan, President Obama today took his message to the home turf of one of his key Congressional critics, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Let's go live to CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, in Richmond -- Brianna, these were dueling events, weren't they?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly seemed that way, Lisa, I have to tell you. Though a White House official insisted to me that the fact that the president was speaking in Eric Cantor's district, that, really, the fact it was Eric Cantor's district played no role in picking the event site. That's what I was told.

But it was striking because you did have House Majority Leader Cantor, the number two Republican in the House, talking jobs at a small event here at this the concrete plant just a few hours after President Obama, just 17 miles away from where the president told a supportive crowd of thousands that House Republicans should get behind the plan he spelled out last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything in the American Jobs Act, everything in there is the kind of proposal that's been supported in the past by both Democrats and Republicans. Nothing radical in this bill. Everything in it will put more people back to work and more money back into the pockets of those who are working. Everything in it will be paid for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, House Republicans like Cantor take issue with that assertion that it will be paid for because, they suspect and also because Democratic sources familiar with what the president will request of Congress for paying for this plan say that he will ask for it to be paid for, in part, by increasing taxes in later years, something that, Lisa, as you know, is a nonstarter for Republicans.

But there is some openness on the part of House Republicans, including Cantor, to the larger part of the president's jobs plan. And that is the extension and the expansion of that payroll tax cut for employees and for businesses -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yes.

So, Brianna, you know, it's pretty clear that they don't see eye on what to do to create jobs. But it sounds like the rhetoric sure has toned down.

KEILAR: It really has. It's been toned down markedly so. And I asked the majority leader about that, Lisa.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: What's with the change in tones from House Republicans?

ERIC CANTOR, (R) HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, you know, I think that we've been on August recess with our constituents for four or five weeks. And the fear that I heard from people and saw in their faces is very real. You know, people are scared. They don't have enough money. Businesses are worrying about getting through the month. It's time for us to do something. There are things the president said last night that are consistent with what we believe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Clearly, the Republicans are sensitive to a powerful card that the president said he is prepared to play, if they don't swallow this bill whole -- and the White House is writing it and will send it to Congress next week, they say -- that the will paint them as obstructionist. So we'll see how long the Kumbaya lasts.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Brianna, I know a lot of people are very worried about jobs. They many want to see both parties in Washington actually do something in this case. Thanks, Brianna Keilar, reporting from Richmond.

Well, this year's nasty political debate has focused around America's debt problem with Tea Party loyalists leading the charge on spending. But can the government cut the budget and still keep the country safe? That question is all the more relevant today with authorities are on the alert for a terror plot. CNN's Joe Johns has been digging into that, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: A few years ago, people in the Bush administration were talking about waging a war on terrorism and pouring billions of dollars into safety and security for American citizens. Now Washington is talking about a different kind of war, a war on government spending and whether it's possible to keep Americans safe and save money at the same time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS The 9/11 attacks launched an unprecedented wave of U.S. government spending, starting with the war in Afghanistan and the creation of the sprawling department of homeland security. And while blame for out of control government spending falls on both occupants of the White House since 9/11, it did start with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, though in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, the former vice president said the doubling of the federal debt that occurred was to keep the country safe.

DICK CHENEY: I would not have reversed those policies which necessitated spending money that we would not have otherwise had to spend.

JOHNS: But some Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans, have questioned whether the government had any kind of business running up that debt in the name of national and homeland security. Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul --

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Should the strength of the president be directed towards building TSA and homeland security and policing the world?

JOHNS: The main criticism of the homeland security department is that it wastes money. A recent Government Accountability Office says DHS has improved over the year but cited serious weaknesses, including cost overruns, schedule delays, performance problems, such as a canceled technology program for securing the country's borders. And that's what Tea Partiers mean when they call the department inefficient.

AMY KREMER, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: There are no sacred cows. It is the federal government's responsibility to keep us safe, but the department of homeland security has been efficient. JOHNS: And it's not just Tea Partiers who say the government can protect the country and save money at the same time. Listen to former 9/11 commissioner and ambassador to India Rim Roemer, a Democrat.

TIM ROEMER, (D) FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: So what we have to do is strengthen our national security and strengthen our jobs and our economy. And part of this calibration is to very thoughtfully and smartly bring a scalpel to parts of a national security budget and trim where it is in our best interests.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Homeland security and national security are seen sometimes differently on the Hill. A number of powerful members of Congress are trying to hold the line cuts in the military. They say there have been enough cuts already. Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Thank you very much, Joe.

Monday night the Republican presidential candidates will be debating in Tampa, Florida. Wolf Blitzer will be the moderator when CNN hosts the debate, along with the Tea Party Express and several Tea Party groups in Tampa, Florida. That's Monday on 8:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

And speaking of the debate, two problematic issues for the two frontrunners in the Republican race. We'll explain which ones and how much they could hurt Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

Plus airline ticket prices are going back up. We'll going to tell you why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": In Cairo, hundreds of protesters trying to break down a wall surrounding the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester. She's monitoring that.

Some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Dramatic stuff going on in Egypt. Lisa, what is the latest?

SYLVESTER: That's right, Wolf. Demonstrators cheered on the demolition while police stood by. They also chanted for the ouster to Israel's ambassador to Egypt. Since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down this winter, many Egyptians have called for an end to diplomatic relations with Israel.

And an emotional moment on the floor of the New York stock exchange this morning as traders mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. They observed a moment of silence. The dignitaries rang opening bell, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Chuck Schumer. Meanwhile, the markets tanked today on bad news out of Europe. The Dow Jones closed down 2.5 percent.

Bill Richardson vows he won't leave Cuba until he meets with jailed American contractor Alan Gross. The former New Mexico governor says the Cuban government has turned down his request to visit Gross in the hospital. Richardson arrived in Havana on Wednesday to try to negotiate Gross' release. Cuba says Gross was trying to install illegal electronic equipment. Gross says he was trying to connect the Jewish community to the Internet.

Airlines prices are going up once again. U.S. Airway increased its one-way fares as much as $5 for walk up purchases. The increase was matched by other airlines, including United, Delta, and Southwest. Experts say time will tell if consumers are willing to pay more to fly in this sluggish economy.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.

Let's get back to our big story, the terror threat right now unfolding in New York and Washington, D.C. So how do top terror officials know this one is really credible? We're talking with one of our terror experts coming up.

Plus 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, the remains of thousands of victims are still unidentified. We're going to show you what's being done to try to solve this. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take another look at our top story right now. America is on alert heading into the 9/11 anniversary weekend. A senior U.S. officials says spy network have intercepted communications from an Al Qaeda operative in Pakistan indicating plans for a terror strike in New York City or Washington D.C. There's still no corroborating evidence, but the intelligence indicates the plan may involve three people and a possible car bomb.

There is stepped up security in both cities -- sweeps, searches, and checkpoints. Authorities are taking this threat very seriously.

Let's get a closer look at what's going on right now. Joining us, Paul Cruikshank. Paul, we always hear a lot of chatter, the intelligence operatives are monitoring what's going on. Why is the chatter now supposedly much more credible than earlier points of potential terror chatter?

PAUL CRUIKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think the key point here is that this was a U.S. intelligence intercept of an Al Qaeda operative in Pakistan who's been a useful source of information before. So that tends to put a larger "c" in the word "credible."

Also the context here, they've know that bin Laden has been planning, in the early stages of planning a terrorist attack against the United States. Some of the intelligence in Abbottabad, his compound, was suggesting that.

So it's all about context and it's all about the fact that this was an intercept of a known al Qaeda that's check out before. But as you say, it is not corroborated at the moment, it does seem to be a sort of single source time of intelligence that we're talking about here, Wolf.

BLITZER: But it has resulted in extraordinary measures that we're seeing in New York and Washington, indeed all over the country and other parts of the world, a much higher state of alert right now. So it must be a lot more credible than maybe even they're willing to suggest right now.

It doesn't seem to have the fingerprints, if you will, of the al Qaeda operation now headed by the former number two, now the number one, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, there seems to be some chatter. CNN has been reporting that Zawahiri may have some fingerprints on this, this may be an attempt by Zawahiri to restore al Qaeda to relevance. We've seen all the events in the Arab world, the Arab Spring. Also, to re- energize the base after the death of Bin Laden. I mean, this would sort of be a bit of a departure for al Qaeda, because Zawahiri hasn't been so intimately involved in these sorts of plots in recent years, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the background is that they did find a lot of documentation in Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad saying he was really anxious for something spectacular to be planned against America around this 10th anniversary of 9/11. And what I've been hearing now for maybe more than a month, two months, and I discussed it when I interviewed President Obama not that long ago, this notion of revenge for the U.S. killing Bin Laden. This is a powerful incentive for a lot of al Qaeda sympathizers, whether lone wolves or formal members of the terror network.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's absolutely right. We've seen al Qaeda, we've seen several of its affiliates, say that they want to mount a sort of revenge attack to avenge the death of Bin Laden. So, of course, there's a lot of concern about this right now, both from the sort of organized (INAUDIBLE) of al Qaeda, but also from lone Wolf attackers, people who might be inspired by the ideology of al Qaeda, but not part of the organization, that may want to do something, Wolf.

BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you.

Finding three men among 300 million people. We're going to explain the almost impossible task of tracking down these alleged suspects in the latest terror plot against the United States. Much more on our top story coming up.

Also, 70,000 people evacuated in one Pennsylvania county alone, and the devastating floods could soon get a whole lot worse.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Massive flooding in parts of Pennsylvania right now, where the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped even more water today. At least three people are dead, and the flooding has affected thousands of homes. Seventy thousand people, in fact, have already been evacuated in the northeast part of the state. National Guard troops are patrolling to ward of looters.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now live from the capital of Harrisburg, where the Susquehanna River is rising.

John, how bad is it?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, rising for sure.

Take a look. You see those benches out there in the distance, if cameraman Jerry Simonson (ph) can get that shot.

That's where the Susquehanna ought to be. That's where it is now, there. And let me show you where it was earlier today and may get back to tonight, when they expect a second crest at over 25 feet.

Wolf, the water crossed all the way across the street here -- this is Front Street -- and went up to the sides of those buildings. There's standing water down in the basements.

In the distance here, you can see the water is still covering the roadway. Now, past that is a town, a small area, a suburb called Shipok (ph). And we're told that the water is at least chest deep in Shipok (ph), in the homes there. You can't get in there any other way than by boat.

So they're dealing with a lot of mud. You see all this mud that's going to be left behind when the waters finally do recede for good. Another concern, that sometime this evening, the Susquehanna will be back up here where I'm standing.

And, of course, we know that in West Pittston, the water was even higher than what they had here when it finally crested. It is subsiding now in West Pittston, which is good news, but in that community, which is to the north of where we are, there's a lot of major cleanup to do.

As we drove around, Wolf, here in the Harrisburg, area, we did not see a lot of damage, a lot of flooding, other than on this main street that runs along the Susquehanna. In fact, the governor's residence had about three inches of water today. Only inches, but three inches all the way up into the first floor.

And many of the offices, the governor's offices, had been moved today to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Authority. So their phones were being transferred there, the governor's people were working out of that office, just because it was so difficult for workers, for state workers, to get downtown with so many of the roads here in Harrisburg closed off.

But again, Wolf, they're expecting perhaps tonight another crest as the Susquehanna River just races past us and races on out down to the south -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story. All right, John. We'll stay in close touch with you as well.

John Zarrella, on the scenes for us, as he always is.

Now to another natural disaster, this one in Texas, where wildfires keep raging. Almost 1,400 homes have already been destroyed by the largest fire. That's the one near Austin, the state capital.

Texas officials say almost 1,900 fires have burned 3.5 million acres since January. The lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, says Texas urgently needs a federal disaster declaration. It would give state access to additional supplies and personnel. So far, though, no immediate response from the White House.

We'll stay in close touch and watch to see what happens there.

Meanwhile, with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry at the front of the Republican pack, we're taking a closer look at each candidate's biggest stumbling block going into the huge debate that's going to be taking place here in Tampa, Monday night.

And a wall of flame and black smoke. That's how CNN's Barbara Starr remembers the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. She was inside that building. We're going to hear more of Barbara's very personal memories from that day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here in Tampa. This is a nice shot. Earlier in the day we were over at the University of Tampa. You can see this nice picture. We're in Tampa for Monday night's Republican debate, the CNN/Tea Party debate.

I'll be monitoring that debate. Eight Republican candidates will be up on the stage.

Let's talk about what we can expect in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us right now, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville, and the Republican strategist, the executive vice president of Edelman PR in Washington, D.C., Tony Blankley.

Guys, thanks very much.

Let's talk about Social Security for a moment.

And James, first to you. Who would have thought that this would be such a big issue after the last Republican debate? It clearly divides the two front-runners, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Are you surprised that, all of a sudden, this has become such a big issue?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, no. As soon as I read what Perry had in his book, you knew it was coming up. There was no way.

And by the way, there's very little doubt it will be a big issue in our debate in Tampa on Monday night. It's a huge thing.

Look at all the number of people that are affected by Social Security. And people are going to ask about it. They're going to want to know.

You know, Perry is really throwing this thing out there. A lot of people in the Republican Party agree with him.

And Romney is trying to sort of keep his general election viability in tact. And this is going to be a fascinating thing. And I suspect that Perry is going to modify his answers some and Romney is going to modify his attack. I frankly can't wait until Monday night. I'm so excited, I'm about to jump out of my chair right now.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will be a big issue.

Was it a blunder or was it smart, Tony, for Rick Perry to double down on earlier comments that Social Security really is a big lie and a Ponzi scheme? You've heard the points that he's made, points that were repudiated, rejected by Mitt Romney, who says Social Security is great and elderly Americans rely on it.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I don't think it's a blunder. I think he'll probably shave the description a little bit.

It's really, for Romney, more of a carom shot. By making the Social Security issue more prominent on Perry, it may make Romney stronger in a sort of general election notional polls with Obama versus Perry. So the electability issue may come into play.

I don't think it's going to be a big problem for Perry in the Republican primaries. The term "Ponzi" was first used for Social Security by Paul Samuelson, the great economist who wrote the standard college textbook which we all used on economics. So I think that word alone isn't a problem, but Perry probably wants to shave some of the other language he's used a little bit.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, the whole notion of a Ponzi scheme, though, does have this -- James, hold on a second. It has this notion -- if you call it a Ponzi scheme, you think of Bernard Madoff, you think of something criminal, something illegal, and clearly Social Security is not criminal or illegal.

BLANKLEY: No, it's not. I think the essence of a Ponzi scheme is that you're funding it with fresh money coming in. And it's not properly funded on the long side. I'm sure that's what Perry meant, and he'll eventually get rhetorically to that point.

BLITZER: All right, James. Go ahead.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I don't care what Paul Samuelson says. We know where the money is coming from. The Social Security is fine and (INAUDIBLE). There's no Ponzi scheme that makes its books public and tells you where the funding is coming from. You know exactly where it is, so I think Paul Samuelson is the brightest guy that maybe ever lived. It's a 1948 textbook has been that's been entire predictive of everything that happened in this economic downturn.

BLANKLEY: I used it in the 1960s. CARVILLE: You can use it. It don't make it true. You can call it whatever you want, but it doesn't fit the definition of a Ponzi scheme.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: On Social Security, that is where the phrase came from.

BLITZER: It's fair to say though, Tony, that it's a dangerous subject, especially in a Republican caucus or a Republican primary, where older Americans generally vote. Here in Florida, where I am right now, Tampa, getting ready for the debate, seniors, they love Social Security.

They don't want to hear that it's a lie, it's a Ponzi scheme. They want to make sure they get their Social Security checks.

BLANKLEY: I agree. If the voters come to the conclusion that Perry wants to do something to end or damage Social Security, he's in big trouble. I just don't think that that's where this is going to play out in the end.

I think they're going to understand that he's where almost everybody is from Obama onward, which is we've got to figure out how to fix Social Security. And that's the position Perry is almost certainly going to get to rhetorically.

BLITZER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There another issues -- go ahead, James.

CARVILLE: I'm sorry? I said his problem is, he may be correct, but he's defending government in a Republican primary, and that irritates a lot of Republicans. They don't want a government defended. And they really don't like the idea.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: They want Social Security defended. I want Social Security defended.

BLITZER: Which raises, as much as Social Security could be a problem in a primary, in a Republican primary, or in a general election for Rick Perry, what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts on health care reform -- and James, I'll start with you -- that could be a bigger problem for him, especially amongst some of these Tea Party supporters who are going to be in Tampa watching this debate.

CARVILLE: Absolutely. And there's not just a whole lot of difference between what President Obama did and what Mitt Romney did.

And his answer seems to be kind of equivocal, and it doesn't seem to be very definitive. And you're right, it doesn't help him a lot over there, and particularly with the Tea Party people. They can't stand this stuff. And it does -- it makes him do the one thing he can't afford to do. It makes him look overly political or shifty. And that's not a good thing for him.

BLANKLEY: Yes, I agree. Obamacare --

BLITZER: How much of a problem is this, Tony, for him?

BLANKLEY: Obamacare is the biggest problem that Romney has. It's a bigger problem for Romney than Social Security is for Perry.

I moderated a number of policy panel discussions at Tea Party events, and Obamacare was -- if you go back to August of 2009, that was one of the great and passionate issues, and remains a big issue. And I think Romney is going to have to deal with that.

He's going to lose votes on that. It doesn't preclude him from winning the Republican primary at all. And he'll get plenty of Tea Party voters, because they also want to see a win. But it's definitely the biggest challenge that Romney has going into the Tampa debate.

BLITZER: James, if you were advising Romney on how to handle this issue, health care, what would you tell him to do?

CARVILLE: He can't do much else because he just doesn't have enough flip-flop left in him. And I think his strategy is actually -- default strategy was a pretty good one.

His strategy is this: Perry will make you feel great in March, I'll make you feel great in November. This guy is running, I'm the electable guy. I may not be the one that scratches every itch you've got, but I can scratch your big itch in November.

And he's going to -- and if you saw the first debate -- and I would be surprised if he changes that strategy in our debate. I really would. No one has ever come out and exactly said it, but that's his strategy, that's what his people are pushing, and that's the only way for him to go. He can't reverse anymore.

BLANKLEY: Yes, I completely agree with James. I think he's exactly right. And that's why I was saying earlier that Romney has a general election winning strategy. And if he convinces Tea Party and other conservative voters that he's the winner, he's going to be OK.

CARVILLE: Tony and I agree on everything today, Wolf. This is not a typical segment.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Just remind to our viewers, Monday night, right here in Tampa where I am, the debate will begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. All eight Republican presidential candidates will be up on the stage. We'll go through all of these issues, the CNN/Tea Party debate, Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. By the way, if you want to read some of my thoughts of going into this debate as the moderator, go to CNN.com/situationroom and read my blog today, what I'm thinking about, how I'm preparing for this debate Monday night, CNN.com/situationroom.

The new 9/11 terror threat, what we are hearing from sources in Afghanistan right now. CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by live. Our own national security contributor Fran Townsend is as well. We'll go to them. Stand by for that.

And a decade after the 9/11 attacks, scientists are still working to identify the remains of Ground Zero victims, and that's enabling some loved ones to find closure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A decade after the 9/11 attacks, forensic scientists are still working nonstop to identify the remains of victims, and that's enabling some loved ones to find closure.

Our own Mary Snow has been looking into this story for us.

Mary, what's going on here?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, when most people hear about this, they're surprised, unaware that this work is going on. To date, the Medical Examiner's Office says of the 2,753 people killed in the attacks here in New York, 1,633 have been identified. The goal is to identify all victims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Monique Keyes says she only takes out pictures of her late fiance on the anniversary of September 11th. With no gravesite, it's the way she honors Ernest James (ph), a computer technician who was killed in Tower One.

MONIQUE KEYES, LOST FIANCE ON 9/11: Though I kept moving and my life progressed, deep in my heart I kept hoping that one day they would identify some of the remains and be able to give me full closure.

SNOW: Not far from Ground Zero, the New York City Medical Examiner's Office has been working nonstop since 9/11 to help these families get closure.

MARK DESIRE, NEW YORK CITY" MEDICAL EXAMINER'S OFFICER: We have a full-time team of scientists. Their job seven days a week is World Trade Center identification.

SNOW (on camera): That's all they do?

DESIRE: That's all they do.

SNOW (voice-over): Mark Desire heads the forensic biology unit working to identify some 9,000 bone fragments and other remains from the World Trade Center victims. And Desire is not one to give up. His work began on September 11th. Dispatched at Ground Zero, he and his colleagues narrowly escaped the collapse of the south tower.

In the weeks that followed, the team began to work with items victims' families brought to authorities like brushes and razors which were used for DNA samples. Those items are still used. And although most of the remains are matched to previously identified victims, new technology has led to 32 new IDs since 2007.

DESIRE: The procedures that we have in place today allow us to generate DNA profiles and make identification of the victims that was impossible even four or five years ago.

SNOW: One of the most recent, the team identified remains of Ernest James (ph). And Monique Keyes was stunned to get a call in late August telling her a DNA match was found.

(on camera): And what has the identification of the remains allowed you to do?

KEYES: It's allowed me to say goodbye to him. It has. It's allowed me to just let go, to close the door on this chapter and to move on.

SNOW (voice-over): Some 9/11 family members like Ellen Saracini don't ever expect to get that closure.

ELLEN SARACINI, 9/11 WIDOW: We need to remember that a tragedy like this can never happen again.

SNOW: Ellen's husband, Victor, was the pilot of United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. She and other families in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, built this garden of reflection for loved ones killed on 9/11.

SARACINI: There were a lot of people that were left without remains, and there was no gravesite to go to. So we wanted to have a place that remembered them, that honored them, that celebrated their lives. And that's what the garden does. There is life all around, and we celebrate the lives that are no longer here with us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Wolf, each year, to mark the anniversary, the Medical Examiner's Office has its own ceremony with families at a chapel here in New York in the building where those remains are held -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ten years later, what an amazing story. Thanks, Mary. Thanks very much.

It certainly was a shattering experience that will remain seared forever in the memory of those who survived it. A decade later, CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, recalls the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You were either here that day or you weren't. For the people who work in the building today, who were there 10 years ago, I don't think you can ever forget. I'm sitting here and I'm seeing the flames in front of me on this beautiful morning.

9/11 is my birthday. And I woke up that morning, looked out the window. The weather was beautiful, and I thought, how little time could I possibly spend at work? I'll put something nice on, I'll go out to dinner with friends, and it will be a nice birthday.

(voice-over): But then, New York.

(on camera): Ten years ago, this was the area where the Pentagon press corps was working. That morning we had been watching the attacks unfold in New York.

I came out in this hallway, and suddenly there was a Pentagon policeman coming from that direction, running down this hallway yelling, "Get out! Get out! Everybody get out! We've been hit! Get out!"

(voice-over): American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.

(on camera): By the time I made by way from my office down there to this part of the hallway, it was full of people. We could smell the smoke. Hundreds of people coming into this hallway, coming down the stairs from the upper floors, coming up the stairs from the basement. The doors had closed shut due to the security alert, so it took a few minutes for them to open them and for people to begin to make their way out to safety.

This entire side of the Pentagon was a wall of flame and black smoke. I remember seeing people coming out of the wreckage where the plane had hit, some covered in blood, trying to make their way to safety.

Hundreds of workers had gathered over here. At one point, before a large number of police or fire personnel could even get here, they called for people who had any kind of emergency or medical training, and hundreds of military people came moving back in towards the wreckage to help in any way that they could.