'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 21
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
"You're Fired" - only this is no reality show. The CIA makes one of its officers take a lie detector test, the officer flunks, the officer admits giving classified information to a reporter, the officer is dismissed. The information was about the CIA secret prisons in Europe. It was given to Dana Priest of "The Washington Post."
And this strident reaction to a leak has itself leaked. The latest, and the insight into the culture of leaks and of plumbers, from John Dean.
"Worst President Ever." As Mr. Bush contemplates his page in history, a covey of historians predict that could easily be the chapter title.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though they have a little brain, about the size of a pinhead, they're able to learn all types of information.
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OLBERMANN: Politicians? No, wasps, the mean-spirited buzzy things being trained for bomb sniffing. Bomb-sniffing wasps. And dolphins. And don't forget robotic lobsters.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one simple request, that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.
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OLBERMANN: Just don't try to do that manually. Yes, another edition of "Stapling Gun CSI."
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Six weeks from now, it will have been 35 years, 35 years since the so-called Pentagon Papers fell off the back of the symbolic Department of Defense truck and wound up in the pages of "The New York Times." And part of Richard Nixon's common sense promptly disappeared, never to be heard from again.
Nixon saw leaks. He decided he needed plumbers, and within a year there would be Watergate.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, what may be just as seminal a moment in the history of news leaking, or whistle-blowing, or both, tonight. The CIA fires someone for knowingly sharing classified information about those secret prisons in Europe with the media. That fact also gets to the media even before the CIA can issue a statement.
The fired employee, sources tell NBC News, is Mary McCarthy. She worked in the CIA inspector general's office, apparently. She failed a polygraph test and then was confronted with the leak evidence. She then confessed to having unauthorized meetings with the media and knowingly sharing classified information, including providing it to "The Washington Post"'s Dana Priest, which led to her Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the CIA's secret prisons in Eastern Europe.
NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, was the first to break this story today, and she joins us now.
Andrea, thanks for your time tonight.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You bet.
OLBERMANN: The CIA's action here, is this as unprecedented as it sounds?
MITCHELL: It is. There have been a couple of other cases of officials who had been fired and, and in fact, prosecuted and convicted for leaking, but not from the CIA. So this really is, according to all accounts, veterans tell me that they cannot recall another CIA officer being fired for allegedly leaking. They say that they confronted her yesterday, and that they then marched her out the door.
OLBERMANN: Is this necessarily the end of it? Would they be looking at prosecuting her? Would they be, in fact, looking at as seeing whether or not they can prosecute Dana Priest or "The Washington Post"?
MITCHELL: No. It's more likely that only the person who has access to the classified information would be vulnerable, if at all, and that has been referred to the Justice Department. So there is an active investigation under way.
OLBERMANN: It's the CIA, so the rules are obviously foggy. And even if they weren't foggy, they'd be hard to get ahold of, and know who's going to tell you about them. But it is it conceivable that Ms. McCarthy or anybody else in this situation might be able to defend themselves by invoking that term, "whistle blower"?
MITCHELL: Well, sure. And I think there can always be a defense. But there is a paper, a document that you have to sign once you join the CIA, and that paper says that you will not disclose any classified information to someone not authorized to receive it, and that certainly would include a reporter.
So that does create a predicate for this referral to the Justice Department. I'm not a lawyer, I only play one on television, but it could be a problem. But this was not, in fact, just Dana Priest reporting, Dana Priest reporting on the CIA prisons. There were other reports that Dana Priest did on the secret renditions. And in fact, there were at least a dozen, we are told, unauthorized contacts with Dana Priest. Don't know about other reporters, but certainly this is one of many investigations now under way.
The climate now at the CIA is that Porter Goss, the director, is
determined to crack down on these leaks, says that they have hurt national
security. But, you know, one man's national security secret is another
person's whistle blowing, to let the public know what's going on in a very
a number of very controversial policies.
OLBERMANN: Let's limit ourselves to three events that have occurred in the last week. Dana Priest gets the Pulitzer Prize...
OLBERMANN:... Bill Bennett, former education secretary, who's still tight with the administration, says she and the reporters from "The New York Times" who broke the domestic spying story should not be getting awards, they should be getting jail time. Then this firing, the confrontation happens. Are those things coincidences of timing, or is there a line running through them that's something other than just chronology?
MITCHELL: Well, I think the Pulitzers are certainly something beyond
the control of the CIA. They were less than happy that the acknowledgment
professional acknowledgment came for Dana Priest. And in the case of the National Security Agency and Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau of "The New York Times," their work on that, exposing the warrantless domestic eavesdropping, that also received the Pulitzer Prize.
So you had this extraordinary recognition from the very top of the journalists' profession, for the very reporters who are now being accused of consorting with people who are themselves accused of improperly and potentially illegally disclosing information, about secrets that are so controversial and cut so deeply to the very core of the American disagreement over what is right and what is wrong. What is the public's right to know?
This is really a crisis, I think, by all accounts, in terms of either keeping national secrets and investigating information that people believe they have a right to know. And this is a confrontation we haven't really seen since the Pentagon Papers.
OLBERMANN: And Andrea, the - you mentioned Porter Goss and the statements that made in front of Congress in February about this, and how upset he was (INAUDIBLE) at these various leaks. Is this kind of action something that he thinks of and executes and gets this officer out of the CIA, or this whole process, would this necessarily have gone through the White House?
MITCHELL: I'm sure that the White House was aware of it, but certainly this is Porter Goss's initiative. But it's one that is endorsed at every level of this administration. And the president himself, in various statements and news conferences, said that he thought that the NSA investigation, the NSA eavesdropping, needed to be investigated.
So it's very, very clear, that this is the posture of this White House and this president. And it has had an intimidating, a chilling effect on officials throughout the administration, not only those who work in national security.
OLBERMANN: Andrea Mitchell on the blunt, some would say brazen, dismissal of a CIA officer for speaking to the media, her story.
Great thanks, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: In a moment, John Dean, who was there the last time an obsession over leaks overtook an administration. He will assess that new development and another one contained in the back end of the latest reported shakeups at the White House, shakeups which not only continue, but which continue with such thoroughness that somebody might be leaving who you probably did not realize was still there, Harriet Miers.
That Harriet Miers. The withdrawn Supreme Court nominee has remained White House counsel all this time. But "The New York Times" quotes a senior Republican with close ties to the new chief of staff, Joshua Bolten (INAUDIBLE) Bolten is not sure he wants her to remain any longer. She's indecisive, a weak manager, slow in moving vital paperwork through the system, or at least that is how Bolten is said to feel about her. The "Times" also says Bolten himself is indecisive about whether or not to show Miers the door.
An anonymous White House senior official disagrees, though, that this is even under consideration. Quoting him, "It's not the case."
But more important, perhaps, even than Miers' future is that one little quote from that White House source. "The Times" writes of the machinations to get those four words, that the official was, quote, "granted anonymity to get around the administration's policy of not commenting on personnel matters."
As advertised, I'm joined now by the White House counsel from 1970 to 1973, author of "Worse Than Watergate," John Dean.
John, thanks again for your time tonight.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: On hearing this, did you flash back the dismissal at the CIA to Richard Nixon's reaction to the publishing of the Pentagon Papers?
DEAN: I, my first reaction was, They finally caught somebody. Nixon, as you know, spent years and never found anybody. He wiretapped his National Security Council. He ordered Bud Krogh, one of the - his senior aides, to put polygraphs on everybody that was even close to the information, and he never surfaced anybody. So that was my first reaction, that - how unusual it is to actually find the leaker.
OLBERMANN: You were there when Nixon rolled the snowball that became the plumbers and the Ellsberg break-in and Watergate. Is there, would you expect that there would be a similar pitfall ahead of the, of this administration here? As you said, it's a surprise that they found anybody, but in trying to stop leaks, does one inevitably get into bigger trouble? Or is there some way to clamp down without consequence?
DEAN: Well, it does reverberate throughout the bureaucracy, if you will. And this kind of action will not sit well with a lot of people who this woman obviously knew and probably had good relationships with.
What this administration has done is, rather than do what Nixon did, they've learned from our mistakes, and that was not to try to sort this out from the White House, but rather to do it out of the agency level, and send Porter Goss out there with a mission. Indeed, this is part of his instructions, I'm told, is to ferret out all the leakers.
And this is something of a full-time occupation he's doing. And so I expect we'll see more of it, actually, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We now understand, with the revelation of who Deep Throat was last year, in the person of Mark Felt from the FBI, that the leaking in 1972, 1973, 1974 was about getting information out that the system was trying to contain, that there were people who, at that bureau level, or that organization or agency level, were offended that the rule of law was being skirted with.
Do we assume that's what we're seeing in this case, that that same sort of reaction is still there, is still present, is still a check or balance against what might be borderline inappropriate activity by the executive?
DEAN: Well, I would be surprised if somebody in the level of an inspector general's office wasn't really in the true whistleblower category. This is somebody who knows all the rules, (INAUDIBLE) the game is played, or is not played, and obviously is probably strongly motivated to have taken the risks she's taken.
That typically is the whistleblower motive. There are others, occasionally, you'll find. In fact, there have been a couple prosecutions by this administration of people who traded information for, in essence, a quid pro quo. There was a DEA agent who released information, and he did get a few benefits out of it. And they prosecuted him, and he served a year in jail and three years on probation.
So they will prosecute in this administration, and there is still no official secrets act, as such, but they've been able to use old statutes that are on the books, that are broad enough to actually bring a criminal case. No, that's the big question in my mind, with this - what's happened today.
OLBERMANN: It is clearly semantics, and only semantics, to say that there's a difference in these two acts, a CIA officer decides to clue somebody in on these former Soviet gulags which are now being used as (INAUDIBLE) detention centers by this country, and a president decides to declassify classified information so it can be then used to discredit a detractor.
The latter act may or may not be legal. We've talked about that before. But is the former act legal? Is there a way to defend what this CIA officer did in giving information to reporters?
DEAN: Well, there certainly is a breach of contract involved. She did sign an agreement not to release any classified information when she took that job. So there is a breach of contract. That's hard to defend on the greater-good argument, when you've agreed not to do that.
As far as a criminal defense, it really's going to be so fact-intense as to whether what she's done and how she's done it. For example, if she's accessed a computer to learn the information, there is precedent that the government can charge her with stealing government information. And every time she accessed it, it might well be an offense.
So there - it - we don't know enough facts at this point to know how she'll have to defend herself. And in the broader picture, though, Keith, there is certainly a high level of hypocrisy if this thing gets much further than it is now, when we have a president who, as you said, uses misinformation and declassifies it at his whim without following the rules, and then to punish somebody who appears to have wanted to get out a greater truth for her own motives.
OLBERMANN: Let me ask you a variation of the question I asked Andrea Mitchell. In a week's time, we've had the Plamegate investigation drag on, we've had Dana Priest getting a Pulitzer Prize, Bill Bennett saying Dana Priest should get jail time, Dana Priest's source apparently getting fired. Is it coincidence, is it coincidence that this sounds like the way they make threats on "The Sopranos"?
DEAN: I don't, you know, I don't think that things are always that well organized or that tightly controlled. I think there's probably a fortuitous element in the way these things fell together. If the government were that good and that capable, it would surprise me. It just doesn't work that easily.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, is there any comfort in here, you having been through the other one firsthand and having seen this one at such close study, that the punishment of a leaker, the news of that, was itself leaked before any official announcement could be made?
DEAN: Yes, the leak of the leak problem, yes. And that can well be classified too. And she theoretically is protected by the Privacy Act, and her name (INAUDIBLE) surface. So there is no way to stop leaking in Washington. It never will stop. It is something that drives presidents bananas. And this presidency has figured out a way to really keep a lot of attention on it, and they're going to try to make an example, I suspect, out of one or more of these cases. So we'll hear more of this, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I'm sure we will. Nixon White House counsel John Dean.
As always, sir, great thanks for joining us tonight.
DEAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Another page from President Nixon's administration coming to life tonight for President Bush in California, protesters at a college campus. After visiting with Governor Schwarzenegger, he was meant to go to a meeting at the Hoover Institution in Stanford before going to dinner at former secretary of state George Schulz's house.
But when Marine One arrived at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, protesters blocked the route. The helicopter circled while the president figured out what to do. He ended up giving up and moving the meeting to Mr. Schulz's house.
Just when you think it couldn't get worse than a 33 percent approval rating for the president, historians are suggesting that history may decide that number's a little high.
And we know all about sharks with frickin' laser beams. But what about bomb-sniffing wasps and counterterror robotic lobsters and fish with CIA clearance? No, I'm not kidding. Your tax dollars in action.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Less than two months ago, in the face of a CBS poll putting the president's approval rating at just 34 percent, Brit Hume of Fox News said, quote, "There's good reason to be skeptical of this CBS poll. It's wildly oversampled Democrats."
Then came yesterday's poll from Fox News, which marks the president's approval at 33 percent.
There is a different kind of survey as well from way back in early 2004 of 415 historians. Eighty-one percent of them deemed the Bush administration to be a failure, at that point.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, President Bush, whose administration is now firing, perhaps prosecuting whistleblowers, is he simply the worst? That poll of historians just part of the evidence considered by fellow historian Sean Wilentz in "Rolling Stone" magazine. He will join us presently.
This is some of what he considers, that the 43rd president of the United States and his administration strained or even fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction, not only to justify the war in Iraq, but to promote a Bush doctrine of preemptive warfare, claimed an unprecedented expansion of presidential power under the guise of war, many of the administration's scandals having flowed from that, rammed retrofiscal policies through Congress, massive tax cuts that may have benefited only the wealthy, racked up monstrous deficits, borrowing more between 2001 and 2005 than all the previous 42 presidents combined, and other domestic policies so strident and so dismissive of scientific knowledge that one former Republican strategist calls today's Republicans, quote, "the first religious party in U.S. history."
Also, since reliable polling began in the 1940s, the only two-term president to drop to Mr. Bush's level was Richard Nixon in the throes of the Watergate disgrace.
As promised, I'm joined now by the director of the American Studies program at Princeton University, also author of "The Rise of American Democracy," Sean Wilentz.
Thanks for your time tonight, sir.
SEAN WILENTZ, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Keith, great to be here.
OLBERMANN: That "Rolling Stone" cover, which I realize was somebody else's editorial choice, showing Mr. Bush as a dunce, but your estimation of him is far more nuanced. You talk about his simplistic ideology and (INAUDIBLE) or unswerving adherence to that.
WILENTZ: Yes. I think the cover, actually, is a bit over the top. My point was that Bush has very strong ideas, and that, in fact, has come back to haunt him. It's not that he's a bad student. It's that he has very strong ideas, that he had the opportunity to lead the country, and in fact, blew that opportunity.
OLBERMANN: I'm a student of presidential history, not the way you are, I'm literally the student in the equation, but it seems to me that missing in the historical equation of who might be the worst is the idea that a lot of the one-termers were so bad that they either never sought reelection or were easily defeated. Does this president stand up or down to comparisons to the one-termers like James Buchanan, who slept through the buildup to the Civil War, or Andrew Johnson, who basically undid the few positives of the Civil War, or Herbert Hoover?
WILENTZ: Right. Well, I mean, unsuccessful presidents come in all shapes and sizes. It's true that some are so unsuccessful in their first term that they don't get reelected. But, you know, the case of Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon crushed his opponent in the 1972 election, and yet within two years, he had the polling numbers that you talked about, and he was forced to resign. U.S. Grant was a two-term president who came a cropper in many ways. So it's - that's not necessarily the measurement.
OLBERMANN: It's clear, is it not, though, that no matter what else happens, he's had the greatest collapse of any president in history? He had virtually unanimous support from the nation after 9/11. That might have been fueled by posttraumatic stress disorder, but he still had it, and he still had most of it the month we invaded Iraq. And for years he had successfully translated any opposition to him and his policies into unpatriotic behaviors. That's almost all gone now. Has he, in fact, fallen further than Richard Nixon did, without the resignation?
WILENTZ: Well, I mean, no one has been as high in the polls as he has and fallen as low as he did. I mean, Nixon never had a 90 percent approval rating as President Bush has had. So in just statistical terms, that's true.
But there's more to it than that, Keith. I mean, the question is, did the president end up governing the way that he said he would when he ran for president in 2000, when he said he'd be a uniter and not a divider, when he said he'd be a compassionate conservative? I think that there was a great deal of hope well before the attacks, the atrocities of September 11, that the president would govern the way that he said he would.
I think that what has happened, and you see a fairly steady decline, with a few upticks here and there, but what has happened is that the country has come to realize, despite the trauma, that they didn't really get what they thought they were going to be getting. They've got a man who, a president, who has ended up dividing the country more than he has united it, who has left leaving the country more acrimonious than when he began.
OLBERMANN: Answer the obvious criticism of this survey of 415 or so historians who had already in 2004 pretty much said, No, this is a losing proposition by a vote of eight to two, that, well, (INAUDIBLE) historians, academics tend to be liberal, the, there was a political motivation relative to the reelection campaign of 2004. Where does that fit in into this equation?
WILENTZ: Yes, as I say in the piece, historians generally and academics generally tend to be more liberal than the rest of the population, far more liberal. But what struck me, and that's really what inspired me to write this piece, was the lopsided character of this poll. I mean, it wasn't just, you know, liberal historians not liking Bush.
When you get 81 percent saying that the administration is a failure, when you get historians going back, not to Ronald Reagan or even Richard Nixon, but well before Nixon, to find (INAUDIBLE) a president, previous president, who ranked, in their estimation, as low as Bush did, that, that was striking to me. I mean, I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't imagine that would be the case.
So I don't think it's simply about politics here. In fact, when you do these - when you see these presidential polls or historians' polls, rather, about presidents, what's remarkable is how liberal organizations do them, conservative organizes do them. There's striking unanimity among historians about who are the successful presidents in our past, and who are the unsuccessful presidents in our past.
And what struck me about the poll two years ago was how lopsided it was. And given the fact that, you know, that poll was conducted before the Katrina debacle, before the Valerie Plame debacle, before the revelations about spying, domestic surveillance, I mean, I can't imagine those (INAUDIBLE) figures would be any better.
OLBERMANN: Of course, he will turn around and say that you're guilty, and the other historians are guilty, of pre-9/11 thinking, as George Orwell might have said.
WILENTZ: Well, (INAUDIBLE)...
OLBERMANN: Dr. Sean Wilentz, I'm sorry, 'm out of time. The director of the American Studies program at Princeton University. Great thanks for your time. Sorry to have cut you off.
WILENTZ: Really a pleasure.
OLBERMANN: And if you think the president has a big headache right now, talk to this guy. Twelve, don't even bother counting, there's 12 nails in his head.
Speaking of heads, how much is a good hair day really worth? When it comes to winning an election in the U.K., apparently it's priceless. The prime minister's wife's hair got more campaign money than one of the parliamentary candidates did.
Those stories ahead here on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Ninety-one years ago today Werner Groebli was born. If you've heard of him, you're lying, certainly under that name.
He was a comedy skater with the Ice Follies. His stage name was Frick. His partner, Hans Mauch, stage name was Frack, which is where we get that still endless comparison of any pair of colleagues or pals to Frick and Frack.
Happy birthday Frick. Let's play "Oddball."
We begin in beautiful downtown Travers City, Michigan, with the Countdown cow chase of the week. Traffic along the city's main thoroughfare brought to standstill as a cow in a trailer decides, "That's it. I'm out of here."
Not to worry, folks, these guys are trained professional cattle wranglers. Just look at them wrangle the cattle. Great job.
The cow, which seems on closer reflection to be related to Petey from "Our Gang", was finally corralled and stuck back into her trailer, and she's going to pay for this. You'll get yours.
You see a lot of X-rays on "Oddball," mostly guys who accidentally shot themselves in the head with a nail gun and lived to tell about it. Who can forget this guy? Or this guy? And of course, that guy.
But tonight we meet the new standard of metal head, this guy. An unnamed man who walked into an Oregon hospital complaining of a small headache. Twelve nails in the noggin will do that. The Portland hospital says it removed the nails in a first of its kind operation, and the man will be OK.
How did he get 12 nails in his head? Well, it really becomes less funny when you start asking questions like that. Self-inflicted. They're thinking mental illness, maybe meth.
Finally tonight, this day in "Oddball" history, it was 20 years ago today, one of history's greatest oddballs gave us one of television's greatest anticlimaxes. April 21, 1986, Geraldo Rivera cracked open Al Capone's vault, for the biggest live TV special audience in history. About 30 million people watched as Geraldo and his crew blew open the vault and found nothing. Just a big pile of dirt. But look, it's Al Capone's dirt.
In the first of many dirt-related incidents for Geraldo Rivera, including his famous map of the dirt, giving away the location of some of our troops in Iraq, and of course, his new syndicated show on FOX.
Speaking of spaces, there's MySpace.com. The web site for teens has taken a lot of hits lately, but it may have just helped stop a high school massacre.
And we'll meet the latest Democratic candidate for - no, this bionic burrow is another weird weapon in the war against terror.
Plus bomb sniffing wasps.
Those stories ahead. But now, here our Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
No. 3, the bird lady of Hollywood. It's a cliche by now, the old woman who overfeeds the birds. The big bag of seeds. Hollywood has one. She carries around 25-pound sacks near the intersection of Sunset and Vine. They estimate she's spreading 112 tons of seed a year. Needless to say, it is dive bomb central around there for pigeon poop. Police are trying to find a way to get her to stop.
No. 2, Bill Thompson from Chicago. He is 65. His kidney is 82. He was 15 years old when he received one of the first kidney transplants from a living unrelated donor, a friend of his mother's named Berta Walton. She died in 1994, but her kidney is still going strong inside Bill Thompson.
No. 1, speaking of going strong, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright tells the "New York Times" Sunday magazine that at age 68, she works out three times a week and, quote, "I can leg press up to 400 pounds." Only a cynic would suggest that that's one pound at a time, 400 times.
OLBERMANN: It has been described as a one-stop shopping area for pedophiles, but amid a sea of such bad publicity, the teen-dominated web site MySpace may have saved the lives of some teens.
Our third story on the Countdown, five teenagers now behind bars after being arrested just hours before they planned to commemorate Columbine with more killing in Riverton, Kansas. Fortunately, as our correspondent, Kevin Tibbles reports, one of them was stupid enough to have posted details on that web site.
KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Riverton High School tried to carry on today as horrified students arrived, knowing five classmates remained in custody for allegedly plotting to open fire in the school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just doesn't seem realistic that it could happen here, a small town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it could happen in Riverton, Kansas, every school in the country is in jeopardy.
TIBBLES: Police say they discovered guns, ammunition and knives in the bedroom of one suspect.
(on camera) The sheriff says the attack had been planned since the beginning of the school year, adding that attackers would have been wearing black trenchcoats and would have disabled the school's camera system.
It was to have taken place yesterday, the anniversary of the school shootings at Columbine and Adolf Hitler's birthday.
Some students say there were signals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He came in my class saying, you know, "Thursday's Hitler's birthday. Wear a bulletproof vest."
TIBBLES: Police had no idea until an Internet user in North Carolina said one suspect bragged about the plot on the web site MySpace.com. MySpace will not discuss the specifics but said in a statement, "Users are encouraged to report to customer care or local law enforcement any activity they feel jeopardizes the safety of the community."
Security experts say it's not just up to Internet sites to protect the public.
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: It's got to go back to the home. It's got to go back to the school. That's where our first line of defense is.
TIBBLES: As Riverton High deals with what happened to five of its own, it's also trying to move on. Tomorrow night is the senior prom.
Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Riverton, Kansas.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, happy birthday, dear Queenie. Queen Elizabeth II of England hits the big 8-0.
No truth to rumors that baseball's Julio Franco attended her coronation. The first baseman is actually three months and five days older than I am. He shatters a record that has stood for more than ¾ of a century, just as he has stood for more than ¾ of a century.
Those stories ahead, but first your Countdown top three sound bites.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Miss Vanna White.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gasoline was not this customer's primary reason for coming into this pawn shop, but the owner says more and more people are coming in to help ease the pain felt at the pump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the biggest thing is I can't afford to pick it back up, because I need the money to get to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One person brought in a car to get a loan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She couldn't afford to drive to work.
JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": And I thought this was nice. The president of China gave President Bush a traditional Chinese gift, a pirate bootleg copy of "Mission: Impossible iii" two weeks before it opens.
OLBERMANN: Birthday for the queen, bad hair day for the British government, and a whole ark full of animals trained to protect us from terrorists. Countdown continues.
OLBERMANN: It was one of the most infamous moments of the Clinton presidency, air traffic in Los Angeles supposedly tied up while the president supposedly sat aboard Air Force One on the tarmac, getting his hair cut.
Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, we have imported the controversy to Great Britain, evidently. According to the "Times" of London, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair used campaign money to foot the bill for her hair care costs during the last month of last year, general election there, the equivalent of $13,700, twice what the Labor Party spent on the election in the parliamentary district of Liverpool, Walton.
The spokeswoman for the party didn't find this too offensive, saying, quote, "So what? Don't forget: we won the election." Thanks to Cherie Blair's hair, no doubt.
All of that putting a damper - or at least a hair net - over the celebrations of the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the second longest serving head of state in the world. And as our correspondent Keith Miller reports, probably the one who has served the longest without really letting her people getting much of an idea of who she is.
KEITH MILLER, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She certainly looked like she was having a good time this morning. But then Queen Elizabeth has spent her life being correct in public, always. She calls it duty.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's going to be queen forever.
MILLER: Still, to all of her subjects and the reporters who cover her, she is a woman of mystery.
(on camera) The British may take a certain delight in criticizing the royal family.
(voice-over) In 15 years of covering Queen Elizabeth, she has always appeared to me to be in control. She was trained as a child not to cry in public. The one exception I witnessed, her grief over the death of Princess Diana.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her Majesty, the Queen.
MILLER: In her 1957 Christmas message she explained what a queen does and does not do.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II, ENGLAND: I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart.
SUE CARROLL, ROYAL COLUMNIST: I think the queen symbolizes everything that's great about Britain, our grandeur, our traditions.
MILLER: Also in the press pen with me today Arthur Edwards, royal photographer for 30 years. He treasures the candid photos he's captured, but never got that private shot.
ARTHUR EDWARDS, ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHER: I think I know a little bit more than a lot of people, but I don't know the real queen.
QUEEN ELIZABETH: Wonderful.
MILLER: We do know that she adores her pet dogs, enjoys placing a bet on race hosts and like many families, knows the pain of divorce.
(on camera) If you observed the queen closely enough after many years, you've come to believe she's got the common touch, that behind these palace walls, she lives like the rest of us.
(voice-over) All they wanted for her birthday, she said, was some sunshine. Instead, tonight a fireworks display in her honor, turning her nighttime bright, but shedding little light on the woman on the throne.
Keith Miller, NBC News, Windsor.
OLBERMANN: Age providing the segue into our nightly round of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs."
And Elizabeth had barely been on the thrown six years when on August 23, 1958, Julio Cesar Franco was born in Hato Mayor in the Dominican Republic. Not really a big deal, until you realize that Franco is still today playing Major League Baseball, and darn well. This year, he has hit more home runs than Barry Bonds.
The 47-year-old pinch-hit a two-run homer for the Mets in San Diego last night, becoming the oldest big leader to go yard. The previous most ancient was pitcher Jack Quinn, who hit a homer for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1930 at the age of 46 years, 357 days. No, Julio Franco was not at that game.
Franco says he wants to keep playing until he's 50. He's in the first year of a two-year contract with the Mets. And yes, the team's two young stars, in-fielders David Wright and Jose Reyes, were both born after Franco made his major league debut with the 1982 Phillies.
If radio were a ballgame, then David Lee Roth just got yanked in the early innings after getting absolutely shelled. The former Van Halen frontman did his last show for CBS Radio this morning, less than three months after having stepped into the void left by Howard Stern, who jumped to Sirius Satellite Radio in January.
Roth told listeners today he found out about the news in his car on the way into the studio. Quote, "I was booted, tossed, and it's going to cost somebody."
Ironically, Diamond Dave will be replaced by Stern's arch radio enemies, the Opie and Anthony guys. They have enjoyed a successful run on Stern's new rival, X.M. Satellite Radio. They were fired by CBS in 2002 after a much publicized stunt in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
Now, though, they will simulcast their satellite radio show for three hours on the free stations while doing two additional X.M.-only hours for the paying - my head hurts.
Other heads are rolling at the "New York Post" after a payola scandal in the gossip department, or more correctly, a non-payola scandal. All four freelance gossip, quote, "reporters", unquote, canned in the wake of the accusations that one of them, Jared Paul Stern, tried to extort $20,000 from billionaire Ron Burkle in return for protection from bad publicity. That case now under investigation by the FBI and the Manhattan district attorney's office.
We have no official comment from the "Post" on the termination, but last week its editor-in-chief, Paul Allen, had promised to tighten ship. Still in place, "Page Six" full timers, including its editor and chief writer, Richard Johnson.
More dangerous than a "Page Six" gossip reporter, WMD, wasps against mass destruction. Trying to hear if I said the word right: wasps. That's ahead. But first, time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for the worst person in the world.
The bronze to Bill O'Reilly. Well, he's slipping but he can still occasionally get off a good one. Whining about measures in California preventing arrests of the homeless he said, "The ACLU wants to force society to house people who will not support themselves, who will not do it because they want to get drunk or they want to get high. They want - they don't want to work. They're too lazy."
Can we get him a calendar? 2006. The idea that all homeless are there by choice vanished about 1976. Geesh.
Tonight's runner up, Michael Thelemann of Bray, Oklahoma. He's 45. He's unmarried. So he put up a sign in his yard offering $1,000 for Miss Right. The community is aghast. "What's the problem?" Mr. Thelemann says. "I'm just somebody who's getting up there in years and I'm looking for a born-again, God-fearing virgin between the ages of 12 and 24, who can bear me children."
Might want to shift that age window a tad north, buddy.
But the winner, the fire department of Des Moines, Iowa. "The Washington Times" reporting the department took their assistance to firefighters counterterrorism grant from homeland security and spent $69,000 on puppets and clowns.
No, no, not kickbacks to Michael Chertoff. Actual puppets and clowns to a group that teaches fire safety through puppet and clown shows.
The Fire Department of Des Moines, keeping Iowa safe from terrorism using puppets and clowns, today's worst persons in the world.
OLBERMANN: Speak about animals and human warfare and sooner or later, you'll get around to the Trojan horse, which of course wasn't Trojan; it was Greek. They slipped it over on the Trojans. It wasn't a horse either. It was really just an early example of good toy modeling.
Our No. 1 story on THE Countdown, the horse of course gave birth to one maxim, beware of Greeks bearing gifts, which completely contradicts a later maxim, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. By now you realize I'm just killing time because it's Friday. It's never easy to pad these shows out to 60 minutes, is it?
Where was I? Animals and human warfare. The ancient Greeks can finally relax. We have replaced their hollow horse with an even wackier-sounding concept, the bomb-sniffing anti-terror wasp.
Countdown'S senior entomology correspondent, Monica Novotny is here with the latest on this and other counterintuitive counter-terrorism measures.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
Researchers are thinking outside the box and inside the cage when it comes to the war on terror. These days it's the animal kingdom, believe it or not, that's serving for inspiration for how we protect our communities.
NOAH SHACHTMAN, DEFENSETECH.ORG: The idea that, you know, you're swimming along and you're about to do your dastardly deed. And then all of a sudden, here comes Flipper and binding you up. It's pretty funny.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): That's right: dolphins arresting an under water enemy.
When it comes to the war on terror, the elephant in the room is this.
Animals are once again our secret weapon.
SHACHTMAN: If you want to go back to even Roman times, Romans used dogs. Hannibal used war elephants.
NOVOTNY: From Flipper to sharks, horses, even wasps. More and more, law enforcement officials, the military and researchers are working with animals to keep communities safe.
JOE LEWIS, ENTOMOLOGIST: They're able to process information better than our very best computers.
NOVOTNY: At this University of Georgia lab, entomologist Joe Lewis has spent more than $4 million federal dollars testing and training 100,000 wasps with a strong response to smells to be future bomb-sniffers.
LEWIS: Even though they have a little brain about the size of a pin head, they're able to learn all types of information.
NOVOTNY: And while the U.S. Navy has been working with dolphins for years to help locate underwater mines and enemy divers, there are now reports that dolphins have been able to detain the enemy. And of course, there was that unusual story of missing dolphins during the last hurricane season.
OLBERMANN: Could there be 36 trained dolphins out there somewhere, carrying toxic darts on their backs, ready to shoot surfers or divers or Lloyd Bridges or Patrick Duffy from "Manimal"?
SHACHTMAN: I am not buying the toxic dart wielding dolphin theory, no.
NOVOTNY: One thing we do know for sure in New York and cities around the U.S., police are increasing horseback policing. The city, doubling its mounted patrol over the next three years, especially effective for crowd control at times when homeland security is critical.
DEPUTY INSPECTOR HAROLD KOHLMANN, NYPD MOUNTED UNIT: You can see a block in each direction, and people who need help can see you and people who are going to commit crimes can also see the officer on a horse. And they're mobile. They can get through traffic. They can get to places quickly.
NOVOTNY (on camera): And these days, animals are more than just a tool in a battle against the enemy. They're also the inspiration for the next generation.
SHACHTER: The military has a big push underway to learn from nature, to study from nature how to improve its capabilities.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): This robot, called the big dog, based on a pack mule, designed by researchers to haul soldiers' gear over rough terrain.
And look closely. That's a robo lobster, designed to weather heavy surf like it's real world counterpart, scanning the ocean floor for mines.
The next step, research already underway to implement brain implants for sharks. Now that the wild kingdom is going to war, any animal is fair game.
NOVOTNY: And we shouldn't leave out the rats. Yes, rats are also being studied. Researchers believe rodents could be effective in sniffing out bombs or even survivors in search and rescue operations.
OLBERMANN: Two things. I don't know where you got that guy who said Patrick Duffy was "Manimal". He was "The Man from Atlantis."
NOVOTNY: Not a credible source. I'll have to note that.
OLBERMANN: A little bit of - but the pack mule, the robot, do they realize it makes that kind of noise? Doesn't that sort of destroys the stealth component to it, if it makes that buzzing sound?
NOVOTNY: Well, I think, you know, it's in the preliminary stages, but what about those legs? Did you see how when you kick it, that it still maintains a balance? That's the biggest thing.
OLBERMANN: Yes, in the middle of the night, it's going to come for you, too.
NOVOTNY: It carries humans of pounds of gear.
OLBERMANN: Did you say remote control sharks?
NOVOTNY: Yes. That's the plan. So it's not going to happen next week.
OLBERMANN: With fricking laser beams.
OLBERMANN: Countdown'S Monica Novotny. Great thanks.
That is Countdown for this, the 1,086th day since the declaration of "mission accomplished" in Iraq.
A reminder to join us again, please, at midnight Eastern, 11 p.m. Central, 9 Pacific for the late edition of Countdown tonight. Until then, it's a special presentation of "Lock Up: Return to Valley State."
I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END