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CNN Larry King Live

Possible Terror Attack Thwarted

Aired October 29, 2010 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the United States of America targeted by terrorists.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A credible terrorist threat against our country...


KING: At least two explosive devices bound for America have been intercepted. Where were they going? What's behind it? Is it al Qaeda? Who's got the latest? We've got the latest next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. We welcome our international viewers to continuing coverage of this breaking news story. Suspicious packages found in at least two locations bound for the United States contained explosive materials. U.S. officials believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is behind the incident. Both packages originated in Yemen, ultimate destination two synagogues in Chicago. The heads-up came from Saudi Arabia, which gave the United States the tracking numbers of the packages. Here's what President Obama had to say about all this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last night and earlier today our, our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, working with our friends and allies, identified two suspicious packages bound for the United States, specifically, two places of Jewish worship in Chicago. Those packages have been located in Dubai and east midlands airport in the United Kingdom. An initial examination of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material.


KING: Ed Henry is our senior White House correspondent. Anything new from the White House, Ed?

ED HENRY, SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The newest bit of information is that senior officials here say that they're still on the hunt right now for what could be 13 more suspicious packages. The bottom line is that the intelligence reports they've been sifting through all day suggest that there were maybe 15 of these explosive devices. They've gotten two of them, as you noted. There could be 13 more still on the loose.

They worked through the night here at the White House last night into today. The president's principal homeland security adviser, John Brennan, first briefed the president 10:35 PM Eastern time last night. He had a series of conference calls all through the night.

So the good news, as you noted, is that the two explosive devices did not detonate, but the concern here is that there could be more out there, and that's why I think the president came out and wanted to directly address the American people and make sure everybody's vigilant.

KING: These 13 more are on the UPS and the FedEx planes?

HENRY: Well, they're not exactly sure where they are. And I think that is one of the scary parts that they're trying to sift through. I mean, this -- as we're just a few days before the midterm elections, this year has been dominated on domestic issues -- economy, health care, jobs. And all of a sudden, this is a chilling remind for the White House, for this country that terror at a moment's notice can hijack the agenda.

And so they don't know exactly where these packages are. And I think the other significant piece is what you mentioned about it having potentially a connection, certainly to Yemen, where the packages started, but potentially a connection to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That's the same terror group that was behind the underwear bomber, had ties to him back on Christmas Day, when they tried to bring down that jetliner over Detroit. So this is a big, big story.

KING: The Yemen government, though, is very cooperative with us, isn't it?

HENRY: Well, they are expressing their help in trying to shut down the packages from coming in for now, putting in new safeguards, et cetera. But the question is whether or not the government there can control the extremists on the ground, much as we see the same issue playing out in places like Pakistan, as well. So there has cooperation with the Yemeni government, but the question is whether that government can effectively crack down on the extremists there who are operating and have safe haven, essentially.

KING: At this minute, Ed, is this so far a success story for the United States and its allies?

HENRY: I think, based on what the president was saying and based on my conversations, private conversations with senior officials, they think in the early stages, this has been a success because, obviously, no one has been hurt. They were able to make sure they found the first two devices.

But they're not going to celebrate until they make sure there are not 13 more, or if there are, they get those 13 more devices. And the president was very quick to stress this is early in the investigation and they want to make sure this is not a wider plot. We've seen this sort of thing play out before.

And let's not forget the president has a pretty busy schedule this weekend. I'm going to be getting up early tomorrow to go with him to three different states. Two of the cities he's going to be in, Chicago and Philadelphia tomorrow -- they're cities that were under a higher state of alert today because of all this. But the White House is saying he's not planning to change any of those travel plans right now, Larry.

KING: Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent, at the White House. Let's go to London, Nic Robertson, CNN senior international correspondent. Nic, what's the latest from across the sea?

NIC ROBERTSON, SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing from the British home secretary, Theresa May. She says that high-level security meetings have been held here in Britain, that she's talked with her U.S. counterpart, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano. She also says that the suspect package is being -- undergoing examination even now at a metropolitan police scientific laboratory just outside of London.

This is being handled here in Britain by the counterterrorism police, part of the metropolitan police here in London. They handle all the big counterterrorism issues in Britain. And the message that we're getting from British authorities is how much they're cooperating with the United States, even, according to one British intelligence source telling us they know the identity of the person who sent these packages because they can say for certain that he has known connections with terrorism, Larry.

KING: Is it true that the two intercepted packages contain PETN? Is that what they're supposed to have?

ROBERTSON: That's what we understand, Larry. And just to give you an idea of how damaging PETN can be, a small amount, about 6 grams, enough to fit in the end of my pen here, can blow a hole in a piece of metal twice the thickness of an aircraft fuselage. We don't know what was the intended target here, but just a tiny, tiny amount -- and we're seeing the size of these devices here -- can do a huge amount of damage.

The underpants bomber we were talking about a few minutes ago there, who tried to bring down that plane over Detroit -- he had about 80 grams of this explosive. It's very hard to detect. And it's easy to transport because it won't just suddenly go off. But it's highly destructive when you detonate it properly, Larry.

KING: Nic, unless the sender was a name known to the synagogue, wouldn't they have -- you guessed, have immediately been suspicious?

ROBERTSON: Larry, that's one of the strangest things about this. A package being sent from Yemen, with everything we know about Yemen, to a synagogue in the United States, you have to believe that's going to raise red flags. There are many assessments that must be going on at this time. And Ed's talked about 13 other packages. We don't know where those may have been sent to. These may be the easy ones to find, the red herrings, if you like, that were supposed to be found. We don't know. This is speculation. But clearly, the other packages -- where were they going? It's going to be difficult, as we know, from the volume of goods shipped around the world by these services to track them down.

KING: What do we know about al Qaeda's presence in Yemen?

ROBERTSON: It's getting stronger. And clearly, one of the things we can learn here is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has grown stronger because it's had al Qaeda members coming from Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia's cracked down on al Qaeda. The government in Yemen is relatively weak. There are tribes there that are against the government that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been able to find space to develop not only the underpants bomb used at Christmas, but now this new type of device that's being shipped around the world by these freight carriers.

So there's clearly -- al Qaeda there feels that it's got the space to develop these particular weapons and experiment with them in the way that we're seeing right now, Larry.

KING: Nic Robertson, our CNN senior international correspondent.

When we come back, we'll talk to the first person ever to head the Department of Homeland Security, former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge next.


KING: It's a pleasure to welcome Tom Ridge to LARRY KING LIVE. We've shared many moments over the past decade, the former secretary of Homeland Security. He indeed was the first person to hold that post. Tom, what's your read on all of this?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, Larry, when I first read early this afternoon that they'd actually had a conversation with the president, I concluded that this was -- this intelligence was real. I remember talking from time to time with President Bush about threats that his Homeland Security Council thought were real. You don't normally get up the president at 10:35 at night to talk about a threat.

So here's what I make of this. It's a reminder, Larry, that the forces of globalization -- finance, travel, communication -- give these terrorists an edge in a world that's still fairly open, no matter what we try to do. It's a reminder, Larry, that the military and the law enforcement intelligence communities have been looking at that part of the world in Yemen for a long time, even before -- let's not forget the Cole bombing, the USS Cole -- Yemen involved

It's a reminder that this radical cleric and al Qaeda in Yemen have existed for quite some time, and obviously, they've decided to become much more active around the world. And obviously, America still is a primary target, and aviation in one form or another, which is a persistent theme in many of their threats, continues to be involved.

KING: From your vantage point, is everything being done that should be done?

RIDGE: Well, in this instance, it certainly appears so, Larry. You know, when we think about what didn't happen in New York Times (SIC) when the bomb didn't go off, what didn't happen on Christmas Day in Detroit -- in that instance, I think we were pretty lucky. In this instance, it seems like information sharing and action upon that information worked very effectively.

As some of your reporters commented earlier, if they truly believe and if the intelligence says there are another 13 packages out there, then you wonder how complete the intelligence was because at this juncture, they were available to intervene and secure a couple of them, but apparently, there's at least a dozen or more out there. And again, the intelligence may vary in terms of authenticity. The number may not be correct.

But it is good news. And at the end of the day, what's the source? Who's the individual? And right now, I'm sure there's frenzied activity in many jurisdictions in many countries within the intelligence and law enforcement community. But so far, this is a sign that when we get intelligence -- and at the end of the day, that's the toughest part of combatting these terrorists -- we can act and act decisively. It remains to be seen whether the intelligence is completely correct and whether or not we'll have sufficient time to act upon it.

KING: The president stepped forward here as kind of briefer-in- chief on the incident. How unusual is that? Was that a good idea?

RIDGE: Well, I think at this juncture, those are decisions that they have to make in the White House. I know, for one, I was a little bit surprised that the secretary of Homeland Security didn't do the briefing. But given the immediacy of the action that was being taken by the FBI, presumably by Customs and Border protection, though I don't see their name being involved, that's just a technical decision they make inside the White House.

And at this juncture, on the eve of the election, the president, for whatever reason, thought it was appropriate to make a statement and to reassure America that, in fact, all the resources necessary to track this down as effectively and quickly as possible were being committed to that cause.

KING: Tom, if a synagogue gets a package from Yemen, are they going to open it?

RIDGE: Well, you know, I'd say -- (INAUDIBLE) talking to your previous correspondents. I think when I talked about situational awareness and Secretary Chertoff has talked about it and Secretary Napolitano's talked about it, unfortunately, in a post-9/11 world, what we know publicly about what's going on in Yemen, when we know the cause and the hatred that the Islamic extremists have toward the country of Israel and the Jewish population generally, I would like to have thought that had this somehow been delivered, that it would have been -- the police would have been called in immediately because it would certainly appear to be very, very suspicious.

That's when we tell people to be aware of your surroundings. Don't be breathless (ph) about this. It's a global challenge we're going to dealing with a long time. Just be smart about what you're doing and how you're interacting with these kind of surprising moments, surprising packages.

KING: On the other hand, might it have been a kind of "show me" thing, expecting this to happen and showing you we're still around, baby?

RIDGE: Well, you know, there's still a lot of speculation. Right now, Larry, you and I, unfortunately, are dealing probably with more speculation than we are with facts. I guess one of the pieces of information that will be explored, if there were truly 13 other devices -- I'm surprised that if we knew the airplanes that these were on, do we know how the others were being transported?

Again, I don't know the technical nature of the devices involved, if they were prepared for some kind of immediate incendiary explosive trigger or not. But it's quite clear, particularly after the concern that the Europeans have expressed, and it's quite clear that with the presence and the ongoing -- frankly, the al Qaeda presence in Yemen becoming a much more muscular force, this is again a difficult reminder that no matter how hard we work, no matter how intelligence communities are linked up and no matter what we do -- as I said before, in the past, we've been lucky. This instance so far, seems we've been good. And may we hope, you and I, that in all circumstances in the future, we are both lucky and good.

KING: More speculation with the first man ever to be secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Governor Tom Ridge. Speculation is often the name of the game at this early stage. Do you think, Tom, that anything had to do with election eve?

RIDGE: You know, at this point, I would say, Larry, I certainly doubt it. I mean, there are probably all kinds of theories out there that might connect it to it. But I think, generally, most of those who watch terrorist organizations and their activity, they really literally pull the trigger -- may not be the best expression -- but when they're ready to go, they go, regardless of the time. And I suspect that that's the case here. When they were prepared to deliver the devices and get them on the planes -- remains to be seen whether it was trying to affect the outcome of an election. Time will tell. I doubt it.

KING: All right, you were the first secretary of Homeland Security. If the current secretary were talking to you, how transparent should we be? How much should the public know, and when should they know it?

RIDGE: Well, I think the way they handled the public comment and explaining, as best I can tell, to the American people the full range of information that they have at their disposal -- I mean, we talked a little bit -- I heard in your report about the sources from Saudi Arabia. We talked that there may be as many as 13 other packages around. They now know how it was transported, on what it was transported, where it was to be delivered.

So I think -- you know, one of the challenges I think we have, Larry -- and you and I have talked about this before -- is that the greatest fear, I think, is generally the fear of the unknown. And I think the American public is -- wants to know, as difficult and as troubling as that information might be. Transparency, I think, is critically important so that the government itself continues to have the credibility, so that when it asks states and local governments or it asks citizens to do something, there is a basis in fact and that there's credibility associated with it, so that the public and local and state governments will do what is asked of them. So I think it's very important to be transparent.

KING: The reality of the situation, Tom, is as dangerous as this is, as continuously dangerous as it is, there will never be a victory day in the war on terrorism. A terrorist was born somewhere today, wasn't he or she?

RIDGE: Oh, Larry, you're so right. I mean, as much as I think and you think it's important -- I believe you do -- that we share information and we're honest with the American public, let's face it, terrorism is a tactic. Terrorism is something that has been used for millennia, not just since 9/11. And terrorism is just a means by which a small few people who have taken an extremist interpretation of a holy document in another religion to justify their cause.

And frankly, I think, given, again, the forces of globalization, America is not only accessible but the world's accessible through cargo planes that travel all over the place with packages that have origin in one country and a delivery destination in another. So the world has to deal with this. And perhaps, just perhaps, those who doubt that this is a global scourge and those who doubt that the will of the world must be collective in dealing with this may come together in a much more aggressive and formal way to deal with this ongoing threat not just to America but to global commerce and to the civilized world generally.

KING: So all the good guys can do, really, is persevere, right?

RIDGE: Absolutely. And you know, it's a new norm, Larry. It is a reality that we're dealing with in a post-9/11 world. But let's also take some strength from the history of America when, during the cold war, when we literally had nuclear missiles facing us and we certainly were threatening the Soviet Union, that was -- that was -- the threat was real. It was a new norm. We were living under a nuclear umbrella. And we have a different norm here, and we just have to learn to live with it and continue to enjoy the blessings and the bounty of the country, support the professionals that are dealing with the threat, be aware of the situation around us, and don't let the terrorists -- do not let the terrorists take away from us what we've fought so hard for 200 years to achieve, and that's the freedom and the opportunity that is so abundant throughout America. We can't change how we live because we're fearful. We live in freedom, Larry, not in fear.

KING: Well said. Thanks, Tom, as always.

RIDGE: Good to be with you, Larry. Thank you very much.

KING: Tom Ridge, former secretary of Homeland Security, former governor of Pennsylvania.

An outstanding panel of experts will join us right after this.


KING: We're back. Fran Townsend is CNN national security contributor. She served as homeland security adviser to president George W. Bush. Larry Johnson, a former analyst with the CIA. He served in the U.S. State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law and is the author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know." And Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN international correspondent, now based in Baghdad.

But first let's check in first with CNN's Rima Maktabi in Dubai. Dubai, of course, is one of the two places that a USA-bound packaged originated coming from Yemen. What's the latest from there, Rima?

RIMA MAKTABI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Larry, Emirati officials confirmed here earlier that there was no shipment coming from Yemen towards the U.S. through Dubai on Emirates Airlines flight EK-201, which was escorted by the fighters -- U.S. fighters in the U.S. However, a suspicious shipment or package originating from Yemen was discovered in Dubai earlier tonight, and it was found at a FedEx cargo aircraft.

The aviation officials said that this suspicious package has been sent to the lab to discover what's in this package. However, this happened many hours ago, but so far, there's not one statement that says what they found in this package. As we know, it's Friday, the beginning of the weekend. Now it's the morning of Saturday. It's, like, 5:00 AM in the morning, nearly 5:30, and there were no officials that gave statements. Usually in such circumstances, Emirati officials don't give statements to any media outlet. They would stick to the official news agency. And this is how we'll be able to know about all of this. On the other hand, Emirates Airlines said -- we spoke to an official who wanted to remain anonymous. He said that all cargo bound for the U.S. on Emirates flights is rescreened in Dubai, in accordance with U.S. procedures -- Larry.

KING: All right. Thank you. Thank you, Rima. Excellent report on top of the scene in Dubai.

Now, let's go to our panel. Remain with us the rest of the way.

Fran, what's your read on all this?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Larry, you know, look, I think what Tom Ridge is saying is right. This is a good news story in terms of getting information from our Saudi allies and acting on it quickly. Clearly, the intelligence was good enough to give us the tracking numbers to find these packages.

What we haven't mentioned, though, and I think it's worth pointing to is for the billions of dollars we've spent in security measures post- 9/11, our screening procedures we still had to rely on foreign allies. Why isn't we weren't able to se the vulnerability and prevent this from getting into the cargo system where it could have posed a threat to the United States? And I suspect that will be a subject of congressional hearings and oversight after this is over.

KING: Larry, Fran said we -- the "we" is she talking about UPS or FedEx or what?

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA ANALYST: U.S. government. Larry, 22 years ago in December of 1988, Pan Am 103 was blown up with a bomb in checked luggage. We knew even before that that there was that kind of vulnerability. So, how long did it take to get to a report where we required checked luggage to be interrogated to see if it had a bomb on board? It was after 9/11. So, it went over 14 years.

We've also known that cargo has been a vulnerability for more than 22 years.

Larry, we were able to put a man on the moon after John F. Kennedy announced it in 1961. We got it done in eight years. Here we are 22 years later, and we still do not have a -- 96 percent of the cargo that comes from overseas is not screened. It's not checked.

It was only in August of this last year that the congressional office GAO office identified that we finally have 100 percent screening on domestic cargo and even then, when you get in, when you penetrate that, it's not using 100 percent of the most effective technology.

So, really this has been -- you know, this is not an indictment of any one party or the other. Both Democrats and Republicans have failed at this. We've got 22 years of it. And we're going to wait until we get something killed before we decide to do something.

KING: All right. Peter, are we supposed to have some American officials posted at every place cargo is shipped that's coming here. Is that the purpose here?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, I think that would be pretty prohibitively expensive. I mean, you know, when we look at cargo that's shipped in ships, which is (INAUDIBLE) analogies, will be, few of it -- the small amounts of it are checked, but typically, if something's coming from Yemen or Pakistan or a country of concern, then it is checked.

So, you know, you can have virtually 100 percent check even if you only look at relatively small number of countries, because typically, you know, people aren't trying to put bombs into cargo let's say in Germany. You know, it turns out of places like Yemen or perhaps Pakistan and other countries that you really need to focus on.

So, I mean, Larry is right to raise the issue that not enough is being done, but I think one way to do it and with constraints that we have in terms of money and resources, is to say -- well, here are the country where we will examine very carefully.

And the other point that's very important is, whoever made these bombs and also the bomb that was, you know, attempted to bring down Northwest flight 253 and nearly killed the Saudi interior minister, deputy interior minister several months before the 253 flight, that bomb maker is still out there. So, it's not just the 13 packages that are floating around. It's also the fact that this guy is obviously quite skilled and will continue to do this until he's either captured or killed.

KING: We'll ask Mohammed Jamjoom what they are saying about this in Iraq when we come back.


KING: Our CNN international correspondent member of the panel, Mohammed Jamjoom. He is in Iraq, but we understand from Mohammed, he was recently in Yemen.

What can you tell us about all of this?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, I've been to Yemen twice this year and I can tell you the shift in tone in what officials are saying there about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula between January when I was there and between September and October when I was there is startling. I mean, Yemeni officials that I spoke with there are expressing grave concern there now. Whereas, before, they were saying, hey, this is a problem, but we're getting it under control.

And the last month and a half, you've had several senior level government officials who have spoken to us, who have said to us, we need help. We need help to get this under control. If we don't, Yemen could become a failed state.

If Yemen does become a failed state, that helps nobody. It doesn't help Yemen. It doesn't help Saudi Arabia or other regional neighbors. It certainly doesn't help the international community.

What we've seen since 2009 when Yemen and al Qaeda -- when al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula first formed in Yemen, we've seen this group become resurgent. They have launched more attacks. They've become bolder.

They are announcing now to Yemenis and to the rest of the world that they are actively changing tactics. They have learned from al Qaeda in Iraq and other places in the Middle East. It's a new kind of insurgency. They're going directly after the government there. They're also continuing to go after foreign targets there as we've seen this past month.

Now, in the last month, we've seen at least three different terror raids and counter-terror measures and sweeps that are going on in different provinces of Yemen.

KING: Yes.

JAMJOOM: But the fact of the matter is: Yemeni al Qaeda keeps retaliating. They seem to be growing stronger and the government is quite concerned -- Larry.

KING: Fran, as we discussed with Tom Ridge, there's never going to be a winning day on the war on terrorism and the good guys are always on the defense, aren't they?

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Larry. I mean, what you have to do is keep up a persistent effort against these guys and try to gain a better understanding. And it's always evolving you're understanding about what are they going to try and use as root against us. It's very hard, because you've heard it said before, they only have to get right once and government officials have to be right every day. And so, it's a daunting, daunting challenge.

But you're exactly right, Larry. There's going to never be a winning day, because this doesn't go away.

KING: So, Larry, what -- it seems kind of -- I don't want to use the word, well, I'll use it -- hopeless. Is it hopeless?

JOHNSON: No. Actually, I sort of disagree with Fran to this extent. Both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have been effective in capturing and killing a number of terrorists. And you don't -- in fact, I offer this as further evidence that their capability has deteriorated. Yes, they have the desire in al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula to attack us.

But we look at what happened with Abdulmutallab, the underwear pants bomber. The device he wore, number one, it was not sufficient to bring down the plane. It showed me that they didn't know what they were doing, because if they knew what they were doing, he would have had a different amount of explosive on him -- number one.

Then we see the guy in New York City that tried to blow up his truck. He didn't even understand that what he had and how he assembled it wouldn't be even work.

So, what I'm seeing is not the kind of sophistication that we saw with, say, Ramzi Yousef, the first bomber of the World Trade Center. We're seeing sort of a second and third tier effort. What that means is we need to continue this effort to capture and kill these guys. And as you chase them and deteriorate their ability, yes, they're going to try to hurt us, but they don't have the capability to project force, sustain operations that we saw, say, 10 years ago.

So, I think we do need to take some credit that both the Bush administration and Obama administration are being effective in this, and we don't take our boot off the throat of these guys.

KING: That's encouraging. And we'll be right back with more.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will continue to pursue additional protective measures for as long as it takes to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. I have also directed that we spare no effort in investigating the origins of these suspicious packages and their connection to any additional terrorist plotting.

Although we are still pursuing all of the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen. We also know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies.


KING: Peter Bergen, what do you make of target synagogues in Chicago?

BERGEN: Well, if we take it as a matter of fact that Anwar al- Awlaki, an American citizen, is playing key operational role in this group, he would be not unaware of the fact that the president comes, he hails from Chicago, and he also would not be -- you know, these guys were rabid anti-Semites.

And synagogues, we've seen, you know, al Qaeda has tried to attack and succeeded in attacking synagogues in Tunisia, in Morocco, in Istanbul. In the years since 9/11, they've blown up an Israeli hotel in Mumbai. In Kenya, they've tried to bring down an Israeli charter jet with surface to air missile, also in Mumbai and Kenya. So, you know, this is very much part of their modus operandi.

I mention that attempt to bring down the Israeli passenger jet with the surface to air missiles, raises an issue that relates to what Larry was talking about earlier. One thing that no country really has done except Israel is retrofit or fit its commercial jets with measures against surface-to-air missiles.

And bringing down a commercial jet with surface to air missile is not a "Chicken Little" scenario. It's something that al Qaeda has tried. It is something that they have access to these weapons. Obviously, though, if they manage to succeed in doing that anywhere in the world, that would be really transformational and then just as we reinforced cockpit doors after 9/11, every passenger jet in the world would have to be fitted up with these measures which would be very expensive but it's a sort of thing that only happens after the event and not before, unfortunately -- human nature being what it is.

KING: Mohammed, U.S. officials believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, is behind this. Why?

JAMJOOM: Well, this just bares all the hallmarks, Larry, of an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula kind of attack. I mean, they are doing more and more bold attacks.

And let me try to set the scene a little bit about Yemen. Yemen is a very poor country. It's the poorest in the Middle East. It has very porous borders.

They've got several different conflicts going on right now. You don't just have a growing al Qaeda problem. You have a rebellion that keeps going up in the north. You have a separatist movement that's going on in the south. You have deep poverty.

This is country that may run out of water in the next five to 10 years.

All of the conditions are there for it to really be a magnet for militants. They can come there. They can operate really at will. They have done so.

And, you know, Yemen's government is a very weak central government. They don't really operate that much outside of the capital, outside of Sana'a.

You know, Ali Abdullah Saleh, he's the president there. He's been the president for over 30 years. He's done that because he's been able to maneuver tribal affiliations. He's been able to get loyalty of the tribes.

The Yemeni government depends on that when they're outside of the capital city. But because they are so beholden to the tribes to remain in power, they also have to be very careful in how they go after al Qaeda and how they carry out attacks in these mountainous, rugged regions outside of the capital, because if they anger those tribes and those sheiks and all those people in those different townships, then they have an even bigger problem on their hands -- Larry.

KING: And we'll have more after this.


KING: Fran Townsend, Larry Johnson seems to think that these terrorists are getting worse. We'll ask you about that.

But, first, let's check in with Anderson Cooper and what's happening on "A.C. 360" at the top of the hour -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Larry, I have some interesting information coming in. We continue the breaking news, getting some new information about those two packages that were known to contain explosives. We know that they've been found. There are still more out there apparently, more being tracked -- 13 that we know of right now being looked for. We don't know if there are explosives in there but they are being searched for.

The question, of course, is: where are they? We'll have the latest on that.

We'll also have the intel behind the intercept and where the explosives were discovered, why fighter jets were scrambled to escort a 777 into New York's JFK airport today.

Also, on another subject, Dr. Phil joins us, firing back with strong words for Clint McCance, the Arkansas school board official who posted gay slurs on Facebook and then apologize on this program last night and resigned. The question is: does Dr. Phil think the apology was real? He doesn't mince words about that tonight. It's our big "360" interview.

We'll have those stories and the question: Is McDonald's telling its employees to vote Republican? Details on that story, Larry, at the top of the hour.

KING: That's 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific with Anderson Cooper.

All right. Fran, Larry Johnson seems to hint that these people are not getting smarter.

TOWNSEND: Well, look, Larry, there is something to be said for this. The attacks that they are attempting are much smaller. But I don't take the sort of comfort that Larry Johnson suggested. First of all, the underwear bomber -- PETN, if properly detonated, could have caused a huge problem on that plane and may in fact -- it is not clear to me that it wouldn't have blown a hole in the fuselage particularly given where he was sitting.


TOWNSEND: Larry, I disagree with you. Let me finish.


KING: Larry, let her finish. Larry, let her finish.


TOWNSEND: The second thing is: the Times Square bomber, I met with a senior NYPD official just this week who was explaining to me, it was actually, he clearly had been trained. It was constructed properly. What happened was that, at the last minute, he swapped out two of the elements to this thing for lower grade materials and that's why it didn't detonate. And frankly, if he had not swapped that out and had constructed it correctly, as they've said, he would have killed people.

And so, look, the good news is: these attacks are smaller. They have not been able to successfully execute these attacks and that does indicate we're having some success. But they're no less persistent and they're still coming at us and they're still coming at us at a greater pace.

And so, I think we need to continue to take this actually quite seriously.

KING: Larry?

JOHNSON: My point on the explosives is, 80 grams will not bring the plane down. And we know that because of what happened with Pan Am 103. The scientific study was done. There's a certain amount of explosive that was determined would bring the plane down, and it's that level of explosive that is used in the explosive detection machines for checked baggage.

So, it's not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of scientific fact and physics. Eighty grams, yes, it would have caused him to have sort of the ultimate circumcision, that's true. And it might damage some of the people around him, and I certainly would not want to be sitting next to him when it went off. But that said, it was not sufficient size to bring down the plane to cause a catastrophic decompression.

My point is: the fact that he didn't understand that is some good news. And the fact that this guy in New York City swaps out materials without understanding that you don't do that if you know what you're doing.

So, I think we're still left with the reality that fortunately, we got some second and third tier guys out there who have first tier dreams. They've got big dreams, big plans, but thank God they haven't proven to be smart enough to do it and I hope they keep getting stupider. That's my desire.

KING: And we'll be back with more right after this.


KING: Peter Bergen, you interviewed Osama bin Laden -- do you think he's got any part in this?

BERGEN: Well, ideologically, sure, because, I mean -- you know, the U.S. military has commander's intent. Petraeus doesn't have to tell every soldier in Afghanistan what to do, they kind of get the central mission is defeating the Taliban and bin Laden is very adept at putting a larger strategic vision which is taken out by people all over the world, some even people who have never met anybody in al Qaeda.

So, from an ideological point of view, he's got a lot to do with this. And al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula doesn't have any links with al Qaeda central operationally now is acting exactly as bin Laden would like them to act, which is really a form of great success, as far as he's concerned.

KING: Mohammed, from your vantage point, are you -- do you find any optimism at all? JAMJOOM: Well, Larry, I can tell you that the conditions on the ground in Yemen have gotten a lot worse, frankly. I mean, the country's facing so many problems. And as I mentioned before, officials now are expressing a level of concern that they weren't just months ago.

And, you know, that really is concerning for regional neighbors, for the international community as well. And it's one of the reasons you're seeing a stepped up presence as well as far as the U.S. and the U.K. when it comes to counter-terror training.

Now, one of the interesting things that happened when I was there, we had an interview with the head of the counter-terror forces, General Yahya Saleh. And he acknowledged for the first time to us that the U.S. and the U.K. had been involved with Yemeni security forces in airstrikes that were happening in Yemen. That has -- that has been a very, very sensitive issue. And up until the past month, the Yemeni government was really denying that, the U.S. wasn't commenting.

So the fact the Yemenis aren't just asking for help but they're starting to acknowledge that how much help they're getting and saying that the U.S. is even assisting in airstrikes, you know, that's significant and that shows the level of concern there and it shows they're trying to ask for as much help as possible and that they know that they need it -- Larry.

KING: Fran Townsend, to this point, you were formerly in that seat and around the center of all this. Is Obama handling this well at this early juncture?

TOWNSEND: Look, you know, the only -- the only thing I found curious was that the president himself -- as you said earlier, Larry -- became the briefer-in-chief. That was a little unusual.

But I will tell you, John Brennan, his counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, is doing exactly what I would have been doing. I think they're coordinating it. They're talking to their international allies.

They're marshalling all the resources of the federal government. They are leading this effort to identify these other packages. They've worked the private sector quite well, UPS, FedEx, DHL, to stop the shipments until they get a handle on it.

I actually think they've done a very good job.

KING: Larry, I only have about 30 seconds. Do you share that view?

JOHNSON: Yes. I think they're doing what they need to do. But we still have to recognize we're relying upon the Saudis in this case to tip us off. That's good news. But we shouldn't have a system that's basically like having your best friend or a friend give you a tip on what's going on. Relying on intelligence is not a security system. It's a good system for going to the casino or horse track to win but it's not a good security system.

KING: Peter, is it going to get better before it gets worse?

BERGEN: I think, you know, Osama bin Laden and his team are on the losing side, on the wrong side of history and I think, you know, the fact is, that only 14 Americans have been killed by jihadist terrorist attacks since 9/11. Not something we could have predicted in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Thanks to the efforts of people like Fran Townsend and others.

KING: Well said all of you. Thanks very, very much.

CNN, of course, right at the top of the scene.

Monday night, a major election night preview on LARRY KING LIVE. CNN's coverage of this breaking news continues now with Anderson Cooper and "A.C. 360" -- Anderson.