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CNN LIVE TODAY

Intelligence Reform; Frances' Aftermath; Terror in Russia

Aired September 8, 2004 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are just two ticks away from 11:00 a.m. on the East Coast and 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast. From CNN Center in Atlanta, good morning once again. I'm Daryn Kagan.
President Bush is on his way to Florida at this hour after focusing on intelligence reform this morning. He outlined the changes that he wants to see in a meeting today with top members of Congress. Let's get started at the White House with CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano.

Elaine, good morning.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

President Bush, as you said, is on his way now to take a look at the damage left behind by Hurricane Frances down in the state of Florida. The president left the White House just a short time ago.

He is headed to Ft. Pierce, where he'll look at some of the ongoing relief efforts taking place there. From there, he will move on to Miami to visit the National Hurricane Center, where he's expected to thank workers and, at the same time, get an update on Hurricane Ivan, which could eventually threaten the U.S.

Now, the president very much wanting to send the message that the federal government is responding to the needs of residents there. This morning, he signed an emergency aid request of $2 billion for help after Hurricane Frances, as well as Charley a few weeks ago.

Now, earlier, though, the president met with top congressional leaders at the White House to outline which intelligence reforms he wants Congress to pass. This coming after the recommendations by the September 11th Commission, and tremendous amount of pressure to implement those recommendations. The president outlining to congressional leaders the time frame for how quickly he wants those reforms passed.

Now, the president made clear in his comments this morning that he supports the idea of a national intelligence director.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will be submitting a plan to Congress that strengths intelligence reform, strengthens intelligence services. We believe that there ought to be a national intelligence director who has full budgetary authority. We'll talk to the members of Congress about how to implement that. I look forward to working with the members to get a bill to my desk as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now, you heard the president use the phrase there "full budgetary authority." That was a key provision of the September 11th Commission's recommendations in talking about a national intelligence director. The commission feeling very strongly that in order for a new NID, as they shorthanded that phrase, that person would need to have that full budgetary authority.

And now a senior administration official tells CNN that the president is prepared to overrule any objections that might come forth. The president apparently telling congressional leaders, according to this senior White House official, that he will support "a single appropriation for the entire intelligence budget directed at the NID level."

Now, the administration has been under a tremendous amount of pressure to implement these reforms, and specifically with regard to the budgetary authority of a new NID. Notably, some of the pressure has been coming as well from his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry, who has said that -- that the president has not acted quickly enough to implement reforms.

The White House, though, countering that today, saying that they have, in fact, moved on some intelligence reforms, noting things like the Department of Homeland Security that was created. Also saying that the FBI has focused its mission more sharply on the issue of terrorism -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Elaine Quijano at the White House. Elaine, thank you.

Meanwhile, Democrat John Kerry is aggressively challenging President Bush's war policies again this morning. Kerry gave a speech today in Cincinnati. By the way, that is the same hall where Mr. Bush described Iraq as a gathering threat nearly two years ago.

The senator said Bush misled the nation into war and squandered money and lies. Senator Kerry says that money spent on Iraq means less cash for health care, education and jobs. He says American taxpayers are shouldering almost the entire burden of the Iraq operation in terms of dollars and debts.

You can hear much more come up in our political wrap-up with Judy Woodruff. That is about 20 minutes away.

A new report from the "Boston Globe" questions President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. After re-examining the president's military record, the paper says that Mr. Bush's attendance at required training drills was so spotty, he should have been disciplined or ordered to active duty. But the paper says his superiors took no action.

"The Globe" cites a 1973 document that Mr. Bush signed before moving from Houston to Cambridge. That says, "It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months."

But when he arrived in Cambridge to attend Harvard Business School, the paper says the president never did sign up with the Boston area Guard unit, and he was not punished. In response to the article, the Bush campaign, the aide, Tucker Eskew, tells CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" the president served with honor and that Mr. Bush has always said that Senator Kerry served with honor as well.

Four minutes, just about five minutes past the hour. Police chiefs of some major U.S. cities are scheduled to meet this hour, demanding that President Bush renew the ban on certain types of assault weapons. The bill, signed in 1994 by President Clinton, expires Monday unless Congress extends it.

President Bush says he would sign an extension, but there is no indication Congress will send him one. Prominent supporters and opponents of the ban talked about that earlier on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH BRADY, CHAIR, HANDGUN CONTROL INC.: It's up to President Bush. And law enforcement has come to town to try and meet with him, to explain to him the importance -- which I'm sure he already knows -- of this legislation, and to get him to act. The onus is on him. If he wants this passed, he'll see to it that the leadership brings it up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VP, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: I don't think it will reach his desk. There's a substantial bloc of Democrats in the House of Representatives and a big bloc of Republicans that are not going to go down this path again. In fact, President Clinton, after the '94 election, said he thought this issue probably cost the Democrat the House of Representatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: The ban, set to expire Monday, covers 19 types of military-style semiautomatic guns or gun modifications.

Let's check in now on the aftermath of Hurricane Frances. After it battered Florida, the remains of the storm are eying North Carolina. Forecasters predict tornadoes and in some parts of the worst flooding in nearly 10 years. Over 90 roads are already closed, and the rains have chased hundreds of people from their homes.

In Florida, residents are lining up to get basic items for everyday living. Emergency crews are handing out more than two million gallons of water and some seven million pounds of ice, as residents battle the high heat and humidity. And the home improvement chains, Home Depot and Lowe's, say they are shipping thousands of portable generators to the state. Meanwhile, many Floridians are going back home to face the damage and destruction for the first time. Returning evacuees crowded Interstate 95 in Florida. Millions could be without power for up to a week. Over 60,000 utility workers are coming in from across the country to help with repairs.

So there's no lights and electricity. A lot of residents are in the dark, but they are not entirely powerless. Our Gary Tuchman shows us one neighborhood's approach to managing that problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's get whatever is left in the freezer.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A neighborhood get-together in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hey, I remember this taco meat.

TUCHMAN: ... where neighbors who have been without electricity since the arrival of Hurricane Frances try to eat their frozen food before it goes bad. During daylight hours, the lack of power is tolerable. But as night falls, it gets increasingly trying.

(on camera): In all honesty, has this made everyone in the family a little more irritable than usual?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, very irritable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I left today for a while.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): With the help of a flashlight, we talked to Cindy and Pat Reppel, proud parents of two girls, who, like countless children throughout Florida, lived through a dark and scary weekend.

(on camera): What did you think was going to happen to you and your sister and your mom and dad that night?

DACEY REPPEL, PALM BEACH GARDENS RESIDENT: We were going to die.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Ten-year-old Dacey's parents are more grateful than anything their children are OK. But now, days later, are getting a bit impatient for power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time you go to bed, and even going and sleeping, you're sweating. And it's just continually hot.

TUCHMAN: That's why they're staying outside as long as possible, across the street, at the Markwiths' house.

FRED MARKWITH, PALM BEACH GARDENS RESIDENT: I started to take cold showers and washing the dishes. It's, you know, sometimes impossible. You've got to boil the water and you've got to use bleach. It's -- it gets frustrating. After four or five days, it starts wearing on you.

TUCHMAN (on camera): About two million Florida households are still without power. That works out to be about four million people, about one quarter of the population of the entire state.

(voice-over): The whole Reppel family is sleeping in the living room with the battery powered TV on to provide a night-light of sorts. Their living room gets an occasional refreshing breeze, a Florida night so much different than the one now ingrained in their memories.

(on camera): When you become a mom, what are you going to tell your kids about this hurricane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was really bad.

TUCHMAN: And I bet you'll protect them as well as your parents protected you, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KAGAN: So let's see what the whereabouts of Frances, or what's left of it is. Plus, what's in store for Florida?

(WEATHER REPORT)

KAGAN: We have coming up for you a harrowing look at a terrorist massacre from the inside out. There is new video available of the Russian school siege. That is coming up next.

Also, the targeting of children by Muslim extremists shocked and angered millions, many Muslims included. We'll look at how the attack is forcing modern Muslim to take a hard look at itself. That is just ahead.

And later, a CNN-UPI exclusive: a series of suicides among America's elite Special Forces. Do the controversial battlefield drugs play a role? A special report is coming up.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: This videotape coming in from Russia. Chilling scenes of terror caught on tape.

Disturbing images here from the deadly Russian school siege that left more than 300 hostages dead, many of them children. The video was shot inside the school's gymnasium by the hostage-takers themselves. It shows the explosives wired up to basketball hoop and hundreds of people huddled together as masked gunmen stand watch.

Well, in light of that, Russian President Putin has received a briefing on details from the school massacre investigation today. His government says it will go after the terrorists wherever they may hide in the world.

Russia is also looking to neutralize two rebel leaders they say are responsible for the Beslan school tragedy. It's offering a reward in excess of $10 million for information on the pair.

The Russians say that some of the school attackers were Arab. That is raising new concerns and questions in the Middle East. Here now is Cairo bureau chief Ben Wedeman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Jarring images of bloodshed and violence from Russia, broadcast throughout the Arab world. The top story on Arabic satellite news channels and in newspapers throughout the region. Chechen gunmen and possibly Arab militants at the center of a gruesome spectacle, prompting some in the Muslim world to pose pointed questions.

HISHAM DASSIM, NEWSPAPER EDITOR: Why are we beginning to be associated with terrorism worldwide? Why are we beginning to go through strict procedures whenever we are going through airports? Why is a visa now for a Muslim worldwide becoming more difficult?

WEDEMAN: Scattered voices are asking whether there's something wrong with Muslim society, that is spawns extremists willing to wreak such horrific violence. But such voices of self-doubt are rare.

Many others in the Arab world insist Islam cannot be blamed for the excesses of a tiny, violent minority. That perceived injustice against Muslims in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere is stoking violence, and that injustice must be addressed for the violence to stop. While condemning the killing of innocents, Islamist columnist Fahmi Huweidi says the political dimension cannot be ignored.

FAHMI HUWEIDI, NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what else can you do? You don't have hope, you don't have any political solution, you don't have -- you are see nothing in the future. The only thing is to -- to kill yourself.

WEDEMAN (on camera): It's an article of faith among Muslim hard- liners that the Chechen struggle is an integral part of the war against the enemies of Islam. But the Russian school massacre is prompting even some hard-liners to question whether the end in this case justifies the means.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Well, some much-need relief from all the difficult news there is to report today. It is that time again, time for some clothes encounters in New York City.

Fashion week has arrived. I'll take you there live for the start of what is sure to be a runaway success. Designer Kenneth Cole joins me, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: In Iraq, U.S. war jets struck targets in Fallujah today. The military said it bombed militant hideouts where attacks on coalition forces were planned. Officials say that at least six people were killed in those raids.

Grim marker for U.S. troops in Iraq. The number of military personnel who have died has passed the 1,000 mark. Attacks this morning bring the death toll to 1,004, to be exact.

But beyond the risk of death in battle, there is now a new concern about a drug given to thousand of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. A CNN investigation with UPI reporters Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmstead has uncovered a series of suicides among a group of elite soldiers who took the drug. Here now is Mark Benjamin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK BENJAMIN, UPI REPORTER (voice-over): Army Special Forces soldiers are carefully selected and trained for mental stability. Bill Howell had excelled in difficult assignments around the globe for 10 years. But three weeks after his return from Iraq, his wife Laura says he snapped. In an uncontrollable rage, he beat her with his fists, then he got his gun.

LAURA HOWELL, SOLDIER'S WIFE: I'm screaming at him to put the gun down. He still has a hold of me by the shoulder, by the collar of my shirt. And he's screaming, "You're going to watch this. You're going to watch this."

And he take a couple steps back. And I think that that was the first time he heard the police officers. Because they're screaming at him, "Put it down. It's not worth it. Put the gun down, put the gun down."

And he kind of just, oh, noticed. And, you know, took a step back and shot himself.

BENJAMIN: We found six special forces soldiers, including Bill Howell, who friends and family say had sudden, deadly psychotic breaks. Among these are the only five Special Forces suicides since the U.S. entered Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to those who knew them, each of these soldiers had taken the anti-malaria medication called Lariam. The food and drug administration warns Lariam, also called Mefloquine, might cause mental problems, including rare instances of psychosis, aggression and suicide. The drug's manufacturer, Roche Pharmaceuticals, said there is no reliable scientific evidence linking Lariam and violent, criminal behavior. HOWELL: I knew my husband. I knew what he was. The only difference was one pill, was a little white pill that he took.

BENJAMIN: An Army study in 2000 showed Special Forces soldiers actually produce more of a brain chemical that manages stress. Dr. Paul Ragan, a former military psychiatrist, said Special Forces soldiers rarely snap.

PAUL RAGAN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: It's just antithetical to their whole practice of their craft to suddenly lose control, become depressed, paranoid, hallucinate and become suicidal. You have to look for some exogenous factor, some outside factor, something new in the mix that would change how they have otherwise been able to operate.

BENJAMIN: Invented by the Army to prevent malaria, Lariam is in a class of drugs called quinalones (ph). It can actually cross what is called the blood-brain barrier and dissolve into the brain.

For most people this is harmless. But there's mounting evidence that, for some, Lariam may kill.

This summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs notified all its doctors to be on the alert for mental and physical disorders among soldiers who had taken Lariam, even if they hadn't taken the pills in a long time. More than a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration ordered anyone given Lariam should get a written warning about reports of suicide.

The same month the FDA warning was issued, Special Forces Sergeant Timothy Tyler Whiffen walked into these words between his northern Virginia condo and put his gun in his mouth. He had taken Lariam during the six months in Afghanistan.

At the time of his suicide, Whiffen's wife Carla was four months pregnant. She said that before he began taking Lariam Tyler was happy.

KARLA WHIFFEN, SOLDIER'S WIFE: No, he wasn't depressed at all. In fact, I have never known anyone to enjoy life so much in all my life. I -- he truly defined living.

BENJAMIN: The possible side effects of Lariam listed by its manufacturer are physical, as well as psychological. After he returned home, Bill Howel's wife said he had a rash, diarrhea and panic attacks. In addition to diarrhea and headaches, Tyler Whiffen's wife said he endured night sweats, insomnia, aggressiveness, paranoia and delusions.

WHIFFEN: There was nothingness life that -- that would have pointed to this. This was not him. For him to take his life, it was so out of the blue and out in left field. And sometimes you have a 20-20 vision and -- nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing has surfaced that would make this anything but this drug.

BENJAMIN (on camera): There are alternative to Lariam to prevent malaria. A recent scientific study showed that 29 percent of people taking Lariam experienced some kind of mental problem, twice the rate of a similar malaria drug. In testimony before Congress this year, the now retired Army surgeon general dismissed concern about Lariam as Internet mystique.

(voice-over): Despite repeated requests from CNN and UPI over a span of weeks, the Army would go no further than issuing a statement saying they have "no data that indicate that Lariam was a factor in any army Suicides in Iraq or Afghanistan." However, a Navy doctor at a Pentagon treatment facility in San Diego has diagnosed Lariam as the likely cause of permanent damage to this Special Force's soldier's brain stem. The soldier, whose identity we've hidden because he's still on active duty, said the drug can produce a sudden, overwhelming urge to do the unthinkable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on the brink, you're ready to take that plunge into hurting someone or hurting -- or killing yourself. And it comes on unbelievably quickly.

There is no thinking about it. There's no logic to it. It's just a sudden thought. It's the right thing to do. It is in -- you'll get a mental picture.

BENJAMIN: These deaths, which include three murder-suicides at Ft. Bragg in 2002, raise concerns about the tens of thousands of soldiers who have taken Mefloquine. The drug. The Army announced late last year it would stop using Lariam in Iraq because the risk of malaria is so low. In February, the Pentagon ordered a new study on the link between Lariam and suicide.

WHIFFEN: Knowing my husband, and knowing how strong mentally and physically he was, I think that is a very powerful drug. I think that if it can take him, it can take anyone.

BENJAMIN: Mark Benjamin, for CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: CNN's Paula Zahn talked with Mark Benjamin about his investigation on last night's "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Benjamin tells her that he has talked with dozens of soldiers at eight U.S. bases and none said they had been warned about the risk of Lariam, despite an FDA requirement. Benjamin says that 45,000 Lariam prescriptions have been issued to soldiers, but there's no science to directly link Lariam and suicide.

You'll want to stick around. The morning's most complete political wrap-up is coming up in just a bit.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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