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THE SITUATION ROOM

Rescue Efforts to Save Trapped Miners Continue; Government Cracks Down on Illegal Immigrant Workers

Aired August 8, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now --
Pounding down and closing in. In Utah, drills drive through solid rock to get to the six trapped miners. We'll tell you how close they are.

Also, a government warning. It's cracking down on illegal immigrant workers and says it may punish the people who hire them with criminal charges.

And American troops are dying in Iraq from weapons the U.S. says are from Iran. If so, what is the U.S. doing about it? Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Carol Costello. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now in Utah, drills are smashing through solid rock, punching a hole into a mountain, holding the fate of six miners. A mine official says they drilled within about 1,000 feet into where they believe those trapped miners are. Brian Todd joins me now. Brian, bring us up to date. What's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, right now those two drills are about the best hope for getting air, food, water to these miners, if they're still alive. The man who runs this facility says despite the frustrations so far, this operation's gone by the book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice over): The mine's owner says no mistakes have been made in the rescue effort. No time has been lost, he says, except for delays caused by seismic activity. The good news, officials say, the ground movement has significantly declined. Also, two drills, shown in new video, have progressed about 1/3 of the way to where the miners are thought to be trapped. One's boring a 2 1/2-inch hole for air.

BOB MURRAY, MINE OWNER: In two days, if they continue this pace, that hole will be down to where we want it to be.

TODD: About the same time as an 8 1/2-inch hole for food and water should get to them. But still no contact with the miners. And Bob Murray says rescuers actually digging toward them may take longer than those drills.

MURRAY: But I know from my mining experience and from the opinions of my management, it cannot be done in short of a week, and it may be more.

TODD: Another potential restraint, federal officials are using a large tracking system that veteran investigators say is too old and doesn't work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has not been successfully deployed in any setting.

TODD: Experts say the system has to be moved right above where the miners are by truck, a series of listening devices are laid down. A charge is set off. If the miners hear it, they're supposed to bang on the ceiling. Maybe the devices will pick them up, maybe not.

CELESTE MONFORTON, SAGO MINE DISASTER INVESTIGATOR: In the internal report, it describes something like capabilities, its practical capability's between 50 and 100 feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, that's more than 1,000 feet from where the miners are believed to be trapped. Other limitations to this system, it takes sometimes more than a day to set up. To use it, all drilling has to stop, rescuers have to stop digging. Everything has to be silent.

Carol.

COSTELLO: So Brian, let me ask you, if the system doesn't work that great, why are they using it?

TODD: Investigators say they don't fault them for using it. They say you have to throw every piece of equipment, technology at this as you can. But they say the rescuers and all the teams involved should always understand the system's limitations and be clear with the miners' families about what this can do and what it can't.

COSTELLO: Brian Todd thanks.

Of course, for the agonizing families and loved ones of the miners, the breakneck pace of the work still isn't fast enough. CNN's Ted Rowlands is in Huntington, Utah. Ted you've been talking to some of them. What have they been telling you?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can only imagine the nightmare they are going through. We got a glimpse into their world when we talked to a couple with a relative inside that mine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE CRATSENBURG, RELATIVE OF TRAPPED MINER: Cary's been in the mine a long time.

ROWLANDS: Lee Cratsenburg is talking about her cousin Cary, one of the six miners trapped 1600 under ground. They don't want to use his last name to protect his family, but they say he's married with four children. L. CRATENBURG: Cary's been a coal miner longer than I have been. I never seen Cary when he wasn't happy, just really friendly, totally devoted to his family and his wife. Just an all around good guy and a coal miner.

ROWLANDS: Lee and her husband Claire are retired coal miners themselves and very familiar with the heartbreak of a mine tragedy. In 1984, Lee was working at the Wilberg Mine when 27 miners were killed. What's happening now brings out difficult and familiar feelings, they say, for all coal miners.

L. CRATENBURG: Most coal miners, when they hear this news that there is six coal miners trapped, it's just like everything drops, the heart, everything, it's just instant, oh, god, no.

CLAIRE CRATENBURG, Everybody just hoping and trying to do everything they can. And most of the things they've tried have not worked out.

L. CRATENBURG: I think all of them working together will do OK coming out. I don't know, I hope so. Cary has experience, yes, but it's still different when you have coal miners trapped. Nobody knows what's going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: They surely are the salts of the earth, Carol, all these coal miners in this region, waiting patiently, the families especially, and going through an excruciating period waiting to find out if these six are alive or dead. Carol.

COSTELLO: Ted, I can't even imagine how they're feeling. Ted Rowlands reporting for us live from Utah today.

Joining us now Utah's Governor John Huntsman, Jr.. He is in Huntington as well. Thanks for joining us, Governor.

GOVERNOR JON HUNTSMAN (R) UTAH: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: We're hearing it's going to take two days to get an air hole drilled to these guys trapped in the mine, and you don't each know if that hole's going to be in the right place. Bring us up to date on the latest you're hearing.

HUNTSMAN: Well, that's precisely what we're hearing as the latest information. They started with about four different plans and they narrowed those down to that which will likely have the most successful outcome. They proceed with more of a horizontal approach. And of course, due to the vagaries and unpredictability of Mother Nature, they lost a lot of progress that had been made in terms of 300-plus feet. So now they're going in from the top, and that drilling effort has begun.

And I think, most importantly, the families here are banking hope on the fact that that's going to be able to punch into the cavern where the miners are located, that that will then become a life support system for them if they are there and still well.

COSTELLO: Governor, you said they had to start over again because some of the stuff caved into the mine again. It was because of seismic activity. Can you tell us what exactly that means?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it's hard for anyone to really define it at this point. Seismologist describes it in various ways. There will be an investigation, and those who are expert in this particular area will be able to put it all together. But essentially, a mine bump is precisely that. It's hard to know if that bump is generated internally within the mine, structurally, or whether it is in fact an actual seismic event tied to an earthquake. And these are some of the open- ended questions. And clearly, they're going to be addressed and answers in the aftermath of all of this in the investigation that is done.

COSTELLO: Governor, when we hear there is seismic activity, that kind of means to many of us that a lot of stuff is falling down inside of that mine. Is there any way to know how much has come down inside that mine?

HUNTSMAN: No. It's a very good question, and it has been asked, and I don't think anyone has an answer. Internally, how well off the mine is structurally, how many walls have collapsed, or if the cavern in which the miners are thought to be located is still structurally sound, these are all open questions, and even the experts who I've consulted with at this point really don't have an answer on that.

The hopeful message today really is that that drilling is taking place, they're making good progress, and the next 24 to 48 hours, it is thought that it will make contact, the drilling will be completed through to the cavern, and that there will be some indication then and there as to the well-being of the miners.

COSTELLO: Huntington is such a tight-knit community. I know everyone is feeling for those miners there. What are you telling people?

HUNTSMAN: This is an unbelievable community; I've got to tell you. The mining community is tight-knit. They've been doing this for generations in this part of our state. The community pulls together like I've never seen a community pull together. One can only imagine the fear of being trapped in a mine, and our heart goes out to, of course, those miners. And we hope that they are well. I guess the next worst place to be would be a family member waiting for information from or about those miners and their well-being.

And then the complexity of delivering that message in two languages, essentially. It's a challenging environment, but people are doing their very best, and I'm convinced as governor that everything that can be done is being done at this point.

COSTELLO: Governor, thank you for joining us this afternoon. I know you have a tough night ahead as well.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you. COSTELLO: Thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM

HUNTSMAN: It's a pleasure. Thank you for your concerns.

COSTELLO: Perhaps, without food, water, and in pitch-black darkness, if they are alive, that's what these miners could be up against, you heard the Governor. The miners have survived similar situations, however. In the 2006 Sago Mine tragedy in West Virginia, 12 miners died, but 1 did survive. Crews plucked Randal McCloy from peril as he was in the mine almost two days.

In 1968, crews rescued six miners after they were trapped in a West Virginia mine for ten days. And in France in 1906, almost 1,100 men died in an underground explosion and fire, but 14 people did survive after living under ground for 20 whole days.

Up ahead, every second counts in the race to save those six trapped miners. If they're alive, what might they be doing? I'll ask a mine safety official, Davitt McAteer, joining us.

Also, Iran says it's helping keep the peace in Iraq, but the U.S. says Iranian weapons are killing American troops and U.S. officials are trying some compelling new evidence out.

And for some it's sacred ground, but it's also attracting curious on-lookers. Some people are actually trying to view the scene of the Minneapolis Bridge disaster. What's being done about it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: The U.S. maintains elements in Iran are causing trouble in Iraq, but Iran says it's actually helping to keep the peace and security there. Among those hearing that message, Iraq's prime minister. He walked hand in hand today with Iran's president. It's Nouri al Maliki's second visit to Tehran in less than a year. This as the U.S. says American troops are dying by some weapons from Iran. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins me now. Barbara the U.S. is charting out what it considers new evidence. What is it?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the U.S. says it does have disturbing, new indicators of Iran's involvement in the killing of U.S. troops in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARR (voice over): The military now confirms, U.S. troops in Iraq were attacked 99 times in July by EFPs, explosively foreign projectiles the U.S. says were made in Iran and designed to destroy armored vehicles. That's an all-time high.

A top U.S. commander says Iran's secretive al Quds Force is behind the attacks and wants to make the security situation look bad before the September assessment, so Iran has its own surge under way.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, CMDR. MULTI NATIONAL CORPS, IRAQ: We see that by the continued support through weapons, money, and specifically, explosively foreign projectiles and indirect fire capability.

STARR: If Iranian weapons are killing U.S. troops, what's the U.S. doing about it?

ODIERNO: First of all, we are very clearly going after these Shia extremist cells that are operating in Baghdad. We continue to go after these EFP networks in Baghdad and all over the country.

STARR: There are defensive efforts. These new armored vehicles are being shipped to Iraq as fast as possible. More than 17,000 are needed, but right now there are just over 200 in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So Carol, why no U.S. military attack against Iran if they're doing all of this? Well, the U.S. says it still cannot prove a direct link to the government in Tehran, and that they just don't have any good targets to hit inside Iran, because all of this is really done through weapons smuggling and the financing through terrorist networks.

Carol.

COSTELLO: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, thanks.

Security is getting tighter at the I-35w Bridge in Minneapolis. Police say 16 people have already been arrested for trespassing and getting in the way of the investigation. The secretary of the navy visited the site, too, today. Navy divers are working painstakingly to find the missing. CNN's Susan Roesgen is in Minneapolis. Are they making progress?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very slow, Carol, very, very slow progress. No bodies recovered today, no vehicles brought up. And when you look at the bridge behind me, as close as you can get to it now, less than 25 yards away, you can see that those cars have not been touched. They are still part of the evidence. They are almost exactly where they fell a week ago tonight. And as you mentioned, the curious are out here. They want to get a look at the bridge. But 16 people have been arrested for trespassing.

CAPT. MIKE MARTIN, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE: The important part of maintaining that perimeter is that it allows the workers that are in there, first of all, the most important part is to maintain the dignity and the honor of this. This is a death scene. There are still human beings who we believe are there, and we don't believe that people should be coming in there and violating that dignity.

ROESGEN: Most people have been good about it, Carol. They just simply want to come to this location where I am and get a look. The activity continues to be under water with the FBI divers and the navy divers and the secretary of the navy were here to say that those navy divers will be here as long as they're needed.

Carol.

COSTELLO: I was just curious why they're using navy divers when this is really a civilian accident.

ROESGEN: Well, the secretary of the navy says that they have been used in circumstances like this in the past. Most recently in airplane crashes, like the crash of Pan Am 911 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The navy is specially trained in diving operations and this is something that the local officers and local sheriff's department couldn't handle. It's too big of a job.

COSTELLO: I understand that Susan Roesgen live in Minneapolis for us, thank you.

It is a mine holding the fate of six people. That mine of course in Utah is the focus of a massive recovery effort. Our Gary Tuchman was able to go up close to that mine. We'll tell you what he saw.

And how hot is it where you are? Europe like most of the country, it's sweltering. We'll tell you where the simmering heat is causing a lot of suffering.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Brianna Keilar has stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Brianna what do you have for us?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, three subway stations here in the Washington area, we told you just a short while ago they've been closed. Well, they're now reopened, that includes the Dupont Circle Station. This followed a suspicious package scare, but police checked out the package. They found no explosives. So good news, certainly, there for commuters trying to get home here in Washington.

And now in New York, New York fire officials are trying to figure out why a four-story building in Harlem partially collapsed today. It happened early this afternoon. It spilled brick and rubble onto the street, but thankfully, authorities say, the building was vacant and no one was hurt.

Meanwhile, two people are suing Con Edison for alleged negligence in connection with last month's steam pipe explosion in Manhattan. A tow truck driver and his passenger were burned when the truck got stuck in that huge hole that was caused when the pipe blew. The driver suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, and he's been in a medically induced coma since the accident.

And now a little further upstate New York, the farm where the famed Woodstock music festival was held in 1969, well, it's on the market. The 2,000-square-foot house once owned by Max Yasgar and the 103 acres that it sits on are listed for $8 million. He owned the nearby Alfalfa field where Woodstock happened. That three-day concert helped define the movement of the '60s. Also on the property, a 5,000- square foot farm house, a barn, and an 18-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan, which I think makes it a must-buy.

COSTELLO: I was going to say, that alone is worth $8 million! A draw. KEILAR: For sure.

COSTELLO: Thanks, Brianna.

Much of the country is in the grip of a blistering heat wave. In St. Louis, a high of 99 degrees projected for today. It is so hot, the St. Louis rams closed practices to the public and will decide daily about working the players outdoors. In Atlanta, a forecast of 99, as well. Georgia Power Company says it cranked out 17,547 megawatts to run air conditioners throughout the state yesterday. It is the highest one day total ever. And New York was expected to hit 93, but it was strong storms that stalled the big apple's subway system this morning, stranding thousands of commuters. And images of that damage caused by that severe weather in New York City pouring into CNN's I-report right now, let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. Abbi, show us what you're seeing.

TATTON: We're seeing what the storm that passed through very quickly left behind. Going to Bayridge, Brooklyn, Ken Zuidema sent in these images. The tree ripped up, taking with it the sidewalk, crushing cars. This is in the Bayridge area of Brooklyn, where we're getting multiple images coming in. We got other pictures as well; other trees uprooted, other cars couldn't escape the damage. He said this was shocking for the whole neighborhood because they're not used to storms like this passing through. It's not looking much better today for the New York City metro area. A heat advisory there today. As ever, CNN.com/ireport is where you send your images.

Carol.

COSTELLO: Scary images, indeed. Abbi Tatton thanks very much.

Desperate digging is going on in Utah. For the first time we'll take you up close to the mine where the miners are trapped.

And we're about an hour away from the launch of the space shuttle. Out space correspondent Miles O'Brien is at the launch site. He'll have a preview for you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, (INAUDIBLE) after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit off the north coast of Java. There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage on the Indonesian Island. Seismologists say the quake was too deep to cause a tsunami.

Five airlines and two aviation companies are suing the CIA and the FBI. They want a federal court to let them interview investigators regarding the 9/11 attacks. They hope to establish industry liability for the attacks.

And it took a couple of tries, but President Bush finally got a hold of new home run king Barry Bonds today. The White House says Mr. Bush called Bonds this afternoon to congratulate him for his record- breaking 756th home run. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Carol Costello. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now in Utah, dozens of crews are pounding down and closing in. They're trying to breakthrough walls of rock to get to those trapped miners. More now on that top story. Joining me now is CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman. He's at the site. And Gary, you got really close to the mine. What did you see?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, in the 60 hours since this began, we've been kept about a mile away, but today the owner of the mine, Bob Murray, said I will allow you to get right next to the mine so you can know what I'm talking about when you do these stories. What you see when you get in; you expect to see frenzied workers running around quickly. You know they're trying to save lives. It was very calm, very orderly. And what we saw is halfway up a canyon, the entrance to the mine, the entrance where the ten men went inside early Monday morning. Four of them escaped, but six remained 740 feet away from that entrance, just to the left.

And when we went in there, Bob Murray pointed out that to the left is where they are right now. That's where they're trying to get in, that's where they're trying to dig a tunnel. And he showed us the equipment they're using to do that, including something called rock prop, it is about a 100 pound metal bar that's used to prop up the opening so it doesn't collapse on the workers going in there. Because of the tremors the owner of the mine says they have had, they were concerned they would lose more miners inside. So they stopped the work. They're just resuming it again, but they say they're at least a week away from rescuing them if they're alive. We should know in two days if they're alive because of the small holes that are being bored, small holes those cameras, microphones, food and water will go down.

COSTELLO: Gary, I'm curious, did you feel the tremors?

TUCHMAN: No. And as a matter of fact, we talked to the U.S. Geological Surveyor. They said there were indeed 10 minor tremors, tremors that you would never ever be able to feel, they were so light. The owner of this mine says the tremors were aftershocks from an earthquake that he says caused the collapse. However, the Geological Survey says there is no evidence of that. They think the seismic readings came from the collapse of the mine. The aftershocks are from continuous movement of the earth, they believe, from the collapse of the mine.

COSTELLO: Gary Tuchman, live in Utah, thanks so much. All of the miners' loved ones say they want them out as soon as possible, of course, but one of them says he understands the delicate and dangerous work to recover them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: We had heard that the rescue efforts have been put off for a time again. As someone with friends trapped in the mine, what does it say to you? ROBBY ROBERTSON, RELATED TO MINER, FRIEND TO OTHERS: In my opinion, it says they're taking every precaution with the rescue teams. They don't want nobody else hurt, which is a good choice, in my opinion.

COSTELLO: A good choice, but your friends remain trapped in that mine. What goes through your mind in times like this?

ROBERTSON: Well, it's frustrating. I mean, there's nothing they can do. You don't want to hurt any more people. Of course, you want to get the people in there out, but you can't hurt anybody else.

COSTELLO: You're a miner, too. I mean, is there still hope?

ROBERTSON: I believe there is. I believe they're alive. There might be some injuries, but I think they're alive and I think sooner or later, they'll get to them.

COSTELLO: In 2004, you worked in that very mine. What was it like?

ROBERTSON: It was a good mine, I thought. I thought that it was a safe mine. I don't believe the management would let you go into an unsafe mine anywhere. They are liable for you, and they don't want you hurt.

COSTELLO: Well, there has been word that a form of very dangerous mining was going on. Do you believe that was happening?

ROBERTSON: You know, I would rather not discuss that. Like I said, I haven't been there since 2004. I'm not for sure what they're doing. I've been told they were retreat mining. And that's what it looks like to me. But I'm no expert. I don't know.

COSTELLO: Tell us about your friends in the mine and what you think they're going through now.

ROBERTSON: I'm sure they're experiencing a lot of fear. They're probably, you know, wondering, you know, how long it's going to be. But I'm sure they know that they're doing everything they can to get them out. This is a small community. People care about them. The rescue teams are people who actually work with them, care about them, you know. It's like their own family. The rescue teams are as good as you're going to find.

COSTELLO: As far as training for emergencies like this, when you were working in this mine in 2004, were you taught to use your oxygen mask and other safety equipment in case a collapse happened?

ROBERTSON: You know, that's kind of your own call. You are trained to use your oxygen mask. You kind of got to be careful when you use it. You only got an hour's worth of oxygen in it. So you know, you want to make sure that if you're going to put it on, you've got time to get out.

COSTELLO: So what exactly would you do? Would you use it for maybe two minutes and take it off? How does that work?

ROBERTSON: No, once you don your rescuer, it's going to go for the full hour. So if you put it on, you're just going to leave it on.

COSTELLO: The owner of the mine, Mr. Murray, has done several news conferences. Have you listened to them?

ROBERTSON: Yes.

COSTELLO: What do you think of him?

ROBERTSON: I don't even know the guy. You know, I don't know anything about him. He looks like he cares about the miners. He's trying everything he can. He's pretty proud of the company, it sounds like, which is great. But it looks like to me he cares about these miners and he wants them out.

COSTELLO: I just wondered what you're doing while you wait for any word of communication with your friends in the mine? I mean, what do you do? How do you handle it?

ROBERTSON: Well, it's not easy. You just -- and it's probably a lot easier for me to say. I go on, I work. I still have to go to work. But it's not easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: That was Robby Robertson. He has three friends trapped in that mine, talking to us earlier today. We want to talk more about what's happening and the recovery effort now and what might be happening with those miners if they're still alive. Joining me now is mine safety expert Davitt McAteer, he is in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Thanks again for joining us.

DAVITT MCATEER, MINE SAFETY EXPERT: Good afternoon.

COSTELLO: Gary Tuchman just reported that Bob Murray, the co- owner of that mine, took reporters close and pointed out the area where he thought those miners were. Is there any way that he can actually know precisely where they are in that mine?

MCATEER: Well, he would know from the dispatcher's communication with the miners during his shift where they last were located. Now, that could be changed, obviously, by the fact of the collapse, by the compression of the mine when the rock collapsed. They could have moved subsequent to that if they were alive through the collapse and after the collapse, and they might have moved either out toward the out by or further in by for further in by for better protection.

So I think the approach that's being used here is that the last known location, we'll try to get to that location and hope that that's where they are.

COSTELLO: And you say hope, because that's very important. The governor told me earlier they were trying to drill a two-inch hole vertically and had to stop -- actually, horizontally. Now they're trying to drill it vertically and that two-inch hole will provide those miners air. What if they drill in the wrong place?

MCATEER: That's quite possible. You know, the mine is a section of rooms and pillars, and some part of it's mined out and part of it remains as pillars. And there's locations in the panel. And so, when you're drilling, you're guessing, and they're using GPS satellite coordinates. And when you're guessing to try to get that drill to the exact location.

Typically, with experienced drillers, you are able to find and get it to the location that you want. In this instance, because of the change in the structure of the rock formations as a result of the seismic event, they may not be in the same location, and the pillars may be moved, or there may be rubble in an area that was cleared.

So this is a very difficult, challenging effort, and the chances of success are some, but they are not great.

COSTELLO: All right. Davitt McAteer, thanks for making us understand a little more, and we'll all continue to pray and to hope. Thank you.

MCATEER: Yes, ma'am.

COSTELLO: Poised on the pad. Seven astronauts, including teacher Astronaut Barbara Morgan, are fewer than 60 minutes away from being propelled into space. Miles O'Brien is on deck to describe their mission.

Also, the government is getting ready to come down hard on people who hire illegal immigrants. Mary Snow has the buzz. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: The crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour is less than an hour away from launch on a construction mission to the International Space Station. CNN technology correspondent Miles O'Brien has a ringside seat at the Kennedy Space Center.

Miles, what's happening now?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Well, ringside here is about three-and-a-half miles away, but that's as close as anybody gets, except for the astronauts and the emergency crew, which actually is supposed to watch the launch inside a tank.

Let me tell you what's going on right now, Carol. The crew is strapped in, seven-member crew. We're about an hour away from launch. Things start to pick up in the pace of the launch. Very soon, in about half hour's time, there will be the traditional poll, where the test director, the NASA test director will go through and ask each and every person if, in fact, this Space Shuttle Endeavour is ready to fly. It hasn't flown for nearly five years, coming out of a brand new maintenance and modification period, really been taken over stem to stern. Flew last in December of 2002 before the loss of Columbia.

Take a look at it out on the pad out there, and I'll just show you really quickly, we'll be watching as the countdown progresses for that little stantion (ph) at the top there to retract. Very soon, we'll see also the white room area, sort of the shuttle jetway to retract there. And then they'll go through a series of procedures, which ultimately will put control on board on the computers on the space shuttle.

So far, everything is good and the weather looks good here for launch at 6:36 Eastern time -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Is the telestrator down? I noticed you were bending down far, but we still got it, Miles. It was excellent.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: You know, we were hearing about astronauts and booze. I just wanted to know what was the latest on that story?

O'BRIEN: Well, the latest is this. NASA has taken that report, which came out a little more than a week ago, looking at the way NASA deals with mental health issues for astronauts. There was a paragraph in there that was really a bombshell. They took essentially some rumors and hearsay, put it in the report indicating there were occasions in the history of the shuttle program, now 26 years old, where astronauts actually violated the 12-hour rule from the last drink until a flight.

So far, they have looked through 10 years' worth of flights and they can't find any credence or any reason to believe that that has occurred. NASA will continue that investigation, all backward in time, and in September we're going to see congressional hearings on this matter. But basically, I've talked to a lot of astronauts.

They point out this, these astronauts, Carol, woke up this morning at 8:00 in the morning. Their launch time is at 6:36 p.m. That's a typical sequence for a pre-launch day. If they really were violating that 12-hour rule, they'd have to be drinking beer at breakfast, before the cameras. I don't think that would have happened.

COSTELLO: Gosh, I hope not. Miles O'Brien, thanks. We'll get back to you when lift-off begins. Thanks so much.

And a few tidbits about the space shuttle. Barbara Morgan is on board. She was Christa McAuliffe's backup for NASA's "Teacher in Space" program in 1986. You can see her here training in 1985 for the doomed Challenger mission. Now she is a full-fledged mission specialist. Morgan taught elementary school from 1974 to 1998, mostly in Idaho. That year, NASA invited Morgan back to train for the space program. She's now 55 years old. She's married. She's the mother of two sons. When Endeavour lifts off, Morgan will be seated on the lower deck in the middle, exactly where Christa McAuliffe sat 21 years ago.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Carol, thank you.

Tonight, the Space Shuttle Endeavour, scheduled blast-off from Cape Canaveral within the hour. It's Endeavour's first mission in nearly five years. We'll have live coverage for you, Miles O'Brien leading that coverage of the launch from Cape Canaveral.

Also tonight, the United States could soon give Mexico hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Mexican drug cartels, but some members of Congress say the money could be passed on to, you guessed it, Mexican drug cartels. We'll have that report.

And an astonishing new threat by communist China against this country. Well, the only one astonished, really, would be the members of the Bush administration. Beijing saying it would cripple our economy if we were to demand China give up its unfair trade policies. We'll have that report and some perspective on the issue.

We'll also be examining disturbing new evidence that radical Islamist terrorists are crossing our wide-open borders, posing as Hispanics entering this country. Congressman Ed Royce, the ranking member of the Terrorism Subcommittee, is among our guests here tonight.

We hope you'll join us for all of that, all the day's news and more at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: We'll be right there at the top of the hour. Thank you, Lou.

Up ahead on THE SITUATION ROOM, homeland security says it's getting tough and cracking down, it says it's going after illegal immigrant workers, and they're not the only ones.

Plus, a new photo of one of the trapped miners in Utah. And CNN's Abbi Tatton is coming up with the latest I-Report to go with it. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is putting illegal immigrants and the people who hire them on notice. He's pressing for stiffer enforcement and says the department is cracking down. CNN's Mary Snow joins us now.

Mary, what can workers and employers expect?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, in the next few days, the Department of Homeland Security says expect tough, new rules on illegal hiring. The DHS says after Congress didn't pass an immigration reform bill, it needs to take action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Protesters in Illinois say everyone has the right to earn a living. Not so, says the Department of Homeland Security, which is cracking down on illegal workers and the people who hire them.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have got to give employers the tools and we have got to give them the incentive to make sure that they're hiring people who are complying with the law and not hiring people who are here illegally.

SNOW: Just months after the Bush administration touted immigration reform, it's now stepping up enforcement against employers using illegal immigrants. The DHS plans to punish employers who don't fire workers using false Social Security numbers. There is fear it could affect the livelihood of some industries including farming, where it's estimated there are 1.6 million illegal workers.

LUAWANNA HALLSTROM, AGRICULTURAL COALITION FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM: We see this as a bomb. It's a horrendous piecemealing of what this country really needs, which is comprehensive immigration reform.

SNOW: That's something the homeland security secretary doesn't deny.

CHERTOFF: We also have to solve ultimately the problem of how you get enough workers in here on a temporary basis to make sure that our crops get picked and our hotel rooms get cleaned and our restaurants get waited on.

SNOW: But without that problem being solved for now, the DHS is turning to these stricter penalties in hopes of stemming employers from using illegal workers. The DHS says it could mean fines, perhaps criminal charges against those employers, but some say it could have a big effect on the economy.

JEANNE BUTTERFIELD, AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ASSOCIATION: We have 12 million undocumented people performing needed services, contributing, helping to build this great nation. And if employers can't continue to employ them because of these new regulations, we have a crisis of major proportions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now employers are sent no-match letters by the Social Security Administration, that indicates that a worker's name doesn't match with Social Security records -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We know how this goes. I mean, couldn't your -- can't people wind up on the no-match list if they're not illegal?

SNOW: Yes, that's true. Take for example, let's say, a woman gets married, forgets to tell Social Security that she changed her name. That could be a mismatch. And some critics say that's why this could be a big problem with this, because if employers are given a set amount of time to take action, it could be a big problem.

COSTELLO: Yes, takes a long time in any bureaucracy. Mary Snow, reporting live from New York.

Brianna Keilar monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Brianna, what do you have?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, China is hinting for the first time that it may use its economic strength to counter U.S. efforts to force a re-valuation of China's currency. If China were to bring their holdings to bear, it could trigger a crash in the already weak dollar. This move has been described in Chinese media as the country's economic nuclear option.

Meanwhile, the leaders of North and South Korea plan to meet face to face. The two governments say a summit is planned for August 28th through the 30th in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. And they say they hope to raise their relations to a "higher level." Their only other summit was held back in 2000.

And states and local governments are complaining about being squeezed out of planning for a new federal blueprint for national disaster response. The Washington Post reporting that state and local officials say their input was ignored by senior administration officials. One said he has never experienced a more polarized environment between state and federal government. The national plan is supposed to guide how all levels of government work together during emergencies.

And that judge here in Washington, D.C., who sued a dry cleaner for millions of dollars over a pair of pants, may be forced to hang up his robe. The commission that oversees judges sent Roy Pearson a letter saying he may not be reappointed. It says judges have to use good judgment 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Pearson, you'll recall, said the cleaners lost his pants, so he sued for $54 million in damages.

And of course, Carol, he did lose that fight.

COSTELLO: Yes. He may lose more than a pair of pants now.

KEILAR: Exactly.

COSTELLO: Brianna Keilar, thanks.

Up ahead, a war of words over the process of letting Cubans into the United States. One Cuban official blasting American officials as liars, just blocks away from the White House. You'll hear just what this is all about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow. In Baghdad, an Iraqi man weeps at a Muslim shrine. He's among thousands marching as part of a Shiite pilgrimage.

In Penn Station in New York, a man tries to squeeze onto a tightly packed train. Heavy rains flooded subway tracks overnight and of course, as you know, some of the trains were shut down.

In South Dakota, why did the buffalo cross the road? Not sure, but bikers watch and wait for it to get to the other side.

And at the Indiana State Fair, B.J. Stokes (ph) bites into a deep-fried Reese's cup cooked in oil with no transfat. That's this hour's "Hot Shots," picture often worth a thousand words.

We're just now getting in another new image from CNN's I-Report of one of those trapped miners. Let's go back to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, this is a more recent photo of this miner, right?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It is, Carol. Manuel Sanchez, this more recent photo to the one that we showed you earlier, just sent in to CNN through I-Report from his daughter Aydaliz. Earlier on, we had a photo that we showed on the show. Aydaliz says this is more recent and this is the one that she wants CNN to be showing. And we have just talked to her, Aydaliz telling us about her father, Manuel Sanchez, 42 years old. She said his job in the mine was to cut down walls. Her father is a U.S. citizen. He moved to the United States from Mexico 22 years ago. He has been a coal miner for more than 15 years. Manuel Sanchez, one of those six miners currently trapped in that mine.

COSTELLO: And we will continue to use that photo. Thanks so much, Abbi.

The U.S. and Cuba are coming to verbal blows again. It started as an argument over a visa deal and it grew from there. CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee joins us now with the latest.

Zain, who's saying what to whom?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, both the U.S. and Cuba are saying it's your fault.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAGOBERTO RODRIGUEZ, CHIEF OF CUBAN INTEREST SECTION: There are lying, and they are lying on purpose.

VERJEE (voice-over): Cuba blasts the U.S. at a rare press conference in Washington, D.C., blocks from the White House.

The U.S. fires back.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: One of the things they could do is stop interfering.

VERJEE: The latest war of words between the U.S. and Cuba is about a visa deal. The U.S. gives permission for 20,000 Cubans to come to the U.S. each year, to prevent more illegal immigration. Right now, about half of the visas have been approved. The visa decisions are made in Cuba by U.S. officials, but the U.S. office there needs equipment to make it happen, and the State Department says Cuba won't let it in.

CASEY: Vital equipment and supplies, personnel needed to repair some of the things in our interest section have been blocked.

VERJEE: Cuba says everything the U.S. needs has been let in. The Cuban government says more than 80 tons of supplies came through in 2006, most of which was not for diplomatic work. They accuse the U.S. of sneaking in materials in containers like radios, fax machines, expensive clothes, and chocolate, intended, they say, to support and woo Cuban dissidents.

RODRIGUEZ: It was used for the promotion of subversive activities against our country.

VERJEE: The U.S. denies all that. Cuba says if all of the visas are not approved, the U.S. will suffer because it's going to have more Cubans making a run for Miami. But the State Department says it's the Cuban people who suffer because of the misery and instability caused by the Cuban government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: And, Carol, analysts say the U.S. openly supports dissident forces in Cuba, so it's really not surprising that Cuba would look closely and take their time over these containers -- Carol.

COSTELLO: It is just hard to believe that they would feel chocolates would lure people here.

VERJEE: Well, that was one of the things in the containers. You know, there are a lot of other equipment, like radios and fax machines, like I said. But you know, the question though really is -- a lot of people are asking, Carol, is whether or not they are going to be able to fill the minimum of 20,000 visas by the end of the government fiscal year. That is September 30th. So far, from many U.S. officials that I have talked to, they have said that that is unlikely.

COSTELLO: Zain Verjee, thanks so much.

We're here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 Eastern, and we're back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, just one hour from now. Until then, I'm Carol Costello in THE SITUATION ROOM. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.

DOBBS: Carol, thank you.

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