Return to Transcripts main page
CNN BREAKING NEWS
Trial of Saddam Hussein Begins Tomorrow; Baltimore Tunnels Closed Due to Security Threat
Aired October 18, 2005 - 11:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And let's take you now to the White House, where earlier today the president met with the EU president, the European Union president, Jose Manuel Barroso.
Let's hear from the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... wants the EU to succeed, wants to work in collaboration to achieve some big objectives.
One is to lay the foundation for peace by spreading democracy and freedom. And I appreciate your understanding. And thank you for working closely on that.
Secondly, is to help enhance the prosperity of our respective countries, as well as the world through promoting free and fair trade. And we talked about what it requires to get the Doha round moving forward. We had a good, frank discussion on that. And there's no question we share the same objective.
We talked about what we can do to work together to move forward on a lot of issues. The main thing I came away from, again, is, one, I value Jose's leadership, his advice, but also how important the relationship between the EU and the United States is, and that we can achieve a lot of important things when we work together.
So welcome back. Thank you for hosting me last winter. I'm proud to have you here.
JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, EU PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
It's a great honor for me to be once again here in the White House with President Bush. I thank him and the first lady for their kind and friendly hospitality.
As President Bush said, this relation is very important, first of all, because we share the same values of freedom, democracy and human rights, and we complement each other in pushing forward this agenda. But also in economic terms, we have now a trade relation of more than $1 billion a day. So together, we are 40 percent of world trade.
So we have a common interest in opening up markets. We very much in the European Union looking forward for a success of those talks. We want to have ambitious and balanced results on agriculture, but not only in agriculture. (INAUDIBLE) services, for instance, is very important so that our citizens can really see the benefits of a globalization.
And we want it to work better in the United States, also engaging others, the merging markets. But also thinking about the least developed countries, engaging them constructively for this -- the success of these talks.
These were the main issues that I had the pleasure once again to discuss with President Bush in a very frank and friendly manner. I really believe we have a lot to do together through the European Union and the United States.
BUSH: Thanks, Jose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A show of solidarity there between the president of the European Union, Jose Manuel Barroso, and U.S. president, George W. Bush. Really touching on three main issues there.
The president saying the European Union was important in laying the foundations of peace. They talked about free and fair trade between Europe and the United States. And Mr. Barroso also talked about freedom and democracy in Europe.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. Interesting, trade is huge between the Europeans and the United States. A billion dollars a day in trade. It's some, like, 40 percent of world trade.
Anyway, welcome to our viewers around the world, including the United States, for an hour of YOUR WORLD TODAY, world news coming to you from the CNN center.
I'm Michael Holmes.
VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee.
HOLMES: All right. Let's begin now with the long-awaited trial of the ousted Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. His first trial, the first of perhaps many.
He's scheduled to face charges of crimes against humanity on Wednesday for a massacre of scores of people in a small village more than 20 years ago. But the memory still very fresh in the minds of many Iraqis today.
Our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour picks up the story.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Saddam Hussein faces his first trial for crimes against humanity for allegedly ordering the execution of 143 Shiite men from this village, Dujail, after his motorcade was ambushed there 23 years ago. But his brutal rule bludgeoned the whole nation's humanity, saying these Iraqis, who are eager to watch his trial.
"I would cut him up piece by piece," says Mehdi (ph). Now a soccer coach, Mehdi's personal hatred of Saddam began when he was on the air force soccer team. "One day I returned from training," he said, "and I learned that my cousin had been executed that morning."
For years, Iraqis lived in fear of Saddam and the statues and posters that loomed on every corner. But the fear started to fade when he was pulled graying and disheveled from a hole in the ground nearly two years ago. And it faded further when he appeared for his first court hearing a year and a half ago.
On patrol with Iraq troops in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods, a new Iraqi soldier tells us, "This trial will make a difference for all Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein represents a dark period in our history."
His commander agrees. "If the trial is on television and in the press, it would be good, because Iraqis are thirsty for this. I think if Saddam is executed, 80 percent of the so-called resistance or terrorism will be eliminated."
While the majority in Iraq want to see him executed, there are also many mostly Sunnis who do not. "I hope he will be found not guilty and be freed," says Ahmed (ph). "I think he should get a life sentence because execution will be too merciful for him," says another customer.
Ama (ph) is the barber, a Kurd. Saddam could later face trial for genocide for gassing the Kurds in 1988. "What will he say to defend himself?" he asks. And that's what Mehdi, whose cousin Saddam had executed, wants to know, too.
"This is what I have been waiting for," he says. "I just want to hear what he has to say, how he will answer to all those crimes he committed against the Iraqi people."
Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Baghdad.
HOLMES: Extraordinary story.
Later this hour, we're going to take you back to that terrible day 25 years ago in Dujail in Iraq. And there is some extraordinary video in that report. Stay tuned.
VERJEE: Results from Saturday's referendum on the new Iraqi constitution will have to wait. Election officials say there were a particularly high number of "yes" or "no" votes in many of Iraq's 18 provinces. So they are conducting random ballot recounts.
Nine provinces dominated by Kurds or Shias recorded "yes" higher than 95 percent. And in a Sunni-dominated province, the "no" votes exceeded the same percentage. Election officials say there are no charges of fraud, and that the random recounts are just an additional effort of total transparency and accuracy.
HOLMES: All right. Bird flu now, it's on everyone's lips. It's already killed 60 people in Asia, now it's prompting growing concern in Europe.
Some information for you now. Romania stepping up efforts to contain outbreaks after a new case surfaced there. Scientists are trying to determine if it is in fact the deadly H5N1 strain.
Greece also testing a bird for that strain. And the country has banned poultry exports from some Aegean islands.
Meanwhile, the EU foreign ministers held emergency talks on the flu's possible threat to humans. There is increasing demand for antiviral drugs. The EU's health chief calling them a first line of defense.
And Swiss drug maker Roche has announced plans to build a new plant in the U.S. to build production of its Tamiflu antiviral medicine.
VERJEE: The bird flu was high on the agenda at a gathering of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg as more suspected cases of the deadly disease surface in Europe.
Our European political editor, Robin Oakley, joins us now from London with more.
Robin, what are some of the emergency measures being taken in Europe?
ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, essentially, they are doing everything they can in terms of keeping domestic birds away from migratory birds who are largely blamed for spreading the avian flu epidemic, Zain. And it's not been a good year for cooperation in Europe.
They've squabbled over the European constitution, they've squabbled over the European budget. But when they got together for today's meeting, they agreed that disease was no respecter of national borders. And here was an issue on which the 25 members of the European Union really had to get their act together and cooperate.
OAKLEY (voice over): A logo of flying swans may prove to have been an unfortunate choice for the six-month British presidency of the European Union. The 25-nation group is alarmed that birds are now spreading avian flu across their continent.
First, the dangerous H5N1 variant of the virus was found in poultry in neighboring Turkey. Affected ducks and swans were identified in Romania. Then a suspect bird was discovered on an islet off a Greek island of Chios. And the EU's health commissioner had the culprits in mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All evidence indicates -- that suggests that the virus can be spread by wide migratory birds.
OAKLEY: He briefed EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on the preventive and security measures being taken in the countries which already had suffered outbreaks, and he predicted more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot exclude further chances of outbreaks in poultry and other birds in other areas of the European Union.
OAKLEY: But did that mean a human flu pandemic would follow? The ministers knew they were treading a fine line between demonstrating they were taking adequate precautions and actually creating panic. So their tone was a comforting one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's important that we reassure people across Europe that national governments and the commission are working very closely together and coordinating their contingency planning in the event that we are faced with the transfer of the avian flu virus to human beings.
OAKLEY: For the moment, at least, they insisted, Europe was facing an animal health problem, not a human health problem. There are as yet no human cases of avian flu in Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that we have avian flu in Europe now does not affect the possibility of a human pandemic.
OAKLEY: But the motto across Europe is now, better safe than sorry. Antiviral treatments are being ordered in. National and intergovernmental capabilities in handling a pandemic are to be tested with an international exercise. And preventive measures, like putting free range chickens inside where they will avoid contact with migrating birds, are being stepped up.
OAKLEY: For the moment, EU ministers are comforting themselves with the thought that there have been -- there's been five years of avian flu epidemics in southeast Asia with millions of birds slaughtered. And so far...
HARRIS: And good afternoon, everyone. We are continuing to follow a breaking news story out of Baltimore, Maryland. An unspecified threat now on the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore.
We understand that in the last hour or so transit police have cordoned off the area, have moved traffic out of the area in both directions away from the Harbor Tunnel. You are looking at the toll booths now that will get you into the Harbor Tunnel and under Baltimore's harbor.
But right now, the situation now is, as we know it now, is that there is some kind of unspecified threat at the tunnel, on the tunnel. Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, who may have a little more information on this for us.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Tony.
We have information from one U.S. government official. According to this official, some threat information was received in the last couple of days against an unspecified Baltimore tunnel. Out of an abundance of caution, they are closing down both the Harbor Tunnel and the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore.
They have not been able to corroborate this threat thus far, according to this single government source. But they haven't been able to discount the threat information either. And apparently it comes from a source who has been credible and provided useful information in the past.
According to the Maryland Tunnel Authority, the Harbor Tunnel is shut down completely for 17.6 miles. The Fort McHenry Tunnel is shut down one lane each way. So limiting the traffic through that for an indeterminate amount of time.
According to the tunnel authority, this is going to makes traffic through the Mid-Atlantic region very, very difficult. These are major thoroughfares.
HARRIS: Oh, yes. Yes.
MESERVE: So this is going to be very tough. But again, threat information received over the last couple of days. They have not been able to corroborate it at this point in time. Neither have they been able to discount it. They are trying to run it down and get to the bottom of the story.
HARRIS: Yes. And Jeanne -- and you probably don't know the answer to this, but I'll just -- just bear with me for a second here. If this is information, threat information that's been gathered over the last couple of days, and yet we are seeing the tunnels close today, it would seem to indicate that all of the threat information was leading to some kind of an event today, correct?
MESERVE: That's one conclusion one could draw.
MESERVE: But I'd be hesitant to say it's the only conclusion you could draw.
HARRIS: Sure. Sure.
MESERVE: The government official with whom CNN spoke said he did not know why the tunnels were shut specifically today. So whether this threat information was date-specific, we don't yet know. Of course we are efforting more information at this point in time.
HARRIS: And you're as familiar with the area as a lot of folks. And certainly it's a city that I grew up in. And this is, as you mentioned, a major event for that city.
Heading north of the city, it's one of the routes that you would take to go north of the city. This is going to create all kinds of traffic problems and nightmares. That clearly isn't the concern right now. It is to check out the threat and try to get some specific information and try to clear that area of whatever situation may be impending there.
MESERVE: Incredibly disruptive to commerce, to traffic, to anyone trying to travel north or south past the Baltimore area.
HARRIS: Yes, that's correct.
MESERVE: And an indication that they are taking this extraordinarily seriously. As you know, threat information comes over the transom all the time. And much of it is not acted upon, sometimes because there are serious questions about credibility, sometimes because of the lack of corroboration. That this is not something they have not yet corroborated, and they have taken this step, indicates that they are taking this extraordinarily seriously.
HARRIS: Yes. And we think back on the situation in New York just a couple of weeks ago, where that was a situation there where there was threat information and that the police moved quickly to sort of shut off an Amtrak train area there at Penn Station. And we saw the extraordinary measures taken there to secure that train station. And it looks like we are at this moment seeing the same kind of activity.
The same level of precaution being taken here, as it looks at least right now that another transportation system, this one a huge transportation system in the city of Baltimore, at least now is being threatened. But as you mentioned, we don't know the specifics of the threat at this time.
MESERVE: Right. One possible difference is you'll remember there was a little bit of a disconnect between federal officials and local officials in the case of New York.
HARRIS: That's right. That's right.
MESERVE: Local officials went ahead and took those precautionary moves. And some here in Washington were wondering exactly why they had done it at that point in time. Because even though the information that had been received in that instance was very specific, it had not been corroborated.
In this case, we have not yet been able to talk to any officials at the Department of Homeland Security. So it's a little difficult for me to say whether there was a similar disconnect between state and federal authorities. The early indications are that there may not be.
MESERVE: That everyone in this instance may be operating off the same page. But again, we have to wait to talk to federal officials more thoroughly.
HARRIS: Right. And Jeanne, your experience at this point with the Department of Homeland Security, does it suggest to you that if we see this kind of activity -- and you know that city police are involved in this, too, as well as transit police -- that if you are seeing this kind of activity at a major piece of infrastructure in the city of Baltimore, that the Department of Homeland Security would certainly have been notified and might be attempting to coordinate in this?
MESERVE: One presumes that's the case. That's how the system's supposed to work.
MESERVE: We don't know where this threat information was received. Was it received in Baltimore and passed up the chain to the feds, or did the federal government get it and pass it down to the locals?
We don't know where it originated, who got it first. Just an unknown.
Secretary Chertoff is up on the Hill this morning testifying, as far as we know. We were monitoring that quite carefully until this erupted. As far as we know, he's yet to make any comment about this.
I can tell you that it's been extraordinarily difficult to get to people within the department to get their take on exactly what's happening here.
MESERVE: So that signifies clearly everybody's engaged at the office. And perhaps Secretary Chertoff, perhaps things have evolved since he went up to the Hill. Although he has staff with him and presumably is getting updates, even as he sits there on Capitol Hill. We just don't know the full story as yet.
HARRIS: Sure. Jeanne, let me read a bit of the wire -- The Associated Press reporting on this -- to you and see if there's anything you can glean from it.
"The closures were a response to a threat," a federal law enforcement official said. So this is information that came from an unnamed federal law enforcement official. "The official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue did not provide further information about the nature of the threat. But another federal law enforcement official said that the threat was phoned in to the authorities by a person claiming to have information from abroad."
Well, I don't know if that helps or -- but there it is.
MESERVE: OK. We have not heard that yet from the officials with whom we have been talking. HARRIS: Yes.
MESERVE: We'll be asking the question, see what they have to tell us.
All right. Just to recap where we are right now, as you can see, there is a closure going on and traffic is being rerouted at the Harbor Tunnel. This is in Baltimore, Maryland. And the throughway leading to the tunnel is essentially being shut down and traffic is being diverted around so that no one can get into the tunnel and under Baltimore's harbor right now because of a threat, an unspecified threat at this point.
We are working feverishly, as you can imagine, to try to get -- to put a little more meat on the bone here. But right now, that's about what we know about the situation.
The Harbor Tunnel at this point closed to traffic as an unspecified threat is being checked out. We presume that the Department of Homeland Security has been notified about this situation. We know that the Mass Transit Authority in Baltimore at this point has been taking the lead in this.
And you can be assured that authorities in Baltimore, the city police, state police are also involved in what is going on the ground right now at Baltimore's Harbor Tunnel. And also, as you see on the lower third there, Fort McHenry Tunnel is partially closed right now.
So this is a major, major event going on in Baltimore city right now during the lunch hour in the city. You can imagine the kind of traffic nightmare this is causing to the city. But of ultimate concern right now is to check out this threat in which we understand from reporting from The Associated Press that was phoned into federal law enforcement officials of a threat from overseas. Nothing more specific than that as you take a look at some images of the city and where the Harbor Tunnel, the Fort McHenry Tunnel as they run under the tunnel of the city of Baltimore.
An unspecified threat right now that is being checked out certainly by the local authorities. And we presume the Department of Homeland Security is certainly in on this as well right now.
The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, testifying about border security before the Senate today. We would expect to hear something from his office. If not from him, certainly from his office shortly.
Why don't we do this, why don't we take a break right now and work on getting you some more information on this story, this breaking news story in Baltimore, Maryland. We'll take a break and we'll come right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS: And we continue to follow breaking news out of Baltimore, Maryland, this afternoon. The Harbor Tunnel has been closed in Baltimore. And the Fort McHenry Tunnel is partially closed because of a still unspecified threat to the tunnel's system, at least to the Harbor Tunnel at this point. We don't know if that threat extends to the Fort McHenry Tunnel at this time.
Let's bring in our security expert, Clark Kent Ervin. And Clark is on the line with us.
And Clark, what do you make of this, an unspecified threat to the Harbor Tunnel which has caused that to be closed, and a partial closing of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, a major, major infrastructure in Baltimore?
CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it shows that the authorities, as Jeanne Meserve said earlier, are taking this very seriously.
ERVIN: And I think that's entirely appropriate. We're in the post-9/11 age now, where we know that the terrorist threat is ever present. And it's absolutely critical that the authorities act quickly on this information. They should, of course, continue to try to corroborate it, but they can't wait for absolute certainty before taking steps to protect the public.
HARRIS: And no surprise if this turns out to be a legitimate threat that whoever is making this threat is trying to target transportation in this country, correct?
ERVIN: Absolutely. Of course that's what was targeted on 9/11.
ERVIN: It is obviously the way through which millions of people move on a daily basis in our country.
HARRIS: In the airplanes, sure.
ERVIN: Absolutely. And so it's both the target and a means by which terrorism can be delivered. It's really both, at least potentially.
HARRIS: Now, Clark, would you expect -- and I actually sort of know the answer to this, but I'll run it by you anyway. Would you expect that the Harbor Tunnel would have a, I don't know how elaborate, but some kind of video monitoring system inside the tunnel that would allow them to be able to take a look at the particular situation in question? Or at least to be able to take a look at the whole system?
ERVIN: Well, that's a very good question, Tony. And I must say, I don't know the specific answer the Baltimore.
HARRIS: And I think the answer is yes, as I ask you. And I think -- as I remember from my years there, I think the answer is yes.
ERVIN: Well, the likelihood would be high. I'm glad to hear that the answer is yes. And that obviously will be very, very helpful to the authorities in assessing this and determining the specifics of it.
HARRIS: OK. So just to recap where we are right now, traffic is being diverted around the -- away from -- actually, away from the Harbor Tunnel in Maryland. The Harbor Tunnel is completely closed down is our understanding right now.
And the Fort McHenry Tunnel also in Baltimore is partially closed down right now because of what is, as we understand it right now, Jeanne Meserve, sort of an unspecified threat on the system there in Maryland. And I don't know if you've had time to learn if there is any additional information on this, but check me on my information so far. Is that the story as we know it right now?
MESERVE: I'm sorry, Tony, I was on the phone there.
MESERVE: I think your question was whether we have any additional information. Let me tell you what we do have.
MESERVE: And it doesn't go much beyond what we had before from a single government source.
MESERVE: There was some threat information received within the last couple of days against one of the tunnels in Baltimore. Out of an abundance of caution, they've decided to shut one and to reduce traffic on the other.
According to this single government source, they have not been able to corroborate that threat information. But neither have they been able to discount it. And it comes from a source who has been useful in the past.
As to why they are shutting the tunnels today at this particular point in time, whether that indicates that the threat information was date-specific, we just do not have the answer on that at this point in time.
And Clark Kent Ervin, if you are still there, we are seeing some new pictures that we would like your thoughts on. We are seeing sniffer dogs, which -- what looks to be sniffer dogs actually checking some cars.
I guess something you would expect in a situation where a car would be traveling through a tunnel, and if that specific threat information had to do with travel in and out of that tunnel, this is to be expected, correct?
ERVIN: Well, it is to be expected. If there are dogs who are sniffing things, then obviously there are concerns about whether there might be a bomb.
ERVIN: That's the clear indication there.
HARRIS: And we are also seeing authorities checking under trucks as well.
ERVIN: Well, unfortunately, I'm not looking at the video.
HARRIS: No, believe me, I'm describing it as we are seeing it right now. We've got authorities who have mirrors on the end of poles who are checking, literally checking under trucks right now. We are watching this search go on under a truck right now that would lead us to believe that, you're right, maybe they are checking for bombs right now.
ERVIN: That's the clear indication, needless to say.
HARRIS: OK. The work continuing there on the roadway leading to the Harbor Tunnel. And this is a search now that is being led by the transit authority police. They are in Baltimore, the state police, we can presume, are also involved in this effort right now, as are city police in Baltimore.
Again, just to sort of give you a reset of where we are right now, the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore, at least one -- one, two -- one lane has been closed off. One side of that tunnel has been closed down.
And we understand that the Fort McHenry Tunnel is also partially closed to traffic right now. And this tunnel obviously takes traffic north and south of the city of Baltimore. Closed down right now, 12:30 in the afternoon, as we give you a timestamp on what is going on right now.
We have seen sniffer dogs checking cars. We have seen authorities with mirrors on the end of poles checking under trucks, presumably checking for explosives. That is the activity that is going on right now on the road leading to the tunnel at -- the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore right now.
We thank our affiliates, WTTG out of Washington, and also WBAL in Baltimore, for these pictures of the scene. Right now, a developing story, breaking news unfolding right before your eyes here on CNN as we continue to watch this situation on the ground.
Transit authority police on the ground, as well as we are assuming city police, and also state police in Maryland, on the scene here as traffic is being diverted right now around the tunnel, all because of an unspecified threat to one tunnel in Baltimore. And we are presuming now that both the Harbor Tunnel -- and this is just a bit of my understanding of that structure, having lived and worked in that city for many, many, years, having grown up in that city -- that that is a tunnel structure does have cameras available to it so that authorities can sort of check out the entire length of the tube and get a sense of -- if there is any kind of activity going on inside, if perhaps there is a vehicle parked inside that needs to be checked out and taken care of.
But that the a situation as we know it right now on the ground. We are following this story with our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve, and also our security expert, one of our security experts here at CNN, Clark Kent Ervin, who is on the phone with us right now.
And, Clark, I don't know -- are you at a situation right now where you can get to a television and see some of the pictures that we're seeing right now on the air?
ERVIN: I'm afraid not, Tony, so I'll have to rely on you to tell me what's unfolding on the television screens. But as I say, it certainly appears to be -- indications that the police are concerned about bombs.
HARRIS: Yes. And at this situation, we understand that this is going to be a huge inconvenience for everyone in that city. But at this time, post-9/11, Clark, it looks like every threat that rises to whatever the threshold is going to be taken very seriously right now. We saw that a couple of weeks ago in New York City, and we see that same situation unfolding right now in Baltimore.
ERVIN: That's exactly right. And another thing I've noticed is that, of course, Baltimore is not one of the cities that one typically thinks of as being at the top of a terrorist's target's list. New York City, Washington, D.C., of course. So I just think shows that, at least potentially, every city in the United States is at risk. And again, I think it's gratifying to see the authorities take the steps that they're taking under these circumstances.
HARRIS: You know, that's interesting. That's an interesting point that you make. Because as I think for that city, you're right, it is not one of the cities that you would just automatically think of being at the top of any terrorist's list. But when you think about it and take a bit of a closer look at it, it does house a major international airport in Baltimore/Washington International Airport right now. It is a city with, you know, big stadiums. Two -- I'm thinking of Camden Yards, where the Orioles play baseball, and of course, the new football stadium -- I say new -- a few years ago, six or seven years ago now.
So there is a lot of infrastructure there that one would think, if terrorists are thinking about cities where there is a lot of infrastructure, not to mention 95, one of the major corridors up and down the East Coast, it might, in fact, be a suitable target.
ERVIN: Well, that's right. And, of course, it's very close to Washington, D.C., relatively speaking. So...
HARRIS: That's right, that's right. So we continue to follow this situation as it unfolds in Baltimore, Maryland, oh, just about 45 minutes, really, from Washington, D.C. As we watch the situation on the ground just outside of the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore, Maryland, not too very far from downtown Baltimore. And that whole beautiful Inner Harbor complex there.
The Harbor Tunnel, at least for now, has been closed. And Fort McHenry's Tunnel has been partially closed right now. And traffic, as you can see, is being diverted away from -- that shot there is of the toll booth. But traffic is being diverted away from that toll booth right now and away from the tunnel, as authorities check out what is now an unspecified threat on the tunnel. It is closed down right now and authorities are working over the scene, trying to ascertain exactly what is going on there.
Here's what we've seen. We have seen bomb-sniffer dogs checking out vehicles, checking out cars. We have seen the authorities with mirrors on poles, checking under trucks. Apparently looking for explosive devices. And that is the activity we've seen so far. We have no idea at this point what activity is going on inside the tunnel itself.
Just to bring you up to date on the latest wire that we have, the closure's being brought about -- well, before we do that, let's take a quick break. We'll come back, we'll do a complete recess for you -- reset of the situation in Baltimore for you.
But first, a break. We'll be right back.
HARRIS: And we are continuing to follow breaking news out of Baltimore, Maryland. The Harbor Tunnel there closed and the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore partially closed. We are standing by waiting for a 1:00 news conference with officials from the Maryland Transportation Authority. We understand that could happen earlier. Certainly, if it does, we'll take it -- whenever it happens, we'll take it live.
Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. And, Jeanne, I understand you may have new information for us.
MESERVE: You know, first of all, Tony, let me tell you that a federal law enforcement official tells us that the decision to make these closures was made by Maryland authorities, the Maryland Transportation Authority. The ball was in their park. This was a decision that this official says was made by them.
A little bit of additional information about the threat. As we mentioned, it came in a couple of days ago. This federal law enforcement official recollects that it may have been Thursday or Friday. It came in by telephone to the federal government. The information was passed onto the Joint Terrorism Task Force in the Baltimore area, and through that mechanism passed on to local authorities.
No date, this federal official says, was attached to the threat information. So why Maryland authorities have moved at this particular point in time to close these tunnels is not clear. But that will be illuminated, I'm sure, in the upcoming press conference.
HARRIS: OK, this -- Jeanne, it sort of sounds like the situation in New York where the federal authorities received the information, moved it through the channels, moved it to the folks in New York. And then, New York made a decision to respond. It sounds like that's kind of the same chain of events that happened here.
MESERVE: Well, that's the mechanism when the information is received at the federal level. Now, what happened in New York, as I mentioned earlier, is that there was some disagreement about how seriously to take the information. Whether or not that is the case here, we do not yet know. Federal authorities, law enforcement officials, have told us that this information has not been corroborated, neither has it been discounted. But they haven't made any further statements about the credibility of the threat information or the seriousness with which they are taking it.
HARRIS: OK, Jeanne, thank you.
Clark Kent Ervin, our security expert -- and Clark, we may get to a point here where we have to begin to ask questions about this threshold that I mentioned earlier of threat information. At what level of threat do we begin to mobilize like this?
Are we fast approaching the day, given the situation in New York and what we see happening here in Baltimore now, where we may begin to have this conversation among folks who are certainly homeland security savvy and who have a real interest in keeping this country safe about when and at what level to mobilize and to how specific a threat?
ERVIN: Well, that's the key question, Tony. And I hope that those conversations have already started. Because obviously we've seen in just two weeks this issue arise in the United States in two separate areas.
At the end of the day it seems to me it should be, and it is ultimately, up to the local officials to decide on the basis provided by the Department of Homeland Security and other federal officials what, if any, steps should be taken in response to it. And if that's the position that different local authorities will take differently based on the circumstances and based on what their threshold is. And to me, that seems entirely appropriate. I don't know that there is a one-size-fits-all response to these kinds of variegated threats.
HARRIS: We are getting to the point, though, say, you're a mayor of a big city, we're getting to the point where, wow, what you've seen in New York and here in Baltimore now, if you get this kind of information, even if it's unspecific, it seems to be this kind of activity by those who mayors just puts pressure on every mayor who gets any kind of threat, specific or unspecific to make some kind of move in this direction. ERVIN: Well that's right. No one of course wants to err on the side inaction. It's much better to err on the side of action, needless to say. Now of course there are a number of factors to be considered. One factor of course is the specificity of the information. How specific is it? How credible is the source? The more sources there are the better. The more we know about time, place and manner, the more it is incumbent upon officials to act. But it's really rare when you have all of those elements coming together. And so decisions need to be made based on as many of the factors as are present at any given time.
HARRIS: And we heard that from Mayor Bloomberg in New York a couple of weeks ago, basically, saying, hey, look, I can't wait for all of these agencies to agree on a particular piece of intelligence or information; I'm in a position where I have to make a call. And as you mentioned, the call that he made was certainly to err on the side of caution.
But we are getting to this place now where it seems to me that, as I mentioned, there is going to be increasing pressure on these mayors. And I don't know, you've been a critic of homeland security in the past. Do you see this situation, all of the intelligence agencies that have been folding into homeland security -- do you see this as working more efficiently than what you've seen in the past?
ERVIN: Well, actually the department has done, I think, frankly, a poor job of playing a key intelligence role it is intended that play from the beginning. From the beginning, the department was to be the chief agency in charge of synthesizing all threat information against the homeland from all across the government, and also from consolidating the various terrorist watchlists. Actually, the former responsibility is now handled primarily by the CIA, and the latter is handled primarily by the FBI.
So really the only intelligence role of consequence the department has now is taking threat information that it receives, and then passing that on in a timely fashion to state and local officials. But as we saw just a week or so ago in New York, that role was not performed that well.
Jeanne just alluded to that. There was disagreement between the federal authorities and the state and local authorities as to how seriously to take it.
As Jeanne said, it will be very interesting in the next hours or days to find out whether there was a disconnect between department and officials in Maryland and Baltimore with regard to how seriously this information should be taken.
HARRIS: Well, are we alluding to a trust issue here?
ERVIN: Well, I do think there has been mistrust between the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local officials. Just a few weeks ago a new story was reported to the effect that a number of state and local actors have not decided not to be a part of this homeland security information network, because they have doubts about the reliability of the information, and the degree to which the department shares the information with them.
So this is a major, major issue, and it requires top-level attention on the part of the secretary. And let's hope that today is a good-news story; let's hope the department and the state and local officials there are completely in sync. And to be fair, that might well be the case, and let's hope that's the case, but that is one of the questions surely that will surely be explored in this news conference at 1:00, or whenever it takes place.
HARRIS: Yes, and if this turns out to be nothing, we don't know, but if it turns out to be nothing, you know, folks are going to be asking, boy, can't we do better than this?
ERVIN: Well, the answer is if this turns out to be nothing, and of course we all hope that's the case, but if that's the case, it seems to me that it won't necessarily be a bad news story. If the information had any credibility at all, then it seems to me that the state and local officials should have taken the action that they've taken today. Again, there's really no margin for error here. And of course, no one wants to be inconvenienced. But better to be inconvenienced, needless to say, than to be killed or injured in a terrorist attack.
So I think Mayor Bloomberg had it exactly right in New York, and it seems to me, as I say, the state and local officials here in Maryland are doing the exactly the same thing, based on the information as we have it right now.
HARRIS: OK, Clark, I'll ask you two to stand by as well, and, Jeanne, to stand by as well. We're going to take a break and we'll come back.
I just want to remind you, we are expecting a news conference at the top of the hour. It could happen before that. If it does, we'll take it live of course. And we're expecting to get an update on the situation in Baltimore, Maryland.
We'll take a break and come right back.
HARRIS: And welcome back, everyone, to CNN. We are following two stories right now, split there on your screen. To the left there is the ongoing situation in Baltimore, Maryland, where the Harbor Tunnel has been closed down, and the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore is partially closed at this time. And this is because of an unspecified threat to the tunnel, to the Harbor Tunnel.
We have the Maryland Transportation Authority Police on the scene, state police, city police on the scene. We have seen sniffer dogs checking out vehicles. We have seen mirrors being used to check under trucks now for explosives.
We are expecting a news conference to begin, oh, in about 10 minutes or so, at the top of the hour, 1:00 Eastern Time, where we hope to learn more about the situation there in Baltimore, Maryland. Traffic is being diverted away from the tunnel right now, and it has been this way for at least an hour. Now, we're continuing to follow that story.
And then let's take you to Taunton, Massachusetts, now, where all eyes are on the Whittenton Dam. This is a situation now -- the good news, at least, right now -- and you remember earlier, there was grave concern that that dam could burst and flood cities downstream and downtown Taunton as well.
Evacuations have been ordered. Some 2,000 people have been evacuated from the area. Taunton and the National Guard and local police are on standby. Humvees, dive teams, FEMA, everyone is on alert now in the event that that dam bursts.
Right now, the good news on the situation is that the water level is receding a bit, and there seems to be less pressure on that dam right now. So that's the situation in Taunton.
Let's go back now to the pictures out of Baltimore, Maryland. And once again, a tunnel threat, as you see there in lower third. It is an unspecified threat to one tunnel in Baltimore, the Harbor Tunnel.
CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is with us now. And Jeanne, as we await this 1:00 press conference -- we're expecting it to begin in about nine minutes. These things are fluid, as you know. And it could begin before or shortly after 1:00. But we are expecting it to begin at 1:00. I understand you may have some additional information on the situation in Baltimore for us?
MESERVE: Yes. Authorities are now telling us, Tony, that this telephone information -- threat information -- did come in from overseas. It came in late last week, according to one federal law enforcement official. It may have been Thursday or Friday that it came in. This information was passed on to the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. It, in turn, passed on to the local officials.
Federal authorities in an instance like this would be taking the lead on the investigation because this is apparently information that came in from overseas. But one homeland security official with whom I spoke said that there was enough specificity about time, location and method that the local and state governments felt that this was the prudent thing to do, this limiting of traffic in one tunnel and the closure of another tunnel, out of an abundance of caution.
We've been talking amongst ourselves, Tony, whether there might be a disconnect between federal authorities and local and state authorities, as there was in New York with the transit threat there. According to this one homeland security official, who I must say is a step or two removed directly from this situation -- he has heard absolutely nothing that would indicate that the effort is not fused, as he put it, that there isn't collaboration going on here.
But we have yet to talk to officials at the Department of Homeland Security to get their take on this. So this is one homeland official saying his understanding is that everybody's on the same page. More to come on that, I'm sure.
HARRIS: OK, Jeanne, and if correct, that would certainly be a far cry from the situation in New York a couple of weeks ago, when there wasn't real agreement on how reliable the information was of the threat. And yet, Michael Bloomberg decided that he couldn't wait, and he had to act.
MESERVE: That's right. And a lot of this has to do with how close you are to the threat. I mean, if you're in Washington, D.C. and it's a threat against New York City, I suppose you can put it at arm's length. If you are the mayor of New York City and it's your responsibility to keep your citizens safe, you have a different perspective on information. And we don't know yet whether or not that's the instance of -- the situation in the Baltimore tunnel situation. But we'll have that illuminated, I'm sure, in the next couple of hours.
HARRIS: And Jeanne, your knowledge of this area, let's sort of combine brains here on this area, see if we can paint as vivid a picture as we can of this city, and how important this infrastructure is that we're talking about. This has the potential to really shut down a major -- a major chunk of Baltimore City.
MESERVE: Well, and more than that. Because this is a major thoroughfare north and south of the East Coast. The implications of this financially are really fairly profound. We don't know how long at this point they intend to keep up these closures, but even a disruption of several hours certainly is -- you're watching money go up in smoke, as it were. So tremendously large impact, fiscally, on this. And an indication that somebody, at some level of government, is taking this awfully seriously to take this step.
Now, I will say that tunnels and bridges have always been a very high concern because -- for exactly this reason. They are so important to commercial traffic. So much commerce takes place and requires those bridges and tunnels to get from place to place. And so periodically, you have seen security ramped up around bridges and tunnels around the nation, depending on what the threat information is.
I talked to a homeland security official from a neighboring state, from the state of Virginia. He indicated to me at this point in time, although they're doing some monitoring and some surveillance and although his people have been informed of what's happening in Maryland, they aren't taking any extraordinary precautions there. But, that an indication, in part, that this threat information was specific to a Baltimore tunnel.
HARRIS: Wow, OK. Very good, Jeanne. Thank you very much for your help on this. We're going to take a quick break. And we're going coming back -- hopefully in just a couple of minutes, we'll be able to bring you the very beginning of that press conference with the Maryland and Baltimore officials, the Maryland Transit Authority, perhaps the mayor of Baltimore, O'Malley, and certainly some state officials as well. As a matter of fact, let's keep it right here, because I'm getting an indication that the authorities may be close to the microphones. And let's go there now. This is the spokesperson for the Maryland Transit Authority, Gary McLhinney.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
QUESTION: ... brief the media here and the press on what's happening.
CHIEF GARY MCLHINNEY, MARYLAND TRANSIT POLICE: Acting with an abundance of caution, the decision was made today to close the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Interstate I-895, and limit traffic to the Fort McHenry Tunnel, Interstate 95. The decision was based on an ongoing investigation being conducted with our partners, both on the federal, state and local side of law enforcement.
Transportation Authority police have drilled for this situation in the past. We have worked through these scenarios, we have practiced the exact same thing we have began implementing today. We are working with our partners throughout the state of Maryland and, for that matter, neighboring states, to limit the impact of traffic. This situation will continue until a decision is made that the proper thing to do is to release traffic into both our tunnels.
QUESTION: Chief, is this a matter of (INAUDIBLE) hours, days? How long will traffic -- will the tunnel be open at rush hour?
MCLHINNEY: We will continue this operation until we are confident, in our minds, that the proper thing to do would be to release traffic in the tunnels.
QUESTION: Where did you get your information, and where did that information come from?
MCLHINNEY: This is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the FBI, in conjunction with various state and local law enforcement agencies.
QUESTION: What more can you tell us about the potential threat?
MCLHINNEY: The -- I cannot speak specifically about the threat at this time. I can tell you that, as information develops and as we're able to make that information public, we will release it to the media and to the citizens. Our number one priority is the safety of the citizens of Maryland and those who travel on our roadways. And we will always err on the side of public safety.
QUESTION: It appears that you're stopping trucks. You're stopping box trucks that are coming into the tunnel. Why is that?
MCLHINNEY: Based on our investigation, we are conducting traffic stops that fit what we happen to be looking for at this time, based on the investigation and the information we have.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). We understand that this intelligence -- that they may have involved shipping containers. Is that going on as well?
MCLHINNEY: I cannot comment directly on anything involving in the exact nature of the investigation and what we might and might not be looking for.
QUESTION: Gary, is there something that you want the citizens to do?
MCLHINNEY: We have not found anything to cause us any great concern at this point at our tunnels.
QUESTION: Chief, anything you want the citizens to watch out for, anything they can do to help you guys?
MCLHINNEY: As always, the citizens of Maryland play an integral part in all of our public safety activities, particularly around our critical infrastructure. If the citizens see anything, like we've always asked them to do, like the governors always citizens of Maryland to do; please, call us, let us check it out. That's our job.
QUESTION: People sitting at home, chief, are seeing this, and they're wondering what is going on? What kind of alert is out there? You know, we don't want to send any kind of panic, but they want to be prepared. What are you -- what message is this sending?
MCLHINNEY: When we get information that, in our minds, we believe it's the proper thing to do would be to close any facility, we're going to err on the side of caution, with an abundance of caution, in order to protect the citizens of this state. The decision was made this morning to close the tunnel. We implemented our plan that we've had for quite a while now in order to go with the directions that we were given. And that's what we did.
QUESTION: Chief, was this information obtained earlier in the day, and did you wait until rush hour to implement the closures?
MCLHINNEY: I believe the closure was implemented shortly after 11:30. So that's not rush hour.
QUESTION: Did you have this information earlier in the day? Or how long from the time you got the information did you wait until closing the tunnel?
MCLHINNEY: When the decision was made to close the tunnel, we immediately closed the tunnel, once the decision was made.
QUESTION: And have operations continued at normal -- at the port?
MCLHINNEY: Yes, operations have continued as normal throughout all of our (INAUDIBLE). I might add, part of traffic plan is to divert traffic to different areas. And we have lifted some construction at some of our other facilities, particularly the Key Bridge area, to ease the forward traffic (ph). That's all I have at this point. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. You're looking at Chief McLhinney. And he said, you know...
KYRA PHILLIPS, HOST: That's one of our affiliate reporters. You've been listening to Chief Gary McLhinney from the Maryland Transit Police. We're still on the case of the Baltimore tunnels that are closed, or partially closed after some type of threat, a threat that no one wants to really talk about in detail, as you can hear there from the chief.
A bit of a tense situation right now. It's about 90 minutes old, and we're going to get the latest from CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. She was listening also to that news conference.
Still, not very many answers, Jeanne, as we watch these live pictures. Traffic at a standstill. And what looked like, moments ago, police officers going from truck to truck, taking a look at the cargo.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, and you heard that Maryland police officers say there that they were looking at things that were consistent with the information they had. But what that information exactly is, we don't know yet.
We do know that a phone call was received by the federal government level, containing some threat information. The call came from overseas. It has not been corroborated, law enforcement sources tell us. Neither has it been discounted at this point in time. And authorities are still trying to vet this information.
The threat at this point being called by one FBI official, as of undetermined credibility. We are told by various officials that this was a decision by state and local authorities to make the decision to shut down one tunnel and to limit traffic in the other. But I've just heard from one source on Capitol Hill that state and local officials are working cooperatively with the Department of Homeland Security on this.
So Kyra, that's a rundown quickly of what we know so far.
PHILLIPS: All right. And let's just lay it out there, Jeanne. Last week, when these threats -- or I guess -- yes, it was last week, when the threats came down about a possible security concern in the subways it ended up being a hoax. This is what, only a week after that has happened.
Is it possible -- because it doesn't look like we can get any hard, fast information -- that this could be a hoax? This could be the same person or individuals that were involved in last week's scenario?
MESERVE: I would doubt very much that the same individuals would be involved, because that individual's information was eventually discounted. As you know, as a result, if that information came back with some additional information, it would likely not be taken very seriously by federal authorities.
We were told by one official earlier this afternoon that this information did come from a source who had provided some credible information in the past. As to whether or not it could be a hoax, until it is corroborated or until it is discounted, that is always something you have to hold out there as a possibility.
But clearly, somebody at some level of government took this seriously enough that they made a decision to disrupt a major traffic artery up and down the East Coast. So at this point in time, we certainly would not be able to put it into that category.
PHILLIPS: So the tip from last week that ended up being a hoax that allegedly came from overseas -- we're losing our live signal there. We'll try and bring up another live signal. We've got a number of affiliates there on the scene.
But Jeanne, this information that came forward on this situation that we're seeing regarding these tunnels, did that information come from overseas or...
MESERVE: Yes. Yes, it did. We've now been told by a couple of sources that this information did originate overseas, but that it came to federal officials in a phone call. They passed it on to the joint terrorism task force for the Baltimore area. They passed it -- that's the mechanism by which it was passed to state and local officials.
PHILLIPS: Now what do you think about the federal local authorities working together? Just the process, the flow of information, the flow of intelligence, did it look like everything went smoothly and everybody is communicating properly?
MESERVE: Very difficult to say at this point in time in time, because the Department of Homeland Security has not yet had any public comment for us, or even any background comments on what is happening up there in Baltimore.
But the indications that I've heard from a congressional source and also from another official elsewhere is that at this point in time it appears that everybody's working collaboratively on this situation.
But it is a state and local official to make the decision to take this kind of action, just the way it was in New York. That was an action taken by the mayor, Mayor Bloomberg. In that instance, the federal authorities disagreed with his decision. In this case, we don't know.
PHILLIPS: OK, Jeanne, I'm getting word that I'm going to get an interview in just a second, but I want to ask one more question. As we look at live pictures, this picture coming to us via our affiliate WTTG, can you just -- for viewers that may not know this area -- there we go. We got a bit a wider shot there, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel in interstate 895, closed in both directions. While traffic on Interstate 95 through the Fort McHenry Tunnel is limited to one lane now in each direction. It's 1 p.m., obviously not rush hour time yet. But can you kind of give us a feel for where exactly this is and where this is going to cause a problem for people coming in and out of specific areas and how it's going to affect traffic? Just give us sort of an idea of this area.
MESERVE: Well, you're looking at the map right there and that probably gives you a better idea than my words ever could. I mean, you've got a major harbor in Baltimore. And these are two of the ways to get under it.
And a lot of commercial traffic passes up and down these highways. And this is going to be extraordinarily disruptive for them, even in the middle of the day. And it's going to cost them money. And of course, it's going to be disruptive to every other traveler that's try to go north or south on those highways. So a very significant move here.
PHILLIPS: All right, Jeanne, stay with us. Jeanne Meserve, working, of course, this story that's continuing to develop out of the Baltimore area.
On the phone with me now, Robert Heibel, former deputy chief of counterterrorism with the FBI.
Robert, thanks for being with us. Do you know anything? Any information, any update from your sources, and those that you've worked with, within the FBI, on this scenario now?
ROBERT HEIBEL, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF COUNTERTERRORISM, FBI: No, I have nothing. Nothing specific.
PHILLIPS: What's your take? I mean, looking at -- what you're seeing, the information that we know in light of what happened last week, can you put it into perspective for us?
HEIBEL: What you have is information from a source that the threat has been made against a tunnel. So it -- what you have to do -- you certainly have to determine the validity of the source, the credibility of the source.
While you're doing that, often you have to act in order to ensure that, even if it's false information, that you're not putting the public in danger. So in a situation like this the authorities have to -- have to respond accordingly. So you've got a situation here now where they've closed down the tunnel, and they're going to be rerouting traffic around that tunnel and then they're going to take steps to determine whether or not there's credibility here to the threat.
PHILLIPS: So -- all right, so say that a phone call came in. However they got this information. Because taking a look what happened half the week and it got a lot people on edge. It shut down transportation. And then it ended up being a hoax.
So is this the risk, just in light of our environment right now, our security environment right now, that while you're still trying to validate that information, you've got to do this, because you never know what could happen?
HEIBEL: Yes. That's absolutely right. What you also have to remember is it puts the real perpetrators, if there's -- if there is -- working group against a group of terrorists here. It puts them in a very -- in a position to control things in a certain way. Because what they can do is they can use this information. There's a lot of things they can do to probe our security abilities and this -- they know we'll respond, so this may very well be a threat that has been put forth by people who have terrorist ideals.
PHILLIPS: Robert, final question for you, lot of ports in this area. Could that be a concern, especially right here? You can see how close the water is to these tunnels and where these cars and trucks are.
HEIBEL: Well, if -- it depends on what is in a tunnel. It depends on -- you know if you have some type of horrific explosive device in the tunnel. Any device that could cause mass casualties, cause the tunnel to collapse or something like that certainly would have an impact on shipping in the East Coast. Baltimore, of course, is a major port.
PHILLIPS: Robert Heibel, former deputy chief for counterterrorism within the FBI. Sure appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
We will continue to stay on the story. We'll keep in touch with Robert, also our Jeanne Meserve continuing to work this story as you look at live pictures via one of our affiliates there, WBAL. An unspecified threat prompting authorities to close one of two tunnels under that city's harbor, limiting traffic, obviously, on both ways. We'll continue to follow this news as it develops.
Meanwhile, other top story today, that century-old dam that we've been talking about. A foot of rain, a town of 56,000 people, barely half a mile down the Mill River. It's a formula for danger in Taunton, Massachusetts, on the southern outskirts of Boston, where a wall of water could devastate homes and businesses and schools, offices, everything else, at the moment. You're looking at live pictures right now of that dam.
And reporter Jack Harbor will be with us in just a second from WCVB. But I'm told that Jeanne Meserve, homeland security correspondent, joins me once again with developing information on those tunnels that have been partially closed down and closed down.
MESERVE: We do have a statement that's about to go out from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. But first, an FBI official tells CNN that some unspecified operation is under way, that authorities are looking for more than one person who could be in the Baltimore area, obviously in connection with this threat.
Now, on to statement from the FBI and DHS. Let me read this to you in part. "While the information was somewhat specific to date, the intelligence community has not found evidence that corroborates the information. However, this is an ongoing investigation. Therefore, we support whatever protective measures, taken out of an abundance of caution, that state and local law authorities deem appropriate to ensure the safety and security of their community, until we can complete the investigation."
So there's the public line there. It would seem to be an effort to put to rest speculation as to whether federal authorities and state and local authorities are on a different page or the same one, where this threat is concerned -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right. Jeanne Meserve, thank you so much. We'll continue to check in with you.
Now back to that century-old dam we've been talking about, basically a formula for danger in Massachusetts right now. Reporter Jack Harper of CNN affiliate WCVB joins me now with the latest as we look at this live picture of the dam and the water rushing through. What can you tell us, Jack?
JACK HARPER, WCVB CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Kyra.
The next meeting of the officials here at city hall will take place at 2 p.m. At that point, they'll assess where they stand now and what they may do next.
The 100-year-old Whittenton Dam does continue to hold. It's been doing that all day long, since early this morning. Two o'clock is when they noticed there had been some sort of breach, break, underneath the overflow lines where the water should be going over. There was water coming out from beneath.
That obviously was a major scare, major concern, for those here in Taunton. They immediately begin to go out and do more evacuations. They closed off the business area here in town. They also closed all the schools in town.
But since then, since 2 in the morning, the old dam seems to be holding. There has not been additional problems, no additional deterioration evident to engineers who are monitoring every second, every minute to make certain there is no break, no giveaway, no blowout, certainly as would be the worst possible season narrow.
So that's where we stand now. The evacuations. Five dozen people or so are over at the high school right now. The mayor indicating a few moments ago they'll probably have more as the afternoon goes on, if the danger continues. They expect to advise the public at about 4 this afternoon.
The governor said earlier today, we're looking at probably 24 to 48 hours before the real possibility of some catastrophic event is -- totally goes away.
That's the latest from Taunton right now -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: All right, Jack Harper. Perfect segue. We've got Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on the phone with us right now, as we continue to watch these live pictures.
Governor, I don't know if you heard Jack's report there, but maybe you can sort of give us a reality check of the situation here with the regard to the safety of this area and the status of the dam.
GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, we've got quite a bit of water that's backed up behind this dam. It's a very old structure. It was inspected a couple years ago and found to be in fair condition with some repairs needed to be done.
But at this stage, we're seeing water that's undermining the footings of the dam, which gives the engineers some concern that the dam might give way. And for that reason, I think the mayor and this team have done a wise thing, which is evacuating all of the people downstream that could be affected by a wall of water six feet or so in height.
There's another dam upstream, and you might wonder why it might be affected. But the engineers say that if this dam were to go, that dam might also go. And that's behind a lake with a great deal more water. And that also is of concern to us.
So we're watching with great concern, and we're very hopeful, of course, that this very old dam, apparently built very well about a century ago, will be able to hold up, despite the weakening of its foundation.
PHILLIPS: Well, governor, as you can imagine, people are no doubt panicking. Because if you look at the situation in New Orleans where there was a number of warnings about the condition of the levees, you saw the breach in the levees and well, we know what happened there on the Gulf Coast.
So you say that this dam was checked out not long ago, said to be in fair condition but need some repairs. What type of repairs did it need? And were those repairs ever done?
ROMNEY: Well, the process of inspecting and repairing dams throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts is pretty extensive. We have 3,000 dams. Most of them are privately held, as this is. Not that there's not a state property, it's a private owner's dam.
And the repairs under this -- on this dam and the record of that history is something which we're going to be getting to bottom of before this is all finished.
Right now, however, we're more focused on what we have to do to make sure that, in the event this dam gives way, that people are out of harm's way. And that's why the 2,000 or so have been evacuated and are in shelters. And our expectation is it's going to take a little while for this to be sorted out.
PHILLIPS: So those repairs were never done? ROMNEY: Well, we don't know at this stage. The -- a good deal of repair has been done over the years. The dam was actually built in 1832, and it's been repaired time and again, rebuilt and so forth. And it's our expectation that we're going to find that repairs have been done on a regular basis, but I don't know when the last time that the dam was repaired.
PHILLIPS: All right. And once again, you mentioned there's also another dam. If there ends up being a problem with this one, you mentioned the other dam. Do you know the condition of that one? Is it also in fair condition? And did it also need repairs?
ROMNEY: It's also in very good condition. And it was deemed to be in better shape than the one that's currently under stress. And it's our expectation it will be able to hold even if the lower dam gives way. That's what the engineering assessment is currently.
Although these things, you can never be 100 percent sure of until -- until faced with an event that hasn't been contemplated. This kind of -- this kind of rain and this kind of gathering of pressure against those dams is something which they weren't built to withstand, and now they're being tested.
PHILLIPS: Governor Mitt Romney with -- Massachusetts governor. Sir, thank you for your time; we sure appreciate it. We'll continue to follow what's taking place there in Taunton, Massachusetts, one of the -- on the outskirts of Boston, where you can see just that wall of water. Hopefully will not -- that dam will not break, and businesses and schools and homes will not be affected.
The governor, once again, telling us that dam in fair condition. Repairs had been done a number of times over the years. Of course the dam built in 1832. A lot of people concerned about the condition of that dam.
I'm now being told we're going to a live presser in Maryland. Of course with regard to those tunnels, the one that's been close down, one partially closed down due to a security threat. Let's hear what they have to say.
MCLHINNEY: And the cooperation from the FBI has been tremendous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us anything about how many vehicles?
MCLHINNEY: Obviously, Dennis Schrader (ph), his involvement, the involvement of his people, brought in from the first moment that we become aware of an incident.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many vehicles were stopped and searched or inspected?
MCLHINNEY: I do not have those numbers. It just ended, as we were speaking so -- I will have those numbers later today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You searched the tunnel or just the vehicles or was there actual concern about the tunnel or the traffic moving through it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was there any...
MCLHINNEY: We searched the tunnels and we were searching various vehicles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, just about -- traffics is back to normal.
MCLHINNEY: Traffic will be getting back to normal...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... search vehicles, you continue that?
MCLHINNEY: Absolutely, at any of our facilities.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your operations for the most part now...
MCLHINNEY: Our operations at the tunnel involving the closure of 895 and the limited access to 95 have ended.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you find anything in the tunnel?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you find anything in the tunnel?
MCLHINNEY: No. We did not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief what are you going to do today to monitor traffic, especially during rush hour, going into and out of the tunnel, and would you encourage people to take the tunnel or take an alternate route?
MCLHINNEY: I would -- I would encourage people to take their normal route of travel as they do every day. We will have additional patrols at both tunnels in order to help, you know, any abandoned vehicles, anything like that, that we need to clear up traffic and keep traffic moving. But I -- I plan on traveling through the tunnel on the way home today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will they continue to pull trucks over, though, any suspicious vehicles over as...
MCLHINNEY: I'm not going to comment on any of our future activities regarding vehicle inspections.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did it work the way you wanted it to?
MCLHINNEY: Worked exactly the way we wanted it to, exactly the way we planned for. It went pretty much like clock work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this something that we can expect to see more of? As anything comes up, you know, you guys have to check it out? MCLHINNEY: You can expect to see it when we believe that the information warrants it. I'm not going to hesitate to close a facility if I think it's the proper thing to do. We're just not. We're going to err on the side of public safety each and every time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this threat specific to automobile, passenger (UNINTELLIGIBLE) any trains, tunnels?
MCLHINNEY: I'm not going to comment directly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where does your investigation go now, chief? Can you tell us that?
MCLHINNEY: Thanks, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What kinds of things do you have to go and do now?
MCLHINNEY: That's going to be handled by some of our other agencies that are involved in this.
PHILLIPS: Erring on the side of public safety, according to Gary McLhinney there, the Maryland Transit Police chief, coming forward and saying that those tunnels, those Baltimore tunnels, the one that was closed, one that was partially closed, they will both be reopened now.
They said they've searched the tunnels. They've searched vehicles, after receiving a tip that they said was a threat. They really didn't give a lot of information. They didn't go into detail about it. It lasted about 90 minutes or so. And now, according to the chief, those tunnels are going to be reopened.
Richard Falkenrath, CNN security analyst, with us on the phone -- actually, no, he's live with us. Richard, I'm sorry about that. Everything's happening so fast.
RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.
PHILLIPS: What's your take? It happened pretty quickly. Do you think that this was credible information and -- or not? And -- they obviously figured out it's not a threat anymore.
FALKENRATH: Well, it must have been very specific information. Whether it was credible, we don't really know yet. But they must have had something really specific with respect to place, namely the tunnels, and time, namely today. So whenever you see a response like this that's highly targeted, you know it was very specific information. Not unlike what we had in New York a couple weeks ago.
PHILLIPS: OK. Did you say we had to -- OK. Sorry, Richard. I got a number of things going on right now.
All right. So you're saying that it was specific information, but we still don't know if, indeed, it was credible. But obviously, you can't take any chances, as the police chief said, and he had to shut down those tunnels.
I asked Jeanne Meserve this question. She doesn't believe there is any connection. But you have to look at last week and the threats that came, allegedly from overseas, about the subways in New York. That ended up being a hoax. Now, apparently, this information came from overseas. And it's looking like they -- authorities have done the proper searches, and they've reopened the tunnel. So once again, could this be a hoax?
FALKENRATH: Well, it could. And in fact, some of the after- action report from the New York incident showed that we responded in that way because the information was so specific.
So one of the things I think they're probably worried about in the FBI and elsewhere is was someone spoofing us? Did someone give us this information, highly specific with respect to place and time, for the purpose of getting this sort of response?
PHILLIPS: All right, Richard Falkenrath, CNN security analyst. Thanks, Richard.
FALKENRATH: Thanks, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: You bet.
We're going to take a quick break. Following a lot of stories for you obviously at this moment. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Later on LIVE FROM, a plot to assassinate a dictator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assan shot with his pistol to give the group a sign to start shooting at Saddam.
PHILLIPS: Now Saddam Hussein stands trial for the massacre that followed. The crime, the potential punishment, and how the trial will happen, later on LIVE FROM.
Next on LIVE FROM...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that I've ever smelled anything quite like this.
PHILLIPS: Colossal cleanup, 12 acres of refrigerators and 100,000 abandoned cars. How long will it take?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Obviously a lot happening today. Now live pictures from downtown Manhattan there. It's the 59th Street Bridge. Some type of fire. We don't have a lot of information right now but we're working the story for you. Of course, you know, we were just talking about the tunnels that were shut down in Baltimore. They've now been reopened. Now we're getting word of this fire in Manhattan, at the 59th Street Bridge. We're following it for you. We'll bring you as much information as we can, as soon as we get it.
Meanwhile, rivers of mud in parts of Southern California after a day of heavy rain today, will make two days and hail the size of walnuts. Burbank, as you can see here, took a beating. And I-5, the main highway linking Los Angeles and San Francisco, was shut down for hours yesterday by mudslides and four feet of water. Apart from the storm, experts blame the many mountainsides that have been stripped of trees and brush by those wildfires.
And now the western Caribbean, where Wilma is now a hurricane, and the Cayman Islands, Honduras, western Cuba and, yes, southern Florida are watching with alarm.
CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras watching from our weather center.
Jacqui, what can you tell us?
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wilma became a hurricane this morning. And it's going to continue to gain some strength, packing winds right now around 75 miles per hour. And it's just less than 200 miles away from Grand Cayman Island.
It's picking up some forward speed. Yesterday, the storm was basically stalled out in the western Caribbean. Now it's moving up to the north and to the west around seven miles per hour, and it's expected to become a major hurricane in the next day or two.
The projected path has really been on target, so there's a lot of confidence in this forecast tracking. In fact, a lot of computer models are really lining up. They're bringing the storm to the north and west. They're bringing it towards the Yucatan channel, becoming a major hurricane probably by Thursday morning at the latest, with winds of 120 miles per hour.
And then it's expected to take a sharp right-hand turn and head away, towards Florida. It's a good possibility that Florida will be the big target here. But keep in mind that we're still talking about a good five-plus days out for landfall. So it's still anybody's ball game here into the eastern coast, also possibly even Cuba, could be affected by this storm. It's getting larger in size, too. That's going to be a concern.
The one good note of all this, though, Kyra is that if a storm takes that right-hand turn, it's doing so because upper level winds are going to be steering it that way. Those same winds should shear off the storm a little bit and hopefully prevent it from intensifying further -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, Jacqui. Thanks so much. We'll keep our eye, of course, on the weather with you and also we're keeping our eye on that fire in Manhattan. We got a bit of a better picture for you right now. Take a look at this. This is via -- is this the U.N. cam, guys? Is that right? This is via the U.N. cam, a little closer.
As you can see, there was obviously some construction going on on the 59thSstreet Bridge. Don't know what happened. Don't know if anybody -- if there are workers there close to the vicinity of that fire or what exactly took place. But you can see as camera zooms in -- and also not quite sure -- I don't think we can see any flames at this point. We're just seeing smoke right now. Don't know if there are firefighters in there working that fire.
But we can tell you that this is the 59th Street Bridge that had been under construction in Manhattan. And they are working some type of fire. Not quite sure if it's out or not. But I'll bring you as much information as I can as soon as I get it.
Meanwhile, let's stay sort of in the area and check with Kathleen Hays. She's going to take us to break.
What are you going to be talking about, Kathleen, there at the New York Stock Exchange?
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com