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Passenger Wanted Plan Diverted to Sochi; Attempted Hijacking Ends in Turkey; Jobless Rate at Its Lowest Level in Five Years; VP Biden Interviewed

Aired February 7, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, breaking news, a flight from Ukraine is on the ground in Istanbul, Turkey, after a passenger claimed there was a bomb on board and demanded that the plane land at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Also, right now, the Dow is up on news that the unemployment rate fell last month but a closer look shows there is still plenty of problems with the U.S. economy.

And, right now, Senator Rand Paul doubles down on his criticism of former president Bill Clinton. He's calling on Democrats who have benefitted from Clinton's fund-raising to give that money back.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's begin with the breaking news, though, an attempted airline hijacking connected to the opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi. CNN has learned that the suspected hijacker wanted a Turkish airliner diverted to Sochi.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us in Sochi right now. The plane is in Turkey, right, Nick? Tell us what we know.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, yes, it's in the Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul. Now, it was flying from Ukraine, from the eastern city of Kharkhov there. It had 110 passengers on board, according to Turkish officials. Now, it appears that one of them -- during that flight while the plane was in air and its route takes it over the Black Sea behind me or close to it, one passenger said that he'd stashed or he knew there was a bomb on board and asked the pilot to divert the plane to Sochi here.

Now, clearly whatever happened, the pilots didn't choose to take that threat seriously enough or obey the man who threatened them. They instead landed in Istanbul, touched the ground there and were taken straight to a safe zone in the airport in Sabiha Gokcen itself.

Now, we're hearing from a transportation official that the plane is now being searched by security forces looking for a device. So, at this point, it's pretty safe to presume that unless there's a piece of information we don't have or something's gone terribly wrong that because that search is under way, the passengers are off the plane and most likely the man who made the threat in some form of police custody. That's my interpretation. But at this point, Wolf, given the plane's on the ground, given it's not coming this direction to Sochi, it seems, perhaps, unless there's something we don't know, this threat may have been neutralized -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know the nationality of this suspected hijacker?

WALSH: Well, according to Turkish media, our affiliate, CNN Turk, he's Ukrainian national. That could mean a lot of things because in the former Soviet Union a lot of countries give citizenship to people from other parts of the former Soviet Union or immigrants have been there for a distinct (ph) period of time much like in the rest of the world. But I should say, hearing the man was a Ukrainian national, that did not necessarily immediately scream at me north Caucasus or extremist from southern Russia simply because there isn't a particularly big link between eastern Ukraine and this part of the world where I'm standing here.

It doesn't rule this out here at all if it turns out in the end that this was, in fact, some sort of plot or some kind of real threat because, Wolf, remember in the air, people can get erratic. Strange things can happen. Stupid things can get said. So, the key thing, though, is the hijacked signal he pilot's put out, that suggests they were adequately worried or scared and the fact now that it's in a safe zone, presumably in the hands of Turkish security forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This flight, Pegasus Airlines, I take it -- is that a Turkish airline?

WALSH: As far as I know it is, yes. And they do a lot of low-cost flights around the Middle East and there are other areas, too. So, we don't quite know who the passengers were on this. A lot of Turkish individuals work abroad often doing construction. There could also be Ukrainians, perhaps, going to Istanbul as well. A lot of Ukrainians or Russians, too, consider Turkey to be a good holiday destination for them, though perhaps not this time of year.

But the key thing that has raised everybody's eyebrows here of course is the demand that he was taken to Sochi and the timing, of course. The timing was right in the middle of the opening ceremony of these 2014 winter Olympics after weeks of concerns about security threats and, Wolf, as we've been talking about in the last 48 hours, this toothpaste tube threat. The possibility, according to U.S. officials, the militants might try to use toothpaste tubes or cosmetic tubes to get explosives on board an airliner.

Now, another reason why Istanbul feeds in this and may have been raised eyebrows, it's one of two places with direct flights here to Sochi, the one being Frankfurt. So, a lot of things that have got people extraordinarily concerned. We don't have the full picture yet, but it does seem, given the plane is now on the ground, remember, we're not in the 1970s now where there's a substantially lengthy standoff between plane hijackers and police. You know, this is over fast, these situations, often. It may be that this situation is now behind and under control but we're still waiting to get the full picture -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, if you want to fly to Sochi, you're either going to fly to Frankfurt, connect in Frankfurt, you fly to Istanbul, connect in Istanbul. I assume there are flights from Moscow to Sochi as well, right?

WALSH: Absolutely, absolutely. The one that I was referring to Istanbul and Frankfurt was because that threat about the toothpaste tube was focused on flights coming from Europe. Most flights down to here go through Moscow. And we -- many of us experienced ourselves, it's erratic. It's not universal. But the Russians do try and not let you bring liquids on in your carry-on. So, that's another thing here, too, that suggested a great heightening of anxiety connected to toothpaste tube alerts as well.

We don't know if this flight had any connection at all to the games here, whether or not simply there was someone acting out of hand who referred to Sochi or may even have been in a poor state of mind when they made this threat. We don't know the full picture, but certainly the fear is because the timing during the opening ceremony, that's why everybody seems to be putting such attention upon this and, of course, the hijack signal put out by the pilot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick, stand by for a moment because I want to bring in our Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI assistant, Dr. Tom Fuentes, who is here. Not every day we hear about a successful hijacking, if you will. This was not apparently successful. The hijacker, the suspected hijacker, thought they were landing in Sochi but really this pilot took them into Turkey and Istanbul.

DR. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, that's correct, Wolf. And this one sounds like we may have a mentally disturbed individual. I mean, who in their right mind would think, I could fly this plane, we'll go to Sochi, they'll have a limo waiting for me, and they'll take me to the opening ceremonies. I mean, you know, obviously -- especially if they don't find anything in the luggage or anywhere on that airplane that justifies the threat. But they had to take it seriously. They had to land the plane.

BLITZER: So, walk us through the protocol. You are on a flight from -- let's say from Ukraine to Turkey.


BLITZER: A regularly scheduled flight, Pegasus Airlines, and some passenger says, take me to Sochi. I've got a bomb.

FUENTES: Right. Well, in that situation, the pilot has a discrete way of notifying ground control that he has a hijack situation. So, he can press a button and discretely notify the authorities that there's a threat on that aircraft and, you know, it looks like hijacking to him.

But during the course of events on the flight, and it would be a relatively short flight, the pilot would have his judgment that maybe this guy is just not right, that he's mentally unbalanced and that, you know, may be able to fool him and say, OK, here we are. Welcome to Sochi. And they're actually in Istanbul and they're able to evacuate the passengers quickly and then take him into custody and then now start the process to search the baggage and interview him and find out what was going on in his head that he thought he would be able to fly to Sochi.

BLITZER: Now, coming -- you know, everybody is so nervous right now given the heightened security concerns involving the winter Olympic Games in Sochi. You have to err on the -- you have to err on the side of caution.

FUENTES: Well, right now, yes, there's such a state of alertness, let's say. I mean, somebody could pull out a tube of toothpaste to brush their teeth and everybody would dive for cover, at this point. So, I mean, you know, things are in a heightened state of alert and they have to be. So, there's no choice around that. But an individual thinking he's going to fly into Sochi, then what? Now you're there, now what?

BLITZER: All right, hold on for a moment because Ivan Watson is our correspondent also in Sochi. He's joining us. Ivan, you're picking up some more information?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Our sister network, CNN Turk, has been reporting that, according to Turkish security officials, the suspected hijacker on this Pegasus Air flight has been captured by Turkish special forces. This, again, is coming from our sister network, CNN Turk, citing Turkish security officials.

And now, we're getting another report from the Cihan News Agency, it's another Turkish news agency, they've published a photo of what they are reporting is the suspected hijacker aboard the plane surrounded by several empty seats and two men in uniforms.

So, getting reports from various Turkish news agencies that the suspected hijacker, who claimed that there was an explosive device aboard this flight and tried to divert this plane, that he seems to have been subdued somehow by the Turkish security forces as the plane continues to sit on the tarmac at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

And I think in the immediate analysis of what's happened here, if this man was claiming to have a bomb and demanding that the flight be diverted, it perhaps goes to some credit to the pilots themselves that they were able to get the Pegasus Air flight to its destination airline in Turkey, in Istanbul, regardless of this threat. Whether they fooled or bluffed the hijacker, it's not entirely clear.

Another Turkish news agency, DHA, has reported that the pilot has given the I'm OK sign to the outside, presumably from inside the plane as well. So, we're starting to get some positive signals now coming from a number of different Turkish news agencies that perhaps this suspected hijacking attempt may be close to resolution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope -- let's hope it is. And I know, Ivan, you've spent a lot of time as our correspondent in Istanbul. I'm going to let you go back and work your sources, get some more information. So, standby with that.

Tom Fuentes is still here with us here in Washington. The Turks, they have a pretty good reputation in dealing with these kinds of -- they NATO allies. If an F-16 went up to escort this Pegasus Airliner down to the ground, they know what they're doing.

FUENTES: Yes. And the United States, TSA works with the authorities all around the world. So, it's not just TSA here at our American airports but they are all over the world. They work with the authorities in each of these airports. Protocols are established if a plane is hijacked to take it to a particular location in an isolated point in the tarmac, usually cameras are already set up there so they can feed the video to the authorities and they can get an idea of what the situation looks like. They can get emergency vehicles there to evacuate the passengers and crew. So, there's -- there are well- established protocols for this and it appears that the Turks are just following what they've been trained to do.

BLITZER: And they have very close cooperation with the U.S. law enforcement including the FBI.


BLITZER: All right, Tom, standby. We'll continue the breaking news coverage. Ivan Watson is working his sources in Istanbul right now. We're going to have much more on this.

There's other important news we're watching as well, including new employment figures showing the jobless rate at its lowest level in five years. So, why isn't everyone celebrating that?

Plus the breaking news and a lot more when we come back.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Turkey right now. A Pegasus Airline flight, that's a Turkish airliner, scheduled from Ukraine to Istanbul apparently some passenger claimed to have a bomb on board, said he wanted that plane to go to Sochi. The pilot and some other crew members managed apparently some way to convince that passenger they were on the way to Sochi, but instead they landed at an airport in Istanbul escorted by F-16s, presumably Turkish F-16s. Turkey being a member of NATO.

That plane is on the ground. We just heard various news reports coming out of Turkey suggesting the incident may be over but it's unclear. We have pictures of that airliner on the ground at the airport in Istanbul right now.

Tom Fuentes, our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former assistant FBI director, is here with me.

You were just at that airport in Istanbul a couple weeks ago.


BLITZER: And I assume, in advance of the Sochi Winter Olympic games, with -- the only place you can fly into Sochi is either Frankfurt direct or from Istanbul or Moscow for that matter.

FUENTES: Right. BLITZER: The security must have been pretty intense.

FUENTES: Yes, it was very intense. I was taking a connecting flight from Africa on the way back to Washington and hand searched three different times just going to about eight gates, you know, from one gate to the other gate.

BLITZER: Really? They opened your luggage and all that stuff?

FUENTES: Yes, everything.


FUENTES: Hand search of everything and I understand a very comprehensive search of the luggage that was checked. So, security was extremely tight.

My understanding is that Turkish airlines, the only way to get to Sochi is through Moscow, as was previously mentioned. So, the security is extensive in Istanbul. The security, I'm sure, is going to be very extensive and has been in Moscow preparing for this. Now, this flight didn't originate in Istanbul, so it's just the destination. But the Turks are very well trained. They work closely with the U.S. authorities on how to deal with a hijack situation like this.

BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers a little Google map of that airport where this plane is now on the ground surrounded by Turkish law enforcement personnel at that airport. You don't hear much about hijackings nowadays do we?

FUENTES: Well, it's pretty hard when you come on a plane and go through the searches that you go through. So if you make a threat that, yes, I've put a bomb on the plane, do what I tell you, well, how would you undo the bomb going off if that was true? So, right away, there's a little bit of a - you know, it's not like you're going to pull out a TV remote control and make the bomb go off. It would usually have to be on a timer or altimeter or some other detonation method.

So I think probably pretty quickly in this the crew of the plane realized that they were probably dealing with a mentally disturbed person. I mean they would still have to treat it as if there could be a bomb, but we're probably dealing with somebody that -

BLITZER: And they're usually on these international flights, air marshals on board, who are dressed up as regular passengers.

FUENTES: Well, I think - I think in this case, most of the flights that are coming out of the Ukraine, out of Russia, out of that area right now would have security on board. And it sounds like there may have been someone on board that immediately subdued the individual. It doesn't help them in terms of the bomb. They're going to have to land that plane and do the extensive search. And Sochi Airport, you know, has got to be a very small airport compared to the hub of Istanbul, which is a major international hub airport.

BLITZER: But tens of thousands of people have been coming into Sochi for these Winter Olympic games.

FUENTES: Exactly.

BLITZER: So I assume they've beefed it up.

All right, Tom, don't go away. We're going to stay on top of the breaking news. We're going to get to all the other important news we're following as well. New unemployment numbers. A lot more. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The jobless rate has dropped to 6.6 percent. That's the lowest level in some five years. But you're not going to find a whole lot of celebrating out there. That's because 113,000 jobs added in January. That number was far fewer than expected. And it follows an anemic jobs report in December as well. Our Alison Kosik is joining us from the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, so relatively weak payroll numbers for both December, now January. There are, though, some bright spots out there.


You know what, it wasn't a complete washout. You know there was a lot of hiring in blue collar jobs. And despite the report's shortcomings being blamed on the bad weather in January and December as well, there were job gains in construction and manufacturing and mining. And this is good news because other recent reports that we've gotten have shown that manufacturing is slowing down. Also another bright spot, more temp workers were hired last month. And the good thing about that is usually companies hire temp workers before they hire full-time workers.

Ah, yes, but that's where the good stuff ends, because overall this was just not a great report. You look at job growth in December and January, it's really, really weak compared to what we were seeing in 2013. We really need to see stronger growth for a sustainable amount of time to really make a dent in getting the 10 million Americans who are out of work back on the job.


BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people have simply given up looking for jobs and that, to a certain degree, is one of the reasons why the unemployment number goes down because you don't measure people who aren't -- who are out of the workforce, if you will.

KOSIK: Exactly. And you look at the unemployment rate and it doesn't -- it hasn't been falling, actually, lately for positive reasons. You know, sometimes we see the unemployment rate dropping because people are actually getting hired. But not always. You know, sometimes people get really discouraged, they give up looking, they're not counted in that number. And we saw that happen in January.

And you look at the broader trend happening, you know, unemployment -- unemployment just hasn't been dropping for the right reasons, even though it has been dropping for the most part since 2010. But many jobs that have been added have been these low-wage positions. Many people, you know, settling for a pay cut or anything that they could find just to bring in some sort of income. So, you throw in the stock market that's really had a tough year so far. Companies who are reporting their latest results, they're uncertain about the future. So no wonder the majority of Americans think the economy right now is not in so great shape.


BLITZER: The Dow Jones, though, up about 113 points right now. We'll see how that holds over the next few hours. Alison, thank you.

So, will he or won't he? The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, he's talking about the 2016 presidential race. Our own Kate Bolduan, she had an exclusive one-on-one with the vice president. Among the questions she asked, will he consider running for president? You're going to find out what he had to say. We'll hear from the vice president and Kate when we come back.


BLITZER: He stopped short of saying he'll run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, but the vice president, Joe Biden, says there's no obvious reason for him not to run. The presidential race was just one of the topics in Biden's exclusive interview with our "New Day" anchor Kate Bolduan. They covered everything from jobs, the economy, to the midterm elections, immigration reform. Here's what the vice president said about the prospects of passing an immigration overhaul this year.


KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": I know you have been very optimistic saying you think immigration reform can be done and it can be done this year. Speaker Boehner is just now saying he thinks any action on immigration reform is unlikely this year. Saying -- why? He says because House Republicans don't trust the president. He even said they don't trust the president to enforce our laws. So is this over?

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Look, the thing we have going for us is the vast majority of the American people support reform. The vast majority of Republicans support immigration reform. And if he allowed a vote tomorrow on the Senate bill that passed, a significant portion of the Republicans and all the Democrats would vote for it. He's getting understandably, not a criticism, a great deal of pressure from the right that wants no part of this. I think he'll work his way through this. I still think we can get this done. It doesn't take much time.

BOLDUAN: If it doesn't take much time and if it does come your way, you could be looking at a bill that allows for legal status but does not offer a pathway to citizenship. The president did not say definitively one way or the other in an interview with CNN.