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AMERICAN MORNING

Mosque Attack: Inside Job?; Soldier's Body Found: Lost in Fort Hood Exercise; Soldiers Accused in Illegal Immigrant Scheme

Aired June 13, 2007 - 08:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Gathering storm. Overnight, one of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines is bombed again, 16 months after an attack on the same mosque plunged the country into sectarian warfare.

U.S. and Iraqi troops are bracing for a new round of revenge attacks right now.

Plus, border breakdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unfortunate when members of law enforcement are alleged to have violated with the very laws that they are helping us to protect.

ROBERTS: Three National Guardsmen arrested for smuggling illegal immigrants into America. How could it happen? We'll talk to the suspects' commanding officer on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Lots of breaking news this morning, with moment-to- moment developments that we're following for you here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Thanks for being with us. It's Wednesday, the 13th of June.

I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry.

And we start with new developments on breaking news in Iraq today. The U.S. military now saying there is evidence that the attack on the famed Golden Dome shrine was an inside job. The two minarets of the mosque were destroyed today. The famous Golden Dome was destroyed in a 2006 bombing, and that really became a flashpoint for the war, triggering a wave of sectarian violence that continues today and has left tens of thousands of people dead.

The Iraqi prime minister calling for an indefinite curfew. He put that into place about an hour ago.

And Paula Hancocks is live in Baghdad with the newest developments.

And again, they're talking, when they say an inside job, apparently about Iraqi security forces who were guarding that mosque.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kiran. This is information that we're getting from General Mixon. He's head of the multinational force in the north. And he has said to CNN that it was an inside job. He said that 15 of those security forces that were actually protecting this particular mosque have been arrested.

Now, what we understand from the general is that there were two cordons of protection around this particular mosque. The first cordon, the outer cordon, was a mixed Sunni-Shia protection force, and then inside it was a Shia force.

The Iraqi national police protecting that particular area. According to him as well, there is a U.S. explosives team on its way to Samarra to try and surmise exactly what happened. And also, there will be Iraqi reinforcements in the area as well -- Kiran.

CHETRY: You know, it just highlights so many of the problems, but one is whether or not there can be a sense of trust established among these Iraqi troops as to whether or not they can be trusted to secure their own country and how that affects the U.S. military presence.

HANCOCKS: Well, this is a huge problem in Iraq, and it has been for many months now -- the infiltration by militias and by insurgents into the Iraqi national police, also to a lesser extent into the army. But we've certainly seen U.S. and Iraqi officials being fairly open about this, saying, yes, it is a problem.

They are trying to cancel out this infiltration within the police force itself. And also, we've seen many occasions of gunmen just wearing Iraqi police uniforms. So that is what the community would trust, the community would stop at a particular checkpoint, which could be a fake one.

CHETRY: Paula Hancocks live for us in Baghdad with the latest breaking developments.

And we will check in with you throughout the hour. Thanks, Paula.

To Capitol Hill now, where Senate Democrats are promising a new round of votes on Iraq. And Majority Leader Harry Reid says that they will happen before the July 4th recess.

Reid's plans include cutting off funding, ordering troop withdrawals, and also rescinding congressional authorization for the war. He says he wants to "hold the president's feet to the fire". The measures are not expected though to pass.

ROBERTS: A developing story out of Fort Hood, Texas, this morning. A military search team says that they recovered the body of a missing soldier overnight. He's 25-year-old Sergeant Lawrence Sprader.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in our Dallas bureau now with the very latest on this.

Do they have word of where they found him and what the cause of death might be?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know yet about cause of death. And not exactly sure where they found him on the post at Fort Hood.

You know, this is a massive, massive military complex in the middle of Texas, just southwest of Waco, Texas. So this is a huge area, much of it very remote, very rugged.

And Sergeant Sprader was participating in a navigation and map- reading drill last Friday. He showed up -- they last had touch with him on Friday over cell phone. When he failed to show up at the end of the training exercise, about two hours after everyone had finished, they'd contacted him and he had told his commanders that he wanted to wrap up the exercise, wanted to continue doing that, and that was the last they heard from him.

Hundreds of soldiers were involved in the search over the last four days, scouring over thousands of acres there on the post at Fort Hood. And late last night we got word that his body was found and that he had died.

His body has been brought here to Dallas, and there will be an autopsy performed on the body. We assume that that is probably in the early stages right now.

And later on this morning, there will be a press conference in Fort Hood where they'll be talking about that. His parents had originally been scheduled to speak at a press conference this morning. Whether or not that will happen is still up in the air as well.

ROBERTS: All right, Ed. I'm sure that you're going to stay with this story. We'll talk to you a little bit later on this morning.

Ed Lavendera from Dallas this morning for us.

CHETRY: The U.S. launching another war of words with Iran. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns toll CNN in the last few hours that the U.S. now has "irrefutable evidence" that Iran is arming the Taliban. Burns says NATO forces stopped weapons that were being shipped across the border into Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: The pattern of activity, if you see the Iranians arming Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas, in Gaza and the West bank, and, of course, arming Shia militants inside Iraq itself, it's very violent and very unproductive activity by the Iranian government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Burns called on NATO to beef up its protection of the border to try to stop move of these shipments from getting through.

And also, intense fighting in Gaza today now threatening to break up the fragile Palestinian unity government. Militant Hamas fighters captured key Fatah positions today. The two sides are supposed to be working together. And leaders from both parties are calling for a cease-fire, but yet the fighting continues.

More than 50 people have been killed in just the past three days alone. At a news conference today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the situation is "madness". The Associated Press also reporting that Abbas is reaching out to Hamas' leader in exile, Khalid Mashal (ph), to try to end that fighting.

And in Israel, politics comes full circle. Former prime minister Ehud Barak won control of the Labor Party today. He was swept from power by Ariel Sharon six years ago after his peace deal with the Palestinians fell through. Now he is in a position to defeat Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert.

ROBERTS: Everything old is new again. That's the way it is in Israel.

Politics in this country now.

Mitt Romney is jumping to the top of the pack in the state of New Hampshire. A new CNN poll says Romney is the favorite of conservatives. He's at 28 percent among New Hampshire's likely GOP primary voters. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain each have 20 percent, and Fred Thompson, back in the pack there at 11 percent.

When it comes to has the best chance, though, of beating the Democratic nominee, it's Giuliani, with 31 percent. Romney's got 25, McCain trails with only 14 percent. But this is very important -- only six percent of those polled say they've made up their mind on who to vote for.

Well, Fred Thompson hasn't officially joined the race, but he came awfully close to doing it last night on "The Tonight Show". Jay Leno asked him flat-out if he wants to be president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON (R), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: I've never craved the job of president, but I want to do some things that only a president can do. So the answer is, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, Thompson also talked about his experience as a U.S. senator and even took a little swipe at those who criticized his decision to become an actor again after leaving the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: I put term limits on myself, for one thing. I never planned on spending a career in Washington. You know, I often say after eight years in Washington, I long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood.

JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Really?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, Thompson has already formed a testing the waters committee and says that so far he has gotten a very warm reception from voters.

We'll see if it lasts.

CHETRY: Yes, that's true. A lot more alike than many people care to admit, Hollywood and the political trail.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: This morning, three National Guardsmen remain in jail in Laredo. The Guardsmen were assigned to help stop illegal immigration, and now they're accused of running their own immigrant smuggling operation across the border from Mexico to Texas. One of them had even been awarded a Purple Heart for injuries suffered in Iraq.

Joining us is Lieutenant General Charles Rodriguez, the commander of the Texas National Guard. He joins me from Austin this morning.

Thanks so much for being with us, General.

LT. GEN. CHARLES RODRIGUEZ, COMMANDER, TEXAS NATIONAL GUARD: Good morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: What are you hearing about exactly how they were caught? Was it a tip or something along those lines that led you to eventually -- or led authorities to eventually pull over this van and find the people inside?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, the authority is the U.S. attorney for the 10th Southern District. They have control and they have jurisdiction over this case. The specifics about the case I'm not in a position to comment about, because it is an ongoing investigation, and no interference is appropriate at this time.

CHETRY: All right. Well, what we do know though is that I guess they believe that this was actually part of a smuggling scheme, that there were possibly seven other times that these three gentlemen possibly, with the help of others, had done this before. And they were pulled over after already making it across the border, but then they were pulled over a bit later in this National Guard van.

RODRIGUEZ: You know, Kiran, it's important to keep things in perspective here. We're talking about three people here, and, yes, that investigation will go on and, yes, justice will be served. But in the context of how many people have actually served on this president's Operation Jump Start mission, there have been more than 33,000 Guardsmen from across the country serving all the way from Tijuana down to Brownsville area. All the way across that area in Texas, we have about 1,500 soldiers.

The order of magnitude of three compared to that is worth keeping in mind, especially in light of the quality of service that our Guardsmen have been performing. Ask any Border Patrol official, and they'll tell you, these individuals, these border -- these Guardsmen are doing magnificent work, and there's really no price that could be put on the positive work that they're doing to enhance border security.

CHETRY: And no one here is trying to insinuate that the tireless efforts are vital. And because they are so vital, I think that that is what has people so concerned to learn that, you know, a few bad apples can really put our national security at risk, especially if this happened possibly up to seven times prior.

RODRIGUEZ: One of the things that's come out of all of this, just like in any -- any business or in any operation, you can always do things a little bit better. We have great processes and procedures in place, but this is helping us identify, along with the Border Patrol authorities, helping us identify ways to make things better -- area access, vehicle dispatch, just basic checklists.

You know, the military, the National Guard, has got a very strong program of preparing our soldiers. We give them ethics training, in addition to their Army values training and Air Force values training.

We actually do criminal background investigations. So does the Border Patrol. We do them on both sides.

And then in addition, we have people who assist us who are well trained to do health and welfare inspections. Basically, we've identified folks already and eliminated them both from the mission and from the National Guard when they prove positive or having something negative on their criminal background check.

CHETRY: Certainly. And like I said, it's unfortunate that the case of these three is what we're talking about this morning, given all of the hard work that does go on.

But thank you for talking to us about the investigation.

Lieutenant General Charles Rodriguez.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Some more breaking news to pass along to you this morning at 19 minutes after the hour.

It seems as though the Palestinian-controlled area of Gaza slips increasingly more towards civil war. We're hearing this morning that Hamas militants detonated explosives in a tunnel underneath a Fatah- lined security compound. Fatah, of course, loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister -- Palestinian president, rather. They detonated these explosives underneath the security compound in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis. At least 11 Fatah forces were killed. That security compound now said to be in the control of Hamas militants.

We'll keep you updated on all of this throughout the morning.

A disappearing lake in Africa. Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes on the hunt for Lake Chad as part of CNN's continuing series "Planet in Peril," coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: And some breaking news now.

We have the first video out of Samarra, Iraq, the site of another bombing at a holy mosque known as the Golden Dome Mosque. It was a year ago that the Golden Dome itself was destroyed. Well, now overnight two of the minarets, the high towers, were also destroyed.

The attack initially was considered a flash point for the war, because after that happened a year ago, a wave of sectarian violence that still goes on today was started, leaving tens of thousands of people killed. There is a curfew, a countrywide curfew in effect right now because of fears of reprisal attacks, and there is also some new information coming to us from U.S. commanders, the possibility that this could have been an inside job, that Iraqi security forces whose job it was to protect that mosque may have actually helped in this attack, in this explosion.

Meantime, lawmakers loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, say that they are suspending their membership in parliament in protest over this latest attack. We will continue to follow it, but there you see the latest pictures that have just come in to us from Samarra, Iraq, the site of yet another explosion and some devastation of two of the towers that stood there at that holy Shiite mosque -- John.

ROBERTS: Twenty-three minutes now after the hour.

It remains one of Africa's most important environmental treasures, but an amazing 90 percent of Lake Chad has disappeared during the last 45 years.

Our Sanjay Gupta is on assignment in Africa, exploring what's left of the lake. It's part of CNN's special series "Planet in Peril".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On maps, Lake Chad is massive. It's one of the largest in the world. So I never imagined it would be so hard to find.

When you do find it, it makes sense. The maps are obsolete.

Lake Chad is dwindling away. It's only a fraction, one-tenth of its original size. So much of the water replaced by sand.

I went to see what was left.

(on camera): After driving more than 50 miles from where the lake once was, we finally found some water again. We're going to get in this boat and take a look at what remains of Lake Chad.

The best way to try and understand Lake Chad is to actually get in. It used to be over 25 feet deep here. Now it just comes up to my waist.

(voice over): It's covered in weeds and silt and muck. The water is stagnant. I could feel tiny fish swimming around my feet.

(on camera): And now we're here in the desert in Niger, at a place where the lake once existed. The truth is that Lake Chad previously shrunk before at a time when the term "greenhouse gases" didn't even exist, which is why some people are so optimistic that the water will return once again.

We'll have much more from the desert tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360". "Planet in Peril" series continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: And be sure to watch our continuing series "Planet in Peril" on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," weeknights at 10:00 Eastern.

CHETRY: Twenty-four minutes past the hour now. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

And we are talking hot dogs.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Is it me, or are we talking a lot of food this morning?

CHETRY: Well, we had banana Twinkies, McDonald's.

ROBERTS: You bring food, you can come here any time.

VELSHI: Yes. A little early to be talking about hot dogs, but Consumer Reports has put out its survey of hot dogs. They tested 23 readily available brands, and they grilled them on a -- what they call a concession-style rolling grill thing and came out with their list of top hot dogs.

Interesting about them. Hot dogs are -- I like hot dogs a lot.

CHETRY: I do, too. I'm just laughing because you have hot dog juice on your papers...

VELSHI: I have hot dog juice on my papers.

CHETRY: And the best that you guys could find was an already used packet of Hebrew National?

VELSHI: This is -- you're dripping hot dog juice on your laptop now.

This is -- this is the number one, Hebrew National, where you answer to a higher authority.

Let me show you the list. Let me show you the top list of hot dogs that they said.

Hebrew National Kosher hot dogs come out as number one. Nathan's Famous Skinless...

CHETRY: Ooh, those are the best.

VELSHI: ... then Boar's Head Skinless. Hebrew National Kosher Reduced Fat is number four, and Boar's Head Lite Skinless, they say they taste really good. I've actually brought some.

CHETRY: Are these edible, or...

VELSHI: It's never really too -- it's really never too early to -- John, come on.

CHETRY: It's never too early.

VELSHI: It's never too early for a hot dog.

These are the number one hot dogs rated in America.

Now, the warnings here -- you should read this thing, because if you like hot dogs a lot, they're saying it's not a never-eat food, but you should sort of be careful, because the sodium intake in this is about a million times more than, you know, a hamburger or something like that. But they're saying that there are some -- some of these light choices are actually not bad.

CHETRY: That's right, if you don't mind some sodium nitrates as well for your breakfast.

VELSHI: It makes them taste good.

CHETRY: You're good to go.

VELSHI: Sure, guys. Have a great breakfast. I'm sure it's afternoon somewhere in the world.

ROBERTS: The dog's going to love the fact that you've got hot dog juice all over you now, too.

VELSHI: There's a lot of hot dog juice going on here.

All right. That's it for me.

CHETRY: Thanks, Ali.

Well, meantime, prosecuting the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case. The case of the $54 million pants -- well, that just keeps getting weirder as well. Savannah Guthrie from Court TV is here to discuss both of them for us.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back. It is Wednesday, June 13th.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: And I'm John Roberts.

Lots of breaking news to tell you about this morning, beginning with a new twist in the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, Iraq.

The commander of U.S. forces in that region says there is evidence that this was an inside job by the Iraqi security forces who were supposed to be guarding the famous Golden Dome which was destroyed in February of last year. In today's attack -- and you can see the difference, the before and after picture here. This is before February 20th on the left of last year, and what it looks like today. Two minarets that were remaining were destroyed in today's bombing. It is pretty much taken down the whole mosque now.

The Golden Dome was destroyed, as we said, in 2006. That's what ignited this latest round of sectarian violence in Iraq. Karl Penhaul is embedded with U.S. forces just outside of the town of Baqubah, which is about 40 miles away from Samarra. He's been talking with U.S. military officials there, one General Mixon, who is in charge of multi-national forces in the north there.

Karl, what's the latest on this from those U.S. forces that you are embedded with there?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, just a few moments ago we were in fact talking to General Benjamin Mixon, he's in charge of the U.S. forces for this whole northern region of Iraq. He says there is clear evidence at this stage this was an inside job.

When I asked him what he meant by that, precisely, he explained there was outer security cordoned around the Golden Dome mosque made up of Sunni and Shia Iraqi security forces, and that's followed by an inner security cordon of Shia-Muslim guards. The indication there being that, according to General Mixon, those on the outer cordon allowed, or assisted, or even took part in placing the explosives by the two minarets and exploding them.

Now, he did say that he believed that this was the work of Al Qaeda insurgents but didn't specify whether he believed that the inside job was because those security guards allowed the insurgents to pass, or whether some of the security guards actually posing as security guards, while in fact they were Al Qaeda insurgents.

The good news according to the General Mixon, is so far in Samarra there's been no flare-up, according to his reports, of any sectarian tension there. He said 15 security guards have been arrested so far. He also says that an additional Iraqi army brigade is en route to the region to security the area to ensure peace there, John.

ROBERTS: This additional Iraqi army unit that's on the way there to provide security, if this was an inside job, is there going to be any trust among locals there that additional Iraqi forces will be able to protect what's now very little left of this mosque? Or has this really fractured any trust that the locals might have had of the Iraqi security forces' ability to be able to act as impartial in this whole thing.

PENHAUL: Well, what I asked General Mixon about the impact on the general social and political sphere in Samarra, he seemed quite optimistic. He said that of recent days, what he termed Iraqi sheiks have been working with security forces in an attempt to root out Al Qaeda insurgents, pretty much what we've seen here in Diyala Province, so far, which is where the Sunni insurgents, the national insurgents, flip and work against Al Qaeda and for the security forces.

Now the general indicated that that had been going on in recent days in Samarra, so it seems there is a lot more cohesion at this time than there was back in 2006 when the mosque was initially bombed. I think that's the reason why General Mixon, is suggesting possibly this time around it won't lead to the ramp-up in sectarian violence that we saw last time, John.

ROBERTS: Obviously, a big setback today in this program to try to get Sunnis to be fighting Al Qaeda. Karl Penhaul for us there this morning outside of Baqubah embedded with U.S. forces. Karl, thanks.

CHETRY: The U.S. said this morning it has irrefutable evidence Iran is arming the Taliban. Officials say NATO forces stopped a shipment of weapons that were crossing from the border with Iran into Afghanistan. Iran is under a U.N. order not to ship arms outside of the country.

Breaking news we're following this morning out of Gaza. Learning now that Hamas militants detonated bombs in a tunnel under a Fatah security compound, then took control of it. We're hearing this happened in the southern town of Kahn Unis (ph). Palestinian security forces tell CNN that at least 11 people were killed. Earlier this morning Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a peace demonstration. At least one person was killed, dozens more were hurt.

ROBERTS: Well, it's 34 minutes after the hour now. It is the case of the prosecutor-turned-defendant. Mike Nifong is the North Carolina district attorney who brought charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, only to have the entire case thrown out.

Well, now Nifong is on trial, defending his law license amid complaints that he violated several legal, ethical rules during his handling of the case. In testimony on Tuesday, a police investigator said he expressed concerns about the case. Joining me now is Court TV's Savannah Guthrie. She's live in our Washington bureau.

So, how much jeopardy is Nifong in here?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: For a lawyer, incredible jeopardy. He may lose his livelihood, his job, his ability to practice law. It is a real twist of fate here. This zealous prosecutor who brought this controversial case now finds himself on the defendant's seat.

ROBERTS: What was his greatest defense here?

GUTHRIE: He's claiming that number one, he didn't have the intent necessary to prejudice the proceedings. Because part of the charges here are that he made these inflammatory remarks to the media to kind of whip up the community and increase condemnation of the accused here.

Then, as far as the more serious allegation here, which is that he withheld favorable evidence from the defense, apparently he's going to claim that he felt that this was just one step in the road to discovery, that they were a long way away from trial, and eventually the defense would get this information.

ROBERTS: What are the possible penalties here he's facing?

GUTHRIE: The worst penalty would be losing his law license, which of course, since is he the elected D.A. in that area would mean losing his job. There are lesser punishments though. He could get a suspension of his law license for a period of years, or he could just get a reprimand, which is like a slap on the wrist or written censure. There is no question the whole ballgame here is the law license and whether he'll still be able to practice.

ROBERTS: Now, of course, another legal case that's captivated the nation is taking place right there in Washington, D.C., the case of the missing pants. The judge who took his pants into a dry cleaner, the dry cleaner lost them, so the judge is suing them for $58 million?

GUTHRIE: $54 million!

ROBERTS: Sorry. $54 million, $58 million. You get lost in the figures. What happened yesterday? The judge who is the plaintiff in the case turned a little emotional?

GUTHRIE: Yes. This case is obviously very important to this judge. He took the witness stand. He's acting as his own lawyer. Of course, he is his own star witness. He took the witness stand and actually, according to reports, broke down into tears, became very emotional when discussing these missing pants. They must have been something!

CHETRY: Come on!

ROBERTS: How emotional can you get over a pair of pants?

GUTHRIE: Well, if they're worth $54 million, I guess kind of emotional.

ROBERTS: He's really attached to them. All right, Savannah Guthrie, thanks.

GUTHRIE: Sure. CHETRY: Unbelievable.

Well, no soldier left behind. There is a new robot in the works that could make accomplishing that a whole lot safer for troops. Sean Callebs joins us from Cambridge, Massachusetts with a look at what's being called the BEAR.

I know the way we see you now the BEAR is looking at you, that's how he sees you.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. This is how the BEAR would see a battlefield, through an infrared camera. So if it was dark and they are looking for some kind of signal that there could be a body out there, here is another camera. This is exactly what BEAR looks like.

Now, this is the prototype. It is still a couple of years away from going out into the battlefield, but once it does, they can use these spatula-like hands to scoop up the wounded and then lift the wounded and ferry that soldier or Marine to safety.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice over): This is a robot called The BEAR, and stands for Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot. It is designed to pull the wounded to safety. Its developer says it will mean the difference between life and death.

DANIEL THEOBALD, PRESIDENT, VECNA: What happens right now is the guys out there are wounded, his buddy goes out to grab him, he gets shot, his buddy goes out to grab him, he gets shot.

CALLEBS: This is video VECNA used to convince the Pentagon the BEAR can work. The robot can lift 500 pounds, has night vision, and heat sensors to help find the wounded. But after spending $3 million in development, it's still at least two years away from being battle ready. Experts say the BEAR may never get out of the lab.

JAMES KUFFMAN, CARNEGIE MELLON ROBOTICS RESEARCH: The price tag for keeping the Iraq effort going is phenomenal. And so, on the one hand, if you're balancing out supporting longer-term research for a new technology, and providing supplies and needed food for our soldiers, it's very hard to balance those two.

CALLEBS: On top of everything else, VECNA anticipates the same front-line troops fighting would operate and service this complex machine. And then, there is the obvious concern.

THEOBALD: It certainly is a question of what are the parts of the robot that are vulnerable to gunfire.

CALLEBS: Developers say small-arms fire should not be a problem. But anything more lethal could take it out.

THEOBALD: But the great thing is you don't have to send a letter home to its loved ones. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: Indeed. This is one of the earlier prototypes of the BEAR. I want to pull your attention to this, the tracks, and also the tire. This lower portion, this is what would be used to move BEAR around. Here is the current's prototype. We talked just a bit about how it can actually pick up the wounded.

Want to show you just how much the BEAR -- whoops! -- can actually withstand. I'm more than 6'3" myself, kind of heavy. If I can just kind of pour myself in here, the hands come up, lock in, and this is how the BEAR would then take the wounded to safety.

Now of course, Kiran, you see all these hoses back here, a lot of metal exposed. This is just an early version of it. The final version will probably have Kevlar, something like that, all these cables would be encased in the arms. So it would be able to take a certain degree of small arms fire.

Want to take you to this camera, once again, on the BEAR's head, because as it carries the wounded to safety, it can look down at the soldier, Marine, and see just how egregious the wounds are, and then just get some kind of idea.

It's now breaking up just a little bit. We have a lot of electronics out here. Apparently interfering a little bit with the technology of the BEAR, Kiran.

CHETRY: Sean Callebs, unbelievable technology. When they are actually able to use it on the battlefield, hopefully it will save many lives. Thank you.

ROBERTS: All right. Refunds are coming. Your quick hits, now.

People who get paid extra, or people who did pay extra to get their passports quickly, but still had to wait are getting their money back. New rules requiring U.S. citizens to have passports to travel to Canada and Mexico caused major problems.

That ruling has since been suspended and anyone who paid $60 for the expedited service and didn't get it will get their money back. You can get details on the refund by going to State Department's website at www.state.gov.

It was just an accident. That's what police have concluded about a bizarre incident in Pawpaw, Michigan where a man in a wheelchair got caught on the front grille of a semi-truck and pushed down the road at up to 50 miles an hour. The driver of the truck, police say, will not face any criminal charges. Amazingly, too, the man in the wheelchair wasn't hurt.

Targeting Alzheimer's disease in people in their 40s. What researchers are saying about early onset Alzheimer's before irreversible brain tissue damage sets in. Elizabeth Cohen joins us next.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the most news in the morning, 45 minutes after the hour. Reynolds Wolf is in for Chad Myers today.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: The conventional wisdom has been Alzheimer's disease is a disease that older people get. Right? Apparently a growing number of people are being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from Atlanta.

Elizabeth, good to see you again.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

CHETRY: So, how young are people being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease?

COHEN: Kiran, it is shockingly young. So, even if you're in your 40s you need to listen up, because 400,000 people each year in their 40s, 50s and early 60s are getting Alzheimer's disease. It is called early onset Alzheimer's disease, and it is even more deadly than when you get it after 65. People with early onset, they are usually dead within seven years. When they get Alzheimer's later in life they live for about 11 to 12 years. So, you can see this kind of Alzheimer's, much more deadly.

CHETRY: Is there a reason why we're seeing it more among young people? Is it just better and easier to diagnose now than it had been?

COHEN: No, that's not really it. It is just baby boomers. It is just all about demographics. Baby boomers are now in their 40s, 50s and early 60s. As you see more of them, you'll see more early onset Alzheimer's.

CHETRY: Is it hereditary?

COHEN: To some extent it is. Some people who get early onset Alzheimer's it is because their parents or grandparents had it. So if your parent, or grandparent, or someone in your family got Alzheimer's before the age of 65, you have a 50-50 chance of getting it.

CHETRY: Oh, wow.

COHEN: That's a terrifying number.

CHETRY: It sure is. What about advances in treatments?

COHEN: There hasn't been all that many advances in actually treating Alzheimer's. What there are, there is some drugs that slow the progression. And also there is more and more of a realization that you can do brain exercises. You can learn a language, or do crossword puzzles, and that can really help.

CHETRY: Wow, that is interesting as well. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks.

ROBERTS: CNN "Newsroom" is just minutes away. Tony Harris, at the CNN Center, with a look at what's ahead.

Good morning to you, Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: John, Good morning to you. We've got these stories on the "Newsroom" rundown for you this morning.

Golden Dome bombed again. Insurgents strike a major Shiite shrine, now Iraqis fear more ethnic violence.

A missing soldier's body found, a sergeant who disappeared during a solo training exercise found dead at Ft. Hood, Texas.

And it is not Pirates of the Caribbean, but kids find treasure in a New Jersey lake and they do the right thing.

Heidi is with me in the "Newsroom" this morning. We get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN.

John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Hey, buddy, thanks. We'll see you soon.

Some quick hits for you now, David Letterman says roughhousing with his son left him with a broken nose. He told his "Late Show" audience on Tuesday that he was still bleeding profusely and in a lot of pain just before the show. Tony Danza was waiting in the wings last night just in case Letterman couldn't go on.

Three sick seals are -- say that three times fast -- three sick seals are back home at sea. They had parasites and needed to be nursed back to health by marine biologists in Rhode Island. Yesterday the seals were released into the ocean. They're back on the seashore where they sell seashells.

The world watched his custody battle. Now the father of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter Dannielynn is speaking out to CNN. Larry Birkhead in his own words. Next on AMERICAN MORNING.

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ROBERTS: Coming up to 53 minutes after the hour. In jail, and out of an agent, your quick hits now. Paris Hilton's agent has dropped her. The Endeavor Talent Agency is not saying why it cut her loose. Hilton is serving a 45-day jail sentence right now, though she doesn't have to spend 45 days in jail.

The "Sopranos" whacked network television. The show's final episode pulled in almost 12 million viewers on Sunday, that put HBO right on the edge of a historic feat as the "Sopranos" beat all but one show on the big four networks last week. Only the season premier of "America's Got Talent" had more viewers. Rosie O'Donnell, come on down. In a video posted on her blog she says she is begging to replace the retiring Bob Barker as the host of the Price is Right. Former "View" co-host says she's still talking with the game show's higher-ups.

What do you think?

CHETRY: In a weird way I can see that. He had his cause, get your pets spayed and neutered. She's have a different cause every day -- so, maybe. We'll see what happens.

Meantime, Larry Birkhead giving his first live prime-time interview to Larry King, of course, last night. He talked about his relationship with Howard K. Stern and also winning custody of his daughter Dannielynn. He also says that the fight for his daughter is still not over. AMERICAN MORNING's Lola Ogunnaike joins me with some of the juicy details of Larry Birkhead.

And, of course, he brought the baby, Dannielynn on to Larry King's set. She is just adorable.

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She is absolutely adorable. Has no idea about the drama going on around her. He talked at length about his relationship with Anna Nicole, thought they'd get back together. Talked about his relationship with Howard K. Stern, the two are cordial.

He also talked about his relationship with Anna Nicole's mother, Virgie Arthur, they are not cordial. She is still fighting for custody, wants Dannielynn badly and is not letting it go. And it could be back in court as early as -- early July, actually.

CHETRY: And he's somebody that went through a pretty big fight, he says he knew all along that she was his child, yet of course had he to go through many court proceedings to finally get that known to him. He talked a little bit about how much he loved being a father.

OGUNNAIKE: He adores being a father! In fact, Larry, talked to Larry, about all the great things about fatherhood. Let's hear what they have to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR, LARRY KING LIVE: What's it like being a dad?

LARRY BIRKHEAD, FATHER OF DANNIELYNN: It's one of the most -- it's the greatest feeling. It's like magic. You wake up every morning, you rush in and can't wait until she wakes up. Sometimes I kind of cheat and take a couple peeks. When I hear her cry and those first sounds I just take off running and can't wait to spend every minute I can with her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: There he is now. The other thing we were wondering about, does he still keep in contact with Howard K. Stern and would he allow Howard K. Stern to see the baby?

OGUNNAIKE: Absolutely, he has no problem with Howard K. Stern being involved in the child's late. He has to deal with Howard K. Stern in terms of the contracts of Anna Nicole's estate, and the whole thing, so they have to have contact.

CHETRY: Another big celebrity birthday that a lot of people are marking.

OGUNNAIKE: Talking about babies. Mary-Kate and Ashley are all grown up. The girls are 21. Break out the champagne. Party time!

CHETRY: I don't know about you, but this makes me feel old, because they were infants when I watched them on "Full House." Now they're billionaires.

OGUNNAIKE: They're billionaires. They're billionaires' billionaires.

Talk of the town is where is the party going to be? People speculated it was going to be in New York because they used to hang out at a lot of clubs here but it is actually going to be at a private home in L.A.

CHETRY: Where will they go for their first taste of alcohol? Their first sip?

OGUNNAIKE: Actually it is going to be at a private home in L.A.

Excuse me, the girls are not dealing with the night life club scene at all.

CHETRY: Right.

OGUNNAIKE: So, yeah, a private party. No drama. But interestingly enough, these girls are paid, small girls, big, big bank accounts. Last year their company Dual Star made $1 million in sales, and they're worth about $100 million combined.

CHETRY: I know, my nieces wear the Mary-Kate and Ashley collection proudly.

Lola, thanks.

Here's a quick look at what CNN "Newsroom" is working on for the top of the hour.

See these stories in the CNN "Newsroom" from Tehran to the Taliban, the U.S. links Iranian weapons to the Afghan rebels.

Disabled man murdered. Police seek help in finding a suspect.

Teen sex case update. New developments on a bond hearing for Genarlow Wilson.

And struck by lightning. He lives to tell the tale. You're in the "Newsroom" just minutes away.

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