updated 4/19/2004 10:16:25 AM ET 2004-04-19T14:16:25

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Clay Walker, Tony Blair, Marilyn Berlin Snell

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Plan of attack:  The president‘s secret planning for the war in Iraq beginning in December 2001, revealed in Bob Woodward‘s new book, details leaking like a sieve.  The president advised by the CIA that the issue of whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a quote, “slam dunk case.” 

In Iraq, more hostage taking and an al-Jazeera video of a captive U.S.  soldier. 

The hero of Brick Township New Jersey. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the new born too, she just had it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She just had it?

OLBERMANN:  After a car crash, he saves the mother and the baby to whom she has just given birth in the car. 

Your tax dollars in action:  Pork barrel politics.  Why you are spending $568,000 to study alternative salmon products. 

And as Richard Clarke might say, at the heavy metal concert in Chile, there were guys running around with their hair on fire. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  With, for the first time in over a year, an American soldier, in Iraq, kidnapped and his abductors distributing a videotape of him, these questions given more urgency still, tonight:  When exactly did this nation decide to go to war in Iraq?  Why exactly did this nation decide to go to war in Iraq?  And with whom did the president share the responses to those questions? 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN those answers just got decidedly murkier today with the release of excerpts of Bob Woodward‘s book, “Plan of Attack,” which quotes the president as explaining he secretly ordered plans for war in Iraq not long after war in Afghanistan had just begun. 

Here‘s Andrea Mitchell in Washington. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  November 21, 2001: 

Before celebrating an early Thanksgiving with troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Bob Woodward says the president secretly ordered Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to draft a battle plan for Iraq, only six weeks after invading Afghanistan, a year and a half before the Iraq war.  That timetable appears to confirm claims by critics like Richard Clarke who said the president was obsessed with Iraq all along.  According to “Plan of Attack,” based partly on his lengthy interview with the president, Mr. Bush told Rumsfeld not to tell CIA director, George Tenet or other members of a foreign policy team.  Today president said he couldn‘t remember giving the order. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But, I do know that if it was Afghanistan that was on my mind, and I didn‘t really start focusing on Iraq until later on. 

MITCHELL:  Later the White House confirmed Woodward‘s account, but said there was a difference between planning and making a decision. 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  They should have been fired if they hadn‘t updated the plans.  On the other hand, I suppose you could argue, that this does show a predisposition to see Iraq as the next target in the war on terror. 

MITCHELL:  In fact, Woodward says former CENTCOM commander, Tommy Franks, went to Texas to brief the president on Iraqi war plans as early as December 2001.  Two months later, the president signed a top secret order directing the CIA to help overthrow Saddam Hussein. 

FLYNT LEVERTT, FMR. BUSH SECURITY ADVISER:  The war in Iraq wasn‘t driven by the war on terror.  Rather, there‘s been an effort to link what the administration wanted to do in Iraq to the war on terror. 

MITCHELL:  Woodward reveals even the president once thought the evidence of Saddam‘s weapons was weak.  The book says before Colin Powell appeared before the U.N.:

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. 

MITCHELL:  The CIA showed the same evidence to the president. 

Woodward says Mr. Bush said, “Nice try, this is the best we‘ve got?” 

George tenet‘s apply, “Don‘t worry, It is a slam dunk case.”

(on camera):  Woodward describes a foreign policy team at war with itself.  Losing out, Colin Powell who had what he called the “pottery barn rule” about Iraq, warning the president, “you break it, you own it.” 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And the political ramifications constitute perhaps as important a component to tonight‘s fifth story, as do the stories about being the world‘s landlord.  The Woodward revelations were juxtaposed in extraordinary fashion.  Yesterday Secretary Rumsfeld admitted he was surprised by the rise in violence in Iraq.  Today Mr. Bush‘s geopolitical equivalent of the cavalry arrived.  British Prime Minister Tony Blair returned to this country for a joint appearance with the president, and Mr.  Bush insisted the June 30 handover date would be met. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  If you look deep into the soul of the Iraqi people, they‘d be saying, “we don‘t know if we can trust America and Great Britain to be tough and hang in—hang in with us.”  And one of the things we‘ve said is, we‘ll transfer sovereignty on June 30, and we‘re going to. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hang in until June 30.  When pressed about accusations that the public on both sides of the Atlantic has been repeatedly misled during conflict, the prime minister, Mr. Blair, counted that debate now belongs to the ages. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  Whatever the differences people have of the wisdom of the conflict then that‘s a debate that will go on and go on for many, many years, no doubt.  The historians could all pour over it.  But everybody should recognize the common interests today in making sure that Iraq achieves the aim that we have set out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  After their joint news conference, Mr. Blair went back to the British embassy in Washington in and one of his first tasks was to sit down with NBC‘s Tom Brokaw.  They began with a touchy subject:  Is there a plan B if there is no government in Iraq to accept sovereignty, 75 days from now?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLAIR:  I think part of the conditions there is making sure we transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis.  Essentially what is happening is that those elements that are trying to provoke a civil war in Iraq, which there isn‘t at the moment—these are limited groups of people, they‘re terrorists, they‘re fanatics, they‘re former Saddam people, what they‘re trying to do is provoke a situation in which there is such chaos that they can tip the country into general disorder. 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS:  But what we have learned, painfully in the last 12 months, is the most terribly laid plans can be quickly derailed by those very groups that you just described.  And, if you have a government in place and then civil war breaks out, isn‘t that an enormous setback for Iraq? 

BLAIR:  Well, I think the very reason why we‘re working hard with the Iraqis to make sure that we have a broad base government with the U.N., to make sure we have international support. 

BROKAW:  The chairman of the U.S. Joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, said in Baghdad yesterday, that the violence of the last two weeks is a symbol of our success there.  Saying that we‘re making so much progress, they had to strike back. 

BLAIR:  Well, I know exactly what he means, which is this:  And it‘s something I constantly say to people.  We‘re trying to reconstruct the country.  Now why these people are trying to stop us?  They‘re trying to stop us because they can see that if we‘re allowed to continue this progress, then everything they stand for is defeated. 

BROKAW:  Someone that you know very well, Robin Cook, who was your former foreign minister, is writing in the British press today, it‘s not just about intent, it‘s also means.  He described this trip as the most important diplomatic mission of your career, saying that you had to persuade the president to change from a military equation to winning the hearts and mind. 

BLAIR:  We need the military and the political reinforcing each other.  We‘re not going about to do this without military action and we‘re now being prepared to be firm and tough. 

BROKAW:  You said in your news conference with the president today, that leaders in the region with whom you‘ve talked are relieved that Saddam Hussein is out of power.  That they feel safer. 

BLAIR:  Definitely. 

BROKAW:  Why don‘t they come forward and say that publicly?  Why not -

·         why don‘t they call a meeting and say, we‘re grateful to the West for what has happened in Iraq? 

BLAIR:  Well, it‘s difficult.  It‘s difficult for them and that‘s why, I think, that we‘re at the beginning of a process of change, here.  I mean, there is a lot of anger and alienation on the Arab street. 

BROKAW:  I know it is hard for those leaders to do that, but it‘s harder yet for American mothers or British mothers to send their sons and their fathers and their husbands over there, and to die for their cause for which they‘re not getting public credit from the leaders in the region who are the greatest beneficiaries of all this. 

BLAIR:  Well, I think you‘ll find, when you speak to them that they, at the very least, are prepared to look forward now, and you‘ll find very few of them wanting to go back over the divisions in the conflict. 

BROKAW:  You the president took your countries to war on the premise that there were weapons of mass destruction and there was a direct connection to terrorist organizations in Iraq.  The weapons have not been found and the connection to terrorism is tenuous, at best in the judgment of most people.  We‘re supposed to have two of the best intelligence agencies in the world.  What went wrong? 

BLAIR:  I think we will know better, if something went wrong and what

·         what it was that went wrong once the Iraq survey group complete their inquiries and I still find it very hard to believe that he voluntarily destroyed those weapons in circumstances where for years, he‘d hidden them from U.N. inspectors, he had deceived us, he lied about it, and he‘d actually had plans to develop and create more of those weapons. 

BROKAW:  The president was asked repeatedly the other night if he had made any mistakes in the last year.  He searched his soul and couldn‘t come up with one at the press conference.  Any mistakes that you would like to acknowledge now, that you would like to turn back? 

BLAIR:  Well you know, every time I‘m asked this question by the British press, I say that that‘s for me to know and you guys to find out. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Blair is not likely to face a general election before next year, in face he doesn‘t have to until 2006.  Mr. Bush, of course, faces one in exactly 200 days.  It makes that an interesting time for the two of them to have met up in Washington.  Joining to us try to assess just how interesting, Richard Wolffe, diplomatic correspondent from “Newsweek” magazine. 

Mr. Wolffe, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK” DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening. 

Good to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘ve never quite figured out the dynamic between these two men.  Mr. Bush is wildly important, but wildly unpopular in England, and Mr. Blair may be somewhat popular in this country, but this country barely seems interested in any foreign leaders.  Why do these two men do this and what does each gain from it? 

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, that‘s why they call them the odd couple.  Blair and Bush have dug themselves into this hole and they‘re trying to find a way out.  But, you know, it‘s a good question.  Members of Tony Blair‘s labor party are asking it, democrats in America, who are allied, traditionally with Tony Blair‘s labor party are asking the same thing.  Look, for President Bush, he gets credibility of having Blair there.  For Tony Blair, I think he‘s searching for a way out in Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  But does Mr. Bush get much out of it in this country?  Clearly, as we just saw in the interview with Tom Brokaw, Mr. Blair is extraordinarily well spoken and makes a great impression on people, but as I said, so few Americans could probably identify which country he is from even if they spoke to him.  What is the impact for George Bush of Tony Blair‘s presence at the White House, today? 

WOLFFE:  Well, at the very least, it blunts the criticism from people like John Kerry that this president is a go it alone guy who has no allies and has no credibility in the world.  Tony Blair is a pretty effective response.  If you think back to when John Kerry got into trouble for saying he had all these foreign leaders who supported him, and he couldn‘t name them, the question was posed:  “Well, which foreign leaders are they?  Are they leaders like Tony Blair or are they leaders like Kim Jung Il in North Korea? 

You know, Tony Blair still has some weight, if only among the political elites in the sort of—you know, echo box in Washington. 

OLBERMANN:  Has, perhaps, Mr. Blair also had influence on U.S. policy of which we‘re not officially aware?  Bob Woodward‘s new book says that Mr.  Bush delayed the actual invasion of Iraq because Tony Blair wanted to try again for a U.N. resolution.  Now in the last week, the White House has done a 180 on the prospect of U.N. involvement in the new interim government in Iraq.  Could Mr. Blair have been involved in that change in the White House? 

WOLFFE:  Well, I think he was definitely involve in the prewar road to the U.N. But this time around—you know, the administration has gone to the U.N. because it‘s desperate, it really needs someone to help out.  Jerry Bremer, in Baghdad, has failed to find a political solution, so they‘ve given it to Brahimi, Kofi Annan‘s special envoy.  But yet, he—they—Tony Blair‘s had a difference of the margins, he‘s helped bring the U.N. partly into the process, but it hasn‘t been nearly enough and nearly as much as Tony Blair would like.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe, diplomatic correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Many thanks for your time tonight, sir.

WOLFFE:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Full coverage of the story of the American military hostage in Iraq, Keith Maupin, later in COUNTDOWN.

First to conclude the fifth story with its fifth component.  Politics, the president, and the kids.  Mr. Bush is about 10 points behind Senator Kerry among college students and this will not help.  When the president visited Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday, the White House press office refused to issue media credentials to the representatives of the student newspapers from the University of Iowa, Iowa State, and a Des Moines community college.  A reporter from that community college paper said the press office actually phoned him to tell him the president did not want students covering the event. 

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the politics of Iraq, the fallout from the build-up and the aftermath of the insurgency.  Coming up next, tonight‘s No. 4:  One small town‘s answer to a small crime spree:  Small cameras at each entrance to the town.  Welcome to Manalapan.  Good police work or big brother?

And later, a father races to the hospital as his wife is giving birth, their car crashes and that‘s when a good samaritan step in to save as many lives as he can. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s No. 4 story‘s up next.  Your preview:  The town that gives neighborhood watch group and entire new name.  Do you ever get the feeling you was being watched?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Even if you slept through that high school English class that would have introduced to you George Orwell‘s novel, “1984,” you know the gist.  Even if you slept through high school, there‘s an entire reality series devoted to the concept called “Big Brother.”  Our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Manalapan, Florida.  That‘s right, Manalapan, an affluent island community on Florida‘s Atlantic coast.  It has experienced a comparative wave of burglaries, a wave too large for this town of 321 residents—three burglaries—three within a span of as many months.  In response, the town commission has authorized the purchase of a state-of-the-art surveillance system designed to assist police in monitoring cars entering and exiting that community.  The chief of police, Clay Walker, has been good enough to join us. 

Chief Walker thanks for your time, sir.

CHIEF CLAY WALKER, MANALAPAN POLICE DEPT.:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Give me nuts and bolts of this.  If 321 people live there, it‘s obviously not like there‘s some highway with a sign reading “Manalapan exits 14 through 22,” How many surveillance cameras are we talking about?  How many entrances are we talking about? 

WALKER:  Well currently, we‘re going to be hopefully installing six security cameras.  We have three entrances, basically, into our community.  The 321 residents have given full support to our town commission to move forward with this type of technology.  Actually, technology that we‘ve been using for years, we‘re just trying to enhance it and use more of the latest technology that will give us better crime solvability—capabilities in case there is another crime here in our community.

OLBERMANN:  The American Civil Liberties Union has already taken a swing at you on this.  The newspaper, the “Florida Sun Sentinel” wrote that you could eventually track every person who drives into town and record drivers‘ faces and license plates.  I gather you would disagree with those assessments.  How do the rest of us know that neither of them is the case? 

WALKER:  Well, first of all in the same article, in the “Sun Sentinel” the ACLU attorney did mention that although perfectly legal, or possibly legal, that they were just concerned about this type of a photoing type situation for the public, going through public access areas.  But just like me tonight coming into this television studios, I‘m being videotaped, I‘m sure, as I walked in, because there were sign telling me so. 

OLBERMANN:  But, let me ask you a hypothetical about it, though.  The system that you‘re buying is priced at $50,000.  Let‘s say the price wasn‘t $50,000 per unit, but it either became or it was $5 per unit, and the state of Florida put one at every intersection.  Would you, as a citizen, be worried about your privacy and the potential for active or unintentional abuse of—in the nature of invasion of privacy? 

WALKER:  I personally would not have a problem with that.  Many people that I personally interact with, probably would not have a problem with that.  I think, right now, throughout the public area, like I mentioned, your television studios in West Palm Beach have surveillance cameras outside of it, there are cameras outside of shopping plazas, ATM machines, we‘re being filmed all the time, and as a matter of fact, there was a young girl, unfortunately lost her life here in Florida, recently on the West Coast, fortunately a video camera was able to pick up the suspect and an arrest was made from that.  And, that‘s what we‘re hoping, that if a crime comes into our community, these cameras will help us make an arrest and better protect our community. 

OLBERMANN:  Carlie Brucia, of course and you speak to the delicate balance between privacy and the universality of the video camera. 

Chief of police of Manalapan, Florida, Clay Walker, many thanks for your time tonight, sir.

WALKER:  Well, thank you.  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story.  Somebody is watching you, perhaps with justification.  Up next, those stories we can‘t give a number to, they‘re not important but certainly strange.  “Oddball” is next.  Excuse me, sir, but your beard appears to be on fire. 

And later, suey! It‘s pork busting time on the COUNTDOWN:  The government‘s spending $2 million to try to force kids to play golf.  Stand by for pork!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN and immediately pause it to bring you our roundup of that in news which is memorable, but meaningless.  We do so to get away from the big issues.  Sometimes yet, they intrude.  Our first story begs the question:  When Richard Clarke testified before the 9/11 Commission that “people were running around with their hair on fire,” what exactly did he mean?  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

So you want to play with fire, eh scarecrow?  This is the heavy metal band “Megiddo,” they‘re on stage in Valdivia, Chile, and their lead singer has just set his beard and his hair on fire.  Get your marshmallows! Get your marshmallows on your sticks!

Megiddo plays songs like “Lord Satan” and “Armageddon.”  That will show them!  As his band mates put them out, he‘s no doubt thinking, “are you sure this is how Michael Jackson got started?”  He says he was uninjured. 

A calico cat has survived an unplanned international trip from China to Florida that took more than a month.  The kitty apparently sneaked out of the Dayang Company in China into a metal shipping container and wound up in Tampa, frail, thin, thirsty, but alive.  Ooo, a kitty! Punch line, the shipment with which she stowed away:  400 bird cages.  We don‘t know if they were empty when they left the factory, but they‘re empty now. 

And finally, speaking of hungry cats, our pal Lester Holt almost found out the hard way this morning about the terrible dangers of animal segments on live television. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLD, “TODAY”:  The stars of National Geographic Channel‘s “Be the Creature,” Martin and Chris Kratt—I‘m sorry, there‘s a mountain lion in the studio—are going from being the creature to saving them just in time for Earth Day. 

Martin and Chris, and who is this? 

CHRIS KRATT, “BE THE CREATURE”:  These two here were trying to tell you, the animals are the real stars of the show. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This is no just like the “Today” show?  They always throw the fill in guy to the lions.  Thank you.  Thank you very much. 

When we return, the COUNTDOWN, per se, resume with our No. 3 story, your preview:  Another American hostage appearing on al-Jazeera television, this time it is a U.S. soldier missing since a convoy attack last Friday. 

And dealing with the devil:  Allegations that a U.S. company supported a terrorist group in the past, all for protection in a danger zone overseas. 

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

No. 3:  Carlos Chereza of Fort Myers, Florida.  A 17-year-old arrested, charged with hiring a hitman to kill his mother.  The hitman was an undercover cop.  Mom is fine, but Carlos had told him, kill my mother, but make sure nothing happens to the television.  And they say kids don‘t have their priorities straight anymore. 

No. 2:  Officer Ricky D. Murray of Tampa International Airport finds a car improperly parked outside a terminal, no driver, just a passenger.  He orders the passenger to move the car, the passenger said I don‘t know how to drive, and I also don‘t have a license.  He orders him to move it anyway.  The passenger hits the gas, knocks down two women, crashes into two cars, the women are OK.  Officer Murray—I don‘t know about him. 

And No. 1:  An unidentified Springfield, Missouri, man, late for his first day of work at a marketing firm.  He allegedly stole a taxi to try to get there sooner.  The 19-year-old was arrested at the orientation class of his new job.  Yes, it‘s “Apprentice II, Electric Boogaloo.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

OLBERMANN:  Two weeks ago tomorrow, it will have been one year since the president made his famous, or infamous, landing aboard the USS Lincoln and his speech in front of the famous, or infamous, “Mission Accomplished” banner. 

And tonight, the man behind the politics of that moment makes a startling admission, Karl Rove telling the newspaper “The Columbus Dispatch”—quote—“I wish the banner was not up there,” an unexpected statement that would have overwhelmed the media in the state of Ohio until videotape of the made native son of the state came in this afternoon. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, do we bargain with terrorists?  Have we bargained with terrorists in the past?  Are we going to need to bargain with terrorists to save Private 1st Class Keith Maupin of Batavia, Ohio?  Those bigger questions in a moment. 

First, our correspondent Jim Miklaszewski from the Pentagon on the abduction of a U.S. serviceman. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Appearing frightened, but apparently in good physical condition, Army Specialist Keith Matthew Maupin is seen sitting on the floor surrounded by six hooded gunmen. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Keith Matthew Maupin.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  In a weak voice, the 20-year-old soldier clearly under duress is quoted as saying: “I am married with a four-month-old child.  I came to liberate Iraq, but I did not come willingly because I wanted to stay with my child.”

Maupin is being held by the previously unknown group calling itself the Iraqi Resistance, which is demanding a prisoner exchange, one gunman saying, we are keeping Maupin to be exchanged for some of the prisoners captured by the occupation forces.

Maupin, an Army reservist, was riding in a fuel convoy one week ago when it was attacked west of Baghdad.  A civilian contractor in the convoy, Thomas Hamill, is also being held hostage.  Army Reserve Sergeant Elmer Krause and three other civilian contractors from the same convoy remain missing today. 

More than 40 foreign nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq in the past two weeks.  Nearly two dozen have been released unharmed.  But one Italian hostage was executed by his captors, who are demanding that Italians withdraw their troops from Iraq.  Three Italians are still held hostage, but Italy has steadfastly refused the kidnappers‘ demands. 

(on camera):  No matter what the demands from those who are holding Private Maupin, Pentagon officials reaffirm the U.S. does not negotiate for hostages. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It has been the U.S. position not to negotiate with insurgents, terrorists, anybody that takes a hostage, because that just leads them to take more hostages. 

MIKLASZEWSKI (voice-over):  Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was a star wrestler and A student in high school.  Friends and family have stood vigil, holding out any hope for word of their hometown boy. 

CARL COTTRELL, FAMILY SPOKESPERSON:  We‘ve believed all along that our prayers would be answered and we ask that you continue to believe in his safe return. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  And tonight are thankful that he is still alive. 

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  There are two more Westerners to add to the list of hostages.  A Dane and a Jordanian were both abducted today.  Meanwhile, three Czech journalists and a Canadian were released all in good health. 

And while the clock anxiously ticks for the many being held in Iraq, time may also be running out for negotiators trying to resolve the latest upsurge in violence through peaceful means.  In Fallujah, fighting continued into the night as insurgents and Marines battled on in spite of an existing cease-fire. 

And as the siege of Sunni strongholds stretches into a second week, American officials said that the negotiations to end all violence had temporarily broken off. 

Further south, the militant Shia cleric who has championed the latest turmoil made his first public appearance in nearly two weeks.  Warning U.S.  forces not to enter the holy city of Najaf, Muqtada al-Sadr insisted that he would not disband his army.  Meanwhile, U.S. military commanders said today that they know where Sadr is, but do not currently have plans to launch an offensive on Najaf. 

And the violent insurgencies are by no means limited to the Middle East.  A continent away in Southeast Asia, another group of Muslim extremists continues to wreak havoc in the Philippines.  Just a week ago, the Bush administration reprimand that country‘s president for having not done enough to crack down on the most notorious of the nation‘s terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf.  But it may not just be the Filipino president who deserves scrutiny. 

A former mining executive is now accusing his ex-employers of paying off those very terrorists linked to al Qaeda so that they would protect the country‘s gold interests there.  Allan Laird said he first discovered the clandestine relationship when he spotted a well-known criminal traipsing through his company‘s front door.  When he tried to alert his supervisors, none seemed alarmed.  Mr. Laird said he realized that his company, the Denver-based Echo Bay, had forged a secret relationship with terrorists known for kidnapping Americans and targeting Filipino civilians. 

Despite what he calls a cover-up by his former employers, Laird‘s story got out to the Sierra Club and its magazine called “Sierra.”

Marilyn Berlin Snell wrote the story for “Sierra.”  And she joins us now from San Francisco. 

Ms. Snell, good evening. 

MARILYN BERLIN SNELL, “SIERRA”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Vet this a little bit for us.  On its face, it sounds a little implausible, to say nothing of immoral on the part of company.  What‘s the evidence besides the statements of Mr. Laird? 

SNELL:  Well, in addition to his statements, Mr. Laird was a meticulous documentarian.  And he had about an inch thick of memos, weekly activity reports that he had sent back to Denver headquarters. 

And he handed those over to “Sierra” magazine.  And I verified many of them with executives in Denver who had received them.  They did not want to be mentioned in the articles, but they did in fact say that they had gotten them. 

OLBERMANN:  How did it happen that Mr. Laird wound up telling you about this story instead of, say, the Department of Homeland Security telling you and the rest of the media? 

SNELL:  I think that‘s a really good question.  He went to Homeland Security with the evidence.  He volunteered to hand over his documentation.  They did not ask to see all the documentation.  And after a bit of flip-flopping between the Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, they declined to pursue the investigation. 

And it was at that point that Mr. Laird came to the Sierra Club with his story. 

OLBERMANN:  Where does this stand regarding the Echo Bay company?  Are they still in business?  Does it really matter in terms of their conduct? 

SNELL:  In 2003, they merged with a Canadian gold money company called Kinross.  But in that merger, Kinross Gold assumed all risks and liability for Echo Bay‘s behavior.  So it is now up to Kinross to answer questions. 

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps more than they knew. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me lastly take the devil‘s advocate position on this.  We have got a U.S. company mining gold in the Philippines.  The Philippines has been adverse to any American presence to some degree or another since literally Admiral Dewey took Manila in 1898. 

Lots of American companies in tough surroundings around the world regularly pay local thugs for protection.  What truly makes this different, that this group may have been a terrorist organization?  Is it in essence anything more subtle than that?  Or are we to some degree splitting hairs about which group of thugs they happen to be dealing with? 

SNELL:  I don‘t think we‘re splitting hairs. 

In addition to Abu Sayyaf, which you mentioned, Echo Bay also allegedly paid the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  Both Abu Sayyaf and the MILF are linked to al Qaeda.  So these aren‘t just neighborhood thugs.  They‘re terrorist organizations with links to al Qaeda which created utter mayhem on U.S. soil on September 11. 

OLBERMANN:  Last, I guess is almost a yes or no.  Is there evidence that this company knew that these were terrorist groups instead of, as we said, thugs? 

SNELL:  Yes.  They had a risk analysis report written before they went in by a company called Control Risks Group, which laid out the names of all the terrorist groups operating in the area and what they should expect. 

OLBERMANN:  Comforting. 

Marilyn Berlin Snell from “Sierra” magazine, many thanks for sharing the story with us tonight. 

SNELL:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  So do we bargain with terrorists or not?  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.

We continue in a moment.  At No. 2, the man who saved the life of a newborn minutes after the crash that killed the newborn‘s father and threw the mother from a car.  And later, where is President Dave when you need him?  COUNTDOWN investigates the porky side of politics.  And we‘re not talking about heavy congressmen. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  An accident, an unlikely twist of fate that turned a New Jersey motorist into a lifesaver.  Our second story is next on the COUNTDOWN.

Stand by, please.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For the past two nights, we have updated you on the story of Ruby Bustamante.  She‘s the 5-year-old California girl who was found earlier this week at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff by highway workers.  Her mother had died minutes after the fatal auto accident which put them there.  Ruby stayed there for 10 days, surviving on a diet of nothing more than dried noodles and Gatorade.  She was released from the hospital yesterday, a joyous occasion for the family, tempered by the loss of her mother. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, another extraordinary gift of life balanced by another extraordinary sadness. 

From New Jersey, COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny has the story of the exciting drive to the hospital by the parents to be turned into a nightmare and saved in part by a good samaritan who seemingly had no business being in the right place at the right time. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OPERATOR:  What I want you to do is, I want you to check the baby and make sure it‘s not hemorrhaging where the cord is. 

PATRICK SCHLAGENHAFT, MOTORIST:  OK.  Hang on.  No, I wouldn‘t think it is.  It‘s hard.  I can see him crying.

OPERATOR:  OK.  What I want you to do, can you get the baby from the car?

SCHLAGENHAFT:  Yes, I can.

OPERATOR:  OK, get the baby from the car gently.

SCHLAGENHAFT:  OK.  OK.  Hang on.  OK, I have the baby.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  After an early-morning car accident, one man‘s life is lost, his newborn son‘s saved thanks to a stranger who stopped to help, a 911 dispatcher, and a courageous young mother. 

SCHLAGENHAFT:  She was in the middle of the street and she was just waving for help.  She was like, I need help. 

OPERATOR:  Patrick Schlagenhaft, driving through the fog and rain Wednesday morning, saw a woman standing in the middle of the road. 

SCHLAGENHAFT:  I pulled over and she said, my husband is knocked out and my baby is in the car. 

OPERATOR:  Minutes earlier, Atara Sasoon and her husband, Binyhmin, both 22, were, for a brief moment, a family, their son entering the world dramatically in the back seat of the car as MR. Sasoon raced to the hospital when the car veered off the road into a utility pole. 

Ms. Sasoon woman was thrown from the vehicle and separated from her child by the impact.  Somehow she made it to the street, when Schlagenhaft drove by. 

SCHLAGENHAFT:  I had to be in that place for a reason.  I left 15 minutes early that morning. 

NOVOTNY:  Schlagenhaft used his cell phone to call 911, then found the baby in the back seat underneath a coat struggling to breathe. 

OPERATOR:  When did this mother have this baby, just now? 

SCHLAGENHAFT:  She just had the baby.  It was in the past half-hour.

NOVOTNY:  The baby survived, but the good news ended there. 

SCHLAGENHAFT:  I went back to the dad.  But he didn‘t make it. 

NOVOTNY:  For Schlagenhaft, the harsh reality hits home.  His wife is expecting their child in two months. 

SCHLAGENHAFT:  One more turn here.  One more turn.  The hospital is right there on the left, just within half a mile. 

NOVOTNY:  For COUNTDOWN, Monica Novotny. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Both the mother and child remain hospitalized tonight in fair condition. 

There‘s no deft fashion to segue from that nightmare to the daily absurdities that constitute our celebrity segment, “Keeping Tabs.”  So we‘ll just acknowledge that fact and move on.

And if you‘re in Chicago and you want to listen to him, Al Franken, you can once again do so.  After some controversy and some lawsuits, Air America was reinflated in the Windy City at 2:41 p.m. prevailing local time today.  The owner of the Chicago and L.A. stations from which the liberal radio network buys time claimed it had bounced a $1 million check.  Air America said payment had been stopped because the station owner was in the middle of ripping them off, reselling advertising time that had already been sold. 

Today, a judge ruled that Air America was right, that it had fully paid up for the Chicago airtime.  And the network went back on WNTD there this afternoon.  The L.A. station is still unresolved. 

You may remember that, as late as two or three years ago, the golfer Tiger Woods was seriously proposed as the greatest of the generation, as virtually unbeatable.  Now, after his game has gone somewhat into the tank, so has he.  Publicity stunt or genuine concern for military families?  Who knows.  But he just finished three days of training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and says it gave him perspective on what he does for a living, though evidently not as much perspective as Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals football player who actually quit his $3.6-million-a-year contract to sign up as an Army Ranger in the 75th Regiment and go fight in Iraq. 

The other day, actress/singer Courtney Love announced she was clearly covered with loser dust and a judge in Beverly Hills has now agreed with her.  And that‘s when she told him she couldn‘t make her arraignment because it conflicted with her tour schedule. 

Judge Elden Fox ruled there was probable cause to hold her for trial on two felony drug charges with arraignment two weeks from today, April 30.  She then said, “But I‘m on tour then.”  Her attorney then shushed her said and told the judge his client would be.  Courtney later told the media, she had dressed in a certain way deliberately, strapless, she said.  “It‘s a silly case.  Silly dress.”

Almost to the top of the COUNTDOWN now.  Ahead, tonight‘s No. 1 story, dissecting the political pork.  Bring a sharp scalpel.  Watch how your money is being wasted. 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DAVE”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  OK, let me just add that to the tally here.  Plus 47, five, carry the one, makes $656 million. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The classic budget scene in the farfetched but sweet movie “Dave” starring Kevin Kline as a fill-in president trying to save a plan for the homeless by cutting $650 million out of government waste by hand.

In our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, alas, it doesn‘t work that way.  If you needed more evidence that the budget is now impregnable against all of the possible President Daves, as well as untouched by human logic, consider this.  The government will spend a half million dollars of your money this year to fund a program at the University of Akron in Ohio called “Exercises in Hard Choices.”  It‘s an academic study of how Congress makes decisions about its own budget, Congress deciding to spend money to have somebody else study how it decides to spend money. 

This is called pork barrel politics, representatives and senators attaching pet spending projects to appropriation bills.  The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste annually documents this organized crime in a publication suitably entitled “The Pig Book.”  And while the fact of such a book reminds us that government pork is not new, it also reminds us that it isn‘t going away either. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR (singing):  I‘m just a bill.  Yes, I‘m only a bill.  And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill, well, then I‘m off to the White House, where I will wait IN a line.  And if he signs me, then I will be a law. 

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Not so fast, Billy Barue (ph).  Nobody is signing nothing before Harry the House and Susie the Senate get to slap some delicious fat, greasy pork on to you. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  All of these projects were inserted in an appropriations bill without any authorization in the dead of night, many times, in darkened rooms. 

OLBERMANN:  In darkened rooms in their own backyards, Senator.  It is called pork barrel politics, and it as old as the democracy.  You scratch my constituents‘ project and I will scratch yours.  Sounds pretty creepy, sound illegal, but maybe it is not all that bad. 

Last year, Montana got three million bucks to study the DNA of grizzly bears, suggesting that the guy who collects the DNA of grizzly bears makes a fortune.  This year, it is Alaska getting 568,000 fish to study alternative salmon products.  Mmm, spalmon. 

And who is to say 50 million bucks to build a rain forest in the middle of Iowa is automatically a bad idea?  It worked for Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams,” didn‘t it?  If you build, they will become angry. 

In Edgefield, South Carolina, $238,000 for the National Wild Turkey Federation.  Uh-oh, turkeys have a federation now.  It is $270,000 to Madison, Wisconsin for research into the best way to store potatoes.  Hmm, have any of you ever considered boxes? 

A million simoleons got to the Young Patriots program.  They will use the money to produce a video get kids jazzed up about patriotism.  I‘m throwing away my Xbox, dude.  Flag day rules. 

There‘s pork soda, Macon, Georgia, getting 100 grand to refurbish its historic Coca-Cola building, Coca-Cola, a corporation that earned $676 million last year.  Why don‘t we let them restore the historic Coca-Cola building?  Or better yet, why don‘t we let Pepsi restore the historic Coca-Cola building? 

And here goes another million, putting the ham in “Hamlet,” making sure our fighting men get their Shakespeare.  This pork is out of joint, oh, cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right. 

What else?  Guess what?  Hey, taxes, you have just guaranteed that most of our viewers can‘t go on vacation this year.  What are you going to do now?  You are going to Disneyland?  Half-a-million for new buses for Anaheim, California, the home of Goofy and Dumbo and that Tigger—Tigger, who keeps groping the visitors and redefining the term “happiest place on Earth”; $6 million to Maine, Michigan, West Virginia and eight other states for wood utilization research. 

If you don‘t know how to utilize your wood by now, what are you going to do with six million bucks anyway?  Two million to St. Augustine, Florida, to induce kids to play golf.  We are paying people to subject our children to golf?

And, ultimately, if all this sounds like Christmas has come early to our legislators and their pet projects and their pet supporters and their pet campaign financiers, sure enough, $200,000 more appropriated to the town of North Pole, Alaska, population 1,500, for recreational improvements in North Pole, Alaska. 

Rest well, weary taxpayer.  At least amid all this pork, you can feel better.  Thanks to you, Rudolph will finally get to play in some of those reindeer games. 

(BELL RINGING)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Santy Claus is coming to town. 

So one more thing about tonight‘s No. 1 story.  If, like President Dave, we were to cut just those 13 outlandish programs, President COUNTDOWN would have saved you, the taxpayer, $64,976,000.  If you remember, Homeland Security had to freeze hiring in three of its key divisions because of a possible budget shortfall of $1.1 billion, $65 million is not a $1.1 billion, but it would buy you 1,000 Homeland Security employees making $60,000 apiece. 

Before we go, let‘s recap the five stories, the ones we think you will be talking about tomorrow. 

No. 5, the president‘s secret plan for Iraq.  As he met today with the British prime minister, Mr. Blair, details emerged on how early Mr. Bush ordered battle planning, just six weeks after the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.  It is not sources.  It is not guesses.  It is quotes from Mr. Bush through author Bob Woodward in a book that will be released next week. 

Story No. 4 super surveillance, the small town of Manalapan, Florida, planning to set up security cameras, improve upon them, get state-of-the-art versions at every one of the few entrances into their community to catch criminals.  The number of residents there, 321.  The price of the new surveillance system, $50,000 -- the crime spree consisting of three crimes.

Story No. 3, now a U.S. soldier is held hostage in Iraq.  A group calling itself the Iraqi Resistance releasing a video showing Specialist Keith Maupin, kidnapped last week, now surrounded by hooded gunmen, whereabouts unknown.  Two, the hero from New Jersey who saved a baby minutes after it had been born, minutes after the car crash that killed its father on the way to the hospital and also injured the baby‘s mother. 

And story No. 1, the veritable herd of porkers running through our congressional bills, at least $64,976,00 worth of your tax dollars in inaction. 

And that is COUNTDOWN.  The program was produced by Greg Kordick, producers coordinated by Izzy Povich.  Weird stuff produced by Denis Horgan.  Brendon O‘Melia did the heavy editing.  Tina Cone was story wrangler.  Virginia Leahy, Lee Wong, Bob Malia (ph) and Lyla Holmes (ph) produced in segments.  And the regular director of COUNTDOWN, kinda, was Mark Greenstein.  Everything else was pretty much my fault. 

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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