Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Compromise Reached on 9/11 Reform Bill; Terrorists Hit U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia; Is Nation's Food Supply Safe?
Aired December 6, 2004 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: And good evening from Atlanta. I'm Anderson Cooper.
A last-minute deal is cut, and America's intelligence system will never be the same.
360 starts now.
Congress makes a deal on 9/11 reform, overhauling intelligence. Tonight, the deal, the bill, and what it really means for you.
Surprise attack in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists hit the U.S. consulate. But how could they get so close? Are Saudi security forces really doing their job?
Tommy Thompson says the food you eat is vulnerable to sabotage. But how real is the threat? Tonight, a 360 fact check, what you need to know about the food you eat.
The death of Pat Tillman, what really happened, and why hasn't the Army been shooting straight? Tillman's mom wants answers, and a new investigation is under way.
Fires strike a Maryland subdivision, millions in damages. The manhunt is on, but is this the work of an arsonist or an ecoterrorist?
And Scott Peterson, a stand-up guy? A parade of witnesses paint a portrait of a man who sure doesn't sound like a murderer. The question is, does the jury buy it?
ANNOUNCER: This is ANDERSON COOPER 360.
COOPER: And good evening again.
Unless you're adept at reading the tea leaves, you might have been inclined to bet against an agreement in Washington this fall over intelligence reform. After all, plenty of top Republicans in Congress, and even some of the president's own people, seem to be dead set against it.
This afternoon, however, it became clear that a president with capital to spend and a willingness to spend it can pretty much get what he wants from Congress.
Here's CNN's congressional correspondent Ed Henry.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than three years after the 9/11 terror attacks, Congress has forged a deal to reshape the nation's intelligence community, the most radical shakeup in over 40 years. The deal got a major shot in the arm when a key Republican holdout, Duncan Hunter, signed on to new language.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CHAIR, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We have received a satisfactory provision that protects them, and so I will vote for the bill.
HENRY: Hunter had been concerned that a director of national intelligence would interfere with the military's chain of command, but a tweaking of four words in the bill appeased Hunter. The director of national intelligence will now serve as quarterback of the nation's 15 spy agencies. The 9/11 commission said that was a key change to help prevent another terror attack.
The deal capped a frenetic day of lobbying that included a flurry of calls to the Hill from Vice President Cheney and urgent calls from some 9/11 families, who held a vigil outside the White House.
ABE SCOTT, 9/11 FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE: I just want to say that, President Bush, you need to step up to the plate and convince these congressmen to do the right thing.
HENRY: President Bush heard the call, and with some of his own political capital on the line, he prodded Congress to act.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I certainly hope the bill gets to my desk soon. I believe we have addressed the concerns of by far the majority of members of both the House and the Senate.
HENRY: Left out in the cold was Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner. He wanted to attach some tough immigration provisions, but just moments ago, President Bush sent a letter to Capitol Hill saying those provisions will have to wait until next year, Anderson.
COOPER: Ed Henry, thanks very much, live from Washington.
Today, another latest example of how widespread the terror problem is, a brazen, all-out assault on the U.S. consulate in the port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And within the hour, claims of responsibility on a Web site linked to al Qaeda.
CNN's Nic Robertson is on the phone now in Saudi Arabia with the latest. Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well, Anderson, several Islamic Web sites have now claimed that the Saudi al Qaeda wing has claimed responsibility for the attack today. They are calling the attack the Falluja attack. The Web sites say that the Abu Amass al Shami (ph) brigade managed to invade the "crusaders' castle," that is, they managed to enter the American consulate in Jeddah, from which, this Web site says, "from which they run the country and lead the pilgrimage from within."
This is a claim of responsibility. The State Department earlier had suspected that Saudi al Qaeda was responsible. Government officials in Saudi Arabia had said that perhaps that wasn't the case, but this now, claims of responsibilities on several Islamic Web sites that in the past have put out similar claims of responsibility for al Qaeda acts, Anderson.
COOPER: Nic, it's remarkable to me that the attackers were able to get so close to the U.S. consulate in Jeddah. How has cooperation been of late between Saudi security forces and U.S. installations?
ROBERTSON: Well, both the Saudi government and the U.S. embassy here in Saudi Arabia have said that cooperation has been good. What makes the consular offices different in Jeddah from the embassy in Riyadh is that in the capital, Riyadh, the embassy is in a very secure neighborhood. There's very tight security on the whole diplomatic quarter.
The consular offices in Jeddah, on the other hand, are in a busy intersection. There is a high security wall around the compound, but it is in a part of town that people can quite literally walk along the wall right outside of it. There was an attack a few months ago, shots fired as a car was driven into the consular compound.
It is far more vulnerable as -- from its location than the embassy in Riyadh. Perhaps that is why the al Qaeda group here chose to attack it and not the embassy, Anderson.
COOPER: And have all the attackers, as far as we know, been apprehended? I know several were killed in the response by the security forces. I mean, is there an investigation ongoing at this point? Is there a manhunt on?
ROBERTSON: There is no manhunt, because there were five attackers. It is believed three were killed, two were wounded, and they've been taken into custody. How wounded they were, and whether or not they're in a state to be interrogated at this time, isn't clear. Saudi authorities have not let that be known at this time.
But if their past record is to be followed, Saudi security forces generally lean quite hard on people that they have in their custody to generate more information about other cells of it. Perhaps this was -- the five men were, perhaps, just from one cell in Jeddah, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, one can only imagine how hard they lean and what methods they use. Nic Robertson, appreciate you joining us, thanks very much, from Saudi Arabia tonight.
It is not unusual for an airline to lose a traveler's luggage, but then what Air France lost the other day in Paris was a piece of its own luggage. An explosive-filled bag that was being used to track -- to train tracking dogs somehow went missing in the busy airport shuffle. The incident resulted in searches and passenger screenings over the weekend of one Air France flight in Los Angeles, and three more in New York. The bag, however, has still not been found.
Outgoing Health Secretary Tommy Thompson said today he is, quote, "still not comfortable," unquote, with the safety of America's food supply. And when Secretary Thompson resigned last week, he threw a big scare into plenty of people, saying he laid awake nights worrying that terrorists would attack America's food supply.
Today's comments didn't really reassure anyone. Question is, how vulnerable is our food? We're going to spend a good deal of time on this program and others over the next couple of days and weeks looking into that very question.
We begin tonight with CNN's Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kathy Ireman (ph) is a grocery shopper who's not that familiar with outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
(on camera): Are you ever concerned that terrorists can get to the food you buy at grocery stores?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never thought about it, to be honest.
TUCHMAN: I'm going to read to you this quote. "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do." That's what the outgoing health and human services secretary has said. Now that you hear that, what does that make you feel like?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's pretty scary.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Should she be scared? It depends on who you talk to. Randall Murch used to be a high-level forensics expert with the FBI.
RANDALL MURCH, FORMER FBI FORENSICS EXPERT: Yes, it is a big worry. And actually, my colleagues and I in the FBI, as well as colleagues in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as long ago as 1997, raised our concerns to our seniors.
TUCHMAN: There are those who Thompson's comments are unnecessarily alarming. For example, many in the food import industry say there are tight security checks and inspections on all imports. Then there are the experts who carve a more neutral ground.
KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT: Could his words have been chosen better? I think absolutely. The -- you know, are we vulnerable for the nation's food supply? Absolutely. Are they doing things about it right now? Absolutely. Is it enough? Probably not. TUCHMAN: The CDC estimates there are about 76 million cases of food poisoning each year in the United States, leading to about 5,000 deaths. But culinary terrorism has been rare and will hopefully stay that way.
TUCHMAN: It's fair to say that many people who never even heard of Tommy Thompson last week are this week going into grocery stores with a much different mindset. We can tell you many people in this case, in this situation, believe it has been overhyped. But it is fair to say that Tommy Thompson's words are providing food for thought, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, thanks very much for that.
CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson spent the day today talking to senior government officials about the food safety issue. He joins us from Washington.
Ken, good to see you. How real is this threat?
KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a real threat, Anderson. However, it's a threat based on capability. There is no known intelligence that shows that there is an intent to sabotage our food supply system in the United States. But we do know that terrorist organizations and other adversaries do have the capability to do so.
COOPER: Well, and also the interest, you know, there was that report that I guess hundreds of pages of agriculture documents were found in an al Qaeda cave, I think it was in Afghanistan. How would this work, though? I mean, what is the vulnerability? How would somebody use the food supply against us?
ROBINSON: Well, one of the vulnerabilities, Anderson, would be something as simple as just taking a cotton swab and rubbing it against the nostrils, the wet areas of a cow or of a pig, and then allowing that pig to be a vector and infect other animals. This is something simple that could be done by a 12th-grader.
The challenge is to be able to identify and have a system of surveillance that monitors that. Tommy Thompson is a governor from a dairy state. Tommy Thompson also owns a farm. Tommy Thompson has a sensitivity in this area, and he was speaking really candidly about that sensitivity.
And it really is one, Anderson, of resources, not as much as current threat.
COOPER: I tend to be kind of skeptical when all of a sudden, you know, somebody in government says one thing, and all, everyone in the media kind of rushes to it and says that it's the newest, biggest threat. I mean, why hasn't this happened so far? I mean, what, you know, not from some terrorist, but from some psychopath who does, you know, who does what you just said, or tries to poison the food supply in some other way? I mean, if it's so vulnerable, why hasn't it already happened?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, for the, for years, we've -- the security community has all been focused on guns, thugs, and bombs, because those are the things historically over the last 50 years that have been the threats, both internationally and domestically.
And this has been an unthinkable threat, because the only thing that the food supply system, the checks and balances, was designed to do was to check for incompetence. It was never designed to check for a intentional attack. And because we know that terrorist organizations are morphing, there's a possibility that they may decide to go after the economy. Because the underbelly of the United States is its food supply, it's a soft, attractive target.
COOPER: And of course, now that we're going to be importing so much more food, or, I think, for the first time, we're going to be importing more food than we are making ourselves, so obviously that adds to the problem.
Hey, Ken, thanks very much. Ken Robinson, joining us...
ROBINSON: You're welcome.
COOPER: ... from Washington.
One of the challenges of being a public official in the world after September 11 is making the public alert to potential dangers without panicking anyone unnecessarily. It's a problem Secretary Thompson is all too familiar with.
TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: No, I'm not going to be more specific.
COOPER: Tommy Thompson was perhaps even more vague today than he was Friday in kicking off the scare.
THOMPSON: I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.
COOPER: Plenty of people did a double-take when they heard those comments or read about them in the paper on Saturday morning. Does the health and human services secretary know something we don't? Even the president sought to clarify his outgoing secretary's position over the weekend.
BUSH: Tommy was commenting on the fact that we're a large company -- country with all kinds of avenues where somebody could inflict harm, and we're doing everything we can to protect the American people...
COOPER: It's not the first time Secretary Thompson has left the nation with a worrying question. Some 10 months into his tenure, Thompson was the lead public official on the anthrax attacks. After one man died from anthrax in Florida, Thompson said...
THOMPSON: It appears that it's an isolated case.
COOPER: Four other deaths quickly followed, which prompted him to say that, quote, "There's no guarantee we will not face another attack." By the way, that case remains unsolved.
As to the future of our food supply...
THOMPSON: I still think we got a ways to go in regards to protecting our food safety.
COOPER: Well, coming up next on 360, he gave up football to fight for his country. Tonight, lingering questions about the death of Pat Tillman. Why has the Army now reopened its investigation? And why has it taken them so long?
Plus, a massive fire near the nation's capital, 41 homes ablaze. A manhunt is on. Is it an arsonist, or an ecoterrorist?
And a love-fest in Ukraine. A protest, freezing temperatures, and close quarters all adds up to hot romance. The story that fell under the radar in Ukraine's political crisis.
All that ahead. First, your picks, the most popular stories right now on CNN.com.
COOPER: Tonight, a new look at what happened to Pat Tillman, the pro football player who became an Army Ranger. Now, he was killed in Afghanistan last April. Those facts are undeniable. But it seems the Pentagon has been less than clear about the exact circumstances of his death.
First they said Tillman was killed in an ambush, then they said friendly fire. His parents suspected they weren't getting the full story, and they want answers. A new investigation has just been launched.
Investigating for us tonight, CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 27-year-old former defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals was said by the Army to have died in a firefight with Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
It wasn't until weeks later an Army general at Fort Bragg, who took no questions, read the statement revealing Tillman was shot by accident by his fellow Rangers. LT. GEN. PHILIP KENSINGER, U.S. ARMY: The investigation results indicate that Corporal Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy fighters.
MCINTYRE: Now it's not clear that there were ever Taliban fighters in the rugged Afghan region where two groups of U.S. soldiers ended up mistakenly shooting at each other.
A "Washington Post" investigation, which reviewed dozens of witness statements, e-mails, investigation findings, log books, maps, and photographs, and e-mails concludes, "Tillman died unnecessarily after botched communications, a mistaken decision to split his platoon over the objections of its leader, and negligent shooting by pumped-up young Rangers."
STEVE COLL, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": They poured so much fire on the positions they thought were enemies that they essentially were indiscriminate, in the judgment of the Army's own investigators.
MCINTYRE: In October, well before the "The Washington Post" account, Senator McCain sent a letter to the then-acting Army secretary pressing for answers. McCain passed along four pages of questions posed by Tillman's mother, Mary.
Among them, "Why did it take five weeks to tell us that Pat was killed by friendly fire when it was obvious right away? Why was Pat's death so embellished by the military? And why did the military lie to the media and to us about the friendly fire?"
The Army insists there were enemy forces at the scene, which entitled Tillman to the Silver Star he was awarded posthumously.
MCINTYRE: But Anderson, if the new investigation finds otherwise, Tillman might not be entitled to a Silver Star, which can only be awarded for gallantry against an enemy of the United States.
That said, Army officials said it's highly unlikely they would ever take the medal back, Anderson.
COOPER: He is certainly an American hero. Jamie McIntyre, thanks.
On Capitol Hill, John McCain says if baseball doesn't deal with steroids, Congress will. That's just one of the stories we're following right now cross-country.
McCain says he'll introduce legislation calling for stricter drug testing, unless major league baseball players and owners act first. Now, last week, the "San Francisco Chronicle" reported Yankee slugger Jason Giambi admitted to a grand jury he used steroids. Paper also said Barry Bonds testified he used substances prosecutors believe contained steroids. Grand jury's investigating a lab with ties to several sports stars. Also in Washington, Senate majority leader Bill Frist says the government should review all funded, federally funded sexual abstinence programs. Now, you may remember, last week told you about a report by congressional Democrats that said that many of the programs contained false and outrageous misleading information. They're going to look into it now.
Columbus, Ohio, it is official, President Bush won in the Buckeye State. The vote total certified today show President Bush had the edge by nearly 119,000 votes. Still, third-party candidates plan to contest the results and demand recounts in all 88 counties, while the Democratic Party plans to investigate reports of voting problems throughout Ohio.
And on eBay.com, boo! A ghost for sale to the highest bidder. Spooky. An Indiana woman says she's selling her dad's cane so her 6- year-old son can get rid of the fear Grandpa's ghost is haunting the house. I'm not sure I buy this story, but, hey, it's working on eBay. No word on the top bid. We had trouble finding the listing because, check this out, there are now hundreds of others trying to sell their grandfathers' ghosts. Hey, if it worked for one, it might work for others.
That's a look at stories cross-country tonight.
The case against Scott Peterson has seen days full of surprises, but it is unlikely it has seen one this odd. A parade of witnesses, 11 in all, taking the stand, telling the jury what a fine man Scott Peterson is. Peterson's high school golf coach called him one of the finest young men he had ever coached. And Scott's cousin called him quiet and generous, and said, and I quote, "He is very much the man I hope my son becomes."
Here's Rusty Dornin.
RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Different people telling the same story, Scott Peterson was good, kind, mature, quiet, responsible, industrious, and never lifted a hand in anger towards anyone that they know of. A string of witnesses, from Peterson's elementary school principal to golf coaches, roommates, cousins, an aunt, and uncles, they all told the jury he was an exceptional person.
Legal analysts say too many glowing testimonials about the defendant could backfire.
JIM HARPER, LEGAL ANALYST: Seeing pictures of Scott having happy Christmases and happy Thanksgivings might be offensive to the jury. And every day they hear about the privileged background he had, and that he had every break in life, to see in contrast what he did to Laci and Conner really could anger the jury, and I think could actually push them towards the death penalty.
DORNIN: Two of Peterson's uncles said they didn't believe Scott was guilty. Robert Latham (ph) told the court Peterson should not be put to death. "First of all," he said, "I think the jury made a mistake," a mistake Latham said he thought would be corrected in time, implying the conviction would be overturned.
(on camera): When Latham made that comment, several jurors looked away. Legal analysts say comments like that could anger the panel that convicted Peterson.
The judge told the jury they would be sequestered again and would likely begin their deliberations Thursday morning.
Rusty Dornin, CNN, Redwood City, California.
COOPER: Well, 360 next, 41 homes go up in flames near Washington, D.C. Find out why investigators want a terrorism task force on the case.
And in Ukraine, they are fighting for democracy, but when temperatures drop, some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- excuse me -- some young people are also looking for love. You see, the story made me so excited.
And in a moment, today's 360 challenge. How closely have you been following today's news? We'll put you to the test.
COOPER: OK, so the way media works, some stories we hear a lot about. Others, unfortunately, fall under the radar. Take Ukraine's presidential election. Now, we told you plenty about the dispute, how the government-backed candidate was first declared victor, then, amid massive demonstrations, the opposition claimed fraud, Ukraine's supreme court stepped in, and now a new election is mostly likely in the works.
But missing in all these facts, in all these stories, is all the lovemaking that's going on. That's right. While the Ukraine days are frosty, CNN's Ryan Chilcote tells us the nights have been downright sizzling.
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With 10,000 young activists in just 500 tents on the cold streets of Kiev, there's plenty of room for things to heat up. Take Maxim from western Ukraine and his bride, Thalia (ph), from the east. Their support for the political opposition brought them to the capital. Mutual attraction and camp life took care of the rest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We met three days ago and decided to get married today. It was an unusual meeting. I came to Maxim to get a mattress and liked him so much.
CHILCOTE: Tent City's rampant romance is becoming a medical concern. With no violence and no casualties to attend to, the doctors are giving out condoms.
"Free love? There always was and is free love, particularly where there are lots of youths," says Dr. Mikhail Gurechuk (ph). "At first, no one was asking for pregnancy tests, then two to three a day, now we have 10 to 15 day."
That news made it to the revolutionary's leaders, who kicked off the weekend's celebrations forecasting lots of babies in nine months.
Camp organizers hope the young will carry on the names of their leaders, Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like no, after the Gagarin, all men, all boys called Yuri. And after this, all girls will be called Yulia, and all boys Viktor.
CHILCOTE: What about honeymoons in the middle of the political turmoil? Some couples get their own tent for their wedding night.
Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Moscow.
COOPER: Nice to see that love is in the air somewhere.
Well, we're following a number of other global stories right now in the uplink, unfortunately none of them quite so lovely.
In Spain, seven bombs exploded in seven cities minutes after telephone warnings from the Basque separatist group ETA. Five people, including a child, were hurt. The terrorist group has been blamed for more than 800 deaths since 1968.
London, England, now, IRA disarmament talks. British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with the leader of Northern Ireland's largest Protestant party, who says the Irish Republican Army must give photo proof it is getting rid of its weapons. Britain is trying to broker an agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, a political ally of the IRA. It hopes both sides will share power in a regional government.
Goma, Congo, army battles extremist militia. A government official says its troops are trying to push back fighters into Congo and away from Rwanda. The enemy is linked to Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Rwanda has threatened to invade Congo to rout out the extremists. It made the same move in 1996 and 1998, and this town of Goma has seen an awful lot of pain since then.
And in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a cell phone that blooms into a sunflower when you throw it away. The cell phone cover looks like any other plastic, but it is apparently biodegradable and holds sunflower seeds. I find it hard to believe, but they say it's true.
That's tonight's uplink.
Tommy Thompson says the food you eat is vulnerable to sabotage. But how real is the threat? Tonight, a 360 fact check. What you need to know about the food you eat.
Fires strike a Maryland subdivision, millions in damages. The manhunt is on, but is this the work of an arsonist or ecoterrorist. 360 continues.
COOPER: We continue our breaking news coverage about the brazen assault on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Now, just a short time ago a group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
Let's go back to CNN's Nic Robertson who's the phone from Saudi Arabia with the latest.
Nic, what do we know about this group that's claiming credit?
ROBERTSON: Abu Anas al Shabbi (ph) is not a group that we've heard a lot about before. What is clear they're doing, they are linking the attack here to the recent offensive in Iraq on the town of Falluja, by calling this the Falluja attack. Now, they are claiming to be a wing of the Saudi al Qaeda wing. This is a group, the Saudi al Qaeda wing has been responsible for a number of attacks, not only here but over the past few years. But the Abu Anas al Shabbi Brigade does appear to be a new brigade name. Perhaps -- perhaps, there may be more information come available from Saudi security forces in the coming days about this particular brigade. But it is not brigade that, as far as we know, claimed responsibility for any major attacks up until now, I understand.
COOPER: Nic, I was just reading some, I think, old Zogby polls about public opinion toward the United States in Saudi Arabia.
How a story like this playing there. I mean, there outrage. Is there surprise?
Is there sort of a shrug of the shoulders?
Have you been able to see much coverage?
ROBERTSON: I think there's mixed emotions here. They're certainly outraged that the jihad is -- the Saudi wing of al Qaeda will go in somewhere and shoot perhaps innocent people in harm's way. There was a school close by. There was anger expressed by residents about that. But to a degree in the past, Saudi Arabia when there's been an attack on westerners, it has gone with a shrug of the shoulders. That did change to degree about a year ago with an attack on a compound in Riyadh, that killed a number of Lebanese, Egyptians and other Arabs from this region.
People here are concerned about it. They do see it as a threat on the horizon. And they do want the government -- they do want the government here to put an end to it. And certainly the more attacks these attacks go on the more they're concerned. People talked about the alarm bells should be ringing in the heads of the government here with the attacks. And certainly people are very worried about the implication of the future stability of this country, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Nic Robertson reporting live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Nic, thanks very much.
Here on U.S. soil, an investigation into possible ecoterrorism, in one affluent Maryland community. Now, the first reports of fire came in at around 5:00 a.m. this morning, within hours an entire subdivision was smolders. Right now a manhunt is on. And police are looking for an arsonist.
CNN's Brian Todd has details.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Local residents say they believe the fires that torched these homes were organized. And state fire officials tell CNN they've determined arson was the cause of at least four fires in the Hunter's Brooke neighborhood early Monday. Officials at the scene say more than 40 homes were damaged, and of those, at least a dozen destroyed at the new development about 30 miles southeast of Washington. Houses valued at between $400 and $500,000.
W. FARON TAYLOR, MARYLAND DEPUTY ST. FIRE MARSHAL: Certainly in my 20 years, this is the first time we've had this many single-family homes under construction on fire.
TODD: No one was hurt, and many of the homes had not yet been occupied, but even residents outside the subdivision were horrified.
DAWN PHILLIPS, LOCAL RESIDENT: The sky was just literally lit up. I mean, it looked like sky -- sun. So I mean, I was extremely scared.
TODD: We spoke with a resident of Hunter's Brooke who had been in her home only since last Thursday. She told us one of the children woke the family up at 5:45 a.m. and pointed to houses across the street and next-door on fire. They got out.
These subdivisions have been a boiling point between developers and environmentalists. Construction was opposed by environmental groups that claimed they would damage a pristine local wetlands area called Araby Bog. We spoke with an official of one group which had taken legal action to try to stop the development. We asked him directly if his organization was involved.
BOB DEGROOT, GREENWAY IMPROVEMENT & CONSERV.: Absolutely not, and I don't believe any of the environmental groups in Maryland would be responsible for anything like that. The environmental groups in Maryland just aren't into things like terrorism, which is what this sounds like happened down there. If we have a dispute with an agency, we usually take them to court.
TODD: The Sierra Club also opposed the development, but that group issued a statement condemning the apparent arson. No one has yet claimed responsibility.
Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: As we said, a manhunt is on. With me now from Charles County, Maryland, is Deputy State Fire Marshal Faron Taylor. Appreciate you being with us.
So far you have determined arson was the blame in four of the fires.
What about the remaining 37, at this point, do you know if they were caused by arson?
TAYLOR: What we've been able to accomplish thus far is determine that four of the dwellings were the result of an arsonist. We're working through the remainder now, doing forensic work, actually collecting evidence to establish the exact cause of those as well.
COOPER: At this point, can you tell us how the fires were actually started?
TAYLOR: We know that they were an act of incendiarism, that they were deliberately set. However, the methodology we're not going to reveal. At this point our investigative staff and the perpetrator knows, and we want to keep it at that point at this stage.
COOPER: Certainly, I understand that. I'm not going to press you on it. But at this point you do know the methodology, it's just not something you want to publicly talk about, because that would be an investigative tool down the road? Is that correct?
TAYLOR: That's exactly correct.
COOPER: Fair enough. How do you actually determine though whether a fire is an act of arson?
I mean, what is it that you look for?
TAYLOR: One of the things that we look for after finding the point of origin, that point exactly where the fire starts, we look for heat sources. Whether they be naturally caused, like a heating system inside of a home, electrical or sorts, and we actually eliminate sources of heat. And once we've been able to eliminate natural sources, that leads us in the direction of an incendiary or deliberately set fire. In the case of arson, a deliberately set fire with malicious.
COOPER: And I know you don't want to talk to motive at this point. Obviously, ecoterrorism is just one of many possible motives.
Faron Taylor, appreciate you -- actually, do you want to say anything on that?
I mean, do you suspect this is ecoterrorism? TAYLOR: We have not been able to eliminate that, although we know there are a whole host of other motives. What we need at this point is to establish the exact cause on all the fires and then we can move forward to identify the suspects.
COOPER: All right. Faron Taylor, appreciate you taking the time to join us. The manhunt is on. Thanks very much.
360 next, at what point does ensuring food safety become bureaucratic overkill? Tonight, how many government hands touch your pizza? That's right, your pizza. Is a team of bureaucrats really needed to make sure your slice is safe? You might be surprised. Take a look.
And a little later, the IRS has new ways to collect. We're talking about maybe bounty hunters, maybe repo men. We'll take that to "The Nth Degree."
And in a moment, today's 360 challenge. Do you know news? We'll put you to the test.
COOPER: Time now for today's 360 challenge. Be the first to answer -- what was that? Be the first to answer all three correctly, questions correctly, we'll send you a 360 T-shirt.
Number one: The U.S. closed its embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia after an attack in what port city?
Number two: Pat Tillman, the Ranger killed in Afghanistan, played for what pro football team before joining the Army?
And number three: Dozens of SpongeBob SquarePants inflatable balloons were stolen from fast food chain?
To take the challenge, log on to cnn.com/360, click on the "Answer" link. Answer first, we'll send you the shirt. Find out Friday's challenge winner and tonight's answers coming up a little later.
COOPER: Vice President Cheney has said that another terrorist attack against the U.S. is, quote, "not a matter of if, but when." You can imagine that in New York City where the Twin Towers once stood, they are trying to do everything possible to be prepared for another strike, or to prevent one from actually happening. One of the city's top concerns is protecting food from terrorism, and it's waging that war through hospital emergency rooms and 911 calls. CNN's Adaora Udoji takes a look.
ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 20 years, Steve Kuhr, a homeland security expert, has worried about eight million New Yorkers. Among those fears for the former city emergency management official, the impact of an attack on the food supply.
STEVEN KUHR, STRATEGIC EMERGENCY GROUP: I believe New York City has probably one of the best surveillance programs in the nation.
UDOJI: He's watched that program rapidly develop since the 9/11 attacks.
Today in a cubical, tucked away in a city building, the busy 911 system, ambulance calls, hospitals, pharmacies are linked across five boroughs by an electronic monitoring system 24 hours a day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're looking at here is the graph for our fever syndrome.
UDOJI: Analysts from the city and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sift through 70,000 to 80,000 reports about sick New Yorkers, watching for spikes in infectious diseases or widespread contamination, keeping an eye out for bioterrorism.
DR. DON WEISS, NYC DEPT. OF HEALTH: If it was a really large event, we're fairly confident that we would see it in the system.
UDOJI: But watchdog groups like the Nonpartisan Trust for America's Health say while New York City is on the right track, most states are not, despite billions of extra federal dollars the past three years.
DR. SHELLEY HEARNE, TRUST FOR AMERICA'S HEALTH: We found that less than half of the states, almost two-thirds of the states really had very poor marks. It's a troubling sign.
UDOJI: Dr. Hearne says there's a long list of obstacles, like cuts to public health programs in two-thirds of the country, and impending shortage of trained professionals, battles over resources, and extensive red tape getting federal bioterrorism funding.
Still, she and Steve Kuhr say half the battle is recognizing the problems. They are convinced the right federal and state officials are listening, they just hope the kinks are worked out before the systems are tested.
Adaora Udoji, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Well, the notion of terrorists tainting our food supply is certainly worrying, but realistically if you get sick from food, it's likely caused by something far more mundane. Let's put food safety for a moment in perspective.
According to the CDC, some 76 million get sick from food each year, and an estimated 5,000 of us die from food-borne diseases. Now, most illnesses are caused by unknown agents, but the top three known agents are salmonella, listeria and taxoplasma. The CDC says raw foods such as animals -- raw food from animals, I should say, like raw meats, eggs, shellfish, pose the greatest danger to your health. All evening long on CNN, we're going to be looking at the dangers threatening our food supply. CNN "Security Watch" continuing tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW" and "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN." Paula and Aaron join me from New York with a preview of what they're covering. Let's begin with Paula. Hey.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson. How are you tonight?
You might know or remember that Secretary Thomson made some remarks about the safety of our food supply. And they certainly got some attention. They've made us all more aware of the fact that our food supply could be a target for terrorists. So coming up tonight, we're going to take a closer look at some of the weak links in our food chain, what's being done to safeguard it, and some possible bureaucratic roadblocks that may stand in the way of food safety. Just how worried should we all be about what ends up in our kitchens, on our plates at restaurants? Some answers when we continue CNN's "Security Watch" right here at 8:00 p.m.
COOPER: Bureaucratic roadblocks, we'll always have them. Thanks, Paula. Aaron?
AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": I'll take a look at a couple of aspects of this food that is imported, what kind of checks goes into that, particularly food from areas that are a little sensitive, parts of the Middle East. We'll also take a look at crop dusters. You'll recall that in the days before 9/11, some of the 9/11 hijackers had an idea of using crop dusters as terrorist weapons, and we'll see what's been done post-9/11. And we'll talk with Steve Flynn, a terror expert who will not make you all that comfortable with what he says has been done in the days since 9/11. That and more at "NEWSNIGHT," 10:00 Eastern tonight.
COOPER: Aaron, thanks very much. Paul as well.
360 next, mmm, pizza, the perfect meal or late-night snack, and the government has its mitts all over it. How many government bureaucrats does it take to make a pizza? What do you think? We'll follow the dough.
Also tonight, should the IRS hire bounty hunters? There is an idea. We'll take that to "The Nth Degree."
COOPER: By now you've heard a lot about the threats to our food supply, but it's not as if no one is watching the food you eat. Consider the frozen pizza. It seems like a simple enough dish, but in fact it's wrapped up in reams of red tape. How many government agencies have a hand in your pizza? To find out we took a look inside the pizza box.
COOPER (voice-over): From the freezer to the microwave, and presto! dinner. But what you may not know is how many government agencies have had their fingers in your pizza pie before you did, all in the same of safety. There are more than 30 federal food safety laws on the books administered by 12 different agencies. Six of those agencies have seen your frozen pizza before it hit the freezer, often long before.
See for the perfect pizza you need the perfect crust, which begins its life as wheat regulated by the Animal & Plant Health Inspections Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.
Grind it into flour and it belongs to the FDA. Then there's the sauce which starts with tomatoes. Tomatoes grow from seeds, seeds are overseen by the Agricultural Marketing Service and APHIS, both part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The chemicals designed to keep the seeds pest free, they come under the purview of the EPA. Once those seeds are planted, the AMS, APHIS, the EPA, and the FDA all watch them grow, squish them into sauce, and it's back to the AMS and the FDA. Cheese isn't lacking in government oversight either. Cheese come from milk, milk comes from cows, and cows have to be fed. The feed is followed by the FDA, the cows themselves by the FDA and APHIS. Turn their milk into cheese and you're talking to the FDA and the AMS. But does this government oversight actually help protect your pizza, or is the meddling making things worse?
DR. GEORGES C. BENJAMIN, AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOC.: The simpler the better. So the fact that you have so many agencies involved, it makes it more complex and much more likely that someone could intentional screw around with our food system.
COOPER: The government accountability office is working to streamline the food safety process, but to see how convoluted keeping your food safe really is, just take a peek inside the frozen pizza box.
COOPER: It made me hungry.
360 next, the tax man cometh, but should he maybe hire some repo men for help? We'll take that plan to the Nth Degree.
And tomorrow the flu vaccine shortage. Did it go away or just the story? 360 gives you the facts tomorrow.
COOPER: Time now for the answers for today's 360 challenge. The U.S. closed its embassy and its consulates in Saudi Arabia after an attack in what port city? The answer is Jeddah.
Pat Tillman, the ranger killed in Afghanistan played for what pro football team before joining the army? Arizona Cardinals.
And dozens of SpongeBob Squarepants inflatable balloons were stolen from what fast food chain? That was easy. Burger King.
First person to answer all three questions correctly will be sent a T-shirt. Tune in tomorrow to find out if you're the one. Friday's winner -- Amina Naseer of Weston, Florida. Congratulations. Another 360 challenge, another chance to win tomorrow.
Tonight, taking debt collection to the Nth Degree. Well, no, not the Nth Degree, and that's really the problem. The government hasn't gone nearly far enough here if you ask us. A new ruling allows the IRS for the first time ever to hire private debt collectors to collect back taxes. We think it's a good beginning to be sure, something the Bush administration very much wanted, but why not go the whole nine yards?
See if you're serious about squeezing dough out of deadbeats, you don't want office-bound speed dialers and letter writers. No, sir. You want people who are, shall we say, more proactive, who ride hogs, who know where you live, who will make you hide trembling behind your curtains, while you watch them take whatever of yours isn't nailed down and then feel grateful later that they've left you the dog and the kids and a couple of potted plants.
The IRS needs to hire repo men and bounty hunters, burly, bearded gold-toothed guys who laugh at private property, but not at much else. That would be debt collecting to the Nth Degree.
Right now we're not much more than halfway there, but hey, the signs are good. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for watching. Coming up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW."
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com