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Former FBI Director Speaks Out In Book; Former Head Of Syrian Military Intelligence Commits Suicide; Plans To Rebuild New Orleans; 'New You' Checkup

Aired October 12, 2005 - 07:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A developing story out of Syria this morning. This just in to CNN. Officials now confirming it to us. Syria's interior minister is dead. He apparently has committed suicide Ghazi Kanaan was head of Syria's military intelligence in neighboring Lebanon. He was one of the people questioned by the United Nations after an attack on the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The February bombing sparked massive outcry throughout Lebanon, forcing Syria to withdrawal troops after almost three decades of military presence. We're trying to get Brent Sadler on the line. When we have him, he'll bring you more information.
Also this, relief supplies trickling in this morning to parts of South Asia ravaged by a massive earthquake. Federal officials say the death toll from Saturday's quake has reached at least 20,000, but local officials say it could be more than 41,000. The United Nations has issued an international appeal for more than $270 million worth of aid. Millions of people have been left homeless by the quake.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States will likely send more aid to Pakistan. Secretary Rice is getting a firsthand look at the devastation during her visit there. It's the last stop on her tour of Asia. She was in Afghanistan earlier this morning. She told President Hamid Karzai that U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan as long as needed. Just hour before her arrival, two rockets reportedly exploded wounding at least two people.

We now know the chilling details of a letter apparently sent from Osama bin Laden's deputy to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Ayman al-Zawahiri urges Zarqawi to lay the groundwork for an Islamic state in Iraq and involves the Muslim masses in the battle. He also says that videotape beheadings of hostages and insurgent attacks may be hurting public support for al Qaeda. A translated version of the full letter was released today.

And a second court appearance for "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller. She'll go before a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operatives identity. Miller first testified two weeks ago after spending 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her source. Testimony will involve notes from her conversations with that source who was identified as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Let's head to the forecast center now to talk about rain, rain and more rain with Chad. (WEATHER REPORT)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: From a legend in law enforcement to expletive deleted, that is how FBI Director Louis Freeh fell from grace in the eyes of President Bill Clinton who appointed him back in 1993. Well now Louis Freeh is taking aim at his former boss. He's got a new book. It's called "My FBI," bringing down the mafia, investigating Bill Clinton and fighting the war on terror.

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

LOUIS FREEH, AUTHOR, "MY FBI": Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You write very personally in this book, very lovingly about the folks who worked with you at the FBI and also very hostilely, in some ways, about President Bill Clinton, who was your boss. Why did you want to write this book? To clear the air, do you think? Or get your story out?

FREEH: Well, yes, basically to write my story. When I left the FBI, I wasn't intending to write a book, as I mentioned in there. And then what happened is other people write books. You find yourselves at meetings you never attended, saying things you never said. And I think you need to have a record, particularly with a period of time as important to our country and it's really my personal record. It's not a book about Bill Clinton.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: No, it's not, but he, obviously, figures very heavily into lots of it. And you write and this is something that we've heard a lot. I mean people have taken this out of the book. You say that, "whatever moral compass the president was consulting was leading him in the wrong direction. His closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out."

Do you think that some of the personal scandals that you were dealing with in your tenure as FBI director was distracting from the job that you were doing? The other work?

FREEH: Not from the job that we were doing. I mean, we, unfortunately, had to conduct several criminal investigations on the president of the United States, who was my boss. No FBI director in history was put in that conflicted situation. Meanwhile, we had plenty of talent and plenty of resources to do the other things that were important. Whether it was public corruption of civil rights or trying to fight the war on terrorism before September 11th.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The Clinton folks have, obviously, come out very strongly against your book and you personally, to some degree. Here's what the statement from Jay Carson, who's the spokesperson for Bill Clinton, had to say.

"Louis Freeh has written a work of fiction in which it's clear his only goals are to sell books and clear his name. In a book ironically titled 'My FBI,' Freeh places blame for his failures on everyone but himself. The most shocking revelation in the book is his admission that he spent all his time chasing fake political scandals instead of catching terrorists and making America safer."

Really, no love loss between the two of you certainly now. What do you make of that statement?

FREEH: Well, I don't know Mr. Carson so, you know, I can't really respond to that. The book was written to tell a very important story. Very shortly after I became FBI director, one of my assistants came in and he said, Louis, I got a briefing on a case called the Madison Savings and Loan case. And I said, what's that? An he said, it's an S&L case down in Arkansas.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Would eventually become Whitewater.

FREEH: When I learned what the case was, I said to him, you just told me we're conducting a criminal investigation of the president of the United States. I hadn't even unpacked my materials yet. That changed very fundamentally the relationship between the director and the president.

The problem is, the president didn't understand the process. He didn't understand that the requirement that we conduct the investigation was not personally aimed at him. I had no I don't have any amimmus (ph) against the president. But a series of things that he did over eight years require not just the FBI but the Congress, the independent prosecutors to conduct investigation after investigation.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: But you write that there's a two-year chunk where you're not talking to each other. To what degree did that hurt the safety of the nation? I mean the idea that the president of the United States and his director of the FBI won't speak to each other?

FREEH: I don't think it hurt the nation. First of all, the FBI director doesn't report to the president. He or she reports to the attorney general, which was a very good and smart and efficient relationship. And I did have plenty of access to the people in the administration that I needed who helped us in all the ways that were important.

The president's decision not to talk to me and to, you know, have his press spokesman get up in the White House press room and try to undermine me, that was his decision. My job was to focus on our investigations, to protect the country, and I was not distracted with the amimmus (ph) that was clearly coming out of the White House.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You write about the specific meeting that took place in September of '98, in the wake of the Khobar towers bombings. And you say that the president, who was meeting with the crown prince, you pressured him to go in and get access to the suspects. That's what you wanted out of that meeting.

And in the book, you write about how that not only did the president maybe make a stab at that, take a stab at doing that, but you say he actually really hit the crown prince up for money for the presidential library. That's something that the Clinton people vehemently deny. And the question is, it's a small meeting and it's a private meeting that you're describing. How do you know?

FREEH: Well, there's two things about that. The first thing is, for three-and-a-half years we pushed the administration. The national security advisor, the president, and to make a simple request of the Saudi government. That is to let FBI agents into a Saudi jail to interview people responsible for the Khobar bombing, who would tell us eventually that the Iranian government was responsible for that bombing.

Three-and-a-half years, the Saudi told us that the president was not pressing the case. Out of frustration, I went to former President Bush, 41, told him our problem, gave him the talking points. He met on a Saturday afternoon with the crown prince in McLean (ph), Virginia. Forty-eight hours late, the crown prince called me to a meeting, our ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Senator Fowler, and the head of my anti-terrorism division and directed and agreed that FBI agents could go into the jail.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: But that doesn't say anything about money going to the presidential library.

FREEH: It doesn't. And I wasn't at that meeting. I'm reporting in my book as it's made very, very clear that that was what we were told. That was our understanding. But the proof of his inability or reluctance to persecute a case where 19 Americans were murdered is clearly evidence, in my view, by the fact that former President Bush accomplished in 48 hours what he could not do in three-and-a-half years or would not do.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's a tough indictment and, I'll tell you, no love loss on either side there.

The book's called "My FBI" by Louis Freeh.

Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us about it.

FREEH: Thank you very much.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Some breaking news out of Damascus this morning. A key player in Syria, the interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, who was head of military intelligence during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon for nearly 20 years, is dead. An apparent suicide. CNN's Brent Sadler is in Damascus with more on this story.

Brent, what can you tell us.


We can confirm from Syria's news agency that Ghazi Kanaan, the long-serving interior minister and head of Syria's military intelligence in Lebanon, has committed suicide. It's understood by a gunshot wound to the head. He reportedly died in a Damascus hospital within the past hour or so. Now Ghazi Kanaan is understood to be one of two, at least two, top Syrian officials who are being questioned by United Nations investigators looking into the murder of assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February. A report on that murder probe is expected to be released in about nine or 10 days from now. And no suggestion of a connection between this confirmed suicide and that report, but certainly that is some of the speculation that's likely to be emanating from this confirmed suicide.

Ghazi Kanaan, to put into context what he represented, was a stalwart of the Syrian regime for decades. He was a trusted confidant. An aide of former president Hafez Assad and then his son, Bashar Assad became very important as far as Ghazi Kanaan was concerned because after leading Lebanon, he then became head of the interior ministry here.

Now just two hours or so before this confirmation of Ghazi Kanaan's suicide, Syria's president Bashar Assad was giving our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, an exclusive in English interview in one of the palaces here in Damascus just a couple of hours before Ghazi Kanaan was reported to have kill himself. In that interview, crucially, President Assad said to CNN's Amanpour that if that UN murder probe had any material proof, although Bashar Assad said that was possible, but if there was any material proof of any Syrian officials complicit with the Hariri assassination, they'd be charged with treason and could be handed over to an international court.


MILES O'BRIEN: Brent Sadler, obviously, a lot more to that story. We'll follow it as it unfolds.

Back with more AMERICAN MORNING in just a moment.


MILES O'BRIEN: From storm ravaged New Orleans to the nation's capital, the question being asked is, who should lead the huge job of rebuilding the historic city and America's Gulf Coast.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think Washington ought to dictate to New Orleans how to rebuild. I guess we have a different philosophy from whoever the prominent Democrat was you spoke to. Last night, Laura and I had dinner with Mayor Nagin and a group of distinguished New Orleans citizens from all walks of life. And my message to them was, we will support the plan that you develop. The point is, is that it came from the local folks.


MILES O'BRIEN: Former New Orleans mayor, Mark Morial, now president of the National Urban League, will put forth his plan in a speech later this morning at Georgetown University. He's with us from Washington to talk about it.

Mr. Morial, good to have you back on the program.

MARC MORIAL, PRES/CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Good morning, Miles. Good to be with you. Great. Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: Let's talk about this. The president says this is a local thing. It's got to be handled by locals. Does that make sense to you?

MORIAL: It's collaborative, Miles. It requires local involvement. But my two visits to New Orleans have convinced me that the scale, the massiveness and the coordination required that the recovery and the rebuilding be efficient, that it have integrity, that it not be involved in bureaucratic red tape and snafus.

It requires something different. That's why this morning I'll propose the creation of the Gulf Coast Authority. Like the TVA, the idea is to get the federal, state, and local officials at the table to coordinate the rebuilding.

This rebuilding is more than just New Orleans, it's southeastern Louisiana, it's southern Mississippi. The scale and massiveness, and you've been down to New Orleans and I've driven the neighborhoods two weekends in a row, is far beyond anything one could imagine. And I think it requires that we do something different. I think it requires that we do something innovative. and that's why I think a Gulf Coast authority is an idea that I hope people will consider.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Well, here's the catch, though. And I'm sure you've thought about this one. You're saying the problem is red tape and bureaucracy. Your solution is a big bureaucracy. The Tennessee Valley Authority formed in 1933 to electrify Appalachia, it's still there. These things don't go away.

MORIAL: If you sunset them, they will go away. And I would suggest to anyone who says, well, a TVA style authority is not a good idea, to come up with a better idea. Because allowing the myriad of federal agencies who may all be very well intentioned to sort of operate on their own, I'm sure is going to mean that the recovery and the rebuilding, under the best case scenario, will be slow and will be disjointed.

We need something that is going to energize this, that's going to sustain this, that's going to bring state, local, and federal officials around the table. Already in Louisiana, there are already a number of commissions. The governor has a commission, the mayor has a commission. I understand the New Orleans City Council will create a commission. And some of the suburban parishes will create commissions.

MILES O'BRIEN: Boy, well, pretty soon, we'll all be commissioned.

MORIAL: It's too much.


MORIAL: There needs to be one approach and one process.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well let me ask you this. Do you think we'd be having this discussion at all if there had been stronger local and state leadership in the wake of Katrina?

MORIAL: You know, Miles, I am very disappointed in both local and state leadership in the wake of Katrina. And what I believe is that to ensure that the problem immediately post-Katrina are not repeated, the disjointed lack of communication. That's why we've got to put a coordinating entity in place in order do this.

Some have suggested a czar. I now suggest the Gulf Coast Authority. There may be others, but the size and the scale and the massiveness of it. And I'd welcome to take anyone on an extensive tour of New Orleans, not downtown, but to the abandoned neighborhoods.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right, we're about out of time. Do you want to be czar?

MORIAL: No, sir.


MORIAL: I like being president of the National . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: Would you turn it down?

MORIAL: I like my job. I wouldn't take it, but I would agree to help anyone. I'd agree to help an authority. That's important work that we need to do.

MILES O'BRIEN: Marc Morial, thanks for your time, as always.

MORIAL: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: He's the president/CEO of the National Urban League. Doesn't want to be czar.

Thanks for being with us.

MORIAL: Thanks.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, former marathon runner, Harald Fricker, you remember him from our "New You" resolution? We're going to give him his checkup. His goal was to lose 100 pounds. Sanjay tells us how he did. One hundred pounds. We'll see how he did ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

MILES O'BRIEN: Wow. That's a lot of weight.


MILES O'BRIEN: That's a whole person.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Remember back in January when those five folks came into the studios, they wanted to take part in the "New You" revolution. Each one setting out to change a particular bad health habit and try to develop a healthy habit in place of that.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, for eight weeks, we forced them to do just that. Well, not really. We just had a camera dog them and, as a result, they made some changes in their lives. But the question is now eight months later, how are they doing?

Today, an update on a victim? Should we say victim? Or, no, no, participant number three.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Candidate number three.

MILES O'BRIEN: Former long distance runner, Harald Fricker.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Sanjay is at the CNN Center in Atlanta with an update.



GUPTA: Good morning. We call them patients.

MILES O'BRIEN: Patients. There you go.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes. That's what we were searching for, patients.

MILES O'BRIEN: There you go. I knew there was a term.

GUPTA: Good morning, guys.

Yes, Harald Fricker, you remember him, he did quite well with his weight issue. That was his big concern during the eight-week "New You" revolution. But as Miles mentioned, when the cameras turned out, could he stick to those newly formed habits?


GUPTA, (voice over): Harald Fricker signed up for the "New You" revolution because he used to be a top endurance athlete of triathlons and ultra marathons. That was them and this was Harald at the beginning of his "New You" revolution.

HARALD FRICKER: Deep inside I'm still this fit person. It basically started almost immediately the day my daughter was born.

GUPTA: His goal was to break his bad habits so he could be his old self again and run the Colorado Pikes Peak Marathon in August. FRICKER: I wish I could just flash six months forward because I'm absolutely sure I'm going to be at least very close to the hundred-pound weight loss.

GUPTA: In March, Harald had already lost 22 pounds. He was walking, not running, and wearing a c-path (ph) mask to help him sleep better. He hasn't lost any more weight since but he's still just as confident that he will lose that hundred pounds.

FRICKER: Well, it's still right around 249. The comeback has been a little bit rough, to tell you the truth. You know, I think I got a little over ambitious. I probably should of paced it down a little bit.

GUPTA: So what went wrong?

FRICKER: Of all things, moving my Elliptical trainer from one room to another, I ruptured a disk in my back. I've fallen and I can't get up.

GUPTA: Did he stick to his "New You" plan?

FRICKER: It just hasn't really worked out. I still don't sleep a lot.

GUPTA: He's not wearing the mask anymore.

FRICKER: Cake. Oh, cake.

GUPTA: And he's not eating properly. Harald's injuries really hurt his efforts and he couldn't run the marathon. All he could do is watch his wife run instead. But Harald insists he'll run this marathon next year.


GUPTA: You know, it's amazing to look at those photographs, how much he's changed between several years ago and most recently. But injury prevention is key, especially when you're overweight like Harald. You've got to take it easy, this goes for everybody, or else you could face a setback and never lose the weight you're trying to lose.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, the hard thing is, when you have a goal of losing 100 pounds, you know, you want to do everything you can to fix that right away. Now the temptation is to do to much, right?

GUPTA: That's right. And, you know, there are some real strict sort of guidelines. And you don't want to be losing more than a couple of pounds every couple of weeks. Harald wanted to lose 100 pounds over a long period of time. Still is about 22 pounds. So hopefully he'll continue to work at it and get there.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh, we hope so. I love Harald. And, besides, I want him to run the marathon.

MILES O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We're rooting for you, Harald.

Who you visiting tomorrow, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Tomorrow we're going to visit with the infamous nail- biter.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, Jonathan.

GUPTA: Jonathan Karp, that's right, Soledad. At the end of eight weeks, Jonathan had grown back his nails and was gearing up for his wedding. We'll see if he's still smiling about his nails.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Did they get married yet or are they about to get married?

MILES O'BRIEN: Oh, look, he's getting a manicure there.

GUPTA: They did but we'll leave a little suspense there. They did get married, I'll tell you that much and . . .


GUPTA: And check on those nails tomorrow.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We'll see if he break that habit.

MILES O'BRIEN: Was that part of the prenuptials, something about the nails?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: No, but it might have it could have been.

GUPTA: Erika (ph), if you're listening, you should have put that in the prenuptial. That's right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Exactly. All right, Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you very much.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, that's good to see some progress there.


All right. Ahead in just a moment, a CIA leak probe, a controversial Supreme Court nominee, a prominent congressman under indictment. Is the Republican party facing a crisis? We're going to take a closer look at that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: Earthquake relief once again flowing into Pakistan after torrential rain slowed things down a little bit. But is it to little to late? A live report is ahead.


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