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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Thad Allen; Spy Swap Completed; Russian Agents Tracked for Years; Returning to Haiti; Below the Surface of Oil Spill; NAACP Official Slammed for Marijuana Stance

Aired July 9, 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 you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: major new developments in the Gulf disaster. The national incident commander, Thad Allen, talking about a big attempt this weekend that could -- repeat -- could stop most if not all of the oil from leaking into the Gulf. We have new information coming in.

And a CNN exclusive: the first live report from underwater in the Gulf of Mexico. You are about to see a perspective of the oil disaster you have never seen before.

And that dramatic spy swap with Russia now complete. Convicted agents released by Moscow have just arrived here in the United States.

We want to welcome our viewer ins the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: This could be the most important weekend yet in the effort to fight the flow of oil into the Gulf. BP will now try to shut in, shut down the well, shut it in if they can and that could have a major impact of stemming the amount of oil gushing into the water.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. He is the national incident commander for the Gulf oil disaster.

Admiral Allen, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to play for you, first of all, what the president said almost a month ago on June 15. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. And in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's update our viewers right now, Admiral Allen. How close are we to capturing 90 percent of the oil that is spewing out of the well? ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN (RET.), NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: Well, Wolf, we're significantly closer today than we were when the president made the statement. And we have mobilized the resources that we have and that BP has.

As we speak this evening, we are very, very close to bringing the Helix Producer on board to produce oil out of the current well. They will be able probably tomorrow to start running diagnostic checks and could some time this weekend actually start producing out of the well. That was our step to bring the current well configuration capacity to 53,000 barrels a day.

We are also doing something else. Given the weather window we have got right now between tropical depressions, it was decided by the scientific team working with BP in Houston, after consultation with senior leadership in Washington, that we would go ahead and proceed based on a timeline to be provided by BP to change out the current containment cap with one that would completely shut in the well.

Subject to a timeline that BP has presented me this afternoon that is currently under review, it is possible this weekend we could move to start removing the current cap and put the new containment cap in place.

BLITZER: How long does that operation take?

ALLEN: Well, it would involve removing the old cap and then unbolting that stub of pipe that was cut off the marine riser pipe, and then putting into place a new containment cap. And that could take three to four days, but, at the end of that, if we are successful, then we have the potential to shut in the well and achieve containment of the oil.

BLITZER: All of the oil would be contained; is that what you are saying?

ALLEN: We have the potential to do that, yes.

BLITZER: All of the oil would be captured on these containment ships on the surface, and no oil would spew, assuming all this works well?

But during those three or four days...

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: Wolf -- Wolf, if I just could correct...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead. Yes.

ALLEN: ... what we are going to do is put a valve on top of the current well. And our first attempt will be to just close the valve and see if we can shut in the well altogether.

If there was a need to actually produce addition oil to relieve the pressure, we certainly are capable of doing that. But our first intent would be to try and put a valve on top of the well that could shut it in.

BLITZER: And would that mean that you no longer would need to work on those two relief wells that are supposed to be operational by August, some time in August, to shut it down completely?

ALLEN: No, Wolf. We would still need to do that.

If we were able close the top of the well, that is only closing it temporarily. The final solution are the relief wells and they are proceeding apace as well. But this would significantly improve our chances, because we could create pressure at the top of the well that would facilitate filling the well with mud when we are ready for that.

BLITZER: And during the three or four days it takes to replace the cap, all the oil would spew out. Is that right?

ALLEN: No, Wolf. We would still be producing probably 8,000 to 9,000 barrels a day or flaring it off to the Q4000. And as soon as we get the Helix Producer on board, which we are preparing to do right now, that could give us up to 20,000 barrels a day, so we could after several days in this transition be at a point where we have lost no production capability compared to what we have today.

BLITZER: And just to be precise on those relief wells, you are still assuming they will be ready to go by early to mid-August, not necessarily at the end of July?

ALLEN: Mid-August is what we have been saying, Wolf.

There are conditions under which it could happen sooner, but I am not prepared to commit to that yet. Mid-August is still the date. But we have a significant chance to dramatically reduce the amount of oil that's being released in the environment and maybe shut in the well in altogether in the next week.

BLITZER: That would excellent if possible. I know you guys are working really hard on that.

You wrote a letter to BP yesterday giving them 24 hours to respond to a whole range of issues. Did you get the adequate response from them?

ALLEN: Yes, Wolf, that is exactly what I am talking about right now. They have responded back to us, and we are reviewing their response.

They have given us a timeline to carry out all the actions that I just described. Number one is to bring the Helix Producer online so we can produce oil through that to help mitigate the oil that will be lost when the cap is removed. And then the series of steps that they have proposed to remove the current cap and put the new cap on, that is under review by our technical team right now, and the decision to authorize them to go forward will be made some time tonight or tomorrow.

BLITZER: These are critical days, these next few days. And we will stay in close touch with you, Admiral Allen. Good luck.

ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: CNN's Tom Foreman is following all of this for us.

Tom, explain to our viewers exactly what is involved in this very, very delicate procedure.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a very difficult procedure, Wolf.

And we always show this graphic at the beginning to remind people of where it is happening. This is a mile down in the ocean, where the atmospheric pressure down there, if you want to call it that, is just tremendous, the water pressure. It's a difficult, difficult place to work.

Here is what we are talking about, though, what the admiral was describing. And it is a little bit tricky. Let's go down here and look at the blowout preventer, which we have been watching for days and days.

That is where you are seeing all of the oil spewing out. You have watched this video over and over again, because there is a cap on top holding a lot of the oil in, but a lot of it is coming out of the vents on the side. The plan right now is for them to go down here to the bottom where they are going to take -- let me turn on the telestration here for just a moment if I can.

What they are going to do is they are going to take this cap at the bottom and they are going to take the existing cap off. And they have a new cap which is much tighter fitting and put it on. For a little while, the oil will spew out.

Now, he said not all of the oil. The reason he said that is right now they have one line coming off the cap up to a ship up top here. That ship is receiving all sorts of oil from it. They have another line coming out of the side from, one of these vents on the side, which is feeding a different ship over here. They are hoping to bring a third on which would take a feed from yet another line over here.

So, even when you take the cap off, oil will spew out, but some will be taken out through the side here. Hopefully they will get the other one on board here. If all of this works properly, the bottom line is they would hope to have a much tighter seal on top and the lines coming off the side, and with luck, the vents he is talking about -- one of the things we really have to stress here, Wolf, is the difference between shut in and shut off.

When I talked about this -- the oil spewing every which way in the picture we have seen many times, the reason that is happening is because you have a cap over this, but that cap has vents in it and those vents are kept open to let some oil come out, simply because by doing that, you limit how much of this explosive pressure is hitting against that cap possibly blowing it off, because the current cap is just sitting there. It's not bolted on. With the new cap, if they are lucky, what they would be able to do is they would be able to come in and put a new cap on. And what he is talking about shutting it in would be to close all those vents and see if that could make all of the oil go directly up the pipe above.

It is not shutting it off, like closing it here, but it is shutting it in. They want to see if that is possible. If they can do that, Wolf, that is a big containment issue. And then you're mu closer to be able to say, look, we didn't stop the oil flowing, but if it is flowing into ships up here instead out into the ocean, what do we care?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes, that would be a huge development. The real long-term solution are those relief wells that are supposed to be ready in August, some time, if things go right, maybe even a little bit earlier, but there are still a lot of things that can go way wrong right now. This is by no means a done deal, is it, Tom?

FOREMAN: That's absolutely right, Wolf.

And one of the issues the pressure we're talking about. I want you to notice this. Pay attention to the fact that this blowout preventer, the one we are dealing with, is not perfectly straight. In all of this activity, it has been tipped a little bit and there's always been concern about the concrete footing of this holding, how it is all put in there.

One of the concerns is with all this pressure, if you try to close it all off, you could make the pressure build up here. One concern is that it could knock this thing completely off or make it blow free, then you would have a completely uncontained spill there. This is delicate work that BP is undertaking down there. That is why they are taking so much time with it, Wolf. And hopefully, hopefully, in the next few days, some good news comes out.

BLITZER: Yes, this is crunch time, as Admiral Allen told me. This is a major, major moment right now, these next two or three or four days.

All right, Tom, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is coming up with "The Cafferty File."

Then an exclusive and unprecedented look at the oil disaster. CNN's Amber Lyon becomes the first reporter to bring you the report from under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, which is pretty oily right now.

And the dramatic conclusion to the spy swap. Accused agents freed by Russia have just arrived here in the United States, but what about the kids of the Russian agents who were deported back to Moscow?

And we go back to Haiti, six months after that devastating earthquake. The country finally has something to cheer about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, San Francisco has had its fair share of crazy ideas over the years, but here's one that's not half-bad.

The city by the bay is considering banning the sale of all pets, except fish.

That means everything, cats, dogs, hamsters, mice, rats, parrots, guinea pigs, birds, snakes, lizards, you name it. The city's commission on animal control and welfare calls all these critters companion animals.

And the chairwoman told "The San Francisco Chronicle" that people buy these small animals all the time as what they call impulse buys. They don't think about what they're getting into. And after the people decide they no longer want the animals, they often wind up at a shelter or, worse yet, they wind up euthanized.

Hamsters are apparently the biggest problem. People buy them because they think they're cute and cuddly, but quickly change their mind once the little rodents begin biting them or racing around on those exercise wheels in the middle of the night.

The proposed ban believed to be the first of its kind would require San Francisco residents who want a pet to either go to another city, adopt one from a shelter, which is really the best idea, or find one in the classifieds.

Pet store owners are up in arms. They call it a terrible idea, say they would wind up going out of business. And other critics call it an anti-pet proposal from people who oppose the keeping of pets.

At a hearing last night, after much debate, some of it heated, city officials decided to table the measure for now.

But here's the question: San Francisco is considering banning the sale of all pets, except fish. Good idea?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

You got any fish, Wolf?

BLITZER: No, no fish.

But could people go just to the suburbs, go to a pet store in the suburbs, buy some pets, and bring them into San Francisco?

CAFFERTY: Yes, yes, but they could not do it in the city. They would have to go outside the city.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: What they are trying to do is get people to adopt animals from shelters, which is where the unwanted critters wind up and then they wind up being euthanized, so it might be a win-win for the animals anyway.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thanks for that.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

CAFFERTY: Breaking news in that dramatic spy swap arrangement between the United States and Russia.

Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd. He's over at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a plane carrying what we believe to be at least two of the former Russian spies, the people accused by Russia of being spies, that plane has landed here at Dulles Airport. It is on the tarmac right now.

A short time ago, we saw some stairs being pulled up to the plane, some light-colored vans and SUVs being pulled all around those stairs. Then some of the vans and SUVs kind of pulled to the other side of the plane. Not clear at the moment if any of these gentlemen have gotten out of the plane yet. We don't believe they have. We cannot get a great view of it at the moment, but we don't believe they have deplaned yet.

It looks like, Wolf, there's going to be a convoy of vehicles taking these gentlemen out, and to where, we don't know. Four Russian men accused by Russia of being spies which the U.S. by the way has not acknowledged -- they have never acknowledged that they were spying for the United States. They have denied that.

But the four men are Igor Sutyagin, Gennady Vasilenko, Sergei Skripal, and Alexander Zaporozhsky. There is a report that two of those men deplaned in Great Britain and might have stayed there. We can't confirm that at that moment, so not clear whether there might be two men on that plane, maybe four, possibly less.

We do know that another leg of this trip was added to the itinerary after it stopped here at Dulles Airport, that leg carrying this plane to Miami. Again, not sure what the connection there is, but this plane has landed. There are several vehicles, unmarked vehicles around the plane right now. It looks like a convoy is ready to take them out, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, it looks like -- we are showing the pictures courtesy our affiliate WJLA here in Washington. These vehicles in this motorcade, this convoy nearby, we assume they will pull up. Individuals will get off that plane and get in those cars and drive somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area. I can only assume that is going to happen.

We are going to keep our eye on that Vision chartered plane and that motorcade and see what happens. Brian is out at Dulles Airport. Thank you -- Brian Todd working that story for us. There is a related development in the Russia/U.S. spy swatch now that it is complete. What about the children? What about the kids of those 10 Russian spies who are now back in Moscow? We are getting new information on that.

And for years, researchers have been searching for a weapon to fight HIV. There is news today they may -- repeat -- may have a major breakthrough that could lead to a vaccine to ward off the world's deadliest virus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Ten Russian agents deported from the United States, but what about their children? We are getting new information in the dramatic spy swap between Washington and Moscow.

Also, we return to Haiti to see what life is like now six months after that devastating earthquake.

Plus, the head of California's NAACP under fire for calling marijuana legislation a civil rights issue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A White House official now tells CNN the idea of swapping those 10 Russian spies for four men held by Moscow was initiated by the U.S. government. The source says it was discussed among the administration's national security team even before the arrests of those 10 were made here in the United States.

The swap, itself, took place at an airport in Austria and a plane believed to be carrying some of those freed Russians has just arrived at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.

CNN's Brian Todd, he is out there reporting for us.

Brian, you have also been taking a closer look at the children of these Russian agents who have now been deported to Moscow. What are you learning about the kids?

TODD: Well, the kids, Wolf, appear to be fairly spread out at the moment. Of the four married couples allegedly involved in this spy ring, there were eight children and we will start with the youngest ones first.

This is information that we got from the families' attorneys. First, that couple in Montclair, New Jersey, that went by the last name Murphy. These is not their real names whenever we refer to the names. They went by the last name Murphy. They have two elementary-school- aged daughters. We are told by the family attorney that those daughters have gone back to Russia to reunite with their parents, although it is not clear if they were on that same plane that took their parents back to Russia.

That also applies for the two very young children of the couple who lived here in Northern Virginia. They went by the names Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli, again, not their real names. But they lived here in Northern Virginia. They had two young sons ages 1 and 3. We are also told that they are back in Russia, where we assume that they are going to be reunited with their families.

Their family attorneys have told us that all these young children of these two couples were placed in the care of friends and others until the time that they could be taken back to Russia. So they are going to be reunited with their families.

Now, there are two sets of older children. The Boston couple, they went by the names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley. They have two older sons. One is in his teens. One is about 20 or so years old. And he's a student at George Washington University here in the D.C. area.

The attorneys for both of those -- for that family say that these two young men are old enough to have options as to what they want to do and that the agreement does not bar them from being in the United States, but the attorney says that both of those two young men have left the United States.

We do not know where they have gone, whether they have gone to Russia or somewhere else. We don't know whether they will return to the United States, but they are not in this country right now. That leaves two older children of the couple from Yonkers, New York. They went by the names Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez.

One of those two young men is in his teens. The other is in his 30s. The teenager is studying classical piano. Both of them, we are told, are in the United States until further notice. The family attorney tells us that.

The mother of those two young men, Vicky Pelaez, we are told by the attorney, might wind up in Latin America, where she has family. But again of those eight children, those are the only two who remain here in the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd working the story for us, as he does every day, thank you.

Let's get some more insight now into this spy swap. We will bring in our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush. She also worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. She's also a member of the CIA's External Advisory Board.

Fran, these four individuals whom the Russians have now freed, we believe two may be in Britain, two have just arrived here in the United States, what basically happens to them now?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, typically, Wolf, what happens is, the CIA -- this happened on reasonably short notice about how quickly the transfer was.

They will be taken to a safe facility. They will be kept company, if you will, by intelligence officers who are likely to go through a period of debriefing them, preparing them for a new life, arranging for new identities, relocation, housing, financial assistance. They will get them settled.

And they will go through a period of where they are talking to them to understand what were the sorts of questions that Russian officials were asking them when they were in prison, when they were arrested, how were they treated, all the sorts of things that our intelligence service will want to know so that they understand from a counterintelligence perspective how did the Russians approach a spy case. We will likely learn a fair amount from these people.

BLITZER: And these debriefings, they could go on for weeks, if not months.

TOWNSEND: That is exactly right, Wolf, absolutely.

BLITZER: What I am a little confused about -- and help me appreciate this -- for years, the United States has been following, monitoring these 10 Russian spies in New York and elsewhere.

And then all of the sudden, they decide to pick them up and then very quickly they send them off to Moscow. Why not at least spend a month or two or three trying to brief these -- debrief these individuals, scare them, say they are going to be electrocuted or whatever, do whatever they normally do in a situation like this, and try to get information out of them, before they just simply ship them back to Moscow?

TOWNSEND: Well, a couple of things to consider.

One, when we picked them up, they were picked up on criminal charges. And, in the United States, criminal due process laws apply. And, so, one, we don't know -- in fact, we may have -- the intelligence agencies and the FBI may have tried to debrief them. We don't know whether they cooperated or not.

And one of the goals is that you try to flip them, and that is double them back and a double-agent operation and we really don't know what happened. We don't know whether or not U.S. officials did try to debrief them or whether or not they did try to flip somebody and we don't know whether or not any of the agents have been doubled back on the Russians.

BLITZER: But, it looks leek they were picked up in part to do the swap, because they were talking about a swap inside of the U.S. intelligence community for some time.

TOWNSEND: Right. But just because they were talking about it in advance does not suggest to me that is why they picked them up. They had grounds to pick them up independently, and the question is once you picked them up, what were you going the d with them? It is good policy they went through the process of planning for that before they actually made the arrests.

BLITZER: Fran, thank you very much. Since January, Haitians have been struggling to rebuild after a devastating earthquake and now something has them forgetting about the problems at least for a little while, and dancing in the streets. We are about to go live to the tiny Caribbean nation six months after the disaster.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was in January when the world came crashing down in Haiti's devastating earthquake and ever since people in that small Caribbean nation have been struggling to get back at least to some sense of normalcy. Let's go to Port-Au-Prince right now and Ivan Watson has returned to Haiti, and he was there six months ago, and six months later, Ivan, what has impressed you over the past few days that you have been there? Tell us what is going on.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think that the return to normalcy, you can kind of see behind me how roughly 1 in 9 Haitians are living in this country. You see the camp here and we saw a lot of this six months ago, and you have more than 10,000 people living here no longer in tents, but becoming increasingly permanent shacks and shelters. 1 in 9 Haitians living homeless like that in squalid camps like this. 1.5 million Haitians right now, they have gotten some water from aid organizations and from the Haitian government, and gotten some health care and one of the things that the Haitian government and the aid organizations are proud about is that there is not a widespread epidemic of water borne diseases here and something they were afraid of because of the sanitary conditions, but as I drive around here in the past 48 hours, I am stunned by the fact that rubble still blocks streets. There is still rubble everywhere in the city. And that nobody has been resettled yet. This 1.5 million Haitians are still living in tents like this, and I'm being warned that they may very well be living in shacks like this another six months from now, because this problem is too big to try to bring in more durable temporary housing.

BLITZER: It is a poor country even under the best of circumstances, but in the conversations with Haitians, Ivan, are they expressing more optimism or pessimism now compared to say six months ago when this horrible earthquake occurred?

WATSON: I think that pessimism is safe to say, Wolf. I have been asked by some, listen, we heard that billions of dollars were pledged to this country and how come I have not seen a single dime. Some of the people beforehand, a large group of these people were living below the poverty line. This is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but this has also crushed what semblance of middle-class this country had. I met one man that I had met six months ago whose house was demolished and the entire family survived, but the rent that he earned from tenants in his five story house was gone. When I met him he embraced me. He was very happy to see me and then he left me dumbfounded because he said about four weeks after the earthquake, his wife got sick and died. They were living in a refugee camp, and were suffering from the conditions there. You have to wonder how many Haitians are suffering from secondary and tertiary consequences of this terrible catastrophe now. Everybody that I talk to wants a job. They are starting to come up to me directly, Wolf, to ask me for money, for handouts, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by, Ivan. I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta our chief medical correspondent. He is in New Orleans right now Sanjay you are getting ready to head back over to Haiti in the next few days and you will be there next week with Anderson Cooper reporting from the scene. What are you going to be looking for, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah we're going to be going there in about 12 hours from now, Wolf. It is interesting to listen to Ivan as well, because right after the earthquake, there was sort of this venting of compassion and lots of money donated as you know Wolf, lots of optimism at the possibility that the terrible medical infrastructure that existed even before the earthquake might actually be rebuilt in the face of all of this money and they might use that as an opportunity to create the health care infrastructure where one didn't. What I was hoping to be able to tell you at the six-month point, Wolf, that it was starting to happen that some of these small sort of hospital tents were growing and becoming more equipped and starting to do some of the things that Port-Au-Prince or Haiti really had not seen, but as Ivan is alluding to, Wolf, and as you might guess, it is not happening. It is unclear where more than $1 billion in donations have gone towards these hospitals. Some of the hospitals that even existed before the earthquake are not open or have hardly any supplies. So in some ways, it is almost like an arc, Wolf. It was terrible, it started to get a little better as the doctors showed up, supplies showed up and it took a long time as you know, but now at six months you may start to see it going back down again. And I want to find out if that is happening and why is it happening and can it be corrected, Wolf.

BLITZER: He makes a good point, Ivan, Dr. Gupta, in that a lot of pledges were made and private individuals, governments made huge commitments to help the people of Haiti, billions of dollars, but it is one thing to make a pledge, but it is another thing to actually deliver the money. Are you seeing the money, Ivan, based on the 48 hours that you have been there since you returned, are you seeing the aid money having an impact?

WATSON: Well, the United Nations says it is using that money to maintain the situation that it has right now. Again, making sure there is no outbreak of starvation, epidemics, that there is some health care for the people here. I just spoke with the prime minister of Haiti earlier today, and he was complaining that the money has not been disbursed and they don't know the schedule of the money and when it will be disbursed and as a result of that, the government cannot begin to plan on where to re-settle the 1.5 million people who are living in the filthy conditions of what are effectively squalid camps here. There is a bit of a blame-game going on as well. There was a report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee coming out of Washington that was accusing in fact the Haitian government of not providing enough leadership here, not telling people what to expect, and where to go. And all I can say is that from the people I have spoken with, they are saying that the problem is so big, it will likely look like this still another six months from now.

BLITZER: All right. Ivan, thank you. Ivan and Sanjay and Anderson Cooper will report from Haiti next week six months after the earthquake. Stay with CNN for complete coverage of that.

An unprecedented report from under the oil slick waters of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, a CNN exclusive, that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For months journalists around the world have been reporting on the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but no one has been able to bring you the story from under the oil-slicked waters of the gulf, at least until now. CNN's Amber Lyon and environmentalist Phillipe Cousteau plunged into the tainted and shark infested waters off the Louisiana coast to show you firsthand the disaster unfolding right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPE COUSTEAU, ENVIRONMENTALIST: Almost two months ago we were closer to the deepwater horizon rig, so it was thicker oil in the water column and sludge on the surface. We've been looking for that today, and it's out there, too much of it. But what I'm, you know, this is equally horrifying. The thick oil that you see so much on television, and this is the insidious cancer that is spreading into the gulf, and this dispersant that's mixing into the water column, and this oil is --

AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I hope that this is safe, because my mask is leaking right now, and I literally have water flowing in my eyes.

COUSTEAU: Do you need to come up?

LYON: No, the cool thing about this is that if I hit this button, I can clear my mask.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Amber is joining us now live in a boat. Amber not that long when you were below the water. So tell our viewers what you saw and what you felt.

LYON: All right. Wolf, we definitely saw some type of cloud down there and we could not describe what it Is. But I'm an avid scuba diver and so is Philippe Cousteau and it definitely created almost like when we were looking at each other there was a blur in between both of us and we know something was there and we could not pinpoint exactly what but this could what we found right now could lead to explain what we saw earlier. We are headed back into the shore of Venice, Louisiana, and we are still about 20 miles out into the gulf. We ran into -- and you can't see it right now, but look at this water. Normally this is a cobalt blue color. In fact, we ran into some water that was cobalt blue earlier, but if you look in here, you will see the tiny, tiny particles and that is dispersed oil. Actually one of our scientists stuck this towel into the water and look at what it did to the white towel turning it brown towards the bottom of that, so we know that there is dispersed oil in here, and you know what? Wolf we are going to plan on getting back in here and try to get an underwater shot of this as well. That is the whole thing with this is that no scientific studies have been done on the long-term effects of dispersed oil corexit mixed with crude, the long term effects on humans nor marine mammals for that matter. So it makes us a little nervous entering the water. As you saw in that video, Philippe and I were both wearing hazmat dive suits, because it is a contaminated dive and the reality now of what it takes to get under the water in certain parts of the gulf. Wolf?

BLITZER: But we heard you say when you were underwater that the water is getting through your mask and coming into your eyes. When you got into the boat, what did you do? How did you clean yourself off? I know that you obviously should have been worried about the long-term effects on your skin.

LYON: Yeah. Wolf, sometimes as journalists we try to tell stories and take risks for that, so I did not want to come up after that happened. Luckily we have a thing on the mask when you hit it, it will shoot a burst of air in your face and it cleared the mask for the most part, but when I came out, luckily we are working with a specialized diver who had a guy on top of the deck to decontaminate us. He pretty much put a type of solution that is like a Dawn dish soap what you are seeing being put on all the animals that are being cleaned off in the rehab facilities. And that is kind of what he did to us to make sure we didn't have any oil or anything else on. I was able to wash my face off pretty good and my skin is not burning besides the big globs of sun block I had on earlier. That is the only thing hurting me now, Wolf.

BLITZER: We saw in one of the earlier live reports from under the water a shark go close by and how scary was that?

LYON: You know, as a scuba diver I am so thrilled to see a shark in the water and know that shark is surviving out here. And, you know, Wolf, it is really weird to think, but I get excited when I see the sharks, because I have been on so many dives and gone to so many places out in the ocean where the dive master has said, you know what, there used to be sharks out here, but we don't see them anymore or there used to be sharks there and we don't see them anymore because of x-y-z, so it was a really good thing to see the sharks. Most people might have been scared. Phillipe and I were fine with that. Our photographer abandoned us, because he claimed that the hazmat suit was hurting his feet, but I don't know, Wolf, it seems skeptical.

BLITZER: Amber, good luck. Be careful over there. Thank Phillipe and your entire crew. You are 20 miles off shore now and we will stay in close contact with you. Good work, Amber Lyon, on the scene for us literally in the Gulf of Mexico, and when I say in the Gulf of Mexico, I mean, in the Gulf of Mexico.

San Francisco floats the idea of no more animals for sale except for fish. Is that a good idea? Jack Cafferty with the e-mail coming up next. And the NAACP's chief position favoring illegal marijuana has African- American leaders calling for her resignation. What's going on?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right back to Jack for "the Cafferty file." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, San Francisco considering banning the sale of all pets except fish. Is that a good idea?

Tessa says, "It's an awesome idea. It would be one step closer to putting an end to animal mills and it would raise the number of pets adopted from shelters. How could you go wrong with that when there are so many lives to be saved?"

Kea writes from Honolulu, "Good idea. Owning a pet is a like having a child. When the 101 Dalmatians movie came out, children across the nation wanted one. People later couldn't handle the responsibilities and a lot of the dogs ended up unwanted in pounds."

Jack writes from Niceville, Florida, "Liberals ought to love pets. I love my two dogs but they are obviously Democrats. They have never done an honest day's work in their lives and they survive solely off my hard work and generosity. By the way, a fish is not a pet. It's a decoration that you have to feed."

Tim in Texas writes, "It's a good idea. I would make one modification. Allow people to buy pets within the city limits but only after a waiting period of a week. Far too many people buy pets as impulse buys."

Sarah writes, "What a forward thinking compassionate idea. Given the number of animals in shelters this could be the best way to satisfy a perspective pet owner's desire for companionship and save an animal's life."

Julie writes, "I live in Edison, Alberta, Canada and I think this is the best idea I ever heard. I hope they make it a worldwide law. Adoption of pets is the best thing to do because it will reduce impulse purchases as well as put places such as puppy mills out of business. There is way too much animal abuse and neglect in our world."

Michael in Dallas writes, "What are you, Jack, some kind of a fish bigot?"

If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile and spend your weekend there.

BLITZER: Some people will.

CAFFERTY: That's sad.

BLITZER: I hope you enjoy your weekend. CAFFERTY: And you Mr. Blitzer. See you next week.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with "the Cafferty file."

A critical weekend ahead in the gulf oil disaster. Details of efforts that could stem the leak. That's coming up right at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."

Legalizing marijuana and civil rights, details of a controversial combination for one NAACP official.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at hot shots. In Germany, a boy jumps into a swimming pool to escape soaring temperatures. In Spain, participants run alongside a bull during the famous running of the bulls festival. In France, cyclers share a laugh with a postman before the start of the sixth stage of the tour de France. In London zoo, look at this, an adult and baby Meer cat share a watermelon. Hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

There's a new wrinkle in this week in the debate over whether marijuana should be legalized. The leader of the NAACP in California has said it should. Now African American community leaders say she misses the point so badly that she should step down. CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into this story for us. All right, Mary. What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the president of the California state conference of the NAACP is standing firm defending her stance to support a ballot measure to make marijuana legal. She says blacks are being unfairly targeted and this is an opportunity to change that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: As Californians debate over whether or not to legalize marijuana, the NAACP state conference head is taking heat for her vocal support to make it legal.

ALICE HUFFMAN, PRESIDENT, NAACP CALIFORNIA: We at the NAACP see this as a civil rights issue. This is not a drugs right issue. This is civil rights issue.

SNOW: Why do you think this is a civil rights issue?

HUFFMAN: It's a civil rights issue because when you look at the number of African-American young people and Latinos that are disproportionately targeted and entered into the criminal justice system, it's an unequal application of the law.

SNOW: Alice Huffman's stand is prompting opposition. Bishop Ron Allen of the International Faith Based Coalition is leading a group of about 20 community leaders calling for Huffman's resignation saying legalizing marijuana will hurt the black community. BISHOP RON ALLEN, INTERNATIONAL FAITH BASED COALITION: Alice Huffman is giving the NAACP a black eye and we're saying she must step down. She must resign. She must give up that post to someone that clearly understands why the black community is being devastated and will not open the door to drug dealers and pushers to push their poison to our children and our next generation.

SNOW: Huffman isn't budging saying what she's trying to do is keep young black people out of prison and keep them in schools. She cites a study by the Drug Policy Alliance, a group describing itself as one working to end the war on drugs. It finds in California blacks and Latinos make up less than 44 percent of the state's population but together constitute up to 56 percent of marijuana possession arrests.

HUFFMAN: Right now, my young brothers and sisters are in the prison system over marijuana when young white kids smoke marijuana ten times more than we do and they are arrested ten times less than we do. This is not justice. We're fighting for justice.

SNOW: On the disparity of blacks being incarcerated, Allen agrees but says as a former crack cocaine user, he fears that legalizing marijuana will encourage drug use among young blacks.

ALLEN: Why would one of our African-American leaders, Alice Huffman, advocate for the blacks to stay high. It's in their name, for the advancement of colored people. How do you educate an intoxicated mind?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Wolf, this poll coming out today showed California voters narrowly are opposed to the November ballot measure to legalize marijuana. A field poll shows 48 percent opposing. 44 percent in favor. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

That's all the time we have. Thanks very much for watching. Don't forget Saturday 6:00 p.m. eastern THE SITUATION ROOM right here on CNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank, Wolf. I'm Jessica Yellin.