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Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Snow Targets New England; Russia's Aggression; Chilling Words from Hostage on New ISIS Video; Millions Facing 'Unprecedented' Snow Emergency; Storm Forces Mass Flight Cancellations; Obama: No Decision Yet on U.S. Arms to Ukraine

Aired February 9, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And piling on. Millions of Americans are in the crosshairs of the third big snowstorm in just two weeks. We're tracking this historic weather emergency.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking now, growing fears for the life of one of the last Western hostages held by ISIS. He says his appearance in a new propaganda video is in the last in a series, this as the parents of American hostage Kayla Mueller await proof of her fate just days after ISIS claimed she was killed in an airstrike.

We're following dangerous new developments in the U.S.-led war against ISIS and in the escalating war in Eastern Ukraine, President Obama talking publicly today about the possibility of sending U.S. weapons into the mix. Senator Angus King is standing by. He's a top member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees. We also have our team of correspondents and analysts and they're covering all the news breaking right now.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with the very latest on ISIS and its hostages -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning tonight from sources that new intelligence has surfaced since the ISIS claims about Kayla Mueller, but nothing conclusive to prove that she was killed, this as another Western hostage sends an ominous message through one of the most recent propaganda videos from ISIS.


JOHN CANTLIE, ISIS HOSTAGE: Hello. I'm John Cantlie.

BROWN (voice-over): John Cantlie, a British journalist held by ISIS for more than two years, is one of ISIS' last known Western hostages. After appearing in multiple ISIS propaganda videos, he claims this is the last in the series.

JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That could be his sign-off moment, saying, hey, this is my last film. And now my fate is with ISIS hands. BROWN: New intelligence shows ISIS, based around the Syrian city of

Raqqa, has been developing plans to kidnap more Western and international hostages in neighboring countries, including Lebanon and Jordan, according to a Middle East security source.

REESE: It's a very plausible scenario that ISIS could move to the refugee camps on the Turkish-Syrian border and the Jordanian-Syrian border and target and isolate a Western aid worker or even reporter and try to conduct a kidnapping and pull them into Syria.

BROWN: The fate of 26-year-old American aid worker and ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller remains unknown. ISIS claims Mueller died in a Jordanian airstrike, but has only made public these images of a dilapidated building as proof.

KAYLA MUELLER, ISIS HOSTAGE: I am in solidarity with the Syrian people.

BROWN: Mueller's family is holding out hope and sending a direct plea to ISIS. "We have sent you a private message and ask that you respond to us privately," the family said in this statement. "You told us that you treated Kayla as your guest, and as your guest her safety and well-being remains your responsibility."

TODD GEILER, MUELLER FAMILY FRIEND: It has been a living hell for the family and it is today. But Kayla's out there.

BROWN: Meanwhile, following the gruesome murder of a Jordanian pilot, coalition forces are continuing strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. And the United Arab Emirates also rejoined the fight by sending a squadron of F-16s to Jordan to fly alongside Jordanian fighter jets.


BROWN: And right now, the U.S. military is trying to gather as much intelligence as they can about ISIS defenses in Mosul. That's according to a CENTCOM official, because they are trying to make a key decision about whether the U.S. should step up involvement of U.S. troops in the fight to retake Mosul, of course Iraq's second largest city.

BLITZER: City of almost two million people that ISIS simply walked into because the Iraqi military abandoned their positions. Thanks very much.

Let's get to the bloody war in Ukraine right now. President Obama says he is exploring all options to respond to Russian aggression, including sending U.S. weapons to the Ukrainian government military forces. But for now, he is trying other ways to pressure the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Let's bring in our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what was clear to me in Kiev just in the last few days was a deep sense of urgency and fear about the expanding war in the east. You get a sense of it here in the map, the line here of Russian-controlled territory moving Westward. All of these contacts between Russian forces and Ukrainian forces, the number going up. In the words of one Ukrainian M.P., we are fighting for or lives here.

Today, you heard some of that urgency from the American president.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): On the ground in Eastern Ukraine, there is all- out war. Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists launching rockets. Ukrainian forces firing back, with hundreds of thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire.

Meeting in Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama both described the war as a threat not only to Ukraine, but to Europe and NATO.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are in absolute agreement that the 21st century cannot have us stand idle and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): If we give up on this principle of territorial integrity of countries, then we will not be able to maintain the peaceful order of Europe.

SCIUTTO: The close allies agree that for now the root to peace remains diplomacy and a return trip on Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday to resurrect a September cease-fire that quickly fell apart.

Failing diplomacy, Merkel and Obama disagree however on whether to arm the outgunned Ukrainian forces as a next step. President Obama leaving the option open.

OBAMA: What other means can we put in place to change Mr. Putin's calculus? And the possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that's being examined.

SCIUTTO: The close allies, however, agree to disagree.

OBAMA: There may be areas where there are tactical disagreements.

MERKEL (through translator): On certain issues, we may not agree.

SCIUTTO: Since the September Minsk agreement, Russian had only solidified its military occupation of the east with a massive influx of heavy weapons, soldiers, including special forces, and command-and- control. Lack of military help is certain to disappoint Ukrainian officials, who told us in Kiev they are simply trying to defend their country.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: Why we are asking for an increased defense capabilities of Ukraine, it's not for the offensive operation. This is for the defensive operation.


SCIUTTO: The challenge now is that a diplomatic solution depends on the same parties, the same outlines of a peace agreement in the same city -- that is Minsk in Belarus -- and the same Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as that last peace process that as we know immediately was broken. Can they come to an agreement this time? Wolf, I heard deep skepticism in the Ukrainian capital.

BLITZER: Yes, they are obviously very worried for good reason. One of the arguments you do hear from some Europeans, some critics who say the U.S. should not be providing arms to the Ukrainian military is the Ukrainian military is simply not up to the job. They can't stand up to the Russian-backed troops. If you give these weapons to the Ukrainian military, they could wind up in the hands of the pro-Russian separatists, if you will, just as U.S. weapons that were given to the Iraqi military have wound up in the hands of ISIS.

SCIUTTO: No question, and the same concern the Obama administration had about arming rebels even in a place like Syria, right, was that.

In addition to that, whether or not those weapons end up in the hands of pro-Russian separatists or in fact Russia forces is how does Russia react? Do they then use weapons coming from the West as further impetus to send even more weapons in there? The trouble is, they are sending it -- the proponents will say, they're already sending those weapons in without Western weapons supply.

And the question is, how do you defend Ukraine if you have decided you're not going to go to war over Ukraine? And that is the dilemma that President Obama and others are struggling with right now.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's talk about both of these wars in Ukraine, as well as the Middle East, the war against ISIS. Senator Angus King, the independent senator from Maine, is joining us. He's a member of the Senate Armed Services and the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

I want to get your analysis, first of all, on this new video that ISIS released today, showing John Cantlie, this British hostage. He is supposedly in Aleppo. And he says these ominous words. This is the last film in the series, last video in the series that he is going to be releasing. What's your analysis of what all of this means? Because there's a lot of concern this might mean they're going to kill him.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: It certainly Sounds that way, or at least it could be, although if you watch the video, he doesn't look like he's under great duress. He is just basically talking and acting like a reporter.

But you don't know how long he has been there, how much pressure he has been put under. But it doesn't sound good. And he is one of the last Western hostages. And one of the rules of dealing with hostages and these kinds of situations is, you really can't -- you shouldn't put a lot of credence in what people say, because they have been under such tremendous duress.

We don't know whether he's been tortured or what he has been through in order to get him to make what amounts to a very slick propaganda video.

BLITZER: Yes. Clearly, ISIS has got some propaganda interest in releasing a video like this. And we will see what it means, if anything.

Do we know how many Western hostages are still being held? Cantlie obviously is still being held. And we know this 26-year-old American woman, they claim she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. No evidence to back that up. But do we know how many hostages are still being held by them?

KING: It's a relatively small number. I don't have an exact number. But I think we're in single digits. At least that's my understanding.

BLITZER: And any -- no other Americans beyond Kayla Mueller, assuming she's still alive? And we hope she is some.

KING: Not that we know of. And we certainly hope she is.

As a parent, I can't imagine what her family has been through.

BLITZER: There's no evidence at all to back up ISIS' assertion that she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, right? There's no evidence to back that up?

KING: None that we know of. And they have been known to misrepresent these kinds of things. They represented to the Jordanians that the pilot was still alive. They were negotiating. It turned out he had been killed a month ago. You can't put a lot of credence in what they are putting out.

BLITZER: Is there still hope, realistically, that this young woman might be alive?

KING: Well, there might be.

Apparently, they treated her a little bit differently. They communicated to her parents that they were treating her as a guest. And, you know, I think they made a major miscalculation last week with that gruesome video of the Jordanian pilot being burned. And they may -- maybe they realize that killing a woman, particularly in a public way like they have these prior hostages, would just be -- just further inflame public opinion and particularly opinion in the Arab countries in the Muslim world against them.

BLITZER: Because public opinion is really turning against them. And you see Jordan really stepping up, the United Arab Emirates now sending a squadron of F-16s to Jordan. I assume other Sunni moderate Arab countries are going to step up their campaign as well. KING: I have never seen anything like the way that action unified the

Muslim world, in Egypt, even in Iran, all over the Muslim world. It was condemned. It was condemned in mosques. Like I say, I think it was a major miscalculation. And it really sort of outlined for the Muslim world what we're dealing with.

BLITZER: Because it seemed almost like they are taunting the world with that gruesome video of this young Jordanian fighter pilot in a steel cage doused with gasoline and then burnt to death.

KING: And if they thought that was going to intimidate the Jordanians -- it just happened I was in a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan within an hour of that video being made public. And he was anything but intimidated. He was furious and resolute, I think would be the right word.

And, certainly, that's public opinion in Jordan, but throughout the Middle East. And, Wolf, that's the only way this problem is going to be solved. We can't solve it. It's got to be solved by people on the ground in the region who say, enough is enough, we're not going to tolerate these people perverting Islam and simply brutalizing their own people.

BLITZER: Senator King, we have more to discuss, including a suggestion by one of your colleagues from the Senate Intelligence Committee that ISIS may be moving beyond aspirationally going after American targets in the United States, but actually beginning to implement some plots.

Stand by. Much more coming up with Senator Angus King of Maine right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Senator Angus King of Maine. We're talking about the new ISIS video, threats from the terror group, to the hostages, to the United States.

You are a key member of the Intelligence Committee. Senator, let's talk a little bit about one of your colleagues, one member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Risch, told me the other day. He said that there's indications now that ISIS may be moving from an aspirational desire to hit targets, American targets, in the United States to an actual plot, if you will, to go from desiring to do it to actually planning on doing it. What are you hearing about that?

KING: I don't think there's much doubt that if they could strike us, they would.

BLITZER: In the United States?

KING: If they could. I think right now, I don't think they have the means. We have got them pretty well pinned down.

And I think the airstrikes, which, by the way, over 2,000 airstrikes, have really diminished their physical -- their infrastructure, if you will. But -- and it's not only them. My father used to say you can't tell the players without a program. We have got AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

BLITZER: They are in Yemen.

KING: They're in Yemen. And then we have got al Qaeda generally. We have got ISIS, al-Nusra in Syria, Al-Shabab in Africa.

These groups -- and they are all thinking about how to make a big splash. One of the things about these videos that ISIS keeps producing is, that's how they recruit. They want to show they are tougher and meaner than anybody else. And believe it or not, apparently, there are young people throughout the world that are excited to join these organizations that show how brutal they can be. The appeal is lost on me.

BLITZER: Who is the greatest threat to the American homeland? Would it be core al Qaeda? Would it be ISIS? Would it be AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, any of these other groups?

KING: I think the greatest threat to the American homeland now are some obscure bomb-makers who are developing bombs that will go through airport security.

BLITZER: That sounds like AQAP in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian -- they have got that master bomb-maker, if you will.

KING: That's one of the things they are working at.

That's one of the difficulties, Wolf, is that we don't know really where the threat is going to come from. That's what keeps me up at night is the small -- a plot, you can deal with, because there's intelligence and you hear communications and those kinds of things. It's the small group, like the guys in Paris, two guys, apparently.

And they are pulling off an attack or somebody in America that's self- self-radicalized through the Internet. We have got to be vigilant on all fronts.

BLITZER: How close are they to building a bomb that would not be -- that would be -- you could bring it through the metal detectors at an airport and board a plane with a hard-to-detect bomb like that? They have these master bomb-makers who are working on it.

KING: The short answer is, pretty close.

BLITZER: They are close to it? Because that sounds like an enormous threat out there if they could get away with something like that.

KING: It absolutely is. And it's -- we have just to keep -- we have got to keep developing our capacity to detect these things.

BLITZER: How do you detect a bomb if it's not detectable?

KING: Well, it still has some physical characteristics. And I'm not going to go into the specifics. But just be it known that we're working on the protection and how to deal with these kinds of threats.

BLITZER: But that's a realistic, credible threat that the U.S. is deeply concerned about right now?


KING: Yes, it is.

BLITZER: I'm deeply concerned hearing about that.

The other concern -- we heard this from one of our terrorism analysts, Paul Cruickshank -- that they are getting information that ISIS in its own desperation to get more hostages could go ahead and kidnap Americans who may be in neighboring countries, whether Jordan or Lebanon, and bring them back to Syria or Iraq and use them as pawns, if you will. Have you heard about that threat?

KING: Hostages are coin of the realm to these guys.

We don't pay, but a lot of countries have paid pretty handsome ransom to get their hostages out. And they're actually making -- this is one of the ways ISIS makes money is by ransoming hostages. I wouldn't put anything past them.

And they are operating -- they have so much territory that's really ungoverned and ungovernable in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq that they could go up toward some of those refugee camps. And I think that's something again that we have got to pay attention to. They are being squeezed down.

And cornered rats are the most dangerous. And there's no question that between the airstrikes and the Peshmerga in Kobani and pressure that's coming from other directions, I think they are feeling some pressure. Also, internally, Wolf, these guys can't govern. They are controlling a city of Mosul, two million people. They have got to pick up the trash and provide schools and keep the electricity on.

And my impression is that they're not doing a good very job at that. So, internal pressure, they could implode just by not being able to deliver to the people that they are supposedly governing.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on Ukraine right now.

Should President Obama authorize the sale or dispatch of lethal military equipment to the Ukrainian military in the face of what's going on in Eastern Ukraine with Russian aggression?

KING: I think it's a terribly hard question.

My inclination at this point would be no, particularly because the European allies don't want us to do that. And the other question that you have to ask is, OK, if you provide arms, what happens then? We don't live in a static universe. Putin is going to respond. And you're going to have an escalation.

It's a very tough question. It's Hitler in the Sudetenland when we didn't respond and he kept going. Or it's the danger of stumbling into World War I, the Guns of August. There's no clear answer. There is no risk-free alternative here.

BLITZER: You are with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, right now. She's reluctant. She's opposing basically any dispatch of lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, fearing that would only make a bad situation even worse.

KING: Well, I'm inclined in that direction. But, you know, I think it's something we have to assess on an hour-to-hour basis.

The people of the Ukraine are brave, they are fighting, they are fighting for their lives. But, you know, how do you distinguish between defensive weapons and offensive weapons and, as your correspondent said, how do you be sure they are not going to fall into the wrong hands?

But the big question is, OK, so we arm the Ukrainians. What does Putin do next?


BLITZER: Is he rational, Putin, right now? Because you're on the Intelligence Committee. You hear these assessments that they give you.

KING: I think he is coldly rational.

I think he's coldly calculating and makes these decisions. There's some people that say, well, when Russians start going back to Moscow in body bags, that will change the calculation. I don't think so. I don't think he's going to be responsive to that.

He sees this -- and sometimes, you have got to put yourself in the other guy's shoes. He sees Ukraine as part of the ancient Russian sphere of influence, and the U.S. and Europe are trying to invade or they are trying to threaten Russia's borders. So, he sees this as a very high-stakes game, whereas for us, it's a distant country.

I think you have to think about him and what he's going to do. And he's not going to just say, oh, the American send in arms, that's nice, we will keep on where we are. That's why you have got to -- whenever you make a strategic decision like this, you have to think two, three and four jumps ahead and deal with the consequences.

BLITZER: Senator Angus King of Maine, thanks very much for coming up.

KING: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Just ahead, last in the series, what do those words from an ISIS hostage really mean? Our terrorism experts are standing by.

And take look at these live pictures. It's a record snowfall that just won't stop; 40 million Americans are at risk right now. We are going to tell you who is hitting -- being hit the hardest. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Chilling words from a Western hostage in a new ISIS video.

The British journalist John Cantlie has been forced to appear in a previous ISIS propaganda video. But he ominously calls this latest one, just released -- and I'm quoting him now -- "the last in this series."

Let's dig deeper with our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd; our national security analyst, Peter Bergen; and our global affairs analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel James Reese.

I want to get to that video in a moment. Let me get your thoughts, first of all, Philip Mudd, I'll start with you. Senator King of the intelligence committee just told us moments ago that AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and their sophisticated bomb makers, in his words, they are pretty close to making a bomb that would not be detected by airport screening. It would be very hard to detect. That's pretty ominous right now. They're pretty close, he says. What do you make of that assessment?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, I think you have to put a few factors together. The first is the near successful attack over Detroit in 2009. That was that bomb maker in Yemen who is still around.

The second factor is that six-year interim between that near- successful attempt, the so-called underwear bomber in 2015. So that bomb maker has had six years trying to figure out how to come up with a device that doesn't use metal components.

The final thing I'd say, Wolf, is now we have what I would call in Syria a safe haven. That is, ISIS in Syria has been around long enough to organize bomb makers and expertise to try to build on that technique they almost used successfully over Detroit. So to draw the conclusion that they might be able to be at a phase where they could have the success that they couldn't get to in 2009 I think is a fair judgment.

BLITZER: Yes. Pretty close. That's pretty ominous. Peter Bergen, you're familiar with that master bomb maker, the AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri. He is very well- known by how. He's a high-value target. The U.S. has been trying to find him; they can't find him. They would like to either capture or kill him. But he apparently knows what he's doing as far as making bombs.

PETER BERGEN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. And I mean, they're already at the point where they can get past airport security. They're not close to that point. They got past that point several years ago. So -- and also this guy has trained other people, maybe not to the degree of his expertise. And also as still sort of indicated, there are people from Yemen who have gone to Syria and hooked up with the so- called Khorasan group there, which is al Qaeda in Syria, and are training them on making bomb making skills. And I've talked to British officials who are concerned of what they call a Lockerbie-like event. Remember, Lockerbie, Pan Am 103 over Scotland.

So this is quite real. It's ongoing. It's been going on for several years.

BLITZER: So how do you deal with that, Colonel Reese? Because you heard the senator, Senator Angus King, say there are other -- there are other means they're trying to develop now to deal with a bomb that could go through metal detectors, for example, without being detected, other indications, other features.

LT. COL. JAMES REESE (RET.), CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Wolf, there's three things. There's vigilance, technology, and there's intelligence.

The vigilance is, everyone here in the U.S. that's looking at it: homeland security, TSA. They've got to know about it. All the lessons learned have got to get put out. We need to be looking at it.

The technology has to continue to evolve. And I know that's happening. We've got some great technology companies that are always looking for this.

And finally, the intelligence community never stops: 24/7 they continue to look, continue to press. It's a difficult task they've got to do to try to find this and disrupt this operation.

BLITZER: I'm sure they're working on it. You heard the senator say that's what keeps him up at night.

Phil Mudd, this new video that ISIS released showing the British hostage, John Cantley, say this is the last in a series of these videos. There he is, supposedly in Aleppo narrating this video. It's pretty sophisticated propaganda right now. What does all this tell you?

MUDD: What it tells me is this is a group that's still trying to look at Europe and the United States and send a simple message to a 17- year-old in a city like London or Denver. We saw an event out of Denver where teenagers were trying to travel out several months ago. In New York, Washington.

The message is, look, if you want to drink tea with ISIS, if you want to see a place where Islamic education is practiced, if you want to see a placewhere there is some sense of peace on the streets. They want to get away from simply projecting an image that says, "We behead people." And also projecting an image to someone in America or Europe who wants an Islamic nirvana. And that image is, "It's OK here. And we practice what we preach. Come on, and you can live in this new Islamic world if you just get on an airplane."

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, what's your analysis of this new video, showing John Cantley walking around, trying to talk about what's going on in Aleppo, saying this is the last in a series?

BERGEN: Unfortunately, that may speak for itself. I mean...

BLITZER: What does that mean, speak for itself?

BERGEN: Well, it may be the last in a series. It may be the last he delivers. They've been kind of keeping him alive to play this kind of faux news reporter. We've seen him in other cities, not just in Aleppo.

And I agree with Phil. I think that they -- I mean, ISIS has got a very mixed message here. They're also trying to present themselves as somebody, an organization that is providing services and has a kind of pretty normal life. It's a very mixed message, when you behead people and burn them alive and then show, you know, kind of social services provision. You know, most people aren't going to buy that.

BLITZER: And it shows also, Colonel Reese, he's supposedly walking around in Aleppo, a major Syrian city. It shows video there. It shows him doing -- basically doing a stand up, as if he's a television journalist, if you will. It's pretty sophisticated propaganda. What's your analysis? And specifically, the clues you might see in this video of where this British hostage may be held.

REESE: Wolf, bottom line is it brings credibility to ISIS's production of their propaganda. Using him, this former British reporter. He speaks well. He understands what's going on. He understands he's under the spotlight, so he's doing a good job. So it gives them the credibility.

But we do have the tools. We can find out the metadata, where this is being taken care of. But we also know that ISIS has some very sophisticated tools to either put this on green screen or to tape it in time. So it could be difficult. But our intelligence community will eventually find out where this is, and hopefully, we'll see John again.

BLITZER: You know, Philip Mudd, this notion that ISIS in its desperation now for more hostages -- I don't know how many more hostages, western hostages they might have. You heard Senator King say they probably have a few more that they may go to neighboring countries -- whether Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon -- look for Americans, look for Europeans, kidnap them and bring them back to Syria, for example. How realistic of a concern do you believe that could be?

MUDD: I think hostage taking should be a key concern. I wouldn't start with neighboring countries. I'd start with what we saw in the Jordanian, the prospect of an airman. I'd start with another serviceman, with the American or European servicemen out there. I'd start with aid workers we've seen trickling over from Turkey into Jordan.

The prospect that ISIS, though, could organize an operation, let's say, from Turkey or Jordan and transport an American across that border, if we saw that happen, Wolf, we're going to have to sit back here on the news and say what kind of new entity are we dealing with? That would be an operation the likes of which I wouldn't expect and would show a degree of sophistication that I think would be remarkable. BLITZER: You believe, Peter, because you've studied this, that ISIS

is now moving beyond the aspirational desire to strike at the U.S. homeland to a more practical, actual plot, if you will, as Senator Risch of the intelligence committee told me the other day?

BERGEN: I would endorse what Senator Angus King said, which is there is simply no evidence that this is the case. And we've seen about...

BLITZER: That they can do it?

BERGEN: Yes. They have the aspiration, but they're not -- it's not operational. What we're saying is people will be motivated by ISIS propaganda to do something. But we're not seeing ISIS operationalizing cells in the United States. There's simply no evidence of that.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We've got a lot more news we're watching.

Just ahead, also, more on the ominous new ISIS video and the effort to learn the fate of the female American hostage.

Up next, a state of emergency just declared as millions face record snowfall. Take a look at this. Live pictures coming in from Boston. They're trying to get rid of the snow, scooping up the snow. And they're trying to melt it.


BLITZER: Breaking now, a state of emergency just declared in Massachusetts as the state struggles through what officials are calling unprecedented snowfall. Records are toppling, the snow keeps on falling, and there's more ahead in the forecast. And officials have just announced that all Boston rail will be shut down tomorrow.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is out there in Massachusetts for us. Miguel, tell us what you're seeing right now, because it looks pretty bad.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's miserable, wicked miserable they say here in Massachusetts. This is what they are dealing with. This is North Waylon (ph), just east of Quincy, Massachusetts, just in the South Boston Bay. Very difficult to get through this.

You can see that wind whipping at 30 miles per hour, the gusts -- look up here. You can see it's whipping across that antenna up there or that steeple. Incredible winds. Incredible power. And this city is crippled by it.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Mountains of snow slam the northeast tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is just fed up.

MARQUEZ: Massachusetts, Boston and surrounding cities again and again bearing the brunt. GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS: It's only been 14 days, folks.

And we've gotten 70 to 80 inches of snow around the commonwealth. I mean, this is -- this is pretty much unprecedented.

MARQUEZ: So much snow the city is working around the clock to melt it at snow farms like this one in south Boston.

Across the region, schools closed once again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good because, like, we get to go outside more. But it's, like, the wind is so hard. So it makes it worse.

MARQUEZ: Transportation stopped cold.

At Boston's Logan Airport, most flights canceled, authorities urging drivers stay off the road. But emergency workers have no choice.

JAMES HOOLEY, CHIEF, BOSTON EMS: Every call gets more difficult. If someone doesn't have their sidewalk dug out or their stairs dug out yet -- I mean, we have to try to carry them through deep snow or we can put them in plastic type sleds.

MARQUEZ: In Connecticut, piles of snow dwarf equipment struggling to remove it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is ridiculous. It's freezing. I'm ready for the summertime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm tired of it, honestly.

MARQUEZ: The massive snowfall weighing down roofs with collapse possible, crews have a new treacherous job, climbing ladders to shovel them off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we get any wet snow on top of this snow, that's going to become a weight issue.


MARQUEZ: Yes, I'm going to try to finish the walk. I'm going to try to finish walking towards you here, Wolf.

One good thing about the snow here is because it's so light that it is not sticking to the electricity polls as much as it would and taking them out. People dealing as good as they can. I can say that despite how difficult this snow has been for this city and this region, New England knows how to move snow. It's impressive to see smaller towns near Boston clearing out the roads, keeping them open and making sure that life at a minimum can go on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's still a dangerous, dangerous situation. Miguel, thank you.

Boston has seen a record 62 1/2 inches of snow in the last 30 days alone. With more in the forecast, officials are running out of places to just move all of that snow. They are actually trying to melt it right now.

CNN's Chris Welch is joining us now.

Chris, explain what's going on behind you.

CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, just Miguel mentioned in his piece there, the snow farms -- we're actually standing in one of those snow farms. Right behind me is one of two snow-melters that the city of Boston owns.

Take a look at this. These front end loaders have been dumping files of snow into the snow-melter which essentially can melt snow at a rate of 350 tons per hour. Now, look at some of the steam coming off of that. These run on diesel engines.

And this -- these snow farms here and the mountains of snow to our right, these have been here for quite a while. Really, this is the third major storm we have been talking in the last -- in so many weeks, really. And this pile of snow was 10,000 truck loads big.

Their goal is to get rid of it, but it's going to take some time. They have only gotten through half of it. Just take a look at that steam coming out of that right now. That is an incredible sight.

But you know what? It's going to take more than just these two snow- melters in the city and other cities around Eastern Massachusetts also looking at possibly throwing it into the ocean, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of water after all that snow melts.

All right. Thanks very much, Chris.

All that snow once again is also taking a serious toll on air travel with more than 2,000 flights canceled today, thousands more delayed.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is working this part of the story for us.

So, what's the latest, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're talking about two storms that slammed the Northeast in the past two weeks. And now, we're talking about another one.

Of course, that means really bad news for people trying to travel by air. I want to give you a live look. This is real time at FlightAware's misery map, all of the red that shows you the cancellations.

Let's take a look at an airport like Chicago's O'Hare. You know, when you talk about cancellations, this is the ripple affect. It doesn't just impact the people who are flying in and out of Chicago, but it also impacts flights going as far as Los Angeles and San Francisco. The same goes for New York City. You see all the delays as a result of the problems happening in New York City. This is Boston here. I could tell you that as it relates to Boston's Logan Airport where

they are seeing a lot of cancellations, one company, one analytic company says that the number of cancellations actually higher so far this year compared to last year around this time.

I want to zero in a little bit more on Boston Logan because that's where they are seeing the record snowfall. This is real time. This is the activity going over Boston. This is usually a very busy airport. You can see what is that, maybe three flights in the air. This is what it looks like on a normal day.

So, that gives you some perspective of just how things are really slowing down as the hours go by, because, again, no flights going in and out eventually as that storm continues to move in.

BLITZER: These cancellations, Rene, they are obviously costly not just for the airlines but for passengers as well. Can you give us a little picture now of what the economic impact of these winter storms has been?

MARSH: Well, this year, winter storms alone, we can tell you the storms all throughout 2015 and late 2014, they have caused more than 19,000 cancellations. Now, this comes at a cost for the passenger. We're talking roughly $693 million. That's what it costs a passenger every time there are cancellations. It and it costs the airlines quite a bit as well, $60 million. All of this courtesy of analytics company Max Flight.

But it just goes to show you, Wolf, when you get these cancellations and delays, it's not just an inconvenience, there's a cost involved, too.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Rene, thanks very much.

Up next, exploding war and surging civilian death toll. Will President Obama send lethal U.S. weapons to Ukraine?


BLITZER: It will be a controversial move with huge implications, but President Obama says he has not yet decided whether or not the United States will provide lethal aid to the Ukrainian government military forces fighting Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us are CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our senior legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin.

You know, Gloria, it's a tough decision the president has to make. Clearly, Angela Merkel made it obvious once again today. She doesn't want the U.S. providing aid to the Ukrainian military. She thinks it will be counterproductive.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it's -- you know, she is working along with Hollande of France to try to get some kind of diplomatic resolution but the president has an administration that is divided on this. Ash Carter, the man who will be his secretary of defense, has already said that he thinks we ought to arm the Ukrainians and so have bipartisan group members of Congress.

The president himself today said that he hadn't made up his mind. As we know, his inclination is to try and do things through diplomacy and not do things unilaterally. But I think we got a little tip from Angela Merkel today that if the president were to say, we're going to arm the Ukrainians, that she wouldn't come out and say criticize him as doing a unilateral act that would harm NATO. It's very clear that they understand where each other are coming from, and it's not all clear to me that this isn't useful to her, as she goes into this meeting, this summit on Wednesday, that the U.S. isn't giving her leverage and threatening to arm Ukraine.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears, Jeffrey. A major legal decision today by the United States Supreme Court because they decided not to consider it, allowing same-sex marriage to go forward at least in some counties in Alabama.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: In the whole state. Not all states are following the Supreme Court at the moment, but the Supreme Court has said by a vote of 7-2, a very significant vote, that same-sex marriages can proceed in Alabama. Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion saying, wait a minute, we haven't even considered this issue yet. The issue hasn't even been argued. How can you let all these marriages proceed? The majority didn't respond but I think it's a real signal that this court is ready to order same-sex marriage.

BLITZER: Nationwide, because there's a big decision they have to make before the end of June. There's a hearing coming up.

TOOBIN: That's right. And the fact that seven justices let these marriages proceed really does seem like a signal. Justice Thomas even said that in his opinion, that it sure looks like they are going to order same-sex marriage in all 50 states but they haven't done it yet.

BORGER: You know, when the issue came before the Supreme Court, it seems that people arguing for same-sex marriage were asking the court to do a really heavy lift here.

But what's intervened is that American public opinion has shifted so dramatically. The states have moved so dramatically towards same-sex marriage that it may not even be an issue for the court but certainly in the political arena. It may take it off the table, at least in the Republican primary.

BLITZER: Look at this map -- Jeffrey, look at this map. You see more than 30 -- I think 37 states now --

TOOBIN: Thirty-seven states.

BLITZER: -- plus the District of Columbia, they allow same-sex marriage to go forward and what you're saying is you suspect the Supreme Court will allow it to go forward nationwide and that can happen in the next few months. TOOBIN: And the politics have changed so dramatically. In 2004, Karl

Rove got on the ballot in swing states, voter initiatives, so that he could drive turnout -- he thought that bringing same-sex marriage vote would drive turnout to the Republicans. By 2012, Mitt Romney hardly even raised it at all. And I think, based on my reporting, the Republicans want to his issue to go away.

BORGER: Right. And, you know, it's very much a generational issue, what may have worked ten years ago on the issue of same-sex marriage is not going to work anymore because generationally, it's kind of off the table and I think the Supreme Court is bowing to the demographic and the reality.

BLITZER: Look at how attitudes have changed. Remember, six years ago when President Obama was running for president of the United States, he was opposed to same-sex marriage. Look how that has changed.


BLITZER: Very quickly, you have a major article in "The New Yorker" on the governor of New York.

TOOBIN: Andrew Cuomo, who is not running for president, not this time and probably ever -- a very complicated figure, very unusual politician, very different from his father, not a great order but someone who has got a lot done in New York state and he's not someone who likes to interact with other people very often, but he believes in deeds not words, it's been pretty effective. And that's --

BORGER: And his father was the opposite. His father used to hug you with his words and his arms.

TOOBIN: Andrew always says he doesn't like dime-store psycho analysis about him and his father. But there's plenty to be done.

BLITZER: It's an excellent article. I recommend it to our viewers. Guys, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.