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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

War in Iraq Creating More Terrorists?; Battle Over Anna Nicole's Remains Drags On; Inside the Amazon Rain Forest

Aired February 20, 2007 - 22:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good evening, everyone, here in America, also watching around the world.
I'm Kiran Chetry. John King and I are sitting in for Anderson Cooper. And, yes, he still is in Brazil, working on our "Planet in Peril" series. He will join us just ahead.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight: major news out of Great Britain, reports nearly half of British troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year. We will look at what is already becoming a political (INAUDIBLE) here at home.

But, first, Kiran starts us off with another important story out of Iraq tonight.

CHETRY: Thanks, John.

Tonight, there is some sobering new evidence that the war in Iraq is fueling terrorism, rather than stemming it. The White House has said repeatedly that the Iraq mission is making the world safer. There is a new study, though, which appears to be the first of its kind that found just the opposite.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One argument for the war in Iraq has long been that it will make the world safer by denying terrorists a place in which to train and plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we're not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders.

FOREMAN (on camera): You could call it the flypaper theory. And, in theory, it works like this. Jihadist terrorists are drawn to Iraq by the hopes of striking at the American military and to stop the development of a democratic government there.

Once there, coalition forces engage these terrorists, killing and capturing many, and forcing others into hiding. All of this activity keeps terrorist groups from effectively focusing their efforts elsewhere. (voice-over): Anywhere, that's the theory. And that's certainly what the administration would have us believe. But what if the war in Iraq were actually creating new terrorists and putting the world at greater risk?

A new study from New York University's Center on Law and Security suggests, that's exactly what is happening. Look what they found. From the day after 9/11 to the day before the invasion of Iraq, there were fewer than 30 terror attacks a year worldwide. After the invasion, that jumped to 200, a sevenfold increase. Before the invasion, there were 501 terror-related deaths a year. Now there are nearly 1,700 annually.

The administration has argued previously that such numbers are climbing because coalition troops are engaging the enemy. But, even if you don't count the terror attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, worldwide terrorism blamed on jihadists is still rising dramatically.

The study meshes with the government's own assessments. A national intelligence report last October found that Iraq is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives, jihadists who are honing their skills by fighting in Iraq, but who will eventually go home to their own countries, yet more evidence that the flypaper may not be sticking.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


CHETRY: So, let's talk more about that.

CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen co-authored this study with Paul Cruickshank, his colleague at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law. And they both join me now.

And we will start with you, Peter.

Your report does deal with the sevenfold increase in deadly attacks that you call jihadist terrorism. Explain for us who falls under that definition, and -- and who does not.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, we took a very conservative approach to the way we counted the numbers.

We -- we used the RAND database, which is the -- widely regarded to be the best database on the subject. We only included known jihadist groups, meaning that when there's an attack, there was a real claim of responsibility, or a preponderance of media reporting, indicating a particular group was behind an attack. And we counted only attacks where there was one fatality or more.

So, in fact, our -- our report probably understates the problem. In Iraq, there are a lot of attacks that can't be assigned to a particular group. So, we didn't include those. We just looked at groups that are motivated by al Qaeda's ideology around the world. We also excluded the whole Palestinian-Israeli question, because that's sort of a separate issue.

And we found a sevenfold increase in -- in -- in attacks since the beginning of the war, compared to the period after 9/11, up to the invasion of Iraq, quite a sobering finding. There was very little good news. There has been some decline in terrorism in Southeast Asia, 60 percent, but that's really got nothing to do with the Iraq war. That's particular to Southeast Asia.

We found relatively few Americans have been killed. That's part of the good news, only 18 Americans. But, if you look at the period between 9/11 and up to the Iraq war, only four Americans had been killed in terrorist attacks. So, the Iraq war hasn't really made Americans safer. That rate has gone up slightly as well.

CHETRY: All right.

Well, and, Paul, the administration is saying, though, that there's some of the success in the war that really can't be measured by that. It's intelligence gathered. It's the attacks that were prevented, things that can't be quantified.

So, how much of that was taken into account?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, all we looked at is -- is attacks. You know, that -- that was sort of the metric we measured. And we looked at attacks, and we looked at attacks around the world. And we saw these large increases.

Even when you took away Iraq and Afghanistan out of the picture, there was a 35 percent increase in fatal jihadist terrorist -- terrorist attacks around the world. So, as Peter was saying, we took a very cautious approach.

And we found, for example, that, in the -- in the Arab world, not including Iraq, there was a 455 percent increase in jihadist attacks after the Iraq war, and a 783 percent increase in fatalities. So, we -- we saw large -- rather large increases in jihadist terrorism after the Iraq war.

CHETRY: Yet, the scary thing is, I mean, in most of these cases, I mean, it's Muslims killing Muslims. I mean, most of the civilian casualties are fellow Muslims, right, Paul?

CRUICKSHANK: That's absolutely the case. A lot of, you know, these attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the Arab world, clearly, Muslims are getting caught up in these attacks.

But there have also been, as I was saying, a large increase in attacks against Western targets. That's against the United States and its NATO allies, particularly against its coalition partners in Iraq. United Kingdom has been attacked. Spain has been attacked. A lot of people have died there.

And, increasingly, these -- these groups are -- are starting to come out with a more globalized vision of jihads, going away from their local struggles. The GSPC in Algeria has now fused with al Qaeda and calls itself al Qaeda in the Maghreb. And they have announced that they are going to increasingly target the United States and her allies.

CHETRY: And -- and, Peter, let me ask you that -- about that, because critics will say that the report blasts America, in a way, for the terrorists' actions. You did talk about this, though, Peter, the -- the -- the growing use of the Internet, almost, to recruit these young jihadists, glorifying suicide bombings and the such.

Isn't there a responsibility within the Muslim nations, as well, to try to work against this recruitment of young minds?

BERGEN: Of course there is.

And, in fact, one of the reasons there's been a decline in Southeast Asia of 67 percent, according to our report, is precisely because so many Indonesian civilians have been killed by the al Qaeda affiliate in -- in Indonesia, that Indonesians have really turned against this al Qaeda affiliate, which is known as Jemaah Islamiyah.

So, yes, of course Muslims have to take responsibility for Muslim-on-Muslim violence, if they were in any way involved in it. But the fact is, we're -- we're not trying to bash the United States. We're simply asking the question, did the Iraq war help or hinder jihadist terrorists?

And it's quite clear that, with a sevenfold increase, it has -- it has helped the jihadist terrorists in their cause. Now, much of that increase, of course, is in Iraq and in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is a particularly interesting case, because there was no jihadist terrorism, no suicide attacks in -- in Afghanistan to speak of -- in 2003-2004, a handful of suicide attacks.

Suddenly, according to the Pentagon's own figures, there were 27 suicide attacks in Afghanistan in 2005, and 139 this past year. And, of course, these people in Afghanistan are learning from Iraq.

CHETRY: Right.

BERGEN: They're learning the tactics, and they're drawing ideological strength from Iraq.

CHETRY: Yet, they were also planning the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan, as well.

But I have to get this report real quick, because it says that -- your report says that the war in Iraq has severely damaged America's image within Muslim countries. America had a 25 percent approval rating in -- in, let's say, Jordan just before the war. And now it's down to 1 percent. In Lebanon, it fell from 30 to 15 percent. And, in the largest Muslim country, Indonesia -- this one is scary -- 61 percent, and now just 15.

So, how does this plummeting popularity, Paul, impact America's war on terror? CRUICKSHANK: Well, the -- the plummeting popularity, you know, makes it more difficult for -- for Islamic moderates to combat the radicals, because the radicals have a -- have a big issue, and it's the -- the war in Iraq.

And, so, you have seen recruitment towards al Qaeda go up. Al Qaeda was very much able to reinvent itself after the Iraq war as a global jihadist movement. And the war in Iraq has made it very, very different for moderates in these countries to -- to -- you know, to combat the al Qaeda ideology.

The story is not all bad. For example, earthquake diplomacy, earthquake funding from the United States and Pakistan has raised, you know, opinion polls there. The same happened in Indonesia, where...

CHETRY: Right.

CRUICKSHANK: ... following the tsunami. And, you know, people saw the real America there, not the -- the America that they see in Iraq.

CHETRY: All right.

Well, it's a very interesting study, if people take the time to read it in "Mother Jones," actually.

Peter Bergen, as well as Paul Cruickshank, thanks so much for joining us.

BERGEN: Thank you.

CHETRY: John, back to you.

KING: Thank you, Kiran. Fascinating discussion.

The other big story out of Iraq tonight is about boots on the ground, British boots. Bush administration officials tell CNN, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has informed the White House of plans to bring 1,500 of Britain's soldiers home from Iraq within weeks, and nearly half of the British troops will leave Iraq by the end of this year.

That would leave roughly 4,000 British troops in Iraq. The prime minister is expected to tell the House of Commons about this plan tomorrow.

Now, these withdrawals aren't entirely unexpected. And the White House is framing the news as a sign of progress in the war.

Here's what National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis."

Democrats, though, see this very differently -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden saying, "President Bush should follow Prime Minister Blair's example and start to draw down our troops from Iraq, not send more into the middle of a civil war."

That's the competing political spin -- now some analysis.

Earlier on CNN, former presidential adviser David Gergen had this to say about British troops pulling out of Iraq.


DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That's obviously a big, big development, a big story, both militarily and -- and politically.

Politically, it will leave President Bush here in the United States with much less -- with much more isolation. The alliance, you know, it would be cracking. And -- and his closest friend, his -- his strongest ally throughout this war would be moving in a different direction.

Militarily, I think it will also open up the question about, with the withdrawal of British troops, will the peace hold in -- in the southern part of Iraq? If it does not hold, it's going to -- that's going to give ammunition to people who say, even with a surge in American troops, once we leave, that there's going to be a slaughter.


KING: David Gergen a bit earlier tonight on CNN.

And ahead on 360 tonight, our special, "Edge of Disaster," preparing for catastrophes, manmade or natural. Some fear we may not be ready for what could happen.

Here's one chilling scenario from CNN's David Mattingly.

First, though, we want to tell you, what you're about to see is fiction, though some fear it could happen.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been raining for days. The normally dry, hard ground is now saturated. But the California sun is out now, peaking through the clouds in Sacramento. A rain cloud has at last lifted, and the streets of the capital are busy again, people enjoying the outdoors.

Then, suddenly, a few hours later, the storms return. The wind kicks up, and the Sacramento River, already swollen from the earlier rains, now surges, lashing at the 2,400 miles of aging, crumbling levees that snake around much of Northern California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things are going downhill in a hurry.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Here, the water rises higher and higher. This is the city most vulnerable to flooding in the entire United States, even more so than New Orleans.

But the real danger is beginning to unfold just over there, beyond the capitol dome and the skyscrapers of downtown.

(voice-over): In sprawling tracks of suburban housing built right up to the edge of the levees, people are anxious. Can the levees hold back a flood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really blowing now.

MATTINGLY: And, as the water rises, anxiety turns to fear. But the worst is yet to come.


KING: A stunning scenario and others, how we're living on the "Edge of Disaster," a 360 special report, coming up.

Also tonight: Anderson in Brazil.


KING (voice-over): Our planet in peril, the Amazon in danger, how it impacts all of us and millions of animals.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What happens here in the rain forest affects us in the United States and affects people literally around the world.

KING: Anderson takes us inside the rain forest.

Plus: court drama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was concerned that people would think that I'm making a run for her money.

KING: Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer and partner takes the stand and fights for her body -- all the angles when 360 continues.



KING: Anna Nicole Smith's body is at a Florida medical examiner's office. Her baby is said to be alive and well somewhere in the Bahamas. And all those lawyers -- Where else? -- they're in court.

Today, the battle over Smith went to the witness stand.

CNN's Randi Kaye now on the dramatic testimony.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, folks, clear a path. Coming through.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Howard K. Stern had to, quite literally, squeeze his way into court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howard, do you have anything to say?

KAYE: Everyone wanted a piece of him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please state your name for the record.


KAYE: It wasn't long before the courtroom turned into a circus, too -- Judge Larry Seidlin the ringleader.

JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY FAMILY COURT: But I'm doing a good job for you, aren't I?


SEIDLIN: I'm asking some of the questions you're going to ask on cross.


SEIDLIN: I'm helping you, Texas.



KAYE: Between interruptions...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... of her intent.

SEIDLIN: Well, he's answered it. Move on.

KAYE: ... Stern testified Smith wanted to be buried near her son, Daniel, who died suddenly last September.

STERN: She had the people open the casket. And she was just inconsolable, and hugging Daniel, and grabbing onto him. And she wanted to go down with Daniel right then. She said, "If Daniel has to be buried, I want to be buried with him."

KAYE: Smith initially wanted to be buried in Hollywood, near Marilyn Monroe, Stern says, then discovered the Bahamas.

STERN: She said: "I'm here. And I want my son to be here. And this is where we are going to be. This is home."

KAYE: Stern said, Smith bought two double plots in the Bahamas with a bank check.

JAMI FLOYD, COURT TV ANCHOR: If you have got a will, and it says nothing, then maybe your intent is not all that clear. So, then the judge can look to external matters, like, did she write this bank check?

KAYE: Late afternoon, the circus continued. Judge Seidlin took a phone call from the bench.

FLOYD: It's almost as if he hasn't fully grasped what he's dealing with here.

KAYE: It was the medical examiner, calling to report rapid deterioration of Smith's body, insisting she be buried by Saturday.

Stern buried his head in his hands.

Smith's estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, wants her daughter buried in Texas. She listened as Smith's last interview from "Entertainment Tonight" last October played in court.


ANNA NICOLE SMITH, ENTERTAINER/MODEL: Do you want to hear my child life? Do you want to hear all the things she did to me, all the things she let my father do to me or my brother do to me or my sister, all the beatings and the whippings and the rape? That's my mother.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did your relationship with her go sour?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you say was the cause of it?

ARTHUR: Drugs.

KAYE (on camera): Because Smith's will doesn't state her burial wishes, it's up to the spouse to decide. But she and Stern weren't legally married, and her daughter, Dannielynn, isn't 18, so she can't decide either. So, by law, it may be Smith's mother who gets to decide. The judge will have to determine quickly, it seems, between the letter of the law and what appears to be Smith's true desire.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


KING: They have their lawyers, and we're lucky to have ours. We will ask Jeffrey Toobin what he thinks about the Anna Nicole odyssey and how he thinks it will end.

And later: "Edge of Disaster," a 360 special report on the possible risks that face our nation, and if we're ready to face them.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STERN: She was my best friend, my lover, the mother of my daughter, everything to me, I mean, literally everything, my whole world.


KING: That's Howard K. Stern testifying earlier today about Anna Nicole Smith. He wants custody of what he says is their child. He also wants to bury Smith in the Bahamas. Others, though, disagree. The case is complicated, some would say crazy.

Here to help us sort through today's developments is our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.




KING: So, you watched this trial today, following this trial. Just like they drew it up in law school, right?

TOOBIN: Right, exactly.


TOOBIN: You know, "She was my everything. She was my lover."

She was also his client, which is -- pretty obviously, you're not supposed to be all that with -- with your client. I mean, it is so preposterous. And, then, it turns out they have the Anna Nicole Smith of judges presiding, this guy who seems to make, you know, the -- the tragedy for him is that the body appears to be decomposing, that he is going to have to make a decision by Saturday. Otherwise, this thing could go on for weeks, if -- you know, to make Judge Seidlin happy.

KING: We're out of his jurisdiction, so I'm going to go way out on a limb here.

TOOBIN: Right.

KING: He seems to like the idea of all this attention.

TOOBIN: He seems to like it a little bit.

It's kind of like his autobiography. Every few minutes, you hear about the excellent grades he received in Hunter College or that he had his first kid at age 50. It is a surreal scene in there.

KING: I want to play a clip from Stern's testimony earlier today in court.

TOOBIN: Right.

KING: This was from "Entertainment Tonight." And it may -- he says it's relevant to the case.

Let's listen.


SMITH: She didn't know my son. She didn't know my son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would she say these things?


SMITH: She didn't know me. She never, ever wanted to know me, because she was too jealous of me. And she definitely didn't know my son.


KING: Howard K. Stern obviously hoping to sway the judge that Anna Nicole Smith had no relationship with her mother, that any relationship she did have was a horrible relationship; therefore, his concerns should take precedence.

What does the law say?

TOOBIN: Well, the law seems to say that the intent of the deceased person about where she should be buried should control.

The problem is, her will didn't say anything. She doesn't have a spouse, a legal spouse. So, the judge has to figure out which way, you know, her intent goes.

But, you know, he -- he seems to be going on and on for so long, that he also appears to want to find out who the father of the baby is, which...

KING: Well, that was the -- that's the question I wanted to ask you. This is supposed to be about where she should be buried, and...

TOOBIN: Right.

KING: ... and who -- who makes that call. But the judge, right at the beginning, said, let's talk about paternity.

TOOBIN: Well, they -- because -- because, at one point, he seemed to be saying,, well, if she's the heir, then she's the next of kin. She decides who gets -- where -- where the -- where she's buried. But she's obviously a baby. She can't decide where her mother is buried.

So, he -- he -- he is doing what bad judges always do, taking a problem and making it more complicated, as opposed to what good judges do, which is to make things simpler.

KING: We will end it there for tonight, but we are glad our senior legal analyst and self-described crazy analyst...


KING: ... Jeff Toobin, will keep track of this one as the case goes on -- Kiran, as we try to sort this out, back to you.


CHETRY: All right, John.

Well, if you're afraid of spiders, you probably don't want to see this shot tonight. Let's check this one out.

This is called the Goliath bird eater. It's a tarantula. In fact, it is the largest spider in the world. Goliath bird eater is native to South America. And Anderson found one, hopefully not in his sleeping bag, in the Amazon Basin in northeast Brazil.

And, despite its name, it doesn't eat birds, but it is one of the few tarantulas that can catch and kill a full-grown mouse. How about that?

KING: Hmm.

CHETRY: These spiders can get as big as 12 inches.


CHETRY: And, apparently, they're a good source of protein, as well, because some tribes catch them and roast them over hot coals. They eat them, and then use their fangs as toothpicks.

You can't make this stuff up.

KING: After a good workout, a little Tabasco sauce.


TOOBIN: Tastes -- tastes like chicken, I think.

KING: Chicken. Uh-huh. Chicken. Well, you -- we will leave that to the lawyers.


CHETRY: Exactly.

Well, you know what? Everyone is searching for those high- protein diets? Tarantulas.

KING: Yes. I will pass.


CHETRY: Something else that may gross you out, it's the top watchdog of the Justice Department saying today that the agency, including the FBI, has significantly overstated and, at times, understated its success in the war on terror -- the report calling the reporting haphazard. The Justice Department denies any wrongdoing.

And up next, also, another kind of terror.


CHETRY (voice-over): Big ships carrying explosive cargo, earthquake fears, or trapped inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are fully engulfed.

CHETRY: Terror targets, manmade or from Mother Nature, a special report, "The Edge of Disaster." Are you prepared?

And later, inside the Amazon -- a vital ecosystem disappearing.

COOPER: What happens here in the rain forest affects us in the United States and affects people literally around the world.

CHETRY: Anderson's reality check on our "Planet in Peril" -- when 360 continues.



COOPER: Good evening. Our purpose tonight is not to scare you, but the truth is we're living on borrowed time, flirting with disaster, a superpower acting powerless against the next great threat.

And there are many threats on the horizon, blackouts, earthquakes, hurricanes like Katrina, a bird flu pandemic, another 9/11. The reality may be not if they can happen, but when and where and how catastrophic they'll be.

In his new book "The Edge of Disaster," Stephen Flynn shows you how dangerously unprepared we are for what is no longer unthinkable. Over the next hour, we'll talk to Flynn and lay out nightmare scenarios that are predictable and preventable.

This is a wake-up call to our government at every level, one that can no longer be ignored.

Consider the war on terror. Now, the White House says taking the battle overseas makes us safer here at home, but five years after 9/11 we may even be more vulnerable to a terrorist strike.

On that Tuesday morning, hijackers turned planes into weapons of mass destruction, their targets American icons, the World Trade Center, a symbol of our economic right, and the Pentagon, the nerve center for the military.

Well, next time the attack could even be more devastating, but the target may not be as recognizable. Imagine that, and then imagine this terrifying sequence of events playing out one summer night in Philadelphia.

CNN's David Mattingly reports.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the scenario: a summer afternoon in Philadelphia, the parking lot still filling up with fans streaming into the stadium for a Phillies home game. The beer cold, the air warm. The ballpark fills with anticipation, as the players take the field.

(on camera) But as the first pitch rockets towards home plate, none of the 45,000 inside has any idea of the terrible turn their lives are about to take. That's because terrorists not far away are moving forward on a plot to turn this stadium into both a spectacular political statement and a mass grave.

(voice-over) It took years of planning to get to this point. The radicals have been quietly and legally acquiring licenses and jobs that give them the means to launch an act of terror so horrifying it could be worse than the attacks of 9/11.

And this is how it begins. Two trucks wind their way through the streets of South Philly, but strangely their destination isn't the stadium. It's the sprawling oil refinery just two miles away.

(on camera) Their mission ends here on this road, as the first truck crashes into the refinery gates. The driver sets off a bomb, killing himself and anyone who might be nearby. The blast blows a hole in the gate big enough for the second truck to drive through.

(voice-over) The second truck is a huge tanker filled with gasoline. When it crashes into a tank, the driver sets off another bomb. Louder than thunder, it brings a momentary hush to the Phillies game two miles away. Fans have no way of knowing a catastrophe is only beginning.

(on camera) That's because inside this refinery there's a dangerous chemical called hydrofluoric acids, and it's the terrorists' lethal weapon. When it spills, it creates a poisonous vapor, an invisible toxic cloud the winds will carry for miles.

(voice-over) As the toxic plume engulfs nearby south Philly neighborhoods, windows broken by the explosion expose people inside their homes. They're the first, outside the plant, to die.

Then at the stadium, a warning announcement. Fans rush to the exits. But even if they move quickly, many have nowhere to go. Instantly, the parking lot is gridlocked. Traffic on the surrounding streets crawls, and then just stops. Tens of thousands are trapped trying to get away.

Next, immeasurable horror and agony as it reaches the stadium. Thousands begin to choke, convulse and die.

(on camera) How bad could it be?

STEPHEN FLYNN, AUTHOR, "THE EDGE OF DISASTER": It could be, in terms of the 20,000 people dead.

MATTINGLY: Remember, this is a fictional scenario. With any luck it will never happen, but Stephen Flynn, the author and expert who devised this perfect horror, says it's very plausible and very preventable.

FLYNN: We don't have to be all running around wringing our hands about terrorists may be here causing mischief, but we really should be focusing on how to make places safer in general.

MATTINGLY: He says this Philadelphia disaster would be impossible in real life if the refinery would replace its hydrofluoric with a less dangerous chemical.

In fact, a spokesman for Sunoco tells CNN the company is looking at reducing that risk by modifying its chemicals.

But Flynn says there are still many predictable disasters looming across the country, where moves toward a prevention have been slow, and in some cases nonexistent. He compares Americans to a bunch of brash teenagers, too caught up in the moment to worry about consequences.

(on camera) Are you suggesting we all need to grow up?

FLYNN: In a big way, we do need to grow up.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The question, of course, is, can we do it? And can we do it in time?


COOPER: The Philadelphia terror plot is not far-fetched, and it's not the only disaster that we may be inviting. Global warming is increasing the risks of hurricanes and other natural disasters. We can't stop them, but we can better prepare to withstand them.

That's the message in Stephen Flynn's new book, "The Edge of Disaster". And he joins me now.

How is it possible that after all the billions of dollars that have been spent and all the talk and the attention, that we're still in this vulnerable position?

FLYNN: Well, it's really because we haven't focused on our own internal vulnerabilities. Now the war on terror has really been about taking the battle to the enemy and confronting terrorism beyond our shores.

And the heavy lifting, essentially, looking at what's critical in our society, has it been adequately protected? Are our states and locals really prepared? We as citizens, have we been drawn into this whole fray of trying to figure out how we wrestle with our vulnerability? That has not happened. That's what Katrina told us. It has not happened.

COOPER: And so -- so in a sense you're arguing for a new mindset in fighting terror?

FLYNN: Absolutely. You know, basically, it's been told that it's not possible to protect ourselves, that terrorists can't be deterred. That's really, I think, misminded (ph).

The terrorists strike and they get no bang for their buck. That basically, we go about our lives, that the damage is pretty local, and then their incentive for doing this is pretty small.

It takes a lot to put together a 9/11-scale attack. It could take three years of organization to get that right. And if you strike and you miss, you've got to start all over again. So by making ourselves more resilient, terrorists may look elsewhere, beyond our shores, even, in terms of where they decide to do their mischief.

COOPER: And how do we make ourselves more resilient, less vulnerable?

FLYNN: Well, it's pretty clear what we need to begin to do here is we've got to make sure that we think about disaster, what are the likely things, not the improbable things, but what are the likely things, and it turns out there are quite a few. There are hurricanes. There are earthquakes. There are tornadoes. And then we think -- we have to think what would be vulnerable if that happened here? And what's our plan?

COOPER: And that's what we're going to be talking about in the hour ahead, taking the punch.

FLYNN: It's in part not only taking the punch, though. It's really saying on the home front what we can do. Our young men and women in uniform are overseas making the ultimate sacrifice to protect us.

But part of the reason why we're having to work so hard on that, is we think if terrorists strike it will be catastrophic. It's only catastrophic if we allow ourselves to be exposed and are unable to respond well.

So part of the message here is that, by making the investments, being prepared for the likely things that are likely to happen to us, natural disasters, we're making our home front contribution in the war on terror.

COOPER: From the East Coast to the west, America's ports are our economic lifelines. They're essential. They're also sprawling and bustling and wide-open targets.

The busiest port in America is the port of Los Angeles, where in an average month more than 600,000 containers are shipped and received. Down in Florida, the port of Miami, millions of tons of cargo and freight are loaded and unloaded day and night.

But we want to tell you what could happen in the port of Boston, which faces a unique threat, and where a seemingly simple plot would unleash a horrific chain of events. David Mattingly begins this report on the Mystic River.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just give me a good sweep of the piers tonight, sir.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): It's a clear, frigid night in Boston Harbor. Everything looks as it should, and yet it's the kind of night Mayor Tom Menino worries about obsessively.

MAYOR TOM MENINO, BOSTON: They're living in denial state. It's not going to happen. Well, 9/11 wasn't going to happen either. It happened. We're in a different world today than we've ever been in the past. We better be prepared.

MATTINGLY: This is perhaps his biggest worry. It's late and a Coast Guard cutter watchfully shadows a so-called super-tanker, a ship more than three football fields long, as it sails into port.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air 1 OTC has visual. He's coming right down the center of the harbor.

MATTINGLY: The tanker in our sights is carrying 30 million gallons of liquefied natural gas, or LNG. It's a vital delivery. LNG is the fuel that heats Boston on freezing winter nights.

And yet for the mayor, the sheer scale of these shipments means a terrorist attack could produce an enormous explosive force.

MENINO: Thousands could lose their lives if a tanker did explode in the harbor.

MATTINGLY: If terrorists somehow got close enough to blow a hole through the tanker's double hulls, the effects could be cataclysmic. The liquid gas would spill into the harbor. Flames from the explosion would cause it to ignite into an uncontrollable fire.

MENINO: What happens is a cloud comes out of the ship and moves over the city and burns whatever is in its wake.

MATTINGLY: For 30 years, the LNG tanker was just a slow-moving behemoth in a busy port. There were fears of an accidental spill, but little concern it could be used as a monstrous weapon.

But with 9/11, when terrorists turned planes into missiles over the skies of Manhattan, the danger in Boston instantly came into focus, and the huge ship docked on the Mystic River that morning began to look a lot like a very big bomb.

George Naccara was the Boston Coast Guard commander in charge here that day.


MATTINGLY (on camera): It was?

NACCARA: I think they had 100,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas on board. From that moment on, the security around that vessel was remarkably enhanced.

MATTINGLY: the security zone that's set up around the tanker is absolutely immense. It extends two miles in front of it, one mile behind it, and 500 yards on either side. It is so large that in some parts of the harbor, when the tanker comes through, all traffic virtually shuts down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All clear back there?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight a fleet of Coast Guard cutters escorts the LNG tanker into port. Out our window, the lights of Boston are gleaming: bridges, offices, homes, all right in a dangerous path.

(on camera) City officials say they believe that the only way to really keep their city safe is to keep tankers like this out of Boston Harbor. They say build another place for them to go, someplace far away from this heavily populated air.

Mayor Menino and others like Stephen Flynn have been clamoring for people to open their eyes to the obvious.

FLYNN: The lesson of 9/11 should have been looking around. Are there things here that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction?

MATTINGLY: Just look at the LNG tanker's path down the Mystic River, gliding by Logan Airport, under the Tobin Bridge, a key artery for the city, past the skyscrapers of downtown Boston and the booming residential waterfront, new condo developments dotting the shoreline.

Nowhere else in the country does an LNG shipment get so close to so many people and businesses. And like the World Trade Center, once an attack is under way here, once the liquid gas ignites, little can be done to contain the inferno.

One Boston fire captain told us the simple instruction he'd give his troops: run.


COOPER: Next on "The Edge of Disaster", the terrorists within.


COOPER (voice-over): The target: the big ship making its way through Boston harbor. Terrorists could turn it into a big bomb. Who's going to stop them? The answer may surprise you.

MATTINGLY: You pretty much know who belongs on these waters and who doesn't, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say so, yes. COOPER: We take you back to the danger zone when this special edition of 360, "Edge of Disaster", continues.


COOPER: Tonight we're taking a close look at America on the edge of disaster, how politicians, despite all the money that's been spent, are still failing to protect us from future acts of terror and looming natural catastrophes. The danger is very real. But some say it can reduced if only people in power would listen.

Take the threat of al Qaeda. U.S. is fighting this war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, but more and more the face of terror can be found not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe, in Britain, in Spain and in the Netherlands.

And there's a growing fear that before too long, the terror threat will cross the Atlantic and flourish on our own shores, but with our government's focus overseas, will we even notice the danger in our own backyard.

David Mattingly takes us back to Boston.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): This is what the super tanker carrying 30 million gallons of liquefied natural gas looks like from the air, slow-moving and hard to miss.

From the water, this is what it looks like: a slow-moving behemoth that all but dwarfs the city, hard to miss.

And from an apartment building on the shore, imagine what it looks like: huge, slow-moving, hard to miss.

Boston is the only city in the world where these tankers pass so close to so many people, which means it's the only place they're so exposed to so many vantage points, so many potential places to launch an attack.

MENINO: We're very concerned about that. An LNG tanker these times doesn't belong in a harbor in close proximity to a residential area.

MATTINGLY: Mayor Tom Menino has been sounding the alarm for years, calling for an end to LNG shipments in the port of Boston, but it hasn't happened. So now officials focus all their energy on preventing the unthinkable.

CAPT. JAMES MCDONALD, U.S. COAST GUARD: Prior to 9/11, we probably devoted about 6 percent of our total time and effort to security. Now that's up in the 50 percent to 60 percent range.

MATTINGLY: Now any tanker sailing into Boston needs to give the guard a 96-hour warning before its arrival. Their crew lists are closely scrutinized. Each week when that lumbering ship makes that turn on the Mystic River, it's surrounded by a flotilla of official escorts, by sea, land and air. Traffic on the Tobin Bridge shuts down, and Logan Airport redirects incoming flights to runways far from the water.

MCDONALD: This is the sector command center. Basically, this is a 24/7 watch deck.

MATTINGLY (on camera): You can get close enough with these cameras you can identify people at the edge of the water, people just walking on the street next to it?

MCDONALD: We absolutely can. And in fact, any time we have ship movements, especially LNG, that's exactly what we're doing with the system.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But Stephen Flynn, who served in the Coast Guard himself, says it's not enough.

FLYNN: The biggest opportunity to intercept the terrorists is not in the actual act of terror. It's almost too late. Where you can catch them is when they're out doing surveillance. When you can catch them is when they're out doing their dry runs, when they're casing essentially a potential target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of interesting things that go on, and we try to keep our eye on all of it.

MATTINGLY: In fact, the best line of defense is not authorities, but the people who actually live and work here, guys like Chuck Di Stefado (ph), who could spot a strange or suspicious activity instantly.

(on camera) All the years that you've been out here, you pretty much knows who belongs on these waters and who doesn't, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say so. Yes.

MATTINGLY: It's an informal, but efficient early warning system.

PAUL PENDER, BOSTON HARBOR FISHERMAN: We can see something and let them know. You know, we're going to notice. I mean, constantly, guys are calling each other on the radio, saying, "Look at that guy over there. What's he doing?" We notice.

MATTINGLY: It is perhaps the highest stakes community policing network imaginable.

MENINO: But if something gets hit, how do you stop the fire? How do you stop the explosion?

MATTINGLY: And that's why Stephen Flynn insists prevention must work. Because if it doesn't, the devastation would be unimaginable.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Ports feed and fuel our nation from the coasts. Their cargo shuttled across the country through a maze of roads and waterways.

Here is something you may not know. Our interstate highway system was actually created to make us safer, to more quickly mobilize military forces and equipment in case of a Cold War Soviet attack. It was designed as a security asset, but now decaying and broken down, it may actually be a security risk.

The same can be said for the power grids, massive interstate electrical systems that are vital and falling apart. All it takes is one accident, one incident, for millions to suffer. We saw that unfold not too long ago when a fallen tree in Ohio turned the lights out in New York.

Here's Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was 3 1/2 years ago, August, nearly 90 degrees, when the power suddenly went out and New York shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole place just went black. Everyone started closing up all the stores and everything. It was scary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really didn't want to be out on the streets. It's a little crazy out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't get nothing to drink, you can't get on the phones.

MESERVE: People trapped in elevators and subways, traffic lights out, throngs walking across dark bridges to get home. To stay cool, people climbing flights and flights of dark stairways to sleep on roof tops. It was dangerous, but it wasn't terrorism.

It was the biggest blackout in American history, 9,300 square miles in darkness, 50 million affected. For hours, and in some places for days, conveniences, indeed necessities had vanished.

It started in Ohio, but pieces of the interconnected interdependent power grid fell like bowling pins. It was a terrible reminder of our vulnerability. Since then there have been improvements in training, maintenance and equipment, but still it could happen again.

RICHARD SERGEL, NORTH AMERICAN ELECTRICAL RELIABILITY COUNCIL: The system is still connected. It's still operating together. We all rely on one another. So the possibility is still there. But the probability is less.

MESERVE: But with our heightened concerns about terrorism, the sheer size of the system puts Americans at risk. More than 200,000 miles of high voltage wire, more than 25,000 substations, some in remote locations. So how to protect it?

There have been instances of sabotage, and two years ago, Radio Canada experienced a yawning hole in security. Its reporters drove unchallenged right into a Quebec hydroelectric plant that's part of the North American power grid.

Some experts believe terrorists with simultaneous attacks on key choke points, or with cyber attacks, could knock out some or even all the power in the U.S.

SERGEL: I think it's -- it's a real possibility.

MESERVE (on camera): But the 2003 blackout wasn't caused by terrorists. It was caused by a tree hitting an overloaded line, highlighting that the power infrastructure is old and overstressed.

(voice-over) Demand has sharply outpaced the growth in our antiquated power supply system. Here's just one example.

On average, transformers in substations have been online for 42 years, but they were designed to last only 40. To replace them takes months, because they're custom-ordered. Stockpiles are limited.

Clark Gellings works for a group funded by the electric power industry.

CLARK GELLINGS, ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE: If you were to lose a large number of substation transformers at the same time through a natural disaster or something of the sort, you would have a problem.

MESERVE (on camera): For how long?

GELLINGS: It could take weeks or months in order to patch it together.

MESERVE (voice-over): And if there is a problem on the grid, the technology to detect it quickly is limited.

GELLINGS: Now I am sitting there, operating a power system, literally like driving my car in reverse using the rear-view mirror going down the highway. I can't see its condition until 30 seconds after something occurs.

MESERVE: And that is how a cascading event like the blackout can travel hundreds of miles in an instant. The American Society of Civil Engineers graded the national power grid and gave it a "D."

The answer, of course, is investment and massive upgrades, soon. President Bush said as much after the blackout.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will view this rolling blackout as a wake-up call.

MESERVE: But 3 1/2 years later, it's time to ask, did the nation hear the alarm or simply go back to sleep? (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Stepping back from the brink. Instead of inviting disaster, what can we do to prevent it?


COOPER (voice-over): A bad mix, new homes near old levees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't build houses unless there is sufficient protection.

COOPER: But it's happening, and here is what else could happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things are going downhill in a hurry.

COOPER: A massive flood, plus an earthquake. Homes and lives ruined, but it doesn't have to be that way. We'll show you when "Edge of Disaster" continues.