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THE SITUATION ROOM
Three U.S. Senators Stand Up Against Iraqi Troop Build-Up; American Staffer and Three Security Guards Killed In Iraq; Health of Castro Source Of Controversy In Spain; Richard Clarke is interviewed; Bush Administration Will Let Special Court Oversee Surveillance Without Warrants; Richard Clarke Interview; Iraqi Civilians Kidnapped And Forced To Become Suicide Bombers
Aired January 17, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, there's a battle on Capitol Hill over the president's plan for Iraq. Senator Hillary Clinton calls for a cap on U.S. troop levels. But the backlash over the build-up cuts across party lines.
Also, we're going to take you inside the cockpit of an ill-fated flight. An airline co-pilot remarks how weird it is to see no lights on the air strip. Moments later, his Comair jet crashes in Kentucky.
And is President Bush getting religion when it comes to global warming?
Could Evangelicals push him to do an about face on the environment?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It didn't take long for lawmakers to introduce a resolution against the president's plan for a troop increase in Iraq. Today, three U.S. senators stood up against the build-up. Their resolution is non-binding, but it's binding together members of both parties.
This comes as Senator Clinton takes her stand on Iraq, with a call to cap troop levels there.
CNN's Brian Todd is standing by with that part of the story.
But let's go to Capitol Hill first.
Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, coming exactly one week after Mr. Bush laid out his new plan for Iraq and almost a week before Mr. Bush has his State of the Union Address, Democrats and at least one Republican senator hope to gain significant Republican support for a mostly symbolic resolution, which they hope will not only help change U.S. policy but will also isolate the president.
KOPPEL (voice-over): It was a picture of bipartisan unity -- Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel standing shoulder to shoulder with two Senate Democrats, the three men united in their opposition to President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, determined to send him a message.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NB), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This is a serious resolution put forward by serious people who care about our country. There is no moral high ground that one group of senators has over the other. If there is a disagreement on policy, that's what a democracy is about.
KOPPEL: But Senator Hagel aside, the question is how many other Republicans are ready to sign onto a resolution which equates sending more U.S. troops in Iraq to escalating U.S. involvement?
Among an estimated eight Republicans who've publicly said they, too, oppose the president's plan, several told CNN the word escalate in the resolution was a red flag they would not be able to support. Only one, Maine's Olympia Snow, told CNN she would likely vote in favor, while another, Ohio's George Voinovich, said he was reserving judgment until he'd seen it.
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: I won't participate in anything that smacks of politics or trying to embarrass the administration. I think my -- my concern is genuine. I have expressed that to the administration and will continue to do so.
KOPPEL: Now, within the hour, the Senate minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, intends to hold a meeting in his office with a number of members of the Republican Caucus to try to work out some of those differing opinions.
But we also heard Senator Joe Biden earlier say that he and his colleagues were open to other opinions, Wolf, and that if Republicans objected to the word "escalate," they were open to changing it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Andrea on the Hill for us.
Thank you very much.
After getting a firsthand look at the U.S. effort in Iraq, Senator Hillary Clinton is today taking a stand against the troop increase. She's proposing legislation to put a cap or a ceiling on the U.S. deployment there.
But could that actually help her or haunt her in a potential presidential campaign? Let's turn to our Brian Todd.
He's looking into this part of the story -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, political observers say there's been considerable pressure on Hillary Clinton to make a substantive move regarding the Iraq War.
Well, a couple of hours ago, the senator came out with a plan that throws the gauntlet right down Pennsylvania Avenue.
TODD (voice-over): Just back from the combat zone, the likely Democratic front runner for the White House counter-attacks the president's new plan for Iraq.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The president's team is pursuing a failed strategy in Iraq.
TODD: Senator Hillary Clinton is introducing new legislation on Iraq clearly signaling her belief that the 21,000 more troops the president wants to deploy won't secure the peace.
CLINTON: It will cap the number of troops in Iraq at the levels they existed on January 1st and will require the administration to seek Congressional authorization for any additional troops.
TODD: Is capping the troops at the current level of about 135,000 a strategy worthy of a possible president?
Not according to the current occupants of the White House.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It binds the hands of the commander-in-chief and also the generals, and, frankly, also, the troops on the ground.
TODD: A retired U.S. Army general who once had his troop levels capped in a combat zone tells CNN he agrees, saying: "a prudent president would understand that conditions on the ground are always changing and limiting troops means limiting flexibility."
Senator Clinton also wants to get tougher on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, essentially threatening to cut off funding for his armed forces if he doesn't do more to crack down on violence, if he doesn't root out sectarian sympathizers in his army and if he doesn't make political accommodations with his Sunni rivals.
That gets higher marks from military analysts, who say it is presidential to set tough benchmarks for a government that's dragging its feet.
But political analysts say Mrs. Clinton is walking a that report for the next presidential cycle. KEN RUDIN, NPR POLITICAL DIRECTOR: If Hillary Clinton is trying to have a moderate plan to appeal to centrists in November of 2008, that does make sense. But there is a nomination to be won first.
TODD: That means she may not have the support of core Democrats who want troop levels reduced sooner. That's the view of some of Hillary Clinton's likely rivals for the presidential nomination -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.
Thank you, Brian.
And there was more savagery in the streets of Baghdad today. Police say 17 people died in another bombing in the Shiite district of Sadr City, not far from yesterday's twin bombings that killed 70.
There was also an attack on a convoy in the capital. Three people were killed, including an American aid worker who works for an American organization affiliated with the Democratic Party based right here in Washington that tries to promote democracy around the world.
CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad -- Arwa.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an American female staffer working for the National Democratic Institute and three of her security guards were killed in an attack happening in the capital at about noon.
The three security guards were identified as being of Hungarian, Croatian and Iraqi origin.
According to Les Campbell, the group's regional director for the Middle East, they were traveling in a small convoy from an NDI project when they were involved in some sort of an attack. In the firefight that followed, the four lost their lives.
Another two personnel were also wounded, one of them described as being in serious but stable condition, the other lightly injured.
Now, Iraq's Ministry of Interior saying that it did have information about an attack involving a Western convoy. They say that that attack took place in an area of the city known as Yarmouk. This is a predominantly Sunni area and fairly volatile.
However, they say that the U.S. military arrived quickly on site and did not allow the Iraqi police or the Iraqi Army on site of the attack.
Now, the group in Iraq's main project is to promote civil societies and help political parties moving the democratic process forward.
The U.S. military at this point is not commenting on the attack -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thank you for that.
A sad story, indeed. Very dangerous to be anywhere in Iraq right now.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: In a dramatic reversal, Wolf, the Bush administration has now decided to let the FISA Court monitor the government's domestic spying program.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that a judge on the FISA Court has agreed to authorize the program and preserve "the speed and agility necessary to fight terrorism."
Apparently, it took a mid-term election in which the Democrats grabbed control of both houses of Congress away from the Republicans to persuade members of the Bush administration that they ought to start playing by the rules.
The NSA spy program originally had operated outside the purview of the FISA Court, even though a federal judge in Michigan ruled a few months back that that was illegal.
The FISA Court specifically created to protect all of us from government eavesdropping without a warrant.
So here's the question -- why would the Bush administration suddenly decide to allow the FISA Court to monitor its domestic spying program?
E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.
Jack will be back later this hour.
Up ahead, the final words from a doomed flight just released. We're going to show you what they reveal about the crash of a Comair flight that killed 49 people.
Also, is President Bush feeling the heat from the global warming controversy?
We'll have details of the growing pressure he's facing to change his position.
And he predicted Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Osama bin Laden's attacks on America.
So what does "Breakpoint" author Richard Clark now see happening next in Iraq and beyond?
I'll ask him. He's standing by to join us live this hour.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
And now a rare, rare, indeed, apology coming from a senior Pentagon official. His comments drew criticism from the legal community throughout the country.
Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in discussing the problems that the U.S. was having prosecuting detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the senior Pentagon official for detainee affairs last week dropped a bombshell in a radio interview.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): Charles "Cully" Stimson, in an interview with Washington's Federal News Radio, said it was shocking that big name American law firms were defending terror suspects and then suggested that maybe major corporations should boycott them.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP FROM FEDERAL NEWS RADIO)
CHARLES "CULLY" STIMSON, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR DETAINEE AFFAIRS: And when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.
MCINTYRE: The remark sparked instant outrage because it violated the bedrock American legal principle that everyone deserves a defense.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: The first noteworthy example was Andrew Hamilton, a famous Philadelphia lawyer who represented Peter Zenger, at the time when there were hostilities between the United States and Great Britain.
MCINTYRE: In an Internet petition, more than 100 deans for some of the country's most prestigious law schools pronounced themselves "appalled" and the Pentagon quickly distanced itself from Stimson's views.
Stimson, a former prosecutor and defense attorney is not giving any interviews, but in an effort at damage control, did send a letter to the editor of the "Washington Post," noting as a Navy lawyer he "zealously represented unpopular clients" and believes justice requires vigorous representation for the accused."
He apologized for his comments and insisted they did not reflect his core beliefs.
PROF. PAUL ROTHSTEIN, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL: The apology doesn't really work for me because the fact that a man of this experience in the law and in government was under the impression that he expressed originally is shocking.
MCINTYRE: While Stimson has not lost his job, Pentagon officials fear he may lose his effectiveness because of the controversy.
However, they say they hope that his record will speaker louder than a few ill-chosen words in that radio interview last week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see how this unfolds, Jamie.
Thank you very much for that.
An important story here in Washington.
Let's check back with Carol Costello in New York for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
Another twist in Missouri. The man suspected of kidnapping those two boys last week is also being investigated in two other cases. Investigators are quoted as calling Michael Devlin the most viable lead in the 1991 disappearance of Charles Arlin Henderson, who was 11 years old at the time. They're also re-examining the 2005 disappearance of 13-year-old Bianca Piper. Devlin faces arraignment tomorrow in last week's case.
Awful wintry weather is making travel impossible in parts of California and Texas. Interstate 5 now closed north of Los Angeles because of snow and ice, which led to numerous spinouts. Similar conditions in Texas forced a 300 mile closure of Interstate 10 west of San Antonio. That city and Houston both under rare ice warnings this afternoon.
And it looks like we will never know the source of that strange smell that covered much of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey last week. Environmental investigators suspect that it came from industrial sites along New Jersey's waterfront. But they say they've looked at records for more than 140 facilities and there is nothing to explain the odor. So it'll just go down as another strange smell in the city of New York -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Carol, thanks for that.
Carol will be back.
Coming up, is he gravely ill or progressively improving?
We'll get a second opinion on the condition of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro from a surgeon who's actually examined him. Plus, a horrifying new trend adding to the horror of Iraq -- kidnap victims forced to become suicide bombers. We're going to show you what's happening these days in Iraq. Arwa Damon has a report you're going to want to see.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There are new developments in that Comair crash in Kentucky last August that killed 49 people. A transcript of the cockpit recording is now out and it shows the co-pilot noticed something weird moments before the crash.
Let's turn to CNN's Brianna Keilar.
She's joining us from the newsroom with more -- Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Comair Flight 5191 crashed when its co-pilot attempted to take off from the wrong runway at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.
Now, audio of the tower communications with the crew and the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder tell us the crew of Flight 5191 thought they were on the correct runway and missed at least one clue that they weren't.
KEILAR (voice-over): Four minutes before it ran off the end of Runway 2-6 and crashed into trees, Comair Flight 5191 was cleared to take off from Runway 2-2 at Kentucky's Lexington Blue Grass Airport.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come in 191, text (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Runway 2- 2.
KEILAR: With Pilot Jeffrey Clay at the controls, co-pilot James Polehinke acknowledged on the radio.
JAMES POLEHINKE, CO-PILOT, COMAIR FLIGHT 5191: Pick up zero and taxi 2-2 Comair.
KEILAR: Polehinke indicated the plane would head for Runway 2-2, the airport's longer runway, and the only runway that was lit. Lights are required by the FAA if the sun isn't up, as was the case at this early hour on August 27th.
Instead, the plane headed for Runway 2-6. Half the length of the long runway, it was not lit.
Earlier, Polehinke had told Captain Clay that lights marking the end of the runway had been out on a previous night when he flew into Blue Grass. This may have led the two pilots to believe the lack of lights was no cause for alarm, no indication that they were on the wrong runway. As the plane sped down the short runway, co-pilot Polehinke, now at the controls, asked Captain Jeffrey Clay to set the thrust. Then Polehinke says, "That is weird with no lights."
Seconds later, Captain Clay says: "Whoa," there's some ambient noise, Captain Clay says an expletive and then Flight 5191 crashes.
KEILAR: The NTSB said the single air traffic controller in the tower at Blue Grass that morning was busy with paperwork when the plane crashed. And the newly released tower communications show even after the crash, he told the airport's emergency dispatcher the plane was taking off the longer runway -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a sad and tragic story, indeed.
And Brianna, thank you for that.
Meanwhile, there's more controversy today over Fidel Castro's condition. While a top Spanish newspaper has reported the Cuban leader is gravely ill, a top Spanish surgeon is offering a very different opinion.
Let's turn to CNN's Madrid bureau chief, Al Goodman.
He has the story -- Al.
AL GOODMAN, MADRID BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, the health of Cuban President Fidel Castro, a source of controversy in Spain Wednesday. A leading Spanish doctor who examined castor in Cuba last December says he's showing some improvement recovering from surgery.
But a leading Spanish newspaper reports he's in serious condition.
GOODMAN (voice-over): Spanish surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido just last month in Cuba examined ailing President Fidel Castro for 90 minutes. Castro handed power to his brother, Raul, last summer, and hasn't been seen in public since. The best look we've had of him is this October video.
Back in Madrid, Dr. Garcia Sabrido provided a few details.
DR. JOSE LUIS GARCIA SABRIDO, SURGEON (through translator): I can tell you that President Castro does not have any malignant illness. It is a benign process in which there have been some complications.
GOODMAN: But things got more complicated this week when a leading Spanish newspaper, "El Pais," reported Castro is in serious condition after three trips to the operating room for intestinal surgery. The surgeon, Dr. Garcia Sabrido, called CNN to say the reports are not in line with reality. "The only truthful parts of the newspaper's reports," says Dr. Garcia Sabrido, "are the name of the patient, that he has been operated on and that he has had complications. The rest is rumors."
The surgeon added: "According to my information, there is even some progressive improvement in Castro."
The newspaper quoted unnamed medical sources at the same Madrid hospital where Dr. Garcia Sabrido is the chief surgeon: "We don't believe our sources have spoken directly with Castro," one of the "El Pais" reporters who wrote the stories told CNN. "However, we believe Sabrido shared information with them."
But Dr. Garcia Sabrido told CNN he is not the source for the stories.
GOODMAN: Castro's condition is getting so much attention because the Cuban government has revealed so little, calling it a state secret -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Al Goodman in Madrid for us.
And coming up, how vulnerable is the United States to cyber terrorism?
I'll ask the former national counter-terrorism official and best- selling author, Richard Clark. He's standing by live.
Plus, President Bush facing growing pressure to act on global warming. We're going to show you why there's speculation he may be about to change his position.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, growing moves on Capitol Hill to influence the war in Iraq. Senator Hillary Clinton planning a bill to cap U.S. troop levels while a key Republican senator joins two Democrats in unveiling a resolution against the president's plan to send more troops in.
Also, a controlled burn now underway south of Louisville, Kentucky. It's an effort to burn off 90,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals remaining in train cars that derailed yesterday. The operation expected to last up to 18 hours and keep hundreds of people from returning home.
And a new system to compare airline passenger names with terror watch lists now set to debut next year. The so-called Secure Flight System will put the burden on the government instead of the airlines. It was supposed to take effect in 2005, but has been delayed by privacy concerns.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Bush may feel like he's behind barricades over at the White House. Facing a growing backlash over his Iraq troop build-up proposal, he is now backtracking on his domestic surveillance program, a key element of his anti-terror policy.
Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.
BLITZER: Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these are clear signs that this president, who for five years had a free hand to conduct the war on terror, is now dealing with a much different political reality.
HENRY (voice-over): A sharp reversal for President Bush on the issue of warrantless wiretapping, even though press secretary Tony Snow tried to portray it as a situation where the Justice Department has no problem with an independent court monitoring the administration's controversial domestic spying.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has put together its guidelines and its rules, and those have met administration concerns about speed and agility
HENRY: A far cry from what the president has repeatedly asserted, that he needed special powers because the 1978 FISA law was outdated.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I looked. I said, "Look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old law?" And people said, "It doesn't work in order to be able to do the job we expect us to do."
HENRY: Democrats who have long charged the president's terrorist surveillance program may have been illegal and unconstitutional declared it was about time the president came around.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: They don't have to follow the law. They can step outside the law. They don't have to follow the checks and balances. But I'd say all Americans, no matter what your political leans may be, all Americans ought to ask, why are they doing this?
Why are they doing this? Because it doesn't in the long run, it does not protect us. Not if we take away our liberties.
HENRY: New Senate judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy was planning aggressive questioning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Thursday, but the White House denied any effort to preempt that.
SNOW: It's the FISA court which is -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which has done this. What you're doing is you're accusing that court of engaging in political activity to, what, bail out the Bush administration? I don't think so.
HENRY: But it was not just Pat Leahy that was starting to provide some oversight. The new Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, was also planning some tough oversight. He put out a statement a short while ago declaring that the White House's "go it alone approach" was unnecessary all along -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the White House.
Ed, thanks very much
Richard Clarke served as President Clinton and the Bush administration's counterterrorism adviser. And until 2003, he was an adviser to the president for cyberspace security. In the past, he warned of attacks by Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, accurate analysis on his part.
Now he's written a new novel warning of the dangers of cyber terrorism. It's entitled "Breakpoint."
Richard Clarke joining us from New York right now.
Thanks very much, Mr. Clarke, for coming in.
RICHARD CLARKE, AUTHOR, "BREAKPOINT": Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about the book in a moment. But I want to pick your brain on Iraq. You used to be a good analyst as far as that part of the world is concerned.
Is the president's plan going to work?
CLARKE: No, I think the president's plan just delays the inevitable. At some point, whether it's next year or two years from now or five years from now, all U.S. major combat units will leave Iraq. And when they do, there's going to be chaos.
We have created that situation for ourselves, and there's nothing that we can do, in my analysis, between now and next year or five years from now that will change that outcome. So, the only thing that happens by staying on another two years and putting more troops there is that more Americans get killed and more Americans get maimed.
BLITZER: So what should the U.S. do, just simply pull out and say there's nothing the U.S. can do and leave?
CLARKE: No, no. I think there's a vast middle ground. And people like to say you're either in favor of staying forever or you want to cut and run tomorrow.
I think what we can do without major U.S. combat units is to use intelligence units, is to use Special Forces unit, is to have an over- the-horizon presence which can go in when necessary to stop, let's say, al Qaeda from creating a sanctuary -- Al Anbar. We have an obligation to continue our rebuilding effort and our assistance effort.
There are all sorts of things that we can do short of having 160,000 combat troops there. And I just am not convinced that having 160,000 combat troops there is doing any good whatsoever.
It is, of course, providing targets. And we've had 3,000 Americans killed and, just as bad, 2,000 Americans have become double amputees.
I think an awful lot of the people who are fighting us over there are fighting us just because we're there. And if we left, a vast amount of the fighting would go away -- if we pulled out the combat units.
BLITZER: The administration argues if the U.S. were to leave too quickly, a whole new generation of Osama bin Ladens, of al Qaeda operatives who are being trained in the Al Anbar province right now in Iraq would have that kind of Afghanistan-like sanctuary and they would come out and they would kill a lot of Americans.
CLARKE: Well, only if we let them. And there's absolutely no reason why we would let them.
You don't have to have combat -- U.S. combat troops in Al Anbar to stop al Qaeda from building up in Afghanistan there. You can use intelligence forces. You can do Special Force raids. You can do bombing. You can have a political settlement with the Sunni sheiks in the area and ask the Jordanians and the Saudis to be part of that.
This dichotomy, this false dichotomy of either we have two Marine divisions out there or al Qaeda takes over is just not very analytical.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the top Republican in the Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, told me on Sunday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: What we do know has been extremely successful, and the principal reason for going on offense after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq was to protect us here at home. The part of the war on terror has been 100 percent success. We have not been attacked again for five years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says the Bush administration deserves a lot of credit for that. What do you think?
CLARKE: Well, I would say the bureaucracy does deserve credit for not allowing another attack. But it has nothing to do with the fact that we're in Iraq.
If anything, the fact that we're in Iraq makes it more likely that another attack will occur, because we're making more enemies and we're not concentrating on reducing our vulnerabilities here at home. You know, frankly, if you're worried about terrorism, the thing to do is to get out of Iraq and go after bin Laden, go after al Qaeda, reduce our vulnerabilities here at home, not to stir up the hornets' nest by being in Iraq. They're not related.
BLITZER: Your new book, "Breakpoint," is a novel, but it does show a very chilling picture of what a cyber attack against the United States could result in. How worried should we be that what the picture that you paint in "Breakpoint" could actually occur?
CLARKE: Well, experts for about the last eight years in the Clinton administration and in the Bush administration, experts have been saying that the United States is very vulnerable to attack in cyberspace. What's that mean?
It means your situation room, the one in the White House, the American banking system, the American aviation system, the electric power grid, they all depend upon computer networks. And all of those computer networks are vulnerable to attack by hackers, by terrorists, by foreign powers.
A major Chinese general said that if ever there were difficulties between us and China, China would attack the United States through cyberspace and pull the plug on our electric power grid.
BLITZER: So is something we're prepared for? Does the U.S. government right now have the wherewithal to deal with what could be a huge Hurricane Katrina-like disaster?
CLARKE: No. Absolutely we don't.
We have plans, we have plans from presidential commissions. But we haven't done very much.
And what I tried to do in "Breakpoint" is to project you forward in the form of a political thriller into an environment five years from now, where we're even more dependent on computer networks and other technologies. And then somebody starts going after those technologies. And we find that the society really can't hold together without those technologies.
BLITZER: I have known for you for a while. You have been warning of this threat for a long time. Why isn't the federal government ready? You have suggested in the past this is another FEMA waiting to occur.
CLARKE: Well, I think it is because we're -- we're diverted by things like Iraq. It's because some people in the federal government think that because it's never happened it can never happen. But that was true of 9/11.
9/11, attacks like that in the United States had never happened. Unfortunately, that didn't stop it from happening.
BLITZER: Richard Clarke is the author of a novel entitled "Breakpoint." Really, a thriller indeed. Let's hope none of that actually ever happens. But serious source for concern.
Thanks very much for coming into our SITUATION ROOM.
CLARKE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's a development out in Missouri. I want to bring in Carol Costello. She's following the story.
What's the latest, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, a couple of new developments in the case against Michael Devlin, the man accused of kidnapping those two boys near St. Louis.
The Washington County prosecutor, John Rupp, is holding a news conference. Here's what he had to say about new charges.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN RUPP, WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI, PROSECUTOR: The prosecuting attorney for Washington County has charged the defendant with two counts. Count number one, kidnapping, which is a Class B felony, and the state claims that the defendant unlawfully removed S.H., a minor child, without his consent from Richwoods, Missouri, for the purpose of inflicting physical injury on and/or terrorizing S.H., a minor child.
The second count that we have filed is that the defendant committed the unclassed felony of armed criminal action and that the defendant committed the felony described in count one, the kidnapping felony, all allegations which are incorporated into that charge. And the defendant committed that felony of kidnapping by, with and through the use, assistance and aid of a deadly weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: OK. In plain English, he's talking about Shawn Hornbeck, the older boy that was found in that apartment of Michael Devlin who's 15 now and was allegedly held four and a half years. And prosecutors saying that Michael Devlin used a gun to abduct this boy.
When we get more information, of course we'll pass it along.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much
Carol's in New York.
And we also want to bring you up to date on another developing story right now, the Democrats' first 100 hours agenda in the House of Representatives. Only a few moments ago the House approved a bill to cut in half the interest rate on some student loans.
The vote was 356-71. Supporters say the bill would help more than five million students who get federal loans based on need. Some Republican opponents said students would be better served by an increase in the number of grants available, not a cut in the interest rates.
House Democrats are wrapping up what they're calling their first 100 hours. They'll tackle their last item on their to-do list tomorrow. It's legislation, then tax breaks and subsidy for oil companies, and put the additional revenue into renewal projects.
About 34 hours so far has passed in the Democrats' first 100 hours of official business in this new Congress
Up ahead, Iraqi civilians kidnapped and forced to become suicide bombers. We're going to go to Baghdad for details of a very disturbing trend in that country's unrelenting violence. Arwa Damon with that.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Just when it seems the violence in Iraq is at its worst, there's a growing trend that's truly horrifying: Iraqi civilians being kidnapped and forced to become suicide bombers.
CNN's Arwa Damon has this incredible story.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forty-two-year-old Kamal al-Khaqani (ph) was happily married with four kids, trying like most here to avoid the violence, to just get through each day alive.
JABURI AL-KHAQANI, VICTIM'S FATHER (through translator): We have nothing to do with politics or anything else.
DAMON: Then one day, like a thousand others, Kamal left to run errands and pick up breakfast for the family.
"He got dressed at 7:00 and told me he would come back at 9:00," his mother says. "He never came back."
"It was 10:00, 11:00," his wife says. "At 11:00 I started to feel nervous. They kept comforting me. At 2:00, I was pacing back and forth."
But Halud (ph) knew deep down that her husband of 12 years would not be coming back. ADEL AL-KHAQANI, VICTIM'S BROTHER (through translator): The next day someone came by and said, "A car similar to your brother's is in al Hadra (ph) neighborhood and it has been blown up."
DAMON: Kamal's final moments pieced together by officers at the scene.
A. AL-KHAQANI (through translator): He told me, "It looked like your poor brother was kidnapped."
DAMON (on camera): Kamal was released and set off in his own car. Police say he was probably told to drive towards their checkpoint. But they say he must have realized that his vehicle was rigged with explosives and that he was about to become an unwilling bomber. Then he tried desperately to warn those around him.
J. AL-KHAQANI (through translator): They said he was screaming the whole time, "I am booby-trapped! I am booby-trapped!"
A. AL-KHAQANI (through translator): He didn't finish his words before the car blew p. We showed him his pictures and he said, "Yes, that's him."
DAMON: The explosion wounded one policeman. Kamal's shouted warnings may well have saved lives.
"Kamal is gone," his mother cries. "When my sons sit around, Kamal is not there. His absence has tortured me."
"It's difficult," his wife says. "How are we going to live? Only god's mercy can keep us going. It's tough. We are four."
A. AL-KHAQANI (through translator): Every time his little son starts to cry I break down in tears.
DAMON: Eleven-year-old Darat (ph) can't even speak. The youngest, 1-year-old Sajad (ph), still runs around saying, "Daddy," too young to realize that daddy is never coming home.
Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.
BLITZER: What a horrible story.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Thank you very much, Wolf.
Tonight we're reporting on a president who is isolated and embattled not only on the issue of the war in Iraq, but also on other critical issues.
Two former U.S. Border Patrol agents today began harsh jail sentences for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler given immunity to testify against them. Leading Republican lawmakers today blasted President Bush, calling this a day of infamy and disgrace. Three of those Republican congressmen join us here tonight.
Also, Congress is defying the Bush administration and voting to help middle class Americans struggling to pay their student loans.
We'll have that special report, the war on the middle class.
And the Bush administration and corporate elites building a near bureaucracy to create a North American union comprising the United States, Canada and Mexico, and all the while trying to deny it.
Tonight, we will prove they have a lot to deny.
It's all happening without the consent of voters, citizens, the Congress. We'll have that special report and a great deal more coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN at the top of the hour.
Please be with us.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: We'll see you in a few minutes, Lou. Thank you very much.
And still ahead, reports of a possible U-turn on global warming by President Bush. But what's fueling the speculation?
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, well, miracles never cease.
The question is: Why would the Bush administration suddenly decide to let the FISA court monitor its domestic spy program?
Sharon in Houston, "The Democrats now control Congress, and the Bush administration is simply trying to head off oversight by saying that from now on we'll be good little boys."
Lora in Avalon, California, "Bet my bottom dollar Alberto Gonzales" -- the attorney general -- "doesn't want the subcommittee to investigate their past transactions and figure out if they can play by the rules now, all will be forgotten. My advice: Take the deal and then investigate."
Marie, Lolo, Montana, "Simple, really. President Bush and his cronies are getting a bit nervous over their unconstitutional activities. That nasty word 'impeachment' is circulating more and more. The people seem to have recovered their cognitive functions and decided that maybe we shouldn't let the lunatics run the asylum, let alone in our name and contrary to our laws." Brian writes from California, "The answer is simple. The Bush administration knew it wouldn't receive support from an overly liberal Congress. It would have been a waste of time to push the issue, just like the Bush administration doesn't get much support from you. It's time to finish the Bush bashing and begin doing everything we can to win this war."
"If we need to wiretap, so be it. I don't feel threatened and neither should you."
Carol in Jennings, Arizona, "Because someone has finally convinced him that he'll be responsible for the Republican loss of the White House in 2008 if he doesn't start following the law and listening to the people he serves."
And Tom writes from Wilton, Maine, "President Bush is running out of time in office to start behaving like an American, so likely we'll see an amazing conversion."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can check out CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read some more of these online -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We've seen some major changes on the part of the president since that election.
CAFFERTY: They're coming fast and furiously, aren't they?
BLITZER: We'll see some more presumably as well, Jack.
See you back here in an hour.
We're in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00, back at 7:00, one hour from now.
Until then, thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.
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