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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; New U.S. Security Moves; Terror Raids; Source: Part of Belgium Terror Cell Still at Large
Aired January 16, 2015 - 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're learning about the United States' role in disrupting the terror plot in Belgium, what the U.S. knew and when.
Plus, the U.S. ramps up airport security again. With terror fears on the rise, the homeland security secretary reveals new moves to keep Americans safe.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We begin with breaking news tonight. European forces are racing to try to find terrorists who may be ready to strike at any moment after the deadly crackdown in Belgium failed to entirely destroy the terror network and defuse the danger.
A senior Belgium counterterrorism source is revealing new information to CNN about the raids overnight and the terrorists who got away. We're told the network that was exposed had the components to make powerful, high-level explosives. The source driving home again that the group's orders most likely came directly from ISIS.
We have a leading member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, Senator Jim Risch. He's standing by live, along with our correspondents, our analysts. They have new details on the terror threat in Europe and the United States and indeed around the world.
First, let's get to the very latest.
Our justice reporter, correspondent Pamela Brown, is standing by in Paris. She has new information.
Pamela, what are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are learning tonight from a Western law enforcement official that despite AQAP's claim of responsibility for the Paris attack, that it appears there was no command-and-control, that instead it appears to be highly franchised terrorist where there were just general instructions given to the suspects. What also learned from this official that what happened here in
Paris at the attacks precipitated and moved up the raids that happened in Belgium.
BROWN (voice-over): Belgian law authorities say that terror suspects were on the verge of launching an attack to murder police officers.
ERIC VAN DER SYPT, SPOKESMAN, BELGIAN FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (through translator): There were plans to assassinate policemen in the street or at the police building.
BROWN: Authorities arrested 17 people and killed two in the raids. Sources say the Belgian suspects were fighters returning from Syria, working under the direction of ISIS.
On Friday, two were picked up trying to cross from France into Italy, according to a Belgian prosecutor. And, in Berlin, authorities arrested two men in their early 40s for connections to the terrorist cell.
And in Paris, 12 more people taken into custody, suspected of helping Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked the kosher grocery store last week. Jean-Louis Bruguiere was the top terrorist judge in France for more than 25 years. He helped convict Cherif Kouachi in 2005, the younger of the two brothers who launched the Paris terror attacks. He says the number of likely terrorists in France is on the rise.
JEAN-LOUIS BRUGUIERE, FORMER FRENCH TERRORIST JUDGE: We have to face now (INAUDIBLE) a large scale of new jihadists who have been very radicalized, and very quickly by Internet, by social networks.
BROWN: Belgian authorities say no direct link between the Paris attacks and Belgian raids has emerged. The Belgian investigators charged a man suspected of dealing weapons illegally. That man turned himself in to police after the Paris attacks and claimed he met Coulibaly late last year.
The question now, when police search the man's property, did they discover any evidence of weapons sales to groups in Belgium? The terror threat remains high in Paris, where Secretary of State John Kerry paid his respects today, visiting the sites of last week's attacks.
BROWN: As for the 12 people arrested here overnight in Paris, we are told that they were part of Coulibaly's entourage, that they provided logistical support.
But, Wolf, it is still unclear at this point whether they were actually complicit in the Paris attack. I can tell you from speaking to officials, they are very concerned about terrorist cells across Europe and that they will be emboldened to act in the wake of what we saw here in Paris, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's why that whole place, all of that continent is on high alert right now. Pamela Brown in Paris, thank you.
More than 30 terror suspects have now been arrested in Europe over the past 24 hours alone, including in Belgium.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's on the ground in Brussels for us.
What's the very latest there, Fred?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just got some new interesting information, Wolf, and that pertains to the people who were arrested here in the raids overnight in Belgium.
Remember, we reported around 17 people had been taken into custody. We have just learned that of those 17 people, only three actually still remain in custody. The others either never had anything going against them or were simply released due to some sort of lack of evidence.
But the official that I spoke to said that the three people that they have are actually the three people that they wanted to get. They believe they have the people in custody who wanted to perpetrate the attacks against police officers here in Belgium. Two of the people who were going to perpetrate the attacks of course were killed during a police raid yesterday in the town of Verviers.
The official that I spoke to said that when the police went to the house, it appeared as though those two people who were inside were very well-prepared. They had their weapons in hand when the police came in there and started firing pretty much immediately. That's what led to the very large firefight which of course left these two people dead. It went on for several minutes, a very violent night.
There were of course, Wolf, we know, raids in other places here, especially in Brussels as well. What the police found made them very anxious. There was of course weapons, handguns, communication equipment, but especially police uniforms and with that they believe that police officers were going to be the target of this terror cell -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, I understand many of the Jewish schools in Belgium were closed today. What happened?
PLEITGEN: Yes. The Jewish schools, both in Antwerp, as well as here in Brussels, were closed. It's quite simple. It's security concerns.
They were afraid that something might happen, especially after you had large-scale raids by the police like you had today. Keep in mind, in the Paris attacks after the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks happened, the next target was a kosher supermarket. That's certainly not something that the authorities here want to take a risk on. The other thing that they are doing is for one of the first times in Belgium's history, they are actually deploying troops inside the country.
They are deploying a platoon. The first place those troops are going to be deployed is going to be in a Jewish neighborhood, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the town of Antwerp to protect those places there, so that's how seriously they're taking that threat, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Fred Pleitgen in Brussels for us, thank you.
The United States is on alert for more attacks in Europe and the possibility of similar threats in this country. National security teams are playing a key role in tracking terrorists in Europe.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's getting new information as well.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning tonight that the entire U.S. intelligence community deeply involved in all of this.
They have been sharing intelligence with the Belgian authorities. Several officials telling me they knew about some elements of this plot for weeks. They had been monitoring it, following it as it developed, sharing what information they had with the Belgians, the Belgians sharing back, asking the U.S. for more information, more assistance.
A top U.S. official telling me the intelligence-sharing was on multiple levels. Take that to read there was technical intelligence, perhaps, as well as some human intelligence involved. It could be anything from intercepts to imagery.
Why are we saying could be? Because U.S. officials are very adamant right now they don't want to talk about specifics, how much they shared, what they shared, exactly when they came to know various elements of the plot in Belgium. That, Wolf, is because the U.S. believes there is a strong probability that there are other plots out there, other attackers, all of this underscoring the U.S. concern about these fighters going to Syria, joining up with ISIS and then coming back into Europe, and the ultimate worry, of course, for the U.S. government, they could come on and move on into the United States -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that's the nightmare scenario for the United States. Barbara Starr, thank you.
President Obama discussed this new terror threat in Europe with the British prime minister today.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, tell us what happened.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to continue the fight against terrorists who were spreading this far across Paris.
But listen closely and these two leaders who call themselves friends appear to have some friendly disagreements.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Stepping out of critical national security meetings, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke the same language but were not always on the same page on how to fight a growing threat.
After last week's attack in Paris and the raids on suspected terrorists in Belgium, the two leaders sounded tough.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This phenomenon of violent extremism, the ideology, the networks, the capacity to recruit young people, this has metastasized and it is widespread.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We do face a very dangerous Islamic extremist terror threat in Europe, in America, across the world. And we have to incredibly vigilant in terms of that threat.
ACOSTA: But the president urged Europe not to overreact.
OBAMA: It's important for Europe not to simply respond with a hammer and law enforcement and military approaches to these problems.
ACOSTA: And then he tried to isolate the problem.
OBAMA: Our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. There are parts of Europe in which that's not the case.
ACOSTA: Cameron's diagnosis? Much more urgent.
CAMERON: It needs countering this poisonous fanatical death cult of a narrative that is perverting the religion of Islam.
ACOSTA: Cameron is pushing the president to pressure U.S. high tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook to give intelligence agencies on the hunt for terrorists, so-called "back doors" into encrypted communications. It's a move those companies are resisting, following the public outcry over government snooping following the leaks from national security contractor Edward Snowden.
The president sounded cool to Cameron's proposal.
OBAMA: We shouldn't feel as if because we have just seen such a horrific attack in Paris that, suddenly, everything should be going by the wayside.
ACOSTA: Another pressing for the two leaders, the upcoming March deadline to reach a framework of a deal with Iran, to contain its nuclear program. The president threatened to veto a bipartisan bill in Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran, warning the legislation could kill the nuclear talks.
OBAMA: My main message to Congress at this point is, just hold your fire. Nobody around the world least of all the Iranians, doubt my ability to get some additional sanctions passed should these negotiations fail.
ACOSTA: Now, the president was not asked during this news conference whether he regretted not going to Paris for Sunday's march. We tried to ask that question as both leaders were stepping away from the podiums. But the president did not respond.
Wolf, as you know, all week long, the White House said they did not want to unpack that decision-making process behind who went to Paris. The president did not unpack it again today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, but the White House did acknowledge they wish a high-level U.S. official would have represented the United States and they made a mistake in not sending someone along those lines.
All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's bring in Senator James Risch. He's the Idaho Republican. He's a key member of the both Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us.
Let's talk about what's going on. Authorities now say, what, 120, maybe 180 terror suspects could be out there right now, could be ready to strike in Europe. What are you hearing about the disruption of these so-called sleeper cells? How extensive is this, what's going on right now?
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, Wolf, I think, first of all, your reporters have been doing an excellent job of painting a clear picture of how different Europe and the United States are when it comes to the Muslim populations.
Muslims who have emigrated to the United States have done, like many, many other nationalities, and are integrating into the population to a large extent. In Europe, that's not the case at all. They have large slums where these people are congregated. And they continue on with the cultural background that they have had and the results of that is, is many of them are susceptible to these people who preach violence and preach this religious fervor that they need to do these things against other religious people. And you wind up with the situation that we have got.
BLITZER: So, you are suggesting the threat is greater in Europe than it is in the United States? Is that what I'm hearing?
RISCH: Well, I think that's a fair statement.
But don't get me wrong. There is a threat here. But we have, as you know -- and you and I have talked about many times -- we have a very robust intelligence operation here in the United States. And we are able to keep a handle on this, have been. We have been lucky in some circumstances. But, as you know, we have got to be -- we have to be right 100 percent of the time. They only have to be right once.
BLITZER: As far as you know, Senator, are there sleeper cells here in the United States, as there clearly are in Europe?
RISCH: Well, you know, a lot of this stuff is classified, Wolf, but I don't think it takes a lot of imagination to conjure up the fact that the United States is the preferred target.
And if they can get people here, they will get people here. I don't think it's a stretch either to understand that our intelligence agencies are closely monitoring anyone that they feel is a threat.
BLITZER: But do you -- do you have confidence that any American, for example, who may have gone over to Syria, got connected with ISIS, did training over there, then left Syria, went back to Turkey and flew back here to the United States, that the U.S. government knows who these people are?
RISCH: There's no doubt that we know who the vast majority of them are.
If your question is, is it 100 percent, is there a guarantee of 100 percent accuracy, I couldn't sit here and say that. But people who have engaged in this type of conduct, that's what intelligence operations are for. And we have -- we spend a lot of money doing this. And I think Americans would be very proud of the work that the intelligence community does.
BLITZER: Is U.S. surveillance adequate right now here at home, or is there stuff that needs to be done to improve it?
RISCH: Wolf, you can always do more.
And, of course, if something happens to slip through, there will be a lot of criticism. But I have to tell you that I spend a good share of both Tuesdays and Thursdays every week on these issues. And our job on the Intelligence Committee is to -- is oversight, number one, to see that they are that they're doing their job and number two to see that they are not infringing on Americans' constitutional rights.
I feel good about where we are. And I think the bipartisan committee, I think, generally feels the same way.
BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging to hear that.
Senator, I want you to stand by, because we have more to discuss.
We're following the breaking news out of Belgium, out of France, out of Europe, these sweeps under way right now. They are looking for these so-called sleeper cells.
Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, a source now telling CNN the raids in Belgium did not entirely wipe out a terror cell that may be preparing new attacks in Europe right now.
The Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee member Senator James Risch is still with us. He's standing by.
Senator, hold on for a moment.
I want to go right to our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. He's been talking to key sources of his. He has been bringing us a lot of the breaking news.
Update our viewers, Paul, on what you are learning.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, I have been speaking to a senior Belgian counterterrorism source. They are very, very concerned about this cell that there is still part of it out there in Belgium at large and that they could launch attacks to avenge the death of two of their brothers, so to speak, in that police security service operation yesterday in Verviers.
The belief from European officials is that this is ISIS getting into the international terrorism business. There was a plot director in Greece, a Belgian ISIS fighter who had gone over to Greece to run this cell, to run these operations in turn linked back to the ISIS leadership in Syria, they suspect.
This is a real deal ISIS plot. We have not seen the like of it before from everything that they are gathering in terms of intelligence. They brought the CIA in try and help them, the Belgians, to try and find this guy in Greece. They have not been able to find him yet. He is still at large. Obviously, that is a significant concern.
When they went into this -- the building in Verviers, after the raid, they found chemicals needed to make the high-explosive TATP, which suggests that what they had planned here could have been really a terrorism spectacular, not only involving high explosives, much more powerful than we saw with the Boston devices, but also Kalashnikovs and grenades.
They had police uniforms suggesting that they may have wanted to gain access to sensitive sites. Earlier, we heard a suggestion from the Belgian federal authorities that they wanted to go after police stations and police officers. That's because there were wiretaps. On the phone, these guys were talking about, well, if we get the chance to target some police officers, let's do that.
But the Belgians do not know yet exactly what the target of the cell was. But they feel this was an ambitious plot, they suspect linked back to the ISIS leadership. This is a game-changer. This is ISIS they believe taking their war to the West, the heart of Europe -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank with the exclusive reporting for us. Paul Cruickshank, thanks very much. Don't go too far away.
I want to bring back Senator Risch right now. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.
I assume, Senator, what we just heard from Paul is pretty consistent with what you have been hearing.
RISCH: Well, this is not a surprise to really anyone.
ISIS has been threatening this ever since they exploded not long ago. They have been threatening to bring the war to the West. And so what you are hearing is certainly not a surprise to any of us that deal with this every day.
I suppose people who don't follow it, it probably is a surprise, but a couple of points I would make. Number one, when you talk about these cells, you want to be real careful. That connotes a close-knit, highly commanded organization. These things are very loose-knit. And they're very malleable. And they change easily.
And after the roundup, even if they said they had everybody, I would be reluctant to reach that conclusion, because these things are very amorphous.
BLITZER: So, your sense, Senator, this is ISIS, not AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; this is ISIS?
RISCH: Well, clearly, there is an ISIS element to this. They have said so.
And they have said from the beginning that they were trying to establish the country -- their own country. And they said as soon as they were done with that, they were going to move out from that to do the will that they want to do outside and particularly in the West. And so these things are not surprising.
The other thing is, the other point I would make is that this goes on somewhere in the world every single day, not once, but multiple times. The fact that it happened in this high-profile situation in France has brought it to the attention of the national media, as you are running the story now and other media units are running the story. But this goes on every day somewhere in the world.
BLITZER: One final question. The president today had very strong words for Congress, saying he will veto any legislation that would right now increase sanctions on Iran, as the U.S. is trying to work out some sort of diplomatic deal with Iran to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
Your reaction to the president's veto threat?
RISCH: Well, I think we will give him that opportunity, Wolf. As you know, a lot of us have been very critical of the way the
administration has gone on about this. It's a dangerous situation. And I think more sanctions are in order. And I think that anything that's put on the table needs to be approved by Congress.
BLITZER: It will be approved by -- presumably it will be approved by Congress.
But in the midst of these negotiations, are you going to vote to go ahead and at least warn Iran that there will be more sanctions if there's no deal?
RISCH: Well, I think that will make it crystal-clear to Iran that they are going to have to be serious about this. And there's a lot of us that don't believe that they're serious about this.
And, certainly, this is one way that we can communicate to them that we -- we're going to do something about this.
BLITZER: Senator Risch, thanks very much for joining us.
RISCH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have a live report from Belgium, as we follow the breaking news on the urgent terror threat out there and the would-be attackers who apparently got away, at least some of them.
And new measures to tighten security at airports right here in the United States. We are going to tell you what the homeland security secretary revealed today.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news about the urgent terror threat in Europe right now. A source telling CNN, members of a terrorist cell are still at large despite the deadly raids in Belgium.
Let's check in with international reporter Chris Burns. He's a former CNN correspondent, and he's joining us live from Brussels right now.
What's the very latest? What's the sense over there, Chris? What are you hearing about these sleeper cells and these operations that are clearly still underway?
CHRIS BURNS, INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, there is an effort to try to track down the people who were linked to these places that were searched overnight last night. Some dozen places across -- mainly around here in Brussels, in and around Brussels but also in Verviers, where the shootout occurred last night.
They're trying to track these people down. There are also about 13 people who were arrested overnight. Five of them are being formally charged. And then, of course, there are others that are at large. So they are going after them. The security measures are being tightened. The police have --
are closing their police stations here in Brussels. Most of them, all but three of them, are being closed overnight and over the weekend for the reason that -- because that shootout was over those gentlemen, those men who were plotting to attack a police station, possibly even this police headquarters, these headquarters that's just behind me with around-the-clock commando guard which you don't really usually see here in Brussels.
Troops are going to be deployed, some 30 troops, the first of 150 who are set aside to ensure security now that the security level has been raised to three out of four now.
And those first 30 are going to be going tomorrow morning to the Jewish quarter in Antwerp to reassure people there. Because the head of the Jewish community here today was actually calling on European governments to allow Jewish communities to arm themselves, protect themselves.
And this is where the prime minister, Charles Michel, here is trying to calm things down and say, look, let's not go overboard on this. But at the same time, he himself is calling on European leaders to hold a summit as soon as possible to talk about this issue and how to deal with it on the European level, Wolf.
BLITZER: Are these considered high-value arrests, the people that -- who have been rounded up or sort of mid-level or low-level types?
BURNS: Well, among the arrests, of course, is the third man, who was in that -- the raid on the house in Verviers. He's a 25-year-old man. He denies any kind of link to terrorism. He said he had nothing to do with it. But police apparently had enough evidence to charge him with weapons charges and explosives charges and links to terrorism. So we'll see how that -- that trial will come out.
The others have been charged with links to terrorism. So it is not clear exactly to what extent they've been involved in any kind of plotting. But police, of course, do have to track down these others who were linked to these places where weapons -- where weapons were found, explosive materials were found. So that remains an issue. And that's where the police are very, very busy watching and trying to track those people down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Burns reporting for us. Thanks, Chris, very much.
Let's bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. Also, our global affairs analyst, retired lieutenant colonel James Reese; and CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He's been working his sources, bringing us some exclusive breaking news.
Paul, could there -- I guess the sense is, are attacks imminent right now? How worried are law-enforcement authorities, intelligence sources, national security officials in Belgium right now? PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They're worried, Wolf.
They're worried that there are still members of this cell still at large who may put some kind of attack into operation to avenge the two fighters who were killed in that raid in -- on that building in Verviers.
So there's a lot of concern in Belgium. But there's also concern right across Europe. The Belgian sources I'm speaking to say that this group in Belgium, this network linked back to ISIS, also had connections to other groups of young men who have come back from Syria and are in other European countries.
The indications that European intelligence agencies have received is that ISIS is now pivoting towards launching attacks in Europe against the countries participating in the air strikes against it in Syria and Iraq.
And there are several European countries involved in those air strikes in Iraq. The United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Holland, Belgium are some of the countries. A lot of concern that those countries could be targeted by ISIS.
And ISIS signaled this back in September. The spokesman of the group, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, said that they were going to launch raids against the countries who were coming after them in Syria and Iraq. So they said that this was coming. And now it appears it is.
BLITZER: Colonel Reese, Paul reported earlier that these explosive precursors or whatever that were discovered, they were -- they could be used to build a bomb, a TATP type of high explosive. Tell us about what kind of dam a bomb like this could do.
LT. COL. JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Wolf, any of these explosives could do a lot of damage. But here's the silver lining and those big gaps throughout when it comes to explosives.
Anytime anyone hears that bad guys have explosives, everyone's eyebrows go up. But TATP is very unstable. Very unstable. We've seen it in Afghanistan at the Polygon, in Iraq with al Qaeda, and some of the insurgencies there. And when we see explosions in the city, we go there to investigate. They were trying to build TATP bombs, and they blow themselves up. That's kind of a good thing. If Paul would have told me they're getting C-4 out of the black market, that really concerns me. But this is kind of a silver lining in this whole atrocity going out through Europe right now.
BLITZER: Walk us through the operation right now, Philip Mudd. These operations are still going on. They're trying to hunt down these remaining terrorist cells. What's going on?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, there's a tension in any investigation, Wolf. And we're seeing the results of that tension now.
First, you want to map the nervous system of any cell or sort of rough organization. That mapping takes weeks or months. Where is the money? Who radicalized them? Where did they travel? Those questions are very difficult to answer, especially if you have a cell like this one that's trained and potentially has a pretty good operational security.
The tension is, if you see imminent plotting like the Belgians have talked about, you cannot take the time to finish mapping the nervous system of that network. So if you go down early, which is probably what they did last night, you step back the next day and say, there's still a lot of work to do. There's still probably operatives out there we have to capture. Because we didn't have the time -- the luxury of time to map out and capture the entirety of the network.
BLITZER: At his news conference, Phil, the president today said with David Cameron, the British prime minister, standing next to him, that these terrorists are using social media as their primary way of communicating. How do you deal with that?
MUDD: This is a tough one. We saw people in the United States, for example, recruited off YouTube. I think we've got to work with the Internet service providers. The news is talking today about differences between Cameron and the president, about how aggressive to be with Internet service providers. I think this is a difficult one to crack. We can work it by asking the service providers to look for evidence of this kind of activity.
But there's one other answer, Wolf. And that is, over time, I believe there's going to have to be more self-policing. People are going to have to be sending in notes to service providers and the government. That is citizens saying, "I'm seeing something on a website or a chat room that looks inappropriate. You guys should look into it." There's going to have to be a public dimension to this.
BLITZER: And there's real concern, Colonel Reese, about copycats, right? Now simply maybe inspired by what's going on.
REESE: Absolutely. What we don't want to do is -- we have to think about the other cells that might be out there or, like you said, some of these copycats. They're seeing everything that's going on. They're disingenuine [SIC], what's happening to them in their own lives. And they say, they turn around and grab a gun and grab a couple pieces and say, "Hey, let's go do this for ISIS." You know, there's nothing. It's that kind of multi-lone wolf that's concerning.
BLITZER: Yes, I want all of you to stand by. We're going to continue to monitor and follow the breaking news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: As Europe faces urgent new terror threats, homeland security officials in the United States are preparing for potential threats here, as well. The secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, says even more security measures are on the way at airports all across the United States. Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is here in THE SITUATION
ROOM. But a chance to speak with the secretary today. Tell us what happened.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the headline of the conversation is, essentially, another round of ramped up measures at our nation's airports. It is on the way. It's unclear if these will be seen or unseen changes. Johnson says it's in response to threat streams they are seeing.
JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have evolved to a new phase in the global terrorist threat.
MARSH (voice-over): The head of homeland security revealing today, even more airport security measures are on the way.
JOHNSON: We're looking at doing more in the short-term in reaction to some of the threat streams that we are seeing now.
MARSH: This after DHS announced earlier this week, ramped up searches at U.S. airports over fears terrorists are creating non- metallic explosives -- capable of passing through some airport scanners undetected.
(on camera): So, when you talk about more measures as far as aviation goes, what would that look like? What's the timeline for that? And what is this new intelligence --
JOHNSON: We're looking at it right now and I told my folks that I wanted an assessment in the very short-term. So, I expect to get that in the next couple days.
MARSH: So, it's unclear what the extra measures would be?
JOHNSON: We're looking at it right now.
MARSH (voice-over): Additional random passenger and luggage checks are now happening at the gate, once travelers have cleared TSA checkpoints. After al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula published a guide to building hard-to-detect bombs. Following September 11th, transportation systems continue to be a target for terrorists.
In 2005, four suicide bombs detonated within seconds of each other on a bus, and three different trains traveling through London underground stations.
In 2010, Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty for plotting to blow up New York subways.
JOHNSON: We need to focus on homeland-based threats.
MARSH: Just this week, an electrical malfunction caused smoke to fill a D.C. metro station, killing one and injuring dozens. Passengers were left waiting for more than 40 minutes before emergency responders helped them evacuate, raising serious questions about how prepared the U.S. is to respond to emergencies on the nation's transportation system.
BLAIR RUBLE, VICE PRESIDENT FOR PROGRAMS, WILSON CENTER: One does have to wonder what would have happened had that fire been set by terrorists. Clearly, the response was inadequate.
MARSH: Johnson striking a reassuring tone, saying that the department is assessing new intelligence and threats every day, every hour. He went on to say that that's how he actually spent the majority of his morning. So, again, striking that very reassuring tone, Wolf.
All right. Thanks very much. Rene Marsh reporting.
Let's bring back Phil Mudd.
Are you confident these security measures are up to the job?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Heck no. If you look at the targets over the past 15 years, you are talking about everything from schools, police stations, military facilities, buses, trains, airplanes. It's not that I don't have confidence in Secretary Johnson. It's just that the range of targets we have seen is impossible to cover in a sort of democratic society.
So, we can have or try to have some sense of security that the government can protect us. The true answer, Wolf, is there's no way you can in a country of 330 million people. You can't do it.
BLITZER: What about that, Colonel Reese? Where do you stand on this?
LT. COL. JAMES REESE (RET), CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I understand Phil's aspect. I think one of the things we have to do is we can't be parochial in our thinking. We've got to have folks out there that are thinking asymmetrically. And, you know, Phil talked about it on this last segment when we talked about the social media.
You know, we have got to give the intel community and the law enforcement the budget and the funding, because there is technology out there off the shelf that can help collect on social media and even do some geolocation on it. But we've got to have the funding to get it and we can't go through this ten-year process of trying to find equipment.
BLITZER: Are you confident, Phil Mudd, that all agencies, national security, law enforcement, intelligence, agencies, part of the U.S. government, they're working together, they're not competing with each other, but they're basically on the same page?
MUDD: Heck yes. There's a couple reasons why, Wolf. Number one, a lot of us who are in leadership positions -- and
it's my friends, my peers who are in leadership positions at the bureau and the agency, you don't have to have faith in us. But there ain't no learning the sick kick of the mule. We learned from 9/11. We're not going to get burned by that situation again.
The second thing is, if you're not sitting at the FBI and the bureau and sitting up in your chair after Paris and Belgium, I don't know what you are doing. Anybody in my old job is sitting there and saying, whoa, there but for the grace of God, we've got people like this in the United States. We've got to look for people that we haven't seen on the radar yet.
And one final thing, the range of data that we will acquire is a gold mine from the locations in Belgium and Paris and from the people who are taken down. That's an opportunity in the coming week to see if there are threats we never found in the U.S.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, Colonel Reese, thanks very much.
And, by the way, to our viewers, for more on what you can do to support those affected by the terror attacks, visit CNN.com/impact.
More breaking news ahead. We have new details of the terror raids in Europe. Sources telling us that members of one cell are still at large.
BLITZER: We have much more on the breaking news out Belgium and Paris right at the top of the hour. But we're also following a major development at the United States Supreme Court. The justices have decided to consider whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry or whether states can ban gay marriage in case with huge social and political implications.
Let's discuss this and more with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Jeffrey, how's this going to play out?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: One thing we know for sure, a hundred years for now people are going to be talking about this case. This is an enormously important case. Certainly based on the last time the Supreme Court had a gay rights case, thee Windsor case where they struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. That was a 5-4 decision. It certainly looks like it will be a similar split ruling that all 50 states have to have same-sex.
BLITZER: We'll know by the end of June.
They also have to decide on the constitutionality of the Obamacare issue.
TOOBIN: That is an enormous case in terms of the practical significance of as many as nine million people may wind up losing health insurance of the Obama administration loses that case. It's a very big term at the Supreme Court. At the end of June, we'll be waiting for both of those cases and they're huge.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And, by the way, these decisions play into the 2016 elections. There are some Republicans who are just have the Supreme Court decide on gay marriage so they don't have to talk about it. Very much there are other Republicans who are going to say, we want to run on this. We want to make it a wedge issue again. And that will help them in the Republican --
TOOBIN: Who would say that? Nobody thinks that. Really?
BORGER: In the Republican primaries with the Republican base and those are the folks which gay marriage is unpopular so you could have people like Ted Cruz, for example, running against somebody more moderate like a Jeb Bush and it becomes a primary issue.
TOOBIN: I think the Supreme Court is giving a gift to the Republican Party by saying, take this issue off the table, yes.
BORGER: In the general election, but it's an issue in the primary.
BLITZER: The president had a news conference with the British prime minister today. Was President Obama on message on the issue of terror?
BORGER: Well, they wanted -- David Cameron and Barack Obama wanted to talk about cyber security, which is so important. All they're doing on the cyber security front and how they want to make sure they can read encrypted messages which is so important as we see in the recent terror issues. He got taken off of that message because it was asked a question by ABC News Jon Karl about Iran sanctions. And he doesn't want Congress to pass an Iran sanctions bill. Lots of Democrats want to do it. And he and Cameron were both saying, wait a minute, hold off. Just let us get to yes with Iran.
He's got Democrats opposing him on the Hill on that. He said today that he would veto it if they did it. So, that was a little off his message.
BLITZER: We'll see how he does on that front. You want to weigh in on that?
TOOBIN: Well, I just betting the Congress will do nothing is always a good bet. So, I don't think he has --
BORGER: Well, he'll veto something.
TOOBIN: They have to pass it first. BLITZER: The Republican National Committee today announced their
schedule for presidential debates in the Republican contest. There's going to be nine debates in the primary scheduled so far. CNN is going to have three. CNN will host the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in September. Another one in Nevada. Possibly a third if necessary in March. There's a lot fewer debates this time around.
BORGER: I'm sad about that.
TOOBIN: And who did you not -- what network did you not see on that list?
BORGER: I'm sad about that. I'd like to see more debates. But, clearly, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, has made the decision, look, there were too many debates. It hurt Mitt Romney because he had to run to the right very publicly during these debates and run to the center during the general election.
You'll remember, Wolf, that during the debates, it was when Mitt Romney talked about self-deportation and made a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry which he probably wishes he had not done. There's lots of candidates who don't have a lot of money. They would like to have more debates. But Reince Priebus also said, sorry, folks, if you want to be -- go rogue on us and have your own debates, you cannot participate in our sponsored debates. That's a pretty tough penalty.
TOOBIN: There are people who are saying we demand more than nine debates.
BLITZER: We love those debates. I moderated several of those debates, and the answer is yes.
BLITZER: All right. That's it. Thanks very much for watching.
Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer, or tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.