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American Morning

Alleged Christmas Bomber's Contacts; U.S. Intel Vows Revenge

Aired January 01, 2010 - 08:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It's Friday, January 1st, 2010. I'm Joe Johns, in for John Roberts.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Randi Kaye, in for Kiran Chetry. Here are the big stories we'll tell you about in the next 15 minutes.

US intelligence taking a close look at communications between attempted bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and a radical Muslim cleric. CNN has learned the two had contact in the days leading up to the Christmas Day terror attempt. We will dig deeper with Jeanne Meserve.

JOHNS: Plus, new questions about a Saudi program aimed at rehabilitating terrorists, this after it's revealed that at least one of the men who went through this program may have possible ties to the bombing plot. Does the program really work?

KAYE: And welcome to 2010. Take a look. That is the scene in New York Times Square as hundreds of thousands rang in the New Year.

Coming up, we'll take a look at celebrations in other cities as well.

JOHNS: But first, the latest on the investigation into the plot to bomb for (ph) Northwest Flight 253. US intelligence officials are looking at the role of radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Investigators say he had direct communications with suspected bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the days leading up to the attempted terror attack.

Also, the State Department issuing new orders to U.S. embassies around the world under the directive from now on special cables to Washington about suspicious people must also include whether that person has a U.S. visa. And President Obama will meet next week with officials involved in the review of what went wrong. The president has ordered a review of intelligence and travel procedures aiming to protect against future terror attacks.

KAYE: First, to the suspected links between the alleged bomber and the radical cleric in Yemen. Investigators are now digging into contacts they say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had with that cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. He's the same man he was also in touched with the suspect in last month's fatal shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve. JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Randy and Joe, a U.S. counterterrorism official says there are indications there was direct contact between the alleged Detroit bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the radical Yemen-based imam, Anwar al-Awlaki. But officials are still evaluating if al-Awlaki had a direct role in the Detroit plot.

The official could not comment on the nature of the communications or contacts between the men, how frequent they were or when they occurred. Al-Awlaki exchanged e-mails with the accused Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan. Even before that attack, the imam was the focus of the intelligence gathering as his suspected role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula evolved from inspirational to operational. A former counterterrorism official says the connection to al-Awlaki makes it more surprising that the intelligence community didn't put the pieces of the Detroit plot together sooner.


FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It should have been done as part of the investigation of the Fort Hood shootings to assure themselves that they understood exactly what communications al Awlaki had with Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. In the course of that, I would have given increased scrutiny to al-Awlaki's communications and any indication in his communications of a threat to the U.S. for terrorism, given his background.


MESERVE: Since the attempt to bomb Northwest Flight 253, the intelligence community has learned that Abdulmutallab expressed an interest enjoining al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula at least several months ago. The official says he doesn't know what role he wanted to play, but the events of Christmas Day would appear to speak for themselves.

Randy and Joe, back to you.

JOHNS: U.S. intelligence officials are vowing to retaliate after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in Afghanistan that left seven CIA officers dead. Wednesday's target was a crucial CIA post described as a hub of activity.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has the latest.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned a father of three children was one of the Americans killed in Afghanistan. Harold Brown died in Wednesday's suicide bombing. Unlike their military counterparts, most CIA officers serve in the shadows, their names unknown to many Americans -- some analyze intelligence, others recruit Afghans to the American side. Now, seven are dead and six wounded and a U.S. intelligence official is promising revenge, quote, "This attack will be avenged through successful, aggressive, counter-terrorism operations." On Wednesday, a single suicide bomber got on to this American base in eastern Afghanistan. A U.S. official described it as a crucial base, where the CIA monitored the Pakistani border and conducted intelligence operations.

TOWNSEND: Even going back as far as 2004, Khost was a very active forward operating base because of its proximity to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

LAWRENCE: CNN contributor Fran Townsend visited the base as President Bush's homeland security adviser. She says it was targeted because it's not a military base.

TOWNSEND: I believe that this was a deliberate strategy on the part of the Taliban to push back on President Obama's strategy to increase the number of civilians and increased the civilian component.

LAWRENCE: President Obama recently announced a civilian surge to train more forces and improve living conditions in Afghanistan. Thursday, he wrote a letter to all CIA workers, honoring those who died and telling others, quote, "Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated."

(on camera): It's not only a personal loss for the officers' families, but the U.S. loses their expertise in that part of Afghanistan. And if this bomber was wearing an Afghan army uniform, investigators will have to determine whether it was stolen or even worse, whether this was an Afghan soldier secretly working for the Taliban.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.


KAYE: Other stories new this morning, Iran's opposition leader showing defiance. Mir Hossein Moussavi is calling for an end to the government crackdown. Moussavi is also saying he is willing to die for this cause. This comes amid the worse unrest the country has seen since the disputed presidential election in June.

JOHNS: More headaches for California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A judge ruling he abused his discretion and can't order state workers from three major unions to take furloughs. The ruling could affect some 50,000 state employees. This is a tough blow for Schwarzenegger as he grapples with the state budget crisis.

KAYE: Well, Joe and I were asleep, but at least half a million people braved the cold, the rain and the snow to welcome in 2010 in New York's Times Square. A ton of wet and flashy confetti was left over. But Broadway is looking pretty clear right now.

JOHNS: Well, the noise kind of woke me up though. There was quite a lot of rockin' up there.

KAYE: Oh, yes? Did you hear big count down? JOHNS: I heard something. It sounded like explosions.

KAYE: Really?

JOHNS: Yes. For a minute I thought that was an attack, but it was just fireworks or something. I don't know.

KAYE: Oh, my. A pretty bad dream or something.

Reynolds, did you stay up for the New Year?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, one of those weird things where you kind of set the alarm about 10 minutes before midnight and got up, poured a glass of bubbly, and my wife and I watched, you know, everything happened, and boom, right back to bed and voila, here, the magic of television to share the weather story of the day for you.

And I'll tell you, on this day, the big story is going to be the cold air and the rain that we're getting this morning in parts of the Sunshine State of Florida, from Gainesville southward, north of Cape Coral. On 75, it is a rain story.

But when you go up in the Northern Plains, it is all the cold air that continues to tumble in. Fourteen degrees below zero at this time for Fargo, 11 below zero in Bismarck. Same story, the bitter cold there in Duluth and back over towards Minneapolis with the high temperature in the Twin Cities, going up to six; 41 in New York; 65 in Tampa; and 70 in Los Angeles.

You know, we do have a lot of people that are going to be heading out to the airports traveling today. Coming up in just a bit, we're going to give you an idea of what you can expect weather-wise as you head out to the airport and try to make your way to see more loved ones or maybe just heading home. That's just moments away, guys.

JOHNS: All right.

KAYE: Hey, Reynolds, I want to ask you. Are you going with 2010 or 2010?

WOLF: You know, I probably going to 2010. Yes.

JOHNS: Well, you're in the minority buddy. There's a poll.

KAYE: You failed old buddy.


JOHNS: CNN does polls on everything. This was one says 70 percent of those persons surveyed said they would go with 2010 and something like 20 percent said they would go with 2010. So, you know, you're an outliner.

WOLF: I've been a weirdo forever. Trust me. It's all good.

KAYE: Eleven hundred people surveyed. But they didn't call your house, but yes, you're definitely in the minority there.

JOHNS: That's OK, maybe next millennium.

WOLF: Maybe so.

KAYE: Thanks, Reynolds.

Coming up: A look at the Saudi program designed to rehabilitate terrorists. Does it really work?



JOHNS: Taiwan. That is Taiwan. I'm sorry. It is a beautiful day in Taiwan and elsewhere. Look at all the fireworks all over the world, it's a new decade.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 10 minutes after the hour.

Here is a look at the stories new this morning.

KAYE: One of on this first day of the New Year, gay marriage becomes law in the state of New Hampshire. About 15 couples exchanged vows at midnight this morning at the statehouse in Concord. New Hampshire is the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriages.

JOHNS: Mike Tyson dodges a legal blow. He won't face charges for knocking down a paparazzo at LAX last month. Neither will the photographer who suffered a cut to the forehead in that scuffle.

KAYE: And in the last-minute move, federal authorities extended permission for hundreds of pilots to packed firearms on commercial airliners. At midnight last night, the pilots who had not undergone the required training program would have lost their certifications. But the Transportation Security Administration says certifications were extended for six months in light of the recent events.

JOHNS: The attempted bombing of Flight 253 is complicating President Obama's plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Lawmakers on both sides are calling on the administration to rethink its approach.

KAYE: Nearly half the remaining detainees in Guantanamo are from Yemen. And there's evidence that a Yemeni al Qaeda group planned last week's failed attack. Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Randi and Joe.

U.S. officials say at least one man released from Guantanamo Bay is being investigated for possible links to the airline plot. It's not clear at the moment whether he was directly linked to the incident. This draws attention not only to the release of prisoners from Guantanamo but also their treatment at another facility where many of them go afterwards.

(voice-over): Saeed Al-Shehri, he did hard time at Guantanamo Bay. Released in 2007, he's now being looked at for possible links to the failed bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253. That's according to U.S. officials who cautioned Shehri may not be linked directly to the Christmas Day incident. But he has touted himself as a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has claimed responsible for the airline attempt.

He's also been through the center the Muhammad bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Care, named Saudi Arabia's interior minister, it's a rehab center near Riyadh for captured militants who the Saudi government tries to turn around.

KEN BALLEN, TERROR FREE TOMORROW: They give them a full presentation on Islam. They give them art therapy. They give them psychological counseling. They give them money afterwards. They help them find a wife. They help them find a job.

TODD: Ken Ballen of the research group Terror Free Tomorrow has spent weeks at the center and interview several inmates, including some who he says knew Saeed al-Shehri.

To critics who say giving accused terrorists art therapy is a joke, Ballen and others experts respond -

FAWAZ GERGES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: I would argue that on the whole it has been relatively effective, relatively effective, vis- a-vis the politically radicalized activists, if not vis-a-vis the hardcore former al Qaeda members.

TODD: If those hardcore militants, expert say, who exposed the weakness of this rehab program, it can't turn everyone, and apparently did not turn Saeed al-Shehri.

(on camera): Did he con his way through the program?

BALLEN: He absolutely conned his way through the program.

Here you see, this is the religion class where people -- where the sheik here is teaching them how to be better Muslims and what's a good understanding of Islam. He sat through a classroom just like this and told them that he had reformed himself. He told the American authorities that bin Laden was a traitor to Islam.

All the while he was conning everybody. He told others he'd remained steadfast for al Qaeda. And as soon as he got out, he would join the jihad again against the United States.

TODD (voice-over): Saeed al-Shehri, according to Ballen and other experts represents about 10 percent of the more than 100 former Guantanamo detainees who have gone through the Saudi rehab program and are believed to have returned to the battlefield.

(on camera): That compares to overall recidivism figures for all Guantanamo detainees released by the Pentagon several months ago. That report said, about 14 percent of those released from Guantanamo are believed to have engaged in some kind of terrorism activity afterwards.

Randi and Joe, back to you.


KAYE: All right. Thank you, Brian.

If you are one of those people who are possibly looking to get financially fit in the New Year, a lot of people out there like that. Well, we're going to want to stick around, because we know getting out of debt can be nearly impossible.

Gerri Willis introduces us to one family who did it, and we'll show you how you can, too.


JOHNS: Not London, Ohio, for sure. London, England. That is New Year's Eve. Looks like quite a celebration as it was all over the world. Moving into this new decade, and looking forward to it.

KAYE: Happy New Year, everybody.

JOHNS: We think we have determined that it is going to be two thousand ten not twenty ten.

KAYE: That is what the poll says. Most people want it to be two thousand ten.

JOHNS: All right. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's what, 17 minutes after the hour.

KAYE: Yes, just about that. And that means we are "Minding Your Business". Here are some business headlines.

JOHNS: New fallout for Tiger Woods. AT&T is cutting ties with the golfer. No word on just how much money that is worth. AT&T is the second major sponsor to drop him. Accenture dropped Woods earlier this month.

KAYE: If you were toasting the New Year last month, you may want to double-check that you locked your car last night. You remember where you left your car? Turns out most cars are stolen or broken into on New Year's Day. That is according to the national insurance crime bureau.

JOHNS: A few months ago we met a family wiped out, a whopping $123,000 in debt, and today we are going back to find out how they coped with Christmas. Gerri Willis is here, she has their story, and that's a lot of dough.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: That is a lot of money. This family is fantastic. You know, getting into debt is not hard to do especially during the holiday season. But I paid a visit to one Wisconsin family that not only managed to dig themselves out of six figure debt in less than five years, they are still debt free.


WILLIS (voice-over): Lights, presents, debts, for some it's inevitable after the holiday season. But not for the Hildebrandt. The family we first met last October after they climbed out of a whopping $123,000 of debt.

KANDY HILDEBRANDT, STAYING DEBT-FREE: This beautiful little Victoria I got at a craft store. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on an after Christmas sale, I probably get 55-70 percent from her.

WILLIS: This year, the Hildebrandts survived the holiday shopping debt free. The kids still got stocking stuffers, but Kandy did not spend more than $30 on each. One top, thrift store shopping.

(on camera): How much do you pay for one of these turtlenecks?

HILDEBRANDT: The low price going now, it is about $299 to $399.

WILLIS (voice-over): Another way to keep costs down, focusing on family traditions, like baking cookies or singing Christmas carols at a local nursing home instead of expensive holiday entertainment. Just one year ago, Russel Hildebrandt was working a second job as a night janitor, sleeping in his car to save on gas money. Kandy stretched their dollar with cheap meals. Today, they are finishing the last of the hash browns that got them through the worst of it.

(on camera): The hash browns were part of your strategy for we were desperate, we were saving money.

HILDEBRANDT: Absolutely, this was pretty much a main stay. When there was not any extra money for groceries, we'd make hash browns, and we had it for breakfast, I'd make a side dish for dinner, as you see, soup, and - yes.

WILLIS: Any way you could.

HILDEBRANDT: Any way we could.

WILLIS (voice-over): It is a new age of thrift for the Hildebrandts, a strategy that will be front and center in the New Year.

RUSSEL HILDEBRANDT, STAYING DEBT-FREE: We are going to go over our year, the things that we want to get, and set up putting money away for certain things and staying debt free. That's our number one goal.

WILLIS: It took five years for the Hildebrandts to come out of their six-figure debt. But to hear them tell it, the real savings is more than dollars and cents.

HILDEBRANDT: You know, we found out you really could do without things. Our quality of life did not decrease, because life became more simple. You know, without all the clutter of the things that we get trapped with.


KAYE: All right. So, not everybody has debt like the Hildebrandts, but any level of credit card debt is a drag on family finances. Kandy's strategy for getting out of credit card debt is to pay off your lowest balance credit card first to get a sense of accomplishment, and then that can inspire you to pay all the other credit cards off.

JOHNS: So news you can use. Where do you get help?

WILLIS: All right. So, this family in particular, they used the national foundation for credit counseling. Now, these people hook you up with a counselor who can help you get lower rates on your credit cards. And that can be critical to paying off high-debt. Because without that kind of break, it's just really hard to make any impact on thousands and thousands of dollars of credit card debt.

JOHNS: Sure.

WILLIS: That shot of him pulling the blanket over himself in the car is really something. They are amazing.

KAYE: All right, Gerri. Thank you.

WILLIS: Happy New Year.

KAYE: Happy new year to you.

WILLIS: Thank you.

JOHNS: All right. Coming up, part three of Jason Carroll's series, "A Soldier's Story". It is 21 minutes after the hour.


JOHNS: It's 24 minutes after the hour. That means it's time for an "A.M." original, something you will only see on AMERICAN MORNING.

KAYE: You saw him enlist, well now the real fun begins. Our Jason Carroll followed Private Will McClain, he might not agree with that, but that's the real fun. But he followed Will McClain through the first few weeks of army boot camp.

JOHNS: Now, he witnessed a young man sweat and bleed and become a soldier with a cause bigger than his own. It's part of a special series you will see yearlong here on AMERICAN MORNING, "A Soldier's Story."

KAYE: And Jason's here now with part three.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was having fun. I wonder if he would put it that way? Let's see. No! There are some fun parts too, but we will not show you any of those. You know, the drill sergeants who are out there, they have a really serious job. What they have got to do is they have to turn untrained and in some cases undisciplined men and women into soldiers, and they have just nine weeks to get it all done.


CARROLL (voice-over): It's week three of basic training for Will McClain. McClain and 193 new recruits have entered what is called the Red Stage. The emphasis? Physical training, P.T.

That was like one and a half miles, are you seriously coughing and crap.

CARROLL: The voice always egging them on. Drill Sergeant, Joseph Rix.

DRILL SGT. JOSEPH RIX, U.S. ARMY: Just trying to get them ready when they get to the first unit if they have to deploy. They have a little bit of a head start, more than what we did when we went through basic training.

CARROLL: On this day, after a quarter mile run, McClain has time for a quick break. While outside --

You did a total of 25 pushups. Get up.

CARROLL: A private who cannot make it, gets no coddling.

Hurry up!

Here we go again. Get outside and get him in here. Move.

CARROLL: McClain and the others finally drag him to a bunk and he recovers. Later, more would stumble.

You better get it.

CARROLL: Carrying 40 pound duffle bags.

Now put your pistol belt back on.

CARROLL: This time, it's McClain's turn on the ground.

CARROLL (on camera): I know he was in your ear whispering some words of encouragement, shall we say?

WILL MCCLAIN, U.S. ARMY RECRUIT: We can go with that. You can't take it personally. No, they are just trying to make you a better person, a better soldier.

CARROLL (voice-over): Then a crucial test of whether their training has paid off. Their masks must come off while this chamber fills with tear-gas.

One, two, three.

CARROLL (on camera): He is going to have to come back and do it again, right?

DRILL SGT. BASHIR ANTHONY, U.S. ARMY: Yes, he will have to go back and do it again.

CARROLL (voice-over): McClain and the others tough it out. 30 painful seconds.

CARROLL (on camera): It must have felt like an eternity inside?

MCCLAIN: I thought at least like five minutes, at least. You are just standing there like, okay, open the door, open the door, open the door!

CARROLL (voice-over): It's a boost of confidence for McClain who met another goal since we last saw him, losing weight. Ten pounds in just three weeks.

MCCLAIN: I will have to go get some new pair of pants before the end of this.

CARROLL: McClain also finds he is good at hand to hand combat, winning two matches. His battle buddy, all army recruits are assigned one, Demitri Daniels, cheers him along.

CARROLL (on camera): So how do you two balance each other out?

MCCLAIN: Well, he is fast and does all the PT thing.

DEMETRIUS DANIELS, BATTLE BUDDY: He is a smart guy. He helps me -- sometimes I am overwhelmed with helping other people on the team.

CARROLL: Their training is also about teamwork, so when one private dozes off during weapon's training, everyone pays the price. Punishments, what drill sergeants call corrective training.

Privates if you have not realized, I have nothing but time. Get off the ground.

CARROLL: This lesson on teamwork, McClain just beginning to learn.

MCCLAIN: You know, I try to be independent and I do a lot on my own. But going through boot camp you can't be like that man. It really teaches you teamwork and then you really have to look deep inside yourself and realize this is what you want to do.


CARROLL: Despite all the struggling that you see going on out there, none of the recruits from Will's company has dropped out so far. On average, the Army tells us just about 7 percent of all recruits dropped out of basic training this past year. So, they are all sticking it out, and you can see how tough it is.

KAYE: That is pretty tough stuff. Any idea of where he is going? 30,000 troops heading to Afghanistan? Any word on that? CARROLL: Well, what we are hearing is that in all likelihood he will be deployed. In terms of exactly where and when unsure yet. He still has to finish the process of basic training, nine weeks of basic, and then just a few weeks of specialized training. He wants to be a combat engineer, so he has to go through a few weeks of training for that first.

JOHNS: Is it typical to go this far without having a dropout?

CARROLL: Well, it depends. It depends on the person really, it depends on the soldier who is going through the process. How tough they are physically. How tough they are mentally. It's just as much mental as it is physical.

KAYE: Yes, we can see that for sure. All right. Jason, thanks so much.

CARROLL: All right.

JOHNS: Thanks, Jason.


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Is it typical to go this far without having a dropout?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends. It depends on the person, really. It depends upon the soldier who is going through the process. How tough they are physically? How tough they are mentally? It's just as much mental as it is physical.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We can see that for sure.

All right, Jason, thanks so much.

CARROLL: All right.

JOHNS: Thanks, Jason.

And a time for a look at this morning's top stories.

There are indications this morning that the so called Christmas bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab had direct contact with a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen. That same cleric's name has come up in connection with the deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

KAYE: North Korea says they want peace with the U.S. An editorial published in state-run media says its goal is to establish a lasting peace system on the Korean peninsula, and make it nuclear free. But there have been few actions to back it up lately. North Korea says it has refused to return to six-party talks insisting that it wants to talk directly with the U.S. government.

JOHNS: Millions of football fans won't be gameless today. Fox's parent company News Corp has decided not to pull the plug on its programming despite an ongoing fallout with Time Warner Cable. Their contract expired at midnight last night. News Corp is demanding the cable operator to pay more for its programming. Time Warner is not part of our parent company having been spun off just last year.

KAYE: Right now, millions of air travelers on the move must deal with the confusion of new and very frustrating rules. But as our Paula Hancocks tells us, one of the world's safest airlines is relying on its people and profiling to keep the skies safe. And it's not at all worried about being PC.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's considered one of the safest airports in the world -- Israel's Ben Gurion has much of the latest technology and sophisticated machinery. American security officials came to visit a few years ago to watch and learn.

But in Israel, there is also a human element. Almost every passenger is questioned, sometimes by more than one security officer, some are strip searched. And no matter how distasteful it may be to civil liberties groups, Israel actively profiles passengers and makes no apology for it.

NERI YARKONI, AVIATION EXPERT: Good profiling is distinction. It's not discrimination. And I think that you should profile. If you don't profile, you waste -- you waste time, you waste money and you might miss what you're looking for because you're certaining it on the wrong people.

HANCOCKS: Yarkoni says profiling needs to be based not simply on ethnicity, but also on behavior, intelligence gathering and statistics.

YARKONI: The concept, as I see, is that you should impose 90 percent of the -- the efforts toward, let's say, 10 percent of the public.

HANCOCKS: But what if you find yourself on the wrong side of profiling?

Palestinian human rights lawyer Muhammad Dalleh deals with many cases of what he calls discrimination of Arabs at the airport, saying he himself has been a victim.

MUHAMMAD DALLEH, PALESTINIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: We are talking about 1.2 million Palestinians who are citizens of the State of Israel. They cannot be treated as a security threat. The whole community -- more than one million citizens up front to be treated as suspects.

HANCOCKS (on camera): Israel knows it has many enemies that it has to protect itself from, so inconveniencing passengers comes with the territory. Up until today, no airplane that has left this airport has ever been hijacked. And Israel's national carrier, El Al, is probably one of the safest -- if not the safest -- in the world.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Ben Gurion Airport.


JOHNS: Well, coming up, we're going to have a New Year's Day favorite. Jack Hanna from the Columbus Zoo. And look at that, they have some kind of a creature --

KAYE: This is our favorite part of the show.

JOHNS: Yes, trying to figure out what they are from a distance.

KAYE: Oh, look, he is saying good morning.

JOHNS: Look at that hand. That thing is amazing.

KAYE: Good morning and Happy New Year, check it out.

JOHNS: Yes. He is waving, isn't he?

KAYE: He or she, I guess. I don't know.

JOHNS: I can't -- what is it a raccoon? Well, maybe they will tell us in just a couple of few minutes?

KAYE: Yes, we'll find out.


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

It's certainly a New Year's Day tradition, the tournament of the Roses Parade.

KAYE: And riding in his familiar spot, on board the Rain Birds float, Jack Hanna, from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

He joins us live this morning along the parade, route with his fellow float rider, Walter Crawford of the World Bird Sanctuary.

Jack, Happy New Year. Great to have you with us.

JACK HANNA, RAIN BIRDS FLOAT RIDER: It's good to be here. Happy New Year to you all.

KAYE: Hey, Jack, you've been riding on the Rain Bird float every year since 1999. Every year there is a theme. This year it's the Mountain Top Majesty.

Can you tell us about the float?

HANNA: Well, the float is phenomenal this year. It really is. It's the mountain gorillas have a home in Rwanda, right near the mountain gorillas. So I spent a lot of time with them. And they're always -- 600 left in the world of Rwanda. It began in that part of the world. And they are phenomenal creature. They have a long hair. And Rain Bird did a tremendous job in representing the mountain gorillas. We got seven hanging in trees, moving. Five waterfalls, 1500 gallons of water, 30,000 roses. And all the tropical settings, it's exactly what it looks like where those mountain gorillas live.

So Rain Bird, they've done a great, great service to help preserve the mountain gorilla for all these millions of people watching the Rose Bowl Parade.

JOHNS: So jack, let's get to the creatures. I see, you have --

HANNA: Yes, yes, because right now I'm holding a hedgehog, which is putting holes in my hand right now. This little hedgehog is amazing.

JOHNS: It looks like it's fun.

HANNA: Yes, it does. With the hedgehog, African and European hedgehogs, and you see that little faces, they are stuck in there right now. And there's never been a poisonous snake that can hurt this animal. And the reason is you can see that, those things really hurt. So therefore, it's killing my hand right now. But that's OK. I can talk all day about it.

Over here --

KAYE: That's how they protect themselves.

HANNA: Exactly. They protect themselves that day.

And this is a bateleur eagle that Walter has, in World Bird Sanctuary. It's probably one of the most phenomenal eagles in the world. It actually -- the Bateleur eagle can actually roll, it's amazing, in the sky. It rolls like this even when it is hunting. Looks like just a ball falling out of a plane or something.


JOHNS: Wow, it looks that neck --


HANNA: And when this thing spreads its wings as Walter note --

JOHNS: (INAUDIBLE), is on a big hinge.

HANNA: Right, on a hinge. But it looks like a stealth bomber, when you've seen our stealth bomber. When this bird flies, you would not believe how it does duplicate a stealth bomber. And they are beautiful.

That beak is used for tearing meat, obviously. And those talons are glove on because they're going to go right through his skin and right through the bone if he didn't have that glove on there.

KAYE: Wow, amazing. HANNA: That's a Bateleur eagle.

JOHNS: Yes, and that's quite a talon.

HANNA: And over here -- over here, people know that this is a lemur, obviously, that Melanie has.

JOHNS: I didn't know that.

HANNA: So this lemur is what -- yes, I heard you say it was a raccoon, but it's a lemur.

JOHNS: Sorry. That face is kind of scary.


KAYE: What's unique about the lemur?

HANNA: Well, the lemur is what we call a prosimian, which means pre-monkey and pre-ape. Can you imagine this animal is on the planet before the monkeys, gorillas and the chimps. Prosimian, it's called.

Look at their little hands. Let us see the hands. It's just like your hand exactly.

Look at that little thing.

KAYE: Wow.

HANNA: It's amazing. They are in families of 50 to 100. And there's only about 24 species of lemur left in Madagascar off the coast of east Africa, the island there. They used to be about 70.

JOHNS: Ouch.

HANNA: It likes to lick your nose. I'm sorry about that.


KAYE: They seem very gentle.

HANNA: Yes. They are unique creatures. They sure are.

And what we have over here is a beautiful fennec fox. This is a smallest fox in the world.


HANNA: And this animal is a mammal that can go its entire lifetime without ever drinking water. Can you imagine that? Because in the Sahara desert, in northern Africa, where they live, this animal eats like little lizards and scorpions -- believe it or not -- and snakes, and those kind of things. So the water it gets are from those creatures that they eat.

(CROSSTALK) KAYE: I knew you'd say that --

HANNA: So that's what Melissa has --

KAYE: That's a small fox, but those ears are something.


KAYE: They are pretty big.

HANNA: Yes, they're big. For not just hearing, but remember something, elephants have big ears with blood vessels in those ears to keep the animal cool. This animal is same thing in the dessert. Without those big ears -- that's how it keeps itself cool in the desert with those big ears, all those blood vessels.

JOHNS: So my question now is, why is the lemur chewing on the lady's nose?

HANNA: Lemurs show emotion in many ways. Like, they groom each other, they lick noses like -- oh, lord.

JOHNS: There you go. I don't get it.

HANNA: I don't know how early it is where you are, but I just can't get my nose lick this early in the morning.

KAYE: You don't need to bring a Kleenex for that one.

JOHNS: Yes, I know. Exactly.

And the other thing is -- and I see Walter over there has gloves on to handle the eagle, but you are not wearing gloves to handle the creature that you have in your hand.

I mean, don't they both hurt?

HANNA: Well, that was stupid. I had a friend of mine that needed gloves this morning. His hands were freezing, so I gave him my gloves, and took the bullet by holding my nice little thing here. It's going to have holes in my hands when I get done.

KAYE: And they're going to be in the float with you today?

HANNA: Yes. Walter will be on the float with me riding that in his arms. You can imagine carrying that animal for three hours in his arm. It weighs about six pounds now, but it weighs about 80 pounds when he's done with the float.

JOHNS: That's tough.

HANNA: He has the hardest job. But you know something, about nine years ago, I had an orangutan with me. And the orangutan had diarrhea. And I had to go the whole float with the orangutan hitting me roses. It was the longest ride I ever had.

KAYE: Oh boy.

JOHNS: Fantastic. Well, this is a big day. This is a big day for the buckeyes out there, too. The first time Ohio State from Columbus, Ohio has been on the Rose Bowl since the 1990s.


HANNA: Right down from Columbus.

JOHNS: So we're looking forward to see what happens all day in Pasadena today. And thanks so much for coming in and talking to us early this morning.

KAYE: Thank you. Happy New Year to all of you.

HANNA: Well, I thank Rain Bird for helping the mountain gorilla. Thank you.

JOHNS: All right, you bet.

KAYE: I like that lemur.

JOHNS: Yes, that lemur is something else.

KAYE: I don't know if I want him nibbling on my nose, but I like him. It's very cute.

JOHNS: All right, still ahead, Dr. Sanjay Gupta with some pretty amazing technology that's giving sight back to the blind.




RANDI KAYE, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Reynolds Wolf, standing by. Do you know what a lemur is?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm sorry. Hold on one second. Let me see if I can hear you again. I got some New Year's in my ears. Say it again?

KAYE: We were talking about lemurs on that last segment. You know, that little animal that Joe thought was a raccoon?

JOE JOHNS, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: It looked like a raccoon. What could I say?

WOLF: Well, guys, I'm from Alabama. Anything that resembles a raccoon looks best with sweet potatoes in the oven (INAUDIBLE).


WOLF: I'm allowed to say it. Come on. I am an Alabamian. Meanwhile, parts of the Deep South are going to be experiencing a big chill today but even colder temperatures in parts of say the Northern Plains. More on that in a moment.

Right now it's going to be a rude awakening for people in parts of the I-4 corridor in Orlando. They're heading out to start New Year's by heading out into the area -- parts are going to get some scattered showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Nothing severe is expected though.

But the cold weather you're going to have in the Northern Plains is going to be extremely severe. We're talking single digits some places, it's sub-zero in a few spots namely up in the Dakotas, Fargo, go over to Bismarck, same deal.

Some spots up to 14 below outside of Fargo Pier (ph), (INAUDIBLE); 1 degree the high in Minneapolis, 1 in Duluth, 2 below. These same highs are going to be better but not really a whole lot. We're not going to see a huge improvement in Minneapolis 6 degrees is the expected high; 42 in Denver, the mile high city; Las Vegas, 56 along the Strip; Houston with 58 and Tampa and Miami mainly into the 60s and 70s.

Now, what we are going to be seeing in terms of travel could be kind of dicey in a few places. Low clouds may keep you waiting in all your airports in New York; same deal with your D.C. Metros; Philly and Boston, same story. In Atlanta, the problem is going to be some low clouds that may develop.

And with those sticking (ph) you might have anywhere from say 15 to 30 minutes in terms of a delay.

San Francisco and Seattle, low clouds coupled with the rain and even some strong wind gusts could give you some issues in parts of the coast along the West Coast. But up in the high elevations, the Cascades and into, of course, the Sierra Nevada snow could be a problem.

That's the latest we have on the forecast. More updates throughout the morning. Let's kick it back to you guys.

KAYE: All right, Reynolds. I am still stuck on what you started with. Let's move on.

WOLF: Hey guys. Come on. It's a regional thing. What can I tell you?

JOHNS: No, I get it. I get it. I come from Ohio, there are similar sentiments.

WOLF: A little bit of a difference. There you go.

Happy New Year.

KAYE: Yes, we'll leave it there. You never know what the New Year will bring. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a look at some new technology: a bionic eye that is helping the blind to see.


KAYE: Hundreds of thousands of people lost the ability to see from diseases that attack the retina, like diabetes. Now scientists say they have brought back some vision in people with retinal damage. One team did it using electronics, a bionic eye, if you will.

So we are paging Dr. Gupta. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows us how the new technology works.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Barbara Campbell's vision began to dim when she was just 13. The first hint? It came at school.

BARBARA CAMPBELL, GOT EYE IMPLANT TO RESTORE SIGHT: The teacher called my parents in and said she's not just seeing stuff on the page.

GUPTA: Years later, it got much worse.

CAMPBELL: There was like an open manhole that I was about to go into, so that was really very scary. That was a huge wake up call.

GUPTA: Then one day Campbell's vision was gone.

CAMPBELL: Everything kind of looks like a gray, foggy haze.

GUPTA: (INAUDIBLE) on Campbell's retina that detect light had deteriorated. Until 5 months ago when she began seeing blinks of light using what some are calling a bionic eye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an artificial device that essentially simulates the retina electronically.

GUPTA: First, an operation to implant a tiny computer chip directly into the eye.

Here's were Campbell's story starts to sound like science fiction.

Take a look at this animation over here. They have a especially outfitted pair of sunglasses here. Looking at a standard eye chart, that letter e is registered by the camera. That's the first step. After that the camera sends a signal wirelessly to the back of Campbell's retina -- to the back of her eye, again transmitting the information of that letter e.

Here's what gets even more interesting. That e then subsequently goes from the back of Campbell's eye all the way to the back of the brain to a part of the brain that is actually responsible for sight. So you have a camera, a microchip in all of Campbell's brain allowing her to see once again.

CAMPBELL: Now I can see that the lights are on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But for patients that have really had no vision for years and years, these are really major, major milestones for them.

ARIES ARDITI, LIGHTHOUSE INTERNATIONAL: We can now take someone who's totally blind and turn them into someone with very, very poor vision. That's really the first time in history that we have been able to do that.

GUPTA: Doctors caution that retraining Campbell's eye and brain to see could take years. Her vision is in black and white; it's never going to be perfect. Still, Campbell has dreams.

CAMPBELL: I am not sure it will happen, but seeing colors, that's my number one thing. If I could see colors again, my plan was to go to the Grand Canyon.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN reporting.


KAYE: Amazing stuff.

JOHNS: That is totally amazing.

Ever wonder what news anchors do during commercial breaks. Jeanne Moos takes us behind the scenes, next.

It is 52 minutes after the hour.


JOHNS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 54 minutes after the hour. That means it's time for "The Moost News in the Morning".

KAYE: There is a reason that we're sometimes called talking heads, because when the rest of us moves, it is trouble, what you are about to see.

JOHNS: One anchor duo is breaking the mold, going off the script in between breaks. Jeanne Moos has some must-see TV that never made air.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you think listening to the news is depressing, imagine delivering it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three patrons were stabbed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An undercover drug operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The toxic dirt ordinance.

MOOS: Give us a break, a commercial break. There is a name for this.

ROBERT JORDAN, WGN NEWS ANCHOR: What anchors do during commercial breaks.

MOOS: Maybe not all anchors. At WGN in Chicago, the weekend anchors do this in the first commercial break of every show, and it started a decade or so.

JACKIE BANGE, WGN NEWS ANCHOR: We were so tickled to hear our names, we went ahhh.

JORDAN: Then we started pointing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're watching WGN News at 9 with Jackie Bange, Bob Jordan.

MOOS: This used to be something only the crew got to see, but then it landed on YouTube. They have between two and two and a half minutes until the commercial break ends.

BANGE: One minute.

JORDAN: Getting close.

MOOS: Moves range from...

JORDAN: Remember the John Travolta?

BANGE: Yes, you made that.

MOOS: To the Dick Cheney.

Hold it, that was the famous drawing move based on a national incident when Robert got caught on camera when he thought he was off camera.

JORDAN: I see the fly and started reaching for it.

MOOS: Sure, there have been dancing weather men on YouTube, even dancing Iraqi anchor men, and one of WGN's own reporters could not keep still.

But this takes choreography.

JORDAN: She would try to go with me and poke my eyes out.

MOOS: Borrowed from the Three Stooges.

But don't call these two stooges.

JORDAN: I try to add moves, she won't let me have new moves.

BANGE: Ask him what his move was, please. JORDAN: I want to do the chest bump.

MOOS: So next commercial when you take a bathroom break, remember these two breaking into their routine, working it right down to the last second.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten seconds. Coming up to a voice over.

JORDAN: We made it.

MOOS: Back to the world of mayhem and destruction.


MOOS: Two anchors who are not quite anchored to their desk.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


KAYE: Give us your best move. Come on.

JOHNS: I was thinking you would go first.

KAYE: No, I thought we had a deal. You. It's all you. You guys want to see him move.

JOHNS: I am not coordinated enough.

KAYE: Yes.

JOHNS: "CNN NEWSROOM" is coming up at the top of the hour, but first it takes a lot to get the show on the air, with or without the moves.

KAYE: Yes, it sure does. So we, of course, would like to take just a minute to thank all of those who are behind the scenes working hard, very hard, to put AMERICAN MORNING together every day.

JOHNS: That does it for us today. So on behalf of John and Kiran, thanks to everyone. Happy New Year.

KAYE: Happy New Year.

JOHNS: Happy New Decade.

KAYE: Yes.