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American Morning

Toxic Substance Spilled in Subway Station; Out in the Cold

Aired January 18, 2007 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: CNN exclusive, surveillance videotape of a toxic substance spilled in a subway station. The man, you see in the tape, is still missing. Could this be a dry run for a terror attack? We'll take a look.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Out in the cold, hundreds of thousands without heat or power in the dead of winter. Fixing the problem could take days or weeks.

S. O'BRIEN: Chilling new questions. The man accused of kidnapping two boys in Missouri now being investigated for other abductions.

M. O'BRIEN: And the airline runaway. A nine-year-old boy talks his way on to two different flights. His mom is speaking out on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. It's Thursday, January 18th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. We are glad you are with us.

We begin in Los Angeles and a CNN exclusive. Authorities are searching for a man who spilled mercury on a subway platform. Was it an accident, merely malicious, or perhaps was it a dry run for a terror attack? Either way, the police response to that spill was shockingly slow. Deborah Feyerick is here with a story you will only see on CNN.

Good morning, Deb.


Well, four weeks after a mercury spill on the Los Angeles subway, and in response to numerous inquiries by CNN, the FBI is now asking the public for help to find the man who spilled the hazardous material, and question him to determine if it was an accident or not.

That statement, released late last night, says the task force is hopeful that the subject and/or witnesses will come forward.


FEYERICK (voice over): What do these pictures mean? Especially in a post-9/11 world when what appears ordinary may be the key to a future terror attack. This surveillance video obtained exclusively by CNN shows the Pershing Square Subway Station in Los Angeles, late Friday before Christmas. A man in a brown jacket crouches down on the platform and spills a silvery liquid from a small bottle.

An accident? Maybe. Except the liquid turns our to be mercury, about five fluid ounces.

KEN ROBINSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: It doesn't make sense. The only thing that does make sense is to find him and interrogate him.

FEYERICK (on camera): The fact that it doesn't make sense, is that what bothered you the most?

ROBINSON: Yes, because the -- uh, he's got a heavy metal. He's taking it into a subway. There's no good reason to do that. None.

FEYERICK (Voice over): Ken Robinson, a terrorism expert who worked intelligence in the Pentagon, has analyzed hundreds of Al Qaeda tapes for CNN.

(On camera): When you look at this incident, do you think in your mind that this is a dry run for a terror attack?

ROBINSON: I for sure think that it should be treated as if it is.

FEYERICK: Mercury, found in thermometers, is dangerous when swallowed. But spilling it would have no immediate toxic effect. That's one reason why the LA County Sheriff's Department, in charge of the investigation, believes the spill was likely an accident. Also, the man who spilled it placed a call, moments after, from a call box alerting authorities.

STEVE WHITEMORE, LA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: At this point, we are relatively confident is it not a credible threat.

FEYERICK: But a 2005 joint FBI And Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin warns terrorists may make calls to test police reactions. In the case of the spilled mercury, according to the HAZMAT clean-up report read to CNN, law enforcement did not respond for a full eight hours.

Pat D'Amuro, now a CNN analyst, was a top FBI counterterrorism agent. He says it's premature to rule out terror.

PAT D'AMURO, GIULIANI SECURITY & SAFETY: I'm not saying in this video these individuals are terrorists, but there's some very strange activity that needs to be identified here.

FEYERICK: The sheriff, who oversees the investigation, sent out an alert to be on the lookout for a man described as white or Middle Eastern wanted in connection with a possible act of terror. Four weeks later the FBI in Los Angeles sent out its own bulletin saying the man is still wanted for questioning in connection with "unexplained activity".

(END VIDEOTAPE) FEYERICK: Now, several law enforcement people we spoke with said the intelligence should have been shared more widely, more quickly, so that authorities at the federal, state and local levels could be analyzing it together, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Wait a minute. Post-9/11, that was what everybody was talking about. Sharing information, connecting the dots, all that. It does not seem like it's in play here.

FEYERICK: It definitely does not seem like it's in play. I spoke to dozens of people on this, a couple pieces that are missing.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's hope some lessons are learned before it's something more than mercury. All right, Deb Feyerick. Thank you very much. Good job.


S. O'BRIEN: Another big story we're following for you this morning, the harsh winter weather that is coast to coast. Freezing rain in Atlanta, rare snowstorms in the canyons above Malibu, which really is a surreal turn for Southern California's nearly week-long cold snap. A stretch of I-5 is still closed this morning between the LA, the LA Basin and the San Joaquin Valley. That, of course, is one of California's busiest highways.

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people still don't have power from those ice storms that rolled through. CNN's Rob Marciano has more on all of that for us.

Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning. Paying a price everybody is for New York's mild winter, that's for sure. But with snow in California and ice everywhere else, it's just been a big old mess. But what we have seen lately is certainly that ice is a lot more inconvenient than shoveling snow.


MARCIANO (voice over): At least 300,000 homes and businesses from the nation's heartland to New England are still without power. Crews are working to restore electricity in New Hampshire, where some residents are reeling from dangerously cold temperatures.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was hard, you know, went to bed like this, with a sweater, a shirt, you know, it's really cold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One night was a miserable night. Let me tell you, I just couldn't get warm.

MARCIANO: In Missouri, entire towns are in the dark.

SUSIE STONNER, MISSOURI DEPT. OF EMERGENCY MGMT.: We still have hundreds -- over 100,000 people without power, especially in the southwestern part of the state, along the I-44 corridor. MARCIANO: Utilities report 92,000 outages in Oklahoma. In the town of McCallister, 600 line workers are packed into temporary quarters. And they are not leaving any time soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told us maybe a week and a half, maybe next Wednesday or something.

MARCIANO: Utility workers from Maine to Texas will work for weeks to repair the damage from this latest storm. During what's been a relatively mild winter for most of the country, widespread power problems may be the biggest headline of the season.


MARCIANO: This storm has affected folks in Illinois and Missouri that got hammered with ice about a month ago. Guess what, Soledad and Miles? There's a winter storm warning posted for New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma for this weekend, for another snow and ice storm rolling in across the South.

Good news is this one probably will be the last one at least for a few days.

M. O'BRIEN: We know where you're headed next, I guess.

MARCIANO: Heading west.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, you'll never get home at this rate. Thank you very much.


M. O'BRIEN: Turning to Iraq now, a series of deadly blasts rocking Baghdad again today. Here's what's new this morning: At least 17 people killed, dozens injured, the third straight day of bombings in Baghdad. Car bombings near a vegetable market in a Sunni neighborhood killed at least 10.

President Bush taking fire from lawmakers in his own party, over his plans for a troop surge in Iraq. In the Senate they'll debate a resolution opposing the Bush plan. At least two GOP senators are supporting it. Andrea Koppel joining us from Capitol Hill, with more.

Andrea, good morning.


Well, it comes about a week after President Bush laid out his vision for sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. Just about a week before his State of the Union Address, those Democrats, and at least one senior Republican, hope that they're going to be able to have this mostly symbolic resolution get a lot of Republican support, at least significant support, in order to not only pressure to change U.S. policy, but also further isolate President Bush.


KOPPEL (voice over): It was a picture of bipartisan unity, Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel standing shoulder to shoulder with two Senate Democrats. The three men united in their opposition to President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. Determined to send him a message.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R-NB): This is a serious resolution. Put forth by serious people who care about our country. There is no moral high ground that one group of senators has over the other. If there is a disagreement on policy, that's what a democracy is about.

KOPPEL: But Senator Hagel aside, the question is how many other Republicans are ready to sign on to a resolution which equates sending more U.S. troops to Iraq to escalating U.S. involvement? Among an estimated eight Republicans who have publicly said they, too, oppose the president's plan, several told CNN the word "escalate" in the resolution was a red flag they would not be able to support.

Only one, Maine's Olympia Snowe told CNN she would likely vote in favor, while another, Ohio's George Voinovich said he was reserving judgment until he'd seen it.

Among at least five other rank-and-file leaning against the president's plan to send more U.S. troops, Virginia's John Warner told CNN he was trying to work out a constructive alternative to the president's approach. Even the Republican minority leader had to admit his party was divided.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: There is sort of a variety of different points of view in the Republican conference about the appropriate response to the president's decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq.


KOPPEL: And CNN has learned that some Republicans including Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, who, until recently had been a registered Democrat, are working behind the scenes to try to come up with some language that would be acceptable, either in a resolution or in a bill, Miles, only this one would be in support of the president's plan.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, whatever happens, the troops are on the way, right?

KOPPEL: Well, President Bush -- exactly. I mean, President Bush has sent -- said that some troops who are already positioned nearby in Kuwait will be sent in. There are still thousands of other troops that would have to be sent in the months to come.

M. O'BRIEN: Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel will be our guest at 7:30 Eastern Time, about 20 minutes from now. Stay tuned -- Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: The new Congress is plowing through its first 100 hours to-do list. So far, 34 hours, five minutes have ticked away. Five of the six bills of the new Democratic leaders promised to pass, they've passed. The latest bill is to get the green light -- it's going to cut interest rates on some student loans, cut them in half. Today the House debates a bill to end tax breaks for oil companies. All the bills have to be approved by the Senate and by President Bush.

Ahead this morning, freezing rain today. More snow, you heard Rob say just a moment ago, for the weekend. We are talking about the deep South now. Rob Marciano is in for Chad. He'll update us on the forecast straight ahead.

Plus, a story will you see only on CNN. Emotional letters from inside a secret CIA prison. The detainee who sent them is fighting to clear his name.

And we'll tell you the story of a nine-year-old boy who stole a car, talked his way onto -- not one, but two airplanes. We'll tell you why his mom says he did it. Those stories and much more right here on AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning is on CNN.


M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here. Here's some of what we are watching this morning. Michael Devlin who is accused of kidnapping those two Missouri boys is in court this morning. Police now wondering if he may be linked to other missing boys.

And an abrupt reversal for the Bush administration. The Justice Department announcing it will get court approval before eavesdropping on Americans who are suspected terrorists.

Quarter past the hour. Rob Marciano is right here, right beside us. Special guest weather person here. Good to have you here.


S. O'BRIEN: We're getting an inside look this morning inside one of those once-secret CIA prisons from a man who was held there before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He wrote letters from behind bars. You will see them only on CNN. CNN's Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena is in Washington, D.C. with this broadcast exclusive.

Kelli, good morning.


His family says they have been through hell since one of their own was taken into custody and labeled an Al Qaeda terrorist. So much so that they say the harassment got so bad they had to move from their home in Baltimore. But they say they feel the need to do what they can to help him, to make the public aware of what's happening, so they shared letters they received from him with us.


ARENA (voice over): The government says Muhjeed (ph) Khan is one of the worst of the worst. One held of the 14 alleged terrorists held in secret CIA prisons, then transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He hasn't been heard from for more than three years, his family wasn't even sure he was alive, until now.

MAHMOOD KHAN, BROTHER OF DETAINEE: When we saw the letters, the only thing that, I think, good came out of it is that we know where he is, and before it was uncertainty.

ARENA: Three letters in all, delivered by the family by the Red Cross. It's the first time anyone has heard from any of the 14 men.

KHAN: He's asking for lawyers. He's trying to tell us that he's innocent and he has nothing -- or done nothing. That's what we get really out of his words.

ARENA: Khan writes: "In this letter I am going to mention some things I have been through." Apparently talking about his time at a secret CIA prison. But all you see after this is a page of black. Details the government blocked out calling the information too sensitive.

KHAN: So from the whole letter, this is what we get, as a family, two lines up top, two lines at the bottom. That's it. This is what makes you feel frustrated.

ARENA: The only part that is not blacked out is where he says, "I didn't even have my glasses to read or to see." In another letter, referring life at Gitmo he says, "I do get to go outside from my cell to get sunburn for about one hour every day, and sometimes I get to talk to other detainees as well, from behind the wall. But I am still in solitary confinement."

According to the Bush administration, Kahn, who lived in Baltimore, is being held for allegedly plotting to blow up gas stations, and poison water supplies in the United States.

He has been denied what many Americans think is a basic right -- access to his lawyer. She sued the government to get Kahn the right to challenge his detention in court.

GITANJALI GUTIERREZ, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: They certainly have refused to move forward in federal court or actually present any sworn or credible evidence.

ARENA: While much attention is focused on what Kahn wrote about his treatment, his family is mostly touched by the personal passages.

KHAN: "Please let me know, in our family, who is married to who, newborn babies, and who has died. And I don't need to tell you how much I love you, and miss you guys."


ARENA: But Kahn has not been charged with any crime. He remains what is called an enemy combatant in military custody -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Kelli Arena for us, this morning. Thanks, Kelli for that story. Pretty remarkable letters there.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, a hacking alert. A couple of popular discount stores are warning to you check your credit card bills. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business".

And meet a nine-year-old who talked his way on to two airplanes. But not before leading police on a high-speed chase. It's quite a story. You'll hear it when we come back. Stay with us for AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Meet a little boy who's only nine years old, but he is in a big, big heap of trouble this morning. He's from Tacoma, Washington. Somehow he was able to talk his way on to two airplanes, then flew all the way from San Antonio, Texas. He wants to go back to his home in Dallas. Those rides are not the only ride he's accused of stealing today. CNN's Dan Simon has our story this morning.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (voice over): He's just a fourth grader, but somehow Washington State authorities say Semaj (ph) Booker figured not only how to steal a car but to drive one as well, leading police on a high-speed chase on Sunday through the streets of Tacoma, Washington, and its nearby suburbs.

LT. DAVID GUTTU, LAKEWOOD WASHINGTON POLICE: In speeds up to 90 miles an hour, and over by the South Hill Mall, apparently lost control, or somehow and then the car started on fire.

SIMON: His mother told a Seattle television station that he's just a troubled young kid who needs a father figure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He needs a male role model. And he's really seeking it.

SIMON: Seeking it all the way to Texas, where the boy has family. You see, one day after the police chase, Semaj (ph) turned up at the Seattle Airport. Not only that, authorities say he got on a Southwest Airlines flight. The airline tells us he posed as somebody else to get their boarding pass. How the boy knew what name to use isn't clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't help him to get on a plane. I didn't give him any money to get on a plane. SIMON: He flew on not one, but two flights, from Seattle to Phoenix, then Phoenix to San Antonio. When he tried to get on a third flight to Dallas, airport police took him into custody.

Obviously there are a lot of unanswered questions. The airline tells CNN, quote, "This is a highly unusual situation that is still being investigated."

As to how Semaj (ph) got past airport security, children don't need photo I.D., just a boarding pass, which he had. His mother says it's clear the boy needs help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We already got a plan, that he was going to go stay with my sister in Illinois.

SIMON: For now, nine-year-old Semaj (ph) isn't going anywhere. He's charged with two serious crimes, car theft and evading police. Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


S. O'BRIEN: His mom says he wants to go back to Dallas, which is where they used to live, where his grandfather lives. This was the ninth time, apparently, that he has tried to run away. Third car involved in stealing.

M. O'BRIEN: Obviously, a very sharp, resourceful kid. The thing to do is channel it in a different direction, I think, at this point. Don't you think?

S. O'BRIEN: That's a nice read.

M. O'BRIEN: How's that for spin?

S. O'BRIEN: Channeling! This is beyond the channeling his energy, I believe.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, he's got some issues.

S. O'BRIEN: But that's my parenting style.

M. O'BRIEN: ALL right.

Attention, Marshal shoppers, your information may have been stolen. It's 25 minutes past the hour. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business".

Good morning, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Miles and Soledad, we should hire that kid to be CNN's travel reporter. I want to know how he gets through all that stuff. I can't get through it with my own ticket and name.

TJX companies, this is Marshals, as you said, TJ Max, AJ Wright, Home Goods, and if you're in Canada, Homes Sense Stores, systems were hacked. They discovered it in late December, they tell us. But the hacking goes back all the way possibly to 2003.

It's related to debit cards and credit cards that were used to return merchandise to any of these stores. So, if you have been at these stores and returned anything since 2003, you might want to check your credit card statements to see if anything is unusual on them.

Here's what it is. Initial reports suggested that up to 40 million credit card holders could be affected by this, or debit card holders, could be affected by this. We talked to TJX to try and get some details on it. We got a remarkably unclear statement from them.

It says: "We have been able to identify a specifically identify a specific number, substantially less than millions of credit card holders, whose information was accessed and/or removed from our system."

"Substantially less than millions"? That could be two, could be a million, who knows. You don't have liability because the credit card companies protect you. If it is a debit card it is linked to your checking account. That may be a different issue. However, obviously, if somebody has your credit card information that could lead to identity theft or identity fraud.

The FBI and U.S. attorney's office is investigating. TJX says it is informing customers of the matter. That's a pretty big one. It is "substantially less than millions", but it's big, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Right. So, there's either two letters going out right now, or a million.

VELSHI: Or -- yes.

S. O'BRIEN: I shop there. I'll let you know if I get a letter.

VELSHI: Thank you. I'll take my own count.


M. O'BRIEN: Top stories of the morning are coming up next. We go inside the GOP revolt against the president's plan for Iraq. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel will join us.

Plus, we'll go behind the wheel at winter driving school. We will get some important tips to keep you safe when the roads turn dangerous. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.



M. O'BRIEN: In Missouri, authorities are adding more charges and reopening some cold cases as Michael Devlin prepares to face a judge. Devlin due in court in a few hours to face the first of the charges that he kidnapped two boys. But there are many more charges which may come. Chris Lawrence has the latest. Good morning. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

In just about two hours from now, Michael Devlin will be arraigned on one charge of kidnapping Ben Ownby. But now there's another. And this one alleges that Devlin used a handgun to force Shawn Hornbeck to come with him. The investigators say that Devlin abducted Shawn Hornbeck while riding his bike a little over four years ago. He says he used the gun to force Shawn to comply with him, and then took him out of the county. The investigators say that, you know, over the years there has been, you know, times when he lived with Devlin at that apartment. There's been speculation that because Shawn rode his bike, that he had friends, that he seemed to come and go, that there was speculation that he could have escaped at some point and chose not to. But yesterday the sheriff and the prosecutor dismissed that notion.


KEVIN SCHROEDER, WASHINGTON COUNTY SHERIFF: This is something that is so bizarre that the normal individual cannot grasp what this then 11-year-old boy went through. OK? There is no way that anybody can project on to Shawn what he should have, could have or would have done. Nobody knows. Nobody was in that situation.


LAWRENCE: There are several other missing persons cases relating to children that have been in this area over the last 15 years. Investigators are looking now back at the records to see if Devlin might have been involved in them. But as of yet, there is no evidence to link him to any other children -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence in Union, Missouri, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A new Senate resolution criticizing President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops into Iraq says it would not be in the national interest of the United States. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel co-sponsored the bipartisan resolution. He joins us this morning from Capitol Hill.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking to us.


S. O'BRIEN: You've opposed the war for quite awhile now. But the bottom line of this resolution is that it's really going to do nothing to keep these 21,000-plus troops that have been proposed by the president from going to war. Isn't that right?

HAGEL: No, I don't think that's a correct assessment of what we have proposed.

Let's start with this reality: The Congress of the United States is a co-equal branch of government in our government -- actually, Article I of the Constitution. We have a constitutional role to play. We have a responsibility to the people we represent. We have a responsibility to the Constitution and to our country to work with the president in shaping foreign policy. Certainly, appropriations is one of our constitutional responsibilities.

But when a resolution is passed in the Congress of the United States, that means something. What does it mean? It means that we reflect, in most ways, the feeling of the people of this country.

S. O'BRIEN: So people would say...


HAGEL: Soledad, let me finish.

S. O'BRIEN: You finish your thought, and then I'll jump in there. Go ahead.

HAGEL: Let me finish this, because this is important. A president of the United States cannot sustain a foreign policy, certainly a policy that projects America into war.

And we've been at war for four years in Iraq without the support of the American people, without the bipartisan support of Congress. That is important, Soledad, because in the end it will crumble, it will fall apart. And right now the president does not have the support of the American people.

S. O'BRIEN: OK, so you're expressing...


HAGEL: This resolution is to help him.

S. O'BRIEN: ... a lack of support and you're saying, "in the end," but some people would say, including the White House, by the way, as I'm sure you well know, says it actually has no effect on the president's plan to send 20,000 troops into Iraq.

HAGEL: Well, first of all, this is a process. This resolution that we presented is a process that will engage the Congress and the nation in a national debate over Iraq. We've not had that for four years, Soledad, and this is -- over a four-year period, where we've lost more than 3,000 dead Americans, 22,000 wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars.

S. O'BRIEN: But on that point...

HAGEL: Let me finish -- let me finish, please. You asked me a question, I'll answer it. This is a beginning of a process. The appropriations process in the House will begin with the president's $100 billion supplemental emergency request (inaudible) the 2008 defense appropriations. This begins a national debate on what we should do.

No one is suggesting, Soledad, in this resolution -- I never have; I don't think any of my colleagues up here have -- to cut and run, to leave Iraq in the mess that it's in. We're not talking about that. We're talking about better ways to do it. Included in the resolution are some of those ways.

S. O'BRIEN: But you raise the point of the number of dead U.S. service people, which is now at 3,027. And you say it's the start of a process. And there are plenty of people who would say, "Well, that's great about a process. But, sir, I can almost guarantee you by tomorrow, that number, 3,027 dead is going to be up two, three, four, five soldiers." Some people would say, "While Congress is debating the process, people are dying. Why not do something a little more tangible?"

HAGEL: Well, let's look at the facts. Already in process right now -- and this is a process business. You may not like it, may not be fast enough for you or some people, but that's the reality of it.

Right now in process is an order from the president, who is the commander in chief, who is a co-equal partner in this government, who does have significant power as commander in chief, there's an order out to already move some of those 22,000 more troops into Iraq. That process is under way now.

So is the alternative just to stop that right now, to stop that ship, stop those planes, to stop that funding? Is that the responsible way to do this, Soledad? I don't think so. I don't think so. That was never the intention of the founders of our institutions.

And we need to have some orderly governance here. This is a government of laws, Soledad. And the president has powers, absolutely he has powers.

Now, if the White House chooses to dismiss what we do in the Congress, I think they will come back around and revisit that. You can't dismiss the Congress of the United States like some appendage, because we represent the people. We are a co-equal branch of government.

So, in the end, it will result in something here.

S. O'BRIEN: Senator Chuck Hagel is a Republican from Nebraska.

Always nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us -- Miles.

HAGEL: Thanks, Soledad. Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up in the program, dangerously slick roads in some unlikely places. What you need to know to stay between the ice- covered lines.

Rob Marciano went to winter driving school. He says it was a gas.

Plus, battling obesity. There's one at-risk group of women that doctors are trying to reach.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning right here.



S. O'BRIEN: All across the country winter weather is making for some very rough conditions on roads and on highways. You see some of this videotape, you can always learn to be a better driver when the roads are bad.

CNN's Rob Marciano did. He went to driving school, Winter Driving School, and got an A, B, C?


M. O'BRIEN: An 'A' for accident.


The advantage of being at the Winter Driving School is that you a nice wide track. It's snow and ice covered, but there are no snow banks and no other cars to run into. So it's a little bit easier out there. But there are some helpful tips to help you avoid scenes like we've been showing you all week. Take a look.


MARCIANO (voice over): You think you've got winter driving skills? Or is this more your style? No worries. The pros are here to help.

KURT SPITZNER, WINTER DRIVING INSTRUCTOR: We have a saying in the business. It's called hands and feet follow the eye. If you are staring at what you are about to hit, you are going to hit it. If you make yourself look somewhere else, almost instinctively your hands and your feet will figure it out.

MARCIANO: Of course, slowing down is essential. Winter driving instructor Kurt Spitzner explains how to use today's antilock brakes.

SPITZNER: When you use antilock brakes -- in other words, you are feeling that chatter against your foot -- that you leave your foot firmly on that pedal until the slowing down or stopping situation has come to an end.

MARCIANO (on camera): Don't pump the brakes?

SPITZNER: Absolutely not. Come on down and brakes. Let's try it just a little bit slower this time. And brakes.

The thing to remember about antilock brakes is that it doesn't necessarily shorten your stopping distances, but it does improve your control.

MARCIANO (voice over): In other words, don't tailgate.

(on camera): Kurt, what's the first thing that somebody should think about when they start to feel their car slide?

SPITZNER: Well, they need to identify what kind of skid they are having. There's two types of skids. One is called understeer, one is called oversteer.

MARCIANO (voice over): Oversteer is when the back end slides out. Understeer is when your wheels are turned but the car keeps going straight. And Kurt says, in that situation, you need to get off the brake.

SPITZNER: And go for the brakes. Go for the steering. Nothing steers. Let go of the brakes. The car steers.

MARCIANO (on camera): God, it takes you right out of it

SPITZNER: Absolutely.

MARCIANO (voice over): An oversteer slide is one most people have experienced. Instincts tell the driver to hit the brakes, but you need to get the weight on the rear tires. You need to hit the gas.

SPITZNER: The back end comes around. Turn to the right, add a little bit of throttle, it settles right down. Beautiful. Notice how we didn't add any speed.


MARCIANO: A lot easier on a closed track than a road that's filled with a lot of traffic. But the one thing, guys, that I came away with, which once you do it, you can't believe it's so easy. Look away from the bad stuff. Look to where you want to go and instinctively your hands and feet will take the car there, in theory.

M. O'BRIEN: Now you were talking -- a lot of people watch this saying I have four-wheel drive, I'm OK. Not necessarily so?

MARCIANO: Well, the theories are the same. The mechanics are the same as far as what do you do? Do you hit the gas? Do you hit the brakes. But four-wheel drive will help you get out of a situation quicker. The problem is with four-wheel drive so many people are more confident; they go too fast and they get into the skid and the slide a little bit more easily, so you still have to be careful, especially with the ice, guys, which has been the issue the past couple of weeks. And then often in that case it doesn't matter what kind of four-wheel drive you have and what kind of driving skills you have, when you have ice on the roadways, especially if it's thick, you have absolutely no control.


M. O'BRIEN: Battling obesity. Doctors identify a group of people with a greater risk for dangerous weight gain? Sanjay Gupta will explain who that group is.

And Wal-Mart is accused of, get this, organic fraud? What do you suppose that means? Ali Velshi has the story. He's "Minding Your Business," next.


M. O'BRIEN: An interesting question this morning in our "Fit Nation" report: What does your sexual orientation have to do with weight? Dr. Sanjay Gupta joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with more.

Good morning, Sanjay.


You know, as we traveled around the country looking at some of these Fit Nation reports, we found some programs that really seem to work, for example aerobics classes for African-Americans, special exercise programs for the elderly, nutrition classes for Latinos, but there's one group of women that still has a hard time struggling with their weight.


GUPTA (voice-over): Laura Brown shocked herself when she became an award-winning triathlete.

Victoria Stagg Elliot was surprised to find she loved, and excelled at ice skating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Get it there and lift.

GUPTA: Both are unexpected athletes, once so obese their lives were at risk.

LAURA BROWN, CYCLIST: By the time I was 28, 270 pounds, I remember walking into malls and stores, and I would look down at the ground because I didn't want to look up and see somebody looking at me with disgust on their face.

VICTORIA STAGG ELLIOT, ICE SKATER: Ten years ago, I couldn't climb a flight of stairs without feeling like I was dying; I had to sit down.

GUPTA: And they have something else in common -- they're both lesbians. Researchers are finding a link between sexual orientation and a woman's weight.

DR. DEBORAH AARON, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: There were significant differences between lesbians and heterosexual women.

GUPTA: Epidemiologist Deborah Aaron says recent studies show lesbians are more likely to be overweight or obese. As for why? Aaron speculates it could be stress, feeling discrimination. Some may overeat. That was Laura Brown's explanation.

BROWN: I got depressed. I'd eat, and then I'd gain weight, and then I'd be depressed, so I'd eat to feel better. GUPTA: Others suggest gay women are more comfortable with the bigger bodies than straight women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was gorgeous then and she's just as pretty now. She didn't believe that, but it didn't change one way or the other for me. I still love her as much as I did the first day.

GUPTA: Scientists want to do more studies targeting gay populations. In the meanwhile, Victoria Stagg Elliot says everyone can be healthier if they find a passion, as she has.

ELLIOT: The best exercise or playing whatever you want to do is something that you enjoy, that you want to keep doing.


GUPTA: And Dr. Brown, who you just saw there in the piece, started this program in Pittsburgh, but is hoping to take the program more nationally, targeting lesbian populations around the country.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Sanjay. We'll see you back with more a little bit later.

Top stories ahead, including the battle over Iraq on Capitol Hill. Another top Republican breaking ranks with the president. We'll go live to Washington.

Plus, the fight against global warming making for some strange bedfellows. A closer look at An unlikely alliance between science and religion, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning right here.