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Germany Terror Plot. Cheney's New Warning. Petraeus asks U.S. Troops to Fight by the Rules. Schwarzenegger Discusses the Catalina Island Fire. Castro Assassinate Attempts. Romney Discusses Iraq, Faith and Sex. Top Killer of U.S. Troops are IEDs.

Aired May 11, 2007 - 1900   ET


Happening now, Vice President Dick Cheney fires a new verbal warning shot from a U.S. aircraft carrier. His sights firmly set on Iran and its nuclear threat.

Also this hour, killing Castro -- there's a paper trail of attempts to assassinate the Cuban leader. Some are sinister, some are downright bizarre.

And it's not a Mickey Mouse threat. A character on a Palestinian children's show is sticking around and it's spreading the Hamas message of hatred against Israelis. There are new developments today.

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

Tonight a new warning about an alleged terrorist plot against American targets in Germany only weeks before President Bush goes there. A senior federal official says it's a very real threat, that's a direct quote, and that the plot was in the advanced planning stages when it was discovered.

For our security watch let's bring in our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. She's here in Washington and CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He's in Berlin. But first to you, Jeanne -- what do we know about this alleged plot?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials say it is credible. They are taking it seriously, but it's not new to intelligence officials. They have been aware of it for weeks. It involves people they describe as Islamic extremists plotting to hit diplomatic and U.S. military and diplomatic facilities in Germany, according to one official, with multiple attacks involving bombs and small weapons.

The State Department responded to this threat information three weeks ago, increasing security around U.S. diplomatic and consular offices in Germany, and the military has engaged in force protection exercises, but there has been no change in the military's force protection level, a sign that officials do not believe any attack is imminent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve watching the story in Washington.

Frederik, in Berlin, what do Germans think about their security situation right now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Germans are very, very worried about their security situation at this point and you said it before. The G-8 summit is going to be held here in Germany in just a few weeks time and, of course, President Bush will be attending that summit and Germans are very, very worried that it could come to terrorist attacks here in Germany in the run up to that summit and really German police, you can see their presence on the street has been increasing.

There have been raids against people whom the police feel could be plotting anything against this G-8 summit. There were raids just two days ago against left wing extremists, as the police called them, and the police told me that this did have a terrorist backdrop to it but also German intelligence officials are saying that they are doing a lot to monitor the Islamists seen here in Germany -- Wolf.

BLITZER: ... very closely. Frederik Pleitgen, our man in Berlin, thank you.

Vice President Dick Cheney is firing a new verbal warning shot at Iran from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf within striking range, actually, of Tehran. Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. What's the latest, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Pentagon insisted it dispatched a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to reassure U.S. allies, not to be provocative to Iran, but you might not have been able to tell that from the tone of the statement delivered by Vice President Dick Cheney today from the deck of the USS John Stennis, just 150 miles off the cost of Iran.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We'll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We'll continue bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom. And we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.


MCINTYRE: And in another comment aimed directly at Tehran, Vice President Cheney said, quote, "we will keep the ceilings open" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well how worried are U.S. officials, based on everything you're hearing, Jamie that Iran might try to disrupt the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz?

MCINTYRE: Well that's one of the biggest tools they might have in their toolbox in trying to create trouble if they wanted to, but U.S. officials are pointing out that cutting off the flow of oil would also hurt Iran's economy, but even the threat of that could send oil markets soaring, and that's something the U.S. wants to avoid. BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

The general in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq is worried by signs of ethical lapses among the U.S. troops. He's telling them to fight by the rules. Our Brian Todd has the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is about a report just out from the Pentagon that found that mistreatment of civilians in Iraq at the hands of U.S. troops is a very serious problem and General David Petraeus is determined to meet that problem head on.


TODD (voice-over): America's top commander in Iraq tells his troops he understands their combat stress can drive them over the edge, but in an open letter to them, General David Petraeus says "this fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we, not our enemies, occupy the moral high ground." Petraeus says he's concerned about several findings in a recent survey of the troops' mental health and ethics. Among them...

MAJ. GEN. GALE POLLOCK, U.S. ARMY: Less than half of soldiers or Marines would report a team member for unethical behavior.

TODD: I asked CNN military analyst, retired General James Marks, isn't it natural for a soldier or a Marine under the stress of combat to not want to rat out his buddy?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The first instinct is to protect your team and to keep your team together, absolutely, but you must always maintain the moral high ground. You don't let your buddy and you don't let your enemy define what's right to you.

TODD: General Petraeus, also concerned that the study found a small number of troops reported they mistreated non-combatants, I asked General Marks could Petraeus be establishing political cover if another incident like the Haditha massacre were to occur.

MARKS: There could be a great degree of cynicism as to why he did it. I have to tell you I don't care what his intentions are. He is addressing his troops in combat. Live the moral high ground or our enemies are going to define it way below us, and the population that we are trying to protect and we are trying to endear ourselves with will walk away from us in a heartbeat and our cause will be lost.


TODD: But General Marks says it all has to start with the commanders of each small unit, that if they allow even one of their men to veer off course that's a cancer and the entire unit could start to engage in some very dangerous behavior -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you -- Brian Todd reporting. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, if clothes make the man or a woman, then what about cars? The Associated Press is asking the 2008 presidential candidates a series of questions about their personal lives, including what kind of cars they drive. Here's what the Democrats had to say.

Joe Biden, a 1967 Corvette, given to him by his father. Senator Hillary Clinton says she rides in Secret Service vehicles for security reasons but drives a Ford Hybrid when she's home in New York.

Senator Chris Dodd, a 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid. That's a compact SUV. Former Senator John Edwards, a Ford Escape Hybrid, and then this spring he also reported having a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica mid sized SUV and a 1994 GMC truck. Representative Dennis Kucinich, Ford Focus compact, as well as a flying saucer. Senator Barack Obama, a Chrysler 300C, which is a full-sized sport luxury sedan.

Governor Bill Richardson, a Jeep Wrangler, although he says his security doesn't like him to drive which is more information than they asked for. As for the Republicans, Sam Brownback, a Ford Taurus when he's in Washington, a Honda Civic Hybrid in Kansas. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani says quote, "I don't drive, I navigate", whatever that means.

Former Governor Michael Huckabee, 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and a 1995 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. Representative Duncan Hunter says he drives a Suburban with 274,000 miles on it. John McCain, a Cadillac CTS, that's a mid-sized luxury sedan.

Former Governor Mitt Romney, a 2005 Ford Mustang convertible and Tom Tancredo, the representative, a Toyota Prius hybrid and a Cadillac, a Mercedes, and a Buick. So here's the question -- a long way to go for this -- do the cars presidential candidates drive tell you anything about them? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I just learned that Tom Tancredo has got an eclectic fleet of automobiles out there.

CAFFERTY: But he lists that hybrid, what was it, Toyota Prius hybrid, that's first and then the Mercedes...


CAFFERTY: ... the Cadillac and the Buick, but he got that -- he got that -- economically friendlier -- the environmentally friendly one at the top of the list.

BLITZER: I wonder if those Toyotas and those Hondas that these guys own are actually made in the United States or they're assembled some place else.

CAFFERTY: I don't know. Do you remember a story back a couple of years ago where they had pictures in Washington of these guys showing up for photo-ops in their little cars that get 35 miles to the gallon and then the minute the thing was over they went around the back of the building and got in these big SUVs to go back to their office on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: For like a one-block drive.


BLITZER: Yes, I remember that.

CAFFERTY: Yes, so I don't know, what you see maybe isn't always what you get.

BLITZER: It's a good question for Friday night.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it's all I got.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.


BLITZER: Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, panic sets in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we know what he's going to do. If you were just up in the air flying and somebody came that close to you, would probably wet your pants.


BLITZER: A nightmare scenario and a frantic scramble, it's all part of protecting the nation's capital. Jeanne Meserve has got this story.

Also, strange plots to kill the Cuban president, Fidel Castro -- a history of poison pens, exploding cigars and hundreds of threats. We'll go to Havana.

And an exclusive conversation with Queen Noor of Jordan -- she shares her hopes and fears for her country and for refugees of the Iraq war.

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


BLITZER: Turning now to a day-old wildfire the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is calling fast moving and dangerous. Catalina Island is ablaze. Flames have charred 4,000 acres of brush.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us live from Catalina. What's the status right now of this fire, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, authorities no longer consider the town of Avalon to be in any danger. That became evident really just a few minutes ago when they lifted all the evacuation orders for this area. That said, Catalina Island property, there still are some hot spots and authorities are aggressively working to get those hot spots out.

We've seen a number of helicopters today. Perhaps you can hear the chopper above me which is about to make a drop, but the good news is they got some great weather today, the winds died down and this fire at least here in Avalon where most of the residents live on this island appears to be out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So the weather is improving, is that what you're saying?

SIMON: The weather has really improved. The winds died down today although they are picking up a little bit right now. That said authorities seem to be pretty confident for the town of Avalon. They are going to be here throughout the night, of course, and continue to work on other parts of the island -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan. Thanks very much. The ever-present threat of wildfires apparently isn't much a deterrent in the west. People are migrating by the thousands into so-called hot zones like these where homes are popping up in equal numbers. Since 2002 the population in high-fire areas out west has actually grown 15 percent.

That's a faster rate than the region as a whole. Allstate plans to quit writing new homeowner policies in California in July. The insurance giant says it had to weigh the risks in the catastrophe- prone state and next year houses in areas of California with the highest fire risk will need extra protections including more heat resistant windows and roof vents designed to keep embers from drifting inside.

He's outwitted and outlasted numerous enemies dating back to his days as a young revolutionary half a century ago. He's elderly and ailing now, but no one is counting Fidel Castro out yet.

CNN's Morgan Neill is in Havana -- Morgan.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Fidel Castro has been out of sight for more than nine months now, recovering we're told from intestinal surgery. When he first handed over power some analysts gave him just months or even weeks to live, but as we learned in the course of this story this is a man with a real knack for survival.


NEILL (voice-over): For nearly 50 years all sorts of people have been trying to kill Fidel Castro. Havana's Interior Ministry Museum, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) documents what it says is evidence of the plots.


NEILL: From a straightforward plan to pitch grenades at the Cuban leader in a baseball stadium, to an exploding cigar, to a botched attempt to jab him with a poison pen, Castro's enemies have been persistent.



NEILL: Former Cuban spy chief Avian Escalante (ph) gives Cuban security much of the credit for the president's survival, but he says that doesn't explain everything.


NEILL: Fidel has a rare sixth sense, he says, that's allowed him to sense ambushes and danger.


NEILL: Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive at George Washington University says CIA attempts to assassinate Castro started soon after his 1959 revolution.

PETER KORNBLUH, NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE: There was an office in the CIA called Technical Services Division, TSD, and this office, just like in a James Bond movie, worked on all these cockamamie devices, some of which were very sinister and some of which were simply crazy.


NEILL: For example, he says, the office tried to mount a bomb inside a sea shell to explode when the scuba diving Castro drew near. The problem, they couldn't figure out how to draw the president to their bomb. In a separate CIA plot, according to Kornbluh, that the Cubans themselves say nearly succeeded two poison pills were given to a restaurant worker in Havana who stored them in a freezer.


NEILL: But says Escalante (ph) when the worker started to prepare the milkshake he went to get the plastic bag with the poison in it, and the bag broke, spilling out the poison. That, he says, was in 1963. A U.S. Senate committee later identified at least eight different CIA plots against Castro in the early 1960s.


NEILL: But Wolf, this isn't just Cold War history. In fact, Cuba is outraged that one of Fidel Castro's archenemies, Cuban exile Luis Posada, has just seen charges against him thrown out in Texas. He's now back on the streets.

BLITZER: Morgan Neill, our man in Havana reporting for us. Fidel Castro, by the way, has named his brother Raul as his eventual successor. Raul has been serving as acting president during Fidel Castro's illness these many months.

Still ahead tonight, Mitt Romney takes on some tough questions about his faith, pre-marital sex and polygamy. Will it help him on the presidential campaign trail? And a mouse stirring up anger and hatred in the Middle East -- a TV character and a controversy that's not going away -- in fact, there are new developments today.

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


BLITZER: Tonight, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is confronting some hot-button issues including aspects of his Mormon faith. It comes in the midst of a new Romney media blitz.

Our Mary Snow is watching all of this unfolding. Romney saying anything new, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. We're learning more from Mitt Romney about his family's history and religion, and he talks candidly about an ancestor who is a polygamist, but his faith wasn't the only topic. Romney takes aim at the administration over Iraq.


SNOW (voice-over): As Mitt Romney tries to distinguish himself from his Republican rivals running for president he's also distancing himself from President Bush. On the topic of Iraq Romney gave perhaps his strongest criticism yet of the administration in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the administration made a number of errors.

SNOW: Romney says President Bush isn't solely to blame.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well he's the person where the buck stops, but it goes to the secretary of defense and the planning agencies, the Department of State, it's the whole administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They screwed up?

ROMNEY: Well they made mistakes. I'm not going to use the same phrase you would, and we're paying for those mistakes.

SNOW: While Romney works to set himself apart from the White House, he's also doing the same with his religious predecessors. He answered one of the most often asked questions about Mormons, regarding the practice of polygamy, which was outlawed in the late 1800s.

ROMNEY: I have a great-great grandfather, they were trying to build a generation out there in the desert and so he took additional wives as he was told to do and I must admit I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy.

SNOW: When asked, Romney also said he did not break the Mormon Church's strict rules against pre-marital sex. Romney and his religion are front and center on "TIME" magazine this week. Those who study religion and politics say they expect Romney's religion will factor in his campaign but not overtly.

DAVID CAMPBELL, UNIV. OF NOTRE DAME: The fact that his Mormonism is out there is going to be manifest more in the whispered conversations and the -- that sort of thing rather than overt speeches or comments made during a debate.

SNOW: Case in point, ahead of next week's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, some in the state have received an eight-page criticism of the Mormon religion from an anonymous sender, questioning whether it's politically dangerous and referring to Mormon text as hoaxes.


SNOW: It's unclear just how many people received that mailing in South Carolina, and Mitt Romney's name is not mentioned in it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the fastest growing denominations in the United States, some tenets that are unique to Mormons. They believe that Jesus ministered in the Americas, that God has a physical body, that there is no original sin and they believe in holding baptisms for the dead.

Just ahead, they are the number one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. We're going to take a closer look at a new strategy for fighting those improvised explosive devices.

Also coming up, my explosive interview with Jordan's Queen Noor. Her answer to bringing peace to one of the most violent parts of the world, we'll tell you what it is.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, pomp and circumstance -- it's Graduation Day at Virginia Tech. Thousands of students earned degrees, including the 27 killed in last month's massacre.

Some monks and other people of faith are blasting the president's policies. At Pennsylvania's small Saint Vincent College some are using Catholic teachings to say Iraq is, quote, "an unjust war". They protested Mr. Bush's graduation address today.

And no bond for six men accused of an alleged plot to massacre U.S. troops at Fort Dix. Federal court in New Jersey made the decision at a bail hearing today.

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

The security crackdown in Baghdad has led to more violence in surrounding areas as insurgents slip out of town. Now one American commander outside the capital is asking for more troops in his sector, the embattled province of Diyala.

Meantime, one insurgent weapon has killed more American troops than any other in their arsenal and the Pentagon is now stepping up its efforts to try to counter these improvised explosive devices.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the man in charge of trying to stop Iraq's IEDs has some new ideas.


STARR (voice-over): Iraqi insurgents now plant six times as many improvised explosive devices or IEDs as they did four years ago when the first G.I. was killed by an explosion. It's a startling statistic, but General Montgomery Meigs, the retired four-star, who heads the Pentagon program to defeat IEDs says there is some good news.

GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Soldiers find upwards of half month after month after month and a large proportion of them go off, but are not effective.

STARR: More than 1,500 troops have been killed and nearly 15,000 wounded by IEDs in Iraq. The focus has been on armor protection and the high-tech gear to keep the bombs from detonating. Thirty thousand jammers are in the field, but Meigs is shifting gears, forming a new IED operations intelligence center where analysts piece together vital clues about the network of terrorists.

MEIGS: Look, we do the same thing a city police organization would do if it was trying to break down a drug network in a gang. When you drive around the street, you can't see it. You have to have very exquisitely precise intelligence to operate against these people.

STARR: The lesson of Iraq's IEDs, Meigs warns the threat and the political coercion caused may be unstoppable. The technology can be bought almost anywhere.

MEIGS: It's a worldwide Wal-Mart for the types of gear these people need, and they are pretty good at exploiting that.


STARR: General Meigs is still spending about $4 billion a year on equipment to try and deal with the IED problem, but he says it is intelligence that is going to really make a difference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thanks for that.

She was an Arab-American graduate of Princeton University who married a king. The former Lisa Halaby became Queen Noor of Jordan. Since the death of King Hussein, she has continued her role as a humanitarian activist. Her commentary on focuses in on her call to try to "rediscover Mother's Day," her words, "as a day of peace," even as violence rages next door in Iraq.


BLITZER: Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Queen Noor of Jordan.

Your Majesty, thanks very much for coming in.

QUEEN NOOR, JORDAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: How worried are you that the violence in Iraq is going to spill over into Jordan, for example? Because, as you know, there are, what, almost a million Iraqi refugees have fled to Jordan over the past four years?

QUEEN NOOR: There are almost -- there are about 2 million Iraqi refugees outside Iraq in neighboring countries. Jordan has almost a million. Syria is assumed to have about a million.

Others in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt. They are provided -- they're a tragic case themes, the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world, the state of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. And they're also...

BLITZER: In addition to the 2 million who have fled...

QUEEN NOOR: The 2 million inside Iraq.

BLITZER: ... there's other millions within Iraq.

QUEEN NOOR: About 2 million...

BLITZER: Who have been displaced.

QUEEN NOOR: ... who are internally displaced.


QUEEN NOOR: And so they're very vulnerable within the country. And the 2 million outside are seeking shelter. Jordan has a tradition of providing shelter to refugees over the ages. And we are doing the best we can, but we're spending almost $1 billion a year now on the refugees.

Hundreds of millions are being spent by Syria and other countries that are trying to take them in. It's an enormous strain on infrastructure, but also on our economy.

BLITZER: A lot of these Iraqis, though, who have come to Jordan are relatively well-to-do. They've brought their money with them.

QUEEN NOOR: Initially. BLITZER: And many of them are professionals.

QUEEN NOOR: You can't deny that there has been a contribution to our economy in some respects, also driving up property and other prices, which is a great strain on others in the country. But there are also an enormous increasing number who don't have those resources now, and who need all the help they can get.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your proposal -- let's reclaim Mother's Day for peace. "I firmly believe," you write on, "that peace will only come to the region when mothers find their voice and say of the violence, enough is enough."

Tell us how mothers in the Middle East can do that given the history, the culture, the religious, all the problems that are under way right now.

QUEEN NOOR: Well, there are already many, many mothers, women, and young women in the Middle East who are working together across conflict lines and within their own communities to try to promote reconciliation, to highlight the common values, the shared aspirations that men, women and children share across conflict lines in our region.

BLITZER: But do women...

QUEEN NOOR: But women have a special capacity, I think...

BLITZER: Do they have the clout, though?

QUEEN NOOR: ... because they're -- well, they should, because the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, once was asked by one of his followers, who is it that I should look up to the most? Who is it that I should give the greatest attention to? And the prophet replied, your mother. And then whom? Your mother. And then whom? Your mother. And then whom? Your father.

The prophet and his followers in early Islam placed enormous value on the role of women. Economically, socially and politically, they were given rights to contribute in a society that people were still struggling for in the West. That has been obscured by politics in recent times. But those are the facts of our faith.

BLITZER: Because when we take a look at the role of women in much of the Middle East, it looks like they're downtrodden, they're dominated clearly by men, and they don't have the wherewithal to -- they certainly don't have equal rights, shall we say.

QUEEN NOOR: Well, they have enormous wherewithal. That is constrained in many communities. Not in Jordan. Jordan is not the only country where women have equal rights under the constitution, and have since the 1950s. And equal right to work and to contribute, and are present at all levels of government and have been for decades. We are...

BLITZER: But Jordan may be unique in that sense. QUEEN NOOR: Not unique. There are other countries, but yes, you're absolutely right.

BLITZER: But Saudi Arabia. If you take a look...

QUEEN NOOR: There are other countries.

BLITZER: And certainly some of the trends we see in unfolding in Iraq right now, in Afghanistan, elsewhere in the region, certainly in Iran, you see the opposite.

QUEEN NOOR: Those are very dangerous trends. They're very contradictory in terms of the teachings of our faith and the role -- the rightful role of women in it. They are -- that's politics. And it's so often the case that women are the early victims in negotiations over political issues in a region like ours, and often in others.

But there are women not only in Jordan, but in other regions of the world, Middle East and elsewhere, who are actually leading the process for reconciliation.


BLITZER: The -- Queen Noor of Jordan speaking with me just a little while ago.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, seek, deter and possibly destroy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scramble, scramble, scramble, target, 215, 26 (ph) miles, altitude 4,000, airspeed 100 knots, heading 350.


BLITZER: What would happen if a threatening plane flies towards the White House? We're going to show you what's going on on that drill.

Also, a Mickey Mouse look-alike that preaches hate. He's working for Hamas and mimics killing Israelis. After outrage, you might be surprised to learn how the shows producers responded today. We'll update you. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Definitely not Mickey Mouse, it's the much more menacingly lead character on a kids' show in Gaza. The TV station run by the militant Hamas group has a new program, and this mouse is faithful to the message. CNN's Ben Wedeman has the story from Jerusalem -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the mouse of Hamas has roared again, a widely condemned children's program broadcast Friday didn't shy away from including some volatile content.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): It starts off innocently enough. Hamas- run Aqsa TV's now infamous children's show, "Pioneers of Tomorrow." Farfour (ph), the Mickey Mouse look-alike is back after previous performances that raised eyebrows around the world.

In one episode he mimics shooting Israelis with an AK-47 assault rifle. The Palestinian information ministry had asked the producers of "Pioneers of Tomorrow" to suspend the show until it could be toned down.

The request fell on deaf mouse ears. Forty minutes into the hour-long show Friday, the presenter, Abu Hazem (ph), says the producers have a video they want viewers to watch closely.

The clip, one minute in all, shows the immediate aftermath of an explosion that took place last June on a Gaza beach which killed seven members of the same family. Only this girl, 7-year-old Huda Ghaliya survived.

Palestinians said the deaths were caused by an Israeli artillery round. Israel denied it. The clip is followed by calls from young viewers. "Why did the Jews did such a thing?" Abu Hazem asks Atyoun (ph), a young caller. "Because they want to occupy Palestine," replies Atyoun. "The Jews did that," says Abu Hazem, "because we're Palestinians. The Jews don't love the Palestinians."

It's a message that does have an audience in Gaza. The director of Aqsa TV, Abu Musab Hamed (ph), offers no apologies for the antics of Farfour and his colleagues.

"We'll continue to broadcast the program," he says, "and thank God we've found great acceptance from children and their mothers and fathers which encourages us to carry on."

While the tone of "Pioneers of Tomorrow" may be disturbing to many, including Palestinians, observers say it reflects a society in crisis.

(on camera): Gaza child psychologist Dr. Samir Guta (ph) tells us a large percentage of children in Gaza suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. And despite efforts to treat it, symptoms are recurring because, in his words, the situation in Gaza is going from bad to worse.

(voice-over): And that it is. Friday clashes broke out yet again between gunmen from the rival factions Fatah and Hamas. The sound of gunfire, missiles landing, bombs exploding are commonplace in the crowded Gaza Strip, and children are the most vulnerable.

DR. ASHRAF ATTALLAH, CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRIST: At a very early age, I think their security is shattered and they are drawn into the adult world in a very violent, I believe, abrupt and rough way. WEDEMAN: Hamas TV may be exploiting the trauma of Gaza's children, but the ground was already fertile.


WEDEMAN: If anything, this week's program underscores a simple reality. Hamas is set on teaching a new generation of Palestinians that co-existence simply is not an option -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us. Ben is in Jerusalem.

Two years ago today a stray aircraft threw Washington into a panic. These days the U.S. Coast Guard is stepping in to try to help secure the skies. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has an exclusive look -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, behind me is the U.S. Capitol, around me some of the most restricted airspace in the world. Twenty-four hours a day, Coast Guard helicopters are ready to launch and find and deter any aircraft which might get inside this security envelope. Since September they have done it 32 times.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scramble, scramble, scramble, target, 215, 26 (ph) miles, altitude 4,000, airspeed 100 knots, heading 350.

MESERVE (voice-over): A Coast Guard helicopter crew sprints to its chopper. In three minutes they are in the air. An aircraft has intruded on restricted airspace, and they must find it, fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1:00 high. Get him into it.


MESERVE: The chopper relays the plane's tail number to the military and swoops down for a closer look in a maneuver so complicated, both pilots must work the controls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty knots closure.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty knots closure.

MESERVE: There is only one thing the pilot can compare it to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Riding a roller-coaster.

MESERVE: Eventually, only 200 to 300 feet separate the chopper and the Cessna.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There he is. Boy, he's tight. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I count three individuals inside the cockpit. Two forward, one aft.

MESERVE: This is not the real thing, but a high-risk training mission over Atlantic City, New Jersey, with volunteer volunteers from the Coast Guard auxiliary flying the plane.

JON BUCK, U.S. COAST GUARD AUXILIARY: Well, we know what he's going to do. If you were just up in the air flying and somebody came that close to you, it would probably wet your pants. It would really scare you.

MESERVE: In a real incident, the motions would be the same. The pressures would be even greater.

LT. ZACHARY MATTHEWS, U.S. COAST GUARD: Any time that you launch on a scramble, you don't know what you're going to encounter. You treat it as the real thing.


MESERVE: It's the Coast Guard's role to identify any intruding aircraft and make contact, either by radio or electronic billboard on the side of a helicopter that tells the pilot where to go and what to do.

If the aircraft does not respond, it would be up to NORAD to make a decision on whether to shoot it down and then do it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, watching this for us and doing some excellent reporting as usual.

There are a number of places, by the way, where aircraft are either barred or restricted. These include continuous bans on flights over power plants, dams, refineries and military facilities. Other flight restrictions apply to scheduled events such as sporting events, temporary restrictions are established over forest fires to avoid any interference with fire-fighting aircraft and to protect other planes from hazards such as smoke. And temporary restrictions also are usually placed around traveling dignitaries, including the president and the vice president.

Up ahead, if clothes make the person, what do cars say about presidential candidates? Jack with your e-mail. That's coming up.

And is Iraq hurting the National Guard's response to a natural disaster, or is something else to blame? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight National Guard troops are deployed at various parts of the country to deal with fires, flooding and tornado damage. Their emergency missions at home complicated, possibly even threatened by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let's bring in our own Tom Foreman. He is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Is the National Guard right now being stretched too thin?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on who you talk to. But no question that became a fire fight this week with the governor of Kansas, complaining that too much of the National Guard's heavy equipment, the front-loaders, trucks and other vehicles needed for disaster relief wasn't being replaced after it was shipped out to Iraq.

The White House fired right back saying that there's an abundance of equipment available. James Carafano knows a good bit about this. He is with the Heritage Foundation, and he told me today that there is a shortage but it's not really due to the Iraq War but more to a failure to plan for the future.


JAMES CARAFANO, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: This is a problem that should have been addressed 20 years ago. You don't quite a military overnight, you don't throw in water, spin, and have a military. So 20 years ago when we downsized after the Cold War, we downsized too far.


FOREMAN: Basically that's the issue, they're saying that a military has to have a little bit of wiggle room when it goes to war in particular, and that's partly what the Guard is for. But the fear is that the Guard may be able to handle one or two disasters but a series of problems or catastrophes like Katrina might find the National Guard without the tools it needs at this time.

BLITZER: If they know what the problem is, Tom, why haven't they fixed it?

FOREMAN: Well, it's like everything else in Washington, because it's about money. The Guard needs about $40 billion in new equipment and only about $20 billion has been allocated so far. Our people at the Pentagon says there's no doubt that the National Guard will be up to whatever task it's assigned. It's just a question of how quickly they get the money and that's always a big question here in Washington.

BLITZER: And this affects a lot of people here at home, and we're about to begin a new hurricane season as well. Tom, thanks for that.

And Tom is going to have a lot more on this important issue on "THIS WEEK AT WAR." It airs Saturday nights, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, replays Sunday 1:00 p.m. Eastern right after "LATE EDITION."

Jack Cafferty is joining us from New York right now with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The Associated Press did this survey, what kind of cars the presidential candidates drive. We asked if you can learn anything about the candidates from the cars they drive? A lot of you asked why Ron Paul wasn't included. It is because he wasn't included in the survey. So it wasn't we did.

Jack in Hillsboro, Oregon, writes: "Jack, it is simple, Joe Biden's '67 Corvette shows class and appreciation of an American tradition."

Jacquelyn in Newport Beach, California: "For one thing, it shows they are afraid foreign cars as they know they would be criticized. It shows Tancredo has a huge garage. He has four cars. With the exception of the Prius, he owns a lot of gas guzzlers. How the hell did Duncan Hunter get more than 274,000 miles on a car? Where does he drive on vacation?

"Obviously the third Mrs. Giuliani does all of the private driving, which is why Rudy only navigates. I was impressed by all the pickup trucks driven by all of these politically image-conscious regular joes."

James in Vancouver: "I feel those driving hybrids are less sincere as they are motivated by public perceptions. And this drives their vehicle choice. Take, for example, a Suburban with more than 270,000 miles on it. Now although it's not environmentally friendly, it does show frugal spending, well, until lately when the cost of a tank of gas is probably more than the Suburban is worth.

Larry in Dallas: "The candidates' choices of vehicles tells me each is a polished politician who is smart enough to know that this kind of factoid has the potential to be a public relations pothole on the road to success. My, my, my, just look at all those Fords, American-made, smart choice. Wink, wink."

Jared in New York: "All I learned from this is which candidates have bad taste in cars. In a campaign where we've heard more about haircuts than spending cuts and other vital policy issues, the last thing we need to spend time worrying about is what the candidates drive around in."

Terry in North Carolina: "Who thinks up your questions for you? They need to get some sleep. What difference does it make whether they drive a Ford or a Jaguar, as long as they can do the job?"

And Jonathan in St. Louis: "I'm sure the politicians you mentioned all drive hybrid automobiles. And everyday I fly to work in an F-22 stealth fighter."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of "The File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have a great weekend, Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You, too.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Paula. PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf. Thanks. Coming up, we're bringing the raunchy world of satellite radio "Out in the Open." Should two radio shock jocks be fired for talking about blatant sex acts involving the first lady and secretary of state? If Don Imus was fired for what he said, why not them?

We're also going to debate whether movies with smoking deserve an R rating. Would you really need to be over 17 to see "101 Dalmatians" because Cruella de Vil smokes? All that coming at you at the top of the hour. Wolf, hope you join us then.

BLITZER: Good question. Thanks, Paula. We certainly will.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, fist fight at the symphony. You're going to want to see this. You'll hear how it all started from one of the men right in the middle of it all at the Boston Pops.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Here's Jeanne Moos with a "Moost Unusual" night at the symphony


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Boston Pops didn't need a conductor, it needed a referee. By now you've probably seen this over and over. But now you get to hear what happened from the guy buried in the middle of the brawl.

MATTHEW ELLINGER, BRAWL PARTICIPANT: I just got cold-cocked at the Pops.

MOOS (on camera): It was the "shhh" heard 'round the world, only before there a "shhh," there was this.

(voice-over): Graphic artist Matthew Ellinger was attending the Boston Pops for the first time with his girlfriend, the woman in the white dress. Ellinger says the guy in the row in front of them in the blue shirt wouldn't stop talking.

ELLINGER: So after the first piece they keep talking through the second piece, and halfway through I tap the guy on the shoulder with my program and give him the shush.

MOOS: But Ellinger says that didn't work so he again told the man to be quiet.

ELLINGER: He turns around and tells me, if you (expletive deleted) hit me again, I'm going to throw you over the balcony.

MOOS: That's when Ellinger went to get an usher, then came back and told the man someone would be coming, at which point Ellinger says the guy stood up...

ELLINGER: Cold-cocks me with the right hand and at the same time grabs my hair with his left and just pulls me down.

MOOS: The man in the blue shirt got escorted out. Ellinger had a bloody lip and he eventually got escorted out, too. The guy with his shirt half off is already getting fashion advice on the Web: "Always wear an undershirt because there's nothing worse than seeing grainy footage of your un-manscaped chest on CNN."

But hey, things could have been worse. This was the Taiwanese parliament Tuesday where lawmakers from rival parties brawled over an electoral reform bill. Apparently this was the week for undignified fights in dignified places.

At least Ellinger can count on his girlfriend to come to his defense, and he pressing charges against the other guy, who has not publicly told his side of the story.

The music stopped for a few minutes when a fight broke out. And when it was all over, Ellinger was still clutching the program he used to tap the guy. Talk about a souvenir.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.


BLITZER: Let's go to Paula now.


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