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Debate Erupts Over Alleged Terror Cell in Miami; Bush Administration Defending Access to International Financial Records; Did Authorities Entrap Members of A Religious Sect?

Aired June 24, 2006 - 08:00   ET


MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning on this Saturday.
The FBI says seven men indicted in an alleged terror plot only aspired to be terrorists. Federal authorities say the men hatched a plan to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and other buildings. The U.S. attorney in Miami says the group had no explosives and lacked adequate funding.


AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, BIN LADEN'S SECOND IN COMMAND (through translator): We express grief to the Islamic nation regarding the death of one of its soldiers, one of its heroes, one of its scholars, our brother, the martyr, as we consider him to be, Abu Musab al- Zarqawi.


ANCHOR: A new videotape from Ayman al-Zawahiri mourns the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi was killed by U.S. air strike June 7 in Baquba. The videotape was released yesterday. CNN cannot independently confirm it's authenticity.

Six militants and at least one policeman were killed in a shootout in the Saudi Arabian capital. Riyadh police surrounded a home to thwart what they called an eminent terrorist attack. Police suspect the victims were linked to al Qaeda. A seventh man was arrested.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: An auction of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s personal documents has been canceled. They include drafts of King's "I Have A Dream Speech." Atlanta's mayor says an anonymous group has agreed to buy the papers. They'll be housed at King's alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta.

The man who fought with Anna Nicole Smith over her late husband's fortune has died. Family members say E. Pierce Marshall died unexpectedly earlier this week after suffering from an infection. He had battled former playmate Anna Nicole Smith in court for years over his late father's fortune. Smith married oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall in 1994. He died the following year.

He was a television dynasty unto himself. Aaron Spelling kept eyes glued to the TV, creating shows like "Dynasty," "Dallas," "The Mod Squad," and my favorite of the group, and "Beverly Hills 90210." Aaron Spelling died yesterday after suffering a stroke last weekend. He was 83.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to get the person that made the allegations to the Feds. They need to get him. But Sonny does not have anything to do with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son, he don't have heart to kill people.

ROBERT MUELLER, DIRECTOR, FBI: While we have made great strides in disabling traditionalist terrorist models like al Qaeda but convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Today terrorist threats may come from smaller more loosely defined individuals, in cells who are not affiliated with al Qaeda but who are inspired by a violent jihadist message.


LONG: Our top story, home-grown terrorism. Your security. Are domestic terrorist groups a real new threat? The FBI and other government agencies say so.

From the CNN Center this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is June 24, 8:00 a.m. here at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Good morning, I'm Melissa Long in for Betty Nguyen.

HARRIS: Good morning. Good to see you.

LONG: Welcome back from vacation.

HARRIS: Thank you, thank you. I'm Tony Harris. Thank you for being with us this morning.

Devout and devoted men or determined and dysfunctional would-be terrorists. Those are the conflicting images of seven men indicted in an alleged terror plot. Six of the seven appeared in court yesterday; they are all accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower and other buildings. Federal authorities say the men had no money or weapons but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said they did pose a serious threat. Family members describe the defendants as deeply religious men who studied the Bible.

The Bush administration says the arrests are an example of stopping a threat before it materializes, but the arrests raise questions about tactics in the war on terror. Chief National Correspondent John King takes a closer look.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To prosecutors a textbook post-9/11 sting operation.

ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. ATTORNEY: Our mission, given to us by President Bush is to prevent terrorism. KING: To others, though, an indictment that raises fresh questions about aggressive administration tactics in the war on terror.

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: I would have expected to see a lot more meat on the indictment.

KING: The indictment runs just 11 pages and acknowledges those charged did not have the necessary tools or money to launch bombing attacks. And it concedes they had no contact with al Qaeda, meetings and offers of help instead from an FBI operative posing as an al Qaeda representative.

CALLAN: He agrees to supply machine guns, boots, and other equipment to these conspirators. He's really involved in every aspect of the crime and you know that gives rise to the possibility that these men will have a good entrapment defense.

KING: The government says the case is solid.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: They did request equipment. They did request funding. They took an allegiance -- swore allegiance to al Qaeda.

KING: Intent is key to the government case. The indictment says the alleged ringleader, Narseale Batiste, first decided to bomb the Sears Tower and other targets, then went looking for al Qaeda help.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's not an entrapment issue. The intent was pre-existing. It was simply a questions of means.

KING: The Miami case came on the same day of other news that stoked one of the country's most polarizing post-9/11 debates; where to draw the line between aggressive law enforcement and civil liberties like free speech and privacy.

COREY SAYLOR, COUN. ON AMERICAN ISLAMIC RELATIONS: They are casting a very wide net and seeing what falls into it. Most of what falls into it are innocent people.

KING: Other controversial administration terror tactics includes the aggressive holding of prisoners, sometimes without charges; Patriot Act provisions allowing more wiretaps and surveillance; the National Security agency's domestic eavesdropping program; and the newly disclosed database of international banking transactions.

The administration approach reflects the post-9/11 mindset of a president and vice president who favor strong executive powers.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important to remember how significant 9/11 was. We are now engaged in a constant effort, obviously, to protect the nation against further attack. That means we need good intelligence. It means there have to be national security secrets. It means we need to be able to go after and capture or kill those people who are trying to kill Americans. That's not a pleasant business. It's a very serious business.

KING (on camera): But the administration makes no apologies for its aggressive tactics and insist in this latest Miami case, being aggressive kept threats from turning into attacks. John King, CNN, Washington.


HARRIS: This leads us to our e-mail question, how big a threat is homegrown terror in your mind? Send us your comments We'll read some of your responses throughout the morning.

Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable information on your safety and security.

LONG: Tracking terrorists by following the dollar. The Bush administration is defending its access to international financial records, and officials are blasting the news media for disclosing the program. The story from National Security Correspondent David Ensor.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The revelation that the government has had access to millions of international money transactions since 9/11 was confirmed by Bush administration officials, who said the program is legal and effective against terrorism.

JOHN SNOW, TREASURY SECRETARY: It's what the American people expect us to do. It would be irresponsible not to use these legal authorities to follow the flows and go after the terrorists.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It helps Hamm Bali (ph), he was responsible for the Bali bombing. It's provided information on domestic terror cells.

ENSOR: U.S. officials spent about two months trying to convince "The New York Times" not to publish a story about the program under which the Treasury, CIA and FBI can see records of bank money transfers if they have a name or account number and can show there may be a terrorist connection.

CHENEY: What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me.

ENSOR: "New York Times" editor Bill Keller said, quote, "We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted the use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."

Board members from the world's biggest banks, the SWIFT is a global banking cooperative that acts as a clearinghouse for transactions worldwide. About $6 trillion worth of them every day. Critics charge the program, which uses subpoenas to get access to that data, is an abuse of power.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Bush administration may be, once again, violating the constitutional rights of innocent Americans as part of another secret program created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

ENSOR (on camera): But administration lawyers insist is program is legal. Some officials say that in an era when homegrown terrorists may be the growing concern, a program that traction international money transactions may not be as useful as it has been.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


LONG: For complete coverage of breaking news, and today's top stories, stay with CNN, the most trusted name in news.


GONZALES: They hoped for their attacks to be, quote, "just as good or greater than 9/11."


LONG: For maximum impact, they conspired to bring down the Sears Tower in Chicago, that's according to the government. But critics say the FBI's charges are weak. A legal analysis coming up.

HARRIS: Plus, after fighting for her share of a multimillion- dollar inheritance for years, does a sudden death make Anna Nicole Smith instantly rich? Our legal ladies will be along to take on the issue. That's coming up in about five minutes here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happens when you serve up a backhand or a volley in a heart pounding aerobics class? The class defined for beginners as well as advanced tennis players.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It allows you socialize with your friends. Designed to get you out of the gym and outside having a blast. It's designed to keep your heart rate up.

COSTELLO: Cardio tennis combines drills and exercises such as running through ladders, jumping jacks, lunges and squats. Grace Dunn (ph) says she addicted to it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's better than being inside working in a gym, running in the neighborhood. It's a lot more fun. COSTELLO: Some serious tennis players say it can improve your tennis game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of hitting 50 or 60 balls in a half hour, you'll hit 120.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is moving all the time. There is no stop in cardio tennis.

COSTELLO: The best part women can burn up to 300 to 600 calories in an hour-long class and men can burn upwards of 800 calories.

Carol Costello, CNN, New York.



HARRIS: So, earlier this week federal investigators announced the arrested of an alleged homegrown terrorists organization in Miami. The group reportedly planned to target some U.S. landmarks including the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Here's what we know so far, a federal informant posed as an al Qaeda member to gain access to the group. Six of the seven members were in court yesterday. A federal indictment accuses the seven of conspiring to wage war on the United States.

But it says the group had no money, no weapons, and no supplies to carry out any major terrorist act. What does all of this mean? Here to talk about it and to go through it all civil rights attorney Lida Rodriguez-Taseff.

Lida, good to see you this morning.


HARRIS: And former prosecutor Nelda Blair, our legal ladies.


HARRIS: Good to see you.

BLAIR: Thanks.

HARRIS: What do we have here? Nelda, let me start with you. So, unarmed but very dangerous. Some are suggesting that this indictment is thin and if there is a case at all here it's a case of entrapment. What do you make of the indictment?

BLAIR: Absolutely disagree there's a case of entrapment. I think the indictment is going to stand firm. Tony, we're not talking about folks sitting around playing bunko and chatting about ideas. We are talking about men that actively recruited other men. We're talking about lists that were made of weapons, radios, vehicles and money that they needed to carry out a jihad attack.

We're talking about days driving around taking videos and photographs of the federal buildings they wanted to blow up with explosives. There were over 10 meetings with the undercover officer. We're talking about active plotting, not talking.

HARRIS: Pre-9/11 would you have viewed the indictment the same way?

BLAIR: No, of course not. Because pre-9/11 we didn't know what we know now. I'm not saying it wouldn't have been a good indictment pre-9/11, but post-9/11 our laws have changed. Our attitude has changed. And we have to be more on guard and that's why we arrest people like this.

HARRIS: Lida, what do you think?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Bunko? God, Nelda!

First of all you have to look at the indictment and see the acts alleged -- the overt acts alleged are common everyday things that you and I do, Tony. For example, one of the acts alleged as an act of terrorism was the fact that these guys got together and went to -- like a sound advice on electronic stores, looking for a little chip for a video camera. How many of us have done that?

The other acts alleged are supposed to have been statements made to a government snitch, whose interest in all of this we do not know. We don't know whether or not this snitch had an ax to grind. Whether or not he was trying to work off his own problems and needed to deliver a meaty indictment, so he could get off himself. We don't know anything about this snitch.

We're relying on his retelling of what these people said, which by the way, last I checked even if we don't like it, the Nazis and neo-Nazis and skinheads and KKK in this country say really awful things. And we don't run around arresting them for their hatred of America and Americans. So a lot of this is really troubling because it is based on speech.

HARRIS: Nelda, we at a place where we're going to be filling prisons where people who run around aspiring and talking about their aspirations to become criminals?

BLAIR: Absolutely not, Tony. These are not people who were just talking.

And Lida, when you say these folks were just making some statements, they made statements like, we want to blow up the Sears Tower and make it as good or better than 9/11. That's not just your normal chatting speech. That's not just your normal skinhead talking about how he hates America.

These people also had pictures of multiple other federal buildings. Lida, in your very city, Miami, that they wanted to blow up to wage war on Americans. They pledged oaths to al Qaeda. We are not talking about just your average person talking about hatred.

Tony, these are people that were out planning as if they were planning a murder. They were planning mass murders.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: But Nelda, assume you use to analogy of planning mass murder. These are people who had not the money, not the connections not the ability to carry out any of these plans. The whole indictment dealing with how they -- conspiracy to fund al Qaeda, and to conspire to keep their ties to al Qaeda secret, they didn't have any ties to al Qaeda. They didn't know al Qaeda if it hit them in the face. They didn't know anybody associated with al Qaeda.

BLAIR: But they planned to do that, Lida, that was the whole way they planned to get it done. They thought they had a tie to al Qaeda. They thought the undercover operative -- by the way, not snitch -- was an al Qaeda representative. They absolutely planned to carry it out that way. The e-mail question this morning, the e-mail question is, are we afraid of home-grown terrorists? How serious should we take them? Ask the good folks in Oklahoma City.

HARRIS: I think you're right about that.

Let me switch subject here for just moment, here. And. E. Pearce Marshall is dead. He's the man who has been fighting Anna Nicole Smith for years over money. OK, granted it's a lot of money. I'm wondering what happens now. The Supreme Court says that Anna Nicole Smith case should get another hearing, somewhere, in another court somewhere. So what happens -- does anything change legally with the death of E. Pearce Marshall?

Lida, what do you think?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Absolutely not. The case goes forward. Now, this is going to be a probate of a probate. Because, obviously, that money would have passed to his estate.

HARRIS: What does that mean? Probate of a probate?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Remember this all started as a probate action because Anna Nicole Smith tried to contest the will of her dead husband. And E. Pearce Smith (sic) tried to challenge that. Now, that he's dead -- E. Pearce Marshall, sorry -- basically what happens is whatever interest he had in his father's estate goes into his probate estate. So, now you have a probate after probate.

HARRIS: I gotcha. Nelda anything on this?

BLAIR: Well, I have to say, Lida is right about that, technically.

HARRIS: I know you hate to say that.

BLAIR: I do. It hurts.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: You know, hard to say. BLAIR: But what does happen is because the man's dead, there's not a person behind this action now. It's now an estate behind this action. So it may not go forward. There may not be someone with the fervent desire to take down Anna Nicole Smith, that E. Pearce Marshall had.

HARRIS: So, theoretically, this could become easier for Anna Nicole Smith.

BLAIR: Absolutely it could. Because it is an estate, someone has to take on the responsibility of making sure the case moves forward. So, sure, a settlement could be in the future, you bet.


RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: I agree with that.

HARRIS: Ladies, good to see you.


HARRIS: See you again next week.

BLAIR: Thank you, Tony.

LONG: We're going to shift gears and talk about the weekend weather forecast. You had a nice Father's Day forecast, didn't you?

HARRIS: I did. It was great. It was great. A little concerned about what is going on in Arizona and other places out West. Let's get an update now.


LONG: Intelligence is suggesting North Korea is ready to test launch a long-range missile. The U.S. is ready to shoot it down if it comes anywhere near U.S. territory. North Korea's missile threat at the top of the next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING.


HARRIS: Let's get you to our e-mail question and some of your responses. Here's the question: How big a threat is homegrown terror?

Larry writes, "I feel that homegrown terrorist threat is very real, but what can you do when it seems like our military is so spread thin in other countries, and also fighting over in Iraq? When it is really unnecessary. We should be focusing on our problems that we have at home, especially our National Guardsmen."

LONG: David weighs in this morning by saying, "Homegrown terrorism can be potentially dangerous. However we can get a handle on it if we work together. My one worry is relaxing the immigration policies. This affirms the fact that we should have a more restrictive immigration policy." HARRIS: And this from Sam, from Traverse City, Michigan, who writes, "I'm not too worried about terror from within; I'm more worried about the government's response to such a threat. I predict a new bill, the Homegrown Terror Act, which will allow door-to-door searches, phone taps, etc cetera."

Sam, thank you for the response. Thanks to everyone that wrote in this morning. Here's the question once again. Still time for you to weigh in with your comments. How big a threat is homegrown terror?

Still ahead an empty seat at the Bush administration Cabinet table. What's the story behind the resignation of Norman Mineta. The lone Democrat serving in the Bush Cabinet. We'll take you to the White House, live, next hour.

LONG: But first, time for "HOUSE CALL" and a look at the brain- heart connection. "HOUSE CALL" is next.



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