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Is America Safer Five Years After 9/11?; Interview With Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; High Price of Heroism

Aired September 11, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone, from New York tonight.
I'm at the site of what used to be the World Trade Center. Right behind me is the place everyone refers to as ground zero, where the Twin Towers once stood.


ZAHN (voice-over): Five years later, the unforgettable images, still shocking. Right then, we knew nothing would ever be the same -- tonight, how the world has changed.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.



ZAHN: From survivors and national leaders, the very latest answers to the lingering troubling questions: Are we doing enough to protect ourselves? Can we trust our government?

BUSH: We will do whatever it takes.

ZAHN: Has the war on terror really made us safer?

And how deadly does the exposure to ground zero continue to be tonight?


ZAHN: And now we show you a sight that has become familiar this time of the year now in New York, twin beams of light soaring high over Lower Manhattan, ghostly reminders of the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center, a little eerier tonight, as it's breaking through the clouds there, reminders, though, of that deadly day when our lives changed forever.

Just how they have changed is the focus of this special broadcast tonight, as President Bush gets ready to address the nation in just under an hour. The president, of course, was here in New York today, visiting the firehouse at whose members were among the first-responders when the Twin Towers were attacked. He then joined thousands of people who gathered here at ground zero for a very emotional ceremony that included the reading of the names of all 2,749 victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Right now, the quiet sadness that hangs over this place is a very stark contrast to the confusion and disbelief of five years ago at the start of the 9/11 effect.




CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. This just in.

You're looking at, obviously, a very disturbing live shot there. That's the World Trade Center. And we have unconfirmed reports this morning...

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: As you look now at Washington. So, we have got a major fire at the Pentagon, and the Pentagon being evacuated, the White House being evacuated. And we don't know precisely the circumstances...

ZAHN: These pictures obviously show the unspeakable horror and tragedy, the fallout from which we're only just beginning to grasp.


ZAHN (voice-over): It was my first day on the job at CNN. We were on the roof of our bureau in New York, just a few miles from where the World Trade Center once stood.

I could see the smoke, smell the burning rubble. In those early hours after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit, we were reporting on the panic and confusion. The news was changing by the moment.




ZAHN: The news was changing by the moment.


ZAHN: I think we need to make it clear at this point that -- that no group has claimed responsibility for the multiple attacks today.


ZAHN: There was nothing in my 23 years of reporting experience that could have prepared me for the enormity of what had happened -- the country, the nation's capital.



RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: All right. Well, then let's get -- let's -- let's go north, then.


ZAHN: My hometown paralyzed with shock and fear.


ZAHN: New Yorkers wake up to a completely different landscape here tomorrow, public schools closed, the stock market...


ZAHN: We were hardest hit by the tragic reality of massive casualties. An estimated 50,000 people worked at the World Trade Center. The death toll among those workers seemed incomprehensible.

I still remember the chills I felt when I had to report that 10,000 body bags had been ordered, and that New York police officers and firefighters had suffered record casualties.


ZAHN: Two hundred are presumed dead tonight.


ZAHN: For days after the attack, there was a desperate search for survivors. Our hopes were raised when they we report that people trapped in the rubble were calling for help on their cell phones.


GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Two Port Authority police officers were found alive, and rescued. So, there's hope.


ZAHN: Thankfully, there were stories of survivors that helped all of us get through those early days.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went in immediately to the stairways and started our way down. We actually...

ZAHN: Were people pushing and shoving?


ZAHN: I will never forget the stories of people helping people, all those volunteers risking their own lives...


CONGRESS (singing): From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans...


ZAHN: And then one of the more poignant images of those early days for me, members of Congress outside the Capitol, singing an impromptu "God Bless America."

These were bright lights during those dark days. But those days will forever be remembered for what we lost, for the grief we suffered, and for the fear that has haunted us ever since.


ZAHN: Of course, the first thing on every mind tonight is whether we're in fact any safer now.

And, earlier this afternoon, I spoke about that with two people who literally wrote the book on the subject, the former co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton and former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean.

And I started off by asking whether they think it will take another attack before all of the commissions' recommendations are put into place.


THOMAS KEAN, FORMER CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Some of them are so easy, like, you know, giving money on the basis of risk, instead of the basis of pork-barrel congressional districts. We thought that would be the first recommendation passed. And, yet, five years later, you know, the areas that are the biggest terrorist targets are still not getting the majority of the money. That's -- that's pretty outrageous.

ZAHN: Is that a result of lack of leadership on the administration's part? Or do you think Congress is just being too timid?

KEAN: Well, I think everyone has got to sort of elevate the debate. You know, what frustrates me is, we have got a congressional election coming up, and every single candidate, be they Republican or Democrat, all say they favor all 41 of our recommendations. Well, if the whole Congress favors our recommendations, why don't they -- why don't they pass?

ZAHN: Mr. Hamilton, what three recommendations could be adopted very soon that would significantly make all Americans safer?

LEE HAMILTON, FORMER CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: One, the radio spectrum issues, so first-responders can talk to one another at the scene of disaster.

Secondly, allocate the money, the homeland security money, on the basis of risk and vulnerability, not on the basis of politics. And, third, make sure that, when the first-responders appear at the scene of the disaster, somebody's in charge.

KEAN: We don't think there's much being done in a number of areas.

And the one I will just mention, finally, is the -- the whole area of nuclear problems, in fact, of a terrorist having a nuclear device. We have got to make these areas of enriched uranium -- we have got 100 of them in the world -- safe, so that they can't be broken into by a terrorist, because, if that happens, then we are all at risk. Congress and the president ought to be moving much faster on that. We're talking about making these areas safe. And 14 years, that is much too long. It should be done in two or three years.

ZAHN: And are you really fearful of a potential nuclear attack?

KEAN: I don't think it's necessarily the -- the biggest problem facing us right today. But it's the most terrible, if it did -- if it happened, and, therefore, the one I would like to see addressed first, because just think of what would happen to one of our cities. You know, once you get enriched uranium, you can read on the Internet how to put together they device.

And, once you get the device, you can walk right through our borders. We know that. So, it's a real danger.

ZAHN: Here we are, five years after 9/11, and we don't even have shared security lists. They haven't combined the watch lists. Is there any defense for that?

HAMILTON: You ought to be able to immediately identify suspected terrorists who are boarding an airplane. We have not been able to do that.

And I'm nervous, with every passing day, that it is not fully in place and fully implemented. It's a system, a -- a protection system, that clearly needs to be done as quickly as possible.

ZAHN: Governor Kean, Lee Hamilton, thank you for your time today.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

KEAN: Thank you.


ZAHN: So, for many of us, the most noticeable effects of 9/11, you find at the airport. Is all the extra security really making us any safer?

Coming up, the alarming result of a CNN investigation.

And later: why some of the heroes of 9/11 are getting sick and dying -- as our special report continues.

Please stay with us.



BUSH: This law will give intelligence and law enforcement officials important new tools to fight a present danger.


ZAHN (voice-over): Nine-eleven changed our laws.


ZAHN: The Patriot Act, passed soon after the attacks, gave the government wide-ranging powers to eavesdrop on phone calls...


ZAHN: ... and secretly search through a person's business, telephone, and even library records.

Critics charge it has eroded civil liberties and makes it easier for the government to spy on ordinary citizens. But the Justice Department reports that more than 400 people have been charged, using Patriot Act provisions.



ZAHN: And welcome back.

We're at ground zero in New York tonight for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And we see 9/11's effects of air security every day.

Just today, a United Airlines flight from Atlanta to San Francisco was diverted to Dallas because a backpack and a BlackBerry didn't belong to any of the passengers on board. Well, it ended up it was a false alarm after all.

So, with all the new security measures, you would think we would be safer. Well, maybe not.

Here's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.


MARCUS FLAGG, PRESIDENT & CO-FOUNDER, PASSENGER-CARGO SECURITY GROUP: They were both 62. They were high school sweethearts.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We all lost something that day. Marcus Flagg lost them. His parents, Bud and Dee Flagg, were on board American Airlines flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon.

Flagg grieved. Then this former Navy flyer and current UPS cargo pilot got busy, forming a group that is demanding aviation security in the U.S. improve. And, so far, he says, it hasn't.

FLAGG: Five years, and, really, we haven't done much of anything.

GRIFFIN: His biggest criticism is towards one of the biggest federal bureaucracies born out of 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration, which has 43,000 federal airport screeners. The TSA has repeatedly failed government security tests.

FLAGG: It is outrageous. Airline pilots and airline crews are the tip of the spear. We see it every day, what works and what doesn't work. I'm amazed at the security and the problems and the loopholes that we have here, still, after five years.

GRIFFIN: Since its inception, Congress has demanded that tests be done to see just how good or bad TSA is performing. And the results have been consistently alarming, with guns, knives, and simulated bombs going right through. Just this past spring, another government report -- at 21 airports, TSA screeners failed to find bomb-making materials carried by undercover investigators.

(on camera): And there is good reason to believe that record is not getting any better, at least here at Orlando's International Airport. "The Orlando Sentinel Newspaper" reported this summer that, of 830 TSA screeners at this airport, 501 took a test in June, and could not recognize explosives or other banned material.

(voice-over): That means 60 percent of the 830 failed.

But TSA General Manager Earl Morris says the report is not a fair reflection of the overall job workers are doing.

EARL MORRIS, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION GENERAL MANAGER: From our standpoint, we -- we don't believe that those are accurate portrayals of what's going on in that particular airport. We believe, again, that it's a training tool that we utilize, and that we expect and demand a much higher rate than what you have reported.

GRIFFIN: So, what is the acceptable pass/fail rate at Orlando or any other airport? Morris says screeners are tested every single day, that the marks are extremely high, but that figure, he says, is classified.

MORRIS: That, again, is sensitive security information.

GRIFFIN: Other problems have been made public. According to the latest Government Accounting Office report, 23 percent, about 10,000 screeners, leave their job every year.

While all that may add up to what seems like one big security gap, the TSA insists there's more than just passenger and bag screening: background checks, intelligence work, armed air marshals, armed pilots, armed cockpit doors. And the proof it is working? Five years since 9/11, and not a single plane lost to terror.

MORRIS: We believe that we have multiple layers in place that, where you might be able to beat us on one layer, when you put all of them together, it's very a formidable task to do so.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You think we have just been lucky?

FLAGG: I think we have been extremely lucky.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Marcus Flagg hopes our luck holds out just long enough for the Transportation Security Administration to fix its own holes in air travel security, no other family endures what his has these past five years.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Orlando, Florida.


ZAHN: And now I want to turn to the nation's homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, who joins me live from Washington.

Good of you to join us tonight, sir. Welcome.


ZAHN: You heard the startling statistics in that report. In Orlando, six out of the 10 screeners couldn't find guns; they couldn't knives, or even simulated bombs. How can the American public be confident of getting on airplanes with statistics like that?

CHERTOFF: I have to say, Paula, I think the record is different than what you have portrayed.

And let me begin with clearing up a couple of misconceptions. First of all, it is a fact that we do have a unified no-fly list and selectee list. And it is the case that everybody who gets on an airplane is run against that list. And, every day, people are denied border because they are on a no-fly list.

It's also the case that that particular test, my understanding is, occurred when a group of new screeners were brought on board, and that the next month, the results became much better.



ZAHN: All right. But we also know, sir, that there was a GAO report that showed similar problems at 21 other airports. CHERTOFF: I have to say, Paula, you know, many of these reports relate to things that occurred a year ago or two years ago. Some of them reflect efforts to get items on to airplanes in a very sophisticated manner.

And part of what we do every time we have a test like this is, we continue to refine our training methods or put into effect new measures that will, as -- as the TSA spokesman said earlier, add layers of security, because it's not any one thing that protects the airways. It's a series of things, from the checking the no-fly list, through the checking of the explosives, including the air marshals and the armed flight deck officers, and the locked cockpit doors.

ZAHN: Let's come back to the point you were making about the unified flight list, because it was, in fact, Representative Hamilton that brought up his concern that -- that you don't have one single list to check. And he thinks that seriously compromises our security as we fly.

CHERTOFF: Paula, I like Lee Hamilton, but I have got to tell you, I have seen -- I have seen the list. There's a -- a no-fly list that's a single list that's checked by the airlines.

And people are not -- the airlines are sanctioned if they let people on board when their names are on that list. In addition, when we deal with international flights, we have additional measures that we can screen for, in terms of our Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities.

One of the things we're requiring now is to have the airlines send us their passenger manifests on international flights in advance of takeoff. That will give us an additional measure of protection. So, at every stage of the process, we're building in more safeguards and building them in at an earlier point in time.

ZAHN: Of course, you know that the 9/11 Commission was just hoping that more than half of their recommendations will be enacted. And -- and just a quick yes or no, do you think that will happen any time soon?

CHERTOFF: Well, I can -- I can tell you, Paula, that, if you look at the recommendations that are within the power of the administration to put into effect, they're virtually all under way. That includes things like additional screening at the borders, biometric screening tools, fingerprint screening tools, that take us much further than we were on 9/11.

It includes a lot more scanning at the ports. By the end of this year, 80 percent of the cargo coming into our seaports is going to go through radiation-detection equipment, which is exactly the kind of thing Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean were talking about. That's going to be almost 100 percent by next year.

So, in a lot of ways...

ZAHN: All right. CHERTOFF: ... we're continuing to increase the level of our security across the board.

ZAHN: We got to leave it there tonight.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, thank you so much for spending some time with us tonight.

And, as we wait for President Bush's address to the nation, at the top of the hour, our focus shifts to people living with the effects of 9/11 every time they take a breath. Coming up next: What's making them sick? -- as our special report continues.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We do recommend that individuals and families, in the days ahead, take some time to prepare for an emergency.


ZAHN (voice-over): An elevated terror alert in February 2003 brought a week of high anxiety to many Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, would I not get the thickest for the terrorism?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You certainly can.

ZAHN: Rolls of duct tape and plastic sheeting were swept off store shelves, while the government later downplayed the need for duct tape, it did launch a ready campaign, encouraging families to take additional safety measures in the event of a terrorist attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ointment packs, eyewash.

ZAHN: It's hard to tell just how many people ever took that advice to heart, or how many have since become complacent.



ZAHN: Images from 9/11 on display tonight at ground zero, a day when so many were lost, so many searched for them.

Now many of those searchers are paying the ultimate price. Serious illness may be the 9/11 effect for as many as 70 percent of the 40,000 emergency and cleanup workers. After the attacks, officials assured the public the air was OK. Of course, we now know it was toxic.

Only one death so far is officially blamed on it, but, with thousands suffering lung problems and hundreds with cancer, it may only be a matter of time.

Here senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't need a Ph.D. from Harvard to tell you that I don't think the air is really very good.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years later, the health effects of September 11 are still coming to light.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seven, eight. Inhale, please.

GUPTA: Jeff Endean is a former detective in the Morris County, New Jersey, Sheriff's Office who rushed to ground zero on September 11, and worked long shifts for the next two months.

JEFF ENDEAN, WORKED AT GROUND ZERO: I start my day with three inhalers and one pill. That's for breathing.

GUPTA: This once active man now gets winded pushing his grandchildren on the swings.

ENDEAN: I'm getting tired.

I have larynx damage and vocal cord damage, and then the damage in my esophagus.

GUPTA: His is the story of thousands, survivors suffering from ailments that include scarring of the lungs, bleeding of the sinuses, asthma, acid reflux, migraines, and a persistent hacking cough, so common it got its own name, the World Trade Center cough.

DR. JACQUELINE MOLINE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, MOUNT SINAI WORLD TRADE CENTER MEDICAL MONITORING PROGRAM: We're certainly concerned that many of people have developed chronic conditions that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

Normally, it's a little blacker than it appears here

GUPTA: Dr. Jacqueline Moline is the medical director of Mount Sinai's World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program, which has tracked the health of first-responders for the past five years.

Jeff Endean is among them. After years of uncertainty about the cause of his illness, he was on hand when researchers announced a definitive link.

DR. ROBIN HERBERT, MOUNT SINAI WORLD TRADE CENTER MEDICAL MONITORING PROGRAM: There should no longer be any doubt about the health effects of the World Trade Center.

GUPTA: What they found, almost 70 percent of responders now have lung problems, and the effects are likely to be with them for the rest of their lives.

Robert Gulack wasn't a first-responder. He just worked across the street. He avoided exposure that day, but says, when he returned to work a month later, in a nearby building, he felt sick almost immediately.

ROBERT GULACK, WORKED NEAR GROUND ZERO: I woke up two days after coming to work in the Woolworth building, choking for air, having a big asthma attack.

GUPTA: Gulack says he began wearing a gas mask to work. It wasn't enough.

GULACK: I have been left with permanent lung damage that shows up on CAT scan. My lungs are scarred, calcified, collapsed, to some degree.

When I have been exposed to something that irritates the lung...

GUPTA: Sick and angry, he's joined a class-action lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency to get them to adequately test the air and dust around ground zero.

GULACK: All of us worry that, in addition to the immediate effect, we were also exposed to substances that will, in the long run, shorten our lives. Because of the EPA's misinformation, I have been exposed to substances that no person should be exposed to.

GUPTA: In a statement, the EPA says: "The EPA took more than 10,0000 samples of air, water, and dust, yielding over a quarter-of-a- million results, which are posted on EPA's Web site. EPA shared test results daily with the New York City Fire Department and others responsible for health and safety at ground zero."

For Gulack and Endean and thousands of others, the big questions now are how much worse will their health get? And could cancer be next? The short answer. We just don't know.

ENDEAN: I don't think going around with gloom and doom is a good thing. It's going to have to kill me. I'm not going to allow it. It's going to be a hell of a fight. I'm not going to go easy.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


ZAHN: And right now I'm going to turn to the story of one survivor of the attack of the Pentagon where 184 people were killed. 9/11 was my next guest's first day back at work after maternity leave. April Gallop had to make a quick stop at her desk before dropping her two-month-old son Elijah off at day care. That may have ended up saving their lives. When the plane struck, mother and child were separated and amazingly a stranger somehow rescued the baby. Sadly none of the children of the Pentagon's daycare center other than Elijah survived. April Elisha Gallop join me now. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us tonight.

APRIL GALLOP, SURVIVED PENTAGON ATTACK: Thank you for having me. ZAHN: So you literally had just turned on your computer and then moments later you found yourself crawling in the rubble to try to find Elijah?


ZAHN: How did you survive?

GALLOP: I think just to know that he was there and that he stopped crying so I believe that something had happened to him so I became motivated to try to help him.

ZAHN: Describe what it was like as you're crawling on all fours trying to listen for any signs of hope of life?

GALLOP: It was hard because there were so many images. There were sounds of other people saying help me, save me, people saying ah. There were so many things going on at the same time so it was kind of hard. But I just remembered that my son was there, and I just wanted to take his body. That's all I was thinking.

ZAHN: But wasn't there one point where you were hurting so badly that you weren't even convinced you yourself were alive?

GALLOP: That's true. The reality of it -- I'm still trying to grasp the reality of it. To me it didn't seem real at all. Even today a lot of it still doesn't seem real. It's hard for me to even believe that we were actually there.

ZAHN: And when you found him, under that rubble, try to remind all of us what you were thinking?

GALLOP: There were people who were trapped in between some of the debris, and so I was thinking OK, if I help them, they can help me find my son. I couldn't do it by myself. I was just lifting up stuff thinking I was going to see him or feel him or just something. It was no real plan or anything like that.

So once those people were helped down, I was like help me find my son, help me find my son. But of course they were a bit hysterical and I really don't blame them for not stopping because things were still collapsing inside the building.

And please know, you know, when he stopped crying, I was prepared to die for my son that day. I was prepared to meet death just to save my son. That's all I was thinking about. If I could get him out, that was more important to me than anything else.

ZAHN: Well, it is an absolutely amazing story. And I know that you have mixed emotions about the fifth year anniversary. You live this as a daily reality, come to grips with this. And I know it's not easy to relive all of it, but we appreciate you sharing your story with us.

GALLOP: Thank you for having us.

ZAHN: Good luck to you both. Elijah, good luck to you as well. Look at that smile! You trained him well, mama.

Coming up, Afghanistan was the site of America's first offensive on the war on terror. Next we'll go there live with Anderson Cooper to see the 9/11 effect on the war on terror. And then coming up at the top of the hour, live coverage of the president's address to the nation as our special report from Ground Zero continues. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: Memorial services in Iraq and Afghanistan today, a very stark reminder that 9/11 was the beginning of the war on terror. Welcome back to our special report, "The 9/11 Effect."

In his address to the nation at the top of the hour, President Bush will call the war a struggle for civilization and warn us there is a difficult road ahead. Those difficulties are especially obvious in Afghanistan. Watch what happens just this morning during a report by my colleague Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm here at a forward operating base very close to the Pakistan border. I can't tell you the exact location. We're actually now just getting some fire -- some rockets have been fired. They were about to have a moment of silence here, a commemoration of 9/11. We've got to get to a bunker, so Carol, I've got to toss it back to you. Let's go.


ZAHN: Anderson now joins us live from Afghanistan. I assume that no one was injured at all in that attack?

COOPER: That's correct, Paula. There were six incoming rounds. They returned fire with a Howitzer and some other mortars behind me, and there were no injuries and I should also point out that they continued on later as dusk fell with that commemoration ceremony in spite of the danger.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the resurgence of violence and the regrowth in the whole Taliban movement in Afghanistan. How does the American military plan to confront this short of the extra NATO troops that are being brought in?

COOPER: It is a real concern. I mean, the soldiers right here in this forward operating base right along the Pakistan border, they're seeing action virtually every day. I mean, incoming rounds is not just something that happened on the anniversary of 9/11. They get incoming rounds just about every day. This one base has returned and fired more shells than any other forward operating base in all of Afghanistan. You know, some commanders say they would love to have more boots on the ground, but they're trying to help rebuild the Afghan national army and use that as an effective fighting force against the resurgent Taliban, Paula. ZAHN: Anderson, thanks so much for the update. Of course Anderson will have a lot more from Afghanistan tonight on "360" coming up at 10 p.m. Eastern after the president's speech.

And just ahead, a close-up look at Ground Zero and all of the controversy over grand plans to put the world's tallest building here. All that and more as our special program from Ground Zero continues.


ZAHN: Five years later, American Muslims continue to feel the fallout from 9/11 in their daily lives, citing discrimination and harassment by law enforcement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to clear our name. We want everybody to know we were innocent.


ZAHN: Last month two U.S. born Lebanese American college students spent a week in jail on terrorism charges for buying prepaid cell phones. The charges were later dropped. A recent USA Gallop poll showed that 39 percent of Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims and that nearly a quarter say they would not want a Muslim for a neighbor.


ZAHN: And we're back at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan where the president made an emotional return today and the construction goes on down there in what used to be called the pit. The president is back at the White House tonight less than 20 minutes away from his address to the nation. We, of course, will be bringing that to you live. But first we continue our special report, the 9/11 Effect from right here in lower Manhattan, where five years of passion and fierce politics have finally produced a rebuilding plan for a place that draws millions from all over the world.


ZAHN (voice-over): They still gather daily at the gates of Ground Zero five years after the towers fell. But peek inside, and it seems that time hasn't moved so quickly. In the Spring of 2002 the last of the trade center rubble was cleared. One year later I toured the site with New York's Governor George Pataki. The vast emptiness of Ground Zero then looked remarkably similar to the site just a few days ago, when the governor and I met again.

(on camera): A lot of people are outraged that nothing has been built here yet. Do you share that sense of outrage?

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NY: Well, within the original footprint of where the tower stood there are going to be three things. The core of what we're doing here, which is the memorial, will be done on time. The 21st century transportation hub will be done on time. And the only building that go will be probably two years behind what we originally proposed is the freedom tower, but that is because we have to incorporate these new safety standards, and it's going to be a building that's going to be 1,776 feet tall, the tallest ever built, as of today, anywhere in the world.

ZAHN (voice-over): One thousand seven hudred seventy six feet, a tribute to 1776, the year of the United States' Declaration of Independence. Its actual height will be the same as that of the twin towers, but its antenna will stand hundreds of feet taller. It will have 2.6 million square feet of office space. But there's worry that few will want to rent in a building so high in feet and profile.

PATAKI: We've been told by a lot of people that New Yorkers and Americans shouldn't build tall again. We're not going to bow to the face of terror. We're going to soar to new heights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This space is open to the sky.

ZAHN: The greatest source of controversy and emotional dispute has been the victim's memorial. Unveiled in 2004, the winning design was picked from more than 5,000 entries from 62 countries. It's known as Reflecting Absence for its 30 foot waterfalls that will cascade into reflecting pools below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking at the footprint of the original north tower which is 200 by 200 feet.

ZAHN: Ken Ringler (ph), who oversees much of the construction at the site, took us to the spot where excavation has just begun.

(on camera): The one thing the families demanded of survivors was that you honor the original footprint of both towers. How have you accomplished that?

KEN RINGLER, OVERSEAS CONSTRUCTION: Very first thing that we did was protect these footprints because below where we're walking are the original box beams that supported tower one. And they were cut off at bedrock during the recovery period. We're going to keep them as part of the memorial so people will be able to come and see them and touch them.

ZAHN: How challenging has this been to get to today when you actually see the beginning of construction?

RINGLER: I think it's been a challenge to all the parties, but, you know, I come down here and I see the construction workers, several of them who worked on the recovery, and I talk to them, and they have smiles on their faces because they're here. Six months ago we didn't have to wear a hard hat down here. Now we do.

ZAHN (voice-over): And Ringler says everyone appreciates that this hard hat site is unlike any other in the world. It's a train station where 40,000 passengers a day whiz by, a morgue, where body fragments are still being found, a cemetery where families of those never recovered come to grieve and an epicenter of memories, worries, and hopes that draws people from all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We shouldn't let the terrorists win. It's as simple as that. They're winning by us leaving a hole here. But if it's rebuilt and trade goes on, we're fighting it, and we're winning.

ZAHN: And perhaps nothing proclaims this more than the cross beams that fell upright out of the north tower and now preside over the 16 acre construction site of loss and renewal.


ZAHN: Still ahead on this very special night President Bush sends a message to the class he was visiting on 9/11 in Florida, and don't forget we're planning live coverage of the president's Oval Office address to the nation coming up at the top of the hour. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: The Pentagon tonight, as our special report on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 continues. Those beams of light reflecting the loss of the 184 victims there five years ago.

Now, the president first got word that the nation was under attack during a visit to a Florida grade school. Our John Zarrella went back to that same school and found the children's memories of that moment stronger than ever.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For seventh grader Tyler Radkey and high school sophomore Steve Rigell, football practice on a steamy summer afternoon is a long, long way removed from that moment in time in history they were a part of five years ago.

TYLER RADKEY, THEN 2ND GRADER: I remember shaking his hand and reading to him and being really close to him.

STEVE RIGELL, THEN 5TH GRADER: There was a bunch of vans with satellites attached to them, different news stations were everywhere.

ZARRELLA: President Bush had come to Emma Booker elementary school in Sarasota, Florida to talk about education and to hear the children read. It was the morning of September 11th.


ZARRELLA: As he walked into teacher Kay Daniels' second grade classroom at 9:00 a.m., the president was already aware a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

BUSH: I want to thank you all.

ZARRELLA: For the first few minutes, everything seemed fine. The children read. The president smiled. At 9:05, Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered in the president's ear, "a second plane had hit the towers."

KAY DANIELS, TEACHER: Emotionally, he left. He was supposed to pick up his book because we was getting ready to read the story, and it took him a while to pick up the book, because he was gone.

But he came back. And I always say he came back for the children and he came back for our nation.

ZARRELLA: Tyler Radkey and Natalia Pinkney (ph) were in the classroom.

RADKEY: When his staff member walked up to him and was talking to him, his face just turned red.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kind of knew something bad was happening, but I didn't really understand it.

ZARRELLA: After leaving the classroom, the president went to the library, where other teachers and students waited. It was now 9:30 a.m. They expected him to make remarks about education. That didn't happen.

BUSH: Today we've had a national tragedy.

RIGELL: You never thought that a day about reading could turn into a day about tragedy.

BYRON MITCHELL, THEN 5TH GRADER: For some reason, I always think about August 11th. I don't know why.

ZARRELLA (on camera): A month ahead of time.

MITCHELL: Yeah. And it sticks with me throughout the whole month. And the closer I get to it, the more I think about it. We all (inaudible) because we all share that experience.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Now, five years later, the president sent a taped message to the students at Emma Booker, talking about education.

BUSH: Your school knows that you can achieve anything if you work hard.

ZARRELLA: And finishing what he had gone there to do.

John Zarrella, CNN, Sarasota, Florida.


ZAHN: Of course 9/11 defining the presidency and the policies of George W. Bush, and tonight we have an extraordinary behind the scenes view of what it was like for those who were at President Bush's side on a day that changed him and the country forever.


ANDREW CARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president very much wanted to get back to Washington, D.C.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president heard about the plane that hit the Pentagon. We boarded Air Force One. Three planes have hit their targets. I remember talking with the lead Secret Service agent, and they felt very strongly that there was just too much that we didn't know, and that we couldn't go back to Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lifted off. The g forces threw everyone's head back against the back of their seat. It was a horrible feeling to be on that plane, the most secure plane in the world, and to be afraid.

CARD: The president reached out to some of the world leaders, specifically President Putin. We didn't want people to think as we were standing up to defend America that we weren't really mobilizing for a nuclear attack on another country.

FLEISCHER: The decision was then made to go to Barksdale Air Force base, where the president would land (inaudible) and address the nation.

BUSH: Make no mistake. The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.

FLEISCHER: And I remember the president saying to the head of the Secret Service detail, I don't want some tinhorn terrorist keeping the president out of Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Secret Service, and -- as well as the vice president were telling him it's not just safe yet to return to the White House. And so, the vice president suggested that he go to the Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska.

CARD: When we arrived in Offutt, it was a surreal experience, because we were whisked down long flights of stairs, deep into a bunker.

I think there was some resistance from the Secret Service, and he said I'm going back to Washington.

FLEISCHER: On the way back to Washington, reporters saw the fighters off the aircraft wings, and they asked permission to film. I didn't even check with anybody. I said, of course you can.

CARD: There was a small debate about whether we should take a motorcade or take Marine One and land at the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the president said, no, I'm flying on a helicopter and I'm landing back at the White House.

FLEISCHER: The president sits in the seat on the left point of the helicopter. And so, as Marine One banks, the president had a perfect view of the smoldering Pentagon. And he said out loud, not to anybody in particular, he just said, "the mightiest building in the world is on fire. This is the face of war in the 21st century."

CARD: The president made it very clear that he intended to address the nation.

BUSH: None of us will ever forget this day. Yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. Thank you. Good night and God bless America.


ZAHN: That, of course, was the president speaking to the nation after the 9/11 attacks five years ago. And in just a few moments, he will address the nation again from the Oval Office.

And before we get to that, let me check in with Larry King. He'll be doing his show from here tonight.

You were here two weeks. Welcome to town, by the way.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, dear.

ZAHN: Two weeks after the attacks of 2001. You look down there now, at what some would say is a lack of progress but others say the beginning of rebirth.

KING: That looks like beginning of rebirth to me. Certainly different from two weeks after 9/11, when the fire commissioner took me on a tour and they put Vicks Vapor rub on the nose so I couldn't smell things, and talking to firemen and policemen and emergency workers. It was a horrendous day for me. A very emotional -- I grew up in Brooklyn and came through this tunnel, the Brooklyn Battery tunnel a lot. It's right near here. It's very emotional looking at it now.

ZAHN: It's hard to come here today...

KING: Very.

ZAHN: ... and still not feel that tremendous sense of loss.

I'm going to bring Wolf into our conversation now, who is going to give us a preview of some of what the president might be saying to the nation tonight. You know, Wolf, the White House keeps saying this is not a political speech, but at the time when you've got the vast majority of the American public not thinking this war or terror is going too well, you've got to believe he's going to deliver something to try and change that picture.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, even if he doesn't directly talk about politics, and there's no indication he will, Paula and Larry, there's no doubt that the stakes for the president tonight are enormous. Having covered several presidents, when you get into a second term, especially at this point in the second term, it clearly is a moment for a president and the president's top advisers to be looking at the history books, looking at their overall record. It's going to be a moment that the president will certainly -- will certainly have to recognize the enormity.

Larry King is going to be coming on right after the president finishes his remarks. Larry, I want you to give our viewers a little preview of what you have coming up right after the president finishes.

KING: We have quite a show, Wolf. We'll begin with four widows who have written an extraordinary book.

And then we're going to have Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, back-to-back.

And then, very emotional for me, heartfelt visit to a firehouse, a firehouse where all 15 men on duty that day were killed and these are their buddies. They're men and will give you an extraordinary tour.

And then, a couple, a woman who was severely burned and then that man, remember, who was on the 78th floor with his dog. He was blind. He got out. They're all on immediately following the address -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will be watching. Paula thanks very much. Larry thanks to you as well.

To our viewers, this is one of those moments when the president and his top advisors know that millions of Americans and many millions of others around the world will be watching.

His major audience though tonight is the American public and his clear hope is to reassure them that this fifth anniversary of 9/11, this is a president who knows what he's doing, that this is a president that can reassure the United States he's winning the war on terror.

The Oval Office address comes at a very sensitive moment for this president. Polls showing most Americans do not believe the country is moving in the right direction. Most Americans opposed to the war in Iraq and most believing the U.S. mission in Iraq has made matters worse for the United States.

The address comes, as we know, a little bit less than two months before the elections. Here now, the president.


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