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JOHN KING, USA

Osama bin Laden's Unreleased Message; Desperate Tactic to Fight Flooding

Aired May 13, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening, everyone. Tonight, the battlefield in Libya takes a shift in the Gadhafi rebels -- anti-Gadhafi rebels' favors. Opposition leaders make an urgent appeal to the Obama White House for more help and for official recognition.

Plus, record floodwaters along the Mississippi force tough choices, deliberately flooding some communities to ease the pain of others.

But we begin with dramatic new details of the material seized from Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout. CNN is told tonight those materials include written communications from bin Laden expressing his desire to see President Obama assassinated. The U.S. official familiar with the new intelligence tells us there also was a new audio message recorded just days before bin Laden's death in which the al Qaeda leader speaks in support of the recent political upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia.

And get this, our sources also say the material seized from the compound include pornography -- pornography. This in the hideaway of a self-described religious warrior who says the United States and the West are immoral and godless.

Let's assess the importance of these new revelations with Michael Scheuer who during his tenure at the CIA ran its bin Laden unit -- and with our national security contributor and former White House Homeland Security adviser, Fran Townsend.

Michael, let me start with, I guess it's no surprise that the leader of al Qaeda would want the president of the United States dead. But it's startling and jolting a bit to hear a written communication, communications plural, in which bin Laden expresses his desire for the president to be assassinated?

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I don't think it's surprising really. And I think it's probably worse now. They'll be looking to exact an eye for an eye. I suppose the Secret Service is very much en garde, at the moment, because Obama put himself right on the bull's eye.

KING: Is assassination in the al Qaeda historical playbook? They're normally grander scale attacks.

SCHEUER: Bin Laden was very much involved in the early '90s in Yemen in arranging the assassination of socialists and Marxist Yemeni politicians. So it's not outside the playbook. It's just not used very often.

FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Remember Ahmad Massoud, the Pashtun leader up in the north who was assassinated on September 10th. This was clearly an al Qaeda -- he was an enemy of bin Laden's, and so they'll use it when it's convenient for them and it achieves their goals.

KING: When you were in the Bush White House, was there intelligence suggesting not only they were trying to attack New York, trying to attack Washington, trying to attack western targets overseas, but that they wanted to assassinate the president of the United States?

TOWNSEND: You know, John, we would get intelligence that there were assassination -- threats would call them to strong, but there was intelligence that there was desire and they were looking.

SCHEUER: They kidnapped, both Americans in the Philippines and in Moscow one time. So as Fran says, it's very usual.

KING: And pornography. Pornography. Now, number one, does it surprise you that bin Laden would have pornography? Someone who said he was a warrior in the name, he distorted Islam, let's be clear about that, but said he was a warrior in the name of God.

SCHEUER: I'm not so sure how distorted Islam he is. I think there's very much to say that he was well within the parameters of Islam. What I've read is the pornography is tapes and electronic things. And of course, terrorists, gangsters, drug traffickers use stenography in videotapes to embed information to move without people seeing it. Islamic terrorists have very often used pornography for that. Now, I don't know what this is for, but it's interesting that it is videotapes.

KING: So you're suggesting perhaps not for viewing, but for somehow using to hide something?

SCHEUER: John, it could be both, I could be entirely wrong, but the idea that there's pornography there in the form of a videotape is not inconsistent with the means they use to hide communications.

TOWNSEND: And also, John, during the war in Afghanistan, and we'd conduct -- the U.S. would conduct raids against al Qaeda or Taliban targets, and it was not unusual to find electronic media, pornography, in those raids. So I was not surprised. I mean, it's all part of just how hypocritical -- here's this guy who claims to be a religious warrior. He's got three wives practically imprisoned in his compound and he's watching dirty movies.

KING: I'm going to play devil's advocate, because there will be some how there who say, and they will be critical of me for even playing devil's advocate, but I'll play it anyway, that this could somehow be part of U.S. disinformation, that the United States is trying to smear bin Laden and they would say this even though it's not true?

TOWNSEND: No, there are legal restrictions on what information the United States can officially put out. What you've got to look for now is whether or not the U.S. government confirms or denies the existence of these tapes.

SCHEUER: This administration is out of control in terms of leaking things. They're endangering sailors, they're endangering CIA officers, but that's generally acceptable in America. I don't know what to believe or not to believe by these characters at the moment.

KING: I want to come back to that in a moment. But I want to focus again on one of the other new revelations we're learning about today, which is that bin laden recorded a message, trying to somehow attach himself or speak in favor of the Arab spring, which many would say is just antithetical to everything that al Qaeda stood for. Specifically Michael, talked about Tunisia and Egypt, not about Libya where he has grievances, not about the area at large. Why?

SCHEUER: Anything that brings down the dictators moves is in favor and in the favor of the Muslim brotherhood.

KING: Even if it moves to democracy?

SCHEUER: They're not moving towards democracy, John. That's the media has presented that and Mr. Obama and his dreamers have presented that, but at the end of the day, 80 million Egyptians, for example, are not going to move toward a secular democracy they regard as pagan and away from Islam. It's just a nonsense. So supporting the overthrow of dictators, that's been one of their goals since the beginning.

TOWNSEND: I have a different view of this, John. I actually think that bin Laden saw this democratic movement throughout the Middle East as leaving him behind, because it is antithetical. If people were going to embrace these freedoms, they were going to necessarily reject bin Laden's entire philosophy and unless he found some piece of this to hold on to, he ran the risk of losing people. So I have a somewhat different view.

KING: I want to ask you a question, U.S. intelligence had access to the wives. Sources tell us it was a hostile encounter. What would the process be, as someone who's worked in the CIA? If you were going into that meeting, that interrogation, that debriefing, call it what you will, what's the process?

SCHEUER: Well, I think the process would be very formal in the case of women. You'd be very courteous to them. They were with the Pakistanis for a long time, so the Pakistanis probably primed them for the interview and what not to say. And I don't know if there's any reason to believe they didn't love their husband and probably are not especially happy that we shot him down.

TOWNSEND: Normally, under most circumstances, you would separate the wives. You would want to interview them individually. You wouldn't want to have the Pakistani service present with you. You'd ideally like to have a native-speaking woman do the questioning. We didn't get that luxury. So this was not horribly productive, but my understanding is, we're in the early going. And U.S. and Pakistani officials can work again.

KING: You made a point, Michael, a moment ago, about leaks, and you believe the leaks are endangering the lives of people. I want you to listen. We started this conversation last night. It's been an issue, of course, for the last 10, 11 days. But the Defense Secretary Robert Gates who happens to be a former CIA director, during a conversation with marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, last night made clear that he's not happy about all the talking. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Frankly, a week ago Sunday in the situation room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday, the next day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, who's that message directed at?

SCHEUER: Oh, I think the White House and John Brennan. The administration yesterday tried to put it onto the newsroom or the news people at the White House, and of course, that level of information is only going to be given to the newspeople if it's approved by the president and his terrorism advisers. So that's where it's coming from.

KING: Where'd they cross the line, in your view? Where did they go from information that needs to be put out -- bin Laden is dead, here's the raid, here's how it went down, to the specificity of a level where you think it endangers?

SCHEUER: No one needed to know about the stealth helicopters. Certainly no one needed to know about the CIA observation post in Abbottabad. We have described in detail all of the communication systems that bin Laden was using to communicate with his organization. We've compromised those.

Al Qaeda was already going to change them, but now they can be sure they know which ones they need to change. The one thing we haven't seen is any leaking about monetary, about financial raising, which suggests to me that they either didn't find any, or they found out all their good buddies on the Arab peninsula in Saudi, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, have been funding Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

KING: And they don't want to release that. Do you agree with that?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, I do think that John Brennan and the White House briefing room, when he did the brief, actually said he was not going to give out a lot more of the details. Having been there, John, there is a need to give some information out. I mean, what happens after that is this deluge. Of course, every bureaucrat in Washington who has any access thinks this is sort of the opportunity to show they're in the know.

KING: And put people's lives at risk in doing that?

TOWNSEND: I think there's too much information out there. I think the stealth helicopter, that wasn't the White House, that was left behind. So you couldn't have helped that. The observation post, very dangerous for that to be out there. Those sort of tactics. The seizure, you were going to get out there that there was a seizure and what it was. It's unfortunate, but I don't worry as much about that as I do something like the observation post.

KING: Fran Townsend, Mike Scheuer, we appreciate your coming in here. We'll keep in touch as this goes on.

We're also learning tonight much more about the daring raid that led to bin Laden's death. Yes, more information. Chris Lawrence live at the Pentagon with more on that. Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. We're learning from a senior military official that yes, all of the SEALS carried with them special helmet cams that recorded just about every minute of this assault, from the time they hit the ground to the time they came out of there with Osama bin Laden's body.

Now, we're told that the video is hazy, that it was so dark, it's hard to make out certain things, and perhaps most telling, because the cameras are mounting on the SEALS' helmets, their heads are constant moving. They're searching rooms, they're looking around doorways. So the video is very jerky.

It's nothing like a movie, but it still could provide some real information about what exactly happened as they started to move those rooms. And more specifically, it provides the SEALS a chance to relive and to see exactly what they were seeing in the heat of the moment. John?

KING: And Chris, you were listing moments ago, we're having the conversation here, the defense secretary, of course, works in the building where you are, Robert Gates last night bemoaning, I'm going to use a gentle term, the lack of confidentiality in the United States government. You heard the conversation here about whether that endangers -- what is the sense there at the Pentagon?

LAWRENCE: Well, the sense I'm getting here is two things. One, that this is going to be a huge file-sharing exercise. In other words, a lot of people under the counterterrorism umbrella are going to have access to what's been taken out of bin Laden's compound. Combine that with the fact that this intelligence may spur some very quick missions in terms of acting on some of the intelligence against other targets, and there's a worry that some of the tactics and techniques that were used in this raid may now be compromised by the fact that so much information about it was released.

So if they have to act in a very quick way, how much of their tactics and methods will they have to, you know, sort of change or update on the fly, because they may now be worried that some of those tactics may be compromised?

KING: Important points from Chris Lawrence, live for us tonight at the Pentagon. Thanks, Chris.

Ahead tonight here, Ron Paul joins the 2012 Republican presidential field and tells us how he would handle current crises differently than President Obama.

Also ahead, a deadly explosion in Pakistan and the Taliban there says it's retaliation for the death of bin Laden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Deadly violence in Pakistan today. A suicide attack leaves at least 80 people dead. And in claiming responsibility, the Pakistani Taliban calls the attack retaliation for the American raid that led to bin Laden's death.

Reza Sayah is live for us in Islamabad tonight. And Reza, does the Pakistani government view that has a singular message from the Taliban, or do they believe there'll be more attacks?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They believe there will be more attacks and the Pakistani Taliban says there will be more attacks. This was a coordinated attack designed to kill a lot of people, and it did just that, 80 people killed, the deadliest attack this year. Twin suicide attacks targeting hundreds of military recruits that had just finished an extended training program.

Apparently, the night before, they were celebrating. Morning came, they came out of this the training facility, ready to board vans to go home. That's when a suicide attacker walked up to the scene, blew himself up. There was chaos, commotion, people came to help, and that's when another suicide attacker came on the scene, this time on a motorcycle, detonated his bomb. No surprise the aftermath of the scene was an awful one, body parts and debris strewn everywhere. Like we mentioned before, the Pakistani Taliban say they were responsible, John.

KING: And the Pakistani Taliban, Reza, for our viewers who might not follow this so closely, they have a relationship, a friendship, if you will, an affiliation with al Qaeda, but the Pakistani Taliban themselves not viewed as an organization that can project force out of Pakistan, or at least not just maybe over the border into Afghanistan, but not globally. Any sense of al Qaeda involved here, or just Pakistani Taliban?

SAYAH: This is the Pakistani Taliban who say that they're inspirational leader has always been Osama bin Laden. They say this attack was payback for his death 11 days ago. So no indication that al Qaeda-linked groups, al Qaeda affiliates were responsible. The - Pakistani Taliban say it was them who did it.

KING: And Reza, the Pakistani parliament today passed a resolution that condemns the U.S. raid and it calls on a reassessment of U.S./Pakistan relationships. Is this a political statement, sort of a pushback, or is there a chance that this would actually go further to a break in relations?

SAYAH: Yeah, I think it's definitely a political statement. These are some tough words in this resolution, and I think the Obama administration was eager for this Pakistani government to take this bin Laden episode, the fact that he was hiding here for all these years and acknowledge that they have a problem and perhaps go in a new direction, perhaps draft a new policy on extremism.

But when you see tough rhetoric like this, this type of pointed resolution targeting the U.S., condemning what they call a violation of sovereignty with this raid on the bin Laden compound, it shows, it signals that they're now prepared to go in a new direction. At the same time, despite the tough talk from Pakistan, there is no indication that this partnership with Washington is going to fall apart.

I think both sides know that they desperately need one another, so indications are the most likely scenario is that these two partners are going to move forward pointing fingers at one another, plotting through a very uncertain volatile relationship.

KING: Reza Sayah, live for us tonight in Islamabad. Reza, thanks.

Let's get some important perspective now from Congressman Peter King from New York, the Republican who's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressman, I want to start with this deadly bombing in Pakistan today. Any doubt in your mind or from the intelligence you have been briefed on that this was a retaliation for the raid that killed bin Laden?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: From all that I know and from all we've learned, this clearly was an attack by al Qaeda and done, again, in revenge or in retaliation for bin Laden. That's clearly what I've been led to believe, yeah.

KING: And when you talk to folks at the CIA, when you do your own reporting, if you will, what is your sense right now of what has happened in the relationship with Pakistan, and whether Pakistan essentially gets the problem and is willing to make amends and work things out, or whether there's more of a defiant pullback saying, no, we're not the problem?

P. KING: I don't know if Pakistan does get the message. I met last week with the chief of station in the Pakistan embassy and it was almost as if we were in two different universes, not realizing just how serious this is being taken by America's interest, the American people, but very high-ranking people in the administration, people in the Congress, people who want to maintain a relationship with Pakistan, but realize we are definitely at a crossroads right now.

And I just don't know whether the Pakistanis, whether it's President Zardari, whether it's General Kayani, if they realize the full impact of what it meant to have bin Laden living in the shadow of some many government officials all these years. I don't know if they realize that very few people believe that Pakistan was not aware of that, or if they were -- or if they were not, you know, they were just totally incompetent and inept.

KING: You've been receiving frequent updates, briefings on the intelligence received. One of the things CNN is told, the word "hostile" was used by sources to describe to us the mood, the tone of the wives of bin Laden when they were questioned by U.S. intelligence officials. What do you know about that?

P. KING: That's basically what I've heard. I've not really heard any details other than the fact that even if with that, I know the United States would have preferred to have separate interviews with the three. My understanding was it was done combined, which really minimizes the impact of the interrogation.

KING: About 11 days now, essentially, 12 days since the death of bin Laden, which means 11 or 10 days given the transport issues to start analyzing this treasure trove of information, the computer disk, the thumb drives, the videos, the hand-written notes in bin Laden's personal journal. What is your sense of everything you've been told, sir, about any -- let me put it this way first, any threats to the American people that have not been discussed in recent days. Anything you're particularly worried about?

P. KING: No, there's nothing that I'm aware of that's come out particularly. There's been some general talk, you know, we saw the one last week about attacks on mass transit. There's others as far as like various industries, but nothing specific. Nothing we really didn't know before. If anything, it's just reinforced concerns we did have before, but really nothing new.

But, again, I think we are into instant gratification at this country. I do know the CIA, they look very quickly to see if they can find any targets, any sites, any planned operations. And so far, as far as I know, none of that has been found by anything specific. But I think the real wealth of this information is going to be coming out over the next weeks and months because it's very seldom you find a silver bullet which explains everything or says on such and such a date, this is going to happen.

It's bits and pieces that are put together, and that also one piece of evidence leading to another and to another and to another after that. And that's really what's going on now. You have to make sure the translation is accurate. You have to make sure that as many small pieces can be tied together. I can see it taking several times, going through the same evidence before we see how it all connects, how any of it connects.

But this is -- I believe it's going to be extremely helpful to us and the fact that those SEALS were able to get all of that out of there, besides getting bin laden and besides carrying out the raid successfully, to me, it's just phenomenal.

KING: And what about the photo themselves? You said after viewing them, not particularly gruesome. Some of your colleagues who have seen them have said it's pretty graphic stuff and they don't think most Americans would have the stomach for it. Why is your view different?

P. KING: I would say some of them are gruesome, but I think there is at least one, maybe two, especially if it was done in black and white, rather than color, but I think the American people could absolve. But I'm not disagreeing with the president here. I think the American people could accept it. It's not going to shock that many people. Again, at least one or two of the photos.

I understand the president's concern about the impact it would have around the world and that's really his decision to make as commander in chief. So while I think they could find a way to release at least one of them, I'm not going to disagree with the president. I'm not going to publicly disagree with him on this. He's the commander in chief and I do understand that a number of military commanders have expressed their concern about what the reaction would be overseas, so, again, I will stand by the president on that.

KING: Congressman, thanks for your time tonight.

P. KING: John, thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

And tonight, Ron Paul joins the 2012 Republican presidential field and joins us to say how he would handle current issues differently than President Obama.

And take a look here, live pictures of the flood zone. Greenville, Mississippi, imagine as the waters of the Mississippi head south, being the person who has to tell people, the government has decided, we're going to flood your town to protect one down the river. The man with that tough duty joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A major development tonight as Louisiana prepares to take the brunt of the flooding along the Mississippi River. Just a short time ago, Governor Bobby Jindal announced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been given authority now to operate the Morganza spillway, to open the spillway within the next 24 hours. Now opening the spillway will divert some of the Mississippi's waters into farmland, but it's a desperate measure. It takes the pressure off fragile levees downriver. Those levees protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but it's not a decision to be made lightly. It could mean, will mean, ruining crops and small towns and homes.

Let's take a closer look at this issue. You see the Mississippi here coming down through Tennessee, Arkansas, down Mississippi and into Louisiana. Here's essentially what this looks like. Morganza spillway looks like this. Here's how it is on a normal day, a little bit of water coming through. The gates stop the water.

If you decide to open the gates, you can see how that works. You let a lot more water through the gates. That's pretty basic how it would work. The question is, what are the consequences? Let's bring this down. I just showed you there an animation of one gate. There are 125 of them, 125 bays across the spillway. It stretches 4,000 feet. It controls access, 4.5 million gallons of water.

I want to show you why this is so important, as this plays out. Here's the sense here, you see this flood area here? Look at the scale here. If it's pink, it's moderate flooding. If it's orange or red, it's severe flooding. This is a scenario right now, if they open the spillway about halfway, this is the scenario.

Now, obviously, you see some flooding here along the edge, but you see New Orleans and this area in here more populated, much less flooding. Now, if they don't open the spillway, this is what happens. This is if you don't open the spillway. Look at this, much more severe flooding here and a lot more flooding down here, orange being very deep flooding, 15 to 20 feet, 20 to 25 feet, perhaps as high as 30 feet in this area here.

So if you open the spillway, yes, you're not stopping the flooding, but you're moving it this way, less populated areas, and notice, you see a lot more pinks and greens and blues over here if you do open the spillway -- don't open the spillway, excuse me, a lot of that water comes this way. You get profound flooding right up here in this area and then deep flooding right down into here. I want to bring -- show you a little bit from the community of how this plays out.

Our Ed Lavandera has been down there. This is extraordinarily tough for people, extraordinarily tough for people in the government who have to make this decision and in these small towns who have to realize my farm, my home may disappear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of Butte La Rose residents pack into the town's firehouse to hear flood level projections from the Army Corps of Engineers.

COL. ED FLEMING: I'm telling you depth of water from right here, 15 feet.

PIERRE WATERMEYERE, RESIDENT: It's over with. It's over with.

LAVANDERA: It's over for Butte La Rose, the words too painful for people to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's going to answer the question?

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And the sadness of the moment brings Kelli Trimm to tears.

KELLI TRIMM, BUTE LA ROSE, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: It's worse than we thought. It's really worse than we thought. We thought maybe we might have water in our yard and stuff. This is going to come into our homes. This could have take everything we've got.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, HOST: You saw in that piece there. Colonel Edward Fleming, he's the New Orleans district commander for the Army Corps of Engineers.

He joins us now on the telephone.

And, Colonel, I just want to say, you've got an incredibly tough job. You see the raw emotions of those people. You're essentially going community to community right now in Louisiana and telling some of these people, "I'm sorry, but your home, your town is beginning to disappear."

COL. EDWARD FLEMING, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (via telephone): Yes, that's right, John. And, look, that's something that I take very seriously. I'm not going to delegate that to somebody else, but we operate this as a system. And there are lots of on-ramps for water coming into the Mississippi, the Ohio River and the Missouri River -- and there are just a couple of off-ramps.

And this Morganza Floodway is one of them and we've got to take some excess water off the top of the river, because of the historic levels that are coming down.

KING: And we are told that this opening, the beginning of it, it's a long process, but the beginning of it, the first opening could come as early as 2:00 local time tomorrow afternoon. Is that correct?

FLEMING: Well, yes. I've been given permission from the Mississippi River Commission to operate that floodway, and when we reach the trigger of 1.5 million cubic feet per second, then we will, in fact, open that floodway, and again, take the pressure off the levee systems that are downstream from that particular structure.

KING: And, Colonel, what do you say to someone who comes up to you. You heard and saw, you were there -- someone comes up to you and says, "You can't do this. There has to be another way. Do not destroy everything I have."

FLEMING: Well, what we do is we operate this as a system. And -- but, you know, the bigger thing that we do is we go around, we talk to these folks face to face, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the mayors, the local officials, and try to help them through it. What I've done in some of these communities, I've sent folks forward. I sent supplies, sandbags, pumps and all sorts of things, because we're going to flood fight this as best we can with the local community, with the state, with the levee boards, with the National Guard. And we're going to be right there flood fighting this thing until the end.

KING: And how do you make the calculation? Are you looking at a map and saying, if we do this, if we open it, I'm going to flood this town. And it's a modest town, I'm making up a number, but it's a modest town 50 or 60 people, or 80 homes would be destroyed. And if I don't do this and it gets down towards New Orleans and Baton Rouge. And then we're talking about much higher population, much higher catch value of devastation? Is that how you make the decision?

FLEMING: No. Look, again, this is a system, and if you go all the way back upriver and you can go back to the Ohio River and there are a bunch of dams and reservoirs that hold back water. And so, we take all of these different dams, reservoirs, and floodways into account when we put this system into place when it was built.

So, this particular floodway, every year, we sent out letters to folk who is own property in the floodway, telling them that we have a flowage easement and we may utilize that from time to time, and it just happens to be this year. We're going to have to utilize that flowage easement over that property.

KING: Colonel Fleming, appreciate your time tonight. Difficult duty for you in the days and hours ahead. We'll keep in touch and we thank you for joining us tonight, sir.

And let's continue our coverage in the flood zone. Our Martin Savidge is in Greenville, Mississippi -- one of the communities hard hit.

And, Martin, you hear about the pain, the rawness and the tough decisions the Corps of Engineers has to make down in Louisiana. But take us where you are and what people are already dealing with?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far in Mississippi, this has been a success story for the Army Corps of Engineers. In other words, all the improvements, all the building up of levees that they have done over the decade since the devastating floods of '37 that were.

Take a look at this levee here. This levee in Greenville is 75 feet high. That's not the way it was in '37, but they learned a very bad lesson when the town flooded, so they built it higher, and as you can see, even with the crest, and the crest expected Monday at 65 feet, they should be well within the boundaries of the levee.

That's not to say people aren't suffering. We took a ride with the Washington County Sheriff's Department up the river somewhat here. This is actually Lake Ferguson, a spur of the Mississippi. We went on what was normally lower Lake Ferguson Drive. It's a beautiful area that stretches for about three to five miles along what is -- or was -- Lake Ferguson lakefront.

You can't tell where the lake front is anymore, you can't tell where the road is anymore, and you can barely identify the homes now. Ninety to 100 homes are flooded -- in many cases, up to their roofs. In other cases, it's a little deceptive because it looks like the house is above the waterline, only to find out they were built on stilts, stilts that rise 15 to 20 feet in the air. That was designed to protect them any kind of flood that could possibly come their way, and still those houses have flooded as well.

And they're not just cabins and they're not cottages, these are substantial homes, these are homes that people live in all year round. And so, right now, all of those people are out of their homes and are either with family or in hotels. And that's how they're suffering outside of the levee system in Mississippi, John.

KING: Outside. And I've got a similar glimpse in Tunica the other day. You're in Greenville, Mississippi. Mississippi is dealing with the brunt of this so far right now. What is the governor's message to people who have been hit hardest by this?

SAVIDGE: Well, first and foremost, reassured them, again, that the levees are holding, but he warned them to be cautious, not to become complacent, because if there were a break, that would be disastrous and people would have to be ready to move.

He said there aren't many people that are in shelters. Most have gone to the homes of friends or family. Fourteen counties in the state have been declared federal disaster areas. And one of the things he was appealing to the citizens who have had flooding was for them to apply for federal aid. He said, you know, we know there are many of you. The federal aid is available, but hardly anyone has signed up for it.

So, that's what he was for his people to do. For the most part, John, it is a good news story. There is suffering, but there is not all-out calamity as some would fear, so far.

KING: Martin Savidge, we hope this so far holds. Martin Savidge live us for us in Greenville, Mississippi, tonight -- thanks, Martin.

Now, imagine launching your presidential campaign at a time when FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is helping all those victims of the floods and the tornadoes we saw just weeks ago. Imagine launching your presidential campaign and one of your policy platforms is I'd eliminate FEMA. We talk to that candidate, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The 2012 presidential race is suddenly busy, a lot of action today and even more tomorrow. On his Saturday FOX News show, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will announce whether or not he will explore a 2012 run for the White House. All indications have been no, but we'll see tomorrow.

Right there, live pictures of a candidate we know is in. That's Newt Gingrich. He is speaking right now live at a campaign dinner in his home state of Georgia.

And this morning, Texas Congressman Ron Paul announced his third try for the White House. Paul ran has a libertarian back in 1988 and sought the Republican nomination four years ago.

We spoke, he was in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You ran for the Republican nomination back in 2008. You spent $34 million and got in the ballpark of 40 delegates. What makes you think this time will be any different?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the world's completely different. This country is different. We've gone through an economic crisis. And the wars are persistent. People's attitudes about the persistent wars overseas have changed. They're ready to bring our troops home, and we can't afford it anymore.

The issue of the Federal Reserve is a top issue. It's been brought to our attention because of the financial crisis, and there's more and more people that are understanding that you just can't print money and create wealth.

So, all the issues that are coming in the direction that I've been talking about for so long and the growth of the freedom movement is gigantic compared to where it was four years ago.

KING: Yet, if you look at the public opinion polling, Ron Paul has not advanced all that much. Late in the 2008 campaign, CNN polled, and Ron Paul had 6 percent among Republicans. We just recently polled asking Republicans what they thought for a nominee in 2012. Ron Paul was, one, tow, three, four, five -- six people down at 10 percent just now -- 6 percent at the end of 2008, only 10 percent now.

It doesn't look like Republicans are looking at you all that much differently.

PAUL: Well, it's better, and the crowds are better. But remember, this is the first day of the campaign. There's a year to go.

So, no wing things are definitely much better. The enthusiasm is there and the attitudes are different and the problems we have are so overwhelming that I think the support is going to be greatly increased over four years ago.

KING: Let's take a look at some of the issues for somebody watching out there. I'll ask them to imagine if Ron Paul were president today. Let's have some of the issues the president of the United States is dealing with today and how you might deal with them similarly or differently.

Let's start with the raid in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. Would you have ordered that raid? U.S. troops secretly going into Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistani government, essentially violating Pakistani sovereignty. The president of the United States does not dispute that, to get bin Laden.

PAUL: No, I've said I didn't like that process. I didn't know all the details, I didn't know how necessary it was to do it that way, but I think there should be respect for sovereign nations. If bin Laden had been in Canada and Montreal, we wouldn't have done it. We would have respected it.

To assume that Pakistan would never cooperate is an incorrect assumption, because they have helped us capture about 15 bad actors that have been sent over here -- that we have tried and imprisoned and actually executed. So, there's no reason to assume that we shouldn't show them respect.

KING: Right here at home, we're watching the power of the Mighty Mississippi as it makes its way south and is flooding communities from Tennessee, Mississippi, making its way now into Louisiana. We've had tornadoes in recent days as well. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working overnight.

In a Ron Paul administration, would that agency exist or is that something that should be done by the states?

PAUL: You know, it's a rather new one. You know, the biggest hurricane, the most devastating hurricane we've ever had hit my district in Galveston in the year 1900. There was no FEMA and they recovered in a fairly good period of time and they rebuilt the city and built a seawall and it was taken care of.

It's like, you know, if we don't have federal bureaucrats and if we don't run up the deficit higher, then we wouldn't solve any of these problems. So, yes, we could get along without FEMA.

I get -- I've gotten more complaints about FEMA in my district, and I don't vote for FEMA and I get re-elected and they complain about FEMA coming in and taking over, and getting in the way of volunteer property owners and volunteer groups; the Red Cross going in and wanting to help.

So, yes, this idea that we should accept the notion that a federal bureaucracy that spends money they don't have doing things that they don't -- aren't properly authorized to do, and say that it's sacred, that you can't even criticize it -- well, it just doesn't work.

KING: You're going to face a vote in the House of Representatives soon and you would certainly face the issue of the debt if you were elected president of the United States. I want you to listen here. This is the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke -- a man with whom you have had many differences, essentially saying the House and the Senate, the Congress, needs to give the authority to raise more money, to borrow more money, or else. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The worst outcome would be one in which the financial system was again destabilized, as we saw following Lehman, for example, which, of course, would have extremely dire consequences for the U.S. economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Fed chairman right?

PAUL: No, he's wrong. He was wrong when he said there was no housing bubble and he was wrong when he said $3 trillion of Fed credit will take care of these problems. And he said there would be a depression if we didn't do the bailout.

Of course, there wasn't a depression on Wall Street. They're doing rather well, but there was a depression with the people. They lost their jobs. We have a severe recession/depression. People are losing their houses.

So, yes, he's wrong. He says it would be harmful because we would -- we can't stand to default.

But we, unfortunately, have defaulted many times. We did it in the depression, we did it in 1971. We constantly renege on paying our bills when it was on a gold standard. So, the default, though, is going on regardless. He wants to default.

KING: If Ron Paul were not running for the Republican nomination, who'd he vote for?

PAUL: I haven't thought that through. I'd like -- I don't know if they've all announced yet.

KING: We'll find out in the coming days and weeks. And we'll see Congressman Ron Paul on the campaign trail soon. Sir, thanks for your time today.

PAUL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Still ahead, back to the global stage. Major developments in Libya, including some suggestions Gadhafi may have been wounded.

And up next, Hala Gorani joins me to discuss the deadly crackdown in Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A dramatic revelation tonight. A U.S. official telling CNN that Navy SEALs discovered a new, unreleased audio message at Osama bin Laden's compound recorded only days before bin Laden's death.

On that tape, the al Qaeda leader is said to speak in support of the recent political upheaval, in Egypt, in Tunisia. But he does not mention the uprisings in Yemen, Libya, or Syria.

Tonight, a human rights group reports four people are dead in latest clashes between Syrian security forces and anti-government protesters in several cities.

This morning, Syria state-controlled news agency announced release of 5,000 people saying -- emphasis on saying -- they turned themselves in and promise not to repeat acts that harm the homeland. Syria won't let outside reporters in the country. That's one of our problems trying to cover this story.

But CNN's Hala Gorani has been in the region repeatedly in recent days and is with us here now live.

Let's just start, how in your view Syria different than the other examples of what we call the "Arab Spring"?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's different in that the military is firmly still under the control of the regime, and that's very important because the military is the deciding and determining factor in all of these uprisings. In Egypt as you know, they refuse to fire on protesters. In fact, they were the stabilizing force. They were welcomed by demonstrators.

In Syria, we have seen security forces. We've seen the close guard of the regime. And we've also seen the police participate, according to eyewitnesses, in the killing of protesters.

KING: Am I right to almost laugh as I say the Syrian government says these 5,000 people turned themselves in?

GORANI: Well, this is the Syrian government's version of potentially we arrested 5,000 people. This is what they've been trying to convince the world of that uprisings are organized by armed gangs. They are, in fact, protecting civilians and even the military according to the regime has been entering cities at (INAUDIBLE) at the invitation and request of the people. But, of course, activists are saying, on the contrary, the military is targeting us.

The big difference -- you asked me about the difference between Syria and other uprisings. There's another big one. And that's that it's not overwhelming a nationwide movement in the way that it was in Egypt. So, it is much easier for the military and security forces to put out fires where they erupt and where they come out. And, right now, we are seeing several thousand. It's significant but it's not millions that we saw in other countries.

KING: Let me ask you, lastly, as someone who's covered the region for sometime. What do you make of this bin Laden tape in which he professes his support for what's happening in Tunisia and Egypt, doesn't speak of some of the other areas?

GORANI: Yes. Well, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, for instance, issued a statement five days ago saying that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda should be commended for the overthrow of these regimes. They're jumping on this bandwagon a little bit late. Really, the demonstrators were middle class, young, and in many cases, educated people who were Internet-savvy who organized these protests. If they proved anything it's that Islamic extremism had nothing to do with the downfall of these regimes. They joined the party late and now they're trying to claim credit for something they didn't do.

KING: Yes. I can't remember one example -- one example, in any protests of any reference -- of any positive reference to al Qaeda at all, right?

GORANI: No, not at all. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt didn't even participate in the protest in the initial days of the uprising. So, they weren't even there physically. They came a little bit late to the party. Now, of course, the big question is: now that this revolution is over in Egypt, now that these uprisings are unfolding in Syria, what will the role of these Islamic political elements be? And that is still very much an open question.

KING: Hala Gorani, we appreciate it. Good to see you.

When we come back, the Libyan opposition goes to the White House. It wants support and Gadhafi -- Moammar Gadhafi, was he wounded?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Breaking news tonight in Libya. CNN crews in Tripoli report hearing at least four explosions as well as the sound of jets within the past couple of hours, that in Tripoli.

The leader of the Libyan opposition was here in Washington today, visiting the White House to ask for formal recognition. However, a White House statement this evening stopped short of referring to the opposition as Libya's legitimate government.

Also today, after Italy's foreign minister suggested Moammar Gadhafi maybe wounded, state-run Libyan television ran an audio message, not a video message, an audio message, from Gadhafi, who says he cannot be killed because he will, quote, "live in the hearts of his people."

Let's take a look at the battlefield of late. This is -- look, I want to show you this. This is one of the opposition, the opposition of the three -- the three colors here with stripes. This is when they were at their peak. And remember, there were some setbacks in recent days -- but now here. The regime in green had come to about here. So, they are starting to push back, starting to push back.

How is that happening? Number one, here's some film here, video of a NATO airstrike in Brega. The opposition had been put on its heels back there, now feeling a bit better about that -- thanks to some NATO strikes.

Some of the heaviest fighting -- the heaviest fighting has been here in Misrata. Watch this play out for a second.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

KING: The opposition claiming some progress in Misrata today. More on that in a minute.

And here, this is some video of one of the recent NATO strikes. Much more aggressive NATO strikes in Tripoli, also putting pressure on the Gadhafi regime.

A bit earlier, I talked to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, tried to get her sense of the latest state of play on the battlefield.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know right now is that NATO has now confirmed they conducted an airstrike in Brega. We have been hearing on Libyan state TV that there were 16 people killed and they were civilians. However, NATO says it simply hit a command and control center.

And we are hearing from the rebels spokesperson who told us that there are no civilians left in Brega. And he said that the people that may have died in that hit would have to be Gadhafi forces who had taken positions in neighborhoods in Brega.

KING: What is the latest from Misrata?

SIDNER: Very fierce fighting happening there. Ten people killed, including two babies, according to this doctor. He says there were 20 more who were injured because there have been shelling that's been coming into the city center there.

Also, we heard from rebels who say that they have been able to keep control of two key posts that is the airport which they took control of a couple days ago, and a civil defense building. But, yes, that city still seems to be in a situation where there is fierce fighting and still, there are civilians that are in harm's way there in Misrata -- John.

KING: Sara Sidner for us in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi -- Sara, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And again, to button it up, explosions in Tripoli tonight. CNN crews reporting at least four. We'll stay on top of that breaking news.

That's all for us tonight here. Have a great weekend. Hope to see you right here on Monday.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.