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Official Blames 'A Certain Impact' for Plane Crash; New Hampshire Poll: Trump Leads, Rubio Triples; Anti-ISIS Activists Murdered in Turkey; Gas Station in Afghanistan Cost U.S. Taxpayers $43 Million. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 2, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TED KOPPEL: Because you're going to have trouble getting the fuel for emergency generators if you're using diesel. We're on natural gas, but natural gas has to be powered through the lines, ultimately by pumps that are run by electricity.
[17:00:14] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ted Koppel, thanks so much. The book is "Lights Out: A Cyber Attack, A Nation Unprepared Surviving the Aftermath."
That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, airliner down. The mystery surrounding the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula deepening tonight. All 224 people onboard killed, the black boxes now in the hands of investigators. Will they reveal what caused this plane to break apart in midair?
Terror claims. Egyptian militants with ties to ISIS say they're responsible for the plane disaster. But officials in Moscow and Washington aren't necessarily buying it. Was the doomed flight downed by a terrorist missile or a bomb?
ISIS attack. Terrorists behead two activists who worked to expose ISIS brutality. The brutal murders happening in their own apartment in Turkey far from ISIS territory. Is ISIS strengthening its network of terror?
Trying to fix. Jeb Bush attempting to retool his struggling presidential campaign with a new slogan and a bus tour. But his numbers in a key early voting state are stagnant in a brand-new poll while rival Marco Rubio is surging. Will the reboot give Bush the boost he needs?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following the investigation into the crash of that jet liner in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. There are new questions tonight about whether it's the latest terrorist attack on a passenger jet.
Remarks by an airline official are only deepening the mystery. He's blaming, quote, "a certain impact" for breaking the Airbus A-320 apart in midair. Islamic militants affiliated with ISIS are claiming responsibility,
which killed 224 people. Officials in both Russia and the U.S. are downplaying that, questioning whether the group has the ability to down a jet at high altitude. But they also aren't ruling out a missile or bomb as a possible cause of the crash with Russia's Air Transport Agency saying it's too soon to speculate.
The plane's black boxes have been recovered and are awaiting analysis. At least 175 bodies have also been recovered from the crash site, most of them intact, according to a source.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our correspondents and our expert analysts and our guests.
Let's begin with the crash investigation. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, no one, at least right now, is ruling out terrorism, I take it, at this point.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even America's top intelligence official is not ruling out terrorism. Investigators are facing a daunting challenge tonight. There's a menacing terror group operating in the Sinai which wants to bring down planes and has claimed responsibility.
But experts are also telling us there are mechanical and faulty repair issues, which could cause a passenger plane to break up at that altitude.
TODD (voice-over): In the air for 23 minutes, flying at cruising altitude Flight 9268 was at a point where planes rarely break apart.
STEVE WALLACE, FORMER FAA INVESTIGATOR: The vast majority of the airliner accidents occur on takeoff and landing. And cruise flight is really the safest portion, typically.
TODD (voice-over): But tonight 224 people are dead. The plane's wreckage is scattered across eight square miles of the Sinai Desert, and serious questions are being asked. What about the claim from ISIS that it's responsible?
JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We don't have any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet. It's unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out.
TODD: Analysts say the ISIS affiliate in Sinai has the intent to attack commercial aircraft. They've stockpiled shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, as seen in these training videos. But experts say those missiles can't reach that high.
LT. COL. TORY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: We're talking maximum between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. Maybe if you stretch on a really good Hail Mary maybe 20,000 feet. But 30,000 feet is not practical.
This military analyst says the Russian made Buk missile system which brought down the Malaysia's plane over Ukraine last year does have the range. But he said it requires more manpower and training than that ISIS affiliate likely has.
SHAFFER: You have this as the launcher. You have the command and control vehicle, which controls the radar, and you have another vehicle which has extra missiles.
TODD: One theory investigators will likely pursue: Did a terrorist sneak a bomb onboard? Airline safety experts say there are ways other than terrorism that a passenger plane can break up at altitude.
WALLACE: Improper maintenance, including a failure to detect and correct corrosion or an improperly done repair, or we've had one-off events: fuel tank explosions, cargo door failures, things like that.
[17:05:04] TODD: There are horrific examples. The crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, believed initially to be terrorism, was later determined to have been an explosion of flammable vapors in a fuel tank. Japan Airlines Flight 123, the 1985 crash considered the single deadliest accident in aviation history, more than 500 killed.
It was determined that a previous tail strike had damaged the plane's rear pressure bulkhead and the repair was faulty.
TODD: A similar thing happened to this Russian aircraft. In 2001, this plane's tail struck a runway while landing. It was repaired, and an official of the airline says the plane had been checked thoroughly for cracks.
But safety experts are telling us tonight it is possible that a defect in the repair was simply not visible, and a crack could have spread very rapidly during the time this plane might have been disintegrating, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, what about the possibility that terrorists could have fired on the plane from some of those mountains in the Sinai region? Those mountains are pretty high. You've been checking into that.
TODD: We have, Wolf. And there's no definitive answer to that tonight. Military analysts say the mountains that are here in the southern region of the Sinai could potentially give a boost to someone launching a shoulder-fired missile. Those mountains extend up to about 8,000 feet above sea level.
But experts say it's still likely not enough height to strike a plane at that altitude.
Plus, Wolf, these mountains are about 100 miles away from where the plane came down. It's probably too far to fire a shoulder-fired missile and hit it from that distance. And again, the height not quite high enough. But again, they're examining all these possibilities tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Vague statements by Russian officials early adding to the mystery of this airline disaster. Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is in St. Petersburg, Russia, right now for us.
Matthew, an airline executive seemed to suggest the -- an impact of some sort on the plane, an external impact may have caused this plane to go down. What are you learning?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it's very difficult, isn't it? Because he was using deliberately vague terminology to sort of explain that he didn't believe it was a maintenance issue or a pilot error issue. In other words not a company issue.
That could have been responsible for the death of these 224 people, trying to shift the emphasis to this theory that it was something external that caused the catastrophe that is being marked not just here in St. Petersburg but all across Russia, as well.
But the trouble is, is that those vague statements, as you call them, are intention with perhaps what the Kremlin is trying to push this idea that it wasn't terrorism, that it could have been some maintenance problem. It could have been some technical failing that led to this.
Either way, it's not looking particularly good for the Kremlin, because they either, depending on which way the investigation goes and it really is up to the investigators now to try and answer some of these questions. If it's a technical error, the government will be accused of not doing enough to protect its passengers on these civil aviation flights.
If it's terrorism, in some ways it's even worse, because then the government is open to the accusation that this is blowback, this is retaliation for their policy in Syria, where they've been carrying out airstrikes for the past several weeks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Matthew Chance, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks very much.
I want to bring in our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She's joining us from Cairo.
Arwa, Egyptian investigators, they're also working this crash investigation. What are they saying?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you have Egyptian and Russian investigators on site, as well as a team from Airbus.
Now, this is what we're being told from a number of different sources. At this stage, according to an Egyptian military source, none of the militant groups that operate in the Sinai actually have the necessary technology to bring down a plane at 31,000 feet. At best, according to this source, the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that they have could hit an aircraft at about 15,000 or 16,000 feet.
According to one of the Russian state agencies, they reported, quoting a Russian source of theirs on the ground who's part of this investigation, as saying that initially the debris, the remnants that they have been testing for explosives, have not tested positive. Bearing in mind, though, this is initial, and the debris is spread out over an expanse of eight square miles.
We also spoke to a medical source who had seen around 175 of the bodies. He's been helping out with processing and recovering them. He said that about 60 to 70 percent of the bodies were intact. And none of them had significant burn marks.
Of course, everyone is hoping that those two black boxes that were recovered fairly quickly on Saturday, the same day as the crash took place, will be holding some of these answers. We don't know at this stage, though, exactly when that vital data is going to be recovered, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Arwa, thanks very much.
I want to dig deeper on all of this. Joining us, the former NTSB managing director, our CNN aviation analyst, Peter Goelz; the former assistant FBI director, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes; our aviation consultant, the former pilot Alistair Rosenschein; and CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest.
[17:10:15] Richard, you've been doing a lot of reporting on what's going on. What is the leading theory, at least at this point on the investigation?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: There isn't one, Wolf. I mean, we can pretty much start to discount missile. I haven't heard one expert -- security expert suggest that a missile could have reached at all, that ISIS has those missiles.
But now you're talking about some form of in-flight breakup. And whether that comes from an onboard explosive, a bomb for a better word, or a breakup because of a previous bad repair, or other reason, there is no favored theory at the moment.
And frankly, those who, you know, say with great certainty it had to be this, that or the other, really are not necessarily being fully -- fully frank.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, how soon will we be able to rule out if there was, in fact, a bomb inside the plane? Remember Pan Am 103 there was a bomb inside that plane. How soon will they know if there was a bomb?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think, Wolf, it could be a long time. And one of the problems is, if you'll remember, the TWA 800, when that plane crashed, it was about three years before they determined that it wasn't terrorism, that it was a center fuel tank and vapors in it with an electric spark that exploded. So it could take a long time to determine that. But the bigger problem here, from my perspective, is that both sides,
the Russians and the Egyptians, are not going to be completely reliable.
For the Russians' sake, they're not going to admit that they had a horrible maintenance record with that aircraft. And from the Egyptians side, they're never going to want to admit that it was a terrorist act, because Sharm el-Shaikh is one of their leading tourist destinations. And they don't want people to be afraid to fly there.
BLITZER: We're told, Tom, that ISIS, at least the terrorists who are operating in Sinai, don't have the capability of shooting down a plane that's flying at 30,000 feet with a shoulder-fired missile. But how can they be certain that they don't have other more sophisticated surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down a plane flying at that altitude?
FUENTES: I don't think they can be certain of it. You know, and as Richard said, these are all theories. None of these have been proven yet, even a good indication yet of what may have happened. So it is premature to say. But again, you know, we're going to have to question the investigation until we have a good reason to accept that it is credible.
BLITZER: Peter, what else could cause a plane to break apart like this in midair at 30,000 or 33,000 feet?
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's a variety of things that could have occurred.
One is that the repairs done after the tail strike might have been done inexpertly or had not been monitored correctly over the intervening years; and fatigue cracks had grown, and it simply let go as it reached altitude.
Another could have been a cargo door or a rear passenger door that had not been latched securely, that that let go. Or it could have been something in the cargo hold of the plane. You know, there's a great deal of speculation about lithium batteries these days. We'll want to get a look at exactly what was put in the cargo hold and whether there are any bad actors there.
So the key, though, Wolf, is to go back along the flight path of the plane and get the debris that came off first. That will tell you where it started and might give you the solution.
BLITZER: And I assume they're doing that.
Here's the question a lot of people are asking the Egyptians and the Russians. They're the lead investigators right now. Can they be trusted to get to the truth?
GOELZ: Well, I have to say I share Tom's skepticism. I've worked with both Russian -- the Russian investigators and with the Egyptians after Egypt Air. They allow politics and national political interests to get in the way of safety investigations. So I share Tom's skepticism.
BLITZER: As far as you know, have they invited the NTSB or the FBI or any Americans, for that matter, to come in and help in the investigation?
GOELZ: They have not. Even though these were U.S. engines that were on this plane, the NTSB has not sent any investigators. And they might, in part, because this is a war zone. And the investigators really would prefer not to function in those areas.
But the French are there and the Germans. And they have a good investigative team, if they follow the ICAO standards.
[17:15:06] BLITZER: Alastair, we're told that the flight data recorder is apparently in good condition. How useful will that be in this investigation?
ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, CNN AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, it will be vital. It will show whether or not all systems were running normally or whether they were faulty. It will also show the altitude of the aircraft, its speed.
There are a number of parameters all of which will show an abnormal or normal situation. If it's a perfectly normal situation up until the point at which the aircraft started to descend rapidly, then it would suggest that something sudden had happened.
You know, I think it's going to be very difficult to hide the facts of this, having the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. Those two pieces, along with the wreckage, which is all going to be recovered, I don't think they'll be any, you know, thought this might be covered up. I'm sure we'll find out in due course what caused this accident.
BLITZER: Let's hope. All right. I want all of you to standby because we're getting more information that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Stay with us. We'll have much more on this mystery when we come back.
[17:20:54] BLITZER: We're back with the experts discussing the crash of the Russian airliner in Egypt that killed all 224 people onboard. One airline official blames what he calls "a certain impact" for breaking the plane apart in midair.
Peter Goelz, I want to show you some pictures, some photos comparing the debris field in the MH-17 commercial airliner that was downed over Ukraine not that long ago, last year. Take a look. That's on the left part of the screen last year.
Take a look. That's on the right part of the screen, the right part of the screen. You see the wreckage from this particular crash in Sinai. It looks very similar, both of that. What, if anything, can we make of the similarity of these two images? GOELZ: Well, I think -- I think it indicates, Wolf, that there was a
separation at altitude in both cases. Something catastrophic happened to this airline at altitude.
We know in MH-17 it was hit by a missile and came apart. In this accident or incident, we don't know yet what happened.
BLITZER: Richard, back in 2001 this plane, this Airbus commercial airliner struck the runway during landing. The tail was damaged. There have been two instances in aviation history where planes broke apart midair years after they had incurred damage to this area of the plane. Potentially, could that have happened this time?
QUEST: Yes, it could. And if it did, it's nothing short of a disgrace, since the incident you're talking about, particularly the JAL and the CI one, are very well known.
Look, the repair -- the plane at that time was being operated by MEA, so Metrojet and its predecessor had nothing to do with it. It was many, many years before they took over the aircraft it was owned by a leasing company.
But everybody who touched, owned or operated that aircraft will have known about that tail strike. And therefore, firstly should have always has been ensuring that that repair remained good.
Metal fatigue is another issue. It shouldn't be a problem with a plane of only 18 years old, but what you're coming to here, Wolf, is maintenance. Was this plane being -- assuming we can put aside nefarious, was this plane being properly maintained?
BLITZER: And the fact, Richard, that there was no distress call from the cockpit, no mayday, mayday, mayday, apparently none of those indications, what does that say?
QUEST: Well, some people will say it means nothing because, you know, they're too busy flying the plane to get a mayday out. I don't necessarily buy it in this particular case. I think it is significant.
And I think it's significant because of not on its own but if you look at the trajectory of the aircraft, Wolf, this thing fell out the sky. And its speed just disappeared. It went almost like it had hit a wall. And if you put that together, the instantaneous destructive catastrophic nature of what took place, I think, prevented any sort of mayday or any form of activity.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, you're a former assistant director of the FBI. Based on what you know, will the FBI have any role in this investigation?
FUENTES: Wolf, I don't think so. I think, even though the engines are U.S. made, I think the other authorities involved in this, the Egyptians, the Russians, the French, the Germans, are going to feel that they can have ample opportunity and expertise to deal with this. BLITZER: Alastair, since this happened, several airlines have --
since the crash they've announced they no longer will fly over Sinai. You were a commercial pilot. How dangerous is it right now to fly not only over Sinai but some of these other conflict zones in the region?
ROSENSCHEIN: Well, generally airliners do fly over conflict zones. But certainly they shouldn't be doing so over any area where aircraft have or are likely to be shot down. And that means do the warring parties have missiles capable of reaching high altitude?
Nobody's mentioned this, but there are a number of air forces operating generally in the area, as well. So one can't discount the fact that it might have been shot down by another aircraft.
[17:25:10] I mean, I'm not saying that was the case, but, you know, clearly -- you know, when an aircraft comes down suddenly like this, it's either going to be an explosive device or mechanical -- some mechanical destruction on the aircraft.
People have mentioned the tail strike. That's clearly worth looking at. But it could also have been an explosive device planted on the aircraft.
Sharm el-Shaikh has had a number of incidents, put it that way, in the past. And how safe is it, in terms of how easy is it to get devices on board, should airlines be flying in that area? I would say to play safe no, they shouldn't. But it really is up to, in the case of the British Airlines, foreign office; in the case of the Americans, you look at your own security services to advise you on whether or not you should fly over that area.
The fact that some airlines are flying over it and some aren't is an indication that all is not really well in the aviation world. It really should be the International Civil Aviation Authority or other organizations should, indeed, give proper, solid advice to airlines; either have air space open or have it closed.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on this coming up. So everyone stand by. There's other important news we're following right now, as well, including some gruesome new evidence that ISIS is extending its reach. Stand by for new information about the latest savage killings in a NATO ally.
We're also following new developments in the 2016 presidential race, including a new slogan from the struggling Jeb Bush campaign.
BLITZER: A new poll of the Republicans in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire points to volatility and change but only among the so-called second-tier candidates.
[17:31:36] Donald Trump still holds a commanding lead. But further back, Senator Marco Rubio's numbers have tripled since September. He's closing in on Dr. Ben Carson for second place. John Kasich and Ted Cruz are both leading Jeb Bush, who's now running
sixth -- sixth place in New Hampshire. Bush in his home state of Florida today. He's trying out a brand-new message. CNN's Athena Jones is joining us from Tampa.
So what's he telling voters today, Athena?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, Bush isn't so much making a new argument to voters with his "Jeb can fix it" tour this week as he is introducing a new slogan. The central question, of course, is whether this new rhetorical shift will be enough to move his poll numbers.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our story is about action, doing, not just talking.
JONES: Jeb Bush rolling out his new slogan today in Florida: "Jeb can fix it."
BUSH: And as your president, I will fight every day with a reformer's heart.
JONES: Bush's fix-it tour will also take him to South Carolina and New Hampshire this week. But it may be his campaign that needs fixing. He's hoping a renewed focus on what he calls his proven conservative record will give him a much-needed boost in the midst of consistently weak poll numbers, worried donors...
BUSH: I've got a lot of advice lately myself. More than enough, thank you.
JONES: ... and a weak debate performance.
BUSH: You should be showing up to work.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.
BUSH: I know that I got to get better at doing the debate. And I'm a grinder. I mean, when I see that I'm not doing something well, then I reset and I get better.
JONES: Bush's speech today included jabs at frontrunner Donald Trump and his surging protege, Marco Rubio.
BUSH: The answer isn't sending someone from one side of the capital city to the other, and you can't just tell Congress "You're fired" and go to commercial break.
JONES: The fix-it tour comes as Bush releases a 730-page ebook full of e-mails he sent and received during his two terms as governor.
BUSH: They used to call me the e-governor. JONES: The book includes revealing moments, like an angry e-mail Bush
received during the Florida recount in 2000. And one from a constituent who complained Bush was spending too much time campaigning for his brother and not enough time doing his day job. An attack line Bush has struggled to use against Rubio.
Also included, some gentle ribbing from George H.W. Bush about his son's swearing-in photo. The former president saying, "I love the photo of your swearing. In, it's so good of you that I have gotten over my being cropped out by the photographer."
The big question for the man hoping to become the third president Bush is whether this latest push will resonate with Republican voters.
JONES: Bush argued today that this election is not about personalities but about leadership. He also said he's not going to play the angry agitator role; because it's not what's in his heart, and it's not the kind of attitude that will win the general election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Athena, thank you.
Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, our CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, who supports Jeb Bush, is also a friend of Marco Rubio's; and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. All right, guys, stand by for a moment. We have a lot to assess right now. We've got to take a quick break. Much more right after this.
[17:39:30] BLITZER: Jeb Bush's presidential campaign has a new slogan, "Jeb can fix it." He's taking his message across his home state of Florida and will campaign in South Carolina and New Hampshire later in the week.
We're back with our analysts, Ana Navarro and Jeffrey Toobin. Ana, what can we expect to see from Jeb Bush in this so-called new phase of his campaign?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I hope that what we see is that Jeb can fix it, that he can fix not only the dysfunction in Washington, but that he can also fix the campaign.
The truth is that the structures of a campaign are pretty solid. And he has done the necessary changes and tweaks to the campaign. He has cut off the bureaucracy. He's made it more nimble, battalion of hungry loyalists.
But at the end of the day Jeb has got to improve as a candidate. He himself knows that. I saw him yesterday, Wolf. We were -- you know, we were laughing at his debate performance. We were joking. He was saying to me, you know, "Thank God for the CNBC moderators who were so bad that at least I wasn't the worst performer in that debate."
BLITZER: How long does he have, Jeffrey, to turn things around for his campaign?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think given his name and given the amount of money he has, he's certainly going to be in the campaign through Iowa and New Hampshire. The problem is he's in sixth and seventh place.
And, you know, the slogan doesn't matter. But he is not going to change who he is. If Republican Party voters want an outsider, he's going to lose, period. It doesn't matter what his slogan is.
But if Trump and Carson start to fade, he's got to be in a position to pick them up. At the moment they haven't been fading, and they haven't been fading for months.
BLITZER: And you mention what place he's in. Take a look at this new poll from Monmouth University in New Hampshire among Republicans. It shows Jeb Bush in sixth place right now, not just behind Carson and Trump but Rubio, also behind Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Both are ahead of him, at least in this particular poll in New Hampshire.
I can understand not necessarily doing well, Jeffrey, in Iowa. But New Hampshire supposedly was the place he's really going to crush him.
TOOBIN: Well, perhaps. But think about the history of the Bushes in New Hampshire. It's not a very pretty picture.
1980 Ronald Reagan beat up on George Bush after Bush won Iowa. 1992 Pat Buchanan did very well against George Herbert Walker Bush. 2000 John McCain beat George Walker Bush in New Hampshire. So it's not necessarily a very promising -- very promising territory to start with. And, you know, he's obviously not doing very well there now.
BLITZER; Ana, you know him well. Is he determined to go on, even if he's sixth, seventh place in a lot of these critical early state polls?
NAVARRO: Oh, hell yes. There is no question in my mind that Jeb Bush is going on. He's got a fighting spirit. He's got a backbone of steel. He's committed to doing this. And he's a fierce competitor.
Look, the polls are very volatile right now. Jeffrey's right. Jeb is not going to change the core of who he is, but he understands that he needs to be more forceful. That he can't be constantly answering the question of whether he's got the fire in the belly or not. He's got to show that he does.
But definitely, Jeb has got the discipline, the patience, the humility and the commitment to stay in this. And the money. The money and the structures and the teams on the ground to continue doing this. I fully expect to see Jeb Bush in Florida in the primary in March.
TOOBIN: Can I say -- can I say that I actually think the polls have not been volatile. I think that's really the story here, is that Donald Trump's been ahead for months. Ben Carson has been in second place for some time now. And Jeb Bush has been in single digits, basically everywhere for months. And I think that's -- that's really the story here, is that the dynamic has not changed.
NAVARRO: And you know Jeffrey -- Jeffrey, you know, Iowa -- Iowa and New Hampshire break late traditionally.
And we have seen that the debates have had a large influence on the polls. We saw, for example, in the previous debate that Carly Fiorina shot up after the CNN debate. She then came down again. I think we are seeing now the polls shoot up for Rubio and Cruz because they had a very good debate performance.
Jeb Bush needs to perform better at those debates. He knows that. He's got nine days to get it together to do a good performance. And I'll tell you, if he goes out there and performs strongly, it will change the media narrative and the echo chamber immediately.
BLITZER: Ana, how upset was Jeb Bush that Marco Rubio got the endorsement from that major Republican billionaire fundraiser, Paul Singer, over the weekend, as opposed -- because I know Bush really wanted that endorsement.
NAVARRO: Everybody wanted that endorsement. Paul Singer is an important endorsement. He not only gives; he also raises. And everybody competed for his endorsement. Chris Christie, you know, so many others.
So, look, you know, you win some, you lose some. I don't think that Jeb is hurting for a shortage of big donors. That's not the problem. He's got to improve at the debates.
BLITZER: All right. Ana Navarro, Jeffrey Toobin. Guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, they worked to expose ISIS brutality. Now they're its latest victims. Is anyone safe?
Also, a new inspector general's report exposes a huge waste of U.S. taxpayers' money. Why did a gas station -- get this, a gas station in Afghanistan -- cost American taxpayers $43 million?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a new ISIS atrocity. Two activists who worked to expose the terror group's brutality were murdered in their own apartment. According to the "New York Times" the organization they worked for says one of them was stabbed 50 times and then beheaded. This happened in Turkey outside of ISIS controlled territory.
Let's bring in our counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, he's a former CIA official, our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, along with CNN military analyst, retired Lt. Gen. Paul Hertling.
Paul, what are you hearing about these attacks? PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, ISIS has claimed
responsibility for this, for murdering these two anti-ISIS activists in southern Turkey. Their bodies were found on Friday.
[17:50:09] This is the first time ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack inside Turkey, but there have been five attacks since 2014 linked to the group where investigators have believed the group was responsible. And that includes the Ankara bombings on October 10th, when more than 100 people were killed. They believe that was an ISIS- style recruit in southern Turkey and who trained in Syria who carried out that attack, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil, are these killings evidence of a strengthening ISIS network right now?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think they would be right across the borders. In Turkey, we've had Turkish intervention obviously in recent months in Syria.
I think I see a broader problem here, though, Wolf. And that is in the Internet age, an ISIS is the first sort of terror group to really effectively use I think Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. I can see them identifying, whether it's North America, Europe, in this case Turkey, activists, and simply tells sympathizers overseas or in Europe to take out activists.
If you're an activist, you've got to look at this not only as an indicator that you're in ISIS sights, but their local sympathizers who may never have traveled to Syria for training, can identify you or can be inspired by ISIS and might find you an apartment and take you out.
BLITZER: General Hertling, the violence clearly carried out in Turkey, a NATO ally, a close friend of the United States. So what will the U.S. have to do if anything right now? What can it do as ISIS steps up its terror activities inside this NATO ally?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, if Turkey goes to Manz (ph) and says we want to invoke an Article 5 requirement and we want other members of NATO to help us out, Wolf, that would be the first time anything like this has occurred as a result of an internal threat, something that an internal security threat. In order to join NATO, countries have to be able to handle that on their own.
So this kind of -- even though it's considered a terrorist activity, it's also a criminal activity inside the country of Turkey, they should be able to handle it themselves. Now the better question might be what is Turkey going to do about this? And with Mr. Erdogan winning an unbelievable victory just last Saturday or -- excuse me, last Sunday, where he has the majority of people in Turkey behind him, will he continue to be a very authoritarian leader of that country, or will he look for some democratic reform?
It's all part of the mix. And I even think, you know, with the Kurdish population, that he has cracked down on recently, that has been fighting ISIS, what do you do about that? So all of these things I think Mr. Kerry, as our secretary of state is attempting to persuade Mr. Erdogan to do different things for internal security, but that all remains to be seen.
BLITZER: It certainly does.
Phil Mudd, I want to get your reaction, and also General Hertling, yours as well. It's really outrageously, the U.S. inspector general, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, he says the U.S. spent, get this, nearly $43 million building a compressed natural gas filling station in Afghanistan. It should have cost about $300,000 or $400,000. They spent $43 million, a lot of it going for corruption. It's simply outrageous how much U.S. taxpayer money is still being wasted in Afghanistan, Phil, right now.
MUDD: Boy, I hesitate to say this, Wolf, but back when we escalated the war -- the war on terror back in 2001, going on to the war in Iraq in 2003 and beyond, if you look at what we got in terms of speed and size, we sacrificed efficiency. That is, we told the intelligence services, we told the military surge in the war on terror, surge in Afghanistan, surge in Iraq, there is a cost, Wolf, when you start to say we're going to start moving masses of forces around the planet and spending trillions of dollars and we want you to move quickly.
My experience in government is when you tell people to move big and move quickly, you're going to lose in efficiency and you're going to lose in accountability. And that's what we've seen in this case.
BLITZER: Yes, General, it's certainly shocking when you think of all the billions that the inspector general has said, the U.S. has wasted in Afghanistan. Another $43 million might not sound like a lot of money, but to build a gas station and waste all that money, that is outrageous right now.
HERTLING: It absolutely is, Wolf, and I will tell you having been a recipient of something called CERP funds in Iraq, Commanders' Emergency Response Program, it's funds that you could allocate out to different organizations to help the governance and the economy as part of the counterinsurgency strategy, we watched that very closely. And I had people watching what we were spending very closely, and what was the return on the investment.
The investigation on this is well-timed and well-placed. These kind of things have to stop. We got carried away and a lot of commanders approved these kinds of things when they shouldn't have, so the investigation is actually a good thing.
BLITZER: All right. The investigation is very good. The waste of money is awful.
All right. Guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, we're getting new details into THE SITUATION ROOM right now of the investigation into the crash of that Russian passenger plane in Egypt. We're awaiting analysis of the flight voice, the data recorders.
[17:55:00] What will they reveal about this disaster?
BLITZER: Happening now, crash confusion. Conflicting statements and uncertainty tonight surrounding a Russian jet that broke to pieces during the safest part of the flight. What killed more than 200 people on board? We're awaiting analysis of the black boxes.
Terror battlefield. The plane went down in an area where ISIS affiliates are waging holy war. Are they capable of shooting down a commercial aircraft?
Expanding mission. As the first U.S. Special Forces head to Syria, the Pentagon is now considering even more manpower and firepower against ISIS. Stand by for new details.