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War Against Iran?; Russian Bombers Flying Near Alaska

Aired October 1, 2007 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, exclusive video of a scene reminiscent of the cold war. Look at this -- U.S. jet -- fighter jets intercepting Russian bombers just miles from the American coast. And this no, repeat, no isolated incident.

Also, a controversial death and police custody. This woman died while being detained by officers at the Phoenix airport. There's new information coming in.

And new video also coming in of a shooting involving a private security contractor in Iraq, Blackwater. And we're just getting reports of a major new development in that investigation.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Exclusive video of Russian bombers buzzing the coast Alaska in a show of force and the United States responding by intercepting. The number of these incidents is actually growing. And you can see images of them for the first time anywhere outside the military right here.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is watching us -- Barbara, why is this video being released right now?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the video of this September 7th incident has just been declassified. The U.S. wants everyone to see what is going on and how polite U.S. and Russian pilots are, at least for now.


STARR (voice-over): This a Russian long range bomber flying off the coast of Alaska last month. Two U.S. F-15 fighters scrambled to intercept the plane, which came within 50 miles of the coastline.

CNN obtained exclusive video from the North Anerican Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD. They are the first pictures of a U.S. intercept of a Russian plane since Moscow announced this summer it was resuming flight. The grainy footage is shot from a camera mounted to the helmet of a U.S. pilot.

GEN. GENE RENUART, U.S. NORTHCOM/NORAD COMMANDER: They're flying what they call long range aviation patrols, or -- they're really navigation missions. They're also practicing their normal tactics. Of course, a long range bomber is designed to drop a bomb or fire a missile somewhere.

STARR: NORAD commander General Gene Renuart says the Russians aren't a threat. But that doesn't mean he's not concerned.

RENUART: We can't afford to have an unidentified aircraft replicate what we saw on 9/11. And so in the issue of long range aviation, these aircraft launch and are flying out in regions that are not -- they're not on a flight plan. They're not following a traditional air traffic route.

STARR: There have now been eight intercepts of Russian bombers off Alaska since July. It's just one of Renuart concerns. Renuart, who is also head of the U.S. Northern Command, is the top military official for homeland defense.

Seeing Osama bin Laden back on videotape is a new worry.

RENUART: I think, also, it is to continue to send a message to those cells that there are out there that he needs for them to continue to actively plan.

STARR: And while Renuart says there is no specific intelligence that an attack is imminent, he does wonder if the tapes have a hidden meaning.

RENUART: Well, as I see their leadership faces talking about the jihad, it makes me a little anxious that they could be -- might be -- very well -- are planning something that needs some encouragement by senior leaders.


STARR: So Wolf, what's really the common thread underneath all of this?

You know, Northern Command, that General Renuart heads, is the primary homeland defense command. And what he says is five -- six years now after 9/11, they are much better positioned to deal with these threats, whether it's playing cat and mouse with the Russians or keeping an eye on Al Qaeda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are these pilots, Barbara, really polite during these kind of encounters?

STARR: Well, you know, we asked him that, because back in the days of the cold war, they would hold up signs to each other. They would make hand gestures to each other that perhaps are not made in polite company. But those days do appear to be over. General Renuart says it is very professional. It's very polite. They do not, however, speak to each other on the radios. The Russians speak only Russian. There's no English between the two. And they don't transmit really any communications across those channels -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, a good story.

Thanks very much. We'll watch it to see how it unfolds.

Barbara just reported this.

There have been at least eight incidents off Alaska since July. Among the latest, one on September 5th, when six F-15s from Elmendorf Air Force Base intercepted six Russian bombers along the northwest coast of Alaska. And two similar incidents on August 16th, one near Cape Lisburne in Alaska, the other near Cold Bay, west of the Aleutian Islands. An important story we're watching.

Meanwhile, as all of this unfolding, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is hinting he may repeat -- repeat, may keep a firm grip on power even after he leaves office next year. Putin says he'll lead the united -- a United Russia's party candidate list, putting him in line to become prime minister. Mr. Putin is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive presidential term, but he's indicated he may want to maintain his influence. Analysts say Mr. Putin may work to put a weak president in office while wielding control as prime minister. He doesn't want to give up power -- at least, that's what it looks like.

Could it be the next war?

There's new concern right now the Bush administration may -- repeat, may be laying the groundwork for a military action against Iran.

CNN's Brian Todd is watching this story for us.

What are the signs that there could be a new strategy toward Iran emerging from the White House -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there has been stronger language recently from the president and commanders in Iraq, accusing Iran of aiding militants who are attacking U.S. forces. Now it's reported that those attacks, rather than Tehran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, could be the selling point for military action.


TODD (voice-over): Late August -- the president levels a serious charge about Iran's involvement in Iraq.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian supplied munitions have increased in the last few months.

TODD: Iran has always denied that. But now, the administration is confronting reports that it's using that charge to justify a surgical attack inside Iran.


SEYMOUR HERSH, "THE NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: Instead of saying to the American people and instead of saying internally it's going to be about nuclear weapons, it's now going to be about getting the guys that are killing our boys.

TODD: In "The New Yorker" magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh writes of a video conference early this summer, where he says President Bush told U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, he was thinking of hitting Iranian targets across the border, and that the British were on board.

The White House response?

QUESTION: And, also, Dana...

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to comment on it. One, I don't know. I wouldn't have been at any -- at that type of a meeting.


TODD: And the White House also saying that diplomacy is the course that they are pursuing right now.

We also asked the spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown about this reporting by Seymour Hersh. That spokeswoman would not comment on that, nor would officials at the CIA or the National Security Council, to Hersh's contention that they have stepped up planning operations against Iran.

One appropriate grain of salt here from the administration officials we spoke to. They point out that Seymour Hersh has written several stories over the past year about stepped up planning for attacks on Iran and nothing has happened.

We went back and double checked on that. This latest piece is the sixth one he has written on that subject since April of 2006 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is he writing, Brian, about stepped up planning at the Pentagon as opposed to the White House?

TODD: Well, you know, the Pentagon is such a complex place. The planning is often compartmentalized. Pentagon officials who have knowledge of planning often say, look, they're always laying out scenarios like this. It doesn't necessarily mean an attack is coming. But the same types of people who we talk to at the Pentagon say they have not heard of any stepped up planning recently.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching this story for us.

Thank you, Brian, for that.

Years after being rocked by the discovery of a double agent inside the FBI, the agency still is vulnerable to moles. That's the finding of a new report that's raising some very serious concerns.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

She's watching this for us -- tell us about this report, Kelly. KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a report by the Justice Department's inspector general. And the bottom line here is the report says the FBI is still vulnerable to espionage from within its own ranks.

Now, as you rightly mention, the review comes six years after the FBI arrested Robert Hanssen for spying. Now, at the time, critics faulted the FBI's culture of protecting its own.

This new report says the FBI still doesn't have a system in place to collect and analyze negative information about its employees. And it also says the FBI is not regularly reviewing employees that are exposed to the most sensitive information.

The inspector general says the security gaps actually may have allowed the former analyst, Leandro Aragoncillo, to breach security. You may remember, Wolf, he was arrested back in 2005. That's four years after Hanssen was taken into custody.

Now, the FBI, for its part, says, hey, we're still working on implementing changes. And they do note that the report points out that it has already made some significant progress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you for that.

Kelli Arena reporting.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

He'll be coming back.

Up ahead, new information on a mother of three restrained in an airport who died in custody. The bizarre details -- that's coming up.

Also, the history lesson some say went too far. We're going to show you how some African-American students were taught about lynching.

Plus, the FBI now stepping into the probe of a major American contractor in Iraq and the controversial killings of Iraqi civilians.

Stick around.



BLITZER: A disturbing case of death and custody in Phoenix, Arizona. We're learning more about the woman arrested for disorderly conduct, handcuffed and placed in a holding room alone.

Let's go back to Carol.

She's watching the story for us. A very disturbing story -- Carol, what happened?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very strange story, Wolf.

We now know a bit more about this mysterious death at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport. We now know 45-year-old Carol Ann Gotbaum was on her way to be treated for alcoholism. Now, she began screaming in the airport after she missed her flight to Tucson. Police told me she was so out of control, she was scaring people. She was kicking and screaming, "I'm not a terrorist," as police handcuffed her and took her to a holding area in the airport.

Now, somehow she managed to strangle herself by moving her hands -- which were cuffed behind her back -- to the front of her body. I know it sounds confusing because I know you're asking yourself is that possible?

Well, Phoenix police now say she was shackled to a bench by a 16- inch chain that was attached to her handcuffs. Still, police found Gotbaum with her hands in front of her, near her neck. So she still managed to get her hands from behind her back to the front of her body.

An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday. And maybe we'll find out more then -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying out there?

I don't know if you know, Carol, was this normal procedure, to put a woman like, obviously distraught, in a holding room by herself, simply handcuffed with no supervision?

COSTELLO: This was standard operating procedure. She was kicking and punching at the officers. They then handcuffed her and they placed her under arrest for disorderly conduct. They brought her to that holding room inside the airport, where she would remain until she was sent off to jail. And, they say, it is standard operating procedure to leave a woman in handcuffs.

Now, they did say they checked on her every 10 to 15 minutes. And apparently in the interim of one 10 minute check, she managed to get her arms above her head in front of her body and apparently strangled herself.

BLITZER: Oh my god.

All right, Carol, I know you're going to have a lot more on this coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Thank you.

As we speak, an investigation is also underway at Grambling State University in Louisiana.

Why were grade school children on the campus of this predominantly African-American university shown what it's liked to be lynched?

Let's go to our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen. She's joining us live from the Grambling campus -- Susan, what's going on?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, racism is a serious topic.

And the question here really is how young is too young to learn a lesson about lynching?


ROESGEN (voice-over): For a show and tell, this one seemed to go too far. To teach 5- and 6-year-olds about racism, Grambling University teachers not only showed the children ropes and shackles, they even hoisted at least one child into the air and put her head in a noose.

ROBERT DIXON, PROVOST, GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY: It is regrettable and unfortunate that the elementary school supervisors allowed students at these grade levels to be participants in an activity which is not a part of the curriculum and which had not been properly reviewed.

ROESGEN: Grambling State University is one of the most prestigious African-American universities in the country and the university runs this elementary school on campus.


ROESGEN: Two weeks ago, the same day that African-American activists rallied in Jena, Louisiana to protest criminal charges against African-American high schoolers, teachers at Grambling Elementary School decided to teach the children about racism. But according to University officials, the lesson on lynching was a lesson in bad judgment.

DIXON: We are investigating all aspects of the event that took place and all individuals who were involved.


ROESGEN: Now, Wolf, the university has said that it doesn't want the media to interview any of the teachers involved at that elementary school, though we are trying to reach those teachers. And I want to point out, Wolf, that the one teacher you saw hoisting the little girl into the air is not only a teacher, she's also the grandmother of that little girl -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what's their explanation why they don't want us to interview any of these teachers?

ROESGEN: I think they're embarrassed, Wolf.

A lot of people on campus have mixed views on this. Some of them say the children, even at that age, should learn about civil rights and lynching. But others say, no, this looks terrible. They should never have done that.

What if one of the children should have been hurt?

And so I think that's why, until they wrap up this investigation, at least, they say they don't want us to speak to any of those teachers to ask them what they were doing, what were they thinking, what was the motive?

BLITZER: All right, Susan Roesgen at Grambling State University.

Thanks, Susan, very much.

Still ahead, Newt Gingrich says he's not running for president. But he has his own predictions on who will win the White House. Stick around for that.

Also, cutting edge comedy or insensitive stereotypes -- we're going to show you the controversy behind a new sitcom.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Late last week, it looked like the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, would take a shot at the Republican nomination. But over the weekend, he changed his mind. Gingrich is out of the race, but not out of the discourse. He's predicting that Senator Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and possibly go all the way.

Let's bring in the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington and also a former United States senator and member of the House of Representatives.

You know all these players, including Newt Gingrich.



BLITZER: You served with him quite we'll.

I'm going to play you a little chip of what he said yesterday.



NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the odds are 80 percent that Senator Clinton is the next president. I think she is almost certainly going to win the Democratic nomination.


BLITZER: All right, he's a smart guy, Newt Gingrich. What do you think?

COHEN: I think she, obviously, right now, if the vote were taken, it looks like she would get the nomination. Whether she would win or not remains to be seen. I think the he 80 percent is a bit over the mark. But she has a good chance of becoming president.

BLITZER: She's doing well. But Barack Obama is doing very, very well, especially for someone relatively new to the game.

COHEN: Well, he is not a sleeper. He's in the game, as such. And he could creep right up take Iowa and then, perhaps, all bets are off.

So, right now, she's ahead. She's very capable and I think Newt Gingrich is correct, she would be a formidable candidate.


COHEN: But Barack Obama is, too.

BLITZER: Were you surprised he decided not to run, Newt Gingrich?

You know him.

COHEN: Not really. He would have provided a lot of intellectual firepower. He's very creative, energetic, full of ideas. But I think he set the bar pretty high for himself, with a very short time, three months ago, to raise $30 million. I think that he thought better of it.

Had gotten into the race and not gotten the nomination, it might have impeded his non-profit Solutions for America. I think it might have discredited that. This way, he can stand on the outside and still fire off all of the ideas. It will be important to the debate and maintain a lot of credibility.

BLITZER: I promised our viewers we'd get them the latest "Newsweek" poll of likely Republican caucus goers in Iowa. We'll put that up on the screen. Right now, Mitt Romney with 24 percent; Fred Thompson, 16; Giuliani, 13; Huckabee, 12; McCain, 9 percent.

This a pretty close race and no one can take anything for granted here.

COHEN: I think it's still wide open. I don't think anyone could -- if you had to pick a winner today, you couldn't do so.

Yes, you have Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain perhaps in third, but John appears to be making something of a comeback. He doesn't have the resources, so that may not be possible. But he's still in the race, as well.

But I -- I think it's too early to tell. I don't think we know who's going to be the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: I know you're friendly with a lot of these guys, including John McCain. You go way back with him in the U.S. Senate.

What do you think of the Republican presidential frontrunners, the four of them, their decision not to go to that debate last week, that deal with minority issues, the one that Tavis Smiley was hosting?

COHEN: I think it's a big mistake.

I have to ask the question, what are we afraid of?

Why aren't we prepared to go to any community and say this what I believe, this what we need for this country?

We need to heal the divide and the breaches. We've got to talk about how we bring America together and say why we can be great again and talk about the rebuilding of our infrastructure, of our moral structure, as such, and for our international policy. That goes to black and white, Latino, any color American.

And I think it's a big mistake on our part not to reach out and say, we're here. We want it hear what you have to say. We're here to tell you what we think.

BLITZER: If Rudy Giuliani were to get the Republican nomination, there are some now -- conservatives, Evangelicals, suggesting that might try to field a third party candidate because of his stance in favor of abortion rights and gay rights.

Is that a credible threat?

COHEN: Well, if that were the case, they might very well hand the election over to the Democratic nominee, so if that's what they want to happen...

BLITZER: It's as simple as that?

COHEN: As simple as that. If they stay at home and say we don't like Giuliani or anyone else, it could be Mitt Romney or even John McCain, because they don't agree with all of their views. Then I think it's pretty clear the Democratic nominee would win and win quite handily.

There's another issue. There may be other people ready to step in and form a third party.

It could be Mike Bloomberg from New York. It might be Senator Sam Nunn and others from -- who are not happy with the debate being so polarized by both the left and the right, not dealing in a very substantive fashion with what we need to do in this country.

BLITZER: Bloomberg used to be a Democrat. Then he became a Republican.

COHEN: Right.

BLITZER: He was elected in New York as a Republican. Now he's an Independent once again. If he were -- and he says he's not going to do it, but he's got billions of dollars. If he were to become a third party candidate, who would he hurt more, the Democrats or the Republicans?

COHEN: I think he'd probably take more from the Republicans than the Democrats, at this point. But again, too hard to say. It may be the public becomes disenchanted with all of the candidates across the board. In that case, a Mike Bloomberg or someone else with deep pockets could make quite an inroad.

So I think too early to tell. I doubt whether he's going to run. But, nonetheless, it's not just the conservative Republicans who are thinking about a third party. There are others out there who aren't too happy with the way politics is being discussed and debated today.

BLITZER: When you say there are others out there who are thinking about a third party candidate, do you want to elaborate?

COHEN: Well, I think I did.

BLITZER: Sam Nunn, you said.

COHEN: I said Senator Nunn certainly is interested in trying to expand the debate. He and I have talked about it in terms of trying to get more of a substantive debate and not have either party being pulled to their extremes. We think that this country needs to really start talking about issues which will make America great again -- something I feel very strongly about. And I'm hoping that the candidates will start addressing the issues without trying to appeal to their extreme elements and their core constituencies.

BLITZER: You raised the issue, so I just have to press you.

You or Sam Dunn -- are either of you seriously thinking of running for office?

COHEN: No, I'm not seriously thinking of it.

BLITZER: All right.

COHEN: I think the debate ought to be serious about issues that are really -- we are confronting now.

You ran a piece earlier about Russian bombers that are coming close to our borders. We're worried about what's taking place in America itself.

What are the steps that we have since 9/11 to strengthen our ability to survive another attack?

What are we doing to appeal to the rest of the world, that has been so alienated by our involvement in Iraq?

What are we doing to reach out and build coalitions across the political divide here and across the divide in many parts of the world? These are issues that we have to address. And I'd be happy to be part of that discussion and debate. But I am not a candidate.



BLITZER: Thanks very much.

William Cohen, our analyst here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, two major developments in that shooting involving the private security firm Blackwater, an incident that left Iraqi civilians dead. We'll have the latest. That's come up.

Also, some good news out of Iraq about the war. We're going to go live to Baghdad, where you'll hear about what's happening on the ground.

Stay with us.




Happening now, a strong rally today on Wall Street and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soaring to a record high. The Dow rose 192 points, to end the day at 14,087. Today's rebound signals investor optimism that the worst of the credit crunch is over.

Lava still pours from a small island off Yemen after a spectacular volcanic eruption there earlier this morning. NATO ships rescued two survivors in the Red Sea. Four people are known dead. Two more are missing.

And a Bosnian man is in custody in Vienna, Austria after he tried to enter the United States embassy with an explosive device. The backpack loaded with explosives, nails and Islamic literature set off a metal detector. The man fled but was captured in a neighborhood near the embassy. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just received word that the FBI is now joining the investigation into that controversial shooting by American security contractors in Iraq that left at least 11 Iraqi civilians dead. Now, there is new video of the aftermath of that incident. Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. He's joining us live, he's watching the story. So, does the new video, Jamie, shed some new light on what happened?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the FBI is going to need more than this video to sort out what happened and we're told there is more video we haven't seen yet. But, for now, we're left with two highly conflicting versions of events.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): This silent Iraqi police video obtained by "Newsweek" magazine shows the carnage after the September 16th incident. A smoking wreck with charred human remains, another car with blood-soaked seats, on the ground dozens of shell casings and an Iraqi police officer, gun in hand, surveying the aftermath. The initial State Department account called a spot report said the Iraqi deaths were the result of defensive fire after a convoy was engaged with small arms. That's the security contractor Blackwater's version of events and, in fact, CNN has learned that that spot report was written by a Blackwater employee. The State Department insists that doesn't make any difference.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: That spot report does not represent an investigation, a review or anything more than a first blush account of the basic incident itself.

MCINTYRE: The Iraqi police argue the video evidence and eyewitness accounts suggest that innocent actions by Iraqis were met with indiscriminant shooting. But a Blackwater spokesperson tells CNN, "All the initial statements given by guards at the scene are consistent with self-defense. The concern that Blackwater's hired guns may have itchy trigger fingers is echoed in a memorandum prepared for a house committee investigating Blackwater and obtained by CNN. Among the findings, Blackwater has been involved in 195 escalation of force incidents in Iraq since 2005. And 8 percent of the time, fired first. The State Department counters and some outside experts concur that that's because Blackwater gets the most dangerous assignments.

ROBERT YOUNG PELTON, AUTHOR, "LICENSED TO KILL": Statistically, they're not any more violent or less violent than other security companies.


MCINTYRE: That congressional memo cites what it calls previously unreported deaths at the hands of Blackwater forces including a civilian shot in the head. The alleged cover up of a bystander, an innocent bystander and a traffic accident which left an Iraqi vehicle in flames. Wolf that will all be a subject of questions at tomorrow's house committee hearing. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch that together with you Jamie. Thanks very much.

Sixty-four U.S. troops were killed in Iraq in September and that's a significant drop from previous months. Iraqi civilian deaths are down even more, at least relatively speaking. Let's go live to CNN's Jim Clancy. He's joining us in Baghdad. What are these numbers suggesting is happening right now, Jim?

JIM CLANCY: There's no size of relief here and certainly there's no celebrations. There is no single reason why these numbers are down. There are many reasons. The Iraqis give a lot of credit to what they say is the new American approach. They credit General Petraeus, General Petraeus himself, as well as U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, credit the Iraqi people. Indeed, that was echoed by a spokesman with the Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki this afternoon when he talked to CNN and he said much of what we're seeing is a reduction in car bombs that cause widespread death and destruction. He said those are down because Sunni tribal sheiks are cooperating with the Iraqi army and with the U.S. military in order to fight al Qaeda. Still, you've got to look at this problem and you've got to see that the numbers don't tell the whole story. Many Iraqis looked at this today and they didn't feel relieved at all because in their neighborhoods, they still feel threatened. There were still some 300 bodies tortured and bound, found on the streets of Baghdad during the month of September. A lot of the blame is being placed on police or military forces that are infested with militias. This is what the Sunni vice president Tariq Hashemi told us this afternoon.


TARIQ HASHEMI, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT: Security and the armed forced we have problem with militia that has already penetrating the Iraqi national armed forces. These militias have to be purged and the militias, as well as al Qaeda still main troublemakers, in fact. They are behind this topalization of my country.


CLANCY: Now, the U.S. can help, but the Iraqis are largely going to have to tackle this huge task on their own. Right now everyone is saying the real challenge now, Wolf, is to see how they can capitalize on September success. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right Jim Clancy, back in Baghdad. I remember when he just got there right after the, as the war was still unfolding. Jim, we'll talk later about some impressions you're having now as compared to then, what has happened. How the situation in Iraq has changed. Jim Clancy reporting from Baghdad.

A United Nations envoy is in Myanmar right now hoping to meet with the country's secretive military ruler. Ibrahaim Gumbari met over the weekend with a pro-democracy leader (INAUDIBLE) who is under long-time house arrest. His mission prompted by a deadly military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. The government reports ten people killed, rights groups and others inside the country formally known as Burma say the number is much, much higher. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people are also being detained. As military fighting continues and the military continues to use force against the monk-led protesters in Myanmar, web users are banning together on the social networking site Facebook to try to rally support. Let's go back to our internet reporter Abbi Tatton, she's watching this for us. What are we seeing online, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, every time we check in with this online group on Facebook in support of the march, t has gone up by 10's of thousands of users. A quarter of a million Facebook users now around the world, UK, Sweden, Hong Kong have joined this site set up by a 19-year-old Canadian student Alex Bookfinder who said he did it with a goal of building international pressure and raising awareness for rallies that are going on. These sites are great for connecting people quickly and easily around the world on an issue and on this one people are taking their online organizing offline, as well. Look at these pictures we got in to CNN's iReport a rally organized yesterday in London entirely through Facebook. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that. We'll watch that story in Myanmar also known as Burma. We'll continue to monitor that story for you.

Meanwhile, a new term for the U.S. Supreme Court promising major decisions that could impact every American. We're going to show you what's at stake and the delicate balance that will decide it all.

Find out why Hillary Clinton's laugh is certainly getting so much coverage in the news media. All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's the first Monday in October that kicks off a new term for the United States Supreme court. The justice' first order of business, deciding not to consider two religiously charged cases. One in New York challenging a law requiring health plans to cover birth control pills. The other in California involving a public library's refusal to allow church services in the building. The justices will also consider a number of hot issues, including the rights of Guantanamo detainees and the use of lethal injections in executions. Tom Foreman is here, he's watching the court for us. There's a lot at stake right now, isn't there?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, you know for a lot of people in elections of a president, this is what really matters, what kind of justice will they appoint? Because right now the court is balanced. It could tip to the left, it could tip to the right and the decision may be somewhere in the middle.


FOREMAN (voice-over): As they begin their first day of work, an evenly balanced supreme court ready to tip either way.

STEVEN GOLDBLATT, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: Now you've got four to four blocks with Justice Kennedy consistently in each case casting the deciding vote.

FOREMAN: That mean if just one justice retires, the replacement nominated by the president could shift the balance.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: The only likely retirees at the Supreme Court are on the left. So, a Republican president could really swing the Supreme Court in a very significantly conservative direction, or a Democratic president could hold the line against further movement to the right.

FOREMAN: None of the justices has given any sign of retiring, including Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 87. Candidates on the campaign trail, however, highlight what's at stake. Terror suspects, gun rights, abortion, gay marriage, hot button issues that could be decided by Supreme Court justices who take their place on the court for as long as they choose once approved by the senate. The high stakes give candidates from both parties a way to fire up the party faithful and some of the cases the court will rule on this year may add fuel to the debate. For example, some controversial law and order cases about terrorism suspects, gun rights, and the death penalty.

DOUGLAS KMIEC, PEPPERDINE UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: If, in fact, the progressive voices on the court prevail, they may raise some alarm among the more moderate middle of the road voters.


FOREMAN: Centrist voters could also play a point if they see the court leaning one way or the other. But the thing is, Wolf, you never really know. This is a matter of measuring tea leaves because the fact that there have been justices who have been appointed, that were expected to be very conservative and were not, some thought they might be very liberal and not. However, the one difference today is that they're being vetted so carefully compared to how they once were. So thoroughly researched that it seems less likely you'll get a wild card. The kind of president you'll elect is the kind of Supreme Court justice you will likely get.

BLITZER: That's why this is such an important issue for so many voters out there. Tom, thanks very much.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and then there is imitation on "Saturday Night live." watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening, my fellow Americans. A little more than a year from now, you, the American people, will go to the polls and elect me president of the United States. I want you to know I will be humbled and honored by the trust you will have placed in me.


BLITZER: And joining us now our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. Gloria, it's funny, but what do you make of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well there has been the sort of sense of inevitability about Hillary Clinton's nomination. Then Barack Obama got in and it kind of went away, now it's back again because she's doing so well in the polls. Suddenly she's come under some criticism for acting too much like a frontrunner, Wolf. For not really saying much of anything because she doesn't want to rock the boat. That might be ok if it were a year from now, but now it seems to a lot of folks that it's a little bit too early to be this cautious. She refused to say where she was on fixing the social security problem in a recent debate, for example. Some of her colleagues did that. So, she's come under fire for that, lately. BLITZER: I want to read to you a quote from "The New York Times" columnist Frank Rich on Hillary Clinton sort of being like Al Gore. Here's the quote, "The performance too often dovetails with the biggest question about her as a leader. Is she so eager to be all things to all people, so reluctant to offend anyone that we never will learn what she really thinks or how she will really act as president? What do you think?

BORGER: That's really tough, Wolf. I think this gets to a larger question about Hillary Clinton, which is her authenticity. Who really is Hillary Clinton? In many ways she's at a disadvantage because we've watched her in the public eye over so many years as the first lady of Arkansas as the first lady of the United States, as the United States senator. So, people have a sense they know her, but now she's back in front of the American public again and they're saying, I'm not really sure I know who she is. And, so, if she doesn't come out firmly on how to solve certain problems, they're going to think, oh, there's an authenticity problem. The Clintons have been dogged with those questions over the years, both of them.

BLITZER: And there's been a lot of focus lately on her laughter. We've heard her laughing at the various debates and some of the interviews. She did five Sunday talk shows a week ago Sunday. What do you make of this?

BORGER: I saw she laughed during your interview too, Wolf, she did.

BLITZER: She laughed at all of them.

BORGER: She did, she laughed at all the interviews. I think that it's a contrivance when you look at it and you watch all of these interviews, it's a perfectly legitimate way to try and deflect a tough question that perhaps you might have been asking. Or any of the other interviewers might have been asking. And it's a way to kind of, I also think, diminish the questioner, if you will. Oh my God, ha, ha, ha. What a funny question. But, I think in the end, now that we're all paying attention to it, it's not going to be as effective as it may have been at the start of her campaign.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

BORGER: Thanks.

BLITZER: Still ahead, a new TV show makes air tonight and it's stirring up some controversy. Is the country ready for a post-9/11 sitcom?

Something else you have to leave at home. The toys that will get your children stopped at the airport. Yes, stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what do you have? CAROL COSTELLO: Well Wolf, more domestic trouble for Britney Spears. A Los Angeles superior court has ordered the singer to surrender custody of her two children effective Wednesday. Court papers say Spears' former husband Kevin Federline will have full custody of the two boys for now. It's unclear what led the court to today's decision. The transcript of the proceeding was ordered sealed.

If your children are carrying remote-controlled toys on an airplane, prepare to be stopped at security. The Transportation Security Administration says airport screeners will be giving the toys extra scrutiny. The agency says the toys could be used by terrorists to trigger explosives. The TSA is not banning the toys from carry-on baggage, but it does recommend stowing them in checked luggage to avoid additional screening. Back it you, Wolf?

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. We're just getting word from New York that the jury in the Isaiah Thomas sexual harassment case has given a very strong indication that it's leaning against the Knicks' coach and president. Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta, he's in New York. He's watching this story for us. What's going on, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the jurors handling this case sent out a note before wrapping for the day indicating that they have reached decisions on eight of the nine questions in their deliberations. The remaining undecided question deals with punitive damages, that's an indication that perhaps they are leaning towards a verdict against Isiah Thomas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): For years hall of fame pro basketball player Isiah Thomas has always maintained a squeaky clean image, throughout a stellar NBA career. But then came the $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit against him and the owners of the New York Knicks. Thomas, now the Knicks' head coach and president, was accused of verbally abusing and basically coming on to a subordinate female employee. His accuser, 44-year-old Aniska(ph) Brown Sanders, a former college basketball star herself, claimed she was fired from her job with the Knicks after she complained about Thomas' behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No woman regardless of the industry she works for should have to endure the type of abuse that I've endured on this job. Everyone has the right to expect that they're not going to be sexually harassed.

ACOSTA: Thomas denied harassing Brown-Sanders but did make this comment in a videotape deposition.

ISIAH WASHINGTON, NEW YORK KNICKS COACH: A white male calling a black female a (EXPLETIVE) is highly offensive to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you find it also offensive for a black male to call a black woman a (EXPLETIVE) --

WASHINGTON: Not as much.

ACOSTA: Thomas recently backed away from that comment.

WASHINGTON: Please, don't mischaracterize the video that was shown in court today. I don't think it's right for any man to ever call a woman a (EXPLETIVE) -- I didn't do it and I wouldn't do it.

ACOSTA: But during closing arguments Brown-Sanders' lawyer accused Thomas of subjecting her client to locker room behavior, that may be ok at Madison Square Garden, but not in the workplace. Attorneys for the Knicks organization say Brown-Sanders was fired for poor job performance.


ACOSTA: The jury resumes its deliberations tomorrow morning, Wolf. But Thomas' accuser did walk out of the courtroom today observers say with a big smile on her face.

BLITZER: And that word I just want to point out to our viewers, that word we bleeped out was the so-called "b" word, is that right?

ACOSTA: That's correct.

BLITZER: Ok, thanks very much, Jim, for that.

Up ahead, a Muslim exchange student in an American home. It's the stuff sitcoms are made of, or at least one premiering tonight. It's not sitting well though with some. Stick around., you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Is post 9/11 America ready for a sitcom about U.S. Muslim relations? We're about to find out. A new fall TV show premiering tonight on the CW network ventures into that thorny realm. Let's go out to L.A., CNN's Kareen Wynter is standing by. A lot of controversy already developed over this sitcom Kareen.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, definitely, indeed. You'll actually soon see why. Some critics say, hey, what do you expect when you try to do a comedic spin involving Muslims and some of the stereotypes we see being used far too often.


WYNTER (voice-over): Aliens in America, some find the very title offensive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your exchange student.

WYNTER: The new series is about a Midwestern family that agrees to host a foreign exchange student. When he arrives from London, they're surprised to discover he's a Pakistani Muslim and fear they've opened their home to a potential terrorist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does everyone else feel about Raja and his differences? Yeah, Stephanie. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I guess I feel angry because his people blew up the buildings in New York.


WYNTER: The CW network's controversial new comedy is right on the edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the original host family learned that a Pakistani Muslim was coming, they were understandably concerned, so they dropped out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which is what we would have done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is why I didn't tell you.

WYNTER: Some American Muslims don't find the material funny. We gave the Malik family a look at some of the scenes, they say it only perpetuates the stigma of Muslims. Does a show like this belong on network TV?

MUNEEB MALIK, PAKISTANI-MUSLIM: I don't think so. The producers may be trying to create a more cultural awareness but this could really backfire.

WYNTER: People who've posted on the CW website have called the series insensitive, prejudiced and that it reinforces stereotypes, but not everyone is offended. An audience of Muslims recently screened the sitcom and gave it rave reviews.

EDINA LEKOVIC, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: I'm very hopeful that a show like this will open the door to other portrayals that show really interesting sides of Muslim American life.

WYNTER: The show's creators say they had no political agenda.

DAVID GURASCIO, CO-CREATOR, "ALIENS IN AMERICA": We want to do a show that at some level is holding up a mirror to a little bit to what is going on in the country right now.

WYNTER: Muneeb Abdul Malik says "Aliens in America" may oddly enough become the next big comedic hit. Just don't expect to see it in this household. You've seen enough?

MALIK: Seen enough, yeah.


WYNTER: Ok, so, there you have it. "Aliens in America" premiers tonight on the CW Network. And Wolf, although the Malik family won't be watching, you know one interesting point that they brought up is, where does a plot go after a few episodes, after all the racial jokes are made, will viewers actually stick around long enough to give the show a chance or will it be a victim of its own writing? I guess we'll have to wait and see. BLITZER: I remember on Canadian television there was a sitcom that dealt with this issue, but here is this sort of unprecedented, give us a little perspective.

WYNTER: It really is. It's being called, Wolf, an unprecedented portrayal and since you brought it up, that's right there is a show called "Little Mosque on the Prairie." Interesting enough, the Malik family, they've also had a chance to take a look at that and they say even that show is a lot softer in the language that's used than this one. So again, a lot of critics out there. We'll see if the show actually survives.

BLITZER: We'll watch. Thanks very much Kareen Wynter in L.A. for us. We'll be back here in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, lots more going on, until then, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou. Kitty?