updated 4/16/2004 10:42:13 AM ET 2004-04-16T14:42:13

Guests: Ben Venzke, Stacy Clark, Stephen Heering, Gregory Stoller

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  A new bin Laden tape from the CIA, the voice on it is likely his.  As to his offer, a truce with Europe it‘s not likely to be accepted by anyone· France, Italy, Britain, Poland, dismiss it out of hand.  

Iraq: Ambushes, threats, kidnappings.  Two American civilians working there have had enough.  They will join us. 

She survived for 10 days by herself in a crashed car alongside her dead mother, now the question: why did it take 10 days to find her?

The “Apprentice” turns out it‘s more than just another reality TV show, it‘s part of the curriculum in at least five major business schools. 

And a new meaning to that phrase “family jewels”:  Keep your dearly departed with you always as a diamond.  No, I‘m not kidding. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  For three weeks now, we have heard from everyone everybody about everything that went wrong on 9/11 and months before it.  But today, we have heard anew from the leader of the only group for whom everything went right on 9/11 and the months before it. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN:  An audiotape has been released reportedly from Osama bin Laden, evaluated by Central Intelligence as “likely to indeed be him.”  And clearly he believes that Europe will react to al-Qaeda and appease it, exactly as Europe bargained with Hitler and the Nazis 70 years ago.  As our correspondent, Jim Maceda, reports from Afghanistan, bin Laden is offering a truce to almost everybody, but the Americans and the Israelis, and just looking for a Neville Chamberlain to accept it. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The seven minute audiotape, which aired today on two Arab satellite networks, is likely the voice of Osama bin Laden according to the CIA.  If so, bin Laden was alive as recently as last March.  On the tape, he vows revenge against America for last month‘s killing by Israel of Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.  He again claims responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and the deadly Madrid train bombings last month, calling them “retaliation.” 

“Our actions come in response to your killing our people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine,” he says.  But in a stark departure from previous tapes, bin Laden offers an olive branch to Europe, a truce with al-Qaeda for three months and renewable, if America‘s European allies pull their forces out of Muslim countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan.  Citing opinion polls he says that most Europeans want reconciliation with the Islamic world.  But many analysts doubt bin Laden is going soft on Europe. 

M.J. GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM EXPERT:  He sees and recognizes that there are certain cracks appearing in the Western alliance between Europe and the USA.  He wants to widen those cracks...

MACEDA:  So far, it hasn‘t worked.  European reaction today was swift and united against doing any deal with the likes of bin Laden. 

JACK STRAW, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER:  There‘s only one side on which the international community can be in the fight against terrorism. 

MACEDA:  Meanwhile, the hunt for bin Laden got a shot of fresh blood today.  In Afghanistan, the 25th Infantry Division, beginning its tour of duty here replacing the famed 10th Bounty.  Stepping back from earlier predictions that high-value targets would be caught this year, the new commander gave no timeline, but said his top priority is bin Laden. 

MAJ. GEN. ERIC OLSON, U.S. ARMY:  Additional capability, additional resources are going to be devoted to this particular objective, to this hunt. 

MACEDA:  Bin Laden is said to be hiding along the rugged border with back Pakistan. 

(on camera):  And the latest tape, analysts say, is a reminder that he is still there somewhere, and still calling key shots. 

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Kabul. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  For all its talk of reconciliation, or to use the historically correct term, appeasement, al-Qaeda is simultaneously in the final states of preparation for another hit on Saudi Arabia.  Twenty-six were killed there, many of them Westerners, in attacks that occurred a year ago next month.  U.S. officials now telling NBC News that a series of al-Qaeda car and truck bombs against multiple targets, including American targets, appear imminent inside that kingdom.  The State Department has sent home, from the embassy in Riyadh, all nonessential personnel and all dependents because of the new threat and encouraged civilians to leave as well. 

Here, while obviously concerned about Saudi Arabia, state (PH) me worried more about two things in the bin Laden audiotape.  One, why would he be claiming responsibility for the Madrid atrocities when few think al-Qaeda was directly involved in them?  And two, whether or not he‘s trying to influence events not in Europe necessarily, but rather closer to his home.  Andrea Mitchell is in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The new audiotape from Osama bin Laden was an in-your-face message to the U.S. from a defiant terrorist leader.  Bin Laden‘s offer of a truce to Europe from attacks like last month‘s Madrid bombing is blackmail, say U.S. officials.  At an interviews with European television today, Colin Powell said it won‘t work. 

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  How can you make a deal with somebody who would murder innocent people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; or innocent people in a field in Pennsylvania or innocent people on a train going into Madrid? 

MITCHELL:  U.S. officials still say there is no evidence bin Laden ordered the attack on Madrid.  But he is taking responsibility for it anyway.  Why?  If the World Trade Center was an attack on America‘s economic heart, Wall Street, bin Laden now wants to also be seen as a political threat, able to influence elections like Spain‘s, where the government was defeated within days of the Madrid bombing.  The release of the tape was likely also timed to influence the upcoming political transition in Iraq.  And it could signal terror plots already in place. 

BEN VENZKE, TERRORISM EXPERT:  It means that we can expect, unfortunately, to see increased targeting of U.S. allies, not just in Iraq, but also in Europe like we saw with the Madrid bombing in the future. 

MITCHELL:  The tape surfaces as the CIA and FBI Have been rocked by criticism for their failure to find bin Laden.  Now he seems to be thumbing his nose at them. 

JAMES BAMFORD, INTELLIGENCE EXPERT:  And no matter how hard you try to get me, I‘m going to be able to get my message out and I‘m going to be able to survive. 

MITCHELL:  U.S. officials are confident bin Laden‘s message will not influence America‘s allies, but it could inspire more violence, especially in Iraq. 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  As we often do when bin Laden rears his ugly head, we turn to the author of “The al-Qaeda Threat,” Ben Venzke of IntelCenter, who we just saw in Andrea‘s report. 

Ben, good evening.

VENZKE:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The salient point about this tape is what?  That he‘s alive, that he‘s thinking he influenced the Spanish election?  What? 

VINZKE:  Well, I think the key thing here is it‘s not new for al-Qaeda to be targeting U.S. allies, but I think coming on the heels of the response to the Spanish—in Spain with the elections and the polls in Europe, I think what we‘re seeing now is a reinforcement refocusing again by al-Qaeda on U.S. allies targets, not just in Iraq, but I think unfortunately we can expect to see more attacks like Madrid throughout Europe. 

OLBERMANN:  As I analogized before, obviously also, if there is one out there, he‘s looking for a Neville Chamberlain or two to cut a deal of some sort, whether or not he‘d uphold it is another thing all together, for a truce against U.S. allies.  Is that—I guess it could be interpreted either way—which is your preference?  Is that a sign of weakness for al-Qaeda that they would negotiate?  Or a sign of strength that they felt they were in a position to negotiate? 

VINZKE:  Well, you could certainly spin this that this is a sign of weakness for the group.  I think what this is—I don‘t actually think bin Laden has any clear hopes that any of these countries are going to negotiate with them.  But what happens is when that period goes through, when the rest of them stand strong and then there‘s further attacks in those countries, it further weakens some of the political strength al-Qaeda is clearly hoping against those leaders and might impact other elections following an attack.  Not necessarily in the next three months. 

OLBERMANN:  But it was the former British intelligence officer, David Cornwall, who became an author named John le Carre, and as le Carre wrote: 

“fanatics are not fireproof, in the spy lingo, because ultimately they will rely on irrational belief instead of common sense at some point.”  Thinking that part of the West would peel away from U.S., even if it‘s—even if the statement is for show, doesn‘t saying this—doesn‘t putting this on an audiotape show that Osama bin Laden has the proverbial fanatic‘s blind spot, that in this area, at least, he may not be as smart as he is in a lot of other areas? 

VINZKE:  I think the blind spot does exist in certain areas.  Unfortunately, I don‘t think it‘s necessarily this one.  In terms of the tactical or strategic maneuvering of the group, they have a very clear understanding of where public sentiment lies, not necessarily in agreeing with al-Qaeda, but in terms of feelings against the war, and other things.  And what they‘re doing is trying to exacerbate those feelings that are already there going forward.  And again, I don‘t think they expect negotiations.  I don‘t think they expect any to follow through on the truce, but I think they‘re laying the framework which is going to make things worse when there‘s additional attacks. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question quickly.  The events in Saudi Arabia, do we have an idea of what‘s been happening there?  What‘s going to happen?  What might have been interfered with? 

VINZKE:  There‘s very great concern, there has been for a long time, but it‘s spiking up again from an already high level that we could see car bombings again, much like what we saw against housing compounds before.  And that‘s going to be a continued state of affairs there, unfortunately for the remainder of the near future. 

OLBERMANN:  Ben Venzke of the IntelCenter.  As always Ben, great thanks.

VINZKE:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Back here, the hearings may be over, but the controversy

lingers on.  The republican head of the house judiciary committee has

called upon a democratic member of the 9/11 commission to resign, to which

the republican head of the commission replies:  “people ought to stay out

of our business.”  Jamie Gorelick, the former deputy attorney general in

the Clinton administration says she will not resign and commission chair,

Tom Kean backed her up.  Tuesday, the current A.G., John Ashcroft, released

a memo Gorelick wrote in 1995 which instructed

Justice Department officials to keep counterintelligence, quote, “More clearly separate from criminal intelligence.”  Now a Wisconsin Republican, Jim Sensenbrenner, has called for Gorelick to resign.  He interprets that 1995 memo as a quote “conflict of interest” and says the commission‘s independence will be fatally damaged if she does not quit.  But his fellow Republican Kean calls Gorelick “one of the most nonpartisan members of the commission.”

COUNTDOWN opening tonight on the terrorist front to promises, threats, and aftermath of Osama bin Laden.  Coming up, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  She survived a car crash in a ravine for 10 days.  Now the 5-year-old‘s family is upset.  Why was there no search?  Why was the little girl told of her mother‘s death the way she was?

And later, for some it‘s just another of the endless and mindless reality TV shows.  For others it‘s part of their college homework.  There actually is a legitimate news story about the “Apprentice,” one that you do not have to feel guilty about watching.  We have it ahead here, on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story is up next.  Your preview:  A story of survival turning into one of anger—a 5-year-old girl surviving on her own for 10 days.  Why did it take 10 days for police to find her?  How could anybody have let her find out the way she did, that her mother had died?  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The good news:  A 5-year-old girl survives for 10 days at the bottom of a roadside ravine.  The bad news:  A 5-year-old girl survives for 10 days at the bottom of a roadside ravine. 

Our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Stories that under closer examination deserve the resultant double take or second thought.  And we begin with Ruby Bustamante, the California girl found two days ago, over a week after relatives had reported both her and her mother missing.  Only hours ago, this little girl was released from Riverside Regional Medical Center in California.  She had been recovering there from minor physical injury, dehydration.  Her emotional scars will take much longer to heal.  It was during her recuperation that young Ruby, surrounded by family, saw a television news report and learned that way of her mother‘s death. 

Norma Bustamante was killed as a result of the car accident that left them both at the bottom of the 150-foot cliff.  An autopsy reveals she died minutes after the crash.  Her daughter told authorities, quote: “mommy was asleep.” 

Those same authorities are now being questioned by the victim‘s family.  It filed a missing person‘s report on the 5th of April, one day after mother and daughter disappeared.  A family spokesman saying the police department of Indio, California, quote, “Took the report and kind of dismissed it.”  Other family members noting there had been emergency calls reporting that a car had gone off the road in that area accused the California Highway Patrol of failing to have done a thorough search.  CHP says it did receive a 911 call and that an officer and fire crews did search the area, but found nothing. 

And 40 seconds worth of second thoughts in a much more familiar venue, the Scott Peterson courtroom.  A day after the fact, sour (PH) questioning: 

If defense attorney Mark Geragos should have called San Mateo County district attorney, James Foxm, quote, “A piece of crap,” unquote.  This was after Geragos encountered what calls another “stealth juror,” a psychology student who allegedly told an internet chat room she lied in order to get a seat on the Peterson jury.  D.A.  Fox responding to Geragos‘ comments, saying they were, quote, “Really unbecoming.”

Opening arguments in the case scheduled for May 17.  Geragos‘ assessment might have damaged the credibility of the court and the case, if it still had any.

Continuing the fourth story, “Second Thoughts,” in another courtroom, a juror from the Martha Stewart trial says now, she is having second thoughts about voting to convict Stewart‘s stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic.  Michelle Wishner telling the “New York Daily News” that Stewart‘s broker was brought down by, quote, “Her bad behavior.”  Ms. Wishner went so far as to place a call to Bacanovic‘s attorney informing him of what she deemed “questionable activity” inside the jury room, such as, reading about Stewart‘s $6,000 purse and discussing the hourly rate of her attorney. 

Here‘s a big surprise, Bacanovic‘s mouthpiece is now requesting a new trial. 

COUNTDOWN past the fourth story, now.  Up next, the stuff that‘s not necessarily in the news, but finds it way into our newscast anyway.  Our “Oddball” segment is up next—or was this not a good enough hint for you?

And later, nothing says “I love you” like diamonds.  But nothing says “I love you, forever” like turning your loved ones into diamonds.  We‘ll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN and immediately pause it for that special time where we set aside childish things, only to grab them up again and run out of the room screaming:  “It‘s mine! All mine, I tell you, mine!” Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

You are looking live at the subservient chicken.  Yeah, you‘re right, it‘s too good to be true isn‘t it?  It‘s not really a chicken in lingerie willing to obey your every command, like most else on the Internet, it‘s just an advertisement.  This is a really unexpected way to get you to buy a chicken sandwich from a major fast food chain.  Through a pull down menu it allows you to ask the chicken to moonwalk or fight or lay an egg or go leave itself on the couch.  But, those are just computer cues, there is not live chicken, there‘s only tape.  Tastes like chicken. 

To continue our tour of fast food nation in Canton, Michigan, no porn, no chicken, no chicken porn, just Bob‘s Big Boy—a seven foot version of Bob‘s Big Boy.  The town fathers says this is an advertising sign in Tony Matar‘s restaurant, already has one, that‘s the limit.  Matar says this is no sign, this is an American icon.  If it‘s seven feet tall, by the way, the trademark Bob‘s Big boy, big butt must be 54, 56 inches, at least. 

And more about the man trying to step in on our sacred American freedoms.  Now we‘re three hours away from that Big Boy, we‘re in Goshen, Indiana.  The Goshen near South Bend, not the one near Louisville.  This would be Darlene Harkins (SIC) and her nine monkeys—Capuchins; Capuchins who wear diapers; Capuchins who bothered no one until one anonymous complaint hit the county zoning commissioner‘s desk.  Now they‘ve got to go. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARLENE RUCKER, MONKEY OWNER:  They‘re my kids.  I couldn‘t love them any more if I gave birth to them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not the monkeys per se.  We didn‘t care if they were monkeys or cats or dogs, it‘s the amount of animals in one zone. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  (FRENCH ACCENT):  Are these your monkeys?  Do you have a license for these chimpanzee monkeys? 

When we come back, the COUNTDOWN will pick up with your No. 3 story.  Your preview:  The changing tactics in Iraq.  The new danger, attacks on slow-moving convoys.  We will talk with two civilian drivers who is narrowly escaped with their lives and came right back to the states from Iraq. 

And later, should major league baseball team‘s hopes hang on Hung? 

These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 1: Bernard Buckle, dental care is so much cheaper in France then it is on Britain‘s Isle of Wight that Mr. Buckle is now planning to take his fellow islanders by fairy to France for dental care.  They will call it the “Tooth Ferry.”  Get it?  Get it?  But, what time does the thing leave?  Tooth-30?  A-ha-ha-ha!

No. 2: Metro News, the largest adult bookstore in Memphis says it should not be harassed by cops because most of the business is not adult books and the like, it also sells furniture and lawn and garden ornaments.  Listen pal, I don‘t think what you think, I‘m intending to use it as a garden gnome. 

And No. 1: Jesse Ventura.  He says today he‘s considering running for president in 2008.  His campaign, of course, would only take place on Saturdays and it would be canceled after six weeks. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They amount to an invisible army—thousands of private contractors responsible for everything from feeding American troops to maintaining the B-2 bombers.  But while the ratio in Iraq is now nearly one of them for every 10 American fighting men and women, little had known about the risk these contractors took and the reasons they took them. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN:  That has all changed in the last week, largely because of a man named Thomas Hamil—abducted last week after his fuel convoy came under attack.  Mr. Hamil‘s fate remains unknown.  His wife says she was told by sources, that she will not identify that he is, quote, “doing well.”  In a moment, we‘ll talk to two men who worked with the missing driver from Mississippi and who narrowly escaped harm themselves during another convoy attack.  But first, news of the official military forces in Iraq. 

Today the military confirming that 20,000 U.S. troops and their families are going to have to live through what they feared most:  They‘re rotation home has been postponed indefinitely.

Jim Miklaszewski reports for the Pentagon, whose chief actually admitted today that the upsurge in violence has stunned even him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s been the deadliest two weeks in the war, 93 Americans troops killed in action.  Today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said, even he was surprised at the high level of bloodshed. 

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I certainly would not have estimated that we would have the number of individuals lost in the—that we have had lost in the last week. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Pentagon officials warn that in the coming months, the violence will only get worse, as the U.S. prepares to hand over political authority to the Iraqis on June 30.

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHRM. JOIN CHIEFS:  That is causing these thugs to attack more in a frenzy, because they do not want this to succeed.

At Fallujah, U.S. Marines are in the sixth day of a tenuous cease-fire against heavily armed insurgents and terrorists holed up in the city. 

U.S. military officials predict, however, the Marine assault on Fallujah could resume at any time.  At the same time, Army troops around Najaf poised to enter the city to kill or capture the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which could ignite a Shia backlash.

But American forces are also battling a growing threat to critical supply lines.  These slow-moving supply convoys are easy targets for attack.  Drivers have been killed and kidnapped.  Enemy fighters have essentially blocked key choke points along the critical supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad, threatening vital military supplies. 

RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  We‘ll have to reopen the supply lines from central and northern Iraq down to Kuwait, and the position would immediately become untenable. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Secretary Rumsfeld says he regrets having to keep those 20,000 American troops in Iraq longer to combat the current threat. 

RUMSFELD:  But the country is at war and we need to do what is necessary to succeed. 

(on camera):  But Rumsfeld also delivered an ominous warning, that even those additional troops will still not prevent the growing number of enemy attacks. 

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And the victims of many of those attacks do not count in official U.S. military data.  They are included among the estimated 10,000 civilian contractors working in Iraq, but they are as much in the bullseye as is any soldier. 

Just a week after four American civilians were brutally killed and mutilated in Fallujah, seven more vanished after this attack on a fuel convoy.  And while there‘s speculation that three of them have been found dead near the site oft attack, the only trace of the other four is the video, a stunned Thomas Hamill videotaped in front of an Iraqi flag.

While his family anxiously awaits to find out his fate, thousands of other families are weighing the costs and benefits of going to work in Iraq as contractor.  Two men who decided it‘s no longer worth it are joining us from Houston. 

Stacy Clark and Stephen Heering both went to Iraq about four months ago to work as truck drivers for a subsidiary for Halliburton.  But after coming attack last Friday, they both decided to come home. 

Mr. Clark, Mr. Heering, thanks for joining us tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Heering, let me start with you.  What happened last Friday? 

STEPHEN HEERING, CONTRACTOR AMBUSHED IN IRAQ:  We re traveling north outside of Baghdad, doing a routine fuel mission and our convoy came under attack. 

OLBERMANN:  Can you give us a better idea of what that was like?  It sounds so simple that way and I‘m sure it was anything but simple. 

HEERING:  Right.  We were about 15 miles north—or south of our destination, which was Camp Anaconda.  We entered a town and next thing I know, I just hear explosions going off.  My truck was hit the first time with a grenade underneath a trailer tandems  Then seconds later, the cab was hit with a grenade, which set the whole thing on fire. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Clark, the story your friend tells from Friday, while all that was going on, what were you thinking while it was happening? 

STACY CLARK, CONTRACTOR AMBUSHED IN IRAQ:  Well, I was the third truck behind him.  Well, I was the third truck right behind him.  He was the second truck in front. 

And as that grenade went underneath the truck, the first one, you know, it was just a big flash in front of my face.  And as I went around the second one that hit his drive and just engulfed the truck in flames, I thought he was dead.  I thought I lost my friend forever. 

OLBERMANN:  And what did you think of your own safety, Mr. Clark?

CLARK:  Well, it just made the hair on my arms stand.  All I could think about is my family and getting home to my family. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Clark, what were doing for a living before you went to Iraq?  

CLARK:  I was a plant manager for a company here based in Houston. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Heering, what were you doing and why did you wind up going to Iraq? 

CLARK:  I was driving trucks over the road. 

The reason I went over there was it was a great opportunity to make more money.  I have a 16-year-old son that I was—having to start thinking about college and all that, just trying to make it a little better for myself. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Heering, you guys had been there for, as we said, about four months before things began to go wrong.  Do you have an idea of the moment it started to go wrong for what you were doing there and why things seemed to suddenly turn for the worse so quickly?

HEERING:  No. 

You know, for the first two months it was really quiet over there.  And it just occasionally, after that, you had small gunfire, some improvised explosive devices on the side of the road.  We never expected something like this to happen. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Clark, do you feel you were sufficiently protected?  Was the equipment strong enough?  Were the trucks armored?  Did you have did you have enough personal protection? 

HEERING:  Well, we had three platforms in the convoy.  There was 27 trucks and a bobtail and three platforms with a total of nine personnel, three in each platform.

And as we were attacked, you know, you know, we probably could have used more.  You know, and I don‘t—I don‘t even think that would have been safe enough, because when RPGs come in and the grenades come in, I don‘t even think that would have even saved that convoy. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Heering, final question here.  Somebody is going to see this and it‘s only going to register that there‘s a couple of $80,000 jobs opening up in Iraq.  What would you tell someone to think about, not what conclusion to draw, but what would you tell them to think about before they consider going and doing the job that you just had? 

HEERING:  I would just tell them to really think about your family.  Is the money worth really dying for?  It‘s a great cause.  You go over there, you help the military supply and fuel, so they can do their job, but is it really worth dying for, because as a civilian, you‘re going over not as a combat soldier. 

OLBERMANN:  Stephen Heering and Stacy Clark, many thanks for some of your time tonight.  And, gentlemen, welcome home. 

HEERING:  Thank you. 

CLARK:  Appreciate you having us on. 

OLBERMANN:  More news of civilians caught in the crossfire.  There‘s relief in Japan tonight after two aide workers and a journalist from that country were released.  They were the ones who were taken hostage last week.  They looked understandably rattled, all three shown meeting with a spokesman for a group of Sunni clerics who helped negotiate their release.  They had been threatened with being burned alive. 

But the joy in Japan has also been tempered tonight by the kidnapping of two more Japanese nationals.  And the shooting of an Iranian diplomat as he drove through the streets of Baghdad could complicate Iran‘s new role as mediator in Iraq.  Just this week, Tehran had sent in a small team of negotiators to try to neutralize the standoff between coalition forces and militant Shia.

And lastly tonight from Iraq, for the 12 ½ months of war, the fear had been present.  Were American military uniforms to be stolen, terrorists and insurgents might obtain entree with them to almost any potential target. 

As Richard Engel reports exclusively from Baghdad, the fear of threat proved accurate, but the risk of terrorism seems to have finished second to the oldest motive on earth. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Baghdad, they call it the thieves market.  Everything has been stolen.  The new hot item, a potential security threat to U.S. troops in Iraq. 

When NBC News sent a hidden camera team deep into the thieves markets, we found scores of U.S. Army uniforms, boots and equipment. 

“This is original,” said this vendor, “and I have better ones.”  In his store, rack after rack of uniforms. 

“How much for this one,” we asked? 

“For you, 25,000 dinars,” he said.  That‘s about $17.  He lets customers inspect the merchandise.  Because in our office, we took a closer look.

(on camera):  It‘s says the division patch, 1st Calvary, first Army.  The rank, specialist.  Inside, another tag with NATO stock number, NATO size number, a name.  And on the shoulder, the American flag. 

(voice-over):  In the market, customers can choose uniforms from a variety of military units that have passed through Iraq. 

(on camera):  The military declined to comment about the uniforms we found so easily at the thieves market behind me.  But when we showed those uniforms to U.S. soldiers who didn‘t want to go on camera, they said they had no doubt they‘re genuine. 

RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  I think the great danger that we have with this equipment is that some Iraqi insurgents are going to don this gear, pass themselves off as Americans, coalition forces or even Iraqi security forces, gain entry into a U.S. facility, either to do reconnaissance or do an actual attack. 

ENGEL (voice-over):  Also for sale, military-issue body armor. 

“It‘s good, original,” he said.  It even had the manual.  His price, $100.  But he and his partner were willing to negotiate.  Their final offer, $90 for a vest that cost the military $1,500. 

So where does it come from?  From Iraqis who work with the American soldiers, he said, like the Civil Defense Corps.  There are roughly 25,000 members oft Iraqi Civil Defense Corps who conduct joint raids with U.S.  troops.  Black market dealers say some steal U.S. equipment and sell it.  Vendors in the thieves market say they also have American guns and other weapons, along with the uniforms.  They offered to sell us TNT as well. 

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Concluding our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, insurgency and intimidation in Iraq.  Our No. 2 tonight, how to turn a loved one into a lovely accessory.  It‘s an eternity ring in the truest sense of the word.  And later, the superstition involving inspiration proving true for a Major League Baseball team. 

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites for this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN:  I really don‘t know who I‘m going to be choosing yet.  I have read reports all over that so-and-so won or one, when the person hasn‘t even been picked and I don‘t even know who it‘s going to be. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This year is a competition between two Yale graduates.  In your opinion, what‘s the key factor to win election? 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The reason I pause is because I attended Yale, but I did not graduate.  And I thought you were going to ask me about that. 

(LAUGHTER)

ANDRE HEINZ, STEPSON OF JOHN KERRY:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Great to see you again.  I remember you from saxophone class.  My son is still president, wouldn‘t be prudent at this juncture, wouldn‘t be.  You have always for me been an inspiration, because no matter how huge I get, I will never be as tall as this man and I can never be president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ashes to ornament and dust to diamond, the business of turning the dearly departed into jewelry our second story on the COUNTDOWN. 

Stand by if you dare.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was, we all thought, bad enough when they froze baseball immortal Ted Williams or when a Houston company launched the last mortal remains of Dr. Timothy Leary into geosynchronous orbit and offered to do the same for you, but only if you were dead, or when the German artists started turning the dearly departed into living statues—well, not-living statues. 

We all thought those were bad enough, but as COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny reports in tonight‘s No. 2‘s story, we were all wrong. 

Monica, good evening. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

Diamonds used to be just a girl‘s best friend, but now they can be her mom, her dad, her grandma and anyone else she wants to wrap around her finger.  The founder of an Illinois company say they can turned your loved ones into memorial that‘s a real gem. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NANCY RYAN, DIAMOND PURCHASER:  My mom‘s last meal was a Butterfinger and my father really loved his beer.  So I was sure that‘s why this one had that rich, deep color to it. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  From beer and Butterfingers to bling-bling. 

Meet the parents. 

N. RYAN:  My daughter thinks I‘m crazy. 

NOVOTNY:  Nancy Ryan is the keeper of the family jewel, created after the death of her parents from their ashes, their very own carbon copy, a yellow diamond that looks all natural, but is really manmade, man and woman.

RICHARD COLLINS, FUNERAL HOME DIRECTOR:  Her idea was to take her mom and her dad, to combine their cremains and have one life gem made out of both of them. 

NOVOTNY:  Diamonds are forever and now you can be, too.  It‘s called a life gem.  And with just eight ounces of cremated remains and about $7,000,, anyone can turn deceased loved ones into colorful parents. 

N. RYAN:  I gave them two cups of parents just to be sure. 

GREG HERRO, CEO, LIFEGEM: Step one is the cremation, and that‘s where we get the carbon to create the diamond. 

NOVOTNY:  Synthetic diamonds are not new, but making them out of the carbon from cremated remains is.  According to LifeGem, the process is simple.  The carbon is heated, turned into graphite and placed into a diamond press, where it‘s subjected to heat and pressure.  And five months later, grandma is a gem. 

(on camera):  Is it hard to believe that there‘s some essence of your grandparents in these stones? 

LUKE RYAN, GRANDSON:  You can kind of see actually right there. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes.  You recognize something?

N. RYAN:  I loved my parents tremendously and respected them enormously.  I feel tremendous comfort in knowing that this is the essence of their existence. 

NOVOTNY:  But what would mom and dad think? 

N. RYAN:  I think they would just find it to be sweet, to be nice. 

HERRO:  How powerful is that, that she‘s lost someone and she has the ability to smile by having them near as she continues through life?  We love that fact. 

NOVOTNY:  And though this forever isn‘t for everyone, Nancy says the key is to have a plan.  Otherwise, who knows where you‘ll end up. 

N. RYAN:  My husband‘s first wife is in our bedroom in an urn. 

NOVOTNY:  And, yes, there is a pet gem. 

(on camera):  Could you see yourself doing it for a pet? 

N. RYAN:  At those prices?  You saw my dog.  He‘s adorable.  But I don‘t think so. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  The service is offered through more than 300 funeral homes in the U.S. and overseas.  LifeGem says they are currently working with about 500 clients.  Now, we should point out, we were not allowed with or without cameras to review any part of the process of creating these diamonds.  And there are some skeptics out there.  But the gemologists I spoke said that, if they are actually doing this, they felt that it was a great option for people. 

For more information, you can go to our Web site, COUNTDOWN@MSNBC.com.

So what do you think? 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m Mrs. Ryan and that‘s the previous Mrs. Ryan over there.  I can understand the comfort thing.  I can buy that entirely.  But you asked her about pets? 

(CROSSTALK)

NOVOTNY:  Yes.  People actually do the pets.  The pricing is the same.  Right now, they say it‘s only about 5 percent to 10 percent of their business, but some people want to keep Rover close, too. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, but you could have rover stuffed, couldn‘t you?  You could take Rover to a taxidermist if you really wanted to. 

NOVOTNY:  I suppose.

OLBERMANN:  It would make a really big ring that way. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  A choker even.  OK.  Do you feel like we just did an episode on “The Addams Family” a little bit? 

NOVOTNY:  A little bit. 

OLBERMANN:  From family to family heirloom, COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny

·         many thanks, Monica.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks

OLBERMANN:  I need a bath now. 

Now from diamonds to the glittering zirconia that is celebrity news, the stories we like to call “Keeping Tabs.”  And you would have thought Shakespeare‘s Hamlet was one of those eternal stars, but apparently that is not to be.

Christie‘s Auction House thought that a copy of the play printed in 1611 would receive a bid at auction of at least $1.5 million.  No one, however, exceeded $1.7 million.  Just three years ago, another 17th century edition of Shakespeare set a record by selling for nearly five mil.

And given that research suggests you never outgrow your need for news about William Hung, more now on his impact on Major League Baseball.  You may recall that Hung‘s C.D., “Inspiration,” the 34th best selling album in the country, was purchased by Los Angeles Dodgers star Shawn Green and played in the team clubhouse before four games last week.  The Dodgers won all four of those games. 

Then, on Sunday, pitcher Odalis Perez insisted that his favorite C.D., some merengue music, should be played instead and the Dodgers lost.  Shawn Green got his way again Tuesday.  Hung‘s C.D. was played.  Dodgers lose again.  But last night in San Diego, the Dodgers gave William Hung another shot.  L.A. won by a score of 11-4.  And the guy who bought the C.D., Green, got four hits and a walk.  Time‘s up.

From one pop phenomenon to another, we know it is entertainment, but is it also educational?  Tonight‘s No. 1 story next.

But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s fair that no university took “I‘m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Seriously.”  To our knowledge, there is also no academic study of the societal impact of Monica Lewinsky‘s hosts “Mr. Personality.”

But in our No. 1 story tonight, you‘re not just fired, you‘re also educated.  At Georgetown, at Ohio State, at B School at Brandeis, at the University of Washington, at Boston College, your homework class, watch “The Apprentice.”  We‘re not in the business of shilling for reality TV, especially the shows that are on NBC.

But when “The Boston Globe” reported today that watching Donald Trump‘s hair not move is on the curriculum of at least five major programs around academia, we thought that was news. 

The University of Washington actually has an entire course devoted to the series.  It‘s a management class.  And one other guest lecturers was one of Trump‘s assistants; 80 students are enrolled.  And the finale tonight between Kwame and Bill is big news among the accounting and finance faculty at Georgetown.  They had a pool going.

Months ago, Georgetown assistant professor of finance Lee Pinkowitz had picked Bill.  They‘re not quite that into it at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, but “The Apprentice” has worked its way into Professor Gregory Stoller‘s course.  The professor joins us. 

Good evening to you, sir. 

GREGORY STOLLER, PROFESSOR, BOSTON COLLEGE:  Good evening, Keith. 

Thanks for letting me be here tonight.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you. 

What is the premise here?  Why would a rather over the top reality show with a rather over the top businessman like Donald Trump make it into hallowed halls of learning?

STOLLER:  Well, on one hand, while “The Apprentice” is a show created for entertainment purposes, as a teacher, you love to hear material in the outside world and the press, whether it comes from “The Wall Street Journal,” “Boston Globe,” “The Economist” or “BusinessWeek,” that support what you‘re teaching in the classroom.

And for me, there are definitely some lessons from “The Apprentice” that can help me support what I‘m teaching in class. 

OLBERMANN:  Give me one of them, one of the practical lessons. 

STOLLER:  Sure. 

For example, I think “The Apprentice” speaks to communication.  It speaks to ethics.  It speaks to teamwork.  And it speaks to defining a project‘s success.  It‘s not necessarily all about money.  There‘s a lot more that goes into it. 

OLBERMANN:  One thing that strikes me from my own experience lecturing occasionally at colleges and high schools and then going back to what I can still vaguely remember of being an actual student...

STOLLER:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  If you‘re not in a field in college where the companies are recruiting candidates, you can literally graduate from any college, any university in this country without having the slightest idea how to get a job in your chosen field. 

Is “The Apprentice” kind of filling that role even in a business school? 

STOLLER:  Well, I think what “The Apprentice” is trying to do, at least during the episodes we‘ve seen, is that it‘s focusing on short-term tactical lessons.  That‘s important.  But that‘s a far cry from actually running a business day in and day out. 

I tell my students, it‘s a marathon, it‘s not a sprint.  Learn what you can from “The Apprentice.”  Learn how it works in the short term, but definitely know that long term is a completely different ball of wax and go for it and just be patient and focus on revenue, focus on profits.  But most importantly, focus on ethics, communication, and team work.  That‘s what‘s going to get you to be successful. 

OLBERMANN:  Another practical lesson.  I‘m loathe to turn this program or your course work into “Entertainment Tonight.”

STOLLER:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  But I gather that the professional opinion of this woman Omarosa is that, if they made a musical about her career, it could have been called how to fail in business without really trying. 

STOLLER:  That‘s probably not really a bad one. 

I think Omarosa is typical of a lot of people.  Everybody wants to get to the corner office and everybody wants to be successful.  But you can‘t do it by constantly putting a knife in the back of all the people you work with.  You have to be a good team player.  You have to be able to rely and be a good communicator and, in order to get to the top, basically be start and driven but also know how to communicate.  Omarosa is everything but that. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there anybody in this group that you have seen who you would say that‘s somebody who paid attention in school? 

STOLLER:  Well, my alma mater notwithstanding, I like Kwame, not because of where he went to school, but because of he‘s the straightest shooter that I‘ve seen of the entire group.  Even if he‘s been on the losing team, even if he‘s been on the bad end of the deal, he hasn‘t tried to make excuses.  He hasn‘t tried to blame somebody else.  He‘s just taken what was handed to him and moved on. 

I like that in a manager.  I particularly like that in a senior executive.  And I tell my students, be a good person, be accountable for your actions.  That is what is yet another element for success. 

OLBERMANN:  And your alma mater would be, by the way? 

STOLLER:  I also graduated from Harvard Business School. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.

STOLLER:  And Cornell as an undergrad, by the way, which I understand you graduated from. 

Look, I heard of that place. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  From the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, Professor Gregory Stoller, many thanks tonight. 

STOLLER:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Good night.  Take care. 

STOLLER:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, Osama bin Laden‘s latest message, a seven-minute audiotape, a voice the CIA says is likely bin Laden, offering a truce with Europe if European nations were to pull their troops out of the Middle East.  So far, at least four of them have already told him to forget it.  The fourth story, a 5-year-old girl found alive 10 days after the crash that killed her mother.  Now her remaining family wants to know why highway police did not locate the wreck hours after the accident. 

Three, surviving in Iraq.  Two men who have worked for a Halliburton subsidiary tell us after a near fatal ambush the danger outweighed the money.  They went home.  Two, from dusk to diamonds, the company that is offering to take the remains of your loved ones and compact them down into a manmade diamond.  And, No. 1, the lessons to be learned by watching “The Apprentice.” 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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