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Airports Warned; U.K. Flooding; Dow Drops; Clinton vs. Obama; Airports Warned

Aired July 25, 2007 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, airports on alert. Suspicious packages trigger a bizarre, new warning. New concerns terrorists could be turning to ice packs, batteries and blocks of cheese to test security for a future attack. Critical, new questions coming to light on this AMERICAN MORNING.
And good morning to you again. Thanks very much for joining us. It is Wednesday, the 25th of July. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry. You're back from South Carolina. Great YouTube debate, though.

ROBERTS: It was a lot of fun and a lot of people watched, too. A lot of people cared about it. There were some great questions. I thought the candidates handled themselves very well that night. Looking forward to the Republican one in September as well because we've got two months now to get some really good questions. So it should be a good debate.

CHETRY: Yes, it should be great. It's also sparking the biggest political store of the day.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes.

CHETRY: Which is a little cat fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We'll have more on that in a second, though.

But first, airport security officers across the country are on high alert this morning. The Transportation Security Administration telling workers, be on the lookout for people who may be making dry runs for a terrorist attack. The government says some suspicious looking items packaged to look like bombs have been seized at four airports since last September. CNN's Keith Oppenheim is live at General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, where one of these suspicious packages was found.

Good morning, Keith.


And I'm about to give you some information that CNN got from a government source. Information which indicates that several airports, including this one, there were some strange items found. And the question here is whether or not these items suggest that there is just routine information sharing going on between law enforcement or whether some bad guys were gearing up for a possible attack by testing security at airports.


OPPENHEIM, (voice over): The TSA bulletin was meant for law enforcement and it had an alarmist tone. It read "a surge in recent suspicious incidents at U.S. airports may indicate terrorists are conducting pre-attack security probes and 'dry runs' similar to dress rehearsals." The memo cited four confiscations at four airports dating back to last fall. And in each case, suggested what was found may have been meant to resemble a bomb.

September 16th, Baltimore, agents find a checked bag with a block of cheese connected to a cell phone charger. November 8th, Houston, inside a passenger's checked bag, a plastic bag with a nine volt battery, wires, and a block of clay. June 4th, Milwaukee, a carry-on bag contains a wire coil around an electrical switch, three tubes and two blocks of cheese. And July 5th, San Diego, a checked bag contains duct tape around two ice packs filled with clay.

Mark Vehslage of Dallas says it doesn't bother him.

MARK VEHSLAGE, DALLAS, TEXAS: No, it doesn't surprise me. I mean, I don't necessarily worry about it an ordainment amount of time. I'm going to do what I got to do and I just pray and trust God's going to protect me.

OPPENHEIM: The bulletin went on to say, some of these incidents led the TSA to evacuate terminals, but ultimately the investigation had not linked passengers carrying these items with terrorist organizations. It read "however -- most passenger's explanations for carrying the suspicious items were questionable -- and some investigations are still ongoing."


OPPENHEIM: Kiran, the response in news reports about all this, TSA officials have downplayed the possibility of any imminent danger. These officials told us that there have been 90 similar, unclassified bulletins that have been sent to law enforcement in the past six months, all part of information sharing. And they emphasize this, and I'm going to quote here, "there is no intelligence threat that indicates a specific or credible threat to the homeland."


CHETRY: It is intriguing, though, the little bit about what they discovered or what they think when they question the passengers. They didn't really go into detail about who these people were at the various airports where they had suspicious packages.

OPPENHEIM: That's right. And we don't have any indication at this point that there have been any arrests. Only that there is an ongoing investigation. That the answers that were given to questions with the passengers who were carrying this weird stuff, that some of the answers weren't quite satisfying to the investigators. But they're still looking into it. CHETRY: That will be interesting if we get more details about that.

Keith Oppenheim, thank you.

ROBERTS: The man in charge of preventing an attack in the United States says he sees a growing threat from al Qaeda in the U.S. Air Force General Victor Renuart, the head of the U.S. Northern Command, says he thinks that terror cells are probably either already here or people are working to create them. He is also calling for two more military units, trained to respond to a nuclear, chemical or biological attack.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is blasting President Bush. Kerry says the president is trying to scare Americans about al Qaeda. The president yesterday said al Qaeda in Iraq has strong connections to the al Qaeda run by Osama bin Laden and leaving Iraq without defeating them would be disastrous for America. Kerry says the president's logic is flawed and he is, "putting forth a false rationale for continuing the war."

And in Great Britain, new Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering extending the amount of time that a terrorism suspect can be held without being charged. Brown wants to double that period to 56 days. It is just one part of his new counterterrorism plan.

New this morning. A former New Orleans police officer has been cleared in the beating of a man, one that was caught on camera by a CNN photo journalist. It happened back in October of 2005. Police accused 66-year-old Robert Davis of being drunk. They were seen punching him in the face. Both of the officers were fired. Yesterday a judge acquitted Robert Evangelist of criminal charge. The other officer, Lance Schilling, killed himself after losing his job.

Also in New Orleans, no criminal charges will be filed against a doctor accused of murdering patients in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina. A grand jury just cleared Dr. Anna Pou. She was accused of killing nine patients with a lethal drug cocktail as flood waters surrounded the New Orleans Memorial Medical Center. Poe has previously said that she gave the panicked patients medicine to ease their pain but never tried to kill them. She says the decision to clear her name is a blessing but not a cause for celebration.


DR. ANNA POU, CLEARED OF MURDER CHARGES: Today's events are not a triumph, but a moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the storm. And a tribute to all of those who stayed at their posts and served people most in need.


ROBERTS: Pou still faces civil lawsuits from the families of patients who died.

And FEMA now says that serious concerns over air quality are causing it to reconsider its policies on selling and donating relief trailers. Last week documents surfaced showing unhealthy levels of formaldehyde in some of the trailers. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause breathing problems. Originally, FEMA said the problem would not stand in the way of its selling and donating the trailers to disaster victims.

CHETRY: Well, more flooding problems in England. They're continuing this morning. Water levels have been rising in Oxford for several hours now. In fact, 250 homes in that area had to be cleared out overnight after the Thames River broke its banks.

And there's a massive operation underway right now to get drinking water to people who have been cut off by the floods. The military says it will hand out 3 million bottles of water a day until the system is up and running again. Even mini water tanks are being set up across the area. Three hundred and fifty thousand people are affected and emergency crews say it could take at least two weeks to get water service restored.

Alphonso van Marsh has been following this story for us all this week. And he joins us this morning from Gloucester, which is one of the areas hardest hit.

Good morning, Alphonso.

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not such a great morning here. As you can see, clearly it is raining and that comes as little consolation, as you mentioned, to the 350,000 people waking up today with no electricity, no water. This is one of the main rivers in this country. Officials say that the flood waters are receding, but you only need to take a look to see that the current is still strong, that the waters are still high.

This is actually a foot path where pedestrians should be able to make it to this bridge running through the center of the city. You can see over there emergency vehicles. They have been working tirelessly. In fact, officials saying superhuman efforts to bring water and food to the elderly, the aged, the old, trying to get food and other necessities to those that need it.

Some good news, however, they've been able to restore electricity from power plants like the one over my shoulder to some 48,000 homes. But yet there is still some 350,000 people without electricity, without water.

And one last thing, water, that is the next step. That is what public health officials say they're very nervous about. If you take a look at what I'm standing in, they say it is a potentially toxic combination of human sewage, industrial waste and bacteria from livestock.

Back to you.

CHETRY: And the picture you're standing in right now really says it all. Alphonso van Marsh covering this story for us. We'll check back in with you a little later. Thank you. ROBERTS: There are other important stories that we're following for you this morning with our AMERICAN MORNING team of correspondents. Is that the sound of a bubble bursting? Ali Velshi here "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Folks like you, John, waiting for what we call a buying opportunity. Some people might say you're a pessimist about markets going straight up. But what I know is that you're looking for a way to get into this market and today might present you with that day.

Yesterday the Dow had its third worst session this entire year. The worst in four months. The drop was more than 200 pounds. Wasn't that big on a percentage basis. It was 226 points, as you can see. That's the third biggest drop. That was only about 1.2 percent.

When you're dealing with a market that's about 14,000, these kind of things will happen. But if you are an investor or you're looking to get into the market, this might be a good day to call your broker or your financial advisor and make sure that you are buying.

We are looking at some problems in the mortgage sector. You know, we used to call that the sub prime sector, but now there are warnings that that might actually be trickling out to those people even with good credit. And we're in the middle of earnings season. And some of the earnings that came out yesterday are worrying investors a little bit.

I will have more on both of things and precisely what you should do about them later on in the show. But for now, you're starting today with the third biggest loss this year.


ROBERTS: Looking forward to more on that. Thanks, Ali, very much.

Rob Marciano is in the CNN Weather Center this morning. He's watching a tropical storm brewing in the Pacific though, not the Atlantic.


ROBERTS: And Sean Callebs in New Orleans looking at a growing movement to help soldiers charged with war crimes.

What's this all about, Sean?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, think about it. Since American military troops have been in Afghanistan and Iraq, scores have been charged with crimes, very serious crimes, including murder and kidnapping. Well, I want to show you a number of websites are cropping up. There are people now turning to the Internet to raise money for the troops. People like (ph), also the If you look over here,, as well as Those are just four of about a dozen websites that have cropped up that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help defend these troops.

Now in large part, these websites are being started by conservative Christians or former military or military families. But you may be interested to see who's actually donating and how much money is coming in.

What do you think about our little situation room set-up here, John? We give thank to the folks at Tulane University, who've created that for us and we're able to show you all of this information. We'll continue to do that this morning on AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: Great. Looking forward to hearing more.

Sean Callebs, thanks very much.


CHETRY: Well, Monday night's debate isn't over for Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They offered different plans when asked how they would handle diplomatic relations with countries like Iran and Venezuela. Let's listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is not that you promise the meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes.


CHETRY: Well, now the two presidential candidates are battling it out over each other's responses. Joining us now, CNN political analyst John Dickerson.

Good to see you, John.


CHETRY: You know, what's astounding, I think, for the average person is, this was a two-plus hour debate and so much was discussed, other controversial topics were discussed, yet this 15-second response by Barack Obama is all people, the political types, are talking about this morning. Why? DICKERSON: That's right. And Hillary Clinton and Obama were kind of very -- so nice to each other on Monday night, and now they're sniping back and forth. It started with Barack Obama issuing a press release pointing out another answer he gave and why that makes him a better commander and chief or potential commander in chief than Hillary Clinton. She then fired back and pointed to the clip you showed. And this is all about the central question for the moment among these two top candidates, which is the experience question. Who has the most and who has the right kind of experience to be president.

CHETRY: Right. And it's interesting because the Hillary camp didn't let this go. In fact, they saw this as an opportunity, it seems, and did pounce. They said in an interview with "The Quad City Times," she said Obama's answer was "irresponsible and, frankly, naive." And it seemed, to force Obama on the defensive. So was this a savvy move on her part or did she go too far?

DICKERSON: Well, it's hard to say. We'll have to wait to see what voters say. You know, again, Obama was trying to make the case that going back to Hillary Clinton's vote on the Iraq War in 2002 by saying, you know, she didn't have the right judgment at that time. And she's now firing back and saying, well, he doesn't have the right judgment about this. So they're in a sort of fight in the mud here and we'll see who emerges for the voters.

CHETRY: Well, it's interesting because some media commentaries have said that Clinton really got the best of this exchange. Obama's people pointed out, though, that the focus groups seemed to favor him.

So, politically, who do you think came out on top, John?

DICKERSON: Well, the political problem is this for Barack Obama, who's running, you know, a new kind of campaign, which runs against just this kind of cut and thrust. He's saying, it's this kind of bickering that's weighed our politics down in the past. So you can make the case that any time he gets into one of these gutter fight with an opponent, he's being brought down to the level of that opponent.

CHETRY: Is this one of the fights that matter or will we forget about it in a couple of months?

DICKERSON: Well, it does have a little bit of the element of a fake fight. Both sides are kind of stretching their case. But the question of who can better the better commander in chief is probably going to be at the center of this election. So in that regard, it does matter.

CHETRY: John Dickerson, we'll check in with you in the next hour. Thanks.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Actress Lindsay Lohan is reportedly back in rehab this morning after another drunk driving arrest. Less than two weeks out of her last rehab stint. Lohan was arrested early yesterday morning in California for drunk driving and cocaine possession. It is her second DUV since May. And this time around, she could land in jail. On CNN's "Larry King Live" on Tuesday, Lisa Bloom, who was filling in for Larry, asked Michael Lohan, who has had legal problems of his own, about his troubled daughter.


LISA BLOOM, "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you hold yourself at all responsible for what Lindsay's going through?

MICHAEL LOHAN, LINDSAY LOHAN'S FATHER: Of course I do. If I didn't, I'd be a liar. I mean, everyone around Lindsay, especially her parents, have a direct bearing on her life. And I made some very stupid choices in my life. I made some mistakes. And I can definitely identify with what she's going through because when I was torn from my family, I reacted the wrong way.

My family are the most important thing in my life. I love my children. Always did and always will. And I was -- contrary to what people say, I was always there for my kids. The problem was when I was taken out of their life the way I was, I reacted the wrong way.


ROBERTS: And in our next hour, we're going to be talking with Howard Samuels (ph). He's the director of Los Angeles' Wonderland Center. That's where Lindsay Lohan is reportedly being treated now.

CHETRY: Well there's a new alert for America's airports. Terrorists could be trying to conduct dry runs for an attack. How concerned should we be about this? Is it a major security threat or is the TSA overreacting? Well, we're going to ask a former Homeland Security official. That's coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. There's some reshuffling going on. On a pre-campaign deck, in fact. Your "Quick Hits" now. Fred Thompson's campaign staff is changing, even though the former Tennessee senator has not officially jumped into the race for president. Thompson is said to be replacing his acting campaign manager with a former senator and interview secretary Spencer Abraham.

Well, former Congressman Henry Hyde is in intensive care this morning. He's recovering from open heart bypass surgery. Hyde is 83 years old. He served 32 years as a Republican representing Illinois. Doctors say they're slowly bringing him out of sedation and they say his prognosis is good.

ROBERTS: This morning there was a new security alert at airports across the country. It warns that terrorists could be conducting dry runs for a future attack. The bulletin is based on recent seizures of seemingly harmless objects like ice packs, batteries and even blocks of cheese. But it's how those objects surfaced at security points that's raising eyebrows. Joining me now is Clark Kent Ervin. He's the former inspector general at Homeland Security, and he's also the author of "Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack."

So, Clark, should this latest advisory by the TSA be troubling to us?

CLARK KENT ERVIN, FORMER DHS INSPECTOR GENERAL: Yes, John, I think so. Certainly TSA is right to say that they received reports of suspicious incidents all the time. But this is really out of the ordinary. You know people who are gun enthusiasts or second amendment enthusiasts often have guns that they sometimes forget at airports. It's really hard to understand why somebody would have what appears to be an improvised explosive device. And, indeed, the passengers, many of them, didn't have convincing explanations.

ROBERTS: Yes, here's what the advisory says was found, "wires, switches, pipes or tube, cell phone components and dense clay-like substances. The unusual nature and increase in number of these improvised items raises concern."

You know, we have some pictures as well that were in this advisory. In one case, there was a cell phone charger in a plastic bag that was taped to a block of cheese. There you see, this is some cheese that was found. And then there's another photograph of this cell phone charger actually taped to a block of cheese.

Would people be trying to bring components of bombs through? Clark, would it be easier to get components through than it would a fully assemble bomb?

ERVIN: Absolutely. There's no question about that. You know, there have been a number of investigations showing it's sometimes difficult for screeners to spot fully assembled bombs, but obviously it's even harder for them to spot components that in and of themselves are innocuous. The fact that there have been so many incidents, the advisory refers to it as a surge and the fact that Al Qaeda has this pattern of testing, doing dry runs, dress rehearsals, before attacks, all adds up to a very troubling picture.

ROBERTS: Right. How safe are our airports? You said that they have difficulty discovering a fully constructed bomb. They have even more trouble discovering bomb components. Are you suggesting a lot of stuff gets missed?

ERVIN: Well, absolutely. When I was the inspector general, we did investigation after investigation showing just how easy it is to get guns and knives and fully assembled bombs past the screeners. And as I say, if they're just components, it's easier still.

Further, you know, there have been all these incidents. Just in Phoenix, we've been reporting the last few days, waving airport workers through without fully inspecting them. And, of course, this comes against the backdrop of the NIE release just last week showing that al Qaeda is intent upon attacking us again. They have this obsession with regard to airports. And so there is cause for concern, no question about that.

ROBERTS: And also the comments yesterday from the head of the northern command suggesting that al Qaeda either had sleeper cells in this country already or were trying to get them in.

Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general at the Department of Homeland security.

Clark, thanks very much. Good to see you.

ERVIN: Thank you, John.

CHETRY: Well, there are two new pandas topping your "Quick Hits" now. A panda breeding center in China is just elated. They're celebrating the birth of twin cubs. A seven-year-old panda gave birth to the boy and girl on Monday. This is the second set of twins that have been born at the center in a month. The reason they have them in incubators is the mother pandas tend to only nurse and care for one cub at a time. So they put the other one in the incubator and then they say they alternate every four hours to make sure both are fed. Very cute.

Well, an underwater invasion in central California. They say it's the attack of the giant squids. They're all over the place there. Some as long as seven feet. Oh, that scared you, didn't it, John.

They're invading the waters, they say. And they say they're a big threat because they actually kill off the food supply of other native fish, like the tuna, that they need to survive. Seven feet long. Wouldn't want to run into that one. And they're fast, too.

Well, Lindsay Lohan arrested on DUI and drug possession charges. So how will the celebrity's bad behavior affect the thousands of kids across the country who look up to her?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I give her rehab time and I put her in jail again.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long? Five years. Five years.


CHETRY: Wow. Maybe he's a future judge in training.

ROBERTS: A (INAUDIBLE) judge there.

CHETRY: Yes. Well our Lola Ogunnaike hit the streets of Manhattan to find out how the littlest fans are dealing with the news that her bad behavior has gotten her in trouble question, coming up.


ROBERTS: Twenty-seven minutes after the hour. And "On Our Radar" this morning, coming up in our next half hour, alligator wrestling. It's America's, apparently, most endangered new species.

CHETRY: Yes, first of all, I've never been to an alligator wrestling event to begin with, but apparently it is huge down in Florida. But fewer people are making a living out of it. Fewer -- oh, he just kissed the gator on the nose. Wow. It takes bravery to do that. But they say that, you know, it's a dying sport.

ROBERTS: I used to live in Miami. And every time we crossed the Tam-Miami (ph) trail going over to the west coast you'd see gator wrestling here, gator wrestling there. But apparently not so much anymore. People don't want to learn the art of gator wrestling. We're going to be talking about this with John Zarrella coming up in our next half hour. And we're going to actually talk with a gator wrestler coming up in our third hour here of AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: That's right. He says he's hoping to change that. He wants to bring back the art form. So all of that when AMERICAN MORNING continues.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Here is a shot coming to us from WHDH in Boston, Massachusetts, today. A pretty shot of all the skyscrapers. It's 69 degrees right now. It's shaping up to be 87 and sunny today in Boston.

ROBERTS: I'll tell you, it was getting steamy yesterday in Charleston just before we left. As the sun coming up about 9:00 in the morning, you start to feel that heat.

CHETRY: I bet. I bet.

Well, welcome back. It is Wednesday, July 25th.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you.

I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: Well, we begin this morning with a new security alert at America's airports. Concerns that terrorists could be rolling out dry runs for a future attack. In fact, in the past 11 months, airport screeners have turned up some quite unusual things in luggage, including a block of cheese duct-taped to a cell phone charger. Experts say that the items could be meant to mimic bomb components and terror groups are possibly trying to see how hard it would be to get them on to a plane.

Right now the TSA is downplaying this bulletin, saying that it's one of 90 advisories sent out this year. They also say there is no specific threat. But as for people who had suspicious items in their luggage, the feds say most of their stories are "questionable" and that some of these people are still being investigated.

ROBERTS: President Bush refuses to bend on his stance that Al Qaeda in Iraq is the same al Qaeda that attacked the United States on September 11th. He reiterated his position that we must fight terrorists in Iraq to keep them from attacking the United States during a speech at the Charleston Air force Base in South Carolina yesterday.

Joining me this morning is "New York Times" military correspondent and co-author of "Cobra II," Michael Gordon.

Michael, the president said yesterday the same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq are the ones who attacked us in American on September the 11th.

Is that true?

MICHAEL GORDON, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, actually, John, the situation is a little more complex. And really, it's explained in the latest national intelligence estimate.

What is the case is that there is a relationship between al Qaeda central in Pakistan and a group in Iraq that's known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But Al Qaeda in Iraq is an organization with 90 percent Iraqi membership, albeit foreign leadership, and it didn't exist prior to September 11th.

ROBERTS: Is there any cross-pollination, Michael, between Al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda that's based in Pakistan? We've heard some stories of people showing up in the training camps there who have actually fought in Iraq.

GORDON: Well, there seems to be a steady influx of foreign fighters, maybe 60 to 80 a month, that come from Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries, some of whom have been in Afghanistan according to Iraqis I talked to recently in Diyala province here. They come through Damascus, and they participate in Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a lot of them become suicide bombers and carry out these spectacular car bomb attacks.

In the national intelligence estimate, it describes Al Qaeda in Iraq as an affiliate of al Qaeda central, but it doesn't assert day to day operational day-to-day control over the organization.

ROBERTS: Michael, this is a connection that President Bush has made repeatedly in recent years. Is there any surprise now that he's -- any surprise that he's making it now, particularly with so many Republicans going wobbly on the war there?

GORDON: Well, clearly, as a political motivation, to sort of play the al Qaeda card, so to speak, but that said, there is a connection. The question is, is Iraq really sort of the principal front in the so-called war against terror? And that's a question experts debate.

I mean, President Bush's contention is that you have to fight this al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq to strike a blow against al Qaeda. There are a number of former intelligence experts who believe that as long as the Iraq war goes on, it becomes a source of recruiting and sort of inspiration for jihadists who want to join al Qaeda and actually works against American interests.

ROBERTS: John Kerry charged yesterday that President Bush is trying to scare people with such talk. Do you agree, or is that going too far?

GORDON: Well, there really is an organization in Iraq called Al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, as the military calls it. And it really is, I think, the most threatening of the Sunni insurgent organizations because it's linked to these spectacular car bomb attacks.

It's what General Petraeus refers to as his primary near-term threat. So that threat is real. But it's only one of a number of threats in Iraq.

There are Shiite militias, or only (ph) Sunni threats. And there's a real question as to whether this organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, presents a threat potentially to the American homeland.

You know, recently one of the organizations did issue a threat, and interestingly enough, the threat was against Iran for backing the Shiites in Iraq. So it seems that their principal goal is to topple the government in Iraq. And I think a secondary goal would probably be to expand their influence regionally, albeit to the detriment of American interests.

ROBERTS: All right.

Michael Gordon from "The New York Times".

Thanks very much.

By the way, if you want a little bit more on this, Michael had a great article on the whole topic back in Friday the 13th's "New York Times".

Michael Gordon from "The New York Times" this morning.

CHETRY: Well, investigators recommending dropping charges against a Marine involved in the Hadithah killings where 24 Iraqis were killed by Marines there in 2005. The cases against the soldiers involved are slowly working their way through military courts, and there is a growing movement back home to help the soldiers with legal fees.

Sean Callebs has been looking into this story and he joins us this morning from New Orleans.

Hi, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran. Exactly.

And the source that they're looking to, to generate money to help in this defense fund, the Internet -- a number of organizations, including those started by military or former military families. Like, are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for the scores of troops that have been charged with serious crimes.

We also have He is someone who has been facing charges as well in the ongoing cases now. And what they're counting on, what these organizers are counting on, people checking in to the Web.

Let's type up, and what they're counting on are people going to these Web sites and clicking into the area where it says "donations," and then looking that way.


CALLEBS (voice over): For months now, retired Marine Patrick Barnes has watched money trickle into the Military Combat Defense Fund.

PATRICK BARNES, MILITARY COMBAT DEFENSE FUND: Three hundred dollars here, $25 here, $100 here.

CALLEBS: The checks have added up to more than $150,000. It's just one of a dozen or so organizations using Internet Web sites to raise money for U.S. troops accused of crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

BARNES: They're from blue collar families. They don't -- they don't have a lot of money. And to have money for a defense, they just don't have it.

CALLEBS: The Web sites are mainly run by ex-military personnel or conservative Christian groups such as the Thomas More Law Center, which has taken on the case of Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani. Chessani could be court-martialed on charges of dereliction of duty for failing to report and investigate the killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the town of Hadithah.

The Thomas More site has received $300,000 so far, chiefly from donors who describe themselves as patriotic Americans.

RICHARD THOMPSON, THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER: Who want to support our troops in Iraq, who may not necessarily believe that fighting the war is the appropriate thing to be doing, but they're not taking it out on our troops.

These organizations are encouraged by another Hadithah case involving Corporal Justin Sharratt, who was charged in three deaths. Marine investigators are recommending dropping murder charges against Sharratt, saying the allegations were not supported by the evidence.

The corporal's family said, "The monetary donations we received from the defense funds have helped in lessening the financial burden on our family.

Patrick Barnes, himself a decorated Vietnam veteran, says his fight to defend American military personnel goes on.

BARNES: I know what it's like to kick a door down and sweep a house. So when I read about these kids being charged with crimes for fighting a war the way they're supposed to, it is somewhat enraging.


CALLEBS: Now, the heads of these organizations say they are not considering carte blanche for troops overseas to do whatever they want. In fact, the mission statement here says, "We do not condone or encourage violence against civilians." But what they do want to offer, Kiran, they say, are hundreds of thousands of dollars that are going to be needed to provide a good, solid defense counsel as these cases continue to move their way through military courts.

CHETRY: All right. Sean Callebs, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: A rough landing ends a nine-day-long ordeal for a cat.

It happened up in Salem, Massachusetts. The little guy got himself stuck in the tree, stayed there still rescue crews spooked him and lost his footing. And then, boom, the cat goes down.

The cat's OK though, judging by the sprightly way in which he took off. Nine days in the tree.

I don't know, I've got to tell you -- I'm sorry, that wasn't such spectacular animal falling out of tree video.

CHETRY: It's just amazing that...

ROBERTS: Not like this. Come on.

Roll it. Boom! Well, there you go.

CHETRY: That is mean. That is so mean. That poor bear. And you guys were laughing at him.

Bears cannot land on their feet, obviously, as great as cats can.

ROBERTS: Cats falling out of trees, bears falling out of trees. Dogs on Mitt Romney's roof. It just keeps getting better.

CHETRY: Oh, you're going to bring that up again? I thought I got you out of that a couple of days ago. You're going to start crying again from laughter.

ROBERTS: Oh, no I won't. I just can't believe that anybody would do that.

CHETRY: You know, the thing about the bear, too, is that they actually had a trampoline, because they had the best intentions in mind. They wanted him to land nicely on the trampoline. And oops -- that's the way to put it.

Well, inspiring America's youth to take up one very risky career. We're not talking about falling out of trees, we're talking about wrestling alligators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always loved animals since I've been little. And...

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. But it's one thing to love animals, but this is an alligator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think of it as the same thing like a dog.


CHETRY: All right. Well, you're going to meet one man who is trying to keep gator wrestling off the endangered list and how he's inspiring young people to take up the art form.

Coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: If you have ever taken a road trip in Florida, you've probably driven by water. More of those places advertising gator wrestling. This is what you get to see inside. It's a pretty good way to spice up a vacation day, but if you've never been, time may be running out.

Our John Zarrella has been hanging out at a gator pit in Hollywood, Florida. You might ask why. Still in one piece, we hope.

John, the alligator is off the endangered species list, but you're telling us this morning that alligator wrestlers may soon be on it?

ZARRELLA: Yes, that's absolutely right, John. There's no question about it. And, you know, as you said, for decades when tourists came to Florida, one of the things that many would want to see and would hunt out were these alligator wrestling shows.

Well, they're on the endangered list now, the shows, not the alligators. There are fewer and fewer of them all the time.

One of the problems, of course, is that here we are at the Native Indian village here, Seminole Indian Village in Hollywood, Florida. This is one of the last shows left that you can find.

And James Peacock here behind me, with his friend Pinger (ph), he's one of the last men left wrestling gators.


ZARRELLA (voice over): When James Peacock is told to get a grip...

JAMES PEACOCK, ALLIGATOR WRESTLER: Inside the mouth are 80 teeth.

ZARRELLA: ... it's a whole different meaning. He's been wrestling alligators for 17 years and has nine bites to prove it. PEACOCK: If I attempt to get behind the alligator, he will use his tail to help bring his head around quickly, defending his backside.

Hey. Hey.

ZARRELLA: But Peacock knows his days in pits are numbered.

PEACOCK: It's not the alligator that's endangered now, it's the gator wrestler.

ZARRELLA: Peacock says there are only a handful left in Florida. In the past, gator shows were income for Native Americans. Now tribes are into big business, like casinos. And there's not much job security putting your hand in an alligator's mouth.

PEACOCK: You'll see that this guy's really big. And he will definitely bite.

ZARRELLA: Peacock hopes to pass on his unique skill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the jaw's closed, you grab both jaws and have them tight.

ZARRELLA: Scott Cohen (ph) is just 13 years old, younger than the gators in the pit he wants to learn to wrestle. Right now he only handles the small ones, three-and-four-footers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always loved animals since I've been little.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Well, yes, it's one thing to love animals, but this is an alligator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think of it as the same thing like a dog. I just love them.

ZARRELLA (voice over): Scott hopes when he's grown a bit he can start tackling the big boys. For now, that's left to James.

PEACOCK: And once he's good and mad, alligator wrestlers do dumb stuff, things like putting our body in his mouth.


ZARRELLA: Now, that big guy's name is Lunge (ph). He's not in this pit that we're in, but what you can see in this pit here are a dozen alligators. And James Peacock wrestles all of them periodically.

They range from 15 to 30 years old. And they're from five to eight feet long.

And John, you know what they say, I've had alligator meat a couple times. And you know what it tastes like? It tastes just like... ROBERTS: Chicken.

CHETRY: Chicken.

ZARRELLA: Chicken.

ROBERTS: There you go.

John, thanks very much for that.

For those of you not booking trips to Florida right now, stick around, because James Peacock is going to give us a live gator demonstration coming up in our 8:00 hour.

That sound that the gator makes when his jaws slam shut like that...

CHETRY: Yes, you never want to hear it on your arm.

ROBERTS: No. That's the sound of you losing a hand if you just get distracted. My god.

CHETRY: Well, Lindsay Lohan, by the way, making news this morning, facing jail time for another DUI arrest.

That's her latest mug shot. The question now, has she driven her career off of a cliff?

We're going to talk to people who matter most, her young fans, and find out what the heck is going on with the young celebrities these days.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



CHETRY: Some appropriate music, to say the least, courtesy of Amy Winehouse.

Lindsay Lohan arrested for yet another DUI. And this comes just weeks after she indeed went to rehab and was then released. Remember we talked about the alcohol monitor that she had on her ankle? Well, how are her fans now reacting to the latest news?

We sent our Lola Ogunnaike out to talk to them. Here's what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to love her when I was, like, smaller, because then she wasn't, like, as crazy as she is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not good. It's not good. No one wants to be a fan of somebody that's been in jail and rehab. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She shouldn't be doing all these things, because she's young and she should do things that are appropriate.

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: And what do you think is appropriate for a girl her age? What should she be doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hanging out with her friends, doing clean stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would just tell her to, like -- to, like, calm down, just watch how you drink.

OGUNNAIKE: What do you suggest that she do instead of going out to the clubs and stuff?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give herself another hobby instead of doing -- taking drugs and having alcohol.

OGUNNAIKE: What advice would you give Lindsay Lohan right now?



CHETRY: From the mouths of babes, huh?

Well, Lola joins us now with more on that.

It's so cute. The one girl said, "When I was smaller." She's 9.

OGUNNAIKE: "When I was smaller." She's 9. So she's 5 when she was watching Lindsay Lohan, fell in love with her.

CHETRY: And, you know, we have followed Lindsay since she was this breakout star in "The Parent Trap," this adorable little fresh- faced girl. And it is sad to see this downward spiral, but especially for the younger fans who did look up to her.

OGUNNAIKE: And that's the girl that they fell in love with. They loved the redhead -- they loved the freckles, the fresh-faced girl. And now they're disappointed. And even worse than that, they don't want to see her movies. And if her built-in fan base is abandoning her, that's not a good sign.

CHETRY: The other thing, too, is that she's moved away from some of those Disney-type movies and she's doing darker stuff right now. But even that, her career could be affected in terms of whether or not producers will even consider her for roles.

OGUNNAIKE: That's the thing. She was on the set of "Georgia Rule," and the producer sent her a scathing letter saying, we don't buy this exhaustion rap, you're hanging out and you're partying too hard. Insurance companies wouldn't even support her latest film right now. She had to be dropped from "Poor Things" with Shirley MacLaine because they couldn't secure insurance. She's proving to be a liability. She has a reputation for being unprofessional, and being unpredictable, frankly. We don't know what's going to happen.

Could she end up behind the wheel of a car and hurt herself or hurt somebody?

CHETRY: Right.

OGUNNAIKE: That could cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they don't want to play around with that right now.

CHETRY: Now, you followed the celebrity travails for years. I mean, have we hit a new low? I feel like we hear every day there's something new when it comes to bad behavior and being out of control.

What's going on?

OGUNNAIKE: I don't think it's a new necessarily. We just have a lot of media now, and these girls and their actions and these young boys and their actions is being highly scrutinized. You can't get away with anything right now when you've got the paparazzi right there documenting your every move.

But look, you know, Drew Barrymore went through something similar. Robert Downey Jr. went through something similar. They managed to, you know, resurrect their careers and they're doing just fine.

Let's just hope she doesn't end up like River Phoenix, who was not able to resurrect his career.

CHETRY: Yes. Right. Not before it cost him his life.

Thank you so much, Lola.


CHETRY: Well, coming up in an hour, we're going to be talking with Howard Samuels. He's the executive director of the Wonderland Center. It's a rehab facility that Lindsay checked into back in February, one of the many different types of rehab centers that these celebrities check into. So we're going to talk to him about whether there is such a thing as recovery for some of these celebrities -- John.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that. Thanks.

Lower-than-expected earnings, a worsening housing slump, it was enough to turn things around on Wall Street in a big way yesterday.

Ali Velshi takes a look at where the markets go today. He's "Minding Your Business" coming up next.


CHETRY: The time now, three minutes before the top of the hour.

Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Glad to see you're not wearing an Optimus Prime mask today.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not. No, I'm just me. But I might be optimistic about the markets today.

Hold John back for a second while I tell you.

If trends are anything, the last six sessions in the markets have been one day up, one day down. Yesterday, as you know, was a down day. The Dow lost more than 226 points. And it was across the board. You can see the losses on the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 on a percentage basis were even bigger.

Now, what's going on?

Well, it's the middle of earnings season. And earnings are the report cards for America's businesses. And while some of them are missing their earnings targets, in many cases the earnings are just lower.

Earnings growth is lower than it has been in the last year. So that either means that Americans are spending less or costs of doing business are higher for these businesses.

Now, one bright spot yesterday was Neither of you use this Amazon Prime service. I love it.

You pay one flat fee every year and then you get two-day shipping on everything. Well, it has tripled their business, or at least part of what's tripled their business. Profits are up three times over the same three months of last year. Earnings...

CHETRY: How much do you order?

VELSHI: I do a lot of my work online.

And stuff to watch today, by the way, this week, is oil company profits. Apple will be out later today. Tomorrow Exxon Mobil will be out. We'll be covering that very closely. And we'll see how that iPhone did.

ROBERTS: How are the futures looking today?

VELSHI: Futures are looking up. So you've got two things. You've got the trend that says that today will be an up day after the last six days, and you actually have...

ROBERTS: So we missed the buying opportunity?

VELSHI: No, we'll get in fast. We'll let you off for a few minutes.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks. CHETRY: Thanks. Thanks, Ali.

ROBERTS: Hey, coming up "On Our Radar" in our next hour, how about an allergy-free peanut?

Three million people in this country suffer from allergies to peanuts, 100 deaths a year. I mean, the anaphylactic reaction, allergic reaction to this stuff, can be just devastating for many people.

CHETRY: And it's something we're hearing much more about now. In fact, I think my baby girl might have a peanut allergy, which -- you know, which is scary for parents out there.

ROBERTS: It is, absolutely.

CHETRY: You really have to be vigilant. So what if this was not a worry anymore? Well, scientists in North Carolina have developed what they believe is a process to make allergy-free peanuts.

Will it work? Will it change the taste? How is it going to work?

Well, we're going to talk much more about that.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.