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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Terror Warning; Egyptian Protesters Storm Israeli Embassy

Aired September 9, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's what it was really all about here on that day in this place, for the U.S. military -- no retreat, no surrender.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And please join us Sunday morning 8:00 a.m. Eastern when CNN will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I will be reporting live from the Pentagon. Barbara Starr will be with us as well. My colleagues Candy Crowley and Anderson Cooper will be at Ground Zero. John King will be in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Sunday morning, our coverage begins 8:00 a.m. Eastern. Stay with CNN for that.

And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, New York City and Washington, D.C., on heightened alert as U.S. intelligence officials scramble to connect the dots in a potential 9/11 10th anniversary terror threat. Just ahead, details of the al Qaeda chatter that was intercepted and the possible role Osama bin Laden's successor might be playing.

Plus, the gloves are off in the Republican race for the White House. And President Obama could have some serious challengers on his hands.

I'm here in Tampa, Florida, getting ready to moderate CNN's Republican next presidential debate. Stand by for a full preview this hour.

And a rare, sobering look at the horror of September 11 as seen through the eyes of the president of the United States at the time, George W. Bush.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We have breaking news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We are learning now that Egyptian protesters by the thousands have stormed the Israeli Embassy in Egypt.

Let's go straight to our CNN producer Mohamed Fadel Fahmy. He is joining us live from outside the embassy. Mohamed, tell our viewers what's going on, because obviously the Israeli-Egyptian relationship, there's been a relationship since 1979, is clearly at stake.

MOHAMED FADEL FAHMY, CNN PRODUCER: Wolf, September 9, today, started with a festive mood and it was (INAUDIBLE) correcting the path of the revolution.

Outside the Israeli Embassy, protesters in the hundreds were able to hammer down the wall that was just built last week to secure the building of the Israeli Embassy. Then just a couple of meters away, clashes started between the protesters in the back street of the Israeli Embassy as they clashed with the police. And Ministry of Health states that 88 people were injured during these clashes.

BLITZER: Mohamed, so there reports now that these protesters got inside this Israeli Embassy and have been ransacking it and that Israeli documents have been seen floating around all the streets over there. Are any Israeli diplomats there? What's going on, on that front?

FAHMY: Well, I spoke to the army commander of the Israeli Embassy and he confirmed that there no diplomats inside the embassy.

But, yes, the papers are everywhere and people are carrying them. I got one of the papers and read it. It seems that what the army is saying is that protesters were able to enter through a balcony in the building from the floor under the Israeli Embassy.

BLITZER: Did you say there was or was not a significant Egyptian police military effort to try to secure, to try to keep the Israeli Embassy safe?

FAHMY: Well, there is police and army standing alert, but there was no engaging with the protesters throughout the day, only (AUDIO GAP) in the streets, in the back streets around the Israeli Embassy, clashes started and the protesters were able to let's say defeat the police.

I have seen them confiscating machine guns, tear gas bombs, helmets, then running out, celebrating their so-called victory.

BLITZER: We are showing our viewers, Mohamed, pictures from Egyptian state television. You can see the flames there and you can what is going on.

What I hear you saying is that even though the tensions have been building now for the couple of weeks as far as Egyptian-Israeli relations, there really was no major effort on the part of the Egyptian government, the new Egyptian post-Mubarak government, to protect the embassy there and protect those Israeli documents and those Israeli diplomats for all practical purposes. It looks like there could be a rupture in the Israeli-Egyptian relationship after 30-plus years.

FAHMY: Well, Wolf, last -- a couple of weeks ago, there was an incident on the Israeli-Egyptian where five Egyptian soldiers killed and the investigations are ongoing. Some of the investigations were published.

And I believe the situation is tense. Today, the Israeli flag was removed of the Israeli Embassy by the protesters for the second time and they replaced it with an Egyptian flag.

BLITZER: It's a tense situation. All right, Mohamed, thanks very much.

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy IS our CNN producer on the scene for us in Egypt, where you're seeing these pictures, amazing pictures, this Israeli-Egyptian relationship clearly on the verge of shattering right now after 30-plus years of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. We will see what happens next, but a lot is stake right now in Egypt. We will get back to the story later.

Other news we are following, including a huge development, the latest on the potential terror threat that is heightening security concerns in New York City and Washington, D.C. The plan is believed to involve a vehicle-borne explosive device timed to coincide with Sunday's 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and we're learning that U.S. officials have intercepted communications involving an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been monitoring all the latest details for us. She's joining us live.

What do we known, Barbara? What's the latest?

STARR: Wolf, a senior U.S. official tells CNN this is where it all began. They intercepted communications from an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan spelling out some of the details of this possible attack against New York or Washington.

This secret intercept was not the first time and previous intercepts have yielded good information, corroborated information. So when they heard this, they got very concerned. Where they are right now is they are not able to corroborate this piece of information. Intelligence officials are combing through everything from other al Qaeda cells, other operatives. Not been able to corroborate this attack information just yet, but right now very concerned about it. All hands on deck throughout the weekend across Washington looking at the intelligence, looking at the information.

They do believe at this point the officials says the working assumption has to be that the three operatives they are looking, including possibly one U.S. citizen, are already in the United States. They cannot confirm that, but that's the assumption they are working on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they also working under the assumption, Barbara, that this threat has the fingerprints of Ayman al-Zawahri, the new leader of al Qaeda, the former number two? But with bin Laden dead, he has taken over. Does it look like his operation? STARR: Well, that's one of the things, spot on, Wolf, that they are trying to figure that out right now. We are told that they believe this plot emanates from Pakistan and what is commonly referred to as al Qaeda central, not one of the littler, the smaller operations in Yemen, in Somalia, in a neighboring country.

They believe it comes right from the heartland of al Qaeda. And that is where Zawahri is operating these days. So it will be very interesting to figure out, does it have his fingerprints, does it have his blessing? Would they really be operating on something on this scale without him knowing about it? Because it would have taken money and planning if this really does happen and they are able to track it. They believe that these operatives left Pakistan and came through the Persian Gulf and possibly, possibly entered the United States that way.

You are looking at a complex plot with something with a lot of planning and a lot of preparation if it was to come to pass -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara is at the Pentagon for us.

Thank you.

Let's big a little bit deep right now on this potential threat. Joining us is, our CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser under President George W. Bush. She is now a member of both the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security advisory boards. Also joining us, our CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He is joining us live from Kabul in Afghanistan. Both know a great deal about what's going on.

But let me start with you, Fran. I want to play for our viewers this exchange I recently had a few weeks ago with President Obama on the terror threat facing the United States. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I have to tell you, I'm worried, that on the 10th anniversary, approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11, al Qaeda, or what's left of al Qaeda or their supporters, will try to do something to seek revenge for your killing bin Laden.

How worried should we be about that? How worried are you about that?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The biggest concern we have right now is not the launching of a major terrorist operation, although that risk is always there. The risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently.

You know, when you've got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it's a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So when you hear that exchange, Fran, with the president -- and by the way our Susan Candiotti is now reporting that two of the three terrorists who are believed to be plotting this latest attack are in fact U.S. citizens as well, not just one of them, but two of them. That is just coming in from Susan Candiotti.

But when you hear the president speak about this lone wolf threat, is this current threat based on what you know the wolf type of operation the president was concerned about or something more significant?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It certainly sounds more significant. The notion that it's a vehicle- born improvised explosive device, a car bomb, you have got three operatives, potentially two separate target sets, either D.C. or New York., this is not a lone wolf.

And so while it's understandable that that is what the president was focused on at the time because it was right after Norway, this is more of an al Qaeda central. But let's be clear. He also said that he thought a large-scale attack was unlikely. I will tell you if you compare even the outlines that we have, three people and a car bomb is a much less significant event if it were to happen than a 9/11, three planes and 3,000 people dead.

And so that's not to minimize the threat because they are running that to ground right now. But this is not large-scale on the scale of a 9/11 that we're worried about, even though it is significant.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Kabul, what does it say to you that two of the three suspects in this current terror alert if you will are U.S. citizens?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This means that al Qaeda is operating the way that it wants to operate, that it has managed to get its hands on a couple of recruits. We don't know if they came to Pakistan to get training in an al Qaeda camp. Certainly other Americans have done that. We have documented those cases very clearly where they come to the camps.

They want to attack and fight against American and NATO troops here in Afghanistan. But there are al Qaeda top operatives who turned them around and recruit them and tell them to go back home for attacks. Bryant Neal Vinas was one case of a self-radicalized individual who left the United States. He converted to Islam, went to Pakistan, went to an al Qaeda camp and was there giving information about rail networks in New York and Long Island, for example.

This is the opportunity that al Qaeda is looking for. We don't know those details. We don't know if these two have been radicalized and recruited online. Al Qaeda has a big effort to do that, to manipulate people's minds to give them justification for these types of attacks.

But it also likes to run them through the training camps, because that's the way they can teach them how to build car bombs, for example. The Times Square bomber went to Pakistan and went to a terror training camp belonging to the Taliban and got that training and went home and built the car bomb. It failed in Times Square, fortunately, was also spotted by members of the public.

But these are the scenarios that sort of will be being investigated and the likely scenarios that can come up for consideration right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic.

Nic and Fran, both of you guys stand by. We will continue to explore what's going on.

But I want to move on right now to our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff. He's over at a police checkpoint in Midtown Manhattan where inspections are under way.

What's going on where you are, Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the inspections were so tight earlier that drivers and people in the community were complaining to the city. Traffic was just crawling, crawling for miles back, and so the cordon here has eased up a little bit.

You can see right now they're allowing two lanes of traffic by. Earlier, it was only one car at a time, one lane of traffic. So the police are letting traffic go by a little bit faster. They're still watching the vehicles. They just told me, look, we know what type of vehicles to pull aside.

Earlier they were pulling aside virtually every van and truck coming over. They say they are particularly looking for vehicles with license plates indicating that they are rentals. The officers here also have a device that can measure radioactivity. It's a little larger than the box here, the audio box that I have.

If there were any radioactivity detected, it would vibrate. And the lead officer here told me he did have some vibration earlier. It was from an oil tanker. Turned out to be nothing. But they checked that vehicle inside out. Now, some of the other measures that they're taking, they have been towing away vehicles that are parked illegally.

A lot of that activity going around in the city, and also they are checking license plates. The police have scanners at bridges and tunnels and also in the streets that actually are able to scan all the license plates on a block and immediately put those numbers into a database and determine whether the plates are stolen and whether there is any alert for those plates, for those vehicles.

So, Wolf, they have eased up, but still security very tight and they intend to maintain these checkpoints through 9/11 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff in New York.

We will stay on top of this story. Allan, thank you very much. And there's much more we are watching the potential terror threat in New York and Washington, including what U.S. officials are doing to find those three alleged suspects in a sea of millions. Two of those three believed to be U.S. citizens, we're just learning.

And we are also here in Tampa, Florida, where CNN is getting ready to co-host the next Republican debate. That's Monday night. Some serious front-runners are emerging. We will have a preview of the debate, which I will moderate, Monday night.

And could one person be responsible for millions of Americans spending the night in the dark? We have new details just coming in on that mass power outage in California and Arizona.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm here in Tampa, Florida, where CNN is getting ready to co-host the next Republican presidential debate. I will be moderating that debate Monday night 8:00 p.m. there here on CNN.

Let's talk a little bit about the upcoming debate. You're looking at some beautiful pictures from Tampa, Florida, right now. And it is a great city.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us.

Gloria, the whole issue of Social Security all of a sudden becoming a central issue among some of these presidential candidates, Rick Perry saying it's a Ponzi scheme, it's a lie. Mitt Romney coming back and saying, you know what, so many millions of Americans rely on Social Security, it has got to be reform, it has got to be improved, saved, but you can't just belittle it.

How big of an issue is this now in this Republican contest?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a huge issue in this contest and it will probably be a big issue in the general election campaign, no matter who becomes the Republican nominee.

Take a look at this poll, Wolf, done by Pew Research. It just shows how popular Social Security is in this country. The question was asked, has Social Security been good or bad for the country? Good or very good, 87 percent.

Now, you can't get people in this country to agree on what day it is by 87 percent to 11 percent. The question for candidate Perry is, will he decide that he has got to clean up his language a little bit? Will he decide that he's got to backtrack a little bit? After all, as you point out, the language was very strong, Ponzi scheme, unconstitutional.

And if he does that, does he become a candidate who looks less authentic? Because that is how he is really trying to sell himself, as an authentic, a truth-teller, if you will. Or does he continue along that track and hope that the demographics of the country are working to his advantage and that younger voters will agree with him that Social Security is a -- quote -- "monstrous lie" and that it ought to be replaced with something else?

BLITZER: And if you dig deeper in some of these polls, as you well know, Gloria, including our recent CNN poll, you see that even among Republicans, the overwhelming majority like Social Security, don't want to change Social Security. They want their Social Security checks. Let's not forget how important the elderly vote is. Older people in the United States vote in much higher percentages, especially in states where I am now, Florida or in Iowa. They vote in much bigger numbers than younger voters.

Here's the question. Monday night, nobody knows what's going to happen. Will Mitt Romney go in for the kill on this issue of Social Security against Rick Perry?

BORGER: Totally. Wolf, if you don't give him the opportunity, he will find an opportunity somewhere, I guarantee you, in this debate to go after Rick Perry on Social Security.

In a radio interview, he has already said that Republicans would be -- quote -- "obliterated" as a party if they nominated somebody who wants to end Social Security. This is really an opening that Mitt Romney has been looking for as he makes his main argument to the Republican Party, which is going to be, he is the electable candidate.

Above all else, Republicans want to win and they want to beat Barack Obama. And that would mean, according to Mitt Romney, that they ought to nominate him because they have gotten a candidate in Rick Perry who he will tell you essentially has eliminated himself because of his beliefs on Social Security.

You will hear that loud and clear, Wolf, at our debate. And it will be interesting to see if they continue to get into this debate on this really important issue.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will and I'm sure Rick Perry will try to go for the kill against Romney on the whole issue of Romneycare, as it was called in Massachusetts. There will be a good discussion. I have no doubt about that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks, Gloria.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: I want to remind our viewers in the United States and around world I will be moderating the Republican presidential debate Monday night here in Tampa, Florida. That's where I am right now. CNN is co-hosting the debate, along with the Tea Party Express, several other Tea Party groups as well, Monday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

From New York to the nation's capital of Washington, D.C., U.S. officials right now are not taking a new terror threat against the United States lightly. We're going to show you what they're doing to beef up security ahead of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this weekend.

Plus, from California to Mexico, millions of people suddenly out of power, no lights and no air conditioning, lots of questions. Did human error cause this massive blackout or was there something else?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to that potential terror threat against New York and Washington, D.C. We're just learning that at least two of the three alleged suspects are believed to be U.S. citizens.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is over at the White House for us. She has got more.

What's the latest that you are hearing, Jessica Yellin?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm told by a senior administration official that they do not plan to raise the threat level for now, but that could change.

I am told by another senior administration official that this is the first, most serious threat they have had around the 9/11 anniversary. Right now I am told they are not planning to change the president's schedule in any way.

The president has been briefed throughout the day, first this morning by his chief counterterrorism official, John Brennan, by his national security top official, Tom Donilon, and by Tom Donilon's top deputy, Denis McDonough. He has been briefed repeatedly again by Brennan throughout the day and will be throughout this weekend.

Now, you have reported, Wolf, that as you know they learned during the bin Laden raid that al Qaeda and bin Laden in particular was interested in attacking the U.S. around this and other anniversaries. Well, I'm told at that time the president ordered his counterterrorism team to begin a process of stepping up the U.S.' as I'm told security posture for this date.

And they began a four-month planning process to prepare for what they say is exactly an eventuality like this. They say they anticipated a threat like this and are ready for it. They say they are treating this threat seriously and in their words pulling all threads.

I'm told they began working on this particular threat Wednesday night. It broke to the media last night when they alerted local and state law enforcement officials about the details of it. They have given specific details to law enforcement officials about what to look out for and as you know and have heard have been telling the general public to be vigilant generally to any kind of danger we might notice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, what are they saying over there? What does the administration mean when they say there is a -- quote -- "specific, credible, but unconfirmed threat"?

YELLIN: Right.

So I am told from this senior administration official that it means it's detailed and from a reliable source, but not corroborated. So there still remain questions about whether the information is true or not.

So folks are pulling all threads, trying to run it down. But the administration is taking it seriously. Obviously, they don't want to wait to find out whether it's true before taking measures to protect the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks very much.

It's certainly a race against the clock as U.S. authorities are trying -- trying their best to piece together the details of this latest threat. Let's bring in our old Brian Todd. He's working this part of the story for us -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if this threat is indeed as substantive as some officials believe, then authorities believe here and in New York have the challenge of trying to finding an elusive set of potential suspects and not much time to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Police check points jam Manhattan streets, stop trucks on bridges. U.S. officials tell CNN they received credible information about a possible plot focused on New York and Washington. Officials say it's believed to involve three people and possibly bomb-Laden vehicles. It's not clear if the three people have entered the U.S.

I asked CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend about potential arrests.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It sounds like they feel pretty confident in the -- in the intelligence about a potential vehicle-born explosive device. If they've got that part wrapped up and they can tie that to a person, if there's a link, we don't even know who these people are. But if there's a strong link between individuals and a potential car bomb, they took steps in that direction. We could see an arrest.

TODD: In Washington, canine teams, security personnel have been beefed up on Capitol Hill and its subway stops. This dragnet is far, wide, and sometimes inexact.

(on camera) Police here responded to reports of an unattended truck, not saying whether they're checking the contents of this yet, but they are apparently citing these people for parking illegally.

They're a little jittery over here, because we're just a couple of blocks away from the Pentagon. But on this and other bridges leading into D.C., there were no random checks right away of cars, trucks or buses coming in, despite the new potential threat.

(voice-over) Also no check points on D.C.'s main streets. I spoke with Washington Mayor Vincent gray.

(on camera) Why no check points for random searches on the bridges or elsewhere right now?

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY, WASHINGTON, D.C.: We haven't gotten to the point where we absolutely need to do that. That's a lot of intervention. But let me say this, that our law enforcement officers are working 12-hour shifts. They are being very vigilant. Some of them you see; some of them you don't see.

TODD (voice-over): Former assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes on tracking unseen suspects.

TODD (on camera): What does the FBI, what do other security agencies do to find that needle in a haystack when you're racing against the clock?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Well, it's very difficult for them to do and if they don't have specific identity of who the individuals are, it's going to be -- you know, I hate to say this, but it will be almost close to impossible.

They're going to need to have lead information as to the nationality, the age, the description, how they're going to come here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, adding to that challenge, officials believe that while this plot may involve vehicles with bombs, they say they can't rule out other means. A joint intelligence bulletin says that al Qaeda has considered using attacks with small arms, homemade explosives and poisons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what do experts say is the most difficult threat to stop in advance?

TODD: Tom Fuentes says it's the Mumbai-style attack with just a small group of terrorists spread out. They're carrying only the arms that they can fit inside something like a backpack.

He points out that those terrorists in 2008 didn't have much training, and they were able to hold one of the largest cities in the world under siege for about three days. He says that's what officials fear the most.

BLITZER: Brian Todd over at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

My one-on-one interview with the former head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, that's coming up. He's now talking candidly about the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations behind the scenes when it comes to terror.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: I spoke more about the potential causes for deep concern right now around the 9/11 anniversary with the former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. And I want to be clear this interview took place just before we learned of the potential new threat. But listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: How important is revenge for al Qaeda for the killing of bin Laden?

MICHAEL LEITER, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: Well, bin Laden, as you know, was the organization's only leader. He was beyond important. He was at the very core of al Qaeda. So I think they want revenge, but we should remember that, even if we had not killed bin Laden, they were still looking to strike us and that's going to continue after his death.

BLITZER: Because the symbolic anniversary moments for al Qaeda and their supporters are very important. If you look through some of the record, as I'm sure you have of what was found in bin Laden's compound, he was anxious for something spectacular to happen on the tenth anniversary.

LEITER: He really was focused on that, and he was more focused on it than we even understood before that -- that event.

BLITZER: So what should be done now? I mean, people hear that. They say they want to do something. There so many vulnerabilities out there. What should the U.S. be doing?

LEITER: Well, I think as a general matter, we' re doing the right things. We're staying on the offense and trying to get them where they are in Pakistan, in Yemen. In addition, domestically people should follow the "see something say something" campaign of the Department of Homeland Security.

BLITZER: You were in charge of counterterrorism during the Bush administration, during the Obama administration. Compare these two presidents, how they dealt with this threat of counterterrorism.

LEITER: I think people might be surprised, but there's been more consistency than inconsistency between the two.

First of all, my experience: both presidents were so singularly focused on attacks against the homeland. They took the time. They studied, they learned. And even the smallest bit of intelligence got to them, and they were very much the center of the decision making.

I think some of the things that did change, I think President Obama brought a renewed focus to some of the ideological aspects of this fight, making sure that Muslims across the world and domestically understand that this is not an "us versus them," that it really is the world versus al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Did you lose anything by his decision to stop and no longer go forward with what are called enhanced interrogation techniques, what some call torture?

LEITER: I think immediately after 9/11, interrogations were really a central part of the fight against al Qaeda. Over time, as we got new ways of collecting intelligence, new human spies, new signals intelligence and intercepting electronic communications, those interrogations actually lessened in importance. And from my perspective over the four years that I was the director of NCTC, I felt very comfortable that we were getting the information we needed throughout those four years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Michael Leiter, the former head of the U.S. Counterterrorism Center, joining me.

Still ahead today, snapshots of history. We'll talk with former President George W. Bush's personal photographer, the man who was with him the moment the plane struck the World Trade Center. Some amazing photos coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's taken 60 years, but Congress has finally voted to overhaul the nation's patent system. Many, including the president, say the revamp could spark what they say is 200,000 new jobs in the United States, but not everyone is so sure. Lisa Sylvester is joining us right now with another fact check.

What are you finding out, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf.

Well, this is an issue that has tremendous bipartisan support, passing the Senate by a vote of 89-9, and it's being sold in part as a jobs bill. But some inventors who will directly be impacted by the new patent legislation vehemently oppose it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): He's been likened to a modern-day Thomas Edison. Steve Perlman has more than 100 patents. His inventions help you watch movies on your MacBook or iPhone. He invented Web TV that allowed people to use their television sets to access the Internet. Technology used to develop the Xbox 360.

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: I'm not as old as I look.

SYLVESTER: The technology used to reverse age Brad Pitt in the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," that's another of Perlman's inventions.

But Steve Perlman's current project isn't taking place in his lab. It's taking on Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Number 87 HR-1249, an act to amend Title 35, United States Code to Provide for Patent Reform. SYLVESTER: He adamantly opposes a bill that passed Thursday in the Senate that would revamp the nation's patent system. Among the things the legislation would do is to change the system on who can file for a patent from first to invent an idea to the first to file on that idea.

PERLMAN: This bill is not about invention; it's not about jobs. This bill is about the destruction of the American dream. This bill is about undermining the American system of government. This bill is a catastrophe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. I got one there.

SYLVESTER: Perlman says the new system will require young investors without deep pockets to have to file patents constantly every stage of development, an expensive process which will kill many great ideas. It will make people less willing to share ideas with others.

But proponents of the bill are equally passionate, arguing the U.S. patent system was long due for an overhaul. The United States is the only industrialized nation that hasn't transitioned to a first-to- file system. Under the bill, the U.S. Patent Trademark Office's budget would increase by $300 million. Proponents, including President Obama...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can no longer stand on a 1950s patent system.

SYLVESTER: ... and bill sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy say the additional resources will allow the agency to speed up the processing of patents and spur entrepreneurship, adding by some estimates 200,000 jobs to the economy.

LEAHY: There are a lot of jobs that are being held up today because we can't move the patents through. And in my state we -- we filed more patents per capita than any state in America. When we get some of these patents approved, they always create jobs.

SYLVESTER: Venture capitalist Barry Lauter predicts the opposite will happen because investors will be less willing to bet on an idea if the patent could be in jeopardy.

(on camera) Let me ask a question about 200,000. Because some of the proponents have said they will create 200,000 jobs. Are they off the mark?

BARRY LAUTER, VENTURE CAPITALIST: First off, there is no evidence that this would create any jobs. And if you look at the evidence from around the world, it indicates that it would lose jobs.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Conventional disclosure records show big business lobbied heavily in favor of the bill called the American Invents Act. Among the larger supporters, IBM. Between April and June of this year, IBM spent $960,000 lobbying this and other issues. Johnson & Johnson, $1.3 million. Cisco, $830,000 and 3M, $1.2 million.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, a group of some of the biggest companies in the United States, hailed the vote in the Senate yesterday. They took a victory lap, saying it took six years to get here. They are now urging for the president to sign it quickly into law -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And by all indications, he will be signing that legislation into law. All right. We'll see what happens in the follow-up. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that report.

Lights were out, flights were cancel, and traffic came to a standstill. So what caused that massive blackout in California and Arizona?

Plus, seeing 9/11 through the eyes of the former president of the United States. George W. Bush's personal photographer shares his historic snapshots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Millions of Americans spent the night in the dark after a massive, massive power outage in southern California and Arizona. The power is back up today, but questions remain about how it happened. CNN's Casey Wian reports from San Diego.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At first, people here were afraid the blackouts might be the work of terrorists. Officials quickly said that was not the case, but they still don't know why millions of people in two states and across the border lost power.

(voice-over) A massive blackout stretching from southern Orange County through all of San Diego into Arizona, and even across the Mexican border, affected about 5 million people Thursday. Officials say it began near Yuma, Arizona, when an APS utility worker was performing a procedure in a substation. Power was first lost to 56,000 customer there and should have been contained. The company says, quote, "Operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage... The reason that did not occur in this case will be the focal point of the investigation."

Instead, blackouts spread west through San Diego, then north, knocking out the San Onofre nuclear power plant, and the area's only other source of energy. Traffic jammed. Gas stations closed. Trains stopped running.

Karen Almos was at the airport ready to board a flight to participate in a breast cancer fund-raising walk.

KAREN ALMOS, STRANDED TRAVELER: Flights were canceled. I was heading up to San Francisco. I'm walking the three-day with my sisters. So I missed the morning session up there. I'm trying to catch up as best I can.

WIAN: Restaurants had to close, some forced to throw away thousands of dollars in food. Others already struggling through a bad economy lost business on what would have been a big night, the return of the National Football League.

SOMA SOTO, MANAGER, BAR: You know, it cost at least a few thousand dollars. It's one -- the first big game of the year, two big teams, and there's no TV anywhere.

WIAN: Initially, officials warned the lights could be off for a day or two, but before dawn, San Diego Gas and Electric says it had restored power to all of its customers.

DAVID GEIER, VICE PRESIDENT, ELECTRIC OPERATIONS, SDG&E: We went on basically full alert. No one went home until we got the power restored, so we've been working 12 hours and very happy that happened.

WIAN: As flights resumed and traffic signals were repaired, life started returning to normal. A spokesman for APS, the Arizona utility, apologized to those who lost power and said its investigation into the cause of the blackout could take weeks.

(on camera) Even though power was restored early Friday, schools in San Diego remained closed, as did many businesses. The result, one of the lightest traffic days on a weekday this area has seen in recent memory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Casey Wian on the scene for us. Thank you, Casey.

He had a front-row seat to history on 9/11. What former president George W. Bush's personal photographer saw that fateful day. We'll share some of the images.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting a rare look at 9/11 as it unfolded through the eyes of George W. Bush. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIC DRAPER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER: My job was to document the president and follow him everywhere. But I had no idea what -- what stories, what events would play out.

Eric Draper, former White House photographer for President George W. Bush.

I was still learning the routine of being the White House photographer. This is literally just seconds after the president left the classroom, and I remember following the president into the room and I saw -- I was stunned by the images on the television screen. I'm thinking I have to connect the president and what's happening in New York, and the TV was one way of doing it.

All of a sudden they start replaying the video of the second tower getting hit. Dan Bartlett, the communications director, alerted everyone in the room to that replay. So it was the first time that everyone saw that second plane hitting the tower.

President Bush turns around for the first time and sees that image that's burned into everyone's memory.

We knew we were headed to Air Force One quickly. And we knew they wanted to get him in the air as soon as possible. I remember walking aboard the plane, and the first thing I heard was Andy Card's voice saying, "Remove your batteries from your cell phones," because we didn't know if we were being traced.

This is around the time the president made the decision that any aircraft that was threatening attack would be shot down.

The president really tried to rally the staff. He walked out of his cabin, and he said, "OK, boys, this is what they pay us for."

That's when -- we're watching live TV aboard the plane, and that's when the towers fell. And there was a moment of, you know, utter disbelief. It was a moment of utter silence. As we approached Washington and the president turned toward the window, it just really created an interesting lighting situation for his face. And so I tried to get in tight to show the intensity of the moment.

For me, it really hit home that we were in a war, because you could see the F-16s on one side of the plane. You look out the other side of the plane as we approached Andrews Air Force Base, and you could still see the smoke rising from the Pentagon.

I remember that -- how this moment was building.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!

DRAPER: I knew that was a good moment, because, you know, just like everyone there, everyone watching TV felt that, you know, President Bush is going to lead us through this tough time. Even to this day, going back, you know, looking through the pictures from 9/11 and days that followed, it's -- you know, it's hitting me even harder, you know, because it's -- I can finally digest what happened, because in the moment, it's all about -- for me, it was all about reacting to everything. And I had the advantage of having the camera as a distraction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Amazing pictures. To see more of these photos, go to CNNPolitics.com.

That's it for me. Thank you very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tampa. The news continues on CNN.