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The Situation Room

Insurgent Attack; Weapons Found; Return of the Shuttle; Yakovlev Pleads Guilty in Oil-for-Food; Gas Prices Soar Further; Peter Jennings Profiled

Aired August 08, 2005 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive in one place simultaneously.
Also coming in here into THE SITUATION ROOM, data feeds from various sources,, They're crossing in, in real time.

We're watching lots of news happening right now, including this: some gripping video. Video of insurgents battling Iraqi security forces. Deadly violence in the normally peaceful town of Samawa, where it's 1:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. We'll take you live to Iraq shortly.

It's 3:00 p.m. in Colorado, home to the U.S. military's Northern Command Headquarters. Monitoring for threats to the homeland. We have exclusive access. We'll go there live.

And it's 5:00 p.m. in New York, where an entire industry is mourning the passing of one of the giants of television news, ABC News' Peter Jennings.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We have dramatic images of insurgents on the attack in Iraq. They're coming in right now.

Violence today gripping the southern city of Samawa. It's been a calm town, relatively speaking, in the past, at least until now.

Let's go live to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He's following developments in Baghdad.

Aneesh, what's happening?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these are troubling events not just for the Iraqi government, but also for the U.S. military. That town of Samawa, as you say, usually really quiet, erupting over the past few days.

Today, video of insurgents firing on Iraqi security forces. Yesterday, some 1,000 people poured out to protest the lack of basic services, water and electricity. They clashed with Iraqi police forces, leaving dozens of people wounded, at least one person dead. And now, Wolf, another voice added to those protesting in the Shia-dominated town. Muqtada al-Sadr also calling for political change there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How secure is the police, Samawa, right now based on everything we're hearing?

RAMAN: Well, they're trying to secure it as best they can. It has always been held up by the Iraqi government as one of the towns that could be the first to change hands to Iraqi security forces. This now disturbing news out of there, showing that it is vulnerable.

Also, you saw Basra just days ago, where an American journalist was killed. That is often proclaimed as a safe area. So all of this raising real concerns in the capital -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Aneesh Raman with the latest from there. Thanks, Aneesh, very much.

We also have a developing story that's coming out of the Pentagon. Sophisticated explosive devices have now been found in Iraq near the Iranian border.

Let's head over to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

What do we know, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, senior U.S. officials have now confirmed to CNN within the last two weeks they confiscated a shipment of very sophisticated explosive bombs in southern Iraq at a border control point with Iran. U.S. officials saying they have looked at this material, that these were professionally manufactured explosive devices coming in from Iran, smuggled across the border.

A lot of concern about this, because, of course, that crater that we have seen from that bomb in Haditha has caused a lot of concern about what types of explosives are now being used by the insurgency. What officials are telling us is they believe these explosives coming in from Iran were possibly, possibly professionally manufactured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand, Barbara, and you can help me. Most of the insurgency is dominated by Iraqi Sunnis. Sunnis.

This is Iranian Shia. Is -- are you suggesting now, or are analysts in the Pentagon fearing that an alliance has formed between Iranian Shia and Iraqi Sunni insurgents?

STARR: Wolf, what we have learned this afternoon is that is one of the very critical questions that the intelligence community is now looking at. They're not positive it's Iranian Revolutionary Guard- manufactured. It doesn't mean that it was ordered by Tehran, the central government. But what they tell us is they look at -- they've had their analysts look at all of these weapons that were seized, these manufactured bombs, and they see the same type of manufacturing that they believe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has. They don't really know for sure, and they don't know why they might be trying to put this kind of unrest into southern Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara Starr will monitor this for us, potentially very significant development. Thanks very much for that.

Now to a case of nuclear brinkmanship pitting Iran against the United States and Europe.

CNN's Zain Verjee joining us now from the CNN Center. She has details on what's going on -- Zain.


Well, the vicinity near the city of Isfahan is spread along short range mountains, and parts of it are actually built in underground tunnels so as to protect it from air strikes. What's going on there now could cause an international crisis.


VERJEE (voice over): A controversial Iranian nuclear facility is up and running again, much to the concern of the European Union and the United States. Officials in Tehran say they're converting uranium into fuel for a nuclear power plant. But the EU and the U.S. are worried that Iran is secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.

That's a charge Iranian leaders deny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Iranians are determined to benefit from peaceful nuclear technology.

VERJEE: The EU offered economic incentives to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions altogether. Iran's response? No.

New U.N. surveillance cameras were installed, but according to officials, have not been tested. If they work, presumably they can keep an eye on activity there to ensure the equipment is for civilian use only.


VERJEE: And Wolf, Iran says it has a right to pursue nuclear activity under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty which it has signed.

BLITZER: So Zain, what happens next?

VERJEE: Well, the International Atomic Energy Agency has a board meeting tomorrow in Vienna. And they're obviously going to discuss this critical stage of negotiations. Experts say essentially the U.S. is likely to push for Iran to be referred to the United Nations Security Council for sanctions. The European Union may just do the same.

Experts, though, also say that it's unlikely that it will be immediately sent off to the U.N. Security Council. And the nuclear watchdog at the U.N. may say, OK, you know, we'll give Iran one more chance, and really try and solve this.

Observers also add, Wolf, that when it comes to sanctions, it really may not be a reality to impose them on Iran simply because of this: you've got Russia and you've got China that's sit on the U.N. Security Council, and they have strong commercial ties and interests in Iran. So anything that came before them to do with sanctions could well be vetoed.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee reporting for us from the CNN Center.

Zain, thank you very much.

NASA's going to try once again very early tomorrow morning to bring home those space shuttle astronauts from the Discovery. Today's scheduled landing was scrubbed.

CNN's Sean Callebs joining us now from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the latest.

How does it look right now, Sean?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the weather looks great right now, Wolf. The big question, exactly, exactly to the minute, twelve hours from now, at 5:07 Eastern Time, that is the next window for the possibility of landing.

We could tell you right now the seven astronauts are asleep aboard Discovery. They're scheduled to be awakened in just about three-and-a-half hours. Then they will go there through the whole process all over again.

It's hard to believe by looking at the weather conditions out here behind me now that that was a problem. But this is what they saw first thing in the morning: heavy clouds, parts of central Florida, and that was a big concern. So the first chance of landing, 5:07 Eastern Time. They have three landing sites, Wolf, Kennedy, Edwards Air Force Base and New Mexico. Clearly they want to land here at Kennedy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sean, the re-entry years ago was the easy part, relatively speaking. What's happened?

CALLEBS: Yes, exactly. That was a time that NASA had the cigars lit up, they were celebrating. But that all changed February 1, 2003 when that breach of the left wing of Columbia allowed that hot plasma in and it just destroyed Columbia during re-entry.

So they spent the past two-and-a-half years trying to make the orbiter significantly safer. They've made a lot of strides in that way.

They say they've looked at this mission as, in essence, a test mission. And they say that they're giving it incredibly high marks.

So let's just see how the seven astronauts fare, and more importantly, or just as importantly, how the orbiter fares once re- entry is complete and they're back on the ground tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll have extensive live coverage.

Sean Callebs, thanks very much.

The entire shuttle program is on Jack Cafferty's mind. That could be dangerous. He's joining us now live once again with "The Cafferty File" from New York.

Talk a little bit about this, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What exactly did you mean by that, it could be dangerous?

BLITZER: Well, I'm just -- I'm just nervous. I don't know what to expect.

CAFFERTY: You know, Sean said NASA gives it high marks. I wonder what the low marks would look like.

I mean, what a nightmare. NASA and the Space Shuttle Discovery, call it the gang that couldn't shoot straight presides over the voyage of the damned. As if there haven't been enough problems with this flight, the faulty fuel sensor, the foam tearing off the external fuel tank again at launch, tiles missing, strips of stuff hanging off the belly of the spacecraft, on and on and on and on, and now this morning it was decided because there were clouds in Florida the shuttle should stay up for another day. Clouds.

We called up and down the peninsula. Major Florida airports were all operating just fine. But not the shuttle.

It's time to bring this thing down, put it in a hangar, and weld the doors closed.

The question is this: Is it time to scrap the space shuttle program? Email us at Include your name and where you're writing from. And we'll read some in a little while.

BLITZER: And we'll look forward to seeing you later this hour and hearing what our viewers think. Jack Cafferty, thanks very much.

And you'll want to stay here in THE SITUATION ROOM, where we're remembering Peter Jennings. Joining us here coming up, the former CNN anchor, Bernie Shaw, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. They'll talk about their personal feelings about the loss of this outstanding journalist.

And diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia are now closed. U.S. diplomatic facilities, that is. Officials telling CNN it's because of very serious threats of terrorism. We'll tell you more about this move.

And we're getting some new information on last week's Toronto plane crash. Officials have ruled out one major reason as a cause. We'll tell you what that is.




BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: He wrote like a dream. You would think that he was reading a script and it was all adlib. He was an anchor in every true sense of the word.


BLITZER: On this sad day, colleagues and friends can't say enough about Peter Jennings, swapping stories about his remarkable career in journalism and sharing their grief that Peter Jennings is gone. His death yesterday from lung cancer at the age of 67 a terrible loss for all of us, and a painful reminder about the dangers of smoking.

CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be with us shortly to talk about that in just a moment. But right now at our table here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our colleagues and friends, the former CNN anchor Bernie Shaw, the former defense secretary, William Cohen.

Bernie, let me start with you. You worked with Peter over at ABC News before you joined CNN. A sad day, as I said, for all of us.


BLITZER: But sad for you because you worked closely with him when you were our lead anchor over these many years.

SHAW: We go back to 1979, November. I had just come up, back to Washington. I was ABC's Latin American bureau chief correspondent. And they rushed me to Iran.

The Iranian students had overtaken the American embassy, held them for 444 days. Peter and I worked in the trenches. We worked 2:30 in the morning. It was 6:30 Eastern Time when Frank Reynolds was coming on.

We would work in the trenches. Then we'd go back and work six, seven, eight hours to prepare for what was then the forerunner of "Nightline." Frank Reynolds would come back at 11:30 at night.

It was so frenzied, so frantic, that we literally would take showers, we'd be running around with towels around our butts writing copy. Peter would pull his copy out, "Bernie check this." I would write my lead-in, "Check that." And we cross-checked each other.

And that frenzy went on with Barry Serafin (ph), a few other correspondents, for about four or five weeks.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers a picture we have when you were our lead anchor. He, of course, was ABC News' lead anchor. Some others involved in it.

Take a look at this picture with Walter Cronkite there in the forefront. What was this picture all about?

SHAW: We were (INAUDIBLE) Walter. It was at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and all the anchors got together. And "TIME" magazine wanted that picture. And it was a great salute to a fine man.

Walter said Peter's death is a terrific loss to broadcast journalism.

BLITZER: He covered you as a United States senator, as a secretary of defense. But you also knew him personally.

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I did know him personally. He was not as close perhaps as some of the other anchors, but I attended a party he had held, he and his wife Kayce and Tom and Meredith Brokaw held for Dan and Jean Rather. And it was the last time that I saw him.

BLITZER: When was that?

COHEN: It was in March, as I recall. And at that time, I noticed he was noticeably quiet. Where others were talking about Dan's career and what it meant to be one of the big three competitors, I noticed that Peter was quite reserved.

In fact, my wife Janet and I commented about it after that dinner. There was something that was quite -- not quite right, was missing.

BLITZER: Well, did you have any hint that there was something?

COHEN: We had no hint at that time. And then several days later it was announced, a few weeks later.

BLITZER: Let me bring Dr. Sanjay Gupta in, our medical correspondent.

Sanjay, the last time I really spent some time with Peter Jennings was in early February when the president of the United States invited the anchors over on his State of the Union Address luncheon. He usually meets with the anchors on that day.

And in early February, he was vibrant, he was happy. He was excited. Then in April, we learned that he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer.

This moves very quickly, doesn't it? DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It can certainly move very quickly. That was four months ago that he actually made his official announcement.

There's a good chance, Wolf, just based on what we know about the natural history of this, while although it moves very fast, four months is actually a very fast time, faster than you'd expect. So it's possible that even before April it's likely he had some symptoms.

He may have even already had what is known as metastatic disease, meaning that the cancer had actually spread from his lungs elsewhere at the time that he made that announcement. Again, that's a little bit speculative. But, you know, obviously he was quite sick already at that time.

BLITZER: There was a sure sign he was in deep trouble when they couldn't perform any surgery, right?

GUPTA: Well, you know, there's two reasons. Really, there's a few reasons why you can't perform surgery.

One is that it's metastatic. That is one of the reasons, that's the most grave reason.

Also, just its location. Sometimes there's some important blood vessels in the chest. If the cancer is located around those blood vessels, it's just inoperable.

Then there are two types really of lung cancer that we talk about. The names aren't that important, but they're small cell and non-small cell. The small cell type of cancer is usually much more difficult to operate. So any of those reasons could have been why he didn't have an operation.

BLITZER: All right. Sanjay, thanks very much.

Mr. Secretary, I think he also had an enormous impact on the coverage of news. His commitment, not only to politics, and covering stories here in the United States, but important international news.

COHEN: Well, he was in the forefront of really digging into issues, to use Bernie's phrase, about what anchors did in the good old days. They went out there, much like yourself. But digging in to the facts to find out as much information as possible to bring that judgment to bear.

In paraphrasing a poet who raised the issue some years ago, where is the knowledge we've lost in information? Where's the wisdom we've lost in knowledge? And that is a fundamental question today.

We're getting more and more information, but there's a question now about the judgment and the wisdom that's being exercised at the anchor level to make sure that the facts are right, you're getting it not just fast, but you're getting it right. And today it seems with all the competition the emphasis on getting it fast.

BLITZER: What's going to be Peter Jennings' legacy, Bernie?

SHAW: Well, his standards were in the stratosphere, which is where they belong. I think to paraphrase what the secretary just said, context. Peter was a stickler for context. Peter Jennings could sneeze and give you context.

BLITZER: And when you look back on what he did, he demanded perfection from his reporters and his producers, his crews. He didn't always get it, but he had that demand.

SHAW: But first and foremost, Peter demanded it of himself.

BLITZER: Bernie Shaw, thanks very much.

Secretary Cohen, as usual, thanks very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our deepest condolences to the family, the friends, everyone who loved Peter Jennings.

We're lifting the veil on America's secret command center. Coming up, our exclusive inside access to the place where war games are very real. We'll find out just who's responsible there for protecting the homeland.

And a possible bomb threat in Saudi Arabia. And the fallout. Is there credible evidence that terrorists are planning a strike right now?

And there's another developing story we're following. A riot breaking out at a prison with quite a history. We'll have a damage report. That's coming up.



BLITZER: Just into CNN, we have some new information on the crash of an Air France jetliner last week in Toronto. Investigators are now ruling out one potential cause.

Let's go straight to CNN's Mary Snow. She was in Toronto last week to cover the crash. She's back in New York now.

What are we learning, Mary?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, the chief investigator into last week's Air France crash is ruling out engine malfunction. The chief investigator for Canada's National Transportation Safety Board saying that the engines and the brakes were working fine.

Now investigators are looking at one thing, and that is the weather. They're looking to see whether or not the plane may have been struck by lightning. That plane landed during a fierce storm -- Wolf. BLITZER: And the whole notion of lightning striking that plane, that could have an impact on the plane landing so far down the runway? Is that the suspicion? Because it landed way further in the runway than should have been expected.

SNOW: Right. And that is one thing that the investigators are zeroing in on, the pilots' actions.

The investigators indicated last week that that plane was too far down the runway. They're talking to the crew, the co-pilot that landed that plane. But the chief investigator saying at this point he does not have a theory as to what caused that crash, and he's keeping everything open right now.

BLITZER: All right. CNN's Mary Snow in New York. We'll follow this story. Miraculously, some say, all 309 passengers and crew aboard that plane survived.

There's a small plane crash we're following right now in California. Take a look at this.

These are pictures we're getting in courtesy our affiliate KABC out there. I'm not exactly sure where this crash occurred, but in some place in California. Take a look at this.

We don't have details on survivors or casualties, but this plane looks, at least I'm being told, it crashed short of the runway. This is a small general aviation plane. We'll get some details, get some more information for you when we get it. We'll watch that story for our viewers.

We'll move on, though.

Their mission, defending America's homeland. But could that mean bringing troops onto the streets of America's cities? We've gained exclusive access to the top secret high-tech nerve center of the U.S. Military's Northern Command.

CNN's Kyra Phillips is live there at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. She's got some more information for us -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thank you so much.

And just what you said is what we're going to talk about. We've been going live all day here at U.S. Northern Command. Now we're going to talk to thee commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD.

And we've been talking, sir, about war planning, the war planners that are in here. You call them war fighters.

I remember when you looked me in the eye and everybody in the eye on the USS Abraham Lincoln when you were in charge of that air war at Operation Iraqi Freedom, and you said, "Are you ready? "So now I want to ask you, are you ready for the terrorism threat?

ADM. TIMOTHY KEATING, COMMANDER, NORTHERN COMMAND: Kyra, we are. Here in Northern Command we've got a near sacred mission in our eyes. That's to defer, prevent and defeat attack against the homeland, our homeland. And that's what this joint operations center is about, and that's what all of us in Northern Command are about, making sure that we do as good a job as we can to prevent attack and make it in case there is a necessity for combat, we do it in as timely fashion as we can, as far from our shores as we can.

PHILLIPS: And I think there's been a lot of confusion talking about if, indeed, there is a terrorism threat, who takes the lead? Well, there's a number of people that are involved and agencies that are involved.


PHILLIPS: But as you sit in this room and you're monitoring everything that's happening from our ports to our borders to air defense, everything else in this world, when that threat is there, what do you, Admiral Keating, do as commander of Northern Command and NORAD?

KEATING: We take our orders from the president of the United States, our president and our secretary of defense. We have plans on the shelf that incorporate all the weapons, the arrows, that are in DOD's quiver, if you will, so as to make -- to keep us out of the headlines.

If we're doing our job very well, you may never know that we're doing it. And that's, in our view, the best measure of effectiveness for fighting and winning a war on terror. It may not be in the headlines.

PHILLIPS: Well, one measure that we've talked a lot about is intelligence. And actually, right here, next to where we are, Jack is your guy when it comes to intelligence.

Who is he talking to? Who is he communicating to? And let's talk about the importance of that communication process.

KEATING: Yes. In our view, actionable intelligence is an absolute essential element to fighting and winning the war on terror. So we look for all sources, all methods, but it isn't so much the highly-classified things. We'll let those agencies who have that authority and responsibility do that.

We gather it, and we analyze it. And guys like Jack, and girls, we have hundreds of them on our staff. Their job is to do the analysis and then take that analysis and get it out to the responsible agencies, including Northern Command, in as timely a fashion as we can.

PHILLIPS: FBI, CIA, all the various agencies.

KEATING: All of them.

PHILLIPS: All right. Prime example. I asked you, I called you up during the London bombings and I said, "Are you watching these?" KEATING: Yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. When the London bombings occurred, we were very concerned that this might be the first part of a coordinated attack. So what we did is, the first thing we did was compared notes with the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Homeland Security Operations Center. We provided them with everything that we knew, particularly pulling the string with the Department of Defense intelligence network.

Likewise, they pulled the string with all the law enforcement part for all the information that was available within the United States. We looked for any nexus on the movement of terrorists, materials or plans. Thankfully, we found no nexus, and there was not a second attack that occurred in the United States.

However, we did work with the Department of Homeland Security as they set a higher homeland security alert level to make sure the Department of Defense matched it.

PHILLIPS: I've got to ask you a personal question, too, because on 9/11 you were in the Pentagon. You lost people that you worked with, that you were close to.


PHILLIPS: Now you are running the -- you are the commander of the agency, or of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, that actually tries to prevent another 9/11.

KEATING: Yes. You bet.

I think about it every day, Kyra. You know, I was with those airmen and women, soldiers and civilians alike in the command center that morning. Twenty-six of them were dead shortly after I left the room.

I think about them every day. And as I said in the first part of our chat, we take it down here as a mere sacred duty to honor their memories and to do everything we can in our power, everything in the Department of Defense's capability to prevent another 9/11. That's what we're about.

PHILLIPS: Admiral Timothy Keating, thank you so much. I know our time together is going to continue. I appreciate it, sir. And that's exactly what we're going to do tomorrow, Wolf. We're going to go over to Cheyenne Mountain about 15 miles from here.

We're going to go deep inside that nerve center to NORAD, and Air Defense is the number one mission there. Air defense, think of 9-11 and those hijacked aircraft. These men and women say that's never going to happen again and you're going to see how it's done inside that mountain. BLITZER: And Kyra, you'll be reporting live for us from inside there?

PHILLIPS: We sure will. First time it's ever been done, Wolf. We'll be live inside the mountain. The admiral will be with us, also the Canadian general. And we will show you firsthand what's happening when it comes to NORAD and air defense and how it plays very strong -- a strong part to U.S. Northern Command as well.

BLITZER: All right, Kyra. Thank all the men and women in that room and everyplace else for us as well. Kyra Phillips doing some excellent work for us.

Terror threat against Americans. We have some new details coming in of the danger that's closed the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia

And pain at the pump: The gas prices hitting records high across the country. We'll show you who's paying the most.

Plus: Peter Jennings, he anchored a generation in which everything changed. Our own Bruce Morton takes a closer look back.



BLITZER: We're getting word of a riot at one of the notorious prisons in -- that would be San Quentin in northern California. Let's bring in CNN's Rusty Dornin. She's joining us now live from our San Francisco bureau. This sounds like a potentially dangerous kind of situation.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently, Wolf, the white and Hispanic inmates have been going at it for more than a week and that part of the prison has been locked down since August first. Nevertheless, what they call a major riot did erupt this morning, only for about 10 minutes.

It took 50 officers armed with pepper spray to regain control of the inmates. Apparently there were 39 injuries, three of which had to be sent to an outside hospital, but they have regained control. Apparently all is calm there now -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch it though, for our viewers. Rusty Dornin in San Francisco, thanks very much.

There's another developing story we've been following today: Terror threats in Saudi Arabia. Let's get the latest with our national security correspondent. David Ensor, standing by -- David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Wolf, U.S. officials say they have specific and credible threat information suggesting the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia might be targeted today or tomorrow using vehicle-born explosives. Officials say the information comes from multiple intelligence streams. Some of it points to this specific time period, some of it does not. Non of it specifies which facility would be targeted, which is why the embassy and the two consulates in Jeddah and Dhahram have all been closed temporarily.

Now, there's been an heightened state of concern in recent weeks about possible terrorism in Saudi Arabia against Americans. There are some indications, though U.S. officials declined to comment specifically about this, that some of the information prompting this latest shutdown of the facilities may have come from a detainee in nearby Yemen -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. David Ensor watching that story for us. David, thanks very much.

You're e-mail messages are flooding into THE SITUATION ROOM. Coming up: Do you think the shuttle program has a future? Our Jack Cafferty has the answer, at least based on what he's reading in your e-mail.

And if you though gas prices were already sky high, wait until you get the bottom line from our Ali Velshi.

And Peter Jennings left an indelible mark on television news. How much did it change during his many years at the anchor desk?



BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where video and reporters from around the world are coming into CNN in realtime. We also have the capability to bring in live data feeds from news organizations at home and around the world.

Let's take a closer look at what's incoming right now; following lots of stories. Scheduled re-entry of the shuttle Discovery, off this morning. They're hoping for better weather tomorrow morning; low clouds over Florida. Discovery astronauts try again very early tomorrow morning.

Irene, check it out. It's a tropical depression now. No longer a tropical storm, but it's still in the Caribbean. We're still keeping track. We'll watch what's happening there.

And we're also updating you that small plane crash; Big Bear, California. These are affiliate pictures we're getting in from KABC. Two people were on board that plane. We have no word on the extent of injuries. We'll watch that for you throughout this program.

News coming in now from the United Nations. CNN's Liz Neisloss standing by with what's happening there. Liz, what is happening?

LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN SR. U.N. PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, we have just learned that a former employee of the United Nations has just pleaded guilty in federal court to taking bribes from contractors he was supposed to be working with at the United Nations.

The individual, Alexander Yakovlev, was called a procurement officer. That meant he had a lot of influential responsibility for setting up contracts. And what he did set up, apparently, was an account that took in funds from companies that wanted to do business from the United Nations. This is the first U.N. employee to receive criminal charges -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch this story for our viewers. Liz Neisloss at the United Nations, thanks very much.

CNN's Ali Velshi is in New York, as well, watching "The Bottom Line" for all of our viewers, especially all the consumers out there.


BLITZER: Right here, he's developing a story -- at least he's getting some new information on how much we pay at the pump. What's the story?

VELSHI: Yes, well, you know, we know that oil hit a new record today, $64 a barrel. We also know that the price of oil is half of the price of gasoline. Now we've been looking across the country at what it's costing people to buy gas. $2.37 a gallon is the national average. And if you're feeling bad about how much you pay for gas, in Hawaii the national average is $2.67; California, $2.64; and Nevada, $2.57. But we know from talking to somebody today that we've had gas as high as $2.99 a gallon in Los Angeles. Analysts are telling us no relief in sight. Prices will probably go higher before they go lower. So, Wolf, tell your friends, stop the bellyaching, buy a hybrid car, already.

BLITZER: All right. I'm not going to bellyache. Ali Velshi, thanks very much.

Lou Dobbs, getting ready for his program at the top of the hour. Tell our viewers, Lou, what you're working on.

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you very much.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," we'll be reporting on the sharply escalating nuclear challenges from both Iran and North Korea. And we'll report on why U.S. diplomatic efforts to end both crises is failing. We'll have a special report.

And mass production of a vaccine against the deadly bird flu could begin within weeks, but can enough vaccine be made before the flu reaches the United States? I'll be talking with the director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Also tonight, we'll be reporting on new fears of a major earthquake along the Mississippi River. Millions of people could be at risk.

And mascot madness at the NCAA. A new mandate on American Indian sports mascots causing outrage and confusion, as the NCAA embarks on an Orwellian adventure into political correctness. We'll have a special report for you.

All of that and a great deal more, coming up at the top of the hour. Please join us. Now back to you, Wolf, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. We will be watching.

They were major moments, historic moments: the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Coming up, we'll talk about how many Japanese feel about them decades later. We're going to have a live Web chat with a Japanese blogger.

And should America scrap or keep the space shuttle program? We asked that question this hour. We want to know what you think. Our Jack Cafferty has your e-mail.

And Peter Jennings. His death could change network news as we know it.



BLITZER: We want to tell you about the situation online. Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll be watching almost everything happening on the Internet, at least as much as we can. And only CNN has teams dedicated solely to cyberspace. Right now, 60 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a live Web chat with a blogger in Japan.

Our Internet reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton are here with that. First of all, Jacki, to you. Tell our viewers what a Web chat is. There are a lot of viewers who have no idea what you're talking about.


Well, basically what that means is there is a very small camera that is attached to the computer of the person that we're talking to. The images that we get will be very raw. They will be shaky. They are not what you're used to seeing. And they're not satellite images; they are, in fact, fed through the cable line or the DSL line, whatever it is the Internet user is using.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: But what it does mean, Wolf, is we can talk to people in their homes all over the world. And that's what we're doing right now with Joichi Ito, who is joining us from his home in Chiba, Japan. Joichi, thanks for joining us today.


TATTON: Now, you wrote in your blog and also in "The New York Times" over the weekend about this anniversary of the atomic bombings. You wrote that this makes you slightly uncomfortable. Is that something that a lot of people are feeling now?

ITO: Yes, I think most of us know that we're supposed to feel sadness and anger. But to be honest, I don't think most of us are really dwelling or thinking about the atomic bomb. And we realize it's not politically correct. But if you look at, for instance, the news coverage last night, the foreign media was much more obsessive of the anniversary ceremonies of the war, and the Japanese media were focused on the postal savings vote.

And I think that most of the people of my generation have a very hard time identifying with the bomb, and it's more of kind of a cultural recess for us than something that we dwell on as an issue or an event.

SCHECHNER: Your discussion of this topic on your blog sparked debate, as good posts online often do. What is some of the conversation that you're hearing or generating or reading with regard to readers and bloggers in Japan and in neighboring countries, you've said?

ITO: Yes, so, the original impetus for me to start writing about this was the op-ed piece. But because if it's a newspaper piece, it's quite short. And the good thing about the blogs, it's able to develop all of the nuances and all of the issues. And I think that more and more, we're now focusing not on the fact that we've forgotten about the bomb, but why we've forgotten about the bomb. And during the anti-Japan protests in China, we had a very lively debate and dialogue with the Chinese and Korean bloggers that developed into a pretty good relationship.

And so in the context of forgetting about the bomb, I think one of the things in Asia that we're dealing with is, well, how do we reconcile the issues regarding the war that's become one of the biggest sore points between China and Japan?

SCHECHNER: Joichi, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. I'm sorry, we're running short on time. We're going to have to send it back to Wolf. But we really appreciate your staying up to talk with us -- Wolf, we'll send it back over to you now.

BLITZER: Jacki and Abbi, thanks very much. I love this technology, and I'm sure our viewers, in coming days, weeks, months, years, they're going to be learning a lot more about it thanks to both of you.

We want to hear what you're saying about all of the issues, especially this hour's hot button issue. Jack Cafferty, sorting through your replies. He's joining us from New York with "The Cafferty File." What are our viewers saying, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Is it time to scrap the space shuttle program, is the question this hour. We're getting some interesting comments.

Paul writes from McLean, Virginia: "I worked as a senior consulting engineer for NASA for years. I will never forget Challenger or Columbia. We all knew the problem. NASA knew the problem. The program manager simply refused to take the major redesign decision that is needed. Your comment is entirely justified. Take that thing, lock it in a barn at the Smithsonian and weld the doors shut."

Scott in Dayton, Ohio says: "We should not discontinue the shuttle program. There's valuable research being done on the shuttle and in the space station, that literally can be done nowhere else."

Dan in Pasadena, California: "It's all PR, so NASA can keep their budget. The shuttle is like the Concorde; they're worn out and not cost-effective. The trend of the future is unmanned missions into deep space."

And Len in Springfield, Vermont: "How about we stuff Mr. Cafferty down my well, and weld the cover on?" Thank you, Len. You have a good afternoon there in Vermont.

BLITZER: Hey, Jack, get ready for this concept. Think about this for a second. And I know it's not a difficult concept for you to imagine. You have a Web camera at home. You can do Web chats. But when the technology really gets good, and that's going to be soon, you could do what you're doing from your home. Think about that.

CAFFERTY: I have. And I'm ready. Any time that CNN is willing to put the lights in my basement, I'm ready.

BLITZER: It's a Web camera. It's very primitive. It's very, very easy to use.


BLITZER: At least for people who are a little younger than all of us. They love it.

CAFFERTY: I'm kind of a primitive guy, Wolf.

BLITZER: You have one already at your home?


BLITZER: No Web camera?

CAFFERTY: No, but the kids may have one. I don't know. I don't -- I'm not technologically very adept. That probably comes as a big surprise to you.

BLITZER: You're going to learn, together with a lot of our older viewers...

CAFFERTY: OK, good, we'll go to school.

BLITZER: You're going to be learning a lot about this in the coming weeks and months.

CAFFERTY: I look forward to it.

BLITZER: I'm going to learn a lot about it, as well. Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty. We'll see you tomorrow.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. And coming up next, Peter Jennings, the last of the big three network anchors. With his death, we consider where television news has been and where it's heading.

First, our CNN anniversary series, "Then & Now." Today, we focus on former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. Here's CNN's Kyra Phillips.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper, Joycelyn Elders entered college at 15 with big dreams. Dreams that led her to serve in the Army, and eventually become a doctor.

In 1993, President Clinton nominated Elders to be the first African-American surgeon general. She was an advocate for universal health care and comprehensive health and sex education.

JOYCELYN ELDERS, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: I would like every child born in America to be a planned, wanted child.

In regard to masturbation...

PHILLIPS: But her suggestion that public schools consider teaching young people about masturbation as a way to prevent sexual diseases enraged conservatives, and forced Elders to resign after just 15 months in office.

ELDERS: If I had it all to do over again, starting today, I would do it the same way.

PHILLIPS: She returned to the University of Arkansas, where she remains a semi-retired professor emeritus.

Elders is married, has two sons, and lives in Little Rock. Now 71, she travels frequently to speak on women's and other health issues. She remains an outspoken advocate of sex education.

ELDERS: If I can make any changes at all to the current health care system, you know, I would start with education. Education, education, education.



BLITZER: Here's something you don't see every day. Two United Airline planes clipped each other today while waiting to take off from O'Hare Airport in Chicago. The incident involved one flight that was heading to Washington Reagan National Airport here in Washington, another flight heading to LaGuardia in New York City.

No one was hurt. The passengers were put on other flights. Both of these United airliners taken out of commission, out of service, at least for the time being, to be inspected. We'll watch that story, get some more information.

Peter Jennings' friend and longtime rival Tom Brokaw says the ABC newsman was born to be an anchor. Jennings' death from lung cancer at age 67 is a loss for all of us in the TV news business, and it represents potentially a turning point. Like Jennings, our national correspondent Bruce Morton has spent much of his life in front of the camera. He's joining us now live.

Bruce, your thoughts?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a day of course to reflect about Peter, but also to reflect on the extraordinary degree to which the news business has changed during the life, the working life of one reporter.


MORTON (voice-over): Once there was one.

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS: Good evening, everyone. Here is the news.

MORTON: The other networks did news, but CBS' Walter Cronkite became a kind of national trust figure. When he declared the Vietnam War a stalemate, then President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, "if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."


MORTON: Then there were three. Tom Brokaw at NBC, Dan Rather at CBS, and Peter Jennings, whom we honor and remember today, at ABC. They were there for a generation, but in that time, things changed all around them.


MORTON: All-news cable networks arrived. First one, then three. No more news at 6:30, news at 11:00. News every second now, answer right now, please, we're live.

News on MTV.

And then all of the networks, and the newspapers, and the magazines went online. The, "Slate" magazine, which exists only online. And then the blogs, those mixes of fact and opinion which like making fun of the old fashion MSM. That's mainstream media, if you've been napping.

In the 1970-'71 TV season, 75 percent of the sets in use during the network newscasts watched those newscasts. Now, 37 percent.


MORTON: And you, Wolf, are trying a new format here today. How will Americans get their news 10 years from now? Hard to imagine, maybe impossible to imagine, but surely very differently from what we do today.

BLITZER: It's hard to imagine how things have changed so quickly.

MORTON: Yeah, I mean, since I've started -- since you've started in this business -- you're way younger than I am -- it's just transformed. Cable transformed it, the Internet is transforming it again, and who knows where it will end up.

BLITZER: All right, Bruce Morton, giving us some thoughts to think about all the time. Thanks very much. You'll be a regular here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This note to our viewers: Tomorrow, Rudy Giuliani. He will be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Howard Dean, the Democratic Party chairman, he will be joining us as well. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM every weekday, 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until tomorrow, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" getting ready to start right now. Lou standing by in New York -- Lou.