'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 23
Guest: Gabriel Weimann, Steve Coll, Gregg McCrary, David Vardy
ALEX WITT, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Web of terror: On an Islamic Web site, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's threat to kill the Iraqi prime minister. Tonight's Al Qaeda's online assault, from recruitment to fund-raising to broadcasting their gruesome murders. Why the Internet revolution may have spawned a revolution in terrorism.
"Imperial Hubris": The new book claiming we're losing the war on terror. We'll see an attack larger than the one on 9/11, and President Bush is taking America in the exactly path Osama bin Laden wants. The book's author, an anonymous senior official in the CIA. We'll talk to him tonight.
In his own words, you can read the 900-plus pages or you can hear it straight from the man himself.
KATIE COURIC, CO-ANCHOR, "TODAY": Do you feel sorry for Monica Lewinsky?
WITT: A candid one-on-one interview with President Clinton.
An initial public offering: Selling your virginity to the highest bidder? Meet the British teen - yep, this guy, auctioning his on the Internet.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
WITT: Good evening and welcome to COUNTDOWN, I'm Alex Witt sitting in for Keith tonight. If all goes as planned, this time next week Iraq will be governed by Iraqis. But as the U.S. prepares to hand over power, there's just one hitch in the plans, the prime minister slated to head up the new government is now a marked man. Like so many recent terrorist messages, the threat to Iyad Allawi's life came over the Internet and it came from a man who may be the most notorious terrorist operating in Iraq, Abu al-Zarqawi. But while the threat to the interim prime minister's life may be very real, it also has a distinctly virtual feel, delivered not from a cave or an underground hideout, but from the Internet.
At No. 5 tonight: How do you fight terrorism when it's hiding in cyberspace? When the information age began, we never could have imagined that death would visit us via the Web. But over the past month, terrorists from Saudi Arabia and Iraq have turned the Internet into their own public execution chamber, delivering the gruesome evidence of their crimes online. In a moment, we'll talk to an expert who monitors thousands of these Web sites, but first, with more on just how high-tech the terrorists have become, we go to Jim Maceda in London.
JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello Alex. Well, when militants used to want to make a point, they would send faxes or videotapes to international news agencies, but now al Qaeda is putting its graphic messages and images straight up on the Web with maximum effect.
(voice-over): In the quest for holy war by al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups, these are the latest weapons. Free Internet Web sites, chat rooms, CD burners, and DVD's. And this is the latest mission: The direct unfiltered dissemination of their terrorist message instantly to a world audience.
PAUL EADLE, INTERNET MEDIA ANALYST: Al Qaeda is as much media machine as military organization, so all of these messages are what they want the world to see.
MACEDA: Today, for instance, when the al Qaeda-linked Muslim extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened to assassinate Iraqi's new prime minister, he did so on an Islamic Web site. Over the past several weeks, other Islamist Web sites have been used to dramatically confirm the kidnappings and broadcast the gruesome executions of American victims like Nick Berg in Iraq and Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.
Counterintelligence sources say the militants are cleverly staying one step ahead of the law, even able to hijacking Web sites, like this one belonging to a Silicon Valley survey and mapping company to briefly upload its images of the captured Johnson.
Experts also believe that al Qaeda recruitment and planning via the Internet is on the rise worldwide.
NEIL DOYLE, COUNTER-TERRORISM EXPERT: They also distribute guerrilla warfare manuals. I've recently seen plans far a cyanide bomb as well, and this all takes place online.
MACEDA: But some analysts say al Qaeda's use of digital technology to spread their bloody message can backfire. Intelligence sources think that al Qaeda's former top operative in Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, was found and killed last week because of leads picked up by police experts on Web sites al-Muqrin used to show Johnson's execution.
JONATHAN PARIS, MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS ANALYST: Their desire to show their brutality may have led to the undoing of their leadership.
MACEDA: But high-tech tactic will likely continue, with al Qaeda able via the Internet and digital technology to rally their fellow extremists and frighten their enemies.
(on camera): And the bad news is that al Qaeda and others are only going to get better at hiding their trail as they master the tools of 21st century technology to spread their terror - Alex.
WITT: Jim Maceda in London, many thanks for that report.
And the Internet can be much more than just a soap box. In the hands of a sophisticated terrorist, it can also be a weapon. But as Jim Cummins reports, at one of the nation's nuclear labs, scientists are working hard to make sure that the threat of a cyber attack stays virtual.
JIM CUMMINS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost every day at the super secret Sandia labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, scientists report to work under wartime security.
(on camera): Sandia Laboratory has long been known as a place where scientists help build nuclear weapons. But now, some of them are concentrating their efforts on a new threat - cyber attacks on the power grid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a cyberterrorist, I just grabbed control of the system.
CUMMINS (voice-over): This is only a war game. Sandia scientists believe terrorists could cause a power outage, much like the one that affected 50 million people in the northeast and Midwest last year. The director of this project, Sam Varnado, says the problem is anybody can now attack control systems in the grid over the Internet.
DR. SAM VARNADO, SANDIA NATIONAL LABS: So now the control systems are being run over the Internet, you have more people accessing those signals now than you did when they were stand-alone control systems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That attack is taking down the power in the community.
CUMMINS: In a tiny lab, crammed with computers, Michael Scraw (ph) and his red team prowl the Internet, trying to hack power company systems, playing the role of terrorists to prepare for their attack.
(on camera): There goes the power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We attack systems to understand their vulnerabilities in order to improve them.
CUMMINS (voice-over): With a couple of key strokes on a laptop, the cyberterrorist is able to disrupt this substation and kill the power to this small city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the hacker has altered the message, causing a power shutdown.
CUMMINS (on camera): Causing a power shutdown.
(voice-over): Scraw (ph) says, unless a solution is found soon, it is only a matter of time before terrorists figure out a way to cripple the entire national power grid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think we have a little time, a little leeway to try to implement cyber security now before a cyber Pearl Harbor does occur. By the way, the software you're operating, the hacker software, is available freely on the Internet.
CUMMINS: That's why these scientists believe their new mission is so urgent.
Jim Cummins, NBC News, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
WITT: Joining us now to analyze how terrorists are using the Internet for their gain is Gabriel Weimann, an expert on terrorism and the mass media, and a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Professor Weimann, thank you for joining us tonight, we appreciate this.
GABRIEL WEIMANN, TERRORISM EXPERT: Good evening.
WITT: The Internet seems to be giving a lot of these terrorist groups a kind of independent media power. They can circulate gruesome video that TV stations refuse to air, by just posting it on the Web. Do you think, sir, they have effectively sidestepped the mainstream media now?
WEIMANN: Well, you see, the beauty of the Internet, the liberal character of the Internet, the free access, the speed, the equal rights medium, all this beauty is being actually abused by modern terrorism. Now more than that, terrorists knew, and learned now, that the Internet is the more efficient tool of communication. It's the best channel they can use. And moreover, they learn, and they know now, that the conventional media - let it be radio, television, and print, are scanning the Internet to download information they post there.
WITT: But, professor, what about the truth? The information age has also spawned a lot of erroneous information. For example, there is this one group that has become infamous for claiming responsibility for attacks they actually have nothing to do with. So of thousands terrorist Web sites, how can you tell who really is credible?
WEIMANN: Well, you have to live in that neighborhood. I lived like that for - it's a bad neighborhood, I must say, I lived there for seven years and you know to differentiate. You know to learn about the fingerprints, about the signature, about the style, about the rhetoric, about the graphics, and it becomes quite easy once you know them to differentiate between the false one, the fake one, and the authentic ones.
WITT: Can the widespread use of the Internet now also backfire? I mean, is the web now a valuable source of intelligence for those going after the terrorists?
WEIMANN: It's very clearly used like that. In a way, the Internet is abused now, both by terrorism and by counterterrorism, because intelligence agencies are monitoring the Internet, are monitoring all the traffic on the Internet, including private e-mail, of course, trying to track down any type of information that can lead to terrorism. Now it seems very clear that the Internet is a valuable source for intelligence purposes. You can learn about motives, about plans, about modes of attacks, about the people communicated, about the message that's sent. So sometimes it's very tempting not to hack those Web sites, to just let them go and just monitor them.
WITT: All right. Professor Gabriel Weimann, thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. We appreciate it.
WEIMANN: Thank you.
WITT: And while the terrorists prepare for the June 30 handover with threats of attacks, the White House prepares with ceremony. John Negroponte was sworn in today as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell administered the oath to the veteran State Department official who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In just one week, Mr. Negroponte will oversee what will be the largest U.S. embassy in the world. He is the first U.S. ambassador to be appointed in Iraq in nearly 14 years.
And accompanying today's well polished ceremony, came a new push from the White House to stem the tide of criticism over its handling of the prison abuse scandal. After weeks of memos leaking to the press, the Bush administration decided to take matters into its own hands, declassifying reams of internal documents, numbering over 250 pages. The declassified material includes a memo that seems to argue for the most extreme definition of torture. Written expressly for the president, the memo argues that in order for an interrogation technique to be considered to be torture, it must be, quote, "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, or even death." The Bush administration has since disavowed that memo saying that the Justice Department is now rewriting it.
In another memo, signed by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld approves the use of dogs, forced isolation for up to 30 days, and stress positions, such as standing. But he expresses some dissatisfaction with that last technique, writing in hand at the bottom of the memo, quote, "I stand for eight to 10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?"
COUNTDOWN opening up tonight with the war on terror and its connection to the World Wide Web. Up next, tonight's No. 4 story: A new book alleges the war on terror is playing right into Osama bin Laden's hands, the author, an anonymous senior official still working at the CIA. An interview with "Anonymous," up next.
And next, later Bill Clinton on his life and the life of Monica Lewinsky. Is he sorry for what happened to the young intern? Katie Couric puts that question to him and a whole lot more.
WITT: Up next, the senior official of the CIA goes undercover to write a book on the war on terror. It warns Americans to wake up, that Osama's winning, and an even bigger attack is on the way. Hear from "Anonymous" after this break.
WITT: Mention an author identified only as anonymous and most people think you're referring to political reporter Joe Klein and "Primary Colors," his fictional account of Bill Clinton's first campaign for president. But tonight, a new author wears the cloak of anonymity, and far from fiction. What he has to say couldn't be more frightening or more real. No. 4 on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Keeping score in the war on terror. In a new book, a senior CIA official whose identity cannot be revealed says the U.S. is losing the fight, waging the wrong war in the wrong place. Andrea Mitchell talks with the author.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For three years, he led the CIA's war against Osama bin Laden.
"ANONYMOUS," CIA, AUTHOR: I genuinely think that we have underestimated the scope of the enemy.
MITCHELL: A key secret witness to the 9/11 Commission, this active 22-year CIA veteran says the CIA is losing the war on terror, in part because of the war in Iraq, what he calls a dream come true for bin Laden.
ANONYMOUS: Bin Laden, I think, and al Qaeda and other of America's enemies in the Islamic world, certainly saw the invasion of Iraq as a, if you would, a Christmas gift they always wanted and never expected to get.
MITCHELL: After hearing his secret testimony, the 9/11 Commission said his earning warning about bin Laden, beginning in January of 1996 were not taken seriously.
CHRISTOPHER KOJM, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF: Employees in the unit told us they felt their zeal attracted ridicule from their peers.
MITCHELL: In a new book "Imperial Hubris," bound to stir controversy, the anonymous author says the U.S. is fighting a new war, against terrorists instead of against a new for of radical Islam. He even says, quote, "killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes."
(on camera): What do you say to those who say that your call for a war against Muslim people is really only going to make the situation worse?
ANONYMOUS: I wonder how much worse the situation can be.
MITCHELL: Even if it means civilian casualties?
ANONYMOUS: We should err on the side of protecting Americans first.
MITCHELL (voice-over): The conclusion of this veteran CIA man are already stirring controversy with former CIA colleagues.
REUEL MARC GERECHT, FMR. CIA MIDDLE EASTERN SPECIALIST: I think a serious damage has been done to al Qaeda, it's by no means dead, but I think the Bush administration can rightfully claim some credit.
MITCHELL (on camera): The CIA allowed "Anonymous" to write this book. He insists although he's been sidelined at the agency, he has no ax to grind.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
WITT: Here to talk about the book and its author is Steve Coll, managing editor of the "Washington Post" who has written extensively about "Anonymous."
Steve, thanks so much for your time, tonight.
STEVE COLL, "WASHINGTON POST": Alex, good to be with you.
WITT: Based on what we do know about the author, how credible is he?
COLL: Well, I think he's a credible counterterrorism professional. He's got 20 years of experience in the business. A lot of that has been spent concentrating on al Qaeda, in particular, and bin Laden. For three years, he was one of the most senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community looking at bin Laden, so he's a seasoned professional.
WITT: In comparison with his colleagues there at the CIA, are his views mainstream or not?
COLL: Some are more mainstream than others. He makes a whole series of arguments in this manuscript. They include, for instance, the idea that we rely too much on the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in fighting the war on terror, that's not an unusual view to hear in the counterterrorism community. In other areas, he talks about our dependency on Saudi oil and the need to move away from that, well that's a fairly mainstream view that you hear even John Kerry voice during the campaign. In other cases, he's a little more on his own. He argues, at one point in the book, for a total war against the terrorists and he emphasized the religious character of this war and those views, I think, are going to be received as more controversial and I don't think reflect a broad consensus in the intelligence community.
WITT: Steve, here's something that I find absolutely incredulous.
Why in the world would the CIA allow him to publish this book?
COLL: Well, I'm not sure they feel like they have any choice. Employees sign a contract giving up their right to disclose classified information, for sure, and they have to submit anything they publish for review, so that any classified information that the agency sees in the manuscript can be taken out, but they don't give up their right to free speech, and the agency, I believe, in this case thinks that if they refuse to let this book come out, refuse to let the guy talk about it, that they would be - I think they would be right in being accused of suppressing dissent in their own ranks about the war on terror, after all, the issues he's talking about are at the center of America's national debate about the war on terror, and here's a credible professional who wants to voice his opinions.
As he says in the book, he's not a policy maker, he's an intelligence analyst. He's worked most of his career at the center of bureaucracy. He voices his opinion somewhat reluctantly in the book. He says, this is just one guy's view based on long experience.
WITT: OK Steve, but then why do it? I mean is it a grudge? Is it an ego? Why write the book?
COLL: Well, I wouldn't speculate about his motivations, but I think if you look at what he says, taken at face value, he has a passionate view about these issues. He's lived with them for a long time, he was warning about bin Laden before 95 percent of Americans had heard bin Laden's name. He felt overlooked because of his warnings. He felt that he wasn't taken seriously at the time, that he saw something like September 11 coming. After September 11, he's retained a passion about the subject of al Qaeda and the danger it causes the United States and he wants to be heard.
WITT: All right. Steve Coll, managing editor of the "Washington Post". Thanks for your time this evening on COUNTDOWN, we appreciate it.
COLL: OK, Alex.
WITT: COUNTDOWN past our No. 4 story. Up next, the news that doesn't get a number but we just have to tell you anyway. "Oddball's" next and it turns out "birdbrain" may not be such a slam anymore.
And later a man with a fetish for stealing women's panties now finds himself a suspect in the disappearance of a young coed. Stand by.
WITT: I'm Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann. And we pause the COUNTDOWN now for our short nightly trip into the weird news and strange video that doesn't fit anywhere else in the show. Let's play "Oddball."
And we begin with your tax dollars in action. It's the third annual Congressional Hot Pepper Eating Contest. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California and Pete Sessions of Texas and Democrat Jim Matheson of Utah competed yesterday in the House office building to see just who could eat the most fiery hot jalapenos in three minutes. The jumbo hot peppers were especially developed at Texas A&M to be bigger and hotter. And in the end, it was a tie. Nine peppers each eaten by Issa and Sessions. Matheson only managed to eat six before he began hallucinating about a talking coyote and ran screaming from the room.
This next story is not a hallucination and do not adjust your set, it's a bunch of birds living inside a Home Depot store in Maplewood, Minnesota. That wouldn't be so odd, except that these barn swallows have actually taught themselves how to get in and out of the store by activating the motion sensors on the automatic doors. The birds have been coming and going for years, leaving the store to get food and returning to feed the chicks inside and to take advantage of the low, low price of sheet rock. This spectacle has amazed employees, like Keith Staumberg (ph).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm seeing knowledge being gathered. I'm seeing something new in the book of knowledge here. You know, see? See how he goes up and hesitates right there and then he drops in and circles in. Isn't that cool?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Very cool, but not as cute as zonkey. He's not wearing socks, folks, he's half zebra, half donkey. Born this week on a ranch in California, he's got the striped legs and striped ears from his zebra mommy, and the brown body of his miniature donkey father. I don't want to say his father is an ass, but he is. A contest is being held to name the zonkey. And the ranch owner says she's so pleased she may experiment further, possibly creating a zony, from a zebra and pony, or how about a maybe a zunky, or maybe a zicken? Fortunately "Oddball" is in the record books now.
Up next, tonight's No. 3 story, your preview of President Clinton versus Ken Starr. Up next, the former president tells Katie Couric why he thinks Ken Starr tried to drive him from the Oval Office.
And later, a news scandal rocking the political world: How one Senate candidate's messy divorce is coming back to haunt him.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day.
No. 3: Donald Woods of Fall River, Massachusetts. He's the new owner of the Lizzie Borden house where the hatchet-wielding murder brutally killed a man and wife in 1892. Woods is hoping to attract more tourists to the house by opening a Starbucks inside.
No. 2: Harry Krone, an America Navy commander in Staten Island, New York. He was booed off the stage in the middle of his graduation speech Monday to a group of 10 and 11-year-old fifth graders. No, he didn't rail against the war in Iraq or the Bush administration; he criticized the attire of the parents in the crowd, quote, "This is a special day for your kids, not a bowling alley or a supermarket."
And No. 1, the University of Connecticut. Botanists there are all abuzz about their Amorphophallus titanum - that is a very rare exotic plant, better known as the Corpse Flower. It only blooms once every few years and brings with it the horrible stench of rotting meat or three-day old roadkill. UConn say theirs is about to bloom and want to warn Connecticut residents that the terrible smell is not coming from the governor's office.
WITT: Bill Clinton's media blitz, designed to sell millions of copies of his new autobiography, appears to be working.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, politics, sex and a sales record; 400,000 copies of the Clinton book sold yesterday, a record for nonfiction. And it is a fair bet that every one of those 400,000 readers will flip straight the index to find out how they can get to the Monica Lewinsky first.
That's where Katie Couric started this morning, sitting down with the president on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")
KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST: You well know, President Clinton, that a lot of people are going to turn to the index and look up L for Lewinsky. Does that bother you, that that's the first thing they're going to be interested in, many people?
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, because it's - because I want them to see what I have to say, and then I think they'll go on to the rest.
And I think the important thing to me is that there are millions of people who are interested in other things as well, as I have people just come to me on the street now and tell me that. It's a part of my story. I've lived a long life. I was president for eight years. It's a part of it. I deal with it. I try to deal with it as candidly as I can.
But it's not the whole story. And all I think is that, the more time goes on, the more people will weigh it in the balanced scales with everything else in my personal life and in my public life. And that's really important to me.
COURIC: I have to ask you, do you feel sorry for Monica Lewinsky?
She was a young woman, what, 22 years old, and...
CLINTON: I do.
COURIC: I feel like, in many ways, her life has been irreparably damaged. And she's a real victim.
CLINTON: Well, I feel sorry, because, as she said herself, you know, she was betrayed by her friend and then she got caught up in this big media and Starr imbroglio. And none of it would have happened if I hadn't done anything wrong. So I feel terrible about it.
The thing that I hope most for her, though, is - it's like every - you take someone like Susan McDougal, who I feel much more sorry for, who suffered far more. It made her stronger. She became a magnificent human being, in the face of almost insurmountable abuse. And what I hope for Monica Lewinsky, as I've said repeatedly, is that 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.
COURIC: 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.
COURIC: Many people have remarked how open and candid you've been in the book. And I'm sure it was quite painful to relive that episode in your life. And, of course, the other person in this whole thing was your wife, Senator Hillary Clinton.
And I guess many people don't understand, Mr. President, how you allowed her to go on national television, how you sort of hung her out to dry while she defended you that January morning on "The Today Show." And I know you write in the book that you were ashamed writing the interview.
CLINTON: I explain why. Yes, I was ashamed because she didn't know the facts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY: The great story here for anybody willing to find and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that's been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: What she said was true.
COURIC: I know you've said that. On the other hand, she was defending you. Come on.
CLINTON: That's right. And I explain that.
But what you have to come to grips with, and all the people in the media have to come to grips with is that both things are true. I did a bad thing. I felt I couldn't tell anybody about it at the time because of the circumstances. It wasn't like when Grover Cleveland had to admit he had a child out of wedlock. There was no Kenneth Starr trying to put people in jail.
Keep in mind, Mr. Starr even violated the Justice Department guidelines and made Monica Lewinsky's mother testify. It was a crazy time. And people can make their judgments about that. But what you have to come to grips with is, both things are true. It is true that I did a bad thing, and I did a bad thing in misleading everybody about it. And it's true that Starr was wrong and the people who covered up what he did were wrong.
COURIC: You said before you wrote this book that this wasn't about settling scores. But you are pretty angry at Ken Starr. You call his tactics cheap and sleazy.
CLINTON: And in the context of calling Hillary before the grand jury. That was a cheap, sleazy publicity stunt. That cheap, sleazy line, if you go back and look, it's one of the few times I applied adjectives to him. Most of the time, I just said, these are the facts.
But when he called Hillary down to the grand jury, that was a sorry thing to do, especially since her billing records, which is why he hauled her down there, proved that she told the truth. That was the wrong thing to do.
COURIC: He, in response to your book and some of the things I guess he's heard about it - he says he hasn't read it yet, but will - he said, "I understand the depths of his feelings. People tend to not like prosecutors."
CLINTON: That's not true. I like Robert Fisk just fine. People don't like prosecutors who prosecute people instead of crimes.
COURIC: But, you see, he said he thought he was doing the right thing. How could this be so?
CLINTON: He absolutely did, because he believed that it violated the natural order for me to be elected president. That's what he believed.
You don't understand. After 1968, they thought there would never be another Democratic president. They thought the only reason Jimmy Carter was elected was because of Watergate. And they really believed, when I won, it interrupted the natural order of things. But I don't quarrel with that. And I don't think that Starr believes he's a bad man.
I think he believes he's a good God-fearing Christian man who was driving an infidel from the temple. But his goal was to drive me from office, whether I committed a crime or not. And the American people need to know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: President Clinton with Katie Couric on "Today."
Our third story look at sex and politics tonight takes us next to the state of Illinois, where the Republican nominee for Senate is fighting to stay in that race after embarrassing allegations about his sexual history. That they also involve a glamorous ex-wife who used to be on "Star Trek" is only adding fuel to this fire.
Here's Kevin Tibbles.
KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican candidate Jack Ryan today under pressure from his own party. Some GOP members say Ryan didn't warn them about court records alleging Ryan insisted his ex-wife accompany him to sex clubs.
JACK RYAN (R), ILLINOIS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I tried really hard, too, to be candid with everybody I spoke to prior to those documents being released.
TIBBLES: Those documents are from a 2000 custody battle over Ryan's now 9-year-old son with actress Jeri Ryan, known for her roles in "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Boston Public."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BOSTON PUBLIC")
JERI RYAN, ACTRESS: If it doesn't work, we don't have to mention it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TIBBLES: Though the party continues to back him, Republican Congressman Ray LaHood calls on Ryan to quit.
REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: I don't know very many people in Illinois who take their spouse to a sex club. That's not the values of Illinois that I know.
TIBBLES: "The Chicago Sun-Times" says Ryan should drop out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we've heard the end of this yet, but it just keeps getting worse for Jack Ryan.
TIBBLES: In court documents released this week, Jeri Ryan describes her husband taking her to a New York club, a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging with the ceiling. "He wanted me to have sex with him there with another couple watching. I refused," she alleges.
On a trip to Paris, "People were having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill." Jeri Ryan added, "Jack became very upset with me and said it was not a turn-on for me to cry."
RYAN: Well, the very worst allegation that is in those documents is that I propositioned my wife in an inappropriate place.
TIBBLES (on camera): The Republican Party says it's staying with Jack Ryan, but voters in some Republican neighborhoods, like here on Chicago's North Shore, have mixed views.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just sleazy. And I'm sick of sleaze and I would like to have somebody who really was a normal person.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in what he believes in. I don't care about what happened years ago.
TIBBLES: Ryan's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, was already leading by as much as 22 points in the polls. Though the numbers don't support Jack Ryan, his former wife does, releasing a statement saying her husband would make - quote - "an excellent senator."
Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.
WITT: That wraps up our third story tonight, sex and politics.
Coming up, a judge sets a $10 million bond for a suspected panty thief after police label him a possible suspect in a far more sinister crime. Then later, the reunion that Yankee pitcher Jose Contreras has been hoping for ever since he defected from Cuba.
But, first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.
MELVIN CALHOUN, PRETENDS HE'S A MOTORCYCLE: I just try to visualize myself on a motorcycle. Switch it off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mother taught me, whenever there's a big truck coming and you're in the street, you've have to get out of the way. There's a big truck coming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN")
CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST: Last night - this is strange - lightning struck CNN's transmission tower, knocking out the CNN channel for about 20 minutes. When CNN got its power back, you could tell they'd been hit by lightning. Take a look. This is pretty weird, I thought.
O'BRIEN: First call. Then he shot lightning out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WITT: Once the bastion of college pranks, a recent development in the disappearance of an Oregon student suddenly throws a new and disturbing light on the practice of panty raiding - that story next on COUNTDOWN.
WITT: There could be a break in the missing-person case of a 19-year-old Oregon coed.
In our No. 2 story tonight, a man arrested for stealing scores of women's underwear is linked to Brooke Wilberger. Wilberger disappeared in broad daylight while cleaning the parking lot of her sister's apartment complex almost a month ago. When police searched the home that Sung Koo Kim shares with his parents, they confiscated nearly 3,000 pieces of women's lingerie. Many of the items had labels which identified the college, dorm and woman from whom they had allegedly been stolen.
Officials also found a wad of dryer lint labeled as being from the apartment complex where Brooke was last scene. A search of Kim's computer yielded 40,000 images of women being raped and tortured, as well as multiple searches for nonextraditable countries.
Joining us now to discuss this is Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler and author of "The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us."
Good evening. Thanks for being here.
GREGG MCCRARY, FORMER FBI PROFILER: My pleasure.
WITT: From what we know of this Sung Koo Kim, do you think he's a viable suspect?
MCCRARY: He has to be considered a suspect simply because of the nature of the material that was found and the fact that when we take away all the other obvious motives for her disappearance, such as kidnap for ransom and so forth, and no personal involvement such as a stalker or a boyfriend or anything like that, it's probably a sex crime, and especially the nexus of the geography, right next to the university.
They were both right involved around the university. So he has to be looked at. They either have to put him in or put him out.
WITT: But what the police found, yes, it's disturbing. But at this point, there's certainly no evidence of a violent crime here. So how likely is it that a guy who just steals women's panties would escalate to kidnapping a woman?
MCCRARY: The significant thing here are the amount of material that he has that deals with sexual violent material, 4,000 videotapes of rape and torture, 40,000 images of women eviscerated, mutilated and so forth. This is the reason for concern.
The question is, is he simply involved in an aberrant sexual fantasy, a life of sexual fantasy, or has he acted out on it? And that's really the question law enforcement needs to determine. And, now, whether that's related to this disappearance or not, that's one question. Another question is, maybe he's involved in other crimes. But a third possibility is, he just has this aberrant sexual fantasy life that he's living.
WITT: And a guy with this kind of aberrant sexual life, is he going to go after somebody like himself or someone like a to Brooke Wilberger, who's described as a nice Mormon girl from Utah?
MCCRARY: It's hard to know.
What we found in the rapists and some of the sexual homicide offenders we have spoken to about this is that the primary criteria for victim selection is simply availability. If they crossed paths at the same time and he was able to lure her, use a con or a ruse or a subterfuge or a ploy of some kind to lure her away, it might have happened. Whether he did it or somebody else, that could have been what happened.
WITT: Now, Gregg, Brooke was last seen on May 24.
WITT: Sung Kim was first arrested just over a week before that. So, if he had been contemplating abducting someone, wouldn't his arrest have made him think twice about doing that?
MCCRARY: That would be a logical assumption, but what we know sometimes for offenders like this, it's a stressful event that can trigger the acting out.
So that arrest could, in fact, have been a stressful event that could conceivably have triggered an additional crime of some sort. But, again, we don't know. We don't know if he has any involvement in the crime or not. He's certainly a good suspect they need to look at. But they can't get tunnel vision either. They need to keep going.
And one of the problems investigators have in cases like this is this emotional roller-coaster. They get a good suspect and then they wash him out and they have to keep going.
WITT: All right, Gregg McCrary, former FBI profiler, author of "The Unknown Darkness," thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.
MCCRARY: You're welcome.
WITT: There's also news from Scott Peterson's murder trial. Juror No. 5, videotaped chatting with Laci Peterson's brother last Thursday , was dismissed from this case today.
Justin Falconer admitted discussing news coverage of that incident with his girlfriend, but said the judge dismissed him because the media blitz had made him a distraction to the case. His opinion on the trial so far, he believes Peterson lied about a couple of things, but Falconer hasn't seen anything that proved he murdered his wife. His main question was whether Scott Peterson could have fit his pregnant wife's body in his small fishing boat. A mistrial requested by defense attorney Mark Geragos was denied.
And now from our No. 2 story to our nightly stroll through the red light district of news, it's "Keeping Tabs."
Honey, I'm home. With those three words, New York Yankees pitcher Jose Contreras' life changed dramatically yesterday morning, when his wife, Miriam, thought to be hopelessly stranded in Cuba, landed unannounced on a beach in Florida. Mrs. Contreras and the couple's two daughters had fled under cover of darkness in a smuggler's boat to join the star baseball player, who had been living large in his new homeland since defecting to the U.S. 18 months ago.
Unbeknownst to Contreras, his wife and young daughters had braved Cuban authorities, shark-infested waters and the United States Coast Guard in their desperate escape across the Florida Straits.
Actor and Irish heartthrob Colin Farrell was cut where it hurts when his producers decided to excise his full frontal nude scenes from Farrell's movie "A Home at the End of the World." Apparently, the bad boy of Dublin's monty was a bit too full for test audiences. And the sight of his manhood produced gasps instead of sighs when it appeared 10-feet tall on a movie screen.
Even director Michael Mayer agreed that it was distracting. When told of the fix, Colin was incensed and demanded that all the nude scenes be restored for the DVD and all those nasty little jokes about Irishmen be immediately recalled.
All these stories and more can, of course, be found on our Web site. And tonight, we congratulate our colleagues on MSNBC.com, which was awarded the National Press Club's online journalism award for best Web site. And be sure to visit COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com to e-mail the show, sign up for our award-winning newsletter and help stuff the "Playgirl" ballot box to get Keith Olbermann to finish higher than Andy Rooney in the sexiest news anchors contests.
One story shy of a completed COUNTDOWN. Up next, love for sale. Meet a college student willing to sacrifice his innocence to pay the bills.
WITT: And so we arrive at our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN.
And, as you may have noticed, we have a special fondness here for eBay. And this one takes the cake. David Vardy, an undergraduate of Bournemouth University in England put his most precious gift up for sale on the site. And bidding was close to $11,000 before eBay pulled the plug after only two days. Resourceful chap that he is, he's continuing the auction on his own Web site.
And I spoke with him about it earlier today.
WITT: What is the status? When do you expect to pick a winner?
DAVID VARDY, AUCTIONING OFF HIS VIRGINITY: Well, we're hoping to pick a winner within the next week or this current week, actually, because bids have been coming in and going out. Obviously, there's a lot of media attention drawn to this auction at the moment.
So we're just waiting to see how our bidders stick it out, to be honest. Some of them are getting cold feet because of the media attention, but we're going to get back to them and see how they're doing.
WITT: David, are there ground rules here or is it kind of anything goes, whether it be gender, marital status, whatever else? Is the highest bidder going to win no matter what?
VARDY: The highest bidder is actually not going to win no matter what.
And it's a very unusual auction, as I'm sure you are aware. So there's a few stipulations I am going to put in here. I am not going to be going to sleep with a guy, to be honest, not for $1,000 and three times my own body weight in alcohol. I'm sorry. There's a line to be drawn and I'm going to draw it there.
But, in terms of a woman, well, as long as she's preferably not over 50 and - I guess she is probably going to have more money than sense if she is below 50 and still wants to go ahead with this. But I can't be too fussy, can I, really?
WITT: Well, as a virgin, you are thinking maybe an older woman might be the way to go or...
VARDY: I can't say that an old woman would definitely be the way to go. I'm sure most people don't idolize their first sexual experience being with an older woman. So it would be great if she could be sort of mid-20s to 30s. But I'm probably dreaming.
WITT: Well, we'll see.
Here's a question. Is this even legal? You are selling sex here.
I understand this point. And to be honest, I think the only way to look at it is this. This is my virginity we're talking about. So the only reason I'm selling sex is because it's an auction. And what do you do in an auction? People pay for it. I would like to give the money to charity, not all of it. I'm sure some of it could be an investment to some sort of student loan debt I've got at the moment, to be honest.
But making money here is not my primary aim. And a prostitute goes out and sells themselves for sex often. I'm not a prostitute. I can't even spell the word. So the sleaze issue, don't even associate it.
WITT: And, David, what kind of money are we talking about right now?
VARDY: Well, I kind of wanted around 6,000 U.K. pounds.
But it seems that bids are coming in. We've had one for like 7,500 pounds from the Netherlands. And somebody in the United Kingdom has put in an up to 9,000 pound bid, but I have got to get back to the people. Hopefully, they're not joking and we'll see if they stick it out.
WITT: And you are obviously checking out the safety issues, right, making sure these bidders are legit. But what kind of guarantees are you offering them?
VARDY: Well, to be honest, in terms of sexual performance, if that's the type of guarantee you are talking about, the only thing I can really say that, after six years of built-up sexual energy, there is going to be plenty of bang for the buck. So who knows.
WITT: Are you going to come back and talk to us after the fact?
VARDY: Oh, I'd love to. I'm sure - I've had so many e-mails from people around the world. And they're like, how is this going to progress? How is it going to turn out? Are you going to like this person or not? I don't know myself. So it's as interesting for me as it is for everyone else to see how this turns out. It really is.
WITT: Well, we can't wait to find out the end result.
And so good luck to you with that. Take care of yourself.
VARDY: Thank you very much.
WITT: Can't wait for that, huh?
That does it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN. I'm Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann. Thanks for watching. See you back here tomorrow night.