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THE SITUATION ROOM
Alleged Iranian-Backed Terror Plots; U.S. Military Options in Syria; Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa
Aired May 28, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, new evidence that bomb plots linked to Iran may be a part of a bigger, more dangerous shadow war with the United States. This hour, details of reported plans to assassinate American officials.
Plus, the pope allegedly betrayed by his own butler in a leak scandal that's exploding within the Vatican right now.
Will the investigation go deeper into the pope's inner circle?
And a sky diver straps in for a record-breaking free-fall from the edge of outer space. He's talking to us about his leap into the stratosphere.
Welcome to our viewers from around the world and here in the United States.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Jim Acosta.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're now learning that Americans were one of the hit lists -- or were on the hit list of Iranian-backed terrorists plotting attacks on foreign diplomats in a number of countries.
This is raising a lot of new questions about the scope of this assassination campaign and whether the Iranian government was directly involved.
Our Brian Todd is digging deeper on this story -- Brian, what do you have?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this latest reporting as to what we have been digging into for the past several months, various alleged plots in what is shaping up as a real shadow war between Iran and the U.S. and its allies, especially Israel.
Now, the latest plot is a "Washington Post" report today -- details of this alleged plot to kill Americans in the Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan. "The Post" says the plot involved snipers and -- excuse me, snipers with silencer-equipped rifles and a car bomb intended to kill employees of the U.S. embassy in the Azari capital of Baku and members of their families, as well.
According to "The Post," the plot developed over the last several months, but authorities in Azerbaijan started rounding up the alleged conspirators and this plot may have been thwarted.
Now, "The Post" says that U.S. officials linked this plot to Iran, Azerbaijan's neighbor to the south. It says that it's not clear who ordered it, whether it came from elements in the government or some of their proxies, Iran's proxies, like Hezbollah.
We tried to reach Iranian officials at the U.N. for comment, but possibly because of the holiday, we could not reach them.
However, the Iranian government did tell "The Post" it denies any involvement in the Azerbaijan plot -- Jim.
ACOSTA: And, Brian, this is extraordinary because there is kind of a pattern here, right?
TODD: That's right. Now, we have referred to this shadow war -- Iran, Israel and with the map here, you can see kind of just the proximity of all these places -- Iran, Israel, and, apparently, the United States all involved here.
Now, what we're going to tell you about is last fall, the Iranian government was linked to a plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the US. Iran denied involvement in that plot.
Then earlier this year, you had plots in new Delhi, India and in Bangkok, Thailand that were linked to the Iranians, plots using magnetized bombs on vehicles and other explosives. Both of these plots fizzled. But the wife of an Iranian -- excuse me, an Israeli diplomat was hurt in that India attack. Those were linked to Iran, as well, which Tehran denied. But Iran has been targeted, as well, in all of this. And in February, when the attacks in India and Thailand unfolded, I asked former CIA and FBI counter-terror official, Philip Mudd, whether we could look for Iran to retaliate for the hits on their nuclear program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: We have a couple of factors to look at here. First, there's a history of aggressiveness by the Iranian services, assassinations of oppositionists in Europe in the 1980s and '90s, and, also, operations even in the case of attacks against American soldiers in Iraq.
Then you look at what's happened recently, an explosion at one of their nuclear facilities, a cyber attack on their nuclear program and assassinations of their own scientists, I think we should expect to see retaliation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Now, as he referred to, Iran has accused the United States and Israel of trying to kill its nuclear scientists and of being behind the cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, the now well known Stuxnet attacks.
U.S. and Israeli officials have never really spoken publicly about those incidents -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thank you.
Now let's talk more about this with CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend.
The former Bush homeland security adviser is a member of the external advisory boards of the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security -- Fran, thanks for joining us.
I wanted to ask you about this, because there's a lot of -- there are a lot of dots being connected here. And I guess we don't know for sure whether or not these reports are connected to what some intelligence experts refer to as this shadow war that is going on over Iran's nuclear program.
But how significant is the, I guess, this revelation, do you think?
Is it something that the United States should be taking very seriously right now?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, absolutely. And, look, this shouldn't be unexpected. This is sort of the kind of shadow war that they're engaging in is what Iran wants.
It's what they're best at, right?
They use proxies like Hezbollah, like the Quds force, to launch attacks, whether it's Thailand, Georgia, India, all of which we have seen. They're one-off type attacks, in Thailand, in India. We've seen magnetic bombs using C-4. That's what they do.
And we under -- we have understood that those kinds of attacks are in retaliation for what they perceive to be Western attacks against nuclear scientists.
And so what we're hearing about today is really an extension of that.
We have also seen Iran extending their reach into their client state, Syria. There are reports that the Quds Force, an Iranian military group, is present in Syrian and advising the Syrian government.
This is what they do. Iran does not want a full on frontal military attack, you know, armies on armies, because they're going to lose that to a Western power as strong as the United States. And so they prefer these sort of shadow or proxy wars that we've seen going on now.
ACOSTA: And, Fran, there are reports out today, as you know, that Iran is providing military support to the Assad government in Syria.
You know, I guess the question is, you know, could that be somehow linked to this massacre that we saw in Hula?
A lot of people are very concerned that that situation in Syria is unraveling.
What culpability is there on the part of the Iranian government?
TOWNSEND: Look, Syria has long been a client state of Iran, right?
Iran has provided not only sort of advice, military advice and training, but they've provided arms. And -- and we know that through our -- the U.S. and Western intelligence communities. And so no question they've provided arms, no question they've provided support.
I -- I think it is a step further to say if, in fact, we know that they have provided on the ground military support and actually actively engaged in the fighting against Syrian civilians, that's a new step. That's actually a step beyond what we've seen before. And it -- it would be an outrage against the Syrian people that the Assad regime would permit a foreign military power to engage in the assassination of its own citizens.
Not surprising, but I think this is a new...
TOWNSEND: -- this is a new breach, if you will.
ACOSTA: And, Fran, we heard the president today, in his remembrances here in Washington, talk about how the United States should not get into another war unless it's absolutely necessary. But yet there are members of Congress, on the Republican side, urging the president, urging the White House to get more active when it comes to the situation in Syria.
But -- but, really, aren't we sort of dealing with a post-Iraq War world when it comes to Iran's influence in that region?
And it's just a very difficult problem to solve, it seems.
TOWNSEND: I think that you're exactly right. It is a very difficult problem to solve. But I think we have to remind our viewers that it's not an either or, right?
It's not simply does the U.S. get involved in a ground war or not?
There are things we can do to take out air defenses, to support the opposition, to protect civilians, that we're not doing that we can do.
And I think that's what you're hearing. There's a frustration when you see this sort of massacre of Hula and the continuing ongoing sort of attacks against civilians. The American people and the international community are saying we can do more than we're doing, short of putting in U.S. troops, and don't we have a moral obligation to do that?
And I think that's the frustration that you're hearing now.
ACOSTA: Fran Townsend, thank you so much.
We appreciate it.
ACOSTA: It may cost you more to get through airport security. Stand by to hear about another fee to fly that is in the works, if you can believe that.
Plus, one conservative pundit calls Donald Trump a "bloviating ignoramus" -- those are his words and his support for Mitt Romney, according to that pundit, is only going to hurt Republicans.
I'll ask a key Romney supporter in Congress about that.
And did the pope's butler really do it?
We'll talk about that scandal and betrayal inside the Vatican.
ACOSTA: Mitt Romney is calling for President Obama to take stronger steps to put an end to the regime of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad -- Bashar al-Assad. The massacre of 108 people in the town of Hula is putting a harsh new spotlight on the violence in Syria.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was asked today if the United States should be considering military action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think, as you know, my job is to provide the commander-in-chief with options. And I think the military option should be considered. And I think that. But, my -- my preference, of course, always, as -- as the senior military leader, would be that the international community could find ways of increasing the pressure on Assad to do the right thing and step aside.
But, of course, we always have to provide military options. And they should be considered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: A short while ago, I asked a leading Mitt Romney supporter, Congressman Darrell Issa, about U.S. policy in Syria.
ACOSTA: Well, let me ask you about what Chairman Dempsey had to say. You just heard that. He talked about the -- the possibility that all military options would be on the table in dealing with that situation there.
Is there an appetite in Congress right now for another military action in that part of the world, whether it be unilateral or in, you know, in some kind of cooperative effort with NATO?
Is there an appetite for that?
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: Jim, I think there's always a belief by Congress that we have an obligation to stop innocent people from being slaughtered, as they are in Syria, and particularly when you have these countries -- Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, bordering Syria. This is an important area to make sure that human rights are respected. And we have to take a role, probably with NATO, to ensure that these people are protected as we try to figure out whether or not a new leader is also in the works.
ACOSTA: Is there anything more that the Obama administration could be doing right now?
Mitt Romney put out a statement over the weekend criticizing the president in his handling of what is happening in Syria right now.
Is there anything more that a Romney administration could do, do you think?
ISSA: Well, I certainly think a Romney administration would quickly gather our NATO allies, including Turkey, and say this is in your backyard. This is an area in which we will help. We will provide technical support, leadership, but ultimately, the forces on the ground to stabilize the situation and protect innocents that are being slaughtered would have to come out of Europe, come through Turkey or Israel or Lebanon or Iraq. And that means it's going to be a combined effort. And I think that's where Governor Romney coming in fresh and saying it's not about a war, but it is about protecting innocent lives would make a difference.
ACOSTA: And Chairman Issa, one of the reasons why we wanted to talk to you is because you have made in turning to politics now in the race for 2012, the presidential race. One of the reasons why we wanted to talk to you is because you are one of the wealthiest members of Congress.
It's been reported that your own personal wealth is somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million. Mitt Romney, obviously, is one of the wealthiest men to run for the White House. And there's been this whole line of attack coming from the Obama re-election campaign in recent weeks on his private business record.
And I'm just curious what you think about Mitt Romney's response to all that? Has it been an effective response? Do you think he could be more effective in talking about his own business experience, because obviously, it hasn't only been a situation where companies were closed under his watch at Bain Capital, obviously, companies were created. How do you think he's handled it?
ISSA: Well, you know, when you go in to save troubled companies, you go in to build companies that need building and restructuring, you're going to have some casualties, but you know, that's exactly what we need in Washington and why I'm so delighted to support Governor Romney is that, in fact, he understands that our government has gotten too big.
There are agencies that need to be reformed, closed combined, something the president talks about but hasn't done. And the American people understand that on this day, when we're talking about taking $58 million by sequestration out of our men and women in uniform, that there's got to be a better way.
There's got to be ways to take money out of GSA and other agencies that are throwing fancy parties and make it available for the essential services that the American people want. So, I do want to a person who understands that it's not nice, it's not easy to lay people off, but it's the right thing to do if you've got a bloated government.
And that's what Governor Romney promises to do, reform government, making work poor people for less (ph).
ACOSTA: And let me ask you, I mean, what do you make of some of the comments that he's made out on the campaign trail? And obviously, you know, the Democrats have, you know, linked them together as sort of a highlight reel where, you know, Governor Romney has said "I like to be able to fire people."
Obviously, that quote lifted out of a larger context, corporations are people, too. You know, the Democrats try to weave these sound bites together, if you will, to create this larger narrative about Mitt Romney. I mean, how do you think he's handled some of these moments?
Do you think he should go back, and perhaps, say, wait a minute, I shouldn't have said that here or shouldn't have said that there? What do you make of some of those comments? Has he come across as out of touch?
ISSA: Well, you know, Jim, we're always going have things taken out of context and when they're taken in context, they mean something differently. But I'm always reminded that Jack Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, when he was campaigning used to pull out this supposed telegraph from his father saying, "Stop, I don't want to pay for a landslide."
We've had wealthy people who set aside their wealth and advantage to serve our country in the past. And it's done as well. Ultimately, what --
(CROSSTALK) ISSA: -- is also -- not all. I think that in fact -- not at all, the American people want successful people, people who know how to create wealth. Remember, America's greatness is based on creating wealth like the rest of the world has never known, and then, making sure it's shared throughout a middle class and even the underprivileged.
That's what makes America special is anyone can go from being the middle class or even poorer, and ultimately, end up like Mitt Romney, a successful person running for president and giving back.
ACOSTA: Let's have a little fun here talk and talk about somebody else who'll be on the campaign trail the next 24 to 48 hours. Another wealthy individual by the name of Donald Trump, and I don't know if you've seen this, Chairman Issa, but he is going to be with Mitt Romney at a fundraiser in Las Vegas tomorrow night.
And then, over the weekend, he sort of got into a war of words with George Will who is also a noted conservative. And I want to throw up on screen the two things that were said by both of these individuals over the weekend. Donald Trump calling George Will, perhaps, the dumbest and most overrated political commentator of all time.
If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose. And then, let's tell you what George Will had to say. He said this on ABC's this week program. He called Donald Trump a "bloviating ignoramus." Who's right?
ISSA: Well, I think that Governor Romney is setting his own course. It's a course very different than Donald Trump would set, and candidly, it's a little different than George Will would set. Whether you're a pundit or simply a self-promoter, you have an opportunity to input to Governor Romney. But I think what you see is, Governor Romney has run throughout this primary his own game.
He's been about who he is and about believing in America. And ultimately, the Romney campaign is going to be about believing in America and making it better rather than hope and change of changing America from what it was to something that none of us would recognize. And I think that's really why this is the Romney time, and I think we all appreciate in campaigns, people supporting us.
ISSA: But Donald Trump and George Will will be signing on to Governor Romney, not the other way around.
ACOSTA: All right. That's all the time we have, Chairman Darrell Issa. Thanks for joining us from Sunny Southern California. We wish we were there. Thanks very much. We appreciate it.
ISSA: Thank you, Jim.
A number of cars, apparently, hit by pieces of a plane. We're just getting into some of these details now in the SITUATION ROOM, and we'll have more on that coming up next.
ACOSTA: This just coming into the SITUATION ROOM. A number of cars, apparently, hit by falling pieces of a plane. CNN aviation and regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary, joins us now with the latest. We think this may have happened in Canada? Is that right?
LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: In Canada, and we're talking about an Air Canada plane, and the picture that we just put up, those were of cars we're getting reports from Canada, you see it right there, that busted windshield, that there may have been debris that fell from an Air Canada plane.
Now, the reports of debris come from an affiliate, CV-24, in Canada, but at the same time, also reports from folks on the ground who are calling into the local police there. And here's what we know from Air Canada.
They have said that an aircraft, flight 001 that was flying from Toronto to Narita, that's Tokyo and Japan, was a 777, a Boeing 777, took off at around 2:00 p.m., 2:10 p.m., carrying 318 passengers, 16 crewmembers. After takeoff, there was some kind of an engine shut down. This is (INAUDIBLE) but it can fly on one.
The crew trains for that. They turned around, they came back, they radioed for an emergency landing. That's give you priority for landing. That's a pretty standard way to handle this. The aircraft landed normally, taxied to the gate. The passengers are fine, no injuries, but it's debris that seems a little strange.
They are not confirming. They say there are reports of debris. No confirmation at this time that it came from this flight. Certainly, those pictures, you see the busted windshield there, and then, we have another picture if we can put that up that shows what appear to be some chunks of something that may have come from this plane.
We don't know yet, but these are pictures that we're getting from our affiliate in Toronto who's working with us and showing us pictures of what may be a debris from this flight. We're going to find out a little more if those trunks were coming from their plane.
ACOSTA: And not too unexpected that federal authorities here in the U.S. will be a little skittish at first in terms of confirming this information, but obviously, as those developments come on, Lizzie will be on top of it. Thanks so much, Lizzie O'Leary.
It sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel. The pope allegedly betrayed by his own butler. New details about the leak of secret documents and the Vatican reeling from scandal.
And, new anger about price of flying. Transportation security officials want to jack up the cost of airline tickets. Not again, please. That's more coming up.
ACOSTA: The Vatican is reeling from its biggest scandal in decades and what appears to be a personal betrayal of the pope. One of the people closest to Benedict XVI, his own butler, is charged with leaking secret documents. Today, the butler reportedly is promising to cooperate with investigators in the search for other suspects.
Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, has more on this case and other reasons why the Vatican is under some criticism right now?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Sex abuse, corruption, even a murder mystery. Mention the Vatican these days and it is hard to escape the whiff of scandal. The past few weeks in Rome have been particularly damaging.
In St. Peter's square, protesters chant the name of Emanuela Orlandi, a Vatican employee's daughter abducted as a 15-year-old girl back in 1983 and never found. Vatican officials have always denied any cover up, recently allowing investigators to open this too of a notorious Italian mobster in central Rome. But despite lack of evidence, rumors of a church conspiracy just won't go away.
JOHN ALLEN, VATICAN ANALYST: The fact that so many Italians remain profoundly convinced that there is still a cover-up going on, I think is an index of the difficulty the Vatican has had over the years in persuading the outside world of its willingness to come clean.
CHANCE: And that trust gap may be widening, with yet another scandal, this time involving embarrassing secret documents alleging Vatican corruption. The Pope's own butler, Carlo Gabriele, has been arrested accused of leaking the documents, including private letters from the Pope, published in the new book. Casting light on how the Vatican awards contracts to favorite companies and individuals.
By co-incidence, the head of the powerful Vatican bank already under investigation for money laundering recite fueling perceptions of the Vatican in crisis.
Perhaps it is the Vatican showing its age. An ancient institution struggling to measure up to modern standards of management and transparency.
But don't expect any rapid change, the Vatican, it's said, thinks not in months or years, but in centuries.
ACOSTA: Pope Benedict hasn't said anything publicly about the allegations against his butler, but the Vatican observers say this is scandal is weighing on him and the Roman Catholic Church.
And joining us now to talk about all this Vatican intrigue is Barbie Nadeau. She is a correspondent with "Newsweek" and "the daily Beast" in Rome. And you can see her standing in front of the beautiful St. Peter's Basilica now.
Barbie, you know, this story sounds to a lot of Americans a lot like a Dan Brown novel. It sounds like that kind of mystery that is unraveling there in Italy. And I was just curious, how do we know? How do Vatican authorities know that this butler did do it?
BARBIE NADEAU, NEWSWEEK, THE DAILY BEAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the Vatican authorities he was caught red handed with documents in his apartment. He is one of just a few non-clerical members who live in Vatican city. He has an apartment that he shares with his wife and three children inside the sacred walls of the holy sea. And so, he's under Vatican jurisdiction. They have of course their own police department, their own judicial system, their own criminal justice system. And they can conduct their own interrogation.
They, obviously, with their version of a search warrant went into his house and found documents and they say they found a machine that would allow him to photograph these documents. So, according to the Vatican, he was caught red handed.
ACOSTA: And from what I have read, the Pope apparently was crushed by what is by what - is all appearances is a betrayal inside his inner circle. And so I guess I'm just curious, you know, to a lot of people who may be wondering, could this be part of a larger conspiracy, do we know whether or not that's even possible at this point?
NADEAU: I think that is very possible and that is where the direction of the investigation right now. Some of the documents that were published in a book that came out last week, called his holiness, secrets papers of Benedict XVI was never have crossed the pope's desk. So, some of the lead came from someone other than this butler. Or, he has gone to it for someone else. That is the line of investigation. But of course the Vatican isn't exactly the most transparent organization in the world and it's very hard to get information.
We know what they want is to know at any given time. The spokesman for the Holy Sea is very adamant that no high level cardinals are under investigation. But a lot of people outside the walls of St. Peter's circle, especially those Italians who really follow the Vatican closely, say that there has to be someone at a higher level. That this butler would not have the motive, and he would have the - who is not the type of man, he has no reason to do this.
The journalist, who published the book last week, has been very, very adamant about not having paid for any documents in money. If that's true, money was not a motive. And the Pope, according to the spokesman is very, very upset. Very, you know, very feel very betrayed.
There are only a handful of people that have this much face time with the Pope. He attended by two clerical secretaries who are ordained priests by four nuns who take care of his meals and his apartment and by the butler. So, it is a very, very, very close on typical family, they call it.
ACOSTA: And you can see in the video, you can't see it Barbie, but our viewers can see onscreen since we have been talking to you, the butler sitting there in the Pope mobile with the Holy Father. And I'm just curious, you know. How large a security breach is this? Because, you know, this sounds unprecedented, that sensitive internal Vatican documents would make their way outside of those walls.
NADEAU: No, it is not unprecedented. This is not the largest security bridge that the Vatican has had in recent times. And if you arrive from the history, things of this nature happen before of it. But, you know, you need willing parties and you have this journalist, (INAUDIBLE) who had the access to these documents and you had a publisher who's willing to publish it in a book. And he has his own television program here in Italy and he published and discussed some of these documents on that. So, he had - he has a platform to sort of disseminate these documents, definitely.
ACOSTA: And what happens next? We understand that this butler is being held inside the Vatican, do they have a jail there? Or are they holding him inside the police station that is inside the Vatican?
NADEAU: Well, they have what they call secure rooms. They aren't jail cells as we might envision, per se, of course we don't have access to those. But, they call them secure rooms. He is being held in one of those secure areas. The Vatican has his own criminal justice system. They have their own police, but they mostly of deal with petty crimes like pick pocketing in St. Peter's square or maybe some sort of internal, you know, complaints among staff members.
This is a very serious crime that they are going to have to trial. They have one judge with the Vatican tribunal and they have lawyers, who are able to practice law within the Vatican. But, there is also a lot of speculation about whether or not if he is sentenced to some long-term jail sentence. He will have to do his sentence outside of Italy, outside of the Vatican in an Italian jail. You know, there are lots of things that they have to work out because this is unprecedented.
ACOSTA: And Barbie, we are running out time. Just very quickly, I'm looking at some published reports that indicate that the Pope is sort of in a weakened condition. He has been in a weakened condition as of late. What is his -- what is the state of his health right now? How is he doing?
NADEAU: Well, he was on Sunday when he gave his Pentecost mass, formerly he was visibly weakened, his voice was a little -- he wasn't the Pope we have come to know. He seemed upset. His demeanor was down. His whole, you know, spirit seemed to be crushed by this very, very, very visible. He has in the last six months or so shown signs of his age at 85 years old. He has degenerative joint disease. He uses now a mobile platform to move around to move around St. Peter's Basilica. So, he's showing symptoms of a man his age of the aging process. ACOSTA: And perhaps, carrying some of the weight of the scandal as well.
Barbie Nadeau, coming to us live from outside the Vatican. We appreciate your time. Thanks very much.
If you're already frustrated with how much it costs to fly, you could soon be paying more to go through airport security. Ahead, details on a plan to double TSA fees with money out of your wallet.
ACOSTA: At a time when airlines seem to be adding all sorts of charges from everything from seats to baggage, to snacks, there's another fee in the works. This time it's the transportation security officials who want us to pay more.
Once again let us bring in our transportation and regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary. And I was just asking, is that why they make us do this pose in security so they can get into our wallets?
LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN TRANSPORTATION & REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Through the pockets, no. You know, they do actually collect a lot of spare change that way, but it's not enough, really, to deal with the kind of budget issues that the federal agencies has them, this is the fight that happens a lot but it feels more real right now. The TSA and some members of the Senate want you to pay more for their services going through security.
O'LEARY (voice-over): Take two things that many travelers love to hate, the TSA and ticket fees. Now add them together.
MOIRA JEWELER, PASSENGER: What is it that prompting and to just ask for more money?
O'LEARY: The agency, backed by Democrats in the Senate wants to increase the security fee everyone pays for the ticket. From 250 a flight to $5 per one way ticket, $10 roundtrip.
JEWELER: $10 is kind of pushing it to a limit. I guess it's only $5 more, but I'm wondering, you know, how they fits in, don't they already have a budget?
O'LEARY: TSA's budget, like many in Washington is set to be cut. And agency says boosting this fee would help cover the increasing price of security like those cost of scanners. The fee hasn't been hiked in ten years.
But a powerful lobby is pushing against it. Airlines. They don't want the cost shifted on to their customers.
SEAN KENNEDY, AIRLINES FOR AMERICA: Air security is a national security function and it's something that all of us need to be behind as Americans and the government should be picking up the cost of that. O'LEARY: Many travelers we talked to didn't mind.
MICHAEL TROTT, PASSENGER: I would say it's like using the toll road. If you use a toll road, you may the toll.
O'LEARY: But they want to know if, its money, well spent.
Does increasing the fee increase the level of security TSA can provide?
STEWART BAKER, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: It means that TSA's budget will be a little less likely to get cut just to save money in the overall deficit reduction effort. So in that regard, it's useful. It's also useful if you can tell where the benefits go, for a particular program, then the people who get the benefits generally should pay for it.
O'LEARY: Now Jim, you heard that very carefully crafted language, that is Washington speak for we are trying to protect our budget. You here this to former homeland security official.
This is a fight that happens a lot, several members of the Senate have voted for this, the house says no way. They say if you want to increase the fee, it's got to come from somewhere else and cut it from some social programs and there is basically a bigger fight what is going to happen. I got to figure out what to do.
ACOSTA: And this would not be the first federal agency of the federal government to get creative when it comes to raising money.
O'LEARY: Or accounting.
ACOSTA: Or its accounting.
Very good. Thank you, Lizzie O'Leary.
A major man hunt is underway for two murder suspects who just escaped from jail. Ahead, the latest on what authorities know about their whereabouts.
And a daredevil attempts to break the speed of sound with the longest, highest free fall ever. All the way from the edge of space. Better him than me. Be right back.
ACOSTA: And the 2012 presidential election, a Latino vote is considered more crucial than ever as the Hispanic population grows larger. Recent polling suggests that President Obama has more than a 30 point advantage over Mitt Romney among registered Latino voters nationwide.
So, we are taking in depth look at the Latino vote, CNN's Juan Carlos Lopez is in Texas where the Republican presidential primary will be held tomorrow and we expect Mitt Romney to be put over the top with the number of delegates to clinch the nomination, Juan Carlos. But where you are is a very important backdrop for this critical issue of the Latino vote.
JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN LATINO CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim and in the last ten years, at least a 2010 census shows that Texas grew over 20 percent, four million people, four million new residents, 65 percent of those new residents are Hispanic.
So, with the new census Texas received four new congressional districts. Democrats wanted at least three to go to heavily Hispanic districts. They went through the federal courts in San Antonio, it went to the Supreme Court in Washington they had to, and people are confused. We spoke with some of them, I guess the interest in tomorrow is to see if people are going to go to vote or not, if they're interested, if they're motivated. And if it clear, there is a process still isn't over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELINDA DIAZ, VOTER: I wish they would make up their mind and keep a one way confuses people that keep changing it to benefit one side or another and they should just keep it one way.
DEREK HARXRIDER, VOTER: But to part a three districts, so a non- minority may get elected or even a minority, the way I think they should do it in a nonpartisan way in a way that's fair.
MICHAEL SHIEFER, VOTER: I think what's exciting about 2012 is that we really are at the tipping point. So if the vote doesn't come out this year, it's going to come out in two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOPEZ: And obviously, Jim, redistricting isn't an easy process and it isn't easy in Texas so we will see what happens tomorrow. But a lot of Latinos are looking for us in this election, and although many think that Latinos could change the way of the political cycle in Texas, it is still a long ways away because this is a very solid Republican state.
ACOSTA: That's right, Juan Carlos. A lot of Democrats early in this process were sort of looking at Texas and saying, hey, wait a minute; this could be where the Latino vote tips that state over into the blue column, but that might be fool's gold for the Democrats this time around.
Juan Carlos, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
And he suspect in the infamous 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz is said to have been reported to police decades ago.
Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in "the SITUATION ROOM" right now.
Mary, what do you have?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, a relative of Pedro Hernandez tells CNN that back in the 1980s a family member reported to police that Hernandez told them he killed a boy in New York and threw the body near a dumpster. But, apparently nothing ever came of it. Now, Hernandez stands accused of choking Etan Patz to death and disposing of his body in a trash bag. Camden police have not yet responded to the relative's claims.
Authorities in Arkansas are warning the public to be on the lookout for two murder suspects on the run after breaking out of jail. Police say the men used a hacksaw blade to cut through the metal bars covering their cell window, but don't yet know how they managed to scale a 10-foot fence covered in razor wire.
Los Angeles police are investigating battery allegations against pop star Justin Bieber from a photographer who says he was taking pictures of the singer when the two got into a physical altercation. He was treated at a hospital and released.
Now according to TMZ, detectives want to speak with the star and any potential witnesses. Bieber has not publicly addressed the report.
And a wounded military vet was taking part in a fishing tournament in Florida when his prosthetic hand was pulled off as he tried to reel in a fish.
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JACK WISEMAN, FISHERMAN: I have a special prosthetic that's got different devices I can hook onto it, and all of a sudden the hand snapped off the prosthetic device and still hooked to the rod and the rod and the reel and the hand went down the water.
RUDY SALAS, WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT: For us it was funny. And that was the biggest thing and he said we are going to be a legend. You are the only guy that lost an arm out here yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Now, listen to this. Someone else later caught the same fish with a rod and prosthetic hand still attached so he ended up getting his hand back.
ACOSTA: Wow. That has to be the catch of the day, Mary. I have to say.
SNOW: Very good.
ACOSTA: Very good.
All right Mary, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
A daredevil attempts the longest, highest free fall ever. Know what I'm talking about my feeling in on the situation room. We're talking about a jump from the edge of space coming up.
ACOSTA: Here is a special addition of memorial day hot shots. In Arlington, Virginia, roses stand between the Iwo Jima memorials. And in Washington, a U.S. marine salutes motorcyclists and in rolling thunder parade.
At Arlington National Cemetery a member of the army holds a rifle during the changing of the guard at the tune of the unknowns.
And in Washington, a U.S. veteran places a wreath on the foot of a memorial to nurses who served in the Vietnam war. And a special holiday hot spots, pictures from the nation's capitol on this memorial day.
It could be another first in the history of space when a popular daredevil attempts the unimaginable, not from any place on earth but many miles above.
Our Brian Todd has details from the air and space museum right here in Washington.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim with NASA ending the shuttle program and the uncertain future of man space flight, we may soon be longing for the days of John Glen, a hero who tested our bounds of the exploration of the heavens.
Well, here at the air and space museum, we spoke to someone that may just filled void.
TODD (voice-over): He has based jumped from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. And from the Petronius towers in Kuala Lumpur, how do you top that? How else, by sky diving from the edge of space.
You know, the moment is almost at hand. Are you afraid of dying at this?
FELIX BAUMGARTNER, STRATOSPHERE JUMPER: Dying is always part of my life because as a base jumper, you always face death on every base channel and therefore it is important do you your homework.
TODD: Later this summer, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner will attempt the longest and highest free fall ever from about 120,000 feet above sea level that is more than 22 miles. If he pulls it off, he will also break the speed of sound. No one has gone outside a plane or spacecraft to fly at more than 690 miles an hour.
Some of the more tense moments will be when Felix Baumgartner steps out of that capsule and into the stratosphere and at that point the only thing protecting him from certain death will be this helmet and this high pressure space suit. This is similar to ones worn by U2 spy plane pilots but those pilots are about 50,000 feet closer to earth than Felix Baumgartner is going to be.
There is only one personal life who can fathom all this. Retired air force colonel Joe Kittinger, the man whose record fearless Felix will try to break. Kittinger jumped from 102,000 feet in 1960.
COLONEL JOE KITTINGER, RETIRED 1960 STRATOSPHERE JUMPER: I know exactly what he is going through.
TODD: What is it?
KITTINGER: He is going to be awed by being at the altitude, you need gut. And he is also awed with the responsibility because he has a bunch of people on the ground that working their rear ends off for 45 years and with the goal to get him down and it has style up there, you don't want to hang around if you don't have to.
TODD: Like Kittinger, Baumgartner will be taken to the stratosphere in a capsule pulled by a helium balloon. It is a massive undertaking called the red bull Stratos project. As Felix, Joe and I move around the air and space museum, Felix says the sight of John Glenn's and Yuri Gagarin's space suit scares him.
BAUMGARTNER: If you compare to my suit, I am not sure I would have done this in the old days with that equipment.
TODD: Kittinger is now a consultant on the project who's in Baumgartner's ear on the test jumps.
How important is hearing his voice requesting to be to you when you are up there?
BAUMGARTNER: It is extremely important. Because this is what I figured on the last test jump when I was going up sometimes we lost communication for a couple seconds and immediately you can feel how lonely you feel.
I wanted to hear the voice because I am so used to this and every time we have been practicing on the ground, Joe was talking to me so I am used to the voice and makes me feel safe.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: This mission is obviously going to the tough to top and it doesn't look like Felix Baumgartner is going to try to. He says after this jump. He is going to chase his long-time dream of becoming a helicopter pilot - Jim.
ACOSTA: Thanks, Brian.
And thanks for joining us. I'm Jim Acosta in the SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.