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AMERICAN MORNING

Robert Gates' Surprise: Visiting Iraq & Talking About Iran; Winter Blast Round Two; When Cameras Turn off for International Correspondents

Aired January 19, 2007 - 06:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Back to Iraq. Defense secretary Robert Gates makes an unannounced visit to southern Iraq overnight.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Freaky Friday. Sleet and snow at home. Dozens killed in hurricane-force winds abroad.

S. O'BRIEN: And a major back pedal to tell you about this morning. "Consumer Reports" car seat study crashes and burns. We'll tell you what went wrong on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. It's Friday, January 19th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin with what's happening in the fight in Iraq this morning. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arriving in Basra overnight. His second visit to Iraq in a month. His first since President Bush announced that plan to surge 21,000 more U.S. troops into the battlefield. CNN's Arwa Damon is live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Arwa, good morning.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

And he is here meeting with senior British and American officials. Of course, the number one topic on their agenda is security and the way forward. His trip does come on the heels of an especially deadly week that saw the execution of two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants and even more violence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON, (voice over): While the Iraqi government was trying to close a chapter of its violent past, the Iraqi people were, once again, faced with a new brutality of today's Iraq. The government executed two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants, convicted of crimes against humanity. Awad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of the revolutionary court, and Barzarn Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief. The executions were not flawless. Barzan's head severed from his body.

This week also saw one of the deadliest day in months. Over 100 Iraqis lost their lives in the capital in a single day. At Mustansiriyah University, double bombings. A parked car bomb at one entrance. At the other, a suicide bomber. Those attacks killed at least 70 students and employees, wounded 170 more and shocked the capital.

As the survivors tried to recover from their physical and emotion wounds, more tough talk from Iraqi Prim Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Claims that Iraqi security forces could do the job in six months if they had the training and weapons. Promises to America that under the new Baghdad plan the government would not interfere in military operations targeting certain sensitive militias. All words that ring hollow to most on the streets of Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: What the Iraqi people really want to see is the Iraqi prime minister and his government turning those words into action that will actually decrease the violence here.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon's in Baghdad for us this morning.

Thanks, Arwa.

Senator Hillary Clinton had a harsh and blunt assessment of the Iraq prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. She sat down with CNN's John Roberts. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, do you have any faith that he is the guy who can bring Iraq back to a state of security?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: I don't have any faith.

ROBERTS: No faith in al-Maliki?

CLINTON: Whether there's a gap between his intentions and his will and capacity is the real problem or whether he's doing what he intends to do to sort of mark time and further the, you know, the dominance of his sectarian supporters, it's hard to tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: You can hear John Roberts' full interview with Senator Hillary Clinton tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Eastern and then again on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on "This Week at War."

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Wild weather making news again all around the world. Snow, ice, freezing rain barring down on the southwest U.S. right now. And a fierce windstorm is battering northern Europe. Twenty-seven are dead there. Take a look at this still picture from the Associated Press. Ferocious waves and wind on the northern coast of France. Full coverage ahead. Home and abroad. Reggie Aqui in Oklahoma, Frederick Blikin (ph) in Berlin, and Rob Marciano with the forecast.

Let's begin with Reggie in Krebs, Oklahoma.

Good morning.

REGGIE AQUI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

We're in southeast Oklahoma. And you might remember, this was the area that got hit so hard last weekend during that ice storm. And take a look at what it looks like now. It's a week after that storm hit and still this place is frozen.

Now the roads are OK, but this is the problem. You see the ice is still covering all of these fallen trees, which means it's also covering the power lines. Right now there are about 9,000 people in the surrounding area where I'm standing still who can't turn on their lights, who are having trouble with heating issues right now. We're told that all over the state, about 63,000 people lost power sometime during the week.

And now, believe it or not, they're getting ready for another round of wintery weather. And they are very worried because of what's already here. This is a storm that could affect everyone from California to the Northeast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AQUI, (voice over): Thousands of people in Oklahoma without power for nearly a week are bracing for another blast of bad news. More snow and more freezing rain are on the way. McAlester, Oklahoma, may look like a picture postcard, but it's already been declared a disaster area. And crews are still working to get the lights back on.

In Norman, Oklahoma, a TV news chopper came to the rescue of a deer stuck on a frozen lake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought, well, you know, if I can get close enough, maybe I can just blow the deer over to the show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got it bubba.

AQUI: The punishing weather has stretched across the country. Citrus growers in California are surveying damage from a winter freeze. Some 70 deaths in nine states are blamed on the winter blast. Many of those killed on the roads.

In Texas, a 300-mile stretch of Interstate 10 was closed for two days. Parts of Texas could see ice again this weekend.

Snow and ice were a deadly combination in North Carolina yesterday. In Virginia, ice caused a slew of accidents and shut down a section of I-95 year Richmond. Next in line for round one, the Northeast and New England, as round two gears up from the Southwest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AQUI: This morning there are a couple of thousand people still in shelters this morning, Miles. They just simply have no other safe place to stay.

M. O'BRIEN: Reggie Aqui in Krebs, Oklahoma. Thank you.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, in northern Europe they're having weather problems of their own. Hurricane-force winds and heavy rains pounded the region on Thursday. Caused severe damage. Killed 27 people also. The storm disrupted travel for tens of thousands of people, including the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Take a look at this. This is -- she's walking off the plane. Kind of a struggle, as you can see. She had just landed at Heathrow in those winds, which were gusting up to 77 miles an hour. I mean, how scary must that be when you're coming in, in winds that strong. They had to circle the airport for 15 minutes before they decided to land. I've got to imagine, Miles, that plane's going like . . .

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, you wouldn't want it to be a cross wind. Hopefully it was pretty much down the center line of the runway. Nevertheless, that much wind . . .

S. O'BRIEN: That's scary.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hurricane-force winds.

M. O'BRIEN: That's a hand full.

MARCIANO: That's a strong winter storm, no doubt about that. So it's been pretty quiet in Europe and now they're getting a little bit into the action, as are we.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: A stunning reversal by "Consumer Reports" retracting their article on infant car seats. Now look at this video. We showed it to you a few weeks ago. On the top, the "Consumer Reports" test reportedly done at 38 miles an hour. The seat is thrown from the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was so startled by the report it did its own testing shown at the bottom of your screen. Their tests showed it took speeds of 70 miles an hour to have the same affect on the car seat. We'll talk with NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in our next hour. "Consumer Reports" retracting that flunking grade for some of those car seats.

Also coming up, your Friday forecast. Another winter storm. We'll have Rob back for that.

Plus, a brewing war inside the United Kingdom. Christiane Amanpour takes a closer look at Islamic extremism and the outspoken citizens leading the charge. And a high-tech edition to 911. Will pictures, along with phone calls, help get help there faster? You're watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here.

In the mix this Friday, Toyota is recalling Tundra pickups made between 2004 and 2006 and Sequoia SUVs from 2004 to 2007 because of a potential steering problem. So if you own one of those vehicles, you'd better listen up on that one.

And let the healing begin. "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington apologizing for using a gay slur to refer to fellow TV actor T.R. Knight.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: They're doing so well on that show. It's like, sush (ph), keep your mouth closed.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, it's a little free advertising, I guess in that sense.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's a nation known for its civility, but these days England is at war with itself. It has a large Muslim population and the extremes within that population are beginning to rise up. CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, has more for us in the morning from London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are 1.6 million Muslims here in Britain. A sizable minority. And of those, a very small number have chosen the extremists, the violent part. Back in the summer of 2005, four young Muslim men born and bread, raised here, went on the transit train system and a bus and blew themselves up and 52 other Britains.

That shocked people. It also shocked us. And we decided to try to investigate what's going on inside the Muslim community. We did find the extremists. We did talk to them and this is what they say. Some of it is extremely radical.

ANJEM CHOUDARY, MUSLIM EXTREMIST: One day you will conquer world! One day you will conquer the world (ph)!

AMANPOUR: Anjem Choudary is the public face of Islamic extremism in Britain. His group, Amwar Jeroon (ph), disbanded before the British government could outlaw it under its new anti-terrorism rules. But that hasn't shut Choudary up.

CHOUDARY: Where by itself Islam or (INAUDIBLE) hunger (INAUDIBLE) deserves capital punishment.

AMANPOUR: That was Choudary's inflammatory rhetoric just days after Pope Benedict's controversial speech about Islam.

CHOUDARY: Pope Benedict, you will pay. The Mujah Hadin are on their way.

AMANPOUR: Outside Westminster Cathedral, British Catholics looked on in disbelief.

PAUL DILLON, BRITISH CATHOLIC: They can stand outside our church and abuse us and abuse our religion and abuse people that we hold dear with absolute impunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the simple question to the Pushins (ph) is, do you condemn what the pope said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you condemn the pope?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he said . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you don't. Do you condemn the pope?

DILLON: If any of us was to amble up to, you know, the mosque at Regents Park assuming (ph) was lost Ala or Mohammed or what have you, the best case scenario, we would be taken away by the police for in sighting racial hatred. The worse case scenario, attacked by a bunch of thugs wearing tea towels on their heads.

CHOUDARY: Democracy, hypocrisy.

AMANPOUR: Even away from the bully pulpit, Choudary, who is a lawyer, not a cleric, continues to advocate extremist views, like calling for Sharia (ph), Islamic law, for Britain.

CHOUDARY: All of the world belongs to Hama (ph) and we will live according to the Sharia (INAUDIBLE). This is the fundamental belief of the Muslims. You know, if I was to go to the jungle tomorrow, I'm not going to live like animals.

AMANPOUR, Anjem, basically a lot of what you're saying is, it's my way or the highway. I mean how does that kind of logic fit into a democratic state like the one we live in now and like the one you live in? You live here by choice. Do you not believe in democracy?

CHOUDARY: No, I don't at all. We believe that people must live according to the Sharia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: You don't want to miss this, the premiere of CNN's special investigations unit with Christian Amanpour, "The War Within," this Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Miles. M. O'BRIEN: Quarter past the hour. Rob Marciano back with the traveler's forecast.

Hello, Rob.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, the House closes a loop hole on big oil. Ali Velshi looks at how it might affect gas prices. He's "Minding Your Business" this morning, as always.

Plus, how you can help wounded U.S. troops put their lives back together and own a piece of history. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning right here. Two stories we're following for you.

Deal or no deal? North Korea saying it has reached an agreement with the U.S. over its nuclear weapons plan, but the U.S. says only that more talks are possible. We're trying to sort that one out.

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates making a surprise trip back to Iraq overnight to meet with U.S. and British troops.

See something? Say something. Here in New York, that is the slogan you see all over the buses and subways, trying to keep people attune to possible terror threats. But now it could become see something, shoot something and then send it in. 911 operators here will soon be ready to take your pictures, as well as your calls. CNN's Jacki Schechner here to explain all that.

Good morning, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

The big question everybody had when we heard about this story is, is it going to slow down the 911 system? And the mayors office says absolutely not. They say that 911 will operate the way it always does. If you call in, they'll discern the emergency. They'll send out emergency response crews.

But uploading images and videos to their system will be secondary or supplementary. That was the big question everyone had. This is a new project. It's just been introduced. They don't really have any idea in place how it's going to work, but they say that every day we're sending each other images over cell phones, we're uploading videos to sites like YouTube. That technology could then be applied, adjusted to 911.

They also say they can use it for 311, the non-emergency system, which, surprisingly, gets about 10,000 more calls a day than 911 does. And they say, for example, you call in, you say there's a pot hole and you can send in an image and they'll decide whether it's a sink hole that needs to be fixed immediately or a pot hole that can be handled, if it's handled at all, during normal emergency business.

Now they, again, have no technology system in mind yet, but there is a Connecticut company called Power Phone that we found that says they has a system that is ready to go. And the way that their system would work -- this is really interesting -- is that you call 911, you say you've had an emergency. They assess out how much of an emergency it is. You say, I have an image to send to you.

They send you a text message. You send your image back to them via that text message. And what that will do is weed out any unnecessary images or videos. So it's not like setting up an e-mail address where people send their stuff, or setting up a website where you can get all sorts of miscellaneous images. This will help weed out the process for 911 operators.

M. O'BRIEN: They don't want to get spam. That's the last thing you want to do is spam the 911 people. Of course the final thing would be to get those images in the hands of the responders, you know. They all have computers in their squad cars. I suppose that's a possible thing.

SCHECHNER: You can get it to a cell phone, you can get it to a computer. It's getting it to the first responders so they know exactly what they're dealing with immediately.

M. O'BRIEN: I like the pot hole cam, though. That's going to be good. They're going to get a lot of pot hole pictures, I'm afraid, right?

SCHECHNER: I'm guessing that's true.

M. O'BRIEN: Don't forget, we have the capability here, too. If you're sending something to 911, you can CC us if you'd like. We invite you to check out iReport. If you see something, send it to us, too. Go to cnn.com/ireport and you can say you report for CNN.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, guys.

Well, want to tell you about something that's seen action in Iraq. It's been made over by TLC's "Overhauling" and now it can be yours. It's Warrior One. A CNN specialized hummer. It's going to be auctioned off tomorrow in Scottsdale, Arizona, with all the proceeds going to the Fisher House Foundation. Now that, of course, if you don't know, is a group that helps wounded U.S. soldiers and their families as they recover. Here's a closer look at what they do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN, (voice over): When an IED, an improvised explosive device, blew up under Sergeant Brian Fountaine's humvee back in June, his injuries were devastating. He had to fight to stay alive.

SGT. BRIAN FOUNTAINE, WOUNDED IN IRAQ: You can see my driver screaming, my gunner just, you know, freaking out and you see me laying there in pools of blood from, you know, the bottom side of my legs. You just kind of sit there and you're like, all right, I've got a choice. I can either sit here, lay back and die, or I can save myself. Well, I chose the latter.

S. O'BRIEN: Today he is still fighting to recover. Just 24- years-old, Brian lost both legs. They've been amputated below the knee.

FOUNTAINE: They might have took from me, you know, a physical part of my body, but they'll never take from me the fighter spirit.

S. O'BRIEN: Now it is an excruciating battle to get better. It was made worse for Brian, who was separated from his family and his girlfriend, while being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Now Fountaine is being helped by the Fisher House, a non-profit organization in D.C. Ken Fisher is chairman of the foundation, which provides homes for families and loved ones of hospitalized military personnel and veterans.

KEN FISHER, CHAIRMAN, FISHER HOUSE FOUNDATION: Our troops today don't make policy. They're out there to do a job and that is to defend this nation. And Fisher House Foundation is there to support them and their families because, quite frankly, the need is there.

S. O'BRIEN: Almost 23,000 American soldiers have been wounded in combat in Iraq. Fisher says these homes away from home are important to a soldier's recovery.

FISHER: It's not just having a place to sleep, but it's also having people to help you. So it's the support network that forms in the houses, which is a by-product of the foundation.

S. O'BRIEN: Brian lives free of charge at the Fisher House with his girlfriend, Mary Long.

MARY LONG, BRIAN'S GIRLFRIEND: Just not having to worry. Being able just to be here and see for my own eyes that he's walking, see for my own eyes that he's getting better, that this problem is going away. I'm so grateful for it.

FOUNTAINE: When I first started walking, one of the first things that I did was I took her up and I held her hand. And for the first time since we started dating, I was able to just walk down the hall and hold her hand at the same time. You know, other people might take that for granted. That was huge. That was huge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: A programing note to share with you. You want to look for a special edition of "Larry King Live" at noon Eastern today. Larry will tour the Fisher House, one of them, and see first-hand just how it helps wounds troops and their families.

Congress is going after some of big oil's tax breaks. Twenty-six minutes past the hour. That means it's time for Ali Velshi, who's "Minding Your Business." Good morning, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

It's House Resolution number six, the top six resolutions that the new Democratically controlled Congress wanted to pass in the first 100 hours of business. It got passed yesterday in the House. Still has to get through the Senate and the president. It takes a lot of tax breaks away from the oil companies. We have responses from the major oil companies, which I'll be sharing with you a little bit later in the show.

Now we are still in earning season right now. We've also got a lot of economic things that have been happening. Jobless claims were down a little bit. Housing construction is up. Inflation is under control. And crude oil dropped again a little bit, $50.48 a barrel.

So all of that means that the Fed probably isn't going to cut interest rates when it meets at the end of January and that has investors a little bit worried. So we lost some points on the stock market yesterday. The Dow was down just about nine points. The Nasdaq dropped about 36 points.

Now we are in earning season, as I mentioned. Last night we got earnings from IBM. They were pretty strong for the last three months of 2004. Today we're going to get earnings from General Electric, one of the world's biggest publicly traded companies. They are expected to be strong as well, but one never knows how market are going to react to it. That's what we'll be following for the morning. And I'll be back in half an hour.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Ali. Appreciate that.

The top stories of the morning are coming up next.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates pays a surprise visit to Iraq as he raises new concerns over Iran.

And where's the powder? Snow is getting harder to come by at ski resorts in some places around the world. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: A developing story. Defense Secretary Robert Gates back in Iraq overnight as he sounds a new alarm about Iran.

S. O'BRIEN: Wicked weather. Hurricane-force winds turn deadly in Europe, and snow get to fall again in the south-central U.S.

M. O'BRIEN: And a downhill slide. The heavy price of warmer winters for skier and resorts ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It's Friday, January 19th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin this morning with a developing story.

The defense secretary, Robert Gates, making an unannounced stop at Iraq overnight. Gates is in Tallil now, in southern Iraq, meeting with U.S. commanders and coalition troop leader. The stopover comes as Gates makes some surprising comments on Iran and its influence on the war in Iraq.

Here's CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On his first tour of the Persian Gulf as Defense Secretary, Robert Gates admitted that as long as things are so difficult for U.S. troops in Iraq, the hard-line regime in Iran has the upper hand, at least for now.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that our difficulties have given them a tactical opportunity in the short term.

STARR: Gates once favored talking to Iran. Now he's making clear that wouldn't work either, leaving the U.S. little leverage to stop Iran's nuclear program or its support for Shia militias in Iraq.

ROBERTS: Frankly, right at this moment there's really nothing the Iranians want from us. And so in any negotiation right now, we would be the supplicant.

STARR: And there's new evidence that Iran is behind attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq. CNN has learned that in a series of recent raids in Iraq, U.S. troops have seized IEDs designed to penetrate U.S.-armored vehicles, a hallmark of Iranian weapons technology. Also seized were other weapons with Iranian manufacturing stamps, documents showing shipping addresses tied to Iran, and even a map showing Shia and Sunni areas of Iraq.

(on camera): The U.S. is still holding 13 people detained in those raids, trying to determine just how involved Iran is in attacks against U.S. troops. President Bush has vowed to try and stop Iran's influence, but his new defense secretary is suggesting that may be a very difficult proposition.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: And there are conflicting reports this morning about a deal on North Korea's nuclear weapons plan. North Korea says it reached an agreement with the U.S. this weak during talks in Berlin. America's top nuclear envoy, though, Christopher Hill, says he's not so sure about that. He says he sees positive signs pointing to progress in the next round of meetings.

M. O'BRIEN: Wild weather making news again this morning all around the world. Snow, ice, freezing rain bearing down on the Southwest U.S. as we speak.

Let's begin with Reggie Aqui in Krebs, Oklahoma.

Reggie, good morning.

REGGIE AQUI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, as you know, this whole section of the country has been hit pretty hard over the last week. But this particular part of southeast Oklahoma has been sort of like a weather punching bag. They just get hit over and over again, and they're getting ready for another storm tonight.

At one point, you could probably walk right through here to get to the front door of this person's house. Now it's completely blocked by all this ice.

You see these trees that have fallen down? Well, this ice is a big problem, of course, when it comes to electricity. And you can see when you look up there that a week after this area was hit with the first round of storms, there are still icicles hanging from power lines.

Now, the good sign is that they actually do have some streetlights up here, but we're told that most of the folks living in these houses still don't have any power. And of course that's a major concern because a lot of people rely on electricity not just to turn the lights on, but to heat their houses and to eat.

And so right now a lot of people are going to relatives' homes, they're staying in hotels in the area. You can't find a hotel room today to stay in. And they're also going to shelters.

The Red Cross has opened several of them across the state. In fact, there's one right across the street from where am I where folks are sleeping right now and will wake up to listen to the forecast and see that tonight they're going to get ready for another round of storms. This time they're actually kind of hoping for snow because ice was such a major problem last time. Snow would actually, Miles, be a little bit of a relief.

M. O'BRIEN: Snow would be a walk in the park, huh?

All right. Reggie Aqui, thank you.

Northern Europe is having weather problems of its own, meanwhile. Hurricane-force winds and heavy rains pounded the region Thursday, causing severe damage, killing 27. The storm also disrupted travel for tens of thousands, including the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Take a look at her walk off her plane at Heathrow airport there. Nothing like the landing she endured a few moments before. Winds were gusting up to 77 miles an hour. The flight crew circled for a while before deciding to attempt a landing -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: That had to be a scary landing.

Well, you know, winter may have arrived across much of the U.S. It could be, though, a little too late for ski resorts. CNN's Rob Marciano has more on that story.

There's one near my house and, boy, you see no snow.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's been really bad this year, especially in New York City. I mean, right here, November and December, they didn't see snow. That hasn't happened in over 100 years.

So -- and just up the road, through the Catskills, through the Adirondacks, and across in northern New England, the story is the same. And with global warming -- everybody is talking about that -- that certainly has ski operators worried.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARCIANO (voice over): It may be winter, but it looks more like spring on many mountains. And whether it's global warming or El Nino, one thing is certain... the climate is changing. And many ski resorts around the world are hurting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in trouble.

MARCIANO: Brown spots instead of snow in the Pyrenees. In the Alps, World Cup ski races canceled. And in the eastern United States, the story is the same, more green than white. And what Mother Nature can't give man must make.

Manmade snow is simply waterer mixed with compressed air and then sprayed into subfreezing temperatures. It's been around for a while, but it isn't cheap.

These high-efficiency tower guns cost over $3,000 each. And Vermont mountains like Okemo can have as many as 1,300 of these guns to help cover the slopes. That's nearly $4 million. Plus, a system can cost thousands of dollars to operate every hour.

In the West, higher altitude helps in the snow-making department, but even here ski operators are forced to make snow.

LANCE MILES, MANAGER, STEAMBOAT SNOWMAKING: We're like snow farmers. And we've got to plan really well. So we watch our temperatures. We maximize our opportunities. We map where the snow is being used or wearing off and where we need to put it.

MARCIANO: Helping on the science is Dr. Gannet Hallar. She and her team of researchers at the Storm Peak Lab high atop Mount Warner analyze the chemistry of global warming and its affects on snowfall.

GANNET HALLAR, DIRECTOR, STORM PEAK LABORATORY: We've seen an increase in temperature, and also we're seeing an increase in sulfate pollution which comes from power plants. And we have shown that that reduces snowfall by about 15 percent.

MARCIANO: And that reduction is natural snowfall is expected to accelerate.

JIM WHITE, CLIMATOLOGIST: Unfortunately, the models seem to be in agreement that the amount of snow is going to go down. Some models, as much as 50 percent by the year 2050 or so. And I really hope that, you know, that these predictions are wrong. I think ski resorts are in trouble. I think -- and I think ski resorts know that.

MARCIANO: A problem ski operators can only hope to dig their way out of.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARCIANO: And there are other problems with global warming besides the obvious, which is, the warmer it is, the more likely you'll get rain instead of snow. But with greenhouse gases, what they do at night, Soledad, is they actually keep the temperatures higher at night, which is a problem in fall, when these ski resorts are really trying to pump out that snow at night to make that base. So greenhouse gases just add one more problem to the issue.

S. O'BRIEN: It's quite a mess financially for them, too. All right, Rob. Thanks.

Ahead this morning, we're going to have a little look at your traveler's forecast for us. That's coming up.

Plus, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice takes a visit to London and gets an earful from a top British official about the Bush administration's foreign policy. We'll tell you what happened there.

And controversy on reality TV. One contestant is now apologizing after he's accused of racial abuse. Is he going to get kicked off anyway?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Here's a look at what CNN correspondents all around the world are covering today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: I'm Robin Oakley, reporting from London, where Condoleezza Rice has just left after briefing Tony Blair and foreign secretary Margaret Beckett on her six- nation Middle East tour. Mr. Blair has been pressing for greater effort on securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and he complimented the U.S. secretary of state on showing the necessary drive and urgency.

Dr. Rices's visit was founded (ph) by an outburst from British cabinet minister Peter Hain. He slammed the Bush administration, saying the neo-conservative mission had failed everywhere to produce a coherent foreign policy. But Mr. Hain's remarks were dismissed as his positioning in forthcoming elections for top jobs in Tony Blair's Labour Party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alessio Vinci in Rome.

The Italian prime minister is giving the U.S. the go-ahead to expand an existing military base in northern Italy. But the plan is opposed by both far left-wing members and pacifists within the governing coalition. And thousands have demonstrated Vicenza for fear that their city would be militarized. At the same time, though, the plan is receiving some support from those who believe that the base is good business that will bring job opportunities, and, they say, that a trustworthy ally of the U.S. such as Italy shouldn't say no.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alphonso Van Marsh, in London, where this country's version of "Big Brother" continues to be the talk of the town. That's because a reality TV controversy over race may be headed towards reconciliation.

On Thursday night, a white British contestant in the program accused of abusing an Indian contestant on "Big Brother" apologized. As some argue, it may be too late. On Friday, the public will vote whether to evict one of the two contestants off the program.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: For more of these or any of our top stories, log on to our Web site, CNN.com.

S. O'BRIEN: Forty-four minutes past the hour. Let's check in with Rob Marciano with your traveler's forecast, plus the cold and flu report.

Good morning.

MARCIANO: Good morning, Soledad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, some tales from the front lines. A member of the CNN family takes a fictional look back at the 1983 Beirut bombings and the deadly dangers that journalists face every day.

Stay with us. AMERICAN MORNING is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning right here on the radar this morning.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates making a surprise trip back to Iraq overnight to meet with U.S. and coalition troops. A news conference expected this morning.

Consumer Reports with a rare retraction this morning. The product testing outfit saying it shouldn't have flunked some infant car seats. The seats were tested at higher speeds than the magazine originally claimed -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We talk to them every day from war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, but when the cameras turn off, what is life really like for international correspondents?

Margaret Lowrie Robertson knows. She spent more than 10 years reporting for CNN. And her husband, Nic Robertson, of course, is a familiar face to our audience.

She's got a new book, her first book. It's called "Season of Betrayal."

Nice to see you.

MARGARET LOWRIE ROBERTSON, AUTHOR, "SEASON OF BETRAYAL": Nice to be here.

S. O'BRIEN: Congratulations on the book.

Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: The topic is something that you know very well, of course, which is Beirut in the '80s when you were there.

Why did you pick that topic?

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: 1983 was a watershed year for U.S. policy, for Americans abroad, and really setting the stage for many of the developments that we're still seeing resonate in the world today. So even at that time, although I was there a year after it happened, the legacy of what happened in 1983, the first-ever suicide attack against U.S. interests with the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in April of 1983, and then this catastrophic failure of the U.S. peacekeeping mission with the U.S. Marine bombings in October, 1983, the legacy of those events was still very fresh when I was there. And for 20 years, the idea percolated that this was a book that I wanted to write.

S. O'BRIEN: And how much of this book is fictional and how much of this book is your life?

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: Well, I have to -- I have to say here very strongly, this is not an autobiographical novel. It is fiction.

S. O'BRIEN: That sounds so legal. LOWRIE ROBERTSON: It is truly not autobiographical. The character, however, does share many of my observations, my memories.

I've borrowed memories from friends. I've fictionalized events that did happen. But there is an historical backdrop which I have tried to portray as accurately as possible.

S. O'BRIEN: She is married to a guy, not Nic Robertson, but a Matt (ph).

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: No, not Nic Robertson at all.

S. O'BRIEN: Does he -- did he not want to be in it? I mean, did you have a conversation about, like, "Honey, when you're doing the husband character, people are going to compare this to me in same way, shape and form"?

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: No.

S. O'BRIEN: Make him nice, because (INAUDIBLE) not that nice. He's kind of a jerk.

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: No. I think at the end of the day -- well, it's fiction. It's not my life. But I didn't even know Nic when I lived in Beirut. And I was a stringer (ph) for CBS Radio there, and really just sort of -- not (INAUDIBLE), but sort of at the beginning still of my international reporting.

S. O'BRIEN: I have to ask you, though, because of course you're covering stories like the kind that we see each and every day on the air, and your husband is there, sometimes in danger, sometimes -- we've done live shots with him while he's ducking while things are going around him. And I'm scared for him. You've got two daughters who are not little, little, but young.

How do you deal with that knowing that he's out there in danger? Because you've been there. You know what it's like.

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: Well, I think in some ways maybe that makes it easier, because I know that I've worked with Nic. We met in the buildup to the Iraq war, and we've been in a war together.

We covered the war from behind enemy lines the first time, the first Gulf War in 1991. So I know what he's like in a dangerous place, and I know that he, as much as possible, as much as humanly possible, will not take unnecessary risks, that he will be doing his job and trying to do it as well as possible and be as safe as possible.

But there are times, of course, when I have to turn off the television, when the children will be watching and suddenly something really frightening happenings. The thing in Darfur recently, for example...

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, that was scary. LOWRIE ROBERTSON: ... that was something where I had to say the children, "This is really scary, but daddy is fine." You know, he called home, he talked to them, you know, two minutes before it went on the air, and they knew that he was OK. But it was still very upsetting to them.

So it's hard.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, a lot of it is reflected in "Season of Betrayal," your first book.

Congratulations. The reviews have been very, very good. You must be excited about all of that.

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: Thank you very much.

S. O'BRIEN: Margaret Lowrie Robertson joining us this morning.

LOWRIE ROBERTSON: Thank you, Soledad.

M. O'BRIEN: Good to see her again. She looks good.

Coming up, plea deals are offered in a major corporate spying case. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business."

Plus, bacteria a health food? It's a certain kind of microorganism found in some of your favorite foods, and now some say it can help you fight a cold.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Time for a corporate crime update. And we begin this morning with Hewlett-Packard.

Welcome back, everybody -- 55 minutes past the hour. Let's get right to Ali Velshi. He's "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Sadly, there's always lots to talk about on this front.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is. When you said that, that's why I sort of -- I was thinking, we can keep very busy with corporate crime updates. Right.

Let's take you back to the HP pretexting case. Remember we all learned about pretexting earlier in the summer? Well, there are five people were charged -- HP's former chair, Patricia Dunn, two company executives, two private eyes. They each face four felony counts.

Well, yesterday state prosecutors offered them a deal to replace the four felony counts with one misdemeanor count. Now, all of them apparently have declined this deal. And it's mixed as to why they've done that.

In one case, one of the lawyers says, "It's because my client didn't do anything wrong and we're going to follow this through." What the larger thinking seems to be is that there are federal charges against these five and state charges, and the lawyers are trying to get them all sort of wrapped into one so they can say, all right, let's cut one deal all around and walk away from this thing without a trial. It would probably be best for HP and best for the defendants involved, but we will continue to follow that and see what happens.

A lot of people know the name HP, a lot of people know the name CVS. It's the nation's largest drugstore, by store count, at least.

Now, two former CVS executives have been indicted by a grand jury in Rhode Island for allegedly -- well, here's the charges: conspiracy, bribery, and 21 counts of fraud, allegedly, for paying a state senator to kill legislation in the state senate that CVS didn't like and to sponsor legislation that CVS did like.

The company hasn't been charged, I should note, and the company says it is -- it is cooperating with this investigation. So we're yet to so what's coming out of this. But a good old-fashioned who done it corporate case -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: It will keep you busy, Ali.

VELSHI: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you.

Let's take a look at one of the more popular stories on CNN.com this morning.

There's the headline; "U.S Official: Chinese Test Missile Obliterates Satellite." This is a for real potential star wars scenario.

The Chinese launching a missile, shooting down one of its old weather satellites 500-some-odd miles in orbit. Successfully doing it. They tried it a couple of times before and actually had three failures before they successfully did this.

Potentially a provocative move, because which country has the most military assets in space? That would be the United States. So the U.S. watching this one very closely -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And as we head right to the top of the hour, let's get right back to Rob Marciano with a look at the day's big weather story -- Rob.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: Back to Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates makes an unannounced visit to southern Iraq overnight.

M. O'BRIEN: Freaky Friday. Sleet and snow at home. Dozens killed, and hurricane-force winds abroad.

S. O'BRIEN: Anguish, relief, and hope for the future now. My conversation with the parents of that kidnapped Missouri teenager, Shawn Hornbeck.

M. O'BRIEN: And a major backpedal. Consumer Reports' car seat study crashes and burns. We'll ask what went wrong on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It is Friday, January 19th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien.

We're glad you're with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin in Iraq, for the fight for Iraq. An unannounced visit by Secretary Gates and an overnight arrest. U.S. and Iraqi forces arresting a top aide to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al- Sadr.

CNN's Arwa Damon is live in Baghdad this morning for us.

Arwa, let's begin with this visit to Basra. Why Basra?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, it could be for a number of reasons. First and formest, though, is because one of the main issues that we have seen being addressed by the U.S. administration has been Iran's influence in Iraq.

Basra is in the heart of the Shia south, where the U.S. and British military intelligence indicates that a lot of the Iranian influence is concentrated on.

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

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