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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Interview with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Interview With Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich
Aired June 29, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Appreciate the real estate here this evening. And thank you all for joining us. Glad to have you out there with us.
We happen to be in Washington, as Wolf mentioned, where it has been a very busy news day. We have a lot for you tonight, including that exclusive interview with Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff.
But, as we speak, there's some breaking news out of the Middle East. Israeli warplanes are carrying out a new round of airstrikes in Gaza.
Let's go straight to our own John Vause in Gaza City for the latest -- John.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Paula.
From here, over the last 30 or 40 minutes or so, we have seen five airstrikes carried out. According to the Israelis, they have been targeting a number of offices belonging to Hamas militant group, the governing party here in the Palestinian territories.
In Gaza City, the Interior Ministry was hit by Israeli missiles. That building was set ablaze. The reason why the Interior Ministry was hit, according to the Israelis, they say it was a meeting place to plan and direct terror activity.
Those airstrikes were also targeted against a Hamas training ground, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades training ground, and Hamas officers in the Jabalia refugee camp, not far from where we are here. Also, possibly a weapons storage house as well was hit.
There are reports that at least one person, a young girl, has been wounded in these airstrikes, but her injuries are described as not life-threatening. The amazing thing is that, during these three days of military offensive here in the Gaza Strip, there have been virtually no casualties so far.
This -- this girl could be the first person who has been wounded, despite the presence of thousands of Israeli troops in and around the Gaza Strip, all of this as diplomatic efforts seemed to be reaching some kind of hopeful point in trying to free the Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, who has been held since Sunday. The Egyptians and the Qataris had asked for the Israeli to hold off on a major offensive. They felt they're close to a breakthrough. But in the light of this escalation, that breakthrough now looks like it may not even be close -- Paula.
ZAHN: John Vause, we will come back to you as the news warrants. Thanks so much for that update.
We, of course, will bring you any new details as they become available.
Now we change our focus to trying to imagine a court where you can be kept out of your own trial, where your attorneys, if they are allowed to be there at all, can be forbidden to tell you what happened, where you may never know the evidence against you.
Now, those are just some of the rules for the military commission set up by the Bush administration to try allege terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay prison. And, today, here in Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court called them illegal, a major defeat for the Bush administration.
Our "Security Watch" coverage begins now with CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The high court ruled that, if President Bush wants to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay before military commissions, those commissions will have to be brought into line with both military law and the Geneva Conventions.
The case was brought on behalf of a Yemeni man, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, and who officials say has admitted being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver.
Hamdan's legal team, including a government-appointed military lawyer, argued the military commissions were unfair, and the Supreme Court agreed.
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER CHARLES SWIFT, ATTORNEY FOR SALIM AHMED HAMDAN: We have never contested that we cannot be tried there. All we have wanted is a fair trial. And we thank the Supreme Court for ensuring that Mr. Hamdan will get one.
MCINTYRE: The ruling was 5-3. Chief Justice John Roberts did not take part because he ruled in favor of the government when he was on a lower court.
Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said, "The rules specified for Hamdan's commission trial are illegal," citing the failure to apply one of the most fundamental protections, the right to be present.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a blistering dissent, saying the ruling will "sorely hamper the president's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy."
But nothing in the ruling prevents President Bush from holding enemy combatants at Guantanamo indefinitely, or eventually trying them, so long as the legal deficiencies cited by the court are corrected.
And the attorney for Australian David Hicks, another detainee challenging the commission process, says the irony for the 450 detainees at Guantanamo is, the court victory could actually prolong their imprisonment.
MAJOR MICHAEL MORI, ATTORNEY FOR DAVID HICKS: Unfortunately, that's -- that's the byproduct of having to fight for a fair trial for them. If they had used a fair system two-and-a-half years ago, the trial would have been done.
MCINTYRE: But defense attorneys insisted, the ruling showed the strength of the American system of justice.
NEAL KATYAL, ATTORNEY FOR SALIM AHMED HAMDAN: Just think of it. What happened today, a man from Yemen with a fourth-grade education accused of conspiring with one of the most horrendous individuals on the planet was able to sue the man -- the -- the -- the world's highest, most powerful individual, the president of the United States, and to have his case heard. In no other country would this be possible.
MCINTYRE (on camera): The Bush administration took heart in the fact that the court found no constitutional impediment to trials for enemy combatants and vowed to move quickly to draw up new rules to get the commissions back on track.
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
ZAHN: Of course, here in Washington, everything is about politics.
From the moment today's ruling came down, the Bush administration has been doing everything it can to portray this as anything but a major loss for the president.
As White House correspondent Ed Henry shows us, that has been an uphill fight.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A legal and political slap for President Bush, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court declaring he does not have a blank check in conducting the war on terror.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: No president is above the law. The court rejected the Bush administration's decision to turn its back on treaties and laws that have served America so well for generations.
HENRY: The president was caught flat-footed by the decision, getting only what he called a drive-by briefing on his way to a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for the question on the court ruling that literally came out in the midst of my meeting with the prime minister. And, so, I haven't had a chance to fully review the findings of the Supreme Court.
HENRY: The president quickly shifted the conversation to more politically advantageous ground.
BUSH: And one thing I'm not going to do, though, is I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. People got to understand that. I understand we're in a war on terror, that these people were picked up off of a battlefield, and I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court.
HENRY: The president also seized upon Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion, suggesting Congress come in and pass a law to fix this entire issue, the White House eager to dump this right in Congress' lap -- Paula.
ZAHN: Ed Henry, not surprised by that. Thanks so much, a member of the best political team in TV.
Now, today's Supreme Court ruling, including the commentaries by the justices, runs some 185 pages. So, who has read that?
Of course, our own senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. And he has been doing his best to digest it. He joins me now from New York.
All right, so, Jeff, we can argue tonight about the gradation of defeat for the president here. But the one thing that is clear, this is going to have a very big impact on how enemy combatants are treated from here on in.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And it -- it -- it dumps a big dilemma in -- in the president's lap, because now he has got to decide what to do.
You know, he had a system in place. The Supreme Court said, no good. Start over.
So, now they have got to start over. Plus, whatever they do, they have got to get Congress to go along. And the president is having a lot of trouble getting anything through Congress these days. And it may not be easy to put new rules in place. So, this problem, which was sort of on its way to being solved, is back in business again.
ZAHN: What does this mean, then, for the prisoners at Guantanamo?
TOOBIN: Well, it looks like they are going to be dealt with in different ways.
Some of them, the administration is going to try to send home to Saudi Arabia, to Afghanistan, to Yemen, in a way that both protects the public from them, if they think they are terrorists, and also protects the -- the -- the inmates from being tortured where they go. That's going to -- that's what they have done with some of the inmates already.
Some of them may be dealt with in a United States district court, in a -- in an -- in an ordinary criminal trial. Or there might be a court-martial. But, basically, most of them are going to wind up in limbo, until a new system can be put in place and approved by the courts. And that is probably going to be years.
ZAHN: Got 10 seconds left. Would you call this a landmark decision and a major defeat for the president?
TOOBIN: I would use both of those terms exactly as you said. It's definitely a landmark. It's rare that the Supreme Court rules against a president in wartime. But they ruled against this one. And it is a big loss for him.
ZAHN: Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, thanks for helping us digest all of that very dense paperwork.
TOOBIN: All righty, Paula.
ZAHN: Always appreciate it.
TOOBIN: See you.
ZAHN: We move on now to our nightly count of the top 10 stories on CNN.com, about 19 million going on to our Web site today. We know who you are. We have been counting you all day long.
At number 10 on our list, the discovery of a new tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings. Archaeologists hoped that one coffin might hold the mummy of King Tut's mother. Instead, it contained embalming equipment and some ancient flowers.
Number nine -- the U.S. and other major powers want Iran to respond next week to an offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium. But officials say they probably won't have an answer until August.
Numbers eight and seven are next.
Plus, you know there are hundreds of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo. Get ready to meet three who have been there and back.
ZAHN (voice-over): The road to Guantanamo -- former detainees and their incredible journey to the world's most controversial prison. What was it like and why were they finally set free?
And "Beyond the Headlines" -- a secretary under fire defends his agency.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I wish, more than anybody, that we could get all this done yesterday. I wish I could walk out tomorrow and announce we are at 100 percent security.
ZAHN: Tonight, my exclusive interview with Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff -- all that and more just ahead.
ZAHN: So, his job is to keep us safe. What does he see as the biggest threat to America right now? Coming up, my exclusive visit with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
We move on now.
Tonight, 450 people remain locked up at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And while today's Supreme Court ruling blocking military tribunals from some of the prisoners is a clear defeat for the Bush administration, it is not clear yet what exactly this decision will mean for all those inmates. And just what life is like for them also remains murky.
I recently spoke with a man who tells a very chilling story of his two years as a prisoner at Guantanamo.
ZAHN (voice-over): On September 28, 2001, three young friends left their small town of Tipton, England. One of them was to be married 4,000 miles away in Karachi, Pakistan.
But the men, all British citizens, decided on a last-minute detour into neighboring Afghanistan, they say, to help distribute aid.
(on camera): Shafiq, a month after 9/11, you headed off to Afghanistan with some friends during the American and British bombing campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Didn't it occur to you that you would be taking an enormous risk?
SHAFIQ RASUL, FORMER GUANTANAMO BAY DETAINEE: We had seen on the news that the war was going to happen when we were in the U.K. But the people that we were with, they basically convinced us that, you are going to be safe and everything will be OK.
ZAHN (voice-over): But Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed say their journey took a turn that lasted three nightmarish years.
As a new docudrama, "The Road to Guantanamo," reenacts...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO") UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boy, look at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: ... the men claim they were caught up in a bloody battle between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces.
RASUL: Basically, the bombing was on top of us. And that was just like -- it's -- it was just getting scarier and scarier. We didn't know if we was going to live or die.
ZAHN: They took refuge with the Taliban, a violent fundamentalist Muslim group the United States accuses of harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers.
RASUL: They were very hospitable towards us. They took us into their house, and they gave us food.
ZAHN (on camera): So, you found, initially, the members of the Taliban very generous to you.
RASUL: Yes, of course.
ZAHN: But did you sympathize with that they were trying to accomplish in Afghanistan? Did you agree with what they were trying to do?
RASUL: From -- from what they were doing, they were just running a country on -- on Islamic Sharia. I -- I agree with that. That's -- that's -- there's nothing wrong with that.
ZAHN (voice-over): The three friends say, the when fighting near them ended, they were taken prisoner, along with hundreds of Taliban fighters.
Eventually, they were handed over to American forces and were flown a half-a-world away to Guantanamo. Shafiq alleges, and the film vividly depicts, the men being hooded and chained the entire way.
At Guantanamo, they say, they underwent two-and-a-half years of mental and physical torture at the hands of the American military. Scenes from the docudrama show them shackled to the floor in the darkness, forced to listen to ear-splitting music for hours on end.
RASUL: When you are locked in a dark room, and it's really cold in there, and you -- and the -- you are chained to the floor, and you can't move, and the chains are digging into your hands and ankles, and you got really loud music, it just starts playing with your mind.
ZAHN: Shafiq says he was kept in isolation for months at a time, taken out only periodically for questioning.
RASUL: On numerous questions, I was being interrogated, saying that I was a member of al Qaeda. I didn't know what the hell was going on.
ZAHN (on camera): So, you are saying that you in no way supported the campaign of al Qaeda against Americans?
RASUL: Of course not.
ZAHN: But you have heard the Pentagon statement: These individuals were captured in Afghanistan fighting illegally for al Qaeda. They were properly classified as enemy combatants.
RASUL: If I am the enemy, so, why am I sitting here talking to you? That would be ridiculous. Then, everything that the American government is saying is lies.
ZAHN: At one point, you said you passed some polygraph tests. But...
ZAHN: ... ultimately, you admitted to being a member of al Qaeda during interrogation.
RASUL: On numerous occasions, I kept saying, no, it is not me; it is not me. But, then, after -- after those three months, I just -- I admitted to it to make life easier for me. And, when I did admit to it, it did become easier for me.
ZAHN (voice-over): Eventually, after 26 months in captivity, the men say they were released without a charge or an explanation.
Each is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials for $10 million, claiming they were tortured, in violation of U.S. and international law.
The Pentagon dismisses the lawsuit, saying there is no basis in U.S. law to play claims to those captured and detained as a result of combat activity.
Director Michael Winterbottom believes the film, now in worldwide release, has ignited a whirlwind of healthy debate.
(on camera): Are you trying to make a political statement with the film?
MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM, DIRECTOR, "THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO": It is a story of three individuals. You know, there is nothing in -- within the film, there is no political statement. It just shows you what happens, in their own words. You know, this is their version of what happens.
I personally feel Guantanamo should close. Now, this -- that's not what the film is about. The film is just saying, this is what it is like.
ZAHN (voice-over): And Shafiq Rasul, one of the three men you met a little bit earlier on, says he thinks today's Supreme Court ruling is a step forward.
Well, for its part, the Pentagon says all detainees at Guantanamo are treated humanely. It says U.S. laws and policy prohibit torture, and all U.S. personnel are required to follow those laws and those policies.
Well, tempers were clearly boiling up on Capitol Hill tonight -- coming up, is Congress on target or out of line in demanding the news media's cooperation in stopping leaks?
Plus, some incredible pictures of pot smugglers caught in the act. So, where did they get the helicopters? You will see.
First, number eight on our CNN.com countdown -- a potentially controversial recommendation about the new vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. A government advisory panel says girls as young as 9 years old should get the shots to protect them against the sexually transmitted virus that causes the disease. You got that right, 9 years old.
Number seven -- people across the Northeast are beginning to clean up after devastating floods. At least 15 are dead and hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes -- numbers six and five on our list straight out of the break.
ZAHN: And welcome back.
We're in Washington tonight, where, less than an hour ago, the House voted to condemn whoever it was who leaked the story about the federal program to use bank records to track terrorists. The vote was 227-183, just as predicted, along party lines.
The resolution, which has no force of law, also demands that the media not disclose classified intelligence programs.
Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel has been following this story all day long. And she has just filed this report.
REP. MICHAEL OXLEY (R), OHIO: We are at war, ladies and gentlemen.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans and Democrats hurled accusations across the aisle.
OXLEY: This is the third time in a relatively short period of time that this country has been witness to essentially treasonous behavior on the part of individuals who leak classified information, clearly against the law. REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: We have flag burning, proposals for constitutional amendments. We have gay marriage proposals for a constitutional amendment. Yet, when it comes to the basic freedom and liberty of this country, the press, we are presented with a resolution that condemns them.
KOPPEL: At the heart of these verbal volleys, "The New York Times" story that revealed a secret program to track international terrorist financing. The debate was over a seven-page Republican resolution condemning administration officials who leak stories to the media, and demanding the cooperation of the news media in not disclosing classified intelligence programs.
Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern said Republicans were playing election-year politics by attacking the so-called liberal media.
REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We are here today because there hasn't been enough red meat thrown at the Republican base before the Fourth of July recess.
REP. TODD TIAHRT (R), KANSAS: Mr. Speaker, I thank...
KOPPEL: But Kansas Republican Todd Tiahrt said, the only people playing politics were the leakers themselves.
TIAHRT: I believe that these government leakers are politically motivated. And they're doing it to embarrass the administration.
KOPPEL: Democrats tried unsuccessfully to offer their own substitute resolution, which echoed Republican concerns about leaking classified information, but rejected page after page of Republican claims about the success of the administration's anti-terror surveillance programs.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: What you have done is to hijack the virtually unanimous support for tracking terrorist financing into an endorsement of the way the Bush administration has conducted itself.
KOPPEL (on camera): But Republicans defend their decision, and say the resolution, which does not have the force of law, should send a signal that Congress is sick and tired of people leaking classified information and having the media report it.
Andrea Koppel, CNN, Capitol Hill.
ZAHN: And joining me now is a Democrat who voted against the resolution today, Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
Always good to see you. Welcome.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Thank you, Paula. ZAHN: I know you think this is about media bashing, political posturing. But is it possible that terrorists now, because they have been tipped out -- tipped off about the exact time of monitoring going on, could change their tactics as a result of this reporting?
KUCINICH: Well, as "The Boston Globe" pointed out a couple of days ago, this program had already been discussed by the administration. They were actually bragging about being able to track financial transactions.
The underlying issue is...
ZAHN: That -- that's true, but they say there's a difference between these terrorists knowing they are being watched and knowing how they're being watched.
KUCINICH: Oh, look -- look, this is a sham debate, because the fact of the matter is, this administration has been doing all the leaking. I mean, they have more leaks than an umbrella in a Cleveland rainstorm.
This administration, you know, put out the leaks about -- about WMDs, about al Qaeda and its relationship to Iraq, which there wasn't one before 9/11, about the uranium from Niger, the Valerie Plame incident, which everyone knows about.
ZAHN: So, you say they tolerate their own leaks...
ZAHN: ... but, then, when it comes to another leak that might appear to be damaging...
KUCINICH: But there's another issue here, too.
And that is the -- the role of the media. The media is providing oversight right now. Congress isn't providing oversight. You know, it is good that "New York Times" and other people in the media are starting to disclose what's going on in violation of people's constitutional rights, whether it is the widespread wiretapping, or also -- or gathering of phone calling information, or the gathering of financial records.
There are questions there about violation of the Fourth Amendment. You know, they -- they -- the administration -- no administration, Democrat or Republican, is above the law, beyond the Constitution. There has to be accountability. And that is what we should be discussing.
ZAHN: But they say they have a very real concern that the integrity of this program has been compromised. I know you say some of the information has been out there, but not the specifics that we have learned in "The New York Times" report and the subsequent reporting in "The L.A. Times" and "The Wall Street Journal."
KUCINICH: I will repeat, a "Boston Globe" article cited chapter and verse of how the administration had put up information on Web sites, had released public statements stating that they were monitoring international financial transaction.
Even the name of the organization, SWIFT, out of Brussels, had come up previous to this discussion. So, what "The New York Times" is being hammered for really is criticizing the administration. And now the administration is lashing out.
The fact of the matter is, the media was basically a lapdog of the administration during the Iraq war. And now that they are challenging the administration, the administration doesn't like it.
ZAHN: Very quickly, in closing, does this resolution that was voted on today, in the end, mean anything at all?
KUCINICH: Well, it -- it could only mean one thing. And that is, there's a profession of it that could be seen as an endorsement of the administration's policies, which may be illegal.
ZAHN: Representative Kucinich, thank you for dropping by tonight.
KUCINICH: Thank you. It's good to see you.
ZAHN: I know you have had a long day. Appreciate your time.
We have got some really remarkable pictures coming up for you now, smugglers with helicopters dumping off huge bails of marijuana. But what happened next? Catching those criminals is just one of the jobs that belongs to the Department of Homeland Security -- coming up, my exclusive interview with Secretary Michael Chertoff.
And what should we do with a coin that costs more to make than it is worth? Is it time to stop making pennies?
We move on now to number six on our CNN.com countdown -- President Bush warns North Korea not to test-launch a long-range missile. The president also said the North Koreans must notify the world about their intentions.
Number five is our lead story -- the Supreme Court rules that the military tribunals set up by the White House to prosecutor allege terrorists are illegal. Those courts were supposed to try detainees now being held at Guantanamo Bay -- number four when we come back.
Please stay with us.
ZAHN: Welcome back. Here's what's happening at this moment. The president's plan to tighten border security is off to a slow start with fewer than half the number of National Guard troops he wanted mustered for duty. Of 50 states only ten have agreed to supply guard troops.
Congress is one step closer to lifting a 25-year ban on drilling for oil along most of the U.S. coastline. About an hour ago the House voted to end that ban.
Here's our "Crude Awakenings," a look at gas prices all over the country. States with today's highest prices are in red. Lowest prices in green. If you look closely, of course, the green outnumbering the red. Average for unleaded regular is $2.91 per gallon, of course just in time for the fourth of July holiday. Four cents more over the last two days alone as gas prices take an upward trend.
Flooding like we have seen this week in the northeast, hurricanes, illegal immigration and of course terrorism, all of these national crisis come together and land on the desk of one man. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. We caught up with the secretary in Washington today after a speech he gave on securing the border. Then he took us to the department situation room where agents monitor all points of entry into the U.S. It was rare access and tonight my exclusive interview with the homeland security secretary takes us beyond the headlines.
ZAHN (voice-over): Secretary Chertoff was my guide at Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.
CHERTOFF: This is my office when I'm downtown.
ZAHN: And this is the nerve center. The situation room where agents monitor by computer and live video what's happening on U.S. borders.
(on camera): What are we looking at on the right hand screen?
CHERTOFF: That's a portal at Port Huron.
ZAHN (voice-over): We were given a rare inside look of a border patrol briefing, the secretary attends in person several times a week. The vast agency even has its own TV studio. That's where we sat down for our interview.
(on camera): If you were to give the American public an honest assessment of where you think your agency is in making us all safer, what would it be?
CHERTOFF: Much better than we were before 9/11, not where we ultimately want to be. We've done a lot of things in a lot of areas. We've increased the security of our ports, for example. We're increasing our security in other kinds of transportation. But we still have some things we need to do.
ZAHN: In a recent survey of more than 100 highly respected foreign policy experts, national security experts, they wrote, they see when, referring to DHS, a national security apparatus in disrepair, a government that is failing to protect the American public from the next attack.
CHERTOFF: If you look at the fact that there hasn't been a successful attack in the United States, it is hard to argue this is a total failure. I think we have to recognize, we have a ways to go. There are additional tools we need. We have to work hard to make sure we finish the rebuilding process, but I also think it is an overstatement to suggest we haven't made any progress since 9/11.
ZAHN: On to the issue of how you hand out terrorism fighting money and grants, you have been absolutely fiercely attacked by not only Democratic critics, but Republicans who call your priorities goofy, some say incompetent. Does it make any sense to you that in a state of Wyoming that the average person there is getting over $13 per person and New York $2 plus per person.
CHERTOFF: Well you know Paula, I agree with some of that. I think that there is a set of grants that Congress has required us to give out, based on a fixed percentage to every state. Where we've had the ability to make the decisions ourselves we've been risk based.
ZAHN: How do you confront this chorus of people out there calling for you to be fired over this?
CHERTOFF: You can't satisfy everybody. I completely understand the fact that everybody in every community passionately believes their needs come first. And the fact they will fight for their community needs because that's what they're elected to do. I can't make this into a version of "American Idol" where money goes where the loudest noise is or the most phone calls come, because then I'm not doing my job of looking out for the whole country.
ZAHN: What do you think is the greatest threat to our national security today, internal, or external?
CHERTOFF: If you asked me in terms of consequence what would be the biggest threat, it would be a weapons of mass destruction. I think as time goes on and years pass, the likelihood of terrorists, particularly overseas being able to fabricate or get their hands on a weapons of mass destruction increases. So that's what I consider the highest consequence nightmare. If you ask me about likelihood, I think it is much more likely we'll get a conventional attack. We would have to start to worry about what I sometimes call virtual Jihad, which is homegrown terrorists who radicalize themselves on the internet. They learn on the internet how to make bombs, they build bombs in the bathtub and go blow up a subway like they did in London.
ZAHN: The federal government just successfully nabbed seven men that they believed would be involved in a plot to bomb the Sears Tower and the criticism has started that the administration is way over exaggerated the importance of these arrests, that these guys are the guys that couldn't shoot straight and that this, in overall war on terror, is pretty meaningless.
CHERTOFF: I think that criticism reflects a big mistake about what a terrorist is and what a killer is. If you look at the London bombers and Richard Reid and cases we brought up in Oregon and in Washington. All of those cases began with criticism about how, these people were hapless, they couldn't really carry out an attack and yet any one of them, had they been allowed to do so, had the capability to carry out an attack and Richard Reid, I always come back to the fact that if you looked at a picture of the shoe bomber, he looked like clown. But, if he succeeded in lighting his bomb and he had killed 250 people on that plane, none of those victims' families would be treating it as a joke.
ZAHN: Mr. Secretary, we're coming into what is predicted to be very active hurricane season. How much responsibility are you willing to accept for the mess that was after Hurricane Katrina?
CHERTOFF: Well, it is quite clear if you look back on Katrina and I have spent a huge amount of time looking back on it because there is a lot to be learned from it. The federal government, state government, and local government simply were not prepared for a catastrophe of the dimensions of Katrina.
ZAHN: Should they have been?
CHERTOFF: Well, I think the answer is they should have been but I have to say it was unprecedented.
ZAHN: What kind of assurances can you give the American public tonight that they are not going to see more than a billion and a half dollars of their hard earned tax money disappear through fraud?
CHERTOFF: I think that the impulse, and it's understandable, was look, if somebody comes in and they say I don't have my ID because I swam out of my house in twelve feet of water, there was an impulse to make sure that person had money to get food and get clothing and things of that sort. It is a shame that generous impulse is abused.
ZAHN: How outraged were you when you heard that a man paid for his sex change operation through Katrina funds, that people paid for football games, that they bought porno films.
CHERTOFF: Look, I was infuriated by the fact that we had people coming in to misrepresent who they were or people that were able to double, triple, quadruple dip using different Social Security numbers. All of that was infuriating. The question is can we redesign the law so as to avoid that kind of abuse? Should set up a system where we give people vouchers instead of cash. This is the kind of useful thing that I know Congress is looking at and we're wanting to work with them on.
ZAHN: I know when you took your job, you didn't expect to win any popularity contests because of the divisiveness of the issues you have to touch upon. Is it everything it cracked up to be, this job?
CHERTOFF: You know, it is a job which, first of all, it is the most important job I think I could do. I wish more than anybody that we could get all of this done yesterday. I wish I could walk out tomorrow and announce we're at 100 percent security. Common sense tells me it will be a slow and tough process. Every day in which we thwart or disrupt a plot, that's a good day. My hope and my expectation is that as I do this job I'll have more good days than bad days.
ZAHN: And something else Secretary Chertoff told me while that particular part of homeland security happens to be in center of Washington, the actual headquarters is outside of the city. That way if an attack happens in Washington, the department headquarters will be OK.
The Homeland Security Department put out some absolutely amazing pictures today. Big-time drug smugglers caught in the act with tons of marijuana. Did they end up catching these guys? You'll see. Please stay with us.
Later on, could you live without a penny in your pocket? Why do some people say it is time to get rid of them for good.
First, number four in our CNN.com countdown. Breaking news we reported earlier on. Israel has launched a new round of air strikes in Gaza as part of its continuing offensive to free a soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants. 19-year-old Army Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted on Sunday.
Number three is next. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: It is pretty clear tonight that we still have a long way to go to secure America's borders. Just take a look at this stunning surveillance video. Drug smugglers using helicopters and planes to air lift huge shipments of drugs from Canada into the U.S. Now the tape comes from a federal investigation that has lasted some two years now and the government says it has busted about a half dozen groups who have been doing this but says more are still at it. Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins me now from Blaine, Washington along the Canadian border. Jeanne, you have learned an awful lot more about this investigation. Anything new revealed today?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the numbers are staggering, 8,000 pounds of high grade Canadian marijuana, 800 pounds of cocaine, 1.5 million dollars and several aircraft. More than 40 arrests on the U.S. side. Six on the Canadian side. Investigators say they may have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. This investigation is going to continue.
ZAHN: These smugglers are so brazen. One of them even told "Playboy Magazine," orange won't stop us. Only red alert will ground our flights. How did they end up being caught?
MESERVE: They were very brazen, these guys. Helicopters were bought or leased in Canada and kept in remote locations and loaded up with B.C. bud, which is a potent form of Canadian marijuana. They would fly into the U.S. along narrow valleys leading into the U.S., they were able to stay below the mountain tops so they couldn't be detected by radar. They would head for predesignated droppoff points in the forest. They only needed space, about 60 feet wide. They would land, drop off their marijuana and sometimes load up with cocaine, fly back to Canada. No one would ever see them because this area is so remote. It came from good intelligence, good police work a lot of aerial surveillance. That's how they brought them down. By the way, I should say immigration and custom and border protection gave us great access. They took us up in the air and showed us how this worked. That will be on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" tonight. It's good stuff, you better watch it.
ZAHN: Yes, it's amazing to see the video we've seen so far. Jeanne, just switching gears as bit. I know you had chance to read a full transcript of my interview with Secretary Chertoff, Head of the Department of Homeland Security. Anything strike you about what he shared today that we may not have heard before in great detail?
MESERVE: What struck me is the administration has taken some criticism for hyping the arrests last week down in Miami. You heard the secretary say pretty forcefully, we need to act preemptively. Not all of these people who we've stopped look like they're terrorists but some of them posed a real threat. He cited Richard Reid in particular. Also today the secretary did give a speech on immigration. He gave a very strong pitch for the president's guest worker program. There's an election coming up. They may feel there is some political advantage but practically speaking, it won't have much impact. There's every indication Congress is not going to act on this. In fact, there is every indication that they will not.
ZAHN: Jeanne Meserve, thank you so much for all of those updates. Still to come, is it time to retire the penny? We see why so many people seem to think so.
ZAHN: LARRY KING LIVE is coming up 12 minutes from now. He has very special guest. A get in our business. Who are you talking to, Larry?
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Boy, do we Paula. We have probably the most talked about media person in America today. That's Star Jones Reynolds, who exited "The View" in dramatic fashion, much to the consternation of Barbara Walters. By the way, I had a long talk with Barbara Walters on the phone yesterday. She asked me to quote her during the show. A full hour with Star Jones Reynolds coming up following my gal Paula, right ahead at 9:00 Eastern.
ZAHN: Thanks, Larry. I was, Barbara had some pretty tough things to say. A lot of crossfire going on between those two. We'll never be that way Larry, will we?
KING: Not you and I, Paula. We're destined for friendship.
ZAHN: Alright, have a good show. We'll be watching. See you at the top of the hour. Once again exclusive Star Jones, one of her first prime time interviews since she announced she was leaving "The View." You probably have some pennies, maybe stacks of them stashed somewhere. Are they only a nuisance? Should we get rid of them entirely? See why some experts say that makes sense.
Number three in our CNN.com countdown, the recovery of that missing laptop containing personal data on more than 26 million veterans and active duty military. The computer was stolen from a Veteran Affairs employee's home on May 3rd. It was returned to the FBI's Baltimore office on Wednesday.
Number two on our list is next.
ZAHN: You may remember the old song "Pennies From Heaven" but lets face it a pocket full of pennies can be a real pain and Congress may even decide to do away with them once and for all. Let's see of Jeanne Moos can make sense of any of this.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A penny for your thoughts about pennies? Keep the change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pain in the neck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They clog up the vacuum cleaner.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I say off with its head.
MOOS: And with its tail there's a new move to get rid of the penny.
REP. JIM KOLBE (R), ARIZONA: It's easy to consider abolishing it. It doesn't have any value.
MOOS: Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona is pushing legislation that would kill the penny. Sure, they have tried to kill it before, but now the price of zinc is so high that the penny costs more to make than it is actually worth. It costs around 1.3 cents to make a penny. They weigh down our wallets. They collect in bottles. This guy has a habit of ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throwing them in the trash.
MOOS: Literally throwing them out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MOOS: If you abolish the penny, bills paid by check or credit card would still be paid by the cents but stores would have to round to the nearest nickel.
(on camera): If something is $1.06 or $1.07 you round down to $1.05. If it is $1.08 or $1.09 you round up to $1.10.
(voice-over): But the Committee for Common Cents says no way.
MATTHEW EGGERS, AMERICANS FOR COMMON CENTS: Americans overwhelmingly support the penny by about two thirds.
MOOS: That's what polls say.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm for the penny.
MOOS: Do you bother to stoop down and pick up a penny?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Age showing here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What will we do with our penny loafers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you call them? Dime loafers.
MOOS: Just try using 25 pennies to buy a newspaper. This guy reluctantly agreed. This guy said take a paper for free, but keep the pennies.
KEVIN FEDERLINE, PERFORMER: Bringing power back to the penny.
MOOS: That's Britney Spears' husband, Kevin Federline, in a promotion for Virgin Mobile's one cent text messaging. Virgin is glomming on to the save the penny movement with a penny-encrusted truck gathering charitable contributions. Charities love pennies. As for Congressman Kolbe's penny killing legislation ...
KOLBE: It may be doomed to defeat this year, but I tell you, it's going to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After they take the penny, then it will be the nickel and the dime.
MOOS: But when we approached this fruit seller, the penny provoked sour grapes.
(on camera): But when we approached this fruit seller, the penny provoked sour grapes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a nice day, bye-bye.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: Oh sorry, I was counting all my pennies here. We will see what happens when Congress considers the penny's fate around the fourth of July. Sorry, Mr. Lincoln.
Number two in our CNN.com countdown, the defense opens its case in the retrial of Andrea Yates who has admitted to drowning her five children back in 2001. A psychiatrist who examined her the day after the crime testified that Yates was psychotic.
Just ahead, Brittany like you have never seen her before. The oh so revealing shock that's number one on our countdown. She'll be naked almost coming up. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Welcome back. Top story now on our CNN.com countdown. Millions and millions of you going to our website today. Britney spears bears most of it for the cover of the August issue of "Harper's Bizarre." Spears is expecting her second child. She was about six months pregnant when she had those pictures taken.
That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us, we broadcast from D.C. tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just about two seconds with a special guest, Star Jones. Good night.
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