Friday, August 11, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 11

Guests: Raghida Dergham

AMY ROBACH, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The terror plot to blow airliners out of the sky, the latest on the investigation. Britain releases the names of some of those in custody. Pakistan announces more arrests as details of the plan and plotters begin to take shape.

Here in the U.S., the ripple impact on air travel. Passengers get the message on what not to carry on, as airlines scramble to deal with the flood of checked luggage.

Complete coverage of the day after the terror arrests. Lisa Myers tracking the case from Scotland Yard, Pete Williams on how the plot was stopped, Juliette Kayyem on the real lessons to learn from the MI5, Andrea MITCHELL with how safe we are from any type of attack, Tom Costello with the new reality for air travelers, and even Keith Olbermann, on his morning at the airport.

And after a week of serious headlines, we will have serious summer fun. From your backyard, these aren't your father's treehouses anymore. To the beach, happy 60th to the bikini. To the world of bizarre funny video. It is Oddball-palooza night, back by popular demand.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, here it is, (INAUDIBLE). There's a big (INAUDIBLE).


ROBACH: And good evening, everyone. I'm Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.

And tonight, we begin with breaking news out of the United Nations. This just happened a few moments ago. The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution that would call for an end to the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel. It would tell Israel to draw back, pull back its troops from the Israeli-Lebanese border, as Lebanese troops and 15,000 U.N. troops would move along to secure that border.

This was quite an effort by France and the United States. It's been going on now, negotiations, for several days.

NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, is at the U.N. at this hour with the very latest on these efforts.


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Amy, the vote was 15 to nothing, so it was finally a unanimous vote at the U.N. Security Council, as you point out, only moments ago.

But to reach a unanimous consensus and to get Israel and Lebanon to sign on, they had to really water this down. So it calls for a cessation of hostilities, but there's no timetable, there's no enforcement. There's no time when this is exactly going to take place.

Kofi Annan, the security - the U.N. secretary general, said that over the weekend, he will work with all sides to try to come up with some sort of deadline, but until then, we don't know exactly when there will be a cessation of hostilities. So it is not technically yet a ceasefire.

Now, as you point out, a Lebanese army is supposed to move south, for the first time, into the areas that have been controlled by Hezbollah militias up until now. And there's supposed to be a beefed-up U.N. military force, which will have some additional troops, a large number of additional troops. There are now about 2,000 of these U.N. troops. They have not been very effective. There's supposed to be 15,000, and they probably will be led by the French.

But it will take some time to get them in place. As Israel withdraws, they will move in. And it's supposed to be simultaneous.

All of this is rather tenuous. We talked to Secretary of State Rice just an hour or two ago about how fragile this compromise is, and she said it won't stop all of the shooting, but it will stop the major hostilities, and, she hopes, enable humanitarian aid to get in, Amy.

ROBACH: And Andrea, is it clear at this point which will come first, whether the Lebanese troops and the U.N. troops will move south, or the fighting, the firing of rockets back and forth will stop first?

MITCHELL: The firing of rockets is supposed to stop first. So the shooting has to start - stop before the Lebanese army starts moving south, and the Israelis start pulling back.

In her statement to the Security Council tonight, Amy, Secretary Rice was very, very tough, blaming Hezbollah and defending Israel for what it has done in its own defense, in her words. So the U.S. position very much aligned with Israel tonight.

And for the first time, significantly, President Bush called Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, at around 4:30 Eastern time in the United States tonight, the first time they've even talked since this crisis began. The president was very carefully protected, if you will, defended against any conversation with Ehud Olmert, so that nobody could say, Well, did you give him a green light, a red light, a yellow caution light? Did you tell him he should go ahead? Did you tell him to stop?

So finally tonight, when the deal was done, that's when the president first called Olmert, after this month of conflict.

ROBACH: And Andrea, I'm curious, because obviously this agreement is with the government of Lebanon and the government of Israel, not with Hezbollah. Hezbollah certainly has seats within the Lebanese government. How confident are officials there at the U.N. that Hezbollah will adhere to this, if called on by the Lebanese government?

MITCHELL: That is the big question. You've exactly put your finger on it, Amy. And they say they're confident, but privately, no one really has a great deal of confidence that Hezbollah will comply. So there's no enforcement mechanism in this resolution to have Hezbollah disarmed, and they've said that this new U.N. force is not going to go in shooting.

ROBACH: What are the rules of engagement for this U.N. force? You know, UNIFIL, obviously the Israelis were not happy with their role. Maybe, you said, 2,000 there, now 15,000. So more in number. But do they have any additional capabilities of quelling the violence if it flares up again?

MITCHELL: That is what they're supposed to be working out in the days to come, days, weeks, and maybe even months to come. The big hope is that if they can get the major offensive on both sides stopped, that then there will be a way to stabilize Lebanon, stabilize Israel, get people moved back into northern Israel who have all been evacuated or been living in bomb shelters, and get the humanitarian aid into Lebanon.

You hear the sirens here on First Avenue outside the U.N., nothing to be alarmed about, it's a fire engine. But sorry if I'm a little bit drowned out.

ROBACH: It's quite all right, we could hear you just fine. Andrea Mitchell, we appreciate your live report there from the United Nations following this breaking news. Thanks, Andrea.

Want to turn our attention now to Raghida Dergham. She is with "Al-Hayat" newspaper.

Raghida, thanks for being with us today.


ROBACH: So what is reacting? Has there been time to be true reaction there? I know many people had hoped that this would happen at the United States, that there could be some type of agreement. Is there confidence in the Arab world that this agreement will stick, and the fighting will end?

DERGHAM: The Arab world is divided over this war, and it will be divided over this resolution. My understanding from my sources is that both the prime minister of Israel and the prime minister of Lebanon would like very much to welcome this resolution. They are awaiting the cabinet decision, the Lebanese one tomorrow, and the Israeli one on Sunday.

And the resolution does - or is about supporting the government of Lebanon and deploying its forces in the south and taking control the sovereignty of Lebanon all by itself, in order not to be shared by Hezbollah and the likes.

Anyway, the UNIFIL, that new - that force UNIFIL force that will go into help Lebanese army with additional 15,000 troops, has the authority, according to the resolution, to take all necessary action in the areas of deployment of these forces. This is very much an enforcement, this is a serious force right now. And Kofi Annan will bring about the timetable.

But the worried part right now is what will happen between now and until both cabinets approve it, particularly the Israeli cabinet, because that is till Sunday, and many people are afraid of ratcheting up the pressure in a bloody way.

ROBACH: All right, Raghida Dergham, we appreciate your insight.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

DERGHAM: Thank you.

ROBACH: And again, just to recap the breaking news at this hour, the United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a plan for peace in the Mideast. It calls for Israeli troops to move out of southern Lebanon, for, of course, the violence to stop, and for Lebanese troops with the help of 15,000 U.N. troops to move along south along that border between Lebanon and Israel. Again, this just happening moments ago at the United Nations. We'll continue to keep you updated on this developing story.

In the meantime, turning to the terror plot in Britain, it's the oldest criminal cliche in the book, But he seemed like such a nice guy. That familiar refrain heard across three different communities in England tonight as people discovered their friends, neighbors, and loved ones now stand accused of trying to blow up at least nine trans-Atlantic flights.

Nineteen of the 24 suspects now identified after the Bank of England froze their accounts. One of the people arrested overnight Wednesday was released today. But investigators are still looking for more suspects. The alleged ringleader is now in custody in Pakistan. And police say he is the one person who links all the other suspects. The British newspaper "The Telegraph" reporting tonight that investigators are also examining whether the new terror suspects had any connection to the four suicide bombers who detonated explosives on London subways and buses on July 7, '05.

Now, apparently, some of the 23 people in custody tonight traveled to Pakistan at the same time as two of the 7/7 bombers.

In a moment, a look at why Britain is apparently a breeding ground for homegrown terrorism.

But first, our senior investigative reporter, Lisa Myers, is in London with the latest on who these suspects are and what connection they allegedly have to international terror rings.


LISA MYERS, MSNBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Amy, tonight, intelligence sources tell NBC News that an intense manhunt is underway for five suspects, and there are concerns that as many as 20 connected to this plot may still be at large.

(voice-over): Today, forensic teams swarmed homes of the suspects, and the British government took the extraordinary step of releasing the names of 19 of the 24 arrested and also froze their assets. One suspect was later released.

A father whose three sons were arrested was devastated. A friend spoke for the family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody who knows his three children will swear on the Koran, will - anything (INAUDIBLE) to say that they are innocent, without a shadow of a doubt. They went to pray. They went to pray. And that's their guilt.

MYERS: Those arrested here range in age from 17 to 35. Nearly all are of Pakistani descent. Most are middle class. Two are said to be women, one of them pregnant. Don Stewart Whyte converted to Islam only six months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not radical. Wait till you see him. He was just - he did look (INAUDIBLE) recently, but he only looked it up in, like, the way it affected his life.

MYERS: Anjid Sarvar (ph) had had a listing on a dating Web site. He claims to be kind and honest.

The suspects came from different parts of Britain, the largest cluster from London, another group from a London suburb, and two from the industrial city of Birmingham. Counterterror officials say some members of the cell did not know each other. Sources say the common link was that each group communicated with the ringleader in Pakistan.

Today, Pakistani authorities identified the ringleader as Rashid Rauf, a British citizen whose brother also was arrested in Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rauf is not a senior al Qaeda operative, but he's typical of the type of facilitator so important for terrorist operations inside the United Kingdom.

MYERS: Pakistani officials tell NBC that one critical element of the investigation was the arrest of a man near the Afghan border about 10 days ago, an arrest that the Pakistani ambassador to the U.N. says triggered a chain reaction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the information that we obtained through this investigation led us to the actions that are now being taken.

MYERS: Intelligence sources say another key break was that the U.S. intercepted communications between the plotters in Pakistan and Britain.

(on camera): Intelligence sources say that while some plotters received explosives training in Pakistan, there is no evidence that they met with any senior al Qaeda commanders there, Amy.

ROBACH: Lisa Myers in London, thank you.

And there is new information tonight about just how close these suspects may have been to trying to blow up trans-Atlantic planes midflight, a British newspaper, the "Daily Mail," reporting that while the test run was slated for today, the actual plot was going to be carried out next Wednesday.

Our justice correspondent Pete Williams now with how British intelligence infiltrated and apparently foiled this plot before these alleged terrorists could strike.



PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Amy, officials here at the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere here in Washington say that the U.K. terror plotters were under such intensive surveillance that the British police virtually held the on-off switch, with the capacity to shut down the operation at will.

(voice-over): Had it actually happened, it would have involved, at its core, two commonly available chemicals brought through security individually, then mixed up on board. Experts have little doubt that, if done right, it would have worked, to potentially devastating effect.

NEAL LANDERMAN, CHEMICAL EXPERT: It could be very dangerous on a plane. If they mixed it, it would ignite and most likely detonate instantly upon mixing.

WILLIAMS: Explosives experts say it could have caused a severe fire on board, or even worse, blown a big enough hole to bring down a jumbo jet.

But it never got that far. British investigators were monitoring Internet cafes the terror suspects used, keeping tabs on the flow of their money, and watching their travel and phone calls, such tight control, U.S. officials say, that after months of intense surveillance, there was almost no chance any of the plotters could have actually carried out their attacks.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: In this particular case, you know, the British government made it, made the calculation now is the appropriate time to take action.

WILLIAMS: Both American and British officials say it was a tip from a member of the Muslim community that helped focus police there on what turned out to be the cell.

Since 9/11, U.S. officials have aggressively courted the Muslim community here, knowing just that kind of tip can be essential.

Just today, the head of the FBI's Washington office met with Muslim leaders to encourage that kind of cooperation.

JOSEPH PERSICHINI, FBI: That power, coupled with all of us together, will strengthen this nation as best as we possibly can.

WILLIAMS: But while investigators believe they've arrested or identified all involved overseas, they cannot be certain, one reason airline security here remains tight.

(on camera): Another reason for concern is that bomb formula. Officials say some of the terror plotters actually tested their design in Pakistan. The U.S. has tested it too, and found it alarmingly effective, Amy.

ROBACH: Pete Williams in Washington tonight. Thanks.

Up next, complete analysis of all the day's headlines in the terror investigation with Juliette Kayyem.

And later, the day two view at the airports here. How are the airlines and the travelers reacting to the new rules? We will hear from Keith on what he experienced making it through the lines this morning.


ROBACH: The suspects are all from Britain with links to Pakistan, yet politicians in this country keep invoking Iraq when talking about this latest plot.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, the wider ramifications of both the terror investigation and the politics surrounding it.

Joining me now, MSNBC terrorism and national security expert Juliette Kayyem.

Thanks for your time tonight, Juliette.


ROBACH: Let's talk about the fact that this is the third time in just over a year that British suspects have at least attempted terror attacks. We had the successful, unfortunately, terror attacks back on 7/7 in the subways there, and then that attempt two weeks later, and now this attempt to blow up nine trans-Atlantic flights.

What is it about Great Britain that's proving to be such a breeding ground for terror?

KAYYEM: Well, there's a couple of factors. One is, they have very large immigrant populations. But I think the more significant factor, that there's clearly something within those populations that makes them not part of Britain's destiny, whether it's poverty, a sense that there's no future, or a sense that they are, despite the fact that they have British passports, part of their original identity, something that's happening in Britain that is making Brits soul-search, to a certain extent, in ways that we didn't have to, because the 9/11 hijackers were basically immigrants who were here for a short period of time.

So you have a lot of sort of questioning, not just within Britain, of course, but also France and other European countries, about the identity of these nations and what it means to be part of these nations.

Finally, of course, you have very radicalized elements within these populations that take advantage of young men with lots of time on their hands and basically radicalize them. So, I mean, I was looking at the ages, as I think it's between 18 and 35, very young people who are easily convinced to do something quite harmful.

ROBACH: And as we've been watching police work on the ground there across Great Britain, let's talk about MI5. I mean, British intelligence was able to track down this group of 24 or 23 now. Obviously, that's not going to happen the same way here in the United States. We're in a country where we're concerned about domestic surveillance laws, the PATRIOT Act.

But can something be learned about the way Great Britain does things?

KAYYEM: You know what? There's a lot to learn here, and there's not as much difference as people believe. After 9/11, both the PATRIOT Act and internal DOJ guidelines would permit now the surveillance of mosques, communities of interest, whatever else. So we have a lot of surveillance going on domestically. I think, in some ways, when you look at this, and when we learn some more of the information, we're going to see that this is actually quite a typical criminal investigation, except for it was really scary.

A guy walks in, or someone in the neighborhood says, There's a bunch of people, we're a little bit nervous about them. They then have human intelligence to go look at this group. They then get signal surveillance, or a lot of electronic surveillance, that takes them in all sorts of directions, including abroad.

That is, surprisingly, a very typical investigation, and one that happens on our end all the time as well.

ROBACH: And it appears the link among all of these men and women is their contact, perhaps, in Pakistan. And that's a similar link that we saw back on the 7/7 bombings as well. Those terrorist traveled to Pakistan as well. I mean, we heard British authorities thanking the country of Pakistan for its support in this investigation.

But is it ever really possible to address this issue of terrorists, and we see so much of the financing and the training going on in that country, how do we address it? And it is a delicate situation.

KAYYEM: It is. Given just basically that Musharraf is a military dictator, and I think our fear is, we may not like him, but we don't know what comes after him, so we don't want to push him too far. And so I think what we're going to see is what I call sort of ad hoc help, right, is that we ask for it, or the Brits ask for it on certain investigations.

But an overall attempt on Pakistan's part to change their schools or deradicalize elements within their country, it's just not going to happen, certainly not deradicalize their security investigators, who tend to be linked to al Qaeda, unfortunately.

So you have a sort of just ad hoc help, but none of the sort of substantial or systemic help that we need.

ROBACH: And Juliette, I want to talk a little bit about the politics here at home surrounding this, both parties, Republicans and Democrats, invoking Iraq into all of this, Republicans saying, Hey, this is why we need to be in Iraq, let's fight the terrorists there and not here at home, Democrats saying, It's one of the reasons why terrorists want to attack America, and we're diverting money that could go to the war on terror to the war on Iraq.

Is it helpful to look at this type of plot in the context of Iraq?

KAYYEM: Well, I think you have to. Let's just take it outside of the politics. I think you have to look at it in the context not simply of Iraq, but sort of what the world looks like right now, now that we're after September 11.

And I think that whether you thought that it was right to go into Iraq or not, or whether we should get out now or not, depending on what party or what part of what party you're from, I think it's sort of you're fighting the facts to argue that Iraq has made the world safer, only because Iraq is now a central breeding ground of terrorism. It has become sort of a place where people not only train to harm us, but hey also are, I would say, ennobled or emboldened by what's happening in Iraq.

And then that has altered just basically the Middle East in ways that we didn't see before 2003.

So I think you may think it's worth it, or you may not. You may think that the demise of Hussein was worth it, or it may not be. That's certainly a debate worth having. But if you just simply look at the radicalization of major elements of these countries that are both our foes and allies, you look at Jordan or wherever else, it is not good news for the United States.

ROBACH: Well, also not good news for air travelers are all of these new restrictions. And I want to ask you, you know, this isn't something new. We've talked about how, if this was al Qaeda, they literally flipped back 10 years ago and pulled from their playbook on this liquid explosives thing. We also know that the millennium bomber had components for liquid explosives in his car when he was arrested.

So why were we able to carry on liquid before now?

KAYYEM: Money and convenience. I mean, basically, in the absence of the terrorist attack that harmed us with liquid materials, it's going to be very hard, given how Americans and the world expects to travel, to get rid of those liquid materials. It will be much easier to package (INAUDIBLE) them and much easier for the airlines to serve us more drinks than they normally do. And we may see those systemic changes.

But already, you're hearing from (INAUDIBLE) - from the Department of Homeland Security, they're even reassessing some of the rules they put into effect yesterday. There's nothing new.

And what we have to remember here is, even if we put these checks in place, the terrorists may find another loophole, and we have to probably get used to some of this.

ROBACH: All right. MSNBC terrorism analyst Juliette Kayyem. Thanks for joining us tonight.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

ROBACH: Well, yesterday's nightmare trip to the airport gives way to today's new normal. The challenges for travelers, the new headache for the airlines, and the reemergence of the National Guard. That, and a report from the traveling Keith Olbermann.

And after a week of serious headlines, we're going to provide you with some much-needed relief. If you missed it the first time, it is back by popular demand. Ow. It's Oddball-palooza night.


ROBACH: The airline terror plot in Britain brought immediate ramifications here, of course, most notably in our nation's airports, where tighter security guaranteed delays for passengers trying to get to their flights.

The surprise, just how quickly travelers have adjusted. Yesterday, the new rules caught people off guard. Liquids and gels of any kind were prohibited on board, and passengers found themselves dumping items like toothpaste and bottles of water.

There were some lengthy delays. But day two of the brand-new normal was smoother than maybe anyone expected.

Earlier today, our very own Keith Olbermann went through the checkpoint in New York's JFK Airport and described his experience.


KEITH OLBERMANN, Countdown (on phone): The check-in lines in the morning were probably double what they ordinarily were, but that, again, was at 8:20 Eastern, with the same idea that people were getting here very early to JFK, and backstopping themselves. Security probably ranged - the check in for security probably ranged, at that hour, from 20 minutes for first class passengers to somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour to everybody else, but I just checked the security check walk-in now, the line is down to less than 15 minutes. It's not bad at all.

And American Airlines, at least, did something very intuitive and very helpful at the same time, as you got in at the end of the security line, had somewhere at the end of that moving conga line to tell you, or to ask you, what time your flight was and if you were leaving within 90 minutes or if it was within 90 minutes of your departure time, they moved you ahead in the line. So, there was very little of what was anticipated here after the chaos of yesterday around the country.

Very few people caught by surprise, but of course, there's always the exception to the rule and under these circumstances people like that stand out like a sore thumb. There was a couple who had clearly not gotten the message. The man and woman who were wearing harnesses to carry water bottles, much like bicyclists or long-distance runners use and they didn't quite get the whole process. But, literally, the only person I saw in a container or any liquid who had to give up at any point in the screening or security process, it was quite impressive, obviously the passengers got the message and the results pretty much speak for themselves.

And there's one added twist here, and lord knows if the airline actually did it themselves or it was just one of the employees, but after you get through security, at American Airlines at JFK, one of the employees is standing on a platform playing his violin trying to calm everyone down, I guess, or just provide a little extra service on the way through.


ROBACH: So is everyone's experience as pleasant add Keith's? Maybe not. But the situation at our nation's airports today did speak volumes about how swiftly travelers can alter their habits, not that they had any choice, but it could have been a lot worse. For more on that our correspondent is Tom Costello, once again at Reagan National Airport in Washington - Tom.

TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Amy, good evening to you. And in fact the headline from here in Washington and across the country is that it was a much smother travel day today. The TSA says two million people pass through those screening checkpoints every single day. It certainly appeared, today, that they had gotten the hang of this latest security upgrade rather quickly.


(voice-over): Day two of the new normal started out with long lines in Chicago, National Guard troops in L.A. and random gate screenings at airports nationwide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do what you have to do, but it's worth it to be safe.

COSTELLO: While Homeland Security has spent three-quarters of a billions dollars researching new explosive detection systems, there's still no reliable way to detect liquid explosives.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Not only to be able to detect, but to be able to detect with accuracy and with a minimum of false positives.

COSTELLO: But TSA has deployed 1,600 explosive detection systems to x-ray and scan bags for conventional explosives and 7,200 explosive trace detection systems in which bags are swabbed for explosives residue, but it estimates that installing the best screening systems of the 25 busiest airports nationwide, would cost $22 billion and take 18 years.

ALFRED BLUMSTEIN, CRIMINOLOGIST: What we don't have yet is good explosives detection, and explosives are really the problem.

COSTELLO: And not just on aircraft. Also ferries, buses, and trains. Some security upgrades since 9/11, but still very vulnerable, though perhaps not as appealing to terrorists.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC NEWS TERRORIST ANALYST: Normally the death count is in the tens or twenties as opposed to the hundreds in commercial aviation.

COSTELLO: Today, after confiscating tens of thousands of pounds of liquids and gels, the TSA said it could soon refine its list of banned items.

JACK RILEY, HOMELAND SECURITY EXPERT: Longer term, the reality is this is a threat that is here for decades to come.

COSTELLO: As the government struggles to find a balance between security and common sense.


Already airport retailers are clearing their shelves of everything from soda, hair spray, eye liner, and lip balm. The TSA might eventually lighten up on restrictions, but that is current lit a work in progress -


ROBACH: Tom Costello in Washington, thanks.

Well, if terror threats and wars have you dreading turning on the TV, we've got the cure for you in our next half hour. We will give you the news that's meant to be on a Friday night in the summer - good news for fans who like spend their summers in fantasy baseball leagues. A judge stands up to major league baseball.

Overdressed in your couture (INAUDIBLE)? Well, we will wish the bikini a happy birthday. And the month in weird, the bizarre happenings around the world. WE will take you there for a front row seat for all the laughs. Stand by.


ROBACH: Our third story on the Countdown tonight is fantasy. If you're a gambler odds are you're all too familiar with fantasy, but you probably also know that the odds are always that the odds area always with the house. There's on exception, sometimes the odds are with the prosecutors. Either way, of course, the gambler loses. For instance, the Bet on Sports website which is based in Costa Rica, but facing 22 charges of fraud and racketeering here, has now been shut down by a judge who also blocked gamblers access to their accounts. How much money are we talking about? Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of four and a half billion dollars plus lots of toys and goodies.

Money is also at the root of another fantasy industry. Fantasy baseball and other fantasy leagues, and this fantasy, too, has now gotten a reality check from the law. A judge has ruled that Major League Baseball cannot prevent on-line fantasy leagues from using player names and stats, MLB says it will appeal, not surprising considering fantasy leagues are a billion dollar business.

And you were a gambling man 60 year ago, would you have bet the farm on the bikini? If you did, you would be rolling in the money. One of the biggest and smallest stars of the fashion world has just turned 60 years old this summer and if you go to just about any beach this weekend you will see this star there in all its glory because it is the bikini and when it comes to bikinis, whether you are phobic or a fan, male or female, your reaction to the bikini may say as much about you as it does about it. After all, skin is not the only think they reveal.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The two-piece bathing suit had been around since very early days in Greek and Roman baths. However the idea that a woman could actually sport the unique two-piece and bare her navel and midriff in such a scandalous way, very much represented an empowerment, I think.

KELLY KILLOREN BEN-SIMON, AUTHOR, "THE BIKINI BOOK": At the turn of the century, you could now show skin. It was forbidden to show skin. If they're wearing long dresses to play tennis, then they're doing the same thing on the beach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think it would be impossible to be comfortable in that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very cleverly the inventor of the bikini, Louis Reard in Paris in 1946, named this new two-piece garment after a nuclear test in the Pacific on the island of Bikini Atoll. So hence, this new two-piece garment got its name, the birth of the bikini. His two-piece was the smallest possible swimsuit and it had to be small enough to fit through a wedding ring to be able to be called a bikini.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's become a way of summer, it's become like a meaning of summer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bikini was an absolute bombshell in many ways, it was a very scandalous garment and many countries, in fact, banned this garment as being far too risque to wear. The Vatican denounced it as being immoral.

Brigitte Bardot in 1955, you know, frolicked in her bikini beautifully "God Created Woman."

BEN-SIMON: In this movie, not only did he create woman, he created this incredibly provocative new style of woman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you wear a two-piece bikini it's like you're half naked, so what could be better than that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this is our easy Angel Fluff.

BEN-SIMON: We're supposed to be in this modest era, we're the happy homemaker, we're supposed to be Betty Crocker, we're not supposed to be wearing these scantily-clad bikinis.

The song the "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Bikini" that, you know, came about in the '60s put the bikini on the world stage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom's bikini back in the 1960s even had the wiring in it, sort of maybe girdling it a little bit. I don't know. Sorry mom.

BEN-SIMON: In 1965 it was almost square not to wear a bikini. And so the bikini became this huge sensation. All you had to do was like, pull one string and it's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really the bikini started taking off with "Dr. No." with Ursula Andress in 1962 coming out of the water with her fabulous white bikini on.

BEN-SIMON: The greatest story about Annette Funicello is that she really wanted to wear the bikini in "Beach Party," she asked her uncle Walt, she said, "Please let me wear the bikini" and Uncle Walt did not think the respectable woman or his, you know, Mouseketeers should be wearing this provocative suite.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the 1980s the bikini became quite sporty.

BEN-SIMON: So, we started with the one-piece, the two-piece, the bikini, the monokini, the tankini, and the thong. And with the thong there is no more illusion. We know exactly what's there and everybody can see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's interesting, that in the '90s we even see how the bikini has moved on. I think we all remember Pamela Anderson getting married in her white bikini on the beaches in Mexico to Tommy Lee. We're now baring so much skin in a very acceptable way, at all ages.

BEN-SIMON: The bikini (INAUDIBLE) so much mystery, it's not the naked human body. It's the ultimate human shield.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it. Wouldn't want to go any other way to the beach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love it or hate it, the bikini is here to stay.


ROBACH: Still ahead, moving on up to I its deluxe apartment in a tree. The real estate market branches out and we get to the root of it.

Plus a horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course, that is of course unless you're driving a police car at high speed down the highway. And "Oddball" spectacle ahead on Countdown.


ROBACH: There was no lack curiosity in the real estate market, but the latest involves going up a tree, literally. In our No. 2 story, we're not talking about those cute makeshift tree houses that kid build. These high-flying pads have it the big time with hefty price to match. For a custom built structure you can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars. Want a bath or kitchen up there? Then you might be talking about hundreds of thousands, but they are undeniably cool. Our correspondent is John Larson.


JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are definitely not the tree houses you slapped together and fell out of as a kid. They are tree houses for the stars like actress Julianne Moore, and musician Sting.

Sting's little getaway is 45 feet up an old oak on his estate in Tuscany, and actor Val Kilmer's place sits precariously on a cliff 75 feet about the Pecos river on his ranch in New Mexico.

(on camera): So who was the architect behind all these? Maybe someone who lives beneath the ponderosas here in New Mexico or the old growth cedars up in the Pacific Northwest? Nah. Guy comes from New York City.

(voice-over): Roderick Ramiro works out of a community garden on the lower east side, complete, of course, with a tree house.

RODERICK RAMIRO, ARCHITECT: It's just this return to this beautiful kind of fantastical life that you had as a child and nature's influencing you and inspiring you.

LARSON: On a new job, Ramiro carefully walks the land looking for just the right tree, one that can support the load, and just as importantly, one that speaks to him.

RAMIRO: It's not as abstract as it sounds. You just kind of sit with the tree long enough, you realize it's a living organism and its telling you what it would like to have built into it. So, that a fun part of the process.

LARSON: For building materials, Ramiro says he limits himself to downed trees and salvaged materials. For Val Kilmer's place, he used a decaying barn. Kilmer's was his most challenging project so far, trucking the lumber over five river crossings, hauling it all up a cliff, but in the end, worth it. Because the best thing about tree houses is not only what they are, but where.

RAMIRO: And just looking out from this, and it's just uninterrupted nature, it's so beautiful there.

LARSON: John Larson, NBC NEWS, Pecos, New Mexico.


ROBACH: From one odd obsession to whole host of "Oddballs," extreme sports equals extreme pain. And can a headache be contagious? This one spread all over the internet. We'll show you all the mutations. That's next and this is Countdown.


ROBACH: Rounding out the Countdown, rounding out what was a busy week for serious news, we're going to take this opportunity for a little "Oddball" relief. In our No. 1 story tonight, it's 30 days worth of wacky video featuring zany antics packed into five minutes you can't miss, from the stuff we found on the internet to dash-cam video of police chasing a horse, to what appears to be a shaved squirrel. We've got it here, so now a special encore presentation of July's "Oddball: Plays of the Month."


OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And we begin in Tallinn, Estonia.

We begin in Pamplona, Spain where you can always tell it's almost time for the running of the bulls when the naked PETA protesters show up. The event is designed to call attention to the horrible cruelty suffered by the animals in this town each year, but actually it only serves to get the party started.

To Frisco, Texas, where a local Planning and Zoning official had herself a little run-in with the local police all captured on dash-cam video. It began when she was pull over for suspected drunk driving. Suspicion was sort of confirmed when she mistook the gas peddle for the break and the park for the reverse.



OLBERMANN: In case you missed that last bit, that was the offer saying how much he loved his car. Hey, take a look at her Benz, pal. That's going to cost a fortune. Your car, geez!

We begin in Cleveland where residents of one suburban neighborhood are wondering what is this freakin' thing roamin' around our yards. Most people think the animal looks like squirrel with a bad case of the mange, a disease caused by mites. But wildlife officials say, no, no, it's just a freaky little baby hippopotamus. Actually, it's possible I may have read that backwards. Well, what's the dif?

To the Internets and that vast treasure trove of wacky video has provided us with yet another gem. Do you ever watch any of those home shopping channels? I mean, really watch them? Oh, you should.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, while we're doing that, let me show you something really impressive. No picture - remember the picture of the horse I showed you earlier? Well, here it is blown up. This is a big horse. Order now, you get the camera, you get the printer, 4x optical zoom. Snyder lens, photo printer, SV card, look at that horse. The bushy tail, the big teeth, the hooves. OK, my producer's here just told me this isn't a horse, it's a butterfly. Actually, it may, in fact be a moth.

OLBERMANN: In fact, it's Rorschach test, pal, and you just failed.

It's a Countdown horse chase of the week and you are looking live at dash-cam video from the Boon County, Indiana, police department. Clearly this part of the video has been played so many times back on the station house VCR that the tape is almost warn out. Clean those heads!

ANNOUNCER: And they're off for the 2006 Horseman's Park season. Scoot-Scoot moving up along side of Dazzling Gerard (ph) and here they come into the stretch. And the starting gate has not moved. The starting gate was not moved. Well, hold on (INAUDIBLE) tickets.

OLBERMANN: It's a guy dressed as a deer, scaring the crap out of his sleeping friend. Yes, just another in a series of stuff we found on the Internets, part of a growing trend wherein morons scare the bejesus our of their moronic friends, family, and coworkers, videotape it and then upload it on the interweb for us all to enjoy. Because, really, the only thing better than giving your good friend a heart attack with the old Linda Blair in the maze trick, is publicly humiliating them afterwards.

However, do to inherent danger, possible heart condition, common decency, stuff like that, "Oddball" only kind of encourages this kind of behavior. Oh, what great pals these people are.

We go back to the Internets to wrap up the week of Zinedine Zidane, clearly the best thing ever to happen to the game of soccer, also been nothing short of inspirational to the armies of wise archers and troublemakers across the World Wide Web.

Finally we head to that treasure trove of odd video known as the Internets where we all try to keep track of all the latest viral video trend. This one's been around for awhile. Jackasses doing donuts in their cars, set to music, loaded into the interweb for other jackasses to view and vote on. But you've all been one-upped by some kid in the Middle East with the strongest thighs we've ever seen.

The guy must spend hours on the Stairmaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that horse, the bushy tail, the big teeth, the hooves.


ROBACH: All right. That was just weird. Hopefully that got you in the mood to start your weekend off right. That is it for the Friday edition of Countdown. I'm Amy Robach in for Keith Olbermann.

Keith, if you are wondering, will be back on Monday. Thanks for watching everybody. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Joe, good evening to you.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: What? You didn't throw the paper, Amy? You're supposed to throw it. It breaks, it's very dramatic.

ROBACH: Well, I didn't want to steal Keith's thunder. That's his thing. I'll just smile.

SCARBOROUGH: That's his trademark. OK. Well thanks a lot Amy.

Greatly appreciated.