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Armor-Piercing Weapons Easy to Acquire?; Connecting With BTK; President Nominates John Negroponte For National Intelligence Director

Aired February 17, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
Tonight, how is it that you can get your hands on an armor- piercing military weapon with no questions asked?


ZAHN (voice-over): It's the most powerful rifle you can buy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. Right through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right through it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right through it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's where it went in, 1-inch steel plate.

ZAHN: Just a few clicks and some cold, hard cash, no background checks, no registration.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Should there be any regulations on your guns?

RONNIE BARRETT, BARRETT MANUFACTURING: There should be regulations on criminals.

ZAHN: CNN bought a fearsome .50. Who else is in the market?

And on the CNN "Security Watch," he's the accountant in the next seat, until:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police officer! Drop the gun!

ZAHN: On duty, on alert and on the plane, air marshals along for the ride.


ZAHN: We begin tonight with that gun that is so powerful, it can actually pierce armor from more than a mile away. Don't even think about what it can do to a human being.

In most places, getting one is perfectly legal. But at least one congressman wants it banned because he says -- quote -- "It is a clear and present danger to the public safety."

Here is our own investigative reporter, Drew Griffin.


GRIFFIN: To buy a gun, even a .50-caliber gun, this huge gun, you just need to go to your computer and click on one of the biggest classified gun sites, which, in our case, is, AK-47s, shotguns, pistols, all kinds of rifles.

But we wanted to buy was the biggest caliber rifle you could possibly buy. And that's this category right here, big .50-caliber rifles. This is the gun that is now banned in California. And on this Web site, we have about three dozen of them for sale. But what we're looking for is one that is not being sold by a dealer.

See, where it says federal licensed firearm dealer? We are trying to find one that's being sold by just a private citizen. This is actually the gun we bought. When you finally find the gun you want on this Web site and you're dealing with a private party, you just give him your e-mail and you send him a note. "Let's set up a meeting. I'm paying cash." And the next thing you know, we're going to buy our gun.

(voice-over): But before I shelled out $2,500 to buy this gun, I wanted to make sure I could buy ammunition. That turned out to be as easy as ordering flowers. With just a couple of clicks on my computer, I ordered and paid by credit card for 50 .50-caliber armor- piercing rounds.

They were delivered in a week, shells as long as my hand delivered, no questions asked, by UPS. I could have even bought tracer rounds, if I had wanted. Now it was time to get the gun.

(on camera): What we're about to do is perfectly legal in dozens of states where cash-and-carry is the rule, a private seller, a private buyer. There will be no background check, no government waiting period, no government paperwork at all. In fact, the only paper that will change hands is the money we use to buy our .50- caliber rifle.

(voice-over): The transaction at a house in suburban Houston took about 20 minutes. We walked out with a case holding the gun critics say is the perfect terrorist weapon, a brand new .50-caliber with scope, bipod and directions. We flew home.

Guns are checked as baggage. And when the bags arrived for our flight, I simply picked it up and left.

Ronnie Barrett, who manufactures .50-caliber rifles, believes, as an American, it is your right to own one.

(on camera): Isn't that particular gun in the hands a terrorist dangerous?

BARRETT: We're not talking about terrorists. We're just arming here civilians. These laws have nothing to do with terrorism.

GRIFFIN: Barrett's company makes one of the most popular and top-of-the-line .50-caliber rifles on the market, a semiautomatic favored by armies around the world. But Barrett says his company couldn't survive on military orders alone and what keeps all these workers busy is its popularity among recreational shooters. Barrett says it may be effective on the battlefield, but, on the target range, it's just plain fun.

(on camera): Should there be any regulations on your guns?

BARRETT: There should be regulations on criminals.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Gun control advocates want a federal ban on this weapon. Their reasoning, anything that can hit a target at 1,000 yards with the bullet the size of a small artillery shell could certainly pose a major threat to aircraft.

(on camera): But the question at most of the nation's airports is not what you could do with a .50-caliber gun at 1,000 yards. Here at LAX, a would-be terrorist could get within less than 1,000 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop. Turn the machine off.

(voice-over): This week, at a police gun range, I found out what this gun could do to the emergency exit door of a Boeing 727 fired from 1,000 feet away. The gun is very heavy, not easy to maneuver, but took only a few moments to set up. The first time I fired it, I missed. After adjusting for the sight, round after armor-piercing round went straight through the door.

But just about any gun could pierce the thin aluminum skin of the airplane. What scares law enforcement is what else this round can do when fired from this gun.


GRIFFIN: This is a 1-inch thick piece of steel plate, more protection than almost any armored car. The .50-caliber goes right through the aircraft door and right through one-inch steel.

(on camera): Wow. Right through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right through it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right through it, baby.

GRIFFIN: That's where it came out. That's where it went in, 1- inch steel plate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.


(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: Just sitting here watching, you shoot, made me feel the power of that weapon. And you have got a guy out there, Drew, like Congressman Moran who is saying this weapon is powerful enough to bring down a jet. What is the reality?

GRIFFIN: Well, the opponents say it's true. The reality is, can you put a bullet into an engine? Can you put it through a fuel tank? Can you put it through a cockpit? Yes. Is that enough to down a commercial airliner, probably not. Could it cripple an airliner, create an emergency? I think you would have to say the answer is yes.

ZAHN: So, beyond Congressman Moran and the people supporting his point of view, how worried is the intelligence community or anybody in the government about this weapon?

GRIFFIN: They're certainly concerned, especially in the Secret Service, about protecting individuals when you have something that can shoot through steel plate.

How widespread is this gun in criminal elements? It's really never been used domestically in a criminal event. So I -- they don't draw on any experience that this gun was involved, but, certainly, it is a choice weapon in a military field. And, you know, soldiers love this gun because of its deterrent factor.

ZAHN: But it was remarkable to watch you do this transaction in about a 20-minute period. Now, we should make it clear you went to a private seller.

GRIFFIN: That's right.

ZAHN: To purchase this gun. Why?

GRIFFIN: On the Internet, you learn all the new nuances and all the loopholes of buying a gun. If I bought that through a licensed dealer, I'd have to clear a background check. I would have to show proof of age, proof of residency. By going through a private seller, private seller, private buyer, it's strictly a cash transaction. We made sure that the two, the buyer and the seller, were in the same state. And after that, cash and carry.

ZAHN: Isn't that astonishing to you?

GRIFFIN: It was to me. I'm not a gun person. I've never bought a gun before in my life. And to see how easy this was to do and how easy it was, even easier, to get these armor-piercing bullets, it was incredible.

ZAHN: What was the most surprising thing that you learned about this weapon?

GRIFFIN: I think the most surprising thing I learned about it is that a person who has no experience with guns could go out there on the Internet, get armor-piercing bullets, buy a gun, bring it home, and, within two shots, hit a target 1,000 feet away.

ZAHN: And that's what happened to you, right?

GRIFFIN: That's exactly what happened.

ZAHN: So, it was on the third shot you hit that steel door.

GRIFFIN: Second shot.

ZAHN: Second shot. Wow. Scary stuff.

Drew Griffin, thank you.

GRIFFIN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Nice to have you up here with us in New York.

We're going to change our focus now to a letter-writing killer at it again, but this time, with a difference.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still contend that this is our most challenging case.


ZAHN: Coming up, the latest twist in the BTK murder mystery.


ZAHN: We've got a real mystery for you tonight, a new twist in the serial case in Wichita, Kansas, the FBI confirming today that two letters found late last year were written by the killer.

He happened to include a birth date, family details and a victim's driver's license. And this week, Wichita TV station KSAS says it received notes, a picture and a piece of jewelry, supposedly from the killer as well. The police haven't confirmed that yet.

BTK has been at it since the '70s, but silent for some 25 years.

Here's David Mattingly.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): January 15, 1974, Julie Otero is murdered in her home in Wichita, Kansas. The killer then murders her husband and two of her children. Months later, a chilling letter arrives at the local paper. "When this monster entered my brain, I will never know, but it is here to stay," the killer writes. "Maybe you can stop him. I can't. He has already chosen his next victim."

(on camera): Do you remember that first day when someone came to you and said, I think we have a serial killer?

RICHARD LAMUNYON, WICHITA POLICE CHIEF: It was something that I had in the back of my mind, but it's only something that you read about, something that you watch on television.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): In the '70s, Richard Lamunyon was a young chief of police and among those stunned by the twisted brutality in the way the killer treated his victims. He remembers the fear and the frustration as he tried to reassure the public.

LAMUNYON: I think we'll solve the crime. The question is, when will we solve the crime?

That was me 27 years ago. Yes, that was me.

MATTINGLY (on camera): You still stand by that statement?

LAMUNYON: I still stand by that statement, yes. We will catch him. And I have thought that all along, because he wants to be caught. He wants to be identified.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Some now believe that moment may be at hand. The on-again/off-again killing spree has left at least eight dead, possibly more. The killer calls himself BTK, which stands for "bind them, torture them, kill them," a pattern he has followed with most of his victims. He has also developed a taste for publicity.

Over 31 years, he has sent many notes to Wichita police and the local media and once even reported one of his murders to 911.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing.


MATTINGLY (on camera): Experts following the case agree the killer's greatest talent may be deception. His actions do not fit into any one particular profile and his communications contain such a wide array of possible clues that no clear picture of him emerges.

(voice-over): The last known murder was 1986. A 28-year-old mother named Vicki Wegerle was killed, like all the others, in her Wichita home. But this time, there were no calls, no notes. So many years went by that some believed BTK was dead. They were wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, we have more information on the letter sent to "The Wichita Eagle" by the BTK killer.

MATTINGLY: Last spring, after nearly a 25-year silence, the killer unleashed a flurry of communications to local media, including a package dropped in this Wichita park containing the driver's license of one of his victims.

(on camera): How unusual is this, for a serial killer to give back mementos that he has taken?

ROBERT BEATTIE, ATTORNEY: I've never heard of that happening before at all. MATTINGLY (voice-over): Wichita attorney Robert Beattie has written a soon-to-be-published book on BTK and is among those believing the killer has reemerged with a purpose.

(on camera): Is it possible he's winding down, maybe coming to some sort of conclusion?

BEATTIE: He may be winding down to a conclusion or climax or he may be teasing us. While we're all expecting something, he will just disappear like Jack the Ripper.

MATTINGLY: Do you think he'll kill again?

LAMUNYON: I -- you cannot rule that out. I personally don't think he will. And the reason is, you know, he still has these memories. I think he's guilt-ridden now. And I think he will -- that the final hurrah that he refers to is the idea that he will come forward.

MATTINGLY: But if there is a final chapter to be told, to whom will the killer tell it? One veteran Wichita journalist who has been reading the words of this murderer for 31 years decided it was time to take a chance and talk back.


ZAHN: And, in just a moment, you're going to meet the man that gets the killer's letters and who happens to open up a dialogue with the killer on air.


LARRY HATTEBERG, KAKE ANCHOR: If this constant publicity keeps him happy, so be it.


ZAHN: In a minute, a Wichita news anchor goes national, as we take this story beyond the headlines.


ZAHN: It was nearly a year ago when Wichita got a chilling reminder. Their 25-year-long nightmare was not over.

Part two now of David Mattingly's story goes beyond the headlines in the hunt for BTK, who has murdered eight people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today's message is eerily similar to a postcard KAKE received last week.

HATTEBERG: The theory is that this guy has probably been living amongst us for the past 30 years, going to the store with us, going to the movies. And that's the scary part. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could make BTK into something more in terms of that, but right now all we have got with him is just the one story.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): After apparently vanishing 18 years ago, the Wichita serial killer known as BTK reemerged last March with a flurry of mysterious packages and cryptic notes, three of them delivered to television station KAKE.

HATTEBERG: Then you can say the BTK thing...


HATTEBERG: ... coming up tonight.

MATTINGLY: And today, it is clearly the story that drives the news.

HATTEBERG: Well, that search for BTK continues today.

BTK is the master puppeteer. He controls the police department. He controls the media and he controls the public. And he's the guy pulling the strings.

MATTINGLY: News anchor Larry Hatteberg was a young photographer at the scene of the first BTK murders in 1974 and he has covered every BTK murder ever since.

HATTEBERG: It was a terrible, terrible murder. And I remember thinking -- and we talked about it on television and of course it was discussed in the newspaper -- that things -- murders like this don't happen in Wichita, Kansas.

MATTINGLY: But this time, it's different. There's a new generation of viewers instantly fearful of what this killer might do, though, strangely, there are so far no new victims. The frequency of recent notes, however, suggests BTK has not lost his apparent need for attention, a trait that dates back to his first letter to this station in 1978.

HATTEBERG: He wrote to us and he said -- quote -- "How many more people do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper?" This is not a guy you want to tick off. This is not a guy you want to make mad. This is a guy you want to keep happy. So, if this constant publicity keeps him happy, so be it.

MATTINGLY: So, on February 3, Hatteberg had the idea to start a conversation, address the murderer directly in a newscast, in hopes of keeping the communication going. After 31 years of reading the words of a killer, Hatteberg was talking back.

HATTEBERG: We know he is watching and we know he is listening. And to him, we say, the message has been received and passed on.

As long as he's talking, as long as he's writing, as long as he's communicating, he's not killing. And that's the thing that we don't want to have happen is to him -- is for him to kill again.

MATTINGLY: There were similar attempts to open a dialogue 31 years ago. At one time, Wichita Police even asked KAKE to air subliminal messages. Flash frames telling the killer to call the chief didn't work. And, so far, the killer has not responded to Hatteberg.

(on camera): Do you think he was watching?

HATTEBERG: I think he was probably watching. I think he watches us every night and I'm pretty sure he was watching tonight because he watches for the publicity and he got a lot of publicity with this story tonight.

MATTINGLY: What would you do if you walked back into this news room and found that he was waiting for you at the other end of the telephone?

HATTEBERG: I would talk to him and then call 911, in that order.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But if the day soon comes, as some suggest, that BTK decides to reveal himself, Hatteberg is ready with the question on everyone's mind.

HATTEBERG: I want him to be sitting right where you are and I want to look into his eyes and I want to say, why? What made you do this? What was inside your soul that caused you to do what you did? What kind of demons are in there? I want to talk to him. All of us want to talk to this guy.

MATTINGLY: It remains to be seen however if anyone will get that chance. Whether BTK is through terrorizing the city he has kept on edge for 31 years or he's just ending the chapter to a long and brutal story.


ZAHN: David Mattingly reporting for us tonight.

And KAKE's Larry Hatteberg joins us now.

Larry, good of you to join us.

I'm wondering, in hearing you talk, whether you ever worry that might be helping the killer more than enhancing the law enforcement effort?

HATTEBERG: I don't think so, Paula. And we've been asked this question before.

I think it's very important to give BTK what he wants. We know he really enjoys the publicity. He loves seeing his name on CNN and the other networks. He relishes the publicity. And as long as he's getting that publicity, he appears and he seems to be happy. And I think the point right now -- two points really. One is to keep him communicating and to keep the publicity machine going, because both those things will help catch him.

And the bottom line here, while this is an incredibly great story, the bottom line in our community, the important thing for us is, we want to catch this guy, because we don't want him to kill again.

ZAHN: Absolutely. And I think we all understand that you're doing this with the best intentions. But are you doing it not only with the blessing of law enforcement, but with their guidance?

HATTEBERG: We are not doing it with the guidance of law enforcement. As a matter of fact, they have not talked to us at all about it.

We just felt that it was the right thing to do, because BTK asked us a direct question in one of the postcards that he sent to us. And it was a question that we felt need to be answered on the air. He said, please let me know if you or Wichita P.D. receive this package. Now, that's a direct question to us.

And because he asked us a direct question, we felt that we should answer him directly on the air. We felt that was part of our job and part of our responsibility to do that. And it may be that he sees the answer on the air. Then he knows that the Wichita Police Department has received his communication, so the communication continues. Now, we don't know that for sure, but that's what we're speculating.

ZAHN: Larry, I have got to tell you, I find it weird that law enforcement hasn't coordinated any of this with you and the station. How do you know you're not getting duped here?

HATTEBERG: Well, we don't know that at this point, Paula.

The law enforcement authorities do talk to us when we do receive a package. And, as happened yesterday with the other television station, when they receive a package, law enforcement officers come over. The head of the investigation comes over to our television station and says, we would like you not to release this portion of the investigation, this portion of what you received.

And so far, we have done that. We have cooperated with the police. So, it's not like they're not talking to us. We're certainly having this dialogue. But they did not come to us and say, we want you to contact BTK or we don't want you to contact or try to contact BTK.

ZAHN: Or -- nor are they telling you exactly what to say.

HATTEBERG: That's correct.

ZAHN: It is an absolutely fascinating story. And, boy, we hope, for your community, there is a break in this case soon.

HATTEBERG: We hope so, too.

ZAHN: Larry Hatteberg, thank you so much for your time. Good luck.

HATTEBERG: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up, we have a spy who has come in from the absolute cold. He used to be with the CIA. Now he's with us, CNN. And, in a minute, I'll ask him, can this guy keep America safe?


ZAHN: On tonight's "Security Watch," the newest face in the war on terror John Negroponte, the president's choice to be the first director of national intelligence. Under his watch, 15 separate agencies.

But Negroponte's a career diplomat. Less than a year ago, he became U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He's also been ambassador to the U.N., the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras, but no real intelligence experience. The president says, he's the right man to keep us safe.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John's nomination comes in a historic moment for intelligence services. In the war against terrorist who target innocent civilians and continue to seek weapons of mass murder intelligence is our first line of defense. We're going to stop the terrorists before they strike. We must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single unified enterprise. That's why I supported and Congress passed reform legislation creating the job of director of national intelligence.


ZAHN: Joining me now from Washington, John McLaughlin, former acting CIA director. Now and acting CNN national security adviser. Welcome to a large CNN family here, John.


ZAHN: So do you think John Negroponte, a man with relatively no intelligence experience is the best choice for this job?

MCLAUGHLIN: Paula, I think he's a good choice. And everyone needs to give John Negroponte support and a chance here. When people say he has no intelligence experience that's a little misleading. Intelligence, at least the large part of it, is about developments overseas, foreign development and John Negroponte served in 8 different countries, he knows a lot about foreign affairs and he has a deputy who is steeped in all the arcane aspects of the intelligence world, Mike Heyden.

ZAHN: But you know the critics are already out there sniping at him, even for his diplomatic record. They're saying, look, he hasn't put a dent in the insurgency movement in Iraq, he didn't persuade the U.N. in the run-up to war to go along with the U.S. position. They feel that compromises him from the get-go. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, critics are always going to snipe at the leader of an intelligence mission. John Negroponte had it right today when he said that this was probably the most difficult assignment of his 40-year career. So, let's see how he does. I think both of these men bring strong credentials and a high level of commitment to public service. And I think they will be a very good team.

ZAHN: And it's not just politicians and pundits who have criticized Mr. Negroponte today. I want to share with our audience now some of what 5 widows from the September 11 attacks have to say about this appointment.

Quote, "We do not need an appeaser in the position of DNI, we need a strong personality with an acute awareness of intelligence, who will be capable unvarnished intelligence to the president. His resume is clearly lacking in recent intelligence community experience."

Is there anything you can say to assure them? You've already made the point that you think it's unfair to suggest he's had no intelligence experience.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, of course everyone understands the concerns that the widows have. But I don't know quite what they're driving at when they use the word appeaser. What I would say to them in way of assurance is that the standard by which any intelligence officer must be judged is the ability to speak objectively, and straightforwardly and truthfully and to sometimes be the skunk at the picnic. And that's the standard by which John Negroponte will be judged here, along with the obvious standard of getting it right.

I think that's what the widows are calling for. And I believe John Negroponte is a fellow who's risen to the occasion in many different jobs, and he will, like most smart people, figure out what are the requirements of the job and do his best to meet them.

ZAHN: Of course, this is pending approval by Congress. John McLaughlin, thank you so much for your perspective tonight. Appreciate your time.


ZAHN: And how many of you actually feel safe in the skies today? Would this help you?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good, good, good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll help, I'll help.



ZAHN: Federal marshals, sky-high guns when our "Security Watch" continues.


ZAHN: Well, if any of you are traveling much these days, you might find that sitting in a seat next to you may be someone who has a gun. And that could be a very good thing if he or she is an Air Marshal. And as Jeanne Meserve discovered, you don't mess with air marshals.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please drop the gun!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good, good, good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll help! I'll help!


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a mock aircraft, Tom practices for the day he hopes will never come, the day when he, a federal Air Marshal has to deal with a terrorist.

TOM, FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL: Let me say this, nobody wants to use a fireman on board an aircraft. It's not going to be a good day for anybody. There's a lot of down side to it. But if that's what's needed, that's what you do.

MESERVE: Because he works undercover, we cannot show you his face or tell you his full name.

TOM: I'm a federal air marshal. I need you to turn around and put your hands behind your back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to do anything like that.

TOM: Put your hands behind your back.

MESERVE: He once worked for the Secret Service, but his life, like so many others, was changed on 9/11.

TOM: The question runs through your head, what could I have done had I been one of the aircraft?

MESERVE: Though he may look like any other traveler, Tom carries a loaded .357 magnum. At Washington's Dulles Airport, he boards his Jet Blue flight to Ft. Lauderdale before other passengers to search for weapons and explosives and to meet and brief the flight crew.

TOM: There are no specific threats against this airline or any others at this time.

MESERVE: Though air marshals never fly without at least 1 partner, as passengers board, Tom scans for potential allies.

TOM: I just size people up. And I guess in a nutshell, I'm looking for help. Worse case scenario, who I think I can count on. You look for a face, and what you see in that, in the eyes. And I'm looking for, perhaps, military uniform. I'm looking for things of that nature, somebody with a military hair cut, possibly. Maybe somebody with an NYPD t-shirt on.

MESERVE: He is also on the lookout for terrorists.

TOM: We're looking for any suspicious behavior, anybody who is acting irregular.

MESERVE: Tom notices a restroom right next to the cockpit has been occupied an unusually long time. At Tom's suggestion, a flight attendant knocks. A man comes out. Tom goes in to see if weapons, or explosives have been hidden. He finds nothing.

Tom has never arrested a suspected terrorist, but wonders if he has seen them rehearsing.

TOM: Certainly, yes, there's been times where I've been uncomfortable, had a not-so-comfortable feeling and wondered if it was perhaps a test run and that's rare, very rare. There's a tremendous amount of monotony in this. And it's much like "Groundhog Day."

MESERVE: He can read, but music, movies and sleep are forbidden.

TOM: Very often we need to come up with cover stories of what we do. Sometimes I'll think of the most boring job I can think of with the hope that they won't pursue it with any more questions, you know? A lot of times I say him I'm an accountant, but then you run the danger of that person being an accountant.

MESERVE: This is Tom's life: airborne 80 hours a month. Critics say air marshals can be picked out because of their dress code and early boarding. Tom doesn't completely disagree. While he can dress like other passengers, he admits that boarding is a problem.

TOM: Walking down that gangplank before everyone else lets many people know who you are, that you're special, you're different.

MESERVE: Though their exact number is classified, there are not enough air marshals for the 27,000 flights made every day by U.S. carriers, so they pick their flights.

(on camera) This Airbus A320 is the exact type of aircraft an air marshal might be on. It's pretty big, carries a lot of fuel, and it's flying in and out of New York, a known terrorist target.

(voice-over) At the air marshals' command center, where deployment decisions are made, the latest intelligence is factored in. John Novak runs the operation.

JOHN NOVAK, AIR MARSHAL COMMAND CENTER: We have no credible evidence that threats or surveillance activity or suspicious activity is occurring, but we have no information, credible information suggesting that it's not. MESERVE: The operation center relays intelligence directly to air marshals via wireless devices, but they do not work in the air, a real problem if a crisis erupts, admits Thomas Quinn, the director of the federal air marshal program.

THOMAS QUINN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL PROGRAM: We to this day communicate through the flight deck of the aircraft. So there is a means of communication, but it's not as rapid or robust as we would like.

MESERVE: The operation center has secure communications with the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado. NORAD can scramble jets in an emergency, though Tom feels he and other air marshals can handle things on their own.

TOM: God forbid something happens. We're going to solve that. We're going to have the solution up there and they're not going to have to call upon the F-16s to bring that plane down.

MESERVE: It is hard to know if air marshals are as effective as Tom believes. Whether it's because the presence of air marshals has been a deterrent of terrorists or because of other layers of security, there hasn't been a hijacking since 9/11.


ZAHN: Jeanne Meserve bringing you up to date on what's being done for all of our safety.

Coming up next, out west, a mine strikes a lot of trouble.


DR. BRAD BLACK, CENTER FOR ASBESTOS RELATED DISEASE: Well, I think most of them are sitting there in a great amount of anxiety and some fear at times, too.


ZAHN: A deadly lode. That story straight out of the break.


ZAHN: A story now that I think we can all relate to in a small Montana town. Federal prosecutors say more than 1,000 people got sick and very sick because of a corporate cover up. And one doctor is finding that many of his friends are now also his patients.

Jonathan Freed reports.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sights and sounds that make up this corner of the northwest are striking. But in this place of breathtaking beauty, hundreds of people are struggling to breathe. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deep breath. Blast it out! Good! Keep blowing, keep blowing, keep blowing, keep blowing, keep blowing. Breathe in. Good. Relax. Take those off your nose. Catch your breath.

FREED: Some 10,000 people live in and around the town of Libby, Montana. And Doctors Brad Black and Alan Whitehouse know 1,400 of them inside and out.

BLACK: Extremely accurate. Yes.

DR. ALAN WHITEHOUSE: It's right there.


FREED: They say their patients are sick with lung diseases linked to asbestos, including cancer. There are no known cures. Dr. Black has lived here for most of his life. And when he has to break the news, chances are he's telling a friend.

(on camera) What do you see in your patient's eyes when you have to tell them for the first time that you've diagnosed the problem?

BLACK: Well, I think most of them are sitting there in a great amount of anxiety and you see fear at times, too.

FREED (voice-over): For decades, the people of Libby worked at a local mine digging up vermiculite, used to make insulation and fertilizers. But the mine was contaminated with an especially toxic type of asbestos called tremilite. Although the mine was shut down in 1990, the asbestos fibers were already all over town.

WHITEHOUSE: When they'd take off their overalls and coveralls, the wife would go out and shake them out. Then they'd come inside. So the wife has got a heck of an exposure.

FREED: It wasn't just the miners' wives. The contaminated vermiculite was used as landfill around town, even used it build a baseball field and a jogging track.

BLACK: I'm sure I breathed more than my share into my respiratory track.

FREED: Dr. Black was a pediatrician but decided to switch specialties and open an asbestos disease clinic after the full scope of the problem came to light five years ago when the Environmental Protection Agency moved in to clean up the town.

But, while everyone knew where most of the asbestos was located...

(on camera) It could take 20 or 30 years from the time somebody is exposed until the time they start developing symptoms.

BLACK: Yes. Even to have X-ray changes. FREED (voice-over): The asbestos-related diseases can lay dormant for decades. The doctors estimate at least 200 people have died from them over the years.

Dr. Black showed us a friend's X-ray, a friend who is dying.

BLACK: See inside the rib there's a line of white. See that?

FREED (on camera): Yes. Yes.

BLACK: That's typical of the jacket of fibrosis or scarring around the outside of the lung. It literally jackets the lung and reduces the ability of the lung to expand well.

FREED: So that's...

BLACK: And that's where they get at that constricted feeling when they try to get a deep breath.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pant. Deep breath in. Deep, deep, deep, in, in, in, in, blow it out. Blow, blow, blow, blow, blow, blow, breathe in.

FREED (voice-over): On February 7, the U.S. attorney's office in Montana announced a grand jury had indicted W.R. Grace, the company that owned the mine, along with seven of its current and former managers, charging there was a conspiracy to hide the asbestos contamination from employees, the public and the EPA.

In a written statement, the company "categorically denies any criminal wrongdoing." And in response to questions from CNN, W.R. Grace insists it's trying to be a good corporate citizen, saying it has voluntarily paid millions of dollars in medical bills for some 900 Libby residents over the last five years.

(on camera) Is the company doing everything that it said it would...


FREED: ... to help?



WHITEHOUSE: They're not providing the medical care. We send in the X-rays. We send in the reports of pulmonary functions and they deny it. They just say they don't see anything.

FREED (voice-over): Grace tells CNN the medical decisions are made by an independent health network it hired to handle the cases. And the network insists no one who meets the criteria of asbestos exposure has been turned down.

Meanwhile, Dr. Black is turning right. BLACK: We're on a drive, and we're very close to our patient's house here. So...

FREED: He makes the occasionally house call, mostly for older asbestos patients who have to use oxygen. And there are about 100 who have to use oxygen in town.

BLACK: OK. Give me a good deep breath, please. Let it out. Good. OK.

FREED: Lois Shea is turning 75. She says she played with the contaminated material as a child, pretending to cook with it. Now, she's hooked up to oxygen around the clock.

LOIS SHEA, ASBESTOS DISEASE PATIENT: It's ruined our retirement. We can't get out and go like we used to.

FREED: Despite her frustration, Shea says that she's grateful Grace is paying for the drugs, now a fixture in her life.

(on camera) Are you OK?


FREED (voice-over): Robert Wilkes worked at the mine, hauling the ore around in trucks. He and his wife are now anxious to see the company hauled before a judge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's about time somebody has to come forward and face what they've done.

FREED (on camera): Are you having any difficulty breathing right now?


FREED: What does it feel like?

WILKES: Oh, it's tight. You just -- you just want to say something. You can't say it. You just -- you just run out of air.

FREED (voice-over): Since the cleanup, Libby's mayor, Tony Berget, has been busy promoting the town as safe.

TONY BERGET, MAYOR OF LIBBY, MONTANA: You don't see people walking around here with masks or suits or anything like that. This is a safe community to be in.

FREED: But today, Dr. Black is coping with something else.

(on camera) Your friend whose X-rays we were looking at last night, you found out he passed away last night.


FREED: Are you doing OK? BLACK: Yes, I am right now. I think -- I know that -- he's lying in rest.

FREED (voice-over): Dr. Black says that his friend's death is motivating him and his colleagues to find something, anything, that will help ease the suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deep breath in, deep, deep, deep, in, in, in, in, blow it out.


ZAHN: Jonathan Freed reporting from Libby, Montana.

Now, the thing that we have learned, according to the indictment against W.R. Grace, the death rate due to asbestos poisoning is 40 to 80 times higher in Libby than anywhere else in the country.

Back here in New York, millions ask the same questions, is it ugly? Is it orange toilet paper? Is it art? Jeanne Moos has some answers next.


ZAHN: If you know any New Yorkers, you know we're not too shy about expressing our opinions, so it should come as no surprise to you that when some famous artists unveil a $20 million, 20-year in the making art project in our beautiful Central Park, you've got people saying, "Is it art, or have we been duped?"

Jeanne Moos has more.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sure, The Gates look great when you see them in satellite photos, but if you want to reach out and touch The Gates, come along for a stroll. You might want to dress for the occasion.

(on camera) You know, your jacket matches.


MOOS: Did you do it on purpose?

(voice-over) Naysayers say it makes Central Park look like a construction town. They call them shower curtains or blowing skirts. They're stunned by the $21 million that Christo and Jeanne-Claude raised and spent.

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE DAILY SHOW": Redecorating a bike path.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": You can get a bunch of kids to toilet paper the trees.

MOOS: But for everyone who says it... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looks weird.

MOOS (on camera): It looks weird.

(voice-over) Someone else calls it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was wonderful!

MOOS: A sight for sore eyes, even for someone who can hardly see.

(on camera) Oh, here I am, sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's somebody over there.

MOOS: That's OK. That's our cameraman. I'm sorry, I didn't tell you there's a camera involved.

(voice-over) But she managed to make out the fabric blowing in the breeze.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sufficiently to make me happy.

MOOS: We bought ourselves a map of The Gates and plotted our course. One of the first things you notice is that The Gates make smiling contagious, even smiling at your dog.


MOOS: This couple came to The Gates to celebrate the adoption of their son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lyle has two mommies.

MOOS: Two mommies and 7,500 gates, all that same color, the official color so ripe for mocking.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I'm just mad about saffron...

MOOS: And those most just say orange...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I call it light cinnabar.

MOOS: Cinnabar really is a color.

Throughout Central Park, you find people nicknamed "Gate keepers."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The air flows. You just love it.

MOOS: Their job so to untangle windblown fabric with their tennis-ball tipped poles. The one "Gate keeper" to rescue two dogs who fell through and ice covered pond. He chopped a channel for the dogs to swim through. The "Gate keepers" keep an eye out for graffiti and souvenir hunters who snip off rectangles. Sometimes official swatches of fabric are handed out and people trade.

(on camera) If I put you on air, you'll give me this.


MOOS: OK, you're on.

(voice-over) You can even buy a Gates watch, or Gates socks, signed on the toe by Christo. There are homemade Gates scarves and doggie headgear.

Already the Central Park Gates have been parodied by the Somerville Gates, erected by a Massachusetts cat owner, leading from cat food to litter box.

Our favorite way to view the real gates, the Central Park carousel. As one fan put it, finally an orange alert that doesn't involve terrorism.


ZAHN: The Gates are up for just about ten more days. For the record, I have walked through about 12 miles worth of the gates. I love it. I love the fact that it's brought hundreds of thousands of people to the park who were never out there to enjoy something that will be a fleeting memory.

And that is it for all of us tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Good night.


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