COOPER: Well, the other night, we told you about a vault in the New Mexico desert and some mysterious land markings nearby, markings that can only be seen from the sky. Both are part of a compound built by the "Church" of Scientology. And inside the vault are said to be writings by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the "church".
Many who live in New Mexico are simply unaware the vault even exists and don't -- they have never seen the markings. And the "church" itself isn't talking.
So, we sent CNN's Gary Tuchman to investigate.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The land is rugged on the south end of the Rocky Mountain range, a panoramic view of northeastern New Mexico, under clear skies, which makes it easier to see an unusual sight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it. TUCHMAN: Two huge interlocking circles, markings on the desert soil that cannot be seen from the ground, but can be seen from the heavens.
MICHAEL PATTINSON, EX-SCIENTOLOGIST: I think they're not designed to be seen by human beings, but by alien beings.
TUCHMAN: Michael Pattinson says he was a member of the "Church" of Scientology for 23 years. Now he's a disgruntled ex-member, who says the circles are signposts for reincarnated Scientologists who come from outer space.
PATTINSON: They're markings to show the location of one of the vaults which Scientology has prepared to safeguard the technology of L. Ron Hubbard.
TUCHMAN: Hubbard, who died in 1986, was a science fiction writer who started the "Church" of Scientology. And, indeed, next to the circles and a private runway is a building with a vault built into the mountain. Current Scientologists do say archives are held in the vaults, just as other [sic] "religion"s safeguard their sacred texts.
They say the vault is overseen by a Scientology corporation called the "Church" of Spiritual Technology.
(on camera): "Church" of Scientology officials denied CNN's request for a tour of the compound. They say the markings are simply a logo of the "Church" of Spiritual Technology and that this is a non- story. But from what we have experienced, "church" officials are extremely sensitive about this nonstory.
(voice-over): A pilot we hired to fly us over the compound backed out, saying he got a call from the Scientologists asking him not to go with us. Other pilots said they would not fly us because they didn't want to make the Scientologists angry. But we did finally get a pilot.
(on camera): What do those circles look like to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They look like a branding symbol a rancher might have put out there.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The closest town to the desert etchings is Las Vegas, New Mexico. The county sheriff there is one of few non- Scientologists who have visited the compound. Chris Nahar (ph) did so just last month, for the first time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time that there -- an incident that happens, that there's, say, for instance, Waco or the World Trade Center incident, every time something like this happens, there seems to be some rumblings that it's a training ground for militia or a terrorist training ground, that kind of thing. So, they have been inviting me out there, so we can go out there and try to dispel those rumors.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Have you dispelled those rumors? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we went out there. I didn't see anything of the sort.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The sheriff says the Scientologists told him, this is where L. Ron Hubbard's writings, saved on titanium plates, will be preserved for thousands of years.
He says many people were there, lots of farm animals and a large cache of food supplies.
(on camera): Did it strike you as a place for survivalists?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite possibly, yes. I definitely want to go there if it hit the fan.
TUCHMAN: If it hits the fan?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The sheriff says the notion of spacecraft returning here was not discussed with him, but former members say that's part of Scientology teachings.
PATTINSON: I know it sounds very, very bizarre, but this is where reality is stranger than fiction.
TUCHMAN: So, are the circles a landing pad for extraterrestrial vehicles? The "church" is not commenting to us.
TUCHMAN: Scientology officials are generally not gung-ho about talking to reporters, believing they have been unfairly dumped upon. But they do tell us, they do not think it was necessary for us to cover this story. They say that, either way, they didn't want to talk to us, after they made that comment -- Anderson.
COOPER: And, Gary, I mean, every "church" wants to protect the -- the texts that they believe are sacred. I mean, what I have heard is that they're using sort of titanium plates that the -- the -- the writings of L. Ron Hubbard are etched into. Is that -- is that what you were hearing?
And that's one thing that everyone agrees upon in the story, the former Scientologist, the current Scientologist, the sheriff who went there, that there are archives, sacred texts, inside. Titanium protects those texts. But it's still not exactly clear what those circles are in the New Mexico desert.
COOPER: Gary Tuchman, thanks.
The "Church" of Scientology reportedly only allows very high- ranking members inside the vault. In a moment, you are going to hear from a former "church" member, a former member of the Sea Org, the super-secret organization within the "church". He will explain what it's like inside the "Church" of Scientology.
Plus, it used to be simple. Christmas trees were Christmas trees. But nothing seems simple anymore. 'Tis the season for semantic folly -- coming up next on 360.
COOPER: A New Mexico police chief tells us what he saw inside a top- secret Scientology vault. That's coming up.
But, first, here is what is happening at this moment.
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito says, if he gets the job, he will put his personal views aside when ruling on abortion. Alito assured Senator Arlen Specter, the man who will head his confirmation hearings, that he will give weight to legal precedent.
New changes to what you can and cannot take on an airplane -- transportation officials say scissors and small tools are now OK. The tradeoff is more -- the prospect of more pat-downs and extra security checks. Officials say the new rules are aimed at catching terrorists with explosives.
A federal judge says random bag searches on the New York City subway are constitutional. He's ruled that the searches deter terrorism and fall under the special-needs exception to the Fourth Amendment, which requires reasonable suspicion before a search. The New York Civil Liberties Union brought the suit, says it is planning to appeal.
And, on the loose in Vero Beach, Florida, two possibly armed and dangerous prisoners -- the sheriff's office of Indian River County says that Edward Roberson and Marty Finney escaped overnight. A third inmate has been recaptured.
Before the break, Gary Tuchman showed us what some mysterious markings in the New Mexico desert look like from the sky. They are two giant interlocking circles that some former Scientologists say are meant to be signposts that will one day guide reincarnated Scientologists to a special vault -- inside that vault, an archive of the writings that define the "church".
Very few outsiders have been inside the vault. Tim Geigos [Gallegos] has. He's chief of the Las Vegas, New Mexico Police Department, and is not a Scientologist. I spoke to him earlier about what he saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: This is for the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the "Church" of Scientology. I understand they're written or etched into what's been described as either stainless steel or titanium tablets. Did you see that? CHIEF TIM GEIGOS, LAS VEGAS, NEW MEXICO POLICE: Yes, and that's only one form of recording. They have CDs, if you will, and I don't remember what the type of etching is on CDs. They had a recording, a tape-driven cassette or something similar. They had special writing, special paper, special inks, you know, these type of things. If I remember correctly, they were using five formats to store each of the, whatever it is that they were saving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We were curious to talk to former Scientologists or current Scientologists, but they wouldn't speak with us tonight, about what is the appeal for the "Church"? Bruce Hines, my next guest, was a Scientologist for 30 years. During that time he had access to another "church" vault in California. I talked to him earlier tonight. I began by asking him to describe that vault.
BRUCE HINES, FMR. CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY MEMBER: I'd estimate it was about 15 feet in diameter, circular, on the inside, had a sort of a flat bottom, and it was, as I recall, it was maybe about 100 feet long, and it was well-lit. It was metallic.
COOPER: And the purpose of the vault, as I understand it, is to preserve the writings of L. Ron Hubbard. Why is that so important in the "Church" of Scientology?
HINES: You're taught in the "church" that L. Ron Hubbard is the only person who has worked out man's salvation, you could say. And he says outright, there's a particular writing that one has to study and just about any course you do, and he says outright that no other route to freedom or to enlightenment or whatever you call it, works. And, this is the only one that works, and so he considered it so important that he felt it was worth millions of dollars to put this in indestructible form, and put it in a place where it couldn't be destroyed.
COOPER: And, is there a belief in Scientology that there is -- and many "religion"s have sort of an "End of the World" scenario. Is there that in Scientology? Is that the reason why these things are written on steel or titanium tablets and buried in the ground?
HINES: There is, continually, while you're in the "Church", there's a threat that if we don't succeed in our mission, meaning the "Church" of Scientology's mission, the consequences could be really bad. And, such things as a nuclear war, or -- it's a bit vague. It's all left a bit vague. But the idea is definitely that there could be a really bad end.
COOPER: And the mission is what, as you saw it?
HINES: The catch phrase was "clear the planet," which basically means get everybody on the planet to the state of clear, and above, and what this supposedly would do is rid the word of aberration, you'd get rid of war and insanity and various other ills. COOPER: And, "getting clear," that's -- I've heard Scientologists talk about that. That's what? That's getting to a point where you're perfected? What does it mean?
HINES: Well, sort of. The definition is that you no longer have your own reactive mind, and the reactive mind is labeled as the thing that makes people act irrationally, destructively, the source of psychosomatic illnesses and such things. And, supposedly at the state of clear you have gotten rid of this thing altogether.
COOPER: In this facility in New Mexico, there are sort of symbols in the ground, circles with diamond shapes in the center of them. To you, what does that mean? What do those symbols mean?
HINES: The symbol is very definitely the logo for one of the entities within the "Church" of Scientology or it's related corporately somehow. It's called the "Church" of Spiritual Technology. And the only reason it could be etched into the ground like that, so large, is so that it could be recognized from a great distance.
COOPER: Well, not all Scientologists keep a low profile. Many celebrities have joined the "Church". Why though? What draws them to the secretive "religion"? A look at that coming up. Plus, this video shows drug gang hit men allegedly confessing to terrible crimes. But, check out the tape. These men appear to have been beaten. The question is by whom, and what has happened to them since? We'll investigate.
COOPER: For 24 years Bruce Hines was a member of a Group called the Sea Organization. It's inside the "Church" of Scientology. And the "Church" describes it as a "religious" order made up of the most dedicated Scientologists in the world; individuals who have dedicated their lives to the service of their "religion". I asked Bruce Hines to give me his description of Sea Org.
HINES: It's very much a military organization. You wear a uniform, there's saluting, marching, standing at attention.
COOPER: And what was the appeal of it for you? What did it give you?
HINES: Well, at the time when I joined it, it was an opportunity to, I thought, contribute to this great purpose, which is sort of like save the planet, sort of thing. And, if you're a believer in their teachings, then you're helping to bring about a better society, a better world, and you sort of dedicate yourself to that.
COOPER: How do you see it now? I mean, you were a member for 30 years. HINES: I see it totally differently now. I left in 2003. And since I've been out, I've -- have a whole other view of it now. And I do not see that the "Church" of Scientology can accomplish what they say they will, and what they convince people that they are capable of. And in a sense I felt like I was duped or tricked into it, and I feel like I've woken up since I've been out.
COOPER: Was it hard to get out?
HINES: Oh, I had -- definitely had to go through some soul- searching, and decide if I wanted to keep doing that or, um, or just terminate my relationship with that organization. I just packed my bags and went to Port Authority and got on a bus.
COOPER: You didn't tell them. You just disappeared?
HINES: Right, I just disappeared. Because, I know that it's a bit of an ordeal otherwise.
COOPER: What do you think people should know about the "Church" of Scientology?
HINES: I think that they just need to know everything that they teach and they believe up front. And, that they do have policies such as disconnection. Like the fact I left and now my family, they won't even talk to me.
COOPER: Why won't they talk to you? I mean, what is it that they feel that you have done?
HINES: It's more just the rule.
COOPER: Why do you think it is that so many celebrities seem to be interested in Scientology?
HINES: I don't know the full answer to that. Partly they do promote to celebrities directly. They have the Celebrity Center in Los Angeles.
COOPER: Is there something about sort of empowering the individual, and are those lessons somehow particularly suited to Hollywood celebrities? Is it a message that they somehow, they want to hear that helps them in their career?
HINES: Well, I think so. It does empower the individual, that's one of the big things that's taught. And, it also teaches you to you deal with stresses in life. And you take courses in this, and you learn how to recognize certain kinds of people and how to deal with them, and there are drills in how to communicate with people. And, I can imagine that, for a celebrity, who -- there probably is quite a bit of stress in that sort of lifestyle, I would think, that they find that helpful.
COOPER: It does seem to be kind of a master form of therapy and kind of a long process of therapy. I mean, taking classes and, you know, these e-meters and kind of looking back at childhood incidences. I mean, that sounds very much like therapy, but they're so opposed to therapy.
HINES: And I agree. I think it's just a paradox and I think it's hypocritical.
COOPER: Well, as always, we don't take sides. We like to examine all sides of the story. We called the "Church" of Scientology yesterday, they declined to comment. We called them again today and we haven't heard back from them yet. To the violent world of gangs now where drug trafficking and retribution murder are not exactly novelties along the Texas border. Nor is it so rare to find Mexican police officials on the wrong side of the law. It takes a particularly brazen instance of corruption to get noticed here in the U.S. or, in the case, under federal investigation tonight, a disturbing videotape. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the tape.