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THE SITUATION ROOM

Americans Mark Five Year Anniversary of 9/11; New Public Opinion Poll on President Bush; Interview with Longtime Bush Adviser Karen Hughes; Rocket Fire Hits Afghanistan During 9/11 Commemoration

Aired September 11, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thanks. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now: pain, healing, sorrow and hope. Americans mark five years since the 9/11 attacks. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where President Bush is wrapping up a day of solemn ceremony and preparing for his speech to the nation tonight.

So many weeks and months later is Mr. Bush being blamed for the horror of that day? We have a new public opinion poll out this hour and I'll speak with longtime Bush adviser Karen Hughes and I'll also speak with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. That's coming up.

Plus, frightening reminders of the terror throat. It's 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in Afghanistan, where rocket fire during a 9/11 commemoration in Afghanistan sent soldiers and CNN crews scrambling.

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

Just moments ago, President Bush paid silent tribute to the 9/11 victims over at the Pentagon. He is waiting until tonight to share his thoughts with the nation and the world knowing words can't fully capture all we've been through over the past five years. The president's speech will cap a day of remembrance at the scenes of al Qaeda crimes against America, 2,973 people were killed. Of course that includes Ground Zero in New York, where the Twin Towers crumbled and the nightmare began.

Our Mary Snow is standing by on the scene in New York. Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill. Let's go to the White House first, Ed Henry, our correspondent there -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president yesterday said he approached this anniversary with a heavy heart and he struck that tone today visiting all three sites of the tragic deaths but not uttering a single word. The president waking up this morning in New York City, attending a breakfast with the first lady in New York City at a firehouse known as Fort Pitt, in honor of all the police and firefighters who perished at Ground Zero.

They participated in a memorial service and paused twice at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. to mark the time that those planes hit the Twin Towers. Then on to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That heroic struggle, of course, where some of the passengers brought the plane down into a field instead of its intended target, the United States Capitol. Finally onto the Pentagon, as you noted. The president and first lady participating in a wreath-laying ceremony there, also signing a condolences book inside.

The president not speaking at any of these three events though, saving that for tonight in his Oval Office address. This will be his 22nd nationally televised prime-time address. White House press secretary Tony Snow insisting this will be reflective and not political. Snow adding the president will be brief in his remarks and also he will take a look at how 9/11 reshaped the way the U.S. views the, quote, "growing menace from terrorists like Osama bin Laden," saying it's not going to be political but that kind of rhetoric certainly mirrors what we've heard in that series of speeches about the war on terror.

Leading up to this tonight, the political situation for the president, obviously, very unclear on one hand. An address like this tonight can remind people all around the country and around the world about some of the president's finer moments immediately after 9/11. But this kind of address, high-profile setting can also remind voters heading into the midterm elections five years later he still has not gotten Osama bin Laden and also that war in Afghanistan is not complete, Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Henry -- We still see that flag flying half-staff over the White House and elsewhere here in Washington. Thank you very much. We will have live coverage of the president's address to the nation. Please join us 9:00 p.m. Eastern as President Bush speaks to the nation from the Oval Office.

Now to the 9/11 commemorations up on Capitol Hill. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's been a quiet day here at the Capitol. The House isn't in session, the Senate is just in for a few hours, where we heard just a few speeches from members of both parties calling today a day of solemn remembrance.

Now, over the past week or so, leading up to today, all you can basically hear inside the Capitol, inside those halls were ringing of partisanship, partisan rhetoric and name calling. Both parties trying to take political advantage of September 11th and the issue of terrorism leading up to Election Day in November.

But, today, on the campaign trail, most congressional candidates have taken their T.V. ads off the air. And here at the Capitol, what we're going to see is lawmakers in both parties trying to recreate a moment of unity and an impromptu moment of unity from five years ago. And we all remember, those of us who were here, seeing lawmakers, Democrats, Republicans, on the step of the Capitol behind me and singing "God Bless America."

That is something that created a sense of bipartisanship after a day of chaos and uncertainty here on Capitol Hill. That did last, that bipartisanship did last a short while back then, Wolf, but I can almost guarantee, most of us can guarantee that at 12:01 a.m. after September 11th is over, the partisan mode that both parties have been in, the campaign mode, will resume pretty quickly.

BLITZER: Less than two months before the election, thanks very much Dana for that.

On this day five years ago, the term Ground Zero took a new significance for a scarred nation. Let's go to our Mary Snow, she's covering these anniversary memorials in New York. You're there at Ground Zero, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf. And several thousand people came here and gathered today in a ceremony that lasted roughly four hours. This year, spouses and partners read the names of the 2,749 people who were killed here five years ago. There were also four moments of silence, moments to mark the times the towers were struck and the times the towers fell. Where the towers are now, the footprints of those towers are reflecting pools and, today, they are overfilling with flowers.

People have been coming by all day long, still now, hours after the ceremonies have ended, people streaming by to leave remembrances, people outside the gates of the 16 acres of where Ground Zero now stands looking in. Tonight, there will be two towering beams and the tribute of life, this to reflect where the World Trade Center once stood in a very solemn day here in New York -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary's going to have a lot more for us on this story. Mary, thank you very much. We'll also be speaking with Senator Hillary Clinton. She was at that memorial service at Ground Zero earlier. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In Afghanistan where the war on terror began, U.S. soldiers responded today to a rocket attack just before a 9/11 anniversary ceremony. CNN journalists on the scene reported hearing at least five incoming rounds at a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan. No damage or casualties were reported. Our Anderson Cooper was in the midst of a live report when the attack happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm here, at a forward operating base very close to the Pakistan border, inside, I can't tell you the exact location, just -- we're actually now just getting some fire -- some rockets have been fired. They were about to have a moment of silence here in commemoration of 9/11. We've got to get to a bunker, so Carol, I've got to toss it back to you. Let's go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He'll be back with us in THE SITUATION ROOM, that's coming up later.

Also in Afghanistan, today, the funeral of a provincial governor assassinated by Taliban fighters was the target of a suicide bomber. Officials say at least six people were killed, a dozen were wounded. We're going to have a full report on all the fresh violence in Afghanistan. That's coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are quote, "doomed." Osama bin Laden's top deputy delivered those words in a sophisticated new video coinciding with this, the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Our Abbi Tatton has details on the latest word coming in from al Qaeda -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, a warning from the west, that quote, "new events are coming," in this newly released video which is complete with English subtitles throughout.

Ayman al-Zawahiri tells the West they should worry about their presence in the Gulf and in Israel. The tape appears to be recent, there are references in it to this summer's conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. It's a high quality video. It goes for over an hour.

Al-Zawahiri is seated in front of a bookcase answering questions from an interviewer. The part we're looking at right now is the two minutes at the beginning of the video where the topics are introduced, topics like Iraq, Western peoples, Afghanistan.

When asked about the current situation in Afghanistan, al- Zawahiri answers it's, quote, "very good." Now that a tape of this nature surfaced on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary did not come as a surprise to terror experts. Extracts were posted at the site of counterterrorism. Analyst Laura Mansfield, she's has been monitoring jihadist Web sites, saying that it's already starting to circulate on those this afternoon. Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much. And it's vows like these from Ayman al-Zawahiri that officials fear are inciting much of the recent violence in Iraq. Unfortunately today, the attacks continued: 13 Iraqis are dead after another suicide bomber strapped on a vest of explosives, boarded a bus in Baghdad and set off a blast. Officials say those killed were all Iraqi army recruits.

Meanwhile, American troops in Iraq mark the 9/11 anniversary. Among the observers at the Baghdad event, were the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. And just about this time five years ago, building No. 7 on the World Trade Center complex was reported on fire.

Let's take a look at Pipeline on CNN.com which is carrying CNN's coverage on 9/11, 2001 in real time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: .. you, to be honest, can see these pictures a little bit more clearly than I, but Building Number Seven, one of the buildings in this very large complex of buildings that is the Trade Center, there were, and that is the right way to put it, there were the two towers, but then there are a number of support buildings around it, retail spaces, restaurants, office space, garages. The trains come in from New Jersey bringing commuters, taking commuters back, come into the complex that is the World Trade Center and now we are told that there is a fire there and that building may collapse as well, as can you see. We can see, as we look now back downtown, we can see the billowing smoke.

It is extraordinary to us, I guess, is how long this scene has gone on. The smoke has not cleared at all. It has not lightened at all. It was that horrific moment when the towers collapsed and then we've been in this sort of situation ever since.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, we're going to be coming back to CNN Pipeline throughout the next two hours, show our viewers what was happening exactly five years ago in our coverage of this horrible, horrible day. Let's check in with Zain Verjee. She's got a quick look at some other important stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Pope is also marking the 9/11 anniversary. Today, he prayed for the victims. Pope Benedict the 16th attended a mass in Germany, near the area where he was born. He and others joined in a prayer for peace.

Back here in the U.S. the situation no air passenger wants to hear on this terror anniversary. A plane diverting from its intended path. This time a United Airlines flight from Atlanta and bound for San Francisco diverted to Dallas after a security scare.

Officials say once the plane was in the air someone found an unclaimed Blackberry. Even before the flight took off officials found an unclaimed backpack in the plane's cargo and both items were later found to pose no threat.

And many are asking, who would say such thing?

Protesters holding signs saying, quote, "Thank God for 9/11". That sentiment coming from about a dozen members of the Westborough Baptist Church, based in Kansas. They protested in Shanksville, Pennsylvania today where United Flight 93 crashed on 9/11.

The members often attend military services. The group says it believes American troops are dying in Iraq because God is punishing the U.S. for not being openly hostile to gays -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's back in New York. Good to have you back, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf. The Bush administration says it's doing a hell of a job when it comes to Homeland Security. That's a quote from Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney said on "Meet the Press" yesterday that it's no accident that there hasn't been an attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

He credited things like the terrorist surveillance program, the financial tracking program, and the administration's detainee policy for keeping this country safer. The vice president also insisted that taking the war to, quote, "the enemy in Iraq," unquote, prevented more attacks here in the U.S.

Not everybody is convinced, though. A recent poll found only 37 percent of the Americans think the Iraq war has made the U.S. safer from terrorism, 55 percent say it has not. And critics of the administration say the war has taken away hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been spent on security here at home.

So here is the question. Vice President Cheney says the Bush administration has done a hell of a job with Homeland Security, do you agree? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty in New York for us.

Coming up, the world sympathized with the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks but much of that good will is long gone. Up next I will speak with Karen Hughes about her tough task to try to improve America's image abroad.

Plus, with the president on that horrific day.

We will hear from some of the president's closest advisors and a journalist who accompanied the commander in chief as he flew across the nation following the attacks.

And later, politicizing 9/11.

Our new poll takes a look at the blame game behind the terrorist attacks. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On this day five years ago, Americans were forced to face some harsh realities about this nation's image around the world.

Let's bring back Zain -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, the U.S. has spent millions of dollars to try and improve its image abroad, but perceptions of the U.S. in the Middle East appear to have gotten worse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice over): The stars and stripes in flames in Pakistan, often accompanied by a vicious, but all too common chant -- "Death to America".

Since 9/11, America's image in the world has sunk. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the war in the Iraq erodes the image and opinion of the U.S. "not just in predominantly Muslim countries... but in Europe and Asia as well".

This Iraq war never won worldwide support. Many Arabs and Muslims say, for the past five years they feel under siege.

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR: That this is not some kind of war on terror but a war on Islam.

VERJEE: The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse in Iraq and reports of abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay has angered and humiliated Arabs.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a major source of Arab and Muslim resentment toward the U.S. and its perceived unconditional support for Israel, reinforced by many in the region by the latest bloody battle between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

And remember the cartoon controversy depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammed as a terrorist? It drew violent street violence against the West, including America, even though it was not responsible for the cartoon.

There have been positive signs, too. The Pew Research Center says a year ago anti-Americanism in the world showed signs of declining, in part, because of the positive feelings generated by U.S. aid for tsunami victims in Indonesia and elsewhere.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: But that was a year ago. Regional experts say America still has a lot of work to do if it's to improve its image among Arabs and Muslims -- Wolf.

BlITZER: Zain, thank you.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the president's longtime advisor, Karen Hughes was given a new job over at the State Department trying to repair America's global image. Karen Hughes is the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She's with us here in the SITUATION ROOM. Karen, thanks for coming in.

KAREN HUGHES, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Great to be here.

BLITZER: When the president or the vice president or the secretary of defense speak of Islamic fascist, that to many Muslims out there looks like they are almost baiting Muslims. Is that an appropriate way to speaking of this problem, Islamo fascism, or Islamic fascists?

HUGHES: Well Wolf, there has been a lot of debate within the administration and, as you know, different phrases can mean different things to different people. I, for one, typically don't use religious terms because I'm afraid that people do hear them wrongly around the world. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that people have to understand that this is essentially a cult within Islam, a perversion of Islam. And I think that is the important thing.

You heard, in the previous report, a young man saying this is somehow the west versus Islam. That is the language of our enemies and we have to challenge that because Islam is a part of America. An estimated 6 to 7 million Muslims live here in America and I represent them as a government official.

BLITZER: Which is a good point because when you go out on Arabic language television stations, whether Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya or any of these other stations, you, yourself, don't speak about Islamic fascists?

HUGHES: Well, I remember a woman in Egypt looking at me and saying to me, you think we're all terrorists and I said, no, we don't think you're all terrorists. We understand that this is a perversion of Islam and my Muslim friends, and I try to quote Muslims when he speak about their faith because they have far more credibility to deal with issues of their faith than I do.

My Muslim friends remind me that Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, believes that life is precious and that no one should take an innocent life, even their own life. And I think it's important that we make that case, but again different audiences hear different things and that's one of the challenges of today's very different communications world, where messages go around the world in an instant on the Internet.

BLITZER: Here is what I don't understand, because I've covered all of the U.S. military operations going back to the first Gulf War when I was a Pentagon correspondent. Almost every single time the United States deploys troops around the world, it's designed to help a Muslim country or Muslim people, whether liberating Kuwait or in Kosovo or in Bosnia or in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan. Why is it, therefore, and this is your mission, that the U.S. image in the Muslim world, in the Arab world, has plummeted over these years?

HUGHES: Well there are a couple of things. First of all, there's a lot of propaganda out there, a lot of it very negative about us. We don't hear the full story a lot of times and that's one of the reasons in my office --

BLITZER: But we're supposed to be best country in the world when it comes to communications. We have the resources. Why is it that these people, at least a lot of them, hate us.

HUGHES: Well, I don't know, I think the picture is much more mixed than that. First of all, we've had to do a lot of hard things that people have not necessarily agreed with. On the other hand, as you point out, look at us, for example, I mentioned Darfur. We're the number one provider of aid in the world to people in Darfur.

We are the number one bilateral donor of assistance to the Palestinian people, and yet as I travel the world, people tell me they are angry with us about the Palestinians and I remind them that we both strongly support Israeli's right to exist and support a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and freedom. But if you watch television in the Middle East, you never hear the second part of that story. You don't hear on those outlets about our support for a Palestinian state and its right to exist side-by-side.

BLITZER: President Bush was the first president to support a two-state solution, if you will, an independent Palestine. HUGHES: And I say that around the world, but you don't hear that much on media around the world.

BLITZER: But let's take a country, a Muslim country, like Turkey. A NATO ally. A close friend to the United States. The Pew Global Attitude's Project did surveys among the people of Turkey. Back in 1999, 2000, 52 percent of them, 52 percent had a favorable image of the United States. Not as high as I would like but still more than half. Today, 2006, in their most recent survey, only 23 percent of the people of Turkey, a NATO ally, have a favorable image of the United States. How do you explain that?

HUGHES: Well, again, we've had to make some decisions that are very hard. When I was in Turkey they were very concerned about Iraq and the news they hear from Iraq. And what they hear is they hear the reports of terrible violence and bloodshed. So Turkey was very concerned about that on its border and that is very concerning to them. And I can understand that concern. I met with a group of women there who are very concerned. At the same time a young man there asked me, he said does the Statue of Liberty still face out? In other words, is America still a welcoming country? Can I still come to America?

So, I think, again, the picture is mixed. There are concerns and when we acted in Iraq, we did so because we thought it was in our own security interest, but also the broader interests of peace and security in the world. At a time of war, that's a difficult message and people are uncomfortable. No one likes war.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but I want to get to this quote. I woke up this morning, read the "Washington Post" front page, as I'm sure you did. A quote from a U.S. army officer who said this, referring to the Anbar province, a huge province in Iraq right now. Quote, we haven't been defeated militarily, but we have been defeated politically and that's where wars are won and lost.

HUGHES: Well, I don't, I don't, I have not seen that specific report. I did see the newspaper report about it, but I have not read the report itself.

BLITZER: The Marine intelligence report.

HUGHES: But let me make one point about that. I mean, you have to look at the political progress that has been made in Iraq, where you have now a elected Democratic government. You have a constitution that's been put in place and that is tremendous Democratic progress. And as I meet with people who come here from Iraq, they tell me they want to make this work, they want to see an end to the sectarian violence and they want Iraq to emerge from this a stable and unified country. And so I think there is a lot of political will in that direction in Iraq.

BLITZER: Karen Hughes, a lot of us remember exactly, almost exactly five years ago. You were addressing the nation almost exactly at this hour. You were at the White House and you were telling everyone what was going on. I'm sure that must have been one of the most horrendous moments in your life?

HUGHES: I remember feeling just, it was one of the hardest things I think I've ever done. I remember feeling an enormous responsibility, that I was in the Emergency Operation Center, watching the government function very effectively, bringing the planes down, sending disaster teams to New York and to the Pentagon. And I felt a great responsibility on behalf of the president and our government in trying to communicate that sense of calm and reassurance in a horrifying time to the American people.

BLITZER: You got a tough assignment out there right now. Good luck to you, Karen.

HUGHES: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

And up next with the president on 9/11, we'll hear from some of his top advisers and a journalist who all accompanied the president as he flew across the United States during that infamous day exactly five years ago.

And later, how safe are we today? Is America still vulnerable? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. At about this time five years ago President Bush was heading back here to Washington from Nebraska. He had traveled to a strategic military command center there amid the chaos and fears of yet another attack. Mr. Bush got a lot of criticism for his initial response to the terror of 9/11. Here is a look back at what he did and said on that fateful day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just warming up. Come on stretch. Come on.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER W.H. PRESS SECRETARY: September 11 started off as a routine day for everyone and the president was off jogging at a local golf course in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he invited Kyle and Bloomberg to go job with him (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the ground rules were we were talking off the record. He outlined a few things that were on his mind, of politics, legislation.

BUSH: The representative of the press corps acquitted himself quite well.

ANDREW CARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I actually said to the president, when he got back from the jog -- jog -- it should be an easy day. Boy, did that change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. You're looking at a -- obviously, a very disturbing live shot there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON JOHNDROE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ASSISTANT PRESS SECRETARY: Karl Rove went up to the president and told him, a plane has -- has just hit the World Trade Center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, again, unconfirmed report that a plane has crashed into one of the towers there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: He spoke to Condi Rice, asking what happened, what information do we have. At that moment, when only the first tower had been hit, it was all of our thoughts that this had been some type of terrible accident, and that New York City needed help, New York City needed resources. Then the president went into the schoolroom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, can get ready.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: May.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. May. Give yourselves a pat on the back.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: I got another page, telling me that the second tower had been hit. Instantly, I just thought, this has to be terrorism.

CARD: And what went through my mind, first of all, was the horror of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Here is the tape. You see the plane coming in from what looks like the east side. And it goes into the building.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: Something that never happens, Andy Card walked in, in the middle of an event, whispered in the president's ear. CARD: I went up to the president, bent over, and whispered into his ear: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack" -- two facts and one editorial comment.

KEIL: It was like a cloud passed across his face for a moment. Clearly, he had been told something very profound and very, very important.

FLEISCHER: He was obviously criticized by Michael Moore in "Fahrenheit 9/11" for sitting there for seven minutes or so. Nothing, in those seven minutes, if he had left immediately, would have changed the course of history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

BUSH: Today, we have had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center, in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARD: The president very much wanted to get back to Washington, D.C.

FLEISCHER: The president heard about the plane that hit the Pentagon. We boarded Air Force One. Three planes had hit their targets.

CARD: I remember talking with the lead Secret Service agent. And they felt very strongly that there was just too much that we didn't know, and that we couldn't go back to Washington.

KEIL: We lifted off. The G-forces threw everyone's head back against the back of their seats. It was a horrible feeling to be on that plane, the most secure plane in the world, and to be afraid.

CARD: The president reached out to some of the world leaders, specifically President Putin. We didn't want people to think, as we were standing up to defend America, that we weren't really mobilizing for a nuclear attack on another country.

FLEISCHER: The decision was then made to go to Barksdale Air Force Base, where the president would land right around noon. And he wanted to address the nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

BUSH: Make no mistake; the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: And I remember the president saying to the head of the Secret Service detail, "I don't want some tinhorn terrorist keeping the president out of Washington." JOHNDROE: The Secret Service and as well as the vice president were telling him, it's just not safe yet to return to the White House. And, so, the vice president suggested that he go to an Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

CARD: When we arrived in Offutt, it was a surreal experience, because we were -- we were whisked down long flights of stairs, deep into a bunker. He was really anxious to get to a -- a secure video teleconference, National Security Council meeting.

I think there was some resistance from the Secret Service, and he said, "I'm going back to Washington."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the White House, they are putting a priority to getting him back as soon as possible. They believe that picture of the president returning to the White House would send a powerful signal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: On the way back to Washington, the reporters saw the fighters off the aircraft wings. And they asked permission to film. And I -- I didn't even check with anybody. I said, of course you can.

JOHNDROE: And I'd had the privilege and honor of -- of flying on Air Force One a number of times before this, and had never seen anything like that.

CARD: There was a -- a small debate about whether we should take a motorcade or take Marine One and land at the White House.

JOHNDROE: And the president said, "No, I'm flying on that helicopter and I'm landing back at the White House."

FLEISCHER: This day, it took a route, the most majestic and beautiful of all routes, straight down the Mall. The president sits in the seat on the left front of the helicopter. And, so, as Marine One banks, the president had a perfect view of the smoldering Pentagon. And he said out loud, not to anybody in particular, he just said: "The mightiest building in the world in on fire. This is the face of war in the 21st century."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

KING: You see the president there emerging from Marine One, saluting his Marine escort on the South Lawn of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARD: The president made it very clear that he intended to address the nation, that call for him to preserve, protect, and defend that Constitution.

And it was then that I realized the president's responsibilities are quite significant and much greater than probably even he understood when he took that oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)

BUSH: None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The president will be addressing the nation tonight as well, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. We will have live coverage. That's coming up.

Up next: the 9/11 blame game. We have got some brand-new CNN poll numbers on the finger-pointing over the terrorist attacks.

Plus: the political battle in Virginia. A former Republican who switched parties appears to be giving the senator and potentially a White House hopeful, George Allen, quite a fight.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The 9/11 attacks brought Americans together. And, at the time, partisanship was cast aside. But, five years later, we're in the final weeks of the battle for the new Congress, and the politics of terror cannot be ignored.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us with some brand-new poll numbers -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, a troubling question: Is 9/11 becoming more politicized?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2001)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): For a year after 9/11, America was united.

In June 2002, 32 percent of Americans blamed the Bush administration either a great deal or a moderate amount for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And, now, that number has gone up to 45 percent.

More people are willing to criticize a president who is no longer as popular. But, also, congressional investigations uncovered damaging information, like the title of a daily intelligence briefing the president received a month before the attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The Clinton administration has also been criticized for failing to take the terrorist threat seriously enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the 9/11 Commission pointed out was that there was failure to connect the dots before the September 11 attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Forty-one percent of Americans say the Clinton administration deserves a great deal or a moderate amount of blame for the 9/11 attacks. The older you are, the less likely you are to blame the Bush administration, and the more likely you are to blame the Clinton administration.

Americans under 30 are the 9/11 generation. Fifty-five of them blame the Bush administration for 9/11. Only 30 percent blame the Clinton administration. The 9/11 generation is likely to have less vivid memories of the 1990s, when many of them were children. Some of their criticism of President Bush may be driven by opposition to the war in Iraq. Americans under 30 are the least supportive of that war. Their generation is doing most of the fighting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The views of the 9/11 generation are likely to matter most for a simple reason. They will be around for a long time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

On our "Political Radar" this Monday: A new poll shows Senator George Allen losing ground with voters in Virginia. He now leads Democratic challenger Jim Webb by just four points in the Mason-Dixon poll of registered Virginia voters. Allen had a 16-point lead in that same poll back in July. Allen has been on the defensive the past month since calling a man of India descent "macaca."

Will Al Gore run for president in 2008? We have a new statement from the Democrats' 2000 nominee to ponder. Here is what Al Gore told reporters in Australia yesterday: "I haven't completely -- I haven't completely ruled out running for president again in the future. But I don't expect to."

We're pondering that statement.

The California Highway Patrol is investigating how a digital recording of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger became public. On the tape, which we reported on last week, Schwarzenegger talked about a Spanish legislator's fiery temper, comments he has since apologized for. Authorities are looking into whether hackers got into the computers in the governor's office or whether the recording was obtained in some other way.

Coming up: Five years after the 9/11 attacks, how safe are we now? Is America still vulnerable? We will take a closer look at what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done.

And, later: how the terrorist attacks changed our politics and how different things would be now if September 11 was just another normal day.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the five years since the 9/11 attacks, the federal government has spent a lot of time and effort trying to tighten airline security. But, in many ways and in many places, the nation remains vulnerable to attack.

Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, since 9/11, Boston has developed a comprehensive evacuation plan and communications interoperability. But that city, like the rest of the nation, isn't where it wants to be, in terms of security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Tankers of highly combustible liquefied natural gas pass close to Boston's city center. Though security around them is tight, it hasn't ended the worry of the city's homeland security chief.

CARLO BOCCIA, BOSTON DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: They are incredible measures taken to protect that ship. Can I say to you that that ship is vulnerability-free? Absolutely not.

MESERVE: Carlo Boccia also wishes more was being done to safeguard truck and rail shipments of hazardous materials, to protect the city's mass transit system, to guard the historical sites and cultural institutions that define the city.

BOCCIA: These are symbols of what we are and what we come from. You know, to be able to have an enemy to be able to attack that is like attacking our soul.

MESERVE: Safer, but not safe enough, a theme all across the country. Some chemical plants have improved security, but others have not. And Congress has not passed comprehensive legislation to protect them. Cockpit doors are reinforced, and some pilots armed, but most air cargo and airport employees are not screened.

New technology and more manpower are protecting the nation's borders, but the flow of illegal immigrants has not stopped. Whether it is port security, interoperable communications, or the readiness of the nation's health system, the story is the same, experts say: safer, but not safe enough.

THOMAS KEAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: And it's totally inexcusable. and -- and there is a whole variety of people to blame in the administration. The Congress has not done as much as they should.

MESERVE: The secretary of homeland security acknowledges gaps, but believes they will be closed.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have a very clear plan of where we want to be over the next two years. And if we -- if -- if we don't get pushed -- pushed to backslide, and if we get the appropriate authority from Congress, we're going to complete the job in short order.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: This election season may have refocused attention on the nation's security, but resources are limited, the list of potential targets long, leading some experts to conclude, we will never truly be safe enough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, thank you -- Jeanne Meserve reporting.

Up next: Has the Bush administration done a hell of a job improving homeland security? Vice President Cheney says so, but what about you? Jack Cafferty will be back with "The Cafferty File."

And Senator Hillary Clinton marks this 9/11 anniversary with some biting comments about the war in Iraq. My interview with the New York Democrat, that is coming up in the next hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: Vice President Cheney said over the weekend, the Bush administration has done -- quote -- "a hell of a job" -- unquote -- with homeland security.

We asked: Do you agree with that statement? Chip writes from Michigan: "These clowns have done a hell of a job enriching Halliburton and the oil companies. The borders and ports are sieves, as Bush and Cheney are more interested in protecting Middle Eastern potentates and cheap labor than the American public at large. For a fleeting moment, we all believed. The trust is gone. And I wish they were, too."

Sheila in Utah: "The fact is that we have had no attack against our country in five years. We know our intelligence services have thwarted several major attacks since 9/11. We are safer. Give credit where credit is due."

John in New York: "Didn't the terrorists wait eight years between attacks on the World Trade Towers? I think it may be a bit presumptuous, and perhaps dangerously arrogant, of the administration to take credit at this early date."

Jamie in Virginia: "Has there been another attack on the U.S. soil? No, there has not. Have other countries suffered terrorist within their borders? Yes, they have. The administration must be doing something right. Is it even remotely possible for an unbiased journalist such as yourself to give a little credit where credit is due?"

June (ph) in Utah: "I agree. It has done a hell of a job, all right, a lousy job. Five years later, it's protecting airline passengers from the dangers of lip gloss, while cargo holds still go un-inspected."

And, finally, Gail in Virginia: "That's a two-edged sword, Dick, me boy. Do you mean 'hell of a job,' as in praise is due our efforts, or 'hell of a job,' as in, what the hell are you doing?" -- Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Depends on your definition of "hell of a"; is that right?

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Sort of. That's what Gail says.

CAFFERTY: Sort of, yes.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: Up next: It has been said that 9/11 changed Americans forever. Can the same be said about American politics? Jeff Greenfield will take a closer look at that question.

And the new threat from al Qaeda's number-two man, the new Ayman al-Zawahri video dissected -- that is coming up in our next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a developing story involving some severe weather.

Let's go back to Zain -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, tropical depression number seven has strengthened into a tropical storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical Storm Gordon has now formed in the open Atlantic. It's the seventh tropical storm of the season. We will bring you more with the next weather advisory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Zain, for that.

On this day, Americans are looking back at the 9/11 attacks. And many politicians are looking ahead to the November election. And those two days very much intertwine.

Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, of course September 11 changed American politics, but let's look more specifically about what changed, and also how different our politics might have been if September 11 were just another day.

(voice-over): You just have to look at the last presidential election to see the impact of September 11. The Democrats, at their Boston convention, literally proclaimed a message of strength, and they introduced their nominee after a squadron of military leaders filled the podium.

The Republicans brought their convention to the site of the attacks, their first New York convention in the party's 150-year history. And they introduced the president with a film that turned his first pitch at the World Series at Yankees Stadium into a heroic triumph.

But the real measure of September 11 is what the voters do. As the campaign began that fall, most Americans believed the country was off on the wrong track. Most also said they wanted a new direction, not continuity. In normal times, those numbers are almost always fatal to an incumbent, but September 11 changed the equation.

Change was now not about economic or social policy, but about war and peace, life and death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: In which direction would John Kerry lead?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: The Bush campaign message about challenger John Kerry was that he was inconsistent, unsteady, a flip-flopper, a change that represented too great a risk. By a narrow margin, voters agreed.

But maybe the real way to measure the impact of the attacks is try and imagine how different our politics would be had 9/11 been just another day. Remember, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, national security had faded from the political seen. There were no serious national security threats, or so we thought.

That's one big reason why, in 1992, an Arkansas governor could unseat an incumbent president, less than two years after Bush Sr. had prevailed in the first Gulf War, and why, in 2000, a Texas governor with little or no foreign policy experience could duel the incumbent vice president to a dead heat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: Without 9/11, the appeal of the outsider might well have remained strong. Democrats might not have felt it imperative to turn to a candidate with foreign policy and military experience, a background John Kerry emphasized.

Absent 9/11, there would have been no Iraq war, no anti-war sentiment to roil the Democratic Party and turn a little-known ex- Vermont governor into a serious contender. And the candidacy of a first-term senator with roots in the South and an outsider message might have been successful for John Edwards, as it was for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

(on camera): Finally, what might September 11 tell us about the upcoming midterms?

Well, for all the poll numbers that portend trouble for incumbents, don't forget what we have already learned, that change is a much tougher choice now for the American voter to make, especially if they can be convinced that the other guys don't understand the nature of what threatens us -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jeff, thank you.

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