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International Security Alert; Synagogues on High Alert in Chicago Area; Person Who Sent Packages Reportedly Has Terrorist Ties; UAE Flight Bound for U.S. Escorted to JFK by Canadian & U.S. Military Jets
Aired October 29, 2010 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here's what we can tell you, the latest coming to us from our Nic Robertson, who's in the United Kingdom.
CNN is right now getting from British police sources that the discovery at East Midlands Airport, about an hour and a half from London -- this isn't London we're talking about. It's East Midlands Airport -- that the discovery of that "suspicious package" was the result of an intelligence tip-off and not a random check.
So, Scotland Yard is saying that additional scientific examinations on the items recovered from the plane are ongoing right now. We don't have an all-clear yet at East Midlands.
Richard Quest joins me now. He's in London.
Richard, international travel, I looked at the figures. Thirty thousand international flights today. Not that many delays.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. You wouldn't expect that just yet.
This has been a fairly tightly -- the thing about this at the moment -- and I was listening to Chad Myers making the point very succinctly. These cargo carriers, the UPS, DHL and FedEx, they have these vast hubs in different parts of the world where, for example, DHL in Europe, FedEx in the U.S., and also in Europe -- and it is at night that most of their planes, their fleet takes to the air, and for good reason. Because at the end of the business day, all those packages and parcels -- and remember people tend to only send higher- value articles by air freight because it's more expensive.
But, Hala, to give you an example, I've just looked at UPS' third quarter numbers which came out just this week. The average daily packages for UPS, U.S. domestic, next day, is just over a million. If you add in international packages, you're talking about something in the order of 1.5 million to 2 million packages a day being handled. And that's just by UPS alone.
So it's a vast number of packages that these companies are moving. They certainly have security procedures in place -- FedEx, UPS, DHL, all the big carriers. And that, I suspect, is one of the reasons why we're seeing the result today.
GORANI: And who handles security? I mean, if a plane originates in Yemen -- many of these planes did not, it's important to underline. But who handles security if a FedEx or UPS plane takes off from a country such as Yemen? Is it Yemeni security officials at Sanaa Airport, for instance?
QUEST: Well, first things first. The package involved gets into the hands of UPS or DHL or the carrier. And from there on, it is the carrier's responsibility.
But remember, on international flights, it would also go through Customs. It will go through security. It will have an air waybill number. And then it will go to a collection point.
You're hearing this now. For example, this flight went from Yemen to London to Philadelphia -- or was sent to Philadelphia -- and then on to Chicago. But at various points, it will be consolidated with other flights. It's a classic hub and spoke system.
Now, I do know from research previously on these things that the companies involved are very well aware that they are potentially a weak point in the chain. They have huge security measures in this regard.
GORANI: And Richard, is every single package screened?
QUEST: They will never tell you that, yes or no. It's just one of those things. I've asked on previous occasions. Maybe they will now make it clear.
But they say -- all they ever say is that there are sufficient security to ensure the safety obviously of the aircraft and the shipments. But it is well known, for example, that in some cases, sniffer dogs are used by Federal Express in the United States to prevent narcotics being transported across the country. Internationally, any flight, Hala, any flight leaving Yemen will have had a higher rate of security as it's gone on to its intermediate collection point for obvious reasons.
The security officials you speak to -- and I've been to ports, to seaports, to airports -- everybody has always known that the sheer vast amount of material coming through ports is so great, that this was always going to be a weak point in the chain.
GORANI: Well, if you're looking at millions and millions of parcels -- we're talking about UPS -- add in FedEx, add in other overnight delivery services, add in just regular cargo planes that make the trip -- yes. Logistically speaking, it's almost impossible to imagine that every single parcel coming out of every single point in the world is screened as thoroughly as potentially passengers, just ordinary citizens, would like.
QUEST: Well, except, Hala, the packages for the courier companies have to enter the system. You're not putting it into a mailbox. For example, if you want to send something via FedEx, you have to fill out a form. Now, I promise you -- because I've had problems when you want to send a present to somebody -- if you just take any old form to any FedEx office or UPS office, they'll want to know what's in that package.
And that's why if you're trying to do it from somewhere like London, Paris, Rome, New York, you'd have more difficulty. But one must now question about the measures in Yemen at the point of acceptance. It's the point of acceptance that perhaps we'll be now focused on.
All right. Richard Quest, thanks very much.
Richard Quest in London.
And just important to underline to our viewers as well, T.J., is that these packages that are being looked at East Midlands Airport, initial reports suggest no traces of explosives. However, this could be, according to some, potentially a dry run involving those ink toner cartridges that were used to disguise IEDs.
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And still, this is so early. And I believe it was Fran Townsend that told you earlier that some of those field tests sometimes that are done initially are unreliable. We don't know how much more extensive the testing will be.
But at this point, it appears there was nothing explosive, no explosive material on these particular suspicious packages, but that certainly lends the question, then what was the point of sending them? Was this a dry run? Is there another plan in the making down the road? And that is what U.S. officials, security officials across the world now, are concerned about.
It's seven minutes past the hour. We continue to follow developments as they continue to pour into us.
A quick break for us. We're right back.
Don't go anywhere.
HOLMES: All right. Ten minutes past the hour. Welcome back. T.J. Holmes here, along with my colleague from CNN International, Hala Gorani.
Thank you for being here.
But we are broadcasting across the U.S. and across the world right now on a story with international implications, security implications, after suspicious packages that originated in Yemen were found at airports in East Midlands in the U.K., and also in Dubai. Now, this prompted officials in the U.S. to check out cargo planes, UPS in particular, that came into the U.S. today at Philadelphia and also at Newark. Security officials telling us that they believe that these suspicious packages could have possibly been meant for Chicago and target synagogues.
Now, the Jewish community in Chicago has been alerted, told to look out for suspicious packages, and to be alert and vigilant. At the same time, so far the suspicious packages that were found have no explosive material, no traces of explosive material found on them.
These were toner cartridges, or at least devices that were made to look like toner cartridges. You're seeing them there. They had wires attached to them, white powder on at least one of them as well, a circuit on them. You're seeing that, that circuit board, right there as well, but no explosive materials.
That has led some to speculate that this could have been a dry run for something later, so we're wondering what that is. Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula has been named now, according to one source, as the suspect here, if you will, or at least who the U.S. believes is responsible for this. But again, no explosive material found, even though this had to do with cargo planes.
We're talking about UPS right now and cargo packages, parcels. Still, you could, if you were flying in the U.S. or around the world today, could see some stepped-up security measures on top of, Hala, the already stepped-up security measures we have been dealing with in this country and around the world for years.
GORANI: Get ready for a potentially painful security line at some airports. More painful than usual.
We're going to Dan Lothian. He's at the White House.
What's been the reaction there from the White House, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you were talking earlier about how John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, had been in touch with the Yemeni government. Well, he was the person here at the White House who contacted the president last night at 10:35 p.m. to inform him about this potential threat.
At the time, we're told by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, the president directed his intelligence community and also other law enforcement agencies to make sure, first and foremost, that the American public was safe, but also to determine whether the threat was "part of any additional terrorist plotting." The president has continued since that time to receive updates on the situation.
Now, what's interesting about this is that even though the president was informed about this last night, it did not disrupt his public schedule. This morning he still went out to Beltsville, Maryland, to do an economy event, and he's still scheduled to do a political event tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. So, the president not disrupting his public schedule while his national security team stays on top of this case -- Hala.
GORANI: And ahead of these very important midterms, how do typically these big security scares affect political races, if at all?
LOTHIAN: Well, you know, you can never really tell until after the fact. Certainly every time that something big happens like this, the American people focus again on terrorism.
When we look back at some of the recent polling, terrorism has not been up high on the polling charts when it comes to the biggest concern for Americans. Mostly, they're concerned about the economy. But you have something like this pop up, it certainly moves that up, at least in the minds of voters.
For this administration, though, it's one of trying to balance dealing with this terrorist threat and also continue with what the president has been doing now for several weeks. And that is going out campaigning in some of these states where there are very tight races. We'll see the president, as I pointed out, going out tonight, and also this weekend has a full schedule of campaigning leading up to the midterm elections.
GORANI: Dan Lothian at the White House.
HOLMES: I want to turn to our Tom Fuentes, former FBI official who helps us out on security stories here.
Tom, always good to have you and your expertise.
What you're seeing today, you know we talk so much about commercial air travel and the flights that passengers are actually on. How much attention has been given over the years to cargo that's been shipped around the world?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the cargo has gotten much less limited attention, and part of that is just the issue of the sheer volume of packages -- ocean-going containers, all methods of shipping things internationally. So it's very difficult, it's very challenging for the security agencies and the shipping agencies to screen all items of cargo.
In a case like this, I think what strikes me as very unusual in this case is if you're testing the system, normally you would expect the bad guys to disguise an explosive as an innocent device. You wouldn't expect them to disguise an innocent device as an explosive. So that's a little unusual just in and of itself, to do it.
And also, if it's a test run, it's rather foolish because it doesn't test whether an explosive would have been detected. It tests whether devices with wires sticking out of them gets noticed, but it doesn't really prove or disprove whether you could mail explosives or ship explosives internationally and have it arrive at a particular destination in the U.S. or the U.K. HOLMES: OK. From all that I just gathered from you there, we've been hearing this talked about as a test run. Is it possible still that this was the real deal?
We don't know exactly what these devices were, necessarily. But is it possible someone was supposed to receive them on this end, here in the U.S., possibly, and they had a couple of things, a little tweaks they needed to make to it, and it was still a viable device?
FUENTES: Well, from what I'm hearing, it doesn't appear so, because the things that were found, toner cartridge, I think is much more available in the United States at computer shops than it is in the mountains of Yemen. So I think the difficulty is obtaining the explosive material more so than obtaining wires and switches and batteries and the other components of an explosive device. So, again, it doesn't seem -- you're not really testing the system unless you ship an explosive.
HOLMES: All right. Tom, don't go too far. We're going to have to take a quick break here in a second, but certainly we would like to follow up with you on some of those points you made.
Tome, we appreciate you. Thank you so much.
And again, Hala, it's so much more to figure out here. But a lot of questions. And it looks like a lot of security analysts even are scratching their heads. Why would you do this? How can you even test the system if you're not going to put an explosive device --
GORANI: Well, here's what a security source is telling CNN. They are confirming the discovery of a suspicious package at 3:28 British Standard Time. That's minus five for the United States, so it would be 11:28 p.m. Eastern Time, and that it was discovered not long after being offloaded from the plane that it came in on. The sources saying that the package was not a bomb and that it's been sent for analysis, and that it's too early to assess -- it's always important to underline these things -- it's too early to assess whether it was sent as a test run.
So, all of these things are being looked at and investigated, and we're staying on top of it.
We'll be right back.
GORANI: Welcome back as we continue to follow this worldwide security alert that involves cargo planes, UPS cargo planes, one in the United Kingdom, a couple of others. In fact, a few others in the United States -- Philadelphia, Newark, where we've been given the all clear.
But in East Midlands, we understand and police are telling us, that they are confirming that a suspicious package was found at a distribution center. They're looking at that package. They don't believe there are explosive traces found on that package, and they don't know and they cannot say with any degree of certainty -- and neither can anyone else at this stage -- whether or not this was part of a dry run. We know that these packages originated in Yemen, and that is of course a cause for concern for the United States, as well as other western countries that are considered targets for al Qaeda militants.
HOLMES: All right. We talked about they originated in Yemen, but they have prompted a security scare all the way here in the U.S.
You have got the U.K. involved. You've got Yemen, Dubai. You've got Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago, and also New York. All playing a part in what we are noticing today with this security scare.
I want to turn to our Mary Snow, who's in New York for us.
Mary, hello to you.
New York had a bit of a scare and alert. I believe the all-clear was given. But, still, how did New York get caught up in this today in the first place?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, T.J. It was all clear.
This was a suspicious package that was looked at in Brooklyn, and it fills in a little bit of the timeline of how this is all unfolding. The question was, what led law enforcement here in New York to look at a package that was found in Brooklyn?
Again, nothing suspicious was found. It was paperwork.
But a law enforcement source said what led authorities to look and search for this package was -- it's all tied to Yemen, as you just said. And because there had been other suspicious packages and devices that were going to various places, that law enforcement took a look at the tracking of the numbers of the shipments going out at around the same time.
That is what led law enforcement to search for what turned out to be two packages that were ultimately found inside a truck in Brooklyn, New York. When they were searched, police say that there was nothing suspicious in them, that it was paperwork. But it gives you a little more information about how this was all unfolding.
HOLMES: Mary, what else have people in New York -- certainly a city that certainly is always on alert. But what are, if anything, are citizens there being told? What are the police department or other security officials now doing in New York? Will there be heightened vigilance? Will there be more security of any kind?
SNOW: Well, you know, T.J., police will always say in these kinds of situations that they were always on such high alert, that it has never really lowered, because police are always on guard. And you know that we've had a number of suspicious vehicles and packages in the last few months after the Times Square bombing. So police are really always so vigilant at all times. So they will always say that it really hasn't been heightened because it always is so high.
HOLMES: Mary Snow for us in New York.
Mary, we appreciate you.
GORANI: All right. We're going to continue to follow this story and its international implications and what it means for you, the weekend traveler, with more security being put in place in U.S. airports, after the break.
We'll be right back.
HOLMES: Well, at 25 past the hour, we continue to follow a developing news situation involving suspicious packages that originated in Yemen that are believed to be meant for the United States. They did not make it to the United States, these suspicious packages, but they were caught in the U.K. and also in Dubai.
But now this has prompted an international security scare, and right now security officials are just trying to piece this together to figure out if this was possibly a dry run or what. A dry run they're saying because there were no explosive materials detected so far on these suspicious devices. But still, U.S. officials saying they believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula responsible for what we are seeing today.
GORANI: We are still putting the pieces of the puzzle together there regarding what has happened the last few hours. British police are confirming that they found a suspicious package, though they are saying no explosive traces were found and that they're not sure -- they can't say for sure that this was part of a dry run.
Jeanne Meserve is in Washington with more information -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hala, we've just been speaking to a law enforcement official who gave us a little bit of information. He said that they were looking for 13 additional packages, looking for them not because they had any specific intelligence that they were dangerous in some form, but because they also originated in Yemen.
And that is why they stopped those airplanes in Philadelphia and Newark. They believed some of those packages were on board there. They want to check all 13 of these packages out as a precaution just to make sure that they do not pose any threat.
This is due diligence, just part of an investigation. But they have found some of them -- they found some of them, they tell us.
The ones they have found have washed out. They have proved not to be any sort of threat at all. There's a caution from this individual that they are going to continue to pursue the hunt for the other packages, and a warning that we may see in the coming hours and in the coming days the sorts of things that we saw in Philadelphia and Newark this morning, and maybe something like we saw with the trucks in New York. They may be isolating a particular aircraft or a vehicle because they believe one of these packages on board -- and they just want to take a look at it.
This official says this will not indicate that there is any new threat. This is wrapping up the existing investigation of these curious items that were found on the flight in the U.K. and also in Dubai.
This source says as far as he's aware, there is not any final resolution on the question of whether or not this device that was found in the United Kingdom was in fact explosive or not. As you know, we have conflicting information from different sources.
This law enforcement official says that it's possible that in initial field tests, you could get false positives or false negatives. It is likely that the British are taking this, they are running every test that they have in their tool chest to make a final determination on exactly what it is that they're dealing with here.
This official did not have any details on the package that was found in Dubai. He described it as being similar to the package that was found in the U.K., the one we've been showing the pictures of, the one that consists of a toner. He couldn't say definitively that the one in Dubai was in fact a toner cartridge as well.
Back to you, Hala.
GORANI: All right. Jeanne Meserve in Washington.
Thanks very much.
Before we take a break, just reminding our viewers what we know about this.
And that U.K. officials, T.J., said that they acted on a tip-off. This wasn't a random check. So this suggests that some sort of security -- some sort of intelligence was shared between security agencies based on a tip-off and led to the discovery of this suspicious package in the United Kingdom.
HOLMES: We've been talking about the millions and millions of packages that fly all around the country. It is impossible -- around the world. It's impossible to check every single bit of cargo.
Again, important to note here we are talking about cargo planes sure enough. But you could see some changes at your airport when you go get in that security line, when they have higher scrutiny of your cargo that's aboard your plane. So this has implications not just about cargo planes.
GORANI: The exact terminology from the Department of Homeland Security, "Continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers."
HOLMES: If it wasn't already mixed and unpredictable enough, folks.
So, a very important international story with huge implications for us all. We continue to follow it.
A quick break. I'll be right back with Hala Gorani from CNN International. I'm T.J. Holmes.
Don't go anywhere. We're back with you right after a break.
HOLMES: All right, bottom of the hour here now. We continue to follow this breaking and developing story.
We continue to get developments on this security scare that has international implications. Packages that originated from Yemen have been found to be suspicious packages. No explosive materials found on them just yet but security officials are checking them out. Those packages that originated from Yemen are believed to have been on their way to the United States, meant for the U.S.
Now, this prompted U.S. officials to stop cargo planes in Philadelphia and Newark as well to check them out, out of an abundance of caution. Again, these suspicious packages did not make their way all the way to the U.S. But still, officials in the U.S. are checking them out.
It's believed possibly that, possibly, these packages could have been on their way to Chicago where they would be used possibly to target synagogues and other Jewish establishments in Chicago.
Now, we got word a little earlier that in fact the Jewish community in Chicago had been put on alert, told to remain vigilant, keep an eye out for anything suspicious. But now, we're getting a statement from the Anti-Defamation League in which they have been this contact with the Jewish institutions across the U.S. -- I'm just going to read a piece of the statement we are getting from them. It says, "In light of the reported threat, the league, the Anti-Defamation League, has sent out a notice to U.S. Jewish communal institutions across the country to increase mail room security and to contact law enforcement immediately if they see anything suspicious."
So, now, it appears that this is broadening just past Chicago certainly and now across the United States where all Jewish institutions are being put on alert, on stand-by, at least told to keep an eye out, if you will.
But, again, Hala, right now, still no explosive materials found on these suspicious packages that originated in Yemen. Didn't make their way to the U.S. but they're being checked out in the U.K., Dubai and other places right now.
GORANI: Yes, absolutely. And invariably, you're going to have people saying, look, you're overreacting, or security officials have overreacted. We even heard that from ex-counterterrorism officials --
HOLMES: -- or people saying this was a potentially dry run. This is what some security analysts said.
You know, it's important to note, T.J., there are no direct flights from Yemen to the United States.
HOLMES: To the U.S., yes.
GORANI: So these packages -- and there no direct flights from Yemen to the U.K. either --
GORANI: -- which is possibly why some of the packages that were found to be suspicious were tested in Dubai. We don't know this for sure, but it's possible that if you send a UPS or a FedEx package from Yemen, it has to transit through another country before it makes it to the U.K. or U.S. So, possibly, that's why a package was tested and looked at in Dubai. This is, of course, not confirmed.
But Mohammed Jamjoom is in Baghdad. He spent several weeks in Yemen not too long ago.
And it's not so surprising that we'd be talking about Yemen in the context of a suspected plot to try to target western targets -- correct, Mohammed?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Hala. And in the past year and a half, as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has really gotten more of a foothold in Yemen and become much more stronger and resurgent, in fact, they have been bold in announcing they're going to use Yemen as a base to launch attacks, not just against regional neighbors of Yemen like Saudi Arabia, but also against countries like the U.S. and U.K., other places in Europe as well.
Now, I was in Yemen for several weeks this past month, and I can tell you that Yemeni officials are quite concerned about how al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is really adapting right now.
What they have done is they have changed their tactics. They have learned from the playbook of al Qaeda in Iraq. They are now going directly against the government of the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. They're trying to undermine his authority.
And because Yemen has such a weak central government, it's only really in Sana'a that the government has a real hold on power. The government is concerned because there are more and more of these militants that are being attracted there. Just last week, the foreign minister of Yemen estimated the numbers of al Qaeda in Yemen to be at 400.
All the Yemeni officials I spoke with said they need help from the international community. They need aid. They want to make sure, because al Qaeda is an international problem, not just a local problem, and they welcome any aid they can get -- Hala.
GORANI: Yes. I want to ask about U.S. involvement in Yemen. This is not necessarily something that's trumpeted. It's kept a bit on the down low.
How much does Yemen receive in American help, whether it's military help or financial aid, to try to combat the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula presence?
JAMJOOM: Hala, the simplest way to answer that is to say that they receive a lot more aid and they would like to publicly admit. The problem for Yemeni officials is they don't want to make it look to Yemeni tribes as though the U.S. and U.K. is really getting more and more people there, whether they'd be for training, whether it'd be military aid. It's a real sore spot for them.
Now, when we were there, we spoke to General Yahya Saleh. He's the head of the counter-terror forces in Yemen. We asked him specifically about a real sore point for Yemeni officials: Are the U.S. and are the U.K. involved in air strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda?
Now, he acknowledged to us that the U.S. and the U.K. were involved in those air strikes, but again, it's very sensitive. They don't want these tribes to know that the U.S. and U.K. are as heavily involved as they are, and the U.S. and U.K. are pledging more and more aid and they're pledging to send more and more people to train Yemeni forces.
So, again, they really want to keep this on the down low because they were afraid that this will have severe repercussions for the government and it will be -- and it will make the U.S. forces there, if there are trainers there, into more of a target -- Hala.
GORANI: Yes. And their attacks -- very recently attack on a U.K. diplomatic convoy in Yemen. So, things happen in Yemen and things originate from Yemen as well.
Mohammed Jamjoom is in Baghdad, thanks very much -- T.J.
HOLMES: And, again, we talk about Yemen here. And this is where al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula is. They have a presence there and U.S. officials have already come out and said they believe that whatever this plot is today that we are seeing, they believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is behind it.
Let me bring in Josh Levs. Again, Josh, we have seen and certainly, the security officials sometimes, when we talk to the analysts, would just throw out AQAP because they just shorten it. But it's something that security officials are familiar with it and that name in Yemen. But explain to our viewers once again, give them a little background exactly who we're dealing with here.
JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And there are reasons that things are getting worse in Yemen right now. That is becoming more of a danger to global security, including U.S. security. And that, folks, is what I can lay out for you right here on this map.
Let's zoom right in. This is Yemen right here. I'm going to be able to show you some of what we were just hearing from Mohammed now.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a combination of al Qaeda terrorists, al Qaeda operatives, inside Yemen and up here in Saudi Arabia. Now, ever since 9/11, we've been hearing about al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. But has happened is, in January 2009, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula became the combination of the al Qaeda operatives in both countries.
And, you know, you think we've got porous borders in the United States, we got nothing on Yemen. Yemen has incredibly porous borders. And this is a big part of the reason why there has been an increase in these operations.
Look, up here you have Saudi Arabia -- some people coming down into Yemen. But what you have on the south side which we cannot forget is Somalia. When we hear Somalia in the United States and around the world, people are quite familiar with there being a tremendous power vacuum there, increasing presence of al Qaeda inside Somalia. Well, what we've been seeing in the recent years is more and more people working their Yemen across these porous borders.
Now, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is largely outside the capital. And this is something Mohammed was talking about. The capital of Yemen is Sana'a. Right here, you do find the government can actually exercise some authority. But what you also see is outside of this, you have a pretty weak government and a very little legislation that's been passed to do anything about this. A government that at times has tried to make efforts to swipe against the growing number of terrorists and al Qaeda operatives in this region but has had a lot of difficulty doing so.
And what the U.S. State Department says is that the situation in Yemen has been deteriorating. And that's what you see in Somalia, that's what you see in any country. When you have a power vacuum, when you have a country in which people don't feel they have leadership, (a), there's leadership that can't do much about it because they're so small, and (b), people are looking for leadership.
So, right now, what you have, after all these years, of us hearing about al Qaeda is more and more people saying that this spot on Earth right here is now the new center point for al Qaeda in general, because al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is organizing while the government that is in there is not doing that much to stop it. And again, more and more people are working their way up from Somalia.
One more thing to remind you as I toss it back to you, guys, this is also really important oil waterway right here. So, a lot of the oil that ultimately makes it all over the world does go through the Gulf of Aden in this area. So, again, major commerce here and critical countries. And, folks, that is why, T.J. and Hala, that's why so many people are taking an increasing look now at Yemen and saying something has to be done about that power security vacuum there.
HOLMES: All right, Josh, thank you.
LEVS: You got it.
HOLMES: Hala, we heard him talking about -- we've been talking about the Yemeni government has opened an investigation. I mean, that sounds fine and dandy, but how much can they do
GORANI: How much --
HOLMES: -- necessarily? A weak government there.
GORANI: How much can they investigate? How much then can they act on the results of that investigation? So, all very interesting.
We continue to follow this global security scare for you. We will be right back after a break.
GORANI: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're continuing to cover this global security scare involving cargo planes in which a device was found on a cargo plane in the United Kingdom. It was tested. Authorities say no trace of explosives. However, they can't say for sure whether or not this was part of a dry run and U.S. officials are telling CNN that they think al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula might be behind this plot.
HOLMES: Yes, this was part of a security scare. It's believed that maybe these packages were meant for Chicago, that possibly there is a plot against Chicago. And the Jewish community has been alerted in Chicago and also, now, across the entire United States just put on alert, and Jewish institutions told to look out for anything suspicious, checking their mail rooms as well for packages that are coming in.
But what you're seeing here, the reach we have here at CNN. We have reporters all over the globe right now covering this story for us, including a correspondent in Baghdad who just spent time in Yemen, and also in the U.K., our correspondents, also in Washington, D.C.
We also have one of our correspondents in Philadelphia. This is where U.S. security officials stopped a couple of cargo planes today to check them out just out of an abundance of precaution. Our Allan Chernoff is there for us.
Allan, hello. What have you been able to surmise from being there on the ground there?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, T.J., just in the last couple of minutes, HAZMAT teams had approached that UPS Plane you see behind me. It's been sitting on the tarmac for hours, but only in the last couple of minutes did the HAZMAT and bomb-detection teams enter the aircraft. They're now going to check it out inside of the aircraft and a second aircraft here in Philadelphia. We're told there are six packages that originated in Yemen. But now all the packages are going to be checked out for the possibility of chemical, biological, radioactive material or even bombs. It's all going to be checked out.
We should emphasize, though, there has been no specific threat related to these UPS planes, related to these packages from Yemen here specifically in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of this situation, they are going to be checking all this out; six packages, as I said, that did originate in Yemen.
But, again, no specific threat here, they're just being extremely cautious -- T.J.
HOLMES: And I want to continue to reiterate, as we have here, that we're talking about -- to our viewers -- we're talking about cargo planes here, UPS planes that were carrying cargo. At this point, now passenger planes, no commercial passenger planes have been targeted or had anything suspicious on them.
But tell us, Allan, has there been any effect on air travel, passengers or any commercial flights there as far as any slowdowns? I know the Department of Homeland Security said people can expect maybe some stepped-up screening of their cargo as they get on their flights.
What have you noticed there or would commercial passengers notice anything there at this point?
CHERNOFF: Well, what you're looking at right behind me, this is a very remote area of the airport. This is right near gate 11. The other UPS plane is parked further away near the UPS terminal. It's quite a distance from the passenger terminal here.
And I can tell you the airport has been extremely busy. We're seeing takeoffs, landings. So it doesn't seem to have interrupted anything in terms of the passengers right now. Clearly, screening is going to be fairly intense today and we should expect over the next few days as a result of this scare.
HOLMES: All right, Allan Chernoff for us at Philadelphia at the airport there. We appreciate you, Allan.
And, Hala, you heard him say there at least the passengers may not be noticing anything right now, nothing delayed, but the Department of Homeland Security still warning folks you may notice enhanced security this weekend, may slow things down.
GORANI: All right, as we continue to follow this story we'll take a short break and we'll be right back. And after the breaks, we'll go live to London. Stay with us.
HOLMES: We continue to follow this international breaking news story about these suspicious packages that originated from Yemen that were meant for the United States. They were found, being checked out in the U.K., also Dubai. Didn't make it to the U.S., but prompted a security scare at Philadelphia, Newark, some flights, UPS cargo flights were checked out there.
We've been following this for the past several hours here, Hala, and now we're getting word that in fact the president is going to be making a statement about what we've been seeing today. Expecting this statement to come at 4:15 Eastern time. So about an hour and a half from right now, the president will step out and make a statement about what we've been seeing we're told. He certainly was getting updates, got updates actually last night about what is happening. But going to address it and have some of his security team take some questions.
GORANI: And some might think this is surprising. This is an international alert. No bombs were found. No traces of explosives were found in the United States, as far as we know. In fact, no traces of explosives were found in the U.K. where that suspicious package was found based on a tip-off, according to security officials I spoke to. And so, the president is coming out and talking to the nation following this security scare.
And there you have our reporters covering this story for us as well. And Richard Quest is one of our U.K.-based experts on the aviation industry. And we're talking about cargo planes here. And the last time we spoke, Richard, we were talking about UPS alone handling millions of parcels around the world every day and how difficult it is to screen each and every one of them.
QUEST: indeed. And since we've last spoke, I've just been looking at the numbers from UPS and FedEx's quarterly reports.
Now this is a huge industry. UPS Has more than 500 planes. FedEx has 664 planes. We're not talking small potatoes here is. On average every day, by air, UPS Handles about 4 million packages. And this is the sort of package that will be so familiar to you have and your viewers.
Hala, the detail on this package, if you can see, this is why these 13 packages that they're still looking for or six that they are still looking for, the amount of detail that will be on this part of the package. It's got obviously the name, but it's got the routing details, the tracking details.
Now those packages from Yemen, they will have had that on it. So although a lot of the information may have been false, there is going to be a very good paper trail about where these packages started from.
And you don't just turn up -- it's not like putting something in the mail. Hala, when you fill in one of these things, you have to give customs details. You have to say the value.
And in some cases, the detail has to be who's shipping it, what's involved. Again, all information that can be fabricated or could be dishonest, but ultimately, it does create a paper trail that will make it a little bit easier for the authorities to work out how these packages, if they are suspect, got on to -- well, first of all, where the packages are now. They pretty much know exactly where they are or which planes they're heading towards and ultimately how they got there in the first place.
GORANI: Let's talk a little bit -- we have so many viewers around the world wondering if even though this security alert involved cargo planes, if commercial flights will be affected.
QUEST: All right.
Under -- in the belly of every aircraft there is valuable space, cargo space. It's pressurized and sometimes it's heated. The sort of things that go in the belly of a normal aircraft will be high value goods -- often fresh vegetables, computer parts, flowers, all those sort of things, because it's so expensive.
Now, Hala, cargo is screened -- cargo on commercial planes is screened to a very high level. But, again, the sheer vast amounts of cargo mean that it's not possible to have the same sort of in-depth open-end scrutiny.
It all comes down to -- what they always say to me when I ask about cargo, it comes down to this, Hala, is the paperwork -- have the people that accepted the cargo, do they know what's in it. Have they accepted it from reputable sources? And that, of course, becomes more difficult the more packages that they are.
GORANI: OK, Richard Quest in London. Thanks very much for that update and that explanation to what goes into sending packages and parcels from one point in the world to another.
HOLMES: We are getting some new information here now. And I'm looking here because I am reading this from the screen.
We're getting word that a flight is coming into the U.S. from the UAE, from the United Arab Emirates -- and you all correct me, I know you're listening, Kelly (ph), so I'm just reading this as I have it here -- but it's now being escorted by two U.S. fighter jets expected to come into JFK International in New York.
This, again, I'm seeing this, quote, "out of an abundance of caution." They began tracking this flight. This is a passenger airliner we are talking about this time and it was, quote, "determined to be an aircraft of interest as it flew over Canadian air space."
Now, this was -- first came to the attention of Canadian authorities and two Canadian fighter jets first got up there and started to escort this particular plane. But now, as it is entering U.S. air space and again, scheduled to land at 3:30 -- I think I have that right, so about 30 minutes from now at JFK, two U.S. fighter jets have now picked up the escort and taking it to JFK.
We do not know at this point why, but the word we're getting -- and this is in quotes here -- "determined to be an aircraft of interest as it flew over Canadian air space." This could be a coincidence, just happened to be happening on the same day that we are seeing all this other security scare involving cargo planes, but now we are talking about a passenger jet that was coming from the UAE into the United States expected to land or scheduled to land at JFK international airport at 3:30, so about 30 minutes from now, being escorted by fighter jets.
We will continue to keep a close eye on this. A whole lot more to come. Developing breaking news all day here.
GORANI: Certainly another angle to this story if it is indeed related. We're going to continue to follow this on CNN and CNN International of these cargo planes and investigation into suspicious packages and now this passenger airline that was escorted by F-15 jets to JFK.
We will be back here on CNN with Michael Holmes and Fredricka Whitfield.