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Interview With Former Vice President Al Gore; Cyanide Terror Plot

Aired June 19, 2006 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
A new statement today triggering new questions about the Bush administration's grip on reality when it comes to the war in Iraq.


COOPER: He said the insurgency was in its final throes. A year and thousands of casualties later, does he still believe it?


ANNOUNCER: Vice President Cheney draws a response from former Vice President Gore.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The truth is inconvenient for them.

ANNOUNCER: Massive search -- the latest on two missing soldiers in Iraq's Triangle of Death and the thousands of troops looking for them.

Cyanide on the subway -- deadly simple, simply puzzling. Did al Qaeda ditch the plan because they're planning something even worse?


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Live from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And a good evening to you.

We begin with the simple fact that is nearly simple, nor easy to deal with. The war in Iraq has become so divisive that people in Washington can't even agree on the basics -- all the angles tonight on Vice President Cheney's defense today of his claim more than a year and 850 American lives ago that the insurgency was in its final throes. It drew a strong reply from former Vice President Al Gore, when we spoke with him today, even as his Democratic colleagues are trying to find a unified voice on the issue.

With that as a backdrop, another reality check -- two American soldiers may now be in the hands of al Qaeda or some other group of killers.

We begin with what the vice president said and CNN's Ed Henry live at the White House -- Ed.


That's right, the vice president today giving new fodder to his critics by standing behind that prediction he first made here on CNN last year, that he believed the insurgency in Iraq was in its last throes. Since the vice president first made that statement, in May of 2005, about 850 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis have been killed.

And this very evening, as you mentioned, the U.S. military frantically searching for two U.S. soldiers who have been missing since Friday, when insurgents attacked a checkpoint in Iraq. But the White House right now is feeling good about some other recent positive news coming out of Iraq, particularly the formation of a new government, as well as the killing of the top insurgent in Iraq, al- Zarqawi.

So, it is in that context that, today, the vice president appearing at the National Press Club and taking questions from reporters, made this statement.


QUESTION: About a year ago, you said that the insurgency in Iraq was in its final throes. Do you still believe this?


What I was referring to was the series of events that took place in 1995. I think the key turning point, when we get back 10 years from now, say, and look back on this period of time, and with respect to the campaign in Iraq, will be that series of events when -- when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their own affairs.


HENRY: Now, the vice president clearly meant to say 2005, not 1995. There, he was referring to Iraqi voters going to the polls in large numbers, the ratification of the new constitution, all setting the stage for this year's formation of the new government.

And the vice president, it's important to note, also, very clearly in later statements today also said that he underestimated the strength of the insurgency, saying he does not think anybody anticipated the level of violence that the U.S. has faced in Iraq.

But Democrats are not buying that explanation at all -- Jim Manley, a spokesman for the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, tonight telling CNN -- quote -- "It is simply unbelievable that the vice president -- that Vice President Cheney stood by his claim that the Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes. Everyone wishes that Cheney's view of the world comported with the facts on the ground. Unfortunately, just as in 2005, when he first claimed that the insurgency was in its last throes, Cheney's rhetoric doesn't match reality."

If there was any doubt at all tonight, Anderson, that Iraq is going to be the central issue in that campaign, those -- in that campaign, those doubts dispelled today. Democrats are going to be very aggressive in going on the attack and saying that, from day one, from the beginning to the end, the administration, from WMD to the "last throes" comments, have been misleading the public.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are going to be very aggressive, from Karl Rove's speech last week in New Hampshire, to the vice president today, in defending the war in Iraq. Regardless of any unpopularity, they're going to defend it and move forward and face it, face forward in this election Anderson.

COOPER: And we're going to be hearing those words, those three words, from Republicans that we have heard a lot in the last week or so, cut and run, that, of course, clearly the way they're going to try to brand the Democrats in all this.

Ed, appreciate you joining us.

Safe to say that not every Republican agrees with Mr. Cheney's assessment of the war in Iraq. And over the last year or so, a number have said as much. Recently, however, most Republicans have gotten behind a single message: Stay the course.

Democratic lawmakers are scrambling to respond. And we will have more on that in a moment.

First, what perhaps the leading Democrat who's not running for anything has to say about it, former Vice President Al Gore. I sat down with him earlier tonight.


COOPER: Today, Vice President Cheney says he stands by his statement that the insurgency is in its last throes.


GORE: Well, he was challenged on that statement the first time he made it, and he pulled out a Webster's Dictionary and gave the definition of throes. And somebody said, well, I have the definition of last here.

You know, it means a short time. I mean, I hope he's right. I don't think many people believe he is right. And -- and the -- and part of the problem is that, if -- if somebody in a leadership position tries to defy the best evidence available from the intelligence community, from the experts, and create their own reality, and base policy on it, that can only happen for so long, because it sets up a collision with reality proper, which is basically what happened in Iraq. And -- and, incidentally, we were talking about global warming earlier. It's exactly the same problem there. We can't create our own reality. We have to look at the facts and derive from those facts an accurate reading of what our true situation is, and then base policy on that, not on some ideological construct that we try to substitute -- that they try to substitute for reality.

COOPER: And that's what you think they're doing on global warming and even in Iraq?

GORE: Yes. Yes.

COOPER: They're sort of looking through it through a very narrow lens, through...

GORE: Yes.

COOPER: ... the -- the lens of ideology?

GORE: Yes.

The truth is inconvenient for them. It -- it -- it's easier, it seems easier, to create a different version of events that clashes with reality, and then repeat it over and over again. If we have only 10 years to solve global warming, taking two-and-a-half years out of that 10 and then just throwing them away is not acceptable. And allowing Iraq to drag on in the current situation, until there's a new administration, may make the problem much worse still.


COOPER: Well, that was former Vice President Gore. I will have more of my conversation with him later on tonight.

Now what his former colleagues on Capitol Hill are trying to do to -- to show that they are unified on Iraq.

With that, here's CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senate Democrats are trying to take advantage of what they call a major Republican election-year weakness: public frustration over Iraq.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: The change of policy that we call for is significant. The administration's policy to date, that we will be there for as long as Iraq needs us, will result in Iraq's depending upon us longer.

BASH: These Democrats hope to put Republicans on the spot with a non-binding resolution, a symbolic alternative to the administration's open-ended troop commitment in Iraq. Its backers chose the words carefully. Begin to phase redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2006, the measure says, and require the administration to submit a plan by the end of 2006 for continued phased redeployment beyond 2006. What's noticeably missing? A date certain for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

REED: This amendment is not cut and run. This is not about a date certain. This is about getting the president to do the job correctly, something he's failed to do for the last three years and three months.

BASH: This proposal is a product of intense deliberations, led by the Democratic leader, and has the blessing of senators like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, who agree with Republicans: A specific deadline for withdrawing is irresponsible.

But Democrats John Kerry and Russ Feingold disagree. They're countering with a measure that sets a hard deadline of July 1, 2007, for U.S. troops to be out of Iraq, an approach at this point that has only a handful of backers.

Republicans are already portraying Democratic disagreements as a sign of weakness and disarray. But leading Democrats argue, a fresh debate will be welcomed by a public tired of the status quo.

JOHN PODESTA, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think that Democrats, you know, have a role to play in pressing for accountability in -- in -- with respect to Iraq. And I think that's a very critical function that they're exercising this week.


COOPER: Is there any real hope that anything like these proposals can actually pass?

BASH: The short answer, Anderson, is, no, there isn't.

And you talk to Democrats privately, and they will fully admit that. This is not about actually having a goal of passing legislation. It's one thing, and one thing only, setting a political document, a blueprint for the Democrats, they hope, going into the election that's four-and-a-half months away, essentially, especially for Democrats, who are accused of not having a clear plan, who are divided, to be able to get 35, 36 votes for a specific plan, which they think they will get.

Now, publicly, Anderson, they are saying, well, maybe we will get some Republicans on board, but, frankly, that's unlikely to happen, at least to get a really large number of Republicans, in order to get this passed.

And I can tell you that, as we speak, Republican leaders are looking for some other alternative to allow their senators to vote for, so that Democrats don't even come close to getting a win on this.

COOPER: Dana, thanks.

Meantime, in Iraq, a widespread search is going on to find two missing American soldiers. Privates Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Lowell Tucker disappeared during an insurgent attack on a U.S. checkpoint on Friday. Through a Web site, a group with ties to al Qaeda today said they had abducted the men, but that claim could not be verified.

Meanwhile, the family of Private Menchaca spoke out about their anguish. Take a look.


CESAR VASQUEZ, BROTHER OF PRIVATE 1ST CLASS KRISTIAN MENCHACA: I was mentally preparing myself, you know, for -- for bad news, but I never thought he would actually get kidnapped. I mean, one thing is being killed. Another thing is getting kidnapped.


COOPER: Well, the U.S. military is vowing to use every means possible to find the missing troops.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre investigates.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was Friday night about dusk in the Iraqi town of Yusufiyah, a hotbed of insurgent activity just southwest of Baghdad, smack in an area known by U.S. troops as the Triangle of Death.

Three U.S. soldiers with their Humvee were manning a checkpoint at a portable bridge stretched over a canal. At 7:55 p.m., soldiers at another traffic control point nearby hear an explosion and small- arms fire coming from the bridge, and radio for help. Fifteen minutes later, a small quick-reaction force arrives and finds one soldier dead, two others missing.

Immediately, an extensive hunt is launched, and military dive teams begin searching the canal.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY SPOKESMAN, COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ: We are using all available assets, coalition and Iraqi, to find our soldiers, and will not stop looking until we find them. We will never stop looking for our service members, until their status is definitively determined.

MCINTYRE: Over the weekend, the search is expanded to include 8,000 U.S. military and Iraqi army and police, along with manned and unmanned spy planes. Even F-18s from the aircraft carrier Enterprise are pressed into service to use their sophisticated targeting systems to look for clues.

Since Friday, three suspected insurgents have been killed and 34 detained. Seven U.S. troops have been wounded as they sweep through the area.

CALDWELL: Approximately 12 villages have been cleared in the area, and we continue to engage local citizens for help and information leading to the whereabouts of our soldiers.

MCINTYRE: The missing soldiers are 23-year-old Private Kristian Menchaca of Houston, Texas, and 25-year-old Private Thomas Tucker of Madras, Oregon. Their fate has attracted the attention of the highest levels of the U.S. government.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: And, obviously, their safe return is something that everyone will work for, and their safe return is something that everyone will pray for.

MCINTYRE (on camera): U.S. military officials remain skeptical of the boast on an Islamist Web site that the two American soldiers have been captured, in part because no pictures or proof were posted along with the claim. And officials say they cannot confirm reports suggesting the soldiers may have been left isolated and more vulnerable when their diversionary attack lured some of the soldiers from their unit away.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


COOPER: Well, Private Menchaca and Private Tucker are not the only U.S. soldiers missing tonight. Here's the "Raw Data."

Army Reserve Sergeant Matt Maupin has been missing now for 730 days. He was captured when his fuel convoy was ambushed on April 9, 2004. A week later, Al-Jazeera aired a videotape showing Maupin sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles. Later, Al-Jazeera aired another tape purporting to show a U.S. soldier being shot. The Army ruled that tape inconclusive.

Maupin was a private 1st class when he was captured. The Army has promoted him twice since then.

Straight ahead tonight, a political gut check on Iraq. We will get some analysis of what's going on in Washington from Dana Bash, Ed Henry, and John King.

And, later, we may have dodged a real bullet -- details of a plot by al Qaeda involving cyanide on the New York City subway system -- why it never happened, and why that might be the scariest part of all.

And years after 9/11, the gaping holes in rail security all across the country, not just in New York -- "Keeping Them Honest."

You're watching 360.


COOPER: Well, before the break, you heard Vice President Cheney defending the notion that the insurgency in Iraq was in its last throes. He said that more than a year ago. He said he still believes it today -- that as Democrats grapple with their own message on the war. A lot to talk about with White House correspondent Ed Henry, congressional correspondent Dana Bash, and chief national correspondent John King, part of the best political team in the business.

Guys, thanks for joining us again.

Dana, last week, House Republicans set the agenda by forcing this vote on a no-arbitrary-deadline resolution in Iraq. This week, you have Senate Democrats now sort of focusing and forcing their own issue. What's the strategy?

BASH: The strategy is really simple. These are Democrats that have now run against the Bush White House in two election cycles and essentially have gotten beaten on one issue, and that is national security.

And they are determined to try to not let that happen again. They realize they can talk about domestic policy until they're blue in the face, and it just isn't going to matter, because what they're already seeing, even in this election cycle, is that Republicans, the Karl Rove election-year playbook is to try to turn around a negative, and that is in Iraq, and make that a positive, and, doing that, they're going to try to make Democrats look weak on national security.

Democrats understand that they have to have their own plan. That's what this is all about.

COOPER: So, John, John King, I mean, it's got to be a plan that enough of them can agree on, because they all -- they do have different opinions of what should happen there.

Is the plan that they have come up with, some sort of a timetable, but not specifying an exact date, is that going to be able to -- to be enough to kind of throw off the -- the notion -- the label of cut -- that they want to cut and run?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats certainly hope so, Anderson.

And what they're banking on most of all is simply the attitude that the American people are fed up with what they see and they will want change, and they will at least be open to a debate about alternatives. Maybe they don't like the Democrats who call for a specific date. Maybe they don't know quite what other Democrats mean when they say a phased redeployment.

The president would say, he's for a phased redeployment. He just won't say when it should start. He says he can't start that phased redeployment -- some would say phased withdrawal -- welcome to the world of politics and semantics -- but even the president would say, you have to wait until you see conditions on the ground.

The Democrats want to say, no, Mr. President, we're three years and we're three months into this. We have sent billions and billions of dollars. We have lost 2,500 young men and women. You owe the American people a more specific plan.

They believe, by pressing that issue, they can convince the American people, maybe it is time to think about a change of approach in Iraq. Maybe we should open our minds to the Democrats. And, as Dana noted earlier, they hope to at least force the Republicans to come up with an alternative of their own, which at least would show some Republicans are nervous about the White House.

COOPER: Well, Ed, what about Republican nervousness or White House nervousness? I mean, you have the recent CNN poll. What does it say? Fifty-five percent of Americans think things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq.

Yet, the vice president today repeats his belief that the insurgency is in its last throes. Is the White House concerned that -- that that view, their view, is at odds with what the voters are thinking?

HENRY: There's certainly concern and nervousness within the Republican Party.

But the White House feels strongly, coming out of the formation of the new government in Iraq, as well as the death of al-Zarqawi, that finally they're -- they are turning the tide. They have said this before. They have seen progress wiped away by facts on the ground. But they finally feel like it is turning the corner.

But they're walking a very fine line. On one hand, you have the vice president saying insurgency in its last throes and the president saying this was a great victory, to get al-Zarqawi. But, on the other hand, the vice president immediately measures that with, there's going to be more violence ahead. The president measures that with challenges ahead. The White House insists they're being straight with the American people about the challenges ahead.

But the Democrats say that the White House is giving a very incomplete picture and that they have been misleading the public from day one. So, I -- I think the Republicans feel like they're going to take this issue head on, because they have no other choice.

COOPER: Dana...

HENRY: The war's unpopular, but they have to meet it head on.

COOPER: And -- and, Dana, you now have John Kerry basically setting a date of July 1, 2007, for withdrawal from Iraq. How much support does he actually have among his fellow Democrats?

BASH: Realistically, Anderson, not much. I think, at this point, there are about six who are on record supporting him. And the majority, I think, of the Democratic Caucus support something that is a lot more cautious, shall we say, does not have a specific date certain to withdraw troops.

And, actually, John Kerry, in private meetings, tried to get his plan as sort of the consensus plan, and was rejected. Now, what John Kerry and his aides would say and are saying is, you look at CNN's latest poll, it says 53 percent of Americans actually do believe there should be a timeline, a date certain for withdrawal. But when you look at the fine print, the number gets a lot smaller when you talk about something more immediate.

But bottom line is, he, if anybody really has learned a lesson, talking about lessons learned from the past, he's learned a lesson from his election against -- against President Bush, that Democrats have to set a clear alternative to the Bush White House, if they're going to get any traction in the election.

COOPER: And -- and John, I mean, it seems like Republicans are pretty convinced the issue number one for these upcoming elections is Iraq. Are Democrats convinced of that as well?

KING: Well, they feel, as Ed said, that they have no choice. Republicans have to deal with this war. The Democrats believe it is their greatest opening, if they can find a way to capitalize.

And that is their frustration of 2002, their frustration of 2004. They see a weakness in the president, in the Republican Party, because the war is so unpopular, and yet they have not managed to break through on this.

But, Anderson, Republicans are nervous as well. And they have told that to the president. They want the president out talking more about this, which you have seen in recent days. They want the president to try to clearly define the issues. But one of the reasons Republicans are saying, talk about it now, Mr. President, talk about it more now, draw the comparisons more now, is because, if we get to September, Labor Day, and there's not clear improvement on the ground in Iraq, many of these Republicans in tough districts might start saying, Mr. President, we need to change course.

COOPER: Fascinating.

John King, Dana Bash, Ed Henry, thanks.

KING: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, it's an alarming revelation. Al Qaeda may have come awfully close to attacking the New York City subway system with cyanide gas. Coming up, we will have the details about the alleged plot and how easily it could have been pulled off.

And we're going to look at the weapon in question, cyanide gas. Just how deadly is it? 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta is going to join to tell us about its effects on you and me -- when 360 continues.


COOPER: There's a nightmare scenario here at home: cyanide unleashed on the New York City subway system.

Now, the plot is detailed in a new book by investigative journalist Ron Suskind. In a nutshell, al Qaeda has managed to devise a crude, but effective way of weaponizing cyanide. They were planning to use it back in early 2003, according to this report. But just 45 days away from what could have been a disastrous day the attack was called off. The question is, why? And nearly five years after 9/11, just how vulnerable are we still?

CNN's Deborah Feyerick investigates.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take the New York City subway and you will see it is pretty easy to carry on a suitcase, just as we did, no questions asked.

(on camera): How big would the device be?

PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: It probably would have fit in a suitcase.

FEYERICK: So, a larger suitcase, less of an overhead...


D'AMURO: Somebody could make it small enough to fit into a backpack.

FEYERICK (voice-over): When threats of a cyanide gas attack in New York City's subways first surfaced in 2003, Pat D'Amuro was briefed at FBI headquarters in Washington on the attack plan, and even saw a model of the weapon.

(on camera): You saw the device back in 2003. How complicated is this particular device?

D'AMURO: Not extremely complicated. They were using containers. And then the containers would -- would hold all the material together. One of the containers or a couple of the containers would break, thereby mixing the components and causing the gas to disperse.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Details of the alleged plot are outlined in a new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind. He writes that al Qaeda was just 45 days away from carrying out the subway attack when it was called off by Osama bin Laden's second in command. The reason is still unclear.

Nick Casale says the agency that runs the subways was warned at the time.

NICHOLAS CASALE, FORMER NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT OFFICIAL: We set up counter-observation teams at major transit hubs. We did not know what we were looking for.

FEYERICK: Casale showed us flaws that still exist three years later, like subway seats, supposedly locked, which flipped easily and could be used to hide explosives.

In Afghan training camps, FBI agents discovered names of the suspected al Qaeda members who were supposed to carry out the attack. They were never able to confirm whether the alleged terrorists had made it to New York, much less the United States. So, the threat level was considered low.

D'AMURO: It didn't get up to a DEFCON-5 or it didn't get up to raising the level on this particular threat.

FEYERICK: Hydrogen cyanide, which is colorless and smells of peaches or bitter almonds, was used in Nazi death camps in World War II. Intelligence officials say, because of the airflow inside New York City subways, it is unclear how many people could actually have died.

Security officials say the subway plot was one of several being investigated at the time. They point to last year's terrorist attack in London's subways and say they are still concerned about this kind of plot.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, luckily -- and that's probably not the best word here -- killing a single person with cyanide is a whole lot easier than killing dozens or hundreds, actually weaponizing it. You can thank the laws of physics and chemistry for that.

Here with more on why weapons of mass destruction, thankfully, don't always turn out that way, 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta.

Thanks for being with us.


COOPER: OK, true or false, cyanide is an effective terrorist tool?

GUPTA: Well, that's actually true and false, both.

For the most part, it's going to be false. People who are exposed to cyanide, if they're in a large space, this is a gas that actually disperses pretty quickly. So, it's going to be hard to actually be poisoned by it. It depends on the amount of cyanide, the length of time, and the route in which the cyanide is given. A gas form of cyanide is going to be much worse, certainly, but you can actually get poisoned by swallowing it as well.

But cyanide's really everywhere. I mean, it's in the soil. It's in a lot of the foods that we eat, including almonds, spinach, and tapioca pudding, for example. So, for the most part, it's not going to be a problem.

COOPER: True or false, it's difficult to tell if someone has been poisoned with cyanide?

GUPTA: That's true. And -- and it's interesting, because for the -- there -- there are tests. You can measure it in the blood, in the urine, even in the skin. But what happens is that it -- it's a very short half-life, so it gets out of the body very quickly, hard to measure.

But there are some signs, some symptoms of a standard cyanide poisoning. They can be vague at times, but your heart rate might start to increase. You might start to develop some restlessness, some fatigue, some dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

COOPER: I have like six of those symptoms right now.

GUPTA: Right.


GUPTA: And -- and you haven't been exposed to cyanide, as far as we know.

COOPER: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

GUPTA: Here's another thing, almond smell. Not everyone will be able to smell...


COOPER: Yes. I have heard that. Is that really true?

GUPTA: Yes. It is true, which is interesting.

You can smell -- about 25 percent of people can't smell the almonds. But the rest of it, you will actually have this sort of burnt or smoked almond smell when it's being released, and also on the breath of someone who's been exposed. So, that might be a clue as well.

COOPER: OK, true or false, that -- that, if you have been exposed to it, to the gas, you should immediately remove your clothes? I read that somewhere.

GUPTA: Well, that's sort of true. There's a couple of things with that. First of all, when you have been exposed to the gas you want to get out there as quickly as possible. That's the first thing. If you're in the subway, for example, as we were just talking about, and you can't get out, remember that cyanide actually is lighter than air. As are a lot of poisonous gases.

So get down close to the ground. That's one of the first things. The removing of the clothes things is you want to try -- it can be stuck in the fabric of your clothing and continue to be released even hours after the fact. So that's why you want to get rid of that clothing, put them in a plastic bag and take a shower.

COOPER: In terms of weaponizing, it true or false, there's no antidote for cyanide poisoning? GUPTA: That's false. In fact, there are antidotes. That's a common misconception. If someone comes in quite sick from cyanide poisoning, you're going to do all the basic things first. Make sure they have an airway, make sure they're breathing only. But there are a couple antidotes. Amy nitrate, for example. You actually place the wafers just underneath the nose, let them breathe that in. Sodium nitrite as well is another antidote.

These are being more commonly used. Again, cyanide poisoning is a pretty rare thing but the antidotes are now out there.

COOPER: Cool, Sanjay, thanks for the facts.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: Appreciate it.

More on the plot to pump cyanide into the New York City subway system coming up. We'll talk to CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen about why this plot may have been called off. In fact, if it's real, whether it was because al Qaeda had something worse in store.

And nearly five years after 9/11 have we learned any lessons about protecting ourselves from terrorist attacks? We're going do look at how vulnerable our mass transit systems are. We're not just talking about New York but really all around the country. Keeping them honest, next on 360.


COOPER: Back to what the New York subway cyanide plot. If true, why would they call off the attack as Ron Suskind writes just 45 days before the fact? Was it because as it's been reported al Qaeda's second in command, that man, Ayman al Zawahiri, had something even worse on the drawing board? With us tonight in Washington CNN terrorism analyst and expert on al Qaeda, Peter Bergen. Peter, thanks for being with us.

Does it make any sense that they would call this off?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERROR ANALYST: I mean, that's the most puzzling part of the story. I think Ron Suskind's story is very well sourced and the extract in "Time Magazine" is incredibly convincing. However, this -- why would Zawahiri call this off? I guess there are three possible reasons. One, as Dr. Sanjay Gupta just pointed out, I mean, these cyanide attacks probably wouldn't kill a lot of people. Maybe it wasn't spectacular enough.

Two, weapons of mass destruction are something these groups have long been interested in but they are somewhat sensitive to public opinion and as we saw, you may remember Zawahiri sent a letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi telling him to stop beheading civilians because you're turning off mass support.

So perhaps there was some sensitivity, some scruples about their views of people in the Muslim world to the kind of attacks. But frankly, I have no idea. Getting inside Ayman al Zawahiri's head is not an easy thing to do.

COOPER: Nor a pleasant thing, I would imagine. The other thing that makes it convincing is that we do know, and we've seen the videotapes of al Qaeda practicing with gases.

BERGEN: Indeed. I mean, CNN's Nic Robertson retrieved a couple of hundred of al Qaeda videotapes after the fall of the Taliban, and one of them was a very famous piece of videotape. It showed a dog in an enclosed space being gassed.

The pictures we're seeing now. The gas that was being used was almost certainly some form of cyanide gas in these experiments. The guy who was conducting these experiments, by all accounts, rejoiced in the wonderful alias of Abu Kebab (ph). He was the guy in charge off ...

COOPER: Is that really his alias? Abu Kebab?

BERGEN: That's his real name -- That's his real alias.

COOPER: His nom de guerre.

BERGEN: His nom de jihad.

COOPER: It sounds like a joke. Let's call that guy Abu Kebab.

BERGEN: Unfortunately, Abu Kebab, he wasn't really a funny guy in practice. He was running the weapons of mass destruction program that al Qaeda had in Jalabad in eastern Afghanistan and he was likely the person conducting these operations with cyanide.

Now, the good thing is these were pretty amateur kinds of things, they had a strong interest in developing them but the kinds of things they were doing, they weren't really developing weapons of mass destruction. That's nuclear weapons. You know, weapons of mass disruption I think was the effort that they were looking into.

COOPER: What is the likelihood -- this kind of a plot would rely on there being a sleeper cell somewhere in New York or somewhere in the country. What do you think is the likelihood that a terror sleeper cell remains in this country?

BERGEN: I'd be very skeptical of that notion, but I think with some recent cases in Canada you may recall the 17 people that were arrested planning to attack sites in Ontario. We also have a case in Torrance, California of a group of men planning to attack synagogues and U.S. military facilities that's going to go to trial in October of this year.

Those cases have begun to make me think that this remains a strong possibility.

COOPER: Interesting. And are those cases people who came to either Canada or the United States with mayhem in mind or were those people who were living here and are ideologically sympathetic to al Qaeda and decided to kind of do this themselves? Do we know? BERGEN: These are homegrown cases. These are self-starting Canadian and American citizens.

COOPER: Interesting. Which is perhaps even more troubling. Peter Bergen, appreciate, it, thank you.

BERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: When it comes to security, fewer federal dollars are allocated to America's railroads and commuter trains than airports and airlines. Did you know that? We'll look at why this has been allowed to happen and the potential fix. We're keeping them honest.

And a hidden camera captures an execution in North Korea. The crime -- several executions, actually. The crime -- making contact with the outside world. That's why this person was killed. A rare window on Kim Jong-Il reign of terror as the so-called Dear Leader gets ready to test a missile that has the world on edge. Details when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, if the 9/11 terrorists had also targeted railroad passengers or even commuter trains, you can bet that rail security in America would be far tougher than it is today.

Instead, according to critics, the millions of Americans who ride the rails each year are especially vulnerable. And yet there's been plenty of time to get it right. CNN's Jeanne Meserve tonight "Keeping Them Honest."


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The release of the deadly nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 killed 12 and injured thousands. If cyanide had indeed been used to attack the New York transit system, in this area of homeland security would the effects have also been devastating?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, (D) HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: We are not nearly as robust in this area as we need to be. We could have had a major catastrophe on our hands.

MESERVE: A new Democratic congressional report obtained by CNN says that despite the Tokyo attack and the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and last July's transit attacks in London the federal government has "failed to produce a comprehensive strategy to secure America's rail and mass transit systems." The administration disputes that.

ROBERT JAMISON, TSA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: We have a strategy document for all of transportation security. Transit is one element of that strategy document.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they have such a strategy, I'm certainly not aware of it. MESERVE: The American Public Transportation Association says the federal government hasn't produced a plan for security or the money. The group estimates it would take $6 billion to secure transit, but the TSA says it has spent about 15 percent of that.

THOMPSON: Our best calculations indicate that about one penny per passenger is going into transit security and over $8 per passenger going into airline security.

MESERVE: The TSA says it has taken steps to improve security by increasing its numbers of bomb-sniffing dogs, experimenting with new technologies to detect explosives, and chemical, biological and radiological threats, and conducting more exercises, doing more training, and sharing more injuries.

JAMISON: We will continue to make it a priority.

MESEVE: Transit systems themselves have spent about $2 billion to upgrade security. Though there is a consensus that transit security has gotten better, critics say it is far from good enough and the federal government must do more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to put their money where their mouth is and improve security for the 32 million times that Americans use public transportation every day.

MESERVE (on camera): But the Department of Homeland Security must weigh transit against other vulnerabilities like aviation or ports. Transit ranks lower because as homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff has said an attack there is not likely to kill as many people. Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: New York City Congressman Peter King chairs the house Homeland Security Committee. I spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: So congressman King, it seems like a lot of different sides are pointing fingers at each other. Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson blamed the Republican majority for not making rail safety a priority. Do you think that's fair?

REP. PETER KING, (R) NY: No, I really don't. Actually, I've been chairman since September, and I thought I had a very good working relationship with Bennie Thompson. We've worked together on port security, on ammonium nitrate, on Dubai ports. He and I are working together as far as the funding cuts to New York and to Washington, DC, and we are making every effort, certainly on rail security, on chemical plant security. We're going forward in all those areas. So I don't accept that at all, no.

COOPER: He says, Thompson says, that only one penny per passenger is going to transit security compared to $8 per passenger going to airline security. A, are those figures accurate in your opinion? And if so, why is there that imbalance?

KING: Well, it could be accurate, but it doesn't really -- it's really comparing apples and oranges because first of all, you can secure an airport. The airport is under the control of the government. You can control everyone going in and you can also control the flow of passengers.

It's impossible to do that with a subway system, with a rail system because there are so many millions of passengers going on every day. Listen, coming from New York where there's hundreds and hundreds and many hundreds of train stations and millions of passengers every day, about 3 1/2 million passengers on the New York City subway system every day, not even to talk about the commuter rails, obviously more has to be done. Excuse me. But it is very difficult. And we're doing the very best we can.

COOPER: What do you know about this potential terrorist plot to release cyanide capsules in New York City?

KING: Well, my understanding is that it is true and that it was there, it was certainly considered to be a valid threat, and it was called back. But Anderson, there's any number of other threats too that are out there that are against New York City that are still being looked at, and that's why it was so to me disgraceful to have Secretary Chertoff cut the funding to New York City.

COOPER: I want to read something that Chertoff said explaining the decision to cut funding to New York. He said, quote, "the $124 million that New York will receive this year is 50 percent more than the next highest area, Los Cngeles, and represents almost a threefold increase over the $46 million that the city received back in 2004." And he goes on to actually blame Congress for cutting security programs, security grants by 600 million.

KING: Yeah, Mike Chertoff is totally wrong on that. First of all, what he forgets to say is this is a 40 percent cut from last year. The number he's using in 2004, that was absolutely wrong. No one -- I mean, everybody admitted that number was far too low.

COOPER: He says it's a cut from last year, though, because basically you guys in Congress didn't give them enough in grants.

KING: That is not true at all. One of the reasons that there was a reduction in the overall amount of money is because 46 percent of the money that's an allocated over the last four years is still in the pipeline, it's not made its way to the cities. That is not true with New York. There is more than enough money. More than enough money for him to give the money to New York at the same level if not more than last year. He knows that and he's being very disingenuous. This is untrue what he's saying. The money was there.

COOPER: How do you think he's doing?

KING: I was a big supporter of Mike Chertoff when he came in. I'm very disappointed. There's just been to me really a lack of good faith in dealing, and I'm very disappointed in Secretary Chertoff. COOPER: Do you think he should step down?

KING: I would leave it now by saying I'm disappointed, but I'd say it's getting more and more difficult to defend him staying in the position.

COOPER: Representative Peter King, appreciate you joining us. Thanks.

KING: Anderson, thank you.


COOPER: Coming up, new mom and refugee advocate Angelina Jolie, just back from Africa, you may have heard. We're going to give a preview of the 360 exclusive interview.

And remember this? Last October, pregnant sky diver falls thousands of feet, crashes into a parking lot and survives. We have an update. It is the shot of the day when 360 continues.


COOPER: Angelina Jolie is just back from Africa with Brad Pitt and their brand new baby Shiloh. I sat down with Jolie last week and we talked about her family and her career and one of the most important roles she has as UNHCR goodwill ambassador. That work takes her to some of the most desperate places on earth, and that's the focus of our special tomorrow night. One of the places she visited, the Democratic Republic of Congo.


COOPER: Since the late '90s, I mean, more than 3 million people have died. A thousand they say die a day from war-related conditions, malnutrition and things like that ...

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: And there is also the rapes in Congo, which is ...

COOPER: The rapes?

JOLIE: And from Rwanda.

COOPER: Right, right.

JOLIE: That shocked me. I didn't realize how that was still -- I mean, that's the thing you realize and I think why people are worried about Darfur. One area of Africa falls apart and how it just destabilizes the region. You can see from Rwanda still affecting Congo.

COOPER: Right. It's also so often women and children who are the ones bearing the brunt of all this. I mean, in the Congo it's women being raped, tens of thousands of women. I read that you saw children who have been, you know, macheted. What is that like to see that? I mean, to see that being done to kids.

JOLIE: It's just -- how do you possibly explain that? It's like being in Sierra Leone. I saw a three-year-old who had her arms cut off. And you just think, you know, what kind of a human being -- you try to imagine, it must be drugs, it must be -- But what kind of a person could do that?

And the rapes in the Congo are so brutal. The people that don't know about it. There's so much -- and even I recently had a baby in Africa and people talking about the surgeries and the different types of surgeries but they talk so much about Congo and having to sew the kids back together because they've been just ripped completely open.

And that's -- how do you make sense of any of that? It doesn't make any sense. It's disgusting and it's horrible and it needs -- you start to wonder with all of these things when does it take us as an international community to just get together and say that just has to stop?

Joseph Kohn (ph) has to stop. It has to stop now. How long does it take for us to start to enforce an international law on these kind of situations and deal with it immediately? Because that's what you start to just get angry about. You can get angry about the situation in one country or the people doing it, but then there's that broader picture of we need to do something stronger.


COOPER: It's really a revealing look not only at her life but at the work she's doing in some very dangerous places around the world and the lives being led by some 15 million people who are without a home tonight. We'll be airing all of our exclusive interview with Angelina Jolie on World Refugee Day. That is tomorrow night on a special edition of 360.

Coming up on this edition of 360, the shot of the day. First Erica Hill, though, joins me with some of the business stories we're following. Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN HN ANCHOR: Anderson, it may be a new week for Wall Street but old troubles remain. The Dow sinking 76 points today. The NASDAQ dropped 18. The S&P lost 10. All indices falling after the Atlanta Federal Reserve president expressed some concern over inflation. He is one of the Fed officials who will meet later this month to decide whether to boost interest rates.

Home builder confidence also hitting a low, its lowest level in fact in more than 11 years. The National Association of Home Builders-Wells Fargo Housing Market index fell four points between May and June. Builders say potential buyers are turned off by rising interest rates and affordability concerns. They say a high number of contracts are being canceled and suggest home sales will sink 13 percent this year from a record high last year.

And a union that bridges both sides at the Battle of the Bulge. Chocolate maker Nestle buying weight loss company Jenny Craig for $600 million. The world's largest food maker says it is committed to nutrition, health and wellness, Anderson, which can also be found through chocolate.

COOPER: Exactly. All right. Time for the shot today. Remember this video back in October when a skydiver's parachute failed to open properly?

HILL: Ooh, scary.

COOPER: The woman slammed into the ground at like 50 miles per hour. She survived. She had injuries to her face and her pelvis. Her pelvis was broken in three different places. Here's the shocker. She was also two weeks pregnant. She didn't know it when she went sky diving. Now Shayna West (ph) and her husband Rick are the proud parents of a healthy baby boy named Tanner. And while Shayna says she plans to try sky diving again when her doctors say it is okay, her husband Rick says he does not like the idea.

HILL: I can't imagine why not.

COOPER: I flow. But if the baby can survive that, it's a tough little kid I'm sure.

HILL: Absolutely.

COOPER: Going to do well. Erica, thanks.

HILL: Thanks.

COOPER: Well, the city that was a safe haven for Katrina survivors tonight is dealing with major flooding of its own. Coming up, the washout in Houston. Have you seen these pictures? A sudden storm crippled large chunks of the city. We'll take you there. Also in Arizona they could use the rain. Huge wildfires there and mandatory evacuations. We'll have the latest.

And it's not just nature throwing punches. Former Vice President Al Gore talks with me about the damage we're causing to the earth and how there may be little time left to change course. The alarming details when 360 continues.


COOPER: Rains create a river in Houston. Hundreds of people rescued from the floods and a second storm is now moving in.

ANNOUNCER: Homes engulfed, highways washed out and the worst of the flooding may still be ahead of us. We go live to Houston.

Al Gore sounds the alarm on global warming and says time is running out.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: We may have as little as 10 years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Anderson talks one on one with the former vice president about his new campaign to avoid a global catastrophe.

And murder in New Orleans. Six people killed in one weekend. The governor ends in the National Guard. Is the city falling apart again? We investigate.

Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Live from the CNN broadcast center in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.


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