Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Protests in Nigeria; FBI Investigates Suspected Homegrown Terrorists
Aired March 11, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: an arriving flight met by ambulances, passengers and crew overcome by fumes -- new concerns about the air your breathe aboard airliners.
After a bloody massacre, Nigerians take to the streets to vent their anger at a government that many say is paralyzed by a power vacuum.
And why an Israeli grocery chain sees a marketing opportunity in spoofing the surveillance images from the killing of a Hamas commander in Dubai.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just days after the government unveiled terror allegations against a Pennsylvania woman known as Jihad Jane, the FBI says it is now investigating a New Jersey man suspected of being a member of al Qaeda. The embassy of Yemen here is saying quite a bit more.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is putting the pieces together in our CNN security watch.
What do we know, Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, his name Sharif Mobley, a 26-year-old Somali American from Buena, New Jersey. A spokesman at Yemen's embassy in Washington says Mobley was one of 11 al Qaeda suspects detained in the capital of Sanaa earlier this month.
Last weekend, the embassy says, Mobley was transported to a hospital to receive medical treatment, when he attempted to escape, killing one security agent and severely injuring another. He was apprehended after barricading himself in a hospital room.
An FBI official says Mobley is under investigation on suspicion of being a member of al Qaeda. A U.S. law enforcement official is unaware of any charges against him in this country, but says U.S. authorities have been aware of Mobley for some time.
The U.S. has made a big effort to identify and locate Somali- Americans who have gone to Somalia to fight with the al Qaeda- affiliated group Al-Shabab. The worry is that they could get terror training there, and then use their U.S. passports to reenter this country, but Mobley was picked up in nearby Yemen, a country of concern for years, but especially since the attempt to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day. The alleged bomber has said he was trained and equipped in Yemen -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Lots of activity going on in Yemen nowadays.
All right, thanks, Jeanne, for that.
So, is there an increase in American terror suspects?
Let's bring in our national security correspondent Fran Townsend. She was homeland security for President Bush, worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
I guess, you know, we are hearing a lot more about this, and I assume that this is only just the beginning.
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That is right, Wolf. And this has been a focus of al Qaeda, the recruiting of Americans who can cross borders more easily than non-Americans, non- permanent resident aliens.
BLITZER: Because any have American citizenship and U.S. passports for one thing.
TOWNSEND: That's right. And they just get less scrutiny. U.S. citizens naturally get less scrutiny when they cross the border.
Al Qaeda has understood that and has made a priority of recruiting those people over time. And we are just now seeing the fruits of intelligence and law enforcement efforts to identify them by working with our foreign allies around the world.
BLITZER: What have heard, if anything, you know about this particular individual, Sharif Mobley?
TOWNSEND: We haven't heard very much.
Jeanne reported on the statement out of the Yemeni government. U.S. officials are not saying very much right now, and there's a whole host of reasons they might not. One, it's not clear how much they themselves know.
But, second, it may be that they're following up on leads that are the result of the Yemeni investigation and arrests over there, and so for that reason they would not want to talk about what they do know about this individual.
BLITZER: How much cooperation does the U.S. get from the government of Yemen?
TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, this has been -- I think the single word that describes Yemen in my mind in terms of cooperation is inconsistent.
They were inconsistent in the immediate aftermath of 2001. Frankly, during most of my time in government, you would get very good cooperation and then none at all. Remember the prison break. Many of those who escaped from prison were recaptured. Those who weren't are now the leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
That's the group that was behind the Christmas Day attempted plane bombing here in the U.S. It is also the group that's recruiting these individuals from Somalia and Yemen who have the access to the United States to train, to recruit, to proselytize, that is, to get them into the ideology and to subscribe to it and then to deploy them overseas.
And so this is a real ongoing concern. More recently, we have seen good cooperation from Yemen. Frankly, President Saleh of Yemen sees al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a threat to his regime internally in Yemen. And so, that is a real motivating force for him.
BLITZER: This must be a high priority for al Qaeda, to recruit American citizens and bring them into their network.
TOWNSEND: That is right. And they seem to have particularly focused on Somalis and Yemenis, maybe because...
BLITZER: Who live here in the United States.
TOWNSEND: Who live here in the United States or have access. Permanent resident aliens also have the sort of access to the United States crossing our borders.
And for a whole host of reasons, these are unstable places. They are ungoverned spaces, if you will. That is, they may have governments, but they're not effective in controlling their territory, which means that al Qaeda and terrorist groups have the ability to meet together in those areas around the world, to train, to equip, to teach somebody how to put together a bomb, and so it makes it really an attractive spot for al Qaeda.
BLITZER: You are just back from that part of the world.
TOWNSEND: That's right.
BLITZER: You weren't in Yemen, but you were in the Persian Gulf in some of the Gulf states over there. How confident are they right now that the Obama administration, that the U.S. has a good handle on what is going on?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, I think I would put it this way, Wolf. Everybody I spoke to -- I was in both the Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- and everyone I spoke to in those countries say they have got a good partnership with the United States, but they are very honest about, look, the United States really relies on its regional partners like the Emirates, like Saudi Arabia, especially Saudi Arabia when it comes to Yemen. They have a better understanding. They have a better capability, and so this is a problem where the U.S. alone, no matter how good we are, can't fight it alone. You need your regional partners. And I think they feel like they have got a good cooperative relationship and information sharing which is really important between the United States and their regional allies.
BLITZER: It has to be good cooperation, if the mission is going to get accomplished.
TOWNSEND: That is exactly right.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.
TOWNSEND: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All right, we are getting some disturbing information from our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, on the family, some family members of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. We reported earlier that his wife and daughter were in a serious car accident.
Brianna, what are you learning?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we are getting a sense of how serious it is, Wolf.
I'm going to read from a statement that we got from Senator Reid's office. It says: "Senator Reid's wife, Landra, and daughter Lana were involved in an accident earlier today. They are being treated at a Washington area hospital." It goes on the say they were rear-ended by a semitruck, and Mrs. Reid, Landra, has a broken nose, a broken back, and a broken neck.
Lana has a neck injury and facial lacerations. It says that both Mrs. Reid are conscious. They can feel their extremities and according to doctors their injuries are non-life-threatening. So of course they are still at the hospital and being treated, but I think, at this point, we have actually talked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Our producer Ted Barrett is on the Hill and he asked him about this, and he simply told Ted that they are hurt. But, at this point, Senator Reid, though he was at the hospital earlier, he is now back in health care negotiations with the White House and with the House of Representatives.
So you maybe get a sense that even though these are very serious injuries, as they said, they are not life-threatening, but again, Mrs. Reid having a broken back, broken neck, broken nose, and his daughter having facial lacerations and a neck injury as well, a semitruck hitting them, Wolf, obviously a very serious situation.
BLITZER: That's a truck crashing in -- from the -- rear-ending a small car.
But the fact that he is not at the hospital right now suggests that, as you say, it is not life-threatening.
KEILAR: Yes, it sounds like they are going to be OK, but of course this -- you can imagine if this were to happen to someone in your family how alarming it would be and how upsetting it would be.
BLITZER: Yes. That is shocking.
All right, thanks very much. We wish them, obviously, only, only the best.
Most people who fear air travel are concerned about a plane crash or terrorism, but there may be another danger right in the cabin. Stand by. We have details.
And the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai has been a P.R. nightmare for Israel, but now one Israeli supermarket chain is spoofing the investigation. We're going to tell you why.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Wal-Mart is coming under fire for selling black Barbie dolls at nearly half the price of white Barbie dolls in at least one store.
Check this picture out. Photos first appeared on a Web site called FunnyJunk.com showing Mattel's Ballerina Barbie, the white doll, with a price tag of almost $6. These dolls are on the shelf right next to Ballerina Teresa, the black doll, with a reduced price of $3. The photo was apparently taken at a Wal-Mart store in Louisiana.
Wal-Mart says this was more than a business decision, telling ABC News the price reduction was meant to clear shelf space for new spring inventory. They say many items are marked for clearance, adding -- quote -- "Both are great dolls. One was marked down due to its lower sales to hopefully increase purchase from customers" -- unquote.
Well, that reasoning works for a lot of products, but maybe not in this particular case as well. Not everything can always come down to just a business decision.
Critics charge, Wal-Mart should have been more sensitive when it came to these dolls. They say that even if it's not intentional, the chain is sending a message that, we value blackness less than whiteness. One sociologist says that when white dolls sell more than black ones, it is because black parents are more likely than white parents to buy a doll of a different race for their child.
She suggests Wal-Mart should have kept the dolls at the same price in order not to reinforce any -- quote -- "ugly inequalities" -- unquote.
So, here's the question: What message does it send when Wal-Mart sells black Barbie dolls for less than white ones?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and give us your thoughts.
BLITZER: And you are about to get inundated with a lot of e- mail, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Yes, we already have gotten quite a few e-mails on this one.
BLITZER: I'm sure you will. I will be anxious to hear what our viewers think. Thank you.
So, is the air you that breathe on board a plane really safe? Last year, CNN reported on the risk of toxins entering the cabin ventilation system where they are inhaled by crew and passengers.
Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is joining us with some more disturbing news -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, fortunately, this is not common, but the fact is, a growing number of airline crew and passengers are falling victim to toxic air exposure.
One U.S. Airways airplane in particular had repeated problems in recent weeks, causing pilots and flight attendants to suffer severe health issues.
(voice-over): January 16, ambulances meet U.S. Airways Flight 1041 arriving in Charlotte from St. Thomas. Eight passengers receive medical treatment. Seven crew members are rushed to the hospital after complaining of headaches and breathing problems.
Neither the pilots nor flight attendants would speak with CNN, for fear of losing their jobs. But Judith Murawski, industrial hygienist with the Association of Flight Attendants, has been talking with her union members.
JUDITH MURAWSKI, INDUSTRIAL HYGIENIST, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Headaches, confusion, some disorientation, dizziness, nausea, these are some of the symptoms that they have described.
CHERNOFF: U.S. Airways tells CNN there was a leak on a seal of the right engine of the Boeing 767 that allowed toxic engine oil mist to enter the cabin.
CAPT. PAUL MORELL, VICE PRESIDENT OF SAFETY, U.S. AIRWAYS: And there is a little bit of oil that seeped into that system, and that is what caused -- vaporizes -- and that is what caused the symptoms of the passengers.
CHERNOFF (on camera): How could engine oil mist enter the air on board a plane? Well, half of the air we are breathing in the cabin comes through the jet engines. It is called bleed air, because it bleeds off of the engines, then travels through the wings and into the cabin, where it mixes with recirculated air.
(voice-over): Engine oil contains a toxin, tricresyl phosphate, that can cause neurological damage.
Terry Williams who is a flight attendant for another airline says that's what happened to her after being exposed to a fume event nearly three years ago. She says she suffers severe headaches and tremors in her arm.
TERRY WILLIAMS, FORMER FLIGHT ATTENDANT: It just feels uncontrollable. I can't stop it from twitching or trembling.
CHERNOFF: Indeed, all seven crew members of Flight 1041 have been unable to return to work because of their symptoms.
MURAWSKI: They continue to experience neurological symptoms that impair their daily living and have precluded them from returning to flying.
CHERNOFF: Two weeks prior, the same plane, tail number 251 suffered two separate fume events. December 28, Charlotte to San Juan, US Airways service difficulty report with the Federal Aviation Administration, says a very strong odor smelling like wet socks and/or dirty feet circulated through the passenger cabin and flight deck. Crew members reported trouble breathing, itchy eyes and stomach cramps.
Two days later, the same plane on the same route, a foul odor entered the cabin. Passengers and flight attendants were feeling faint and nauseous. US Airways says hydraulic fluid was released into the bleed air system on both flights. That fluid, Skydrol, is a known irritant to the respiratory tract.
MORELL: US Airways takes this very seriously and we do everything to our utmost to maintain the safety of the air quality for both our passengers and our crew.
CHERNOFF: The airline says the plane was taken out of service after the January 16 incident for maintenance work. When it returned to service on January 21st, US Airways reported to the FAA a scorched odor like a gym or locker room filled the aircraft. Maintenance found no problems and the plane remains in service.
(on camera): This is a problem that all airlines share. Indeed, flight attendants say Northwest Airlines also suffered a series of three fume events over the past several weeks on the same aircraft flying being Frankfurt and Detroit.
The airline says -- quote -- "We are investigating each case of employee illness, but, at this time, we cannot pinpoint a specific cause."
How often do contaminants get into the cabin? A study for the British House of Lords found problems with cabin air in one of every 2,000 flights. Even Boeing concedes there is a chance of fume events, but the company says the air on board its aircraft is safe and healthy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff with that investigation for us -- Allan, thank you.
Chile is jolted once again, this time by an aftershock nearly as strong as the earthquake that rocked Haiti in January. Stand by for details.
Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Poking fun at a cold-blooded assassination -- why an Israeli grocery chain is now spoofing the surveillance images from the hit on a Hamas commander in Dubai.
And we are on the trail of your tax dollars. Stimulus funds meant to supply fast Internet connections to rural Americans, where is the money really going?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Communities in Minnesota who say they need the broadband money for emergency response systems, they are rejected, but you have a New Hampshire resort community, a multimillion-dollar resort community, that gets the money. We are here at the Department of Agriculture to find out why.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And, to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Federal investigators use a new tool to track the source of an outbreak of salmonella, grocery store shopping carts. We are going to tell you how they did it and why it is raising concerns amongst some privacy advocates.
Also, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg say they want you to feel the fear of American soldiers fighting in the Pacific during World War II. Our Brian Todd spoke to them today about their new HBO miniseries.
And it is not every day a celebrity gets the question the editor of a supermarket tabloid. We are going to show you Barbara Walters grilling the chief of "The National Enquirer."
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM. In a modern economy, broadband connections are certainly vital, but, in rural America, broadband is still a luxury. So, to wire their homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses, communities across the country are now vying for $7.2 billion in stimulus funds. But that taxpayer money may not be going exactly where you might expect.
Mary Snow has been digging into this story for us.
All right, Mary, what are you finding out?
SNOW: Well, Wolf, in recent weeks, communities across America found out whether or not they would be getting help from Uncle Sam to get high-speed Internet access. So, where is the money going? There were 2,200 applicants. We took a closer look at two of them.
SNOW (voice-over): Skis may be the obvious essential here in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
CHARLES ADAMS, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: The original master plan...
SNOW: But Charles Adams says so is technology. Adams is one of several real estate developers behind a $50 million renovation project to revive this luxury hotel. He is pushing to bring broadband here so surrounding vacation homes will have high-speed Internet access.
ADAMS: Not only for people who want to live there and telecommute, but also in attracting businesses who want to set up an operation in a beautiful setting like this.
SNOW: The resort community is in a rural area, where laying the infrastructure for broadband is costly. So, when the government announced it was allocating billions in stimulus money to bring broadband to rural communities, Adams encouraged Bretton Woods' telephone community to apply.
ADAMS: We probably did think it was a little bit of a long shot.
SNOW: That was not the feeling in another part of the country, southeastern Minnesota, where Gary Evans thought his company was a shoo-in for a broadband grant. Hiawatha serves a string of communities without broadband, including an Indian community near a nuclear power plant and the tiny rural community of Minneiska. The town wants broadband to send tornado alerts to people's homes, instead of relying on this weather siren.
DAVE PRIES, CITY CLERK, MINNEISKA, MINNESOTA: This equipment that we have here is dated back to the '70s, '80s, maybe early '80s.
SNOW: Gary Evans was hopeful he could change that until he got two letters from Uncle Sam, one from the Department of Commerce.
GARY EVANS, CEO, HIAWATHA BROADBAND: "Unfortunately, the application referenced above was not selected for funding." SNOW: The letter stated his application didn't score high enough to move forward.
EVANS: "All award decisions are final, and there is no administrative appeal process." It sounds like the price is right, or millionaire, or something.
SNOW: Why was he rejected? We asked the Department of Commerce and received a statement saying, "We can't fund all of the proposals we receive, nor do we have the resources to debrief every applicant."
Evans' second hope, the Department of Agriculture, also rejected his request for a nearly $6 million grant, but guess who did get a grant from the same agency? That resort community in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
So, you have communities in Minnesota who say they need the broadband money for emergency response systems. They are rejected. But you have a New Hampshire resort community, a multimillion-dollar resort community, that gets the money. We are here at the Department of Agriculture to find out why.
Would you say to the taxpayers, look, Bretton Woods is more worthy right now when it comes to the taxpayer money?
JONATHAN ADELSTEIN, ADMINISTRATOR, USDA RURAL UTILITIES SERVICES: It's not a question of which one is more worthy. Both of them may be very worthy, but only one of the applications in this case was submitted to us properly, in a way that was eligible.
SNOW: (voice-over): Jonathan Adelstein is the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Advance. He's overseeing his agency's grant money. He says Bretton Woods met the requirements and he says tourism is a lifeblood of the community and broadband is key.
The problem with Hiawatha's grant, he says, is money. The government had a halfway rule -- it would fund half the project, but Hiawatha could only come up with 20 percent.
ADELSTEIN: I'm sure hopeful that they will apply again, because that part of the country urgently needs broadband.
SNOW: But it turns out Hiawatha wasn't alone. So many rural communities were rejected that the government is now dropping the 50 percent private money rule for a second round of grants.
ADELSTEIN: We've learned in the first round that we need to be more flexible in how we look at these applications.
SNOW: In some cases, he says, the government will even fund 100 percent of the project if it can do so with a loan rather than a grant. That may help Gary Evans' company, but it's also an acknowledgment that the administration's "meet us halfway" rule is too much of a burden in these times and has left the government's highly touted broadband initiative to deliver high speed Internet running at dial up speeds.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: Now, Wolf, Hiawatha was just one project in Minnesota. Others in the state did get funding. Government officials say because of the sheer volume of requests -- some 2,200 applicants -- there won't be enough money to give to all of the projects, even though the need is there. One hundred sixty-eight projects have gotten the green light so far and more than $5 billion will be distributed in a second round of applications due later this month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A good report, Mary.
So how should your taxpayer dollars be distributed?
Who should get these stimulus funds?
Let's get the macro view, as it's called, CNN's from Kate Bolduan.
She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Give us the bigger picture, I guess.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And bigger picture, taking look at this concept of matching funds, that halfway point that Mary was talking, there you can -- if you look at it in this bigger picture, there's often two sides. And that really applies here.
One, we're talking about the government is trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and requiring recipients to put up some money, helps ensure that money is being spent on quality projects.
But at the same time, business owners, state and local governments, are already struggling financially. That's why they need the money.
So this is what I was told by Liz Oxhorn, the White House spokeswoman for the Recovery Act.
She tells me, quote: "Where Congress chose to keep a matching requirement, applicants are required to have some skin in the game, so they put only their best projects forward, adding another protection to make sure we are making smart investments with taxpayer dollars."
And that said, Wolf, I checked with several agencies today. And they said that they had decided to waive this requirement -- this matching requirement on some -- on various programs just for that reason, because of tough economic times.
BLITZER: So how many cities -- or people, for that matter -- vying for these stimulus dollars actually have to face this requirement? SNOW: Across the country, unfortunately, it's unclear. The government couldn't even give me a clear picture of just how many programs require this match in funding for stimulus dollars. So right now, there is no requirement.
I'm told that there's no government-wide estimate of how many programs are requiring such a match. That was shown in Mary's -- in Mary's story.
But we have been checking with various agencies. And just to give you an idea, one of the programs from the Department of Justice does call for a 25 percent funding match by recipients. But a majority of the stimulus programs at DOJ do not. And in the case of the COPS program, as it's called, this is essentially money to help officers stay on the job or get back to work. It usually requires a 25 percent funding match, but that has been waived for stimulus money, because, again of the tough economic times.
And just one other example. The Department of Transportation says certain programs usually would require a match for handing out their grants. But DOT is not requiring it for stimulus funded programs. But for some of these programs, Wolf, they do say that the ability to match funds is one of the things that they can consider in -- before they have -- give out the grants. So it will help you, essentially, but it's not a requirement to get the money.
BLITZER: It's a big picture. We had the little picture, now we have the biog picture.
BOLDUAN: And that's a big, big picture.
BLITZER: That's a lot of money.
BOLDUAN: that's a lot of money.
BLITZER: Very important stuff.
Thanks very much, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Of course, Wolf.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan reporting.
The former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, is called in to testify in federal court in a case involving a man who hacked into her e-mail account. We're going to give you the details.
And the comedian, Conan O'Brien, develops a strategy to avoid having to help around the house. Wait until you hear what he came up with.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We want to update you on the breaking news we've been following from Capitol Hill. The wife and daughter of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, they've been involved in a very serious car crash. They were driving in their car here in the Washington, D.C. area and were rear-ended by a semi-truck.
A statement put out by Senator Reid says that his wife, Landra, who is 69 years old, suffered not only a broken nose, but a broken back and a broken neck.
Lana, their adult daughter, has a neck injury and facial lacerations. Reid was at the hospital, senator -- the Senate majority leader was at the hospital in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D. C. He's now back up on the meetings on Capitol Hill.
Just a few moments ago, his press secretary, Jim Manley, told reporters: "Let's be clear, for those who know, he loves that woman more than life itself. But she's in good hands at the hospital and he felt the need to come back to work on the piece of legislation. And he'll be heading back to the hospital as quickly as possible. I just spoke to him," Manley says, "and he's looking forward to getting back to the hospital."
But he did rush back for meetings on health care reform legislation.
We wish, of course, Mrs. Reid and their daughter Lana, only the best on their recovery.
These injuries, according to the Senate majority leader's statement, are not life-threatening. But a broken neck, a broken back, obviously very serious injuries, indeed.
We'll stay on top of this story and get you more information as we get it.
In the meantime, let's check in with
She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on -- Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, New York attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, has recused himself from the probe swirling around embattled governor, David Paterson. At issue -- whether Paterson illegally took World Series tickets or had improper contact with a woman who accused one of his aides of domestic violence. Cuomo says he is acting cautiously because of concerns over a possible conflict of interest. He has appointed an independent counsel to investigate.
And although she's been sitting in an Alabama jail cell, the University of Alabama professor accused of opening fire on six co- workers has been officially fired. Previously, the university said she was suspended without pay. But today, the school confirms they sent a letter of dismissal effective February 12th, the day of the shooting, which -- in which three of her co-workers were killed.
NFL Hall of Famer and TV star Merlin Olsen has died. Officials with Olsen's alma mater, Utah State says -- say that he died this morning near Los Angeles, after battling cancer of the lung lining. During his distinguished football career, Olsen was voted the NFL's most valuable player. Later, Olsen also found fame in television -- in television, on shows like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy." Merlin Olsen was 69 years old.
Sarah Palin and her husband Todd are headed to Knoxville, Tennessee. There, they will testify in the case of a man accused of accessing her private e-mail account. Twenty-two-year-old David Kernell, the son of a Tennessee Democratic state representative, has been indicted for allegedly figuring out the password to Sarah Palin's personal yahoo account, reading her e-mail and then changing the password. Kernell faces felonies that include identity theft, wire and computer fraud.
And we've heard all the hype about 3-D entertainment. Now, comedian Conan O'Brien is taking it to heart. Today, he announced a live 30 city comedy show called "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour." It kicks off April 12th and it even stops in Universal City, California, near where O'Brien once hosted "The Tonight Show." The comic says his options were either do the tour or start helping around the house.
So something to look forward to. I think that's going to be a really good show -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thirty cities. I'm sure they'll do really, really well. He's a very funny guy.
All right, Lisa.
Extraordinary terror charges against an airline employee who is accused of stealing information on security measures, funding terrorists and volunteering to be a suicide bomber. Details are coming in.
And where some saw a cold-blooded killing, a grocery store sees a marketing opportunity. Why it's spoofing a surveillance video from Dubai.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The hit team assassination of a top Hamas operative in Dubai has been widely blamed on Israel. Surveillance images of the suspects have been shown around the world. But now an Israeli company is spoofing the killing for a television ad campaign.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Israel with the rest of the story.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the assassination of a Hamas leader in his hotel room in Dubai has been a bit of a P.R. nightmare for Israel. Now, one Israeli supermarket chain is hoping to turn that into a marketing opportunity.
NEWTON (voice-over): Grainy surveillance footage picks up a woman wearing a large hat approaching the freezer section in the supermarket. Another woman enters a Dubai hotel with a sinister mission on her mind. Only one of these scenarios is real. The other is the brainchild of an Israeli supermarket chain hoping to cash in on the now infamous surveillance video showing suspected assassins stalking a Hamas leader in Dubai.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We call it an assassination of prices. We are shooting everything through the security cameras of the supermarket.
NEWTON: A spoof of security camera footage from the Dubai hotel where Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated in January, would not be complete without the men in tennis gear.
Just as the Dubai surveillance showed the alleged assassins following checking up on his room number, Mabhouh to check on his room number, this actor, sporting tennis gear and a racket over his shoulder, picks up what appears to be frozen peas.
As Dubai police blame Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, and call for the arrest of Israel's prime minister, Israel's marketing minds are having a field day with what is, for many, a very serious issue.
YOSSIE MAIMON, MARKETING DIRECTOR: The objective is to get sales from excellent prices, as well as to put a smile on the customer's face.
ADI ZIM, SUPERMARKET OWNER: I hope they will also start buying our products in Dubai.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
NEWTON: There are likely many in Gaza and in Dubai who do not see a funny side to this assassination. But here in Israel, it's fair game.
During the recent Jewish holiday of Purim, where people generally dress up, one of the most popular choices of costume, tennis gear -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks reporting from Jerusalem.
So what message does it send when Walmart sells black Barbie dolls for less than white Barbie dolls?
Jack Cafferty and your e-mail, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE JAY LENO SHOW," COURTESY NBC)
JAY LENO, HOST: Earlier today, the president of Haiti was at the White House to meet with President Obama. He said the people of his country need jobs, they need places to live and they need health care. And then the president of Haiti spoke. So that was good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jay Leno last night on "The Tonight Show".
I don't know if you heard that, Jack, but he -- he's a funny guy, Jay Leno.
CAFFERTY: Yes. And he's doing extremely well, according to the accounts I'm reading about the ratings. Since his return, he's killing everybody in that time slot.
BLITZER: He should have never left. He should have never left at 11:30. That was a huge blunder on the part of NBC.
CAFFERTY: But the bigger blunder is the moron that made that decision is still in charge over there. I mean, that makes no sense at all to me, but then, hey, what do I know?
The question, what message does it send when Walmart sells black Barbie dolls for less than white ones -- at roughly half the price, actually?
Joe in Rockhill, New York: "Walmart was business oriented when reducing the price of an item that hadn't sold. Anybody still holding the race card, please rip it up and dispose of it. When I buy jelly beans, I always throw out the black ones. I'm not a racist, I just don't like licorice. I don't like coconut either. Get over the B.S."
Kam writes: "There is a message, even though people don't want to admit it. It's reflective of the situation in our American society -- whites are valued more than blacks. It's not Walmart's fault, by a long shot. Even black parents are more likely to buy white dolls for their kids than white parents are to buy black dolls. I'm black. And growing up, I had way more white dolls than black dolls and a racial complex to go along with it."
Darryl in New Jersey writes: "Oh, come on, Jack. I'm black and I'll tell you, unambiguously, it means nothing more than the fact that, A, parents tend to buy Barbie dolls that most resemble their daughters; and, B, fewer black parents are buying their girls dolls. This should come as no surprise given the jobless rate among African- Americans. I'm sure Patrick Kennedy is smashing his TV to bits right now."
Casey in California: "You'd have to have some sort of mindset that incorporates consideration, fairness and ethnic sensitivity to be aware of the message you might send, wouldn't you? Walmart only speaks dollars, so their prices reflect pushing sales of items that are not currently selling. Why would you expect any other behavior?"
Robby writes: "This is silly. I worked at Walmart for 10 years. If an item doesn't sell, it goes on clearance. To single out a certain doll because of a color is racist in itself. I just see dolls on sale and one of them is on clearance."
Jim in Reno, Nevada writes: "Walmart's explanation rings true, if for no other reason than they couldn't possibly be stupid enough to lower the price on the black Barbies out of racial prejudice."
And Joe writes: "If there's a message, only someone like you could see it. Another dull news day, Jack?"
Hey, they aren't all gems, you know?
If you want to read more on this -- we got a lot of mail on this, actually -- go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see how those Ken dolls are doing, too.
Remember the Ken dolls, Jack?
CAFFERTY: Yes. I don't know, you know, whether they're selling as well as the Barbies or not. Probably not. Barbie is kind of the Mattel...
CAFFERTY: She's the hood ornament for Mattel, right?
BLITZER: That's the -- that's the...
CAFFERTY: Just like you're the hood ornament for CNN.
BLITZER: No. I knew you were going to say that.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
All right, we've got serious news coming up. The harsh realities of war in a new TV series from the superstars who produced "Band of Brothers." Ahead, Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks, they're here in Washington to pay tribute to World War II veterans and to promote their compelling new drama, "The Pacific".
But first, the hosts of "The View" get a Moost Unusual opportunity today to confront the editor of a supermarket tabloid. Stand by for this Moost Unusual story.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.
In Puerto Rico, a golf cart navigates through a partially flooded golf course during a PGA tournament.
In England, a man shows off his brightly colored auto gyro, which he will attempt to fly around the world to raise awareness and money for cancer.
In Romania, a worker walks in between two trains during a snowstorm. Blizzards have closed roads and disrupted traffic in the southern part of the country.
And in Birmingham, England, look at this -- a girl and her dogs take a breather during the annual Crufts Dog Show.
Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.
We're just getting some video in from the press area over at the West Wing at the White House. Two special guests walking around checking it out there. Stephen Spielberg, you see him on the left walking over. Tom Hanks is there, as well. The -- both men were there to show the premier of "The Pacific," their new HBO drama that begins to air on our sister network, HBO, this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Listen to Tom Hanks. He's talking about a coffee maker over there for the press corps. They've got a problem there.
Let's listen in.
TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Whose coffee?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the guy (INAUDIBLE).
HANKS: Is it pods or loose coffee?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, baby, you remember this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Hanks, I've been the...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Pony Espresso. We love that one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been a little bit the parakeet.
BLITZER: Some discussion about coffee over at the press area in the White House.
It's most unusual for a celebrity journalist to get to grill the editor of the "National Enquirer" about what she says is a completely false story about her.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Barbara Walters was dishing it out.
The main course was...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST: This is just baloney.
MOOS: With a side helping of...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're crap.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: It comes just when the "National Enquirer" is finally getting respect -- accepted into the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the John Edwards affair. Edwards had to eat his words of denial.
JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Their tabloid trash is full of lies.
I made a very serious mistake.
MOOS: But it wasn't the John Edwards copy Barbara was reading to "The Enquirer's" editor.
WALTERS: After three months of dating, Barbara has moved Langella, who is an actor -- who's a friend of mine, a friend of Whoopi's -- into her New York apartment. And friends say a summer wedding is in the works."
WALTERS: I've looked all over my house. I can't find him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: He may be the executive editor of the "National Enquirer," but Barbara Walters was the one doing all the inquiring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
WALTERS: "Barbara and Frank moved in together in January and he popped the question soon after. Barbara has secured Whoopi's blessing."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: "The Enquirer" reported Whoopi used to date Langella, seen here playing Count Dracula.
FRANK LANGELLA, ACTOR: Blood of my blood.
MOOS: The blood being spilled here was the editor's, Barry Levine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
WALTERS: -- come from totally, totally untrue. You never called me.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST: Nobody called me to ask me Jack.
WALTERS: Nobody called Frank Langella.
BARRY LEVINE, EDITOR, THE "NATIONAL ENQUIRER": All I can say, Barbara, is that we trust our sources. There's people around you...
LEVINE: -- who love...
LEVINE: -- who call us with...
LEVINE: Barbara didn't go out on dates with Frank?
WALTERS: I have lots of friends whom I go out with and so does Whoopi. That doesn't mean that somebody is living in my apartment.
LEVINE: We will look into the story again, I promise you.
WALTERS: Oh, go on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: In the words of Count Dracula...
LANGELLA: I need your blood.
MOOS: So do the tabloids -- blood end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: -- New York.
BLITZER: Happening now, a very serious accident involving members of Senator Harry Reid's family. We're going to have the latest on their condition and how this could affect the majority leader.