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American Morning

New Al Qaeda Leader; Beginning of the End?; War on the Hill

Aired June 15, 2006 - 08:59   ET


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. This is the new face of terror. I'll tell you who he is coming up.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Vause in Baghdad. Could this be the end for Al Qaeda in Iraq? I'll have that straight ahead.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill. With midterm elections approaching, Democrats are being forced to take a stand on a key issue for American voters. What's that? I'll tell you coming up.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Firefighters work through the night in Arizona. Wildfires there coming too close to home, literally. Hundreds are evacuated.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And success. A successful separation for those conjoined twins. More on their amazing surgery ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. Lots to tell you about this morning.

Got word just in of an earthquake that struck near San Francisco. It's a magnitude 4.7 quake, hit about half an hour ago near San Martin, which is southeast of San Jose. It's a pretty remote area in Santa Clara County.

Let's take a look at a -- let's see, a map right here. You can see San Francisco on that map. Go down a fair amount, south of that is San Jose, and about 24 miles southeast of that is where we find this earthquake taking place really just a few miles from Gilroy, California, which people are pretty familiar with there.

Good news. There are dispatchers with the Gilroy PD and also the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. They say no injuries reported, and also no immediate reports of damage. So that's excellent news there.

A couple of other quakes were felt, minor -- you know, quakes of lesser magnitude felt as well in the minutes afterward -- 2.9 and 1.6 were the range of those three quakes. So it seems to be a pretty minor quake. Felt as far away, though, as San Francisco, where reports say the shaking lasted several seconds.

So this is the update on the story we're just getting it now. Earthquake reported near the San Francisco area -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Now to Iraq and a grim milestone, and perhaps a new leader for a key terror group. Twenty-five hundred U.S. soldiers now killed in the three year since the U.S. invaded Iraq. As the U.S. military marks that grim milestone, they are announcing a new leader for Al Qaeda in Iraq. His name, Abu al-Masri.

CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon watching this for us.

Good morning, Barbara.

STARR: Good morning to you, Miles.

Well, that news briefing just concluding in Baghdad, and they have now shown the world the new face of terrorism in Iraq, a picture of the man they believe is Zarqawi's successor. His name is Abu Ayyub al-Masri. This is him. Another photograph, another large picture frame in the briefing room in Baghdad.

He is an Egyptian. He got to know Zarqawi in Afghanistan's training camps in around 2001. IT is believed he came to Iraq around 2002, 2003, established the first Al Qaeda in Iraq cell in the Baghdad area.

He is now said to be a senior operational commander for Al Qaeda in Iraq, running operations in southern Iraq. His expertise is explosives, suicide bombs, car bombs, IEDs. He is someone, of course, now that they put out his picture the U.S. hopes they will be able to catch relatively soon.

But, Miles, it is, of course, more complicated than that. There's been a lot of discussion about whether to put his picture out.

They didn't want to create another iconic figure and have the question every day, "Did you get him? Did you get him?" But at the end, they had to put this out because they need for the troops in Iraq and for Iraqis to know what this man looks like so if they come across him they will know it's him.

General Caldwell, at that briefing in Baghdad, also making it very clear they are still assessing things. They really do believe al-Masri is seeking to take control of Al Qaeda in Iraq. But there may be other people in the organization, there may be a power struggle going on. So they themselves, of course, will be watching all these maneuvers very carefully -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And they really have to walk a tightrope between getting the word out and lionizing this character.

Let's -- let's talk about this milestone, 2,500 troops now have been lost in the three years since the Iraq invasion. What is the Pentagon saying about that?

STARR: Well, Miles, you're absolutely right, the word is "lost." Many of them killed in combat, some of them dying from other causes. There's tragically been a fair number that have died in traffic accidents, in military accidents in Iraq. Not all of them, of course, from hostile action.

But the Pentagon says what the military always says about these matters when we ask about a body count. They, of course, say the only thing that can and should be said, which is that every death is important -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Security forces say they now have information that could be the beginning of the end of Al Qaeda in Iraq. They say they've got documents and computer rords that show a blueprint of the organization's operations.

CNN's John Vause is live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Before we get to those details, John, the documents we now know were not -- were found before al-Zarqawi was killed. Is that correct?

VAUSE: That's right. We just heard a short time ago from Major General Caldwell at the regular briefing here saying that the information came from some computer assets which were uncovered at houses before the strike on Zarqawi's house last week.

Nonetheless, it appears that the information has come from computer hardware; in particular, thumb drives or flash disks, as well as a laptop, other documents. Still, the Iraqi government talking this up very -- saying this is very crucial, these documents, especially in the ongoing battle with Al Qaeda in Iraq.

S. O'BRIEN: Give us details from these documents, John. I mean, they are just fascinating, really.

VAUSE: Yes. It goes into quite a bit of detail. Al Qaeda in Iraq, according to these documents, painting the situation here as bleak. And they are saying the best way to get out of the current predicament is to try and open up another front for the United States to try and promote a second war, if you like.

In particular, they say the best option would be Iran. And to do this, al Qaeda plans, according to these documents, on releasing messages attributed to Shia, Iranians to carry out attacks and to stage evidence that looks like those attacks had been carried out by Iran, leak information that Iran has ties with terrorist groups and is in possession of weapons of mass destruction, attempting to carry out terrorist operations within the United States, and also in other western targets.

And also, the reason why al Qaeda is saying the situation here is so bleak, quoting facts and figures, like the increase in the number of Iraqi security forces to provide a shield for U.S. troops, massive arrest operations, tightening of financial assets, confiscation of weapons and ammunitions. Also, a media campaign which has weakened the influence of the "resistance," presenting it as harmful rather than beneficial.

It must be said, though, we cannot verify the authenticity of these documents. However, Iraq's national security adviser saying this is just the tip of the iceberg. He plans to release more information from this -- what he called a treasure trove -- in coming days -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: John Vause for us in Baghdad.

John, thanks.

Today's the second day of a major security crackdown in Baghdad. Iraqi forces are stopping cars at checkpoints, patrolling the streets, and forcing a weapons ban. And the curfew has been extended. It now runs from 8:30 at night until dawn. It's the first major operation under Iraq's new unity government -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Washington today, Republican lawmakers trying to paint Democrats into a political corner over the war in Iraq. The House to debate a resolution linking the war to the war on terror and rejecting any timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. It is a symbolic measure with strong political undercurrents as the midterm election approaches.

Congressional Correspondent Andrea Koppel with more from Capitol Hill.

Good morning, Andrea.

KOPPEL: Good morning, Miles.

In the next hour we're expecting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld up here to brief House Republicans behind closed doors. That will come just a couple of hours before the 11:45 kickoff that's expected for this rare all-day debate on a single issue, Iraq, one that has Democrats accusing Republicans of playing political hardball.


REP. NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D), HAWAII: Our hands are tied, literally, on the floor of the people's House.

KOPPEL (voice over): With a yellow cord wrapped around his wrists, Democrat Neil Abercrombie played to the cameras and vented at House Republicans.

ABERCROMBIE: Do not put us through the farce and the fraud of a pseudo-debate going nowhere, ending nowhere.

KOPPEL: Abercrombie and other House Democrats are objecting to this, a Republican resolution tying Iraq to the war on terror and declaring it's not in U.S. interests to "set an arbitrary date for withdrawal or redeployment" of U.S. troops in Iraq. REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: I think it's an appropriate time to send a message of thanks to our troops and not some vague statement about how we support them, as has come from the other side.

KOPPEL: But Democrats are split on Iraq, and many fear a vote against t resolution will be used by Republicans to portray them as not supporting U.S. troops and as soft on terrorists.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: They got together with their political spinmeisters and drafted a resolution designed more for politics than it is for a substantive discussion about our policy in Iraq.

KOPPEL: This memo from Majority Leader John Boehner encourages Republicans to use today's debate to hammer away at the clear choice between Republicans dedicated to victory, versus Democrats without a coherent national security policy.


KOPPEL: Now, this is the first time since 2003 that lawmakers in both the House and the Senate will be formally debating President Bush's Iraq policy in the Senate. Democrats are expected to offer amendments, perhaps calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin this year and end within the next year to 18 months. The debate over in the House is expected to run all day today, Miles, last through tomorrow, with a vote expected sometime on Thursday -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, it will be an interesting day. Andrea Koppel will be watching it for us all day.

Thank you very much.

Happening "In America" this morning at the Pentagon, a groundbreaking ceremony today for a 9/11 memorial. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be there. One hundred and eighty-four lives lost in the Pentagon and on American Airlines Flight 77 on 9/11.

A busy ferry dock on the Seattle waterfront reopened now. A bomb scare forced the evacuation during last night's rush hour. Officials say a man drove past the ticket booth straight on to the ferry, didn't stop. A bomb-sniffing dog detected something fishy. It turns out it was fireworks.

In L.A., two formerly conjoined twins sleeping in separate beds for the first time now. A team of 80 doctors worked through the night to separate 10-month-old Regina (ph) and Rehnata Salinas (ph). The girls were born connected from the chest to the pelvis. Doctors say they are doing great.

A hundred and fifty National Guard troops will arrive at the Arizona-Mexico border today. It's all part of the president's plan to free up immigration for border control issues.

In eastern Arizona, firefighters battling a huge wildfire right now. The 6,200-acre fire is about a half a mile away from the closest home in Heber. Firefighters say it is 60 percent contained.

Back with more in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: A follow-up this morning on the FEMA fraud we told you about yesterday. According to a government report, more than $1 billion potentially of American tax money went to ineligible or bogus victims -- season tickets for football, "Girls Gone Wild" videotapes, a Caribbean vacation and a sex change operation, even. aims. More than $5 million went to fake addresses. Some of the money also went to prison inmates.

How did it happen?

Joining us this morning from Washington, D.C., is Donna Dannels. She's the acting deputy director of FEMA's recovery division.

Excuse me for mangling that.

Good morning to you. Thanks for talking with us, Ms. Dannels.


S. O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of how this could happen. I mean, the short list I just read to everybody kind of goes on and on. In some cases you're paying twice rent, and also hotels for people. Some cases, you sent $20,000 to an inmate who put in a claim.

How did that happen?

DANNELS: Well, first, before I address that, just let me say that we also think that people who would take advantage of a system when people are suffering so much as the hundreds of thousands of people who were in hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we also think that that's despicable. And we want to work with the authorities to pursue any fraud cases.

How that would happen, the -- the cases unfortunately where people have spent the money on things that are questionable and not disaster-related, that doesn't necessarily mean that they defrauded the government in applying. It does mean that the money that we provided to them was not spent to help them actually recover from the disaster.

The other thing...

S. O'BRIEN: So you mean the debit cards, for example.

DANNELS: Correct.

S. O'BRIEN: So if someone gets a debit card, they can kind of go buy whatever they want with that debit card. If they're buying a vacation, they buy a vacation. You can't control it. But there are some cases where actually they are defrauding the government, where they put in several Social Security numbers, or they got their rent and their assistance -- you know, got paid twice for lodging. How did that happen?

DANNELS: Absolutely, that did occur. Again, it occurred on a scale larger than what we typically experience.

Our experience with overpayments, either through error or fraud, is much, much, much lower. It's two or maybe three percent. This was such an event of such magnitude that it exceeded all of our systems and capabilities and resources, that we did, in fact, in order to get assistance to hundreds of thousands of legitimate disaster victims, we did use untested, never-before-used technologies and processes, understanding they would be more vulnerable to fraud because we had not, as GAO has pointed out, placed and tested in advance those internal controls.

We obviously would prefer not to do that, and we go back after every single disaster, we evaluate our operations. We are doing that this with one and putting corrective actions in place. We have already corrected several things that we learned our lessons from this past year on so that they would not occur again.

S. O'BRIEN: We'll talk about those corrections in just a moment.

I want to play for you what Greg Kutz of the GAO actually had to say about FEMA and a little bit about your explanation right there.

Let's play that.



GREGORY KUTZ, MANAGING DIRECTOR, FORENSIC AUDITS, GAO: Why weren't these controls in place in 2004, 2003, 2002, et cetera? Some of it is very, very basic, making sure that people that register have valid Social Security numbers. That's fraud prevention 101.


S. O'BRIEN: Why wasn't fraud prevention 101 done? I mean, even given the scope of the size of Katrina and the size of the need, why wasn't, you know, basic checking and confirming Social Security numbers, why wasn't that done?

DANNELS: That is done on a typical disaster. Again, if you go back and look historically, even last year, in 2004, our -- our fraud and error rate for overpayments was less than 2.5 percent for all of the assistance that we provided. So those internal controls, in fact, were in place for the system capabilities that we were built to be able to operate at.

Clearly, taking three million registrations in a matter of weeks when we don't typically do that for a matter of years' worth of disasters exceeded our systems and the controls we had in place. That does not mean that we were not doing fraud prevention 101 and did not have the controls in place for what has been this country's typical disaster activity.

S. O'BRIEN: The GAO estimates it's 16 percent fraud. You say your normal average would be somewhere, two to three percent.

DANNELS: That's correct.

S. O'BRIEN: Sixteen percent fraud. And they also say it probably is even bigger because they are not even counting insurance fraud. They're not even counting, you know, bogus insurance claims in there.

What's changed now? What will be different this hurricane season time around?

DANNELS: Well, two -- two very important things. You mentioned the hotels before. We -- this year, FEMA did not place the people into hotels.

Red Cross typically places people into hotels. They really take care of the sheltering. That's the voluntary agencies and not the federal government.

We assumed responsibility for that sheltered population because it exceeded what the volunteer community typically -- again, in normal disaster activity, they have people in hotels for perhaps 30 days. Well, people were in hotels for months. And FEMA took over those contracts, and those people had not entered into the hotels through FEMA's registration systems.

That is changed. This year, before anyone goes into a hotel where the federal government is paying for it, they must register with us. We will validate their identity, their Social Security number, that they, in fact, are from the disaster-impacted area, and we will be able to control that they are not getting a hotel and getting rental assistance from us.

S. O'BRIEN: And I agree with you. You know, it's so sickening that people would take advantage of...

DANNELS: Absolutely.

S. O'BRIEN: ... when really there are people who need this money very, very desperately. We certainly tell their stories each and every day.

Donna Dannels is...

DANNELS: And I do want...

S. O'BRIEN: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

DANNELS: And I do want to remind you that there were hundreds of thousands of people who were helped in a timely fashion, even though we did allow ourselves to be vulnerable to more fraud. And that's the balance FEMA has to strike.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you. Forgive me for stepping over you twice.

Donna Dannels, the acting deputy director of FEMA's recovery division.

DANNELS: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for talking with us -- Miles.

DANNELS: Thanks, Soledad.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up in our "House Call," what would you guess is the leading cause of death for young athletes? It is sudden cardiac arrest. We'll tell you what to do if god forbid you're at a playing field and you see this happen.

Plus, Cher taking to the nation's airwaves. Cher? We haven't heard from her in a while. Now we know what she's up to. And she is trying to protect our troops. We'll explain ahead.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Now listen to this. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading killer of young athletes in this country. And now the National Athletic Trainer Association is out with some guidelines for high schools and colleges to hopefully save lives on the playing field should this happen before your very eyes.

Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen at CNN Center with some details.

I've got to say, if I saw something like this happen, Elizabeth, I'm not sure I would know what to do.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what they are trying to change right now, Miles. In fact, we've all heard these stories far too often of young athletes suddenly, seeming in the prime of their health, just collapsing on the field. We're talking college and high school athletes.

Well, the American Heart Association says unfortunately many of these stories could have had happy endings if only someone knew what to do. Well, now the National Athletic Trainers Association has unveiled guidelines of what you should do.

First of all, act quickly. They say in most cases an athlete needs help within three to five minutes after the collapse or brain death will occur.

Use CPR or a defibrillator, if you have one. And we'll get to the defibrillator part in a minute.

So that means that the staff and the players need to be trained in CPR and defibrillators. That would seem like a relatively obvious thing. Unfortunately, according to this report, that is not happening enough. And also, players and teammates need to know and coaches need to know the signs and causes of sudden cardiac arrest.

And let's talk about those a little bit.

Of course, if a player collapses suddenly, that is definitely a sign that something needs to be done. If a player has seizures, that's also a sign that something needs to be done. It may not just be seizures. It may be a prelude to sudden cardiac arrest.

Also, people need to know if they have a genetic predisposition. And we'll get to that also in a minute, because when this happens to people, to the athletes, it's usually because they are born with some kind of a heart defect that they didn't know about until this horrible moment occurs.

It can also happen when someone is hit in the chest by a ball or by another player. Just that impact can actually cause the heart to stop.

So the message here is basically that players, that teammates, really that anyone out there who is watching need to be trained in CPR and use of a defibrillator.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, Elizabeth, you say it's the leading cause of death among young athletes, but it's still relatively uncommon, I hope.

COHEN: It is relatively uncommon. And, of course, when we hear these stories it makes a bigger impact.

It happens from 50 to -- to about 50 to 100 young athletes in this country every year. So that's one out of every 100,000, one out of every 300,000, somewhere in the neighborhood. So it is unusual even though it does happen.

M. O'BRIEN: Now you mentioned those genetic defects. Is there any sort of screening that can be done to try to nip that before something bad happens on the field?

COHEN: You know, there is screening that conceivably that these schools could do. They could do certain imaging of the heart. There are certain tests that they could do. But it's very expensive, it's time-consuming, and most schools don't do it, which is why this happens very suddenly.

So let's talk again about what people should do if this were to happen.

First of all, knowing CPR. Or secondly, that more schools need to know defibrillators right there.

Now, you may have seen these walking around in airports. We actually have one here that we have here in our CNN building. And it really couldn't be easier to use. In fact, studies have shown that young children can be taught to use them.

You attach pads that are right here to someone's chest and you press this button. And it cranks up and it tells you what to do. We'll hear the instructions.

MECHANIZED VOICE: Apply pads to patient's bare chest.

COHEN: So it tells you exactly what to do every step of the way. Learning how to use these is not -- it's not brain surgery. We'll put it that way.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I've got tell you, quite frankly, I have seen those things and I often wondered if I'd be doing the wrong thing in using it, Elizabeth. You know, perhaps defibrillating the wrong person, that kind of thing. How do you know you're doing the right thing?

COHEN: Right, it does seem scary because all of us think of all of those shows where, you know, they tell you to stand back and it looks like such a scary thing. And indeed, it can be. But the likelihood you're going to hurt someone using this is very, very small.

So, what doctors say is, look, if it looks like the person needs it, give it to them. The chances are -- the chances that you're making a mistake and that you're hurting them are very small. The chances that you are helping them are huge.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. As a layperson, I don't want to violate the Hippocratic Oath. That's for sure. All right. Even though I haven't taken it, I don't want to violate it.

Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, thanks.

COHEN: Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: And we're back with more in a moment.