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THE SITUATION ROOM
Taliban Kills U.N. Workers; Chopper Crashes Killing Troops
Aired October 28, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Taliban militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades storm a guest house used by United Nations workers. It sparks a deadly two hour firefight right in the heart of the Afghan capital, where it was supposed to be safe.
Also, growing concern about head injuries among professional football players. Shocking new statistics about their long-term health have lawmakers asking urgent questions on Capitol Hill.
And four months after his death, the star-studded world premiere of Michael Jackson's final film. We have your preview.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's one of the boldest Taliban attacks yet in the Afghan capital -- militants staging a fierce and deadly early morning attack on a private guest house that was home to more than two dozen United Nations workers. It's in an area that was thought to be among Kabul's most secure. The carnage comes just 10 days before the country's runoff election, which the Taliban has vowed to disrupt.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Kabul.
He heard the firefight going on earlier this morning.
It must have been a terrifying experience for you -- Chris.
I'm happy that you're OK. But give our viewers a sense of what was going on and what is going on.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we woke up to just some sporadic gunfire. But within about 30 minutes, it got more and more intense. Then we started hearing the loud booms, saw the black cloud of smoke coming out of that building.
This was no single suicide car bomber. This was a full-on, coordinated guerilla attack right in the heart of Afghanistan's capital.
LAWRENCE: (voice-over): Just before dawn, militants storm a compound in the middle of Kabul. Armed with machine guns and suicide vests, they attacked a private guest house where United Nations workers were sleeping.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were sound asleep when we started hearing...
(NOISE OF MACHINE GUN FIRING)
EDWARDS: Well, we started hearing that. Now, there's black smoke rising about, man, no more than about two blocks away. You can you look down there and you can see a lot of the Afghan police, U.N. vehicles that have been pulling up.
ADRIAN EDWARDS, U.N. SPOKESMAN: Afghan police surrounded the compound. Security forces tried to drive the militants out.
(on camera): This is the result of what we were hearing all morning -- bullet holes all through this gate, shell casings just littering the ground. That was all part of the crossfire coming from the compound where the militants attacked. (voice-over): Militants and Afghan security forces were killed. The U.N. says the initial attack killed at least five members of its staff.
EDWARDS: This is a totally senseless thing that's happened here. It's an outrage and it's a tragedy.
LAWRENCE: President Hamid Karzai, the European Union and the U.S. embassy in Kabul all condemned the militants' raid: "Attacking civilian workers will not lessen our determination to support the Afghan people and their election process."
The Taliban have claimed responsibility, fulfilling an earlier threat to disrupt next week's presidential runoff election.
EDWARDS: We obviously will have to adjust our security in light of -- of this. But this is a very serious incident.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LAWRENCE: The United Nations is helping to fund the runoff election. It has hundreds of staffers that are helping to organize it. Now, in the middle of a full security review of all its operations, it could hinder some of those efforts, paralyze the agency in certain places, while it works to protect its people -- something the Taliban obviously was trying to target -- Wolf.
BLITZER: These attacks right in the area that supposedly was the most secure, Chris, how has that affected you and -- and our coverage of what's going on, your movement in Kabul?
LAWRENCE: So far, it hasn't affected it that much just today. But again, you know, it -- it -- we saw a lot of streets that were blocked off. You have to be more careful. It -- it really shows that the Taliban have a reach that goes beyond eastern and southern parts of Afghanistan. To have a strike like this in the middle of the capital city, right at the heart of President Karzai's government, it shows that they have a reach beyond what sometimes the government seems to say they do.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, be careful over there in Kabul.
Thanks very much.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara, this kind of incident, it comes at a time when the president is trying to decide whether to send additional troops -- thousands of additional troops -- to Afghanistan right now.
How does this play into the equation?
BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, even today officially, Wolf, the word from the White House, the word from the Pentagon is no change, that the president will decide when he decides and that any announcement about a new strategy, about more troops is most likely going to come after that November 7th runoff election in Afghanistan.
But it is the cumulative effect. October has been terrible -- ambushes, raids, 55 U.S. personnel already losing...
BLITZER: That's the worst in the eight years of the war.
STARR: Exactly -- already having lost their lives this month. And -- and the real question is this cumulative impact on the people of Afghanistan, who must begin to be wondering if their own government can protect them, let alone more U.S. forces.
BLITZER: Because, you know, just to give it some perspective, an attack in this part of Kabul, that's sort of like in Baghdad, going right to the supposedly very secure Green Zone.
STARR: Well and the other question is, you know, we have had these Taliban attacks in Kabul before. It was, tragically, not so long ago that there was a major attack against the Indian diplomatic compound.
Why does this all feel so different?
Why does it feel like we're headed toward a crisis?
Because, people say, the U.S. decision about what to do is still to be announced -- still waiting. Secretary Gates told Christiane Amanpour not so long ago that the Taliban had the momentum. And General McChrystal will tell you that if he -- if -- the only way to improve security at this point is with more U.S. forces to start with, that the Afghans just aren't ready to pick up the slack here.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara.
Thanks very much.
Barbara Starr is our Pentagon correspondent.
Meanwhile, we're getting some new information on one of the two U.S. military helicopter crashes in Afghanistan on Monday that killed a combined 14 people -- the single largest one day loss of American lives in Afghanistan in four years.
Let's bring in CNN's Elaine Quijano.
She's working this story for us.
What's the latest on this front that you're hearing -- Elaine?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the very latest on this is that the U.S. military is now saying that thick dust and poor visibility actually combined to bring down, ultimately, that chopper in Western Afghanistan -- a deadly crash in Western Afghanistan and a reminder of just how risky flying helicopters in that country can be.
QUIJANO: (voice-over): For U.S. helicopter pilots, this thick dust is just one of many punishing elements working against them in Afghanistan. Mountainous terrain, unpredictable weather, night missions and enemy fire can all prove treacherous.
LT. COL. BRAD NINNESS, U.S. ARMY HELICOPTER PILOT: I have been shot at.
QUIJANO: Army Lieutenant Brad Ninness severed two combat tours in Afghanistan and knows firsthand the unforgiving conditions there.
NINNESS: Flying in the mountains is very difficult, primarily because of the thin air. It requires more aircraft power. Your engines have to work a little bit harder to fly at altitudes that are normally higher than you see here in the United States.
QUIJANO: But Defense officials say the threat of improvised explosive devices along Afghanistan's few paved roads, combined with the need to transport troops and cargo to remote outposts, means relying heavily on the 245 military choppers the U.S. now has in Afghanistan. Yet that comes with a significant cost. An analysis by the Brookings Institution found that helicopter crashes, both accidental and due to enemy fire, account for 12 percent of all U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan versus 5 percent in Iraq.
CAPT. BRIAN BLAKE, U.S. ARMY HELICOPTER PILOT: As a company commander, I felt confident in every single one of my aviators and crew chiefs.
QUIJANO: Army chopper pilot Captain Brian Blake remembers a white knuckle moment in Afghanistan -- the mission captured in this extraordinary photo, as he gingerly balanced his Chinook's back two wheels against the side of a mountain.
BLAKE: And I see 2,000 feet down nothing. And I was completely trusting the guy in the back of the aircraft to keep me on the spot, to get troops on or off the aircraft.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
QUIJANO: And we should say that mission, of course, was ultimately successful.
Now, you'd think that enemy fire would be the biggest concern when being ferried around by helicopters. But that is just not the case -- at least not so far in Afghanistan. The Brookings Institution found that a majority of deaths in helicopter crashes was caused by non-hostile factors -- Wolf, again, those treacherous conditions that chopper pilots have talked to us about, including weather and difficult terrain -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, the weather is -- is usually a huge, huge problem, with the sand blowing up, it can cause havoc for some of those choppers.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Elaine, for that.
In Iraq, a protest against the deadliest bombings in two years -- dozens of people march to the capital denouncing Sunday's twin explosions. They were joined by government officials, including the governor of Baghdad. The attacks killed at least 155 people, including more than two dozen children, with massive blasts outside two government buildings. More than 500 people were hurt. A group with ties to Al Qaeda is claiming responsibility.
Let's bring back Jack Cafferty.
He's got The Cafferty File.
It's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq -- the terror incidents seem to be escalating -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Yes, Al Qaeda seems to be alive and well and continuing to do its deadly business, doesn't it?
President Obama promised he would be different, but he's not. "The Washington Times" reports the president has been giving top Democratic contributors special access to the White House. Internal Democratic National Committee documents show this includes everything from private briefings with top administration officials to invitations to big speeches, town hall meetings, to golfing with the president in Martha's Vineyard, to birthday visits to the Oval Office, plus bowling and movies at the White House.
Remember the hell President Clinton caught when we found out he was letting contributors sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom?
Handing out goodies to big money contributors just ahead of the mid-term elections flies square in the face of all that high-minded rhetoric about reform, lobbyists, transparency, etc. Ad nauseum.
That's the stuff we heard during the campaign, remember?
You can buy access to this president for $30,400, as an individual, or for bundling, $300,000.
The White House insists President Obama has set the toughest ethics standards in history. And they say many of these guests weren't only fundraisers, but personal friends of the president.
But whatever they are, it smacks of selling access to the highest office in the land in exchange for political donations and it stinks.
Democratic Party officials say there's absolutely no correlation between fundraising and attending White House events and insist that Mr. Obama's efforts to reward major donors are on a far smaller scale than other recent presidents.
And they will look you right in the eye and say that stuff with a straight face.
Here's the question -- should big Democratic contributors be given special access to the White House?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
I don't remember who said it, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
BLITZER: Yes, but we will, supposedly, get the names of these people. At some point, they'll release them, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Well -- well, OK. I (INAUDIBLE).
Is your name on that list, by the way?
BLITZER: I've been to the White House.
CAFFERTY: Have you been (INAUDIBLE)?
BLITZER: But I haven't made any contributions, though.
CAFFERTY: And you haven't been bowling there?
BLITZER: No, bowling I haven't done but...
BLITZER: I was never a good bowler to begin with, Jack.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
In the NFL, fame and glory go hand in hand with debilitating injuries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERRIL HOGE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: After my second concussion, I was escorted into the training room, where I flatlined. As they started to resuscitate me, I popped back up and they rushed me to the emergency room, where I lay in ICU for two days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: New studies are suggesting serious long-term repercussions for professional football players. And now lawmakers are asking some urgent questions.
Also, two airline pilots fired, accused by the FAA of being on, "a frolic of their own in the cockpit."
What exactly does that mean, a frolic?
I'll ask an expert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd in San Juan Harbor, where we went on board a 750 foot container ship to test out the latest tools for combating piracy.
Will a wall of water, blast-proof bridges and security teams turn the tide?
We'll show you how it all works, just ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: An emotional moment on Capitol Hill today when lawmakers heard from the wife of former professional football player Ralph Wenzel about her husband's declining mental condition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELEANOR PERFETTO, WIFE OF RALPH WENZEL: And in the fall of 1999, 10 years ago, at the age of 56, Ralph was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, which progressed to severe dementia. In the last 10 years, Ralph has lost his ability to work, drive, play golf, read, cook and enjoy a glass of wine. He can no longer dress, bathe or feed himself. He lost his sense of humor, he lost his personality and he lost his dignity. He lost it all.
Almost three years ago, I had to place Ralph in an assisted living facility for dementia patients and he resides there today. Frankly, my husband no longer has a life. And he certainly does not have a life that he'd want for himself. And he does not have a life that he and I would want for anyone else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That testimony was part of a larger hearing on the impact of head injuries to football players, which the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is calling -- and I'm quoting now -- "a life and death issue."
CNN's Kate Bolduan is following this story for us.
This is so dramatic, so powerful.
The question is, will there be changes to the game of football as a result of what's going on, these hearings right now?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very good question, Wolf. The NFL says that it is taking steps to make the game safer. But Congress wants to know what the league can do -- what more the league can do and what the real danger is, not only to NFL pros, but also all of the college and high school players taking the field.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Head-rattling tackles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Westbrook took a vicious shot there and he's shaken up. He's down.
BOLDUAN: Hard hits are what many sports fans say professional football is all about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, goodness.
BOLDUAN: But concussions and potential long lasting effects was the focus on Capitol Hill today.
HOGE: After my second concussion, I was escorted into the training room, where I flatlined. As they started to resuscitate me, I popped back up and they rushed me to the emergency room, where I lay in the ICU for two days.
BOLDUAN: Merrill Hoge played eight years in the NFL but says he had to retire because of repeated brain injury. A recent study commissioned by the NFL suggested retired players may face a higher risk of dementia and other memory-related problems -- five times higher in players 50 and older, 19 times higher in players age 30 to 49. The NFL has resisted making a connection.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Is there a link between playing professional football and the likelihood of contracting a brain- related injury?
ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: You're obviously seeing a lot of data and a lot of information that our committees and others have presented, with respect to the linkage. And the medical experts should be the ones to be able to continue that debate.
CONYERS: I just asked you a simple question.
What's the answer?
GOODELL: The answer is the medical experts would know better than I would with respect to that.
BOLDUAN: But NFL players union is demanding the league start paying attention.
DEMAURICE SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NFLPA: What I see is the need to embrace almost a decade of medical literature and then move forward.
BOLDUAN: A point echoed by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, herself married to a former player.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: No matter what kind of helmet you build, no matter what kind of equipment that you have, it is a dangerous sport and people are going to be injured.
The only question is what are you going to do?
Are you going to pay for it?
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BOLDUAN: Now, the author of that most recent study testified that the findings of dementia risk, while important, don't prove a link here. The players union, they do stress, while they care immensely about this issue, they're not looking to Congress to legislate hitting on the field -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So what's the committee think and what are they going to do about all of this?
BOLDUAN: It's a very good question. We heard Chairman Conyers say that what he wants, at this point, he now is seeking records on players' head injuries because he wants to do an independent examination on the health risks. And that's, of course, something that the players union would like to see, as well.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thanks very much.
You'll stay on top of this story for us.
BOLDUAN: Of course.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
A former tennis star rocks the sporting world -- Andre Agassi now coming clean about his drug use. We'll tell you what's going on.
And pilots accused of "frolicking in the cockpit."
What does that mean?
What was going on that caused them to fly past their destination?
We get insight from a former top transportation official.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Fredericka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?
WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf.
In this police surveillance video, you can see some of the five suspects arrested in what is alleged to have been a two-and-a-half hour assault, robbery and gang rape of a 15-year-old girl. The assault occurred outside a school in Richmond, California. And reportedly, as many as 20 people either participated or watched -- and none of them called police.
He was duped -- that's how a defense lawyer described Tahawwur Rana, one of two Chicago men arrested on charges that they planned a terrorist attack against a Danish newspaper. His alleged accomplice, David Headley, has already admitted to flying to Denmark and scouting the newspaper. Rana's attorney says there is no evidence that his client knew about the plot.
And once again, militants have launched an attack on the president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Last week, mortars hit the airport as the president was boarding a flight to Yemen. Today, his convoy was again attacked as he returned to the presidential palace. Three people were killed, but the president was unharmed. His spokesman says the insurgents were just sending, "their regular violent message that they're around."
The International Tennis Federation says it is surprised and disappointed by revelations in a new book by Andre Agassi. According to an excerpt published in a London newspaper, Agassi admits to using crystal meth while he was playing on the pro tour. When he then failed a drug test, he says he lied to tour authorities, saying that he unwittingly had taken a drink from a soda that his assistant had spiked with the drug. Authorities bought the story and the result of the drug tests were thrown out.
Lots of surprise and, as I just mentioned lots of disappointment, Wolf, from the Tennis Federation there. I think everyone thought he was pretty squeaky clean.
BLITZER: Yes. But I -- I wonder if crystal meth, does it make you play better or make you play tennis worse?
WHITFIELD: Well, maybe when you're already Class A, nobody can tell. He was already the top player for so long...
BLITZER: I know.
WHITFIELD: -- it barely, apparently, impaired his play.
BLITZER: The lying is bad, though.
WHITFIELD: Yes. Disappointing. BLITZER: An up-close look at the fight against piracy. CNN's Brian Todd takes us to Puerto Rico, where he trained with crews learning the latest tactics to stop crimes on the high seas.
Also, the FAA now says those Northwest pilots who overshot the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport were on a "frolic" -- that would be frolic, F-R-O-L-I-C -- in the cockpit.
What does that mean?
We'll ask the former vice chairman of the NTSB.
And new video of Michael Jackson performing some of his biggest hits during rehearsals just days before his death.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, we're waiting on the president. He'll be appearing in the White House in a few minutes to talk about the hate crime law he signed today. We'll go there live once that happens. Stand by.
A new poll could be bad news for the former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin. CNN's Candy Crowley is standing by to take a closer look at the new numbers.
And political donors getting special treatment at the White House -- wasn't this administration supposed to be different?
We're looking at all sides with the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Their mistake made headlines. The cockpit crew of a Northwest Airlines flight flying right past their destination airport, ignoring calls from controllers and later saying it was because they were on their laptops discussing their schedules. Now the FAA is revoking their licenses, notifying the man in a scathing letter. Let's get some insight from Bob Francis, a former vice chairman of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.
I want to get to the specifics, but in all of your experience, have you ever heard or seen a case like this at all?
BOB FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, depending on what -- on whether they were sleeping, whether they were doing what they said they were doing, whatever, there is one other case of two pilots falling asleep in an Alaskan flight.
BLITZER: When was that?
FRANCIS: In a Hawaiian flight, sorry.
FRANCIS: That was maybe a year ago.
BLITZER: But they landed safely. They fell asleep, one was sleeping and the other fell asleep and it was on autopilot.
FRANCIS: And then they woke up.
BLITZER: And everyone was okay. That was documented, that case.
BLITZER: And now here's the letter that the FAA has now written. It's called an enforcement letter to these two pilots. I'll read you the operative line. "NW188 was without communication with any air traffic control facility and with its company dispatcher for a period of 91 minutes (over 1.5 hours) while you were on a frolic of your own. Failing to comply with ATC air traffic control clearances or instructions while engaged in air carrier operations is extremely reckless." Now the word frolic sort of jumped out. The pilots are telling investigators they were on their laptops and they were reviewing their schedules.
FRANCIS: Yeah. I don't know how one comes up with the word frolic. Maybe the lawyers like it and it covers a lot of territory, but who knows what they were doing. I mean, even if they are working on their laptops, these pilots are trained that if they hear Northwest flight number whatever it was on the radio, they immediately react to that, even if there have been 100 other calls from controllers.
BLITZER: Over 90 minutes, too.
BLITZER: And they tried repeatedly, air traffic controllers to get in touch with them. We looked up in the dictionary the word frolic, and it's -- the definition is something like a playful, mischievous action. I don't know what that means, but it -- it could mean a lot obviously. It could mean nothing.
FRANCIS: Playful is, you know, I would wonder. I wouldn't call this playful. I think reckless, irresponsible.
FRANCIS: Dangerous. I mean the captain on this flight had more hours than Sullenberg.
BLITZER: Sully Sullenberger.
FRANCIS: These guys had a lot of experience and should have known better.
BLITZER: Even if they were distracted by the laptops. You think the FAA did the right thing in revoking their licenses.
FRANCIS: I do, yes.
BLITZER: Sends a lot of messages to a lot of pilots out there right now. Another proposal that's been out there for years so far hasn't gotten off the ground has put video cameras in the cockpits. There are video cameras on a lot of the commercial flights. Would that be a good idea so that there would be a record what pilots were doing during long flights?
FRANCIS: I think that's a very difficult thing to be done in a responsible way, and I think, you know, you've got a case like this and you say it might have helped, it might have helped in Egypt Air but for the most part you'd have to be looking at the controls of the airplane. You probably wouldn't be looking at them throughout crews.
BLITZER: Technically it's not a difficult thing to put a little camera in there. You get, you know, a record of the hours of the flight, whatever.
FRANCIS: That's right. You would have a better record.
BLITZER: Is it a privacy thing that you don't like?
FRANCIS: I think there's a privacy issue.
BLITZER: The privacy would trump the security of the aircraft?
FRANCIS: Well, I guess it just depends on how much security or safety you're gaining by doing that, and it's such a rare thing that while it might not be the most expensive thing in the world it's not the kind of thing that's going to be preventing a lot of accidents and that's where we should be putting our resources.
BLITZER: We'll leave it there although I expect the momentum for cameras in the cockpits will grow.
FRANCIS: I think that's the case.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Bob, for coming in.
FRANCIS: You're welcome.
BLITZER: An exclusive look on board a ship that's being called virtually pirate proof.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the crucial part of the deterrent, a wall of water that blasts out from the gunwales and knocks the pilots off balance as they try to scale the ship.
BLITZER: That's one of the many deterrents on board. Our Brian Todd gets some exclusive access. Stand by. You'll want to see this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's the single biggest threat plaguing some of the world's busiest waterways. We're talking about piracy, ships seized by sometimes brutal and deadly force. CNN's Brian Todd went to Puerto Rico to get an exclusive look at efforts to make ships virtually, virtually pirate proof.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we got a pirate's eye view here of their prime targets, got a chance to see what it was like to catch a massive container ship at high speed. Now that monsoon season is ending off the eastern coast of Africa, we're told that pirating in that region will likely be on the upswing again. Military officials have told us they don't have the resources to cover the vast areas of those hot zones they say that commercial shipping lines have to take more responsibility for their own security. We got an inside look here at one of the options they will have.
TODD: Using the crudest tactics they have hijacked the shipping interesting with grappling hooks, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, they brazenly clamor on board massive tankers and cargo ships taking crews hostage. They usually have little use for the cargo. It's ransom they are after and they often get it. Pirates off the eastern coast of Africa have cost the industry billions of dollars in recent years. But this is what they could now encounter, a security team helps the crew gets into a blast proof bridge. A sniper takes position on deck, scans the perimeter. It's a drill on board the "SS Horizon Producer," a cargo ship making a run into San Juan harbor. The vessel is equipped with a new security system called triton shield. It starts with long range surveillance cameras to detect pirates further out and if they do get close loudspeaker alarms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vessel alert.
TODD: A few feet away trained guards patrol the deck under simulated fire. At sea and in port, CNN has exclusive access as the captain and crew are trained how to scramble into their secure bridges and engine rooms. It's not always smooth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need the guy's name.
TODD: And the captain says this.
CAPT. STEVE PROCIDA, S.S. HORIZON PRODUCER: Well, you saw the drill. Guns going off and that kind of stuff, and there was a realism about it, and it -- I think it woke up a lot of guys.
TODD: The firm provides everything, security teams, fortification of bridges, sniper nets, training the crew how to react if pirates breach the vessel. I spoke to an IMSN instructor who asked that his name and face be identified because he conducts training in high-risk regions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We show them how to detain that individual. We show them how to use handcuffs. We also in the course trained the crew on how to be a hostage.
TODD: But there's another part of the system aimed at never letting it get that far.
This is a crucial part of the deterrent, a wall of water that blasts down from the gunwale to New York City pirates off as they try to scale the ship and it can also flood the pirate's boat. They can mix in bleach, pepper, oil, even soap to try to distract them even more. I'm repeatedly blasted and when I try to look up alongside the hull I can't see a thing. Back on deck I press the instructor about the instructiveness of all of this.
How confident are you that this wall of water, the blast proof bridge, the loudspeakers, will really keep pirates from coming on the ship?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian, we're 99.99 percent sure that we've got the answer here.
TODD: Is that really -- that certain because the pirates and the criminals always stay one step ahead of the law, 99.99 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back in our factory, we're already making the next version of the next step up. We're going to one-step them. Every time they make a move, we'll be ready for them.
TODD: Why not just arm the crew?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've put a weapon in a man's hand who is not trained to use that weapon, and should you have a target come alongside of you, he could just start opening fire and it could be a fisherman.
TODD: But this system is not cheap. A shipping line can choose any combination of security layers or just one. If it gets the whole package the price starts in the mid-200,000s per vessel including highly trained guards on board for the first voyage. After that, it's just under $5,000 for each day the security team is on board, but an official with horizon shipping lines tells us what a hijacking could cost in delays or ruined cargo.
JACOB WEGRZYN, HORIZON SHIPPING LINES: In Puerto Rico we have pharmaceutical loads that are worth, you know, $30 million, $40 million in the container so if you have 700 or 800 containers on a ship, you can do the math.
TODD: What these security consultants are really aiming for is a true deterrent.
JOHN KLENIATIS, DEFENSE SHIELD INC.: The whole point is they see this from the water, and they say these guys are looking for something, it's not worth hitting this ship. Let's go somewhere else. TODD: These the only vessel IMSN has outfitted so far, but we're told more are in line.
TODD: Time is crucial as pirates start to ramp up their operations. In the coming months this system is going to be deployed on an actual merchant vessel off the coast of Africa. It's going to be trial by fire. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wow, what a story, piracy off the coast of Somalia has reached record levels this year, but there's another group that Somalia that also should be closely watched, an Islamic militant group some say poses an even greater threat than al Qaeda. We'll have much more on that coming up tomorrow.
The United Nations general assembly votes to condemn the United States. We're going to tell you why.
And a brand new film gives a behind-the-scenes look at Michael Jackson's final days. We're going to show you extensive footage of some of the pop star's final on-stage performances as he rehearsed for upcoming concerts.
Stick around. You'll want to see this right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right. The president is just wrapping up thanking all the folks who were over the white house right now. He has signed into law hate crime legislation that now says assaults on individuals based on their sexual orientation is a federal crime. He's explaining his decision. Let's listen in briefly.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Thank you for your years of advocacy and activism pushing and protesting that made this victory possible.
You know, as a nation we've come far on the journey towards a more perfect union, and today we've taken another step forward. This afternoon I signed into law the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. hate crimes prevention act.
This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. Time and again we faced opposition. Time and again the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured, and the struggle continued waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation and all who toiled for years to reach this day. You understand that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones but to break spirits, not only to inflict harm but to instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights both from unjust laws and violent acts, and you understand how necessary this law continues to be.
In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly 7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past ten years, there were more than 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone, and we will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.
That's why through this law we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation, and prosecutors will have new tools to work with states in order to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes. No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love, no one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.
And this isn't just about our laws, this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another, whether we embrace our differences rather than allowing them to become a source of animosity. One who could kidnap a man and beat him within an inch of his life. It's hard for any of us to imagine the twisted mentality of one who would offer a person a ride home but chain him to the back of a truck and drag him for miles until he finally died. The very moment when we fail to recognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and imperfections, the same dreams that we all share. We have for centuries strived to live up to our founding ideals, for all people to pursue their own version of happiness. Through periods of division and discord, we have endured and grown stronger and fairer and freer. And at every turn, we have made progress not only by changing laws but by changing hearts, by our willingness to walk in another's shoes, by our capacity to love and acceptance even in face the rage and bigotry.
In April of 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, as our nation mourned in grief and shuttered in anger, President Lyndon Johnson signed a landmark civil rights legislation. This is the first time we enshrined into law federal protections motivated by religion or racial hatred, the law on which we build today. As he signed his name, in a difficult moment for our country, President Johnson said through this law the bells of freedom ring out a little louder.
And that is the promise of America. Over the sound of hatred and chaos, over the din of grief and anger, we can still hear those ideals, even when they are feint, even when some would try to drown them out. At our best, we seek to make sure those ideals can be heard and felt by Americans everywhere and that work did not end in 1968, it certainly does not end today. But because the efforts of the folks in this room particularly those family members who are standing behind me, we can be proud that the bell rings even louder now and each day grows louder still.
So thank you very much. God bless you, god bless the United States of America.
BLITZER: The president of the United States explaining his decision to sign into law today this new hate crimes legislation that expands the legislation the law of the land that includes assaults against individuals as a result of their sexual orientation.
Jack Cafferty and "the Cafferty File" coming up right after this.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for the Cafferty File. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is should big Democratic contributors be given special access to the white house?
Jackson writes from Belgrade, Montana, "Are you kidding? Of course high dollar donors get special access to the highest office in the land, that's the way it works and everyone knows it. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone and the fact that the president's going back on yet another campaign promise is evidence of a startling pattern. I voted for the man but I'm beginning to experience buyer's remorse."
Paul writes, "Are you serious? "The Washington Times" a notoriously biased right wing rag is your source material for outrage over white house access? Where was the "New York Times" piece on lobbying of the Bush administration for eight years?"
Gail writes, "It's refreshing to see you don't exclusively rail against Republican antics and unethical behavior. Of course Obama and the Democrats employ pay to play, in the white house or congress, contributions and special interests rule."
Sonny says, "Jack, sometimes I think we have to stop crying about everything the president does. I don't see anything wrong with some campaign contributors going to the white house. It's part of getting elected."
Susan in Alabama says, "This president is no different than any other president, he promises things he can never deliver during the campaign, such as change and transparency, Democratic donors getting special treatment should be no surprise. Nothing has really changed."
Ralph in Alabama says, "Stop Jack. You're starting to sound like Glenn Beck."
Richard says, "Sure, why not? During the last administration, we let idiots have special access to the white house, starting at the top."
If you didn't see your email here, check my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile, Wolf.
BLITZER: Will do Jack. Thanks very much.
Let's go to CNN's Kareen Wynter. She has information on the Michael Jackson's new film, "This is It."
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From crystal chandeliers to some of Hollywood's brightest A-list stars, the world premier of Michael Jackson's "This Is It" had everyone racing to grab a good seat. It seemed as if declining an invite to this exclusive event would have been a crime.
Jackson's militant attention to detail is not missed in the film which also features the making of several special effects and computer generated moments.
Going beyond the limitations of a traditional concert performance, the documentary captures an artist at work, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.