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Surge Needs More Time to Work; Airline Carry-on Rules Change Again

Aired July 20, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, new hints the Iraq troop increase may be long- term, as U.S. commanders urge more time.

Also, new rules about what you can carry-on board your next flight. We'll show what you travelers need to know. And does presidential candidate Barack Obama have an advantage with African- American voters in one key primary state?

We have the poll numbers for you.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with some tough news for some military families. Deployments extended for thousands of servicemen and women in Iraq, and there may be more to come. Top commanders are now hinting the troop increase may be needed well beyond that September Milestone.

Our senior correspondent, Jamie McIntyre joining us live -- Jamie, tell us what the generals are saying about all of this.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well -- Miles, we're heading for a rude awakening in September. That's because the U.S. Congress has one kind of surge mentality and the front line commanders have another.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: (voice-over): The U.S. military says the Wild West of Anbar Province, a former Al Qaeda stronghold, is a success story. Last week, there were only 98 violent incidents in Anbar, compared to 428 for the same week a year ago.

So the surge forces should be able to leave, right?

Not so fast, says their commander.

MAJ. GEN. WALTER GASKIN, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-WEST: The key to this is having a persistent presence. But I don't see it happening overnight. I believe it's another couple of years in order to get that -- to there. MCINTYRE: A surge force of 2,200 Marines has been extended 30 days in Anbar to help lock in the gains of the past month. And that illustrates a common misconception that if the surge succeeds, it allow U.S. troops to leave, while, in fact, success may create more pressure for the troops to stay until Iraqi forces can step in.

Here's what Major General Rick Lynch, another surge commander, told the A.P.: "It's going to take me into next spring and summer to generate this sustained security presence.

So what about the September review?

The number two commander in Iraq seemed to say he wants more time.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: In order to do a good assessment, I need at least until November to do that assessment.

MCINTYRE: In a statement, General Odierno insisted he was not moving the goal posts, saying: "My reference to November was simply suggesting that as we go forward beyond September, we will gain more interesting of the trends.

But one trend is clear -- U.S. commanders don't want to see the surge end too soon.

GEN. JAMES CONWAY, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: If we pullout and are perceived to be pulling out without having achieved a measure of success, they win.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: The consensus of U.S. generals is that the biggest mistake in the past was pulling out too soon.

So -- Miles, it's going to be very difficult for General Petraeus to recommend troop cuts if his front line commanders are dead set against it.

O'BRIEN: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Thank you very much.

Israel is trying to bolster the fragile Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas. To do that, Israel is releasing prisoners aligned with Abbas' Fatah Party.

But it's the rival Hamas movement that is posing a problem for the Bush administration, which considers Hamas a terrorist group.

Now former Secretary of State Colin Powell is parting ways once again with his former boss, saying the United States should reach out to Hamas.

CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee joining us live -- Zain, why does General Powell think that reaching out to Hamas will help at all?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well -- Miles, Colin Powell is saying basically that Hamas is not just going to go away, and talking will help.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: (voice-over): Hamas took control of Gaza and says it wants to destroy Israel. The previous and present secretaries of state have opposite ideas on how to deal with Hamas. In an interview with National Public Radio, Colin Powell says someone has to reach out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED," COURTESY NPR)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think you'd have to find some way to talk to Hamas. As an unpleasant a group as they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions I don't think you can cast them into outer darkness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. won't talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: When you can't even acknowledge the right of your partner to exist it's going to be very hard to have peace talks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Part of the problem, Hamas is listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and U.S. law doesn't allow support for or talks with blacklisted groups. But some analysts say it's time for the U.S. to encourage others to reach out to Hamas.

ROBERT MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: It's a reality. Somebody's going to have to deal with them. And if you don't deal with them, you have the risk of chaos in Gaza or of even more radical groups emerging.

VERJEE: Hamas has military, political and charitable wings.

POWELL: They enjoy considerable support among the Palestinian people. They won an election that we insisted upon having.

VERJEE: The U.S. is backing Hamas' rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose influence doesn't extend to Gaza.

MALLEY: And at the end of the day, if he doesn't speak for all Palestinians, in Gaza and in the West Bank, if he doesn't speak for those who are loyal to Fatah and those who are loyal to Hamas, he can't deliver the stability and he can't deliver the sustainable peace.

(END VIDEO TAPE) VERJEE: Hamas has both radical and moderate wings -- Miles. A senior State Department acknowledged to CNN that there are differences within the group, yes. But also said that they decide that policy together and they are very disciplined in maintaining it -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, so, Zain, with that in mind, it's likely, if the U.S. were to reach out to Hamas, it would be the moderates who would respond and the more radicals would be left out of the process anyway.

VERJEE: Right. Exactly. I mean some analysts are saying that that could be the case. And even if that wasn't the result, what it would do, by talking to Hamas, it would at least prevent more chaos and sideline more radical elements from completely taking over and that the engagement would be worth it.

O'BRIEN: Zain Verjee, thank you very much.

VERJEE: Thanks, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty now in New York with this hour's Cafferty File question -- hello, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Miles.

Very frightening statistics --

75 percent of adult Americans will be overweight and 41 percent will be obese by 2015 -- just eight years from now -- if we keep packing on the pounds the way we have been. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University put out a study and are now calling obesity a public health crisis.

And they're right.

They found that 24 percent of children could also be overweight or obese in the next eight years and that every group in the population of this country is steadily getting fatter. They fear if nothing is done to stop the trend, obesity will soon become the leading preventable cause of death in this country.

Not to mention the fact that being fat also puts people at higher risk for things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

So here's the question -- researchers say 75 percent of Americans adults will be overweight by 2015.

What can be done to prevent that happening?

E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: You know, it would be nice if there were some alternatives to all those fast food places -- all that deep fried food.

CAFFERTY: Well, the alternative is you don't have to go there -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, but it's hard, though. It's hard for people to find affordable food that's good for them.

CAFFERTY: Develop some willpower, Miles, and stay away from the Big Mack.

O'BRIEN: I've got a thing for fries, I'm sorry.

CAFFERTY: Right.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jack -- Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Up ahead, no water, but now you are free to bring a lighter on board your next flight. The government is changing the rules. A bit surprising. We'll tell you about them.

Also, a food scandal. Now allegations of a government cover-up. We'll have the latest on China's cardboard dumplings.

Plus, cheers and jeers as a controversial slugger nears a big baseball record.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Some big changes in what you're allow today carry on board your next flight. The Transportation Security Administration is amending the rules on some surprising items.

CNN's Carol Costello is here to shed some light on things, you might say.

You know, you would think we could finally bring a bottle of water on.

It's not the water, though, is it?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it is not the water. But, mothers rejoice -- breast milk is now a go. And lighters, yes, slip them in your carry-on. As for whether any of this adds to the feeling of safety in the skies, well that's up in the air.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: (voice-over): The ban on your Bic has been lifted. Two years ago, the TSA banned cigarette lighters after Congress deemed them so dangerous, they were written into the Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, a law born, in part, because of Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to ignite his shoe bombs with a match on board on a flight from Paris to Miami.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think at the time that they enacted it, there was good reason to do so. But terrorist threats do evolve and we know a flame is not going to be the common detonator used for an IED.

COSTELLO: As in improvised explosive device.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lighter, you know, you can start fire with a lighter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not like that idea.

COSTELLO: Travelers aren't so happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it seems illogical to pick that one to readmit considering all the things they're still banning.

COSTELLO: The frustration is born out of the TSA's habit of modification.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My biggest problem is not the lighters or the water, it's all the flights being delayed.

COSTELLO: Let's start with shoes. After 9/11, travelers were not required to take off their shoes. But by July of 2003, the TSA said wear your shoes. But if you do, it's likely you'll get screened a second time. By August of 2006, the TSA required you to remove your shoes.

And who can forget the all-liquid ban of 2006?

On August 10th, the TSA banned all liquids after a terrorist plot to blow up airplanes using liquid explosives was foiled.

By August 13th, the TSA partially lifted the ban, to allow small doses of non-prescription liquid prescriptions, but still banned toiletries.

By September 25th, the liquid ban was modified again, to allow three ounce liquid toiletries if they fit into a zip locked plastic baggy.

Oh, and that liquid ban?

It's been altered for a fourth time. The TSA now allows more than three ounces of breast milk on board planes, even if you don't have a baby with you.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: And back to the cigarette lighters for just a minute. The TSA says it costs $4 million a year to dispose of confiscated lighters. It collects 22,000 lighters a day nationwide. That's five times the height of the Empire State Building if you stack them end to end. So economics is at play here, too.

O'BRIEN: So, in other words, the disposal of these things is not easy. It's not like you just toss them, they -- because they have butane or whatever in them.

COSTELLO: No, you can't just -- yes, exactly.

O'BRIEN: Yes. So -- so, but the -- it's -- you still have to ask the question -- a lighter -- you could probably do some harm, as opposed to a bottle of water.

COSTELLO: Well, that's what some airline passengers said. I mean you can light stuff on fire on the plane with the lighter. So passengers don't really understand why they're bringing lighters back.

But the TSA says it's just too time consuming to confiscate them all. So they're concentrating on things that they deem much more dangerous now.

O'BRIEN: I just want my Leatherman back.

Will they ever bring it back?

No, they won't. They're not going to give it back to me.

All right, thank you very much, Carol Costello.

Interestingly, despite all the restrictions, you are allowed to carry on knitting needles, most screwdrivers -- no Leathermen, though. I have found that out myself -- and even certain types of scissors with those pointed tips and blades less than four inches in length. I'm -- I'm kind of scratching my head over the whole thing at this point.

Still ahead in the program, will Barack Obama's race help him in the race for the White House?

We'll take the pulse in one critical primary state.

Plus, Vice President Cheney taking command. We'll show you why he is assuming power from President Bush temporarily.

Stay with us.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Chinese food made of cardboard. The story made headlines worldwide last week. But the arrest of the reporter who uncovered it has some people now suspecting a cover-up by the Chinese government.

CNN's John Vause is in Beijing with more.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): When this hidden camera investigation revealed cardboard being used as the main ingredient in dumplings, not only was there shock and outrage across China, but the story went around the world as just another example of this country's appalling food standards. But according to the authorities, it was all a hoax. And a week after first approving the story, state-run television aired an apology on behalf of China's journalists administration.

"The fake report seriously hurt China and the Chinese people," the anchor said, and then added, "it's important to hold to Marx's theory about journalism."

The journalist behind the expose is now being held by police, awaiting trial. The head of the television station has been fired.

PAUL MOONEY, FREELANCE REPORTER: And I think it's going to be, you know, sending a message to journalists just to be careful what about they report.

VAUSE: Paul Mooney, a 13-year veteran China reporter, says it's part of a clear, disturbing trend.

MOONEY: And they have a history of covering up things. They covered up the extent of the HIV/AIDs. They tried to cover up SARS. And they've also been in a state of denial about these various food problems.

VAUSE: There's no way to know for certain if this is another cover-up. But the expose came just as China was trying to convince the world that its exports, especially its food, are safe, raising suspicion and concerns that the reporter and his work are being discredited by the government.

(on camera): According to the Committee To Protect Journalists, 29 reporters are in jail right now in China because of their work, often for embarrassing Communist Party officials. An unknown number have also been fired just for doing their jobs.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

O'BRIEN: It's a big day in space history. Thirty-eight years ago today, the Eagle landed -- a tiny fragile spacecraft carrying American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the Sea of Tranquility. It was a nail biting approach. They were near a boulder. They were running out of fuel. Finally, they made it down to the moon. Neil Armstrong going down the steps of the lunar module and transmitting back to the world those famous words: "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Now, NASA says it wants to go back to the moon, and by the year 2020, says it will do just that.

In the meantime, they're working on that space station up there. NASA says it's very important to do the space station in order to get people ready to go to the moon and back on to Mars.

And if you've ever wondered what it's like to be on the space station, there's a place online you can go. Let's bring back our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, who will give us a virtual tour of the space station -- hello, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Hey, Miles.

I'm calling it the international cyber space station now that you can check it out online.

Yes, NASA just put online this 3D tour. They say this isn't the actual station in space, but it's a module on the ground. And they said basically it looks exactly like the same as the real thing, except the real thing is a little messier, because obviously people have been living in it.

Now, I'll give you a little hint. Miles and I went through this a little earlier today and he knows almost everything in this space station. But you can take a tour around for yourself, see the components that are there now, go from section to section. You can also take a look at three components that have not been added yet. NASA says they're planning to add these on starting in the fall.

What's also available on the site now, which is really cool, is how the crew lives. It shows them how you eat, how they sleep, how they work out. And one of the things that we talked about a little earlier today is that they can sleep in any position because there's no gravity, but they have to attach themselves to something -- Miles, you taught me this -- because they'll float around.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

SCHECHNER: So, even though they can standing up, essentially, because there's no gravity, they have to lock themselves down.

O'BRIEN: They would be in a bad way without Velcro, wouldn't they? All right --

SCHECHNER: It's good for lots of things.

O'BRIEN: Jacki Schechner, thank you very much.

Still ahead on the program, they're sitting on top of some of the world's largest oil reserves and yet they're waiting in line -- sometimes more than a day -- just to buy a tank full of gas.

We'll find out why.

Plus, a race to a baseball record tainted by controversy. Barry Bonds facing as many boos as cheers.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Some breaking news coming into us right now.

Carol Costello is in THE NEWSROOM watching things for us -- Carol what do you have?

COSTELLO: Yes, this information just coming in to me, Miles.

Now, there's a big lawsuit against the makers of Oxycontin -- Pharma LP -- Purdue Pharma LP is the company name. A federal judge has fined them a whopping $634.5 million for misleading the public in how addictive Oxycontin was. I'm just reading. This was part of a plea deal and this is what Purdue is admitting to.

The company also agreed to subject itself to independent monitoring and remedial action program. Purdue acknowledged that it illegally marketed and promoted Oxycontin by falsely claiming that Oxycontin was less addictive, less subject to abuse and diversion and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than other pain medications, all in an effort to maximize its profits.

Again, Purdue Pharma LP and three executives now fined $634.5 million by a federal judge. And I guess that settles that lawsuit.

I'm going to keep reading about it, and when I get more info, I will pass it along.

Back to you -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right.

Carol Costello watching that for us.

Thank you very much.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid, reconstruction of Iraq's oil sector is still moving very slowly, as a result, despite the country's huge oil reserves, Iraqis have to go to great lengths just to fill up for a tank of gas.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in Baghdad with more.

FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, one of the questions that Iraqis are asking themselves, of course, is have their living conditions gotten any better since the end of the Saddam Hussein regime? And certainly many would say that that is not the case.

There's barely any employment in this country. Security, of course, is a big problem. And one thing that people would not have thought -- it's very, very difficult for them to get even simple things like fuel.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

PLEITGEN: (voice-over): "Move, move, the sun is killing me," this man shouts. But no one here is going anywhere soon. Some wait in line for more 24 hours. This is what the Iraqis go through trying to buy gas for their cars.

"They simply can't meet the demand. Three quarters of fuel stations in this city are closed. Some are open, but most of them don't have any fuel."

A fuel shortage in the country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world. While many drivers have to push the final yards to the pump, this is what they often see when they get there -- the service station is out of gas, again. And that's more than a nuisance. Many people in one place for a long time means grave danger in Baghdad, where gas stations are increasingly targeted by insurgents, like this one, hit only a few days ago, killing four people.

Many Iraqis are fed up. "We are protesting here today to call upon the government to provide general services to the citizens," he says.

But the Iraqi Oil Ministry says it's doing all it can to provide citizens with gasoline. It blames insurgent attacks on fuel tankers for the crisis.

And that's not all. Gasoline pipelines like this one south of Baghdad, get hit regularly, often cutting fuel supplies for days. And that translates into this -- more than 24 hours, waiting for gas, with the next oil field only a couple of miles away.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Miles, many Iraqis blame the central government for what's wrong with the fuel crisis. They say there's a lot of corruption involved. But, certainly, the security situation here in Iraq does play a major role -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Frederik Pleitgen in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

That's just one of the political insecurity problems facing Iraqi.

Could it be time for the United Nations to do more?

Our next guest thinks so.

Joining us now is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, who, of course, has a lot of experience as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Mr. Ambassador, good to you have with us.

The security situation -- you have come out and said it's time for the United Nations to step up and do more in Iraq.

But with the security situation the way it is -- you can't even control those oil fields, you can't even get gas into Iraqis' gas tanks in a country sitting on that huge oil reserve -- isn't it premature to be talking about putting United Nations forces or workers of any kind in the fray?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, Miles, the secretary-general said the other day that the future of Iraq was important for the world. And that the U.N. will do more to assist and we agree with his assessment in terms of the importance of Iraq, and the opportunity for the U.N. to do more.

And what the U.N. is talking about is not at this point putting forces in Iraq, but working on the political aspect of the situation in Iraq to reduce the sources of violence.

The violence in Iraq is driven in large part by disagreement among Iraqis about political and economic issues, division of power, as well as about regional players playing an unhelpful roles and contributing to the violence. And on those two fronts, we believe that the U.N. with assistance from the United States, and others can play a positive rule. And so we welcome the secretary-general's statements.

O'BRIEN: Well, Mr. Ambassador, let's harken back to that terrible incident in August of 2003 when the United Nations headquarters in Iraq was bombed.

There were 900 U.N. workers at the time, 22 of them were killed, including the chief U.N. representative there. That's when the retreat happened. It's going to be very difficult to convince the United Nations to put large numbers of people back in harm's way, don't you think?

KHALILIZAD: Well, absolutely. It will be important that when a new envoy is selected, when a new mandate is given to the new envoy, as to what he will do, that appropriate security and logistic and other support is given, given the difficult situation, security-wise, that you're referring to, in Iraq.

And we have said that the United States is willing to do its part to assist the U.N. in carrying out this outdated expanded mission with the new envoy.

O'BRIEN: Yesterday, on Capitol Hill, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crcker was talking to lawmakers. He was questioned by Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat of Delaware. Let's listen for just a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I promise you old buddy, forget what Joe Biden says. Listen to the Republicans. We ain't staying. We're not staying. We're not staying. Not much time. Political benchmarks better be met or we're in real trouble because we'll have traded a dictator for chaos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you this. At this point, with support drying up on the war from both sides of the aisle here in Washington, is the call for more U.N. presence there? Does it amount to sort of a Hail Mary pass?

KHALILZAD: No, there is no question that the patience of the American people is running out. And when I was in Baghdad, I communicated that to the Iraqis.

But as we move forward, it's important that as political progress, as well as progress in terms of regional diplomacy, and therefore, this U.N. initiative, greater U.N. role, I think, will have a positive effect, not only with regard to dealing with the situation in Iraq, but also in terms of their support here in Congress.

I know that many members of Congress have called for greater U.N. role, for internationalizing the effort more in Iraq. And what the secretary-general has said and what we have said in support of that is consistent with that.

But the situation in Iraq is difficult, there's a lot of humanitarian suffering. There's a lot of violence. It will take time. But I think the time has come. And it's appropriate for the U.N. to play a bigger role, given that what happens in Iraq will impact the future of the world.

O'BRIEN: I want to shift gears just briefly with you, Mr. Ambassador and talk about Pakistan. There's been a lot of talk about this area of north Waziristan, the place where we believe Osama bin Laden and some of the senior al Qaeda people are. And the debate, the open debate that is occurring right now between the Bush administration and the government of President Musharraf. Let's listen to White House Spokesman Tony Snow for just a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: As always, we also retain -- we certainly do not rule out options. And we retain the option of especially striking at actionable targets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Now, response came out not long after that from the Pakistan foreign ministry said this: "Such causes and calls are irresponsible and dangerous. It would be counterproductive to create an impression on any divergences or differences on the issue of counterterrorism."

I think a lot of people are quite frankly confused as to where the government of Pakistan stands in this and if they truly are an ally in the pursuit of al Qaeda and its leadership.

KHALILZAD: Well, it is it now if it wasn't clear before that the extremist threat, al Qaeda threat is a threat not only to the world, to the United States, but also to the government of Pakistan.

You saw what al-Zawahiri said about the Pakistani government in the aftermath of recent developments there. It's very important for our Pakistani friends to recognize, and I think many of them in the government do, that a sanctuary for al Qaeda and Pakistan in the Waziristan region is a threat to the world and a threat to Pakistan itself.

That working together with the Pakistanis and the lead they can deal with it. But god forbid if there is an attack against the United States homeland or against Europe, that can be traced to groups based in Waziristan.

Pakistan will face a much bigger problem. So it is, I think, imperative, and we're willing to work with Pakistan. Pakistan's President Musharraf and Pakistan is a good ally in the war on terror. But this problem of al Qaeda in Waziristan and the broader problem of extremism and Taliban have to be dealt with.

O'BRIEN: Zalmay Khalilzad is the U.S. ambassador to the United States. Thank you for your time, sir.

KHALILZAD: Thank you, Miles.

On the run and on the verge of collapse. That was al Qaeda after 9/11. But now, the terror network is back to its former strength. CNN's Brian Todd joining us live -- Brian, such a stark contrast to a few years ago, isn't it?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Miles, very stark. And to see an illustration of that, you need only look at a piece of correspondence from a disgruntled al Qaeda operative to the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A sobering snapshot of al Qaeda's comeback. Look at this letter from an al Qaeda operative to a key leader. Quote, "The East Asia, Europe, America, horn of Africa, Yemen, Gulf and Morocco groups have fallen, and Pakistan has almost been drowned in one push." That was five years ago, just nine months after 9/11.

Fast forward to now.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Al Qaeda has protected or regenerated three of four key elements in planning an attack on the homeland: a safe haven in Pakistan, operational lieutenants and top leadership.

TODD: Pakistan's role in losing ground to al Qaeda, well documented by U.S. officials, cutting deals with Taliban sympathizers -- a reluctance to push hard into remote tribal areas. But since that letter, other crucial factors in al Qaeda's resurgence.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, NYU CENTER ON LAW AND SECURITY: Then came the Iraq war, which was a life line to al Qaeda because it allowed it to have a new course to recruit.

TODD: But there's internal blame as well. CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin, who was involved in the CIA's hunt for al Qaeda back in 2002 says partisan politics have water-downed America's will. JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Take a look for example at the controversy over the NSA monitoring program. It hasn't been settled. This is an important counterterrorism tool.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: McLaughlin makes it clear, he says U.S. intelligence and military forces are still aggressively pursuing al Qaeda. But he says it is very difficult to keep constant and heavy pressure on a group like that, which can use almost any conflict as a recruiting tool - Miles?

O'BRIEN: Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Still ahead in the program, we're gearing up for our YouTube debate among presidential candidates on the Democratic side. That's Monday at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. We presume they will standing and attentive. Our Candy Crowley has the latest numbers on who's ahead in that race and by how far. There's some surprise there. That's next.

And the so-called D.C. madam has said her business was best -- you can guess right -- when Congress was in session. Is she telling the truth, though? We've been paging through her little black book and we have details. Stay right there. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: CNN and YouTube are teaming up for the next presidential debate. Democratic candidates will face off Monday night at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

The primary there is really the first test of candidate support among black voters. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Tell us Candy -- I feel like telling everybody to stand at attention because it's at the Citadel. Hillary Clinton is doing well among black voters, isn't she?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She is in fact doing quite well here among black voters. She's leading there. It is one of the reasons she now has a 14-point lead in the overall poll. But, still, this is not finished quite yet, Miles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): At Mac's on Main in Columbia, Barry Walker serves up soul food, peach cobbler and a fair amount of politics. This year, scrambled politics.

BARRY WALKER, RESTAURANT OWNER: You know, Bill Clinton was one of my greatest presidents. I loved him. I supported him. Hillary Clinton, I'm supporting her, too. But I'm not really sure that I want to go with another Clinton in the White House right now. Barack Obama, to me, is a bright star.

CROWLEY: It's like that in South Carolina right now. An abundance of riches for African-Americans who make up 40-to-50 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

Coming after Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, this first southern primary also offers the first truly diverse set of voters, which is to say the state can make or break the candidates who get this far.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think that Democrats in South Carolina, want to be with a winner. They want to really be able to say we did launch this campaign.

CROWLEY: In the latest snapshot, a poll by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation found that black South Carolinians favor Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama by 16 points. A sizable gap, explained in part by our husband's popularity among blacks and by overwhelming numbers showing blacks believe she's more experienced, more electable and better understands community problems.

Politicals in South Carolina think Clinton's lead is nowhere near the state in a state and community still in flux over the '08 election. At Mac's on Main, Barry Walker has proof of that at home with his two 18-year-olds.

WALKER: He's a Barack Obama supporter. He believes that this guy looks like him, is young like him and represents what he believes in. I have another 18-year-old who is totally different. She's behind Hillary because she's a woman and she's a woman and she says this is what we want in America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And don't forget John Edwards, he won South Carolina in 2004 and he was born here. Still very much in the mix - Miles?

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Candy Crowley.

We've been digging through some phone records you want to know about, released by Deborah Jeane Palfrey. You probably know her as the D.C. madam. Palfrey has said that business was always best when Congress was in session. The cabbies say that, too.

But her phone bills support that. That doesn't necessarily mean that the politicos and Capitol Hill types were her best customers, however. We found a lot of calls to lawyers, doctors, college professors, folks in the tech industry. And more calls were made into area codes in Maryland and Virginia than in the District itself. You figure it out.

Still ahead -- questions you probably won't see in our upcoming CNN/YouTube presidential debate. Jeanne Moos takes a look at some of the unusual ones. Stay with us, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Lou Dobbs is a busy man getting ready for "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" which begins momentarily. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Miles. Tonight the top of the hour, President Bush still calling for bringing cheap foreign workers into this country. Now the president says we're actually running out of workers. We'll be reporting on the president's prediction of labor shortages, his evolving language.

We'll be reporting as well on imported food ingredients. Regulation of those ingredients from any country in the world is almost nonexistent. And we don't know whether those ingredients used in our food are safe or where they come from. Your government has no clue.

And almost six years after September 11th, the Bush administration fighting congressional efforts to screen all U.S. bound cargo ships for radioactive threats. The homeland security secretary says it would just cost too much.

Also, your government at work, we'll be reporting on all of that, a great deal more. All of today's news and we'll hear from three of the best minds in politics. And no, they're not running for office. Join us please at the top of the hour. Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Lou, you have a good weekend, thank you very much.

Turkey is preparing for a critical election Sunday, one that could change what makes the country rare among Muslim nations -- it's secular society. CNN's Jennifer Eccleston is in Istanbul with details.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, it's being called a historic election, one that could change the course of Turkey's future for generations to come. The economy, terrorism and E.U. membership all major issues for voters. But it's the matter of religion and state. The question whether Turkey can be both secular and democratic that really frames the national debates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ECCLESTON (voice-over): For many people in Turkey, this is a facet of democracy, a facet of a cherished liberal lifestyle that faces extinction under the Islamist-influenced government.

That is why 23-year-old American educated Onur Yalcin is on the campaign trail for Turkey's secular opposition, pounding the pavement in Istanbul, instead of pounding beers at the beach during his summer vacation.

ONUR YALCIN, CHP YOUTH GROUP MEMBER: Democracy is the main reason why I can live like this. Why I can sit like this, and why I can sit like this and smoke my cigarettes and enjoy my whiskey.

ECCLESTON: Onur, like many secular Turks insists his version of democracy is under attack from the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK party is a moderate off-shoot of a now banned Islamic movement.

The party says it's disavowed its radical past. But the opposition claims it's the same car were a new paint job. Scratch beneath the surface and you'll see its true color, promoting political Islam, they charge, while chipping away at secular freedoms.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ECCLESTON: Competing visions of civil liberties, competing versions of a lifestyle under threat, an example of a vibrant democracy or a society at crossroads caught between two worlds divided not only by identity, but ideas. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Jennifer Eccleston in Istanbul. Let's go to Jack Cafferty, he's watching "The Cafferty File" in New York. Hello, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I've been doing this a long time. It maybe the first time I've ever followed a Turkish election.

The question this hour, researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that 75 percent of American adults will be overweight by 2015. What can be done to prevent that from happening?

Jeremy writes in New York: "If anybody sends you an e-mail with more than three words, it's bad advice. Stop over-eating."

Leslie in Tennessee: "Why not tax fat people into losing weight? I was taxed into quitting smoking."

Dan writes: "For me, the solution is simple. Go green. Become a vegetarian, avoid all fast food, meat, sausage, all the fried stuff. It's tough at first, but you get used to it. I tried it. I'm liking it and already I've lost 10 pounds. No pain, no gain. And don't forget to exercise too."

Jay writes from Blue Earth, Minnesota: "Dear Jack, since the purchasing power of the dollar has been shot to hell thanks to the Bush administration, what we need to do is make the cost of healthy foods cheaper and attack a sin tax similar to that which cigarettes and beer have to the fatty, unhealthy foods. As most Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, making healthy foods cheaper than unhealthy foods would result in millions of Americans eating healthy in a very short period of time."

Mike in Decatur, Georgia: "$10 a gallon gas, god forbid we might need to walk."

Chris in Green Brook, New Jersey: "The answer is simple. It doesn't have to do with what you eat. It has to do with what you do after you eat. Here are some verbs, Jack. Run, swim, walk, jump, move, play, dribble skate. Pew please don't list any more, it could get interesting. By the way, Jack, was that you jogging in Central Park this morning?"

Not a chance. Paul in Utah writes: "The simplest solution would be to change the standard of what qualifies as overweight. We're capable of accepting shifts in other standards: reasons for the war, definition of victory, what it means to have robust economy, best healthcare and others. You just have to move the goal post.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them there online along with video clips of this stuff. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Jack Cafferty, a man who never moves a goalpost. Thank you very much, sir. We'll see you later.

Still ahead, submissions are pouring in for Monday's CNN democratic presidential debate where the candidates will answer questions submitted on YouTube. And as you might suspect, there's some real doozies. We'll show you some of the weirdest of the weird. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Democratic presidential candidates preparing for the CNN/YouTube debate on Monday. They'll be answering questions submitted on the Internet. And not surprisingly, those questions are pouring in. CNN's Jeanne Moos looks at some of the most unusual submissions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As they prepare the presidential debate set, wait until you see the latest set of questions for the candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you really believe that god exists?

MOOS: Do you really believe some of these questions exist? Submitted to YouTube by a dolphin? By an alien?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is one among many.

MOOS: By a crab.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will you do to stop the sexually transmitted diseases?

MOOS: A lot of the questions submitted to YouTube will go down the tubes. Especially the one delivered by a tube.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: Hey, little troopers.

MOOS: A few folks sang questions like who's going to be your running mate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know who it is and why we should say wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the world is the worst you ever did that you won't tell us?

MOOS: And then there's the catchy what would you do about telephone outsourcing questions?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't understand a word, a word that I have heard. Telephone outsources telephone outsources.

MOOS: Some parents apparently outsourced questions to their kids about hunting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will you do to stop PETA?

MOOS: About health care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can die by the time all the paperwork gets filled out.

MOOS: These three mounted stuffed ostriches in front of the White House to tell candidates not to bury heads in the sand.

CROWD: What's your plan to fix social security?

MOOX: They may be too young to vote, but those accusatory little pointed fingers hurt.

CROWD: How are you going to fix it?

MOOS: And then there was the guy who asked one question like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, my name is David McMillan (ph).

MOOS: And another like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you all, my presidential brothers and sister Hillary plan on promoting and expanding civil rights so poor brother Anderson Cooper here doesn't have to do all the work by himself?

MOOS: Don't expect YouTubers to keep their shirt on. Question for Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I be your intern?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Button (ph), same question.

MOOS: Some lost their train of thought mid question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'd like to know, whoever you are, what the (BLEEP) are you going to do about it?

MOOS: At this debate, the questions might be more fun than the answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does this Web cam make my boobs look weird?

MOOS: Honestly, yeah. But no candidate who wants your vote is going to tell you that. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: The bare facts right here. We'll be back at 7 p.m. Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're keeping an eye on Barry Bonds, who could break Hank Aaron's home run record tonight if he has a good night. I'm Miles O'Brien. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" right now.

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