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THE SITUATION ROOM

Jet Diverted after Passenger's Alarming Claim; Fake Parts Putting U.S. Troops At Risk; Interview with Representative Dana Rohrabacher

Aired May 22, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, we're learning more about the diversion of a U.S. airways flight and a passenger's alarming claim that she had some kind of device surgically implanted inside her. That's coming up.

Also this hour --

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BLITZER: 12,000 U.S. and ally troops in position right next door to Syria. Only CNN is there to see them in action preparing for the possibility of war.

And I'll talk with the United States congressman banned from entering Afghanistan by the president, Hamid Karzai. Mr. Karzai had tough words for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher when I interviewed him yesterday. Now, it's Rohrabacher's turn to fire back.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Top national security officials here in Washington have been warning for some time about their fears that terrorists might try to plant bombs in humans. So, a note from a passenger onboard a flight from Paris to Charlotte, North Carolina today must have played into everyone's worst fears.

We have the latest information about the diversion of that U.S. Airways jet and the note that, apparently, triggered the security scare. Our aviation and regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary, is here in the SITUATION ROOM. You've been working this story for hours now. What's the latest.

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, this obviously was a scary incident that led to U.S. fighter jets being scrambled, the big scare for passengers. But a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the situation tells CNN this did not appear to be terror related.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heavy verify cockpit secure

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Affirmative, cockpit is secure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger

O'LEARY (voice-over): That's the pilot of U.S. Airways flight 787 confirming the cockpit is secure just before landing in Bangor, Maine. A woman onboard had been behaving suspiciously. The plane was heading from Paris to Charlotte when flight attendants asked if anyone onboard was a doctor.

According to a senior federal law enforcement official, the woman, a French citizen born in Cameroon, told the crew she had some sort of device implanted inside her. A passenger described the scene.

DR. WILLIAM MILAM, PASSENGER: The doctor went forward, then she and the doctor along with one or two stewardesses took her to the back of the plane where she remained. Heard no more about it for several hours until the pilot made an announcement that we just have to land in Bangor for fuel.

O'LEARY: But it wasn't for fuel at all. Two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane to the ground, flying with it for about 20 minutes. Passengers saying they didn't see the jets and only knew something was amiss when customs officers boarded the plane and removed the woman in handcuffs.

VOICE OF ANDREW WILLETT, PASSENGER: We saw the security guards just come on the plane, and I started videoing it. And we didn't really know what was going on until we started checking the news headlines, and we finally found out what was going on.

O'LEARY: The pilot apologized to passengers for keeping them in the dark saying he was acting at the request of the TSA and customs. According to a federal law enforcement source briefed on the matter, it appears there is no national security threat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'LEARY (on-camera): Now, this source said the woman is being questioned, will likely undergo with psychological evaluation. At this time, there's no indication, Wolf, that she was on any of the government's watch list.

BLITZER: So, just out of an abundance of caution, they took this amazing step, this important step, and going into Bangor and get these F-15s out there just to be sure that nothing was going on.

O'LEARY: And get those passengers off the plane, searched it with those, and make sure everything was OK.

BLITZER: And Bangor, the earliest place they could have landed inside the United States crossing the Atlanta. All right. Lizzie, thanks very much.

In the Middle East right now, thousands of U.S. and allied forces are training for a nightmare scenario. The region exploding in a full pledge war. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, got some exclusive access to the mission in Jordan. That's right next door to one of the most dangerous powder kegs right now, Syria.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you've seen the carrot of diplomacy being used to encourage regimes like Syria and Iran to join the world community. Here in Jordan, we are getting a look at the military stick that might be used by a coalition if it comes to that.

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STARR (voice-over): Elite Jordanian troops train to assault a compound.

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STARR: U.S. special operations forces practice a night raid. They can take down an enemy target in two minutes. Nineteen countries have sent 12,000 troops here to Jordan. Commanders say it's all about training, but there are worries unrest in neighboring Syria or tensions over Iran's nuclear program could spark a conflict.

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STARR: Troops here believe the next time they go to war, they will go together.

MAJ. GEN. KEN TOVO, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS, CENTRAL COMMAND: The number one takeaway from this exercise is we are creating partnerships and friendships.

STARR: Troops train for what they may face on a moment's notice.

TOVO: Aiding refugees in refugee camp, attacking terrorists or safe houses, releasing hostages.

STARR: Meet U.S. army captain, Rory. We can't tell you his full name. We can't show you his face, because Rory still runs a 12-man commando team, but here he says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The training has been eye-opening.

STARR: If war was to come here, maybe so Capt. Todd Tinsly might be a key player he already runs a military task force watching the Persian Gulf for trouble from Iran. He says working together isn't just talk.

CAPT. TODD TINSLY, U.S. NAVY SEAL: If we get called up to do contingency, I think you would see something similar to what we're doing right now. (END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: This military exercise is being watched throughout the Middle East just in case military training becomes a military reality -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It could happen. Barbara Starr in Jordan for us, thank you.

Now, a very serious safety concern for American troops. A new U.S. Senate report finds that a huge number of fake parts are being used in U.S. military equipment, and it's putting the spotlight back on allegations that China isn't doing enough to crack down on the market for bogus parts. Brian Todd is working this story for us. What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Incredible, Wolf. Many Americans don't know this, but every year, the U.S. government buys millions of parts for its military equipment that come from China and flooding that supply chain, according to this new Senate report, are millions of bogus parts compromising the safety of American service members.

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TODD (voice-over): A compromised night vision system that could bring down a key anti-submarine helicopter. Bogus parts in the cockpit displays of massive cargo planes that could cause them to crash.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: It's just something which must be stopped for the security and safety of our troops.

TODD: The Senate Armed Services Committee chair talking about his panels investigation into counterfeit parts on U.S. military aircraft and other equipment. The probe finds more than a million fake parts in that equipment, most of them coming from China.

LEVIN: When they wash them, and then they re-stamp them, put phony numbers on them frequently, and sell them right back to the defense industry here. and it is pervasive.

TODD: Like counterfeit memory devices on defense missiles that were actually launched in tests, bogus components that cost American taxpayers millions at a time to replace. The Senate report says the Pentagon was unaware that counterfeit parts had been installed in some defense systems until the investigation. The response?

GEORGE LITTLE, ACTING ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We take seriously this very important issue. This is something that we've addressed for a number of years.

TODD: The Senate probe didn't identify any single instance where a counterfeit part led directly to a service member's death or injury, but it's, sometimes, hard to know for sure. As one Senate staffer told us, a faulty radio or GPS device might lead a unit in Afghanistan to make a wrong turn, come under fire, and the incident might not be traceable back to apart.

I spoke with Robert Atkinson from a prominent technology think- tank about China's involvement.

These are not just anomalies with the Chinese?

ROBERT ATKINSON, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOUNDATION: Yes. This is not just that they happen to be making counterfeit defense part. The Chinese economy is premised on the whole notion of counterfeits and stealing in electrical -- there are whole districts in Southern China called the (INAUDIBLE) that is basically, everybody known this is the counterfeit district.

Their whole factories are 10,000, 15,000 people who are just simply making counterfeit goods. We know that. They know that. So, this is an endemic part of the Chinese economy.

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TODD (on-camera): The report says the Chinese government has failed to take steps to stop counterfeiting and refused to grant visas for Senate staffers to travel to mainland China to investigate all this. we tried repeatedly to reach officials at the Chinese embassy here in Washington to comment on that, and on the report's overall findings. We got no response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How is it possible, Brian, to get any of these counterfeit parts off U.S. military equipment?

TODD: It's very difficult. The Senate is cracking down by finding contractors and suppliers, but this expert we talked to, Robert Atkinson, says, really, three things need to happen, the U.S. has to do a better job of interdicting these parts that are being shift, and he says the customs department used to have much more stringent standards on that than it does now.

He says the U.S. has to do a better job of forcing the Chinese to shut down these counterfeit factories, and he says the government has to do a better job of getting more of these parts made in America. And none of that is going to happen any time soon, but you got to start by doing -- trying to do these things.

BLITZER: It's a national security issue.

TODD: It is.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: A United States congressman is now firing back at the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, after Karzai told me the congressman needed to show him respect.

Plus, we're taking you in the air and on the ground to show you a possibly toxic problem coming toward west coast. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're out here in a very remote wilderness, as much wilderness as anywhere in the United States and we're sitting in a landfill.

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BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, Memorial Day weekend dead ahead, the unofficial start of summer just around the corner. You may be surprised to learn that many Americans have no vacation time in sight. A recent study shows a majority, 57 percent of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of last year.

Most of them had about 11 days left or nearly 70 percent of their allotted time off. Who only takes 30 percent of their vacation? One of the biggest reasons people skip vacation is because they feel like they have too much work. Others say they can't afford to travel. No surprise, the economy is a little tricky.

And still others say they're afraid to take time off work in an unstable job market, also not surprising with unemployment stuck above eight percent, you can come back and they say sorry, we don't need you anymore. Meanwhile, the U.S. plays by different rules than most other developed countries when it comes to vacation.

The law here does not require companies to offer paid vacation to employees, but they do. The average American worker gets 13 paid days off a year. Compare that to Italy where the average worker gets 42 days off or France with 37 days off. And guess what, nearly 90 percent of the French use all of their vacation time.

You can insert your own joke right here. Experts say a lot of this is cultural. Many of these countries have strong labor unions. Some European cities like Paris virtually shut down for part of the summer when everybody goes on vacation. As for Americans, the trend here is become for people to take long weekends instead of one or two- week vacations.

Understandable that people are worried to leave the office for too long in a shaky economy, but it does make it harder to recharge our batteries and get a mental break from all of this toil.

So, here's the question, why don't most Americans take all their vacation time. Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on our blog. Go to the post on SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Do you use all your vacation time? I bet you don't.

BLITZER: I don't, and I should. And, I say every year I will, but you know, the news business --

CAFFERTY: Yes, I know.

BLITZER: The news comes first and there goes the vacation, but this year, I'm going to use all my vacation time.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: I'm going to try it --

CAFFERTY: Can I go with you on vacation?

BLITZER: Of course, you can.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

President Obama and Mitt Romney, they're running neck and neck in a new national poll less than six months before the presidential election. One issue clearly dividing voters, the economy. Take a look at this. "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll asked who would best handle the economy, Obama and Romney are dead even, 47 percent each.

Let's go to our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. I guess, it's one of the reasons why the Obama campaign and Obama supporters keep bringing up the whole issue of Bain Capital.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, because they look at those numbers, they get nervous. Mitt Romney is being campaigning as a job creator. They're trying to discredit him and say, you know what, Bain Capital shows that, in fact, he wasn't a job creator, he was a job killer, but this is kind of twofer issue for them, because the Bain Capital issue, Wolf, does something else.

And it kind of burnishes their credentials when it comes to character. Take a look at this. Who do you think has the personal character to serve as president? Another question asked by "The Washington Post" poll. You see that President Obama there has a 14- point advantage. So, they believe that the Bain issue says, OK, he doesn't have the values to be president either, never mind the economic experience.

BLITZER: But when somebody like Corey Booker, very popular mayor of Newark, New Jersey, a Democrat, early supporter of President Obama certainly in New Jersey, when he says, you know what? This is not necessarily all this. Nauseating was the word he used on "Meet the Press." That both sides are playing these kinds of gotcha game, if you will. That does pose a potential problem for the president.

BORGER: It certainly does. First of all, you all want to sing out of the same book, and they obviously weren't no matter how much Corey Booker tried to take it back. Second thing it does is, the one thing also President Obama really has going for him is that people like him. Fifty-two percent of Americans like him.

And, when you act like just another politician, Wolf, you erode your own likability. Third thing as far as I'm concerned is, at some point, the president has to really start talking about his own record because in the end, when you have an incumbent up for re-election, it always is going to become a referendum on his record.

BLITZER: You know, Ted Kennedy used Bain Capital as a weapon against Mitt Romney.

BORGER: Yes. Successfully.

BLITZER: I guess, you know, four years ago, when he was running. It was used also by some of the Republican presidential candidates at the time. Certainly, this time, Newt Gingrich and Santorum and Rick Perry, they all use Bain Capital. Didn't work out so well.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Why does this Democratic president and his team think using Bain Capital is necessarily going to work for them?

BORGER: Well, they're hoping it's going to work for them because it worked, for example, with Ted Kennedy. And -- but they want it as kind of a part there of things. They're going to now talk about his record as the governor of the state of Massachusetts, but in the end, Wolf, if you ask me, it's going to come down.

You tell me what the unemployment rate is going to be next October. You tell me whether people feel optimistic about their future. Only 16 percent of Americans think they're better off than they were when President Obama took office. That's a daunting number. It's very difficult to overcome.

They have to feel hopeful about their future, and now, only 54 percent are hopeful, 42 percent are anxious. So, he's got to sort of get rid of some of that there. He's got to get rid of some of that anxiety.

BLITZER: He's got five and a half months to try to do it.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

You can now own a piece of presidential history specifically a piece of Ronald Reagan, but you may not necessarily want it. Stand by.

And a first for the American space program.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station.

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BLITZER: New signs Iran could be open to broader nuclear inspections. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, also some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says he expects a deal with Iran soon. The development comes just one day before the country gathers what other world powers in Baghdad to discuss its nuclear program.

The IAEA has been pushing for greater transparency amid concerns Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.

And a dramatic new era in space exploration begins.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, zero. And launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station.

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SYLVESTER: The first unmanned private rocket bound for the International Space Station blasted off today on a test mission delivering more than 1,000 pounds of supplies to astronauts onboard. It successfully could usher in a new wave of commercial space travel. The capsule is expected within reach of the space station's robotic arm on Friday.

And a vial reportedly containing dry blood residue from former president, Ronald Reagan, following his 1981 attempted assassination is being auctioned online with bidding, get this, currently nearing $12,000. The seller's mother, apparently, worked in the lab that handled the vial and asked to keep it.

The head of the Reagan Presidential Foundation is reportedly threatening legal action to stop the sell. Can you believe that, Wolf? $12,000 for a vial of dry blood?

BLITZER: That's pretty gross, if you ask me. But you know what, people can buy whatever they want.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you.

A U.S. congressman is banned from entering Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai told me it's because the congressman disrespected his country. Now that congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, is in the SITUATION ROOM and he's firing back.

Also, an in-depth look at junk from Japan now landing on U.S. shores.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen pictures of storage yards in Japan, that huge yards and anchors of these things stacked up before the tsunami. Those yards empty now, and this is where they all are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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BLITZER: The afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is standing firmly in his shocking refusal to allow United States congressman into his country. If you saw my exclusive interview with President Karzai yesterday, you know he's still furious at Republican congressman, Dana Rohrabacher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, you're not going to let him back into your country, Dana Rohrabacher?

HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT: Definitely not.

BLITZER: Ever?

KARZAI: Until he changes his tongue, until he shows respect to the Afghan people, to our way of life, and to our constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Congressman Rohrabacher is standing by. He'll join us in just a few moments to respond, but first, some background on a feud that played out overseas as well as right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Several of us on the floor of the House.

BLITZER (voice-over): Dana Rohrabacher was part of a Congressional delegation to Afghanistan last month ready to board a U.S. military plane from Dubai to Kabul. Suddenly, he got a call, informing him that President Hamid Karzai wouldn't let him set foot in Afghanistan.

It was a stunning turn of events, even more so because defense secretary, Leon Panetta, and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, went along with it.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: She just felt that another mini crisis, which might erupt because Karzai hated me so much that he would create a crisis and she just think -- thought it would be disruptive to our ability to get her job done.

BLITZER: We didn't know then, but we do know now that the Obama administration was then in the midst of delegate negotiations that led to President Obama's secret trip to Afghanistan and the announcement of the Strategic Cooperation Agreement. As a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rohrabacher has asked tough questions about the Afghan government, how it's run and how it's spending U.S. money, but President Karzai tells me Rohrabacher was interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs and he's effectively banned from the country as a matter of principle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Congressman thanks very much for coming in. I want to discuss what's going on, but first to give our viewers the full perspective, here's the entire exchange I had about you and President Karzai in my interview with President Karzai yesterday. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You said you're not going to let this Democratically- elected congressman into your country, why?

KARZAI: A Democratically-elected congressman of the United States of America should not be talking of an ethnic divide in Afghanistan, should not be interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs, should not be asking the Afghan people to have a federal structure (ph) against about the Afghan constitution has asked for, should not be speaking disrespectfully about the Afghan people or the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan. If an Afghan did that from Afghanistan, how would you react to him in America?

BLITZER: So you're not going to let him back into your country, Dana Rohrabacher?

KARZAI: Definitely not.

BLITZER: Ever, ever?

KARZAI: Until he changes his tongue, until he shows respect to the Afghan people to our way of life and to our constitution. No foreigner has a place asking another people -- another country to change their constitution. Have we ever asked the United States to change?

BLITZER: Even after all that America has done for Afghanistan?

KARZAI: But that doesn't give you the right to play with our lives.

BLITZER: And you think he's that dangerous to you?

KARZAI: Not dangerous. It's a matter of principle. International relations are based on certain principles. We're not America. We're Afghanistan.

BLITZER: But there is a concept known as freedom of speech.

KARZAI: The freedom of speech is good. We respect that, but the freedom of speech with regard to other countries is another issue. He has freedom of speech within the United States and we have freedom of speech within Afghanistan, but if an Afghan member of parliament stood up and said the United States should be divided in five different regions, would you accept that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss what we just heard with Congressman Rohrabacher. First of all, are you ready to apologize? Are you ready to back away from some of your earlier statements in order that President Karzai would give you a visa to come back to Afghanistan?

ROHRABACHER: Well, I will tell you that if I thought that I was being inadvertently disrespectful to the Afghan people I would apologize, but I obviously have a deep felt respect for the people of Afghanistan and their courage and their principle behavior. They are tough people who are actually a model of courage in this world. So I respect them. It's Karzai I don't respect and so I don't think I owe an apology to the people of Afghanistan and of course, Karzai is a corrupt and incompetent leader and I certainly owe no apology for trying to get to Afghanistan to do some investigative work.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the specifics what he's complaining about. He says you speak of an ethnic divide in Afghanistan. Is that true?

ROHRABACHER: No, it's not. In fact, what we have now is a constitution that was written by foreigners, I might add that was modeled for Karzai and his clique. And what it does is put all of the power in Kabul which is totally inconsistent with Afghan culture and tradition and what I've been calling for is for all of the sides, both -- all of the ethnic groups to get together and have some constitutional reform that, for example, Karzai points all of the provincial governors. That would be like our president appointing all the governors of the states. That is not dividing the country. That's a federalist approach that will keep the country unified because you have, as we have in the United States, different people operating at different levels and the people elect their leaders.

BLITZER: You can understand where he's coming from when we just heard you say right now you believe there should be a change in their constitution. You're not an Afghan. You're an American. You think it should be changed --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And so he has a point --

ROHRABACHER: Well I think -- no I think -- yes, I think that they should be making sure that the Afghans make those changes and that the power in Afghanistan isn't being held by some corrupt clique. Now remember, I'm the chairman of the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee. I was going to Afghanistan, among other things, not just to talk about perhaps constitutional reforms that they might consider, but I was also going there to investigate corruption on the part of the Karzai administration. BLITZER: He also says you're disrespectful of the president of Afghanistan, right, namely Karzai. You tweeted this -- you tweeted and I'll put it up on the screen. "Packed (ph) government controls red, terrorists, Muslims, Karzai equals puppet -- Pak puppet (ph), its centralized regime contrary to Afghan tradition and values." What do you mean Karzai is a Pakistan puppet?

ROHRABACHER: That's our biggest problem right now is the Pakistanis as you are well aware are financing the insurgencies that we're having to put up with in Afghanistan. Karzai is a longtime ally of the Paks (ph). He was -- even before he was in power, these are the people he dealt with. So, yes, he is overly, overly associated with Pakistan, and he is not sitting down with his own people. He's sitting down with the Paks (ph) for guidance.

BLITZER: Well I'm sure he disagrees strongly with you on that. What you're saying is in total disagreement with this new Strategic Partnership Agreement that the U.S. and Pakistan have signed and also in total disagreement with what we're hearing from the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

ROHRABACHER: Well I don't know what Mitt is saying about it, but I am absolutely opposed to what the president just did. We should be looking for ways to get our troops out of Afghanistan at a quicker pace, not at a slower pace. We shouldn't be committing ourselves to another 10 years of military involvement in Afghanistan and we can do that if we worked with all of the Afghan leaders rather than just trying to put all of our eggs in the Karzai basket and trying to force everybody to accept his power.

BLITZER: What Governor Romney says there should be an open-ended U.S. military and financial commitment to Afghanistan. He doesn't like the timelines, if you will, but he's even more aggressive in making sure that U.S. troops stay there to bolster that Afghan government and make sure that there's security there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What I hear you saying is you disagree not only with President Obama, but with Governor Romney, as well.

ROHRABACHER: I totally -- yes, I totally disagree with the governor. If that is indeed his position I would like to talk to him about it.

BLITZER: Congressman Rohrabacher, thanks very much for joining us. I suspect the story is not going to die down any time soon.

ROHRABACHER: Thank you.

BLITZER: A father of three turns into a subway hero. We're talking to him. Stand by for that. And an in-depth look at a possibly toxic problem headed our way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that's not something you'd want to dump in your herring or salmon spawning (ph) area. This is going to take years to clean this mess up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are some experts out there who believe the United States could be on the brink of an environmental disaster even worse than any of the oil spills in its history. Tons of toxic debris from Japan's devastating tsunami in Fukushima turning up on the beaches of southern Alaska endangering wild life, polluting the ocean more than a year since the disaster hit and the worst may yet be in the works. CNN's Casey Wian is joining us now from the Alaska coast with an in- depth look at the alarming details. Casey, what are you seeing there up close?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me give you a picture of where we are. We're on an estuary in southern Alaska on the banks of an estuary and what you can see across this waterway about three, 400 yards in the distance is basically a long, long sandbar and across that sandbar, which is very, very narrow is the Pacific Ocean and we went out there and let me give you a look at some of the debris that we found out on that sandbar. You can see these giant buoys. This one says made in Japan. These over here -- this is foam that is used in construction material. Locals here say they've never seen this before. Very concerned about the environmental impact of this. Also we are very near a fishing village. You can see down there. There are some fishing huts. Around that point is the city of Yakutat (ph), 700 people who live there, but the environmental damage in a place called Montague Island (ph), northwest of here, is even worse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to hopefully cut across the middle of Montague Island (ph) to the outside on the Gulf of Alaska coast and then that's where a great deal of tsunami debris has already come up.

WIAN (voice-over): Nearly 4,000 miles from Fukushima, Japan, is Montague Island (ph), Alaska, reachable only by helicopter or boat.

CHRIS PALLISTER, PRESIDENT, GULF OF ALASKA KEEPER: We're in the wilderness, as much wilderness as anywhere in the United States and we're sitting in a landfill. This shore is facing away from Japan, actually, but the way the currents and the winds work, it swirls it around and dumps it in here. The influx of tsunami debris really concerns (INAUDIBLE) mostly because of the amount of Styrofoam that's coming with it and also the toxic chemicals that are coming. We think they're going to have a really detrimental impact on the environment out here long term.

WIAN: Chris Pallister has been cleaning marine debris here for 15 years. Now that task is becoming next to impossible. PALLISTER: This is urethane (ph) spray and some building foam. And we never -- we just never got much of that before and now if you walk up and down this beach you can see big chunks -- look at it all down this beach. That came out of crushed building structures.

I've seen pictures of storage yards in Japan that -- huge yards, acres of these things stacked up before the tsunami. Those yards are empty now and this is where they all are. And I've never seen a big yellow one like this, pretty big. Little bits of Styrofoam all up and down this beach. Billions of pieces of it. The other thing is albatross and seabirds eat this stuff like crazy and it's killing the hell out of them. A big chunk of Styrofoam (INAUDIBLE) came in.

WIAN: Tests on the first wave of tsunami debris to arrive on U.S. shores have found no abnormal levels of radiation. Still, much of it is toxic.

PALLISTER: I have no idea what was in this. Germicidal bowl cleanser, now that's not something you'd want to dump in your herring or salmon spawning area. This is going to take years to clean this mess up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is the leading edge of the tsunami debris without a doubt. It's all (INAUDIBLE) that blew across the Pacific very quickly and I think we're looking at years of stuff coming (INAUDIBLE). The heavier stuff will come progressively later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Now the immediate concern, how to clean all of this debris off these beaches and who is going to pay for it? Wolf, the long-term concern, no one really knows what kind of toxic substances are out there in the Pacific and potentially heading this way over the next couple of years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, not just in Alaska, but eventually further south, Canada, Oregon, Washington State, obviously California. We'll watch this closely together with you, Casey. Thank you.

Here's a look at the latest NOAA model, by the way, showing where the debris is. In the dark purple you see the highest concentration of the tsunami garbage just north of Hawaii. According to the agency more than a million tons of material is believed to be making its way to the U.S. and Canadian Pacific Coast right now.

Jack has your answers coming up next. Then a father of three describes how he saved a woman's life from an oncoming subway train.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A New York dad is being called a hero for single- handedly saving a woman from being killed by a subway train. He had to act in an instant and to make things even more stressful his children were watching. Our own Mary Snow has more on this remarkable story. MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, roughly five million people ride New York City subways every day and it's uneventful. But for one Manhattan father taking his kids to a festival he walked into a situation he never expected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SNOW (voice-over): For the Wetzel family riding the subways comes with a warning. Greg Wetzel says he always tells his three children to stay far away from the platform edge but on Saturday he abandoned his own advice.

GREG WETZEL, RESCUED WOMAN ON TRACK: As we approached this area about 20 feet, you could see a woman lying on the tracks there, and I had the three little ones and had to make a decision at that point.

SNOW: To make that decision, Greg looked to see when the next train was due to barrel through.

(on camera): When you looked up at the clock it said two minutes?

WETZEL: That's when it said two minutes.

SNOW (voice-over): The woman was unconscious. With his kids watching, Greg jumped in to move her away from the deadly third rail and towards the platform.

WETZEL: Regardless of how much you weigh, again, dead weight of a human being is heavy, unusually so, you'd be surprised.

SNOW (on camera): Did she respond at all?

WETZEL: No, not at all.

SNOW (voice-over): With time at a minimum, he raced to come up with a plan b, getting her to the gap between the tracks.

WETZEL: I felt that if I could at least (INAUDIBLE) maneuver her maybe in that area and then jump out, worst case scenario the train would roll over her, but certainly the way she was laying she was right across the tracks.

SNOW: Greg managed to get the unconscious woman close enough to the platform for bystanders to lift her out. Paramedics took her to a local hospital. EMS says she was apparently intoxicated when she fell and didn't provide her name. Days later her sneakers still mark the spot where she was rescued. As for the Wetzels, they are hoping all those warnings to their kids will stick with them.

(on camera): Did you think it was that dangerous before?

ETHAN WETZEL, WATCHED DAD RESCUE WOMAN ON TRACK: No, but now I know it's really dangerous. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: These arrival signs they were put in, in recent years are really there for convenience but in this case they were (INAUDIBLE) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, what a story that is. Jack Cafferty is joining us right now. That guy is a hero. I got to say that. Jack, I'm sure you agree.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know there -- there are a lot of stories like that in this town. New York gets a bad rap for being a cold kind of heartless city. It's not at all. And if you need help in this town there are a lot of people usually will step forward and lend a hand, so keep that in mind next time you come up here.

The question this hour is why don't most Americans take all their vacation time? The fact of the matter is they don't. Most of us get time off and we don't use it all.

Bob in Philadelphia writes "my wife has four weeks' vacation. She won't take a single day for the fear of the company's going to blow her out and she's worked at the same company for 15 years. It's a damn shame American workers have to feel this way. Work yourself to death and worry every day whether or not you're going to have a job to go to."

Matt writes "because they can't afford to. It costs money they don't have. Many feel threatened about being replaced. Of course we could have everyone get six or eight weeks vacation like in Europe, look where that got them."

John in Alabama writes "many companies pay their employees if they don't take vacation time. The tough economy makes it more inviting to take one's vacation in cash or double pay for the time not taken."

Henry in Michigan writes "some are workaholics. Some are afraid they'll be let go and the rest just can't afford it."

Brad in Oregon writes "because bosses explicitly or implicitly tell employees that if they're not in the office or working remotely, then they're not team players and are expendable in the next round of layoffs. It's management by fear, which is one of the reasons unions were invented."

Jayne writes "I'm self-employed. What is this vacation time you speak of?"

And Bob writes "Hey Jack, you seem to be on vacation every Friday. If you do the math that's 52 vacation days. The French and Italians got nothing on you."

That's correct. If you want to read more about this, you go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our thing on the Facebook Situation -- the prompter is not moving -- back to you, Wolf. Almost time for my next day off.

BLITZER: That guy caught you pretty good. Very observant viewers we have. All right, Jack, thank you.

Jeanne Moos coming up next with a 911-operator who snored -- yes snored -- during an emergency call.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One woman dialed 911 and got snoring instead of help. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've all been there, elbow falling off the armrest as we fall asleep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To live up to their purpose and potential.

MOOS: But it's one thing to snooze during a speech and another to snooze during a 911-call.

CALLER: No.

(SNORE)

MOOS: That's not just breathing. That's snoring. Around 12:30 in the morning, a call came in from this apartment complex to Montgomery County, Maryland, fire and rescue.

DISPATCHER: Fire and ambulance.

CALLER: Hello? Hello?

MOOS: The dispatcher apparently nods off.

DISPATCHER: Hold on one second, ma'am. Let me try and get them on the line again.

MOOS: A second dispatcher takes over but the sleeping one remains on the line as the caller reports her husband is apparently unconscious.

CALLER: But right now he's all blue.

(SNORE)

MOOS (on camera): But the snoring confuses the second dispatcher, who mistakes it for the victim having trouble breathing.

DISPATCHER: And tilt his head back.

CALLER: Yes?

(SNORE)

CALLER: Uh-huh.

DISPATCHER: OK, is that him I hear doing that snoring noises?

CALLER: Yes.

DISPATCHER: OK, are you able to keep that airway open like that? I see the snoring noises stopped.

MOOS (voice-over): Not for long.

DISPATCHER: Is the blueness going away?

(SNORE)

CALLER: To me it looks not good to me.

MOOS (on camera): You can actually hear the dispatcher snore maybe 17 or 18 times during the course of the 911-call.

(voice-over): According to Deputy Fire Chief Scott Graham --

SCOTT GRAHAM, ASSISTANT CHIEF: In my 24 years here this is the only incident that I can recall where a dispatcher has fallen asleep on a 911-call.

CALLER: I don't know what to do.

DISPATCHER: OK, ma'am. Is he still making the snoring noises?

CALLER: Yes, a little bit, but he stopped breathing for a little while.

MOOS: It turns out the sleeping firefighter was 17 hours into his shift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was about 20 minutes away from going into his rest period.

MOOS: Now he's on paid administrative leave. As for the patient --

CALLER: Ah, he's blue again.

MOOS: The deputy chief says the incident had no adverse impact on the victim's condition.

(on camera): About five and a half minutes into the call the sleeping dispatcher wakes up, picking up where he left off, mutters a question.

DISPATCHER: What's the address? What's the address?

(SOUNDS)

DISPATCHER: Ma'am, what's the address?

MOOS (voice-over): Who knew 911 needed a wake-up call.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

CALLER: Yes.

(SNORE)

CALLER: Uh huh.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.