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American Morning

Obama Shoots Down War Options; Report Says U.S. Ambassador Warns Against Sending More Troops Into War Zone; Prejean Nearly Walks out on Larry King; Charges Dropped Against U.S. Dad Who Tried to Kidnap Kids in Japan; Charges Dropped Against Savoie; States in Peril; Troop Lifesaver

Aired November 12, 2009 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome. Glad you're with us on this Thursday morning. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. It's November 12th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes, keeping the seat warm for John Roberts as he takes a couple of days off. And a lot to talk about this morning.

Big news really we saw late last night and developing news overnight, but we're going to be getting to that in the next 15 minutes. And that is the president's national security team ordered back to the drawing board. They have a new set of marching orders now.

President Obama says their strategies for Afghanistan need some more work. The president ordering revisions, leaving some people wondering if he's looking for more of a way out of the war in Afghanistan. We'll have live reports from Kabul and the White House just ahead.

CHETRY: Also, some brand new developments this morning about the American dad who tried to get his children back from his ex-wife who abducted them and ran off to Japan. This morning, Japanese authorities have essentially dropped all charges against Christopher Savoie. But when it comes to seeing his kids again, it seems to be that he's back at square one. We're going to take you to Japan for the latest on this international custody battle.

HOLMES: Also, we are learning here at CNN, there was more to that relationship between the sole suspect in the Fort Hood shootings and a radical imam in Yemen. It turns out that Major Nidal Hasan you're seeing there, he not only reached out to that cleric, he heard back from them. There was a bit of a back and forth between the two, so why that these messages not tip off investigators?

CHETRY: A lot of questions on that this morning. But we begin with dramatic new developments on two fronts with the war in Afghanistan. First, President Obama is meeting with his national security team and turning down every strategy they presented to him saying they need revisions. The president ordered his advisers to focus on how long it would take to hand the war over to the Afghan government. The four options he was presented range from 20,000 to 40,000 more troops being deployed to parts of Afghanistan where fighting with the Taliban is most intense.

The other big development, published reports saying that the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, former Army General Karl Eikenberry, is objecting to any kind of troop surge. His claim is that Afghanistan's government is simply too unstable and stained with corruption to make that kind of U.S. commitment.

So, we're covering all sides of these breaking developments this morning. We have our Chris Lawrence. He's live in Kabul. We'll get to him in just a moment.

We start though with Jill Dougherty at the White House. And, Jill, tell us more about the president looking for a way out, an end game if you will, for Afghanistan.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kiran, this is really an important moment because think of this. You know, the meeting happens yesterday. The president goes in. He has these four options with the troop levels, and this train is going down the tracks. It looks like he is going to do that.

But then he puts on the brakes and says, let's look at this again. And what are the questions he's asking? Essentially he's asking, how and when U.S. troops can turn over responsibility to Afghan troops, to the Afghan government. In other words, an exit strategy.

And a senior U.S. official tells CNN that essentially there are two sticking points. One is a timeline. How long are they going to be there? But the other big question is the credibility and reliability of the government of Hamid Karzai. And that's really the key thing.

In fact, we are told that the ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, participating in that discussion, expressed deep concern over sending more troops exactly for that reason.

Now, nevertheless, General Petraeus, who spoke with CNN yesterday exclusively, said that there is going to be a decision soon. Let's hear what he said.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR. U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We are, indeed, nearing a decision on this very important topic. And I think it's very, very essential that we recall why it is that we are in Afghanistan, and that is to ensure that that country does not once again become a sanctuary or safe haven for Al Qaeda and the kind of transnational extremists that carried out the 9/11 attacks.


DOUGHERTY: Yes. So the bottom line coming from the White House then today is, this commitment by the U.S. is not open-ended -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, we'll talk much more about this this morning. Jill Dougherty for us, thanks.

HOLMES: And as Kiran mentioned a moment ago, U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry reportedly raising a big old red flag about deploying more forces there. Published reports quote a senior official saying Eikenberry sent two classified cables to the White House in the past week expressing, quote, "deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to defend a corrupt Afghan government."

Also, Eikenberry has essentially been around the proverbial Afghan block. He's a retired four-star general and once commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan. His stand puts him at odds with current commander General Stanley McChrystal.

A White House statement appears to reflect Eikenberry's concerns and it says, quote, "We won't discuss classified documents publicly but as we have said for months, success in Afghanistan depends on having a true partner in the Afghan government."

CNN's Chris Lawrence is on the ground with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Chris, hello to you. Are we getting anything from Eikenberry and his staff out of Afghanistan today?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, and that's on purpose, T.J. We were at an event up at Bagram airfield today with the ambassador and his staff. They very proactively kept the press away from him. Did not want him taking any questions on this. And they said that, yes, there has been correspondence between him and the president. It's his job to give advice, but they would not describe what that advice has been.

However, a senior State Department official did tell me that there are real concerns about how reliable President Karzai can be as a partner. He specifically pointed to an interview that Karzai gave to PBS last week in which he said something to the effect that the West was only interested in Afghanistan for its own ends, that it didn't care about the country, and that Afghanistan wouldn't even notice if the U.N. workers that were evacuated would even come back into the country.

This official said, you know, he said it doesn't matter if the U.N. is here. He doesn't care. He said I don't know where this guy is coming from. So some definite worries about President Karzai as a partner -- T.J.

HOLMES: Well, Chris, you talk about those worries. We should probably back up a second because the president, President Obama, saying he wanted to be sure, and let the elections play out so we know which partner we'd be dealing with, what government, what leader, before he made a decision about sending troops.

Now we have a leader in place and now we're not sure about him being effective and about him being corrupt in Karzai. So how is all this now going to play in President Obama's decision? These new revelations, these new words from Eikenberry?

LAWRENCE: Well, whatever Ambassador Eikenberry's advice is to the president, it is one facet of the advice that the president is considering. If you look back in the last presidency, President George W. Bush, he wanted a direct line with General David Petraeus. General Petraeus had sort of a direct line to the president, but that's not normally the way things are done. Normally it does flow up the chain of command, and that's what we're seeing this time in which General Stanley McChrystal is having to work through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

He's going up the chain of command to get to the president, and all these voices are being considered. Just from being here, you know, over the last month or so, a military solution is part of the answer here, but it's far from the only answer of how to solve the problem here in Afghanistan.

HOLMES: All right. Chris Lawrence for us this morning. Chris, thank you as always.

CHETRY: Six-and-a-half minutes past the hour now. Time to take a look at more stories new this morning.

Virginia under a state of emergency due to drenching rains. It's the remnants of tropical storm Ida and also a coastal nor'easter pounding the state. Governor Tim Kaine putting agencies on alert telling them to be prepared for heavy flooding. The National Weather Service says up to eight inches of rain may fall in the next 24 hours.

HOLMES: Now the CDC revising its figures on the number of Americans who died from swine flu or H1N1. Health officials this morning now say 4,000 people have died because of that virus. That's four times more than the previous estimates. But now in these numbers, they're including deaths from swine flu complications, including pneumonia and bacterial infections.

CHETRY: Belligerent, defensive and argumentative. That's how one military official described Fort Hood shooting suspect Major Nidal Hasan as a psychiatrist in training. There are new reports saying that doctors overseeing his training did raise concerns about his extremely strong religious views and also his odd behavior in the months before investigators say he fired on fellow soldiers.

This group overseeing his training reportedly saw no evidence that Hasan could turn violent and also some doctors and staff were concerned that there unfamiliarity with the Muslim faith would lead them to unfairly single out Hasan's behavior.

HOLMES: Also, last night, singer Taylor Swift won four country music awards. This was last night in Nashville. She won the big one as well, "Entertainer of the Year." She wasn't interrupted a single time on stage. She is the youngest ever to win that prize, and she got a bit emotional when she got up on stage.


TAYLOR SWIFT, CMA "ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR": I will never forget this moment because in this moment everything that I have ever wanted has just happened to me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: You know, you couldn't help but watch and just wait for somebody to jump up on stage and interrupt her. But she made it through. She got through it without interruption.

Kanye West was not allowed in the building. They had his pictures up. Secret Service, they wouldn't let him in.

CHETRY: Yes, right.

HOLMES: But, you know, the co-host, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood actually opened the show singing "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Kanye."

CHETRY: That's so mean.

HOLMES: Not really.

CHETRY: Poor Kanye. All right.

HOLMES: Poor Kanye?

CHETRY: Well, I mean...

HOLMES: Oh, sorry.

CHETRY: I'm sure he really didn't want to go to the CMAs anyway. I don't know. Just a wild guess. But you know, she's the youngest to win that.

HOLMES: Great.

CHETRY: Kenny Chesney has won it many times. He's fabulous, too, but it's nice to get some young blood in there.

HOLMES: You keep talking country music. I have no idea what you're talking about, but go ahead.

CHETRY: All right. What was his -- what's his famous song about the tractor? I don't know.

HOLMES: Keep going. I have no clue what you speak of.

CHETRY: All right, fine. Well, I think you know about this one.


CHETRY: The drama on "LARRY KING" last night?

HOLMES: OK, this is something.

CHETRY: Former Miss California USA, you know Carrie Prejean. I'm sure you're familiar with her.

HOLMES: Yes. Oh, yes. CHETRY: All right. When she asked why -- when he asked, rather why she settled her lawsuit with pageant officials, some sparks were flying. Here's what happened next.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": In mediation it was discussed why you were mediating.

CARRIE PREJEAN, FORMER MISS CALIFORNIA USA: Larry, it's completely confidential.

KING: What's this?

PREJEAN: And you're being inappropriate.



KING: All right.

PREJEAN: You're being inappropriate.

KING: Inappropriate "King Live" continues.


KING: Detroit, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I'm calling from Detroit.

KING: Yes.

CALLER: I'm a gay man and I love pageants. I'm sure that you, Carrie, have got, you know, great gay friends that helped you possibly win. What would you give them as advice if they wanted to get married?

KING: Did you hear the question, Carrie? Did you hear the question?


CHETRY: Oh, why end it there. I wanted to see what happened next.

HOLMES: You want me to do (INAUDIBLE). Yes. She stayed. She ended up staying.

CHETRY: Thank you. I had to go to sleep. You were actually waiting in an airport, so you got to see the whole thing.

HOLMES: I got the whole thing -- I saw the late edition, actually. Saw the whole thing. CHETRY: Well, anyway, she did end up staying. She told Larry there was an agreement that she wouldn't answer questions from viewers and always the professional, Larry apologized and moved on. So in the end, a good time was had by all.

HOLMES: He was impressive last night. He handled it very well. A lot of people wouldn't have handed that well.

CHETRY: There you go. Do you remember Kanye West's mother's -- not to bring you back to Kanye West -- but the doctor also walked off the set when Larry was trying to talk to him.

HOLMES: Oh, yes, that was early in the show. He wasn't around very long, was he?

CHETRY: Yes. All right.

Well, still ahead, we're talking about this custody battle that's made international headlines. A man trying to get his kids back after his ex-wife violated the terms of their agreement took his kids to Japan. He tried to get them back. Ended up in jail. Well, he's going to be joining us to talk about it. And also some exclusive new information from our Kyung Lah who's been following this case from the beginning.

It's 11 minutes past the hour.


HOLMES: Straight ahead here on the Most News in the Morning. Our Brian Todd has new information about the exchanges between Major Nidal Hasan and a radical Muslim cleric. Also the military's response to the suspect's behavior that did raise red flags.

CHETRY: Coming up on 13 1/2 minutes past the hour. New developments this morning about the Tennessee dad accused of trying to kidnap his own kids. You may remember they were taken to Japan by his ex-wife who is Japanese after a bitter divorce battle.

Authorities in Japan have now essentially dropped all charges against Christopher Savoie, but a big question remains. Will he ever see his kids again? Here's our Kyung Lah.

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning from Tokyo, Kiran and T.J. Prosecutors here in Japan have decided to drop all of the criminal charges against American Christopher Savoie. Savoie is the Tennessee father who was embroiled in the bitter international custody dispute with his Japanese ex-wife over their two children.

His ex-wife, a Japanese national, abducted the two children out of the United States and brought them here to Japan. A U.S. court then awarded Savoie full custody. Savoie came here to Japan and tried to whisk the two children out of Japan back to the United States.

Well, Japanese authorities stopped him. Now Japan does not recognize that U.S. custody order, so Savoie was arrested and he was charged with kidnapping. He sat in the Japanese jail almost three weeks. He was, though, eventually released. This move by the prosecutors' office now completely drops the charges against him as far as a criminal case.

As far as the custody battle, though, there is a long road ahead. The Savoie family telling CNN that Savoie remains a grief-stricken man. He is unsure if he will ever see his two children again -- T.J., Kiran.

CHETRY: Kyung Lah, thank you.

And coming up in our next hour, we are going to be speaking exclusively to Christopher Savoie and his wife Amy about what they're going to do, about whether they're feeling like they're back to square one in the fight for his children.

HOLMES: Also this morning, boy, Ponzi schemer's homes just aren't worth what they used to be. You can...

CHETRY: I guess not.

HOLMES: You can get a deal these days on a couple of Bernie Madoff's homes. Prices are falling. Stay with us.


CHETRY: Eighteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is eyeing higher taxes on your paycheck to try to pay for health care legislation. According to Democratic officials, one of the options being considered would raise the Medicare portion of the payroll tax if you make more than $250,000 a year. No final decision has been made.

HOLMES: Also this morning, it's already time to start talking holiday shopping and Walmart says it will keep all of its stores open 24 hours during the Thanksgiving weekend. Wally World says it's taking new crowd control measures, particularly before Black Friday sales that start at 5:00 AM Eastern.

You may remember a temporary Walmart employee who was here in New York was trampled to death last year by crowds who were trying to -- as we see every year, they bust down those doors trying to get in there to get those deals.

CHETRY: That was a horrible situation, so hopefully they're rethinking how they're going to do that and hopefully they'll have more than seven flat screen TVs, you know?

HOLMES: Yes. Well, they have a plan now. They actually have people in the stores that have you just congregate inside so it's not that a big rush to the door.

CHETRY: All right. Good enough. Well, if you are looking for a bargain penthouse in New York City -- and who isn't, really, right? -- Bernie Madoff's old apartment is still on the market. It's now a, you know, a paltry $8.9 million. It's more than $1 million less than the original asking price. Also his place in Palm Beach, Florida has been cut. That can also be yours for $7.9 million.

HOLMES: Would you really want to live in there, though?


HOLMES: Also, President Obama, he's topping the list of "Forbes" Most Powerful People in the World. He was the unanimous choice by the five editors of "Forbes." Now let's take a look at the top five here for you.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, number two; coming in next, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president of Russia; also, the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke; and also sharing number five, two guys you might not know the names Sergey Brinn and Larry Page. See those faces? Of course. Christine Romans knows who they are.


HOLMES: You know them as well. Yes, the founders of a little old "company that could" called Google.

CHETRY: A start-up that became a verb, you know? I mean...

ROMANS: I Googled you. You Googled me.

CHETRY: Exactly. Remarkable.

Well, Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business." Too bad we can't spread a little bit of that cheer to some states that are really struggling right now.

ROMANS: Looks, the recession's alive and -- alive and well in America's statehouses, and the people -- the folks who are there trying to fix the budget problems in many of these states are really having a tough time.

It's an all-out crisis for 10 big important states. These states represent a third of America's population, a third of its economic output. The Pew Center did a -- a study of the 10 states facing financial peril. These -- these rounded out the top of the list. California, of course, Arizona, Rhode Island, Michigan, Oregon, Nevada, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois and Wisconsin. They have these huge budget shortfalls.

Many states -- most states are seeing this. These are the 10 worst. These are things that are happening all across the country. Their tax revenues are collapsing. They are having higher unemployment -- that's because of higher unemployment, because of foreclosures, because of, you know, state budget money that's coming down. I mean, even the stimulus money isn't eating into all of it. These are the budget shortfalls. You know what those numbers mean, you guys? That means that California is spending 49 percent more than it's taking in, still, after all of the cuts that it's had. Illinois, the same thing. The difference between what it's earning and what it's spending, look at those big, big margins.

Why does this matter for all of those people who live there? It means layoffs and furloughs of state workers. It means longer services for -- waits for public services, more crowded classrooms, higher college tuition. It means less support for the poor and unemployed. It's a real crisis.

What does it mean to the rest of the country? To the rest of the country it means lower economic output for this country. It means a real problem. It could mean that there needs to be -- as some liberals are really pushing for -- another bailout of these states, an actual more federal money for these states to bail out states. So this -- this problem, we're talking about the overall economy growing in the third quarter. Well, you've got states that are still in deep trouble here.

CHETRY: Yes. I mean, when the tax revenue is gone because people have lost their jobs and people's homes are foreclosed, I mean, it's a really tough situation.

ROMANS: And you can't make it up overnight, and it's really a tough situation. So -- and you're going to be feeling it in classrooms, you're going to be feeling it in your day-to-day life, certainly.

HOLMES: You showed the top 10 there, but, I mean, 11, 12, 13, 14 -- I mean, a lot of states are in just bad a shape. You have a numeral for us, a big one today?

ROMANS: I do. It's 900,000, and this is from a liberal group the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Nine hundred thousand.

HOLMES: It's got to be a job number of some kind, right?

ROMANS: Yes. Exactly. It's the possible job losses due to state budget cuts next year. So this is why it matters to the rest of us. Here we're trying to get jobs created, right? And you are potentially facing just a wave of more job loss. All this means reduced economic output, reduced economic activity, you know, the economy is not working at its potential.

So a lot of folks trying to figure out some solutions here, on the state level, on the national level, but it's still a -- it's a trio, three or four different big studies this week about what's happen with the states and that's just -- it's just not turning around there for them.

CHETRY: All right. Christine Romans -- not the best news, but it's nice to see you anyway.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, too. CHETRY: Well, we have a little bit of a farewell this morning, a long time CNNer saying good-bye.

HOLMES: He was -- on the street there, we call him an OG. He's an original here at CNN. Lou Dobbs announced last night -- surprised a lot of folks that he is leaving the network. Surprised a lot of folks -- surprised just about everybody. And last night, at the top, announced it would be his last show.


LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: I'm grateful for the many opportunities that CNN has given me over these many years. I've tried to reciprocate with a full measure of my ability and my energy.

Over the past six months, it's become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us, and some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day and to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible.


CHETRY: There you go. Well, we wish Lou all the best. He's a great guy and we loved, you know, having his input and his opinion. You know, you don't always agree, but, you know, he was a smart man.

HOLMES: But a shock kind of to everybody to do that right at the top. And of course, he was -- I think he's the last of the originals to start up this network when it -- at the very beginning. So, sad to see him go but looking forward to see where he hands, where he ends up.

CHETRY: Me too. Good luck, Lou, and all the best.

Still ahead, we're going to be talking more about these new details that the Feds are finding out about Major Hasan, the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting, and communication he had with a radical imam. Brian Todd bringing us new information.

Twenty-five minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

IEDs are the militants' weapon of choice in Afghanistan with devastating affects, killing and maiming many of our troops. But now American soldiers on the front lines are getting new vehicles that are being called lifesavers.

Our Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with an "AM Original" and you had a chance to see this new vehicle firsthand. What's it like? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, this is one big armored vehicle. You know, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on his way out to Oshkosh, Wisconsin later today to go to this plant -- to this factory, thank the workers and have a firsthand look at this armored vehicle which is being called a lifesaver.

We went first and had a look.


STARR (voice-over): It's called the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle, the MATV. A mouthful of words for this massive new armored truck with a life-saving mission.

STARR (on camera): This both lets you go off-road and into remote areas and be more survivable against IEDs?

KEN JUERGENS, SENIOR PROGRAM DIRECTOR, OSHKOSH DEFENSE: Exactly. That's what this is designed for.

STARR (voice-over): Improvised roadside explosives -- IEDs -- are now the number one killer of US troops in Afghanistan.

We came to Oshkosh Defense who builds the trucks to see how the MATV can go off-road, charging through rough terrain, away from where bombs may be lying in wait. When a bomb hits this truck, the troops are protected. Unlike other armored vehicles, on the MATV, only the passenger cab is armored.

JUERGENS: We're finding that the tires blow away, the engine compartment blows away, but everything here in the crew capsule is protected.

STARR (on camera): This is pretty light weight.

JUERGENS: Right. And during a blast you don't want to have a lot of heavy objects that's keeping the weight down. You want this stuff to fly away. So during an explosion, this stuff all goes away.

STARR (voice-over): The MATV is still massive, 6 feet wide, 12 feet tall. The tires alone have a four-foot diameter, but lightweight. Unlike its 40,000-pound predecessor, this is only 25,000 pounds. So it can maneuver steep, rough terrain.

Here on the shop floor at Oshkosh Defense, an economic boon for the company and its workers.

(on camera): The Pentagon orders for 5,200 MATVs for Afghanistan has resulted in more than 1,000 additional jobs here. This shop floor now runs 20 hours a day.

(voice-over): 56-year-old Ron Shirkey was laid off from another job after 15 years on the assembly line.

RON SHIRKEY, OSHKOSH DEFENSE EMPLOYEE: I was really depressed. I didn't know what I was going to do. STARR: And then he joined the MATV assembly line at Oshkosh.

SHIRKEY: If I can build those and help keep our -- the people that are protecting us safer with these vehicles, that would be very motivating job. And it has turned out to be just that.


STARR: Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be at Oshkosh later today, and these vehicles will start being used in combat missions in Afghanistan in the coming weeks -- Kiran?

CHETRY: Wow. Amazing. Too bad that they can't get more, you know, facilities out there and start pumping these out faster because they are such life savers.

STARR: Well, they are doing about 1,000 vehicles a month now. That's their goal. That's what they want to get to. They want to get them out to the troops as fast as possible.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we wish them luck. Amazing. Thanks, Barbara.

And it's 31 minutes past the hour. We take a look at the top stories this morning. It's back to the drawing board for President Obama's national security team. A senior administration official says that the president was not satisfied with any of the four options on how to proceed in Afghanistan. He's concerned, according to the report, about the stability of the Afghan government. The president also wants to establish a clear exit strategy before committing to a significant increase in troops.

HOLMES: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is holding a forum today to discuss the state of the airline industry. Carriers are in dire of financial straits and facing growing concerns about passenger safety. The AFL-CIO's Transportation Department requested this forum. It will focus on how the government can help stabilize the industry.

CHETRY: Well, the nationwide foreclosure rate has now dropped for the third straight month in October down three percent. But filings are still up 19 percent from a year ago. RealtyTrac, which is an online marketplace of foreclosed property says that rising unemployment is still causing people to lose their homes and that many homeowners still owe more on their properties than what they are worth.

HOLMES: We've got new details this morning about the man accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas. It turns out the suspect, Major Nidal Hasan, not only sent but also received messages from a radical imam in Yemen. So were critical clues overlooked for fear of alienating a Muslim soldier? Here now our Brian Todd.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran and T.J. We're pulling in more information on potential leads in this case, and on those communications that investigators say Nidal Hasan had with a radical Muslim cleric. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A source familiar with the investigation tells CNN Nidal Hasan not only contacted a radical cleric in Yemen, but it's believed he also got communications back from that cleric. Investigators say, during that time, that cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was the subject of a federal probe, but the source says all the communications seemed innocent in nature, and says officials are following other leads, leads on connections Hasan may have had with other people who would have been of concern to investigators.

Questions continue over Hasan's behavior while in medical training and the response to that behavior, specifically presentations Hasan gave on Muslims in the military, when, according to one classmate, he was supposed to be talking about health issues.

The classmate, who witnessed one of the presentations, tells CNN, despite the discomfort of others in the room, he doesn't believe Hasan's superiors counseled him about it. And the classmate says he believes it was because they didn't want to alienate a Muslim soldier.

While this was his strong belief, he didn't provide evidence of that. A retired military lawyer familiar with such investigations says political correctness does factor in these situations.

CAPT. TOM KENNIFF (RET.), FORMER ARMY NATIONAL GUARD JAG OFFICER: In a post-9/11 world, there are a lot of forces in the military that may be very hesitant to give the appearance that they are singling out Muslim soldiers, even when that individual Muslim soldier may be making statements that are looked at as very incendiary and very questionable.

TODD: Defense Department official wouldn't comment on that, and there's no specific information that Hasan's superiors didn't address his presentations with him or that they avoided doing so because he's Muslim.

I asked former Bush Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor, if political correctness could have inhibited investigators looking into Hasan's communications.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is no question in my mind that investigators, when they looked at this material, understood very well that, if they decided to pursue this investigation, they would have to justify why they were -- they chose to pursue one of the few Muslim Americans inside the U.S. military, and perhaps alienate him.


TODD: A senior investigative official in this case told CNN he has never heard anything about Nidal Hasan getting favorable treatment because he is Muslim.

Kiran and T.J. back to you.

CHETRY: Brian Todd for us this morning. Thank you.

Well, still ahead, we're going to be talking about the threat of cyber attacks and especially in China. How capable are those in China of possibly derailing our whole entire electrical grid, per se. We're going to talk more about this with two experts on cyberterror.

Thirty-five minutes after the hour.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An NBA star stays plugged in in this week's "Road Warriors."

RUDY GAY, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: I'm Rudy Gay, and I play in the NBA. I spend about 100 days per year on the road. Some things I cannot travel without would have to be my phone chargers, my laptop and my headphones. I listen to a lot of Jay-Z. It's tough because we on the road, you never know, you know, where your next meal is coming from. You are always asking, you know, where you can eat and you don't know how they cook it. And it's tough on a diet.

I forget my room number a lot. All the time. So I just end up in the lobby trying to figure out what room I'm in. Roll your clothes up. Gives you more room to pack. Plus you don't have to iron.

If I'm not traveling or playing basketball, I just like to be home. I have nieces and nephews. I'm missing them growing up. I just try to call as much as I can. Thanks for spending time with me. I'll see you on the road.



CHETRY: President Obama leaves today. It's his first trip to Asia since taking office. And he's going to be stopping in China.

When we talk about China, we're also talking about growing concerns about the country's aggressions online. Cyberwarfare. Hackers have already hit our nuclear weapons labs, the Pentagon and even the president's campaign.

I'm joined in Washington by Greg Garcia, former assistant secretary for Cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security.

Good to have you, Greg. You are also the president now of the security consulting firm Garcia Strategies. And with me here at Time Warner Center is Nick Thompson, senior editor of "Wired" magazine.

Thanks for being with us, Nick.


CHETRY: Greg, let me start with you. It's no surprise that China spies on the U.S. and that we spy on China. We've talked about this many times. But the recent reports saying that China is building up capabilities for cyberwarfare. What exactly does that mean and how serious a threat do you think it is?

GREG GARCIA, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR CYBERSECURITY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, your exactly right, Kiran. Look, in perspective, spying has been a part of human civilization since somebody invented curiosity and self-interest. So we are now just taking this spying discipline from the physical realm to the cyber realm.

We definitely have vulnerabilities in our electric system and national information infrastructure. It is a serious problem. And we need to focus less on where the threats are coming from and more on protecting against those threats.

CHETRY: And that's interesting, Nick. How do we do that?

THOMPSON: We need to build up our cyberinfrastructure. We also need to be very clear about what the real threats are and what they are not. There's a lot of hype that China can get into our electrical grid and turn off the power in different parts of the city.

CHETRY: You don't think that can happen?

THOMPSON: I don't think that's going to happen. There is a big report that came out. There are a lot of people who hype this threat because they have business interest in it. So that report that came out two weeks ago is very terrifying, you know. And it makes you think the U.S. really needs to build up its Defense Department cyberinfrastructure. The report was written by Northrop Grumman, which sells the Defense Department and cyberinfrastructure. So there's a reason why it would make it seem very bad.

CHETRY: Yes, but according to this report, and I mean, they say there were more than 54,000, what they call malicious acts against the Defense Department alone. I mean, it seems like there is some room up for us to improve.

THOMPSON: But what is a malicious act? Is it a malicious act that 13-year-old kid in China who tries to log into some Defense Department server or is it actually someone on the payroll of the Chinese government? There's not a lot of evidence that the people on the payroll of the Chinese government are organized in a serious way that could do serious damage.

CHETRY: Well, first of all, I just want to ask Greg about that because in this study that Nick is referring to, they say that while there is little hard evidence about whether Beijing's government is implicitly involved in this, they say that some of the sophisticated nature of the -- of some of these attacks show that it would be difficult without some type of state sponsorship. What is your opinion about whether or not this is China's government?

GARCIA: Well, you know, Nick is correct. Attribution is really difficult. Tracing it back to who actually is doing it. And whether or not you have state-sponsored cyber attacks going on. However, you are also right that the sophistication, the targeted nature of these attacks and the coordinated and comprehensive nature of it really suggests that there is something larger at play here, more than just a 13-year-old hacker. It could be criminal groups, but there are political motivations as well. You know, denial ain't just a river in Egypt. And we have to be really paying attention to how we fortify our defenses against all threats, sophisticated and random.

CHETRY: What's the best way moving forward, Nick, in terms of spotting what is real and what is not as important and doing a better job of actually being able to defend against it?

THOMPSON: But one thing that would be really helpful would be developing our capabilities of actually tracing and seeing who is attacking us. You can figure out whether it's a kid, whether it's the criminal gang or whether it's somebody sponsored by the government. And that involves mapping, tracking and it also involves offensive cyberwarfare capabilities.

So one of the questions that we don't often talk about here is whether the United States should be building up and improving its capability of spying on the other side. Now to some people that sounds terrible. But, you know, we build weapons to bomb them. Why is it any worse to train cyberattackers for cyberoffense? But then again, the other issue is China is our ally, right? They own all our debt. They don't want to shut us down. We don't want to shut them down. There's a lot of smoke around this issue, too.

CHETRY: Right. And that's what I want to ask you quickly, Greg, before e leave. As the president goes to China today, again, you know, China is technically our ally. China does own much of our debt. What type of movement if any will there be on cyber attack threats between the Obama administration and China's leaders?

GARCIA: Well, the president is going to have a wide ranging agenda in China. And cyber security may be a part of it. I don't think he's going to say please stop spying on us or else. China is probably better characterized as a competitor. And competitors like to look at each other's game plans. I think that the president needs to focus on this -- this wider plate of diplomatic issues that he has, but to draw the line, to understand what line China would cross in our information infrastructure that would be considered something more serious than just a cyber attack. What does deterrence mean and what is an act of war in the cyberinformation age?

CHETRY: Greg Garcia, great talking to you. Nicholas Thompson as well. Thanks so much to both of you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

GARCIA: Thank you.

CHETRY: Right now we're going to take a quick break. It's 45 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Now, we'll take a quick break. It's 45 minutes past the hour.


HOLMES: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Let's fast forward through some of the stories we're tracking today.

At 9:15 a.m. Eastern time, President Obama heads off on an eight- day trip to Asia. His first stop is going to be in Japan that's followed by Singapore, China, South Korea, before departing from Andrews Air Force Base. The president will make a brief statement on the economy.

Also, can Wall Street stretch its winning streak to seven? The Dow opens this morning at 10,291 after gaining 44 points on Wednesday. Another new high for 2009 and the sixth straight day of market gains, the price of gold also in record territory.

Also, a sure sign of Christmas. A sure sign of Christmas is coming. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree arrives in New York City in just a few hours. The 76-foot Norway spruce was cut down yesterday at a farm in Eastern Connecticut. It will take several weeks to trim that towering tree. The traditional tree-lighting ceremony will be on December 2nd. I'm glad I made it to town for that.

CHETRY: Things are moving fast this year. Did you do all your shopping yet?

HOLMES: Actually, I got a lot done. It's all up here, actually.

CHETRY: Yes, you've made mental notes.

HOLMES: I know what I'm getting, but I haven't gotten the stuff. I love the tree. I always like to get up to New York for the holiday.

CHETRY: Do a little ice-skating; you wear your little red scarf.

HOLMES: Oh, you've seen me out there. Okay.

CHETRY: Yes. I've seen you out there by the tree.


CHETRY: It is a beautiful sight. Still ahead, we're also going to take you with Rob Marciano right now.

Rob, I know you love to come up here -- You and T.J. Ice skating in Rock Center. How cute.


ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Fire and ice baby. Fire and ice.

Exactly. I can just see the squirrels scurrying from that freshly cut down spruce, but it's kind of trademark at Rockefeller Center all for the spirit of Christmas.

Hey, guys I want to talk about this storm. It's a doozie across parts of the Carolinas and Virginia. This is part of what's left over from Ida and check out some of the video coming out of Virginia right now. We're talking about winds have been sustained 30, gusting to 40 for the past 12, 18 hours. Huge waves.

We're going to see a major coastal flooding with this particular storm, and we could see a storm surge that rivals hurricane Isabel back in 2003, so this is certainly nothing to be trifled with. This is part of what's left over with Ida. The low is actually just off the Carolina coastline, but the strong winds have already started, and they're going to be, I think, relentless here for the next 24 o 36 hours.

We'll see winds at least gusting to 40 if not 50 miles an hour, 60 in some spots. That will bring down some trees and power lines, but again, flooding not only inland. Flooding which we were seeing right now just from heavy rain falling, but the waves and the wind pushing that water inland and up the Chesapeake especially.

Some of the low tides won't be allowed to get low because that wind will continue to push it a little farther inland. Three to eight inches of rainfall possible with this storm as it slowly makes its way up the East Coast. You will be getting some rain across the New York City area as well, but I think most of the wind will stay down around Atlantic City which I'm sure T.J. has been to in one way, shape or another during his Christmas visits to the Northeast also.

HOLMES: It wasn't Christmas, but, yes, I've been.

CHETRY: Getting some of his shopping done.

HOLMES: Rob, I appreciate it, by the way.


CHETRY: This morning's top stories are just minutes away, including four options now on the table, but the President says he doesn't think any of them will work, so what's next in the fight for Afghanistan? Some answers ahead.

HOLMES: Plus, 4,000 is now the number. A 4,000 dead because of H1N1 flu. That number coming from the CDC. It's four times higher than the one we had yesterday. We'll explain this huge up tick.

CHETRY: And he's out of the Japanese jail but still without his children that he went there to get back. A CNN exclusive interview with the father at the middle of a custody battle stretching from Tennessee to Japan. Those stories and much more at the top of the hour.


CHETRY: Very dramatic. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. You know, last week is when we launched the new CNN challenge. It's a It's a website, and the game has proven to be a lot of fun.

HOLMES: You can test your knowledge. You compete against others and see how your news smarts stack up.

CHETRY: That's right, and it features a bunch of different hosts.

HOLMES: Oh, gee. Who is missing from this?


HOLMES: Who is missing here?

CHETRY: You were right here but then for some reason, the next round.

HOLMES: Yes, please.

CHETRY: Any who, you get to pick, let's say for the fun of it, we pick John Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I used to be a VJ. I have some sweet skills. Pick me as your host.

CHETRY: Is that -- did that sell you.

HOLMES: How was yours. No, let me see what you are talking.

CHETRY: I have an advantage. I'm on the air earlier than most of these other anchors, so I've been chugging Red Bull since 3:00 a.m. pick me.

I speak the truth here.

All right. Let's pick Anderson for the heck of it, why not? and let's go for it. Here's Anderson, our host. We hit begin, and this is how you do it at home on your computer as well, so we're going to try it out. T.J. you're going to answer the first question.

Who painted this artwork that sold recently at a Sotheby's auction for $14 million?

HOLMES: I'll go with Andre who is already highlighted over there.

CHETRY: And surprisingly, you are right.

HOLMES: Yes, pretty big surprise, all right.

Okay. I'm just learning this game actually along with you all. I haven't done this yet online.

What did a poll taken by the science museum in London, England name as the most important scientific invention?

CHETRY: Oh, goodness, goodness. I would say -- I'm going with the telegraph.

HOLMES: Okay. Oh, the x-ray machine.

All right. I'm not going to talk bad about you because I might miss this next one.


CHETRY: All right. This week marked the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. When was the wall constructed?

HOLMES: Oh. Now, this is the one I should know. Give me --

CHETRY: Were you listening in history class?

HOLMES: I'll go with 1963.

CHETRY: When it was constructed?

HOLMES: 1961.

CHETRY: You're only off by two years. It could take, you know, construction delays. You never know.

All right. Last one. Let's see if I get this right.

HOLMES: What country appealed for the release of three American hikers held by Iran on charges of espionage?

CHETRY: If I didn't get this I would be in trouble since we talked about it a whole lot. It's Switzerland, and there we go, so technically, we could go on to the next question, but I think we're moving on to the next round, but anyway, pretty fun. It's a cool game to play, and you can pick your favorite host. T.J. is coming in next time, and head to, and try it for yourself.

HOLMES: All right. Our top stories coming your way in 90 seconds. Stay with us.