updated 8/15/2006 11:36:11 AM ET 2006-08-15T15:36:11

Guests: Michael Musto, Dana Milbank, Michael Boyd>

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The nexus of politics and terror revisited.  The British now insist no liquid bomb airliner attack was imminent, that it was the U.S. which pushed to arrest the alleged plotters last week, before and after which, the administration beat up its critics over counterterrorism.

And the vice president gets beaten up for his remark about Ned Lamont‘s primary victory over Senator Joseph Lieberman, Mr. Cheney beaten up by former secretary of Homeland Security Ridge.

More tonight on funding for whatever scheme there really was, and the lessons learned for our airport security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The lesson for those of us in Washington, D.C., is to set aside politics and give our people the tools necessary to protect the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But has politics been set aside?  We‘ll review the five-year history of the top 10 times political interests and security interests have interwoven or blurred.

The Mideast ceasefire holds.  But so does Hezbollah‘s position in the Mideast.  What, ask many Israelis, was all this about?

And what‘s all this about?  Boy George begins his take-out-the-trash day community service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOY GEORGE:  (INAUDIBLE) chasing me around.  Off.  Go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Do you really want to hurt me?  Do you really want to make me swear?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)‘s a very imbalanced person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from Los Angeles.

The first hint that the plot, while real, might not have been quite as real as it was being advertised came Thursday night, when “TIME” magazine reported that the alleged airline liquid bomb plotters were arrested by the British only after American intelligence reported chatter among them.

Then came the revelation that the British had the purported conspirators under surveillance for 13 months.  Now we know, from senior members of British intelligence, that no attack was imminent, that those suspected had yet to buy airline tickets, and some of them didn‘t even has passports.

British intelligence wanted another week, wanted to capture the man who was hoping to make a dry run, as he dry ran.  Our government insisted on immediate arrests, and proceeded, both before and after them, to make every imaginable piece of political out of them.

That‘s our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the nexus of politics and terror.  Another question, at least the 14th in the last five years, about whether a government would really exaggerate or manipulate terror developments, not to allay the fears of (INAUDIBLE) citizenry, but rather to inflame them.

We will look at 10 of those previous questions of timing and juxtaposition.  We‘ll learn how former secretary of Homeland Security Ridge blasted Vice President Cheney for making the kind of political hay we just discussed, and Lisa Myers with the details of the significant dispute between this country and England over when to interrupt the purported plot.

First, the irony, that whatever the political end of this is, it did not seem to have an exceptional impact on public opinion, the president devoting his entire day to the issue of national security, putting in appearances at both the Pentagon and the State Department, a new poll from the folks at “Newsweek” suggesting his terror ratings are already benefiting from something of a bounce, a majority, 55 percent, now approving of Mr. Bush‘s handling of terrorism and homeland security.  That is an 11-point boost since May.

But the same number, 55 percent, still disapproving of how the president is doing his job overall, “overall” being the key word in how Mr. Bush is approaching last week‘s terror arrests in Britain, using them today to make his case for a wide variety of pet projects, including domestic wiretapping and the PATRIOT Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We better not call upon the federal government and people in the front lines of fighting terror to do their job and disrupt cells without giving people the necessary tools to disrupt terrorist plots before they strike, and that‘s what we‘re doing here in this government.

And that‘s why the terrorist surveillance program exists, a program that some in Washington would like to dismantle.  That‘s why we passed the PATRIOT Act, to give our folks the tools necessary to be able to defend America.  And the lesson for those of us in Washington, D.C., is to set aside politics and give our people the tools necessary to protect the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But has anybody done that?  The administration has, at minimum, opened itself for criticism that the push to arrest the alleged plotters last week and the political firestorm last week did not constitute a coincidence.  And that criticism has been able to stand up on its hind legs after comments from the former secretary of Homeland Security, Mr. Ridge, and comments from British intelligence about how the American government insisted on acting now, rather than waiting just days longer and gathering more valuable evidence still.

Ridge in a moment.

First, our senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers in London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, today, the threat level here was lowered from critical to severe, but the country remains on edge.

(voice-over):  Confusion reigned today at Heathrow Airport, even as security measures eased a bit with the lowering of the threat level.

JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY:  This means that the terrorist attack is still highly likely, but the intelligence assessment suggests that such an attack is no longer imminent.

MYERS (voice-over):  Intelligence sources say the investigation has turned up new evidence that has changed some thinking about the plot, but not the overall assessment.

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER PAUL STEPHENSON, LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE:  Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

MYERS:  Here‘s what we know now.  The plot was to blow up nine planes bound for the U.S. as they crossed the Atlantic.  Actual flights and dates had not yet been chosen.

A British official tells NBC News it‘s now believed there was to be only one suicide bomber per plane, instead of two, as previously believed.

The bomb, authorities call the design ingenious, made of commonly available chemicals and components which could easily slip through security.  Authorities intercepted a message that the design had been tested in Pakistan and worked.

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  This could mean that the plot was about to enter the execution phase.

MYERS:  The plotters, 23 are under arrest in Britain, and at least seven in Pakistan.  The alleged ringleader, Rashid Rauf.  He‘s around 25, trained in explosives, and under arrest in Pakistan.  Authorities tell NBC that Rauf was already wanted for murdering a relative in Britain.

Those arrested here range in age from 17 to 35.  Most are British citizens of Pakistani descent.  Two are women.  Some are recent converts to Islam.

A Western counterterrorism official describes most of them as apprentices, though a few were known to British intelligence.

Several had made martyrdom videos.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  The combination of a local cell with an international link, that makes it very seriously dangerous.

MYERS:  The Pakistan connection is strong.  Some British suspects trained in camps there, and money was wired from Pakistan to pay for plane tickets.

British and American officials tell NBC there was a significant dispute over when to roll up this plot.  The British wanted to wait at least another week, until the plotters moved toward executing a dry run, but the U.S. insisted on shutting down the operation now.

LORD TOBY HARRIS, LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE AUTHORITY:  I know that the United States government was very keen to move forward, and very keen to be able to make public the concerns that we had, so that security levels could be raised.

MYERS:  Al Qaeda‘s role in all this remains murky, but many officials do see fingerprints.  The plot itself was right out of al Qaeda‘s playbook, strikingly similar to one previously foiled in the Philippines to blow up airliners over the Pacific.

CRESSEY:  Did they have operational control?  Probably not.  Were they aware of the operation?  I think that‘s very likely.

MYERS (on camera):  The president said today that this looks like the kind of thing al Qaeda would do.  But so far, there‘s no proof, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Lisa Myers for us in London tonight.  Lisa, great thanks.

Bush administration officials now trying to claim that the vice president was unaware the British terror arrests were imminent when, on Wednesday of last week, he suggested that Senator Joe Lieberman‘s defeat in the Connecticut primary would encourage terrorists, even though by then the president had already known for about 72 hours of the arrests, the notoriously press-shy Mr. Cheney interrupting his summer vacation to tell reporters in a conference call that voters who supported Ned Lamont‘s antiwar candidacy might, quote, “embolden the al Qaeda types who want to break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task.”

This from the same man who had also said the insurgency in Iraq was in its last throes, the Bush administration‘s former Homeland Security secretary taking issue with the former colleague‘s most recent remark, Tom Ridge telling “Newsweek” magazine, “That may be the way the vice president sees it, but I don‘t see it that way, and I don‘t think most Americans see it that way.”

Time now to call in our own Dana Milbank, also, of course, the national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  None of us can say for certain why the Bush administration Would have pressured British authorities to move early on the terror arrests.  But giving them the benefit of the doubt, even doing that, did not the pounding by the vice president, by Ken Mehlman, by others still leave the administration wide open for doubt and even suspicion about the timing of all this?

MILBANK:  Well, Keith, that‘s just the kind of question that emboldens the al Qaeda types.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you very much.

MILBANK:  Well, it‘s not really even a matter of suspicion.  I mean, Karl Rove came out earlier this year and said, Look, this is what our fall campaign is going to be about.  It‘s about stirring up terrorism and of saying, We can protect you better than the other guy.

I wouldn‘t get too bogged down in the timing issue, because if anything, the Bush administration politically would have wanted to wait till September or October, when everybody was paying attention.  But it‘s not even an open secret.  It‘s completely out in the open that terrorism is politicized routinely over and over again.

OLBERMANN:  One apparent strategy for Democrats, at least, and critics to respond to Mr. Cheney‘s remarks is to just dismiss them and dismiss him as irrelevant.  Senator Clinton told a radio station in New York she does not take anything he says seriously any more.  Is there a point?  Is it conceivable there‘s a point at which that becomes the conventional wisdom about the vice president?  Could he ever become a true liability to the administration‘s base?

MILBANK:  I‘m not sure about him becoming a liability to the base.  But I think we have probably reached a point where people are discounting his remarks.  You mentioned the “last throes” remarks.  I mean, he had implicated Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks, we know that not to be true.  He said Iraq had reconstituted nuclear weapons, we know that not to be true.

So he‘s known as being a bit out there, a bit more fast and loose with the truth than others have been.  That doesn‘t mean he‘s a liability, I mean, any more than he was before.  He‘s rather low in the polls.  But I get the feeling that each time they go to the well with this, there‘s a little bit less impact in the public, a little less fright that is actually thrown out of it.

OLBERMANN:  Truth aside, appropriateness aside, look at it as a political gamesmanship here.  Did the Bush administration succeed in undercutting any damage that would have been done by the defeat of Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary last week?  It seems as if we all heard and read last week more about Dick Cheney‘s comments than we did about what Ned Lamont‘s victory would portend for the Republican Party come November.

MILBANK:  I think they did succeed.  And I‘m not sure that even without all the developments in Britain and what Cheney had said that it would have made that much of a difference.  Lieberman, his defeat may actually ultimately help the Republicans anyway, because it shows a very divided Democratic Party.

But certainly, this allowed the—to blunt any sort of an antiwar question.  And I think the administration was quite clever in turning the British arrests to their advantage here.

But I wouldn‘t be surprised if this does allow the Republicans to paint the Democrats as very divided.

OLBERMANN:  The poll numbers for the president, “Newsweek” poll, says, obviously, he‘s now in the positive numbers on homeland security.  Then there‘s a CBS News poll, another job performance poll, he‘s still significantly below the low 40 in these polls.  Would being viewed as strong on terror and security really matter to the president and the Republicans who are running in the fall if he were seen as being weak on absolutely everything else?

MILBANK:  Which is more or less what we‘re looking at right now.  But I think the White House has—is breathing a certain sigh of relief when you do see those terrorism numbers, those homeland security numbers bumping up.  This has really been the source of all of Bush‘s strength.  Everything else has followed from it.

Now, we‘re seeing Bush‘s numbers at 38 percent overall, still very low, only up a few points in the “Newsweek” poll.  But if your homeland security numbers, if your terrorism numbers are moving up, presumably the others will follow.  And they‘re certainly hoping they can bump it up a good bit more in the 90 days or whatever we have until the election.

So I would take that as quite a positive sign that this is having a beneficial effect for the Republicans.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank at “The Washington Post” and MSNBC.  As always, Dana, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also here, more on the nexus of politics and terror.  Has the administration shown a pattern of exploiting fear for political gain?  We‘ll examine the 10 previous possible examples.

And the 10 latest changes in security at our airports.  What‘s safe, what‘s not, what changed in the last 15 minutes?  And are we really focusing on the clear and present dangers that could bring a plane down?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In our fourth story tonight, screening the screeners, a hard look at America‘s defense of its airways.

Although you may not have relaxed about flying, the rules have been.  After banning a whole sea of liquid troubles on Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration yesterday eased up on some of those rules.

So let‘s get you up to speed on the current list of illicit liquids.  Four ounces of liquid over-the-counter medicine was scary on Saturday, safe on Sunday.  Five ounces is still a potential terror tool today.  Solid lipstick was thrown out Thursday, but salvaged on Saturday.

Liquid lip gloss, still a potential terror tool today.  Mascara was fine on Friday, sacked on Saturday.  Contact lens solution, fearsome on Friday, safe on Saturday, unless it came in a 10-ounce bottle, in which case, it was still suspect Sunday.

And, of course, always dangerous, always will be, pudding.

We have been told many times that only this administration, these people, and their policies can keep us safe.  But the Associated Press reported this weekend that while the British trailed the accused plotters, the Bush administration was trying to cut $6 million in funding for developing new technology to detect hidden explosives before they could smuggled on board flights.

Only bipartisan objection in both houses saved the funding.  So with carry-on rules fluctuating faster than arrival times, and an administration telling us only it can keep us safe while it looks to reduce spending for keeping us safe, what exactly is the current state of American aviation security tonight?

Michael Boyd runs an aviation security consulting firm, the Boyd Group.

Mike, thanks again for some of your time tonight.

MIKE BOYD, THE BOYD GROUP:  My pleasure, sir.

OLBERMANN:  What difference, if any, have those bans and clarifications and rule relaxations and take three on each of those made to the safety of American airline passengers?

BOYD:  Well, I think probably leaving toothpaste at home might have promoted tooth decay.  Other than that, there‘s been no real improvement in security whatsoever, zero.

OLBERMANN:  The TSA has gone from 55,000 screeners to 43,000.  The Homeland Security research and development budget went from $110 billion to $44 billion.  The cut of $6 million for explosives detection seems minuscule in that context.  Is it really minuscule?  What‘s going on here?

BOYD:  Well, the TSA is a giant waste of money to start with.  We had 29,000 screeners.  Then it went to 50, now it‘s 43.  If they cut it further, it‘ll basically cut the amount of revenues at airport coffee shops.  It‘s not very well managed.  And they‘ve wasted so much money.  I‘m all for taking money away, and get them to be a little bit more—they don‘t even know how much they‘re spending to fix their bomb-sniffing machines.

So it‘s not an issue of how much money they‘re given, it‘s how much they‘re wasting.  And that‘s what we really have to get control of.

OLBERMANN:  On this particular topic, this particular threat, given that Ramzi Yousef tried to dry-run blowing up jets over the ocean with liquid explosives in 1996, why was last Thursday the hair-on-fire moment for this issue?  Why was banning somebody‘s lip gloss ludicrous last Wednesday but essential as of last Thursday, rather than at some point in the distant past?

BOYD:  Because the technology is there to find that stuff.  We haven‘t gone after it.  And besides that, the people running the TSA are reactive, and many of them don‘t know anything about security to start with.  The head of the TSA, by the way, has no security background.  So if the terrorist does something, we run to take it away.

We‘re basically being—our strings are being pulled by terrorism, not the other away around.

OLBERMANN:  I have asked you this question before.  I‘ll be very surprised if your answer has changed.  But right now, even with the liquid anxiety and the generalized panic about flying, what is the greatest and least addressed terrorist threat facing U.S. aircraft?

BOYD:  Well, right now today, we have no anticipative plan at any airport out there.  All we do is react.  The back door to the airports are open.  And the TSA has become basically place for patronage appointees to get good jobs.

OLBERMANN:  Cargo, cargo still unwatched?

BOYD:  Yes, cargo, we can‘t check every piece of cargo.  But scrutiny has to be there.  That‘s part of the whole ramp scrutiny thing that the TSA has almost totally ignored.  We don‘t know what who‘s running around out there.

OLBERMANN:  Aviation security expert Michael Boyd.  As always, we appreciate your time tonight, sir.

BOYD:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, we will review anew the nexus of politics and terror.

And from the real threats to entirely made-up ones.  The title says it all, “Snakes on a Plane.”  The actor Samuel L. Jackson gives us an exclusive and dramatic reading from the movie.

And Boy George was wishing he was filming a movie, but sadly, it is his real life right now.  His day picking up trash in New York as part of his community service sentence.  He was also sentenced to be watched by the media.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The term we employ is the nexus of politics and terror.  It does not imply that there is no terror, but it also does not deny that there is politics.  And it refuses to assume that counterterror measures in this country are not being influenced by politics.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the basis of all this, at heart, remarks made on May 10, 2005, by a former Bush administration official discussing the old color-coded terror threat warning system.  More often than not, he said, “We were the least inclined to raise it.  Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment, sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don‘t necessarily put the country on alert.  There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it.  And we said, ‘For that?‘”

The speaker was the first secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.  In The light of those remarks and his criticism this week of the vice president for politicizing terror in the context of the Connecticut senatorial primary, it is imperative that we exam each of the coincidences of timing since 2002, including the one last week in which excoriating comments by leading Republicans about leading Democrats just happened to precede arrests in vast purported terror plot, arrests that we now know were carried out on timeline requested not by British, nor necessitated by the evidence, but requested by this government. 

We introduce these coincidences to you exactly as we did when we first compiled this top 10 list after the revelation that the announced threats New York‘s subway system, last October, had been wildly overblown.  And we do so by reminding you and ourselves, here, that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called “the logic fallacy.”  Just because event A occurred and then event B occurs, that does not automatically mean that event A caused event B.  But neither does it say the opposite.  The “Nexus of Politics and Terror,” please judge for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  No. 1, May 18, 2002, the first details of the president‘s daily briefing of August 6, 2001 are revealed, including its title “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.”  The same day another memo is discovered revealing the FBI knew of men with links to al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school.  The memo was never acted upon.  Questions about 9/11 intelligence failures are swirling. 

May 20, 2002:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The terror warnings from the highest levels of the federal government, tonight are...

OLBERMANN:  Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares that another terrorist attack is “inevitable.” 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tonight there are even more warnings...

OLBERMANN:  The next day, the department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide and against New York City landmarks, like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. 

No. 2, Thursday, June 6, 2002...

COLEEN ROWLEY, FBI AGENT:  I never really anticipated this kind of impact. 

OLBERMANN:  Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, who‘s information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress.  Senate Committee Chair Graham says, Rowley‘s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistleblowers. 

Monday June 10, 2002, four days later...

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused to plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country.  In fact, Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than one month. 

No. 3, February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq‘s concealment of weapons including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike, many in the U.N. are doubtful.  Months later, much of the information proves untrue. 

February 7, 2003, two days later, as anti-war demonstrations continue to take place around the globe. 

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Take some time to prepare for an emergency... 

OLBERMANN:  Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites credible threats by al Qaeda and raises the terror alert level to orange.  Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison, who would become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack. 

No. 4, July 23, 2003, the White House admits that the CIA, months before the president‘s State of the Unions Address, expressed strong doubts about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. 

On the 24th the Congressional report  on the 9/11 attacks is issued.  It criticizes government at all levels.  It reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future highjackers.  It concludes that Iraq had no link to al Qaeda.  Twenty-eight pages of the report are redacted. 

On the 26th, American troops are accused of the beating Iraqi prisoners. 

July 29, 2003, three days later, amid all of the negative headlines...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Word of a new possible al Qaeda attack...

OLBERMANN:  Homeland Security issues warnings of terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks. 

No. 5, December 17, 2003, 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable.  The next day, a federal appeals court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges and the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr.  David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no weapons of mass destruction there, announces he will resign his post. 

December 21, 2003, four days later, the Sunday before Christmas...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Today the United States government raised the national threat level. 

Homed Land Security, again, raises the threat level to orange, claiming credible intelligence of further plots to crash airliners into U.S cities.  Subsequently six international flights into this country are canceled after some passenger names purportedly produced matches on government “No-Fly” lists.  The French later identified those matched names, one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a 5-year-old boy. 

No. 6, March 30, 2004 the new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, tells Congress “we have still not found any WMD in that country” and after weeks of having refused to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice relents, and agrees to testify. 

On the 31st, four Blackwater USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah.  The roll of civilian contractors in Iraq is now widely questioned. 

April 2, 2004...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The FBI Has issued a new warning tonight... 

OLBERMANN:  Homeland Security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains using fertilizer and fuel bombs, like the one detonated in Oklahoma City.  Bombs stuffed into satchels or duffle bags. 

No. 7, May 16, 2004, Secretary of State Powell, appears on “Meet the Press.”  Moderator Tim Russert closes by asking about the enormous personal credibility Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein.  An aide to Powell interrupts the question saying the interview is over.

TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS”:  I think that was one of your staff Mr. Secretary.  I don‘t think that‘s appropriate. 

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Get—Emily, get out of the way. 

OLBERMANN:  Powell finishes his answer, admitting that much of the information he had been given about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was

POWELL:  ...inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading. 

OLBERMANN:  On the 21st, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison are released. 

On the 24th “Associated Press” video, from Iraq, confirms U.S. Forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party, killing more than 40. 

Wednesday May 26, 2004, two days later...

ASHCROFT:  God afternoon

OLBERMANN:  Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller warned that intelligence from multiple sources...

ASHCROFT:  Indicates al Qaeda‘s specific intention to hit the United States‘ heart. 

OLBERMANN:  And that 90 percent of the arrangement for an attack on the United States were complete.  The color coded warning system is not raised.  The Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge, does not attend the announcement. 

No. 8, July 6, 2004, Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry selects John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate producing a small bump in the election opinion polls and producing a huge swing in media attention toward the Democratic campaign.

July 8, 2004, two days later...

RIDGE:  Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States...

OLBERMANN:  Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about al Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn.  Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, DeForest Soaries Jr.  confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming president election in the event it is intercepted by terrorist acts. 

No. 9, July 29, 2004, at their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for president.  As in the wake of any convention the Democrats now dominate the media attention over the subsequent weekend. 

August 1, 2004, Monday morning, three days later. 

RIDGE:  It is as reliable as source—group of sources that we‘ve ever seen before.

OLBERMANN:  The department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange.  The evidence supporting the warning, reconnaissance data left in a home in Iraq.  Later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out of date. 

No. 10, October 6, 2005, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, the president addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11. 

At 3:p.m. Eastern Time, five hours after the president‘s speech had begun, the “Associated Press” reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA leak grand jury and that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guaranteed that he will not be indicted. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re awaiting a news conference at the bottom of the hour...

OLBERMANN:  At 5:00 17 p.m. Eastern Time, seven hours after the president‘s speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city‘s subway system, based on information supplied by the federal government.  A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is of “doubtful credibility.”  And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. 

Local New York television station WNBC reports it had the story of the threats days in advance of the announcement, but was asked by high ranking federal officials in New York and Washington to hold off on its story.  Less than four days after having revealed the threat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York says, “Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future we will be slowly be winding down the enhanced security.”  While news organizations ranging from the “New York Post” to NBC NEWS, quotes sources who say there were reasons to believe the informant who triggered the warning simply made up.  A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official tells the “New York Times,” “there was no there, there.” 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

In all fairness, as we observe last October and we observer again tonight, we could possibly construct a similar timeline of terror events and warnings and their relationship to the opening of new chain stores around the country.  But if merely a reasonable case could be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, especially the one last week in which terror policy was again injected directly into a political race, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country, questions about what is prudence and what is fear-mongering. 

Also here, the bombing is over in the Mideast, but there is still palpable fear that the cease-fire won‘t last.  We‘ll have the latest from the region including the word of some rockets in the air.

And here in Hollywood, the nexus of snakes in planes.  Samuel L. Jackson with a dramatic reading of “the” line from the movie, especially for you on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Middle East cease-fire, is it holding if there are Katyusha rockets landing in Northern Lebanon and have even bigger conflicts merely been postponed for the future to worry about? 

Speaking of conflicts, Boy George comes face-to-face with the media about picking up trash.  It‘s community service gone wild.  That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It claimed more than 900 lives and lasted more than a month, but in our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a cease-fire appears to be holding between Israel and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, even though neither side as any real sense of resolution and even though, according to the Israeli army, Hezbollah has just fired 10 more Katyusha rockets towards Israel, each landed north of the border still in Lebanon. 

Hundreds of refugees clogged the roads trying to get back into their homes in Southern Lebanon to see the damage, but in Northern Israel, most residents still stayed away.  And while Hezbollah claimed victory and celebrated the first bomb-free night Beirut by lighting fireworks instead, Israeli soldiers started returning home, many of them with a distinct feeling of failure. 

Our correspondent Martin Fletcher is in the town Metula on the Israel-Lebanon border with the latest—Martin.

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, it was Israelis longest war since 1948 and the least successful and it may not even be over.  Everyone‘s wondering if the cease-fire will told. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  7:40 Local Time this morning, 20 minutes before the cease-fire, the last siren in (INAUDIBLE), but no Katyusha fell all day. 

7:45, parting shots from Israeli artillery into South Lebanon, then at 8:00 on the dot, an Israeli officer gives the order and the guns fall silent. 

8:07, a farmer ventures out for the first time in a month.  It‘s the apple harvest.

8:12, a mortar unit breaks out a deck of cards.  And after a month of sleeping in underground bomb shelters, Emanuel heads for home.  Peace is back.  Or is it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cease-fire in this part of the world, when Western world it meens let‘s try stop firing at each other, in this part of the world it means let‘s regroup, rearm, get ready for the next round. 

FLETCHER:  Then the first Israeli reserve soldiers cross the border heading for home tired, but safe.  A hundred and 16 soldiers died in four weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a nice feeling, but it‘s also a feeling of a failed mission. 

FLETCHER:  That‘s rare for Israel, whose survival depends on victory in war.  But in parliament today, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, claimed Israel destroyed or captured most of Hezbollah‘s weapons, and had eliminated Hezbollah‘s state within a state.  And despite the cease-fire, Israelis say one day they‘ll kill the leader of Hezbollah. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nasrallah is a criminal of war, a cease-fire is not part of the question that for us he‘s a dead man. 

FLETCHER:  Now under the deal, Israel must pull out its 30,000 soldiers from South Lebanon, but only when 30,000 Lebanese and U.N. troops move in.  That could take a week or two at best.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLETCHER:  The fighting may be over for the time being, but both sides say the next round is just a matter of time—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Martin Fletcher, in Metula, Israel, great thanks. 

No segue possible, of course, into our world of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs” where we begin with this weekend‘s highly anticipated release of a movie that is already spawned 1,000 Internet parodies, “Snakes on a Plane.” 

No one is being actually allowed to see the film before it hits cinemas on Friday, but New Line Cinema is letting people meet the star attraction, well if you count the snakes, the second star attraction.  Samuel L. Jackson sat down with COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny to discuss, among other things, how fans changed the movie months before its release. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  These were obviously more than just Internet fans for “Snake on a Plane,” they‘re your fans because...

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR:  Yeah.  Yeah.

NOVOTNY:  They wanted a specific line and they—and that was all about you.  Can you tell me what that was?

JACKSON:  They know they couldn‘t get that line in PG-13 movie, you know, even though, when we was shooting I was having difficulty being on a plane full of snakes saying “gosh-golly-gee” all the time. 

NOVOTNY:  So, what did you say? 

JACKSON:  It was like, OK, Sam, you had enough and that enough of these mother (BLEEP) on this mother (BLEEP) plane.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You can cauch the rest of Monica Novotny‘s in-depth interview and exploration of “Snakes on a Plane” only on COUNTDOWN this Thursday night.  I‘m sure you wrote that directly on your calendars—Snakes, Monica, Thursday. 

From “Snakes on a Plane” to Boy George on the streets.  He sparks a public safety threat by picking up trash.  It‘s ahead here on COUNTDOWN with Michael Musto.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He had several hit songs, but the enduring one of the bunch began with what proves to have been a prophetic couplet, “Give me time to realize my crime.”  The No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the opening words to “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” by Boy George and Culture Club.  The title itself coming into play as the first of his five days of court-ordered community service, picking up trash in New York City, turned into what the British might have called, the dust up at the dustbin. 

Boy George a.k.a.  George O‘Dowd swept trash on Manhattan‘s lower east side man for the Department of Sanitation.  In March he had pleaded guilty to falsely reporting a burglary at his Manhattan apartment.  Today he was eventually moved inside the Sanitation Department‘s parking lot for “Everyone‘s safety,” according to its deputy chief.  Everyone?  You mean all those reporters? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOY GEORGE, ENTERTAINER:  Not unfair—but you (BLEEP)--ing chasing me around...(Bleep) off.  Go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now, the columnist of the “Village Voice” and our expert on these things, Michael Musto. 

Good evening, Michael.

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:   Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness.  You saw the throngs of reporters around Boy George.  We had consigned him to the garbage can of history.  Does this mark something of a comeback? 

MUSTO:  Yes, I recommend this to everybody, call the police for burglary when you really have a hustler and some cocaine.  Then act really rambunctious during community service.  I don‘t know if that‘s a comeback, but it‘ll definitely lead to more community service, because he actually through some dust and leaves at one of the camera crews.  He‘s going to end up working in a sewer.  At least it wasn‘t white dust this time. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh goodness.  Of course, he wore that standard issue orange vest.  But he did spice up the outfit, he had Capri pants, they were kind of cut-of sweatpants as Capri pants and went without socks.  Is the “Karma Chameleon” still trying to send mixed messages and mixed signals to the rest of us? 

MUSTO:  Well he‘s ever the trendsetter and if he ever ended up in jail he‘s would certainly turn his prison drab into culottes.  He‘s so fabulous.  The no socks thing I think is a winking nod to “Miami Vice,” which is also in the dumpster right now.  The Capri pants—the Capri pants look a kind of fashion statement, the reality is, I found out, they used to fit when he was in Culture Club, but now they don‘t.  But, no, he makes it into a bold statement, and he really shops at the “Church of the Poisoned Mind.” 

OLBERMANN:  The—there has been talk also about what‘s going on there on the top of his head?  Is it graffiti or it‘s the Star of David or it‘s a Pentagram or he sold space up there for extra cash?  What‘s going on, on the top of his head? 

MUSTO:  I‘ve looked up close it says “I may be a naughty British queen, but I am not as bad as George Michael, Elton John or Elizabeth II.”  And it‘s kind of wrapped in this Star of David Bowie, it‘s like a glam-rock religious icon.  There‘s also a little ad there, you‘re right for Fresh Direct, I had no idea that they deliver hustlers and cocaine, I thought it was cantaloupe and cottage cheese. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, the whole issue of community service and celebrities, now I heard, since I‘ve been here that in L.A.  they‘re going to kill two birds with one stone with Mel Gibson, he‘s going to help out the Transportation Security Administration, whatever is in the bottles that they seize at the airport at LAX, he‘ll drink it? 

MUSTO:  Yeah, Manishevitz especially.

OLBERMANN:  Well whatever it is, Boy George had asked the judge for other kinds of community service, public service announcements, being a DJ at a benefit, putting on a fashion and makeup workshop on—want to venture a guess as to why the judge didn‘t go for one of those and said, “no, no, clean up trash for five days?” 

MUSTO:  I think because DJing and teaching makeup and fashion are things he‘s like to do, that‘s not punishment.  This is like if O.  J. said, “Oh, I lost the civil trial, well how about instead of paying, how about if I just do some steroids and chop off some heads.”  No, no, no, you know it‘s like if Mel Gibson said, “How about if I burn down some synagogue.”  No, no, no.  You know, DJing and teaching fashions are things we‘d all love to do, but sanitation is much more punishing, especially in New York were the garbage moves. 

OLBERMANN:  And sometimes is stronger than you are. 

MUSTO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Do you have bet to place here one whether Rosie O‘Donnell will now have him tell all about community service on the episode in which she debuts on the “View” or would that will—ha, ha, ha—taboo? 

MUSTO:  Oh, I bet everything that we not, because I know George, actually, and I actually like him, he‘s very feisty and spunky and I like spunk.  So, he once dissed me at a party I was hosting, which was weird, but he hates Rosie O‘Donnell, you just mention her name he turns into Naomi Campbell with a head tattoo.  He doesn‘t like the way, he feels, she tampered the show “Taboo.”  And he would never go on her show.  He would definitely go to the competition, like, “The Price is Right” or “Blue‘s Clues” or something. 

OLBERMANN:  Maybe we can get him here.  Can you get him here? 

MUSTO:  As long as Rosie‘s not on, he‘ll be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Maybe we could work it in instead of, you know, five days of cleaning up the trash, he would do four days of cleaning up the trash and one day of appearing on COUNTDOWN. I mean, doesn‘t appearing on COUNTDOWN work towards community service?

MUSTO:  Maybe 29 days of cleaning trash and one day of COUNTDOWN, but he might smell a little, but he‘ll be here if there‘s no Rosie. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ll do what we can about that, if you‘d look into that for us, Michael, we‘d appreciate your assistance. 

MUSTO:  I‘m going to pull connections, because I know people in low places. 

OLBERMANN:  The one and only Michael Musto of the “Village Voice” in New York while we‘re in Los Angeles.  Many thanks for you time, as always. 

MUSTO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,201 day since the decoration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

From Los Angels, keep your knees loose.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

Joe, good evening.

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

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