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American Morning

Crisis in the Middle East; U.K. Terror Threat; Terror Investigation; TSA Rules; 'Target: USA'

Aired August 14, 2006 - 06:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is Monday, August 14. I'm Miles O'Brien.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to have you back from vacation.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you. Good to be back.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Let's begin with a look at what's happening this morning.

A U.N. brokered cease-fire is in effect between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel says some of its forces are withdrawing from southern Lebanon. But just in the past hour, we've gotten word of new fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.

M. O'BRIEN: U.S. officials have dropped the threat level from flights from Britain. It now sits at orange or high. British officials have announced a similar move, but they're warning passengers to remain on alert following last week's news of a foiled terror plot.

The U.S. Coast Guard stepping up patrols around Michigan's Mackinaw Bridge. Authorities think three men now in jail on terror charges were targeting that five-mile-long bridge. Police found about 1,000 cell phones in their minivan. They say they could have been used as detonators.

S. O'BRIEN: In Baghdad this morning, three people are dead after a series of car bombs. The attacks follow another wave of bombings in a Shiite district over the weekend that killed at least 57 people.

M. O'BRIEN: And in Tokyo, the lights are coming on after a widespread blackout during rush hour. Power was knocked out when a construction crane hit power lines.

Chad Myers at the CNN Center with the forecast for you for the week, at least for the first day of the week.

Good morning, -- Chad.


Good morning.


Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, we like it better when you can breathe and all of that.

MYERS: Yes, right.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you, -- Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: The cease-fire in the Middle East is entering its fifth hour now, already, though, word of more fighting in southern Lebanon between Israeli and Hezbollah forces. During the month-long conflict, Israel says 114 members of its defense forces were killed, along with 53 civilians, another 865 civilians were injured. Lebanon says 890 people have been killed with more than 3,800 others injured.

Just two hours before the cease-fire, Israel dropped leaflets on Beirut blaming Hezbollah for the conflict. And right now, thousands of refugees are crammed into their cars. They are attempting to return to southern Lebanon. Israel, though, keeping an air and sea blockades in effect in Lebanon.

We've got correspondents on both sides of the border this hour. Let's begin with CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance who's in northern Israel.

Matthew, good morning.


Well, the guns have more or less fallen quiet here from this artillery barrage -- battery, rather, in northern Israel. They've been pounding Hezbollah positions for the past several weeks. But this morning, over the past several hours, they have fallen quiet in compliance with the terms of the cease-fire brokered by the U.N. in terms of the resolution.

But that doesn't mean there has been a complete end to violence, Soledad. We've had reports over the course of the last hour of the first clash between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli forces in southern Lebanon since that cease-fire came into force. Apparently the clash was around the town of Hadita (ph), which is a village, rather, in south Lebanon.

We understand from Israeli officials that Israeli ground forces identified a group of people they said were Hezbollah fighters advancing towards them. IDF officials say that those people were armed and so Israeli soldiers opened fire on them, hit at least one of them, although actual details of casualties aren't clear yet. The details are still very sketchy. We hope to have more clarity on that as the hours pass. But certainly it does appear to be that first clash between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters since this cease- fire came into force several hours ago -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: So with word of clashes like that, and obviously the details are still sketchy at this moment, no sign of Israeli troops withdrawing or are you seeing that?

M. CHANCE: Well what we've seen over the course of the past 12 hours or so is perhaps some of the soldiers come out. We witnessed several hundred pulled out of south Lebanon, but others are being redeployed back in again. Certainly what we understand is that Israel is keeping the forces of up to 30,000 personnel on the ground in south Lebanon until such times as that multinational force to back the Lebanese Army can be deployed in south Lebanon. Only then, says Israel, will it start the real process of withdrawing its forces back to its positions in northern Israel -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Matthew Chance for us this morning.

Matthew, thanks.

The cease-fire is giving thousands of people who have escaped southern Lebanon a chance to return home.

Let's get right to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He's in Tyre in Lebanon this morning.

Hey, Ben, good morning.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Soledad.

Well we were here at 8:00 local time, that is five hours ago, when the cease-fire went into effect, and we saw just two minutes before that bombs landing to the south of here. So it really was up to the very last minute that the guns were firing and the bombs were falling.

But once word got out that the cease-fire was holding, people started to come down from Beirut, from Sidon, making their way to the south of the country. We've heard reports of thousands of people on that coastal road, people here in Tyre just packing up at the spur of the moment and heading to these towns and villages.

But there's a problem. Already we've gotten reports from Lebanese security sources that 11 people have been injured by unexploded ordinance. And we've seen over the last few weeks when going out to some of these villages there are huge artillery shells, for instance, just lying in the middle of some of these places. So they are very dangerous these areas.

And of course there's the added danger of the fact that Israel's ban on road traffic. They did that about a week ago. They said to stop Hezbollah from being able to move around with weapons and personnel. That ban is still in effect. So, theoretically, many of these people could also be hit by Israeli aircraft. But to date, until now, there are no reports of that happening -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ben, why is that ban still in effect? WEDEMAN: Well, clearly they are afraid. The Israelis are afraid that Hezbollah may take this opportunity of relative calm to start moving their people around, moving equipment around, so they have reiterated this morning that the ban is still in effect.

But I can tell you thousands of people, including the entire international press corps of Tyre, except myself, have taken to the road, gone up to the villages and towns to see what's going on. Of course my colleague, Karl Penhaul, did go out, so we will be hearing from him later on today to see what he found -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, look forward to that.

Ben Wedeman for us this morning in Tyre.

Thanks, Ben -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Great Britain, authorities have lowered the terror threat level from critical to severe today. They say there is no imminent threat of a terror attack, but there's still an awful lot of concern there.

CNN's John Vause live now from London's Heathrow Airport with word on the changing rules for flying there -- John.


With that terror alert downgraded, some of the security measures at most British airports have been eased a little. But British authorities are still warning a terror attack could be likely, but as you say, is no longer imminent.


JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: I want to stress therefore that the change in the threat level does not mean that the threat has gone away. The public needs to know that there may be other people out there who may be planning to attack against the United Kingdom. The threat level is at severe, indicating the high likelihood of an attempted terrorist attack at some stage.


VAUSE: So what does this all mean for travelers? Well now at most British airports they're allowed one piece of hand carry-on luggage onto the plane, about this size, Miles, about the size of a laptop. And this is about half the regular size of what they were allowed to take on before Wednesday, before the alleged terror plot was uncovered. Still no liquids or gels allowed onto the planes, unless, of course, they are medication or baby's milk, and they also must be tasted by an accompanying adult.

And now they are saying that cell phones will be allowed on board as well. Now last night a British Airways flight which was bound for New York had to be turned around because a cell phone was found. No one owned up to actually owning it, so the pilot returned to Heathrow -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, so just to be clear, John, the changes all go into effect tomorrow, correct?

VAUSE: Changes at Heathrow go into effect tomorrow. Right here at Heathrow, it's still a case of plastic bags, flight delays and cancellations. At all the other airports, you're allowed one piece of luggage, hand luggage, onto the plane.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. I guess a lot of people would be curious why, why would they wait?

VAUSE: Well simply Heathrow is the busiest, biggest airport in Great Britain; therefore it's taking a lot longer to get all these security changes through and also to clear the backlog of passengers.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, good.

John Vause at Heathrow, thank you.

The plot to blow up planes is leading investigators to Pakistan. One suspect in particular, Rashid Rauf, and the possibility that money meant for earthquake victims there might have funded the operation.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick now in London with more on that -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, that's exactly what investigators are looking into the possibility that in fact a Muslim charity funneled money to help earthquake victims but instead directed it to three individuals in Pakistan. There are reports that that money was then diverted back to some of the terror suspects to be used specifically in this jetliner plot. Investigators are looking into that possibility now. They're trying to figure out exactly who may have had access to that money and why.

There's also a possibility of, Miles, one thing that they're also running down, and that is whether some of the terror suspects actually traveled to Pakistan to help in the relief effort and at that time may have come into contact with some of the militants who actually at the time were helping run the earthquake relief effort, trying to dig those people out of the rubble in Pakistan. All that under investigation today, a lot of reports this morning -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well that's a terrible twist to think that that money would be used in that way.

Let's talk about who we believe are some of the organizers. This one name we mentioned, Rashid Rauf, what do we know about this person?

FEYERICK: Well what we know about him is that he is a British citizen. He has been in Pakistan. There are reports that suggest he may have helped train some of the terror suspects, the young British Muslims who have been -- who are now in custody.

There is also evidence that his brother, Tayib Rauf, was one of those arrested here in Great Britain. So there you have a Pakistan connection and a U.K. connection. The question of course investigators now looking at is how do you bridge those two men to identify what their respective roles may have been -- Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: All right, so we've got Pakistan and Great Britain involved one way or another. Are there other countries that investigators are focusing on right now?

FEYERICK: Well, the United States, obviously, has a huge team on this. Hundreds of FBI agents went out last week trying to run down a couple of leads, specifically phone calls that had been placed by the terror suspects here in the U.K. to people over in America. However, the FBI is saying there is no evidence that it turned up any sort of American co-conspirator.

Of course they're ruling out nothing. You can't look at this sort of in isolation, it's part of a much larger operation. And so they are just trying to determine right now who these suspects here in Britain may have come in contact with. There may be people in Italy. There's an investigation going on there right now. There's also an investigation going on in Germany. So this has many different places.

M. O'BRIEN: It's interesting how many people knew about this alleged plot, the fact that it remained secret for that long.

FEYERICK: Well that's a big part of it, Miles. And one of the interesting things is everybody is trying to determine a link to al Qaeda. Was it actually sort of an Osama bin Laden sponsored plot? And we spoke to a security expert over the weekend who said you know it really doesn't matter whether he sanctioned it or sponsored it, he is sort of the ideological guru behind it so that these 23 people were able to keep it a secret.

They may not have done such a great job, because some of the information came from the Muslim community itself. So that's why authorities knew about this months and months and months ago, it was just then they had the information that in fact this was so close to going and that some of these people may have allegedly gotten the tip to put this into play.

M. O'BRIEN: Deborah Feyerick in London, thank you.

Baby formula and lipstick back in the cabin this morning, the TSA tweaking its post-plot carry-on regulations for domestic airline passengers.

Kathleen Koch with more.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): What the Bush administration is trying to do is address the new threat of liquid explosives, but at the same time meet the real needs of passengers. So the first measure does tighten security. While most passengers while going through security would remove their shoes for screening, it was optional, that is now mandatory. The other measures address the ban on liquids in gels in carry-on bags. Low blood sugar treatments, including glucose gel for diabetics, will now be permitted. Also now allowed, small doses of liquid medications, like cough syrup, as long as it's less than four ounces.

Also a clarification on a couple of items that prompted some confusion, baby food and solid lipstick are now allowed. However, aerosols are all prohibited, every type of aerosol.

Now many have criticized the federal government for not taking action sooner to develop technology to screen for these sorts of liquids. But the Bush administration insists that what it is trying to do is look for a technology that can not only detect explosives made from common household products, but at the same time not overly inconvenience passengers with constant false positives and thus long delays.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, the White House.


M. O'BRIEN: So in the wake of that alleged airline terror plot, just how safe are we here in the U.S.? All day long CNN is taking a critical look at the locations most vulnerable to possible terror attacks. We're calling it "Target: USA." We'll have live reports from all around the country all morning long, and for that matter, all day long, continuing through "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Stay tuned to CNN day and night of course for the most reliable news about your security -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: This morning some new pictures to show you. They're coming out of Cuba and they are of Fidel Castro. Take a look. The country's communist newspaper released the photos of Castro with his brother, Raul, and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. They're all at his bedside there. The pictures were taken on Castro's 80th birthday which was yesterday.

And on Saturday, another paper released the first photos of Castro since his surgery two weeks ago. These are also the first pictures of Raul Castro since he took over temporary power from his brother. Cuban TV broadcast the images of the acting president greeting the Venezuelan President Chavez at the airport.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, "Target: USA." All day long, CNN examining how prepared we are to stop a new terror attack. On the border with Canada, how hard is it to sneak through with a fake I.D.? We're live near a border crossing in upstate New York to investigate.

S. O'BRIEN: And offshore oil rigs, potential targets for a terrorist attack. We're live on a rig in the Gulf with some answers. That's ahead.

Got much more of AMERICAN MORNING, stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning.

A cease-fire in effect between Israel and Hezbollah but the U.N. brokered deal has already been violated. Israel says there has been fighting in the southern part of Lebanon.

Britain has lowered its terror threat level from critical to severe. The move following last week's news that police foiled a plot to blow up as many as 10 commercial airliners over the Atlantic -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And it's that alleged airline terror plot that leads to the question, just how safe are we here in the U.S.? All day long, CNN is taking a critical look at the locations most vulnerable to possible terror attacks. We're calling it "Target: USA."

Let's begin with security at the border to our north between Canada and the U.S. AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken is in Morristown, New York this morning.

Hey, -- Bob.


And behind me, less than a mile away, is Canada. It's within shouting distance. But more importantly, it's within boating distance. And the residents on the Canadian side and the people here on the U.S. side have been going back and forth for generations very informally. There are no checks whatsoever.

We took the boat trip from Canada over here yesterday, hopped a boat over in Rockville, which is the harbor just up there, and came over. It's a short ride, but it shows just how informal everything is. They do have when you land a procedure that you are supposed to do. You're supposed to go up to a videophone and say we have arrived, here's who we are. But the truth of the matter is, according to just about everybody we talked to, many of the residents just don't do it. Many of the people just don't do it, they just come across, and they are never detected, not spotted.

Now the implications of this are quite clear, somebody could come over who is not a friendly and cause problems. Within three hours of here is Montreal, you also have Toronto, you have Ottawa, so there would be an awful good potential that somebody could come over. And this is part of a larger problem. Just about all officials will admit that along the 4,000-mile border between Canada and the United States there are many gaps.

Now the Customs people and the Border Patrol people say that they have made huge improvements, they have doubled and tripled their staffs along the border. In many cases, they have also added quite a bit of technology. But everybody says that it is still a problem, a very vulnerable border. Where most of the focus has been on the southern border, there is a problem on the northern border -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: That's scary stuff.

All right, Bob Franken for us this morning.

Bob, thanks.

Still to come as we look at "Target: USA," we're live at Chicago's O'Hare Airport where security is still tight after last week's terror scare. Also, we'll take a look at security on an oil rig off of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. And we're live at Grand Central Station here in New York looking at mass transit. "Target: USA" all day today right here on CNN -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Time now for a check of the forecast.

Good morning, Chad Myers, good to see you.

MYERS: Good morning, Miles. Welcome back from the war zone and from your vacation and all that.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, -- Chad.

MYERS: Yes, good to have you here. Good to see you.

M. O'BRIEN: It's good to be back.

MYERS: Good to see you all in one piece.


Back to you guys.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad, you still worried about that pressure cooker effect as time goes on and there aren't storms?

MYERS: You know, well, we should be worried about that a little bit, but we just got the new scans from the sea surface temperature and the temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean are about a degree and a half cooler this year than last year and that helps no matter what. So you know you just don't see the hot weather yet, but it's got to be somewhere.

M. O'BRIEN: Well we're glad to hear it.

MYERS: Yes, absolutely, me too.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Chad.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, the Secret Service arrests a woman outside the White House just moments before the president returned home. We'll tell you what she was doing and would have got her in trouble.

And a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah now in place but may already be in jeopardy. We'll have live reports from both sides of the border of course.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: The Middle East cease-fire having an effect on oil prices already.

Jennifer Westhoven in for Andy Serwer.

Jennifer, good morning.


Yes, we are seeing oil prices down this morning and this could be helpful because before you were mentioning the story about how gas prices are getting to a record, so maybe a little bit of pressure will come off.

Now the reason that we have oil prices down this morning by more than a $1, about $1.01 in this early trading that we have, first of all, what's happening in the Middle East, right, there's talk about a cease-fire here. Now certainly markets are going to want to watch to see that one and how that plays out and if there really is a little bit of peace after a month of violence.

But that could be very helpful, because of course the chief fear here has been not the violence that's going on between Israel and Lebanon, but that it might spill over to Iran somehow or maybe Syria. So the hope is that maybe that won't happen and so that could calm the markets down a lot.

M. O'BRIEN: Now the cease-fire, as we've already been reporting, is kind of fragile. Let's talk about what the markets are anticipating this week in general.

WESTHOVEN: Well, in general -- I just want to throw in though, that also you know BP said they'll reopen up half of that big oil field in Alaska, so that's helping out.

S. O'BRIEN: Will take some of the pressure off, too, right.

M. O'BRIEN: There you go, that has some effect, too.

WESTHOVEN: Right. So now this week what they're going to be looking for probably a lot about inflation. Now of course for so long now the market has been worried about interest rates and inflation, the relationship between them, and this is partially because of the leadership from the Federal Reserve, right. The new chief, Ben Bernanke, has said I'm really interested in looking at this closely.

Now when they met recently, they said we think that the economy is slowing down enough, we don't have to jack up interest rates more, we think that inflation is going to be cool. But he also said we're going to keep looking at the inflation. So now the market is looking at every single piece of data. There's been a lot of hand wringing going on. It's a little bit more of a confusing time for people on Wall Street as they try to decipher every -- they're essentially trying to figure out what's going on in his mind all the time and it's hard.

M. O'BRIEN: Well I don't think Wall Street and Ben Bernanke have figured out how to dance yet. There's still kind of two left feet going on there.

WESTHOVEN: And you know when he came in, he was a professor. A professor, right, you'd think could be very wordy, used to talking at people.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: He learned fast.

WESTHOVEN: Right. He's supposed to be in his field (ph). He wanted to be a better communicator. It's been very...

S. O'BRIEN: No, you don't. Actually, you don't want to say anything at all of this in that kind of job.

Jennifer, thanks, we'll check in with you in a little bit.

We're going to take a look at the morning's top stories straight ahead. A cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, it's in place, but now what? What are the next steps toward peace? We're going to take a look at that.

First, the rules are changing again at the nation's airports. We'll tell you what you need to know before you get on a plane.

Those stories and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, we're back in just a moment.