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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Astronaut Arrested; Recruiting Criminals; Tragedy on Tape; Primary Challenge

Aired February 06, 2007 - 23:00   ET


DONALD LYKKEBAK, NOWAK'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They filed a brand new charge based on preposterous assumptions drawn from facts that are perhaps a misdemeanor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Murder was the plan, and it just was not able to be carried out.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Attempted murder of a romantic rival, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, who has been involved with this astronaut, shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein, who just flew on Discovery in December.

Police say Nowak told them she, too, was having a relationship with Oefelein, and that she wanted to confront Shipman, who works with the space shuttle program. Knowing Shipman was flying to Orlando, Nowak took off from Houston, driving 900 miles, and wearing diapers, so she wouldn't have to stop. She went to the airport, and waited for Shipman to arrive on a United flight.

But Shipman had to wait a couple hours for her lost luggage. At 3:00 a.m., she finally made her way to catch the bus to the blue satellite parking lot. Nowak was waiting on a bench near the taxi stand.

SERGEANT BARBARA JONES, ORLANDO, FLORIDA, POLICE DEPARTMENT: The victim got on the bus. She did notice the arrestee, Mrs. Nowak. At the time, she didn't know it was her, also sitting on the bench, boarding the bus.

ZARRELLA: When Colleen Shipman got off the bus, police say, so did Lisa Nowak.

(On camera): After she got off the bus, Shipman told police she turned and noticed Nowak following after her. She was frightened, she said, so she started to move more quickly to get to her car, because, she told police, she heard footsteps running towards her.

JONES: When Ms. Shipman got in the car, apparently, there was a tap on the window. The arrestee indicated that she needed some help, that, you know, could she use a cell phone. Somebody was supposed to pick her up, but they didn't show up.

At that point, it's my understanding Mrs. Shipman lowered the window. And that's when the arrestee sprayed -- we believe it was mace.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Even though she was hit with mace, Shipman took off. Police say they found Nowak in the parking lot, trying to get rid of a disguise. And she had a bag, containing a brand-new steel mallet, a folding knife with a four-inch blade, and four feet of rubber tubing.

Nowak told police she had no intention of hurting Shipman; she just wanted to talk.

Nowak's attorney denied she was going to kidnap or harm Shipman.

Late in the afternoon Tuesday, Nowak, wearing a black hood, left the jail. Accompanied by NASA's chief astronaut, Steve Lindsey, she headed back to Houston, without saying anything about the charges.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And John Zarrella joins us now.

John, after that video that we saw, she was, what, outfitted with an ankle bracelet?

ZARRELLA: Yes, that's exactly right, Anderson. She didn't go very far, just across the street here with Steve Lindsey, where she was given a GPS monitoring device which she has to wear now constantly while she's back in Houston and throughout the proceedings, even when she comes back here into Orlando.

And the reason, of course, for that is that Shipman works and lives over by the Kennedy Space Center and works at the -- over at Patrick Air Force Base.

And she was told by the judge -- that is Nowak -- that she cannot go anywhere near Patrick Air Force Base or the Kennedy Space Center. And she was even told by the judge, listen, you can't even send flowers to Ms. Shipman telling her you're sorry. That's a violation of the rules of your bail.

COOPER: And do we know where she heads? I mean, does she -- we know she's separated from her husband. She's got kids. Does she go back to the home with the kids or do we know?

ZARRELLA: Well, you know, what we've been told is that tomorrow morning she will actually physically get on the plane and head back to Houston.

We understand, you know, NASA is a very close knit family. There is certainly going to be a support group there for her. We know she's been asking about her children and how her children are, so we're assuming she will at least be going back to her family, to her children back in Houston. And she does have three children.

COOPER: The Lisa Nowak who appeared in court today looks very different than the woman we've been looking at in these videos.

How did her demeanor in court strike people there?

ZARRELLA: Boy, I tell you, Anderson, you know, everybody that we talked to -- in fact, we talked to bail bondsmen and police officers out at the airport today. Any people who came in contact with her in the last 24 hours or so all told us she seemed very distant. She seemed as if she had no idea that her whole world was crumbling down around her.

And even in the court proceedings today, I commented one time she hardly flinched. She never moved other than just to blink her eyes. She even appeared in court to continue that very, very distant stare, almost like, you know, she was in a dream world -- Anderson.

COOPER: And when is she next in court? Do we know?

ZARRELLA: Don't know that yet. They have not set a hearing date, a date for her to come back to actually be formally charged with whatever the prosecutors ultimately decide they are going to bring as the formal charges against her.

COOPER: All right, John. Appreciate the update. Thanks.

Lisa Nowak is a member of a tiny elite, of course. She's been in space, for one; and she's gone through a remarkably tough screening process and training regimen to get there.

The question is, and we're going to explore it in a moment, did any of that play a part in any of what she's accused of doing?

First, CNN's Randi Kaye.


STEVE LINDSEY, NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION: I knew here well. I have flown with her. She did a fantastic job on the mission. She's been a great astronaut for all the years that I have known her.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lisa Nowak was one of less than 300 Americans to make it into space and the first Italian-American woman.

She had dreamed about it since being mesmerized by Neil Armstrong's moonwalk when she was just in kindergarten.

LISA NOWAK, NASA ASTRONAUT: I thought, if there was a chance to be able to come here, that I would love to do that.

KAYE: She spent 10 years training, and then waiting for a space assignment. But, eventually, she saw the stars up close in July 2006, spending 13 days in orbit, a mission specialist on board the space shuttle Discovery.

Like all the astronauts, Nowak was an extremely motivated student, calling herself competitive, determined and energetic. NOWAK: I watched the development of the space shuttle program, and in particular when they started including women in the program, and it started to look like something that I really could do.

KAYE: She is only one of 38 women to make it into space, a fact not lost on her former high school classmate Dennis Alloy.

DENNIS ALLOY, HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATE OF LISA NOWAK: I wasn't surprised at all. I think that she was going to be an astronaut if she wanted to be an astronaut, or whatever she wanted to be. She was a hard worker, and she was determined to do what she wanted to do.

KAYE: After high school, Nowak enrolled in the Naval Academy, and became a Navy captain. Eventually, she became a test pilot. It was not an easy entry for her. She applied six times before being accepted.

Nowak even fought a policy that required she have longer legs to fly fighter jets. She got a waiver and has logged more than 1,500 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft.

(On camera): In 1996, Nowak was finally accepted into NASA's astronaut program. Every two years, 3,500 men and women apply for about 20 spots as mission specialists or pilots. She passed a battery of medical, physical, and psychological exams before being allowed into space.

NOWAK: I want to make sure that I can support and do everything that I have trained to do in a timely manner, and keep on schedule, and keep everybody safe.

KAYE (voice-over): Before she reached the stars, Nowak offered one word for other women looking to follow her there -- persistence.

NOWAK: Exploration is just part of our destiny. It's what we feel inside of us, that we have to go and find out what more there is.


COOPER: You know, you stare at her resume and it's hard to jibe what -- the accomplishments you see and the actions she's accused of.

KAYE (on camera): Absolutely, Anderson. We're telling you about a woman who drove across the country wearing a diaper, who police say was going to attempt to kill and kidnap somebody.

And yet you pull her bio off the NASA Web site and she mentions her interests. She enjoys bicycling, running, skeet sailing, gourmet cooking, rubber stamps, crossword puzzles.

No offense to those people who collect these things, but this is sort of mundane. And you think about this when you're also thinking about this woman who possibly did what police are saying. She did piano, African violets. It's just two very different pictures of this woman that no doubt will be analyzed for days to come.

COOPER: Yes, and certainly we're going to be learning more details in the days ahead.

Randi, appreciate that.

Well, on that note, from Alan Shepard (ph) on astronauts have always had two kinds of private lives. The carefully edited version for those up close and personal profiles, and the real thing.

For better or worse tonight, it looks like we're seeing the real thing.

More on that now from CNN's Miles O'Brien.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jon Clark is no longer with NASA, but he's still part of the family. And that family is in shock.

JON CLARK, FORMER NASA FLIGHT SURGEON: It was very apparent that she's under a huge amount of stress. And obviously, she was not thinking right.

O'BRIEN: Lisa Nowak was there for Clark and his son Ian on some very dark days. Clark's wife, Laurel, perished on the space shuttle Columbia four years ago.

The two had much in common, both naval officers, astronaut classmates, working moms.

CLARK: They loved kids, they loved their family life, they loved gardening and flowers. And you know, she was very close to Lisa. And that's the part of it, I sit there and I think, you know, if somebody is under enough emotional stress, who knows what could happen.

O'BRIEN: As a former NASA flight surgeon, Clark has seen the stress through a doctor's eyes as well. He says many astronauts do not have happy landings after the emotional high of space flight.

CLARK: They've been on this tremendous high. And then there's this tremendous low that follows, this vacuum that follows. And that's a period, I think, that they're very vulnerable. And I think that might be the case here, too.

O'BRIEN: Lisa Nowak flew to space for the first time in July. If she needed psychological help post mission, it would be no surprise that she did not seek it.

MIKE MULLANE, FORMER ASTRONAUT: You got to understand for astronauts, it is a life quest. This isn't a job. This is a dream for us. And we have worked our entire lives to achieve this dream and we don't want to get anything -- have anything get in the way of having it realized on a mission into space.

O'BRIEN: Former Astronaut Mike Mullane flew on the shuttle three times, starting in the late '80s. He reluctantly sought out a NASA psychiatrist because of problems he had with a boss. MULLANE: They don't just lock us in a tube and say, deal with it, like I'm getting the impression some people think.

O'BRIEN: But it is an elite club, a type-A plus fraternity, the ranks always closed, allowing problems to fester. The divorce rate is high. And astronauts say extramarital affairs are not uncommon, seldom discussed outside the family.

HOMER HICKAM, FORMER NASA ENGINEER: For years we've left it up to the astronauts to essentially pick their own membership. And so they're brought in, they're beholden to the people that have brought them in. They've become part of this little fraternity. They become isolated down in Houston, to a great extent.

O'BRIEN: Former NASA Engineer Homer Hickam is author of a book that inspired the movie, "October Sky." He says there are too many astronauts chasing too few seats to space. The competition almost inhumane.

HICKAM: The astronaut office, in my opinion, really needs to be broken up. It needs to be spread around all of the NASA centers. It needs to get out -- the people in the astronaut office need to get out into the real world a little bit, breathe a little fresh air and understand what's really going on in the world.

O'BRIEN: Miles O'Brien, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, Lisa Nowak's family is staying away from the cameras, as you might imagine. But tonight they did release a statement, saying in part, "Lisa is an extremely caring and dedicated mother to her three children. She has been married for 19 years, although she and her husband had separated a few weeks ago."

Some people are asking if that might have been a trigger. I talked about this and more a bit earlier tonight with Sex Educator and Therapist Laura Berman.


COOPER: What do you think about what's going on with this woman?

LAURA BERMAN, BERMAN CENTER DIRECTOR: Well, I mean, anyone can guess. But as we heard, it's definitely the case that NASA does do extensive tests, including psychological tests, that would have flushed out if there was any chronic, serious mental disorder or emotional disorder that this woman was struggling with.

So at some point she was screened, whether something happened after that fact and after she was enrolled in the space program, that remains to be seen.

COOPER: But does a switch just flip and someone, you know, freaks out or they enter into a relationship and they become obsessed? What goes on in someone's mind in this case? BERMAN: Absolutely. Period of extreme stress. Periods of extreme crisis. Maybe it could be the break-up of her marriage or some family crisis or some emotional crisis can be a trigger for an emotional or mental breakdown, so to speak.

And what she did -- I mean, certainly many people harbor fantasies of getting rid of the person that's standing in the way of their love interest. But very few of them actually carry out such a drastic plan as this woman did.

So I think what we're looking at is someone who is definitely not mentally stable in the here and now. Whether she was mentally stable when she went up in the space shuttle, I'm sure she was. But something happened between then and now to cause her to have some sort of breakdown.

COOPER: Well, clearly, too, this has been going on for a while. I mean, if they separated three weeks ago, yet two months ago the woman that Nowak was after, Shipman, filed a restraining order, or got a restraining order against her. She said she had been stalked for the past two months. What kind of a person stalks somebody?

BERMAN: Well, that's really interesting to me because stalking usually occurs because someone's broken up -- because -- it involves delusions or imagining things are different than they are.

And so if Lisa was stalking this person who was competing for her love interest, that seems a little strange to me only because she was very clear, at least in the interviews that I read, that she is not in a relationship with this man, that they are friends, that they are not romantically involved.

And usually when someone is a stalker, they really do believe that this person is in their life, that they're in a relationship. They have delusions about the nature of that relationship. And at least in the little bit I read, it didn't seem like she was delusional in that regard.

COOPER: But it's interesting. She described the nature of her relationship with this astronaut, the male astronaut, as more than a working relationship. but less than a romantic relationship.

BERMAN: Right, right.

COOPER: I don't get that.

BERMAN: Well, she probably was harboring romantic feelings for him. There might have been a little bit of flirtation, but it had never been, you know, clear -- that's what was promising to me that she's not a stalker, because she was able to recognize that she's not in a relationship with this man, that he doesn't secretly love her, that they're not meant to be together necessarily. That she saw him perhaps as someone who she wanted to be in a relationship with, and this other woman stood in the way of that potentially.

COOPER: Nevertheless though, to go to the extent of... BERMAN: Right.


BERMAN: To drive across the country in diapers...

COOPER: Right. Yeah, I mean, that...


BERMAN: ... you know, with weapons is extreme.


COOPER: And that's -- I mean, when you first hear that she drove across the country in diapers, I mean, that's just one of those details that makes you think, what the heck is going on with her.

BERMAN: Right. And you can't say it's a passion -- you know, a crime of passion, because there was such significant premeditation and she had the whole drive across the country to cool down. So there was a potential for her to cool down. So we can't say that it was a crime of passion. And I don't feel that we can comfortably say that it was a stalking situation. It probably was more that she had some sort of mental breakdown or some sort of emotional break at some point between the time she entered the space program and now, which led her to be susceptible to this kind of really bizarre and destructive behavior that's not the nature of a happy, healthy, emotionally stable person.

COOPER: It is just a horrible story. And certainly, you feel for her kids.


COOPER: And, you know, most of all, no matter -- and obviously for her, I mean, whatever she is going through.

It's good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

BERMAN: Sure. Happy to be here.


COOPER: That was Laura Berman.

Lisa Nowak is a mission specialist at NASA. Here's the raw data on the requirements for that job.

Candidates have to have a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, followed by at least three years of related professional experience. And they have to pass the NASA space physical, which requires 20/200 vision or better uncorrected and correctable to 20/20 in each eye. The height requirement is between 4'8" and 6'4".

It's the video the U.S. military didn't let anyone see until now. See what happened before American pilots shot and killed a British soldier.

Plus this.

Also convicted of arson, sentenced to prison. So where did he end up? The army, in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as they discovered this guy is a felon, they should have arrested him, packed his bags and sent him back.


COOPER: Instead, they made him an M.P. And he's not alone. Why felons are getting into the military and getting to stay there. Ahead, on 360.


COOPER: Well, at this moment, tens of thousands of American men and women are fighting in Iraq, bravely serving their country. Their sacrifices are, of course, immeasurable; their patriotism, deeply honorable.

A few, however, enter the military with a dark secret. There are troops with rap sheets and arrests and convictions that some say the Pentagon is giving them a second chance. Others argue the Pentagon is just looking the other way.

CNN's Randi Kaye, tonight, looks at all sides.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What these troops may not know is the person fighting next to them, watching their back, could have a criminal past.

MAJ. GEN. PAUL MONROE (RET.), FORMER HEAD, CALIFORNIA ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: We need as strong a force as we can muster. And not one that has felons. You run into serious problems for undisciplined people. We can't have felons in the military -- it's not only a threat to civilians, it's a threat to the military.

KAYE: And yet the military acknowledges that it is knowingly allowing men and women with criminal backgrounds to fight alongside soldiers with clean records.

(On camera): So your husband was convicted of arson?


KAYE: Which is a felony.


KAYE: But instead of going to prison, he went to serve in Iraq?


KAYE (voice-over): How did Rose Giddings' husband end up in Iraq? Former Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb.

LAWRENCE KORB, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: What it is, is the Army's under tremendous pressure to meet their recruiting goals. They've quadrupled the number of non-high school graduates they're taking in. They've quadrupled the number of people who score -- did not score above average on their aptitude test. And even with that, one out of every five people last year were taken into the military with moral and criminal problems.

KAYE (on camera): In fact, a longtime Pentagon consultant tells us last year alone the Army enlisted close to 1,000 people with felony records. He told the Pentagon that service members convicted of multiple crimes have continued to serve and been repeatedly promoted.

Citing evidence from 1975, the last time the Pentagon matched criminal records with personnel records, the consultant reported soldiers with convictions were given clearance to work with classified and top secret information and with a nuclear missile team. None of these soldiers had their clearance revoked until years later.

(Voice-over): Last year alone, all military branches combined granted 35,000 new recruits what are called moral waivers for offense ranging from minor traffic violations to drug crimes, up 11 percent in just three years. The Army is up a whopping 65 percent.

MONROE: Well, it's pretty hard to get a waiver if you're a felon. If you have a misdemeanor, you need a waiver. But, I mean, if you're a felon, you know, it takes a letter from God usually.

KAYE: Retired Major General Paul Monroe, who headed the Army National Guard in California, says upholding moral standards is crucial to military effectiveness.

MONROE: You're supposed to take an annual physical, so we did it every other year. But still it was a requirement for physicals. It should be a requirement that they're still good people.

KAYE: Military discipline has long been credited with turning around troubled youngsters. But the military insists it is not a substitute for rehabilitation by the criminal justice system.

Still, the Army says, soldiers who commit a felony after they've enlisted can continue to serve if a military adjudicator lets them stay.

Court documents indicate that's what happened with Army Reservist Bob Gidding. Gidding and his wife, Rose, had been high school sweethearts. But it wasn't long after he returned from boot camp that Rose says she saw another side of her husband.

GIDDING: He got so insecure and so just possessive, like I was his property.

KAYE: While she was still pregnant, Rose says her husband accused her of having an affair. In court, he admitted he then drove to the home of the suspected other man, doused his car with gasoline and set it on fire.

GIDDING: I'm sitting there, like kind of in shock. I was crying. I was like, you know, freaking out pretty much.

KAYE: Gidding pleaded no contest to a charge of felony arson. He was sentenced to five months in prison and three years probation and was barred from owning or possessing a gun. But the judge allowed Gidding to ship out for active duty before serving his time in prison.

And the Army reserve went along with it. As this affidavit shows, he told his commanding officer he had been convicted of a felony.

MONROE: But as soon as they discovered this guy's a felon, even if he's already in Iraq, they should have arrested him, packed his bags and sent him back.

KAYE: But they didn't. What the Army reserve did do, as this court document shows, is ask California courts for proof of Gidding's felony conviction so that, quote, "we may proceed with discharging this soldier."

But that was two years ago. And Gidding was never discharged. Instead, Gidding was deployed for a second tour of duty in Iraq and made a military police officer, even though it's not clear whether the judge waived his ban on Gidding possessing a gun.

(On camera): So here you have a felon who is charged with upholding the law and given a gun to do so.


KAYE: Did it concern you?

GIDDING: It concerned me a lot because he would tell me over the phone, you know, things about how he didn't like this person and he could shoot him there because they were in Kuwait and it was just desert and no one would know. You know, he could make up a story.

KAYE (voice-over): His attorney denied Gidding ever said anything like that. He did, however, confirm the facts in Gidding's legal case.

The Army reserve declined comment on why Gidding was allowed to continue to serve, saying to do so would be illegal.

(On camera): So how many Army reservists are serving with felony records? We wish we could tell you, but the reserve says it doesn't know. You see, the reserve says it doesn't conduct background checks after recruitment unless a soldier is promoted. So unless a reservist who has been convicted of a felony fesses up, his or her military superiors would not in most cases know about the crime.

As a result the reserve says it's unable to speculate how many convicted felons may be in its ranks because it doesn't gather the data.

(Voice-over): As the case of Stephen Green shows, all this carries big risks, not just for the Army, but for America's reputation around the world.

Stephen green was a high school dropout with three misdemeanor convictions when he joined the Army. He got a waiver to serve in Iraq, but is now in jail awaiting trial as a civilian on charges that he and four other soldiers raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdered her family. Two of the men have pleaded guilty. Two more are awaiting courts-martial.

Green, who was discharged as a private, maintains he is innocent.

KORB: You take people like that in, the chances are they're going to behave badly, they're going to do things under pressure in the battlefield that other people might not.

KAYE: Korb says waivers help the military grow its ranks while fighting an unpopular war.

KORB: The quality of your military and its effectiveness is going to decline, and you're going to end up with a force like we did in the latter days of Vietnam that's not up to the job that the nation is asking it to do.

KAYE: Pentagon Consultant Eli Flyer (ph) says he first recommended routine background checks 20 years ago. But, he says, the military still doesn't do them, except when reviewing security clearances or promotion.

Rose Gidding has moved with her son to a new home where her soon- to-be ex-husband can't find her. She says he's too dangerous to be near their son, and has obtained a restraining order against him.

And yet, we checked and Bob Gidding is still an Army reservist living in California and available for deployment.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Monterey, California.


COOPER: Well, coming up, politics. To conservatives, the Republican contenders for president may look more like Democrats than members of the GOP and it's putting a strange twist on the race for '08. We'll have that ahead.

Bur first, a mistake over Iraq. Friendly fire, an American jet, British casualties and the many questions over what happened and why, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: In the military, they're called blue on blue incidents, that translates to friendly fire. In the fog of war, we all know it happens. But what you're about to see took place over the skies of Iraq. But that's only part of the story.

CNN's Barbara Starr explains.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The invasion of Iraq was just in its second week. March 28, 2003. U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts are patrolling the skies over southern Iraq. They are told there are no coalition troops nearby, only Iraqis.

Thirty seconds later the U.S. pilots think they have a target.

POPOV36: I got a four ship of vehicles that are evenly spaced along a road going north.

STARR: The pilots mistakenly believe the orange panels on top of the vehicles are Iraqi rocket launchers. But they are identification tags. These are British army vehicles. Ground-spotters clear the Americans to fire.

But then the American pilots are told the worst possible news.

LIGHTNING34: You have friendly armor in the area. Yellow, small armored tanks. Just be advised.

STARR: On the ground, 25-year-old British Lance Corporal Mattie Hull (ph) is killed.

LIGHTNING34: Hey, POPOV34, abort your mission. You got a, looks we might have a blue on blue situation.

POP0V35: F***. God bless it. F***, F***, F***.

STARR: One of the pilots says he is sure he will go to jail.

POP0V35: Confirm those are friendlies on that side of the canal.

MANILA34: We are getting an initial brief that there was one killed and one wounded, over.

POPOV35: I'm going to be sick.

POPOV35: We're in jail, dude.

STARR: The Pentagon has long insisted it gave the British military all the information it had about this friendly fire incident.

But under U.K. pressure, the Pentagon has now overcome security concerns and released the videotape to a coroner and to Hull's (ph) family.

The pilots long ago were cleared of any wrongdoing in a joint U.S./U.K. military investigation.

MAJOR DAVID SMALL, U.S. GENERAL COMMAND SPOKESMAN: They followed the correct processes and procedures for engaging what they thought was an enemy target. And it was concluded that this was just an accident.

STARR: Legal experts point out friendly fire cases usually do not result in charges unless there is negligence.

EUGENE FIDELL, MILITARY LAW EXPERT: We're not going to eliminate friendly fire until all war stops. It is inevitable that there are going to be incidents like this.

STARR (on camera): The Hull (ph) episode has strained U.S. and British relations. The crew was cleared of all wrongdoing, but a British military family is still looking for answers.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


COOPER: A terrible tragedy.

Still ahead on 360, the sky lit up. So did 911 switchboards. What people in two states say they saw.

Plus, the race for '08 is heating up.

She's for abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. So is he. Will the GOP really follow a Republican who thinks like Hillary Clinton? Some early answers ahead on 360.


COOPER: Rudy Giuliani took a big step towards a run for the White House yesterday, adding his name to what is becoming a long list of potential presidential candidates.

And according to a new CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential Primary Poll, Mr. Giuliani's running neck and neck with John McCain. Twenty-eight percent of Republican primary voters say McCain is their choice for the nomination; 27 percent would pick Giuliani.

On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Clinton leads the pack at 35 percent, followed by Barack Obama at 21 percent.

Besides name recognition, of course, there's one thing that the front runners for both parties have in common. They're not conservative.

CNN's Candy Crowley reports.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Start naming names in the top tier of Republican presidential candidates and somewhere you will hear a conservative object.

Rudy Giuliani for a woman's right to choose, gay unions and gun licensing.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have a Giuliani who is pro abortion, who is for gun control, is pro homosexual, stacked up against Hillary Clinton who is pro gun control, pro abortion, pro homosexual, for redefining marriage, what's the difference?

CROWLEY: Mitt Romney, for a woman's right to choose until a relatively recent conversion.

ROMNEY: He's saying a lot of the right things, but, you know, a lot of things coming out about him that are troubling, it's -- it appears that maybe his campaign, his whole cycle could be like a Chinese water torture. I mean, one news item drips out after another and it's going to drive people crazy.

CROWLEY: And though anti-abortion, John McCain favors some legal rights for same-sex couples, but he draws fire from the right for seeking compromise on Senate battles over judges and authoring campaign reform that limits third-party advertising.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The McCain-Feingold bill kept us from telling the truth right before elections. And there are a lot of other things. And I pray that we won't get stuck with him.

CROWLEY: The top three Republican candidates for president and not a purist among them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there is some anxiety among Republicans that there are problems with each one of these candidates.

CROWLEY: The objections are less vocal about Mitt Romney than about McCain or Giuliani. But talk with conservatives in South Carolina, and you will hear Romney between the lines.

State Senator Kevin Bryant backs Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, he's a true conservative. He's the same now as he was several years ago. We see a very clear, constant record on the conservative issues.

CROWLEY: It is an article of faith that no Republican candidate can get through the primary season without the support of social conservatives. It helps explain Senator McCain's attempts to patch up relations with Jerry Falwell after a nasty dispute in 2000. And it explains why Rudy Giuliani touts other parts of his resume and why Mitt Romney explains.

ROMNEY: On abortion, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way. But like him, I learned with experience.

CROWLEY: Conservatives insist there is no way the party will ever nominate a candidate who favors abortion rights. To do so, says one, is to invite a third party.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, we'll see what happens on that.

Up next on 360, it wasn't a bird or a plane. What was it, though?

A strange sight in the sky lights up emergency switchboards.


OPERATOR: 911 what is your emergency?

CALLER: Yeah, I just saw something explode in the sky and it was traveling eastbound. It exploded in the sky, and it kept trailing a ball of flame that was going east.


COOPER: What on earth did they see? Decide for yourself, ahead on 360.


COOPER: It's happened again. Perfectly normal people in two states who all say they saw a UFO. Some of them called 911, others took pictures. The only thing we know for sure tonight is what they saw was not a plane crash.

CNN's Gary Tuchman investigates.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a partly cloudy late January night near Charlotte, North Carolina.

CHARLES MILLER, UFO WITNESS: I saw a greenish blue glare coming in from the southeast. I tried to catch a picture of it as it passed over the house.

TUCHMAN: The world is full of people who see strange things in the sky and for whatever reason, don't take a picture.

(On camera): So this is the camera you used?

MILLER: That's it.

TUCHMAN: And you were afraid it wasn't going to work?

MILLER: Well, it's about five years obsolete.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But it did work and this is what Charles Miller, who doesn't want his face shown on camera, says he saw in the sky.

MILLER: From the first time I saw it until I lost it was perhaps 45 seconds, and that crossed the entire sky.

TUCHMAN: As it turns out, Miller was not the only person who saw it.

OPERATOR: 911 what is your emergency?

CALLER: Yeah, I just saw something explode in the sky and it was traveling eastbound.

TUCHMAN: 911 operators were busy that night.

CALLER: It exploded in the sky, and it kept trailing a ball of flame that was going east.

CALLER: I just, looked like I saw an airplane was in trouble just north of Mooresville, looked like it was taking a nose dive, like something was on fire.

TUCHMAN: Meanwhile, two days later on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, another unusual object, this one actually shot by a TV station's camera.

PETER HOLLINGWORTH, UFO WITNESS: At first it was coming in, then it turned, and then it went out.

TUCHMAN: Peter Hollingworth was surfing with his 12-year-old son when they saw the fireball like object.

HOLLINGWORTH: Well, I was a little concerned. I told him, come over here and sit with me. This might be the last surf session we ever have together, because this thing's coming straight for Honolulu.

TUCHMAN: The National Weather Service saw nothing out of the ordinary on its radar. So there are those who think these episodes are literally from out of this world.

The North Carolina incident occurred near a nuclear power plant.

GEORGE LUND, MUTUAL UFO NETWORK: They think that they're coming in that area maybe to feed off some of the energy that that plant is producing.

TUCHMAN: But in the North Carolina mountains at the Appalachian State University Observatory, the feeling is it's all a lot more mundane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've concluded it was just a very bright meteor or fireball, boli (ph), perhaps.

TUCHMAN: A boli (ph), is a fireball like meteor, ranging in size from a pebble to several kilometers in diameter. They frequently enter the earth's atmosphere, but are hardly ever seen by the average person looking at the sky. Which doesn't seem to explain episodes like this past November at Chicago's O'Hare airport, when a gray object was viewed by many hovering over the terminals. Nevertheless, as far as the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors goes...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Until it sits down on the White House lawn and CNN is there, I won't believe it.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Perhaps there will come a day when one of us from CNN will interview a visitor from another world and we'll put him, her or it on television and that will settle everything.

But for now, while these stories are interesting, they settle nothing.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Wilkes County, North Carolina.


COOPER: Well, earlier tonight, I spoke to Joe Nickell, from "Skeptical Enquirer Magazine" to get some perspective on these kind of sightings.


COOPER: So Joe, we just heard one astronomer say that this was most likely a boli (ph), which is a fireball like meteor. Do you agree with that? What do you think that those people in North Carolina were seeing?

JOE NICKELL, "SKEPTICAL INQUIRER MAGAZINE": Yes, I think that's right, Anderson. If you look at the details of the different reports, you find that people are describing something that lasted only about 10 seconds, maybe 15 seconds. Most of them describe something greenish or bright green light. These are things consistent with boli (ph) or popularly is called a fireball, meteor.

COOPER: About a month ago, though, there was a meteorite which crashed into a home in New Jersey and they actually found it and saved it and we're seeing some video of that. If what happened in North Carolina was a meteor, wouldn't something have been found?

NICKELL: Not necessarily. Some of these are the size of a grain of sand. They're just closer to us. And they emit a lot of light and there's nothing left on re-entry.

I would say that if what was seen over North Carolina was an extraterrestrial craft, the bad news is it probably burned up on entry and I would advise the extraterrestrials to retool and refigure visiting the planet earth.

COOPER: There's something like, I don't know, 4 billion meteors falling to earth every day. And I know we're actually about to show some video of a meteor shower in Colorado which took place last month.

Could something like that be mistaken for a UFO? I mean, I guess often they are. NICKELL: Absolutely they are. Fifty years ago at Kelly, Kentucky, a famous case, people saw what were almost certainly parts of a meteor shower. They are common. There are several meteor showers, famous ones throughout the year. The Perseid (ph), the Lleonid shower.

But you can see a meteor really any time every day. And under the right conditions, people will see them. And if they doesn't know what they are, they're quite surprising and they think they're a UFO from another planet.

COOPER: What about the UFO in Hawaii? Any idea what that could have been?

NICKELL: Well, the video sequence I saw just looked like a contrail, the vapor trail from an airplane. I'm mystified that anybody is mystified by it. But maybe they have some other videos I haven't seen, but.

COOPER: But the video we're seeing right now certainly does look like a vapor trail.

NICKELL: It did to me. So I'm in search of a mystery there.

COOPER: Have you ever seen anything that you think could be extraterrestrial life?

NICKELL: Well, I've seen UFOs myself a few times. But I was able to relegate those to IFOs, identified flying objects, pretty soon. I once saw a search light beacon on a low cloud layer. Another time, I saw a multicolor display of lights. It was just very unusual. And it took me a while to figure out it was an advertising plane.

But we see these things in the sky and because we have no reference point, we don't know how big they are, therefore, we don't know how high they are, therefore, we don't know how fast they're going.

And so, under the right conditions, any one of us can be mystified. But the important point, I think, Anderson, is that we mustn't say that because we don't know what it is, that, therefore, we do know what it is, that it's an extraterrestrial craft. We just don't know in a given instance. I would say the bottom line is that there's no evidence that any of these are a threat to the planet earth.

COOPER: Well, Joe, if there's ever -- you come across something you can't figure out what it is, give us a call and let us know.

NICKELL: You'll be the second person I call.

COOPER: Who is the first?

NICKELL: My wife.

COOPER: All right. Fair enough. Joe, thanks. NICKELL: Okay, Anderson.

COOPER: She'll no doubt be pleased.

It is February. Of course, it's supposed to be cold, but not this cold. Millions are suffering through subzero temperatures.

The latest on the frigid weather, next.


COOPER: A special program note. Tomorrow night, militants whose war against big oil companies in Africa might one day cost you big at the pump.


COOPER (voice-over): Those boats are speeding across the twisted waterways of the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. On board, men in black, rebels heavily armed. Their mysterious leader, Jumo (ph), invited us to witness what they call their magic powers and their might and their battle for control of a great treasure, the vast oil deposit beneath these waters.

The rebels believe bullets can't harm them, while they killed a Nigerian military at will. They see themselves as Robin Hood, trying to take oil money back to give to the people.

Tomorrow night, "Secrets of the Delta: Sea of Oil Rivers of Blood."

Once again Randi Kaye joins us right now with a 360 bulletin" -- Randi.

KAYE: Hi there, again, Anderson. A frank admission from the Iraqi leader. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says efforts to stop the surging violence in Baghdad have been slow.

Appearing on national TV, al-Maliki vowed the crackdown against insurgents in the capital is stepping up. His message comes just two days after a bombing at a Baghdad market that killed at least 137 people.

Here in the U.S., only the barest letup from the deep freeze. Much of the Midwest and Northeast are still in the grips of that Arctic blast. Many areas are being hit with below zero temperatures. The frigid cold is prompting dozens of communities in several states to close schools.

In West Virginia, what might have been a deadly railroad accident. A train shipping chlorine gas, propane and other hazardous chemicals went off the tracks early this morning. The derailment led to a mandatory evacuation of about 300 people in the town of Hanley. But tonight residents are being allowed back inside their homes. Also tonight CSX hopes to have the scene cleared up and the track reopened by tomorrow. And a mega lawsuit for a mega chain. Today, a federal court cleared the way for more than 1 million women suing Wal-Mart. It is the largest sexual discrimination case in American history. The women say the company was biased against them and they were denied better pay simply because of their gender -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Randi, thanks.

Tomorrow on "American Morning," mysteries of the brain. One man's bizarre case of amnesia has doctors stumped. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last thing I remember from that morning is feeling very ill. I don't know where I was or what I was doing.


COOPER: It is a rare form of memory loss. Doctors want to know what causes it and if it could happen to others. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the story tomorrow on "American Morning," beginning at 6:00 a.m., Eastern.

And a reminder, we want you to help us keep them honest. If there's a wrong that needs to be made right in your community, tell us about it at

"LARRY KING" is next, with more on the arrest of Astronaut Lisa Nowak.

See you tomorrow.