updated 10/8/2004 12:08:37 PM ET 2004-10-08T16:08:37

Guest: Mike Allen, Patrick Healy, Gerald Posner

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The rematch, the president and the senator make final preparations for debate II.  Mr. Bush, watching for tomorrow morning‘s jobs numbers.  Mr. Kerry watching poll numbers that put him four points ahead. 

Just letting off steam?  Seismologists insist this isn‘t a big deal. 

Then why does Mount Saint Helens look like a big deal? 

He‘s 37.  She‘s 51.  They are on the lam after he busted out of jail in Tennessee.  The twist is, she was the prison guard who apparently helped him escape.  Her family says they knew something was up when she got a tattoo. 

And the murder that denied America the trial of the century.  New developments tonight in the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Thursday, October 7, 26 days until the 2004 presidential election.  How do you get to the second debate, Bush/Kerry II at Washington University in St. Louis?  Practice, practice, practice. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, final preps for the debate.  The whoee (ph) in St. Louis and the jobs numbers the president may have, either up his sleeve or wrapped around his neck.  Both sides also traded barbs today about the Duelfer report on Iraqi WMD.  Senator Kerry saying the president and the vice president may be “the last two people on the planet who won‘t face the truth about Iraq.”  The president turning the report into a new justification for war.  More on that in depth later. 

First the economy and in Wausau, Wisconsin, Mr. Bush said he didn‘t mess it up.  Bill Clinton and al Qaeda did. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When I took office the bubble of the 1990s had burst and our economy was headed into recession.  Because of the attacks of September 11, nearly a million jobs were lost in three months. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No public events on the challenger‘s calendar.  Though Senator Kerry will be interviewed on BET Television tonight.  Except for a brief statement to the media, the senator spent the bulk of today preparing for tomorrow‘s debate.  It is more than likely that jobs and the economy came up in those preparations just as they no doubt will tomorrow night. 

How convenient then that only hours before the debate begins, the Labor Department will release its monthly report on unemployment, its last report before the election.  Predictions about what that report will say vary widely.  Some economists forecasting the loss of 10,000 jobs.  Others, the creation of nearly 200,000.  The big wild card, the string of hurricanes in Florida over the last month that may have blown some 50,000 jobs out of the economy. 

Regardless of those jobs numbers, tomorrow Mr. Bush is still in a position to becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover to oversee no net job growth during a four-year term and with debate number two looming tomorrow night, he is now trying not to become part of that statistic. 

For a look at the president‘s preparations, I‘m joined from the “Washington Post” newsroom by the newspaper‘s White House reporter Mike Allen.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

First, about the jobs data that comes out in the morning, is that a pivotal part of tomorrow night‘s debate or is it just a wildcard?

MIKE ALLEN, “WASHINGTON POST‘:  There‘s no question it will be a big topic.  I think most of the forecasts were more toward the 200,000 jobs end of what you were talking about.  And I‘m struck by that 50,000 number in Florida.  Imagine the misery that is involved with that.  I had not heard that number before.  It makes you really realize how bad things are there. 

But with that number, no matter how big it is, the president will say it is progress.  He will talk about how many jobs are added.  Senator Kerry will point out, as did you, the net loss, the fact that the president is still behind from when he began.  One of his biggest vulnerabilities is that the White House gave a very large estimate of the number of jobs that the tax cuts would create and they just have not met up to that. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there any gauge at this point of what the president‘s overall debate preparations have been like and how they may have differed from the ones before last week‘s calamity?

ALLEN:  Calamity, your word.  The president is a disciplined individual.  They‘re not giving a lot of details of his preparation this time.  Last time they emphasized how relaxed he was.  Last time they wanted to emphasize confidence.  I think he had only like four formal sessions and they told us about him going fishing or whatever.

We‘re not hearing any of that this time.  We‘re just told he‘ll be ready and they‘ll leave the details to our imagination.  We‘re told the president is perfectly aware of how he looked, how the faces came across.  His staff was very taken aback by the reaction to it.  Because he watches events.  That‘s just how the president looks a lot of the time.  And I‘ve questioned him.  You‘ve seen him questioned.  That‘s how he responds when he is challenged.  During that debate, when I heard him say, let me finish, I‘ve heard that a few times there, too.  You kept hearing him say, of course, both signs the president is not pleased.  So I think you‘ll see discipline in both his body and his words tomorrow night.

OLBERMANN:  And so much of that can be accounted for or neutralized by the aesthetics of the situation.  Is the president‘s camp confident about this format?  In other words, the town hall sit on stools kind of approach, that that might work to their advantage? 

ALLEN:  They think it can.  You mentioned wild cards earlier.  That‘s what you have with the town hall because you know—you reported on your air that this was what—the debate that the Bush team urgently wanted to take out of the mix mainly because they were concerned about the questions.  That these are supposed to be uncommitted voters.  People that are either undecided or who just lean toward one of the candidates.  They were concerned the partisans would get in there and ask questions in the guise of uncommitted voters. 

But the president, they feel president is good with regular people.  They feel the president is good in less formal settings, they often like to get him out from behind the podium.  It is very unpredictable what people will ask.  What tone of voice they‘ll be asked in.  Let‘s face it.  The president is used to being asked questions in a certain grammar, a certain tone, with a certain respect and there‘s no guarantee that will happen tomorrow evening. 

OLBERMANN:  And by a certain nature of audience, too.  Mike Allen covering the Bush debate preps for “The Washington Post.” 

Many thanks for your time tonight. 

Now to the other quarter and what‘s happening in the challenger‘s camp.  For that we‘re joined by “Boston Globe” political reporter Patrick Healy who has been traveling with Senator Kerry for the last year and a half.  Mr. Healy, good evening to you.

PATRICK HEALY, “BOSTON GLOBE”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously whatever he did last time in terms of preparation worked fairly well.  I think that‘s a universal assessment.  What is he doing this time? 

HEALY:  Repeat it.  Just do it over again.  He is doing mock run-throughs.  He has a little timing light that‘s telling him when he is going on too far, going on too long.  And just sticking to a script, trying to get two-minute sound bites on jobs, on Iraq.  The new ammo that the Kerry people feel like they have this week with the WMD report and Bremer‘s comments on troop strength in Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  It is funny though, a week ago it was generally agreed that John Kerry had to give the performance of the campaign, if not of his career, to get back in the campaign.  And now for the second debate, his own side, and obviously there‘s a lot of, you know, low expectations built into this.  But his own side is saying that the bar is even higher for him tomorrow? 

HEALY:  That‘s what they‘re saying.  They‘re saying that Bush did so badly last Friday that the media will give Bush points just for showing up and being able to get into a nice exchange with voters.  They‘re saying Kerry really has to come on strong and calibrate his performance so he can question Bush‘s policies, plant seeds of doubt about Bush but not come off as too negative in a room where he is also supposed to be really connecting with voters and trying to sell himself as more likable.  Likability is a huge thing for Kerry right now.  And in a room full of soft Kerrys, soft Bush reporters, they want him to be able to connect with the audience, too. 

OLBERMANN:  Does the senator‘s team—we keep coming back to the jobs numbers in the morning—do they see those as critical to the campaign, to the debate, or not so much so? 

HEALY:  Not so much so.  They think that they‘ll be able to clobber Bush on jobs no matter what the numbers say.  In places like Ohio and Wisconsin and Iowa and Michigan where there are real people who say, you know, as much as what the data coming out of Washington says, we know people who‘ve lost their jobs.  My spouse is out of work, my kid can‘t get a job.  So they‘re hoping to appeal to the gut instincts of voters that no matter what the numbers say, it is a very hard economy out there. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned the impact of this trying to get support from that crowd and interconnect with that crowd, how does the stool sitting process affect John Kerry?  Is that considered to be a plus or a minus?  Is he better—does his camp view him as a lectern guy?

HEALY:  There are few reasons why John Kerry bounced back in Iowa.  One was the town hall meetings that he would do.  He was able to connect with people right at the end.  He would say, I‘m going to stay in this room until I‘m able to turn undecideds my way.  He was able to walk around.  And he did come across as a personable guy, audiences did like him.  But those were Democratic audiences.  As you know, he‘s a very tall man.  How he sits, what his body language is, how comfortable he appears on the stool, especially as Bush is talking something that everybody will be watching.  It will be really interesting to see again, how negative he is able to go in a format where you want to see more of a connection with voters.  Like at a Monday event on stem cell research where he was hugging people who were ill or who were dying.  And he was making a real effort to get beyond shy, reserved, aloof, whatever you want to call it, image and really interact with people. 

OLBERMANN:  If he hugs anybody tomorrow night, we have our lead story right away.  Patrick Healy of the “Boston Globe”, who began covering the Kerry campaign a year and a half ago.  Great thanks.

HEALY:  Thanks, Steve.

OLBERMANN:  A note about our coverage.  COUNTDOWN to the debate will be back tomorrow at its special time 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m Pacific and for those of you who want to watch the debate on the Internet, I will once again be keeping score.  Just like the blow-by-blow of a boxing match in real time at Hardblogger at the MSNBC.com Web site.  That‘s right, I‘ll be writing about 2,000 or 3,000 words about the debate as it happens.  Why?  Because I‘m nuts, that‘s why.

A feeling that can also be achieved by reading too many presidential opinion polls, although one of them tonight might have made John Kerry‘s day.  First improvement for the challenger in “The Washington Post” tracking poll.  As of 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, Bush 49, Kerry 47 among likely voters, same thing as last night.  A month ago, though, this was the president by 9.

The first Zogby-Reuters poll is Bush 46, 44, with one curious interior number: The two men are tied among voters over the age of 50.  And here‘s the one Kerry will like especially, the Ipsos poll, for the Associated Press.  Kerry, 50, Bush 46.  Margin of error, 3.  Bush had led the AP poll last time out. 

And for weeks, we‘ve sensed this was going to happen.  One of the candidates‘ appearances on non-news television would actually result in news.  While Senator John Edwards told Regis and Kelly, for God‘s sake, that at least one member of his family had never met Vice President Cheney, he told the hosts of “The View,” for God‘s sake, why it was that he did not pounce on the vice president when Mr. Cheney made his since disproved statement during their debate that they had never met. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When he said, the first time I‘ve ever met John Edwards was on this state...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah, why didn‘t you?

EDWARDS:  It was not true.  But then we went on to a very serious subject, and I thought it‘s more important for me to talk about the things that affect people‘s lives than to call him on what he said, which was not true. 

Afterwards, Jack, my 4-year-old, Jack, came on the stage, and I was talking with him, and we hadn‘t quite left the stage yet.  And he said, “which one‘s Cheney?” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Another time slot, another ticket.  First lady Laura Bush making a foray into late night, sitting down with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” and giving the divisive campaign a rare show of bipartisanship.  Style bipartisanship. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT SHOW”:  You‘ve met Teresa Kerry. 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  We met at the debate. 

LENO:  That was the first time you ever met? 

L. BUSH:  That was the first time we‘d met. 

LENO:  Oh, OK.

L. BUSH:  And I could tell we had a lot in common.  We even chose the same color suits to wear for that night. 

LENO:  That‘s right.  I had a joke, but I didn‘t do it.  I can‘t remember what it was.  But that‘s right.  You had the same outfit. 

L. BUSH:  Yeah, exactly.  So now I just want to announce today, let people know, I‘m going to be wearing a blue suit on Friday night. 

LENO:  Blue? 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No matter how bad our elections might seem at times, it is better here than on the eve of the vote in Afghanistan.  A rocket attack rattles that capital, and in Egypt, three different attacks on resorts in the Sinai Peninsula. 

And should voting for president in this country be mandatory?  We‘ll take you to a very small slice of this country where it is.  This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is a remarkable truth that in a country that considers itself not just the democracy but the international distributor of democracy, less than half the citizens vote, usually.  In Australia and literally dozens of other free nations around the globe, if you don‘t vote, you are penalized, usually in the form of a cash fine. 

Our fourth story on THE COUNTDOWN, it‘s true in Australia and also in part of the town of Madison, New Jersey.  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is here with the remarkable truth about some of that place‘s residents.  If they don‘t vote 26 days from now, they will be punished.  Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s true.  Keith, good evening.

Four years ago, only about one-third of people aged 18 to 24 voted, and that statistic is particularly hard to bear for one professor, who teaches a small class at a private university where she‘s decided to enforce an unusual new rule—mandatory voting. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PROFESSOR MERRILL SKAGGS, DREW UNIVERSITY:  What I want them to do is vote, and whatever that takes, I‘m willing at this point to do. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  It‘s a power play at the polls.  One professor rocking the vote by forcing students into the booth. 

SKAGGS:  What can you find in this first sentence that makes it unforgettable? 

NOVOTNY:  If you‘re a student reading the syllabus for professor Merrill Skaggs‘ literature class at Drew University, this might be memorable. 

“Casting a ballot in this year‘s election is not an option.”  Not when your professor is inspired to impact the election. 

SKAGGS:  I didn‘t have much money or time or energy.  But I did want to do something. 

So, my first thought was I will require my students to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was surprised that she assumed she could do that.  

NOVOTNY:  So were her colleagues.  Professor Skaggs sent out a mass e-mail in August urging the other 150 faculty members on campus to require student voting. 

PAOLO CUCCHI, DEAN, DREW UNIVERSITY:  I wasn‘t sure that that was necessarily the appropriate thing to do. 

NOVOTNY:  Paolo Cucchi, a dean at the university, says not one person on the staff joined professor Skaggs.  But no one stopped her either. 

CUCCHI:  Faculty didn‘t formally object.  No one really kind of pushed it beyond the discussion stage, and so that‘s why the university didn‘t really intervene. 

NOVOTNY:  Her students have chosen to stay. 

NATHANIEL BURRELL, STUDENT:  You can‘t blame young people for being apathetic.  Other than, you know, forcing them, how else are you going to make them vote? 

JONATHAN TYRELL, STUDENT:  I think it is one of the only ways to get this generation to vote.  So yeah, if it is not set forth to us, we are not going to go seek it out. 

SKAGGS:  Classrooms are not democratic.  They have requirements. 

NOVOTNY:  But New York attorney Bruce Baron wants a recount. 

BRUCE BARON, ATTORNEY:  Voting in and of itself is a fundamental constitutional right that everyone has.  But you also have the fundamental constitutional right not to vote.  It is not proper for a professor to influence or sort of coerce any individual under his or her control to do something that‘s unconstitutional. 

NOVOTNY:  Some professors did suggest an alternative.  Raising student voter awareness by discussing the election in class. 

SKAGGS:  That would have been a much more effective way to guide their thinking.  I wanted to guide their acting. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Of course, professor Skaggs can‘t legally coerce the students to vote, so technically they just have to make their way inside the voting booth.  And whether they actually choose to place their vote at that point is up to them. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I value what she‘s doing, what she‘s trying to do.  Just not the methods. 

BARON:  Will the next professor at another university say you‘re going to get a good mark if you vote Democratic?  Where do you draw the line? 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  For now, the administration is letting professor Skaggs call the shots in the classroom, though she believes it is her constituents who hold the cards in this election. 

SKAGGS:  Seize your power.  Your power is maximized in this moment, because nobody can anticipate what you‘re going to do.  You‘re a surprise element. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Professor Skaggs does not discuss the election in class itself, nor she says, does she reveal her political beliefs.  And the students all said they had planned on voting anyway.  And that the real reason they didn‘t protest, they believe the professor‘s cause is a noble one. 

OLBERMANN:  But it is a noble one that is taking place not in a government class or poly-sci or something.  This is a literature class?  How does she rationalize that being part of her syllabus in such a course?

NOVOTNY:  Drew University is big on experiential learning.  And the themes of some of the writings in this class are the shaping of the American culture.  So, she says they are shaping American culture by getting to the voting booth.

OLBERMANN:  So when you fail to vote when you‘re supposed to in Australia, it is a fine.  $75, or whatever it is.  What happens if somebody in this class doesn‘t even get in the booth?  Does not actually go and fulfill the professor‘s requirement? 

NOVOTNY:  It is an honor system.  She said if they fail to do it, she won‘t fail them out of the class, but it will strongly, negatively impact their grade. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Thank you.  COUNTDOWN‘S Monica Novotny on

the strange case of your vote or your GPA in New Jersey.  Many thanks

From an unorthodox assignment, to just plain old unorthodox news.  The worldwide epidemic of mass pillow fights continues. 

And a convict on the run with his girlfriend who was formally his prison guard.  The family knew there would be trouble when grandma got a tattoo.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to pause the COUNTDOWN for our nightly deviation into all manner of mistakes, errors and diversions.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we begin with America‘s latest contribution to international culture, a flash mob, flash pillow fight.  At 5:40 pm London time, hundreds of random people met on the hallowed steps of St. Paul‘s Cathedral and proceeded to pummel each other with pillows.  We first reported on the flash mob phenomena over a year ago when it kicked off in New York City and the flash pillow fight about, a week and a half ago. 

Officials at St. Paul‘s report that they did more than $40 million worth of damage to the 293-year-old cathedral.  Sorry, I made that up. 

Back home, just one day after scientists said there was no longer a let the of a full scale eruption at Mount St. Helens, this happened.  Could you read that part about no threat the again?  Actually, seismologists still insist that today‘s display was a lot less scary than it looked.  The volcano was only venting small of smoke, not big ash. 

Speaking of smoke, this is Russia‘s way of stamping out smoking.  Authorities there say they bulldozed over 40 million fake cartons of Marlboro and other name brands all bound for sale in Europe.  Yep.  They bulldozed all of them into the ground, no other means of disposal.  Not a single cigarette, counterfeiter or otherwise, escaped. 

Back to the real stuff.  Just hours after the polls, or before the polls opened in Afghanistan, terrorists hit Kabul, and in Egypt.  A series of closely timed attacks on resorts frequented by Israelis, has killed perhaps 30. 

The faulty intel fallout on the politicians spin on the news that Saddam had no WMD what is really being done to make sure we don‘t have another colossal intelligence failure? 

Those stories ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWNS‘s Top 3 Newsmakers of This Day.

No. 3, researchers in Britain who say they found a formula that allows to you avoid Murphy‘s Law.  The rule that says that the worst thing will always happen at the worst time.  The formula, is U+C+Ix10-S over 20xAx1 over one-sign/10.  Actually it sounds like it just proved Murphy‘s Law. 

No. 2, Iraq‘s minister of tourism who was urging potential visitors to his country, to stay home.  Iraq, he says could be a one way trip.  Keep spreading the good news from Iraq, sir. 

And No. 1, perhaps you would like to visit Malaysia instead.  That‘s where Mr. Kamaroudin Mohammed has just gotten married for the 53rd time.  5-3.  51 divorces, one death.  His new bride is a repeat.  He‘s gotten married to his first wife, Kadeisha (ph), proving that he‘s run out of new ones. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tomorrow, says President Bush, is a big day for the war on terror, the first free elections in modern Afghanistan. 

But in our No. 3 story tonight on the COUNTDOWN, this may prove to have been an even bigger day.  Two rockets landed near the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital.  There were coordinated terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Egypt and a top international hotel attacked in Baghdad. 

Only one of the rockets in Kabul exploded, but it did so just yards from the American Embassy and was enough to send the U.S. staff briefly into its emergency bunkers and to have Afghan troops seal off roads in the area.  The capital had been nearly violence-free for the five weeks before tomorrow‘s elections. 

The attacks today in Egypt were apparently far more impactful and far more directed.  With 10,000 or more Israelis having ignored their government‘s warnings and gone on vacation to hotels on the Egyptian side of the border, there were easy pickings for bombers in the Sinai Peninsula.  One Israeli survivor said the gates of hell suddenly opened. 

Our correspondent Tom Aspell is in Tel Aviv—Tom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM ASPELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, some three hours after the first explosion, Egyptian security sources were already confirming that at least 30 people had been killed and more than 115 wounded in a string of explosions at holiday resorts in the Sinai Peninsula. 

The first was at the Taba Hilton.  That is a hotel just across the Egyptian side of the border, popular with Israeli tourists transiting in and out of that border crossing there to get to the Sinai Peninsula, particularly on a holiday week such as this, large numbers of Israelis down there on vacation.  The front of the hotel was practically destroyed and one report says it caught on fire, many of the casualties there, at least 20 people killed there, the casualties rushed across the border into the Israeli town of Eilat for medical treatment. 

It is quite a remote area of the Sinai Peninsula.  And then the second explosion was just a few hours south of there at a town called Nuweiba near a camping ground popular with Israeli tourists.  Now, security experts at the scene examining the wreckage in those bomb sites say that it could be the work of a group a little more sophisticated than Palestinian groups like Hamas or even Islamic Jihad on the Palestinian side. 

They‘re saying that it could point to even the involvement of al Qaeda itself.  On Friday, Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian No. 2 to Osama bin Laden, called on all Muslims to defend Palestinians and attack the Jews.  So security experts looking for any clues which might lead them to the involvement of al Qaeda in these attacks on the Sinai Peninsula tonight—

Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Tom Aspell in Tel Aviv, many thanks. 

And rockets and bombings in Iraq.  There are two more American soldiers dead there tonight, killed by roadside bombs outside Baghdad.  And one of that city‘s tourist landmarks was hit by three rockets overnight.  The Sheraton Hotel, one of the bases for foreigners and journalists in the heart of that city, sustained comparatively minor damage.  There were no reports of injuries.  And the three rockets were apparently fired from the back of a pickup truck. 

Meanwhile, inside the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad, another explosion, smoke rising from inside the supposedly secure compound. 

For a quick assessment of this day of violence, I‘m joined now by MSNBC analyst, former counterterrorism expert on the National Security Council Roger Cressey. 

Roger, good evening. 

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.   

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start in Kabul.  A real concern there or just a reminder that the Taliban is still around? 

CRESSEY:  More of a reminder.  Frankly, I‘m surprised we haven‘t had more attacks leading up to the elections.  I think you‘ve seen a resurgence of Taliban activity leading up to the elections.  So it is a pretty safe bet tomorrow is going to be a very exciting day inside Afghanistan, for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. 

OLBERMANN:  You heard Tom Aspell‘s report from Tel Aviv talking about the strikes in Egypt and the presumption that whoever was behind them were far more sophisticated than Hamas.  What are we looking at here? 

CRESSEY:  Well, as far as I can recall, I don‘t remember Hamas ever an attack outside of Israel.  So you do want to look at another type of organization, such as al Qaeda.  We do know al Qaeda attacked Israeli targets in Kenya not too long ago at a hotel.  So there is as a precedent there. 

So the sophistication of the attack.  There is going to be forensics investigation.  Certainly, Israeli security and intelligence will be talking to us and to the Jordanians as well as the Egyptians to try and get a better handle on who might have done this.  But, Keith, the real issue is, was Zawahri‘s tape last Friday in fact a go signal that was the signal for the terrorists to conduct the attack tonight?

OLBERMANN:  Did the Israelis assume that?  Is that why that warning was put out? 

CRESSEY:  Well, that certainly could have been part of it, or they could have developed some intelligence from sources inside Israel.  The Israelis produce warnings on a far more regular basis than we do. 

And their human intelligence is far better than ours is regarding these type of extremists. 

OLBERMANN:  Roger Cressey, stand by a second.  We have a big-picture question or two to ask you back here. 

Yesterday, Charles Duelfer became the second Bush-appointed U.S. chief

weapons inspector to accompany his report on weapons of mass destruction in

Iraq by saying, we were almost all wrong, bringing our third story back

home.  Whoever is president next January, how can he rely on our

intelligence agencies and, more immediately, the Bush administration‘s

reaction today to its own appointees conclusion, which might be summed up

by the old Tonto joke, who is this we, kemo sabe? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Based on all the information we have to date, I believe we were right to take action and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison.  He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He was trying to buy support from countries outside Iraq, so that they would in fact support lifting the sanctions that have been imposed on Iraq.  There‘s a suggestion that employees of the United Nations were part of the scheme as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Inspector Duelfer‘s main conclusion, that, while Saddam had no viable weapons of mass destruction program, he had a viable weapons of mass destruction propaganda campaign designed to fool his enemies into staying afraid of Iraq‘s potential to use biological, nuclear or chemical weapons.  It sure fooled us. 

What does that mean for this nation‘s security?  Back with Roger Cressey. 

Is that the headline buried behind the political yelping about WMD, that, at best, out intelligence agencies could get, to some degree, hoodwinked by this tin pot tyrant?

CRESSEY:  Or any other tyrant. 

We whiffed in the most massive way here.  The problem always has been, Keith, our human intelligence.  We have great spies in the sky.  We have great other capabilities.  But our human intelligence is the biggest problem.  And that was one of the reasons why we got bad intelligence on Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  Whoever is the president on the 20th of January next, who does he trust in his own intelligence community right now? 

CRESSEY:  Oh, I think he does. 

The CIA and the rest of the intelligence community has done a lot better since 9/11.  But the problems that were in Iraq analysis was only a subset of it.  I think part—the bigger problem is, Keith, if you have intelligence that might be a little sketchy, the policy makers have a responsibility to be skeptical.  And what you always to have avoid is seeing in the intelligence what you want to see in order to further your own goals. 

And I think that‘s a tremendous danger.  And the Iraq Survey Group is a reminder to everybody that you look at the intelligence.  You be a little skeptical and you try and find other sources to corroborate what you think might be out there. 

OLBERMANN:  But if we as a—and this is collectively.  As a nation, as an intelligence community serving a nation, if we underestimated before 9/11 and if we overestimated before the war in Iraq, how does anybody know that what this nation thinks it knows about the potential threats from North Korea and Iran right now is even close to being reality? 

CRESSEY:  Well, I think it is a pretty safe assumption that we do not know as much as we think we do, particularly with a country like North Korea.  And, frankly, the same is true with Iran, because we do not have people on the ground inside either one of those countries that can give us the type of information that we truly need. 

There are significant blind spots in our intelligence picture on Iran and on North Korea.  And I think that should be cause for tremendous concern for us. 

OLBERMANN:  What do we have to do about it?  And how long will it take? 

CRESSEY:  Well, you know, George Tenet, when he was before the 9/11 Commission said it would be at least five years before our human intelligence capability is where he thinks it would be.  I, frankly, think he was being generous.  It is probably going to take up to 10 years. 

And we‘re just going to have to really hope.  And hope is not good policy, but it is hope that between our other sources of intelligence, the work we do with our friends and other information that we gather, that gives us a much more complete and compelling intelligence picture than the type of one we had that led to the invasion of Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  Former counterterrorism expert on the National Security Council, frequent COUNTDOWN guest, in fact twice on this show alone, Roger Cressey, thanks as always for your time tonight. 

CRESSEY:  Good to see you, Keith. 

In love and on the lam.  A grandma is the chief suspect in the escape of a convicted felon, her new boy toy.  And the place where Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, why nearly 41 years later, it is the subject of a brand new controversy—investigative author Gerald Posner on that. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST:  And, occasionally, your husband will make a gaffe, which we will exploit to the hilt.  Do you guys have fun with that afterwards? 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  We do.  We laugh about it sometimes. 

Sometimes we don‘t laugh. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  ... better chance of working.  And in the next days, I‘m going to say more that it has chosen not to do.  But I will make certain that our troops...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve met on several occasions.  It‘s been proven...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, come on.  Name one, blow-dry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It came out in the news today.  There was that time we shared at a church breakfast. 

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  All right, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And then, of course, there was that time we were trapped in an elevator for six hours. 

O‘BRIEN:  Right. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And what about the time we were in the two-man luge in the Olympics? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I mean, how could you not remember?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Trendy clothes, a tattoo reading Irish Spring and some country music tapes seemingly the only hints that something strange going on with grandma the prison guard. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Her family began to suspect something was up when 51-year-old grandmother Vickie Sanford started to dress younger.  Then came the clincher, as her daughter put it starkly.  She got a tattoo. 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight is right out of every bad prison movie you have ever seen, not the prison warden‘s wife helping the convict escape, but close enough. 

Our correspondent Don Teague reports from Atlanta, it‘s one of the guards, one of the women guards, one of the older women guards. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A massive manhunt continues after a Tennessee jail break that sounds like an inside job.  Edward McDaniel had more than 15 years remaining on a 20-year prison sentence for attempted murder.  He‘s on the loose after escaping from this prison hospital.  Authorities say he was far from a model prisoner. 

AMANDA SLUSS, TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS:  Some of his disciplinary reports are contraband, larceny, assault. 

TEAGUE:  But despite his bad behavior, police say the 37-year-old McDaniel may have charmed his way out of prison by getting into the heart of an older woman, 51-year-old prison guard Vickie Sanford.  She hasn‘t been seen since Saturday‘s jail break.  An arrest warrant says she helped him escape. 

JENNIFER JOHNSON, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION:  We believe that he and Vickie Sanford are traveling together or maybe accompanying each other. 

TEAGUE:  In her SUV, which the two allegedly drove away in.  Police believe McDaniel walked from the prison to the parking lot wearing a prison guard‘s uniform.  How?  Police say this man, Vickie Sanford‘s son-in-law, also a guard at the prison, was working the gate at the time, may have even supplied the uniform.  Confused?  So is Vickie Sanford‘s son. 

For now, James Craig just wants his mom to come home. 

JAMES CRAIG, SON OF SANFORD:  I wish she would turn herself in.  She‘s destroying the family.

TEAGUE:  Even her grandkids are heartbroken. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I love her and I want her to come home. 

TEAGUE:  Tonight, police suspect McDaniel and Sanford are trying to leave the country.  Authorities in border states are on high alert for a truly odd couple. 

Don Teague, NBC News, Atlanta. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  We keep the prison thing going as we move into our celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.”

And a funny thing is happening to Martha Stewart on her way to the penitentiary.  Her appeals lawyers today accused the government of withholding evidence that could acquitted her.  Attorneys for the high doyen of household hints filed paperwork complaining that they never got a key document that suggested that government ink experts had not fully examined a worksheet belonging to Stewart‘s stockbroker. 

While her attorneys will not go gently into that good night, Stewart herself still heads for the hoosegow.  She‘s do in by 2:00 tomorrow afternoon Eastern time in Alderson, West Virginia, also known as Camp Cupcake. 

Remember the story from last week about the drive-by shooting at the home of the Vegas entertainers Siegfried & Roy.  It was weird enough when police said somebody unloaded six shots attention place while shouting that animal tamers should—quote—“get out of the country.”  Now police have named a suspect, a former professional football player named Cole Ford, whose place-kicking career ended in 1997 after he missed several short field goals for the Oakland Raiders and was fired by the team. 

Police don‘t know where Ford is, but they actually have said they suspect he might be living in a low budget hotel. 

From drive-by shootings to the shooting that changed history and television, unexpected news from Dallas about the death of Lee Harvey Oswald. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The assassination of President Kennedy is still news, even though six weeks from Monday, it will have been 41 years since it happened.  That this abiding American nightmare can still shock us, surprise us, is underscored tonight by news from Dallas. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, the place where Kennedy‘s purported assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself killed will become the nation‘s newest tourist attraction.  It happened in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters on November 24, 1963, presumably the first live telecast of a murder.  Oswald‘s killer was Jack Ruby.  The motive is still open for debate and so soon will be the site—will open, that is.

The Dallas city manager says that as part of a redevelopment of the old, now basically unused city hall complex, that police sally port in the basement will become open to the public in the next couple of years.  So, too, might the fifth-floor cell in which Oswald had been held after his arrest.

One quote about this: “It‘s something that‘s sorely needed in that part of town.  It is going to be a good thing for the city.”  That was said by a retired detective Jim Leavelle, the man who escorted Lee Harvey Oswald to his fate that November day. 

Our next guest has joined us often to talk about 9/11 and American intelligence.  But long before that, he had written perhaps the definitive work on the JFK assassination, “Case Closed.”

Gerald Posner, he joins us again tonight from Miami.

As ever, thanks for your time, sir. 

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, “CASE CLOSED”:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this OK, do you think?  We‘ve had the book depository has been open as a historically site since 1989.  You can walk into Ford‘s Theatre in Washington.  Should time turn all wounds into tourist traps? 

POSNER:  Well, I have mixed feelings about it. 

On the one hand, Dallas has turned the assassination into something of a tourist attraction.  The event happened there.  The sixth floor depository where Oswald fired the shot from has been a museum for some time.  It seems to me they are stretching it a little bit to now have the place where Oswald was shot and incarcerated that morning turned into part of this assassination tour.

But, Keith, people seem to have sort of this insatiable appetite for places where famous people died.  I mean, here in South Beach in Miami, where I live, you can wander by Gianni Versace the fashion designer‘s old home and somebody is always standing at the site to take a picture where he was gunned to death by the homicidal spree killer. 

You can go to Germany and a few crazies are standing in between the traffic to get a shot of the fuhrer bunker, where Adolf Hitler‘s body was burned.  The same thing in New York City.  There‘s always somebody who seems to be milling around in front of the Dakota, the apartment building where Lennon was shot. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

POSNER:  So I am not surprised that the city thinks, in this downtown area, as the police detective has said, where nobody goes, they might be able to attract a few more tourists who want to see the spot where Oswald met his end two days after he killed Kennedy. 

OLBERMANN:  And they are also sprucing up apparently the Texas theater where he was arrested.  And you have Dealey Plaza, which I suppose if they could charge admission to, they would.  So you have basically JFK land down there now.  And I guess I share your opinion on it. 

POSNER:  Well, it hasn‘t yet become a Disney ride. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

POSNER:  The thing is that there‘s no flashing sites that say, by the way, the spot where Kennedy was killed. 

But it‘s very interesting when you say, if they could charge admission to Dealey Plaza, they might do it.  Well, the city might not.  They might view that as untoward and a little bit too Vegas-like or Disney-like.  But there are assassination buffs whose life has been dedicated essentially to this assassination. 

One of them, for instance, has now found and has been doing this for a few years, has written books on the subject, has found a Lincoln that was the very same Lincoln only a year away from the one that Kennedy was shot in—it‘s a convertible—and he will take four tourists in his car.  You can sit in the seat the governor was in or you can sit in the back where Jackie or Jack Kennedy was.  And he‘ll take you down Main Street, where the motorcade went, and then through Dealey Plaza.

And the worst part of this—and I do mean worst, because it‘s very gruesome—he has a tape recorder.  And when you go through Dealey Plaza, you can hear the shots fired, as he believes they were fired.  You can actually sit in the car and pretend you were the president that day.  So there is money being made.  I think that‘s $25 a ticket. 

That has degraded the history of this.  That‘s not done at Pearl Harbor.  Nobody puts you on a boat and has the sound of Japanese planes coming in as though you are going to do down.  We have turned the Kennedy assassination into a board game in this country:  Who killed Kennedy?  So I am not surprised that it‘s become this commercial.  It‘s become a cottage industry for a lot of conspiracy people.  I‘m not surprised that, in some ways, Dallas thinks it can sort of eke out the last dollar from this by opening up the jail. 

OLBERMANN:  Does it by itself doing this, opening up the jail, regenerate interest in the case, the jump-starting of more conspiracy theories?  Is that going to pump this up a little bit more when it does happen? 

POSNER:  I don‘t think so.  I don‘t think the conspiracy theorists need to get pumped up.  They are always enraged about this case. 

If you get Oliver Stone on the side and start to mention the words JFK, he will go and rant about the 12 assassins and somebody underneath the sewer.  There are people who you don‘t need to wave the flag in front of them.  It‘s sort of like talking to an Islamic fundamentalist who wants to blow up the United States. 

If you say, by the way, are you angrier at us because we are in Iraq, they will say, yes, I‘m angrier, but they were just as angry before.  A conspiracy theorist on this case is energized all the time, looking for the secret government and how Kennedy was killed.  They almost don‘t need the jail opened. 

What I do love is the quote from the Dallas city manager that said, and, by the way, we‘re only opening the jail now because we moved police headquarters to a new building.  We didn‘t think it was open it before and have conspiracy theorists wandering around for security reasons inside the police station.  Well, that certainly seems like a good idea post-9/11.  So I‘m glad they at least waited to let the public in. 

OLBERMANN:  They might have done that in 1963.  It might have helped as well. 

Practically speaking, though, in terms of the research, is there anything left to be learned about Oswald‘s death or Kennedy‘s, for that matter, from access, public access to that location?  Are you, for instance, satisfied about how Jack Ruby got down to the garage to kill Oswald? 

POSNER:  I am, in fact, satisfied, but I do think there is something very interesting we‘re seeing.

Is there anything new to learn?  Not from the viewpoint of historians, those who have studied the case.  But for the public, for those who have been interested in the case, who have read for years about how Ruby walked down the street and at the last moment, when a car created the opportunity, walked down those few steps and went into the garage, I think they‘ll be stunned when they do go inside there to see how small the space is, how easy it was to gain access, and how, when Oswald is taken out, how that is an area in which just charges through the crowd and sort of enters into his place in the history books by doing what he thinks is the right thing at that time, killing the man who has killed the president, sort of expecting to get a pat on the back and that everyone would say:  Jack, you did a great thing.  You did a service for the country.  You killed that no-good Oswald. 

Instead, they say, you just ruined history and you‘re going to go away for prison for it.  But when people sew how confined that space is, I think they will realize how history played out 41 years ago. 

OLBERMANN:  So what might seem intuitively implausible becomes more plausible if people can actually see it. 

POSNER:  Absolutely. 

This very same thing happens at Dealey Plaza.  I‘ve talked to dozens of people who go down to Dealey Plaza expecting it to be as large as a football field and, when they actually get there, can‘t believe how small it is.  When you actually are physically there, you understand how impossible it is for a shooter on the so-called grassy knoll, where a second shooter was supposed to have been, to have hidden himself or herself in front of the hundreds of people who were there and how close Oswald was, shooting from the depository, in making that fatal shot that day. 

OLBERMANN:  Gerald Posner, author of the touchstone of the JFK assassination scholarship, “Case Closed,” as always, sir, great thanks for your time. 

POSNER:  Thanks.  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being part of it. 

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

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

END   

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