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CNN Live Saturday

Learning More About Thwarted British Terror Plot; May Chidiac Interview; Bush Speaks with Siniora

Aired August 12, 2006 - 12:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: At the half past the hour, here's what's happening right now. British police raid Internet cafes in and around London, all part of the investigation into an alleged airline terror plot.
Meanwhile, airline passengers endure another day of tight security, long lines and big delays.

Israeli troops forged deep interior Lebanon on foot, in tanks, and by air. Israel littered Beirut with leaflets calling on Lebanon to get rid of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. So far today, at least 48 Hezbollah rockets have landed in northern Israel. This is the 32nd day of fighting in the war.

Lebanon's cabinet meets today to discuss a U.N. resolution to end the fighting in the Middle East. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Lebanon will accept the accord. Israel's cabinet will meet tomorrow. Israeli officials say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will recommend approval.

U.S. immigration agents are still searching for two students from Egypt who failed to show up for classes at Montana State University. Agents arrested three other Egyptian students last night in Iowa, and six earlier.

And the U.S. Coast Guard plucks 40 people floating in life rafts near a burning ship off Grand Isle, Louisiana. Two of them were flown to hospitals by helicopters. The passengers abandoned ship when their efforts to put out an engine fire failed.

And here's what we know right now in the alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners with liquid explosives. Twenty-three suspects still in custody and undergoing interrogation in Britain. Another suspect has been released. Authorities say a memo suggests the planned bombings may have been just days away.

And there's now word the alleged plot was foiled with help from a member of Britain's Muslim community. a British intelligence official says that person contacted authorities after noticing that an acquaintance was acting suspiciously.

At airports across Britain and the U.S., extraordinary security measures remain in place. All carry-on bags are still banned in Britain and at American airports, a near total ban on liquids in carry-on luggage still in effect. We're learning more and more about what British authorities say was a major terrorist plot to blow up passenger jets bound for the United States. Is the fact that the plot wasn't carried out an indication the U.S. and its allies might be winning in the war on terror?

Joining us with his take on this is Peter Rundlet. He is with the Center for American Progress, and is a former councilmember for the 9/11 Commission. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So this has to be quite encouraging no matter which side, you know, of the pond you're on in terms of the anti-terror efforts that these British authorities got the cooperation from the member of the general public, a tip about a suspecting acquaintance.

RUNDLET: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: A suspicious acquaintance.

RUNDLET: Absolutely. I think that what this tells us is that despite the fortification we've made in airports around the country, despite all the money we've spent on some of the homeland security measures we've taken, at the end of the day, good intelligence -- and that involves having good relations with community members -- is what is really going to save us.

You know, if these guys didn't come forward and let us know about this plot and they had moved forward to get into the airports, I feel no sense of confidence that the technology we now have in place would have stopped them from succeeding.

WHITFIELD: Wow, so what, perhaps, can U.S. anti-terror authorities learn from the kind of relationship that British authorities have built with the community? Now, granted, you know, Great Britain has a lot more experience at this, given that they've dealt with a host of terrorism attacks over many, many years.

But what perhaps can the U.S. learn about forging this better relationship, having the cooperation of the general public? Because, as you underscore, that means more almost than any kind of technology we or any country can have.

RUNDLET: Well, what I hope we learn from this is that we need to look at the priorities we have in the war on terror and where we're spending our resources. As you may know, the American for American Progress, together with "Foreign Policy Magazine," did a survey of more than 100 national security experts to ask the question whether we're winning or losing the war on terror.

And we were surprised that across the political perspective, there was general unanimity in the response, and that is that we are losing the war on terror. And we probed them further to ask, you know, what we can be doing differently. The number one thing that they said was reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We were surprised by that result.

The number two thing was improve intelligence. We spend a lot of money on homeland security technology, and I think that's an important thing for us to do, but when you look at the numbers we've spent there compared with what we've spend, say, on the war in Iraq, really I think we have misplaced priorities.

We need to invest in new technology and we really need to invest in our intelligence community and that means seeking those people that look like terrorists, that can speak the language of the terrorists, and that can integrate in those communities so they can help us track these down in advance.

WHITFIELD: So does this mean you're learning from these kinds of stories, these kinds of questions or studies, questions being asked that perhaps it's naive to think that the U.S. is winning the war on terror, given there hasn't been an terror attack on U.S. soil in five years?

RUNDLET: Well, I think we can all celebrate the fact that we have not had an attack in the last five years, but it's important to remember that the first attack on the World Trade Center was in 1993. And in the ensuing eight years we did almost nothing of real consequence and very visibly to prevent a future attack and eight years later, we saw 9/11.

So I'm very gratified that we haven't had another attack. I hope very much that we never have another one. But our national security experts are very concerned about this. Seventy-nine percent of them said that the United States is likely to see on attack on the scale of 9/11 within five years. Seventy-nine percent thought we would see that within five years.

WHITFIELD: So how encouraging is it to you to now hear that post this foiling of this trans-Atlantic terror plot that now the U.S. is talking about hiring more government screeners, coming up and quickly putting into place more sophisticated screening machines, technology, while these kinds of liquids certainly couldn't be detected through the kind of technology that we're talking about, how much more important is it to have more screeners? How much more secure are we making it?

RUNDLET: Well it would be very difficult for us to say that we should not be doing this. I think that as a tactical, short-term response it makes a lot of sense. You know, there are bigger questions to ask and those include why would something like 20 or 21 British-born citizens decide to take this kind of action against us? And how can we win the war of ideas to prevent this from happening?

So certainly we need to improve our technology, hire more screeners, make sure that we keep the air traffic system efficient here, but we have a broader battle that we need to do better at.

WHITFIELD: So how do you invest resources in really trying to get to the bottom of answering that question? Why is it that these British-born citizens would be so compelled to wanted to punish people for enjoying certain liberties when, since they were born in Britain, they've been enjoying them, too?

RUNDLET: That's an excellent question, and one I think we need to spend a lot of time working on answering properly. When we asked that question to our national security experts, they overwhelmingly say we need to reduce the expenditures we're putting in the Department of Defense and military approach and really look at some of the efforts of the State Department through diplomacy, through some of our public outreach, through some of our foreign assistance and seek new ways of winning this long-term war on terror.

WHITFIELD: Now, you mentioned that the 93 World Trade Center plot, and then eight years later, we've got 9/11. How much has been learned from not just those incidents, but perhaps even the 1992 incident we're talking about a very similar trans-Atlantic airline plot to blow up these airlines in the skies over the Pacific? You know, do you think that we are learning from these plots, whether they be actually executed or not?

RUNDLET: Well, Fredricka, that's an excellent question because the 9/11 Commission, as you know, said that September 11 really was a failure of imagination for U.S. authorities. But what we saw this week was not a failure of imagination, but possibly a failure to read history, because as you implied in 1994 and 1995, Ramzi Yousef was involved in what was then called the Bojinka Plot to blow up something like a dozen airliners over the Pacific Ocean.

That plot fell apart because they had an explosion in the apartment where they were mixing chemicals and the plot was uncovered. It should have been a warning to us that this sort of thing could take place. And, again, I'm gratified to the British authorities and the Pakistani authorities for working together to stop this plot.

WHITFIELD: Peter Rundlet, Center for American Progress and former council for the 9/11 Commission, thanks so much for your time.

RUNDLET: Thank you for having me.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: And this just in. According to the Associated Press, Israeli radio reports that some Israeli troops have reached the Litani River in Lebanon. This is part of an expanded offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas. A top Israeli army official is telling us this Litani, roughly 20 kilometers or 13 miles north of the border between Israel and Lebanon, is the line behind which Hezbollah is expected to withdraw under a U.N. resolution to end a month-old war now.

The Israeli defense force is scheduled to have a live news conference at 1:00 p.m. CNN will take that live and bring you the very latest on the frontlines. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: In the Middle East, May Chidiac is a famous journalist and so much more. She lost a leg and part of her arm in an assassination attack. Now, after months of grueling therapy, she's finally returning to her career.

Brent Sadler has more on this remarkable woman.


BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): To many in the world, this woman is a huge television news star. To millions of viewers, a kind of Barbara Walters of the Middle East, always strong- willed, often making enemies.

On her talk shows in Lebanon, May Chidiac fearlessly trampled on leaders, if not nations. The target of her scorn was Lebanon's powerful neighbor, Syria, which was suspected of several assassinations in Lebanon. All of the victims had been vocal critics of Syria. And so now, after a murderous act, some wonder if May Chidiac's Syria show struck too deeply.

MAY CHIDIAC, TV ANCHOR: I heard a blast and I felt it at the same time. I was still awake. I saw like a black snow falling over me.

SADLER: A bomb ripped through Chidiac's SUV. Somehow, she crawled away, her hair ablaze, her body sliced to sleds.

CHIDIAC: I saw my hand attached to my arm with a small piece of skin, but so I hoped that they could save my hand.

SADLER: In fact, Chidiac would lose her hand and half of her arm. The bomb also tore away most of her left leg. Terrible burns and shrapnel wounds cover much of her body.

CHIDIAC: I still have pieces of metal in the face, near the cheek here and all over my body.

SADLER: She says now there are times when she's wondered if death would have been better.

(on camera): You can't always be so upbeat. There must be times when you feel despair?

CHIDIAC: Of course. There is times when I feel despair, there's times when I cry, when I feel pain, a lot of pain.

SADLER: For months, Chidiac's been subjected to grueling physical therapy at a special rehabilitation center near Paris.

CHIDIAC: He's putting so much pressure on me. He's making me crazy.

SADLER: When the pain is too much, she says, she imagines the bomber who nearly killed her. And to overcome the pain, she says, is to defy him.

CHIDIAC: I imagine I have the enemy in front of me and I have to kick him.

SADLER: Her bomber, she imagines, is Syria, suspecting her sharp tongue went too far.

SADLER: No proof, just our guessing. But you know who is the enemy in Lebanon for the time being? It's Syria, and we were people talking against Syria.

SADLER: Chidiac was fighting then, she says, and vows the attack will not deter her when she returns to the screen.

CHIDIAC: Never. It won't be me. It won't be me. I'm a fighter.

SADLER: She is learning literally how to rewire herself, how to get her brain and her remaining damaged muscles to control a new prosthetic hand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentle. Close. Wow. Wow.

CHIDIAC: I think some angels are protecting me. And I hope they will keep on doing that.

SADLER: May Chidiac, who may have paid dearly for her strong voice, vows to prove she will not be silenced every step of the way.

CHIDIAC: Hey! The first time I do it.

SADLER: Brent Sadler, CNN, Valentin (ph), Paris.


WHITFIELD: And recently I spoke with May Chidiac about her return to work.


WHITFIELD: What is it like to be back in the saddle now?

CHIDIAC: I'm so happy to be back. And in a way or another when I was attacked, some friends told me that I was still alive because I have some message to accomplish in this life and maybe I'm back here in Lebanon now to get back to my work and to pronounce myself and to express what I really feel, and to have a show taking in consideration the Lebanese interests and not some party's interest.

WHITFIELD: But do you feel like you've changed that message? Because wasn't it your message which helped make you the target?

CHIDIAC: I'm not afraid. I have faith. I believe in God and I consider that when it will be my time, whatever has to happen will happen. So if I will lose my courage, I won't be the same again.

WHITFIELD: You have a pretty good feeling about who attacked you. And B, if your attackers felt that they were to silence you, just listening to you now and listening to your passion and your vigor in your point of view, do you feel like did anything but silence you, but instead further fueled you? CHIDIAC: Nothing is able to silence me. I'm not the kind of person who can be silenced, because whenever I'm convinced with my goals, I defend it to the last moment of my life. They tried to attack me, they tried to silence me, but they didn't success -- they didn't have any success in it. They tried to silence me by killing me.

I lost my arm, I lost my leg. I lost my hearing in the left ear, but I still have the same head, I still have the same tongue. And I consider I have mission to accomplish.

WHITFIELD: And so you know who they ...

CHIDIAC: And if I lose my courage, I won't continue. I will not have any reason to convince myself that I have to stay alive to defend the cause I believe in.

WHITFIELD: What are your worries or concerns about Lebanon and all of this taking place at the same time that you are now returning to your profession?

CHIDIAC: I'm afraid for my country. In the beginning, what happened right now -- all the foreigners are trying -- the neighbors, to be more clear -- are trying to have again the words to say in the internal problem. And this is what we don't want anymore because we've had enough of all of our neighbors.

WHITFIELD: Are you concerned that an internal problem will also result from this U.N. resolution that France and U.S. have already signed off on but Lebanon and Israel are already saying they don't see it as being very hopeful?

CHIDIAC: It's normal. They don't see helpful -- they don't see it as a helpful resolution, because it's not working for the whole interest of Israel, and for the whole interest of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. And you know, if the Lebanese government take a position against the will of the Hezbollah, it will make a big internal problem, but things are getting better.

If we keep on having pressure on the different parties to force them to apply a cease-fire, to respect it, maybe then they will finish by accepting the U.N. resolution, because since it's a United Nations resolution, they have to accept it.

They don't have any other choice, but we hope that it will be in the interest of Lebanon, the whole Lebanon, and not in the interest of one party in Lebanon and not in the interest of only Israel.

WHITFIELD: May Chidiac, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

CHIDIAC: Thank you.


WHITFIELD: My conversation with the Lebanese broadcaster before yesterday's U.N. vote accepting the Middle East cease-fire resolution. We'll be right back with more of CNN LIVE SATURDAY.



WHITFIELD: More now on that conversation between President Bush and the Lebanese prime minister now that the U.N. has voted on a cease-fire for the Middle East.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president and is in Crawford, Texas -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, of course, President Bush getting involved very directly in this high stakes diplomacy to try to get everybody on board with the U.N. Security Council resolution as well as the Israelis and the Lebanese.

We have learned from U.S. officials that President Bush reached out -- he is the one who initiated the call -- to Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora this morning about 8:15 Eastern Standard Time from the Crawford ranch. The two leaders spoke for about eight minutes, very briefly, but U.S. officials saying it was a very important call.

It comes at the time when the Lebanese government, the cabinet looking at that U.N. Security Council resolution today. President Bush in the call emphasizing, stressing, the need to dismantle Hezbollah's state within an in order to build Lebanese democracy. He also expressed his view that Iran and Syria were arming Hezbollah in order to exert unwanted influence over Lebanon.

So again, Fred, those two leaders talking this morning, certainly hoping to push forward that U.N. Security Council resolution, one that will be acceptable to Israel as well as Lebanon -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Perhaps a very hopeful start. Thanks so much, Suzanne Malveaux in Crawford, Texas.

We'll have a look at the top stories coming up next. Then "IN THE MONEY." We'll be right back.