Steve Rizzo, Ryan Lizza, Preston Mendenhall, Robin Wright
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Limousines of terror: Homeland Security worries al Qaeda thinks it would be easier to get a limo full of explosives near a target than a car or a truck.
Terror training in schools: Homeland Security runs a contest to name a mascot. An American shepherd who will teach fourth graders about emergency plans. Wait, American shepherd?
Betting on the wrong horse: Iraq‘s government orders the arrest of Ahmed Chalabi for counterfeiting, the guy we once counted on to run that country.
Is going to a John Kerry rally hazardous to your health? The state of faintings, at least one per campaign stop, it is reported.
And did you know there are 53 states? That the leading form of child abuse in the ‘70s was streaking?
California shuts down California alternative high school where the students learned alternative facts. All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. Since Homeland Security got up to speed in the spring of 2002, it as warned of al Qaeda using or targeting amusement parks, apartment building, banks, beer coolers, boats, cargo planes, cell phone, churches, crop dusters, farmer‘s almanacs, hijacked oil trucks, inner-city train, malls, nightclubs, reservoirs, scuba divers, sports stadiums, and subways. Add limousines to the list and helicopters.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: We can safely conclude that al Qaeda is not targeting all of those at once, for if they were to adapt the phrase from the Cold War era, there would be a terrorist under every bed. The stuff about the limos was included in the FBI‘s weekly bulletin to police departments nationwide, last week. But, “Time” magazine and the “New York Times” both reporting it‘s more specific and that it emanates from the same Pakistani forces that identified the Prudential building in Newark, New Jersey as a target. That report suggested that the casing of the facility, also suggested a limousine stuffed full of explosives might stand a better chance of getting close to the building than any other vehicle would.
As to the choppers, these are specifically tourist helicopters in New York City, about which the FBI ruminated as al Qaeda‘s, quote, “alternative to recruiting operatives for fixed wing aircraft.” Helicopter tours around the city were still reported packed today, though plans to screen the passengers the way airline clientele are, are reportedly being implemented.
Two other reports place the Capitol and the people who worked there in the al Qaeda bull‘s-eye. Homeland Security briefing senators and congressmen on the continuing threat, turning up anew in one of these streams of intelligence that popped up last week. The capitol was evacuated as recently as two months ago today when the protective air space around it was violated and the FAA never bothered to warn air defense that a plane carrying the governor of Kentucky was headed in with a broken transponder that would prevent it from identifying itself as a friendly vehicle.
Senator Biden of Delaware leading minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he was briefed to the threats against the building, the senators and the congressmen, but for security reason, he could not go into detail. He did, however, say that he was not impressed by some of the sources of the recent flood of warnings, target information, and threat analysis.
And in case you‘re thinking we‘re alone in this bombardment of information, London‘s newspapers reporting a plot to detonate a bomb in one of the subway tunnels beneath the River Thames. The desired result would pierce the tunnels and the riverbed, killing hundreds or thousands outright and sending river water rushing into the tunnels in both directions, endangering many more. Maps of London‘s underground were supposedly found at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Nobody mentioned exactly how terrorists could bring enough explosive material on to a subway train without calling attention to themselves.
Much of this stuff may have come from the al Qaeda computer whiz at the center of recent terror allegations. More might yet have come out, but senior U.S. officials, it seems, appear to have blown his cover to cover themselves. His name no longer a secret, not even close—Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan. It came out not long after last week‘s skepticism in this country about the age and relevance of the threats against those five financial targets.
After his capture by Pakistani authorities, Khan continued to e-mail top al Qaeda members and the Pakistani and British authorities were piling up lead after lead on suspect after suspect. Khan had become a double agent, in essence, working against al Qaeda. That all his work has been compromised has security experts dumbfounded wondering why for “Jane‘s Defense” publications, saying, “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask, what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al Qaeda when it‘s so difficult to get guys in there in the first place.”
In addition, British and Pakistani officials are said to be furious. The government of Pakistan calling the sting, quote, “bizarre and mind-boggling.” The British home secretary saying he does not intend to, in his words, “feed the news frenzy by following the Bush administration‘s lead and announce specific targets or suspects.” U.S. officials are defending their actions saying they had no choice.
Time to try to separate the reality from the paranoia with Roger Cressey, former counterterrorism policy coordinator on the National Security Council and now an MSNBC analyst.
Roger, good evening.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Good evening to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, let‘s work backwards. Did Mohammad Khan have enough of a remaining shelf life, as in essence, a double agent, inside al Qaeda that leaking his identity blew a huge opportunity or were his terrorist contacts going to find out about him imminently anyway?
CRESSEY: Well, we don‘t really know, but I think it‘s a safe bet that he did have more of a shelf life. He had been flipped, he was e-mailing other al Qaeda operatives. You know, the CIA gets beaten up all the time, and rightly, for not being able to penetrate the inner sanctum of al Qaeda. Here you have a great intelligence operation and an individual in a position to un—to reveal other parts of the network, and we make him public at the most inopportune time. So, yeah, I think we made a mistake.
OLBERMANN: We just coughed this one, probably the best, at least, that we know of opportunity to pierce al Qaeda?
CRESSEY: Well, certainly a good one. You know, al Qaeda is heavily dependent on Internet communications, they use it, not just to communicate operational data, but to proselytize, to recruit, and the whole nine yards. So if we had more time to do a more systematic uncovering of the network that Khan was relying upon, maybe perhaps it would have led us to an operational cell, which is what this is really all about, Keith.
Is there an operational cell inside the United States right now?
OLBERMANN: Roger, today‘s details that came out, the limousines, the helicopters, apart from the fact that it sounds like they‘re going after Donald Trump, specifically, what in here should we be paying attention to and what is useless or even worse, uselessly frightening?
CRESSEY: Well, the only thing you missed was taxi cabs, but al Qaeda couldn‘t catch one in New York City. No, I think the helicopter and I think the limousine, I mean, they‘re important, but they‘re minor. I mean, I think al Qaeda looks at a spectrum of options, the look at a spectrum of vulnerabilities and then they decide, once they‘ve done this very systematic detailed reconnaissance, what makes the most sense for them. We can‘t overreact every time the FBI notifies New York or others about something else that‘s been discovered on the computer disk. No, New York is as locked down as it‘s going to be right now. You got a great police staff there, and I think you got to leave them in their hands.
OLBERMANN: Why, then, is all of the information revealed, if only some of is it of any use? I mean the real cynics say this is being done to intentionally scare people and moderate cynics say, no it‘s being done because Homeland Security can‘t tell difference between useful information and non-useful information.
Is there another explanation besides the different degrees of cynicism?
CRESSEY: You know, the fact that we‘re having this discussion is because Homeland and the administration has creating a self-inflicted wound for themselves. When Secretary Ridge issued the terror alert, he then gave this paid political advertisement about the president‘s efforts on the war on terrorism. That should have been separate from this and I think they did not do as effective a job as they should have in explaining that some of this information was current. So, these things—you know, create a level of doubt. But Keith, what it does come down to is sometimes you keep information secret to exploit it further, to try and develop additional leads. We shouldn‘t be making all of it immediately available to the American people. We should do it in a way that ensures the intelligence and law enforcement community can use the information to get the maximum benefit out of it first.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, let‘s leave the names of the sources and the guys we flipped out in the next press release. Counterterrorism authority and MSNBC analyst, Roger Cressey.
As always, Roger, great thanks.
CRESSEY: All right. Take care, Keith.
OLBERMANN: You too.
Speaking of counterterrorism authorities, the nation‘s schools are about to get a new one—a dog who will speak to kids in grades four through eight about putting together emergency kits and planning family meetings and places in the event of crisis. The dog will be an American shepherd who will get his name from a contest run by Homeland Security next month. He will also appear in public service announcements in which he will encounter a child asking his mother what to do if the telephones don‘t work.
If the term “American Shepherd” does not sound right to you, it‘s not a new breed. It‘s not the Schnauzer renamed, ala “Freedom Fries.” It is a fictitious breed that the department tells us tonight is a cartoon that resembles something in the shepherd family. A dog that kids like, friendly, loyal, wise, a friendly dog. Actually, American shepherd is an alternative name for the breed, the North American miniature Australian shepherd. Looking for a name for this dog? How about Shep? As in down, Shep! How about that?
So how well‘s this going to work? For a unique perspective we‘ll turn now to a guest who spent 18 years as a stand up comedian and then post 9/11 began to meet with junior high and high school kids about the risk of terror and the fear it produced, Steve Rizzo.
Mr. Rizzo, good evening.
STEVE RIZZO, COMEDIAN AND SPEAKER: Good to be here, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: Not bad. But, let me ask you this first of all. Based on your time in schools, are kids looking for something like a talking dog now or do they want to be reassured by people? I mean, I recall the fourth grade is the last time that even a few of us could be serious about a talking animal.
RIZZO: No, I think it‘s a great idea because, let‘s face it. The kids today, children today need to know what‘s going on in the country and what better way to reach them than to use a little bit of levity, a little bit of humor. I mean, that‘s why “Sesame Street” has been so popular for so many years. All over the world now, you have all of these children sitting in front of their TVs listening to all these crazy characters with their voices—OK, this is what we‘re going to do now—you know, and all that stuff. And they‘re not just learning the three R‘s, they‘re learning the do‘s and don‘ts about life crisis. What not to do when this happens, what not to do when this happens. And they‘re not being threatened by it because they‘re having fun while they‘re learning.
OLBERMANN: So, if Homeland Security sought your advice on creating a dog that kids like, friendly, loyal, and wise. Where are you going with this? Poochie from the “Simpson‘s” or “Rin Tin Tin” where you going with this?
RIZZO: I think it‘d be—I think it should be a dog that talks like this—OK, boys and girls, this is what we‘re going to do now. Everyone, pay attention, ah huh—something like that to get them going with a little bit of laughter.
OLBERMANN: Kind of a northernized “Huckleberry Hound” in there.
RIZZO: There you go.
OLBERMANN: I just keep flashing back to my childhood, which was late in the duck and cover era and we were actually still being shown these films about how—you know, Keith, go hide under your desk in the event of nuclear war.
RIZZO: Oh, yeah.
OLBERMANN: And, I can remember—you know, I remember at nine or 10 years old, “What are they kidding? Do they think we have not seen video of mushroom clouds?”
RIZZO: Yes, exactly.
OLBERMANN: If the kids are too old, we‘re talking fourth grade through eighth grade, which is to the equivalent if 30-years-ago of maybe sixth grade through 10th grade, they‘re much sharper, much earlier. If they encounter Ridgy the American Shepherd, does that not become—risk becoming a completely unbelievable character for kids who can clearly remember 9/11? Does there not have to be a serious element here, too?
RIZZO: Oh, I think you can be serious. But, what better way to be serious is to make it nonlife threatening. I think humor is a way to decipher the fear that represents what‘s happening in this country and around the world. There‘s a difference between laughing at something that‘s very serious and laughing off the fear that represents it. And we have to allow ourselves and our children to laugh off the fear.
And to have a character like that, I think it would be an excellent way to tell the kids, what needs to be done, what doesn‘t have to be done, without them feeling that fear. I mean if they watch the news all the time and they see from that one perspective that can cause a lot of fear. Parents have to let them know that this is a new normal that we are experiencing and how we respond to the new normal will determine our quality of life.
OLBERMANN: OK lastly, there‘s a contest next month—next month is National Preparedness Month, do you have a name for this dog? Do you have anything off the top of your head?
RIZZO: I can‘t think of anything, but I think children should be able to name the dog. I think that would be a wonderful idea. Bring the dog out there and say I‘m looking for a name, what do you think I should be called? And let the kids name him.
OLBERMANN: Well, I‘m still going for Ridgy, but that‘s says more about me than it says about the dog. Steve Rizzo, thanks for your input.
OLBERMANN: Thanks for joining us.
RIZZO: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN underway, now. Up next: Supporters turning out, then passing out. It‘s swooning season at the Kerry campaign stops. Our No. 4 story is next.
Then later, with friends like these: how the one-time poster boy on Pentagon on prewar Iraq now stands accused of trying to rip off his fellow countrymen. The rise and fall of Ahmed Chalabi coming up later on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Forget your touch voting screen machine and your possible terror attacks; turns out the biggest threat this coming election could be the people who are trying to help you vote at the polls. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: It is the oldest joke in the book: if the election were held today, boy, would the candidates have been surprised!
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Asked that particular question, respondents to one poll did not say a preference larger than the statistical margin of error. John Kerry with the lead, 48 percent to the president‘s 45 percent, the associated—the Associated Press, rather, doing the asking in just that way: if the election were held today, for whom would you vote? The three point lead is less than their margin of error. “Time” asks the same question—if it were held today, Kerry 51, Bush 44, more than the margin of error.
Back to the “A.P.” poll though, respondents were also asked if certain descriptions matched either both or neither of their candidates. Intelligence: not much has changed since the “A.P.” asked the question last month -- 86 percent of people said they described John Kerry that way, the president got a 63 percent on that one. Mr. Bush though, coming out ahead once again on decisive, 68 percent; Senator Kerry, 46.
As to voting itself, when you hear about international monitoring of elections, you think of Sri Lanka or Macedonia or Armenia or the U.S. While the United Nations will not honor a request from 13 Democratic congressmen that it assures the authenticity of the fall vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will, the U.S. is a member.
In a letter to those 13 members of the House, Assistant Secretary of State Paul Kelly said the OSCE had already been invited to monitor the November 2 proceeding. The State Department denies there is a connection to the infamous Florida chads pointing out that the organization also monitored the 2002 mid terms, as well as the California recall last year. We will not get its full attention, though. It also has to verify fairness of the vote in Kosovo.
But the greatest threat to the sanctity of the fall elections is not subterfuge, nor waving chads, nor voter destroying touch screens, nor even the purported threat to disturb their integrity by al Qaeda. Nope, it is the volunteers at the polls themselves, so concludes the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
It says the average age of an American worker at a voting precinct is 72, “there‘s a growing complexity at the polling place, if all we did in November is what we did in 2000, that‘s going to be a problem,” so says DeForest Soaries, chairman of commission. If his name rings a bell, it should, he is the man who touched off the whole election postponement controversy by asking his superiors what the laws were about such an eventuality.
It‘s not merely the senior‘s influence on the vote that is at risk; apparently it is them, too. Older voters attending John Kerry‘s rallies are reportedly fainting at a rate of one per. As reported in the latest issue of the magazine, “The New Republic,” the crowds are sports arena large, around 20,000, who wait to get front row access, as much as five hours.
The excitement, more reminiscent of a Britney Spears concert. And quoting the magazine, “After waiting hours in the hot sun for the chronically late bus convoy, at least one person at every stop winds up on a stretcher. Four were reportedly carried out in one Missouri event last week.
Ryan Lizza logged seven days on the campaign trail with Senators Kerry and Edwards, is covering the election for “The New Republic” where he is a senior editor.
Mr. Lizza, good evening. Thanks for your time.
RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So, you were there. It was your observation that the Kerry supporters are dropping somewhat like flies? Is this swooning, heat stroke? You know, what is it and what are they doing about it?
LIZZA: Yeah. Well, you know, I read in one of the local papers after one event that 100 were treated for heat exhaustion at one event. But, it‘s, anyone that‘s attending the rallies, it‘s one of the first things you notice as you‘re watch the candidates and their wives speak is you start looking in the audience, and people start going down.
You know, in the first few day of the tour when Vanessa Kerry, who is
a medical student, when she was traveling with her dad, very often she
would kind of rush into the crowd and help people, which is kind of nice,
until an EMT arrived. So yeah, it‘s definitely happening. People are hot
· you know, they‘re waiting hours for Kerry to show up. And when he gets there, they get excited, they haven‘t had enough to drink and—you know, they go down.
OLBERMANN: I‘m not Chris Matthews. I‘m not a political expert, but it would seem contraindicated to me to have your supporters passing out at your rallies. This would give a whole bad patina to the whole campaign.
How where the Kerry folks spinning this? Are they spinning it?
LIZZA: You know, I did—I did ask one Kerry aide about this and she sort of jokingly said, “It‘s because we have overwhelming support among the senior community.” So, they have a little bit more—a little more elderly voters going to their events and they have a little bit tougher time staying out in the sun all day waiting for Kerry to show up.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s broaden this out to the events themselves, as your piece illustrated, despite the occasional appearance of pro-Bush hecklers with megaphones. This is shaping up as one of the more orchestrated of campaigns.
Do you have a favorite moment along there where the event management utterly failed?
LIZZA: Where it utterly failed? I think my favorite moment, sort of, one where the stage—where the production of this thing sort of didn‘t work out, was just some of it Kerry‘s gaps along the way, are kind of fun to listen to. A lot of them have been reported. But, Kerry was in Ohio and he was telling the folks in Ohio how he doesn‘t want to get involved with the football rivalries in the states, so he‘s just for all Buckeye football, well that was fine in Ohio, but he went across the border to Michigan...
OLBERMANN: Oh no.
LIZZA: ...and he gave the same line, of course, I didn‘t know this, but most people out there know that Michigan and Ohio are fierce football rivals, so when he said that he was for Buckeye football in Michigan, the crowd didn‘t like that so much and they booed.
OLBERMANN: Oh no, he kind of needs Michigan, doesn‘t he?
LIZZA: Yeah, he needed Ohio, too.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, but—well, if it got back to Ohio, he‘d get a bigger vote in Ohio, but you have to sacrifice Michigan that way.
LIZZA: That‘s true. Yeah. It may be worth it.
OLBERMANN: The feel out there, obviously before the convention this was all anti—it wasn‘t all anti-Bush, but John Kerry‘s support was based on, he is not Bush. Is it still that way or is there—what the polls have suggested, some genuine pro-Kerry feeling developing out there?
LIZZA: You know, the poll suggest that you can really feel it,
anecdotally on the ground, I mean there are a lot of light moments, a lot
of fun to talk about some of this lighter stuff, but seriously the crowds
there are huge. And the national press, actually, hasn‘t been, I don‘t
think, picking that up as much as the local reporters are. He‘s attracting
· you know 20, 25,000 people to some events. And people are—you talk to people and it‘s not just—you know, they don‘t want Bush in there anymore, it‘s—we believe in this guy, they loved his speech.
You hear that a lot of that along the rope line, people waiting for hours to shake this guy‘s hands, a lot of compliments, and you know, I think they‘re translating a little of that anti-Bush feeling into pro-Kerry feeling at this point.
OLBERMANN: Well, the national media missed Harry Truman all together in 1948, so I suppose it wouldn‘t be a surprise...
LIZZA: It wouldn‘t be the first time we‘ve missed something.
OLBERMANN: Ryan Lizza, a senior editor with “The New Republic.”
Thanks very much for your perspective from being out on the trail with him.
LIZZA: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And two postscripts to the flap last week over the anti-Kerry ad, featuring other Vietnam War officers accusing him of every sin in the calendar. The “Boston Globe” says it is standing by its quotes in which one of the speakers in the commercial, Lieutenant Commander George Elliott, repudiated his accusations. In it that Kerry had lied about the incident in which he earned his Silver Star medal. It also proved that its reporter, the “Globe” did, who interviewed Elliot, was not connected to the official campaign biography Kerry.
And what amounts to the book length version of the ad got hacked. BarnesandNoble.com reporting that somebody got into its Web site today and changed the name of the book that came from the right-wing publisher, Regnery Press, from “Unfit for Command” to “Fit for Command.” The hacking was undone in a matter of hours.
On the stump and on the floor, our fourth story: politics.
Next up, onto “Oddball,” the nightly roundup of all things strange and kind of disgusting. Same to you, fellow.
Later on COUNTDOWN, the comeuppance for the man who once famously said, “I can do whatever I want. I‘m rich and famous and bigger than you.” Bigger includes a unpaid $5,500 grocery bill. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: We‘re back and we pause the COUNTDOWN now, because weird thing happen all the time in the world and we‘ve appointed ourselves to tell you all about it. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
Meet Koko, a 33-year-old gorilla from Woodside, California. That would be Koko pointing, I assume. Koko lives at the Gorilla Foundation and over the years has learned a lot of sign language -- 1,000 words worth—
Wordsworth. Not sure when she learned the sign for the word “pain,” but she recently began using it like crazy while pointing to her mouth. Turns out Koko had a bad toothache. Her handlers sprung into action and built a pain-o-meter for Koko to point to, the higher the number, the worse the pain. Soon she learned the sign for “numb me up again, you med school dropout,” and all was resolved.
Apes acting like people, now people acting like ape. Oh, that‘s very classy, sir. The 14th annual Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest in Portland, Oregon. The mayors of Portland and Hermiston compete along the various council people and city commissioner. Baseball‘s Roger Clemens was not there. The battle is for best distance. And if you wear dentures, you want to make sure they‘re in good and tight. Somehow the event is supposed to promote goodwill between farmers who grow the watermelons and the city folks who spit huge hunks of it out on to the sidewalk. They‘re planning a separate event that would promote goodwill with the people who have to clean up this mess.
As far as sporting events go, at least seed spitting takes a bit of physical effort. The World Sauna Championships require no such tongue and lip dexterity, at least we hope not. Apparently all you have to do is sit in the box. Of course it is 230 degrees in the box. Probably wouldn‘t want to try this at home; 90 competitors from around the world gathering in Finland for the event, the female champ lasting eight minutes. The winner among the men was four time champ Leo Pusa, who lasted 12 minutes in a sauna, breaking the record set by Maury Sline from the movie “The Blues Brothers.”
And, finally, everyone love fireworks, even in Athens, Greece, where smoke and flame on a giant superstructure, probably an image they‘re hoping to avoid this month. But it was a grand inauguration of the Antirion bridge, the world‘s longest span over water. And with The Olympics just around the corner, any improvement in the city infrastructure is cause for celebration.
And we have to admit, if the Games are half as good as these fireworks, you‘ll be wishing they were televised back here in the U.S. They are? They‘re televised? MSNBC? Why, that‘s the name of MSNBC.
“Oddball” in the books.
We pick up the COUNTDOWN, per se, in a moment. His critics here say he counterfeited all that prewar WMD intel. His critics in Iraq say he counterfeited money. Then, later, getting an education at an alternative high school, complete with alternative history, math and even drama, like World War II ended in 1942. These stories ahead.
First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmaker of this day.
No. 3 Nigel Roder, or you should call him now court jester Niger. He has been hired by English Heritage as the nation‘s first official bearer of that title since the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. “It feels good,” he said. “I am now a national fool.” Welcome to the club, pallie.
No. 2, Will Baker of Tacoma, Washington. It wasn‘t just the Illinois Senate race where the Republicans had a hard time finding anybody who would run, also in the contest for auditor of Washington state. They did no background check on Mr. Baker. They just put him on the ballot to run against a three-term Democratic incumbent. And it was then they discovered that, in the last 12 years, he had been arrested at least 19 times, once as recently as two months ago, usually for refusing to stop speaking at city and county council meetings. Oh, boy.
And, No. 1, LaToya Jackson, or as you should now call her, Toy Jackson. She has changed her name—well, better that than her nose.
OLBERMANN: Keep your friends close, the old bromide goes, but your enemies closer. For the U.S. and Iraq, the difference between the two group has sometimes seemed so small as to be indistinguishable. Ask Muqtada al-Sadr and Ahmad Chalabi.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, it already felt like the U.S. had seen more treaties broken with the radical cleric with the Sioux. And as for the Pentagon‘s former fan favorite, Mr. Chalabi. The interim government some of our leaders thought he would be leading by now is instead trying to arrest him.
Our correspondent in Baghdad is Preston Mendenhall.
PRESTON MENDENHALL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the fifth day of the uprising, Muqtada al-Sadr was defiant. He called on his militiamen to fight to the death against U.S. and Iraqi forces. Some 5,000 now surround the holy city of Najaf, where al-Sadr is based. Al-Sadr‘s message seemed to echo across Iraq.
Under threat by his army, key southern oil fields suspended production today. In Basra, his fighters shot mortars at the U.S. and British embassies. The military says almost 400 al-Sadr militiamen have been killed.
(on camera): While the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi attempts to control the al-Sadr uprising, it is also dealing with other rivals.
(voice-over): Namely Ahmad Chalabi, former exile who had hoped to run Iraq with American support. He now faces arrest, charged with counterfeiting. Zuher al-Malachi (ph) is Iraq‘s chief criminal judge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chalabi until now is a suspect. He may come to the court and the court will evaluate.
MENDENHALL: But from neighboring Iran, Chalabi claimed the charges are politically motivated.
AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: I deny them. They are not true. The judge who will make them has a personal vendetta against me and my family.
MENDENHALL: Ahmad Chalabi once enjoyed unprecedented influence and access in Washington. It was Chalabi‘s sources who claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
AMATZIA BARAM, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: When it was found out that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, then his credibility suffered a great blow.
MENDENHALL: Chalabi‘s $300,000 monthly paychecks from the Pentagon stopped in May. What did the U.S. have to say about Chalabi today?
J. ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This is not a question of past associations or friendships. This is a question of the Iraqi justice system at work.
MENDENHALL: Also facing arrest, Chalabi‘s nephew Salem, head of the tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein. He is accused of murder and spoke today in London.
SALEM CHALABI, NEPHEW OF AHMAD CHALABI: Clearly, the intention is to discredit me.
MENDENHALL: While the Chalabi‘s claim it is personal and political, the judge who wants them arrested says Iraq‘s new leaders have no hand in the case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nobody above me but law.
MENDENHALL: Iraq continues to struggle with violence and political rivalry, leaving the new government battling on many fronts.
Preston Mendenhall, NBC News, Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: Joining me now to plot the course of Chalabi‘s fall and its implications is Robin Wright, diplomatic reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Thanks again for some of your time tonight.
ROBIN WRIGHT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Nice to be with you.
OLBERMANN: I suppose this could have been worse. I suppose he could have been indicted in the U.S. over supplying the bad intelligence on WMD. But is he not in essence the symbol of everything that has not gone right for the U.S. in Iraq?
WRIGHT: Absolutely. This is a man who was the face of the pro-Iraq invasion forces in the United States, the ally of the Pentagon, the man who sat behind first lady Laura Bush as recently as this year‘s State of the Union address.
He is widely now believed to be responsible for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. He claimed that he would be the Spartacus of Iraq,that he would bring support from all corners of Iraq behind the American intervention. And of course that failed as well. He is now facing some of the charges for shenanigans he is widely believed to be up with since his return to Iraq a year ago.
OLBERMANN: Clearly, the Middle East produces charismatic characters or brings them in from elsewhere, like Lawrence of Arabia. But, obviously, this government fell for this man hook, line and sinker. Some of the media apparently did, too, in more than one sense. But with more than a year since he fell out of grace in the U.S. perspective, is there a clear sense now of why so many facets of this government, of this country, were so credulous relating to him?
WRIGHT: Well, remember, we had very little human intelligence inside Iraq. And he was the face of—one of the few faces we had access to. And so when he provided defectors who would move to his Iraqi National Congress, the group he founded in exile, this was a source of information for us.
And so this is a man we relied on far disproportionately than we should have with any one individual.
OLBERMANN: And, still, is it fair to say that there is a chance that he is not guilty of this particular charge and he is just being squeezed politically by what is a very new but a fairly sharp new Iraqi government?
WRIGHT: Both American and Iraqi officials are actually asking that question. There are very few people who know the extent of the evidence against him. And the fact is, it comes at a very interesting time politically.
Iraq this weekend will have its first national conference, the big test, first test for the new government. And this is a moment when Chalabi was expected to make his bid for political resurrection to head this new group and become an effective rival to the new prime minister. And there are some who believe that, you know, this may be a moment where there‘s a kind of face off between these two longstanding rivals. It is going to be a long time before we really know the truth behind this brewing legal drama.
OLBERMANN: Well, if he does it, he‘s probably going to have start it, at least, in Iran.
Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent of “The Washington Post,” thanks once again for taking the time to join us tonight.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Though, in seeking to arrest Chalabi, the government of Iyad Allawi will not be explaining that wish on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera. The interim government has ordered them to close the Baghdad office of the network for 30 days, accusing Al-Jazeera of—quote—
“inciting hatred, failing to show the reality of Iraqi political life and agreeing to become the voice of terrorist groups.”
While supporters of freedom of the press decry the move, its critics say that Al-Jazeera is strengthening terrorists by airing videos of hostages, gruesome beheadings and the messages of Osama bin Laden and company. Banning the network is an attempt by the interim government to restore stability to Iraq after the recent rash of violence in the holy Shiite city of Najaf.
We appear still to be on the air. Next, the No. 2 story. We‘ll do what we can to change that, the start of the COUNTDOWN‘s back-to-school week. We‘re the only show with the guts to bring back its most controversial past figure. And later, how dressing like a sailor and wearing no pants can earn you a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
All that ahead, but first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hit the ship. It hit the ship like a missile.
It‘s the only way to describe of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unheard of. The storm that hits is such a massive blow, the hurricane picking up another load as it came across, just incredible bad luck.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you a big animal or a little animal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do horses only.
BUSH: Horses only?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Horses only.
BUSH: I was going to say, Barney has got him a headache. You know who Barney is, don‘t you?
OLBERMANN: Putting lives, not to mention careers, on the line. We kick off back-to-school week by interviewing the baddest boy on the playground.
OLBERMANN: Our No. 2 story tonight, COUNTDOWN begins back-to-school week, a salute to the top moments and guests in our record-breaking year and one-third on the air.
And we begin with our most controversial interviewee ever. The man was belligerent, rude and poorly dressed. Perhaps you‘ll remember his appearance from June of 2003 discussing the baseball corked bat incident involving star slugger Sammy Sosa.
OLBERMANN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You are on record repeatedly as saying that tampering with the rules to increase home runs is a—quote—“threat to the integrity of baseball.” How can you...
OLBERMANN: That was about steroids, sir. Steroids. We are talking steroids. That‘s one thing. Do not put words into my mouth.
OLBERMANN: You pompous, condescending hypocrite. You never have the same opinion two days in a row.
OLBERMANN: Cork, like the stuff in your head. Cork.
OLBERMANN: Who cares about sports anyway, you cheese-eating surrender monkey?
OLBERMANN: So he burned his bridges here. In fact, he burned the bridge and the river running beneath it. This network is big enough to invite him back on to our air.
OLBERMANN: Keith Olbermann, good evening.
OLBERMANN: Good afternoon.
OLBERMANN: Already he starts. We give you a chance to resurrect your career and we get this?
OLBERMANN: I‘m sorry. You‘re right. Here, you‘ve been big enough to admit your mistake and I‘m not even giving you a chance to make another one.
OLBERMANN: All right, let‘s cut right to it.
One of your many employers is conducting its own version, a pale copy, I should point out, of COUNTDOWN‘s back-to-school week. And yet it refused to invite you back to participate. One of its executives said of you, “The damage he could cause in one day in our newsroom could put us in damage control for two years.”
OLBERMANN: First of all, have you seen their newsroom? A stiff wind hits the side of the building and they‘re in damage control for two years.
OLBERMANN: I‘m not sure they meant that literally. I think it underscores that you have a history of being difficult to work with.
OLBERMANN: Difficult? Name me one time I‘ve been difficult to work with.
OLBERMANN: Well, there was that clip we just showed.
OLBERMANN: All right. All right. Smarty, name me one other time.
OLBERMANN: We need to bring some order to this. Let‘s just hold it off here.
OLBERMANN: Order? You‘re out of order.
OLBERMANN: In retrospect, this may have been an error.
OLBERMANN: The whole trial is out of order. They‘re out of order.
OLBERMANN: Shut up.
OLBERMANN: You shut up. You‘re always telling people to shut up.
You shut up.
OLBERMANN: I‘ve never told anybody to shut up.
OLBERMANN: Oh, really?
OLBERMANN: Shut up.
OLBERMANN: Shut up.
OLBERMANN: I think we‘re going to have to abandon this interview because of the damage you‘ve done to our newsroom, which has put us in damage control for two years.
OLBERMANN: That‘s not damage, you nitwit. That‘s construction in the newsroom.
OLBERMANN: Keith Olbermann, thanks very much for being on the show.
OLBERMANN: Thank you for having me.
OLBERMANN: Thorn in my side since Eisenhower was president, I wear.
Segueing from the first edition of back-to-school week to our regular roundup of the absurdities of life, the celebs, we bring you our feature, “Keeping Tabs.” And it‘s official. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is way too big.
The latest recipient of a star stuck into the slimy, sun-seared sidewalks is Donald Duck, who does not really exist. He is a cartoon. Of course, why shouldn‘t Hollywood honor a fictional character who dresses in a sailor suit but has never been known to wear pants? He fits right in, in that neighborhood. Mr. Duck made his debut in the 1934 short “The Wise Little Hen.” He now owns 26 percent of all Disney stock. He helped Michael Eisner to relinquish some his boardroom power last winter.
From Donald to the Donald. Donald Trump is coming out with his own line of clothing, three-button, side-vented jackets, mostly, price around $575 per, a lot, but not as much as Trump pays for them. Wait a minute. Have you ever noticed this before, that Donald Trump‘s hair and Donald Duck‘s hair are virtually identical? So you own any sailor suits without pants, Mr. Trump?
Don‘t count on the third Donald to buy any of the Trump clothing.
Right now, he couldn‘t afford any of Donald Duck‘s designer threads. “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson has been ordered to pay an Aspen grocery store nearly $6,000, most of it in unpaid food bills, the rest in interest and court costs. In May, Johnson lost his 17-acre ranch near the Colorado resort in a bankruptcy proceeding; $6,000 in groceries in Aspen is what, a can of honey roasted peanuts a six-pack?
And few actresses gain screen immortality based entirely on one role. Yet that was the case for Fay Wray. Now one of America‘s best known and longest lived movie stars is dead. The human lead in “King Kong” passed away yesterday at her home in New York nearly 71 years after the release of the film that put her forever in the public consciousness.
She loved to tell of how she was approached for the part by a director who told her, your co-star is going to be the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood. Fay Wray, who starred in 75 films between 1923 and 1958, was 96 years old.
Still ahead, good education is about surprising your students, like the school where they‘re taught about the 53 U.S. states and how two plus four plus five equals 10.
That story ahead.
First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day.
OLBERMANN: It was suggested by our story last week about the Los Angeles reality television show in which the winner gets the services of an immigration lawyer for a year and with it the false hope that this will help get them a green card. The business of bilking newcomers to this country flourishes today as, certainly as it did when the Black Hand terrified the Italian immigrants of the early 1900s.
Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, another case of immigrant abuse, far more subtle, probably much more damaging. Hundreds of people, mostly newly arrived Hispanics, promised a high school degree by a chain of -- quote, unquote—“schools.” Not only were the so-called degrees worthless, but much of what the California Alternative High School taught its no doubt students frustrated students was factually incorrect.
The place never had a commercial, but, if it did, this is what it could advertise.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): After completing our course, you will understand the complex truth behind Old Glory, our nation‘s flag. Yes, it has 50 stars on it, one for each state, but there are 53 states. They just haven‘t updated it yet to reflect the new states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
Our dedicated teaching professionals will explain all four branches of the federal government for you, executive, legislative, judicial, and administrative. The administrative branch is the one that runs the Treasury Department. And you don‘t hear much about it because it works behind the scenes. And our political science department‘s expert staff will simplify the often complex and confusing American political scene.
There are two houses of Congress, the Senate, which is where the Democrats go, and the House of Republicans. But you‘ll learn more about our nation than just today‘s facts, much more. We‘ll teach you history. World War II, you‘ve seen it on television, but did you know it actually happened? Yes, it did, between the years 1938 and 1942.
And the history of our social problems, like child abuse. The major form of child abuse in the 1990s was crack babies. The major form of child abuse in the 1970s was swallowing goldfish and streaking. But we at CAHS don‘t believe that all there is to life is the government. There‘s math and how two plus four plus five equals 10 and so does two plus four plus four. It‘s the new math.
We‘ll also learn you some culture, starting with Arthur Miller‘s great American play “Death of a Traveling Salesman.” And don‘t forget our philosophy department, where you can read the works of the great Greek Aristotale.
Yes, for just $1,450, you, too, can get your sort of legal diploma from the California Alternative High School, with 30 locations here in our great state of Cafilornia.
Diplomas may be handwritten. Facts may be changed without prior notice. You number of states may vary.
The state of California today froze the assets of the school. It had
previously filed lawsuits demanding $32 million to be returned to students.
Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska had already acted against California
Alternative High School in the Midwest, meaning they are in trouble with
four of the states of the Union, four out of the 53.
That`s COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I`m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
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