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Search Could Be Closing In On Black Boxes; Fifth Ping Unlikely From The Plane; Fifth Ping; HHS Secretary Resigns

Aired April 11, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, narrowing down the search area as the hunt for Flight 370 wraps up its fifth week. Investigators are, quote, "confident they are closing in on the plane's black boxes."

Right now, she was the face of Obamacare and its botched rollout. But now, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, is walking away.

And right now, a close call for Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state dodges a shoe thrown by a protester. Her reaction, that's coming up next hour.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Crews are closing in on the black boxes from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That's the word today from Australia's prime minister. Here are the latest developments. Prime Minister Tony Abbott says officials are, quote, "very confident the signals that have been detected are from the plane's black boxes." He says the challenge is to get as much information as possible before the batteries die and the signals end. Investigators say a fifth ping is probably not from the plane. It was picked up Thursday by a device dropped in the ocean from an airline. Four earlier signals were detected by a U.S. pinger locator towed by an Australian ship.

Meanwhile, there has been no letup in the broader search for debris floating on the surface. Planes and ships are involved, 13 ships, 15 aircraft. They are assigned to today's search alone.

We're covering this story like only CNN can. And let's get the very latest, live from our correspondents in the region. Michael Holmes is standing by in Perth, Australia. Nic Robertson is joining us from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Michael, let's start with you. At one point, the Australian prime minister said crews were within kilometers, kilometers of finding the black boxes. Are other officials you're speaking with there as confident as Tony Abbott appears to be?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he narrowed it down more than anyone has so far. That phrase "within kilometers." We have, thought, heard optimism, as we've reported over recent days, from the man leading the search, air chief marshal, Angus Houston. He said that he was also optimistic, in his words, that the wreckage would be found.

Certainly, with the four pings that we've had since last Saturday, the sort of confirmed pings, if you like, that are suggestive of the black boxes. The search area for the wreckage has shrunk dramatically. And it is so much smaller than it was just a matter of days ago. Whether it is a few kilometers or whether it is 20 or 30 square kilometers or even more, no real certainty on that. But certainly, with those four pings and also the arrival there of that British naval ship, the HMS Echo, which can look at the bottom of the ocean as well and send out its own sort of pings down to the surface to see if there's any wreckage down there. There is an optimism here that they will find the wreckage.

I guess, Wolf, the complicater (ph) is that this silt, that we have discussed in the past, on the bottom of the ocean floor which could be many, many, many meters deep. If the black box separated from the wreckage and plummeted down all that way, two and a half miles, to the bottom, it could have buried itself very deeply in that silt. Getting it out, once those pings stop coming, is going to be a very difficult task, finding out exactly where it is. It's dark down there. And if it's in deep silt, it's going to be a tough task -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That fifth ping that we were talking about so much over the past 24 hours, that now seems to be not something coming from one of those two black boxes, something else, right?

HOLMES: Yes. And that, of course -- I mean, the first four pings came from the Ocean Shield vessel which is towing that U.S. Navy ping locator. This other thought to be ping or possible ping came from sonobuoys which were dropped from aircraft, and they drop a lead down about a thousand feet and listen in as well. Well, they got that data back to a research area in Adelaide, in South Australia. They looked at it and they have decided, Wolf, that that, indeed, is not a ping from a black box. But these other four pings, they're very confident are. And they are the ones they're working on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Holmes in Perth, thank you.

Malaysia Airlines has put some new security procedures in place since the disappearance of Flight 370. Some crew members, they are deeply upset over these new rules. What are their concerns?

Let's bring in Nic Robertson. He's joining us from Kuala Lumpur. You've been doing some reporting on this. What are you hearing, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're talking to crew members here. And what they are telling us is that they've been asked by the airlines to provide additional security on board the aircraft. They've been told to provide additional security around the cockpit. That is, if any -- if either of the pilots come out to go to the bathroom or for whatever reason, that they need to provide additional security outside the cockpit, block the way of passengers who might want to go in.

Also, we were told, if either the pilot or the co-pilot leave the cockpit, a senior cabin crew person must go into the cockpit to take their place. We're being told by the cabin crew members that they -- over the past year or so, they've seen their hours increase. They are short staffed. People have left the company. They say that they are not trained to trained for these new security measures. And this is stretching them too far. They don't believe that they're adequately able to fulfill this new security role that Malaysian Airlines has asked them to do and are wondering why the airline isn't providing air marshals or security people who are trained to do the function that they're being requested to do. This is what they're saying.

Of course, the airline is saying that it is -- that it is instituting security procedures, aircraft procedures, that are -- that are familiar across many airlines around the world. So, the airlines say that they are taking the right -- the right measures and the right steps. So, this is what -- this is what we are hearing. And it's -- and it is -- it is something that is giving great cause for concern for the cabin staff at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Nic, from the family members of the 370 crew?

ROBERTSON: They are concerned that they're not getting the full briefings that other passengers -- that the passengers' family members are being given. What they say is happening, they've been told explicitly by Malaysian Airlines that they are not allowed to attend the briefings the government officials have given to passengers' family members. They say that the information they're getting is nothing more than in the public domain and they feel that the airline isn't properly supporting them.

Now, the airline says that it's spending -- sparing no expense to look after the families of Flight 370, and that they are going out of their way to do all they can to help them. The air crews we've talked to really don't get that sense, don't feel that at this time. So, there does seem to be a disconnect, a growing disconnect these days, between the crew and the airline itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic, thank you. Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur.

Joining us now, sonar expert Arnold Carr. Arnold, the Australian prime minister says he's, quote, "confident the signals, the four signals detected from the Flight 370 black boxes are, in fact, signals coming from those black boxes." Are you confident he's right?

ARNOLD CARR, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN UNDERWATER SEARCH AND SURVEY: I can't say I'm confident. I'm very hopeful. Things are looking good for a number of reasons. That being there are repeated signals being derived from the pingers. Granted, they seem to be weakening. But that's important where you can repeat something. I won't be confident until we have verification. And verification doesn't necessarily mean you need a camera on side looking at some recognized piece from the aircraft. I would be confident with the verification through sonar of a debris field that resembles the plane and hopefully that debris field will be a relatively intact airplane. Something like at least the tail and the wings. The tail being important because that's where the black boxes are.

BLITZER: And you're confident they're right that that fifth ping had nothing to do with the plane, right?

CARR: I wouldn't say confident on that. Again, I'm hopeful. It is the right signal, frequency and the pulse rate is -- makes me very hopeful that, indeed, it's a pinger from the black boxes.

BLITZER: The first four pings that were detected, one lasting for about two hours, one for 15 minutes, the third and fourth, five or six minutes each, they had a frequency slightly less than the 37.5 kilohertz and it lasted a little bit, tiny little bit more than one second each. Are those significant changes or are they the real thing?

CARR: I wouldn't say that's significant. That may have helped really to have a -- the ships zero in on a closer spot to where the pingers would be. I've seen pings from 37 1/2 kilohertz go on a side scan sonar of 5,500 kilohertz. I've seen those pings where we could vector in using that very different signal.

BLITZER: Arnold Carr, thanks very much for your expertise.

CARR: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Coming up, Ukrainian authorities offer a deal to pro-Russian protesters if they walk away. I'll have more on that.

Also, more on the Malaysian Airlines mystery. Could crews be within miles of finding the two black boxes from Flight 370? Australia's prime minister says, yes. We'll ask our experts.

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BLITZER: Australia's prime minister says crews are within some kilometers, his words, some kilometers of finding the two black boxes from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. But officials also warn there's still a long way to go in the search.

Let's check in with our panel of experts. Mark Weiss is a CNN Aviation Analyst, a former pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is a CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. Tom Fuentes, our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former FBI assistant director.

Do you agree, Mark, with this prime minister's analysis, that they are only a few kilometers away from finding these black boxes?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I have to have a measured response. The prime minister's still a politician. I think he wants to take that role and certainly try to encourage the people whose families were on the airplane in that respect. I'm still a little skeptical of how close they are.

BLITZER: But if they found, Peter, four pings they believe came from those two black boxes, as I said earlier. One lasting two hours, almost exactly the precise frequency. One lasting 15 minutes. The last two, five and six minutes each. If they found those, that's pretty good evidence that the prime minister is right. PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think it - I think they are close. They've got one problem with the four pings in that one of them was 17 miles away. Now, if you drop that one off and zero in on the three, drop the outlier, you may have a manageable --

BLITZER: Well, what if they're coming from two separate boxes and the two boxes are 17 miles away from each other?

GOELZ: I think I'd zero in on the three and go for what you've got.

BLITZER: Is that enough, three pings, let's say, for them to really get a specific location?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, we're hoping, and we're hearing it's going to take a long time at the bottom if that's the best they can get. But, you know, when he says he's optimistic we're zeroing in, don't forget the size of the Indian Ocean that we started with. So in terms of that, by comparison, yes, we're in a much tighter area (ph).

BLITZER: You're not surprised that fifth ping, which was detected by another means, turns out to be false.

WEISS: No, the fifth one was really kind of an aborent (ph) one. So you throw that one out of the mix.

BLITZER: Get rid of that one right away. So they still have a big search going on, on the surface.

WEISS: Right.

BLITZER: Looking for debris. They still haven't found any debris. They haven't found anything from the cabin or any place else. But they're searching an area roughly, they say, what, the side of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. But the search under water is tiny compared to that.

GOELZ: That's right.

BLITZER: Because that's where they're looking for what emanated those pings.

GOELZ: That's correct. And if - if they don't get a ping over the next couple of days, then they're going to have to drop the side-scanning sonar down. And that's tedious, but it will give us a picture of the bottom.

BLITZER: They're not giving up by any means. The U.S. Navy is sending a supply ship in, food, water, other supplies, to keep this operation going, which says to you that this could go on for a while.

FUENTES: Absolutely. They're not giving up and they won't give up any time soon.

BLITZER: You know we've heard a lot about sensitive information, secret information that may be helping that they don't want to discuss for reasons that it could undermine U.S. sources and methods or other country's sources and methods. That's -- it wasn't just blind luck that they heard those pings. You buy that?

WEISS: Well, you know, from the very beginning I think we were always questioning whether or not there were extra resources in there and assets that they didn't want to disclose for that very reason.

BLITZER: Yes. And it makes sense to me. What about you?

GOELZ: Yes, it does. I mean I think - I think we have assets there that were classified. It's given us some information. But as you indicated, the hard work is just starting.

BLITZER: So you think they may be very close to finding those two black boxes? You heard Michael Holmes say they're concerned about silt at the bottom.

FUENTES: Right.

BLITZER: Those black boxes are at the bottom, you know, three or four miles deep underwater and they landed in five or six feet of silt, you might never find those two black boxes.

FUENTES: Right, but they're hoping that the - the pinger is still attached to the box and it didn't sink in the silt. It may be --

BLITZER: But if the pinger battery is dead, what good is that?

FUENTES: Well, I mean, just in terms of the -- if the pinger was on the surface - or the bottom, I should say, of the silt, and could give a signal, then maybe the box was sitting on top of the silt as opposed to in the silt.

BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go too far away.

Still to come, eight men and women, they are tasked with solving one of the greatest mysteries in modern aviation. A special look at what specialists on board the Australian ship Ocean Shield, what they are up against in this around the clock hunt for Flight 370.

And the health and human services secretary resigns. And the director of Office of Management and Budget steps up to the plate. So will the road for Obamacare be smoother now? We're going to have a live report.

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BLITZER: For many months, Kathleen Sebelius was the public face of the botched rollout of Obamacare. Now she's resigning her position as the secretary of health and human services. President Obama has tapped Sylvia Mathews Burwell to take over the position. Burwell herself is no stranger to controversy. As director of the Office of Management and Budget, she was responsible for sending out the shutdown order to federal agencies last fall.

For more on this I'm joined by our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, and our senior political analyst David Gergen is joining us from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

So a lot of folks or critics are asking, Dana, why has it taken so long since she was in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services October 1st when that healthcare.gov rollout was totally botched.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I've been talking to Democratic sources inside the administration on Capitol Hill and elsewhere and I got a couple of different, interesting answers to that. First of all, the more Republicans called for her to resign, the more the administration - is when Democrats said constitutionally they got their back up and they said, no, we're going to keep her.

Another reason I got from somebody who sort of has an idea of what went on in there is that they decided, you know, maybe it's better to dance with the devil that you know, and that she actually certainly was in charge of this whole rollout which was botched, but she also, because of that, really did -- was knee deep in how to fix it because she went back and looked at it. So they wanted to keep her on for that reason. And then the other is sort of obvious, which is, here we are, the end of the signup period is done. They have gotten to finally through the 7.5 million people signed up. And they feel like this is a good time for her to leave.

BLITZER: It is a good time in the sense that, David, 7.5 million people have signed up for healthcare.gov. Their goal over the six months from October 1st until the end of March was 7 million. They got more than that. They still have another week or so left for people to sign up. If they had tried earlier, couldn't log on or whatever, they still have another week. That number could go -- could go higher. So she is leaving on a high note, even though she was there at the beginning when it was a disaster, October 1st.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, she's leaving with the turnaround. And it's clear that when she began talking to the president well over a month ago, they mapped this out so that she could have time -- she could have a victory and go on. You know, I don't want to strain history too much, but you'll remember, Lincoln, with the Emancipation Proclamation, decided much earlier, but he waited for a victory. When he got that, he was able to announce it. And I think that's sort of what happened here.

And it's also - but by doing it at this -- in the spring, by fall and the elections, health care will still be a major issue in the elections, but she will not be. They've depersonalized this and they'll put somebody else in there and they'll have a chance maybe to make a couple of more strides.

BLITZER: The key will be to see what happens over the next several months. David, you worked with Sylvia Mathews Burwell when she was just Sylvia Mathews in the Clinton White House. Tell us a little bit about her.

GERGEN: Well, she's a very fine human being. She's a first-class person and a high-octane public servant. I think she's one of the best public servants in the country.

When I met Sylvia, she was young. She had -- she grew up in West Virginia. Homeschooled, as I recall. Went off to Harvard. Won a Rhodes scholarship from West Virginia. And then came back and linked up with the Clinton administration with Bob Rubin (ph). She was his chief of staff. Very highly regarded by everyone who worked with her. And it was not a surprise when she landed a big job with the Gates Foundation.

I think that, Wolf, when I was -- when they had -- were looking for a new person to run the Gates Foundation three or four years ago, Sylvia's name was prominently mentioned, but it was felt that she was a little young for it still. But the next time around, the next turn of the wheel, she would do it. And then the Walmart Foundation hired her and she went down to Arkansas. Very dedicated to working with, you know, people who have been left behind, and as the Walmart Foundation does. So she has a -- and then came back up to help run -- well, to run the Office of Management and Budget.

She's not a publicity seeker. She's not -- but she'll handle herself very well in the hearings, I think. Listen, anybody who can stand up to Bill Gates -- questioning from Bill Gates can stand up to Congress.

BLITZER: She has no problem getting confirmed under the new rules. They can't filibuster her nomination, right, Dana?

BASH: Right, under the new rules, the -- any administration nominee can go through with 51, a simple majority.

BLITZER: And the - but Democrats have 55.

BASH: But that - and the Democrats have 55. And so, you know, certainly there are Democrats - the sort of 2014-ers who are up for re-election this year, who are going to be looked at to say, well, you know, are you going to use this as a way to separate yourself from the administration? By all accounts, I've talked to sources, they say that's not going to happen.

However, just because she personally is going to likely be OK, she was confirmed for her current post unanimously, overwhelmingly, which doesn't happen a lot in these times, they're already talking to Republican sources. They are chomping at the bit. They are saying that they are absolutely going to use this process to talk as much as possible about Obamacare because, obviously, that is what they're focused on in the election.

BLITZER: Yes.

BASH: Democrats say, they get it, they know it, but they'd rather, to David's point, do it now, in the spring, get this out the way, talk about it for a week or two and then move on.

BLITZER: Yes. Obviously, fight and kick and scream, but they don't have the votes under the new rules, so she'll be confirmed.

BASH: Yes. Right. BLITZER: And none of those Democrats, whether any of them in the red states who are up for re-election, I think, are going to vote against her confirmation.

BASH: It's hard to imagine that (ph).

BLITZER: So, she'll be confirmed.

All right, Dana, David, guys, thanks very much.

Coming up later, why it's being called the worst security hole the Internet has ever seen and what you should be doing right now to protect yourself.

Plus, no one's more focused on the hunt for Flight 370 than a small group of specialists on board an Australian ship. They're working around the clock in hopes of detecting any trace of the missing airliner. We're taking a closer look at what they're up against. That's coming up.

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