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AMERICAN MORNING

Katrina: One Year Later; Deadly Attacks in Iraq; Accused Polygamist Arrested

Aired August 30, 2006 - 08:59   ET

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


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm meteorologist Chad Myers in Atlanta.
The storm not able to get itself going in the overnight hours. Only a tropical storm, almost down to a tropical depression. But I'll show you one scenario that's not at all good for the Northeast.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Michael Holmes in Baghdad.

A month that started out with a drop in violence is ending in very bloody fashion. On Wednesday, dozens are dead.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Warren Jeffs is in custody. I'm in Ted Rowlands in Las Vegas, Nevada. Coming up, we'll tell you about the arrest and what is next for the polygamist prophet.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Same goal, new route. Cuban refugees taking a different trip into the country, a back door that has authorities concerned.

And strap in for a wild ride. Joining the crew of the Coast Guard chopper training for the worst. This Katrina-tested crew knows what the worst looks like.

All this ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

I'm Miles O'Brien in New York.

Good morning, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, I'm reporting for you live this morning from St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans. We're on top of the levee system here, Miles. And this is the levee that actually protects the parish.

Now, if you look over here, I want to -- actually, let's show you how we got across here. There's a canal. What we did was get an airboat to kind of help us out, plow its way through, knock down some of the little overgrowth that's been in there, and then we were able to get off boats and make our way right up here on to the levee.

Now, what I want to show you now is the big problem, at least in the storm a year ago. The tree line that you can see down there is the Mystico (ph), and that's a channel that leads right in to the Gulf.

So the water came in. Hurricane Katrina came up right through the Gulf, pushed all the water right up to the Mystico (ph), down here, where you can kind of see some of the structures there. That's the start of the intercostal waterway. There you have these channels with nowhere for the water to go. That water started overtopping the levees like this levee.

The reports were that there was something like 25 feet of water that flew right over here. And as you can see, we can show you just how close the houses are right across this channel. And you can see where there's just slabs. That's, you know, the force of that water coming right across the levee which provided virtually no protection at that point, just wiped these homes off the foundation. And, of course, as you well know now, damaged a lot of the neighborhood.

So let's talk a little bit about this levee. There are some big problems.

As you can see, they've actually bolstered them. But here's the problem, is this material, the local soil is very sandy. And because it doesn't have any green stuff on it yet, it's not as solid as it should be. One of the things they've been doing is bolstering the levee. They need clay and things that would sort of repel the water and hold the levee together in the event of any kind of storm.

That has been a big, big problem here in the parish, because, again, it's all -- it's sort of like a puzzle system. How do you know whether you should rebuild if you're there or there or there or there, or anywhere, because, keep in mind, this levee goes the entire length of the parish. How do you know if you should rebuild if you don't know that these levees are actually going to protect you if there's another storm, maybe not this or next year, but in three years, five years or in the future?

That is the big issue that they're dealing here -- dealing with, rather, here in St. Bernard Parish, and, of course, similar issues that they're dealing with all over New Orleans -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Soledad.

Tropical Storm Ernesto is drenching Florida right now, but the stronger hurricane-strength damage could still be coming. It depends on what the storm does next. And there is some troubling scenarios out there.

Aren't there, Chad Myers?

MYERS: Really. A couple of the models are very troubling.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: We turn now to Iraq, where a series of bombings has killed dozens of Iraqis today. One of those bombs targeting Baghdad's largest outdoor market. Another, a bicycle bomb, exploded outside an Iraqi army recruitment center.

CNN's Michael Holmes joining us from Baghdad with more -- Michael.

HOLMES: That's right, Miles. Good morning to you.

Yes, that marketplace, it's probably the biggest marketplace of its type in the entire country. It's a wholesale market here in Baghdad, everything from food and clothing, to electronics, even refrigerators and the like.

It is a prime target because it is a soft target. It's not difficult to bomb a place like this, and it has been bombed three times this month. This, however, the biggest. Twenty-four people killed, 38 wounded.

That bicycle bomber a bizarre development. That happened in a placed called Hilla, which is about 100 kilometers south of here. Twelve people were killed, 38 wounded.

This bomb was outside an army recruitment center. And as you said, the bomb apparently rigged to a bicycle.

Far from the only incidents today. It has been a very deadly day all around the country.

In Baquba, or just outside Baquba, two separate roadside bombs, one of them targeting Iraqi police and the other one bizarrely targeting a civilian minivan. Six people were killed, all of them from the same family.

And here in Baghdad, a gas station bombed. One bomb went off. Everyone came to see what had happened, and then a bigger bomb went off as well. Two people killed, more than a dozen wounded.

Now, Miles, this comes as Operation Together Forward continues, where U.S. and Iraqi military are pouring into problematic suburbs, uncovering weapons caches and the like, but the insurgents aren't there. They've been melting away. And there has been a fear that while those operations have reduced violence in those specific areas, that the insurgents who had left those areas would strike back to say, hey, you haven't stopped us.

And this is a day where that seems to be coming true -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Michael, do you any sense, can you tell if there's any sort of sectarian motivational thread that goes through these bombings today?

HOLMES: Sectarian violence has, of course, been the real problem here in Baghdad in particular. These bombings really smack -- particularly the big one at the marketplace. That's more of an al Qaeda-style tactic, or a tactic used by the foreign insurgents. The smaller ones could well be insurgent in nature -- sectarian in nature.

One of the problems, of course, of the death squads, the insurgents, however, is they're local people. They put down their weapons and, as one colonel told me the other day, when they do so, they're part of the population -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, a good point.

Michael Holmes in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

Polygamist and self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs wakes us this morning in jail. His first court appearance tomorrow. Authorities say he arranged marriages between older members of his sect and underage girls.

CNN's Ted Rowlands live from Las Vegas with more -- Ted.

ROWLANDS: Good morning, Miles.

Warren Jeffs was on the road and on the run for more than a year. He was on the FBI's top 10 list for four months. This morning he is in jail because of a very alert state trooper who nabbed him just north of Las Vegas on Monday night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice over): The FBI's manhunt for the prophet Warren Jeffs came to an end Monday night, just north of Las Vegas, when state trooper Eddie Dutchover pulled over this burgundy 2007 Cadillac Escalade.

EDDIE DUTCHOVER, NEVADA STATE TROOPER: The vehicle didn't have no plates on it. It had a temporary registration.

ROWLANDS: Jeffs, according to Trooper Dutchover, was in the back seat. His brother Isaac Jeffs was driving. In the far back sitting alone was one of Jeff's wives, Naomi.

DUTCHOVER: Naomi was -- didn't say much of anything. She was just kind of being quiet.

ROWLANDS: Trooper Dutchover says he immediately noticed both brothers were nervous. He said Warren Jeffs was looking down, eating a salad, but his neck artery was pumping so hard, the trooper said he knew something was wrong.

DUTCHOVER: I noticed Warren was extremely nervous. He was sitting in that -- behind the right -- right front passenger side, and wouldn't make eye contact with me.

ROWLANDS: Trooper Dutchover separated the brothers and questioned them. Isaac Jeffs told him they were headed to Utah. Warren Jeffs said they were going to Denver, Colorado.

DUTCHOVER: There was a major discrepancy between their -- their stories.

ROWLANDS: At that point, the trooper called for backup. They searched the SUV. The troopers found three wigs, three iPods, several pairs of sunglasses, and more than $54,000 in cash tucked inside the lining of a suitcase. They also found cell phones, computers, a bible, and letters addressed to the prophet Warren Jeffs.

DUTCHOVER: Guys on my team said, "That looks like him. I think we got him. I think that might be -- that might be Warren." I think that, you know, after they removed his hat, they said, "I think this is him."

ROWLANDS: Asked for identification, Jeffs only offered a contact lens receipt from another state that identified him as someone else, authorities said. Isaac Jeffs told troopers his brother name was John Finley (ph). But when the FBI showed up, according to Trooper Dutchover, and asked Jeffs his name he told them the truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: Jeffs, who had a visit here at the Clark County Detention Center from his brother last night, is expected to be in court tomorrow morning to begin the extradition process. Utah and Arizona both would like to prosecute Jeffs. The charges are a bit more stiff in Utah, but Arizona filed charges first. Not clear where he will go after leaving Las Vegas -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And just to be clear, Ted, his brother is not being held?

ROWLANDS: No. They -- and that was a question that was brought up to the FBI. Why were -- why was the brother and his wife, one of his wives, not charged with harboring a fugitive? The decision was made that neither state was going to prosecute, so they let both of them to go.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Ted Rowlands in Las Vegas.

Thank you.

Still to come on the program, more details on that deadly plane crash in Kentucky. The FAA violated its own rules. That might have made the difference between life and death. We'll take a look at that.

Also, the real heroes of Katrina, those brave Coast Guard chopper crews who save more lives in an hour than most would in a career. Dan Lothian see what's it's like to be a rescue -- a rescuee, I guess. It's very interesting. You'll want to see it.

And who decides on movie ratings? We'll meet a director who set out to unlock one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Happening "In America," in San Francisco, an SUV rampage and a bloody trail. A hit-and-run driver took aim at pedestrians in a 20-minute spree. Both sides of the bay yesterday. One killed, 14 hurt. Witnesses say the car never even slowed down. Police say they finally chased down the car and arrested the driver.

Also in California, to the south, firefighters battling a fire in the San Bernardino National Forest. The 2,000-acre fire is only 15 percent contained. Humidity is low there again. That has increased the fire danger in southern California.

The Dru Sjodin jury deliberating once again. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., accused of kidnapping and killing the University of North Dakota co-ed, it is that state's first death penalty case in more than 100 years.

An unprecedented U-turn for the space shuttle. NASA managers stopping Atlantis' slow journey back to the hangar and ordering it back to the pad yesterday.

The shuttle team was worried about Ernesto, the storm, but the forecast improved midway down the slow journey to the vehicle assembly building. NASA might now have one or two chances to launch before Atlantis' window for launching closes next week.

Well, we still don't know why the captain of that Comair jet in Lexington, Kentucky, taxied his plane to the wrong and fatally short runway Sunday morning, but we do know now the control tower was not properly staff. One person there instead of two, as per FAA guidelines.

Could another set of eyes have saved the day? That's what happened in 1993 in a very similar incident. A controller, an alert controller, told an airplane then that he was lined up on the wrong runway and that saved the day.

Michael Goldfarb is the former chief of state of the Federal Aviation Administration. He joins us from Washington.

Michael, good to have you back with us.

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FMR. FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: The FAA admits it violated its own rules. Why on earth would they do that?

GOLDFARB: Well, Miles, it's actually worse than that. It's understandable if there was an error made in judgment, but we have a situation where many of the medium size airports around the country that have witnessed remarkable growth with the advent of the regional jets, as you know, carrying people from cities that never before were direct flights have seen this growth, and air traffic control staffing has not kept pace. The men and women of the FAA do a heroic job every day out there operating this system, but they don't get a lot of help from Washington and the management.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, not just a lot of help, there's a big labor dispute under way right now. Essentially, the FAA has imposed their terms of a contract. So the labor force can't be very happy as it is.

GOLDFARB: Well, let me -- I mean, how does that -- if you were to ask the traveling public today, Miles, I mean, who in America would say, we'd like to see cutbacks in the control tower? We don't know until the board rules. You know, speculation is dangerous, and it may turn out about to variety of things that caused this crash.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, but another set of eyes is another set of eyes.

GOLDFARB: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: We don't know. But, you know, it just -- it's one more -- you know, it's like all these accidents. There's several things that could have happened.

GOLDFARB: I'm in complete agreement with you.

M. O'BRIEN: That could have stopped it, right?

GOLDFARB: I'm in complete agreement. And it's not just in Lexington. Savannah is understaffed, Philadelphia is understaffed, LAX is understaffed. The big airports are understaffed.

And it's curious as to why the FAA would choose, with growth in air travel the way it is, to take on the unions on issues around pay when a disaffected workforce is certainly not a productive one and when staffing levels historically continue to fall below what's authorized in each of these towers.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's go back a few years now. 1981, the PATCO strike, the controller strike at the time. Ronald Reagan, one of the first acts of his presidency, he fired those PATCO controllers.

A lot of people would suggest that the air traffic control system had never really recovered from that. Would you go along with that?

GOLDFARB: Yes. I think there's been a promise of automation that would come along. It's been years in the making.

The cockpit today has more technology than they have on the ground. The FAA has been unable to move to satellite-based navigation. And the theory was back in '81, Miles, as you remember, is that automation would take the place of more people.

Well, we haven't seen that happen, and we've been fighting a year's long battle to have enough controllers. But the warning signs now are right in front of us.

That workforce you just mentioned is nearing retirement age. Up to 25 percent of that workforce could retire within a year or two. With the new pay scales, reducing their -- reducing their amounts of their pensions, that kind of exodus would cripple the air traffic control system.

So there's a lot of issues way beyond Lexington here that have to do with the adequate funding and financing of FAA air traffic control.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about the crew for just a moment here.

This is an unlighted runway, it was at a time of day where it would have been illegal for them to roll down an unlighted runway. The federal aviation regulations, it was just at that point before official dawn, if will you. The runway they were supposed to use was -- was lit.

You have to get into some issues of cockpit resource management, how the crew interacted, fatigue. Are the airlines hard-pressed -- this is, after all, a bankrupt airline. Are they cutting corners on safety as well?

GOLDFARB: Well, you know, we tend to talk about it in terms of the margin of safety, and I can tell you that with the pressures on the flight attendants unions, with the cutbacks in pilots, with the cutbacks of the people who staff and maintain and run our system, it's certainly a question that needs to be looked at. I think the board will determine whether the flight and duty hours were violated in the case of this particular crew, but with the growth, I don't think we want to be in a cutback mode.

You know, Miles, FAA has a new slogan. It's called, let's act like a business. I don't think -- let's do more with less. I think in terms of air traffic control and keeping our air transport system the safest as it is in the world, I'm not sure that's the right philosophy.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. Yes.

GOLDFARB: I think we need to act like a government here and make sure that people who fly are safe and the resources are provided to those that provide it.

M. O'BRIEN: I think a lot of people in corporate America would say, no, no, no. Please, don't act like a business.

GOLDFARB: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: Don't.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

Michael Goldfarb, thanks for -- as always, thank you for your insights.

Michael is the former FAA chief of staff.

GOLDFARB: My pleasure.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, the back door to freedom. We'll show you how some Cubans may have found a new route to life and freedom in America.

And have you ever stopped to think about who decides what's PG-13 or R, for that matter, NC-17? Well, no one's supposed to know. It's a star chamber, for real, and a new documentary takes us inside.

We'll talk to the filmmaker ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The heroic, sometimes tragic, sight of Cubans on rickety boats or rafts risking their lives to make their way to freedom in Florida is being transformed now. And now some of heading to the states through what's being called a back door.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken joins us from Puerto Rico with more on that.

Hello, Bob.

FRANKEN: Hello, Miles.

We are on the very west coast of Puerto Rico, which is a famous surfing area, but way out is a very small piece of real estate which has become this preferred way for Cubans to come to the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice over): Mona Island is a tiny speck on the map, a wildlife refuge. Even though it's less than 40 miles from the Dominican Republic, it's part of Puerto Rico, USA. And it has become the destination of choice for Cubans who are allowed to travel to the Dominican Republic and be smuggled a shorter distance to United States' territory.

(on camera): Under the so-called wet foot-dry foot policy, once the Cuban refugees are able to escape past the patrols and the surveillance and set their feet here, they are allowed to stay in the United States and seek asylum.

MIGUEL NIEVES, BIOLOGIST: And usually they come early in the morning, and the first stop is my house. So they knock on my door.

"Good morning, sir. We are Cubans. We are asking for political asylum." That's what most of the time they say.

FRANKEN (voice over): The U.S. government says that since 2002, the number of Cubans coming this way has more than doubled each year. Thousands have made it, and now Coast Guard cutters, as well as boats and planes from several homeland security agencies, are scouring the waters.

In fact, Tuesday morning, they caught up with a boat carrying 11 refugees. But it's a game of cat and mouse.

LT. ADAM CHAMIE, U.S. COAST GUARD: They use methods to conceal themselves, such as a blue tarp. You put a blue tarp on top of a small boat out here in a million square miles of water, it's very, very difficult to see.

FRANKEN: And the smugglers often pile 70 or 80 into one of these small boats. No one has an accurate count of the drownings, but in December 2004 at least eight died in spite of rescue efforts by the Coast Guard.

But when refugees are captured or rescued, U.S. authorities routinely destroy their vessels. One less boat to take Cubans to Mona Island.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: They patrol about 1.5 million square miles of water in this area called the Mona Passage, Miles. Officials say they have no exact figures, but they estimate that about half of the Cubans who try do get through. And those who don't, oftentimes they'll try again -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's interesting. There's this little policy, they call it wet feet-dry feet, right, Bob? And basically, if they're captured on water, they're returned. If they get to dry land, they are allowed to ask for asylum. Right?

FRANKEN: Right, and that's specifically for Cubans, and as you saw, if they do what we did yesterday on the beach, which is exactly the way that they're let off, they walk on to the beach and now they have the right to ask for political asylum.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. Bob Franken in Puerto Rico.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles. Thanks.

We're back in St. Bernard Parish for you, live this morning.

Today, an assessment of how the parish is doing. Are people here optimistic or are they pessimistic that, in fact, one day St. Bernard Parish will rebound?

We'll take a look. We'll talk to the sheriff here just ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Let's get back to Soledad at Saint Bernard Parish -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles, here's a guy you recognize. This is Sheriff Jack Stephens. We've talking to him over the year, and we're back to do a walk-through, see what he thinks of some of the, I guess, the forward movement and maybe less progress as well.

It's Nice to see you. Good morning.

SHERIFF JACK STEPHENS, ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA.: Good morning.

S. O'BRIEN: OK, well, we walked this exact walk before, and now we're going it again, things like this, like the -- literally, this is exactly the way it was. Watch the nails. A year ago, literally, exactly.

STEPHENS: Yes, it's still a mess. I mean, and that's part of, frankly, the complication with respect to the reconstruction of this community is, how do you get this debris picked up and how do you provoke people, really, into gutting their homes and securing them, and cleaning their property? and we found that it's been a very difficult question, and I saw some coverage that you've done on that with respect to forcing people to do that. I mean, there are some instances obviously where people are just not in a position to do it. But under any circumstances it's incumbent upon government authorities to require that this get done or this renovation, rehabilitation will take years.

S. O'BRIEN: What's the plan? I mean, I think part of the reason people don't know what to do is because they don't sense that there's a big picture plan. Does the parish have a plan?

STEPHENS: The parish does have a plan, as a matter of fact. It involved prioritizing certain communities and neighborhoods in the jurisdiction, because they're the ones that are easily -- that you can easily restore government services to.

But you know, frankly, Soledad, a lot what's going on here with regards to decisions people have to make has to do with base-flood elevations, and availability of insurance and availability of mortgages, and frankly, availability of contractors to do the work, but our government authority and parish president has actually done a very good job with respect to its plan, been very interactive with the community and participated with that.

So with respect with what local government has control of, people know what to expect from them. But with regards to state and federal government, there's still a lot questions about that.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, people hear the figure $110 billion, which is the overall money -- watch the nails. There's a ton of them right behind you, OK? In fact, we'll go first. And watch the snakes, too. Thanks, sheriff. Oh, gosh.

You know, I think that -- you hear that figure, $110 billion, and you say, wow, that's a lot money, and you also know that people made personal donations to the region, and they've given a lot of money. So why is this here? Why isn't the money getting to here right now?

STEPHENS: Well you know, that's been, you know, a question that's troubled us for some time now, and we know that the Congress has appropriated and authorized the money, and we understand that it's available, but it's hung up someplace.

Now, a lot of money has been used to basically rehabilitate the levee and put agencies like the sheriffs' department back on their feet, so obviously some of money is getting through. But when it comes to the individual assistance portion of that aid, not a lot of that had been seen. Local officials are blaming the state, frankly, for the holdup right now, and I hear the mayor talk about it in his interviews, and I hear our parish president comment on it, and frankly we see that to some degree. I think the bureaucracy in the state right now has control of that money.

Now what they're trying to do, in fairness to them, I think is make sure that it's spent wisely and in the fashion that the Congress intended it to be, but under any circumstances there's a high degree of frustration on the part of individual residents about when is the assistance going to come?

S. O'BRIEN: People just want the money. A final question for you. Yesterday I know a very tough day. We talked about the fact that sometimes there's pictures that you really can't even look at, pictures of your guys out there rescuing people, pictures of the water that was 17 feet high in this parish in places. How was yesterday for you?

STEPHENS: Yesterday was an unexpectedly emotional day, and really it kind of caught me off guard, and I detected from my interaction with other government officials and citizens down here that it had the same impact on them. It was a sad day for me. It certainly was nothing celebratory about it, but I mean, it was worth observing, but I'm glad it's over. I almost wish I could have slept through it, because the recollection of what type of mess we were in at that time last year was really horrible, and it was almost easier when we were going through it, because you know, your muscle training takes over and you just instinctively, you're running on adrenaline, but we had a mass at 7:00 yesterday morning, and we had a beautiful breakfast at Sherman (ph) High School yesterday at 8:30, and the thing that comforted me the most, I think, was the story that the children told about their individual experiences, and understanding that they're going to be the messengers that are going to tell this story for the next generation. I feel comfortable with that.

We closed with the dedication of a memorial on the Mississippi River Gulf outlet near my home in Shell Beach, and there's a monument there that has the names of the people that lost their lives from Saint Bernard. And you know while we're only 68,000 population here prior to the storm, we represented about 10 percent of the fatalities as a result of this weather event, so we paid very, very dear price for the -- for this weather event, this hurricane.

S. O'BRIEN: A tough, tough day. Sheriff Jack Stephens, always nice to see you, sir. We certainly appreciate it.

STEPHENS: Thank you so much for your attention and keeping, you know, the nation's attention focussed on us down here, Soledad. It's so important. There are times, frankly, when we feel very loan. And you know, let me just say this, my attitude is that the people across the country in general have been very good and very generous with us, but the United States Congress, to some degree, still seems hesitant to commit to us the same resources that they commit overseas to other countries, and that's the thing that we resent here.

Now, they've moved in that direction, but there are members of Congress that just need to understand, we're their countrymen. We need help. And if they were in a jam, we'd be there to help them.

S. O'BRIEN: Sheriff Jack Stephens, thank you.

STEPHENS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Short break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: You ever wonder how movies get their ratings? One filmmaker did, and he set out to find the truth. In his bold new documentary, entitled "This Film is Not Yet Rated," which is not yet rated -- more about that in a moment -- Kirby Dick takes aim at the film raters themselves, whose identity is a closely-held secret. He hired a private investigator to dog them.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at the plates just to make sure. But I'm sure it's her. She's the only one that has the (INAUDIBLE). See, I don't want to get too close her and I don't want to lose her, either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to put on my safety belt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: Good choice, Kirby Dick. Good to have you with us.

KIRBY DICK, "THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED": Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Why on Earth are these people given such a shroud of secrecy?

DICK: Well, the MPAA, which runs the rating system, says that...

M. O'BRIEN: Motion Picture Association of America.

DICK: Correct. Says that sit's to protect them from industry influence. But in fact, the only people who have contact with them are people within the studios. Post-production supervisors, heads of production, have contact with them on a weekly basis often, and are able to influence their vote.

M. O'BRIEN: So they are hermetically sealed, with only industry influence, just the opposite of what they -- the intent is here?

DICK: Precisely.

M. O'BRIEN: Was there -- is there some concern the public would come after them, and say, I can't believe I took my son and that should have been an R-rated movie, that kind of thing?

DICK: No. I think they set it up this way because the -- they want to keep control of this system to their benefit.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. So, and the people that do this are everyday people. Some do it full-time, right?

DICK: They all do it full-time now.

M. O'BRIEN: They do?

DICK: But they have really no qualifications. They're only parents. They live in the Los Angeles area, and they're not in the film business.

M. O'BRIEN: And you managed to get the identities of the current raters.

DICK: Current raters.

M. O'BRIEN: Did it match the description, as advertised?

DICK: It did not. Actually, the MPAA has said they all had children between the ages of 5 and 17. Well, we found out that nearly half of them have older children.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, now, you spoke to some former members of the -- two of them are in the movie. Former movie raters. And they really didn't shed an awful lot of light on how the decisions are made. As a matter of fact, I don't think anybody really knows, even people that have been on the inside. Why is it that way?

DICK: Well, again, it's so they can keep control of the process. I mean, this is probably the most -- one of the most unprofessionalized boards in the country. There are no professionally developed standards, there are no written standards. There -- the raters receive no training. They're hired one day and put in the ratings room the next day.

M. O'BRIEN: Literally the next day?

DICK: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: That's an R.

DICK: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: They're all instant experts. The one person who was public in all this is Joan Groves (ph), right?

DICK: Joan Graves.

M. O'BRIEN: Graves, I apologize. She's the head of the -- she has a public -- and you managed to get her on the phone. Now, you didn't obviously get an on-camera interview, so you used a cartoon to help you along the way.

DICK: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: And at least part of it was not recorded so you used a voice characterization. That's the setup. Let's watch the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK: Do you ever do interviews at all?

JOAN GRAVES, MOVIE RATER: No.

DICK: Well, but why -- I mean, I don't understand why the names are anonymous, because, I mean...

GRAVES: Their names are kept secret so they can come to work every day and not feel pressure.

DICK: But it seems like the raters you're trying to protect from influence actually are in direct contact with the people who can influence them, the senior raters especially.

GRAVES: They are strong people. And I trust them.

DICK: But why can't you have an entire board of those kind of people and not worry about it and just have it public?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Now, we should put -- insert here what the MPAA says. And this is their standard response. They say that, "The rating board has a simple goal: to provide parents with information so they can make decisions about what movies their children see. An independent survey of parents said almost 80 percent of their children under 13 find the ratings to be very to fairly useful in making decisions about what movies their children see." How do you respond to that?

DICK: Well, we tried to get the underlying data to that research, and that was not available, naturally, to the public. So I think the question that they ask, is, do parents find the rating system fairly useful to very useful? It's a very broad response, and there's been no other independent corroboration of that research.

M. O'BRIEN: Has anybody tried a different idea? If so, what would that different idea look like? What would you propose?

DICK: Well, I'd propose a system that got information out to the public. A system that told what was in a film in terms of sex, nudity, violence, drug use, and let parents across the country decide for themselves whether they want their children to go see a film, and not ten anonymous parents living in Los Angeles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Kirby Dick, the filmmaker. The movie is "This Film is Not Yet Rated." It opens Friday. And fairly -- in a fair number of theaters, given the fact that it isn't rated. Normally that means it doesn't get a lot of distribution.

DICK: Exactly, exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: Good luck with the film. Thanks for being with us.

DICK: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: "CNN LIVE TODAY" is ahead. Daryn Kagan here with a preview. Hello, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Miles. Good morning to you.

"LIVE TODAY" is tracking the storm Ernesto, limping into south Florida and could go stronger once it's Carolina bound. Live to the hurricane center.

And also, we'll have the latest on the Comair crash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Turning on to the wrong runway was not the first mistake the crew made that morning. Upon arriving at the airport, the captain and first officer entered and turn on power in the wrong airplane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Critical mistakes in the cockpit and the control tower. Our David Mattingly investigates. Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: America's latest nemesis proposed and idea that's debatable that President Bush...

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): ... should participate in a direct television debate with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Thanks, but no thanks. But what if? Our Jeanne Moos takes a look at the debate you will never see.

And our Iraq war hummer goes overhauling with TLC's Chip Fuhs (ph). We'll talk with him live about the makeover and what's in the future for this vehicle.

"LIVE TODAY," it's our Wednesday morning, coming up at the top of the hour.

M. O'BRIEN: Is that our Iraq war vehicle KAGAN: Yes, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: It's getting pimped?

KAGAN: It is getting pimped. They're going to change it and then do a very interesting thing that has a happy ending.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, well, I think we'll have to stay tuned for that.

KAGAN: OK. And we'll appreciate it.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Daryn.

We'll be back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: One year after Katrina, who could forget those amazing images of Coast Guard helicopters plucking people from the roofs of their flooded homes? Those crews saved the day for literally tens of thousands of people.

AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian spent time with a Katrina-tested crew and got a chance to see what it's like to be on both sides of a rescue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Hovering a helicopter 20 feet above a traumatized victim bobbing in the water is no easy task. Jumping from the helicopter to rescue the desperate victim is even more challenging. Rescue swimmer Matthew O'Dell did that over and over again in the wake of Katrina, saving more than 200 people.

MATTHEW O'DELL, COAST GUARD RESCUE SWIMMER: We did a lot of roof top extractions. Actually going into houses, going into apartment buildings.

LOTHIAN: We joined O'Dell and other members of his Cape Cod Coast Guard unit for a typical day of training. For this exercise, I became the victim. But before we could launch . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt's going to take good care of you. You're in good hands.

LOTHIAN: I had to pass the test. Swim 100 meters. Tread water for one minute. Then escape from a simulated helicopter upside down under water. Fit to fly, we went through a series of mock sea rescues, first over a grassy field, then out over the water.

We're now headed about a half mile to a mile off the Cape where I'll be lowered into the water and get a chance to feel what it's like to be rescued from a sinking boat or a flooded neighborhood.

Getting ready to go in wasn't bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go now.

LOTHIAN: Going in, was intimidating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he is in the water.

LOTHIAN: The rush of cold water shocks the system. Even in this relatively calm ocean, wearing a mask and snorkel, it was sometimes difficult to breathe and stay calm.

In just minutes, there is a rescue swimmer who finds me, snags me and drags me to the virtually invisible hoist line. In this exercise, he helps to lift me into a rescue bucket. Then I'm lowered onto the deck of a Coast Guard vessel. Dangle in the air again, I'm finally rescued for the day.

The U.S. Coast Guard and rescue swimmers saved more than 33,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At the height of the storm, they were rescuing 100 people an hour. The majority of the victims plucked to safety in buckets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was actually a lot of women with infant children. And you would put them in the rescue basket together.

LOTHIAN: The rescue swimmers of air station Cape Cod say that although they are based thousands of miles away from the area decimated by Hurricane Katrina, they will never forget their challenging missions and the victims.

THOMAS OSTEBO, COMMANDING OFFICER: I think what we walk away from Katrina with is, yes, we did a good job. A lot of people proud of us. But those of us who are self-critical in the Coast Guard, we know that there's places we can improve and we're doing that.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: A story you'll see only here on AMERICAN MORNING.

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

M. O'BRIEN: Back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: So, miles, the question is, is a scene like this the true story of what's happening here not only in the parish, Saint Bernard Parish, but around New Orleans? Or is the true story this, slow, but steady recovery, rebuilding and people returning? We're going to continue, of course to follow what happens here in the next months, and years and really it's going to be decades ahead -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN We won't forget them. Thank you very much, Soledad. Safe journey back. We'll see you tomorrow. That's all the time we have for this AMERICAN MORNING.

Daryn Kagan at the CNN Center to take you through the next few hours.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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