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CNN Larry King Live
Terror in the Skies; Christmas Terror Suspect out of Hospital; Airport Security Tighter
Aired December 27, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight another scare in the air. Same flight number from Amsterdam to Detroit. Disrupted by a Nigerian passenger, two days after an attempted terror attack on Christmas day.
What sparked the security alert this time?
Then, controversial remarks of the Homeland Security secretary about a man charged with trying to bring down a commercial jet.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The system worked. Everybody played an important role.
KING: We'll get reaction, plus, we'll show you what it's like to be traveling today, if you get past security.
Next on a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: Good evening. Hard to believe, but the same Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight that was the target of a terrorist attack on Christmas day faced another security scare today.
Let's go right to Martin Savidge at Detroit Metropolitan Airport for the latest.
Well, Martin, what happened?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, it was just dramatic deja vu, almost jaw-dropping, actually. It began just like it did on Christmas day. Shortly after noon there's word of an inbound international flight coming to Detroit where on board the pilots have declared that there's some sort of problem. Maybe a developing emergency.
They requested emergency vehicles meet the plane. It lands safely on the ground, and you can imagine the shock when it was revealed that it was Flight 253. This is the same flight number, the same airlines, Northwest Airlines, coming from the same city of origin, Amsterdam, coming to Detroit that had a problem in the final stages of the flight. And then you have the disturbing video. The plane lands, it gets taken to a remote part of the airfield, it's surrounded by emergency vehicles, and then the questions begin. What happened on board? What was taking place?
Well, eventually federal authorities revealed that it was a passenger that had had some sort of problem on the aircraft. That it had been suspicious or seemed to be suspicious to the crew pacing up and down, long periods of time in the bathroom.
Similar sorts of behavior to that which was seen with the Christmas day attack. But the outcome was dramatically different. It was not deemed to be a security threat. After several hours the passengers were free to go on their way, and the whole issue was called off.
But it shows you, Larry, that two days after the attack, the nerves are high and the security is high, not just here in Detroit but across the United States and in many places around the world.
Larry, it turns out that passenger was simply sick.
KING: Simply sick?
SAVIDGE: Right. In other words, not feeling well, and that was the explanation for why so much time in the bathroom, why going back and forth. Relatively innocent, but in today's modern world in light of what happened on Friday, very suspicious to some.
KING: Stay there, Martin. Nic Robertson, you're in London where the suspect in the Christmas day attempt, and that was a real attempt, attended school. What's the latest on the investigation in the United Kingdom?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're learning about when he was at high school from a teacher there that he was a very, very devout Muslim. But an interesting point this teacher told us about, there was a debate in the classroom that the teacher initiated about the Taliban.
All the students in the classroom talked against the Taliban apart from Abdulmutallab. He talked for the Taliban. That raised eyebrows for that teacher. He came on here to London. The student, Abdulmutallab, came on here to London.
After three years of studying here, his parents very concerned that he's getting radicalized. This is the picture that's emerging here. They -- his parents worried about people he was meeting here who were bad people they believe.
And information today we're learning here media reports that we've tracked down with the British Home Office Here, reports that say Abdulmutallab applied for another student visa to come back to Britain in the past year and was turned down.
Now the British Home Office won't confirm or deny this report. They won't knock it down. But it seems to be a picture emerging here. His teachers had concerns about him, his family had concerns about him, and now it seems British officials had concerns about him.
So while police are still investigating the apartment that he lived in here for three years, we understand that security services in Britain, trying to make sure that he doesn't have any colleagues or former friends who might be about to perpetrate similar terror attacks.
The search of this apartment goes on, but the picture of a man who was getting more and more radicalized is emerging here -- Larry.
KING: And Martin, I understand the government wants to get a DNA sample of the suspect. Why?
SAVIDGE: We're not exactly clear on that, Larry. The government has said that they do want to go forward. In fact, they're going to be in court tomorrow making that specific request, asking if they can get a DNA sample from the 23-year-old.
Why they want it, we don't know. We anticipate that perhaps in the court documents tomorrow we'll get an answer to that.
KING: What's the situation at the airport now in London, Nic? Is -- precautions doubled?
ROBERTSON: Precautions certainly if you're taking an international flight to the United States, you're going to go through those additional checks. You can expect longer delays. Passengers who are traveling inside Europe, and I gave you my daughter, for example, who traveled inside Europe today, they didn't experience any extensive delays.
But if you're traveling to the United States, you can certainly expect that longer screening process, Larry. And of course, the security at this airport, officials very, very concerned and now have another set of possibilities that they have to deal with.
Perhaps the possibility of people, again, wearing some kind of garment that may have some kind of explosive hidden, concealed within that garment. That's something new. A new concern for them -- Larry.
KING: It's a different world, folks.
Martin, can we be assumed that now Detroit is considered edgy, so if you get sick on a plane or go to the bathroom for 10 minutes and you're going into Detroit, they're going to have problems with you?
SAVIDGE: It's not just Detroit anymore, Larry. It's going to be any destination within the United States, especially for aircraft that are coming from overseas that have international passengers on board.
There are new restrictions that are being put on by the TSA and by the airlines that are requesting, actually demanding that passengers will have to remain in their seats. Now for the people on 253 today, they said they weren't allowed to get up for the last half- hour of the flight.
The new rules seem to stipulate that the passengers won't be allowed to get up for the last hour of the flight. That includes going to the bathroom, unless in an emergency where a person could be escorted to the lavatory by a crew member.
Otherwise, stay in your seats, don't touch anything and don't have anything in your lap, Larry. It is a whole new world of flying these days.
KING: Thank you, Martin Savidge and Nic Robertson, as we stay atop of the story.
By the way, a program note. Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, was our first -- our first -- director of Homeland Security. He's our special guest tomorrow night.
We're learning much more about the suspect in the Christmas day incident as Nic Robertson indicated. How people in the suspect's home country, Nigeria, are reacting. That's next.
KING: Reaction in Nigeria to that attempted terror attack that took place Christmas day. It's pretty interesting.
CNN's Christian Purefoy joins us from Abuja, Nigeria and we've got Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo on the phone from Ottawa. She's a journalist and former radio Nigeria reporter who has been speaking to members of the suspect's family.
We'll start with you, Christian. What is the reaction in Nigeria to all of this?
CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, their reaction is shame, really. Nigerians are ashamed of what this man has done to the image of the country, which is pretty battered anyway by the image of corruption that is often bantered about by Nigeria internationally.
Perhaps the focal point is between the son and the father. The father did report that his son -- reported his son to the American embassy in Nigeria saying he feared he was becoming radicalized.
And then on the other hand you had the son who is getting on board a plane to try and kill over 200 passengers. So Nigerians are focused between the despair of the son who'd gone out to do this terrible deed, and then the father who really in some ways is quite a hero because this sort of thing should be dealt with traditionally in northern Nigerian families in the family.
So they're really, you know, looking towards the father as some sort of hope, really, that there is a way forward, Larry.
KING: And Kemi, speaking of the father, you're familiar with the suspect's family. In fact, you compared them to the Kennedys. You know them. What can you tell us about them?
KEMI OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO, JOURNALIST (via phone): Well, the father is the chairman -- was the chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, which is Nigeria's oldest bank. And many people knew First Bank because many of the bank there when we were back home.
The banking industry in Nigeria collapsed in the '90s, and this was one bank that was saved. And this father was very, very instrumental, Dr. Abdulmutallab, was very instrumental to save the bank. And he really cares about the community, he cares about his family. He's one of those people that, you know, you just see him everywhere, award shows and different honors.
In fact, the doctor that they call him, I think he's an honoree degree. He's a very good man. He cares about everything and I will consider him a hero because he really did warn the embassy of the United States.
He didn't go to the British embassy. He didn't go to the Italian embassy, Larry. He went to the United States embassy, and I don't know if my kid had a radical idea if I wouldn't go to the principal at the school. You know?
OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO: Or go to the U.S. embassy. I think he did a very good thing. He's a really good man and was concerned like he is for the community in Nigeria. For the community in the aviation industry. People flying, you know.
KING: Is he regarded heroically in your country, Kemi?
OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO: He's very, very -- yes. He's a well-known person in the country. I mean he's the head of a bank, a major bank who is, you know -- you don't find a lot of, you know, people like that in Nigeria anymore. Our country is known around the world for massive Internet fraud.
OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO: Drug trafficking. And so many bad things.
OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO: You know, and this is one good guy.
KING: Christian, what did the suspect -- what -- how is he screened, do we know, at the Nigerian airport before going to Amsterdam?
PUREFOY: Well, the investigation is continuing. But from what the authorities are saying, he bought the -- well, somebody bought the ticket in a neighboring West African country, Ghana, and then he boarded the plane on the 24th to go on a KLM flight via Amsterdam to Detroit. He sneaked back in is the words of the information minister on the 24th to take that flight. So he -- I don't know -- we don't know if he met anyone while he was here, but he certainly didn't want to get caught by authorities or even getting contact with his family, which does show the rift.
Even though his father by all accounts is a very, very religious man, and as Kemi was saying, it's the real disparity -- I mean the thing about this man, Nigeria is a country with 70 percent, according to the UN, people living under $1 a day, and yet this guy had everything. His father is a very wealthy man. So what is the motive behind this? It certainly doesn't seem to be poverty, Larry.
KING: Kemi, is the family or the father saying anything now?
OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO: Well, what I -- the person I spoke -- the family I spoke on a condition of anonymity and the person, you know, is very close to the family. They told me that, you know, they're really concerned about his welfare and they're concerned about all the charges that might be coming because there is a charge of trying to blow up an airline.
And if anything is (INAUDIBLE), is anything else coming, you know, they're very, very anxious and they will speak. I mean, when I say they won't speak, you know, the father is not in seclusion of any sort. He made a statement to the Associated Press the other day, and they're just worried.
He's disowned the family, according to this family member, and said he move moved around the world from London to Egypt to Dubai and Yemen. And no one heard from him. And this thing about sneaking back into the country, many Nigerians are very divided on Facebook about this for the information minister to say he sneaks.
How do you sneak back into your own country and leave the next day? Those are the same day, you know, like Christian said.
KING: Yes. We'll be calling on both of you again. Thanks. Thanks very, very much.
OMOLOLU-OLUNLOYO: Thank you, Larry.
KING: On the scene reports. What's the White House saying about the scare today? We'll find out in 60 seconds.
KING: As you might imagine, the president is keeping up with all of this while in vacation on Hawaii.
Joining us with the latest from Honolulu, CNN's senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
What a tough job you've got, Ed, but somebody's got to do it.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's what I always say, Larry. It's interesting, you know, it is a tough job on the beach.
HENRY: But you know, Larry, they're saying today...
KING: What are they saying today?
HENRY: Yes, I mean, obviously, you know, they were very concerned initially, and what was happening behind the scenes is quite fascinating because initially reporters were calling the White House has the scene played out in Detroit.
Some saying we hear there's a Northwest flight that is having some trouble, could be a terror incident. Others calling reporters saying we hear there's a Delta flight that may be having a terror scare. And initially the White House thought maybe there were two planes having a problem.
Could this a 9/11 style attack? It turns out that Delta and Northwestern in the process of merging, it was essentially the same flight. There was only one plane, not two planes, and in the end, thankfully, it was not a terror incident. It was just apparently a sick passenger.
So all they did was get the president, once they established the facts, they gave the president a secure briefing. He understood that it really wasn't a major scare and they moved on.
The new information we have tonight is that we're not hearing the president in the next couple of days may actually for the first time address publicly the terror incident on Christmas day. He has not said anything. He's been under pressure from Republicans to address the public, reassure them that the country is safe.
They initially resisted that, they put the Homeland Security secretary, others out there, but now they're saying the president, early part of this week, he might have something to say about it to reassure the public as well, Larry.
KING: Ed, is he enjoying this vacation?
HENRY: Well, you know, we hear from his aides that he's getting a lot of family time despite having to get all these briefings as well. Obviously, it's part of the job. It's 24/7. But today, for example, he got a chance to go to a very private beach area with his wife, his kids, some family and friends.
So he's mixing a little bit of work with pleasure. This is obviously a very serious story and they're treating it seriously, but he's had a long year and trying to give him family time as well, Larry.
KING: Was he asked to comment about the statements made today about Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, saying that the response worked in connection with the incident? HENRY: He hasn't been asked because we haven't gotten close to them yet. Yesterday he was playing golf. They didn't let the division cameras anywhere near that. Critics will say that's because they don't want pictures of the president golfing while this sort of potential crisis is playing out.
Today while he was on the beach we couldn't get TV cameras anywhere near him as well. He obviously wants to have some privacy. If he does make the statement in the next couple of days, you can guarantee we'll be shouting questions to try to get a reaction.
Because Janet Napolitano certainly raised some questions when she said on CNN today that everything basically worked really well. She was he referring, in fairness, to the fact that everything worked well with the crew and the passengers aboard that flight once this played out.
But certainly there are a lot of people wondering before that played out, why was this man allowed on the flight, let alone with the explosives. Certainly that did not work well.
KING: Thanks, Ed.
HENRY: And the administration is facing a lot of tough questions, Larry.
KING: That's Ed Henry, our CNN senior White House correspondent.
Got some breaking news for you. The passenger whose sickness triggered today's alert and police response at the Detroit airport has been released from the custody of the Customs Border Patrol and Joint Terrorism Task Force.
He was making a connection through Detroit and was allowed to continue to an unspecified destination. His name has not been released.
By the way, what's the latest travel guidance from the TSA now that there's heightened security measures in place. We'll give you some tips at our blog, CNN.com/larryking. And we'll show you what's happening at airports around the country. And we'll do that next.
KING: Let's discuss airport security. We'll check back in with Detroit with Martin Savidge and Robert Ficano who's the chief executive officer for Wayne County, Michigan.
But first, let's go right here to L.A. International Airport at the Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX. Kara Finnstrom is there reporting for CNN.
What's the security measures like at LAX?
KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, as you can see, huge crowds. This big crowd behind me here, the line actually stretches out the door and down to the next terminal. So these folks are having an extra wait today.
Airport officials say this is normal during the holidays. But when you pair this with all of the extra screenings that they have to go through, these people are having to wait a little bit longer.
Now take a look behind me here, Larry. You can see these huge boxes. International travelers often toting big pieces of luggage, big boxes of gifts to take home. And this is what's causing this extra delay with these extra screening.
I spoke with one woman who is going home to the Philippines tonight, and she brought six large boxes. She says she just got here two hours earlier than she had planned because she wanted to make sure she got it all through screening.
A couple of other notes, Larry. These international travelers tell us that they're seeing their luggage and their carry-ons go through some of the x-ray machines a couple of times, and also go through more of the personal hand checks.
So additional screenings of the luggage, and they also tell us that as they go through the security checkpoints they're seeing more of the pat-downs of passengers.
KING: Thanks, Kara. Kara Finnstrom at LAX.
Robert Ficano is chief executive officer for Wayne County, Michigan. What did we learn from the events of Christmas day, Robert?
ROBERT FICANO, CEO, WAYNE COUNTY, MICHIGAN: Well, at this point there is definitely a heightened awareness. And you saw from the flight today, Larry, that people are taking and the airlines are taking all sorts of precautions. Same flight number, the individual was in the bathroom, was not responding to directions or commands from the flight staff.
And you saw what happened. As soon as the plane landed it was segregated. They checked all the passengers and the luggage, and the individual was taken into custody.
KING: Martin Savidge, how are people reacting to this long delay? Are they bracing in or a little ticked?
SAVIDGE: Well, I think a lot of people here are willing to put up with delay if it means that they're going to gain extra security and be safer in the air. So as much as people might, you know, not like standing in line or not like the prospect of not making a flight, the alternative is that perhaps there could be some sort of attack or there could be some sort of threat to their safety.
So I think, you know, as we found in many, many cases previous, passengers are willing to put up with a lot when you're talking about the issue of security. Also, we should point out that the person that was involved with the scare that took place this afternoon has now been released by authorities.
KING: We announced that.
SAVIDGE: That would be a clear indication that there was no set of crimes. So -- but as we say here, people are really putting up with a lot. They aren't complaining. They know what's at stake.
KING: Robert, the airport is under your jurisdiction, is it not? If so, how are you involved in these increased measures?
FICANO: Well, the airport police work with -- we work well with federal officials, the FBI, obviously customs and all the rest of the federal agencies that are here. And it's a coordinated effort. And with something like an incident that just happened, many times our police are the first ones that's going to arrive on the scene, especially a plane and board it.
But we try to coordinate with the federal officials and we do work together very, very well.
KING: What are you saying, Robert, to passengers arriving at the airport?
FICANO: Well, at this point there may be a little bit of a delay in terms of there's going to be obviously -- especially international flights you're going to have customs inspections and they're going to make sure that the inspections are going to happen and might be a little bit delayed.
But people are willing to go through that, and I think that we don't really hear a lot of complaining or anything like that. The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So people are willing to go through the delays and they're willing to let that happen right now.
KING: Are they -- Kara, are they willing at LAX, too? Are they acting well in view of this?
FINNSTROM: Yes. You know, Larry, there are huge crowds here, but it's been very calm, very orderly. I mean you can take a look at these crowds. You know once in a while we've heard someone just shouting across the room to maybe a family member, and that's been it.
It's been very calm. We haven't heard any frustration, and as we talked with travelers, that was the sentiment that was echoed. You know we -- it is a little inconvenient, we did have to plan to get here a little bit earlier, but we just really are glad to know that all these extra security measures are being taken and we feel safer because of that.
KING: Thanks to all of you. And by the way, just a reminder, with the latest travel guidance from TSA now, increased security measures in place, you can get details at our blog, CNN.com/larryking.
What exactly did the Homeland Security secretary say that caused such a bit of a dust-up? You'll hear for yourself. Is it much ado really over nothing or more important than that? That's all next.
KING: Our subject for the next half hour is terror and we'll have experts discussing it and they are in San Francisco.
Tom Fuentes, he was assistant director of the FBI's Office of International Operations from 2004 through 2008. He's a contributor for CNN. Back with us here in L.A. is Harry Humphries, counterterrorism expert, founder and president of the global studies group and a former Navy SEAL.
In New York is Harvey Kushner. He has a PhD, a terrorism expert, author of "Holy War on the Home Front." And finally in Washington, Jack Rice, the former CIA agent and field operations officer, now a practicing attorney and journalist as well.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was interviewed earlier today on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." This was her bottom line on that thwarted Christmas day terror attempt. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAPOLITANO: One thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight.
We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas both here in the United States and in Europe where this flight originated. So the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Tom Fuentes, has she been taken out of context a little here?
TOM. FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think possibly, Larry. You know, she's referring to what happened after the individual started the fire, and the response that was made on the aircraft by the flight crew, by the passengers, by the authorities once that plane touched down.
So, in fairness, yes, that's true that in the aftermath or during and after the situation, everyone acted very well and helped solve the problem. The other issue of how that material got on the airplane in the first plane is a separate issue.
KING: Would that have been her responsibility since it didn't occur here, Harry?
HARRY HUMPHRIES, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: No. I think that this is an international obligation. All countries that are involved in international transport have their own specific obligations within their own borders. The secretary was definitely taken out of context. She definitely was referring to the same thing I've always referred to, an aware-flying public taking charge. And this is the greatest defense that we have working for us right now.
KING: If that had gone off, what would have happened?
HUMPHRIES: If that device was initiated high water -- thank God it wasn't -- the aircraft would have been destroyed instantly.
KING: And everybody killed?
KING: What's your read on this whole thing, Harvey?
HARVEY KUSHNER, TERROR EXPERT: Well, I agree with partially what was said before. I think she was referring in part to what happened on the plane, Larry, and then what happened after. But quite frankly to say that the system worked when everybody was watching that it didn't work because this guy got on the plane, there was a breakdown in communications in terms of intelligence that we had on him.
After all, his father made a call. What happened to that information, Larry? Why wasn't that used? He paid cash for a ticket. He had no luggage, checked-in luggage. He had all the signs there that something should have been done, and quite frankly we're responsible for what happens not only here but what happens over there when they come into the United States.
Those are the agreements that we have to have with foreign nations that fly into this country. We live in a very dangerous neighborhood, and our people are at risk. So I don't think the system really worked in its entirety. Certainly the passengers did.
But, Larry, do we really want that Homeland Security is going to be in the hands of passengers on the plane or public citizens? Isn't it incumbent for our government, for the head of Homeland Security, to take matters into our own hands?
KING: Jack Rice, what do you think, though, when the action is happening on the plane? What's supposed to happen?
JACK RICE, FORMER CIA AGENT: Well, I think in the end -- she would like to rephrase this without question. You think about the problems that we have as Harvey just described. I mean, when you find out that a father makes a suggestion. When you have somebody on a watch list, when you have somebody who pays cash in a third country, in Ghana, and then goes through Nigeria up through Amsterdam.
All of these are questions that I think should have at least raised some flags. The problem is when she turns around and says that it all worked well, yes, people will jump to conclusions and say you can't shine this up.
There were fundamental mistakes that were made and I think they have to be addressed. But at least big picture we shouldn't lose sight, we shouldn't sort of lose our minds and assume oh my gosh, the world is coming to an end. There are very few incidents like this, and thankfully this one ended, if you can call it, positively. At least it wasn't as negative as it could have been.
KING: And we'll be right back. This panel will be with us the rest of the way. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with this outstanding panel.
Tom Fuentes, would you say with this incident there was luck involved as we're looking at airports across the country and monitoring them as they handle security on this busy night in America? Luck involved, Tom?
FUENTES: I think -- of course. The device didn't explode, the plane didn't crash, the people didn't die. That's a lucky break because the materials to do it were on board and it could have happened.
KING: Harry, you agree it could have happened?
HUMPHRIES: Absolutely. Because of the positioning of the detonator relative to the base explosive, we were very fortunate in that it did not detonate high order.
KING: Harvey, are things getting worse?
KUSHNER: Larry, I can't say they're getting better but I don't think they're getting (INAUDIBLE) better. You know we are facing a new kind of terror threat than we did prior to 2001. Al Qaeda has morphed into a very loose configurated, a group of individuals.
A lot of people who are going to step to the plate in their name. And we don't know yet how this is going to play out, whether or not we had a he direct link to al Qaeda, whether he was trained by al Qaeda. That, you know, needs to be seen.
But Larry, it's much more difficult when you have people all over the world carrying passports from 50, 60 different nations that want to do us harm. I mean this is a monumental task for law enforcement both on the state, local, and federal level.
And you know it speaks to the issue when his father made the call. I mean when a worked for a federal agency and gathering intelligence, we had 22 people we were watching. We were able to sit on 22 people 24/7. But when you have 500,000 names on a list, Larry, and you get tens of thousands of tips, pieces of information, how do you officially check out each one? And that's the problem...
KING: All right.
KUSHNER: ... that are going to come back and bite us in the butt.
KING: Jack -- Jack Rice, that seems insurmountable.
RICE: I think part of the problem is we don't have exclusive authority and oversight of everything that we're going through. I mean let me give you at least one example. I flew out of Kabul, Afghanistan about a week and a half ago. From there I was in Delhi. From Delhi I was in Dubai and Dubai ultimately back here to Washington, D.C.
How much oversight do you think the Department of Homeland Security has? How much oversight do you think the president has when it comes to all these issues? We're dependent upon a lot of different people. There are a lot of moving parts.
But we still shouldn't lose oversight of exactly just how many flights are going out. Over the last 10 years the Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that there have been about 99 million flights that have touched the United States, sort of coming and going over the last 10 years.
Only six of those are tied to terrorism-related issues, four those from 9/11, Richard Reid was one of them and then this one. Now if you think about it statistically the chances are to say unlikely doesn't even do it best. The sky is not falling. So we need to be very careful about that.
KING: Tom, is there a danger here that we're overreacting based on the statistic Jack just gave us?
FUENTES: I wouldn't say overreacting. I think it's lessons learned and we need to examine at all times if there was a failure. We certainly don't want to say that just because the statistics are in our favor that we can't look at the incident and see if anything else can be learned.
But there's a very good point made there. You have all of these aircraft traveling all over the world like a giant Rubik cube. And then at some point touching the United States. So what we need is for the relationship in those countries that they do abide by this stringent security that we would try to employ here in the United States.
That means TSA working in all of those countries around the world to ensure that as much as possible the other countries follow the same security measures that we would like to be -- have in place.
KING: Harry, wouldn't you think we're all in the same boat?
HUMPHRIES: We certainly are. As I said earlier, it's an international issue. Each nation must take responsibility for the security of the passengers leaving or coming into their nation.
KING: But one bad link could hurt the whole thing.
HUMPHRIES: As we saw in Nigeria.
KING: Right. So if you have one country that is lax... HUMPHRIES: That's -- any chain is as strong is its weakest link, in this particular case I would say that Lagos was the weak link in this system.
KING: There is, Harvey, tomorrow a hearing in Michigan. The federal government is going to seek a DNA sample from the suspect. For what reason do you think?
KUSHNER: Well, Larry, the DNA will probably tell them -- you know, trace where he has been possibly. You know does he have any other connections? You know, forensic evidence would be gathered every place this guy was. Does he have a cell phone? Check all locations that he's been talking to.
You know, science is a big help for us in the 21st century, and certainly it's going to overcome or these myriad of different links that we have to look at. So, you know, where has he been? Who has he met? His apartment, what we gathered there on any computer evidence that we could get, any other kind of leads that this guy has come in contact to over the last month or two.
KING: Jack, what do you make of the Yemen connection?
RICE: Obviously, it's a big concern. When we think about al Qaeda, one of our other guests mentioned this, too. The real problem that al Qaeda has is there isn't one titular head, not one ability to say if I take out that leader then everything changes.
These are organizations that sort of work together, and they work together out of convenience sometimes. Sometimes they may be somebody who uses the name because it gives them sort of power, it gives them the ability to say look, we're bigger than we really are.
The real problem that we have with Yemen is that in Yemen it's getting worse and worse. This is based upon sources that I have here. And this has been happening over several years now. You take a look at a recent attack in Saudi Arabia. That actually started in some ways out of Yemen.
Our ability to actually come in and deal with that country has been getting more and more difficult. But let's face it. It's not just Yemen. We can take a look at Nigeria, Somalia, again, Afghanistan where I was, Pakistan, and other places around the world.
That is one of the real problems that we have dealing with al Qaeda and al Qaedaesque organizations.
KING: Those terror watch lists, what do they really mean? We'll discuss that later. We'll be back in 60 seconds.
KING: As we mentioned earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was interviewed today on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." CNN's Candy Crowley pressed the secretary on the efficiency of the databases for screening out potential terrorists. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's someone whose father came to the U.S. embassy and said I am worried about his ties, I'm worried that he's becoming increasingly militant. He's on a list, but somehow no one looks at him more closely apparently than any other passenger.
Is there some way -- I mean it seems to me there's all these computer lists and this one has suspected ties and that one, and this is the no-fly list. Is there not some way to merge this information so that he would have popped up some place?
NAPOLITANO: Well, there's no suggestion that -- he was on what's called a tied list, which has half a million plus names on it. And there's no suggestion that that was not shared information. The issue was, was there enough information to move him to the more specific lists, which would require additional examination or indeed being on no-fly status.
And to date it does not appear that there was any such information to move him from that tied list which was shared, and everybody had it, but to a more specific list which would require different types of screening at the airport.
CROWLEY: So not even a father coming in knowing what his son has been up to and reporting this to the U.S. embassy isn't enough? I mean what puts you on the watch list, if that isn't enough?
NAPOLITANO: Well, indeed, you can -- let's not get into that, because for one thing, we need to ascertain exactly who said what to whom and when. But also you have to understand that you need information that is specific and credible if you're going to actually bar someone from air travel.
He was on a general list which over half a mill people, everybody had access to it. But there was not the kind of credible information in the sense of derogatory information that would move him up that list.
Now one of the things I think we will be doing over the next weeks is really looking at those watch list procedures in light of this occurring and saying, OK, do those need to be changed? They've been in place for a number of years. Do they need to be adjusted in light of this event?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Another program reminder, America's first director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, is our special guest tomorrow night. Your calls are next. Stick around.
KING: Before we get back with our panel, let's go to Richard Quest, our CNN international anchor and correspondent. Lots of questions, Richard, being asked about the screening process and how this suspect got through security. Do we have any good answer yet?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not really. It seems that in accordance with the existing regulations everything was done that should be done. He was screened in Lagos. He was screened in Amsterdam.
And if the United States authorities had not sent information from their watch list back down the line to the airports in those various places, why would they have thought to do a second research on him? There has to be a reason. Unless of course, as we've now moved to the new situation, Larry, where everyone is being patted down.
QUEST: Everyone's handbaggage is being opened up. But that is creating delays. I can tell you flights today from Britain to the U.S., some of them left three or four hours late.
KING: You're familiar with watch lists. Can you break down how they work or how they don't work?
QUEST: Larry, with watch lists, we are entering the twilight zone. The fact is there are 500,000 people on one list, tens of thousands on another, and a few thousand on the famous no-fly list.
The crucial part is not how you get on them but how you get off them because remember, there are many Americans who are on one or other of these lists who are desperate to try and get off them.
This is all about a balancing act. And the real problem is the sheer size and scale of the problem. Your guests were talking about it a few moments ago. With half a million people on the list it is just about impossible for it to work efficiently and effectively every time.
QUEST: There's going to be a crack in the system. And that's what we saw in this case.
KING: Thank you, Richard Quest, as always, right on top of things.
Harry, you were telling me that in 14 airports in America they have full-body scan where they can -- they see the nude body underneath the clothing, right?
HUMPHRIES: Yes. The most recent technology that's out there today, which is in several airports throughout the United States in a voluntary basis, uses what we call a millimeter wave system, which actually looks under the clothing of an individual. So you're looking at a nude body.
KING: Can I turn it down if I don't want it?
HUMPHRIES: You can turn it down presently. As I said, it's voluntary. You know, in the airports that have the system.
KING: What do they do if you don't do it?
HUMPHRIES: Well, in a situation where our level is at today, you'll probably get patted down, which is a much slower line. So the full-body scanner, image scanner, would be the quickest way to get through.
KING: Tom, what are we coming to?
FUENTES: Well, we're coming to the age-old question of balancing the privacy of one individual against the general security of the public. And as mentioned with that particular machine, the technology exists to screen passengers to the greatest extent. They get close examination of whether they have somebody -- some items strapped to their body under their clothing.
Will the public tolerate it? Will the U.S. government implement such a system? Does it have the resources to buy enough machines, to train enough people and hire them to operate those machines? And in this case if you're going to ensure the safety then you're going to have to demand that every passenger goes through it, whether they like it or not, and that it not be just a voluntary system. So are we prepared for that?
KING: Are we? Our remaining moments right after this. Don't go away.
KING: You're looking at LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport, one of the largest in the United States and one of the busiest. That's a live shot on this Sunday night. And you're watching a special Sunday night edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Let's take a call. Atlanta, hello. Atlanta, hello.
CALLER FROM ATLANTA: Yes. Mr. King?
CALLER: Since his father is a prominent Nigerian.
CALLER: He reported him to the American authorities, why was he not placed on the no-fly list?
KING: Harvey, why wasn't he immediately placed on the no-fly list as soon as the father reported him?
KUSHNER: Well, as said before by some of our guests, you know, it depends on the information that we receive. And with 500,000 people and tens of thousands of tips coming in, it's difficult to weed out which one is the most important.
However, I do think this particular one was quite important given the nature of who the father was, had stature within the Nigerian government in the banking system.
KUSHNER: I think his word should have been looked at much more carefully than other tips that do come in.
KING: Jack, Harry was just telling me that our agents sometimes go through practice runs, try to break security. Are they often successful?
RICE: It has happened multiple times where they are successful. Look, I got grabbed when I was on my way into Delhi from Afghanistan because I fit the profile of a drug runner.
Yes. Nice, huh? But the thing is, they pulled me off and I sat in a glass cubicle for about 3 1/2 hours. So we need to think about the prospective end of this. I mean think about what happened.
We had specific intelligence regarding what the father said, regarding how this was paid for, one-way tickets, all sorts of things. But the problem is our reaction here is we take all of that intelligence and we decide what we're going to do is check the underwear from a woman who's flying out of Keokuk, Iowa or out of Akron, Ohio.
I mean we need to remember if we have intelligence we apply it and then we approach it logically instead of sort of this broad scattershot look. And I think we just have to be really careful on how we handle this.
KING: Harry, isn't that a logical fear?
HUMPHRIES: Yes. I mean, look, the list system is so immense that statistically we couldn't possibly manage it. To be proactive in collecting intelligence on individuals is a better way to go.
KING: But Tom, he paid with cash, right? And that -- you pay cash, no contact information where he was going. Wasn't that suspicious?
FUENTES: Well, certainly it should be. You know, also, it's hard to check whether the person is actually who he says he is since a credit card is not involved and you don't know how to verify the address. He bought the ticket in Ghana, then crossed back into Nigeria to board the flight.
So that would be suspicious. Along with no check-in luggage. So you know, that point is true about those flags being added to the mix.
KING: Would I be questioned if I went to an airport right now tonight, no luggage, cash, I'm going on a one-way ticket, I'm going to Sioux City?
HUMPHRIES: The only way you'd be questioned is if you weren't wearing suspenders.
KING: That's a compliment of sorts, I gather.
Thank you all very much for outstanding work. Tom Fuentes, Harry Humphries, Harvey Kushner. Harvey's book, by the way, is "Holy War on the Home Front." And Jack Rice.
America's very first Homeland Security chief, the former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, will be with us tomorrow night. That will not be dull. Stay tuned now for more news right now here on CNN.