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Murder Mystery; Hacking Planes; ISIS in Iraq. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: ISIS flying its black flag in Iraq over another key city.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, ISIS on the move and gaining strength, controlling a city just 70 miles from Iraq's capital Baghdad. The Pentagon says this is just a setback. We will take a reality check.

The national lead. Imagine this. You're flying along at a cruising altitude when a passenger hijacks your plane with his computer, all from the comfort of seat 27C. Sure, it sounds like the plot of a bad movie, but one hacker says he has already done this 15 times.

Plus the Bidens live around the corner, but a posh zip code did not save this family from being brutally beaten before their mansion went up in flames. What happened inside? Police now hoping this hooded figure would help solve the mysterious and tragic murders.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Some breaking news in our world lead, Ramadi has a fallen, the U.S.-led coalition scrambling fighter jets and drones flying eight missions in Ramadi in the last 24 hours, which just 70 miles from Baghdad, has arguably been the epicenter of fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces since last summer, a battle ISIS has now apparently won.

This is the city under siege that chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey said, even if it fell -- quote -- "It's not symbolic in any way." But now that Ramadi is lost to ISIS, what can the American- led coalition do to retake the city?

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon.

Barbara, the Iraqi government now dispatching two brigades to reinforce troops on the outskirts of the city. Is there any real hope right now of retaking Ramadi anytime soon?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jake, the U.S. spent billions of dollars trying to prop up the Iraqi forces. But the question now that Ramadi has fallen is a military question. Can the Iraqis move back in and retake the city before ISIS gets too dug in and too heavily fortified?


STARR (voice-over): Out-gunned by ISIS, faced with waves of fighters and suicide car bombs, Iraqi forces in Ramadi and thousands of residents with no choice but to flee. The Pentagon called it a setback, the Obama administration trying to downplay the loss.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed.

STARR: But ISIS did what the U.S. said it could not do, field a large-scale military attack.

MUHANNAD HAIMOUR, ADVISER TO ANBAR PROVINCE GOVERNOR: There are fierce battles taking place in neighborhoods in the city and popular mobilization units have been ordered by the prime minister to move into Anbar.

STARR: Just 48 hours earlier, a top U.S. military official had suggested Ramadi might be just an ISIS P.R. stunt.

BRIG. GEN. THOMAS D. WEIDLEY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Trying to gain social media gains by taking photos and documenting small-term gains and then using it for propaganda purposes.

STARR: Now ISIS roaming deserted streets, abandoned weapons a sign of hasty retreat. U.S. airstrikes will continue, but no sign yet of Iraqi government forces ready to counterattack, all of this as U.S. intelligence agencies scour computers, cell phones and other intelligence from that weekend raid deep in Eastern Syria.

CNN has learned the target, a man called Abu Sayyaf by the U.S., had been under surveillance since March, when Delta Force commandos flew in, in helicopters to his residence to capture him. They had fresh intelligence indicating he was there. The commandos quickly ran into a firefight and hand-to-hand combat. They blew a hole in the side of the building to get inside. Abu Sayyaf was killed, his wife taken into custody and questioned. U.S. officials say he had critical intelligence on ISIS military plans, finances and hostage operations.

The Obama administration saying it was in touch with families of American hostages previously held by ISIS, but just how important was this ISIS moneyman?

MICHAEL MORELL, FORMER DEPUTY CIA DIRECTOR: Very significant target, a guy who played a very significant role in advancing the interests of ISIS, a guy who was very close to al-Baghdadi, one of al- Baghdadi's senior advisers.


STARR: And a U.S. official tells me that the White House reached out to the American hostage families because they wanted to let them know after the raid was done that they felt they might get some intelligence out of this, that would lead them to more information about the fate of their loved ones -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, thanks.

Here now to talk about the war against ISIS, potential presidential candidate, former Democratic Senator from Virginia and former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb.

Senators, thanks so much for being here.

You heard the Pentagon first said that they couldn't say definitively whether Ramadi had fallen. They suggested that this was just propaganda from ISIS. Now they say that it has fallen, but it does not mean the tide of the campaign has turned. What's your reaction?

JIM WEBB (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We will have to see. I don't know whether this means that ISIS permanently has taken the city or not.

What I see -- first of all, I'm looking at this remembering my son being there a Marine lance corporal in '06-'07 in Ramadi at a time when they had what was called the Sunni Awakening, where al Qaeda had pretty well taken over the Sunni structure in Ramadi, and finally the Sunnis got tired of them. And they were a big part about how that was reversed.

And I think you are probably going to see the same thing long- term here, that we can do what we can do, but the Sunni in the region in Iraq are the ones that are going to get sick of ISIS.

TAPPER: You were one of the few voices in 2002-2003 saying very loudly the U.S. should not go into Iraq. I say one of the few relative to the voices we heard in Washington, D.C. First of all, I'm just wondering what it is like from your perspective now watching Republican presidential candidates scrambling, trying to debate whether or not knowing then what we know now, whether it was the right decision.

It must be odd, given that you were saying back then, don't do this, it's a mistake.

WEBB: Well, we're seeing the reality of what I was saying five months before the invasion, was that -- would be a huge strategic blunder that was going to empower Iran, that was going to enable sectarian violence if Iraq fell apart, and there were going to be terrorist activities that were directed against our own people.

And that is a continuum when you see even now the rise of ISIS. The United States can achieve its strategic objectives in a very precise way without having done what we did at that time, and we can still do that. And another thing I think we really need to be talking about, this is the story that the presidential campaign is missing, is the aggression of China in the South China Sea.

It's a historical example of an expansionist power, and we are not talking about it, and we're not confronting them on it.

TAPPER: Let me just stay with Iraq, because of this news out of Ramadi today.

WEBB: Right.

TAPPER: There are a lot of people in the Republican Party who even, if granting your point that the initial invasion was a mistake, say, OK, but President Obama should not have withdrawn U.S. troops. That created a vacuum that allowed ISIS to thrive. Do you agree with that?

WEBB: Well, I think there were a number of strategic blunders that occurred during the Arab spring, particularly the way we handled the Libyan situation, where we threw the presidency, without coming to Congress, we took out Gadhafi. There were thousands of weapons that were in the storehouses that were freed up, and were thrown around the region.

And I think that has been a good part of what's been going on here, but what you're seeing right now looking at the future of the region is that there be three power centers, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and there's a lot of flux right now. Iran has been empowered by the invasion and the results of both of those decisions, the invasion of Iraq and the Arab spring.

TAPPER: I know that you're contemplating, you have not announced you're running for president, but you're thinking about it, traveling the country, listening to people. I'm just trying to get an idea of whether or not you think Obama withdrawing troops, if you had inherited that situation, would you have withdrawn troops or would you have said, well, this is a mass, and I didn't support it, but we now have to keep some power there, so that something like ISIS...


WEBB: Well, we always have the capability of asserting our national security influence in that part of the world, whether our troops are on the ground or not. I wouldn't want to second-guess that, because he had all the intelligence and information and I did not.

But in terms of the presidential race, I hope we can have these discussions and we're looking in the next few weeks of making a decision. We have been in Iowa. We have been in New Hampshire. I know you want to talk about Iraq, but I just want to be able to say this.

TAPPER: Right.

WEBB: And we're going to South Carolina this weekend.


TAPPER: I know. And we will meet you out there on the campaign trail. But, before you go, I have to ask, you're critical of the

decision to go to war in Iraq, critical of the decision to go in Libya. Those are both things that Hillary Clinton at the time pushed strongly for. Would you trust her as commander in chief?

WEBB: I don't think that's a decision for me to make. I think we can lay out what we believe in front of the American people, and let them decide.

I know what I have -- the experiences that I have had as a serving Marine, five years in the Pentagon, six years in the Senate, and as a journalist. I was in Afghanistan as an embed actually in '04. I was in Beirut when the Marines were there. And they have really affected, I think, my understanding of how we can achieve our national security objectives in a very precise way.


TAPPER: OK. Well, hypothetically, not attaching anybody's name to it, if there were a presidential candidate who supported the war in Iraq in 2002-2003 and also supported this mission in Benghazi, Libya, not attaching names to it, would those decisions, positions cause you to think twice about that decision?

WEBB: Well, I don't think the issue in Libya is Benghazi. I think Benghazi, in some form or another, was inevitable.

I think the decision to go into Libya the way that the president did without coming to Congress was bad for the precedent of how the presidency relates to the Congress. I said it many times before...


TAPPER: So, you're not talking about the mission to stop the slaughter in Benghazi? You mean just going in without congressional approval?

WEBB: Well, no. Yes, I think some sort of Benghazi was inevitable.

We were saying in the congressional hearings before this administration used force in Libya that if you're going to do that, there are no treaties place, no Americans at risk. You need to come to Congress and talk about what it is that you want to accomplish.

And what we did was we blew the lid off of a tribal, a series of tribal engagements. You can't get to the Tripoli Airport right now, much less Benghazi.

TAPPER: Senator Jim Webb, thank you so much. We will see you out there on the campaign trail, should you decide to run, should you, hypothetically. Thank you so much, sir.

And for an even closer look at the war against ISIS, make sure to watch a CNN special report, "Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World." That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern. And tomorrow right here on THE LEAD, we will talk with former

Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He will weigh in on the war on terror and much, much more.

In national news today, police knew there could be trouble, even placing officers ahead of the scene ahead of time just in case. But no one expected the carnage that played out in broad daylight, nine people dead, more than 170 arrested. How did this biker gang fight start and why are police worried that it might not be over?


[16:16:11] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our national lead today: after a horrific tragedy that claimed eight lives, Amtrak passengers were back riding the rails today between Philadelphia and New York City. The first northbound train departed Philadelphia's 30th Street Station shortly after 6:00, arriving 30 minutes late. This comes as FBI investigators are probing what caused Amtrak 188 to go off the track and whether an object struck the train's windshield before it derailed Tuesday night.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins us now live from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.

Rene, at least two other trains reported being struck by projectiles near the crash site. What's the latest from the FBI and NTSB investigators?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVT. REGULATION CORRESONDENT: Well, Jake, I can tell you that we have been all day today speaking to law enforcement as well as government sources, and they are all indicating that at this point, there is a sharp focus on the engineer of this train and how he was handling the train. Also, his experience with this route. Also, just a short time ago, a law enforcement source throwing cold water on this theory that a projectile may have hit train 188. The source telling me that they listened to all of the dispatch audio, heard no mention of train 188 being struck and also interviewed passengers, no indication from that that anything struck the train either.


MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, FBI analysts are examining the crashed Amtrak locomotive now housed at this maintenance site in Delaware, trying to determine if something struck the train moments before it crashed. Meantime, the NTSB says they found no evidence to back up an assistant conductor's claim she heard the engineer say train 188 had been hit.

ROBERT SUMWALT, NTSB: We've interviewed the SEPTA engineer and he did not recall having any conversation between him and the Amtrak engineer. But nevertheless, we do have this mark on the windshield of the Amtrak train, so we certainly want to trace that lead down.

MARSH: Amtrak restored full service today along the busy Northeast corridor. Maneuvering the curve where 188 derailed without problems. Technology called automatic train control is now in place to slow northbound trains before the curve.

(on camera): If they were able to put ATC in over the weekend, some are going to say, well if it was this simple, why not before?

JOSEPH BOARDMAN, AMTRAK CEO: From the north to the south, you're coming from a high rate of speed, 110, down to 50. You had to have it there, but from the south, the maximum speed was 80. And you could get around this corner at 80.

MARSH (on camera): At the crash site, new steel fencing has been put up alongside the tracks, but just a few blocks away -- there's a lot of fencing but might as well not be. This is wide open. You can see the fencing isn't helping or keeping anyone from walking right on the tracks. We're just steps away from the tracks where the deadly derailment happened.

And not far away, yet another open gate. This is what we saw at multiple points along the track. Open access, and no shortage of things to throw either.

(voice-over): Amtrak police officials tell CNN for them securing the rail lines is now priority one.


MARSH: Although investigators are focusing at this point on the engineer and his handling of the train, it does not necessarily indicate anything criminal. In fact, we do know that both police here in Philadelphia, as well as the district attorney's office, they are in a holding pattern, so to speak, waiting to get more definitive information from the NTSB as far as their investigation.

[16:20:01] Also, Jake, I want to add that I just found out a short time ago that a complete review of the black boxes, that has been done. So the NTSB has completed the analysis of that. So far, no indication of mechanical error, but an NTSB source is stressing that it is still too early to rule anything out -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh in Philadelphia, thanks so much.

Let's turn now to our other national lead: in Waco, Texas, where police bracing for more violence after a deadly shoot-out between rival biker gangs Sunday left nine dead and 18 in the hospital. It began in a rest room at the Twin Peaks Restaurant and quickly spilled into the parking lot. More than 170 people arrested and charged, some with capital murder.

Let's right to CNN's Nick Valencia. He is in Waco.

Nick, a police sergeant calling this the most violent and gruesome scene he's ever dealt with in his 35 years on the job. Take us through what happened?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly concerning and shocks especially, Jake, when you consider this happened in the middle of the day on Sunday. What police say happened is in the middle of the afternoon about 12:00 p.m., an argument broke out in the bathroom of the Twin Peaks Restaurant, reportedly over a parking spot that could have been much more.

Things escalated quickly, spilling out into the parking lot, and that's where police were waiting. They had been anticipating trouble. They knew that biker gangs were going to have this meeting. That's why they prepositioned 18 police officers here and a handful of agents from the Department of Public Safety with Texas. They exchanged gunfire with the suspects they say quickly taking control of the situation.

At the end of it, nine people were killed. Many more injured. The situation is still very tense still. A large perimeter has been put around this area with only local law enforcement officials, I should say, as well as media, allowed inside -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick, police keep saying that they're concerned that violence will continue. Why?

VALENCIA: Well, a so-called green light has been given by these biker gangs, according to police, hits, they say, threats towards law enforcement lives, anyone in uniform. They say that these are credible threats. They're not so much concerned about the safety's public as much as they are concerned about law enforcement officials.

However, a spokesman with the Waco Police Department tells me they are ready for whatever happens next and you see local law enforcement and others from state agencies and federal agencies out here in full force -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Valencia in Waco, Texas -- thanks so much.

Coming up, a nightmare scenario for traveling. A hacker taking control of the plane's engines, overpowering the pilot's commands. Now, a man is telling the FBI he did just that.

Plus, a quiet tree-lined street with multimillion dollar mansions -- the scene of a quadruple murder mystery. Police are now searching for this person caught on surveillance video carrying a white object. Who is it?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It sounds like a farfetched Hollywood summer thriller. Planes, controls hacked by a passenger, steered off course. But it's not a movie plot. It's our other national lead today.

A cyber security expert named Chris Roberts claims he successfully commandeered a United Airlines without ever stepping foot inside the cockpit. And an affidavit to the FBI, Roberts claims he hacked into the onboard entertainment system and then managed to get the jet to fly sideways. He says he's trying to expose security vulnerabilities.

CNN's justice correspondent Pamela Brown has been tracking the story and joins us live with the latest.

Pamela, does the FBI think this actually really happened?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you this, Jake. There's some skepticism. In fact, a senior law official I spoke with says there's no credible information to suggest an airplane's flight control system can be accessed or manipulated from its in-flight entertainment system. But the FBI is worried enough that it issued an affidavit, saying agents and technical specialist felt Roberts had the ability to possibly access several of the plane's systems.


BROWN (voice-over): It's an aviation nightmare. A passenger plane in mid-flight makes a surprise move sideways, controlled not by the pilots in the cockpit, but by a passenger seated in the cabin.

This man, Chris Roberts, a cyber security consultant, tells the FBI he did just that to expose aircraft cyber vulnerabilities. In this affidavit, Roberts says he issued a command that, quote, "caused one of the airplane engines to climb, resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane."

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Absolutely a flight crew would notice extraneous input to their airplane, albeit engine controls or flight controls.

BROWN: Roberts claims on multiple occasions he has reached under one of the passenger seats to what's called a seat electronics box, plugged his laptop in through an Ethernet jack and hacked into the in- flight entertainment system, connecting him to the flight and navigation systems.

BRIAN CUNNINGHAM, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT: The very idea that they're making airplanes with these boxes under the seats tat you can hard wire a cable to is mind-boggling to me.

BROWN: The FBI seized Roberts' electronics in April after tweeting about the possibility of activating the oxygen masks on a united flight from Denver to Chicago. Airplane manufacturers are pushing back. Boeing says its aircrafts, in-flight entertainment systems on commercial airplanes, are isolated from flight and navigation systems. But would not explain how the systems are separated.

CUNNINGHAM: If it's only separated by a firewall or piece of software but they're inside the same hardware, then I think that's a much more serious risk.

BROWN: A government report in April warned of potential cyber security risks for airlines, saying technologies including passenger Wi-Fi systems, create, quote, "the possibility that unauthorized individuals might access and compromise aircraft avionic systems."


BROWN: We reached out to United. It says that it is confident that these claims are unfounded.

And we also reached out to Roberts and have not heard back. But in a tweet he says he has been advised against saying anything more, given the current situation, but that his only interest over the last five years has been to improve aircraft security -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Our buried lead, a family is still mourning the death of their loved one now demanding answers after seeing newly released video of him being restrained by police. His head covered with a mask while he repeats over and over again that he cannot breathe.