Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Internet Cleric Involved in Attempted Airline Attack?; Connecting the Dots in CIA Deaths; President Obama's Biggest Challenges

Aired January 1, 2010 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again.

A rough start to 2010 -- tonight, putting the pieces together on the alleged bomber, how a rich kid from Nigeria got on the road to radical Islam and allegedly attempted mass murder. Did an Internet cleric lead him down that path, a cleric who may also have ties to the Fort Hood killer?

Also tonight, seven more names on the CIA's memorial to fallen agents and officers killed in Afghanistan by a single suicide bomber. How did the bomber get on to the U.S. base without being searched? New information tonight. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And, later, "Up Close": some of the moments from last year and last night that we can all laugh at with two of the funniest people on television.

But, first up, a potentially deadly connection in the attempted Christmas airliner bombing. We have new information now coming to light. I want to bring you over to the wall, show you what we know, try to piece together the pieces of the puzzle.

We're talking about this man, the alleged bomber, the Nigerian who went from being a wealthy son of a rich banker to a radicalized would-be killer. His name is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But what we may -- what may be most important tonight is a connection he has to this man. Take a close look now at this -- this next picture we want to show you, Anwar al-Awlaki.

He is an imam, a Muslim cleric. He lives in Yemen, but was born in America. Now, the reason he's important is that he's become a kind of Internet Islamic televangelist, preaching violent jihad, preaching murder. Take a close-up look at him.

Now, what is really interesting is that not only is that -- there a possible link between the Nigerian and the cleric in Yemen, but this cleric is also believed to have exchanged e-mails with none other than Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood killer.

So, what's the possible connection between the Nigerian and this cleric? Well, he's believed to be one of several Internet imams who the alleged Christmas bomber may have turned to for spiritual guidance and to justify murder. We're going to talk to Peter Bergen about this clerical connection shortly. But, first, I just want to walk you through exactly what we know about this alleged bomber and what may have led him to being on that flight, Flight 253, allegedly with an explosive device hidden in his underwear.

So, let's begin in what we know -- 2005. In a posting online as Farouk1986, the Nigerian man praised another radical cleric, who was later accused of inciting the London subway bombings. Now, that's according to "The New York Times."

Now, at the time, Abdulmutallab was going to school at the University College in London, where he was president of the school's Islamic society and invited radical speakers to lecture about jihad.

All right, so, we move forward now to June of 2008. He was -- we now know that this man was granted a two-year multiple-entry visa to the United States and spent the month of August in Houston. Then, what should have been the first warning flag, May 2009, Abdulmutallab is denied a new British student visa, reportedly because the school he says he's applying to doesn't even exist.

So, just two months later, in August of 2009, he goes to Yemen, and they see his U.S. visa there on his passport, and they let him in, because they think, OK, well, if he can get into the U.S., he can get into Yemen. He stays in there until December. And, now, it's during that time that American officials now say there were communications between terrorists in Yemen and a person called the Nigerian.

Now, November 19, Abdulmutallab's father, fearing his son is preparing for a suicide mission, meets with CIA officials at the American Embassy in Nigeria. His name is added to a terror watch list, but not to the no-fly list.

And, then, December 16, 2009, he buys the one-way ticket to Detroit at an airport in Ghana with cash, clear warning signs that were missed.

So, that's the timeline.

Let's bring in national security analyst Peter Bergen, one of the few Westerners who has actually met and interviewed Osama bin Laden.

Peter, this cleric, what do we know about him, Anwar al-Awlaki? Apparently, he had contact with both the Nigerian, as well as Major Hasan.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, you know, he was frequenting a mosque in Northern Virginia in the sort of post-9/11 period. At that time, he supposed to be not particularly militant, according to the imam of the mosque now.

He seems to have become more radicalized. Perhaps a stint in a Yemeni jail in 2006 may have pushed him down that path. What I think is very interesting, Anderson, is that, by this cleric's own account on Al-Jazeera just a day before he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike on December 23, he says that Major Nidal Hasan contacted him on -- November 2008, saying, was it OK to kill Muslim soldiers -- fellow soldiers, as a Muslim?

So, Major Nidal Hasan was asking that question very directly to this Yemeni cleric. Now, it's not clear what the Yemeni cleric said back. But, clearly, that's a rather direct question. It raises an interesting question also about the FBI. After all, the FBI said that they were aware of these kinds of back-and-forths between Major Nidal Hasan and this cleric, and they thought they were not -- they were kind of innocuous.

But the question, you know, "Is it OK to kill fellow soldiers?" doesn't seem particularly innocuous to me.

COOPER: How easy is it for somebody who wants to try to contact some -- a radical cleric? I mean, he's not the only radical cleric out there who is online. Is it a two-way street? Is it -- are these clerics contacting people who are posting things? Or are these people, you know, making a big effort to contact these clerics?

BERGEN: I think it's the latter. It's people reaching out to these clerics looking for sort of religious sanction for whatever they are planning to do.

So, in the case of Major Hasan, it appears that he was looking to this cleric to give his some kind of religious guidance on the issue was it OK to kill fellow soldiers and other issues about suicide attacks. And so it's more the -- you know, somebody like the major reaching out to the cleric, not the other way around. There's never...

COOPER: And...

BERGEN: Go ahead.

COOPER: And there's never -- I mean, as far as we know, there's no connection between this alleged bomber and -- and Major Hasan. It's just they may have this same person in common.

BERGEN: Right. There doesn't seem to -- no connection at all. And we still don't really know what the connections are between the Detroit bomber and this Yemeni cleric, other than the fact that they may have been in communication.

But is it -- was it a face-to-face meeting? Was it over the Internet? I think that's still not exactly clear.

COOPER: And this cleric, do we know for a fact he's dead? Or may he still be alive?

BERGEN: He may well still be alive.

The strike happened on December 24. He may have been -- some family members of reporters said that he wasn't killed. He certainly hasn't reappeared. The longer he doesn't reappear, the more credible it is that he was actually killed. But, you know, he's had plenty of opportunity. He could sort of get on a phone to a TV station and say, look, I'm not dead. But he hasn't taken that opportunity.

COOPER: How easy is it for U.S. officials to track these kind of online activities of these clerics?

BERGEN: I mean, it's pretty easy, but the problem is there's so much volume of different material. You know, I mean, the United States can track every electronic communication it wants. But the problem is one of volume.

And, you know, I have talked to people at the bureau who say the problem about the communications with this Yemeni cleric is, there are quite a lot of people asking these sorts of questions, not all of whom are necessarily violent. Some of these are, you know, much more sort of routine.

So, that's not to excuse the fact that Major Hasan fell through the cracks. The point is that there's just a vast amount of this material out there. You can't monitor everything.

COOPER: Peter Bergen, I want you to stay with us, because I want to talk to you about the terror attack on CIA workers in Afghanistan.

We're going to do that after the break -- disturbing details about how the bomber was allowed on to the U.S. base.

And if you want more on the airline story about the Nigerian, you can go right now to AC360.com, where you can actually listen to one of the suspect's teachers talking about the kind of student that -- that he knew, the kind of student he was.

Also, there, you can join in with Erica and me in the live chat. Others -- join in with others who are watching the program right now around the world.

Also, later on the program, a look at ahead at what President Obama's biggest challenges are and a look back to last night, yes, behind the scenes at our New Year's evening with Kathy Griffin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Unspeakable brutality to report tonight.

A suicide bomber managed to steer a pickup truck loaded with explosives into the middle of a volleyball match at a crowded playground in northwest Pakistan. Now, one of the things that is so significant about this particular attack is that happened in a part of the country that Pakistani troops tried to clear of Islamic militants late last year -- today's booming being called revenge for that government action. At least 75 people have been killed, dozens more wounded.

Across the border, in Afghanistan, investigators are trying to figure out what led to a suicide bomber that killed seven employees of the CIA, the worst single tragedy for the CIA since the Beirut embassy bombing in 1983. So, were basic security procedures not followed?

"Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Chris Lawrence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a remote CIA base surrounded by a watchtower, barricades and barbed wire. So, how did a suicide bomber get inside wearing a vest full of explosives? Some reports say the bomber was being recruited as a potential informant, but that doesn't explain the security failure.

KEN ROBINSON, FORMER MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: In normal incidences, they are checked from top to bottom, head to toe.

LAWRENCE: Ken Robinson is a former special forces and CIA officer. He says there should have been multiple rings of security between CIA officers and someone being brought on base for interviews.

ROBINSON: These are the questions that will be answered in the next 24 to 48 hours as to what specifically broke down, or whether this person had already been vetted and was already trusted, and was already a member of the Afghan national army.

LAWRENCE (on camera): The Afghan Defense Ministry say none of its forces were involved. But there are reports the bomber was wearing an Afghan uniform under his vest. And a Taliban group claims it used a local CIA operative as a double agent to infiltrate the base.

(voice-over): The uniforms themselves are not hard to come by. In Afghanistan, we saw Americans chastise some Afghan forces for being careless with their gear, making it easy to steal.

Intelligence sources tell CNN the main purpose of a CIA base here is to recruit potential informants and plan covert operations like unmanned drones. And that may have made it a target for retaliation. An official says one of the prime suspects in the suicide bombing is the Haqqani Network, led by Siraj Haqqani. They're based across the border in Pakistan, where the U.S. has dramatically increased its drone attacks.

The bombing is a devastating loss to seven American families, including Harold Brown's, who was killed in the explosion. But as intelligence officials answer tough questions about security, they told us -- quote -- "This attack will be avenged," and, "There are some very bad people who are going to have a very bad day."

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, "Digging Deeper" now, let's bring in back Peter Bergen. Also joining us, CNN executive producer Suzanne Simons, who has written a history of the private security firm Blackwater, now known as Xe. Two of the fatalities are believed to be contractors for Xe. With us a well, former CIA officer and hunter of Osama bin Laden Gary Berntsen. He's the recent of "Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism and National Leadership: A Practical Guide."

Gary, how does a guy strapped with explosives get on to a U.S. base?

GARY BERNTSEN, AUTHOR, "HUMAN INTELLIGENCE, COUNTERTERRORISM AND NATIONAL LEADERSHIP: A PRACTICAL GUIDE": Well, in that particular case, it's likely they were doing a debriefing of some type, and they failed to search him before he went on the base, which is -- it's hard to believe that someone who may have been, you know, a prospective informant or someone who was actually an actual source wouldn't have been searched.

It would always be procedure. Any time you deal with someone like that, you would be searching them. This is an area which is well known to be, you know, full of IEDs, full of suicide bombers, right across from the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network, just three months ago, used five men with suicide vests with police uniforms on against a police station, where they detonated at the hard line, then inside, then in deeper and deeper into that police station.

So, they must have known the threats in that area.

COOPER: Yes.

I mean, Peter, as you well know from being there plenty of times, this is a region where just being some person is wearing a uniform doesn't mean they can be trusted.

BERGEN: No.

And the other point, I think, which is -- there's a very sad irony here, which is that the Haqqani Network, which we're talking about was, of course, supported by the CIA in the '80s.

COOPER: What is this Haqqani Network? I mean, there are a lot of folks who haven't been following this closely. Who is Haqqani? Why are they significant, Peter?

BERGEN: Well, Jalaluddin Haqqani was basically the military commander of the Taliban. He's older now, maybe either ill or even perhaps dead. It's not clear. But he was the most effective military commander in the Taliban. He was also a very effective military commander against the Soviets, which is why the CIA supported him in the first place.

Now his two sons have taken over. They were the -- the group that kidnapped David Rohde, the "New York Times" correspondent. They're the group that is recruiting many of the suicide bombers that attack in Afghanistan, both against NATO targets and other targets.

So, this is a very formidable fighting force. This is not, you know, just some local militia.

BERNTSEN: Haqqani initially was a -- you know, under Yunus Khalis. And, then, later, he would switch sides when the Taliban did take power, was the governor of Khost, and was also the minister of tribal affairs for the Taliban. He knows the area. He knows everybody there. And so do his sons. So, he has very, very deep roots in that area.

COOPER: Suzanne, how -- I mean, how much of an extent is this going to have on the way the CIA is operating on the front lines? And, to the extent we can say, what do we know that they are doing there?

SUZANNE SIMONS, CNN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Well, it's interesting that you ask that question, because I was talking with one of the former directors of the agency last night. And he said, you know, this is one of those things where you just -- you suck it up.

The families are coming to Washington to receive the bodies of the dead. I mean, it's a very different life, of course, living in the CIA. You can't talk about it. You can't grieve publicly.

However, at the same time, they're saying we're going to say our goodbyes, say thank you for the service you gave to our country, and get right back to work again. I mean, you really can't downsize any more than you already have. You're already dealing with a very small agency. And the contractors have come into play quite a bit, because they make up a big part of these small teams that go out and look for more sources for human intelligence.

COOPER: So, a company like Blackwater, which is now called Xe, Suzanne, they are actually working -- I mean, they are actually working alongside CIA -- CIA officers?

Gary -- Gary is...

SIMONS: Yes.

BERNTSEN: There might be security people who are contractors that are assisting, you know, for security, physical security, at a base, but they're not going to be running sources or involved in source handling at all.

There may be former retired officers that might assist in something like that, but not contractors for Xe or anybody else. They just -- we -- we never used them. I was a chief of station three times. You would not do that.

COOPER: The role of the CIA is constantly evolving. And, in Afghanistan, I mean, it's -- it's incredibly dangerous and more on the front lines than we have seen in previous decades.

BERNTSEN: Well, of course, you know, 30, 40 years ago in CIA, we worked against the Russians. And if they ran a double agent at you, they fed you false information for years.

If someone runs a double agent at you now, that person is going to be wearing a suicide vest. It is a much, much more dangerous business. But the business is the business of human intelligence. You need to have contact with, physical proximity, to the people that you are running. And our case officers are vulnerable.

COOPER: And, Gary -- and, I mean, they're basically running a war in Pakistan, as well as all over Afghanistan. I mean, they are on the front lines of a war, just as the Marines are.

BERNTSEN: The CIA and its case officers go where the military goes. They support the military there. And, with a military surge, I'm sure there was a surge of agency case officers to support increased activity in Afghanistan.

COOPER: Peter Bergen, I mean, the -- the sad fact is, we are probably going to see more fatalities like this as more civilians are surged into -- into this operation as well.

BERGEN: Well, that's true, Anderson. I mean, the -- the civilian surge, which has been slow in coming, is supposed to -- you know, there are about 300 now. It's supposed to be 900 relatively soon.

So -- and, you know, you're kind of caught in a dilemma, because, to be effective, you have to go outside the wire and you have to take some risk. If you're just sitting in a -- at your desk in Kabul inside the maximum security compound there, you know, how much are you going to really know?

So, these CIA officers who are on Fort -- on Chapman in Khost, you know, they were sort of outside the wire, in a sense, even though they were inside a base. And, obviously, the risks are higher in those sorts of areas. But, if you don't take the risk, you're never going to find the intelligence.

COOPER: And, Gary, in terms of the conditions, I mean, when you hear about CIA officers on a base, you kind of think, well, living on a huge base, as Peter indicated, in Kabul. I mean, this is -- this is frontline stuff.

BERNTSEN: These are austere bases, some of them. Some of these places where we're -- that are popping up, you know, people take a shower once a month.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Right. These are patrol bases where you can walk from one end to the other within, you know, a minute.

BERNTSEN: Right.

You have been to some of those patrol bases, I know.

COOPER: Right. Right.

BERNTSEN: And they're -- they're out there on the front lines with soldiers in some of the most difficult and dangerous places.

COOPER: Yes.

Gary Berntsen, appreciate you being with us, Suzanne Simons and Peter Bergen as well.

Straight ahead tonight: terrorism just one of the challenges facing President Obama in the year ahead. What are some of the others? Our political panel weighs in.

Also, a welcome chance to laugh a little on this serious night -- at least at me. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: Is the dude from Univision yelling at us?

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Let's check with...

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: Screw you, buddy. Last time I checked, I'm here with Jack Cafferty or whatever.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming up: a behind-the-scenes look at our New Year's evening with Kathy Griffin. It was far from dull.

First, a check of some of tonight's important stories.

Erica Hill has a 360 bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson.

A new and significant milestone in Iraq: There were no U.S. combat deaths in December. Now, this is the first month with no such deaths since the war began nearly seven years ago. There were, however, three non-combat-related fatalities.

Meantime, the Iraqi government objecting to a U.S. judge's dismissal of charges against five Blackwater guards in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007. The American judge ruled the constitutional rights of those guards had been violated.

Conservative talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh released from a Honolulu hospital. He says doctors aren't sure what caused the pains, the chest pains, that led to the health scare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I had an angiogram, which is a catheter treatment through the heart, and they found absolutely nothing wrong. It was a blessing, no arterial disease, no coronary disease whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: And the word sleuths at Lake Superior State University have unveiled their 35th annual list of words they say should be banished -- 35 years running -- 15 words making the cut this year. Topping the list, shovel-ready. It is a phrase used to say a project is ready to implement.

Also on their hit list, chillaxin...

COOPER: Oy yi yi.

HILL: ... which, of course, a combination of chilling and relaxing.

COOPER: Somewhere, Matthew McConaughey is weeping.

HILL: He might be. But he can still use it, probably. He might be the only person allowed to get away with it.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: Apparently, it's been nominated several times over the years, but they weren't shovel-ready until this year.

COOPER: Ooh, touche.

HILL: And despite the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, both unfriended and tweet on the chopping block.

The tweet on the chopping block, good luck with that.

COOPER: Yes. Maybe touche should be on the chopping block, too.

HILL: Maybe.

COOPER: Perhaps.

HILL: 2010 could be the year.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: That's right.

Monday, on 360, I -- Erica, I don't know if you've heard about this story. It's being called a Christmas miracle. It's just remarkable.

HILL: Wild.

COOPER: Young Colorado mom died giving birth to a stillborn baby on Christmas Eve. That's the mom right there. She had no pulse, no breathing, nothing. But, amazingly, the mom and baby came back to life, according to doctors, as the stunned father sat there watching. Both mom and baby are doing great now, we're told. They're healthy, no signs of problems.

Monday, on 360, we're going to talk with the new mom and the dad as well. An amazing...

HILL: Great story.

COOPER: Yes, a Christmas -- just incredible.

Coming up tonight, on a night with a lot of serious stuff, some items to make you smile before heading off to bed. Two very funny people are here, Andy Borowitz and Joel Stein with a look back at their most important stories of 2009.

And, also, behind the scenes last night in Times Square with Kathy Griffin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Would you like to hear a fan question?

COOPER: Yes.

GRIFFIN: OK. Do you know where Lou Dobbs' body is buried, and why did you get him fired?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: All right. We came, we tweeted, we waited in the freezing rain. And we're still kind of recovering. I'm a little chilled, still chilled.

We joined about a million of our closest friends to watch the ball drop in Times Square last night. I don't know if you were there. I hope you were. We definitely got up close with New Year's Eve.

Take a look at some of our favorite moments, including some behind-the-scenes footage none of us saw the first time around. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy new year. Happy new year.

Hey, welcome. We're in Times Square. It's a couple hours before we are actually going on the air. But you have to get here early to get through, frankly, to this spot.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathy! Kathy! GRIFFIN: Turn off Ryan Seacrest now. Do it. It's part of a conspiracy.

Is the dude from Univision yelling at us?

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Let's check with...

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: Screw you, buddy. Last time I checked, I'm here with Jack Cafferty or whatever.

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: You got very like newsie and squinty there.

COOPER: You know...

GRIFFIN: Have you ever considered just buying sunglasses, just once, one time.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: I have had this line since I was 10 years old.

GRIFFIN: I don't have it anymore, if you know what I'm saying.

(LAUGHTER)

GRIFFIN: I paid a lot of money to have that line go away.

Would you like to hear a fan question?

COOPER: Yes.

GRIFFIN: OK. Do you know where Lou Dobbs' body is buried, and why did you get him fired?

Every time I call him Andy, instead of Anderson, you have to drink. And if you're my mother, you empty that box of wine.

Name one person in politics you have ever even talked to.

COOPER: President Obama?

GRIFFIN: Doesn't ring a bell.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: I love that show.

If I could have my own ticket, it would be the Nancy Grace/Suze Orman for president for ticket.

COOPER: I texted Kathy just saying to her happy Thanksgiving.

GRIFFIN: It was a really sweet text.

COOPER: And you know what she texted back? "Are you drunk?" That's what she responded, not even happy Thanksgiving.

GRIFFIN: Keeping him honest.

COOPER: Just, "Are you drunk?"

GRIFFIN: Keeping him honest.

I noticed the series that you did the series "Black in America," "Latino in America." I was wondering, would you and John King ever do "Dreamy in America"?

If Anderson Cooper was a dessert item, what would he be? I'm going to say vanilla-covered strawberry.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: What does that mean?

GRIFFIN: I don't know. I'm keeping you honest.

(LAUGHTER)

GRIFFIN: I think you should know that I went to Cher's for Christmas.

COOPER: Cher's really cool. You know...

GRIFFIN: She's cool.

COOPER: She's really cool.

GRIFFIN: She watches you. She's a giant news junkie.

COOPER: She is.

GRIFFIN: Yes.

COOPER: And she watches C-SPAN. And, every now and then, she will call into C-SPAN.

GRIFFIN: She calls.

COOPER: Yes. She'll be like, I'm calling from Malibu.

GRIFFIN: I have a question about the government.

COOPER: Right. The guy will be, is this Cher? We're really bonding, aren't we?

GRIFFIN: It's a little scary for me. Andy. How quickly can you get reassigned?

COOPER: Live from Times Square.

GRIFFIN: Hello, Ed Henry, it's me. Take me away.

What's your salary tonight? What do you get tonight?

COOPER: I'm not getting anything. I don't want to know how much you're being paid for this.

GRIFFIN: More than you. That's how much I make.

COOPER: I have no doubt about that.

I have a Twitter from Bill who says, "Will you be quieter so Anderson can get a word in edge wise? You don't need to run your mouth all the time." With that in mind...

GRIFFIN: Wow, I guess you're keeping me honest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Kathy Griffin joining me now. Two very funny people as well Andy Borowitz, created the Borowitz Report. "Time" magazine columnist, Joel Stein in Los Angeles.

Guys, thank you very much for being here.

First of all, what did you do for New Year's Eve?

ANDY BOROWITZ, BOROWITZ REPORTER CREATER: What did I do? I was watching Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper. Oh, here we are again. amazing. I was chillaxin.

COOPER: You were chillaxin.

STEIN: I'm going to say that one last time. I was chillaxin and tweeting.

COOPER: ... smiling because he was used to that.

Joel, what did you do for New Year's Eve?

JOEL STEIN, COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE: I was watching Andy chillaxin and tweet.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Joel, in terms of looking back on 2009 -- and by the way, thank you for participating in the Tom Foreman look back. It was very funny.

Joel, you selected Sarah Palin quitting as governor of Alaska or leading by leaving. Here's her explanation of what she was doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH PALIN, (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA & VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Though it may be tempting and more comfortable to keep your head down and plod along and appease those who are demanding, hey, just sit down and shut up, but that's a worthless easy path-out. That's the quitter's way out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's an oldie but a goody. You know, Joel?

STEIN: Yes. You know what, watching it again it makes more sense now. I kind of think that quitting is the way to work hard. And that not quitting is quitting. I'm convinced. She makes a point.

COOPER: Andy, you picked South Carolina -- or did you like the -- were you a big fan of Sarah Palin's?

BOROWITZ: I was one of the ones who wanted her to sit down and shut up. I was in the minority there. I wish I had an iPhone app that would have translated what she was saying. It would have made it very helpful to me.

COOPER: I actually interviewed her spokesperson after that on that night and got very confused by the sports analogy. I couldn't remember if...

BOROWITZ: If a boy's a point guard.

COOPER: If there's a ball and there was a net and I couldn't tell what was a ball...

BOROWITZ: Right. The point guard hits the home run.

COOPER: Yes, which completely lost me.

You picked, Andy, one of the most important moments or greatest moments, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, that whole thing.

BOROWITZ: Right. Well, Sanford and John Ensign. They have two things in common which is they're both, you know -- infidelity, martial infidelity. But they also have this deep love of tanning because, you know, John Ensign -- they're the branch of the Republican Party that I refer to as the Orange Party. They have deep tans and, you know, Sanford also loves tan lines. I think it was interesting -- I'm digging a little deeper now, actually, Anderson -- which is, part of the health care thing was this tax on tanning beds. See why the Republicans did not vote for that bill.

COOPER: Joel, you're in L.A. Do you tan a lot?

STEIN: Sarah Palin had a tanning bed put into the governor's office. Might be something with the Republicans and the tanning. Look into that on A.C. 360.

COOPER: Maybe so. I notice Joel didn't answer whether he tans or not. But we'll just leave it. STEIN: I don't go to the booth. I get the guy coming to my house with the spray.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: OK. We're going to have more with Andy and Joel after the break. Join the conversation as well. The live chat is up at AC360.com.

After the break, we'll talk about Tom DeLay, the hammer, and being on "Dancing with the Stars," and some other great moments from the last year.

And also later, serious stuff, terror, health care, the economy, three of the big issues. What's President Obama's top priority in 2010. We'll talk to our political panel about that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: All right. We're back up close with our look at some of the best moments of the last -- in the last year.

With me, Andy Borowitz of the Borowitz Report; and Joel Stein from "Time" magazine.

Joel, you were intrigued by Rod Blagojevich as frankly just about everybody was.

STEIN: Yes. He's a tremendous figure. I can't believe it happened this year, like from the moment we learned his name and saw his hair. So when he couldn't go on that reality show. He was enough of a celebratory by the end of the year to not be allowed to go on a reality show. It was a great year for him.

COOPER: I don't know what's worse punishment is like being forced out of office or stuck on NBC's "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" with those two dreadful people.

BOROWITZ: Heidi...

COOPER: Heidi and what's her face.

BOROWITZ: This is a year where politician marriages took a hard hit. This was a great marriage because his wife did that reality show in his stead. I just got married. My wife, actually, and I included that in our vows. If one of us is indicted, one of us is going on a reality show to bail out the family.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: That's very sweet.

BOROWITZ: Our vow was, to quote balloon boy, we did it for the show. That's our vow.

COOPER: One of this year's most famous interruptions, Andy, Joe Wilson yelling out at President Obama.

Let's just remind those who can't remember it. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. JOE WILSON, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie!

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: That's not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOROWITZ: That is known as Congress interrupt-us. You're not supposed to do that.

(LAUGHTER)

Actually, and you know this...

COOPER: Is that a term?

BOROWITZ: That is the term. You, of course, have very good manners. You know when you're about to interrupt somebody, a guest, the first thing you say is. I'm going to let you finish. Then you interrupt.

(LAUGHTER)

If we've learned one thing from this year it's that politeness is important.

COOPER: Joel, the other guy known for politeness is Tom DeLay. For some reason he appeared on "Dancing with the Stars." I'm still trying to figure out what he was thinking.

STEIN: I don't know, but he looked great.

(LAUGHTER)

I don't know who did his costumes or where he learned those moves, but that's clearly the gayest thing of 2009.

(LAUGHTER)

I didn't know -- I have a little bit of gay in me but I'm in love with Tom DeLay right now.

BOROWITZ: I love the air guitar thing.

COOPER: Wow. Yes.

BOROWITZ: The air guitar thing he did was amazing.

COOPER: I don't understand why the dancers -- I don't watch this program. But why -- I see it on the tube, so I feel like I watch it -- Why dancers and -- same as ice skaters -- have to wear ridiculous costumes.

BOROWITZ: In his case, it was to cover the electronic ankle bracelet.

(LAUGHTER)

It was important thing. The flair pants did a good job with that. I may make a style point there. But it was great.

It was a really kind of daring choice to be a show where you have people like Tanya Harding, you know, and Tucker Carlson.

COOPER: Has Tanya Harding had been on "Dancing with the Stars?"

BOROWITZ: I think so.

Joel, you would know that.

STEIN: I am friends with Tanya Harding, but she has not told me about her appearances.

BOROWITZ: We'll effort that.

We'll get back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: How did you become friends with Tanya Harding, Joel?

STEIN: We both like to skate. I don't know. We have a lot in common.

COOPER: What about the beer summit, Andy?

BOROWITZ: The beer summit, this was the low point in the Obama presidency thus far. This was maybe the worst party ever thrown in the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

If that were a dorm party and you walked in and saw that, you tell me you wouldn't just leave right away. What was Biden doing there? He didn't arrest anybody.

(LAUGHTER)

He's sitting at the table having a beer. It was terrible. I'm amazed, after that, that somebody would want to crash a party at the White House. It's shocking to me.

(LAUGHTER) COOPER: Joel, what about those party crashers? They sort of dropped off the radar but I'm sure they'll pop up soon.

STEIN: That's my favorite political scandal of the year, that people can just walk into the White House. People like that? I just -- I think it's great. I think that reality TV has brought all these people out into the fore, that kind of hung out in back before and now they're just -- we basically let them do this stuff now because then we made them famous. We'll get more of that next year.

COOPER: This is my favorite moment that we're showing right now, when she -- they're walking the line. He's going to continue in and she -- then she, like, pulls him because she wants to be photographed more. She's like, oh, no, no, no. That's my favorite moment right there.

STEIN: It's true. She's walked enough red carpets, she knows exactly what to do. It's amazing.

COOPER: I don't understand about the red carpet is why people stand in a certain way with one leg forward. It's very odd. It looks very unnatural.

STEIN: You have to choose your best side. Show your cheek.

(LAUGHTER) COOPER: Is that how it is?

BOROWITZ: Apparently, Joel has moved to Los Angeles.

STEIN: Yes, come on.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: That is such an L.A. answer. You know that.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: I'm making a vow that any network that gives them a reality show, I will never watch that network again. That's my resolution.

STEIN: What if it's HLN?

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: If it's HLN? OK. Yes. Now, that's -- I don't know how to answer that question.

Guys, I appreciate you being on the program. It was great. I appreciate you looking back at 2009 with Tom Foreman for our special.

Joel Stein, Andy Borowitz. Have a great new year.

BOROWITZ: Thanks a lot. COOPER: At AC360.com, we have more. You can look at behind the scenes, how Kathy Griffin and I rang out the year, and my look back at the decade. Check it out.

Up next, 2009 started off strong for President Obama. Our panel weighs in on what should be at the top of his to-do list for 2010 and how things look for him now.

And what are these people thinking? Polar bears, not part of plan in peril when A.C.360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We've already spent time laughing about 2009 in the last 90 minutes -- 90 minutes of it down in Times Square alongside Kathy Griffin. Now a serious look at the challenges facing President Obama in the New Year, the raw politics.

Here to talk about it, "Huffington Post" contributor, Tanya Acker, "Washington Post" columnist and former G. W. Bush speechwriter, Michael Gerson; and Ed Henry, still on punishment duty on Waikiki Beach.

Ed, the president has been focused on health care and the economy this past year. But after the Christmas day terror attempt, it seems terrorism is front and center.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is. When you talk to top White House aides they insist, look, it's been front and center since the beginning of the year. Go back to his inaugural address. He talked about the threat and has talked about it throughout the year.

Nevertheless, they are stepping up their public relations on this. Just tonight, they put out a photo of the president in Hawaii working with one of his top security aides, Dennis McDonough (ph). Tomorrow's Internet address is about the economy, health care. They just put it out today, ahead of tomorrow. It's going to be all about national security, terrorism. They want people to know he's on top of this.

If you think about the first thing he's going to do when he gets back to Washington early next week, on Tuesday, he's having a meeting in the situation room. CIA chief, all the national security bosses, to find out what went wrong to prevent a future terror attack. He realized there's a lot riding on this. They came so close to having a terror attack on their watch. They can't let that happen again.

COOPER: Michael, I guess one of the dangers of trying to do a lot -- and, you know, there was all that discussion in the beginning of 2009 about whether President Obama was trying to do too much, is that you then open yourself up to criticism when something like this terror incident happens.

MICHAEL GERSON, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST & FORMER G.W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I agree with that. I think it's worse than that. I think they've spent actually a year downplaying the war on terror. Treating it mainly as a criminal justice operation and continuing that approach in this circumstance, where they took this Nigerian suicide bomber and read him his rights and told him he had a right to remain silent. That -- if that approach doesn't work, if it fails in the future, this coming year, the president will have failed at his most primary constitutional responsibility, protecting the American people. and there won't be forgiveness.

COOPER: Are you saying they shouldn't read him his rights and treat him and sort of enter him into the justice system?

GERSON: Well, you have a choice in this circumstance. You can treat someone as an enemy combatant. He's not an American citizen. He was involved -- not wearing a uniform -- was involved in an attack on the United States or you can put them in the criminal justice system. I think that, you know, there's an argument back and forth in this case, but this is a gentleman who may have information that we need to know. And right now, he has a lawyer and he's going to, you know, have -- not instead of being interrogated.

COOPER: Tanya, has the president put the terrorism on the back burner?

TANYA ACKER, HUFFINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR: No, he hasn't. I think Michael touched on one of the key issues we're being confronted with right now. You're seeing a lot of folks on the right, who are suggesting that respecting the Constitution means you don't want to fight the war on terror. And that's not what Obama has done.

GERSON: He's not on American citizens.

ACKER: We talk about the criminal justice system. Richard Reid went through the American criminal justice system and is locked up and is no longer subject to engaging in acts of terrorism. Timothy McVeigh, who's a terrorist, who, by the way, would have gone by a lot of the profiling that the folks on the right seem to think is necessary right now. Timothy McVeigh went through the American criminal justice system and was dually punished.

So the notion our criminal justice system doesn't work, and the notion that in order to fight terrorism we have to really engage in these acts that are really not antithetical to what the American system of justice is about, is frightening. What the president has to do, what the president needs to do is say that terrorism is about -- it certainly is about law enforcement. It certainly is about cooperating, cooperation amongst law enforcement authorities. It doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our values or who we are as a people.

COOPER: Michael, in this New Year, do you think we have become so polarized as a nation and our -- the world of politics so polarized that it is impossible to kind of move forward on anything together? Is everything about -- on both sides, I'm talking about, Republican and Democrat, is both sides about scoring points, political points to help your party try to get an edge? GERSON: I do think we've descended into this cycle in many ways. We had a high point of expectation and hope at the beginning of this year, and we're ending it with a very different circumstance. A lot of that, in my view, depends how the president comes back in the State of the Union, the 2011 budget, whether he takes some big issues seriously, like the deficit, issues of debt, whether he talks about economic growth and job creation, other things that could actual unite the country. I'm afraid if he goes on the path he is right now, you know, going toward immigration and cap-and-trade and the other things he's talking about, he's in for some major losses in the midterm elections. And, you know, I think it's very unlikely that he'll unite the country around these fairly liberal issues.

COOPER: Tanya, it does seem it's impossible to look at it, increasingly difficult, at least for many Americans to look at things as Americans and not through a political prism, whether it's what news we watch or on, you know, what our politics are or what we support. Even something like a terrorist incident seems to -- would have been something which united us in past years, seems to be a cause of greater strain.

ACKER: No, that's right, Anderson. It is unfortunate. You know, even the conversation that we've had and that, frankly, I have had about the Christmas Eve -- about the Christmas day attempt. You know, it does, it does sometimes become partisan because you have folks on the one hand saying President Bush doesn't care about terrorists and the other hand, the rest of us are saying -- I'm sorry, that President Obama doesn't care about fighting terrorism. And others of us have to remind those folks that the Bush administration had not a good record in terms of doing things like implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. We have the back and forth about who didn't, who did the worst job, instead of thinking about moving forward in a proactive way. It's unfortunate.

COOPER: Ed, in terms of the White House, is there -- do they look back at the New Year? Do they look back at this past year and try to figure out what they have done wrong or what went wrong? As Michael talked about, such optimism coming into this in the beginning of this administration and now you're ending a new year where the president's popularity -- we've been seeing in recent weeks and months in very low numbers.

HENRY: Well, they would argue, in part, that was why he was trying to take a lot on when he was very high in the polls. That's when he had the mandate. That's when he has the strong Democratic majorities. He doesn't know what he's going to have at the end of the 2010 midterms. That's why he tried to take a lot on.

I do think, though, they are very likely to re-tool. We've been hearing in recent weeks from top White House aides before this terror incident that the president would focus much harder on jobs, jobs, jobs in the early part of 2010, realizing that going into the midterm election, people will probably vote with their pocketbook.

But I think the Christmas day terror incident, again, scrambles things a bit because personal safety is something people vote on as well. and so you obviously can't just focus on the economy. Not that they were only going to focus on that, but they also have to think long and hard about focusing on this terror issue as well.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there.

Michael Gerson, appreciate you spending time with us.

Tanya Acker as well.

Ed Henry as well. And, Ed, thank you again for being on again last night with us. You were a good sport.

HENRY: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Hope you get to swim a little bit in that water. It looks very nice behind you.

HENRY: I'm going to try.

COOPER: All right.

Ahead, a New Year's Day headache for Russian vodka drinkers. We're going to show you why you're going to need twice as many rubles to buy the country's national beverage.

And our shot tonight -- who gave some spider monkeys Jell-O?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming up, tonight's shot, monkeys and Jell-O. Need I say more?

But first, Erica Hill joins us again with the 360 news and business bulletin.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Danish police shot a Somalia man who tried to break into the home of a cartoonist known for his controversial depictions of the prophet, Mohammad. Police say the 27-year-old man, who is believed to have ties to terrorist groups, was carrying both an ax and a knife. He's been hospitalized but was apparently not seriously wounded.

After some marathon negotiations, the deal is finally done. Just hours ago, FOX Networks and Time Warner cable announcing they have agreed in principle to a comprehensive distribution agreement, which would provide FOX programming to more than 13 million households. The exact terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Time Warner cable is no longer a part of our company. It was spun off from our parent company, Time Warner, last month.

Partying, a little more expensive in the New Year in Russia, effective today. This is terrible. Well, not really. The government has nearly doubled the minimum price of vodka. It's now three bucks for a half liter. It's all part of president Medvedev's campaign against alcoholism.

Here's the interesting thing. Raising prices to combat alcoholism yet typically, in Russia, laws against alcohol have tended to boost sales of bootleg liquor. Those prices will probably go up, too.

A Tennessee dollar store out one Coke machine. Man managed to drive away with it dragging on a chain behind his pickup.

(LAUGHTER)

There you see it.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: He took off down the highway, led police on a chase before being caught and arrested. Wise move.

COOPER: Any idea why? We don't know.

HILL: I don't think it was Russian vodka. Other than that, I'm not sure.

Wouldn't be New Year's Day without the polar bear plunge in Coney Island in New York, blurring the line between bravery and insanity. You're going to tell me, hey, people do this everywhere every New Year's. This is true. However, in New York, the Polar Bear Club swims every week, even when it's snowing.

COOPER: Do they really, every week?

HILL: Can you imagine?

COOPER: I can't.

HILL: Neither can I. Warmer this year than last year, but still.

COOPER: Time for the shot. Actually, our first shot of 2010.

HILL: First shot of the year.

COOPER: I saw this last night. I found it mesmerizing. It's monkeys eating Jell-O, courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society. They never had it before at the Bronx Zoo. There's blueberries inside the Jell-O. Apparently, it helps their foraging instincts. Take a look. Just watch and enjoy.

We added that, i think -- sound.

HILL: I think we did.

COOPER: We didn't add that sound? Oh, OK. That was actual monkey sounds.

HILL: I don't remember it earlier. Here's what I find interesting and frankly what makes me think monkeys really are smart. I like they look around for the blueberries and don't eat the Jell-O.

COOPER: Why wouldn't they eat the Jell-O?

Doesn't a Jell-O salad creep you out? Have you eaten those Jell- O salads?

COOPER: I don't like things encased in Jell-O, but just pure, raw Jell-O, I'd go for that any day of the week.

HILL: It's the breakfast of champions.

COOPER: Yes. I think Jell-O is a magical treat.

HILL: Yes, it's the encasement that really...

COOPER: I've lived on that for most of the time.

HILL: That's because you pick one food and eat for six months and then, that's it.

COOPER: That's right. I think Jell-O is a magical treat. To me, it's like magic. I don't understand what it is.

HILL: Magical treat?

(LAUGHTER)

Up next, A.C. 360 brought to you by Jell-O. Sorry, Bill Cosby.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: We're not showing the monkeys anymore? Are we done? We're out of time? We're out of time.

HILL: Sad.

COOPER: OK. Well, I hope you have a great weekend, everyone. Thanks again for watching us last night, and we'll see you on Monday. More news ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)