Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Outrage Grows Over Pensions For Criminal Congressmen; Pork Reform in Washington?; Supreme Court Secret Revealed; Unholy Theft

Aired January 05, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Crooked congressmen, convicted felons, in fact, getting big pensions at your expense -- you were outraged. We have been "Keeping Them Honest." And, tonight, you're getting results.


ANNOUNCER: Forty thousand dollars a year -- $64,000 a year -- and they're both still in prison. Pensions for criminal congressmen, and you're paying the bill. You told us it had to stop. Now your voice is being heard.

Letters to an infant son.

DANA CANEDY, WIDOW OF U.S. SOLDIER: "Remember who talk you to speak, to walk, and to be a gentleman. These are your first teachers, my little prince."

ANNOUNCER: A loved that spanned oceans, a gift for all time from a father in Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: You can't get much lower: stealing in church. But wait until you see who has got their hands in the collection plate.

And what on earth did they see?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You don't believe this was possibly your imagination?

"JOE," AIRPLANE MECHANIC: It was definitely not my imagination.

ANNOUNCER: Airline mechanics, airport workers, they have seen everything that flies. And they say they saw a UFO.


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Reporting tonight from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And a good Friday evening to you. Want to thank our viewers here in America and watching around the world right now on CNN International. Hundreds of you have been writing in, in the last two days about our reports on crooked U.S. lawmakers. They have been convicted of felonies, but are still entitled to fat government pensions. You have been paying the bill, literally -- maybe not much longer.

We have been "Keeping Them Honest." And, with the help of your e-mails and phone calls, we have been getting some action. Somebody is listening.

Details now from CNN's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suddenly, there is movement in both houses. A Republican from Illinois was the first. He reintroduces this bill just yesterday to stop payments to congressional crooks.

REP. MARK KIRK (R), ILLINOIS: I think it's essential that we deny a pension to any member of Congress convicted of a felony.

GRIFFIN: And, this afternoon, Senator John Kerry's office tell us, the Democrat from Massachusetts will reintroduce his version in the Senate Monday morning. Despite several attempts in the past to stop congressional crooks from collecting a pension, the practice goes on. Twenty lawmakers over the last 25 years have been convicted of crimes and have gone on to collect a pension.

That includes Dan Rostenkowski, who went to prison for mail fraud, but still gets his estimated $126,000 annual pension. It also includes former Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham and James Traficant, who are still in prison, yet still getting their estimated $64,000 and $40,000 pensions.


COOPER: And Drew Griffin joins us now.

I mean, Drew, this all adds up to -- to a lot of money. They tried to introduce this bill before. Why did it fail in the past?

GRIFFIN: They have both died in their respective committees. And they both say the other side did it. You know, Kirk's bill last year had 24 co-signers. Every single one of them was a Republican. That bill didn't go anywhere.

And, on the Senate side, Kerry introduced his bill. It had a co- author, Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado. The partisanship up there has prevented these bills, a lot of time, from going forward. They just die, magically, in these committees, even though everybody agrees it's a good idea not to pay these people.

COOPER: Well, next week, we're going to be looking into how this thing just dies magically, who's really opposing it, and try to, you know, name some names. How -- what kind of money are we talking about here? How much is this costing the taxpayer? GRIFFIN: Well, you know, in the scope of things, it's not a huge amount of money. But, as they say, it's the principle.

Estimates are about $1 million of taxpayer money a year goes to convicted members of Congress who are basically still on the dole. So, it's about $1 million a year. But, still, that just irks you. And it certainly irks a lot of our viewers, Anderson, who are just upset that they're getting a dime out of this.

COOPER: A million dollars here, a million dollars there, it all adds up.

Drew Griffin, appreciate you staying on this report, "Keeping Them Honest."

Some advice on Iraq today for President Bush -- in a letter to the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that -- and I quote -- "Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point. We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq."

The president will not be announcing any plans until next week. But, when he does, he's going to have a new team getting ready to carry them out, new faces in the White House, at the State Department, the United Nations, and, as CNN's Ed Henry reports now, new commanders in Iraq.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president invited senators over to the White House, to give the impression he's in consultation mode, ahead of next week's prime-time address unveiling his latest Iraq strategy.

But is the president listening? After all, administration officials say Mr. Bush is likely to call for a surge of about 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq, despite sharp disapproval from those same lawmakers.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Both Republican and Democratic senators expressed grave concern about the situation in Iraq. I personally indicated that an escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: It's not only that many Democrats have some questions about that; many Republicans have questions about a troop surge.

HENRY: The new Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, went so far as to allege, the president decided to shake up his military commanders, because he wants yes men around him.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The surge is a bad idea. The president said he was going to listen to his commanders. If he's listening to his commanders, he can't do this. I know he's shuffling some in and out, obviously because they're not telling him what he wants to hear.

HENRY: That was a reference to John Abizaid, who publicly opposed a surge, now replaced as head of U.S. forces in the Mideast by Admiral William Fallon, and General George Casey, the lead commander on the ground in Iraq, now replaced by Lieutenant General David Petraeus.

White House spokesman Tony Snow confirmed the changes, but rejected the charge that the generals were pushed out for opposing a surge.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's inaccurate. It's just flat inaccurate.

HENRY: Fresh off their elevation to power, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Reid fired off a letter to the president, charging, a surge is a failed policy, calling, instead, for Mr. Bush to start a phased redeployment of U.S. troops within four to six months.

The White House has to be more concerned about the static they're hearing from Republicans, like Senator Chuck Hagel, a longtime hawk, who has called a surge folly, and Republican John McCain, who is warning, the president's surge may be too puny.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The worst of all worlds be a small, short surge of U.S. forces. We have tried small surges in the past, and they have been ineffective, because our commanders lacked the forces necessary to hold territory after it was cleared.

HENRY (on camera): John McCain acknowledged, even a large surge does not guarantee success, a potential problem for McCain's own White House ambitions, and an even bigger challenge for the current occupant of the White House, who's running out of options to turn Iraq around.

Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.


COOPER: Well, whatever happens next in Washington, a great deal of the Iraq story will be written elsewhere.

It already is, frankly, every day, in small acts of courage, in long goodbyes, and in words from a father to his son.


DANA CANEDY, WIDOW OF U.S. SOLDIER: Oh, Jordan, brown bear.

COOPER (voice-over): There are moments when she stares at her son that Dana Canedy can see his father's face.

CANEDY: Charles would say, you know, Dana, he's like me when he's happy, and he's like you when he's not.

(LAUGHTER) COOPER: Charles Monroe King, Jordan's father, was deployed to Iraq a year ago December, a big, strapping 1st sergeant, an artist who loved Dana, the Army, and the soldiers he swore to protect.

When Jordan was born, Charles wasn't there because he had promised not to take R&R until all his soldiers had visited their homes.

CANEDY: I was so angry at that in the beginning. And I said, you know, you're going to miss the birth of your child. We're your family. And I realized later that they were family, too, to him. So, when he did come home for the two weeks, and I opened the door, and, you know, he -- he came out of the elevator, it felt like I was giving birth to Jordan all over again, then handing him his son.

COOPER: Jordan was four months old when he met his father for the first time. He and Dana had delayed getting married because of the war, but had decided to try to get pregnant before he deployed.

CANEDY: I was turning 40 years old. You know, and I knew, you know, first of all, if he came back and I was 41, it might be harder to try have the baby, but that he might not come back.

COOPER: Dana gave Charles a journal, and knew that he occasionally wrote in it. But she had no idea how important that journal would one day become.

On October 14, Charles volunteered to accompany a convoy to Baghdad. A roadside bomb exploded as Charles' vehicle was passing by. He died in the blast. He only had one month left in Iraq.

CANEDY: When they told me he -- that he had been killed, I -- literally, my legs buckled, and I collapsed on the floor, screaming.

COOPER: Now, nearly three months later, the grief still comes in waves. There are moments with Jordan when Dana can be happy, when she can lose herself in his smile. But the loss, the ache, is always there.

(on camera): Do you still talk to him?

CANEDY: The first month, I talked to him every day. Then, I -- the conversation changed, and I started to say to him, we're going to be OK, you know? I thought, he's not going to rest easy, if he -- if he thinks I'm not going to make it. And, so, I told him, Charles, I will be -- I will be fine. I will finish the work that we have to do in raising Jordan. Your work is done. I need you to rest.

COOPER (voice-over): On Christmas, she and Charles had planned to take a carriage ride in New York's Central Park. Instead, she went alone with Jordan.

CANEDY: We rode, and I just -- I was crying.

Jordan was asleep. And the driver kind of looked a little puzzled. And I said -- I -- I told him what happened to Charles. And, at the end of the ride, he -- he helped me down. And I opened my purse and said, how much do I owe you?

And he said, no charge.

And I just lost it. You know, this city can be big and impersonal, but people have been so kind to me. And that -- that -- I will never forget that.

COOPER: Amid his possessions, Dana found a notebook Charles had begun to write for Jordan, along with the journal she had given him. There are hundreds of pages of Charles' words, advice from a father to his son.

CANEDY: "Listen to your first thought. You will figure this out on your own. Never second-guess yourself."

COOPER: Reading the words now, Dana can hear Charles' voice, his respect for women, and how he wanted his son to treat them.

CANEDY: "Remember who talk you to speak, to walk, and to be a gentleman. These are your first teachers, my little prince. Protect them, embrace them, and always treat them like a queen."

COOPER: To Dana, this book, Charles' words, tell the story of every soldier fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CANEDY: We can live the way we live because they're over there doing what they do. We owe them. We owe them big. We owe them a thank-you. We owe them the respect of -- of seeing them as real people, not just casualties of war collectively.

COOPER: A few months before he died, Charles drew this picture of himself with the wings of an angel. Dana still finds it hard to look at.

The notebooks, however, are a comfort, a legacy of words that will help their baby boy grow up to be a man.

CANEDY: "I will always be proud of you, my son. Be strong. Take care of your family. And live life well. I love you, and I love your mother. God bless. Your father, Charles King."


COOPER: Well, Dana loves words. After all, she is also an editor for "The New York Times." She says that she hopes Charles' books will be words of comfort for years to come for the children that he loved deeply, his son, Jordan,and a daughter, Christina, from a previous marriage -- just two of so many children who have lost a parent in this war.

Roadside bombs, like the one that killed Charles Monroe King, are one of the deadliest weapons, of course, in Iraq. Here's the "Raw Data."

Of the 3,006 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, at least 35 percent have died from IED explosions. In December, the deadliest month of 2006, at least 48 of the 69 Army combat deaths were caused by roadside bombs.

Well, moving on, if you ever wonder which of your congressmen is spending big bucks on pork barrel projects, now lawmakers are moving to let you know. Will the new rules, however, really help stop building bridges to nowhere and other wasteful spending? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And a Supreme secret revealed -- the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was addicted to sedatives and went through major withdrawal while he was on the bench. Now, some are questioning if he was competent enough to continue hearing cases and why we are just finding out about it all now.

Plus: what aviation experts saw in the skies over Chicago -- not your usual UFO story -- when 360 continues.


COOPER: More revelations tonight about former Chief Justice William Rehnquist's addiction to a prescription drug.

As we first reported last night, newly released FBI files reveal, the late justice was dependent on a powerful sedative during his first decade on the Supreme Court, and became delusional when he -- at one point when he stopped taking the drug in 1981.

The files were made public more than a year after Rehnquist's death. There's still a lot that is not known.

Joining me now for some perspective on all this is CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, Justice Rehnquist was taking three times the prescribed doses -- dosage of a drug called Placidyl, and -- which I had never heard of. And, according to the FBI files, after he stopped taking this drug, he suffered from delirium and had bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined a -- a CIA plot against him, and, at one point, I guess, went to a lobby of a -- of a hospital in his pajamas, trying to escape.

What is this drug?


Well, it's not surprising, first of all, that you haven't heard of it, Anderson. . It was a popular drug back in the '50s and '60s. But, actually, you can't even get it nowadays in this country. They stopped making it about 10 years ago.

It -- it -- what it is, is a sedative hypnotic. It's both those things together, a sedative, something that makes you sleepy. And a hypnotic can actually, not surprisingly, give you some of those deliriums that you were just talking about.

Typically, it's used to treat insomnia. But the problem with this drug is that it affects the entire central nervous system, as opposed to a specific area of the brain.

So, someone who is taking this medication might have slurred speech. They might have trouble walking. They may have all the things that you would -- you would expect when someone is actually drunk, because the old sort of drugs, the sort of the quaaludes class of drugs -- people have heard of that drug -- affected the entire central nervous system.

So, these are the sorts of symptoms you get. And it can be very addictive. It can -- you know, for four years, at least, according to that '86 medical report, he was seriously dependent on this medication, which is not uncommon with these sort of sedative- hypnotics.

COOPER: And would that impair his judgment?

GUPTA: Well, during the time that you're on it, it's kind of like being drunk.

It's -- it's impairing your -- it's affecting your entire central nervous system, so it could during the time that you're on it. But it does have a -- a reasonably short half-life. So, once it's out of your system, it -- it's gone.

COOPER: There's no, like, mental review for Supreme Court justices once they're on the bench. First of all, did people know about this? I mean, did you know about this?


I mean, in 1981, then-Justice Rehnquist started slurring his words on the bench. People noticed that he was acting somewhat strangely, a lot of the symptoms Sanjay just -- just described. The -- the court announced that he had some sort of drug reaction to drugs that he was taking for his back problems. He had back problems for years. But no one knew anything like how serious this apparently was, with delusions...


COOPER: So, is this going to trigger some kind of, you know, review or a call for term limits for -- for Supreme Court justices?

TOOBIN: Well, certainly, the decisions that were made then, there's nothing -- there are not going to be any changes made. Any decision by the Supreme Court takes at least five justices. He was a productive justice during that time. There's no...

COOPER: So, it's not like some other court where the cases could be thrown out?

TOOBIN: No, no chance of that.

I mean, I think what -- what has happened with the court is that justices now are living for so long -- and they serve for life -- that there are started to be some serious calls for term limits, retirement ages. It would take a lot. It would take an amendment to the Constitution.

But I have heard Supreme Court justices -- Justice Stephen Breyer has talked about that this is not something that should be considered off-limits or out of the question.

COOPER: If -- if you're on this drug, Sanjay, for 10 years, are there long-term consequences?

GUPTA: Well, we did a little investigating on that, Anderson.

And, just to give you a little bit of perspective, typically, this drug is prescribed for just one week. That's -- that's how long most doctors...

COOPER: Wait. You're only supposed to take this drug for a week?

GUPTA: For a week. That's how long...



COOPER: And he took it for 10 years?


GUPTA: Exactly. That -- that...


GUPTA: That gives you a little frame of reference.

But, in terms of the long-term effects of this drug, typically, after it's out of your system, it -- it doesn't have structural changes to the brain, doesn't cause any long-term structural changes.

But I think what you're alluding to, Jeff's alluding to, is the withdrawal type of symptoms for which he was treated. That can take months -- or at least a month, oftentimes, depending how long you're on the drug. You don't have a lot of cases to look at, because there's not very many out there who took this medication for 10 years, to know how long it would actually take to withdraw from this.

COOPER: And, Sanjay, if somebody walked -- if you walked into a doctor's office now, and you're complaining of insomnia due to pain, what -- what would you get?

GUPTA: Well, you know, so -- so, that drug, this -- this Placidyl, affected the entire central nervous system.

Now, depending on your specific complaint -- so, he had back pain that led to insomnia. Typically, you would get your pain treated first. And, hopefully, that would take care of the insomnia. So, you get pain medications, which, you know, quite frankly, can still be very addictive, medications like OxyContin, Percocet. But they are painkillers, for the most part. And you take them for a period of time, and then you stop them. Or you take sleeping bills, like Ambien, for example, if it's just insomnia that is the problem.

TOOBIN: Supreme Court justices serve for life. We're entirely dependent on them to report about their medical conditions.

There's no process. There's no review. So, you know, he was...

COOPER: Interesting.

TOOBIN: ... going through all this. We had no way of knowing. And, to this day, we have no way of knowing what kind of medical problems.

We -- we count on their good faith and...

COOPER: And -- and...

TOOBIN: ... and the other justices to sort of...


COOPER: And there's still a lot we don't know about Rehnquist, and may never know, because, apparently, hundreds of pages of documents will never be released.

TOOBIN: Right. And this was just the FBI files. You know, the medical files, of course...

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: ... are private forever.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks, guys.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: Just a block or two away from the court, new rules for congressional pet projects -- up next, Democrats' plan to expose lawmakers who try to attach pork to their bills, and the real reason it was introduced. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Plus: an unholy theft, church employees stealing from the collection plate. And what's really shocking is how much it is happening. It's not one or two places we're talking about.

You're watching 360. Stay tuned.


COOPER: Lawmakers who want a pet project passed are going to have to do -- well, they're going to have to be a lot more open about it from now on. The House voted today for a rule requiring legislation containing pet projects and narrowly targeted tax breaks, known as earmarks, to contain the names of the lawmakers who requested them. How about that? The idea is that openness will help prevent abuses.

The question is, will it?

CNN's Joe Johns tonight "Keeping Them Honest."


JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bridges, post offices, courthouses, roads and highways, $50 million for an artificial rain forest in Iowa, you name it. Those nice goodies members of Congress slip into legislation to show the folks back home what they're doing in Washington may seem a good deal if your hometown gets one. But, if you live in another state, you're probably suspicious. And, when you add it all up, it's a burden on you, the taxpayer.

Last year, the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste found almost 10,000 projects, worth $29 billion, of so-called congressional earmarks. But, "Keeping Them Honest," if you think reform-minded Democrats came into power planning to do away with all that pork, you would be wrong. Many see earmarks as part of policy- making.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN: Let us remember that the Congress has a right to make policy judgments. Indeed, it has an obligation to make policy judgments that direct money -- money to one place or another.

JOHNS: He's saying, some earmarks are OK, but not the secret ones, those pet projects that anonymously get slipped into law, no fingerprints, unless, of course, you get busted.

That's what happened to former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who sat on the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. So, naturally, in that position, he used his earmarks to artfully tap into the Pentagon's budget.

JOHN BERTHOUD, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION: We have got guys dying in Iraq every day, and here you have a member of Congress using the earmark process to allocate defense dollars based on politics, rather than military need. I think that's a disgrace.

JOHNS: Cunningham is now serving a prison term for corruption. Democrats say they will lift the veil of secrecy and force members of Congress with special projects to be public. They would have to say where the money is supposed to go, and certify they have no financial gain in the project.

But one of the Republicans who has long complained about earmarks argues, that's not enough. It's not just about personal gain, like Cunningham. It's also about dubious, but politically helpful projects back home.

REP. JOHN SHADEGG (R), ARIZONA: Probably not a financial interest if I just bring home the bacon. That is to say, if I just get a bridge or a tunnel or an overpass in my district, I still get to use taxpayer money to buy myself back into office.

JOHNS: Still, Democrats get credit for at least pushing the earmark secrets process out into the open. But, as far as eliminating earmarks altogether, don't count on it. After all, how long could any party in power survive without the sizzle of good old-fashioned pork?

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Mmm, pork.

Up next on 360: hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from the Catholic Church. The bigger sin may be who's taking the money.

But the bigger mystery tonight concerns what some pretty sane and reasonable people saw hovering over Chicago O'Hare's Airport? Was it a UFO or just that connecting flight from Cincinnati? You can decide for yourself -- ahead on 360.


COOPER: Talk about putting your money where your passions are. Oprah Winfrey is spending tens of millions of her own dollars giving education and hope to children in South Africa.


COOPER: So to finally see the school open, to see yourself in these kids, to give them really new lives, emotionally, what has this past week been like?

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I don't have words for it. I really don't have words for it, Anderson. And I'm never a woman of few words. But 100 million girls who will never get a secondary education because their parents can't afford school fees. It's easier to keep the girls at home to do all the work. And so this is an opportunity of a lifetime, and what's so amazing about it is, is that the girls and their parents know it.


COOPER: Well, we're going to be talking to Oprah about her school, her mission and even some controversy surrounding it all on a special edition of 360 Monday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

It is one of the Ten Commandments: thou shalt not steal. We all know that. But a survey by researchers at Villanova University found that a stunning number of church employees, people who actually work for the church, are doing just that and they're stealing from the collection box.

Eighty-five percent of Roman Catholic dioceses who responded to the survey reported embezzlement of church money in the past five years. CNN's Tom Foreman tonight reports.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The worldwide Catholic Church handles many billions of dollars each year, but in the United States, a recent study says a lot of money openly given is secretly pilfered, prompting calls for better financial reporting, more frequent audits.

Francis Butler heads a group for Catholic Foundation.

FRANCIS BUTLER, CHURCH ACTIVIST: This is not rocket science here. It's pretty -- pretty easy to do, but it is typically ignored at the parish level and somewhat resented, I think, by many people, because it implies that they're going to be dishonest.

FOREMAN: About half of the nation's Catholic dioceses participated in the survey by Villanova University, a Catholic school. Eighty-five percent said they have discovered embezzlement within the past five years, and about 10 percent of those lost a half million dollars or more.

Recently in Florida, two priests were accused of stealing collection money to pay for gambling trips to Vegas and a lot more. They're fighting the charges.

The Villanova report says most cases of theft are actually discovered by parish priests. Still, the nation's bishops want local parishes to dramatically increase financial accountability.

"A great deal needs to be done on the parish level," they tell us. But "as soon as it's suggested that an external audit take place, there's immediately a sense of discomfort and dismay."

So much is at stake. The American Catholic Church handles $100 billion annually, money for hospitals, schools, retirement homes.

(on camera) If you're going to keep donations coming in, it seems to me that people have to be able to trust these institutions.

BUTLER: Absolutely. And they can do that if there's an atmosphere of transparency and openness. The church is all about air and light and truth. It has no reason to have these things in the shadows.

FOREMAN: The study says churches must scrutinize everyone who handles the money to make sure every time a dollar comes in or goes out, God isn't the only one watching.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, two mysteries coming up tonight. First, what became of an airliner with more than 100 people on board that just plain vanished recently? Tonight, the search is growing. We'll show it to you.

And what is this? A new stealth fighter or something a bit farther out? Hear from the witnesses who saw it over Chicago's O'Hare Airport and hear from the skeptics. Then you can decide for yourself, next on 360.


COOPER: Coming up at the top of the area in about 20 minutes, we're airing a special story, honoring those sacrificing in America's men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is truly an incredible piece of story telling from our Tom Foreman.

It's called "Ambush at the River of Secrets", coming up in about 20 minutes. And I really urge you to watch it. I think without a doubt it's probably the best thing CNN has aired in the past year or so. It is truly an extraordinary piece of reporting, and the sacrifices that are honored in this story are truly worth watching.

There's still no sign of an Indonesian jetliner that vanished New Year's Day. Authorities now say the plane changed course twice while battling winds of more than 80 miles and hour over Indonesian waters. It hasn't been seen of or heard from since.

Rescuers have expanded the search. And American investigators are heading overseas to try to help. But frankly, no one is very optimistic right now.

CNN's Dan Rivers reports.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Our journey to the remote Indonesian island of Sulawesi started just like Flight KI-574 had. We were flying with the same airline to the same island on exactly the same type of Boeing 737-400.

Like ours, Flight KI-574 was carrying mostly Indonesians with just three westerners aboard, Scott Jackson from Oregon and his two student daughters, Lindsey, 18, and Stephanie, 21. Ninety-six passengers in total and six crew.

On New Year's Day, it was a turbulent flight, the pilots reporting severe crosswinds. But then Flight KI-574 suddenly disappeared from radar screens.

Initially, Adam Air said the wreckage had been found, along with a dozen survivors, but that turned out to be wrong.

The last contact with the plane was an emergency distress beacon normally set off on impact. And then there was nothing. The plane and all 102 people on board had simply disappeared.

We land without incident, to the obvious relief of those waiting in Makassar, the town where a huge search is still being coordinated for the missing airliner. Indonesian air force planes, helicopters, are combing the rain forest of this massive island, roughly the size of California. And on land, soldiers are searching the steamy wilderness, hoping to find some trace of the aircraft.

The man leading the military rescue team says their aim is to conduct the search from high ground to try and spot any wreckage.

(on camera) If you want an idea of just what a tough job this search and rescue team have got here, take a look at the terrain behind me. Much of Sulawesi is like this, jagged cliffs that rise high into the sky and dense, dense jungle that's completely impenetrable.

(voice-over) For friends of the Jacksons back in Oregon, THE uncertainty is equally tormenting.

LAUREN HALE, FRIEND: She was just such a wonderful person that I know that if anything bad did happen to her that she'll be missed by so many people.


RIVERS: Many of the locals in this part of Indonesia are devout Christians, and they're praying for a miracle.

The Indonesian authorities say they will keep searching until the end of this weekend. If it's not found by then, the fate of Flight KI-574 and all of its 102 passengers and crew may remain forever a mystery.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Makassar, Indonesia.


COOPER: Such a strange story.

Another mystery in the sky, this time here in the states. You may have heard about the strange sighting over O'Hare International Airport. Could Chicago be the new Roswell, New Mexico? That's what some are asking.

CNN's Gary Tuchman talked to one of the airport workers about what he says he saw.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flights come to Chicago's O'Hare Airport from all over the world. But do they come from other worlds?

(on camera) You don't believe this was possibly your imagination?

"JOE", AIRPLANE MECHANIC: It was definitely not my imagination.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Joe is a mechanic for United Airlines. While taxing a jumbo jet to the hangar, he and another mechanic...

"JOE": Looked out the window in the general direction and noticed an object up in the sky, dark gray object, sitting above the terminal complex.

TUCHMAN: Joe, which is not his real name, is one of several airport workers, some of whom have talked to the "Chicago Tribune", who said they saw a saucer-shaped UFO hovering just beneath the clouds at the airport.

He's the first to go on camera to talk about it since this happened several weeks ago. He wants to remain anonymous.

(on camera) But you're sure it was some kind of object that normally would not be above O'Hare Airport?

"JOE": I've been at O'Hare for quite some time. And let's just say that I've never seen an object in my time that looked like this. And I'll tell you definitely it was not an airplane as we know it.

TUCHMAN: But it could be an airplane as another world knows it?

"JOE": Possibly.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): We brought in one of Chicago's top sketch artists...

"JOE": Followed the contours of the object.

TUCHMAN: ... to listen to Joe and draw a picture of what he says he saw.

"JOE": More like an oval, dark gray oval.

TUCHMAN: Because no photos have surfaced, and Joe doesn't know of any.

(on camera): It didn't say "Goodyear" on it, did it?

"JOE": No "Goodyear," no.

That's a really good drawing.

TUCHMAN: That's what it looks like?

"JOE": Very much so, yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Other witnesses told an organization called the National UFO Reporting Center that the object eventually shot straight up in the sky at a great rate of speed.

"JOE": It looked like literally someone had poked a hole in the clouds, just a round hole.

TUCHMAN: Joe thinks the disk is either a stealthy military project or a spacecraft from another planet. But... "JOE": I find it very strange or very peculiar that somebody who possesses the technology to travel between star systems would sit over an airport in Chicago.

TUCHMAN: Hard to argue that.

A spokesperson for United Airlines says, "We are aware of what the employees said they saw, but this is not something United would investigate." Talk to the FAA, says the airline.

The TSA and the Chicago Department of Aviation also told us to talk to the FAA. So we did. And an FAA spokesperson told us, "We, too, don't have the power to investigate." The FAA adds that radar did not pick up anything out of the ordinary and the sighting might have been caused by a weather phenomenon.

(on camera) You don't believe it was a weather phenomenon?

"JOE": Not at all. Not for a minute.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): O'Hare has apparently been UFO free since that November afternoon, although Joe now tends to pay special attention to that same patch of airport sky.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Chicago.


COOPER: As you heard in Gary's piece, the FAA says what the airport worker saw was most likely caused by a weather phenomenon. But the workers are still not convinced.

Earlier, I spoke with Joe Nichol, investigative columnist for "Skeptical Inquirer" magazine.


COOPER: You know, Joe, as we just heard a lot of these witnesses say they saw a dark gray saucer flying under the clouds. What could this be?

JOE NICHOL, COLUMNIST, "SKEPTICAL INQUIRER": No one seems to know, and that's the thing about unidentified flying objects. They're real in the sense that, yes, people see things, and they don't know what they are.

The problem is, you can't infer from an "I don't know" that you do know. You can't say I don't know what it is and then, therefore, it's an extraterrestrial craft.

There really are all kinds of things, Anderson, in the sky, from weather balloons, all kinds of atmospheric phenomena, meteors, space debris, secret government planes, various blimps, not all of them with "Goodyear" on it. And we see these under strange and unusual conditions, and oftentimes we don't know what they are. COOPER: Do you simply not believe that extraterrestrials exist, or do you hold it out as a possibility, but you just want to see the evidence?

NICHOL: Belief is not really a word that science uses a lot. That's -- that's a different domain. But really there may be extraterrestrials. No one can deny that there -- there could be.

The question is, are extraterrestrials visiting the planet earth? And to date we have a huge amount of evidence that they are, but it's very, very poor evidence. It's not...

COOPER: You look at -- you look back at Roswell in 1947. That's probably the thing that a lot of people cite as probably the most famous unidentified flying object. You were just down in the Mohave investigating. What did you find out?

NICHOL: Well, we did a test in the Mohave Desert relating to the Roswell, New Mexico, crash, as you mentioned, in 1947. And we think we know exactly what crashed on Mack Brazel's ranch.

He came into town and talked about finding this strange debris. And it was -- he described it as foil paper, sticks, string, tape, and rubber. And we now know that a secret United States government spy balloon from Project Mogul was missing in that area.

And if you look at photographs of the wreckage and compare it to Mogul wreckage, it's very clear that that's what it was. It was a spy balloon.

COOPER: There's also this video from a couple of years ago. The Mexican air force I guess it was, released a video. They said it was -- it was 11 unidentified objects that they shot. We're looking at it.

NICHOL: 2004?


NICHOL: Yes. Those are oil well flares in the Bay of Campeche. They have been clearly identified now.

This is -- this is instructive for us because what happens is somebody sees something. They don't know what it is. Sometimes they have video for us to look at. It gets a huge amount of attention, all of which promotes the idea that there are UFOs. Then people do the hard work and figure out what it is, and that, nobody's interested then, and it sort of fades away.

So we're always getting these new, fresh reports as we're doing now. And by the time we -- we figure it out, if we do, there may be less interest.

COOPER: And yet there are always people who will believe, until I guess proven otherwise. Joe, it's good to talk to you again. Joe Nichol, thanks. NICHOL: Same here, Anderson. Thank you.


COOPER: Hmm. Are you seeing that?

Anyway, one more mystery has to do with a chunk of something that fell from the sky the other day. Tonight, mystery solved. We've got the answer for you.

Plus the true story behind the new movie "Freedom Writers" and the difference one teacher can make in so many young lives. You're watching 360.


COOPER: That's not our shot of the day, but let's just say it's kind of related. First, Thomas Roberts of Headline News joins us with a 360 bulletin.

Hey, Thomas.


An investigation is under way into a near-collision at Denver's airport. Investigators say a Frontier Airlines pilot spotted a small plane on the runway that he was about to land on. Now he managed to get his plane back in the air, avoiding a crash. Officials say the planes came within 50 feet of each other.

Also in Denver, more snow. This is the third storm to hit Colorado and the plains in as many weeks. The new snow is hampering efforts to restore power to some rural homes and rescue cattle stranded in last week's blizzard.

To New Jersey, where scientists say the mysterious rocklike object that crashed through the roof of a home Tuesday is, in fact, a meteorite. For now, they're calling it Freehold Township, after the place where it landed. The meteorite is the size of a golf ball and weighs about 13 ounces, about as much as a can of soup.

And more people shopped online last year. This is according to market researchers. Online spending surged past $100 billion for the first time, hitting $102 billion, a 24 percent jump, to be sure here, from 2005. Last-minute holiday shoppers accounted for a big jump in online spending during the final three weeks of the year.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Thomas, thanks very much.

Time now for "The Shot of the Day". In case you're wondering what to do with your Christmas tree now that the holidays are over, check this out. Elephants at the Berlin, Germany, zoo, they love a good pine tree, apparently. A zoo keeper says the trees are a delicacy to pachyderms and even help with digestion. Watch how they just toss the tree around like twigs.

The video got us thinking about our other favorite elephant video. This is the elephants who broke out of like a traveling zoo and went to a restaurant in South Korea and everyone left. And a few people just kind of stared and wondered what was going on.

The elephants were all wearing little hats and little costumes. So were the people next to them, who were the elephant handlers, I'm assuming.

OK. Enough of the elephants.

If you're looking for something uplifting this weekend, you might want to go see a movie about violent street kids in Southern California and the Holocaust. Granted, it was not your everyday recipe for a -- you know, a feel-good movie.

But there's also a secret ingredient or two. A young teacher, for one, and the gentle dreams of some pretty remarkable students. Their true story now from CNN's Gary Tuchman.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Maria Reyes joined a street gang at the age of 11, ended up in a juvenile detention center. And by the time they went to this public high school in Long Beach, California, had pretty much seen it all.

(on camera) Have people you loved been killed?

MARIA REYES, FREEDOM WRITER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Maria, a Latino, only trusted her own kind.

(on camera) Did you not like white people?

REYES: It was more than I didn't like them; I hated them.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Many of the Latinos, African-Americans and new Asian immigrants in Maria's class hated white people and each other. And in 1994, their new teacher was this white woman.

ERIN GRUWELL, TEACHER: I wasn't scared for my safety. I was scared at how much hatred was in the classroom for one another.

TUCHMAN: What ultimately happened between Erin Gruwell and her students has led to a major motion picture.

HILARY SWANK, ACTRESS: My name is Erin Gruwell. Welcome to freshman English.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give this bitch a week.

TUCHMAN: The movie, "Freedom Writers", stars Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. The film shows the racial conflict that erupted at the high school. And the experiences that a bitter and hardened Maria Reyes had as a 15-year-old girl. Erin Gruwell realized she had to change her ideas about teaching.

SWANK: Raise your hand if you know what the Holocaust is. Raise your hand if anyone in this classroom has ever been shot at.

GRUWELL: I realized that if I don't teach intolerance, how can I teach them how to be tolerant? That's when I realized I have to throw away my lesson plans and I have to bring in lessons from the Holocaust, bring in Holocaust survivors, read "The Diary of Anne Frank".

REYES: The thing that Miss Gruwell did for all of us was give us the sense that we all have this responsibility to serve others, because that's what she did.

TUCHMAN: Her students were transformed.

SWANK: And the person you were before this moment, that person's turn is over. Now it's your turn.

TUCHMAN: She told them to write their feelings in journals. They called themselves the Freedom Writers.

GRUWELL: The Freedom Writer name came in honor of the '60s activists, the Freedom Riders, who actually rode buses, and they deliberately challenged segregation in this country.

TUCHMAN: What came next is hard to believe. Thanks to donations, fundraising and Erin Gruwell's hard work, her students, who in most cases had never left California traveled to Europe to fulfill a quest.

GRUWELL: My students said that we have to go to Anne Frank's attic on August 4, because that was the day that she was captured. And we went. You know, we have to walk in those railroad treks. We need to go to Birkenau, because we saw it on a movie screen. And they did.

We have to go into wartorn Sarajevo, because we read this book by a little girl in Sarajevo. And we did.

TUCHMAN: Kimberly Morrison is one of the students who went. And this is what she wrote in her journal.

KIMBERLEE MORRISON, FREEDOM WRITER: I can't understand how people could be so cruel, how they can burn other human beings in ovens. There was an old lady who lives here, and she said she could hear the people screaming in terror. She says she could smell their burning flesh.

TUCHMAN: George Alvarez is another Freedom Writer who went on the trip.

GEORGE ALVAREZ, FREEDOM WRITER: It really made me think about the way that I judge other people.

TUCHMAN: Almost all of Erin Gruwell's students ended up going to college. George works at Universal Studios as an assistant location manager for the CBS TV show, "Ghost Whisperer".

(on camera) Do you think that Erin is partly responsible for you getting to Hollywood and getting in this industry?

ALVAREZ: A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

TUCHMAN: Kimberly works for a blog media network.

MORRISON: I have a column that I write twice a week.

TUCHMAN: And Maria, who detested Erin Gruwell when she met her, now works with her, for the Freedom Writers Foundation, which helps kids like the ones Erin met a decade ago.

GRUWELL: I always well up with tears when I think about where they were at age 14 and where they are as young adults and that incredible transformation.

TUCHMAN: Which will now be seen on the silver screen.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Long Beach, California.


COOPER: Well, straight ahead tonight, a story that moved a lot of you to write and a lot of us to tears. A searing look at four heroes who answered the call. The lives they left behind, the strength and smarts and dedication they brought to Iraq. How all of it came together and was tested in a town along the Euphrates River on the deadliest day of the war.

It is a remarkable piece of work, "Ambush at the River of Secrets". A 360 special report is next.