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Live Anthrax Shipped; Texas Flooding; FBI Undermanned?; Deluged Regions Brace for More Storms; Police Questioning Murdered Father's Driver. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The FBI making a startling admission: The agency just doesn't have enough manpower to stop ISIS here in the U.S.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, a cry for help from the nation's top law enforcement agency to track down ISIS would-be terrorists in the U.S., but even with the help of local police, how can they be stopped with so many recruits already flying under the radar?

Also in national, take a look at this. It's a jaw-dropping look at the sheer force of the floodwaters that have caused so much destruction and death in Texas, claiming more than a dozen lives. Right now, many families fear they may still be in danger, with the threat of more storms on the way.

Also today, he hopped into the cockpit of a private plane with his young son, ignoring air traffic control and crashing the plane. Wait until you hear what police say he was doing before he got behind the controls.

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

We're going to begin today with the national lead and a disturbing and unprecedented admission by the people upon whom we count to protect us from terrorism. The FBI now asking local law enforcement officials for help dealing with the huge surge in ISIS sympathizers here in the U.S. Now, some, of course, are perhaps just online loners looking to belong, but others could potentially be quite dangerous and hell-bent on carrying out an attack in the homeland.

We already have evidence that this is a real problem.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.

Evan, part of this plea for help is an admission that they did not have the man power to stop the shooting outside that cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed contest in Garland, Texas.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're facing -- Jake, they're facing two problems, really. They can't stop what they can't see, and then, secondly, they don't

have enough people to keep an eye on what they say are hundreds of ISIS supporters that they think bear watching. And so what they're turning to, the FBI is turning to, is to local law enforcement.

The NYPD, the LAPD, the Los Angeles Police Department are both increasing their surveillance assets to help the FBI. Jim Comey, the head of the FBI, the director of the FBI, made an appeal, really, to police departments earlier this month on a secure conference call, saying, I need your help, because there's too many of these people.

And, as you said, Garland was really the thing that brought it to mind. We asked Mr. Comey yesterday at a press conference in Brooklyn about this. Here's what he had to say.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Well, it is an incredibly difficult task that we are enlisting all of our state and local and federal partners in, and we're working on it every single day. but I can't stand here with any high confidence, when I confront a world that's increasingly dark to me and tell you that I have got it covered.


PEREZ: And when he says dark to me, what he is talking about is the use of encrypted communications, peer-to-peer communications. That's what they found that in the Garland case.

We had one of the suspects, Elton Simpson, was communicating with people on encrypted communications. And so that is what unnerved him, really, and what they're finding, Jake, is that they don't have enough people. Each one of these suspects takes dozens of people to watch, and in this case, in Elton Simpson's case, they had FBI watching him, they lost him for a couple of days, didn't know that he was headed to Garland, Texas, to carry out this attack.

TAPPER: Oh, wow. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about this with CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd and Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigations Division.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

Phil, let me start with you. Is it unusual for the FBI to acknowledge that they are essentially overwhelmed by the task at hand?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think you should take this a step further.

What we have here is not justify a law enforcement problem. It's a fundamental change in the way the counterterrorism world works. If you're, as I was, at the CIA or the FBI threat table in 2005, you're looking at the core al Qaeda organization in a place like Pakistan, mapping plots across the United States and advising the FBI state, locals, et cetera.

Periodically, there might be an a player on your turf. What we have now is transitioning from law enforcement to culture across America, New York, California, Arizona. There's this spread of al Qaeda ideology beyond a few isolated cases and what we have here is a plea from the FBI director saying, you got to be my eyes and ears out there, because we can't just focus on a few isolated plots from one core organization in Pakistan.

TAPPER: Ron, what can local police do? So much of this is being done on social media and, as Evan just said now, in encrypted technology.


So, law enforcement at the local and state level is a resource multiplier for the FBI. The FBI is very good at what it does. However, it's not omniscient and it's not omnipresent. So, if you can use the help of 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers to be additional eyes and ears -- and this is a -- very much a team effort.


This isn't just law enforcement. This isn't just the intelligence community. This is the community. This is citizens looking for indicators, looking for changes. The FBI acts based on indicators, based on intelligence. And if you have millions of people looking and thinking about this as a possibility and sharing that information, then the FBI has an easier job of sorting through it and prioritizing.

TAPPER: Phil, has ISIS changed the way that local police do their jobs?

MUDD: I think it has, because if you look at how ISIS is transmitting the message, for example, to a kid in a community in a city like Los Angeles or a city like New York, back in the day, the way that message would be communicated was face to face.

Al Qaeda had to talk to somebody, in the 1990s, for example, at a camp in Afghanistan. And al Qaeda would say, we need closed, clandestine cells and we got to keep them secret, because it's very hard to find operatives who can get in the United States.

Fast-forward to 2015, what we have is, ISIS is crowdsourcing terrorism. We're going to put out a message in the open, no effort to keep it secret. Tens of thousands of people will read it. If one- tenth of 1 percent of them decides to take action based on that public message, we win. It's a total change in the terrorism world.

TAPPER: And, Ron, you say that the threat posed by ISIS is going to get worse before it gets better. What do you mean by that?

HOSKO: Well, we have -- as Phil knows quite well from sitting around that table at FBI headquarters, once a -- five, 10 years ago, we saw very defined pathways to jihad, to violent extremism.

Frequently, that involved citizens here traveling to Waziristan and Nfada (ph). Now the recruitment effort is on your TV screen. It's on your computer at home. And so penetrating not only who might be motivated, but understanding them -- their mind-set at any given time is extremely difficult.

TAPPER: All right. Ron Hosko, Phil Mudd, thank you both. Appreciate it.

Also breaking in national, we have learned that more than two dozen lab workers, including four in the United States, are now being traded for exposure to the deadly bacteria anthrax after that bizarre blunder by the U.S. military. Live anthrax samples, as we told you yesterday, were mistakenly shipped via FedEx from an Army lab in Utah to these nine states. A ample was also shipped to a military base in South Korea.

And while the Pentagon is stressing there is no threat to the general public, it is still quite inexplicable how a potentially deadly bioweapon could have been handled really just carelessly.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the Centers for Disease Control is now involved in this investigation. What role will the CDC play?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Jake, the CDC is taking the lead, looking at everything the Pentagon did. The problem is, the Pentagon doesn't know what it did.


STARR (voice-over): Twenty-two shipments, all potentially live anthrax and worse, for over a year, nobody knew it, the military now scrambling to explain how it could have happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great question, and that's exactly why we have brought in the Centers for Disease Control and their investigators.

STARR: The Army contracted with FedEx for the shipments. The company says it's working with the federal government. The anthrax was to be shipped as dead agent, supposedly a less dangerous form.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn't have much meaning to me. Anthrax can exist for decades, centuries underground in a spore form, this hard, crusted, inanimate form that eventually can change into an active poisonous-type form.

STARR: A history of anthrax fears. Weeks after the 9/11 attacks, letters laced with anthrax were sent, killing five Americans in what the FBI calls the worst biological attack in U.S. history, this time, no indication of a deliberate act, and the Pentagon says no one is sick.

A growing investigation is spreading across nine states and overseas to Osan Air Base in South Korea, where 22 people are receiving precautionary antibiotics and vaccinations after a potential exposure during a training exercise. They began medical care May 27, five days after the Pentagon first received word from a lab it got live anthrax from the shipments, not dead agent for research.

The Pentagon says it's looking into why the late notification. The anthrax was in South Korea for over a year, no one knowing it was live. It all began last year on March 28, 2014, at Dugway Proving Grounds, an Army base in Utah. A load of anthrax was irradiated, the intent, to kill the live agent before shipment.

Over the next year, the material was divided into a number of lots, and it was shipped 22 times, until last Friday, when a Maryland lab discovered it had live anthrax.



STARR: Now, look, it's really important to some draw distinctions here.

Back in 2001, those anthrax letters, a terrorist attack, loose agent in envelopes very much designed to harm people. This time, the material was shipped in secure containers, the Pentagon says. It should have been more secure because it was live agent. It was dead agent, but, still, it was shipped in what the Pentagon believes was a secure fashion.

Nobody is sick, but the bottom line is, all of this under investigation, because the Pentagon cannot be sure at this point exactly what it is dealing with -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

No relief in sight for parts of Texas, where even a small amount of additional rain could mean an emergency situation. Downpours are now predicted for some of the hit areas already hardest-hit, and now one city's mayor is ordering evacuations, hoping to save lives as the Colorado River gets close to overflowing.

That's next.



[16:15:23] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh no!


TAPPER: Good God. Can you imagine?

That's the Blanco River rushing into the basement of one family's house in Texas. The water's force breaking down a door and going on to create almost a giant washing machine-type thing whipping around tables and chairs. Today's national lead: a new call for evacuations along swollen Texas

rivers to prevent another family from experiencing a scene like that in person. More storms over the next five days could trigger even more devastating floods in the region. In Hays County Texas, alone, eight missing, including Laura McComb and her two children.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray joins us live in Wimberley, Texas.

Jennifer, as I understand it, even a little rain could be problematic there.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely, because the rivers are full to capacity, the ground is completely saturated. And so, any additional rain is just going to make matters worse. Look behind me, that's the Blanco River, it still running high even though it's gone down considerably.

And it's not only getting rain in this area, it's getting rain anywhere north of here, upstream, all that water is going to flow down into these rivers, just like the one behind me and it's going to create problems all across this region, Jake.

TAPPER: And, obviously, we're most concerned about the loss of life in additional floods, but this is also going to be a big challenge for the search crews still trying to find people.

GRAY: Yes, absolutely. There are still eight people missing, and they have been out all day long, for the past five days, searching for people. And when it rains, that creates a problem, because first of all, you don't want any fluctuation in the river level because you have all of this debris that they are sifting through down the river. They have debris piles as tall as these trees that they're actually going through.

And so, when you have more rain, it just displaces some of that debris, and it makes it really challenging. You know, we had three people now identified, one is pending identification and one of the most recent ones that we learned about today was Michelle Charba. She was found, the rest of her family unfortunately missing. Her husband, son and her parents.

But they told us today these crews are going to be out no matter what and they're going to keep searching until the rest of the victims are found, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jennifer, it's not just south Texas getting the severe weather, right?

GRAY: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we had a tornado in the panhandle yesterday. In fact, three people were injured from that.

It hit an oil rig area and hit these houses what they call dog houses where they store their tools. That's what was hit. The people had to be rushed to the hospital, but it was so challenging, because the weather was still severe when they're trying to get them to the hospital. One person describes it as, quote, "seeming like tornadoes were

touching down everywhere." He said the ambulances were trying to travel through the mud and the rain, and the severe weather, trying to get these people help.

So, it has been wild week for weather. It has been tragic here in Wimberley, Texas, with all the flooding and then we've had the tornadoes.

And so, you know, it's been a rough week for the folks here, but they've all come together, helping each other out and the search crews are determined to find the rest of the families out there.

TAPPER: All right. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.

Let's go now to Wharton, Texas. That's about 2.5 hours closer to the Gulf Coast. The mayor there, Domingo Montalvo Jr., joins me now on the phone.

Mayor Montalvo, thanks for joining us.

Now, you -- as I understand it, you're a lifelong Wharton resident. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

MAYOR DOMINGO MONTALVO, JR., WHARTON, TEXAS (via telephone): Well, we've experienced some flooding like this before, and fortunately, we can plan. It's -- we certainly -- our hearts go out to the folks with the flash flooding that just came upon them and surprised them, but we're very fortunate here to be able to plan. We've got some time to get folks out of harm's way.

TAPPER: Now, what I understand it -- as I understand it, the concern is for those who live on the west side of Wharton. Are most people listening to your calls and those from other emergency officials for voluntary evacuations?

MONTALVO: Yes, sir. I think that's the advantage of being born and raised here, and knowing most of the people that live here in the community. They are taking heed to the warning.

The other thing is, we are a small community. So, we're able to touch every door in order to make sure that all of our citizens get the information, the correct information, and they've been having a mass exodus out of that area. And we're praying we don't get any more rain, because with the river up as it is, if it rains in town, the water's going to stay basically here in the town.

[16:20:06] There's nowhere for the water to drain off to.

TAPPER: Now, the reason the west side of your town, there is the most concern about that part, that's where the Colorado river runs alongside, and experts are saying that it could crest, the river, sometime Friday night, maybe Saturday. Are you prepared? Is your town ready to deal with this, if that happens?

MONTALVO: Yes, sir. Having experiences in '95 and several other floods here, we -- we're very prepared. Certainly when you face Mother Nature, there's a lot of variables that come into it, but we're as prepared as we can be. We can't move the river, but we can certainly move the people out of the way.

TAPPER: The fire chief expressed concern earlier today in that press conference, where you two spoke, and the chief said that he was worried too many people in your town seemed to be taking their time packing, taking their time evacuating. Why is that?

MONTALVO: Well, I know that there's been people ever since yesterday that have been packing up. We went and rode through the west part of Wharton and we saw a lot of people that were getting, moving out of the way. So it's been my take that they are taking it seriously, and that we're moving right along.

TAPPER: All right. The National Weather Service saying that many homes in your area already have three feet of flooding. Have you seen enough of a state and/or federal response to the needs of the people of Wharton, Texas?

MONTALVO: You know, having floods before, we were always pleased with the response from the state and the federal government. And we're extremely glad to have the cooperation of the river authority. The LCRA, Lower Colorado River Authority, and having worked and lived here and gone through it, it's kind of a -- we've had a lot of dress rehearsals in order to be able to effectively protect our citizens.

TAPPER: All right. Wharton, Texas, Mayor Domingo Montalvo Jr., thank you so much. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Wharton, Texas, and, of course, the people in the region in general. Thanks for talking to us.

MONTALVO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, D.C. police now taking a closer look at the assistant of the man murdered with his family and housekeeper in their mansion two weeks ago. Why the assistant's text messages and Instagram photos are raising new questions about what he was doing the day of the murders.

Plus, another one of Vladimir Putin's critics surprisingly ending up in the hospital. What doctors are saying about claims he might have been poisoned. That's coming up.


[16:27:15] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Police could be close to a major breakup through in the brutal murder of a wealthy D.C. family and their housekeeper. The Savapoulos family, including their 10-year-old son Philip was tortured for more 12 hours inside their own home, and then they were killed. Their home was set on fire. The family's Porsche also torched.

Law enforcement suspects others were involved in the crime. But as of now, Daron Wint has been the only individual charged in this case. Of course, the role of others remain murky, including that of an

assistant for Savvas Savapoulos. Court papers show that he changed his story when interviewed by police.

CNN's Pamela Brown joins me now.

Pamela, what have you learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's still a lot of questions about this assistant, Jake, and I spoke to one of the assistant's friends today who tells me that he has been cooperating with police. He is one of several persons of interest still under investigation related to the quadruple homicide.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, we are learning more about a key witness in the quadruple homicide, the assistant of Savvas Savapoulos. He was trying to launch a car racing career and began working as Savapoulos' driver just a few months ago according to a source.

Police say his last errand for his boss was to drop off $40,000 in cash at the family's home while they were held hostage. Police say his phone had a number of text messages and calls with Mr. Savapoulos.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He's the person selected to get the $40,000 back to the house. He's going to play a hugely important role in resolving this case.

BROWN: Listed as once one in court documents, the assistant allegedly changed his account of the events regarding where he left the package, when he was told to get the package, and how he received the package, telling authorities he lied when he stated the money was in a manila envelope. Police say he texted a picture of the money in a red bag to another witness the morning of the murders.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Is it possible that you misremember putting money in a manila envelope as opposed to red bags? It's possible.

But it starts to become less possible when a few hours ago you texted a picture of that same bag.

BROWN: According to local Washington affiliate WTTG, the assistant's Instagram account shows pictures of fancy cars, including from inside his boss' blue Porsche where he writes, "Another day on the job. My office today is pretty nice! #porsche #turbo #porsche911 #work."

Police say the Savapoulos family's blue Porsche was stolen and eventually set on fire after the quadruple homicide. According to police records, a witness says the driver of the stolen Porsche had short groomed hair. The only suspect named so far in the murder is Daron Wint, has mid-length dreadlocks. He was arrested after police say his DNA was found on a pizza crust where the murders took place.

CALLAN: This is a mystery. It's really -- it's almost like a crime novel with an elaborate and complex plot. And we're only given pieces.