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AMERICAN MORNING

Middle East Cease-Fire; Target: USA

Aired August 14, 2006 - 08:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Lebanese and Israeli armies working out the next steps for southern Lebanon this morning. A fragile cease-fire is holding, but not all the guns are silent.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: "Target: USA." After last week's terror scare, how prepared are we to stop an attack?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve, in Washington.

The U.S. brings down the threat level on flights from the United Kingdom. I'll have that story.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Zain Verjee, in Toronto, where an alleged plot here to blow up buildings and behead the prime minister was -- was foiled in June. We're going to tell you about it and tell you how serious the threat of homegrown terrorism is in Canada.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken in Morristown, New York. Right in back of me, Canada, so close that the people here have a lack of formality, border formalities that just don't work anymore in the modern world.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alina Cho at New York's Grand Central Station. When it comes to mass transit security, there are holes. I'll tell you where they are and how they can be fixed in a live report coming up.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sean Callebs at Port Fourchon, in southern Louisiana, a critically important oil port. I'll tell you how vulnerable this site is and what a terrorist attack could mean to our economy.

That's coming up on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: And welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us this morning.

That Middle East cease-fire now about eight hours old. Apparently holding, just holding. Just a short while ago, military officials from the Lebanese and Israeli armies met separately with the head of the United Nations forces in southern Lebanon, which, of course, will play a key role in all of this.

We have CNN correspondents on both sides of the border, of course. Ben Wedeman is in Tyre, Lebanon.

We begin with Matthew Chance in northern Israel.

Matthew, what is the latest from there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles -- Miles, thanks very much.

This artillery battery which has been one of the places from which these Israeli guns have been pounding Hezbollah positions over the past several weeks has been silent for all of the past eight hours since the cease-fire came into play here in Israel in its battle with Hezbollah. Coming in the other direction, as well, according to the Israeli police, there hasn't even been one Katyusha rocket land in Israel, in its towns and cities across the north, since the eight hours have passed when the cease-fire came into force.

So the cease-fire is very much having a big effect on the level of violence. There have been some clashes inside south Lebanon, though, with Israeli forces firing on suspected Hezbollah militants. And so, all the ingredients are there, Miles, for the cease-fire to fall to pieces.

Remember, Israel has some 30,000 troops on the ground in south Lebanon still. Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia has been vowing to fight those troops until the day they leave. And so, this really is still hanging by a thread, there's still plenty of potential for this to go wrong -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, it doesn't seem, Matthew, that all the ingredients are in place yet for the cease-fire. In other words, the cease-fire is kind of ahead of having the forces in place to enforce it.

CHANCE: Absolutely. And that's the problem with the cease-fire at the moment, Miles. Israel has made it clear that it won't let its forces that have been deployed in south Lebanon to the extent of 30,000, it won't -- it won't move them out of those positions until such times as a robust international force has been put in place in south Lebanon to prevent the Hezbollah, they say, from using this cease-fire merely as an opportunity to regroup and to rearm.

The trouble is, we don't know when that international force is going to arrive. Maybe it will be a week, maybe it will be much longer before it's robust enough to take over fully from the Israelis. In the meantime, the possibility of clashes between Hezbollah and Israel is very, very acute, and we have seen two clashes, as I mentioned, over the course of this day -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Matthew Chance in northern Israel.

Let's go across about 30 miles or so to the north, to Tyre, Lebanon, where folks are trying to make their way back home, and with some difficulty, because many of the bridges and roads have been affected by the Israeli bombing over these past 30-some-odd days. Tyre was hit very often by Israel, a suspected launching site. Well, not suspected. We know it was a launching site by Hezbollah for some of those rockets which landed in northern Israel.

Ben Wedeman is in Tyre with more -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles, it is deliciously peaceful here today. We haven't had the rumble and the boom of bombs and artillery shaking the walls of this hotel. It is very quiet.

It was noisy up to 8:00 a.m., when the cease-fire went into effect. We saw several Katyusha rockets going in the direction of Israel. But after 8:00, by and large, not much to report in terms of fire. But what we do have is thousands of people who, hearing that this cease-fire does seem to be holding, coming down from Beirut, from Sidon, from the cities from the north of here, trying to make their way to their homes.

Now, this morning, there were bulldozers that repaired the bridge over the Litani River that had been hit by Israeli air strikes. These people are heading out to their villages and towns, many of them severely bombarded in the last 33 days. But, Miles, there's a danger.

Despite the fact the guns have gone silent, there are possibly thousands of unexploded artillery shells and bombs scattered all over southern Lebanon. And just today we've heard from Lebanese security sources that two people, a child and an adult, have been killed, and nine people wounded by some of this unexploded ordnance.

In fact, the Israeli Defense Forces have warned people not to come down to southern Lebanon because of, A, the danger of these unexploded comes, and, B, the possibility of clashes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah. But, despite that, these people want to get out of the refugee facilities, the schools and other buildings in the rest of Lebanon which are very cramped, very difficult circumstances. They want to come home.

The problem is, what kind of home are they coming to -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What are the chances, Ben, that when they return home they will put pressure on the Hezbollah fighters to continue this cease-fire? In other words, to lay down the arms?

WEDEMAN: Well, I have spoken to some of the people who have been driven from their homes, and the suspicion is that when people go down south, see their homes and their houses, their villages and towns, and realize the extent of the damage that has been caused from this fighting, there could possibly be a backlash against Hezbollah. The economy is in ruins. We have heard statistics saying it may have cost Lebanon more than $10 billion, this fighting.

When people realize the extent of that, A, there will be very strong pressure to keep the cease-fire, and, B, there could be a political backlash against Hezbollah -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see if it's focused in that direction or focused toward Israel.

Ben Wedeman in Tyre.

Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In the wake of the foiled airline terror plot, just how safe are we here in the U.S.? All day long CNN is taking a critical look at the locations most vulnerable to possible terror attacks. We're calling it "Target: USA."

We'll begin our coverage in Washington, D.C., where the Department of Homeland Security has lowered the nation's threat level from red to orange for airline flights from Britain to the U.S.

CNN's homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is standing by for us this morning.

Good morning to you, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Good morning, Soledad.

It is because the British have lowered their threat level that the United States is lowering the level on flights from the United Kingdom to the U.S. It moves from red, or severe, to orange. However, the department cautions that passengers on those flights can still expect enhanced security measures, including additional restrictions on hand luggage.

In announcing the change last evening, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement, "Let me be clear, this does not mean the threat is over. The investigation continues to follow all leads. In particular, we are remaining vigilant for any signs of planning within the U.S. or directed at Americans."

On CNN's "LATE EDITION," Chertoff said no such link had been found.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The current evidence does not show any plotting occurring inside the United States or any plan to conduct operations within the United States. But that is the issue we will be continuing to monitor minute by minute as we go forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Meanwhile, the rest of aviation in and to the United States remains at threat level orange, or high. The ban on carrying on liquids and gels remains in place, although the Transportation Security Administration says small doses of liquid medications will now be permitted, as will glucose gel for diabetics, solid lipstick, and baby food. Aerosols are prohibited.

The TSA says shoe screening will now be mandatory. K-9 detection teams are going to have higher visibility. And random gate and bag searches will continue. TSA made the modifications after feedback from the public, and further refinements are possible -- Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve for us this morning.

Jeanne, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's shift our attention a little bit to another potential gap in the system, the long, porous border we share with Canada. In many places, citizens of both countries pass to and fro with barely a nod to any authorities.

Is this a big gap -- gaping hole in our terror safety net?

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken is on the border this morning. He is in Morristown, New Jersey (sic), where you could -- you could swim to Canada if you were in good enough shape, Bob.

FRANKEN: People literally do, and kayak. You can see that behind me is Rockville. It's just about a mile from here, across the St. Lawrence River. And we took a boat ride from Rockville to the United States to show how easy it is to escape detection.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice over): Our captain, Ken Befield, has been running charters and personal trips to and from Canada since he was a kid. Even after all the focus on border security, he shares a widely held opinion here, that just about any boater can slip in between official points of entry.

KEN BEFIELD, CHARTER CAPTAIN: It's pretty wide open. It's more based on the honor system, but it's pretty easy.

FRANKEN: That honor system governs registration at both ends of the trip here across the mile-wide St. Lawrence River.

(on camera): This time of year, people go back and forth on their boats by the hundreds, as we are. And they can do so very easily, without anyone knowing who they really are or what they are really doing.

(voice over): Many literally swim across. And in winter up here, the water freezes enough to walk.

BEFIELD: It makes you really stop and think how easy people can -- people that want to hurt the Americans can come over and do what they want to do.

FRANKEN: It has made many in government focus on a 4,000-mile U.S.-Canadian border that has gaps that can be exploited.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: We've had hearings, we've done field trips, field visits, and it's something that I have a concern about.

FRANKEN: As for the seemingly lax system here, Customs and Border Patrol officials insist, "Changes are continuously being made." But at the moment, any boater can simply ignore the regulations that our captain follows.

BEFIELD: Yes, I like to report back in the United States.

FRANKEN: He reports on a special videophone and identifies all on board.

(on camera): Franken, F-R-A-N-K-E-N.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: A demonstration, Miles, that they are not that selective about who they let in. The truth is, say officials, though, they are really tightening things up to try and improve a northern border that gets a lot less attention than our southern border in the United States -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And, of course, I did misspeak. Morristown, New Jersey, isn't anywhere near Canada. Although, George Washington, did sleep there. I don't know if George Washington...

S. O'BRIEN: You said Morristown, New Jersey?

M. O'BRIEN: I did. I meant New York. I'm sorry.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. Morristown -- I was just reading a book on the Revolutionary War. Anyway...

S. O'BRIEN: People in the Northeast, he's new to this region.

M. O'BRIEN: We don't want -- quickly, though, I don't want to overstate this, but, you know, people rely on this easy transport back and forth across this border to do commerce, to do business. That's how -- it's just the pattern of their lives.

As they tighten things up, how difficult will that be for them?

FRANKEN: They are not happy about that. There's a plan now to put a passport requirement in. And the people here worry that that's really going to dry up the kind of business where both sides of the St. Lawrence River consider the other side, in effect, a suburb.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Bob Franken, thank you very much.

Let's get a check of the forecast now from Morristown, New York, New Jersey, and any other Morristown you like.

Chad Myers has them all.

Hello, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Miles, it's Morristown, New York, but it's Morristown, New Jersey.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey... M. O'BRIEN: What exit, huh?

S. O'BRIEN: ... all of you people from Atlanta are getting a little bit too close to the edge there.

MYERS: I'm from New York. I just live here now. Rebel by choice, I guess.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad. Thank you, Chad.

S. O'BRIEN: I love having you back from vacation. Someone to torture.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm just happy to serve you.

S. O'BRIEN: We're going to continue our special coverage of "Target: USA." Here is a question for you. Why did the government lower the terror threat level for jetliners? We'll be talking with a top official with the TSA just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Also ahead, the holes in mass transit security, as well. Find out why the biggest safety threat may be during your morning commute.

S. O'BRIEN: And the nation's oil supply could make a tempting target for terrorists. A look at whether they really could cripple America's oil flow.

Those stories and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The threat level for flights coming in from Great Britain has now been demoted from red to orange, indicating there may not be an imminent threat, and following suit with the authorities in Great Britain. And there are also some changes that you need to know about if you're flying domestically today.

That liquid ban has been tweaked. That's the term they are using. Take a look.

You can bring small doses of non-prescription medications. Shoe removal remains mandatory. You can bring solid lipstick, baby food, and formula is OK. And then glucose gels for diabetics now considered OK.

And I'm sure that will get -- that will change and modify and tweak over time.

Kip Hawley is assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and he heads the TSA. He joins us now from Washington.

Mr. Hawley, good to have you with us.

KIP HAWLEY, ASSISTANT TSA SECRETARY: Good morning, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's -- we were talking with Congressman Peter DeFazio just a little while ago, and I just want to share a brief excerpt of that conversation with him. We were talking about the subject of liquids on planes and the threat they pose.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: I asked them to take liquids off the week after 9/11 because we knew about the Ramzi Yousef plot, and there had been other incidents just using flammables in the Middle East. So they are way, way behind the curve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: This whole notion of liquids, that was -- he's talking about that plot -- that Ramzi Yousef plot, I believe, goes back to 1995 to blow up airliners, originating out of Asia, coming into the United States. Ramzi Yousef actually had a trial run where one passengers was killed. The plane had to come down in an emergency landing.

This is not new. This is -- this is pre-2001, pre-9/11 stuff. And yet, suddenly, a knee jerk response to a foiled plot in Great Britain. We're saying now we should take liquids off.

Why?

HAWLEY: No, the threat is very real of any kind of explosives. And there are many kinds, and certainly we know about liquid explosives. We have, in fact, the technology to detect it.

The issue for the bottle scanners, so to speak, is that it's not efficient in that you have to scan one bottle at a time. So, it will not be the immediate fix to get a piece of technology.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, why -- why have -- why weren't the liquids banned after 1995 until such time as technology became evident that would protect people?

HAWLEY: It was a risk-based approach. And the liquids in this form is a novel approach. It is different from before. And we do have, in fact, training for detecting liquid explosives, and it is part of the package that we have had in place for a long time.

The -- there is a novel application of this that we wanted to assure the traveling public of their safety. So, in focusing just on the safety piece, we decided, let's not take any chances and for right now ban liquids.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. But as a member of the public, as someone who flies, I look at the way -- and it's not just the U.S. -- the way we collectively respond to these threats, and it seems like a knee jerk reaction after the fact. HAWLEY: Well, in this case it was an immediate aggressive reaction to ensure the safety of the public. And that was the only consideration. And while there is a good likelihood that we could pick up someone who is on that kind of a mission, this is not a matter where we want to deal with likelihood. We want to be absolutely sure of the safety of the traveling public, and that's why we took this strong action.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So, what would it take then for liquids, you know, the cup of coffee I used to carry on the airplane, to be -- to be legal once again? Are you just going to wait for a matter of time for us to forget a little bit about this, or will there have to be some sort of technological solution here?

HAWLEY: Yes. There's no waiting.

What we're looking for is the layered security approach, where we can put together different aspects of security that will -- will cover -- cover the possibility of somebody bringing on this type of liquid explosive. A single device is not the silver bullet that -- it's a combination of different security measures, including behavior observation, that is available now that will be part of the final solution to get whatever the resolution is on liquid explosives.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. A final thought here. The amount of money spent per passenger on airline safety is tremendous compared to other modes of transportation.

HAWLEY: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: And we've seen it -- plenty of evidence that other modes of transportation are targeted. Fortunately not in this country, but in other countries.

Can you say right now, do you feel confident the distribution of money, time and effort is appropriate, or is our mass transit system really vulnerable right now?

HAWLEY: Our mass transit system is a very high priority for us. The disproportion in the budget relates to the fact that we -- we provide the salaries for all of the screeners around the country. And if we were to do that in the transit system from the federal government, it would be something like 688,000 people.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow.

HAWLEY: So we have confidence in the state and local authorities that do run the transit systems, and they lean forward very aggressively on their security. Our primary role is to feed them intelligence and knowledge to let them be the feet on the street, because they are already in location.

M. O'BRIEN: Kip Hawley, who heads the TSA, you've got your work cut out for you these days and every day, I guess. Thank you and good luck. And we wish you well keeping us safe.

HAWLEY: Thank you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We'll have more of "Target: USA" coming up in just a few moments.

What's being done to protect the nation's oil supply? We'll take you to a critical port that could be especially vulnerable.

Plus, an alleged homegrown terror plot in Toronto. We'll take a look at why some experts say it was exaggerated and has left Muslims under siege.

That's ahead. Stay with us. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: We continue our live coverage of "Target: USA" with a look at the Gulf Coast region.

The Louisiana coastline, peppered with oil rigs, and all are potential terror targets.

CNN's Sean Callebs is near Port Fourchon this morning.

Good morning to you.

CALLEBS: Good morning, Soledad.

I spent some time yesterday with people who operate Port Fourchon here, and they say for obvious reason the U.S. focus is, to a large degree, on what would happen in terms of human casualties in a terrorist attack, for good reason. But they also wonder here the kind of environmental damage and the kind of economic damage it would do to the U.S. economy.

Around me you see all kinds of pipes, you see tanks. And out here you see a number of the ships that basically service all of those rigs in the offshore area. But what you don't see, the pipelines from those rigs offshore that pump in so many millions of barrels of oil every day.

About one-fifth of the U.S. oil supply comes through Port Fourchon every day. And 18 miles up the coast is a critically important area called the LOOP, Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. Now, there, tankers from all over the world come. They offload their crude there, then it's pumped in.

Now, the commission wonders openly what would happen if, say, a tanker from the Mideast with three million barrels of oil on board was hijacked and someone tried to blow it up out there? Not only would it devastate the LOOP, but it would cause an environmental disaster.

So, clearly, they are worried here and they're wondering what they can do to ramp up security. They have a number of harbor police, only 14, and they only have one boat to patrol all of the rigs within a two-mile area off this coast. They would like to get more money from the Department of Homeland Security. But right now, Soledad, that is not on the horizon.

So, it looks like it's going to be status quo here for some time.

S. O'BRIEN: And I would imagine status quo, a lot of the other rigs, as well.

Sean Callebs for us this morning.

Thanks, Sean.

Ahead this morning, a report card on airport security. Five years after 9/11, are we any safer when we fly?

Plus, a prime target for terrorists is mass transit. We'll take a look at some of the biggest gaps in subway and bus security.

Special coverage of "Target: USA" is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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