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Mitt Romney Now Leading in Iowa Polls; Rick Santorum Surging in Iowa; Times Square Prepares for New Year's Celebration; America's New Poor; Romney Hunkering Down In Iowa; North Korea Lashes Out At South Korea; New Year's Eve Preparations; Source: Al Qaeda Recruiting Jihadists In Libya; Sinkhole Threatens History Cemetery; "Occupy Twitter"; China Planning Mission To The Moon; SUV Plows Into Five Cars In Rampage; Muslim Leaders Snub NYC Mayor; NYPD Prepares for New Year's Eve
Aired December 30, 2011 - 06:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Mitt Romney hunkering down for the home stretch in Iowa four days to go before caucus day. With Ron Paul close and Rick Santorum surging, the Hawkeye State is still up for grabs, and brand new poll numbers are coming out right now.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Al Qaeda looking for a foothold in Libya. They just sent one of their top jihadists there in an attempt to build a fighting force. A CNN special report coming up just ahead.
CHO: Muslim leaders snubbing the NYPD and the New Year's tradition for allegedly spying on them after the 9/11 attack. We'll hear from both sides, including New York's top cop, Ray Kelly.
FEYERICK: And they're checking the lights, they're testing the confetti. Times Square bracing for one million visitors tomorrow night. We're taking you behind the scenes of the biggest New Year's Eve bash in the world, we like to think, on this AMERICAN MORNING.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: Good morning. It's Friday, December 30, the eve of New Year's Eve. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Alina Cho along with Deb Feyerick. So glad you're with us.
FEYERICK: Up first this morning, Mitt Romney hunkering down in Iowa trying to close the deal. The former Massachusetts governor is the front-runner right now, a few points ahead of Ron Paul. With four days to go before the caucuses, Romney is tweaking his schedule, planning to spend a lot more time in Iowa over the next 96 hours after a quick visit to New Hampshire, telling voters this election is about saving the soul of America and that he's the man for the job.
CNN politics editor Paul Steinhauser live from Des Moines, Iowa this morning. Paul, I understand you have some brand new poll numbers just out?
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes. This is just a couple minutes ago. Deb, let's look at them immediately. This is of likely caucus-goers right here in Iowa, from NBC Marist, and look at the top. There's Massachusetts Governor Romney at 23 percent, Ron Paul at 21 percent, the congressman from Texas. That's basically a dead heat when you take into account the sample here. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, 15 percent, followed one point back by Texas governor Rick Perry at 14 percent. There's Newt Gingrich at 13 percent, the former House speaker, and Michele Bachmann down in single digits. She is of course the congresswoman from neighbors Minnesota.
Does that poll look familiar? Looks almost exactly like that CNN/TIME/ORC poll we put out. So I guess this is further proof Newt Gingrich's numbers are collapsing in Iowa and Rick Santorum is rising and right now Romney and Paul tied for the top spot four days to go until caucuses here, Deb.
FEYERICK: It's interesting. We're seeing a more confident Mitt Romney. He's kind of lukewarm for voters. Now he seems to be turning up the flame. He's even going to campaign today with Chris Christie.
STEINHAUSER: Yes, Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, who a lot of people wanted himself to run for the White House, is going to be joining Romney. Of course, Christie a big surrogate for Romney. Romney goes to New Hampshire, you mentioned, for about that 24 hour, not even and comes right back here. Romney will even be here caucus night. Another sign he's getting more confident. Publicly, he still remains modest. Take a listen to what he said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sure, I want to win Iowa. Everybody wants to win Iowa. I'm not going to predict who's going to win. I think it's too difficult to know who's going to show up at the caucuses, but I want to get the support of the people of Iowa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEINHAUSER: Publicly why does he remain so modest? Four years ago, spent a lot of money, didn't win here or in Iowa, didn't win in New Hampshire, and that was the end of it. He does not want a repeat performance this time around.
FEYERICK: Better to err on the side of caution. And obviously now his strategy is that he's positioning himself as the man who can beat Obama. Paul Steinhauser thanks so much. We'll see you a little later on.
CHO: And 96 hour, it's not a lot of time to swing an election, unless, of course, you're talking about Iowa, where more than half the voters haven't even made up their minds yet. So what's it going to take to seal the deal in the Hawkeye state? We want to ask CNN contributor Will Cain, a columnist with "The Blaze," and live from Washington, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. Good morning to you both. So Will, one of the big headlines, as you heard Paul Steinhauser just say, is Romney is really pounding the pavement in Iowa in the final days. He's going to be there on caucus night, the morning after. And today he's campaigning with a darling of the Republican Party, Chris Christie.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
CHO: What do you make of that?
CAIN: I think Romney senses he actually has a chance to win Iowa. I don't think Iowa's been all that important to Romney leading up to this moment. He knew he could go in and win New Hampshire.
CHO: But it's great for momentum.
CAIN: That's a good point. Let's explain what's at stake in Iowa. This year, political insider talk, sounds like. We have proportional delegates. You win Iowa, don't win the whole state. There are 25 delegates at stake in Iowa. If you win 30 percent, you win 15, 20 delegates. He's in to pick up a few delegates, more important, momentum. A sense of inevitability you're going to be the guy.
CHO: Jim Acosta is there on the trail saying the crowds are getting bigger and Romney really is sensing -- nothing like being at the top of the polls to energize a candidate, right?
CAIN: That's right. I talked how many delegates you actually win, votes in Iowa. How many you need to win in a GOP nomination, 1,100. So winning Iowa actually isn't a massive step towards winning the nomination except for gaining that momentum we talked about to send a message and make people like you and me talk about him.
CHO: Maria, I want to get to you, because there was another high-level defection in the Bachmann campaign. First the Iowa state chair the day before, just yesterday the political director. What's going on with Bachmann?
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think what's going on with Bachmann is more of a reflection of how volatile this whole process has been. Let's not forget that this is the woman who actually won the Iowa straw poll a few short months ago back in August.
But what it really demonstrates is the tension among Republicans, especially among the most conservative social and evangelical GOP voters, who really are struggling between a candidate who can really be their standard bearer, and at the beginning of the process that was Michele Bachmann, and then somebody who they believe might have the capacity to beat president Obama. Clearly, what they're saying is Bachmann is not that candidate.
CHO: What's interesting, though, at least in the Iowa state chair's case that person went over to Ron Paul, not somebody like rick Santorum. You know? It's an interesting -- anyway, I mean, try to -- CARDONA: No, you're absolutely right. What that demonstrates, Alina, is yet another tension among the Republican Party, which is who is that anybody-but-Romney candidate? Let's not forget, Romney is still somebody who the GOP voters don't absolutely love, and don't trust. So who is that anybody-but-Romney candidate?
CHO: Let's talk about that anybody-but-Romney candidate, Will Cain. Rick Santorum third in the polls. When that came out in the CNN poll a couple of days ago that was a surprise to a lot of people, despite the fact he has a very strong ground game in Iowa. You know, the big question that I have, of course, going forward is, could he pull off a Huckabee in 2012? Do you think he could win Iowa? And is it a one-time surge or is this a real surge?
CAIN: It might be the perfect example. Could you pull off a Huckabee? Which means do you win Iowa and not much else beyond Iowa? That's absolutely possible. Could he be a dark horse to win Iowa? On paper, yes, he perfectly fits the Iowa electorate. He puts family values, social issues, social conservatism at the top of his list. That's very important to Republican Iowans.
The question is, what happens after that, the question. "The Wall Street Journal" had a great headline the other day, "As Iowa goes, so goes Iowa."
CAIN: How important would it be, should Santorum win Iowa? He's already put money in New Hampshire but is polling near the bottom. So what happens after Iowa?
CHO: That's Romney's backyard, of course. Maria, it would not be a political segment without asking about Newt Gingrich. A stunning drop in the polls, just since the begins of the month, a drop in 19 points from 33 percent to 14 percent. Let's listen to him lowering expectations. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you come in fourth will you stay in the race?
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there are more than three tickets out of Iowa?
GINGRICH: Sure. Depends on what happens. Depend what the margins are. Considering I'm 20 ahead in other states, it would be fairly foolish not to stay in the race. It's a long way from here to picking a nominee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: All right, Maria, what do you think about that? CARDONA: I think, again, it's a huge change from a few short few weeks ago talking about looking at the number, it would be difficult not to consider him the nominee. So that, again, is a reflection of how volatile this race has been.
But I think also for Gingrich, he has been clearly the focus of tremendous, tremendous pile-on of negative advertising. But he also in true Gingrich fashion has been his own worst enemy as we have seen the old Newt really rise and say things and talk about things that are just adding to his implosion. And I think that has been the fear of the Republican establishment, if he ends up being the anybody-but- Romney candidate, that he will actually be his own worst enemy and completely implode if he ends up being the nominee.
CHO: As we reminded viewers, he likes to keep his campaign positive. But the reality is he doesn't have the money to launch those negative ads, and he is going to head into debt in 2012. We'll see how that plays out.
Maria Cardona, Will Cain thank you so much.
CARDONA: Thank you very much.
CHO: Keep it here on CNN for the best political coverage on TV. This Sunday night, January 1, Join Anderson Cooper for "Countdown to Iowa, The Final 48 Hours." Anderson will take a close look what each candidate is doing to win the last-minute support Sunday at 8:00 eastern on CNN.
And this Tuesday night the country's first real votes, the candidates first true tests, special live "America's Choice 2012." Coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins 7:00 p.m. eastern only on CNN.
FEYERICK: New this morning -- North Korea threatening revenge against South Korea. North says it is insulted that more South Koreans did not attend the funeral of leader Kim Jong-il. South Korean did allow some citizens to attend, but it did not send an official delegation. North Korea responding with a very harsh message threatening to, quote, "smash puppet forces" in the south.
A fight over money holding things up again at ground zero. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg now saying there is no chance that the September 11th museum will open as planned on the 11th anniversary of the attacks. It's all over a dispute over money between the port authority and Museum Foundation, whose chairman, by the way, a Michael Bloomberg. Question, who should pay $300 million in cost overruns?
CHO: They're testing lights, setting up barricades and shining up the New Year's Eve ball. New York City is bustling with preparations for tomorrow's big bash in Times Square. And one million people will cram into the crossroads of the world and more than one billion others will tune in to watch the traditional ball drop.
I want to go to Susan Candiotti live in Times Square with look at security and prep. What's going on, Susan? SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'll give you an early flavor. There you go. Oh -- well, it blew well. Didn't it? There's confetti for you. There's action even at this early hour. The streets are clear at this time, but 24 hours from now, forget it. They're going to start to pile in here. The barricades will go up. People will be penned in. You won't be able to go out. You won't be allowed to bring in alcohol or backpacks, and there will be tight security.
But they're getting ready to drop that beautiful crystal ball made of Waterford crystals at the stroke of midnight. You see the stages over there where Anderson Cooper will be broadcasting with Kathy Griffin. So they're getting ready for that as well. It's an experience the organizers say is not to be missed even in person, or on television. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM TOMPKINS, PRESIDENT OF TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE: Part of it, you know, you see it for years and people just want to be there in this internet age where everything you're kind of seeing on a screen, there is something intense about just being there with the spirit of the crowd, and, you know, a little bit of narcissism. You know one billion people are watching, so if you get in a hand wave to mom, that goes a long way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Of course, security is critical here and the New York police department has been hard at work making preparations. There are no current active terrorist threats right now that they are reporting. However, authorities say they are always on guard. After all, they said they have been able to prevent and break up 14 terrorist plots in the last ten years, and they're ready with 16 checkpoints, metal detectors, they've got at least 500 cameras around this immediate area, and, of course, security officers and police, the federal authorities as well will be covering the New York metropolitan area.
I talked with Commissioner Ray Kelly about being on guard against people who might be even out to take retribution after the death of Osama bin Laden this year. They always have to guard against even lone wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: The lone wolf threat is something that certainly all of law enforcement, all of the federal agencies involved in this sort of work are very much concerned about. It's very difficult to identify these people. It's a big haystack and trying to pick out a couple of needles, is exceedingly difficult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Even the commissioner himself will be out here celebrating as well. And we're ready. I've got my glasses. Ready to go, ready to bring in 2012. Alina and Deborah, back to you.
FEYERICK: It's always amazing to see Times Square now that they changed the traffic pattern with no cars there even at this time of the morning. But, yes, testing that confetti, as they should. If the wind go up, it's going to go over.
CHO: Later on, we should mention that New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly will stop by AMERICAN MORNING to talk a little bit more about safety at tomorrow's celebration in Times Square. That's at 7:50 eastern time just about a half hour from now.
And it is now almost quarter past the hour.
FEYERICK: And welcome back, everyone.
America's new poor -- the middle class. That's right. Disturbing new census numbers show that half of the U.S. is now living on the lower end of the income scale. That's less than $45,000 a year for a family of four.
Poppy Harlow spent a day with two moms struggling to survive each day, both with three kids. Take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a fight every day.
POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM (on camera): A fight every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyday.
HARLOW (voice-over): They're stuck in the middle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just pick them up here.
HARLOW: Not living in poverty, but not making it either. Many too ashamed to show their faces.
We met this young mother at a New Jersey food pantry she used to donate to, but today she came for help.
(on camera): Why did I meet you here today?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five kids. One bag of chicken left in the house, and it's only four pieces in there.
HARLOW (voice-over): A mother of three and helping take care of two other children. Her job, she says, a victim of downsizing. But it wasn't always this way.
(on camera): 2009 for you, life -- life was good?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It was great, you know? Three cars, house, kids.
HARLOW (voice-over): A similar story for this mother and her daughter.
(on camera): Did you ever think that you would be living with your three kids in a shelter?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I had -- I never thought in a million years that I would be at this point, this bad. I was working. The money that I was making was -- I was able to pay my bills, until I got laid off from my job.
HARLOW (voice-over): She was bringing in between $40,000 and $50,000 a year. Here in Bergen County, New Jersey, the median household income is more than $77,000 a year. But the cost of living is steep. They were evicted in December.
(on camera): Where do you sleep?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we transitioned from church to church.
HARLOW: Do you friends know that you're living in a shelter?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I just feel like they might look down on me or like feel pity for me and I don't want that.
HARLOW (voice-over): Nearly one in two Americans is now living on the lower end of the income scale. For a family of four, that's less than $45,000 a year.
The recession may be over, but it doesn't feel that way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're seeing a tremendous increase, and much of that increase has to do with people that never, ever thought that they were going to need to come to an emergency center.
HARLOW (on camera): People that were middle class?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People that were middle class. People that were donors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think what we're seeing is that the middle class is going away.
HARLOW (voice-over): Kate Duggan runs a local nonprofit and is working to help get this family back on their feet.
KATE DUGGAN (ph), EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAMILY PROMISE-BERGEN COUNTY: Families that do have educations and had decent jobs are now being laid off.
HARLOW (on camera): These are the families that are stuck in the middle, aren't they?
DUGGAN (ph): Exactly. They fall through the cracks. HARLOW: And there's a lot of them?
DUGGAN (ph): There are a lot of them. That's the frightening part.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never thought I'd be here. I don't know why I have to go through this.
HARLOW: Your heart goes out to those families, and I've got to tell you, those are just two of the families that talked with us on camera. I met so many. I spoke to so many on the phone.
Here's another staggering statistic. If you look at the numbers now, 46 million Americans are on food stamps. That's compared to 27 million at the beginning of the recession.
CHO: Wow. Unbelievable.
HARLOW: And it's this issue of not being able to get by. Wages are stagnant or much lower for many people. The cost of living, food, energy, rent is so much higher, they can't make it anymore.
CHO: Yes, especially when you're looking at a county like Bergen County, for people familiar with this area, I mean, it's one of the wealthiest counties in New Jersey.
You know, something really stuck with me. One of the women said, you know, middle class is going away. It's such a sad state of affairs if -- if that is indeed what's going on.
HARLOW: Yes. I think we -- we certainly are seeing it. I mean, we're going to continue to follow this, because it's such an important topic. But so many people I spoke with that had very good paying jobs that do accept jobs where they're making a fraction or no job at all and it goes on and on and on.
FEYERICK: Everybody's tightening their belts and not only that but the wage gap is just widening.
Poppy, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. An important story.
CHO: Still to come, Verizon Wireless is about to spring a new fee on customers. Are you kidding me? They are actually trying to call it a convenience charge. We're going to tell you just how much, when it's coming and what you can do to stop it. That's next.
CHO: "Minding Your Business" this morning.
The final trading session of 2011 ready to begin in just about two hours. Encouraging news on home sales and improving prospects of job growth sent stocks higher yesterday with the Dow gaining 138 points and the S&P 500 advancing into the black for the year.
Verizon Wireless confirms it will start charging a $2 convenience fee on January 15th to customers making one-time bill payments online or by telephone using a debit or credit card. The company says it will offer several options to customers who want to try to avoid paying it.
Real estate flippers who buy cheap homes, fix them up and try to quickly resell them for a fast profit just got a reprieve from the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA extending a waiver of its anti-flipping regulations through 2012. Now, that means buyers can still get mortgage insurance if they flip a home within 90 days of buying it. The hope is that this will help unload some of those foreclosed homes that are flooding the low income areas.
Airlines are going to have to be a lot more transparent about their taxes and fees beginning January 26th, that's when the Transportation Department begins enforcing new guidelines requiring airlines to make it easier to see the full price of a ticket when advertising those airfares.
AMERICAN MORNING will be back after this.
CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING for a Friday, our favorite day of the week. It's 31 minutes after the hour. Time for this morning's top stories.
Mitt Romney's hunkering down for the home stretch in Iowa. With four days to go until the caucuses, the former Massachusetts governor now plans to spend most of the next 96 hours in the state after a quick trip to New Hampshire. His staff confirming he will be there New Year's Eve as well as caucus night and the morning after.
FEYERICK: North Korea warning a violent revenge against South Korea. The nation says it is insulted that more South Koreans did not attend the funeral of the late leader Kim Jong-Il.
South Korea did allow some citizens to attend, but did not send an official delegation. North Korea responding with a harsh message threatening to, quote, "smash puppet forces," end quote, in the south.
CHO: Billed as the biggest New Year's Eve celebration in the world, one million partygoers will pack into New York City's Times Square tomorrow.
Right now, big preps are under way, workers are ripping up areas setting up a stage and checking out the famed crystal ball. Later on, we will speak with New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly about the security preparations.
FEYERICK: Al Qaeda recruiting hundreds of Jihadists in Libya. A source tells CNN that the terrorist group has already mobilized and army of some 200 fighters. Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri has himself sent in at least one veteran Jihadist to head recruitment efforts. Senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson joins us on the phone from London with more, and, Nic, why Libya? Why not a different country there?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, al Qaeda had interest in the North of Africa for a long time. They want to be able to use it as a base of operation to strike into Europe and to strike U.S., American interests.
Why Libya right now, because the opportunity presents itself. Saudi Arabia is known to produce al Qaeda, has in the past for Iraq, produced quite a large number of Jihadists. They went to Iraq and became suicide bombers targeting American troops inside Iraq. Right now, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has chosen -- he actually sent two top lieutenants.
One who has had a very, very long relationship with Ayman Al Zawahiri, is trusted by him and he sees this as a strategic move to get an al Qaeda strong foothold in the North of Africa and in the eastern part of Libya, where he's determined is the best place to do that.
There are other Libyan members, senior figures in the al Qaeda leadership. The two people that he sent, one of them was picked up as he was a Libyan, European national. He was picked up traveling through Europe.
The other one has made it there, established a group. This is somebody who was a Jihadist in the 1990s, trained in Mujahadin training camps in Afghanistan, known to be exceptionally radical, was also in jail in Britain for some time about three or four years ago -- Deb.
FEYERICK: Nic, are we going to be seeing attacks potentially in Europe? Are they going to be targeted to American interests in Europe? What are the likely target locations?
ROBERTSON: Well, the Jihadist who is now heading this al Qaeda group in Libya is known to be very radical. He is known to buy into al Qaeda's global Jihadist ideology and he is known to be particularly interested in U.S. targets.
He is less interested in establishing, if you will, an Islamist counter fate in Libya, per se. His agenda, it seems, from what we understand, from our source, is much more of an international agenda, and this is what al Qaeda looks for to establish itself in a much stronger way in North Africa looking to give them a foothold to do that.
The south of Libya, there's a desert. Countries to the south of there, Nigeria, they're all places where al Qaeda has had a small number of operatives. The leader of al Qaeda now has clearly set an agenda to establish a stronger base, to further al Qaeda's global Jihadist ideology, which includes European and U.S. targets. FEYERICK: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. Obviously, Libya a place where they can act, really, without any sort of surveillance or supervision from the government. Thanks so much, Nic.
CHO: New this morning, a massive sinkhole is threatening to swallow a historic cemetery. Officials in Allentown, Pennsylvania, are scrambling to exhume graves that stand in danger. The cemetery holds about 20,000 graves dating back to the 1800s. The sinkhole spans from 50 feet and it's not just threatening the dead. Twenty five people evacuated from their homes.
FEYERICK: Just call it "Occupy Twitter." Massachusetts prosecutor subpoenaed the Twitter records of an "Occupy Boston" protester and two hashtags yesterday. They're asking for tweets that were sent out during protester-police clashes at Dewey Square earlier in the month. The ACLU is calling this a violation of the first amendment. No comment from prosecutors and no charges yet filed.
CHO: China is officially on a mission to send a man to the moon. The plan includes the development of new satellites, spacecraft, even a space station. The Chinese successfully docked two unmanned spacecraft in orbit last month. They hope to have construction of a space lab completed by 2016, but any moon landing not expected until at least 2020.
FEYERICK: And in Colorado, police have arrested a driver who they say intentionally rammed his SUV into five cars, including this one. A security camera captured it. Police say the driver also tried to run over several people.
CHO: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, some Muslim leaders are boycotting New York City's annual Interfaith Breakfast. Why are they so angry? We'll tell you.
FEYERICK: And New Year's Eve in New York City, the biggest party of the year. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly joins us to talk about how the NYPD will keep revellers safe during tomorrow's celebration. It is now 38 minutes past the hour.
FEYERICK: Well, welcome back. Muslim leaders are snubbing the mayor of New York City and skipping his Annual Year-End Interface Breakfast. They say they're upset over a report that the NYPD, the New York City Police Department, spied on Muslim communities after 9/11.
The NYPD has denied it targeted Muslims specifically saying it was only following leads. Joining us now from Washington is Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Thanks so much for being here with us. First question, first of all, what are the tactics that you find particularly troubling? NIHAD AWAD, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Good morning, Deb. Yes. First, let me say that we have the utmost respect for Mayor Bloomberg and especially for his courageous stance in support of the constitutional rights of American Muslims to build a culture Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center that was involved in controversy last year.
And the ties between the Muslim community, the mayor's office and the New York Police Department are really good. I was a witness to many functions where I saw Commissioner Kelly engaging the Muslim community. Because of this kind of excellent relationship, we're very upset to hear through A.P. reports that the New York Police Department has been engaged in spying tactics and surveillance programs against the Muslim community.
So 250 Islamic centers, mosques, schools, businesses, cab drivers, almost who's who in the Muslim community has been spied on. So these tactics, without due process, without evidence of crime, we believe it's unconstitutional, it's unlawful and that's where the shock comes from.
That the mayor, when he knew about this, he should have condemned it. He should have investigated it. The leaders in the community there communicated with his office and wrote him a letter declining respectfully the invitation because it is an opportunity to send a message that this is wrong.
FEYERICK: Now, it is interesting. The NYPD did give us a statement. I do want to read it. They say, quote, "contrary to such assertions, the NYPD lawfully followed leads in terrorist related investigations and does not engage in the kind of wholesale spying on communities that was falsely alleged."
So they're basically saying, no, it didn't happen. They're not spying, per se. However, just to play devil's advocate. Look, there had been -- the NYPD says there have been 44 known terrorist whose have come from this area, obviously New York City, a central or key target still even now.
Isn't the NYPD responsible for developing information, for developing intelligence, even if it means confidential informants, or moles? Isn't this intelligence that we're talking about?
AWAD: No, it's not. In fact, we support the New York Police Department in their efforts to safeguard lives and all New Yorkers including Muslims, but to be engaged in wholesale, ethnic and religious profiling, that's wrong.
Let me say, they have a unit called the demographics unit, which means if you're a Muslim you're subject to being targeted for spying. Even according to the A.P. report, it showed that the friends, the permanent figures who are engaged in outreach with the police department have been spied on.
So how can they deny this? These documents aren't aligned. They are not fabricated and they just have to come to reality, they have just to admit that it is wrong and instead of just continue to defend it, I think they should just have it investigated and build on the great relationship that they have with the Muslim community.
AWAD: These partnerships are built on trust, and these tactics tear every trust that we need to make New York stronger, you know, coherent. And the relationship between the police department and the community is very crucial, and these tactics failed that relationship.
FEYERICK: Sure. So the outreach efforts, even the trust undermined. Very quickly, yes or no. Do you think the Justice Department should investigate?
AWAD: We have requested an investigation, including the involvement of the CIA, which is prohibited by Congress to spy on Americans.
FEYERICK: OK. Nihad Awad, thank you very much. We really appreciate your insights into this topic this morning. Thank you.
AWAD: You're welcome.
ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Still to come this morning, Mitt Romney in the home stretch in Iowa. How the Republican front-runner plans to seal the deal in the Hawkeye State. That's next.
FEYERICK: And a live look right now, Times Square, where New York City police are getting ready to handle the biggest bash in the world on new year's eve. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is going to be talking with us just ahead.
It is now 46 minutes after the hour.
FEYERICK: And good morning, everyone. Here's what you need to know to start your day.
Four days to go until the Iowa caucuses and front-runner Mitt Romney is trying to close the deal. He'll spend New Year's Eve in Des Moines and also plans to be there next week on caucus night and the morning after the voting.
North Korea saying expect no change, and that it will not deal with the South Korean government. The North says it's insulted that more South Koreans did not attend the funeral of Kim Jong-Il. South Korea did allow some citizens to travel to the funeral but they did not send an official delegation.
A trusted source tells CNN that al Qaeda is building an army of fighters in Libya. The source says the terror group has recruited some 200 jihadists. And al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, has personally sent over a veteran fighter to head the Sunni efforts.
The USGS raising the alert around of an Alaskan volcano to second-highest on its scale. Scientists believe a lone explosion sent off an ash cloud. More blasts could happen soon. The volcano is more than 900 miles away from Anchorage.
A cyclone slammed India's southeastern coast today, bringing fierce winds and heavy rains. Local officials say at least six people killed during the storm. No word how much damage was left.
And a record-setting shoot-out in the Alamo Bowl last night. Heisman trophy winner, Robert Griffin, and his Bears reporting a thrilling 67-50 victory over Washington. Wow. Good run there. It was the highest scoring regulation bowl game in history.
You're caught up on the day's headlines. AMERICAN MORNING is going to meet you right back here after this short break.
CHO: Welcome back. It's 10 minutes before the top of the hour.
Security and safety, top priority during tomorrow's New Year's Eve celebration in New York City. Some one million revelers will pack into Times Square to herald in the New Year. And the NYPD says it's ready. A ton of resources will be deployed, including thousands of officers and bomb-sniffing dogs and mounted horses. I want to talk about security preps in Times Square.
And New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, is here to talk about that.
Good morning, Commissioner.
RAY KELLY, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: Good morning.
CHO: Good to see you. It's billed as the biggest New Year's Eve part in the world, the cross roads of the world. We're talking about a million people in Times Square. In terms of security, there is a lot you can't talk about, but what can you tell us in terms of what we'll see.
KELLY: You'll see a lot of police officers and the most recent police academy graduating class. This is their first deployment.
CHO: Just graduated on December 22nd.
KELLY: That's right. But they've been training since then. This is the first deployment, about 1,550 of them. As you said, you'll see mounted police officers and our helicopters will be up in the air and checking a 200-block area around Times Square. Everyone who enters the area will have to go through a magnetometry check. Those entry points are along 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue. There's 16 of them.
CHO: Let's talk a little bit about that because this is a massive operation when you're talking about a million people packing into Times Square. If you were one of those people that want to ring in the New Year in Times Square, what should you keep in mind when you head down to that area?
KELLY: Well, a few don'ts. Don't bring alcohol. Don't bring backpacks. And those are probably the two most important things. I would say, get there early.
Entertainment starts early. It starts about 6:00, and there's some big-name people.
CHO: Lady Gaga.
KELLY: Lady Gaga will be there. Justin Bieber will be there. It will be a big, big deal. The people waiting there will be entertained.
CHO: It is going to be a huge party. With those two acts performing, you might get bigger crowds, Commissioner.
KELLY: And the weather's good.
CHO: And the weather's good. Last year, it was snow and cleaning up from that. This year, a little different.
You know, let's talk a little bit about -- there's that famous saying, "if you see something, say something." If you're going down there and you're looking around, obviously, you want to have fun, but you're looking around for suspicious activity. Any tips for people who are down in Times Square and what they should be looking out for and what they should do if they see something suspicious.
KELLY: There will be a lot of police officers there. You see something suspicious, tell one of the police officers. What we say to people is look at your world or whatever activity you're engaged in through the prism of September 11th. Everybody's world changes as a result of that horrific day. If you see something different, something that just strikes you as being suspicious, we want to know about it. No dumb call in that regard. You can call 311, which is sort of the overall number here in the city and they'll connect you to the right hotline.
But, again, on New Year's Eve, you see something suspicious, there should be a police officer pretty much within arm's reach.
CHO: Within the NYPD, you, obviously, take care of a lot of big operations. Is this the biggest of the year?
KELLY: Yes, it is the biggest of the year, but we have, we have 600 events below 59th Street --
CHO: Unbelievable. KELLY: -- every year. So I believe we do this well. We have a lot of experience.
CHO: You sure do.
KELLY: You can always learn from each event. We have a debriefing process.
CHO: People do know that you are in close contact and you coordinate closely with the federal agencies, right?
KELLY: That's right.
CHO: Talk about how that plays out a little bit.
KELLY: We are members of the Joint Terrorist Task Force. We work with the FBI here in New York City. This is -- we have 120 of our detectives assigned to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. They'll have their own operation center activated. We will, as well. We have, you know, our officers in their command center, and they have agents in our command center, so there's a lot of communication, a lot of cross powerization, so to speak.
CHO: You will be in Times Square, I suspect, right --
CHO: -- for New Year's Eve and the celebration. I think when we talk about all of the security, people tend to forget we are talking about a party. And talk a little bit about that, just being down there. I mean, for people who haven't made it down to Times Square, it's one extraordinary event, isn't it?
KELLY: Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal. You have to do it once.
It is a party. There is a level of excitement that starts at about 6:00, you know.
And people are really pumped up for it. Now, we have other events going on in the city. We have the Midnight Run in Central Park with fireworks and a Midnight Run in Prospect Park in Brooklyn with fireworks. We have fireworks on Liberty Island, Statue of Liberty, and we have dinner cruises --
CHO: You'll have police boats out there --
CHO: patrolling the waters. There's 33 dinner cruises or something like hat. You forget that is going on, as well.
KELLY: Yes. We have radiation detectors on the water. Helicopters will be up. We have heavy weapons response teams that are in, you know, appropriate locations. You know, just an awful lot going on. We seal the manhole covers and we remove the mailboxes --
CHO: How happy are you on January 1st when everything's gone well?
KELLY: It's a good feeling when it's over, yes.
CHO: I bet it is.
KELLY: It is a party, but, for us, it's a job, too.
CHO: Of course, it is. Of course, it is.
KELLY: So when it's over, it's sort of a sigh of relief.
CHO: Right, I bet it is.
Happy New Year.
KELLY: Happy New Year.
CHO: Commissioner Kelly, always great to see you.
KELLY: Thank you.
CHO: Thank you for coming in this morning.
KELLY: Thank you for having me.
CHO: It's going to be a busy couple days for you.
FEYERICK: Thanks, Alina.
Well, ahead next this hour, counting down to the Iowa caucuses. We're live in Des Moines where you're seeing a lot more of Mitt Romney in the next four days.
You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It is almost 8:00.