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Donald Rumsfeld on Another Secret Trip to Baghdad; Nationwide Manhunt for Suspected Killer Continues

Aired April 12, 2005 - 07:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: Good morning.
Donald Rumsfeld on another secret trip to Baghdad. A vote of confidence and a warning for Iraq's new leaders there.

The nationwide manhunt for a suspected killer continues.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep your doors locked. Keep your houses lit up at night. Be vigilant, be cautious.


HEMMER: This morning, we'll go inside the mind of Stephen Stanko with the man who wrote a book with him.

And the mystery man at the U.S. Capitol demanding to see the president. Was he really a threat? We'll look at this and search for answers, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: This is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome everybody.

Coming up this morning as well, a CNN security watch. Could terrorists gain access to airplanes over U.S. targets by simply booking flights overseas? This morning, we're going to take a look at what seemed to be a security breach. It was exposed after an incident that unnerved U.S. officials.

HEMMER: Also this morning, Soledad, have computer hackers been having their way with the massive Lexis Nexis database? We'll tell you about a huge breach of security that could mean trouble for hundreds of thousands of Americans. We'll get to that this morning as well.

O'BRIEN: Three-hundred thousand people's files may be compromised.

Good morning, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How're you doing? Gasoline prices -- are they high enough to change the way you live? Their near record levels in this country. But did you know if you lived just outside Amsterdam, in Holland, and drove a full-sized SUV with a 44 gallon tank, it would cost $285 to fill it with gasoline. So it's tough here, but it's tougher over there. We'll take a look at whether it's changing your day-to-day living.

HEMMER: Time to take a train. Thank you, Jack.

Let's start from overseas today. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Baghdad today on a surprise visit to meet with U.S. troops, commanders there and also the new Iraqi leaders.

Aneesh Raman starts our coverage now in Baghdad.

Aneesh, the purpose for this trip was what?


The purpose really twofold. Secretary Rumsfeld here to talk politics and security. The former with leaders of Iraq's transitional government. He met today with Prime Minister designate Ibrahim Al Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani, voicing some of the strongest rhetoric from the Bush administration for this government to finalize its formation. He also called upon them not to miss their deadline for a constitutional referendum. That now just four months away. They have the option to extend it by six. He also said that corruption should not exist within Iraqi governance, and also said a diversity of ideas and ethnicity should exist in the ministerial cabinet.

Now obviously Secretary Rumsfeld also meeting with top American commanders on the ground. A myriad of concerns for them to discuss. Among them, the possibility of American troop withdrawal within the year. The key to that will be how strong and effective Iraqi security forces themselves are at taking over the job of stabilizing this country, something the secretary spoke to this morning.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF STATE: The goal of the United States and the coalition is to work with the Iraqi security forces, to help to build them, increase their size, increase their -- improve their equipment and increase their capability and command and control, and increasingly transfer responsibility to the Iraqi security forces.


RAMAN: Now, Bill, the other key to all of this is the status of the insurgency. We've seen them shift tactics in recent months to less frequent but much more sophisticated attacks. The very fact that Secretary Rumsfeld's trip was a surprise, as they always are, shows that there's still much to be done on the ground -- Bill.

HEMMER; On another topic, we got a word yesterday an American contractor has been abducted in Iraq, too. Any more information on the status are him?

RAMAN: We've spoken with embassy officials here in the capital city. They say no claims of responsibility have been made, no demands as well. That contractor kidnapped in broad daylight while working on a reconstruction project here in Iraq. His family has been notified, though, his name is still being withheld -- Bill.

HEMMER: Aneesh, thanks. Keep us posted on both there from Baghdad. Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A dangerous fugitive is still at large this morning and federal authorities have now joined the manhunt for the suspect who's wanted for two murders and rape.


LT. ANDY CHRISTENSON, HORRY CO., SOUTH CAROLINA POLICE: There's a massive search right now for Mr. Stephen Stanko.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Police in South Carolina have alerted law- enforcement agencies nationwide to be on the lookout for the 37-year- old ex-con who they say is armed and dangerous.

CHRISTENSON: He's already demonstrated on more than one occasion what he's capable of, allegedly, and we're very concerned for the safety of not only our law enforcement officers and the general public here in Horry County, but you know, nationwide.

O'BRIEN: Stephen Stanko is wanted for a deadly crime spree in South Carolina this past weekend, allegedly raping a teenage girl, then killing both a woman believed to be his ex-girlfriend and a 74- year-old friend. Police say Stanko preyed on senior citizens before.

CHRISTENSON: He's been described to us as being well dressed, being clean cut, being a smooth talker, and being a very convincing individual.

O'BRIEN: Police think Stephen Stanko is driving a stolen black Mazda pickup truck with South Carolina tag "709PYJ." He was released from prison last year being after serving nearly nine years for kidnapping. While in prison, Stanko co-authored a book on life behind bars. Authorities fear he'll do anything to avoid going back.

CHRISTENSON: Desperate people do desperate things, and we're just asking that people be vigilant and cautious, be aware, and please do not try to take matters into your own hands.


O'BRIEN: Gordon Crews has known Stephen Stanko since 2000, when they co-authored the book "Living In Prison." Gordon Crews is in Boston this morning.

It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: Stephen Stanko served time for kidnapping and for fraud. He's accused now, as you know, of two counts of murder and rape of a 15-year-old girl. You're a criminologist, you're a former police officer. Are you surprised by these new allegations?

CREWS: What I knew of Steve, I'm surprised. I'm, like everyone else, I'm learning more an more about his background that, honestly, I didn't know.

O'BRIEN: Do you think the allegations are true?

CREWS: It would fit a pattern. Some of the people that I've talked to since this happened over the weekend that were starting to see a pattern that's repeating itself from past events where he's been confronted with, you know, some truths against the lies he's given to people.

O'BRIEN: Can you explain that more? What do you mean by a pattern?

CREWS: Well, what's been painted now, is that, basically, he kind of puts on a facade, and to move forward and accomplish what he's wanting to accomplish, whether it's employment, or job or relationships, and then once he's confronted with the lies, if that is a difficult enough confrontation, then apparently, he resorts to violence. This one surprising that it went to this extent with the deaths.

O'BRIEN: Considering that it went to this extent, what do you think are the chances that Stephen Stanko could turn himself in, give himself up?

CREWS: Not to, you know, be an alarmist, but when we -- last time I talked to him in the fall. He made it quite clear that he was not wanting took back to prison. Things that happened to him while he was incarcerated. And also I think he's crossed the line that he obviously cannot step back across. So I'm fearful that we may not have a peaceful resolution.

O'BRIEN: When did you talk to him last, and what did you talk about?

CREWS: Actually, we were talking about, you know, future writing, these kind of things, some projects he was looking at. And a lot of it was just the frustrations that he was facing, that a lot of people that, of course, returning -- trying to return to society, trying to rebuild lives, the things that they were facing, trying to maintain employment, trying to get a vehicle, trying to get back and forth to work, suitable housing, relationships. And you could tell the depression was setting in, because he kept describing himself as, you know, kind of getting slapped down constantly.

O'BRIEN: And so he seemed more agitated, or just sort of generally depressed?

CREWS: Again, generally depressed. I think the natural depression that someone who is trying to -- you know, the impression I got from him through the phone calls was he was trying to rebuild his life, and at the same time trying to be a prison inmate advocate.

O'BRIEN: What are your expectations for the outcome of all of this?

CREWS: Kind of fearful, again, not wanting to add any kind of hysteria, but I'm worried that the person that we have now is much different than the person that I knew in the fall, and I'm just really kind of worried about what harm he may do to himself or provoke law enforcement or someone else to do.

O'BRIEN: Gordon Crews, coauthor of a book with Stephen Stanko, thanks for talking with us this morning. Appreciate the insight into Stephen Stanko -- Bill.

CREWS: Thank you.

HEMMER: About nine minutes past the hour. Have you seen this huge fire from Baltimore? About 100 firefighters working overnight to try and control it. They're still dousing hotspots in the building at this hour, in fact. That fire burned all day on Monday, took over the entire warehouse. It was about the size of two square blocks. Part of the roof collapsed during the blaze. No cause yet determined, and luckily, no one hurt either.

Stormy weather, too, creating widespread flash flooding in Louisiana. This school bus here landed in a ditch after dropping students off at a high school in Shreveport. The flooding is also being blamed for the deaths of two people in separate car accidents. They could use some dry weather in that part of the country.


O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning a security scare on Capitol Hill. Why was a 33-year-old Chinese national taken down by the SWAT team? We'll explain.

HEMMER: Also, this Dutch airliner carrying two passengers on a terror watchlist is turned away from U.S. airspace. The incident revealing a stunning hole in homeland security.

O'BRIEN: And dozens of cases of e. coli linked to just one petting zoo. Now one mother is fighting the people that she says made her sick. That's later on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: About 14 minutes past the hour now.

The president will talk to U.S. troops at Fort Hood in Texas today. To the White House and Suzanne Malveaux reporting on that. What's the purpose for the trip, Suzanne?

Good morning.


Actually, this trip has been rescheduled, postponed. Initially was supposed to happen last Friday, but because the president wanted to attend the pope's funeral, it is now today, and it really comes at a critical time for the president. It follows a meeting he had with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Crawford Ranch yesterday. The president making the case here today that he believes he's in the Middle East linked to success in Iraq.

Now later today, President Bush will be at Fort Hood, Texas. It's a place where he's visited many times, most recently just this past east are Sunday. It's expected that as many as 30,000 soldiers and their families are going to be in the audience, and we expect that the president is personally going to be thanking the troops for their sacrifice, but also we're told that the president is going to be using this event to highlight successes in Iraq. He's going to talk about it being a historic week, the fact that they selected their president, as well as their prime minister. We're also told that it is meant to mark the two-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, what they call the liberation of Baghdad.

And finally, Bill, we're told the president will have a private lunch with about 30 families or so, those who have lost loved ones in Iraq in that fighting.

HEMMER: So that is at Fort Hood in Texas today, and he's still at his ranch in Crawford. The indications we're getting on these poll numbers is that the president is kind of taking some hits here and there. Does this trip have anything, and the speech today, to do with those numbers.

MALVEAUX: Well, you're absolutely right, Bill. The president has been taking a hit in those poll numbers in the last couple weeks. We've seen his overall approval rating, job-approval rating, drop, but mainly that's over domestic issues. You're talking about these high gas prices, the Social Security reform plan, not necessarily on Iraq. Those numbers still pretty high for the president.

HEMMER: Suzanne, we'll watch at 11:20 a.m. Eastern Time. We'll watch that speech. Thanks for that.

The hearing for John Bolton, that's President Bush's pick for U.S. ambassador to the U.N., will enter its second day today. Bolton on Monday testified before the Senate committee, facing tough criticism from Democrats on the panel. Democratic senators focusing on Bolton's vocal disapproval of the U.N. in the past.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I'm surprised that the nominee wants the job he's been nominated for, given the many negative things he had to say about the U.N. Some have said that sending you to New York would be like sending Nixon to China. I'm concerned it would be more like sending a bull into a China shop.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: You can dance around it. You can run away from it. You can put perfume on it, but the bottom line is the bottom line.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMB. NOMINEE: Consistent theme of my writings is that for the U.N. to be effective, it requires American leadership. I said it over and over again. I deeply believe it. My criticisms during the 1990s were in large measure because what I thought was the lack of effective American leadership.


HEMMER: That was from yesterday. A vote is expected no earlier than Thursday, though Bolton is likely to be confirmed -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: No security changes are in the works following Monday's scare at the U.S. Capitol. Police have a 33-year-old man from China in custody this morning. He was tackled -- look at that there. Brought down, dragged away from the Capitol's western terrace. He had two suitcases with him, and he said he wanted to see the president. Police feared that he might have been a suicide bomber. Part of the building was evacuated, including the part that houses the top members of Congress. One of the suitcases was blown up after X-rays showed suspicious materials inside. Turned out it was a CD player.

Now to security in the skies. It's the focus of our CNN security watch this morning. The United States last week would not let a Dutch airliner enter U.S. airspace because two passengers onboard were on the American no-fly list.

Jeanne Meserve is live for us in Washington D.C. Jeanne, explain to us exactly what happened and then why it matters.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, this does point up a hole in homeland security, one that the U.S. government is moving to try to plug quickly.

On Friday, two men flew to London, and from there to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, they boarded a KLM flight to Mexico. But when that flight was over Canada, the U.S. said it couldn't enter the airspace, because the Mexicans had told the U.S. the two men were on no-fly list. The flight, with 278 people and 15 horses onboard, had to turn around and head back to Amsterdam.

O'BRIEN: Jeanne, question for you. Why did KLM not know that the two men were on the no-fly list?

MESERVE: Well, KLM and Dutch officials say they did not think they were required to check the passenger manifest against the list unless a flight was landing in or leaving from the U.S., and it turns out they're absolutely right. Currently, foreign carriers are not required to cross-check their passenger lists and the no-fly list on flights going over U.S. territory, even though a transiting plane could clearly be hijacked and used as a weapon just as easily. U.S. officials tacitly acknowledge there is a problem, saying the Department of Homeland Security is considering an emergency amendment to require foreign carriers to check transiting flight's passenger manifests against the no-fly list.

Meanwhile, KLM does not want to have chance having another flight similarly stopped. It is voluntarily making the check, officials say.

O'BRIEN: So the two men who are on the no-fly list, are they accused of anything? And what happened when the flight then landed and they got off the plane?

MESERVE: Well, adding insult to injury in the Dutch point of view, they were never asked to interview or detain the two men when they arrived back in Amsterdam. They flew back to London, and then according to press reports, to Saudi Arabia, leaving the Dutch to question how important they really were and whether it was worth all of this -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, seems like their might be lots of holes.

Jeanne Meserve for us this morning in Washington. Jeanne, thank you for that update.

And of course you want to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security -- Bill.

HEMMER: Also there is new information, Soledad, this morning on what could be a huge case of I.D. theft. We're talking about the possibility of hundreds of thousands at risk as a result. Andy has that "Minding Your Business," next on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. Reporting this morning on the extent of this huge identity theft case and there may be thousands more affected than previously thought. Andy Serwer is watching that, "Minding Your Business." Good morning.


HEMMER: How extensive is this, Andy?

SERWER: Well, it's unbelievable. Disturbing news on the identity theft front. Data broker Lexis Nexis saying today that 310,000 Americans may being the victim of identity theft. And what's particularly vexing here, Bill, is that just last month, this company said that 322,000 Americans had been victimized through their company. Now the problem is ten times as bad, it appears.

This is not for users of its search, the Lexis Nexis search. This is -- listen to this. A subsidiary that law enforcement uses to track individuals. That's where the data's probably been compromised, which is truly remarkable and I think we may see a government investigation before this is over.

Another recent case in San Jose, the San Jose Medical Group, 185,000 individuals had their information compromised. And you know, one reason why we're hearing so much about this these days is that there's a California law that requires companies to tell individuals if their data has been compromised, and lawmakers are trying to make it a nationwide law, which just makes sense. I mean, it's unbelievable that they might not tell you that your information had been compromised.

HEMMER: Let's see the holes, too, in technology and the amount of security that's required as we -- we're going to continue to use this stuff. There's going to be more and more information going into this year after year.

SERWER: And the thieves are ahead of the regulators here.

HEMMER: That's interesting, too.

O'BRIEN: By a lot.

SERWER: Right.

HEMMER: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Jack's got the "Question of the Day."

CAFFERTY: Indeed I do. Peak summer driving season not here yet. Gas prices already at all-time highs. The Lundberg Survey says that nationwide average for unleaded regular is now $2.29 a gallon. That's a record. The Department of Energy says the average price will probably hit $2.35 next month. California seeing prices above $3.00 a gallon.

A Gallup poll taken last month found that concerns about the cost of gasoline rival worries about unemployment, jobs and wages. However, everything is relative. If you lived outside Amsterdam and you drove a full-sized SUV, it would cost $285 to fill your 44-gallon tank, more than $6.00 a gallon there.

The question here is this. Have gasoline prices changed your life style?

O'BRIEN: I'd be curious to know how the correlation between good public transportation and, you know, how much people are paying for gas. Because got to imagine that they've put a lot of effort into it.

CAFFERTY: Oh yes. But the key word is good public transportation.

O'BRIEN: But to be fair, though, the Europeans, they stack their taxes into their sale of gasoline.

CAFFERTY: I mean, it doesn't matter what components go into the price. Six bucks is six bucks, right?

HEMMER: Has consumption changed, though?


SERWER: It has to get above $3.00 a gallon.

CAFFERTY: Well, but it's beginning -- there are some signs at the fringes that it's changing. SUV sales are beginning to decline. You read a story yesterday or the day before about used Priuses, these combo cars that burn ethanol or whatever it is. That people are willing to pay more for a used car than they are a new one because they can get a used one right away. So there's some signs that it's beginning to take an effect.

SERWER: That's right.

O'BRIEN: How long have we been talking about it?

SERWER: Since last fall.

O'BRIEN: And really talking about the gas prices for 30 years.


SERWER: A little earlier than last fall.

CAFFERTY: Here we sit, yes.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. All right, Jack, thanks.

Still to come this morning, dozens of people sickened by e. coli. Authorities say one single petting zoo is the connection. But is this just the tip of the iceberg? One mother's fight is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: You can get the latest news every morning in your e- mail, signing up for AMERICAN MORNING Quick News at, there for you right now.

In a moment here, a 10-year-old girl who made history, not by playing with the boys, but by beating them. Badly. That still to come this hour on AMERICAN MORNING.



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