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Report Shows Airport Screeners Fail To Find Knives And Guns; How bad is security at U.S. nuclear plants? Does Russell Crowe Have Starring Role In Barroom Brawl?

Aired March 25, 2002 - 17:00   ET


KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Now on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: they may grab your nail clippers, but a shocking report shows airport screeners failing miserably when it comes to knives and guns. And that's after September 11.

How bad is security at U.S. nuclear plants? One Congressional critic suggests terrorists may even be on the payroll.

Is an ailing Pope John Paul II up to the task of leading Easter week observances?

And, he failed to win back-to-back Oscars, but Russell Crowe may remain in the spotlight. Does he have a starring role in this barroom brawl? A court case in Australia may offer some answers.

Hello, I'm Kate Snow in Washington. Wolf Blitzer is off today.

Topping our news alert this hour: troubling news for air travelers in the United States.

Weapons are still making it past airport security screeners. That word, in a confidential government memo. We'll have details in a moment.

Along with airport security, there are new questions today about nuclear security. A member of Congress says terrorists may already be working at the nation's nuclear plants. You'll hear what he has to say in just a moment.

There's word from the Pentagon of new evidence that al Qaeda was interested in making anthrax. Military officials say U.S. forces found a lab in Kandahar, Afghanistan, with some of the equipment needed to make anthrax. And trace evidence of the bacteria was found at the site.

Families of the United Airlines flight 93 victims will be able to listen to the tape of the cockpit voice recorder during a session next month. That word, from the FBI. Flight 93 was the hijacked jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11th.

Now, more on those troubling new concerns about airport security in the United States. Transportation Department inspectors wanted to know just how effective screening procedures are. And they got their answer. According to a confidential report, screeners missed knives 70 percent of the time, guns 30 percent of the time and simulated explosives, 60 percent of the time. And some of those security slip- ups came after September 11th.

"USA Today" first reported the story. Blake Morrison, who wrote the article, joins us from Arlington, Virginia, to talk a little bit more about the report. Actually, first we're going to go to someone with the Department of Transportation. Michael Jackson joins us here live in the studio in Washington.

So, first, let's get reaction to the report, Mr. Jackson. You're with the agency that's charged with handling security for the nation's airports. These were internal tests that you were running. Explain to us what these tests were.

MICHAEL JACKSON, DEPUTY TRANSP. SECRETARY: Kate, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that we weren't doing as well as we needed to do. SO we commissioned our inspector general at the Department of Transportation to train a special S.W.A.T. team of folks, who went around to multiple airports across the country, and tried to probe, in very, very sophisticated ways, what vulnerabilities might economist. We knew we had issues to work against, and we wanted to identify them with clarity and precision. This was the system that we had, and we needed the data to support building the improvements that we know we want.

SNOW: Some of those figures, though, you have to admit, are startling. Thirty percent of 30 percent of guns getting through, 70 percent of knives. Did you expect that?

JACKSON: I'm not going to characterize the results in any way. These are safety analyses that are performed internally for our own work. I will say that we know that we had improvements to make, and we've been making steady improvements. The inspector general himself has said that over the time that he was testing, prior to February of this year, between the events of September and February of this year, that we've made significant improvements.

So, the data is better today than it was several months ago. It will be better still several months from now, as we work at this day by day and begin to train our new team of folks -- federal workers, who are coming in with five times the amount of security training, to assume these vital safety jobs.

SNOW: And we should make it clear, these tests were happening before the date when you took over, the new transportation security administration, took over security at the airports. Tell me more, though, about why this may have happened. Do we think that these were more machine slip-ups, or human error?

JACKSON: The reasons for this are, again, things that we're not going to characterize. But they run through the gamut of explanations. And this just means that airport security is a series of very complex issues, that require equipment and excellent training to plug any gaps. And that's exactly how we're doing it. We're taking each component part of the puzzle apart, and building new security into the training and the equipment that we deploy in airports.

SNOW: The worst result was for knives, 70 percent of knives getting through. Any indication why that would be such a concern, why knives might be getting through moire easily?

JACKSON: Well, again, knives were a component part of terror threat that the nation suffered on September 11th. And we've been testing very rigorously the issue of moving knives into airports.

SNOW: Could it be that your testers knew more effectively how to get through with a knife because they were trying harder?

JACKSON: Our testers are very, very smart, and well-trained in this area to deceive and to try to move things through. So, we are probing and pushing with as much intelligence, and understanding the whole system and how it's bolted together. So, today we have begun to deploy teams of the first federal workers, who have this training. Forty hours of classroom training, 60 hours of insight training, to be able to use this equipment better, and to be able to work these systems more effectively.

SNOW: And just quickly, specifically, what is being done on the ground? I think that there is still a variety, when you go from airport to airport. The things still look different, at each airport you go to. Are we going to start to notice more consistency?

JACKSON: That's an excellent question. Absolutely, yes. What we will see, beginning in May of this year, is that the federal security work force of the Transportation Security Administration will begin to take over airport security screening, airport by airport.

So as we move from the period May through November of next year, airport by airport, we'll begin to see systematic changes and federal workers at these jobs. So it will be a continuous improvement process over the next six or seven months, intensively, to get to where the full deployment is in place.

SNOW: Michael Jackson, deputy transportation secretary, appreciate your time tonight, reaction to that report.

JACKSON: Happy to be here.

SNOW: When we come back from this break, we'll talk to the author of the report, the reporter who first put that in "USA Today," Blake Morrison. Actually, I think we have him standing by now. Mr. Morrison, are you there?

BLAKE MORRISON, "USA TODAY": Good afternoon.

SNOW: There you are. Thanks for joining us. Let's talk about this report.

You first reported this in "USA Today." How did you find out that these tests were being run? MORRISON: I obtained a copy of this memo from a source outside the inspector general's office. The memo indicated to us that a number of these tests had been going on since September 11th. And basically, what we found interesting was that knives especially were getting through screening checkpoints. Guns also, and these simulated explosives.

Two of these objects, the guns and simulated explosives, had been objects that screeners had been trained to find prior to September 11th. The knives, of course, were not prohibited in certain classifications before September 11th, so we could understand a little bit why those might be high. Seventy percent, though, to us seemed to be a pretty significant error rate.

SNOW: You heard the deputy transportation secretary say just now No. 1, they're trying to improve, and that's the reason they did these tests, because they wanted to see where -- they wanted to have a baseline, to see where the problems were. Do you buy that?

MORRISON: Yes. Certainly they want to improve. I mean, with results like this, you certainly would see a lot of room for improvement. I think the real question is, how long will it take to improve? And, given that we were on the highest state alert at the nation's airports in the days after September 11th, how come people weren't spotting more of these?

SNOW: Mr. Jackson didn't want to talk too specifically about how things were able to get through. Did you get a sense for that, in terms of whether it was more human error or machine error?

MORRISON: Well, the Knives issue certainly wasn't machine error from what we can tell, because it said in the memo that the investigators were wearing the knives on their body. That would indicate to us that there was either a failure in the patdown issue, or a failure to recognize if a magnetometer went off, and the knife was the reason it went off.

Precisely how these were done is a matter of classification security. Sensitive information, as they say, because they certainly don't want to tell airport security screeners, "we're going to come and do these tests, now." If they did that, they wouldn't get very good results.

SNOW: Do we know if these tests have been done before, and if these results were better or worse?

MORRISON: These tests have been done before. But as I said, the inspector general has never before released any of its auditing results in a public manner. They've redacted those results pretty extensively in anything they offer publicly.

The best we could find was prior FAA test results in the '70s and '80s. And what we found interesting there was, they showed that FAA investigators back then, the screeners were more successful in detecting things than these screens were after September 11th, which raises the question: has security actually gotten worse in the days after the terrorist attacks than it was before?

SNOW: Is that because of training, or is there anyway to pinpoint why, on earth, security screening wouldn't be as good now as it was decades ago?

MORRISON: Well, I think part of the question might go to the issue of knives. As I said, a number of the screeners weren't necessarily trained to look for knives as a weapon, before September 11th. There were certain kinds of knives that were banned, but some of them weren't.

So, the high incidence of failure on the knives issue may well be explained by the fact that they were never trained to look for them, and there's a learning curve involved. The other issue may simply be that they feel overworked and overstressed.

SNOW: Blake Morrison with "USA Today," who broke this story. Thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.

MORRISON: You're welcome, Kate.

SNOW: Now, moving on to another security concern, a Massachusetts congressman says security at U.S. nuclear plants is so poor, he says terrorists may already be working at some plants. Congressman Edward Markey says the nation's 86 most sensitive nuclear sites fail to screen workers for terrorist ties. And, he says, federal regulators are in the dark when it comes to knowing what nuclear plants are doing to safeguard themselves from attack.


REP. EDWARD MARKEY, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Since September 11th, we realize that they could arrive in waves of 19 or more, be suicidal, be very technically sophisticated, and have substantial insider help at the nuclear power facility. And so, it is imperative that there be a dramatic upgrading in the amount of security which is put in place, on a permanent basis, around every nuclear power plant in the country.


SNOW: Coming up in our newscast, we'll get a response to the congressman's allegations from the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Let's turn now to the crisis in the Middle East. Israel is facing mounting pressure from the United States to let Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat travel to an Arab summit in Beirut this week. Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials are studying a truce proposal. But new violence is souring the atmosphere. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN, JERUSALEM: More talks going on here this evening. This time separate meetings of Israeli and Palestinian officials. They're sitting down to discuss what previously-held joint talks might have done, in terms of bringing them closer to declaring a cease-fire. Now, those joint talks -- it was a meeting planned for this evening. It was, however, postponed -- have been shared by the U.S. special envoy, Anthony Zinni. They're designed to try to hammer out difference between the two, and settle on what one side wants the other side to do in order for a cease-fire to take place.

While those talks have been continuing, however, a familiar parallel: more violence. In the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers entering to look for tunnels they say are used for weapons smuggling. A 19-year-old Palestinian shot dead in exchanges of fire there.

Also killed and mourned, 23-year-old Massad Abu-Asi (ph). He was shot dead by Israeli soldiers who said he ignored their warnings to stop at a crossing in Gaza. Also buried today, an Israeli man who was killed in an ambush as he drove his car in Hebron.

There were other clashes around the occupied territories as well. In this incident, Israeli rubber bullets and tear gas injuring five Palestinians. An Israeli solder was also hurt.

Meanwhile, debate continues over whether the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, will be permitted by Israel to travel to Beirut, and the Arab Summit, which gets under way there on Wednesday. CNN has been told that senior Israeli politicians will sit down tomorrow, Tuesday, and come to some sort of decision on that, we're told.

So, Yasser Arafat may know in the next 24 hours or so whether he will or will not be going to Beirut. Back to you.

SNOW: Michael Holmes reporting.

Our Web question of the day: Should Israel lift a travel ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and allow him to attend that Arab League summit in Beirut? You can vote at While you're there, let us know what you're thinking. There's a "click here" icon on the left side of Wolf's Web page. Send him your comments and he'll read some of them on the air every day.

It looks like an American woman sentenced to 20 years in a Peruvian prison has just exhausted her last hope for freedom. A Peruvian official says Peru's President Alejandro Toledo told President Bush the issue of Lori Berenson is -- quote -- "totally closed."

Berenson was sentenced for collaborating with leftist rebels in a plot to seize Peru's congress in 1995. Berenson's parents lobbied for President Bush to seek a presidential pardon for their daughter. Joining us now are here parents, Mark and Rhoda Berenson.

Thanks for being with us again. I spoke with you on Saturday, right before President Bush was going into that meeting with President Toledo. Are you surprised at the result?

RHODA BERENSON, MOTHER: I think that the result you just described was not the result that we've heard. We certainly heard that President Bush once again made it clear that he's very concerned about Lori Berenson, that he hopes there will be a humanitarian resolution, that this is a very important issue for bilateral relations. That it's still an active, ongoing issue.

And we've heard nothing of the sort stating that President Toledo made any definite yes or no or maybe.

SNOW: You haven't heard that it's totally closed?

BERENSON: No, we have not. And we have spoken with the State Department.

SNOW: You say you've been in touch with the Bush White House here. Have you been in touch with the Peruvian officials also, or just the White House?

BERENSON: The U.S. State Department.

SNOW: OK. Have you talked to Lori since then?

MARK BERENSON, FATHER: No, we have not. We don't know how Lori has reacted to the news. But I'm very, very pleased that President Bush raised the issue. These same Peruvian officials,just a few days ago, were saying that this case would not be on the agenda. When we spoke to you the other day, we said that we expected and believed that it would be, because President Bush is a very compassionate person, as is President Toledo. And as a father, I just hoped that they would resolve this on humanitarian grounds, as President Bush raised.

You're showing now the two presidents meeting. They both are known for their sense of humor. We've met President Toledo. He is a compassionate man. He does have a sense of humor. I think both presidents would enjoy meeting Lori. She has a great sense of humor.

SNOW: If indeed the case is closed, from a Peruvian point of view, is there something else you can do? Is that your last hope, or is there something else you can do?

R. BERENSON: First of all, I don't believe it's closed. But there is a case at the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights. And we know that this present government, which is looking to respect human rights, would respect a decision from that body. We expect the decision to be in our favor. They could also take the case to the Interamerican Court, where decisions are binding. And we will persevere.

SNOW: This is a tough question, but there is a war on terrorism going on right now worldwide. President Bush is leading that war. Why should an exception be made for Lori Berenson, if she's been charged and convicted of helping and aiding someone to commit terrorism?

M. BERENSON: But that's really the problem. Lori is not a terrorist. Listen to her speaking now. That's how she spoke in the courtroom for three months, in front of a microphone for over 26 hours defending herself. And Lori is the antithesis of terrorism. She abhors violence and terrorism.

And President Bush, the State Department knows that about Lori. And President Toledo, I'm sure, knows it also. The problem is the previous government maligned Lori by controlling the media and making a propaganda monster out of her. So it's the Peruvian public that needs to be convinced that Lori is a wonderful, decent human being, that just loves humanity.

SNOW: What are conditions like there for her? When you talk to her, what does she tell you?

R. BERENSON: Well, it's a very primitive prison, in the sense that Peru is a poor country. It's cold in the prison. She's in the mountains. Nothing is provided except scant food. So we go periodically -- I'll be going this weekend, just to bring food, to bring clothing.

But she tries to be upbeat. She keeps herself busy, even though there is nothing planned on her schedule. And she knows that she has the support of thousands of people across the United States and around the world. who write to us, who write to her, who say, we know you're innocent, we know you never had any trial that actually showed there was evidence against you. And we'll all be working until she's free.

SNOW: Rhoda and Mark Berenson, once again, thanks for being with us. We'll continue to follow it. Appreciate your time.

M, BERENSON: Thank you.

R. BERENSON: Thank you.

SNOW: The Catholic Church is making all kinds of headlines, and not just because it's holy week. From Rome, a papal first for John Paul II, but not one he'd probably like to repeat.

And child molestation allegations against American priests. Are the media making too much of this, or is the church covering up an epidemic of abuse?

And why did one of the best actor nominees at the Oscars leave before learning the outcome? Those stories shortly.

First, our news quiz: According to "People" magazine's Steven Cojocaru, who was Oscar's best-dressed actress? Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Renee Zellweger or Jennifer Lopez? The answer, coming up.


SNOW: As the one billion Roman Catholics around the world get ready to celebrate Easter, there are increasing concerns about the health of their spiritual leader. Plagued by pain, Pope John Paul II this weekend took the exceptional step of letting an Italian cardinal take his place during Palm Sunday mass. CNN Rome bureau chief, Alessio Vinci, reports.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF: Pope John Paul II is increasingly frail and tired, and his aides and doctors are urging him to take some rest ahead of the Easter celebration, which includes on Friday, the procession of the Way of the Cross.

On Saturday there will be a candlelight vigil in the Vatican. And of course, on Sunday there will be the Easter mass. And according to Vatican officials, the presence of the pope has been confirmed to all of these events.

Nevertheless, the ailments of the pope are becoming each year more evident. And despite the various ailments connected with his Parkinson's disease, this time the pope has recently been suffering from a pain in the knee which, we understand from the Vatican officials and from doctors, is due to arthritis.

And we also understand that the pope is taking some medicine, mainly painkillers. Vatican officials and doctors saying at this point that any kind of surgery is ruled out. The pope has been complaining about the pain for several weeks now.

But for the first time in 23 years, he was forced to cancel his celebration of Palm Sunday mass. The pope was in St. Peter's Square, but he was sitting in a throne next to the altar, as Italian Cardinal Rini was celebrating mass on his behalf.

The pontiff, at some point, did manage, help at his aid, to kneel briefly. He also managed to bless some of the olive tree branches traditional of the Palm Sunday. And after the end of that mass, Pope John Paul II managed also to take a tour of St. Peter Square on his open deck Popemobile, and bless some of the pilgrims that flocked St. Peter's Square.

Despite all of his ailments, the pope is planning several trips abroad. He plans to go to Bulgaria in May. And he will attend, according to Vatican officials, the World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada, after which he will then go to Guatemala and Mexico. And he will also go, we understand, to his native country of Poland in late August.

I'm Alessio Vinci, CNN, reporting from Rome.

SNOW: One problem no doubt weighing heavily on the pope's mind has been the sexual abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. A new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll of U.S. Catholics suggests many are disillusioned with how the church is handling the situation. Seventy-four percent said the church is more concerned with protecting its image. Only 17 percent said it's more concerned with solving the problem. Three-quarters of those polled said Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. Twenty percent oppose such a move.

Are terrorists working at America's nuclear power plants? A congressman says many plants don't screen workers, or at least some of them, for terrorist ties. How safe are Americans? That's coming up next.

And family members of a pilot missing since the first day of the Persian Gulf War find themselves in the middle of an international dispute.

It's spring break. Is it safe to go in the water? An 11-year- old is not so sure today. Details, in a moment.


SNOW: A shark bit an 11-year-old girl in the waters just off Cocoa Beach, Florida today. Authorities say the bite is serious, but not life-threatening. She was taken by helicopter to an Orlando area hospital.

A former New York City police officer faces new charges in connection with the torture of Abner Louima. A federal grand jury indicted Charles Schwartz today on two perjury charges regarding his testimony in that case.

A superior court jury found two men not guilty in the death of an Atlanta area lawman. David Ramsey and Melvin Walker had been charged with shooting Derwin Brown three days before he was to be sworn in as DeKalb County sheriff.

The Iraqi leadership is planning another round of meetings with the United Nations. At issue: allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The meetings are set for April 18 and 19, in New York.

An Iraqi government official says Baghdad is ready to receive a U.S. delegation to discuss the fate of an American pilot, missing since the Persian Gulf War. But the White House says it has not received any invitation from Iraq. Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher was downed during the Gulf War and is listed as MIA.

CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre is tracking that story. He joins us from the Pentagon with more on Iraq -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, over the weekend, official statements out of Iraq indicated that perhaps Baghdad was interested in some sort of an overture that might lead to closing the case of Lieutenant Commander Michael Speicher, who was lost in the opening day of the Persian Gulf War.

His F-18 went down over Iraq. Initially, it was believed he died in the crash. Subsequently, an investigation concluded that he survived the crash and then something happened to him. Nobody seems to know exactly what. But asked today at the Pentagon briefing how the U.S. might respond to the Iraqi overture to allow a delegation to come in and try to investigate further in the case, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he didn't know anything about it.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't believe very much that the regime of Saddam Hussein puts out. They are masters at propaganda. Second, we're not aware of any offer by the Iraqi government. There are several formal ways that those offers can be made. You cited it as though it is a fact. To my knowledge, it is only a fact that it has been printed. Whether it has actually happened, I'm not aware of it, nor is the Department of State, to my knowledge. Needless to say, we have a great deal of interest in anything involving Commander Speicher from any source.


MCINTYRE: Now, while Commander Speicher, who was promoted to commander, by the way, after the shootdown or the crash of his plane, while his status has been changed to missing in action from killed in action, there are very few officials at the Pentagon who have much hope that he is still alive.

What they believe happen is that somehow he was killed after he was captured by Iraqis on the ground. What they would really like is a full accounting for what happened to him. They believe that the Iraqi government knows and simply isn't saying. And they would like to get some final answers. And, of course, there always is a slim hope, if he is not accounted for, that he could somehow turn up alive. But not many people here think that's the case more than 11 years after the Persian Gulf War -- Kate.

SNOW: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon tonight.

Lieutenant Commander Michael Speicher's plane went down, as you've heard, during the very opening hours of the Gulf War. At first he was listed as the first casualty of that war. But then last year his status was changed to missing in action.

Joining us with more on this story is Cindy LaQuidara, an attorney for the Speicher family. Thanks for joining us.


SNOW: I assume you are probably happy to hear that there are reports that Iraq wants to address this issue. Do you think the U.S. ought to send a team over to Iraq?

LAQUIDARA: Well, I don't think that there has been formal inquiry from Iraq. I understand there has been a mission statement.

Certainly we shouldn't go under the terms identified by Iraq. But we should be able to set terms acceptable to us and then proceed accordingly.

SNOW: One of the complaints that you heard there from Donald Rumsfeld is that the U.S. feels that it won't be able to set the guidelines, that it will be under Saddam Hussein's control. Does that concern the family also?

LAQUIDARA: Well, certainly, we're not going to enter a negotiation that does not further finding Scott and locating him in Iraq. So, of course, we wouldn't go under Iraq's terms.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) and our State Department is very good at this -- is in setting our agenda. What I heard through the Iraq mission statement is that they would welcome a third party. When they say that the IRC would help manage these negotiations, what I hear is that they are open to a third party. And perhaps we could select that third party and set some of these terms.

SNOW: What does the Speicher family think happened to Michael?

LAQUIDARA: They think that he ejected from his plane, was taken by Iraq to Baghdad, and placed in a prison there under bad conditions, and that he has been kept in that prison since 1991.

SNOW: Have they been in touch directly with Iraqi officials or just trying to work through the State Department?

LAQUIDARA: We are certainly trying to work through the State Department and the Pentagon.

SNOW: What do they think could be done now? If not sending a team over there, are there other options on the table?

LAQUIDARA: Well, as Secretary Rumsfeld identified, there are ways that you proceed. And it is diplomatically.

And what we should be doing is proceeding through the secretary of state and identifying the parameters for a discussion, because Iraq, in this overture, has acknowledged that it is appropriate for us to be in Iraq discussing this topic. And I think that is an important signal that they have sent us. And we need to follow up on it. And I'm sure we will.

SNOW: U.S. government sources have told our Pentagon folks that they are skeptical of some of the reports that Mr. Speicher was seen alive in Iraq. They are skeptical that some of those accounts may not be all that true. Is it possible, do you think, that Saddam Hussein is using the Speicher family, using this story?

LAQUIDARA: Well, let me tell you, there have been skeptical people since 1995, when I came on board on this. And there always will be people who don't believe it. And that is not worth leaving Scott there if he is alive.

The evidence I have seen, classified and unclassified, and for which there are supporters within the Pentagon and within the CIA, show that there is credible evidence, credible evidence, not completely conclusive, by any means, but credible evidence that he is there in a prison. And certainly they acknowledge he was alive on the ground in Iraq. So where is he?

SNOW: Cindy LaQuidara, an attorney for the Speicher family, appreciate your time today. We certainly wish you the best.

LAQUIDARA: Thank you very much for your interest.

SNOW: Sure.

More on Iraq tonight on the CNN "War Room": Can the U.S. win support for action against Iraq with no peace in the Middle East? That's at 7:00 Eastern, 4:00 Pacific.

It's small and getting smaller. Why is Ireland shrinking? And later: Is an Oscar-winning actor starting fights in a bar? Stay with us.


SNOW: As we reported earlier, Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey is raising some new concerns about nuclear security in the United States. He says security at nuclear power plants is so poor, terrorists may already be working at some of them.

Well, joining us to talk about the congressman's allegation is the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Richard Meserve. He is out in Rockville, Maryland. Thanks for being with us.

Let's start with some of these direct allegations from Congressman Markey. And probably the most important one is what he says. "The NRC does not know how many foreign nationals are employed at nuclear reactors," he says, "and does not require adequate background checks of those foreign nationals."

Let me get you to respond to that, Mr. Meserve. Is that true? Do you not know how many foreign nationals are working at your plants?

RICHARD MESERVE, CHAIRMAN, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: Let me say, we have very serious defenses at the nuclear power plants, which was the main theme of Congressman Markey.

With regard to foreign nationals, I think it is important to note that every employee who is employed at a nuclear power plant is employed only after extensive screening. That means that there's a psychological examination. Following the psychological examination, there is an examination of credit history, employment history, reference checks, military history, if the person has served in the military, as well as an FBI criminal record check, which is based on fingerprints.

SNOW: Is that the same kind of background check that you would do on anyone who is a U.S. citizen?

MESERVE: Every employee at a nuclear power plant has to go through that screening. Every employee who is going to work in the vicinity of safety equipment has to go through exactly the screening that I have described.

Now, we don't have any particular screening that is focused solely on people who happen to be foreign nationals, but we do have screening for everybody of the type that I have described.

SNOW: Do you think there should be particular screening for foreign nationals?

MESERVE: Well, let me say that, since September 11, we have been working with the INS. And, in some critical job categories, we have looked specifically at the foreign nationals. And we do have foreign nationals who are employed at nuclear power plants. They may be Germans or Canadians or people from the United Kingdom, or what have you. They don't necessarily all have to come from a dangerous country. But they all go through the kind of screening that I have described.


SNOW: Sorry, I don't mean to interrupt.

Another one of the charges that Congressman Markey made is that 21 U.S. nuclear reactors are located within five miles of an airport. But he says 96 percent of all U.S. reactors were designed without regard for the potential for an impact from even the smallest aircraft. First of all, is that true? And, second of all, are you taking precautions now to guard against aircraft?

MESERVE: Well, Congressman Markey is correct that the nuclear power plants in general were not designed to withstand an impact from a large commercial airliner. We did not envision that this kind of attack would occur. And, of course, we are like most of the rest of the federal government, who similarly did not anticipate that such an attack would occur.

Nuclear power plants have massive structures, typically many feet of reinforced concrete. They have redundant safety equipment so that, if a given piece of equipment fails, there is another available to meet the safety function. So, they have capacity to deal with all kinds of events that is different and stronger than most other parts of critical infrastructure.

SNOW: The congressman suggests that maybe there should be anti- aircraft weapons on site at every one of your nuclear power plants. Is that a good idea?

MESERVE: Well, we are undertaking an evaluation right now at an engineering level of exactly what the vulnerabilities are of the nuclear power plants in order to be able to assess whether there is a need for mitigative actions and what they might be.

We have not envisioned the use of anti-aircraft weapons at nuclear power plants. Of course, that is not a decision for the NRC to make. That would be something for national defense organizations to make.

The problems have to do with the command-and-control: if an aircraft were to happen to drift into the vicinity of a nuclear power plant, having to make the decision as to whether to shoot or not. And, then, of course, you have the problem of the ordnance that might be going off into other areas and would cause collateral damage.

SNOW: So, it is more dangerous than its worth, is what you are saying?

MESERVE: Well, we think that there are other means to deal with this issue, that, for example, we have increased security at airports, security in airplanes in order to protect the cockpit. And this is a means that protects all infrastructure, not just power plants.

SNOW: Richard Meserve, with the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we are going to have to leave it at that. Thank you so much for your time today.

MESERVE: I'm glad to be with you.

SNOW: Sure.

Checking international stories: Seoul's efforts to privatize the state-run power company have turned violent. They have taken to the streets and clashed with police. The employees walked out on a strike a month ago.

Is Ireland shrinking? An Irish scientist says the Emerald Isle is losing 750 acres every year and says the rising tides are being caused by global warming.

Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan followed strict Islamic laws and was intolerant of different religions and cultures. Among its victims: a collection of ancient stone Buddhas blasted into oblivion.

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has more.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Huge holes where 400-year-old statues of Buddha once towered above Bamiyan tell the silent tale of Taliban excess. In the caves below the dynamited mountain face, where the Taliban destroyed the ancient idols last year, there is vocal testimony to the Taliban's harsh rule.

"The Taliban killed people and destroyed our houses," Naru (ph) says. With his wife, mother, and brother, his is just one of 1,200 Hazara families taking refuge in the only accommodation available: 8,000 feet up in the mountains. Daily tours perched high on the rock face a dangerous ordeal.

"We don't have doors or windows. And all our blankets were destroyed," says his wife, Nakbut (ph), as she bakes bread in the cave. Parts of this provincial capital are destroyed beyond repair. And in outlying areas in this almost exclusively ethnic Hazara region, whole villages were burned, people say.

Under Taliban rule, ethnic Hazaras here think they were singled out for particularly harsh treatment.

DR. ESHAN OLLAH, BAMIYAN HOSPITAL (through translator): The Hazaras were fighting the Taliban for their lives. Others were fighting for power and government. The Taliban were much more cruel to the Hazaras than anyone else, although our fight with Pashtun community goes back before the Taliban.

ROBERTSON: At the city's education office, repairs are under way. The Taliban turned it into a bakery. Now it is being readied for the new school year; 27,000 children age 7 to 13 in Bamiyan Province are destined to benefit from these educational books.

Officials are also hoping to restart Bamiyan University for all the students, some of whom they hope will study Hazara history, although they stress learning will be for all ethnic groups.

KAZIM TURA, CHANCELLOR, BAMIYAN UNIVERSITY: We only want their minds for Afghanistan. We don't want (UNINTELLIGIBLE) You only want their minds.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Hazaras make up at least one-fifth of Afghanistan's population, they say. Most live in the central highlands around Bamiyan, although others are disbursed around the country. Among Afghans, they have a reputation for fierce fighting and independence. However, Hazaras feel they have always had to struggle for a fair share of power.

(voice-over): So, surprisingly, perhaps, among the broken rock remains of the ancient Buddhas here in this close-knit and isolated community, to hear this Hazara refugee, Naruz (ph), describe the Taliban's destruction of the city's ancient stone companions as a national loss, not a local one.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Bamiyan, Afghanistan.


SNOW: Tonight on "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN," Nic Robertson will be live from the region of the Bamiyan Buddhas. That's at 8:00 Eastern.

If you couldn't stay up or if just can't get enough, you won't want to miss our Oscar wrap-up of a history-making night in Tinseltown. And did he or didn't he? Even caught on tape, it's hard to say if this brawl was started by an Oscar-winning tough guy -- more on that after the break.


SNOW: Earlier we asked: "According to 'People' magazine's Steven Cojocaru, who was Oscar's best-dressed actress?" Was she Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Rene Zellweger, or Jennifer Lopez? The answer: Halle Berry, who not only made history; she looked great doing it.

It was an historic night at the 74th annual Academy Awards. It also likely stumped many Oscar pool participants, as surprises and upsets made as much news as the red-carpet fashions.

CNN's Anne McDermott runs down the list of the night's big winners.


ANNE MCDERMOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Halle Berry made history Oscar night as the first African-American to win the best actress award. And the star of "Monster's Ball" could not control her tears.


MCDERMOTT: Earlier in the evening, Sidney Poitier, who won best actor for 1963's "Lilies of the Field," received an honorary Oscar and he was asked about progress for other actors of color.

SYDNEY POITIER, OSCAR HONOREE: And I think to speak of Hollywood as if there has not been change is unfair. You can question the pace of it.

MCDERMOTT: Well, the pace picked up as Denzel Washington was named best actor for "Training Day," the only other African-American actor besides Poitier to be so honored.

DENZEL WASHINGTON, BEST ACTOR: For 40 years I've been chasing Sidney. They finally give it to me and what did they do? They give it to him the same night.

MCDERMOTT: "A Beautiful Mind" won best picture honors and best director for Ron Howard.

RON HOWARD, BEST DIRECTOR: It feels like I'm going to get a workout tonight.

MCDERMOTT: "A Beautiful Mind" won four Oscars, including best supporting actress for Jennifer Connelly and best adapted screenplay. "Lord of the Rings" also won four Oscars, including best cinematography and best visual effects, but no best supporting Oscar for Ian McKellen, who was something of a favorite. The surprise winner was Jim Broadbent for his performance in "Iris." "Moulin Rouge" fans had to be disappointed. The visual stunner won just two Oscars for costumes and art direction.

The box office smash "Shrek," meanwhile, won in a new category, best animated feature film. Also honored, the city of New York for its courage in the wake of September 11. Kevin Spacey asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks, and Woody Allen, a perennial Oscar no show, turned up to introduce film clips celebrating his city and to remind everyone that New Yorkers haven't lost their sense of humor.

WOODY ALLEN: Thank you very much. That makes up for the strip search.

MCDERMOTT: And finally, host Whoopi Goldberg added her own tribute as she closed the longest Oscar show ever.

Anne McDermott, CNN, Hollywood.


SNOW: Now checking these stories on today's "Newswire": You may have wondered why actor Will Smith was at the opening of the Oscars, but then wasn't there when his name was announced as a best-actor nominee. Smith and his wife got word their 1-year-old daughter was sick. They left and drove to Santa Monica, where their daughter was taken for treatment of an ear infection and high fever. A security video which appears to show best-actor nominee Russell Crowe involved in a brawl is at the center of court case that begins in Australia next month. The incident is said to have taken place two years ago outside a night club. In the video, a man alleged to be Crowe appears to start three separate brawls. But his identity has not been confirmed. The nightclub owners are charged with trying to blackmail the actor into paying them to suppress the tape.

Let's go to New York now and get a preview of "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE," which begins at the top of the hour -- hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE": Kate, how are you? Thanks.

Coming up at the top of the hour: the Justice Department pressing ahead with its case against Andersen. Tonight, I will be talking with Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman who has put forward a plan seen as the best effort to safe the firm. A sell off in the market today drives the Dow to the lowest level of the month. We will take a look at the reasons behind today's decline. And his company has just been named "Business Week"'s top performer. The CEO of Johnson & Johnson will also be here -- all of that, a lot more coming up at the top of the hour.

Please join us -- Kate, back to you.

SNOW: Thanks, Lou.

In a moment, you weigh in on the Web. Should Israel lift the travel ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat? Vote now at


SNOW: Our "Web Question of the Day": "Should Israel lift a travel ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and allow him to attend the Arab League summit in Beirut?" Most of you said yes. Only 33 percent of you said no. A reminder: This is not a scientific poll.

Time now to hear from you.

The ongoing scandal rocking the Catholic Church remained a controversial topic. Mary Anne writes: "I don't care what the recent poll said. The Catholics in our town and diocese stand behind our priests. We have good and Godly priests and only a few rotten apples. It is only a crisis of huge proportions because the media are making it so."

Mark disagrees: "I'm very angry at the priests who commit such acts, but just as angry at my beloved church for turning their heads and allowing priests to continue serving."

I'm Kate Snow, in for Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Join Andrea Koppel in one hour for the CNN "War Room." The focus: Can the U.S. win support for action against Iraq with the current Middle East crisis?

Thanks for watching. "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE" begins right now.


Guns; How bad is security at U.S. nuclear plants? Does Russell Crowe Have Starring Role In Barroom Brawl? >



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