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American Morning

Bush Meets With Powerful Shiite Leader, With Ties To Iran, In Washington Today

Aired December 04, 2006 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (voice over): A fierce wildfire has destroyed at least five home and scorched more than 4,000 acres in Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles.
DORANN LAPERCH, LOST HOME IN FIRE: We lost all of our personal belongings. My mom and dad's wedding pictures. My dad ashes were in Mom's house.

LAWRENCE: Fueled by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour, the fire spread quickly through the area forcing the mandatory evacuation of at least 150 homes. The fierce winds have been blowing for the past four days, making conditions on the ground very dry and providing a lot of the fuel for the wildfires.

And conditions aren't letting up. The Santa Anas are expected to continue into today and fire officials warn that up to 3,000 homes could be threatened by the fire. Fire officials urged residents to voluntarily evacuate. Those who chose to stay behind did the best they could to protect their homes.

MARGARET FIGUEROA, RESIDENT, VENTURA COUNTY, CA.: Well, I'm pretty OK, as long as I don't see flames over that ridge, I'm OK. I'm just watering down, just in case.


LAWRENCE: We talked to a lot of residents on this very block who said they want to stay as long as possible to try to do whatever they can to save their homes. Firefighters say the wind gusts have been so bad at times, it can be hard just to stand up straight -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Oh, those pictures are just remarkable and so devastating for the homeowners. Chris Lawrence for us this morning. Thank you, Chris.

Later this morning we're going to talk to the woman who lost her father's ashes and her parents' wedding pictures. Oh, horrific stuff. That's at quarter past the hour, this morning -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: It's the start of a pivotal week for the war in Iraq. President Bush is looking for new alliances. A White House meeting planned this afternoon with the leader of the powerful Iraq Shiite faction. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is his name. He's a rival of fellow Shiite leaders, Muqtada al Sadr and the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Tomorrow Robert Gates is set to appear on Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearings. He's nominated to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense. And Wednesday that blue-ribbon panel looking for solutions in Iraq will make its formal report to the president. The Iraq study group expected to recommend a staged withdrawal from Iraq while encouraging the White House to engage Iran and Syria.

First, that meeting at the White House this morning we have two reports, Nic Robertson in Baghdad and Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Let's start with Nic.

Nic, there's that expression, in the Middle East, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. By using that formula, it's hard to see where Abdul Aziz al-Hakim fits.


Certainly he is a very influential figure. We've heard a lot recently about another cleric here in Iraq, a Shia cleric, firebrand Cleric Muqtada al Sadr. He has a large militia. Well, Abdul Aziz al- Hakim has a militia, but he is cut from a different cloth. He's arrived in his position through more political means, and he is a very powerful figure here.


ROBERTSON (voice over): Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the powerful leader of Iraq 's largest Shia party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is friendly to the United States. How much of that warmth is political maneuvering is hard to fathom.

Hakim, a quietly spoken Shia cleric, spent decades in exile in Iran, only returning when Saddam was overthrown. He wants Iran to help out in Iraq.

ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM, SCIRI LEADER (through translator): They can help Iraq and the Iraqis a lot. They can participate in solving security and economic problems.

ROBERTSON: Hakim still has strong ties with Tehran. His party has an Iranian-trained militia, the 25,000-strong Banner Brigade. Many have joined Iraq's national police service. Others pledged to disarm. But the militia, whose commanders got top jobs in the police force, have yet to shake well-founded accusations they're running death squads, killing Sunnis.

Hakim came to leadership by default. His elder brother, Mohammad Bakir Hakim (ph) was blown up by Sunni insurgents. Since then, Hakim has publicly at least preached against retaliation, and steered the Shia towards unity, maximizing their political clout.

But divisions are opening up. Hakim opposed fellow Shia Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister, preferring a candidate from his own party. Now the prime minister is on the political ropes under intense American pressure to disarm his most powerful backer, firebrand Shia Cleric Muqtada al Sadr's militia. Hakim could benefit if the prime minister fails.


ROBERTSON: Hakim also has a historic rivalry, with Muqtada al Sadr. Their fathers were clerics and used to compete for faithful among the Shia. But the message Hakim, we're told, is more likely to deliver to President Bush is one that the United States should support at this time the whole of the Shia community in Iraq, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What about the Sunni community, though, Nic?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly Hakim, in the past, whenever you talk to him, he says, yes, we support the Sunnis. They should stop their violence, but he is on the surface somebody who wants an inclusive government. There are Sunnis included in the government that his political party plays a very, very big role in.

But, at the same time, they want to see the Shias come out in the strongest position. They want to run the country, as a sort of theocracy, if you will. A least with Islamic rules governing the country and a lot of the sort of middle-ground Shias and Sunnis have been opposed to this, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson, live from Baghdad.


S. O'BRIEN: So what's President Bush looking for in this meeting with al Hakim, coming just days after he stood by Iraq's prime minister and gave him the U.S.'s full support? Let's get right to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux; she's live at the White House for us this morning.

Good morning, Suzanne.


Well, al-Hakim, of course, is powerful in his own right. But there are a couple added benefits by meeting with him today. First, as you know, he is a rival to that anti-American Shiite Cleric Muqtada al Sadr, so by bolstering al-Hakim, and becoming closer to him, it marginalizes Sadr's influence inside of the country.

Secondly, because he has those close ties to Iran, it allows the Bush administration to try to influence Iran's behavior, regarding Iraq, without directly talking to Iran. So those are a number of things that the Bush administration certainly hopes they get out of this meeting.

All of this, as you know, Soledad, comes at a time when this classified memo, that was leaked over the weekend, by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, just two days before he announced his resignation, essentially saying that he believed that a major adjustment in U.S. policy regarding Iraq was necessary.

Now, Bush administration officials are trying to downplay the significance of this memo, that there was any kind of deep divisions within the administration, that the message was different than what they were giving the public. We heard National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, over the weekend, saying that Rumsfeld did not endorse any specific option.


STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It was a useful memo. And we used it in that way, to trigger discussions. But this was not a game plan or a set of -- an effort to try to set out the way forward in Iraq.


MALVEAUX: So, Soledad, a lot of competing interests and different messages coming from the Bush administration. In about 72 hours or so, we expect Iraq study group, that bipartisan commission, led by the former Secretary of State James Baker, to give their recommendations to the Bush administration, to see just how this U.S. policy regarding Iraq is going to unfold in the next couple of weeks, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And a lot of leaking memos for an administration that's well known for not having any leaks.

Let's talk for a moment, Suzanne, about the Iraq study group. As you say, Wednesday is when the recommendations come out. Any indication, at least this early, that the president would, in fact, accept whatever recommendations they come up with?

MALVEAUX: So far what we are hearing is that kind of the White House would be cherry picking what they believe is useful, what they actually approve. We've already heard from the president outright rejecting some of those recommendations about gradual troop withdrawals, or partitioning the country, things like that.

But already they're downplaying this. Lowering expectations, saying, look, this is just one of many different inputs that they're going to be getting in the next couple of weeks. The White House has it's own internal review, and the Pentagon, but in a couple of weeks, is when we expect that the president will make some sort of announcement about what he'll accept and what he'll reject -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux for us; she's at the White House. Thanks, Suzanne.

This news just in: New details on the deadly emergency landing by a Marine helicopter in Iraq. The military now says the chopper went down in a lake in al Anbar Province. One Marine died, three others are still missing. The Reuters news agency is reporting that 13 people survived. That enemy gunfire is not suspected, as something that forced the helicopter to make that emergency landing.

The U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is speaking out this morning. He's describing life in Iraq as worse now than when Saddam Hussein was in power. According to a BBC interview, which is airing today, Annan says the level of violence in Iraq is much worse than violence in other recent civil wars. He calls the situation in Iraq extremely dangerous. And he's urging the international community to help rebuild Iraq, saying that nation can't do it alone -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning: A trip to paradise spoiled by a stomach bug, nearly 400 passengers on the world's biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, hit with the norovirus, which causes all kinds of gastro-intestinal problems. The ship now back in Miami being cleaned and disinfected. And 700 people on a Carnival Cruise ship came down with the norovirus last month.

In New Jersey, 19 are sick from e. Coli. Two cases are said to be life-threatening. Most of the sick people range in age from seven to 14 and ate at this Taco Bell in South Plainfield. The restaurant is now closed, saying nothing about the e. Coli outbreak.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sign said, we're sorry for the inconvenience, we're temporarily closed for construction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I figured it was just a routine health inspection. We didn't know it was something serious.


M. O'BRIEN: Health inspectors say the Taco Bell did pass an inspection last week.

About 350,000 people are still without power in Illinois and Missouri after a deadly winter storm. Emergency crews are going door- to-door to check on people. Freezing temperatures are to blame for four more deaths over the weekend, in St. Louis, bringing the storm's death toll to 19. Two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning after burning charcoal in a wok in their home.

S. O'BRIEN: CNN "Security Watch" this morning. How much privacy are you willing to leave behind on your next flight? A revealing -- and we mean, revealing -- new scanner is being tested right now. We're learning more about how the government is keeping score on passengers. CNN's Jeanne Meserve has our story.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (voice over): With a bombardment of low-level X-rays, this so-called backscatter machine can detect weapons concealed on the body. It also reveals the body itself, in exquisite and embarrassing detail.

But with new modifications, operators of the machines will now see only the body's outline. And so the Transportation Security Administration plans to begin pilot testing later this month at Phoenix and a handful of other airports.

But privacy advocates say the more intimate images could still be stored and misused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essentially, they're putting a digital fig leaf on the image. The machine itself can still record all the detail and store that information for use at a later point.

MESERVE: The TSA disputes that.

ELLEN HOWE, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMIN.: The images, once they leave the screen, will be gone forever. They will not be saved in anyway, shape or form.

MESEVE: Other details about travelers certainly are being saved by the government. For the past four years, in secret, the government has compiled information on people entering and leaving the country, scoring the risk they pose by computer. It plans to keep the data for 40 years. It is called the Automated Targeting System, or ATS.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY: Job one for me is to keep bad people out of the United States. That is what the people of this country expect.

MESERVE: But privacy advocates are livid that the government will share the information with state and local governments, even government contractors. Travelers aren't aware of their score, getting the information on which it is based and correcting mistake is cumbersome and lengthy.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY ANALYST: The concern with this is that innocent people will not just, not be allowed to fly as a result of ATS, but also they'll be denied jobs, they'll be denied contracts, and licenses and other benefits as a result of being erroneously identified by the government as terrorist.


S. O'BRIEN: That was Jeanne Meserve reporting for us. Be sure to stay with CNN day and night for the latest and most reliable news about your security.

M. O'BRIEN: coming up, more on that devastating wildfire in Southern California. We'll hear from a woman who has lost not one, but two homes, to the flames.

Plus, a triumph of hope over experience. Meet the first people to rebuild along a devastated stretch of Mississippi's Gulf Coast. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Some of the top stories we're following for youth his morning.

Big victory for a man who called President Bush, the devil. President Hugo Chavez is re-elected in Venezuela.

And the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet is in critical condition this morning. He's 91 years old. Is accused of ordering the murders of thousands of people. He underwent emergency heart surgery over the weekend.

And in Fiji the military has taken to the streets, disarmed the police, and may be preparing to overthrow the government.

M. O'BRIEN: In Southern California fierce Santa Ana winds are fanning the flames of a raging wildfire. Take a look at this video. This comes from Ventura County, that's near Moorpark, about 30 miles outside of Los Angeles. So far nearly 10,000 acres burned, five homes destroyed, and hundreds more in danger.

Joining us by phone now, Dorann LaPerch. Her family lost two homes in the fire, her home and her mother's.

Dorann, good to have you with us. First of all, is everybody OK?

DORANN LAPERCH, WILDFIRE SURVIVOR: Yes, Mr. O'Brien, all the people are OK. And I was able to evacuate all of our pets, with the exception of one of my pet pigeons.

M. O'BRIEN: Tell me about this, how much advanced warning do you have? Were you able to gather up documents, pictures, all the things that are irreplaceable?

LAPERCH: Oh, absolutely not. Not only did we have no warning, we had no fire crews here. I had to call the fire crews. As the fire advanced I was able to get my mother, who is 81 years old, and her cats out of their house, move them to a safe place on the ranch and then start gathering up personal pets, which are birds and cats and dogs.

We lost my mother and father's wedding pictures, my father's World War II medals. I don't even now have a picture of my father.

M. O'BRIEN: It's so tragic to lose those things. Was there anything you could do? I'm looking at these pictures and the way that hot Santa Ana winds is blowing, looks like it's all but impossible to stop these flames.

LAPERCH: We've had severe wind storms in the past, but this one, I think the gusts were well over 80 miles an hour. Sometimes they would almost blow you over. And there was just no way. I mean, even trying to get towards my house, as the fire came, was an effort.

M. O'BRIEN: What are you thinking? I know it's early and you're just kind of assessing what's happened to you. Are you going to rebuild?

LAPERCH: You know, I don't know what we're going to do. Our neighbors just rebuilt from the last fire. It took them three years to rebuild. My mother is 81 years old. I'm just sitting here feeling so helpless and hopeless, all at once.

M. O'BRIEN: What -- this property is a ranch. How much acreage do you have? And is this something that's been in your family for some time?

LAPERCH: We had a 26-acre horse ranch here. And it was my father's dream. When growing up during the Depression, in the Bronx, to one day own land and be a rancher. And he realized that dream when we purchased the property back in 1978 and built it from the ground up.

M. O'BRIEN: I wish you well in whatever you do next. And we're glad everybody is safe and sound. All the best to you and your family as you try to rebuild and move on. Dorann LaPerch, thank you for being with us.

It is about 18 minutes past the hour. Let's check in with Chad Myers and see what the outlook is there for the firefighters.


S. O'BRIEN: A look at the day's top stories straight ahead, plus a huge set back for the world's largest drug maker, and possibly for the next generation of cholesterol lowering pills. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Top stories we're following for you: President Bush meets with the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite group today, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Could push for a bigger role for Iran, which could in turn potentially stabilize Iraq.

And a failing grade in Afghanistan. A new report by the Pentagon and the State Department says U.S. efforts are falling short in training new police officers there.

S. O'BRIEN: Business news now, and there are some drug problems for Pfizer. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Hey, Ali.


This is a big situation to watch today, both for the stock and for people who take drugs regarding cholesterol. Pfizer had this drug in testing, late-stage testing, called Torcetraphib (ph), that was the working name. Unlike those drugs that reduce your bad cholesterol, Torcetraphib (ph) was supposed to raise your good cholesterol by up to 60 percent. They found in trials that it was also raising blood pressure a little bit, which causes heart disease risks. And an independent safety monitoring board found that there were increased deaths and heart disease as a result of it.

On Saturday Pfizer pulled the development of the drug. Now, this is a very, very big deal. Obviously, this would have been a very, very big drug. One of Pfizer's other very, very big drugs is Lipitor. That is the one that reduces cholesterol. But it's going to come off patent sometime around 2010 or 2011. And Pfizer wanted Torcetraphib (ph) to be the drug which replaced it.

Now, that's going to happen -- that was announced on Saturday that they're pulling back on this drug. You should see the stock today, suffering anywhere form 50 to as much as 25 percent.

You'll remember back in 2004 when Merck announced problems with Vioxx and pulled it off the market. It was such a big drug that the stock of that company suffered about 27 percent. The good news is came back. Pfizer has a lot of cash on hand, so it could now aggressively look to buy a drug that someone else is developing that could be a blockbuster. Lipitor was worth $13 billion a year for them. They were hoping for this new drug to replace that. It's going to be a big thing to watch, particularly for those people looking for more drugs to sort of extend life on the heart disease side.

Now, for those of you who are little too young for cholesterol- reducing drugs, McDonald's -- I'm going to tell you about this when I come back -- is introducing gyms. I'm going to spend the next half hour figuring out exactly how much time your kid is going to have to spend at the McDonald's gym to make up for the what you just fed them, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: I suspect a long time.

VELSHI: I think so.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ali.

Coming up, British investigators head to Russia, the latest developments on the poisoning death of a former Russian spy.

Later, call it the home of the brave, we'll visit some of the first people to rebuild along a devastated stretch of Mississippi's Gulf Coast. Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Fire and ice: Wildfires devour homes, force evacuations, in California, while the death toll climbs from that wicked winter storm in the Midwest.

S. O'BRIEN: Outbreaks: Hundreds of cruise ship passengers coming home with a virus, and fast food is suspected in an e. Coli investigation that's hitting some young people very hard.

M. O'BRIEN: Murder and politics, the investigation into the death of that Russian spy goes overseas today and threatens to spark a diplomatic flare-up.

S. O'BRIEN: And up from the ruins, a Gulf Coast couple decides to rebuild on the same exact spot where Hurricane Katrina wiped them out. Their very lonely -- and maybe very risky decision straight ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Monday, December 4th. I'm Miles O'Brien. S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning in Southern California, fierce Santa Ana winds are fanning the flames of a raging wildfire there right now. These pictures from Ventura County, near Moorpark, about 30 miles outside of L.A. So far nearly 10,000 acres burned, five homes destroyed, 100s more on danger this morning.

In the Midwest, the opposite problem, bitter cold in the wake of all that ice and snow. Four more deaths reported overnight, bringing the storm's deadly total to 19. Two men in St. Louis died while trying to burn charcoal inside to stay warm. Investigators say they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power across several states.

A big week in Washington on Iraq policy starting with a White House meeting with president Bush and a top Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. He heads Iraq's biggest Shiite party. Today's meeting comes as Washignton prepares to ehar the recommendations from the blue-ribbon panel Iraq Study Group.

Also, today, President Bush officially send Robert Gats nomination as Defense Secretary to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gates meets with committee members John Cornyn and Susan Collins this morning. gates nomination hearing tomorrow morning.

And a landslide victory for Venezulean president Hugo Chavez. Chavez won 61 percent of the vote to send him into his third six-year term. He's a staunch ally of Cuba and an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration. You recall at the U.N. when he called the President the devil.

S. O'BRIEN: Turning to London now and the very latest on the death of the former Russian spy. A team of British investigators are soon going to be on their way to Moscow. They're hoping to get answers about the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in London for us this morning with the very latest.

Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTL. ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad.

A lot of conspiracy theories, a lot of suspicions are swirling, particularly in the British media, this morning about this ongoing investigation into the former KGB agent, Alexander Litvinenko. Not much coming out this investigation, though, in terms of hard facts, except for that one development, which has been confirmed to us this morning, that British police have been given visas for a team of their investigators to travel to Russia. But there undoubtedly they'll be interviewing witnesses, possibly identifying suspects, but really using the trip to bring together all those very disparate strands of evidence that they've gathered so far.


CHANCE (voice-over): In this complex investigation, it remains some of the best evidence British police have. The radioactive isotope polonium 210, which is believed to have poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko has been detected in more than a dozen places across London, even an aircraft. Its radioactive the British government confirms is leading outside the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wherever this investigation leads, inside or outside of Britain.

CHANCE: And it's been confirmed a team of British investigators is now traveling to Russia. They're expected to interview several Russians who met Litvinenko in London on the day he was poisoned. The head of Russia's FSB, the successor to the KGB, says there'll be cooperation from his office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): That was an absolute tragedy. We are very sorry. What I can say is that he was staying in the U.K. The British government, as well as security authority knew very well what kind of person he was. Therefore, they should have controlled the situation. President Putin said that Russia would provide all the cooperation need for the investigation. We have not heard any requests from the British government. Russia will expand cooperation if requested.

CHANCE: But the poison plot seems to be thickening. One British newspaper suggests Litvinenko may have had many potential enemies, not just the Kremlin, who he accused of ordering his killing. The observer newspaper quotes a Russian academic, Julia Svelslaya (ph), who met Litvinenko several times and exchanged more than 100 e-mails with him. She says the former agent was planning to blackmail several Russian tycoons and government officials with incriminating evidence of how they stole millions from Russian coffers. Everyday, it seems, there's a new theory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ignore all the opinions, ignore all the conspiracy theories because that's what a lot of them are, and just go through the evidence, trace the evidence.

CHANCE: And from Litvinenko's meeting with the Russians at the hotel to the radioactive polonium 210, which experts believe may have originated from Russian labs, police believe that evidence appears to be pointing towards Moscow.


CHANCE: And from his deathbed, Alexander Litvinenko accused the Kremlin of ordering his poisoning. Russian officials have denied that. But these British investigators that are going there hope they maybe have to turn up some crucial evidence -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: CNN's Matthew Chance for us this morning. Thanks, Matthew.

Alex Goldfarb is a Litvinenko family spokesman. He was one of the last people to see his friend alive. Mr. Goldfarb joins us in the studio.

Nice to see you and thanks for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: As you heard from Matthew's piece, there's a number of theories that are out there. What do you believe happened? Who do you believe is responsible? Who does the family think is responsible?

GOLDFARB: Well, I believe that it is the secret services of Russia who only had access to this kind of highly controlled nuclear material. If it's not, it's even more scary because this kind of stuff can be very easily used as a dirty bomb. It's much more toxic than anthrax, for example, for example.

But I believe that it is the Russian government, the Russian secret services. How high in the government this was sanctioned, of course, I cannot know.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think that President Putin would be directly responsible?

GOLDFARB: I have no idea, but Alexander had the privilege of knowing Mr. Putin personally, and he was saying that this is the kind of guy who would do this, and that's why he issued this statement two days before he died.

S. O'BRIEN: There are reports that Mr. Litvinenko's wife, Marina, has tested positive for polonium. Is that true?

GOLDFARB: Well, Marina, I just saw her two days ago, had this Russian traditional memorial meal on the (INAUDIBLE). She's perfectly OK. She was told that she has a (INAUDIBLE) levels of radioactivity, but it's much less than a health hazard would be.

S. O'BRIEN: Why do you think he was the target of an attack? What specifically?

GOLDFARB: Well, he was probably the most hated person within the Russian Security Services, not to mention that he defected in 2000 in a very public way. Since defecting, he has accumulated a lot of evidence actually with friends who stayed back at home., and published this book, which accuses Russian Security Services in staging the bombings in 1999 in Moscow, which were the trigger for the Chechen war, and he blamed these bombings on the Russian Secret Services. So you can imagine, his image was used in shooting ranges by FSB.

S. O'BRIEN: Which is the follow-up of the KGB, the FSB.

GOLDFARB: Yes, which is the successor of the KGB.

And I just heard Mr. Plathursh (ph), the head of the FSB, saying that the whole assistance will be given to British investigators. So the first thing they can do, they could let British investigators see Alexander's friend, Mr. Mikael Triposhkin (ph), another former...

S. O'BRIEN: Who's he?

GOLDFARB: He's another former KGB agent who's serving a term for disclosing official secrets, and who smuggled two letters a few days ago from prison which came to London and are in possession of the Scotland Yard, which actually names a unit within the FSB, which, in his view, was responsible for this assassination. So he's volunteered to be a witness, and we should see whether the British will be allowed to see him.

S. O'BRIEN: That will be interesting to see that. Alex Goldfarb is the family spokesman and also the Litvinenko family friend. Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

GOLDFARB: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: And tonight, a special "ANDERSON COOPER 360," it's going to take an in-depth look at the investigation. It's called "Poison Plot." It's tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, more on that E. coli outbreak. Investigators are zeroing in on a fast food restaurant this morning.

Plus, we'll tell you -- show you new signs that Senator Hillary Clinton is looking to return to the White House, at least from East Wing to the West Wing.

Stay with us.




S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, we're "Minding Your Business." Ali Velshi will tell you about a huge bank merger.

And much on the day's big meeting between President Bush and a powerful Shiite cleric. Is the White House hedging its bets on Iraq's leadership? We'll take a closer look straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



S. O'BRIEN: More than 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, you can drive for miles and miles along the Gulf Coast and see nothing but wiped-out beachfront. And as another day dawns, we're seeing how some people are rebuilding, but it comes at great personal sacrifice, including loneliness.

CNN's Sean Callebs is live for us in Gulfport, Mississippi this morning. Good morning, Sean.


We are in front of Lee and Chi Chi Bryant's home. It may look somewhat modest by beachfront standards, but this home is very symbolic, the first house to be built on the large stretch of Highway 90. To give you an idea how close they are to the beach, we have another camera set up looking at the sunrise. And it's one reason that Lee and Chi Chi wanted to get back in this home so badly, because of the view.

However, look just a little over, and you can see slab after slab after slab. There is rubble everywhere. So far, no one is willing to test the water, like the Bryants and move back in.


CALLEBS (voice-over): Lee and Chi Chi Bryant just couldn't walk away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sand looks nice, doesn't it, nice and smooth?

CALLEBS: Reporter: They are the first people on Highway 90, Mississippi's Gulf Coast, to rebuild after months, trading in their 400-square-foot trailer for a 3,300 square-foot home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the hurricane hit, it made me appreciate what I had had before the hurricane and what I had lost, and I vowed to rebuild.

CALLEBS: The Bryants say people cringe when they explain they're building on exactly the same slab where the old home stood and was washed away, and didn't build it any higher off the ground. But Lee says his new home is safer, with steel rods running from the foundation to the rafters ever two feet throughout the home.

Was there ever any thought to not rebuilding?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None at all. I mean, I didn't hesitate one time. I knew it was going to be difficult to do.

CALLEBS: Like a lot of Gulf Coast homeowners, the Bryants believe they've been shorted by their insurance company. They rebuilt after getting nothing on a $100,000 policy for contents. Money for wind damage is in litigation. So they scrimped and saved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Took about 35,000 bricks to rebuild our home and 10,000 of those bricks are from our old house.

CALLEBS: That saved $7,000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This can be cleaned up, and it will look nice and pretty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Chi Chi is still finding her old knick- knacks Katrina washed away. But what the Bryants really miss are neighbors. Now just slabs and weeds to the left, rubble and more overgrown fields to the right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're rebuilding on the back of us on 2nd Street, but I wish more people would take the initiative like we have and rebuild.

CALLEBS: Until then, they'll be virtually alone on their patch of Highway 90, alone with a view and the hope that others will follow.


CALLEBS: And right here was where the trailer stood during the months their house was under construction.

I want to show you something. This isn't something they planted. This is corn, and it got there because there was a ship area that had some grain in a storage area, well it washed up after the hurricane, and this is the result. And Lee and Chi Chi decided to keep them, because they felt it was symbolic.

But again, you have to look at the neighborhood. They are the first people here. But so many other people still remember that terrifying day when a 28-foot tidal surge came in, washed away the area. And right now they say that virtually no one has indicated they're going to build, none of their neighbors.

So, Soledad, they're going to be apparently alone for a long time.

S. O'BRIEN: Which is so sad and depressing in ways. But why would that not build up? I mean, you know, you're talking about that tidal surge coming in, you'd think you'd want to move you house up 20 feet, put it on, you know, stilts.

CALLEBS: It's a legitimate question. I asked them, a, how could they do it? Why didn't the city, or the state or someone come in and say, if you're going to do this -- or they're insurance company, you must be up. But They feel that those bolts that we talked about that go from the slab to the rafters every two feet all around this home, they believe that's going to be enough to save the house if another storm comes in. But, boy, another Hurricane Katrina comes in, they could be putting pieces back together all over again.

S. O'BRIEN: And they had no problems getting insurance for this new house?

CALLEBS: They're still fighting with their old insurance company. They didn't have trouble getting insurance for this house. I don't know about wind damage or federal flood insurance. That's one thing that we have not talked about, but I imagine it's difficult at best.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I would imagine. Sean Callebs with a great story this morning. Thank you, Sean -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, more on the aftermath of that severe snowstorm in the Midwest over the weekend, the death toll is climbing.

Plus, a leaked memo leading into a momentous week in the fight for Iraq, what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called for just days before he resigned. We'll tell you about that memo, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.