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U.S. Terror Threat; Vitter Sex Scandal;

Aired July 17, 2007 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
I'm Tony Harris.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

Watch events come into the NEWSROOM live. It's July 17th and here's what's on the rundown.

Al Qaeda's revival, how did it happen? We asked the nation's first homeland security chief live right here in just a few minutes.

HARRIS: Also, Senate sleepover. Democrats plan all-night debate on Iraq. Republicans blocking their troop withdrawal plan.

COLLINS: And Wall Street opening for business in 30 minutes. The Dow shooting for 14,000.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: At the top this hour, terror risks. Next hour, the nation's spy agencies release new findings of who, what, when and where of danger.

Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena here with a preview.

Kelli, good morning to you.


HARRIS: This represents the best guidance from the 16 intelligence agencies. What will we learn?

ARENA: Well, we'll learn that the United States remains a very attractive target. As if anybody had to tell us that. Right? We -- and, of course, a lot of this report will focus on al Qaeda.

And I was just able, Tony, to confirm a little tidbit that was first reported by The Associated Press that this report will say that al Qaeda will try to leverage its contacts and its capabilities in Iraq to try to attack here on U.S. soil. And as you know, Tony, lots of experts have talked about how al Qaeda has been able to recruit people because of the conflict in Iraq, that it's been able to give them hands-on training there and to test out new forms of attack. So, not surprising that that's in there. But it will be. And we also have learned that al Qaeda will continue to aggressively try to get people into the United States to try to do harm.

And, of course, the question is, well, wait a minute, haven't we been fight thing war on terror for so long? How did al Qaeda regain, you know, a lot of its capability? And the answer, according to many experts, is that, look, you know, it's a moving target. Yes, we have taken out leaders, but, you know, there are more people that replace them, and they continue to train and they continue to recruit.

And I did have an opportunity to talk with the Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, yesterday. And here's how he put it.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: They have found some safe spaces in parts of the world and that's a negative development. Clearly, they've evolved. They've essentially franchised themselves out to parts of the world in Southeast Asia, in North Africa, and most disturbingly, from our standpoint, in Europe. And that's a negative development.


ARENA: Of course on the Europe front, Tony, as you've heard, you know, here before, Europe is very much a concern to U.S. officials because there is a growing jihadi movement there and it's very easy for Europeans to make their way to the U.S.

Of course, there is a positive side to all of this. And the report is also expected to say that the U.S. has made many improvements, that it is a much harder target to hit than it was on September 11th.

HARRIS: OK. That will make folks feel a bit better.

Our Kelli Arena for us this morning.

Kelli, thank you. Good to see you.

In just a few minutes from now, we will assess the terror risk with someone uniquely qualified. Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge will be our guest. You will want to stay tuned for that interview.

COLLINS: Pulling an all-nighter. But this isn't college, it's Capitol Hill.

Senate Democrats rolling out the cots, ready for a marathon debate tonight on troop withdrawal from Iraq. They are trying to pressure Republicans. They've blocked votes on Democratic efforts to wind down the war.

Republicans dismiss tonight's sleepover, though, as political theater. Democrats know they don't have enough votes to end the filibuster.

Senator David Vitter expected back on Capitol Hill today. The Louisiana Republican and his wife already meeting the media. Their first public comments since a sex scandal erupted.

CNN's Sean Callebs is live in New Orleans.

Sean, what's the local buzz there about the senator now?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's keep a couple of things in mind.

Firstly, the senator just issued a one-paragraph statement about a week ago once this scandal first broke, basically saying he was apologizing for a sin in his past. Now, during his very short news conference yesterday, he said he was not going to answer when he termed "endless questions" about this scandal.

Well, a lot of constituents here believe he hasn't answered any questions about this scandal. They say, let's keep a few things in mind.

Firstly, this is someone, a staunch conservative Republican who has made these conservative values, traditional family values the cornerstone of his political career. He's also said that infidelity is destroying the American family. And last year, while this city, New Orleans, struggled to rebuild, the Iraq war raged on, he told the "Times-Picayune" newspaper that the most pressing issue to the United States was gay marriage.

Now, at his news conference yesterday he was accompanied by his wife. He once again apologized for being linked with the D.C. madam. But he is denying, strongly denying, reports that he can also be linked to a madam here in New Orleans or that he ever went to a notorious New Orleans brothel.


SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: Wendy and I dealt with this personally several years ago. I confronted it in confession and marriage counseling.

I believe I received forgiveness from God. I know I did from Wendy. And we put it behind us.

Since then, I have gotten up every morning, committed to trying to live up to the important values we believe in. If continuing to believe in and acknowledge those values causes some to attack me because of my past failings, well, so be it.


CALLEBS: Now, yesterday at his news conference reporters asked if he considered resigning, but he walked off away from the podium without answering that question. And Heidi, this is someone who's made it clear that he has aspirations beyond the Senate. He was, course, Rudy Giuliani's point man in the South in Giuliani's effort to be the next president of the U.S. But clearly, these events have soured that. But he is not up for re-election until 2010. And history has shown that voters, including those here, can have very short memories.

COLLINS: This is true.

Sean Callebs, live for us in New Orleans today.

Sean, thanks.



HARRIS: What would you ask the presidential candidates if you could? Well, you can and you have.

CNN, as you know, is teaming up with YouTube for the upcoming presidential debates. We have been collecting your questions for the candidates. Here's a sampling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, distinguished Democratic candidates. I'm Jake Young (ph) and I'm 16 years old. And I hail from Rocky River, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

The 109th Congress passed 383 bills, one-fourth of which renamed federal buildings. The Congress was in session for a nearly record low amount of time.

As president, how will you work with Congress to pass major pieces of legislation within a reasonable time frame?

Thank you.



LAURIE DUNDON, OREGON: Hello. I'm Laurie Dundon from Oregon. And I'm standing here now in eastern Chad, home to some of the many refugees from the conflict in Darfur.

My question to the candidates is, what would you do to end this ongoing crisis in Darfur, to end the suffering of these people, and to prevent atrocities in the future?


HARRIS: Oh, man.

Well, join Paula Zahn with more of your video questions as we countdown to the debate. That is tonight and every night this week at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

COLLINS: Still ahead, haunting images of 9/11, fears of a new strike. The terror threat through the eyes of former homeland security chief Tom Ridge. You see him there. We will be talking with him shortly.

HARRIS: Also, deal dead? The Taliban say they are ending a truce with Pakistan's President Musharraf. Why U.S. troops could be at greater risk.

COLLINS: And the new high. Concerns about a hallucinogenic drug gaining in popularity. It is cheap and in most states perfectly legal.

HARRIS: And slithery, slimy makes for a pretty necklace, wouldn't you say?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something like this, you know, small dog, cats, things like that. He is not a fun guy to have around.


HARRIS: The snake that got away. The neighborhood cat, Heidi, that's missing.

The story in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Declassified and public next hour. Findings in a new intelligence report with a worrisome forecast about terror.

Tom Ridge served as the nation's first secretary of Homeland Security. He is in Washington to join us this morning.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for being here. The timing is excellent to have your perspective on all of this.

I want to begin with some positives, if possible.

It has been six years since you were sworn in as the first director of Homeland Security. What were the highlights of what you were able to accomplish? What is something that has really made a difference for the safety of Americans?

TOM RIDGE, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I think it's not just what the department has accomplished. I think it's what the American public and the law enforcement community, and the international community, both law enforcement and intelligence world, have done in collaboration.

I think our country looks different to potential terrorists. I think the ability to assimilate information and share it and not only domestically but internationally it is different. We've layered in defenses with commercial aviation and commercial shipping. The private sector has invested billions of dollars.

So, all and all, we have made very significant and substantive progress. But like any other achievement, it's a -- it's just a goal to continue to get smarter and better every day. And that's going to be the challenge as we deal with the phenomenon. Not for the next couple of years. In my judgment, we're going to be dealing with it for the next several generations.

COLLINS: And as we continue to hear analysts sort of look at the United States, or, I should say, maybe the terrorists look at the United States as the grand prize by way of another attack, we continue to hear it is not if we will be attacked again but when.

That is such a frustrating statement. I understand the realism behind it. But so very frustrating knowing that we are six years beyond September 11th.

RIDGE: Well, I think we need to put it in perspective. I think, first of all, we need to understand that while we talk often about bin Laden and al Qaeda, that's an individual and that's an organization. This is a belief system that's international that has attracted different proponents and supporters around the world.

But we also have to understand that within this belief system there are leaders who are very strategic in their thinking. They are very patient. They are anti-modern world. And obviously, the United States is in the crosshairs representing the both the best and worst of that modern world. So, in the foreseeable future, we need to understand that we are the most visible target and probably the highest priority on their list.

COLLINS: Well, that being said, what about the strength of the enemy now? We continue to hear Secretary Chertoff warning that the intent for them to attack is as strong as it was in 2001.

Again, the national intelligence estimate saying al Qaeda trying to recruit. And not only trying to recruit, but trying to get people into the country, sort of infiltrate our borders to once again attack from within. And then we hear national security adviser -- or director, I should say, Stephen Hadley, and his assessment.

Let's listen for just a moment.


STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al Qaeda is nowhere in the position today that it was before 9/11. And it's nowhere in the position it would have been had we not been working hard on this problem for the last five or six years.


RIDGE: I don't think those opinions are in conflict. I think the fact of the matter is that right after 9/11, both with military action and diplomatic action, the support of the international community, the al Qaeda and those that supported al Qaeda, were particularly put back on their heels. It dismembered the leadership, made terrorism financing a lot more difficult to achieve.

But again, I think we have to remember, they are relentless in their pursuit of their extremist goals. And the notion that somehow we are beginning to pick up more information that they continue to plot, continue to think, continue to raise money, while it's obviously going to be confirmed in this national intelligence estimate, we'd need to go back to that basic premise.

We are a target. It is a belief system that generates people who think in these terms. America will always be their primary target, but I still don't think they are as close to being as strong today as they were on September 10, 2001. But they will be relentless in their effort to rebuild their capacity to attack us.

COLLINS: When we talk about the current security of our country, though, we often hear that people need to remain vigilant. We hear it over and over again.

How much does the Department of Homeland Security rely on everyday citizens being on the ball?

RIDGE: Well, I think it's what we ask citizens to do in addition to continue to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that America gives you. You know, we've learned a lot.

We've learned that vigilant people on airplanes like the individual that saw Mr. Reid try to light his shoe, somebody was just paying attention.


RIDGE: We've asked people in mass transit, in train stations and in airports, to just be aware of your surroundings. And what looks out of the ordinary based on some things that you have learn and picked up over the past couple of years, go to the security guard, talk to the police department. That's all we really want to ask Americans to do.

The one challenge I think we need to understand is that a situation in awareness is something that we ask citizens to be involved in. But the professionals, the men and women that go to work every single day since 9/11 to focus on making America safer and more secure, is every bit as focused and every bit as disciplined and every bit as committed to that task today as they were on September 12, 2001.

COLLINS: Very, very quickly, sir, as you look back over your tenure as the homeland security chief, if you will, what is the one thing that you really wish that you could have accomplished? What is something you look back and you say, darn it, you know, I just wanted to get that done?

RIDGE: Well, I think the biggest challenge -- and it remains -- is trying to make sure that all the information that is generated by the multiple intelligence agencies is scrubbed in a way so that it disseminated down to the state and locals. And we are doing a lot better job these days of aggregating all that information.

I think there are 15, 16 intelligence agencies. I still think that building a technology infrastructure, which wouldn't be very expensive, but also trusting other Americans to have the same information at their -- at their side and within law enforcement, as we do with some of the federal officials, would be something that I think we continue to work on. We've made improvements in that area, but I still think we need to integrate the capacity, not just to the federal government, but at the state and local level more effectively.

COLLINS: Do you share that with Secretary Chertoff?

RIDGE: Well, I think Secretary Chertoff knows it. I think he's moving in that direction. But, you know, Homeland Security isn't just a cabinet agency. It's a national -- it's a national mission. And to that extent, in my judgment, everybody has got a role to play and you can't underestimate the capability and the capacity that the state and locals in the private sector bring to that effort to maximize your ability to make this country safer.

COLLINS: Former Homeland Security secretary and Pennsylvania governor, Tom Ridge.

Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

RIDGE: Heidi, nice talking with you.

HARRIS: And still to come in the NEWSROOM this morning, fragile futures. Iraqi children surrounded by violence. How do they cope with the everyday trauma?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Ali Velshi in New York, "Minding Your Business".

Less than 10 minutes to go to the opening bell. Are we going to hit 14,000 on the Dow today? And if we do, what are you going to do about it?

Stay with me. I'll tell you when we come back in the NEWSROOM.



HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Metal detectors reinstalled at the Colorado capital today after a security scare for the governor.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Denver now -- Ed, what do we know about the gunman and a possible motive?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, authorities here are trying to piece all of that together still today. And the one kind of bit of information that we've been able to -- to gather, coming from a suburb north of Denver, that said about four hours before the shooting took place here, that a gentleman is being -- attributed to being here at the capital -- is said to have gone and rented a tuxedo a short while from here, a short distance from here and showed up here at the capital four hours later.

Police from that suburb described him as someone who was delusional. And then that person showing up here four hours later, walking into the governor's office proclaiming that he was the emperor and that he was here to take over state government.

Quickly, state troopers here at the capital descended on the governor's office, coaxed him out of the office and then that altercation escalated and those troopers shot and killed the gunman here about 2:00 yesterday afternoon.

And this case really highlights the security dilemma that many places across the country are facing in the wake of 9/11. After 9/11, security and metal detectors were installed here in the entryways into the state capital. Within a year, those were removed, lawmakers saying they wanted to keep the building -- what they call the place where the people's business is done -- to keep that open.

But now the governor of Colorado says that security measures will have to be re-evaluated.


GOV. BILL RITTER, COLORADO: So there's certainly going to be discussions going forward about how we achieve that right balance between security and keeping it open. I think what you'll see, without us saying any more than we have details, is a little bit of heightened security over the next few days while we have that discussion.


LAVANDERA: And, for the time being, that heightened security means that there will only be one way to enter the capital building here. That is on the north side through the basement. And there will be metal detectors placed there for the time being. And, as the governor said, there is now a quick review going on as to the security elements that need to be in place here at the capital and whether if -- or anything at all needs to be changed as to just how people are allowed to enter the capital building -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Boy, a scary situation there.

All right, Ed Lavandera from Denver for us this morning.

Thank you, Ed.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Execution on hold -- Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis gets a reprieve. Updating the story we've been following at the NEWSROOM, a state parole board gives Davis a 90-day stay while it weighs clemency. Davis was supposed to die by lethal injection tonight. He was convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989. His lawyers contend Davis is the victim of mistaken identity. They say several witnesses have changed their stories. The investigating officer in the case say he is convinced they have arrested the right man.


COLLINS: Suicide blasts end an insurgent attack on a Shiite community. Happening across Iraq this morning. In central Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq's Interior Ministry says a car bomb exploded near the Iranian embassy. Four people were killed, three others wounded. The aftermath visible in the black smoke rising above the city. The Iraqi military says insurgents wearing military uniforms targeted the Shiite village near Baquba. Twenty-nine people were killed, four wounded. The military says 10 of those victims were attacked so brutally they cannot be identified.

Another attack east of Baghdad targeted an army patrol. Eight were killed in that blast.

And on the political front, the powerful Shiite faction linked to anti-American cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, has ended its boycott of parliament. The boycott, along with a separate Sunni protest, had blocked work on key benchmark legislation demanded by the United States.

HARRIS: Surrounded by violence, Iraqi children facing an uncertain future.

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston takes a look at the crisis.


JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's a brutal reflection of daily life in Iraq. "Die!" they shout. "Die now!" Plastic machine guns and pistols -- a game of "kill the insurgents". "We learned this from the American. It's my favorite game."

DR. SAIED AL HASHIMI, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY: Our children are surrounded by violence. They -- they -- in every direction they look, they see violence.

ECCLESTON: Car bombs, kidnappings, air strikes and mass displacements.

Dr. Saied al Hashimi is a professor of psychiatry. AL HASHIMI: Now I can say that almost -- almost all the Iraqi children, especially in Baghdad and around Baghdad -- these are what we call the hot zones -- most of them are traumatized and...

ECCLESTON: Mustafa Karim (ph) is a seemingly happy young boy, despite living in a squalid refugee camp in the Shiite Baghdad slum of Sadr City. His family was brutally driven out of their village by insurgents. "They killed my father and uncle in front of my eyes." Iraq's healthcare system is reeling from victims of the physical brutality of war, too overwhelmed to deal with the victims of the psychological battle. Many of Iraq's best and brightest doctors have either been murdered or fled the country. Helping is left to a small team of doctors like Haidar Abdul Mosen. He runs a one man psychiatric clinic. He says it's the only one in Iraq. Despite meager resources, he treats up to 15 patients a day, patients like 8-year-old Zahra (ph). When bombs burst in her neighborhood, she suffers seizures. And 13-year-old Kita (ph). When she hears blasts, she hits her mother. DR. HAIDAR ABDUL MOSEN, CHILD PSYCHIATRIST: Our children became very violent, became very aggressive. They talk badly. They behave in a bad manner and we think this is one of the effects of war. ECCLESTON: Jennifer Eccleston, CNN, Baghdad.


COLLINS: Still ahead this morning, John Edwards on tour. He says he's focusing on poverty and taking aim at the president. And our Anderson Cooper was there to capture it.



HARRIS: So here's the thing. Because you're getting your information so many different ways -- on your Blackberry, on your phone -- we're pod casting for you today. It's the CNN daily pod cast, available to you 24-7 on your iPod.

OK, you're finding us every day here, 9:00 until noon. And we love that. And nice numbers. We love it.

But, also, we want to remind you to download the CNN NEWSROOM pod cast.

Again, go to, download the pod cast. Put it right there on your iPod and listen to us, well, why not today?

COLLINS: A new drug of choice for some teens playing out on the Internet -- easy to use, hard to stop.

CNN's Carol Costello takes a look.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It's called salvia and those who supposedly use it are celebrating their trips online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I am going to smoke some salvia.

COSTELLO: We don't know if that's what he and others like him showing up on the Internet are really smoking, but whatever it is, it appears powerful. In case they're minors, we've blurred their faces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But there's something weird. This is weird. You can't even -- you get -- everything feels nuts.

COSTELLO: According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, salvia is an obscure plant once used by the ancient tribes in Mexico. It can be smoked or chewed. It causes vivid hallucinations and out of body experiences, much like LSD. And it's a cinch to order online. It boasts nicknames like "magic mint" and diviner's sage. And in most states it's perfectly legal.

Steven Martin is co-director of the University of Delaware Center for Drug & Alcohol Studies.

PROF. STEVEN MARTIN, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: It's been particularly found that heavy doses of salvia can lead to depression, particularly after use of the drug, that it leads to a sort an aftereffect of depression.

COSTELLO: For parents like Kathy Chidester, that's a nightmare. She claims salvia drove her son to suicide.

KATHY CHIDESTER, SON COMMITTED SUICIDE: And he was the model child -- and until the time that he started salvia.

COSTELLO: Chidester offers an essay -- the suicide note her 17- year-old son left behind describing his thoughts while on salvia. "Salvia," he writes, "allows us to give up our senses and wander into inter-dimensional time and space. Our existence is, in general, pointless. How could I go on living after I knew the secret of life?"

CHIDESTER: I mean, and that's definitely not the attitude that Brett had at all. That's just -- that isn't even like him.

COSTELLO: The National Drug Intelligence Center reports police in the Midwest, Pacific and Northeast are becoming increasingly concerned about the substance and wants the Drug Enforcement Agency to make it illegal. The DEA has been in the midst of deciding that for five years now, saying it's a drug of concern and telling us: "Just because it isn't illegal, doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. You should always be careful about what you put in your body."

But if you believe what these online users say, salvia is something good, something to be celebrated, at as little as $15 a pop.

If you ask Kathy Chidester, it's a crime that such a substance isn't illegal everywhere.

CHIDESTER: Some days I look back and I feel like he was murdered. And it was like he wasn't suicide, that he killed himself. It was like he was murdered.


HARRIS: And still to come in THE NEWSROOM, a father's chance to say his peace. Mark Lunsford heads back to court in just a few hours. His first chance to talk directly to the man who killed his daughter.

COLLINS: Also, surgery for the man at the center of an international health scare. Our Sanjay Gupta is in the operating room.

HARRIS: Snake seized -- a Florida python with a taste for cats. It will have to change its diet.

Where's the lump?


It -- can't --

COLLINS: Digested.

HARRIS: It fully digested -- yum, yum. Oh, I'm so -- I'm in so much trouble.

The story coming up in THE NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: The violence on the rise in Pakistan. And U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan could be in greater danger.

CNN's Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson explains.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Police cadets, the target of this suicide attack Sunday. Twenty-six killed as they sat in recruitment exams not far from the Afghan border.

Hours earlier, a double suicide attack killed 19 soldiers. They were on patrol further north, also in the border region.

It was the second attack on Pakistani troops in as many days. Twenty-four soldiers were killed in another attack in North Waziristan, also close to the Afghan border, last Saturday.

The spike in violence coming just days after Pakistani troops ended a stand-off with Taliban aligned Islamic radicals at the Red Mosque religious school in the capital. Many students were killed.

Now the Taliban say they're ending a 10-month-old truce with President Pervez Musharraf. His critics say this means more attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

WAJED SHAMSUL HASAN, FORMER PAKISTAN HIGH COMMISSIONER TO THE U.N.: There will be renewed trouble across the border, you know? There will be more activity going into Afghanistan, both for him as well as for Karzai's government.

ROBERTSON: The deal, first brokered in North Waziristan, called on tribesmen and Taliban to stop attacks on Pakistani troops. In return, the troops would stay on base, effectively leaving the Taliban to police themselves.

But attacks on U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan went up. At the time, Pakistani officials denied they'd done a deal with the Taliban, said they needed to stop the Taliban before they got too strong.

GEN. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: Let's isolate the Taliban with the people, take the people on your side. Otherwise, the most disastrous thing which would could happen now, and it is happening on the Afghan side -- I am trying to prevent it on the Pakistan side -- is to convert the Taliban movement into a people's movement.

ROBERTSON: Musharraf is due to hold elections late this year or early next. His critics fear he may use the current escalation in violence to call a state of emergency and hold off on democratic progress.

MUSHARRAF: They would like to get out of the elections. As everybody is saying, that this scenario is being created to postpone the elections, to impose a state of emergency.

ROBERTSON: (on camera): The big fear for Musharraf and his critics is that the Taliban will escalate their attacks beyond the soldiers and policemen in the border region and strike civilians in the densely populated cities.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


HARRIS: Al Qaeda's comeback -- a stark warning in a new terror forecast. Nuclear weapons remain a goal.

COLLINS: Also, hit the snooze. Sleepover tonight in the Senate. Democrats try to pressure Republicans on a troop pullback in Iraq.

HARRIS: And hold the phone -- state lawmakers look at banning all text messaging by motorists and you probably know why.


COLLINS: Distracted driving -- safety groups want to send the message -- texting and driving do not go together.

But how to do it?

CNN's Mary Snow reports.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It was a heartbreaking accident that killed five cheerleaders just days after their high school graduation. Now police believe text messaging may have contributed to their SUV crashing head-on into a tractor-trailer in Upstate New York.

They say the driver's cell phone showed a message was sent shortly before the crash and another message was received just 38 seconds before the first call to 911.

SHERIFF PHILIP POVERO, ONTARIO COUNTY, NEW YORK: The records indicate her phone was in use. We will never be able to, you know, clearly state she was the one that was doing text messaging. SNOW: But the tragedy underscores the concern of texting while driving. AAA says it has no hard numbers on how many accidents are caused by texting while driving because it's a relatively new problem.

But AAA says a recent survey of 1,000 teen drivers found nearly half text message while behind the wheel.

JUSTIN MCNAULL, AAA: For teens, text messaging while driving is just as commonplace as talking on the cell phone is for them, which, just for a lot of adults, is just mind-boggling.

SNOW: But it's not just teens who are distracted. Washington recently became the first state to outlaw text messaging by all drivers after lawmakers cited a five car pileup caused by a driver using a Blackberry device. Now, at least six other states are considering similar legislation.

But some say there's reluctance on the part of legislators to pass hasty laws.

MATT SUNDEEN, ANALYST, NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES ON TRANSPORTATION: Certainly there's opposition to taking away those types of devices, both within the legislature and in the public at large.

SNOW: (on camera): Some say new laws aren't needed, that there should be more of an emphasis on educating drivers on the dangers of distractions, not just by cell phones, but by anything.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


HARRIS: And intruder off the streets. Residents of a Florida community may be feeling a bit more secure this morning. Police grabbed a 14-foot python -- man, a big one -- from a back yard. The snake suspected of eating at least one neighborhood cat.

Are you OK, Heidi?

COLLINS: Oh, that's horrible.

HARRIS: The python has got to eat.


HARRIS: Well, police believe the python was originally someone's pet that was let loose. Well, that was wrong. The snake will have a new home in a zoo or wildlife park.