Return to Transcripts main page


Will Athletes Be Safe at Olympics?; Tourists Told: "Watch Your Back"

Aired February 6, 2014 - 18:45   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, terror fears at the Olympics. Can we trust the Russians to keep our athletes safe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The level of security in the city of Sochi is not worse than New York, London, Washington or Boston.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Sally Kohn. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Adam Schiff from the intelligence committee and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson from the foreign relations committee. In a dangerous world, can we count on Putin to protect Americans? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

SALLY KOHN, CO-HOST: I'm Sally Kohn on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a Democratic congressman and a Republican senator.

Holding the Olympics in Russia was already wrong. Now it's scary and wrong and getting scarier by the second.

We just learned the U.S. is banning carry-on liquids on airline flights to Russia, following warnings about toothpaste tube bombs. And if that sounds like a joke, watch what one of them does to this car.




KOHN: Now listen to what Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein just told CNN's Jake Tapper.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think people going to the Olympics should be careful. I think they should watch their backs. I think they should stay out of crowds if they can. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOHN: Like that's doable. The Olympics is one giant crowd. If I were a ticket holder or an athlete, I'd be scared. Wouldn't you be?

GINGRICH: Well, I'd be sobered, but I do think Senator Feinstein sort of tried to get it both ways. If you shouldn't be in a crowd, you shouldn't go to the Olympics. I mean, if you're going to be in the Olympics, you're going to be in a crowd. And the question will be whether or not something terrible happens or whether it happens somewhere else in the world.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff and Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

Let me ask you, if I might, Congressman, you all were briefed, I think, today. What's your sense? As you know, Senator Feinstein, who is the chair of the intelligence committee in the Senate, from your state, indicated that she probably wouldn't go if she didn't have a family member participating. What's your sense of how big a challenge it would be to go to Sochi right now?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If I had tickets to the Olympics, I would go. There is certainly a risk. No place around the world, regrettably, is very safe anymore, and certainly not the Olympics with the threats we've been hearing about, but I think it's a manageable risk.

You're not going to be able to avoid crowds, as you point out, but you can't avoid straying off the beaten path. You can take certain precautions in how you get to Sochi and not deviating from the instructions you're given by the security personnel on the grounds. You can take prudent precautions to reduce the risk.

I thin, as others have pointed out, the risk is greatest outside of Sochi, outside of the Olympic Village, the transportation hubs. We've been hearing a lot about aircraft risks, but probably the train stations may be at greater risk than that.

GINGRICH: You've said that the Russians are not sharing adequately in terms of information on what they're doing and what they thick the threats are. What do you think they should be doing in terms of working with us that they're not?

SCHIFF: They'll give us information when there's an exterior threat. So if they -- there are people in France or Austria or elsewhere that they have reason to believe are a threat, are going to come to Russia and pose a problem, they'll share that information because they have to. They need us and our European allies to act on it.

But if it's information from within Russia that would reflect badly on the Russians, that would show the magnitude of the problem in Russia, that would disclose some of their sources and methods, they're not going to want to share that. They haven't been sharing that, at least not to the degree they could. If we had the advantage of that information, we could better protect not only our people but theirs, as well.

KOHN: Senator, let me pose a similar question to you. You've received briefings, as well. You know the threat in Sochi as well as anyone. Would you go? Would you recommend to your constituents that they go or that they stay home?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I believe the congressman's assessment is pretty accurate. There's a heightened sense of concern. There should be. I think any reasonable person understands that there have been threats made.

I think probably the greatest thing we've got going for us in terms of security is Vladimir Putin's reputation is on the line. And let's face it: Russia probably isn't quite as concerned as the U.S. in terms of civil liberties, and you know, they're not quite as respectful of human rights. So they have been afraid to kind of roll up plots and that type of thing, and they've got a lot of people on the ground there.

So inside, I think, the Olympic Village I think the security level is about as safe as it's going to get. The greatest threat would be traveling.

But the fact of the matter is, we live in a dangerous world. These threats that we face are real. And people need to be mindful of that at all times.

KOHN: The brutishness of Putin may actually be an advantage. Say more about the fact that...

JOHNSON: I'm not endorsing...

KOHN: I didn't think you were. That the Russians have said that if something does happen, God forbid, U.S. interests, the FBI, the CIA, will take a backseat to the Russian response. The Russians will coordinate the response on the ground. Are you comfortable with that?

JOHNSON: I would like to see much greater cooperation. I think that's probably just going to be natural, no matter what. If you were in the U.S., it would probably be the exact same thing. It would be difficult to not have total cooperation. I'd like to see probably more U.S. presence there; there's no doubt about it. But that's -- that's what it is. You know, it is what it is.

GINGRICH: Let me build on something that Senator Johnson just said that I think is really troubling about the world we live in. This is not a comment on Putin so much, but they have been extraordinarily brutal, particularly in dealing with the Chechens, and they have killed an amazing number of people.

And the results have been breeding a new generation of determined terrorists. It was no accident, I think, that the two bombers in Boston were Chechens, and the Chechens seem pretty good at terrorism; and they seem extraordinarily determined.

As you think about our role around the world and you think about the enemies we have among radical Islamism around the world, don't you find it really sobering that, after all this effort and all of this bloodshed, the Russians are, at this very moment, having to bring in 37,000 additional police just for the Sochi area, because they can't -- they can't break the back of this resistance?

SCHIFF: I think that's exactly right. And it shows the double-edged sword that the Russian heavy-handed tactics bring. On the one hand, yes, they can have this ring of steel. They can bring all these resources in. Yes, they can surveil everything electronically and otherwise. It's quite ironic that Snowden would be there with so much electronic surveillance going on in Russia right now.

But by the same token, their crackdown, their vigorous crackdown in places like Dagestan, Chechnya, has resulted in fanning the flames of a lot of this militancy that has, in part, contributed to the problem that they're trying to confront.

It's, I think, a sobering lesson in Russia. It's instructive not just for the Russians. I think it's instructive probably to all of us about some of the consequences of how we approach the terror problem and making sure that the actions that we take aren't counterproductive, that they don't grow the problem instead of shrink it.

JOHNSON: It's really surprising when you realize that Russia is under the same threats we are, that they're not far more cooperative with us in the world.

I was hoping that we had some shared interests, for example, in Syria, where we had that, you know -- the chemical weapons, you know, trying to get our arms around there. But we've only recovered 4 percent. They're way behind schedule. I don't think there's any hope that we're going to actually stay on schedule to destroy all the chemical weapons capability by June 30.

And it's really Russia's role to make sure that happens. And they're not making sure that happens. They're not cooperating anywhere near sufficiently with Iran. Of course, that was, you know, the sponsored state terrorism. So it is puzzling.

I wish Russia were a friendly rival. Instead they're an unfriendly adversary. That's a real shame. It is puzzling to me.

KOHN: I'm glad you brought that up, Senator, because there's this sort of -- we can all wish things for Russia that were different, but nobody can deal with Putin. It's just sort of -- the situation seems to be deteriorating despite all attempts.

And yet, Republicans have been fairly -- to bring this back to some domestic politics for a second. Republicans have been fairly consistent in criticizing President Obama and his foreign policy in general, and in particular with respect to Russia.

And yet I'm curious. Is there anything vis-a-vis Russia in general or specifically to Syria or to Iran that you would do differently?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, Sarah, I would like to think that politics can end the water's edge.

KOHN: So would I.

JOHNSON: I'm not sure that's the case. I would like to -- I would like to do that. What I'll say, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it's a pretty bipartisan atmosphere there. These are enormously challenging problems we have. But the fact of the matter is, this president has just created some huge blunders.

First and foremost, he's not negotiating the status force agreement for Iraq, which I think would have prevented the Iranian overflights. I think Syria would not have been as big a disaster as it is. We sacrificed so much blood and treasure, and we didn't even leave a -- leave behind a stabilizing force who could have been helped in the Middle East. So again, I really don't want to be...

KOHN: Well, I would have liked to have not gone to the war in the first place.

JOHNSON: That is -- you have to face reality.

KOHN: No, no. I would have liked to have not gotten into the Iraq war in the first place. It would have solved it much better. But let me go back to the specific question, which is how would you deal with Russia differently?

JOHNSON: Well, I think we need to be dealing with them with reality. You have to -- you just can't hope. And that's a terrible strategy.

So you know, for example, I think we ought to be talking to Poland and the Czech Republic. We unilaterally did not install those defense shields.

There are reports that Russia is not abiding by the intermediate nuclear treaty. That is a real problem. So I think we need to make sure that we show real strength toward Russia, and that's probably the best way to deal with them.

GINGRICH: So Sochi is a real problem, but so is Boston. So is Silicon Valley. When we get back, I'll share with you the scariest story I read this week.


GINGRICH: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Representative Adam Schiff and Senator Ron Johnson.

We're only 16 hours from the Olympics opening ceremonies. CNN has just learned that TSA is banning all carry-on liquids on flights heading to Russia.

But the most important competition at the Sochi Olympics may not involve any of the athletes. It is the very hard, very real competition between security forces and terrorists.

You know, both President Bush and President Obama have suggested at times that we're winning the war on terror. It is simply not true. Here's the scariest example I've read in a long time.

We're just learning details about the attack in Silicon Valley last April. A group of snipers shot out 17 transformers at an electrical substation, knocking it out for a month. They got away. The FBI, as of today, has no idea who they were. Silicon Valley to Boston to Sochi, this planet is not getting safer.

And let me say, before I ask you about the events in your home state, what I found particularly sobering were the estimates that this was, in fact, a training exercise. And yet, there has been no effort, I think, at a national level to really respond aggressively to the possibility that you may have a whole group of people out there, trying to think through how to take down our electrical system.

Now, as a Californian, what was your reaction when you got briefed on the Silicon Valley incident?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it's quite staggering when you consider the sophistication of the attack and how little we still know about what took place, whether this was an act of domestic terrorism, like the Oklahoma City bombing; whether this was preparation for something more sophisticated later. But it just kind of brings home the fact that, talking about Sochi, talking about the soft targets outside the city, we have lots of soft targets here. And some of those power stations are among the softest targets and the damage they could do is extraordinary.

I had a breakfast this morning with Secretary of Defense Hagel. And one of the top issues that he raised, one of his paramount concerns is cyber. And this attack on our infrastructure could have brought down our energy grid. Similarly, you might be able to do the same thing through a cyber attack. It's a different face of terrorism.

GINGRICH: Although we spend more energy on the cyber hub (ph).

But let me ask you a follow-up for a second. It strikes me that the Department of Homeland Security in the story that related to this said protecting these kind of stations isn't our responsibility. Now, if we lose the electrical grid, the fact ha the secretary of homeland security can say we plan for a cyber attack but not a physical attack, so it's not our fault.

Doesn't it seem to you that we ought to have a much more militant and much more aggressive response to this and the Congress ought to be holding the Department of Homeland Security's feet to the fire on what is our preparation also the fact that these are very hard to replace and take a long time to replace? We clearly don't have an adequate stockpile to replace them if there was a serious attack. Shouldn't we be more aggressive in responding to this?

SCHIFF: I think we have to be more aggressive in responding not only to this but the need to protect all of our critical infrastructure. Honestly, I don't understand the statement that it's not a part of the core mission of the Department of Homeland Security. You know, a lot depends on who carried out this attack, but it's very much in the homeland, it has very much of a national security impact, it could be devastating to our economy and it could be devastating to operations of hospitals that run on power even though they may have backups and other critical first responders.

So, you know, it's part and parcel of their mission and there are a lot of other targets like that we need to be protecting for better than we do now.

KOHN: Senator, to that point, there are obviously threats abroad, there are so many threats here. Given that, isn't this the time the United States should be investing more in our intelligence, in our protections capacities through the FBI and the CIA rather than cutting their funding as you and Republicans have voted to do?

JOHNSON: It's a dangerous world. Our best defense is a robust intelligence gathering capability. And, you know, part of the problem is when you have all these instances, when you have an administration that minimizes the threat, we can get in these debates, is it terrorism, is it -- what we need to understand is this is a dangerous world.

KOHN: So, then why -- then why cut the CIA funding?

JOHNSON: Well, what we need to do is prioritize spending. The first role of government is national defense. But when we are spending all this money that we don't have creating all these deficits, threatening, potentially, a spike in interest rates that would totally consume our budget if we were starting to return to historical interest rates --


KOHN: I'm confused. You just said national security was a top priority.

JOHNSON: It is. So we have to prioritize spending, get control of our debt and deficits. But there's no doubt about it we need a robust intelligence gathering capability. And what we need is we need the American public to actually trust our government and have faith in the administration that we're not going to be snooping on Americans, that we're not going to be utilizing the IRS as a weapon against Americans.

KOHN: It would be nice to see Republicans voting as if intelligence is the most important thing.

GINGRICH: Le me ask -- I understand that for liberals/progressives, that more money is always an answer.

But, Congressman, here's the thing that troubles me about this and part of why I raise the issue about the enormous challenge the Russians have. We have spent since 9/11 an estimated $4 trillion plus on the various aspects of national security, homeland security, et cetera. I think we are not particularly safer. In fact, I would argue we're clearly not safer, that the threat is mutating at a faster rate than our ability to respond.

Isn't part of the problem here a relentless rethinking of our bureaucracies is and a willingness to cut through -- we have I think 16 intelligence departments, for example. It just strikes me as sort of madness.

SCHIFF: Well, certainly we need to do a far better job using the resources we have. Part of this is a resource question, part of it is, are we structured to confront the new challenge we have. Now, you say we're not safer. I think we're safer from the mega attack like we saw on 9/11. I think we're safer from the core of al Qaeda and that kind of massive coordinated attack.

What we're not safer from are the one-offs, the spin-offs, the Boston marathon bombings, the potential shoe bombings, underwear bombings and now toothpaste bombings. Those threats have really proliferated.

Syria is now becoming the new Afghanistan, the new training ground, the new magnet for jihadists. We may be dealing for the next 10 or 15 years with the fallout of Syria, just as we have been dealing for the last two decades with the fallout of Afghanistan.

So, the problems have mushroomed. The question is, are we marshalling our resources and the best way to deal with that new phenomenon, and how are we dealing with that so-called pivot to Asia?

From my point of view, I would try to reorient our Defense Department and our focus on -- not massive occupations because we're not going to do another Iraq or Afghanistan, but being able to stand up the capacity in some of these other countries, so like in Mali, they can take the fight to the terrorists in their own ranks and have a smarter, faster, cheaper defense in these diminished budgetary days.

KOHN: Newt, Senator, you're both saying what should feel refreshing, which is that there's this important role for the government to play in keeping us safe. You're saying we should be protecting our vital infrastructure more. Where's government? Why aren't they doing that?

Senator, you're saying foreign policy and our domestic security should be our number-one priority, and yet --

JOHNSON: Do less in other areas.

KOHN: And yet, not to forget the $232 million that you, sir, voted to cut from the FBI's budget, but also more broadly, that's not bureaucracy. Those are our men and women who are protecting us. Those are FBI agents, those are police officers, those are people listening in on threats.


JOHNSON: The Senate is so dysfunctional.

KOHN: Not bureaucracy.

JOHNSON: Nobody specifically voted to cut individual programs. You're getting a Hobson's choice of here's a 15-page omnibus spending bill, vote yes or no. So, the fact of the matter is homegrown terrorism is a huge threat, and the Department of Homeland Security is an utterly dysfunctional bureaucracy itself. I mean, you really have to look at the history of that and should we really bureaucratize our security? Was there a better way of doing it? Is there a better way to streamline? Is there a better way to prioritize spending within the federal government? There must be, trust me.

KOHN: It's nice to hear a defense of government coming from Republicans.

Stay there. Next, our outrages of the day, and believe it or not, I'm outraged at President Obama today. I'll tell you why in a minute.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question, would you feel safe traveling so Sochi? Tweet yes or not using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


KOHN: We're back with Representative Adam Schiff and Senator Ron Johnson.

It's time for our outrages of the day.

I'm generally a supporter of President Obama, but today I'm outraged. Earlier this afternoon, the White House made clear the U.S. will continue to deport 1,100 undocumented immigrants per day. A rate that's higher than any previous administration.

The White House says it doesn't have the legal authority to stop deportations. It does. And arguably, given the president's rhetoric, he has the moral obligation to act. What President Obama doesn't seem to have is the political guts to do what's right, especially as Republicans continue dragging their feet on immigration reform.

So, on behalf of American families ripped apart every day by this administration, I'm outraged.

GINGRICH: I'm outraged on behalf of an 11-year-old girl who was told she couldn't bake cupcakes. She was baking cupcakes, selling them on the street, which attracted favorable coverage in a local newspaper.

As a result, the county health department informed her parents that not only hadn't obtained the right permits, they either had to buy a bakery or build a separate kitchen just for baking cupcakes.

To quote the county health official, there are rules and regulations. So the 11-year-old girl stopped selling her cupcakes. She told the local paper she feels bummed. The rest of us should feel outraged.

KOHN: Look, Newt, I'm bummed for the little girl baking the cupcakes, too. I'm a little happy if government is using its power of public health to protect us all from norovirus, and, you know, that to me is far less --


JOHNSON: Are lemonade stands OK?

KOHN: That feels far less egregious than government coming in and ripping up the families of people who've come here because businesses want them here, and they just want to work here and --

GINGRICH: So, your outrage is --

KOHN: I think my outrage is bigger than your outrage.



GINGRICH: I think for that little girl, it was sufficiently outrageous. But the bigger thing, this is what Ron and I were trying to say a while ago -- obviously, you want structured activities by government, but there are times when bureaucracies become truly stupid.

You happen to think the current activity of the administration on immigration is stupid. Obviously, what the little girl experienced was stupid. I think we were talking earlier about the need to rethink a lot of what we're doing on national security, because I'm a hawk but I'm a cheap hawk. I don't think you should automatically salute something just because it happens to be out there waving a flag. I think you have to be --

KOHN: Congressman, what do you think?

SCHIFF: We could use a dose of common sense in both areas. It's ridiculous to crack down on an 11-year-old selling cupcakes. My son and I were selling hot chocolate last year. And on --


GINGRICH: I apologize.


GINGRICH: But I have to thank both Representative Adam Schiff and his son, selling hot chocolate, and Senator Johnson.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Would you feel safe traveling to Sochi? Right now, 27 percent say yes, 73 percent say no. The debate continues online on, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

KOHN: From the left, I'm Sally Kohn.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.