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Spying on America; Al Qaeda Country: Hunting Insurgents in Diyala; Assault in Afghanistan; Gulf Coast Braces for Tropical Storm Erin

Aired August 15, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, spying on America. U.S. satellites hone in on us. Will it tighten security or threatening your privacy?
Also tonight, severe storm watch. The Texas Gulf Coast gets a lashing, while a powerful hurricane in the making churns in the Atlantic. We'll tell you who is at risk.

And collateral damage. Chinese workers fear economic ruin and punishment after their boss kills himself over hazardous toys.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

American spy satellites may be about to start spying on Americans. They usually keep tabs on terrorists overseas or track military movements by U.S. rivals, but now a stunning new twist in the domestic surveillance controversy.

Here's our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Miles, homeland security officials say that Americans should be asking why it took so long for these satellites to be used to protect the homeland, but civil liberties advocates are worried about possible misuse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice over): First, there were eyes on the street, and now, there are eyes in the skies. The director of National Intelligence has given the go-ahead for the nation's spy satellites to be used regularly by U.S. civilian agencies and law enforcement.

CHARLIE ALLEN, DHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY: This is a development all Americans should have great pride in because it expands and uses national technical system which we've built for tens of billions of dollars over many decades.

ARENA: Spy satellites have primarily been used overseas to monitor things like war zones and terror training camps. They've also been used domestically, but sparingly during events including Super Bowl games, presidential inaugurals and hurricanes. Homeland security officials say the satellites will now be used to protect borders and critical infrastructure.

ALLEN: Which includes ports. And looking at potential vulnerabilities and threats, as well as consequences of attacks.

ARENA: Next in line, law enforcement agencies, which are expected to start using them next year. While they can provide crucial high-resolution images, there are limits to what these satellites can do. They can't see faces and they can't listen. At least that's what the government claims.

But privacy groups worry that because there's so much we don't know about their capabilities, they could be misused and we wouldn't even know it.

JIM DEMPSEY, CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY & TECHNOLOGY: The question always comes down to, what are the standards, are there checks and balances, and is this a power that we would trust the executive branch to use without any outside scrutiny or oversight or control?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: Homeland security officials insist that they are subject to a great amount of oversight and review, but in many ways, this is just one more case of the government figuring out as it goes in the war on terror -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Kelli.

It's now the deadliest attack on civilians since the start of the Iraq war. At least 500 dead in last night's bombings aimed at members of a religious minority in northern Iraq. The U.S. commander in the region is calling it an act of ethnic cleansing. Almost genocide. At least four vehicle bombs were used in the attacks on villages populated by members of the ancient Yazidi sect. They U.S. military is blaming Al Qaeda in Iraq.

And now let's travel to the heart of al Qaeda country in Iraq, a rural area northeast of Baghdad where insurgents run things their way. Now U.S. troops are trying to take it back, and CNN's Michael Ware has been out on patrol with them.

Here's his exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A patrol through steamy palm groves, like Vietnam, but this is the Diyala River Valley, the DRV in central Iraq, lush farmland laced with small villages and an American battleground against al Qaeda.

While the surge in the Iraqi capital dominates public attention, the DRV is at the heart of al Qaeda's military operations. And in recent months, U.S. forces have been battling to take this valley. Flooding it with paratroopers, much of the fight for the DRV now rests with this man, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Poppas of the 573rd Airborne Squadron. LT. COL. ANDREW POPPAS, U.S. ARMY: You've got some of the blacklist guys that they've moved out to.

WARE: Of his 300-plus men, 21 have been killed. Most here in the valley.

POPPAS: There had not been a coalition force in that region for some time.

WARE: Without enough U.S. troops in Iraq, the valley was long neglected, allowing al Qaeda to flourish.

POPPAS: The intel we found is they did have Sharia courts. They had a hierarchy both in terms of judicial, the political. They had a police force that maintained. They had transportation units. They had a military wing.

WARE: Lingering in the colonel's mind, this scene from an al Qaeda video seized in a raid.

POPPAS: The villagers themselves are all gathered to the center. Elements come forward. They're masked.

An al Qaeda element chants out. He goes through the list of crimes of this individual. It is a brutal murder. They're beheaded in front of public, and the population, they are all right there, children on bicycles, families, chanting along.

WARE: To end the executions and oust al Qaeda, the paratroopers launch a series of air assaults. It's about 1:00 a.m. this night.

Artillery fire paves the way, cutting off any enemy escape, relentless as the soldiers move among families. Searching for weapons and fighter fighters, they mark each person with a number in a bid to sift villagers from insurgents, and they detain suspects on a blacklist.

As the operation unfolds, the canons keep their beat through the night. With the daylight, the hunt continues as the Iraqi summer almost becomes unbearable, the temperature rising to more than 120 degrees, so intense the searchers must rest.

The search resumes with orders to enter a sweltering palm grove. The foliage intensifying the heat so much, a number of paratroopers are treated for heat stress

In 48 hours, five suspected insurgents here killed, 10 captured, and two booby-trapped houses destroyed. It's an end to one more operation on just one of many Iraqi battlefields. Beyond the surge for Baghdad, America's true success against al Qaeda will be measured here in places like the DRV.

Michael Ware, CNN, the Diyala River Valley.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: A fierce battle is under way in Afghanistan, meanwhile, in the rugged region where Osama bin Laden was once thought to be cornered. This time, U.S. forces are targeting Tora Bora to rout out al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Here's our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Miles, you remember Tora Bora, the pictures in late 2001 of U.S. aerial bomb attacks trying to flush out Osama bin Laden. By all accounts, he escaped from there and ran back across the border into Pakistan.

Well, now U.S. and Afghan troops are back in those mountains. A major air and ground assault under way trying to flush out, once again, hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters the U.S. says are holed up in those mountains in hardened positions.

They've been assembling there, by all accounts, for the last several days. The U.S. not sure what they're all up to, but now has launched that assault against them.

Still, there is a bit of a squeeze play going on because just on the other side of the border, the Pakistani military also moving against al Qaeda and Taliban hideouts. Everybody trying to get to these insurgents while they're in place, making sure they don't escape once again -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Barbara.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty now, joining us from New York with "The Cafferty File".

Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, on his way out the door, soon to be former presidential adviser Karl Rove is wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to the remainder of the Bush presidency and the future of the Republican Party. Despite the president's low approval numbers, the country's frustration with the wars, and Republicans' loss in the midterm elections, Rove is optimistic.

He tells "The Politico" he believes history will eventually judge Mr. Bush kindly, although he acknowledges that could take a while. According to Rove, the president knows this too and has told him, "History will get it right and we'll both be dead."

Rove believes there's a lot this administration can still accomplish in the 16 months that President Bush has left. He thinks they'll be able to sustain support for the surge in Iraq and advance the democracy agenda abroad.

On the home front, he is hopeful about re-authorizing No Child Left Behind, passing energy proposals, preserving President Bush's tax cuts, and getting closer to a balanced budget, among other things. And when it comes to the Democrat-controlled Congress, Rove says the last election was very close and the Democratic leadership has misread the results.

So here's the question: Karl Rove is optimistic about the future of the Republican Party and the remainder of Bush's presidency. Should he be?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: I suspect you'll get some very interesting e-mails on this one.

CAFFERTY: This one should work out all right. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Yes. All right. Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Tropical Storm Erin targets Texas. We'll take you live to Corpus Christi, where they're bracing for high winds and high water.

Plus, toy recall suicide. We'll take you to the factory where tainted toys lead to a CEO's death.

And tens of thousands of hard-core Elvis fans gather in Memphis to mark the 30th anniversary of his death. Larry King is there getting ready to interview Priscilla Presley.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Tropical Storm Erin is chugging toward the Texas coast. Oil companies have evacuated off-shore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, while people on shore get ready.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is in Corpus Christi.

Susan, it definitely looks like the wind is picking up there.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it is, Miles. It's a great day if you are a sailor before the storm comes in.

You know, out here at the marina, right here on the Gulf of Mexico, most people have tied up their boats tonight in advance of Tropical Storm Erin, but we found one sailor who is not tying up his boat. He is taking his boat out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CORLEY, CORPUS CHRISTI SAILOR: You know, for us, it's just another day out here. And, you know, we get like -- the other day we had a squall come through, and it was 30-knot winds there, and, you know, this is not much more than that. So we're not too worried about it. And just make sure the boat is tied off, and we'll just have a good old time, wait it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROESGEN: And this is where Chris Corley will bring his 29-foot sloop back after tonight's race. Every Wednesday here, Miles, in Corpus Christi they always have a race on the water, and they were not going to ignore it tonight.

And really, they say the last major hurricane here in Corpus Christi was in 1970, Hurricane Celia. They haven't had anything really threatening since then, and they really don't expect that much from Tropical Storm Erin. But if there is something, we will be here watching -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: And so the regatta goes on. You should have hopped on.

ROESGEN: Hey, I might after this -- after talking to you, I'll go out there and see if they'll pick me up.

O'BRIEN: All right. See you later.

Susan Roesgen watching things for us there in Corpus Christi.

The third hole is drilled. A fourth is in the works. And six coal miners are still trapped deep below the surface in Utah. While the work goes on, the hope begins to fade. Nine days now into that ordeal.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the mountain.

Brian, how are the rescuers doing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, some rescuers are concerned about their safety, but most of them, including the cousin of a trapped miner, are burrowing ahead, despite some new problems.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): Digging, drilling, all at a faster pace now, but never fast enough.

BODIE ALLRED, SAFETY DIRECTOR, CRANDALL CANYON MINE: After that seismic activity, it is -- it is definitely something I've never seen before, and it's probably the worst conditions I've seen.

TODD: Mine officials say a bump in the main tunnel damaged the huge machine that pulls rubble out, but operations soon resumed. A third drill hole has reached a chamber where the six trapped men might have gone for air, but a microphone being lowered into it hit a snag and didn't reach the chamber. They'll try again, and the mine owner says there's still reason to hope.

BOB MURRAY, CEO & PRESIDENT, MURRAY ENERGY CORP.: Depending on the air in the specific areas of the mine and where these miners might have gone, there is plenty of void space to hold the air to keep them alive for weeks. TODD: The safety director for the mine, whose own cousin is among the missing, got emotional when talking about this risky mission.

ALLRED: I know these men well. I know they would not appreciate us taking any chances, and they know -- they know damn well that we're doing what we can do to get to them, and we're going to get there.

TODD: Twelve rescued miners have asked to be reassigned because they have safety concerns.

ALLRED: The men -- there have been some men personally come right to me and talk to me about this.

MURRAY: But again, I corrected that yesterday. No one ever said to us that they didn't feel safe.

TODD: One rescuer's wife tells us her husband is preoccupied.

MARQUITA COX, WIFE OF RESCUE MINER: Oh, he's happy to see us. He is excited to see the kids, to -- but his mind, even though he is home, I think is up where it needs to be. He is thinking about what's going on at the mine, things like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Despite the recent setbacks, those families and the rescuers themselves are at least outwardly remaining very stoic. When can asked if he believes that his cousin and other trapped miners are still alive, Bodie Allred said emphatically, "Yes, I do. They're very tough men."

Miles.

O'BRIEN: Brian, do they have enough help there? And if not, are they getting it?

TODD: They are getting more help. The head of the mine company, Bob Murray, said today that he has brought in 14 more of his top managers from around the country.

He told me last night he was bringing in more heavy equipment and more rescuers. He says he has got about 200 rescuers on the scene now. Whether that's going to be enough to get there soon, we're not sure. It still could be several days away before they reach these men.

O'BRIEN: Brian Todd in Huntington.

Thank you very much.

Thousands of workers may lose everything after a recall of tainted toys leads a Chinese factory owner to take his own life.

We'll take you behind the scenes there. An exclusive report.

Fatal crashes and a lot of close calls on America's runways. The FAA takes steps to do something about it.

Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

Thousands of Chinese workers face an uncertain future after a recall of tainted toys leads to the suicide of their factory owner.

John Vause takes us behind the scenes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No one is working at the Shai Mung (ph) toy factory anymore. These employees are waiting for details about a memorial service for their old boss, Zhang Shuhong. Authorities said he killed himself over the weekend.

"After I heard the news, I cried. Everyone cried. It was a shock. I couldn't eat," this man told me.

"He made sure we were all paid before he died," says another.

But many of the toys made here for the U.S. giant Mattel were coated in lead paint. And earlier this month, more than a million were recalled.

Police say Zhang's body was found hanging in his warehouse a day after the Chinese government suspended his company's export license. But the real culprit in all of this, according to these employees, is not Zhang, but his best friend, a man named Leang (ph), who supplied the lead paint for the toys. His factory is part of the same complex.

"After the media coverage he just disappeared with his family," this woman says.

"He's destroyed the future for thousands of families," says this man.

Analysts say it's not unusual for subcontractors to secretly take shortcuts, even if they are your best friend.

JIANG WENRAN, ANALYST: They're not aware of the very highly cautious nature of the Western consumers.

VAUSE: Workers have now started a collection for their boss's family. While security guards and heavy gates now keep out those who are not welcome, this is the scene of another product scare China could well do without.

(on camera): Zhang's suicide, it seems, has taken many here by surprise. According to state media, he happily chatted with employees last weekend, before taking his own life. And in so doing, he's perhaps shown the high stakes for businessmen here who have been tainted by scandal and are facing economic ruin and the possibility of being severely punished by the Chinese government.

John Vause, CNN, Foshan, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: And a day after that big recall of Chinese-made toys, China is planning a damage control mission. The country says it will send delegations to the U.S. in the coming weeks to discuss food and product safety.

Lots to talk about there.

What turns an ordinary person into a terrorist? A new report explains how anger, extremism and violence are homegrown right here in the U.S.

And danger on the runway. The FAA decides to crack down after a terrifying series of near collisions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: You're in the situation room.

Happening right now, Houston, we have a problem. Spacewalker Rick Mastracchio had to return to the space station early after discovering a small hole in his glove. NASA says it was just a precaution. He and his spacewalking partner Clay Anderson had gotten most of their work done already.

A new study bolsters at least one aspect of the so-called abortion pill. Researchers found that women who used the pill, rather than the more common surgical procedure, appear to be at no greater risk of tubal pregnancy or miscarriages later on.

And the United Nations' aid agency says North Korea reports up to 300,000 people are homeless from some massive flooding. The communist North Korea, which has suffered from chronic food shortages, warns of poor harvest this year because of heavy rain.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. .

Since the 9/11 attacks, many have wondered when, not if, another wave of terror might strike our shores. But what about who?

The enemy, as it turns out, may lie within our borders. At least that's what the police in New York are saying.

CNN's Carol Costello with more on their report.

Carol, what does it tell us?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very interesting report, Miles. The NYPD says it answers that important question, who do we fight, terrorists from overseas or terrorists at home? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): The events of September 11th did not fit a pattern. That's the conclusion of a study by the New York Police Department of the roots of terror in the United States and in other Western countries.

Since 9/11, terrorists going after Western targets have been local, living in the communities they attack. They're inspired by al Qaeda, but not controlled by the group. And...

COMM. RAYMOND KELLY, NY POLICE: They don't stand out. In a phrase, they are unremarkable.

COSTELLO: NYPD's group of analysts looked at a handful of recent terror plots and attacks like the deadly bombing at the Madrid train system in 2004 and the plot to blow up a New York subway station later that year and the sleeper cell unearthed in Lackawanna, New York, where six men admitted providing material support to al Qaeda. In each case, ordinary people became terrorists through a four-stage process, eventually adopting an ideology of militant Muslim extremism.

KELLY: At some point, through exposure to various factors and Jihadi-Salafi ideology, they become motivated to carry out acts of terrorism.

MITCHELL SILBER, NYPD REPORT CO-AUTHOR: Anyone who does go through all of these different phases, we believe, has a high likelihood of being involved in a terrorist act.

COSTELLO: Those most prone to becoming homegrown terrorists are young Muslim men, and that is upsetting one Arab-American group which calls the NYPD report un-American.

KAREEM SHORA, AMERICAN-ARAB ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE: Hookah lounges, cab driver hangouts, non-governmental organizations, student groups, they just seem to paint everything, the entire community, as a threat.

COSTELLO: But the NYPD says the report is not stereotyping.

KELLY: I don't see it as doing that at all. I see it as, again, an investigative tool.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Arab-American groups and scholars also point to good news in this report. American-Muslims are more resistant to radical messages that influence would-be terrorists living in Europe. The report says European Muslims are often less integrated socially and economically, and to their adopted western homelands, and that's a huge part of the reason why.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, that's New York. What's the takeaway for other jurisdictions? COSTELLO: As far as the Department of Homeland, here is the answer they gave me. The Department of Homeland Security told me they appreciate local efforts to understand home grown terror since it's local officials who are more likely than the federal government to detect early signs of radicalization. Home grown terrorism, they say, has been a concern of DHS and the FBI for several years and it has worked to make sure it understands the threat as best it can. There you have the bureaucratic answer.

O'BRIEN: Boy, that was bureaucratic. Thank you, Carol.

The Bush Administration is looking for a new way to target Iran, and it has the revolutionary guard in its sights. Tough new sanctions could lie ahead.

Here's our state department correspondent Zain Verjee.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Miles, the U.S. is turning up the heat on Iran and looks set to call a powerful group within the government, terrorists.

For the first time the U.S. is taking aim at the military arm of a sovereign country. State department officials say the U.S. is planning to declare the powerful Iranian revolutionary guard core a terrorist group.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This is an entity within the Iranian government that is engaged in a number of different activities.

VERJEE: The U.S. believes Iran is arming Shia militias in Iraq, backing the Taliban in Afghanistan, and supporting extremist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. Just last week President Bush warned Iran the U.S. was about to act, and now it might.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: When you can't play in a non-constructive role, there's a price to play.

VERJEE: That could be cutting the financial lifeblood of the guard, going after their bank accounts, as well as businesses that deal with the guard inside and outside Iran.

MCCORMACK: You can make it much more difficult and raise the cost for them to engage in these types of activities.

VERJEE: But the move could backfire on the U.S.

RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It underlines the possibility of diplomacy, but it makes military confrontation more, not less likely.

VERJEE: The commander of the guards core also warns Iran has missiles that can sink ships in the Persian Gulf, a not so subtle message to U.S. warships stationed there. Iran calls the threat psychological propaganda warfare. The guard is like a state within a state. It has its own army, navy, air force, and special ops. It also runs businesses like oil, transport, and cell phones in run. The U.S. charges some of its companies are used as fronts to get nuclear materials for a bomb.

It's not clear when the terrorists' designation would actually happen. The debate right now, though, within the administration is whether they should target the entire group or just part of it. Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Zain.

When Islamic militants took power in Iran three decades ago they didn't trust the existing army. They created their own force, the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, they called it. The guards got their own intelligence wing along with air, naval and ground forces.

Look at these military exercises earlier this year. That's not the regular army. That's the revolutionary guard. Iran's president Ahmadinejad joined the revolutionary guard back in 1986. If the Bush Administration follows through with its plan, this would be the first time official armed units on a sovereign state are added to the list of outlaw terror groups.

Turning to an exclusive just into us. The Pentagon is reporting an alarming rise in suicides among troops. Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what do we know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Miles, very disturbing and tragic news. The U.S. army will report tomorrow, CNN has learned, a disturbing rise in army suicides for the year 2006. Let's bring everybody up-to-date on the numbers. The army will say tomorrow that last year 101 soldiers committed suicide. That's a rate of about 17.3 per hundred thousand. That is compared to 2005, 88 suicides; 2004, 67; 2003, 79. But the key figure to look at there, Miles, is 17.3 versus 12.8. They do it per hundred thousand of course, to even out the year to year differences in the size of the army. A very significant increase in 2006 so far for 2007, so far this year as of June, 44 suicides. The army tragically reports that the majority of the suicides, of course, are young male soldiers ages 17 to 24. Most of them are members of the U.S. infantry with ready access to firearms which in most cases is how they do commit suicide. The army says it's doing everything it can to tell commanders about suicide awareness and trying to improve suicide awareness and prevention programs.

All of this will be made public tomorrow, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Barbara, do we know how many of these are occurring in Iraq or Afghanistan?

STARR: We do have those figures, Miles, for the last couple of years. In 2006, of the hundred suicides or so 30 were deployed the year before, 25 deployed in 2004, 13 deployed. Now, there is some variation year to year in the overall size of the army, the overall size of the number of people deployed, which is, again, why they go back to this per hundred thousand, but what we are seeing in 2006, by all measures, a very significant increase, tragically, in the number of young troops committing suicide, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr, exclusive report from the Pentagon. Thank you very much. You'll see the rest of it tomorrow.

A rash of scary runway accidents at some of the nation's busiest airports. What's being done about it? We'll tell you what it is, and we'll tell you why some say it's missing the mark.

Plus, thousands of Elvis Presley fans are braving the sweltering heat in Memphis for the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. Larry King is there trying to stay cool. And he'll give us a preview of a special hour he will be hosting tonight.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are grappling with a rash of near collusions at some of the nation's busiest airports. CNN's Jessica Yellin is here. What's the FAA doing about all of this?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Miles, you know we've been hearing a lot about these near collisions at the nation's airport where planes have come minutes or even seconds away from crashing into one another as they're taking off or landing.

Today, the FAA sat down with leaders in the airline industry to work out new rules to help insure that those near misses don't turn into disasters.

In this near collision, a United Airlines flight was cleared for takeoff and came within 300 feet of crashing into a cargo plane that had just landed. The FAA blamed an air traffic controller. Last year 49 people died in this crash at a Kentucky airport after pilots took off on the wrong runway. According to the FAA, this year commercial planes have been involved in eight serious runway near collisions, and in the last few weeks planes have nearly crashed on runways in Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, and New York. Now, the FAA intends to do something about it.

ROBERT STURGELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FAA: Even though we have made things safer, we want to do more, and we want to do it quickly.

YELLIN: Among the improvements they agreed to make, add brighter paint to the runways so pilots can see their taxi and landing paths better. Update taxiing guidelines so air traffic controllers can give pilots more precise directions to their runway. And begin safety reviews of signs and procedures at the airports with the most near misses. But is this enough? Air traffic controllers say they're not stout at high enough levels to handle the 62 million takeoffs and landings every year. DALE WRIGHT, NATL. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS: There are facilities out there that don't have enough controllers in them. They're working short-staffed.

YELLIN: Some of these changes could lead to more delays at airports but the FAA is confident that 750 million travelers agree that safety has to be their first concern.

O'BRIEN: You know there are some technological solutions here. In my airplane, you had the ability to with GPS see your airplane overlaid over the map of the airport. It really helps out. Maybe they need more of that.

YELLIN: Well they talked about improving technology but they said that's one of their long-term improvements, and today they were really focused on these immediate short-term fixes, and they did not mention this kind of GPS you're talking about.

O'BRIEN: All right. Jessica Yellin, thank you very much.

Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on?

COSTELLO: A couple of things, Miles. Sad news from Memphis where sweltering heat is being blamed for the death of a 67-year-old woman who had come to the city for an Elvis Presley celebration. Temperatures in Memphis have topped 100 degrees for six straight days. The heat wave is blamed for at least seven deaths.

Former NBA referee Tom Donaghy is admitting to betting on games he officiated and supplying inside information to gamblers. He pleaded guilty to two related felony charges in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn today. He says he suffers from a gambling addiction and depression. NBA commissioner David Stern says Donaghy's actions were isolated and do not involve other NBA officials.

This video is at the center of a case against a flight attendant removed from a plane and arrested last week for allegedly being drunk. A judge in Lexington, Kentucky, delayed a hearing in the case so that defense attorneys could review this tape and other evidence. Sarah Mills admits to drinking the night before reporting for work aboard a Delta connection flight from Lexington to Atlanta. Tests showed her blood alcohol level was 0.3 percent, and that is well below the legal limit for driving. We'll keep you posted.

Travelocity.com is now the first online travel company to be fined by federal regulators for booking trips between the United States and Cuba. The company has agreed to pay more than $180,000 for violating the 45-year-old travel embargo on Cuba. Regulators say the company booked flights, hotel reservations, and other travel reservations more than 1500 times before 1998 and 2004. They say, Miles, it was a technical glitch.

O'BRIEN: That's what I say often when I make a mistake. All right. Thank you, Carol Costello. We're keeping an eye on some severe weather in Southeast Asia, a massive typhoon with wind gusts up to 190 miles per hour heading toward Taiwan. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here with I- reports with the typhoon's effects. Tell us what kind of damage it's causing.

ABBI TATTON, INTERNET REPORTER: Well, it's just moved past the Philippines, and in the area around the capital Manila up to six feet of floodwater. Take a look at these pictures from Chip Wilkins sent into CNN through I-report. He has been wading through that floodwater today a couple of miles outside of the capital. He says it's the worst flooding he has seen there. He described the storm as a monster, dumping two and a half hours worth of monsoon rains in and around the city. He says people have been swimming to get from A to B or constructing boats out of Styrofoam. Another picture here from Jose. He had a good vantage point on top of this building. He says it's the worst flooding he has seen in this area for seven years. It caused an unofficial holiday, he says, for schools and businesses who were forced to close. Next stop for this typhoon looks like Taiwan. The effects to be felt there in about 24 hours.

Miles.

Abbi Tatton with some good I-reports. Thank you very much. Keep those coming folks.

Tens of thousands of the most dedicated Elvis Presley fans are in Memphis to mark the 30th anniversary of his death. Larry King is also there. He will tell us what's in store for tonight's special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE."

Plus, the cold shoulder. Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has a frosty exchange. Look at the snowman. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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O'BRIEN: Hard to believe it's been 30 years since Elvis left the building for the last time. In Memphis they're lining up by the thousands in triple digit heat to remember the king.

Speaking of kings, we have our own king here. CNN's Larry King. He is at Graceland tonight for a special hour with Priscilla Presley.

Larry, this is going to be an exciting program. Tell us about it.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's going to be quite a night, Miles. First, this is incredible. There will be thousands and thousands of people here in observance of the 30th anniversary of the passing of Elvis. There's going to be a vigil tonight. We're going take you -- I'm going to sit with Priscilla in those two chairs behind me, and then later in the program we're going to do a tour of the house, take you around. We'll be showing you outside. We'll show you the grave site. I think you'll see the front of the house. This is -- I had never been to Graceland, and this is an extraordinary experience to see the mark this guy has left on society and continues to leave. It's like he is alive. You know? It's kind of weird, but it's like his presence is around.

O'BRIEN: Well, some might suggest that he might be, and at a 7- Eleven down the street. I'm sure you are going to get into that.

KING: And I tell you, if I get him, you got him.

O'BRIEN: That would be a good get for you, Larry, for sure.

KING: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Going through Graceland, what strikes you the most there?

KING: Ornate. You know, outside it's like a colonial kind of mansion. Not big. Graceland is not big. I guess the architecture of those days didn't feature huge homes. This house cost about I think it house cost him $190,000 in 1957 when he had just struck it big, and inside it would be hard to describe. I guess you'll see it for yourself, but there's every kind of interior design in one place at one time. But the tourists, the people love seeing it. They love seeing where he lived. White couches were very popular in that era of time. I'm looking forward to it, and Priscilla, of course, she's got her hands on it. She knows the terrain. Even though they were divorced, she's quite involved in this whole enterprise here, and I just said hello to Lisa Marie outside as well. Lisa Marie, by the way, is doing a recording, one of those things like Natalie Cole did with Nat King Cole. She's going to do a recording with her late father.

O'BRIEN: What's your favorite Elvis song? Do you have one?

KING: All shook up I think, or maybe don't be cruel.

That's pretty good. Or maybe --

O'BRIEN: I'm kind of a heart break hotel guy.

KING: How about in the ghetto.

O'BRIEN: That's one of the greats.

KING: Or maybe love me tender.

O'BRIEN: Larry King, 9:00 Eastern. A program you do not want to miss. Thank you very much. The king at the home of the king.

KING: Thank you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty joining us now. Jack, a tough act to follow. Sorry.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed. I have been to Graceland. That's quite a place, and you can see in a part of the house, the museum, where they keep a lot of the artifacts and memorabilia of his show business career, a lot of the fancy studded suits that he wore on stage. A lot of his cars were there. The airplanes are on the property, and, of course, you got the great old Elvis hits playing 24-7. It's quite a place if you haven't been there.

The question this hour is Karl Rove is optimistic about the future of the Republican Party and the remainder of Bush's presidency. Should he be?

Tom wrote, "Karl Rove is a fool masquerading as a wise man. He is a destroyer of the conservative majority, not a uniter. That the president holds him in such high regard is further evidence of his mastery of politics over practicality. The Bush Administration has been a fool's paradise. History can't wait. It's been as clear as the nose on your face."

Barry writes, "We must all be respectful of the U.S. president and offer him our support for all the time he serves as our leader. That includes you, Mr. Jack."

Andre writes, "Wow, Rove does need a rest. He's not making any sense at all."

Ean in Texas writes, "While the democrats misread that we in America want a new and different direction far beyond that which they have achieved thus far, as a former republican, I can't imagine voting for any republican in the next election. They, the republicans, are pro-war, anti-civil liberties, and while they claim to love America, they seemingly hate many Americans. My voting stance, ABR, anyone but a republican.

Charlie in Mesquite, Nevada, "Jack, the only thing Rove should be optimistic about that he's not in jail yet."

Ken in Shawnee, Kansas, should he be optimistic, "Here's a guy who single-handedly took Texas from a democratic stronghold to a republican one. Got Bush two terms as a governor of Texas and orchestrated two presidential elections for the same incompetent George W. Bush. Democrats you tell me."

If you didn't see your email here go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them posted on-line along with video clips of the Cafferty File.

O'BRIEN: What do you think historians will say about Karl Rove?

CAFFERTY: I have no idea.

O'BRIEN: OK. All right. Not a historian, Jack Cafferty.

CAFFERTY: No, I'm not a prophet, and I'm unable to see into the future.

O'BRIEN: He is a man of the moment.

CAFFERTY: I when I would say about him if I was going to write his history, but we don't have time to go into that.

O'BRIEN: We think we know. All right. Thanks Jack. Appreciate it.

Let's go right now to Rick Sanchez, find out what's coming up next in the "OUT IN THE OPEN" program.

Hello, Rick. How are you doing?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Miles. You got to love Jack. I mean, just direct, concise answers.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Right to the point. We like that.

SANCHEZ: We like Jack. Hey, Tropical Storm Erin becoming a problem for some of the folks in Texas. Maybe some rain bands coming in already, so they're bracing for it. We've got correspondents there on the coast. They'll be following that for us.

Also, my goodness, what's going on right now in Iraq after some of the generals had said, you know, they thought we had a chance that the surge would be working. We're going to be looking into that. We're going to be asking am awful lot of questions about this "Bloodiest Day," and we're also going to be looking into possibilities of terrorists inside the United States. There's a new report out, and we're going to break it down for you.

Also, women who kill. Think about this. There's a report on Winkler in Tennessee getting out after, what, 67 days after her sentencing. Why do women get a better break than men when it comes to things like this?

All those issues and a whole lot more, and, of course, all the breaking news. We'll bring it to you here.

Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Rick Sanchez, "OUT IN THE OPEN," a man who always gets to the point. Thank you, sir.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: A debate controversy involving about Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While preparing for the republican debate, it's come to my attention that -

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O'BRIEN: This just into CNN. And details are very sketchy, but we do know this. A major earthquake has struck Peru about 100 miles south-southwest of Lima, the capital, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake which would put it in the major earthquake category. Once again, the United States Geological Survey reporting a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. That's a major earthquake in Peru about 100 miles south-southeast of Lima. We'll keep you posted as come in.

Well, he was the breakout star of the CNN YouTube democratic presidential debate, and now he is trying to make sure a republican shows up for his turn on stage. It's a most unusual face-off between Mitt Romney and a snowman.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chill out, frosty. Frosty, the snowman

There's a new showman in town. Snowman challenging a republican presidential candidate.

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: Hello, Mitt Romney.

MOOS: If Billiam the Snowman looks familiar, you probably saw him at the CNN YouTube presidential debate.

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: Hello, democratic candidates.

MOOS: Billiam was the one asking about global warming.

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: What will you do to insure that my son will have a full and happy life?

MOOS: William stole the show. Some found him abominable. Some proclaimed him the debate's winner. He ended up on the front page of the "Wall Street Journal." As for that voice --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wanted to come up with kind of an annoying voice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't do it.

MOOS: This was Billiam's first video pre-YouTube debate. Two Minneapolis guys, Nathan and Greg Hamill created him. Greg supplied the voice, and he also lopped off Billiam's head and then replayed it in slow motion. The guys then adapted that same snowman footage with his animated carrot lips to relay their YouTube question, but at least one republican candidate gave the snowman a cold shoulder. Mitt Romney isn't yet sure he can fit a YouTube debate into his schedule.

MITT ROMNEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the snowman is perhaps a little less than the level of dignity I you would expect in a presidential televised debate.

MOOS: So which the snowman says --

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: Lighten up slightly.

MOOS: Who came up with that lighten up slightly stuff?

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: He did. MOOS: He did meaning Mitt Romney. He was being attacked for having his picture taken next to someone holding a sign saying no to Obama, Osama, and Chelsea's mama.

ROMNEY: Lighten up slightly.

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: Lighten up slightly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought that it would be kind of a nice taste of his own medicine.

MOOS: Here you have two guys who like to make whacky YouTube videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lawn chair jousting.

MOOS: Dressing up a snowman. That's your mom's hat really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MOOS: And jousting with a presidential candidate. Their snowman has inspired knockoffs. You can even buy snowman t-shirts that say save me, but if he keeps getting a frosty reception, chances are he won't melt into oblivion any time soon.

BILLIAM THE SNOWMAN: Lighten up slightly.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

O'BRIEN: Ouch. We asked a Romney spokesman to weigh in. He said we don't reply to snowmen. Apparently they haven't lightened up slightly. Thanks for joining us.

I'm Miles O'Brien. Up next Rick Sanchez with "OUT IN THE OPEN."