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THE SITUATION ROOM

Woodward Speaks About CIA Leak; Bloody Battle in Iraq; White- Hot Weapon; Bird Flu in China; Guatemalan Smugglers Arrested; What Happens To Sex Offenders After They Are Released; Ted Koppel Interview

Aired November 16, 2005 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive at one place at the same time.
Happening now, it's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad. Fighting takes a bloody toll among U.S. troops and their enemy. Is the mission in Iraq hurt by the bitter debate at home? I'll ask the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

It's 6:00 a.m. in Beijing. China records its first human cases of the deadly bird flu. Will the onset of winter see the virus spread more from poultry to people?

And a new scoop from "The Washington Post's" Bob Woodward. But this time it's news he didn't reveal about the CIA leak. Why is he apologizing? What's going on?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's called Operation Steel Curtain. U.S. forces are on the hunt for insurgents in western Iraq, and they're finding them with bloody results. Five U.S. Marines died today in a firefight that also claimed the lives of many insurgents. That brings to 10 the number of U.S. dead throughout Iraq in the past two days alone.

Let's go straight to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's joining us in Baghdad -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those Marines died in a battle close to the Syrian border. It's Operation Steel Curtain, that's been going on for about 11 days.

The Marines were entering the building, there was an explosion, an exchange of gunfire, a firefight with insurgents. That's when the five Marines died.

These are exactly the insurgent-type tactics that the Marines have become used to through Steel Curtain. They've been used to insurgents holding out inside buildings, sometimes overnight, just sitting, waiting in the building, waiting for the Marines to come to the front door.

Ten Marines so far during that 11-day operation have so far been killed, Wolf. Over 200 insurgents are believed to have died. And in the operations leading up to Steel Curtain, about another 250 insurgents are believed to have been killed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it a fact now that this Operation Steel Curtain is emerging as the major combat operation, bigger than even Fallujah was a year or so ago?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, it's not as big as Fallujah. There are about 3,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers involved, along with about 500 Iraqi troops. That's not as big as Fallujah.

It is a big offensive. It is taking on an area that's known to be one of the main thoroughfares for insurgents coming from Syria into Iraq. That's why it's important. And it is believed that potentially, it could slow the flow of insurgents getting into Iraq, getting to places like Fallujah and Ramadi and causing damage there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is clear is that major combat operations very much under way still in Iraq.

Nic, thank you very much.

The latest casualties follow on the heels of announcements by the military that four soldiers and a Marine died in bombings yesterday. Today's bloody clash brings the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq to 2,079.

Meanwhile, controversy is raging over a white-hot weapon used last year during the offensive in the city of Fallujah. The uproar began with a report on Italian state television charging that white phosphorous munitions which produce smoke and intense heat were used, apparently, at least according to this report, indiscriminately, causing civilian casualties.

Let's get some specific details. Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, standing by.

What's going on, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is an incendiary charge, and one the Pentagon strongly denies. Not that they used white phosphorus munitions, but that they used them against civilians.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice over): The Italian TV documentary alleges that during the siege of Fallujah a year ago, the U.S. military used white phosphorus artillery shows in a massive and indiscriminate way against civilians. And the result was that noncombatants, including Iraqi women and children, were burned to the bone.

The U.S. military was quick to deny the report.

BRIG. GEN. DON ALSTON, U.S. AIR FORCE: We have not changed our position that in fact we did not use white phosphorus against civilians in Fallujah during Operation Fallujah. MCINTYRE: But while strongly denying civilians were deliberately targeted, the Pentagon has belatedly admitted the phosphorous shells, which burn extremely hot and produce thick smoke, were used against enemy combatants in Fallujah. In an initial State Department response it claimed incorrectly the incendiary shells were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night.

Unlike napalm, which is designed to set large areas ablaze, and which the U.S. no longer uses, white phosphorus is usually employed to mark a target or produce a smoke screen to hide troop movements. But the U.S. troops attacking Fallujah in November 2004 had another use for the super-hot burning munitions, which they called shake and bake missions.

According to an after-action report published in "Field Artillery" magazine, U.S. troops used white phosphorus as a potent psychological weapon against insurgents in trench lines and spider holes, firing the incendiary rounds against enemy positions to flush them out, then using high explosives to take them out.

As long as the U.S. military takes care not to target civilians, that is perfectly legal, say experts.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: There's some countries that have signed a treaty that outlaw its use against civilian targets. That treaty doesn't outlaw its use against military targets, and the U.S. has not signed that treaty.

And Wolf, any munition can cause unattended civilian casualties. The Pentagon insists it works very hard to avoid that. They also said that for weeks they urged civilians to leave Fallujah, and by the time the siege took place, most of the people there were either insurgents or their sympathizers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Technically, is this considered a chemical weapon or a weapon of mass destruction?

MCINTYRE: Absolutely not. It's not a chemical weapon, although white phosphorous obviously is a chemical that burns.

This would have been covered under a separate convention for conventional weapons, but again, it's one the U.S. military hasn't signed on to. That proposed ban would have only banned it, again, against civilians. This was against what the U.S. says was a legitimate military target.

BLITZER: If so many other countries have banned this white phosphorous munition to be used against civilians, why hasn't the United States signed on to that treaty?

MCINTYRE: Well, they have a host of problems with various parts of the protocols of the treaty. But just like they haven't signed on to bans against landmines or cluster bombs, which some people argue are indiscriminate weapons, the Pentagon argues it's not the weapons that's indiscriminate, it's how they use them. And they say they have very strict policies about how these weapons are used. BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Thank you very much.

Now to the fight against bird flu. CNN's Zain Verjee joining once again from the CNN Center in Atlanta with some startling new developments

What's going on, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Wolf, bird flu fears are spreading again as China confirms its first human cases of bird flu on the mainland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice over): Today China confirmed three new human cases of bird flu. Two of them fatalities.

The World Health Organization says a 24-year-old female poultry worker from a province in the east is dead, and the death of a 12- year-old girl from central China is being reported as a suspected bird flu case. China says the girl's brother is the third new human case of bird flu in the country.

The boy reportedly fell ill, was treated, but recovered. Both children are said to have been in close contact with infected poultry.

New cases are raising alarm as China's cold season approaches.

HENK BEKEDAM, WHO: But we do expect it will be moving towards the winter. And the virus, we know that it can long survive in the winter when it's cold. So we're not surprised if we have now here and there that we have some outbreaks.

VERJEE: Adding to those worries, many in China often come in contact with the country's vast poultry flocks. And China's thought to be a major migration route for wild fowl that are believed to be spreading the virus.

Amid nearly a dozen outbreaks in China over the last month, there's a vaccine available that seems to work for birds. And yesterday China announced it will vaccinate all poultry in the country involving about 14 billion birds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Wolf, the World Health Organization says it's also investigating two other suspected cases of bird flu in China. One person, a teacher, has pneumonia, and another is a poultry worker in a northeastern province.

BLITZER: This is very frightening stuff, indeed, Zain. Thank you very much.

Let's go to New York.

Jack cafferty standing by with more on some question that you've come up with for this hour, right, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Before we get to my question, I have another question. How many people are there on the planet, 6.5 billion?

BLITZER: A lot, yes.

CAFFERTY: How many people have gotten bird flu, six?

BLITZER: About 100 -- Zain, are you with me? About 150, right?

VERJEE: Yes. Yes. And more than 60 of them in Asia.

CAFFERTY: So, 150 people out of 6.5 billion people have this chicken flu, and we spend hours ringing out hands about this stuff. I don't get it. You've got a greater chance of being killed by a bolt of lightning, I think.

BLITZER: There's an enormous fear, though, and there's an enormous potential, Jack, that if this flu, this virus mutates and goes from human to human, as opposed from bird to human, millions of people are going to be dead.

CAFFERTY: No, I understand. But that hasn't happened yet.

BLITZER: Not yet, no.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: But they're all afraid that that could happen.

CAFFERTY: Here's something that did happen.

VERJEE: But Jack...

CAFFERTY: What?

VERJEE: ... the other thing is there's no vaccine if there's an outbreak. And you can't actually figure out a vaccine until there is a human strain of bird flu. So that's the other issue.

CAFFERTY: Here's the other question. How many people die of AIDS every year on this planet?

BLITZER: We don't know

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, millions.

Last year, passenger airplanes in the United States carried six billion pounds of cargo. Almost none of it was inspected. None of it.

While you're inside the terminal having your shoes x-rayed, outside the belly of the airplane you're going to ride on is being filled with stuff nobody has looked at. That's real smart. The government has objected to inspecting all cargo, saying it would cost too much and cause additional delays. Instead, the government has developed a system that they say targets high-risk cargo. That's comforting.

Remember Pan Am Flight 103? The high-risk cargo on that plane was a suitcase that exploded and killed everybody on board. But our government officials think they can tell which boxes might blow up and which ones won't.

Here is the question.

Would you be willing to wait a little longer at the airport while they inspect the cargo that goes on the plane you're going to ride on? CaffertyFile@CNN.com.

Boggles the mind, doesn't it, Wolf?

BLITZER: It does. And it's a good question. And I -- and the answer is, yes, I would be willing to wait a little bit longer to make sure everything is safe

CAFFERTY: Me too.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Up ahead, President Bush is away in Asia, but his problems haven't gone anywhere. After the break I'll speak with the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, about the debate over the Iraq war that's reached a fever pitch.

And he's revealed his link to the leak. Now Bob Woodward is apologizing to his editor over at "The Washington Post" for not revealing it sooner. I'll ask media critic Howard Kurtz about what's going on.

And the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, judging by recent pictures many have speculated he looks ill. Now there are new reports detailing his health.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Is the increasingly bitter debate over the conflict in Iraq harming the U.S. mission there? Even as some Republicans break ranks with the Bush administration on its Iraq policy, are there splits among Democrats as well?

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is the House minority leader, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Listen to what the president said Monday night. I want you to respond to this specific allegation he makes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They're playing politics with this issue. And they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. And that's irresponsible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In effect, he's accusing you of being unpatriotic, undermining the troops, and encouraging the insurgents.

What do you say?

PELOSI: Well, first of all, he wasn't referring to me, because I, along with the 60 percent of the House Democrats, voted against the use of force in Iraq, giving the president that authority.

BLITZER: When I said "you," I meant Democrats, not necessarily you personally. I know -- I know you voted against the resolution.

PELOSI: Well, I think the record should be clear that not only did I vote against it, but 60 percent of the Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against it. A strong majority voted against it.

But as the president did on Veterans Day, his comments are very inappropriate. But none of it more inappropriate than sending our troops into war on a false premise without the equipment they needed to succeed, without a plan for success after the fall of Baghdad, and without an exit strategy. So, the president is -- for him to question questions that we have, is really, in my view, not -- that is inappropriate.

A person who would become the majority leader of the Senate, Senator Taft, said -- now, this was during World War II -- in a time of war, that we should be questioning the government, that it is appropriate to do so. It's essential, he said, to a governing democracy.

BLITZER: You voted against the resolution that would authorize the use of force in Iraq, but you believe, at least based on your public statements, that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. On October 10, 2002, the congressional records you as saying this: "Others have talked about this threat that is posed by Saddam Hussein. Yes, he has chemical weapons, he has biological weapons, he is trying to get nuclear weapons."

You believed that at the time.

PELOSI: According to the intelligence that was given to us. But I further said that the intelligence that the president put forth to us at the time of the vote did not support the threat, an imminent threat.

There was no imminent threat. That's why I, as the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, joined Senator Graham, who was the senior Democrat in the Senate -- on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and both of us voted against the war.

There was no imminent threat. No place in any of that intelligence could they show you that there was an imminent threat that justified the use of force. There was plenty of time to see if those -- if those weapons existed, and it was a question of the intelligence being wrong, but the intelligence also being exaggerated to use force.

BLITZER: Did the president lie to the American people?

PELOSI: As I said at the time, the intelligence did not support the threat of an -- an imminent threat from Iraq. You can take that any way you want.

BLITZER: Well, what do you -- which way do you take it?

PELOSI: I think the president took us into war, put our young people in harm's way based on a false premise. And there was plenty of intelligence and counter from other agencies of government that questioned the intelligence that he was using and justifying for the use of force.

But that's yesterday. The point is about tomorrow.

What do we do? How do we deal with a situation where we have been at war for over two and a half years, where we have an administration that has shown no indication that they understood what they got us into in the first place?

Now you see even the Republicans joining the Democrats in the Senate and asking for truth, asking questions, wanting answers. Democrats in the House asked these questions months ago. We still haven't received answers to them. But I think the American people are growing impatient with what the president is doing

BLITZER: All right. Listen to what the -- your fellow Democrat, Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, what he says about this current debate looking forward. Listen to what Lieberman, who supported going to war in Iraq, what he now says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: In my opinion, the debate has grown in our country and in this city much too partisan over what is happening in Iraq. And that partisanship has begun to get in the way of the potential for a successful completion of our mission there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to Lieberman? PELOSI: Yes. With all due respect to Senator Lieberman, I totally disagree. We didn't go into Iraq to fight for freedom of speech there to deprive ourselves of it here.

The two questions I think that are important here are, is our presence in Iraq making America safer? It is not.

And secondly, is our presence in Iraq jeopardizing the condition of our military to protect us in other threats that may be posed? So I think the answer there is that Iraq is not making us safer and not enhancing the strength of our military.

So, the question is, how much longer do we go through this under an administration that by past performance, from start to now, has not demonstrated any ability to conduct this in a way that shows us that they know what the end game is, and that they have a strategy for success? And it is our responsibility -- it is our responsibility to speak out against it.

And the point is, it's not about -- it would be partisan to remain silent. It is patriotic to speak out against it.

BLITZER: We're just getting this in, advance text of what the vice president is going to say in a speech here in Washington tonight.

Dick Cheney will say this, Congresswoman: "The suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

Cheney goes on to say, "Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein."

Clearly, the president, the defense secretary, the vice president, they're going to keep on the offensive and try to hammer away at your fellow Democrats who supported that resolution to go to war.

PELOSI: Let me just say this about the vice president -- and again, all due respect to his office. Almost everything he has said to the American people has not been accurate.

Just because he says it doesn't make it so. And there are pages, pages of statements that he has made that have been factually incorrect.

So it's interesting that he's taking this tact. It's not surprising.

But the fact is, is that we need to have some criteria for success. They're going to have an election in December. The president has to make the point as why is it important for us to be there beyond that point? We have some people are on their third or fourth tour of duty. Those of us who visited our men and women in uniform in hospitals here, and in Germany and Iraq, come back with the nagging questions of, when -- where is the end in sight in all of this?

BLITZER: All right.

PELOSI: What is the plan?

On the other side of it, as I say, while we're here, at home, we try to make a future worthy of the sacrifices that they were making there. And that's why I'm so proud that Democrats came forth yesterday with our agenda for innovation, our commitment to competitiveness to keep America number one.

BLITZER: All right.

PELOSI: And I hope that we can talk about that as well.

BLITZER: We will talk about that on another occasion because we're all -- unfortunately all out of time right now.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.

Thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

PELOSI: Thank you, Wolf. Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: And coming up, Fidel Castro's health. The CIA concludes the Cuban leader is ailing. How long can he stay long in control? What's next for Cuba?

And Bob Woodward had a scoop in the CIA leak. Why didn't he run with it? And why is Woodward apologizing right now? We'll tell you what's going on.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is in South Korea, the second stop on his four-nation visit to Asia.

Our White House Correspondent Dana Bash is traveling with the president. She just finished an interview with the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

What's the upshot, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, Stephen Hadley just likely heard the president yesterday is trying to make the case that the Senate vote on Iraq yesterday was not a repudiation by fellow Republicans of the president's Iraq policy, rather they are still maintaining -- Stephen Hadley is still maintaining that it is instead a repudiation of some Democrats' strategy to try to insist on the timetable for a withdraw from Iraq.

But another thing that Stephen Hadley talked about was the all- out campaign that we've been reporting on for days by the administration to try to hit back at Democratic critics about manipulating intelligence before the war. I asked him about Republican Senator Chuck Hagel saying that essentially what the administration is doing is trying to demonize their critics. Here's what Stephen Hadley responded -- here's how he responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What has happened is the Democrats have re-raised an issue of misleading the American people, about politicization of intelligence. Those were issues from the 2004 campaign. Those issues were definitively closed by the Senate Intelligence Committee and by the Silverman-Robb committee -- commission.

And what's unfortunate is that these issues now come back again for yet another re-litigation. It gives encouragement to our enemies in Iraq. It undermines the support that the men and women in uniform in Iraq deserve to receive from the American people. That's what the president is concerned about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Wolf, I asked Stephen Hadley to clarify that comment suggesting that what Democrats are doing are encouraging the United States' enemies in Iraq. And he simply said that what he was trying to suggest is that what is past is past. And it is fine, as far as the administration is concerned, to debate the future of the U.S. Iraq policy, but that they are still going to make the point that Democrats are wrong to try to litigate the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're clearly all on the same page, Dana, the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, the secretary of defense.

Thank you very much.

Dana Bash reporting from South Korea for us.

He's been at the helm for almost half a century. Now there are new signs the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, is ailing, raising serious questions about his future and his country's future.

Let's turn to our national security correspondent, David Ensor.

David, what are you picking up?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, intelligence officials are saying their new assessment is that Fidel Castro has a disease that, while seldom fatal, is serious.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ENSOR (voice over): A new CIA assessment made in September says Fidel Castro is likely suffering from Parkinson's Disease. And that his health is deteriorating, several U.S. officials say.

BRIAN LATELL, AUTHOR, "AFTER FIDEL": He's falling, he's stumbling, he's broken bones. He's mumbling, he's become incoherent on a number of occasions that have been videoed or televised.

ENSOR: There is public evidence to support the assessment. Medicine for Parkinson's can make people faint, as Castro did in 2001. The disease can make the gait go stiff, causing falls.

And when Castro gave up his trademark combat boots for sneakers in 2,000, that raised eyebrows. The 79-year-old Cuban leader's heir apparent is his 74-year-old brother Raul, whose health is also in some question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He drinks a lot. It's pretty wide believed, I think -- I think he's an alcoholic, unreformed.

ENSOR: But Castro has been counted out too early many times before. He has recently found opportunities to push his socialist views through friendship with Venezuela's leader Hugo Chavez.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: U.S. intelligence officials say when Fidel and Raul Castro do go, Cuban communism may not long survive. They are hoping that when it ends, it ends without bloodshed, though an official said that is by no means certain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David. Thank you very much.

David Ensor reporting.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a legal showdown over a dozen sex offenders kept in custody after their terms were up. We will tell you what's going on.

And the legendary journalist Bob Woodward is linked to the CIA leak case. What did he know and why didn't he tell his editors and us?

And he's saying good night to "Nightline." Today, he steps into THE SITUATION ROOM. I will speak with Ted Koppel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A well-known name has unexpectedly popped up in the CIA leak case, the journalist Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post" and Watergate fame.

He revealed today that he gave a deposition Monday to the grand jury investigating the case. In it, he says an unnamed Bush administration official disclosed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to him in June of 2003, almost a full month before that name was made public by Bob Novak in his newspaper column. Less than three weeks ago, Woodward denied to CNN's Larry King that he had any special information on the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I wish I did have a bombshell. I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry. In fact, I mean this tells you something about the atmosphere here. I got a call from somebody in the CIA saying he got a call from the best "New York Times" reporter on this saying exactly that I supposedly had a bombshell.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: And you were going to do it tonight, right?

WOODWARD: Finally, this went around that I was going to do it tonight or in the paper. Finally, Len Downie, who is the editor of the "Washington Post" called me and said, "I hear you have a bombshell. Would you let me in on it?"

KING: So now the rumors are about you.

WOODWARD: And I said I'm sorry to disappoint you but I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Woodward's revelation raises some questions about the case, which led to the indictment of the vice president's former chief of staff.

Let's get some analysis. We are joined by Howard Kurtz of "The Washington Post." He's also the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." That airs Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m.

Howie, he did have a firecracker, at least, at a minimum, when he said he had nothing, really.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Well, Woodward continues to believe and to tell me today, Wolf, that he does not consider his involvement in this to be a big story, in the sense that he says that this senior administration official, whose name he cannot disclose because of confidentiality, made just a casual offhand reference, almost gossip, he put, it to Valerie Plame back in 2003.

But I think that is missing the point, that this has mushroomed into a huge national scandal. "The Washington Post" has devoted front-page story after front-page story to it. And it was quite a stunning revelation to all of us who work here to find out that Bob Woodward had any involvement in this story at all.

BLITZER: Well, explain to our viewers. Jack Cafferty raised a good question earlier. Why is this significant, that Bob Woodward is now coming forward, two years later, and saying, you know what, I knew about this a month before Bob Novak published the name?

KURTZ: Because there's been an intense focus on the role of these top administration officials in putting out the word to journalists, Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, and others, that -- that there was this CIA operative role by the wife of Joe Wilson, a very prominent administration critic on the war.

To now find out that Bob Woodward, who has some pretty highly placed sources -- the guy has interviewed President Bush a number of times for his books -- also was on the receiving end of this kind of conversation could change the whole landscape.

It's hard to say for sure, Wolf, because we don't know who the source is, but we do know now that Scooter Libby was not the first administration official to disclose to a reporter Valerie Plame's CIA employment. There was somebody else who told Bob Woodward some days before that.

BLITZER: And that's significant, because, in the indictment, they allege that Scooter Libby was the first.

I spoke to your boss, Len Downie, here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the past hour. Listen to what he said on this sensitive point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEONARD DOWNIE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The sanctity of these pledges of confidentiality are essential to the kind of reporting that Bob does, the kind of reporting that has kept our readers so well informed for many years now, over three decades, in which Bob has revealed the inner workings of what's going on in many governments, broken many important stories, beginning with Watergate, continuing on through 9/11 and so on -- would not be possible without this kind of source relationship and without him keeping his promises.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: One of the most fascinating aspects of this, certainly from the journalistic perspective and maybe from the legal perspective, Howie, is that one of your other investigator reporters, Walter Pincus, is denying what Woodward is saying. Woodward is alleging that he mentioned Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson's wife to Walter Pincus of "The Washington Post".

And Pincus says, if he had mentioned it, I would have known it.

This seems extraordinary, to see this kind of feud develop between two star reporters for "The Washington Post."

KURTZ: Well, I wouldn't characterize it as a feud, Wolf.

But it's -- there certainly are very sharply differing recollections -- Pincus saying, of course, I would have remembered. Pincus was working on a story about Joe Wilson at the time, in June of 2003. Of course, I would have remembered had Woodward said anything about the CIA employment of his wife, and Woodward insisting that his recollection is that he told Pincus.

More importantly, he should have told Len Downie. Len Downie told me in an interview today that this was a mistake. Bob Woodward has now apologized. I don't think there's anybody in this newsroom who would disagree with Downie's judgment that this was a mistake.

It also goes to show you how, when we make these promises of confidentiality to sources -- and Woodward, of course, is famous for it and has been -- done it for 35 years, after Deep Throat -- we sometimes put ourselves in a box, where we can't then share with the public important information about who was telling us -- in this case, who was telling Bob Woodward about Valerie Plame.

BLITZER: Howie Kurtz works for "The Washington Post." He's the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" that airs Sunday mornings here on CNN.

Howie, thank you very much...

KURTZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... for joining us.

Still to come, sex offenders in New York -- after they serve their sentences, there's a new debate over what should be done with them. We will have the story.

Also, a bizarre turn of events involving those who bust up drug rings actually being busted themselves.

And he has much to say about the state of television news -- my revealing interview with the longtime ABC News anchor Ted Koppel -- all that, much more, coming here in -- here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A very unusual drug bust -- three Guatemalan men are in U.S. custody, accused of conspiracy and smuggling. But there is a twist. All are top anti-drug officials in their home country.

Let's get the latest.

CNN's Brian Todd standing by -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, agents tell us this is the equivalent of the head of the DEA and its number-two official being busted for cocaine trafficking.

DEA officials says these top Guatemalan officials were brought into the U.S. as part of a sting operation and arrested Tuesday in Northern Virginia. They are Adan Castillo Lopez, the highest-ranking anti-narcotics officer in Guatemala. His executive officer, the number-two man at the Guatemalan known as the SAIA, their equivalent of DEA, that official is Jorge Aguilar Garcia.

And a man identified as Rubilio Orlando Palacios -- he is also a top official at that anti-narcotics agency. But he was responsible for security sweeps at Puerto Santo Tomas, a major port on Guatemala's Caribbean coast, which DEA officials say was key to this conspiracy. A DEA special agent told involved in the case told us how these men allegedly planned to move the cocaine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLAS NARGI JR., DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY SPECIAL AGENT: They were providing a service, and it was a transportation service, where they were ensuring that loads of cocaine would transit the port in Guatemala, and then provide safe passage for the cocaine through Guatemala to Mexico or to the border of Mexico, with their thoughts being that the cocaine would then transit Mexico and end up in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: DEA officials say the amount of cocaine the three men were attempting to bring into the U.S., more than 4,000 pounds.

They're now charged in an indictment returned this afternoon with conspiring to import cocaine into the U.S. DEA officials tell us they believe the three men have been working with a major drug-trafficking organization based in Guatemala. They would not reveal the name of that organization, citing ongoing operations.

Now, CNN caught up with the attorneys representing Adan Castillo Lopez and Jorge Aguilar Garcia. Both the attorneys say -- say they see no evidence of a conspiracy here, and their clients have pleaded not guilty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much -- Brian Todd reporting.

Moving on to New York state, there's a debate what to do with sex offenders after they have served their debt to society. Post-prison, should they still be detained?

Let's get the latest. Mary Snow is following this for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, New York state says it's just trying to protect society.

But a plan to transfer a dozen ex-prisoners from jail to psychiatric hospitals to avoid their release is drawing controversy. And it has prompted a court battle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): They are 12 offenders who served their jail time for convictions ranging from rape to child sexual abuse. But instead of being freed, the state ordered them into hospitals.

New York's governor, George Pataki, says they're too much of a danger to society. The matter went to court, where a judge ruled the sex offenders are being held illegally. The judge cited Pataki's order for the state to push the envelope using existing laws.

CHAUNCEY PARKER, NEW YORK DIRECTOR OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: What would somebody say if we did nothing and one of these people goes out and rapes some little girl in one our towns or villages or cities of New York state? They would look to us and say, what have you done to protect us? How did this happen?

SNOW: Representatives on behalf of the offenders argued in court that, when admitting them into the hospitals, legal guidelines weren't followed.

In a ruling, a state judge sided with representatives, saying -- quote -- "The court takes no issue with the state's belief that each of these men poses a danger to society. However, even persons acquitted of violent crimes by reason of insanity may not be civilly admitted to a mental hospital solely because they pose a danger to society."

Governor George Pataki in a statement said -- quote -- "The court is granting convicted sexual predators more rights than law-abiding New Yorkers." The governor has been trying pass a civil confinement bill in the state legislature for several years. And when his latest attempt failed, he tried this new approach.

But the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, representing the offenders, says, while no one is denying these men are dangerous, there are legal dangers, saying -- quote -- "The danger is, if you don't follow procedures, anyone could be labeled a sexual predator."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the judge in the case has ordered each of the 12 to be examined by court-appointed doctors, and, if they're not deemed mentally ill and in need of hospitalization, they have to be released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary -- Mary Snow reporting. Good work. Thank you very much.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

At 6:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN: 10 Americans have been killed in Iraq in just the past 24 hours. We will tell you why and what's being done about our mounting casualties in Iraq.

Then, you probably won't be surprised to hear that there are charges tonight that top oil executives lied to Congress about meeting with aides to Vice President Dick Cheney. We will have that story.

And the English language under assault -- why some cities are putting English at risk of becoming a second language.

And illegal aliens marrying their way into this country, using the Internet? All of that and a great deal more, including my guest tonight, who says the reason that non-citizens aren't allowed to vote is because white people want to hold on to political power -- all of that and more. Please join us -- now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. We certainly will.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, "Nightline's" Ted Koppel poised to leave the show after 26 years -- what the network anchor thinks of the state of television news today.

Plus, would you be willing to wait a little longer at the airport for cargo inspections? Jack will be back with your e-mails.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Next week, Ted Koppel while sign off from "Nightline" after 26 years. I sat down with Ted Koppel earlier today.

Among the many topics we discussed, cable news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I read in "USA Today" or someplace a quote from you suggesting that cable news, the 24/7 cable news networks, like ours, do a great job reporting what happened five minutes ago, but not necessarily a great job reporting the news in -- in perspective and context and meaning. Could you elaborate what you really mean?

TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS: Sure.

I think -- I think all the cable networks are in a desperate race to be first with the obvious. You are constantly -- I mean, your -- your news managers constantly have their eyes on a -- on a row of television screens. And the thought that MSNBC might be getting a -- you know, might be getting a leg up on you or that FOX might be two seconds ahead of you on some story terrifies you.

That has always struck me as crazy. Even back in the days when ABC desk men were watching CBS and NBC, you know, the notion that, somehow, people at home are sitting in front of three or four or five television monitors wondering which of the networks got it first is obviously ludicrous. Nobody does that.

I would much prefer that everyone is focusing on what is really important. I mean important, not just in terms of what is happening today, but important over the long haul. And I'm afraid, in that sense, as good as much of the work is that you guys do, in that sense, I think the cable networks are letting us down.

BLITZER: Well, let's bring in one of our CNN analysts, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, who used to work at "Nightline" and ABC News with you.

(CROSSTALK)

KOPPEL: Yes. But he's -- he's no good. Don't you have anybody better than Greenfield?

BLITZER: Well, he's the best we got.

KOPPEL: All right.

BLITZER: So, what can I say.

Jeff, it must be a bittersweet moment for you, having grown up with "Nightline" in many respects. But talk a little bit about Ted Koppel, "Nightline," what this means to you. And ask Ted a good question.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: A good question. OK.

I should point out to our audience that -- that one of the really remarkable achievements of this man is that he has done what he has done in spite of the fact that, on the two most critical areas of American life, rock 'n roll and baseball, he's an utter moron.

KOPPEL: Knows nothing.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

Now, having said -- having said that, to what extent, Ted, is this just the consequence of abundance? That is, given a lot of options out there, dozens, hundreds, limitless with the Web, that viewers themselves are saying, we don't need in-depth analysis; we will just take the surface and get our information elsewhere?

KOPPEL: I think part of the problem, Jeff, is that we have become -- and -- and this sounds elitist, and I fully expect to be criticized for -- for offering an elitist point of view.

I think the sense that we ought to be taking the temperature of the viewers to see what the viewers want to watch is the wrong way of going about it. You and I and Wolf, we get paid to spend eight, 10, 12 hours a day examining, sifting through, editing what is important and what is not. We are the ones who should be telling the audience what is important, not the other way around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And you can see my full interview with Ted Koppel, including a surprise guest you won't want to miss. That's coming up later tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than an hour from now, the full interview with Ted Koppel.

Some airline cargo could pose a threat to passengers. Would you be willing to wait while it's being screened? Jack Cafferty back with his question, your answers -- that's coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not cojones. This is cowardice. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Determined and quick-witted, Madeleine Albright was the first female U.S. secretary of state. The daughter of a Czech diplomat who fled the Nazis and the communists, She was 11 when she came to the U.S. with her family.

The daughter of a Czech diplomat who fled the Nazis and the communists, she was 11 when she came to the U.S. with her family.

ALBRIGHT: I felt very strongly at a very young age that the United States was a very special country.

COOPER: Albright followed her American dream, earning a Ph.D. and becoming an expert in world affairs. She served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. before being named secretary of State by President Clinton.

ALBRIGHT: I think every time that I sat in the Oval Office with the president or at the cabinet table, I said to myself, can you believe it, that you are secretary of State?

COOPER: Now 68, Albright runs a global strategy firm and teaches at Georgetown University. She still travels extensively.

ALBRIGHT: I love what I do. And I get energy from doing a great number of things.

COOPER: After leaving office, Albright published a memoir. She's currently working on a book about her collection of broaches.

ALBRIGHT: It all kind of started as a joke, when Saddam Hussein called me a snake. I happened to have a snake pin. Then it kind of got to be a thing in itself, but I now have a lot of them, and they mostly have wonderful stories attached to them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right now to New York Jack Cafferty. He's standing by -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, it will scare you a little if you fly.

Passenger airplanes in this country carried six billion pounds of cargo last year, and almost none of it was inspected. The government says, oh, it costs too much money. It causes additional delays.

The question is, would you be willing to wait a little longer at the airport so they can inspect the cargo? Not a tough question here.

Andrew in Laredo writes: "Not examining the cargo makes the entire security system a farce. There should be ample time to examine every piece of cargo, since it takes so long to get through the security lines at the terminal."

Peter in El Cerrito, California: "No need to make folks wait. Just make the cargo go through inspection. Shippers will have to get their act together and get their stuff to the terminal sooner or it will just sit there until the next flight. What's the problem?"

Bob in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts: "I would be willing to let them inspect every part of the plane I am on, the seats, the bathrooms, even the cockpit. My safety is much more important than my time."

And "Anonymous," and for good reason: "I'm an airline worker. I see the problems with security on a daily basis. I have always noted to my peers that security AT airports is akin to a steel door attached to a grass hut. When will the officials actually, finally, get it?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is our policy, Jack, on accepting e-mail from "Anonymous"?

CAFFERTY: Well, if -- this guy is an airport worker. Ordinarily, I wouldn't read it. But he works for airline security. So, you know, he didn't want any -- any part of his name used.

BLITZER: So, it's like an unnamed...

CAFFERTY: So, actually...

BLITZER: An unnamed source.

CAFFERTY: You know what the policy is? It's whatever you and I decide it is, Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I think whatever you decide...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... that's the policy.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jack, we will see you in an hour.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Tomorrow on THE SITUATION...

CAFFERTY: I will look forward to the Ted Koppel interview.

BLITZER: Yes. We are going to have that. That's coming up later tonight, Ted Koppel, the full interview, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, coming up an hour from now, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Tomorrow, my special guest, the former Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry -- we will have that interview tomorrow with Senator Kerry.

In the meantime, thanks very much for joining us. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

Lou is standing by in New York.

Hi, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

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