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Important Election Day Tomorrow; Man Beats Security at Airport; Interview with Ben Post

Aired November 5, 2001 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, again. We have much to report tonight. But as Larry suggested, we do have a very important announcement to make about this program. It's really big. I have actually been talking with newspaper reporters about it all afternoon.

The program now officially and forevermore has a name. Really, it has a title. Now, naming a program, believe me, is not easy. And in fact, coming up with this name took many, many months. We started this process in August. The program's producer, David Borman and I, had a few of our ideas, and the executives who rule our lives had several of their own. That seemed to carry to us late August.

Then these names, all of them, were researched and researched some more, because it's very important, we were told, that the audience -- that would be you -- liked the ideas also. That took us to September. The executives kicked it around a little more and settled on a name and both David and I said fine.

So, from now on, the name of the program is NEWS night. The theory of the name -- and believe me, names, we learned, need a theory -- goes like this. It's the news at night. Thank goodness for all that research.

With that in mind, here's the news, this night.

A man holding an expired student visa cleared a checkpoint at Chicago's O'Hare over the weekend, even after security found two knives on him. Only later were seven other knives, a stun gun and tear gas found. Two more knives in his checked luggage. And it took a full day before the FBI arrested him. This should answer the question: are there holes in the airport security system?

The response from the transportation secretary? "When there are screw-ups, there's going to be a sting" -- that's a quote. Warning that the carrier, United Airlines, may be fined.

And the nation's top Democrat had one word, though he said it twice. "Unbelievable. ." Clearly, the Democrats will use the incident against the White House and House Republicans, who oppose making airline security workers federal employees.

We'll deal with that story. We'll also look at New York politics after September 11th. It's election day here tomorrow. And we'll go onboard a NATO plane doing something that would have been utterly unthinkable before September 11th, flying surveillance missions over U.S. soil.

All of that on NEWSNIGHT. Note how we're working the title into almost every page, by the way. But first, the NEWSNIGHT whip around the world. We start with CNN's Susan Candiotti in the investigation in the security breach at O'Hare.

Susan, the headline.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, seven knives, a stun gun, a can that read tear gas, right through an airport X-ray machine, right past airport security. The transportation secretary calls it a failure of dramatic dimension. We call it something that raises all kinds of questions -- Aaron.

BROWN: Susan, thank you.

Afghanistan, CNN's Satinder Bindra in northern Afghanistan, the headline on the war.

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Aaron. No U.S. military strikes here in the past two days, but the latest strikes here were so heavy that Northern Alliance commanders intercepted radio messages that suggested the Taliban had suffered heavy casualties.

Now some alliance commanders believe the Taliban's morale is down. So, Aaron, they're training and preparing for a ground offensive. Back to you.

BROWN: And as we said, election day here and in a number of places around the country tomorrow. CNN's Candy Crowley, the headline, please.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, it is an off-year election that is more off than usual. Two governorships and a big- city mayor's office are among the seats up for grabs in elections in New Jersey, Virginia and New York City. The question is, how much will September 11th influence November sixth -- Aaron.

BROWN: Candy, we'll get back to you and all of you shortly.

We begin tonight with the story that gets more disturbing the more you look into it. Federal officials say there's no indication that the man at the center of the incident at O'Hare Airport is linked to terrorism. The man, who is on an expired student visa, got through a security checkpoint armed to the hilt. Subhash Gurung says he's from Nepal.

He had nearly a dozen knives, tear gas, a stun gun, when his arsenal was finally discovered at the gate. He was arrested, and then he was released by local authorities. His original court date, December 19th. It was not until last night that the FBI finally got around to arresting him and charging him with trying to board a plane with weapons. Then there's this: a mysterious connection with one of the two men being held in Texas after the September 11th attacks. The FBI says: coincidence. Again, we're joined by CNN's Susan Candiotti, who comes to us tonight from Washington -- Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Hello, Aaron.

He carried seven knives with blades up to four inches long, plus a stun gun and a can labeled tear gas -- all inside a plastic bag, the kind you get at the grocery store. But airport security did not see any of it.

How could that happen? Especially now?


(voice-over): The arrest of a 27-year-old man from Nepal at Chicago's O'Hare Airport Saturday night reveals not only a disturbing security breach, it also raises questions about how the FBI handled the matter.

The incident began when security guards, hired by United Airlines, confiscated two pocket knives from Subhash Gurung at a screening checkpoint.

SUBHASH GURUNG, ARRESTED FOR CARRYING WEAPONS INTO AIRPORT: I just got in a hurry. I forgot all these things to do.

CANDIOTTI: It wasn't until Gurung got to his gate that two United Airlines employees subjected Gurung to a second check, and according to police, made a frightening discovery. Inside his carry-on bag, seven folding lock-blade knives with two and quarter to 4 inch blades, a stun gun and a container labeled tear gas.

The items were packaged with a camera in a white plastic bag. Two additional knives were later found in his checked luggage. Gurung told CNN affiliate WLS it was all an accident. He collects knives, and the stun gun was for protection.

I told you that I was living there in Chicago, and I don't have any friend at the time. Two years I was completely alone there, and totally insecure and lonely there.

CANDIOTTI: On Sunday, the FBI told CNN it interviewed Gurung, but insisted local authorities were handling the entire matter. Chicago police charged Gurung with two misdemeanors, released him on bond, and ordered him to appear in court next month.

After the story became public, the FBI rearrested Gurung Sunday night. He appeared federal court Monday on charges of attempting to carry a weapon on an aircraft. The FBI said Gurung's story had been thoroughly checked out, and in a statement, added, "there is no allegation this incident involves any suspected terrorist activity."

Hardly consolation to eight now suspended airport security employees who failed to see the knives, stun gun or tear gas. Those security guards work for Argenbright. That company denied their employees had violated company procedures or FAA guidelines, saying there is no rule requiring a search of carry-on luggage after finding knives during a body search.

Argenbright has a history of run-in with the Justice Department. The company is currently on probation, after putting untrained people, some with criminal backgrounds, at security checkpoints. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called the O'Hare incident a "failure of dramatic dimensions," and says the federal government will likely impose a substantial fine against United Airlines.

NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: We are going to hold the airlines and their screening companies accountable. The airlines cannot wash their hands of this duty, and there should be no doubt as to our determination and our resolve.

CANDIOTTI: Mineta says United will be required to retrain its passenger screeners employed by Argenbright at O'Hare airport.


CANDIOTTI: Secretary Mineta now says United Airlines, under FAA supervision, will now be forced to retrain its Argenbright passenger screeners. Argenbright put out a statement, saying it is now revising its procedures. Its employees must do a hand search of carry-on bags if they find something like a pocket knife during a body search.

Apparently that was not a must before now -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, I'm sure that will make everyone feel better.

Here's my confusion. In the original statement, the company says that they were following policy, that essentially they did nothing wrong. Then why were they suspended, if in fact they just followed the policy?

CANDIOTTI: That's a good question, Aaron, and one that we would like to ask Argenbright, but at the present time our questions are going unanswered. They have decided instead to put out a statement, and that's all we have to work with right now.

BROWN: And in the meantime, the man goes to court at some point now to explain all this.

CANDIOTTI: Later on in the week he has a preliminary hearing set for Thursday. If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

BROWN: Susan, thank you. Susan Candiotti, from Washington tonight.

You know it's a frightening incident when you ask the question, "who dropped the ball" and the answer feels like, "who didn't?" Joining us now to talk about what went wrong, Dianna Rushing, who's the president of the Flight Attendants Association for United at O'Hare. Among other things, she would like to see security be made a federal duty, though that has a number of different meanings.

In any case, good evening to you.


BROWN: Thanks for joining us.

All this talk about changes in airline security, is it just that, all talk?

RUSHING: Yes, it is. We have not seen the changes that need to be made. It's nice to have our National Guard at the airport, but it is window dressing. Really there has not been changes made to make the airways safe.

BROWN: What changes would you like to see here that aren't being done?

RUSHING: The Association of Flight Attendants has stated, and we still are advocating that the first line of defense, the screening process, all of the people that are involved with the screening process need to be trained, retrained, they need to be federalized.

Our Congress needs to act immediately to get whatever in place needs to be put into place. Obviously, we want to keep the bad guys off the airplane, and it needs to start at the screening point.

BROWN: Honestly, I mean, you've gone through these checkpoints thousands of times, literally. I've gone through hundreds. It's an incredibly tedious job. I wonder if it matters in the end, whether it's done by a federal employee or somebody else. It's no less tedious. It's no less boring sitting there doing that, and that strikes me as the kind of thing that causes this problem in the first place.

RUSHING: I really believe that if you have well-trained, well-paid personnel, emphasis on the importance of their -- the process that they have to go through, I believe that we can have very well-trained people doing this.

BROWN: Tell me what it's like for your membership to fly these days? Are they nervous when they get on the plane?

RUSHING: I believe that, obviously air travel is still the safest mode of transportation. But we -- our lives changed forever on September 11th. The flight attendants, yes, we are concerned. In the past we were trained that when we had scenarios as transpired on the 11th, that -- it doesn't apply any longer. Our training doesn't apply. And our training must change.

We used to be able to rely on our cockpit. Obviously, we cannot rely on our cockpit now. So now we're the last line of defense to the cockpit. So our lives have changed forever. And yes, we are nervous.

BROWN: And do you notice a big difference in your passengers, too? Are they more wary when they are flying?

RUSHING: They're much more vigilant. It's interesting to watch our traveling public really pay attention during our safety demonstrations, and really, really paying attention throughout the flight.

BROWN: Thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate you talking about the security questions.

RUSHING: Thank you.

BROWN: Obviously, what happened over the weekend raises a lot more questions than we've been able to answer, but it's a start. Thank you.

RUSHING: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Now to the shooting war, which seems, at least to us, to be full of mixed messages and confusing signals. After nearly a month of bombing, things are either about to change on the ground, or they are not. The Northern Alliance is set to move, or it isn't. The Taliban is finished as a government and it's on the run, or is just regrouping.

So far the only clear view we get comes from gun sight cameras, and they're of no help where the big picture is concerned. We'll try to fill some of that in tonight, starting with the latest from the Pentagon and CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Video taken from a U.S. fighter plane shows how Air Force B-52s continue to carpet bomb Taliban front lines, using the latest targeting techniques to lay even unguided bombs down in a precise pattern. But as the air campaign enters its fifth week, there's still no indication of when Northern Alliance commanders will move against the Taliban.

REAR ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, JOINT STAFF DEPUTY OPS. DIRECTOR: They've got to make that determination for themselves on the ground, and we are sure that they will. And once they are comfortable, we will attempt to help them again in any way that we can.

MCINTYRE: In order to provide quicker support to anti-Taliban troops, Pentagon assessment teams are in Tajikistan checking out three old Soviet airfields offered for the possible use of U.S. strike aircraft. That would give the U.S. bombers something they don't have now: access from the north. And would cut as much as 600 miles off the bombing runs, that now require carrier-based planes in the Arabian sea to refuel over Pakistan and spend several hours extra in the air.

STUFFLEBEEM: Closer access to Afghanistan is good for a lot of reasons: relief from requirements for a lot of tanking, shorter times for response, faster abilities to turn aircraft around, to do resupply missions, et cetera. MCINTYRE: Land bases north of Afghanistan would also allow the U.S. to support a Northern Alliance advance, with planes like the tank-busting A-10, specifically designed for close air support of troops on the ground.

Pentagon sources say over the weekend the U.S. dropped its biggest conventional bomb on Taliban troops, a 15,000-pound BLU-82. The bomb is so big it has to be dropped by parachute out the bag of a C-130, and detonates over the battlefield with devastating force. The Pentagon insists the Taliban are being hurt.

STUFFLEBEEM: It's been a matter of days in some areas where the Taliban have responded to opposition with fire. My guess is that would be because they're either hunkered down and aren't coming out, or they are not able to fire.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The Pentagon says the bombing will soon become even more effective, because over the weekend the U.S. successfully inserted at least two more special forces teams into the north. There are now four separate areas where U.S. forces are directing airstrikes against the Taliban.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


BROWN: On the ground in Afghanistan, the coalition is counting on a band of fighters who ride in tanks, and sometimes on mules. They're training hard right now to do what they have been doing for 20 years -- take advantage of high-tech where they can, and no tech where they have to. CNN's Satinder Bindra has spent time with them. He joins us again from Northern Afghanistan.

In your case, good morning.

BINDRA: Yes, good morning, Aaron.

After weeks of a military stalemate, there are some signs of some offensive on the ground. Just west of here, Northern Alliance troops are now beginning to push towards the northern and strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif. And even in this sector, troops are training and preparing for what they call a massive ground offensive.


(voice-over): One day after the fiercest U.S. airstrikes in this area, signs the United Front is training and preparing for an attack. These rookies are getting a crash course in fighting a ground war. Many of these soldiers have never ridden in an armored personnel carrier before, so a battle-scarred veteran teaches them how to get into, out of, and fire from these Russian-built carriers.

Waiting their turn, their youthful energy standing out, some very young and ill-equipped soldiers, none old enough to sport beards, but willing to do a man's work and die in war. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Now we have an advantage, because U.S. planes destroyed the Taliban stronghold. Their ground troops are demoralized, and we'll be able to push back Taliban troops.

BINDRA: For all such talk, the situation along the front lines with World War I style trenches remains the same.

(on camera): From these United Front trenches, it's possible to see artillery strikes against Taliban positions about a mile away. Since U.S. planes first started bombing Taliban front lines in this sector about eight days ago, soldiers here say some of their guns have fallen silent. But, say United Front commanders, the Taliban aren't leaving. They are busy reinforcing their defenses and preparing for a ground attack from this side.

(voice-over): Commanders here believe about 5,000 crack Taliban troops, most of them Arabs, have dug in along these front lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These people are feared fighters and have been expelled from their own countries, so they will fight to death.

BINDRA: As wave upon wave of U.S. planes have bombed Taliban positions, those fighters say United Front troops have suffered casualties. These anti-Taliban troops say they want to liberate their country from the terror of the Taliban.

As the sun sets across this breathtaking landscape, some United Front soldiers take advantage of the dark to jump out of their trenches and test their enemy's resolve. It's another sign of full- scale ground offensive, maybe just around the corner.


BINDRA: So everyone is bracing for a ground offensive here, Aaron. When that will happen, no one can predict. In the meantime, Aaron, we're noticing signs of greater cooperation between the U.S. armed forces and Northern Alliance commanders on the ground. Just two days ago a Russian built MIA helicopter with clear U.S. markings on the left side, and a U.S. flag on its right side touched down here in Khoja Bahauddin.

Initially local commanders here denied it was a U.S. plane, but then they conceded, yes, a U.S. plane did land here, even though for a short while.

Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Satinder, tell me why they would deny, in the first instance, that it was an American helicopter?

BINDRA: Well, clearly because they believe there are local sensitivities. The Northern Alliance feels this is their country. This is their war, also. And they should be fighting it. They believe they should get help from the United States, but they do not want a large and commanding presence of U.S. troops here. They believe the local population could possibly react against that -- Aaron.

BROWN: Satinder, thank you. Satinder Bindra in the northern part of Afghanistan tonight. Nicely done.

Coming up, you've heard and seen what he's been reporting. Now correspondent Nic Robertson on what it's really like to be on the ground with the Taliban. That story when we continue.


BROWN: Over the last several weeks we've seen some terrific reporting from our colleagues in Afghanistan, some of it quite remarkable -- in part because there's no easy way to get a story out of the war zone. And some of our best work has been filed by our correspondent Nic Robertson, who has twice been in Afghanistan since the shooting began, in Taliban-controlled territory, filing under very difficult circumstances.

We asked Nic to open his reporter's notebook, some of the things he saw and heard and thought, while on the ground.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Out in the desert it's a surefire way of getting attention. The Taliban have their own way of hurrying journalists along.


ROBERTSON: Each stop feels more rushed than the last, and there never seem enough time to fully explore. But all is not as it seems. Our guard provided to protect us, we are told, gladly hands over his gun to a trigger-happy journalist. Wiser officials intervene to stop the frivolity, but the action is indicative of this Taliban tour.

Surprisingly, given they are under attack, no heavy handed enforcement of rigid rules. Rather, a chaotic confusion created by the Taliban's apparent lack off understanding of how journalists need to work. Our needs clashing with their orders, to make sure we get through the list of sights deemed by Taliban leaders to be necessary for us to report about civilian suffering.

The message the Taliban want to get out is clear: that civilians suffer and the country is united behind them. But in their eagerness to provide what they see as proof of their viewpoint, the Taliban's deluge of images, after what, for these journalists has been a drought of information, cooped up in hotels in neighboring Pakistan, all but sweeps most off their feet.

Before the end of the first day, some were begging to be allowed to go and file their stories. But still the information kept coming. A late evening press conference by the foreign minister, almost causing some journalists to miss deadlines.

By working to dawn, we put out what we believe to be a balanced report, reflecting not just what we were shown, but more importantly, what we saw for ourselves DIONNE: route to the designated sites. A chaotic chase across the dusty desert started day two, much as day one had ended. Only now the hours in the car much needed for sleep, to compensate for the token shut-eye we'd had in bed.

Mercifully our Taliban guides were lost, and forced to ask directions at each village, buying us more slumber time, until we arrived at the place they said 92 civilians died. Faced with rubble and little else to go on, we demanded and got the time to thoroughly look around. However, that alone could not verify the Taliban claims.

Destruction, yes. Deaths likely. But who and how many? The verdict has to be unknown. In the city market a day later, and free from Taliban officials, we were able to gather plenty of opinions, as many seemed delighted to talk with us.

"Send in the ground troops," he says. "We'll be ready for them."

"Why are the Americans bombing us?" she says. "Don't they know the Taliban and Arabs are out of town?"

But push anyone on who they'll back, and most will say the Taliban. And while civilian deaths appear to have driven them behind the hard line Islamic rulers for now, they are still friendly to CNN and other journalists.

Next stop, the city hospital. And we find a regional governor visiting with patients. It smacked of a photo op, but we'd gone there of our own free will at a time of our choosing.

And for a country without television, and a leader whose sophistication is best described by those who have met him as rural, maybe, just maybe the Taliban were getting savvy about media manipulation. But maybe not, because the other two big broadcasters on the trip chose not to go to the hospital and missed the access to a key official.

Most of the Taliban -- and the name means "student" -- got their education in remote religious schools. Without the gun, their childlike quality could be likable.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN (singing in native tongue)

ROBERTSON: Their commanders, however, appear somewhat wiser, but equally friendly. This one invited us in for a snack, which at our request, turned into an interview. It's at this point their hard image somewhat softens. That is, until you listen to what their commanders say about fighting until the last drop of blood.

(on camera): By the end of our four-day tour, we had had little real freedom, not even been allowed to have our passports. However we did, we believe, report our story, not theirs. We parlayed a government tour into an independent, if somewhat limited, snapshot of the thinking and mood on the other side of the border.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Quetta, Pakistan.


BROWN: Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT, an exclusive flight aboard the NATO plan that patrols American skies. We'll be right back.


BROWN: Weeks ago, NATO announced it would send pilots and crews to the United States, to America, to help patrol American skies. It seems the U.S. military is stretched too thin to do it alone these days. So NATO crews, NATO AWACS jets are in the skies tonight. It was a remarkable announcement. It got a bit lost in all that was happening in those early days. So we remind you of it tonight the best way we can, by taking you aboard.


(voice-over): Just outside Oklahoma City, one corner of an American Air Force base has under gone an overnight transformation from a barely-used section of Tinker Air Force base into the headquarters of a squadron of NATO surveillance aircraft flying combat missions for the first time ever over American soil.

JIM JONES, U.S. AIR FORCE: It's been a big shift in mind set. For the first time we have crews that are flying operational sorties in a homeland defense trying to provide the security for the nation.

BROWN: For Air Force commanders like Colonel Jim Jones, the need for both planes and crews was urgent.

JONES: Due to the global commitments that we have had, we were starting to get stretched a little thin and so NATO, for the first time, instituted Article V.

Their crews came over with immediate response capability, and it has been an absolutely seamless integration for them to fit in.

BROWN: The planes are all AWACS: Airborne Warning and Control System. That huge circular dish on top holds all the sophisticated radar and sensors. The job: to look down from an orbit of 30,000 feet and create an electronic footprint for every single plane that flies into its very large range.

And on this day, for a mission called Eagle Assist, we were allowed to ride along. It's the first time an American network has been allowed on a NATO flight like this since the new war began.

The plane called NATO 25 carried not one, but two commanders: the pilot and the man in charge of the four-man flight crew is Canadian. But not long after we take off, he spotted the AWACS aircraft he was relieving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the E-3 we're relieving.

BROWN: It went speeding past, just below our plane. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbelievable. I think that we all thought it was the last place we'd ever be deployed to -- to defend. But however, at the same time, we all thought it was necessary.

BROWN: In charge of the mission in back -- of the thirteen technicians and weapons controllers -- is a German, a Luftwaffe major.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We exercised a lot in Europe, and defending Europe inside Europe. But coming over to the United States and defending the United States or contributing in the defense of the United States, that's what was totally unexpected to all of us.

BROWN: There are rules, of course, once on board. No names or home towns of anyone on the crew. No precise location where NATO 25 went on its 14-hour mission. But plane flew over the western United States, not the east coast corridor, and for a very good reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is basically a surveillance mission we are on tonight. We are somewhere over the United States and monitoring some agencies, some areas where the United States (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has some special interest in.

BROWN: At the consoles, technicians from eight nations work side by side. A Canadian next to a Belgian next to an American. Even men from ancient enemies Turkey and Greece working together, all essentially watching to see that no unauthorized plane encroaches into those colored areas, the forbidden territory on the ground. If that were to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we basically do is detect this aircraft, tell it down to the ground to the command authority who are in charge for that area, with the overall responsibility for it, and they do their proper actions as per their rules of engagement, whatever is in effect.

BROWN: Those rules of engagement would apply to two F-16 fighters that NATO 25 had in its control: controlled in fact by these men -- American, Italian, German.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a real life combat missions for us and for my team down here. And we are doing real life operations.

BROWN: Once in a while, the lights of American cities appeared below but on what turned out to be routine flight, the tension on board climbed only once. when it was time for mid-air refueling: difficult during the day, far more so at night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's probably the most finesse flying we have to do. Not having done it before on a previous tour, it was certainly the most challenging thing that I had to overcome. But it's also the most rewarding.

BROWN: Flying at the night just over 300 miles an hour, just yards away from a KC-135 tanker, but the Canadian pilot and his crew are flawless. The two planes separated perfectly after nearly 45 minutes. 14 hours after left it temporary headquarters, NATO 25 was back home, its crew was exhausted but resolute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's really worth it, no matter what I'm called to do for this because in the long run this is for the safety our children. And if I can do something now that helps make the world safer for my children, it's worth the sacrifice.


BROWN: NATO patrolling America's skies. One reason we call it the America's new war. Coming up, the news reality of politics in America as parts of the country go to the polls tomorrow.


BROWN: We have been out polling again for the last couple of weeks, looking at a couple of things, really, taking a look at how Americans feel about their personal security in these days after the terrorist attacks and these days in which we are dealing with the anthrax attack.

We also want to have a sense of how people were feeling about the economic debate that's going on in Washington. Now, if you want to go to bed now, we'll tell you the country's doing just fine. If you want all the details -- and we trust you do -- we are joined by our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill, good evening to you.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Aaron. Well, what we are seeing is that over the past month, people's fear of terrorism has actually begun to decline. The percentage of Americans who tell us that they are worried that they or their family will become the victim of a terrorist attack has gone from nearly 60 percent in early October to just 40 percent now.

Just is an understatement. That's -- that's still a lot of people. But the trend does show public anxiety diminishing despite the anthrax scare and despite the fact that peoples' confidence in the government's ability to protect them from anthrax has gotten a little bit shakier.

If people are feeling less fearful, it's because the threat seems to be limited, not because they have been gaining confidence in government. But I should point out that confidence in the war in Afghanistan is still very strong. I think what our poll shows is that Americans are resilient and they are determined.

BROWN: OK. Now, on the economic stimulus/political battle, which is what it is at this point, where do Americans come down: taxes or spending?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there is a fight brewing in Congress over just that issue. It boils down to a choice between tax cuts and more spending. Republicans prefer tax cuts. Democrats believe spending would be a more direct way to put money in the hands of the people that need the it most.

Now, which does the public prefer? Most people say: spend. Show us the money. That should give Democrats some encouragement. On the other hand, Aaron, I think it was a Democratic president who said the era of big government is over.

BROWN: Ah, but that was a in different era, Bill. And for those of us in New York and a few other places around the country, there are interesting elections tomorrow. What does the polling show, if anything, about that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, how's this for a story. The latest polls show Democrat Mark Green and Republican Michael Bloomberg in a dead heat for mayor of New York, and 15 percent undecided -- an unusually high number this late. But New Yorkers have been unusually distracted this fall.

What's Bloomberg got going for him? How about $50 million? Why this sudden momentum for Bloomberg? Well, here's a clue. Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsed his fellow Republican Bloomberg on October 27.

If Bloomberg wins tomorrow, I think it will establish Giuliani's clout. Three Republican victories for mayor of New York in a row.

What can his opponent Mark Green do? He can do what he did today: bring out the one public figure with a following in New York that can match Giuliani's, and that's former President Bill Clinton. You know, Aaron, I think what we have got is finally, at long last, our Giuliani versus Clinton race.

BROWN: Well, it took a while but we did get there. And I think also what we have got is a long night ahead of us tomorrow, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Could be.

BROWN: Thank you. We'll sure -- we'll see you tomorrow, I hope. As we say, it is election day tomorrow here in New York and in a number of other places in the country. And in one way or another, all of these contests have been influenced by September 11. At the very least, it's been hard for candidates to keep voters' attention, in many places, and it's been harder still to raise money.

So tomorrow New Yorkers will elect a new mayor. There are a number of races that bear watching too, and most if not all influenced by the attack of 9-11. We are joined by CNN's Candy Crowley from Washington tonight. Candy, it's nice see you.

CROWLEY: It's good to see you, Aaron. You know how politicians always like to say that they are no different than you and me. This year, that may in fact be so, as candidates along the campaign trail have tried to figure out a way to keep going in a world that seems wholly different.


CROWLEY: A grieving city that still searches for its dead holds an election Tuesday.

ANNOUNCER: I'm supporting Mike Bloomberg. And Mike Bloomberg is a leader...

CROWLEY: There's no way September 11th could not permeate the politics of November sixth's New York mayoral race. The effect may in fact be decisive.

ANNOUNCER: I actually believe that if, God forbid, I had been the mayor during such a calamity, I would have done as well or better than Rudy Giuliani.

CROWLEY: With millions of his own to spend, Republican Michael Bloomberg has filled New York living rooms with a dig at a cocky boast from his Democratic opponent, who dared suggest he would do better than New York's favorite -- if term limited -- mayor. Rudy Giuliani -- he of the brave face and boffo reviews -- is the favorite cameo guest for Republicans in the big-stakes gubernatorial races of New Jersey and Virginia.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: He's a strong, courageous leader. I've seen it. Please vote for Brad Schindler.


GIULIANI: If I were a Virginian, I would vote for Mark Earley.

CROWLEY: No matter where they're from, politicians find September 11 is a date they cannot ignore but must not exploit.

ANNOUNCER: In these tough times, we are also seeing America at her best.

CROWLEY: Flags, cops, firefighters and the military are in vogue, though a sloppy bit of editing saw a good idea turn bad in an ad for a Texas candidate featuring an American flag with a uniformed German soldier.

Immediately after September 11th, most political races -- this year's and next -- froze in time. No fund-raising, no gladhanding, no nasty words. That part has faded.

ANNOUNCER: Kill it. Kill it. According to court documents, that is what Mike Bloomberg told a female employee when said informed him she was pregnant.

CROWLEY: When it comes September 11, most politicians have settled for a simple acknowledgement of what has happened.

ANNOUNCER: Times have changed. Leadership matters now.

SCHINDLER: In this time of crisis, this is no time for politics as usual.

CROWLEY: Still, though some of the rhetoric has changed, the core of this year's campaign has barely faltered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So why don't you sign it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, because I don't believe in your gimmickry.

CROWLEY: Anthrax-laced mail sent from New Jersey post offices but a recent gubernatorial debate there focused on the staples of pre- September 11th politics: taxes, education, abortion, gun control.

And the Pentagon is in Virginia, but that governors race turns on taxes, teacher pay, and the state budget.


CROWLEY: Still, it's different now. Off-year elections have always been sort of the stepchild of politics, but this year they have been almost stealth campaigns, candidates running literally beneath the radar screen as voters turn their attention to what has literally been matters of life and death. Aaron?

BROWN: So is the sense here that there's no big lesson to draw from this? We don't know if Democrats are doing better than Republicans are doing nationally. This is -- these are local elections.

CROWLEY: These are local elections. But I can tell you that, you know, if we come out and there is Democratic sweep tomorrow, you are going to hear a lot about how this does, you know, bode well for them and -- next year.

But you know, most everyone you talk to says unlike any other year, it's very hard to tell what's going to happen next year. I would say if you look at these races, the one race that has definitively been touched by September 11th is, you know, the city you are in, Aaron.

I mean, it's very clear that the New York race has been swayed by what happened on September 11. It is not so clear in any of the other elections.

BROWN: Are you working tomorrow?


BROWN: We will see you tomorrow night, then.

CROWLEY: It's a deal.

BROWN: Thank you, Candy, very much. Coming up, local papers. We will talk the editor of the Louisville paper when we come back.


BROWN: Now that we officially have a name -- did I mention NEWSNIGHT is our new name? -- we also officially had to have a gimmick. We thought "tomorrow's news tonight." How about that? A chance to look at what local papers are covering, what else is making news.

Tonight we're talking with Ben Post in Louisville, Kentucky, managing editor of the "Courier-Journal" there. Good evening to you.


BROWN: Do you know what your front page is tomorrow?

POST: Yeah, I do.

BROWN: Tell me.

POST: We haven't come out with the first edition yet, but we are going to have story of course on the war in Afghanistan and the anthrax -- more on the investigation into that.

But we'll also several strong local stories, including a look at a center for the retarded which has major violations in some care issues, and a change in the local county political situation is coming up in the merger of the city and the county, and the new report on what that might mean for the citizens in terms of regulations and rules.

BROWN: Ben, does that mean that as you saw it, as your editor saw it, a relatively slow day on the war front, domestic and international?

POST: It seems to becoming a bit of a sameness, especially in terms of what's happening on the war front. Also the sense of what's happening with the anthrax investigation has sort of hit a plateau in one sense, that there is a sense there is anticipation of what might happen, but the investigation doesn't seem to be going much further in terms of producing any significant results.

And I think you get a sense of that primarily from the readers, in our talking with them. And we do talk to readers through polling and other methods, including reader groups.

BROWN: But a couple of things there. Are you able to localize these stories? Have you been able to localize anthrax? Do you have your own reporters in Pakistan or Afghanistan?

POST: Well, the newspaper has broad circulation in Kentucky and also southern Indiana. And I think the closest scare -- if you want to put it that way -- that hit Louisville was when they discovered some anthrax problems in Indianapolis at a plant that did -- that helped repair postal equipment. And we covered that. We have a bureau in Indianapolis.

And we also looked at -- they are apparently going to checked the post office in Louisville, supposedly sometime in the next week to see if there is any problems there.

But I think primarily what we are trying to do is to provide a sense of what is real and what is not real to the local community and for the region.

I think coming out of New York and Washington there is this sense of dread, whereas in the region that we are in, in the Ohio Valley here, there is an anticipation, there's anxiety, but there is also this sense of not really knowing.

And -- and I think what we are trying to do in our local reporting, we are talking to the religious community, we have talked to -- we had group of Muslim leaders come in to the newspaper.

We are looking at -- we have Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. Fort Knox of course is in Kentucky. Part of Fort Campbell is. And the family situation with soldiers overseas, that's an important topic, an important issue for us.

BROWN: Ben, we are out of time. It sounds like you guys are doing a bangup job. Thanks for your time tonight.

POST: OK. Great. Thank you. It's been nice talking to you.

BROWN: Thank you. Ben Post of the Louisville Courier-Journal. That's the newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky.

Coming up, gardens growing again out of the ashes of the World Trade Center. That's coming up next on NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: The English poet Alfred Austin once wrote "show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are." We're reminded of that when we look to the gardens of Lower Manhattan and the people devoted to them. Acres of green were covered with gray on September 11th, and a small army has been painstakingly working to remove the legacy of that terrible day to keep the gardens alive. Here's CNN's Beth Nissen.


BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The collapse of the Twin Towers sent two million tons of pulverized concrete and ash into the air, and into nearby apartments, onto streets, and into the gardens of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy: 30 acres of lawns, plants and trees at the southern tip of Manhattan. Tens of thousands of plants, like this ivy, were encrusted with dust.

T. FLEISCHER, CHIEF HORTICULTURALIST: Well, what you see here is a lot of the debris that you saw on the plants. It's this dusty material, which is largely made up of gypsum and concrete.

NISSEN: Chief horticulturalist T. Fleischer worried that the dust would choke the plants.

FLEISCHER: The leaves need oxygen, and so of course you need to have oxygen to the roots. This caked-on material, of course, doesn't allow the oxygen to get to the roots.

NISSEN: How much of the plant life in the park looked like this?

FLEISCHER: I would say certainly about two thirds of the park was covered in this kind of debris.

NISSEN: Conservancy staff members -- from the horticulturalists to the secretaries -- went to work, cleaning the garden's 400 species of trees, shrubs and plants.

FLEISCHER: We picked out the major debris by hand and then got the rest up with rakes, and hoses sprinkling it down.

NISSEN: When damp, the dust formed a layer, like felt, that could be picked off mulch and topsoil in clumps and then discarded. Getting the fall-out off lawns was harder. Even after the debris was removed, dust coated every blade of grass. Workers tried to clean the grass with water, brooms, even industrial vacuum cleaners.

FLEISCHER: We tried vacuum cleaners, but it -- it didn't pick it up. So we basically came in with a sod-cutter, cut all the lawn, rolled it up, hauled it off and put down new sod.

NISSEN: So you rolled it up like a dirty carpet?

FLEISCHER: Yep. That's just about what we did. Yeah.

NISSEN: And laid a new carpet.

FLEISCHER: Yeah, exactly.

NISSEN: Within a month, workers had removed 125 tons of debris and dust-encrusted material. But the garden-keepers had deeper worries about the soil.

Park soil started out as landfill, excavated from the World Trade Center site. The soil was carefully enriched over the years, using only organic fertilizers and compost.

FLEISCHER: The soil looks really nice here.

NISSEN: The conservancy has done baseline tests to see if the dust from the pulverized buildings has upset the soil balance. The preliminary results: so far, no elevated levels of harmful heavy metals, lead, cobalt, arsenic, and no decrease in beneficial bacteria and fungi that help sustain the park.

Fleischer did a dirt-cheap test of his own. He looked for earthworms.

FLEISCHER: Because if there was anything really bad in that soil, invertebrates would be the first to be affected by that. And when you see these guys peeking out looking for air, well, that's a real sign of hope.

NISSEN: Hope is growing throughout the parks. In garden beds covered in ash just weeks ago, there are signs of new life. Just yards from ground zero, which still smolders, bamboo and crabapple trees do their leafy magic: clean the air.

Somehow, the gardens still bloom with salvia and spiderflowers, the last of the summer roses and the first of the winter holly. Even fragile plants have held up through the smoke and ash.

FLEISCHER: Certainly a garden to me is a metaphor of hope and of healing and health. The soil and the plants are healthy. Life is going on.

NISSEN: Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


BROWN: That's NEWSNIGHT for tonight. We will see you tomorrow at 10:00. Good night.




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