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American Morning

Domestic Spying; Fugitive Captured; "Time" Persons of the Year

Aired December 19, 2005 - 07:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. military confirms it has released a group of former officials who served under Saddam Hussein. The prisoners were classified as high valued detainees. Some of them had been in custody since the Iraq invasion in March of 2003. Officials say they're being let go because they're no longer under investigation. It's part of an ongoing review process.
We have new word this morning that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be release from the hospital on Tuesday. He suffered a minor stroke. That's according to the Associated Press. The Israeli prime minister has been undergoing tests. Doctors say his condition is good and he's continuing to improve. He was reportedly joking around with family members and government officials.

A U.S. Supreme Court and milestone to tell you about. It's been three decades since Justice John Paul Stevens sat on the bench. The World War II hero wears bow ties. You can see that there. And he considers Babe Ruth one of his heroes. He also earned the name Maverick for a liberal streak on capital punishment and gay rights. Stevens turns 86 in April and he has given no signal that he plans to retire any time soon.

Back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Carol, thank you very much.

There is some growing outrage over secret wire taps and it seems to have forced the president's hand a little bit. The White House would not talk about the issue on Friday, but on Saturday, the president was going public in a live, rare, radio address. Let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: National Security Agency after September 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibility and authorities.


O'BRIEN: Alberto Gonzales is the U.S. attorney general and he joins us from the White House this morning.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: Did you advise the president that it was within his rights to go ahead and approve these wire taps without a court order, sir?

GONZALES: There were many people, many lawyers within the administration who advised the president that he had an inherent authority as commander in chief under the Constitution to engage in these kind of signals, intelligence of our enemy. We also believe that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following the attacks of September 11th, constituted additional authorization for the president to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying that the Congress's vote to go ahead and use force was essentially an OK as well to wire tap people in the United States?

GONZALES: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Soledad, provides that you must get a court order to engage in electronic surveillance. But the type that the president talked about on Saturday, except as otherwise authorized by Congress. We believe that other authorization by Congress exists in the authorization to use military force that was passed by the Congress in the days following the attacks of September 11th, yes.

O'BRIEN: You mentioned that FISA, or the Federal Intelligence Security Act, and the other option, getting a warrant. Why not go either of those two routes? If you want the secret court, go the first way. And if you want to get a warrant, get a warrant?

GONZALES: Well, of course, as I've indicated, we're only required to get a court order to engage in this kind of surveillance if we're not otherwise authorized by Congress. We think that we were given permission under the authority to use military force. But in terms of why not use the authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we continue to use those authorities, they're very important in the war on terror.

But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed in 1978 and there have been tremendous changes in technology since then. And what the folks at the NSA tell me is that we do not have the speed and the agility in all cases to deal with this new kind of threat under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and that's why we believe and the president believes that these authorities are necessary in order to effectively defend this country against another attack by al Qaeda.

O'BRIEN: So two points then. You think that the Foreign Intelligence Service Act does not go far enough? It's not fast enough, a secret court? Is that what you're saying?

GONZALES: I'm told by the operational folks at the National Security Agency that we do not have the speed and the agility in all cases, in every circumstance, to deal with this new kind of threat. And as I've said before, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is a very important tool. We continue to utilize it when we can to deal with this new kind of threat and this new kind of war.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure you recognize that there are plenty of congressmen and women and senators who say, they had no intention when they authorized the use of force to go ahead and authorize any kind of wiretapping by the president without going through the courts or going through this other act, as you mentioned. What would you say to them?

GONZALES: Well, what I would say to them is that, the authority by the Congress was the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force. And a very important aspect of engaging in war against the enemy is to engage in signal intelligence. Signal intelligence means that we have to know what our enemy is doing.

We can't go into a war blindly. We've engaged in signal intelligence beginning with the Civil War and through all the conflicts since then. This is a very important aspect of engaging in the war. We do believe that that would constitute the authority by the Congress to engage in this kind of surveillance.

O'BRIEN: Less of a question, though, of whether or not signal intelligence is necessary and more of a question of whether the president has the authority to work around the courts and sort of, as some would see it, unilaterally make the decision without getting any kind of court approval.

Back in 1972, as I'm well aware you know, the Supreme Court ruled that President Nixon could not do the same thing, go ahead and wire tap by virtue of the fact that he's the president. How is this case different than that?

GONZALES: Well, one key difference is that the statute itself, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act statute, requires that we can do so without a court order, engage in this kind of electronic surveillance, if otherwise approved by Congress and through another statute. And we believe that Congress has done so in this particular case.

We also, quite frankly, Soledad, I mean, we continue to believe that the president has the inherent authority, under the Constitution's commander in chief, to engage in this kind of conduct. But that's a secondary argument. We believe the Congress has authorized this kind of conduct.

And we understand the concern that have been raised by certain members of Congress. As the president indicated on Saturday, we have reached certain key members of Congress from the beginning of this program about what we're doing and the justifications for what we're doing.

And we didn't brief other members of Congress because of the importance of keeping this program classified as much as possible. We will, in the days to come, sit down with members of Congress and try to provide information to reassure them that the president of the United States is utilizing these tools in a lawful manner, in a way that ensures that the civil liberties of all Americans are protected.

O'BRIEN: So you'd be fine with a hearing, as some of the Democratic leadership is calling for, to investigate this more fully?

GONZALES: Well, we, obviously, want to provide information to the Congress about what we're doing to reassure them, what we're doing is lawful. But we want to also do so in a way that doesn't compromise this program. The president did acknowledge the existence of the program, but many operational aspects of the program remain highly classified.

This still remains a very valuable tool. It would be harmful to the United States if we lost this tool entirely. And so as we communicate with the Congress, we need to do so in a way that does not jeopardize or compromise this very valuable tool in the war against terrorism.

O'BRIEN: Alberto Gonzales is the U.S. attorney general. Thank you for talking with us, sir. Appreciate it.

GONZALES: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Let's shift gears a little bit now and talk about the weather. Bonnie Schneider's standing by at the CNN Center with the very latest on the weather update.

Good morning, Bonnie.


SANCHEZ: Still to come here on AMERICAN MORNING, those famous Nielsen ratings that mean the world to television executives. Are they about to change forever? And how will that change what you watch?

O'BRIEN: And a man accused of a violent sex crime here in New York is now in police custody. This morning, we talk to the people who helped capture this fugitive. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: I saw Cicely Tyson the other day.

SANCHEZ: Did you?

O'BRIEN: Up at the - when Oprah Winfrey, "The Color Purple," the whole big shindig.


O'BRIEN: She looks like a million dollars. She's 72 today. Good for her. Happy birthday Cicely.

SERWER: And I saw her in that movie "A Dog Called Winn-Dixie" last -- this year, I think.

O'BRIEN: Oh, right, the movie. You're still talking about that movie months later.

SERWER: I loved that movie. I'm just -- it just -- it moved me!

SANCHEZ: Really?

SERWER: Because of Winn-Dixie.

SANCHEZ: So you would see that but not "King Kong"? That says something about you.

SERWER: I didn't know how it ended. I didn't know how the dog . . .

O'BRIEN: Yes. It says he has small children is what it says.

SERWER: That's exactly right.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about changes to Nielsen, maybe, the TV rating system.

SERWER: That's right. And in this business, Soledad, they say it's all about the ratings. And the company that does the ratings is Nielsen media research. And for years they've measured exactly how many people watch our television program, and now they will track what consumers are watching using DVRs.

Up to now, if you had a DVR and they wanted to put you in their sample, forget it, they couldn't do it. But now they're going to start to include people who have DVRs. Only 7 percent of nation's 110 million households with TVs have DVRs, like Tivo. But by 2007, it's estimated that 25 percent of American households will.

So now Nielson will track viewers three ways, whether they watch the show live, whether they watch the show within 24 hours or whether they watch a show within one week. I was surprised to find out, you guys, though, that the Nielsen rating universe is only 9,000 families.

O'BRIEN: So it's tiny.


SERWER: And if you do that out of 110 million, that's 1/100th of 1 percent.

O'BRIEN: High standard of deviation (INAUDIBLE).

SERWER: I mean, that's amazing. So, and, of course, no bars, no gyms, no health clubs, no offices. They don't do anything like that.

SANCHEZ: That's where they watch us!


SANCHEZ: The bars and the gyms!

SERWER: Everywhere! The bars. Are there bars open still? No. O'BRIEN: Andy "Minding Your Business" this morning. Thank you, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

SANCHEZ: Still to come, this year's "Time" magazine person of the year. Could it be persons? Yes, three, Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates. Charm, on money and rock 'n' roll. How do you put those all together to create this year's persons of the year? We'll tell you next. We'll talk to "Times" editor.


O'BRIEN: A man who was suspected of posing as a firefighter and sexually assaulting a New York City woman will be arraigned in Memphis today. Peter Braunstein was arrested on Friday. It was a seven-week manhunt. Well, joining us this morning are the people who helped catch him, Patrolman Jay Johnson of the University of Memphis Police. He captured Braunstein. And Annette Brown. He's a student and an employee of the University of Memphis and she is the person who first spotted him.

It's nice to have you both. Thank you for talking with us.



O'BRIEN: Annette, let's begin with you this morning. What made Peter Braunstein stick out to you?

BROWN: His eyes. I recall seeing the many profiles on TV and, you know, that stood out.

O'BRIEN: So you had been following this story. You knew he was a guy who was missing and wanted here in New York for a fairly vicious crime. You spotted his eyes. First, was he doing anything suspicious?

BROWN: He was looking down, deliberately trying to avoid making any eye contact. And it wasn't until he got on the sidewalk and was close enough to me where I could touch him where he looked up and -- into my eyes and I immediately recognized who he was.

O'BRIEN: So you knew suddenly. OK, here's a guy who's accused of a very vicious crime. Were you fearful for your own safety?

BROWN: Oh, most definitely. I was talking on my cell phone to my sister and when he came across the street and so his face looked somewhat familiar, although he was looking down. But it wasn't until he got close enough to me in passing where he slowly looked up into my eyes because I guess I was staring at him so hard, you know, that, you know, it struck me that this was the guy that was on "America's Most Wanted" and the media had been talking about he was a wanted man and I was very afraid for my life. O'BRIEN: So what did you do?

BROWN: I continued talking on the cell phone. I cannot tell you what I said from then on because my coherent conversation went from that to babbling, you know? I was basically trying to keep up the illusion that I was talking to my sister, still talking to my sister, although I don't know what I was saying. I just wanted him to get away from me.

O'BRIEN: I know you flagged down Officer Johnson. We're going to let him pick up the story now.

OK. So Annette comes running over and tells you, I've spotted the guy. There he is right there. Did you know immediately who she was talking about, sir?

JOHNSON: Well, she didn't flag down me, she flagged down one of my fellow officers and he put out a broadcast and the dispatcher put out a broadcast and she had told the dispatcher that she had seen this guy on "America's Most Wanted." I saw something on the news right before I came to work that morning about the same guy. And I went to the scene where she was at. I heard more of her description. I started looking for the guy. Less than an hour later, I see the guy walking down the street, fit the description that she gave to the tee. He had a black backpack on and a brown sleeping bag rolled up tied underneath the backpack just like she had described.

O'BRIEN: And you confronted him. And what happened?

JOHNSON: He turned around and saw me and I ordered him to stop. I wanted to talk to him. I told him I wanted to talk to him. He looked at me like, no way. He didn't say anything. He crossed the street right in front of me.

I turned my blue lights on, got out of the car. He reached -- looked like he was pulling out a weapon. I drew my pistol. He continued to walk away. He was having trouble pulling it out and, finally, he pulled out a knife and he stopped and he turned and he faced me and he held it up.

I felt like he was threatening me. I warned him to drop the knife or I would shoot him. He then put the knife up to his neck and he began stabbing himself in the neck. At that time, I had already called for a backup, said that he had a knife and that he was stabbing himself.

I sprayed him in the face with pepper gas. He had a blank expression on his face. It looked like the pepper gas had no effect. He even put the knife in his neck. He was stabbing himself deeply in the neck and it -- he didn't wince. He did it several times.

He turned and walked away, continuing to stab himself. I was ordering him to stop. He went about 50 feet and just stopped on his own and he dropped the knife and he turned and looked at me and says, OK, I give up, real calm. I ran up, kicked the knife out of way. I told him to get down on the ground. And he laid face down on the ground, complied.

I asked him if he had any other weapons. He said he had a gun. At that time he started to reach in his pocket. I restrained him. I reached in his pocket, pulled out what turned out to be a black bee bee gun. Threw it over.

Backup was on the scene right at that time. I had three or four other officers, University of Memphis police officers pulled up. They handcuffed him. And from that point on, we called the ambulance and the crime scene. And that was pretty much the situation (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: Well, you have brought an end to a hunt that has been front page news here. The two of you have brought an end to that. It's been front page news here in New York City absolutely for weeks. So good work on both your parts. Jay Johnson of the University of Memphis Police, and Annette Brown a student and an employee as well. Thanks for talking with us. What an amazing story to share.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Rick.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

BROWN: You're welcome.

SANCHEZ: We're going to be talking about some of the top stories as well.

Yes, our thanks to both of you.

Meanwhile, those top stories include "Time" magazine's person or persons this year of the year. Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono. Some people are calling it a safe choice. Is it? We're going to find out what went into this decision coming up next when we talk to a "Time" editor.

Also, to splurge or not to splurge. Our own Miles O'Brien debates whether to give in to his kids' high tech wish lists. Dad's a bit of a techy himself, by the way. And that's coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back.

Who do you think should be "Time" magazine's person of the year? President Bush? Maybe members of the Katrina rebuilding team? Well, "Times" editors chose charity. And with that, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Bono. Here to talk about the choice is "Time" magazine Deputy Managing Editor Stephen Koepp, who's good enough to join us.

How did you make the decision, by the way?

STEPHEN KOEPP, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, it was a year of charity. It was a year of good Samaritans.

SANCHEZ: No, no, I mean how. Like do you guys sit around in an office singing kumbayah?

KOEPP: Well, we get suggestions from all around the world, our correspondent, they send them in. We have a big round table discussion. We argue about it and then we pick a few names that we want to start following. Some people we want to start doing some reporting on. And that's in the fall. And then we see, you know, what we're finding. And then toward the end -- toward, you know, a couple of weeks ago, we started really getting down to the brass tacks and science.

SANCHEZ: Did you get brass knuckles as well? I mean, is it tight at the end.

KOEPP: Oh, yes. Yes.

SANCHEZ: Some people arguing, well it should be that?

KOEPP: Right. Well, we also had Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush and their partnership of the year in their incredible odd couple kind of road show that they did for charity. And they were a strong pick (INAUDIBLE).

SANCHEZ: Would of made a good cover, wouldn't it?

KOEPP: Yes, it would have been good too.

SANCHEZ: So you go with Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono. Why?

KOEPP: Well, as I said, it's a year of good Samaritans. Americans -- everyday Americans gave more money than in a long time to victims of various natural disaster. But these were the people who really moved mountains and changed history in the way that people give. Bono, in using his incredible charm to persuade the rich countries of the world to forgive all kinds of debt, like to the tune of $40 billion in terms of poor countries. And the Gates in showing that you can use every dollar that you give to save a life. And when you have $29 billion in your charity, that's a lot of lives.

SANCHEZ: You could have used a lot of other people as well. I mean you could also have gone with somebody on the bad side. I mean Hillary was once "Time" magazine's person of the year, right?

KOEPP: Oh, sure, and the Ayatollah comandees.

SANCHEZ: You could of gone with Osama bin Laden.

KOEPP: Correct. Or Zarqawi, the insurgent leader. And a lot of times if we just measured based on how much ink we'd spend on somebody in a year, it would always be the president or it would be the scandal of the year. But this time we were looking for something that would really leave a legacy.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about that legacy. Bill and Melinda Gates, for example. I was reading, interestingly enough, in the article that you wrote, that they go overseas to places where many people haven't even heard of and they don't go there as the richest man in the world and his wife. They go as two people that most of those people don't even know, right?

KOEPP: Right. In fact, we asked -- they visited this one family and our reporter went in afterwards and said, did you know that the guy in the khaki pants was the richest man in the world? And she said, is doesn't really matter, any foreigner is richer than me. So, yes, they go in anonymously. They really want to see up close what their money is doing. And for him, this is his second way of changing the world.

SANCHEZ: $29 billion. Can you imagine giving $29 billion? I mean, it seems unheard of for most of us, right?

KOEPP: Right. And, in the olden days, people used to just, you know, throw money at the problem. And I think charity had a bad name in some ways, especially foreign aid.

SANCHEZ: But he's on top of it.

KOEPP: He's on top of every dollar.

SANCHEZ: Now talk about Bono. A different type of charity. He uses himself. He's a spokesperson. He's out there. And he's also a bit of a deal maker, isn't he?

KOEPP: Oh, yes, he really -- the thing that really startles you when you meet him is that he's done his homework. So when he goes behind the scenes with world leaders, he can go head-to-head on any numbers with anybody and that's a striking thing about him. Besides his amazing charm.

SANCHEZ: Well, good choices. Some people would say you guys went safe. But in the end, I think nobody can deny that it's a good choice.

KOEPP: Thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: Stephen Koepp, thanks for being here. We certainly appreciate it. Stephen Koepp, deputy managing editor, we should say, for "Time" magazine.

Soledad, back over to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks.

Still to come this morning, a pretty incredible story out of California. A clerk is held up by a robber and then fights him off with karate. We've got the video. we're going to show it to you just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. I'm Soledad O'Brien. President Bush defends the mission in Iraq on prime time. But will the higher profile time slots translate into public support. We're live at the White House this morning.