Return to Transcripts main page


Sources: U.S. 'Very Concerned' Over July 4 Terror Threat; U.S. Strategy to Fight ISIS Falling Short; Deadline for Iran Nuclear Talks Extended. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired June 30, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Fourth of July fear. U.S. terror officials are now set to be very worried about a possible attack over the upcoming holiday weekend. And they're tracking a growing number of ISIS sympathizers here in the United States. Have they missed one who may be ready to strike?

Terrorist showdown. Two sworn enemies of the U.S. now turn their sights on each other. With a radical Shiite cleric in Iraq making a direct threat against the Sunni leader of ISIS. Is it setting the stage for a new sectarian war?

Out of control. A massive wildfire, fueled by triple-digit temperatures, blackening thousands of acres in Washington state. Dozens of homes already have been destroyed. Can crews get the upper hand before entire communities are wiped out?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the growing concern among top U.S. officials of a terrorist attack inside the United States in the coming days. Sources are telling CNN the apprehension is greater than in recent years, in part because of the growing number of ISIS sympathizers inside the United States. That has local and federal law enforcement dramatically increasing security as July 4th approaches.

We're covering all items of the breaking news this hour, with our correspondents and our guests, including the former Pentagon intelligence chief, Michael Vickers.

But let's begin with our justice reporter, Evan Perez. Evan, what are your sources telling you?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're hearing from U.S. law enforcement officials that they're boosting security measures ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. More police are being deployed to prominent locations. Because officials say they're very concerned about possible attacks by ISIS recruits here in America.

The police department tells us that it is increasing counterterrorism and security measures this weekend, compared to past years, and that includes radiation detection units and dogs. The Los Angeles Police Department tells me that it's doing heavy deployment this weekend since the start of the year.

The U.S. authorities have charged at least 49 people for supporting ISIS, and Wolf, that doesn't include three people who have been killed in actually trying to carry out attacks.

BLITZER: Are they aware of any specific plots?

PEREZ: The Homeland Security Department, Wolf, has been very careful to say they don't know of any specific plots to this weekend. But that said, one of the concerns is that, you know, the hundreds of people that they have, that they're monitoring, that they have under investigation around the country that they possibly could be missing one, that they could possibly be one like happened in Garland, Texas, that they weren't aware was ready to carry out an attack.

BLITZER: Bottom line in all of this is that last Friday we, all of a sudden, in a statement that we all thought was a routine statement, Jay Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, all of a sudden mentions get ready for July 4, no specific plots. Just out of an abundance of caution, we're going to be watching what's going on.

But there have been increasing statements since then -- the director from the FBI, the director from the Department of Homeland Security, all of a sudden mentioning July 4, that raises concerns.

PEREZ: Absolutely, and you know, some of this is coming from the intelligence that they've been picking up for weeks, I've been told. And we -- you know, we've been aware that they were watching a number of these things. They were trying to arrest a number of these people before we get to this weekend.

Again, this is not -- it's not going to end this weekend, either. Because they are aware of chatter, of threats that could go on beyond that, including the upcoming visit by Pope Francis in September.

BLITZER: And the notion that we're still in the middle of Ramadan, and that's a point that the leader of ISIS has said, that's a good time to attack?

PEREZ: Exactly. And not only that, there's also a bunch of these "draw Prophet Mohammed" contests across the country, which the U.S. law enforcement is very concerned, because it's instigating. It's almost like a reason, an excuse to activate one of these people.

BLITZER: All right, Evan Perez. Stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Amid this fear of an imminent attack by an ISIS sympathizer here in the United States, the Obama administration's strategy to fight the terrorists on their own turf by training moderate Syrian rebels, for example, that seems to be falling shockingly short.

Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who's working this part of the story for us. Jim, what have you learned?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one year after the announcement of the administration's $500 million program to train and equip modern Syrian rebels, fewer than 100 have been trained. The vast majority of recruits have no interest in taking on ISIS at all but instead, want to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad, this from a senior U.S. military official.

Military officials announced that as a result, the administration's goal of training 3 to 5,000 rebels per year for three years is not being met.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Moderate Syrian rebels taking on ISIS on the battlefield. A key part of the strategy to defeat the Islamic State, but it's a fight seen far too seldom in Syria.

[17:05:13] The U.S. program to train thousands of fighters to battle ISIS is woefully behind schedule. The administration's original goal in the $500 million program was to train 3 to 5,000 rebels per year over three years, the first 3,000 by the end of 2015.

To date, fewer than 100 have actually been trained. Adding to the shortfall, military officials tell CNN, a large group of recruits recently quit en masse. And others have quit or been removed due to a range of shortcomings, from being underage to physically unfit.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Some of them don't have the capabilities to fight. Some of them are contested in terms of where their loyalties actually are. Some of them can't be vetted. Some of them have physical disabilities. It is just very difficult to go into a country where you don't have a lot of elements to vet these individuals.

SCIUTTO: The Pentagon says the focus is on quality over quantity. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently acknowledged the difficulty of building a capable fighting force in a country with no U.S. military presence on the ground.

ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are trying to recruit and identify people that can be counted on to fight, to be aligned with groups like ISIL on the one hand, and on the other hand work towards our goals. Our goal being for them to fight ISIL. It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria.

SCIUTTO: Across the border in Iraq, despite a functioning government partner, the U.S.-led effort to train and equip Iraqi forces faces its own delays and obstacles. Iraqi forces have now been held to a stalemate in Baiji and routed in Ramadi, even as they outnumbered ISIS fighters and were backed by a U.S.-led air campaign.


SCIUTTO: Military officials say the Pentagon has not given up on the Syrian rebels training program. They add there's been no shortage of volunteers, including more than 1,000 new volunteers signing up in just the last ten days, but the key problem is that those volunteers either not fit the fight or don't want to fight the fight that the U.S. wants, Wolf. That is they want to go after Assad. They don't want to go after ISIS, and that's where we're left today. Fewer than 100 in this $500 million program.

BLITZER: Yes. It's been going on for a long time. That's pretty shocking number. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

Let's talk about all of this and more with the former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Michael Vickers. He oversaw all intelligence and security agencies for the Department of Defense, including the NSA until recently, until the end of April. Is that right?


BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.

What do you make, first of all, of the Evan Perez report that authorities are now deeply concerned, looking ahead to the July 4th, that U.S. intelligence law enforcement authorities may have lost track here in the United States of some alleged ISIS sympathizers?

VICKERS: Well, we've had a number arrested in the past month, and several over the past year, and ISIL has had a lot of success at radicalization. So there could be more out there. And I think there's some reasons to be concerned over what is the normal warning.

In this case, it may not be as normal. ISIL has issued a call of arms for Ramadan, and we're right in the middle of that. Their success in radicalization, and the symbolism attracted with the national holiday.

BLITZER: They say the ISIS leader that, if you die in a suicide attack during the holy month of Ramadan, the rewards in heaven will be much greater.

VICKERS: That's right.

BLITZER: You think that has an impact on these people?

VICKERS: I think it does, and I think their ability to reach out to those who will self-radicalize as well as sending operatives in, as they do in some cases or aligning with groups as they've done in North Africa.

BLITZER: You heard a man you know, Mike Morell, former acting CIA director. You work closely with him. He said the other day -- he said he would not be surprised if we're sitting here a week from today talking about a terror attack in the U.S. homeland during the July 4 weekend. Would you be surprised?

VICKERS: I would not be surprised. I certainly hope that doesn't happen, but I would not be surprised.

BLITZER: Is there anything specific that you've heard about that, as a result of these higher warnings that are going out there from Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, James Comey, the FBI director, these directives that are going out. They always go out during high events like this, symbolic moments like this, but they seem to be a little bit more intense this time.

VICKERS: I think they are, I don't think there's anything specific. I think it's a case of you had these three attacks in three different areas on Friday. And then you've had the effort to reach out to a number of individuals in the United States. And our FBI and state and local law enforcement has been very effective in disrupting that. But the threat is pretty high.

[17:10:04] BLITZER: You're talking about the terror attack in Kuwait, in Tunisia and in France?

VICKERS: That's right.

BLITZER: Killed a lot of people, individual terrorists who go out there. Were those related in any way or just people reacting to this ISIS call on social media?

VICKERS: In one case it may just be reacting. In two other cases, Tunisia and Kuwait, they may be related.

BLITZER: You think so?


BLITZER: On the basis of what?

VICKERS: That ISIL has claimed credit, and the associations the individuals may have with groups or associations with Syria.

BLITZER: The big concern here in the United States is what they call a lone wolf, right?

VICKERS: That's right.

BLITZER: Somebody who has been inspired, and it's relatively easy to get an assault weapon or whatever and go out there and kill people?

VICKERS: Yes. That's the big danger here. It's less, although you have to worry about sending operatives here. It is more the lone wolf.

BLITZER: How do you deal with that? That's -- I mean, it almost sounds, some -- you know, obviously sick individual sitting in a basement, reading all the tweets, getting all that social media, being inspired, thinking he's going to wind up in heaven and going out there, getting a weapon and starting to kill people. There are so many soft targets, as you know. VICKERS: Well, if they're not a lone wolf, if they're connected

to anybody else, then that gives us an opportunity. If they make other mistakes. But it is a difficult target.

BLITZER: We've had, what, 30 or 40 arrests in recent weeks of ISIS sympathizers here in the United States. I suspect that number's going to go up?

VICKERS: Yes, some wanted to travel to Syria and join ISIL, but that's right.

BLITZER: Is ISIS now, or ISIL as you calling it, a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than al Qaeda?

VICKERS: Well, Al Qaeda is the more sophisticated threat, in terms of being able to blow up an airliner or do other spectacular attacks. But ISIL has now achieved supremacy over al Qaeda and leadership of the global jihad, and their ability to inspire the self- radicalization far surpasses al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Give us a little flavor of what's going on in U.S. intelligence agencies right now. You oversaw all the DOD, all the Pentagon intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency, which is under your purview.

VICKERS: Well, I think National Security Agency and National Counterterrorism Center, CIA, FBI, they're all working together for -- looking at intelligence chatter, as we call it, any heightened level of activity. And then, as well as here in the United States, principally state and local and FBI.

BLITZER: So this is a time when all hands are on deck.

VICKERS: All hands are on deck.

BLITZER: People are not going on vacation, and they're not working part time. They're focused in on protecting the American people?

VICKERS: Protecting the American people is a 24/7 job.

BLITZER: All right. We've got a lot more to talk about. Michael Vickers, stand by. We're going to take a quick break, much more coming up. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Breaking now, the deadline for the Iran nuclear talks extended. Negotiations to reach a deal that would contain the country's nuclear program are going into overtime in Vienna, Austria. The pressure to strike a bargain acceptable to the United States is higher than ever. We're going to talk about that with the former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Michael Vickers. He's still with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But first, let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. Elise, what's the latest on these talks?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. announced today negotiations will go until July 7, a full week past today's deadline. A deal is still not assured. There are still major gaps, and today the president said they are not closed. There will be no deal, which is why the military is working on Plan B.


LABOTT (voice-over): All smiles in Vienna, even as nuclear talks go past today's long-established deadline for a deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here to get a final deal, and I think we can.

LABOTT: But with Iran's supreme leader playing hardball on sanctions and inspections of Iran's nuclear sites, the president laid down a marker.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will walk away from the negotiations if, in fact, it's a bad deal.


LABOTT: If diplomacy fails, the president's top military advisers made clear they have a Plan B. And if a deal is reached, the U.S. hopes a credible military threat will serve as a deterrent against Iranian cheating.

CARTER: I have the responsibility to make sure that the military option is real. And believe me, we work on that.

LABOTT: The U.S. weapon of choice is a 15-ton bunker buster bomb called the massive ordinance penetrator, or MOP, specifically designed to destroy hardened targets buried deep underground. Dropped from a U-2 bomber, the MOP can carry more than 5,000 pounds of explosives at supersonic speed. Penetrating 200 feet underground, even through 60 feet of concrete, with devastating force before detonating.

The MOP was designed with fortified Iranian nuclear sites in mind. Such as Fordow, the once-secret nuclear facility built within a hollowed-out mountain to withstand such aerial attacks.

CARTER: We continue to improve it and upgrade it over time.

LABOTT: In an interview with CNN'S "OUTFRONT," the secretary of defense said it is ready to go.

CARTER: We have the capability to shut down, set back and destroy the Iranian nuclear program. And I believe the Iranians know that and understand that.

LABOTT: But he warned, even the most devastating military strike would only slow Iran's nuclear program, not eliminate it.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The U.S. intelligence community estimates that it could be a year or two of recovery time for Iran to presumably build new sites in new places that they presumably would not tell us about or allow inspectors.


[17:20:12] LABOTT: President Obama has warned Iran is sure to rebuild its nuclear program if there is a strike. Any of the sanctions against Iran would likely be gone, because if the U.S. takes military action, the whole international agreement could fall apart; and the international community would be in a far worse position to curb Iraq's nuclear ambitions next time, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Elise Labott, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper. Once again, the former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Michael Vickers, is here. He had that position until the end of April.

What do you make, is that a really credible threat, do you think, the Iranians fear that kind of huge massive bomb destroying their nuclear capabilities?

VICKERS: Well, they should. I mean, as Secretary Carter said, we've been working on that for a long time. We've developed the plans. And the president has made clear, he's determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: You think there's going to be a deal?

VICKERS: I think at the end there will be a deal. I think if you look at what happened with the framework agreement, we went into overtime. There was a lot of last-minute bargaining. The president held firm and got the framework agreement. I would expect something similar.

BLITZER: You saw that letter that was signed by several former Obama administration, top military, national security aides, including General Petraeus. They're very worried about this potential deal. Are you?

VICKERS: Well, I mean, the devil's in the details. I mean , it's very important that all aspects of it be adhered to in the gradual release of the sanctions, the limits on Iran's nuclear program and its advanced centrifuge research. Access to all its facilities on no notice, et cetera. But with that, it would -- it would be a good deal.

BLITZER: The grand ayatollah in recent days once again has said, Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly said there won't be inspections of military sites; there won't be inspections without notification. There won't be any surprise -- he's taking a pretty hard line.

Here's the big question: Can his negotiators go ahead and undermine him, strike a deal which goes against what he publicly is saying? VICKERS: Well, last night, with the framework agreement, we had

a similar experience, and I think they'll find a way to accept this, as well. Because if they don't agree, there won't be a deal.

BLITZER: You think the president of the United States will walk away from this? The accusation against him is he wants this deal more than the Iranians want the deal.

VICKERS: Well, I think the Iranians believe that, or at least they're bargaining tough, in the sense that they believe it, but they should take the president at his word.

BLITZER: And if there's no deal, and they believe the Iranians are secretly building a bomb, you have no doubt that they will drop that huge bomb -- it's called a massive ordinance penetrator -- on that site in Iraq?

VICKERS: Well, I think that depends on Iranian behavior, but the president has said, he's determined to prevent the Iranians from getting a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: You heard Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent, that report that so far all this training of moderate Syrians who were going to go and fight ISIS, maybe 100 guys have been trained? What is going on? It sounds like such a pitifully small number.

VICKERS: Well, the DOD program has gotten off to a slower start than some would hope, but the opposition is bigger than that, and the opposition is -- had some significant gains recently. And, you know, from my experience in Afghanistan, you've got to be in this for the long haul.

BLITZER: Supposedly, this program so far has cost U.S. taxpayers half a billion dollars, $500 million to train these moderate Syrians, some others. That sounds like a big chunk of change.

VICKERS: I think that's the amount of money that's been allocated. I don't think it's been spent yet with the initial training. That's really for 5,000-plus opposition fighters. For training and equipping. Right. That's what...

BLITZER: It's a lot of money to train 5,000 opposition fighters, half of whom may simply abandon their positions or retreat, given past experience.

VICKERS: Well, we're going to need many, many times 5,000.

BLITZER: It sounds like a pretty awful strategy right now. Nothing much is happening. ISIS continues to contain -- control the second largest city in Iraq, Mosul, a city of nearly 2 million people. It's been more than a year already, and the Iraqi military is MIA.

VICKERS: Yes. The Iraqi military has been slow to reconstitute, as well. And we have to have ground forces, both in Iraq and Syria, to achieve the president's goal of eventually defeating ISIL. BLITZER: When you say we have to have ground forces, you mean

the United States?

VICKERS: We have to have ground forces in the region -- Iraqi, Syrian -- that's why building up a Syrian opposition is really critical.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's not happening.

VICKERS: Well, there's more opposition there than you think. I wouldn't just focus on the DOD.

BLITZER: What do you think of the strategy? Do you support this current strategy?

VICKERS: I think we need to be more aggressive in certain areas. I think advisers, as we did in Afghanistan in 2001, can make a big difference without having large ground forces. But you have to combine air power and ground power to really make a difference.

BLITZER: The -- there seems to be a little battle underway right now between Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS or ISIL, as you call it, and the expansion that's going on by is all over not only the Middle East, but north Africa, into Europe, maybe here in the United States. How big of a problem is that?

VICKERS: Well, it's had a lot of appeal in North Africa, down in Nigeria where the Boko Haram and reached out into Afghanistan, some of these are just footholds at this point. But it does show the appeal of the caliphate.

BLITZER: They're no longer the JV?

VICKERS: They're not a JV.

BLITZER: They're a major league...

VICKERS: They're a major league terror threat.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember the late Congressman Charlie Wilson from Texas. There was a film, you remember "Charlie Wilson's War," and you were portrayed in that film -- and we're showing a little clip there. You were a young guy played by Charlie Denim (ph). Tell us about that experience you had with Charlie Wilson, and then all of a sudden seeing yourself in a major motion picture.

VICKERS: Well, it was a surreal experience. Charlie was a really great partner for the agency. A great patriot for the U.S. government, played a major role in defeating the Red Army there and getting us the resources necessary to do that. And a dear friend until the end of his life.

BLITZER: Tom Hanks played Charlie Wilson. It was a really good movie. And I obviously knew Charlie Wilson when he was a congressman. I interviewed him several times. He was amazing, as all of us remember. VICKERS: Yes.

BLITZER: Big loss when he passed away.

All right. Michael Vickers, thanks very much for coming in.

VICKERS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good to have you back. Don't leave yet.

Coming up, new threats against the leader of ISIS, not by a U.S. ally, but by a longstanding enemy from the Iraq war. Stand by. New information.

And later, an update on a very dangerous wildfire that has hundreds being warned they should be ready to leave their homes and their possessions at a moment's notice.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Sources telling CNN U.S. officials are very concerned about terror threats and the possibility of an attack over the Fourth of July weekend.

Let's bring in our CIA counterterrorism analyst, a former CIA counterterrorism official, Philip Mudd; our national security analyst, Peter Bergen; and our law enforcement analyst, former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

Phil, you heard Evan Perez report about how the U.S. intelligence, law enforcement are deeply concerned about right now. Take us a little bit behind the scenes, inside the CIA, for example. What are they looking for?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, in both cases, the agency and also the FBI, you're sitting down every evening or every morning, and you're tiering threats. That is you might have a vague threat out of Pakistan. You might have a case. You're looking at it. You work, and you're trying to determine how quickly that threat might evolve into an actual attack.

The problem, the evolution we've seen in the past couple of years is the volume of people who have been radicalized mean that you've got to intervene more quickly. You've got to say we can't sit here and collect intelligence forever. There are just too many targets to go after, so you've got to arrest them quickly and triage the next case in the system.

BLITZER: If you were still with the FBI, Tom, what would you be looking at?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the difference now, Wolf, is that ten years ago, you have al Qaeda Central issue the order. Then can you go do the attack? Yes, we can do it. Do you need money? We'll send money. You have chatter, because there will be multiple communications for each attack.

But now, when they put out this giant order to the world, go attack, and we don't need to know about it here, just go do it, you don't know then what 10,000 people around the world are thinking. When will one or more of them, whether it's in three countries in the same day, whether the U.S., Canada, Australia. It's in somebody's head to do this attack. It's not chatter back and forth. It's just a command that's gone out.

And now, the experience of the authorities is that those commands are followed by somebody, somewhere, some time, even if they don't know who.

BLITZER: And when a top ISIS spokesman goes out there on social media and tells supporters, supervisors, "Do it now during the holy month of Ramadan, which goes until about mid-July," that's a big deal?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: yes. We saw a response to that in France on Friday, in Kuwait on Friday, and also Tunisia on Friday. So yes, I mean, it turns out to be right. In a way, in the sort of previous incarnation of these groups, you could monitor meetings, you monitor e-mails, you can monitor phone. It could be different conspirators. It was easier for law enforcement to follow these things. Than somebody just sitting in their basement radicalizing himself, or even herself. There's not much the law enforcement can do to stop that.

BLITZER: Is there anything law enforcement can do to stop that?

MUDD: Sure. I mean, one of the things they've got to do is look at access to social media.

If you look at vulnerabilities to terrorists typically, you're looking at travel. You're looking at money, looking at communications. I agree, those vulnerabilities are missing in here, so you've got to grasp at the few things that remain for an intelligence professional. One, family, friends, somebody in the community reaching out. And we've seen this recently, saying, "Something's wrong with my friend, my family member."

The other, as I said, is somebody says something so radical on Twitter, on our Facebook, that you step back and say, "We've got to go after them."

BLITZER: That's clearly, Tom, what happened in Tunisia. Some individual who was inspired by ISIS goes out -- watch this video of this attack.




(END VIDEO CLIP) [17:35:24] BLITZER: Now you can see the gunman. There is the

gunman over there, the young college kid, if you will. He's running on the beach. That earlier video was taken by a hotel worker. You heard all those shots being fired, Tom Fuentes. It's pretty -- 38 people were killed, and dozens more were injured.

FUENTES: Right. And they interviewed the family members, who said they didn't have a clue. No one that knew him said they knew anything about it. He was thinking about doing this, planning to do it, that he was going to do it, and he did it.

BLITZER: How do you explain that? There's no clues whatsoever. A young college student, supposedly a good college student, is radicalized and goes out there and kills these tourists, most of them British or Dutch or Germans or Italians, who were vacationing in what's supposedly a peaceful part of North Africa, Tunisia.

BERGEN: Typically, when you see these incidents, you often hear people saying, well, they didn't seem to be demonstrating. Think about the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. They did come to the attention of the FBI. The FBI didn't really find any derogatory information, closed the case.

To all intents and purposes, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, appeared to be a typical American college student, interested in marijuana and, you know, sort of missing classes. So, you know, it's not unique to Tunisia that people don't necessarily demonstrate. In fact, they often make a point of not demonstrating the fact that they're radicalizing.

BLITZER: You heard Michael Vickers, the former top intelligence chief at the Department of Defense just tell us, yes, al Qaeda remains a serious threat to the United States, but ISIS a very different but very serious threat, as well. These are two different threats.

MUDD: I think ISIS is greater for simple reasons. When you look at these, you've got to look at the characteristics of any organization. Let's step through three or four. Leadership, ISIS beats al Qaeda. Control of territory, in other words, safe haven, ISIS beats al Qaeda. Messaging ideology, ISIS beats al Qaeda. So we're anchored in the past because of 9/11, obviously, but if you look at those characteristics, there's only one way you can go, and that's to say ISIS is the brand of the future, al Qaeda is the brand of the past.

BLITZER: They can do these individual lone-wolf attacks now, but ISIS still has that potential -- al Qaeda still has that potential capability of blowing up a plane.

FUENTES: yes. Two different philosophies of attack that we've seen over the years. One is the big -- big bang theory, which al Qaeda did on 9/11. The other is death by 1,000 cuts. In the case of ISIS, it's literally cuts when they behead people. And then we saw this in the last Boston, when the FBI shot that guy that bought three hunting knives online. And literally, it's all you need, a hunting knife, a butcher knife, a gun, your car. That's why it's so difficult to stop that. Al Qaeda, you can stop these big giant scenarios.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, thanks very much.

Peter Bergen, Phil Mudd, thanks. We'll continue our coverage.

Coming up, how a bloody terror attack now has a pair of U.S. enemies turning against one another.

Plus, look at this. Firefighters that are enduring very dry 100- degree weather as they try to contain a dangerous wildfire right now. We'll get a live update.


[17:33:02] BLITZER: Breaking now, in the wake of a bloody terrorist bombing, we're seeing ominous new threats by a longtime enemy of the United States. The threats are being directed at a new U.S. enemy, ISIS.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's over at the Magic Wall. He's got details. What's going on, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for U.S. officials, it might be hard to root for a winner in this one. Tonight, you've got Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose forces have a lot of American blood on their hands, vowing to punish ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al- Sadr even makes it personal, calling Baghdadi, quote, ignorant and a toy of oppressive imperialism. A horrific attack on a Shiite mosque in recent days is what likely pushed al-Sadr over the edge.


TODD: A grotesque scene in Kuwait. More than two dozen killed by a suicide bomber at the al-Sadeed (ph) Mosque, many of them Shia worshippers at Friday prayers. ISIS claims responsibility and with that, an old U.S. enemy threatens a new one.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, outraged at the destruction saw at the mosque, issues a personal message to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Quote, "Oh, terrorist Abu Bakr, either you reform yourself or we will reform you, along with your followers, by sword."

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It's a very significant declaration, and it plays right into ISIS's plan.

TODD: Analysts say ISIS has been trying to bait Shia militias in Iraq, like Sadr's Makhi (ph) Army, to attack Sunnis, some of whom side with ISIS, so that ISIS can recruit more Sunnis.

The willingness of Muqtada al-Sadr to jump into the fight reminds Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Ollivant, a former combat officer, of the days in the mid-2000s when al-Sadr and his militias were public enemy No. 1 for American forces.

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT (RET.), NEW AMERICA: Sadr famously initiated a battle with soldiers from my old unit, the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, in early 2004 in Sadr City, and this began a cycle of violence with the Sadrists in Baghdad, in Najaf, and again, eventually in Basra. And there was a good four-year period from early 2004 to early 2008 where fighting against the Sadrists, the Jaysh Al- Mahdi, was a daily activity for the U.S. Army.

TODD: An activity which inflicted significant American casualties. Olivant says al-Sadr's fighters were tough enemies in urban warfare effective with bombings, sniper attacks. Al-Sadr was formidable enough to have a U.S. bounty on his head. And his forces are believed to already be battling ISIS in parts of northern Iraq. But can his militias realistically the secretive security obsessed Baghdadi?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It will be very difficult for Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia supporters to reach Baghdadi inside Syria, also very difficult for them to reach him in the Sunni areas of Iraq. Wherever he is, he's going to be keeping his location incredibly secret. It will only be known to a very few number of ISIS operatives. He's going to be limiting or eliminating his electronic footprint, not using a cell phone.


TODD: So how do U.S. officials feel about Muqtada al-Sadr now being the enemy of their enemy? Officials at the Pentagon and the CIA would not comment. While on the surface, they may not mind ISIS having another formidable enemy, analysts say what likely does worry leaders here in Washington is the possibility that any escalation between Muqtada al-Sadr's militias and ISIS will blow up into a full- fledged sectarian Sunni-versus-Shia war in Iraq, Wolf. That's what everybody is looking out for tonight.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we've seen these two terror leaders tweaking each other even before this most recent period.

TODD: That's right. And in recent days, Wolf, just last month Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, threatened to attack Baghdad and he threatened to attack the holy Shia city of Karbala in Iraq. Well, that point, Muqtada al-Sadr warned Baghdadi that if his forces attacked shrines in that city, that Sadr's army would, quote, "make Iraq full of your grimy bodies." So these two have been kind of going at it publicly in public messages in recent days. Everybody is watching to see what they do really on the battle field.

BLITZER: It's interesting that most recent ISIS terror attack against that mosque in Kuwait was a Shiite mosque.

TODD: Right. It certainly was.

BLITZER: So there's obviously a battle going on between Sunni dominated ISIS versus Iranian dominated Shiites if you will.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: We'll watch that story. Thanks very much. Coming up, dangerous wildfires are threatening entire

neighborhoods. Also the growing concern about the possibility of terror attacks here in the United States over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.


[17:51:58] BLITZER: In Washington state we're watching a very dangerous wildfire that's destroyed neighborhoods and forced hundreds of people out of their homes.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Simon. He's about 150 miles east of Seattle.

What's going on over there, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf. It is another triple digit day here in Wenatchee, Washington, so it's making things very difficult for firefighters. We are in the Broadview neighborhood. And this is the home that experienced so much loss and devastation. There are 24 homes in this one subdivision that burned to the ground. Pretty much everywhere you look there is a home that has been leveled. One right here, another one next door to us. Even across the street.

Now the good news, Wolf, they're saying that this fire is 10 percent contained. But you don't have any active flames at the moment so they believe that that number is going to go way up. We're expecting that briefing sometime this afternoon. But you have to remember, Wolf, that Washington state like much of the west coast is experiencing a severe drought. So there is a huge concern. Especially coupled with the Fourth of July holiday that's coming up that you can have people shooting off fireworks and that it can trigger more wildfires.

But in the meantime, people are now just trying to clean up. You can see there are literally shovels that have been dropped here by crews so home owners could come into this neighborhood. They can go to their homes and try to salvage any kind of, you know, belongings? We talked to one homeowner who doesn't think he's going to be able to find anything here because as you can see, it's nothing but just twisted metal and ash -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is, what a sad scene that is.

All right, Dan Simon, thanks.

Let's check on the weather forecast to see if the firefighters will get any help. Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is standing by.

So what is that forecast, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, we have had very warm temperatures, we've had very low humidity levels, and we've had strong winds. Three things that make the fire danger go way up. It looks like we are going to get a little bit of help by the winds dying down. But we're still going to stay very hot and we're also going to stay very windy.

Now we do know that if a spot fire pops up, we could see it progress 100 feet per minute. That's a football field every three minutes. So still very dangerous across the area. As we go through the overnight hours, we are going to continue to see the winds at about 15 miles per hour. Gusting even higher at times. A little bit of a break tomorrow. The winds do die down in the area but then they are expected to pick back up again on Thursday.

Of course, we're not going to see any rain. That would be a welcome sight. We are still in that severe drought. Of course Wenatchee right there and under a severe to moderate drought, of course, in the area. We are entering the drier months as well in Washington state, and so as we move into the next few months, the situation is just going to get more scary.

Look at that humidity level, down in the 20s. Of course that is very, very dry for the area and it's going to stay that way over the next couple of days. Temperatures are going to stay in the triple digits as well, Wolf, with temperatures reaching 104 on Thursday, 102 on Friday. No rain in the forecast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's not good. All right, thanks very much, Jennifer. We'll check back with you.

[17:55:02] There's breaking news we're following. We're learning new information about the terror threat that has police on both coasts beefing up security just ahead of the July 4th weekend.


BLITZER: Happening now, holiday terror alert. U.S. law enforcement is stepping up security right now in some major cities and key landmarks, as officials grow more concerned by the day about a possible attack around the Fourth of July.

Racism in America. With a Charleston church shooting still fresh, our exclusive new poll shows Americans believe race relations are getting worse under the first African-American president.

[18:00:04] Also tonight, a community is being bombarded with Ku Klux Klan propaganda.