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AMERICAN MORNING

What Really Happened to Pat Tillman?; Airport Security Shaken by 2 Recent Incidents

Aired December 6, 2004 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Gun battle in Saudi Arabia as militants try to seize the American consulate in Jeddah.
What really happened on the day that Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed? This morning, the reporter who discovered signs of a possible cover-up.

And could the next terrorist attack come from inside your refrigerator? How vulnerable is America's food supply, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

Bill Hemmer is off.

Miles O'Brien, though, with us this whole week.

Nice to have you, yes, indeed.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Can we get a shot of that horse out there? That's really cool.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, that's my friend John.

M. O'BRIEN: Can we get a shot of that?

S. O'BRIEN: He's one of the mounted police officers.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, you know him?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Really?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. He lets me ride his horse sometimes.

M. O'BRIEN: One of New York's finest and the cop riding him, too.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, well, good morning.

There are more attacks on the -- in Saudi Arabia. A CNN "Security Watch" to tell you about.

Also, we're following a number of developing stories for you.

Has the president persuaded members of Congress to bring intelligence reform to a vote? There are hints in Washington a vote could come soon. We'll take a look at that.

S. O'BRIEN: Also this morning, on our "Security Watch," are anti-terror measures at airports starting to backslide? We're talking about several alarming reports, ranging from stolen security uniforms to misplaced explosives with airline security expert Charles Slepian.

Mr. Cafferty -- good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Coming up in the "Cafferty File," a shopping mall in Britain installing security cameras to keep an eye on Santa Claus. Another government job, a town in New Hampshire where you can go door to door and sniff people's houses. And the cheesiest movie lines of all time, less than an hour away.

S. O'BRIEN: Ooh.

All right, Jack.

Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Good teasing.

S. O'BRIEN: Good cheesy movie lines.

M. O'BRIEN: We'll smell you later.

CAFFERTY: No you won't.

S. O'BRIEN: Moving on, shall we?

Headlines now.

Heidi Collins sitting in for us this morning.

Nice to see you -- good morning.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

I always have to get to the serious stuff out of moments like that.

Now in the news this morning, this just in to CNN.

In the past half hour, at least three bombs have gone off in Spain. The bombings followed a warning by the Basque separatist group ETA. CNN Plus reported no injuries and said the explosions were small. Again, we'll keep our eye on that for you.

Turning to plans for Iraq's elections now, President Bush meets in about an hour with Iraq's interim president, Ghazi al-Yawer. The two leaders will discuss the debate over whether to postpone t voting. Al-Yawer and President Bush want to stick to the planned January 30 date for Iraqis to go to the polls, but some Sunni groups in Iraq are calling for a delay.

The big shakeup at the White House may not be over yet. The "New York Times" reporting President Bush has decided to replace John Snow as treasury secretary. Among the possible replacements, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Eight of the 15 cabinet secretaries have resigned since Mr. Bush won reelection last month.

And you apparently don't fire Donald Trump unless you expect to get a big bill. There is word this morning The Donald wants half a billion dollars to drop a breach of contract suit against a New England Indian tribe. Trump invested $10 million to help the tribe develop plans for a casino, but last year a faction of the tribe voted to replace Trump with another group of investors. Ouch.

S. O'BRIEN: That can't feel good. He's had a little trouble lately, hasn't he?

COLLINS: I wonder how they did it. You're fired. How did they do it? You're fired! I can't remember the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but...

S. O'BRIEN: The good news is that show is doing well.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Everything else, not so great.

COLLINS: It seems to be doing all right.

S. O'BRIEN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

All right, Heidi, thanks.

The U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has been attacked. The Saudis suspect al Qaeda is behind five gunmen who stormed the building with explosives early this morning. Witnesses heard several rounds of gunfire and smoke was coming out of the consulate building. But the embassy now saying that U.S. personnel were not hurt and not taken hostage.

Mohammed al-Khereiji of the newspaper "Asharq al-Awsat" is on the scene in Jeddah for us this morning.

Nice to talk to you, sir.

Thanks for being with us.

Can you update me, please, on the situation right now at the compound? MOHAMMED AL-KHEREIJI, REPORTER, "ASHARQ AL-AWSAT": Pretty much the operation is over and the terrorists have been neutralized. Right now the streets are still blocked and you can't get to the consulate. And a cloud of black smoke that was very, very prevalent earlier on has pretty much evaporated.

S. O'BRIEN: We were told that five gunmen somehow gained access to the compound.

Any idea at this point how they got in and what exactly happened and transpired?

AL-KHEREIJI: Yes. They managed to get in by way of a side south entrance, which the consulate used for mail delivery. And according to eyewitness reports, they shot their way through and because of a security measure, the consulate had to put their gates down so that nobody else would enter behind them. So basically they were trapped inside with the terrorists.

S. O'BRIEN: No specific numbers that we have heard about, casualties or those killed.

What do you know about that?

AL-KHEREIJI: Well, no Americans from the consulate have been hurt, but maybe some other nationalities working at the consulate might have been injured. At King Fahad Hospital, which is around the corner from the consulate itself, they have between five and seven people that were delivered there. And according to a staff member that works there, one of them was a lady that did pass on from her injuries.

S. O'BRIEN: Al Qaeda suspected, we are told. But it seems that whenever there is an incident like this, al Qaeda is sort of the first group that comes to mind.

Any indication of whether or not it was, in fact, al Qaeda?

AL-KHEREIJI: Well, there -- it's either al Qaeda or an offshoot of al Qaeda. A terrorist is a terrorist, basically. But when you look at the methodology and the way the operation was pulled off, it's very al Qaeda.

S. O'BRIEN: The U.S. State Department issued, back in April, I believe, a warning for Americans visiting Saudi Arabia. They urged, in fact, non-emergency personnel to get out.

Any idea of just how strongly guarded this consulate was?

AL-KHEREIJI: It's the most guarded consulate in Jeddah. The security there was top notch. But, also, in all honesty, the operation to get them out, to secure the consulate, was also very thorough.

S. O'BRIEN: Mohammed al-Khereiji of the newspaper "Asharq al- Awsat" joining us this morning. Thanks for your time and thank you for the update.

Appreciate it -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Washington, law makers on both sides of the aisle predicting quick passage for an intelligence reform bill if, and this is a big if, Republican leaders let it come to a vote in the House. That could happen today when Congress returns to work briefly.

Ed Henry joins us live from Capitol Hill, where there's a lot of things going on behind closed doors -- good morning, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Good morning, Miles.

It's finally crunch time for this 9/11 reform bill. It's do or die. If it does not pass by Congress in the next two days, it will be finished for the year. They'll have to start all over again in January. And you're right, this bill probably would pass if, in fact, Speaker Dennis Hastert would bring it up for a floor vote, but he has resisted that so far because of a Republican family feud, if you will, over whether this bill will do more harm than good.

And in recent days, some 9/11 families who want to see it passed have been holding vigils across the country, trying to pressure Congress. Also, over the weekend, President Bush was, you know, also making that case, trying to get this legislation passed. But he's still facing resistance from within his own party.

Incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said it's time for the president to finally bring his fellow Republicans in line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: A president who controls both houses of Congress should use his power. And he's said that he has power, he has a mandate. Let's let him pull a few bucks out of that pocket of mandate and give it to the House and Senate and say here's part of my mandate, I want this legislation to pass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The problem for the president is twofold. There are some Republicans who feel that it's lacking immigration provisions in this legislation that would tighten up the borders. And, secondly, the real flash point in recent days has become Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter's concerns that a new national director of intelligence would disrupt the chain of command at the Pentagon.

Now, there are other Republicans, like Senator John McCain, who say this is really just a turf battle, that the Pentagon is concerned about losing power. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday said that when all is said and done, he believes that enough Republican concerns will be met and this bill will get done this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THIS WEEK," COURTESY ABC NEWS)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I think everybody is going to come to the table in the best spirit of the way these bodies work. We may work well. We'll come together and there will be compromise, but compromise that'll be to the satisfaction of the majority of people in the House and the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, in private, Vice President Cheney is also expressing confidence. He was speaking to law makers over the weekend, saying that he's confident it will come to a compromise this week. That determination by the administration may come in part from the fact that Republicans up here on the Hill are concerned that perhaps if the president loses this one battle, it could embolden more law makers to really resist the administration next year on some other high profile issues like Social Security reform and tax reform.

So this one battle may not just be about intelligence reform, it could be a lot bigger than that -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Ed Henry on Capitol Hill.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A pair of recent incidents has shaken airline security. French police have lost track of explosives they were using to test security. The material was put into a passenger's luggage and could have ended up on any one of 90 flights.

In Canada, hundreds of uniforms and security badges worn by airport security screeners are missing.

Aviation security expert Charles Slepian joins us.

It's nice to see you again.

Thanks for being with us.

CHARLES SLEPIAN, AVIATION SECURITY EXPERT: Good to see you.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk first about these explosives, part of a training exercise. When you hear news like this, do you say just a dumb mistake, or do you say indicative of a huge security problem?

SLEPIAN: It is a huge problem. It's a security breach that was really duplicated in the United States. A few months ago we lost handguns in one of these testing procedures. Procedurally, aviation security is still a mess. It's in shambles. It's not consistent anywhere in the world. And when you have no accountability for explosives going through a system, we are really endangered by that kind of a situation.

S. O'BRIEN: Is it typical to put handguns or explosives -- we should mention both of those, the no detonators with the explosives, so maybe not as dangerous as some might first think on hearing this news. But is this the typical way the test is done?

SLEPIAN: Yes, it is. The only way you can test both the screener and the equipment is to see whether or not they can pick up the presence of an explosive. That is not a problem if you have the kind of controls that we ought to have in place. It's like controlling evidence at a crime scene. Somebody is responsible for the movement.

In this case, nobody apparently was responsible. Not only did they lose it in their airport, they don't know what airport in the world it arrived at. And I would raise a concern about the fact that even though there were no detonators, the detonator is the easy part of the explosive. Anybody can affix a detonator to an explosive and set it off. And so we really need to be concerned about the fact that there is a plastic out there somewhere in the world.

S. O'BRIEN: So when the French police say, and I'm loosely quoting here, it's no more dangerous than a bag of chocolate, I think, a bar of chocolate, is what they say, obviously trying to minimize their own personal culpability.

What do you make of that comment, though?

SLEPIAN: Well, once again, they're trying to minimize their culpability. We do the same thing here in the United States. It's very dangerous to have a plastic explosive out there. Affixing a detonator to it really only means a battery and a wire, and anybody can do it.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about these security uniforms, 1,100 of them, or pieces of them, I should say, are missing from Canada's airport.

The same question as the first question, a dumb mistake or how big of a problem don't you think?

SLEPIAN: Well, first of all, we need to know how long ago did this occur? Did it occur in one movement or has it been trickling for several months? Who was responsible for the accountability of those uniforms? And it is a very dangerous situation because we have discussed before right here the fact that there are 900,000 workers in the United States who have access to our airports who don't go through screening. It's a lost easier to do it with a uniform on.

It underscores the fact that we have a workplace environment in which criminality, vulnerability still prevails, and we haven't done anything about it.

S. O'BRIEN: Some huge gaping holes.

Charles Slepian, nice to see you, as always.

SLEPIAN: Nice to see you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us this morning -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's check the nation's weather.

Rob Marciano at the Weather Center once again this morning -- good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Miles.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MARCIANO: It sure could be a lot colder for this time of year.

Back to you guys in New York.

S. O'BRIEN: It sure could be, couldn't it?

M. O'BRIEN: It can always be colder.

S. O'BRIEN: It can always be colder.

M. O'BRIEN: I was in Barrow, Alaska a couple of weeks ago, 20 below without the wind chill.

S. O'BRIEN: See, it could be colder.

M. O'BRIEN: See? So that has changed my perspective on temperatures forever.

MARCIANO: You're easy to please, Miles.

S. O'BRIEN: See, I had the same feeling when we went to Chicago and it was windy. I thought hmm, OK, it could always be worse.

M. O'BRIEN: And they were walking around in shorts, I kid you not.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, of course...

M. O'BRIEN: Because it was nothing for them.

MARCIANO: Yes, you can tell. Thick skin.

M. O'BRIEN: So no complaints from me.

S. O'BRIEN: Tough people there.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Rob, thanks.

MARCIANO: See you.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a CNN "Security Watch." Is your food safe from terrorists? Dr. Gupta tells us how you as a consumer can protect yourself.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, the parade of witnesses keeps on coming in the Scott Peterson trial. When can we expect the jury to start deliberating his sentence?

S. O'BRIEN: And by all accounts, Pat Tillman was a hero. But did the Army try to cover-up what really happened on the day he died? A lot at that is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Some new and disturbing details about the death of Pat Tillman, the pro-football star turned Army Ranger. Tillman was killed last April while fighting in Afghanistan. You'll recall that. This morning, the "Washington Post" is reporting the bullets came from members of his own unit and the Army may have tried to distort what happened.

Steve Coll is a staff writer for the "Washington Post."

He joins us here now.

Steve, good to have you with us.

Nice job on the piece.

You found a string of events that occurred which do not speak well about the way this particular Ranger unit operated and the superiors handled things in Afghanistan. Why don't we just tick it through.

First of all, the decisions that were made that led up to this friendly fire incident.

STEVE COLL, "WASHINGTON POST": They were on patrol, about 34 guys. The trouble started with a broken vehicle. And they had to decide how to get rid of the vehicle. So there was a discussion between the platoon leader and his commanders far away about whether to divide the platoon in half. And the leader on the ground said let's stick together, but he was overruled from headquarters.

He pushed hard, sent e-mails saying no, no, let's not split ourselves up. But he was told do it, so he accepted the mission and they divided the platoon.

M. O'BRIEN: And so that's a critical point right there...

COLL: Absolutely critical.

M. O'BRIEN: ... when you had two separate groups operating in canyons where the communication is very dicey, at best.

COLL: The radios didn't work, in effect.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and that's a big problem.

So they separate and there's obviously, there's a long story here. But basically there was a tremendous amount of confusion, a potential Taliban ambush involved and a misunderstanding about who was firing at whom, right? COLL: Exactly. So one unit comes through a canyon and comes out. The other unit enters the canyon and is ambushed. They get into a firefight. The first unit peels back to try to support them, firing back at the canyon. The second unit comes flying out of the canyon and, in effect, they crash into each other without being aware that each is in the position they're in.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, and there was a decision made not by the field commander, but by somebody at a remote base to make, to separate the two units because of this, this broken vehicle was slowing them down.

That was a key decision, wasn't it?

COLL: It was. I mean it's one of six or seven points along the way when, looking back, the whole thing might have been avoided. But there was -- there were other problems, as well, the Army's own investigators eventually found. When this unit came flying out of the canyon, 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. They didn't identify their targets. They didn't follow their own training.

M. O'BRIEN: And that is not how Rangers are trained.

COLL: No. They're meant to acquire, identify and engage. And that means being certain, to the extent that you can be on a battlefield, that you really know who you're shooting at.

M. O'BRIEN: And have any of the Rangers or their commanders, have they been held accountable for this?

COLL: A number have received some discipline. One received a formal administrative charge. Several others were asked to leave the Rangers. That included one officer. And two officers were permitted to stay in the Rangers, but were reprimanded.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, you spoke with Pat Tillman's mother. And there's a quote here I'd like to share with people from your piece. She said: "At first I thought, you know, I was upset about it, well, accidents happen." Mary Tillman then went on to say: "When I found out that it was because of huge negligence at places along the way, you have time to process that and you really get annoyed."

Well, there's a bit of an understatement there. I guess the real irony here is that the Army tried to gloss this whole situation over, paint Pat Tillman as a hero and Pat Tillman, of all people, was an ultimate straight shooter, wasn't he?

COLL: He really was. He was somebody who cared a lot about straight talk about uncomfortable truths. And he would have hated the way the Army handled his own death. He behaved very honorably on the battlefield. He didn't need any exaggerations or any help to burnish his story.

But what happened was that the Army learned by April 26 what had happened. They knew from witness statements. The records show that he had died in friendly fire. Yet for five weeks, they didn't tell his family. They didn't tell his own brother. They didn't tell senators like John McCain, who spoke at a public memorial. And they didn't tell the public.

They only conceded what had happened late in May, and then in a very terse statement, and took no questions.

M. O'BRIEN: Steve Coll with the "Washington Post," second of a two part series out today. It began yesterday. A great series and worth a read.

Thanks for being with us.

COLL: Thanks, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

All right -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid doesn't mince his words. He blasts one of the most powerful men in America as "an embarrassment." We'll tell you who it is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: It is an honor worthy of a president's attention. Actors Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Warren Beatty were saluted for their contributions to the performing arts at the Kennedy Center yesterday. Those honored in the music world included Elton John, Joan Sutherland and conductor John Williams. President Bush and the first lady were in attendance. They personally greeted the honorees at a White House reception.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Jack Cafferty is taking your e-mails today. The subject, intelligence.

CAFFERTY: Yes, thanks, Miles.

A hundred and thirty-eight days since the 9/11 Commission issued their recommendations on how to protect this country against terrorist attacks and Congress hasn't passed anything in the way of legislation addressing those concerns. There is a bill, but it's stuck in the House. The public supports it, most of the families of the 9/11 victims support it, the Senate supports it, President Bush says he supports it and there are more than enough votes in the House to pass it. And yet it looks like Congress may, in fact, adjourn for the year this week without doing anything.

The question we're asking this morning is what has to be done to get the Congress to pass the intelligence reform bill?

Christopher writes: "Unfortunately, what's needed to pass the intelligence reform bill is another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11, either today or tomorrow." The idea being there are a couple of days that the Congress will be in session.

Michael writes from Alexandria, Virginia: "I can't figure out whether Jack and the rest of you are simply stupid or breathtakingly disingenuous."

You shouldn't try and suck up to us like that, you know?

"The committee chairman opposing parts of the intelligence bill has valid objections. Why in the world, for example, should we give drivers licenses to illegal immigrants? We shouldn't. But that's part of the bill."

Larry in Chardon, Ohio: "The joint chiefs don't support this bill. The heat to do something is so high that the bill is being shoved through. It's too important to not get it right."

And Don in Roanoke, Virginia: "The real homeland security problem is who's going to protect us from the Congress."

So there.

S. O'BRIEN: Very clever.

All right, Jack, thanks.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, we've got some breaking news out of Spain. Separatists make good on a bombing threat. We've got the latest from Madrid just ahead.

Plus, a CNN "Security Watch." Just how safe is America's food supply from terrorists? Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us what you can do on your own to make sure that your family is safe.

That's ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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