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America's Food Supply Vulnerable?; Saudi Arabian Oil and Terror

Aired December 6, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Welcome to a brand new week here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
And tonight, we are making a major commitment to keep you and your family informed about the most important issue facing the nation, national security.

We begin our CNN security watch with an in-depth look at the safety of America's food supply. Should you be worried about terrorists targeting the food you eat? Well, some top politicians are sounding the alarm. And we're going to try to answer some of the questions about the safety of our nation's food supply.

We're going to begin with what Tommy Thompson said when he announced his resignation as secretary of health of human services last Friday. He startled more than a few people with this statement.


TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked


ZAHN: Well, on Saturday, during a photo session with the leader of Pakistan, reporters asked President Bush to respond.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tommy was commenting on the fact that we're a large country with all kinds of avenues where somebody could inflict harm and we're doing everything we can to protect the American people.


ZAHN: So, are they?

Well, today the Food and Drug Administration, which is overseen by Tommy Thompson, unveiled a new set of food safety rules. Manufacturers and distributors must now keep detailed records tracking the movement of food products in every step of the chain. That way, if contamination happens, it might be easier to track down the source.

Gary Tuchman looks at the potential weaknesses of our nation's food supply.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kathy Ireman (ph) is a grocery shopper who's not that familiar with outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

(on camera): Are you ever concerned that terrorists could get to the food you buy at grocery stores?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never thought about it, to be honest.

TUCHMAN: I'm going to read to you this quote. "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do." That's what the outgoing health and human services secretary has said. Now that you hear that, what does that make you feel like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's pretty scary.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Should she be scared? It depends who you talk to. Randall Murch used to be a high-level forensics expert with the FBI.

RANDALL MURCH, FORMER FBI FORENSICS EXPERT: Yes, it is a big worry. And, actually, my colleagues and I in the FBI, as well as colleagues in the U.S. Department of Agriculture as long ago as 1997 raised our concerns to our seniors.

TUCHMAN: There are those who believe Thompson's comments are unnecessarily alarming. For example, many in the food import industry say there are tight security checks and inspections on all imports. Then there are the experts who carve a more neutral ground.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Could his words have been chosen better? I think absolutely. Are we vulnerable for the nation's food supply? Absolutely. Are they doing things about it right now? Absolutely. Is it enough? Probably not.

TUCHMAN: The CDC estimates there are about 76 million cases of food poisoning each year in the United States, leading to about 5,000 deaths. But culinary terrorism has been rare and will hopefully stay that way.


ZAHN: That was Gary Tuchman reporting.

Joining me now to talk about the security of our food supply, CNN's senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Also with us is Marion Nestle. She's the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. She's also the author of the book "Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology and Bioterrorism." And Michael Osterholm, who you saw moments ago in a piece, he's the director of the Center For Infectious Disease Research and policy at the University of Minnesota. He's also an associate director of the National Center For Food Protection and Defense, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. I hope you can keep that straight because I got one more for you. He also serves as a special adviser to Tommy Thompson, a man with many duties here.

Good to have all three of you aboard.


ZAHN: Sanjay you're the brain surgeon here, and I mean that literally. You're the guy who is paid to stay calm about a whole range of issues. Does this make you nervous?


When you think about possibly tainting or contaminating the food supply, I think, on an individual level, it is a little bit nerve- racking. People get nervous that maybe their food can be contaminated with a bacterial source or even a viral source in uncooked foods, for the most part.

One big sort of terroristic sort of food case 20 years ago occurred in the United States and a lot of people got sick from that because of an intentional poisoning. But sort of for the mass public either dying from it or affecting lots of people, not so concerned about it as a doctor, Paula.

ZAHN: Are doctors trained to look for warning signs of food tainting?

GUPTA: You know, I think doctors are becoming more sort of vigilant about seeing clusters. If you start to see a lot of patients showing up in emergency room with the same type of profile, the same type of poisoning or having eaten tainted food, I think that's concerning. They're going to start reporting that to public health infrastructures.

A lot of people complain that the infrastructure of the public health system not good enough yet. But I think it's getting better and doctors are becoming more vigilant about it, Paula.

ZAHN: And, Michael, you're the guy who's been advising Secretary Thompson. And I'm sure you can give us a good sense of what the not only economic impact would be, but obviously impact on our health if the food supply was tainted. How worried are you about the overarching threat to our food supply?

OSTERHOLM: Well, like Secretary Thompson, I think that this really is a situation that could easily occur, so the fact that it hasn't occurred yet I think has been a blessing for us.

When you say occur, though, I think what's really important is, many people conjure up anything that's going to happen to us again is going to be a 9/11-like event. In this case, with food, as Dr. Gupta already mentioned, people who got sick from eating at that contaminated salad bar basically had some garden variety salmonella infection, were sick for a couple of days, all got better. No one even knew it had been intentionally done until almost a year later, when the group acknowledged it.

For much of what could happen with the food supply today, it's not going to be a lot different than what we would already see those 76 million illnesses you talked about. What I think we're most concerned about are those few instances where there are certain kinds of biologic agents or chemicals that could be put into a large volume of food that could cause a much more serious situation. And that's what we've really been concentrating on.

And, Marion is that pretty easy to do, to contaminate the food supply in a way that...

DR. MARION NESTLE, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: I think you can contaminate small parts of it. But it's very hard to do something that's absolutely enormous, even with the centralized food supply that we have.

The biggest case that I know about was an ice cream truck that was contaminated because they put an ice cream mix into a truck that had taken eggs that were open before that. If we had a food safety system in place like the kind that some government agencies have been arguing for, for years, that kind of thing wouldn't happen.

ZAHN: But we don't have that kind of system in place. You've been a vocal critic of this administration for just this widespread bureaucracy and the ones that preceded it.

NESTLE: Not just this administration.

ZAHN: You think there are too many different government agencies that have their hands in this. You want one unified body?


NESTLE: I'm one of these people who agrees completely with the Government Accountability Office that there should be a single food agency that looks -- food safety agency that oversees the entire system and gets rid of the gaps and overlaps that currently exist.

I was shocked by the secretary's statement, not because it was so scary, when, in fact, what he should have been doing was talking about what his agency could do to make the situation better just for what's here.

ZAHN: May be that is something Michael can address on the other side, since he's been advising the secretary.

If you would hold that thought, Michael, we're going to come back to you in a moment.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

ZAHN: We want to know an awful lot more about this issue.

And we want to know from you out there, are you worried the U.S. food supply will be the target of a terror attack? Click onto Let us know what you have to think.

Well, folks, Americans are eating more imported foods than ever. So stay with us for a little bit. We're going to continue our security watch with a look at food imports. Just how sure can you be about what's behind that label?

Then, a little bit later on, we're going to deal with a major security issue in Saudi Arabia. How safe are the nation's oil supplies from terrorist attack? You're probably not going to like the answer to this one either.


ZAHN: We're back with our security watch and questions about the safety of the nation's food supply.

When you bite into an apple, cut up carrots or open a can of tuna fish, do you know where any of that food came from? Well, labels could help consumers, but how effective are they in keeping food products safe?

Here's Tom Foreman with some possible answers.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More pork, more beef, more vegetables, fruit, wine, and cheese. Food from foreign places now makes up 13 percent of what Americans eat. And with this new flurry of worry about terrorism, some consumers are wondering where, exactly, it's all from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know where the greens are from, but I always assume they're local.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is from France, some ranch dressing.

FOREMAN: The 2002 Federal Farm Bill required that a lot of foreign foods start carrying labels showing its origin, so consumers would know if they were buying American. But the process has been slow. So some lawmakers are saying, maybe now it needs to have happen for safety reasons.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Yes, I believe it's important not only from the standpoint of protecting the American people from terrorists, but I just think it's a good idea so that people know the country of origin of the food.

FOREMAN: Fifty-seven billion worth of foreign food annually, however, would require a lot of labels. And if a terrorist has the training and resources to poison say, a shipment of fish, industry analysts say he could fake a label, too.

(on camera): Look at this perfectly good can of sardines. The label says it's from South Africa.

(voice-over): But 20 minutes with a razor, a scanner, a computer, and a color printer.

(on camera): Now our sardines are quite clearly from Florida.

(voice-over): The government has improved its tracking of foreign food producers. And some consumers are unconcerned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a problem right now instilling more fear in people than is actually necessary or helpful.


ZAHN: That was our Tom Foreman reporting for us tonight. We'll have to go the grocery store with him. It will take him hours to get through there, take out those labels.

Let's turn back to CNN senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Marion Nestle, professor at New York University, and Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

So, Doctor, a lot of interesting issues were raised by that piece. But the most important one, I think, to folks watching tonight is, what can they do to ensure that the food they bring home is, indeed, safe to eat?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that's an excellent point, Paula.

Regardless of what the label says, I think individuals do have a responsibility, maybe more so now than ever, looking for simple things, an unusual odor, taste or appearance. Also, a lot of foods are packaged. So has the packaging been tampered with? Again, aside from labels, things like not washing your food thoroughly, cooking it. Dr. Osterholm was talking about bacterial things, viral origins. A lot of those can be cooked out. So, if you cook it thoroughly, that can help as well.

Also a couple points, report it to the local health authorities, Paula. You were talking about this earlier, but if enough people talk about it, report it, you may start to figure something out before it starts to affect lots of people, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Doctor.

Michael, we just saw how easy it for Tom Foreman to find out where those sardines really came from. Do you think it's that much of a benefit to the American consumer to have these labels showing point of origin of this food?

OSTERHOLM: From a food safety standpoint, it really is not. What really is most important is, wherever the food comes from, what are the conditions upon which it was grown?

Having worked at many of these outbreaks -- in fact the outbreak that was referred to with the ice cream here, it actually originated in Minnesota, and I headed up that outbreak investigation -- there are many, many outbreaks that come from the United States itself. The real key point is, and I think Dr. Gupta did a good job just now, remember, 76 million Americans get sick every year in this country or thereabouts from food-borne disease. That's enough of, in a sense, a terrorist issue that we want to take care of it. So actually cooking your food and so forth, whether it comes from a foreign country or not, is a very critical point.

ZAHN: Marion, I see you nodding, but what is not being done?

NESTLE: Well, I think the food needs to be safe before it gets to the consumer.

What happens in food safety is, it's always put on the -- the burden is always put on the consumer. If you would only cook your food properly, then everything would be just fine.


ZAHN: Well, that's not a total cop-out, is it?

NESTLE: No. Everybody should cook their food properly.

But I'd like to see it safe before it gets to the consumers. And to do that, we need farm to safety -- safety programs in place. The FDA has just proposed that, for shell eggs, eggs in their shells, but that's the only food in the food supply that's going to have farm-to- table safety regulations that they have to be produced under.

OSTERHOLM: If I could interject here, because I think...


ZAHN: OK, go ahead, Michael.

OSTERHOLM: I think that this is an important point. And hate to disagree with your guest, but I do, in the sense that, you know, as someone who's been on the front lines with food safety for many years, I've been at the bedside of children dying from food-borne disease. I know what it's like.

And the only point I would make is, this is a fallacy to think that you can have a safe food. We can clearly have a safer food. Much has been done in the last years to improve that. The Food and Drug Administration I think has done some very important things in the last several years to help improve upon that.

In the end, as Dr. Gupta can tell you, if you go into a hospital today, and you end up getting a surgery done, there's a 3 percent chance that you'll get an infection from that clean surgery. Now, if we can't do better in our surgical suites, how are we going to do better in a field anywhere in the world where rodents are running around, despite your best efforts to prevent that? Birds are flying over, defecating on the produce, despite your best efforts to prevent that.

And, unfortunately, in many parts of the world, we don't have the water supplies that we wished and should have. So the only point I want to make is, is that we need to do more, but, please, don't fall back on the fallacy, if everybody would just make it a safe food supply. That is a fallacy.

ZAHN: Doctor, I see you're nodding your head in agreement. I don't know about you. Maybe you've heard a lot more about this than I have, but I'm hearing Michael talk tonight and it scares the heck out of me.

GUPTA: Well, consumers are always going to have a responsibility.

I have to agree with Dr. Osterholm on that standpoint. He brought up the surgical analogy. We always have our -- we have our safeguards in the hospitals to try and prevent us from making mistakes, but we all have to be very vigilant about this as well. There are 76 million different types of food-borne illnesses out there.

And they're happening, Paula, already. They're not intentional. These are accidental tainting of food that occurs. Individuals still have to have a responsibility to check out their food, to cook it, to wash it, all those things to be as safe as possible, Paula.

ZAHN: Marion, you get the last word tonight.

NESTLE: We could do a better job than we're now doing. And that's really the point.


ZAHN: Well, even the secretary acknowledged that.

NESTLE: Everybody needs to be involved in this. The government has to play its role. The food industry needs to play its role. And the consumers need to play their role. But it doesn't have to be just on the consumer.

OSTERHOLM: I agree with that 100 percent.

ZAHN: I don't know about you guys, but that just killed my appetite tonight. But it gives us a lot to think about.


ZAHN: We appreciate all three of you joining us tonight, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Marion Nestle and Michael Osterholm. Thank you.

CNN's security watch continues. How safe is your food? Continues tonight with "NEWSNIGHT" and Aaron Brown -- hi, Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. Paula.

Later on "NEWSNIGHT," food safety, as seen from the sky and abroad, a look at how vulnerable American crops are to terrorist sabotage using crop-dusters. Also, how safe is the food we import from some of the most troubled parts of the world? That and a discussion with an expert in homeland security who has been sounding the alert on food safety while he thinks there is plenty more to worry about.

All that, plus all the day's news on "NEWSNIGHT" CNN tonight 10:00 Eastern -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Aaron. We'll be there.

Much more to come tonight, including major progress in a matter of national security.


ZAHN (voice-over): Finally, a possible breakthrough on intelligence reform. After weeks of White House pressure and mounting political embarrassment, a crucial vote on a crucial issue.

Christians crashing a holiday parade. Are they forcing their religion on others or simply reclaiming their holiday?

That and much more tonight on PAULA ZAHN NOW.



ZAHN: And welcome back.

We continue our security watch with a chilling reminder that terrorists can strike anywhere and at any time. And this morning, a group claiming ties to al Qaeda attacked the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials say five men somehow got inside the compound by actually throwing explosives at the gate.

In the firefight that followed, three of the terrorists were killed. Five consulate employees also died. None was American. Listen to what President Bush had to say about the attack.


BUSH: The attacks in Saudi Arabia remind us that the terrorists are still on the move. They're interested in affecting the will of free countries. They want us to leave Saudi Arabia. They want us to leave Iraq. They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly and kill innocent people.


ZAHN: And what if the terrorists began aiming at Saudi Arabia's oil fields, which hold one quarter of the world's reserves?

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson investigates that chilling possibility as our security watch continues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If Saudi Arabia's lifeblood is oil, this is its heart, Ras Tanura, the world's largest oil refinery and the country's principal oil export facility. We saw fortified defenses, but not enough to satisfy former CIA Bob Baer.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I could sit down now with my training in the CIA and people I know and do a concerted military attack on Saudi facilities, standoff attacks with rockets, and take five, six million barrels off the market.

ROBERTSON: So could a plane packed with explosives if it crashed into Ras Tanura, a 9/11-style scenario that Baer says is also possible. The loss of more than one-half the desert kingdom's normal production would turn disaster here into a global economic nightmare.

ADRIAN BINKS, OIL ANALYST: If a major facility was knocked out such as the Ras Tanura export facility and it looked like it would be out for many months, then the market would be absolutely frenzied and prices would rise through the sky, almost.

ROBERTSON: At a high-tech control room, Saudi engineers say they have planned for that possibility.

ABDALLAH S. JUM'AH, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, SAUDI ARAMCO: We always have drills about what-ifs, and, therefore, even a terrorist incident, if it were to happen, it's not going to be worse than an industrial incident in a volatile industry like ours.

ROBERTSON: Indeed, on a recent tour of Ras Tanura, where oil is not only refined, but shipped out to the rest of the world, Saudi officials were keen to show off the safety features of the facilities.

(on camera): What you realize out in these oil-loading terminals, if terrorists were to strike against a Saudi oil infrastructure, it would have little effect. The system is spread out over a vast area.

(voice-over): But in a volatile market, already jittery about terrorist attacks at Saudi oil installations, even a minor attack would rattle the global economy, the sort of pipeline attacks that are already common occurrence in Iraq.

BINKS: The most likely scenario, which would be an attack on a pipeline in Saudi Arabia, then prices would spike for a very short time.

ROBERTSON: So far, Saudi al Qaeda has killed and mutilated Western oil workers on at least two occasions, but has not yet targeted oil installations. The fear is that tactic could change.

BAER: These people are perfectly capable if they got some sort of victory in Iraq of turning south and going after the Saudi royal family and going after the facilities. I've got no doubt about that.

ROBERTSON: With internal tensions, from rising unemployment, a booming birth rate and a struggling economy, the Saudi royals carry the burden of protecting not only their oil fields, but also the world's economy.


ZAHN: That was Nic Robertson reporting for us tonight.

Now on to a major security matter here at home. After weeks of arm-twisting and jaw-boning, a deal on intelligence reform. How it happened straight out of this break.


ZAHN: Our security watch continues now.

Today, Republicans in Congress settled most of their differences and now appear to be on track to approve a plan to reform the nation's intelligence system. Now, that has been held up since before Thanksgiving. The goal of the intelligence reform bill, of course, is to protect all of us from more terrorist attacks. But getting the right people to agree on how to do it has been painfully slow. congressional correspondent Joe Johns takes us through the day's developments.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Midmorning, supporters of the intelligence reform bill hold a news conference in the basement of the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bottom line question, why isn't this thing getting done?

REP. CHRIS SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: It's not getting done because of turf, because some members don't want to give up the opportunity and authority they have in committee.

JOHNS: Upset 9/11 family members are there to pressure House Speaker Dennis Hastert to put the bill on the floor for a vote something he's refused to do until House conservatives sign on. A short while later we're at the office of House armed services committee chairman Duncan Hunter. He's the bill's main opponent. And he's concerned it could give control of military intelligence over to the new national intelligence director breaking the existing chain of command and jeopardizing troops in battle. Hunter has been under relentless pressure from party leaders and the White House to negotiate a compromise. And now, suddenly, he sounds upbeat.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES CMTE. CHAIRMAN: We think we've got some good -- between us and the Senate, some good language that and good provisions that will protect our troops with a solid chain of command.

JOHNS: Hunter's been accused of protecting his turf. Just this weekend, the top Senate Democrat Harry Reid called Hunter's objection a petty power grab. But to Hunter, it's more than power. It's personal.

HUNTER: There he is in his artillery pit.

JOHNS: That marine on the chairman's computer screen is his son, just back from Iraq, one of a few children of lawmakers in uniform. Is that one of the things that's been in the back of your mind?

HUNTER: Yes. My son has been to Iraq twice. With the marines. And came back from Falluja, rotated back here with his unit about a month and a half ago.

JOHNS: As we talk, the 9/11 families are outside the White House, turning up the heat on the president and Speaker Hastert promising to keep up the pressure until a deal takes shape.

CARRIE LEMACK, DAUGHTER OF 9/11 VICTIM: I'd like to ask Speaker Hastert how many people have to die until he's willing to take a vote on this very important bill? 3,000 people have already been murdered. Do we need another 3,000? Is another 3 million?

JOHNS: Two hours later, with Hunter on board, the bill's main opponent is House judiciary committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, who is demanding tougher immigration restrictions.

His office has gotten thousands of calls, most supportive. Sensenbrenner is now the lone obstacle. But the bill is moving ahead without him, and he's not talking. Now it's midafternoon, and the 9/11 families have arrived at Speaker Hastert's office. Some families want to meet him face-to-face. It's a tense situation. The families have not been invited, but as victims they can't be turned away. And Hastert's staff is on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No cameras beyond here.

JOHNS: After the families go in, Hastert is spotted alone. He's met with them before. Today, he lets his chief of staff do the talking. But after the meeting, and for the first time in a while, family members say they like what they heard.

MARY FETCHET, MOTHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: He gave us a lot of hope that they have come to some agreement that they were continuing to move forward, and that we would probably have a vote sometime early tomorrow morning.

JOHNS: After months of tortuous 9/11 hearings, and a chaotic legislative process, the deal in the most significant reform to the intelligence community finally appears to be coming together.


ZAHN: And that was congressional correspondent Joe Johns. Joining me now, Republican Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut. He's a member of the House homeland security committee. Good to see you. Welcome to our broadcast.

So Congressman, a lot of people watching this debate are scratching their head tonight saying, you've finally come to an agreement. But the language change doesn't even seem all that big.

SHAYS: Well, it -- there really wasn't any change. I mean what we agreed to in November is pretty much what's on the table today. But if it makes Chairman Hunter more comfortable, then why not do it? And the bottom line, though, was that if we didn't have an agreement with Chairman Hunter, the president would have needed to ask the -- the speaker to bring this bill before us, and we would have had a vote, and it would have passed the Senate by 90 percent and the House by at least two-thirds. I think now it will probably pass by three- quarters.

ZAHN: So do you concede a lot of time was wasted here?

SHAYS: No. I don't think time was wasted. But, because the -- the bottom line is we have a good result. We have a really strong intelligence bill, and we have needed changes in immigration, and Mr. Sensenbrenner, who wants even more changes in immigration, he chairs the judiciary committee. He can bring out the bills that he wants, and a lot of them I certainly will support.

ZAHN: There are people, though, who believe that, in fact, this language change makes the bill weaker. Let's listen to what one of your colleagues has to say from Colorado.


REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: We are no more secure. In fact, what we have done is to create an illusion of security with a bill like this which makes us worse off as far as I'm concerned.


ZAHN: Representative Tancredo's criticism is that this bill doesn't go far enough in tightening up immigration standards. Does he have a point there?

SHAYS: I think we could make immigration standards much stronger. But the bottom line is, a very strong intelligence reform bill, the first change in basically 50 years, and some strong changes in immigration, not as much as Mr. Sensenbrenner wants, but ultimately I think Mr. Sensenbrenner will see some additional changes, as well, in the years to come.

ZAHN: Could the president have done more to have moved this debate forward in a faster way?

SHAYS: Oh, I think he probably could have. But, in the end, he did it the way he wanted. And that was, getting the support of Mr. Hunter, enabling the speaker to get a bill without ruffling some feathers, and I think what he would probably say is my job was to get the job done. I've done it and I did it my way and it worked.

ZAHN: Bottom line, Congressman, are Americans all that much safer once this bill passes?

SHAYS: Oh, once this bill passes and is implemented and put into practice over the next few years we will be a lot safer. We will have the capability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, not just react to them.

ZAHN: Congressman Shays, thank you for your time.

SHAYS: Thank you.

ZAHN: Still to come, U.S. soldiers head to court to fight the army's decision to extend their tours of duty. That story when we come back.


ZAHN: Iraq's interim president uses some blunt words to describe the insurgents who have unleashed a wave of violence in his country. He calls them armies of darkness who are trying to undermine the political process and incite civil war. Well, attacks over the weekend killed dozens of Iraqis, and since Friday at least five U.S. soldiers have died.

Today, interim President Ghazi al-Yawar met with President Bush at the White House. Both leaders vowed the attacks would not keep next month's elections from going forward.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about the security situation. We talked about the election process. And I assured the president that my comments about the need to have elections was real and genuine.

I believe it's necessary for the Iraqi people to vote on January the 30th, because it -- it provides a opportunity for people to participate in democracy. It will send a clear message to the few people in Iraq that are trying to stop the march to a democracy that they cannot stop elections.


ZAHN: Just last week the Pentagon announced it was boosting U.S. troop strength leading up to the vote.

One way it will do that is through a program known as stop-loss. That basically means it can extend the length of time soldiers are required to serve before rotating home.

Well, today, eight active duty soldiers sued the Pentagon to stop that policy.

Joining me now from Washington is one of those soldiers, Army Specialist David Qualls, who signed up for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard.

David, good of you to join us. Welcome.


ZAHN: I'm fine, thanks.

So you have several years of military service behind you. Your latest enlistment was supposed to be for a year. But now you find yourself five months beyond what you thought you had committed to. What happened?

QUALLS: Shortly after I re-enlisted in July of 2003, our unit was placed on stop-loss orders.

ZAHN: And did you think that was a possibility, or even a remote possibility when you signed on to a one-year plan?

QUALLS: No. As a matter of fact, I had other plans. We had discussed, maybe, officer candidacy school and some other things. As far as stop-loss, there was no mention.

ZAHN: So do you think you were misled?

QUALLS: If the Army knew if -- that the stop-loss was available as a tool to them, if they knew they were going to stop-loss this particular unit, then, yes. If they didn't -- well I can hardly see them not knowing as quick as it was stop-lossed.

ZAHN: What has been the immediate impact of this additional five months you've had to serve so far, economically and emotionally?

QUALLS: Well, you know, as an E-4 in the United States Army, you don't make a whole lot of money. I had a successful trucking business prior to this call -- this activation. We're not necessarily sure that, you know -- well, the truck's been sitting for obviously about eleven months now. We're not sure that we can make that a profitable endeavor again.

Well, you know, you miss your family. You know, your family misses you. Things, you know, things just aren't right when one person's away.

ZAHN: A lot of the other people involved in the suit would not allow for their names to be used, because they're afraid of what might happen once they go public with it. Do you understand that?

QUALLS: I understand that. And you know, obviously there's some concerns on everybody's behalf about that.

The American people need to know that it's not just nameless, faceless people. These are real people. These are real soldiers. These are people that have -- have already served, and have given so much for their country that we need to know that -- maybe personalize it a little.

ZAHN: A long legal road ahead. David Qualls, thank you for joining us tonight. We really appreciate your time.


ZAHN: And we contacted the Pentagon, but officials there won't comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

Joining me now from Washington, CNN contributor and former Pentagon spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke.

Always good to see you. Welcome back, Tory.



So you got to hear a little bit of what Dave had to say about this case. He says this is not about his sense of patriotism. He served his country honorably on twice -- two different tours of duty. This is about fairness. And when he talked about signing on for a year, he said no one mentioned the possibility of a stop-loss program.

CLARKE: Well, I'd say a couple of things. One I'd say very sincerely, thank him for his service. You know, he makes an important point about the sacrifices these people make. And we should appreciate what they do. But...

ZAHN: But that's not what his point is.

CLARKE: I know.

ZAHN: His point is he's served five months longer than he thought he would have to.

CLARKE: Well, I think we need some perspective on this issue. And the first part of it is why the policy exists, why you have stop- loss, is because, especially in a time of war, you need to have the right people in the right jobs at the right time. Continuity is key.

It's one of the best lessons that came out of the Vietnam War is don't pull people out right when they've acquired the skills they need to be effective in keeping units together.

Secondly, the overwhelming majority of people who serve in the armed services in uniform understand and accept the policy. The overwhelming majority of them. Hundreds of thousands of them know about this policy. And it's been in place for some time.

So, I'm sorry if he didn't have that information. But, the importance is -- the important points are, this is about -- this is about readiness. And the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people who serve with David accept the policy.

ZAHN: But you can't ignore the fact that this policy has been put into effect more now, and in much bigger numbers, than at any time since World War II.

And I wanted to review something with you I'm sure you remembered the secretary saying in August of 2002, when Secretary Rumsfeld was asked about strains on our military during a question and answer period. Let's listen to what he had to say.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I am a realist. If -- if we need more people, then -- then we ought to fess up to it and -- and say let's -- let's lift the strength, and -- and do it on a normal basis rather than trying to patch it with reserves and stop-losses, for an extended period.


ZAHN: So Tory, why are we still involved with a stop-loss process 2 1/2 years later?

CLARKE: Well, because we're doing a variety of things to meet the challenges that we face right now. You know, we had a deployment process that allows them to scale up and scale down the number of boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have things like stop-loss, which really are about readiness, having the right kind of people in the right place at a certain time, than it is about end strength. We've actually increased the end strength some, allowed it to go up.

So in extraordinary times, you have to put the best effort on every element into play. And that's what they're trying to do.

ZAHN: There are a bunch of people out there, including Senator John Kerry, who are saying that this amounts to a back door draft, that this is compulsory service, that is being required of people who committed to much shorter lengths of duty.

CLARKE: Absolutely wrong. It's about readiness, pure and simple. And if you need more people or you need different kinds of people, then you increase the incentives, the benefits, those sorts of things.

But this is not about a back door draft or a front door draft at all. It's about readiness, pure and simple.

ZAHN: Wanted to end tonight with a discussion of Pat Tillman, the famous professional football player. A new investigation now is out into the death of Corporal Pat Tillman.

According to the "Washington Post," the Army actually distorted the circumstances surrounding Corporal Tillman's death in its initial statement on the matter, making no mention of the fact that he was killed by friendly fire, despite the fact that they had 14 sworn statements indicating as much at the time.

Was the Army trying to gloss over the fact that Tillman's fellow Rangers killed him in a friendly fire incident?

CLARKE: I honestly don't know. I sure hope not. And I think in the course of these investigations and the scrutiny, which is absolutely appropriate, that will come out, if it happened.

Friendly fire accidents happen. It's a tragedy. It's one of the worst things that happens in conflict. It does happen. It often takes time for the details and the particulars to come out.

In this case, it looks as though some people who were involved on the ground with Tillman have been sanctioned in some way. I want to be careful with the words. They received some administrative proceedings because of their involvement in it. I think we'll learn a lot more about what the Army said about it and when they said it.

But, I hope we don't lose sight of something. It's connected to what I said about David before, which is the honor and the decency of people like Tillman being willing to serve, being willing to make those sacrifices.

ZAHN: I doubt that that will ever get lost in this controversy. But what would be the incentive for someone to have done that?

CLARKE: Well, you know, my -- my friend John McCain was talking about it, and he was saying, you know, sometimes people's emotions and their desire to be decent and be appreciative of people's sacrifices overcomes their common sense.

You know, fortunately we did get the facts about what actually happened on the ground, and the mistakes evidently that were made that led to that tragedy. That's very important. And now people are looking into, as they should, what people in the Army said about it and when they said it.

But I -- I could see where people's emotions got the best of them. It's not an excuse. It just may be a reason.

ZAHN: What should the American public learn about this story and the way this process works?

CLARKE: Well, the overwhelming majority of the time it works pretty well. And there's incredible transparency now when it comes to military conflict, when it comes to military affairs of all kinds. And the media is there with them almost all of the time, which in my opinion, is a very, very good thing.

Every once in awhile mistakes are made. The good news is, there were very, very few countries, there were very few militaries who could and would stand up and accept the mistakes that are made in a case like this and allow the media, and allow the American public to get in and scrutinize it, try to figure out what happened, and address it so those sorts of mistakes aren't made again.

ZAHN: Tory Clarke, bet you're happier outside of the aisle you're on now, not having to talk about this stuff on a daily basis.

CLARKE: They have -- they have very tough jobs. Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: They certainly do. Thanks for your time tonight. You've heard slogans like take back the night, take back the country. But some Christians have literally launched a musical protest to take back a public parade. That when we come back.


ZAHN: You'd think a holiday parade would be a slam-dunk, balloons, floats, bands, lots of smiling kids lined up on the sidewalk. But in Denver over the weekend, a popular annual parade turned into a battle over religious displays in public.

The problem, according to one side: there was no place in the event for Christmas.

That's a really nice shot from Denver, but we didn't plan to have you watch that for the next couple of minutes. I think we got the piece ready.

Let's look at the Parade of Lights.


ZAHN (voice-over): At first look it had all the markings of a traditional parade lights, music, families out in force and wide-eyed children taking it all in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): He rules the world with truth and grace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): He rules the world with truth and grace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): He rules the world with truth and grace.

ZAHN: But this year's Parade of Lights through downtown Denver took on a decidedly different tone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think that this holiday is about including people, not excluding them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody should be included and they shouldn't exclude anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they really made a poor decision.

ZAHN: The decision, to exclude a Christian-themed float submitted by the Faith Bible Chapel in suburban Denver. The private nonprofit group that organizes the 30-year-old parade has a long- standing policy of staying away from religious themes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without Christmas there wouldn't be a holiday to celebration.

ZAHN: The parade's official name was changed from Santa Claus Parade to the Parade of Lights in 1974, in a move toward inclusion. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've gone to be so politically correct that the message has gotten lost.

ZAHN: When parishioners of the Faith Bible Chapel got word that their float would not be included...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raise your hands if you're ready to go.

ZAHN: ... they put their protest to music.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, we need some more people. Come and sing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeat the sounding joy...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeat the sounding joy...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeat the sounding joy...

ZAHN: What began as 20 members of the choir singing Christmas carols before the parade, quickly grew to some 500 singers, chiming in along the way.

Church members handed out hot chocolate and 2,500 pamphlets with song lyrics. Five of the six songs came right of a Christian hymnal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God the savior is born...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God the savior is born...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God the savior is born...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a very large Christian community. And I think it's just a way of really showing that we believe in Jesus and that's what the season is about.

ZAHN: For their part, sponsors of the parade have agreed to review their policy of not allowing religious or political themes in time for next year's parade.


ZAHN: Wouldn't it be nice if all protesters sounded that way when they protest? There's some nice voices in that crowd.

We're going to be back with a few laughs from the late night comics and the final results of the question of the day, right after this.


ZAHN: It's that time of the night where we're all ready for a few laughs. Here's the take on homeland security and steroids from the late night comics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": President Bush announced that the new head of homeland security is Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner. Yes. From New York. You can actually tell he's from New York, because now the color-coded warning system will go from green to yellow to orange to forget about it.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Experts say as many as 20 percent of all the players take steroids. You know what you call the players who take steroids? Anybody know? The all-star team.

O'BRIEN: Barry Bonds testified that he used steroids, but didn't realize what they were. Used them, didn't realize what they were. Yes, Bonds said, "I thought they were candies that gave me big muscles and made you impotent."


ZAHN: Go, Conan.

Here are some of the results now from our question of the day we posed a little bit earlier. Only 30 percent of you say you are worried that the U.S. food supply will be targeted by terrorists. That would mean about 70 percent of you said you're not worried.

Not a scientific poll, of course, but the opinion of those few who logged onto our web site. Always appreciate your participation.

And that wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Tomorrow, stripped of her championship medals, suspended for two years because of steroids, sprinter Kelly White talks about athletes and doping. That's tomorrow night. We hope you'll join us then.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Have a great night.


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