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Search Continues for Missing Soldiers in Iraq; Bush's Poll Numbers Up Slightly; Inside Military Contractor Blackwater USA; New Documentary Chronicles America's Fascination With Crossword Puzzles

Aired June 17, 2006 - 11:30   ET


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news for you, two American soldiers missing in Iraq. The military says it is using every means possible to try to find them at this moment and is praying for their safe return. The soldiers disappeared after a skirmish Friday night at a checkpoint outside Baghdad. Another soldier was also killed in that incident.
Bombs and mortar attacks across Baghdad today leave 23 people dead. The bloodiest incident was a suicide car bombing that targeted an Iraqi army police patrol. Eleven people died in that blast. The attacks come despite a major government security sweep across the capital.

And it is decision day for NASA. Mission managers are meeting to decide if the shuttle "Discovery" will launch on July 1st. Commander Steve Lindsey says everything is looking good so far.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to get back now to our developing story from Iraq, the death of one American soldier and the search for two missing comrades. The three Americans were manning a checkpoint south of Baghdad. Let's go to CNN's Cal Perry.


CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A rare announcement today from the U.S. military on a Saturday here in Baghdad, Major General Caldwell saying that two U.S. soldiers are currently missing, one is dead in an attack on a checkpoint in the town of Yusufiya.

The attack happened last night at about 8:00 p.m., a local checkpoint, a checkpoint near to the one that was attacked, called a U.S. quick reaction force. When they arrived on the ground, they found one U.S. soldier dead, two missing. Major General Caldwell saying that a massive search operation is under way both in the water and on ground, that four operations have taken place since the incident last night.

In other news here in Baghdad, it's been an exceptionally bloody day, five major attacks in the capital killing over 23 people, wounding 70 others. We know that a major bomb went off in the central part of the city, an attack on security forces, these are, in fact, the forces that the prime minister has put on the street, what he dubs Operations Gather Forward.

This is the fourth day to secure the city. Over 70,000 of these various security forces are on the streets. In northern Baghdad, an apparent sectarian attack, the target, a Shia market. Two people killed, another 11 wounded in on mortar barrage. Four mortars hitting the crowded market at about 10 a.m.

This all follows another sectarian attack the day before at a Shia shrine in northwestern Baghdad. Eleven people dead, another 25 wounded in a suicide bombing. The suicide bomber was able to make his way all the way into the mosque. This only raises sectarian tensions at a time in which the prime minister and U.S. military are trying to secure the capital.

Cal Perry, CNN, Baghdad.


NGUYEN: Well, President Bush is getting a bit of a bounce. His poll ratings are up slightly after this week's trip to Baghdad and the killing of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq. Today the president is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, so we're going to go there live to White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed, first of all, the president gave his radio address there from Crawford. Any developments out of that?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Betty. The president is get being some down time here after crisscrossing the country yesterday, stumping for Republican candidates. As you know, Iraq will be a central issue in the midterm elections.

The president in his radio address trying to walk a fine line once again on Iraq on one hand, touting some of the good news you mentioned, formation of the new government, the killing of Zarqawi. But also, on the other hand, basically acknowledging the challenges ahead, that the violence will continue, a point he made in that radio address.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is vital for the Iraqi people to know with certainty that America will not abandon them after we have come this far. The challenges that remain in Iraq are serious. We face determined enemies who remain intent on killing the innocent and defeating these enemies will require more sacrifice and the continued patience of our country. But our efforts in Iraq are well worth it. The mission is necessary for the security of our country and we will succeed.


HENRY: Now the president did not quite walk as fine a line yesterday on the campaign trail. Coming out swinging basically charging that the Democrats are advocating a policy of cutting and running from Iraq, basically maybe giving us a peek into the Republican play book for November and Republicans are cheered by the fact that it looks like the president's poll numbers are inching ever so slightly upward, Betty. NGUYEN: Let's talk about that poll for just a minute, those poll numbers, because the president made his surprise trip to Iraq as we saw earlier this week and one might expect that those numbers would really take a boost. They got a bit of a boost, but not as large a one as one might expect.

HENRY: Exactly. On the overall job approval, which is obviously something everyone looks at in this new CNN poll, it only shows the president bouncing up one point from last month, really statistically meaningless in a way, but five points when you look at where he was in April.

He's gone up five points in his overall job performance and also, specifically on the issue of how he's handling Iraq, the president has also gone up five points in the last month in handling Iraq. That's the number nervous Republicans are really taking a very close look at. But on the overall job approval rating, the fact that the president only went up one point in the last month, Democrats are looking at that and they're saying look, there's a Bush bounce, it's really not much, Betty.

NGUYEN: Ed Henry in Crawford, Texas, for us, thank you, Ed.

LUI: Staying on that subject, the war in Iraq has forced a radical turn in what was once known as the mercenary business. Hired guns say they can do the job quicker and sometimes better than the U.S. military and they're often on the front lines of that war. Now, in a CNN exclusive report, our Nic Robertson takes us inside the world of private military contractor Blackwater.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The company has never let a TV crew in like this before. Blackwater Vice President Chris Taylor escorts us around. He shows us police officers shooting on a practice range. On mock ships, Blackwater trains sailors in force protection after the bombing of the "USS Cole" in 2000. Would be private military contractors train to defeat insurgents.

CHRIS TAYLOR, V.P., BLACKWATER USA: What we're on right now is the country's largest tactical driving track.

ROBERTSON: 2.6 miles custom built. Training here matches daily realities in Baghdad.

TAYLOR: We're going to do a little slalom work here. Again, imagine that you're -- you've been attacked and now you're weaving in and out of traffic to get your principal off the X, to get to the safe zone.

ROBERTSON: Blackwater is the brain child of camera-shy, multimillionaire Eric Prince. After 9/11, business boomed. They just built a brand-new headquarters.

(on camera): See the gun barrels on the doors. TAYLOR: Yes.

ROBERTSON: A nice touch.

TAYLOR: A little bit of the Blackwater motif.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Yes. And here it is as well, Blackwater. Wartime demands allowed them to expand. They're now the second largest employer in northeastern North Carolina.

TAYLOR: 8,000 square feet in the original building, 64,000 square feet here.

ROBERTSON (on camera): That's a big expansion.

TAYLOR: It's a rather big expansion but it's needed. Certainly we've left room for growth.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Growth because Taylor believe Blackwater has a bright future.

TAYLOR: There's opportunities all over the world. Where we think we can make a very big impact immediately is in peacekeeping operations.

ROBERTSON: The protection of innocents in Darfur, Sudan, is just one of the global hot issues the company says it is ready to tackle. It's so committed to expansion in new markets, Blackwater hired 30- year CIA veteran Cofer Black, who for years headed the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden.

COFER BLACK, VICE CHAIRMAN, BLACKWATER USA: My company could deploy a reasonably small force under the guidance and leadership of any established national authority and do a terrific job.

ROBERTSON: As vice chairman of Blackwater, he's using his global contacts to search out new lucrative contracts and not just in the realm of peacekeeping. The company is developing airships for surveillance in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Heavily armed Blackwater protection teams were among the first on the scene.

TAYLOR: If you notice, the hull is in a v-shape.

ROBERTSON: And frustrated by the high U.S. troop death toll from roadside bombs, Blackwater has built a prototype for an armored alternative to the Humvee. The company says it can assemble hundreds of battle-ready men, a small private army at a moment's notice.

BLACK: Those companies that limit themselves particularly to providing only security service s will be increasingly challenged over time.


LUI: There's much for to Nic Robertson's riveting CNN's exclusive report, "Hired Guns, private security firms in Iraq." Be sure to watch it in its entirety. That's tonight at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific only on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

And join us tonight for a week at war. CNN's team of correspondents around the world will look at the president's trip, al Qaeda and Iraq's new number one man and more. John Roberts hosts the only in-depth look at the week's major events in the war on terror tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern also on CNN.

NGUYEN: All right, here's a list, former Bill Clinton, Yankees pitcher Mike Messina and comedian Jon Stewart. What's the common denominator here, huh? Well, they and millions of other people are addicted to "The New York Times" crossword puzzle. They're also in a new movie called "Wordplay" and we are going to talk to the puzzle master. Yep, we got him here behind all of this, the puzzle master coming right up.


LUI: OK, getting you updated right now, an all-out effort now under way in Iraq to try to find two missing American soldiers. They have been missing since an attack last night at a traffic checkpoint south of Baghdad. A third soldier was killed in that attack as well.

A U.S. Army spokesman saying the U.S. military is using every means at its disposal, meanwhile, to try to find those two missing troops.

Across Baghdad today, at least 23 deaths are reported in a series of attacks. Among the attacks, a suicide bombing on a mini bus, a couple of other bombings at crowded markets.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the longest running crossword puzzle tournament in the world and there's nothing like coming here for a good snowy weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Will is the progenitor. He started the whole thing. Without Will, there never would have been the tournament like this.


NGUYEN: Thinking inside the box, 50 million Americans, maybe you, do crossword puzzles every week. And a new movie, "Wordplay," chronicles America's fascination with the crossword. Well, the king of all crosswords is "The New York Times" puzzle and the man who comes up with the clues and a star of this new movie is puzzle master, the kind of crosswords, Will Shortz joins us now live. Thanks for being with us.


NGUYEN: I've never met a king such as yourself.

SHORTZ: Well ... NGUYEN: It must be good to be king and here's why you're king, OK. I've done a little research here. You sold your first crossword at the age 14. You're the only person with a degree in puzzles. What do you call that degree?

SHORTZ: Enigmatoloy.

NGUYEN: Exactly, from Indiana University. I mean, how did you get started? What drove you to crossword puzzles? Why do you love it so much?

SHORTZ: I like crosswords, first of all, because they're so creative. And I love them because they take you into every field of human knowledge. You know, you learn about classical music, literature, mythology, geography, everything up to movies, TV, rock 'n' roll, sports.

NGUYEN: Everything, it runs the gamut. OK, so this new movie, "Wordplay" really examines your life, too, and it's set in this crossword tournament which, by the way, you created back in 1978. So tell us about the movie.

SHORTZ: Yes, about the first half of the film," Wordplay," is about famous people who solve crosswords, like President Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, Mike Messina of the Yankees. And it also goes to some top crossword solvers at home as they're training for the tournament, as they're getting ready, interviews them. The second half of the film is set at last year's American crossword puzzle tournament. I tell you, the movie is funny; it's exciting. There are plot twists. There are plot twists. There's no plot.

NGUYEN: The plot is to win, right? That's the plot.

SHORTZ: There are twists on what happens at the end of the film and you are almost on the edge of your seat.

NGUYEN: I imagine. OK, but let me ask you this, since you are the master here, what kind of person, what kind of a thinker does it take, to be really good at crosswords?

SHORTZ: Well, you have to know how to spell.

NGUYEN: Well, yes.

SHORTZ: That's number one. It helps to have a good vocabulary, but crosswords nowadays don't have the obscure words that you saw in puzzles 20 years ago. Almost every answer in "The New York Times" crossword is a word or name or phrase you know, but in the harder puzzles, the clues can be tricky, deceptive, so they make you think, and the sort of person who likes crosswords is a person who likes to be challenged, likes to play with words and has a flexible mind. I think that's the biggest thing. You know, to be able to take a clue that can be interpreted in several ways and figuring out which way is the right way.

NGUYEN: Exactly. You know, and you're really hip with your crosswords, I might add, because you really try to use a lot of what we say and what we see and what we hear in just modern culture within your crossword so that being said, is there one word, one word that you really try to incorporate but just haven't figured out how to put it in that crossword?

SHORTZ: Well, let's see. You know, Js and Qs and Zs, those are difficult letters to put in.

NGUYEN: How about Nguyen, my last name, how about that?

SHORTZ: Well, why not. I don't know if Zbigniew Brzezinski has ever been in a puzzle, but that's...

NGUYEN: That's a tough one.

SHORTZ: That's a tough one to put in.

NGUYEN: Speaking of names, what does it take for people to get in those crosswords. I mean you talked about Clinton, the Indigo Girls were in there as well. What does it take to get folks into those crosswords?

SHORTZ: To solve crosswords you mean?

NGUYEN: No, to get their names ...

SHORTZ: To get their names in the puzzle. It helps, if you're having a child, let me just tell people across the country, if you're having that child and you want that child's name to appear in a crossword, name them Otto or Una, something short with vowels, starting and ending with vowels.

NGUYEN: I'll think about that when I have kids. All right. In the meantime though, let's talk about Sudoku, because you have lots of books out now. That's another puzzle, filled with math of course so you've been wildly popular with that. And here's my question to you, though, since you are the master of both, is there one that you like over the other?

SHORTZ: Oh, I tell you, I'm addicted to both and I like almost any kind of puzzle. But, you know, if I had to pick, it would be crosswords, yes.

NGUYEN: I figured. Are you a crossword snob?

SHORTZ: Not a snob, no. I'm addicted to Sudoku. I'll take the train home from work and I'll be filling in those squares.

NGUYEN: All right. We enjoy it. Folks all across America enjoy it. So thanks so much for doing what you do.

SHORTZ: Thank you very much, Betty.

NGUYEN: And we look forward to the movie. Will Shortz, "New York Times" crossword editor and the king of crosswords. Appreciate your time today. CNN LIVE SATURDAY is coming up at the top of the hour.

LUI: That's right. What have you got ...


LUI: Not the crossword puzzle, either.

WHITFIELD: We're not going to do any crossword puzzle in the next hour. But it's a fun weekend or anytime pastime.

LUI: As you're doing your thing, I'll sit here and do some words.

WHITFIELD: All right, take a look at what we got coming up at the top of the hour, we have of course a busy hour ahead. We'll have the very latest on the search for those soldiers missing in Iraq. We'll talk with a former U.S. general who has led similar search-and- rescue missions.

Also, we've got a must-see dollars and deals for you. What's the real cost of renting a car? There are 10 things your car rental company probably will not tell you but we will.

And, of course, all of these tips will save you a lot of money. That and much more coming up in the next hour. Veronica?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Fred, looking forward to it. Question, what are users keeping an eye on at this morning? I hope that you're not scared of snakes because they have got the squeeze online this morning. We are going to be telling you why size does matter. That's coming up next on the .com desk.


LUI: All right. With that, it's now time to see what people are watching online. Veronica?

NGUYEN: She joins us with the latest on that. What you got?

DE LA CRUZ: Lots of stuff, but hopefully, you're not squeamish.

NGUYEN: I don't know.

DE LA CRUZ: Not faint of heart? Snakes, "Snakes on a Plane." You know that movie," Snakes on a Plane"? OK well, lots of snakes on your video player or should we say on the pipeline this morning. We're going to start in Texas. This is a picturesque neighborhood beaming with wildlife, but neighbors have got the jitters. They have been watching this marsh from their windows which, apparently, is infested with snakes.

They contacted a wildlife relocation company to cut down on the number of slithering reptiles. The first day they removed 10 diamondback water snakes and one Texas rat snake. And if you think about it, 10 babies a year, that means that they'd be able to reduce the population by 180 snakes alone. NGUYEN: Those diamondbacks don't mess around. Ooh.

DE LA CRUZ: Also in Texas, this one's for Betty, we're staying in Texas.

NGUYEN: Yes, I like it.

DE LA CRUZ: He is man's best friend or at least one man's best friend, but Snooky the pet python is just too big, too big for Texas. A neighbor or a snake snitch, shall we call him, called animal control who now wants to have him removed. At over 20 feet long and more than 200 pounds, he's just too big, like I was saying, for the state of Texas. Snooky even and his owner have been together for 30 years.

NGUYEN: Really? Oh.

LUI: Is there anything too big for Texas? No.

NGUYEN: I didn't think there was anything too big for Texas. I'm sure they've got regulations, seriously, who has a python that big as a pet?

DE LA CRUZ: I'm sure he's grown throughout the years, so 30 years together and now he has to say good-bye.

NGUYEN: What do you do with a snake like that? I mean really, what do you do with a snake like that, honestly? You can walk a dog, what do you do with a snake like that? That's what I want to know.

LUI: You catch them. You put them away.

DE LA CRUZ: I wonder where he keeps him. I'm sure it's in the backyard.

NGUYEN: Yes, right.


NGUYEN: Veronica de la Cruz, thank you so much.

I want to tell you a little bit about an interview that's coming up, this absolutely gorgeous new mom, you know who we're talking about, Angelina Jolie, had the same fears many of you mothers experience during childbirth. She was scared that something would go wrong. The actress has adopted two children and she now has delivered baby Shiloh by cesarean section in Namibia last month. She talked about it with our Anderson Cooper in her first interview since Shiloh's birth.


ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: Because you're there for the birth which I wasn't for my first two kids, you're just suddenly terrified they're not going to take a first breath. That was my whole focus. I just wanted to hear the cry. I would sure everything would go. At the last minute I became the mother that was sure everything was going to go wrong and she's healthy and it was amazing.


NGUYEN: You can watch Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with Angelina Jolie in its entirety this Tuesday night. That is 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, CNN, the most trusted name in news. That baby's going to be beautiful. I know, all right, well, "CNN LIVE SATURDAY" with Fredricka Whitfield is up next right after this short break. Have a great day.


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