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Taliban Prison Break; Donald Trump Raising Controversy

Aired April 25, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Hundreds of Taliban tunnel their way to freedom in a mass escape from an Afghan prison, including militants and some said to be top commanders.

Also, new insight into Osama bin Laden, what he was thinking and doing in the days immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks, all revealed in hundreds of secret of documents obtained by WikiLeaks.

And an explosive new charge from Donald Trump. He tells CNN President Obama's birth certificate is either missing or doesn't even exist.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In Afghanistan, a stunning prison break and a huge embarrassment for the Afghan president, for NATO and for the United States. Hundreds of prisoners, many of them Taliban militants, including commanders, escape in the early morning hours through a tunnel nearly a quarter mile long, a tunnel that took five months to dig.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Kabul. He's joining us now with more on this latest massive escape.

It's an amazing story, Nick. Tell us what you know.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it's fair to say when we first heard these remarkable claims of the Taliban, of a jail break using a tunnel, there was a degree of skepticism.

But government officials have really had little choice during the day but to bear those claims out. And now we're getting a picture painted for us really of an operation of quite some resolve and sophistication.


WALSH: They left in a hurry, but not too much of a hurry. For hours in the dead of night, about 470 Taliban insurgents left their cells in this Kandahar jail and filed down the corridor, the prison guards not stopping them. Into this room they went, down this hole, and crawling one by one out through a tunnel.

The prisoners to the west of the city and the Taliban over five months were able to dig from a nearby house hundreds of meters up into the prison compound. The political bloc, a polite name for the most important prisoners, from here, the Taliban claim as many as 106 commanders escaped, some speeding away in minibuses, others on foot. Police say there's a manhunt on, but so far not many arrests. And the questions are already ringing loud about the reliability of Afghan security forces, in this case prison guards. It is a disaster indeed for the Karzai government.

WAHEED OMAR, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN (through translator): For the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan, it is bad news.

WALSH: Bad news because NATO wants to begin handing over security to Afghan forces and bad news because hundreds more insurgents are on the loose, exactly what NATO doesn't need as a traditional fighting season approaches.

This is the Taliban's second hit on the same jail in three years, the last attack using a car bomb to breach the walls. And it is also perhaps their answer to NATO's claim they're broken in this, the Taliban's heartland.


BLITZER: Nick, you have spent several years in Afghanistan with NATO forces, with U.S. forces, Taliban fighters. How big is this prison escape for the Taliban?

WALSH: Well, I think if you just look at the sort of micro level on the ground, some of the U.S. units fighting in Kandahar concede the enemy they're against have been groups of something between about 20 to 30 people.

So, if you can imagine what the injection of hundreds of insurgents fresh out of jail into the population there could be, it's pretty significant, particularly right now when we're talking about this forthcoming so-called fighting season, just ahead of the withdrawal or redeployment of U.S. troops sent here as part of a surge in July, an absolutely key time.

And rather than NATO having the conditions it absolutely wanted on the ground, where it's gained extra territory, there's now this new influx of insurgents, a totally new factor which may really have some impact -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the scene for us, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper right now, some very serious implications to this development. Let's bring in our national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

Peter, you know this story as well as anyone in the world. How big of a deal is this? How embarrassing is this for Hamid Karzai, for NATO, for the Obama administration?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think it's quite embarrassing.

There's basically two main prisons in Afghanistan. One is outside Kabul, and this one in Kandahar where the prison break has happened for the second time. And the hard-core Taliban -- the Taliban claiming 106 commanders, I think that's a not implausible campaign.

If Kandahar is the heart of the Taliban insurgency, this prison is for the hard core of the Taliban. The fact that these all -- guys got sprung, it's a real black eye.

BLITZER: U.S. taxpayers have now spent at least half a billion dollars trying to bolster Afghan police forces, but they seem to be nonexistent right now. Is this money just thrown away?

BERGEN: Well, the Afghan police is in particularly poor shape. They're not very well paid, so they tend to be corrupt. They're not very well trained.

My guess is that the Taliban probably benefited from some inside help on this. It wouldn't be the first time. So, you know, yes, the Afghan police are, you know, a fairly incompetent group of people at the moment.

BLITZER: Yes. And the U.S. money simply going down the drain. All right, stand by. I want to continue this conversation.

We're learning some extraordinary details about al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Guantanamo Bay detainees, all revealed in hundreds of classified U.S. military documents obtained by WikiLeaks.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with details.

These documents, what do they tell us, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they give new details about al Qaeda's operational and financial challenges in those ominous days right after September 11.


TODD (voice-over): From former al Qaeda henchmen, dramatic new details of a terror network that scrambled to preserve its command- and-control right after 9/11. Classified U.S. military documents obtained by WikiLeaks say Osama bin Laden and his top deputies moved from safe house to safe house in Afghanistan, were able to still give orders to their followers, but that in December of 2001, with U.S. forces closing in on his hideout at Tora Bora, bin Laden was so strapped for cash, he had to borrow $7,000 from one of his protectors just to get out.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It shows that his back was against wall at Tora Bora, and in the period after Tora Bora, al Qaeda over the years had quite a lot of funding difficulties in Pakistan.

WALSH: The latest information comes from interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo. Many of the documents, including details about bin Laden's money, were made available to "The Washington Post" and "New York Times."

The information claimed by the various detainees could not be independently verified by CNN. One WikiLeaks document CNN has viewed from a detainee who had been a bodyguard and cook for bin Laden quotes him as saying bin Laden had a normal diet, would eat three meals a day, ate the same food as everyone else, and ate with up to 15 of his bodyguards.

The documents say on 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, watched the TV coverage from Karachi, Pakistan. Mohammed would soon be on the run himself. But experts say bin Laden would rely on him after Tora Bora to order up fresh attacks.

CRUICKSHANK: Bin Laden in Tora Bora cut a dejected figure at that time. He wrote a will in which he sounded depressed. He felt that his fight may be over and that he will let other people to carry on his life's work for al Qaeda.

TODD: A Pentagon spokesman responded to the latest postings by saying WikiLeaks illegally obtained the documents and the information may or may not represent the current view of a given detainee.

I asked CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend about that.

(on camera): As far as what they're getting now from these guys, is it any good, it is valuable?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, intelligence is perishable. And so the further you get from their time outside of captivity to now, the likelihood is there's less and less that's really of actionable -- an actionable nature.


TODD: But Fran Townsend believes it is still worth it to keep holding those detainees purely for security reasons. She says, despite rigorous screening, many of them returned to the battlefield.

In fact, one of the newly released documents reported by "The New York Times" says while he was at Guantanamo, one detainee portrayed himself as simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was captured. He kept saying that had only been trying to help his brother from being captured, but once he was released from Guantanamo, he became one of the Taliban's most notorious operational leaders -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You have also received, Brian, some details about the nature of the interrogations at Guantanamo.

TODD: That's right. A Pentagon spokeswoman told us this afternoon that all interrogations of detainees right now are voluntary. About a third of them are requested by the detainee and that for many of them the subject of a given interrogation is limited to the safety of camp personnel and other prisoners and to double- checking intelligence obtained from commanders on the battlefield.

So, it lends to more questions about just the kind of intelligence they're getting from the detainees at Guantanamo.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's bring back our national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

You have gone through a lot of these WikiLeaks documents. What do we know about bin Laden now that we didn't know a few days ago?

BERGEN: I think we have a little bit better sense of where he was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

I think overall, the WikiLeaks documents, these WikiLeaks documents about Guantanamo remind me a little bit of the WikiLeaks documents we had about Afghanistan and Pakistan from the U.S. military. They don't really add anything seismic to our general understanding of what happened. They're filling in details. They will be very interesting for future historians.

These are not top-secret documents. They're secret. So they're not the crown jewels. As Brian mentioned in the piece, the fact that bin Laden was hard up for cash I think is pretty interesting, but that sort of accords with something we already knew, that bin Laden didn't have millions of dollars when he was in Afghanistan. Even though he's the son of a billionaire, money was tight during this time period.

It's interesting now we have confirmation that the operational commander of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was watching these events unfold live on TV in Karachi, Pakistan. But again I think that's something, if we didn't know for a fact, we certainly probably thought was true already.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, thanks very much. Peter is the author of "The Longest War," an excellent book on bin Laden and al Qaeda, appreciated what is going on Afghanistan, obviously.

Is it true there are only 50 or 100 al Qaeda operators left in Afghanistan right now, as U.S. intelligence has estimated?

BERGEN: Yes, and there's probably another 300, 400 on the other side of the border. But I think getting the numbers are less important than the fact that these guys perform in sort of special forces. They're force multipliers for the Taliban. And they're not the only Islamic terrorist group.

BLITZER: So you need 100,000 U.S. troops to deal with 50 or 100 al Qaeda operatives?

BERGEN: Well, you have got a 35,000-man Taliban insurgency, which is also significant. BLITZER: All right. Peter, thanks very much.

Syria moves closer to crushing calls for reform, brutal and bloody crackdowns, witnesses reporting a trail of bodies in the streets of one city. We're digging deeper. We will get some insight into what's happening now, what's coming next. The Middle East expert Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, the video is truly amazing, so is the outcome as a major American airport takes a direct hit from a tornado.

And he's staking his possible presidential candidacy on the so- called birther issue. Now Donald Trump is upping the ante big time with an explosive new charge he just leveled in an interview with CNN. Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. ."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the United States is threatening targeted sanctions against Syria in the wake of another bloody crackdown on protesters.

The National Security Council accused Syria of brutal violence against its citizens, calling it completely deplorable, tough talk, much tougher than what President Obama had to say on the subject last Friday when he learned that 70 unarmed Syrian protesters were murdered by government security forces. The president issued a statement calling -- quote -- "on all sides to cease and desist' -- unquote.

Those of you being murdered in cold blood, please stop it.

President Obama's not exactly getting high praise for his foreign policy these days. More than a month into a bloody civil war in Libya, that conflict appears to have reached a stalemate now. After weeks of hemming and hawing and wringing of hands, Mr. Obama finally gave the OK for airstrikes against Libya without consulting Congress first.

At the time, he said we would be involved in Libya for -- quote -- "a matter of days, not weeks" -- unquote. Well, guess what? It's already approaching months. He said no American boots would ever be on the ground in Libya. Wrong again. We have been on the ground there for some time.

And then, last week, the president authorized the use of unmanned drone strikes in Libya in support of the NATO mission there, yet another expensive escalation. Violence continues to rage on throughout the region. A piece on The Daily Beast calls Obama -- quote -- "a persuasive politician and diplomat who gets others to crawl out on limbs, has them take big risks to break through to a new future, and then turns around and walks away from them when the political winds in the United States threaten to shift." And just think. His critics had the temerity to suggest that he didn't have the necessary experience to be president.

Here's the question. Is President Obama's foreign policy headed for disaster?

Go to to post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of questions about doubling down, tripling down, if you will, on Afghanistan, in addition to Libya, all good questions, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: We have been in Afghanistan for, what, 11 years? How do 500 Taliban morons dig a hole and get out of prison? How does that happen?

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's a great question and it's a very worrisome development.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: I keep pointing out, Jack, $2 billion a week, $100 billion a year, the United States taxpayers are spending keeping 100,000 troops in Afghanistan trying to build up that country, all the economic assistance, a commitment to stay there on the ground through the end of 2014, not just beginning a withdrawal in the coming months, but staying there for a long time to come.

And people are wondering, is that money simply being thrown away, given what's going on with Hamid Karzai's regime?

CAFFERTY: Yes. And here's a hint. Yes, it is. Maybe some of those soldiers ought to guard the jails over there. That is just outrageous -- 500 of these guys break out of prison. We have had a military presence in that country for 11 years, and we let this happen.


BLITZER: Almost a mile long, or half a mile. They had really good...


CAFFERTY: It took them like four-and-a-half-hours to get out, right?

BLITZER: Yes, they really had good spoons to do so, yes. All right, Jack, thanks.



BLITZER: Donald Trump is making a surprising new claim as he continues to stake his possible presidential campaign on the so-called birther issue. After saying he hired investigators to go to Hawaii and find out whether President Obama was born in the United States, he now says President Obama's birth certificate is missing or doesn't exist. Listen to what he just told CNN's Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": We have interviewed the former director of the Hawaii Department of Health, a Republican, one of two state officials who has actually seen the original birth certificate that you're talking about in the Department of Health vault. She says she hasn't been contacted by your people.

Isn't that somebody they should talk to if they're there?

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: Well, I've been told very recently, Anderson, that the birth certificate is missing. I've been told that's it not there and it doesn't exist. And if that's the case, that's a big problem.

COOPER: Who told you that?

TRUMP: I just heard that two days ago from somebody.

COOPER: From your investigators or...

TRUMP: I don't want to say who, but I have been told that the birth certificate is not there; it's missing. And I feel badly about that, because I'd love for him to produce the birth certificate, so that you can fight one on one.

I mean, if you look at what he's doing as president with fuel prices and everything else, you can do a great fight one-on-one. You don't need this issue.


BLITZER: Let's talk about Donald Trump a little bit more with our CNN national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

This whole birther issue, Gloria, good for the Republicans or bad for the Republicans?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the Republicans that I talk to say that it takes the conversation really out of the mainstream, that Republicans are talking to each other about this birther issue because almost 50 percent of Republicans aren't sure whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.

But in a general election, you have to talk to independent voters -- 74 percent of independent voters say, you know what? We think Barack Obama was born in this country. So to the extent that it keeps Republicans from talking about issues like jobs, the economy, gasoline prices, which might be productive for them, they say, you know what? Enough with this.

BLITZER: Say what you will about Donald Trump, Jessica, he's not backing down at all. If anything, as I said, he's doubling down.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's doubling down for now. But we have seen this before. Another cycle, he also played it up, went on "LARRY KING LIVE," she was going to announce, formed an exploratory committee, then pulled out.

The one thing this does do is it distracts attention, our attention from the other candidates who are right now out there trying to develop their messages, people like Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. If Donald Trump weren't getting all this attention, we'd be all these guys saying that they're boring or they can't get it right or they're seeming as inauthentic. And right now this kind of gives them some free running room to practice, figure out what works while Donald Trump is a sideshow. They don't think it will last.

BORGER: But there are only a couple of candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney who have said this birther stuff is nonsense.

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: And in a way, Republicans have asked for this debate because some of them, lots of them tend to say, and Michele Bachmann has lately backed off, they say we take the president at his word. Well, that's kind of weak, ambiguous. And so as much as some of them complain about the debate, this is an attractive debate for their base and it rallies the base, which is exactly, I would argue, why Donald Trump even raised it in first place.


BLITZER: We're not going to not hear the end of it for a while.

Guys, thanks very much.

Donald Trump certainly has a lot more to say about this. You can see the full interview with Anderson Cooper later tonight on "A.C. 360," 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.

Could more rulers be fated to lose power in the Arab spring or will brutal crackdowns silence the growing dissent? I will ask the Middle East expert Fouad Ajami.

Plus, a twister tears through an airport in a major metropolis. It's already back up and running.

And there's more to wedding music than here comes the bride, especially when the groom could one day be king.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A brutal and deadly new phase in the Syrian uprising started before dawn this morning when as many as 5,000 military and security forces marched into the southern city of Daraa. That's where calls for reform first began in Syria and now being crushed. Syria is keeping foreign journalists out. Witnesses however and activists report indiscriminate shooting that left, and I'm quoting now, a trail of dead bodies in the streets.

The Obama administration is calling the crackdown deplorable and threatening new sanctions. And a draft resolution condemning the violence is now circulating over at the United Nations.

Let's dig deeper with Professor Fouad Ajami. He's the director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, the School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington.

Fouad, the Syrian government, President Bashar al-Assad said its forces had to go into Daraa in order to establish tranquility because terrorists were threatening the residents there. What do you make of that suggestion?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, look, Wolf, from the beginning this caravan of Arab freedom as I described this, this caravan of Arab freedom was going to come to Damascus and this caravan of Arab freedom was going to come to a cruel tyrannical city.

We now see Bashar al-Assad for what he is. For a long time now, for 11 years, after he succeeded his father, everyone bet on him. He was young, he came in at 34. He promised an opening. He promised a spring. And now we have come to this cul-de-sac in Syria. Syria is a cruel country. And if you take a look at the -- this Arab spring, you have Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen on one side, you have Libya and Syria on the other and Syria is the cruelest stop for this caravan.

BLITZER: You wrote a brilliant article in "The Wall Street Journal" today, Fouad. And I recommend it highly to all of our viewers out there.

AJAMI: Thank you.

BLITZER: But it' amazing when you think of Gadhafi on one hand, Bashar al-Assad on the other hand and the efforts that U.S. presidents, U.S. secretaries of state, senators, congressmen made to cultivate both of these leaders. And look what came of it.

AJAMI: How well you know, Wolf, how many glasses of lemonade people shared in the presidential palace with Bashar al-Assad and his father. We have always lived on this promise, by the way. We have always lived on this promise in Damascus that another trip to the Damascus by another secretary of state, by another president, by another senator, by another chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will make Bashar al-Assad see the light of day.

But once this rebellion came to Syria, it had to play by Syrian rules. We must understand what the Syrian rules are. There is the ruling family, the House of Assad. There are the brigade commanders around him, there are the intelligence barons and there are his own Alawite community, committed to his hegemony and committed to his primacy. And the threat Bashar has offered is, listen, folks, this is not Tunisia, this is not Egypt, this will be played by Syrian rules and the rules will be very bloody.

BLITZER: He's keeping all foreign journalists basically out of the country. I think he has learned that lesson from what happened in Egypt, what happened in Tunisia, to a certain degree even in Libya. But the video is getting out. We're seeing these horrible images. He can't hide that anymore, can he?


AJAMI: Well, he can't, but this is the only game this man knows. And the irony is this is a person who lived in London, who studied ophthalmology, who loved the music we're told of Phil Collins, who was Westernized. He went to a French (INAUDIBLE) in Damascus, et cetera.

So he's not unexposed to the outside world. But the system is what it is. The system is the security state, the terrorist state around Bashar, around his younger brother Maher, around his sister, around his brother-in-law. This is a ruling family., the house of Assad determined to rule and determined to crush any rebellion.

And I think pity the Syrian people. They rose in rebellion, in nobility, but they face this heartless regime completely.

BLITZER: The Syrian regime has a close relationship with Iran.


BLITZER: What is the Iranian role, if any, in Syria right now?

AJAMI: Well, I don't think the Syrians really need much help in terms of a crackdown.

They have got -- they have got those kinds of skills. President Obama said they're receiving help from Iran. They may be receiving help from Iran economically. They have slipped into a kind of relationship of tutelage with Iran over the years. They began it in 1980, but they drifted into it deeper and deeper under Bashar.

But as far as terror, as far as the brigade commanders, as far as the art of killing. As far as firing on mourners, Wolf, they're firing on mourners when mourners come out. I think this regime knows the art of brutality.

BLITZER: Should the U.S., should the Obama administration recall its ambassador from Damascus?

AJAMI: We have no business sending an ambassador to Damascus. We've always been waiting. It's always waiting for Godot. We -- the moderation in Syria is just a day away. So we are always trying to sweet talk the Iranians out of their alliance with the Iranians, out of the business of terror, and the Syrians take what we offer them. They pick -- they pick our pocket, and they persist in a way the regime cannot reform. The regime does not know how to reform. And the bet -- the bet on youth, that somehow or another, because Bashar is 40 years younger than Mubarak, 30 years younger than bin Ali, that's he's cut from a different cloth is completely false.

BLITZER: And you point out Bashar Assad studied ophthalmology in London. In Libya, Saif al Islam Gadhafi, the son of Moammar Gadhafi, he got a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. Everybody thought, well, this guy is a very liberal, progressive reformer, and look what's going on in Libya right now.

AJAMI: Well, it has nothing to do with power. The will to power, the will to rule, the will to plunder, the will to steal, the house of Gadhafi with his billions of dollars. The house of Assad, Wolf, the house of Assad, their father, Hafez Assad, rose from obscurity as an officer from the Allawi (ph) mountains. They have risen to become a great, great syndicate of crime and extortion. It's about power. It's also about huge, huge sums of money and privilege.

BLITZER: One final question about Gadhafi. The NATO air strike on his compound over the weekend, was that, as far as you're concerned, a targeted assassination attempt?

AJAMI: Why not? I mean, I agree with Senator Lindsey Graham, with Senator McCain, with Senator Lieberman. This idea that we are committed to protecting the Libyan people, but we're not going to strike at Gadhafi, again, it's a false distinction. To protect the Libyan people we have to strike at Gadhafi. And war is always acquiring new aims. The aim of this war in Libya should be the removal of Moammar Gadhafi. We've crossed the Rubicon on him.

BLITZER: Gadhafi, Bashar al-Assad. We'll see what's happening next. No one knows the region better than Fouad Ajami. Professor Ajami, thanks very much.

AJAMI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Devastation so severe it's hard to believe no one was killed. Some are calling it the St. Louis miracle.

Plus, they're calling it the wedding of the century with music to match. We're going to get some insight into the soaring songs of the upcoming royal wedding.


BLITZER: Music will set the mood for Friday's royal wedding in Britain. Prince William and Kate Middleton have chosen music with care with advice from the groom's father, Prince Charles. CNN's Max Foster met one man who will play an essential role in these festivities. Max is outside Buckingham Palace. He's joining us now live with more -- Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's going to be a pretty spectacular display here in London on Friday. It's going to look like a full state occasion. It isn't fully. It isn't officially a state occasion, because William is the second in line for the throne, not first. But it's going to look pretty fantastic. They'll have 160 cavalry coming out of Buckingham Palace, all the state carriages on display. And in the service at Westminster Abbey, you're going to hear a world-class concert in many ways. Whatever you thing of the monarchy, it's going to be pretty fantastic.

I've been speaking to a few of the musicians who will be involved in the service.


FOSTER (voice-over): The service at Westminster Abbey will have music to match this most regal of settings. No state occasion can begin without a fanfare from the castle cavalry. Their outfit is the oldest in the British army. And they take their place in British history once again for the royal wedding.

(on camera) Once she's inside the church Catherine will come through the choir screen there with her father past the choir stalls where the choir will be standing. We expect her to come up here to the high altar, where she'll meet William and be married.


(voice-over) Bringing a sense of spirituality to the proceedings will be the boys of the Chapel Royal Choir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really exciting. Quite an honor, actually. So looking forward to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 50 years this will be, like, major history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so lucky that I got to participate in such an event which only happens months and a long time.

FOSTER: And to add to the music of church and state, a personal friend to Prince Charles, Christopher Warren-Green, will conduct the London Chamber Orchestra, playing here at a recent concert.

CHRISTOPHER WARREN-GREEN, LONDON CHAMBER ORCHESTRA: Both Prince William and Ms. Middleton are very actively involved in what they want for their wedding. And they have great taste in music and very strong ideas.

FOSTER: No pop singers are expected at the wedding, though we are assured that Catherine and William do have a wide range of musical tastes.

WARREN-GREEN: I also have an all-embracing taste in music. I don't drive home after conducting a Mahler symphony and listen to a Mahler symphony. I usually drive home and listen to jazz or the Beatles. Or I actually quite like heavy metal.


BLITZER: We're back to Max outside Buckingham Palace right now. A lot of us remember the wedding 30 -- some 30 years ago. Prince Charles, Princess Diana. What's going to be different? What is so far different this time around?

FOSTER: Well, so many elements of this are similar. The carriages are similar. You see a lot the same on the front of it, really, in many ways. But there will be some modern edges to it.

Kate Middleton and William have approved everything in this wedding. And what's interesting is not just the fact that they're so involved, when Diana wasn't as involved in her wedding. But Buckingham Palace is making it really clear that everything has been approved by the couple. So if anything goes wrong, it will be down to the couple.

And you may remember how Diana, her relationship with the palace wasn't very good. It all broke down. You know, Kate and William are crucial to the British monarchy. They've got to keep it alive. They've got to bring youth to it. And I think Buckingham Palace realize -- realizes this time they've really got to support this wedding, make sure Catherine and William have the best chance of keeping the monarchy alive, really.

BLITZER: Friday morning it all starts. You'll see it live here on CNN, starting 4 a.m. Eastern. Our special coverage. Thanks very much, Max.

The royal wedding is more than a celebration of Prince William and Kate Middleton's love. It's also a chance to buy all kinds of trinkets, from refrigerators to underwear. It's all available.

And a tornado tears through St. Louis. No one is killed, thank God. How it happened. Stand by.


BLITZER: The St. Louis airport is operating at 90 percent capacity today despite being walloped by a tornado Friday night. Missouri's governor calls it absolutely amazing that no one was killed by the raging storm.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now from Bridgeton in Missouri with the latest. The pictures are devastating, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they really are, Wolf. And the rain is back. And it's just adding to the misery here. This is what the aftermath of an F-4 tornado looks like.

And when you look at all the destruction, it's really striking to think about how the tornado brought down all these houses, but it spared all the occupants.


SIMON (voice-over): It is the St. Louis miracle, the worst tornado here in more than 40 years, and not a single person died, not even a major injury.

For Dave Koenig, it all came down to the last moment, seeking refuge in the bathroom, lying on the floor.

DAVE KOENIG, SURVIVED TORNADO: The house was shaking, and it was bouncing. And in 30 seconds, it was sheer quietness, nothing.

SIMON: How people survived without barely a scratch is a story of luck, but also how a city accustomed to dangerous weather followed the playbook on how to respond.


SIMON: First, the warning system. It worked as designed. The sirens could be easily heard and went off more than 30 minutes before the tornado struck, giving people plenty of time to find shelter.

(on camera) The best defense when a tornado is imminent is to head to the basement. As you can see this house is leveled, but if you go downstairs, you'll see that things are basically intact. All across St. Louis, people huddled in rooms just like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The public did what we have told them to do. They had a plan in place.

SIMON (voice-over): Many also credit the local news for breaking into network programming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're in the path of these storms east of St. Louis, your safest bet is in the basement.

SIMON: But luck may have played an equally important role. For instance, the time the tornado hit.

(on camera) You think the fact that the tornado happened at 8 in the evening as opposed to later at night, has something to do with all these people surviving?

KOENIG: If it happened at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning, 80 percent of us would be dead. I mean, these homes are leveled. Where the bedrooms are, there's nothing there any more. We would have been sucked out there somewhere.

SIMON: And at the airport, which took a direct hit, it was a quiet Friday night. Few planes on the ground were filled with passengers, and the planes, facing winds as high as 200 miles per hour, somehow did not topple.

CHARLIE LOUIE, ST. LOUISE COUNTY OFFICIAL: When you look back about this, about 20 years from now, they won't think about the airport. They'll think about their lives. No one lost their life. To me, that is extremely, extremely important.


SIMON: And these residents have a lot in front of them, but amazingly, the airport is almost back to normal today. They were at 90 percent in terms of operations. Tomorrow they think they'll be at 100 percent.

BLITZER: Amazing pictures, Dan.

Dan Simon reporting.

Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mail. Jeanne Moos standing by. She takes a closer look at the media mania over the royal wedding.


BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "Is President Obama's foreign policy headed for disaster?"

Bill writes, "Yes. He was unprepared. And since he's not learning fast enough, he'll remain unprepared. He's unqualified. When he took office in 2009, he had to think for months about what to do in Afghanistan, a problem that was already seven years old. He should have remembered his campaign promises. The only president who has been nearly as disappointing is Jimmy Carter."

Mike in New York, "Foreign policy? What foreign policy? You can't call the total inaction in nearly every foreign issue a policy."

Greg writes from California, "There'd be no Arab spring without his leadership speech in Cairo. President Obama thinks strategically. This means beyond next year. I'll put my money on him. We've all seen time and again how he's outmaneuvered his critics."

Dennis in North Carolina: "He's too slow to react to world situations. His thought process is slow. He's made great speeches on world policies, but he's not committed to them."

Tom in Michigan writes, "As long as our foreign policy is to war with other countries to achieve economic goals, continue to force our way of life on others, and be governed by corporate America, disaster is the only way it will end up. Too few controlling the many. Our government body, from the White House on down, do not represent the wishes of the people. We're a government without representation, and we have been for a long time."

Patrick in Michigan: "It really doesn't matter who the president is. Our foreign policy has been a disaster for decades. We all know where this is heading, and it's not going to be a happy outcome."

Mike writes, "Jack, are you kidding me? Obama's foreign policy is not headed for disaster. It arrived in Libya, in Yemen, and Syria. Soon to arrive in Iran and back in Afghanistan, with 500 Taliban who just escaped from prison."

If you want to read more on this, go to the blog: See you tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

There's still plenty of pain over at the pump. Forecasters say gas prices, though, may be close to a peak. That's what they're saying. Alina Cho is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest, Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. You think you've seen everything? Well, check this out. The price at one Washington, D.C., gas station close to you, $4.99 for regular, $5.19 for supreme.

Now, the nationwide average is $3.88. But there is some good news somewhere in there. Experts at the Lundberg Survey say crude oil prices are rising more slowly of late and may keep gas from hitting that all-time record average of $4.11 a gallon.

Sarah Palin's old nemesis is apparently writing a tell-all about his relationship with the former VP candidate. Thought you've heard everything? Well, think again. Levi Johnston's book is apparently based on his experience as the boyfriend of Palin's daughter, Bristol, and the father of her granddaughter. The book is due out this fall. It will be titled "Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs."

And an Internet sensation appeared in court in Huntsville, Alabama, today to answer to a charge of marijuana possession. Now, you may remember Antoine Dodson's interview after a break-in at his sister's apartment. Watch.


ANTOINE DODSON, INTERNET CELEBRITY: Well, obviously, we have a rapist in Lincoln Park. He's climbing in your windows. He's snatching your people up, trying to rape them. So you all need to hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband, because they're raping everybody out here.


CHO: Now, before he was arrested, Dodson parlayed that into fleeting fame. His interview became the song "Bed Intruder," which he performed at last year's BET Hip-hop Awards. Now, despite the change in fortunes, Wolf, Dodson didn't a appear to be bothered by his arrest. Watch again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think about the charge?

DODSON: It sucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why does it suck? DODSON: Because I don't deserve to be here. I never got in trouble for nothing in my life. This is sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explain to me what happened.

DODSON: I got pulled over in my Mercedes E-Class.

That's what happened.


CHO: All right, Wolf. He wasn't bad. He looks like a bit of a performer. But he is no match for you at the Soul Train Awards, I'll tell you that much. No match for the Dougie.

BLITZER: He's obviously got a little personality, this guy. Thanks very much, Alina.

The royal wedding offers an unforgettable experience people can share, even if they hate it. Jeanne Moos has more on the lovers and the loathers, all coming up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Studies show the U.S. Has higher coverage of the royal wedding than the U.K. Jeanne Moos has more.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you'd rather say "I don't" than "I do" to massive coverage of the royal wedding, well, it's too late.


MOOS: It's started.


MOOS: Don't expect to be able to get the royal theme music out of your head and don't expect weighty questions, except for this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has Kate Middleton lost too much weight?

MOOS: Do expect anchors to be playing dress up.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You look fabulous.

MOOS: From masks to crowns...


MOOS: ... to hats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're both sporting the ones that we picked out.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": This is a little pirate-y, too. Isn't it a little bit?


MOOS (on camera): One network has even acquired an accent.


MOOS (voice-over): A British accent...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live at the royal wedding.

MOOS (on camera): ... on an American network.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Share the moment Friday, live from London.

MOOS (voice-over): Wait a minute. That's a second network. By the end of the week, will all of American television sound like the BBC?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's Barbara Walters with a special royal "20/20."

MOOS: The media competition was fierce...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kit and I went shopping today.

MOOS: ... to find the most ridiculous souvenirs.

ROBIN ROBERTS, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": There is a refrigerator, a commemorative refrigerator, with Will and Kate on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will and Kate seat for your own throne.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For 200 bucks you can get a Kate Middleton statuette.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The royal wedding sick bag.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": The royal wedding souvenir of the day. Today we have royal wedding underwear.

MOOS: With lines like "Kate stole my husband."

Anchors found excitement everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Astoria (ph) Hotel where the Middleton family will be staying the night before the wedding.

ROBERTS: We have chills.

MOOS (on camera): Now, not everyone has chills. Some are downright chilly towards the wedding.

GOLDBERG: Do you think Americans really give a flying...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care. I don't care.

MOOS: We in the media could use a crash course on royalty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was in the wedding of Princess Diana to Princess [SIC] Charles.

MOOS: Who are you calling princess?

Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's William and Kate.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.