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THE SITUATION ROOM
Terrorist Bomb Maker Killed?; New Republican Majority; Interview With Presidential Adviser Dan Pfeiffer
Aired November 6, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We have an exclusive look at the deadly work he was doing.
Plus, vans and cars used as weapons of terror, could a series of shocking attacks in Israel and in Canada happen here in the United States?
And new fears that protests will turn violent again in Ferguson, Missouri, when a grand jury decides whether to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown. And that could happen soon.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, a secret move by President Obama in the war against ISIS. Sources say he recently sent a letter to a longtime U.S. adversary, Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. It suggested the two countries might work together against ISIS if they resolve their dispute over Iran's nuclear program, this as the president faces new hostility at home.
House Speaker John Boehner speaking out today about the Republican's election sweep this week and offering some very tough worlds for the White House. I will ask the president's senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer about those stories, much more.
He's here along with us, together with our team of correspondent covering all the breaking news.
First, let's go to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I was expecting a little bit more kumbaya than flat-out confrontation at the House speaker's victory lap press conference today, but bipartisanship in a divided government is what everybody is talking about, but it's clearly not so easy in these times.
BASH (voice-over): House Speaker John Boehner minced no words, warning the president not to use his executive power to change the broken immigrant system without Congress. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When you play
with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself and he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.
BASH: Surprisingly confrontational, quite different from the post- election talk of compromise and getting things done. And what was supposed to be a "let's work together" op-ed from Boehner and incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, included, quote, "renewing our commitment to repeal Obamacare."
Republicans know that's not going to happen while President Obama is in office.
(on camera): How do you expect the president to trust that you really want to work together when out of the gate you say that you want to repeal his signature law that you know has no chance of getting a veto-proof majority? How do you expect him to trust you?
OBAMA: Listen, my job is to listen to the American people. The American people have made it clear, they're not for Obamacare. And I ask all of those Democrats who lost their elections Tuesday night, a lot of them voted for Obamacare.
BASH (voice-over): But Republicans are infuriated by the president's plan to issue an executive order allowing some illegal immigrants to stay legally when he delayed until after the election to help Democrats on the ballot who lost anyway.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel obliged to do everything I can lawfully with my executive order to make sure that we don't keep on making the system worse.
BASH: Boehner personally wants immigration reform. But it's always been up against deep pocketed conservative groups and rank-and- file Republicans who don't. That, plus what Republicans view as the president's defiance at his own post-election news conference a day earlier fueled Boehner's combative tone.
BOEHNER: That if he acts unilaterally on his own outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance of immigration reform moving in this Congress. It's as simple as that.
BASH: Now, Boehner added that he doesn't just see his job as getting along with the president, though he said they do get along fine.
This may be just bravado from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, but when we're talking about poisoned wells and waving red flags in front of bulls just two days after Election Day, it's not a good sign that anyone got what everybody says was the message, which is Washington needs to work, Wolf.
BLITZER: Washington certainly does need to work. Dana, thank you. After the speaker's fiery comments today, you have to wonder what
will happen tomorrow, when President Obama meets with congressional leaders of both parties over at the White House.
Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She's looking at this part of the story -- Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, maybe we could all use a bourbon summit, as it's been described, after hearing this back and forth, these warning shots over the last day, when this is all supposed to be presented as this new spirit of cooperation. We did hear the White House today say repeatedly that the president is open to doing things differently, that he sees places to make some changes without getting into specifics, that he will make changes in order to move things forward.
The White House says that that cooperation starts now, with this big meeting tomorrow over lunch, 16 top congressional leaders. And the White House said this is a starting point, a way to dig down and see what everybody wants to get done and find those areas of common ground, work on that now.
Some obvious beginnings would be infrastructure, forging a new authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, more Ebola funding. So the optimistic view that's been put out there is, OK, now is the time for us really to work together. The reasonable question would be, why didn't all this happen before?
Here's how the White House responded. They acknowledge that, yes, there is more that could have been done, even on the part of the president. We asked the question. One of the biggest criticisms you hear about the president from both Democrats and Republicans was that he didn't reach out enough, that he didn't engage enough.
The White House acknowledged that, OK, yes, more could have been done, but they're putting the onus on Republicans, saying that in the past, Republicans saw a political gain in opposing everything the president wanted to do and that now just maybe they might see some benefit in finding that common ground, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Michelle, thanks very much. Michelle Kosinski over at the White House, she's going to be very, very busy.
Let's get some more.
Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Dan Pfeiffer. He's an assistant to the president, senior adviser to President Obama.
Dan, thanks very much for coming in.
DAN PFEIFFER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: What's your reaction to what we heard from the speaker? He was tough. He was blunt. If the president does something unilaterally through executive action changing the immigration system, he's playing with matches and there will be fire. He said, don't do it, Mr. President.
PFEIFFER: Well, look, the president has worked really hard to try to pass immigration reform.
He's held off. As he said the other night, he's been incredibly patient on this. And he feels, rightfully so, that the families who will be affected by this cannot wait on the hope that Congress will do it. I believe at this press conference the speaker was asked, can you guarantee you would bring it up if the president did not take action, and he could not guarantee that.
And so we're going to have to take action.
BLITZER: Let me just interrupt for a second. You're saying if the Congress does not pass -- consider comprehensive immigration reform in the coming weeks before the end of this year, the president will sign an executive order changing the rules?
PFEIFFER: As he said at his press conference yesterday, he will do what is -- by the end of the year, what options are legally available to him to try to fix our broken immigration system.
Now, that's not a substitute for a legislative solution. We still need that. And there's no reason that Congress can't -- can act after the president, and the second they do that, they will supersede his order and they will get what they want.
BLITZER: But they will see, as the speaker says, the new majority leader, Mitch McConnell, yesterday, they see this as a poke in the eye. They think that that would be terrible.
PFEIFFER: Look, I think we have to understand, we live in a world of divided government. We have a very conservative Republican Congress in the House.
They're going to pass bills that we are not going to sign. And we're going to take executive actions that they're not going to like. That's what divided government is like. What we can't do is use those things as an excuse to not work. What if the president came out yesterday and said, if the House of Representatives passes repeal of Obamacare, then they're going to poison the well and I will not work with them on anything?
That doesn't make any sense. So, we're not going to agree on everything. Let's find the things we can agree on and work. And the president is hopeful, realistic about the challenges we have, but he wants to use the meeting tomorrow to begin to make progress, because we have two things we need to get going on pretty quickly. One is funding to deal with Ebola both in Africa and here at home, and also begin on working on authorization of military force for ISIL.
BLITZER: So one way or another, between now and the end of the year, millions of undocumented residents of the United States will have a pathway to some legal status, based on what the president signs into law?
PFEIFFER: Well, I'm not going to get into specifics of what the president is going to do. I will wait for the announcement to do that. I'm sure that will be amply covered when he does it.
But, as he said, he will use what authority he has to do what he can do fix the broken immigration system. It's not going to be everything we want to get done. There's no question about that. But it's an important thing to do. These families have waited too long.
BLITZER: That will be a huge issue at this luncheon tomorrow. Set the scene.
PFEIFFER: I suspect it might.
BLITZER: Yes, because Mitch McConnell, the new -- he's going to be the majority leader in the Senate, and the speaker, they were very, very blunt in their comments. And they said basically, Mr. President, don't even think about doing that. There's a legislative process. Go through the Congress.
PFEIFFER: We have been waiting a long time for the legislative process.
The Senate passed a bill with 69 votes. The House has never even begun to act on it. And so the president has to act. It's the right thing to do. He made a commitment to do it. He's going to do it. But let's not make that an excuse to not work together on the things we can agree on.
BLITZER: What do you say to those who argue, you know what, the Democrats suffered a huge, huge political setback this week? Those who went out and voted, they voted by and large for Republicans and they say, Mr. President, hear what we're saying.
PFEIFFER: Well, look, as the president said yesterday, the voters sent a message. He's listening to that.
And the folks who didn't vote, the two-thirds of voters who didn't vote also sent a message. They were so frustrated with our political system, they didn't think it was worth the effort to vote. And we got to address that. The president has a unique responsibility to do that.
And he is going to work hard. And that means doubling down our efforts to work with Republicans. We're realistic it may be hard to get things done, but it's not going to be for a lack of trying on his part.
But also people expect results. So the things that we can do on our own, we're going to do that as well.
BLITZER: And if the Congress starts passing legislation, either tinkering with or major changes in Obamacare, will the president go along and sign those into law, will he veto all those pieces of legislation? Because they're going to have the votes in the House and the Senate.
PFEIFFER: We have always said that if people have good, constructive improvements to the Affordable Care Act, we will listen to those, whether they come from Republicans or Democrats, from the business community or elsewhere. We will do that.
What we're not going to do is undermine the core promise of the Affordable Care Act, the idea that every American should have access to affordable health care. If they send those bills to him, he will veto them. If we want to have a conversation about how to improve the law, he will be happy to host that conversation in the White House.
BLITZER: Here's the bottom line question. We have got a lot more coming up. But the president is not only the commander in chief, the leader of the United States, he's also the leader of the Democratic Party. Did the Democratic Party, did the president going into this most recent election screw up?
PFEIFFER: Look, I think this was a very tough night for Democrats.
The president and his team take responsibility for the role we played in that. But this was a tough election. Where we can improve and look long-term about how we can do better in elections, how we can do better in governing, we will absolutely take those steps. It is a process we will go through.
BLITZER: Why do so many people think the country is moving in the wrong direction, if the economy and growth is improving, millions of jobs are being created?
Tomorrow morning, there's going to be an announcement more new jobs having been created. The stock market has gone from 7000, the Dow Jones, to 17000. Unemployment has gone down. It seems that most Americans have -- rich people have felt it, but most middle-class Americans don't think the country is moving in the right direction.
PFEIFFER: I think sort of you have two elements here, but it's also important to recognize this is a long-term trend. I think it's been about 10 years since the majority of Americans thought the country was moving in the right direction.
It's been a very tumultuous decade with 9/11, the war in Iraq, the financial crisis, what we're dealing with right now Ebola, and ISIL. There's been a lot of tumult in society and American people rightly feel a lot of institutions have let them down, Congress, the federal government, business, media.
So we all got to come together to address it. That is not something that only one party can address. We're going to have to work together on that. But also you raised the point about the economy. We're making a ton of progress. We have more work to do. And for individual people, because wage growth has been stagnated for so long, aren't feeling enough of the recovery we have had. We have some ideas on how to do that. We were pleased that five states passed the minimum wage, which will help with that. BLITZER: We have a lot more to talk about. I know you are going
to stick around. We will take a quick commercial break.
But I just want to be precise. You're saying that if Congress doesn't pass comprehensive immigration reform between now and the end of the year, the president will take unilateral action?
PFEIFFER: As he said yesterday, that is correct, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the deadline is the end of this year?
BLITZER: OK. Stand by. We have got a lot more to talk about.
Dan Pfeiffer, the senior adviser to the president, is with us. We have got a lot more questions coming up, including a letter the president supposedly wrote to the grand ayatollah of Iran. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're back with the president's senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.
Dan, thanks very much once again for joining us.
Did the president write a letter to the grand ayatollah of Iran urging cooperation, not only in the war against ISIS, but also in Iran's nuclear program?
PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, as you know, as somebody who covered the White House for many years, that we never comment on the private correspondence of the president.
Our position on how -- on the role -- on how Iran would be involved in ISIL has been clear for a long time. Josh Earnest took a lot of questions from some of your consultants -- some of your correspondents on this earlier today.
BLITZER: Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary.
BLITZER: But you're not denying that this letter was written?
PFEIFFER: I'm not confirming or denying anything.
BLITZER: You don't want to talk about this because it's a diplomatic, sensitive thing?
PFEIFFER: Was that obvious?
BLITZER: Yes, obviously. All right. You don't want to talk about it. Let's talk about something else involving Iran. Our chief
national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, reported earlier that the U.S. has opened what is being described as some sort of informal communication channel with Iran through the Iraqis in order to avoid conflict between the U.S. and Iranian military operations under way against ISIS in Iraq right now. Is that true?
PFEIFFER: Look, I don't have anything on that specific report, Wolf. We obviously work very close with the Iraqis and the Iraqis obviously have a relationship with the Iranians.
BLITZER: So there might be something indirect...
PFEIFFER: I haven't seen that exact report, so I don't want to comment on it.
BLITZER: Because you don't want U.S. and Iran, by accident, if they're flying in the same place, to have their aircraft collide or anything like that.
PFEIFFER: Most importantly, I don't want to give you or your viewers wrong information, Wolf.
BLITZER: But there's something going on over there in terms of at least indirect channels through the Iraqis.
PFEIFFER: We're working with the Iraqis obviously very closely in this.
BLITZER: But it's a serious problem right now what's going on in Iraq and Syria. It gets so murky, who's on what side in Syria, for example. Now there are reports the U.S. bombed some targets that killed so-called moderate Syrians opposed to Bashar al-Assad's regime who may have links with some of these terrorist groups. But they were killed in the process. You have heard of those reports?
I think what's important to understand is that obviously we have a very aggressive campaign against ISIL. There's also a group of al Qaeda veterans who are using Syria as a base of operations to plot strikes against the United States. And as we have in the past, we will do whatever we can to protect the American people from that.
BLITZER: Clarify precisely what the president wants Congress to do to authorize the use of force against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
PFEIFFER: Well, I think, as the president has said, we have the authority we need to do this.
However, it is better for our effort and it shows the world we are stronger if we are united and asking Congress to work with us on a tailored authorization of use of military force specifically to ISIS would strengthen our effort. And so it's a good thing to do. We can show the world we're united. We can show ISIL that Americans are united against that and we can show our troops that we're standing behind them.
BLITZER: What about ground forces? Would that be part of that legislation? Some members of Congress, including some Republicans, who will now be the majority in the Senate, as well as in the House, they want that broader option, if necessary.
PFEIFFER: The president has made his position on that very clear.
We're obviously going to talk to the leaders in Congress about this tomorrow, about the best way to proceed. And our hope is they can begin working on it in the next coming -- in the coming weeks and we can use the remainder of the year to begin to make progress on this, because we know it's going to take some time, because it needs to be done thoughtfully and deliberately.
BLITZER: Is ISIS weaker today than it was a few months ago when this war against ISIS started?
PFEIFFER: Yes, we have made real progress here.
There's a lot of work to do. We have always said this was going to be a long-term effort, but in many places their advances have been stopped. We have degraded their abilities. But there is obviously more work to do. As I said, this is a long-term proposition.
BLITZER: When you say long term, are we talking months, years, decades?
PFEIFFER: I think that dealing with the situation in Syria and Iraq and dealing with ISIL is obviously that something that is going to take certainly more than months and potentially years, absolutely.
BLITZER: This new Iraqi government, are they doing anything?
PFEIFFER: This is a real improvement over what we had with Maliki. We're making progress. There is work to do. They're saying the right things. We have to make sure that they follow through on that, but we have been impressed by some of their efforts to date, absolutely.
BLITZER: Tell us about the luncheon tomorrow. The president has invited the new Republican leadership, the Democratic leadership as well. What's going to happen there?
PFEIFFER: I think what we want to do is begin to have a conversation about the things we need to get done right away, as I said, funding for Ebola. This is very important. We need this soon, because if we're going to keep the -- we need to prepare people -- prepare our infrastructure here in America and do what is most important, which is stop it in Africa, but also, as I said, begin working on this use of authorization of use of military force.
Let's have a conversation on what we can work on together in the coming years to make real progress for the American people. Let's send a message to the American people that our politics can work, that we can work together to deliver on the things that people care most about.
BLITZER: The speaker today outlined five areas, tax code, debt relief, reform the legal system, reform the regulatory system, have school choice. Are those areas that you want to work with the speaker on?
PFEIFFER: I think we're going to have some disagreements in a lot of those areas, but what the president would like to see is the Republicans to lay out their governing agenda.
For too long, their agenda has just been to stop what the Democrats and the president want to do. And they haven't had a prospective agenda about how they would govern this country. Now that they control Congress, they need to be partners in governing things. Let's put their agenda out. Our agenda is clear.
Let's look at what are the areas, the potential areas of compromise and let's try to work on those. We're not going to agree on everything. We will probably disagree on most things. But if there's places where we can get something done, let's do it.
BLITZER: The president yesterday referring to the fact that the incoming majority leader in the Senate is from Kentucky. He said maybe they will have a little Kentucky bourbon maybe at that luncheon tomorrow, a little Kentucky bourbon?
PFEIFFER: I don't know that this will be a liquid lunch tomorrow, but hopefully they will get an opportunity to do that sooner rather than later.
BLITZER: So maybe he will invite him back for dinner?
PFEIFFER: I think we will look for a time for them to get together. I think it would be enjoyable.
And we're obviously going to have to spend a lot of time working with Senator McConnell in the next two years and try to build a relationship.
BLITZER: Because the criticism is the president hasn't schmoozed enough with these guys up on Capitol Hill. He's going to do a little bit more schmoozing?
PFEIFFER: Yes, absolutely.
Look, I think he has schmoozed more than he gets credit for, but we can certainly do a better job and we will look for ways to do that and try to build a relationship with Senator McConnell and see if we can make progress.
BLITZER: Six years in, does he still like being president?
PFEIFFER: Absolutely. He loves being president. As he said in the press conference yesterday, never in his life or any of our lives will we have a greater opportunity to do more good for more people than we do right now.
And we're going to take advantage of it, and as he said, try to get every last drop of opportunity out of these last two years.
BLITZER: Well, good luck.
PFEIFFER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The whole country, indeed the whole world is counting on some good cooperation here in Washington, because it's so critical.
BLITZER: Dan Pfeiffer, thanks very much for joining us.
PFEIFFER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, U.S. airstrikes apparently take out a wanted terrorist who was developing new kinds of bombs with the goal of killing Americans. We will show you what he was working on.
And vans and cars being turned into deadly weapons. We have new information about the danger of this kind of attack potentially happening not only in Canada and Israel, but right here in the United States.
BLITZER: New U.S. airstrikes targeting terrorist factions in Syria appear to have scored a critical hit. A U.S. defense official now saying a key bomb maker for the terror group Khorasan was likely killed.
Khorasan is believed to be plotting attacks here in the United States.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has got the details for us
What have you learned, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a bomb maker the U.S. had been looking for, for a very long time.
STARR (voice-over): The U.S. had painstakingly put together critical intelligence about where this man, 24-year-old French jihadist David Drugeon, might be riding in a vehicle in Northwest Syria.
According to U.S. officials, after tracking him, a U.S. Reaper drone fired a missile, striking Drugeon's car. U.S. officials believe Drugeon was killed, but they are still trying to confirm that.
Drugeon was a key leader in the Khorasan group, a cell of hardcore al Qaeda operatives who moved to Syria from Pakistan. The U.S. called them an imminent threat, finding and killing their leaders an urgent priority.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: The United States has very good intelligence about the movements of Khorasan operatives, particularly of Drugeon, suggests they either have a guy inside the group or near the fringes of the group or that they were able to pick up the specific electronic transmissions indicating their movements.
STARR: Drugeon was believed to be working on bombs that could potentially get past airport screenings and facilitating the movement of fighters in and out of Europe to Syria, and possibly back to the United States.
In addition to the strike believed to have killed Drugeon, a B-1 bomber and an F-16 aircraft hit other cars, as well as bomb-making facilities, and training areas according to the U.S. military.
The U.S. has been frantically hunting for Drugeon since September 22, when an initial round of U.S. missile strikes failed to kill him, as well as Muhsin al-Fahdli, the Khorasan leader. The latest strike, an intelligence coup, but the Khorasan group may be far from down and out.
This does not remove the threat that Khorasan poses to the United States. They're likely to have other bomb makers in the group. This is al Qaeda's A-team.
STARR: Big worry: that there may be more Khorasan operatives out there, and the U.S. may not even know who they are and where they are -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's take a closer look now at why that Khorasan bomb maker was such an important target and the kind of devastating devices he was apparently working on. Justice correspondent Pamela Brown has this part of the story -- Pamela.
BROWN: Well, Wolf, U.S. officials considered David Drugeon one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. Sources say he was working on a variety of techniques. And if he was able to succeed getting the bombs past the airport security, it would cause a great deal of harm.
BROWN (voice-over): This is the type of bombs, sources say, the Khorasan group and one of its key bomb makers, David Drugeon, were trying to create. A nonmetallic explosive similar to this printer cartridge bomb that could be disguised and hidden on U.S.-bound planes.
MIKE BOUCHARD, FORMER ATF ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR FIELD OPERATIONS: You can get creepers (ph) or chemicals to make common explosives, and they can put them in disguised containers, something that looks innocent, so a screener won't notice it. They can bring a number of these innocent-looking containers on an airplane and assemble the device on the airplane, and no one would know until it exploded.
BROWN: Tonight CNN has learned Drugeon was considered by the U.S. to be one of the most active bomb makers in the Khorasan group, working on a wide variety of bombs, some small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, such as inside a cell phone. Their efforts led to increased security at overseas airports this summer, including asking passengers to turn on electronic devices at checkpoints.
BOUCHARD: As long as they keep changing these things up, they know that the terrorists are watching, probing their actions. It keeps them off step.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one!
BROWN: CNN correspondent Nic Robertson got an exclusive look at how these types of bombs are made.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How easy is it for an al Qaeda bomb maker to do what you're doing here in your lab?
SIDNEY ALFORD, EXPLOSIVE EXPERT: If he has some chemistry, it would be easy.
BROWN: U.S. officials say a well-placed bomb could puncture the skin of a plane, similar to this, creating a big enough hole to bring down an airplane.
BOUCHARD: It doesn't take a lot of explosives to take down an airplane, particularly if it's in the right place.
BROWN: And U.S. officials say David Drugeon's death would be, quote, significant, because in addition to being a skilled bomb maker, he's a French native with a western passport and seen as a recruiting magnet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's very chilling stuff. Pamela, thanks for that report. Pamela Brown reporting.
Let's bring in our terrorism experts, the former CIA operative, Robert Baer. He's a CNN security analyst. So is Peter Bergen. And also joining us, Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, U.S. retired, CNN global affairs analyst, former Delta Force Army officer. Guys, thanks very much for joining us. How key of a target was this David Drugeon?
Was, as was made clear in the piece, he was very important. But I think at the end of the day, he wasn't the brains of the al Qaeda bomb-making operation. That is the guy by the name of Asiri, who's believed to be in Yemen up towards the Saudi border. He's the person who's been making these very hard-to-detect devices over the past several years, and he's propagated his skills to other people.
BLITZER: This bomb technology, Bob, it's very chilling, as we just saw. What do you make of what's going on, that they can potentially put a bomb that could take down a plane with the size of a cell phone?
BOB BAER, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's -- these planes are all vulnerable. And has been said, as Peter said also, you need to get and put the bomb against the skin of the airplane. So you have to get somebody willing to do that. You can't check your luggage and expect that to happen.
So you have to have a suicide bomb with a high explosive. It's -- PETN is one of them, the name of it. You put it against the skin, and you could puncture a hole in the airplane and bring it down. That's what happened with Pan Am 103.
These people can do it, and the technology is fairly widespread. Asiri, as Peter said, is the main guy here, and he's been teaching other people. You just need somebody with a passport, European, that doesn't need a visa. No secondary check at the airport. And planes are vulnerable.
BLITZER: Why can't they find this guy, Colonel Reese, this Ibrahim al-Asiri, assuming he's in Yemen someplace. How difficult is it to find him?
LT. COL. JAMES REESE (RET.), CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Wolf, you know, through the years now, it's very difficult to find some of these folks. We had this persistent intelligence that's going on, both up in the air, on the ground, we call it the unblinking eye. But these guys get out. They get in the hinterlands where they try to blend in with society, because they know that the United States is hunting them down and wants to kill them.
BLITZER: Have they changed, Peter, their techniques of communications with all the publicity about how the U.S. could use smart technology to intercept communications?
PETER BERGEN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Assuming he's not communicating by anything electronic. You don't have to be a genius to recognize the United States' abilities in this arena. So he's just off the grid.
BLITZER: How does he communicate?
BERGEN: By courier. Just like -- just like the mob. If you can get inside the courier network, it's possible to get him. It took over 10 years to find bin Laden.
BLITZER: I assume, Bob, they're working as hard as they can to find this guy, that this is a major, major objective of the U.S.
BAER: Oh, absolutely. They would love to go after him. They'd use a drone; they'd use missiles any way they could. He's truly dangerous. He came very close to bringing down airplanes a couple years ago with these printer cartridges, and he's inventive. And he's probably the most inventive in taking this whole technology and really making it better.
Yes, but he -- as Peter said, they've gone off the grid. No e- mails, no cell phone calls, couriers or they're using sometimes mobile Wi-Fi, which is impossible to intercept.
BLITZER: Colonel Reese, here's a dilemma. I've heard about this dilemma. Let me get your thoughts on what would happen. This guy is wanted by the U.S. The U.S. would like to target him and kill him. But what if he's surrounded at a time of a potential airstrike by a drone or a plane or whatever, by a bunch of civilians? What does the U.S. do then?
REESE: Well, Wolf, they have to -- there's a collateral damage assessment that's made by that commander who's given the execute authority on that missile. One of the beauties is, especially with our drones, they're very surgical. Especially if they get into a car, you know, we've done it in Afghanistan and Iraq, throughout the Middle East.
We get the drones up there, and we can see him get into a car, that's a surgical weapon. And we don't have that much of a collateral damage. When the big jets start coming in, the GBUs, that's when the collateral damage starts to give (ph) effect. That commander's got to make a decision.
BLITZER: Peter, this is a real dilemma for the U.S., right?
BERGEN: Yes, but it's a dilemma that I think, you know, over time the drone program has become a lot more discriminatory. I mean, the drones fly longer. They have smaller payloads. They have better intelligence. But mistakes are made. On December 15 of last year, what turned out to be a wedding party in Yemen was attacked by a U.S. military drone. So, you know, it's -- you're always going to make mistakes.
BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. Gentlemen, we have a lot more to talk about, including a new kind of threat that apparently is out there, attackers using vehicles to plow into innocent bystanders. New information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about that. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We have new details on the back-to-back attacks using vans to smash into people on the streets in Jerusalem in the West Bank. A Palestinian turned himself in to authorities today, saying he was responsible for one of the incidents that Israeli police are now calling acts of terror.
His motive isn't clear.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, reports that U.S. officials are worried about this kind of attack happening here in the United States, as well. One law enforcement official saying terrorist leaders encourage methods like this that are easier to execute, harder to detect and grab the attention of the world.
We're back with our national security analysts Robert Baer, Peter Bergen; and our global affairs analyst, Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, retired.
Peter, there was an article that came out in that "Inspire" magazine last year. This is an al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula magazine, very slick, in English, "The Ultimate Mowing Machine" it's called. It says, "Here's one idea," it says, "of how an individual Muslim may do so. There's a simple idea and not much involved in this preparation. All what is needed is the willingness to give one's live for Allah."
And then it goes on to say, "Get a car or a truck. Go to the most crowded locations and go after and start killing people to achieve maximum carnage. Pick up your speed."
And it goes on and on and then it says, "You should do this in countries like Israel, the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland and other countries."
It's happened in Canada now. It's happening in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israelis have been injured in this. The question is this: Is this going to happen here in the United States?
BERGEN: I don't know, but it's impossible to prevent. Right? I mean, it's illegal to go and buy the types of ingredients you need to make bombs or not only illegal, in some places very hard to get. This is very easy to do, that's why AQAP, al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, this is not the first time, by the way, that they've encouraged people to do this kind of thing. That back in 2011, they did the same thing.
In fact, bin Laden himself said, A, this is a really stupid idea, this is almost a dishonorable, quote-unquote, "way to kill people", al Qaeda should do something more dramatic. But the fact is, we have seen people acting on this idea. It's very easy to execute.
BLITZER: You know, Bob Baer, a few weeks ago, as you know, in Canada, a terrorist, Canadian government branded him a terrorist, used a car to drive over two Canadian soldiers, killing one of them. And I know, because I've spoken to U.S. homeland security people, they're worried about that coming to the United States.
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, exactly, because it is so easy. There's nothing we can do to prevent it. A car going down 5th Avenue down the sidewalk would do amazing carnage.
The question is, why aren't people reacting to these messages? Why in Canada did they?
I've been talking to U.S. intelligence officials and they just don't know. It's what they don't know that scares them, because these rogue, lone wolf attacks, everybody is expecting them but they can't tell you why they've occurred so far. So, we're pretty much in the dark, the speed that this jihad is moving, or whatever you want to call it.
BLITZER: What do you do, Colonel Reese, about something like this?
LT. COL. JAMES REESE (RET.), CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, a vehicle is a heck of a weapon. Other than a gun, like Bob and the other said, and Peter said, it can make mass carnage. What people have to do is they need to be aware, especially in these public places, the malls, festivals going on. You've just got to be aware. You're always got to be looking around.
We try to teach people, hands don't lie. So if you look at people, look at their hands. If you see a car coming fast, get out of the way. And just -- you have to react. We have to teach our people to react and, unfortunately, it's a new day, it's a new world, and these are the threats out there.
BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty frightening. And this article, by the way, very slick in this "Inspire" magazine, this al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, entitled "The Ultimate Mowing Machine," this is the same publication that had an article entitled, "How to build a bomb in your kitchen of your mom". So, very sophisticated stuff.
Quickly on bin Laden, killing of bin Laden, this former Navy SEAL now says he did it. There's a whole uproar out there. You wrote the book. You know about what's going on.
What do you make of this latest controversy?
BERGEN: Well, his name is Robert O'Neill. He's outed himself in "The Post", and I confirmed from other people --
BLITZER: In "The Washington Post".
BERGEN: In "The Washington Post", yes.
And he -- you know, his account, no one is go to know for sure. It was a very confusing situation and there was no moon that night, no electricity in the building, in the neighborhood. There was a firefight, there was a helicopter was down.
But that said, anybody in the special operations community that I've been spoken is pouring a certain amount of skepticism on this guy's account. It's very heroic account. There are other accounts out there, less heroic, more plausible.
At the end of the day, there was a point man, who everybody says will not identify himself, who took, in most people's views, took the shot that gravely wounded bin Laden.
BLITZER: But if you make that claim and identify yourself, don't you put yourself in danger of revenge by these terrorists?
BERGEN: Well, maybe. But, you know, we haven't seen actually any revenge attacks for the death of bin Laden anywhere in the world?
BLITZER: Why is that?
BERGEN: I think there's a lack of capacity for a lot of these folks. And also, bin Laden, you know, the end wasn't heroic. You know, he died in a suburban compound, in the middle of Pakistan, rather be nice building, surrounded by his family and kids. He wasn't going out in fields of jihad and taking out the infidels. It was a very un-heroic ending. He didn't put out a fight. He just went out with a whimper.
BLITZER: Bob Baer, what's your take?
BAER: I can tell you, the community is mad. Special Ops are mad at this guy for going public. They're mad at this and at the other one who goes by the name of Mark Owen. Their creed is don't talk about these things, you know, serve in silence, and the rest of it and they've been frozen out and they're going to have a rough time. I think it's unfortunate that he's gone public for an event that's been so recent. What can I tell you?
BLITZER: Let me ask Colonel Reese to wrap it up.
You were a former Delta Force commander. What is your appreciation of what's going on here?
REESE: You know, Wolf, this is worse than the Kardashians in the special operations community sometimes. I think there's problems on both sides. I truly believe that these guys need to have their story told. And we keep them in the shadows.
But at the same time, the Pentagon and the Department of Defense keeps these instructions down on them. Maybe what it's time to do with other contracts, go out to a Peter Bergen or the other guys that know how to write a story when these things happen, because our chain of command puts it out. Let them come in, tell the story, bring the operators in, match them up.
We let the operators tell their story. They get it told and we let someone who knows how to tell a story correctly do it. I think it makes both sides happy.
BLITZER: James Reese, Bob Baer, Peter Bergen, guys, thanks very much for joining us. Lots to digest.
Just ahead, the grand jury report on the Michael Brown shooting, possibly only days away. We have details of that. We have details of the protests, the arrests that are under way.
BLITZER: Ferguson, Missouri, on edge right now as we wait to learn whether Police Officer Darren Wilson will be charged in a shooting death of Michael Brown, the unarmed death of an American teenager.
Let's get some more now, joining us our CNN anchor John Lemon, the community activist John Gaskin, and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
John, what are you hearing ore there because there are rumors that this decision by the grand jury could come out as early as November 9th?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Right. And so, many people have been doing -- throwing various dates around, but the latest information that I would probably consider the most reliable is what prosecutor and attorney Bob McCullough has said this week, mentioning that it could be that the grand jury is still hearing evidence and that it could be two more weeks. So, possibly mid-November to the end of late November, which is what he said from the beginning.
BLITZER: You know the old saying, Jeffrey, that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if they want it. What's going on here?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think prosecutors have a lot of influence. Prosecutors use grand juries sometimes as a fig leaf to cover up what they really want to do. You can be sure I think if this grand jury votes not to indict Officer Wilson, the prosecutor didn't want to indict him. If there is an indictment, it will be because prosecutor McCullough wanted one.
That saying in my experience is correct. These decisions are dictated by prosecutors far more than a grand jury.
BLITZER: And, Don, you've spent a lot of time in Ferguson. You know the story well. We have no idea if he's going to be indicted, not indicted but the community there is on edge right now, right?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the community is on edge. But, you know, it's not -- I think the media does sometimes a disservice to Ferguson because the couple of days I spent there last week, you know, every day does not look like the rowdy protests. There are rowdy protests there, some days are not every day, the two days we were there, there were no protests. We, in fact, went looking for protests because there were none to be found.
So, I think that -- you know, by saying, you know, they are on edge, it's not -- everybody is anticipating something will happen. I think most people have realized that the Officer Darren Wilson may not be indicted and they are trying to figure out what to do after that. I think most of the people in Ferguson are pretty level-headed and much of the unrest is by outsiders or people on the Internet who are keeping that part going.
BLITZER: Troublemakers, if you will.
Is there a game plan, John, in place? Because there is one report that they want these rules of engagement 48 hour in the before the decision of the grand jury comes out, how the police should deal with this. What are you hearing?
GASKIN: Well, really within the next two weeks, community leaders will be meeting with law enforcement and I think Don makes a very good point there. People are very level-headed at this point, especially the community leadership. And they are moving in the direction of working with law enforcement to develop a plan. They are asking that they receive 48-hour notice prior to an announcement, whether there is an indictment or not an indictment.
And I think that's a good thing. It allows people to come to a table, develop a sensible, measurable plan where and which people won't be hurt and where people have an opportunity to protest and protest, you know, in a safe manner. But people are beginning to have those meetings and those conversations so that a plan can be put in place so no one is hurt and so that obviously hopefully cooler heads will prevail.
BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, a totally different subject, while I have you, we're just learning about a federal court decision saying that four states that have banned same-sex marriage, that is fine with this court. What does this mean?
TOOBIN: Well, this is a very important decision from the federal court of appeals in Cincinnati which disagreed with every other circuit court that has decided this so far. The court in Cincinnati said there is not a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, which sets up an almost certain fight before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has ducked this issue so far, but they can't duck it anymore, and probably by this June, we will get a decision from the Supreme Court that says whether there is a right for same sex marriage in all 50 states or the state by state process will continue.
BLITZER: Any idea how those nine justices may decide this kind of issue?
TOOBIN: Well, certainly, most people think and I would include myself among them, that this will be a 5-4 decision and Anthony Kennedy will be the swing vote. He has voted in favor of gay rights in every important case of his tenure. Most people think he will vote in favor of a right to marriage, but predictions are difficult as I have learned --
BLITZER: As we all know.
TOOBIN: -- to my dismay. So, we'll see what happens.
LEMON: That was a good hedge there, Jeffrey. Good edge.
TOOBIN: Yes, I've learned to hedge.
BLITZER: Predicting what the Supreme Court can do could be a risky business.
Don is going to be back later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, a special "CNN TONIGHT". He has a prime time exclusive interview with the Ebola survivor, Amber Vinson.
Don, I've seen part of the interview. It is really, really compelling, and I know our viewers want to catch up with that as well.
Thanks to all of you for joining us.
Remember, you can always follow me on Twitter. In the meantime, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.