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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cheney Visits Pakistan; Is Pentagon Getting Ready for War With Iran?

Aired February 26, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Vice President Dick Cheney warns an ally to get tougher on terrorism as the enemy gains ground in Afghanistan.

What's behind his surprise visit to Pakistan?

Is the Pentagon getting ready for a war with Iran?

Word that a bombing campaign could begin with just a day's notice.

But could a U.S. aircraft carrier be a sitting duck?

My interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Seymour Hersh.

And a new documentary says an ancient tomb is that of Jesus and it's raising a titanic controversy that hits at the heart of the Christian faith.

I spoke with a top Catholic theologian.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Vice President Cheney is on the front lines of the war on terror. Cheney is on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He's pressing for a united front against resurgent Taliban forces. And he's delivered an unusually tough message to a critical U.S. ally, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by with the latest -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the back story is that the White House is growing increasingly alarmed not just with the reemergence of the Taliban, but also the fact that senior leaders of al Qaeda have also reestablished operations in Pakistan and could unleash terror attacks in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) HENRY (voice-over): In a surprise visit to Pakistan, Vice President Cheney put private pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on al Qaeda and Taliban militants. But in public, White House Spokesman Tony Snow struck a much more cautious tone.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have not been saying it's a tough message. What we're saying is we're having -- the vice president is meeting with President Musharraf because we do understand the importance of -- of making even greater progress against al Qaeda, against the Taliban.

HENRY: What's really going on here is a delicate diplomatic dance. While Musharraf has helped the U.S. capture hundreds of terrorists in urban areas of Pakistan, he has been much less helpful in remote areas, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It is simultaneously one of our best partners against terrorism and at the same time, to a degree, a safe haven against -- a safe haven for terrorists.

HENRY: President Bush needs the cooperation of his Pakistani counterpart more than ever, after sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in advance of an expected spring offensive by terrorists.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got active fronts in this war on terror. One is Afghanistan. The other is Iraq.

HENRY: While Democrats charge the president has treated Musharraf with kid gloves, experts note the U.S. cannot push him too hard.

MCLAUGHLIN: Were there to be a cataclysmic event of some sort in Pakistan that brought extremists to power, we would face the nightmare scenario of an extremist government in charge of a country that has nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now, part of Mr. Cheney's message to President Musharraf was that if he did not do more to crack down on terrorists, U.S. aid to Pakistan could be reduced. But I can tell you, I spoke to the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They insist Democrats on the Hill have no plans to cut aid to Pakistan and, in fact, intelligence experts say the U.S. really can't cut off that aide, at this point, it's such a volatile time in the region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thanks for that.

Is it a smoking gun?

U.S. forces showing off a secret stash of weapons said to come from Iran. It even includes parts of a powerful roadside bomb.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a huge weapons seizure in Iraq that may be tied to Iran -- may be.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The U.S. military has recovered another stockpile of weapons it believes were made in Iran and shipped into Iraq to kill U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, as well as civilians.

Troops showed off hundreds of components discovered in a Shia village north of Baghdad. It had all been buried in several large containers and covered up with palm leaves.

The seizure included mortars and rockets and more than 150 metal disks to be used in making explosively formed penetrators -- armor piercing bombs the U.S. says are coming in from Iran.

The troops say capturing this stockpile will make a difference.

CAPT. CLAYTON COMBS, U.S. ARMY: They're expensive. They're complex to manufacture and you've got to put them together. So taking this away from the enemy has definitely set him back and we're certainly on the offense in the area.

STARR: Officially, the Pentagon says it cannot prove the Iranian government has authorized weapons shipments into Iraq. And some analysts question whether these components are really Iranian. Some are not of the high quality typical of Iran.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: Well, I think this smoking gun evidence is going to have to be something that has Iranian markings on it, something that unambiguously indicates that it's of Iranian manufacture. There's a lot of circumstantial stuff that we've seen thus far, but I don't think anything with smoking gun quality.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: Analysts say without that smoking gun evidence, this seizure may demonstrate that Iraq is developing the capability to manufacture and assemble these advanced weapons without Iran's help -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

Barbara, thank you.

Top U.S. officials, by the way, named an Iranian brigadier general being held by American troops in Iraq. He's identified as Mohsen Chirazi, who we reported weeks ago was arrested back in December. He's described as the third ranking officer in the Quds force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. That force, by the way, is accused of directing attacks on U.S. troops and supplying those deadly armor piercing explosives.

But could Iran now be backing off from such activities? Joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware -- Michael, yesterday I interviewed the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie. He startled me. He surprised me with these words.

I want to play a little clip of what he said that the Iranians now are not doing in Iraq.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Very simply, the Iranians have changed their position and we have some evidence that they have stopped supplying arms or creating any of these charge shaped mines in the streets of Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he went on to say that the Iranians now want the U.S. military operation, together with the Iraqi military, to succeed in bringing stability to the Baghdad area.

Have you seen evidence that backs this up?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're never going to see evidence that backs this up one way or the other because the way these Iranian forces work, these Quds force officers, these are some of the best covert operators in the world.

You'll never see them with their fingerprints on anything, whether they're active or chosen to go inactive.

Now, the fascinating thing here is Dr. Rubaie. I know Dr. Rubaie. If you want to talk about a man between a rock and a hard place, it's the national security adviser of Iraq. He has to serve two masters, keeping two powerful forces at bay, both Washington and Tehran.

This is a man who has to live with both of these power blocs.

Dr. Rubaie comes from the Al-Dawa Party. It's got a long association not just with Iran, but with its intelligence agencies. So he's certainly wired into what they're doing.

However, listen to what he said. There's two things notable about it. One, it's an implicit concession that, yes, the Iranians have been supplying the EFPs that the U.S. claims have been killing British troops. This is the Iraqi government confirming the Bush administration's claims.

He's now saying, however, that they've stopped doing this.

That does not change the fact it's in Iran's national interests to maintain a presence here. If that presence is changing, we don't know. And I suggest neither does Dr. Rubaie. BLITZER: You said that they were killing these British troops.

I think you meant American troops, right?

WARE: Both, actually, Wolf. We've seen quite a number of Brits killed by these EFPs and we've seen Americans killed by these EFP explosives devices that punch through heavy battle armor like a fist through a wall.

More than 170 British and Americans have died as a result of these weapons.

Don't forget, it was the Brits who first encountered them back in May 2004. That's where this technology came in, through the Iranian strongholds in the south. It then migrated north and started hitting U.S. troops in Baghdad through the work of an Iranian-backed network run by a man called Abu Mustafa Al-Shaebani (ph), the former intelligence chief of one of the political factions that is now in government here in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us in Baghdad.

Michael, thanks.

WARE: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Iraq's government has agreed on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth, a necessary step if there is to be an end to the violence. Most of the oil is concentrated in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south, raising fears among Sunnis that they'll be shut out of the country's wealth.

Iraqi officials say the draft law will make sure all the oil revenues will be distributed fairly.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Up ahead, U.S. forces already stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What happens if there is another crisis?

We'll have details of an alarming warning from a top U.S. military commander.

Also, he says U.S. Special Forces have been operating inside Iran for months and that the Pentagon is now fine-tuning plans for military action. You'll want to see my interview with Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Seymour Hersh.

Plus, a documentary controversy. We'll hear from the filmmakers who say they've uncovered the Earthly tomb that may once have held the remains of Jesus, even his wife and child.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: America's top general has secretly made an alarming assessment of the U.S. military's ability to carry out its missions.

Stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, are U.S. forces ready to take on another crisis? And what if Iran's war games and war of words turn into an actual shooting war? What if North Korea resumes its nuclear saber rattling?

Let's get more from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you well know, the U.S. military strategy for decades has been based on the idea that they can fight and win two wars at once. Now it turns out that it needs a strategy for three wars.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): It's a fine line the Pentagon has to tread between acknowledging the obvious reality that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a heavy toll on military readiness and avoiding any sign of weakness that could embolden potential adversaries such as Iran and North Korea.

GENERAL PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The United States military can, today, and tomorrow, handle any additional challenge that comes our way.

MCINTYRE: That's General Pace in public three months ago. But CNN has confirmed that recently Pace secretly upgraded to significant the risk that the U.S. would have trouble responding to a major new security threat.

In that classified assessment, General Pace insists, as he did in public, that the U.S. could still win a third war, just that it would be messy.

The problem, as outlined in a Senate hearing two weeks ago, is that the Army and Marine Corps are maxed out.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: Simply stated, our ground forces are stretched thin and equipment is wearing out faster than planned and is not being replaced in a timely manner.

MCINTYRE: Those are the two critical shortages -- combat ready ground troops and their equipment. The top brass has been worried for a while.

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: I am not satisfied with the readiness of our non-deployed forces.

GEN. JAMES CONWAY, MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: We're not doing amphibious training. We're not doing mountain warfare training. We're not doing combined arms live fire maneuver, such as would need to be the case, potentially, in another type of contingency. MCINTYRE: So what if the U.S. had to respond to Iran or repel a North Korean invasion?

The plan now is to rely heavily on air and sea power, which is not nearly as stressed by the Iraq War.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: So, Wolf, the bottom line is the U.S. is still in pretty good shape to fight a conventional war against a big army or a big navy or a big air force, but not another high intensity insurgency like the one in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you.

Let's get some more now on this issue.

Joining us, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen.

He's chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

What's your bottom line?

It wasn't that long ago -- six years ago -- you dealt -- you were in charge of the U.S. military.

Is the military right now stretched too thin?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST, THE COHEN GROUP: Oh, I think it's stretched very thin. As a matter of fact, you may recall when President Bush was candidate Bush back in 2000, he maintained that we had a hollow military. It wasn't true, but that was the allegation at that time, because we were stretched in Bosnia and Kosovo.

But now we're still in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. And so the same size force basically is doing more and more.

As a result of that, they're thinner and thinner. So there's no question...

BLITZER: So if -- if there's a real crisis with Iran or with North Korea, what happens?

COHEN: Well, it depends on what kind of crisis we're talking about. Again, depending on where we have to go, if it's air power, sea power, we're pretty well situated. If it's going to be a conventional type of conflict, once again, the kind of capability we have, no other country is a match for it.

If it's going to be an insurgency style of campaign, then we have some -- some serious problems.

BLITZER: Is it damaging to national security when a classified report like this, that the top U.S. military general submitted to Congress, is actually leaked to the press?

COHEN: Well, as a matter of fact, this tends to embolden the enemy. If you'll recall, when we went into Baghdad and toppled Saddam in the first three weeks, Iran was quite eager to reach a so-called grand bargain.

Since that time, now that we've been bogged down in Iraq, they have become much bolder. They're thumbing their nose at the international community and the United States, believing that we are unable to take any action that would be seriously directed against them.

So it does have a way of emboldening the enemy and makes it much more difficult. Ultimately, we have to use diplomacy, but also the strength of the U.N. Security Council coming at Iran, saying we're going to tighten sanctions because of what you're doing as far as the nuclear issue and others.

But...

BLITZER: Because it would tend to give the leaders in Tehran the notion they're winning, the U.S. is losing, they can hold firm, they can go forward with their enriching uranium and, at the same time, not necessarily worry about a credible threat from the U.S.?

COHEN: I think that's the situation right now. They are much more bold about it, I would say arrogant about it, that they don't have to deal with the United States. That's why it's so important that the Security Council not delay this or defer this. They must come down very strongly against Iran.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about the vice president's mission with Pervez Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan, right now, trying to convince him to come up and do more to deal with the Taliban, the al Qaeda in Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan. Otherwise, Democrats, he says, in the Congress are going to be thinking about all that U.S. economic assistance going to Pakistan.

COHEN: Well, I think it's obviously a signal to the president that he has to do more. The difficult thing for him to do is how much more can he do without being undermined from within?

There's no question, over the years, that we have seen the intelligence service of his country has been infiltrated by al Qaeda or they're at least sympathetic to al Qaeda and to the Taliban.

So he has to walk a pretty fine line. He has to be as supportive of cracking down on the al Qaeda as possible. At the same time, he's got to watch himself that he doesn't find himself under attack again.

So we can apply pressure only so much pressure. We have to try to urge him to do that. But it's the same sort of problem we have with Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq, saying you've got to crack down on the very people who are lending support to you. And we've tried to make it clear to him that unless he is willing to do so, then we may have to follow a different path. The same kind of message is being sent to President Musharraf at this point.

BLITZER: It's a tough job.

Secretary Cohen, thanks for coming in.

COHEN: A pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: And coming up, feeling the pinch at the pump -- gas prices soaring once again. We're going to show you how much and why.

Plus, THE SITUATION ROOM -- get this -- spoofed on "Saturday Night Live." you're going to want to see what they did, what they did to me, what they did to our ticker. That's somebody -- I don't know who that is -- but it certainly is not me. We'll have a little fun later. You'll want to watch.

We'll be right back

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

You can blame the weather for cancellations and delays affecting airline passengers here in the Northeast and beyond. Snow once again giving JetBlue the blues, forcing it to cancel almost 80 flights from New York's Kennedy Airport. And Delta canceled 175 flights in the Northeast.

But even if your flight isn't canceled, you could face ground delays of up to 45 minutes. It's pretty much of a mess out there.

Melting ice revealing a treasure of exotic and possibly newly discovered sea species in Antarctica. For the first time, scientists are getting a look at creatures whose underwater habitat was covered by massive ice shelves that have collapsed as global temperatures rise. They include almost 20 species that may have been previously unknown.

The bottom line on gas prices, here we go again. They're surging, up almost 13 cents a gallon in the last two weeks. The nationwide average for self-serve regular is now $2.35 a gallon. It is a direct result of rising crude oil prices, which have seen their highest levels this year in recent days.

And the bottom line on the markets, not so good. The Dow, the Nasdaq and the S&P all lost ground today, with the Dow down 15 points, closing at 12,632. It is the fourth losing day in a row for the Dow, the third for the Nasdaq.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

And still to come, a plan to attack Iran within a day's notice?

I'll ask Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh about the explosive allegations he's making in his controversial new reporting in the "New Yorker" magazine.

Plus, a new documentary striking at the heart of the Christian faith. We'll have details of an amazing archaeological discovery, stunning claims it's generating.

We'll get to all of that.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Iraq's vice president injured in a bomb attack on the country's Ministry of Municipalities in Baghdad. At least a dozen people were killed. The vice president among 42 who were injured.

Also, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, hospitalized in Jordan. Hospital sources tell CNN he's in intensive care, underwent a heart catheterization. But his son denies that. Talabani's private doctor says Talabani is being treated for exhaustion and lung inflammation.

Plus, a Vietnam veteran awarded the military's highest honor more than 40 years after his actions saved the lives of fellow soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Crandall was a helicopter pilot who made 22 trips in a single day under heavy fire, lifting out 70 wounded soldiers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The United States and other major powers met in London today to discuss whether to tighten the screws on Iran because of its nuclear program. But while diplomacy runs its course, is the Bush administration also using covert means to counter Iran's influence in the region?

CNN's Tom Foreman is watching this story for us.

He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this new report claims that money is being funneled to groups that could be a counter-balance to Iran and Hezbollah. But these groups may not always be squeaky clean themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): The explosive charge comes from a journalist, Seymour Hersh in the "New Yorker" magazine.

SEYMOUR HERSH, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: We have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without Congressional authority, without any Congressional oversight. Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is putting up some of this money for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we think that the -- we want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.

FOREMAN: The accusation is this -- to keep Iran, the big Shiite power, under control, money is being secretly funneled to groups who oppose Iran. Those groups would certainly include Sunnis, even though Sunni insurgents have been the major opponents to U.S. forces in Iraq and al Qaeda is Sunni.

White House officials declined to comment on the funding claim, but had this to say about the story as a whole.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: One thing I can say about Seymour Hersh is that he definitely has a wanton disregard for the truth.

FOREMAN: One member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, however, wants a hearing on it.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The suggestion in the article that the administration is planning various covert activities in the Middle East without telling the Congress is extremely troubling.

FOREMAN: The U.S. government can fund groups overseas, as long as it follows certain procedures.

BRUCE RIEDEL, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AIDE: It has to get a presidential finding. That is, a piece of paper in which the president certifies that this is in the national interest. And that finding has to be notified to the Congress of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: All of this can be kind of difficult to follow from time to time, but it comes down to a simple accusation. Is the U.S. covertly giving money to people to oppose Iran? And in doing so, possibly giving money to the U.S.'s own enemies?

Obviously very secretive programs even if they exist, and nobody wants to talk about it openly on Capitol Hill. But now there certainly is a lot of talk about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Tom.

In my interview on "LATE EDITION" yesterday with that writer for "The New Yorker" is making waves today in another area. The allegation that the Pentagon is preparing for another possible war in the Persian Gulf, this one against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now from Cairo, Sy Hersh. The article entitled, "The Redirection."

Sy, let me read one line from it. You wrote, "The Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment, to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities and possible regime change."

Based on all your reporting, how far along are U.S. military plans for a war with Iran?

SEYMOUR HERSH, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: Well, of course, they're very far along. They have been studying this forever. They're constantly redesigning, retooling, but right now, as I wrote, look, it's pretty obvious what's going on.

In the last month or so, the president has been talking more and more about cross-border attacks and more and more about Iranian interference in threatening American lives. So it's not surprising they would fine-tune the targeting to after suspected training sites, et cetera, across the border and inside Iran. That's just normal, I think.

BLITZER: And you write that already, some special operations forces, some U.S. intelligence forces have crossed the line and have gone into Iran. Is that right?

HERSH: Oh, yes, that's been happening for months. There's been a lot of very aggressive cross-border activity. It's more than just casual. There has been a lot of jumping over the border, chasing bad guys, or people we think are bad guys. That's been going on quite a bit.

BLITZER: Here is what another line you write about division within the Bush administration over these plans. You say this: "The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring.

"He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House as not being foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008."

Talk a little bit about the divisions you see happening within the administration.

HERSH: Well, I don't think there's any question but much of the senior military leadership do not think it's the wise thing to do. Of course, if the president orders it, it will happen. But they are very skeptical.

For example, I was told -- I hinted at it in the article -- that we could have a carrier in trouble in the Straits of Hormuz. There's very little room to maneuver, and a carrier, when it's recovering planes that are, you know, landing after attacking and trying to recover the planes, their motions, their movements are predictable. They have to have the wind in a certain direction. They could be vulnerable to attack.

Iran has hundreds of PT boats they can load up and make them more or less suicide boats. So the Navy is extremely worried about that possibility. We could have some serious damage to our fleet. And also, what's Iran going to do in response?

I will tell you also that there's a lot of evidence -- I didn't get into this that much into the piece -- that the Iranians are digging more holes, moving their leadership into underground bunkers in other places besides Tehran in case of a bombing. They are anticipating the worst.

BLITZER: The Pentagon on Friday released a statement, even before your article was released, saying this: "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous.

"The United States has been very clear with respect to its concerns regarding specific Iranian government activities. The president has repeatedly stated publicly that this country is going to work with allies in the region to address those concerns through diplomatic efforts."

And this is what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said on February 15th. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT M. GATES: We are not, you know, for the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you say?

HERSH: Well, I guess Mr. Cheney, the vice president, didn't get that message, because the other day, in Australia, he once again publicly renewed the fact that all options are on the table and pretty much made another strong threat against the Iranians.

It's very possible, Wolf, that some of this is simply games being played by the administration that is simply designed to increase the political pressure on Iran, to jack it up. And a lot of this may be agitprop, propaganda.

But inside the military, they are planning very seriously, at the president's request, to attack Iran. And as I wrote in the article, one of the assignments they'd been given, contingency assignments -- there is no operational order, no order to hit anything -- but one of the contingency assignments would enable the president to at 2:00 in the afternoon say, "I want to hit," and within 24 hours, targets would be struck -- a 24-hour package.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Seymour Hersh, speaking with me from Cairo yesterday on CNN's "LATE EDITION."

Iran, by the way, again calling attention to its own capabilities. The state news agency reports Iran has launched its first satellite into space. The homemade satellite system is said to be the first of a series of five aimed at improving telecommunications.

Up ahead, stunning claims in a new documentary with huge implications for the Christian faith. I'll talk about it with a top American theologian. We'll talk about the discovery, what it could tell us about Jesus.

Plus, live from New York, get this, "Saturday Night Live" spoofs us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You'll want to see what you may have missed if you weren't staying up late Saturday night.

Who is that guy? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A high profile hearing today on whether accused terrorist, conspirator Jose Padilla is capable of going through a trial after his years of confinement.

Let's turn to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he was accused of planning to detonate a dirty bomb in the U.S. but was charged with something else, providing money and recruits to terrorists overseas. Now, Jose Padilla's lawyers are arguing in a Florida courtroom that he is not mentally competent to stand trial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice over): Four three and a half years, Jose Padilla was held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina Navy brig. Padilla's mother says her son's time in military custody changed him.

ESTELA ORTEGA LEBRON, MOTHER OF JOSE PADILLA: To this day, I think it's affected him emotionally, and mentally also.

MESERVE: Experts witnesses for the defense said the same thing, testifying that Padilla exhibited facial ticks, flushing and perspiration when asked about his solitary confinement. He suffers, they said, from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as Stockholm Syndrome, and is not mentally competent to stand trial.

One of his Padilla's lawyers, Andrew Patel, testified today, "We have gotten no useful information from Mr. Padilla directly, and it would be extraordinary difficult for him to help his own case. The defense is bringing in military personnel who worked at the brig where Padilla was confined.

ANDREW MCBRIDE, FMR. PROSECUTOR: If the judge is shocked by what happened to Mr. Padilla, it could influence the outcome of the competency hearing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: But when government prosecutors grilled Patel today, they pointed out that in the huge volume of filings related to Padilla, his lawyers never raised his mental condition or indicated there was a problem communicating. Prosecutors have also pointed out that Padilla got a perfect zero on a standardized test to detect symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, when do we expect the judge to rule on this issue?

MESERVE: Very quickly. The trial is supposed to start on April 16th. The judge has indicated she doesn't want a delay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve reporting.

Thanks, Jeanne.

So what are the chances the bills in your wallet are actually fake? A new report says the Internet and new technology are actually making it easier for currency counterfeiters to do their business.

Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She has more on how the government is trying to stay one step ahead -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, the U.S. Treasury already uses advanced security measures to help keep your bills safe from counterfeiting, like a watermark that you can see when you hold the bill up to light, or a security thread that runs up and down the bill. But a new report that just came out says that digital technology is moving so quickly, that amateur counterfeiters will have the same skill set as professional graphic artists within five to 10 years, and the Internet is really making it easy for counterfeiters to share trade secrets.

So what it suggests is that the government stay one step ahead. It's a report by the National Research Council, and what they suggest is the government use even more sophisticated technologies, things like patterns on the bills that can't be duplicated by electronic printers, or ink that changes color when it changes temperature. There's even a suggestion of using plastics in low-denomination bills.

This is a report that was requested by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and they are currently working on the $5 bill. A new version of that is expected in early 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Jacki.

Coming up, by the way, in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, musical chairs in the White House briefing room. We're going to show you why a long-time front row fixture may be losing her perch.

Also, still ahead this hour, details of the documentary that sounds like a real life "Da Vinci Code". We're going to talk to the filmmakers who say they have compelling evidence that Jesus had a wife and child.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a very controversial claim that strikes at the heart of the Christian faith. Documentary filmmakers saying they're now convinced bones discovered in Jerusalem are the earthly remains of Jesus, and his wife and child.

Let's go back to New York. CNN's Carol Costello has details -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it all sounds familiar, doesn't it? But if this is true, it would be the biggest archaeological find in history. Who is behind the lost tomb of Jesus? James Cameron, the guy who won an Oscar for directing "Titanic".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): Depending on who you ask, it's either a serious "wow" factor or seriously bad history.

Here they are, spotlighted on stage, 2,000-year-old stone caskets. And the claim is they once held the bones of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. If true, it could rock Christianity to its core.

(on camera): This coming on the heels of "The Da Vinci Code" And...

JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR: Oh, it's highly suspect. It's highly suspect. I mean, I would be skeptical and say, well, they're just cashing in on "The Da Vinci Code". Now, the fact is, we started this investigation a year before "The Da Vinci Code" came out.

COSTELLO: These stone coffins, along with eight others, were found back in 1980. Construction workers near Jerusalem discovered them crammed into a cave in an industrial suburb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it.

COSTELLO: Six were inscribed. The documentary called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" claims the others read "Mary, Matthew, Josa (ph)," which is the name of Jesus's brother, and most controversially, "Jonah, son of Jesus."

If you couple this with the DNA evidence they found, the documentary makers say there is compelling evidence that Jesus was married and had a child.

Archaeologist Joe Zias has studied the coffins and dismisses the claim.

JOE ZIAS, ARCHAEOLOGIST: What they try to do is they try to con the public into believing we're talking about a nuclear family, so it's impossible to go and tell who is related to whom simply on the basis of names.

COSTELLO: Sure you can, say the makers of "The Lost Tomb of Christ.: They asked statisticians to come up with the odds that all of those names would be found in one tomb and not be related. The answer, at least 600 to one

But the documentarians do admit nothing is proved.

CAMERON: Archaeology is about a fuzzy picture that gets clearer and clearer and clearer. So, you know, people of deep faith that sort of reject this out of hand, they're on safe ground, because we can never prove it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: The Catholic League calls this laughable and a titanic fraud. And in case you're wondering why James Cameron is involved in this, he hasn't made a Hollywood movie in 10 years, but because of his work on discovering the real Titanic, he says he's become fascinated with uncovering history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks.

The tomb at the center of the documentary is located next to a housing complex in a southern Jerusalem suburb. That's about two miles from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. That's where Christian tradition holds that's where Jesus was buried. That has drawn -- and that has drawn pilgrims to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for centuries. It's among the most visited sites in all of Jerusalem.

For more now on the documentary and the controversy surrounding all of these claims, we're joined by the Reverend David O'Connell. He's the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington.

Thanks very much for coming in, Father.

REV. DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So what do you make of all of this?

O'CONNELL: Well, I don't make much of it. You know?

To me, it's the same old story. This great breaking news is about 27 years old. These -- this tomb, the ossuaries, were found in 1980, and it just strikes me as strange that in all of that time serious archaeologists and serious scientists haven't spoken much about them, probably because there's very little credibility to the claims. BLITZER: Because our Ben Wedeman was speaking to some Israeli archaeologists and other archaeologists in Jerusalem earlier in the day, and they were poo-pooing it as well, suggesting that they're not convinced that these allegations, these claims are authentic.

O'CONNELL: The statistics that they presented, the assertions that they made, giant leaps as far as I'm concerned.

BLITZER: The notion of Jesus being married and having a son, has that been around for a long time, that theory?

O'CONNELL: It's been around as long as the gospels have existed. And people point to different items of tradition and legend and myth, but there is no evidence of that in the scripture, no evidence whatsoever in the scriptural texts that we have.

BLITZER: And if that -- if somehow DNA or new science could prove that, what would that do, though, to the Christian faith, the pinnacle, the core beliefs that you have?

O'CONNELL: Well, I don't think that it would be a possibility, because, you know, people say, well, the bible is not literal, the bible is not historical. It's the best historical record that we have. And it's not the only historical record we have about the life of Jesus.

I just don't think it's a possibility that that kind of assertion could be proved true.

BLITZER: The fact these names were on these boxes that were found, and obviously similar names to Jesus and Mary and a potential son?

O'CONNELL: Ancient Semitic language is very, very hard to decipher. And some of the archaeologists are saying that the expression "Jesus" that has been referred to on the caskets may not actually be Jesus, it may be another name.

You know, there are 25, 30 different variations of the name Mary in the Hebrew language and the Semitic languages. So, to make an assertion like they're making is really quite outstanding.

BLITZER: Is there any proof that would convince you that this allegation were true?

O'CONNELL: For 2,000 years we believed that Jesus died, was buried, rose, ascended, and sits at the right hand of the father in heaven. Nothing would convince me otherwise.

BLITZER: And so what does this suggestion that this filmmaker has now come up with --- he's obviously putting it together in a new film, a documentary. People who are Catholic, Christians, what should they make of it? What should they do with it?

Should they watch it? Should they not watch it? Should they boycott it? I'm trying to get a sense of how potentially explosive this is.

O'CONNELL: You and I sat in this very room about a year ago and talked about "The Da Vinci Code," and I said then what I say now, it's a flight of fancy. If you want to watch it and try to be entertained by it, I do not see a problem with that. But to put belief in it, I would not give any credibility to the claims that they make.

BLITZER: And given his record with the Titanic, it's going to generate a lot of commotion. It already is.

O'CONNELL: Sure. Last night with the Oscars, this coming Sunday the show will premiere. It's good hype.

BLITZER: And that's it?

O'CONNELL: I think so.

BLITZER: Father David O'Connell of Catholic University, thanks very much for coming in.

O'CONNELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Up next, we'll look at a very different kind of situation room. That would be the situation room depicted on "Saturday Night Live." We're going to show you a little bit of their spoof of not only THE SITUATION ROOM, but whoever that guy is right there.

He's holding the papers sort of like I do. His tie looks like I do, my tie. But we'll watch it together with you, at least some of it.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We'll be back in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Much more of THE SITUATION ROOM coming up.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou.

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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