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'Credible and Serious' Terror Threat'; FDA Names Mexican Company as Source of Illness; Boycott Russia's Winter Olympics?; Zimmerman Verdict Sparks War of Words

Aired August 2, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, we're following breaking news. A new terror threatened linked to al Qaeda. And the Obama administration is taking this very seriously. I speak with a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee. That's coming up. Peter King is calling this "the most significant threat we have had in many years."

Plus, an ominous change in Russia. It may affect gay athletes heading there for next winter's Olympics.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But we begin with the breaking news -- a new terror threat linked to al Qaeda. It's being called "credible and serious" -- so serious, the State Department today issued a worldwide travel alert for all U.S. citizens. It's also taking the extraordinary precaution of closing 21 embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa and beyond.

As to the nature of the threat, let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's been working her sources.

What are you finding out -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, "credible and serious," it goes beyond that. U.S. officials telling us that this is more -- more than the normal stream of chatter that they get about potential attacks. They have been following a stream for months now in Yemen with al Qaeda elements there. But in the last few days, it grew. It became more mature, in their words, more specificity. That, in large part, is what led to the State Department taking the action of shutting down the embassies across the region.

There is particular concern about the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, between the 3rd and 6th of July, through about next Tuesday, concerns about all U.S. embassies across the region.

We are coming to a series of holy days, as the Islamic month of Ramadan ends. They believe tensions will be rising. They believe al Qaeda elements may decide to try and take advantage of that. There is some -- some difference of opinion within the U.S. intelligence community. How much of this is just about Yemen?

How much of it is about the region as a whole? But no difference of opinion that it is very serious -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you meant to say the 3rd and 6th of August, not of July...

STARR: Pardon me.

BLITZER: -- obviously, which would be tomorrow, Sunday and Monday. Those are critically important days, symbolic days. And that's what the focus is, is that what you're hearing -- Barbara?

STARR: Right. Sorry about that. They are really concerned about the next few days. Sunday night -- this Sunday night, in the Islamic faith, is called the Night of Power. This is a very particular night in the Islamic calendar, a very holy day for those who follow the faith of Islam.

This is concern that militants, that jihadists could take unfair advantage of this and try and stir up trouble, concern that that is what some of this very unusual chatter is all about.

So, really, all eyes are pealed on Sunday. And I have to tell you, it is other countries, as well. The security services in Yemen already, they are on alert. They are watching very carefully an increasing security in their country, with their installations, and trying to beef up security at foreign compounds, foreign embassies there. And other countries are doing the same -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting for us.

All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

We're joined on the phone now by Congressman Peter King, Republican of New York.

He's a member of both the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Homeland Security. He's the chairman, in fact, of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

You told WABC in New York today, Congressman -- this is your words -- "The most significant threat we have had in many years."

Why are you saying that?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Based on the sources, the credibility and the -- the extent of the damage that it appears that they want to -- of the carnage they want to cause with the attack. That's really as far as I can go. And I think the fact that you see unprecedented action in 21 embassies being closed, the global travel advisory being given, this is being taken very, very seriously.

It's not just trying to connect the dots. There is, you know, very specific information about -- about the -- the fact that there is a plot, that attacks are planned. But again, it's not certain as to where.

BLITZER: Because you also said this is much more specific, the information that you're getting -- and I know you've been briefed on this -- much more specific than any threat I have seen in the past 10 years.

So are you suggesting this is the most specific threat since 9/11?

KING: It's the most specific I've seen. Now, there may be other out there that I haven't, but I've been getting briefed fairly regular over the last seven to eight years, at least, and -- and also pretty heavily before then. And this is the most specific I've seen. And, again, I don't think I'm giving anything away when you look at the reaction. To have 21 embassies being closed shows how seriously our government is taking it.

And I give them credit. I think the government is doing exactly -- exactly the right thing here, the administration.

BLITZER: Can you give us a little detail, without compromising sources and methods, classified information, what makes this so specific, this threat?

KING: Uh, Wolf, I -- I really can't. That would -- I just can't do it, other than to tell you that there's really -- there's very little doubt, if any, that something serious is being planned. And I think that's being a worldwide alert. Obviously, we are focused on the Middle East, (INAUDIBLE) it's a -- you know, it's a potential a series of attacks -- a potential series of attacks. You know, they really could be almost anyplace.

BLITZER: Are we talking about attacks overseas, in North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia or some place around the world, Congressman, or are we talking, potentially, about an attack right here in the United States?

KING: I would say we can't rule anything out. It's being taken very, very seriously. And so nothing can be ruled out. I'm not saying that to panic anyone, but I think that because of the dimension of this, we have to say that, you know, nothing can be excluded.

BLITZER: Is it coincidental or is it a -- maybe not coincidental -- that only yesterday, the president of the United States, President Obama, received the new leader of Yemen in the Oval Office?

Was that where the information came from?

KING: No, all I can say is no. I mean, again, you know, there may have been additional information they got then. But, no, but this has been -- this has been developing for a while.

BLITZER: And developing -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, elements in Yemen, near Sana'a, the capital if Yemen?

KING: Well, I certainly believe even General Dempsey said today that al Qaeda operating out of the Arabian Peninsula. I'll just leave it at that. They -- you know, they would be, I would say, the main driving force here. That's pretty much what's been confirmed by the government, that it is coming out of Yemen and it is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is -- they have been the ones who have carried out the attacks against the U.S. Primarily, in the past. You have the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt. You have the 2010 cartridge explosive attempt. And, of course, that's where al-Awlaki was operating out of, in Yemen.

But again, I would just say, certainly I -- you know, coming from the Arabian Peninsula is where the, you know, most of these threats do come from.

BLITZER: Here's what I was told by a source today. And I'll run it by you and if you want to elaborate, fine. If you want to say this is not true. "Something big," the source said, "is being planned. We have credible information, very credible information. We know the approximate days," meaning the next few days. "We don't know the location."

Is that the same kind of information that you're getting, Congressman?

KING: Yes, that's basically on target. Yes, that's basically the story.

BLITZER: And so when Barbara Starr reporting that it could happen anyway from tomorrow, Sunday or Monday, August 3rd through August 5th or 6th, is that the -- the days on everyone at the U.S. Embassies around the world should be on alert?

KING: Well, again, you know, the embassies are being told to close on Sunday. I'll just, you know, leave it at that. That, you know, that sort of speaks for itself, the fact that 21 embassies are closing on Sunday. The global travel advisory is in effect until the end of August, I believe. But the embassies are being told to close on Sunday.

BLITZER: Any connection to Wednesday's 15th anniversary of the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania?

KING: I have not heard that, but again, that's certainly a possibility. But I have not heard that as being the reason, no.

BLITZER: And -- but have you heard that it is connected with the end of Ramadan, that happens Sunday?

KING: I really can't go into that.

BLITZER: That's -- what else can you tell us before I let you go?

KING: That's about it. I think other than that, I would just say that it is serious, but there's no need for anyone to panic. And I think that everyone in the intelligence community and in the defense community and the diplomatic community is doing what they have to do. This is a combined effort. And, you know, we should all stand together on this.

BLITZER: Congressman Peter King is the chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Terrorism and Intelligence.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: U.S. diplomatic facilities in Egypt are among those ordered to close on Sunday because of the terror threat, Sunday being the start of the work week in most of the Muslim and Arab world. Actually, Saturday is in most of it.

CNN's Reza Sayah is standing by in Cairo -- Reza, when I was in Cairo in January, I walked around the U.S. Embassy. The security there was really intense, with big huge concrete boulders all over the place. I assume it's even more intense now.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, security is tight around the U.S. Embassy, of course. It's been (INAUDIBLE) over the past couple of years because of demonstrations in Tahrir, which is a few blocks away from the U.S. Embassy. (INAUDIBLE) those security measures, nothing extraordinary (INAUDIBLE) going on (INAUDIBLE). The embassy will be closed and the embassy staff and security prepared to (INAUDIBLE) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I see there's another huge crowd that's developed on this Friday in Cairo.

Is it peaceful, at least?

SAYAH: Yes. I mean anyone who has followed the news here in Egypt knows when Friday comes, so do mass demonstrations. And it's another (INAUDIBLE) neighborhood in East Cairo that's really been (INAUDIBLE) for the supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsy.

Tens of thousands of people are here at this demonstration (INAUDIBLE) really small (INAUDIBLE) to a small town. Over the past month, hundreds of tents have been pitched here. There's entire families -- women and children -- here. There's a barbershop here, a kitchen, a daycare center.

Over the past few days, the interim government here, authorities just speculated, maybe talked about an operation to clear this place out, Wolf.

If, indeed, security forces are going to launch an operation, they will have to clear out what has become a small town. And by any measure, It's going to be a difficult task.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah is in Cairo for us watching this story unfold. Reza, thanks.

Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're devoting the full worldwide resources of CNN to covering this U.S. response to this global terror threat, as announced earlier in the day by the State Department. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern, right at the top of the next year, we're going to have a one hour long special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, Worldwide Alert. You'll stick around for that.

Meantime, we're getting reaction from several experts on terrorism.

How serious is this threat?

And how Yemen's capital city may figure into the plot.

Later, why you need to worry about the high unemployment rate even if you have a job.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news

BLITZER: The breaking news. A new terror threat linked to al Qaeda that's prompting the United States to close 21 embassies and consulates this Sunday and issue a worldwide travel alert for all United Sate Citizens. Let's get some more now with Cliff May, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, you just heard the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. Peter King say this is the most serious threat he's seen in ten years. Are you hearing the same thing?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, certainly, what he's saying, he says there's something about this, which means it's more serious than other things we've being seeing in recent years. We just don't have a specificity yet, Wolf, on it.

BLITZER: Because he's been briefed by U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials and he's also saying he can't rule anything out. They've got some vague ideas. They got a next few days, presumably. They don't know for sure where the attack will take place. That's why they've asked 21 U.S. embassies to shut down at least Sunday.

Cliff May, foundation for defense of democracies: That's right. And it does suggest also that al Qaeda and its affiliates are active in the list 21 countries around the world. Important point, Wolf, that you and I have discussed in this program. Al Qaeda is not dead. Al Qaeda is not back. Al Qaeda is never gone away. It has morphed. It's evolved. And now, it has a network and its various nodes are active and very dangerous and that's why this has to be taken seriously. BLITZER: A lot of the information seems to be focused in on Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen in Sanaa, the capital. What are you hearing about that Yemeni connection to this current threat?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's right, Wolf. And this is a great (ph) with a track record of attacking U.S. interest. In Yemen, there was an attack against the U.S. embassy in Sanaa in 2008, and of course, against the United States itself in the last several years. There've been three plots from the group against aviation coming into the United States.

So, for that reason, this is going to be taken very, very seriously. I thought information from a source that in late 2011, that this group in Yemen were casing buildings linked to U.S. personnel in the consul --

BLITZER: What does that mean casing buildings?

CRUICKSHANK: They were actually casing the buildings. They were taking video images of it in preparation, it seems, for some sort of potential plot down the line.

BLITZER: But that was in 2011. This is now 2013.

CRUICKSHANK: That's right. And it's not clear whether -- when they were casing these buildings in 2011, well, that's related to this. Now, we just don't know that. but they're likely to have this sort of information still on the shelve, perhaps (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: What do you see as far as the timing if, in fact, they are, someone is plotting some sort of attack within the next few days? We're still a month away from the anniversary of 9/11. We're only a few days away from the 15th anniversary of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. What do you make of the timing of what's going on?

MAY: Well, it's also the very end of Ramadan. And for these kinds of terrorists, al Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula and other al Qaeda affiliates, these Islamic holidays have meanings and that we have to understand. And the end of Ramadan is a time when attacks can be more likely.

BLITZER: Why is that, Paul, because Sunday is the end of Ramadan?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, for these people, it's a holy war. They see it that way. So, you know -- the Ramadan, they see themselves as more of a reason to launch these kinds of attacks.

BLITZER: Do you remember a time when the U.S. has shut down even if it's only for one day 21 embassies and consulates?

MAY: No. I do not remember that. That's why this is very serious. Of course, it's even more serious and taken more seriously. And I think this is proper because of what happened on the anniversary of 9/11 last year where we lost an ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi. And the embassy in Cairo, al Qaeda's flag was launched and placed up to the top of it.

And we had the embassy in Yemen as well attacked, and I guess, the embassy in Tunisia. So, we can see that the nodes (ph) attacking American facilities particularly diplomatic, that may be a technique that they think that they can carry out successfully and will do so.

CRUICKSHANK: And that they have more plots since then. In November of last year, there was a plot against the U.S. embassy in Amman Jordan. And in May of this year, there was a plot against U.S. embassy in Cairo. There's a track record from al Qaeda to attack U.S. embassies in the Middle East. And this is very much Ayman al Zawahiri's strategy. Bin Laden was very obsessed with attacking United States.

Zawihiri, we know from the leathers, discovered (INAUDIBLE) much more concerned with attacking U.S. interest in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Ayman al Zawahiri the number two, now, the number one al Qaeda leader now that Bin Laden is dead. Let's not forget we're approaching also the first anniversary of the killing of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi in the diplomatic outpost there as well. I don't know if there's any connection to that, but something we should consider. All right, guys. Thanks very much for coming in.

MAY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we're going to have much more on this new terror threat. We're also going live to Abu Dhabi. There's new information coming in from the United Arab Emirates.

Plus, the highly anticipated new unemployment report. What is it revealing about the U.S. economy?


BLITZER: The latest job numbers show no change in the plotting painfully slow comeback from the recession. Employers created a 162,000 jobs in July. That's fewer, though, than expected. The unemployment rate which was 7.6 percent in June ticked down a bit to 7.4 percent. As usual, the administration welcomed the improvement, but also said much more work still needs to be done.

Republicans complained the economy is threading water and blamed the president. CNNs Tom Foreman has another point of view. He's joining us now with more on what he's picking up. What are you picking up, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, each party blames the other. Forget the politics. Just look at this chart and you can see the practical problem. This is the unemployment rate over the past 10 years. And for nearly half that time, it has been at seven percent or higher, right in here, four and a half years. We've grown accustomed to these numbers. But economists warn that every month they persist, the damage deepens.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Fewer people were hired in July than expected more at low wage positions and the unemployment rate, once again, showed no indication of moving out of the seven percent plus range which labor and economic analysts fear is grinding away at the slow recovery.

JOHN SCHMITT, CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH: I think it's a disaster for the economy and for the country more generally.

FOREMAN: John Schmitt is a senior economist at the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research.

SCHMITT: It's a total employer's market. If you are looking for a job right now, you take whatever is offered for you. And as it said, if you have a job right now, you don't complain.

FOREMAN: And the longer it lasts, the longer it may last. Researchers at Northern University find among the hardest hit by the perpetually high rate may be young workers. Economist, William Dicken, says there is evidence that entering a troubled labor market has a permanent scarring effect.

They're going to see lower wages throughout their career. Beyond that, the seven percent plus rate means people are saving less, spending less, and paying less taxes undercutting governments which are already struggling with their budgets and demand for services. That's why in St. Louis, the mayor and county administrator are both fearful of people growing accustom to the higher rate.

MAYOR FRANCIS SLAY, ST. LOUIS: For people who accept that as the norm would be very dangerous.

CHARLIE DOOLEY, ST. LOUIS COUNTY EXECUTIVE: I think it's unacceptable. I think it's not the American way of life. We can do better than that.


FOREMAN (on-camera): Plenty of politicians and business leaders feel that way. The question is how, especially when month after month, this number ranging up there into the seven percent range just keeps grinding down on the economy. You can read more about it, go to, look for seven and my name. A lot more to say about these two because that's really the devil in the details here, this grinding effect of just staying that high no matter who is to blame.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Tom, thanks very much. We'll do that.

Up next, we'll have more on the breaking news we're following. A global travel alert issued by the U.S. government. We're learning new details right now.

Plus, calls to boycott the Olympic games over Russia's anti-gay laws.


BLITZER: Happening now, our breaking news.


BLITZER (voice-over): A very serious new terror threat and a travel alert for Americans around the world.

The George Zimmerman verdict sparking a war of words between Jesse Jackson and Florida's governor, Rick Scott.

And gay athletes facing fear and uncertainty. Could they be arrested for simply being out at the upcoming winter Olympic Games in Russia?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All that coming up, but we're just getting in some new information on the tainted salad mix that made a lot of people sick in recent weeks across several states. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is joining us now. He's got details. Sanjay, what are we learning?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FDA has been conducting an investigation, as you know, Wolf, for several days now. They are now telling us that they're -- what they call a trace back investigation, tracing this back. They've been able to say that Taylor Farms of Mexico is the place that supplied restaurants with this particular products, this, as we now know, contaminated products. They say that this has been linked to this illness, at least four clusters, but specifically, at restaurants, Wolf.

So, these particular products coming from Taylor Farms in Mexico going to restaurants in four separate clusters making people sick. The two states we're talking about, Wolf, are Iowa and Nebraska. And those are the two states that have the most cast, the people that have been the most affected by the cyclospora infection. So it's the first a particular place has been named. A lot of people waiting for that.

Taylor Farms, as you may remember, Wolf, was the same farm that was implicated earlier this year because of the nationwide recall on baby spinach. Talking about the same farm here. They are not specifically talking about the consumer packages in grocery stores. You heard that a couple of days ago. That came from the State Department of Iowa. This is, again, from the FDA talking about Taylor Farms in restaurants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Should people be worried about eating lettuce or other products in restaurants right now?

GUPTA: Well, I think right now there's an inspection going on at Taylor Farms specifically. What we've been told, and I think the state health departments have been saying this for some time is that this particular contaminated product is probably out of the food chain. It's a very perishable product. Typically doesn't last more than 14 days.

So I think the concern is certainly a lot lower. Remember, Wolf, this has been going on since mid June. But this Taylor Farms is going to be inspected. They're going to try and find out how this happened specifically and just how extensive is this. Did they also supply grocery stores?

Again, they're just talking about restaurants right now. But I think we're going to get more details on that. I think the important part about naming Taylor Farms specifically is because you're hearing a lot of people saying, I don't want to buy salads at all because I don't know which potential, you know, vendor this -- is causing this problem. But now that they've named this I think it's going to go a long way towards hopefully alleviating some of those concerns.

BLITZER: Yes, because those lettuce and the other vegetables are very healthy for all of us.

All right, Sanjay. Good reporting. Thanks very much.

Let's get back to the other breaking news we're following. New developments in today's very worrisome top story. Multiple sources telling us al Qaeda is now in the final planning stages of what is being described as an unspecified plot. The State Department issued a rare global travel alert for all Americans around the world.

CNN's Becky Anderson is joining us now from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Becky, what are you hearing over there.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, the embassy's Web sites here is listing for you the following. It says that we will be closed Sunday out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations.

Do remember that Sundays is the beginning of the workweek in these region, Friday and Saturday, of course, is the weekend. It goes on to say it is possible, Wolf, that we may have additional days of closings as well depending on our analysis.

Do remember this Gulf region is a huge hub for international travelers. I know that you've traveled this area extensively. Many of our viewers all have traveled through her on their way to other places as well as actually saying in the Gulf.

Security is absolutely paramount here. It has to be said it is very rare that you would have any sort of attack -- any sort of terrorist incident in the GCC, the Gulf state. But I impress upon you again the U.S. embassy here in Abu Dhabi and indeed in Dubai, which is just down the road from here, has said that they will be closed on Sunday. And there could be further days of closure in the days ahead. They are being very, very cautious -- Wolf. BLITZER: As they should be right now given the potential threat out there.

Becky Anderson, in Abu Dhabi for us, thank you.

The terror threat that has the White House, members of Congress working together right now.

I'm joined by our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" along with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

And I know you've been doing some reporting, Gloria. What are you hearing from Congress, from the White House, from administration officials how seriously do they take all of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're taking this very seriously. And here in our bureau there's been a really group effort trying to sort of cull together all of the information. And what I'm hearing from my sources, as Dana is hearing from her sources on Capitol Hill, is that there has been this concern about increased chatter.

It came up when the vice president went to the hill earlier this week. By the way, he went to the hill in a prescheduled meeting to talk about Benghazi and to talk about embassy security. And this matter came up. And it is not being treated as a threat at the margins. OK? This is being treated as something very real and something very credible.

And don't forget, there were some warnings. We don't know whether they were as real and credible as these are before Benghazi. These are being taken very, very seriously.

BLITZER: And I know, Candy, you've been doing some reporting on the selection of these 21 U.S. embassies and consulates that will be closed.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly it was clear to intelligence folks that the Middle East and Northern Africa were the regions in most danger according to this chatter. They also point out, they said, listen, this is a balance here. So you hear people say, out of an abundance of caution we're going to be closing the embassy. And yet you hear from Washington, this is serious and this is credible.

They said they're trying to walk that line. They know that the -- that the threat was not considered specific as to this embassy or this consulate, but that it was specific enough to make them believe that the embassy and consulates were, in fact, the targets. But there are other Western countries also taking this threat seriously.

And it was also pointed out to me, they said remember, too, that yes, we have closed a lot of these places. But the consulates they're most worried about because they are kind of the least fortified, they say in places like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, there are troops on the ground. There are Saudi troops, there are Jordanian troops, they have a -- you know, a firm grip on those countries so, while they have closed, there are others that they're a little more worried about.

BORGER: You know what I keep hearing is that -- from folks is that the -- on the hill is that the administration is doing exactly what it ought to be doing. That there is a kind of no double rule which is that the public should be informed about what is credible, what is considered real. And that is exactly what they are doing this time. So people that on the hill are saying, you know, it's better that we know about this and that we tell the public about this. There's no reason to keep this.

CROWLEY: And they don't want lines outside embassies for passports or visas.


BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: Whatever there has to be.

BORGER: The risk is, of course, that you tip whomever it is off that you're on to them but you also need to err on the side of caution.

BLITZER: I know, the potential -- the other risk is by tipping them off, you might tip off sources and methods of the U.S. --

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: -- collecting this information.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: So it's always a delicate balancing act when to go public with this kind of information. It must be really serious if they decided right now to take these extraordinary measures and to go public the way they are.

All right, Candy, we'll see you Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION" 9:00 a.m. I'm sure you'll have a lot more on this story coming up as well.

Gloria, thanks to you as well.


BLITZER: Just ahead, I'll talk to the Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis about the controversial new law that potentially lead to an Olympic boycott in Russia.


BLITZER: A Russian sports official says the country's harsh new anti-gay laws will not apply to guests and athletes taking part in next year's Winter Olympic Games. But fear, uncertainty and anger remain.

CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is following the controversy.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea Resort of Sochi are President Vladimir Putin's biggest PR project yet. Expected to be the most expensive Olympics ever, more than $50 billion according to Russian media.

But a new so-called anti-gay propaganda law has some worried that gay American athletes or fans could be arrested, fined, and deported. The law makes it a crime to publicly acknowledge you're gay, provide information on homosexuality to minors, or publicly support equal rights for gays.

JOHNNY WEIR, OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATER: For me the Olympics are the most important aspect of my life. They are the thing that made me Johnny Weir.

DOUGHERTY: Openly gay U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir is against the new law, but hopes to compete at Sochi.

WEIR: I think and believe really that our presence in Russia will do nothing but help fight this law and help the LGBT community.

DOUGHERTY: The gay rights group All Out has launched a global campaign urging pressure on the Russian government to repeal the new law ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

JEREMY HEIMANS, ALL OUT: We're going to take the message directly to the Putin regime.

DOUGHERTY: Some gay rights groups however are boycotting Russian vodka and they're calling for boycotting the Olympics. International gay rights group say the law is fueling violence against gays in Russia. Two gay men were savagely murdered in less than a month.

JESSICA STERN, INTERNATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: If you're an Olympics fan who's vacationing in Russia and you happen to be gay, or you're with your child who happens to be gay and you pick up some information or you have a book with you, you can be deported.

DOUGHERTY: The International Olympic Committee says it remains to be seen how the anti-gay law will be implemented and it tells CNN the IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the games.

But others want a more forceful stand against Russia. Charley Sullivan is the openly gay assistant rowing coach at the University of Michigan. CHARLEY SULLIVAN, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN ROWING COACH: If you're an athlete and you are going to compete at the Olympic Games in a space where there is widespread persecution going on, you have some responsibility to say something. If you say nothing in that space, whether you want to say anything or not, you've actually supported the status quo.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): But does that mean that you would support somebody, you know, unfurling a gay flag in the middle of the field?

SULLIVAN: Absolutely.


DOUGHERTY: And Russian officials are making contradictory statements about this, Wolf, as to whether it would even be enforced. In fact one member of parliament says it won't. He says Russia has to be as polite and tolerant as possible during the Olympics. But another official from Saint Petersburg says this is a law, period, and it must be enforced -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jill. Thank you.

Jill Dougherty reporting.

The U.S. Olympic diving champion and author Greg Louganis is joining us now from New York.

Greg, thanks very much for coming in. I was anxious to get your thoughts on what's going on. You are an openly gay athlete. But you had to miss the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow because of another U.S. boycott at that time.


BLITZER: So here's the question. Do you think a boycott right now is the right course?

LOUGANIS: I don't believe in a boycott of the Olympic Games. I mean, certain boycotts do work if it be, you know, business or commerce. But for the Olympic Games, it's -- you know, it's not the right thing to do. You're hurting the wrong people. So I'm in support of not boycotting, but having a presence there.

I know that Athlete Allies and All Out Sports is working on a petition. We need hundreds of thousands of signatures on this petition to try to get the legislation changed before we even arrive there in Sochi at the Olympics.

BLITZER: Because the Olympic Games are not that far off, the Winter Olympic Games. So you want the Winter Olympic Games to go forward, but you want to be able to make a statement there, assuming these laws have not been removed from the books. What about boycotting Russian products like vodka, for example? Is that something appropriate? LOUGANIS: You know, I have to support that type of strike, you know, because it does -- it does hurt them, you know, where they live, you know, the money. And so, you know, there's -- you know, there's certain things that work, but I mean I lived on both sides of boycotts. I was in the '76 Olympic Games, with the silver medallists there, and went through the 1980 boycott.

We were protesting the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. And then 1984 in Los Angeles. My competition was there in Los Angeles with the Chinese. But the eastern bloc countries weren't there. So then I was able to continue to '88 and '88 was my last Olympic Games so I competed on both sides of two boycotts.

BLITZER: So if you were eligible in some category to compete in Sochi, in the Winter Olympic Games -- I know you're not, but let's say you were, you would go, you would participate, but what would you do during the two, three, four weeks or whatever you were in Russia?

LOUGANIS: Well, I -- you know, I would -- I would be who I am, be open about who I am. And, you know, in this -- you know, at this moment in time, I mean, that's what I would do. Everybody points to me as being an activist and all. I don't really view myself as an activist. I'm just being who I am. I'm a gay man living with HIV. You know, I've had my challenges. You know, but I'm still out there and persevering and offering support wherever I can lend it.

BLITZER: Do you want to say something directly to the Russian politicians. Putin, for example, and others who may be watching right now on CNN International?

LOUGANIS: Well, the thing that I would say is, I'm a human being and a child of God. And we're all children God made me this way. And it's not a choice. You know, I was born this way. And you know, if he's going to -- I would ask him if he would incarcerate, imprison a family member because they were gay, because we're brothers, we're sisters, we're aunts and uncles. We're just regular folks.

BLITZER: Greg Louganis, well said. Thanks very much for joining us.

LOUGANIS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll get back to the breaking news we're following. The serious, incredible, new terror threat.

And the governor who demands an apology after Jesse Jackson calls Florida an apartheid state.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let me go back to our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's getting more information on the illness that came from that tainted lettuce. What else are we learning, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, they're now -- the FDA spokesperson is telling us the names of two restaurants, where these illnesses, these clusters of illnesses likely took place in Iowa and Nebraska. And they all Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

Both of these restaurants are part of the Darden Restaurant Group. And again this is a bit of an ongoing investigation, Wolf. FDA also saying that they're monitoring leafy green produce coming in from Mexico to the United States.

But, Wolf, this is part of a trace back investigation. They've spent some time now trying to figure out exactly how these people were getting sick, figuring out that the produce that came from Taylor Farms of Mexico came specifically and was distributed at these restaurants, again Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

And there were four separate groups of people who became ill, and, again, this just coming to us, Wolf, that these restaurants, so people actually eating these produce products inside the restaurant.

In Iowa, as you may remember, Wolf, there was this concern about prewashed, bagged lettuce and carrots and cabbage all put together. That is a separate thing from this. This is in the restaurants. People getting sick there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they have confirmed that the people who actually got sick, about 400 or so, that at least some of them ate lettuce at either an Olive Garden or Red Lobster restaurant?

GUPTA: That's right. We just got that confirmation from the FDA. A spokesperson confirming that. Up until now, as you know, Wolf, they were specifically just talking about this mixed salad going to these several states. Just over the last hour we've now learned where that produce came from, Taylor Farms of Mexico, and where it went, specifically in this case the restaurants, Olive Garden and Red Lobster. It's likely gone other places as well, but we know this now for sure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sanjay, thanks very much. Sanjay Gupta reporting for us.

We'll take a quick break. Right at the top of the hour, our one- hour special on the worldwide terror alert issued today by the Obama administration.


BLITZER: Very public war of words has erupted between the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and the Florida Governor Rick Scott.

CNN's Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jesse Jackson's in a new civil rights battle, and this time he's taking on an entire state.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Florida is today a very toxic place.

TODD: In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, Jackson has joined protesters in Florida's capital calling for the Stand Your Ground law to be wiped out, but if that was all Jackson was doing, he might not have angered Governor Rick Scott so much.

Speaking to me on the phone from overseas, Jackson addressed a provocative remark he made which got the governor's blood boiling.

(On camera): Do you believe it's an apartheid state and if so why?

JACKSON: You see patterns of apartheid and you look at -- when you use the word apartheid, segregation or disparity, look at the healthcare disparity. Look at the education disparity. For blacks in that state there are two sets of rules. And that is apartheid-like.

TODD (voice-over): Governor Scott called on Jackson to apologize. Jackson refused, instead told me Florida's leaders should apologize for disenfranchising minority voters, he says, with their voter I.D. requirements and rules against ex-felons voting.

Jackson is calling on travelers and investors to boycott Florida. In an e-mail to CNN, Scott's office called Jackson's remarks divisive and reckless, but Jackson is also getting a bit personal comparing Scott unfavorably to George Wallace, the once segregationist Alabama governor who later changed his mind on that idea.

JACKSON: They say Governor Scott is determined not to change. I said, well, George Wallace changed. The same George Wallace that once blocked school doors, the same George Wallace ended up having the most blacks in his cabinet. If the south can change, why can't Governor Scott change?

TODD: More broadly, Jackson called the atmosphere in Florida after the Trayvon Martin case the Selma of our time, referring to the ground-breaking civil rights marches in Alabama in the early '60s.

Clayborne Carson, historian of the civil rights movement, says this.

PROF. CLAYBORNE CARSON, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: That was the climactic battle to overcome the Jim Crow system. I don't think that there's a direct comparison with what's going on now. Today's battle is more of a defensive battle to try to protect the gains that we thought had been won.


TODD: Carson says because this is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's march on Washington and it coincides with some of the fallout over the Zimmerman case, there's a greater sensitivity to all this. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson says he'd love to meet with Governor Scott to discuss some of this. Scott says without an apology from Jackson a meeting would only reward him for his, quote, "irresponsible insults" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.