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American Morning

NSA Spying; Sloppy Arson Probes?; Vacation Cruises; Life After Work

Aired May 12, 2006 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we could learn more today about an 8-year-old Afghan boy coming to the U.S. for a life-saving heart surgery. Doctors are due to hold a news conference a little bit later today. Mohammed Omar has a hole in his heart that keeps him from running and playing. The defect was first discovered at a U.S. military hospital about a year ago. His medical costs are being paid by the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.
And listen to this, a sequel for author James Frey. Months after admitting parts of his best selling memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," are made up, the author now says significant parts of his other book, "My Friend Leonard," were also invented. The story details Frey's apparent relationship with a gangster.

And maybe, Miles, since a lot of it was invented, you could call it "My Imaginary Friend Leonard," I don't know, just a guess.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I will introduce him to my imaginary friend Harvey. That will be good, right.


M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Betty.

Many Americans are outraged this morning to learn the government is combing through their phone records. The super secret National Security Agency doing that part of an overall domestic spying effort aimed at catching terrorists. But the agency is most certainly casting a very wide net here. So wide, we wonder really how useful all that data can really be.

Patrick Radden Keefe is the author of a book called "Chatter: Dispatches From the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping." He joins us now with some insights on all this.

Patrick, can only imagine how much data this is, billions and billions of just numbers and maybe cryptic information, addresses, that kind of thing. How useful is that information?

PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE, AUTHOR, "CHATTER": Well you've got to wonder. I mean this story that came out yesterday in "USA Today" actually said that this is possibly the largest database ever compiled anywhere in the history of the world. That's great if you're looking for information. But that's a pretty big haystack to try and find a needle in.

M. O'BRIEN: Sounds like big brother.

KEEFE: It is a little bit like big brother. But I think that I would say one word on that which is that this is kind of -- you have to think of this as a mile wide and an inch deep. So it's not actually that the government is listening to our phone calls, reading our e-mails, it's that they're collecting what they call meda-data (ph), which is basically just who is making the call, where it's going, how long it is. It'd be as if you look at your phone bill every month. That's the kind of information, but they're collecting it on millions and millions of people.

M. O'BRIEN: But that kind of information can lead to obviously much deeper information. It is a good start, if you will. So walk us through it. Somehow there are certain numbers that are flagged? Is that how it works? The super computer identifies numbers or names or whatever that get extra attention, get filtered out?

KEEFE: Yes. I mean with these data mining tech programs, basically what's happening is, when the president says when al Qaeda is calling you, we want to know why. OK, so you start with al Qaeda calling someone. But then you want to know who's that person calling? Who are all of those people calling? And they actually call it spider webbing. You spider web outward from there.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, so on and on it goes and you start developing these circles that are connected in various ways. And at what point does it become -- that they step it up a notch? At what point does an eavesdrop occur, some kind of wiretapping situation?

KEEFE: Well, on the occasions when this sort of first level of sorting actually turns up somebody that you might be interested in, they do go on and look more intrusively at that person. But we also know that of the tens of thousands of tips that the NSA sent the FBI to pursue that came out of this program, fewer than 10 actually generated more substantial investigations.

M. O'BRIEN: Say that again so people get that.

KEEFE: Of the tens of thousands of tips that the NSA...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

KEEFE: ... developed from this program and...

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

KEEFE: ... gave to the FBI to go and chase down, fewer than 10 actually ended up, you know, leading to substantial investigations.

M. O'BRIEN: So billions of numbers, tens of thousands of tips and it comes down to that. So you have to ask the question, is, you know, we have paid billions of dollars for this national security apparatus that we have. Who knows how many thousands of people are employed in the service there? Can't they, you know, I mean, it seems like they're using a blunt object when they're smart enough to use a scalpel, you know. KEEFE: Well, exactly. And one of the questions here is, I mean, as one of these network scientists who looks at these kind of computer programs said to me, if you have 350,000 red flags, what's the use of having any red flags at all?

M. O'BRIEN: You're drinking from a fire hose is what you're doing.

KEEFE: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: So is it useful then? I mean, and given all of that, if it would seem to me given the civil liberties issue, you would want it to be pretty darn useful in the war on terror.

KEEFE: You would. And it's interesting, I raised the question that you just did with a former head of the NSA earlier this week, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman. And what he said is you're thinking about this all wrong. From our point of view, if you have 100,000 tips, and you can catch one terrorist, it's low yield, but that's the way it works and it's worth it to us.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, so that is the case for -- it's useful. One terrorist is worth it, whether it's a billion numbers and all of us are a part of this or not, right?

KEEFE: Yes. I mean there's another question here altogether, which is, is it legal?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

KEEFE: I mean that we haven't even addressed that, but...

M. O'BRIEN: Well we're not getting into that on this one. And that's a big question, though, isn't it?

KEEFE: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: So, the bottom line here is, do you get the sense that this is going to continue? I mean, this is something that the NSA has embraced?

KEEFE: I think it is. I mean I almost think that you could say, you remember the dot-com bubble, there's almost a national security bubble going on right now where technology companies go to the spy agencies and say we've got this great new technology. We can give you a crystal ball. And I think we're going to see more and not less of that in the future.

M. O'BRIEN: Author Patrick Radden Keefe, who is the author of "Chatter," thank you very much for being with us on the program this morning.

KEEFE: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security -- Soledad. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Investigators are trying to determine what caused yet another church fire in Alabama. It's the 15th fire since February. The Thursday morning blaze destroyed the Tubbs (ph) Hill Church of Christ in rural Walker County. Thirteen of the previous fires have been ruled arson, 9 are blamed on three Birmingham-area college students.

Lately, arson investigators are getting a hard look and investigations are getting a hard look, too. The controversy centers around a Texas man who was executed two years ago that a fire -- for a fire, rather, that killed three little girls. A panel of experts recently concluded that bad science led to his conviction. Leaders in the field insist that cases like this are extremely rare. Doubts, though, persist.

We have got more now from AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When fires are believed to be the work of arsonists, teams of investigators led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can be called in by rural towns or major cities to literally sift through ash and charred twisted wreckage for clues.

MICHAEL BOUCHARD, ATF DEPUTY DIRECTOR: You have photographers, you have schematic artists, you have experts such as chemists, medilergists (ph), fire protection engineers, electrical engineers. All these different people are looking at different things.

FRANKEN: But critics complain that some local arson squads rely on outdated methods that can result in false arrests. To prevent that, ATF is encouraging local teams to include its specialized agents in the more complicated cases.

(on camera): Often what they find ends up here, pieced together at this state-of-the-art ATF National Laboratory Center where clues from the field are examined in every minute detail. Oftentimes the analysis includes legal arson.

(voice-over): These little pods have been burned out countless times as the experts turn them into fiery replicas of cases they're investigating to determine how they match what agent's concluded at the scene.

DR. DAVID SHEPPARD, SR. FIRE RESEARCH ENGINEER ATF: We test the hypothesis, we test the witness statements as a hypothesis and through experimentation and going back and recreating the fire, we're usually able to determine what happened to a fairly good level of certainty.

FRANKEN: This lab is for more than just crime solving. The idea is to build on each case.

RICHARD TONTARSKY, CHIEF FIRE RESEARCH LAB: Practices in the laboratory we find well this is a better way to approach this particular problem. This particular technique didn't work as well as we might have liked.

FRANKEN: What they would like to do is to develop new techniques that would avoid mistakes, the kind that put the wrong person behind bars.

Bob Franken, CNN, Beltsville, Maryland.


S. O'BRIEN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour. Let's check the forecast with Chad.

Hey, Chad, good morning, again.



Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: That always just ruins a weekend.

M. O'BRIEN: There once was a pilot flying to Nantucket and the rest goes from there, so...


S. O'BRIEN: There once was a woman trapped in her house with four small children.

M. O'BRIEN: He looked at the weather and he said, let's get to Andy. That's what he said.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: Yes, that sounds like the safe choice.

S. O'BRIEN: Are...

SERWER: I'm staying here this weekend.

S. O'BRIEN: Are you?

SERWER: Yes, I am.

How about this, your favorite TV shows on demand for free, so who pays for it?

Plus, Paris Hilton makes the suits squirm. We'll tell you how coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Prime time season finales on demand, no secret about that. So if there's a -- something new in the business world, deal with it? SERWER: It is something new. Yes, and we're talking about CBS having a deal here with Comcast and General Motors.

Here's how it works. "Survivor Reunion" and "Survivor" finale, the finale is going to be on Sunday night. If you miss it because you want to watch "Desperate Housewives," which is on another network, or "The Sopranos," which is on another network, a lot of good TV,...

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

SERWER: ... what do you do? Well you can TiVo it. But what if you don't have TiVo? Here's a deal that they have cooked up, though, you'll be able to watch it on Monday night in certain markets, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit for free.

They're going to have a special version made by CBS with only GM commercials. It's sponsored by GM. So there will be -- it will have commercials but just some at the beginning, some in the middle and some at the end. So fewer commercials, only one company and it's free. And you can watch it when you want. And you...

M. O'BRIEN: Can you fast forward?

SERWER: Yes, I think you can fast forward.

M. O'BRIEN: Excellent.

SERWER: So, interesting stuff. This is just another little incremental move about getting TV shows when and where we want them. And there are two models, there's the free with commercials and then there is the ala cart and pay for them. This is the free with commercials model.

M. O'BRIEN: It's such a fundamental shift. It really is.

SERWER: It is.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: But as long as you...

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and everybody is trying to figure out...

SERWER: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: ... what is the right way to guess.

SERWER: The most important thing is to keep watching this television program at this time live. OK, we are trying to emphasize that, OK, nothing.

M. O'BRIEN: We are live. There's nothing you can do except to...

S. O'BRIEN: We appreciate this.


S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: We're glad we're in a live business.

SERWER: And this is a nice little item here. Paris Hilton, we like Paris Hilton stories. She was in Los Angeles yesterday attending "E-3 (ph)." Which is that big electronics show and she was there to introduce her new video game which we talked about. It's going to be played on cell phones. And she said, sorry,...

S. O'BRIEN: What is the game?

SERWER: It's called -- well that's here. That's where you get to this. This is the good part. She said, sorry, I'm late, boys. She didn't say, boys, but I like that.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: Sorry I'm late. She was late. That's standard.

S. O'BRIEN: Shocker.

SERWER: Then she goes, I'm excited for you all to check out my new video game "Diamond Quest." At which point the suits went, that's not the name of the game. OK. She's being paid a lot of money to have the Paris Hilton. The real name of the game is Paris Hilton's "Jewel Jam."

S. O'BRIEN: Wow!

SERWER: So she can't be expected to get that right.

S. O'BRIEN: It's not even close.


M. O'BRIEN: So...

SERWER: Well it's diamonds are a girl's best friend and so...

S. O'BRIEN: I thought maybe it was like a little stumble.

SERWER: Yes. She called it "Diamond Quest." And I don't know -- no one really knew where that came from.

M. O'BRIEN: She made it up.

S. O'BRIEN: Wait, wait. Nicole Richie,...

M. O'BRIEN: She wants it to be "Diamond Quest."

S. O'BRIEN: ... what was her book called? You know this, Bruce.

SERWER: It's all about that little battle between them.

S. O'BRIEN: What was that book called? Wasn't it called "Diamond...

SERWER: Diamonds.

S. O'BRIEN: Come on, Alanie (ph), you know this.

SERWER: I don't remember.

S. O'BRIEN: Help me out, girl.

SERWER: I don't know. But...


S. O'BRIEN: But that would be -- no, because I think...

M. O'BRIEN: I have no idea.

SERWER: But there's a little rivalry.

S. O'BRIEN: She was -- that was some kind of like Freudian...

SERWER: She's always thinking about her.

S. O'BRIEN: Competitive. Maybe.

SERWER: Always.

S. O'BRIEN: Maybe. I'm going to look into this further, because it's Paris Hilton.

SERWER: "Diamond Quest," I wonder if we could copyright that first?

S. O'BRIEN: "The Truth About Diamonds" was Nicole Richie's book.

SERWER: That is brilliant.

S. O'BRIEN: So she's saying "Diamond Quest," that is Freudian.

SERWER: I'm always thinking about her and her...

M. O'BRIEN: Wow.

SERWER: That's a very good...

M. O'BRIEN: A little armchair psychology here from Soledad O'Brien.

Thank you very much.

S. O'BRIEN: There are people out there who agree with me, yes, thanks.

SERWER: "The Truth About Diamonds."

S. O'BRIEN: "The Truth About Diamonds." SERWER: Right, there you go.

S. O'BRIEN: I know I'm right.

SERWER: Thank you. Thank you, Bruce.

M. O'BRIEN: I am so glad we settled this. Can we press on?


M. O'BRIEN: Yes, let's.

S. O'BRIEN: I guess.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: I guess we're done.

SERWER: Go ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

Anderson Cooper now with a look at what's coming up tonight -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, tonight, the tips pouring in, the search heating up, concerns growing about what fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs might do if he's cornered. We'll get the facts on his following and on polygamy in America. Hiding in plain sight that's "360" tonight 10:00 p.m. Eastern -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Anderson.

Coming up on our program, a heart-warming bond between some third graders and their pen pal soldier. We will show you why the kids are so surprised about what happens in their classroom. We were right there when it happened. It was -- it's worth watching. Alina Cho with that.

And with gas prices -- silly rabbit. With gas prices sky high, and plane tickets getting more expensive, what about a cruise? Of course you have got to fly to the cruise but that's details. Tips on making the most of a vacation at sea.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: This morning the final part of our series "Surviving Summer Travel," cruising far a bargain.

Bill Panoff is the publisher of "Porthole" cruise magazine. He joins us from Miami.

Nice to see you, Bill. Thanks for talking with us. BILL PANOFF, "PORTHOLE" CRUISE MAGAZINE: Good morning. How are you? Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Who do you think -- I'm well, thank you. Who do you think is perfect for a cruise? What kind of person should think about a cruise on vacation?

PANOFF: I think anyone is perfect for a cruise. I mean there's no better alternative in terms of affordability than to take a cruise. Where else can you go where you food is included, your entertainment is included. In some cases, you'll see three or four different destinations in a seven-day or even a shorter cruise. It's recommended for any age for any person.

S. O'BRIEN: When you look at the numbers, you know they really do work out in your favor. If you look at cruise averages, for example, a seven-day cruise in the summer is going to cost you on average $499. That breaks down to about $72 per day. Those numbers, though, could be going up slightly because of gas prices, right? How much?

PANOFF: That's right. Well, you know, it is interesting that you mention that, because gas pricing obviously is going up and its' affecting the bottom line of many companies. But oddly enough, the pricing of cruising has not gone up because cruising is a by-product of the market environment. You know, they compete with land based vacations and Disney and Orlando and areas like that. So if the market has not gone up in price, cruises have not gone up. So there's some great buys out there for European cruises, Caribbean cruises, Alaska cruises, for the consumer. So this is the time to cruise

S. O'BRIEN: This is -- there is a fuel surcharge, although it seems like a pretty low cost, frankly. And I'll run through some of them. The Radisson Seven Seas has a $5 per person per day surcharge. American West Steamboat has a $5 per person per day surcharge. Crystal, $4 per person overall. That's the charge for the cruise. Those numbers really aren't going to really kill you at the end of the week.

PANOFF: No, they're very insignificant compared to what you receive and the value received on a cruise. It's all-inclusive vacation. And cruising is very hot right now and it's growing dramatically.

S. O'BRIEN: What about safety? I mean we certainly have seen and done a number of stories, kind of weird safety stories. You have that honeymooner who disappeared and died.

PANOFF: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: You have women who have reported being raped on cruises, certainly. I mean a number of stories.

PANOFF: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: Are -- how safe are cruises? PANOFF: There's no form of vacation that's even safer than a cruise. Statistically, if you compare cruising with any of the crime in any major city in America, the rate of incident of crime on a trip is so insignificant. You're more likely to be hit by lightning than experience an incident of crime on a cruise ship.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. When you put it that way, I guess it sounds pretty safe. What kind of medical facilities are on board? I know there's lots of elderly people often on cruises. If you're going to send your parents, let's say, off on a cruise, what kind of medical support can they expect?

PANOFF: Cruising is not only for -- I mean, there are a lot of older people on ships, yes, but they're all ages. And the cruise lines know in advance the demographics of their passengers. They know that if the passenger is over 70, they'll have that information prior to. And many of the cruise lines, for example, Carnival has a medical desk where people can actually call in advance and alert the cruise line of any medical needs of that passenger or a consumer may have. So the ship is ready for them. The facilities on board are terrific. They really cater to the demographics of the guest on the particular cruise ship.

S. O'BRIEN: Lots of families taking cruises now. I'm going to throw up some names of cruises for families that you like.


S. O'BRIEN: Carnival, you say, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, as well. What's the main thing if you're a parent that you want to look for in a cruise for your kids?

PANOFF: You want to look for a cruise line that has a tremendous children's program depending on the age of the child. For example, Carnival has Camp Carnival which is for the younger children. For the older children, and teens, there's a program called the O-2 Club on all the Carnival ships. NCL has a great program. Holland America has Club Hal which is a program catering to children and also when they go to their private island, Half Moon Kay, they also have like a little mini theme park with water slides. So look for a program that keeps your kids busy all during the day so you too can have a restful vacation.

S. O'BRIEN: What you should look for in any vacation, something to keep the kids busy.

PANOFF: Here, here.

Bill Panoff is the publisher of "Porthole" cruise magazine. Nice to talk to you. Thanks for being with us.

PANOFF: Can't hear her.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Next week on AMERICAN MORNING, we expand our "30 40 50" series. We're going to look at important issues like changing careers, parenting, healthy living and -- there we go -- and relationships. Can you hear me better now? Can you hear me now? Excellent. Very sorry about that. Microphone fell off my lapel.

On Monday, it's your finances. Find out how to tackle debt, save for retirement, save for your kids' education. Got a lot of things to save for, don't you? And we'll answer your phone calls and e-mails. Yes, we'll take your phone calls next week.

Our address is If you want to get a question in the hopper now. But that's all next week 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Doing something a little different in our 9:00 a.m. hour, so we hope you'll join us.

In a moment, top stories including how new reports on the government phone call surveillance program could impact the president's pick for CIA chief.

Just a few moments, we're expecting a briefing from senior commanders in Iraq.

We're also expecting Tony Snow's first briefing as the White House press secretary.

California lawmakers approve a bill requiring public school textbooks to include positive mentions of gay and lesbian figures, controversial thing.

And a heart-warming story, a U.S. soldier with a very special surprise for his 9-year-old pen pals. You'll want to see this piece from Alina Cho.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Since their retirement, a couple in southern California have gone positively prehistoric.

CNN's Jennifer Westhoven explains.


JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jimmy and Judy Smith are out in the desert searching for bones of prehistoric life like saber-toothed cats and giant sloths.

JIMMY SMITH, PALEONTOLOGIST: And you really would have to go look at it to see if it's bone, but I think I know what it is.

WESTHOVEN: They left jobs as financial planners to hunt for fossils hidden in the hills of southern California.

JIMMY SMITH: Look at this. I wonder what that is?

WESTHOVEN: Jim's curiosity about the earth was sparked years ago when he was an Air Force pilot.

JIMMY SMITH: I was always up looking down at the earth and looking at strange kinds of formations and wondering what the heck was going on there.

JUDY SMITH, PALEONTOLOGIST: And over here are some more of the bones of mammoth bones. We've educated ourselves in the field of paleontology to a working level. Over here we have a giant land tortoise.

WESTHOVEN: Now they drill and dust and teach California school children about the prehistoric camels, mammoths and birds that roamed the earth millions of years ago.

JIMMY SMITH: We have very few worries and very much excitement. And I couldn't imagine a better situation than to live say the last third of your life.

WESTHOVEN: Jennifer Westhoven, CNN.



M. O'BRIEN: Mining a backlash. Could the government effort to sift through phone records spell trouble for the president's choice as CIA chief?