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THE SITUATION ROOM

American Captain Held Hostage; President Obama to Tackle Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Aired April 9, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And their message to President Obama: You're not welcome here. Some students and supporters at a prestigious university, Notre Dame University, they're asking God to keep the president away -- all that, plus the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Nerves are on edge for many people around the world right now. They're watching. They're waiting. They're hoping. They're praying that a standoff with African pirates will end with the kidnapped American captain being set free.

Here's what we know a day after an American-flagged ship was hijacked. The captain is being held hostage on a lifeboat isolated by the U.S. Navy. There are intense negotiations under way, including the FBI. They're trying to persuade the pirates to free the captive.

And General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, says the U.S. military will have a stronger military presence near the pirates within two days.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's watching this situation rather closely -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, General Petraeus says, in the next 24 to 48 hours, two more Navy ships are steaming that way and will arrive in the area.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The American ships will join a guided missile destroyer hundreds of miles off the coast of Somalia.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We want to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days.

LAWRENCE: These unmanned drones continued flying over the Indian Ocean, sending back still pictures and video.

Four Somali pirates and their American hostage are on board a lifeboat like this, but the engine is disabled, the boat dead in the water. FBI negotiators here in the U.S. have been communicating with the pirates through the Navy. The secretaries of defense and state have spoken out on the attempts to rescue captain Richard Phillips.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The safe return of the captain is the top priority.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are watching this, and intend to do all we can to make sure there is no loss of life.

LAWRENCE: President Obama himself has been receiving frequent updates. Why so much high-level attention for one man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hasn't been so far into the past that an administration of a new president has been defined by how he responded to the taking of American hostages.

LAWRENCE: Retired Major General Tom Wilkerson is the CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute. He says President Obama's handling of this incident could set a precedent and signal U.S. enemies how he would deal with future hostage situations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they're captured and held, how the president and the administration respond in using America's total power, not just military power, do we pay ransom? Do we go after them? However, that could well define the first term of his presidency.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: And now that you have got an idea of what that lifeboat really looks like, we're getting some new information that really speaks to the heart of the negotiations.

We were told that more supplies and additional batteries were lowered down into the lifeboat. We knew the captain had a two-way radio with him. But there was some question about how long the battery would last, how long he would be able to stay in contact with the ship. Well, now we know that additional batteries and additional supplies have been lowered down to that lifeboat where the four pirates and the captain remain.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence is watching the situation at the Pentagon.

The Maersk Alabama was hijacked 350 miles off the coast of Africa. It was just one in several this last week that shows pirates changing some of their tactics to avoid military patrols.

Abbi Tatton is here looking at this pretty closely.

Where were those other attacks?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these attacks have been coming more frequently. They're more brazen, happening hundreds of miles off the coast of Somalia.

The International Maritime Bureau maps these incidents, as you can see here. The points here in red, those are actual hijackings, even more, in yellow, attempted attacks that have been happening all in 2009. The Maersk Alabama was attacked 350 miles off the coastline, one of six hijackings in the last week.

On Saturday, it was a container ship about 350 miles also off the coast. On Monday it was a fishing vessel, that one 700 miles off the coast of Somalia, and those attacks now showing the pirates have changed their tactics. It was that -- the concentration of attacks was up there in the north in the Gulf of Aden. Now they're heading further south into this vast area of unpatrolled water, because there were more increased patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

The Department of Transportation's maritime unit has advised ships if they can possibly to move all the way to the east of the Seychelles Islands to try to avoid these pirates.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of this story and we have a lot more coming up later this hour. Abbi, thanks very much.

Other important news we're following, we have learned today that the president will soon ask Congress for more money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let's go straight to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, he's using a procedure that he was very critical of the Bush administration for using to get these kinds of funds.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf.

And, in fact, President Obama made a big show of including the cost of the wars in his future budgets. But today he's asking Congress for another one of those supplementals for both wars we heard about so much during the Bush administration. The White House says this is the last time they will do it. And it's because this is the final budget that was passed during the Bush administration.

Here's the secretary of defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: The alternative to the supplemental is a sudden and precipitous withdrawal from the United States of both places, from both places. And I don't know anybody who thinks that's a good idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: By both places, he means Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, Wolf, here's what we know. They're asking for $83.4 billion to fund the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $75 billion for military operations, and $8.4 billion for diplomacy and development. Now, this is going to include new resources for the strategy in Afghanistan against al Qaeda that the president has been pushing for, and also to draw down troops in Iraq.

Some Democrats might object and we're already hearing that there's concern in the House about some of the new spending for the war in Iraq, but you can expect that in the end the Congress will give the new president what he wants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What does this do for the overall cost of the war, compared to what the former president, Bush, had in mind?

YELLIN: Well, first of all, the overall cost, total cost for the war, according to House Appropriations, is now $800 billion as of October of last year. The Pentagon was spending $10 billion a month on Iraq.

The president is asking for slightly less than President Bush asked for last time. But, then, he's looking for more money for Afghanistan, less for Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, thanks very much.

Just a short time ago, the president also announced a new system for updating medical records of U.S. military personnel, both during and after their service. The president says it demonstrates the government's commitment to providing high-quality medical care to troops and veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For too long we have fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need. Too many veterans don't receive the support that they have earned. Too many who once wore our nation's uniform now sleep in our nation's streets. It's time to change all that. It's time to give our veterans a 21st century VA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The head of one veterans group called the move -- quote -- "powerful statement" and, in his words, and I'm quoting now, "a huge day for veterans and troops."

President Obama also spoke out today on what he's calling a sliver -- a sliver of so-called good news in the midst of the economic crisis, near-record low mortgage rates. He's urging homeowners to refinance, but he's also warning people to be wary of potential fraud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I just want everybody who's watching today to know that if somebody's asking you for money up front before they help you with your refinancing, it's probably a scam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Rates on 30-year mortgages inched upward this week, but remain near the lowest levels in decades.

His political plate seems to be overflowing, but now we're learning President Obama's on the verge of adding yet another very hot potato, comprehensive immigration reform. Details on what he's planning to do.

And some members of Congress sparked outrage with their peers by meeting with Fidel Castro. Now there's some major fallout on Capitol Hill.

And should the U.S. be talking directly to Iran, as the Obama administration is planning? Our I-Reporters are weighing in on that as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a story of huge interest to a lot, a lot, of people out there, apparently could be a huge fight for the president later this year.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

All right, Dan, tell us about plans for comprehensive immigration reform.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And as you know, comprehensive immigration reform has been a political hot potato. The president has talked about how this will be a major challenge, but he's planning on moving ahead on this issue soon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama is poised to start pushing for landmark changes in immigration policy as early as next month, according to senior administration officials. The move is certain to spark outrage, but immigrant rights groups see it as a bold step forward.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA: There is urgency in addressing immigration reform because it has a great deal of impact on the American work force and on our revenue streams.

LOTHIAN: To fix a daunting immigration problem, the White House says the president would rely on a bipartisan diverse group of experts to help build a framework for legislation. But a senior administration official cautioned immigration will not be on the same track as other key initiatives, like health care and energy, and nobody's promising legislation or a vote this year.

At a recent town hall meeting, Mr. Obama made clear one of his priorities is to find a path for illegal immigrants to become legal.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that the people get real riled up politically about this, but people who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows.

LOTHIAN: Even before the debate begins, Republican Congressman Steve King is already throwing the first punch, saying in a statement, "President Obama's amnesty plan is a dangerous path for our nation that will sacrifice the rule of law."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: In addition to trying to find a way to keep some of the reported 12 million illegal immigrants legal in this country, the president's also looking to beef up security on the border and to work with Mexico to find a way to keep illegal immigrants from entering -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, I'm getting an e-mail from an official in the administration saying: "The president has consistently said he wants to start the discussion later this year because our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, but the economy," this official says, "comes first. And that's why we're so deeply engaged in that now. We will start an immigration discussion later in the year."

So, they're trying to clarify precisely what the president has in mind.

Dan Lothian, reporting for us from the White House, thank you.

LAWRENCE: OK.

BLITZER: Government statistics show a surge in the number of Latino immigrants becoming citizens, and now some people are saying there's a political connection.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it began with an aggressive citizenship drive in 2007. Hundreds of community organizations across the country launched a campaign to help legal residents apply for U.S. citizenship. A year later, nearly 500,000 Latinos became American citizens.

Eddie Sotelo, a popular radio deejay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many states are there in the union?

GUTIERREZ: Julia Morello (ph), a 63-year-old caregiver, and Corporal Mario Villa Alta, a United States Marine, all three are legal resident who told us their top goal in 2008 was to become a citizen of this country, to participate in the political process.

Corporal Villa Alta, who was born in El Salvador, has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says it's time. CPL. MARIO VILLA ALTA, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I love my fellow Marines. And I -- when I'm with them, I feel like an American, and they consider me an American, too.

GUTIERREZ: For Julia Morello, after living here half her life, she says she realized if she wanted to have an impact on issues like immigration reform, she would have to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mainly because, when you be a citizen, you got a voice.

GUTIERREZ: In fact, 2008 was a record year for permanent residents becoming American citizens and Latinos led the surge.

RAUL HINOJOSA, UCLA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY: Latinos are the fastest-growing majority in most of the rest of the country. And even a small change in Latino voting and registration will -- could tip the balance of powers politically in many, many counties, which we're already beginning to see.

GUTIERREZ: According to a study by the nonpartisan organization the National Association of Latino Election Officials, half of the nation's new citizens last year were Latinos.

HINOJOSA: The trend is towards much greater both citizenship and then growing into political participation. That is of critical importance for all of us to understand, because it will make a difference in the way that elections are done and the way the political public policy is made in this country.

GUTIERREZ: For Eddie Sotelo, this swearing-in ceremony means he officially becomes part of the country that he says allowed him to live out his dream. He grew up in poverty in Mexico to become one of the highest-rated radio hosts in his adopted country.

(on camera): One other note about the study, one out of five new U.S. citizens was from Mexico. That number increased by 90 percent between 2007 and 2008 -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thelma Gutierrez, out of Los Angeles for us, thank you.

The U.S. Navy is right now on the scene off the coast of Somalia, where an American captain is being held hostage by pirates. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is now in the region. She's standing by for a live report.

And we're also going to be updating you on the growing backlash to a trip to Cuba and a meeting with Fidel Castro by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And an unusual visitor to New York City's harbor, we are going to tell you who that visitor is.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Some African-American lawmakers who are Democrats, they met with Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials, as you probably know. But now some Republican lawmakers are going out of their way to show their anger.

Let's go to Capitol Hill.

Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is taking a closer look.

What's going on, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these are members of the Congressional Black Caucus who want to loosen trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. But those critics you mentioned, they say the U.S. shouldn't consider doing this until Cuba first releases its political prisoners.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Jorge Luis Garcia Perez spent 17 years in Cuban prisons. Now, two months into a hunger strike, he's protesting what the U.S. says is the imprisonment of hundreds of other anti- Castro dissidents.

Republican lawmakers are blasting some Democrats for meeting with Cuba's leaders, saying, it sends the wrong message.

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: You are forgotten and abandoned is a terrible thing to hear, to be taunted with, when you are in the Combinado del Este prison eating worm-infested rice in a cell the size of a closet, standing in open sewage, trying to keep up your spirits to survive yet another day of punches and beatings.

KEILAR: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who met with the Castro brothers are part of a growing effort in Congress to loosen travel and trade restrictions. They say former leader Fidel Castro told them Cuba wants to improve its relationship with the U.S.

REP. LAURA RICHARDSON (D), CALIFORNIA: He sat here. He listened. He heard out what -- what we said. And he also asked a very important thing. He said, how can -- how can we -- how can we, as Cuba, help President Obama?

KEILAR: Republican lawmakers say Castro's words are hollow. And they brought former Cuban political prisoners to the mikes to make that point.

FELIX SUFUENTES, CUBAN DISSIDENT (through translator): Basically, I want to keep my words short, because I get emotional, but any anything -- any help that is given and any assistance that is given to the Cuban government is given solely to repress the Cuban people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Brianna, you know, the Cuban government, in an official statement, they quoted Fidel Castro as saying that one of the lawmakers, unnamed, said to him during the visit that despite President Obama's victory, in his words, supposedly, America continues to be racist.

I know you have checked with members of that Congressional Black Caucus delegation to see if that's true. What are they saying?

KEILAR: They are flatly denying that any member said that to Fidel Castro, Wolf. In fact, Emanuel Cleaver, congressman from Missouri, saying -- quote -- "That did not happen" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much -- Brianna Keilar reporting from Capitol Hill.

CNN is now getting some exclusive information on the pirate hostage drama from the top U.S. Naval commander in the region.

And some of you tell us the U.S. should talk directly with Iran. But why might that be a bad idea?

And an operation to bust an alleged terrorist plot could have been bungled by a major police snafu.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news: the U.S. Navy trying to negotiate the release of an American captain being held hostage by pirates. The White House says President Obama's keeping close watch on the situation. We're going live to the region.

It's been the scene of an increasingly violent drug war. Now U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is making a second trip to the U.S.-Mexican border.

And the markets end a short holiday week on a high note -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get some more now on our top story, the breaking news we're following this hour, American ship captain Richard Phillips being held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia, as the U.S. Navy trying, trying desperately, to negotiate his release.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is in Bahrain right now. That is the home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. She got some exclusive insight into the crisis from a top U.S. Navy commander.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice Admiral William Gortney, the top U.S. Naval commander in the Middle East, stepped out of his command center in Bahrain to give CNN an exclusive update on the piracy crisis off the coast of Somalia.

VICE ADMIRAL WILLIAM GORTNEY, U.S. NAVY: Four pirates are currently in the lifeboat off that vessel with the master.

STARR: For the first time, a U.S. Navy warship is negotiating with ragtag Somali pirates, hoping to win the release of captain Richard Phillips of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama.

GORTNEY: We have USS Bainbridge on station currently negotiating with the pirates to get our American citizen back.

STARR: FBI negotiators are assisting. Gortney makes clear this pirate attack is a potential security crisis.

GORTNEY: Yes, we have always thought that one of the potential game-changers out there is a U.S.-flagged vessel with U.S. citizens on board. And we're there. And -- and that's where we are right now.

STARR: Gortney is putting more naval power into this area off the southeastern coast of Somalia, where attacks have risen in recent days.

GORTNEY: We have been moving forces in that direction.

STARR: And while the pirates still appear to be poorly armed, there is a new, grim concern about the Somali clans.

GORTNEY: We're just seeing that they are communicating. And with communication comes -- could -- possibly comes coordination and cooperation with each other.

STARR: Gortney is pressuring the commercial shipping industry to take more steps to protect merchant ships, warning the military cannot protect an area four times the size of Texas.

GORTNEY: Just earlier this week, we had two instances -- unsuccessful piracy attacks, but the pirates couldn't get on board because those two ships had put barbed wire on the areas where the most likely of approaches for the -- for the pirates to get on board.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: Wolf, there is a piece of good news, though. Admiral Gortney says so far, there are no links between the Somali pirate clans and a group called the Al-Shabab, an Al Qaeda-related group operating inside Somalia. If he did find that terrorism link, he says, that, indeed, would be a game changer for the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Then it would become, obviously, a much more potentially explosive situation.

Barbara Starr is on the scene for us in Bahrain. Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard" -- Gloria, I guess if this thing drags on and on and on, people are going to say this is a test for the president -- the new president of the United States -- maybe even a defining moment very early on.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I think they're -- they're going to look at this and say how long can this continue?

But I think the key concern at the White House right now is that you have to have patience, because you want to get this captain back safely. And that's what's most important and uppermost in their minds right now, is to make sure that they can that they can -- that they can do what's right by this person who's being held hostage.

BLITZER: And presumably, Steve, there's a limited amount of time that this can play out, given the fact that -- that right now, this captain -- this American captain is on this little lifeboat. There's a limited amount of food and water there. We believe four of the pirates there. So this is not one of those hostage situations that could drag on for 444 days, which was during the Jimmy Carter administration -- the American diplomats held hostage in Iran.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I think that's right. And Gloria is correct that they've got to be working expeditiously behind-the-scenes to facilitate his release and I think, also, send a message with a show of force, by sending ships to the region, that this is not going to continue.

It was, I think, encouraging to -- to hear talk about having these shipping lines better guard their boats or better prepare their boats for the kind of -- of pirate attacks that we've seen.

BLITZER: And, you know, we just heard Barbara Starr, Roland, say they don't believe the pirates are affiliated with some sort of Al Qaeda-related splinter group or whatever, that these pirates simply want money, because they've been paid money in the past.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's what's interesting at this, Wolf. We had a -- had a ship owner on the show last night at 8:00. And when his ship was taken, they negotiated over 56 days last year. The French government -- they monitored the situation, as well.

"Vanity Fair" had a wonderful article last month where that negotiation of a French cruise ship took about seven days.

And so I know we might be thinking that, hey, this should be over in 48 hours. But there have been instances where this has gone on. In fact, there are still, right now, some 16 ships and 200 hostages who are still being held by other Somali pirates across that particular area.

And so we don't know how long this might last. And, also, the company could step in themselves and say, we're going to pay if there are any ransom demands.

And so this thing is extremely fluid and it could go in any direction.

BORGER: But I think in the question of ransom, that's something the United States would not want the company to do and would, wouldn't you say, have a little bit of say over that?

MARTIN: Now, actually, according to that piece last month in "Vanity Fair," the French government, it was the same thing. They said they didn't wanted ransom paid.

BORGER: Right.

MARTIN: But the ship owner said no, pay it. And, in fact, it was AIG that insured the ship. And they paid about $2.5 million. And that's where it came from.

And so they're used to simply paying it and moving on.

BLITZER: But just to point out, the other hostages that are being held aren't Americans. These are Americans.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: There are U.S. Navy ships either already there...

MARTIN: Right.

BLITZER: ...or on the way. And so it makes this a little different.

Iran very much in the news right now on this day, Steve. The Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, saying they're making significant progress moving forward.

We asked our iReporters to send us some thoughts on what they think about this U.S. effort to reach out and to try to start a dialogue.

Listen to what they're saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIE WEST: I certainly agreed with ending diplomatic ties with that country over 30 years ago. We had some excellent reasons to do so. But it's a new world. It's a new day. Let's give it a try.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEAN LINDSAY: Yes, get over there quickly. And I am looking up the telephone number for President Ahmadinejad so that President Obama can have it in his BlackBerry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes, I don't think that's a problem.

All right. Steve, what do you -- what do you think about this push now to reach out?

The U.S. announcing yesterday a change in policy. The U.S. will directly engage with the Iranians in these nuclear talks, together with the Europeans.

Good idea?

HAYES: No. I think it's a terrible idea. I mean things -- it is not a new world. And it is not a new day, despite the claims of -- of the iReporter. And you still have Iran as the world's foremost state sponsor of terror. You had Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, say back in May of 2008 that Iran was authorizing -- the Iranian regime was authorizing the killings of Americans in Iraq at the very highest levels.

You have repeated examples of Iran harboring and supporting Al Qaeda, including Saad bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's son.

We should just be open-eyed about this. If we are going to sit down with them and conduct these kinds of talks, we are going to be negotiating with terrorists.

MARTIN: Hey, Wolf, I think...

BORGER: But doesn't America...

MARTIN: I think...

BLITZER: All right...

BORGER: Doesn't America owe it to the world and to United States citizens to say we have explored everything before we give up?

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: Well, Wolf, I think it's important, also, to remind Steve that the biggest check on Iran was Iraq with Saddam Hussein. And we took him out. We made them the strongest power in that region. And so we can't keep that out of our minds, as well.

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: Talking always makes sense. You've got to make the effort.

BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it there, guys. But I know Roland is going to have more on this story coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, "NO BIAS, NO BULL" -- a little bit more -- what, about an hour-and-a-half or so -- a little bit less than an hour-and- a-half from now.

Guys, thanks very much.

A top anti-terror official makes a grave mistake and is forced to resign. We're going to have the details of what he accidentally revealed and the impact it's had.

Plus, jihadist Web sites boasting of violence and killings and hosted on servers -- servers right here in the United States.

What's going on?

We'll tell you, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Britain's top counterterrorism official has now resigned after making a public blunder in the middle of an operation meant to thwart a terrorist plot. He accidentally revealed a secret document.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is following these dramatic developments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): From 36 Goldsworthy Avenue, police forensic teams carefully removed bags full of evidence -- a painstaking process they stressed will be in sharp contrast to the hasty arrest operation here 24 hours earlier -- Operation Pathway brought forward when the names of the suspects were clearly visible on a document carried by the head of the police counterterrorism branch.

CHIEF CONSTABLE PETER FAHY, GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE: This has to be a meticulous operation. It takes a great deal of time. There are all sorts of different forensic techniques involved in that. So we will not be discussing in the media what it is that we find. And certainly this is likely to be a long, drawn out process.

ROBERTSON: At the heart of the investigation -- trying to figure out how close the alleged Al Qaeda-inspired plot was to being carried out.

FAHY: We perceived a threat was there and therefore we had to take action. Clearly, as the investigation moves forward, we will then be able to evaluate further at what stage, you know, the activities that we were concerned about were at when we took that action.

ROBERTSON: With so much attention on the style rather than the substance of the operation, police are very likely now going to face far more scrutiny on their investigation than any of their previous terror operations.

At the mosque two of the arrested men attended, they're already watching closely.

(on camera): But you've been up to the police station then to visit police?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Yes.

ROBERTSON: What -- did they tell you anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That -- basically they told us that it has been done. (INAUDIBLE) people and this and that, you know.

ROBERTSON: And what are your thoughts about the raid?

I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it's -- you know, people do not feel good here (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTSON (voice-over): For some who live here, the arrests of the 12 -- 11 of whom were Pakistani students -- are a surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know the guys who live on -- on this home here.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Yes.

KHAN: And all of them is very good people. Not any activity there. They are students here, just like me. I'm also a student.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But even this man said he didn't know their names -- a mark of how little this close-knit community knew about the outsiders. Most people say they'd moved into the area recently.

Some, though, remained unconvinced by the police action.

AFZAL KHAN, MANCHESTER CITY COUNCILOR: We know the background. We know why police had to act so quickly. But not enough information has come out yet to know. From the past, experience is a mixed thing. We know sometimes the police have been right and we know they've been wrong, as well.

ROBERTSON: After a botched beginning, the police are hoping to redeem their image by proving their intervention averted a major terror attack -- though it's not clear what the targets of this alleged plot may have been.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Manchester, England.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Terrorist groups using U.S. technology and Web hosting companies to spread their messages around the world on the Internet. What is going on right now?

We asked our Brian Todd to investigate.

What are you finding out -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that terrorist groups have perfected ways of using the Internet.

What's unsettling now is that they can post their material through American-based Web companies and most of the time, those companies aren't aware they're doing it unless someone brings it to their attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In bright purple and orange banners with English translation, a jihadist Web site posts a chilling news update. On March 17, it boasts of an ambush on coalition forces in Afghanistan: "A Ranger car burned. The driver died and three soldiers harmed terribly."

It's not clear if this ever happened. What is clear is how this Web site is delivered -- through an American-owned Internet firm based in Houston. An official with the company, The Planet, tells CNN it often leases its servers to so-called resellers, who then help anyone who wants to, and can pay a nominal fee, set up a Web site.

Another American company, Tulix Systems, has a Web-hosting service called Free Web Town. It, too, has unwittingly hosted militant Web sites.

THOMAS BURLING, TULIX SYSTEMS: A lot of them are putting up pictures and videos -- I mean, pictures of events such as bombings; pictures or videos of things like, you know, frankly, beheading individuals.

TODD: Tom Burling and an official at the other company, The Planet, say their hosting services have tens of millions of Web sites and there's no way to monitor the content of all of them. They say when they're made aware of sites like these on their Web-hosting services, they notify U.S. authorities and shut them down. An official with The Planet says they're examining this Web site, called Torabora.com.

But experts say it's sometimes useful to intelligence services to keep these Web sites up and running.

MARTIN LIBICKI, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, RAND CORPORATION: For instance, you see a compilation of attacks. If the compilation is authentic -- and there's always questions about that -- then you can start to learn about the pattern of their activity -- what they're attacking, who they're attacking, sometimes why, sometimes the methods they're using.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Martin Libicki says intelligence services can also monitor the chat between jihadists through these Web sites and find out how they're communicating and maybe even if they've changed their ideology -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any way to stop these militants gaining access to these American Web sites?

TODD: Wolf, Tom Burling, who runs one of those companies, says what they could do is they could block so-called I.P.s coming out of Pakistan or Afghanistan. I.P.s are called Internet protocols. Those are addresses that identify Web sites, often by region.

But he says if you do that -- if you -- if you block the ones coming out of Pakistan or Afghanistan, you'd be denying millions of decent people access to the Internet just because of the actions of a few. So you really can't do that.

BLITZER: So the answer is obviously no, you (INAUDIBLE)...

TODD: No, you really can't.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll continue to watch the story, because it is pretty shocking, when you think about it.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thank you, Brian.

He's extremely popular around the world and with most Americans, as well. But there's one place where President Obama is not necessarily welcomed by all. That would be Notre Dame University.

What's going on?

And the bow seen around the world -- or was it?

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a much closer look not at a bow but a bow -- or at least a supposed bow. Here it is.

Was that a bow?

What was that?

We're going to talk about that, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," the Obama administration won't give up. It's making open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens one of the administration's top priorities. The Obama administration deciding to bring in more foreign workers into this country, even as more U.S. citizens are struggling to find and to keep jobs.

Also, illegal aliens already in this country costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in higher costs for such things as health care, education, law enforcement and depressed wages. We'll have the story.

And we'll have the latest on the standoff between a U.S. destroyer and pirates in an inflatable dinghy who are holding the captain of the ship hostage off the coast of Somalia.

We'll tell you about the good economic news that the rest of the media is ignoring here tonight.

Join us for all of that and more, all the day's news, at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer continues in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama's popularity is soaring these days. He's been welcomed in cities here in the United States and around the world.

But protestors at the University of Notre Dame say -- at least some of them say he's not welcome there. And they plan -- and plans for him to address the graduating class, they're sparking a growing controversy right now.

We asked our Susan Roesgen to take a closer look at what is going on -- all right, Susie, tell us what's going on.

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it seems as if some of these protesters are actually praying that President Obama won't even step foot on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN (voice-over): Protesters at the University of Notre Dame are praying for divine intervention to keep President Obama away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WSJV)

EMILY TOATES, PROTESTER: We do not believe it's right to celebrate a man who's gone so against Catholic principles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROESGEN: Like many presidents before him, Obama has been invited to give the commencement address at this Catholic university in May. But hundreds of devout Catholics on campus and off are outraged that Notre Dame would welcome a president whose public policies lean pro- choice on abortion.

BISHOP JOHN D'ARCY, DIOCESE OF FORT WAYNE: The Catholic Church's position is that -- that taking a life in a womb is an intrinsically evil act.

ROESGEN: Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, is especially shocked that the university plans to give the president an honorary law degree.

D'ARCY: But to honor someone with a doctorate of laws and the only laws he has made are laws which are against innocent life -- no one is allowed to say who is going to sit at the table of life and, more important, who's not going to sit at the table of life. God didn't give us that privilege. He gave us many other privileges. That belongs to him alone.

ROESGEN: A spokesman for the university says there no plans to un-invite the president, but protesters say they will say one million rosaries until graduation day -- praying that the president will become pro-life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: Can you believe that, Wolf, they're actually praying that God will change the heart and mind of President Obama to make him pro-life?

We had a comment this afternoon from Robert Gibbs at a late press conference, Wolf. He said that the president is looking forward to speaking there and he hopes that it will be a moment of reflection for the students.

This was after a reporter asked Gibbs, why doesn't Obama just graciously remove himself?

And Gibbs said no way. That's not the plan.

BLITZER: That's not the president's intention.

All right. Thanks very much, Susan, for that.

And get this -- the president is also scheduled to give the commencement address at Arizona State University. But the administration there at ASU says he will not -- repeat -- not be awarded an honorary degree. According to a school spokeswoman, Arizona State gives honorary degrees to recognize a person's -- and I'm quoting now -- "body of work." She goes on to say -- and I'm quoting here once again -- "his body of work is yet to come."

A local newspaper strongly disagrees with the school's decision, pointing out in an editorial others who receive honorary degrees are relatively early in their careers.

As for the White House reaction to this, a senior administration official told CNN they have "nothing to say on this matter."

Wow!

He's giving the commencement address at Arizona State University, but will not be given an honorary degree by that university. What a snub that is.

A picture of the president that's got a lot of people talking -- what does it look like to you that he's doing? How you answered that question -- that's coming up in our next story.

And providing comfort to some of the youngest of the earthquake victims -- pictures worth a thousand words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In France, the Eiffel Tower resumes operation following a one- and-a-half day strike.

In Italy, donated toys pile up for young earthquake survivors.

In India, a devout Hindu wades into the Ganges River to pray.

And over at the Cincinnati Zoo, a gorilla digs to the bottom of her Easter basket containing peanuts, raisins and popcorn.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Some see it as an embarrassment, some don't see what all the fuss is about -- a picture that has a lot of people talking, though.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story of the president in a Moost Unusual position.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama greets the King of Saudi Arabia.

Did the president bow?

Did he bend?

Is it worth getting bent out of shape over?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flag doesn't bow and neither do we.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care. Whatever. It's just a bow. He's just being nice to the guy.

MOOS: Conservative blogs haven't been so nice.

Bowing, scraping, embarrassing -- what does it say to the world?

Did Obama bow to Saudi King Abdullah or was he cleaning the floor?

Some who look at the video didn't see much at all.

(on camera): Notice anything? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His butt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There could be something in the back of his pants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is he doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever it was he did with the king of Saudi Arabia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he bow or didn't he?

MOOS (voice-over): The White House says no. It's just that the president is so much taller than the king

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He bent over with both to shake -- with both hands to shake his hands.

MOOS: But he appears to dip well before the two-handed shake. And most folks weren't buying the bend over to shake hands explanation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ray Charles can see that he bowed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like he's kissing his ring, but it can't possibly be that.

MOOS: Arab columnists thought it was a bow -- a show of respect. But the conservative "Washington Times" ran an editorial calling the move "a shocking display," an "extraordinary protocol violation" and a "servile gesture."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everlasting negativeness no matter what you do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is just more educated about their culture and more global in his thinking.

MOOS: The conservative blog Hot Air posted a video called "A Tale of Two Bows," comparing how President Obama greeted the Queen of England versus the King of Saudi Arabia.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The president himself has said...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that we have to change our behavior in showing the Muslim world greater respect.

MOOS: Remember how President Bush showed his respect for the Saudi royal prince -- holding hands.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is our state flower.

MOOS: It's a sign of friendship in the Arab world, but President Bush paid a price.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO," COURTESY NBC)

JAY LENO, HOST: Look, show that footage from this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love lift us up where we belong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Give that man a hand. But this is one bow...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not like that. MOOS (on camera): That's too low?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Too low.

MOOS (voice-over): The White House would prefer not to take.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I remember when President Bush also kissed then Crown Prince Abdullah over at the Crawford ranch.

All right. This controversy presumably will continue.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

DOBBS: Good evening, everyone.

Here we go again -- the Obama administration making amnesty for illegal aliens and open borders one of its top priorities. The Obama administration has decided to bring in more foreign workers, even as many U.S. citizens are struggling to find jobs.

Also, illegal aliens already in this country costing citizens billions of dollars in higher costs for health care, education and as a result of, depressed wages. We'll have that special report.

And more good news on the economy tonight. We'll be telling you about the positive economic indicators that the rest of the media ignores.