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U.S. to Analyze ISIS Computers Seized in Raid; Amtrak Installs Speed Controls; Tornadoes Roar Across Plains. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2015 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: New speed controls are being installed as it prepares to restore full service in the Northeast.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It's Sunday. I know you want to be outside but there are severe storms. Look at this monster tornado that touched down in Oklahoma. There were more reported in eight other states. And today, that threat of more wicked weather is kicking in again.

Despite all of that, we want to wish you a good morning on this Sunday, and let you know we're so grateful to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: Certainly are. I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

PAUL: Yes. So, let's begin this morning with this new information on the daring U.S. mission to capture ISIS commander Abu Sayyaf. The U.S. now has computers seized in the raid, loaded with data on how ISIS operates. They communicate how they earn its money.

Over the next few days, officials are going to be analyzing that data, and also, an FBI-led high value interrogation group is interrogating his wife Umm Sayyaf, to find out more about ISIS hostage-taking operations.

BLACKWELL: And this operation was led by the Army's Delta Force. It had been planning this since March. Now, we have been pulling together our sources and learning exactly how this went down. Watch.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): The ground operation was led by the Army's Delta Force who entered the target area on Blackhawk helicopters and V-22 tilt rotor Osprey. After landing, about two dozen commandoes scrambled off the aircraft which then took off but hovered overhead. During a firefight, ISIS fighters defended the multi-story building from inside and outside positions. But Special Forces were able to get close to the building and blow a hole in its side. They went in, encountered ISIS fighters and there were more gunshots and reports of hand-to-hand combat.

The ISIS combatants apparently tried to use human shields, but U.S. troops managed to kill the fighters without hurting the women and children. ISIS commander Abu Sayyaf was killed in the raid, but Delta Force was able to capture and lead with his wife Umm Sayyaf and an unidentified Yazidi woman they rescued, along with collected communication gear.


BLACKWELL: All right. Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty at the White House. Jomana Karadsheh in Amman, Jordan.

And, Sunlen, I want to start with you.

We heard from the National Security Council. We've also heard from the secretary of defense that was yesterday immediately after the announcement. But larger Washington, what are we hearing about this mission?


The administration has been characterizing this kill as a significant blow to ISIS. But some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are questioning, throwing a little cold water on the significance of this one man who the U.S. is calling Abu Sayyaf really is, and there are a lot of questions about what exactly happened on this mission, including what his real name is.

Now, one of the top Democrats in the House Intel Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, he says that we should be under no illusion that any one mission can have any long-term impact on ISIS. Representative Ed Royce, he's Republican s on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he says what really is key how the U.S. uses that rims of data that they collected at the mission site.


REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: As I understand it, quite a treasure trove of information there with laptops, communications equipment, the cellphones, that might allow us to find out who offshore is also funding is when you hear about money coming in from other countries into ISIS.


SERFATY: And some congressional leaders were briefed on this mission on Friday, ahead of time, and we are also told that there will be additional congressional briefings coming up this week -- Victor and Christi.

BLACKWELL: What about some concerns from some lawmakers that not only is ISIS not on the defensive, but that ISIS might be gaining grounds in Iraq?

SERFATY: Well, that's exactly right, Victor, and that's what we saw coming from many of the lawmakers, reactions noting that, at the same time, ISIS seems to be making significant gains in the city of Ramadi and that was something that Speaker of the House John Boehner noted in his statement. He said, of course, this one mission is good news, but he went on to say, quote, "I remain gravely concerned by ISIL's assault on Ramadi, that threatens the stability and sovereignty of Iraq which is vital to America's interests.

And on Friday, the White House did announce plans that they will expedite weapon shipments to Iraq and that came from a call communicated by Vice President Joe Biden to the Iraqi prime minister.

BLACKWELL: Yes, important highlight that none of these operations or decisions happens in a vacuum. Sunlen Serfaty at the White House for us -- thank you.

PAUL: Jomana Karadsheh, let's bring you in now.

Is the death of Abu Sayyaf, as the U.S. characterizes it, a big blow to ISIS? And why do you think we have not heard a response from ISIS yet?

JOMANA KARADSEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi, we have to wait from the response of ISIS, that will be key. We have seen the group in the past admit when it has been dealt major blows, when it has lost high ranking members of the group. So, that will be key, keeping an eye on that, of course. But also hear questions who Abu Sayyaf is.

[07:05:01] Up until the announcement yesterday about this raid taking place, most ISIS experts in this region and people who have covered ISIS over the past couple of years, really had not heard of Abu Sayyaf until then. Now, of course, the name could be his non de guerre here, or it could be meaning father of Sayyaf as it translates into Arabic.

So, it's really unclear who he is and what role he played in the organization. He definitely is not one of the names that we have heard or we have known to be on a wanted list of sorts. That has raised some sort of speculation among ISIS experts saying were there any intended targets of this operation, and he also happened to be there and also targeted in this operation?

Of course, very key is what intelligence the U.S. manages to gather from this, from the computers, from documents, whatever that was seized on this raid that will give them possibly insight into the group, what it is up to and the structure of the organization and whether this individual senior leader as the U.S. describes him, had contact with other senior leaders within the organization.

But, of course, as we have seen in the past, these organizations, terror organizations, whether it was al Qaeda in the past, or ISIS in this case, they are very sophisticated and adaptable, and the loss of one leader or one key figure does not mean a defeat for the group. It means that they are replaceable in most cases as we have seen in the past.

PAUL: All right. Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk more about Abu Sayyaf. Again, there isn't much that's known about his real identity, but here is what we know so far -- an ISIS commander also goes by the name according to a U.S. official of Abu Muhammad al Iraqi, and Abd al Ghani. A Tunisian citizen overseeing ISIS' oil and gas operations; also involved in terror group's military operations and hostage-taking operations.

Let's bring in retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling who has been with us all morning.

General, one thing that stands out to me and I'll let you weigh in on if there is great importance here, but if the Pentagon, if the National Security Council, when they release these statements, if they know the man's real name, why not just release it? If he is that valuable, who he is?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It gives information to our enemies. I know that sounds ridiculous and I know everyone wants to get more information, exactly what does this guy do and exactly who does he work with and how much affect does he have on the organization and how is he going to be replaced? I mean, I've watched the flurry of questions being presented by both the private sector, our members of Congress and media on this thing. But, truthfully, you gain a lot by having the upper hand on intelligence when other people don't know what you have.

So, I think the next few months, the next few days especially, in terms of the intelligence gathering and the sifting through information that was located at the scene, are going to be critical. And not everything can be released or should be released to the public for public consumption. This is a continual unraveling of an organization and you have to keep some things in a classified realm so you can go after other people.

I would suggest there are going to be a lot of targets that are going to be resulting from this raid and I wouldn't want to give those who might be targets the information that they have been found on these computers. You want to go after it, get more data so you can further execute the desired end state of the campaign.

BLACKWELL: You know, I wonder -- and as a journalist, I always want to know -- but if this was successful and there were no serious injuries we hear anecdotally from a source that one of the commando suffered some bloody knuckles, but there no serious injuries, no fatalities, why release the details? If there are so many Delta Force operations that are never released, this had no fatalities of U.S. servicemen. Why release it?

HERTLING: Well, that's a big question and I would say you shouldn't. But I'm kind on the other side of the reporter where I would like to continue to execute the campaign and get more information. I had to smile yesterday at all of the commentary about the bloody knuckles and hand-to-hand combat. I got to tell you, there are no missions at all where you can go in and out of an operation like this that has this much carnage and firepower where you're not going to get something bloody, your knuckle or something.

But to relate that to a hand-to-hand fight, I mean, we conjure images of people wrestling on the ground and stabbing each other and, truthfully, probably what happened the guy skinned his knuckles. But the first five minutes of a Delta Operation is extremely intense. There's no room for knuckle fights. It is an intense kinetic operation and it's just the way these guys work.

But the American public -- remember, Victor -- only 1 percent of America serves in some part of the military.

[07:10:06] So 99 percent of the American public is enthralled by this kind of operation, they want to learn more. They're curious about it. And in fact, some of the information should just be kept secret.

BLACKWELL: All right. Retired General Mark Hertling, thank you so much.

HERTLING: You got it.

PAUL: Well, Amtrak scrambling to get the Northeast corridor up and running again. First, it's going to have to beef up safety on that specific stretch of tracks where the deadly derailment happened. How pivotal could this be to stop another incident? What they have in store.

Plus, look at this -- that's one of eight -- yes, eight tornadoes reported in eight states within 24 hours and that thing is a monster, isn't it? Severe weather, oh, buckle down, friends. There is more of it coming.


PAUL: Thirteen minutes past the hour right now.

And Amtrak we know is installing new speed controls today along a stretch of track where a passenger train derailed, killing eight people and injuring more than 200 now.

BLACKWELL: Federal regulators say, until that's done, Amtrak cannot resume full service along the part of the Northeast Corridor where the train derailed on Tuesday. Amtrak must also carry out a risk assessment on all of the curves on the Northeast Corridor and limit a speed limit sign there. It's looking to get all this done by tomorrow, maybe Tuesday, to resume full service.

PAUL: So, let's bring in John Goglia. He's a former board member of the NTSB and transportation expert safety.

John, thank you so much for being with us.

First, we know that Amtrak --


PAUL: Of course. Amtrak is under this order to put new speed control breaks on the Northeast Corridor, but the system is already on the southbound tracks. Why would it not have been installed elsewhere?

GOGLIA: Well, the risk assessment for the northbound section of track just assumed the risk was low because he was coming out of a station going slow and that he wouldn't have the same risk that is associated with the southbound track, because the southbound track has a long straightaway coming into it with a very high speed limit on it.

[07:15:15] So when they were putting these intra-measures in, it was deemed that the risk was lower on the northbound side of the track. Maybe that risk assessment wasn't proper or the factors weren't considered, but that's what they did.

PAUL: OK. So knowing this, are there routes on your radar that raise red flags elsewhere about the safety of Amtrak?

GOGLIA: Oh, I think Amtrak's safety record has been improving. In my days at the NTSB, we had lots of accidents with Amtrak and lots of fatalities. So, it has been improving. Now, there is room for additional improvement for sure.

PAUL: But there are --

GOGLIA: But here's nothing that pops out --

PAUL: OK, nothing that pops out to you?

GOGLIA: Nothing that pops out at the moment.

PAUL: But if there are these places there might be some vulnerability as we talk about this particular corridor, what makes them problematic and risky?

GOGLIA: Well, because it's high-speed rail and we are trying to run it on rail lines that were designed a hundred years ago, there are turns in there that wouldn't exist, say, in Europe. If you've ridden the TGV in France, you notice no sharp turns in that track at all, but they had benefit of laying out their tracks after the World War II where we had more knowledge about high speed travel and that they took the land before the land was developed.

In the Northeast Corridor, it's very, very difficult to find another way around Philadelphia or in New York, we go underground. We are going to have to reassess on how we put our train stops in and around high density metropolitan areas.

PAUL: Sure. And when you talk about a hundred years ago, why do you think it hasn't been reassessed earlier, before now?

GOGLIA: Well, they have been reassessing it as an ongoing activity, but there's not much they can do about it. So, that's --


PAUL: Why is that? Is it funding? What is it that is keeping them from doing more?

GOGLIA: Of course, it's funding. Amtrak has never received the funding that it needs and it's also the land. Nobody wants to put a train track in their neighborhood and if you're going to reposition these train tracks, you're going to receive tremendous amount of pushback from the communities and you get the travelers that want the train to get there quickly.

So, it's a real balancing act trying to satisfy a whole bunch of folks with interests that are difficult to satisfy.

PAUL: So, knowing all of this, how confident are you in the overall safety?

GOGLIA: I ride the trains. I still would ride the trains. I think the risk is really low. But there is a risk in all transportation. A risk when you fly. It's a bigger risk when you drive.

So, I mean, we take risks every day.

PAUL: When you talk about how you might have to reposition things, when you're talking about reassessment, why do they have to be repositioned necessarily? Why can't they just improve what they have, where it is?

GOGLIA: Well, that's what is going to happen. They are going to improve on it on the existing track bed. They are going to improve on it.

But the absolute best option would be to have a new track, new layout of the track that has more sweeping turns. It doesn't make a right turn very quickly. It's sweeping turn, much like a NASCAR track. I mean, you're not going to tip the train over but you're going to have to have a wide sweeping turn because we know the trains want to go over a hundred miles an hour.

People will travel more in that corridor if the trains are reliable, which they have proven to be lately -- on time reliability, I'm talking about. And they can get there safely. So we need to, as a society, we need to take a look at that and how we want to handle it. Do we want these trains to stop -- and the politicians want the trains to stop in their cities --

PAUL: OK, I got you.

GOGLIA: -- all the time because they want to move the people.

PAUL: Former board member of the NTSB and transportation safety expert John Goglia -- John, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate your voice on this.

GOGLIA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Some of the GOP contenders for 2016 spent the weekend in Iowa, taking jabs at how much the Clintons have made last year. But with her own visit to Iowa this week, what does Hillary Clinton need to do to get the focus off the big explosion this weekend, her cash, and back on her candidacy?


[07:24:15] PAUL: We want to give you a look at some of the other stories that are developing right now.

BLACKWELL: Police in Washington, D.C. are looking for this man in connection with a house fire that killed four people. There are lots of twists and turns to this story but officers believe the four bodies found inside this house are a wife, husband, son, and their housekeeper. And they say that all of the victims suffered various traumatic injuries.

PAUL: Look at this wedge tornado as it's called. It barely fits the screen here. This is raging across Elmer, Oklahoma, where it was over the night. It just one of 28 twisters reported throughout the country's mid-section. The storms damaged buildings, yanked up trees, trampled cars.

Here's the good news, nobody was seriously injured. However, much of that region, we have to tell you, get ready for more of what you're seeing here today, more severe weather up ahead.

[07:25:07] BLACKWELL: A really close encounter with wildlife at Yellowstone National Park took a dangerous turn for a teenager. A 16- year-old exchange student from Taiwan was gorged by a bison while posing for a photo. It happened when she turned her back on the animal, on the path near Old Faithful. Her injuries are serious, but, fortunately, not life-threatening.

All right. We are continuing to follow two developing stories. Top story this morning on NEW DAY: what Amtrak is installing at the site of the deadly train derailment it hopes to improve safety on the tracks.

PAUL: Plus, an ISIS commander killed during a raid in Syria. What we know now about this man the U.S. claims was that he was behind money and oil ISIS used to finance its terror operations.


BLACKWELL: Bottom of the hour now. Thanks for staying with us on NEW DAY.

And we've got new details about the U.S. raid that killed an ISIS commander identified by U.S. official as Abu Sayyaf. Now, this operation was led by the U.S. Army's Delta Force.

PAUL: Yes, and had been in the planning stages as we know since March.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has the details for us.

Good morning, Nick.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And besides not particularly well known in terms of ISIS leadership circles, a name who the United States say was behind the money, was behind the oil, was used to make ISIS so much of its money and was increasingly involved in their military operation. We don't know his real name.