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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Helicopter Missing, Six Marines Aboard; New Aftershock Follows Deadly 7.3 Earthquake; Kerry: 'Frank' Talk with Putin on Ukraine, Syria; ISIS Using the 'Dark Web' as a Weapon; ISIS Named U.S. Military Bases as Targets. Aired 5-6:00p ET
Aired May 12, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, U.S. helicopter down. Six Marines are missing after their aircraft disappears during a humanitarian mission. An urgent search is now underway.
Another earthquake just two weeks after thousands died in a massive upheaval. A second powerful quake rocks the top of the world. Near Mt. Everest, the U.S. is again trying to rush aid to hard-hit Nepal.
And the dark Web. ISIS uses the vast secret depths of the Internet to recruit fighters and incite attacks. How the U.S. is scrambling right now to hunt down terrorists in the far reaches of cyberspace.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We begin with the breaking news. The U.S. military helicopter carrying eight people, six U.S. Marines and two soldiers from Nepal, is now missing. The UH-1 Huey helicopter like the one seen here was on an earthquake relief mission in Nepal when the crew radioed there was some kind of fuel problem. This happened amid the chaos and the devastation of a second major earthquake in Nepal.
The magnitude 7.3 quake has claimed dozens of lives and destroyed buildings that withstood an even more powerful quake just over two weeks ago.
Thanks to CNN global resources, we have crews in Nepal as well as correspondents and experts across the United States to bring you all of today's major news.
U.S. Senator James Risch, he's a top member of the intelligence committee. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll take our questions.
First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the latest on the search for the missing U.S. helicopter -- Barbara. STARR: Wolf, at this hour we are just learning from top military
officials no distress call was made by the U.S. helicopter. It was out of contact for two hours. At that point, the Pentagon declared the helicopter missing, knowing it did not have any fuel left.
The question at this hour is this. Did the pilot run into a fuel problem and simply put the helicopter down in a remote mountainous area, and they cannot get a message out? Their communications gear not able to get past the high mountains in Nepal? Or did something more dire happen here? Was there some sort of crash?
What we do know is there have been several reports of a helicopter seen in the area. They put other aircraft into the air for about 90 minutes when those reports first emerged, trying to search for it. They did not find it. Night fell. They had to call off the air search. It will resume at first light, a short time from now, in Nepal.
But I can also tell you overnight, members of the Nepalese army have been on foot, in the dark, trying to make their way to where they think the helicopter might be.
Six United States Marines, two Nepalese on the helicopter. They were delivering relief supplies to villages when they lost radio contact. It was apparently an Indian helicopter flying nearby that picked up radio chatter from the Americans that they had fuel problems.
There is no sign of a crash at this hour. The Pentagon is hopeful. But the bottom line is right now, the search, the hunt goes on.
BLITZER: There are about 300 American military personnel serving this humanitarian mission in Nepal right now, is that right?
STARR: That's right. About 300 Marines in Nepal. There are a couple of hundred additional military personnel a bit further back in Thailand. The airspace in Nepal, the ramp space at the airport very crowded as international relief flights land round the clock from around the world trying to help the people of Nepal.
So the U.S. is sending in its aircraft, the big fixed-wing transport planes, to the airport in Kathmandu, unloading them very fast, turning them around, sending them back to Thailand. So there are now 700 military personnel involved in the mission, about 300 Marines and a couple of dozen U.S. Army Special Forces on the ground in Nepal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you.
Today's new earthquake in Nepal left dozens of people dead and at least 1,000 people injured. The situation already is dire because of the massive quake last month that killed at least 8,000 people, injured at least 17,000 others.
CNN's Brian Todd is over at the U.S. Geological Survey outside Washington, D.C., where scientists are monitoring global earthquakes. What are you picking up over there, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, seismologists here have been tracking earthquakes for more than four decades. They have working size monitors here, all of the latest technology. These experts say the chances of an earthquake this size occurring just two weeks after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake are less than 1 percent. Odds that bring even more pain and heartache to the people of Nepal who had already been reeling for 17 days.
[17:05:14] TODD (voice-over): Still recovering from the last one. Another massive earthquake today in Nepal causes more buildings to collapse. Dozens of fresh casualties. In Kathmandu and nearby, residents felt that all-too-familiar wave of fear: violent shaking, structures cracking.
SONY SOUTHERS, VOLUNTEER IN KATHMANDU: I think it's a really big hit on earthquake. Because the walls are cracked. And everything moving like that, that will fall again. That's the thing right now.
TODD: People scrambling to the streets, desperate to reach safety.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to go to my home. My little (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'm worried for my family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just ran here. I was very scared at the time.
TODD: This landslide in the mountains caught on video by medical teams. Victims in remote areas near the epicenter will be particularly hard for aid workers to reach.
It's just over two weeks since the devastating 7.8 magnitude quake that killed over 8,000 people. Relief workers say this event is a major setback for recovery efforts. One of their biggest worries: survivors who lost their homes or don't want to risk sleeping in a building are now returning to makeshift camps or to the streets where they're exposed.
DAVID MUNOZ, WORLD VISION: The danger is that, well, the monsoon is coming, rains are coming. So people would have to sleep with rainy days. But also children are -- they could be bitten by mosquitos. And there are too many other allergies (ph) or things in the streets that could make the children really, really vulnerable.
TODD: Seismologist Mike Blanpied from the U.S. government's chief agency that monitors earthquakes says this event, despite its size and time separation from the first one in Nepal, is not considered its own earthquake.
MIKE BLANPIED, SEISMOLOGIST: The most recent one, this magnitude 7.3, occurred here. These are all aftershocks.
TODD (on camera): The 7.3 is an aftershock? BLANPIED: It is a very large, it is the largest aftershock of
this earthquake, at least so far.
TODD: Why is it considered an aftershock and not its own quake after two weeks?
BLANPIED: Well, it certainly is an earthquake. All of these are earthquakes, in and of themselves. But it's an aftershock because it occurred in the area of the original main shock and it's of a smaller size.
TODD: Mike Blanpied says the chances that there will be another aftershock this big or bigger in Nepal are very low, maybe one in several hundred. But he says that area is going to continue to be rattled by very small aftershocks for months. And the people of Nepal have to be ready for them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Brian, I know you spoke earlier today with an aid official on the ground in Kathmandu. He told you he was especially worried about the fate of children there. Tell us what he said.
TODD: Well, it's not only the elements that he said that they're exposed to that he worries about, the rain. The monsoon season is coming. As you saw in our piece, he's worried about the children getting bitten by mosquitos.
But he says about 80 percent of the schools there have been destroyed by this earthquake and the last one. He said kids are not going to school. Parents are often leaving their kids alone as they're trying to, you know, recover and rebuild. So there are a lot of kids wandering around. He says he's really worried about just kind of the unsupervised nature of some of these kids and just their vulnerability to the elements at this point.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. We'll check back with you. Thank you.
It's well before dawn over in Nepal right now. Rescue efforts, which began just after the quake hit, will be ramping up once the sun is up. Let's go to Nepal right now where our correspondent Will Ripley is on the ground.
So Will, you've been there now for several hours. What's it like? What are you seeing?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, within the last hour, Wolf, we ourselves felt an aftershock. It was a -- and it was a noticeable jolt. The buildings started shaking around us. We heard the dogs howling, and there were people who were sleeping in sheds lining the street who ran out into the street. And now some of them are taking refuge in their cars.
The Nepal seismologist actually just put out a tweet saying this was a 4.2 aftershock and the epicenter was right here in Kathmandu. You really do get a sense when you experience something like
this, Wolf, the terror that people are feeling right now and the reason why they don't feel safe to be in their homes two and a half weeks after this earthquake. They've had some 140 aftershocks, four of them just today. And this was a five-story building until the biggest aftershock this afternoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: There were a lot of organizations providing humanitarian assistance, search and recovery, all sorts of aid already on the ground before this huge second earthquake. What's it like over there? Are they competing amongst themselves? Are they coordinating? How well-organized is this humanitarian operation?
RIPLEY: They're certainly trying to coordinate. But it has been a challenge for the government here in Nepal. Not only figuring out which agencies are here and who can help and who can go -- who can go where, but also just getting to the hardest hit areas.
[17:10:07] The epicenter of this large aftershock today is 140 kilometers east of Kathmandu. A lot of the roads are closed. So even getting supplies, getting search crews in there to assess the damage is difficult.
But one official here telling us, Wolf, that they're expecting this death toll to sharply rise as they get into some of these villages and they find more collapsed buildings, newly collapsed buildings like the one behind me.
BLITZER: Will, we understand this is also a race against time, this humanitarian issue right now because of the looming monsoon season. How destructive could that be?
RIPLEY: It's -- it's going to be terrible, Wolf. Yes, the heavy monsoon rains are now just weeks away. And when you have people sleeping outside, when you have debris, searchers trying to go through, trying to clean up, it's really going to complicate the situation.
They don't even have the plans finalized yet for the temporary shelters that they're going to build for these families. Some of them are sleeping in tents. Some are sleeping in sheds. Some of them are sleeping outside with no cover at all. The monsoon season is going to make a bad situation much worse for the people of Nepal.
BLITZER: All right. Will Ripley on the ground. We're going to get back to you. Good luck to all the people over there. This has been a huge, huge disaster in Nepal.
We'll take a quick break. There's other major news we're following right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.
[17:15:57] BLITZER: It's a start, maybe. With U.S.-Russia relations at their frostiest since the Cold War, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, have broken the ice with a face-to-face meeting today. But there's obviously still a very long way to go.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. So Elise, what's the word? Any progress?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the talks were long and intense. Secretary Kerry met with the Russian leader for eight hours, three hours along with President Putin. But progress on many issues that divide U.S. And Russia in short supply. Both Russia and the U.S. tried to accentuate the positive in the face of tensions that have reached an all-time high.
LABOTT (voice-over): John Kerry and Vladimir Putin were all smiles at today's first meeting between a top U.S. official and the Russian leader in two years. The friendly banter marked the deep tensions between the U.S. and Russia, where Putin's support for Russian-backed forces in Ukraine, where a fragile cease-fire is being largely ignored.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe that this fighting, the fighting that is taking place as a result of this on any side, whoever has instigated it, that it has gone on for too long.
LABOTT: The meeting comes as Russia has grown more aggressive in the region, with air incursions that have rattled its European leaders like this one, as British fighter jets scrambled to intercept a Russian bomber in the skies near Great Britain.
The president's (ph) move sparking fear of a new Cold War. In protest Kerry and other European leaders boycotted Putin's parade this weekend. A massive display of power marking the Russian victory in World War II. And even before Kerry touched down in Sochi, Moscow blasted the U.S. for isolating Russia.
Today over a basketful of Russian produce, the fruitful talk turned to cooperation. Kerry started the day at a World War II memorial with the foreign minister.
KERRY: A very powerful reminder of the sacrifices that we shared to bring about a safer world and of what our nations can accomplish when our peoples are working together towards the same goal.
LABOTT: After working together to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, the U.S. now wants Russian help to stop Syrian President Bashar al Assad from using chlorine gas against his people.
And with Assad's forces losing on the battlefield, cut support for the Syrian leader all together to put an end to the civil war.
The U.S. also needs Russia's help to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. And wants Putin to cancel the sale to Tehran of a sophisticated air defense system which could lead Iran to drive a harder bargain at nuclear talks.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LABOTT: There was no evidence of any breakthroughs on Syria and
on Iran. The Russian foreign minister promised to move ahead with the delivery of that controversial air defense system to Tehran.
But both sides did agree to work more closely on trying to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Kerry hinted that, if Russia cooperated with implementing a stalled peace plan reached in February, some of those sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European lifted -- European Union could be lifted. Which that is something that Russia is really looking for, those sanctions starting to bite.
BLITZER: Secretary Kerry wants to reset that relationship. Let's see if he can achieve that if the Russians are willing to cooperate.
Elise, thanks very much.
The attack on a controversial Prophet Mohammed event in Texas casts a spotlight on the vast hidden depths of the Internet used by ISIS for recruiting, fundraising and incitement. Now the United States is scrambling to hunt down terrorists in the far reaches of cyberspace.
[17:20:11] Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been taking a closer look into this story. What are you finding out, Barbara?
STARR: Well, Wolf, this is a world where SEAL Team Six and Delta Force cannot help. Thousands of people may be online with ISIS in this country. It's a threat of unprecedented magnitude.
STARR (voice-over): ISIS, still undefeated after months of bombing, has entered a new phase, using the cyber world as a weapon. The recent ISIS inspired attack in Garland, Texas, was carried out after gunman Elton Simpson publicly posted this tweet on the Internet using the hashtag #Texasattack.
Now new online threats are forcing the Pentagon to confront a secret Internet most of us never see in a place most of us have never been. The dark or deep Web.
The U.S. believes ISIS and others are now using the most covert part of the online world to recruit fighters, share intelligence, and potentially plan real-world attacks. Think of the entire Internet as an iceberg.
LILIAN ABION, RAND CORPORATION: Everything above the water is what we would call the surface Web or what can be indexed by Google. But below the water, that huge iceberg, that's the deep Web. That's the part of the Web that's not indexed. There's so much of the Web that can can't just Google for.
STARR: Making it tough to crack, but researchers are finding portals to get inside. IDO WULKEN, SIMULATION SOFTWARE AND TECHNOLOGY: What we've found
is a website on the dark net, one of the references to the website, a few of the reference to the website, was that it is an ISIS-funding website.
STARR: Pentagon scientists plan to go in and chase ISIS down.
CHRIS WHITE, DARPA PROJECT MANAGER: We need the technology to discover where that content is and make it available for analysis.
STARR: That military technology, known as MEMEX, acts as a unique search engine, seeing patterns of activity on the dark web and websites not available via traditional routes like Google or Bing.
WHITE: MEMEX allows you to characterize how many websites there are and what kind of content is on them.
STARR: Hiding on the Web has become easier with tools like Tor, a browser that bounces communications around the world, keeping anyone from knowing what sites you visit and where you are located, basically making you invisible.
ABION: You can use Tor either to go to normal websites like CNN.com, or to go to what's called special hidden services.
STARR: An ISIS militant could be in Texas, but a message is routed to Paris, to Istanbul, and then finally to Syria, making it difficult to track users.
WHITE: Young people are posting about ISIS-related topics.
STARR: MEMEX will start by tracking the places where ISIS is active online. A difficult hunt through unchartered territory, where terrorists have been lurking far too long.
STARR: And of course, the dark Web means if ISIS can master it, they can potentially plan real attacks faster than the U.S. can track them down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. Good report.
Let's discuss what's going on with the Republic Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator Risch, thanks very much for coming in.
How big of a deal is this so-called dark Web? Because it sounds so ominous, especially if these guys -- ISIS, al Qaeda, other terror groups -- use these sophisticated encryption devices to hide what they're doing.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: It does have a name that is scary to begin with. But look, this has been going on for a couple of years. It's been gaining momentum; it's been maturing. And it really shouldn't surprise anyone. It's kind of a natural progression of where the Web is going.
I differentiate between the deep Web and the dark Web, in that one is more sophisticated than the other.
BLITZER: Explain the difference between the deep Web and the dark Web.
RISCH: Well, Deep Web is not nearly as sophisticated as the dark Web is. It's easier to penetrate. The portals are easier to find. It's easier to get to. Then from there, of course, they went to the dark Web. And once they're past that and people penetrate it, I'm sure they'll -- they'll establish something that they can do further with.
But look, we've got people that are experts in this. We can chase the rabbit down the hole, whatever hole it goes down. But sometimes it does take some time.
I think what's important to remember is this is only one aspect, only one tool we have in the box of chasing the lone wolves or the other types of things that are out there, that could threaten America. So it is serious. It's of concern. But it's not something that's being ignored, and it's not something that is brand-new to us.
[17:25:02] BLITZER: Is it one of the reasons why the U.S. military, all military installation bases around the country have gone now to this higher state of alert, this bravo station, because of the so-called deep Web or dark Web, what's going on there, if ISIS is trying to inspire terrorists or would-be terrorists to go out there and kill Americans?
RISCH: I think it's because of the deep Web or the dark Web. I think it's because of the content. What we saw immediately surrounding the attack in Texas, particularly right before that was a call by ISIS to have certain attacks that people who are inspired by them should accomplish, lone-wolf attacks in the United States, and they specifically named some military bases, specifically identified some military bases.
BLITZER: Military bases in the United States?
RISCH: In the United States, that's correct.
BLITZER: And so how many did they specifically name? Because we haven't heard any public announcements of, you know, Fort Bragg or Fort Campbell or Fort Stewart or any place like that.
RISCH: A couple of them won't for a little bit but eventually will. But there were at least a couple of them that were specifically identified. There's been an uptick in security in all of the bases. But there were a couple of them that were -- that were targeted.
BLITZER: We know that they specifically named about 100 U.S. military personnel. They posted their names, their addresses, their pictures, stuff like that. This is the first time hearing that they actually made a direct threat against the U.S. military base in the United States.
RISCH: And the threat was, in a general sense -- that is, they didn't identify any specific individual, take a specific weapon at a specific time and go there. What they're trying to do is inspire people in the United States that are motivated, like the two people in Texas.
BLITZER: So the two -- two or three bases that were specifically named, are they still at bravo or have they gone up to a higher, a higher security threat level?
RISCH: Probably can't go there on this. But those are classified things as to what the level is. But it's been open source reported that all of the security has been stepped up because of this.
BLITZER: At all of these bases around the country.
RISCH: All of them.
BLITZER: So here's the question. The people, the military personnel, the civilian personnel at these two or three bases that were specifically targeted, have they been told?
RISCH: Of course.
BLITZER: They have been told?
RISCH: They have been told.
BLITZER: The commanders have been told.
BLITZER: So then, presumably, they've gone to a little higher security threat level than just bravo.
RISCH: Presumably. When -- our intelligence community is very good. When they uncover specific information like this, they're right on it. Just as they were in Dallas.
BLITZER: Outside Dallas in Garland, Texas. And specifically was this threat from ISIS? Was it from al Shabaab? Was it from al Qaeda? Do we know who this threat was from?
RISCH: The ISIS are the people that are claiming it, and probably, that's as good of an identification as you can get.
BLITZER: All right. Senator, stand by. We have more to discuss. Senator Risch is with us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. Much more coming up right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the Republican senator, James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
[17:32:42] We heard Representative Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs, House Homeland Security Committee, saying these terror threats are seen on an almost daily basis, his words. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson saying these so-called lone wolves could strike, in his words, at any moment. How serious of a threat is there right now?
RISCH: Well, there is a serious threat right now. And we just learned that after what happened in Texas. And you do your best. The intelligence community does it best to try to uncover these. But this is serious.
And you and I talked about it when it was happening overseas, and at that time it was relatively predictable that it was going to happen here; and it did happen here. And right now, these things are continuing, and they're monitored by the intelligence community.
BLITZER: ISIS is a threat, obviously a major threat to the United States, the friendly governments in the Middle East but also in Europe, even to Russia for that matter. We see Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow today. He's meeting with Putin, with Lavrov, the foreign minister. Is there a sense -- do you get a sense that Russia will cooperate with the United States in this fight against ISIS?
RISCH: Sometimes. They -- we have a mixed relationship with Russia, as you know. And when it's in their best interests, yes, they will cooperate. We saw with -- remember the Boston bombers from the marathon, there were some exchanges going back and forth on that, not nearly what we needed. But they were in a cooperative mood.
BLITZER: Were or were not?
RISCH: Well, they were, I think. But what you have to remember is they have their own problems with terrorism. If you look at the terrorist attacks that they have in Russia, they have the Chechnyan [SIC] issue there, and they have very radical Islamic people there who have the same view towards Russia as ISIS does towards other western countries.
BLITZER: Can Kerry reset this relationship between the United States and Russia? Now for the first time in two years, Putin actually received a high-level American in Russia.
RISCH: I wouldn't -- look, this is a heavy lift. A very heavy lift for John Kerry. And they should try. There's no question about it. But the Russians are very difficult to deal with. They deal with you when it's in their best interests.
But look, it's no secret that they love to antagonize America, and they do it from time to time. They do it in ways that they know will antagonize...
[17:35:05] BLITZER: They know the U.S. doesn't like this air defense missile shield system they want to sell to Iran.
RISCH: That's a huge deal. Not just for the United States. That's a huge deal for Israel.
BLITZER: Why is that?
RISCH: Well, because those missile defense systems we put in place to protect any of the nuclear structure that they have in Iran. If they start construction of a nuclear weapon, it is going to be protected by the S-300 missiles. Once those are delivered, once those are deployed, that is a game changer for the military option that everyone says is on the table. It is a real game changer.
BLITZER: Russia says they're going ahead with that sale.
RISCH: Well, they said that some time ago. It hasn't happened yet. Kerry is going to be talking to them about that, and I'm sure they'll have discussions about whether they actually do -- we stopped it once before at the request of the United States. The Russians stopped it once before. And I think it needs to be underscored to the Russians what a big deal this is.
And this isn't just antagonism that they're jabbing us with. This is a for real, honest to goodness, substantive move that can cause some real disruption in the neighborhood.
BLITZER: How big of a deal is it that the Saudi king at the last minute, literally, decided not to come to this Camp David summit with other gulf Arab states to Washington?
RISCH: Well, you know, you've seen the speculation on both sides. But -- but look, the Saudis are not happy with the negotiations that are going on with Iran over the nuclear deal. They are not as vocal about it, perhaps, as Israel is or as vocal about it as some of us are in the United States Senate.
But I can tell you, having met with them, they are very, very unhappy. Whether it had anything to do with that or not, I certainly wouldn't want to speculate on it. But that's there, along with other issues that are there.
BLITZER: It's not just the Saudis. It's the UAE, Bahrain, several of these other Sunni countries in the Gulf. They're not very happy about the prospect of a nuclear deal with Iran either, right?
RISCH: Wolf, I meet with these people all the time. And they aren't as vocal publicly as Israel is or as other countries are. But I can tell you there is, there is real -- people are very, very concerned there about how these things are going forward and what it's going to mean, and what it's going to mean to them. If indeed this agreement results in a path forward for the Iranians, every other country that you've just mentioned is going to have to look for a path forward themselves.
BLITZER: We had the foreign minister, the new foreign minister of Saudi Arabia here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, Adel al-Jubeir. He's not ruling out the possibility that Saudi Arabia, if necessary, if they hate this deal, if they think there's a threat, that they'll move ahead with a nuclear weapon of their own. RISCH: Personally, I think that's what happens.
BLITZER: Senator Risch, thanks very much for coming in.
Coming up, White House and intelligence officials are now reacting strongly to reports questioning the president's account of that raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
[17:42:41] BLITZER: So did the United States really hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden on its own? The administration and the intelligence community, they are reacting very strongly to a new report questioning the president's account of the raid on that secret compound in Pakistan. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is looking into the story for us.
What are you finding out, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've spoken to U.S. intelligence officials, and they tell me that the U.S. did have, quote, "valuable sources" within Pakistan prior to the bin Laden raid. However, they tell me that no walk-in from Pakistani intelligence or the Pakistani government led to bin Laden's location in that Abbottabad compound.
The administration maintains it was Osama bin Laden's courier that ultimately led them to the al Qaeda leader.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): It's the most heralded military operation of his presidency. And today, administration officials on pushback, continuing to dismiss reports the true story of the bin Laden raid was not as the president said that night four years ago.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can report to the America people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda.
SCIUTTO: A new version of events first reported by journalist Seymour Hersh and later by NBC News turns the narrative upside-down. They claim a member of Pakistan's intelligence service approached the CIA, revealing where Osama bin Laden was hiding a year before the raid. A blockbuster claim that Pakistan, a U.S. ally, knew where he was hiding all along.
A U.S. intelligence official tells CNN the U.S. did have, quote, "valuable sources within Pakistan." However, no walk-in source led to bin Laden's location in the Abbottabad compound.
Hersh also claims that Pakistan later helped the U.S. go after him, something the administration has vehemently denied.
SEYMOUR HERSH, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: The Pakistanis are confronted with the fact that we knew something they didn't want us to know. They had no choice but to cooperate, because we have a lot of economic leverage on that, the generals, and he put a lot of money into Pakistan.
SCIUTTO: A U.S. intelligence official tells CNN, however, quote, "The United States located bin Laden through years of painstaking intelligence work. These new claims do not comport with the historical record."
SCIUTTO: So one more key question: did the U.S. pay the $25 million reward for bin Laden's capture to a source or sources? I'm told that, while some small payments may have been made to some Pakistanis, such as the people who helped track the SUV of bin Laden's courier, there is no source, Wolf, who walked away with that $25 million reward.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you.
Let's dig deeper now with our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, he's a former CIA official, and our national security analyst, Fran Townsend, former Homeland Security adviser to President Bush.
In fact, guys, I want all of you to stand by because we're getting more information right now. Let's take a quick break. We'll begin the conversation right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with our terrorism experts.
[17:50:01] Fran Townsend, you were the Homeland Security adviser under President Bush. Did you ever hear any talk or have any sense that Pakistan was actually aware of where Osama bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan, that he was moved, that the Pakistani government was on top of this situation?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Wolf, the cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistani Intelligence Services was always something of a frustration. Look, it would be one step forward and two steps back. There was no question we would share information prior to conducting a joint operation with them. And it would be clear that the target had been tipped off in advance.
And so we went through some very difficult, frustrating periods with the Pakistanis. We knew the Pakistani Intelligence Services were maintaining ties particularly in the federally administrated tribal areas, and that it was possible that they would get intelligence and that they might or might not share with us about bin Laden and bin Laden's location.
I mean, look, after the raid was successfully conducted we knew from then CIA Director Leon Panetta that he was suspicious the Pakistanis had had specific information about bin Laden's location. And so that they may have known something is not really all that shocking. I think it's ridiculous to think there would have been a walk-in to a U.S. government facility in the region with that kind of information.
It was well-known that the Pakistanis were watching our facilities. Somebody with that sort of information would most certainly not have ever walked into one of our facilities.
BLITZER: Peter Bergen, you've done amazing reporting on all of this. The assertion from Seymour Hersh was that there was cooperation with Pakistan in going after bin Laden in Abbottabad. U.S. officials insist they didn't trust the Pakistanis. They would have never shared the logistics of this operation with them because they fear they would have moved bin Laden out of there in advance.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. And not only that, I mean, the physical evidence and the evidence from eyewitnesses about what happened that night completely contradicts Hersh's assertion that there wasn't really a raid, that there was basically, you know, the Pakistanis cooperated with the SEALs, and the SEALs sort of waltzed in and shot bin Laden.
But you -- I was at the compound. There were multiple bullet holes. It was clearly -- it was a very violent night. Other people than bin Laden were killed. There were four other adults were killed that night. So the idea that there was no firefight there, that, amongst the many, many other claims in this article just is not -- this is not true.
BLITZER: Let me get Phil Mudd's analysis. What do you think, Phil?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Absurd. This guy who wrote this deserves to be in a psychiatrist room, not THE SITUATION ROOM. I've never seen anything that strikes as ridiculous as this article. Not only is the information absurd. If you look at the sourcing chain, most of it depends on an unnamed source who allegedly has access to everything from the Pentagon, the CIA, the White House, the Saudi Royals and the Pakistani military. We call sources like that fabricators in the CIA. This is ridiculous.
BLITZER: The whole story. All right. He is getting a lot of pushback, obviously. Seymour Hersh. Did brilliant reporting years ago. But in this particular story, maybe one or two others more recently, he's been getting a lot of criticism. You saw him here on CNN earlier this week.
Let's talk a little bit, Phil, while I have you, on the urgency of Secretary Kerry's visit to Sochi, Russia today. Met with Putin, met with Lavrov, the foreign minister. Are the Russians going work with the U.S. in dealing with ISIS, for example, in Syria?
MUDD: I think this is going to be really tough. We've seen changes in Syria. There are two in particular. One is obviously what we've seen here in the homeland. One of the reasons I think we need to accelerate conversations about what to do in Syria. And that is the incidents of ISIS-inspired radicalism in the United States. The others happening in Syria. We've seen a more somber tone out of President Bashar al-Assad because he is under pressure.
The insurgents, including the radical Islamists, are making gains. But it's not clear to me that Putin and others in Russia will see this change as significant enough to engage with Kerry, with Secretary Kerry, on a conversation about a serious ally of theirs, and that's Bashar al-Assad.
I think we've got to do something about Syria because it's not only a humanitarian disaster, it's turning out to be a disaster for kids who are being recruited from Syria in American cities. But I'm not sure the Russians are going to cooperate.
BLITZER: And Fran, this homeland security threat right now, some suggesting it's as serious if not even more serious than right after 9/11. Your thought.
TOWNSEND: Oh, listen, Wolf, there is no question. Because of the ability of ISIS and like-minded individuals to use social media platforms to recruit, inspire and to disseminate propaganda, the threat here in the homeland is as real now as it ever has been. And I think we ought to expect that even those only loosely affiliated but have contact through the social media platforms and the Web will take upon themselves to act here inside the homeland.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend, Philip Mudd, Peter Bergen, guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, two weeks after a massive quake killed thousands another powerful upheaval rocks the top of the world near Mount Everest. Look at that building go down.
[17:55:05] Plus the relations in the deep freeze -- with relations in the deep freeze, Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian President Putin, trying to break the ice with a face-to-face meeting.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. U.S. chopper down. A helicopter carrying American Marines on a relief mission disappears. The search efforts are about to resume. Will they find the missing aircraft and the eight people on board?
[18:00:02] More misery. A second massive earthquake strikes Nepal, collapsing buildings that survived the first disaster, and killing dozens more people. Will rescuers reach trapped survivors in time?