Return to Transcripts main page


GOP Presidential Race Stabilizing?; Russian Plane Crash Investigation; U.S. Intel Suggests Airport Insider Helped; Top Tier in GOP Race Coming Into Focus. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 5, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was ISIS on the inside of that airport?

THE LEAD starts right now.

A day after U.S. intelligence suggested that ISIS blew a plane out of the sky, there is fear the terrorist group found a new way to slip past security with an assist from inside the airport.

Plus, the U.K. sending the military to save thousands now stranded, with doubts that the airport in Egypt could stop another attack.

Also, a brand-new poll showing that the GOP race may be finally solidifying, a potential final four, with Trump again on top. I will ask one of the other leaders of the pack, Senator Ted Cruz, what is his path to the Republican presidential nomination?

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

We're going to begin today with our world lead. If this was indeed a terrorist attack, it is in some ways working. Flights have been canceled. Officials are on edge. Tens of thousands of Western tourists are stranded, as the world now reacts to the strong possibility that ISIS brought down a plane, pulling off the worst terrorist attack in the skies since September 11, 2001.

Today, we're waiting for definitive word from the U.S. government confirming intelligence that now suggests, but is not 100 percent, that the terrorist group somehow smuggled a bomb on board Metrojet Flight 9268 and blew it out of the sky, killing 224 people on board, including 25 children.

The U.S. and the U.K. are strongly leaning that way. But Egypt and Russia, they're saying not so fast, with the plane's black boxes possibly damaged and yet to reveal a single secret and no physical forensics yet confirming this theory from U.S. and British intelligence sources.

Our reporters along with our terrorism and aviation experts are all standing by.

We're going to lead off with CNN's Barbara Starr, who broke the news about the U.S. intel yesterday. She joins us now live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are your sources saying today about how they arrived at this theory that it was in all likelihood an ISIS bomb?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, as U.S. and British intelligence services continue to scour every piece of information they have, what we now know is that it was chatter, as they say, very quickly after the plane was -- it came down out of the sky -- after it crashed.

They caught the interests of the U.S. intelligence community. They monitored very quickly chatter coming, they say, from ISIS in Sinai, an ISIS affiliate, and that this was an ISIS affiliate that talked or posted information online. We don't know the exact nature of the messages, but there was messaging talking about the bomb, talking about the plane, talking about some specifics of the attack.

By all accounts, this message was sent to some other terrorist element, so there was communication between some elements of a network here about the attack. It is this and how quickly it surfaced for the U.S. intelligence community that got their attention.

This is not the public claims online that ISIS has been making for several days. This is something else that the U.S. considers very classified, very sensitive. It is what they are continuing to look at that leads them and potentially the British government to believe this indeed may well have been a bomb put on the plane at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Just a couple of days ago, a lawmaker called the TSA pitiful because of the sheer number of guns and fake bombs that slipped past security during covert testing. Now the possibility that someone working at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, a so-called insider, planted a real bomb has security experts worried that all the body scanners and wands and metal detectors and shoe removals in the world will not be able to stop the next attack.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh joins me now.

Rene, was this -- a security lapse from the back of the airport, so to speak, is this unique to Egypt, to Sinai? Or is this something that could even happen right here in the U.S.?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Look, I have been speaking to a lot of people today past and present in the aviation security sector.

And if indeed a bomb brought down this Russian airliner, some say that there are vulnerabilities here in the U.S. security system that could make it possible for a similar scenario to play out here. What I have heard over and over again from past and present officials is, what keeps them up at night is this threat, this insider threat, that airport or airline worker with access to the most secure parts of both the airport and the aircraft. [16:05:10]


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but because it's a strong possibility, it's right to act.

MARSH (voice-over): Following a stunning assessment by the British prime minister, activity at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport has slowed significantly, as British aviation experts are on scene assessing security.

LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: You're talking about a system which is highly vulnerable to those who wish to corrupt it by money. And, again, you have a natural system of these folks, of these expediters who are on a daily basis skating in and out of the system trying to push people through.

MARSH: With U.S. intelligence pointing to a bomb on board, many here are asking if it could happen on American soil. Congressional testimony detailed an undercover operation where TSA failed 95 percent of the time detecting fake explosives at U.S. airports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Failures included technology, TSA procedures and human errors.

MARSH: But the larger threat may be beyond the security checkpoint.

SHAFFER: You may have someone who has gone through all the security checks, has passed all the background checks, but has been successful in hiding their true loyalty or allegiance to al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS. And this is the ultimate threat, the insider threat.

MARSH: Chad Wolf, the former head of TSA security policy, agrees.

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: What we have seen over the past six months to 12 months is a number of alarming security incidences here domestically in the U.S., whether it be Atlanta Airport or others, where you have seen guns being smuggled on board passenger aircraft.

MARSH (on camera): Right. If you can smuggle a gun, you could smuggle a bomb, one would argue.

WOLF: And I think that's still what's alarming to a lot of folks, that so far so much time has passed after 9/11 that we would have shored this up.

MARSH (voice-over): Another concern, while airports that fly into the United States are supposed to abide by TSA policy, Wolf says there's little oversight to make sure those rules are followed.

WOLF: The TSA's going to be driven by the intelligence that comes out of the investigation. So, how is -- if it is an explosive device, how was it put on board the aircraft? Was it smuggled? Is it an insider threat? Was it a passenger?


MARSH: All crucial questions for TSA. Even though this is not a U.S. airport, not a U.S. airliner, TSA's paying close attention to this investigation. What happened, how it happened will inform their decision on how to enhance security, if need be.

Also, Jake, what's likely happening behind the scenes, we know that TSA has embeds in embassies throughout different -- throughout different parts of the world. They're most likely talking to those individuals to find out what's the security structure at those airports overseas to try and determine, are there any soft points?

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

Let's go on the ground now to Egypt.

CNN's Ian Lee joins me live from Sharm el-Sheikh, from where this doomed flight took off

Ian, a number of airlines are now banning flights to and from the airport where you are. What is security there like now?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, security is really tight here.

And coming in here earlier this morning -- I have been in and out of this airport a number of times. I was surprised at how tight it was. Just to give you an idea, before you even come and get on the grounds here, you have to go through a checkpoint. They search the luggage. They have a bomb-sniffing dog. And then once you go inside the terminal here behind me, there's extra layers of security where they scan your luggage twice, you go through metal detectors twice and most likely you will get a pat-down.

And so they have really ramped it up. We have seen extra police officers here as well. And I talked to passengers who are still flying out of here. It's still very much a busy airport -- if they felt safe. And they said absolutely. They said they didn't have any security concerns about their flight.

They thought the Egyptians were doing a good job. But we know a team from the U.K. has been on the ground here working with Egyptians, getting some sort of deal where they can get these flights going again. Tomorrow, we're hearing that some of these flights will resume to get some of these thousands of stranded holiday-makers back home.

TAPPER: Ian Lee in Sharm el-Sheikh, thank you so much.

The Sinai Peninsula in Egypt has quickly become a terrorist hotbed, with ISIS affiliates growing. So why didn't intelligence pick up anything about this plot if it was indeed a bomb that brought down this plane? That story next.


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

We're back with the one major question in our world lead. Did a bomb from ISIS really bring down that Russian airliner? Today, we learned U.S. and British intelligence sources did not and are not sharing information, yet both came to the same conclusion that someone, likely from ISIS, likely planted an explosive on that plane, killing 224 people, 25 of the victims children.

We're also getting our own intel on a potent branch of is in the Sinai region, where the plane went down.

Let's bring in CNN's Evan Perez.

Evan, what are you learning about this group?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Ansar Beit al- Maqdis is one of these groups that emerged from the chaos after the Arab Spring in the Sinai Peninsula.

And it's been known mostly for attacking the Egyptian state, the Egyptian military, police. And, in particular, in July, there was this rocket attack against an Egyptian navy ship that really raised alarms. People really saw that this was an increase in their capabilities that really had not been seen much before.

And we have seen that, just since they have pledged allegiance to ISIS in November of 2014, we have seen an increase in their propaganda, their sophistication, being able to carry things out.

[16:15:08] And so, that's one reason why there's a lot more attention on this group.

TAPPER: Last year when we were covering the war between Israel and Gaza, there was a lot about Sinai and the illicit smuggling and trafficking of arms. That could be relevant here too I suppose.

PEREZ: It could be very relevant because the question of where they get their armaments, where they would get a rocket that they used in this rocket attack in July against a navy ship is very much an open question. And we know that these groups now that they're getting this allegiance to ISIS, the question is, are they getting more help from central ISIS, or does this simply help them raise money and get more weaponry? That's the question.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in former Congresswoman Jane Harman. She served on the House Homeland Security and House Intelligence Committees. Now, she's director of the Wilson Center.

Also with me here in studio, CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers, who was the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Congresswoman, let me -- let me start with you. Earlier this week, even before the intelligence community began talking to reporters, you said you suspected foul play in this plane crash. Why?

JANE HARMAN, DIRECTOR, PRESIDENT & CEO, WILSON CENTER: Because the signature of this it seems to me is an explosion. And I doubt the engine blew up. We don't know for sure, but it is plausible that this was either a crude bomb or a sophisticated bomb. And the use of sophisticated bombs on airplanes has already been attempted. So, that's what led me to believe that.

Plus, Sharm el-Sheikh is a bizarre of a town. The airport is wide open. There are Sunnis who are very angry at Russia for helping the Shia in Syria. And you put all that together and it just seems to me that cocktail is likely to be a bomb.

TAPPER: Congressman, one of the reasons why people were reluctant to believe ISIS after they initially claimed responsibility was people didn't think they were capable of such an attack. Are they?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, it depends. I think what you're finding is there's a lot of allegiances and terrorist groups out there that are drifting. Some have gone from al Qaeda to ISIS. Some have both. We know that over half of the al Qaeda affiliates in the world have pledged at least surreptitiously support for the ISIS cause, meaning they would join in logistically or in events.

That may have been what happened right here. The Sinai has been deteriorating. Remember when Morsy got elected, the security situation in the Sinai went rapidly deteriorated. So, when al Sisi became president of Egypt, that was a takeover if you will.



ROGERS: -- free election, some would call it something different than a coup, he began to re-establish security in the Sinai. So, it has been a tumultuous area. There is lots of connections between the Muslim brotherhoods, between ISIS, between other terrorist factions operating in the Sinai. It is an arms bazaar that they're trying to get a handle on. And they have lots of relationships back into Sharm el Sheikh that could have come from different desperate groups.

But ISIS could have encouraged it. They could have again combined logistics to pull this off. And it is likely given what we have seen, and the British have great intelligence there, so do the Russians, that it was probably an inside job in the sense that the device was in the right place at the right setting at the right altitude to bring it down. That says a lot about what they believe happened in an operation. Again, it could not -- it might not be something other than terrorism, but all the indicators are something different.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Harman, explain why you think it is in all likelihood that Russian authorities and Egyptian authorities seem to be at least publicly more cautious, more circumspect in what they're saying about this other than beyond where America and the British are?

HARMAN: Well, this is a huge embarrassment both to Egypt and Russia if in fact it was a bomb. I agree with everything that my former colleague and buddy Mike just said about the opportunistic nature of these different terror groups. They come together when it's convenient.

And so, let's understand that al Qaeda especially in Yemen has the most sophisticated bomb making capability, a guy named al Asiri whom we've been trying to get for years. And so, he may have played a role in this. Obviously, if it happened on Egyptian soil, has lax security.

And Russia went into Syria, so Vladimir Putin said to prevent ISIS or any of these groups from attacking Russia. Of course, what they're doing in Syria is helping Bashar Assad rather than attacking ISIS. But nonetheless they could have been blamed, as I said earlier, for siding with the Sunnis against the Shia.

So, both of them will have black eyes if this turns out to be a bomb. And I think we're being very careful not to say more until we're absolutely sure.

[16:20:05] And the Brits as you know have very good intelligence, Mike just said that too. And so, they're more out there than we are. And I still think the likelihood is that we will be able to prove a bomb was involved.

TAPPER: Congressman, a lot of people are watching this unfold and hearing about an insider job, somebody at the airport putting this device on the plane. They're wondering well how safe are American airports, how safe are they?

ROGERS: Speculation at this point. I think the information coming in might lead that way, but still speculation. They've got pieces of a puzzle. They're drawing a conclusion. So we need to be I think very careful to say that.


ROGERS: But on an inside job here, you always worry that somebody breaks bad on the inside. They may have passed the background, they may have done everything right, somebody touches their heart to do something as dangerous as this you can't quite catch that.

They have a pretty good system. They have a reinvestigation system. They're going to keep their eye on it. It's always something you worry about, but it is something they have taken into consideration here in our U.S. airports as well.


TAPPER: Former Congressman Mike Rogers, former Congresswoman Jane Harman, thank you both. Appreciate your time.

In our politics lead, Donald Trump taking a new swing at Senator Marco Rubio. And today, Rubio punched back.

Plus, a new poll shows Trump on top, but there's another candidate quickly moving up behind him, Senator Ted Cruz. And he'll join me live coming up.


[16:25:51] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our politics lead now: chill out. That's what Jeb Bush wants the nervous nellies in his camp to do. But a new FOX poll may be giving on edge donors even more reason to ditch the Bush campaign. Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson continue to battle it out for first place. This new poll has Trump on top.

Senators Cruz and Rubio battling it out for third place. But Bush, he's tied for fifth at 4 percent, along with three other rivals.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is right along side me here in Washington.

Sara, Trump vying with Carson but for some reason, he keeps punching down at Rubio. It's kind of odd.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it's amazing. Donald Trump is on top of the polls, but he's definitely not taking any chances. He's going up with ads. And he is laying into Marco Rubio.


MURRAY (voice-over): In a crowded and chaotic GOP field, the top tier is finally coming into focus. A post-debate FOX News poll puts Donald Trump ahead of the pack by a hair, leading Dr. Ben Carson 26 percent to 23 percent nationwide.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't pay a great deal of attention to polls to be honest with you. I rather be near the top than near the bottom though, that's for sure.

MURRAY: Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tie for third each at 11 percent, while the rest of the field stalls in the low single digits.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country is in deep trouble because, let's face it, politicians are all talk, no action.


MURRAY: Looking to poll to a wider lead, trump released his first round of radio ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

TRUMP: If the people of Iowa vote for me, you'll never be disappointed. I don't disappoint people. I produce.

MURRAY: The ads positive bio spots chock full of campaign promises ignore Trump's toughest rivals, even as the candidate takes a harsher tone in interviews and a mistakenly released promo for "Saturday Night Live".

TRUMP: So, let me just say this, Ben Carson is a complete and total loser.

MURRAY: As Carson claims, he has no interest in appearing on "SNL".

CARSON: I think the presidency's a very serious thing. And I don't like making light of it.

MURRAY: Carson is up with his own ad promoting his record remix to rap music.


MURRAY: As for Rubio, he's still weathering criticism about using a party charge card for personal expenses in Florida.

TRUMP: For years, I've heard about Marco and his credit cards. To be honest with you, I think he's got a problem there.

MURRAY: Rubio today brushing aside the attacks with a swipe at his billionaire rival's business record.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just find it ironic that the only person running for president that's ever declared a bankruptcy four times in the last 25 years is attacking anyone on finances.


MURRAY: Now at another sign we're sort of moving into the next chapter of the Republican presidential race, both Ben Carson and Donald Trump will be getting Secret Service protection. They approved that, just a couple months out from Iowa and things are getting more and more intense, Jake.

TAPPER: Very exciting. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

He's moving up the polls, but with Trump and Carson battling for the top spot, what is Senator Ted Cruz's path to the nomination? Well, he's here and he'll tell me next.

Senator Cruz, good to see you.