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The Situation Room

Bush Makes Unexpected Stop In Afghanistan; Amid Sectarian Violence, Saddam Hussein Calls for Unity Against U.S.; Iraq On The Brink Of Civil War?; Supreme Court Looks At Texas Redistricting; Democrats Courting Hollywood Primary Voters; Future Of Security For Our Troops

Aired March 01, 2006 - 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 at one place at the same time.
Happening now, a leader of the free world on the world's most wanted terrorist leader. President Bush makes a surprise trip to the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched and renews his vow: Osama bin Laden will be caught dead or alive.

Meanwhile, one of Osama bin Laden's former devotees now facing prison time. An Australian man some call "Jihad Jack," he trained with al Qaeda and says he's met with Osama bin Laden, calling the al Qaeda chief -- and I'm quoting now -- "a polite and shy person who liked to be hugged."

And American ideals versus "American Idol." Why do more people know about judges from the hit reality show than know about their First Amendment rights?

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

It's a multi-city trip with ambitious multiple goals. Seal a landmark nuclear deal with the world's largest democracy, thank allies in the war on terror, and assure the world Osama bin Laden will be caught dead or alive, those are all items on President's Bush agenda during his four-day trip aboard. Right now the president's on his first visit to India, where he hopes to hammer out a deal that would split India's nuclear weapons work from its peaceful nuclear program which could then be placed under international inspection.

Before arriving in India, the president made an unannounced stop in Afghanistan. His first time there as well. Mr. Bush met with the Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, and he answered a reporter's question about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.


TERENCE HUNT, ASSOCIATED PRESS CORRESPONDENT: There was a time when you talked about getting Osama bin Laden dead or alive. Why is he still on the loose five years later? And are you still confident that you'll still get him?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am confident he will be brought to justice. What's -- what's happening is, is that, we've got U.S. forces on the hunt for not only bin Laden, but anybody who plots and plans with bin Laden.


BLITZER: Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere along Afghanistan's mountainous border with Pakistan. President Bush will visit Pakistan later in the week.

Later this hour, why are more Iraqi-style attacks happening right now in Afghanistan? Our CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre will report on the growing Afghan insurgency. He's just back from Afghanistan with an exclusive tour of the country with NATO's top general. It's a report you're going to see only here on CNN.

Right now in Iraq there's stubborn animosity and seemingly unyielding violence between Sunnis and Shiites, but there's a surprising appeal from one unlikely voice.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad -- Aneesh.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, amid growing tensions in Iraq, a surprising new voice adding his take on the situation.


RAMAN (voice-over): On a day when this neighborhood in Baghdad saw its second car bomb in 24 hours, when 24 deaths were added to the some 300 people the government said that have been killed in the capital alone since last Wednesday's attack on a sacred Shia mosque in Samarra, another call for unity, coming not from a current leader, but from the country's former tyrant, on trial for his own alleged brutality. Unity, Saddam said, against America.

"Our interest is to be united," he said. "Religions, nationalities, creeds, we should all be united against the invasion. Apart from that, we have our own to take on the situation at hand."

Gone was the defiant defendant. Instead, a subdued Saddam spent the past two days in court examining a string of documents proving his link, prosecutors say, to the case at hand, the execution of at least 246 villagers of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam on July, 1982.

Death sentences, execution orders, some bearing Saddam's signature, arguably the first time that the trial has seen compelling evidence that was not refuted by the defendants. Evidence so strong it prompted Saddam to take collective responsibility.

"If the main person is prepared to say to you to take responsibility," he said, "why are going to these people?" pointing to the other defendants. "Saddam Hussein is telling you that he is responsible. So do you think I'm going to deny responsibility or rely on others?" But Saddam stopped short of admitting complete guilt and contended everything he did was legal, prosecuting those responsible for an assassination attempt on the country's head of state.

As the trial reaches its halfway mark, five months after it began, the court may have finally found its stride. The result more than anything else, it seems, of concrete evidence against a man whose guilt is beyond doubt for the majority of Iraqis.


RAMAN: But for the majority of Iraqis this trial is now an aside as they deal with what is at best an uncertain future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

For all of talk of a civil war looming in Iraq, how is it different from the sectarian violence that's already raging in the country?

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us with more on that -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of questions about what is a civil war?


STARR (voice-over): Iraqis mourning their dead, again. After a week of sectarian bloodshed, the question: Is this civil war?

This week, Congress asked the top nation's intelligence officer how he defines a civil war.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: A complete loss of central government security control, the disintegration or deterioration of the security forces of the country.

STARR: It's the kind of uncontrolled violence seen in Lebanon in the 1970s and '80s, when Christian and Muslim militias, Palestinians and other religious groups fought. And in the 1990s, in Bosnia, when Sarajevo became a killing ground, pitting Serb against Muslim until the West intervened.

Experts say that is not what's going on in Iraq yet. Because, although fragile, there is a government and an army. But it's an extraordinarily critical time.

ROBERT MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The tipping point will be when the armed sectors of society, the security sectors, the militias, people taking up arms, are fighting a conventional warfare. Then you'd see mass displacements, you'd see mass ethnic cleansing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: And Wolf, experts remind everyone that the civil wars in Lebanon and Bosnia essentially ended when the people in those countries simply became exhausted and didn't want to fight anymore. Now, if the worst were to happen in Iraq and it did disintegrate into civil war, the question remains, what about the 136,000 U.S. troops in Iraq? By all accounts, the policy remains the same. They will stay on the sidelines -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr.

Good report. Thanks very much.

Let's go up to New York right now. Jack Cafferty once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


There's a new study out that shows that Americans know more about some popular television shows than about their constitutional rights. That's the rights that we have left.

The McCormick Tribute Freedom Museum (ph) says only 28 percent of those polled could name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed in the first amendment, compared to 52 percent that could name at least two members of "The Simpsons" or 41 percent that could name two of the three "American Idol" judges.

The study also shows people think the following rights are guaranteed under the First Amendment: the right to a trial by jury, the right to own a gun, the right to have an attorney, the right for women to vote, the right to own pets.

There are people out there who think the Constitution guarantees us the right to own pets. That's scary. And the right to drive a car.

But look on the bright side of things. More people know that freedom of speech is a First Amendment than know that Bart Simpson is a character on "The Simpsons."

Here's the question: What does it mean, boys and girls, when Americans know more about "The Simpsons" and "American Idol" than they know about their First Amendment rights?

E-mail us at, or go to

BLITZER: Anxious to hear what our viewers think.

Thanks, Jack, very much.

Up ahead, new developments in the storm over ports. A key Republican lawmaker making some very serious allegations only within the past hour. We're going to live to Capitol Hill.

Also, a growing insurgency. Terrorist attacks, but it's not Iraq, it's Afghanistan. Our Jamie McIntyre tours the country with NATO's top general. It's a story you're going to see only here on CNN.

Plus, he trained with al Qaeda and even met Osama bin Laden. Now on the eve of his sentencing, this Australian man talks about his ties to terror.



BLITZER: Once again, let's check in with Zain at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a closer look at other stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, in Oklahoma, fire crews are battling wildfires in several locations across the state. Now, these are some pictures here from Duncan. That's about 80 miles south of Oklahoma City. A statewide burn ban is in effect.

Low humidity, high winds and drought conditions are fueling these fires. More than 2,300 wildfires have charred more than 500,000 acres in Oklahoma. That's since November.

An American oil worker released by militants in Nigeria says that he bears no ill will toward his captors. Macon Hawkins, who actually turned 69 today, was one of six hostages let go today. The kidnappers oppose foreign oil investment in Nigeria, and they're actually still holding three hostages, including two Americans. Macon described the militants as poor, as field mice, but says that they treated him well

The government is more than tripling its supply of the main drug that would be used to treat a possible bird flu pandemic. Right now the United States has enough Tamiflu to treat about five million people. But an order placed today would cover an additional 12.5 million. The Bush administration eventually wants to stockpile enough Tamiflu to treat a quarter of the U.S. population.

Northwest Airlines reached an agreement with flight attendants today that could avert a strike. The airlines says the deal involves a pay cut that will bring $195 million in savings. The union says management backed down on using more foreign flight attendants on overseas flights. The deal still needs to be approved, though, by a vote of the union's members -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Coming up, he went from Australian to Afghanistan, where he met with Osama bin Laden. One man's odyssey through the world of al Qaeda and his own words

Plus, how technology may be able to protect U.S. troops. We're going to show you what the future may hold.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: In our CNN "Security Watch," a key Republican lawmaker is now making some new and serious allegations about that controversial deal to put a Dubai company in charge of six U.S. ports.

Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, has been speaking with Congressman Peter King of New York. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. We're going to go to Ed Henry and get part of that interview. Coming up, new and very serious allegations being leveled by Congressman King.

There's another factor to the port controversy that's brewing as well. That would be the fact that the United Arab Emirates officially supports the Arab boycott of Israel.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York. She's got that part of the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that boycott is adding a new twist to the already heated debate over the ports deal. Both the administration and the company are being challenged on the issue.


SNOW (voice-over): The latest objection over the Dubai Ports World deal, who the company doesn't do business with. It is owned by Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, which supports an economic ban on Israel.

Anti-Defamation leader Abe Foxman says that alone should, in his own words, torpedo the deal that would allow the Arab company to operate six U.S. ports.

ABRAHAM FOXMAN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: At this stage of the game, to reward an Arab company who still maintains and continues to discriminate against a friend and ally against the United States would be inappropriate and hypocritical.

SNOW: At the State Department, more questions about the ports deal.

ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: Obviously, you know, the United States wants to see the boycott against Israel dropped completely by everybody. And that's our position. We want to see that. We are working toward that, frankly, with the government of the UAE.

SNOW: Currently, Israel has ties with two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, and has on-again, off-again relations with nations like Qatar. Just how sensitive the issue is can be seen on Capitol Hill Tuesday when a Dubai Ports World executive was grilled about Dubai's role in the boycott.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I asked if they respect the boycott, yes or no? Do they support and respect the boycott? Say it again?

EDWARD BILKEY, COO, DUBAI PORTS WORLD: I would imagine they would.

SNOW: Dubai Ports World's chief operating officer points out that his company deals with Israel.

BILKEY: The largest Israeli shipping company is one of our largest clients.


BILKEY: We serve everyone -- in many of our terminals around the world.

SNOW: Despite the boycott controversy, there are ways to save the deal.

JOEL MOWBRAY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: What this comes down to is how much the administration wants this deal to happen, because there are ways that they could have Dubai Ports World reshape, restructure in order to be in compliance with the law but still largely intact.


SNOW: And Edward Bilkey, an executive with Dubai Ports World, suggested to a Senate panel yesterday that the boycott applies only to goods shipped to Dubai -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The -- there's clearly a difference between Dubai Ports World, which deals with Israeli companies like Zim, the Israeli shipping line -- we heard Mr. Bilkey say that specifically -- as opposed to the government of the United Arab Emirates, which officially supports the boycott of Israeli products.

There's two separate issues here, even though the United Arab Emirates is the owner of Dubai Ports World. Is that fair?

SNOW: That is definitely fair. And talking to some people today, one person we interviewed for this piece saying that perhaps if the company was restructured, then it may allay some of the concerns. But yes, there was a division. And in that testimony yesterday, the company executive pointed out that the company does do business with an Israeli company.

BLITZER: And they've had a longstanding relationship, according to Mr. Bilkey, Zim and Dubai Ports World.

Mary, we're going to continue to watch this story and get more on it for our viewers.

Let's check in with our Ed Henry right now. He's been following another part of this story; namely, the growing opposition, at least among some on the Hill.

Ed, update our viewers what you have learned this afternoon.


Basically, explosive new charges from Republican Congressman Peter King. As you know, he's the powerful chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, now telling CNN that a couple of week ago, when this controversy first broke, before it really became a big national story, he reached out to officials at the Treasury and Homeland Security department, people who were involved in approving this deal, and they told him that, in fact, there was not really, in their worlds, a thorough investigation here.

King telling CNN he was told, "Congressman, you don't understand. We don't conduct a thorough investigation."

Congressman King, some new information here now, singling out the director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. He claims these officials involved in the process told him that on the question of thoroughness, that they only really asked Director Negroponte whether he had anything on file in terms of potential al Qaeda ties to this company, DP World, and any of its personnel, and that Negroponte came back and said no.

But these officials claimed to Congressman King that this was a very narrow cursory question, that Negroponte really did not get charged with coming up with a broad investigation of potential terror links to this company.

Now, we now have a response from Director Negroponte's office, telling CNN that the assessment the director did was classified. So he cannot directly to Congressman King's comments to CNN. But a spokesman for Director Negroponte pointed to some Hill testimony that the director gave yesterday in which he said, "We didn't see any red flags during that inquiry."

And also, this official emphasizing that the director added to senators testifying yesterday that he will "address whatever questions are now asked in this 45-day review." The problem for Congressman King is he says there were a lot of unanswered questions.

Take a listen to what he said.


REP. PETER KING (R,-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY CHAIRMAN: I'm saying there was investigation. There was no real investigation conducted during that 30-day period. I'm hoping there will be a real one during these 45 days, but when I hear the administration say they're going to use the 45 days to educate the Congress and let us know exactly what happened, they should be educating themselves. They should be doing the investigation that they should have done during the first 30 days, when there should have been an automatic 45-day investigation.

No, I can't emphasize enough, there has been no investigation into terrorism whatsoever on this contract.


HENRY: And he, in fact, Congressman King, is going to be asking that question of some senior Bush officials in the next few minutes, 5:30 Eastern Time. He's going behind closed doors for a closed-door briefing, secure room of the Capitol, with various Bush officials to try to finally get an answer to some of those questions -- Wolf. BLITZER: And we'll try to speak to him afterwards, see if he's been satisfied or not.

Ed Henry doing some good reporting for us, as usual.

Thanks very much.

And to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security

Coming up, are the Taliban making a comeback in Afghanistan? Our CNN senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, gets an exclusive look at the changing situation on the ground. The president was there earlier today for a surprise visit. This is a story you will see only here on CNN.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, my interview with the chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean. He sounds off on port security, the midterm elections and more.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: More now on our top story, President Bush's four-day trip aboard.

Right now, the president is in India, hoping to hammer out a deal that would separate that country's nuclear weapons work from its peaceful nuclear program. Before India, the president made a surprised stopover in Afghanistan, where he met with the Afghan president Hamid Karzai and with U.S. troops stationed there.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, one key questions has military officials in a bit of quandary. Why are more Iraqi-style attacks happening in Afghanistan?

Our Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre is now in Brussels, just back from Afghanistan.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's visit came one day after a three-day inspection tour by NATO's top general, a tour in which CNN was given exclusive behind- the-scenes access.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): The level of violence in Afghanistan is nothing like in Iraq, but it is clearly on the rise. So as CNN accompanied Italian NATO troops on their patrol of a relatively safe area of the capital, Kabul, they were careful not to let down their guard.

Lieutenant Vincenzo Coppolla (ph) insisted most Afghans welcome the NATO presence. And to make that point, he took us to an abandoned swimming pool which during the Taliban ear was the site of public executions. Now children play between the bullet-riddled walls.

(on camera): So I asked Lieutenant Coppolla if he thought NATO was winning or the Taliban was winning. He said he thought NATO was winning, but he did say it's a very difficult situation.

(voice-over): There is a similar uneasy situation in the usually peaceful north, where Germany is employing local Afghans to help build a regional headquarters in Kunduz. The town was recently rocked by an improvised bomb placed on a bicycle that killed two Afghans and wounded a German soldier, amid indications the Taliban may be back.

COLONEL HANS WERNER PATZKI, GERMAN ARMY: That the security situation is calm, but it's not real secure, yes? We have a lot of information about that the situation could be changed. But, up to now, it's calm.

MCINTYRE: The DIA, the Pentagon's intelligence agency, says attacks in Afghanistan went up 20 percent between 2004 and 2005.

We asked NATO's top commander about that, when he gave CNN exclusive inside access during a three-day tour of Afghanistan completed just prior to President Bush's visit.


MCINTYRE (on camera): We are seeing more roadside bombs.


MCINTYRE: More suicide attacks here. Those are the tactics that the insurgents in Iraq have used. So, why won't they have the same effect here that they're having in Iraq?

JONES: Well, I think time will tell. I don't think that the -- the -- the Taliban and the al Qaeda, which are generally the ones who use those kinds of tactics, are going to be successful in turning the people against the government.

MCINTYRE: General Jones argues, the Afghan people are more united than the Iraqis, despite longstanding tribal rivalries.

But Jones says, NATO is braced for an increase in violence, as NATO troops take over responsibility for security in the south, where the Taliban is the most active and where insurgents can freely move back and forth across the rugged border with Pakistan.

Jones expects even more attacks when the Afghan government begins a program to fight the opium trade by destroying the spring poppy crop in several southern provinces.


MCINTYRE: Jones say the Afghan people are more united than the Iraqis. Still, he's bracing for more violence in the spring, when NATO takes responsibility for Southern Afghanistan, an area where the Taliban is much more active -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre doing some excellent reporting for us in Afghanistan -- thank you very much, Jamie.

An Australian man who says he met Osama bin Laden faces up to 25 years in prison when he's sentenced next -- this coming week. He's the first person convicted under Australia's new terrorism law.

Zain Verjee joining us with from the CNN Center with more -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, Jack Thomas admits that he trained with al Qaeda and fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the Muslim convert says that he was only on a spiritual journey and that he had no intention of taking part in terror.


JACK THOMAS, CONVICTED OF TERRORISM TIES: That it was a personal thing -- it was really a personal struggle, that I had to personally -- you know, if I do this, this is so good, because it's -- it's against all my desires and all my -- and all my creature comforts and all my needs.

VERJEE (voice-over): Struggle is a central theme of Jack Thomas' conversion to Islam. He even took jihad, or struggle, as his Muslim name, leading Australia's media to dub him "Jihad Jack."

In March of 2001, the zealous convert went to Afghanistan to help the Taliban fight for control of the country. He wound up at an al Qaeda training camp, although he denies knowing anything about the terror group at the time. Thomas says he even met Osama bin Laden.

THOMAS: And he was very polite and, you know, humble, and shy. He didn't like too many kisses. You know, he didn't mind being hugged, but kisses, he didn't like.

VERJEE: Then came September 11. Thomas says he disapproved of killing innocent civilians in America, but also objected to the killings in Afghanistan, as the United States retaliated.


THOMAS: I heard the stories of the bombings in -- in -- in Kabul and the brothers being blown into pieces with arms, and torsos and different body parts on the road. There was -- there's no doubt that I did go back to Bagram to fight the Americans.


VERJEE: When the Taliban regime fail, Thomas wound up in Pakistan, spending a year there, before finally leaving for home with a ticket and money supplied by al Qaeda. He was arrested as he tried to leave -- police tipped off by his passport, which had been falsified to hide the time he had spent in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: Thomas was convicted of traveling on a false passport and receiving funds from al Qaeda.

And, in a blow to an Australian prosecutors, he was acquitted of two more serious charges of assisting in terrorism, after an alleged confession was deemed inadmissible, reportedly because it was made under duress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much -- Zain Verjee reporting.

Still to come, out of bounds? It's a Texas showdown over a controversial redistricting plan that gave Republicans more seats in the U.S. Congress. Now it's a showdown in the Supreme Court.

And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour the Dean of the party -- that would be the DNC chairman, Howard Dean. He's sounding off about the Dubai port deal and what he says are the real stakes in the war on terror.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: The Supreme Court is now weighing in on a controversial Texas redistricting plan that resulted in more Republicans in the U.S. Congress -- the political stakes here in Washington, truly enormous.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us from the Supreme Court. He has details on what happened today -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this case is drawing so much attention, because the court so rarely deals with questions of political boundaries and because these arguments involve the activities of a political heavyweight.


REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: How you doing?

TODD (voice-over): One product of Tom DeLay's political ambition looks like a baby snake creeping from Austin to the Mexican border. The 25th Congressional District is one DeLay helped state legislators redraw, so more Republicans would gain more seats in Congress. The plan worked, despite Democratic lawmakers trying to thwart the deal by leaving the state.

AMY WALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": It helped Republicans net seats in the 2004 election. They picked up five seats in Texas, which meant they had an overall net gain nationally in the House of three seats.

VERJEE: But DeLay and his plan have legal problems. DeLay is fighting charges of money-laundering for his role in redistricting. And now the Supreme Court weighs if it should intervene in Texas or anywhere if district redrawing violates minority rights or becomes excessive. Inside the chamber, attorneys for the Democrats and their allies, including Hispanic and African-American groups, argued that, in creating this majority Hispanic district, the Republican-led Texas legislature actually froze out tens of thousands of other Latino voters who might have elected a Democrat.

PAUL SMITH, ATTORNEY FOR TEXAS DEMOCRATS: And they had no reason to act, other than that they thought the voters had voted for the wrong people in 2002.


TODD: To claim that the Republicans used race only for partisan gain, Justice Antonin Scalia responded -- quote -- "Legislatures redraw the maps all the time for political reasons, which the court has, in the past, allowed."

And an attorney for the state of Texas claimed the Republicans were simply redrawing maps to reflect the growing members of GOP voters in the state.

TED CRUZ, TEXAS SOLICITOR GENERAL: This map, on any measure of fairness, accurately reflects the way Texans are voting at the polls right now.


TODD: Now, when the court rules, it could throw out the entire Texas map, or it could order just a few districts to be redrawn. Now, the larger issue, other states are also considering whether to redraw maps more than the usual once per decade. And they're watching this case very closely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd at the Supreme Court.

Hollywood is the place to be right now, not only because of the Oscars Sunday night, but because of another politically-charged competition.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is in L.A., and he has got more -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, you thought the 2008 primary season was two years away? Think again.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The first primary of 2008 isn't New Hampshire. It's Hollywood.

LAWRENCE BENDER, FILM PRODUCER: Yes, the Hollywood primary truly exists. And -- and Hillary is not walking away with it.

SCHNEIDER: He's Lawrence Bender, producer of "Pulp Fiction" and Good Will Hunting," and key player in the Hollywood primary. It's a Democratic primary, of course. And the prize is big money.

Hollywood primary voters -- make that contributors -- are already being courted by potential Democratic contenders.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Like?

BENDER: You know, everyone from Hillary, to -- to Mark Warner, to Evan Bayh, to Tom Vilsack, and -- and John Kerry, and John Edwards.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): So, who's leading?

BENDER: There really is not a front-runner.

SCHNEIDER: Wait a minute? What about Hillary Clinton?

BENDER: I think everybody here has -- including myself, have had Hillary in my backyard. And I was with her in Camp David. We screened "Good Will Hunting" for her there.

SCHNEIDER: So, what's the problem?

MARTY KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, THE NORMAN LEAR CENTER: Many people who supported her husband are supporting her. But the same issue is dogging her, and that's electability.

SCHNEIDER: Hollywood believes it knows what makes a winner.

KAPLAN: The great quality that Hollywood is always looking for, which is authenticity.

BENDER: I think it is something that comes across in person. And, sometimes, it comes across on screen.

SCHNEIDER: George Burns once said, the secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you have got it made.

KAPLAN: This is the place where illusions are made. And, so, people know when somebody's incapable of getting across authenticity.

SCHNEIDER: They see it in John McCain. Oops. Small problem.

BENDER: I think that the country needs a Democrat.


SCHNEIDER: Anybody else? Here's a surprise.

KAPLAN: Yes, Al Gore's mounting a bit of a comeback.

SCHNEIDER: Al Gore, Mr. Authentic?

BENDER: He's great on all the issues. He's -- he's -- and he's passionate. He's funny. He's grounded.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: Al Gore's daughter says she doesn't think her father is going to run again. But Gore's fans here in Hollywood are releasing a documentary about global warming, starring Al Gore. It could be a preview of things to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting -- thanks, Bill, very much.

More now on the controversy over a Dubai company taking charge of six major U.S. ports.

Joining us now to talk about it, former Republican Congressman, a CNN contributor, Bob Barr, and, from New York, our own Lou Dobbs.

Congressman, I will start with you.

Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, today said there was no security check, really, to connect -- change -- to charge -- to investigate whether there were any al Qaeda connections to the UAE or Dubai Ports World. Why do you think this is a good deal for the U.S.?

BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Peter King was also one of those that got out there early on and -- and was quite offended, because allowing a foreign-owned port management to manage the ports in New York and New Jersey would open the door to corruption.

And he said that with a straight face, so, I'm not sure how much credibility his criticism has. The fact of the matter is that, by all accounts -- and I am, you know, no great defender of the Bush administration on many issues. On this one, I think they're right. They have just handled it improperly.

Clearly, there has been a very serious, very in-depth vetting process within the administration. That was apparent in the release of the Coast Guard documents that critics tried to throw out there and gut the -- the deal. Then, the Coast Guard came back and said, now, wait a minute; those were before additional vetting took place.

So, I think there has been.


BARR: And I think that this 45-day additional period will support the administration's efforts.

BLITZER: You think he's totally wrong, don't you, Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR": About -- I think that is as about as close to total as you could get, Wolf. Let's go through a few things.

Bob, you're suggesting that the -- that Congressman Pete King has a credibility problem. I don't -- I'm not sure where you're coming from, but let me just, if I may, set forward some facts for you.

Not only does Congressman Pete King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, which is responsible for congressional oversight over homeland security, object to this deal; so does Senator Susan Collins, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

In terms of a thorough vetting, in point of fact, this was a 20 -- just about a 23-day review. It turns out that the -- the intelligence assessment was nothing more than superficial, at best. And that is a straightforward statement from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

We know that this administration, straightforwardly, looked the American people in the eye and deceived them by saying that no one was objecting to this. In point of fact, the Coast Guard document alone, in addition to the other objections within Homeland Security, was enough to trigger the 45-day review.

And, in point of fact, the facts are being played with very loosely here by people who, for whatever reason, kind of forget one thing. This administration is throwing whatever little political capital it has and risking its credibility on a $7 billion commercial deal.

BLITZER: What...

DOBBS: What is the reason for all of the energy and enthusiasm on the part of this administration for this deal and what seems to be a cursory approach to national security?

BLITZER: Is there a hidden...

BARR: Well...

BLITZER: ... a hidden agenda, Congressman?

BARR: Well, I think the answer to Lou's very accurate question, and very sound question, is, maybe, before you simply buy lock, stock and barrel into what a bunch of politicians are saying about this, politicians, by the way, Lou, who have been in charge, as you say, of homeland security policy in the Congress since 9/11, and have done next to nothing to really improve the security of our ports, let's -- let's...

DOBBS: Are you talking about...

BARR: Let's simply presume, for a moment, and then go through the vetting process once again, that maybe the reason why the administration turned to this company is because they have a very good track record managing ports.

DOBBS: Bob, that's a remarkable -- remarkable, innocent outlook on your part. And I salute you for it and your idealism.

Yes, here are the facts. This bunch of politicians, as you refer to them, are also -- make up our executive branch. This administration has pursued so-called free-trade policies that have resulted in record trade deficits. They are driving straight ahead with free-trade policies, irrespective of an assessment of the impact on economy -- on this economy, on our working middle class in this country. They are -- have done nothing to secure these borders. They have done nothing to secure -- and, by the way, it's an executive responsibility, Bob, as you well know, for the -- securing our borders and to secure our ports.

The Department of Homeland Security and Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, works for a fellow by the name of President George W. Bush. They are the ones who are turning their back...

BLITZER: All right.

DOBBS: ... on immigration issues, border security, and port security.

It -- it's a remarkable performance, by any standard, and it's time for everybody to understand, this is playing for keeps.

BLITZER: We only have 30 seconds.

Congressman, go ahead.

BARR: Well, Lou is absolutely correct. And I have cheered every time I hear him talk about the lack of border security by this administration.

But the fact of the matter is, Lou, that Congress does have a responsibility here -- here.


BARR: And they have been just as asleep at the switch as the administration has. They have not insisted, through the appropriations process, and through getting a handle on the Department of Homeland Security, to put in place the port security that is so desperately needed here.

The fact of the matter is...

BLITZER: All right.

BARR: ... that you're right. We have relinquished this responsibility. But that doesn't make this deal bad.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.

Lou, I know you have got to weigh in. You have a whole hour coming up at the top of the hour.

In addition to this, tell us what else you're working on.

DOBBS: Well, we're going be working on this.

We're going to reveal some information tonight, break some news tonight, on just how far this administration and the previous administration have gone to turn over key strategic infrastructure assets, not only to foreign companies, which is really not the issue here, but foreign-government-owned companies, and putting at risk our very national security.

Good to be with you, Wolf.

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

And, Congressman Bob Barr, thanks you to as well -- a good discussion.

Up ahead, American ideals vs. "American Idol" -- a new survey says more people know about some popular TV shows than they know about their constitutional rights.

And protecting U.S. troops in the future -- cutting-edge strategies to keep those who serve their country safer.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Jack has been reading your e-mail. He's back with some of them -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, a new study shows, Americans know more about some popular TV shows than about their constitutional rights.

Twenty-eight percent of those polled could name more than one of the five freedoms -- no more than one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment. But 52 percent of them could name at least two members of "The Simpsons." Forty-one percent could also name two of the three judges on "American Idol."

So, the question we asked is, what does it mean when Americans know more about "The Simpsons" and "American Idol" than about their First Amendment rights?

Jorge in Princeton, New Jersey: "The fact we are more educated about cartoons and celebrities means that things are going as planned. How else could we sell our ports to questionable countries, foul up disaster relief, and corrupt the highest levels of government, et cetera? Capitalism has created consumerism, which has created the best distraction for corruption."

John in Ashtabula, Ohio: "It means our democracy is in serious trouble. No wonder more people don't speak out on the Patriot Act. How can you complain when you don't know what is being taken away?"

Tom in Orlando, Florida: "It means we have an idea of how George Bush got elected."

Terry in Fayetteville, North Carolina: "That means Winston Churchill was right when he said, 'The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.'"

Evan in Ashland, Oregon, writes: "It means there are not as many pop culture shows about the First Amendment."

And Dale in Anadarko, Oklahoma: "Jack, while I'm playing my harmonica, ukulele, guitar and mandolin, and as my dog, Sassy (ph), the greatest blues dog in the world sings along with me, I have no interest in 'The Simpsons' or 'American Idol.' Real musicians spend their time watching THE SITUATION ROOM, playing the blues, and sending Jack e-mail."

All right, Dale.

BLITZER: Dale. Let's hear -- hear it for Dale. I want to hear him...

CAFFERTY: That's right.

BLITZER: ... play that blues.

Thanks very much, Jack. See you back here in an hour.

Up next, keeping U.S. troops safe on the battlefield -- we are going to show you what the future may hold.



BLITZER: This week, CNN is looking at the future of security.

Today, CNN's Miles O'Brien shows us the future of security for our troops, ideas to keep them safer on the battlefield.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to train over 900 Iraqis in combat, but we would like to do this work with fewer American lives at risk.

Pretty much, you have to drive everywhere in Iraq. We did probably several hundred convoys in these thin-skinned pickup trucks. In the time I was there, we had a half-dozen killed and 43 wounded. Unmanned convoys would reduce casualties entirely. But we still have a long ways to go, particularly when it comes to convoys and IED defects.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, have been blamed for more than 700 U.S. military deaths in Iraq. But what if we could put robots in harm's way instead?

(voice-over): Scott Myers, is an executive with General Dynamics, a company that specializes in unmanned warfare.

SCOTT MYERS, PRESIDENT, GENERAL DYNAMICS ROBOTIC SYSTEMS: I believe the way we operate -- we operate right now, for the military, it will completely different 15 years from now, due to robotic technology.

O'BRIEN: Right now, the unmanned vehicle is not entirely autonomous. It uses sensors, as well as commands, from a manned lead vehicle to avoid obstacles and navigate rugged terrain. But, if all goes well, Myers says, this could one day lead to completely unmanned convoys. But don't look for robotic soldiers anytime soon.

MYERS: We consider these robots as really co-combatants, and not that we're replacing the soldiers, but they can be more effective, and do their job safely.


BLITZER: And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

We are here every weekday afternoon in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We are back in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.