tv NBC Nightly News NBC July 6, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
on the broadcast tonight, the next threat -- could it be possible, u.s. officials warn terrorists may try a whole new way of concealing explosives. and it's the most extreme yet. the question is, can security detect it? the dust storm that swallowed up an american city. tonight, the incredible images and what it was like to be in the middle of it. cheating scandal in a major u.s. school system, perhaps the biggest ever. tonight we learn who's being accused of cheating and why. and the end of an era as america's space shuttle program prepares to come to an end. the first american to orbit the earth says we're making a big mistake. "nightly news" begins now.
captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening, our lead story tonight is in the what will they think of next category, on it's deadly serious because it has to do with the latest ways terrorists are figuring out to bring down an aircraft. we talk a lot about airline security, what gets through, what doesn't. and this scenario, a warning by the feds, may be the nightmare scenario. explosives inside a passenger, surgically placed within the body of a living human being who is willing to give their life to the cause. it's a grisly business, but just the threat of it could change air travel. we want to begin tonight with our justice correspondent, pete williams, at national airport in d.c. pete, good evening. >> reporter: brian, officials stress tonight there's no indication of any plot under way to actually do this, but they say al qaeda
operatives have talked about trying to find doctors to help them do it, and the u.s. is taking that talk seriously. it's renewed interest in an idea for evading airport security. american officials say recently intercepted intelligence indicates al qaeda terrorists in yemen may attempt to surgically implant explosives, or explosive components in passengers to carry out suicide attacks. >> we see this as the evolution of how they can try to defeat us, to get around those layers of security that we have now. >> reporter: under one scenario, the terrorists onboard a plane would inject a chemical detonator into the part of the body where the device was implanted, or it could be a radio-controlled detonator set off by a cell phone. intelligence suggests it would be tried on a flight to the u.s. from overseas. airlines that fly here have been advised and they have been urged to increase security with more physical pat-downs, checks for
traces of explosive chemicals, more questioning of passengers about their reasons for travel, and more use of the full body scanners in airports that have them. a former homeland security official says while there's no single piece of technology that could reliably detect something hidden in the body, such a plan would be hard to carry out. >> you don't know how the explosive would react in the body, how the impact would be affected because of the body, and you don't know what affect it would have on the individual of it being in the body, so there's not a whole lot of testing that you can do in advance. >> reporter: but it's more proof, terrorism experts say, that al qaeda remains focused on planes. >> it demonstrates the consistent creativity by al qaeda in yemen to circumvent our security. we've seen the underwear bomber, we've seen the cargo plane plot. this would be a logical progression for them to figure out another way to attack us. >> reporter: tsa tonight says all travelers to the u.s. may experience this stepped up security, and that includes americans who are returning home. brian? >> unbelievable thought.
pete williams starting us off from national and d.c. thanks. new audio recordings are out tonight from a near disaster you may recall from the news just this past spring. happened just over three months ago on a southwest airlines 737 took off from phoenix bound for sacramento. suddenly at 34,000 feet, it situation. a small crack in the fuselage had grown large enough to blow a hole in the roof of the aircraft, which we later saw in photos from passengers. the pilot wanted to turn back to phoenix, but then realized he wouldn't make it. well, today the faa released the tapes of conversations between air traffic control and the crew. it's clear they knew they were in trouble. >> requesting emergency descent. we're starting down. >> we need the nearest airport. >> you want to land to blithe or do you want to go to palm springs? >> let's make a turn and go --
how far away is yuma from us right now? >> yuma is at your 3:00 position and 50 miles. >> we'll take yuma. >> we'll take yuma. the plane descended 20,000 feet in less than five minutes. it was that incident, by the way, that triggered inspections of 737s across the country. also from phoenix tonight, when the following pictures were beamed around the world late last night, it looked like post production in a feature film. a massive violent fast-moving cloud, part of a dust storm overtook the city of phoenix, arizona, in just a few minutes' time. it shut down the airport and most transportation and it wiped out the late-day sun and the sky. meteorologist rob carlmark from our nbc station kpnx recorded the following while in the thick of it. >> we're right in the middle of this dust storm.
it is still going strong. these stop signs are just about to snap over. you can see how much they're shaking around in this violent wind. but like i just showed you, that blue sky is just right beyond all of this dust. just an incredible sight here. >> and proving that he cleans up real well, rob has been kind enough to join us from kpnx tonight. rob, how often does the city of phoenix get these? and what actually happens? the mechanics of this kind of a storm? >> well, brian, we have something here in the summer called the monsoon. in the first half of the monsoon, it's the dry monsoon. we get huge thunderstorms and these big wind storms that kick out of these thunderstorms. so we get these sort of the dust storms maybe three to four times a year. but it's been an extremely long time since anybody has seen anything this big and this long lasting. just an incredible event yesterday. >> and, rob, i've been in sand storms in iraq and elsewhere in the persian gulf that look
awfully similar to this. and just striking how insidious it is. it gets inside homes, every surface, electronics, inside cars. was it that bad? are people throughout metropolitan phoenix dealing with the after effects of this today? >> yeah, absolutely. i wish i owned stock in a car wash business because everybody was affected by this storm. millions and millions of people. one of my favorite photos was somebody who had their car in the garage, completely coated in dust. they weren't in the dust storm. this was after the fact. it just got anywhere and everywhere. everybody's pool has a nice coating of brown in it right now. >> well, mother nature proving once again to us all who's boss these days. rob carlmark, nice enough to join us from our phoenix station. nice work, well done in the thick of it last night. pleasure to have you, thanks. in mexico, rescue teams are still trying to find seven americans missing after their fishing boat capsized sunday. but time may be running out in this situation. they have been lost at sea now
here in san felipe ever since their rescue. they remain focused on finding the missing and helping the families of the missing hundreds of miles away. sharon mains clings to hope that her husband albert is still alive. >> he survived the vietnam war, fought there for three years. that's the only thing that's keeping me going, that he's been a survivor. >> reporter: but the search for the americans won't last much longer. the mexican navy will end its rescue friday. they brought glenn wong to safety but couldn't find his brother brian. was there a part of you thinking about your brother? >> the whole time, the whole time. >> each day that goes by that we don't have confirmation that they have been found, it becomes more and more discouraging. >> reporter: for survivors and families of the missing, hoping for a miracle as time runs out. miguel almaguer, nbc news, san felipe, mexico. overseas tonight, outrage
over some explosive allegations that great britain's leading sunday tabloid hacked into voice mails of british citizens, even families of murder victims, all just to scoop the competition. it's gotten so serious that parliament called an emergency session today to address this scandal. nbc's michelle kosinski reports from london. >> reporter: just how low will a tabloid go? tonight with new allegations against the news of the world, the paper display hacked into the voice mails of families of murder victims. >> this is disgusting, disgraceful. >> reporter: people are furious. advertisers are pulling out and the prime minister under pressure is calling for an investigation. >> i feel so appalled by what's happened. murder victims, terrorist victims who had their phones hacked is quite disgraceful. >> reporter: the news of the world admitted to and apologized for hacking into celebrity's
voice mails in the past. now owner rupert murdoch calls these new allegations deplorable, unacceptable and says news corporation will once again cooperate with police. thousands of citizens may have been victimized, and the paper is accused of paying police for information. but triggering the most outrage, allegations it hacked into the voice mail of 13-year-old millie dowler, abducted and murdered in 2002 while she was missing. and deleted messages as her voice mail filled up, which gave her family false hope she was alive. now a day before the six-year anniversary of the london terrorist bombings, families of those victims are hearing they, too, may have been hacked. >> i thought we were in a dark place and i didn't think we could get darker. >> interestingly enough, in america, we don't have this kind of journalism yet, and hopefully the american taste level is still such that it agrees this is just a bridge too far. >> reporter: at a time when news outlets face fierce competition,
a tabloid that sells 35 million copies a year is finding the most shocking scandal of all right now comes from its own news room. michelle kosinski, nbc news, london. and up next here tonight as "nightly news" continues on a wednesday evening, a school cheating scandal that some say reveals the risk of high stakes testing, but this time it's not the students who are accused of cheating. and later, two legends of this nation's space program talk about the era that's about to end with the next launch in florida.
there is disturbing news out of atlanta, georgia, tonight about a major academic cheating scandal in the city's public school system and the alleged cheaters here are not students. there are nearly 200 administrators, principals and teachers who are accused of doctoring the results of standardized tests. now their jobs are on the line, and what's been discovered in atlanta may be just the tip of the iceberg. our education nation report tonight from nbc's ron mott in atlanta. >> reporter: it is the cardinal sin of education, cheating. and a scathing report about atlanta's public schools says it's not the students, but the adults hired to teach them who are guilty. >> that, i think, is the most sinful thing, that we can do. >> reporter: governor nathan deal called it a dark cloud, where wrong answers were
routinely changed to right ones on standardized tests. the report found tainted results at 44 of 56 schools probed, involving 178 administrators, principals and teachers. >> when educators have failed to uphold the public trust and students are harmed in the process, there will be consequences. >> reporter: for years, atlanta school district officials denied cheating allegations, but a former teacher who sounded an alarm said it was met with silence and cost him his job. >> at that point, it became my problem, my fault. there was nothing that was going to be pursued by the school district. >> reporter: testing scandals are nothing new, of course. though they seem to be growing in number and significance around the country including one in the nation's capital recently that generated national attention. at least ten states use test scores as the primary evaluator of teachers with large bonuses on the line for top performers whose students score well. >> when test scores are the only thing that matters in education,
teachers feel that they have to boost those scores by hook or by crook. >> reporter: no child left behind, the 2002 law tying academic performance to federal funding has been blamed for an overemphasis on test scores. today, education secretary arne duncan says high standards aren't to blame. >> what you want to do is make sure you're evaluating students each year, but the way to get good results is through good teaching. the vast majority of folks around the country do it the right way. >> reporter: a big test of confidence in public education. ron mott, nbc news, atlanta. quick news from overseas tonight. the 2018 winter olympic games have been awarded to pyeongchang in south korea. it was their third bid for the games. persistence paid off here, they beat out bids from france and germany. when we continue here tonight, a great moment on stage, a man, a guitar and the thrill of a lifetime.
♪ all the promises we made this happened in nashville saturday night. a 32-year-old father of four and a big u2 fan, adam bevell. he had his lifetime wish fulf l fulfillfulfil fulfilled. bono spotted the sign that he was holding up, it read, blind guitar player, bring me up, and so he did. he has been blind since the age of 14. he left the stage with a gift of a guitar as pictures of the evening were quickly beamed around the world. and briefly tonight, two big birthdays, landmark birthdays in the news. former first lady nancy reagan turns 90 today. she is celebrated with a lunch with friends and family in california. and 43 has turned 65. former president george w. bush has finally reached official retirement age.
weather forecast right now looks a little sketchy, the final space shuttle launch is scheduled for this coming friday. for now, though, the news is this -- in terms of the ability of the u.s. to send americans into space, this is the end of the space program. a lot of people are trying to put the best face on it. many are not. and john glenn is among them. his name belongs on any list of genuine american heroes of the modern era. combat pilot, world war ii and korea, former u.s. senator. he was the first american to orbit the earth and later flew on shuttle "discovery." and it galls john glenn that for american astronauts, the russian space program is now their ride into space. we met up with john glenn at the air and space museum branch outside washington near dulles airport where they keep the big ticket items like the space shuttle. we talked with him about the end of the program. we also talked to our own jay barbree.
jay has covered space for this network for 53 years. this final launch will be the 166th space mission he has covered. so tonight, two veterans of the space program in their own words. >> you have feelings of nostalgia, but on a bigger picture, i'm sorry we're not maximizing the research return out of the space program, the international space station is the most unique laboratory ever put together by human beings. it also means without the shuttle, we have no way of getting into space ourselves. so we're sending our astronauts over to russia to have them put our people in the soyuz, which for the world's greatest space faring nation as we say, that's just not the answer to me. >> top space officials -- after 53 years with nbc news and covering all 165 space flights, it is the end of an era. it's the end of the space shuttle that we've all grown used to.
but it's time for another space race. it's time now to move into commercial space flight and it's time to move into deep space. i think about everyone in the space family wants to see that. they want to see astronauts beyond low earth orbit. >> would it be okay with you to retire the shuttle if the next vehicle was ready, just as mercury ran its course and was replaced by gemini, was replaced by apollo, was replaced by the shuttle. if there was something next on the pipeline, would it be better -- >> absolutely, you put your finger on it. i would feel better if the next vehicle was ready to go when we took the shuttle out of commission. that would be completely different than the way we're doing this thing. right now there's a gap. if we tailored them in so the one program dove tailed and replaced the other one, i think that would be fine. but that's not the way we're doing it. >> t minus 18 seconds and counting. >> godspeed, john glenn. >> john glenn is the right stuff. >> he was one of the original
mercury astronauts, the first american into orbit and he flew at a time that rockets were blowing up more often than they were flying. this last launch is just part of the overall picture. and that's 50 years in space by the american people. >> what about the american spirit? say nothing of research, say nothing of exploration, both of which i think are hardwired into our character, what about what this did to rally our people? >> i think back before the early space flights, which i was fortunate enough to be on one of them, and i think some of those early space flights are what brought the american psyche back into -- back into battery again, maybe and said, hey, we can do this thing. we had some successes. and we were moving and yes, we'll outdo them and we did. it was a restoration of the american psyche, i think, back in those days and i think we played a role in it. >> our thanks to jay barbree and to john glen, who later this
month will turn 90 years old. he and his wife annie just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. just getting started. that's our broadcast for this wednesday night. thank you for being with us. i'm brian williams. hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com right now at 6:00, hidden dangers, why surgery could be the latest threat for air travelers and how bay area airports are responding. >> the search for a bay area missing cyclist taking a new turn tonight that has police shifting gears. on the hunt for an art thief. an accidental clue could be the big break in the case. the news at 6:00 starts right now.