Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Spying on Americans wihout Court Approval; Burbank Airplane Incident; Morgan Freeman on Black History Month; Howard Stern Signs Off

Aired December 16, 2005 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kitty.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you the day's top stories.

Happening now, it's 7:00 p.m. in Washington. A developing story out of the White House. The president's speaking out on Iraq. Hard on the heels of the election, the White House announces a primetime presidential address to the nation.

The Senate puts the freeze on the Patriot Act, concerned about spying here at home. But has the president unleashed a super-secret spy agency, letting it loose on your civil liberties?

What's wrong with Black History Month? The Oscar-winning actor, Morgan Freeman, lays it out in black and white.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Late-breaking news from the White House. This Sunday, the president will deliver a live primetime address to the nation on Iraq. This comes on the heels of the historic Iraqi election and, as the president has been trying to explain, his Iraq strategy to the American people.

We have CNN reporters standing by, including our Ed Henry on Capitol Hill, Elaine Quijano over at the White House, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, John King as well.

Let's begin with the latest word just in from the White House on this presidential address -- Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you said, we learned just a short time ago that this Sunday President Bush will deliver a primetime address from the Oval Office on Iraq. We're told that that address will take place at 9:00 Eastern time.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan saying that the United States is now entering a, quote, "critical period for its mission in Iraq." And as you noted, this is coming on the heels of those historic elections in Iraq.

Now, a senior administration official says that this address is intended as the, quote, "cap" to the four speeches on the war that President Bush has delivered in recent weeks. And those speeches, of course, intended to try to bolster public support for the president's Iraq policy.

Now, this will be the first that President Bush has delivered an Oval Office address since the start of military operations in Iraq in 2003. The senior official saying, quote, "There is a symmetry to that," adding that that was a key moment and now, three elections later, we're at another key moment -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Elaine, stand by. No one has more at stake than the United States military in all of this. Let's go over to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr standing by there.

What are they saying at the Pentagon? What would they like to hear from the president?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the troops want to hear one thing and one thing only. That is: When are they coming home?

Here's the calculation. Behind the scenes, there are about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The president already really has sent signals that about 20,000 who were there for election security will come home sometime in January.

Here's what's really on the table: 10,000 additional troops, two brigades that were planning to go to Iraq early next year. Will the president make a decision that they do not have to go to Iraq?

George Casey, the top general in Iraq, said earlier today he is making some assessments, that he will have some answers on these questions in the next few weeks. So if the president says something about this on Sunday, it may come as a surprise to the top commanders, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Stand by, as well. Let's go up to Capitol Hill, our congressional correspondent Ed Henry. He's getting reaction already to this decision from the president.

What are you hearing, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Senate Democrats already privately starting to speculate that perhaps the president will, as Barbara's suggesting, the possibility of starting to announce troop withdrawals, trying to build off of the successful elections in Iraq.

The Democratic line, if that were to happen, would basically be two things. They think the president would be doing that to lift his low poll numbers. And number two, Democrats would try to immediately take credit and say they've pushed the president into this position because of the John Murtha announcement about troop withdrawals, but also because of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats pushing the Senate into that secret session a couple of months ago, putting the pressure on the White House over Iraq. You're going to see the Democrats trying to take credit for this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent John King. He's on assignment for us in New Orleans.

John, the last time, I believe, we heard the president speak from the Oval Office was right before the war started.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And so much has changed since then. Where I am, one of the illustrations, if you will, of the very tough year the president had in 2005.

I spoke to a senior official at the White House just a short time ago who said this speech is a defining moment for the president in the sense, he says, that there's both an opportunity and a challenge for the president.

The opportunity is, as Elaine noted and Ed noted, the president believes now this is a path forward in Iraq, an opportunity to perhaps change public perception about his policy.

But there also is the challenge, in that six in 10 Americans now think it's time to bring some or all of the troops home. The president, even if he gets into some details, will emphasize the "some" part of that, that many U.S. troops need to stay in Iraq for quite some time.

But, Wolf, it's about more than that, as well. We are at the end of the year here. Everyone will concede in this administration that the president's policy agenda went off the tracks in 2005 because of Katrina, because of problems with Social Security, mainly because of public concerns, the White House believes, about the Iraq war. They view this as a chance heading into the holiday season, about six weeks now from the State of the Union, to try to build some support for the policy in Iraq, some good will for the president personally, hoping to end 2005, a very rough year, on a much higher note.

BLITZER: The president had an option, John. He could have had a nationally televised news conference, answering reporters' questions, opening up with a statement. He decided to go with the Oval Office address, which some analysts over the years have suggested not necessarily his greatest strength. You've covered him, you know him, what do you think?

KING: He would concede it's not his greatest strengths. He likes to interact with people. Just take his speech the other day when he gave the speech about Iraq. He was stiff and formal during that speech, but then he took questions from the audience and he was much more relaxed.

The president is much more energetic when he's in a political give-and-take setting. His own aides would concede that. But the senior official I spoke to said the president thought it was important, given what they believe to be the gravity of the moment, with the Iraqi elections -- they believe a big success in those Iraqi elections -- for the president to address the American people from the Oval Office.

It has been tradition, though, for the president to hold a year- end news conference, so this speech Sunday night will come from the Oval Office. There's still some time left in the year if he wants to interact with reporters -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, John, thank you very much. John King, our chief national correspondent.

Let's go back to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr, when the troops around the world will be listening and watching the president deliver these remarks, that's a specific audience. He's got a lot of other audiences at play, as well, but the military really wants to hear some specificity.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Wolf, I think the troops out on the front lines certainly do. Now, the commanders, the very senior commanders in this building at the central command and in Baghdad certainly have been in a number of behind-the-scenes, high- level meetings in recent days.

We have certainly been led to believe that a decision is forthcoming on troop withdrawals, not, maybe, as soon as Sunday night. That will be very interesting if the president has something to say.

All of our sources have been leading us to the notion that it would happen by the end of the year. General Casey again saying earlier today that he would make an assessment about all of this in the days ahead.

So what is really holding it up? Well, one of the things General Casey is talking about is: What about the insurgency, the Baathists, the largest element of the insurgency? They had some sort of deal in the works. They didn't have a lot of violence on Election Day. But are they really ready to get off the track of violence and join the political track in Iraq? Or will there still be attacks? General Casey says he doesn't know just yet. Too soon to tell -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. And let's head back to Ed Henry on Capitol Hill.

Ed, I assume a lot of the Republicans, the president's supporters on the Hill, they think this is very smart for the president to address the American people in primetime Sunday night. Democrats probably assume it's pretty smart, as well.

HENRY: That's right, Democrats, in fact, that I've talked to initially are bracing a little bit for what the president is going to say, because they think this may give him an opportunity to finally start to turn the corner.

One interesting note on the Republicans is that, since 9/11, in terms of the war on terror and then broadly in the war in Iraq over the last three years, the Republicans up here have given this president a pretty free hand.

Over the last two days, we've seen some pushback. Yesterday, the White House having to cave into Republican Senator John McCain about the ban on torture. And then today, also, Republicans, at least a handful of them, standing up to the president on the Patriot Act. So he doesn't have such a free hand anymore with the Republicans. They'd like to see him focus on turning the corner in Iraq -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Henry, reporting for us from Capitol Hill.

Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, reporting from the North Lawn, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, John King, our chief national correspondent. Thanks to all of you.

And we're going to be bringing you the president's speech Sunday night here on CNN. Our special coverage begins right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific. We'll be here for you for that presidential address.

Another major story we're following today. Who's spying on whom? New revelations today about electronic eavesdropping on U.S. citizens right here in the United States of America. Sources say it's being carried out by a top-secret U.S. intelligence agency with the permission of President Bush, but without specific court warrants.

At the same time, Senate concerns about the loss of some civil liberties have stalled renewal of key parts of the Patriot Act. CNN's Brian Todd is going to be joining us shortly to talk about the high- tech spying that's going on.

But let's begin our coverage with Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent -- Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources familiar with the program confirm to CNN that the National Security Agency eavesdrops in the United States without warrants on as many as 500 people at any given time as it tries to track down terror leads.


ARENA (voice-over): Shortly after the September 11th attacks, government sources confirm that President Bush issued a secret order to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on people in the United States as part of terrorism investigations, a move first reported by the "New York Times," which critics say is illegal.

KATE MARTIN, CENTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES: The law couldn't be any more clear. You can only wiretap an American if you have a warrant.

ARENA: Such a warrant can be approved by a secret intelligence court housed in the Justice Department, and the eavesdropping is usually done by the FBI. But government sources with knowledge of the program say the president's order bypasses all of that in the interest of getting intelligence more quickly. JEFFREY SMITH, FORMER CIA COUNSEL: The administration bears a heavy burden to prove that that was really the case. In my experience, the court was -- particularly after the passage of the Patriot Act, the foreign electronics surveillance court -- was very responsive to requests for warrants.

ARENA: Administration officials will not confirm the change or deny it, creating an uproar on Capitol Hill.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: They tell us, "Trust us; we follow the law." Give me a break.

ARENA: In a TV interview, the president said that he would not discuss ongoing intelligence operations, but he did make this point.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever I do to protect the American people -- and I have an obligation to do so, that we will uphold the law. And decisions made are made understanding we have an obligation to protect the civil liberties of the American people.


ARENA: Government sources say that the phone and e-mail communications that are being monitored by the NSA are focused entirely on those taking place between people inside the United States with others overseas -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Kelli, thank you very much, Kelli Arena reporting.

A super-secret agency using state-of-the-art technology to eavesdrop on Americans right here at home. How do these electronic spies carry out their cloak-and-dagger work? For information on that, let's turn to our Brian Todd -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the National Security Agency is so secretive that even its name was kept from the public for many years. So getting at its methodology is very difficult from the outside.

Still, some who have been on the inside were able to give us a window into the NSA's eavesdropping techniques.


TODD (voice-over): Experts say anytime the National Security Agency decides to eavesdrop, the investigation is highly sophisticated.

GEORGE BAUREIS, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERROR AGENT: It truly is the cream of the crop of technology, in terms of their capability to listen to anything, anywhere, at any time.

TODD: Former FBI counter-terror agent George Baureis worked extensively with NSA for years. Baureis and other experts say there are essentially two ways to monitor a suspect's communications. One is the more traditional method of planting listening devices.

BAUREIS: Then the other type of eavesdropping would be, basically, intercepts that are coming from open air space, that are going through satellite communications, or actually targeting of databases.

TODD: In this age, cell phones and other telephone signals can be monitored by satellites. And a former NSA employee says the networks that operate cell phones and computers have built capabilities into them that allow intelligence agencies to monitor calls and e-mails.

The NSA can use one of its sophisticated satellites to pick up a call then send the signal down to one of the various NSA listening posts around the world. But James Bamford, author of two definitive books on the NSA, says communications can also be monitored using microwave frequencies or by tapping undersea cables.

Then an NSA analyst takes over.

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR, "THE PUZZLE PALACE": An NSA analyst would eavesdrop or listen to a communications, write up a report, and then send it to whoever asked for the information, whether it was the CIA or the FBI, the White House, the Pentagon, whoever.

TODD: The analysts, who can be linguists or code-breakers, run the signals through computers. But often, as one NSA linguist showed our David Ensor a few years ago, getting the right information depends on human intuition.

EVERETTE JORDAN, NSA LINGUIST: You have to listen for irony. You have to listen for sarcasm, for tension. You have to listen for rhetorical statements being made. You also have to listen for humor.


TODD: We asked one expert how important it is for the NSA and its methods to be kept so secret. He cited one breach as an example, the damage done when it was made public that intelligence agencies were monitoring Osama bin Laden's cell phone calls -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.

We'll have much more on this story coming up right at the bottom of the hour. Two key Republicans with very different perspective, they'll face off on whether the government should have the right to listen in on Americans without a court order.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by in New York. They used to call the NSA, the National Security Agency, "No Such Agency" because it was so super-secret, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Doesn't exist, right?


CAFFERTY: One of those black-box deals.

Just when President Bush was beginning to see a tiny improvement in those poll numbers of his, along comes this front-page story in the "Times" this morning that Mr. Bush signed a secret order in 2002 to authorize eavesdropping on Americans without first getting a warrant. Cute.

And to make matters worse, the "Times" says it sat on the information for a year at the request of the White House. Now, you don't suppose that this information could have influenced the outcome of the 2004 elections, do you? I bet it might've.

Meantime, the debate rages on over the Patriot Act, prisoner abuse, the CIA leak case, Supreme Court nominations, and indictments of some high-ranking members of the administration. It's not a very pretty picture these days.

Here's the question: If it's OK for the government to wiretap Americans' phones without a warrant, what's next? E-mail us at Or you can go to -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. Good question.

Coming up, some say they're a prime target for terrorists, so what's being done to protect the country's chemical plants?

Also, the actor Morgan Freeman, we'll show you why he's getting some flak for his comments about Black History Month.

And Howard Stern's Sirius move to satellite. Will his fans follow? We'll show you what they're saying. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's a developing story coming out of Burbank, California. Let's check in with our Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

What's going on, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: We're just getting some details now, Wolf. These are live pictures of a plane off the side of a runway. You see police who entered just a short while ago now disembarking.

It's not really clear what exactly is going on, but these are pictures from our affiliate, KCAL. And this is a plane that's pulled off the side on a runway. Just moments ago, passengers got off the plane through a back door and they were walking toward some buses that were stationed right on the runway.

We don't really know why. We don't have any details. All we have is this live picture.

And police have entered this plane. They are investigating. And we're working on getting you more details. And we'll bring it to you as soon as we have it.

In other news, Wolf, a star of "The West Wing" has died. John Spencer died today in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack. That's according to his spokesman. And Spencer played Leo McGarry on the NBC drama. Spencer was 58 years old.

Officials in Pennsylvania say they're going to be seeking the death penalty against an 18-year-old young man. He's accused of killing his girlfriend's parents after an argument. Officials say David Ludwig killed the girl's parents last month after her father told him he could no longer see her. Ludwig then ran off with the girl, 14-year-old Kara Borden. At the time, it was unclear if the girl was involved; today, officials cleared her of wrongdoing.

A suspect in a strange sexual assault case in New York City now's reported in custody in Tennessee. Peter Braunstein is accused of posing as a firefighter on Halloween night when police say he sexually assaulted a woman. CNN confirms Braunstein now is in the Memphis area.

Police say also that he's hospitalized in critical condition, suffering from a self-inflicted stab wound, one reportedly on his own neck. Braunstein was also reportedly spotted donating blood in Memphis last month, telling workers that he needed the money to continue his travels -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What a strange story that is, Zain, thank you very much. Zain Verjee, we'll check back with you.

Late today, we learned of a new move right here in Washington to protect potentially deadly terrorist targets, namely the nation's chemical plants. Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's got the story of what lawmakers are planning on doing about it -- Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, experts will tell you that chemical plants are potential weapons of mass destruction, some with a capacity to endanger more than a million people. Legislative attempts to make them more secure have been unsuccessful. Now, a new bipartisan approach from Senator Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman.

Collins say different plants pose different threats because of the chemicals they handle and where they're located. So the legislation, to be introduced Monday, is not one-size-fits-all.

Instead, it would have the Department of Homeland Security set security standards and assign each plant to a security tier. Though all plants would be required to submit vulnerability assessments, site security and emergency response plans, the most dangerous plants would have to do it first.

And if plants did not comply, the department could impose civil or criminal penalties and even shut a plant down. One of the most contentious issues in chemical plant security is whether facilities should be required to replace highly toxic chemicals with safer technologies. The bill does not require it, but does encourage it.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Rather than telling them that they have to switch to certain chemicals, a decision that the federal government is really not qualified to make, we, instead, set the safety standard, and a company may choose to achieve that through using a less hazardous chemical or they may choose some other means of achieving that same result.


MESERVE: Greenpeace says the bill is weak because it does not require the use of so-called inherently safer technologies. On the other hand, the American Chemistry Council would prefer they weren't mentioned at all and hasn't yet taken a position on the bill.

Another controversial provision will allow states to adopt security standards more stringent than the federal standards, as long as they don't conflict.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you very much. Jeanne Meserve reporting.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, allegations the United States government illegally eavesdropping on its citizens. Is it a price worth paying to keep us safe from terrorists? We're going to talk about it.

And an award-winning African-American actor taking heat for what he said about Black History Month. We'll look at what Morgan Freeman says that's causing so much controversy. Stay with us.


BLITZER: As we've been reporting, late word from the White House tonight. President Bush will deliver a speech on Iraq this Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It will be his first speech from the Oval Office since announcing the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq more than 1,000 days ago. The White House says Mr. Bush will talk about, quote, "the way forward in Iraq in 2006."

We're going to be bringing you the president's speech on Iraq live Sunday night. Our special coverage will begin right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific. I'll be here for that.

Let's check back with our Zain Verjee. She's joining us once again from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

First, a look at some other news making -- some other news from around the world -- Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, Iran's interior minister says controversial comments on the Holocaust by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were misunderstood. In speeches this week, Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a myth and has said before Israel should be wiped off the map. E.U. leaders are condemning the remarks, and they warn that Iran could face sanctions over them.

The toxic slick that cut off water to millions of Chinese has now reached Russia. It's flowing down the Amur River and expected to reach the city of Khabarovsk by next Thursday. Preparations there have been under way for days. The slick was the result of an explosion at a Chinese factory that dumped tons of benzene into water.

Japan's prime minister shuns his motorcade in favor of this, a Segway. Junichiro Koizumi rode this high-tech two-wheeled transport into his official residence today. He said that he spent a little bit of time maneuvering and practicing on it and now finds it comfortable, although there were a few wobbles, like that one, on the way. The Segway was a gift from President Bush, who presented it to Koizumi at last month's summit meeting in Kyoto.

And the band may be long gone, but that isn't stopping the Beatles from suing a record company over royalties. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and relatives of the late John Lennon and George Harrison say EMI owes them more than $53 million. A company representing the former band members is pursuing the case in both New York and London. EMI isn't commenting on the lawsuit -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much.

Let's get back to Burbank, California, now. There's been this Southwest flight that's on the ground that people have been evacuating, leaving through the rear stairs. There you see these live pictures courtesy of our affiliate, KCAL.

Joining us now on the phone is Victor Gill. He's the director of public affairs, communications, for Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

What's going on, Mr. Gill?

VICTOR GILL, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, BOB HOPE AIRPORT: Well, we have this Southwest Airlines plane that has come to a stop in its taxi towards the runway and had summoned our emergency response personnel. And there were reportedly remarks made by an onboard passenger referencing a bomb in some fashion.

That's all I can tell you right now. No specific nature of what transpired in that remark, but it's obviously enough that people are examining the plane and trying to assess what the situation is.

BLITZER: Has that individual, as far as you know, been apprehended?

GILL: There have been more than one individual removed from the plane, and I presume one of them to be the individual in question, but that's as far as I can go.

BLITZER: It's a Southwest flight, a Boeing 737. Do you know where this plane was planning on heading to?

GILL: No, I haven't been able to get that information yet.

BLITZER: Do you know the flight number?


BLITZER: You don't know the -- and have all the passengers now left that plane?

GILL: You have a better view of it than I do. I'm looking out the window. But all I know is that they're still trying to assess the situation.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to check back with you, Mr. Gill, and continue to watch this story for our viewers. A disturbance, apparently --and supposedly some sort of comment about a bomb on this Southwest flight, a Boeing 737, Burbank, California. It was getting ready to take off. It was taxiing on the runway. We don't know where it was going, what the flight number was. We'll get all that information for our viewers, update you throughout this program here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just ahead, electronic eavesdropping on Americans. Is the federal government going too far? We'll hear from two conservative Republicans. They have very, very different views on this issue.

And Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman speaking out on black history month -- making that speaking out AGAINST black history month. We'll tell you what's on his mind. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Americans spying on Americans. In a story first reported today by the "New York Times" and confirmed by our own sources here at CNN, President Bush is said to have authorized the super secret National Security Agency to conduct electronic eavesdropping here at home. The president is saying only that he won't discuss ongoing intelligence operations.

Joining us now are two conservative Republicans who have very different views on this issue. From Atlanta, the former Congressman and CNN contributor, Bob Barr, and from Capitol Hill, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Congressman Barr, what's wrong with what the president has decided to do?

BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's wrong with it is several-fold. One, it's bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it's bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it's bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order.

So it's bad all around, and we need to get to the bottom of this. BLITZER: Do you agree, Congressman Rohrabacher -- I suspect you don't.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, (R) CALIFORNIA: No. What's really bad is the fact that we have an evil opponent who wants to blow us up and that six months after 3,000 of our American citizens were slaughtered right in front of our eyes, that we were confronted with this challenge. I'm really sorry that we have this kind of evil enemy that wants to slaughter us, but I'm very happy that we have a president that, six months after they slaughtered 3,000 of our citizens, he decided to follow up on a lead that was given to our people by breaking up an al Qaeda cell in Pakistan, and followed through on that to make sure that there wasn't another imminent attack, and thus probably saving many thousands of American lives. We can be proud of President Bush for protecting us.

BLITZER: Congressman Barr, what do you say?

BARR: Well, the fact of the matter is that the Constitution is the Constitution, and I took an oath to abide by it. My good friend, my former colleague, Dana Rohrabacher, did and the president did. And I don't really care very much whether or not it can be justified based on some hypothetical. The fact of the matter is that, if you have any government official who deliberately orders that federal law be violated despite the best of motives, that certainly ought to be of concern to us.

ROHRABACHER: 9/11 is not a hypothetical. We are at war.

BARR: No, but the hypothetical is the -- the other cases you were talking about.

ROHRABACHER: Bob, now that we are at war, that is not hypothetical. We have an enemy that has decided that they're going to terrorize the American population by committing mass murder. That is not hypothetical. We are at war, and sometimes at war you --

BLITZER: No, what you were saying, Dana, is that there were other case -- those are hypothetical --

ROHRABACHER: No, that's not -- Bob, you haven't read this. No, that's not hypothetical at all. One of the cases that was involved in this, was someone who was attempting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and because of these wire taps, we were able to stop that.

BARR: No, you're wrong there, Dana. First of all --

ROHRABACHER: And by the way, how do we know who wasn't deterred from blowing up other targets. The fact is --

BARR: Well, gee, I guess then the president should be able to ignore whatever provision in the Constitution as long as there's something after the fact that justifies it.

BARR: Bob, during wartime, you give some powers to the presidency you wouldn't give in peace time. BARR: Do we have a declaration of war, Dana?

ROHRABACHER: You don't have to do that.

BARR: We don't? That makes it even much easier for a president.

ROHRABACHER: No, you just have to make sure that the people of the United States understand that we are at war. They understand that al Qaeda slaughtered 3,000 of our citizens -- more people than the Japanese slaughtered at Pearl Harbor.

BLITZER: Congressman -- let me interject for a second, Congressman Rohrabacher.


BLITZER: Everything you say is true, but why not go through the process of either getting new legislation authorizing this or let the court orders be fully implemented? In other words, before the NSA goes and eavesdrops on Americans, get a court order?

BLITZER: First of all, let us note that all this eavesdropping on Americans were that, there were some people living in the United States, whether they're American citizens or not -- we don't know how many are American citizens -- that were involved with contacts overseas. This is eavesdropping on people who were doing international calls and the list that we got, came from what -- came from an al Qaeda cell that we broke up in Pakistan.

I am very pleased that our president didn't wait around but, instead, ran right forward immediately to try to follow up on this and find out what they were planning. I believe he probably thwarted several major attacks by doing that.

BLITZER: Congressman Barr, do you want to respond to that?

BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it's okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war.

The fact of the matter is the law prohibits -- specifically prohibits -- what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn't matter, I'm proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.

ROHRABACHER: Not only proud, we can be grateful to this president. You know, I'll have to tell you, if it was up to Mr. Schumer, Senator Schumer, they probably would have blown up the Brooklyn Bridge. The bottom line is this: in wartime we expect our leaders, yes, to exercise more authority.

Now, I have led the fight to making sure there were sunset provisions in the Patriot Act, for example. So after the war, we go back to recognizing the limits of government. But we want to put the full authority that we have and our technology to use immediately to try to thwart terrorists who are going to -- how about have a nuclear weapon in our cities?

BARR: And the Constitution be damned, Dana?

ROHRABACHER: Well, I'll tell you something, if a nuclear weapon goes off in Washington, DC, or New York or Los Angeles, it'll burn the Constitution as it does. So I'm very happy we have a president that's going to wiretap people's communication with people overseas to make sure that they're not plotting to blow up one of our cities.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but Bob Barr, I'll give you the last word.

BARR: Well, first of all, or last of all, this so-called plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was bogus because it had to do with a group of idiots who were planning to dismantle it with blow torches.

BLITZER: That will have to be the last word and we're going to continue this discussion down the road. Dana Rohrabacher, Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Congressman Bob Barr, thanks to you as well. An important issue, indeed.

Up next, Morgan Freeman, a celebrated actor, admired by so many African Americans, so many other Americans as well. A lot of us love Morgan Freeman but some are baffled as to why he's against Black History Month. We'll tell you his reasons. This is very interesting.

And President Bush has had quite a year. Now, one Web site is again offering some comic relief, and we're going to share that little thing with you as well.


BLITZER: A highly-respected African American actor is taking some heat tonight for dismissing what's meant to be a tribute to black culture. It's a new flash point in a long-simmering debate about race.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is following this story. He's joining us now live from L.A. Chris, what's going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, anytime you introduce race into a conversation, it's probably an argument waiting to happen, just makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But when you take an actor like Morgan Freeman who cuts to the very heart of how and when black history will be taught, it's a controversy that's just getting started.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Actor Morgan Freeman talks about race on Sunday's "60 Minutes" and calls Black History Month ridiculous.

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: You're going to relegate my history to a month?


FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?

WALLACE: There isn't one.

FREEMAN: Oh. Oh. Why not? Do you want one?

WALLACE: No, no, I ...

FREEMAN: No, all right, I don't either. I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history. I'm going to stop calling you a white man, and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.

LAWRENCE: Dr. Geraldine Washington says race may not matter to Freeman, but it does to every day African Americans.

GERALDINE WASHINGTON, NAACP: He's reached a level where there is no black and white, where you don't have to designate who you are because his money has taken him to that place.

LAWRENCE: She says Black History Month filled a gap, since textbooks ignored black writers and inventors.

WASHINGTON: We need to complete the history; it's incomplete because the American history is incomplete.

LAWRENCE: Some say it was incomplete 30 years ago.

JOE HICKS, COMMUNITY ADVOCATES, INC.: That battle's been won and has been won. I talked to my wife about this. She's a high school teacher. She said, you know, come on. That's not the way kids are getting history in their current textbooks.

LAWRENCE: Joe Hicks says students shouldn't see people like George Washington Carver outside the context of American history.

HICKS: To try to treat black contributions in that way segregates the contributions in a way that says it's something odd, separate, apart and different from the contribution of these people but then we're going to hear about the real contributions the rest of the year.


LAWRENCE: So some people are saying that if you shove black history into one month it only minimizes what you're trying to promote. Others say Black History Month enhances what's learned throughout the rest of the year and Freeman's full interview can be seen this Sunday night on CBS's "60 Minutes" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us. Chris, thanks very much.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula Zahn is in New York. She is standing by. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. In about 12 minutes from now, I'm going to have the very latest for you on a case we've been followed for many weeks now. Remember the teenager in Pennsylvania accused of killing his girlfriend's parents and then running off with her? Well, the D.A. has now made a very important move and we're going to tell you what it is and what it means.

Also the violence of one of nature's most fearsome storms. We're going to meet a man who goes inside tornadoes to film them. Amazing pictures in just a few minutes, all the more amazing, Wolf, when you see how rudimentary his little gear is. It looks a little less sophisticated than what we've seen in some of those tornado movies.

BLITZER: Sounds fascinating, Paula. Thank you very much. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" airs right at the top of the hour.

Up next, a serious question -- would you pay to hear verbal shocks from shock jock Howard Stern now that he's going to satellite radio?

And your phone calls, your e-mails -- is it right for the federal government to eavesdrop on them in the name of national security? Jack Cafferty has your e-mail.

Also, we're going to update you on that Southwest flight in Burbank, California. We've got a live picture. There you see it. People were evacuated. This was taped only a few moments ago, under strange circumstances, apparently someone uttering words about a bomb. This is a developing story. We're going to go back and get the latest for you. All that, coming up.


BLITZER: We're getting some more information on that Southwest flight in Burbank, California. The Associated Press now reporting it was Southwest flight 2074 scheduled to leave Burbank for Las Vegas, about 130 passengers on board. They were evacuated.

Apparently some of the passengers and flight attendants overheard two children making remarks about a bomb. This according to Federal Transportation Officials. The pilot decided to be very, very cautious. He stopped on the taxi just before they were getting ready to take off.

We believe this is most likely a noncredible type situation. A TSA spokeswoman says, however, the pilot went ahead and chose to cease his departure and went ahead and placed the plane in a remote area.

People were taken off the plane. They're checking it out. But it looks like it is not a serious threat, but we'll continue to watch this for you.

Jacki Schechner is also standing by. She's checking the situation online. What are you picking up, Jackie? JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's a web site that we often check in on called And what you can do is track any flight, any commercial flight, any flight taking off. You can track activity at a specific airports.

So we've taken a look at the airport in Burbank to see the activity, arriving flights, departure flights. And we are now searching through it to get the Southwest flight 2074. This is what we've pulled up. It's actually got the previous flight pattern, but you can really take a look and see what the activity is and what's going on with this flight as we speak, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki. Thanks very much. We'll continue to monitor this story for you.

Meanwhile, Howard Stern's broadcast days are over at least for now. He did his final show today before his move next month to Sirius Satellite Radio next week.

Ali Velshi's got a coffee cup in his hand.

What are you going to show us?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am true to my journalistic roots. I never get Starbucks coffee. I drink sort of lousy coffee. But a lot of people start their morning with this. I don't even know what size this is, but it has got to run you a few bucks to start your morning with a cup of coffee.

Why would you pay to listen to Howard Stern now that he has moved over to satellite? Because if you divide it all up. It costs 43 cents a day and it's a little stronger than this cup of coffee.


VELSHI (voice over): Howard Stern has left the airwaves at least the free air waves. Friday morning's show was his last on FM.

HOWARD STERN, RADIO DISC JOCKEY: Thank you for sticking with me. What a magnificent ride this has been for me.

VELSHI: Shock jock Stern got his [beep] smacked for using profanity on the radio. Starting next month he'll be heard only on satellite radio. You have to pay for it and buy a special receiver. But Stern can swear even more than he could on regular radio, which is monitored by the government.

STERN: This is the beginning, Sirius Satellite. This will be the dominant medium in the future because there is no government interference.

VELSHI: The deal will cost Sirius Satellite, Stern's new employer, $100 million a year.

ADAM ROGERS, WIRED.COM: It's a tremendous amount of money. And it looks to me like a Hail Mary but that's OK. Sometimes they work. VELSHI: Look at it this way, 12 million people listen to Howard Stern every day for free. If only a million of them decided to take a $13 month subscription Sirius' revenue would be up more than $150 million a year but will at least a million listeners make that move?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Switching to Sirius, want to listen to Howard, listened to him since 1985.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there's other programming too, sure.

VELSHI: Sirius offers more than 100 million stations. It expects to have three million subscribers by year's end. It's rival XM Satellite Radio has twice that.

JULIA BOOSTIN, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: The truth is that Howard Stern really is one of the biggest names in radio, and when it comes to shock jocks he's number one, and XM can build up a lot of other names, but Howard Stern is really unique in what he stands for and what he does.


VELSHI: Howard Stern hits Sirius Satellite Radio on January 9th. The numbers are going up at Sirius. People are signing up, and they are paying the money for it.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi, thanks very much. See you on CNN's "On the Story" tomorrow night 7:00 p.m. eastern.

Still ahead, your thoughts and Jack Cafferty, stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to New York and Jack Cafferty-- Jack.


Big story in "The New York Times." We have been talking about it all afternoon and evening. The president signing a secret order in 2002 to authorize eavesdropping on Americans without first getting a warrant.

So the question this hour is if it's OK for the government to wiretap Americans' phones without a warrant, what's next?

Steve in Crownsville, Maryland, we have the word of Islamist terrorists who say they will not stop to kill millions of Americans. Tyrants don't play fair. What a revelation. I would only hope that the first such group of victims are from the same group that choose to limit the activities of those who want to save our country.

Michael in Boulder, Colorado, nothing will happen to the administration until the Congress calls for wide-reaching hearings about the war on terror and the actions of the administration. Bush, Cheney and others must be called on to testify under oath. Rickey in Gray, Georgia, the uproar over the monitoring activity of the National Security Agency is uncalled for. The president, as well as other elected officials, government employees and the military have sworn to protect and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Jaycie in Los Angeles writes midnight "visits" to your humble abode? Rendition to a foreign country to be held indefinitely incommunicado? "Disappearance"? Isn't this how all dictatorships start out by collecting secret information about its citizens? Can the gulags for American citizens be far behind? Scary, isn't it?

And Alex in Macomb, all they would find on my emails are restaurants I like to eat at and the answers to Jack Cafferty's questions.

Maybe the restaurants you eat at are interesting. The rest of that isn't.

Jack Cafferty thanks very much. We'll see Jack tomorrow "In the Money." CNN's "In the Money," 1:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN.

I'll see you Sunday on "Late Edition." Among my guests, Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president.

Until then thanks very much for joining us.

Paula Zahn starts right now -- Paula.