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Interview With Ohio Governor John Kasich; Terrorism Suspected in Russian Plane Crash; U.S. Intel Suggests ISIS Bomb on Russian Plane. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 4, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers here in the United States and around the world, welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with some breaking news, the latest U.S. intelligence suggesting that the crash of the Russian passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt over the weekend was most likely caused by a bomb planted on the plane by ISIS or an ISIS affiliate.

This would mean the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 was an act of terror in the skies, the biggest such attack since 9/11. This news follows a move by the U.K. to delay flights due to leave from the Sinai Peninsula resort town Sharm el-Sheikh, from where the Metrojet flight originated, a suspension of such flights by Ireland and news that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, has instructed staff not to travel to the Sinai.

Our reporters along with our terrorism and aviation experts are all standing by across several continents to bring you this breaking story.

But let's start with CNN's Barbara Starr live for us at the Pentagon.

Barbara, you and your team broke the story a short while ago. Tell us what you know.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN has been looking across all government agencies at any signs of what the Obama administration may be thinking about all of this. And we now know that this is not a firm, absolute conclusion, but indeed based on the intelligence they have, the U.S. now does believe it was most likely a bomb that brought down this plane.

I want to read to you exactly what one source told -- government source told us a short time ago -- quote -- "There is a definite feeling it was an explosive device planted in luggage or somewhere on the plane." And they do believe the most likely perpetrator, ISIS or an ISIS affiliate. Why do they say this?

They are not sharing the intelligence they do have, but we know that they have been monitoring ISIS internal communications, not the public claims of responsibility. That has added to the picture that they have. This has developed over the last several days, is our understanding

from several sources. And we have seen it really come into public view in the last several hours, as the British took their steps to stop flights back and forth to Sharm el-Sheikh, Ireland, as you say, following suit. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issuing its warning.

The focus now is what was the security at the Sharm el-Sheikh Airport? A British aviation team traveling to the airport there to look at it. Don't look for those aviation flights to resume until there's some assurance by the European government that get flights right from that airport that it is safe. The Egyptians say it's safe. There is a lot of concern.

What U.S. officials are also telling us, they had no indications before the attack, no pre-warning on any of this, but they had been looking at intelligence about growing militant activity in Sinai over the last several weeks and months.

It had been a growing concern by the U.S. as to what was happening in Sinai. And now all of it, they say, adding up to a very strong belief they do indeed believe it was a bomb that brought down the plane and killed all 224 souls on board -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara, any information about how the bomb might have gotten on to the plane, how it might have been planted there?

STARR: Right, a really good point. Officials are telling CNN right now, again, the assessment is that it got past airport security measures at Sharm el-Sheikh in some fashion, whether it was passenger screening or whether it was the other airport security measures, that someone was able to plant a bomb on the plane, perhaps in the cargo hold, perhaps somewhere on the plane.

There would be two ways. Either a passenger brought it on board or in fact somehow ground aviation crews -- somehow security failed and somebody brought this and planted it on board the plane. I think that is why we are seeing so much concern about the state of the security measures at Sharm el-Sheikh, because, look, if it is ISIS, if it's an ISIS affiliate, no matter who it is, the U.S. and governments around the world need to know who is out there that today has the ability to bring down a commercial airliner.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, our CNN source says an explosive device may have been planted in the luggage or somewhere on the plane, perhaps in the cargo hold. What else are you learning about how this plane went down?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Barbara hit the nail on the head as far as what intelligence is telling us.

Of course, this is all separate from that heat flash that we were talking so much about. But as officials zero in on this new leading theory of a bomb on board, experts are examining the victims' bodies for signs of trauma from an explosion or even shrapnel.


Meantime, new data from the plane is telling us more about the final minutes the passenger plane was in the air.


MARSH (voice-over): When Metrojet Flight 9268 took off, the autopilot was set for 32,000 feet. The plane climbed steadily, but never made it to the desired altitude. At just over 30,000 feet, the plane dives rapidly, plunging at 300 miles per hour.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The confirmation that this airplane was falling at such a rapid speed vertically and horizontally indicates that this airplane was a brick. At some point in time, something caused it to be a brick.

MARSH: A possible bomb on board Metrojet 9268 is now the leading theory for both U.S. intelligence and British officials tonight.

PATRICK MCLOUGHLIN, BRITISH TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We cannot categorically say why the Russian jet crashed, but we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down as a result of an explosive device.

MARSH: All U.K. flights to and from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have been halted. Focus has intensified on the security at Egypt's Sharm el- Sheikh Airport, where the doomed Russian flight took off.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: ISIS has been operating successfully. They have done assassinations of the political leaders in the region. There's no reason to think they have not been able to essentially compromise the security of the airport.

ABEND: This could be an inside operation, somebody that is or some people that are familiar with how the baggage process works. And let's not just limit it to the cargo hold. Catering could be involved with this too.

MARSH: Today, Egyptian investigators searched wreckage for clues, including bomb residue. Despite reporting from both U.S. and British officials and another claim of responsibility from ISIS, so far, the Egyptians maintain it's found no evidence of terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one way to nail the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt.

MARSH: So far, Russia has publicly maintained it's too early to draw any conclusions. Russian state media reported victims' bodies show no sign of trauma from an explosion.

JON ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think the Russians also don't want to show vulnerability to the Islamic State because they're fighting in Syria. And the sense that they may be drawing violence against Russians for what they're doing in Syria may not play very well in Russia.


MARSH: Well, so far, no sign of bomb residue on the wreckage, but that does not mean that there was no bomb. Every single piece of this wreckage, as well as the luggage, must be tested. Of course, that will take some time.

And as far as those black boxes which we have been talking a lot about, we know that they have been able to get information off the flight data recorder, but they're having some problems with the cockpit voice recorder because it's slightly damaged.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

If investigators ultimately confirm what U.S. intelligence is saying is now likely, that a bomb blasted this Russian airliner out of the sky and that device was planted by a terrorist with ISIS or an ISIS- affiliated group, that would be evidence that the terrorists could potentially have the capability of doing this to a passenger plane from the West, perhaps even the United States, something that would no doubt intensify the rush to defeat ISIS in Washington, D.C.

To talk about this crash and its potential impact on U.S. national security and foreign relations, Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is a former member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Governor Kasich, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: So, Governor, assuming that this intelligence proves correct, if you were president right now, what do you think you would do?

KASICH: Well, Jake, first of all, of course, our intelligence community has to be put on high alert.

I mean, one of the things that's absolutely critical is to have robust intelligence to tell us when these things are going to happen. And it seems as though, listening to the report, that Sharm el-Sheikh did not have the security, even though there were intelligence reports that were indicating there was lax security.

We need to make sure we have robust intelligence. And, Jake, the fact is, is that we don't have all the human intelligence that we need. It's very difficult. But it is absolutely critical that we rebuild our intelligence capabilities.

Secondly, look, we got to face facts. Either you're going to pay me now or you're going to pay me a lot more later. And I would just hope that our Western friends and people that share our Western values would realize that the time has come to destroy ISIS as part of a coalition.

And if that means that U.S. boots have to be on the ground, so be it, because to allow this to linger, to put this off, to think that somehow this is going to go away is naive at best. And so, if I were president, I would be working the phones. I would have been working phones a lot sooner than this to deal with worldwide menace and particularly a menace to our way of life.


TAPPER: And how would you do that, sir? Because, as you know, the very first phone call Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian prime minister, made was to President Obama, saying that Canada was not going to participate in this fight against ISIS.

Obviously, when President Obama was pushing for a war against Assad a few years ago, the British Parliament also defeated a measure by British Prime Minister Cameron to do that. How do you convince the U.S. allies to get some skin in the game?

KASICH: Well, Jake, you're beginning to see David Cameron sound the warning in terms of these kinds of threats from groups like ISIS.

And, look, it takes leadership. We have allowed our NATO coalition partners, that relationship to basically deteriorate over time. And I also really want to hold the E.U. accountable for not bringing the Turks, which are a moderating force, into the European Union. It takes hard work.

But, look, we also have people that we have shared values who are mostly at risk in the Middle East, whether it's the Jordanians, whether it's the Saudis, whether it's the Gulf states. I mean, we have to work all of them. And you have to work them aggressively, but the problem is, Jake, and I don't really just want to talk about foreign policy in terms of taking shots at President Obama, but, frankly, we have not led.

And when you don't lead, you create doubt in the minds of our friends and also it encourages our enemies. And these relationships need to be more robust. And the United States needs to be more aggressive. I suggested a no-fly zone both on the Turkish border, in Northern Syria and in the Jordanian border to provide sanctuary and also to send a message that the United States is interested and involved.

It's leadership Jake. Look, I served on that committee for 18 years. I followed it all of my adult life. And when we lead, we get good outcomes most of the time. And when we don't lead, bad things happen.

TAPPER: One of our terrorism analysts, Paul Cruickshank, said that he thought this was the most significant, not the biggest, but the most significant terrorist attack since 9/11. Do you agree?

KASICH: Well, it's really going to be shocking to people, and particularly to the Russians, and, of course, to the Egyptians, because the Egyptians have been fighting this image of a place where terrorism has taken root.

And they're very concerned, which is why I think they're holding out saying exactly what happened with this airplane. But they now have a general in charge. And I know that we have now resumed aid to Egypt, which we should do because we're all in this battle together. They have been a force for moderation by and large in the Middle East.

And the fact is, this is going to send a riveting message worldwide, because it shows that with the planting of a bomb, we're all vulnerable. And we need to fight against it and destroy those people who are most responsible for this kind of activity, Jake.

TAPPER: Governor, as a policy matter, how should a president or a prime minister balance competing pressures when it comes to evils, for want of a better term? For instance, should the common fight that the U.S. and Russia have against ISIS impact how much the United States objects to Russian incursions in Ukraine? Should it impact our demand that Assad should resign, given that ISIS is also our shared enemy?

KASICH: No, I believe that sometimes friends will disagree -- or I wouldn't say Russia is our friend, but I would say that interested parties can disagree.

We absolutely should be providing the resources to the Ukrainians to be able to defend themselves, because, as we don't do this, we create very great nervousness in the Baltic states, even great nervousness with our friends in Finland.

So, the United States has to be clear that, first of all, we will support those who support our objectives. And, secondly, we need to reinforce our relations particularly in Eastern Europe and NATO by pre-positioning equipment.

At the same time, over in Syria, Assad has to go, because the link there is between Iran, Russia and Assad. Assad has to go. Now, I have to tell you, Jake, I don't like this idea of putting 50 military advisers into Syria. I don't want to get into a middle of a civil war. Those things never work. They never come out in the way we want.

But we should be part of a coalition. We should be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS. And we can support the rebels in Syria without us having to directly intervene, something that I suggested well over a year ago.

TAPPER: Governor John Kasich of Ohio, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

KASICH: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Much more of this breaking story next. We will go live to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where this plane took off. Was security at the airport too lax? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching THE LEAD. I'm Jake tapper.

Let's go back to our breaking news. U.S. intelligence sources telling CNN that the crash of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula over the weekend was most likely caused by a bomb put on the plane planted by ISIS or an ISIS affiliate.

Let's go to the center of this investigation in Egypt. CNN's Erin McLaughlin joins me live from Sharm el-Sheikh, the resort town from where this doomed flight took off.

Erin, what are the Egyptians saying? What's the status of the investigation there?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the moment, Egyptian authorities are not commenting on the U.S. intelligence assessment.

[16:20:02] Today, we did speak with the Egyptian foreign minister who says it's too soon, too premature to draw any conclusions.

He pointed to this ongoing investigation. Egypt's civil aviation authority says they're in the process of analyzing the black boxes. In terms of the flight data recorder, they say they've managed to download all the information from that. They're combing through that. No conclusions on that so far.

In terms of the cockpit voice recorder, they say that has been damaged. That analysis could take longer.

Worth noting, Jake, that from the outset, Egyptian authorities have been downplaying the possibility of terrorism.

TAPPER: Erin, does airport security there appear to be lax or at least not as intense as it is in Europe or the United States?

MCLAUGHLIN: I would say nothing unusual when we flew yesterday from Cairo airport to the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh. We flew onboard Egypt Airlines. We saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Typically, security situation at an airport in Egypt, there are two levels of checks one, baggage check when you enter the airport, and then your handbags get scanned again prior to boarding. Unclear what happens to your actual luggage that you check in.

So at Cairo, at Sharm el-Sheikh, no additional security, and that's in line with what we were hearing from the Egyptians interior ministry yesterday. They were saying no additional security precautions in place, pointing to the fact they said at the time there were no indications this was a result of terrorism. Now, Egyptian's foreign minister today saying they have taken the decision to increase security at all airports throughout Egypt.

And this they say is more to assure people, not in response to any conclusions drawn from the investigation itself.

TAPPER: Erin McLaughlin in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt -- thank you so much.

CNN terror analyst Paul Cruickshank joins me now. He's editor in chief at CTC Sentinel. Also with me, CNN safety analyst, David Soucie. He's a former FAA safety inspector.

Paul, let me start with you. What might intelligence officials know that we do not?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: Well, it seems part of this intelligence comes from ISIS communications, private communications between ISIS operatives which has led the United States intelligence agencies to this conclusion, this quite preliminary conclusion that this could be a terrorist attack.

The intelligence is suggesting an insider at the airport may have been responsible. They said this wasn't a kind of underwear type bomb sophisticated bomb. This was a conventional bomb. It was presumably put on the plane with the help of an insider at the airport. You don't just walk a bomb onto a plane at a place like Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

So I think that's the dominant scenario right now of an insider being recruited or paid off by ISIS or one of its affiliates. And, of course, the affiliate on the ground there in Sinai is the Sinai Province of the Islamic State.

TAPPER: David, both the U.K. and Ireland are now either delaying or suspending flights from Sharm el-Sheikh, the resort town in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula from where this flight took off. Do you anticipate the U.S. and other than Western countries to follow suit?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I absolutely do, Jake. The risk assessment and the risk mitigation. Risk assessment is based on what is it that they know, what's happening right now. Mitigation is saying just the idea or hazard that it might be is going to increase the mitigation efforts.

And that's what they're doing right now. I think it's a very smart thing to do. I think everybody should take heed with that.

TAPPER: Paul, ISIS has been claiming it was responsible for taking down this MetroJet flight. They were initially dismissed, those claims, when the crash first happened on Saturday. Today they seem to be taken a bit more seriously.

Is the only thing that changed this possible interception of ISIS communications?

CRUICKSHANK: That's the main thing that has changed, Jake. And those statements put out by ISIS were very strange because at first it was just eight lines. I mean, this would be the biggest terror attack since 9/11, the most significant terror attack since 9/11. So, to put out just eight lines not explaining how you do it. Today, they released an audiotape saying they weren't going to explain exactly how they did it.

Well, if they recruited an insider at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, that might explain why they were being so coy. They didn't want to give their game away perhaps. TAPPER: David, what are the chances that a bomb cleared security and

then made it on to the plane?

SOUCIE: Not very good actually, Jake, because the airport there -- I just finished my airport security recertification just a couple months ago. We studied that airport specifically as well as others. But in that scenario they have very sophisticated baggage screening processes including the barometric pressure changes.

[16:25:05] So, if it was a barometric bomb to go off at altitude, it would have been detected before it got on to the airplane. So, as far as airports go, the baggage screening getting it through security is really difficult to do. Again, I agree with what the other guest is saying that most likely if it was a bomb, would have been an inside operation.

TAPPER: All right. David Soucie and Paul Cruickshank, stay with us. We're going to talk much more about this. And we're going to have much more on this breaking story.

Just how dangerous is the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt right now? Should anyone be flying over there or into it? How big of an ISIS presence or ISIS affiliated presence is there in Egypt?

We'll ask a top expert on that area, next.