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FBI Working to Free Captain Held by Pirates; Comprehensive Immigration Reform; More Money for Iraq/Afghanistan Wars

Aired April 9, 2009 - 15:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, hostage negotiations. The FBI desperately working to free the captain held hostage by pirates. When and how might this tense standoff end?

And he's happy to be alive. An American in Pakistan was ambushed, held hostage several months, and his captors threatened to cut off his head.

Wait until you hear what he says right now about being free.

And what happened regarding Natasha Richardson's death? Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is retracing her last steps and has the 911 emergency transcripts.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.


Every second counts. A day after pirates hijacked an American- flagged ship off Somalia, here's what's happening. The ship's captain is being held captive. Pirates are holding him on a lifeboat thought to be isolated by the U.S. Navy.

There are intense negotiations, including the FBI, to persuade the pirates to free him. And General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command says the U.S. military will have a stronger military presence near those pirates within two days.

Meanwhile, the captain's wife is expected to come out and speak at any moment. We'll go to her news conference live, once it starts.

But let's begin our coverage this hour with our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's got the latest developments -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, just to fill in a little more, you just mentioned more coming. Change is definitely coming to the area because General David Petraeus says that at least two more Navy ships are headed to that area in the next 24 to 48 hours. General Petraeus says he wants to make sure that the Navy has all the capability that might be needed in the coming days.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): These unmanned drones continued flying over the Indian Ocean, sending back still pictures and video of the lifeboat. The ScanEagle is equipped with night vision, and a defense officials say we are getting very good images of the lifeboat.

Four Somali pirates and their American hostage are on board a lifeboat that looks like this, fully enclosed, with space for 20 people, but the engine is disabled. It's dead in the water.

CAPT. JOSEPH MURPHY, SHANE MURPHY'S FATHER: They don't have enough fuel to go anywhere, and they're not going to be allowed to move, so they're going to sit in that lifeboat until they run out of water and food, and they're going to have to make a decision.

LAWRENCE: A senior defense official says FBI negotiators here in the U.S. have been communicating with the pirates through the Navy. The goal, get them to release the Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips, who traded his own freedom to guarantee the safety of his crew.

KEVIN SPEERS, MAERSK LINE LTD.: Everything we have done over the past day has strived to increase the chance of a peaceful outcome.

LAWRENCE: The pirates are isolated hundreds of miles out to sea in a standoff with the American-guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge.


LAWRENCE: We've learned that at least one of the two ships that is on its way was part of that multinational coalition that had been patrolling the waters, that it had been patrolling further north, now making its way down. Two ships coming down, one of those is the USS Halliburton. It is a frigate, a guided missile frigate, and it's equipped with two helicopters on board which will give the Navy more flexibility down in that area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: More military muscle on the way.

Thanks, Chris.

Chris Lawrence is over at the Pentagon.

Remember, momentarily, we expect to hear from the wife of that captain of the ship being held hostage. Andrea Phillips is getting ready to speak. We'll go there live once we see and hear her.

Just a little while ago, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, spoke out on this pirate standoff.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have at the White House, had for some time, an inner-agency group on maritime safety that includes agencies represented by the Department of Homeland Security, the Commerce Department, Energy, Justice and the FBI, the State Department, Transportation, the Department of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president has followed the situation closely, has gotten updates throughout yesterday and today, and obviously, his main concern is for the safety of the captain and the rest of the crew on the ship. And he will continue to receive those updates.


BLITZER: All right. That's Robert Gibbs just speaking a little while ago.

We're going to continue to monitor what's going on, the breaking news off the coast of Somalia.

Remember, once the wife of the captain comes before the microphones, we're going to go there live. You're going to hear her story as well, what she's thinking about her husband during these very, very tense minutes and hours.

We're also following another important story of huge interest. President Obama said to be preparing for what will surely be a huge fight in Congress.

Let's go straight to our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian.

We're talking about comprehensive immigration reform, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And immigration reform has always been a political hot potato. It's difficult really to make everyone happy on this subject. The president has pointed out that he understands that this will be a difficult challenge, but he's moving ahead very soon.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama is poised to start pushing for landmark changes in immigration policy as early as next month, according to senior administration officials. The move is certain to spark outrage, but immigrant rights groups see it as a bold step forward.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA: There is urgency in addressing immigration reform because it has a great deal of impact on the American workforce and on our revenue streams.

LOTHIAN: To fix a daunting immigration problem, the White House says the president would rely on a bipartisan diverse group of experts to help build a framework for legislation. But a senior administration official cautioned immigration will not be on the same track as other key initiatives, like health care and energy, and nobody's promising legislation or a vote this year.

At a recent town hall meeting, Mr. Obama made clear one of his priorities is to find a path for illegal immigrants to become legal.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that the people get real riled up politically about this, but people who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows. LOTHIAN: Even before the debate begins, Republican Congressman Steve King is already throwing the first punch, saying in a statement, "President Obama's amnesty plan is a dangerous path for our nation that will sacrifice the rule of law."


LOTHIAN: Now, Wolf, this is a footnote. Next week, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and another administration official will be heading to some communities down in the Mexico/U.S. border to talk about enhancing border security, and this is ahead of the president's visit next week to Mexico.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much for that.

We're also learning right now that President Obama is going to be asking Congress for yet more money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let's go to straight to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

At issue is whether or not there's some bookkeeping problems as far as where the money is coming from, Jessica.


President Obama, Wolf, made a big show of including the cost of wars in all his future budgets, but now he's going to ask Congress for another one of those supplementals President Bush asked for so often for both wars. The White House says this is the last time the president will do this, and it's because this is the end of the last budget that was passed under the Bush administration.

Here's Robert Gibbs.


GIBBS: The president has talked about -- falls somewhat victim to the fact that this is the way that wars have been funded previously. So we can't wait until the appropriations process is done in September or -- August or September to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in June. So a supplemental is required in order to fund the new strategy in Afghanistan and fund the draw -- the process in Iraq that will lead to a drawdown of all of our combat troops.


YELLIN: Now, here's what we know, Wolf.

They're asking for $83.4 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seventy-five billion dollars of that would go for military operations and about $8.4 billion would go for diplomacy and development, big pushes under the Obama administration. Of course, as you heard, Robert Gibbs said a lot of this money will go for that new strategy against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that could get some resistance from some of the liberal Democrats in Congress who don't want to pay for more wars. But we will get more details on all of this later today when this is sent to Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is this an increase or a decrease from the funding that was projected to come from the former administration?

YELLIN: Well, President Bush had requested $162 billion for 10 months of the wars as his last supplemental, but he also included some emergency spending in that. So it's a little bit apples and oranges, but it seems to be slightly less, certainly less for Iraq, and a step up in the money for Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much for that.

We're awaiting the captain's wife, the wife of the captain being held hostage off the coast of Somalia right now, Andrea Phillips, Captain Richard Phillips' wife. She's about to come to those microphones. You see them right there.

We're going to go there live and hear what she's saying, what's on her mind. That's coming up. So stand by for that. Once she shows up, we'll go there.

Other news we're following, the message to President Obama -- you are not welcome here. One of the largest, most prestigious universities is under intense pressure, growing pressure, to revoke an invitation for the president to speak. We'll tell you what's going on today.

Also, some people are asking, how could this happen? How could anti-American terrorist groups establish their Web sites with the help of American companies?

And what if you found out dozens of schools in your area may be closing and hundreds of teachers jobs slashed? That's what happening in one of the biggest U.S. cities.


BLITZER: Just want to remind you as far as the breaking news is concerned, what's going on with that American captain who's being held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia. We're standing by for two news conferences. There's a live picture from Underhill, Vermont. We're expecting the captain's wife, Andrea Phillips, to come to the microphones there and speak out. We'll go there live.

There's also a news conference we're waiting for from Norfolk, Virginia, where authorities from Maersk Lines are getting to brief us as well.

Lot's going on, and we'll go to those news conferences live once they start. The Maersk Alabama was first hijacked 350 miles off the coast of Africa. It was just one in several this week that shows that the pirates are changing some tactics to avoid military patrols.

Our Internet Reporter Abbi Tatton is here to tell us about some other recent attacks.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these attacks become more frequent, more brazen, as well, happening hundreds of miles off the coast of Somalia. The International Maritime Bureau maps all these incidents.

Shown here, the ones in red, actual hijackings. In yellow, those are attempted hijackings. As you can see, this bureau has their work cut out for them right now.

Looking at the actual hijackings, right here, 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, was where the Maersk Alabama attack happened, one of six in the last week. On Saturday, it was a container ship, also about 350 miles off the coast. On Monday, it was a fishing vessel. That one, 700 miles off the coast of Somalia.

Those attacks showing that the pirates are changing their tactics. It was that a lot of these attacks were happening to the north, in the area around the Gulf of Aden. Now, because of increased patrols in that area, the attacks happening further south in this vast expanse of international waters where patrols are just so much harder.

The Department of Transportation's maritime unit has advised ships traveling along the coast to move way out to the east of the Seychelles islands, if at all possible. Obviously, that's very difficult if they have ports of call along the coast.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

And remember, we're going to go that to news conference, the wife of the captain being held hostage up in Vermont. We'll go there as soon as that news conference begins.

Meanwhile, thousands of people from around the country converged on Pittsburgh this afternoon for a memorial service honoring three police officers shot to death last week. And now there's new information about a trail of Internet conspiracy posts left by the alleged killer.

CNN's David Mattingly has more.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New details are emerging about the man who allegedly ambushed and killed three police officers. Richard Poplawski is 22, unemployed, and lived with his mother. His best friend says he was booted out of Marine boot camp, but he's also being described as someone who deeply feared a breakdown in social order and losing his guns to the government. EDDIE PERKOVIC, FRIEND: He didn't like our rights being infringed upon. He didn't like the Zionists controlling the media and controlling our freedom of speech. He didn't like the control of the guns that was about to happen.

MATTINGLY: According to the Anti-Defamation League, Poplawski subscribed to racist conspiracy theories that society would soon crumble into civil unrest and the Jews would be to blame. The ADL claims Poplawski frequented a white supremacist Web site, Stormfront, and left posts under various names, including Braced for Fate.

(on camera): Less than a month before the Pittsburgh shootout, Braced for Faith posted questions on Stormfront, asking how this pending economic and social collapse was going to happen. And he wrote what today sounds like a warning: "If a total collapse is what it takes to wake our brethren and guarantee future generations of white children walk this continent, if that is what it takes to restore our freedoms and recapture our land, let it begin this very second and not a moment later.

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: He believed the Jews were coming, the Jews controlled society. You know, we are all under the thumb of Zionists and so on.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Police and prosecutors attending memorial ceremonies for the fallen officers were unavailable for comment on these allegations. Poplawski was wounded in the leg in the shootout and hospitalized. His public defender has declined to comment.

His friend says there was nothing unusual about Poplawski's behavior prior to the shootout, but his comments seen on MySpace suggest otherwise.

DENNIS RODDY, "PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE": He burned the back of one of his hands with a cigarette, and he's not even sure why he did it, he says. And then a while later he burned the other hand just to achieve some symmetry.

MATTINGLY: Dennis Roddy of "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette" says he also found comments Poplawski allegedly posted about a gun he owned.

When it hits the fan, what's the one weapon if you could keep if you would want? And he said readily, "My AK. My AK-47."

MATTINGLY: Poplawski allegedly wielded an AK-47 assault rifle when officers responded to his mother's 911 call for help. But a dispatcher's error kept police from learning there were guns in the home, and they had no idea what the young man was prepared to do.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: We're going to go back to the breaking news, including a news conference. We're awaiting the start of a news conference in Vermont. You're looking at live pictures, Underhill, Vermont. The wife of the U.S. captain being held hostage off the coast of Somalia, Andrea Phillips, she's expected shortly to go to the microphones.

We'll go there live once she does.

It's a strange twist in the pirate drama. The father of a crew member on the hijacked ship is teaching a course in how to defend against pirates. The father also talks to us as others talk about his controversial class.

And would Americans prefer for automakers to go bankrupt? We have some surprising findings.



BLITZER: We have some new polls numbers on attitudes toward the government bailout for the auto industry.

Let's go to our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider. He's been breaking down the numbers for us.

So, is it OK, as far as is American public is concerned, Bill, for the government to continue to bail out the automakers?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, increasingly, people saying let them go bankrupt.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In 1953, former General Motors president Charles Wilson told a Senate committee, "For years, I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country."

Does the public believe that today? No. According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, more than three-quarters of Americans say don't give GM and Chrysler more government money. Let them go bankrupt, the same thing they say about banks and financial institutions -- no more bailouts.

GM is reported to be preparing for a possible bankruptcy.

FRITZ HENDERSON, CEO, GM: If we're not able to accomplish this outside of bankruptcy, we would be in bankruptcy.

SCHNEIDER: Do Americans think that would be a crisis or cause major economic problems? In December, they did. Now, not so much.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FMR. MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: A number of us have said that bankruptcy or a bankruptcy-like process was something that was needed in order to get GM and Chrysler on their feet again.

SCHNEIDER: But would Americans buy a car from a company in bankruptcy? Only 37 percent say they would.

Enter Mr. Goodwrench. Make that President Goodwrench.

Starting today, the United states government will stand behind your warranty.

OBAMA: Starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty.

SCHNEIDER: Will that make a difference? You bet. Fifty-seven percent say they'd buy a new car from a bankrupt company if the federal government stood behind the warranty.

Does the public think President Obama has gone too far in getting the federal government involved in the way businesses are run? Only 35 percent think he has. Most Americans think the president's actions have been about right or have not gone far enough.


SCHNEIDER: Republicans complain about big government, but right now, public anger is focused more on big business. You know, the public really doesn't trust either one. That's why they don't like the idea of bailouts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much for that.

They call it the last resort, taking up arms against pirates when all else fails. We're going to tell you about a Maritime Academy training course.

Also, as an American captain is held by those pirates off the coast of Somalia, we're going to take an in-depth look at hostage negotiation techniques. The former assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes is standing by.

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


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

Happening now, Iran's president boasts about new advancements in his country's nuclear program, but the United States says it still wants to talk.

911 calls are raising new questions about the medical treatment of the actress Natasha Richardson in the hours after her deadly brain injury. Dr. Gupta is investigating exactly what happened and why.

And planting seeds on First Lady Michelle Obama's to-do list. We're going to get details on the new White House garden.

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

We had been waiting for the wife of the American captain being held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia to speak out, but only moments ago, a neighbor came to the microphones.


MICHAEL WILLARD, HOSTAGE SHIP CAPTAIN'S NEIGHBOR: I have a very brief statement from Mrs. Phillips. She has decided that she does not want to make a statement now until this is resolved and would like you to respect her privacy.

She has stated that she would like you off of her premises and away from the house by tomorrow morning. There will be no other statements.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Who are you?

WILLARD: My name is Michael Willard. I'm a neighbor. I live down the street and am a friend of the family's.

QUESTION: Could you be more specific?


QUESTION: She doesn't want any media anywhere near her house?

WILLARD: That's correct.

She's -- you know, she's done very well, under the circumstances. And I think this is getting a little bit out of hand for her.


QUESTION: She understands the world is (OFF-MIKE)

WILLARD: She -- she's fully aware of that.

But, you know, right now, she's just under enormous strain, and she would just like her privacy respected.


WILLARD: Pardon me?


WILLARD: I think, right now, she's just overwhelmed, and she feels that she just can't deal with this right now.

She's upset enough about her husband and his situation, and just needs her privacy.

QUESTION: Has there been a change in the situation?

WILLARD: There is no change in his status, not that I'm aware of, but -- OK?

Thank you, guys.

BLITZER: Michael Willard, a neighbor of the Phillips family.

Totally understandable, her deep concerns. We're hoping, of course, for only the best.

And we're monitor -- as we monitor this tense hostage drama, after a daring hijacking, there's a lot of news that still has to be reported.

Pirates are holding the captain on the lifeboat thought to be isolated by the U.S. Navy right now. And there are intense negotiations to try to persuade those pirates to free him.

Meanwhile, the father of one of the crew members on the hijacked ship talks to CNN. He's at the center of a rather strange twist in this drama.

CNN's Jason Carroll has more -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Joe Murphy teaches a controversial course here at the academy. Not everyone thinks it's the most effective way to fight pirates, but, here at the academy, they say it's a last resort. They want their cadets prepared for any given situation.


(voice-over): Cadets at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy are taking aim at pirates thousands of miles away, part of a pilot program, the only one of its kind at a U.S. maritime academy, designed to train them how to use guns against pirates if all else fails.

CADET MATTHEW DUGGAN, REGIMENTAL COMMANDER: Training and -- and learning the safety of the weapons is certainly important.

CAPTAIN BRAD LIMA, VICE PRESIDENT OF ACADEMIC AFFAIRS, MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY: Should a situation arise that they need to know more about firearms, then they have had that training here.

Load fire founds.

CARROLL: Brad Lima taught the course Wednesday, because Joe Murphy, the man who was supposed to teach, learned his son Shane, a 2001 graduate of the academy, had been taken hostage by pirates.

JOE MURPHY, FATHER OF MAERSK ALABAMA CREW MEMBER: This is a classic example of Murphy's Law. I teach the course. My son goes to sea, and he gets captured.

CARROLL: Shane Murphy is the chief officer on board of the Maersk Alabama, the second in command. He managed to call his wife, saying he was alive and that the crew had managed to take down one of the pirates.

SERENA MURPHY, WIFE OF MAERSK ALABAMA CREW MEMBER: Not he personally, but they had taken down one of the pirates.

I said, have you -- have they tortured you or hurt you? He said they hadn't had any water at all to drink since they have been captured and nothing to eat.

J. MURPHY: It was by sheer force. They have no weapons. So it must have been -- obviously just overpowered them.

CARROLL: Murphy says his son was well-trained at the academy. His vessel outmaneuvered the pirates for several hours before getting caught.

Most maritime academies teach cadets how to escape from pirates, so they don't have to engage them. Water hoses and sound devices are also used to fend them off. But, as pirates become more aggressive and better armed, officials at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy want the cadets graduating knowing how to arm and defend themselves.

ADMIRAL RICHARD GURNON, PRESIDENT, MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY: Although many merchant ships are unarmed, we felt that it was a safety factor to have our graduates familiar with small arms.

CARROLL: One maritime expert says, teaching cadets to arm themselves is not the solution.

MIKE LEE, MCROBERTS MARITIME SECURITIES: I believe in man's inherit rights to defend themselves, but I think, in this case, it's not the right course of action. I believe it will further escalate the violence.

CARROLL: But Joe Murphy could not disagree more. He still says it's an important training tool, considering, last year, 165 vessels were attacked off the coast of Somalia and 43 were seized by pirates.

J. MURPHY: This is a wakeup call for America. These people are organized -- members of organized crime.


CARROLL: A Maersk senior security official said in an interview just last month he did not support having armed guards on board these vessels, saying it was a liability.

Even so, the gun training program continues here at the academy. It has been popular with administrators and cadets. And they say it will continue next semester -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll, thank you.

Let's bring in Tom Fuentes. He's a CNN contributor, a former FBI assistant director.

Tom, how do you negotiate with pirates?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the most important thing is to try to get the whole situation calmed down as soon as possible. So, the negotiators would begin communicating with them, trying to show them that there's a way out of this. The situation also is good, because you have had so many of these takeovers. In every instance, the company has paid the ransom, the victims have been released, the ships have been released, everyone's been unharmed, and the pirates have taken the money and gone back to Somalia. So...

BLITZER: But, in this particular case, though, that little lifeboat that has the American captain and we believe about four pirates on board, it's now surrounded by a U.S. warship.

FUENTES: That's correct.

BLITZER: So, this is not an even stance. I mean, are they just supposed to hand over some money to the four pirates and say, go on your way?

FUENTES: Well, they might.

Back in January of 2006, the U.S. Navy USS Nassau engaged a ship with 10 pirates holding 16 crew members from an Indian ship. Shots were exchanged between the Navy warships. The pirates then decided to surrender. The Navy captured them. They were transported to Mombasa, Kenya. And the FBI provided assistance to the Kenyans in prosecuting them.

They were convicted and sentenced to prison sentences, where they still are, in Kenya. So, it's not impossible for the Navy to be able to resolve this and the pirates to decide to surrender.

BLITZER: So, the possibility still exists that the company will pay off these pirates, get the captain back...


BLITZER: ... and people will then go back -- back to business as usual? Is that it?

FUENTES: Well, it may happen that way.

Right now, the company has that as their decision. If they choose to pay the ransom, the U.S. authorities, military and law enforcement, the FBI, will not tell them not to, will just provide advice. And the advice has been ongoing from the beginning with the FBI's crisis negotiation unit experts, working with the Navy, working with the company, and also the families to revolve this peacefully.

BLITZER: And we're waiting for a news conference in Norfolk, Virginia, the headquarters of the Maersk shipping line.


BLITZER: And we're going to go there live once they -- they come to the microphones and tell us what is going on.

FUENTES: Right. BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Tom. Don't go away, because we're going to rely on your expertise.

FUENTES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Terrorist groups using U.S. technology and a Web- hosting company to spread their messages around the world on the Internet, is that really possible?

We asked Brian Todd to take a closer look.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know the terrorist groups have learned how to perfect use of the Internet. What is unsettling now is that they can post their material through American- based Web companies.

Most of the time, this is legal. Most of the time, those companies are not aware they're doing it unless someone -- someone brings it to their attention.


TODD (voice-over): In bright purple and orange banners, with English translation, a jihadist Web site posts a chilling news update. On March 17, it boasts of an ambush on coalition forces in Afghanistan.

"A Ranger car burned. The driver died, and three soldiers harmed terribly."

It's not clear if this ever happened. What is clear is how this Web site is delivered, through an American-owned Internet firm based in Houston. An official with the company, The Planet, tells CNN it often leases its servers to so-called resellers, who then help anyone who wants to, and can pay a nominal fee, set up a Web site.

Another American company, Tulix Systems, has a Web-hosting service called Free Web Town. It, too, has unwittingly hosted militant Web sites.

THOMAS BURLING, TULIX SYSTEMS: A lot of them are putting up pictures and videos, I mean, pictures of events, such as bombings, pictures or videos of things like, you know, frankly, beheading individuals.

TODD: Tom Burling and an official at the other company, The Planet, say their hosting services have tens of millions of Web sites and there's no way to monitor of all of them.

They say, when they're made aware of sites like these on their Web-hosting services, they notify U.S. authorities and shut them down. An official with The Planet says they're examining this Web site called

But experts say it's sometimes useful to intelligence services to keep these Web sites up and running.

MARTIN LIBICKI, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, RAND CORPORATION: You see a compilation of attacks. If the compilation is authentic -- and there's always questions about that -- then you can start to learn about the pattern of their activity, what they're attacking, who they're attacking, sometimes why, sometimes the methods they're using.


TODD: Martin Libicki says intelligence services can also monitor the chat between jihadists through these Web sites and find out if they have shifted some tactics or ideology -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Brian's looking at that story for us.

Meanwhile, passionate support from college students helped Barack Obama ride to victory in November, but now there are some growing protests at one university -- that would be Notre Dame University -- over plans for the president to deliver the commencement address there. We're going to tell you what is happening right now.

Also, statistics show a surge in citizenship applications from Latinos. Could there be a political link?

And Iran's president boasts about the country's nuclear achievement. Did he in the process reveal information U.S. intelligence officials didn't know? We will have the answer right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama's popular -- popularity very, very strong these days. He's been welcomed in cities, not only in the United States, but around the world. But protesters at one university right here at home say he's not welcome there. And plans for him to address the graduating class are sparking a growing controversy.

Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen. She's working this story for us.

What is going on, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, most college graduates would be just thrilled to have the president of the United States to give their commencement address, but that is not the case for everyone at the University of Notre Dame.


ROESGEN (voice-over): Protesters at the University of Notre Dame are praying for divine intervention to keep President Obama away.

EMILY TOATES, PROTESTER: We do not believe it's right to celebrate a man who's gone so against Catholic principles. ROESGEN: Like many presidents before him, Obama has been invited to give the commencement address at this Catholic university in May. But hundreds of devout Catholics, on campus and off, are outraged that Notre Dame would welcome a president whose public policies lean pro- choice on abortion.

BISHOP JOHN D'ARCY, DIOCESE OF FORT WAYNE-SOUTH BEND: The Catholic Church's position is that taking of a life in a womb is an intrinsically evil act.

ROESGEN: Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, is especially shocked that the university plans to give the president an honorary law degree.

D'ARCY: But to honor someone with a doctorate of laws, and the only lays that he has made are laws which are against innocent life -- no one is allowed to say who's going to sit at the table of life, and, more importantly, who's not going to sit at the table of life. God didn't give us that privilege. He gave us many other privileges. That belongs to him alone.

ROESGEN: A spokesman for the university says there no plans to uninvite the president, but protesters say they will say one million rosaries until graduation day, praying that the president will become pro-life.


ROESGEN: And, Wolf, they are going to have rallies tomorrow, not only in Fort Wayne, in the Notre Dame area, but also in Dallas, Los Angeles, and in front of the White House.

BLITZER: All right, we will watch what's going on.

Susan Roesgen reporting for us -- thank you, Susie.

We're getting some dramatic pictures of wildfires in Oklahoma coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we have asked Chad Myers to tell us what's going on.

Wow, Chad. What is going on?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, these fires are so intense, Wolf, that -- that they're showing up on radar. The radar thinks it's raining, but the smoke is just getting in the way.

And, so, what we have here, Oklahoma and Texas, we have fires along and east of what is called the dry line, all this dry air just ripping out of the west. And these fires are near Fort Worth, west of Fort Worth, in Oklahoma. There you go, KWTV. This is our affiliate out of Oklahoma City flying out there.

And this storm itself right now, this is near Wellston, this fire. And these are all blowing off towards the northeast at 30 to 40 miles per hour. And, sometimes, these winds are gusting to near hurricane-strength. And if you get winds over 30 and 40, these embers can be blown around. And they're going to blow all night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to ask everyone to be careful out there. We will stay on top of this story. Chad, thank you.


MYERS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: African-American lawmakers meet with Fidel Castro. Now some Republican lawmakers here in Washington are rather angry. Wait until you see how they're making their point.

And one -- and President Obama wants to end the war in Iraq, but Democratic sources telling CNN he will ask Congress for more money for Iraq and Afghanistan. So, what is exactly is going on?


BLITZER: Let's get right to our Democratic strategist the CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Donna, you just heard Susan Roesgen's report that there are students and others at Notre Dame University who are upset that the president of the university has invited the president of the United States to deliver the commencement address, to receive an honorary degree, because of his support for abortion rights for women.

How is this playing out?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's clearly playing out because the archdiocese there in town, one of the local bishops has decided that he will not attend in protest.

But I think the vast majority of people in the state of Indiana, as well as Notre Dame, will welcome the fact that they have the president of the United States, who will be there to confer the commencement address and to receive an honorary degree. That should be a plus-plus for the campus.

BLITZER: He's not a Catholic, President Obama.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, what's really driving this debate right now is the alumni -- the alumni of Notre Dame are very powerful -- as well as those that are very strong advocates of the pro-life movement within the Catholic Church hierarchy in that archdiocese.

And I think that they're going to continue to be vocal. I think it's their right. As a pro-life advocate myself, I commend them for going out there and, you know, contesting the idea that we would give the -- a Catholic institution's largest platform who somebody who holds views that are -- are against life.

BLITZER: So, you think the president of Notre Dame made a mistake? MADDEN: I do think that they made a mistake in extending the invitation. But now that they have made it, I don't think that there's a very good chance that they're going to disinvite the president of the United States.

BLITZER: And I assume you agree? They're not going to disinvite President Obama.

BRAZILE: Of course not.

But, you know, President Obama agrees with the Catholic Church on many other issues. And I think we should not downplay that fact, knowing that he support a woman's right to choose. But the fact is, he supports many issues that many of us Catholics believe in.

BLITZER: And I think the exit polls showed that American Catholics voted overwhelmingly -- is that right, or...

BRAZILE: That is correct.

BLITZER: ... for President Obama, as opposed to John McCain. Is that right?

MADDEN: That's right. But I think that probably had a lot more to do with President Obama's stances on economic issues and the idea that they needed change in Washington than it did with his views on the issue of abortion.

BRAZILE: Not just economic issues, but immigration and the war funding and poverty and many social justice issues, where the president is consistent with his support of the Catholic values.

BLITZER: Do you have a problem, Donna, with the president's decision now to go forward and seek yet another supplemental budget request to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as opposed to the normal budget procedure, which he had said repeatedly he didn't what former President Bush did, by seeking all these supplementals?

But now the White House says, one more time.

BRAZILE: Well, as you well know, Wolf, we're still in the 2009 fiscal year. His fiscal 2010 budget has not been passed.

And, so, there are important, urgent priorities that the president needs this money to continue our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I support the war funding...


BLITZER: This will be the last time, they say...

MADDEN: Right.

BLITZER: ... just like the -- when the spending bill, with the earmarks, just one more time. Let the Democrats and Republicans have their earmarks, but no more after that.

MADDEN: Right. There are a lot of folks that will say that this is going back on a promise. I'm not one of them. I'm very hesitant to criticize the president, especially given the fact that there are many of us who would agree with the fact that he is putting an added emphasis on Afghanistan.

I don't think he's going to have a lot of critics on the substance of this bill, except for the fact that many Republicans are going to use it to argue against his policies in closing Gitmo.

BLITZER: How does that play out? What do you mean?

MADDEN: Well, I expect that, when this goes through the amendment process, that many Republicans are going to use this as a vehicle to have a debate on whether or not it's smart to close Guantanamo Bay.

BLITZER: And he says he wants to close that prison camp in Guantanamo Bay within a year.

MADDEN: Right.

BRAZILE: And I'm sure some of the liberals will not like the funding package overall. And some of the liberals may not like the timetable that the president has set out, now 19 months, instead of 16 months. So, this is what the legislative process will produce.

MADDEN: And by putting up a supplemental, when he had in fact not supported some supplementals in there earlier, this is a way of saying, you know, Senator Obama, welcome to the presidency. This is a charge now that he has to have.

BRAZILE: Well...

MADDEN: And I don't see that as a criticism, as much as...


BLITZER: It just underscores...

MADDEN: Right.

BLITZER: ... it's one thing to be a candidate.

MADDEN: Right.

BLITZER: It's another thing when you're president, and you have the responsibilities of making sure the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have what they need.

BRAZILE: But he did support war funding as a senator. And he was able to, you know, make his views known.

The president, of course, as senator, opposed the war funding that did not include the timetable to bring our troops home. That was the only vote that he -- was negative, but he supports our troops.

BLITZER: Of course he does.


BLITZER: I think everybody does.

BRAZILE: Yes. Me, too.

BLITZER: And they should.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Absolutely.

Thanks, guys, very much.

MADDEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The U.S. Navy right now on the scene off the coast of Somalia, where an American captain is being held hostage by pirates.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is now in the region. She's standing by. We will get a live report.

And we will also update you on the growing backlash to a trip to Cuba and a meeting with Fidel Castro by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. What is going on right now?

And new documents show President Obama's inner circle is actually pretty rich. We are going to tell you how rich they are.

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


BLITZER: Some African-American lawmakers, Democrats, meeting with Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials. And now some Republican lawmakers are going out of their way to show their deep anger.

Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is watching what's going on, on Capitol Hill.

All right, Brianna, what is going on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those Congressional Black Caucus members want to loosen travel and trade restrictions against Cuba. But those critics you just mentioned, they say the U.S. shouldn't consider changing its policy until Cuba releases its political prisoners.


KEILAR (voice-over): Jorge Luis Garcia Perez spent 17 years in Cuban prisons. Now, two months into a hunger strike, he's protesting what the U.S. says is the imprisonment of hundreds of other anti- Castro dissidents.

Republican lawmakers are blasting some Democrats for meeting with Cuba's leaders, saying, it sends the wrong message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are forgotten and abandoned is a terrible thing to hear, to be taunted with, when you are in the Combinado del Este prison eating worm-infested rice in a cell the size of a closet, standing in open sewage, trying to keep up your spirits to survive yet another day of punches and beatings.

KEILAR: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who met with the Castro brothers are part of a growing effort in Congress to loosen travel and trade restrictions. They say former leader Fidel Castro told them Cuba wants to improve its relationship with the U.S.

REP. LAURA RICHARDSON (D), CALIFORNIA: He sat here. He listened. He heard out what -- what we said. And he also asked a very important thing. He said, how can -- how can we -- how can we, as Cuba, help President Obama?

KEILAR: Republican lawmakers say Castro's words are hollow. And they brought former Cuban political prisoners to the mikes to make that point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Basically, I want to keep my words short, because I get emotional, but any anything -- any help that is given and any assistance that is given to the Cuban government is given solely to repress the Cuban people. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Brianna, and the Cuban government, in a statement after the meeting, they said -- they quoted Fidel Castro as saying that one of the lawmakers actually said that, despite President Obama's victory -- and I'm quoting now from that Cuban statement -- "America continues to be racist."

What are the lawmakers saying about that?

KEILAR: Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, he went on this trip, Wolf, and he said -- quote -- "That did not happen."

So, these members, these lawmakers, flatly denying it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar, on the Hill, thank you.