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Did the White House Know about 9/11 Beforehand?; Does the U.S. Face Something Worse in the Future?; Carter Meets With Cuban Dissidents

Aired May 16, 2002 - 22:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening everyone. The focus of the country has shifted firmly back to 9/11 tonight and it's done so for a very different reason.

There are revelations from the White House about information it had before that fateful day and what was done about it. The criticism and the questions have been intense today. Is there something to it or are some seeing a crack in the political wall of a popular President?

While you consider that, consider this also. The Vice President said tonight that the country may face something worse than 9/11. This topic will take a large portion of our program tonight, and that is where we begin the NEWSNIGHT whip. CNN's David Ensor in Washington, and David as they say, the headline please.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, I'll take a quick look at what the government knew from the President on down to FBI agents in the Midwest, what did the government know and when did it know it and why weren't they able to connect the dots?

HEMMER: David, thank you. To Havana, Cuba where the former President Jimmy Carter met with Cuban dissidents today, his trip is winding down, Lucia Newman tonight with the headline. Lucia.

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jimmy Carter met with 23 of Cuba's most active dissidents to find out about their problems and their hopes. Our report looks at what it's like to be a dissident in this country.

HEMMER: Lucia, thank you, back to you in a moment. Another story developing tonight overseas out of Pakistan the possibility that the body of journalist Daniel Pearl has been found; Ash-Har Quraishi, the latest live in a feed from the videophone, Ash-Har a headline.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Bill. Right now we're hearing whether or not Daniel Pearl's body may or may not have been found in Karachi late last night. We're hearing different stories from different sources. We'll tell you about what we have here. Bill.

HEMMER: Ash-Har thank you, back to all of you shortly here on NEWSNIGHT as we continue. Tonight we'll also try for some perspective on the 9/11 controversy. Former CIA Director Robert Gates is with us. He'll join us live in a moment here.

So too, Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff in the Clinton years, and in the second half of the program, dedicated to soap operas tonight. One is real and one is imagined. The real one is all too real for one couple, a bureaucratic blunder keeping two star-crossed newlyweds apart, thousands of miles apart. Beth Nissen has the imagined soap operas, how the networks are in hot pursuit for those "Young and Restless" viewers, preferably ages 18 to 34. Stay tuned for that.

Let's begin tonight at the White House where there appears to be two simple questions. What did the President know about terrorist threats to the country and what did he do about it? These questions may be unfair at this point and it may become quite partisan in the end, but they are the questions much of Washington is grappling with tonight. We have two reports this evening, starting at the White House and CNN's John King.


JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The President was said to be angry but gave no hint of that in public. In private though, he told Senate Republicans: "There's a sniff of politics in the air," and others in the White House forcefully took issue with any suggestion that Mr. Bush had advance warning of the September 11th hijacking plot.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Had this President known of something more specific or known that a plane was going to be used as a missile, he would have acted on it.

KING: But the disclosure that Mr. Bush was told last August, even generally about the possibility of an al Qaeda hijacking, raised new questions about whether the government ignored clues a major strike was imminent.

U.S. SENATOR RICAHRD SHELBY (R) SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it was a lost opportunity if you put it all in context, not just the briefing of the President, but the FBI is involved here and I think they could have done a better job but they didn't.

KING: The President was vacationing in Texas last August, on the 6th in seclusion on his Crawford Ranch, Mr. Bush read a one and a half page classified analysis.

For the first time, the CIA warned of possible al Qaeda hijackings of American carriers, but said it believed the greater threat was on U.S. military and other installations abroad. The administration says it quickly took appropriate action, not only in the wake of the August intelligence briefing, but throughout the spring and summer months as reports of increasing al Qaeda activity poured in.

Overseas installations were ordered to improve security. The Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration were warned several times of a general hijacking threat here at home, and those agencies say that general information was passed on to the airlines.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is important to note that this was a non-specific threat that mentioned hijacking.

KING: One question now is why it took eight months for the White House to disclose the President had been told of a potential hijacking plot. Top Bush aides say the pre-September 11th briefing is public knowledge now because the White House is sharing information with congressional investigators. The administration says no one said anything in public about the alert before September 11th or in the eight months since because it was so vague.

RICE: There was nothing that said this is going to happen or this might happen. It said this is a method that these people might be considering. That was the nature of this, and it was very non- specific.

KING (on camera): The White House says questions about what the government knew in advance of September 11th are legitimate and that it will cooperate with the congressional inquiries, but the President is said by top aides to be furious at a handful of Democrats who are publicly suggesting perhaps he could have done something to prevent the attacks in the first place. John King, CNN, the White House.


HEMMER: And a short time ago this evening, the Vice President Dick Cheney added his voice, saying the questioning is "irresponsible and unworthy of national leaders in a time of war," his words tonight. Those remarks came at a fundraising dinner in Manhattan.

Now a bit more on the warning signs, and as CNN's David Ensor now tells us, they were there going all the way back to 1994.


ENSOR (voice over): In 1994, French authorities foiled an attempt by some Algerians who had hijacked a plane to use it to knock down the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In 1995, the Philippine authorities notified the U.S. a suspect had told them Ramsey Yousef, the man behind the first World Trade Center bombing, was plotting to hijack an aircraft and use it to hit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

In February of last year, CIA Director George Tenet warned Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda was the most immediate and serious threat to the United States.

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: As we have increased security around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out softer targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties.

ENSOR: Starting in last May, through the summer of 2001, U.S. intelligence officials say they warned the White House al Qaeda was planning a major attack against the U.S.

In late July, the Phoenix Office of the FBI sent a memo urging headquarters to investigate Middle Eastern men, who were students in U.S. flight schools. The memo said Osama bin Laden's followers could be planning to use the training for some sort of terrorism.

Then, in the first week of August in Crawford, Texas at the President's ranch, the CIA briefer warned Mr. Bush that among other possibilities, al Qaeda might hijack aircraft. The CIA did not suggest a suicide plane attack, as it had no intelligence suggesting such a tactic.

RICE: There was no time. There was no place. There was no method of attack. It simply said these are people who train and seem to talk possibly about hijackings.

ENSOR: U.S. officials say in that intelligence briefing, more than one hijacking plot was mentioned, including British information about a 1998 plot to hijack a plane and demand freedom for the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman in jail for involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing and a failed plot to bomb other New York landmarks.

Finally, in mid-August, a Minnesota flight school told the FBI that Zacarius Moussaoui was seeking training to fly but not to land a 747. Moussaoui was arrested. The Minneapolis FBI sought and was refused permission to search Moussaoui's laptop computer for clues. In his own handwriting, the agent wrote a theory of his in the margin.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: In one of the notes, the agents in Minneapolis mentioned the possibility of Moussaoui being that type of person that could fly something into the World Trade Center.

ENSOR: Despite what we now know about the August Crawford briefing back on September 11th aboard Air Force One when White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked, have there been any warnings the President knew of? Fleischer responded, no warnings.


ENSOR (on camera): With the advantage of hindsight, it is now possible to select key signals from the huge mass of intelligence the U.S. gathered in the months and years before September 11th, signals which could possibly have helped the U.S. prevent the attacks, but U.S. officials strongly argue that it's not fair to blame them or the President for being unable to do so before those attacks. Bill.

HEMMER: David, you cover this beat for us here, national security is your thing. In talking with members of the intelligence community over the past let's say 24 hours when this news first broke last evening, what are they saying? What's their reaction to all this?

ENSOR: They're backing up the White House, and I think they mean it. They're saying that we - the intelligence community gave the White House this information about possible hijacking but they really didn't have any specifics. There wasn't a lot the President could do with it. They're saying that frankly they think the President's getting a bit of a bum rap on this one.

HEMMER: David, thank you, David Ensor in Washington tonight. Let's talk more about the 9/11 warnings with Leon Panetta, former Chief of Staff during the Clinton Administration. Mr. Panetta joins us live from the State of California. Good evening to you sir, good to have you with us.


HEMMER: When you were in the White House, these daily intelligence briefings or however often they came, what sort of priority was put on them in your morning meetings?

PANETTA: Well, it was important to have them and schedule them every day because those briefings were kind of a key information base for the President to look at the world and see what was going on, and look at the areas that were in crisis and those areas that were threatened in terms of their security and look at areas where there was good news as well.

But it was the primary moment where you could pull the President aside and say, get a good look of what's happening around the world from the eyes of the CIA.

HEMMER: Can you see and buy the argument from some that the warnings or the threats or the talk last summer, specifically in July and August were not specific enough to alert the public and take it to the next level? Can you buy that?

PANETTA: Well, you know, it all depends on what was contained in those briefings, because there's no question that there's an awful lot in those briefings that is generalized and is not based on credible information, but is based on sources, third level sources, fourth level sources of information.

But at the same time, there's also oftentimes very specific information about what is going on. And so, I think before we draw any conclusions, we're going to have to see exactly what was contained in that briefing.

HEMMER: I want to take that a step further. Democrats, some in Congress already, are saying the White House fumbled on this issue. Do you see it that way or is that more a pointed question toward members of the FBI and the CIA?

PANETTA: I think it's too early to draw any conclusions here. You know the question here that I think we're all focusing on is that there are a series of things beginning to come out now in which the question is, why weren't the dots drawn together, the Phoenix memo by the FBI with regards to students being related to al Qaeda, the Minnesota situation and now these briefings with the President?

So the real question is, why didn't the intelligence agencies, why didn't the FBI, why weren't they able to begin to pull this information together so that we would become more aware of what the threat was on September 11th.

HEMMER: You bring up an interesting point. How much more could come out of this issue now?

PANETTA: Well you know, an interesting question in my mind, I know we're talking about one briefing for the President, but the President, at least during the time that I was Chief of Staff, the President received these briefings every day, and I think the question that probably all of us need to ask is in each of the briefings that the President received, was there a continuing mention about the threat from al Qaeda? Was this something that appeared on a regular basis or was this just a one-time event with regards to the briefing that was presented to the President? I think it would be interesting to know the answer to that question.

HEMMER: Some leading Democrats already today are asking for that FBI memo that you mentioned to be turned over, the intelligence briefing that was given to the President back in early August to be turned over as well. Is there not a concern that too much could be turned over that may compromise perhaps national security?

PANETTA: I think if the information is turned over to the intelligence committees, the bipartisan intelligence committees on Capitol Hill, they have every right and every responsibility on behalf of the American people and on behalf of the Congress to look at this information.

And I believe that you know without compromising that information we need to in the very least know what was presented in those briefings and if steps have to be taken to protect names or protect the kind of confidential information or secret information that's part of it, I think that can be done. But I don't think there is any excuse now for not finding the full truth of what happened, both prior to September 11th as well as on that date itself.

HEMMER: Leon Panetta from California, thank you, good to see you again.

PANETTA: Thank you.

HEMMER: Thanks for talking and sharing with us tonight. In a moment here, more on the 9/11 warnings in the White House, the impact and the reaction, we will have that for you when NEWSNIGHT continues.


HEMMER: There's a late development tonight in the Middle East, reports that Israeli tanks are moving back into the West Bank town of Jenin, this all happening in the past hour or so. Jenin, you might remember the site of the bloodiest fight the last time around back in the month of April. Rula Amin, working the story and joins us tonight by telephone in the region. Rula, what are you finding out?

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Bill, at this point we can't confirm that Israeli troops are back in the town of Jenin in the north of the West Bank. This is the first time the Israeli troops go back into Jenin after they ended their operation there earlier last month. That operation lasted for about two weeks, where the army was inside the town.

Now this may have been, this last move may have been part of the pattern that we have been seeing in the last three weeks, where the Israeli army troops would go into certain Palestinian towns overnight, sometimes stay there only for a few hours, sometimes for only for a day, and the army says that it's taking security matters into its own hands.

It's not dependent anymore on the Palestinian Authority, and that it's working based on information and intelligence, where they know that some Palestinians are trying to plan an attack and they're trying to preempt it.

The Palestinians in the last three weeks have been charging the Israelis are actually violating all kind of agreements by going into these areas where the Palestinian Authority is supposed to have full control and Israelis should not be there.

We still don't know what is happening exactly in Jenin now because the operation just started, as you said, about an hour, two hours ago, and it will be hard to know if this is going to be a short timed operation where it will end in a few hours or this is a long time thing. Bill.

HEMMER: Rula, thank you, Rula Amin. When the sun comes up there in a few hours in the Middle East, we may find out more as to what's happening on the ground in Jenin.

Now to a story that seems to cause a jolt of pain with every new development, the kidnapping and the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. Authorities in Pakistan now say three new suspects in his murder have led them to a body. For the latest on that, we turn once again to CNN's Ash-Har Quraishi by way of videophone in Islamabad, where it is now morning. Ash-Har, good morning to you.

QURAISHI: That's right, Bill. These developments coming late last night in the port city of Karachi, police say they had arrested three men suspected to be involved in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. These three men pointed out a location outside of Karachi, where they say that the body of Pearl was buried.

Now we're hearing from sources inside the government, as well as inside the police, that they did recover a body there and that they do believe that this may be the body of Daniel Pearl.

Although there's been no official confirmation of it, sources that we have spoken to say they are confident, although it has not been 100 percent positively identified at this point.

Other things that we're hearing from police are that they're not saying much about who these three men are. As you may remember, 11 people were charged in this kidnapping and murder. Only four of those men were actually apprehended and are on trial right now in (inaudible) Central Jail.

So there's still some speculation as to what may be going on in Karachi, whether or not this is the body of Daniel Pearl. The morning papers here in Pakistan reading "Daniel Pearl's body found in Karachi," but a big question mark right now, Bill.

We haven't heard any official word from the government, any official word from police, although our sources are saying that this is what occurred yesterday. I spoke to the defense attorneys late last night. They said that they were aware of these developments. But this morning, the chief prosecutor in the case tells me that he is not aware of what's been going on in Karachi and he says that this may be an attempt by the accused to once again, what he calls, mislead this trial. Bill.

HEMMER: Ash-Har, you mention the newspaper report and certainly in this country the story's made headlines on numerous occasions going back to January. How popular, how frequent is this story in the press there in Pakistan?

QURAISHI: Well absolutely people are following this trial very closely. There are daily reports as to what's going on. This trial has been moved to a more remote site, the (inaudible) central jail, but there still is interest in this trial and the developments have been slow. This trial has been underway since late last month and it's been proceeding quite slow, but people are following these developments and they're looking into a resolution to what exactly may have happened.

Now one thing to keep in mind is that in early February, just after the kidnapping and supposed murder of Daniel Pearl, there's no exact date as to when that may have happened, a body was found in Karachi that police did believe was the body of Daniel Pearl and media reports did say that they thought it was Daniel Pearl as well, that turned out not to be true. So right now officials are being very careful about characterizing what exactly they found in Karachi. Bill.

HEMMER: Ash-Har thanks, Ash-Har Quraishi our Bureau Chief there in Islamabad reporting for us now. In a moment, we'll go to Cuba, Havana when NEWSNIGHT returns.


HEMMER: Now to Cuba and former President Carter's visit there. Last night he dined with Fidel Castro and today, Mr. Carter met with those who see Fidel Castro as the problem. In Cuba, that's a position that can land a person in jail. Here again tonight is Lucia Newman in Havana.


NEWMAN (voice over): One of the three bedrooms of Gisela Palacios' tiny Havana apartment looks like a library, which is exactly what it is. Here you can find recent bestsellers, and not so recent, such as "1984" by George Orwell. People who borrow books jot down their names and the title on a list, says Gisela. It's called an independent library, a place where you can find books you can't find in state-run libraries, everything from classics to anti-communist literature by Cuban exiles.

GISELA PALACIOS, CUBAN DISSIDENT (through translator): I realized people were hungry to know, learn and we think different from what the government provides.

NEWMAN: Gisela and her husband, Hector, who's been in prison twice are dissidents, a small but determined class of Cubans who defy their country's communist system.

HECTOR PALACIOS (through translator): At this very moment, even if you don't believe it, they're listening to this conversation and probably recording it because you phoned yesterday.

NEWMAN: Nobody knows better than Vladimiro Roco that the police are never far away. He was freed two weeks ago after spending five years in prison for organizing opposition to the government.

The son of one of the founding fathers of Cuba's communist party was also once a Marxist, who paid a high price for changing his mind.

VLADIMIRO ROCA, CUBAN DISSIDENT (through translator): The first thing that happens when a person begins to think differently from the government, it does so openly, is that you lose your job and you know that in Cuba, the only employer is the government.

NEWMAN: Roca says not only are dissidents unjustly vilified by the government as agents of Washington, they also can never tell who their friends are.

ROCA: I'd say all of our organizations have been infiltrated by the secret police. The idea is to control, spy, and create divisions among us.

NEWMAN: And for all their trouble, most Cubans don't even know who the dissidents are since they have absolutely no access to the state-run news media.

In this small apartment in Havana's China town, Raul Rivero heads the independent journalist association. The only way they can get their message to the Cuban people, he says, is to broadcast back into Cuba on Radio Marti, a Miami-based anti-Castro radio station, funded by the United States. This tie with Washington is used to discredit them.

RAUL RIVERO, OPPOSITION JOURNALIST: We're in a kind of no man's land. We're on the margins of society, illegal and under constant attack by the government.

NEWMAN: Rivero concedes some join the opposition just so they can apply for a visa to the United States as victims of political persecution, but for the two believers who refuse to leave their country, the dream of another kind of Cuba is worth the risk. (END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN: Another of the problems of Cuba's dissidents are divisions amongst themselves, feuding amongst themselves. Today, former President Jimmy Carter gave them some advice. He said be tolerant and above all unite. Bill.

HEMMER: Lucia, so many times and you know this as well as anyone that we do not get a chance to hear from dissidents in Cuba and we certainly do not get a chance to see them talking on camera. Why is it now that they've been given permission to talk with you?

NEWMAN: It's not that they've been given permission, and they do talk as you know. We have shown them before on CNN. But right now, I think they feel a bit more empowered because Jimmy Carter is here. Jimmy Carter has spoken about them publicly on nationally broadcast speeches around the nation. He has met with them under the nose, in fact, not with the authorization but at least under the tolerance of the Cuban government. Bill.

HEMMER: And, Lucia, we know Jimmy Carter's mission there. We heard and saw that in his speech, why he went there two nights ago. But what has not been exactly clear is why Fidel Castro wanted Jimmy Carter there in the first place, other than publicity or attention. What was the intent of the Cuban leader?

NEWMAN: You know some people here say that the Cuban government had a plan and that it may have backfired because obviously this trip by Jimmy Carter has given a lot of publicity here within Cuba to the opposition and, in fact, to a very, very bold opposition movement to bring about legal change through the constitution.

But I think what the government had planned or had thought and still probably thinks is that Jimmy Carter will return to the United States tomorrow and that he will boost a movement that already exists to counter the economic embargo that has been in place against this country for more than four decades now -- Bill.

HEMMER: Thanks for staying up late tonight, Lucia Newman, live in Havana. The latest now in this country in the priest abuse scandal back home and tonight there is another suicide to talk about. A Connecticut priest was found hanging in his room at a mental treatment center in the State of Maryland. Father Alfred Betehoffer (ph) resigned from his post about a month ago.

Two men told officials in the Bridgeport Diocese that Betehoffer abused them while they were boys in the late 1970s and early '80s. Last month, you may remember, an Ohio priest killed himself after he was accused of molesting a girl.

NEWSNIGHT will be right back.


HEMMER: It was a major black eye for the INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service back in the month of March. You might remember a Florida flight school received student visa approval forms for two of the September 11 hijackers, including the suspected ringleader, Mohammed Atta. That snafu makes two people especially bitter. A normal, law-abiding couple torn apart by immigration paperwork gone very wrong now. We'll speak with them live in a moment here. But first, their story tonight from David Mattingly.


JEREMY LEONARD: Got married right at dusk.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Jeremy Leonard of San Antonio kissed his newly wed wife Erin goodbye, the former Marine and the former Canadian figure skater were only supposed to be apart a few days. Erin's grandmother died suddenly, and she had to go home to Canada for the funeral. Neither of them was prepared for what happened next.

ERIN LEONARD: My first reaction was "No, this couldn't be happening."

MATTINGLY: Turns out, Erin's paperwork to become a permanent U.S. resident wasn't complete. Even if it had been, she was not supposed to leave the U.S. without prior approval from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A common mistake, according to immigration officials with shocking consequences for anyone trying to return.

E. LEONARD: I have no job, nothing. Like, everything's taken away from me. Well, I couldn't imagine that. It was really upsetting.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Erin learned of her mistake here, at this quiet U.S. border station in Washington state. She was immediately ordered back to Canada, and threatened with arrest if she tried to cross the border somewhere else. She couldn't get in. It didn't matter that she had a job in the United States. It didn't matter that she was married to a U.S. citizen, and it didn't matter that she was expecting a baby.

(voice-over): Now two months later, Erin is still in Canada and six months pregnant. The INS voided erin's application, all the forms, documents and records, tossed out. A process that can take 12 months sent back to square one.

MICHAEL CRONIN, INS: There's very, very serious obligation on us to do the appropriate background checks, which will be a part the immigration visa process to establish that indeed this is someone who is harmless and who should be allowed into the country.

J. LEONARD: I contacted Senator Graham.

MATTINGLY: It's cost them thousands of dollars in phone bills, plane tickets, attorneys and application fees. Frustrated by the confusion and the bureaucracy, Jeremy concentrates on a lobbying campaign with letters to congressmen. Erin focuses on meticulously compiling the necessary documents. And there is some good news. Because of her pending due date, Erin's case has now been fast- tracked, a rare move by the INS, which could bring her home in time to deliver a native-born U.S. citizen.

J. LEONARD: Mom, what do you have to say for Erin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't wait for to you come home.

MATTINGLY: So for now, families in both countries wait and hope for a happy ending to this cautionary tale.

J. LEONARD: OK. Hey Erin, it's Jeremy, can't wait to see you. I love you.

MATTINGLY: These videotaped words of long-distance encouragement and affection we hand-delivered to British Columbia.

E. LEONARD: I love him so much.

J. LEONARD: It's robbed me of my wife and my unborn child for, you know, two months now. As long as we can get everything set straight, and she gets to come back home, then there's -- I can forgive and forget.

David Mattingly, CNN, San Antonio.


HEMMER: Thank you, David. And tonight they are speaking as a couple. But they are still 2000 miles away from each other. Jeremy Leonard is in San Antonio, Texas and Erin Leonard is in Montreal.

Good evening to both of you. Can you see each other, by the way?


J. LEONARD: No, we cannot.

HEMMER: You cannot. Well, you can hear each other anyway, so it's somewhat like a telephone. Erin, tomorrow, you meet with immigration officials in Montreal. What's the purpose of that meeting?

E. LEONARD: The purpose is to make sure everything is legit. I have all my documents and just to put a face to all the documents.

HEMMER: Is this the meeting, Erin, that sends you back to the U.S.?

E. LEONARD: Yes, it is.

HEMMER: Are you convinced of that? Or could something go wrong?

E. LEONARD: Well, if I have all my documents in order, everything should be completed and I should be guaranteed my visa. If not, we're going to have to go back to British Columbia and everything will be done through the mail. I will not have to come back to Montreal for another interview.

HEMMER: If you go back to another part of Canada, how long would that process take then?

E. LEONARD: I have no idea. I haven't been given an answer yet.

HEMMER: Jeremy, how are you feeling about this? You're a U.S. Marine?

J. LEONARD: Well, I've been frustrated up until this point. I feel like we've started to accomplish something. And I feel there's a strong likelihood that she'll come home tomorrow.

HEMMER: Yes, your case has been fast tracked, Jeremy. You speak as a man who has a fair level of confidence. I'm wondering through all of this, have you thought about the reflections of 9/11, and had those events not happened, perhaps your wife would have given a free pass to come back to San Antonio?

J. LEONARD: I've thought about it, but I can't really make a good decision, you know, whether it would have been different either way. What I do know is that my pregnant ice skating wife poses absolutely no threat to the United States.

HEMMER: Erin, when you come back, what do you miss the most?

E. LEONARD: My husband. And just his family, my new family and just living my life. Because...

HEMMER: There are a lot of people -- Erin, there are lot of people, Jeremy to you, this question to you as well, there are a lot of people who have number of problems with immigration in the country, some legitimate, some not so legitimate. Your case probably falls in the latter. But Erin, I'm curious to know, and from both of you, what have you learned from this that you would pass on to other people?

E. LEONARD: Make sure you research all your documents, especially when you're sending your documents away. And they're pending, make sure you know what they can if you can leave the country or if you cannot. Just make sure you do all your research.

HEMMER: Yes, I read that you recommend a lawyer, too, looking into this. But why not, if you took it back a couple months, go back to the INS and make sure everything is lined up?

E. LEONARD: Well, for one, I would have found out that you cannot leave without an advanced parole. So we would have not left, even though my grandma died suddenly without filing for an advance parole. And that would have given me admission back into the United States.

HEMMER: Do you have better confidence knowing that your case has been essentially fast tracked, Erin?

E. LEONARD: Somewhat, yes. HEMMER: Yes, Jeremy, what would you say so others who may have perhaps not the same situation, but a similar one? What advice would you give?

J. LEONARD: Well, I think that it's next to impossible to take on the task of filing paperwork with the INS without an attorney. You know, there's so many documents that you have to meticulously look over and review. And you know, you're -- you may miss something and then something tragic like this happens.

HEMMER: Yes, Jeremy, I take it from your answers and your previous answer you sound somewhat bitter. Is that a fair classification?

J. LEONARD: I'm not bitter. I mean, like I said, I can forgive and forget. You know, I'm just a Marine who wants his family to come home.

HEMMER: Yes, so you believe you could put this behind you then, huh, despite the hardship?

J. LEONARD: Definitely. I can -- it's two months of my life, you know? I plan on living a long time and plan on having a family with Erin for long time. And two months of our lives is going to make a small difference in the whole scheme of things.

HEMMER: Well, listen, the very best of luck to you. And I know you'll have a baby in about two to three months' time. And very best of luck to you on that end, too. Tomorrow we will know if Erin and Jeremy Leonard are reunited on U.S. soil. Thanks to both of you.

J. LEONARD: Thanks.

E. LEONARD: Thanks.

HEMMER: Good luck tomorrow. All right, Jeremy and Erin, thanks.

NEWSNIGHT continues in a moment. We'll be right back.


HEMMER: Want to go back to our top story tonight, the story about the 9/11 warnings. And last night around this time, the news about the White House and September 11th had just come out. Not enough time to assess the reaction from average people from across the country, but our polling unit has been working hard all day, and was able to get some rushed results for us. Again, this is only preliminary. It's still early on the story.

But one asked, did the Bush administration act on 9/11 warnings in the proper way? 41 percent said yes, 52 percent said no. Also, should the administration have discussed 9/11 warnings before now? 68 percent say yes, 29 percent say no. Again, the early numbers, 24 hours into it.

We can imagine that the people most torn up by the news are the families of the victims from September 11. We talked with some of them today. Expressions of anger by some, confusion and more pain with others.


STUART ZUCKER, LOST BROTHER ANDREW IN WTC: I felt from day one, it was a cover-up. I think that anybody who could detain 140 potential suspects within three days and view on national and international television the route that Atta took from Florida, to Maine, to Boston, going through security, obviously we knew from day one who these people were.

ALLISON WALLACE, LOST HUSBAND JOHN, CANTOR FITZGERALD: To make this statement this many months afterwards, and oops, we forgot to tell you, you know, after this kind of tragedy, they clearly, they're not thinking of the people.

STEVEN PUSH, TREASURER FAMILIES OF SEPTEMBER 11: Don't let this stuff dribble out a day at a time. Appoint an independent commission. Cooperate with it, provide with the documents that it needs. And let's get a report and find out exactly what happened.

MARIAN FONTANA, PRESIDENT of 9/11 VICTIMS AND FAMILY ASSN.: I'm angry and I'm hurt. And I don't think pointing fingers in any direction is going to help right now until I have all the information. And that's what I want. I want the information before I point fingers in any direction.

JACQUI EATON, LOST HUSBAND ROBERT: You want to be able to look at who's responsible in their face and say, you know, why did this happen and how did this happen? And it's becoming more and more clear it may be our government.

ARMINE GIORGETTI, LOST HUSBAND STEVEN IN WTC: Every time, every day, there's another revelation, another piece of news. We have to shield our children from it. We live it every single day. And I think the American people have to remember that it's not just news for us. I mean, it's our life. It's every day.


HEMMER: Again, some of the early reaction we're getting tonight. And after some technical difficulties, we are happy to say Robert Gates, the former CIA director, is live with us from Buffalo, New York. If the satellite goes down, we apologize. We've been wrestling with this thing for 45 minutes. Sir, good evening, to you.


HEMMER: And we appreciate you being patient. Understand you were not surprised by the story. Why not?

GATES: The fact is that the intelligence community and the administration were reporting all through last summer, and even last spring, that there was a lot of terrorist planning going on, a lot of reporting of heightened terrorist activity. The problem is that the information was so general, as is so often the case with reporting on terrorist plots and planning.

HEMMER: Yes, what seems to rankle most people is that the information has been eight months and coming. Why go that route?

GATES: Well, I don't know the specifics of the situation, but my guess is that they regarded the reports prior to September 11 as so general and so unremarkable, except in terms of collectively saying that there was a heightened sense of concern and a heightened sense of danger, that in fact was reported publicly. And my guess is that they didn't think it reached the threshold of becoming a news story in its own right.

HEMMER: Well, how about this one, in the daily intelligence briefings, how many threats normally are listed on a typical day? And we're going to try and hang in here?

GATES: Well...

HEMMER: No, we're not.

GATES: The president's daily brief usually does not deal with specifics throughout the information unless there's unusual report.

HEMMER: OK. I apologize again. We lost the signal there. Robert Gates, former CIA director under the first Bush administration. To our viewers, we apologize certainly. Trying to make that happen tonight, but the satellite gods were not on our side. NEWSNIGHT will be right back.


HEMMER: And finally tonight in "Segment 7, "tomorrow is the biggest day of the year in the world of the soap opera, the 29th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. But 29th annual probably will not give you a good sense of just how far soap operas go back. In fact, the big one for P&G, Procter & Gamble debuted in 1933, a radio series promoting Oxyydol soap, called "Ma Perkins." These days, you need a whole lot more flash to sell the soap and the small town charm of "Ma Perkins." You need more skin, and more supernatural.

Tonight here's Beth Nissen on that beat.


BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tune into a soap opera these days and you'll see the familiar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop talking and take me upstairs.

NISSEN: And the less familiar.


LYNN LEAHEY, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, SOAP OPERA DIGEST, SOAP OPERA WEEKLY: Soap operas just have to stretch a bit, because the same old presumed dead wife coming back from the dead at the wedding isn't going to cut it anymore.

NISSEN: That's because the soaps have been losing viewers. Their mainstay audience of housewives has vanished. Many now work all day. And even those who stay at home are often too busy to devote five or 10 hours of week to the tribulations of Bobby, Luke, and Laura, or Erica.

The 10 surviving daytime soaps, half the number there were in the '70s, are fighting for eyeballs, especially the younger eyeballs most desired by advertisers. To entice then, some soaps have gone far outside the traditional soapbox.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, damn that demon.

LEAHEY: "Passions," They have a doll that came to life. They have a witch on the show. On "Port Charles," they had a vampire story line. And they've really delved into the supernatural. And they still are.

NISSEN: Even the venerable "Guiding Light" had a key character who was cloned a while back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not Annie. My name is Reva, Reva Shane.

NISSEN: The top rated soaps still rely on the more traditional plots, boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy cheats on girl with girl's mother. Yet even these soaps are picking up the pace, turning up the heat. As on "Bold and the Beautiful," where a woman has become pregnant by daughter's husband.

LEAHEY: Other soap operas have told that story, but you'll see her five months pregnant in these torrid sex scenes.

NISSEN: Soaps know sex sells. So do story lines that echo primetime successes. Like "Law & Rrder", watch "Young and the Restless." Like "ER," watch "As the World Turns." Like "The Sopranos," a key "General Hospital" character is a mobster. The actor who plays him is also one of several new generation soap stars, who is Latino.

LEAHEY: There is a huge Hispanic audience out there that the American soaps would love to tap into. You can lure that audience to the American soap operas if you have characters that will appeal to them.

NISSEN: Seeing the inroads made into daytime by topical talk shows, soap have more story lines dealing with real social issues.


NISSEN: Sexual orienttation, breast cancer, drug and alcohol abuse, AIDS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not HIV positive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you slept with someone who was. So there's definite chance...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, man, just get yourself tested, OK?

NISSEN: For all the focus on better, grabbier plot lines, the key focus is on better profit grabbing bottom lines.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm taking back what's mine.

LEAHEY: What soap operas are realizing now is if they're going to maintain their business, if they're going to stay alive, they have to find other sources of revenue.

NISSEN: So networks are marketing products based on the soaps.

LEAHEY: You can buy the engagement ring that Leo gave Greenleaf. You can buy a Greenleaf comforter from "All My Children." Those are actual products.

NISSEN: ABC is getting more mileage out of its soaps by re- airing them at night on the fast growing cable network Soapnet. Soap producers have high, if distant hopes, that some day soap fans will be able to download their favorite daytime dramas on-line on demand. And they say there will be continuing demand for what all soap operas deliver daily, stories about relationships. Whether between regular mortals or the alien and the undead.


LEAHEY: Soap operas have always been about romance. People have hunger for romance. There is audience out there for love stories. There always has been and I think there always will be.

NISSEN: The trick now, give a greater and younger audience more to love.

Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


HEMMER: Cannot make that stuff up. But they certainly can.

That's NEWSNIGHT for tonight. I'm Bill Hemmer. Thanks for watching. We'll see you again tomorrow. So long.


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