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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

FBI Warns of Potential New Threat; Bush Urges Pakistan, India to Back Away from Brink of War; NYC Pays Tribute to WTC Victims

Aired May 30, 2002 - 16:00   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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. The FBI warns of the potential new threat to commercial aircraft as the Justice Department loosens the rules for investigators chasing terrorists.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King at the White House. President Bush urges India and Pakistan to back away from the brink of war, but vows the dispute won't hurt the United States' efforts to take al Qaeda.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider. Americans still support the war on terrorism, but they're no longer sure the U.S. is winning.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Maria Hinojosa in New York. The city pays an emotional tribute to the victims of the World Trade Center attack as the official recovery effort comes to an end.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

The daily challenge of living life under the threat of terrorism hit home on multiple fronts today, as recovery efforts officially ended in New York with a somber ceremony at Ground Zero, CNN has learned of a potential new threat to U.S. commercial aircraft.

Last week the FBI issued a bulletin warning of the, quote, "potential targeting of U.S. commercial aircraft by terrorists armed with shoulder-fired missiles." The warning cautioned, however, that the government had no specific intelligence that an attack of this kind was planned. CNN also has learned that U.S. air carriers were warned of this threat in a circular issued by the Transportation Security Administration. The circular noted that Osama bin Laden made a veiled reference to using shoulder-fired missiles against U.S. military aircraft in 1998.

Separately, the potential conflict brewing overseas between nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan could have a large effect on the U.S. war on terrorism. The president today called for restraint on the part of both countries. He also had a warning for any al Qaeda members who see opportunity in the unrest between India and Pakistan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll find weakness. And we're doing everything we can to continue to shore up our efforts on the Pakistani-Afghan border. And they shouldn't think they're going to gain any advantage as a result of any conflict that may be -- talk of conflict between India and Pakistan, because we're still going to hunt them down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: For more, we turn now to senior White House correspondent John King.

John, the president is announcing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is headed to the region. What do they want him to do there?

KING: Judy, that trip more evidence of the urgency, now, with which the administration views this problem. Secretary Rumsfeld is going for two reasons.

One, by his very presence -- his deputy secretary of state is also going -- by the very presence of two top U.S. officials, the administration hopes to convince India and Pakistan to consider the stakes. Secretary Rumsfeld saying today millions of lives could be lost in such a conflict, urging both parties to step back from the brink. Their number one is to try to convince the parties to ease tensions.

Number two for Secretary Rumsfeld is to make an assessment of how and if and whether the United States needs to adjust its plans on the ground for the war on terrorism. Should it move troops out of Pakistan? Are they at risk? Should it move troops on the Afghan side of the Pakistani border if Pakistan, as it says it might, moves troops away?

SO there is an operational aspect of the secretary's mission as well: to go in there, see whether U.S. troops in Pakistan are at risk and see if the war plans need to be changed because of the movements of Pakistani troops inside Pakistan.

WOODRUFF: John, what exactly is the administration worried may happen?

KING: A number of things. Number one, as I was just saying, if Pakistan, as it says it might, moves troops away from the Afghan border, U.S. officials believe that could complicate the hunt for al Qaeda, make it easier for al Qaeda and Taliban forces to go back and forth across the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Already some British troops moved in on the Afghan side. U.S. officials considering moving troops there.

The administration also concerned -- U.S. officials saying they have some evidence that India is preparing -- put conventional warheads on medium-range missiles, but those same missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. There is a great fear at the Pentagon of miscalculation -- that if India launched a missile, even if it had a conventional missile on it, that in Pakistan they might not know that, and that they might retaliate in a way beyond what India was intending. So a great sense there of the potential for miscalculation.

And lastly, but importantly, the administration considering the safety. Some 60,000-plus Americans in India and Pakistan. The administration debating whether to urge Americans to leave, whether to order or authorize U.S. diplomats to leave. State Department sources telling our Andrea Koppel that could happen any time now. There could be an authorized departure, which means those diplomats are free to leave, it's up to them. Or there could be, if the situation gets more serious, an ordered departure, which means those diplomats would be told to leave -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King with the latest from the White House. Thank you John.

Well, in the midst of all this, the American people appear to have growing concerns about one key aspect of the war on terrorism. Our senior analyst Bill Schneider has the results of a new poll.

Bill, how is public opinion about the war on terrorism changing now?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it is changing, and pretty dramatically.

The number of Americans who say the U.S. and its allies are winning the war has been dropping all year. In January, after the Taliban government was brought down, 66 percent said the U.S. was winning. By March the number had dropped to 51. Now it's down to 41 percent.

President Bush says it's going to be a long war. Administration officials say that new terrorist attacks are inevitable. If their aim is to combat complacency, it looks like they're succeeding.

WOODRUFF: And is there any political cost in this for the administration?

SCHNEIDER: You know, surprisingly the answer is no. There's no evidence of any public turning against the war, or losing confidence in President Bush's leadership. The president's job approval rating has held steady. It's now 77 percent.

Last week we found that 83 percent of Americans approved of the way the president is handling the war on terrorism. Unchanged since early April, and down only a few points since last fall. The U.S. public is not expecting or demanding a short, decisive victory with parades and flags. This is a lot more like the Cold War, which the American public resolutely supported for 47 years, even when things were not going well.

WOODRUFF: True. All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

The attorney general, John Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller held a joint news conference this afternoon for the second day in a row. The attorney general unveiled a revised set of guidelines designed to make it easier for federal investigators to track down terror suspects. One day after the two men announced an overhaul of the FBI, Ashcroft says the new guidelines will give more freedom to agents in the field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Unnecessary procedural red tape must not interfere with the effective detection, investigation and prevention of terrorist activities. To this end, the revised guidelines allow special agents in charge of FBI field offices to approve and renew terrorism enterprise investigations, rather than having to seek and wait for approval from headquarters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Other announced changes include allowing agents to gather information on people who are not under investigation, as well as the monitoring of Internet sites, libraries and houses of worship.

In New York this morning, the recovery operation where the World Trade Center towers once stood officially came to an end.

CNN's Maria Hinojosa is standing by now with more on today's ceremony at Ground Zero.

Maria, I watched a good bit of that ceremony. It seemed almost formal to those of us watching on television. What was it like there, for those who were there in person?

HINOJOSA: Judy, it was extraordinary. I think all of us expected us to be moved, but not quite as much or as profoundly as we...

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: ... between our conventions.

IN modern history, that is a record. It will be the first time ever in the history of our conventions that the nominee has done an acceptance speech in September.

I am obligated, as the chair of this party, to make sure that we do not have any unfair advantages to the Republican Party. I've got to make sure that our nominee -- our presidential and vice presidential nominee are in the best possible position going into the general election, so we're looking at new dates.

WOODRUFF: Meaning the same week? A week after?

MCAULIFFE: I've just informed our four cities, the same week, the week after, the week that we thought the Republicans would go, on August 2. But everything's on the table.

I have to do that. That is my responsibility. WOODRUFF: Marc Racicot, if the Democrats were to move their convention to the same week as the Republicans, or the week after, would you then -- would your party then look again at another date for yourselves?

MARC RACICOT, RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, we've selected the date based upon what was given to us as a matter of options by the Democratic Party. And, of course, tradition has held that consistently throughout our history, that when the president is in power, that party, whichever is it, follows with their convention after the challenging party holds their convention.

And when the chairman picked this date that, a year ago, as you mentioned, in April, then we had to look at what was available to us because, quite frankly, with the Olympics right within that period of time, we had to make sure that we, as well, would be a part of the emphasis, or at least the visibility of the political activity in the country during that period of time.

And frankly, the day we picked, Judy, is, I think, only three days different from what the Democrats picked in 1996.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying if they change their date, what? You're sticking with August...

RACICOT: No, the date that we have selected, we've issued as the date for those who are going to bid on the convention. I think they have to have some stability. We don't have any presently existing plans to change that date. And if the Democrats choose to go forward in that same period of time, obviously, even though it may not be in keeping with tradition, it's a matter that rests within their discretion.

WOODRUFF: So even if they go later?

RACICOT: If it goes later than that, then obviously we would focus upon August 30 as our day, because that's what we settled upon as being the...

WOODRUFF: Even if they go September the 6th?

RACICOT: Well, there's nothing in the law that says they can't do that. And we just haven't discussed that decision, quite frankly. Gary (ph) and I have discussed the situation. He's indicated they may go on the 30th, but not later than that.

But I don't anticipate being pulled that far into September.

WOODRUFF: So what do you think, Terry?

MCAULIFFE: Everything's on the table. I've got to make decisions which are going to put our vice presidential and presidential nominees in the best possible position. We will probably make a decision...

WOODRUFF: Does that rule out mid-July? Is that what you're saying?

MCAULIFFE: No, I've asked the cities to keep votes (ph) out of the plate (ph). We're going to look at all of our options. When we announce our city, which will probably be right after the November elections this year, we will announce the city and the date. But I will just tell you everything is on the table.

RACICOT: Well, and I would indicate the same. I just think, presumptively, we are going to carry out our convention on August 30.

WOODRUFF: All right. To be continued.

MCAULIFFE: It's going to be fun.

WOODRUFF: Watch this space. Marc Racicot, Terry...

RACICOT: Well, he didn't leave us any choice. He tried to box us in, and we just were left with no other choice.

WOODRUFF: All right.

MCAULIFFE: No one boxed it in. If they had gone on the 2nd it would have been the same time period we had in 1992.

This is -- strategically they made a good decision. But, you know, it's 38 days. Never before has a nominee been in September. I've got to look at that and make our decisions accordingly.

WOODRUFF: OK, and we'll be very interested in the outcome.

MCAULIFFE: OK. You've got a bet (ph).

WOODRUFF: Terry McAuliffe, Marc Racicot, thank you both. Appreciate it; good to see you both.

Just ahead: the sweet spell of success. We'll tell you the winner in the national spelling bee that just wrapped up her in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking our INSIDE POLITICS "NewsCycle," the FBI is warning of the potential targeting of commercial aircraft in the United States by terrorists armed with shoulder-fired missiles. The nationwide alert comes after investigators concluded that al Qaeda might have tried to shoot down a U.S. military plane in Saudi Arabia earlier this month. But the warning stresses that the United States has no specific intelligence that such an attack is planned. And CNN has learned that federal transportation authorities have passed along the warning to U.S. air carriers.

In Oregon, three climbers are dead and four others are trapped in a crevice on Mount Hood. These are live pictures from Mount Hood coming in to us now. Officials trying -- you can see the helicopter in the air there -- trying to rescue the survivors. We don't have much more information than that. We believe three dead, and at least four still trapped.

Here in Washington, a Colorado boy has won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. He is 13-year-old Pratyush Buddiga of Colorado Springs. My apologies if I didn't pronounce his name right. He takes home a trophy and $12,000 for spelling the word -- the winning word -- prospicience, which means "foresight."

I'm glad no one asked me what it meant, or how to spell it before we told you that story.

With us now, not to talk about spelling, but other matters, Maria Echaveste, former deputy chief of staff to President Clinton, and Rich Lowry of the "National Review."

Rich, today the FBI continuing its announcements of reorganization, says that it wants to give its investigators more latitude, more leeway as it pursues terror suspects. The ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, among others, are saying they're worried that this is going to leave open the possibility for abuse. Is that a real concern?

RICH LOWRY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think, Judy, most of the guidelines that were announced today deal with pretty innocuous stuff. You know, amazingly enough, FBI agents felt constrained by these guidelines that were released back in the '70s -- set back in the '70s -- felt constrained from going on to public Web sites. You know, if someone set up a Web site called blowupthetowers.com, FBI agents would feel as though they couldn't go on there like an ordinary person.

And these guidelines are going to address that problem, make it clear to agents they can go to public Web sites, they can go to public places -- even religious places -- to keep an eye on fanatics. And this is, I think, another important step towards creating a more aggressive culture at the FBI, an institution that has been beaten down by rules and regulations passed by Congress over the last 30 years.

WOODRUFF: So Maria, nothing to worry about her in terms of trampling on rights?

MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Well I think first, Rich, I agree with you that it would seem common sense that the FBI should be able to review material that is available to the public, just the way if you read a newspaper and you see something that strikes you as interesting or odd, you'd want to look into it. So I don't think that is a particular problem.

But the most important point is that everything we know today suggests that the FBI is cautious in using its current authority. That it was overly cautious. And it seems to me that that has not been adequately explained. Why expand that authority if you haven't answered why you haven't used the authority? I mean, what the general counsel Raleigh (ph) wrote really had to do with current authority.

And the last point is, one of the things that's being proposed is giving more authority out in the field, without Washington oversight. And to a certain degree that will reduce bureaucratic obstacles, but where are the checks and balances? Because we are all too familiar with what happens with people with some power with no checks and balances, we've had that experience with the FBI before in the '60s and '70s.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, we have less than a minute. I want to ask you both about the announcement today that the president sending Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to the region, India/Pakistan region. Is this something that the U.S. should be getting involved in, Rich?

LOWRY: Yes. It's a very serious issue, and this is a much more serious problem than the Israeli/Palestinian problem that typically gains all the headlines. I mean, the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, there are dozens of lives potentially at stake. In this dispute, there are millions of lives at stake.

And I think the solution starts in getting Musharraf to follow through with his promises.

ECHAVESTE: Well, I think having Rumsfeld go to India/Pakistan, it's unclear to me what the objectives are. I totally agree this is a very dangerous situation, but there has not been articulated what is hoped to be accomplished or what's the strategy for reducing tensions.

LOWRY: They want to get Musharraf to crack down on Islamic terrorists.

WOODRUFF: We are going to have to leave it there. My apologies, but thanks to you both, Rich Lowry, Maria Echaveste. Thank you. We appreciate it.

LOWRY: Thanks, Judy.

ECHAVESTE: Thanks.

WOODRUFF: Well, some say that one recent primary campaign took negative ads to a new low.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's been arrested or charged 56 times for violating the law, including two counts of threatening to kill people...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider rejoins me next with the "Inside Buzz" on one state's rough primary season.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Several primary races in Kentucky recently went far beyond the normal rough and tumble of hard-core politics. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins me now -- rejoins me now with more on what happened in Kentucky -- Bill. SCHNEIDER: Well, the Kentucky primary campaign, which ended Tuesday, make have taken negative campaigning a little too far. Two candidates dead, three men arrested for murder, plus allegations of fraud, slander and a bit of indecent exposure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): When they take political shots in Kentucky, they're for real. In March, a candidate for Harlan County sheriff was found shot dead in his truck. In April, a motorcycle rider shot and killed the Pulaski County sheriff at a political rally and fish-fry. One of the sheriff's Republican primary opponents was arrested, along with two other men, one of them the alleged shooter.

This year's campaign in Floyd County was worthy of the "Jerry Springer Show." Here's a hair-pulling, eye-gouging exchange between the incumbent candidate for property valuation administration and her Democratic primary opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why vote for a man you can't trust, who has been arrested or charged 56 times for violating the law, including two counts of threatening to kill people. Even in a drunken brawl, bit a man's ear completely off, admitted under oath to lying to police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Hancock offered to tape me. She expected this tape to surface. It's X-rated and it shows just how little she values her reputation and wedding vows. Glenn (ph) David May for PVA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A man who is willing to stoop so low is dangerous, evil and vile and would never be permitted to win. My husband and I ask you to stand with us and reject these filthy, gutter-style politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): The lesson is if you're running for office in Kentucky, make sure you've got your rear end covered.

WOODRUFF: Hmmm.

SCHNEIDER: Hmmm.

WOODRUFF: I'm going to leave that alone, Bill. SCHNEIDER: OK.

WOODRUFF: I think the pictures speak for themselves.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, good political lesson.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let's hope it didn't start a trend. Bill Schneider, thanks.

Well, we keep our focus on Kentucky. In our "Campaign News Daily," Democratic Senate candidate Tom Barlow today requested a re- canvas of the voting in his apparent loss to Senate primary opponent Lois Combs Weinberg. The two candidates are separated by less than 1,000 votes. Weinberg has already claimed victory. The winner will face Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.

Former Los Angeles police chief Bernard Parks has announced plans to run for the city council. Parks filed his campaign papers yesterday with the ethics commission. He retired earlier this month after the police commission decided not to grant him a second five- year term.

Massachusetts Green Party candidate Jill Stein could play the role of spoiler in this year's race for governor. Stein may soon qualify for more than $3 million in public funding for her campaign, enabling her to run radio and television ads. Some state Democrats are concerned that Stein may siphon liberal votes away from their eventual nominee, helping the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney.

Well, here now with some "Inside Buzz," our Bob Novak, who is on the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University.

All right, Bob, I understand, first of all, you've been looking at the congressional calendar and you're finding that it's already jam-packed.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Judy, there are only 31 shopping days, now I mean voting days, between now and the beginning of the August recess. That means 31 voting days until Labor Day. And there is so much to be passed.

There is conference reports, appropriations bills, bills passed by the House that have piled up for months. If they don't start working on weekends, and they won't, you know what people are talking about? The dreaded lame-duck post-election session to get everything done. Nobody wants that, but it might happen.

WOODRUFF: All right. From Congress to the crucial question of redistricting in a couple of states, what about New York? We understand they've come up with a plan there?

NOVAK: Huge surprise. The federal master had a plan in New York where they were going to be two contested elections. Now, the one thing congressmen don't like is contested congressional seats so that the two parties, with the help of the White House, got together, and they decided they would just select out two veteran House members, Democrat Louise Slaughter and Republican Ben Gilman.

Gilman's the former chairman of the international relations committee. I hear he could get in embassy, but they are out and out, and there are no contested seats. And that's just the way the incumbent members of Congress like it.

WOODRUFF: Be interesting to hear their reaction.

All right, what about in Oklahoma, Bob? Some redistricting arrangements there too?

NOVAK: Yes, there was a Republican-appointed judge approved the Republican plan. The Democrats are just horrified. They thought they had a chance to win an extra seat in Oklahoma, but they're not. As a result, J.C. Watts, Republican, will not be running against Ernest Istook, a Republican.

They each get districts of their own. And that's really a relief on the House Republican leadership, because J.C. Watts wanted the crusader missile approved because they built it in his district, so he'd have to stay elected. He's a member of the leadership. Now, the Republican leaders don't have to worry about that. They don't have to choose between Mr. Watts and the White House, which wants the crusader system killed.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bob Novak on redistricting and other tidbits, joining us from the "CROSSFIRE" set. Thank you, Bob. We'll see you later.

NOVAK: See you later, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Coming up, Jeff Greenfield will talk with us about why we pause to remember such devastating events as the September attacks on the World Trade Center.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Our Jeff Greenfield was among the New Yorkers who witnessed the horror brought about by the attacks on September the 11th. And Jeff joins us now with his thoughts on this last day of recovery operations at ground zero -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Judy, on that beautiful late summer morning, I stood here looking just a few miles south on the worst thing I could ever have imagined seeing, the whole skyline of lower Manhattan consumed by smoke and by death.

This morning, New York and a lot of the nations stopped for a few moments for a ceremony who's purpose was to give meaning to that awful moment. Why? Because at times like this, it is something we feel compelled to do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): It is what Lincoln did at Gettysburg, taking a day of massive death and infusing it with a noble purpose, to preserve the union, and to ensure the freedom that union promised. It is what America did after Pearl Harbor, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Arizona, the ship where so many Americans were in tune into a memorial to sacrifice.

It is what the cemetery at Normandy stands for, where President Bush walked this week. And it is what the tomb of the unknown at Arlington Cemetery stands for. We may not know who you are, it says, but we honor what you did. We seek to give meaning, even when we confront the most inexplicable of acts. The memorial to those who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, for example. Or when the sheer numbers of dead overwhelm us, thus the memorial at Hiroshima or the memorial to the Holocaust victims, at Yad Vashem in Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Now, Judy, there is another purpose to this ceremony this morning because this -- what we were talking about was not some tragedy or some act of nature. This was a deliberate, purposeful attack on this country by its enemies. And one of the purposes of the ceremony this morning was to say this will not be forgotten. This will be avenged. A very somber day, Judy.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The nuclear power industry wants to send decades worth of highly radioactive used fuel to a permanent storage site in the Nevada desert. But Nevada doesn't want it. Senate vote on the matter is expected in June or July. But where is that fuel stored now? Why can't it just stay there? Our Brooks Jackson went to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here's decades of nuclear waste, 38 feet below the surface of this pool, and it's getting full. There is no better place to see the nuclear disposal problem than here, 60 miles southwest of Chicago, site of the nation's first commercial reactor. Fuel first used here more than 40 years ago is still here, and is still potentially deadly.

Security is tight. We were the first news cameras inside since September 11. Our guide, Christopher Crane, explained the basics.

CHRISTOPHER CRANE, EXELON NUCLEAR: What this is is a typical nuclear fuel bundle.

JACKSON: A model, but real fuel bundles, even with real uranium pellets, are safe to handle when new, but not after six years of controlled nuclear fission inside a reactor.

(on camera): And after that, they're hot?

CRANE: After that, they're hot. The temperature coming out of the reactor is around 200 degrees.

JACKSON (voice-over): Hot and extremely radioactive. Crane took us to see through checkpoints, airlocks, until finally...

CRANE: Right now, you are standing on the top of an operating nuclear reactor.

So, after fuel has been in there for six years, it's no longer safe to handle.

JACKSON (on camera): I've heard -- read that once it's been in the reactor and come out, it's something like a million times more radioactive than when it went in. Is that accurate?

CRANE: It is -- it is hazardous, classified as hazardous material. It's highly radioactive, and that's why the safety systems and the engineered features of the facility are designed to handle fuel in that state.

JACKSON: But what do you do with it once it's been in there and it's become so radioactive?

CRANE: Well, first of all, we handle it under water.

JACKSON (voice-over): The water shields this from radiation so intense that we could receive a fatal dose in just three minutes, where we're standing one yard away.

CRANE: This pool is designed to withstand an earthquake. It's stainless steel-lined, wielded seams. The walls are four-foot reinforced concrete, and the floor is six-foot reinforced concrete at a minimum.

JACKSON: But there's not much room left. The government was supposed to provide permanent storage by now, but it hasn't.

CRANE: This is 30 years' worth. It's just about full, but there is 30 years' worth there now.

JACKSON: After years under water, used fuel has cooled off enough to be moved out of the plant. This 20-ton crawler carries heavily shielded steel casks, each containing 68 used fuel assemblies, setting them down into what's called dry storage.

(on camera): Is there any radiation here?

CRANE: If you stood here for an hour, you would pick up the same amount of radiation as you did flying from Washington to Chicago to come and visit us today.

JACKSON: How safe are these sitting here?

CRANE: They are very safe. They were built to withstand great forces from drops, penetrations, fires. They're safe, sound and reliable.

JACKSON: Now, since September 11, you know, a lot of concern that these and others like it around the country might be targets. What happens if somebody blows one of these things up? CRANE: Well, first they'd have to get here. They are small targets within a very secure facility, with well-armed guards and systems that detect individuals that aren't supposed to be in certain areas.

JACKSON (voice-over): In fact, casks like these have never been subjected to full-scale tests, only computer simulations and scale model tests, and they are vulnerable to armor-piercing missiles. Opponents of the proposed permanent storage site in Nevada say it would be more dangerous to ship this deadly cargo across country than to leave it where it is.

(on camera): Why don't we just leave it here forever?

CRANE: It doesn't make sense. These stored here, there are right now over 130 storage locations in the country in 36 states. They're safe, they're reliable, they've been designed to withstand great deals of force, but it only makes sense to securely store them 1,000 feet below the ground in secured facility in Nevada.

JACKSON: So what you're telling me is they're safe here, but they'd be safer under a mountain in Nevada?

CRANE: That's correct.

JACKSON (voice-over): That's what will soon be debated in Washington, but so far so good. After hours of standing around this stuff, I've still received too little radiation for my decimeter to measure.

(on camera): Even if the Senate approves, it will be years before these containers start the long journey to Nevada. By that time, some of the fuel inside will be 50 years old.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Grande County, Illinois.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We are showing you now some live pictures from Mt. Hood in Oregon, where, as we told you a little while ago, nine climbers have fallen into a crevasse. It's believed at least three of them are dead. Just a short time ago, it was reported to us that the helicopter -- one of the helicopters attempting a rescue actually crashed at the site. We don't have any more information than that. We don't know about casualties on the helicopter, but this may be the picture now of the helicopter as it hovered above the site. The mountain is something 11,200 feet.

You can see how close the helicopter is, and this looks -- this may be right where it went -- there it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... things going wrong. Oh, my goodness. Oh, that is horrible. Oh, good Lord. Oh, fellows, oh, my goodness. You're watching this live, folks. Oh, if only this was the movie. You've seen the helicopter. You saw the tail go into the mountain, and just flew apart, rolling down the hillside. Oh, good Lord. That is...

WOODRUFF: Well, as you can see again, these are live pictures. These are people who have come down that portion of the mountain to try to get to the people who are on the helicopter. We can't see what happened to it. It may have slipped down into another crevasse there. It's very difficult to tell from this angle exactly what you're dealing with, but tragedy on top of tragedy. You have the helicopter trying to rescue the six people alive and the three who have perished in this fall. Nine climbers among a larger group of climbers at Mt. Hood in Oregon.

As we said, nine of them fell into a crevasse. The helicopter was there trying to rescue them, and then as you just saw, the helicopter itself crashed and then rolled down the mountain. And we couldn't see what happened, nor do we know or are we able to tell you about what happened. This is the tape, once again, of the helicopter crashing into the mountain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my goodness. Oh, that is horrible. Oh, good Lord. Oh, fellows, oh, my goodness. You're watching this live, folks. Oh, if only this was the movie. You've seen the helicopter. You saw the tail go into the mountain, and just flew apart, rolling down the hillside. Oh, good Lord.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: One of those really horrible scenes that happened in front of a live television camera. CNN will continue to keep you updated on the situation on Mt. Hood as the rescue efforts there continue. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We're going to show you more live pictures from near the top of Mt. Hood, Oregon, where we just showed a helicopter crash just moments ago as it was attempting a rescue of six of the nine climbers near the top of that mountain. They were climbing the mountain; all nine of them fell into a crevasse. Three of them are dead. The other six injured. CNN is watching this story, trying to find out what has happened to crew onboard that helicopter. You see it resting there upside down on the side of Mt. Hood. Our coverage of this story will continue right now.

(INTERRUPTED FOR CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

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