CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Tom Ridge, Del Oddy, Tilden Curry
Aired November 15, 2001 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, can his new anti-terrorism plan keep Americans safe? In New York an exclusive interview with the director of homeland security, Tom Ridge.
After a dramatic rescue from the Taliban, their daughters are finally free -- from New York, an exclusive interview with Heather Mercer's mother and stepfather, Deborah and Del Oddy. Plus in Louisville, Dana Curry's dad and step mom, Tilden Curry and his wife Sue Fuller.
And then she risked her life, went behind the lines in the war against the Taliban, from London, Saira Shah on her new documentary "Unholy War."
Finally, an incredible musical tribute to the homeland with the legendary Kenny Rogers. They're all next, on LARRY KING LIVE!
Heather Mercer and Dana Curry are two U.S. relief workers who were detained by the Taliban in Afghanistan three months ago, they were charged with trying to convert the Muslims to Christianity. They were freed last night in Afghanistan, along with six other Western aid workers. They are now in Pakistan, they were freed by U.S. Special Forces. Here in New York are the Oddys, in Nashville are the Currys. We'll start here in New York, now you are the stepfather, right?
DEL ODDY, HEATHER MERCER'S STEPFATHER: That is correct, Larry.
KING: How did you hear of your daughter's rescue, Deborah?
DEBORAH ODDY, STEPMOTHER OF HEATHER MERCER: We had heard rumors, Mr. King, all day long -- and they were simply rumors. And it was 7:23 last night when we had official confirmation from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad that --
KING: They called you?
ODDY: Actually, we called them.
KING: Oh. And?
MRS. ODDY: And I caught Heather's dad John shaving, and he was in tears.
KING: That's your ex-husband. MRS. ODDY: That's my former husband.
KING: He is there.
MRS. ODDY: He is there. And Del and I had also been there. We just arrived home recently. However, John was shaving, he was in tears and he said, I'm rushing to get into the embassy. We are going to meet the girls.
KING: How did you feel, Del?
DEL ODDY: Well, it was exciting news, that we have been looking forward to for three months.
KING: You had three months of agony here, right?
DEL ODDY: Exactly right.
KING: All right. How is she Deborah?
MRS. ODDY: I talked to her for about 45 minutes prior to getting on the plane today.
MRS. ODDY: Yes. And she's doing great. She is so happy to be out, very anxious to reunite with the family, won't come soon enough for her stepdad or for me.
KING: When will that be?
MRS. ODDY: It appears now that it's going to be the weekend after Thanksgiving.
KING: They will keep her there, question her and the like?
MRS. ODDY: Actually she is going to be leaving Pakistan shortly, and she will be going to western Europe with all 8 of the hostages. And they will meet there together and resolve some issues, and then face the press.
KING: Did you talk to her Del?
DEL ODDY: No, I haven't. Her mother has.
KING: Stepfather always has to step back.
DEL ODDY: You got it right.
KING: Is she in good health?
MRS. ODDY: She is in good health. She hasn't had a physical exam yet, but appears to be.
KING: How was she treated?
MRS. ODDY: There were good days and there were bad days. I think, overall she was treated very well.
KING: Did they ever have any kind of trial, or formal charge? Was she ever put before a group to say did you ever do this against our law?
MRS. ODDY: She was formally charged. She never had a chance to answer those charges.
KING: OK. In Nashville it's Tilden Curry, he is the father of Dana Durry, and Sue Fuller is Dana Curry's stepmother. So we have -- these are both divorced couples, and in your case, Tilden, your ex- wife is now in Islamabad as well, right?
TILDEN CURRY, DANA CURRY'S FATHER: That is correct.
KING: Have you spoken to her?
KING: I have not, but I did just speak to Dayna last night at about quarter to 10:00. And it was a thrill to hear her voice.
KING: And how is she?
CURRY: She seemed to be in very high spirits, and just to hear her say dad, I'm safe, was just thrilling to me.
KING: How was she treated, Tilden?
CURRY: She's always thought she was treated quite well under the circumstances. I think there were a little afraid when they first got arrested, and I think the last couple days were very trying, and dangerous, but most of the time they were very complimentary of how they were being treated.
KING: Sue, you are the stepmother, did you get to talk to Dayna?
SUE FULLER, STEPMOTHER OF DANA CURRY: Yes, I did. It was thrill.
KING: What were these last three months like for you?
FULLER: Initially when we first heard that they had been arrested it was really terrifying, because we didn't know what that meant. And we heard lots of rumors of severe penalties, like the death penalty. But as time went on I guess we just had to put our trust in God, that they would be safe.
We knew they were doing what they felt like they were called to do there. And so as time went on, we just -- we trusted that God would care for them. And we thought they would get out safely, that it was just a matter of time. But then of course the last couple of days...
KING: Must of been...
FULLER: ... were really scary.
KING: Tilden, how did you find out -- Tilden?
CURRY: We had a church congregation dinner, and as soon as I arrived last night at about 5:35, a couple members of the congregation had came up told me that it had broke on national news. And it was just a tremendous sense of relief when I -- that was the main thing I felt, and of course joy came after that. But I just felt relief, because we had been on pins and needles particularly for the last two or three days.
KING: Did your ex-wife set up the phone call?
CURRY: She probably had something to do with it, but Dayna indicated that someone from the embassy staff had helped also.
MRS. ODDY: Why, Deborah, did you have to call the embassy? Why hadn't they called you?
MRS. ODDY: Actually, we had so many phone calls from the press our machine was full. And we had been screening all of our calls.
KING: And the press was calling with the news?
MRS. ODDY: Yes, and we were not responding to them.
KING: You didn't know officially?
MRS. ODDY: Correct. Correct. And so, the embassy had in fact called us three times, but the machine was full. And we weren't able to hear them.
KING: Was there ever a time Deborah that you feared for her life?
MRS. ODDY: Probably from August the 4th, until yesterday.
KING: No kidding?
MRS. ODDY: No kidding.
KING: What about you, Tilden, did you ever fear for her life?
CURRY: Well, you know, I think it's always dangerous you get caught up in a civil war in that way, but -- but otherwise I could never accept death for what they did, even as a possibility. I had a hard time dealing with that, and I just never felt that would be the case.
KING: Your daughter is a devout Christian?
CURRY: She is very much so.
KING: And that is what she is going to continue to do you do think? CURRY: Well, I think she is dedicated to helping those in need around the world, and all indications are that she would like to continue that in some capacity.
KING: Del, did you worry about the bombing -- I mean, you know, friendly fire?
DEL ODDY: Oh, yes. In fact we were in Kabul on the 11th of September and...
DEL ODDY: ... from that moment on, we were worried about retaliation, and how fast it would come.
KING: You were in Kabul that day?
DEL ODDY: That day.
KING: What was news like there?
DEL ODDY: Oh, very dramatic, of course. Evacuation had already been started on so many of the non-government agencies, and we were in a U.N. compound that particular day.
KING: You watched it on TV there?
DEL ODDY: We got back from seeing Heather that day, and witnessed the second plane running into the World Trade Center.
KING: Did you, Sue, ever fear for her life?
FULLER: I'm not sure I really let myself consider the possibility that her life was in that in danger, but yes there were a few moments. Times when I thought the scariest thoughts, but most of the time I really did feel like she would get out safely. And part of that was because Dayna felt that -- every time we heard from her, she let us know that she felt confident that they would get through this safely. And that there was real purpose in their being there, and that gave us the courage and the faith to believe that, too.
KING: President Bush said he spoke with both ladies today.
FULLER; Oh, good.
KING: Yes, did he talk to you?
MRS. ODDY: No, he did not speak with me. However, when I spoke to Heather, just prior to our departure for New York City today, she said, mom I talked to the president. Why would he want to talk to me?
KING: What did he say?
MRS. ODDY: He was sharing with her how pleased he was that she was out. And I don't think anybody is happier than Dayna and Heather.
MRS. ODDY: And I said, Heather, I heard his press conference and he called you his neighbor -- she said, oh, he did?
KING: Tilden, did your daughter -- did Dayna tell you about talking to President Bush?
CURRY: No, when I spoke to her it was before she had spoken to the president, but I did hear the newscast.
KING: You'll see Dayna when, right after Thanksgiving, the same as Deborah and De?
CURRY: Probably so. Probably so.
KING: Do you two all know each other?
CURRY: No we don't. We hope to meet Deborah and Del someday.
KING: And you've had tragedy in your family right, Deborah, you lost -- Heather lost a sister, right?
MRS. ODDY: She did, last June 25 of 2000.
KING: Died of what?
MRS. ODDY: She's an OxyContin victim.
KING: What's that?
MRS. ODDY: OxyContin is the drug that you heard so much about, the very controversial pain-killer drug.
KING: She died taking that drug?
MRS. ODDY: Yes, she was -- she had surgery she --
MRS. ODDY: Took her medication on a Friday night, and never woke up.
KING: Is there lawsuits now?
MRS. ODDY: It is being considered, but we haven't moved forward.
KING: I salute all, we look forward to having your kids on this show when they get back. Their faith obviously sustained them. Thank you Tilden and Sue, in Nashville. Thank you Deborah Del right here.
MRS. ODDY: Thank you very much, Mr. King.
KING: This is LARRY KING LIVE, in New York, don't go away.
KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. By the way, when Governor Ridge joins us, we will taking phone calls for him as well.
Joining us now from London, a return visit with Saira Shah. You will all remember, the documentary filmmaker whose brilliant "Beneath the Evil" (sic) aired on CNN last August gave us as dramatic a look at life inside the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, and now, guess what -- she is just back from Afghanistan, another amazing look at life there.
Her new documentary film "Unholy War," will air on CNN this weekend. Here is the times: It will air at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, and then an encore presentation of "Beneath the Evil," the original show, will air Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
Why did you go back?
SAIRA SHAH, REPORTER, "UNHOLY WAR": Well, Larry, a couple of reasons. Firstly, after September 11, like everyone else, I saw the terrible pictures from New York, and I was trying to believe that it had nothing to do with Afghanistan. And gradually I began to realize that it did have. I felt I should go back, and at the same time on news broadcasts I started to see the Cockshire (ph) River, river you saw a bit earlier in the show, where I had been visiting the little girls in "Beneath the Veil," the last documentary we made. And I realized that these -- these three girls in particular, were right on front line, the new front line that was being newly militarized.
KING: Was it hard to go back in?
SHAH: The journey in was very difficult. Last time we started, as we did with this film, we started from Pakistan, and at that time it was possible simply to take an airplane in which took us straight to the north of Afghanistan, a United Nations plane.
This time the borders had been sealed, and airspace had been closed, so we would either have had to go by an enormous rout which would have involved going by India and about five other central Asian capitals, or walk. So we decided to walk, which meant traveling at night, by foot, over some of the highest mountains in the world, the Hindu Kush (ph).
We went along the smugglers route. We started in a vehicle looking out for Pakistani border guards. We sort of came across smugglers on the way. But then, things got very rapidly worse. We had to abandon our vehicle, go by foot. Our guides got lost very early on. It was very cold, and they made the silly decision to -- that we all should walk across a river, because we missed a bridge over a river and we all ended up getting soaking wet.
Then after that we had to climb to a very high altitude about the height of Everest base camp, because we were wet, I was with director- camera man James Miller and he and I both got soaking wet. Our clothes froze to us.
KING: I don't know how -- understand how you do what you do, but for most of October you were with the Northern Alliance, right?
SHAH: Yes, that is right. We were in territory controlled by Northern Alliance. We weren't really with them, specifically. The film, really, is our journey to find three little girls. On the way, our aim really was to talk to people and find out their views of the war.
Before we could get to their village we had to meet up with a young fighter called Usman (ph) who had been our guide last time, and I met him up on the front line, and he explained that there had been a very serious push on that front line which was just a little way up from the girls' village.
The Northern Alliance troops we found had entirely news spirits since there last -- when we were there last they really expected to be beaten any day. But now really, they were entirely different men. But Usman took me aside and, although he is a fighter for the Northern Alliance, he said, look, the problem with Afghanistan is there are so many small individual independent commanders. They might be fighting for the Northern Alliance, they might be fighting for the Taliban.
But the common denominator is that for 20 years, Afghanistan has been at war, all they know how to do is fight. If there was no war they would be unemployed. So they are very dangerous for Afghanistan. Each of these commanders has a little group of men and plenty weapons, and these are the major dangers for Afghanistan.
And he also said the Northern Alliance, although he was a Northern Alliance fighter, he said the last time the Northern Alliance were in Kabul there were terrible human rights abuses, and literally every street of the capital had a different commander in charge of it. And he was very worried about this as well.
KING: We will always remember those three little girls from "Beneath the Veil." I guess there is some mystery. I guess I shouldn't ask if you found them. I'm sure that comes at the end, or do you want to tells us?
SHAH: No, it is fine, I can tell you. We did find them. Right until I was at their doorstep, I didn't know whether or not we would. Many people had been displaced by war and by drought. When we got to the village we found that many people had fled.
But, yes, we did find the three little girls in the same house where we had seen them last in the same courtyards.
KING: Let me get a break and we will come right back. I don't mean to interrupt, but we will come right back with more. Saira Shah is with us, the amazing documentary filmmaker who is going to win a lot of awards for her work. You saw "Beneath the Veil" and the new one will be "Unholy War." It is going to air on CNN on Saturday and Sunday.
We are showing clips from it. We will be right back. And tomorrow night Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York will be with us. Saturday night the I-man himself, Imus. And next Monday night, the president of American Airlines, Donald Carty will join us and he will take your phone calls, too. We will be right back with Saira Shah after this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "UNHOLY WAR")
SHAH: At last the family we have come to see may be just down the road. The three young girls whose mother was shot in front of their eyes, the Taliban soldiers remained in the house with the girls for two days. When we asked what men did to them in that time they wouldn't say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "UNHOLY WAR")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're engulfed by the human cost of 20 years of conflict. The country destroyed, a people scattered.
If the war ended tomorrow, it would take years to rebuild their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: One of the best camera work I have ever seen. The brilliant documentarian, Saira Shah, is with us from London.
Now that the Taliban is clearly on the run and out of Kabul, how do you expect their fears about the Northern Alliance, what are your thoughts in that regard?
SHAH: Well, yes, a lot of the same thoughts I was telling you about earlier that Uzman (ph), the Northern Alliance fighter, was voicing very eloquently and voiced in our film "Unholy War", really that the Northern Alliance does not have a perfect human rights record.
In 1992, when the former communist forces withdrew from Kabul and the Northern Alliance -- many of the same people who are now the Northern Alliance took over in the capital -- there was fighting, literally, from street to street as different factions fought for control among themselves.
And there was a terrible situation where the civilians were caught in the middle. And particularly for women, it was very hard. If they went out of their homes, often they were abducted. Many women were raped and killed. It was very hard for civilians. And that was one of the reasons why in the very beginning, when the Taliban came, people in Kabul thought perhaps the Taliban will bring peace because it had been so chaotic. Of course, people came to realize how dreadful the Taliban were. But now, of course, you know, we have to worry about stability for Afghanistan.
KING: Saira, what is the biggest difference, if any difference, you noticed from the last time to this time?
SHAH: Well, really, the difference in the area controlled by the Northern Alliance was a difference in atmosphere and people's spirits. When we were there last, this pocket of resistance was shrinking and it seemed only a matter of time before the Taliban swept into it and took it. And I was terribly worried that, you know, there would be a huge massacre, a huge human rights catastrophe there.
Now, people there really feel that they are going to be liberated. And, in some ways, their expectations are unrealistic. I spoke to people who have been displaced by the war who said we will be in our homes next week, you know. America is taking over from us. There was still a lot of fighting in the area along the frontline. I think you're seeing some pictures now of when I went up to the frontline to see Uzman (ph). And there was a little bit of fighting that happened up there. But, on the whole, people feel that, you know, that they are about to be liberated.
KING: You met an American, John Weaver, when you went to a refugee camp. What was that like?
SHAH: He is an amazing person, just an amazing human being. He was in one of these camps that have sprung up for internally displaced people, people who have been displaced by the drought or by the war.
These are terrible places. I mean, one of them that we went to, all the children were sick. It is getting very cold. People have inadequate shelter. Their aid supplies have been disrupted by the allied operations. And John was there doing food distributions, trying to get food to these people.
He is an inspirational character. But one of the things that we learned really in those camps was some of the local people said that they had actually seen American air drops of food and the refugees have run to try and get the food. But the Northern Alliance soldiers who got their first and had taken the food, sold some of it in the bazaar and kept some of it for themselves.
KING: Your father was from Afghanistan, was he not? And, in that regard, would you want to go back again when things settle down?
SHAH: I would very much want to go back. I have never seen Afghanistan at peace.
I started going to Afghanistan, oh, way back in '80s when the Soviet Union was occupying the country and it was at war then. I have never been in Afghanistan at a time of peace. My greatest hope is that there will be some sort of window of peace and I could go and be there, not as a reporter covering war, but actually as a human being. I would love to do that.
KING: Saira, do you great work. Your cameras are terrific. Your documentaries are on the mark. And I thank you very much.
SHAH: A fantastic director.
KING: Your boy.
"Unholy War", the new one, will air on CNN at 8:00 Eastern time, Saturday, and 7:00 p.m. Sunday. An encore presentation of the original documentary, "Beneath the Veil" will air Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
And the new one will air over the weekend as well -- "Unholy War."
When we come back, the former governor of Pennsylvania, the director of Homeland Security, the only director in the history of the history of homeland security in the United States. He is the first -- hopefully the last. Tom Ridge is next. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "UNHOLY WAR")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the trenches we found Mahmoud Issa (ph). He said he was 15. He looked younger. He has been fighting for two years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I have seen fighting, tanks firing, rockets going off, dead people, corpses without hands or without heads. So what?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Kenny Rogers will close things out later.
We are going to spend the rest of our time with the director of Homeland Security here in New York, Tom Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
Do we address you now as Mr. Director?
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: I like Governor or Tom or Director.
KING: Governor or Tom or Director, because you are not a secretary, right?
RIDGE: No, I'm not.
KING: This is a Cabinet post, though, or is it?
RIDGE: Well, the president has assigned me the responsibility to act as a Cabinet member. I have been given access to the Cabinet meetings. I participate in the Homeland Security Council that the president presides over, and if he is not there, it becomes my council. It includes the Cabinet members...
KING: Where are you based?
RIDGE: I'm a couple of doors down from the Oval Office. I'm in the West Wing with the president.
KING: How many people work for you?
RIDGE: Right now, we have a staff of about 15 or 20, but by the time we get done grafting on to our staff, men and women from both within the federal government and external the government, we'll probably have close to 100 people.
KING: All right, Governor, there is lots to talk about.
KING: First, you miss being governor?
RIDGE: Well, I thought it was a very challenging and demanding and rewarding job, but I think I've stepped into one that offers even greater challenges and more rewards.
KING: But no precedent for it, right? There is no previous director you can call and say, "What did you do?"
RIDGE: That is true. It is unchartered waters.
But there are a couple of models that we followed. The National Security Council and Dr. Rice have -- it is a part of the tradition of the White House generally, but that is basically how we are organized. But, you know, there are a lot of people out there that have been in the business of dealing with security issues, not quite focused on the homeland.
And one of the opportunities I have had over the past four or five weeks is to plug in and get into contact with these individuals. And I suspect I will be doing that for quite sometime.
KING: All right.
Today -- is this correct? You confirmed that the nuclear information documents were found at al Qaeda safehouse in Kabul?
RIDGE: Yes, and...
KING: What does that say to us?
RIDGE: Well, it says to us that the rhetoric of bin Laden, that he was interested in securing some weapons of mass destruction, whether they are biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear, was matched up by some primitive effort to secure some information that could have been found on the Internet.
I mean, there wasn't too much there that, to my knowledge, there wasn't anything there that isn't in some public library or you couldn't pull off the Internet. It doesn't confirm anything other than he had an interest and somebody associated with al Qaeda picked up these documents.
KING: So, there was nothing in that to add to your fear, if any? RIDGE: Nothing in that at all.
I mean, I think the concern that we have is that -- I think the president has appropriately pointed out -- this is an individual who has talked about acquiring these weapons. But he has talked about acquiring the broadest possible range of weapons. And as we prepare a more secure homeland, we have to prepare against the broadest possible range. And whether it is delivered by bin Laden and al Qaeda, or it delivered by some other terrorist groups, as we go forward over the months and years ahead, we have to prepare against all of them.
KING: How about that announcement on the BBC that we will destroy America, the plans are under foot?
RIDGE: Well, this is...
KING: Take it seriously?
RIDGE: Well, I think we know that he tried to destroy our spirit. He tried to destroy the spirit of New York City and he had thousands of innocent victims. But I think he has just picked on the wrong country, the wrong leader at the wrong time.
He will not destroy our spirit. He will not destroy our country. And as the president does have a lot of confidence in our ability to win not only in Afghanistan, but to prevail back here in the United States.
KING: So, the mood is...
RIDGE: Well, I think there is, Larry, I think legitimately, there continues to be some uncertainty and I think, predictably, even in some quarters, some fear. But I think one of the tasks I have, and I'm grateful to be given the opportunity to just say on shows such as this, that America should take great reassurance in knowing that it is not just the director of Homeland Security, but literally millions of Americans going to work every day, trying to figure out ways to make their homeland more secure.
Now, prior to September 11, we did not include in that group firemen and policemen and emergency responders. Now we have finally put them in that group. And we have postal workers.
But they should also know that both in the public sector and the private sector, literally scores of people have been working for years on ideas and technology and approaches to shore up homeland security and it is out there. I mean, we are getting thousands and thousands of ideas from people who talk about, think about this approach, take a look at this piece of technology. So, the apparatus is there. We are ready to go.
KING: Governor, the importance of your like appearing on a program like LARRY KING LIVE, maybe on a regular basis, on other to -- is it important that you be up front?
RIDGE: I think there is a certain public information aspect to the job. I...
KING: You're the it.
RIDGE: Yes, I guess I am.
But, fortunately, I've got a lot of talented people that could help reassure people in other ways. I was with a terrific secretary of Energy, Spence Abraham, today. And we had a public appearance together where the national labs that we have in America have been working on bio-detection equipment that would enable first responders to understand, immediately, what the environment is, the kind of contamination it is. I mean, it is just the national labs, the private labs. And we have people all across the Cabinet, all across the country have good ideas that we are going to apply in the months and the years ahead.
KING: Are we going to merge some federal agencies?
RIDGE: I think it's a good possibility.
I think it would be wrong if, at this time, as we take a look at this new kinds of threats -- and Larry, we are so open and welcoming in this country. We trust. It's very much of who we are. We are, with the exception of Native Americans, this is a country of immigrants. And so that has been part of the American experience. We invite people to come in and join and participate in America...
KING: You don't want to change that?
RIDGE: We don't want to change that. But I do think that, you know, when you take a look at several agencies. Multiple agencies have responsibilities at the border for enhanced security and maybe efficiency. We should at least consider -- you've got Customs and you've got the border patrol and you've got other agencies that are responsible for screening people, produce, products.
So I think we ought to take a look at that. You've got different agencies that deal with food security. That is very important. Let's just take look if there is not a better way, a 21st century way, as we're dealing with homeland security.
KING: Do they work well with each other?
RIDGE: The coordination that I have seen during the past five weeks on the job has been nothing short of spectacular. There has been a lot of innovation and reform. And then, the INS has been dealing with the State Department.
But I think there is a merit to go beyond what is just happened in response to the series of challenges we have had since September 11, to go beyond that and just take a look at whether or not it's a good idea to merge some of the functions and some of these responsibilities.
KING: Governor, do you, frankly, have enough clout?
RIDGE: Well, I have got...
KING: Can you say this happens now?
The president made it very clear at the first Cabinet meeting. And then, basically, you asked the first question about Cabinet status. Well, I'm not a member of the Cabinet but I am sitting at Cabinet meetings. I'm not a member of the National Security Council. When appropriate, I sit in those meetings. I do work with the president and the Homeland Security Council.
And he made it clear at the first meeting of the Cabinet, he made it very clear at the first meeting of the Homeland Security Council. We've got one war -- one war, two battlefronts: Afghanistan and the United States. It's our highest priority right now.
I have got the authority and the budget authority I need -- had a great meeting with the director of OMB today, Mitch Daniels. They have had some baseline spending that they thought was appropriate in the budget. It is all very appropriate that there will be a substantial larger number than they initially anticipated.
KING: So there's nothing more you want in the area of power or decision-making that you don't have?
RIDGE: I believe I have got the opportunity to serve the president and the country with the power you need. I got the president's priority and his support. You can't better than that.
KING: Anything new that you can tell us on the anthrax front?
RIDGE: Not at all. The -- particularly with Mrs. Nguyen here in New York -- I can tell you that the investigation is intense. I can tell you that the FBI has come up with a profile that suggests that at least part of their investigation is directed toward domestic source, somebody in the United States.
And I can tell you and your audience that it is not contagious. And if we identify it quickly enough, we can treat it with antibiotics. And that, although we have had four unfortunate deaths due to inhalation anthrax, those who had been identified as having inhalation anthrax before and have been treated are all out of the hospital and home doing well.
KING: Are we assuming, though, that it is a domestic wacko?
RIDGE: No, we haven't excluded a foreign agent or any of that sort. But I think, right now, part of the investigation, a little more intensely, is looking at the possibility of a domestic individual.
KING: Before we get back to homeland, you were a decorated hero. You fought in Vietnam. What do you think of, thus far -- as an onlooker, you are not involved in the war in Afghanistan -- as to how it is going and the kind of war it is? RIDGE: Well, I think the president and Secretary Rumsfeld and everybody -- first of all, the response was timely in to the extent that it was not immediate. I mean, it was -- I think, bin Laden may have thought that this would provoke an immediate and wholesale response. And now it has been very strategic. It has been very tactical. It has been a very, I think, well thought out and well executed integration of limited American resources, the Northern Alliance. And I think it's been executed very, very well so far.
KING: Thus far, on target?
RIDGE: Yes, sir, I think so.
I mean, that experience with regard to my past though, it's -- we have...
KING: No war.
RIDGE: And we have a shadow enemy. I mean, one of the enemies that we had in Vietnam -- you ask any Vietnam Vet -- was that enemy who kind of looked like -- wasn't Vietnamese, so they could blend in and set booby traps and get you involved in firefights and then move back in. To that certain extent on the homeland now, we have a domestic enemy that's a shadow enemy as well.
We are so diverse. And so, because the face of America literally represents the faces of the world, people from other parts of the world can come in, can be absorbed in our communities and they don't stand out as soldiers. But they are soldiers.
KING: We'll be right back with Governor Tom Ridge. We'll include some phone calls as well. The director of Homeland Security, former governor of the great state of -- sound like I'm at a convention -- the great state of Pennsylvania. Don't go away.
KING: Before we take some phone calls for Governor Ridge, we were both talking during the break about the aviation bill. Apparently, the House and the Senate has come to an agreement. They are going to vote on it, maybe as we speak, in the House.
You like this bill?
RIDGE: It is an excellent compromise. I commend the leadership in both chambers and in both parties. It is -- it basically federalizes the workforce for a period of up to three years. It is a transition. They are going to try some demonstration projects at some airports where people feel strongly that the private sector can provide the kind of security.
But I think at the end of day, what's most important is that we federalize the secure area. We've said there are certain training standards and certain requirements that we are going to mandate. And we are going to make sure that the men and women who are responsible for this portion of aviation security are qualified to do the job. KING: Does any of that come under your aegis?
RIDGE: It is not. As this bill -- well, to the extent that, as a program, it has an important -- it is an important aspect of homeland security.
KING: Of course.
RIDGE: It will be under the Department of Transportation, under Secretary Mineta.
KING: Will we -- before we take some calls -- will we always, Governor, have your job? Will there be future directors of Homeland Security?
RIDGE: I think there will be. I think there probably should be.
KING: Is that sad or not sad?
RIDGE: I think it -- I think it is a fact of life. It is the reality of a 21st century. I mean, and it's -- our enemies, historically, had been nation states and sovereigns. Over the 10 or 20 years to this date, political terrorism was certainly a plague that a lot of the society had to deal with and many democracies had to deal with.
But, they have gone from political terrorism that was really trying to get people to the bargaining table to do certain things, they've gone far beyond that. And I'm afraid that in the 21st century world, there may be individuals or organization that are not -- political terrorism isn't really their goal. The destruction of a way of life or the undermining of a complete way of life. So I think, to be on the safe side, we've got...
KING: We've got to get used to it.
RIDGE: But I think, again, I'm just very excited about the potential of integrating public resources and intellect and private people and their intellect and their resources and over the next couple years creating a much stronger -- I mean, it's happening right now, but I think every day we grow stronger.
KING: London, Ontario -- let's take a call for Governor Ridge -- hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry, thanks.
My question to the Governor is once we feel that most of the Taliban threats have been stopped, where do we go from here as far as homeland security? What steps do we take next?
RIDGE: Well, first of all, from London, Ontario -- you are right across the lake from my home community of Erie, so I'm glad you called in -- I think we can't be misled by the fact that once we defeat the Taliban -- and it is a matter of when, not matter of if -- you still have to deal with bin Laden and you still to deal with al Qaeda, both the cells in Afghanistan and cells elsewhere around the world.
So I think it is important for us to understand that even if there is that military victory achieved against bin Laden, we still have a responsibility in the United States to enhance and continue to improve and strengthen our homeland security abilities.
KING: To Port Charlotte, Florida -- hello.
For the Governor, in light of the open door policy we have for visitors from around the world, especially students, do you foresee, perhaps, some other changes in following these students to be sure that they are students and they are here legally? Thank you.
KING: Thank you.
RIDGE: Over the months and years ahead, I believe it is very appropriate for us to just take a look at immigration policy, generally, and how and to whom we issue visas.
With regard to students, we have always welcomed immigrants. We've always welcomed students and we want to continue to be that welcoming. But we just might want to make sure that those who profess to be students come to this country and take the courses that they told us they were going to take.
And likewise, those with just travel visas or business visas -- I think it is very appropriate for the United States welcoming in these individuals to say, "We welcome you for this period of time. We expect and we are going to need to have not only a system that identifies you when you come into the country, but identifies you when your visa has expired and it is time for you to leave the country", because I think that if we've extended to you that opportunity to come in and be with us, go to school here.
It is very appropriate for us to set limits and to make sure that you just comply with that invitation. And if not, then I think we need to discover where you are, and get you the first plane home.
KING: Are you concerned, Governor, about maybe the thin line between being the country we are and taking steps to change us?
RIDGE: That is that balance of retaining those qualities that make us uniquely American and, at the same time, strengthening our own domestic defense is one that we walk the very thin line. I think we can balance those interests.
But, again, as I said before, as basically a country of immigrants, we don't. I mean, we are open. We want to remain to be open.
KING: You don't want to change that?
RIDGE: We don't want to change that.
KING: But you've got to be...
RIDGE: But we have to be more selective and, I think, ensure for our domestic security that those who come here and accept the hospitality and generosity of America come for the reasons that they had intended, that are educational, that are economically oriented, that under the guise of a legitimate reason to plot terrorist acts, to kill innocent people and to commit atrocities against us, we just -- this is one of those steps we have to take to limit the threat.
KING: Any particular concerns about Thanksgiving, Christmas, holiday season, travel, people of good cheer and with question marks?
RIDGE: Well, I think the same kind of uncertainty that has been with us since September 11 and, unfortunately, is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. And I think we should take to heart the president's words when we talk about -- an alert is not a signal to stop what you are doing. It is just a matter of being a little bit more wary and understand, America, that every single day through a variety of different ways, whether it is securing the borders, whether it is the airports, whether it is any of the other things that both the private sector and the public sector has done since September 11, every single day we are making our country stronger and better.
KING: Georgia, hello.
CALLER: Governor Ridge, do you, yourself, feel safe as you go about your daily work and should the American people feel safe as we travel around the country?
RIDGE: Sure do. I feel safe, I am confident in my country. I'm confident in the ability of federal agencies working with state and local government to do everything they can to make me safe, and keep my family and my friends and neighbors safe.
I think that the bottom line is, however, that over the next several months and years ahead, my job is to enhance the safety and security that we presently enjoy now. I think the aviation package that we passed today is a great step. Remember the president has said it is just not airport security.
There are going to be federal air marshals. We are going to start doing complete baggage checks. We have hardened the cockpits on these commercial aircraft. So again, that was a point of vulnerability. The country responded rather quickly to the deal with that vulnerability. We have a very response capacity that second to none in world. We have the ability to get things done when we set our mind to it.
KING: Unfortunately, anything that happens is going to be considered terrorist -- a train derails, a plane crashes in Rockaway. That is going to last.
RIDGE: Well, it is really the subject of a lot of private conversation, and this is not exactly a private conversation. But when people think of the horror that those men and women and crew experienced and victims on the ground, that their death is as tragic as anybody else's.
But there is a sense that if it wasn't a terrorist attack, it is still -- their death is still as significant, it is still as tragic, it is still as horrible, but everybody expected the worst at the outset. It is absolutely the worst if it is a mechanical or structural failure of some kind. And right now, after four days of investigation, the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board are still leaning toward that. But it wasn't a terrorist attack and some people probably breathe a sigh of relief.
KING: We look forward to many trips to this show with you. Great having you with us. I salute for you taking this. Have you -- one other quick thing -- have, during these past five weeks, have you had a moment when you said I'm sorry I took it?
RIDGE: No, sir.
KING: None at all.
KING: Thank you, Governor.
RIDGE: Thank you very much.
KING: Governor Tom Ridge, director of homeland security.
When we come back, he is in concert now in Washington Township, New Jersey -- look, he is on stage. He is going to provide our closing musical moment as we do every night. He is Kenny Rogers and he is next. Don't go away.
KING: Joining us now from Washington, Township, New Jersey, an old friend, there he is, Kenny Rogers. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, successful acting career. He is performing in concert right now. He is going to perform for us, "Homeland," a number that Tom Ridge just told me he loves and he did it for Tom as well.
He has a "Christmas From The Heart" tour entering its fifth and final year, which kicks off November 22 in 22 cities.
Kenny, how did you come across "homeland?"
KENNY ROGERS, SINGER: This song was submitted to me for, I guess, almost a year and half ago, and I heard it and I just loved it because it is not really about a specific incident, but it is really about the spirit of the American heart.
KING: Is this the kind of song that -- you are mostly associated with country and love songs. Is this unique for you?
ROGERS: Well, it is country in the sense that it really is about the story of the people. And that is really what country music is. I love, every now and then, doing something that has a little more of a rock edge to it.
KING: He is an enduring American legend and he is going to close our show tonight as we close every night on a musical end. Tony Bennett last night, tonight Kenny Rogers. Can't do worse than that.
From Washington township New Jersey, performing "Homeland," here is Kenny Rogers.
ROGERS: Thanks, Larry.
(KENNY ROGERS SINGS "HOMELAND")
KING: Tomorrow night, Sarah Ferguson joins us and Monday night, Donald Carty, the president of American Airlines.
And the I-man will be aboard on Saturday. We aboard in New York city, which means we are right next door to Aaron Brown and "NEWSNIGHT."
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