Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Michael Devlin's Day in Court; Cockpit Flight Tapes: Pilot's Last Words; Robert Gates in the Gulf

Aired January 18, 2007 - 06:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN exclusive. Surveillance videotape of a toxic substance being spilled in a subway station. The man in the tape is still missing. Was it a dry run for a terror attack? We take a look.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Out in the cold. Hundreds of thousands without heat or light in the dead of winter. Restoring power could take days or even weeks.

Chilling, new questions. The man accused of kidnapping two Missouri boys now investigated for other abductions.

S. O'BRIEN: And an airline run away. A nine-year-old boy talks his way onto two different flights after stealing a car. His mom is speaking out on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. It is Thursday, January 18th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

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

We begin in Los Angeles and a CNN exclusive. Authorities are searching for a man who may be plotting some kind of terror attack. He spilled mercury on a subway platform. What does it mean? Well, could it possibly have been a dry run for a real attack? And we have learned the police response to that spill was shockingly slow. Deborah Feyerick is here with a story you'll see only on CNN.

Good morning, Deb.


Well the big question right now is, how's law enforcement, after all the country's been through, learn to react to what they see, even if they don't know what it means? Well, there's a big discrepancy this morning and a difference of opinion between a lot of different agencies.


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 on the platform and spills a silvery liquid from a small bottle.

An accident? Maybe. Except the liquid turns out to be mercury. About five flood ounces.

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

FEYERICK: The fact it doesn't make sense, is that what bothers you the most?

ROBINSON: Yes. Because he's got a heavy metal and he's taking it into a subway. There's no good reason to do that. None.

FEYERICK: Ken Robinson, a terrorism expert who worked intelligence in the Pentagon, has analyzed hundreds of al Qaeda tapes for CNN.

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 the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, in charge of the investigation, believes the spill was likely an accident. Also, the man who spilled it place a call moments after from a call box alerting authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, we are relatively confident it is 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 cleanup 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, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I'm not saying that 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.


FEYERICK: And in the post-9/11 world, one expert said to us, when you don't know what it is, it's better to overreact than underreact.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, that last point in your piece, that four weeks later the FBI suddenly comes out with that circular. What happened?

FEYERICK: What happened is, is we started calling on the story and they down played it, said it was nothing. And when we kept pressing and told them we were going to run with this story, then they released the press release late last night.

M. O'BRIEN: And local authorities there have been downplaying it. Why?

FEYERICK: They think that the evidence suggests, because it was a mercury spill and mercury doesn't necessarily do anything, it's not a dangerous substance, it's not a credible threat. They also say because the guy called it in, maybe what he was doing is just trying to gauge the response to this particular incident. Or that's what the other experts are saying. The locals are saying, see, he wanted to let people know that there had been a spill. So it's the way the information is analyzed and it's the way it's read.

M. O'BRIEN: Well let's hope the next time there's a call like that it doesn't take them eight hours to check it out.

FEYERICK: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: Deb, thank you very much. Good job.


S. O'BRIEN: The top story this morning. The harsh winter weather that's coast to coast. Freezing rain in Atlanta. A rare snowstorm in the canyon above Malibu. A surreal turn for southern California's nearly week-long cold snap, in fact. A stretch of I-5 is still closed this morning. And between the Los Angeles basin and the San Joaquin Valley, it is one of California's busiest highways, of course. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people still without power from those rolling ice storms we've been telling you about. It's a list, a long one, and not a pretty one. CNN's Rob Marciano has that for us this morning.

Hey, Rob.


Boy, it's just been a big old mess the past couple of weeks. We've seen snow in unusual places. Where we normally see snow, we haven't seen any. And as we've seen with the past couple storms this week, ice is a lot more inconvenient than just 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. Yes. Went to bed like this, with a sweater and a shirt and it was really cold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One night was a miserable night. I'm telling you, I just couldn't get warm.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We still have 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 McAlester, 600 line workers are packed into temporary quarters and they aren't 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: And some of the folks experiencing those power problems had it last month, in Illinois and in Missouri. Places that, in some cases, were without power for over a week. And the question begs, Miles, you know, just how long should someone be without power? Some consumer advocate groups are saying, hey, it's taking the power companies way too long. But after being out there and you see what these power companies and crews are up against, you just kind of have to throw your hands up and say, mother nature won this time.

M. O'BRIEN: I still don't get it. It's the 21st century. Why can't we bury the power lines? It's all about the scratch, isn't it.

All right. Thank you very much, Rob Marciano. Good to have you here.

MARCIANO: Nice to be here. Weather coming up in 10 minutes.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. We'll see you then.

In Missouri, authorities are adding more charges and reopening some cold cases as Michael Devlin prepares to face a judge. Devlin is due in court in a few hours to face charges he kidnapped two boys, but there may be more charges to come. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence in Union, Missouri, with more.

Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles. In just a few hours, Michael Devlin will appear before a judge for one kidnapping charge. Now there's another. And this one alleges that Devlin used a hand gun to force Shawn Hornbeck to come with him.


LAWRENCE, (voice over): Michael Devlin's day in court may turn out to be the first of many. Already accused of abducting Ben Ownby in one county, he's now charged with kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck from another.

SHERIFF KEVIN SCHROEDER, WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI: After securing an SDH (ph), Michael Devlin flourished a hand gun in order to gain compliance of the minor child. Michael Devlin then transported him out of the county and concealed his whereabouts for four years and three months.

LAWRENCE: Buy all accounts, Shawn was not locked up somewhere. He came and went. He had friends. Leading some to speculate he could have escaped. But prosecutor John Rupp says people have no idea what Shawn's gone through since he was 11 years old.

JOHN RUPP, PROSECUTOR, WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI: Shawn was abducted against his will, period, end of the story.

LAWRENCE: Now police are investigating whether Devlin was involved with other missing children, including the little boy who disappeared in 1991 riding his bike within 40 miles of where Shawn was abducted.

SCHROEDER: I don't believe that an individual just wakes up and is a child abductor.

LAWRENCE: So far, they have no evidence to link Devlin to any other children.

DON WOLFF, LEGAL EXPERT: Is there a rush to judgment? You bet there is.

LAWRENCE: Long time defense attorney Don Wolff believes this case will never go to trial, which he thinks could be best for everyone involved

WOLFF: Do you think if this were my child, I would want him to go through a trial? I would not want my child to have to go through a trial if I could avoid it.

LAWRENCE: Wolff says, between police finding the boys at Devlin's home and of their statements to investigators, more than likely the defense will try to negotiate a plea.


LAWRENCE: Now, those kind of considerations are still a ways down the line. For today's hearing, the Franklin County sheriff is very concerned about security. He doesn't even want to risk walking Michael Devlin into court. So Devlin will stay at the jail, the judge will be here in the building behind me and they'll do the entire arraignment through remote camera.


M. O'BRIEN: And, Chris, yesterday there was some discussion as to whether he would appear in civilian clothes. What was the final outcome of that?

LAWRENCE: I'm not sure, although one lawyer I spoke with yesterday said, that should be a minor consideration. That he's already been seen in his orange jumpsuit. That there is no jury that's going to be present. This hearing is going to only take a minute or two. And one lawyer I spoke with said, these defense attorneys need to be more concerned about trying to reduce bond and other, more important considerations than even worrying about how he's going to appear in this very short hearing.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence in Union. Thank you very much.

Another Republican senator is breaking ranks with the president on the Iraq War. Olympia Snowe of Maine is now supporting a resolution opposing the deployment of 21,000 new troops to Iraq. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska co-sponsored the resolution, along with Democrats Joe Biden and Carl Levin. It won't stop the president from sending more troops, but it is clearly intended as a message to the White House.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R) NEBRASKA: A president cannot lead a nation, and certainly cannot implement foreign policy, without the support of his country. Without the support of the people. Right now he doesn't have that. We need to show, in the Congress, to Americans that we can come together with some kind of a bipartisan consensus.


M. O'BRIEN: Senator Hagel will join us on the program in our 7:30 Eastern half hour. Stay tuned.


S. O'BRIEN: The new Congress is plowing through its first 100 hours to-do list. So far, 34 hours five minutes ticked away and five of the six bills the Democrats promised to pass in those 100 hours, well, they've passed. And the latest bill cuts the interest rates on some student loans by half. Today the House debates the last bill for the first 100 hours which would end tax breaks for oil companies. All the bills still have to be approved by the Senate and, of course, President Bush.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, freezing rain today, more snow for the weekend, and we're talking about the deep south. Rob Marciano is in for Chad. He's right here with the forecast.

Also, fallout from that disturbing videotape. Three teenage girls beating up another. A website that showed it now offering some new measures to protect kids.

Plus, how a nine-year-old boy managed to talk his way onto airplanes and why his mom says he did it. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here.


M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here. And here's some of what we're watching right now.

In Iraq, at least 17 are dead, dozens more injured after overnight bombings in Baghdad.

And an abrupt reversal at the White House on that warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department now says it's getting court approval before eavesdropping on potential terror suspects.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, we are thrilled to have Rob Marciano in person with us this morning.

Thanks for coming in.

Did you guys know Rob went to school?

MARCIANO: Yes, well, it's never too late.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

MARCIANO: Maybe it is.

S. O'BRIEN: In this case, he went to school to learn how to drive in winter weather.

MARCIANO: A very unique thing out there in Steamboat, Colorado. The folks at Bridgestone put it on. It's the only winter driving school I'm told in the country.

S. O'BRIEN: That doesn't look very good. That sliding shot of you.

MARCIANO: I had a lot to learn, there's no doubt about that. But what we're going to go over here in the next couple of hours is, how to drive in winter weather and how apropo . . .

M. O'BRIEN: Is that you in that truck?

MARCIANO: No, that's a pro.

S. O'BRIEN: I was going to say.

MARCIANO: That's someone who knows what he's doing. You'll see me spin out and get a handle on things. There are some things that you would think you should do and things that you shouldn't do.

S. O'BRIEN: Pump the brake.

M. O'BRIEN: You're not supposed to pump your brakes anymore.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, I thought it was pump the brake, right?

M. O'BRIEN: But maybe that's -- no, with the ABS systems, anti- lock brakes, you're not supposed to. That's what we were all taught, to pump.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

MARCIANO: There's a lot of things like that.

S. O'BRIEN: Steer into the spin.

MARCIANO: Steer and sometimes you have to add a little throttle, hit the gas, as I said, and he'd yell at me for that. So there's a few things that we'll go over that will help, hopefully, you avoid an accident.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, we know you're a better forecaster. It's quarter after, why don't you take it away and give us a forecast.


MARCIANO: We'll talk more about driving in a little bit.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks.

S. O'BRIEN: Good tips. I'm always scared to drive in the snow, even though I have a big old SUV. Better to drive in an SUV, of course.

MARCIANO: Well, four-wheel drive certainly helps, but it give people overconfidence. That's the other issue.

M. O'BRIEN: You learned all kinds of things, didn't you?

MARCIANO: I had a lot to learn.

S. O'BRIEN: Did you guys hear this story about this nine-year- old.

M. O'BRIEN: It's an amazing story. It's amazing.

S. O'BRIEN: The nine-year-old from Tacoma, Washington. He is only nine, of course, but he is in a grownup heap of trouble. Somehow was able to talk his way onto two airplanes and flew all the way to San Antonio, Texas, because he wanted to go home to Texas where he's from. And those flights, not the only rides he's accused of stealing. CNN's Dan Simon has our story this morning.

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

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

SIMON: His mother told a Seattle television station, 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 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 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, "this is a highly unusual situation that is still being investigated."

As for how Semaj 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 some 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 isn't going anywhere. He's charged with two serious crimes, car theft and evading police.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


S. O'BRIEN: Now Semaj's mom said that her son wanted to go back to Dallas, Texas, which is where they once lived and that's where his grandfather lives. This is the ninth time he's tried to run away from home, and at least the third time that he's been involved in a stolen car incident.

M. O'BRIEN: How did he get to . . .

S. O'BRIEN: He's nine.

M. O'BRIEN: How did he get through security? I just can't imagine a nine-year-old . . .

S. O'BRIEN: By himself. No luggage. With a boarding card.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, with a fake boarding card, right? It wasn't a . . .

S. O'BRIEN: No, it was somebody else's. It wasn't his name, but it was a real one.

M. O'BRIEN: But it was a real one.

S. O'BRIEN: He hasn't added forgery to his long list at the age of nine.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. Interesting. Fascinating.

Coming up in the program, a hacking alert. A couple of popular discount stores are warning you to check your credit card bills. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" on that. You're going to want to pay attention to this one.

And fallout from that disturbing tape we showed you yesterday of a teenage girl and a fight. Really they -- a terrible beating. Hear what MySpace has to say about it this morning. AMERICAN MORNING coming right back.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Stories we're watching for you this morning, on the show that brings you the most news.

Republican revolt. Senators Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe supporting a resolution against the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq. We're going to talk to Senator Hagel in our next hour.

And at least 300,000 homes from New Mexico to New England are still without power after those brutal ice storms.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, remember this scene? Yes, we showed it to you yesterday. This morning, a lot of questions about this video of the brutal beating of a girl in Long Island, New York, in a school yard. Once again, it is raising questions about some Internet phenoms, MySpace and YouTube and what they can or should do to protect our kids. CNN's Jacki Schechner is here with MySpace's response.

Good morning, Jacki.


We did reach out to MySpace to get response to this video, and they say that review user feedback on a case by case basis. They issued a statement. I want to read you a little bit of that. They say that "the video and the associated profile was immediately deleted from MySpace and our customer care has been in contact with local law enforcement to offer our assistance in their efforts. We are deeply concerned by the content of this video and will work with law enforcement to offer our support in any way possible."

Now, MySpace estimates it has about 80 million unique visitors a month and about 16 million of those are under the age of 18. So while they can't really control what their users are doing offline, what they can do is try to put some plans into place to protect their underage users online. And they've announced a bunch of things in the last couple of months. We haven't seen anything implemented just yet. I want to make that point.

But a couple of plans. Yesterday they announced that they are working on software that's been code name Zephyr that will allow parents -- they download the software. They can see if their child has a MySpace profile and what age their child is claiming to be. You'd be surprised. This is quite the problem because younger kids try to pretend that they're older online.

M. O'BRIEN: The advice to any parents is, get on MySpace, join in and find out if you kid is there. You've got to know what this is all about.

SCHECHNER: You have to be in the room when your child is on the computer.

M. O'BRIEN: We'll that's true. That's the one thing . . .

SCHECHNER: You have to look over their shoulders. You just have to know these things.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. Don't let them do it in a room by themselves.

All right, Jacki, thank you very much.


M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you.

Here's a big oops. A major retail has lost information on lots of its customer. Twenty-five minutes past the hour. Ali is "Minding Your Business" for you this morning.

Good morning. Who are we talking about?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about TJK Companies. They're the owners of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls discounters. TJX Companies. They said the systems were hacked late last year and they know exactly how many people were affected, except they won't really tell us. I think the word they used was substantially less than millions, which is exactly how much money I make. I'm going to be back in an hour to tell you a little bit more about who might have been affected. But if you have shopped at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls or one of those stores in the last few months, you might want to check your credit card statements.

Apple earnings came out yesterday. Listen to this. Apple profits were up 78 percent in the last three months of 2006. They sold 21 million iPods over the holiday season, 1.6 million Macs.

And over on markets, the Dow hit 12,600 for the first time ever yesterday, but it closed with a little loss, about five points lower than it closed the day before. This is because we had some inflation numbers that were a little higher yesterday than people expected and oil edged up just a smidge to about $52 a barrel. Those things make investors worry that the Fed might raise rates when it meet at the end of the year.


S. O'BRIEN: All right, Ali, thanks.

A look at the top stories of the morning.

Coming up next, is the U.S. stepping up its military might in Africa? We're going to check in with a top diplomat in the region.

And new clues from the cockpit about the Comair crash that killed 49 people in Kentucky last year.

Dangerously slick roads are turning deadly across the country this week and learn to navigate and negotiate the winter roads because Rob went to winter driving school. He'll share what he learned straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.


M. O'BRIEN: Chit chat in the cockpit. Newly released transcripts showing the flight crew of that plane that crashed in Kentucky not paying full attention as they rolled down the wrong runway.

S. O'BRIEN: Push for peace inside a critical front on America's war on terror with the U.S.'s top diplomat in Africa. She joins us coming up.

M. O'BRIEN: Wild weather. Snow on the sand in southern California. Yes, you heard me right. Ice makes a mess in Texas. The latest forecast and tips for driving safely on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: And welcome back, everybody. It's Thursday, January 18th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin in Missouri this hour. The man accused of kidnapping two boys is now being investigated in other cases of missing children. Michael Devlin is due in court in a few hours.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence is at the Franklin County Courthouse, which is in Union, Missouri.

Chris, good morning.


Yes, Michael Devlin will be arraigned for one count of kidnapping today. That's in relation to the kidnapping of Ben Ownby, the boy who disappeared about a week ago and then was found after four days in Devlin's apartment. But now there is another charge for the kidnapping of Shawn Hornbeck in a related county, in a nearby county. And this one also includes the allegation that Devlin used a handgun to force Shawn Hornbeck to come with him, then took him out of the county and kept him for more than four years.

The sheriff was adamant yesterday when he was telling reporters that the speculation that even though Shawn had a lot of leeway, that he came and went, that he road his bike and had friends, that Shawn was being held against his will. And he was adamant that reporters in the public know that.


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 onto Shawn what he should have, could have or would have done.

Nobody knows. Nobody was in that situation.


LAWRENCE: Yes, Shawn Hornbeck still dealing with a lot. His family still dealing with a lot.

And Ben Ownby's family has admitted that, you know, when their son was abducted, he had just stepped off a school bus about 500 feet from his home. And so now they're trying to figure out exactly when he should go back to school and, even more importantly, what's going to be the routine for him to get home safely. You know, probably something that a lot of parents just kind of take for granted these families probably never will again -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Chris, you mentioned that this is the first charge and there could be other charges following. What do we know about other cases that they're looking into that could be connected down the road or potentially to Michael Devlin? LAWRENCE: Well, there was the case of a little boy named Arlin Henderson back in 1991 who disappeared in a rural area, riding his bike in circumstances very similar to how Shawn Hornbeck disappeared. The investigators are going to be looking back at that now to see if perhaps there was a connection.

There is also a girl who went missing just a couple years ago, and they will be looking at logs and records to see if perhaps Michael Devlin was involved in that search. Investigators speculating that perhaps he may have picked up some techniques by volunteering to help search for her. But this is all speculation.

Right now, there is no evidence whatsoever to link him to any other children. And, in fact, some attorneys have said, you know, there has been a real rush to judgment in this case, convicting Michael Devlin in the court of public opinion before he's even been arraigned

S. O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence is at the Franklin County Courthouse for us this morning.

Thank you, Chris -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: A clear and troubling picture emerging this morning on what happened in the cockpit of that doomed Comair jet in Lexington, Kentucky, in August. Just released transcripts show the captain and the first officers were talking about their families, job prospects, and dogs as they taxied to the wrong runway.

At one point, first officer James Polehinke asked for a takeoff brief. Captain Jeffrey Clay replies, "We already did that one." "We did?" responds Polehinke. "Yeah," says the captain. "I'm sorry," Polehinke says, and they both laugh.

CNN's Brianna Keilar picks it up from there.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Four minutes before it ran off the end of runway 26 and crashed into trees, Comair Flight 5191 was cleared to take off from runway 22 at Kentucky's Lexington Blue Grass Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comair 191 taxi to runway 22.

KEILAR: With pilot Jeffrey Clay at the controls, co-pilot James Polehinke acknowledged on the radio...

JAMES POLEHINKE, CO-PILOT: Three triple zero and taxi 22.

KEILAR: Polehinke indicated the plane would head for runway 22, the airport's longer runway, and the only runway that was lit. Lights are required by the FAA if the sun isn't up, as was the case at this early hour on August 27th. Instead, the plane headed for runway 26. Half the length of the long runway, it was not lit. Earlier, Polehinke had told Captain Clay that lights marking the end of the runway had been out on a previous night when he flew into Blue Grass. This may have led the two pilots to believe the lack of lights was no cause for alarm, no indication that they were on the wrong runway.

As the plane sped down the short runway, co-pilot Polehinke, now at the controls, asks Captain Jeffrey Clay to set the thrust. Then Polehinke says, "That is weird with no lights."

Seconds later, Captain Clay says, "Whoa,." There's some ambient noise, Captain Clay says an expletive, and then Flight 5191 crashes.

(on camera): The NTSB said the single air traffic controller in the tower at Blue Grass that morning was busy with paperwork when the plane crashed. The newly-released tower communications show even after the crash he told the airport's emergency dispatcher the plane had taken off from the longer runway.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


M. O'BRIEN: Now, 49 people died. The first officer, Polehinke, the sole survivor of that crash.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you're a pilot. What do you make of that, then, just that they weren't paying attention?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, that's not in the book. The book is sterile cockpit. When it comes time to head out and head out for takeoff, you're not supposed to be chitchatting that way. So...

S. O'BRIEN: How many -- how often, though, are pilots actually chitchatting? Because you've done it a million times.

M. O'BRIEN: Naturally, there is the tendency to do a lot of chitchat. And, of course, in many cases there are a lot of long waits to get off. We have all waited on the ground. And, of course, there would be chitchat in those situations. But the general rule is you are supposed to stay focused on the task at hand.

S. O'BRIEN: It doesn't sound like they were paying attention at all.


S. O'BRIEN: All right.

Let's move on and talk about Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He's in the Persian Gulf today. He's going to be visiting the U.S. military bases that might be playing a key role in any possible confrontation with Iran.

Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has our story this morning.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Today, Secretary Gates is visiting two important U.S. forward operating headquarters in the Persian Gulf region, beginning with Bahrain, where the U.S. 5th fleet is headquartered. The 5th fleet, of course, is responsible for ships operating in the Persian Gulf and would be critical in any confrontation with Iran.

He will also be visiting with U.S. commanders at the forward operating base for the U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar. That is where the overall responsibility for the mission in Iraq is, and he will be getting updates there on both Iran and Iraq.

It's been quite a week for Secretary Gates. He began the week in England, where he met with British officials, including the prime minister, about British plans to withdraw some of their troops from the southern part of Iraq.

Tuesday, he was in Brussels, Belgium, where he talked about the need for NATO troops to continue to send more resources to Afghanistan and warned about the dangers of Iran, both in Iraq and in the neighborhood in general. And then he went to Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. commanders and promised that if they need more troops, as is expected, he would make that recommendation to President Bush.

Gates is expected to be back in Washington by this weekend.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, is the U.S. heading back to the scene of the infamous Black Hawk down episode? We'll ask the State Department's top diplomat for Africa.

Plus, the Deep South in a deep freeze. Rob marciano in the house with the word on the weather and some advice that might save your life on the icy roads. To pump or not to pump the brakes? And when is the right time to hit the gas?

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


S. O'BRIEN: Stories we're watching for you this morning on the show that brings you the most news in the morning.

Overnight bombings in Baghdad. At least 17 people are dead, the third straight day of deadly blasts.

And Republican revolt. Senators Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe supporting a resolution against the president's plan to send more troops into Iraq.

We're going to talk with Senator Hagel in our next hour. M. O'BRIEN: A lot of folks well outside the scraper belt, if you will, are learning the hard way this morning how to drive on ice and snow. Winter weather making for rough conditions in unlikely places like California, the Deep South.

So, how do you become a better driver when the roads are bad? We sent CNN's Rob Marciano to winter driving school.

Rob, how did it go?

S. O'BRIEN: How did you do?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, not so good at first, but you would be surprised as you start to practice, obviously, on a nice wide, cushioned track. It gets a little bit easier to do.

You saw this video, Chad was showing it the whole time yesterday, the guy going over an icy overpass. Believe it or not, he probably should have touched the gas a little bit, maybe, to straighten his back end out. Of course, ice a little bit tougher.

Either way, we learned some tips on the road out there in Colorado, and take a look. Right now, school is in session.


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. We just used the throttle.


MARCIANO: All right. If you missed any of that, we're going to show it again in the next couple of hours. So stay right there.


S. O'BRIEN: OK. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: You bet.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we've got a view from the front line in the war on terror, inside the fight for Somalia. We're going to talk to the U.S.'s top diplomat for the region straight ahead.

And a CNN exclusive. Surveillance videotape showing a toxic spill at a subway station. Questions, though, about just where this man is and what he was trying to do.

Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

This morning a view inside one of America's front lines in the war on terror. A U.N. envoy is in Somalia this morning, negotiating whether African Union peacekeepers should go into Somalia. That East African country is in a security crisis with Islamists fighters. Ethiopian forces helped Somalia's transitional government regain control.

Take a look on the map. You can see how it's all neighbors there.

Now it's been a month of violent struggle, with the Islamists on the run on one side, and Ethiopia and the Somali government on the other side. Now, that's all complicated enough, certainly, but what about the U.S. role?

Well, just last week the U.S. carried out military air strikes in Somalia. It was the first time in 13 years that that's happened. They were targeting al Qaeda militants who are suspected of carrying out those embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania back in 1998. Now, none of the top targets they were searching for is killed.

So, is the U.S. going to commit more military and more manpower to Somalia?

The assistant secretary of state, Jendayi Frazer, is the top diplomat for Africa. She's just back from the region.

Nice to see you, Ms. Frazer. Thank you very much for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin with what we know, which is that U.S. Special Forces were on the ground in Somalia. But to what degree have U.S. troops actually been involved in the fighting that's going on between the Islamists and the transitional Somali government?

FRAZER: The main support that we've provided to the government of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti is intelligence support. As you said, there was one air strike, C-130, onto the Somali soil to target a convoy of about 20. And then there -- we have been providing some site survey to go in and try to find out and help clean up the battlefield and find out who actually was wounded or killed in that strike.

S. O'BRIEN: So, is this the beginning of true U.S. involvement? Is this the beginning of more U.S. troops coming in? And is this the beginning of more U.S. dollars, frankly, going into the region?

FRAZER: Well, we don't expect that there will be more U.S. military troops in Somalia. However, we will continue -- as these military operations against those who are fleeing continue, we will continue to support the regional countries.

Certainly, we are having an increased diplomatic engagement, including my mission out there that Secretary Rice asked me to go on, as well an increased assistance, both to the Somali people. Last year, we provided about $90 million in humanitarian assistance. Secretary Rice announced $40 million, $10 million in development assistance, $14 million for the stabilization force, the peacekeeping force, and another $16 million in additional humanitarian assistance. So I do expect increased diplomatic and financial assistance to Somalia.

S. O'BRIEN: Lots of money going into the region. We know that three top al Qaeda leaders were being targeted, and at the end of the day those targets were missed. Safe to assume the U.S. is going to try again with air strikes or to try to get them?

FRAZER: No, not necessarily. We will certainly continue to pursue the three al Qaeda operatives responsible for bombing our embassies in 1998 -- Haroun Fazul (ph), Taha al-Sudani (ph) and Nabhan Ali Nabhan (ph).

There are also people like Isa Olsman Isa (ph), who is an East Africa cell member -- al Qaeda cell member who is responsible for attacking a hotel in Mombassa, Kenya, and for planned attack against an Israeli airliner. So they're certainly some very bad individuals, and we will work in coordination with the region to try to track them down.

S. O'BRIEN: When you hear that Kenya is thinking about granting political asylum to some of these Islamists who are running across the border, now trying to get into Kenya and get out of Somalia, how does that complicate what the U.S. is going to try to do?

FRAZER: Well, there are certainly foot soldiers who the transitional federal government in Somali has said it will provide amnesty to. Some of the leadership and the hard-core extremists, we would have a problem with granting them asylum. We think they should be turned over to the transitional federal government so that they can be prosecuted, because they are a threat to the region. Certainly the al Qaeda operatives we have a particular interest in, and we would want the Kenyans to turn them over to us.

S. O'BRIEN: Jendayi Frazer is the top diplomat for Africa, joining us this morning.

Nice to talk to you. Thanks for being with us.

FRAZER: Thank you very much.

S. O'BRIEN: A pleasure -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, fuller planes and cheaper fuel helping the airlines. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business."

And another reason you should floss every day. Not only will it save your chompers. It can prevent cancer. Really? Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here.


M. O'BRIEN: Things are rook looking up, as they say, in the airline industry.

Fifty-seven minutes past the hour. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Ali.


The good news continues for the airline industry, as long as oil prices stay low. That's one of the biggest problems they had.

But we have -- as you know, we are in the middle of the earnings season, the quarterly earnings seasons, and we just got reports from Continental Airlines it still has a loss for the fourth quarter of 2006, but the loss has been narrowed substantially. Continental Airlines is crediting higher airfares and fuller planes.

Anybody who flies a lot these days will notice the fact that these planes are flying fuller. The percentage of seats that are filled by paying passengers on Continental has hit a record of 79.8 percent. Almost 80 percent of the seats are filled by revenue passengers.

Now, most people when you ask them who the biggest computer maker in the world is, they will say Dell. But for two quarters in a row it's actually been HP.

I just want to show you -- I don't know if we have got a list of this -- do we have that? We don't have it. But HP has taken the lead over Dell for two quarters in a row.

Right now on an annual basis, Dell still edges out HP. Dell has about a third, HP has about a quarter of the computer market in the United States, followed by Gateway. Apple has about five percent of that.

Overall, PC sales are slowing, however. A lot of people aren't buying PCs because on January 30th, Windows comes out with its new Vista operating system and people are holding off -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Waiting to buy them with Vista.

VELSHI: Vista, that's right.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Ali. See you in a little bit.


M. O'BRIEN: Another big headline in the morning, -- this is one of the more popular stories -- a complete reversal from the White House and a bit of a surprise. That secret program to eavesdrop on Americans who may be suspected of a ties to terrorists without warrants from a secret court has ended.

The Bush administration saying it will now, in fact, consult with that secret court. This comes the day before the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, will go to Capitol Hill. He's headed there today to face some questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. This may blunt some of the ire of senators as Mr. Gonzales testifies today -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We are coming up at the top of the hour. Rob Marciano's got a look at today's big weather story.

Good morning to you, Rob.

MARCIANO: Good morning, Soledad.


S. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Rob.

CNN exclusive. Surveillance videotape of a toxic substance spilled in a subway station. The man you see in the tape is still missing.