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Search For Jimmy Hoffa Resumes; Opus Dei's Reaction to 'The Da Vinci Code'; Alligator Problems in Florida

Aired May 17, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Here is what is happening at this moment.

Could these FBI agents digging in an area west of Detroit signal a sudden new development tonight in the search for Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who vanished way back in the summer of 1975? We are going to have the latest for you on that in just a moment.

And the battle over new immigration laws rages in Washington. Outside the Capitol, protesters demanded citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers. And, inside the Capitol, the Senate rejected a conservative call to kill any possibility of citizenship from a future immigration bill.

And new transportation security requirements just announced for air cargo -- that will mean more bomb-sniffing dogs and background security checks for more than 100,000 workers who handle air freight.

Now let's get straight to this hour's developing story, a possible break in one of America's most enduring uninvolved mysteries, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. It has been almost 30 years since the one-time boss of the Teamsters union vanished. Everyone assumes he was killed and whoever did it -- we really don't know -- never talked, and Hoffa's body was never found, which makes this picture so intriguing.

Just a few hours ago, cameras caught FBI agents gathered around a deep hole and digging into some property in Milford Township. That's about 35 miles west of Detroit.

Let's go straight to justice correspondent Kelli Arena, who is on the story. She has been working her sources all afternoon, right now, into air time.

So, Kelli, what is the FBI telling you about big dig going on?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, FBI officials do believe that this latest tip is a reliable one.

But they won't comment on the source of the information. Now, as you saw, FBI agents and local police are currently digging up farm property in Milford Township. And, as you said, it's a rural area about 35 miles west of Detroit. In an official statement, the FBI says that agents are looking for evidence of criminal activity that may have occurred under previous ownership. So, that's what we have at this point -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right.

We're talking about a disappearance that goes way back. Remind us all about the circumstances surrounding Jimmy Hoffa's vanishing.

ARENA: Well, he was last seen in July of 1975 at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township. That's just outside of Detroit.

He was on his way to meet with two mafia leaders, Anthony -- Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone. Hoffa believed that that meeting was set up to settle a feud that was going on between him and Provenzano.

Now, Hoffa disappears. There's no trace of his body ever found. But he was declared legally dead in July of 1982. That's seven years after he was disappeared.

Now, over the years, Paula, there had been reports that Hoffa was buried in the end zone of Giants Stadium, a landfill in New Jersey, even under the New Jersey Turnpike. Now, obviously, there's no evidence to support any of that.

But I can tell you at least the people that I knew growing up in Brooklyn that it made for some very heated debate.

ZAHN: Always.

But you have said this -- this might be a little different this time around, because the FBI is saying this tip is reliable. But they get dozens and dozens of tips, don't they?

ARENA: Yes, they do. They do all the time.

And, some, they take more seriously than others. Now, this one, according to sources, corroborates information that came in earlier, Paula. So, they are putting some more stock in this one. We will see. The last search that the FBI conducted was actually two years ago. That's when they ripped up the floorboards of a Detroit home after a mobster claimed that Hoffa was killed there. But that turned up no evidence to support it.

So, we will see where we go with this one.

ZAHN: All right, Kelli, keep us posted...

ARENA: You got it.

ZAHN: ... whether it's spring plantings or the real deal underground there.

(LAUGHTER) ZAHN: Kelli Arena, thanks so much for the update.

ARENA: You bet.

ZAHN: Now we move on to the "Security Watch" and the battle over domestic spying.

This week, two giant phone companies are essentially denying last week's "USA Today" report that they're helping the government track your phone calls. Still, the question remains tonight, what exactly does the super-secret National Security Agency know about your dialing habits?

Allan Chernoff has been looking into that tonight. And he's just filed this report.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Telephone companies cooperate with government agencies every day when presented with court-approved subpoenas to help pursue suspected criminals, or even potential terrorists.

But the idea that companies providing our phone service are also providing our phone records, without a court order, to the super- secret National Security Agency is quite another thing.

Contrary to a published report, Verizon and BellSouth say they have no arrangement with the NSA to provide phone data. They say the agency hasn't even asked for information. AT&T is not as explicit about its dealings with the NSA.

MARC BIEN, ATTORNEY FOR AT&T: If and when AT&T is asked by government agencies for help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions.

CHERNOFF: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, devoted to privacy issues, is suing AT&T, claiming it illegally gave customer phone and Internet records to the NSA.

If true, how much is the NSA gathering? Telecommunications experts say it's simply not practical for the spy agency to sift through each and every phone call that Americans make.

SCOTT CLELAND, PRESIDENT, PRECURSOR LLC: I think they're tracking records for the purpose of tracking down bad guys. When they know there's a bad guy, what they're going to want to do is say, who called that bad guy and who did that bad guy call?

CHERNOFF: To find out, the NSA would likely engage in targeted mining of phone calls of people who are on a watch list. Tracking cellular calls is relatively easy. But telecom specialists say monitoring even calls on a hard line can be done with or without the phone company's knowledge.

JASON PONTIN, MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: I doubt that the National Security Agency, by some measure, the largest, most secretive, and most powerful of intelligence agencies, would require the cooperation of domestic telecommunications companies to do its job. No one would, for a second, believe that the NSA required the cooperation of a foreign telecommunications company to do its data mining.

CHERNOFF: The bottom line is that most of our calls probably aren't even noticed by NSA's computers. And there's no indication the agency is wiretapping the average person's phone.

But Americans who have had contact with someone on the agency's watch list, a person, or organization like a mosque, may, indeed, have had their phone calls tracked. On the home front in the war against terrorism, Americans may have to be careful whom they reach out and touch.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: All right, it's very important in -- in the middle of this huge controversy to remember that Verizon and BellSouth deny cooperating with the NSA. And AT&T has said it wouldn't do so without legal authorization.

So, now the lawsuit Allan Chernoff just mentioned isn't the only one involving the NSA.

Joining me now, Carl Mayer, one of the lawyers leading a class- action lawsuit against those three phone companies over the reported release of tens of millions of people's phone records to the spy agency.

Good to see you.

CARL MAYER, ATTORNEY: Thank you very much for having me on.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

How is it that you can sue these phone companies, when Verizon and BellSouth came out and said, hey, look, NSA didn't approach us and we didn't turn over anything to them?

MAYER: Well, first of all, they -- they have said about three different things, first -- first, all these...

ZAHN: But this is the latest thing they have said.

MAYER: Well, but their first things that they said -- the first thing they said was, we can't discuss at all because it's a national security matter, right?

ZAHN: Right.

MAYER: Well, if it's a national security matter, now they're discussing it. So, their earlier statement is completely not credible. All right? So, now they're saying -- now they're -- they're issuing what would be called in the Watergate era nondenial denials, OK?


ZAHN: No. But isn't this pretty clear, if they said, they didn't come to us and we didn't give them anything?


ZAHN: That's exactly what Verizon and BellSouth have said now.

MAYER: No, no, no. They have all said different things.

AT&T, first, they said, we don't -- we don't comment because it's national security. Now they're -- now they're saying, we do it lawfully.

ZAHN: Right.


ZAHN: But I'm talking about Verizon and BellSouth.


MAYER: All right. But we say -- we say it's not lawful.

Now, let's get into Verizon and Bell -- and BellSouth.

Verizon and BellSouth, again, they have hedged. This is all legal hairsplitting. BellSouth is -- is saying that, we -- we only don't give bulk records. But there's no blanket denial.

Like, the chairman of Qwest, he would -- he came out straight away and said...

ZAHN: We are not doing...


MAYER: ... we were asked, and we aren't doing it...

ZAHN: All right.

MAYER: ... and because the law doesn't allow it.

And that's what these companies' CEOs should have done.

ZAHN: Is it...

MAYER: And they didn't do it.

ZAHN: Is it possible...

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: ... given the technology out there...


ZAHN: ... that the NSA could have tracked these phone calls without the phone companies even knowing they're doing that?

MAYER: Well, I'm not familiar with all of the technology.

I would -- I would think...

ZAHN: But it is possible, isn't it?

MAYER: I would think it would be. And, in that case, it would be even a more egregious violation of America's -- of our constitutional rights, our Fourth Amendment rights. So...

ZAHN: All right. But you -- in your complaint...

MAYER: Right.

ZAHN: ... you have 26 plaintiffs...

MAYER: Right.

ZAHN: ... from all over the country, and...

MAYER: Twenty-seven from all over the country, correct.

ZAHN: OK. It's up to 27 now.

MAYER: That's right.

ZAHN: And you say you're deluged...

MAYER: Well...

ZAHN: ... by calls from people...

MAYER: Right.

ZAHN: ... who have proof...

MAYER: Right.

ZAHN: ... that their phone records have been looked at.

MAYER: We have...


ZAHN: Is there any written documentation?

MAYER: Right. We haven't -- right. We haven't said that everyone has proof. But, for example, we have e-mails from -- from a plaintiff who wrote in. And he said he told by -- that -- some of the -- the supervisors at Verizon that the records were turned over.

ZAHN: In a...


ZAHN: ... phone call that this...

MAYER: In a -- in a phone call.

ZAHN: .. customer...

MAYER: In fact, it was even...

ZAHN: ... claims to have had.

MAYER: It was even worse than that.

He spoke to a supervisor at Verizon. And Verizon said, are you involved in a criminal activity such that you're concerned with us turning over your records?

So, that looks, right there, like Verizon is -- is doing the -- the bidding of NSA. Now, the...


ZAHN: How angry are you about this?

MAYER: I'm as -- I'm as angry...

ZAHN: You obviously wouldn't be filing suit if you didn't believe these people were telling you the truth.

MAYER: I'm -- I'm as -- I'm as indignant as the hundreds of Americans that have called us from all over the country, because the president hasn't denied that this program is going on. He has merely said they're not listening to phone calls.

But he hasn't said that they're not -- they're not tracking the records of where the phone calls go. That's a complete violation of the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment protects us all from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The whole point of this country is to be free and open and democratic. And we should not resort to authoritarian tactics to fight an authoritarian enemy. We need to be better than that. And we need to show the world that we are free and open and democratic.

And there are lawful means for these corporations to go in and hand -- and turn over records. They could have gone to a FISA court. They could have gone to the attorney general and sought an opinion on how to do this. But they didn't do this. And...

ZAHN: But you have got to concede there's a lot that has got to be...

MAYER: Well, that's what...

ZAHN: ... sought at in the discovery process.

MAYER: That's what litigation -- that's what litigation is for.

And we...

ZAHN: Because there is a lot of confusion surrounding this.

MAYER: We can't -- we can't wait to get into it.


MAYER: And we can't wait for those CEOs to get in front of Congress.

ZAHN: Well, we will be covering now -- when that -- and -- if and when that happens.

Carl Mayer, thank you so much for dropping by.

MAYER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

We are going to move on now to our countdown of the top 10 stories on More than 19 million of you went to our Web site today.

At number 10, a gunmen opens fire in one of Turkey's top courts. One high-ranking judge was killed. Four others were wounded. Officials say the suspect was an Islamic extremist who was angry about a ban on head scarves.

Number nine -- the premiere of the most talked about film this year. "The Da Vinci Code" has made it debut at the Cannes Film Festival in France. We are headed there later tonight. Our Brooke Anderson is there. She's going to join us with all the reaction. What do the French think of this American export?

Numbers eight and seven just ahead.

And we are going to take you deep inside a mysterious organization at the heart of "The Da Vinci Code."


ANNOUNCER: The "Eye Opener" -- inside Opus Dei. The Hollywood version is a shadowy religious group that will do anything to protect church secrets. We will go behind the scenes into the strange world of the real Opus Dei.

And shocking jocks -- new and outrageous images of college athletes never meant for public view. Is this what they mean by good, clean fun?

All that and much more straight ahead.



ZAHN: Moving up on just a quarter past the hour -- here's what's happening at this moment.

You can count on $70 billion more in tax cuts. The president signed a law extending the capital-gains tax cut for investors and trimming the alternative minimum tax for some middle-income taxpayers. Democrats claim it's yet another gift to the wealthiest of Americans, while the president credits tax cuts with keeping the economy fueled.

Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha says, six months after his controversial call for the U.S. to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, the war is now costing $9 billion every month. The decorated retired Marine colonel says even oil production is below pre-war levels in Iraq.

Now on to "Crude Awakenings," our nightly look at gas prices all over the country. The state's with today's highest gasoline prices are in red, the lowest prices in green.

The average today for unleaded regular, $2.93 per gallon. That's one penny less than yesterday.

Tonight, a dozen major universities are facing public embarrassment over the behavior of student athletes. Today, an anti- hazing Web site posted pictures from 12 schools, including Princeton, Catholic University in D.C., and the University of Michigan, pictures showing student athletes, men and women, apparently engaged in crude initiation rites, posing with strippers, and drinking.

It started this week when the Web site posted pictures from a party involving the Northwestern University women's soccer team.

So, tonight, all of this and the Duke University rape case raising new concerns about college athletes, drinking, and now hazing.

Here's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It came as a shock to Northwestern University officials, pictures of seemingly outrageous behavior by a woman's athletic team.

Now they're investigating whether this party involved hazing, which is banned at the university. The pictures show semi-naked members of the soccer team with hands tied behind their backs, what appears to be excessive drinking, and even lap dancing.

Northwestern officials say the photos were taken last year. This week, they were posted on a Web site called

Bob Reno runs the site and says he's finding endless and increasingly serious cases of college sports hazing parties posted on the Internet.

BOB RENO, BADJOCKS.COM: There's a sense of wanting to top each other. So, I'm -- you know, you made me drink two beers last year. I am going to make the guys next year drink three. And, then, before you know it, you have got a whole baseball team locked in a room, naked, to have to drink an entire keg before they can get out.

GRIFFIN: Reno posted photos from 12 more colleges and universities on his site, photos he says show women tied up and blindfolded, men forced to drink unknown concoctions, and lots of underwear-clad bodies with magic marker obscenities.

RENO: The idea wasn't to pick on Northwestern, but to show that this is going on at institutions all across the country, big schools, small, private, public, different sports, club sports at the college level, and to make, hopefully, athletic directors and the coaches involved more aware that this isn't just an isolated problem, that it, more than likely, is going on at every school.

GRIFFIN (on camera): That fear that it's going on at every school and getting worse has some who study the problem calling for a federal law that would define and legally ban hazing, and for a federal agency that would hold schools accountable for stopping it.

DR. SUSAN LIPKINS, PSYCHOLOGIST: There's nobody tracking hazing at all. There's nobody...

GRIFFIN: Psychologist Susan Lipkins says, the only time most people hear about hazing is when it involves a tragic death or crimes. But she says these photos show that hazing goes on everywhere, even when it looks like it's just kids having fun.

LIPKINS: The fact is that the kids, whether or not they say that they chose to participate, frequently, they don't really have a choice. And I believe that, you know, all -- there are lots and lots of college kids that don't walk around, you know, having magic marker penises drawn on them or exposing different parts of their body.

GRIFFIN: While it tries to figure out exactly what was going on in these pictures and on its campus, Northwestern University has suspended its women's soccer team from further athletic activities.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: Another thing to add: Just today, Northwestern University said it had uncovered two more hazing incidents. A statement says they happened last fall involving the men's swim team and the students who perform as the school's mascot. The university says disciplinary action was taken in both of those cases. Well, as you know, "The Da Vinci Code" is all about exposing secrets, but has the biggest secret been kept under wraps until now? Coming up, from Cannes, is the movie really as bad as the critics are saying? Well, it premiered there last night. We will be going there to check in with one of our reporters.

Plus, an eye-opening look at some of "The Da Vinci Code"'s worst villains. What is the truth about Opus Dei? Do its members really beat themselves? You will see.

First, though, number eight on our countdown -- a second police officer dies one week after an ambush at a Virginia station house. Last Monday, a man opened fire on officers there. Authorities say he had fired 70 rounds before police killed him.

Number seven, a Taiwanese man has pleaded guilty to spying for the Chinese government. They say he tried to buy advanced U.S. weapons, including cruise missiles. The man is a former contractor for Lockheed Martin -- numbers six and five right ahead.


ZAHN: So, tonight, we are on the verge of one of the biggest entertainment stories of the year. After all the buildup, all the hype and all the religious controversy all over the world that "The Da Vinci Code" is blasphemous and offensive to some Christians, after all that, is it possible the movie is a dud?

Well, it opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, but it has already been shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

And entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson was in the audience when it made its premiere.

So, what's the verdict in France, Brooke?

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, I think I may need to get my coat, because the reception for "The Da Vinci Code" has been pretty darn chilly.

But, that being said, just moments ago, just a little while ago, we watched Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, the whole gang make their way up the steps of the famed Palais behind me for the world premiere of "The Da Vinci Code." It opens the festival.

But, yes, early reviews have been highly critical of the movie, for the most part. Some are saying the film is grim, dull, stodgy. Others are saying it's just painfully long.

ZAHN: It could have been worse. It could have been a three-and- a-half-hour movie. But has anyone involved in the film...


ZAHN: ... reacted to these reviews, from -- from director Ron Howard to the star of the show, Tom Hanks? ANDERSON: Well, it's an interesting question.

And, in fact, they had a press conference today. And while they never directly addressed the negative reviews -- they kind of danced around those questions -- they did address the controversy that has plagued the film.

And Ron Howard, Tom Hanks again reiterated that, hey, they say this is a thriller. This is merely a work of fiction. It is not a historical documentary in any way. Tom Hanks even described it as Cracker Jack entertainment. So, they're trying to lighten the mood and change the perception of the film for everybody around the world, it seems.

ZAHN: We have seen protests spring up all over the world about the content of the film and the book. Have there been any protests there in France?

ANDERSON: No formal organized protests that we have seen here, Paula. Security has been very tight, but things are running extremely smoothly.

ZAHN: Well, we hope you have a really good time. We're very jealous that you're in France in the middle of May.


ZAHN: Brooke Anderson, thanks so much.

ANDERSON: Oh, it's a tough gig, Paula.

ZAHN: Enjoy the rest of the movies you get to see.


ZAHN: Now, even if the movie ends up being a bomb, it has raised some disturbing questions that simply are not going to go away, questions like, were Jesus and Mary Magdalene married? Did they have children? Were their descendants among the kings of France? And is the Catholic Church covering up the truth?

Well, many groups are so outraged, they're calling on Christians to boycott "The Da Vinci Code."

But my next guest says, give it a chance. Phil Cooke is a Christian media consultant, Hollywood producer. He also has a Ph.D. in theology.

Delighted to have you with us tonight.


ZAHN: I have seen on your blog that you have called "The Da Vinci Code" bungled research, bad history. Yet, you wrote in your blog that you have still been shocked by the reaction from Christians. Why? COOKE: Well, I'm not a big believer, as you know, in boycotts or protests.

I think that if it -- when it comes to spiritual issues, no one ever became a Christian because of a boycott. I think, if anything, boycotts can backfire. So, I have never been -- been one to create a controversy, because, as you know, in so many cases, it ends up making the film much more popular than it would have been otherwise.

ZAHN: All right. But let me ask you this.

You obviously think, as Andrew Sullivan, a writer, said, that this stuff was fictional -- he called it fictional dreck, Hollywood hooey.

Do you really think those folks that are protesting are buying into this at all? Or is anybody buying into it?

COOKE: Well, they aren't.

But the reason so many people are upset -- and I understand a lot of people's frustration -- is that early polls indicate that a surprisingly number -- a surprising number of people actually buy into it, that think it's actual truth.

And, so, a big part of it is concern in the Christian community over the fact that, hey, Dan Brown is an airport writer. You know, you see his novels at the airport gift shop. He didn't do an enormous amount of research on this, because it started out as a suspense thriller novel. I think he is probably as surprised as anybody that it has taken off.

And, so, I -- I think people are just concerned that there are people out there who read this and assume, hey, they're hiding something; this whole Christian thing is a con.

And it's really not based much on factual research at all.

ZAHN: Do you concede, though, that ministers and other religious leaders actually see this, this potential boycott, as an excellent opportunity to engage in a debate, period?

COOKE: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely, Paula.

In fact, that's what we have been talking about for a long time, that -- using this film as a platform to engage the culture about real truth out there. So, I'm seeing, across the country, pastors, religious leaders, teachers of all kinds, who are actually taking this as an opportunity.

Look, you can get on an airplane with a copy of "The Da Vinci Code," and somebody is going to start a conversation with you. And, so, instead of being upset and boycotting and protesting, let's engage. Let's start that conversation and share with people the real truth about the Christian faith.

ZAHN: Well, I would love to engage with you again after we have both seen the movie, after this weekend.


ZAHN: I didn't get...


ZAHN: ... to France for the premiere, as you no doubt have noticed.

COOKE: Early reports are not good. But I...

ZAHN: No, they are not.


ZAHN: Stinging, stinging reviews.

COOKE: Yes. Oh. Ouch. Ouch.

ZAHN: They're calling it boring, slow, long, everything you can think of.

COOKE: Absolutely.

ZAHN: All right, Phil, thanks so much.

COOKE: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: In the book and the movie, some of the biggest villains in "The Da Vinci Code" belong to a Catholic organization called Opus Dei. What do its members actually think about the religion? What do they think about women? And do they really beat themselves with whips? Stay with us for a rare glimpse inside this powerful group.

And, a little bit later on, what's behind a frightening and deadly upsurge of alligator attacks in Florida? And what have these folks found inside the rather engorged stomachs of these alligators?

Also, we know dogs can learn a lot of things, but can you actually teach them to read? You got to stay with us for -- for that report. It's really interesting, if you're a pet owner, like I am.

Before that, though -- and I think I have a really smart dog already -- on to number six on our countdown -- in Mexico, growing fears that President Vicente Fox's political party could face a big upset in this summer's upcoming elections. Many voters worry that a power shift could throw Mexico into chaos.

No.5 a Missouri town says unwed couples with children can't live there. The city council of Blackjack, Missouri, has rejected a bill that would have changed the local law, which bans unmarried couples with two or more kids from living in a single family home. No. 4 on our countdown coming up next.


ZAHN: Welcome back. Moving up on about 33 minutes after the hour.

Here is what is happening at this moment. Sudden action tonight on an issue linked to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney who had close ties to Abramoff. The committee will also investigate Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson but it says it won't investigate former Speaker Tom DeLay because he's leaving office.

James Tobin is looking at 10 months in prison tonight. He's the third Republican convicted in a political dirty trick. In the 2002 New Hampshire election for governor, Tobin helped jam the phone lines in a Democratic get out the vote effort on election day. Turns out the Democrats ended up losing.

Former President Bill Clinton has a new book contract. We assume it's a big fat one. He is not saying how much however. But we do now that his 2004 autobiography earned him a to $10 to $12 million advance.

Now, I want to return to one of today's biggest stories, the furor over "The Da Vinci Code." Both the book and the new movie are sparking a lot of outrage especially among members of a Catholic organization called Opus Dei. Now "The Da Vinci Code" portrays them as religious zealots who discriminate against women, torture themselves and even commit murder. But what is the reality?

Well, our faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher received unprecedented access to Opus Dei's members and its headquarters right here in New York, which is talked about in the book. Her look inside the real Opus Dei is a real "Eye Opener."


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As the world waits for the movie version of Dan Brown's best seller to hit theaters, "The Da Vinci Code" is poised to explode.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in the middle of the a war to protect a secret so powerful, that if revealed it would devastate the very foundations of mankind.

GALLAGHER: But a war being waged off screen pits Hollywood against Christianity, raising the question, how far should fiction intrude on fact?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Witness the biggest cover-up in human history. At the center of the controversy is a real life group called Opus Dei, unwillingly cast as the villains in Dan Brown's book and brought to life on film by an evil bishop and a killer monk who lurks in shadows and whips himself bloody.

But what is Opus Dei? Opus Dei describes itself as a Catholic organization whose mission is to enable people to serve God through work and everyday life. But in "The Da Vinci Code," Brown describes it as a deeply devout Catholic sect, a brainwashing cult and a secret society.

From the first page of the book, Brown sets the stage for his tale of conspiracy inside it's $47 million headquarters on Lexington Avenue. This is the actual building. It's 17 stories tall with separate entrances for men and women. Inside separate facilities divide male and female members called numeraries. They make a life long commitment to celibacy and to living in an Opus Dei residence. There are his and her chapels, dining rooms, classrooms and fitness centers.

TONA VARELA, OPUS DEI NUMERARY: This is the exercise room also known as the torture chamber.

GALLAGHER (on-camera): The real torture chamber.

(voice over): Tona Varela has been a numerary for 25 years.

VARELA: In Opus Dei, we are about holiness. In holiness, you need to be free to love God.

GALLAGHER (on-camera): Do you feel brain washed? Do you feel like you belong to a cult?

VARELA: I hope I don't look brainwashed to you. And I am completely free. I am very happy and free.

GALLAGHER (voice over): Not all members of Opus Dei are celibate. The majority of the roughly 3,000 American members are what is called super numeraries. They can marry, have children and live in their own home. Terri Carron is one of them. A wife, mother of four and public relations consultant, Terri is one of several members the group has been providing to the media in recent months.

(on-camera): What is the biggest myth perpetrated by the book or the movie about Opus Dei?

TERRI CARRON, OPUS DEI SUPERNUMERARY: I think the biggest myth about Opus Dei is that it is some kind of religious organization, you know, involved in conspiracy to find some elusive holy grail, and the reality is much more down to earth. You know, we are just people, lay Catholics looking for God in our everyday life.

GALLAGHER (voice over): As for "The Da Vinci Code's" hulking albino monk named Silas who steals murders and then tortures himself...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a secret you will die for.

GALLAGHER: Opus Dei wants you to meet a real Silas. Far from hulking or albino, Silas Agbim is a Nigerian born stockbroker who lives in Brooklyn, works on Wall Street and stands just 5 foot 5.

SILAS AGBIM, OPUS DEI SUPERNUMERARY: I'm not a monk nor an albino. I'm married with a wife and three children.

GALLAGHER (on-camera): And no murders in your background?

AGBIM: No murders? No murders in you my background. All you have to find in my background is a jolly fellow.

GALLAGHER (voice over): For all of the debate about the book and the movie, neither Dan Brown nor the filmmakers are the first to portray Opus Dei in a negative light. Some former members have told stories of fear, entrapment and brainwashing on this web site, The Opus Dei Awareness Network, which claims to describe the groups questionable practices in vivid detail.

COLLEEN, FMR. OPUS DEI NUMERARY ASST.: Opus Dei is a cult. And, you know, I want people to know that a year ago I would have never said that. Looking at this makes me feel sad.

GALLAGHER: Colleen was a numerary assistant in Opus Dei for 20 years, living and working in its residences throughout the U.S., including the one in New York. But last year Colleen left for good.

COLLEEN: Opus Dei preaches goodness and peace and love, but really what they do is not ethical. It's deceptive and it's scary, and it's not so good. I still have nightmares every night that I'm in Opus Dei, and I can't get out.

GALLAGHER: Colleen says she was expected to practice strict rituals like corporal mortification, striking herself with a knotted whip called a discipline and wearing a spiked metal chain as a reminder of Christ suffering.

COLLEEN: We believed that the more you mortified yourself, the more graces you would win for people.

GALLAGHER (on camera): The Albino monk in "The Da Vinci Code" wears a cilice so tightly, he makes himself bleed. This is an actual cilice worn by numeraries around their bare thighs for two hours a day. You can see for yourself just how sharp these spikes are. Depending on how tightly you tie it, it could be pretty painful.

REV. MICHAEL BARRETT, OPUS DEI: Corporal mortification is harmless to your health. It doesn't cause any physical damage whatsoever.

GALLAGHER: It doesn't make you bleed?

BARRETT: Not a bit.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Reverend Michael Barrett insists that Opus Dei is not a cult and thinks that "Da Vinci Code" director Ron Howard should have left out any mention of Opus Dei in the movie.

BARRETT: The trailers that I've seen are so sensational, I have this little bit of hope that maybe it's going to fall on its own foolishness.

GALLAGHER (on camera): He says it's a work of fiction.

BARRETT: It's a work of fiction, but it still doesn't entitle a person to say whatever he wants about real institution.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Opus Dei asked Sony Pictures to add a disclaimer to the movie, reminding viewers that it's fiction.

But Ron Howard declined, saying that spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers.

(on camera): What would you say to moviegoers of "The Da Vinci Code?"

BARRETT: I'd say to see the movie with your eyes open, not to just take things is as though everything presented is fact and true.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Delia Gallagher, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: And guess what? As you well know, you're going to have the opportunity to do just that this weekend when the movie open nationwide here.

And we switch gears now to look at a deadly mystery in Florida. Why have there been three fatal alligator attacks in just the past week alone? Is the gator population out of control? And if you don't want to read "The Da Vinci Code," maybe your dog does. Jeanne Moos has met a woman who says you can actually teach your dog to read. We're just trying to teach ours to go outside when he needs to go outside.

Right now, No. 4 on our countdown. The Coast Guard has abandoned the search for an Ohio man presumed to have fallen from an ocean liner during a Caribbean cruise. Twenty-one-year-old Daniel Dipiero, who's been missing since Monday. No. 3 when we come back.


ZAHN: So tonight, who could blame anyone in Florida for being afraid of the dark and all of those alligators lurking there? As you probably know, three people have been killed in one week by gators and there was another close call today. This one near New Port Richey, north of St. Petersburg. A nine-foot alligator trapped a woman in her home. A sheriff's deputy shot it, but that didn't stop it all. Eventually they had to call in a professional trapper who took care of it, and that is a booming business in Florida right now as we hear from Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Todd Hardwick catches gators for a living. In 25 years he's reeled in more than 1,000 of them. Compares it to riding a bucking bronco and taping its snout shut. Sometimes Hardwick asks a reporter to hold the catch pole while he catches his breath. TODD HARDWICK, ALLIGATOR HUNTER: I have been tired for five days.

CANDIOTTI: He's been going nonstop since the first of three women were killed by three different alligators in Florida. Yovy Suarez Jimenez, jogging at dusk near Fort Lauderdale probably took a break along a canal when an alligator, suspected to be this nine-foot alligator, attacked. Her arms were found in its stomach.

More than 100 miles away, another young woman went snorkeling in a canal. Friends found her with her head caught in a gator's jaws. It was too late to save her. Also last weekend, a third woman was found floating in a canal behind some homes. Todd Hardwick, veteran hunter, never at a loss for words, finally is.

HARDWICK: I'm speechless. I mean, I'm absolutely stunned.

CANDIOTTI: Of 20 fatal attacks in nearly 60 years in Florida, Hardwick cannot recall three so close together.

HARDWICK: People forget that an alligator is a cold-blooded predatory reptile. In that split second, he just, bam, gets it, pulls it into the water, game over.

CANDIOTTI: Florida wildlife agents say this year's dry season is not that unusual, and mating season's the same. It's just that man continues to elbow in on the alligator's habitat.

HARDWICK: Everybody wants their alligator caught first. Everybody's got the biggest, meanest alligator.

CANDIOTTI: And because of the string of attacks, trappers' phones are ringing off the hook.

HARDWICK: These are all state permits to go and remove alligators. They said that he was out of the water on the land and they would like him removed as soon as possible, that he's eaten three ducks already.

CANDIOTTI: Over the years Hardwick has suffered only one serious injury. He took a giant hook in an arm when a line came loose and a gator's rolls made the cut even deeper. Most trapped gators are killed. Their hide, meat, skull all sold. If attacked, same advice that you get if it were a shark. Fight for your life.

HARDWICK: Smack this gator, punch him, gouge his eyes out. They want an easy prey.

CANDIOTTI: P.S. Because the population is so healthy at a million and a half, hunting season is starting earlier this year. Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


ZAHN: Amazing what they're putting up with down there. "LARRY KING LIVE" gets underway in just about 11.3 minutes from now. How are you doing, Lar?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm right here with you, Paula.

ZAHN: You had a good show last night. Who do you have on tonight?

KING: Robert Redford joins us tonight.

ZAHN: Oh, I'm jealous.

KING: We center in on the question of energy and gas prices. David O'Reilly, the chairman and CEO of Chevron will be aboard. We'll also took with Sir Richard Branson, the head of Virgin Airlines about why the prices of aircraft go up so much because of fuel. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Dick Durbin and others. An entire program kicking off with Mr. Redford, devoted to the energy crisis in America. You must watch, Paula.

ZAHN: I will be there. Tell Bob I said hello, OK?

KING: I will give him your best.

ZAHN: OK, thanks. We'll be watching. And now, right now we're going to take a quick business break.


ZAHN: If you have a dog, you might want your pet in the room for the next story. See it to believe it. Perhaps you can teach him or her a really good trick. Can dogs really learn to read?

First, though, number three in our countdown. Iran's president turns down the latest offer from the EU to help Iran produce nuclear energy if it stops uranium enrichment. Number two on our list straight ahead.


ZAHN: All right. For all you dog lovers out there and I'm one of them. Dogs do amazing things. They track criminals, they sniff out drugs and they find injured people in disasters, but, can they read? Jeanne Moos met someone who says yes and she's training them to do it.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How many owners can say this about their dogs?

BONNIE BERGIN, PRES. ASSISTANCE DOG INSTITUTE: He's been reading for about two years now.

MOOS: You don't believe it? Still don't believe it? Well believe this.

OK, so a novel might be too much. BERGIN: Want to do some light reading? "War and Peace." It will just take a minute.

MOOS: Teach your dog to read makes no bones about it. OK you're right, your dog will never be able to read this book, but it might teach him the basics.

BERGIN: When you can teach your dog to read two or three words in the space of maybe 15 or 20 minutes, once you see that, then you know it's real.

MOOS: Bonnie Bergin is considered a pioneer in assistance dog training. She founded the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rose, California. Her new book shows how to use flash cards to teach dogs to read, but is it actually reading.

BERGIN: They're looking at it as in abstract symbols.

MOOS: First you show the command and say the command a few times. Then you get to graduate to flashing the card without saying the word. A reward is crucial, though the treat is more powerful than the written word.

BERGIN: Is this what you're look for?

MOOS: The flash card get harder. Two letters, three letters and three words. Though dogs have mastered as many as 20 written commands, we also saw a lot of guessing. When shows the command, DOWN, Norton first tried to speak and then he did a turn did only then did he go down.

Moments later he apparently mistook shake for speak. But when he was shown speak upside down.

BERGIN: He's doing it.

MOOS: We made up a few of our own flash cards.

MOOS (on camera): Guess she doesn't want to join. Run, spot, run and another one of your literary favorites.

(voice-over): Seriously, folks, why teach dogs to read?

BERGIN: We're looking for ways to stretch their mind.

MOOS: So instead of just being in the pool, head for the book store together and the next thing you know, she will be map reading.

(on camera): North, south, east --

(voice-over): Instead of war and peace. How about the doggy equivalent of a romance novel? Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: The techniques not only English only. Travelling to Japan, the author says she also taught dogs to read in Japanese. My Nigel may not be able to read, but he's really good at getting into garbage cans.

Number two on our countdown, Nicole Kidman and country music star Keith Urban engaged. No word of a wedding date.

Another big name celebrity marriage is the top story on our Web site. What was Sir Paul's big announcement today?


ZAHN: Number one, Paul and Heather split up. Thanks so much for joining us. Have a good night. See you tomorrow.


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