CNN INSIDE POLITICS
U.S. Captures Another of Hussein's Half Brothers
Aired April 17, 2003 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Coalition forces play their cards and capture another most wanted figure with relatively close ties to Saddam Hussein.
On the move in the weapons hunt. What bombshells might U.S. troops uncover next?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all terrorist stuff. This is terrorist stuff.
ANNOUNCER: The looting of Iraqi history and culture. Experts try to answer the question: are the treasures lost forever?
CNN live this hour: Judy Woodruff reports from Washington, with correspondents from around the world. A special edition of INSIDE POLITICS: The New Iraq begins right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
The major battles are over in Iraq, but Bush administration officials stress the war on terrorism is never-ending.
Coming up, we will visit a training ground for pilots who are planning to arm themselves in the cockpit.
And Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge talks about changes in the works in his first interview since the threat level was reduced.
Of course, U.S. officials still are focusing on Iraqi. Sources say that a newly captured half brother of Saddam Hussein may know where the regime hid some of its money. U.S. Special Forces grabbed Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti in Baghdad early today.
Let's go to Baghdad now for more on the situation there in the search for the coalition's most wanted in Iraq.
CNN's Nic Robertson joins us from the Iraqi capital. Hello, Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the arrest of Saddam Hussein's half brother Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al- Tikriti may be a significant step forward for coalition forces, as they try to track down Saddam Hussein and his money. Now, Barzan was Iraq's representative to the U.N. in Geneva from 1988 until the late 1990s. He's also widely believed to control from there Saddam Hussein's international funds, if you will, from banks inside Switzerland. He was also the head of Iraq's intelligence services from 1979 to 1983. So, he'll likely have a lot of information he can provide the coalition forces on that part of Saddam Hussein's structure as well.
Now, Barzan is the second of Saddam Hussein's two half-brothers to be arrested in this last week. Watban, who was head of the intelligence services in Iraq until 1995 was also arrested by coalition forces. So, likely, the pair of them being able to provide some very significant information. And it is also likely that the coalition forces will be able to get more information from a discovery made by the Al Jazeera Arab television network in Baghdad.
They believe that they've discovered the last hiding place of Saddam Hussein where he was in the last days of the war. They say the building that they went to, a small villa in a residential area of Baghdad had a room that matches the room Saddam Hussein was seen meeting with his ministers, meeting with officials in the last days of the war.
They say that the building appeared to have been lived in right until the last days of the war. They say that there was a uniform in that building that matched the uniform Saddam Hussein might have worn. The former Iraqi leader's favorite cologne was there. A number of other indicators, they say, that show perhaps this was Saddam Hussein's last hiding place in Baghdad, even the place where he gave his last address to Iraqi officials. But as CNN's Jim Clancy took a look at this hunt for the previous Iraqi regime, it appears very much to parallel the hunt for a new regime as well.
JIM CLANCY CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. troops captured Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother and the former head of Iraqi intelligence Thursday.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, CENTRAL COMMAND: Barzan is the half brother of Saddam Hussein and an adviser to the former regime leader with extensive knowledge of the regime's inner workings. There were no friendly or enemy casualties. The capture demonstrates the coalition's commitment to relentlessly pursuing the scattered members of a fractured regime. Efforts related to other regime leaders are ongoing.
CLANCY: Clearly, the U.S. hopes Barzan will prove a valuable asset in both the search for Saddam and hidden weapons of mass destruction.
Meantime, more evidence of the regime's final days emerged on television. This relatively modest home in a residential area of north Baghdad is described as the last known residence of Saddam Hussein as his forces crumbled under a U.S. onslaught last week. The Arab news network Al Jazeera broadcast video of the sparsely furnished flat. The yellow and green striped sofa and other backdrops were said to be where the Iraqi dictator held his last meetings. Another room shows an Iraqi flag plastic, chairs and a table around which Saddam was shown on television meeting with his two sons and other top regime members. This may have also been the safe house where the Iraqi leader videotaped his last message to a nation slipping from his grasp.
(on camera): It's unclear how many resources the U.S. can devote to tracking down the former leader and his top aides. At the same time, it tries to tackle security and organize a new regime. On that latter front, there are many unanswered questions. One of those at the center of the controversy is Mohammed Ali Zubaidi, a member of the London based Iraqi National Congress, who announced he had been designated interim governor of Baghdad.
"This is a great honor that I meet with you," said Subsidy, in front of the cameras. Adding, "I tell you Iraq has been liberated and Iraq is for the Iraqis. Assembled at the table were a group of religious and civic leaders, many of whom were not familiar to ordinary Iraqis. Zubaidi is close associate of Ahmed Chalabi, another exile vying for power in post-Saddam Iraq.
When the questions turned to whether he was an outsider being foisted on the capitol by the U.S., one of his aides tried to intervene.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They will see you as having been put there by the Americans.
CLANCY (voice-over): Unwilling to answer the question directly, Zubaidi said he didn't come to talk to the media, but to the tribal and religious leaders. Reporters were ordered out. Even U.S. officials distanced themselves from the returned exile's assertion he was the man now in charge of the capital. An assertion his supporters have been making for the last week in public appearances. Zubaidi's association with Ahmed Chalabi, the exile now staying at this hunting club in the capital, points to an effort by former exiles of the Iraqi National Congress to force their way into the power vacuum in politics.
Many ordinary Iraqis want the help of the U.S. in rebuilding Iraq and reestablishing security. But are abundantly clear they reject outsiders, even some of those in the exile groups. While it takes no convincing from anyone that they're better off without Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis will take a lot of convincing, indeed, before they trust outsiders perceived as hand-picked in Washington.
ROBERTSON: And as you can imagine, Judy, these new leaders emerging in Iraq, particularly those who have come from outside of the country in exile, are proving to be a huge talking point on the streets here. And, universally, everyone we talked to here says they will not accept somebody that has come from outside of Iraq, somebody who has been in exile. They want somebody to emerge from inside Iraq. But, interestingly, nobody can really put a name forward or give us an idea of who those people should be - Judy.
WOODRUFF: And yet, it's understandable why they would feel that way. Nic, so interesting, that place that is suspected to have been where Saddam Hussein was staying before he left. Are there just a thousand theories, Nic, about where he could have gone? Or is the thinking coalescing around one place?
ROBERTSON: if you talk to Iraqis, there are a thousand theories. One theory I had today was that he was in the hands of American intelligence, that this was all a deal and a game that had been going on since the 1960s, believe it or not. The rumors are quite outrageous right now. Another rumor was that he'd gone to Syria, that he had then gone to Russia and now that he was in Britain. The rumors really bear no bounds in terms of common sense.
But the truth is that the Iraqi people don't know. They would like to know where he is. And we're really not privy to what the coalition thinks at this time. But, certainly, the discovery of this particular last - if it is the last hideaway in Baghdad -- and the capture of Barzan and Watban, the two half-brothers, will prove useful stepping stones to actually tracking down where he is now, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Well, there certainly is the hope that that information is going to come from one of these men or from others. All right, Nic Robertson reporting for us live from Baghdad. Nic, thanks very much.
Well, one of the remaining threats out there to U.S. troops who are in Baghdad is unexploded ammunition. And right now, the search is on for bombs and other weapons that remain inside the Iraqi capital.
CNN's Ryan Chilcote is with members of the 101st Airborne Division who are conducting a search in southern Baghdad.
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The soldiers from the 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade are now doing a lot more police work than they are soldiering in southern Baghdad. And like police elsewhere, they're now relying heavily on tips from the local population. The vast majority of the information they're getting from Iraqis is leading them to abandon weapons ammunitions caches. The Iraqis simply don't want it around anymore.
Acting on a tip from an Iraqi farmer, the troops moved in. His neighbors, the farmer had told them, disappeared three days ago but left their bomb making production line behind.
STAFF SGT. MIKE TAYLOR, U.S. ARMY: I've got bags which I haven't been able to look inside of them yet. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) This is all terrorist stuff. This is terrorist stuff going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we do with it? How do we transport it?
TAYLOR: We can't. We can't, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't blow it here. It's a residential area.
TAYLOR: We're going to have to do it here, sir.
CHILCOTE: The troops say they found enough to blow three city blocks.
TAYLOR: Basically, you put up a 9-volt battery and they will go.
CHILCOTE: The explosives individually packaged, possibly for use, the soldier said, by suicide bombers.
TAYLOR: This was where all the bags of explosives were here.
CHILCOTE: There was also plenty of shrapnel.
TAYLOR: As you can see here, this is just bags and bags of shrapnel. This is a terrorist camp.
CHILCOTE: And detonators from alarm clocks to phones. They even found a miniature model for practicing sneak attacks on highways.
TAYLOR: It has your sensor. It senses the first vehicle. Once the line's broken for your sensor, it drops a device, it creates a roadblock hazard, stopping your convoy. And then your whole convoy is susceptible to attack at that point.
CHILCOTE: Sophisticated tools for unconventional tactics.
TAYLOR: This is made for covert operations terrorist attacks, where it's unexpected, it's not aimed at just killing, you know, soldier to soldier. It's made for everything that you can go at and still fear terrorist actions just like the World Trade Center.
CHILCOTE: It's still unclear who was building these bombs and who was the target.
(on camera): The U.S. Army's 5th Corps has a team of experts on site right now looking at those munitions. Still no word as to what conclusions they've come to. As for unexploded ordnance, it has become one of the biggest threats to U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. Just yesterday, three U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded when an Iraqi man who was leading them to some ordnance picked it up. That ordnance then blew up in his face, killing him, wounding two other Iraqis. I am told by the chaplain who just saw them that the three U.S. soldiers are going to be OK.
Ryan Chilcote, CNN, with the 101st Airborne in southern Baghdad. Back to you.
WOODRUFF: Ryan Chilcote reporting. Just proving, once again, Iraq is still a very dangerous place.
Still ahead, experts say some of the looting at the Baghdad museum was organized outside Iraq. We'll have a report.
WOODRUFF: Thirty international experts gathered in Paris today to call for an international embargo on Iraqi cultural items. Some of the experts said the massive looting of Iraq's museum was organized, and some of the looters having access to museum vaults and safes. Maguire Gibson of the University of Chicago says he is sure the looting was planned outside Iraq. In Washington, meanwhile, FBI director Robert Mueller says his agents are on the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: These steps include sending FBI agents to Iraq to assist with criminal investigations, issuing Interpol alerts to all member nations regarding the potential sale of stolen Iraqi art and artifacts on both the open and the black markets. And then assisting with the recovery of any such stolen items.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: The full extent of the loss at the museum is being assessed, and some of the artifacts could be gone forever. Melted down by thieves, simply to get the gold and the silver. We have or on all this now from ITN's James Mates.
JAMES MATES, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Without question, one of the world's most important museums is now under the watchful eye of U.S. tanks. But if ever there was a case of waiting too long to shut that stable door. The main gallery, this before the war, was filled with treasures from the earliest days of civilization. Here in what was once known as Mesopotamia. And this is what a mob of looters bent on robbery and vandalism has reduced it to. Artifacts, many 5,000 years old, have been stolen or gratuitously smashed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a tragedy, a big, big tragedy for the heritage of mankind. We have lost some very, very important pieces. There's no price that can be put for these subjects, because they are unique and they are very, very important, and the history and art history of the world.
MATES: He believes there were clearly professional thieves amongst the looters who knew what they were after. This is the bronze statue that's lost. It's a huge piece. It's life-size.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well this is the bronze statue, the Basitki bronze statue that's' lost. It's a huge piece. It's a large size.
MATES: Dating when?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dating to the Akkadian period, about 2,400 B.C. Another very important piece was lost, was the vase from Uruk, what we call the sacred vase of Uruk, dating to the Sumerian period, 3,200 B.C. MATES: And once again unique?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MATES: Nothing else like it anywhere?
MATES: Nothing else like it in the whole world.
These are the vaults home to many of the more fragile pieces. The looters got in here too. Much of the damage appears to be too have been quite gratuitous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not only our museums, it's a museum of the world. It's the heritage of mankind that we have. These are very important museum.
MATES: A few items have been returned. It seems pressure from religious leaders has trigged a few consciences. For the rest, there's not much optimism.
WOODRUFF: That was James Mates of ITN, reporting from Baghdad.
Well, experts say some of the looting at the museum, as you've heard, was haphazard. Some of it, though, was not.
Tony Wilkinson is an associate professor at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. He joins us now from that city. Mr. Wilkinson, how serious is this loss?
TONY WILKINSON, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Good afternoon. Well, it's catastrophic, Because Iraq was one of the centers of growth of early civilization. It's where agriculture first grew up, where cities first grew up, where writing was first developed. And the Iraq museum in Baghdad was the repository of a large amount of the objects, artifacts that were excavated over the last hundred years within the area of Iraq.
And so we're losing a huge amount of information in terms of artifacts, but also in terms of the history, because, of course, this was a great repository of cuneiform tablets that are the earliest forms of script that we have that ultimately go back to about 3,200 B.C. Now, of course, we don't know precisely what is missing. And so at the moment, we're hearing all sorts of different types of information coming in. But from what I see and the loss and the damage is a major, major catastrophe of something I've never seen in my lifetime.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Wilkinson, let me read you what Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense said yesterday when I interviewed him, Joseph Collins. I asked him about claims that the Pentagon had promised, had guaranteed that this museum would be protected. And he said there were lots of requests for special protection from a number of different people, "But we made it, I thought, very clear that we could make no guarantees about what would happen during or after the war." What do you make of that statement?
WILKINSON: Well, I would address that with two points or answer that with two points. First of all, the archaeologists did actually make -- have special meetings with officials from the Department of Defense, and one of our recommendations, and it was a top priority, was in the case of a conflict, immediately or as soon as was humanly possible, there should be guards posted at the major museums. And, obviously, the main museum to be guarded would have been the Iraqi museum. And this was, to me, seemed a fairly reasonable objective, because it's a standard military objective. It's what the Army have shown they're really good at.
WOODRUFF: But, basically, what I'm asking is, do you think that they could have prevented this?
WILKINSON: Well, it seems as if they could have done, because there was a tank there with some men and then they disappeared again. And we know that there's extraordinary chaos during war. But on the other hand, it is, I think, the responsibility of the nation, the aggressor nation to actually, within the best of its ability, to be able to protect the cultural property. And it's ironic. I should point out to you that in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Iraqis actually took into custody the artifacts from the Kuwait museum. They took them under protection to Baghdad, where they were catalogued by the members of the Iraq museum. And then they were returned to Kuwait under the supervision of the United Nations. So the question is, if the Iraqis could get it right in 1990, why can't we?
WOODRUFF: Let me ask you, finally, we are now hearing that a view that some of this was not just random looting, it was an organized effort on the part of people who knew what they were going after, and to take very, very valuable objects. That being the case, is it going to be easier to retrieve this material or harder?
Many of the items are unique, and some of the best known unique items would be rather difficult to exchange or deal without drawing incredible attention to the seller. So therefore, they are going to be very easily recognized on the world art market. But many of the other artifacts, you've got cuneiform tablets, many, many figurines and things like that, will get lost in the vast amount of material that's going to be disbursed. There's going to be a huge bulge in the illegal antiquities trade, unless there's a very, very rapid securing of the situation.
WOODRUFF: Well, as we reported a little while ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation now sending some agents over there. Perhaps that will make some difference. Tony Wilkinson is associate professor at the oriental institute at the University of Chicago. Thank you so much for talking to us. We appreciate it.
WILKINSON: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Meantime, the commander-in-chief trying to reenergize his battle plan for the home front.
Up next, the president's domestic agenda. Is he still asking for more than he can get?
WOODRUFF: President Bush spent this day at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He is in something of a transition period, from all war all the time to refocusing his energy on domestic issues. In the process, he is facing some squabbles within his own party.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt joins us from his home state of Missouri.
Representative Blunt, there have been, clearly, some disagreements between the House and Senate Republicans over the size of the president's tax cut plan. The leader of Republicans in the Senate, Senator Bill Frist, went along with a plan to cut that tax plan by -- in half. Is this going to get resolved?
REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO) HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: Well, the good news is that we're really a few weeks away from when we will have to resolve this. We're, you know, three, four, five weeks away from the conference where these two tax bills come together. That does give the president plenty of opportunity to weigh-in in a way that he's not been able to do before. And I think it has to be resolved. We're on the president's side.
We would have liked to have seen a bigger tax cut than the $550 billion over ten years we put in our budget resolution, but we certainly would be offended by the idea that the Senate would want to pre-negotiate this with themselves. And that's going to make it very hard to come to a conclusion if they don't really negotiate it in good faith, which is what they assured is we'd be doing, once we got both of these different sized tax bills off the floors of the House and the Senate, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Well, of course, you are the House majority whip. You've worked very closely with your colleague, Tom Delay, who is the House majority leader. He said about what happened in the Senate, he said, this goes right to the heart of our ability to work together. It's very disturbing.
BLUNT: Well, it does. You know, the whole -- as you know so well, this process only works if you believe what you're told and do what you say you're going to do. And we need to have a meeting, clearly, with our friends in the Senate and see either what we don't understand about what appeared to have happened, or what we didn't understand about what we thought they were telling us. We really had a great discussion.
We felt like we had a commitment to truly negotiate on two different tax bills. One that the president will be weighing in on, ours, and one that's too small to do what we need to do for the economy. And hopefully, that's exactly where we'll wind up. We've had senators who are involved in this change their minds on this tax cut already. And, hopefully, they can change it one or two more times, and we'll get them on an up day, when they're ready to give the American people their money back and let them see what they can do to grow the economy.
WOODRUFF: Well, you knew that people like Senator Voinovich, Senator Snow of Maine that they were going to have problems with the size of the president's tax cut. I guess my question is, what about Senator Frist, Senator Nichols did they renege on their word?
BLUNT: Well, I hope not. It certainly appeared to us, from what we believe what we thought we were told, that somebody backed off, but there's still plenty of time to recover from this. Who is on the conference, what the president does between now and then with four or five senators in the middle, some Republicans, and even to look again at some Democrats, and see what we can do to get 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president's vote for a bigger tax package than the one that the Senate -- a couple of senators seem to be so committed to. It's very important to us that we move forward based on confidence that we all do what we say we're going to do. And that's going to be an important test over the next three or four weeks now.
WOODRUFF: Are you comfortable, Mr. Blunt, with these ads that are being run by the Republican Club for Growth? They are saying -- they are targeted at people like Senator Voinovich of Ohio, Senator Snow of Maine. And they're accusing them of being Franco-Republicans, in essence, of betraying their party.
BLUNT: Franco is about as bad a word -- any association with our friends in France is about as bad as you could accuse anybody of right now. I haven't seen those ads. Obviously, they're not running in my district or my state, with our senators firmly committed to this bigger tax package. I think it's not as much as what they individually believe as at some point, when the president, the vice president, the leader of the Senate, 46 of your colleagues say, let's go forward and give this a try.
I think it's pretty amazing that one or two people would decide that they know exactly the right number and it's the very lowest possible number that anybody is willing to talk about.
WOODRUFF: Well, it sounds like there's still some patching-up to do. Representative Roy Blunt is the House majority whip. And he's joining us from Missouri.
We thank you very much. Good to see you again. We appreciate it. Thank you.
Well, even as President Bush refocuses on domestic politics, only 31 percent of Americans say they think the war in Iraq is over, according to our new poll. But that figure is up from 15 percent on April the 9th, the day Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad; 55 percent of Americans say the U.S. will have scored a victory in Iraq even if Saddam Hussein is not captured or proven to be dead. That is up also slightly from a week ago. Those who said yes to that question about a U.S. victory and Saddam's fate were overwhelmingly Republican. Those who said, no, it would not be a U.S. victory, were mostly Democrats.
(NEWS BREAK) WOODRUFF: And just ahead, a look at the day's news headlines -- actually, we just heard them, so that's a mistake.
Later, though: Looting in Baghdad, as you've heard, is taking a very heavy toll. Now one recent incident could spark fears of a deadly epidemic.
Stay with us.
WOODRUFF: The U.S. government has just announced, we have learned, the first major contract for reconstruction in Iraq and that it will go to California-based Bechtel Corporation.
The contract provides something like $34.5 million for initial construction. It could go up to $680 million over a period of the first 18 months. Now, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is making this announcement, said the funding is subject to congressional authority and congressional availability.
And one other point in a release they made is -- quoting -- "restoration of that country's key infrastructure a priority of the U.S. government's efforts to strengthen Iraq's economy and ensure delivery of essential public services to the Iraqi population." Once again, the first big contract reconstruction in Iraq going to the Bechtel Corporation, worth almost worth $34.5 million, but it could go much higher in the months to come.
Well, looting in Baghdad, as you've been hearing for days, has caused alarm in that city. Now that fear may grow after the discovery of a looted health lab which may have contained samples of infectious diseases.
Here now: CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Iraq's central public health lab, urgent hand- scrawled warnings on the gate: pollution, biohazard, danger, in the courtyard, vials, syringes and papers strewn around by looters.
At first, Dr. Raja Alaf (ph) gave alarming warnings of looted viruses, like AIDS, cholera, black fever, polio and hepatitis, she said. But Alaf is a chemist. And, later, the lab's biologist came out to correct her, saying they don't have AIDS or cholera or black fever, but they were concerned about the following.
DR. KAMELEDEEN MOHAMMAD, BIOLOGIST: Polio virus, hepatitis A virus, hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis D virus. All of these viruses could spread in our population. And what we're doing for many years, for maybe 40 years, will go to be zero.
AMANPOUR: The lab was looted last week. And the director has been calling for U.S. military protection, which finally turned up today, and along with it a special task force.
LT. COL. CHARLES ALLISON, U.S. ARMY: We're here to find signs of weapons of mass destruction.
AMANPOUR: Colonel Allison and his team donned gloves and protective boots. They did a survey. Their conclusion?
ALLISON: This is a facility very similar to our Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. They do all of the analysis of blood work and diseases of people around Iraq. They bring it here to test it.
AMANPOUR: Indeed, over the years, this facility had been surveyed by U.N. weapons inspectors.
(on camera): This task force pulled out, saying it hadn't found anything that you wouldn't find in any public health and research lab anywhere in the world. There are four of these special scout teams scouring Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. This one has inspected 15 sites. And so far, it says, it's found no smoking gun, no evidence of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons capability.
(voice-over): Just last week, they were called in to examine what the U.S. Army had told reporters might be 11 mobile chemical and biological weapons labs in the town of Karbala. On closer inspection, that proved not to be the case.
Here, at the public health center, it seems most of the vials and samples were dumped on the ground. But researchers are worried that some left with the looters, who took the refrigerators, computers, and equipment.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Baghdad.
WOODRUFF: The tragedy goes on.
Guns in the cockpit. When we return, we'll go live to a training camp where pilots are being taught how to use firearms.
Stay with us.
WOODRUFF: More signs today that concerns about a terror attack here in the United States are easing now that the war in Iraq is winding down.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve got the details from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in his first interview since the terror threat level was rolled back to yellow.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Immigration and customs enforcement intercepted dozens of aircraft violating no-fly zones around New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago during this last orange alert. Though temporary flight restrictions will remain in place over Washington, the reduction in the threat level means they're being rolled back over Chicago and New York.
It also means a temporary policy mandating the detention of asylum applicants from some countries where terrorists are active is now suspended.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The detention resulted in our holding 20 people, I think three-quarters of them from Iraq. And we are going through the process of just identifying these individuals, making absolutely certain that these individuals are who they say they are and the reasons for their request for political asylum are legitimate.
MESERVE: Despite forecasts a month ago that a terrorist attack was a near certainty, none occurred. Why?
Ridge believes U.S. military activity in Afghanistan and Iraq, international cooperation, and the arrest of some key al Qaeda operatives damaged terrorists' ability to command attacks. He also says Operation Liberty Shield, the range of protective measures put in place just before the war began, had a deterrent effect. But did Liberty Shield disrupt any attacks?
RIDGE: We apprehended folks who -- at places they shouldn't have been. It doesn't appear that there's any terrorist connection. But it's precisely that kind of situation that suggests to us that enhanced security measures, like Liberty Shield, did work.
MESERVE: Another administration official says intelligence indicates that, when security was heightened at one type of potential target, like subways, the terrorists' interest would shift elsewhere. But could Operation Liberty Shield have been more effective?
RIDGE: If there's anything that I think we might want to improve upon is ramping it up quicker. And by quicker, I mean hours, not necessarily -- not, by any means, weeks.
MESERVE: With the increase in U.S. rhetoric about Syria and Iran, some experts are predicting the next terrorist threat could come from Hezbollah, a group with links to both those nations. But Ridge says there is no credible intelligence to indicate Hezbollah poses a threat within the U.S. at this point in time.
However, Judy, today, Attorney General John Ashcroft talked about Hezbollah, saying there was increased rhetoric and that is something the U.S. is taking seriously.
WOODRUFF: So, even though the threat level is reduced to yellow, they could raise it again if they get enough information.
MESERVE: Oh, absolutely. And they don't believe that the terror threat has been eliminated, by any stretch. There's still a real risk out there. That is why they remain at yellow. Yellow means a significant number of precautionary measures are in place.
And Ridge notes that, because of what's transpired in the past year, yellow now means a lot more security than it did a year ago. And he projects, in another year's time, it will mean even more.
WOODRUFF: And Americans just have to get used to that.
MESERVE: That's right.
WOODRUFF: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
Just ahead, we're going to go live to the firing range, as pilots train to carry guns in the cockpit.
And later: Tensions mount between the United States and Syria. We'll examine the issues at hand, as the two sides prepare to open discussions.
Stay with us.
WOODRUFF: It's a different sort of freshman class. The first class of airline pilots is being trained with guns that they may now legally carry in the cockpit to defend against hijackers.
CNN's Patty Davis is at the training school in Glynco, Georgia.
Patty, how are they doing?
PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, they're doing great so far, Judy.
This is the firing range where they've been practicing, the first group of commercial pilots, 48 hours of training, in fact, 16,000 rounds fired yesterday alone. Some of these guys say that they have blisters on their fingers from firing so much. A lot of the firing on this range up close, and that's what it's going to take in the cockpit, because the intruder is going to come in almost 3 feet from them.
Now, it's not only shooting. It is defensive tactics, like you see here, what to do if an intruder comes at you with a knife or gun while they're in the cockpit. The bottom line, they say, is, grab the intruder's weapon before it can be used against the pilot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MORAN, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: We believe this will be a very strong deterrent to prevent anyone from thinking about entering a cockpit of an aircraft in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIS: Now, this program is cloaked in secrecy. In fact, the airlines do not even know that their pilots are here. And, in fact, some of these pilots are paying for some of this program themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what we're doing here today is providing that final layer of protection to keeping the airplane from becoming a weapon. And that is by defending the cockpit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If necessary to defend the flight deck and protect my passengers in the aircraft, and especially to prevent the aircraft from being used in another 9/11-type event, I would be able to use lethal force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIS: We were asked to protect those pilots' identities for obvious reasons, as we do with any of the air marshals that we shoot pictures of.
Now, their motivation, most pilots here say, the September 11 terrorist attacks. In fact, they as a group have come up with a phrase. And that is: Never forget. They also say they would like to get patches that they may wear that would include some of the debris from the September 11 crashes.
This first class of 46, two have already washed out. They're going to graduate on Saturday. No guarantee they're all going to make it. But the ones who do, then, will be carrying gun this coming Sunday, if they're working -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Patty, very quickly, they don't have to go through this? This is voluntary?
DAVIS: This is a voluntary program. That's right. And, in fact, there are thousands and thousands of volunteer pilots who want to do this, just not enough money yet. They had about $500,000 to spend on just one training program, these 46 pilots. They say they're hoping to get more money to do more pilots throughout the summer. And they've asked for another $25 million for next year, so they can do thousands more -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Patty Davis, reporting from Glynco, Georgia, thanks very much.
Well, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that he'll be making a trip to Syria in the days ahead. But a specific date has not yet been announced. The Bush administration has accused Syria of aiding Iraqi forces and harboring fugitive Iraqi officials. Now, Syrian officials deny the charges and they say they'd welcome a visit from by Secretary Powell.
The war with Iraq certainly has strained relations between the United States and Syria. But well before the war, Washington was accusing Damascus of aiding terrorist groups. CNN senior international correspondent Sheila MacVicar has more now on the story from the Syrian capital.
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It is unfinished business that keeps Syria in what the U.S. calls the terror trade. A state of war with Israel not yet resolved in peace. Not wars between states, the Syrian-Israeli border is quiet, but proxy wars fought by groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad. All groups named by the U.S. as terrorist organizations, all groups the U.S. says are sponsored in some way by Syria. Damascus has helped the U.S. go after al Qaeda, but officials here will not yet renounce the others.
BUTHAINA SHAABAN, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Who call these people terrorists? It is the people who occupy their hands and who send them out and expel them out of their land.
MACVICAR: The Syrians still make that old distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters. They do not see that civilian casualties caused by suicide bombers will bring American pressure and perhaps American might.
RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEP. SECY. OF STATE: We're going to go after these problems just like a high school wrestler goes after a match. We're going to take them down one at a time.
MACVICAR: High on that list is Hezbollah. Sponsored and armed by Syria and Iran, it is Hezbollah fighters who sit on the border between Lebanon and Israel who drove the Israelis out of south Lebanon after 22 years. The organization the U.S. holds responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American Marines in Beirut in 1983.
Last month CNN obtained a rare interview with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah.
(on camera): The United States administration calls Hezbollah the A-Team of terrorism. They say that you owe the United States a blood debt. They say that there is a price to be paid for that and that you are on their list and when the time is right they are going to come after Hezbollah. What do you think the United States will do and what will you do?
SHEIKH HASSAN NASRALLAH, SECY.-GEN., HEZBOLLAH (through translator): Hezbollah's problem with the American administration is that we are fighting Israel. And I'm certain that if we were to give up the fight against Israel then there's a great possibility that Hezbollah would be dropped from the American list of terrorist organizations.
MACVICAR (voice-over): Under Syrian pressure Hezbollah has been quiet for these weeks of war in the Middle East. But it could start again, this time with better, more powerful weapons.
(on camera): And if Hezbollah were to wage its war again, the Israelis say they would not simply hit missile launchers in south Lebanon. The address, they say, is here in Damascus and the target would be the Syrian government.
Sheila MacVicar, CNN, Damascus.
WOODRUFF: All of that fairly ominous.
Up next: American servicemen laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Stay with us.
WOODRUFF: Two Americans who gave their lives to Operation Iraqi Freedom were buried at Arlington National Cemetery today. Marine Lance Corporal Patrick Nixon was one of 17 killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah on March 23. He was 21 years old and the first Tennessean to die in the war. And Idaho Air National Guardsman Major Gregory Stone was buried with honors at Arlington. He died of injuries from a grenade attack by a fellow soldier.
And that is it for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. We thank you for joining us.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com