Monday, June 28, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 28

Guest: Robin Wright, Michael Noone, Michael Isikoff


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The countdown to sovereignty: It ends sooner than expected. The U.S. hands Iraq back to Iraqis, but will the insurgents think they caused this country to change its plans? And what of Saddam Hussein? Wasn't he supposed to be legally turned over to Iraq before sovereignty was? His lawyers now say he should be a free man.

Hostage taking continues, now it is a Lebanese-born American soldier. Amid conflicting reports that an Ohio soldier taken in April may already be dead.

"Fahrenheit 9/11": Beyond its supporters' wildest dreams, worse than its critics' darkest nightmares, the No. 1 box office hit in America.

And speaking of hits, do you know this man? He is the next Mr. Britney Spears. And he is reportedly the subject of a death threat. We assume these facts are not related.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. It is highly unlikely you don't already know the basic headline. Two days early, in the middle of the night, Eastern time, the United States, with no warning and neither pomp nor circumstance, turned over sovereignty of Iraq to that nation's interim government.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: That headline has already been analyzed to death, but what about two that may lurk behind it? Insurgents and terrorists in Iraq have been seeking to disrupt the June 30 handover. Will they now view the abrupt timing as one of the results of their mayhem?

Will they declare victory? And what legally will happen to Saddam Hussein? His lawyers tonight are insisting he should be a free man. Those questions in depth, in a moment. First back to the headline.

There is more ceremony when the president switches planes. But today at 10:26 a.m. Baghdad time, 2:26 a.m. Eastern, the outgoing head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer, handing over the proverbial keys to one of the largest nations in the Middle East. Meeting inside the heavily guarded green zone, far beyond public view, Ambassador Bremer presented Iraq's new president and prime minister with an official letter, recognizing the newly sovereign government and then sealed the handover with a handshake. Just a few hours later, the man who has effectively ruled Iraq for the last 13 months boarded a C-130 plane and left town. Must have had a connecting flight to which he had to rush.

But, while the ambassador was abrupt, the president was effusive. Speaking 1,000 miles away from the NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey, Bush called this a day of great hope for Iraqis and celebrated the transfer of power as a sign of the coalition's strength.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This day also marks a proud moral achievement for members of our coalition. We pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed, and to restore sovereignty. We have kept our word.


OLBERMANN: Now back to the question of the reaction of those in Iraq who don't quite agree with Mr. Bush's goal, as stated there. Robin Wright is a diplomatic correspondent of the "Washington Post." Reporting on and from Iraq constitutes the 12th war she's covered. She joins us now from the "Post's" news room in Washington.

Good evening, thanks for your time.

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Nice to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Nearly every last minute of the coverage of this, today, has been about the surprise in the timing or the reaction of ordinary Iraqis or of the political impact here. But what do we know of, what can we expect about the reaction of the insurgents and the terrorists that all this was designed to preempt?

WRIGHT: Well, clearly they're going to feel this was an action taken in part because of the pressure they've been exerting on the Coalition Provisional Authority, on American troops over the last few weeks, but particularly the last few days. They will perceive this as a move marking their success. Clearly this is all an issue of who is - how it is interpreted by the eye of the beholder, because the Americans believe that they took this action, in part, because the Iraqis had shown over the past month, since assuming part - part control, the new interim Iraqi government, that they had achieved enough that the Americans could afford to leave two days ahead of schedule.

OLBERMANN: Excluding the attempts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, it seems like this country, and I don't mean the administration, almost everyone in the country seems to have been to some degree or another tone deaf about the impact of nearly everything we have done in Iraq. Is this another case of that? Could the insurgents, could ordinary Iraqis view this as, look, we made the Americans change their plans, terrorism against them works?

WRIGHT: I think the lack of celebration today in Baghdad is part the result of 14 months of deep and growing frustration among Iraqis. They celebrated after the fall of Saddam Hussein, they thought that that was going to make a huge difference in their lives. The fact is that electricity is still a daily problem, unemployment is still hovering around half of the country. There are problems with schools, clinics; the oil pipeline has been hit over and over affecting their national income, that there are still an extraordinary number of problems. There were exceptional expectations as the war came to oust Saddam Hussein came to an end. And am awful lot of that - of the expectations have not yet been met, so there's not much to celebrate in the eyes of many Iraqis.

OLBERMANN: If Secretary Rumsfeld could analogize the attacks of the insurgency to the Tet offensive, I guess I can ask this question: Tapping into your story in the "Post" today, does anybody fear that in Iraq, where symbolism is so important, or throughout the Middle East where it's so important, that the nature of the handover today, just the behind the doors kind of thing, I mean, immediate exit of Ambassador Bremer today, might look a little bit like the helicopters taking out - off out of Vietnam in 1975. Would there be Iraqi democrats or Iraqi insurgents who might see it that way?

WRIGHT: I don't think you can make any comparison to the way Vietnam fell. The fact is that Iraq is entering into a new phase and much of what really is going to happen, the relationship between the United States and the Iraqis will be determined over the next six or seven months, the second phase of this transition, which is going to play out in three phases, we've only gone through the first one. There's kind of an illusion in the United States that June 30, or the end of the occupation was going to mark the end of the major involvement by the United States and the fact is the next phase, in many ways, is far more critical in determining Iraq's future and the role the United States plays will be just as important.

OLBERMANN: Turned out it wasn't even June 30. Robin Wright of the "Washington Post," many thanks for your insight tonight.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: There's another small detail about today's beat the clock handover, the other handover, that of Saddam Hussein. His lawyers are tonight insisting that he should be immediately released because his detention now violates international law. Shortly after his capture in December, he was declared a prisoner of war by the United States. Prisoners of war, unless formerly charged with any crimes above and beyond their status as prisoners of war, are supposed to, says the International Red Cross, be released as soon as an occupying power relinquishes its control of the country. Well, the relinquishing happened this morning, officially, before Saddam was legally charged with anything. The Iraqi official now in charge of setting up the tribunal that will try Saddam says Hussein will appear before an Iraqi judge, quote, "in the next few days, but his confinement will be maintained by the multinational force." That would be us.

It seems like the longest of long shots but it would be a bit of a problem if the hastened handover of the Iraqi interim government this morning meant Saddam Hussein, whose overthrow was central to the war, was suddenly given back legal possession of his hidey hole and his hide.

Joining us now, Michael Noone, law professor at Catholic University, expert on international war crimes and military law.

Professor Noone, good evening and thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: It seems implausible that Saddam Hussein could be let out of prison as a victim of violation of international law, but was not the sequence of events supposed to be pretty clear and was it just messed up?

NOONE: The sequence of events was very clear, that we were to keep custody of Saddam Hussein while the Iraqi government gained jurisdiction over him and that's to be the handover. Now we've accelerated the handover, and the issue is further compounded by the Supreme Court's decision this afternoon saying that U.S. courts had jurisdictions over foreigners held in confinement outside the United States.

OLBERMANN: I just mentioned the promise from the Iraqi now leader charged with setting up that tribunal that Saddam would be brought into an Iraqi court, face an Iraqi judge within a few days. Is there latitude under the relevant international law? Is a couple of days close enough when we're talking about things like this?

NOONE: Traditionally, a couple of days was considered to be close enough because it was understood that on the day that power was turned over, not all the prison camp doors would be opened and people released to the field.

OLBERMANN: Let's say that the bid by his lawyers to get him free, actually got some traction to it. What is the - what is the fallback position? What - obviously the U.S. doesn't say' "oh, yeah, you're right. We messed it up. We complicated it, he's free." What does the U.S. do?

What does the new Iraqi government do?

NOONE: Well, I think that the challenge, if one was brought, would be brought in a U.S. court based on the Rasul Supreme Court decision this afternoon. And the U.S. government's position would be that that decision involved two Yemenis and several Australians. This involves a head of state that is charged with war crimes.

OLBERMANN: The international war crimes expert Michael Noone of Catholic University. We appreciate your insight, thank you for your time tonight.

NOONE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, in the No. 5 story, all history has footnotes. Today was history, thus today had a footnote. The president caught in the act of note passing during the NATO summit in Turkey. Mr. Bush gets the handoff from Mr. Rumsfeld, looks at the note and tries to keep it to himself. He really, really tries, but he cannot hold it in much longer. He will lean over, quick behind the hand whisper to Tony Blair and the ever-composed British leader smiles and just nods.

But for the president, that's hardly enough, so he reaches out and the two leaders shake on it. Mr. President, perhaps you have something you would like to share with the rest of the class? As it turns out, he did. The very note posted on the White House Web site for all to see: "Mr.

President, Iraq is sovereign. Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 a.m.

Iraq time." And it's signed, Condi.

The president scribbled his own response on the bottom, "Let freedom ring!" exclamation point. So that is what they were whispering about.

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the early handover in Iraq. Up next, tonight's No. 4 story: A very different deadline looming in Iraq and no one hopes it comes early. A U.S. Marine kidnapped there. He'll live, insurgents say, only if all Iraqi prisoners get released by Wednesday.

And later, "Fahrenheit 9/11": All ad hype, all those headlines, all of them were understatements. The box office figures that shocked Hollywood and Washington. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN up next. Another American captured in Iraq, threats of beheading if demands are not met, but this time, the captive is a U.S. Marine. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: If any situation could be worse than losing an abducted family member in Iraq or Saudi Arabia, the Maupin family of Batavia, Ohio may be experiencing it tonight. Our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN:

Handover or no handover, the terror of American hostages continues, as does that of U.S. Army Specialist Matt Maupin. An unidentified group claims it has killed the 20-year-old soldier; it has promulgated a videotape which it claims depicts the murder. But U.S. military officials who've seen that tape tell NBC News it is of such poor quality that it's impossible to make a positive identification. The family doesn't know, but there are world-wide claims that the worst has already happened.

Maupin was one of eight Americans, seven of them contractors, who disappeared on April 9 after an ambush against their convoy. The bodies of four civilian employees of Kellogg, Brown, and Root were later found near the site of the attack. The body of Sergeant Elmer Krause was also found, later. One civilian driver, Thomas Hamill, escaped nearly a month later, the others are still missing.

The new tape shows someone being shot several times in the head and body and then dumped into a shallow grave. The Al Jazeera network says it has the tape and that an unseen voice claims Maupin was killed because the U.S. government did not change its policies in Iraq and elsewhere. U.S. officials say that without a body, they cannot establish Maupin's fate, his official status tonight remains "captured."

Meanwhile in the case of another kidnapping, it is as if the entire conflict in Iraq, the entire conflict in the Middle East has been summed up in the identity of the victim. He is an American Marine corporal, Wassef Ali Hassoun, born in Lebanon, for 14 years a resident of suburban Salt Lake City. Kidnappers have threatened to behead Corporal Hassoun unless all Iraqi prisoners are released from, quote, "occupation jails." He had not been seen since June 19, then the videotape showed up yesterday on the Al Jazeera network. His kidnappers claim they lured him away from his Marine outpost, then abducted him. His commanders thought he had gone AWOL; they have now reclassified him "captured."

In what is becoming an all too familiar story, another American's family and friends find themselves in desperate straits tonight. Ironically, some of Corporal Hassoun's family live in a town called West Jordan. There, outside the family home, is our correspondent, George Lewis.

George, good evening.

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith. The family remains secluded in this home at this hour, not wanting to come outside and talk to the press. They have had several visitors, including a local policeman, and a family spokesman is in there with them now, talking to them. They're also said to be praying. The Hassoun family is active in a local mosque where tonight local Muslims are holding a prayer service in honor of Hassoun.


SHUAIB-UD DIN, IMAM, KHADEEJA MOSQUE: We will have a special prayer service that entails reciting the Koran. Community members will come together and recite passages from the Koran for about an hour or so, and then there will be a collective prayer. We are hoping for his safe return, that - we'll pray for his safe return. And that's basically all we can do at the moment is pray.


LEWIS: Christians in this community are also holding their own prayer service for Hassoun, tonight. It's interesting to note as long as we're talking about religion, that five of the current hostages are all Muslims, three Turks, a Pakistani and the Corporal Hassoun. So, Keith, being a Muslim is no guarantee of staying away from hostage captors.

OLBERMANN: Indeed it is not. George Lewis at the Hassoun family home in Utah. Many thanks, George.

The rest of tonight's forth story should not be equated with deliberate kidnap, torture and murder, nor should it be dismissed as entirely different. The inspector general of the U.S. Army and the head of its criminal division are now investigating whether as many as 11 prisoner deaths at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison and other facilities in Iraq may have been homicides. The deaths are among 15, currently attributed to natural or undetermined causes. These 11 deaths occurred during periods of extreme heat or extreme cold outside the prisons. A series of human rights groups has urged the military to see if U.S. troops deliberately or negligently exposed Iraqi prisoners to the extreme temperatures. If evidence suggests that's true, the military says, any or all of the cases could be reclassified as homicides and charges brought against U.S. personnel.

And lastly here, the U.S. is denying a report on another Arabic television network that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been captured. Believed to be behind the beheadings of American Nicholas Berg and South Korean Kim Sun-il. Zarqawi has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, but a military spokesman says nothing has happened that would necessitate paying it out.

COUNTDOWN past the forth story now, up next, the much needed break from the serious news of the day. "Oddball" is around the corner. This is either part of tonight's round-up or there has been a bathtub recall on the day the dam burst.

And brewing war of words over the best brews. The winner? Whoever can wrap themselves most tightly in the American flag.


OLBERMANN: We're back and we pause the COUNTDOWN for the much needed break from the day's real news with the segment full of the day's really weird news. Let's play "Oddball."

And we're racing, racing, racing. It is the 12th annual Bathtub Regatta down the Fleiss (ph) River in Leipzig, Germany. They're not actually bathtubs, they're just whacky homemade boats piloted by people in whacky homemade costumes, all part of the new "we're German, but we can still have fun campaign." The race was won by a group from Liechtenstein. Didn't know there was a group in Liechtenstein of any kind. The rest, evidently, fell victim to the old "we're German, we perfected submarine warfare campaign."

To Comas, Peru, not much more than a shantytown, one of the poorest areas in that county, but it is a glorious day in Comas. Local chefs have gathered together over 900 pounds of flour, 119 gallons of egg yolks, 88 pounds of baking soda, enough sugar to suffocate a llama, all to bake the Guinness Book of Records new world's largest cake - 807 feet long, made by 300 bakers, enough to feed 15,000 people. They may not have had dinner, but they will all get dessert. A big cake indeed, but honestly, ever been impressed when they make a cake like that and then call it world's largest? It's a normal size cake, it's just really long. Big deal.

Want to see a big cake? That's what I'm talking about!

This is Chicago, Illinois, and this is a giant cheese cake. They didn't mess around here, this one is eight feet tall and weighs over 1,000 pounds. It could crush you, like this. It was served up at the Taste of Chicago festival over the weekend, better known as "Embrace Obesity Day."

Finally to Maplewood, Minnesota, where local democrat, Eileen Fritch (ph), went skydiving yesterday as a challenge to former President George H.W. Bush. It was her 90th birthday. President Bush jumped out of a plane two weeks ago on his 80th. Ms. Fritch jumped with an instructor strapped to her back. It was a flawless jump, a perfect landing, and by all accounts, her teeth remained in her mouth. Constant viewers will understand why I brought up her teeth remaining in her mouth. As this COUNTDOWN hall of fame clip shows, that'll happen.

"Oddball" now in the record books and not a moment too soon.

Speaking of records, "Fahrenheit 9/11," in its opening weekend, making a few milestones of its own. Never mind affecting the presidential race, this may be doing well enough to jump-start the economy.

And more seriously, the 9/11 Commission: Two reports tonight on its early findings, including evidence that the Mohammed Attas of this world did indeed have help in this country.

Those stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:

No. 3: Troy Musil of Eerie, Pennsylvania, now fined five grand for having thrown a suspicious bag into that city's largest reservoir leading to the calling out of the bomb squad and the HAZMAT unit. The bag was filled with his dirty underwear.

No. 2: An unidentified thief in an all-night coffee shop in Kansas City, Kansas. He got away with an undisclosed amount of money, but in the process, he knocked over the coffee of one of the witnesses, so he gave the man a dollar for the spilled java. Hey buddy, get back here, where do you think we are? That was $4.99, that cost me.

And No. 1: Scottish shepherds. At the suggestion of the local member of Parliament, they will be given free supplies of Viagra. This in hopes of reversing the declining human population in the Scottish highlands. However, the local sheep are reported missing and presumed escaped.


OLBERMANN: For those expecting that Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" would have had all the media political impact of "The Bicentennial Minute," the weekend past was a revelation indeed, happy or unhappy, depending on your political orientation. It was the top grossing film in North America over the weekend, $24 million.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, if you hated "Bowling For Columbine," if you were rooting for the brothers Wayans in the movies "White Chicks," or if you were hoping that the scorched-earth protest policy against Moore's flick would work, hide your belt and your shoe laces. In a moment, the political impact and the question, did the anti-Moore forces bring this upon themselves, as analyzed by TV expert and political drama mogul Lawrence O'Donnell.

First, more moola for Moore, as chronicled for us by correspondent Mark Mullen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're a great gift to the American people.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER/AUTHOR: Oh, thank you for saying that.

MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After all the controversy and hype, a love fest for director Michael Moore and his moviegoers in New York, as "Fahrenheit 9/11" become the first documentary-style movie to debut as a top weekend film nationwide.

MOORE: I just - I couldn't believe these numbers. It's historic for a documentary.


MOORE: He went on vacation.


MULLEN: Though the film, which assaults George Bush's action after the 9/11 attacks, won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, nobody was sure how popular it would be with mainstream America, though it did have a built-in audience of those who oppose the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope it will get rid of that person called Bush.

MULLEN: But the launch of "Fahrenheit 9/11" surprised even industry insiders, who saw sold-out shows in Northern cities and long lines in Southern towns, like Nashville, where this man complained about how few theaters were showing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is censorship at its height. And that is what surprised me the most. Do something about it.

TIM GRAY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "VARIETY": This is a film that's gotten a lot of buzz and a lot of publicity. People are talking about it. And I think a lot of moviegoers are going to see it and a lot of people who don't normally go to movies are going to see it. And that's one reason why it's so popular.

MULLEN: Not with everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still felt slightly manipulated by it.

MULLEN: Of course, many strongly opposed to "Fahrenheit" never went at all, especially those who believe the film is political propaganda against Bush the candidate.

(on camera): It's unclear whether interest at the box office over this movie will translate into any votes against Bush at the polls.

(voice-over): But this weekend proved one thing. Controversy and curiosity has made "Fahrenheit 9/11" red hot with movie fans.

Mark Mullen, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN: So the intersection of presidential politics and Hollywood Boulevard turns out to have been one hell of a profitable corner for Michael Moore to have set up on.

Few people know both streets better than Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC senior political analyst, creator of the NBC series "Mr. Sterling," writer-producer for "The West Wing," whose cameo as Michael Sheen's father in said series still rings across studios from coast to coast.

And how are you, sir?


I saw the movie this weekend and didn't have to stand in line, luckily went to a screening at a friend's house. This thing really can have political effect, Keith, because of the lines it's getting in Cleveland and Cincinnati and Dayton and Northern Florida. These swing state areas where the swing voters are, are going to see this movie. And what we saw in the last election was, the election can turn in some places with hundreds of votes, in other places, with thousands of votes.

Those are shockingly small numbers to effect a presidential election, but they can. And this is very potent stuff for swing voters, who normally are not very well informed, which is to say in this case, they're not very interested in and not very informed about the list of inaccuracies that you can find in your local newspaper that are in the movie.

They're not going to really be aware of that. They're going to probably go with the frame of the movie and it will affect their thinking.

OLBERMANN: And the fact that they know about this film, it seems like every few years, we get a political or a religious controversy about a film and its opponents make the same mistake over and over again.

They beat their chests. They chew up the scenery. They fill the airtime on TV and radio. They seem to wind up doing nothing but promoting that which they would prefer to have go away. How could politically savvy people have done this yet again?

O'DONNELL: Well, there was one politically unsavvy person at the outset.

That was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney, who, trying to be friendly to the Bushes, because he does big business in Florida at Disneyland, and this is all according to Michael Moore's agent, not refuted by Michael Eisner - Eisner said, I don't want to distribute this movie at Disney. And that put it out on the free market eventually.

And it also created an air of suppression around the movie. If Michael Eisner really wanted to be the Bush's friend, what he would have done is have kept Disney control of the movie, done no advertising for it, put it out on 10 screens, some of them in Alaska, and had the thing go away.

Instead, it's become, starting with the Eisner mistake and then with the Republican side getting agitated about it, instead of trying to stay quiet about it, you've got this phenomenon that we've now seen first with Mel Gibson's movie, now with this, which is simply, if the big studios don't want you to see this movie, it must be something that you want to see.

OLBERMANN: Yes. It is a time in which somebody believes at all times that they're not being told the truth.

The surprise, though, about the dimension in this, that it was the No.

1 film in America, this seems genuine in two areas.

O'DONNELL: It was...

OLBERMANN: But in two areas that don't usually have a lot of genuine reaction or genuine surprise, Hollywood and Washington, who's more surprised and why are they more surprised?

O'DONNELL: Well, show business is surprised because it's a documentary. Washington doesn't watch the box office that much. But let me - I hate to rain on this at all, but let's put the numbers in perspective.

The number of people who went to this movie this weekend is actually slightly smaller than the number of people who watched "Meet the Press." To get 28 million at the box office is, you know, roughly four million people. So it depends, though, as I said, who those people are and where they are and whose minds were changed in what kind of numbers.

OLBERMANN: Well, you have just hit the ultimate answer. We need to charge people more to watch "Meet the Press." That's simply what we need to do here.

O'DONNELL: And we have to do exit polling at Dayton movie theaters.

OLBERMANN: Lawrence O'Donnell, the MSNBC senior political analyst, always a pleasure, sir. Thanks again.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That date abbreviation, 9/11, has itself come to be shorthand for so many things, about not just that awful day, but many of the days since.

Continuing the third story on the COUNTDOWN, two reports of what the 9/11 Commission is going to reveal when it issues its final report probably next month. The bipartisan group tipped its hand earlier this month, first in three reports issued only weeks ago detailing the unpreparedness of aviation and defense agencies.

Now sources telling the magazine "Newsweek" that commission staff has concluded that the attacks were - quote - "probably preventable" and that the primary responsibility for allowing them was a series of intelligence failures by the CIA. In what is largely speculated to be a move anticipating that finding, CIA Director George Tenet announced his resignation last month and will leave that post early next.

But clearly CIA is not the only agency in the commission's crosshairs. In another finding, 9/11 investigators reportedly point at the FBI as having lost the scent, two sources of scent, in fact. The bureau has long maintained that the 19 hijackers did not have assistance from al Qaeda operatives within the United States, but the Associated Press reporting the commission has concluded that two men, both living in San Diego, both known to the CIA, both known to have had a connection to the bombing of the USS Cole, aided two of the mass murderers.

Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, part of the team is that crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, the only two of the 19 who did not speak English, they were provided driver's licenses and housing by Mohdar Abdullah and Anwar Aulaqi. Aulaqi left the United States shortly after September 11. Abdullah was questioned but not charged after he claimed no prior knowledge of the attacks, later bragging that he had such knowledge.

Unable to corroborate his claims, the FBI had him deported to Yemen this past may.

Michael Isikoff is the investigative correspondent for "Newsweek" and co-author of that article about the commission's findings and the CIA's failures.

Michael, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Probably preventable. Apart from the fact that it probably means Mr. Tenet's resignation was probably not preventable, what is the news in this?

ISIKOFF: Well, anybody who's been following this for some time can see this coming. The commissioners have dropped more than a few hints that - and starting with Chairman Tom Kean - that, as they reviewed the evidence, it's become clear in hindsight that there were clearly things that could have been done, that could have stopped - or could have disrupted the 9/11 plot.

And the one window into the plot involves those two guys who just showed up on the screen, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. These are the two hijackers who originally had been tracked by the CIA at an al Qaeda summit in January 2000. The amazing thing about this - and I don't think it's quite penetrated to the American public - is, especially with the latest report of the commission, that at that al Qaeda summit in January 2000, there were dress sort of rehearsals going on and planning for the 9/11 plot taking place.

And the CIA was watching it. They had an arrangement with Malaysian special branch to photograph the meetings. They knew the meeting was taking place. They knew the guys who were there. And most, you know, astonishingly, they tracked those two guys, al-Mihdhar al-Hazmi, as they flew from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok in January of 2000.

The CIA loses the trail in Bangkok, but then learns that al-Mihdhar, that al-Hazmi flies to Los Angeles and al-Mihdhar had a visa, multientry visa that would allow him to return to the United States at any time. So they had good reason to believe that those two people had gone from an al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia to the United States. And they never passed the information along to other U.S. government agencies who could have done something about it.

So the FBI was totally blind that there were two al Qaeda guys in the United States in San Diego at a time when, remember, George Tenet, the CIA director, has said he had declared war on al Qaeda. The FBI takes no steps, one of them we now - you know, as has been reported for some time, al-Hazmi actually had his name listed in the San Diego phone book.

They were living with a guy who was an FBI informant. And the FBI was clueless on this. And the FBI also didn't take its own steps to investigate people in San Diego who were dealing with the hijackers who they had reason to be suspicious about, in particular the two people you mentioned, Mohdar Abdullah and Anwar Aulaqi.

OLBERMANN: You've got a second report in the current issue about a huge chunk having just been taken out of the supposed al Qaeda-Iraq link because a key source, probably the key source recanted what he told his interrogators? Who is this and what did he recant?

ISIKOFF: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He was a senior al Qaeda commander who was captured in Pakistan in November 2001. He provided information to CIA interrogators from the get-go and, in particular, information he claimed about knowledge of Iraq providing training in poisons and gases to al Qaeda in the late 1990s and as late as December 2000.

That information from al-Libi made its way first into President Bush's own comments prewar, his Cincinnati speech, and most spectacularly, in Colin Powell's address to the Security Council, where he goes on at great length about this senior al Qaeda - senior terrorist operative who has told his story about chemical and biological weapons training that Iraq had provided to al Qaeda.

Well, after the war, more recently, actually, in recent months, the CIA learns additional information, goes back to al-Libi, questions him again and he recants his story. He acknowledges that it wasn't true after all. This has never been publicly acknowledged by the Bush administration. But if you noticed, during the flap a couple of weeks ago about the 9/11 Commission's conclusions about no collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, they pushed back, but they never brought up again the original charge about poisons and gases training. And that's because he al-Libi has recanted.


Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for "Newsweek," as always, thanks for your time tonight, sir.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN now past our No. 3 story. Up next, the two beer giants are not trying to prove they're better-tasting, better-priced, more foamy, just that if you're a better American, you'll drink their beer. And later, the future Mr. Britney Spears, who would want to threaten him? The mother of his unborn child? The previous Mr. Britney Spears? Cynical newscasters everywhere? "Keeping Tabs" ahead.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


QUESTION: Does it matter to each of you what the critics say?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. It matters to me what you say. I mean, it matters to me what...


BUSH: Sorry. Just a little humor. Yes, it matters.


AARON ZITRON, ADULT KICKBALL PLAYER: People that were a little timid to play sports that require more skill come out and play kickball because they know you don't have to have any skills. And no one's going to laugh at you.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: People who want to drag the country backwards, who want to turn it back into a failed and repressive state. And so that's why it's right for NATO to step up to the mark today and say, we are going to extend the role of the security force.



OLBERMANN: Measured against, say, the saga of ex-Illinois Republican senatorial candidate Jack Ryan, you know, Jack "I'd like you to meet my lovely wife" Ryan, our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN is not quite that compelling, nor that political, but it does address a topic that is nearly as important to the average American male as - well, as meeting Jack Ryan's lovely wife.

What started as a clever spoof of political controversy and of democracy vs. monarchy has fermented into a real controversy. It was just an ad campaign, one brewski trying to one-up another brewski.

But, as Kevin Tibbles reports, it has now escalated from being a series of commercials starring comedian Bob Odenkirk to a matter for the courts and the government of South Africa.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): Beer certainly wasn't invented in America, but the way America's big breweries carry on, you need to have your hand over your heart just to drink the stuff.


BOB ODENKIRK, ACTOR: America is a democracy. Break it down, demo-cracy.


TIBBLES: The first salvo fired by Miller. The target, Budweiser's claim it's the king of beers. Now, that's downright un-American.


ODENKIRK: Beer needs a democracy, too. A president of beers!


TIBBLES: Stunned by Miller's campaign, Budweiser left the Clydesdales in the barn and rolled out the talking lizards to fight back. They say Miller isn't really American.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Miller was bought by South African breweries.

And you would have to be American to run for president of beers.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, that's too bad.


BOB GARFIELD, "ADVERTISING AGE": What do I make of this battle?

Well, it's silly and probably beneath everybody involved.

TIBBLES: Bob Garfield of "Advertising Age" and the co-host of NPR's "On the Media" says the beer war has gotten out of hand.

GARFIELD: I understand this is only beer and we're not talking about anything important, but nonetheless it is a coarsening of public discourse, much as we've seen in politics. And it's always a bad idea.

TIBBLES (on camera): This beer battle came to a head literally when Bud started calling Miller the queen of carbs over Miller's claims its light beer has fewer carbohydrates.

(voice-over): Miller took Bud to court, saying the queen charge was disparaging and misleading. But Miller says its sales have soared and have since dropped the claim. But are the beer drinkers of America paying any attention?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those lizards haven't been funny since 1997.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miller Lite, they just went a little too far after a while, I thought.

TIBBLES: And then there's the question, is there really any difference between them anyway?

GARFIELD: Budweiser is saying Miller Lite, Bud Light, choose on taste. OK, I'll choose on taste. Amstel, please.


ODENKIRK: This whole thing is a travesty and a shame and a mockery.

It's a traveshamockery.


TIBBLES: In the billion-dollar beer biz, all the flag-waving may fall by the wayside once the froth settles.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN: And a second thing you need to know about tonight's No. 2 story, all of tonight's brewing news is not merely all about frosting your beer stein. The newest FBI warning about a potential terror weapon, the beer cooler, "TIME" magazine reporting today that, in the latest weekly bulletin to the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies that hang on its every word, the bureau has asked them to be on the lookout for - quote - "plastic foam containers" and other junk familiar to those who spend time on the water.

They could be rigged - emphasize the word could - to explode on contact.

Speaking of commonplace things often found discarded down by the river, there's Britney Spears. Our opening story in our nightly roundup of the celebrity flotsam, a report that her latest fiance has received death threats. So says the TV show "Extra" tonight. it quotes unnamed sources who say Ms. Spears is beefing up security because new fiance Kevin Federline has reportedly been receiving death threats and may have a stalker.

They were at a movie screening last night, the report continues, flanked by bodyguards. Supposedly, this has nothing to do with the fact that long before the November 20, the new Mr. Spears will become a father of another woman's baby, his ex-girlfriend, Shar Jackson, who appears in the TV series "Moesha" is due in July. Just a coincidence.

And a story of fame gone bad that strikes disturbing close to home. My cousin by marriage and adoption boxer Mike Tyson had reportedly told a British tabloid that he's not just broke. He's broke enough to be living on the street. "This is London" quotes him as saying: "I've got nowhere to live. I've been crashing with friends, literally sleeping in shelters. Unsavory characters are giving me money and I'm taking it."

Whether the story is a fabrication or just Mike feeling a little sorry for himself, it does contradict his comments at a recent news conference announcing an upcoming fight at which he said he is broke and his two homes in Las Vegas are for sale, but he's been living in a house in Phoenix.

COUNTDOWN four-fifths complete. Ahead, this young man is No. 1. And the No. 1 story of the night, why he is who he is - next.


OLBERMANN: Finally to the top of the COUNTDOWN, and we end where we began.

Political control can be handed over from one group of people to another in the symbolic if not literal middle of the night. Democracies can be declared. Presidents can slip their colleagues notes of congratulation. And if you live in Iraq, all of it, all of the majesty, the pomp, the weight, can mean absolutely nothing.

Our correspondent Tom Aspell from Baghdad now on what it's like to try to live your life when you know that whenever somebody talks about possible targets of the Iraqi insurgents, they are talking about you.


TOM ASPELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Halad Hasan (ph) is a 20-something Iraqi living in Baghdad. He listens to the Bee Gees every morning, makes his bed with an American flag. He is employed by a foreign news agency. For this, insurgents have threatened to kill him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm scared because I have a family behind me. Who is going to take of them? So this is what scares me most each day, each hour.

ASPELL: Halad supports his mother and three younger sisters. His mother worries about his safety because the streets are dangerous now in these days of political turmoil.

"When he is going to work, I keep thinking, wondering if he's going to come home or not," she says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like you cannot go on street safely. You don't know. Maybe there's an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in front of you. You don't know. People are dying.

ASPELL: Dozens of Iraqis working for foreigners, especially American soldiers, have been killed or kidnapped in the past year. Halad lost his best friend a few months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was ambushed on his way back from assignment outside Baghdad. A gunman show up and shot at them.

ASPELL: Halad takes no chances on his way to work, varies his route to work every day, sometimes flagging down a taxi on the highway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might be watched, somebody spying on me. And you don't know what's going to happen next. But I used to change my routes every day - every hour, sometimes use different entrances.

ASPELL (on camera): What do you think's going to happen in the next few days?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the next few days?

ASPELL: Immediately after the handover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be a big problem. This country is going to witness a day that it's never witnessed before.

ASPELL (voice-over): It may have already started. Coordinated insurgent attacks in Baghdad and all over the Sunni Triangle killed more than 100 Iraqis last week. Many think like Halad, that the security situation is going to deteriorate quickly. At home again, Halad is a TV news addict, devouring anything about Iraq, and a devoted family man to his mother and three sisters, who depend on him.

(on camera): What do you do at night? Say on a night on a night when you're not working, what do you do?


ASPELL: That's it?


ASPELL: It's not safe to go out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not about go out, because there is nowhere to go out.

ASPELL (voice-over): Nothing to do but wait to see how the new government handles his new country.

Tom Aspell, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.


Friday, June 25, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 25

Guests: Andrew Kohut, Steve Emerson, Mark Goulston


ALEX WITT, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will be you talking about tomorrow?

President Bush in Europe: 5 days of high pressure meetings as the president puts the full court press on for help in Iraq. And before leaving, he gave a contentious interview with Irish TV.


CAROL COLEMAN, IRISH "RTE":... Indeed Mr. President you didn't find weapons of mass destruction...


WITT: The war on terror, the next generation: an alarming scene caught on tape. Young boys re-enacting a mock beheading. What's happening in the war for the hearts and minds of the Arab world?

The heat over "Fahrenheit 9/11": it won rave reviews in France, but how will Americans in the audiences react? The film hits screens nationwide tonight.

And the week that was for Bill Clinton: All the reviews, all the records, and now to top it all off, the other woman, Monica Lewinsky finally breaks her silence.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Good evening and welcome to COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann, tonight. For the majority of America's allies in Europe, the war in Iraq has always been a tough sell and 15 months after the first tanks rolled across the Kuwaiti border, converting the holdouts hasn't gotten any easier.

At No. 5 on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: shuttle diplomacy in a divide of election. The president and Mr. Bush arriving in Dublin today, the first stop of a European tour. It wasn't always a warm welcome with protesters to contend with. And on the airwaves, an Irish reporter a little more aggressive then the well-behaved White House press corp, getting Carol Coleman of TV network "RTE" to stick to the script wasn't easy, but you can not say that the President Bush didn't try.


BUSH: Saddam Hussein had weap - used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, against the neighborhood. He was a brutal dictator who posed a threat. Such a threat that the United Nations voted unanimously to say Mr. Saddam Hussein...

COLEMAN: Indeed Mr. President, but you didn't find the weapons of mass destruction.


BUSH: May - may - may I finish? He said the United Nations said "disarm or face serious consequences," that's what the United Nations said. And guess what? He didn't disarm. He didn't disclose his arms, and therefore, he faced serious consequences.

But we have found the capacity for him to make a weapon. See, he had the capacity to make weapons, he was dangerous. And no one can argue that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein - if Saddam Hussein were in power.

COLEMAN: But Mr. President the war is a more dangerous place today.

I don't know why whether you can see that or not.

BUSH: Why do you say that?

COLEMAN: There are terrorist bombings every single day. It's now a daily event. It wasn't like that two years ago.

BUSH: What was like September 11, 2001? It was a relative calm, we thougt...

COLEMAN: But it's your response to Iraq...


BUSH: Let me finish. Let me finish please. You answer the questions, and I'll answer them, if you don't mind. On September 11, 2001, we were attacked in an unprovoked fashion. Everybody thought the world was calm and then there have been bombings since then, not because of my response to Iraq, there were bombings in Madrid, there were bombings in a Istanbul, there were bombings in Bali, there were killings in Pakistan.

COLEMAN: Indeed, Mr. President, and I think Irish people understand that, but I think there are a feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place, because you have taken the focus off al-Qaeda and diverted into Iraq. Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place? I saw four of your soldiers lying dead on the television the other day, a picture of four soulders just lying there without the slightest...

BUSH: You know, listen, nobody cares more about their death than I do.

COLEMAN: Is there a point...

BUSH: Let me, let me finish, please. Please. Let me finish. And then you can follow-up, if you don't mind. Nobody cares more about the deaths than I do. I care about it a lot. But I do believe the world is a safer place and becoming a safer place. I know that a free Iraq is going to be necessary, part of changing the world.

Listen, people - people join terrorist organizations because there's no hope. And there's no chance to raise their families in a - in a peaceful world where there is not freedom. And so the idea is to promote freedom and at the time protect our security. And I do believe the world is becoming a better place. Absolutely.

I wouldn't be doing this. I wouldn't have made the decisions I did if I didn't think the world would be better. Of course. I'm not going to put people in harm's way, our young, if I didn't think the world would be better.

COLEMAN: Why is it...

BUSH: Let, let, let me finish. And so yes, I can turn to my friend Bertie Ahern and say "thank you, thanks for helping, and I appreciate it very much." And there'll be other challenges, by the way.

COLEMAN: Why is it that others don't understand what you're about?

BUSH: I don't know. I don't - history will judge what I'm about.


WITT: Then they played nice, chatting about Europe until Emily Post returned to the Middle East and the question: if democracy in the region is America's goal, why not start with Israelis and the Palestinians? Here's the president's reply.


BUSH: We've got a democracy in Turkey. You've not a democracy merging in Afghanistan. You've got a democracy in Pakistan, there...

COLEMAN: But it shouldn't that be on the top of your list?

BUSH: Please, please, please, for a minute, OK. It would be better if you let me finish my answers and then you can follow up, if you don't mind. And what I'm telling you is democracies can emerge at the same time that a democracy can emerge in the Palestinian state.

I'm the first American president to have called for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The first one to do so, because I believe it is in the Palestinian people's interest. I believe it's in Israel's interest.

And yes, we're working, but we can do more than - you know, one thing at a time and we are working on the road map with the - with the quartet to advance the process down the road. And like Iraq, the Palestinian and the Israeli issue is going to require good security measures.

COLEMAN: And it more even-handedness from Americans?

BUSH: And we're working on security measures. In America, I'm the first president to ever have called for a Palestinian state. That's, to me sounds like a reasonable balanced approach.


BUSH: The president plans to press this case in the European Union and Ireland, tomorrow, then it's on to the next hurdle, a summit with NATO in Turkey. Protesters already taking to the streets of Istanbul, but it's the protest inside Monday's meeting that the president really has to worry about.

His last real chance to get international help on Iraq will need 25 other NATO countries before the June 30 handover. United States originally hoped at the alliance would offer some foreign troops to aid the coalition. But, after strong protests from France and Germany, that idea was scrapped. Instead, NATO has tentatively reached a deal to help the new Iraqi leadership train Iraq's security forces.

And it's not just international allies that Bush has to convince, but voters here at home. A new poll shows that for the first time since the war began, a majority of Americans say the war was a mistake. According to the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey, 54 percent Americans agree that sending troops to Iraq was a mistake, that's a 13 point jump from just three weeks ago.

But when asked about the economy, voters were much more upbeat, 47 percent approving of the way Bush is handling the economy, a 6 percent jump from the beginning of this month.

And those mixed results may help explain how tight the race remains. Mr. Bush edging out Mr. Kerry 48 to 47 percent, and Mr. Nader holding on with 3 percent.

Those are margins that don't give either candidate much wriggle room and the fearsest campaign season have yet to even begin. Joining us now to look at just how close the election could be is pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the PEW Research Center.

Mr. Kohut, thanks for joining us tonight, we appreciate it.


WITT: The PEW Research Center came out with a really interesting poll today, suggesting that swing voters were a lot more scarce in this election then they've been in the past. In your survey sir, 21 percent of registered voters were undecided or subject to change their mind, that's a really big difference from four years ago. Look at these numbers: 32 percent were swing voters then. Is that an indication of how polarized this country has become?

KOHUT: Well, it is. Not so much generally polarized, but they have strong feelings about President Bush and second term elections are about the incumbent president, and you either love him or you hate him. And we have 80 percent of the public, at this point, saying one way or another, and it's pretty evenly divided - 40 percent committed to Kerry, 40 percent strongly committed to Bush and 20 percent, which is fewer than usual.

Generally at this stage in the campaign, we only have - we have about 1-3 voters saying they might change their mind. We have as many committed voters as we typically have in October - have had in October in the last three presidential elections. So it's something special.

WITT: Let's turn to Mr. Kerry's candidacy, now. He has had an especially hard time getting into the headlines this week, with Mr. Clinton's book tour, all the violence out of Iraq. Can he win by just flying under the radar?

KOHUT: Well, the real issue is conditions. The public is still coming - grappling with the decision about whether they want to re-elect President Bush, and at some point if they come to the decision that they don't, they're going to turn to Mr. Kerry and look at him with a lot more scrutiny and with a lot more attention than they've given him so far.

And he's had - as you said, he's had a lot - has had a hard time. The news has been dominated by all sorts of things, most of them, bad news out of Iraq. And that has sort of helped him, but he really hasn't been in the picture in terms of public reception. It's still pretty much about President Bush.

WITT: This is an interesting point to note, 6 months ago, before Mr. Kerry secured his spot as the Democratic nominee, Mr. Bush always seemed to do worse in the polls when he was pitted to be an unnamed democrat. Mr. Kerry trying to be that unnamed Democrat?

KOHUT: Well, no one can be as favorable as an unnamed Democrat or an unnamed Republican, they always test better than the real candidates because respondents in the polls can read into them into what they want. But when we have live candidates, we get different reactions.

WITT: All right. Andrew Kohut of PEW Research, thank you so much for your time tonight, we appreciate it.

KOHUT: You're welcome.

WITT: COUNTDOWN opening with presidential politics, both here an abroad. Tonight's No. 4 story straight ahead, an alarming game caught on tape: kids at play doing a mock beheading. What these images mean to the war on terror.

And later, the return of a serial killer: investigators confirm Wichita's BTK Strangler is taunting authorities in letters, so will he start killing again? Stand by.


WITT: The countdown to handover is now at T minus five days, but with the transfer of sovereignty right around the corner, it's not clear if Iraq is on the brink of independence or chaos. At No. 4 tonight: what will independence bring? A day after nearly 100 people were killed in a string of attacks, cabinet members of the new Iraqi government vowed there will be a showdown with insurgents.

But the promised face-off already seemed to be in evidence in Fallujah today, where U.S. forces bombed several locations in the city famous as a hot-spot for insurgents.

Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski has the story about a strike that have nearly missed on of the leading terrorist in Iraq - Jim.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Alex, the No. 1 target in Iraq remains the terrorist suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Now it's not clear that American war planes had Zarqawi in their sights today, but the U.S. military is growing more desperate by the day to get him.

(voice-over): The U.S. military claims more than 20 terrorist fighters were killed in a massive air strike on this suspected safe house, outside of Fallujah today, as seen on "al-Jazeera." But if Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was here, he got away.

Military officials say fresh intelligence indicated Zarqawi may have been in the area, but he was not among the dead. Already blamed for the recent wave of suicide bombings, it's believed Zarqawi is preparing to unleash an even deadlier string of terrorist attacks.

NBC News has learned that in the past few days, U.S. intelligence has intercepted messages from Zarqawi directing his followers to carry out new suicide missions. And there's new evidence Zarqawi has plenty of foot soldiers and support.

Intelligence officials say the terrorist group Turkish Hezbollah, believed responsible for last November's deadly bombings in Istanbul, is working directly with Zarqawi in Iraq.

M.J. GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has enabled the Hezbollah groups to obtain penetration into Iraq in order to attack the U.S.-led coalition, a capability, which they formerly lacked.


MIKLASZEWSKI: Sources report that teams of U.S. Social Forces just missed capturing Zarqawi during several raids in recent months, but U.S. military officials are growing increasing frustrated that despite the massive manhunt, Zarqawi's still on the loose and becoming more deadly more than ever - Alex.


WITT: All right, Mick, thank you very much.

And we should note that the military's claims that it killed 20 people in that attack are hotly disputed by sources in Fallujah, who claim that U.S. jets hit only a vacant house. But, as U.S. scrambles to locate the terrorists behind these attacks, there is disturbing new evidence of how a new generation of radical Islamists is being groomed.

A grim up date to the childhood game of cops and robbers. This video, posted on a militant Web site, shows a group of young children performing a mock beheading. The children's imitation, so detailed, that the young boy seen standing in the middle, appears to deliver a lecture shaking his finger at the camera while his pretend henchmen stand by with wooden rifles. His young captive kneels in the same manner as the real-life hostages we have seen over the past few weeks, and just like the real videos, this one has a predictable ending. The boy removing a shiny object and then quickly bending over to finish his victim.

Horrifying images that are just another reminder that the violence reverberates, not just across borders, but across generations. Joining us now to assess how such images are being used to recruit tomorrow's terrorists, is Steve Emerson, an MSNBC terrorism expert.

Good evening, Steve.


WITT: I'll tell you, "horrifying," something of an understatement of an adjective to describe these pictures. Steve, can you explain where this video was posted? How it was being used, as well?

EMERSON: Well, it was posted in - out of London, out of a mosque that's associated with Abu Hamza al-Masri who was only indicted recently for ties to terrorism, and unfortunately Alex, although this got a lot of attention and it was taken off the London Web site, the sad and disturbing reality is that it's far more prevalent in terms of heroicizing and lauding the militant Islamic - you know, values by young generations - in terms of young generations of young Muslims around the world done by Islamic leaders, schools, the Internet. And this is a problem that far transcends the actual issues of terrorism, because it goes into the whole issue of recruitment of young militants who ultimately might turn out to be terrorists.

WITT: Steve, it's not the first time we've seen this kind of thing, because we've seen images of young children pretending to be terrorists before, most notably, in the Palestinian territories, that's where babies are sometimes dressed up to look like suicide bombers, as we see here. Are kids really being groomed to say "I want to be a suicide bomber when I grow up?"

EMERSON: Absolutely. In fact Alex, in 1994, I did a film called "Jihad in America" it aired on public television, and it earned me the condemnation of a lot of Muslim groups, but it revealed a lot of the indoctrination. And there was one scene, in the United States, of a young Muslim kid at a summer camp near Chicago taking a branch and saying I slaughtered the Jews, and then they got around the campfire and yell and scream - and sang songs on behalf of Ahmed Yassin the leader of Hamas in support of suicide bombings. That was in 1994.

There were books that we have collected in the last few years, calling for young martyrs to volunteer around the world. So I think, unfortunately, the reality is that the ideology is there. We just don't pick it up unless somebody actually catches them in the act of posting it, as they did on the Internet.

WITT: Steve you also shared another very disturbing video with us this week, a rap video, it showed masked men intercut with images with terrorist attacks. Is that another level of sophistication in the battle for hearts and minds? Because it looked very Westernized and very well produced.

EMERSON: Well, certainly that jihad video, they're - I call it MTV meets jihad, was produced out of London by another radical organization that posted it on the Internet and designed, as you just stated, to appeal to a new generation, either of Westernized Muslims or even possibly of non-Muslims, such as John Walker Lindh.

Clearly, this was a very sophisticated hip type of appeal that used rap music and sycophance and used words such as calling for death to Bush and Blair, as well as death to the infidels.

WITT: All right, terrorism expert, Steve Emerson, thanks for your time tonight, we appreciate it.

EMERSON: You're welcome.

WITT: COUNTDOWN now past out No. 4 story. Up next, a much-needed breather from the day's big headlines. "Oddball's" next, and it doesn't get too much weirder than this guy's hobby.

And later, Bill Clinton's "My Life" is breaking publishing records, but for Monica Lewinsky, my life is ruining her life all over again. Stand by.


WITT: I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann and we pause the COUNTDOWN now, to move from the news that makes you go "hmmm" to make the stories that make you say "Whaaa?" Let's play "Oddball."

And if it's Friday, it must time for the car chase of the day, and we're back in L.A., of course. The men in this car are suspect to the armed robbery of a cell phone store. During the chase, they reportedly threw the money out of the window, possibly they knew how these things usually end. If they had checked the "Oddball" scoreboard, they'd have seen it's cops 49, guys who think they can escape the cops, nothing.

Two passengers bailed out at different points to make it on their own and were arrested before police used spike strips to stop the car and end this chase after almost an hour. And this guy's not going to risk flashlight beating or worse, he surrenders to the LAPD and gets wrapped tight for a nice long trip to the big house.

To Masontown, Pennsylvania, where no one knows how to make a political statement better than Greenpeace. We don't chose sides here on "Oddball," and if someone in favor of burning coal wants to scale the side of a 750 foot smokestack to hang up a sign, we'll show that, too. But, the six activists at the top of this chimney may never see it, they've been arrested and face felony conspiracy and destruction of an energy facility charges, which could lead to 20 years in prison and a half a million dollars in fines. The group allegedly cut open a security gate, and snuck past guards, climbed up and enjoyed the view for several hours. "Hey, I can see my biosphere from here."

And finally: rollin', rollin', rollin', Ludkan Baba is rollin' rawhide. It's the rollin' holy man of Pakistan and he's on the move again. This time, he's rollin' the 1,500 miles to the city of Lahore, where the hopes to meet the Pakistani president and congratulate him on the ongoing peace process with India. Baba has never heard of Hallmark, I guess.

He's rolled over 20,000 miles in the last few years, all part of his mission for peace. This latest trip should take several weeks, depending on the traffic, but Baba keeps himself nourished by drinking tea and smoking up to five packs of cigarettes a day. I wonder if he rolls his own.

"Oddball's" in the record book. Up next, tonight's No. 3 story:

After all the headlines, headaches and hype, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is opened for all of Americans to see. Will audiences be walking away with all the facts or fallacies?

And later, Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps the GOP's biggest star, what role will he be playing in the presidential campaign?

First, here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:

No. 3: Fifty-six year old Gary Eagan, the new Iron Butt Association record holder for a transcontinental trip from Alaska to Key West, Florida on a motorcycle. Eagan made the 5,600 mile journey in just 100 hours, despite one crash in Alaska just a couple hours after he started.

No. 2: The fine folks at the Park Place Medical Center. We found the WMD's and they're in Texas! A small fire in a soda vending machine forced the evacuation of the Houston Hospital yesterday when the Freon gas inside reacted with the flames to form phosgene, a poisonous gas that was used as chemical weapon in World War I. No one was seriously injured.

And No. 1: "Friend's" star, Matthew Perry who reportedly dove into a swimming pool to save a young boy at a barbeque in Hollywood, California. The 2-year-old was so going to drown and Chandler Bing saved his life, could you be anymore heroic?


WITT: The parallel so often drawn between politics and entertainment are usually metaphorical and occasionally literal.

But in our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, they are quite simply a mix of the strange and unexpected that can only be described as bizarre.

And we begin tonight with "Fahrenheit 9/11," a little political film that you may heard mentioned once or twice or 3,000 times. So it should come as no surprise that most showings tonight in New York City are sold out. More surprising perhaps the lines of hundreds wrapped around theaters in Oklahoma City and Dallas. Projections that this could be the largest documentary film opening ever are not unwarranted. But maybe calling the movie a documentary in the first place is.

Here's NBC's Lisa Myers.


NARRATOR: The true story that will make your temperature rise.

LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But how true is it? The film's sometimes embarrassing video of Bush administration officials is authentic.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL (singing): Let the Eagle soar.


MYERS: Though some argue certain shots amount to cheap shots.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.

Now watch this drive.


MYERS: The powerful story of Lila Lipscomb, whose son was killed in Iraq, is also undeniable. But, on other key points, critics say this so-called documentary is either wrong or deliberately misleading. The war in Iraq, to drive home the point that the children of the powerful aren't dying in Iraq, Moore ambushes politicians on Capitol Hill.


MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: Congressman, Michael Moore. How you doing?


MOORE: Good. Good. I'm trying to get members of Congress to get their kids to enlist in the Army and go over to Iraq.


MYERS: But Moore left out what Congressman Mark Kennedy went on to say.

REP. MARK KENNEDY (R), MINNESOTA: My nephew had just gotten called into service and was told he's heading to Afghanistan. He didn't like that answer, so he didn't include it.

MYERS: Bush and the Saudis. The film trades ties between the Bush

and bin Laden and Saudi royal families, then suggests the Bushes - quote -

· "might be thinking about what's best for the Saudis, instead of what is best for you."

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The Bush family's relationship with the bin Ladens and the Saudis had nothing to with do with our decisions in the war on terrorism. To so say so is simply unfair.

MYERS: Finally, Saudi flights after 9/11. The film suggests that planeloads of Saudis, including the bin Laden family, were allowed to leave the U.S. after 9/11 without proper vetting.

However, the 9/11 Commission says, "Nobody was allowed to depart who the FBI wanted to interview."

(on camera): One character in this film suggests that President Bush is even worse than Osama bin Laden, one of the excesses and distortions that may undermine the credibility of Michael Moore's message.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


WITT: And while audience members of every political stripe flocked to theaters to either cheer or heckle Mr. Moore's latest effort, some filmmakers are gearing up for a cinematic response.

The American Film Renaissance, an anti-Moore film festival, has announced a September schedule and will such titles as "Michael Moore Hates America" and "Michael and Me." But not all films in the three-day program bash the "Fahrenheit 9/11" director. Another of the 10 confirmed films is about conservative pundit and author Ann Coulter is entitled "Is It True What They Say About Ann? Why, Yes. Yes, It Is."

And from the man whose politics made him a celebrity to a man whose celebrity made him governor of California, we continue our third story with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The GOP's biggest gun in an interview with "The New York Times" has made clear his willingness to participate in and lend his support to the president's reelection efforts during the Republican National Convention in August.

Not a man with whom low self-esteem is ever associated, Schwarzenegger said - quote - "If they're smart, they'll have me obviously in prime time."

To discuss just how the GOP might harness such high-wattage star power, I'm joined now by our star MSNBC political analyst and "Congressional Quarterly" columnist Craig Crawford.

Craig, good evening to you.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Alex, I loved hearing you sing in the "Oddball" segment there.


WITT: Well, I'll sing for you later.


CRAWFORD: I remember the Christmas party. You know how to sing.

WITT: OK, let's move on really quickly, Craig. I'm afraid we have to.

And, clearly, humility strains do not equate with the governor. But he's not entirely wrong here, is he? Wouldn't it be in the party's best interests to put a movie star politician in prime time?

CRAWFORD: Sure would. As boring as these conventions may be, anything to goose it up a little bit would be wonderful. And Schwarzenegger is a star of the party. He runs the biggest state in the country and would be the ninth largest nation if it were a country.

WITT: Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Bush, they're not totally in step politically. The governor skews more moderately, doesn't he, particularly on social issues like abortion rights. Is that going to likely play poorly with the president's conservative base, though?

CRAWFORD: They might grumble a bit, Alex.

But I'll tell you, this guy is deeply loved throughout the party because of the future, the potential, the fund-raising skill and so on. At the California Republican Convention before the recall vote in California back in last fall, I remember a lot of conservatives flocking to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The star power there sort of trumps any concerns they have about his social positions.

WITT: OK, Craig, we're talking right now about electing a president. However, it seems, earlier this year, some members of Congress, they already attended the coronation of the messiah.

Yes, everybody, you heard right. At what was billed as an awards banquet to recognize ambassadors for peace, dozens of members of the House witnessed as one of the honorees, host of the ceremonies, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, in full silk and ermine, was literally crowned.

And yet, that is not the weirdest part. The Reverend Moon, who refers to himself as father and as the head of the Unification Church, probably best known for its mass Moony marriage ceremonies, in a speech following his coronation said that, in a vision, a reformed Adolf Hitler vouched for him, calling him - quote - "none other than humanity's savior, a messiah, returning lord and true parent."

Huh? Craig, that whole event took place three months ago. Why are we just hearing about this now?

CRAWFORD: You have got to wonder how this guy even gets through security at the airport, much less gets a crown on Capitol Hill.

It's all about money, Alex. This is somebody who can pump a lot of money into the system. He owns a newspaper in Washington, "The Washington Times," which is an alternative, a conservative alternative to "The Washington Post." And so a lot of politicians have grabbed on to his coattails.

This was a particularly amazing scene, though, not only crowning anybody in the seat of democracy, but someone like him, who, as a matter of fact, was convicted of tax fraud back in 1982. But the money makes a difference. Most of us write a letter to our congressman, we get a form letter back. This one gets a crown.

WITT: Yes, but, Craig, do you think these members of Congress, they're going, all right we're going to associate with him because he's a media mogul and they're not worried of the association being tainted?

CRAWFORD: You would think they would. The invitation that went out was clear that he was involved. The Washington Times Foundation sponsored it, which he owns. So I don't know how they weren't clear about what was happening, but that's been the case made by a lot of the congressmen who showed up later. They said they didn't realize he was going to be there because some of their constituents were being honored. I'm not really tracking that argument.

WITT: And you saw the invitation. It was quite clear what was going on here, right, in your eyes?

CRAWFORD: Sure. And I think a lot of this is - it happened sort of under the radar. It was way back last March. And this more recently has come up and been talked about.

But everybody holds their nose around Washington with Reverend Moon because he did buy the United Press International and "The Washington Times." And they try to do a credible job of what they do. But they're always tainted by him.


WITT: But you're talking about this going under the radar. Do you think there are going to be any repercussions here? I mean, we are talking about someone who calls himself the messiah in a Senate building?

CRAWFORD: Well, everyone who showed up there, was involved, like Norm Coleman, the senator from Minnesota elected to replace Paul Wellstone, they're all running for their lives away from it, saying they know nothing.

And no one has yet found out who authorized this event happening in a Senate office building. So it's a little tough to find the fingerprints now.

WITT: All right, Craig Crawford, colorful columnist for "The Congressional Quarterly." How did you like that alliteration?

CRAWFORD: I love it.

WITT: Thanks a lot for joining us tonight, Craig. Appreciate it.

CRAWFORD: Good to see you.

WITT: And you.

And, finally, in our weird tales of Washington file, the would-be senator whose alleged practice of taking his wife to sex clubs has cost him a president seat. Republican hopeful Jack Ryan withdrew from the Illinois senatorial race this afternoon after a week's worth of front-page stories detailing his divorce papers. In them, his ex-wife, Jeri Ryan, between known as Seven of Nine from "Star Trek," says he tried to get her to perform sex acts with him while others watched in sex clubs.

The peculiar world of politics making our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight. Up next, a community on edge as a notorious killer resurfaces three times in three months after a quarter century of silence. Then, later, it's official. Britney Spears is now firmly on schedule to bypass J.Lo when it comes to the art of easy engagement.

But, first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


MELVIN CALHOUN, PRETENDS TO BE A BULL FROG: Old bull frog sitting on lily pad getting ready to jump off.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Here is a promo for his appearance last night.


NARRATOR: Bill Clinton talks with Larry, answering whatever questions weren't already asked by Dan Rather, Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, "TIME" magazine, and National Public Radio, with questions like, where did the title of "My Life" come from, what's Oprah like, and where did you get that shirt?




WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went in there and I thought, oh, my God, there's our fruit cobbler which I hadn't seen in 3 ½ years. And I tried to avoid at least grabbing it with my hands. Chelsea and I, even more than Hillary, we really loved that fruit cobbler.




WITT: It's a flashback to fear for a small Kansas town.

In the '70s, Wichita was terrorized by a serial killer for several years. Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he vanished and wasn't heard from again for over 25 years.

In our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the BTK killer is back. In 1974, 15-year-old Charlie Otero came home from school and found his entire family brutally murdered. The killer later directed a local reporter to a note in the library. That note revealed his nom de plume, the BTK killer, for "bind, torture, kill."

He murdered at least seven people, tying their hands and feet with elaborate knots. Men, women, children, no one was safe. His last known victim was Nancy Fox in 1977. BTK himself called the police to that scene, then he simply disappeared. This past March, the killer resurfaced. An envelope with the return address of Brian Thomas Killman (ph), BTK, was mailed to the local paper.

Inside were images of the body of Vicki Wegerle, strangled to death in 1996, as well as a copy of her driver's license. Until then, police had not linked BTK to her murder. Today, two more communications from BTK were authenticated. Police received a letter earlier this month that details the murders of the Otero family. And in May, another was sent to a Kansas television station.

Joining us now, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.

Good evening, Clint.


WITT: Here we have a serial killer who has apparently been completely dormant for nearly a quarter of a century. Where has he been? Why has he come back now?

VAN ZANDT: This guy is all over the map, the time he was doing this, Alex.

We've got somebody, he strangles his victims. He shoots them. He stabs them. He kills men, women, and children. And then he drops off the map. This guy didn't just fall off the turnip truck. He's been somewhere.

The question is, has he been in jail? Has he been institutionalized? Or, unlike other serial killers, was he able to kind of suck in this terrible instinct and live within the community and now he's coming back again because he wants fame? And some things have probably happened in his life that makes him want to be known at this point.

WITT: So, Clint, if he's looking for publicity, is it wise for us to be giving him what he wants?

VAN ZANDT: Well, I think so, because I would rather see this guy talking to us and writing to us, than going out and doing something else.

Some people say, wait a minute, the guy is 55 or 60 years old. Well, so am I, Alex. We can still be a threat at that age. And I don't want to minimize this guy, but he is a threat. He has killed. He can do it again. But while he's writing, he's not killing. So keep those cards and letters coming in, BTK.

WITT: Clint, there were several people who came face to face with the killer. He spared the children of one of his victims. He failed to kill another. He was also spotted by a postal clerk. So what do we know about this guy that might help us identify him?

VAN ZANDT: Well, we've had him described as somewhere between - right now, he's probably somewhere between 5'9" and 6 foot. He's probably about 55 to 60 years old. He's a white guy, maybe - probably very thinning blond hair. He has a gap between his front teeth.

And this is someone who would follow this story very close over the years. And recently, he would really, really be interested. Now, of course, we're talking about everyone in Wichita, Kansas, who's interested. But now we have to take the physical description, see who was back in Wichita at that time and see who has this tremendous interest and where has this guy been all these years?

But something in this guy, Alex, he stood up and he said, hey, here I am. I want to be remembered. And he's doing everything he can to make us remember who he is and what he did.

WITT: Clint, you mentioned Wichita. I know you recently gave a speech in that city. How is the community handling this news that BTK is back?

VAN ZANDT: I'll tell you what. I've talked to people there, Alex, who are just absolutely frightened. They talk about sleeping with guns next to their bed. They're locking doors. They're afraid for their family.

BTK used to cut the telephone lines. People come in the house and check their phones to make sure the work. This is a frightened community.

WITT: A frightened community, but we're glad that you're to help us through it. Clint Van Zandt, thanks so much. Appreciate your time.

VAN ZANDT: Thank you.

WITT: And now from the scary headlines of our No. 2 story to the banner headlines of the world of tabloids.

This just in - well, it wasn't really just in. I wanted to give our next story a sense of urgency. We have an update on the "Playgirl" magazine survey to determine which news anchor, in the opinion of their readers, is the absolute sexiest. Out of 18 guys in the running, the host of this show, Keith Olbermann, is a close second behind Sean Hannity.

And which anchors has Keith beat out so far? Well, the competition has been very stiff, but right now, Keith is ahead of such stud muffins as Andy Rooney, Wolf Blitzer and Geraldo.

You only have days left to vote, people. Give Keith a welcome back present next week. You go to to register your vote for Keith.

Whoops, she's doing it again. Britney Spears is getting married, and this time to her dancer boyfriend, Kevin Federline. "People magazine" reports that the two are engaged and Spears' publicist and record label have confirmed this. The engagement came as a surprise to many, except for the fact that recently Britney has had to spend a lot of time off her feet after knee injury forced her to cancel her summer tour.

No date has been set for their nuptials, nor for their annulment, for that matter. But there are rumors that the couple have booked a room in Vegas for the happy and semi-annual event.

Up next, one tawdry affair, two very different views of it.


WITT: And so we arrive at the end of a week where the headlines and hype have been dominated by just one person, presidential author Bill Clinton, making him and his autobiography a natural fit for our top story tonight.

Only, we at the COUNTDOWN are curious. Is there more than one book? Why, we ask, would "The New York Times" review the same book twice? And how, we ask, could they be so dramatically different? The first review calls the Clinton book sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull. Ouch.

But days later, someone else deems it the richest American presidential autobiography, calling Clinton a much better writer than Reagan, Ford, Nixon or LBJ.

Well, we looked into this. At nearly 1,000 pages, "My Life" could have been three or four books, but Mr. Clinton did in fact write only one. We're told it's not unusual for "The Times" to publish two reviews of the same book, one in the daily paper, the other in the Sunday book review section.

Once we get going, hard to get us to stop. We're also puzzled about whether Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had the same relationship. Today, we heard from Ms. Lewinsky for the first time since Mr. Clinton embarked on his book-selling media blitz. And to us, it sounds like the former paramours are speaking the language of love in different tongues.

You'll recall, the former president told Dan Rather he had an affair with the former intern - quote - "just because I could." But in an interview on British television tonight for which she may have been paid, Monica disputes that - quote - "I was really upset when I first heard it. It was because he wanted to. If it was something he did because he could, why call me, why fake all the emotions? This is a mutual relationship, from the way it started to all the way through."

Does that sound like the same relationship to you?

Here to help us sort it out tonight, Dr. Mark Goulston, a couples therapist and career coach for Sherwood Solutions in Los Angeles.

Dr. Goulston, thanks for joining us on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Is what we're hearing from Clinton and Lewinsky this classic relationship disconnect, a "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" kind of thing?

GOULSTON: Absolutely.

Why should they be any different than husbands and wives who are on different wavelengths? I think what was going on with Clinton is that he needed someone to keep his adrenaline running. And I think the adoration of a wide-eyed young girl, certainly something he wasn't probably getting at home from Hillary, is something that was very seductive to him.

Also, to have a crush on one of the most powerful and charming people in the world and have them respond to you was certainly something that sort of stoked her fire, too. I think many people are looking at the book because they want to know what he was thinking. And I think one of the answers is, he wasn't thinking anything.

When men get stressed, they can still stay focused on what they need to. But when it crosses over to being distressed, they focus on relief, something that will give them a way to get out.

WITT: All right, Dr. Goulston, I want to pause for a second to hear what President Clinton had to say about Ms. Lewinsky in an interview with Katie Couric. Let's listen.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's a really intelligent person and a fundamentally good person. And what I hope is that she will not be sort of trapped in what Andy Warhol referred to as everyone's 15 minutes of fame.

KATIE COURIC, HOST: Do you think she will be, though?

CLINTON: I don't know. I'm pulling for her. It's just a choice she'll have to make.


WITT: Now, let's compare that to what Monica Lewinsky said - quote -

· "I spent the past several years working so hard just to move on and to try and build a life for myself."

Dr. Goulston, it sounds like they're saying the same thing, but do Ms. Lewinsky's actions back that up? Now, money may have been a huge factor here, but I'm going to ask this anyway. If she wants to move on, why speak at all at this point?

GOULSTON: Well, we see in all the reality shows and probably their affair was one of the biggest reality shows of the last decade, when you are suddenly a somebody, not for any talents you have, but for some notoriety, and you go back to being anybody, it's the same as feeling nobody.

And I think that's why we're having mixed feelings about this. We can be sympathetic when she was a young intern, but now this is several years later and it's tough to believe that her motives are pure.

WITT: So what she's saying, she's telling a British newspaper that, even after years of therapy, she's still tormented by this affair, all the publicity. You're saying some women never get over traumatic young love? Could this be the case with Monica?

GOULSTON: I think men and women often never get past the peak in their lives. And I think what President Clinton is saying, he hopes that she'll move on to a regular life, as opposed to just having this as her only memory.

WITT: All right, Doctor Mark Goulston, our thanks for your time tonight here on the COUNTDOWN.


WITT: And that's it for the Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.

I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. He's going to be back here on Monday. Meantime, have yourselves a great weekend.

Here we go. Batter up. Strike.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 24

Guests: Robin Wright, Bernard Parks, David Sterritt, Brian Cooley, Mickey Sherman


ALEX WITT, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Six days and counting: massive fatalities from coordinated bombings in multiple Iraqi cities. Less than a week from the handover, the heightened terror in Iraq as insurgents increase their efforts to sabotage the transfer of power.

Shades of Rodney King: 13 years after this police beating tore a city apart, this violent footage puts the LAPD back under the microscope.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know this to be true. I got a kid myself.

Pregnant women are crazy and it's all - you know.

WITT:... Yesterday juror No. 5 in the Laci Peterson trial gets his walking paper. Today the question: does a jury of your peers mean everyone gets one of these guys?

And the great ape escape: Plan A "Bokito" (ph), the German gorilla makes a mad dash from the Berlin Zoo, but one tranquilizer dart later, it's time for Plan B. How about a seat on that bench?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: Good evening. Welcome to COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt in for Keith, tonight. It looked, for all the world, like early April. Police stations overrun, the shells of bombed out cars lit egg the streets and hospitals overwhelmed by the dead.

But, it was not two months ago, it was today. Six days before the handover of power. Six days before Iraqis are slated to take control of Iraq and there is no turning back the clock. At No. 5 tonight, will it be any different next week? The analysis in a moment, but first the recap of the day's violence.

In the northern city of Mosul, it was a series of car bombs that dealt the damage. Targeting several police stations, blasts killed upwards of 40 people, but the violence had an especially threatening edge in the city of Baqouba where over 100 insurgents attempted to seize control of the city attacking police stations and government buildings in a dawn assault.

And the familiar hot spot of Fallujah flared up again today. Marines and insurgents fighting it out in the streets for the first time since late April. In all, it's estimated that nearly 100 people were killed today, including three American soldiers.

And while the attacks wreaked havoc on a wide swath of Iraq, there was one man who claimed to be at the controls. Communicating again by the Internet, the Jordanian-born terrorist, Abu al-Zarqawi said he and his group had masterminded the violence.

Figuring out just how true that is could prove vital to the fight against terrorists in Iraq. And as Andrea Mitchell reports, it's a fight that top military commanders now admit they were not fully prepared for.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today's deadly attacks, the most coordinated since Saddam Hussein's fall. Dramatic evidence, according to U.N. intelligence of Zarqawi's command and control. And the dangerous alliance he's forged with pro-Saddam insurgents.

Today, General George Casey, named to be the new commander of coalition forces in Iraq, acknowledged that the Pentagon did not expect such a violent uprising.

_SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What do you think's gone wrong? _

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, COALITION FORCES: I think the insurgency is much stronger than I certainly would have anticipated.

MITCHELL: U.S. intelligence now blame Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, including some from al-Qaeda, for an appalling death toll, more than 1,000 killed since August. He is the target of an intense U.S. manhunt, including two air strikes this week on safe houses he's been known to use in Fallujah, but he's very hard to find. He never uses electronic communications.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DPTY. DIR. COALITION OPERATIONS: We constantly are developing intelligence, constantly conducting operations to find him.

MITCHELL: How does Zarqawi keep springing his surprises on coalition forces? The U.S. says he is working closely with top intelligence officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, possibly Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri No. 6 (sic) in the deck of cards, still at large.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, Iraq EXPERT: The tight coordination here, suggests a small group of has a very clear chain of command.

MITCHELL: Al-Duri may have thousands of foot soldiers, former Saddam troop permitted to go home with their weapons last year. That is now widely viewed as a major mistake by coalition administrator, Paul Bremer.

The clear aim of the escalating violence, to create even more chaos as the handover approaches and afterward.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This is all done to intimidate Iraqi people from getting involved in supporting this new government and giving this new government the capacity to govern.


WITT: And that was Andrea Mitchell reporting there. The hostile fire wasn't just flying in Iraq today. Just days before the start of a much anticipated NATO summit in Turkey, explosions rattled the capital city of Ankara and the city of Istanbul. Authorities believe one bomb may have exploded early when it took out this bus traveling just five miles from where next week's summit will take place. But the blast, which authorities suspect was the work of a radical Marxist group, still killed four people.

In Ankara, three people were injured when a package bomb exploded outside of a luxury hotel. The very hotel where President Bush is expected to stay this weekend. And while security concerns are sure to put world leaders on eggshells at next week's NATO summit, they'll also have the delicate issue of Iraqi security to contend with.

Joining to us talk about today's highly coordinated attacks could affect the handover is Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the "Washington Post" and author of "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam."

Robin, great to have you on the show tonight, thanks for joining us.

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Nice to be with you.

WITT: We have been warned repeatedly, it could get worse in the ramp up to June 30. Does it get any better on July 1?

WRIGHT: Not necessarily. I think there's a strong belief in the United States that the insurgents will continue to attack the new Iraqi government, trying to undermine it, as well as American troops. The broader message is that the opposition wants the United States to withdraw, so it's not likely to lessen in the immediate aftermath at the end of the occupation.

WITT: Robin, the victims of today's violence, once again overwhelmingly Iraqi citizens. But, this week there was another high-profile beheading of a foreigner, a South Korean worker. How deeply do you think those brutal acts of violence rattle our allies?

WRIGHT: Well, terrorism is a psychological weapon and this is likely to challenge many of the foreign governments that have a major military presence in Iraq or even a small presence in Iraq. But, it's also likely to make it more unpopular for those governments to continue to have a long term military presence in Iraq. So, it plays to the immediate public attitude, as well as the domestic politics back home in many of these countries.

WITT: And now the United Nations has agreed to endorse the new Iraqi interim government. There's at least this veneer of international support. Does that do anything at all to quell the insurgency, do you think?

WRIGHT: Well, for the short term, I think it will help. The fact is that there's a new poll out that shows that among the Iraqis, there is very strong support for this new government and that will play well in the international community. How long that honeymoon will last is still to be determined, but compared with the previous Iraqi Governing Council which had only about one out of every four support, four out of five Iraqis now believe the new Iraqi government is going to improve conditions and will have the support of the majority of Iraqis.

WITT: Our focus shifted to Turkey today, because of the bombings there in that country, and of course, that is where President Bush, of course, he's headed next week to the NATO summit. There doesn't seem to be any hope of getting new troop commitments out of that summit, so what is the administration's goal going into that meeting?

WRIGHT: Well, I think that the United States is hoping that at the last minute, NATO members will provide some kind of peripheral support for the mission in Iraq. Perhaps provide training for the new Iraqi army and police. Perhaps contribute small contingents to protect the new U.N. aide workers and election workers who will go in to oversee the next phase of the Iraqi transition, which is really critical.

Everyone thinks June 30 is the end of the occupation, the end of the transition and really, it's the beginning for Iraqis, the bigger part of the transition. And so the NATO commitment for this next phase is really critical. And there's increasing optimism among some in the Bush administration that they will get some small commitment.

WITT: All right. Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the "Washington Post," many thanks for you time tonight. We appreciate it.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

WITT: And joining us now for the military angle on today's attacks, is retired Army General, NBC News military analyst, Wayne Downing.

General Downing, welcome to the show. It's nice to have you, sir.

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thanks, Alex, nice to be here.

WITT: Let's talk, sir, about who we are actually fighting here. Last night on "Hardball," the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said that he thinks we're essentially fighting the same guys we were battling a year ago. Let's take a listen.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It's not an insurgency, an insurgency implies something that rose up afterwards. This is the same enemy that butchered Iraqis for 35 years, that fought us up until the fall of Baghdad and continues to fight afterwards.

It's not an insurgency in the sense of an uprising. It is a continuation of the war by people who never quit.


WITT: What do you think, General? Is it the same people or has the insurgency become a lot broader than that?

DOWNING: Well, I think it is strengthened and it is certainly broadened, Alex. I mean, I think the interdiction Zarqawi, although he has in Iraq, the influx now of his foreign fighters have given a lot of impetus and a lot of spirit to this insurrection, and it definitely is an insurgency. I don't think you can say anything other than that, Alex.

WITT: But you look at this one Iraqi city that we saw today where the

insurgents were seen wearing the headbands, bearing the name Abu al-

Zarqawi's group. Is he indeed the mastermind behind all of these attacks -

· this appearance of coordination today?

DOWNING: Well, I'm not sure how in control he is, Alex. He certainly, though - his past history, he has the great capability of working with a variety of very, very different Islamic jihadist group and bringing them together. So, he may well be playing a very, very important role. Is he orchestrating at all? Does he have the exact command and control? I doubt it.

I think what we're seeing here, and what the thrust of your program has been so far, is there's a wide range of groups, three, four, maybe five different groups, they're working together, loosely coordinated and Zarqawi may well be the catalyst to bring all this together.

And, this is where I really have to differ with what Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday. This truly has taken on a completely different complexion and is certainly much more widespread than it was a year ago.

WITT: General, let's look ahead to next week. What happens then? The U.S. military already has some disputes with Iraqi police, so who's going to be calling the shots?

DOWNING: Well, I think the U.S. military and coalition are going to continue to call the shots as far as their military operations. They're going to try to coordinate those with the Iraqis, they're going to have to do that. You're going to have to expect that there will be disputes. I'm sure that there are going to be these kinds of things.

And I also - you know, the thrust of Robin Wright's comments. This insurrection's going to continue. There may a pause after June 30, just as they regroup the insurgents. But, they're going to come on strong. They're going to try to destroy this interim government, demoralize it, make it lose - you know, the confident of the Iraqi people.

And as long as we have this kind of a security situation, Alex, the U.S. and coalition forces are going to have to be very, very heavily involved in reinforcing the Iraqi security forces.

WITT: All right General Wayne Downing, as always, sir, we appreciate your insights. Thank you very much.

DOWNING: Yes, thanks Alex.

WITT: And finally, words of disbelief from the woman who may know the Jordanian-born terrorist, Abu al-Zarqawi, best. In an interview with the paper in Amman, Zarqawi's first wife insisted that her husband was not a terrorist but instead, quote, "a friendly and a good man." Qualities that apparently didn't stop him from slitting the throat of a captured hostage or speculating on the comparative tastiness of Iraqi and American flesh. 1999 was the last time Zarqawi saw his wife, I guess a lot can happen in five years.

COUNTDOWN underway with our fifth story, tonight: coordinated terror. Up next, deja vu on the streets of Los Angeles: an unarmed black man, a group of white police officers, and a beating caught on camera.

Then later, separating the spin: how much of Michael Moore's latest movie is fact and how much is fiction? COUNTDOWN's search for the truth coming up.


WITT: ""Rodney Kingesque"," the words of a Los Angeles police

official and our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight. It is next, stand



WITT: Police chases are a common occurrence in Los Angeles, a veritable nightly fixture on the local newscasts, not to mention this one. They average several hundred a year, but our No. 4 story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight, the arguably more rare occurrence when they end like this.

Thirty-six-year-old Stanley Miller behind the wheel of a stolen Toyota Camry was spotted by LAPD officers around 5:30 yesterday morning. They pursued the suspected car thief for more than 30 minutes before he bolted from that car, eventually surrendering, raising his arms and beginning to get on his knees, when he was subdued.

And then this happens, one of the offers identified as 35-year-old John Hatfield appears to kick Miller in the head and repeatedly beat him with a flashlight. He was treated for minor injuries and is currently being held on suspicion of grand theft auto.

Both the LAPD and FBI have launched investigations and all officers involved have been placed on administrative assignment. But ultimately, Stanley Miller was unarmed and the incident has prompted the highest ranking African-American LAPD official to describe it as "Rodney Kingesque." But will this echo one of the ugliest periods in that city's history?

I'm joined now by councilman Bernard Parks, he held the post of Los Angeles Police Chief from 1997 to 2002. He is now running for mayor of that city.

Councilman Parks, good afternoon, sir.


WITT: I'm well, thanks, I hope you are too. And you have seen this tape. The suspect seemed pretty much subdued before the third officer came in. What was your impression?

PARKS: My impression was exactly what you stated, that it appeared that the two officers that initially made contact with the suspect had him subdued. It's unclear as to what the kicking motion was initially, but it's certainly very clear of the striking motions that appear to be well after the suspect was down and not being aggressive.

WITT: Councilman, Deputy Police Chief Earl Paysinger described the incident as "Rodney Kingesque." Do you think that assessment is fair?

PARKS: Well, I think to some degree, I think what you find, if I understand the statement, is that you have something on videotape, what basically in this community, that people believe that validates a variety of things that have gone uninvestigated or they believe are issues that are ongoing. And they don't believe that this is an aberration, what they will tell you is they think it is a routine occurrence. And so this videotape, much like Rodney King, validates, in many people's mind, that there are still problems within LAPD.

WITT: So, you're staying people of Los Angeles believe that the only reason we know about this one is because it was caught on videotape?

PARKS: I think to some degree, you'll have some parts of the population that will believe that, that this is the evidence that validates many instances in which cases have been investigated and came to no conclusion, or that they believe that these officers within the department, are on a routine basis, mistreating the public.

And I think you have that level of review from one side and then you have the other side that would believe that the person, had he not run and been pursued, that none of this would happen. So you have those extreme views in one city.

WITT: Chief Bratton speaking this evening about this case, promising a, quote, "transparent investigation." In your experience, how should it be handled?

PARKS: I think it should be handled as quickly as possible, that it should be given sufficient resources, both inside and outside the department, to be working hand in hand with the district attorney or the U.S. attorney, whoever is invited themselves in.

But clearly, the district attorney, as the primary reviewer of those investigations, this should be done quickly and openly to where the public is fully aware of every step and brought to a conclusion so that the public will - can make a determination of just how fair and accurate and thorough the investigation was done.

WITT: And as a result of that investigation, sir, do you believe charge will be filed?

PARKS: You know, I don't know. That's the toughest part of this. The district attorney is going to have to determine, by looking at the actions of the officer, at what point did physical force go from in policy to out of policy and then when did it become criminal. And that was a similar discussion with the Rodney King - what point, what strike of the baton, what strike of the flashlight, where is it that it becomes an illegal act? And that's going to be toughest part for the district attorney to make that determination.

So, I would not want to project what the D.A. is going to do. I think they're going to have evaluate this. And then there's also the assessment of all of the witness statements and to where they get a complete investigation, And so I don't believe that you can jump to the conclusion of a filing before that's completed.

WITT: Former L.A. police chief, now current contender for mayor of that city. Councilman Bernard Parks, thank you for joining us tonight, sir, we appreciate it.

PARKS: Thank you, Alex.

WITT: Two down, three stories to go on COUNTDOWN. But first, a short detour into the tales of the absurd, like seeing there running around. "Oddball" is next.

And later, the controversial call that put one of America's best tennis players out of Wimbledon. That's coming up on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann. And we pause the COUNTDOWN now, for our nightly trip into the strange world of man and animal in the bizarre things that happen when those two worlds collide. Let's play "Oddball."

We start at the Berlin Zoo in Germany where "Bokito" the gorilla lives there. That's Bokito, there caught on armature video strolling down the zoo's main promenade mingling with the tourists. Oh, my god! Run for your lives!

No one was injured. It seems Bokito just wanted to go for a walk. The 260 pound silver-back gorilla had scaled the 15-foot glass wall of his enclosure and wandered around the zoo for a while as terrified visitors scrambled away. Two zookeepers caught up to Bokito and calmly walked him over to a park bench where Bokito sat for a while and thought about all the trouble that he had caused.

To South Hill, Washington and the first annual running of the Rottweilers. This home near Spokane has been overrun with puppies after the family dog gave birth to a litter of 19. Two did not make it, but the remaining 17 little furballs are just a bundle of joy for the family who is looking for possible adopters. And if all goes well, these little guys could be protecting junk yards and malling trespassers all around this country.

Finally tonight, scientists around the world are turning their attention to a young boy born in Germany with a rare genetic mutation that caused him to come out of the womb literally muscle bound. The mutation actually blocks the gene that limits muscle tissue growth so the young boy developed large strong muscles in the womb and has continued to get bigger and stronger since.

So far there's only these pictures of the baby, now four and a half years old, but we have an artist's rendering of what he might look like when he grows up. We can only hope that he'll use his super powers for good and not evil.

Back to COUNTDOWN and our third story tonight: telling the truth or twisting it? An appraisal of "Fahrenheit 9/11," next.

Then later, just what was he thinking? How juror No. 5's comment about pregnant women seems to justify his dismissal from the Scott Peterson case. But first, here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day:

No. 3: Joseph Freer, the assistant manager of a sporting goods store in Binghamton, New York. Freer's been charged with fourth degree arson after a fire that he set in that store, spread out of control and ended up shutting down an entire shopping mall for the day. Police say Freer was trying to kill a spider in the storage room by spraying it with a flammable substance and lighting on it fire. Oops!

No. 2: John Edgell, the man facing the lawsuit from Governor Schwarzenegger over the "Governator" bobble head doll has responded to the lawsuit by commissioning a new bobble head, the "Gropenator."

And No. 1: Judge Donald D. Thompson of Creek County, Oklahoma. He's been removed from the bench after numerous complaints that while in court, he was doing some strange things, quote "Under his robe." The attorney general charges Thompson was - well, pleasuring himself on the bench and witnesses report he used a variety of oils, had shaven on the bench, and was using what can only be described as a male enhancement pump on the bench, during trials. Wow!


WITT: In the political arena, leaks may happen routinely, but there was nothing routine about last year's leak blowing the identity of a CIA secret agent whose husband had been critical of the White House.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, plugging the leaks in politics. Only three weeks ago, President Bush put a lawyer on standby in case he would be questioned in the investigation of the CIA leak. Today, that lawyer had to report for duty by the president's side at the White House, as Mr. Bush answered questions in a criminal matter, something few presidents have ever done.

David Gregory is at the White House - David.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alex, in addition to the leak, NBC News has learned tonight that the inquiry is also now focused on whether anyone has lied to investigators.

(voice-over): The leak investigation has now reached the highest levels of the White House. Today, aides say the president met for more than an hour starting at 10:25 this morning with the special prosecutor investigating the leak, Patrick Fitzgerald, and a number of his deputies. Also present was Mr. Bush's recently retained private lawyer.

Officials would not disclose what Fitzgerald asked the president, but experts say a likely topic is what the president learned after the leak.

LAWRENCE BARCELLA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: One of the things that I'm sure Fitzgerald is incredibly interested is in what conversations were there at the White House afterwards about who may have been responsible for the leak, what the motivation may have been for the leak.

GREGORY: The president was not under oath during today's rare interview conducted in lieu of an appearance before the grand jury. A number of White House officials, including the vice president and White House counsel, have been questioned about who leaked the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to the columnist Robert Novak, a federal crime.

Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has accused White House officials of leaking his wife's identity in retaliation for his criticism of the administration's handling of prewar intelligence.

(on camera): Aides say no one wants to get to the bottom of all this more than the president. Today's interview is a signal that perhaps the investigation is winding up or just reaching its most critical phase -



WITT: NBC's David Gregory, thanks.

A little more than a mile away at a speech to Georgetown University law students, Al Gore had questions of his own for President Bush. The former vice president may not have been as scathing or as sweaty as he was when he attacked Mr. Bush last month, but today, the new and improved Al Gore found the funny on a topic that could not be more serious, whether President Bush is intentionally misleading the American public about a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he actually believe in the linkage that he asserts, that would, by itself, in light of the available evidence, make him genuinely unfit to lead our nation's struggle against al Qaeda.


GORE: If they believed these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge of anything?


GORE: Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick.



WITT: Of course, you would have to go to the box office to find the most scathing criticism of the Bush administration, the Michael Moore documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" now playing in some cities, opening nationwide tomorrow. And there's not much Moore's conservative critics can do about it.

But if one conservative group has its ways, commercials for the film will soon be off the air, the group today asking a government agency to ban the ads on the grounds that they run afoul of federal campaign laws, an argument that naturally Michael Moore disputes.


MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR: I have not publicly endorsed John Kerry. I am an independent. I am not a member of the Democratic Party. So for them to try and remove my ads from the television because I want people to come see my movie, it is a blatant attempt on the part of a right-wing Republican sponsored group to stop people from seeing my movie.


WITT: Now, few would dispute that Moore's movies can be highly entertaining. But does he play fast and loose with the facts?

Joining us now is David Sterritt, film critic for "The Christian Science Monitor."

David, thank you for your time tonight.

DAVID STERRITT, FILM CRITIC: It's good to be here.

WITT: Is this a movie with an agenda? And if it is, does agenda necessarily mean inaccurate?

STERRITT: Well, every Michael Moore movie has an agenda. He is an agenda-driven guy. And he is always very open about that agenda.

One thing I think that even his severest critics would have to go along with is the idea that you know where he's coming from and you always know pretty much what he's aiming at and the message that he's trying to get across. And having an agenda doesn't necessarily mean that you're accurate or inaccurate. Having an agenda just means that there's some particular point of view that you want to get across, certain ideas that you want to pitch.

They may be right or wrong. And, obviously, in the present case, we have a lot of people with a lot of different ideas on both sides of the issues that Moore is discussing in this movie. So, to answer your question, having an agenda does not mean automatically being accurate or automatically not being inaccurate.

WITT: OK, David, Moore is not a journalist. He is a filmmaker, after all. So, should he be held to the same standards?

STERRITT: Well, I think that what he really is, is a commentator. He is kind of the movie equivalent of an op-ed writer.

Again, he is always giving his point of view. And of course he writes as if he knows the truth about everything and he directs his movies as if he knows the truth about everything. So, in that way, he is a journalist, but a journalist in the commentator sense, in the op-ed writer sort of sense.

WITT: OK, what about the label of documentary? Is that the correct one for a film like this?

STERRITT: I can't see what other label it would have. It's a term that even a lot of documentary makers don't like anymore. They prefer to think of their work as nonfiction films and they wish people would use that category.

And, of course, Michael Moore is coming from a very specific place and he's selective what he shows us. And he's ordered it. And he has given his voice-overs and all of that to sort of put everything into his perspective. But, still, what else would you call that but nonfiction? In the same sense that a book by Michael Moore is going to be sold in the nonfiction section of a bookstore, just as a book by Ann Coulter is going to be sold in the nonfiction section of a bookstore.

WITT: And, David, in the end of all this, how much does it really matter? Because Bush's supporters, they're unlikely to go to this movie. Those who do see it are unlikely to vote for Mr. Bush.

STERRITT: Well, I hope that people go to see this movie in a spirit of curiosity. And believe me, they're free to disagree with it. They're free to argue with it. They're free to have it reinforce their own ideas that may be exactly the opposite of Michael Moore's.

There are times when I was watching the movie when I felt I was being sort of - he was out to scare me more than to enlighten me. There's a whole lot of talk about the tremendous amount of Saudi investment in the United States and the Bush family actually did business with the bin Laden family and so forth. And there wasn't really enough detail or enough supporting evidence for me to be sure that this all meant what he was implying it meant.

So I'm a little bit skeptical about some things in this movie. And there's a whole section in the last part of it when he's having a long conversation with a woman whose son was killed in Iraq where I thought he was trying to tug too much at my heartstrings.

WITT: Interesting.

STERRITT: Yes, I think it's a movie people will have fun agreeing with and disagreeing with.

WITT: All right. Film Critic David Sterritt of "The Christian Science Monitor," we thank you for your insights tonight. Appreciate it.

An unusual apology tonight from the second in command at the Pentagon. In an open letter to journalists in Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says he is sorry for remarks he made to Congress earlier this week in which he said, journalists are - quote - "afraid to travel, so they sit in Baghdad publishing rumors instead of positive stories."

Today, Wolfowitz made note of the 34 journalists who have died in Iraq, commending all journalists for their professionalism, dedication and courage.

To a situation the COUNTDOWN is fairly certain General Henry M. Robert of Robert's Rules of Order never anticipated, Vice President Dick Cheney getting ready to rumble on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Cheney confronted Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont yesterday, incensed about Leahy's criticism of Halliburton, the oil conglomerate and Iraqi contractor company Mr. Cheney used to run.

COUNTDOWN's artistic rendering of the confrontation here, looking something like this. That's because Democrats who were there tell NBC News, one of the words used by Cheney was four letters long, beginning with F. In a statement, the vice president's spokesman said - quote - "That doesn't sound like language that the vice president would use, but I can confirm there was a frank exchange of views."

Sources say Leahy's response was, "The vice president must be having a bad day."

That shuts up our third story tonight, politics, proof-checking and profanity.

Coming up, you've got spam, 92 million of you, apparently, thanks to an ex-employee of American Online. That story next on COUNTDOWN.

Then later, get ready for Moammar the musical. And we're not kidding.

That disquieting story still ahead.

But, first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


MELVIN CALHOUN, PRETENDS HE'S A TRUCK: Feel like a truck. Hit third gear, like I'm driving a truck, you know?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, we've got to make sure that broadband access is affordable. Thirdly, we want to help consumers find more ways to obtain affordable broadband access. I just told you that. I told it to you again.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Conan, that book signing, it was amazing, just amazing!


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, thanks to my strict policy. Check it out.

O'BRIEN: Oh, let's see that right now. Oh, for God's sake.







WITT: Millions of screen names stolen and sold to purveyors of sex aids and online casinos. The spam scam next on COUNTDOWN.


WITT: In Nora Ephron's 1998 film, "You've Got Mail," perky Meg Ryan got even perkier when she found messages from Tom Hanks in her inbox. These days, she would have to slog through dozens of ads for everything from hair growth pills to horny goat weed before getting to the e-mail that matters.

In our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, if you think spamming is criminal, well, in some cases, it is. And today, a young man faces serious charges.

NBC's Anne Thompson has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got mail.

ANNE THOMPSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The take, 92 million screen names from AOL. The accused, 24-year-old Jason Smathers, in a federal court in Virginia today, charged with stealing those names from his now former employer and selling them to this Las Vegas man, who allegedly sold them to spammers. The result? AOL customers getting junk e-mail for a sexual aid and Internet gambling.

Rita Salam (ph), the mother of two teenagers, is fed up with spam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've switched Internet service providers no less than three times. And it basically has not done anything to increase our e-mail. If anything, I feel like our spam is increasing.

THOMPSON: But these e-mails could cost you more than your patience.

STEPHEN CURRIE, ANTI-SPAM TECHNICAL ALLIANCE: Not only is it annoying, but now, more and more, you're seeing spammers join with criminals to steal your identity.

THOMPSON: One scheme is called phishing, spelled with a P-H, where users respond to an e-mail they think is from a legitimate business and hand over their credit card and bank account numbers to spammers.

Spam was the vehicle for the So Big virus, the fastest spreading e-mail virus ever, infecting computers nationwide last summer. And now there's spam that can turn your computer into a zombie.

CURRIE: You'll see spammers hijacking consumers' machines, so that they can - they're actually using the customers, or consumers, to send out spam on their behalf.

THOMPSON (on camera): There are economic costs as well. An estimated 70 million American use e-mail at work. And given that one in every two e-mails is spam, researchers say all that junk is costing American businesses plenty.

PHEBE WATERFIELD, THE YANKEE GROUP: It costs the economy around $3.5 billion in lost productivity, using a very conservative figure of a couple of minutes a week reading and deleting spam.

THOMPSON (voice-over): An exploding problem for users trying to protect their identities, businesses trying to protect their customers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would never use any of this.

THOMPSON: And parents trying to protect their children.

Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.


WITT: If convicted, Jason Smathers could serve up to five years in prison and pay at least a quarter of a million dollars in fines, which clearly scared the dickens out of him outside the courthouse today.

Joining me now to talk about what, if anything, can be done to stop spam is Brian Cooley, editor at large of CNET.

Good evening, Brian.


WITT: We just heard the spam cost billions in lost productivity.

What other costs are associated with junk e-mail?

COOLEY: The companies that are getting hit with this stuff in the corporate environment, they're the ones that are paying so much. They have got to take on extra bandwidth, extra pipelines to bring all this volume in. They have to expand the servers that handle e-mail for their clients. They have got to put in anti-spam software. There's a bunch of money spent on what we call the back end of corporate America to control this stuff.

WITT: So, Brian, the Canned Spam Act, that requires bulk commercial e-mailers to include this opt-out function. It bans them from using false header info. What effect has this law had since it went into effect on January 1?

COOLEY: Let me quote from an attorney at the FTC who says: "Canned Spam is not going to solve the problem. Spam is going to rule our world in the near future." That was about two months ago at some hearings. That should tell you enough. Canned Spam is toothless.

WITT: All right, why can't these guys be traced back and shut down?

Isn't there technology to stop them?

COOLEY: It's a fairly technical question. But the ability to spoof and hide and fake where you're coming from is legendary among people who are in the spamming, hacking, virus, phishing community, as we call them. So it's very difficult. And you have got to find one egregious spammer to make it worth the resources. This, of course, is a case where we have a very egregious case.

_WITT: OK, Brian, so, overall, what can be done? Any advice from you? _

COOLEY: Here's the future, I'm afraid. E-mail is going to get less friendly. The big companies like Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, they're talking in the back rooms right now about how, in the future, e-mail, you may not receive an e-mail unless the person sending it you have given previous permission to, which is not the most convenient way to handle e-mail. But it is going to have to come down to that. Technology is never going to catch up with this. It has to become a permission grant system.

WITT: All right, we'll see if that happens.

Brian Cooley, editor at large of CNET, thanks a lot for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

COOLEY: You bet.

WITT: It is time now to plunge into the pool of celebrity gossip in a segment we like to call "Keeping Tabs."

First up, how do you beat Venus Williams at tennis. Get the chair umpire to play with you. Two-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams was eliminated today when she lost in straight sets to an unknown Croatian player named Karolina Sprem. Sprem's victory was helped along by chair umpire Ted Watts, who mistakenly awarded her an extra point in the final tie-breaker.

It was enough of a margin to send Venus packing at the earliest point in her career at Wimbledon since 1997. As for Karolina Sprem, she hopes to take on Serena Williams, the reigning champion, as soon as she can get the line judge on her side as well.

Let's see, when it comes to opera, there's "La Boheme," "The Barber of Seville," and of course the new classic "Jerry Springer: The Opera." And if you thought it couldn't get any more tawdry than this, brace yourself. Coming soon to an opera house near you, "Gadhafi: The Opera."

It seems the English National Opera has commissioned a work to be written by guitarist Chandra Sonic celebrating the life and crimes of none other than Moammar Gadhafi. Could this mean that an opera about Saddam Hussein be not far behind? And you thought Mel Brooks pulled off the impossible with "The Producers."

(singing): Springtime for Moammar and Libya.

Coming up, the pregnant comment that will make you pause and question the whole process of trial by jury.


WITT: And so to our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, juror No. 5. Dismissed from the Scott Peterson trial only one day ago, 28-year-old Justin Falconer is already raising questions about the trial and offering a rather startling peak behind the curtain of our judicial system. He's now free to talk about the case and his opinions both on it and, well, all things related.


JUSTIN FALCONER, FORMER SCOTT PETERSON JUROR: I know this to be true. I got a kid myself. Pregnant women are crazy. And so, you know, they one minute, one day can be pouch-ridden and not want to move. The very next day, they're up thinking they are fat and want to run a marathon.


WITT: In any other context, the statement perhaps merely guilty of poor taste or, dare I say, abject stupidity, and the statement he tried to retract this morning on "The Today Show."


FALCONER: I kind of wish I could take that back, because that's not how I feel. I don't think that all pregnant women are crazy. I was just referring to the behavior. And, on occasion, it could be - the differences can be pretty crazy. Just, like I said, they can be couch-ridden one day and not want to move. The next day, they want to go for walks or whatever.


WITT: But in a case where the victim is a pregnant woman, the defendant, her husband, on trial for her murder, perhaps this minor predisposition of thought seems a little more dangerous.

So how did he make the panel of 12 in the first place?

I'm joined now by criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman.

Mickey, good evening to you.


WITT: During the jury selection process for the Peterson case, we had two incidents of stealth jurors. They were screened out of the final 12. Did we see one make it in with this juror No. 5?

SHERMAN: That's two that we know about. And that's the problem here is, you don't know whether or not the other 11 sitting there are as kooky as this guy.

I'll tell you, I say hats off to Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, the jury picker, for finding this kooky guy for the defense. And I feel bad for Mark Geragos, because he is seeing what looks like a very definite not guilty go by the wayside.

WITT: Mickey, he's been off this case, this Falconer guy, he's been off for one day. He's been speaking volumes about the process already, how each side is handling their case, how he would have voted. Are you surprised by that? Should he be talking at all?


SHERMAN: I'm surprised that the judge didn't impose some type of order, whether it would have been legal or not, to say, don't open your mouth. I'm kind of surprised at that.

But you know who's to blame? It's us. We are responsible for the mediazation of people like this. This guy, his biggest moment in the sun before this was probably confiscating the nose clippers of somebody, because he's an airport screener. All of a sudden, he is besieged. He is being seduced by every booker, by every talent, by every person in the entire cable news and network world.

So you can't blame him for falling prey to it.

WITT: Yes, going for his 15 minutes of fame, clearly.

SHERMAN: He's getting 20 minutes out of this, at least.

WITT: Yes, 20.

Geragos asked for a mistrial. I mean, the case continues. But could Mr. Falconer, do you think, have caused any harm? Could the other jurors be affected by his departure now?

SHERMAN: No, and not to any extent that a judge would ever grant a mistrial.

Another thing on his behalf, I'll say, is, what's he been talking about? All he's been saying is that, well, he hasn't been convinced. So he's kind of standing up for the proposition that he believes in the presumption of innocence. Our problem is that, we shouldn't be hearing his viewpoints at this point.

WITT: Mickey, it seems like, in most of the high-profile trials lately, that we've had, we've had some sort of juror incident, whether it be with the Tyco trial, the Martha Stewart trial. Is this actually the norm, and should we be afraid of further juror tainting with this kind of behavior?

_SHERMAN: But what are we going to do?_

You know what's interesting, Alex? These are not televised trials.

So you can't say that it's like another O.J., where we made these jurors television stars. These are not televised trials. But the big case brings out the big nuts and it also brings out the big kooky jurors at some point.

The problem is - actually, maybe it's a good thing, is that sometimes there's kooky jurors on both sides. They're supposed to be a jury of their peers, a cross-section of the community, and that includes some pretty weird people at times.

WITT: So, Mickey, you know you've got 12 unbiased individuals, supposedly, a jury of peers. That's the ideal. Is it real life?

SHERMAN: It is real life.

And the idea is that you're not looking for - the biggest myth in the world is that the lawyers want people who are not prejudiced or who are not swayed to one side. I want people who are prejudiced towards my client. The state wants people who are prejudiced towards their state, or the government. And when you have that dynamic working, and if it works well, if both sides are equal, then you're going to find 12 people who are kind of in the middle.

WITT: Mickey, do you think there will be any kind of juror tainting or anything as a result of this at all?

SHERMAN: No, no. I think all it does is just sets the stage for the next 11 jurors or the next 12 jurors, when this case is over, to get their interviews on "The Today Show" and everyplace else.

WITT: Oh, my. I detect a note of cynicism right there.

SHERMAN: That's true.

WITT: Thank you so much, criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman.

SHERMAN: Pleasure.

WITT: Thanks for your time tonight.

And that is COUNTDOWN for this Thursday evening. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. Good night, everyone. I'll see you back here tomorrow night, so stay tuned.

That was a hit right there.