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News; Domestic

Aired June 21, 2003 - 22:00   ET


KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, I'm Kate Snow in for Aaron Brown.
For an administration that demonized Saddam Hussein while he was in power, the Bush administration now downplays the significance of his whereabouts. What is really important, Pentagon Spokeswoman Tori Clarke said today, is the fact that Saddam Hussein no longer runs the country.

That's been the official line since the war began but tonight some within the defense establishment are raising a troubling possibility. Saddam may not control the country but until his fate is known nobody will, one of many headlines on a busy night.

But we start things off at home with a drama that played out on the tracks heading toward Los Angeles, one that took a frightening twist with a revelation late tonight, CNN's Frank Buckley on that one for us, Frank a headline please.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, Union Pacific Railroad officials tell us tonight that the train that derailed here was intentionally diverted to a siding in this community to try to keep the train from going into Los Angeles where the danger was perceived to be greater but they knew that that action could cause the train to derail.

SNOW: Next to the fires burning out of control in parts of Arizona, CNN's Dan Lothian is there, Dan a headline from you.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it has been a long, hot day for firefighters on the front lines. The wind continues to be a major problem. So far, 250 homes have been destroyed and officials say this battle is far from over.

SNOW: On to CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and today's terror alert, David the headline please.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the information covers Kenya, specifically the U.S. Embassy there. It suggests that al Qaeda may have been hoping to hit that embassy with a truck bomb or an aircraft.

SNOW: David, thank you. The fate of Saddam Hussein next and the growing effort to find him, CNN's Jamie McIntyre has that for us tonight, Jamie a headline please.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, no doubt you remember the senior bodyguard and adviser to Saddam Hussein captured earlier this week. Well, he's talking and he claims he was with Saddam Hussein after the second attempt the United States tried to take him out. That and other intelligence has a lot of U.S. officials now leaning toward the belief that Saddam Hussein is alive and hiding in Iraq.

SNOW: Jamie, thank you, back with all of you shortly.

Also ahead on the program tonight are people ready for a docu- drama about the events of 9/11? We'll ask the writer and producer of a TV movie called "DC 9/11."

And, if it's midnight it's Potter time, the view much the same wherever you turn around the country, around the world, and most anywhere you can find children aged nine and up. We'll hear from London where the kids and CNN's Richard Quest already have their hands on the best seller of the year.

And in "Segment 7" tonight a group of Mercury astronauts who were just as good as the seven who went into space with one big difference, they were women, and until now they have been lost to history, all that to come in the hour ahead.

We begin, though, with a story that was dramatic enough on its own until we learned there was much more to the story than first met the eye. We saw a spectacular train derailment. We learned it wasn't an accident. Here again, CNN's Frank Buckley.


BUCKLEY (voice-over): It was a spectacular derailment that sent runaway freight cars loaded with tons of wood crashing into a neighborhood alongside the tracks. Four home were damaged, two of them demolished. This woman watched it all on TV and realized that one of the homes was hers.

ISELA BONAGA, RESIDENT: I was actually in Santa Monica when somebody paged me and they told me, you know, something happened. There's a derailment on Garfield and Commerce. I ran across the street in Santa Monica. I looked at the TV and said oh my God, I think that must be -- I said oh, that's my neighbor's house. Oh, my God that's my house and all the neighbor's houses are down and it was just a complete shock. I just couldn't believe it.

BUCKLEY: A spokeswoman for Union Pacific Railroad says the runaway freight cars were intentionally sent to a siding, like an off ramp from the main rails, to stop the train before it reached the city of Los Angeles.

KATHRYN BLACKWELL, SPOKESPERSON FOR UNION PACIFIC: There was no good way to stop it, no perfect place to stop it unfortunately. Given limited options for places that we could do this, I don't, you know obviously it came down to a decision that the train needed to be stopped and needed to be stopped soon.

BUCKLEY: But some local city officials are angry and upset with the decision to stop the train in their community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at some of the homes. Look at some of the people that were affected. It's had a big impact here in this community. We want an investigation and we want some answers as to why they did not work with local agencies here and we have excellent support staff here that responds on a moment's notice and we would liked to have seen more of that and we want some answers on that.


BUCKLEY: And, if you look live now you can see that the work is continuing here, just a devastating scene where a train is on top of a home, all of the splintered wood that came off of the freight cars that derailed at this location.

As for the investigation, there is one that's already underway. A couple of investigators from the NTSB already on scene and remarkably, fortunately no one killed here, 13 people injured, none of the injuries considered serious -- Kate.

SNOW: Frank, how quickly did all of this happen? I mean how much time did they have to make that decision to try to move it off the tracks?

BUCKLEY: Well, the Union Pacific officials don't have an exact timeline yet but they say, we believe that the first 9-1-1 call came in just after noon here local time and that the Union Pacific officials believed that the train was a runaway, that these freight cars were runaway for approximately a half an hour and that the train reached speeds of over 50 miles per hour as it was traveling here.

They say that notifications were made to the best of their ability but apparently, according to the local officials, they were not notified that there was a runaway train and when we talked to Los Angeles County Fire, they say that the first they knew of a runaway train was when they got the first 9-1-1 call.

SNOW: And just to clarify, what would have happened, Frank, or what do they fear would have happened if it had kept going, if it had gone into Los Angeles? What kind of an area was it headed into?

BUCKLEY: Well, they were concerned that as the train went further and further into metro Los Angeles that it would have encountered because this is also a shared metro link that is one of the commuter train lines, that it could have encountered passenger trains.

There's more population, more of a city center, so they were concerned with that and they say that they were clearing the tracks as they went to the best of their ability. But, again, the train was diverted here. Their hope was that it wouldn't derail but they say that given the speeds that the train was traveling at they knew that that was a possibility.

SNOW: CNN's Frank Buckley, thanks so much.

Next to a disaster that isn't so easy to sidetrack. Unlike the soggy East Coast where you can barely keep a match lit, parts of the southwest are hot and dry and going up in smoke.

Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Thick smoke hangs in the air as the Aspen fire rages out of control. More than 600 firefighters are working in dangerous, difficult terrain, dry old growth timber, heat, flames, and high winds.

GERRY ENGLE, NATIONAL FOREST SERVICE: The terrain is very steep and there's not very many places where we can safely put firefighters into the area where the fire is occurring and then the wind has really been bad. We had extreme winds yesterday and we're predicted to have extreme winds for the next three or four days.

LOTHIAN: Hardest hit the town of Summerhaven. At least half of the 500 homes here have been destroyed.

DON UNDERHILL, RESIDENT: I don't need a pile of ashes to confirm what I've already done through my head and that's history. Today is a new day.

LOTHIAN: Everyone has been evacuated including young children spending time at two nearby summer camps.

KENNETH HAYMORE, EVACUATED SUMMER CAMP: We brought 200 girls down yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brought 200 girls.

HAYMORE: Two hundred and twenty, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How close was it to the camp?

HAYMORE: Not that close, we could see the smoke.

LOTHIAN: Fire crews have managed to save at least 60 homes but many more are still threatened.

JASON SCHWECHTER, RESIDENT: I really hope that the community comes back up there because that's who truly made that town great.

LOTHIAN: The fire started on Tuesday destroying just a few hundred acres at first but 60 mile per hour winds fanned the flames. Power lines came down. Propane tanks blew up. At times, fire crews had to retreat.


LOTHIAN: Firefighters are currently holding somewhat of a town meeting. It is a chance for residents who have been displaced to ask questions, to get some of their concerns addressed.

Now the fire so far has burned about 4,000 acres. We're about 25 to 30 miles away from that fire that's up there on Mount Baldy. The wind continues to be a problem and will be a problem for the next three to four days.

But some good news, officials saying the fire seems to be heading to the north, closest structures there ten miles away -- Kate.

SNOW: Dan, is this an area that hasn't seen a lot of fire in recent years? Is there a lot of brush, a lot of growth to burn up?

LOTHIAN: That is the big problem. There hasn't been a fire in this particular area in quite some time. There's a lot of dead trees on the ground so that's perfect fuel for the fire and one official told me that they haven't had any moisture here, no rain in at least a month and a half.

SNOW: Dan Lothian in Tucson, Arizona tonight, thanks.

On now to the latest terror alert, based on concerns that al Qaeda will strike the same place for a second time. Hundreds of Africans and a dozen Americans died the last time around. This time the office is closed.

Here again, CNN's David Ensor.


ENSOR (voice-over): The intelligence information indicates, U.S. officials say, that the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya is under imminent threat of terrorist attack by al Qaeda, and that the terrorists' weapon of choice is a truck bomb or an aircraft. The embassy was immediately closed on word of the threat to review security procedures, officials say.

PHILIP REEKER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We do monitor this very closely. As you know, East Africa has been an area of terrorist threats and indeed terrorist attacks in the past.

ENSOR: Back in 1998, a truck bomb destroyed the old U.S. Embassy building in Nairobi killing 213 people including 12 Americans. Last November, suicide bombers attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya's port city of Mombassa. They also narrowly missed shooting down an Israeli passenger jet.

Word of this new additional threat in Kenya came from the Pentagon in a classified warning to government agencies calling it specific and credible. Sources told that to CNN.

Since May, Americans have been warned against travel to Kenya and the East Africa region following a sighting in Kenya of Fasul Abdullah Mohammed, an al Qaeda operative on the FBI's most wanted list. That same month, British and Israeli airlines suspended their flights to Kenya because of the threat of terrorism.

Ironically, at an African leaders' meeting in Nairobi Friday, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and other issued a statement urging western governments to drop their travel bans and advisories saying, "The region is safe for tourism and other investors." Famous for its safari parks, Kenya relies heavily on tourism which has been hurt badly by the terrorism alerts.


ENSOR: Kenya and other countries in the Horn of Africa have been the focus of intense U.S. counterterrorism efforts for many months now. A military task force, which includes Americans and some Europeans, has been operating in the region, say U.S. officials, since late last year -- Kate.

SNOW: David, this is a newly rebuilt embassy. You would think probably one of the most secure or at least security, tight security kind of places in the world. Why would al Qaeda go after a place like that?

ENSOR: You're quite right. It's a fortified bunker almost. The theory behind why al Qaeda would go after it is that al Qaeda wants to show it can go after it and the methods that are apparently being contemplated, according to the intelligence, are the kinds of things that still might succeed. If you can fly a plane, if you can somehow get a plane in on the top of a building it has to be a very, very strong building indeed not to be damaged.

SNOW: CNN's David Ensor tonight. Thank you.

Three months ago, almost to the day, Gulf War II began with an air strike aimed at killing Saddam Hussein. The thought was decapitate the regime and you make winning the war easier. As it turned out winning the war wasn't the problem with or without Saddam. Keeping the peace and controlling the country is, and for that finding out what happened to Saddam Hussein is gaining importance.

Here again, CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): Excavation of the two sights in Baghdad where the U.S. tried to kill Saddam Hussein with decapitation air strikes has produced no evidence he was at either place and U.S. officials say scraps of information from local citizens and interrogations of captured regime members have convinced many U.S. intelligence analysts it's likely Saddam is alive and hiding in Iraq. But the official U.S. government answer from the White House on down is no one knows.

GEN. JAY GARNER (RET.), FORMER IRAQ ADMINISTRATOR: I talked to Iraqis that told me he was alive and I've talked to Iraqis that told me he's dead. Those that said he is alive generally outnumber those that said he was dead. I don't know whether he's alive or dead.

MCINTYRE: U.S. officials tell CNN General Abid Hamid Mahmud, Saddam Hussein's closest confidante has been talking since his capture by U.S. Special Operations forces Monday. U.S. officials say Mahmud claims not to have seen Saddam Hussein since early April when the president and his two sons supposedly split up to avoid capture.

The U.S. has no way to know if that's true but a Special Operations team, code named Task Force 20, which took part in the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, is spearheading the manhunt. Pentagon officials continue to express confidence they'll get Saddam.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: It's important to get final determination as I call it of his status or his whereabouts just as we want to have all of the Iraqi leadership and we'll do it. We're working through the now infamous deck of cards. We're working through that pretty significantly and we will get there.


MCINTYRE: A U.S. officials says that General Mahmud also told his American interrogators that he along with two of Saddam Hussein's sons fled to Syria after the fall of Baghdad and then were expelled by the Syrian government and had to return to Iraq. The problem is that while General Mahmud is talking the U.S. is not sure it can believe anything he's saying -- Kate.

SNOW: Jamie, about the role of Saddam Hussein, even maybe as a figurehead, is the U.S. military now saying, is the Pentagon now saying that this is becoming a guerrilla style war over there between pro-Hussein forces and the U.S.?

MCINTYRE: It's funny. They've been really reluctant to use that term guerrilla warfare. In fact, a U.S. commander this week bristled when reporters suggested he was in a guerrilla war saying it wasn't nearly that organized. But this week on Capitol Hill, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz essentially admitted that what's going on is a guerrilla war but he insisted it's a guerrilla war the United States can win.

And what the U.S. says is with the help of intelligence of the Iraqi population, and they say that's the key, they are moving in on people like this senior adviser that they captured and they're hopeful that they're going to get Saddam Hussein sooner or later.

SNOW: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon tonight, thanks Jamie.

Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT, more on the continuing question over whether Saddam is alive or dead and, if he's alive, who is going to find him?

And later on, the excitement over a book that's nearly 900 pages long, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" soon to be in the hands of Harry's many fans, some of them here at Books a Million (ph) in Chattanooga, Tennessee thanks to our affiliate WDSI (ph).


SNOW: As we told you before the break Saddam Hussein's personal secretary is in U.S. custody and he is talking. U.S. officials say he's told his interrogators he saw Saddam alive even after coalition forces tried twice to take him out.

So, if he is alive who is going to find him? Maybe an elite group called Task Force 20. Here to talk about the task force and the search for Saddam is CNN Analyst Ken Robinson here with me in Washington. Thanks for being here tonight.


SNOW: Tell us about this Task Force 20. What is it?

ROBINSON: Task Force 20, the way to think about it is look at the issue of the war. The war was fought by Central Command and a commanding general. He was given an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, and a Marine Corps.

He was also given a tight Special Operations Forces task force and that task force was like a spear and it was giving him the ability to do surgical raids, recons, ambushes, and to search for WMD and to search for wanted Ba'athists and members of Saddam's government.

SNOW: And so this is a small group of people, a big group of people, how many people are we talking about?

ROBINSON: It's an interagency task force. It's comprised of Special Operations soldiers, Rangers, members of the SEAL community, members of Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, and members of the intelligence community, CIA, DIA, and technical experts, experts in the field of WMD. It's a very large organization but it's also very utilitarian. It can be directed to specific focused targets.

SNOW: And also very secret I would imagine.


SNOW: How do they operate? Do they find Saddam Hussein or do they wait until someone else finds him and then they go in? Are they actively searching for him on the street?

ROBINSON: The search for Saddam and the search for some of these targets started way before the war started and this force was designed to go in and identify about 87 pre-selected specific targets within Iraq. Some of those targets that they prosecuted prior to the war starting and many during the war and many in advance of the military's conventional deployment into Iraq.

SNOW: So, how does new intelligence like we're learning about tonight play into what they do then when they hear that he is, in fact, perhaps still alive?

ROBINSON: They have what's called all source intelligence where they take information from imagery, from signals intelligence, from human intelligence, from the interviews of specific people who they interview, who they interrogate.

And interestingly, as Jamie had mentioned in the previous piece, they are interrogating many of these people that they've captured, 50 percent of which have been captured by Task Force 20, and they're seeing a lot of resistance to interrogation techniques being used by the people who they're talking with which shows a sophistication similar to what you would find in a special soldier who had been trained to resist interrogation.

SNOW: You've been talking to government officials. Is the assumption that Saddam Hussein may well be alive at this point?

ROBINSON: The officials that we've spoken to have said that it's prudent to assume the worst and hope for the best and that assumption being they must assume that he's still alive because he carries such a large shadow over Iraq.

There are people in Iraq who some officials refer to as suffering from the equivalent of battered wife syndrome, and until someone like Saddam and the shadow he casts is finally put away, it's going to be difficult for them to get to the part that is important which is nation building.

SNOW: What's your sense about what Jamie McIntyre spoke of the guerrilla warfare and the fact that the Pentagon is now sort of conceding, at least in front of Congress conceding that this may well be guerrilla warfare? Is that what you're hearing?

ROBINSON: Jamie called it exactly right. There is a clear identification of the emergence of what looks like an insurgency and what...

SNOW: Carefully couched words there.

ROBINSON: How you define that is very important because words matter, because once you identify it as an insurgency then the mission of how you go about prosecuting an attack to defeat it comes into play in terms of your task organization, your force structure, the amount of soldiers that it takes.

The tactics, the techniques and the procedures that you need to employ for an insurgency is different than what you employ for foreign internal defense or for nation building which is what they're trying to do right now. But, remember, there was a blurred transition between the combat phase and this phase which is called Phase 4.

And, you have soldiers who are fighting on one street, having laurels and flowers thrown at them on the next street, and having an RPG-7 shot at them on the next street.

SNOW: So, quickly, is it more dangerous now than it has ever been for U.S. military there?

ROBINSON: This phase is the most dangerous phase because of all of the uncertainty and because of the ambiguity, because of the problem, the dilemma that I just described to you because the rules of engagement are very carefully designed to protect human life, and at the same time you find yourself in a war where from one street to the next your rules of engagement have to change because you're going from one mission to another just within blocks of each other.

SNOW: Right. Ken Robinson, CNN Analyst, joining us here in Washington, thanks so much.

ROBINSON: Thanks, Kate.

SNOW: Appreciate it.

More now on what may well be the cost of not killing or catching the leaders of the old Iraqi regime. The price is being paid almost daily in human lives, the story of one life from CNN's Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to lose a friend, a friend cut down by a sniper's bullet in the dead of night. Twenty-five-year-old Private First Class Sean Pankey was killed on June 16 at a half hour to midnight in a lonely corner of northwest Baghdad, the 1st Armored Division's first member to die in action in Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed more than two months ago but the war, a different, confusing kind of war is still on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A sudden sense of insecurity. We felt more vulnerable today than we did yesterday.

WEDEMAN: Curtis Cameron befriended Pankey when they both arrived in Baghdad last month, strangers in a strange land, fighting a twilight war against invisible foes. Young soldiers ask hard questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I keep getting told everything happens for a reason but that is so hard to believe when something like this hits so close to home. I keep asking the questions of why and how? Does this incident even have a purpose?

WEDEMAN: These are tough soldiers fired with a sense of mission but when they're not patrolling Baghdad's hot and dusty streets thoughts often stray to homes and families that sometimes seem a world away.

Sean Pankey became a father last month. He never had a chance to see his newborn son Dean. Pankey was on the phone with his wife Alisha (ph) when she gave birth.

PRIVATE CURTIS CAMERON: He was so ecstatic. I mean he couldn't believe it. He was -- all he was looking forward to was going home and going to see his son. I mean there was nothing that brought anymore joy in his life.

WEDEMAN: For Private Pankey and possibly many of these young men and women, the realities of Iraq came as something of a jolt. CAMERON: We really wasn't expecting what we came into when we got here, so yes I think he was a little surprised with it.

WEDEMAN: The ceremony commemorating Private Pankey's death ended with a roll call. It's hard to lose a friend.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Baghdad.


SNOW: NEWSNIGHT continues in a moment with more headlines from around the country including the story of the underdog who's getting whole lot of notice among Democratic power brokers.


SNOW: A few more stories making news tonight around the country and the world starting on the West Bank. Secretary of State Colin Powell spent the day there and in Israel trying to get the peace process back on course. He met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, pushing him to push Hamas to stop attacks on Israel. As for Mr. Abbas, he promised only to keep trying.

Earlier after meeting with Israel's prime minister, Secretary Powell lashed out at Hamas calling it an enemy of peace. Hamas lashed back, calling Mr. Powell a pawn of the Israelis.

And with the war of words playing out, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli man driving through the West Bank.

Back home, FBI Director Robert Mueller claims progress in the war on terrorism. He spoke today at the National Press Club, telling the audience he believes the FBI and other agencies have done well in disrupting the operations of al Qaeda. As evident, he pointed out that no major terrorist attacks have taken place on American soil since the attacks on New York and Washington a year and a half ago. But the war is not over, he said. The threat, he said, is still very real.

And President Bush's fund-raising tours swung tonight into a golf resort Georgia. You put the wind at my back, he told the crowd of about 800 donors. And a lot of cash in his re-election coffers. The event raised more than $2 million.

Vermont's Howard Dean says he's taking a day or two off from the long march of the Democratic presidential campaign. His 17-year-old son Paul and several of his friends have been cited by police in Burlington, Vermont for trying to steal alcohol from a country club there.

Meantime, all of the state Democratic party chairs from around the country had been meeting in Minnesota. CNN's political unit did an informal poll of those chairs and found the Vermont governor -- former Vermont governor is at the top of their list, at least in one category. Here's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whatever else, give Howard Dean an A for buzz.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have about a zillion microphones on. We know that your candidacy is being taken seriously when you start having to walk around with three microphones on at a time.

CROWLEY: An informal CNN survey of state Democratic party chairs found that even beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, the former Vermont governor remains, by far, the most talked about candidate.

Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt and Graham were a pale second, third, and fourth.

(on camera): State party chairmen are supposed to be agnostic during the primary season, but when we promised not to say who said what about whom, 35 of the 50 Democrats agreed to talk to us about the '04 field. Their answers make clear that buzz is one thing. Support is something else.

(voice-over): Kerry, Gephardt, Dean, Lieberman, Edwards and Graham were all mentioned as personal favorites of the chairmen who responded. None mentioned Sharpton, Moseley Braun or Kucinich. Bottom line, it's almost anybody's to win.

As to the party as a whole...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The one thing we don't need in the United States of America is a second Republican Party.

DEAN: We're going to be from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

CROWLEY: These guys may be so to something. Thirteen of the party chairs, activists by the nature of their job, said the party has become Bush-lite. Nine said national Democrats are about where their state Democrats are. One southern chair fears the party is too liberal, and 10 opinions declined categorizing.

Finally, some good news for the hopefuls. Most party chairs are satisfied with the choices.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I want you to read the book.

CROWLEY: Still, there are dreamers. Five Democratic state chairmen would love the former first lady/senator/best selling author to run. Gone maybe but definitely not forgotten, Al Gore. Three chairmen would wish he would run again. Two hope Wesley Clark quits teasing and runs for real. And should the former first lady lack for dinner table conversation...

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The 22nd Amendment should probably be modified to say two consecutive terms instead of two terms for a lifetime, because we're all living longer.

CROWLEY: Only two chairs said they wished he could run again.

And one chair wants New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to run. We are, as we said, not at liberty to say which one.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


SNOW: Still to come on NEWSNIGHT for this Friday, get ready for the first made for TV movie about September 11. Is it too soon?

And later, the wizard of the publishing industry makes eager buyers appear at bookstores like this one in Oak Brook, Illinois. Our thanks to our affiliate WLS for that picture.


SNOW: Later on NEWSNIGHT, the wild wizard warm-up. What would you do for 900-page book? Our affiliate WTVT is at the Barnes and Noble in Tampa, Florida.


SNOW: The drama of real-life politics is one thing, but trying to fashion a fictional account of life inside the White House is something else altogether. Heaven knows hundreds in Hollywood have tried.

And now veteran producer Lionel Chetwynd is having his turn, but the subject matter is delicate. It's a TV movie about the shattering events nearly two years ago called "D.C. 9/11." It's especially tricky because while the film is of course based on reality, some of the dialogue is fictional. I spoke with Mr. Chetwynd a bit earlier in the evening.


SNOW: Mr. Chetwynd, the movie is scheduled to air just before 9/11 this year, that's the second anniversary of 9/11. There are a lot of people obviously still dealing with 9/11, still living with it every day, grieving for loved ones. How do you square your making entertainment out of that day with the pain that people are feeling about something so horrible?

LIONEL CHETWYND, WRITER, PRODUCER, "DC 9/11": Well, entertainment, the word entertainment can cover a very wide spectrum. We become accustomed to think of entertainment as something that's strictly in a sense almost soap opera.

It's also possible to think of television and television drama in a broader sense. There's was once a time when we made programs -- comes to mind, "Missiles of October".

This film is an attempt to look inside -- look at it from the inside out. To get inside White House and to examine not the soap opera aspects. Not of what people were feeling inside and what were the histrionics of it. It's not kind of reality television of "West Wing" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at all.

It's an attempt to understand how these people gathered their wits at the moment people the charged with the conduct of our nation, in the moment of its greatest challenge since Pearl Harbor, if not ever...


CHETWYND: And foreign policy. I -- surely that's something we wish to know. And it's not something really that's been that much talked about, frankly.

SNOW: But you're not a newsman. This is in some form entertainment. I have read some of -- I think what the script is going to say and you have President Bush on the plane talking about tin horn terrorists saying...


SNOW: So there is some embellishment here.

CHETWYND: Two things about that. Number one, I'm not a newsman. On the other hand, I have fairly good educational credentials. I consider myself a relatively intelligent person. The threshold for being a journalists and doing what I do may not that different, number one.

Number two, the amount of scholarship that went into the preparation of this script certainly matches into the amount of scholarship that went into much of what would pass for journalism news.

SNOW: Well how much access did you have?

CHETWYND: Number three, and I will come to the access.

SNOW: Sure.

CHETWYND: Number three, the final script was vetted by three people who certainly qualify as journalists, Mort Kondracke, Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer, who would dismiss, I believe, in the same article you're talking about, as conservatives, which would come as a great surprise to Mort Kondracke, no doubt, and certainly to Charles Krauthammer, a former speechwriter for Walter Mondale.

SNOW: Right.

CHETWYND: See the script got criticized, it got to give you notes (ph), and then got to look at my revisions.

SNOW: Right. I was only pulling that quote from the article because we haven't seen the movie. CHETWYND: And nor have they, by the way, and nor have they, and you can't take quotes from the early draft of the script. I have yet to see the director's cut. I'm talking to you still about a script that I wrote that I have yet wrote that I have yet to see actuated, so...

And in terms of access, my access was better than most of the people -- the so-called journalists. I spent two weeks inside the White House. I had what began as a 15-minute meeting with the president that became an hour, one-one-one, just he and I in the Oval Office in which, I said to him -- I was ready to abandon the project because I had been so, so burdened with the attempt to try and write about a sitting administration which no one had ever done, and he said, Well, what is your problem? I said I am trying to sort out three guys. I am trying to deal with the president, the commander-in-chief, and the man called George W. Bush, whom I know are you, a man in his 50s who has a wife and children and a full set emotions and a life. And I'm having a trouble sorting those three out and he said, Oh, well I think that I can help you with that and I left the Oval Office nearly an hour later and that was a life-changing experience almost for me, I would say.

And I came down in the end in the same -- and I met with Karen Hughes. I met with Karl Rove. I mean, I had better access than a lot of people who did, you know, one-hour specials on the "Datelines, "Nightlines," "Pulses." whatever they call them. So my access was just as good. So when you say I'm not a journalist, I'm not sure quite what you're challenging.

I'm not being belligerent. Am I being belligerent? I don't mean to be. I like you. I think you are a good journalist.

SNOW: I have to thank you at this point. I know that your access is certainly going to be -- people are going to be very jealous of that here in Washington.

Lionel Chetwynd, thank you so much for joining us. We'll look forward to seeing it.

CHETWYND: Thank you.

SNOW: NEWSNIGHT continues in just a moment with a bit of wizardry, the hype and the hoopla over the new Harry Potter book. The fans at the Magic Tree bookstore in Oak Park, Illinois. That's from our affiliate WLF.


SNOW: Well, will you look at that? Where did they find him?

Around the country, around the world, in fact, the thing to do this Friday night, it seems, is to be -- is to line up and be one of the very first to get it, in what we must say has been a brilliantly successful marketing campaign for the latest edition of the Harry Potter book series, on sale midnight, in case you haven't heard, local time. Everywhere, it seems, bookstores, toystores, anyplace with books to sell and kids and parents to pay for them seems to be open tonight.

Here in New -- in New York -- I'm not in New York -- but in New York, the Toys 'R' Us in Manhattan has gone overboard -- might be an understatement. Large countdown clocks, wizards, lines and plenty of books.

In Atlanta, the midtown Borders bookstore is expected a brisk business as well. Store employees have been unloading boxes of the new Harry Potter thriller in anticipation of a long night on the job.

In Tampa, Harry fans at a Barnes & Noble there wish they were as lucky as a 14-year-old Daytona Beach girl who bought the book in a drug store on Wednesday. Employees there put the book out too soon by mistake. Woops.

And we round it out in Oak Park, Illinois at the Magic Tree bookstore. The party has been planned there for three months. The village has closed off the half the block to accommodate the crowds. Even six restaurants have gotten into the act. They look excited. And they seem to know we're there, too.

Midnight has come and gone in most of world already, and the book which, by the way, is called "Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix," is already being read and analyzed by the faithful.

CNN's Richard Quest was in London, as the witching hour approached.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it's the middle of the night in London and Harry Potter is working a bit of magic of his own.

Here at Waterstone, the book sellers, look behind me. These books are flying off the shelves. People have come here. They're not just buying one or two. They're buying three or four, some for their uncle, their aunts, their brothers and sisters because this is the most popular book ever published, 13 million copies have been distributed around the world. And in what has been the most amazing piece of hype and hyperbole, it's all coordinated to happen at pretty much the same time.

It's the fifth book from the Harry Potter series and J.K. Rowling, who's made the best part of half a billion dollars out of the series, is now planning a sixth.

A final thought -- I'm not going to give you any secrets from this particular book. It's rumored that one of the major characters dies. I'm not letting on. I will say, though, that by the time this book has sold, it'll have made quite a few people extremely wealthy. A bit of magic in itself.

Kate, back to you.


SNOW: Richard Quest, thank you so much. Boy, I wish I knew someone who had one of those books. I would really like to read it.

We'll be back in just a moment.


SNOW: It was 20 years ago this week that Sallie Ride became the first American woman in space. But years before, at the very beginnings of the space race against the Soviets, a select group of other American women made history, or at least tried to.

While the male Mercury 7 astronauts were making their first tentative steps into space in the early 1960s, this group of women were secretly being tested in the hopes of becoming America's first female astronauts. But despite high marks, the women were blocked from becoming astronauts. And until recently, their story had been all but forgotten. All of this in a new book called the "Mercury 13" by Martha Ackmann.

We recently caught up with both her and one of the women who went through the training.


JERRI SLONE TRUHILL, MERCURY 13 WOMAN: If you're a pilot and you love the air and you love flying and someone offers you a chance to fly into outer space, you're going to go.

MARTHA ACKMANN, AUTHOR, "THE MERCURY 13": My project is on the Mercury 13, 13 terrific women pilots who were secretly tested on astronaut's tests at legendary Lovelace Clinic in 1960 and '61. Took the same tests that the project Mercury astronauts, John Glenn and Alan Shepard and the all others took and did very well.

These were women first and foremost who were pilots. And for good pilots, were competitive pilots as these women were. They wanted to do three things -- go higher, faster, and farther. And in 1961, that was outer space.

Jerrie Cobb was the most prominent of all of the women. She was the first to be tested. And if she did well, then the doors would be opened for other women testings.

Jerri Slone, she owned a flight services company in Dallas. She was also quite well-known in women's racing circuits.

TRUHILL: They had a bicycle test that you had to pedal the bicycle to exhaustion. And of course they had all kinds of electrodes wired to us and that measured many different things that we didn't even know about. They pretty well knew everything about us when we left there.

ACKMANN: They scored incredibly well on these tests to determine strength and endurance. They proved the public wrong really.

There were many who felt that the most important work of nation should be done by men, that men were the bravest, that men were stronger than women and that women who wanted to go into some daring professions like being an astronaut, were in fact sort of interlopers who were taking the place, the rightful place of a man.

The women were, then, wanted to push the whole program another step. So they petitioned to the U.S. Congress, and they asked that Congress to hold hearings to decide when who should be an astronaut. What qualifications were necessary to be an astronaut. Jerrie Cobb and Jane Hart testified before the Congress. And from NASA's point of view, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter testified. And John Glenn said, men go off and fight the wars and fly the planes, and women stay at home. It's a fact of our social order.

NASA did give a reason why they didn't want women to go forward, and that was they believed that all astronauts should come from the ranks of military jet test pilots. Of course, that was a catch-22 because in the early '60s, women were not allowed to be in the military and fly planes.

The Mercury 13 were absolutely thrilled when Sallie Ride got a chance to be rocketed into space. But Sallie Ride was an astronaut who was a mission specialists. It meant that she was a scientists and as the Mercury 13 say she was sort of in the back of the bus. She wasn't the one driving it.

SALLIE RIDE, ASTRONAUT: Isn't science wonderful?

ACKMANN: It wasn't until 1999 that Eileen Collins became the first woman to command the space shuttle.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the Mercury 13 was the final chapter. The final step that they wanted to see taken.

TRUHILL: I think it's very important for young women to know that women were there from the start. Qualified, ready and able to go.


SNOW: Women were there!

That is NEWSNIGHT for this week. As midnight rolls around where you are did we mention that you can pick up that nearly 900-page Harry Potter book to fill the rainy weekend? At least hear in the east it's been raining all week.

I'm Kate Snow. Thank you so much for watching. I will see you again on Monday. We check in there with some of the stories we've been watching all night, selling that Harry Potter book. We'll see you on Monday. Good night.


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