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Remembering 9/11; Suspicious Vessel in the Potomac

Aired September 11, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to show you once again some of these live pictures now from New York. Of course, still reading the victims' names at the World Trade Center site.

And we are waiting for another moment of silence as we continue to listen. At 9:59 that moment of silence will commemorate the fall of the South Tower. All right. In order to - let's go ahead - I believe the bell is going to ring. Let's go ahead and listen.


COLLINS: Once again, that moment of silence now and the ringing of the bell in order to observe the time that the South Tower collapsed and fell to the ground. A number of people gathered as you can see at the World Trade Center site today, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Now to the governor of New Jersey, John Corzine, who is going to be delivering a reading, and shortly we will hear from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani as well.

GOV. JOHN CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: ... I shall not live in vain.

CASEY GROSS: My name is Casey Gross, brother in law of...

COLLINS: Do you remember where you were exactly eight years ago? This morning the nation pauses to remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Somber ceremonies being held at the sites of the attacks including New York's ground zero. You're listening to that ceremony right now.

Also, you are looking at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field.






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter, Deora Francis.




COLLINS: As we continue to listen to the names of the victims from Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the bell tolling at the temporary memorial, you remember some of those names and the rush to the cockpit and the rush to try to save that plane from going down at its intended target which was most likely the Capitol Building or maybe even the White House. Some very brave stories coming from Flight 93.

As we continue here, you see the other pictures at the Pentagon as well as New York City. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was just at the podium moments ago. We are waiting on a moment of silence out of Shanksville now. The moment that Flight 93 did crash into the field that you are looking at. We will continue to follow all of these ceremonies and remembrances today on September 11th very closely and bring you all of those moments of silence. Of course, the best that we can today.

But there is other news that we need to get out to you. In fact, breaking news right now. We want to get to Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne, I know that you've been following this story for us. Happening in the Potomac, actually a restricted area in the Potomac and the Coast Guard is very much on alert and quite frankly engaged at this time.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You can see the picture there. We're looking at the picture of the Potomac River. This is between the memorial and 14th Street bridges. There's a security zone there in place because of the ceremonies going on at the Pentagon today and we have seen at least one boat come up the Potomac and challenge the Coast Guard and try to get into that security zone.

The Coast Guard has been very clear in their radio instructions to the boats to stop. That they are in violation telling them to leave but it appears that these boats have not paid attention to the Coast Guard directives and have continued. At one point there appeared to be bit of a game going on where a Coast Guard boat would try to cutoff the boat that's intruding. The boat would veer off to the right and attempt to go further up the river. Again, it would be cutoff again. Again it would veer to the side.

So, it's sort of a cat-and-mouse game going on there with at least one boat. They have warned the people on this intruding boat that they could face fines and seizures, confiscation of gear. At one point, the Coast Guard even sent a transmission saying that they have expended 10 rounds of ammunition. They've instructed these people to get out of the zone, to come to the stern of the boat but as far as we can tell from you this vantage point and from the radio traffic we're hearing, this incident is continuing on the Potomac River. Heidi.

COLLINS: Jeanne, we are continuing to look at this video here of the Potomac River coming in from our affiliate there in Washington D.C.. This is pretty incredible. I have to say that as a story is developing here and I learned that rounds had actually been fired. I mean, that really changes the story.

MESERVE: Well, one presumes that these are warning rounds. We don't know for sure. But certainly the Coast Guard in a situation like this wouldn't hesitate to take out the engine of the boat if that's what it took to stop it from going into a zone where it should not be. It's not unusual to see boaters inadvertently come in to the Coast Guard security zone but usually when the Coast Guard says well, wait a minute stop, this isn't where you're not supposed to be, they turn around and they high tail it out of there.

This person seems intent or people seem intent on trying to violate that zone, for what purpose we can't possibly say. But the Coast Guard putting up defense at this point.

COLLINS: Yes, Jeanne, and I'm not sure if you're able to look at a monitor right now to be watching these live pictures with me or not, but I'm trying to give people a good idea of what they are seeing at this very moment because we of course see boats with flashing lights on them. That would be the Coast Guard trying to get a look at where the suspicious vessels, if you will, actually are in this shot.

MESERVE: Yes. You know, I can't quite make it out. It's such a long shot of the scene that I can't be sure which boats are Coast Guard boats and which are the intruder. At this point because of the spacing between the boats, my guess is that these are all Coast Guard vessels.

COLLINS: Sure. Yes.

MESERVE: Of course, we can't see the whole river. That's a bit of a disadvantage here. This is a fixed shot from a building.

COLLINS: Yes, certainly. In fact, one thing we can show, Jeanne, if you hang with me here is some video that was given to us just moments ago. You can see a little bit better beyond the first bridge there in this restricted zone. More boats and you see obviously a little bit more movement here because of the wake of the boats. I can tell they're going faster. It shows them going after -


MESERVE: You can see a little bit of the chase going on on the side of the screen there. At one point we did hear radio transmissions of someone saying bang, bang, bang, but it's unclear to us who was speaking at that point in time. If that was the Coast Guard indicated that they were firing some rounds or whether this was some traffic coming off this vessel -


MESERVE: That appears to be challenging them.

COLLINS: OK. Very good. Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve this morning. Jeanne, let us know if you learn anything else. Let me take a moment now to bring Fran Townsend, the former director of Homeland Security. Because, Fran, I'm not sure exactly where you are. Are you able to see this right now?

FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: I am, Heidi. I'm looking at the same monitor that you are. It is difficult for us here in the bureau to make out what's going on. But you know, we should underscore it is very unusual even for warning shots to be fired by the Coast Guard at a vessel. Obviously they're on alert today because of the anniversary of 9/11 and the ceremony but if they actually - if we could confirm that they actually fired rounds that would be a very unusual step for them to take.

COLLINS: Well, I thought so. Because as Jeanne was explaining to us, you know, the Coast Guard can come up to - I don't know, a weekend boater or someone who isn't quite familiar with this restricted space on the Potomac River and just say you are in restricted space, are you aware of that? You have to leave and that usually ends up being the end of it. But to escalate it to the point where they actually had to fire perhaps warning shots certainly seems like things are a little bit more serious.

TOWNSEND: Yes. And it's sort of incomprehensible why a recreational boater wouldn't heed the warning and direction of the Coast Guard. You know, we also see this, frankly, people don't really realize this that we also see this with small passenger planes, you know, recreational passenger planes. Sometimes someone will violate a restricted zone, be radioed to and they immediately get out immediately because it's not intentional.


TOWNSEND: This is pretty important and worth watching for us.

COLLINS: Let me ask you this, Fran, and I certainly don't want to speculate because we don't know exactly where we're at right now but one interesting thing that we're looking at as we get these live pictures in the Potomac there is that the Coast Guard boats with the flashing lights on top are not driving as fast as they were before.

Now they are just mobile in that space. I'm also seeing obviously traffic flowing freely across both of those bridges there. If it were going get to the point or if we're going to the point of potential, you know, I'm not quite sure how to put it. But if this was some type of...

TOWNSEND: Confrontation.

COLLINS: Exactly. Confrontation. Then would the bridges be closed down as well to get people out of that space? Passersby?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's entirely possible depending on how the situation or confrontation would escalate. It is conceivable that they could close the bridges, mostly just to protect innocent passersby from getting involved in the crossfire.

But the Coast Guard is a very disciplined, very deliberate organization. They practice these sorts of missions and the idea is to keep it as contained as possible. It may very well be after this initial confrontation, the recreational boat goes away and situation returns to normal which is what we would be seeing in normal patrols back in the Potomac.

COLLINS: Well, Fran, we sure do appreciate the insight in all these. And now we are seeing them speed up once again. It's really tough to try and make out what might be happening here. We do have something -- I hope that it's available right now. Some of the audio communications that were taking place. Not sure if these are live. Let's go ahead and listen. And Fran, his within me. Tell me what you hear.

Obviously we are not able to bring those up right now. But I think we've been able to hear a little bit in our control room. So we're going to continue to try to bring that audio to air just as soon as we can get it because I think we might have a little bit better idea with you, with us, Fran, as to what these communications sound like and what they mean.

But right now we still see a lot of activity. What typically happens next in a situation like this, Fran? Is there any way to know?

TOWNSEND: Well, difficult to say. There's no question, the boats on the Potomac will be communicating with Coast Guard headquarters which, by the way. is a very short distance from the scene you're looking at. Coast Guard headquarters who will be communicating with the secretary of Homeland Security and her command center and keeping her apprised.

The operational control of this incident will remain with the Coast Guard, the commandant of the Coast Guard will be in the chain of command. Obviously in terms of making any decisions particularly something like the authorization to fire on a recreational boat.

COLLINS: All right. Obviously great job by our affiliate here getting this video in and really trying to stay trained on those boats. Everything that's happening once again on the Potomac River.

I just want to update everybody quickly. The Coast Guard has apparently fired some type of shots. We quite frankly do not know if those were warning shots but according to Jeanne Meserve and Fran Townsend, who we're talking with right now, former Homeland Security Secretary. That's likely the case.

Apparently, ten rounds were fired on a boat that came into this restricted space that's very well known in the area of the Potomac that you're looking at right now. In fact, I'm going to try once again. I'm going to try to pull up that audio communication between the Coast Guard vessels. Let's go ahead and listen in one more time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't slow down (INAUDIBLE). Stop your vessel. You will be fired on.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: All right. Once again that's some of the communications that we heard the Coast Guard. To me, Fran, if you were able to hear that and if you are still with us, it sounds to me like that was actually communication with the suspicious boat.

TOWNSEND: That's right. It sounds like what we were listening to was the warning from the Coast Guard patrol vessel to the boat telling -- warning them, you're in a restricted zone. Get out of it. And if you don't heed their command or direction, you may be fired upon. You know, that's a standard -- what you heard was sort of standard process for the Coast Guard to warn a recreational vehicle that they violated a temporary restricted zone. The interesting thing to me is whether the fact that the recreational vehicle didn't immediately respond to that.

COLLINS: Yes, I mean, is it possible they just didn't hear the warning? I mean, they would hear that, correct?

TOWNSEND: Yes, hard to imagine that you wouldn't have heard it. You know, you're required to have radio communications gear on board. It would be hard to imagine they didn't hear or didn't know that they had been warned not to mention the Coast Guard patrol boat activity around them to have not heard it and not noticed it is sort of hard to imagine.

COLLINS: Right. Give us some perspective too, Fran. Because we wish to remind everyone that you are coming to us from Washington. And today it would be important obviously on September 11th to know the position of what we're looking at. This portion of the Potomac is restricted because how close is it to some of these federal buildings?

TOWNSEND: Most people don't realize where you are on the Potomac is just adjacent to the Pentagon and understand that on the side of the Pentagon, just off the water was where the memorial is, where the ceremony, where the president was and so there would have been a restricted zone there if the president had been in that area regardless.

But today as you mentioned, Heidi, on a special day where you have the victims' families and all sorts of military officials including the president, it's a particularly sensitive time to be careful about enforcing that security zone and so the Coast Guard rightly took their responsibilities there very seriously and were very aggressive about notifying the recreational boat.

COLLINS: Yes. And you know, I'm still fascinated by looking at the bridges there because traffic obviously still moving very freely. I'm just thinking that if it had escalated or would at some moment escalate they would really be careful and move very quickly to shut down those bridges and keep civilians or motorists out of harm's way.

TOWNSEND: I think that's right. Although what you can't see there is that the Potomac River, there's a little inlet that goes even closer to the Pentagon and you can see the reason that they are very careful about that area is because if you go past the shot we're looking at now and go closer to the Pentagon, you're even in a better position if you wanted to launch some sort of attack from the water on the Pentagon. And so it really is understandable both with why the temporary restrictive zone is there and second why the Coast Guard is so aggressive about protecting it today.

COLLINS: Hey, Fran. What happens to the president during something like this? Just curious. Obviously we just heard him speak a few moments ago, laid the wreath in memory of those that were lost on this day eight years ago. Does the motorcade go this way to get him back to the White House?

TOWNSEND: Well, what would have been happening is the Secret Service has got obviously the ability to monitor the radio frequencies and do all of that live as it's happening. And they'll adjust his motorcade route. They'll advise the security package as they're going.

COLLINS: Right. We are learning too, just to make sure that we're as accurate as we can possibly be in the middle of all of this, the president is back at the White House. Would this be a normal route? I mean, I guess there's no normal route because you always have to change it up. Nobody wants to know exactly where he is at all times. Well, listen, Fran, we certainly appreciate all of the information you were able to get us.

Please let us know if you are hearing anymore here because we want to keep people informed. Really stunning to me that this is happening right now on September 11th. Certainly not what we want to be seeing. Quickly I just want to update everybody as to what you are looking at. We have gotten information and confirmation that the United States Coast Guard is tracking and challenging suspicious boats not quite sure how many.

They have actually now fired shots, not sure if those were warning shots or if the boat was actually fired upon, but they are in restricted space on the Potomac River which we heard Fran describing near federal buildings and that's why it's restricted.

So, we will continue to watch these live pictures right now. I believe we also have one of our correspondents Mike Brooks with us right now. Mike, you were with the Washington, D.C. police for years and years. Can you provide us any more insight as to what would be going on in a situation like this?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Well, Heidi, on 9/11, of course, you're going to have in D.C. and New York, you're going to have extra patrols but keep in mind that the president did go to the Pentagon this morning. Don't want to say how he got there but let me just put it to you this way.

When the president is there, there's a possibility that he may or may not go across either, you see, the bottom of the screen memorial bridge and at the top, the Roosevelt Bridge. They will go ahead and restrict this area around the bridges because of both spots, coming up underneath the bridge, and the president need to use the bridge and the main duty for patrol of the Potomac Rive is the Metropolitan Police Department Harbor Branch.

Now they are supported by the U.S. Coast Guard and I can tell you for a fact that most of the time when the president is moving across the bridge or may move across these bridges, you also have Secret Service on board here one of these Coast Guard boats or the Metropolitan Police Department harbored unit boats.

COLLINS: Understood.

BROOKS: Yes, so you know, that's one of the things. You always have a primary and a secondary route for the president if something happens en route, and there are certain places they go. That's all predetermined by the Metropolitan Police, U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service that works all the presidential details in and around D.C., at the D.C. area.

COLLINS: All right. Mike, we appreciate that very much. And we should also point out just real quickly because people did watch live on our air just moments ago the president speaking at the 9/11 ceremonies. That was at the pentagon obviously. He needed to get back to the White House. He is at the White House. He is secure in that building. But it is interesting to talk about these routes. Obviously constantly changing so that there is no pattern for which mode of travel the president would be taking.

Mike, sure do appreciate that. I want to get now to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr who is standing by with a little bit more information about what we're looking at here, Barbara. And interesting to point out, these two bridges we're taking about memorial in 14th Street, correct?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Heidi. As you look at the screen there, this is very close to the Pentagon. The president was here this morning. That obviously - you can't say often enough is the major concern about the security around this facility. For people who have not visited here, there are several acres of land around the Pentagon. Large parking lots. Highways, roads, for access for the 20,000 people who come to work here every single day.

And what is just absolutely beyond astounding to most of us who are in this building, including the journalists, is everyone had their TV sets on watching the 9/11 ceremonies...

COLLINS: Of course.

STARR: ... watching the president here and suddenly one more time the picture changes and we're right back into a security incident. Word, I can tell you, has spread instantly up and down the hallways. All five floors of this building.

COLLINS: Really.

STARR: People are now really peeled to their TV sets watching this, wanting to know what's going on. Again, for people who haven't been to the Pentagon complex, I think it's interesting to note, one of the big changes after 9/11 -- we talked about 20,000 people come here every day. But they really have moved the roads, they've moved the parking lots. So the general public doesn't have very close access to the building obviously bluntly because of the concern about terrorism and car bombs and that sort of thing.

The waterway, the Potomac River is one area of civilian traffic. Not that close let's be very blunt. You couldn't really blow a boat up on the river and impact the Pentagon. But it is an area of being able to transit up and down so close to the Pentagon on the Virginia side of the river, so close to many federal buildings on the Washington side of the river. So people here watching this unfold very familiar, you're with the piece of water you're seeing, those two bridges which are major commuters routes and waiting to see what happens.

Pentagon security teams watching this also very carefully. We are told at this point, Heidi, for change in the security status around the Pentagon. This is always a place in some sense of lockdown.

COLLINS: Yes, exactly. And as you mentioned so well, certainly on September 11th every year as well that type of security obviously in the forefront of everyone's minds. We continue to watch these pictures, too, Barbara because I keep watching for activity whether or not the Coast Guard boats which we are seeing three of them right now. You can see the flashing lights on top of those boats.

Again, United States Coast Guard here. Whether or not they are traveling, whether or not they are racing around that area as we saw earlier, we now got a helicopter flying through the shot. Not sure -- I mean, that would not be media. Because that's restricted airspace as well, Barbara?

STARR: Well, you know, I think what we know is that any time as Mike Brooks was just saying, the president moves anywhere but especially in Washington, D.C., there is a security zone around him. I think as both Mike and our security correspondent Jeanne Meserve would tell you, since 9/11, there's a real inter agency response that's very quick when anything like this happens.

In the metropolitan Washington area, the metropolitan D.C. police department, federal authorities, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, the U.S. military, there is a very significant inter agency security apparatus and ability to deploy forces very quickly throughout the Washington area for any type of security situation.

I think what's interesting and we perhaps don't know the answer yet as you're just pointing out, what exactly is going on here? If they have these suspicious or suspect boats sort of, if you will, in a lockdown situation, if they have them surrounded, you know, we will see something unfold. When they are chasing them, that's perhaps the most unsettling.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. No question. And Barbara, as we talk to you once again on this day eight years later from the September 11th attacks, I know that you were there at the Pentagon and as you mentioned, everyone talking in the halls right now about what's happening. The concern couldn't really be higher as we continue to look at these live pictures of the Potomac River and what's happening.

STARR: I just to add one thing. You know, we Americans, we sort of tend to forget a little bit. It's been eight years. A lot of people came to work in this building this morning saying oh, you know, it's raining outside, it's miserable.


STARR: We're going outside to the ceremony. You know, we're very sorry for the families but it's another miserable rainy day in Washington D.C., looking at it with a sense of sort of sophisticated boredom if you will. And now we have this. And it really hits you.

COLLINS: Yes, well, yes absolutely. Barbara, I appreciate that. Absolutely. We want to get back to you if you are able to learn anymore information from your seat. The Pentagon. Jeanne Meserve actually, our Homeland Security correspondent does some new information at this moment. We want to get it right out to you. Jeanne, what do you have?

MESERVE: Well, we've been talking to the Coast Guard since we first became aware of this incident. And they still are not able to confirm to us what exactly was happening out there on the river. We are told that (INAUDIBLE), the commandant of the Coast Guard is in the command center at this time, trying to get some answers as to what is going on.

I might point out the Command Center is just a short hop down the river from where this took place. The Coast Guard apparently can't give us any answers yet as to whether how many boats were involved, how serious an incident this was, whether shots were indeed fired or not. We're waiting to get answers on all of that from the U.S. Coast Guard.

COLLINS: Sure. Of course. I just wonder if we're not able to get those answers, does that possibly mean, you know, the incident isn't over? You said weather shots were fired. Over or no?

MESERVE: I think that it is. Looking at that picture, I haven't seen those boats moving at all. I think that it is a static situation right now. You know, there's the possibility that maybe - who knows what they're looking at. They could be perhaps looking at the possibility that this wasn't a real threat at all. Perhaps this was something like a training exercise that might be something that they're looking at. But we haven't gotten any answers yet.

COLLINS: All right.

MESERVE: We are seeing another boat come into the picture now there, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, we are. I can't tell you what that is. Now that none of the others are moving to head it off. So it wouldn't appear to be anything threatening. And might I say that the president has now left the Pentagon. The high threat situation would have been diminished somewhat.

COLLINS: OK. Exactly. Because we had heard just a little while ago that he was back at the White House, inside the White House and that was interesting information to have. Definitely. Again, as you mentioned, Jeanne, a forth boat now in that picture trying figure out whether or not this situation is over or is still being handled, if you will.

Wouldn't it be easy enough to know at this point. I mean, certainly the Coast Guard has television sets and if this were a training exercise wouldn't they want to answer that question quite immediately at this point?

MESERVE: Yes, you would think they would an you would have thought that 9/11 wouldn't be the day for that.


MESERVE: Particularly in the vicinity of the Pentagon. But as I say, we just don't have any answers yet. We can't say that's what it was or whether this was a genuine incident. I can tell you, I was listening to those scanners myself. And I heard them say that ten rounds had been fired. Now there needs to be some question of whether that actually took place or not despite the fact that was on the radio traffic.

COLLINS: Understood.

MESERVE: Some mystery here.

COLLINS: Yes, yes. Well, obviously you need to be checking with your sources and making more of those phone calls because we are trying to get to the bottom of this just unbelievable that we're even talking about it at all on September 11th. We'll stay very, very close to this story. Jeanne Meserve is going to be out, checking with her sources and of course, Barbara Starr, and Mike Brooks.

And I want to take a moment to bring in the former director of Homeland Security, Fran Townsend, once again. Fran, will they ever run a train exercise on September 11th?

TOWNSEND: Heidi, as I said about the fly over, the buzz over of lower Manhattan it would be felony stupidity. If they decided to run a training exercise on September 11th at about the same time that the president is at the Pentagon. It is inconceivable that any right thinking person in the government would have approved such a training and exercise on this day.

COLLINS: Yes, they would never be approved. I mean, how high a level does something like that go? Would the secretary of defense have known about it? Where does that go exactly?

TOWNSEND: Normally a training exercise doesn't go up to the cabinet level. COLLINS: But on this day...

TOWNSEND: Right, exactly, Heidi. And so I wouldn't rule it out. Because the government has made these sorts of mistakes in the past as we've seen. But I mean, it really would be a tragic, horrible mistake for which people should be held accountable by the way if there is a training exercise like this in this area on this day.

And I also think Jeanne Meserve is absolutely right. If this was a training exercise, certainly, the commandant in his command center ought to know that and they've been able to have said that to calm the public. So I think it's awfully odd if this turns out that it's just a training exercise.

COLLINS: OK. All right, Fran. Well, we are obviously making all of those phone calls now. It seems just unbelievable. I can't think of another word if in fact that were the case. But maybe there will be a reason for it if that's the case and we'll learn more about that.

Alongside you Fran, I want to bring up that picture once again. So that everyone knows what we're talking about here. Live pictures that we continue to watch. We're looking at four vessels right there in the Center Memorial Bridge and 14th Street bridge on the Potomac River. Washington, D.C. area, not very far away from several federal buildings that you can just get a little glimpse of on the shores there.

Because the Coast Guard had originally -- the verbiage was began tracking and challenging suspicious boat or boats in the area. This is restricted space. Most boaters know that they are not allowed in this area. Apparently what we are hearing is the Coast Guard went over and said, hey, you have to get out of this area. It's restricted space.

And there were apparently ten rounds fired. Whether they were warning shots or whether it was at the boat, we don't have that information just yet. Also, some possible information that perhaps this was some type of training exercise on September 11. In fact, our Jeanne Meserve has been working the story very hard this morning, and is able to bring us new information right now. Jeanne.

MESERVE: Yes. Well, it looks like a training exercise after all. We're told by a federal source that the Coast Guard is telling the federal government -- others in the federal government that this was indeed a training exercise. We've also heard from a local police agency that they have been told directly by the Coast Guard that this was a training incident.

All of this hubbub this morning along the Potomac River just as 9/11 commemorations were taking place, which included radio traffic saying shuts had been fired, apparently all a training exercise. Not a real intrusion into restricted waters.

COLLINS: You are our homeland security correspondent. Your thoughts? And have you ever heard or seen something going on like this on September 11? What was the reasoning? I'm sure you're asking those questions. I can't believe it.

MESERVE: Well, the Coast Guard hasn't talked directly to us about this yet. We are hearing this through other sources that the Coast Guard is saying they've told the federal government, they've told local police agencies, this was a training exercise.

They have not told us that directly yet. We haven't got all of those questions answered. But, of course, those are questions to be asked. What were they thinking to do this on this particular date on the Potomac River, right next to the Pentagon as ceremonies were taking place, as the president was in place at the Pentagon? It's -- it's -- it's -- I'm speechless over the whole thing. Of course, the good news here is it wasn't a real incident. It is easier because of that.

COLLINS: We should say it again too, Jeanne, wanting everyone to know watching over the last several minutes here as we've been following this story live. Still looking at live pictures of the restricted space in between Memorial Bridge and 14th Street bridge on the Potomac. This was, according to a federal source, a Coast Guard training exercise on September 11.

Fran Townsend, I know you're still with us. Want to bring you in here, too. You call it felony stupidity.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely. This ranks up there with someone approving the buzz over of lower Manhattan with a mock-up of Air Force one. I have to tell you, what we need to have happen right now is commitment on the part of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the commandant of the Coast Guard to come out in front of the press and explain this.

Now, I expect we're not getting our questions answered yet because they don't know what happened. Frankly, they need to come out, they need to apologize, and they need to commit to us that they'll figure it out, and then be transparent about what they do find out. I have to tell you, eight years after September 11, the fact that we've had two of these mistakes in the course of several months is outrageous.

You know, like many Americans, I myself lost somebody on 9/11, and it makes me angry that the government can't get their act together and doesn't yet seem to understand that this really does have an impact on people, especially on the anniversary.

COLLINS: Also we want to make sure that we're clear, Fran, because you can look at it two different ways here. As Jeanne was reporting, we do not -- we have not heard directly from the Coast Guard ourselves that they say they did communicate that this would be a training exercise held today to the federal government. Even if that is the case that we learn later that did happen, what does that say about the communication system?

TOWNSEND: That's right. By the way, why didn't they also alert the press so that there wasn't this -- you know, we didn't go through this period of covering it and not understanding what we were looking at.

There's a whole series of questions. Even if they did tell other federal partners, we need to understand why the communications weren't better.

COLLINS: Right. Listen, we have Mike Brooks standing by, who's apparently got some new information to share as well. He's our law enforcement analyst. What do you have?

BROOKS: You know, Heidi, right after I hung up with you, I was talking with a couple of my federal law enforcement sources. One source with the FBI said they got over their pagers that it was in fact a training exercise.

Now, as Fran was saying, I've been involved in hundreds of training exercises in and around Washington when I was with the FBI joint terrorism task force. I can tell you, this is unbelievable to me as a former law enforcement professional.

Look, if you're doing a training exercise on 9/11, take it down the Potomac River away from the 14th Street bridge, from the Memorial Bridge, from Roosevelt Bridge, from the Pentagon and all of the other federal icons you have in the city. This is just unbelievable to me. Also, what usually happens when you have a training exercise? It's right before you start all of the radio communications talk about shots fired, you make it perfectly clear that it is articulated it is in fact a training exercise.

Was this done? It doesn't sound like it to me. This is just a mistake that is -- unconscionable, especially, you know, a little over an hour after marking the eighth-year anniversary of what happened just hundreds of yards away from where this exercise was going on.

COLLINS: I hear frustration and anger in your voice as well. On a day like this, it's hard not to think it and, Fran, as you mentioned, about victims' family members and how this would make them feel on this day after we have spent a lot of time on it and covering it. Not knowing ourselves what was happening here until we were able to find out that indeed the United States Coast Guard training exercise.

Let me see what more we can find out now. Who do we have on the line with us, guys?

Okay. Fran, you are still with us. Forgive me. What happens next? As you said, you think what should happen -- is this all the way at the level of secretary of defense Robert Gates now, who should come in front of a microphone, saying this is what we did, it was a mistake, we didn't know, they didn't know, or whatever the story turns out to be? He should be fielding that?

TOWNSEND: No. The United States Coast Guard, as you will remember, Heidi, reports into the secretary of homeland security. This is not a Secretary Gates issue...

COLLINS: OK. TOWNSEND: It's a Secretary Napolitano issue. I have no doubt at this point in time the commandant has spoken or will speak the secretary and will have to explain to her what happened, what they did and why it turned out the way it did.

What I was suggesting is -- I do think, just to instill a sense of calm now, the secretary of homeland security and the commandant ought to step in front of the cameras, explain it was a training exercise, apologize to the American people and especially to the victims of 9/11. And commit to the fact they'll try to find out and understand how this went so horribly wrong.

You know, that's going to take a little bit of time. For sure, we need to understand did they notify other federal agencies? Did they notify state and locals? Why didn't they put a notification out to the press?

COLLINS: That's the key question, obviously.

TOWNSEND: They need to commit to us they're going to find out and make that public.

COLLINS: Okay. Very good. Fran Townsend, former director of Homeland Security, thanks so much.

We'll take a very quick break as we continue to follow this story on the Potomac River today. Back in a moment right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: All right. Breaking news this morning that we've been following. There was an incident on the Potomac River. To be specific, in between Memorial Bridge there and the 14th Street Bridge. The United States Coast Guard came upon what they're calling -- or what they did call -- a suspicious vessel. They warned that that vessel was in restricted river space there, and I'm trying to figure out if these are live pictures yet again. We're looking at more U.S. Coast Guard boats.

We are learning more about this that indeed it was a training exercise on September 11. Jeanne Meserve is with us once again. Do you have something new for us?

MESERVE: The Coast Guard isn't telling us directly this was a training exercise, but we've heard from any number of sources elsewhere in the government and in local police agencies that they've been told directly by the Coast Guard this was a training exercise.

The Coast Guard is still gathering information and they are promising us they'll have answers soon. Apparently, the top guy in the Coast Guard was anxious some get answers. We're told that Thad Allen, the commandant, had trotted down to the command center to say what is going on here? They are still gathering the facts. They still have not told us everything.

But yes, from multiple sources, this was a training exercise -- remarkably enough on the anniversary of 9/11.

COLLINS: Let me just ask you a question about that with regard to September 11. Obviously, all morning long, we've been following very closely the ceremonies, the commemorations -- and people being remembered who died that day in Washington and at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Is there any chance that a training exercise like this would go on specifically because it was September 11? I mean, from what you're telling us about that Thad Allen, it sounds like he's potentially not happy about this. So it might be a crazy question, but I'm just curious about that?

MESERVE: I think that Allen, as I understand it -- and of course, I haven't talked directly to him -- wanted to find out what was going on. I don't know what his attitude is about what went on. I think you could trust Fran Townsend, who was a top official at the White House, to tell you that this was a really bad idea. She's someone who's been on the inside who understands how these things are talked about, and I would be at a loss to figure out why it would be a good idea to do it on this day.

COLLINS: OK, just want to throw that out there. Sometimes when we think about this day, everything is so different on this day, and maybe they were trying to run a training exercise specifically because things are so different on this day, and who knows? Maybe there were lessons to be learned that you wouldn't get on another day.

MESERVE: Perhaps. We'll wait and see what they tell us.

COLLINS: Yes. Obviously, a lot of questions to be asked as we continue this morning. Jeanne Meserve, sure do appreciate that.

We'll take a quick break and continue to work this story for you happening on the Potomac and also back to our September 11 commemorations this morning.


COLLINS: We want to make sure we're updating you throughout the morning here on the story we're watching take place on the Potomac in between the 14th Street Bridge and Memorial Bridge. Looking at video from earlier because the United States Coast Guard apparently was conducting a training exercise. You see a gun on the very tip of that ship there -- or boat, I should say. And there were, according to some communications that we heard, there was another boat that came into the area that was apparently suspicious and there were ten rounds fired.

We don't actually know and are continuing to try to confirm whether there were real rounds fired or not. Once again, all of this confusion because apparently it was a training exercise on September 11. A lot of questions to be asked here as we continue to get to the bottom of this.

I can tell you this. A little bit of new information coming in from our chief national correspondent, John King. He's telling me that law enforcement sources are actually saying now that, yes, the Secret Service was trying to figure out what was going on here because you can see all of this activity there on the water. They were told by the Pentagon that apparently there was nothing to worry about and passed that along to the president's staff that it was indeed a training exercise.

Of course, we should also remind you that the president was already back at the White House when this event began. We had seen him speak moments prior at the Pentagon for the 9/11 ceremonies that were taking place there.

Boy, oh boy, a lot of questions to be asked here. All of our correspondents are working on it, and we'll bring you latest information as the story continues to develop.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still. In defense of our nation, we'll never waiver. Pursuit of al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter.

Let us renew our commitment to all those who serve in our defense. Our courageous men and women in uniform and their families and all those who protect us here at home. Mindful that the work of protecting America is never finished, we'll do everything in our power to keep America safe.


COLLINS: September 11, eight years later. Throughout the morning, memorial services have been held at the sites of the terrorist attacks. At New York's Ground Zero, a moment of silence just a few minutes ago. It marked the exact moment that the North Tower collapsed.

And former secretary of state Colin Powell in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That, of course, is where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field.

A solemn ceremony also taking place at the Pentagon where President Obama delivered remarks just a short time ago and placed a wreath. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us live once again with the latest on the War on Terror.

So, Barbara, we did think we were going to be talking about September 11 all morning long here, and then this incident on the Potomac. And now back to Afghanistan and the fact that we're at war there dates us all of the way back to 2001, September 11th.

STARR: You know, Heidi, that's really a point of reflection today. Because eight years later, what we're suddenly seeing but maybe not so sudden -- it may have but may have been coming for a long time -- is a political referendum and an emotional referendum on this eight-year war on Afghanistan. Just as the president is laying the wreath commemorating the events of September 11th that began the war, of course, in Afghanistan, people are asking the question how much longer, how many more troops, is it really worth it?

What we've seen emerge in the last two days was opposition from the Democrats on Capitol Hill from two crucial places. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Carl Levin, Democrat, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Both now expressing their concern and the beginning of opposition to an escalation of the war to sending of large numbers of additional U.S. combat forces.

Asking a lot of questions about how those forces would be used and can the U.S. really succeed in Afghanistan eight years later. Is this really a winnable war against the Taliban or a counterinsurgency that will drag on for many more years into a quagmire? So, even as we see this commemoration of events of September 11th, we see a lot of questions emerge, and real questions about long-term U.S. public support for the war. Heidi?

COLLINS: Of course. Where does that stand right now as we continue to look at this? Again, I keep saying it all morning long, eight years later.

COLLINS: You know, there are polls that have been out there showing some decline in public support. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has really been making the point that he thinks there's about a year left to show some real progress in the war. That in the next 12 months or so, they have to do something to show that U.S. troops have turned the tide, have turned the momentum, to change the perception, if not reality, that the Taliban have a certain momentum in Afghanistan, and that now the momentum is back with the coalition and with the Afghan military.

Twelve months is a really short time because basically we're getting up to being about one year away, believe it or not, from the November 2010 midterm elections. And certainly, the Obama administration politically and militarily wants to show progress well before those midterm elections. It will take a long time to get more troops there. So, this window of trying to make something to happen is very short. Heidi.

COLLINS: Absolutely. Well, we know that you're covering it for us. We sure do appreciate it on all angles of all the stories today. Barbara Starr, thanks so much. Our Pentagon correspondent this morning.

A gender controversy in the world of running. A South African champion tested to see if she's a woman. Now, new reports about the test results are sparking some outrage.


COLLINS: Checking our top stories this morning now. Prosecutors in California say they will seek the death penalty against a former Sunday school teacher accused of horrific crime. Melissa Huckaby is charged with kidnapping, raping, and murdering 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. Cantu's body was found earlier this year stuffed in a suitcase that was submerged in a pond. Huckaby is pleading not guilty to all charges.

Several top Taliban commanders -- militants, I should say -- are under arrest in Pakistan right now. A key commander and high profile Taliban spokesman were taken by security forces during operations in the volatile Swat Valley. You see it there on the map. Three other commanders were also detained. The Pakistani army says the men are now being interrogated. A Taliban spokesman publicly invited Osama bin Laden to move to the Taliban stronghold in the Swat Valley.

Michael Jackson fans are about to get the first peek at a behind- the-scenes documentary of the pop star's final three months. MTV will air the video on Sunday at the 2009 Video Music Awards show. The documentary, "Michael Jackson: This Is It," features tape from about 100 hours of video by concert promoter AEG.

Meanwhile, a tribute concert planned for later this month be in Vienna has been rescheduled now to June 2010 in London.

There are new developments with the H1N1 flu, or swine flu, as you may know it. Researchers now say a single dose may actually be enough for most adults. A low dose of the vaccine being tested did well. That means instead of two-shot dose, people can get just one. The vaccines could be used to protect twice as many people. The vaccine is also supposed to be available to the public by mid-October.

The CDC is saying they confirmed the first case of a drug- resistant H1N1 flu virus being spread from one person to another. Tamiflu was protectively given to several people at a summer camp. The CDC has repeatedly said to wait to use the drugs until you are actually sick.

South Africa expressing outrage over reports that world champion runner Caster Semenya has both male and female organs. Australia's "Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Sun" in Britain saying gender test indicate the 18-year-old South African athlete is a hermaphrodite. Questions about Semenya's gender intensified after she crushed her competition at a championship race last month.

South African officials call the media coverage of Semenya an outrage. They say her privacy rights have been violated.

Well, that'll do us for here in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Heidi Collins. Thanks for watching, everybody. Join Tony Harris in just a moment.