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A Historic Day for People of Iraq; Terrifying Scenarios for Possible Attacks on America

Aired March 16, 2005 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A historic day for the people of Iraq. A freely elected government meets for the first time, despite a series of explosions nearby.
It reads like a doomsday plan: terrifying scenarios for possible attacks on America, a new report on what the government is doing to get ready.

And more details on mistakes and bumbles in the Atlanta manhunt, plus a chilling discovery in Brian Nichols' jail cell, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Bill Hemmer has got the day off. Jack Cafferty is helping us out once again. Thank you, Jack.


O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Other stories we're talking about this morning. A news conference expected this hour on the disappearance of little Jessica Lunsford. Florida police say they're looking for a person of interest. Also, something in the grandmother's polygraph test triggering red flags now. We'll update that.

CAFFERTY: We expect to know today whether Scott Peterson will die for his crimes. We'll look at what's happening in court, and tell you that there's a chance the judge could start the whole trial all over again.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, Carol Costello is going to have the question of the day a little bit later.

CAFFERTY: All right, a historic day in Iraq, the country's new assembly meeting for the first time. The 275-member group was sworn in, even as explosions rattled the area outside the building.

Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad, at the convention center where the assembly convened.

Aneesh, what's the first order of business? It's a historic day for them. ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a seminal day, Jack, for a country that has seen so many already. This was largely a ceremonial event. The 275 members were sworn in, no names put forth for those key top positions of prime minister or president, despite all indications that Ibrahim Al Jaafari will be the former and Jalal Talibani the latter.

In terms of the negotiations, we just spoke with a senior member of the United Iraqi Alliance. It seems from his account that's what's holding this is up is they're trying to bring on board the secular rights, the Iraqi list that's headed by Ayad Allawi, as well as the Sunnis, to try and form a unity government, to get as many of the 275 members to vote for their proposed candidates. That's good news. It means that the Kurds and the Shias have basically finalized their negotiations, and it seems, Jack, a matter of days before this new government will take shape.

CAFFERTY: There's a poll out, Aneesh, that says that Iraqis for the first time since this invasion a couple of years ago are now feeling as though the country is headed in the right direction.

With the backdrop of the inaugural meeting that you're witnessing, are you getting a sense that the people there feel like they're making real progress?

RAMAN: There is that sense. It's hard to overstate the import of those elections at the end of January. They really were seen as a watershed moment in terms of the confidence of the Iraqi people in this process, but they have been able to feel frustration as well, as these negotiations have taken quite some time, a real reason why this was set as the date, March 16th, for this national assembly to meet, and a reason why this government is very much aware they need to build on the confidence and not risk letting it get eroded if the these negotiations take too long, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right, we'll be watching. Aneesh Raman reporting from Baghdad. Thank you -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, now to our CNN security watch, and secret government terror plans exposed.

According to "The New York Times," the feds have been secretly looking at a number of doomsday scenarios of how terrorists might be planning to attack America. It's part of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to make sure that antiterrorism dollars are getting to the cities that need them the most. Among the possible plots that are envisioned, blowing up a chlorine tank, killing more than 17,000 people, injuring more than 100,000 others. Spreading the pneumonic plague in the bathrooms of an airport, sports arena and train station. And infecting cattle with foot and mouth disease, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

Clark Kent Ervin is the former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. He is now a CNN security analyst. He's in Washington this morning.

Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: This information, as we mentioned, was not released intentionally. How critical was that mistake?

ERVIN: Well, actually, I don't think the release of the information is problematic. If anything, I think it might have a deterrent effect. The terrorists know about our vulnerabilities, and they know that we have not yet allocated our monies properly. So if this report prompts doing that, then I think it could serve as a deterrent to terrorism going forward.

O'BRIEN: Part of the goal is to spell out how to prevent, how to respond, how to recover from any of these terror attacks. When you look at the tasks that follow in this report, there are so many. How close are we actually to being prepared?

ERVIN: Well, as you say, the report lists about 1,500 specific tasks that communities can take to protect themselves, and certainly that needs to be whittled down. But it's very important for communities most at risk to know exactly what they should do to prepare themselves against the possibility of an attack, and then to help recover from any attack that does occur just as quickly as possible with minimal loss of life and minimal economic damage. So this kind of planning is really worthwhile. .

O'BRIEN: If the goal of the report, though, is to help define what being prepared would mean, there are many people who say look at the time that has passed since 9/11. Why are we still grappling with the definition of prepared?

ERVIN: Well, that's a very good question. And there is no question but that this report comes too late. From the beginning, the department should have figured out which risks were most likely to happen, and then allocate scarce counter-terrorism money accordingly. Better late than never, of course, and So this is a very hopeful sign. But it certainly should have been done sooner.

O'BRIEN: Airplane hijacking not on this long, long list. Why not?

ERVIN: The reason, according to "The New York Times," is that scenarios are already in place to protect against an airplane hijacking again. It's well known, of course, that that's how 9/11 happened. It's well known through the terrorist circles that the terrorists are looking at attempting to do that again. So there's a lot of preparation under way against that.

As I understand it, the purpose of this report was to prepare for other attacks that are not in preparation already, and that for which the department and the country has not prepared to date.

O'BRIEN: If the goal also is to figure out where to allocate funds, to some degree, do you need a big, long, bureaucratic report like this to know, you know what, New York City's a bigger target than somewhere out in a small town in the Midwest.

ERVIN: Well, certainly, it only makes sense that the likeliest targets are those where there's lots of population, densely packed, and also those communities that are close to targets that could, if attacked, not only have a lot of economic damage, but also cause a lot of loss of life. Like chemical, power plants, nuclear facilities and the like.

O'BRIEN: Clark Kent Ervin is the former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. He's now a CNN security analyst. Thank you very much for that. We appreciate it.

ERVIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Also, this update. Mail facilities at the Pentagon could be back up and running this morning. Test there's, in fact, have turned up negative for anthrax. Earlier tests had triggered an alarm last week in hundreds of U.S. Postal Service and Pentagon employees were given antibiotics. But all is said to be OK this morning. You want to stay with CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Sweeping security changes are among the latest developments in the Atlanta courthouse shooting case. Top-to-bottom changes have been ordered in the number of officers on duty, the way prisoners are handled, and other areas seen as weaknesses that could have led to Friday's courthouse slaughter.

Also, Cynthia Hall, the deputy who police say Brian Nichols attacked in the holding cell before the deadly shooting spree began, says she doesn't remember anything about what happened. That's according to the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution." The newspaper also reports during the 26-hour manhunt for Nichols, authorities found a list of names in his jail cell, and that sent police scrambling to put people into protective custody. Judge Rowland Barnes was on the list, but, of course, he'd already been shot and killed. Last night, police officers held a candlelight vigil for Deputy Sergeant Hoyt Teasley, who was killed outside the courthouse.

O'BRIEN: Prosecutors plan to charge Nichols with murder for the four deaths Friday. He was held without bond Tuesday. He appeared in leg irons, handcuffs and a chain belt. He was guarded by 19 officers. His brother says Brian Nichols is not a violent person.


MARK NICHOLS, BROTHER OF BRIAN NICHOLS: My brother isn't a monster, like he's been portrayed to be. He may be a big person as far as physically, but he's gentle. He's laid back. People are saying that he was always into some kind of trouble, but it wasn't like that. You know, he's a real laid back kind of guy. I mean, he would do anything for you. He did so much for me. I'm the older brother, but I looked up to him as if he were my older brother.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: The changes in courthouse security were ordered after a series of lapses that appear to have opened the way for Friday's killings.

Gary Tuchman has our report this morning.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deputies armed with weapons, a sophisticated courthouse video system, silent alarms, all safeguards in the Fulton County Courthouse that did not provide safety.

CNN has learned Judge Roland Barnes' secretary pushed a silent alarm button, not once but twice during the siege. A response only came after the judge and his court reporter had been killed.

It's still not known if anyone ever heard the alarm or saw Nichols stalking around the courthouse complex on the video system's 40 cameras. That system also captured Nichols' overpowering a female sheriff's deputy but there's no indication anyone was monitoring that either.

DON CLARK, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: This thing is going to be reviewed. I can assure you it's going to be reviewed. Policies and procedures will be looked at.

TUCHMAN: Police were very close to getting Nichols after he escaped but a fateful decision at this parking garage prevented a quick capture. Employees of the garage say they saw Nichols drive a hijacked vehicle through the lot smashing through the entrance gate to escape from police chasing him.

They say the told police to wait in a central location inside the garage where all escape routes could be seen. But the workers tell CNN the officers instead drove through the garage and that Nichols walked out of the unguarded exit with two guns visible in the back of his pants. The man in charge of courthouse security has just been on the job since January.

SHERIFF MYRON FREEMAN, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: When I first took this office, my first priority was the jail and that's where I've been focusing most of my attention. But now we're going to review all the procedures in the office.

TUCHMAN: Hours after Brian Nichols walked out of this garage, leaving police behind, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agent David Wilhelm was shot to death in another part of town. Authorities say Brian Nichols was his killer.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


O'BRIEN: This case, along with the killings of a judge's husband and mother in Chicago, are now the subject of review in Congress, at the Justice Department and among federal judges meeting with the Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Tuesday -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Winter can't end soon enough in the Southwest. Snow covered two-thirds of New Mexico Tuesday, up to three feet in some places, at least 40 school districts were closed. Some of them remain closed today. State police warning drivers, roads are still snow and ice covered. Visibility is poor. Driving is dangerous. Spring is five days away.


O'BRIEN: Well, Prosecutors try to rebuilt their case against Michael Jackson following inconsistent statements from his accuser. How is it working? We'll take a look.

CAFFERTY: Also, there are new developments this morning in the disappearance of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Police say that they have a person of interest.

O'BRIEN: Plus, twists and turns in the story of a cancer victim who is trying to sell an American flag that flew at the Pentagon on 9/11. But the flag may not be the real deal. We'll explain ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.


CAFFERTY: Scott Peterson should learn later today if he'll live or die. A jury that convicted Peterson in November of murdering his wife and unborn child recommended the death penalty. Today, the judge will decide whether to impose that death sentence or reduce to it life in prison without parole. The judge will also decide whether to grant Peterson a new trial. His lawyers claim prosecutors withheld evidence that could have changed the verdict -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, now that jurors have heard from Michael Jackson's accuser, where does the prosecution go from here? The state's star witness in the molestation trial was on the stand for 14 hours over four days. Criminal defense attorney Anne Bremner was in court for much of the teenager's testimony. She's in Santa Maria, California this morning.

Good morning. Nice to see you, Anne. Let's get right to it.

Yesterday a bombshell from the accuser. We spoke about that. But then, later, the explanation. Tell me about that.

ANNE BREMNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTY: Well, Tom Sneddon, on what they call redirect examination in a courtroom, I think came up with a good explanation for why the complainant, the accuser, didn't tell the dean at his school about the molestation. And he had said to the dean, Michael Jackson never did anything to me, and he said it twice. On redirect, Sneddon asked him about this, and he said, you know, after that documentary came out by Martin Bashir, everyone was making fun of me at school. I was so embarrassed. They were calling me the kid that was molested by Michael Jackson. So I didn't want anybody to know. That including the dean. And that's something that we'll hear from an expert later, abused, teenagers feel shame and embarrassment. So that all was wrapped up, I think, very nicely by the prosecution.

O'BRIEN: So you think he was able to regain some of the credibility that appeared to be lost.

BREMNER: Well, in part.

O'BRIEN: Well, as you mentioned, you know, you have to imagine, there's going to be a slew of experts who can come on the stand and say, you know, that is consistent with a child being molested. How did the jury react to the testimony?

BREMNER: Well, you know, Tom Sneddon did a very short redirect examination after what had been a full-scale assault on the credibility of the complainant -- about his motives, about his credibility, about former lies and about some interest in monetary gain. So I think that the experts are going to be crucial for the prosecution to turn this around, because the prosecution so far has been a little bit one step up and two steps back in terms of gaining momentum toward an ultimate conviction.

O'BRIEN: There was a moment when the boy on the stand talked about having cancer. You've said it was pretty moving. Tell me about it.

BREMNER: He talked about, he rarely looked at the jury, Soledad, but he did, at this point, and he turned to the jury, and he said that he thought that God gave him cancer for a reason, for him to learn some lessons in life, and, you know, there were some tissues in the jury box and some real empathy, and he was very sincere. He's been called, you know, a little combative. He's been called -- i've heard the term cheeky used. I don't know if I'd agree with that. But this was a moment of real silence and I think empathy that we come back to the fact that this is a cancer victim. This is somebody who's been through a lot in his life. And he told this jury about something that happened to him and in great detail, and it's got to be, you know, horrific for him. So I think that moment in time was very important for the prosecution to get a connection between the jury and the complainant.

O'BRIEN: Still, a decision out on evidence from the previous molestation case. When will judge Melville make a decision on that? And obviously, it's going have huge implications on where this case can go, right?

BREMNER: Exactly. And I think that the prosecution, they've had some setbacks and I think Tom Sneddon describes to the motto, don't confuse a single defeat with a final defeat, but they need this evidence, and the judge has a hearing tomorrow on the financial evidence, whether it's admissible, on which -- tomorrow's Thursday. And they may touch on when they'll have this hearing on other victim evidence. What the judge said is this, even though there's evidence of other bad acts of Michael Jackson and other settlements, the $26 million in '93 and another one for over a million. The judge said, I had a case where I let in this kind of evidence -- it's a special rule in California, pedophilia, bad acts evidence -- and then I saw the instant case was weak. I reversed myself and dismissed the case. Because if you have a weak instant case, like the charges here, if they're too weak, he won't let it in.

So we'll at least get an idea tomorrow over ever whether he wants to consider this. It will be a full-scale hearing, outside the presence of the jury, but this could turn the case for the prosecution in a heartbeat.

O'BRIEN: No question about that.

Anne Bremner, of course we're going to continue to check in with you about this case. Thanks for that. Appreciate it -- Bill -- I mean, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I answer to anything.

A conviction in the largest case of corporate fraud in U.S. history, how a once powerful CEO is likely now to pay a huge price, next in "Minding Your Business."


CAFFERTY: Bernie Ebbers could spend the ret rest of his life in prison. The former WorldCom CEO convicted for orchestrating the largest corporate fraud in American history.

Andy Serwer has the story. He's "Minding Your Business."


We've been waiting for this for the past couple days, haven't we? And now that Ebbers has been found guilty of all nine charges and of perpetrating the largest fraud in American history, $11 billion, we now wait and see how many years in prison the 63-year-old will get from the judge. Sentencing is on June 13th.

Let's take a look at the Ebbers scorecard of shame. Let's see exactly what he perpetrated -- $180 billion in shareholder wealth, gone; 44,000 jobs, gone; $600 million of employee pensions, up in smoke. People I talked to on Wall Street, even with those numbers, though, had a hard time getting their brain wrapped around the fact this guy might spend the rest of his life in jail.

But you take a look at some of the other corporate felons and see what they got. Look at Martha Stewart, $230,000 stock trade, she gets five months. Sam Waksal, OK, insider trading there, he got seven years and three months, and that company is still a going concern. So you have to figure this guy has got to do at least 10 years in jail, and maybe more than that. He's looking at 85 years.

CAFFERTY: The other interesting thing was he did that -- they put him on the stand with the aw shucks, I didn't have any idea what was going on defense, which is what they'll try to do with Ken Lay, and the jury said, you're the top guy, and we don't believe a thing you're saying, and see you around, Bernie. So if you're Skilling and Lay, probably ain't sleeping real good right now.

SERWER: I would think so. And also like Skilling and Lay, the chief financial officer is going to be testifying against them in that case as well.

CAFFERTY: We can only hope to get the same result.

SERWER: It sure could happen.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I would hope so.

Time to get the question of the day from Carol now. Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, things are simmering at Harvard. Actually, they're not simmering anymore; it's come to a boil at Harvard University.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it has, hasn't it?

COSTELLO: In fact, it's reached a boil. The faculty has given a big thumbs down to the president, Larry Summers. The faculty of arts and sciences has passed a vote of no confidence in Summer's leadership. It's all a result of Summer's recent controversial remarks questioning women's intrinsic aptitude in science and engineering.

After Tuesday's vote, Summers renewed his pledge to improve relations with Harvard's professors and its students, but he gave no indication of stepping down.

And while these votes have no official impact, the resolution is unprecedented in Harvard's history. So here's our question this morning: Should Larry Summers resign as the president of Harvard? If this no-confidence vote is serious, it means the faculty of arts and sciences will not work with him, has no confidence, but it really is up to the board to fire him, and the board has been supportive so far. But should he just step down and get out of there, and get someone new this in there.

O'BRIEN: Go a little farther than just apologizing, which is for what did he say his ill-focused remarks or something? It was very heartfelt.

CAFFERTY: Stupid, that would be the word.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think he was aiming for stupid.

SERWER: Well, I don't think he's going anywhere. I think that there's no way they're going to get rid of him.

O'BRIEN: You know, though once the board decides they don't want you...

COSTELLO: That's right. And if the entire faculty gives him a vote of no confidence, that puts pressure on the board to do something.

SERWER: Right.


O'BRIEN: All right, Carol, thanks.

COSTELLO: Much more AMERICAN MORNING, right after this short break.

Ahead on "90-Second Pop": Woody Allen's new movie hits theaters this week, and his newest muse is one of us. Part of the AMERICAN MORNING family. We'll explain.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Where is my super suit?


O'BRIEN: "The Incredibles" try to live up to their names on the DVD. The Poppers tell us whether the new extras are super duper or super dud. That's later on AMERICAN MORNING.



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