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THE SITUATION ROOM
Bluefin Resumes Search After Aborted Mission; Interview with Rep. Mike Rogers; Is China Helping or Hurting Search for Flight 370?
Aired April 15, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.
Happening now, breaking news -- search on. The deepwater hunt for Malaysia Flight 370 resumes, but why did that sub abort its closely watched first mission?
Armed conflict -- civilians trying to block Ukraine tanks as they launch a military operation against pro-Russian militants.
So why is Russia's prime minister now warning of a civil war?
I'll talk about it with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers.
And a CNN exclusive -- experts are calling this video -- look at it -- video of an al Qaeda gathering extraordinary. What threat is one of the group's top terror leaders now making against the United States?.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: It's seen as the best hope for ever finding Malaysia Flight 370, now missing for 40 days. But with the world watching, the unmanned U.S. Navy submersible Bluefin 21 abruptly aborted its maiden mission, leaving searchers shocked and deeply disappointed.
Within the last few hours, the Bluefin has begun a second mission that continues right now in the Indian Ocean.
But with the air search ending soon and winter coming in the Southern Hemisphere, time may be running out.
We have our analysts standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and our correspondents are reporting on every angle of the story from around the world, bringing you the kind of coverage that only CNN can.
Let's go straight to Perth, Australia first.
CNN's Will Ripley is standing by -- Will, what's happening right now with the search?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the command center for the search operation happening out more than 1,000 miles from here, where, as far as we know, the Bluefin 21 is now about seven hours into mission number two. It was around this time yesterday that the sub had to abruptly abort the mission and go back to the surface after completing less than a third of what it had hoped to do.
The question tonight, will it be able to finish a full scan as it continues searching for Flight 370?
RIPLEY (voice-over): Tonight, the robot sub that may be the best hope of finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is trying to finish its second mission after its first was abruptly cut short. The device known as Bluefin 21 did not find the data recorders or wreckage and was forced to return to the surface less than a third of the way into its mission Monday. The sub found itself in water too deep to operate.
ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTRE: This is an area that is new to man.
RIPLEY: The extreme depth took searchers by surprise and shed light on just how little is known about this remote part of the Indian Ocean.
Above water, bad weather threatens even more delays. High winds held up today's deployment by hours. Experts say it will only get worse as winter sets in.
Still, the search chief says the Bluefin 21 is their only option.
HOUSTON: That's the only asset that is available now. And I would stress again, the capability required is to be able to go down to 4,500 meters. And this vehicle is limited once it gets -- the water gets deeper than that. So we would have to get another vehicle if the water were to be deeper still.
RIPLEY: Forty days into the search, many experts believe there is little hope of finding anything on the surface of the water. So after spending hundreds of flight hours and millions of dollars chasing debris spotted on satellite images, officials say the air search will soon end, with so far not one single piece of the plane identified or recovered.
One key piece of the puzzle is still being analyzed -- samples from an oil slick found in the area over the weekend, almost three-and-a-half miles from where the last ping was detected. Testing could provide a lead, but results are not expected for days.
RIPLEY: Right now, samples from that oil slick are on an Australian ship that is racing back to shore, Wolf. Then a helicopter will pick it up, take it to a lab where they'll try to figure out if, indeed, it did come from the missing plane.
BLITZER: As soon as you get that word, let us know.
Will Ripley in Perth, Australia.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian cabinet has agreed to set up an international investigation team to specifically look into the Flight 370 case.
Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is in Kuala Lumpur.
He's working that part of the story for us -- so what is this investigative committee, Joe, supposed to do?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it sounds roughly similar to the commissions that get started in Washington when there's a disaster, perhaps like the space shuttle commission, the 9/11 Commission. It's acceptance of the fact that Malaysia has questions that need to be answered in a thoughtful way about MH370. This investigative committee is going to look into air worthiness, maintenance records, flight recorders, human factors, medical concerns, weather, survival factors, all the things, really, that could help explain how a jumbo jet could seemingly go missing without a trace with a couple hundred people on board.
BLITZER: Joe, I want our viewers to listen to what the Malaysian defense minister said about his country and 9/11 in connection with all of this.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING MALAYSIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We did not go through the twin tower incident. Our ministry of defense was not attacked like the Pentagon was. But Putrajaya was not attacked, but we need to, for the same of that, consider that as a possible future threat. And that needs to be addressed. And the SOPS, that is with the air force, may have to be relooked at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so, Joe, what are we supposed to make of those comments?
Because they were obviously pretty intriguing.
JOHNS: Right. Well, he made those remarks at the huge Defense Services Expo here in KL. And his point is that Malaysia needs to upgrade its capabilities, including surveillance in space and underwater, though it does sound like he's saying the air defenses here aren't good enough.
But inside the government, it is our understanding that people feel as though they're doing a pretty good job with this situation. People here say some of the criticism has been unwarranted. They point out this is an unprecedented situation, that there is really no true template for it. And they're starting to push back on that criticism. They say this plane disappeared in one of the most remote locations on Earth. They pride themselves on the fact that they've gotten together an extraordinary international coalition to try to find it.
No one has said it on the record so far, as far as I know. But there do seem to be some privately held beliefs in Putrajaya that the criticism from the West is tinged with a little bit of bias against a developing country handling a difficult situation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Joe, thank you.
Joe Johns reporting from Kuala Lumpur.
Let's get some more right now with CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, and our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes -- so, Peter, what do you make of this -- what are the Malaysians suggesting here?
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think they think that there was a double standard, that this was an extraordinary event, any country would have been, you know, pushed back on their heels and that maybe the criticism during the first 10 days was a little too aggressive.
BLITZER: Is he suggesting -- I mean making comparisons to 9/11 or whatever, that there was, in fact, some sort of terror connection to what happened to that Malaysian airliner?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't think he's saying that as much as that well, we're not prepared the way the U.S. wasn't prepared. Well, they could have learned from what we went through 12 and a half years ago. And to say that all this time later, you know, seems kind of ridiculous that they didn't get the message that everybody needs to be more defensive and upgrade.
And secondly, to say that this is unprecedented, well, how much of this being unprecedented is because of their own failure the night that plane went off, the transponder went off and the civil radar lost it and they didn't make the hand-off to Vietnamese air traffic control?
Their defense radar completely let that plane disappear. They've had disputed comments about where it went, what it did and up or down and sideways. And now to say it's unprecedented, well, no kidding. This is why it's unprecedented, because a plane got lost that night.
BLITZER: And now they want to create this international investigation, which I suspect should have been created a while ago. This is day 40 now.
GOELZ: Yes, it should have been created day two. That's what the whole structure that is set up by Annex 13 of the treaty that governs these kinds of events.
The reality is, to be taken by surprise in 2014 that there was enormous media attention and Internet attention on a tragedy such as this is, where have you been?
BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, guys, because I want to bring in Kevin McEvoy.
He's the Royal New Zealand Air Force air commodore who's been deeply involved in this Flight 370 search.
Air Commodore, thanks very much for joining us.
We spoke yesterday and you said you did find some of debris. You were investigating to see if it was wreckage from the plane.
Do you have an update for us?
AIR COMMODORE KEVIN MCEVOY, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: We've got nothing further on that, Wolf. Checking the item that was found against the flight manifest to see whether or not it was specifically related to that aircraft.
BLITZER: So you're still invest -- it's still an open question whether or not it was related to the aircraft?
You haven't necessarily made a final decision, right?
MCEVOY: No, it's a little bit like the oil analysis. Once that gets on shore, they'll analyze that to see whether it was related to that aircraft specifically or whether it was from a ship. So similarly, the debris that we have found that was subsequently picked up, they'll have to analyze that. So no -- no stories yet as to whether or not they're specifically related.
BLITZER: Do you have an update on how long the air search will continue?
Because we're getting indications it's beginning to wrap up now that nothing has been found on the surface.
What are you hearing?
MCEVOY: So, day 40 for the search. We're going out again today. So for us, it's business as usual. The aircraft is ready. It's configured for the search again today, with their recent upgrades to the aircraft. The systems are specifically designed for something like an overwater search. The crews are focused, they're motivated, they're proficiently trained.
So for them, it's just another day. They'll continue on today and into however long this takes.
BLITZER: When you say as long as it takes, so there's no plans, as far as you know, Air Commodore, to go ahead and cancel the flights?
MCEVOY: So we've got no indications. Those decisions will be made at a political level. So for us, it's business as usual. We're on the flying program for today and for the rest of the week. And the crews will go out there again today and give it their utmost.
BLITZER: How much of a problem is the bad weather that's developing?
You're obviously getting closer to winter in that part of the world.
MCEVOY: You know, the weather is challenging, I think as you've heard with the underwater search. But the surface search is just as difficult. The weather is difficult. The environment is challenging. The sea state, it's greater seas today plain (ph) than forecast.
But the crews -- as I say, the crews are trained for this environment. From a New Zealand perspective, we are well used to search and rescue in these challenging environments. And the crews will go out again today and give it their best.
BLITZER: Any new leads, Air Commodore right now?
Are you still convinced that where you heard those pings, that's the area that is most likely where this wreckage is?
MCEVOY: So indications that we're getting from the joint agency coordination seen here in the media release is that you're also seeing the area where the pings were heard is the area where the underwater search is currently optimized for. And our search area for the debris is a different area, so further to the west of that.
So slightly different focuses. The underwater vessel will obviously go out. It's out there today. And our search aircraft will be one of about nine aircraft going out for the search today. And, again, the crews are ready and raring to go for that.
BLITZER: Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, thanks very much for joining us.
We'll check back with you tomorrow if we can. -- Peter Goelz, should they just wrap up that air search right now?
GOELZ: I don't think there's much left to do. I think they do need to wrap it up. If the weather is getting tougher, I think we need to focus on the underwater version, give it another three or four days and close it down.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
BLITZER: There's not much they're going to find -- they haven't found anything on the surface yet.
BLITZER: They're probably not going to find anything on the surface.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
BLITZER: Devote those energies to the underwater search?
FUENTES: Well, they're separate energies, but I think just continuing to search and find nothing in the air is going to be a separate matter. BLITZER: Is it still possible they're looking in the wrong place?
FUENTES: Well, I think some people believe that. And it is possible. But, again, with the storms that have gone through there and the length of time that's passed, it may be that they were in the wrong place in the beginning and by the time they got to the right place, it was too late.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.
We're going to have more on this story coming up, more on the aborted mission by the unmanned U.S. sub searching for Flight 370. Bluefin's owner and operator tells us why it suddenly surfaced.
And more breaking news -- a CNN exclusive -- extraordinary al Qaeda video and a new threat against the United States.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in THE SITUATION ROOM. A second search mission by the unmanned Bluefin-21 is now underway in the Indian Ocean just hours after the American submersible aborted its closely-watched first mission. Brian Todd is here with more on what went wrong.
What are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've spoken to sources close to the operation. They say the Bluefin had been calibrated to go to a certain depth. Not clear why, but the vehicle then started to move toward a lower depth, and at that point, it took itself out of position.
TODD (voice-over): A source close to the operation tells CNN the Bluefin-21 is back in the water, searching for possible debris, in the same place it was looking Monday night.
The source says the underwater drone is operating at about the same depth as its first mission, even though in that first operation it overextended.
CAPT. MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: One condition that causes it to abort its dive is if it reaches its maximum operating depth of 4,500 meters. That's what happened in this case.
TODD: Officials say on that first deployment Monday, the Bluefin was programmed to go a certain depth, but sources say the sub managed to fall slightly below that level, down toward about 2.8 miles below the surface. That's its maximum depth. It's unclear why it went so low, but when it did, its safety mechanisms kicked in, and it brought itself back up to the surface, seven and a half hours into a 20-hour dive.
Officials at Phoenix International, which owns and operates the Bluefin-21, tell us that's part of the plan to protect it from being lost.
PAUL NELSON, PROJECT MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: You speak to it acoustically. While it's operating, you're talking back and forth to it from the surface. But it already has a program in it that tells it to run a certain distance, certain lengths and certain height off the bottom.
TODD: Officials at Phoenix say, even though the Bluefin had a much shorter run than expected the first time, it still was able to scan about eight square miles of the ocean, though it didn't find signs of wreckage. At that rate, it could take months to map the search area.
Tonight one search specialist tells CNN having only one autonomous underwater vehicle in the area which apparently cannot go as deep as the ocean floor just isn't enough.
ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: That's a little bit like you losing your keys on the way to your car at night and then backtracking and only searching under the well-lit areas. You need a tool that can do the entire search area.
TODD: Sources say there is such a tool, an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of going 6,000 meters below the surface, 3.7 miles. About a mile deeper than the Bluefin can go. The U.S. Navy has some of those. So why aren't they deployed in this search?
MIKE DEAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR SALVAGE OPERATIONS: The Remus vehicles are operated by the Navy oceanography folks, and they have tasking. So they have military tasking, and their schedule is pretty tight as to how they operate those vehicles.
TODD: We asked another Navy official for some more detail. He would only say those Remus 6000's are used for mapping, but he could not say where or give any other information.
The Navy also has a vehicle similar to the Bluefin called Orion, which is towed by a ship. The Orion can also go deeper than the Bluefin, but Navy officials say they haven't been asked to send that to the Indian Ocean -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Those are two options that could be used...
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: ... down the road if the Bluefin-21 doesn't work. Brian, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on this right now. Joining us, oceanographer Ellen Prager. Ellen, thanks very much for coming in. Were you surprised that that Bluefin-21 self-aborted its mission?
ELLEN PRAGER, OCEANOGRAPHER: I'm never surprised that -- never surprised that there's a technical blip when you're working in the ocean, especially in the deep ocean. You know, especially here, where we have a sort of general idea of what the bisymmetry is, but you don't have a detailed idea. So you could have gone over a crevasse. You could have gone over something, a valley that was deeper than expected, and then because they programmed it to go something like 30 meters over the sea floor, it encountered deeper water, a deeper depth and then self-triggered, you know, to abort the mission.
BLITZER: Are these other options that Brian Todd just told us about, do you think they're more useful right now? Or should they stick with the Bluefin-21?
PRAGER: Well, you know, it sounds like, unfortunately, those other options aren't available right now. So if they were available, it sounds like, given the depth of the water that the team is facing, they might be more useful. But again, it's really what -- what is available and what can do the task at hand.
The Bluefin, if -- if the depth stays less than 4,500 meters, it should be fine. And again, it's just a matter of mapping that sea floor and looking for something that looks manmade.
BLITZER: It sounds like this is an operation that could last not just weeks but months, maybe even years until, even though it's a relatively small area they're looking for. What's your assessment?
PRAGER: I think it easily could be weeks into months. Not only do you have the technical difficulty of working at depth, but as we've heard, the weather is bad. The weather is expected to get worse, and this is always an issue when you're working on the ocean. I mean, typically, you might schedule a week or two weeks for a project, and it will be a month.
So weather delays, technical problems and just the magnitude of what they're trying to do, yes, it's probably weeks to months. Hopefully no longer than that.
BLITZER: The fact that they did hear four pings, including one that went on for two hours, does that convince you they are definitely looking in the right place?
PRAGER: You know, I tend to -- as a scientist, I tend to be a skeptic. I think you know, from -- I'm not sure we know everything they know, but they seem pretty confident that those pings are from the black box, and I think we have to go with that. And the question is, can they narrow the area down enough where the Bluefin can be used, and it's not going to take, you know, as you suggested, years.
BLITZER: I hope it doesn't. All right. Ellen, thanks very much. We'll certainly check back with you. Ellen Prager joining us from Miami.
We're going to continue watching for new developments in this search zone. That's coming up.
Also coming up, there's breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Did the United States miss a huge opportunity to wipe out al Qaeda's new leaders? Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working her sources. And the top man in the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Rogers, he's walking into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about that, talk about Ukraine. Lots going on. Welcome. Stand by.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're certainly continuing to watch the underwater search for the missing jet, but we also have some breaking news and a CNN exclusive in the war on terrorism.
A new video reveals a dangerous meeting of al Qaeda's top leadership. So did the United States know about this gathering? And if so, why wasn't there an attack? What was going on?
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working her sources. She's got the news. Tell us what you've learned, Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are getting a first look at this chilling new video about a major al Qaeda meeting. The question, as you say, is why did the U.S. not attack it?
STARR (voice-over): It's the largest and most gathering of al Qaeda in years, and the CIA and the Pentagon either didn't know about it or couldn't get a drone there in time to strike. U.S. officials will not say.
But every frame is being analyzed. In the middle, the man known as al Qaeda's crown prince, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, brazenly out in the open, greeting followers, a man who says he wants to attack the U.S., seemingly unconcerned he could be hit by an American drone.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is quite an extraordinary video. The leader of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, Nasar al-Wahashi, who is also the number 2 of al Qaeda worldwide, addressing over 100 fighters, somewhere in Yemen taking a big risk in doing this.
STARR: In his speech, Wahashi makes clear he is going after the U.S. saying, "We must eliminate the cross, the bearer of the cross is America." U.S. officials believe the highly produced video is recent. With some fighters' faces blurred, it is worried it all signals a new round of plotting.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the U.S. intelligence community should be surprised that such a large group of al-Qaeda is assembled together, including the leadership. And somehow they didn't notice.
STARR: There is good reason to worry. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP, is considered the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate. The CIA and Pentagon have repeatedly killed AQAP leaders with drone strikes, but the group now emboldened.
BERGEN: The main problem about this group is that it has a bomb maker who can put bombs onto planes that can't be detected.
STARR: That bombmaker, Abraham al-Asiri, is believed to be responsible for several attempts against the U.S., including the failed 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber attack. He is not seen in the video, which emerged on jihadist websites. He remains in hiding, and intelligence experts say he and other AWAP leaders have gone back to using couriers to communicate to avoid detection, making it even harder to figure out what Wahashi may be up to next.
CRUICKSHANK: And his message to the United States is very much the same as bin Laden's. We're coming after you.
STARR: So the question really remains here, did the U.S. not know about this meeting of 100 al Qaeda fighters? Could they not get a drone there in time to attack? Or was there some other intelligence reason the U.S. decided not to attack, to pass it by? We don't know the answer. Wolf?
BLITZER: Good reporting, Barbara Starr. Important reporting as well. Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's get some reaction now from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan.
He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
So what's the answer?
Did the U.S. intelligence community know about this extraordinary meeting?
ROGERS: Well, I'm not at liberty to discuss exactly what they knew. But I will tell you one thing. If you recall the leaks of the last year that impacted Yemen, it has impacted U.S. intelligence collection posture in the region.
BLITZER: What -- which leaks are you talking about?
ROGERS: If you recall that there were leaks regarding a Yemen enterprise that also involved a foreign intelligence service. I think that individual was arrested here in the United States for those leaks.
There was a series of leaks that followed around that event. If you remember, there was an event where there was an individual who got very close to people who were planning and plotting from AQAP to do a Western-style attack -- or excuse me, an attack on a Western target. That was disrupted and there was a series of leaks that happened subsequent to that.
Those series of leaks has had a consequence, which I think it is important for us all to remember that leaks have consequences. This is the most lethal al Qaeda affiliate that we know. We know that get several threat streams constantly from AQAP. Some are aspirational. Some are into the operational phase.
This is really dangerous stuff, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is because of that leak and maybe other factors -- and I know you don't want to say this -- it looks like they were so brazen, they could get away with a video shot like this, high definition cameras, if you will, without the U.S. knowing about it.
ROGERS: Well, we do know that they made some changes subsequent to the very public leaks of the operation that was in Yemen. We know that for a fact. And so that has had some effect.
I don't know if that in and of itself would have been enough for them to say the U.S. can't get us, we're going to have this big meeting. I wouldn't come to that conclusion.
BLITZER: In principle -- in principal, if the U.S. knew -- and we don't know, you know, what the U.S. intelligence community knew. But if the U.S. knew that this guy, al-Wuhayshi, the number two of al Qaeda, right under Ayman al-Zawahiri, if he were hosting a meeting like this, of 100 terrorists, would U.S. -- would the U.S. have launched drones to strike at this kind of position, because they were out in the open?
ROGERS: And I don't mean to be cute by half, Wolf, but it really depends. And so there is a lot of procedures that one would go through to strike any package -- or excuse me, to do an air strike on any large package of individuals. There are policies in place that many have argued are arbitrary that would prevent any target that would be over a certain number of individuals. All of that is being debated. There's lots of debate and discussion on it.
I don't think that that, in this particular case, was the reason. Again, I think the leaks contributed to this last year. They changed the way they communicate. I think they have these meetings more often than people realize. It's difficult to get assets in position. You have to know where they are and where they meet, at the right time, at the right place, with the right equipment. That's a lot to do.
BLITZER: Because if you're going to strike, use a drone, a Hellfire missile, to kill 100 people, what I hear you saying is that you need extraordinary authorization to do something like that, even if the number two al Qaeda is hosting this meeting.
ROGERS: Well, and you want to make sure that if, in any large gathering, that they're -- you're accurate. You have -- the information has to be exactly right if you're going to target an air strike for that (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Mr. Chairman, that they are willing to have a meeting like this and film it and put it out on YouTube and make these kinds of statements? What does that say about the al Qaeda threat right now?
ROGERS: Well, as many of us have been saying, the al Qaeda threat today is more diverse and more aggressive, with more threat streams, than we've seen even before 9/11. And so we feel -- we think that they're feeling empowered.
The less pressure you put on them, the more they take that as a victory. The more that they believe that they can get away with plotting, planning, organizing, as you saw there, finance, training, all of the things that they would need to do to strike a Western target, they're going through that process, including, by the way, bringing very sophisticated people to devise new devices that would try to get around security protocols at airports and other places.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to have to have you stand by, because there's another subject I want to discuss with you, as well.
I want to talk about other breaking news we're following today in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Ukraine's military finally taking on protesters. So will it keep that country together? Will it provoke a Russian invasion?
Also ahead, the latest on the hunt for Flight 370. Are the Chinese doing all they can to help?
BLITZER: We'll get back to the search for Flight 370 in a few minutes, but we're also following breaking news in the Ukraine crisis. After days of confusion and missed deadlines, Ukraine's military finally attacked pro-Russian separatists today, retaking an air field in one eastern city.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who is watching what is going on. It seems to be escalating, this crisis, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. We're learning now, Wolf, of a meeting of NATO ambassadors tomorrow in Brussels. They are expected to announce new steps following Russian military moves. The movement of military assets, possible exercises.
But inside Ukraine, it is Ukraine's own forces that are now in action to take back installations seized by pro-Russian militants.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): From the air and on the ground, Ukrainian forces on the move into the increasingly violent eastern part of the country. Ukraine's acting president called the maneuvers the first step in a broad step anti-terrorist operation to confront pro-Russian militants who had taken over government buildings in as many as 10 cities.
OLEKSANDER TURCHYNOV, ACTING PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (via translator): The aim of these actions is to protect the citizens of Ukraine. To stop terror. To stop criminality, and to stop attempts to tear Ukraine to pieces.
SCIUTTO: The moves appear to signal that Ukrainian leaders have overcome fears that military action would spark a broader conflict with Russian troops now massing on the border. And U.S. officials who until now had praised Kiev for its restraint, gave their first public endorsement of the operation.
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: They have the right to provide law & order. And these provocations in eastern Ukraine, as we know, are being caused and provoked by armed militants, are creating a situation in which the government has to respond.
SCIUTTO: Russian media, however, is portraying a country in chaos, reporting at least four deaths. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warns Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER (via translator): It is scary, and I hope that everyone who is responsible for making decision at the moment has brains to avoid driving the country to such a shock.
SCIUTTO: And Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukrainian authorities of violently suppressing the will of Ukraine's Russian minority.
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (via translator): What it means is to refuse one's own people, the right to express their opinion, and protest against lawlessness and discrimination.
SCIUTTO: Now, these are some of the several cities in eastern Ukraine that have seen violence by pro-Russian forces. And the worry among administration officials is a repeating of the strategy in Crimea before Russia effectively annexed it. In other words, using this violence as an excuse for Russian forces to come in.
But now look at the actions of the Ukrainian forces. They're moving into those same areas now to confront this. The move so far limited, but Ukrainian leaders say, Wolf, this is just the first step in a much broader campaign, an anti-terrorist campaign, they call it.
BLITZER: Yes, Ukrainian forces as you know, did not move into Crimea when that situation developed. Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Let's bring back Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
So it looks like this situation is going from bad to worse.
Is it going to explode?
ROGERS: Well, there's really no telling. This is the first sign that the Ukrainian military has taken aggressive action, engaged what are believed to be pro-Russian forces that are at least mentored by special forces of Russia and intelligence agents.
BLITZER: When you say mentored, I want to be precise, because the accusation is that Russian paramilitary or special forces, intelligence operatives, they have actually moved into Eastern Ukraine to do what they're doing. It's not just local Ukrainians who are sympathetic to Russia.
What is the latest U.S. intelligence estimate?
ROGERS: Both. So what you see is that you have Russian trains, special forces and intelligence operatives in Eastern Ukraine, fomenting sabotage and other things. So we think that through that they are recruiting and there's some level of training --
BLITZER: But are these Russian citizens or are they Ukrainian citizens?
ROGERS: Well, it's -- it's a combination of both. So that we -- I do believe, and I think the intelligence community believes, that there are Russian citizens who are, again, military and intelligence operatives in eastern Ukraine fomenting this trouble.
So some of the people that may be at the airfield, some of the people maybe in some of the government buildings, could be Ukrainian nationals who are sympathetic to the Russian cause who are being either trained or co-opted or brought along by these highly trained Russian individuals.
BLITZER: So when Putin denies that any Russian troops or personnel --
ROGERS: That's just not true.
BLITZER: -- are in Ukraine doing this, you don't buy that?
ROGERS: I don't buy it for a second. And clearly they did it in Crimea. We're seeing it in Transnistria, along the Moldovan and Ukraine border. We're seeing it in eastern Ukraine. We're seeing it in South Ossetia in Georgia.
You see this activity and there's been more activity in Moldova over the weekend that we find -- or I find certainly concerning that says that he is not slowing it down, he's ramping it up.
BLITZER: So --
ROGERS: And that ought to be a concern for all of us.
BLITZER: Does Putin believe he could get away with all of this? What -- what's going in -- what's going through his mind?
ROGERS: Well, he -- if you think about it, he owns 20 percent of Georgia now by -- by his influence and moving troops into Georgia.
BLITZER: That was during the Bush administration when he did that. ROGERS: Right. In 2008. And nothing has changed there except that they're expanding their borders out, which is interesting. Then you see Crimea, there -- that he successfully took Crimea, not a shot fired. That happened. Transnistria is -- has actually voted to go into the Russian Federation. That's, again, in the real thin strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine.
And in eastern Ukraine, he is using an old time tested tactic of, you know, fomenting sabotage and trouble and agitation.
BLITZER: Doesn't he fear that the sanctions will really bite Russia's economy?
ROGERS: I don't think he's thinking the same way a president who has to worry about the economy would do it. So we think it's dropped his economy projections from about 2 percent to about 1 percent growth. That's a significant challenge for their economy. But remember, his economy wasn't doing well before.
I think the expectations nationally in Russia aren't very high. And his national numbers of approval have skyrocketed. Why? They see him as this national leader who's bringing prestige and reclaiming what -- and, remember, Putin thinks very differently than the rest of the world on this. He believes after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rest of the world took advantage of him and took advantage of Russia and he's going to do something about it.
BLITZER: You want the Obama administration to start selling weapons or providing weapons to Ukraine.
ROGERS: I think you have to do it in stages. What I would like to see is medical supplies, communications gear, training, intelligence robustly shared with Ukrainians. This would help them. This would allow them to show up at the right place with the right troops to do the right kind of damage to their pro-Russian forces there. And then we can ramp it up from there.
I think you can go non-lethal up front, but you have to do it now. You can't talk about it. You can't take two months. You have to do it now.
BLITZER: Mike Rogers, thanks very much. This story obviously not going away. Appreciate it very much.
ROGERS: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll have more on the search for Flight 370 coming up. We're also taking a look at some growing questions about China and its role and whether that country is actually helping or hurting the search effort.
Plus, the air search poised to return with daybreak.
BLITZER: Forty days into the search for Malaysia Flight 370. There's growing controversy over the role China is playing.
Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has this report.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the worldwide hunt for Malaysia Flight 370 continues, the competition over who finds it first appears to be intensifying. For China, it's obviously personal. 154 passengers on the plane were Chinese. But finding the plane is also in part about power and prestige.
NICHOLAS BURNS, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL PROFESSOR: I think the Chinese want to prove to their people and the rest of the world that they are a 21st century military with sophisticated capabilities.
MALVEAUX: But some analysts are now openly asking whether the Chinese government is doing more harm than good in its efforts. In the first week of the search, China released satellite photos it said it believed showed wreckage.
BLITZER: China now says one of its satellites has found what could be a crash area for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It's released images of what appeared to be large floating objects.
MALVEAUX: Those objects turned out to be ocean debris more than 2,000 miles from where investigators now believe the plane went down. On April 5th, China reported one of its ships detected a possible ping from the flight's recorders. Days later, those claims were also dismissed. Now some investigators are blaming the Chinese for wasting other countries' valuable time and resources in the search early on.
Tonight, the Chinese government is pushing back. After "The New York Times" came out with this headline suggesting Chinese search efforts are hurting as much as helping.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): I think the point of the report is groundless and irresponsible, and was even deliberately making trouble. We express our strongest dissatisfaction about it.
MALVEAUX: Former NATO ambassador Nick Burns agrees.
BURNS: I just find that a little bit distasteful because I remember in the recent past China being criticized for not having been involved at all, so we can't have it both ways. There's enough frustration to go around that none of us have been successful yet in locating this aircraft.
MALVEAUX: And China is making a very big effort for the search and more than a dozen ships, reconnaissance planes, satellites all involved in this. This is a complicated and delicate role for China, not only because of its relationship with its neighbors and the United States, but also because of the mistrust of its own people.
Clearly, though, with so many Chinese people on that plane, the government wants to make it clear to them that it is doing everything that it can -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, good report. Thank you.
Coming up, we're going live to Australia and the search for Flight 370.